NOIR AND THE POSTWAR ERA
After World War II, the joy of victory melted into new fear
as the world witnessed the awesome power of United States' not-so-secret weapon, the atom
bomb. That the human race could wipe itself out entirely was now a real
possibility. World War II had revealed the world as a "cockeyed place";
the blissful innocence of prewar appeasement-policy had been exposed
as the dangerous naiveté it was. If there had been any doubt before, the horrors of war,
the concentration camps, the cities in rubble, and the millions dead and displaced
made clear that the human race was capable of great evil.
If film is the subconscious of a society trying to work itself out, then
film noir is nightmare. Shot in stark black and white, with intricate
symbolism and calculated use of light and shadow, many took place in
cityscapes as twisted as the lurking fears in the American subconscious.
This site is not a genre study,
but rather a look at America's postwar paranoia as refracted through noir's
The films chosen for the purposes of this discussion include:
- Double Indemnity (1944)
- The Lady From Shanghai (1948)
- The Big Sleep (1946)
- The Killers (1946)
For summaries, please see the Film Index.
Note: viewing the video clips on this website requires the use of QuickTime and its associated plug-ins.
This site created and maintained
by L.M. Jensen
for the American Studies program
at the University of Virginia
Last updated: May 27, 2002