THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE:
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 lens.

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.



Back to the Home Page context dames fall-guys cityscape film index
Works Referenced

This site created and maintained by L.M. Jensen
for the American Studies program at the University of Virginia
Last updated: May 27, 2002