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Dames, Coppers, and Crooks: A Look at Film Noir

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Dames, Coppers, and Crooks: A Look At Film Noir

Film noir is a style of black and white American films that first evolved in the 1940s, became prominent in the post-war era, and lasted in a classic "Golden Age" period until about 1960. Frank Nino, a French film critic, first coined the label film noir, which literally means black film or cinema, in 1946. Nino noticed the trend of how "dark" and black the looks and themes were of many American crime and detective films released in France following World War II. In fact, only French critics used the term film noir in their work until the era of noir was over. The French label did not become widely known until the 1970s. The term film noir is now a more familiar term and it is used more often.

There are many historical factors that influenced the creation of film noir. During the 1930s, American was struggling with the Great Depression. There was widespread unemployment. The country also led an isolationist political belief, had beliefs of lasting world peace and pledged neutrality. They also had a very small standing army. America had all of these beliefs as they entered World War II.

The United States emerged as the one great victor of the war. The war had devastated Europe and shattered Asia. America, however, had not had any major warfare on its own territory, and during the war it had managed to leap out of the depression and reach almost full employment for it's inhabitants. America also had the world's largest military force and the world's most threatening weapon. The country now had interests and responsibilities all over the world, but especially in Europe. As the Americans emerged from the war, they were elated and proud, happy of their victory and proud of their military and industrial might.

The 1940s and 50s were an era of economic boom, partly upheld by military demands during and after WWII, and partly by the Americans new consumer demands. Most people wanted newer and better things, which they now could also afford. It was at this time that the G.I. Bill of Rights was created. This bill was a veteran funding system that led to an increase in both college education and the founding of the suburban homes of the 50s. This was a kind of social revolution with consequences like democratization of the education system and the mere fact that more people became higher educated. Advertising was also a phenomenon that came to show its full potential during the postwar years. Then along came the baby boom, a high increase in marriages, and a high increase in new house owners.

Another phenomenon was the explosion of suburban communities. This created a need for building new houses and a demand for cars and highways. Many people moved to the suburbs because they had a longing for more spacious homes, greater security, and better education for their children. Some people also moved to the suburbs for racial issues, because the suburbs were mainly segregated. The suburban life encouraged uniformity. All the surroundings were similar and there was a need for a sense of belonging. The conformity of suburban lives gave way to a drastic increase in memberships in social institutions. The religious participation was especially renewed. Religion was set in bloom partly because of the Cold War where communists were seen as anti-God. Therefore, religion became an expression for patriotism.

In corporate life, big businesses grew bigger, and this had an effect on the workingman. He went from a hard-working individual to being a person within a cooperation and achievement. The women were led back to the roles they played before the war. Campaigns were led to lead the women back to the kitchen. They were considered obliged to leave their jobs in the workforce so that the veterans could get "their jobs" back. The most honorable thing women could do was to be fostering a family at home.

The new situation in which America was placed did not always give people a feeling of ease. In postwar America, a paranoid feeling developed. As mentioned earlier, the America's view of communists was not very pleasant. Presumably, they felt their new interests threatened and as a guardian of democracy there developed what Churchill called "the iron curtain" between east and west. With McCarthy, this Red Scare developed to a countrywide plague. This, of course, could as easily have resulted in a feeling of suspicion and anxiety.

The two biggest consequences of WWII were that the American people were given insight in the cruel capabilities of humans, for example, concentration camps, and were given the knowledge of the annihilation powers of their new weapon, the nuclear warhead, at the same time. All of the above contributed to giving some of the Americans a feeling of unease. This is mostly expressed in arts of work of the time, often as a feeling of alienation and disillusionment. This feeling can also be seen in film noir.

Film noir balanced the optimism of Hollywood's musicals and comedies during this same time period. Fear, mistrust, bleakness and paranoia are readily evident in noir, reflecting the "chilly" Cold War period when the threat of nuclear annihilation was ever-present. The criminal, violent, misogynistic or greedy perspectives of anti-heroes in film noir were a metaphor for society's evils, with a strong undercurrent of moral conflict.

Film noirs were also inspired by literature and previous film history. In America in the thirties, there was a literary tradition called hard-boiled novels. The American hard-boiled fictions represented a completely different world and different kind of detective than those found in English and earlier detective stories. Both content and style were differentiated. This kind of fiction added a new tradition of realism to the detective fiction.

The primary moods of classic film noir were melancholy, alienation, bleakness, disillusionment, disenchantment, pessimism, ambiguity, moral corruption, evil, guilt, desperation, and paranoia. Heroes or anti-heroes, corrupt characters and villains included down-and-out, conflicted hard-boiled detectives or private eyes, cops, gangsters, government agents, socio-paths, crooks, war veterans, petty criminals, and murderers. Instead of upper-class detectives, we are now introduced to the tough guy detective that is walking the mean streets, and often finds himself on the edge of law and crime. Other protagonists were often morally ambiguous lowlives from the dark and gloomy underworld of violent crime and corruption. Distinctively, they were cynical, tarnished, obsessive (sexual or otherwise), brooding, menacing, sinister, sardonic, disillusioned, frightened and insecure loners, struggling to survive.

When the protagonist is indeed a

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