I Died a Million Times: Gangster Noir in Midcentury America

Univ. of Illinois. Jan. 2021. 304p. ISBN 9780252043611. $125; pap. ISBN 9780252085543. $27.95. FILM
Miklitsch’s (English language and literature, Ohio Univ.; editor, Kiss the Blood off My Hands) intense scholarly dissection breaks down the historical and cultural factors that influenced gangster noir films of the 1950s and focuses on the subgenres of syndicate, rogue cop, and heist motion pictures. He argues that gangsters remained invisible until the 1950s, when the Kefauver Crime Committee televised its attempt to prove a national syndicate existed, leading to a desire for knowledge about all things criminal. The motion picture industry strived to quench that thirst, relying on semidocumentary styles that fictionalized sensational crime stories. Miklitsch analyzes both famous and obscure classic noir films, beginning with 711 Ocean Drive, a fictionalized story of a cop corrupted by an insatiable need for wealth. The author analyzes the films in painstaking detail—he considers cinematic elements, provides historical context, and includes critiques of the time. The films, and his depictions, are violent, graphic, and surreal; women are often brutalized. Miklitsch notes, too, that in many films, such as The Phenix City Story, in which the Klan murders a Black child, violence was a reflection of racism and the real-life struggle for civil rights. Familiarity with the films themselves is not necessary, as the vivid descriptions leave little to the imagination.
VERDICT Scholars of cinematic history and aficionados of gangster folklore will be riveted.
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