The Red and the Black: American Film Noir in the 1950s

Univ. of Illinois. Dec. 2016. 312p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780252040689. $95; pap. ISBN 9780252082191. FILM
Born out of the bleak, often violent new realities of the World War II era, what later became known as film noir was marked by hard-boiled detectives, murder, betrayal, double-crossing femmes fatales, and a hard-won knowledge that the forces for good don't always triumph. In what proved to be noir's final decade, the 1950s, the genre switched its attention to espionage, the "red menace," communism's threat to the homeland, and "nuclear angst." Analyzing some 20 films (perhaps in too much detail), Miklitsch (English, Ohio Univ.) outlines common themes, the influence of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI and the House Un-American Activities Commission, and how changing tastes and new technologies such as color, wide-screen, even 3-D all brought about the end of film noir. The author demonstrates that these films featured overheated dialog, over-the-top situations, and an atmosphere of dread and paranoia, which shaped attitudes toward African Americans and led to tangled treatments on women, marriage, and sexual politics. He further covers memorable characters such as director Sam Fuller, whose sensibilities combined noir with the raw, seamier aspects of 1950s exploitation pictures, plus actors like Robert Ryan, who reflected the conflicted attitudes of the atomic age.
VERDICT In this recommended read, the author finds something fresh to say about a familiar film topic.
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