by Marie Wilson

Noir Universe

Disillusionment & paranoia descended on the American Dream in the 40s just as the titular characters in The Killers descend on the Swede as he lay in the shadows awaiting his fate. The Killers (1946) was directed by Robert Siodmak, one of a handful of German emigre directors that brought expressionism to Hollywood to add to the black & white rain-soaked visuals that came to be known as “film noir”. Based on a Hemingway story (1927) of the same name, which is also thought to be the inspiration for Nighthawks (1942), the iconic painting by Edward Hopper, The Killers delivers the existential goods that defined the postwar noir sensibility.

One finds many such nighthawks & diners in the noir landscape; they go hand in hand with the bleak outlook of their cynical heroes & disaffected anti-heroes. As the Swede (Burt Lancaster) says in the opening sequence of The Killers: “I did something wrong…once.” That’s all it takes to doom an otherwise good man, his downfall often aided by a bad woman (Ava Gardner in this case), who’s just trying to stay alive in a hostile man’s world. It’s a story audiences couldn’t get enough of as they grappled with the wide-spread angst & despair following & preceding two wars (WW2 & Cold).

One thought on “Noir Universe

  1. Marie Wilson Post author

    Thanks for all your comments on this post on Facebook. Mimi S asked me what made film noir different from other b&w films. My response: In film noir a sense of dread pervades, meaninglessness is the order of the day, fate’s a chief player, crime a way of life, greed & jealousy rule, innocent people descend into nightmare worlds, men feel impotent while women manipulate within the confines of a man’s world. There are no happy endings. This was contrary to the dream Hollywood had heretofore been projecting and new techniques were ushered in to convey this morally topsy-turvy world: low-key lighting creating high contrast shadows, night for night shooting providing ink-black backdrops, shadows of bars & venetian blinds slashing any potential for nighttime calm, gleaming black cars gliding by in the night on rain-soaked streets bringing portents of death. A lot of the trapped feeling of noir is reflected in film titles: Caged, Cornered, No Way Out. Prior to noir’s emergence in the early 40s, detective flicks (out of which noir grew) were routine crime stories: bad guys get their comeuppance and good guys (police) triumph; noir created the morally ambiguous private eye and the corrupt cop; the world of good and bad got blurred & no one would ever be safe again.

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