Keith Leonard

University of New Hampshire



Mentor: Dr. Peter Mascuch, Assistant Professor of English and Director of Cinema Studies Program

Film Noir, Despair of the Doomed

The policies of containment of the post WWII era affected narratives so as to support their initiatives. The Postwar period (or Atomic Age) rendered moot the traditional role of the warrior class; these phenomena reflected narratives portraying an existentialist or a psychologically traumatized individual lost in modernism. Fear of the bomb, Cold War politics, and unemployment further facilitated a sense of anxiety and postwar malaise. Due to these challenges, American cinema permitted more attempts at exploring the dark side of human nature. This was the milieu that helped construct the transgeneric cinema known as film noir.

The film noir period is generally agreed to be between 1941 and 1958. Film noir themes are crime films with sordid, pessimistic narratives. They require specific stylistic elements to visually depict the sense of loss, obsession, alienation and despair. Set against disturbing urban environments these films were used also to convey a sense of unease and anxiety for the returning veteran. One of the most important elements of film noir is the femme fatale often portrayed as a “spider woman” leading the protagonist to his doom.

This study focuses on the stylistic, narrative and ideological elements of film noir and how these elements are used in the depiction of returning veterans. The returning veteran tried to adjust to new definitions of masculinity in a shifting world while women demonstrated a new agency that further disoriented male roles. Films such as Crossfire, Somewhere In The Night, In A Lonely Place, The Blue Dalhia, and others depicted these issues. However, this study concludes that film noir is only one depiction of American life and not a comprehensive portrayal of returning veterans.

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