Film Noir

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Film Noir

Film Noir

Question: Film noir “is characterised by a certain anxiety over the existence and definition of masculinity and normality” (Richard Dyer). “Film noir is a genre wherein compulsory masculinity is presented as a nightmare” (Florence Jacobowitz).

The American definition of masculinity has changed greatly in the 20th century. At the turn of the 20th century, it was defined by a shared cultural identity that stressed a white, middle-class, frontier-era mythology of America that was built on societal ideals of individualism and self-reliance. At the end of the century that shared cultural identity has become fractured and is now defined by conflicting racial, ethnic, sexual and societal norms. For most of the century this had been a gradual metamorphosis in the societal role of the American male but World War II brought about that massive societal change quickly (Christopher, 1997). The popular culture of the time, especially the moody film noir thrillers of the 1940's and 1950's, recorded that change.

In the 1944 film Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo a young American aviator tells his friends about his expectations returning home after the victory in World War II. "When it's all over, just think, being able to settle down and never is in doubt about anything." The typical World War II veteran was optimistic that victory abroad would return him to his proper role and place in society. The war had ended decades of economic stagnation, and winning on the battlefield renewed a lost faith in his masculine identity. It dispelled, for a time, the fears and inadequacies that he had lived through as a child of the Great Depression. He yearned to return to his traditional American role as the unchallenged benefactor; giving aid to those at home and at work.

A growing paranoia fueled by the hysteria of the Cold War, and the vague unhappiness that suburban life would bring, would taint the effervescent postwar climate. Though made only three years after Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Edward Dymytrick's 1947 film Crossfire seems like generations have passed in between the two films. It gives us a portrait, not of the idyllic of the earlier film, but an America as violent and untrustworthy as the environment the G.I. encountered in Europe during the War. The protagonist of Crossfire is Jeff Mitchell, a conflicted and apathetic marine who epitomized this new post-war attitude, "A guy like me after the war hates himself because he's scared to get going again (Schwartz, 2005)."

In the film a violent bigot and fellow marine played by Robert Ryan frame Mitchell for the murder of a Jewish character in the film. The film tackles the controversial issues of anti- Semitism and institutional racism and criticizes an America still enraptured with itself from its victory overseas. Crossfire reflects the uneasy transition that veterans made to civilian society and captures the darkly cynical mood that permeated beneath the surface of post-war America. It is one of the finest examples of post-war film ...
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