Driven to Darkness
Jewish Emigre Directors and the Rise of Film Noir
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: Rutgers University Press
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That all the Jewish
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“History,” said George Santayana, “is always written wrong, and so always needs to be rewritten.”1 This study of Jewish émigré filmmakers of the 1930s and 1940s aims to rewrite a wrong in the historiography of American cinema generally and film noir specifically. The error is one of omission, and relates to the crucial contributions of Jewish, German-speaking, refugee directors to the emergence ...
2 Jews in Germany: Torn Between Two Worlds
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Jews may not have invented the term “ambivalence”—its coining is credited to the non-Jewish Swiss psychoanalyst Eugen Bleuler in 1911—but their relationship to the notion of a conflicted self is uniquely overdetermined, both discursively and experientially. The biblical banishment of the ur-couple from paradise planted the seeds of a primal spirit/matter split, not only for Jews but for all ...
3 Jews and Expressionism: "Performing High and Low"
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Just as the role of Jews qua Jews in the rise and evolution of film noir has tended to be underestimated or ignored, so has their contribution to the emergence and development of German Expressionism been downplayed or overlooked. Given that Expressionist cinema is seen as a major forerunner of film noir, the over-sight in regard to the former widens the lacuna in regard to the latter. The twin ...
4 The Father of Film Noir: Fritz Lang
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Auteurist caveats notwithstanding, Fritz Lang qualifies as the sire of film noir on several levels, both as progenitor and practitioner. After apprenticing as a writer and then director on a series of German films in 1919 and 1920, all commingling favored noir themes such as death, doubling, and the “destiny of woman,” Lang’s work in the Weimar period increasingly veered, with occasional ...
5 Fritz Lang in Hollywood
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Had he not made another film after the Weimar period, Lang’s place in the film noir pantheon, based on the seminal M and his overall influence, would be assured. That he went on to make some of the earliest, most influential, and most highly regarded noirs in the United States only adds to his preeminence. His pioneering role in American noir is not surprising given his predilection ...
6 The French Connection: Robert Siodmak
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Whether one agrees with Michael Walker’s claim that Robert Siodmak “contributed most extensively to film noir” (Lang is more commonly given the nod), Mark Bould’s assessment is indisputable: “Two émigrés—Robert Siodmak and Fritz Lang—are absolutely central to the development of film noir.”1 Yet while these two Jewish émigré directors are comparable in their noir output and impact, ...
7 Viennese Twins: Billy and Willy Wilder
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The chapter title is a bit of a fudge (or a Sachertorte), but that’s part of the point. The Wilder brothers were not joined at the hip at birth, but rather were born two years apart: Willy in 1904, Billy in 1906. And they both entered the world not in Vienna but in Sucha, Galicia, a town in the Polish region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But the two boys did spend their formative ...
8 The ABZs of Film Noir: Otto Preminger and Edgar G. Ulmer
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Though not blood-related, Otto Preminger and Edgar Ulmer constitute a Viennese-twin grouping of their own. Here the kinship, and contrast, relates not to psychological conflict between the two Vienna-bred directors but rather to the divergent production modes within which most of their work can be subsumed. All of Preminger’s film noirs, like most of Lang’s and Siodmak’s ...
9 Woman’s Directors: Curtis Bernhardt and Max Ophuls
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A predilection for prominent, sympathetic women characters is, as we’ve seen, a distinctive feature of Jewish émigré noir. This gynophilic tendency in the work of Curtis Bernhardt and Max Ophuls, in particular, led them to be typed, some-what pejoratively, as “woman’s directors.” That the American filmmaker most noted as a “woman’s director,” George Cukor, was also widely known (at least ...
10 Pathological Noir, Populist Noir, and an Act of Violence: John Brahm, Anatole Litvak , Fred Zinnemann
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The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller, Suspicion, Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Dr. Kildare, Medic, Johnny Staccato, Naked City, M Squad, and The Defenders, as well as the anthology series Playhouse 90, Lux Play house, Screen Directors Playhouse, Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, Studio 57, Alcoa Premiere, General Electric Theater—these are only the most prominent of the television ...
Appendix: American Film Noirs By Jewish
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Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 42 photographs
Publication Year: 2009