Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. xii-xiii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiv

For years I have been fascinated by how film noir unexpectedly coalesces with the musical. The inception of this book began twenty-nine years ago in 1985, when I saw Blues in the Night and the restoration of A Star Is Born. I began to explore the noir musical and to research a treasure trove of primary archival materials for this project, originally a paper, which grew into graduate research at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts and the University of Texas at Austin.

I am greatly indebted to many people over the course of this journey. I thank my editors and the staff at Johns Hopkins University Press for...

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1 The Noir Musical

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pp. 1-9

Crisscrossing beams of light splinter a black Los Angeles night sky. Searchlights explode at a Hollywood benefit concert. A self-destructive screen idol wreaks havoc backstage, shattering glass and assaulting performers. As terrified dancers scream in the wings, a big band belts out a jazz number in the orchestra.

Although this depiction could well have taken place in the real-life Hollywood of the twentieth century, what is described here is actually a scene from the 1954 musical film A Star Is Born. When the out-of-control screen idol staggers onstage (in the film), chaos ensues. Using distorted, erratic images...

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2 Preludes to the Noir Musical

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pp. 10-19

Even before the heyday of film noir, “preludes” to noir musicals had been produced almost from the very beginning of filmmaking. Experimental variations on silent pictures and early talkies, for example, fused gangster crime with a low-down jazz music environment. D. W. Griffith’s The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912) featured a backroom bar, a dance hall, and a struggling musician who is mugged by gangsters. Joseph von Sternberg’s atmospheric Underworld from 1927 included mobsters, molls, and a dance hall speakeasy. That same year, the height of the Jazz Age and Prohibition, was significant...

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3 Blues in the Night: The Noir Musical on the Brink of World War II

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pp. 20-38

Director and film historian Paul Schrader commented that in “most every dramatic Hollywood film from 1941 to 1953,” as Americans grew less romantic as a society and more disillusioned in the wake of the Depression, World War II, and other historical events, “lighting grew darker, characters more corrupt, themes more fatalistic, and the tone more hopeless . . . Never before had films dared to take such a harsh uncompromising look at American life.”1 Thus, as film noir emerged during World War II, a series of distinctive crime films featured jazz music and cabaret-style performances...

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4 Smoky Melodies: Jazz Noir Musical Drama

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pp. 39-75

As with the definitive noir musical, Blues in the Night, World War II contributed to the deep shadowy look in wartime 1940s film noir and musical noir by placing certain economic and other constraints on filmmaking. Blackouts; more restrictions on location shooting; and the rationing of film, lighting, electricity, and set materials all combined to force filmmakers to get more resourceful. Sets were recycled or cleverly disguised in shadow, fog, and rain. Cigarette smoke, mirrors, and skewed camera angles also helped change the look of an already-used set. As Robert Sklar explains, the claustrophobic mood...

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5 Le Rouge et le Noir: From The Red Shoes to A Star Is Born

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pp. 76-117

Cinematic trends such as dramatic realism, documentary style, melodrama, and the star-is-born motif influenced film noir and musicals after the war, contributing to darker postwar noir musicals. In the absence of wartime production constraints, economical musical film noir gave way to grander big-budget postwar color musical films with downbeat narratives and noir-styled production design. For example, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s (known collectively as The Archers) The Red Shoes was a musical melodrama that featured a female protagonist’s struggle in brooding...

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6 Dark Musical Melodrama: From Young at Heart to West Side Story

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pp. 118-144

After the appearance of A Star Is Born, brooding musical melodramas such as Young at Heart (1954), Love Me or Leave Me (1955), and Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955) fused elements of jazz noir and realism with a star-is-born clash between romance and career (or crime). Experimental variations on noir-styled musical melodrama such as Sweet Smell of Success (1957), A Face in the Crowd (1957), Elevator to the Gallows (1958), and West Side Story (1961) revealed a studio system further unraveling and films changing as film noir and noir musicals declined by the late 1950s. Hollywood went after an emerging...

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7 The Legacy of the Noir Musical

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pp. 145-176

Although West Side Story enjoyed phenomenal popularity, musical comedies were generally more successful. After West Side Story, Wise produced and directed The Sound of Music (shot in Technicolor on location in Austria), which made over $72 million dollars in North American rentals in 1965, more than any film up to that time.1 Nicknamed “The Sound of Money,” its tremendous success spurred studios desperate for profits to produce epic upbeat musicals. Musicals of all types had to compete with television and foreign art cinema. At the same time, the postclassical film industry increasingly...

Notes

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pp. 177-202

Index

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pp. 203-210