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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 of psychological noir thrillers derives from “material limitations of wartime filmmaking: restrictions on travel virtually eliminated location shooting where interior sets could serve, and stringent budgets . . . cut down on lighting.” Yet the “gloom and constriction were not merely an accommodation to forced economies; their film-makers intended them that way.”1 Besides restrictions in lighting, wartime filmmaking constraints discouraged huge sets, lavish costumes, crowds of extras, and big production numbers, which contributed to the development of film noir style and altered the ambiance of musicals. Modest black-and-white film noir with popular jazz numbers served to provide a cheaper alternative to expensive color musicals while showcasing sexy female pinup stars coveted by military personnel, as in This Gun for Hire, To Have and Have Not, Phantom Lady, Christmas Holiday, The Big Sleep, and Gilda. Even color musicals were darker themed, such as Mitchell Leisen’s Lady in the Dark (1944) and Charles Vidor’s Cover Girl (1944), which fused brilliant Technicolor spectacle with a clash between romance and career at a time when Rosie the chapter four Smoky Melodies Jazz Noir Musical Drama 40 m us ic i n t h e s h a d ow s Riveter was encouraging American women to go to work. Growing out of the war, noir musical melodramas showcased the dilemma of holding down a job that would come to interfere with romance. Like film noir, many musicals became more psychological, portraying a tormented antihero’s (or heroine’s) pointof -view, conflicted dreams, sexual fantasies, disturbed conscience, or repressed inner psyche. Musical film noir and a more cynical musical style led to some unlikely cinematic experimentation. Color musicals like The Wizard of Oz, Lady in the Dark, Cover Girl, Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), The Pirate (1948), and The Red Shoes (1948) featured an extravagant use of color and aesthetic—three-strip Technicolor , elaborate costumes, glamorous women, bright lighting, and visual design rarely seen during (or in the immediate aftermath of ) the war to convey psychological dream states. Both Lady in the Dark and Cover Girl featured beautiful red-headed female singing and dancing stars with fabulous legs (à la famed World War II icon Betty Grable) cast as strong, independent women coming into conflict with the men in their lives over their careers. Bigger changes than aesthetics were also afoot, however, and this chapter explores how noir musicals coalesced during and just after the war as gender, masculinity , and ethnicity shifted in the wake of the conflict. Roles for women evolved to reflect the social psyche of the time. Ethnic minority depictions also underwent change. By 1943, the federal government actively encouraged cinematic depictions of gender and ethnicity to aid the war effort. Hollywood responded both with “all-black” musicals, adapting Harold Arlen’s Cabin in the Sky (the first film directed by Vincente Minnelli) and Stormy Weather with Lena Horne, and integrated multiethnic screen images in an effort to promote solidarity among Americans .2 Lena Horne was the first black performer signed to a long-term contract by a major studio.3 Behind it all was jazz. We will see how jazz music was inextricably tied to these new themes and roles both onscreen and off. JAZZ MUSICALS Blues in the Night’s atmospheric noir style established the trend for later musical film noir and dark noir musicals that fused jazz performances with melodrama. As the war drew to a close, critics noted the popularity of psychological crime pictures and the public’s penchant for realistic graphic depictions of violence and a brooding, dark visual style (characteristic of film noir) growing out of the war. They took note of Blues in the Night’s verisimilitude, which Warner Bros. promoted as “a real story about real people!” Hollywood jumped on the noir bandwagon as the shadowy, stylish noir films seemed to appeal to the new war- s m...


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