restricted access Prise de Position: For ’50s Noir, or Confessions of a Film Noir Addict
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Prise de Position For ’50s Noir, or Confessions of a Film Noir Addict Our true passions are selfish. —Stendahl, The Red and the Black (1830) Nineteen fifties noir is, like Disney noir, something of an oxymoron.1 The stereotypical conception of “the Fifties”—whether it’s Elvis or Eisenhower, Lucy or Ozzie and Harriet, Chevies or gray flannel suits, Sputnik or Levittown-style suburbia—justdoesn’tjibewiththestereotypicalnotionsaboutfilmnoir(private eye, femme fatale, chiaroscuro, etc.). Themajorpremise ofThe Red and the Black: American Film Noir in the 1950s— that there is such a thing as ’50s noir, that it’s not a contradiction in terms—is therefore counterintuitive. More to the point, perhaps, this book sets out to disprovethereceived ,declensionistargumentaboutthe“fall”of’50snoirasopposed to its “rise” in the 1940s. Since I am wary about—for, I think, good philosophical reasons—theconventionalvalorizationofthegeneralovertheparticular(theme [+]/example [–]) as well as overarching arguments about both ’50s and historical noir, the deconstructive thesis of The Red and the Black (example [+]/theme [–]) can be said to be, à la Adorno, a negative or anti-thesis. Thissaid,theminorpremiseofTheRedandtheBlackisthat’50snoirsaremore complex, both formally and thematically speaking, than generalizations about the period suggest and that this complexity is frequently a function of a specific film’scontradictoryorperformativecharacter.Inordertodemonstratethispremise , it’s imperative, I believe, to attend to the heterogeneity of texts. Accordingly, although The Red and the Black is structured around general thematic motifs, I have felt free—within discursive reason—to follow the films where they take me. This means trying to do justice to the particularity of texts while respecting xii Prise de Position larger, more abstract imperatives. The philosophical presupposition here is that all texts are exorbitant vis-à-vis whatever topic is utilized to interpret them and, moreover, that this exorbitance is itself constitutive and can tell us just as much, sometimes more, about a film than its ostensible theme. Put another way, the book’s performative form or mode of argumentation strives to do justice to Paul Schrader’s observation that in film noir the “theme is hidden in the style.”2 The task, in short, has been to strike a balance between close reading and argumentation , a position that’s especially important when dealing with a topic such as ’50s noir that has been subject to so many generalities. But let me be more specific still with respect to the style and address of The Red and the Black. First, I’m tempted to say—thank you, Magritte!—that This is not a book (Ceci n’est pas une pipe). Which is to say, whether for good or ill, that it’s not addressed simply or only to film scholars. Second, inasmuch as this book is addressed to fans and scholars, film buffs and common readers (which designations are not, of course, mutually exclusive), it’s by definition a hybrid, even heterogeneoustext,notunlikeclassicnoiritself.Thismeans,amongotherthings, notassumingthatreadersarefamiliarwithallofthefilmsdiscussedinthefollowing pages, many of which may be obscure even for noir aficionados. Hence my considereddecisiontoadoptadetailed,novelisticapproachtoastrictlyanalytical one. My rationale is not merely philosophical or practical. Although attending to a film’s narrative provides readers with an entrée to a given picture and is also intended to produce a heightened, critical sense of mimesis (as exemplified in certain moments in my readings of The Thief [1952] and Kiss Me Deadly [1955] where I revert to something like slow motion), I have discovered in the process of writing this book that rack-focusing on a film’s form has frequently had the surprisingeffectofdefamiliarizingor“makingstrange”what,formany,aregeneric or “bad objects,” whether it’s “programmers” like The Whip Hand (1951), Shack Out on 101 (1955), and City of Fear (1959) or controversial subgenres such as the anticommunist noir. A classic example of the latter subgenre is Big Jim McLain (1952), a film whose rhetoric, as I elucidate in chapter 2, is more complicated than its ideologically conservative address might suggest. For instance, it’s worth noting that Big Jim McLain was released in a number of European markets where the communist anglewastradedout,reversingKissMeDeadly,foradrug-smugglingplot.(Seethe Italianfoglioforthefilm,titledMarijuana:Ladrogainfernale.IsthatsweetNancy Olson, John Wayne’s love interest in Big Jim McLain, her outsized face looming like a ghost in the background of the poster, her head thrown back, eyes closed, lost in the intoxicating plumes of smoke trailing from the lit cannabis stick in the foreground?) The wonderfully exploitative artwork for the Italian poster for Big Jim McLain highlights for me the issue of rhetoric or style in the restricted sense. xiii Confessions of a Film Noir Addict Given the...


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