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Preface Generalities, or The Rise and Fall of classic American Film Noir [Art] only becomes universally eloquent in the specific impulse, by its opposition to the universal. —Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory In1955,inAPanoramaofAmericanFilmNoir,ÉtienneChaumetonandRaymond Bordedeclared,“From1949,thecareerofthenoirgenre,properlysocalled,comes to an end.”1 In 1972, in “Notes on Film Noir,” Paul Schrader stated that the “third and final phase of film noir” is “from 1949 to 1953.”2 And in 2002, in Film Noir, AndrewSpicerreferredto1952to1958astheperiodof“fragmentationanddecay.”3 From this brief chronological review, it’s clear that the periodization of classic noir has changed considerably over the years.4 Critics have differed about when exactly the classic era of American film noir concluded, but there is little disagreement that the genre began to decline sometime in the early 1950s. The reasons that have been cited for the fall of film noir are almost as various as definitions of the genre.5 As I elaborate in more detail in the introductory synopsis, “Coming Attractions,” and in the body of The Red and the Black, these reasons include, in addition to color and television, the 1948 Paramount Decree, the increasing influence of the teen and foreign markets, and the gradual loosening of censorship and self-regulation in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1952 “Miracle Decision.” For example, in Film and Politics in America, Brian Neve remarks that the “divorcement of the studios of their exhibition wings, a process begun by the successful antitrust suit in 1948, meant the beginning of the end for the double bill andtheheydayoftheBnoir.”6 Othercriticshavearguedthatthedeclineofclassic noirshouldbeattributedlesstotheabovelegalandindustrialchangesthantothe xvi Preface hearings held by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1947 and 1951. The influence of the HUAC investigations on classic noir can be seen in the rash of “red menace” films that appeared between 1947 and 1954 as wellastherelated,precipitousdeclineofthe“socialproblem”pictureepitomized by films such as Crossfire (1947) and Force of Evil (1949).7 More generally, the argument for the fall of American film noir has tended to focus on the rise of authority figures. Whereas the accent in the first decade of the genre is, according to the stock reading, on the individual—say, a private detectivewho hasanadversarialrelationwiththelawas,forinstance,SamSpade classicallydoesinTheMalteseFalcon(1941)—theemphasisintheseconddecade is ostensibly on the “institutional forces” of law and order: “The characteristic 1950s noir is the pared-down, tautly scripted thriller, which focuses on organized professional criminals in their battle with the authorities.”8 This description of the characteristic 1950s noir has in fact become a commonplace.9 Hence in the introduction to The Rough Guide to Film Noir, Alexander Ballinger and Danny Graydon reiterate that the “1950s saw a distinct shift towards tightly plotted, grittierfare ,showcasinganincreasingfocusonorganizedcriminalsengagedinfierce battles with the authorities.”10 Thisshiftinplot,theme,andcharacteriscoupled,sothenarrativegoes,witha corresponding mutationinstyle.Inthe late1940sand1950s,asaresultof,among other things, technological advances occasioned by the Second World War such as faster film stock and portable recording equipment, the studio-bound expressionism of the first phase of the genre began to give way to the “mean,” naturalistically rendered “streets” associated with neorealism: “Expressionist stylization is downplayed or avoided altogether in many 1950s noirs. . . . Location shooting becomes more routine and flatly naturalistic.”11 One consequence of the above rise-and-fall “narrative” or grand récit about classicAmericannoiristhatthe1950shavebecomesomethingofanafterthought, areactionthat’sregisteredinthetendencyonthepartofcertaincriticstocherrypick a few diamonds out of the dross and consign the rest of the decade to the dustbin of history. This practice is illustrated by the consecration of a few isolated jewels such as Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly, which Paul Schrader in 1972 referred to as a “masterpiece” and which Borde and Chaumeton in the 1979 “Postface” to A Panorama of American Film Noir called a “point of no return,” as if no film noirs appeared after it.12 Yet Kiss Me Deadly did not materialize in a generic or even authorial vacuum. In addition to Aldrich’s Hollywood exposé, The Big Knife, 1955 saw the release of a number of key film noirs such as Joseph H. Lewis’s The Big Combo, Samuel Fuller’s House of Bamboo, Stanley Kubrick’s Killer’sKiss,CharlesLaughton’s NightoftheHunter,andPhilKarlson’s ThePhenix City Story. xvii The Rise and Fall of classic American Film Noir Nineteen fifty-five is a significant point in time not simply because it’s the year that Kiss Me Deadly theoretically atomized the genre but also because it’s the moment that critics have retrospectively seized upon as being the crux or turning point of the decade—the moment, that is, when the 1950s...


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