restricted access Introduction: Coming Attractions, or The Particulars
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Introduction Coming Attractions, or The Particulars The dialectical postulate that the particular is the universal has its model in art. —Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory The Red and the Black is composed of three parts, each of which is devoted to a particular topic: anticommunism, “atomic noir,” and new media/technologies. Each part also has a slightly different configuration given my sense of how intensive or extensive the play of the theme is in ’50s noir. Cognizant as I am of the variable experience of watching previews, I have endeavored in what follows to offer a fresh, animated take on the various films discussed in more detail and at greater length in the body of the book. * * * Part One of The Red and the Black takes as its subject that peculiar ’50s phenomenon the “red menace.” Chapter 1 presents a case history on The Woman on Pier 13, which was released in 1950. The fact that the film was originally released byRKO in 1949 asI Married a Communist suggeststhatitwasintendedtoexploit the American public’s fascination with and dread about the red scare. Although the rather more generic title, The Woman on Pier 13, points a long, incriminating finger at the communist infiltration of American labor, in particular West Coast longshoremen, the original title better captures what I call the “romance of communism .” Theheterosexualromancenarrativeiscentraltothemelo-noir,andTheWoman on Pier 13 is, as its original title suggests, just as much about marriage as communism . While the conventional wisdom is that the institution of marriage was enjoying a halcyon period in the 1950s, The Woman on Pier 13 paints a revealing 2 Introduction picture,undertheguiseofanticommunistagitprop,oftheculturalcontradictions surrounding gender and sexuality at the beginning of the atomic age. Moreover, precisely because of its generic reversibility (melodrama/film noir), The Woman onPier13complicatesthereceivedwisdomaboutthe“badromance”or“unhappy marriage”betweenfilmnoirandanticommunism.Inotherwords,ifthereflexive, knee-jerk critique of anticommunist noir has conventionally been predicated on its regressive politics, not to mention bad form, a close reading of The Woman on Pier13highlightsnotonlyitsideologicalmutability—forexample,ex-communist BradCollins(RobertRyan)asavictimofthewitchhuntinstigatedbytheHouse Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)—but its very real aesthetic interest , which is especially on exhibit, true to Paul Schrader’s dictum in “Notes on Film Noir,” in the waterfront scenes. In The RKO Story author Richard Jewell remarks that 1948, the year before The Woman on Pier 13 was first released, “was the beginning of the plague years for RKO.”1 “Plague years” is an especially apt catchphrase because it points to the beginning of the fall of the “house of noir” as well as the “red plague” that so exercised Howard Hughes, who assumed controlling interest of RKO in 1948. The Whip Hand, which opens the general discussion of anticommunist noir in chapter 2, combines Hughes’s hysterical fear of germs with his equally hysterical fearofcommunism.IntheoriginalscriptforTheWhipHand,thevillainswereexNazisandHitlerhimselfwasaliveandwell .Afterthefilmwasinthecan,however, Hughes decided to ditch the “Hitler angle”: in the “new and improved” version, thecommunists“have takenoverafortress-like lodgewheretheyconductgermwarfare experiments” and are “plotting the destruction of the US population through biological means.”2 Although TheWhip Hand maywellbe,asthisplotsynopsishints,“overheated andpreposterous,”itvividlyconveystheparanoiaandapocalypticismofthe1950s, a “structure of feeling” that characterizes other, more canonical ’50s noirs such as Kiss Me Deadly. Wheeler Winston Dixon rightly praises William Cameron Menzies’s“customaryvisualbrio,”butifMenziesisresponsibleforthe“nightmarish , forced-perspective sets,” the “sheer frenzy” of the film’s “violent, aggressive camerawork” should be credited to the film’s director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca, who is one of the missing links between classic, pre-1948 RKO noirs such as Out of the Past (1947) and ’50s anticommunist noirs such as The Woman on Pier 13 and The Whip Hand.3 Another reflex of the critical literature on film noir is that in the aftermath of HUAC and the anticommunist hysteria provoked by Senator Joe McCarthy, the genretookanotso classicswerve to the right,onethatcoincideswithitsdecline. This demise can be attributed, according to Raymond Borde and Étienne Chaumeton in A Panorama of American Film Noir, to the influence of an international 3 Coming Attractions, or The Particulars movement,neorealism,andasubgenre,the policesemidocumentary.4 Fromthis dual perspective, I Was a Communist for the F.B.I. (1951), featuring Frank Lovejoy asFBIundercoveragentMattCvetic,isoneoftheprincipalfilmsoftheanticommunist noir cycle. As with The Whip Hand, the producing studio is critical. In other words, if RKO’s The Whip Hand, mirroring Hughes’s mania, switches out Nazis for Commies , Warner Bros.’ I Was a Communist for the F.B.I. replaces—in a paradigmatic substitution—OriginalGangsterswithCommunists.Atthesametime,sincethe protagonist’s undercover work with the Communist Party is tangled up with his family life, I Was a Communist...


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