The socio-political dimension of film noir

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Virginia Tech


After World War II, Hollywood produced a series of low budget pictures characterized by a dark mood, bleak urban landscapes and fierce violence. French critics called them films noirs (black films). These movies presented a critical vision of the social injustice present in the American capitalist society. This thesis examines the socio-political dimension of film noir firstly through its social, literary and filmic origins, then through a piecework study of shots and dialogues from six noir pictures: Body and Soul (1947), Force of Evil (1948), Knock On Any Door (1949), Kiss of Death (1947), I Walk Alone(1948) and The Set-up (1949). It is shown how the Marxist convictions of their makers influenced their style and their content. Even films noirs made by apolitical or moderate filmmakers follow a similar pattern. It is concluded that film noir contains expressions of anti-capitalist struggle toward social justice and moral redemption. The appeal of these ideas to many Americans is shown by the box-office success of these pictures, while many noir writers, actors and directors were the victims of the reactionary repression of the early fifties.