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TitleFilm Noir
PublisherWiley-Blackwell
ISBN 139781444355956
CategoryArts - Film
Author
LanguageEnglish
File Size2.0 MB
Total Pages241
Document Text Contents
Page 1

Praise for Film Noir

“William Luhr is the intrepid sleuth of cinema studies, tracking down film

noir under all the aliases – classic noir, pre-noir, neo-noir – that its infinite

variety has produced. Writing with energy, clarity, and verve, Luhr

explodes narrow conceptions of noir as conclusively as the Great Whatsit

blew up postwar innocence inKiss Me Deadly. Carry a copy of this timely,

spirited book in your trenchcoat. It is a boon for film scholars, general

readers, and movie buffs alike.”

David Sterritt, Chairman, National Society of Film Critics

“Informed by a rich body of previous scholarship, conceptually sophis-

ticated, yet written with grace and clarity, Film Noir by William Luhr

provides an ideal introduction for students and fans to the dark corner of

American culture represented by these gloriously perverse crime films.”

Jerry W. Carlson, PhD, The City College & Graduate Center, CUNY

“William Luhr, who knows all the many questions raised by film noir,

supplies lucid, elegant, provocative answers. His knowledge is deep, his

comments far-ranging. This is an essential addition to the vast literature on

the genre.”

Charles Affron, New York University

“Writing with broad expertise and deep sensibility, Professor Luhr

heightens our nostalgic delight in noir films while also pointing to the

lost spectatorial experience of film noir’s once present tenseness.”

Chris Straayer, New York University Department of Cinema Studies

Page 2

NEW APPROACHES TO FILM GENRE

Series Editor: Barry Keith Grant

New Approaches to Film Genre provides students and teachers with original,

insightful, and entertaining overviews of major film genres. Each book in

the series gives an historical appreciation of its topic, from its origins to the

present day, and identifies and discusses the important films, directors,

trends, and cycles. Authors articulate their own critical perspective,

placing the genre’s development in relevant social, historical, and cultural

contexts. For students, scholars, and film buffs alike, these represent the

most concise and illuminating texts on the study of film genre.

From Shane to Kill Bill: Rethinking the Western, Patrick McGee

The Horror Film, Rick Worland

Hollywood and History, Robert Burgoyne

The Religious Film, Pamela Grace

The Hollywood War Film, Robert Eberwein

The Fantasy Film, Katherine A. Fowkes

The Multi-Protagonist Film, Marı́a del Mar Azcona

The Hollywood Romantic Comedy, Leger Grindon

Film Noir, William Luhr

Forthcoming:

The Hollywood Film Musical, Barry Keith Grant

Page 120

like a virtual blueprint forOut of the Past. It contrasted detective films in the

emerging film noirwith the earlier detective tradition, one that valued logical

and lucid plotting. In the older films the detective was

a thinking machine sniffing and filling his pipe. They [the older films] fall

back on sets, humor, supplementary crimes – and that can’t last. We are

witnesses to the death of this formula. . . .The essential question is no longer
to discover who committed the crime, but to see how the protagonist

behaves (you don’t even have to understand, in detail, the stories in which

he is involved). Only the enigmatic psychology of one or the other counts,

at the same time friends and enemies. . . .Thus these “black” films have
nothing in common with the unusual detective films. Clear psychological

stories, action, whether violent or lively, counts here less than the faces, the

behavior, the words – therefore the truth of the characters, this “third

dimension.”. . . And that’s great progress: after films like these the char-
acters in the usual detective films seem like puppets. (Frank, 1995,

pp. 9–10)

It would be hard to find amore enigmatic protagonist than Jeff, or one less

resembling a “thinking machine” or a puppet.

All of this provides a useful context for the complexities, ambiguities,

and contradictions centered upon Jeff’s character in Out of the Past. And

significantly, not only is he at the center of the film, but his voice also drives

the first half of the narrative.

Retrospective Narration and the Power of the Past

Jeff’s voice-over narration describing his earlier life serves a purpose

beyond informing Ann and the viewer of his past activities; it infuses a

layer of poignant suffering into the filmbecauseAnn is listening to it. Since

the tale centers on his falling desperately in love with Kathie, hearing it

clearly causes Ann agony. In this it resembles Neff’s voice-over narration

in Double Indemnity, made more poignant and painful because it is

addressed to Neff’s mentor and friend, Barton Keyes, and describes Neff’s

betrayal of him. Jeff’s story recounts a history of uncontrolled desire,moral

failures, and betrayal that Jeff hopes to escape, and escape with Ann. It will

never be. The past is too strong and determining.

The movie’s first half resembles an eroticized nightmare. Although the

voice-over narration ends once Jeff arrives at Whit’s place in Lake Tahoe,

the remainder of the film retains the atmosphere of a dark dream revived

and replayed. It shows the same characters – Jeff, Kathie, Whit, and

OUT OF THE PAST 109

Page 121

Ann – largely repeating behavioral patterns already established. Jeff is again

employed by Whit in a dangerous venture. Both men again fall under

Kathie’s deadly thrall and all three spiral into a doom that has long been

inevitable. Ann remains blindly loyal to Jeff although her loyalty causes her

nothing but pain. Near the end, after Jeff discovers that Kathie has

murdered Whit, the two prepare to escape. Jeff becomes more grimly

resigned than ever, behaving as if he were floating in a dreamworld while

detachedly observing his time run out. Kathie now brusquely orders him

about, telling him that, because she can testify against him and even

implicate him in Whit’s murder, which she committed, he is forever

bound to her. She tells him, “I’m running the show; don’t forget,” and he

replies, “I doubt you’d ever let me.” When she goes upstairs to get

luggage, he makes a telephone call notifying the police of their where-

abouts and escape plan.He knows that theywill probably be killed, but the

prospect of life under Kathie’s dominationmakes that a possibly preferable

fate. He has lost all hope for a future. Whatever future he might have

would be yet another recycling of his failed past.

The movie’s opening credits appear over spectacular natural lands-

capes surrounding Bridgeport – snow-capped mountains and deep, fertile

valleys. The film then shows Whit’s henchman Joe, shot from behind his

head and shoulders and giving his point of view, driving into Bridgeport.

When he stops at Jeff’s gas station, Musuraca photographed his dark

overcoat and hulking body from behind, rendering him a dark, sinister

presence in this sunlit rural town. The film effectively begins, then, by

aligning the viewerwith his point of view as hemalignantly re-enters Jeff’s

life and besmirches the unspoiled landscape. Joe embodies the black hole

of a past that Jeff so desperately wanted to escape, but that past, including

Joe, Whit, and Kathie, has resurfaced and will overwhelm them all.

The title, Out of the Past, underscores the importance of the past and of

the impossibility of repressing or escaping it. This central theme is

articulated in the exchange between Ann and Jeff after he completes his

tale of his earlier life. Ann optimistically exclaims, “And it’s all past,” to

which Jeff sadly responds, “Maybe it isn’t.” The once-presumed and

hoped-for separation of past and present no longer exists.

The ineradicability of the past was an important theme in films of the

1940s within the context of the era’s growing fascination with and

acceptance of Freudian ideas. One premise of psychoanalysis is that the

past cannot be ignored, and that it is essential to explore one’s past to gain

insight into one’s personality and ongoing behavior. It holds that we

repress troubling memories at our own peril and that, if not confronted,

those memories will eventually emerge in some form, and emerge

110 OUT OF THE PAST

Page 240

Rebecca (1940), 26

religious and mythological metaphors,

19, 137�9, 140�1, 142, 144,

202�3, 205, 210�14

retro-noir, see neo-noir

Richard Diamond, Private Detective

(radio series), 88, 89

road movies, 62

Robinson, Edward G., 24, 89

Rogin, Michael, 116

rural America, portrayal of, 21�2, 111,

169

Sarris, Andrew, 54

satirization, see parody and satirization

of film noir

Scarlet Street (1945), 128, 187

Schrader, Paul, 56, 57, 195, 197�8,

200

science �ction �lms, 15�16, 47�8, 70,

92, 136, 177, 192, 204, 208

Selby, Spencer, 59

serial killers, 209�10

Seven (1995), 18�19, 191�214

comparison with Kiss Me Deadly,

201�3

the contemporary fantastic,

198�9

continuity with film noir, 194�5

critical appraisal, 195�6

evolution of film noir, 200�1

as neo-noir, 203�14

police procedurals, 199�200

retrospective narration, 196�8

sexual betrayal and manipulation,

48�9, 82�5

see also femmes fatales

Silver, Alain, 62

Sin City (2005), 12�13

Sobchack, Vivian, 61

social change, 21�2, 32�5, 42, 70�2,

117�18, 200�1

social institutions, portrayal of, 78,

118�19, 168

soundtracks, 119, 133, 161�2, 173,

194

see also jazz

spaces and locations, 61, 63�4, 81, 111,

112�13, 184, 185�7

Spillane, Mickey, 128�9, 135, 138

Sternberg, Josef von, 61

Straayer, Chris, 66

Stranger, The (1946), 22

Stranger on the Third Floor (1940),

25

Studlar, Gaylyn, 60�1

Sunset Boulevard (1950), 7, 29

surveillance, 36, 38, 47, 63, 207�9

T-Men (1947), 39�40, 41

Tale of Two Cities, A (1935), 3

Tamahori, Lee, 188

Taxi Driver (1976), 210

tech noir, see science �ction �lms

Technicolor, 176

Telotte, J.P., 62

Time, 9, 108, 151

Time to Kill (1942), 74

torture porn, 204

Touch of Evil (1958), 17, 41�2, 145,

150

Tough Guys (1986), 91

Tourneur, Jacques, 101, 108

Towne, Robert, 186

tragedies, 66, 68

Treasury Department, 36, 39, 40

True Grit (1969), 90, 171�2

Truffaut, Franc‚ois, 69, 92

Two Jakes, The (1990), 186

Ursini, James, 62

visual style

baroque, 17, 41

chiaroscuro lighting, 11, 67, 101,

204

�ashback sequences, 1, 5, 25, 27�8,

34�5, 75, 77, 97

INDEX 231

Page 241

visual style (continued )

use of color techniques, 46�7, 93,

94�5, 120, 149, 162�3, 173, 176,

204

voice-over narration, see narration

strategies

Wager, Jans B., 60

war �lms, 33�4, 86, 90, 157, 169

water wars, 186�7

Watergate era, 154, 186

Wayne, John, 42, 90, 160, 172

Welles, Orson, 26, 41�2, 197

Westerns (�lms), 43, 52, 67, 71, 86,

157, 160, 167, 169, 171�2

White Heat (1949), 19, 21, 128, 137,

212

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), 186

Why We Fight (�lms) (1942�5), 5

Wilder, Billy, 9, 23�5

Williams, Tony, 60�1

Wizard of Oz, The (1939), 176

Woman in the Window, The (1944),

179

women, portrayal of, 21, 30�2, 59�60,

91, 97�8, 127�8

Woollacott, Janet, 65�6

Woolrich, Cornell, 60, 61

World War II, postwar anxieties, 22,

32�5, 38, 70, 141�2

xenophobia, see exoticism; racism

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), 5

Zsigmond, Vilmos, 149, 162

232 INDEX

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