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Law (1940s Film Noir – #AtoZChallenge)

The law manifests itself in film noir not just as the legally defined framework of actual law enforcement, but also as the law of patriarchy, which depicts the cultural environment. In a traditional world (the world before the WWII) patriarchy – the masculine law – defined the culturally acceptable position (and so the determination) of male identity and desires inside a world that was perfectly recognisable by men.

The postwar years posed many questions about the patriarchal law. When women conquered spaces that never used to be theirs, the male position inside society got questioned. Film noir, in fact, tends to be structured around the testing of the hero’s prowess, both in terms of ‘professional’ ability and in how he measures up to more extended standards of masculine competency.

Depending on how this tasting happens, film noir can be divided into three categories:

#FilmNoir explores the testing of the hero’s prowess, both in terms of ‘professional’ ability and in how he measures up to more extended standards of masculine competency. Share on X
He Walked by Night

Investigative thriller

The hero, often an investigative detective, seeks to restore order by exposing and countermanding a criminal conspiracy.
A type of early noir, in these films there is still a sense that the hero can bring that kind of control over society. He needs to fight for it, but eventually, he reaffirms himself as keeper of the law (The Maltese Falcon)

Male suspense thriller

The hero is in a position of inferiority as opposed to both the criminal conspirator and the police. Sometimes, he is blackmailed, sometimes he’s accused of a crime. Always he seeks to restore himself to a position of security by eradicating the enigma.
This is a more problematic form of noir, where the position of the hero is constantly at risk, and it’s never sure whether he will succeed in restoring the law and his own identity.
In fact, he often doesn’t. (Out of the Past)

Criminal adventure thriller

The hero, usually with the aid of a woman, becomes engaged in either a wilful or an accidental transgression of the law and has to face the consequences of stepping out of line.
This is probably the more dramatic form of noir, where the sense of desperation is higher. Here the hero finds himself fighting off greater powers, which come from within and without himself, and there’s very little light at the end of the tunnel. (Double Indemnity)

The Dark Corner

The narrational structure transfigures the hero’s position inside the law system to the hero’s position inside the patriarchal law. The definition of the hero as a unified subject – as a man with a purpose and attainable desires – becomes increasingly more problematic as the potentialities of the hero to use the law for his own purposes become more evanescent.

In the 1940s, many thrillers were marked by a more traumatic struggle to find a place – with regard to the masculine myth-making role –against both women’s new power and an ‘alternative’ definition of male identity.


FILMS CITED

The Dark Corner (1946) by Henry Hathaway 
When Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens), a tough private investigator, realizes that he’s being followed, he confronts his assailant, a shifty fellow named Fred Foss (William Bendix). Galt’s encounter with Foss leads to a web of intrigue involving prosperous art collector Hardy Cathcart (Clifton Webb) and his young wife, Mari (Cathy Downs). Soon Galt is in over his head — but luckily for him, his tenacious secretary, Kathleen Stewart (Lucille Ball), is on hand to help him out. (Google synopsis)

He Walked by Night (1948) by Anthony Mann and Alfred L. Werker
Roy Morgan (Richard Basehart) is a burglar who listens in to radio police calls, allowing him to stay one step ahead of the cops. After Morgan kills a police officer, Sergeants Brennan (Scott Brady) and Jones (James Cardwell) have little success in putting the clues of the case together. But when Jones is wounded in a shoot-out with Morgan, Brennan employs all facets of detective work, including forensics and informants, to find the elusive and clever criminal. (Google synopsis)


RESOURCES

Krutnik, Frank, In a Lonely Street. Routledge, 1991, London/NYC


1940s Film Noir - LAW (AtoZ Challenge 2017) - The law manifests itself in film noir not just as the legally defined framework of the actual law, but also as the law of patriarchy, which defines the cultural environment.

20 Comments

  • Barbara In Caneyhead
    Posted April 14, 2017 at 05:15

    I feel enlightened! I found this post interesting in part because I was drawing parallels in my mind to what you said and the community where we live. It is an old community. Many values and ideas of 100 years ago still prevail. Yet, there is influence from the outside mellowing and tempering these ideas as the older generation dies off.
    Perspectives at Life & Faith in Caneyhead

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 15, 2017 at 09:53

      I think this happenes in all societies. Some come to it earlier, some later, but all societies are face with change at a certain point. That’s was the case of American society at large in the 1940s and that’s were the film noir anxiety came from

  • Sara C. Snider
    Posted April 14, 2017 at 05:48

    The struggle to find one’s identity is a theme that recurs in my own writing, so I find this very intriguing. I also like how these films might not always have a “happy ending” in regards to the hero’s identity and social standing. It’s refreshing in a way, even if it is kind of bleak.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 15, 2017 at 09:55

      I love stories about personal and cultural ideantity too. But I think that’s true for many readers. Besides, we all try to understand who we are, don’t we?
      Film noir clearly didnt’ ahve the answer, but it sure understood the question very well 😉

  • Tasha Duncan-Drake
    Posted April 14, 2017 at 12:42

    I’m always amazed at how much insight your posts have. Brilliant once again.
    Tasha
    Tasha’s Thinkings – Shapeshifters and Werewolves
    P.S. Sorry I have been AWOL, it’s been a really busy week.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 15, 2017 at 09:56

      Thanks so much Tasha. I’m happy you’re enjoying the series 🙂

  • Nilanjana Bose
    Posted April 14, 2017 at 14:29

    “In the 1940s, many thrillers were marked by a more traumatic struggle to find a place – with regard to masculine myth-making role –against both women’s new power and an ‘alternative’ definition of male identity.”

    I wonder if that struggle has been resolved? Where I come from (India) that is on-going, not just in films, but also off-screen in society.

    Nilanjana
    Madly-in-Verse

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 15, 2017 at 09:57

      That’s a good question. The reason why we still enjoy these classic noir is that we still see ourseves reflected in them. So that anxiety is still familiar to us. Maybe the cause is different, but we definitely haven’t solve the issue.

  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted April 14, 2017 at 15:17

    This is absolutely fascinating! And it brings up all sorts of interesting questions about the nature and purpose of the law. As we see so many characters, as you say, using the law for their own purposes, we have to ask about the connection between the law and justice, whatever that really is. I find this especially interesting.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 15, 2017 at 09:59

      That’s absolutely true, Margot. Hard boiled characters not only used the law for their own purposes, but very often they had their own code of conduct, which didn’t necessarily adher to the law sistem. But we still see them as heros.
      This rises all kinds of interesting questions.

  • Birgit
    Posted April 14, 2017 at 18:33

    I find this very informative because you dealt with all the male protagonists and that they really are not black and white. Actually I find they could swing either way and even the true blue cops go a bit to the dark side to get their man

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 15, 2017 at 10:00

      True. As Margot pointed out above, that rises soem fascinating questions about who we are and what we believe.

  • Sharon Himsl
    Posted April 15, 2017 at 07:05

    Interesting. I was surprised to see Lucille Ball in one of these films. I wonder if the director had to tone down her comedic instinct. These were great roles for women though.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 15, 2017 at 10:01

      I heard it said that comedians usually make for fantastic dramatic actor as well 😉

  • Cheryl
    Posted April 15, 2017 at 16:25

    This one makes me want to run out a rent one of these kinds of movies to watch and see which category I think it fits in. Very interesting.

    Calen~
    Impromptu Promptlings
    A to Z Challenge Letter L

  • Shilpa Garg
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 03:44

    Male Suspense Thrillers where the hero is in a position of inferiority are not usually seen seems like an interesting category and I would love to watch one such film.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 16, 2017 at 07:49

      Well, i think that occasionally some of them comes out. Think at the trilogy of the Bourne Identity, for example. True, with the trend of superhero in Hollywood today, this is somethin less apparent, but I think there is still room for this kind of hero in cinema today.

  • Tina Basu
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 18:13

    I haven’t watched a movie in this genre, I need to watch now, i guess

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 16, 2017 at 19:35

      They are fun… well, if you like the thriller genre 😉

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