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Urban Setting (1940s Film Noir – #AtoZChallenge)

Just like in the 1920s, American cities had an explosion during the 1940s with remarkably similar emotional results. Cities grew fast, irrationally, disorderly, and were therefore bound to cause the same kind of problems to people they had already caused twenty years before. The tremendous grow was caused by workers flocking to the cities called by the availability of jobs, which often involved war-related production.

Pitfall

If they offered huge new possibilities both in terms of job, experience and entertainments, these sprawling cities were also places of psychological alienation as human relations tended to be more difficult. People didn’t know each other as it used to be in small country towns. An uncomfortable number of men and women from all walks of life gathered in crowded neighbourhoods and sometimes they didn’t share the same beliefs, ways of life, origins, not even the same language. Feeling a stranger was easy in such places.

Crime and the underworld flourished. Industrialisation created a fertile environment for moving money and for corruption.
A man could find himself caught in games that were far bigger them him, especially if he was in a position of inferiority and insecurity. Even the sound of the city was alien and mechanic, similar to the unwelcoming grounding of the mill machines. It was confusing and belittling. A person could easily fill just a little cog in a machine too big to be completely seen and understood.

In short, the urban environment of these new cities was the perfect set for film noir.

The new American city, modern and confusing, was the perfect set for #FilmNoir Share on X

FILMS CITED

Pitfall (1948) by Andre DeToth 
John Forbes is a family man who’s tired of the 9 to 5 humdrum of his job an insurance company executive. Life gets a little more exciting for him when he calls upon femme fatale Mona Stevens. Her boyfriend has robbed a store insured by Forbes’ company and has showered her with gifts using the loot. Forbes comes to collect the ill-gotten gifts, but the boyfriend is in jail, and Forbes falls hard for Mona and begins an affair. The only problem is that MacDonald, a private dick who freelances for the insurance company, has had his eyes on Mona first. The obsessed MacDonald turns the soon-to-be-released boyfriend against Forbes. (Movie Web synopsis)


RESOURCES

Cindy Tsutsumi – 1940s American Film Noir 


1940s Film Noir - TRANSGRESSION (AtoZ Challenge 2017) - Chaotic, alienating, corrupt. The modern American city was the perfect set for film noir

38 Comments

  • Sue Bursztynski
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 00:19

    I didn’t realise what a wide range of film noir movies were out there – I’ve always imagined them as being about the adventures if the private detective. Aren’t there any good guys in this film? 🙂

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted May 3, 2017 at 09:10

      Well, there are good guys, actually, but normally, they aren’t very heroic 😉

  • Sue Bursztynski
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 00:23

    Aren’t there any good guys in this film? 🙂

    U is for Undercover Agent

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 08:58

      Well, the fact that good and evil are not so neatly defined and that any of us may act one way or the other, is kind of the whole point of these stories 😉

  • Calensariel
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 01:51

    I think this is one of your most interesting posts yet…

    Calen~
    Impromptu Promptlings
    A to Z Challenge Letter T

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 09:00

      I’m happy you liked it 🙂
      Two years ago I talked about this subject in my Roaring Twenties AtoZChallenge, under “X is for Xenophobia”. It is a very intersting subject, and closer to us than we may think.

  • Barbara In Caneyhead
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 07:47

    In many ways even today, leaving home and going somewhere new still has the same perils if the person isn’t well grounded in their beliefs and their morals.
    Perspectives at Life & Faith in Caneyhead

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 09:00

      Change, as film noir tells us, is never easy to handle 😉

  • Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 09:02

    Hi Sarah – I can quite easily see that setting just suited the genre of film noir … especially in black and white film. Similarly the spy films set in Eastern Europe – fitted perfectly with the time … but there are some amazing story lines in fascinating settings … cheers Hilary

    http://positiveletters.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/u-is-for-unicorn.html

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 09:13

      It fitted the theme of “change and awkwardly coping with it” perfectly, in my opinion 🙂

  • Bob Scotney
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 09:08

    I have not been a very frequent visitor to the cinema I’m afraid since the Saturday morning children shows when I was a boy. I can’t even remember the last film I saw.
    Nevertheless I can see that you have studied film in depth.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 09:15

      Hi Bob and thanks for stopping by.
      I’m not really a student of films in general, but I did do in-depth research for this topic. and I’m happy I did, it’s a fascinating subject.

  • Sophie Duncan
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 09:33

    Where there is discontent and loneliness, you are right, you have a perfect setting for Film Noir 🙂
    Sophie
    Sophie’s Thoughts & Fumbles – Dragon Diaries

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 26, 2017 at 18:13

      Yes, I’d say film noir is mostly about disconfort 🙂

  • Eva
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 11:19

    It is a double movement,maybe: the fact these cities existed, with all their facilities for crime and corruption, stimulated the creation of film noir.

  • CD Gallant-King
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 14:36

    “…these sprawling cities were also places of psychological alienation as human relations tended to be more difficult. ”

    That sounds familiar. We never did get over this, did we?

    I suppose crime and corruption still run rampant. The only difference is people aren’t so cool and classily-dressed today. :-/

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 26, 2017 at 18:20

      LOL! Well, you can make your own style, anyway. In the dieselpunk community there are many (especially men) that like to wear vintage clothes in everyday life 😉

  • Preethi Venugopala
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 15:43

    Yes, new urban growth is definitely a good setting for film noir. Interesting post!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 26, 2017 at 18:22

      Considering film noir themes, the urban setting makes sense. It’s also particularly congenial to Expressionistic visuals, in my opinion.

  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 16:04

    Urban environments really are excellent settings for films noir, aren’t they? When you have that many people together, as you say, and all with different backgrounds, you have people meet up who mightn’t otherwise. And that sows the seeds for any number of possibilities for a good crime story. You can make the set very neon-lit, gritty, and so on, too.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 26, 2017 at 18:29

      The gathering of so many different people in one place is sure ripe for good stories. Modernity is inheritent to film noir, I think 🙂

  • Carrie-Anne
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 22:16

    Cities really did swell in population after the war, though many people also left for the slower-paced but very cookie-cutter suburbs. It’s hard to imagine a lot of modern cities as they were before they became so urban, though there are many pictures to prove cities like New York and Boston weren’t always that crowded and fast-paced.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 26, 2017 at 18:32

      I’ve seen old pics of New York and Chicago. So fascinating to se the evolution. Especially for an Italian like me. Our cities in Italy haven’t changed much in the last few centuries 🙂

  • Kristin
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 22:33

    It was kind of surprising to hear the voice of “Riley” from “The Life of Riley” radio show coming from a film noir actor.
    Finding Eliza

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 09:20

      Lol!!
      I don’t know that show. Is the actore the younger one?

  • Jacqui
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 23:39

    Yes, this fits nicely. Urban settings used to be upscale and classy–even invigorating. I don’t know that that fits anymore.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 09:24

      One of the innovations of film noir was that it brought the story in more ‘common’ urban setting, often in among middle class people.

  • Gail M Baugniet
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 23:56

    The experience of feeling like a stranger can still be experienced when one first moves to Honolulu with its diversity of nationalities, beliefs, and educations. Earl Derr Biggers took advantage of his experiences with this broad spectrum to develop his novels.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 09:39

      Charlie Chan films from the 1930s/1940s are among the films that got me into this era cinama when I was a kid. They aired lots of black and White movies on tv when I was a kid. They don’t do it amymore, sadly.
      I then read a few of Biggers’s books a few years ago. To me, Charlie Chan is quite an iconic character 🙂

  • Sharon M Himsl
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 02:33

    Something I just noticed in older film is how easy it is to hear the dialogue….even with street noise blaring in the background. In real life their voices might have been muffled—which you often experience in modern film.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 10:00

      I think that might be a stylistic choice.
      They did it with light too. When they didn’t use chiaroscuro, they illuminated all levels of the set in the same way, so that everything looked sharp. The viewers saw everything with the same clearity, no element was highlighted.
      Sincve this is not what happens in real life and certainly not what normally happens in films, it created a sense of displacement that was yet another way to build uneasiness about the story.
      It may be the same with sound.

  • Arlee Bird
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 18:17

    One of the more fascinating aspects to me about the film noir films is the looks we get into the past. Street scenes shot on location are particularly interesting to me. Love seeing the traffic and the businesses in the background.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 10:01

      Me too. While researching my 1920s stories I watched many silent films. Loved seeing how life was back then, from the perspective of people living it.

  • Sara C. Snider
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 08:07

    And that’s why I want to live in a little house in the woods. 😉

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 10:02

      LOL! I suppose every environment has its own positive aspects 😉

  • Anmol Rawat
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 20:56

    Sounds interesting. I’m not a fan of noir genre, but I do sneak in one or two between other movies. I do agree with the urban setting fact!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted May 3, 2017 at 09:12

      Film noir is definitely a very peculiar kind of movie. I understand it’s fine with a particular kind of people 😉
      But then, that goes for any kind of movies, right?

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