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Years 1940s (1940s Film Noir – #AtoZChallenge)

Classic film noir is a form of entertainment characteristic of the 1940s. That’s when its popularity reached a peak, for many different reasons and also for social, cultural and economic situations that pertain to that specific time.

The hard-boiled novels had been popular for some twenty years before Hollywood took it up and transformed it into the tough thriller film. Because of their popularity, there had been attempts to turn hard-boiled novels into films in the 1930s. The treatment they received to make them viable for both the Hollywood industry and its audience had transformed the original stories so profoundly that those early attempts at hard-boiled films could hardly be considered hard-boiled at all. The Maltese Falcon was made into a film twice (once in 1931 and once in 1936) before its more faithful adaptation of 1941, the first that proved to be successful. By that time, Hollywood had started turning to war anxiety and a way to depict it on screen.

White Heat

War brought a series of difficulties that helped to popularise film noir. First of all, a shortage of everything. Stars were drafted, leaving Hollywood with the ‘problem’ to cope with less known actors. Funds shrunk because the money went to the war effort and cinematographers had to find new ways to produce films with a lower budget.
At the same time, the war also produced a shortage of paper, which led to fewer novels and newspapers be printed. This meant less hard-boiled novels were available and Hollywood replaced them with films that were in the same vein. Besides, novels as source (a story created by a professional, specialised writer) were one of the alternative values B movies like film noir were able to offer with no additional cost.

"By the time #cinema critics noticed #FilmNoir in the 1950s, it was already fading Share on X

From 1944 to 1948 film noir was one of the most popular forms of films and this is indeed its golden age. In most accounts, film noir is explicitly or implicitly regarded as a reflection of the various social and cultural upheavals experienced by the US in the 1940s. But as America entered the 1950s, the interest of the public once again shifted, postwar problems were elaborated, and a new society came along.

Touch of Evil

By the mid-1950s noir had grounded to a halt. There were still a few notable struggles, with Touch of Evil (1958) considered by many the very last classic film noir produced (though many critics consider the film noir season ended by the early 1950s).
A new style of crime fiction had become popular, a more ‘bourgeois’ kind of thriller where criminals were smooth and elegant, and the lone hero was replaced by the professionalism of the ‘mobile unit’. There’s no place for grime and twisted personality in these new films, the audience now wanted something safer.

The way the audience consumed films changed too. In the 1950s, television became more and more common, to the point that most American families had a set in their house. Film production started to adapt to that new form, serials were produced especially for television, and a new type of lighting that was the exact contrary of chiaroscuro became popular and familiar.
The kind of distribution that had allowed so many B movies to be produced and sold came to an end too. Studios could no longer force movie theatres to buy bundles of B movies to have one A movie, so the production of B movies sank.

At the moment critics started to discover film noir, film noir itself faded away. It would be nearly twenty years before it would rise again.


White Heat (1949) by Raoul Walsh
Gang leader Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) lives for his mother, planning heists between horrible headaches. During a train robbery that goes wrong, Cody shoots an investigator. Realizing Cody will never be stopped if he knows he’s being pursued, authorities plant undercover agent Hank (Edmond O’Brien) in Cody’s cell. When his mother dies, a distraught Cody breaks out of jail, bringing Hank along to join his gang. With Hank in communication with the police, Cody plans a payroll heist. (Google synopsis)

Touch of Evil (1958) by Orson Welles
When a car bomb explodes on the American side of the U.S./Mexico border, Mexican drug enforcement agent Miguel Vargas (Charlton Heston) begins his investigation, along with American police captain Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles). When Vargas begins to suspect that Quinlan and his shady partner, Menzies (Joseph Calleia), are planting evidence to frame an innocent man, his investigations into their possible corruption quickly put himself and his new bride, Susie (Janet Leigh), in jeopardy. (Google synopsis)


Krutnik, Frank, In a Lonely Street. Routledge, 1991, London/NYC
Schrader, Paul. Note on Film Noir. Filmex (First Los Angeles International Film Exposition), Los Angeles, 1971

The Guardian – From the Naked City to Double Indemnity: Why the 1940s Is My Favourite Film Decade

1940s Film Noir - YEARS 1940s (AtoZ Challenge 2017) - Although film noir bears the marks of a very specific historical and social reality, it broke those walls to touch into the universal of the human soul


  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 02:05

    I find it fascinating to consider how public concerns and the world situation had so much impact on films Of course, that’s logical, but you see it so clearly as you watch films of the ear. You can even see it in the work of directors who worked in both the the 1940s and the 1950s and beyond. They make different sorts of films.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 07:08

      That goes for all sorts of art, and especially storytelling, in my opinion. As I’ve mentioned before, I think the core and purpose of storytelling is sublimate our fears ad anxiety so that it will be easier for us to face and cope with them. So it is quite obvious that storytelling will always reflect the era from whence a story comes… even if we can’t see it in the moment the story is told the first time 😉

  • Cheryl
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 03:33

    You know, I’ve never been able to get through A Touch of Evil. For some reason it just has never held my attention, which is weird because I’m a huge Charlton Heston fan…

    Impromptu Promptlings
    A to Z Challenge Letter W

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 07:09

      I haven’t watch the film, but I’ve watched clips of it while researching this series. And you know, I’m not sure I’d like to watch it. I found it quite disturbing for some reason.

  • Sara C. Snider
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 09:23

    It seems unfair in a way that film noir faded before people even realized what was going on. But, at the same time, also what makes it pretty special.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 07:10

      True. The fact that such an influential kind of storytelling emerged and people didn’t realise it if not later is one of the things that most fascinated me when I first started to research this topic.

  • Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 10:21

    Hi Jazz – I’m coming back to look at the video clip – these posts have been fascinating and I’ll pay more attention to films coming out down here – the oldies and hopefully catch a few you’ve suggested through the series … cheers Hilary

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 07:11

      This guy has done lots of good clips about film history and techniques. I’m happy to share a few and I’m certainly going to watch more 😉

  • Dr Roshan Radhakrishnan
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 14:02

    Do you think there’s a chance for a resurgence in cinema? I just ask because with all the CGI driven blockbusters, I do think there would be a crowd who would yearn for a good dark mystery with shadowy cinematography

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 07:14

      Yes, there has already been. There are occasionally a full-fladged film noir coming out (though I can’t think of one in the last few years), but most often there are noir elements in other films.

      I see lots of people hates the current popularity on Hollywood GCI films. LOL!

  • Jacqui
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 16:46

    Another interesting post. And your cover pages have been amazing. I can’t imagine how much time you’ve spent on those.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 07:15

      It took some time, yes, but I think it’s worth it. And I love making them 🙂

  • Kristin
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 23:46

    Just watched the video. Nice. I like the black and white ones with the shadows best.
    Finding Eliza

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 07:17

      Me too. I fell in love with film noir before I knew what that was (I was a kid back then) because of the use of shadows they made. That was what first attracted me to it.

  • Birgit
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 00:50

    The top Years for Film Noir are the 1940’s to the early. 1950’s but there are still films that I think are noirish. There is one called, I think, Bedroom Window starring, believe it or not, Steven Gutenberg. I haven’t seen it in years but I thought it was quite good and so was Black Widow. I love White Heat but I was not impressed with Touch of Evil. I should try that movie again just to see if I still think the same way.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 07:20

      Oh sure! The era of classic film noir is over, but film noir (and especially noirish elements) still exist and have actually spread over differenet media.

      What is it that you don’t like about Touch of Evil? While researching this series I put lots of films into my TBW list, but I’m hesitant to place Touch of Evil there too. I’ve seen a few clips while researching and for some reason I find it quite disturbing.

  • Shawna Atteberry
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 03:21

    I never thought about how the war and rationing impacted both Hollywood and book publishing, but yeah it would. It’s interesting to see how Hollywood responded to that and gave B actors we otherwise might have never known their time in the limelight.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 07:22

      These are the kind of things I like about social history. Events that are so mundane and ‘everyday’ that you normally don’t think about them, but in fact are what most impacted people’s life.

  • Sage
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 12:43

    You had an interesting theme in the A-Z and congratulations on completion. It is interesting how our taste with movies do change, currently I find little that I enjoy being made. But I do enjoy a lot of the older movies.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 07:28

      Hi Sage and thanks for stopping by 🙂

      Many people who commented on my AtoZ posts seem to think the same: Hollywood is not making oa good job of it today.
      Let’s see how it will evolve.

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