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Zeitgeist (1940s Film Noir – #AtoZChallenge)

Film noir is a form of psychological thriller that emerged in the time of the war and were directed by a new generation of European expatriates newly arrived in Hollywood.
It expressed the feeling of people trapped in the webs of paranoia and fear, unable to tell guilt from innocence, true identity from false. Mirroring the insecurities of postwar America, in the end, evil is exposed, though often just barely and the survival of good remains troubled and ambiguous.

Film noir is so strongly bound to the 1940s in so many ways that we could trace the arc of the change in American society by looking at the evolution of these films.

  1. Wartime period (1941-1946) is the phase of the private eye and the lone wolf, and in general, there is more talk than action. This is when the war started to impress its fear and insecurities upon American people, who felt alone and unprotected in the face of a huge disaster. Hollywood began to find new ways of expressing this in films.
  2. Postwar realism (1945-1949) Films focused more on the problem of crime in the street and political corruption. Less romantic heroes make their appearance. These heroes face insecurity and displacement in a world that they can’t call their own anymore and they seem to have very little tools to navigate it (let alone control it).
  3. Psychotic action and suicidal impulse (1949-1953) The psychotic killer (who barely existed in the first period and who was just at the fringes of the story in the second period) takes central stage. Anxiety turns into paranoia as the Cold War becomes a pervasive presence in the lives of so many people.
Kiss of Death
Far from being bound to the 1940s, #FilmNoir reaches to us through the decades Share on X

So, can it be said that film noir depicts the zeitgeist of the 1940s?
Critics don’t seem to agree. In spite of all the many connections between film noir and the period it was produced in, there is still something more to these films. Something that goes beyond the limits of time and that in later decades would produce the neo noir.

By depicting the 1940s with characteristics that were closely bound to that time, film noir produced something universal, something that is still able to speak to viewers decades later.


Kiss of Death (1947) by Henry Hathaway
Offered parole from Sing Sing in exchange for information about one of his old partners in crime, jewel thief Nick Bianco (Victor Mature) reluctantly cooperates with district attorney Louis D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy), who’s trying to take down violent murderer Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark). But when Udo goes free despite the district attorney’s best efforts, Bianco and his wife, Nettie (Coleen Gray), are in the killer’s sights, and he’ll stop at nothing to settle the score. (Google synopsis)


Schrader, Paul. Note on Film Noir. Filmex (First Los Angeles International Film Exposition), Los Angeles, 1971

Vanity Fair – Day Into Noir

1940s Film Noir - ZEITGEIST (AtoZ Challenge 2017) - Film noir was a product of its time, and still it was much more than that


  • Birgit
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 00:42

    Congrats to make it to the end! I love your last word for this theme and it so fits. You are so right how the film noir developed throu the years. This has been another film I need to see although I have seen that one sadistic scene with Richard Widmark so would love to see the whole film. I a, trying to play catch up now

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 07:43

      Thanks to you for sticking with me all this while and for you kind words 🙂

  • Cheryl
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 03:26

    I just want you to know how much I’ve enjoyed your blog during this challenge. I’ve learned so much. And I’ll never look at those films the same way again. So glad I found you! 😀

    Impromptu Promptlings
    A to Z Challenge Letter Y

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 07:45

      Thanks Cheryl. I enjoyed yor blog a lot too… though I never guessed the show 😉
      I discovered tv show I didn’t even know ever existed. Thank so much for sharing.

  • Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 10:45

    Hi Jazz – these have been great to read through and to now have a source of 50 odd films to refer back to … wonderful. Film Noir was something I wasn’t much interested in … but we’ve started showing one or two in Eastbourne at various venues and now with your A-Z blog challenge I have a great reference source … great idea … and well done on finishing with Zeitgist – an appropriate Z … cheers Hilary

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 07:46

      Thanks Hilary.
      You had one of the most unique theme I’ve seen this year. It was great 😉

  • Preethi Venugopala
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 12:01

    Congratulations for completing the A-Z Challenge so perfectly. Your posts were a delight to read every time I hopped over here.
    Got some amazing insights about Film Noir.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 07:47

      Thanks Preethi. You had an awesome challenge too.
      It’s nice to get to the end after such demanding – but so rewarding – month 🙂

  • Kristin
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 15:13

    I wondered what your “Z” would be and it is perfect. I enjoyed your topic and Congratulations on completing.
    Finding Eliza

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 07:48

      Thanks Kristin and congratulation to you too. Your challenge was awesome and illuminating 🙂

  • Jacqui
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 16:43

    I remember when I first heard the word zeigeist. It is such a perfect word for certain situations. Love this as the last entry.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 07:50

      German has some pretty awesome words that can’t be translated into any other language without losing some of the meaning. But then personally, I think German is an awesome language 😉

  • Ronel Janse van Vuuren
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 17:12

    I’ve enjoyed your posts very much 🙂 Thanks for sharing all the interesting things surrounding Film Noir.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 07:52

      Thanks Ronel, and congrats to you too. You had a fantastic challenge too.
      Demanding as the AtoZ Challenge is, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did 🙂

  • Anabel Marsh
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 18:59

    Congratulations on reaching Z! I missed a couple of posts near the end through being out of wifi / phone coverage but really enjoyed the rest. You have put so much into it.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 07:53

      Thanks, Anabel. It was a demanding chalelnge, but so rewarding 🙂

  • Sophie Duncan
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 19:13

    Well done for making all the way to end. Your posts have been most engaging :).
    Sophie’s Thoughts & Fumbles – Dragon Diaries

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 07:55

      Thanks, Sophie. Your challenge was a lot of fun too. But hey, I have a penchant for dragons 😉

  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 20:13

    This is really interesting! And I’ve richly enjoyed the opportunity to look at film noir in a closer and more detailed way this month. I appreciate your taking the time to do this. Certainly I think film noir goes far beyond just one era. There are times in all human history when we’re not sure whom to trust, when something we plan for goes wrong, when we are afraid, etc.. Film noir captures that neatly.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 07:57

      Thanks, Margot. Coming from you, it means a lot for me.

      Yes, the classic era of film noir is over, but film noir has found a new life in so many other stories and even other media. It’s a very rich kind of storytelling.

  • Gail M Baugniet
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 22:13

    Good choice for your finale, Jazz. Film noir information always entertains me and I enjoyed reading your posts throughout April.
    Congrats on a successful AtoZChallenge.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 08:00

      Thanks, Gail. Your post about Hawaiian food were so good too. It’s not often that I come across such kind of recipes 🙂

  • Debs
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 22:19

    Sarah, it’s been a fantastic journey with you through the film noir story one I’ve very much enjoyed. I’m looking forward to reading your “normal” blog posts in the future too.

    Bunny and the Bloke

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

      Thanks, Debs. I really enjoyed your challenge too, so many good songs and stories 🙂

  • Nilanjana Bose
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 23:19

    An appropriate end word for the close of your series. Informative and educational, I learned loads from your posts.

    Congratulations on completing the challenge in such style!

    All the best,

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

      Thanks, Nilanjana. YOur challenge was fascinating. I loved learning about Arab cultures from an insider, learned so many things.

  • Shawna Atteberry
    Posted May 1, 2017 at 03:21

    I’ve really enjoyed your posts about film noir. You put in a lot of work to this series, and thank you so much for sharing all of your knowledge with us.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 08:13

      Thanks, Showna. I won’t hid it was a loads of work. But so much fun too and so rewardign in the end. Which is what counts 😉

  • Shilpa Garg
    Posted May 1, 2017 at 04:47

    I ♥ reading psychological thrillers and it would be amazing to watch them live on screen. You have given me a new mission to look out for Film Noir.
    Thanks for a very informative series, Sarah. I must admit, I didnt knew anything about this genre of films before April. Thanks for your company too. Let’s stay connected. Cheers 🙂

    • Post Author
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 08:15

      Thanks for the kind words, Shipla.
      I loved your challenge. I think it was outstanding!

  • Nick Wilford
    Posted May 1, 2017 at 10:46

    Funny how the films can tell us something about the time period they were produced in and yet still hold up as timeless years later. I guess it’s because they deal with human nature. Great series of posts. Congrats on reaching the end!

    • Post Author
      Posted May 8, 2017 at 12:27

      Yes. I think when you touch of universal theme, your stories will always feel ture, no matter the passing of time. And if you ground them in a particular, very definit setting and time, they will also feel real, not some vague, random story with stock characters.
      It’s a very subtle balance, one worth pursuing.

  • CD Gallant-King
    Posted May 1, 2017 at 15:29

    Loved your theme and all your posts! It was a fascinating read all the way through.

    Also amazing that you can distill a zeitgeist down to such a short, specific time frame. With the amount of time it takes to conceive an idea, write a script, and then fund, film, produce and release a movie, can the periods be so short? I suppose getting a film off the ground was probably quicker back then, but still, I can see why there’s debate on exact when/what the periods are, as the ideas and themes evolved over time.

    Your posts made me think, I like that! Plus I have a ton of movies I need to go check out! Thank you!

    • Post Author
      Posted May 8, 2017 at 12:41

      You have to take into consideration that most of these films were B movies and only took a coulple of weeks to film. I know, it sounds crazy, since many are still of a high quality.

      Thanks for all your comments, CD. You’ve had me thining more than once!

  • Sara C. Snider
    Posted May 2, 2017 at 08:02

    Great Z word! How fascinating to see the progression of the films like that and how they reflect the times. I learned a lot from your posts, and now have a much greater appreciation for film noir than I had before. Thank you! And congrats on finishing! Now it’s time to relax/recover. 😉

    • Post Author
      Posted May 8, 2017 at 12:43

      Yes, me too. I loved film noir because they are mostly mystery stories (and I love me a good mystery) and because of the visuals, but I never imaginged so much being in there, in terms of social history.

      Thanks for all your comment and for sticking to my series. I really enjoyed yours too.

  • Tina Basu
    Posted May 2, 2017 at 10:28

    beautiful end to a beautiful challenge. Congratulations on completing the competition on a high
    Twinkling Tina Cooks

    • Post Author
      Posted May 9, 2017 at 07:58

      Thanks Tina. I loved your challenge too. I mean recipes? And desserts too? You’ll always win me over with that 😉

  • Sharon M Himsl
    Posted May 2, 2017 at 22:52

    First of all, I want to congratulate you on finishing another a-z!! A very classy series that shows you put a lot of work and research into your posts.
    I find it interesting the brief period, 1949-1953…that you call Psychotic action and suicidal impulse. Does it feel to you that history is repeating itself lately? It’s troubling on the news to hear of all the shootings and suicidal rages playing out in the u.s. right now. You really sense something is terribly wrong 🙁

    • Post Author
      Posted May 9, 2017 at 08:00

      To be honest, Sharon, as I was writing the series – but even when I write my usual 1920s stuff – I hear a lot of echoes of today’s world.
      That’s why I like the Diesel Era (1920s-1950s-ish): there are so many similarities with our world today. I always hope we’ll learn something from who has come before us.

  • CD Gallant-King
    Posted May 4, 2017 at 15:07

    Hey, to follow-up on your awesome A-to-Z series, I nominated you for a blog award thingie:

    If you choose to accept it, you’ll have to fill out a bunch of silly questions and nominate more people. You’ve been warned…

    • Post Author
      Posted May 8, 2017 at 12:45

      Oh goodness, thanks, CD! It’s been ages since I last received a blog award!
      I will certainly accept it… if it may take me some time 😉

  • Andrea Lundgren
    Posted May 4, 2017 at 19:58

    Congratulations on completing the A-Z challenge! I’ve greatly enjoyed learning more about film noir, and I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future. (Though I had to look zeitgeist up; it’s not that common a word in the US, I guess. But then, what Z word is?) 🙂

    • Post Author
      Posted May 8, 2017 at 12:46

      LOL! But as another partecipant told me, the AtoZ is a good occasion to learn new words. I learned a few myself.

  • Andrea Lundgren
    Posted May 4, 2017 at 20:56

    And I nominated you for a Liebster Award. Enjoy!

    • Post Author
      Posted May 8, 2017 at 12:47

      thanks so much, Andrea! I’m so excited!
      It may take me a bit, but I’ll accept the award with gratitude 🙂

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