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 America society by looking at the evolution of these films.

  1. Wartime period (1941-1946) is the fase of the private eye and the lone wolf, and in general there is more talk than action. This is when war started to impress its fear and insecurities upon American people, who felt alone and unprotected in the face of a huge disaster. Hollywood started 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 havevery 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 lifes of so many people.

Kiss of Death

Far from being bound to the 1940s, #FilmNoir reaches to us through the decades Click To Tweet

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 time period it was produced in, there is still something more to this films, something that goes beyond the limits of time and that in later decades would have produce the neo noir.

By depicting the 1940s with characteristic 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


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

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About the Author

I was born, raised and I still live near Verona (Italy), though I worked for a time in Dublin. I started writing fantasy stories as a kid. Today I’m a bookseller who reads fantasy, history, mythology, anthropology and lots of speculative fiction. Somehow, all of this has found its way into my own dieselpunk stories.

46 Comments on "Zeitgeist (1940s Film Noir – #AtoZChallenge)"

  1. 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
    Birgit recently posted…A to Z Challenge-The Letter YMy Profile

  2. 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

    • 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.

  3. 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

    Hilary Melton-Butcher recently posted…Z is for Zebra, Zoo and Zedland …My Profile

  4. 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.
    Preethi Venugopala recently posted…Zodiac Signs and WritersMy Profile

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

  5. I wondered what your “Z” would be and it is perfect. I enjoyed your topic and Congratulations on completing.
    Finding Eliza
    Kristin recently posted…Zachariah’s Grandson Addison TaylorMy Profile

  6. I remember when I first heard the word zeigeist. It is such a perfect word for certain situations. Love this as the last entry.
    Jacqui recently posted…Today’s #AtoZChallenge: Zombie FictionMy Profile

    • 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 😉

  7. I’ve enjoyed your posts very much 🙂 Thanks for sharing all the interesting things surrounding Film Noir.
    Ronel Janse van Vuuren recently posted…A Writer’s Zen #AtoZChallengeMy Profile

    • 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 🙂

  8. 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.

  9. Well done for making all the way to end. Your posts have been most engaging :).
    Sophie’s Thoughts & Fumbles – Dragon Diaries
    Sophie Duncan recently posted…Dragon Diaries – Z is for Zlata – A to Z Challenge 2017 #AtoZChallengeMy Profile

  10. 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.

    • 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.

  11. 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.
    Gail M Baugniet recently posted…Z is for ZESTY LEMON WATER #AtoZ FOOD FOR THOUGHTMy Profile

  12. 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

  13. 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,
    Nilanjana Bose recently posted…Z is for…Zaghareet…and…Zellige….My Profile

  14. 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.
    Shawna Atteberry recently posted…A to Z Challenge: Z is for He’s My ZingMy Profile

  15. 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 🙂
    Shilpa Garg recently posted…ZZZ… #AtoZChallenge @AprilA2ZMy Profile

  16. 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!
    Nick Wilford recently posted…A-Z Challenge 2017 – Z is for ZimpanoMy Profile

    • 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.

  17. 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!
    CD Gallant-King recently posted…Z – World Famous Composer John Williams Got His Start In NewfoundlandMy Profile

    • 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!

  18. 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. 😉
    Sara C. Snider recently posted…A to Z Herbarium: Zhi ZiMy Profile

    • 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.

  19. beautiful end to a beautiful challenge. Congratulations on completing the competition on a high
    Twinkling Tina Cooks
    Tina Basu recently posted…Zebra Cake RecipeMy Profile

  20. 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 🙁
    Sharon M Himsl recently posted…Z for Zoologist, Phythias: Female Scientists Before Our TimeMy Profile

    • 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.

  21. 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…
    CD Gallant-King recently posted…A Wild Mystery Blogger Award Appears!My Profile

    • 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 😉

  22. 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?) 🙂
    Andrea Lundgren recently posted…A to Z 2017: ClosingZMy Profile

  23. And I nominated you for a Liebster Award. Enjoy! https://andrealundgren.com/2017/05/04/my-first-award/
    Andrea Lundgren recently posted…My First Award!My Profile

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