If you were, per chance, to walk down the corridors of your mind you’d find pleasant memories of your youth and family get-togethers, but eventually the wrong turn would be made and you would end up in the darkest recesses of your consciousness. There is no filter there and no saving grace—no, you are all alone. The places and people might seem familiar (“Have I been here before?”), but as in a nightmare they are only there to give a false sense of security. Faces are slightly distorted and your view is at a tilt. Further and further you go looking for something, somewhere, or someone—down into the rabbit hole. A world just parallel to the one you know. The naiveté of Alice saved her from being scared shitless in Wonderland. But, you know better than her; you’re standing on a house of cards and it is only a matter of time before the ax comes down.
Film-noir takes the audience down into the dark alleyways of the human spirit. Just like Joseph Marlowe, the protagonist in Joseph Conrad’s novel, we have no choice but to travel the quagmire of the murky side of the human spirit and into the heart of darkness. The posters and trailers are all over the place. You’ve seen them. The warning signs are everywhere. This film isn’t going to have a happy ending. So, don’t complain when the nice mid-western boy gets a lethal shock treatment for a crime he never committed, and don’t cry on my shoulder when the murderers get off scot free because of a technicality. You were warned ahead of time. Buy the ticket, take the ride.
Consider this another warning or an invitation. For the next year I shall present to you one film-noir a week (that’s 52 weeks for the mathematically inclined). Each is unique and contributes to the rich tapestry that is film-noir. The articles act as an introduction and a prelude to viewing the film. Watching each film one will recognize familiar faces and places. Directors such as Billy Wilder, Jules Dassin, and Joseph H. Lewis among others pop up from time to time. Cinematographers, screenwriters and characters have recurring credits in several films. The private detective Phillip Marlowe appears in numerous films (The Big Sleep, Lady of the Lake, Time to Kill, The Long Goodbye, etc.) based on the series of novels written by his creator Raymond Chandler. Chandler, himself, co-scripted Double Indemnity with Billy Wilder, and earned an Academy Award nomination for his screenplay for the Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake vehicle, The Blue Dahlia.
The film-noir was invented in America, but constructed mostly by Eastern European artists who fled the oncoming Nazi menace during WWII. Domestic and foreign filmmakers worked together to make a uniquely American export that traveled the world in years after the war. It was the French that finally christened these series of films, film-noir. They saw America’s filmmakers portray its inhabitants as morally corrupt, or mentally scarred. The American Dream is a deadly fantasy and one that should be perused at your own peril.
Join me on this wild and violent journey into the seedier side of America every Tuesday.