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Film Noir$
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Homer B. Pettey and R. Barton Palmer

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780748691074

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748691074.001.0001

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Cold War Noir

Cold War Noir

(p.80) 4. Cold War Noir
Film Noir

R. Barton Palmer

Edinburgh University Press

That continuing series of crises in politics, both domestic and international, beginning in the immediate post-war era that gradually came by the 1950s to be known collectively in the United States as the ‘Cold War’ bears an interesting, complex relationship to the film noir, which took shape and flourished in that same era. It is perfectly possible, even useful, to identify Hollywood releases generally known as noir that form a sub-grouping that deals with so-called Cold War themes. These include subversion by Soviet agents, as well as international intrigue in which free world interests more generally and American security in particular are threatened by various communist conspiracies. This chapter will provide a brief anatomy of that tradition. These films partake deeply of the Cold War atmosphere, with its paradoxical mélange of overweening self-confident nationalism and paralyzing paranoia. In them the nation appears under constant threat, but government institutions in the end prove equal to the task of defeating even the most sophisticated forms of subversion and espionage, protecting in particular the scientific secrets upon which American pre-eminence, first established by the success of the Manhattan Project, is suggested to continually depend. For American filmmaking, the legacy of the Cold War noir is the political thriller writ large, a narrative form with seemingly endless appeal devoted to exposing the unexpectedly sinister inner workings of a society in which, as film after film continues to suggest, is never what it seems to (or should) be.

Keywords:   Noir, Cold War, Communists, Nationalism, Paranoia, McCarthy, FBI, HUAC

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