Film Noir as the Post-War Paradigm

Wendell Corey Can't Take the Post-War Pressure
You see it so often in film noir — the story of the man who seeks escape from the dull routine of family life, or something as banal as plagues Walter Neff in Double Indemnity (1944) — his role in the corporate machine.  

It afflicts Edward G. Robinson in Woman in the Window (1945) and Wendell Corey in The File on Thelma Jordon (1950) — but it's so common, that a list of all the 'men-gone-off-the-rails movies' of the 1940s and 1950s would take pages to itemise.

Generally, this isn't good news for women in these films, as they are seen as sexual commodities, or held up as a dangerous means of escape from the dull routine of life. But even that statement begs more questions.  Is life such a dull routine, and if it is, then is that why we are going to the movies in the first place?  

Why is there no escapism to be found within the family, or if there is, why is the family seen as being of secondary worth to the sexual satisfaction that can be obtained outside of marriage?

This is one reason why film noir was so very much of its time, and why film noir reflects a certain post-war mood.  Not only did the world experience a strange bonding during the mutual struggle of war, but the period after the war produced troubles of a more pernicious sort, troubles that couldn't be sorted out with military might.

The troubles I'm talking about a pertinent to peacetime economy — the threat of unemployment — a more stagnant economy and a disillusionment as people began to look in earnest for the values that so many had lost their lives defending.  

This is where film noir offers its critique in moods and feelings, as it presents a complexity of trouble, and the trouble often erupts from within suburbia, where the dominant myths of prosperity and morality are supposed to reside, and be upheld.

It is this feeling of being lost in a world of imposed values that we can read into film noir, and often into the roles women play in noir. In film noir, the women are never possessed by the men in the end, even though they act as desirable objects of danger, drama and violence, all motifs that are easily represented in war.  Instead, the women of film noir are proof that deep down, the whole noir style shows a struggle to assert the values that so many people believed they had fought for.

Rightly do they call him PAYNE . . . .

Examples are legion, but if you want to see the troubled veteran at his best, have a look at John Payne in The Crooked Way (1949), as he tries and struggles to find his way in a post-war world that he doesn't recognise.  The Crooked Way in fact uses amnesia as a perfect metaphor, because the war has literarlly made him forget himself, his morality and he has to question every person and every value, to try and establish who he is, or whom he might be.

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