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, 264 pages

20 halftones

October 2005



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World War II and the Origins of Film Noir

Challenging conventional scholarship placing the origins of film noir in postwar Hollywood, Sheri Chinen Biesen finds the genre's roots firmly planted in the political, social, and material conditions of Hollywood during the war. After Pearl Harbor, America and Hollywood experienced a sharp cultural transformation that made horror, shock, and violence not only palatable but preferable. Hard times necessitated cheaper sets, fewer lights, and fresh talent; censors as well as the movie-going public showed a new tolerance for sex and violence; and female producers experienced newfound prominence in the industry.

Biesen brings prodigious archival research, accessible prose, and imaginative insights to both well-known films noir of the wartime period— The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and Double Indemnity—and others often overlooked or underrated— Scarlet Street, Ministry of Fear, Phantom Lady, and Stranger on the Third Floor.

Sheri Chinen Biesen is an associate professor of radio, television, and film studies at Rowan University.

"Biesen adds a new perspective that enhances scholarship on the subject and makes this book a must."

"Ms Biesen describes too how film noir drew on societal anxieties as Americans faced fear, loss and shortages during the war and viewed ever-more-harrowing newsreel footage. 'As life on the homefront became increasingly hard-boiled,' she writes, 'so too did American film.'"

"Biesen's book is readable, informative and jargon free... Biesen uses her research into studio archives, the films' attendant publicity and the contemporary press to bring alive the wartime period of film noir and its transformation into a post-war genre for dealing with troubled veterans returning home, the coming of the Cold War, nuclear angst and the effects of McCarthyism on Hollywood and the nation at large."

"Readers will come away from Blackout with a fuller understanding of the industrial and historical contexts of wartime film noir."

"This text offers a compelling history of wartime Hollywood and a provocative challenge to current noir scholarship."

"An important contribution to the history of film noir."

"A film noir aficionado, Biesen provides the most detailed and thoroughly researched interpretation of this era's American film noir."

"The author is to be congratulated on producing an exemplary study in empirical film history."

"This volume stands out as one of the best and perhaps the single most essential book in English on film noir. Biesen reveals an untold part of the movement with originality, sophistication, and vitality. Her work will become a foundation for subsequent interpretation of film noir, as well as an ideal text in film, history, and cultural studies courses."

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