Movies Reflect a Turbulent Time
By Richard Lingeman
Nation Books, $29.99, 420 pages
In The Noir Forties, Richard Lingeman surveys the events from the close of WW II through the Korean war and documents how those events reshaped American opinions and attitudes, driving us from post-WW II hope mixed with uncertainty to the pervasive suspicion, even paranoia, of the Cold War and the McCarthy craze. In addition, he surveys how the films of that time, especially the new genre of film noir, reflect these changes in America’s collective consciousness.
“Film noir . . . reflected the personal anxieties of the late forties . . . [It] vacuumed up the psychological detritus swirling in the air, the velleities, secret wishes, criminal thoughts, unspoken fears, dream images of the times.”
This is a lot to take on, and Lingeman makes the right choice: instead of a bland, high-level overview, he presents detailed examinations of significant events and movements of the period. In parallel discussions, he shows how the plot and characters of particular films noir reflect our changing attitudes and concerns. And as a bonus, we get a look at how American art – film and otherwise – was changing.
Lingeman’s writing is clear and readable. There is a lot of detail to absorb, but Lingeman’s voice – he lived through this era – never quite loses its personal tone. Both lovers of film noir and fans of social and cultural history will find this an excellent read.
Reviewed by Daniel Hobbs