Mauri Lynn in The Big Night (1951; Joseph Losey)
by Sam Juliano
With the focus of so many festivals and blogger features on ‘film noir’ you’re led to believe it’s more popular today than it ever was. Dave Hicks just completed a Top 100 noir countdown, and our good friend and colleague Tony d’Ambra has been raising the bar on the form for just about a year, examining noir in its literary roots, thematic underpinnings, and individual components and symbols, including its most dominant locales and cities, characters (i.e. femme fatale) and sociological links. This week, d’Ambra has posted one of his great pieces on the presumed role of the African-American in film noir, and has taken a position contrary to what some academics have asserted over several decades, a position that acknowledges the sympathetic regard for issues of race within the fabric of the story.
Says d’Ambra: “If during the 1940s and 1950s Hollywood was not actively racist, it still largely ignored race. Some academics have gone as far as saying that film noir was essentially a manifestation of a transference of a fear of blackness, the other, to a noir nether world of ambivalence and sublimation. But my view is to the contrary. If you look at noir movies over the classic period from the early 40s to the late 50s, a significant number of progressive writers and directors made noirs that deal sympathetically with race as important elements of the story. This is more than can be said of the body of Hollywood output for the period.”
He then goes on to clarify his stance with specific examples:
“Here I would like to cover some of these noirs from 1941 through to 1956. The Harry Belafonte produced Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) is not included in this discussion, as we are dealing here with white Hollywood’s portrayal of blacks.” d’Ambra then posts some superlative capsule reviews on the following: Blues in the Night, Body and Soul, The Reckless Moment, Young Man With a Horn, The Set-Up, The Big Night, The Well and The Killing, and in each case there’s some compelling evidence. Head over here to FilmsNoir.net for this fascinating piece: http://filmsnoir.net/film_noir/race-and-film-noir-black-and-noir.html