Archive director Jan-Christopher Horak discusses the series in the Los Angeles Times.
According to most film historians, film noir developed during World War II, when Hollywood, in contrast to the rigid moral values of its pre-1940 films, began producing stories with morally ambiguous characters; murky, unstable plots; and indistinct markers between good and evil. War shortages also forced studio cameramen to improvise, using chiaroscuro lighting to hide inadequacies of the sets. Critics have also agreed that film noir emerged from an alliance between the hard-boiled school of American detective fiction (Chandler, Cain, Woolrich) and German expressionist cinema, imported by German-speaking émigrés in Hollywood. Having lost everything when they were exiled from Nazi Germany, German Jewish writers and directors brought a darker vision to Hollywood, one born of loss of home and identity, or betrayal by friends. Film noirs therefore often feature an atmosphere of paranoia and a visually threatening environment, expressed through high key lighting. Expressionist themes, like the doppelganger, urbanization and modernization, Freudian psychology, moral corruption, and insanity, consistently reappear in American film noirs. And, as in the case of anti-Nazi films produced during the war, film noirs often saw émigrés teaming with leftist filmmakers who would themselves be exiled by HUAC, and are the subject of our companion series this calendar, Hollywood Exiles in Europe.
Note: This series is presented in anticipation of the Skirball Cultural Center exhibit, Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950, running October 23, 2014–March 1, 2015. This compelling exhibition, which brings together film footage, drawings, costumes, posters, photographs and memorabilia, pays homage to the actors, directors, writers and composers who fled Nazi Europe and contributed greatly to American cinema and culture. For additional information please visit www.skirball.org