The black series (film noir)

Foto: The Spiral Staircase
Still photo from the film The Spiral Staircase (1945) by director Robert Siodmak
© akg-images

The black series (film noir)

Im Laufe der Jahre wurde das Hollywood-Licht düsterer, die Personen korrupter, die Themen fatalistischer und Ton und Stimmung hoffnungsloser.

[Over the years, the Hollywood light grew darker, the people more corrupt, the topics more fatalistic and the tone and atmosphere more hopeless. (ed. trans.)]

Paul Schrader, Notes on Film Noir

While the careers of German and Austrian actors were severely limited due to their language and lacking popularity, and many European-trained screenwriters had their difficulties with American tastes, an impressive array of émigrés in the field of directing made their mark in Hollywood films of the 1940s. The “film noir” movement was shaped in large part by German-speaking directors. With stark shadows and oblique camera perspectives, their films drew on the expressionist silent films of the 1920s and the New Objectivity. The films depicted a dark vision of a contemporary America shaken by the world war and beset by crises.

The subjects of these films, which were mostly based on American crime stories, were crimes, treachery, avarice, cruelty and fear. The dark streets and dismal rooms of anonymous nocturnal cityscapes were peopled by seemingly normal citizens entangled in base crimes.

The most important directors of these series included Robert Siodmak with The Spiral Staircase (1945), Phantom Lady (1944), The Killers (1946) and Criss Cross (1948) and Fritz Lang with Ministry of Fear (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945). The list also includes Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, 1944), John Brahm (The Locket, 1946), Edgar Ulmer (The Strange Woman, 1946) and Max Ophüls (Caught, 1949).