It was after the end of World War II in Europe that American crime films, embargoed during the occupation, started flooding French cinemas. Films like The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941), Laura (Otto Preminger, 1944), and Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944) received their first screenings in France, prompting critics to sit up and take notice—and Nino Frank to coin the term “film noir.”
In the meantime, Hollywood was doubling down on production of this type of film. Thrillers like Leave Her to Heaven and Spellbound had been among the most popular films of 1945. Émigrés continued to bring their high-contrast palette to the big screen, and more Hollywood directors joined the movement. B pictures were moved to A status. and big studios were diversifying to include these films as part of their output. Established stars such as Olivia de Havilland, Rita Hayworth, and Orson Welles were getting their first taste of the genre, while new stars were born in the persons of Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Lauren Bacall.
What was produced in this time period was arguably the greatest year of film noir, feeding on postwar anxiety and turbulent prospects for the future. Duplicitous spies, wayward drifters, and inveterate gamblers ruled the roost. Murder was not out of the question, and everyone was looking for a leg up.
Events in this Series
Noir '46 Burt Lancaster (in his debut performance) is the Swede, a washed-up boxer turned failed criminal waiting for death in a small-town diner. Expanded from an Ernest Hemingway short story, the film is pure noir, but also explores the delicate nature of legacy and what remains when we leave this world.