Thursday, September 26, 2013

"The Noir Forties," by Richard Lingeman

"The Noir Forties" promises less than it delivers.

By his own admission, author Richard Lingeman was counseled to shorten his manuscript, but you may find he did not achieve good enough a pruning.

Or, sometimes less is more. The author has an engaging idea about the collective American mind in the years immediately after World War II. Lingeman's proposal is to draw lines linking the particulars of that mind-state and what it projected onto movie screens in late 1940s America.

In films like "D.O.A.", "Double-Indemnity" "Blue Dahlia," and others, the writer says, "The war's psychological shocks reverberated through the popular culture, most prominently in the films noir that proliferated in the late '40s...."

Lingeman notes that strikes, a desperate rush for security, continued wartime rationing, the readjustment pains of 14 million veterans, were all moods that, "merged into a vague sense of gloom and pessimism, the reverse image of traditional American optimism and faith in the future. It tempered the victory dreams of postwar abundance, which seemed ephemeral to a generation scarred by the Depression."

In the book's best moments, the author weaves policy and news both big and small with films noir that serve as literary and cinematic parallels. The fun thing to do is watch the movies as he brings them up for discussion.

Having developed the idea a bit further, perhaps examined a few more films and drawn a more developed argument to completion, Lingeman might have had a sweet, pocket-sized seller that was attractive to a cross section of film fans/students and American politico/cultural buffs.

But it's his book and his call, and the author decided upon a path that winds into the "rouge" fifties of anti-communist propaganda films, the Korean War, and McCarthyism.

Mr. Lingeman served in the Korean War and a lot of what he presents in "Noir" is clearly of personal import to him.

A writer with "The Nation," his progressive analysis of President Franklin Roosevelt's absent vision for a post-war world, Harry Truman's capitulation to the country's most rancid and conservative forces, and the Red Scare, are all fine and good, especially if you have never delved into such topics in the kind of detail a knowledgeable journalist and political writer would.

Just know that's what your buying, that the focus on film fades (though is not completely abandoned), as the book goes on, replaced in its stead by something closer to a harrowing account of the shabby treatment endured by liberals, veterans, unions, and responsible scientists during what was, for many including the author, a kind of dark age.

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