Noir Urbanisms: Dystopic Images of the Modern City

By Gyan Prakash | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
A Regional Geography of Film Noir:
Urban Dystopias On- and Offscreen

MARK SHIEL


Hollywood and Los Angeles after World War II

In the heyday of film noir, from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s, the utopian aspirations that had driven the foundation and meteoric rise of the Hollywood studio system since World War I suddenly seemed fragile and liable to collapse. For the American Right, which had never much liked Hollywood on moral and political grounds, it came to appear as a Communist command post on American soil; for workers, it was a desperately insecure and often hostile place in which to try to make a living; and for the Hollywood moguls it was a dream they once had that was now threatened by industrial unrest, government regulation, and new technologies such as television.

In a lengthy and spirited defense of the Hollywood film industry from its critics published in the New York Times on April 9, 1950, Dore Schary, then head of production at MGM, contended that many Americans viewed Hollywood as a “modern Babylon,” full of “white Rolls Royces,” “blonde secretaries,” and “houses full of bear rugs littered with unclad women.”1 Americans loved Hollywood for its visions of stars on the silver screen but they understood the real place barely at all and viewed its inhabitants with mistrust.

This combination of interest and repulsion inspires attack from every
angle. We are accused of being a reactionary town, interested only in
a buck; of being enormously extravagant, and of being Communist-
controlled. We are attacked for not using the screen to say some-
thing and we are accused of being propagandists and of filling the
screen with “messages.” We are viewed as a town tortured by labor
strife, and we are told that of course there is no labor problem in Hol-
lywood because we have corrupted and suborned the labor leaders.
We are called insular, cut off from and oblivious of the world, and we
are regarded as a transient community which has never developed
any roots.2

-75-

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