I'm proud to have been asked to deliver a new series of columns unearthing some of the treasures known as film noir, so dubbed by the French after the ravages of WWII. In America, it was not so much a genre as a mood, as soldiers returned home and the enthusiasm of victory wore off. It was not easy to return to normal life, and sometimes men became discouraged, morose, and tempted. The fear and paranoia they might have felt was not reflected in Hollywood musicals and comedies. In most stories of film noir, a man finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes this predicament is of his own making, and sometimes it's just bad luck. He must make a decision, and inevitably, it's the wrong one. Sometimes this decision has to do with a female, or sometimes the promise of wealth or fame. Or sometimes it's just the promise of simple survival. It's what I like to term the "lure of the underworld," where the hero will spend the rest of the film, sometimes escaping at the end, most of the time not.
I'll start today with one of my favorites, Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour (1945).