Visu­al Arts

Dri­ven to Dark­ness: Jew­ish Émi­gré Direc­tors and the Rise of Film Noir

Vin­cent Brook
  • Review
By – September 9, 2011

Vin­cent Brook argues that the devel­op­ment of film noir was fun­da­men­tal­ly deter­mined by a rel­a­tive­ly small group of Jew­ish émi­gré direc­tors who brought to Hol­ly­wood not only an inti­mate work­ing knowl­edge of Ger­man expres­sion­ism but also a dis­tinct­ly Jew­ish out­look that shaped the basic traits of the genre. 

While Brook pro­vides valu­able insights into the careers of such fas­ci­nat­ing direc­tors as Fritz Lang, Bil­ly Wilder (and his old­er broth­er, the large­ly neglect­ed W. Lee Wilder), Robert Siod­mak, and Otto Pre­minger, this aca­d­e­m­ic study rais­es more ques­tions than it answers and ulti­mate­ly feels too strained to be supportable.

In his eager­ness to prove what he dubs the Jew­ish émi­gré noir the­sis,” Brook iden­ti­fies a num­ber of mark­ers of Jew­ish­ness” that will strike many read­ers as pre­pos­ter­ous, offen­sive, or both. That a fas­ci­na­tion with the femme fatale is an inher­ent­ly Jew­ish trait, for exam­ple, will come as news to read­ers famil­iar with Homer’s Circe, Shakespeare’s Cleopa­tra, and Mar­garet Mitchell’s Scar­lett O’Hara. And main­tain­ing that mul­ti­ple flash­back as a nar­ra­tive tech­nique derives from the hermeneu­tic method of the Tal­mud verges on the absurd. Vir­tu­al­ly any­thing, of course, may be argued, but that does not guar­an­tee that the argu­ment will be con­vinc­ing or even plausible.

Bar­bara Bietz is a free­lance writer and children’s book review­er. She is cur­rent­ly a mem­ber of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Award Com­mit­tee. Bar­bara is the author of the mid­dle grade book, Like a Mac­cabee. She has a blog ded­i­cat­ed to Jew­ish books for chil­dren at www​.Bar​baraB​Book​Blog​.Blogspot​.com.

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