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.