I am currently reading a fascinating book on the career of activist Hollywood writer and producer, Adrian Scott, ‘Caught in the Crossfire: Adrian Scott and the Politics of Americanism in 1940s Hollywood’, by Jennifer E. Langdon (2008 Columbia University Press), which focuses on the production by Scott of three seminal RKO noirs, Murder, My Sweet (1944), Cornered (1945), and Crossfire (1947).
In a chapter on the making of Crossfire, Langdon relates that one of the most radical changes Scott and screenwriter John Paxton made in the adaptation of Richard Brook’s source novel, ‘The Brick Foxhole’, was the use of flashback. Langdon goes on to expound a profoundly interesting take on the nature of the flashback in film noir:
flashbacks are a key narrative strategy in film noir, contributing to the genre’s existential exploration of truth and falsehood. Historian William Graebner, suggesting the ways in which film noir prefigured postmodernism, explains, “By interrupting a traditional, linear narrative, the flashback challenged the form strongly identified with progress: the story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and open to all possibilities.” Explicitly connecting the ruptured narrative strategies of film noir to the pervasive postwar sense of contingency and doubt, he argues: “In the context of a military victory that seemed to have been won at the cost of demonstrating the inhumanity of humankind, and of a cold war that called for eternal vigilance, the ability of a cultural text to produce a conclusion consistent with, and implied in, everything that had gone before—what literary scholar Frank Kermode calls ‘the sense of an ending’ —withered and died.” * (p 85)
More on Langdon’s book in a future post.
* William Graebner, The Age of Doubt: American Thought and Culture in the 1940s (Boston: Twayne, 1981), 54, 145.