The term film noir was originally coined by the French in the 1940s. It describes American thrillers and violent detective movies. Such films are often characterized by low-key lighting (shadows), bleak urban settings, and a cast of corrupt or cynical characters. The genre served to echo the prevailing mood of pessimism and despair in the tragic aftermath of World War II.
In this film director Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980) exposes the dark side of god-fearing middle-class America when a killer returns to his small, quiet town in California.
In Dark Past, Polish-born director Rudolph Maté (1898–1964) explores the world of psychoanalysis popular in the 1940s, in an attempt to explain societal violence. William Holden (1918–1981) plays a killer who breaks into a psychiatrist’s hunting lodge, accompanied by his girlfriend and a young gang of thugs. Hostages are taken and one of them is killed. Lee J. Cobb (1911–1976) plays the psychiatrist, Dr. Walker. Walker psychoanalyzes the killer and discovers that his troubled youth causes him to be violent. The murdering stops once this diagnosis is revealed.
Kiss Me Deadly (1955) is considered by some to be the definitive apocalyptic film noir. It is based on the seventh book of the Mickey Spillane detective series featuring the notorious Mike Hammer, who will stop at nothing to help his female client (who is later on murdered). In the film, Hammer tries to prevent criminals from obtaining radioactive materials. The film echoes cold war paranoia and the threat of nuclear war at the time. It contains classic film noir elements, including a mood of despair fostered by darkly lit scenes at night, a femme fatale, and the proverbial anti-hero.