Perhaps it was the graduate class I took on German Expressionism in Cinematography and a semester-long study of M, but there is something about the portrayal of the 1930s – 1940s that captivates me in a dark and gritty and murderous way. I’ve been a little, how do you say, hard on LA throughout my posts, but even I’ll admit that it houses ghosts of an era past that can only be rivaled by those of New York. From the end of prohibition and silent films to the mid-century cooling of Hollywood’s Golden Age, mob bosses ruled the streets, saloons, and corrupted police force. Film noir captured their crimes in LA, Chicago, and New York and cast virtue-less women in sharply contrasting black and white.
This is a look at Los Angeles in a darker, moodier, and more glamorous time. When crime was alluring, women were dripping with poison, and murder only showcased a detective’s talents.
And, of course, the city’s most notorious and heavily publicized unsolved murder of the 1940s, The Black Dahlia. Sparing the gruesome details, Elizabeth “Beth or Betty” Short was a 22 year-old aspiring actress, who upon arriving at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown LA for one of her many nightly cocktail romps, was never seen alive again. Her body was found bisected and bled dry on January 15, 1947 in an abandoned lot south of what is now Mid-City.
You can see the FBI’s case files, including original investigation reports and newspaper clippings, here:
Films such as Double Indemnity and The Big Sleep shadowed Hollywood’s silver screen.
And although not quite capturing the authenticity of original noir (I think women’s facial structures were just…different), current noir photographs are still most certainly dynamic recreations of the chiaroscuro world portrayed by Hollywood filmmakers of the past.
For more historical photos of L.A., the Los Angeles Public Library has a vast public archive that can be viewed online, here