The Jewish Influence on Film Noir

Taught by George Robinson
Mondays, 5:30 PM – 7:00 PM
6 Sessions, January 11 – February 15
Registration deadline: January 8

$169 ($149 for JxJ Donors of certain levels*)

With the coming of the Second World War, a new, darker strain left its marks on American film, a fate-driven, almost hallucinatory blend of visual style and themes that would come to be known as film noir (dark film). At the forefront of this change, which cut across genre lines, eventually including such unlikely modes as the western, the family melodrama and the swashbuckler, were a group of Jewish filmmakers, mostly emigres seeking refuge from the rise of the Nazis as well as American-born artists influenced by them. As one TV program might say, “These are their stories.”

Note: Additional streaming film rentals required 


Part I – The Emigres
Scarlet Street (1945)
Fritz Lang’s blacker-than-black remake of Jean Renoir’s La Chienne is an extended excursion into a world of mismatched would-be lovers and destiny-riddled disaster. Edward G. Robinson is a Sunday painter, a harmless drudge who rescues a damsel-seemingly-in-distress (Joan Bennett) from a brutal boyfriend (Dan Duryea), only to fall under her malign influence. There can only be one way for this story to end, and it’s not nice.

Available on Amazon Prime

Fallen Angel (1945)
For most film noir heroes, the city is an ominous, threatening place. Not so Dana Andrews, a rootless drifter who turns up in a small town looking for work and a meal. He crosses paths with a timid heiress (Alice Faye), a hashhouse waitress (Linda Darnell), and a brutal cop in a mean-looking hat (Charles Bickford). Otto Preminger, transplanted Viennese theater intellectual, mimics his own deracination in this moody tale of homelessness, statelessness and lovelessness.

Available on Amazon Prime

Detour (1945)
In just over 60 minutes, Edgar G. Ulmer encapsulates the most paranoiac fears of the age. “Wherever you go, fate sticks out a foot to trip you up.” Sleazy classical pianist Tom Neal hitchhikes west to join his successful singer girlfriend and meets pure venom on the way in the form of Ann Savage in one of the most memorably deranged femmes fatales in all of noirDetour is either the greatest cheap film or the cheapest great film ever made.

Available on Amazon Prime

Act of Violence (1949)
Fred Zinneman’s reputation is based mainly on his overstuffed Oscar winners of the ‘50s and ‘60s, but Act of Violence is his best film, a morally complex, visually inventive drama about survivor guilt and guilty survivors. Robert Ryan and Van Heflin duel in the seemingly placid spaces of suburban post-war America; one is a severely damaged ex-POW, the other the man who may have betrayed him.

Part 2 – The Americans
My Name Is Julia Ross (1945)
You are transplanted to a strange land, told that you have a new name and a totally different history. Are you going mad, or just a refugee? Nina Foch – like most of the directors in this series – is placed in that position but it quickly becomes apparent that she is not safe in her new home and the danger is already all around her. Joseph H. Lewis, a New York-born Jew, channels his own fear of dislocation and loss in this stunningly concise, economical thriller, barely an hour long.

Available on Hulu and

Force of Evil (1948)
One of the finest debut films ever made, Abraham Polonsky’s study of organized crime as a form of capitalist endeavor is also a corrosive profile of an immigrant family in meltdown. John Garfield is a rising Wall Street lawyer whose main client is the syndicate that is pulling together New York’s numbers banks. Unfortunately for everyone involved, their mergers and acquisitions branch has a rather direct approach to acquisitions. A brilliant script with machine-gun dialogue.


Teacher: George Robinson recently finished 26 years as the film critic at The Jewish Week (NYC). An adjunct assistant professor of media arts and technology at Borough of Manhattan Community College, he has been writing about film for almost 50 years. He is also the author of Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals (Simon and Schuster/Atria) and Essential Torah: A Complete Guide to the Five Books of Moses (Schocken).