may strike a man in the face.” His fear captures the conventional fate of
the noir character whose tenuous grasp on normality is derailed by an
unlikely twist of fate.
Noir’s down-and-out private eyes, dames on the make, and petty
criminals become embroiled in puzzle-like plots of double and triple
crosses. The central character in a noir text must try to distinguish between benign and malignant unseen forces, with pain often more mental than physical. The existential threats of alienation and nothingness
are always lurking. Alone and unprotected, characters find no place of
refuge as they move through complex underworlds, ultimately discovering that a potential criminal is concealed in all of us.
Before and during World War II, many foreign film directors fled
Europe for the United States. German exiles such as Fritz Lang, Billy
Fred Lyon, Man Walking up San Francisco Street, 1959