Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2017

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 08/31/2019

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Film Studies

First Advisor

Creekmur, Corey K.

First Committee Member

Creekmur, Corey K.

Second Committee Member

Amad, Paula

Third Committee Member

Ďurovičová, Natasa

Fourth Committee Member

Ungar, Steven

Fifth Committee Member

Vlastos, Stephen


This dissertation documents how a series of cynical 1940s Hollywood films set in historical eras served as a forum for Hollywood to reconcile the complex relationship between America and its European past. While these films are rarely discussed in the ongoing discourse surrounding film noir, this study posits that they function as “noirs of the past” by transposing the pessimism and trauma surrounding World War II to the distant American and European past in a narrative and stylistic manner consistent with film noir. Film noir is a branching term to describe a group of 1940s and 50s Hollywood crime melodramas that are known for their cynical worldviews and femme fatales. Produced during the war and postwar era, film noirs primarily depict squalid urban settings that underscore the broken promise that is the American Dream. However, this project maintains that many of these noirs also critique American society through historical settings that trace present-day class and gender problems back to the European aristocracy and its excesses.

Noirs of the past are universally ignored in debates surrounding historical films because they appear at first blush to have little interest in depicting historical events in a precise manner. This is for good reason: they openly resist historical accuracy by employing devices that highlight their artificiality. The noir of the past’s lack of historical verisimilitude further extends to character types, dialogue, costumes, and aesthetics that feel closer in spirit to the gloomy shadows of contemporary-set film noirs than the glossy and monumental historical films of the 1940s. Through their overlap of historical and contemporary 1940s signifiers, “noirs of the past” construct a sense of location and time that borrows from both the past and present to demonstrate the cyclical nature of events and figures across history.


Female Gothic, Genre, Gothic Horror, Heterotopia, Historical Film, Noir


ix, 323 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 309-323).


Copyright © 2017 Joshua Anthony Kierstead