L.A. Noir

LA Noir

LA Noir. USC Archives.


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.


Wilshire Blvd. USC Archives/Courtesy

LA Downtown Rain 1940s

Downtown LA - 1940s. USC Archives/Courtesy

Union Station 1941

1941 Union Station. Courtesy

LA Old Chintown/City Hall

LA Old Chintown/City Hall. Courtesy of


Hollywoodland. Courtesy of

1947 Body Found in Long Beach

"Investigators (left to right): E.H. Kennedy, unidentified man, Lorin Q. Martin, and Ralph Simonds are inspecting the body of an unidentified woman found slain one block off Long Beach Blvd, Monday, May 12, 1947." Courtesy of

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:

FBI Vault on Elizabeth Short a/k/a The Black Dahlia

Elizabeth Short Black Dahlia

Elizabeth "Beth" Short - The Black Dahlia

Police Bulletin Black Dahlia

Daily Police Bulletin for Black Dahlia. Courtesy of

Films such as Double Indemnity and The Big Sleep shadowed Hollywood’s silver screen.

Double Indemity

Double Indemnity


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.

Noir Woman

Current Film Noir Photo. Photographer unknown.

Film Noir Woman

Current Noir Photo. Photographer unknown.

For more historical photos of L.A., the Los Angeles Public Library has a vast public archive that can be viewed online, here




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