Gallery: The Noir Look in the Pages of the Post

The Post published a lot of noir short stories in the 1940s, and found the right artists to illustrate this sinister genre perfectly.

Perry Peterson illustration for “Stolen Goods” in the June 25, 1949, issue

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Victory was looking more and more likely in the final year of the Second World War. Americans’ attention began shifting to life in peacetime, and their support for the war began to wane.

The government wanted to remind them of the risks that their soldiers still faced and the need to continue buying war bonds. So government censors began allowing the media to show images of wounded and dead G.I.s, according to Richard Lingeman’s book, The Noir Forties. Hollywood began producing war movies that were more grim, brutal, and realistic, although the endings were nearly as happy as they’d been earlier in the war.

Out of this new sensibility came fiction and movies with a darker, more menacing side. At the same time that heartwarming films like It’s a Wonderful Life (1945) and Miracle on 34th Street (1947) were released, theaters were showing films with a more sinister air, like Double Indemnity (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), and Out of the Past (1947).

The Big Sleep Official Trailer (Uploaded to YouTube by Rotten Tomatoes Classic Trailers)

A French movie critic described this new look in movies with the French word for black – noir. It became a genre in film and fiction, an outgrowth of the gritty tales found in pulp fiction magazines.

Some of these atmospheric crime stories appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. And, as Bob Sassone says in his recent article in Noir City magazine,  they were made into movies.

He mentions several artists of noir stories, including John Henry Crosman, who illustrated “Prescription for Murder.”

“Ranny kept the gun wrapped in the handkerchief,” said Black stupidly. “He said it kept the dust out.” (John Henry Crosman illustration for “Death in the Doll’s House” in the January 30, 1943, issue)
“Her hand holding the hypodermic reached toward Cyrus. He straightened up and grasped it.” (John Henry Crosman illustration for “Prescription for Murder” in the October 11, 1941, issue)

Another Post illustrator was William A. Smith, who was a veteran of the Office of Strategic Services and the president of UNESCO International Association of Art. He was considered a “serious” artist as well an illustrator, and his works are hung in several major galleries.

“He slapped him twice across the mouth, in a back-and-forth gesture. He was methodical and unexcited.” (William A. Smith illustration for “Nightmare in Manhattan” in the August 6, 1949, issue)
“If only she had screamed when she first saw the man with the gun—but she waited too long, and the kidnaper was loose.” (William A. Smith illustration for “Nightmare in Manhattan” in the August 6, 1949, issue)

Austin Briggs illustrated advertisements for years until he got a chance to do magazine illustration. His work appeared in popular magazines like Colliers, Red Book, and The Saturday Evening Post. Briggs also drew the comic strip Flash Gordon.

“Slowly, dazedly, he faced the truth. His plan had been perfect. It had worked. The gun was at the right height, the shot fatal.” (Austin Briggs illustration for “Murder for Millions” in the December 18, 1948, issue)
“Ellen walked back with him. her heart sinking.” (Austin Briggs illustration for “Wanted for Murder” in the September 3, 1949, issue)

Artist Perry Peterson was known for his illustration of mysteries.

“I took a quick look, got up from the chair and took another look. I’d never in my life seen anybody so beat up.” (Perry Peterson illustration for “Only Thieves Explain” in the December 28, 1946, issue)
“He said, ‘Here, catch.’ But he didn’t throw the coat. He brought it around in a swift swipe at the gun and knocked it aside.” (Perry Peterson illustration for “Too Late for Tears” in the May 3, 1947, issue)
“Danny walked in the shadow of the building to his car. He didn’t see the tall man step out of the shadow and follow.” (Perry Peterson illustration for “Too Late for Tears” in the May 10, 1947, issue)
“Roger kicked swiftly at Mr. Clem’s hand and the blackjack flew to the floor.” (Perry Peterson illustration for “Stolen Goods” in the July 30, 1949, issue)
“She sat down slowly when the receiver clicked. She felt cold.” (Perry Peterson illustration for “Stolen Goods” in the June 25, 1949, issue)

The work of these illustrators marked a new era in the Post’s illustration of its fiction. From this point on, story illustration would show a new emphasis on drama and atmosphere.

Featured image: Perry Peterson illustration for “Stolen Goods” in the June 25, 1949, issue

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Comments

  1. Dear Editor:
    Until Jack Nicholson’s fabulous portrayal of a neurotic commanding , a film that I thought was also terrific, and, at least plausible, was the equally fabulous portrayal of neurotic commanding officer, was Humphrey Bogart’s of Captain Phillip Queeg in the “Caine Mutiny”.
    To this day, I will never forget Queeg under pressure, and, bring out those roller ball bearing and begin to roll them in his hand.
    The portrayal by Bogart was so realistic that it left you wondering at the end as to whether, Queeg was as incompetent as the crew contended.
    Loved it until Nicholson came along, and, did nearly the same thing.

  2. WOW Jeff! You’ve outdone yourself with this feature. All the dark shadows and shading in just the right places in these mostly black and white illustrations, with a little color here and there. You can really see that in the Austin Briggs 1948 story illustration here for “Murder for MIllions”. Look at that tie. Look at the perfect reflection in the mirror!

    I love Perry Peterson’s and William A. Smith’s illustrations a lot too; especially the action ones. ‘Nightmare in Manhattan’ here is a perfect example. Men face slapping other men in a back-and-forth gestures wasn’t an uncommon punishment in mid-century film noir. This is featured in “The Garment Jungle” and “Sweet Smell of Success” I saw recently. In the latter. Tony Curtis was in the wrong place at the wrong time. ‘Sweet’ isn’t noir as such, but has elements of it.

    Thanks for the links here. I want to see these films in the near future. Such great escapes from the awful present. Just watched ‘The Chase’ (’46) with Peter Lorre. He can really give ya the creeps, that’s for sure. ‘Wicked Woman’ from ’53 with Beverly Michaels is swell. ‘While the City Sleeps’ (’56) kind of previews ‘Psycho’ in some ways. ‘The Unholy Wife’ (’57) with Diana Dors is a film noir in color. I can’t believe the shade of blue she’s wearing in that sexy dress. ‘Vicc Raid’ (’59) with Mamie Van Doren is excellent. Another underrated actress.

    The takeaway here? No need to waste your time on any present day films made by and for unintelligent people.

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