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The Gun in the Briefcase

Or, the Inscription of Class in Film Noir

3. 1946 to 1975

2. 1946–1955

  1. Paul Arthur

Published Online: 13 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470671153.wbhaf049

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

How to Cite

Arthur, P. 2011. The Gun in the Briefcase. The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film. 3:2:46.

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 13 NOV 2011


The image is a fleeting one: In a darkened motel room on the outskirts of a border town, a man in a business suit wrestles open a briefcase, previously entrusted to his new bride, only to discover that important legal papers and his government-issue revolver are missing. Without another shred of information concerning narrative context or patterning, this shot might already augur the volatile collision of social and psychosexual themes underpinning our long-standing fascination with film noir. Add to this scenic description the sole fact that the man in question is a Mexican narcotics agent played by Charlton Heston in olive makeup and we sense critical mass on the horizon. Arriving as it does at the historical end of the noir universe, Touch of Evil (1958) is a film in which practically every discernible signifier can be made to register with cataclysmic impact.


  • film noir;
  • cold war;
  • Orson Welles;
  • touch of Evil