Film noir is a narrative that follows the fall of a good man who makes bad choices. He is often tempted by money, sex, or the opportunity to take matters into his own hands. He is led to the precipice by his desires before he makes his leap to transgress societal mores, to break the law. But what if those choices are being made by someone who is charged with upholding that law, appointed to protect the society from the evil that men do? Who can we trust when the motives of the man behind the badge are unclear?
As the cynicism of cinema advanced from postwar to midcentury, a cycle of films investigating this very idea appeared in theaters. We call them Bad Cop Noir. Suddenly, there were policemen onscreen as protagonists that would cover up their violence, stalk unsuspecting women, plot to steal money from thieves, and offer their services to mobsters. This was the new breed of noir cop: a natural progression from the damaged veterans that provided the bulk of noir protagonists in the 1940s and the shady PIs who worked in the shadow world between good and evil.
Far from just B-movie staples, these films were financed by major studios and directed both by established masters like Otto Preminger (Where the Sidewalk Ends), Fritz Lang (The Big Heat), and Orson Welles (Touch of Evil), as well as by vibrant newcomers such as Joseph Losey (The Prowler) and Don Siegel (Private Hell 36). The repercussions of these films can be felt in films and television from Chinatown to The Shield, and indeed, in our own modern society.