Empire State, released in 1946, was part of the popular noir film genre of the time, along with films such as The Third Man and Casablanca. Even though the novel was popular after it’s release in 1941 it was considered so radical that American movie studios and Directors refused to take on the project. However , French Director, Amaury Leveque was intrigued by the project, so he produced the film himself, taking out multiple loans and going deeply into debt.
First scheduled for filming on location in New York City, the production was delayed when the Arts and Culture Ethics Board reviewed the script and found the content to be “immoral and unworthy of the moral standards of the city”. This was a huge setback for Leveque, who believed that the city was a central character in the film. Leveque was humiliated by the exile from New York City, and delayed production by several months, where his letters suggest that he considered scrapping the entire production.
Eventually Leveque moved the production to Philadelphia. Instead of hiding the distinct characteristics of Philadelphia from the viewer, he decided to embrace them, using many landmarks as backgrounds in the film. “This is the true Empire State!” he famously declared to his crew.
Leveque made other notable changes to the story of the film. Instead of waking up on a park bench, the main character, Rad, wakes up in the lap of a giant statue. Instead of wearing his iconic white hat, which would have glowed under the lights of the cameras, Rad wears a grey hat. These interpretations enraged some fans of the book who declared the film to be a “parody” of the book and disrespectful of it’s origins.
Most fans of the book never got to see the film, since it was banned for “moral” reasons in many major American cities, the issues of race and sexuality far to progressive for 1940’s America. Still, the film became a cult hit, flourishing in Europe, where Leveque found international acclaim. The film has only recently be remastered and released in the United States, where fans of noir can view this obscure cult hit. Once banned by the censors, Empire State may seem tame to our modern eyes, but in a historical context, the content was revolutionary.
Today I’ll be posting stills from this old film.