War may have broken out in Europe, but for the moment it's still the Jazz Age in the USA. Big business is run by Corrupt Corporate Executives. Young, possibly disabled boys shout newspaper headlines on every street corner. Everybody Smokes and everyone wears hats. And while the well-off enjoy former speakeasies-turned-quasi-legitimate nightclubs, the aftereffects of The Great Depression still overshadow the lives of the poor.
The Trope Namer is Stephen King's short story "Umney's Last Case", named in honor of Raymond Chandler, writer of The Big Sleep in 1939 and adapter of the screenplay for James M. Cain's Double Indemnity in 1944, making him one of the major Trope Makers and Codifiers of this vision of America.
In King's story, private eye Umney suggests it is "1938, maybe '39, maybe even 1940" and calls this "eighteen months or so before the start of World War II". Prohibition is probably over, but the power that The Mob gained in that period means they run many of the bars and clubs. The police may be trustworthy or they may be corrupt. They may very well be brutal.
The differences between this and the Genteel Interbellum Setting, with which it overlaps with the last years of, are pretty much the whole point of Raymond Chandler's essay The Simple Art of Murder: Chandler American Time differs in being more urban, more cynical, more violent, more temporally specific (in terms of the culture depicted, Chandler American Time is confined to the very tail end of the Genteel Interbellum Setting, including The '40s and first few years of The '50s) and quintessentially American, whether geographically confined to the continental US or focusing on what amount to pockets or colonies of America in other cities, like Rick's Cafe Americain, Jo Gar's Manila, or cities Americanized by American businesses in the wake of the Second World War.
Crimes are committed by the kinds of people who commit crimes in real life, and by realistic methods. Shootings by ex-gangsters trying to prevent their past being exposed? Yes. Chief of French police chopping a millionaire's head off, then switching it with another head he pinched from the guillotine, all because the policeman was an atheist and wanted to stop the millionaire leaving his fortune to the church? No. (That's the actual solution of Father Brown: The Secret Garden!)
Since elaborate but silly murder methods are out, any crime must have many suspects and incredibly tangled motives in order to be puzzling. This is usually helped along by having the poor sap that kicks off the plot being a bit of an Asshole Victim.
Also the standard timeframe of Two-Fisted Tales, such as Indiana Jones or The Rocketeer. For additional information on the overlapping era in comics, see The Golden Age of Comic Books. Often subject to Comic-Book Time, Setting Update, and Ambiguous Time Period.
- Played With in Frank Miller's Sin City, which stylistically has many of the trappings of this but establishes through newer cars and appliances that it was set in the then-present day 1980s.
- Fawcett Comics' original Spy Smasher stories were set in this time period. Scientist/inventor Alan Armstrong decided to put his gadgets and physical skills to good use fighting against spies and saboteurs in the United States, and created the costumed superhero "Spy Smasher" as his alter-ego. Spy Smasher's adventures ran primarily in WHIZ Comics (yes, the same that starred Shazam!) starting in early 1940 and continuing through the War. Armstrong had no superpowers, and neither did most of his enemies.
- Casablanca takes place from December 2 to December 5, 1941 (literally days before American entry into the war) in Morocco, and revolves around American Rick Blaine's attempts to stay neutral in Nazi-occupied Casablanca when an old flame reappears, now married to a man with ties to the French Resistance. Rick's smoky Cafe Americain, his doomed romance with Ilsa, his Odd Friendship with the corrupt Jerk with a Heart of Gold policeman Renault, and the movie's fog-bound goodbye scene have all become often-homaged classics of the genre.
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is set in New York, 1926, and manages to get some of the tropes associated with this in, including a scene in a goblin-run nightclub/speakeasy, complete with a house-elf crooner performing onstage.
- The Trope Namer, as noted, is the short story Umney's Last Case by Stephen King — actually a meta piece in which a dying author in 1994 finds himself in the world of his own creation and kills his hero so he can take his place.
- Trope Codifier Raymond Chandler's short stories were written and set in the lean years of the Depression, and his first novel, The Big Sleep was published 1939. Wartime rationing is mentioned in his followup novels, and the climax of The Lady in the Lake occurs on a mountain dam with guard posts manned by soldiers. Chandler spent much of the mid-1940s writing screenplays in Hollywood, including adapting James M. Cain's Double Indemnity, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards (though it failed to win any). Along with Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op, the hard-boiled private eye a la Chandler's iconic Philip Marlowe is as much a part of this era and the surrounding scenery as the Art Deco architecture and snappy, slang-y dialogue.
- Among the Trope Makers is Dashiell Hammett, who single-handedly created four of the era's most famous detectives: Sam Spade, perhaps an even more emblematic Private Detective than Marlowe despite only appearing in The Maltese Falcon; husband-and-wife socialite sleuths Nick and Nora Charles, who traded witticisms and cocktails in The Thin Man, then went on to star in a series of films of the same name; and finally the unglamorous, unnamed Continental Op, a considerably less idealized private operative based on Hammett's real-life experiences working as a Pinkerton Detective.
- The Op novel Red Harvest, in which the lone Anti-Hero pits two rival criminal outfits against each other, is generally agreed to have influenced the plot of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, which in turn inspired its share of similar plots elsewhere (like Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Western remake A Fistful of Dollars), as well as being acknowledged as partial inspiration for The Coen Brothers' Miller's Crossing (most of the inspiration coming from Hammet's The Glass Key).
- James M. Cain wrote a number of crime novels through the '30s and '40s, helping define the genre and era through The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, both of which were made into films. The two helped define the archetypal Femme Fatale, each revolving around an unhappy marriage, a seductive wife, and the death of her husband. Double Indemnity also codifies the other stock noir protagonist (not necessarily The Hero), the hapless Everyman in way over his head.
- The early Nero Wolfe mysteries are set in this time period. When Rex Stout resumed writing them after the Second World War, he used a form of Comic-Book Time to keep the characters contemporary for the time of publication.
- The NBC radio drama Night Beat, which aired from February 1950 through September 1952, takes place in this sort of setting. Randy Stone is a reporter working the night beat for the Chicago Star. Each week's episode had him chasing down a story of one kind or another for his newspaper column. The story type varied from week to week - suspense, mystery, comedy, tragedy, plain human-interest - but never anything supernatural or especially outre.
- Grim Fandango, while set in the Eighth Underworld of Aztec Mythology, also takes place during the era, with many a Shout-Out to the genre, including its Everyman salesman/Grim Reaper protagonist Manny Calavera running headlong into a conspiracy that runs to the very heart of the Department of Death.
- This is a post-WWII example, being set in 1947, but Archer Dreamland runs with many of the tropes, being a Film Noir exploration of its parent series, Archer.
- Similar to the Sin City example, Batman: The Animated Series takes place in an Ambiguous Time Period which combines the aesthetics of Chandler American Time with modern and in some cases even futuristic technology.
- Ruby Rocket Private Detective is set in 1939 in a No Communities Were Harmed version of Chicago. Ruby gets hired to investigate a blackmail scheme against the mayor, in between bouts of drunken blackouts.