The look wasn't new as the visual style was very similar to German Expressionistic films of the 1920s. Fritz Lang was a prominent director of both German Expressionist films in Germany in the 1920s and Film Noir in the 40s and 50s.
But even that had an antecedent with chiaroscuro painting (italian for "light-dark") from centuries early. And likely this extreme contrast technic existed millennia before, but works don't currently exist so we don't know about it.
In the modern era this style is mostly used in comic books with Frank Miller's Sin City being the most well known example. The contrast provides visual interest to make up for the lack of color. And in more practical terms, the brain tends to process black and white art like it does works making it more effective for storytelling than colored art.
The image above is a Character Design for the René character in my Wandering Koala series. I've made several attempts at the character. I'm not sure this is the final version, but I'm getting close.
Let me know what you think!