I’ve been a film noir fan for years, but this year (especially during the last half of the year) my interest in film noir grew drastically. Much of that came from connecting with other noir fans via Twitter and noir websites and some of it stemmed from a celebration of Noirvember last month.
I also read two excellent books on film noir (and hope that Santa brings another one tomorrow!) that I’d like to mention.
Film Noir 101: The 101 Best Film Noir Posters from the 1940s-1950s (2014) Mark Fertig (Fantagraphics Books)
Fantagraphics has expanded its comics/graphic novel offerings to deliver an exceptional volume of film noir original theatrical posters. The question is are these the best films noir or the best film noir posters, or both? The question is largely moot; many will quibble over the inclusion of one film over another, one ranking higher or lower than another, but the thing that matters is Film Noir 101 is a celebration of both the art and the style of film noir.
The poster reproductions are absolutely gorgeous, printed on high quality paper (which is what we’ve come to expect from Fantagraphics) but the size of the volume – 10.75″ x 14.25″ – makes the book itself a work of art. It’s hard for us to imagine what it was like to promote movies in the 1940s and 1950s without the Internet, Pinterest, Facebook, etc., but Film Noir 101 shows us that the poster had to carry the weight in those days and many of those represented here are impossible to ignore.
The artwork alone makes this book a must-have, but Fertig’s brief essays on each film are superb. Read them not only to find out more about the films, but the stories behind the films, the actors and the culture of the times. Now that I’ve finished reading the book, I’m tracking down all the films I haven’t yet seen. (You’ll probably want to do the same.)
If you’re a fan of film noir or classic films in general, you won’t want to miss this volume. Let’s hope we’ll see future volumes from Fantagraphics.
Film Noir FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Hollywood’s Golden Age of Dames, Detectives, and Danger (2013) David J. Hogan (Applause/Hal Leonard)
In the book’s introduction, “Negotiating the Night,” author David J. Hogan puts his finger on the driving force behind noir and its ability to “force us to acknowledge that the presumably solid foundation upon which we base our assumptions and our very lives is temporal and dangerously unstable. It’s likely to not merely shift beneath our feet, but give way completely, turning the routine of our lives upside-down and annihilating our expectations. We’re plunged into a disorienting place where everything we thought we knew is wrong.”
Just how did such films attract audiences and resonate with so many people? Hogan describes the (mostly) post-WWII years as those marked by a sense of disillusionment (especially for servicemen returning to civilian life), an emerging Cold War, and a general sense of unease, a feeling that something was missing from life.
Although many of the directors of these films were Americans, a large percentage were not. Several European directors had escaped the ravages of WWII by fleeing to America, bringing with them not only the freshly remembered horrors of war, but also their own sense of style, much of which is examined in the book.
Hogan chose American films released mostly from 1940 to 1960, categorizing them into one of seven chapters:
The War Between Men and Women, Act I (1944-1946)
The War Between Men and Women, Act II (1946-1955)
The Private Dick
A Cop’s Life
The Best-Laid Plans
Victims of Circumstance
The Unsprung Mind
Each chapter contains several films with synopses (usually with spoilers), information on actors, directors, producers, cinematographers, and more. (Films within each chapter are treated chronologically.) In addition to some 200 film entries, the book also includes more than 70 sidebars – half-page spotlights on the people in front of and behind the camera – and approximately 75 film stills, candid shots, posters, and other promotional material. Even the most ardent film noir fan is going to discover something of value in both the essays and the sidebars. Hogan closes the book with a brief discussion of neo-noir films from 1960 to the present (2013).
Hardcore noir fans may quibble with some of Hogan’s film choices, but I doubt they would deny his expert handling of the material. Hogan clearly knows film noir as well as film history and has some interesting insights into each entry. (I am particularly fascinated with his thoughts on Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and how it closed the lid on traditional film noir forever.)
Film Noir FAQ is loaded with an exceptional amount of information on all aspects of film noir. If you’re new to film noir, this might not be the best place to start; the book could easily overwhelm someone just discovering noir and its style. But for those who’ve enjoyed at least a few noir classics and want to learn more, this book is a great choice. Of course, a large part of the fun in reading the book is in discovering or re-discovering the films themselves. Highly recommended.
The Art of Noir: The Posters and Graphics from the Classic Era of Film Noir (2014) Eddie Muller (Overlook Press)
Although I don’t own this one and haven’t yet seen it, The Art of Noir looks like a must-have, similar perhaps to Film Noir 101 mentioned above. There’s bound to be some overlap between the two books, which is fine, but I’d read this one if only for the text by Eddie Muller, one of the leading experts on film noir. (If you can find any film noir DVDs or Blu-rays with commentaries by Muller, buy them immediately. Here, I’ve made it easy for you.)
And although I wish I’d seen more, here are the films noir I watched in 2014:
Out of the Past (1947) Jacques Tourneur (2x)
The Asphalt Jungle (1950) John Huston (2x)
Film Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light (documentary 2006) Gary Leva
The Maltese Falcon (1941) John Huston (at least 7x)
Shock (1946) Alfred O. Werker
Quicksand (1950) Irving Pichel
Port of New York (1949) Laslo Benedek
Impact (1949) Arthur Lubin
Gun Crazy (1950) Joseph H. Lewis
On Dangerous Ground (1951) Nicholas Ray
Cry Wolf (1947) Peter Godfrey
The Enforcer (1951) Bretaigne Windust/Raoul Walsh
Cornered (1945) Edward Dmytryk
Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) Otto Preminger
Dark Passage (1947) Delmer Daves
Armored Car Robbery (1950) Richard Fleischer
The Mask of Dimitrios (1944) Jean Negulesco (2x)
Niagara (1953) Henry Hathaway
Born to Kill (1947) Robert Wise
Encounter any good books on film noir? See any classics for the first time in 2014? Please feel free to share.