Film Noir on Christmas? Really? Is that appropriate? Couldn’t it wait a day or two? Did I have to post this review today? Yes, I did. I make no apologies. Frankly, I think the so-called “most wonderful time of the year” could do with a little roughing up. A shot of noir (straight up, of course) is exactly what we all need to help balance out all the “peace on earth” stuff we’ve been subjected to for the last few stress-filled weeks. And don’t tell me that some of you haven't sat around that Christmas dinner table and thought about how nice it would be to off a relative or two. Just throw in a juicy insurance policy of which you’re the sole beneficiary and you’re in noir territory.
Film Noir, edited by Paul Duncan and Jürgen Müller, is a wonderful and lavishly illustrated book celebrating this endlessly fascinating genre/style. For any relative or friend with an interest in classic noir, or movies in general, it would make a wonderful gift (too late now).
The first part of the book is a series of essay organized around noir themes: “The Perfect Crime”, “Love on the Run”, “Women in Film Noir”, etc. The second half is a list of the “Top 50 Noir Movies” with brief essays about each film. Oh, good, a list. I love lists; you can always argue and nitpick over them. This one has the standard noir canon - Detour, The Asphalt Jungle, The Night of the Hunter, etc. - but it has a few movies that simply don’t belong: Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho. No, no, and no. These are great films but they are not noir. They lack the appropriately suffocating sense of doom and entrapment. The list also includes Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player. Again, no. That’s neo-noir. But otherwise the list will do. It does, though, contain a hilarious typo: the Robert Mitchum-Jane Greer classic Out of the Past is listed as Gout of the Past (no doubt a stirring historical medical drama).
The text for this book is provided by Alain Silver, James Ursini, and others, but I don’t really care about the text. This is a book you buy for the pictures - in this case 630 pages of them - like the one above from Double Indemnity. The book also contains a still from that film's alternate ending in which Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) visits Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) while he's in the gas chamber.
The pictures are magnificent. Here's a still from The Beast of the City with Jean Harlow. Released in 1932, the film may not be a noir per se, but the photo certainly is:
Then there's this one of Humphrey Bogart from In a Lonely Place:
And Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce:
And this quasi-pornographic still of Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame from The Big Heat:
And this one of Marie Windsor and Elisha Cook, Jr. from Kubrick's The Killing:
And the book has movie posters, too. Such as this french poster for The Maltese Falcon:
Never mind that it’s Christmas - anytime is noir time. So when the relatives have left and the kids have gone off to bed, pour yourself a glass of egg nog, dim the lights, and put on your favorite DVD of Gun Crazy, or Night and the City, or Touch of Evil, or, even, if you have it, that cinematic rarity Gout of the Past, and enjoy.