Book Reviews

noir. This exploration includes lesser films and the directors the semi-documentary and actors who made them. approach that perhaps first Thus we find entries on, for made itself felt in Jules example, actors Dassin’s and Hugh Beaumont and (1948), while conceding that films such as (Jack ‘the distorted, expressionistic Bernhard, 1948) and My Name portrayal of [the city] as an is Julia Ross (Joseph H. Lewis, existential site of alienation’ 1945). This is in addition to, was more in the noir line. more predictably, director John McDonnell’s is a sophisticated Huston, actors and suggestive account of the and , and the city as labyrinth, as a place films (Jacques of traps, of the possibility of Tourner, 1947) and Phantom becoming ‘hopelessly lost’, Lady (, 1944). cultural climate change. and, in the case of American These individual entries on 05 cities (New York, Los Angeles filmmakers are rewarding in Encyclopedia Subsequently, Mayer, in his and San Francisco are offered the way they offer critically of Film Noir essay ‘Readings on Film as prime examples), ‘morally appraised career trajectories; Geoff Mayer and Brian Noir’, takes on the challenge ruined’ even though not the entries on films, often McDonnell, Greenwood Press, of asking ‘What Is Film Noir?’ physically reduced to rubble stimulating, could do with Westport, 2007 and explores the question like some of their European less plot description. Am I through three case studies of counterparts. right to assume a personal European noir films and their antecedent homage in the account of Film Noir literary sources, of which John Mayer adumbrates the ’s Laura Andrew Spicer (ed.), Manchester Huston’s 1941 adaptation of impact of McCarthyism and (1944) when, on page 262, University Press, Manchester, ’s novel The the House Un-American the investigating detective 2007 Maltese Falcon is the best Activities Committee (HUAC) Mark McPherson morphs into It sometimes seems to me known. Instead of allowing on Hollywood filmmaking, ‘McFarlane’? Naturally I was that if you haven’t produced an easy slippage between suggesting provocatively that it very touched – and don’t tell a book on film noir you count noir and , he goes led to a decline in overtly liberal me it’s just a typo or a bit of for nought in academic film on usefully to investigate its films but that ‘film noir’s ability absent-mindedness. studies. As research topics affiliations with certain kinds to critique various aspects of go, it is surely the hottest or of realism and, especially, with ’ went into caper My one serious cavil about the coolest or sexiest (strike out ‘The Hard-Boiled Influence’. films, citing Encyclopedia is that it would whichever is least hip) and, The latter is the title of a very (, 1950) as a prime be better called a ‘Companion’. here, we have two further well-researched study of the exemplar. And the final essay Part of my reason for this is ambitious and admirably useful key crime writers on whom film in the book’s first section is that it is not really ‘encylopedic’ additions to what is already a noir so profitably drew: most McDonnell’s on ‘Film Noir about film noir but rather draws prolific field. notably , Style’, stressing this aspect intelligent attention to some of W.R. Burnett, James M. Cain, rather than or ideology, its key aspects and then adds Mayer and McDonnell’s and Dashiell and linking it not merely to, say, a sometimes idiosyncratic list handsomely produced Hammett. And it was not just German expressionist lighting of examples and of two kinds Encyclopedia of Film Noir is a matter of adapting tales of habits, but also to budgetary of key personnel. From this arranged in two sections. The urban crime, but of embracing constraints. In fact, one of the point of view, it might have first consists of a series of certain character types strengths of the Encyclopedia been better to concentrate on valuable essays on the subject, (tarnished, vulnerable heroes, is its acknowledgement of how shorter accounts of individual the second and much longer femmes fatales etc.) and in far certain noir characteristics films, reducing plot outlines, one devoted to entries on the case of Woolrich a ‘florid were in fact products of studio so as to allow space for other individual films, directors and style [that] anticipated the high constraints. important contributors such actors. The Preface is entitled contrast lighting and visual as cinematographers and ‘The Problem of Film Noir’, touches that were seen as This was especially true of production designers (the latter in which the authors raise characteristic of film noir’. those films emanating from should be listed in the credits questions about the nature ‘’ studios such as of the highlighted films as their and historical parameters of In a fine essay, ‘Film Noir and Monogram, and in the second contribution is often definitive). film noir, whether or not it can the City’, McDonnell argues section of the book the authors My other objection to the title be considered as constituting for the centrality of the urban pay tribute, without recourse is that the book doesn’t go a genre, its relation to literary setting in that group of films to mere camp celebration beyond Anglophone noir in forms and to political and that came to be labelled film of the second-rate, to these its entries. There are some

174 • Metro Magazine 157 well-chosen British noirs, but, 1940s and 1950s; and other so many émigré directors and expression are all canvassed to complete the picture and European noir and neo-noir other filmmakers had sought with critical rigour. The very justify ‘Encyclopedia’, I’d have outputs have been allocated to pre-war refuge, I turned to subversiveness of the films thought some representative some very safe hands. Tim Bergfelder’s chapter which exploit the noir aesthetic German and French titles on ‘German film noir’ with seems to ensure its ongoing at least should have been The distinction between noir particular interest. He offers a seductive appeal, an appeal included. Since an exception is and neo-noir is by now pretty perceptive discussion of the that effortlessly crosses made for British titles, perhaps, much accepted as being generically heterogeneous national boundaries. too, some rationale for this along these lines: the classic incidence of noir influences in might have been given in the noir period, inducted in the German films, claiming that The lingering appeal of film first section. US by John Huston’s The ‘only in rare instances do these noir receives some thoughtful Maltese Falcon (one hears fitful films display the same generic interrogation in these two Notwithstanding this quibbles about its harbinger consistency as classical noir’. books, each in its way the reservation, there is a great status), is seen off by Orson He is particularly interesting result of the most thorough deal to enjoy and be grateful Welles’ (1958). about post-war German noir research and, equally, likely to for in Mayer and McDonnell’s What is most impressive from which evinces ‘a strange offer provocation for further book. It has the advantages of the outset is Spicer’s coming mixture of amnesia, unfocused studies. Perhaps because film committed enthusiasm and a to terms with the fact of noir’s nostalgia and determined noir was identified after the willingness to research in out- being a style and an attitude reconstruction’, and looks for event, as it were, the challenge of-the-way avenues. It makes of mind rather than a genre without necessarily affirming to go on explicating it is the me want to see again some of (not all his authors adhere linear heritage with pre-war stronger. those long-ago masterworks in to this distinction) – and his Weimar cinema or classic the noir mode, as well as titles looking for its aesthetic roots Hollywood noir. Reviewed by Brian McFarlane • I haven’t thought of in years beyond, as it were, Barbara (Nightmare Alley [Edmund Stanwyck’s anklet in Double These two essays set a Endnote Goulding, 1947], for instance), Indemnity (, 1944) scholarly standard in dealing 1 Andrew Spicer, Film Noir, just as the other book under or the slatted shadows cast with European, focusing as Pearson Education, 2002. review, Andrew Spicer’s by a venetian blind. Hence, they do on two key exponents. European Film Noir makes the decision to explore the Rob Stone on ‘Spanish film me wish that so many of the influences and reactions of noir’ argues for an absence European titles that have never several European countries: of noir under the political come my way would do so. France, Germany, Spain and and clerical oppressiveness Italy, as well as Britain. of Franco’s regime. Since Andrew Spicer has already part of noir’s agenda is to established his credentials as Ginette Vincendeau’s chapter be inherently critical of the a commentator on the film noir on ‘French film noir’ is, status quo, it is not surprising phenomenon, and is indeed unsurprisingly, one of the that it would have a hard quoted often in the Mayer–­ best. She judiciously assesses time asserting itself during McDonnell Encyclopedia. the varied influences of a dictatorship. Despite too In 2002, he published what German , the much plot description, Ann is almost certainly the best literary imprint of Série Noire Davies intelligently pursues introduction to the field, (which published translations the liberating effect of the and a glance at the chapter of hard-boiled fiction from post-Franco years, in which headings in his Film Noir1 English), Hollywood noir and ‘Neo-noir also granted Spanish reflects his grasp of noir as a French at work culture an opportunity to style, its relation to conditions in the films she examines as explore more positive social of production, what happens examples of French noir. In and cultural changes’. to it in British cinema, and so analysing the stages of French on. Now his European Film noir, she takes in the gangster What is persistently fascinating Noir extends the discussion films of the 1950s and the about this volume (and its beyond the Anglophone nouvelle vague homages of the contributors achieve a pretty versions of noir, though British succeeding decade, arriving well uniform high standard) is cinema is now treated in terms finally at a very evocative the way in which the history of of noir and neo-noir. Spicer account of the specificity of noir and neo-noir is intricately himself is responsible for the French noir. tied to the history of eloquent Introduction and for the countries involved. Its the chapter on British neo-noir; Since German expressionism thematic preoccupations, its Robert Murphy, another expert is everywhere cited as one characteristic protagonists on the scrofulous underside of the formative stylistic and the outcome of their of British cinema, writes about influences on film noir, aspirations, and the genre its high noir period of the especially in Hollywood where range in which its stylistics find

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