Monday, September 13, 2021

A New Edition of the Seminal Noir Classic, Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir


Eddie Muller's Original Noir Bible in an Updated and Expanded Edition

Eddie Muller
Before he was film noir's czar and long before he was a TCM host, Eddie Muller made a decision to take a leap and, as mythologist Joseph Campbell would've put it, follow his bliss. Muller had been a writer with a 16-year run as a print journalist. Now he would become a "wordslinger," peppering the page with gritty prose on a subject about which he was passionate, film noir. The first edition of Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir was published in softcover on May 15, 1998, and quickly sparked interest. The American Cinematheque invited Muller to program a noir festival based on the book at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre. He did, in March 1999, and the festival went on to become an annual event. In 2003, at the invitation of San Francisco's Castro Theatre, Muller presented the first Noir City film festival in his hometown. This, too, was a huge success that became an annual fête. In 2005, realizing that "a non-profit could get access to [film] archives that were off-limits to most for-profit theaters," Muller founded the Film Noir Foundation. The foundation flourished, finding, preserving and restoring more than thirty films noir over the years. The FNF's annual Noir City festival circuit grew to include several more major US cities, towns like Austin, Boston, Chicago, DC, Detroit and Seattle. Muller became widely hailed as "the czar of noir," an authority on the genre, or sub-genre, or style that is film noir. He would also continue to write fiction and non-fiction as well as write and direct a short film, The Grand Inquisitor (2008). In March 2017, he began hosting a weekly film noir screening, Noir Alley, on TCM; the program was soon established as a Saturday night/Sunday morning staple. Today Eddie Muller continues as one of TCM's regular hosts and film noir is more popular than ever. What a perfect time to update and upgrade the book that started it all, Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, with a newly revised, expanded and beautifully turned out hardcover edition.
 
Jean Hagen and Sterling Hayden in The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
A gruff command, "Shut up and get in the car," opens our guided tour of Dark City's neighborhoods, streets and points of interest. At every stop en route through this so-called "citadel of civilization," the endless tug of war between established social mores and unruly human nature plays out in countless ways, none of them pretty.
 
Ida Lupino
Sinister Heights is the "exclusive enclave of the criminally corrupt." Crooked politicians and businessmen, sports promoters and showbiz impresarios live up here. Ambitious kids with special talent or looks oftentimes get sucked into their sketchy schemes. Take, for example, John Garfield
in Body and Soul (1947) as the young boxer with a future who falls for the promise of riches offered by a corrupt fight promoter. Shamus Flats is the haunt of "gumshoes for hire," gimlet-eyed PIs, or ex-PIs like out-of-luck Robert Mitchum in Jacques Tourneur's mood-soaked rendering of Out of the Past (1947).  In Vixenville are found the finest and most formidable femmes fatale, Linda Darnell in Fallen Angel (1945), Joan Bennett in The Woman in the Window (1944) and  Scarlet Street (1945), Gene Tierney, most especially fatale in Leave Her to Heaven (1945), Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946) and The Lady from Shanghai (1947) and simmering/shimmering Ava Gardner who levels Burt Lancaster in The Killers (1946). Another Vixenville resident, Ida Lupino, is profiled and celebrated not only for her acting talent and noir allure, but also for an independent spirit that enabled her to also become a pioneering producer/director. Our visit to Dark City moves through The Precinct ("battered bastion of law enforcement"), Hate Street ("region of ruined relationships"), The City Desk, Blind Alley ("crossroads of coincidence and fate"), The Psych Ward, Knockover Square ("district of heists and holdups"), Loser's Lane, The Big House, Thieves' Highway ("the risky road out of town") and The Stage Door ("enjoy a show...before it's too late"). Every chapter chronicles particular elements of noir, offers backstory and history, provides many film examples and ample coverage of writers, directors, producers and stars. More than a dozen one-to-three-page profiles spotlight the likes of Ida, Garfield, who "gave the early noir ethos its defiant face and voice," and  "beatnik cowpoke" Mitchum, as well as Gloria Grahame, Joan Crawford ("Actress as Auteur"), journalist-turned-screenwriter Ben Hecht, Lizabeth Scott, Hitchcock protege-turned-producer Joan Harrison ("The Mistress of Suspense"), Robert Ryan, Sterling Hayden, Steve Cochran ("Last Act for the Town Ladies Man") and ill-fated mad lovers Barbara Payton and Tom Neal.
 
Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer in Out of the Past  (1947)

This new edition of Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir is more than 60 pages longer than the original. It has been, in part, re-edited and rewritten, includes new chapters and a fresh assortment of illustrative photos within its pages along with striking color collages of film noir posters inside its front and back covers. All of this plus Eddie Muller's high style, high energy wordsmithery go a long way to make Dark City as entertaining and engaging as it is illuminating. For habitués of noir as well as those new to the territory, this is a trip not to be missed.

Many thanks to Taryn Jacobs/TCM and Running Press for a review copy of Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, a book I unreservedly recommend.

6 comments:

  1. I don't have the first edition, a serious lack, so I definitely need this one. Thanks for selling me on it Patty. It sounds super with all the characters, stars and films that make up the canon plus some extras one wouldn't know. I've really enjoyed the much longer introductions Muller gives on TCM's Noir Alley, which are hints to what one can expect here I'm sure. Thank you for highlighting his new book here.

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    1. This is a book you'll want to have, Christian. I've read a few books on noir and have to say that this one stands out. As I mentioned, it is equally informative and entertaining thanks to Eddie's gift as a "wordslinger" (his term).

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  2. I had already perused Eddie Muller's book looking for more films noir to watch and enjoy. I feel like I'm always writing and blogging in his noir shadow! I enjoyed your review, especially the introduction and background on the esteemed Muller and his work. The photo of him is perfect!

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    1. He casts quite a shadow, Marianne, thanks to the publication of the original edition. I hadn't realized it was that book that set him on a course to become the noir legend he is today.

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  3. I have now put Muller’s updated edition on my Christmas wish list! Like Michael Powell and Martin Scorsese before him, Muller is to be commended for promoting and preserving classic films. Many noir “B” film classics, such as Phantom Lady, would be forgotten if not for noir authorities like Muller singing their praises.

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    1. Good point to emphasize, Rick. Without their dedication to preserving and championing these films, none of us would have the opportunity to discover and enjoy them and so much would be lost to history.

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