A friend and I have a great time getting together to watch old movies. A couple of weeks ago, we watched the classic film, Laura, starring Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney. A few days later, I was at a checkout counter and found another of these Time Inc. Special magazines I’m always talking about called Film Noir. There on the cover was a photo of, yup, Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney in Laura. Naturally, I picked it up and put it in my basket.
What is Film Noir? There’s an explanation in the introduction to the book but here’s a clearer definition of it from the beginning of the write-up about the movie, Mildred Pierce:
How do you turn a tearjerker into noir? “Start with a murder, build in complicated flashbacks, and make the striving, suffering heroine a patsy for her second husband, her spoiled daughter, and a real estate man on the make,” says noir expert David Bordwell. “Then drench it all in chiaroscuro lighting, and add Joan Crawford’s burning eyes and slash-mouth. The result: Mildred Pierce.”
These are only two of the eleven noir films (1941 – 1958) written about here in this book by the most famous noir directors such as Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, and Otto Preminger, plus nine Neo Noir films made between 1967 and 1997. In between there are sections about real life dramas of the stars of these movies that reflect how Hollywood lives could be as noir as the films they acted in: Bogart, arrested for assault; Lana Turner, whose daughter killer gangster Johnny Stompanato because she feared for her mother’s life; Robert Mitchum, arrested for smoking cannabis, and others with a “bad boy” image.
One of my favourite noir films, up there with The Maltese Falcon and Laura, is Double Indemnity with Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson. This one is directed by Billy Wilder and is based on a true story. I’ve seen the movie but didn’t know the story behind it. Ruth Snyder, a New York City housewife had forged an insurance policy and, with her lover, killed her husband. She was convicted and electrocuted at Sing Sing prison and a picture of her execution, the first of its kind, appeared in the Daily News and is shown in this book as well.
The Third Man and Touch of Evil are two Orson Welles noir movies I’ve never seen and I think I’d better rectify that situation soon. I think people tend to forget that Marilyn Monroe did film noir. Niagara (1953) with Joseph Cotten was probably the only noir movie filmed in technicolor and the article says it was when Monroe achieved “true stardom”.
As for the Neo Noir movies, I’ve seen three of them: Chinatown (1974), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and Dirty Harry (1971). Some of the others, I’m not sure I’d want to see but they were interesting to read about it. Something not written about in the book but great to watch if you’re a noir fan is a send-up of the genre with a star-studded cast including Peter Falk as The Cheap Detective (1978). Lots of interesting information in this round-up of great noir movies. * * * * *