Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Book Review: Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir (Revised and Expanded Edition)

When I first began watching film noir, Eddie Muller's DARK CITY: THE LOST WORLD OF FILM NOIR was an indispensable guide.

I was initially slow to embrace film noir, finding it, well, dark; my gateways into the genre included films with favorite musical stars, Betty Grable in I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941) and Alice Faye in FALLEN ANGEL (1945), which I saw in 2006-2007.

In 2007 my dad sent me a softcover edition of the original 1998 edition of DARK CITY to support my developing interest; I know the exact year because the Amazon packing slip remained in the book as a bookmark! I was later able to have Eddie sign my copy in 2011.

From those early years I watched more and more of the noir genre, attending my first Noir City Hollywood Festival in 2010 -- and every year since! I've also attended several editions of the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs and additional screenings at venues such as UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater and the late, lamented Leo S. Bing Theater at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

DARK CITY was there with me every step of the way, the first reference I turned to as I became acquainted with dozens of new films over the past decade and a half.

Twenty-three years after the book's original release, a revised and expanded edition of DARK CITY: THE LOST WORLD OF FILM NOIR has been published by Running Press and TCM.

The first question anyone is likely to ask is: "Do I need the new edition if I own the original?"

The answer is a resounding "Yes!" The new version is a beautiful hardcover with glossy pages, more photographs, and four additional chapters. Previous chapters have also been supplemented with discussion of more films; for instance, the chapter "Sinister Heights" incorporates a new discussion of I WALK ALONE (1947).

As Eddie writes in his author's note for the new edition, the 1998 book was written in the waning days of repertory theaters, and it was difficult to hunt down many of the titles he needed to see when researching that edition.

Since then, thanks in part to the Film Noir Foundation he founded, many films have not only been rescued, they're now readily available for home viewing. Titles included for discussion in the new edition include WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950), TOO LATE FOR TEARS (1949), and THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF (1950), to name just a few.

There are other additions to this version as well; as a huge fan of THE HUNTED (1948), one of my favorite things in the new book is a two-page spread on "Belita, Ice Queen of Noir."

Readers will recognize much of the original book within the new edition, but a close comparison shows that the book has been rewritten/re-edited, not only to include more content but to improve and update the writing.

In terms of the actual content, I think most film fans are already aware that Eddie Muller is second to none in his knowledge of film noir; he also excels in sharing that knowledge and drawing new audiences to the film noir genre.

I know from personal experience that the book will be enjoyed by those new to the genre as well as those familiar with most of the titles he discusses; I've been each type of reader myself over the last 14 years!

The book retains its original rectangular shape, which Eddie told me in a recent discussion he felt was very important, allowing a more "cinematic" presentation of the photographs. And the photographs in this book are absolutely spectacular! Those familiar with the original book will notice that the new edition retains many of the photos, but presents them this time around in much more impressive fashion, on heavy, glossy paper.

For instance, this photo from THE BIG SLEEP (1946), which takes up roughly a quarter of a page in the original...

...becomes a full-page glossy spread in the new edition:

The book also improves on the original with its inclusion of color photographs, as well as beautiful color posters on the inside of each cover. A sample of an inside cover is below.


DARK CITY is 272 pages including a bibliography and index. As mentioned, the book utilizes heavy, shiny paper, which shows off the photographs to great effect. The book weighs in at a little under three pounds.

Thanks to TCM and Running Press for providing a review copy of this book.


Blogger dfordoom said...

Although I've read lots of books on film noir for reason I've never read this one. I guess I'll just have to grab this new edition.

It was the Alain Silver-James Ursini Film Noir Readers that really got me into the film noir thing.

12:01 AM  
Blogger CLM said...

The author's reasoning for a new edition is very convincing and it must have been a labor of love for him to update it, albeit time consuming.

I looked up the definition of film noir: a style or genre of cinematographic film marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace. I took a film class when I lived in NYC that was called something like "Hitchcock's Influence on Later Directors" and I wish I could remember all the movies we saw. I liked the Hitchcock we saw the best but some of the more contemporary movies were very good.

Anyway, I assume The Maltese Falcon is film noir? A group of lawyers I'm in is supposed to read the book and watch the movie for our August discussion. I suspect this book would be handy!

4:52 AM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Westerns and films that have become known as Film Noir have been my favourite viewing most of my life. I would love to get this book from Eddie Muller but its weight is undoubtedly going to make it very expensive to send for. I shall make every effort to seek out a copy though.
Thanks for the tip, Laura!

9:05 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

This is one of my favorite books about Noir. I adore Eddie's style. I have the old edition, guess I have to fork over the money for the new one then if Laura thinks it's necessary.

Jerry, this book is a must have. I just checked Amazon UK, they seem to have the new edition. Put it in the basket. :)

CLM, I would call The Maltese Falcon proto-Noir. It's usually considered one of the (American) first, but it doesn't quite descend into doom, gloom and fatalism.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Thanks for looking for me, Margot. Very good price on Amazon UK - into the basket it will go!

9:07 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi DforDoom! I really encourage you to get this book. I think you'll enjoy it!

I'm glad to know that Silver-Ursini got you into noir as one of my experiences with their books was kinda painful; I bought their FILM NOIR ENCYCLOPEDIA and it was so unedited/unproofed as to render it close to unreadable. I reviewed it back in 2010:

Based on your experience perhaps I should give their books another try and hope that was a "one-off" issue.

Constance (CLM), great to hear from you! I had the chance to speak with Eddie a few days ago, along with several other bloggers, and he definitely put a great deal of time into this new edition, basically rewriting it. The increased availability of many titles was definitely a great impetus.

I would agree with Margot, THE MALTESE FALCON is generally considered "proto noir," although many do consider the genre began in the same time frame with titles like STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (1940) or I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941). It's always a fun topic for debate among film fans: What is "true noir"? "proto noir"? "neo noir"? I hope you enjoy the book and movie discussion, that sounds like a lot of fun!!

Jerry, I'm so glad you can get the book from Amazon UK! Thanks to Margot for looking that up and passing on the info, hopefully other UK readers will take advantage of that opportunity as well.

Margot, as I wrote in my review, I think you will find the "double dip" on this book worth the while!

For those looking to read more on film noir, a couple of my other favorites are Foster Hirsch's THE DARK SIDE OF THE SCREEN and Arthur Lyons' DEATH ON THE CHEAP: THE LOST B MOVIE OF FILM NOIR. (Some of them are no longer quite so lost thanks to Eddie Muller's Film Noir Foundation!) I've had the pleasure of hearing Hirsch speak many times at the film noir festival named for Lyons.

Best wishes,

11:14 AM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

I hadn't read the original edition so I was really curious how they compared. I'm glad you enjoyed this new edition. It is quite stunning and I learned so much from it.

9:24 AM  
Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

This made me chuckle:

The first question anyone is likely to ask is: "Do I need the new edition if I own the original?"

My husband will attest to the fact that, if a book is a huge favorite for me, I probably have at least two copies. And if it's a reference book that I have referred to endlessly over the years, and possibly worn out, there's definitely a second copy on my shelves. Especially if a new edition becomes available.

10:09 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

*Typo correction to yesterday's note: It's DEATH ON THE CHEAP: THE LOST B MOVIES OF FILM NOIR.


10:27 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Glad you enjoyed the comparison, Raquel, and I'm delighted to know you learned so much from this excellent book.

Rachel, I have multiple copies of a few favorites myself! And this is one which definitely deserves the "double dip."

Best wishes,

10:29 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

Laura, I'm a big fan of Death on the Cheap and especially The Dark Side of the Screen. Foster Hirsch's book is second only to Eddie's book for me. My copy is quite dog-eared, and I use it like a textbook. Passaged underlined, circled with notes on the margin.

Eddie's book is more fun and pulpy, Hirsch's book more academic. Both are indispensable.

10:45 AM  
Blogger dfordoom said...

DEATH ON THE CHEAP is a truly excellent book.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Margot and DforDoom, I'm delighted to know that you both have enjoyed DEATH ON THE CHEAP. A terrific book.

Margot, I loved hearing how you use THE DARK SIDE OF THE SCREEN as a textbook. I'm sure Professor Hirsch would be thrilled! My husband and I really enjoy how he presents films, often asking the audience to look for certain themes or visuals ahead of the movie starting -- it feels a bit like a college class seeing films with him, and I loved hearing how his book has translated into a similar experience for you.

Best wishes,

7:24 PM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

While we're at the topic of great books, Imogen Sara Smith's In Lonely Places is another indispensable textbook for me. She also has quite a lot of good articles online.

Laura, did you ever meet Hirsch? Do you know if he gives classes? Anything online? I'd love to take a class with him.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Margot, I somehow hadn't come across IN LONELY PLACES (how is this possible?!) but I admire Imogen Sara Smith's commentaries and documentary appearances so that title went straight into my Amazon cart to buy soon! Thank you so much. I love that we can exchange ideas like this!

I've been fortunate to meet Foster Hirsch on a few occasions as he's a "regular" at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Fest. A few years ago I took along my copy of his book on Elizabeth Taylor for the Pyramid Illustrated History of the Movies in the '70s and had him sign it -- that was really special as I'd had it since I was maybe 12! He is the absolute nicest man.

He teaches at Brooklyn College -- I'm unaware of him doing any online courses but that doesn't mean it hasn't happened. I hope COVID circumstances will allow him to travel to future noir fests as I enjoy him so much; my husband always mentions how much he loves his intros, too. Perhaps you might be able to travel to Palm Springs for the fest one day? That would be fun!

Best wishes,

6:54 PM  

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