Monday, September 04, 2023

Book Review: In Lonely Places: Film Noir Beyond the City

In recent years Imogen Sara Smith has become one of my favorite film historians. Whether it's in commentary tracks, featurettes, or books, I find her thoughtful comments exceptionally evocative and insightful.

I thus thoroughly enjoyed her book IN LONELY PLACES: FILM NOIR BEYOND THE CITY, published by McFarland & Company in 2011. I'm not sure why the book took so long to cross my "radar screen" before a friend mentioned it to me in comments here a couple years ago, but I'm very glad I finally purchased and read this important film noir history.

As the back cover says, " noir is traditionally associated with the mean streets of Dark City," such as New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. In her book Smith instead looks at noir themes found in films set in the country and suburbs, as well as in "noir Westerns."

The book is divided into nine chapters on topics such as "Domestic Noir," "Small-Town Noir," "Desert Noir," and "Noir on the Mexican Border." The chapters in turn group films under subheadings; it's a nicely organized book.

It's worth noting at the top that one of the most famous and beloved of all noir titles, OUT OF THE PAST (1947), is largely set in rural California, as well as in Mexico.  And there are a great many more with similar settings.

Among the classics discussed in the book are favorites such as THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1947), set on Balboa Island in suburban Orange County, California; SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943), set further north in Santa Rosa, California; and additional "small town" classics such as MOONRISE (1948) and ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1951), to name just a couple films.

The text is dense and detailed; like another favorite historian, Jeanine Basinger, Smith has a gift for painting pictures with her words. As I read, the movies I'd seen replayed in my "mind's eye," but Smith takes deep dives and notices things I missed; her writing makes me want to revisit each film as I read about it, while also causing me to jot down lists of films I've yet to see.

Among many great descriptions, I loved her writing regarding THE DEVIL THUMBS A RIDE (1947), which I just saw for the first time this spring: "Floating in blackness, the film follows the logic of a nightmare."

IN LONELY PLACES is a paperback which is 247 pages including chapter notes, bibliography, and index. The book is illustrated with 42 black and white photos printed directly on the pages.

As a big fan of Joan Bennett, I'll add that I love the front cover, an evocative still from SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR (1947).

In conclusion, IN LONELY PLACES: FILM NOIR BEYOND THE CITY is highly recommended. I recently also purchased Smith's book BUSTER KEATON: THE PERSISTENCE OF COMEDY and am certain I'll learn even more, as it's a topic about which I know far less than film noir.

With this book I've now read and reviewed all six film books which I shared as my summer reading goal on Twitter in June. I've also recently reviewed one additional book, on Ruth Roman, and several more reviews are on the way, including titles on John Wayne, Betty Lou Gerson, Eleanor Powell, and Warner Bros., to name just a few. Stay tuned!


Blogger Margot Shelby said...

Yes, absolutely great book. My favorite together with Foster Hirsch's and Eddie's.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

It was your comment which made me aware of it, thank you so much!!

I agree, really love the Hirsch and Muller books too. Also Arthur Lyons' DEATH ON THE CHEAP: THE LOST B MOVIES OF FILM NOIR.

Best wishes,

12:18 PM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

I really enjoy Imogen's work too. Great job on the review and on completing the challenge!

4:58 PM  

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