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Film Noir Reader 4: The Crucial Films and Themes Paperback – 1 Nov 2004
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The "Case Studies" section deals with essential film noirs like DOUBLE INDEMNITY, DETOUR, THE UNSUSPECTED & TOUCH OF EVIL. The articles are written by well-respected "noir" critics; but the second section on Noir Themes is far more fascinating, especially the article by Nicolas Saada, "Noir Style in Hollywood."
There are two major errors in the text: (1) in a photo from ASPHALT JUNGLE, it is Marc Lawrence as Cobby in the background, not Anthony Caruso and in OX-BOW INCIDENT, it is Henry Morgan, not Frank who plays Art.
Otherwise, I would certainly include this book in a list of related readings in any noir course that I teach. I have taught NOIR STYLE at Columbia University and CUNY, using my own book, NOIR, NOW & THEN (Greenwood Press, 2001) as the main text and have used all the FILM NOIR READERS in my courses.
I would like to dedicated this review to Charles P. Mitchell who passed away suddenly this past January at the age of 55. He was an excellent noir scholar with a critical acumen and sense of humor that will be missed. His wife still runs their DARKER IMAGES VIDEO business in Millinocket, Maine, tracking down VHS & DVD recordings of the most elusive of noir films.
Ronald Schwartz at firstname.lastname@example.org
Part I, "Case Studies", includes 12 essays on key films. The films discussed are: "Double Indemnity", "Detour", "The Big Sleep", "Out of the Past", "The Unsuspected", "Gun Crazy", "D.O.A", "The Big Night", "Kiss Me Deadly", "The Big Heat", "The Big Combo", and "Touch of Evil". Glenn Erickson's enthusiastic and insightful essay "Fate Seeks the Loser: Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour" is particularly interesting. The same can be said for Kevin Hagopian's study of "The Big Sleep" and Stephen B. Armstrong's history of "Touch of Evil". Both films were radically altered by recuts, with the result of making them nonsensical. These carefully researched essays explain what was changed and why.
Part II focuses on "Noir Themes", although I don't think that most of these can reasonably be called "key" themes. Eleven essays discuss a variety of themes that can be found or projected upon classic noir films, including psychodrama, images of women, noir antecedents, horror-noir, war noirs, left-wing politics in noir and crime films, hybrid noir-westerns, and noir title sequences. In other words, Part II is a catch-all. "Cat People", "Rancho Notorious" (in comparison to "The Big Heat"), and "Double Indemnity" are discussed in the most depth.
I'm giving "Film Noir Reader 4" a lower rating than I gave the previous Film Noir Readers, because it is overwhelmed by the sort of absurd ideological readings that I haven't heard this much of since I studied film in college. The reader can't get far without running into dogmatic -and, I might add, eternally ill-defined- terminology like "patriarchal capitalism" and "misogyny". For grown persons to legitimize their socio-economic hang-ups by deliberately misrepresenting 60-year-old movies is pitiful. I am reminded of the reason director Fritz Lang left Germany: The Nazi Party liked his films so much that they offered Lang the opportunity to run the German film industry. His films were anti-fascist. Anyway, there are some good, informative, essays in "Film Noir Reader 4", and it's useful to present different interpretations. But these aren't so different, and I get the impression of scraping the bottom of the barrel.
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