This is both an excellent survey of the field of film noir and a lovely coffee-table book (or bathroom book) - the kind you dip into whenever you have a few spare minutes and end up realizing that not only has far more than a few spare minutes passed but you've also just placed another online DVD order.
The author is an experienced reviewer and encyclopedist, and he writes both with comprehensive academic authority and a passion for the subject that comes through in even the potentially driest of entries. The introduction provides an entertaining and informative discussion of what we actually mean by the term "film noir", managing to provide several ways to draw the boundaries while simultaneously acknowledging that such boundaries are both fluid and fuzzy. In his selection of films to include, Grant attempts to satisfy both ends of this spectrum of genre definitions, covering not only the core genre films but also their predecessors and those that have followed, and for me that's far more interesting than anything more narrowly focused would have been.
As the author points out, no list of films, books, etc, is ever going to satisfy everyone - those better informed than me may well argue about films included and overlooked - but with something like 3500 films covered it would be a very mean reader indeed who would grumble too loudly.
Put any pedantic discussion of which films qualify aside and what we have is a book staggering in its scope, full of insight and informed commentary, and all written with Grant's characteristic charm and wit. Highly recommended.
Don't get me wrong: for the true noirhead who'll watch anything, from any country, made in any year, that vaguely smacks of noir this book is indispensable with literally thousands of reviews, synopses, and interesting facts. But, and this is a big but, if you care anything for suspense when you're watching a film, don't read more than a line or two of each entry in this book before viewing the film. In one case, a fairly famous early work by a very famous French director gives away the information that one of the women (and he tells you which one) is strangled to death at the end of the film, something which was completely unpredictable and spoiled my viewing experience. Most of the longer reviews contain too much information about the film's plots. I don't understand how anyone can imagine that knowing everything that happens in a film beforehand could enhance rather than mar the experience. Enough to say, surely, that there's a twist - don't tell us what it is. This would have been a five-star review, otherwise.
First the positives - the book looks good, is sturdy, well illustrated. Some decent reviews. However, a tome like this must be definitive - ask any obsessive - it only takes one blunder to sink the whole exercise. I've only browsed the book twice and I've spotted some changers already - where for example is the Gabin/Lupino vehicle Moontide? This is a cornerstone noir, one of my favourites. Why is the great Laird Cregar's surname give as 'Cregan' in the review of This Gun For Hire? On a more trivial note, there are many baffling inclusions ('Peeping Tom?) which are in no way shape or form film noirs. Its as if, in the race to reach 3.000 reviews, anything was considered - I'd have preferred a focus on the golden age (late 30s to early 60s) with more in depth material. In short an entertaining enough book to flick through but not the authoritative guide iI'd hoped for.