100 Film Noirs
By Jim Hillier and Alastair Phillips
Palgrave Macmillan, May 2009
This book surveys some 100 films, beginning in 1931 with Fritz Lang’s M and ending in 2005, the year that saw the release of Sin City and A History of Violence.
The vast majority date from 1940-1958 which, as the authors state in their introduction, is ‘generally regarded as the core period of noir production’. At the end of the book, following sections devoted to references and further reading, the authors give a bare listing of another 100 films ‘which readers would probably find just as interesting as the 100 included in the book’. If this was, in part, an attempt to dissuade reviewers from playing the game of ‘Why has film x been overlooked?’ it hasn’t quite succeeded. But I’ll try to make it brief.
Let us begin then by saying that They Drive by Night (Arthur Woods, 1938) is not here, though Nicholas Ray’s They Live by Night is. Another British absentee is the Manchester-set Hell is a City. Nor is space given to the film of David Goodis’ The Burglar (Paul Wendkos, 1957), another personal favourite, but it should be noted that Truffaut’s take on Down There, perhaps Goodis’ best novel, is here. And there is no consideration of either The Big Clock or The Lost Weekend, two films starring Ray Milland… Yet enough of this whingeing.
For each of the 100 films actually selected, the authors provide a solid assessment of about 2-3 pages each. They, the films that is, are all pretty much classics of the genre. Though the writing here is not as personable and engaging and idiosyncratic as Barry Gifford’s in Out of the Past, reading the entries will certainly enhance your understanding and appreciation of the individual films and of the genre as a whole.
There are a number of photographs, black and white naturally, mostly stills but a few posters thrown in as well, and these add value to the text.
A good solid guide to film noir.