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Poster artwork for
Anthony Mann's Raw Deal.
As Muller points out in the introduction, he feels that film noir needs to be saved from all the scholars and critics who have buried it under dense, life-draining analyses that convey little enthusiasm: "The academics tried to pin it down and dissect it." With Dark City, Muller tries "to resurrect these movies for another generation." I'm not sure I agree with Muller's notion that film noir has become "lost" due to over analysis. I always considered film noir to be better served by its critics than just about any other form/genre/style of film. But the proof is in Muller's writing and it's there that the book succeeds best. Muller provides such lucid descriptions of the movies and their main characters that I couldn't wait to re-experience some of the scenes that he describes. After only a few pages into Dark City, I was rewatching the great ending from Body and Soul, where John Garfield has refused to throw a boxing match. As he walks to the locker room, he encounters the racketeer who ordered that he throw the fight: "What are you gonna do, kill me? Everybody dies," says Garfield says.
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Poster artwork for Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past.
I'm guessing Muller's main intention is to help motivate people to watch these movies. He clearly loves his subject and wants to spread the word. He doesn't simply guide his readers through the most famous movies: he also finds room for some seedy, B-movies thrills, as with the gloriously brutal Born to Kill, the Poverty Row favorite Detour, and the manic-paced Narrow Margin. At the same time, Muller finds time to introduce us to some fascinating behind-the-scenes stories, such as the making of The Blue Dahlia (where screenwriter Raymond Chandler "thrashed out" pages in a "prodigious bourbon bender" while chauffeurs "funneled individual pages to the set").
While many writers only find symbolism and social criticism within the shadows of film noir, Eddie Muller finds exuberance, humor, and sensuality. Dark City serves as a reminder that movies are made to be watched and that readers deserve analyses that convey the excitement and spirit of the movies themselves.
Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir by Eddie Muller is now available from St. Martin's Griffin. Suggested retail price: $18.95 (softcover).