Film Noir FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Hollywood’s Golden Age of Dames, Detectives, and Danger (2013) David J. Hogan
Applause Theatre & Cinema Books (Hal Leonard)
Paperback, 397 pages
We close Noirvember, not with a film noir, but rather a book about them: Film Noir FAQ.
In the book’s introduction, “Negotiating the Night,” author David J. Hogan puts his finger on the driving force behind noir and its ability to “force us to acknowledge that the presumably solid foundation upon which we base our assumptions and our very lives is temporal and dangerously unstable. It’s likely to not merely shift beneath our feet, but give way completely, turning the routine of our lives upside-down and annihilating our expectations. We’re plunged into a disorienting place where everything we thought we knew is wrong.”
Just how did such films attract audiences and resonate with so many people? Hogan describes the (mostly) post-WWII years as those marked by a sense of disillusionment (especially for servicemen returning to civilian life), an emerging Cold War, and a general sense of unease, a feeling that something was missing from life.
Although many of the directors of these films were Americans, a large percentage were not. Several European directors had escaped the ravages of WWII by fleeing to America, bringing with them not only the freshly remembered horrors of war, but also their own sense of style, much of which is examined in the book.
Hogan chose American films released mostly from 1940 to 1960, categorizing them into one of seven chapters:
The War Between Men and Women, Act I (1944-1946)
The War Between Men and Women, Act II (1946-1955)
The Private Dick
A Cop’s Life
The Best-Laid Plans
Victims of Circumstance
The Unsprung Mind
Each chapter contains several films with synopses (usually with spoilers), information on actors, directors, producers, cinematographers, and more. (Films within each chapter are treated chronologically.) In addition to some 200 film entries, the book also includes more than 70 sidebars - half-page spotlights on the people in front of and behind the camera - and approximately 75 film stills, candid shots, posters, and other promotional material. Even the most ardent film noir fan is going to discover something of value in both the essays and the sidebars. Hogan closes the book with a brief discussion of neo-noir films from 1960 to the present (2013).
Hardcore noir fans may quibble with some of Hogan’s film choices, but I doubt they would deny his expert handling of the material. Hogan clearly knows film noir as well as film history and has some interesting insights into each entry. (I am particularly fascinated with his thoughts on Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and how it closed the lid on traditional film noir forever.)
Film Noir FAQ is loaded with an exceptional amount of information on all aspects of film noir. If you’re new to film noir, this might not be the best place to start; the book could easily overwhelm someone just discovering noir and its style. But for those who’ve enjoyed at least a few noir classics and want to learn more, this book is a great choice. Of course, a large part of the fun in reading the book is in discovering or re-discovering the films themselves. Highly recommended.