Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Dark Pages: Books That Inspired Film Noir

I got my hands on a very cool film noir book this week. The Dark Page: Books That Inspired American Film Noir, 1940-1949is a book about books, but it's also an excellent film noir reference. The book subtitle describes it perfectly: Books That Inspired American Film Noir. What Mr. Johnson has done is done an exhaustive world-wide search for rare first edition book covers. Then in the text to go along with the book he gives a brief introduction to the writer and a little history of the book. Below the book and book collector info Johnson (using history found in many of favorite noir film writer's books) tells us some of the back story for the film that was eventually made of the book. It's packed with all kinds of interesting stories about the film makers and writers that combined to create what history eventually called film noir.

Obviously most of the books are very rare. What's a real treat for a film noir fan is that some of the movies based on the books are equally hard to find. (Who even knew a Z-grade film like Accomplice would even be based on a book? It was. Simon Lash, Private Detective written by Frank Gruber).

Most of the film history is taken from other film noir books (most notably Spencer Selby's Dark City, Lyon's Death on the Cheap and Silver and Ward's Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference). "Don't judge a book by the cover" they say, but these covers really make you want to buy them. The art is based on what was popular at the time: deco, dada, futurism are all represented. Some, like the cover of Phantom Lady or Martin Goldsmith's Detour, jump out as instantly recognizable to film noir fans. Others look like something Dali would have painted (the cover of Murray Forbes Hollow Triumph has a dream-like image of a mask suspended in mid air.) Others aren't so easily recognizable. Usually it's because the title and plot have been changed so much from the original book the dust jacket looks like something else all together. Who knew The Woman in the Window was based on a forgotten thriller - 1942's Once Off Guard by J.H. Wallis? And why does the cover of They Won't Believe Me (the Robert Young/Susan Hayward/Jane Greer thriller) have an image of a man and a buffalo on the cover?

The books filled with interesting facts and some great and sometimes deceptively simple book covers. Flipping through it was like spending an hour in a great used old book store.

The books are listed in alphabetical order by writer so the best part for me was getting to the section on Cornell Woolrich - seeing the monkey knives used in The Black Path of Fear (film The Chase) and the bloody leopard from Black Alibi (film The Leopard Man) were a treat.

The weather's getting cold and there's nothing better than warming up to a good book by the fire. The Dark Page gives you hundreds to sample. Highly recommended.

Tucker's People eventually became the film noir classic Force of Evil starring John Garfield.

This unique hat was key in finding out the mystery of The Phantom Lady.


  1. Wow— what a great site. Cool to find more noirists. I just wanted to let you know that I linked to your review of Angel Face on my blog today.

    Marco Acevedo
    PS I am getting this book.

  2. Hi there! Ive stumbled onto your blog & Im hopeful you can help me find the PERFECT book. My father in law loves Film Noir and especially interesting tid bits and rarely known facts on the genre. ie. Did you notice who the bartender in such n such film was? He was also the actor in...etc. Anyway, Im hoping to get him a really great Christmas gift and I thought a book would be perfect. Ive done some "googling" and come up with the "Encyclopedia of Film Noir" And "Film Noir Guide" but I know nothing on the topic I am :)
    What would be your reccomendation? Your reply would really help alot. Thank you very much!



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