Somewhere in the night

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Here’s a big, oversized book full of dames, gats, thugs, stoolies and screaming meemies. Sleek and deadly as a pair of silk stockings, it’s one long look back into the high-contrast darkness of film noir — not a sampling of stills from the movies themselves, but a full-color collection of 338 posters and PR images that once hung in picture shows and on side-street walls in Detroit and Denver, Paris and Berlin, Stockholm and Tokyo.

From Ministry of Fear to Touch of Evil, from The Human Jungle to The Big Heat, the pages turn and we drift along on a deep, dark river of glamorized pain. Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice, Marilyn Monroe in Niagara, Betty Davis in The Letter, Joan Crawford in Sudden Fear! — the list of femmes fatales and the poor slobs twisting around their little fingers stretches into the early morning hours. What a poor guy wouldn’t do for the spider woman of his dreams, her eyes full of obsession and her smoky kisses full of lies …

Author Eddie Muller programs and hosts the American Cinémathèque’s annual Festival of Film Noir at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theater. Here he acts as knowledgeable gallery guide and superfan, providing the reader with historical anecdotes and insights into the marketing of noir at home and abroad. A large number of the posters were designed in Europe or Asia, depending on the target audiences for these classics or obscure potboilers. How cool that The Damned Don’t Cry (1950, with Joan Crawford) was Le Silence des Damnés (The Silence of the Damned) in Belgium. Or that Dillinger (1945, with Lawrence Tierney) was Lo Sterminatore (The Exterminator) in Italy. The French title is more philosophical and the Italian more brutal.

But what’s most fascinating about this book is the range of design styles, colors and cinematic collage throughout. Some layouts, such as the one for This Gun for Hire (1942, pictured), are quintessential noir. Others, like the drawing of Crawford’s famous manic eyes for Flamingo Road (1949, see detail), are one of a kind.

There’s a whole malignant universe of desperate fun in these pages, so c’mere and love it, you sucker.

Return to the Holiday books 2002 index.

George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at [email protected].

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