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New book looks at 13 film noir classics

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According to author Ronald Schwart'z book "Houses of Noir: Dark Visions from Thirteen Film Studios," film noir is bracketed by "The Maltese Falcon" (1941) and "Touch of Evil" (1958). Schwartz selects from within those parameters to assess a baker's dozen noir classics from top studios like MGM, Warner Brothers, and Paramount, to lower budget studios like Monogram and Producer's Releasing Corporation (PRC).

Most of the author's choices are predictable: "Gilda" for Columbia, "Asphalt Jungle" for MGM, "Double Indemnity" for Paramount, et. al. But it is the films chosen from the lower budgeted studios that offer greater interest. While the PRC film is the noted cult favorite "Detour," there are also films that have gotten less attention in other studies. Monogram's entry, "I Wouldn't Be In Your Shoes" is a film this reviewer had been unaware of up until reading the book. The Allied Artists production "The Gangster" is another less frequently discussed movie, the author calling it the first in a series of noirs done by the studio.

The author's assessments are interesting and enlightening, even when discussing familiar movies. The chapters on the lesser known films spurs an interest in seeking them out.

One other highlight of this book is the author's discussion of how noir never set out to be noir, but was a term coined by French film enthusiasts who recognized a trend in American cinema that offered dark imagery and cynical attitude. The term has since stuck, and its influence is still being felt in all areas of world cinema.

The only drawback is the author limiting his study to these thirteen films. A concluding chapter on other low budget noir efforts displays the author's knowledge beyond the parameters he imposes upon his study. It would have been quite interesting to read his assessments on the briefly discussed Lippert production "Loan Shark," which features an effectively low key George Raft during a time when he was struggling to get work.

A helpful bibliography and index caps this interesting study.

"Houses of Noir" is highly recommended for libraries, universities, research centers, and fans of the genre.


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