Film Noir UK: Eddie Muller's Dark City Review
Updated: Jan 26
When we were in the initial stages of launching Film Noir UK there was a plan for us to highlight maybe two or three books which were key titles to entire the world of film noir for newcomers to the subject. Then an advanced copy of Eddie Muller’s newly revised and expanded edition of his classic book Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir landed.
Now, for some of us in the UK, if you know your film noir you will most certainly know who Eddie Muller is. In other circles, Muller is pretty much an unknown. The reason for this isn’t Muller’s fault of course. The reason is very much down to the fact that when comparing Turner Classic Movies (TCM) in the US with its UK version; the UK equivalent doesn’t come close to the high standards that our American cousins have.
In fact we are starved to get any kind of programming on TCM’s UK version let alone a fantastic host like Eddie Muller. But believe us when we say; for everyone who knows their onions when it comes to film, Eddie Muller is very much the face of film noir!
Muller’s regular hosting on TCM’s Noir Alley strand is an important aspect of this (he is also co-founder and president of Film Noir Foundation), but the publication of the first edition of Dark City (as Muller mentions in his author’s note) very much made an impact not only on his future, but also the way we looked upon film noir. Dark City’s release had the same impact that Kevin Brownlow’s The Parade’s Gone By… had done thirty years before for silent film.
I still remember reading a copy from the film library in college back home in Wales. It was such an important book that it actually had ' for reference only' stamped on the front so no one could physically take it out of the library (I'm sure it had an alarm tag on it as well). And when it came to University; the only copy they had on campus was classed as 'missing'; someone had fallen for temptation and kept it all for themselves.
Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir takes you on a guided tour of the streets of a city intertwined with the themes, subjects and characters found within the films of classic American film noir. We visit residential areas such as ‘Hate Street’ (discussing films such as The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Mildred Pierce (1945) and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)) and ‘Shamus Flats’ (Farewell my Lovely (1944), The Dark Corner (1946), Out of the Past (1947)); there’s the [Police] Precinct (Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), Detective Story (1951), The Prowler(1951)), the city hospital; Veterans Hospital with its ‘Pysch Ward’ (The Blue Dahlia (1946), Act in Violence (1949) and Try and Get Me! (1950)) and even ‘The Big House’, Dark City’s very own prison, highlights classics such as Brute Force (1947) and Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954).
But Muller’s tour of Dark City doesn’t just talk about the films themselves. He also covers some of the stories behind the making of the films. Covering many different aspects of film production during 1940s and 1950s American cinema (and sometimes beyond). From the power of the studio heads, the ever inspirational use of light and shadow by directors and cinematographers, the composers behind the music as well as the screenwriters themselves.
On top of all of this, you also get mini profiles spread out throughout the book highlighting certain key players and less well-known names all carefully positioned within each themed chapter.
Throw in Muller’s very own highly informative writing (writing that never talks down to you), the beautifully illustrated photographs (many restored for this edition) and some stunning posters to which almost each one tempts you to cut them out and stick them on your wall and you have a perfect book. A film noir book so perfect that both veterans and novices alike would find it totally engaging. In many ways, this is the ultimate film noir book for everyone!
Fingers crossed then that Muller will revise some of his other film noir book titles as well, particularly, another old favourite of mine, Dark City Dames: The Wicked Women of Film Noir! For now tho, I can't recommend this Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir enough! Go and get it!