When you publicly bill yourself with anything containing the word “Noir,” you find people have some expectations of you. Fellow enthusiasts often believe you have watched many obscure films. Non-film fans will assume you are a geek who spends a lot of time watching weird movies. And almost everyone expects you to have read Eddie Muller’s landmark tome Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir. Well you see, not all of us are what we seem. I’m rather lacking in the obscure film catalog on my Letterboxd. I do spend a lot of time watching movies…gotta fess up there. But I’ve never read Dark City.
Before you go revoking my Noir Card, let me explain. Eddie originally published this book in 1998 and it has been out of print since. As a consequence, copies have been notoriously difficult to obtain for a reasonable price for the last 10+ years. Go have a peek around the interwebs and peep those $100 used price tags for the first edition. Coming up with that much dough at once is tough for a young broad!
So when TCM announced Eddie was releasing an expanded second edition through Running Press, I did a little dance in my office. And when I had the chance to review a copy, I jumped through my keyboard to accept. And then I was invited to interview the Czar himself, and let me tell you – it was the stuff that dreams are made of.
What follows here is a summary of our conversation about the new edition of Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir.
When I asked Eddie how he defines a “whodunit” as compared to a Noir, he responded simply that in a whodunit, the protagonist is often a detective who is not a character in the action. They are above the action. The Maltese Falcon rejiggered (his word, of course!) the common notion of the whodunit because every character in it is guilty, even Sam Spade. In a Noir, the “mystery” doesn’t matter because you are interested in who the characters are and what is motivating them to act this way.
One of the additions Eddie made to this version is the inclusion of more female stories: writers, actors, producers. So of course, I wanted to know about Craig Rice (aka Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig) who was massively famous in the 1940s but has faded into obscurity now. I asked Eddie to share why he thinks her fame waned. His take is that she was a woman writing fiction in a man’s world. When Raymond Chandler became popular, writers were inspired by his work and the genre became more and more male. Ms. Craig was just as much an alcoholic as any male writer and she was a working mother at the same time. Sounds like there’s a Noir story to tell there.
New to this edition is a breathtaking two-page spread on Belita, which thrilled me as I have recently become a huge fan. Eddie reminded me that Belita hated being in Hollywood, but did not hate the movies – even if that is how she appears on screen. Charles Laughton revitalized her career when she met him. There’s a wacky-but-true story about how Belita recovered from an injury in the book that you must read to believe!
Be sure to check out the new sections on Joan Harrison and Barbara Peyton. And pour over the bolstered Ann Sheridan passages.
For my last question, I asked Eddie something I have long wondered. If he was not who we know him today, what would his career have been? I was absolutely floored to learn that his first career choice was a veterinarian, since he loves animals.
But this question led to a wonderful rabbit hole learning how Eddie became the Czar of Noir and it’s just as winding and twisted as you would expect. His initial intention 30 years ago was to be a novelist. But it was the wrong time to attempt a breakthrough for that industry. So when he wrote Dark City in 1998, he negotiated a deal to get paid to design the book on desktop publishing software – which ended up paying better than the writing. Once the book was in the world, it was revered and beloved and led to invitations to host film festivals. And the rest is history.
In this conversation in early September, Eddie shared the incredible news with me that Noir City DC, the east coast version of his film festival, returns to the AFI Silver on October 15, 2021. Check it out if you are close by! This year’s fest will be unique in that every film on the bill comes from Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir – including some rare treats like Fly-By-Night (1942) and Somewhere in the Night (1946) which will be presented in 35mm.
If visiting the festival is not within your grasp, be sure to grab a copy of Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir. It’s a large book, with bright, colorful (yes – colorful) movie stills and poster art sprinkled between a tangled web of intrigue as Eddie leads the tour through every seedy underworld stop. The paper is thick and semi-gloss, giving weight to every page turn. It’s the kind of book you flip open only to browse and look up 3 hours later realizing you’ve been kidnapped on a journey you’ll never forget.
*Full disclosure: I received a copy of the book in exchange for a review.*