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Compiled by Kevin Royal Johnson, a rare bookseller and proprietor of the Royal Books publishing imprint, The Dark Page is the first in a series of three books that will cover the history of noir fiction from 1940 through 1965. The goal of The Dark Page is to illustrate the sources of some of American film noir's most notable entries. This volume does not include British or other European noir films, such as Carol Reed's The Third Man, though these will be included in a future volume. But film noir was, by and large, an American idea, and to this day the genre's American style and ideals resonate in much of modern film.
The collection - a substantial coffee-table-sized book - is fairly straightforward: each entry contains a synopsis of the novel that inspired a film, as well as a brief description of the film itself. Opposite the text is a color photograph of the first edition dust jacket of said novel. For example, on page 168 we see the entry for The Lost Weekend, a novel by Charles Jackson, and laid out below the novel's synopsis is a description of Billy Wilder's film of the same name. On the opposite page is a color picture of the novel's dust jacket. The novels are organized chronologically by publication date, and both the films and novels are indexed. Also included is a useful alphabetical list of directors, authors, and screenwriters. Finally, The Dark Page features an extensive bibliography of secondary sources on film, noir fiction, or film noir, which will be tremendously beneficial to readers interested in further study of the genre.
While the world of noir fiction is chock full of intrigue, book jackets are not necessarily the most interesting thing to look at, especially for older titles such as Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, which had no book jacket at all. Some of the included artwork is surreal, as highlighted by the covers of Martin M. Goldsmith's Detour and William Irish's Deadline at Dawn, but by and large the dust jacket art of yesteryear is fairly standard and not especially memorable. Johnson may have made this collection more appealing by also including stills from the films themselves, or perhaps placing an emphasis on the original poster artwork for the films. But flipping through The Dark Page will show avid viewers of noir film the inspirations for those cinematic icons, and readers will garner little glimpses into the process of adapting novels into film. For example, when asked how much of Raymond Chandler's novel The Big Sleep made it into the film adaptation, director Howard Hawks replied, "it didn't matter at all. Neither the author, the screenwriters, nor myself knew who killed whom. It was all what made a good scene."
It is, ultimately, difficult to give this collection a numeric rating, as The Dark Page is really more of a resource and curiosity than a book to sit down and read on a Saturday evening. It's a coffee-table book that's cool to flip through, but leaves little lasting impression for those not already engrossed in film noir. There is little analysis of either the novels or films here, given the one-page-per-entry limit, though there are enough interesting tidbits throughout to satisfy (and it bears noting that Johnson's intent with his book was to document a cinematic genre rather than to weigh in on its individual elements). Although physically weighty, The Dark Page's price tag - nearly $100 - will certainly scare away those with merely a passing interest. But for hard-core aficionados of noir this handsome volume will make an excellent bookshelf addition, providing a brief glimpse into the inspirations behind the shadowed, morally complex world of film noir. SEE ALSO: www.oakknollpress.com
SEE ALSO: www.filmsite.org/filmnoir.html
SEE ALSO: www.noirfiction.info
Eric J. Morgan
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Eric J. Morgan is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Colorado. He has an orange cat named Nelson and longs for the day when men and women will again dress in three-piece suits and pretty dresses to indulge in three-martini lunches and afternoon affairs.
See other articles by Eric J. Morgan.
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