Dark City Dames: The Wicked Women of Film Noir

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9780060988548: Dark City Dames: The Wicked Women of Film Noir

Hollywood's devotion to "good girls" took a beating after World War II. That's when the crime movies, later to be called film noir, introduced a new archetype: the hardboiled dame. Shrewd, sexy, and strong-willed, these dames knew what they wanted, and stopped at nothing to get it. Eddie Muller, author of the quintessential noir opus Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, escorts readers behind the scenes with the tough, flinty femmes fatales of such noir classics as Out of the Past, Tension, Kiss of Death, The Prowler, Detour, and The Killing. He profiles six extraordinary actresses who embodied, onscreen and off, the changing roles of American women -- Jane Greer, Evelyn Keyes, Ann Savage, Coleen Gray, Audrey Totter, and Marie Windsor -- as they balanced love and career, struggled against typecasting, and sought fulfillment in a ruthless business. Filled with delicious gossip and attitude -- and cameos by Tinseltown figures like Howard Hughes, Robert Mitchum, John Huston, and Otto Preminger -- Dark City Dames reveals the traps and triumphs of being a working actress in 1940s Hollywood. And in revisiting the actresses fifty years later, it goes further, offering hard-earned insights on the vagaries of life, love, success, and celebrity.

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Review:

Penzler Pick, August 2001: Two years ago, I wrote a book titled 101 Greatest Films of Mystery and Suspense. In addition to watching every one of those movies again (not exactly a horrendous ordeal), I did tons of research, flipping through or reading more than a hundred books about film. The best book--the one with the most offbeat stories and anecdotes, the most accurate information, and the most entertainingly written--was Dark City by Eddie Muller. It was a fascinating study of the great films noir, and a page didn't go by without my learning something.

Now Muller is back with Dark City Dames. It's a very different kind of book, not offering the big-picture overview that Dark City did, but it's nearly as fascinating. It's a portrait of six of the greatest femme fatales of the wonderful black-and-white crime movies that filled the screens in the 1940s and '50s: Jane Greer (the star, with Robert Mitchum, of Out of the Past and The Big Steal), Marie Windsor (The Killing, The Narrow Margin), Ann Savage (Detour), Evelyn Keyes (The Prowler, Johnny O'Clock), Audrey Totter (The Lady in the Lake, The Unsuspected), and Coleen Gray (The Sleeping City, Kiss of Death, Nightmare Alley).

But these aren't rehashes of plots and quotes from the rave reviews of these stars. Muller personally interviewed each of them, and the second half of the book is a kind of "Where are they now?" Perhaps oddly--perhaps not--these wicked, lying, cheating, double-crossing, money-hungry temptresses of the screen turn out to be rather nice ladies, as normal as one could expect of beautiful movie stars, and Muller brings them fully to life.

There are regrets here, both on the part of the reader and of Muller, that space couldn't be devoted to many of the biggest female stars of film noir. There's no Barbara Stanwyck, or Gloria Grahame, or Veronica Lake, or Lisabeth Scott, or Claire Trevor, or Ida Lupino. Scott became a silent recluse, and the others had died. But that is only in real life. On the screen they will live forever, just as they do in Muller's marvelous love letter to them all. --Otto Penzler

About the Author:

Eddie Muller's previous book, Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, was nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, and Mecavity Awards for nonfiction -- the only book so recognized by all three major mystery writing associations -- and hailed by Mystery Scene magazine as "the best book ever written on film noir." A film historian, journalist, and graphic designer, he is also the author of Grindhouse: The Forbidden World of "Adults Only" Cinema and wrote and coproduced the documentary film Mau Mau Sex Sex. Muller lives in Alameda, California.

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Muller, Eddie
Published by HarperEntertainment (2002)
ISBN 10: 0060988541 ISBN 13: 9780060988548
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