Since the last two years saw an enormous wave of reissues of vintage crime novels – mostly out of print and now hard to find hard-boiled mystery – often being the source document for movies of the film-noir genre, it is not at all surprising to witness a growing interest in the movies of that kind too.

The steady output of new books on film-noir, that very particular sort of film that started roughly in the late 1930s and ended, for the most part, in the late 50s, points to the still existing influence of the genre.

In his analysis, Phillips reevaluates the standing of some classics as The Maltese Falcon, Spellbound, The Glass Key, The Killers, and Laura. Here, some interesting details are revealed to the reader; nonetheless, they will do little to change the overall perception of film-noir theory so far. However, such a retreat to a dominant theory is clearly not his intention, as Phillips states often.

The most absorbing aspect of the study is the direct comparison of well-known and rather neglected noirs, such as the juxtaposition of  A Double Life (D: George Cukor) vs. Sunset Boulevard (D: Billy Wilder) or the (possible) interactions of Otto Preminger’s films Anatomy of A Murder and Laura. This particular “double feature” stirs up many interesting thoughts.
In the last part of the book Phillips devotes many insights into what now is called “neo-noir” and thanks to the tradition of the “old” noir the recent productions are recognized as such instead of simply being labeled “thrillers” or “mystery.” One of the best chapters in my eyes is his treatment of Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, originally a Patricia Highsmith tale.

All in all,  Out of the Shadows very much sticks to the announced second part of its title, namely to expand the canon of classic film noir. New fans to the genre will find many interesting details and interrelations as far as studios, writers and directors are concerned, and their appetite for more DVDs will definitely grow.

Review by Dr. A. Ebert (C) 2012

Gene D. Phillips. Out of the Shadows: Expanding the Canon of Classic Film Noir. Scarecrow Press, 2011, 307 p.