Interview Series
  Session with Eddie Muller   September 30th 2003    
  Author of:


Posters and Graphics from the Classic Period..' 

DARK CITY: The Lost World of Film Noir'. 

DARK CITY DAMES: The Wicked Woman of Film Noir'. 

2 noir novels 'THE DISTANCE' & 'SHADOW BOXER'.

This was the author's second interview for THE BIG CHAT and was moderated by BLACKBOARD co-founder and writer Alan Rode. The interview focused on Muller's most recent book 'The Art of Noir' and the upcoming Film Noir festival in San Francisco this January. After the interview the board was opened to questions from the participants.

  ALAN RODE: It is my distinct pleasure to welcome Eddie Muller to the Blackboard tonight to discuss his latest book, “The Art of Noir”.

Eddie a.k.a ‘FE’ doesn’t really require a formal introduction to most habitués of this dark coil, but take a quick slant at this resume: Film Noir Historian: “Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir”, “Dark City Dames: The Wicked Women of Film Noir”, Noir fiction: “The Distance” and “Shadow Boxer”

Film Noir Festival Programmer, Interviewer and Host: The American Cinematheque’s Annual Festival of Film Noir, The San Francisco Film Noir Festival. Is there any wonder why this man is now known as “The Czar of Noir”???!!!

Eddie, Great to could do this here. How are you doing?

EDDIE MULLER / FE (Fast Eddie): Thanks for the big send-off, Alan. I’m doing great. Believe it or not, I was actually working on the program for the SF Noir Fest in January. We’ll get to that later. Let’s hit it.

ALAN: Here is the first of five questions before opening the board to general questions with Eddie.

QUESTION #1. Did your interest in film noir poster art naturally evolve from your film noir ‘roots’ and how did you get the idea for “The Art of Noir’? How long did it take to get done from start to finish?

FE:  I’ve always been a huge fan of, let’s say, “pulp” art. I feel very fortunate that my novels have gotten that treatment! After I’d written DARK CITY , I treated myself to some posters I’d always wanted. I swore it’d just be four. Four, that’s all, then I’d stop. Cold turkey, no problem. They weren’t cheap, so I figured that would cool me off pretty quick. Right. Pretty soon I was after everything I could get my hands on. Luckily, I found some cohorts who chased the dragon even harder than me. Professional dealers came later. I decided to do the book, frankly, as a way of justifying my crazy expenditures on posters. And because I knew somebody else was going to do it if I didn’t. (Bassoff’s CRIME SCENES came out only weeks after I’d pitched my poster book. Anyway, I sent a one page fax to Overlook Press telling them my idea, and they bought it. Only times that’s happened so easily.

ALAN:  “Chasing the dragon” is an apt description of the noir poster hobby i.e. obsession.

QUESTION #2. ‘The Art of Noir’ is superbly structured and written to be so much more than a mere ‘table book’. Each of the chapters cover distinctive film noir art elements including style, familiar noir performers, directors, etc. These segments overlap each other neatly, but never become repetitive. Did you design this outline for the book and then work it together or did it just take shape as you assembled and examined all of the material?

FE:  It was a combination of both. I feel the shortcoming of most poster books is the paucity of information. The idea all along was to not shortchange either the images or the text. Fortunately, I have experience in museum design, so I’m versed in how to parcel out information in short, pithy bursts that don’t fight for space with the artifacts you’re displaying. I treated the book like it was a museum show. My thing is to always balance the edification and the entertainment. Or, as I always say, “Barroom, Not Classroom.”

In some cases, I confess that I put things in there to make up for some things that weren’t in DARK CITY . Paying tribute to certain actors, or a director like Felix Feist. Overlook Press was great. They didn’t change anything. In fact, at the 11th hour, they stunned me by deciding to ADD 30 posters and really flesh it out. That was pretty suspenseful. A collector named Eric Rachlis really came through with some great stuff at the wire, and I was able to get Posteritati in NYC to shoot those posters for me.
The structure of books is very important to me. Not enough thought is given to it in many cases.

ALAN : “Barroom not classroom”: words to live by

QUESTION #3. The world of vintage film poster collecting, film noir style, has gotten very competitive and extremely pricey. 1-sheet posters of noir classics such as “Out of the Past”, “Double Indemnity” and “The Killers” now command thousands of dollars on E-Bay and at conventional auction houses. For the benefit of those Blackboarders who don’t know a 3-sheet from an insert, do you have any advice for the beginning or novice poster collector?

FE:  What’d you do, take Rhoten out and shoot him? I hope not. The guy buys all my books.
Anyway . . .

I can’t really speak to poster collecting as an “investment.” I’ve got a nice collection, and I’m sure it’ll go up in value and all that. That’s not why I buy them, however. I buy them because I am addicted to the graphics. And because I am in the fortunate position of being able to do something creative with them. I don’t know that I’d have bought so many if I couldn’t have produced a book from the obsession. That gave me license to cut loose. But for someone who wants maybe one or two favorites, my advice is to be selective. Set a ceiling on how much you want to spend. If your goal is to display them in your house or apartment, think about buying half-sheets and inserts, rather than one-sheets. Framing a one-sheet will cost you dearly. And it eats up wall space.

Study the poster listings on eBay, to see what is actually being spent on posters. And here’s a tip: Don’t just do a search for “noir,” because you’ll find the real bargains never have “noir” in the listing. Search by performer instead, or title.

ALAN: (FE: What’d you do, take Rhoten out and shoot him? I hope not. The guy buys all my books. )  No way Eddie, this is a non-violent forum, no real bullets. I tried to move Mr. Rhoten’s questions and fat-fingered it.

Mr. Rhoten: my apologies and please repost your questions for Eddie after Question #5

QUESTION #4. One of things that struck me after studying the book is how so many beautiful film noir posters come from Europe , particularly Belgium . Also, how many classic film noirs such as “The Asphalt Jungle” and “Border Incident” spawned some pretty pedestrian poster art. What are your particular favorites in terms of poster artist, country, and film?

FE:   These days, I only seek out foreign noir posters. I’m particularly fond of the Italian posters from the BCM studio (Ballester, Capitani and Martinati). They are pricey, as compared to much of the fantastic Belgian art, which you can still find for relatively cheap prices. I love painted posters, and as I’m sure you know, only U.S. one-sheets and three-sheets use paintings. Half-sheets and inserts are generally photo montage designs.

Both of the films you mentioned, Asphalt Jungle and Border Incident, were produced by MGM, which had the worst poster art of this period, bar none. It all played up the names of the stars, with an excess of white space. MGM made Warner Bros. look fabulous in comparison.

The two favorite posters in my collection are William Rose’s “Out of the Past” poster for RKO, and the German poster by Hans O. Wendt for “Highway 301,” featuring a totally maniacal Steve Cochran. That one hangs on my office wall. I’m jonesing for an Italian “quarto” from “Night and the City.” Haven’t ever seen one, but I imagine it’s got to be sensational. I crave a definite rendering of Widmark.

ALAN:   The “Out of the Past” one sheet makes me drool. Ditto on some of the Belgian posters such as “Narrow Margin” with a big and beautiful Marie Windsor and “Crisscross” with the huge face of Yvonne De Carlo.

QUESTION #5. Okay Eddie, what we really all want to know here on the Blackboard is what you are up to in the way of all things noir: film festivals, writing projects- come on and give us the low-down!

FE:  There are lots of projects in the works. Foremost among them is the Tab Hunter autobiography. Sounds weird to say you’re writing someone else’s autobiography, but it’s collaboration, and I appreciate that Tab is upfront about my involvement, and not asking me to ghost it. Quite a departure from Noir, it may seem to some, but when it’s all said and done . . . maybe not as far as you might think.

I’m working on a pair of novels—another Billy Nichols book and a contemporary thriller that is flat-out noir. I’m also talking with a publisher about a graphically oriented true crime book depicting the tender underbelly of my hometown, San Francisco . That’s in the early stages.

Lately I’ve gotten into writing short stories. One of them can be read on the website PLOTS WITH GUNS ( Some of the astute habitués of the Blackboard will no doubt recognize the real-life basis of the character of Wanda Wilcox. I’ve also written a story for a collection to be published by Bloomsbury called “Meeting Across the River.” A bunch of crime writers riff on the Springsteen song of that title. I don’t even know if my contribution, called “Last Call” has been accepted, but I really enjoyed writing it. You can get dark and stark with the short form. It’s a nasty roux, that one.

And there are the festivals. I’m working on San Francisco now, with Anita Monga of the Castro Theatre, and I’m pleased that as of today we’ve managed to get 24 of the 28 films I want to show, including several rarities. And speaking of posters, wait’ll you see the one for that festival. It’s fantastic!
I’m also looking forward to doing a live interview in Las Vegas with Steve Hodel, who wrote the book “The Black Dahlia Avenger.” Strange, psychotic stuff, very controversial and compelling. We’re doing it as part of the big Bouchercon mystery reader and writer convention. I found the book fascinating, regardless of whether or not you accept his conclusions.

There’s other stuff, but it’s too early to talk about it.

Are we done? Can I have a cocktail now? No, wait—questions! Let’s have ‘em!

BILL MacV:  Thanks for the Art of Noir, Eddie – a sumptuous treat (which doesn’t fit on the same shelf with your other books, so it’s on a side table with Alain Silver’s The Noir Style).
My favorite poster in your book is of Sudden Fear, with Joan Crawford’s enormous eyes stretched in fear but half-occluded by the shoulders of Jack Palance (whose back is to us). In fact, it led me to re-watch the movie, and I was stunned to see that the art exactly reproduces a frame of the movie, which goes so by so fast it’s almost subliminal. Can you give us any insight into the process by which film becomes paper? And/or, at what level the art was generated or approved? It seems to me it took a very astute eye to pull out that frame.

FE:  Thanks for the kudos, Bill. Wish I could clue in on more on the inner workings of the studio art departments, but much of that is shrouded in mystery. Even identifying artists at the Hollywood studios is difficult. Typically, its the art director who makes the crucial decisions as to what the poster will feature, and in the case of a star of Joan’s magnitude, there are negotiations involved. Sometimes even agents got into the act. But Joan knew her eyes were her biggest feature, and I think the approach RKO took with that poster must have tickled her—even though you don’t see her face. Try getting that past some stars!

ALAN:  Eddie, thanks so much for sharing your time and your professional plate sounds fascinating and delightfully full.

Have a cold pop while you answer some of the Blackboarder queries.

FE:  Thank you, Mr. McGraw . . .. . . a cold pop of WHAT is the question!

Sorry I jumped the gun on asking questions.

As you know I am contributing to your child’s college fund.

Lately I have become obsessed with the art of noir on the mag. ads of the time of release. Cheaper and way different. What are your thoughts on any of the ads as a beginner’s way of collecting?

FE:  No children here, John. The dough goes straight into my pocket.
I think you’re onto something with the magazine ads especially. I’ve noted that in many cases those graphics are better than the poster art. The ads for “out of the Past” are amazing, as well as ones I’ve seen for “The Chase” and “Murder My Sweet” and “They Won’t Believe Me.” All as good as the posters, in some cases better. I have an ad from “I Walk Alone” on my wall—vastly superior to the one-sheet. They have virtually no investment value, but to look at? Great.

BILL MacV:  Since you published Dark City Dames, Jane Greer passed away (I believe Marie Windsor did so between writing and publication, right?) Is there anything you would like to add to what you wrote, now in her absence? It always puzzled me why her career was, apart from her great Kathie Moffat in Out of the Past, so meager.

FE:  I loved Jane. What I have to add is kind of private, so I’ll refrain. But I was thrilled that her sons distributed complimentary copies of DAMES at Jane’s memorial service. Audrey Totter went with me, and she broke down when tried to say a few words about Jane. What can I say . . . Jane was the kind of person that you just loved. She was FUNNY and unbelievably sweet.

Yes, Marie has also died. You’ll be happy to know that she’s now in the Oxford Biographical Encyclopedia, her entry written by yours truly.

JOHN RHOTEN:  Eddie, with all of the festivals you have done has there ever been any talk of having Lauren Bacall show up. As she did a nice handful of noirs?

FE:  I invited Ms. Bacall to be the guest of honor at the 1st SF Noir Festival, for a screening of “Dark Passage.” She declined due to a scheduling conflict with a film she was shooting. But, truthfully, in the end, I’m kind of glad she demurred. It would have cost a fortune to bring her out, and as it turned out, we almost sold out the theatre without her. If she’d come, we’d have had a catastrophe on our hands!

ALAN:  Eddie, Bill’s question got me thinking about Ann. She is simply a special jewel. How is she doing and will she be coming to the San Francisco Festival in January?

FE:   Ann Savage . . . will be coming to S.F. in January. I haven’t talked to her in a few weeks, but last time we spoke she was great. I’m saving a stool for her in the lounge in January, as I suspect she’ll be the last woman standing.

BILL MacV:  I think I’ve said before that your book Dark City was the book that jump-started my interest in noir into an all-consuming obsession. It was slangy and breezy but informed without being pretentious or dogmatic. Do you have, without any invidious specifics, any feeling about the academic school of criticism with which film noir now seems to be flooded?

FE:  You know my three little words…. . . . BARROOM NOT CLASSROOM.
I find most of the academic writing tangles and argumentative and out of touch with reality. For one thing, most of it completely overlooks the economic factors that go into making movies. It shoehorns the collaborative nature of the filmmaking process into a director-dominated dogma. And it skews things to fit a pre-determined thesis. For instance, this nonsense about the femme fatale being a manifestation of males fears born of women entering the work force during WWII. I suggest certain scholars watch the films a bit more closely. Working women are the HEROINES of noir, not the villains. Women of the leisure class are invariably the villains, for the specific reason that THEY DON’T WANT TO WORK FOR A LIVING. Anyway, I guess you can see how I react to some of this stuff . . . my other bete noire is directors getting credit for things that are obviously conjured up by the writer. Don’t get me started....

DARK MARC:  Hi Eddie, Thanks for coming on THE BLACKBOARD. My question relates to the practice of backing posters often done when original vintage posters are restored. I recently had 2 half sheets backed and the shop recommended a paper backing. I now understand that this is the usual material used on half sheets. Once my posters were finish I eventually became disappointed and found that the poster wrinkled after being framed. Have you ever heard of backing half sheets with linen? I think that this would have much better for my two.

Any thoughts!!

FE:  Hi Marc. Thanks for having me back. I want to publically recognize Mr. Dolezal as the King of Noir on the Net. You are doing a huge service to noir fans around the world.

Whoever paperbacked your poster just did a lousy job. I’d use paper backing on any half-sheet or insert. I’d only use linen for the larger pieces. I had a butchered “Naked Alibi” half sheet restored and paperbacked and it looks perfect now. I can give you some good resources next time.

By the way, I have a good copy of ‘Undercover Man,” save for a 4 second glitch early on.

ALAN:  Eddie, could you give us a peek at your SF noir festival lineup?

FE :   Alan, I’d love to, but for some weird and cautionary reasons, I can’t release the lineup yet. I saw where Don Malcolm was musing it over here the other day, and he’s going in the right direction. All I will say is that today my life was good: we located a 35mm print of a certain WB film I’ve been dying to find for more than five years! The condition hasn’t been determined, but nobody has seen this film in 35mm in probably 50 years. It’ll be the “Woman on the Run” of the next festival!

ALAN:  Eddie, Understand caution. You’ve definitely got me hooked on this film you’ve been dying to find and I will resist the urge to start the guessing pool except to ask is it : “The Man who Cheated Himself”?

FE:   Good guess . . .but that's not it. That was a 20th Century Fox film.

ANDIE C.:  Thanks for taking time, Eddie. To continue the Dark City Dames theme, how are the other surviving three, besides Ann Savage, doing? Are you still in contact?
And another question: Are we getting anywhere closer to a video/DVD release of NIGHTMARE ALLEY or is it still tangled in legalities?

Thanks and all the best with with these great projects,

FE:  Hi Andie. I always enjoying reading your posts on the Blackboard.

Coleen Gray is absolutely unstoppable. A ball of fire. Audrey is fine, living at the Motion Picture Home, which doesn’t mean what most people assume. She’s great, although I don’t get to see her as much as I’d like. Evelyn has slowed down somewhat, but I am thrilled to note that after more than 20 years of effort, her novel “I am a Billboard,” re-titled ‘Georgia Peach,” looks like it’s going to be produced as a film. I know that peter Bogdanovich is considering making it.

NIGHTMARE ALLEY, to the best of my knowledge, remains a nightmare of rights and licensing. Unfathomable. Did you know that Harry Anderson tried for years to do a remake? Hmmm, let’s be thankful for those rights problems, huh?

ANDIE C.:  Thanks for the kind words! That means a helluva lot, coming from you.
Really glad to hear the ladies are going strong.
An NA remake? Egads. Never considered that the rights problems are shielding it from that unspeakable fate. Had to sneak off to the IMDb and look up who Harry Anderson is and I see a number of circus/sideshow related productions and Stephen King and .. a HARVEY remake. No way. Actually I see shades of NIGHTMARE ALLEY in that new HBO show CARNIVALE.

FE:  I have to jump off because I have someone coming by the office right about now. But I’m happy to check back later and answer any other questions people may have. Thanks for all the attention. You people are great.

Eddie -


JOHN: Eddie, I revisit your 'Dark City Dames' often. God bless all these ladies and I think that Ann Savage and Audrey Totter are probably two of the finest human beings to walk the planet. Can I ask you for your opinion of my own special muse...Barbara Payton? And, for that matter, of her partner-in-crime (at least for a while), Tom Neal? I admit I am spellbound by these two people. Their lives' together, and apart were as dark as it gets. Thanks.

FE:   All I can say is . . .

JOHN:  An absolutely perfect roman a clef, FE. What a sublime treatment of two ruined lives.

FE, you mentioned in the piece that "Wanda Wilcox’s" mug shots and rap sheet can be found deep in the files of the LAPD. Do you know if this holds true for Barbara Payton, as well? I have tried for the last 5 years to get both from that great, monolithic organization known as the no avail. In 2002, I even hired a private dick from Beverly Hills (to the tune of 2G) to try to get this material for me and he said the LAPD claimed that both her rap sheet and arrest photos had long been destroyed. Oh, yeah? Well then, why do Robert Mitchum’s and Frank Sinatra’s still exist? My book project on Barbara contains hundreds of photos of her (most of them showing her looking beautiful and sexy) but I think the inclusion of her mug shots, and material from her rap sheet, would help depict her slide into Hell better than mere words ever could. Can you, by chance, offer any suggestions on how I might obtain these elusive documents? Thanks.

FE:   John, As you know, there is a LOT of creative license at work in my story vis-a-vis its factual basis in the Barbara Payton/Tom Neal saga. Unfortunately for your purposes, the stuff about the LAPD files is part of it. I have not seen BP’s mug shots. A civilian trying to get anything out of the LAPD is going to have an uphill struggle. Mitchum and Sinatra’s mug shots and jackets still exist because they were big stars, and some cops obviously pocketed cash by selling that stuff.

Good luck on the book. It’s pretty amazing the spell that Payton continues to cast. I guess you’ve read and or talked to Robert Polito about his memoir of actually meeting Payton when she used to drink regularly in the Coach and Horses. Incredibly, I’d written that Wanda Wilcox story before I ever met Robert. We had dinner and he said "What are you working on now?" and I said "A story about Barbara Payton." "So am I, for a book Luc Sante’s editing." Some small world, huh? Mine, of course, is complete fiction, what with the supernatural angle and all that.


JOHN:   Thanks very much, Eddie. Yes, I did speak to Robert Polito a few times. He is as fascinated with Barbara and Tom Neal as I am. As for the LAPD, they not only ripped me off for $13.00 (for a lousy, so-called "processing fee"), they also gave me, and that PI, a runaround like you wouldn’t believe. By now, I’ve pretty much given up hope that Barbara’s mug shots will ever surface. Too bad... I imagine they’re pretty damn haunting. Thanks again,

DON MALCOLM:   Sorry I was unable to be around last night during The Big Chat, but I was over in Oakland taking in Nightfall/Woman On The Run over at the Grand Lake noir fest.

I think Fast Eddie pretty much answered the question I’d have asked, which was "what was the worst noir poster for the best noir film?" However, I don’t think he answered the converse, the best noir poster for the worst noir, if you get a chance, Eddie, please weigh in on that! Let me take a crack at what that Eddie’s "mystery film" might be. Based on a conversation I had some time ago with another noir buff/poster dealer who sung the praises of this obscure WB film, and from my reading up on it (including Bill’s always-valuable notes at IMDB), I’d guess that the film in question is Tomorrow Is Another Day.

But don’t tell us, Eddie, keep it as a surprise. But if you can score a print of Undercover Girl (another Joe Pevney opus, the film he directed right after Shakedown), I’ll let you borrow my lobby cards for display at the Castro when it runs!!!

FE :  The Posters are better than the films with almost everything Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake did. Those Paramount posters were so good, that the films rarely lived up to them. That’s why I have no hesitation saying that the dynamic duo of 'This Gun for Hire' and 'The Blue Dahlia,' two of the most highly-prized noir posters, have value completely out of proportion with the value of the movies. While both films have lots to enjoy, I think they’re both flawed and overrated.


P.S. What did you think of 'Woman on the Run'? A marvelous script, don’t you think?


DON MALCOLM:   A very interesting perspective on the poster question, Eddie. It is rather amazing how much value Veronica Lake has in that regard, in proportion to her actual screen achievements. (Of course, it’s almost exclusively for those two films' the only other posters of hers that fetch large sums are Sullivan’s Travels and I Married A Witch.) Woman On The Run has quickly become one of my favorites, the script is exceptionally good, both in terms of the narrative structure (character development and action are knitted together seamlessly) and the quality of the dialogue, especially the on-going verbal sparring between Ann Sheridan and Robert Keith.

A good bit of that interesting tension in the script could be due to the life reality experienced by Alan Campbell (who co-wrote with the under appreciated Norman Foster). Campbell, who was co-writer of the original 1937 version of A Star Is Born and what is arguably the most volatile screwball comedy script ever (The Moon’s Our Home), was married, not once, but twice, to the tempestuous and acerbic Dorothy Parker.


  Alan Rode led the interview which was opened to a question and answer session with the board participants. September 30 - October 2, 2003   

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