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
, 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
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
. 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
. 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,
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
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,
. 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 (www.plotswithguns.com).
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
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
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
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
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!
JOHN RHOTEN: Eddie,
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
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
BILL MacV: I think I’ve said before that your book
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
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.
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
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
. . .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
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
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
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.
10/1/03 THE INTERVIEW CONTINUES:
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 . . . www.plotswithguns.com
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 LAPD...to 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 film...so, 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?
10/2/03 THE INTERVIEW CONTINUES:
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.