Noir City: the best books behind the great noir films
On the eve of the Noir City film festival launch, mystery writers list their favorite noir books.
A few years ago, the emcee of San Francisco's Noir City – the largest film noir festival in the country – apologized for the weather in front of an audience of hundreds.Skip to next paragraph
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Had it started to rain? Nope. It had just stopped pouring outside of the Castro Theatre movie palace. And that might have been enough to ruin the mood. But it was still suitably gloomy and cold outside in the night. And, of course, on the screen inside.
Film noir refers to the seductively shadowy crime movies of the 1940s and 1950s and their progeny that darken big and small screens to this day. Every January, Noir City draws thousands of fans to watch mostly obscure movies starring icons like Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe. (The festival plays well-known movies too, but focuses on undiscovered and forgotten films.)
People dress in mid-century attire, and surviving actors and actresses from the past reminisce about their days playing crooks and femmes fatales. The emcee is Eddie "Czar of Noir" Muller, a leading author of books about film noir and frequent guest on the commentaries included with DVDs of noir classics.
Many hard-boiled books became famous noir movies, including "The Maltese Falcon," "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and "Mildred Pierce" (soon to be an HBO miniseries starring Kate Winslet). Before heading to Baghdad by the Bay to attend the festival, I asked Muller about his favorite book that became a noir movie. He answered and connected me with two other mystery authors who provided their own favorites.
Here's what they all had to say.
• Eddie Muller, author of the novels "The Distance" (2002) and "Shadow Boxer" (2003): "There are several: 'The Asphalt Jungle,' 'The Maltese Falcon,' 'Thieves Like Us,' 'Nightmare Alley.' But I think my favorite is Dorothy B. Hughes' 'In a Lonely Place,' because the film is not like the book. They're two separate stories, although they share a similar plot.
"Both are good in their own right, but they are entirely different experiences. I like the book because Hughes does a great job, in 1948, of getting inside the head of a misogynistic serial killer. But I like the movie because it throws out the melodrama of a murder story and plays it as a very adult drama about how the creative impulses of an artist can destroy any chance for a 'normal' relationship."
Note: The 1950 film "In a Lonely Place" stars Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame.
• Ace Atkins, author of nine crime novels, including 2010's "Infamous": He chose "The Getaway," a novel by Jim Thompson that became a Sam Peckinpah movie starring Steve McQueen in 1972. "Thompson's novel is a true road trip through hell, leading us into a broken, gritty world that few leave alive.