The term “film noir” didn’t exist in the 1940s and early 1950s. The late Larry Gelbart, who wrote the noir-inspired stage musical City of Angels, once told me that back then “film” was something you got if you didn’t brush your teeth. People went to “the movies.” But ever since the term was taken up by American film buffs and scholars in the 1970s it has created a special allure for those dark, hard-boiled melodramas that studios ground out so effortlessly in the post-War era. What’s more, since today’s audiences have no trouble digesting cynicism, these films seem positively modern as opposed to the apple-pie wholesomeness of other Hollywood product from the period.
The ongoing popularity of noir has impelled studios and distributors to dig deep into their vaults and inspired some exceptional writing and scholarship. Editors Alain Silver, Elizabeth Ward, James Ursini and Robert Porfirio have expanded and updated their landmark 1979 volume The Film Noir Encyclopedia (Overlook Press). There are many new entries, overview essays, and a section on—
This is a momentous week for me: we’ve just finished the new edition of my annual paperback Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide—the 2011 Edition, to be specific. In this era of instant communication the process of writing, editing, and preparing a book seems quaint at best, and cumbersome at worst, but our book is still alive and well, and (I’m happy to say) has a healthy audience around the world. (I use the editorial “we” advisedly, since this has always been a team effort. Some of my collaborators have been working on this book for thirty years or more. If I didn’t have their input I’d be lost.)
Every spring becomes a high-stress period for me and my colleagues as we become mired in fact-checking details (the spelling of a Czech actor’s name, the running time of an unrated DVD version of a popular hit, etc.) and making sure someone on our team has seen every major new release. Then there are additions, corrections, and changes to the existing entries, which never end.
But when I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, sometime in early May, I start to breathe. I’ve actually—
A film as great, and significant, as John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939) deserves a great presentation DVD, and it finally has one, thanks to the Criterion Collection. It’s tragic that the original negative of this landmark film no longer exists; we’ve been lucky to have decent copies in spite of that, but Criterion had access to a 35mm nitrate negative from the 1942 reissue, which they treated with care and respect for the integrity of the film as it originally appeared. In the booklet that accompanies the DVD, the disc’s producers apologize for flaws that remain. “The picture suffered from thousands of instances of blended-in scratches and debris, especially around reel changes and in action sequences. In cases where the damage was not fixable without leaving traces of our restoration work, we decided to leave the original damage. Through hundreds of hours of restoration work, we’ve manually removed the—
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