By Terry Fleming • January 27, 2022
Pssst, hey. Yeah, you. Lemme give you the skinny on something over here. This month we'll be covering the shadowy side of things. Noir. Where bad ideas are more plentiful than popcorn at a movie theater, and hearts are heavier than an aircraft carrier. Where the wrong side of the tracks is anywhere you lay your head, and when you lay it, you better keep one eye open and an ear to the ground, or it's lights out. The Big Sleep. The Dirt Nap. All that...
Let's start our investigation with ground zero for the bad side of town, and by that I mean the gutter. Nobody covered that rock bottom terrain better than Jim Thompson. You might remember him from when Hollywood got a clue for half a second in the nineties and made a bunch of films out of his mean-as-dirt tomes. I'm talking books like The Grifters, After Dark, My Sweet, and The Getaway. But maybe if TinselTown ever cleans the dead bugs off its windshield and really learns how to steer, they'll also make shows or movies out of books like Wild Town, Savage Night, or The Nothing Man. But I wouldn't hold my breath for that one.
Some folks believe that crazed has-been movie star Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard represents the true Hollywood frame of mind: self-obsessed, delusional, and given to the occasional fit of psychotic rage. Others think Faye Dunaway playing movie legend Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest caught the true corkscrew soul of TinselTown. Whatever your belief, there's no doubting that even a stopped clock can tell the right time twice a day, and like I babbled in the above blurb, in the nineties, Hollyweird fell face-first into the right trash-pile for once when it decided to make flicks out of Thompson books: The Grifters, After Dark, My Sweet, and The Getaway. It also, in the seventies, did this version of The Getaway with Steve McQueen. Then you got to go all the way back to the 1950s and The Killing to mark another major studio release based offa Thompson's works. But before you go wailing your laments over that like a wind-up banshee here are a bunch of other flicks you might want to try - to drink deep the seedier side:
If you want to talk lowlives shooting for the high side, it doesn't get any grungier for a video game than the Grand Theft Auto series. You could start with updated versions of the first three GTA games with Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy. Then once you're done with all that, graduate up (or maybe down) to Grand Theft Auto V. Just don't expect people to be all soft and scented like a pit of petunias when you're playing GTA online.
Before you go thinking Ole' Glamour Gulch (another name for Hollywood, if you didn't know) was always tripping over superhero capes to the exclusion of all else, let's not forget that that factory town put noir on the map. The book Dark City does a lion's job of detailing the history of Film Noir. If the shadow-soaked photography and art work of those villainous flicks grab your dubious fancy, then check out Taschen's Film Noir. Same with The Art of Noir. Meanwhile, Into The Dark: The Hidden World of Film Noir lets the artists behind the classics tell their side, and just to shake things up till it bites its tongue, L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City tells the story of the City of Angels itself, with all the grit and grime kept in for not-so-good measure. Enjoy!