Murder in the Library: Film (and Film Noir)

What? You thought I made this all up, or downloaded it all from Wikipedia? Nope. Here are the books that inspired me to create this site, and the books I’ve used to cobble it together over the years, as well as the ones I’ve discovered along the way, broken down into various categories. If you like this site, you may find some of these as fascinating as I do. 

| General Reference | History, Theory, Criticism & Other Agendas | The Pulps & Short Fiction |
| Television | Film | Radio | Comics | The Writing Life | Diversions | Real Life Eyes | True Crime |
True DetectivesThe Paper Chase |


Sorted, by author….

  • Backer, Ron,
    Mystery Movie Series of 1930s Hollywood | Buy this book
    Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2012.
    A wonderful survey of twenty-two different series and over 150 individual films, primarily released during the 1930s, including chapters and film-by-film breakdown of the films of, among others, Charlie Chan, Nick and Nora Charles, Philo Vance, Nancy Drew, Torchy Blane and Mr. Wong.
  • Backer, Ron,
    Mystery Movie Series of 1940s Hollywood | Buy this book
    Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2010.
    More geeky movie goodness from Backer, this companion volume to Mystery Movie Series of 1930s Hollywood covers nineteen different series (and 146 different films), including those of Ellery Queen, Boston Blackie, Michael Shayne, Dick Tracy, the Falcon and the Saint. Witty, entertaining and compelling — something thar can’t always be said about the films discussed.
  • Biesen, Sheri Chinen,
    Blackout: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir Buy this book
    John Hopkins University Press, 2005.
    Bisen spits in the face of those who trace film noir’s roots to postwar Hollywood, and makes the case for the genre’s roots actually being firmly planted in the political, social, and material conditions of Hollywood during the war, suggesting that after Pearl Harbor, America underwent “a sharp cultural transformation that made horror, shock, and violence not only palatable but preferable.” Among the witnesses called are The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity, Scarlet Street, Ministry of Fear, Phantom Lady, and Stranger on the Third Floor. Illustrated.
  • Cameron, Ian
    The Movie Book of Film Noir
  • Christopher, Nicholas
    Somewhere in the Night: Film Noir and the American City
    Novelist and poet Nicholas Christopher takes an serious, enthusiastic and in-yer-face academic approach, alluding to pop culture, literature, bits of history, sociology, and, of course, about a zilliuon films. Intelligent, challenging and provocative.
  • Clark, Al
    Chandler in Hollywood
    New York: Proteus, 1982.
  • Copjec, Joan, editor
    Shades of Noir
    A collection of essays on film noir that reassess the genre in light of contemporary social and political concerns, examining the role of the femme fatale and the reemergence of noir themes in new films by black directors.
  • Décharné, Max,
    Hardboiled Hollywood: The True Crime Stories that Inspired the Great Noir Films | Buy this book
    Pegasus Books, 2010.
    The real-life crimes that allegedly inspired such cinematic crime classics as The Big Sleep, Get Carter, In a Lonely Place, Kiss Me Deadly, LA Confidential, etc. Interesting, but most of the films he cites were based on novels, so whatever inspiration there is is once removed.
  • Duncan, Paul, & Jürgen Müller, editors,
    Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites | Buy this book
    Taschen, 2014.
    What with all the whiskey fumes and cigarette smoke getting in their eyes, sometimes movies can go too fast for you to catch all the cinematic nuances. So along comes this hefty five-pound slab of a book to lend a hand. It’s crammed with loads of amazing photos (many in glorious black and white!) and thoughtful essays on what the authors consider the 100 greatest examples of the genre, from early, ground zero German and French silent films right through the classic period and all the way to such modern neo-noir outliers as Black Swan, Sin City and The Dark Knight. Yummy.
  • Duncan, Paul, & Jürgen Müller, editors,
    Film Noir | Buy this book
    Taschen, 2017.
    Apparently a truncated but still gorgeous version of 2014’s Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites (above), featuring “Taschen’s Top 50 Picks of Film Noir, 1940-60.”
  • Everson, William K.
    The Detective in Film
    Toronto: Citadel Press, 1972.
    Now painfully dated, but an important book for its time, as it attempted to trace the history of the “screen sleuth.” Some great pictures, too!
  • Gifford, Barry
    The Devil Thumbs a Ride & Other Unforgettable Films | Buy this book
    New York: Grove Press, 1988.
    Extremely readable, personal views of 100 or so examples of “the moody, ominous violent underbelly of American moviemaking.” Excellent mini-essays on Chinatown, Out of the Past, Night Moves, White Heat and tons of others. Another huge influence on this site.
  • Gifford, Barry
    Out of the Past: Adventures in Film Noir | Buy this book
    Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2001.
    Actually an updated and expanded version of his previous The Devil Thumbs a Ride, this one is even better, as Gifford once again casts his shrewd eye on a wide variety of films, including The Asphalt Jungle, Body and Soul, Body Heat, Charley Varrick, Chinatown, D.O.A., Double Indemnity, High Sierra, Key Largo, Kiss of Death, Mean Streets, Mildred Pierce, Mr. Majestyk, Out of the Past, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and Strangers on a Train, as well as such Europeon noirs as Repulsion, The Hidden Room, Shoot the Piano Player, The 400 Blows and Odd Man Out. As Ed Gorman and Dan Mossman point out in their introduction, “…noir is handy as a catch-all but useless as a definition.” 
  • Gorman, Ed, Lee Server and Martin H. Greenberg, editors.
    The Big Book of Noir | Buy this book
    New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1998.
    Amazing collection of informative, revealing, intriguing essays, interviews, excerpts, opinions and other neat stuff, both original and from various sources, covering noir in all its shadowy glory, from films and literature to radio, television and comics. Contributors include Ron Goulart, Max Allan Collins, Bill Pronzini, James Sallis, Robert Skinner, Stephen King, Gary Lovisi, Dick Lochte, William Nolan, Maxim Jakubowski, Bill Crider, Leigh Brackett and Etienne Borgers, among others. I can’t praise this book enough. Passionate, diverse, opinionated, cranky, illuminating and enlightening, it’s like a Greatest Hits of Noir Criticism.
  • Grant, John,
    A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir: The Essential Reference Guide | Buy this book
    Limelight Editions, 2013.
    It’s a noir world after all, and this huge slab of a reference work covers it all — except for Antartica, for some reason. Featuring thousands of entries on noirs from all over the world, it’s breathtaking in both its scope and its execution. Even better? Apparently Grant never sleeps — he also maintains Noirish, a frequently updated “annex” to this book. 
  • Haut, Woody,
    Heartbreak and Vine | Buy this book
    London: Serpents Tail, 2003.
    Subtitled “The fate of hard-boiled writers in Hollywood,” this book shines a spotlight on the twisted love/hate relationship between the great crime novelists, from Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler to Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy, and the Hollywood dream factory. Haut is also the author of the acclaimed Neon Noirand Pulp Culture.
  • Hogan, David J.,
    Film Noir FAQs | Buy this book Kindle it!
    Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2013.
    Hardly exhaustive but by no means slight, film writer Hogan’s personal, idiosyncratic pick-and-choose take on film noir is a whole lotta fun. Featuring over seventy mostly short, always sharp essays (he calls them “case files”) that cover films, creators, directors, actors, private eyes and even cartoons (Duck Twacy, anyone?). It may just deliver, as its subtitle promises, “All That’s Left to Know About Hollywood’s Golden Age of Dames, Detectives and Danger.”
  • Hunter, Stephen,
    Violent Screen: A Critic’s 13 Years on the Front Lines of Movie Mayhem | Buy this book Kindle it
    Bancroft Press, 1995.
    Novelsit (Dirty White Boys, I, Sniper, Point of Impact, etc.) and Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Hunter dodges the moral and ethical debates, and simply serves up the good stuff; “a virtual laundry list of sex and violence,” with plenty of savvy commentary and two-fisted wit along the way.
  • Lyons, Arthur,
    Death on the Cheap: The Lost B Movies of Film Noir Buy this book
    Da Capo Press, 2000.
    A labour of love. Lyons, the writer of the acclaimed Jacob Asch P.I. series, clues us in on a few of his favourite things: namely, those beloved but now woefully-neglected noir B-films of the 1940s and 1950s. Complete with cast lists, complete production notes, Lyons’ incisive comments, and more trivia than you can shake a box of popcorn art, this is a must-have for any fan of cinematic cheap thrills. As Dean Koontz says on the cover blurb, “A terrific piece of work, the definitive book on its subject, and a body slam of nostalgia that knocked me out of my chair more than once.”
  • Maltin, Leonard, editor.
    Leonard Maltin’s TV Movies and Video Guide
    It’s been updated annually for years, but this is still probably one of my most-used reference books. Sure, others are way more comprehensive, but with it’s intelligent, concise thumbnail reviews by Maltin and a cast of thousands, of about a quadzillion movies and videos, it’s downright indispensable. Get it in paperback, because you’ll be wanting to update it regularly.
  • Mayer, Geoff, and Brian Mc Donnell,
    Encyclopedia of Film Noir | Buy this book | Kindle it!
    Yet another “encyclopedia” purporting to cover the entire waterfront of noir, but nonetheless a great way to spend a lost weekend, prowling the various back alleys and mean streets of the noiriverse, with over 200 inividuals entries on films, directors, and actors, as well as essays on the various definitions of the genre, settings and backdrops, and also “the cultural (WWII) and institutional (the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, and the Production Code Administration) influences on the subgenres”. 
  • Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated, 2007
  • Meyer, David N.
    A Girl and a Gun : The Complete Guide to Film Noir on Video | Buy this book
    Avon Books, 1998.
    It’s definitely not complete, and it’s lacking actual video info, but it is a fun and at times hilarious guide to film noir. Opinionated, silly, serious, objectionable, rude and in-your-face perceptive, this is the one to grab before heading off to the video store. Whatever that is…
  • Miller, Don
    B Movies
    Curtis Books, 1973.
    Like the blurb says, “A classic tribute to the heyday of Hollywood’s double features–the stars, the studios, the directors.” This is a great reference book, absolutely chockfull of fascinating trivia. The 1988 Ballantine paperback edition that I have features a foreward by Leonard Maltin.
  • Muller, Eddie
    Dark City: The Lost World Of Film Noir | Buy this book
    Griffin Trade Paperback, 1998.
    As good as it gets. Perfect for the hard-boiled movie buff who’s already memorized The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. Great pictures and commentary worth reading from the future “Czar of Noir.” 208 pages, 150 b&w photos, plus 8 pages of color photos. All of it a hoot. “Akin to reading Hollywood Babylon,” according to one Rara-Avian. “Dark City is pure fun.”
    “… a scorching expose of the seedy, passion-fuelled underworld, and a rather timely appraisal of the McCarthyite era’s shady cinematic output. … DARK CITY has all the weight and power of a .45 slug and all the bite of two fingers of sour mash, straight up.” (Total Film).
  • Muller, Eddie,
    Dark City Dames: The Wicked Women of Film Noir | Buy this book
    Regan Books/Harper Collins, 2001.
    His previous book was the amazing Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir (1998). This time Eddie pays tribute to Marie Windsor, Audrey Totter, Jane Greer, Ann Savage, Evelyn Keyes and Coleen Gray, six Queens of the B’s who, in the words of Playboy, “helped pave film noir’s shadowy streets.” Although he also manages to dig up plenty of dirt, this is ultimately a sympathetic and fascinating ode to the genre, and the women who helped define it.
  • Muller, Eddie,
    The Art of Noir: The Posters & Graphics from the Classic Era of Film Noir | Buy this book
    Overlook Press, 2002.
    It just doesn’t get any yummier than this. With over 300 full-color illustrations in all), many of them full-pages, Muller covers the noir beat once again, this time through movie posters. For fans, this is to fucking to die for. I want it.
  • Palmer, R. Barton
    Hollywood’s Dark Cinema: The American Film Noir
    Twayne Publications, 1994.
    Georgia State University professor Palmer covers the noir waterfront by zooming in on a few select examples from the film noir genre (Murder, My Sweet, Taxi Driver, Double Indemnity, Vertigo, etc.), focussing on several key characteristics of the genre. “By tracing the advent of film noir in the context of industry aims, target audiences, censorship and the role Hollywood played in American society, the author sheds new historical light on dark cinema.” (Book News, Inc.)
  • Selby, Spencer
    Dark City : The Film Noir
    McFarland & Company, 1997.
  • Silver, Alain, and Elizabeth Ward.
    Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style Buy this book
    Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press, 1980, revised 1988.
    Comprehensive well-thought out and easy to use. The definitive reference book on this film genre, by two of its most insightful critics. Alain Silver is also the editor of the seminal Film Noir Reader series.
  • Silver, Alain, Elizabeth Ward, James Ursin and Robert Porfirio,
    Film Noir: The Encyclopedia Buy this book
    This substantially revised and expanded fourth edition of the de facto standard reference work in the field — nobody else even comes close — has been a long time coming, and it’s finally here! This isn’t just some gussied up reprint with a few minor tweaks here and there – it’s been souped up, filled out and blown up, shedding new light on the darkest of film genres. With exhaustive appendixes, over 300 photos, and plenty of savvy and enlightening criticism that pulls no punches and takes no prisoners, this is a straight up, no chaser blast for the noir junkie.
  • Silver, Alain, and James Ursini, editors,
    Film Noir Reader Buy this book.
    Limelight Editions, 1996.
    The original volume in the classic series reprints seven key essays on film noir and fourteen other articles, either long out of print or original to that anthology, covering many of the key films, directors, and themes of film noir, including the first English translation of “Towards a Definition of Film Noir,” by Borde and Chaumeton, Raymond Durgnat’s “Family Tree of Film Noir,” and Paul Shrader’s “Notes on Film Noir.” And, of course, lots and lots of black and white (of course) photographs. The essays are often contradictory and overly academic, and the whole thing seems to need some good editing, but indispensable, nonetheless.
  • Silver, Alain,, James Ursini and Robert Porfirio, editors,
    Film Noir Reader 2 Buy this book
    Limelight Editions, 1999.
    Contains 22 more essential essays on noir by such writers as Nino Frank (the film critic who actually named the style), Jean-Pierre Chartier, Claude Chabrol, Tom Flinn, Stephen Farber, Robin Wood, and Elizabeth Ward, among others, as they go over the films of Hitchcock, the femme fatales of Pushover and Thelma Jordan, jazz & noir, tabloid cinema, neo-noir fugitives, and the “new noir.”
  • Silver, Alain, James Ursini and Robert Porfirio, editors,
    Film Noir Reader 3 Buy this book
    Limelight Editions, 2002.
    Contains 18 never-before-published interviews, with directors (Andre de Toth, Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Robert Wise), filmmakers (James Wong Howe, John F. Seitz), actors (Claire Trevor, Lizabeth Scott), composers and critics. But once again, as in the previous two volumes, this book is marred by some sloppy editing, particularly when it comes to the photographs, many of which are misidentified, or bear no relation to the text.
  • Silver, Alain, and James Ursini,
    The Noir Style Buy this book
    Overlook Press; 1999.
    Yet another book on noir by Alain Silver, who seems to be making a career for himself out of it. this one’s a glamourous (there’s no other word for it) look at noir’s visual style, tracing its roots in the work of Edward Hopper and Weegee, and how the use of light, shadow, frame, composition and body language came to define the term. These are often breath-taking images, all in glorious black and white, and for once the editors pay attention to both the captions and the illustrations, and get both wonderfully, exactly right. For real fans of the genre, this picture book is the sort of thing you could just eat up with a spoon.
  • Thomson, David.
    Suspects Buy this book
    London: Secker & Warburg, 1985.
    A acid trip of a novel which offers short bios on over eighty famous film characters, and imagines the links between them. If you’ve seen way too many movies, this one’s for you…
  • Thompson, Peggy and Saeko Usukawa
    Hardboiled: Great Lines from Classic Noir Films Buy this book
    Chronicle Books, 1995.
    A great collection of quotes and pictures from classic noir films, not all private eye, but definitely a fun read. And pulpmeister Lee server does the intro, which is always cool.
  • Tuska, Jon,
    The Detective in Hollywood: The Movie Careers of the Great Fictional Private Eyes and Their Creators Buy this book
    Doubleday, 1978.
    With its emphasis on the thirties and forties, this is a tasty overview of (mostly) American detective series, laced with lots of juicy bits of trivia and bolstlered by some even tastier quotes. Included are all the usual suspects: Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Perry Mason, Ellery Queen, Nero Wolfe and Lew Archer, but really makes the book for me are the outliers: and some really fascinating outliers.
  • Vieira, Mark A.,
    Into the Dark The Hidden World of Film Noir, 1941-1950 Buy this book Kindle it!
    A behind-the-scenes look at the world of noir, straight from the mouths of those responsible. And nestled among the numerous quotes, retorts, snippets and bon mots from the motley crew of directors, actors, cinematographers, writers and critics featured inare some truly breathtaking stills. Plus, an intro from the Czar of Noir himself, Mr. Eddie Muller.
  • Wilt, David,
    Hardboiled in Hollywood: Five Black Mask Writers and the Movies | Buy this book
    Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1991.
    Fascinating study of five Black Mask writers who went on to spread the gospel in Hollywood: Horace McCoy, Eric Taylor, Peter Ruric, Dwight V. Babcock and John K. Butler.
  • Wlaschin, Ken,
    Silent Mystery and Detective Films | Buy this book
    Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2009.
    A real eye opener from film expert Wlaschin, this well-illustrated volume presents a jaw-dropping litany from around the world of over 1500 early crime flicks, ranging from slap-stick one reelers probably best forgotten to Gawd-I’d-love-to-see-them early film appearances of such beloved mystery icons as Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chan and Boston Blackie. A labour of love that your mystery fan will love too. impressive.
Respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Patrick McIntosh for the lead.

2 thoughts on “Murder in the Library: Film (and Film Noir)

  1. I would like to submit to titles on film nor.

    Hardboiled Hollywood: The True Crime Stories that Inspired the Great Noir Films by Max Décharné,Pegasus Books, 2010

    Real-life bank robbers, twisted serial killers, and pulp novels have all helped shape the world of crime cinema. From Kiss Me Deadly, Bonnie Clyde and Psycho, to The Godfather and L.A. Confidential, Max Decharne uncovers the little-known stories behind each of these classic films and more.

    Thanks to Hollywood, failed bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are forever fixed in popular imagination. Middle-aged Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein is now forever embodied in Anthony Perkin’s unforgettable portrayal of Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s Psycho. The true-life origins of these films are now revealed in Max Décharné’s revelatory volume—the stories perhaps more fascinating than even their Hollywood representations.

    Suspects by David Thomson, Oldcastle Books, 2007

    Noah Cross, Norma Desmond, Norman Bates, Harry Lime—these are a few of nearly 100 names that inhabit the mind of the narrator as he starts to compose short biographies of some of the most famous characters in the history of film noir. He sketches in whole lives, lives as intense as the dreams put up on the screen. The book begins to become a novel when the characters start to meet each other outside their respective films—as if they were real people with needs and passions. The names and faces are familiar to us—Jake Gittes from Chinatown, Laura Hunt and Waldo Lydecker from Laura, Rick and Ilsa from Casablanca—but is it true that Noah Cross and Norma Desmond were lovers in the 1920s, that she and Joe Gillis had a son who grew up to be Julian Kay in American Gigolo? The narrator is not merely the author, he has a mission to carry out—a lost family link to find, a thread to pull so that nearly all these disparate characters come together to form a kind of society. Ultimately this examination on how movies affect audiences—not only shaping perceptions and memories, but in some ways coming to stand in for them—can also be read as an unsettling examination of identity and the construction of self through the medium of narratives; or simply as a fascinating take on movie fandom.

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