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The Art of Noir: The Posters and Graphics From the Classic Era of Film Noir


The Art of Noir: The Posters and Graphics From the Classic Era of Film Noir

Back in its heyday --- before trailers, TV campaigns and the
Internet --- movie-goers had to base their decisions on the print
advertising, posters and other artwork for upcoming films. Studios
made calculated decisions on what elements they wanted to use to
draw in the crowd. What should they emphasize: the stars? the
story? the exotic locale?

This was especially true for the film noir genre. Its dark
nature, brooding heroes and cold-blooded bad guys (or was it the
other way around?) made it a natural for such graphic renderings.
In addition to their complex stories, the films came with their own
set of advertising problems: how could they portray the inherent
violence and sex in a manner that would draw an audience while, at
the same time, fall within a level acceptable to the production
code and censors.

Eddie Muller, an expert in the genre, has compiled THE ART OF NOIR,
a heavyweight (literally) compilation of scores of examples of this
specialized work. Muller defines the noir genre as a pairing of
"the deeply shadowed, expressionistic vision of expatriate European
directors" following World War II "with the cynical hardboiled
school of American fiction." Using examples of "paper" --- the
posters, lobby cards and other graphics --- the author presents his
case in a manner that appeals to movie buffs, mystery fans and
psychology students in equal measure.

Most interesting is how artwork for the same film is presented in
different venues. Europe, for example, was more sophisticated when
it came to depicting sex in the film (relative to the era), but was
more timid when it came to highlighting any political aspects.
Certain elements, Muller states, are present in most of his
examples. "Maybe I should have called [the book] Gats and
. A cursory shuffle through these pages will reveal a
cavalcade of thrusting firearms and illicitly exposed legs." In
addition, many illustrations include careening cars, suggesting a
chase, or sinister night scenes on the streets of an uncaring city;
shadows are also indicative of the unknown terrors that

The advertisements also promised forbidden (yet acceptable) levels
of violence between the sexes: there are several examples of men
with their hands around the necks of women, women being menaced or
chased and other threatening acts. On the other hand, there are
also shots of men in protective postures, holding a woman in one
arm while brandishing a weapon in the other hand.

Women in noir art are cast in one of two veins: victim or
temptress. They are easy to tell apart; the victim usually has a
hand raised to her face in a defense gesture and/or a look of
terror in her eyes, while the temptress stares out at the viewer
with bedroom eyes, a flash of leg or d├ęcolletage (the more
flesh exposed, the more dangerous the female) and a gun held by her

Fuller shows the styles employed by the various studios, more
elaborate graphics being used by those with bigger budgets and for
"A" list movies. Among the other breakdowns he makes are the use of
classic film noir actors as the selling point: Humphrey Bogart,
Alan Ladd, Burt Lancaster, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, as well
as "The Usual Suspects: Noir's Most Recognized Faces," featuring
many whose names are recognized only by those with an affinity for
this genre. He also offers a detailed discussion on the "thematic
and iconographic elements of film noir" and pays homage to those
fiction writers and directors who helped millions enjoy these
guilty pleasures.

THE ART OF NOIR is a marvelous addition to any film buff's library.
As the Academy hands out the Oscars to films that might be
recognized as classics for future generations of cinema fans,
Muller's opus gives a knowing nod of appreciation to an important
part of the industry's past.

Reviewed by Ron Kaplan ( on January 20, 2011

The Art of Noir: The Posters and Graphics From the Classic Era of Film Noir
by Eddie Muller

  • Publication Date: October 9, 2002
  • Hardcover: 271 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover
  • ISBN-10: 1585670731
  • ISBN-13: 9781585670734