Redrawing the New York-Comics Relationship

Subjective Ramblings and Peripheral Thoughts from the Edges of a Comics Studies Project

Book Review: Ronald Schwartz’s “Noir, Now and Then”

Continuing our look at books that might help in our readings of the Marvel Noir franchise, we come to film scholar Ronald Schwartz’s Noir, Now and Then: Film Noir Originals and Remakes (1944-1999). This is a book that carries a lot of promise. According to the author’s introduction, the mission of the book is to examine thirty-five pairs made up of films that were originally part of the ‘classic’ film noir cycle and their later remakes. As Schwartz describes the project, “I will judge the critical worth of these transpositions of art, from one style to another, and provide some entertaining perceptions and readings for our journey, from 1944 to 1999, to gauge an awareness of changes in American social mores through these two unique styles [noir and neo-noir] of peculiarly American cinema” (xiii). A study like that has the potential to be a critical and film historical tour de force.

Sadly, the book falls flat almost immediately, and delivers very little of any of its promises. Like in William Hart’s Early Film Noir, the short chapters are mainly descriptive and highly subjective, presenting the films in brief descriptions that are loaded with judgments of taste and flippant commentary that I think is supposed to be funny but mostly winds up annoying me. What little “awareness of changes in American social mores” there is is restricted mainly to obvious commentary about relaxing production codes and restrictions. It pays almost no attention to social, political, or ideological changes and questions of space (whether of Californian locales or New York) are barely broached, and never with any depth. Also like Hart’s book, Noir, Now and Then assumes too much readerly knowledge about details of the films presented and jumps between actor and character names, making the already confusing recaps even harder to follow.

All in all, Noir, Now and Then is a poorly written, poorly edited book that provides little that is new to anyone who has read even a basic introduction to the genre or style of film noir. The book would work best as a companion to a viewing of all the films described in it. But it would be superfluous in that capacity, since a viewing of the films would give a far better grasp than the glossed and often oblique synopses in Noir, Now and Then provides. If you want to learn about ‘classic’ film noir and its later developments, I would recommend you to look elsewhere.

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