Book Review: Film Noir FAQ by David J. Hogan

All that's left to know about Hollywood's Golden Age of dames, detectives, and danger.
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When you flip open to the back of Film Noir FAQ, you will find out that it is one in a series of "FAQ" books. This may be concerning to anybody who has read one of those cheap, tossed-off books out of a series. Often you will find these books about sports teams, all basic information and spelling errors. Fortunately, those fears are unfounded. Hogan put a ton of effort and insight into Film Noir FAQ. The last thing that would be used to describe it is "tossed off."

Film noir is a nebulous genre, and some may argue that it isn't even a genre, but a style of filmmaking. Hogan is aware of this, and in fact calls it out in the beginning, before setting the table for what is to come. The book clarifies what it means by "film noir" and Hogan also decides to focus on movies of the '40s and '50s, although there is an afterword to the book as well to discuss more modern things. The chapters are broken up based on themes and characters. There's a chapter on femme fatales, on hard-boiled private eyes, you know, the usual stuff. Basically, your idea of film noir is probably, at least partially, covered by this book.

To say that there is a chapter "on" these various tropes is probably misworded a bit, to be fair. It would be more apt to say the chapters feature discussion of films where these are the main themes, or at least one of the themes, as sometimes these themes can be found in the same film. It is also not particularly apt to think of this book as a "FAQ." There are no questions, and there aren't really any "answers" per say. It is much more an encyclopedia of film noir from yore, and a dense, extensive one at that.

The meat of the book is, essentially, just a series of movie reviews. Hogan talks about dozens of films, some famous ones, but also many so called "B" movies and more obscure film noirs. It covers a lot of ground to be sure. These are good, well-written reviews as well. While the book may have an encyclopedia feel, it isn't written in a dry manner. Hogan's writing style is engaging as well as informative, which is a plus, as otherwise this book would feel like a slog even for film noir fanatics.

You will learn a fair amount about all the movies covered, although that does include the plot and how the movies end, so the spoiler adverse might as well steer clear. Hogan will discuss the performances, the directing, and occasionally some thematic matters, although that often feels like it is secondary to reviewing the films in terms of quality and the acting performances. However, that certainly has value as well. On occasion, Hogan seems preoccuppied with the appearances of the actresses in these movies, but that is a minor quibble. There are also sidebars in every chapter dedicated to giving brief biographies of people discussed in the book. This includes actors and directors, but also folks such as writers and cinematographers, a nice touch. Film Noir FAQ also makes time to give the reader a bit of history of the film business as well, which helps put these movies in some context.

Film Noir FAQ by David J. Hogan is, in essence, an entertaining info dump. If you enjoy the genre, it is probably a worthwhile read, as you will likely hear of some movies you had not before and you can read a lot about the era and films you have probably seen an enjoyed. If you don't like film noir, it is probably skippable. While Hogan is a good writer, he's probably not good enough to merit reading just for the quality of his prose. Even if you are just interesting in film history, it is probably a little bit too narrowly focused to have a ton of value. However, for fans of film noir, the book can both be informative and enjoyable to read, if you are prepared to read about a bunch of films that are pretty big downers.

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