Dark City Dames: The Wicked Women of Film Noir


Film noir was the dark side of the movies' happily-ever-after mythology. Sinister and sexy, it forged a new icon: the tough, independent, take-no-guff dame. Determined, desirable, dangerous when cornered, she could handle trouble—or deal out some of her own.

If you though these women were something special on screen—wait until you meet the genuine articles. In Dark City Dames, Eddie Muller profiles seven women who've made a lasting impression in this cinematic terrain: from ...

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Film noir was the dark side of the movies' happily-ever-after mythology. Sinister and sexy, it forged a new icon: the tough, independent, take-no-guff dame. Determined, desirable, dangerous when cornered, she could handle trouble—or deal out some of her own.

If you though these women were something special on screen—wait until you meet the genuine articles. In Dark City Dames, Eddie Muller profiles seven women who've made a lasting impression in this cinematic terrain: from veteran "bad girls" Claire Trevor, Audrey Totter, Marie Windsor, and Jane Greer, to unexpected genre stalwarts Evelyn Keyes, Coleen Gray, and Ann Savage. The book tracks the lives of these formidable women during two distinct eras: first in Hollywood circa 1950, as they balanced love and career, struggled against typecasting, and sought fulfillment in a ruthless business; then again today, as they enjoy a renaissance that's made them more popular than ever. And in the book's pages the women reflect on the half-century between, recounting lives with as much passion, pain, loss, and redemption as any movie script.

Dark City Dames conveys the glorious excitement of gifted performers living out their youthful fantasies—and shows how they took charge of their destinies, once Hollywood had discounted their allure. It is a rare film book, offering insights into the changing image and attitudes of American women, both on and off the silver screen.

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Editorial Reviews

Premiere Magazine
An initmate tell-all. . .
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Shot in stark black and white, dressed in negligees and toting pistols, the dangerous dames of film noir boldly linger in our minds. In this entertaining and often insightful look at noir starsMarie Windsor, Audrey Totter, Jane Greer, Ann Savage, Evelyn Keyes and Coleen GrayMuller recreates 1950s Hollywood, the heyday of film noir and B thrillers, and reports on these actors today. Combining interviews with his subjects, a comprehensive knowledge of Hollywood and an astute analysis of the social, political and economic pressures of the industry, Muller (Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir) shrewdly documents the role of women (as characters and performers) in the genre and the industry. Muller delivers numerous impressive insider tidbitsGreer's secret pregnancy while filming The Big Steal; Totter's close friendship with bad girl Gloria Graham; Beatrice Pearson's on-set problems with her controlling lesbian lover while filming Force of Evil; and Keyes's struggles with husband John Huston's marijuana habit. The book's strength lies in Muller's portraits of these women today; all lead contented and productive lives and, aided by Muller's fluid narrative style, tell tales shimmering with mystique, absurdity, scandal or poignancy. While covering a specific slice of Hollywood and film historyprimarily the 1940s and '50sMuller's look at these noted female performers is an important addition to popular feminist and film literature. (May) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Film noir flourished in the late 1940s and early 1950s, a transitional time in Hollywood. The iron grip of the studios was beginning to weaken: television was luring filmgoers away from theaters, audiences were demanding a more honest depiction of life than had been seen on screen in the prewar years, and blacklisting had Hollywood on the run. Muller (Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir) touches on all those elements in this work, which is less a history of noir than a series of conversations with and portraits of six surviving actresses (Audrey Totter, Marie Windsor, Jane Greer, and others) who personified the "femme fatale" to postwar audiences. He captures an era when a hopeful could get her break from a Life magazine layout or by working as a nightclub cigarette girl. Things weren't all roses, however: The now senior women recall the difficulties of dealing with paternalistic, manipulative studio bosses, unhappy love affairs, and the ever-present problem of typecasting. A cultural shift in the 1950s, which celebrated "wholesome" stars like Doris Day, doomed the careers of most of these "dark city dames," who generally went on to lead normal, fulfilling lives after Hollywood. Briskly written and well researched, this survey should be popular in large public library film collections. Stephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060988548
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/1/1902
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One

Jane Greer

She was pregnant, but no one had to know. Throughout the taxi ride from the Mexico City airport, Jane kept a big purse propped up in her lap. If her costar Bill Bendix noticed the gentle bulge at her midriff while sharing the bumpy jaunt to Tehuac´n, the whole cast and crew would start fussing and coddling, and Howard Hughes, head of RKO Radio Pictures — and Chief Personal Persecutor of Jane Greer — might yank her off the picture. Hughes was capable of anything; Jane knew that all too well.

Bouncing along on the backseat with Bendix and Greer was Marjorie Guterman, Jane's buddy and stand-in. Alone among cast and crew, Marjorie knew the truth. Halfway to Tehuac´n, Jane's insides began flip-flopping. She nudged Marjorie, who slipped her one of the morning-sickness pills Jane's doctor had prescribed. Marjorie kept the cache in her purse — another bit of subterfuge.

"Hey, what's that you're taking?" Bendixasked, playing the yapping bulldog, his onscreen specialty.

Jane was quick: "It's for the turista," she explained. "So you don't get sick from the water."

"Oh, yeah?" boomed Bendix. "That's a good idea — lemme have one of those."

What could she do? Jane handed over one of her precious pills.

"Better gimme a few, just to be safe." Bendix smiled.

Jane Greer was desperately eager to do The Big Steal, mainly out of fondness for laconic leading man Robert Mitchum. They'd made Out of the Past together for RKO three years before, when she was only twenty-two, and Mitchum treated her like a veteran colleague, reeling out respect as well aslaughs. "I loved him like a brother," Jane remembers. "I'd do anything for Bob."

What she had to do in Tehuacén was slip into Lizabeth Scott's wardrobe. It was Scott, a golden-tressed glamour puss groomed to rival hot-ticket Lauren Bacall (Paramount flacks dubbed Scott "The Threat"), who was originally cast as Mitchum's romantic foil for this speedy caper. And she stayed that way until a week before filming was scheduled to start — when Mitchum was busted.

Bob and his buddy Robin Ford were rousted in the Laurel Canyon bungalow of comely bit player Lila Leeds. They'd been minding their own business, but the cops claimed they were puffing reefer while they were at it. The press pounced instantly, dogs on raw meat; Mitchum sniffed a setup. Held for possession and related charges, he listed his occupation on the police paperwork as "Former Actor," and copped a plea at the advice of counsel.

RKO was too deep into preproduction on The Big Steal to pull the plug. Filming would proceed while Mitchum dangled, waiting for sentencing.

But all this drama made Liz Scott nervous. She and her Svengali, producer Hal Wallis, were wary of guilt by association with a convicted weed-head. Before it was too late, Scott "ankled," as the trades liked to put it.

Jane saw her chance. "I was eager to work again with Bob," she says. "Actually, I was eager to work-period."

Her career was at a crossroads. She was only twenty-five, but she'd been inactive for almost two years, ever since the nightmare of her previous picture, Station West. Sidney Lanfield, its director, was a misogynistic menace who browbeat her mercilessly; the experience drove her straight into the arms of Edward Lasker, scion of one of the wealthiest families in America. Jane greeted Lasker's marriage proposal like a hand from a life raft; soon the couple had a son, Albert, though Jane felt twinges of guilt at not being a very attentive mother. "I needed to be convinced that I was headed toward better things," she reflects now.

She didn't even read The Big Steal script; didn't have to. It was by "Geoffrey Homes," pseudonym of Daniel Mainwaring, author of Out of the Past. Mitchum may have been unimpressed by Homes's work, but Jane had wonderful memories of that picture, playing temptress to Mitchum on a Malibu beach that doubled for Mexico. Now she and Bob would get to do it again — on actual locations, no less.

The production took over the Hotel Penifeld, in central Tehuacén. Don Siegel, recently promoted from editing room to director's chair, had planned the shoot so meticulously that he managed to lens lots of long shots with a Mitchum stand-in before the leading man even arrived. Jane, too, sought creative ways to camouflage her own gradually expanding problem. "I had to wear all these slim skirts and little bolero-cut jackets, which hid absolutely nothing," she remembers. "I ate nothing but cottage cheese and fruit. I was starving the whole time. I'd have given anything for one of those big hats that I wore in Out of the Past. I could have used it as a prop, to hide behind."

Mitchum knew that Jane had stood up for him when others bailed out, and when he finally showed, he was ecstatic to be reunited with her. But he played it cool, as was his way: "Aren't those the same shoes you wore in Out of the Past?" he drawled upon seeing her.

"I could tell he was hurt by the whole experience [of being busted]," she says. "He hated the way the jailers made a spectacle out of him while he was in custody." Contrary to longtime rumors, the cops, she also contends, were inclined to let Mitchum slide out the back. "But he wouldn't leave his friends in that spot," she maintains. "His attitude was, 'If you're going to arrest them, then you're going to arrest me, too."'

Mitchum's marijuana bust was major news — especially in Mexico, the perfect climate for cultivation of loco-weed. "Bob was like a gringo god down there," Jane recalls. "He'd be sitting around between takes and the locals would come up and slip reefers into his jacket pockets, the cuffs of his trousers." Just what he needed while awaiting sentencing.

Bendix, meanwhile, was still singing the praises of his favored pharmaceutical. "He thought my turista pills were the greatest," Jane laughs. "'I haven't been sick a day and I eat everything,' he'd say. He'd tell everybody, 'Jane has the best medicine. I had to wire my doctor to send more pills. He wired back, 'Jane, You're only supposed to take one a day.' I wired back: 'Bendix is eating them all."'

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