This 3rd edition of "Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style" provides descriptions and analysis for nearly 300 film noirs that were produced from 1927 to 1976, concentrating on the classic period, 1940-1958. The authors are strict in defining film noir as a movement and a style -not a genre- molded specifically by the social, economic, technical, and aesthetic circumstances in post-WWII America, and therefore confined to that era. They exclude genre and foreign films produced in the post-war era that other critics might include. So "Film Noir" is a reference of "pure noir" of the classic period. It may be just as well that it doesn't explore impure noir in much depth, as this book is quite large as it is.
The authors introduce the book by defining the uniquely American classic noir style and discussing some of its common characteristics. The Encyclopedia, itself, is 314 pages long and organized alphabetically by film title. The entry for each of the nearly 300 classic noir films included provides, wherever applicable: the film's title (including working and alternate titles), it's year of release, director, producer, screenwriter(s), director of photography, music director, persons responsible for special effects, sound, score, set decoration, costumes, make-up, the production designer and/or art director, assistant director, and editor. This is followed by a cast list -divided into main and "bit" cast, the date filming was completed, the date the film was released, running time, a plot summary, and a critical analysis by one of the book's 18 contributors. The plot and analysis do often contain spoilers, including endings and surprise twists, which is probably necessary to provide analysis and to define the film as "noir". The plot summaries are useful in refreshing my memory of films seen long ago, but I avoid reading the entire summary or commentary for films I have not yet seen.
"Film Noir" has 5 informative Appendices that explore topics and films not covered in the main section of the book. Appendix A is a lengthy essay explaining the rationale for excluding genre films from the film noir movement. It addresses The Gangster Film, The Western, The Period Film, and The Comedy separately, discussing films that reflect the noir style and what they share and do not share with film noir. Appendix B is a series of lists: A chronology of film noir, listed by year, 1927-1976. Directors listed alphabetically with their films. The same for Writers, Directors of Photography, Composers, Producers, Actors & Actresses, and Releasing Companies, each category with its own list. The criterion for inclusion in the lists is participation in at least 2 film noirs. Appendix C is a survey of "Other Studies in Film Noir". It comments on significant articles and books published on the subject of film noir, from 1955's seminal work by Borde & Chaumeton, "A Panorama of American Film Noir", through 1992, when the latest edition of this book was published. Appendix D discusses "Additional Films from the Classic Period" which were not included in the earlier editions of the book, because they were unavailable or overlooked. Here, 50 films are discussed according to their characteristic noir elements -femme fatale, alienation & despair, maniacs & mayhem, etc. Why these films were simply not included in the Encyclopedia section of this 3rd edition is a mystery to me. Appendix E is a lengthy discussion of Neo-Noir,1966-1992, including a filmography. In the back of the book, you will find a fairly comprehensive Index of films, names, book titles, and most references you might want to locate in "Film Noir".
Film Noir aficionados and students will find "An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style" endlessly fascinating and useful. The critical analyses are thoughtful. The authors' inclusions, exclusions, and definitions of classic noir are always well-articulated and thought-provoking. A single source that collects the production details for each film is a big time-saver.