DEATH ON THE CHEAP:THE LOST B MOVIES OF FILM NOIR by ARTHUR LYONS (2000)

image  There’s a nice quote in this book. Robert Mitchum once said about his movies of the 1940s and 50s: “Hell,we didn’t know what Film Noir was in those days. We were just making movies. Cary Grant and all the big stars at RKO got all the lights. we lit our sets with cigarette butts.”

The author of this book points out than when Audrey Totter,Marie Windsor,Jane Greer and Coleen Gray were interviewed for a TCM celebration of Noir in 1999,they said they were making  B movies.

Mr Lyons spends a fair bit of time discussing what Noir is,but ,like a B movie, I’d rather get on to the main event – talking about the films. So it’s page 67 before things get going.

By 1935 the double bill in cinemas was here to stay. as the author says, B’s were simply intended to provide the public with three hours of entertainment as economically as possible.”

B production units were formed within studios, and independent  production companies sprang up – Mascot,Monogram,PRC,Republic.

This book gives details of over 100 B thrillers (sorry, noirs), films which hardly ever get written about and some of which are very good.

I’m already making a list of some which I’d like to see – Accomplice (1946) has Richard Arlen and Veda Ann Borg. Mr Lyons’ view – “typically weak product of PRC”. Doesn’t matter to me. Still want to see it!

Being a Frank Lovejoy fan, I’d like to catch Finger Man (1955).

I’ve somehow managed to miss  I Love Trouble (19470, with Franchot Tone, Janet Blair,Janis Carter,Adele Jergens,Glenda Farrell,Raymond Burr,Steven Geray – that’s a cast.

The author doesn’t like No Escape(1953) with Lew Ayres, but his description makes it worth looking for – “Ayres is a down-on-his-luck songwriter who ekes out a living as a piano player in a San Francisco bar.”

I know Shack Out On 101 (1955),with Frank Lovejoy and Lee Marvin is available – “It’s in the so-bad-it’s-great category“, says the author.

There are films I’ve never heard of – Rio(1939) with Basil Rathbone and Victor McLaglen, or Second Chance (1947), with Kent Taylor. Unmasked (1950) with Raymond Burr.

Without Honor (1949) has quite a cast – Laraine Day,Dane Clark,Franchot Tone,Agnes Moorehead,Bruce Bennett, but is described as “A total clunker“!  Still……

The book ends with a listing of the films by year and studio. It’s obvious Columbia and RKO  made the most.

It’s great to have a book celebrating the world of B thrillers.

I was sorry to read that Mr Lyons passed away in 2008. He was a writer of detective fiction and founded the  Palm Springs Film Noir Film Festival  which is still going strong. Dates for 2015  are May. 14-17.

 

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12 responses »

  1. I ws sorry to read that Mr Lyons passed away in 2008.

    I’m sorry to hear that too. Death on the Cheap is a favorite book of mine, and an absolutely invaluable guide.

  2. There’s a lot of entertainment value to be found in some of these B flicks in spite of the tight budgets. It’s good to see them given a bit of attention.
    Sadly, I have to agree with the author’s assessment of WITHOUT HONOR though – it’s dull stuff.

  3. SHACK OUT ON 101 is absolutely delicious. I’m sure I’ll watch it again multiple times. 🙂

    I found WITHOUT HONOR kind of fun as a “housewife noir.” Not great, but entertaining enough.

    Thanks for the tip on a book which looks interesting!

    Best wishes,
    Laura

  4. This book sounds like my sort of book, Vienna! It sounds like the author is rather scathing about many of the films but I would gladly watch ’em anyway. It’s all subjective. I am not “snobby” about B-noirs – half the fun is the casts and the social history.
    Best wishes,
    Jerry

  5. Sorry if I’ve given the wrong impression. Mostly Mr.Lyons liked these B’s.
    Casts , plots and direction can often be as good as any A production.

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