Tech-Noir: The Fusion Of Science Fiction And Film Noir by Paul Meehan (book review).

Paul Meehan’s book title ‘Tech-Noir: The Fusion Of Science Fiction And Film Noir’ should give away what this book is about. The merger of two genres: Film Noir and Science Fiction and that it started much earlier with the likes of ‘Metropolis’ (1927) rather than ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) and Meehan points out many film examples between then and up to 2005.


His examination of Film Noir neglects a major aspect as to why directors chose to play up on chiaroscuro. From my perspective, it allowed for a moody effect and a stronger reliance on shadows than have everything well-lit which played well for comedy which could give a more, shall we say, washed out effect than for drama. It would only be a matter of finding the book material that would work better with that and detective stories made best choice. Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’ yielded to the same logic, except that he saw the potential for futuristic drama but the same thing applies. The same can be said for the likes of the early horror films, too. Black or darkness can be used to ensure your audience is tensed up because you simply did not know what would come out of the dark. The primeval fear in early man being brought out on film.

As Meehan points out, when films began in colour, this had a profound effect on Film Noir and it took some time for the reliance on shadows to take form again. I would think this is why ‘B’ movies that took a while to be able to afford colour stock still took the imagination of the viewer.

In many respects, mixing Science Fiction with the detective genre was a logical step, although as Meehan writes, editor John Campbell thought that it would never work in a futuristic world with more advanced technology. The likes of Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick showed otherwise, mostly from my point of view, not resorting to cheats to solve the clues. I wonder what the early writers would make of modern forensics?!

Things I learnt. ‘The Raven’ (1935) was the first horror film to feature gangsters although one year later, ‘The Walking Dead’ (1936) was the first to do it deliberately with lots of them. I never knew that Humphrey Bogart did a horror film, ‘The Return Of Doctor X’ (1939). ‘Doctor Cyclops’ (1940) was the first SF film in colour.

One startling thing I found about this book was my noting a lot of films that I’ve yet to see but at least have a better awareness of them.

I did wonder if Meehan was stretching it a bit with some of the films noted but one can’t ignore the fact that he does go into detail about them and there is a lot more text than photos, although when those are used, there are not the statutory ones that often crop up.

With Science Fiction films since ‘Blade Runner’ showing a somewhat expected realistic down and dirty future, Film Noir is likely to remain a constant within our genre and this book gives some insight into what has been used. As such, this book should act as a guide as to the films you need to look up to improve your insight into this combination.

GF Willmetts

December 2012

(pub: McFarland. 264 page illustrated and indexed small enlarged hardback. Price: £48.95 (UK), $55.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-7864-3325-4)

check out websites: www.mcfarlandpub.com and www.eurospangroup.com


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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