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TV Noir: Dark Drama On The Small Screen by Allen Glover (book review).

Everyone here has probably heard of Film Noir, the dramatised dark underbelly of the world we live in. It got its name largely because as the reverse of the light and gay (the old meaning of happy) fantasy highlife as depicted in many films of that period. Film Noir filmed in the gap for those people who wanted something more akin to what they saw in the real life. It’s hardly then surprising that the same would also apply to the television.

With ‘TV Noir: Dark Drama On The Small Screen’, author Allen Glover focuses mostly on this in the American market. I should also point out that there are several examples of Science Fiction within, not to mention a fledgling Rod Serling getting his feet under the table for writing TV dramas. What is also surprising was in seeing the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Paul Newman getting their breaks on TV before progressing on to the big screen.

Of course, before TV Noir, there was also Radio Noir, I’m keeping these words capped so they stand out in the text, and even Stage Noir, so don’t think it was a new phenomenon. Glover points out examples of each and with available stills to back it up. The first serialised American TV melodrama was ‘The Black Angel’ (1945). A bigger surprise was discovering that ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ was both a novel in 1955 and on TV in 1956, long before the 1999 film. Likewise, the Kraft Mystery Theatre was a sponsor of such series before Camel cigarettes became a sponsor and used product placement than outright advertising. There’s an interesting learning curve and I only stepped into the opening chapter.

A lot of the early American series were out at a time I was probably too young to watch when I was young or maybe not even shown over here. Interestingly, the line Joe Friday in ‘Dragnet’ was supposed to say, ‘Just the facts, ma’am’ was never used in the series, only in a record parody by Stan Freberg. Just goes to show this is an odd tradition of people not remembering what they heard or rather from where. Considering so many of these early series aren’t available on DVD, I do wonder on how many much Glover relies on book sources and wish he’d included visual availability to track them down or which ones, like ‘China Smith’, would be futile to attempt.

The earliest of these that I actually own is ‘Staccato’ (1959-1960) starring John Cassavates. TV Noir, like its film equivalent works well in black and white and worth a look. Very raw edge even for its time period. Cassavates, like his character counterpart, preferred realism to add to his performance than public acceptance. It was also what got his series cancelled when in one episode he was caught and faced being injected with heroine that he would rather die with a smile on his face when faced with apparently no way out.

Of course, the main reason the review is here is the amount of SF Noir contained, starting off with ‘The Twilight Zone’. It was only after reading this entry that I wondered why ‘The Outer Limits’ wasn’t also covered as it had similar traits but then realised that Glover had to be a bit selective to get in the page count. At this point, we also get our British quota with a look at ‘Danger Man’ and ‘The Prisoner’, entwined by Patrick MaGoohan and moving from black and white into colour. Our TV Noir tends to fall under the category of ‘kitchen sink dramas’ and we certainly had our share of those over a similar time period. Even so, after some thought, as I completed this book, Glover could quite easily do a UK version of this book and include the likes of ‘Ghost Squad’ (1961-1964) and ‘Public Eye’ (1965-1975) and even the Honor Blackman era ‘Avengers’ (1961-1965) as all should certainly be included.

‘The Fugitive’ (1963-1967) also is the template for so many series afterwards, although Glover focuses on it, points out that it was also patterned on the western series ‘Cheyenne’ (1955-1963), both created by Roy Huggins and later, amongst others, ‘The Rockford Files’ (1974-1980), showing you can’t keep a good theme down.

A common theme with all the series examples from here on is a loner facing off against the bad guys. We also see SF samples from ‘The Invaders’ and ‘Kolchak’, both ran by loners. Subjectively, we like to see the little guy, although both actors were of respectable heights, facing serious opposition. I should point out that although he gives brief synopsises, there is a lot of analysis along the way.

In some respects, when Glover gets more up-to-date, he seems hurried to pack everything in to the last chapter and includes briefly contemporary series like ‘The X-Files’, ‘Angel’ and ‘Dark Angel’. Another point to consider for a second book on the subject. If anything, ‘TV Noir’ is still alive and kicking.

There are a lot of photographs in this book, albeit small to get everything in and, if you’re like me, will be looking some films or series up for availability. As a genre, watching any Noirish material counter-balances the more lighter works out there and shows we all need an element of realism in our fiction from time to time.

GF Willmetts

September 2019

(pub: Abrams Books. 256 page illustrated indexed large hardback. Price: £30.00 (UK), $40.00 (US), $50.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-59020-167-1)

check out website: www.abramsbooks.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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