A Film Noir Reading (and Viewing) List

In lead up to to the Society for Cinema and Media Studies annual conference and film noir festivals in various cities this month, we’ve put together a reading list of Hollywood film history titles, along with some suggested movies to view with them.

Come visit our booth in Chicago to save 40% on these and other Cinema and Media Studies titles.


Hard-Boiled Hollywood: Crime and Punishment in Postwar Los Angeles by Jon Lewis

“Lewis trenchantly probes Hollywood’s underworlds: grifters, gossip-mongers, and gangsters, loners and losers—bodies ‘left by the side of the road.’ A fascinating rewriting of Hollywood history, especially around production culture, including cultures of failure and despair.” —Dana Polan, New York University

Hard-Boiled Hollywood focuses on the lives lost at the crossroads between a dreamed-of Los Angeles and the real thing after the Second World War, where reality was anything but glamorous.

Suggested film screenings: Sunset Boulevard, In a Lonely Place, and The Big Knife


Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins by Noah Isenberg

“A page turner of a biography.”—New York Times

“Isenberg’s writing…allows the monumental eccentricities of Ulmer’s underground journey to shine through.”—Bookforum

“Ulmer finally gets the attention and scholarship he deserves.”—The Credits

Suggested film screenings: Detour, The Black Cat, and People on Sunday


More Than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts by James Naremore

“Supplies the first study of film noir that achieves the sort of intellectual seriousness, depth of research, degree of critical insight, and level of writing that this group of films deserves.”—Tom Gunning, Modernism and Modernity

Naremore treats noir as a term in criticism, as an expression of artistic modernism, as a symptom of Hollywood censorship and politics, as a market strategy, as an evolving style, and as an idea that circulates through all the media. This new and expanded edition of More Than Night contains an additional chapter on film noir in the twenty-first century.

Suggested film screenings: The Lost Weekend, Killer’s Kiss, and This Gun for Hire


Painting with Light by John Alton

“Provides fascinating insights into the mechanisms of the studio system.”—Reel Ink

Few cinematographers have had as decisive an impact on the cinematic medium as John Alton. First published in 1949, Painting With Light remains one of the few truly canonical statements on the art of motion picture photography, an unrivaled historical document on the workings of postwar American cinema.

Suggested film screenings: T-Men, He Walked By Night, and The Big Combo


Slow Fade to Black: The Decline of RKO Radio Pictures by Richard B. Jewell

“Jewell’s scholarship is impeccable and his text is plain-spoken and highly readable. Every studio deserves a similar examination; thank goodness the right man tackled this particular task.”—Leonard Maltin

Drawing on hard-to-access archival materials, Jewell chronicles the period from 1942 to the company’s demise in 1957. Towering figures associated with the studio included Howard Hughes, Orson Welles, Charles Koerner, Val Lewton, Jane Russell, and Robert Mitchum. In addition to featuring an extraordinary cast of characters, the RKO story describes key aspects of entertainment history: Hollywood’s collaboration with Washington, film noir, censorship, HUAC, the rise of independent film production, and the impact of television on film.

Suggested film screenings: The Big Steal, Notorious, and Split Second