Kino Lorber Curls Up with the Literary Noir

“You had something to do with those murders in the Rue Morgue, didn’t you?”

Film Noir has always drawn inspiration for many of its films from the best and pulpiest of fiction writers, many of whom would be seen as future masters of their craft. Names such as Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and especially, Cornell Woolrich are responsible for some of noir’s most treasured and memorable titles. But once in a while the vast treasure chest that contained these authors, and others like them, came up empty, forcing the genre makers to look elsewhere for material. Typically, this meant taking works from authors not necessarily associated with the dark alleys and corridors of noir and refashioning them to suit the needs of the genre. 

Recently, Kino Lorber released a collection of films based on works from three authors not quickly associated with the darkness of noir: Tiffany Thayer’s Chicago Deadline, W.R. Burnett’s Iron Man, and Edgar Allan Poe’s Mystery of Marie Roget

Chicago Deadline 

Thayer experimented with a variety of genres throughout his career with none of them garnering him much acclaim or respect. Chicago Deadline seems to have been the exception as far as his film adaptations are concerned. This story about a newspaperman (Alan Ladd) tasked with finding out what happened to a beautiful woman (Donna Reed) who turns up dead was not only a box-office hit but also earned the author a bit of acclaim and credibility. Using the heroic figure of a reporter instead of a cop (as many film noirs were want to do) certainly helped set the film apart. But it’s the way Chicago Deadline weaves in undercurrents of romance and slight fantasy to present a mystery around a person who only exists in other people’s memories. It’s an intriguing way to tell a story as both the audience and Ladd find themselves questioning everything and everyone as they wonder which is to be believed about the dead woman: The version our reporter character is told, or the version he’s conjuring up in his head? 

Mystery of Marie Roget

Only very specific tastes enjoyed reading Poe in high school, myself included. The writer’s poem “Bells Bells Bells Bells” still haunts me all these years later. Mystery of Marie Roget was one of his few forays into anything close to being considered adaptable for the noir world. Not much care is taken with authentic period trappings as the movie deviates from the source material so much, that it eventually opts for a Poe tie-in that’s downright sloppy. Still, this story of a young actress (Maria Montez) and the detective (Patric Knowles) tasked with solving her murder does manage to be part noir, part costume drama, part whodunnit. Mystery of Marie Roget suffers from its runtime with every scene feeling horribly rushed, even by lower-rank noir standards. You’d think the central mystery wouldn’t have much of a chance to play out under such circumstances, yet it still manages to survive, if only just. While the reaction to the short story has always been mixed, Poe’s text is ultimately still better than the B-movie treatment Hollywood gave it. 

Iron Man

In between his novels and screenplays (including both The Great Escape and the original Scarface), Burnett could rightfully be called one of the best who ever did the thing when it came to his knack for depicting conflicted characters and the unescapable hells they found themselves in. Iron Man, the story of a reluctant boxer (Jeff Chandler) who finds it hard to control his killer rage when in the ring, is just such a tale. The movie is a sturdy character-driven piece of dark melodrama that has the mark, or stain, of noir despite the absence of many of the genre’s signature trademarks. The internal battle our main character faces with the monster inside of him very quickly becomes the pulse of Iron Man, while Evelyn Keyes as the female lead functions as a reverse femme fatale, encouraging our hero to embrace the sport and, in essence, his dark side. Iron Man functions as a B-movie with solid performances and a level of storytelling that pulls you in thanks to its level of despair, tragedy, and the battle of a man’s very soul. 

As is the custom whenever I do a noir-themed piece, the time has come for me to once again tip my hat to the Film Noir Foundation, the non-profit San Francisco-based organization dedicated to restoring and preserving film noir through the rescuing of titles once thought lost or destroyed. Headed by TCM’s Eddie Muller, the group has been tirelessly working to keep the spirit and legacy of film noir alive through continuous efforts, not least of all being Noir City, their traveling retrospective film festival where many of their restoration efforts are put on display for fans to enjoy. If you’re a fan of film noir, I hope you consider taking some time to discover the film noir foundation and discover all of the great work they continue to do. 

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVI is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber. For more information about the Film Noir Foundation, please visit

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