Sunday, July 26, 2020

48. TV Noir: Dark Drama on the Small Screen by Allen Glover

When I first graduated from college, there was a period where either I was between jobs or working a retail job where I had some weekdays off.  In any case, I remember that The Fugitive was on some local channel everyday at noon.  I got to watch quite a few episodes.  It surprised me how dark and pessimistic it was, for a show from that time.  Twitchy-faced, hunted David Janssen always trying to do the right thing while keeping one step ahead of the relentless, amoral detective chasing him down for a crime he didn't commit.  I suspected at the time that The Fugitive was only one of a number of cool old TV shows that were no longer on the air.  TV Noir confirms it.  It came up on my twitter feed and I bought it for myself at Dark Carnival after nobody got it for me for xmas.  I've been reading chapters between completing other fiction books and just finished it today.

It's a beautiful coffee table book, with a long introduction about the transition from radio to TV and the many threads that connect the well-known world of noir in film to the lesser-known one in TV.  The big distinction in the early days of TV was that it was live and used really big cameras that would only work in a studio.  Many of people from the B studios that cranked out film noirs were used to produce the television shows.  Right from the beginning of television, crime was the main subject for fictional content.  That really hasn't changed today!

After the introductory essays, the bulk of the book is a review and analysis of noir and noir-adjacent TV shows, from the obvious ones like The Fugitive, to less obvious but convincingly connected by these essays, such as The Twilight Zone and Dragnet.  The real pleasure for me (and danger) is discovering many series that I had never heard of that sound really cool.  I Led 3 Lives (about a suburban husband who is actually an agent going undercover as a commie) and The Invaders (a guy who stumbles on a vast UFO conspiracy) in particular got me drooling.  Sadly, most of the live teleplays were never recorded and are gone forever and some of these sounded absolutely incredible.  The author found stills and scrips and reviews.  Many of them were evolutions of old time radio shows and I would love to have seen the dark, live television versions of them.

Physically, the book is beautiful with tons of photos.  Would look great on a coffee table if we had one.

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