British Film Noir Guide Review

Author: Michael F. Keaney

Film noir is a tough genre to pin down; its parameters vary according to who you ask and the preface to Michael F. Keaney’s exhaustive reference book doesn’t dodge the debate, discussing at length the different schools of thought, including one approach which denies there can be such a thing as British film noir, that it’s an exclusively American genre. Keaney, though, dismisses this argument and opts for a pretty broad definition in this volume: covering a wide range of titles from the crime films traditionally at the centre of the genre’s American counterpart, to more unconventional choices like Great Expectations.

The main text of this informative guide is an alphabetical list of 369 spoiler-free synopses, each prefaced by a memorable quote from the feature and concise production information. A handy feature is the author’s own five-star rating system, which will help the casual reader to streamline their viewing. Keaney’s summaries are detailed and well-written, asserting his authority on the subject matter.

The photograph used throughout this volume – all stills from some of the titles covered – attractively demonstrate the bold aesthetic of film noir, something exemplified by the iconic image of Harry Lyme from The Third Man on the cover. In keeping with the synopses, the captions are highly informative and whet the appetite for the titles they’re taken from. The appendices feature a useful series of tables of films covered by rating, year, director and cinematographer.

As Keaney discusses in his preface, definitions of film noir, and particularly British film noir, are hotly debated and vary wildly, but with this accomplished labour of love, it feels like he’s created something definitive.

Adam Richardson

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