Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Devil Thumbs a Ride (Grove Press, 1988)

Title : The Devil Thumbs a Ride and Other Unforgettable Films
Author : Barry Gifford
Cover art : Kirwan

style ***
substance **
collectibility *


Though a longtime fan of film noir, I confess to not being familiar with the title film. But no matter; there’s plenty of great substance here in Gifford’s idiosyncratic essays on the dark side of cinema. As befits his subject matter, Gifford’s highly readable prose is suitably clipped and no-nonsense (neo-Chanlderese might describe it). And his opinions are often refreshingly contrarian. (Re Barbara Stanwyck : “she does nothing for me”). Another strength is that he covers films we don’t usually think of as being part of the noir canon, and in true contrarian fashion omits quite a few of the better-known titles.

The book comes with a front cover blurb by Elmore Leonard claiming some the essays are better than the films they describe – high praise indeed from a source of such impeccable credentials. A nice added bonus is a perceptive Introduction co-written by Edward Gorman and, more unlikely, novelist Dow Mossman.

But the true jewel in this production is the admittedly not very noirish looking cover (by Kirwan) in its over-the-top phantasmagorical glory (love the look on the girl’s face!). The design isn’t even hardboiled, but it sure gets its message across with the 1980s reto-vintage style which actually captures the 1950s vintage pb spirit pretty well -- the frozen-in-an-instant moment of drama.

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