Only a handful of the 11 movies that Berlin-based British writer Max Décharné chronicles in Hardboiled Hollywood: The True Crime Stories Behind The Classic Noir Films are actually noir films in the classic sense—black-and-white ’40s and ’50s melodramas involving private eyes and no-good dames. Instead, Hardboiled Hollywood is as concerned with gangster films such as Little Caesar and Get Carter as it is the post-Raymond Chandler/Philip Marlowe diaspora. Décharné also includes a few British movies—not Hollywood, per se—and only some of the stories he relates are about true crime, so these “true crime stories about noir movies” are something rather different than what his subtitle promises.
On its own terms, though, Hardboiled Hollywood is a brisk, sporadically entertaining genre piece. Décharné clearly relishes crime writing and film-watching of all stripes, and he frequently finds choice quotes from relatively unplundered archival material, such as the British movie mag Films & Filming on the fusillade of early-’60s Psycho rip-offs (“according to Roget’s Thesaurus we can still expect to see Auto-, Dipso, Klepto-, Megalo-, Mono-, and Pyro-maniac”), or the Spectator’s response to Nicholas Ray’s In A Lonely Place (“If the director had taken the trouble to be French, we would be licking his boots in ecstasy”). He makes persuasive cases for overlooked films like Val Guest’s Hell Is A City and John Milius’ Dillinger. And with a keen eye, he lays out the ways in which Hollywood’s production-code standards prevented, then allowed, harder-edged movies to see release.
Décharné frequently approximates the hard-boiled style of the writers he’s chronicling, which can be overly cute at times, as in the Kiss Me Deadly chapter: “Hammer and the dead girl take a one-way trip down the side of the canyon without the aid of a safety net and his car’s chances of ever winning ‘Best in Show’ at an auto rally are shot all to hell.” Nevertheless, he investigates his material with real gusto, and with a comprehensive, informative obsession with the bad men of the screen.