Cover image for Death on the cheap : the lost B movies of film noir
Death on the cheap : the lost B movies of film noir
Lyons, Arthur.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
[New York] : Da Capo Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
x, 212 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN1995.9.F54 L96 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Robert Mitchum once commented to Arthur Lyons about his movies of the 1940s and 1950s: "Hell, we didn't know what film noir was in those days. We were just making movies. Cary Grant and all the big stars at RKO got all the lights. We lit our sets with cigarette butts." Film noir was made to order for the "B," or low-budget, part of the movie double bill. It was cheaper to produce because it made do with less lighting, smaller casts, limited sets, and compact story lines--about con men, killers, cigarette girls, crooked cops, down-and-out boxers, and calculating, scheming, very deadly women. In Death on the Cheap , Arthur Lyons entertainingly looks at the history of the B movie and how it led to the genre that would come to be called noir, a genre that decades later would be transformed in such "neo-noir" films as Pulp Fiction, Fargo , and L.A. Confidential . The book, loaded with movie stills, also features a witty and informative filmography (including video sources) of B films that have largely been ignored or neglected--"lost" to the general public but now restored to their rightful place in movie history thanks to Death on the Cheap .

Author Notes

Arthur Lyons is the author of eighteen books of fiction and nonfiction, including The Dead Are Discreet and other mysteries featuring private eye Jacob Asch. He lives in Palm Springs, California.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Lyons has written a nice little study of the so-called lower half of the film noir genre--the B movies that generally are never shown on television and are seldom available at video stores. He places them in context by discussing both the rise of film noir (a kind of ex post facto classification) and a background history of the B movie--how the economics of the film industry combined with a new, hard-boiled outlook. He points out that the minor studios, such as Columbia and United Artists, and those small studios such as Monogram and Republic, dubbed Poverty Row, produced the vast majority of B noirs. Lyons is quick to admit that many of these films are not very good, and in the filmography, which covers 137 films and not only provides important credits and plot synopses but also indicates which movies are presently available on video, he often takes critical shots at some of the plots, acting, and direction. This is a much-needed reference for the film scholar or the noir buff. --Frank Caso

Library Journal Review

While most studies of film noir focus on famous titles like Double Indemnity, mystery writer Lyons (The Dead Are Discreet) privileges the relationship, dating roughly from 1940 to 1959, between the rise of the low-budget B movies and the blossoming of film noir. Brief chapters assert the primacy of the story in defining film noir, the roots of the genre in popular literature, and the history of the B movie. Lyons is an outsider to academic film studies who nonetheless provides good insights for a general readership. Unfortunately, these insights soon give way to a filmography of "lost" B film noir titles that most general readersÄand specialistsÄwill never be able to watch. Although the filmography provides plot summaries, notes, and credit information for a welter of neglected titles, one wishes for further analysis of the overlap between the histories of B movies and film noir. Recommended only for libraries supporting large collections in film studies.ÄNeal Baker, Earlham Coll., Richmond, IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.