October 18, 2014

The 30 GREATEST ALFRED HITCHCOCK MOVIE POSTERS! (Spoiler: VERTIGO finishes second!)

At long last, a new countdown — a one-shot!

Here are the thirty best US (or British) one-sheets for the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Given that Hitch directed more than sixty features I had hoped that this would be at least a fifty-poster countdown. But alas, many of the posters for his early efforts in his home country are not to be found, and somewhat surprisingly, many of the available posters are designed particularly well! In the end I decided to rank thirty posters, and if my goal was to showcase solid design work I might have been better off showing just twenty. However, in the end I decided the more images the better!  

For those of you new to the site, feel free to read my design thoughts or just check out the images! As for the rules I set for myself, here’s the straight dope: 1) The posters shown here are ranked based solely on their design merits; this is not a ranking of the films themselves. 2) I only rank American (and in this case, British) one-sheet posters. No other formats, or posters from non-English-speaking countries are considered (apples and oranges, you know?) 3) I evaluate using several criteria, primarily the communicative effectiveness of the design. Posters are meant to sell tickets; aesthetics are often secondary to this goal. This is sometimes difficult for those outside of design and advertising to grasp because they’ve never really thought about it, but when relevant I discuss below. 4) Finally, although any such list is subjective, my qualifications as a design evaluator aren’t too shabby. I am a university graphic design professor with twenty years experience, my personal design work has been recognized with more than 300 national level awards, and my book, Film Noir 101 – The 101 Best Film NoirPosters of the 1940s and 1950s was just published by Fantagraphics Books. Go get a copy! 

If you'd like to review my other countdowns, here are the links: 

Enjoy the countdown and feel free to comment, you mugs!




30. TORN CURTAIN (1966)
This isn’t an awful poster, but it certainly lacks the sense of hierarchy found in better designs. I wanted to open with it (even though I do so at the expense of Strangers on a Train) because it illustrates the problem often found in posters for prestige productions from big directors and major stars: contractual obligations requiring that star’s names appear above the title and in a certain size, color, or position relative to one another. Such constraints often limited the designer’s ability to make the poster that the film really deserved, and in other posts I’ve argued that this is one of the primary reasons why B movie posters are often superior to their big-budget counterparts. In Torn Curtain, we can easily isolate the image area (photograph/hand/knife) and imagine that if were bigger and the surrounding names smaller, we’d likely have a better poster. Of course a studio executive could argue that names in two-inch letters sells tickets, but we know now that ticket buyers recognize and respond better to images than they do printed names. As it is, this design sacrifices the film’s title at the altar of star power.




29. MARNIE (1964)
On that note, the poster for Marnie offers only a smidgeon of improvement over Torn Curtain, and in fact they both share pasted-together quality. I prefer this design, even though it lacks concept, because the typography is more interesting and the sense of organization missing from Torn Curtain is more present here. Besides, who doesn’t love a good “sex mystery”?




28. SABOTEUR (1942)
Better type in this example, but diminished greatly by a weak illustration at the top and too-small photographs at the bottom. I sure wish some of that white space could have been put to better use. Graphic designers, get a load of the typeface used for Hitchcock’s name — is this the inspiration for Émigré’s iconic 1990s typeface Modula?




27. TO CATCH A THIEF (1963)
Wasted potential. This could have been an all-time classic film poster, but the ridiculous white box touting Grant and Kelly shoves the illustration so far to the left of the composition that Grant’s head is at risk of falling out of the design. Get my drift about big star names wrecking a poster? Let’s push that box to the right border and steal some of that unused space for the sake of giving the cat burglar some breathing room, or better yet, lose the box altogether and make the type white. The bottom half of this poster is redemptive, but it can’t save poor Grace from looking decapitated! 




26. FAMILY PLOT (1976)
The design here is too busy, but its organization is light years ahead of the poster for Torn Curtain. And rather than shouting at us with big letters as the poster for Marnie does, Family Plot lets its imagery do the talking. The use of photomontage and circular halftone screens is novel for the 1970s, but putting Hitch’s head inside a crystal ball is silly and verges on self-parody. I also find the “you must see it twice!” tagline mildly insulting—the typestyle hurts the design, and I’ll happily decide for myself whether or not this is worth a second viewing.




25. THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956)
James Stewart makes his first appearance in the countdown, framed in red alongside Doris Day. Solid organization and subtle layering land this one here, though again we see that big star names usually hurt more than they help. I’m fond of the title typography: it recedes into the picture plane and leads the viewer’s eye back to the star’s faces. Here’s a neat design trick at work too: the designer chose to make the title blue, drawing needed attention to it in an otherwise overwhelmingly red composition. The sense of pictorial depth is also enhanced by the use of figures in small, medium, and large sizes, and in how Stewart’s head overlaps his red rectangle, while Day’s rests beneath hers.




24. UNDER CAPRICORN (1949)
Tell me if you think I’m crazy, but I wonder if Bergman and Cotton are cobbled together from separate still photographs, possibly even those taken for other films? I can’t get past their hands — something’s not quite right about how his lays on her hair and cheek, and how hers are clasped around his back. I also wonder if the red box containing the title typography is situated to cover an area where the photos couldn’t be properly matched? It’s a trivial concern, but if true I applaud the designer for a job well done!
At any rate, the Warner’s house style, with its generous white borders, allows for the silhouette of the figures to give the composition an unusually organic feel, while also suggesting the shape of the human heart. I find the blue “glow,” as well as the sheer number of differing typestyles to be distracting, but it’s all saved by the small script introducing the cast: “Strange things happen to…” How fantastic and original is that?




23. LIFEBOAT (1940)
A lively poster with an effective zigzag composition. The artist had a tall order to fill with so many faces to paint, but leaving out extraordinary actor Canada Lee was a crime for the ages — I guess his name at the end of the cast list will have to do. Most 1940s Fox posters are distinctively illustrated, but this one appears to have a watercolor quality unusual for the studio — note the ink wash quality of the area underneath William Bendix.
Plenty of depth here with the cast set against the stormy backdrop, but note also how Bendix’s head overlaps and obscures the “L” in Lifeboat. As odd as it sounds now, that was a risk on the part of the artist, one you won’t often find realized in posters of this vintage. Pet peeve: Hitchcock’s name appears twice; once is enough! 




22. STAGE FRIGHT (1950)
This one’s easy: let’s swap the typographic block from the bottom of the poster with the one from the top. Once we do that, the boxed portraits of Wilding and Todd can go to bottom of the design where they belong, and Dietrich and Wyman can be given the prominence that they deserve. The mystery novel style illustration here is terrific!
The old-timers here at Where Danger Lives will tell you that I’m a sucker for the Warner Bros. house poster style. (See the sci-fi countdown.) As with Under Capricorn, it’s a testament to Hitchcock’s prestige as a director that Jack Warner allowed the designer to use full-color — it didn’t happen every day.




21. THE BIRDS (1944)
The L-shaped frame from The Man Who Knew Too Much appears here again, though with more success this time around. The designer had to include a great deal of text, as well as an image of the director himself, his likeness now iconic in the wake of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The frame allowed the artist to organize the information into rectangles of varying degrees of importance, the largest of which contains the illustration of the attacking birds and the title typography. By placing the director’s shoulder behind the white box, it effectively pushes the illustration forward in space, even though the two areas don’t touch.
I’d score this one higher if the birds themselves were larger and a bit more frightening. But then again, the same point could be made about the film itself.




20. THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934)
First of all, forgive the shoddy image; this is an exceptionally rare poster and we have to work with what we can get. This poster revolves around an iconic image of the nefarious Peter Lorre as the scarred kidnapper of Banks and Best’s daughter Nova Pilbeam. There is little conceptual thinking evident in the image, other than cashing in on Lorre’s burgeoning fame in a classic, completely hand-rendered stone-lithograph.




19. THE 39 STEPS (1935)
An improvement on the previous entry, this is another hand-rendered stone lithograph from Hitch’s pre-Hollywood period. Given the rather spectacular auction prices associated with this poster ($18,000 in 2011), its beauty is undeniable. Yet I find the image at the bottom of the composition to be far more compelling than the larger than life (but painfully reserved) glamour shots at the top. Swap them and I’d move this up a dozen spaces in the rankings. But what a great film!




18. SUSPICION (1941)
As I mentioned in the introduction, beauty isn’t the designer’s goal as often as consumers think it is. Kick that around for a second. Generic packaging is created to look inexpensive — it isn’t as if the manufacturer lacks the budget to pay for a more attractive design! Such packages look the way they do in order to communicate non-verbally with the intended consumers: those shoppers who are on a tight budget and only wish to quickly locate the cheapest can of peas on the shelf. Surely horror movie posters aren’t often meant to be beautiful, nor are those for comedies. Yet the poster for 1941’s Suspicion is clearly meant to be beautiful…and glamorous…and melodramatic…and entirely about its two glittering stars. In this case the approach is appropriate (and appropriateness is what matters in design), and the artist was entirely successful. Nevertheless, I’ll continue to wring my hands over the sizing of credits: if only Grant and Fontaine’s images could be 20% larger, and their names 20% smaller…




17. NOTORIOUS (1946)
One of filmdom’s most famous posters, I ranked Notorious just ahead of Suspicion, though the two posters are somewhat similar and consequently make for interesting comparisons. Looking just at the depiction of the stars, Suspicion wins hands down. No one would describe Notorious as light fare, though Bergman’s image suggests an altogether more playful romance than what Hitchcock actually serves up. For his part Grant seems lifeless and disengaged, while Claude Rains suffers the Edward G. Robinson movie poster treatment — too famous not to be pictured, but floating disembodied in some forgotten corner of the design. Regardless, the positives here can’t be ignored. The proportion of image to typography is better than in Suspicion, and the added conceptual element of the large silhouetted key pushes this poster slightly ahead.




16. THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY (1955)
A little romance, a little murder, lots of fun. For the OCD life of me I can’t figure out why “Paramount Presents” has to be carelessly pushed off-center for the sake of a single leaf, but this is otherwise an excellent piece of work. The reverse “C” of the image frames the title beautifully, and none of the other logos, snipes, or inset photos feels forced or out of place. As a culture we tend to value illustrated images rather than photographic ones, and this poster appears to be something of a hybrid between the two. I’m not sure that it wouldn’t have been more successful had it been entirely illustrated, but it works well enough as it is, and remains one the more unusual posters in the Hitchcock canon.




15. SABOTAGE (1936)
Sabotage was released in England in late 1936, and it debuted a month or so later in the US under the title The Woman Alone, though history rightly remembers the film under its British title. The stone lithograph poster is lovely, and sports the best such image of star Sylvia Sydney. Two things I’d change about it though: first, I’d make the silhouetted image of Sydney’s attacker much more about the hands than the head. Shrink the head, makes the hands larger and more menacing! Second, let’s place all of the text on a diagonal, or none of it — you can’t have it both ways.




14. SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943)
I was critical of the type alignment on the previous entry, and here we see how consistently arranged type can rescue a potentially mediocre design from the scrap heap. The designer’s choice to place the type over top of Cotton’s looming shadow is a risk that pays off modestly here, creating ample negative space at the top of the poster that forces the viewer to deal with the conceptual value of that long, long shadow. The “X” relationship formed by title type and the shadow activates the design and quietly reinforces the notion that the lovely Teresa Wright’s comfortable suburban world is about to be turned on its ear. I can’t help but feel that the colors are bland throughout this poster, but especially in the dirty dishwater of the background.




13. THE LADY VANISHES (1938)
Not a poser that I’ve ever loved, but it’s a rare animal that succeeds on typography alone. I’m pushing The Lady Vanishes up in the countdown primarily for the risk-taking involved with letting the typography do the lion’s share of the heavy lifting. I’ve always appreciated hand-drawn posters (I started off as a printmaker, and I’ve done my share of stone lithos!) and I pay a lot of attention to the human nuances found in designs that weren’t created with the robotic, often stale precision of a computer. Take a look at the alignment of the typography at the bottom of the design — nothing is quite where it should be. One black line bisects the poster in half, yet neither the word “with,” nor any of the ensuing text, is properly centered. In contemporary student work this would result in massive grade reductions, but in a vintage, hand-rendered poster it only adds to the charm. 




12. I CONFESS (1953)
Not a great deal to say here, which is fitting for a poster that dedicates a typographic block to having been filmed in Canada. Intriguing (if only vaguely recognizable) images of Clift and Baxter in a poster dominated by strong title typography, though I sure wish the designer would have made up his mind about the exclamation point — either include it or don’t, but no half-measures please. Notice how that various taglines attempt to lure viewers with words such as “sin” and “shame.” In an era when film and television were engaged in a pitched battle for America’s leisure time, film posters grew louder and increasingly more salacious in order to with the fight.




11. FRENZY (1972)
The designer here was clearly paying his respects to Saul Bass and Vertigo, but whether that’s a positive or a negative in your book the poster is a winner. The image itself brings to mind John Whitney’s spirals used in Vertigo, though the addition of the necktie wins points for originality rather than mere appropriation. It’s even fair to say that there are way too many things happening typographically, but at least the proportions have been reigned in enough to let the image carry the day. (By the way, if anyone knows the typeface at the top, leave a comment. I’m wondering if it’s some variation on Cooper Black?)




10. NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)
Remember, this is a ranking of posters, and not the films themselves — I love North by Northwest as much as the next guy. Besides, this is a pretty darn good poster as well! Excellent typography, and I adore the organizing device of the imperfect rectangles. I wish the design was a bit more assertive though; is Grant falling forward away from Saint’s silly gunshot, or is he falling backwards down the rabbit hole? Furthermore, I wish it had more “pop” — meaning that the white background is bland, and that the poster would reach out and grab viewers a bit better if the designer had chosen a more vibrant background. Why shoot yourself in the foot? 
Interestingly, several sources assert that Saul Bass designed this poster, though more reliable evidence says this isn’t the case. (If anyone can offer the final word, chime in.) In fact, I see a few uncomfortable similarities with Bass’s design from the previous year for Vertigo that diminishes this poster in my esteem.




9. THE WRONG MAN (1956)
I wonder how long designer Bill Gold searched for just the right car mirror to do what he wanted with this design. The search paid off, because The Wrong Man’s poster gets big points for originality, even if in the end it might be a victim of it’s own novelty. Similar to dust jackets but unlike most other forms of graphic design, a poster must be successful from multiple vantage points. It has to work equally well from a few feet away and from across the street. This design is just fine up close — it probably was adapted to trade magazine advertisements with very few changes — but I’m afraid that from further away, caught in the corner of one’s eye from the sidewalk on the other side of the street, there isn’t enough “pop” here to entice a viewer to brave traffic in order to find out what the poster is all about. Regardless, the originality lands it squarely in the top ten.




8. ROPE (1948)
The best image of James Stewart on a Hitchcock poster. I don’t have a great deal to say about the positives here that hasn’t been echoed in previous entries, though I appreciate the noirish quality of the cityscape and those red clouds.




7. REBECCA (1940)
Oh, that eyebrow. Rebecca was easily my mother’s favorite Hitchcock picture, and it may be mine as well. It was one of the more quotable films of my childhood (thanks primarily to Mrs. Van Hopper), and I’m confident I’ve viewed it more than a hundred times — so I’m glad it made it onto my final list.
This is a poster that broods. It’s tense, nervous. In spite of what appears at first glance to be a typically banal postwar design with romantic overtones, there’s a thorough depth of thought going on here that rewards those familiar with the material. Fontaine and Olivier appear as husband and wife, but surely they aren’t…together, both staring intently at something outside the frame. The title slashes through the design in scarlet letters, connecting the unhappy couple to the title character herself (!), unseen in the film yet stalking the lower corner of the design and looming over the doomed mansion, Manderley (or is that Hill House, Eleanor Lance?). The designer worked successfully within the studio-mandated parameters that the typography be situated on a gigantic book jacket, in order to capitalize on the popularity of Daphne Du Maurier’s novel. Finally, direct your eyes to the upper left hand corner, that turbulent space full of dark energy and gothic foreboding. In spite of its emptiness it’s one of the most vital areas in the design. What a carefully considered, velvety, delicious poster. 




6. REAR WINDOW (1954)
I wanted very much to rank this poster third, but it’s failure to “tell the truth” bothers me — take a gander in those windows and if you’ve seen the film enough times you’ll understand what I mean. That being said, I’m also a bit troubled by the implication of violence in the center window. Is it a spoiler given that part of the allure of this film is our initial uncertainty at what exactly happened across the courtyard after Stewart dozed off? Regardless, this is a winning design that at least on a superficial level represents its film very well. The Stewart image is great, but I wonder if the designer missed an opportunity to be brilliant here? What if we were to take the image of Stewart and blow it up to the full height of the poster, and then use the lenses of his binoculars to reflect the dramas being played out across the way? Grace looks fine, and I understand that she has to be included in the poster, but I’d also argue that this works better without her. Notice also that the building is a drawn-over film still — see the ghost of the doggie-basket hanging between the two windows at the very top?




5. SECRET AGENT (1936)
The best of the 1930s Hitchcock stone lithographs, this one surpasses that of the British The Man Who Knew Too Much and The 39 Steps in nearly every way. Color, composition, typography, drama, movement — this is thoughtful, controlled image making. For me, the skill involved here is evident, and not just in the draftsmanship. I love the big, beautiful title typography. It speaks to viewers of the poster, “I’m here; read me and move on. I’m simply designed so as not to distract you from the illustration below.” The designer uses the type to frame the image, which is subtle and provocative. Look at those facial expressions. This picture says a thousand words. One question: who’s holding that knife?




4. SPELLBOUND (1945)
Better?
This is a wonderful poster, but also one of the most maddening (see what I did there?) in this or any other countdown. In 1945 Bergman was the main attraction; Peck had only appeared in three features, one of which was the barely seen Days of Glory. The Keys of the Kingdom ensured his place on the A list, but at the time Bergman was still the bigger star. Given the issue of the pecking order, it’s easy to understand just how masterfully executed the image is. It’s all at once startling, moving, and frightening, while satisfying the marketing demands of the studio. Spellbound is not a noir, yet it’s poster is easily more unsettling than that of practically any classic film noir.
But as I mentioned above, the poster is maddening. With such a show-stopping, once-in-a-lifetime piece of artwork in hand, why divide the space in half and waste all that space on (especially) banal typography? I realize that we’ve covered this territory before and that the type is sized to satisfy Selznick’s requirements, but what a shame. This could have been one of the great film posters of all time, and perhaps the definitive movie paper image of Ingrid Bergman, but instead it just finishes fourth among all of Hitchcock’s films. Not too bad, but oh, what it could have been…




3. PSYCHO (1960)
I purchase vintage movie posters at auction on practically a weekly basis, and so I’m consequently browsing though hundreds of images of posters for sale. The years bracketing 1960, when Psycho hit theaters, represented a drab period in Hollywood advertising design. This bold thing must have really stood out among the plethora of early sixties movie paper (in fact, one graphic design writer claims that viewers would have associated the design with those for pornographic films), when so many one-sheets featured delicate illustrations set against bland white backgrounds. One might argue that like the poster for 1956’s The Killing, this poster is two or three decades before its time. In its style, execution, and incredible graphic boldness, it more closely resembles the brightly colored posters of the 1980s and early 90s than it does its late 50s and early 60s counterparts.
Whereas the more old-fashioned Spellbound poster was divided in half, failing to enhance its powerhouse image, the Psycho poster is divided vertically into thirds, with type and image juxtaposed so that the visual tension is increased exponentially. There’s so much unifying rhythm in the arrangement of the words and pictures, yet the designer uses color and shape to control our eye movement, while the fractured diagonals suggest the underlying sexuality (look at that penetrating “V”) of the story and make for marvelous visual surprises. Here is a poster where design and problem solving trump virtuosity of draftsmanship. It relies on photography rather than illustration, but still surpasses (and not by a small margin) the posters behind it in the countdown. It’s a veritable art school lesson in the sense that it proves a poster artist doesn’t have to be able to draw or paint so long as he or she can think critically and understands the fundamental principles of good design.




2. VERTIGO (1958)
In the 2012 iteration of Sign and Sound’s venerable poll, critics named Vertigo the greatest film of all time, toppling longtime champ Citizen Kane. Its poster is the centerpiece of the sacred triptych of Saul Bass film movie paper design. Flanked by his equally impressive one-sheets for The Man with the Golden Arm and Anatomy of a Murder, this is arguably the most famous film poster of all time. It’s a marvelous and exquisite; nevertheless I haven’t awarded it the top spot. Certainly you might disagree with me, and I won’t quibble with you if you do, but hear me out first.
Before that, the design professor in me wants to give Saul Bass his due. He’s possibly the most famous and influential designer since Toulouse-Latrec, Mucha, or Cassandre. His name is canonical, one learned early on in art school, along with those of Paul Rand, Milton Glaser, Herb Lubalin, Bradbury Thompson, Alexy Brodovitch, Massimo Vignelli, and others. Most of you reading this are here for your interest in film and posters, but Bass was a complete designer; his corporate identity designs are every bit as good as his film posters and title sequences — maybe even better. Even if Bass had never worked for the movie industry, the logo designs shown here would have ensured his place in the graphic design lexicon. No other designer, except maybe for Rand, was as brilliantly versatile.
Back to the poster. When I teach magazine design, it’s important that students learn to draw a parallel between their cover artwork and that of the first spread of the primary feature article. With the Vertigo poster, Bass has done the cinematic equivalent, connecting his poster artwork not only to the overarching concept of the film, but to his title sequence as well. To use contemporary jargon, Bass created a brand identity for the film, a practice in which he was well versed. In addition to the one-sheet, Bass also adapted his design to majority of other poster formats offered in Vertigo’s press book, as well as numerous magazine advertisements. And while this was a mildly revolutionary approach to film marketing in the late 50s, it’s also partly the reason why I’m relegating this poster to second place: as good as it is, it was derived from the title sequence, yet (naturally) fails to match it. How could it? Bass’s Vertigo titles are universally acclaimed as a landmark moment in movie history. In choosing to align his poster design with those titles, he set himself with a nearly impossible task. The poster is wonderful, but it’s a pale echo of the titles, and it failed to accomplish its primary task of ensuring an audience in an era when that was a poster’s chief responsibility. On a personal level, I’ve never loved how cobbled-together Bass’s falling figures feel when placed against artist John Whitney’s electronic spirals. There’s an uncomfortable visual disconnect happening there that no one likes to talk about.
Interestingly, and as you already know, upon its release Vertigo didn’t perform as expected at the box office or with critics, and Bass’s illustrative designs were considered by the bosses at Paramount to be too ‘artsy’ to properly attract ticket buyers. A more traditional set of posters and ads featuring romantic shots of the two stars in San Francisco settings were hastily thrown together and made available to exhibitors, but ticket sales remained stagnant. It’s also interesting to note that Bass’s designs were seldom adapted when Vertigo was released overseas, and were often ignored when new posters were created for rereleases. Recognizing Vertigo’s skyrocketing renown throughout the decades, and the span of time itself, it nearly impossible for us to imagine how 1958 audiences responded to its advertising campaign. I could have easily acceded to popular expectation and given this poster the top spot, but I’m choosing a different direction and instead shining my spotlight on, perhaps, the greatest movie poster designer who ever lived.




1. DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954)
An astonishing poster, one of the most underrated in movie history, and not surprisingly from Warner Bros., the studio which reliably cranked out top notch movie paper, especially during the 1950s. The graphic designer at work here is Bill Gold, who you may not have heard of before, though you’ve seen his work — and once you’ve read his poster resumé it becomes clear that he takes a backseat to no one — not even Saul Bass.
Here are a few highlights form Gold’s amazingly long career at the top: Casablanca, Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Big Sleep, A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden, Mister Roberts, Moby Dick, The Searchers, A Face in the Crowd, and Giant. Believe it or not the list goes on: For Your Eyes Only (those legs!), A Clockwork Orange, Bullitt, Cool Hand Luke, Bonnie and Clyde, Dirty Harry, Funny Girl, The Sting, Alien, and Unforgiven. Just so we’re clear on this, the man who made the poster for 1942’s Casablanca and five other Best Picture winners is still alive and working at age 93, having created more than 2,000 movie posters. He designed the poster for 2011’s J. Edgar!
Let’s circle back to his poster for Dial M for Murder. It’s a risky, daringly designed thing, and every aspect of the finished product is rewarding. I’ve noted throughout the countdown how the studio’s need to treat stars’ names in large type is usually detrimental. This poster proves my point. It’s plain to see here how unnecessary it would have been to plaster Kelly and Milland’s names across the top of the poster in 144-point type. In fact, this poster is such a dramatic powerhouse that it isn’t necessary that we recognize the two stars at all! By obscuring their famous faces, Gold forces the viewer to confront the raw, violent sexuality of his illustration. It’s a potent image, but it also manages to titillate without giving away the plot or the circumstances of this confrontation, which might be amorous, or might be nefarious — purchase a ticket and find out for yourself! The female’s hand is starkly lit against the vivid red background — giving us the attention-grabbing focal point that so many other film posters lack. This is a uniquely Hichcock-ian image, boiling over with suspense and mystery.
            And look at that typography! The vertical (phallic!) alignment of the title typography perfectly balances the horizontal illustration, and for once we have a midcentury designer who knows how to choose typefaces. This one boasts a consistency of typeface, with its condensed sans-serif letterforms, that is seldom found in other posters of the era. If you’ve read some of my previous entries you know just what I’m talking about. This typographic consistency, as well as the use of color and the manner in which the dangling phone connects (no pun intended!) the bottom of the composition to the top make this one of the most cohesive, pleasing film poster designs I’ve ever seen. Mr. Gold, my hat’s off to you.

See you next time! Thanks for Reading! 


August 23, 2014

FILM NOIR 101 is HERE!

I’m not much of a self-promoter so I promise to only do this once! My new book from Fantagraphics, Film Noir 101, has just been released. The book is available in stores and on Amazon, Barnes& Noble, Books-a-Million, and other sellers. It can also be purchased directly from Fantagraphics.

Film Noir 101 is a large format (it’s scary-big, an Amazon reviewer described it as about the size of a place mat) coffee table book chock full of full-page reproductions of classic noir posters. I did all of the digital restoration myself, so you won’t see any scratches, tears, or fold lines. The colors, however, are magnificent. I believe very strongly that these are the best reproductions of classic noir posters that have ever been published — and Fantagraphics pulled out all the stops in terms of production design and print quality.


The book was born right here on the pages of this blog. Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth enjoyed my 100 Greatest Posters of Film Noir countdown, and asked me if I’d consider developing a book along similar lines. After a great deal of discussion we decided that it made sense to make the book as much about the films themselves as it is about posters, so those of you familiar with the countdown here on the blog will find lots of brand new stuff in the book. (Here’s a secret: the book celebrates the posters, but ranks the films!)

Gary also asked me whom I’d like to write the intro for the book, and William Friedkin, Academy Award winning director of The French Connection was really my only choice!  Let’s not forget that Friedkin also directed The Exorcist, Sorcerer, and Killer Joe. (Sorcerer just came out on Blu-Ray!

I’m going to be doing a ton of events in the coming weeks and months to promote the book. Hopefully I’ll be able to meet some of you in person who I’ve gotten to know so well on-line. Here are a few highlights:

On Friday, September 12 I’ll be introducing a noir film at the Grand Illusion Cinema in Seattle. The following day, Saturday September 13, I’ll be giving a talk and signing books at the Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery.

On Saturday, September 27 I’ll be in Los Angeles at the WEHO READS: NOIR festival. I’ll be giving a lecture about the design of classic noir film posters at the West Hollywood library that afternoon, and then signing books afterwards with the wonderful people from L.A.’s best bookstore: Book Soup. Also on display in the WEHO library throughout the month of September will be a collection of classic noir posters curated by yours truly.


Here’s a link to a recent interview with more details about the book. I'll chime in in a few weeks with details on east coast events!