11. Ms. .45 (1981)
Oh come on, you knew I was going to include this somewhere …
After all, who doesn’t adore this film, and the poster for Abel Ferrara’s violent and controversial masterpiece is every bit as exciting, terrifying — and darkly funny — as the film itself. Every time I look at this poster (I don’t own one … yet) my eyes inevitably work their way down and my mind boggles at what’s going on between the 4 and 5 in the “.45” of the title typography and I throw my hands up in bewilderment over how Ferrara wants viewers to read this movie.
If you haven’t seen this — young folks — go get a copy as soon as you can find one. It’s really something else.
10. Dirty Harry (1971)
Wanna sell tickets to an Eastwood picture? Simple, just let folks know it’s an Eastwood picture. His posters would likely fare a little better were he not such a big star — with such a craggy, photogenic face. In part that’s why the poster for Dirty Harry is so effective — it’s more about the gun than it is about the actor. (Nice synchronicity with the film too, Harry makes that great speech about the magnum.) Of all the ‘pointing gun’ posters that are so representative of neo noir, this is one of the best, and like I said it’s fitting for Dirty Harry. Wed the prominence of the gun to the shattered glass (which in turn functions as a type-container), and you’ve got a poster that rates pretty well; and is a good deal stronger than the other Harry Callahan entry, Magnum Force. Good luck getting your hands on one of these.
By the way, there turned out to be exactly 25 ‘pointing guns’ in the 75 posters chosen for this countdown; that’s 1 out of every 3!
The illustration style in play here has become indicative of the 70s — primarily thanks to some godawful clip art — in a way that designers don’t usually consider fondly. Nevertheless, close inspection of the mysterious M. Daily’s work reveals meticulous craftsmanship and virtuoso style that would be obvious to anyone seeing this poster as it was meant to be seen — full-size and up-close. I have a copy, so you’ll have to trust me. The online universe is often a wonderful thing, but when it comes to film posters an electronic display is no substitute for encountering a poster in ‘real life.’ If I could get away with it (no pun!) I’d move the tagline to the bottom, or just nix it, but the mood created by the illustration here is deeply noir-ish and impossible to ignore.
8. Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)
Structurally, this design resembles that of the poster for L.A. Confidential (or rather, vice-versa), though unlike that poster, the title typography for Devil in a Blue Dress is original, and not borrowed from the cover of the source novel. (There’s some curious irony here: although the type on the cover of the first printing of Walter Mosley’s novel is bland (see below), the illustration of the title character, Creole girl Daphne Monet, curiously depicts her as an almost impossibly-white Veronica Lake lookalike. There has to be a deeper story behind that book cover.) At any rate, the design here is simple and striking, in all its period style. It sacrifices a great deal of compositional real estate at the altar of star power, but there’s so much noir packed into that small space over Denzel’s shoulder that the poster is still able to make quite a powerful statement.
7. Manhunter (1986)
As opposed to the two decades of classic noir, neo noir covers a period of more than fifty years — and new releases such as Drive continue to wow audiences. Such an expansive time period can be difficult to assess in terms of design aesthetic (thanks heavens the good old one-sheet is still … relatively … the same size) particularly when the means by which designs are created changed so radically with the advent of the computer. And then we have the 1980s, that decade when wit, cleverness, and subtlety seemed to take a back seat to loud colors, brash headlines, and a gawdy sense of style. Although I fancy myself a thinking designer who tries hard not to respond to plasticity, I notice that the 80s are well-represented here in the countdown — even at the highest levels. There’s something quite potent about the poster for Michael Mann’s Manhunter, it big and bold, powerfully graphic — awash in those same bright colors that fail so miserably in a million other posters from the period. Yet here it works, and if you and I aren’t on the same page as far as the look and feel of this one, then I can’t fault you for devaluing my opinion — but this poster takes exception to my personal value system — and maybe that’s why I like it so much.
6. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Okay, 6 and 7 are a complete coincidence! Really!
An undeniably great poster, this is nevertheless one of the most difficult to write about, if only because it’s so well known. I’m not sure how much you may have thought about the positioning of the death’s head moth over Jodie Foster’s mouth here, but it’s ramifications regarding not just the crimes of Buffalo Bill, but also Agent Starling’s own troubled past and inability to communicate with others — or even come to grips with herself — are profound. Again we have a designer who knows when it’s the right time to subdue type to image, but we also have someone at work on this image who understands (a million times better than I do) how to get the most out of color. I don’t know if anyone actually reads these blurbs or not, but if you’ve thus tortured yourself you may have noticed that I don’t get into color very often — owing primarily to the fact that it terrifies me! However, this is a poster where even someone as oblique as myself can see how really defines the way in which this poster communicates with us.
Thanks for reading, I hope you’ve enjoyed the countdown and downloaded a few of your favorite designs. Please considering signing on as a follower or connecting with me on Facebook! Or just leave a comment with your thoughts — I haven’t received much feedback on this one! I’ll be back soon with new crime film essays, while another countdown — a MAJOR countdown — looms somewhere on the far-flung horizon.