Dames in the Driver's Seat: Rereading Film Noir

By Jans B. Wager | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
MULHOLLAND FALLS (1996): NUCLEAR
NOIR AS NUMBSKULL NOIR

The best film noirs take corruption as their starting—not ending—point. They
assume the world is vile and then demonstrate just how vile. The people who
made [Mulholland Falls] may not even be hip to all the rottenness on screen. I
mean, what are we to make of the hearty sentimentality shown for a bunch of
autonomous, head-bashing, pre-Miranda white L.A. cops?

PETER RAINER, [Nothing under Its Hats,] Los Angeles Magazine

Mulholland Falls (1996) fits into the postclassic noir canon as a nuclear noir. A retro-noir starring a number of big names, big men, and a beautiful woman whose death initiates a search for the nuclear secret, Mulholland Falls has not been well received by most critics in the popular press, who have classified it as [numbskull noir] or [Chinatown for chowderheads.]1 Of course, the classic nuclear noir Kiss Me Deadly was not received well by critics either. As Naremore points out, when Kiss Me Deadly was first released, [The New York Times did not review it, the Legion of Decency condemned it, the British banned it altogether, and United Artists had difficulty advertising it in midwestern and southern towns.]2 Naremore notes that the film, a [quintessential example of how a supposedly 'cheap' artifact can acquire aura… is universally regarded as a masterpiece of noir.]3 Is it possible that Mulholland Falls might become the Kiss Me Deadly of the next generation? I doubt it.

Yet Mulholland Falls works well as a quintessential retro-noir in my taxonomy. With its obvious yet efficient editing, its shiny and clean cinematography,

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