Eddie Muller is known as “the czar of noir,” and for good reason. He’s penned booked on the movies—Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir and Dark City Dames: The Wicked Women of Film Noir, among others—started the Film Noir Foundation to rescue and restore forgotten and lost noirs, founded the Noir City Film Festival, launched an online magazine… The list goes on. Most probably know him as the host of TCM’s weekly series, Noir Alley, where the snappy dresser dispenses with seedy and insightful stories from the annals of his preferred genre (if it is a genre). But, as Muller is quick to point out, his scholasticism is more “barroom than classroom.” When the Noir City Film Festival travels from city to city—it stopped in Denver in 2017—Muller ensures that the hosting venues have a bar or lounge for proper post-screening discussions.
Those roots go back a long way. Before Muller became cinema’s go-to noir scholar, he was a bartender—“At least he’s made one positive contribution to society,” his website’s bio reads—and with Eddie Muller’s Noir Bar: Cocktails Inspired by the World of Film Noir, available now from TCM and Running Press, Muller combines a wealth of information about the films that have come to define his career along with the drinks he’s discovered, perfected, and invented. Noir Bar is one of those rare books that blends subjects so seamlessly that even non-drinkers or novice film lovers will find enjoyable (though it’s better if you like a stiff drink and a movie that hits just as hard).
Let’s start with the movies. Fifty titles are included, from well-known classics like Nightmare Alley and Mildred Pierce to exceptional films that have fallen through history’s cracks, Ride the Pink Horse and Woman on the Run. Each entry provides enough plot synopsis and behind-the-scenes information to whet your appetite. Muller also includes some excellent stills and lobby posters that illustrate how beautifully stylized and visual the noir movement was.
As for the drinks, that’s where the writer takes over. Each movie is paired with a cocktail holding some thematic relevance: martini for Sweet Smell of Success, gimlet for The Big Sleep, and Hemingway Daiquiri for The Breaking Point (a stellar adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not). Many of these recipes utilize the classic construction, though Muller puts a spin on a few to better connect them to the movies. The Killers, which stars Ava Gardner as one of the iconic femme fatales, gets the Kitty Collins, a Tom Collins gin drink with a splash of green crème de menthe as a nod to the emerald-colored silk scarf Kitty gives Burt Lancaster’s character. For The Lady from Shanghai, Muller invents the Sailor Beware, a concoction of Irish whiskey, brandy, green Chartreuse, and ginger liqueur. “When I set out to create a cocktail in honor of this bizarre and compelling 1948 Orson Welles film, I felt it needed to be done in the true Wellesian spirit: something brash and startling, using ingredients rarely if ever combined, assembled in a totally unexpected way,” Muller writes.
Along the way, Muller gives excellent tips on cocktail construction, must-have barware tools, choice liquors, and an allergy to obscure ingredients and preparations that make drinking more like medicinal formulas than enjoyable relaxants. Even those who have been healthily making and drinking cocktails for decades will glean a few preparation tips to freshen up those dusty old relics.
You could say the same about Muller’s work in restoring and revitalizing noirs. It’s quite handy that there is a fair amount of drinking in these movies—and just as much going on behind the scenes—but that connection almost seems happenstance. If anything, Noir Bar plays like Muller’s intros on Noir Alley: casual, lively, and loaded with information that’ll make you thirsty for more.
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