Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and '50s by David Goodis, edited by Robert Polito; Library of America, 807 pages ($35). One needn't strain searching for some major enigmas among the 226 volumes in the irreplaceable and indispensable Library of America series. One finds all manner of worthy American literary names among the single volumes missing -- from the once ubiquitous (and still spottily charming) novels, plays and stories of William Saroyan to a nicely populist one-volume Carl Sandburg omnibus to offset the single volumes of Frost and Pound, not to mention one volume of the often-beautiful poems and stories of Conrad Aiken (let's cede that the recent publication of T.S. Eliot's letters didn't exactly advance Aiken's cause, given Eliot's snide misgivings about his old friend's brainpower).
But we've long known how much Library of America editor-in-chief Geoffrey O'Brien esteems crime novels, and especially all those writers whose works might have been originally included in the French Series Noir. David Goodis is the once-obscure master of the trade who is now, aside from Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain and Cornell Woolrich, probably the most cinematic of them all. Directors who've embraced the tough, terse books of Goodis include Francois Truffaut, Samuel Fuller, Jean-Jacques Beneix, Jacques Tourneur and Delmer Daves.
The five novels included here are "Dark Passage" (which Daves made into a 1947 film starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall); "Nightfall"; "The Burglar" (which Paul Wendkos made into a film starring Dan Duryea and, yes, Jayne Mansfield and with Goodis getting script credit); "The Moon in the Gutter" (turned into a film by Beneix) and "Street of No Return" directed by Sam Fuller and starring Keith Carradine. In Jean Luc-Godard's "Made in the U.S.A." there is a character named David Goodis.
Goodis died at 50, suing TV over the TV series "The Fugitive's" debts to his book "Dark Passage," all of it still in litigation a decade after his death. A definitely noir literary life for a terse, hard-boiled master of noir.
-- Jeff Simon