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A Tribute to the Children of the Dark

CRIES IN THE NIGHT, Children in Film Noir

by Robert Strom, 2023

“Cries in the Night” is clearly a labor of love. The book focuses on child actors appearing in movies from the classic Film Noir period, 1940-1959 (or so). If a kid had a speaking role in one of those movies made during that time, he or she appears in this book.

The films listed are not looked at in-depth, but of course there are plenty of other books available on Noir, if you want to learn more about them. It came as a little more surprising that many of the biographies of the young actors and actresses who appear in the book are not particularly in-depth either. Some of the bios do go on for a few pages, and we get more of a feel for their lives and their careers.

Making up for its lack of depth, the book is a completist's wet dream. Going in, I never guessed there had been so many children in Noir films. Yes, some are walk-on roles, maybe even kids seen in crowd shots, or in flashbacks of the main character's troubled youth, but some played major roles, often as victims or potential victims of the heavy. In a few of these movies, the kids are the main characters.

Among the more famous child actors who played in these movies, we get biographies of Robert “Baretta” Blake, Beau Bridges, and Jay “Dennis the Menace” North. Among the most detailed bios in the book, we read about David Bair, who starred with Joan Bennett, Lucille Ball, Russ Tamblyn, and Hedy Lamarr in a trio of Noir films. Dickie Bellis was also in Noir, but it's his story about the filming of the sci-fi classic “Them” that's the creepiest. Pat Cardi tells how she didn't have a stereotypical stage mother, but rather a stage father. Ann Carter, the young star of “Curse of the Cat People”, had quite a career, even working with Humphrey Bogart. Ten-year-old Donna Corcoran's insight into co-star Marilyn Monroe is brief but interesting. Stanley Livingston's stories about working with the otherwise curmudgeonly William Frawley are a hoot. The section on Jose Perez is among the most interesting, as he went on from being a child actor to playing God. One of the longest interviews involves Beverly Washburn. She was in only one Noir, but she later worked with Loretta Young, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney Jr, and appeared in an episode of the original Star Trek.

Strom's net spreads not only over Hollywood films, but numerous Noir films made in Latin America, England, and France. He includes a surprising handful of Asian child stars: Toshio Egi, Hayward Soo Hoo, Warren Hsieh, and Masahiko Shimazu, plus the American Indian actor, Anthony Numkena.

There's also a photo section for some of the uncredited and yet to be identified young actors from several Noir films.

Oddly enough, in a book that includes movies like “The 3:10 From Yuma” and “Angels With Dirty Faces” under the category of Film Noir, “The Bad Seed” does not make an appearance. While nominally a horror film, this movie is certainly dark and it deals with the darkest themes in human nature and doesn't have a supernatural element (aside from the ridiculous tacked-on ending).

Strom's book never quite tells us why these young stars were crying in the night. Indeed, most of them seem to have very positive memories of their experiences. Of the approximately 300 child actors who appear in the book, only two or three mention being scared on the set.

Still, it's a fun read for devotees of Film Noir with several interesting tales of Hollywood's past glories.

4 stars.


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