Tough-talking 'tecs, femme fatales, hard-bitten loners, mystery, eros, danger: With rich ingredients like this, it's hard to go wrong, and Christopher certainly doesn't disappoint in this intelligent, thoroughgoing study of film noir. Like that other uniquely American film genre, the western, film noir provides almost illimitable metaphorical and metaphysical illuminations of the national psyche (as a French critic once observed, film noir is America's stylization of itself). From 1945 to 1955 Hollywood produced more than 300 of these hard-edged, cynical, even nihilistic dramas, classic films such as Double Indemnity, Kiss Me Deadly, and Sunset Boulevard. Novelist (Veronica, 1996, etc.) and poet Christopher (though he also includes here such modern noirish films as Taxi Driver, The Usual Suspects, and the groundbreaking sci-fi noir, Blade Runner) agrees with the prevailing critical view that noir was largely a response to WW II. The old screwball comedies of the '30s just didn't seem to work after such massive death and destruction. And the atomic bomb and the Cold War meant that the world could easily and quickly be annihilated. Mechanization and urbanization had created sprawling, depersonalized cities as convoluted as mazes. In fact, Christopher identifies the labyrinth as one of the noir's key figurations. Part Borges, part Freud, it is every confusion modern life labors us with. It is also the classic noir plot: The hero (usually a man) finds himself trapped in increasingly perilous circumstances (usually involving a ``dangerous dame'') from which he can't escape. Despite a number of minor factual mistakes, Christopher's analysis of various films is shrewd and revealing. He manages to tease out a number of subtle connections and similarities among films, everything from the role of dreams to gender issues to noir's attitude toward capitalism. An encyclopedic and very readable appreciation that will probably send many readers hurrying to the video store.