Film noir became a cash crop in the movie industry of the 1940s and ’50s. But its deep shadows, slinky dames and ethically challenged heroes have been in scarce supply on TV shelves.
That’s all about to change on Dec. 4 when TNT introduces its elegant six-part series, “Mob City.”
The city of the title is Los Angeles and its denizens are mostly real people — down-home folk like Mickey Cohen, Bugsy Siegel and Police Chief William Parker.
All of this has been magically conjured by writer-director Frank Darabont, known for helming “The Walking Dead,” “The Green Mile” and “The Shawshank Redemption.”
“Up close it’s all gutter,” he says of L.A. in its incendiary days following World War II. “That idea is right out of Raymond Chandler.
“The underbelly of Los Angeles in that era is so — it is very attractive, very sexy, in a way, post-war — when L.A. was a boom town, and it was expanding, the mob wanted to get in here and control it.,” he said.
“Corruption in the police department was so rampant that more cops were on the mob payrolls back then than not. What’s not to love about that?”
The show is loosely based on the book “L.A. Noir: the Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City,” by John Buntin.
“The source of this very much is a beautiful nonfiction piece of work, lavishly researched and beautifully written book,” Darabont said.
“But it’s a reference point. It’s also a jumping-off point because I wanted to live up to the promise of what a ‘noir’ show would deliver. We wanted to go with the real facts. (They) lend themselves so much to a good, smart, pulpy treatment,” he said.
“What we’re talking about is the pulp smarts of the genre. We wanted to deliver on that point. So I gave myself license to part from the book. We are going to be following the framework of reality, but what I found very liberating was to say … ‘Let’s invent the history that’s underneath the history.’ So there’s a tremendous amount of invention that we’ve brought to this, and it’s very freeing.”
At first Darabont was determined to make “Mob City” a direct transliteration of Buntin’s text. “I thought I could do a very straightforward adaptation of this book and do something that I felt like a very earnest and well-meaning ‘Masterpiece Theatre’ approach to what is actually a very pulpy, heated, sexy, violent world.”
The cast, too, is impressive with Neal McDonough turning true-blue as Parker, Ed Burns as the lanky Bugsy Siegel, Jeremy Luke as a look-alike Mickey Cohen, Jon Bernthal as copper Joe Teague, Gregory Itzin as Mayor Fletcher Bowron and Robert Knepper as the fictional Sid Rothman.
“A lot of us reached out to Frank months ago and said, ‘What are your top 10 favorite film noir movies?” recalls Knepper. “And we watched a lot of them. And I guess I’ve always watched these and always loved them, but knowing that I was going to be a part of a group of guys and women that played these parts, how do you take something of that style back then, keep and honor it and yet not be a caricature?”
Darabont’s recommendations included “The Third Man,” “Sunset Boulevard” and “Double Indemnity.” “But I also turned them on to a whole bunch of stuff that most people probably haven’t seen,” says Darabont, “stuff like ‘Union Station.’
“William Holden back then was on contract, before he became a massive movie star. It’s a really cool B-movie … A lot of these things they shot in just a few weeks with no budgets and they had one light.,” he said.
“They would use leftover sets from bigger pictures … It was just as important to see the things that they made on very little resources, a lot of imagination. There is a lot of talent on that level of studio B-picture movies,” he said.
“Mob City” debuts at 9 p.m. Dec. 4 on TNT.