As I sit in my home office and type this, I am surrounded by the things that I love. On every wall, over my desk, behind me, even behind the door, are movie posters. Not just any movie posters—vintage Film Noir movie posters. Yes, I am a collector.
I’ve collected movie posters since high school when I worked in a video store and took home anything and everything Horror. It is not hyperbole to say, in high school, every inch of the wall and ceiling space in my room was covered with posters. My Dad thought I was a disturbed young man.
As I aged and my tastes in films refined some, I began collecting Film Noir posters. Part of the appeal, as any collector will tell you, is that they aren’t readily available. Finding a poster for something modern like The Matrix or Pirates of the Caribbean is easy (and mercifully cheap). Vintage poster collecting involves the hunt, the slow morphine drip of any true collector. The drug that keeps us coming back for more.
I have over 200 posters in my collection and I am far from the most avid Noir collector out there. I became very familiar with several on eBay by their user names as they routinely beat me out at the last second. People with seemingly endless reservoirs of cash hell-bent on grabbing up every title from 1940 to 1959. I will defend my collector bona fides by saying that when we were choosing houses to buy, a decent room to display my posters was high on my list of must-haves, probably above number of bathrooms.
I managed to find a few doozies in my trolling for deals on eBay and in poster shops, and brought home some of my favorites. My “B style” one-sheet for Sudden Fear. My three-sheet poster for The Set Up.
But, surely you ask, you can’t possibly fit 200 posters on the walls of your tiny converted-garage office space, can you? No. Not hardly. But that isn’t the point.
I know I have them. I can take them out and look at them, and I often do. All the while being very careful of the brittle paper and fragile folds. I do not have the best, humidity controlled, acid free paper-lined storage for them yet. It’s on the someday list. But considering most posters from sixty or seventy years ago are long gone to dust, my gang is doing pretty well.
For me, Film Noir is a genre I love and the graphics and lurid images on the posters are a great part of the mystique and identity of the movies. When they line the walls like they do, I can instantly put myself in the mindset of the old black and white movies I love. From the images to the great copy, they practically hum off the wall with a vibe of sleazy criminality. My favorite bit of over-the-top sales pitch has to be on the poster for Shield For Murder. Over a picture of a snarling and gun-toting Edmond O’Brien, the text reads “Dame-hungry Killer-Cop Runs Berserk!” You gotta love that.
Most collectors try to be completists. If I could, I’d own a poster for every crime drama for that classic twenty-year period, even if I didn’t like the movie so much. I’ve put out a few bucks on movies I’ve never seen when I find something cheap, but I like the way it looks. Why own a poster for a movie you don’t like, you ask again. And again I say, that’s not the point. And if you have to ask, you’re not a collector.
Every baseball card collector starts out with their favorite players. Eventually that turns to needing to own the entire lineup of the ’69 Mets, or whoever your passion is.
And, with a 200+ poster count, you’d think I would be close to my goal. Not hardly. There are some big fish out there still to land. Trouble is, the water they swim in is green. As in money. And it’s deep water.
I don’t own a poster for either Raw Deal or T-Men, two of my all-time favorites. The biggest roadblock in my way is price. (Aw, damn, Roadblock (1951) with Charles McGraw. Have to get one of those too.) The big titles everyone knows tend to become falsely inflated in price, like The Postman Always Rings Twice or Gilda. I’ll probably never own one of those because the jokers who own them currently think they can get over five, and in some cases ten grand. Not from this guy.
Some are not outrageous, like Woman on the Run which, purely from a graphic standpoint is one of my favorite posters of all, but they simply don’t come up all that often. Smaller studios and smaller budgets means fewer posters which means more desirable to collectors. I was thrilled when I found a three-sheet for Apology For Murder (1945). No one would say it is a great film by any stretch, but it is rare; and then add on top of that the fact that the film was pulled from release when Paramount got angry after they realized AFM is a direct ripoff of Double Indemnity. There is no apology for how blatantly they stole the idea.
Speaking of Double Indemnity, that is one of the rare instances where the film is amazing and the poster sucks. You would pay thousands of dollars these days for a DI poster and the thing is nothing at all like the Noir masterpiece the movie is. It’s PINK for pity’s sake! And it shows Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in an embrace like the movie is a romance, instead of the ultimate anti-romance. I adore that film, but if I ever won millions that poster would still be near the bottom of the list.
Perhaps right beside another of my favorite movies, The Asphalt Jungle. Good grief is that poster terrible. As I said, I like to be surrounded by images that put me in the mind frame of the films. Asphalt Jungle is a big old swing and a miss on that front.
And collectors have their quirky little favorites too. I’m sure every Star Wars collector has an action figure they like best, and it will never be Luke Skywalker. It will always be some weird fringe character.
I have a few posters I love for a) their rarity and b) their pedigree. Something like Fall Guy, which is not a great film but was based on a Cornell Woolrich story and therefore, to me, it is cool. Same justification goes to I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes.
Of the posters on my walls, I’ve stayed with quality, mostly, both in poster design and in film quality. The one exception might be Murder Is My Beat, a fantastically lurid poster and only a mediocre film. That’s the one behind the door.
I’ve had to slow down my collecting. It got hard to justify to my wife why I was spending money on scraps of ancient paper that were only going to be folded up in my closet when we now have two kids and a mortgage. Every now and then, though, I see a deal I can’t pass up.
And I have plans for those millions if I ever take the lottery.
But for now, I’ll stick with my limits. I try to catch the stuff for under $50. That means I’ll never own a poster for Detour or Rear Window. But the collector in me is fine with that. You never want the hunt to end. What fun would that be? There’s always the chance I’ll wander into a funky antique shop with my wife and while she’s off looking at furniture I’ll find a wrinkled old poster tucked away in the back and I’ll snatch it up for cheap. And that, dear readers, is the collector’s dream.
Eric Beetner is an ex-musician, one time film director, and a working television editor and producer, as well as author (with JB Kohl) of the novels One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble. Alone, he is responsible for the novella Dig Two Graves from Snubnose Press, along with short stories in the anthologies Pulp Ink, D*cked, and Grimm Tales. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, two daughters, and one really great dog.
Read all of Eric Beetner’s Criminal Element posts.