Poster art for art's sake

Like many movie buffs, we find ourselves drawn to the motion pictures of yesteryear more than those of today. Not there aren’t terrific movies made today—there certainly are—but so many current films are aimed at teenagers of all ages. As author Stefan Kanfer states in his recent biography of Humphrey Bogart, Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart, “Today, young viewers constitute some 70 percent of the filmgoing audience.” Of course, the question many movie buffs would ask is, “Which came first, the predominantly youthful audience or the movie industry that caters almost exclusively to them?” Not that it much matters. What’s done is done, and the situation isn’t likely to change in the near future.

But it’s not just movies that too often don’t stack up today. Movie posters have become so pedestrian as to be almost invisible. Honestly, when was the last time you really were taken by a movie poster, stopping to admire it on its own terms, quite apart from your interest (or lack thereof) in the picture it was advertising?

Too many contemporary movie posters feature no artistic touches whatsoever, just poorly Photoshopped scenes that too often appear as if the actors featured were not even in the same room when the shot was taken.

It wasn’t always so. Prior to 1960, movie posters were the work of artists, and they provided a pleasure all their own.

The man behind the blog Where Danger Lives, a college professor in Pennsylvania, understands the appeal of old movie posters. He recently posted his favorite 100 film noir posters (a genre for which we share an avid affinity with Mr. WDL). A few of the posters he chose tout movies we don’t consider to be film noir, but that’s picking nits. We’ll share a handful of the posters below and encourage you to visit Where Danger Lives to see the rest. Mr. WDL offers interesting insights on the design of the posters, but even if you’re not interested in what makes the posters “work,” from a designer’s point of view, the images themselves are well worth the click.