All material in the book originally appeared in The New Yorker. The collection begins with an appreciation of Cary Grant. " Mae West's raucous invitation to him - 'Why don't you come up sometime and see me?' - was echoed thirty years later by Audrey Hepburn in Charade: 'Won't you come in for a minute? I don't bite, you know, unless it's called for.' And then, purringly, 'Do you know what's wrong with you? Nothing.' That might be a summary of Cary Grant, the finest romantic comedian of his era: there's nothing the matter with him." . After the profile of Cary Grant the book contains reviews of movies of the second half of the 1970s - more than one hundred and fifty of them.
The book is out-of-print in the United States, but is still published by Marion Boyars Publishers in the United Kingdom.
National Post reported that the volume "sold in impressive numbers". Matthew Wilder of City Pages wrote of Kael and offered "Her peak can be seen in the masterly collection When the Lights Go Down". Jim Emersonon of Sun Times wrote Renata Adler's 7,646-word massive attack on Kael in the New York Review of Books", "...was ostensibly a review of Kael's 1980 collection When the Lights Go Down". He further offered that in her own The Perils of Pauline, Adler panned Kael's work on the volume when Adler wrote "Now, When the Lights Go Down, a collection of her reviews over the past five years, is out; and it is, to my surprise and without Kael- or Simon-like exaggeration, not simply, jarringly, piece by piece, line by line, and without interruption, worthless. It turns out to embody something appalling and widespread in the culture."
- Henry Holt & Co., 1980, hardbound (ISBN 0030425115)
- Henry Holt & Co., 1980, paperback (ISBN 0030568420)
- Pauline Kael; Will Brantley (1996). Will Brantley (ed.). Conversations with Pauline Kael. University Press of Mississippi. pp. 41–43, 50, 105. ISBN 0-87805-899-0. OCLC 34319309.
- Fulford, Robert (15 July 2008). "Pauline Kael & trash cinema". National Post. Retrieved 24 April 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)[dead link]
- Wilder, Matthew (12 September 2001). "When the Lights Go Down". City Pages. Archived from the original on 2011-06-05. Retrieved 24 April 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Emersonon, Jim (21 February 2007). "Pauline and Renata Go Showboating". Jim Emersonon official blog. Sun Times. Archived from the original on 2010-12-08. Retrieved 24 April 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "When the lights go down / Pauline Kael". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 24 April 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
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