Re: RARA-AVIS: What Hard-Boiled Is

From: ejmd (
Date: 21 Apr 2000

"a.n.smith" <> writ:

> > I think it is true that Noir is generally used for film and hardboiled for
> > fiction but I think it goes further than that. Noir carries with it a
> > sophistication that hardboiled rejects--or pretends to rejects.
> Okay, let's think about this one: Hammett's novel MALTESE FALCON is
> Hard-boiled, but the movie is an example of film noir. And the book was
> pretty much the script.

Hhmmm ... superficilly yes ... but a little probing undoes a. n.'s contention. Here's a pretty standard, pretty unproblematic definition of the key defining characteristics of film noir:

 # investigative narrative structure

 # voice-over narration

 # use of flash-back

 # distinctive 'expressonistic-style' lighting throws heavy shadows

 # disorienting visual composition

(I could go on, but these'll suffice for now)

Huston's 1941 film is often cited as the marker, the point at which film noir originates ... however, Huston's film *lacks* some of the most fundamental characteristics of the film noir ... can you imagine how much *noirier* it would be with a Sam Spade voice over, as he
*recollects* what happened when Wonderly sashayed into the office a week ago, when Miles was still alive ...

There are no flashbacks in Huston's Maltese Falcon either ... and the lighting is really rather subtle ... think about some of the wonderful lighting effects in The Big Sleep, for example, when Brody's killer runs down the stairs to be pursued by Marlowe, or how about the scene in Mildred Pierce when Mildred slips away, leaving Wally alone in the house with Monty's body ...

In terms of composition, compare Huston't Maltese Falcon with some of the split-screen effects and diagonal compositions in In a Lonely Place

I could [but won't!] go on to argue that, stylistically, The Maltese Falcon isn't film noir at all ... pretty much as a. n. suggested in an earlier post that the reader can make the text perform all sorts of tricks, depending upong the reading strategy employed ... I will however, make a final point concerning that hoary old tale about how Huston's film is 'pretty much the novel' ... if someone set out to deliberately mythologise an adaptation they couldn't have come up with a better story than that ... has anyone ever wondered why the 'secretary' who 'just retyped the novel as scenes' which then found its way to Jack Warner for 'approval' never gets a name ... could it be because she
(like much of Huston's self-mythologising) is less true, less than

IIRC (and without bothering to pause to check notes) I've traced this particular fidelity-myth back to Allen Rivkin, who circulated it sometime in the 1960s, and it gets recycled pretty much uncritically ever-after. I would suggest that Huston's film is as much an adaptation of the two earlier films of The Maltese Falcon as it is an adaptation of Hammett's novel ... anyone who wants to see my more considered thoughts on this, together with screen-grabs comparing Huston's film with the earlier Maltese Falcon films is invited to check out the following url:


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