Re: RARA-AVIS: Hardboiled vs. noir

Date: 21 Apr 2002


Re your question below:

> Someone (Jim D.?) offered what I thought was a
> pretty
> good definition of the difference between these two
> terms some months back. You could check the
> archives,
> or maybe he would be willing to post it again.

What I said was that "hard-boiled" is about attitude while "noir" was about atmosphere. They are not synonymous (despite the fact that some people, particularly publishers, seem to use them synonymously). Neither are they mutually exclusive
(as some people on this list seem to think). That which is tough and colloquial is hard-boiled. That which is dark and sinister is noir. That which is tough and colloquial, and dark and sinister, is both hard-boiled and noir.
> I believe his post was intended only as an
> explanation
> of how the terms are used in the states, as I
> understand Europeans may have slightly differing
> views. But you'd have to ask him that.

I can't speak as to how Europeans use the terms. However I will note that "noir," the French word for
"black," became associated with hard-boiled literature through a French publisher which labeled its mystery line "Serie Noir." Many American hard-boiled works were first published in France under the "Serie Noir" line. Chester Himes's Harlem cop novels were published in France as part of the "Serie Noir" line before being published in the US.

In the early '60s, one of the French movie criticism magazines (CAHIERS DU CINEMA perhaps?; one of our French members probably knows) published an article entitled something like, "America Has Noir Films, Too." It was a survey of dark, hard-boiled crime films of the '40s and '50s such as DOUBLE INDEMNITY, MURDER MY SWEET, THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, etc. Shortly after this article was published the term "film noir" entered the list of recognized cinematic genres and eventually worked its way back to describing a particular kind of crime prose fiction as well.


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