Re: RARA-AVIS: crime/anti-crime (was long post on spillane)

Date: 25 May 2002


Re your comment below:

> What intrigued me about this was that, although I
> read both types, I
> immediately realised I had a preference towards the
> "crime" category, and
> that these were almost all what I thought of as
> "noir". The "anti-crime"
> category, on the other hand, was almost all what I
> considered hardboiled.
> I'd always suspected a preference for something that
> I loosely defined as
> noir without being able to be precise as to what
> that meant. "Dark and
> sinister" didn't work. For example, Stark's Parker
> novels, which I like a
> lot, aren't "dark and sinister" (to my mind they're
> "tough and colloquial").
> But they fit in the "crime" category. So, for me,
> whether a book is
> hardboiled or noir tells me less than if it's
> "crime" or "anti-crime".

The reason your analysis doesn't really work (and don't get me wrong here; it may work for you, but it's not how "noir" is commonly used), is that there are many books/stories/films accurately, or at least commonly, described as noir, that are also anti-crime.

For example, Cornell Woolrich, who is to "noir" what Hammett is to "hard-boiled," McBain is to "police procedural," and Christie is to "cozy," writes what you refer to as "anti-crime" far more often than he writes "crime." That is, there is a criminal, opposed by the hero who emerges triumphant when he (and, in Woolrich, very often "she") vanquishes the criminal. Now, in a Woolrich story, this triumph is more often likely to come about through chance, caprice, and the vicissitudes of fate, than it is from the hero's resourcefulness, but, however it happens, the hero wins when he solves the crime. Very often, in fact, Woolrich's hero is a cop (though there's no attempt at the "technical verity" that distinguishes the police procedural).

What makes Woolrich noir isn't the story mechanics, or the criminality or non-criminality of the main character. It's the atmosphere, which is always dark, sinister, and foreboding.

To use my favorite examples from film (since "film noir" is how the term came to be applied to prose fiction in this country), MURDER, MY SWEET is the quintessential film noir. It's also a hard-boiled private eye story. MARLOWE, which features the same lead character, isn't noir at all. That's not a knock. MARLOWE is a very enjoyable film, but the visual approach the director (Paul Bogart) takes isn't anything like the dark, sinister visuals that makes Edward Dmytryk's version of Chandler so memorable.


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