RARA-AVIS: Noir & other urban myths

From: Rene Ribic ( rribic@optusnet.com.au)
Date: 02 Jul 2002

One of my more recent readings was an anthology of shorts culled from Black Mask magazine. a couple of things struck me: firstly, just how much hb/noir is set in rural, small town or even marine settings & how this has been the case right from the git-go. The earliest hardboiled pulp fiction often featured a dick following up cases in rural/small town settings, one famous example being Hammett's RED HARVEST.Other, more mainstream examples of non-urban noir include THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE & James Ross' THEY DON'T DANCE MUCH. Much of the L.A. described by Marlowe is more rural or semi-rural than the massive conglomeration of suburbs that make up the picture most of us have of L.A. I'm thinking that one reason that noir literature is considered primarily an urban genre (despite the fact that much hb pulp fiction is set outside of an urban environment; many of the great Gold Medal authors were based in, & wrote about small town Florida;and we have present day authors such as James Lee Burke, Daniel Woodrell and Joe Lansdale) is perceptions of film noir as being an urban genre. The irony here being that it doesn't take a very great effort to discover that many of the great films noir don't have primarily urban settings : GUN CRAZY; OUT OF THE PAST; & the film of POSTMAN ALWAYS TINGS TWICE are some examples. Having said this, I must admit that I consider noir a primarily urban thing also. My thinking here being that, in this modern world of cars, trains, planes & motels & now increasingly a media saturated cultural landscape I think the whole modern world is either urban or suburban. It's interesting how much motels figure in the noir of the 1950's, particularly with GM authors such as Gil Brewer, Day Keene & John D MacDonald. The other thing that struck me reading some of these old pulp fiction
(in a hardboiled stylee) is the smoking habits of a lot of the earliest dicks. Through Hollywood, we've all absorbed the image of the tough dick, fedora pulled down at an angle, trench coat collar up, lighting a cigarette in cupped hands under a street light. In the pulps though, many of these tough dicks smoked pipes, including, IIRC, Phillip Marlowe himself (just like his dad, Chandler). This is one time I feel Hollywood had the right idea. Fred MacMurray smoking a pipe? Fair enough. Robert Mitchum (or Bogie or Alan Ladd or Dan Duryea or ...)? Do me a favour.


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