RE: RARA-AVIS: Re: Noir etc

From: Charlie Williams (
Date: 14 Feb 2003

Miker wrote:
"So one of your criteria for noir is a depressing or unhappy ending? That's not an unusual demand on noir. Certainly most noir does have an unhappy ending. I'd say that more than 90% of the strict noir I've read has the main protagonist either dead or cruelly defeated in the end. But Jim has stated that a "happy" ending does not rule out noir, and I'm with him on this. The Dead Calm movie had a fairly happy ending, and I would still call it noir."

I'm sorry, but the Dead Calm movie did not have such a happy ending. The Billy Zane character got knocked off and all that, but had he not succeeded in messing up these people's lives? I didn't get a feeling of the triumph of good. I got the feeling that if you think you've got a good life, someone like this guy can come along and fuck it up. Have you read Jason Starr's Nothing Personal? [SPOILER] The baddie gets nailed in the end and the nasty plot gets foiled, etc, but all of the supposedly saved characters are only saved in a physical sense. Sure, a noir protagonist can survive, but he's still lost. Take Pick Up by Willeford, while we're at it. [SPOILER] The hero is free to walk the streets again at the end, against all odds. But during the course of the novel it has been demonstrated that those streets are not worth walking. That's noir of the darkest grade.

I would never dream of calling Hammett and Chandler noir. THE MALTESE FALCON and THE BIG SLEEP are positive, life-affirming romps. Noir must seep into heads of characters and expose their fragilities. Chandler and Hammett's heros are impermeable. They are white knights, not lost souls.

Charlie Williams

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