Re: RARA-AVIS: Noir and Hardboiled Fiction

Date: 13 Dec 2003


Re your question below:

> Jim - thanks. But could you please elaborate a bit
> on the difference
> between the two concepts? Misinterpretations don't
> get anyone of us
> anywhere.

I'll try to illustrate what I'm talking about by some examples.

Both Hard-Boiled and Noir:

Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer books, and particularly ONE LONELY NIGHT. Mike's as tough as they come and the books have a colloquial style; ergo, hard-boiled. But the books (and particularly OLN) take place in a stark, dark, nocturnal, almost other-worldly atmosphere, where Mike's forever walking through darkened, rainswept concrete canyons; ergo noir.

Hard-Boiled but NOT Noir:

Richard S. Prather's Shell Scott, a character with virtually the same world-view and backstory as Hammer
(WW2 vet in the Pacific; PI in big city; best friend the Captain of Homicide, hates commies, etc.) is tough and colloquial, ergo hard-boiled. But he works in sunny, daylight Southern California, which gives even his less humorous adventures a less dark, less sinister atmosphere, ergo NOT noir.

Noir but NOT hard-boiled:

No one would ever describe Daphne du Maurier's REBECCA as hard-boiled. The heroine's so mousy and shy, it's almost painful, and everyone else has that veddy, veddy upper-class British manner about them. And the style is very formal and correct. But few books have evoked such a dark, foreboding, sininster atmosphere. It's no coincidence that the film version is one of the closest Hitchcock ever got to noir. Ergo noir, but not hard-boiled.

Significantly, neither the hard-boiledness (or lack of it) nor the noirness (or lack of it) of any of these books has anything to do with the world-view of either the characters or of the authors. It's all a matter of style and atmosphere.

Tough and colloquial = hard-boiled.

Dark and sinister = noir.

Tough and collquial, and dark and sinister = hard-boiled and noir.


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