Re: RARA-AVIS: Hardboiled and Noir

From: Michael Robison (
Date: 14 Dec 2003

Jack Bludis wrote:
> The noir protagonist can't win. The noir
> protagonist is a loser or destined to lose. He
> knows it, even as he fights the odds. He is
> screwed by fate, life experience, or just plane
> something inside her or him that makes a loser.

************************** Yup. That's what I'm thinking. There has been some discussion about whether noir requires an ending involving significant defeat for the protagonist. Although I am loathe to admit the existence of such a significant restriction, most of my experience leads me towards it. This means that McGivern's BIG HEAT is not noir. Maybe so. Just cuz the movie came out noir doesn't necessarily make the novel noir.

There are a couple exceptions that I can think of concerning noir novels that don't involve crushing defeat for the protagonist in the end. I thought that Ellroy's BLACK DAHLIA was definitely noir, and what's-his-name's HE DIED WITH HIS EYES OPEN was too. In both these cases, the doom and gloom, the sweat, fear, and desperation were heavy enough to carry it through a somewhat upbeat ending.

One thing that Jim has brought up helps to explain the above ambiguity and at the same time muddies the water, and that is a distinction between noir atmosphere and noir content, the atmosphere being the dark and sinister part and the doom plot being the content.


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