Re: RARA-AVIS: Hardboiled and Noir

Date: 14 Dec 2003

Jack and Mike,

Re your comments below:

> > 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.

Cornell Woolrich was about as noir as they came. Arguably, Woolrich was the quintessential noir writer. While lots of his stories ended with the protagonists doomed, as many, perhaps more, didn't. Lots ended with the protagonist experiencing what Miker would call an "upbeat" ending.

To say that a particular ending, or a particular fatalist attitude means that, for example, Spillane at his gloomiest is no more noir than Prather at his most sunshiny, because they both feature triumphant heroes.
 Or, even more ridiculously, that a Woolrich story
(presuming it's one in which the hero wins at the end) is no more noir than an Agatha Christie story. That, in other words, no matter how hard the writer works to maintain a sinister atmosphere of darkness, his story can never be noir if the hero wins. Doesn't that sound silly on its face?
> 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.

Miker, for crying out loud, listen to yourself! The same story, maintaining the same atmosphere of gloom and evil and darkness, telling about the same character, moving through the same events, in virtually the same way and the same order, is noir in one medium but not in the other?

It's precisely because insisting on such a thing as
"noir content" leads to conclusions like this that I resist the notion. Noir is atmosphere, pure and simple. That's all it is. Sometimes the hero wins. Sometimes the hero loses. Sometimes the attitude is hard-boiled. Sometimes it isn't. The only thing that's common throughout is a dark and sinister atmosphere.


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