Re: RARA-AVIS: Back into the definitional whirlpool

Date: 15 May 2004


Re your question below:

> That was not my question, as you can see above. You
> rewrote my question
> to make it fit your definition. I did not ask when
> noir ended. I did
> not ask when B & W crime films stopped being made.
> I simply asked if
> there was a single year in which dark and sinister
> crime films were
> absent.
> That said, I do recognize a difference between
> classic noir and later
> noir, just as there is a difference between the
> Golden Age Batman, the
> Silver Age Batman and whatever later period Batmans
> are called. That's
> why I like the idea of period. I'm perfectly
> willing to agree with you
> that that type of noir film ended around 1964 (even
> if I still argue the
> parameters that define it), but I'm not willing to
> say noir films ended
> then. As you have noted, though, this is more a
> matter of application
> than definition. In his book on Noir Film, Paul
> Duncan broke them down
> into noir, post-noir and neo-noir. That works for
> me.

Of course there have been crime films made post-1964 that had a "dark, sinister" atmosphere. In that strict definitional sense, there have been "noir" films.

My point was that what is commonly recognized as the
"noir cycle" ended in the early '60's, and that the
"post-noir," "neo-noir," call it what you will, moives have never seemed like genuine "noir" to me, but have always seemed self-consciously imitative.

Perhaps we were saying the same thing in different words.
> However, I'd say much the same applies to written
> noir and hardboiled.
> And I'd say that it went through the same
> hibernation you claim for noir
> films. Although the old authors continued to write
> new books, very few
> new authors started tilling the land in the '60s and
> early '70s, as spy
> books flooded the genre market. For instance,
> Michael Collins's Dan
> Fortune was one of very few new PIs introduced in
> the '60s. Robert B
> Parker did much to revive the genre when he came
> along. And he was very
> self-conscious in his debt to Chandler. However, he
> made some very
> influential changes, too, and became a leading light
> of the new period
> of private eye fiction. The culture had changed, so
> its hardboiled
> fiction did, too. And that's why I like the idea of
> period in fiction,
> too.

Even assuming that you're right about the paucity of new PI fiction in the mid-60's (and you're certainly not altogether wrong), you seem to imply that only PI stories are hard-boiled, and that spy stories are specifically not hard-boiled.

Spy stories, while certainly hitting the zenith of their popularity in the '60's, were generally regarded as part of the hard-boiled movement and go back to the beginnings of that movement. Max Brand's Anthony Hamilton of US Counter-Intelligence, for example, was a regular feature in one of BLACK MASK's competitors, DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY, and he wasn't the only tough espionage hero to ply his trade in the pulps. In hard-covers, Van Wyck Mason's Hugh North of US Army Intelligence fought started fighting Democracy's enemies at about the same time, and was also identified as being in the hard-boiled tradition (to the degree that it could be called a tradition as early as the '30's).

James Bond and Sam Durell came along in the '50's, the height of the PI story's popularity, as did William Rawles Weeks's Edgar-winning one-off, KNOCK AND WAIT AWHILE. Matt Helm didn't appear until 1960, but he, nonetheless, predates the big "spy boom" which was still several years off. All of these characters
(Bond mistakenly in my view, but I grant that it's a close call) were identified as being in the hard-boiled vein.

And while there certainly weren't nearly as many new PI series begun in the '60's as in the '50's, neither was the form entirely moribund. Aside from Collins's Dan Fortune, characters such as Bill Pronzini's
"Nameless Detective," Joe Gores's Dan Kearney and company, Ron Goulart's John Easy, and Tucker (Donald Westlake) Coe's Mitch Tobin all got started in the

And that's just in the PI sub-genre. Even if you exclude spy stories from consideration as examples of hard-boiled crime fiction, the '60's produced tough cops like Dorothy Uhnak's Christie Opara, E. Richard Johnson's Tony Lonto, and John Wainwright's Charles Ripley; professional criminals like Richard (Donald Westlake) Stark's Parker and Frank MacAuliffe's Augustus Mandrell; and "tough-guys without portfolio" like John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee.

I don't say there's no value in looking at the era in which a given piece first appeared, but I do say, emphatically, that hard-boiled did NOT go through the same period of hibernation that film noir did.


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