RARA-AVIS: Does Hardboiled Have a Philosophy?

From: Tim Wohlforth ( tim@timwohlforth.com)
Date: 14 May 2005

I would suggest that hardboiled shares with noir an existential base. This is perhaps more true of Hammett than Chandler. Why does Sam Spade do what he does in the Maltese Falcon? To save the world? To do what is
"right" or "moral"? Simply put he does what he does because he is what he is. Someone kills your partner and you are supposed to do something about it. Why? Because of the way he is, his existential nature defined by his own actions, not for any external goals. Hammett develops the same view in a lengthy rant on why he is about to shoot a beautiful woman in The Gutting of Couffignal. And, in The Maltese Falcon, there is that pure existential story within a story about the beam that almost hits a very ordinary man causing him to chose an indeterminant life and run away from his family.

A similar outlook can be found in some of Eastwood's westerns.

Yes, in hardboiled the protagonist is a bit of a knight in shining armor in a sick world. But his shining comes from himself, his motivations are personal, the product of character, created by his own actions and decisions.

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