Re: RARA-AVIS: Does Hardboiled Have a Philosophy?

From: Brian Thornton (
Date: 15 May 2005

Tim Wohlforth wrote:

>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?

Because he thinks it's the right thing to do.

> To save the world?

Because he think it's the right thing to do.

> To do what is "right" or "moral"?

In a word, yes.

> Simply put he does what he does because he is what
> he is.

Yes. And what he is, is moral. One is either moral or amoral, there is no grey area. Someone who is selectively moral is moral, as opposed to someone who is not moral, and likely a sociopath. Moral conventions are fluid. No one is in tune with "public morals" on every question. The fact that Spade observes the conventions in this case and ignores them in so many others, makes him "moral" on this question and "immoral" on others. It does not make him "amoral."

> 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.

Otherwise known as "personal morality." Spade has his own code (as did Hammett, who went to jail rather than talk about American Communists to Tailgunner Joe McCarthy), but it was a "moral code."

Hammett develops the
> same view in a lengthy rant on why he is about to shoot a beautiful
> woman in The Gutting of Couffignal.

Don't forget that he did the same thing in "The Girl With The Silver Eyes," a sort of sequel to "The House on Turk Street." When Chandler is faced with a similar dilemma in "The Little Sister," he has Marlowe punt.

> 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.

The Flitcraft story, yes. And Spade recounts it to Brigid while he's trying to convince her that he can be had, that he can be turned, just like Thursby and all the others before him could.

Spade nailed the woman who killed his partner because it was the right thing to do.

Brian Thornton

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 15 May 2005 EDT