Re: RARA-AVIS: Types of noir (was Re: Pop. 1280)

From: Michael Robison (
Date: 01 Aug 2007

Allan Guthrie wrote:

I'd suggest that many of David Goodis's protagonists are victims of circumstance.
  How about the protagonist of THE ROAD? I didn't spot the part where he transgresses, but he steals to survive so I suppose it depends whose morals we're talking about.
  Several Woolrich protagonists are non-transgressing victims.

I'd also suggest that in McGivern's THE BIG HEAT, the protagonist is doomed the moment his car explodes (ie before he commits any act of transgression).

*************** I think you've read every Goodis novel, so you've got the advantage on me there. I've read Shoot the Piano Player and Cassidy's Girl. I'd agree that neither protagonists are doomed by moral transgression. In Shoot the Piano Player, he's pretty much rolling in self-pity and self-hate. Although this might be reprehensible, it's probably not immoral. Cassidy is doomed by two horrendous accidents, both of which he is only marginally accountable for. He is also doomed by his obsession with Mildred which is not immoral either. Cassidy is drunken and weak-willed, but his doom stems from reasons beyond his control.

As far as Woolrich, I've only read I Married a Dead Man, and in this one the girl lies about her identity after a train wreck in order to assume the comfortable and well-off life of someone else. Definitely a naughty and transgressive girl.

The Road? No transgression there, either. The father is just in a bad situation. This book is not deterministic, either. And the father's doom is his illness. And although he dies at the end, he has succeeded. His son seems to have been passed into safe hands.

I'm hesitant to say that the protagonist in The Big Heat is doomed. He loses his wife in the explosion but there is a hell of a payback and in the end both he and his son are intact. There is one very critical moment in The Big Heat where he is tempted to step way over the line. He doesn't. I'm OK with you calling The Big Heat noir. I know the movie is, but the truth is that the plot is a tough guy avenging a wrong and coming out triumphant at the end. Personally, I'd rather not call it noir.

Good examples of noir protagonists swimming in the abyss without moral accountability, Al! I have other things I'd like to mention about the above, but if the wife gets home and the electric can opener is not mounted under the cabinet... well, we would definitely be talking noir then.


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