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

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 02 Aug 2007


Re your comment below:

"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)."

Dave Bannion isn't doomed, though. He's grief-stricken, certainly, but he doesn't let that grief overwhelm him. Instead he makes it work for him to fuel his determination to bring down the whole structure of organized crime in his city, and, when he's accomplished this worthy goal, goes on to build a life for himself and his daughter. At the end, the inference is that he'll rejoin the police force, and, in the very fathful film adaptation, this is precisely what he does.

As for Woolrich's protagonists, you're quite right, many of them are doomed by circumstances over which they have no control, not by moral turpitude, which means that, if doom, or as Jack would put it, being
"screwed," is a prerequisite of noir (and I'm not saying it is, I'm just stipulating for the moment to make a point), then it's the only prerequisite. There's no required philosophical underpinning. Sometimes the protagonist deserves what happens to him. Sometimes he doesn't. Noir doesn't require any particular political, moral, theological, or ethical viewpoint to be noir. Some noir stories have them, certainly, but they're not defining elements

But (and here's the most important point), as many, probably more, of Woolrich's protagonists manage to avoid doom altogether. Sometimes they might even deserve to be doomed, but they still avoid it, and no just avoid it, but emerge triumphant. Take the short story said to be Woolrich's favorite, "Endicott's Girl," reprinted in NIGHT AND FEAR, . . .


. . . which tells the story of a homicide captain who becomes convinced that his teen-aged daughter is a murderer, and spends most of the story suppressing evidence that points to her guilt. Along the way, his actions cause the death of one of the detectives under his command and he himself is on the point of committing his own murder, and the tragedy is it's all based on a mistake. His daughter's completely innocent. But, at the last possible moment, he's pulled back from the brink just before he's committed his own murder, and, now back on the straight and narrow, finally sees things clearly enough to identify the real killer.

Endicott didn't commit murder, but he intended to, which, depending on your theology, is just as bad. And he intended to thwart justice when he thought his daughter was a murderer. And he mistrusted his daughter enough that he was able to believe she COUlD commit a murder. And he did get another cop killed. Despite our sympathizing with him, any objective examination of his actions and motives must lead one to conclude that he DESERVES to be doomed, yet, not only does he end up saved, he apparently lives happily ever after.

If you think that THE BIG HEAT is noir (and it is, and your suggestion of it as a prime example of noir suggests that instinctively you know this), and that Woolrich is noir (and he is, and your suggestion of his work as a prime example of noir suggests that you instinctively know this), it's not because their protagonists are doomed. It's because they have a dark and sinister atmosphere, which means that, instinctively, you've known all along that those are really the defining elements.


____________________________________________________________________________________ Building a website is a piece of cake. Yahoo! Small Business gives you all the tools to get online. http://smallbusiness.yahoo.com/webhosting

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 02 Aug 2007 EDT