Re: RARA-AVIS: willie noir

From: Dave Zeltserman (
Date: 06 Oct 2007

I'm not sure the "willie principle" holds up if you take a hard look at the noir books out there. Lust can be a factor causing the noir protagonists to step towards the abyss, but there are usually other factors such as greed, desperation, hubris, fear of exposure, or simply a broken personality. Or any combination of these, or shifting factors--such as in Postman lust shifting to lack of trust. What it usually comes down to is a weakness of character.

A quick examination of what drives some noir protagonsts to their downfalls:

Postman Always Rings Twice--there's no doubt lust and greed get the ball rolling, but what really causes Frank and Cora's downfall is their suspicions towards each other of selling each other out.

Double Indemnity--I never felt Walter Huff's lust for Phyliss had anything to do with his going along with the murder--nor greed for that matter. My take on it was that Walter just wanted to see if he could get away with it. So I mark this one down to Hubris.

Killer Inside Me, The Getaway, Pop. 1280, Hell of a Woman, After Dark, My Sweet, Savage Night--nope, the "willie principle" is not a factor in any of these. I read a great description once of Thompson's writing--low sex and high violence, and that pretty much follows with his great noir books. You could maybe argue that lust plays a role with "Hell of a Woman", but I'd argue that's more a mix of greed and a broken psyche. In "Savage Night" any attraction Charlie Bigger feels for the crippled Ruthie is more just in seeing his own broken self in her. The one Thompson noir book where the "willie principle" comes into play is "Swell-Looking Babe" but the lust or need driving Dusty is so perverted its hard to count that one also.

Willeford's Cockfighter an The Woman Chaser, lust doesn't play a part-
-pure hubris here where an artist refuses any compromise.

Dan Marlowe's great Name of the Game is Death--revenge is driving that one, as is with Vengeance Man.

Cornell Woolrich's "Fright"--not really--a drunken encounter gets the ball rolling, but its fear of exposure that drive the nori train in this one.

Vengeful Virgin by Gil Brewer--yeah, lust and greed drives this one, although maybe more greed than lust.

Robbie's Wife by Russell Hill--probably the best of the recent noir. Lust and desperation are the driving forces.

How Like a God by Rex Stout (written 1929--maybe the first American noir novel??) it's not lust but the character's need to degrade himself that drives this book.

The "willie principle" hasn't been a major factor in the Jason Starr books I've read, and it certainly isn't in my own noir books--"Fast Lane", and my upcoming books "Small Crimes" and "Pariah"

Anyway, this is my quick examination of the "willie principle".

--Dave Zeltserman

--- In, Michael Robison
<miker_zspider@...> wrote:
> Frederick has got it just about right. Lust is the
> number one cause of a nasty noir ending. Occasionally
> just plain vanilla greed plays the noir hand. Thieves
> Like Us comes to mind. Is Little Caesar noir? He
> wasn't much into women, was he? That was primarily a
> greed/power thing, too, I think. Revenge is worth a
> shot every so often, too. The Big Heat doesn't have a
> significant femme fatale in it, does it?
> miker
> Pinpoint customers who are looking for what you sell.

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