“In order to distinguish the noir series from ordinary detective stories or other film cycles, Borde and Chaumeton take a different approach from subs...more“In order to distinguish the noir series from ordinary detective stories or other film cycles, Borde and Chaumeton take a different approach from subsequent writers on the topic, placing less emphasis on narrative structure or visual style than on the emotional or affective qualities of the films, which they describe with five adjectives typical of Surrealism: oneiric, strange, erotic, ambivalent and cruel.” - James Naremore, from the Introduction
And that’s why we come to this, the ground-breaking French study, published right at the epicenter of Film Noir, in 1955. The analysis offered by Borde and Chaumeton goes right to the heart of what makes these movies uniquely influential. A quick rundown of their list may be best to start with. The central themes, and their examples: • gangster & brutalism : “The Killers” “Asphalt Jungle” • mistaken identity : “Shadow Of A Doubt” • planned crime, caper : “Rififi” • the thinking cop, policier : “Naked City” “Quai des Ofevres” • pathology, criminal psychology : “Strangers On A Train” • hunted man on the run : “Dark Passage” • tormentor & prey : “Sorry Wrong Number” • ticket to the underworld : “The Big Sleep” “The Third Man” • moral corruption, dirty money : “Night And The City” • femme fatale : “Lady From Shanghai” “The Postman Always Rings Twice” “Maltese Falcon”
The era that is covered in depth is mostly 1945 through 1953, and Borde & Chaumeton make the case that noir is or may be over, in their estimation, by 1955. Little did they know that the half-life would be almost impossible to calculate. Their visionary theory, though, was that the Noir sensibility invades other narrative genres, as time goes on; in this they were absolutely correct.
Noir was certainly well established before the Second World War, but B&C note that there was a period of absence, or gestation, maybe, as this style of film went undercover in the war years. The ‘anti-social’ aspect of the noir conception was perhaps not acceptable in a world already under fire. Quarantined by mutual agreement to the kind of period suspense of something like “Gaslight” during the war years, the end of hostilities released the noir concept in the postwar years, in all of its wrenching, contemporary potential. To an audience that was sobered and more accustomed to grim reality than five years before. The atmosphere critical to the genre— uncertain motive, coincidence, dread, suspicion, treachery, ambivalence and paranoia-- was finally allowed to take the stage without any conflict with wartime propaganda considerations.
Before the war, the influence of the German Expressionist film (Murnau, Lang) was evident; as the postwar period took shape, world cinema was entranced with the gritty truths of Neo-Realism, and it is safe to assert that Noir was an unsung influence in both catalogues. A pillar of world noir is Luchino Visconti’s “Ossessione”, made from the same James M. Cain novel as “Postman Always Rings Twice”. The new, cold-blooded frisson of strange intrigues emerging directly from the evil in man himself-- or woman-- ran counter to the Hollywooden scheme of mixed up kids involved in high jinks. Happy endings were now recognizably pre-war and defunct.
The Noir atmosphere is not really a whodunit situation, but set within the criminal milieu itself; or at very least in the imagination of a man or woman considering criminal options. It is not a cop story looking to find the villain, but the suspense of a practical soul drawn to evil by his own worst angels. Informers, deception, blackmail, malaise, and desperation are regulars in this environment. For audiences, the films are a trip to forbidden worlds, where eroticism, sin, and morbid curiosity take hold. And there again we have the markers of Neo-Realism as well. But there is something delightfully taboo about the ambiguity of the noir world, where the rules are changed behind the scenes, and the innocent man may find himself holding the bloody knife as dawn breaks.
For the romance aspect, there is raw sensuality in characters stripped to their last desperate hopes, living for sensation alone; there is tension and the anticipation of (unlikely) release. And a dark erotic charge to the idea that the woman you hold in your arms may be a murderer, maybe your murderer, unknown and completely untrustworthy.
Borde and Chaumeton rightly focus on the disappearance of psychological bearings in the Noirs, the way a dream state is lived by the innocent in the underworld, and the ability of the films to induce that feeling in the audience. Their contention that the root of Noir is in the uncanny, the quality of strangeness and oneirism-- maybe found on a foggy night tracking a veiled woman through the narrow lanes in the Hollywood Hills-- is on target. Uncertainty and strangeness, the unreliability of any ground rules, mean that what is right and logical in the first act will almost certainly be meaningless in the second. It is the love song of the coldwar existentialist, and only anti-heroes need apply. (less)
Overall a signature outing, a key Goodis novel that rivals Dark Passage.
We begin with an overly long set-piece in a a dive bar (the dive bar that woul...moreOverall a signature outing, a key Goodis novel that rivals Dark Passage.
We begin with an overly long set-piece in a a dive bar (the dive bar that would be the cover set if this were a tv mini-series) that just won't let up on the clichés-- but this and much more are all forgiven once the onslaught takes place.
(Getting to know the weaknesses of Goodis, there are flashes here of his admiration for working-class drama like Streetcar Named Desire and On The Waterfront, powerful for a blue-collar writer in the fifties. Also for pinches of Freud, snips of Jung. A penchant for the aimless dialogue stylings of Godot. Forgiveable, again, for the era.)
Once the narrative is shifted violently into gear, there's no let-up, until... Somehow, curiously, we get into the territory of backstory, somewhere in the middle, and it becomes fascinating on its own. This is a Goodis specialty, that takes a reader out of the frame, explains a few crucial things, and brings him back knowing a lot more. It fits the story, as a brief release from life in the underworld ... the concept of 'has-been' is fleshed out, something of a regular thing in Goodis, and we're on our way. Down.
“We’re almost there,” she said. Almost where? What’s she talking about? Where’s she taking me? Some dark place, I bet. Sure, that’s the dodge. Gonna get rolled. And maybe get your head busted, if it ain’t busted already. But why cry the blues? Other people got troubles, too. Sure, everybody got troubles. Except the people in that place where it’s always fair weather. It ain’t on any map, and they call it Nothingtown. I been there, and I know what it’s like and I tell you, man, it was sheer delight and the pace never changed, it was you at the piano and you knew from nothing. Until this complication came along. This Complication we got here. She comes along …
What is intriguing is that this is 1956, and basically the downslope of the Goodis trajectory; the legend is that he flamed out in Hollywood and came back to Philadelphia to grind out pulp in a bitter, alcoholic slide... a character from Fitzgerald's Pat Hobby tales. And the scattershot influences, the cumbersome intro to this novel --might make you think the worst, until the wreck blazes into life and takes off in a white-hot streak.
Somehow with Goodis you may disbelieve the circumstances, ignore the shameless cliché of the dialogue, but you believe in him when he tells you about the Dame. We are visitors in the circles of Hell, but redemption is just over there in the shadows, at the end of a trail of cheap dimestore perfume, behind some long lashes. The Dame is the third rail of noir mysteries, and accidents will happen.
Is It In His Face? Oh No, That's Just His Charms. It's not always the same city, or always a city, but it's pretty much always overwhelmingly, claustro...more Is It In His Face? Oh No, That's Just His Charms. It's not always the same city, or always a city, but it's pretty much always overwhelmingly, claustrophobically, surrounded by The City. And no kind of town for amateurs. In the world of David Goodis, it's never time to reflect, to rest, or to let down your guard, because you know that even at your best, the odds are against you. Open your eyes in the morning and it's already a bad bet, a sucker's game.
And that's another thing-- it's never morning, unless you're talking about four or five in the morning. Or dropping to sleep at dawn, after an unbelievably brutal night. Either way, it's always Night in Goodis, and no safe place to be.
"... everything faded, except the things in front of his eyes, the rutted street and the gutter and the sagging doorsteps of decaying houses. It struck him full force, the unavoidable knowledge that he was riding through life on a fourth-class ticket..."
In His Warm Embrace? Oh No, That's Just His Arms. Limited self-esteem, hard breaks, a tough background and a tough outlook for what's ahead. A man is always a man, eyeing the world for how he can get over, how he could beat the system. And a woman is there to get right in the way. Or if luck is rolling with her, to take him for a fool for awhile, maybe for the kicks, or maybe for a bigger payoff.
If You Wanna Know-- If He Loves You So... It's not just a tough road, but the deadliest stretch known in the literature : no compass, no signposts either, but if there were, they would read: Dangerous Curves Ahead. Once the guy meets the one broad that knocks him for a loop, he's done, no matter how long he tries to extend or control the tailspin.
It's In His Kiss. Like all of Noir, there is buried hope. There is the unreachable obsession with Redemption, coursing through the characters, always at odds with the situation, never likely and always a surprise when it appears... for that glimmering moment before the fall. And redemption looks best tall and thin, in a pale skirt.
"...She pushed the car at medium speed, sat there behind the wheel with a relaxed smile on her face as she listened to the music. Without looking at Harbin, she was communicating with him, and once she reached out and let her fingers go into the hair at the back of his head. She gave his hair a little pull. He poked around in his brain and wondered if it was possible to figure her out. He thought of her kisses. In his lifetime he had been kissed by enough women, and had experienced a sufficient variety of kisses, to know when there was a real meaning in a kiss. Her kisses had the real meaning, and not only the fire, but the genuine material beyond the fire. If it hadn't been genuine he would have sensed it when it happened. This woman had immense feeling for him and he knew clearly it was far above ordinary craving and it was something that couldn't be put on like a mask is put on. It was pure in itself, and it was entirely devoid of pretense or embroidery. It was the true feeling that made the entire business a quaking paradox, because the one side of Della was drawn to him, melted into him, and the other side of Della was out to louse him up."
Oh, Oh-- It's In His Kiss. That's Where It Is. Basically there is one, fleetingly brief moment in Goodis' novels where life's combination-lock is dialed in correctly, where the tumblers fall into their elusive destinations and a man can feel relief. And then the reach for the lever that opens the strongbox and ... then the earth falls out of its orbit.
It's always the dame that does this trick, but she's never straight, she's never front-to-back clear in her own noggin about what's going on, and what he's willing to put on the line. For the man, well, he knows he's got a losing hand, betting against the house, and the house is dealing from the bottom of the deck tonight.
There is no shortage of side characters in Goodis' world, partners in crime, well-intentioned strangers and vicious bastards, sweet girls and horrendous hags; all are fitted with the kind of traits that make them instantly memorable. Against the black oppressiveness of that city of night, the characters stand out against the urban steam and heat like visions. Oh, did I mention that it's always a grotesque summer heatwave ? It just so happens that it is. That's because the world of Goodis is hell; and it's the same as everywhere, so what's the big deal ? Just keep moving, pal.
There are five novels here. "Dark Passage" is beautifully done, five stars all the way. The next two, "Nightfall" and "The Burglar" are superb, singular noirs better than most, if not quite on the level of the first one. The final two are Goodis lost at the pulp fairgrounds; biographical details suggest that by the time he got to "Moon In The Gutter" and "Street Of No Return" he had gone around the bend. Maybe with alcohol, maybe with mental issues, but certainly the novels are grim, extreme, hallucinatory at this stage.
My impression, and I'm nowhere near the end of reading all of Goodis, is that he is a kind of American Sartre, a two-fisted Dante being backed into a solid wall of desperation and doubt. Thinking all the while, transcendentally, nursing the idea, about this one ... kiss. (less)
Good crime novels are very often characterized by the short & sharp quality of the prose, the hard clean lines of the structure. Very much the cas...moreGood crime novels are very often characterized by the short & sharp quality of the prose, the hard clean lines of the structure. Very much the case here, with a story that moves very quickly through an environment that is described in brief, effective strokes.
Something else, though, and that is a vein of sympathetic insight running through the necessarily noirish circumstances. Tough situations in some hard-crime novels are sometimes left a little unexamined due to the constraints of the telling, as in the classic "just the facts" approach.
In The Expendable Man, 1963, there is a much deeper feel for the characters and the precise pitch of the drama. Tempting to attribute that to the fact that the author is a woman, rather than, say, a male ex-cop or similar. But that doesn't necessarily add up; what's true is the fact that this story is able to shift gears, roaring along at full speed, from the internal to the external, from the complex fears of the protagonist to the crushing realities of the underworlds he finds.
Always a pleasure to find a great new author. For me they are frequently found in the past. I'll be reading all the Hughes I can lay my hands on.(less)
The situation with this collection appears to be that this was a kind of odds-and-ends group of short fiction that was knocking around in Hammett's po...moreThe situation with this collection appears to be that this was a kind of odds-and-ends group of short fiction that was knocking around in Hammett's possession at the time of his death. Mrs Hammet, Lillian Hellman, collected and wrote an introduction for this compilation, in 1962. Some were published in the likes of 'Ellery Queen', and some were never before seen, basically novellas looking for a revision and an expansion to become novels.
And an odd group it is. You can't really miss finding something here that is worthwhile on some level-- but, there are some really strange and pulpy moments. We find Hammett trying his general formula in all shadings of story, location, and genre here. Every story a Hopper painting, with that unspoken dread invariably repaid in full.
There is a classic San Franscisco Chinatown piece, called, with all blatant pulp-orientalism intact, "Dead Yellow Women". Noirish inscrutability, exotic and intricate locations, all the usual suspects-- gunmen, weasels, bookies, rats, mandarins and a dragon lady. What more could anyone ask.
A good society scandal story, with cult murder and runaway heiresses, is called 'The Scorched Face' :
...A night wind from the Pacific was creaking a grocer's sign down below, swaying the arc-light above. The wind caught the woman as she passed out of our building's sheltered area. Coat and skirts tangled. She put her back to the wind, a hand to her hat. Her veil whipped out straight from her face. Her face was a face from a photograph ...
Which goes Noir Baroque when we get to the cult house and ring the bell :
...A big black man in a red fez, red silk jacket over red-striped silk shirt, red zouave pants and red slippers opened the door.
Is there really anyone who can stop turning the pages at that point ? I think not.
Another bright moment is called "This King Business" which goes really far afield, to Eastern Europe, in fact, for a hard-bitten brush with the espionage / suspense genre. Far from homebase, we find just what we need-- untrustworthy operatives, secret societies, and that classic of twenties fiction, the charmingly innocent Heir-To-A-Fortune-- running dangerously amok in strange, unorthodox circumstances. And, of course, a femme fatale or two, as is contractual in these situations. (Erskine Childers and John Buchan certainly beat Hammett to the origins of the spy tale, but this holds its own pretty well with any early example of the genre. Just kind of wacky to have the snappy-comebacks Noir tough-guy hero, involved where normally you'd have a suave-but-deadly type...) Good fun, and a reminder that even good writers have to stretch sometimes in an effort to reinvent things that have become a little too codified.
Those are three good ones; there are less-good ones. (A kind of Detective / Wild-West misfire, complete with horses, sixguns and banditos... to be avoided.) For any Hammett fan or completist, though, it's very interesting to see the kind of Alternate Takes the noir master was playing around with, and-- hard to fault him for the misfires, given that he wasn't around to do the deciding on what went into this collection. (less)
If you've read Chandler, and you've read Hammett ... If you prefer a cigarette to a dame, and a rotgut rye whiskey to both, you'll love this. If you l...moreIf you've read Chandler, and you've read Hammett ... If you prefer a cigarette to a dame, and a rotgut rye whiskey to both, you'll love this. If you like a little Cain, some Goodis or Willeford, even a little raunchy Simenon when he's feeling unreconstructed-- this one is for you.
This is American Gothic, a noir madhouse on wheels. The major opus of cult writer William Lindsay Gresham, this is a fullscale assault on everything legit, anything on the up and up; Nightmare Alley has exactly no characters that have an observable moral compass, nobody who gives a damn. It doesn't succumb to the cliché or conventions of the genre-- it lives for them.
So while the novel has the traditional noir concern for Redemption, (in both popular flavors, Fleeting and Lost)-- there will be no second chances or consolation prizes. Your choice in leading lady, let's see, here we are: either the alluring 'dumb little tomato', or the sympathetic 'double-crossing bitch'. We'll be involved with carny rats, freaks, confidence men, race, sex, dreams, séances, Freud and the Tarot before we're through. The woods are thick, and they're on fire. Keep a move on, pal.
I found it interesting that this is fairly long and rather involved as compared to the typical genre outing, and yet there's not a word wasted, everything counts, nothing is frivolous. This is a one-way ticket to the deadest of dead ends, and there is something transcendental, minimal, about the prose :
The morgue office of Morningside Hospital was a room in the basement inhabited by Jerry, the night attendant, a shelf of ancient ledgers, and a scarred wreck of a desk. There were two kitchen chairs for visitors, a radio, an electric fan for hot nights and an electric heater for cold ones. The fan was going now.
There are a lot of ways to put you in the picture, but generally Gresham just nails it to the floor with the least possible song and dance. Even the matters of existential conflict (and here he prefigures Hjortsberg's Falling Angel, shading the character's every move and introspection with palpable psychic jeopardy, soul-killing hazard), the author moves the narrative along rather than spinning out the melodrama.
If you have the least affection for the categories of pulp, noir, hard-boiled crime or their fellow travelers, I recommend this heartily, as one of the pillars of the genre.(less)
This would get five stars if I had read it more recently. A complete re-configuration of standard noir / pulp structure & plot-- but with all the...moreThis would get five stars if I had read it more recently. A complete re-configuration of standard noir / pulp structure & plot-- but with all the elements of the classic framework. Everything feels normal and regular, a faithful recreation of the banal world, until it doesn't anymore ... a Maltese Penguin, perhaps.(less)
Pushes toward five stars, but not recently-read enough for full review. Stands out from even the above-average run of pulp & noir as a unique conc...morePushes toward five stars, but not recently-read enough for full review. Stands out from even the above-average run of pulp & noir as a unique conception, a weird remix of the standard elements, very intriguing.(less)
Not a mystery, not even a very complex story, but somehow has a subliminal, addictive quality. Maybe a bit like Strangers On A Train, this grim busine...moreNot a mystery, not even a very complex story, but somehow has a subliminal, addictive quality. Maybe a bit like Strangers On A Train, this grim business insinuates it's way into your consciousness. Determination & desperation at a Mildred Pierce pitch. (less)
The initial appeal here is the logical continuation of the title, What Cops Know--- specifically, And You Don't. When you consider all the hidden aspe...moreThe initial appeal here is the logical continuation of the title, What Cops Know--- specifically, And You Don't. When you consider all the hidden aspects of the human psyche that are cloaked, concealed or disguised, you begin to get the idea -- cops know about it, cops have been there, cops are always there.
As recording cameras for the creaky contraption of justice, as unblinking eyes in the long watches of the night -- cops are the ones whose observations and powers of recognition must stand between functional civilization and its opposite. Not what they see, but how they've learned to see it. Quiet, thoughtful --sometimes life or death-- scrutiny.
Well. If only this were the narrow agenda for Ms Fletcher's book. As it is, there is a goldmine of relatively disconnected factoid here, and many intriguing aspects unearthed. For example, the majority of burglaries are committed during daytime hours, before it is dark. Score one for the sherlockian "hide in plain sight" dictum.
But rather than just letting the unrestricted cop-blogging comprise the whole book, she might have done better putting it into a framework that would impose some kind of order on the lists & anecdotes. I can understand the idea of letting the cops speak without modification or spin by the author, and that helps this to be a good read.
But you do get a whole lot of very embellished sounding tales, (ie we've been telling this one so long it's become an arabian nights tale), and you do get a lot of stories in which the teller just happens to be, albeit always self-deprecatingly, the coincidental hero. Lots of "well we caught the perp from the most-wanted sheet, but his chimpanzee escaped with the swag ... go figure," ... kinds of stories. Lots of real precinct-house perennials, ending with stuff like "so I'm up there storming the attic while the perp's sliding down the front bannister" classics.
The last section on Mafia practice-- honestly, I think she got the wrong guys to talk about this -- could have been written at the Extras Craft Service table on the Sopranos set.
I would've hammered & clawed my way through 8oo pages of what cops notice and why-- but I don't think it's really here, honestly. I kind of get the impression that their real life-&-death signs and cues are held close to the vest, for the reasons of not blowing the gag to the opposition. What's here is entertaining overall, but a little bit too much cop-cliché about that time that Flanigan took on the room full of narco desperados and defeated them with an unloaded firearm, you know, cause he's forgetful, old Flanigan. That old Thin Blue Line does its own public relations, case by case, and these are the stories they tell.
Plus and minus sides accounted for, this is still a lot of good solid material for the Crime Fiction or Mystery afficionado, and I'd put it on a musts list for a crime writer. Read it and weep-- just don't expect the real inside story, mac.
Just read "Cross Purpose" on this outing. A plot as basic as The Postman Always Rings Twice, but a presentation like some odd ritual observance. Has t...moreJust read "Cross Purpose" on this outing. A plot as basic as The Postman Always Rings Twice, but a presentation like some odd ritual observance. Has that kind of once-removed recitation & response feeling of religious rites, and with Camus the liturgy is a narrowly bleak philosophy.
A man returns to his home, a roadside Inn, to find that he is unrecognized by his own Mother and Sister; for their part, they are consumed in the poisoning and serial murder of their male visitors, who don't suspect that a night at this inn will be their last. The expression 'dysfunctional' is vastly inadequate in the description of this reunited family; the unmentioned absence of a head of household or Father figure underlines the characters aimlessness and failure to find identity. Both Kind Hearts And Coronets and Arsenic And Old Lace come to mind, with a dash of the inevitable Sweeney Todd.
As the score of a musical work is meant to provide the starting line for the conductor and the musicians, this play sets out the barest guidlelines for what the actors may make of it. This could be imagined as anything from the most solemn greek-tragedy all the way to the other extreme of a leering and transgressive cabaret of cruelty, with staging and mise-en-scene to suit the version. Could easily be Brechtian operetta or Kabuki madhouse, perhaps with a little impromptu rendition of Mack The Knife. Camus has left tremendous wide spaces for a variety of approaches; subtext and silences might be filagreed with elaborate exotica or left bluntly, gapingly open, dependent on the intent of the production. (less)