[Essay] Fade to Black: Film Noir and The Fatality of Genre — Louis Armand

Dietrich was the femme fatale. Hitler was an homme fatal. If there was a femme fatale there was also the German people who had the same fatality. Thus one could say, that’s how they used lighting. This story is fairly curious. For if one looks deeper into it, one sees that Sternberg, Marlene, like all German intellectuals, fled to America… Sternberg, who was Jewish, met another Jew, who was American. Of European descent. Ben Hecht, a playwright. And it was they who made the prototype for the American crime film. First Sternberg with Underworld and The Docks of New York. Then Scarface, and then Sternberg’s other films. It was German-American Jews who after the existence of Nazism came up with the prototype of gangster films.

– Jean-Luc Godard, Filmkritik (February 1977)

The advance of fascism’s “black death” across Europe caused forebodings of its collective nightmare to wash up, so to speak, on the shores of the New World in an unforeseen, singular, and yet entirely apt manner, in the fugitive form of a sea-changed German Expressionism. That is to say, as cinema. This “harbinger” of societal doom, however, wasn’t fully diagnosed as such till after the end of the War when, like a self-consuming contagion, it’d already begun its long entropic spiral into genre. By the time “film noir” was first coined as a term by Nino Frank in 1946, its formal impetus had mostly been disinfected of “History” and been transmuted into a kind of benign retroviral amnesia with which, (re-) exposed in its turn, European cinema would henceforth become fascinated as with some uncanny ideological doppelganger. In this sense, film noir was the ideal agent of the US’s “Marshall Plan,” eventually evolving from a latent form of culture critique into the systematised form of commodity normalisation.

This post-War “wave” of American films that Frank encountered on Parisian cinema screens had first made its appearance across the Atlantic (and across the American continent, coming to bear all the signature traits of Hollywood) earlier in the decade. It resembled in both style and subject matter the American crime and detective fiction already published in France under the “série noire” label while recalling the actuality of the wartime Gestapo state still very much present in the collective consciousness. As with the critics of Cahiers du Cinéma ten years later – who based their “New Wave” aesthetics and theories of the film “auteur” on frequently disregarded Hollywood studio directors such as Orson Welles, Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller – Frank recognised the aesthetic power of a style of American film-making which, in the US, was largely considered as part of the B production slate. Pauline Keil famously said of the “auteur” recuperation of noir as “trying to find movie art in the loopholes of commercial production,” condemning – in Richard Brody’s words – the auterists’ praise of film noir as “anti-intellectual nihilism”:

trying to give the semblance of intellectual respectability to a preoccupation with mindless, repetitious commercial products – the kind of action movies that the restless, rootless men who wander on Forty-second Street and in the Tenderloin of all our big cities have always preferred just because they could respond to them without thought…[1]

While many noir films draw upon techniques of German Expressionism – largely due to the influx into Hollywood of European directors like Joseph von Sternberg, Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, Max Ophuls, Billy Wilder and Otto Preminger before and during WW2 – neither the stylistic traits that contribute to film noir, nor the term itself, were widely recognised at that time. As is typical of such encounters between American and European culture, the “critical” and “aesthetic” merits of the dominant entertainment medium tended to be a retrospective import.

The same might be said of the major practitioners of the noir style of fiction on which many of these films are based – writers like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane – none of whom, at the time, were seriously regarded by the literary establishment (though some, like Chandler, harboured bitter aspirations to being considered “serious writers”). Even within the popular fiction market, hardboiled crime and detective novels remained marginal, alongside other genre fiction like the western, and distinct from such “classic” works in an apparently similar vein, like Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories (which incidentally were also committed to film, across the Atlantic, throughout the period encompassing the War – the titular role played by Basil Rathbone). It wasn’t until the publication of Spillane’s first Mike Hammer novel, I, the Jury, that hardboiled noir fiction hit the top of the bestseller lists in the late ’40s.

All three novelists – Hammett, Chandler, Spillane – created central protagonists (all of them “private eyes”) who became instantly recognisable to a growing readership. Hammett’s fictional detective, Sam Spade, was the first to appear, in his 1930 novel The Maltese Falcon, set in San Francisco. Chandler’s Philip Marlowe debuted in the short story “The Finger Man” (1934), but is best known from his appearance in Chandler’s first novel The Big Sleep, published in 1939 and set in LA. Mike Hammer, Mickey Spillane’s tough-talking NY shamus, made his entrance in I, the Jury (1947). All three of these novels were subsequently adapted for the big screen: I, the Jury in 1953; The Big Sleep in 1946 (with Humphrey Bogart in the lead); and The Maltese Falcon in 1931, again in 1936, and finally in its “classic” adaptation by John Huston in 1941 (also starring Bogart).

Although many male leads have been closely associated with film noir – like Alan Ladd and Robert Mitchum – Humphrey Bogart has come to be seen as the most recognisable face of the genre, famously evoking a whole style of American cinematic influence for the French New Wave of Godard and Truffaut in the late ’50s. Though Bogart’s breakthrough came in the 1941 fugitive melodrama High Sierra, it was The Maltese Falcon (released the same year) and Casablanca (which appeared the following) that cemented Bogart’s position and established his trademark hard-boiled “cynical” film persona whose speech and demeanour matched the terse rapid-fire character of noir fiction – just as it matched the new noir vocabulary of the camera: the side-lit close-up, the long take, the foregrounded object bisecting the frame. Each word and gesture, like each shifting of the lens, designed to build tension, a sense of indecision, of separation, and ultimately of deception and betrayal.

Reminiscent of Hemingway’s assault on overwritten, adjectival prose, noir is short on metaphysics and restricts its action to the surface of the image. The thinking goes on outside the frame. In this, the style is very “American,” showing rather than telling, and doing so in an increasingly hard-edged vernacular. Likewise the film style becomes increasingly pared down, achieving at its best a sinuous muscularity. This in part also has to do with the contemporary period setting. The present dominates, though recent history – in the form of the Great Depression, Prohibition, the War, McCarthyism – nevertheless determines the mood: which is to say, the frequent sense of moral dislocation, criminalisation and disenfranchisement, articulated not in specific ideological terms (though some noir writers and directors did at times succumb to propagandising), but rather through the depiction of attitudes.

From a technical point of view, film noir’s style was as much informed by changing economic circumstances as they were by aesthetic concerns. The unorthodox camera angles and psychological mood-lighting of German Expressionist films translated easily into low-budget production that minimised shooting times, demanded flexibility and required the recycling of studio sets with an emphasis on interiors. The early association with black and white, as well as primarily urban settings (with urban themes) sometimes makes it difficult to maintain a clear sense of the noir genre in the 1950s, particularly with the advent of colour. Definitions of noir during this period tend to focus on character types and story lines, the prevalence of cynical opportunism, individual avarice, the figure of the deceiving and manipulative femme fatale disguised as an innocent, and the lusting tormented male protagonist whose ruthless exploitation does not lead to his redemption in the eyes of the audience but merely the recognition that here stands the archetypal loser – and that the loser is potentially “everyman.”


Mary Astor & Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon (1941)

  1. Often cited as the inauguration of what Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward in their “Encyclopaedic Reference,” Film Noir, insisted on calling the “American style,”[2] The Maltese Falcon is more a transitional piece – a rehearsal for film noir proper. It’s not really the first of its type, but one of the first to combine a number of key elements: most notably the detective theme, the air of unrelenting manipulation, the almost cynical camera work and frenetic action. Bogart of course. Hammett. A year later another Hammett adaptation was released, The Glass Key, starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake (the prototypical noir leading couple which had debuted that same year in This Gun for Hire, anticipating the later pairing of Bogart and Lauren Becall in 1946).

The Maltese Falcon is far from Huston’s best film, its action is frenetic and its protagonist’s motives are gratuitous at best, when not downright eccentric. The story itself has a certain foreignness about it, when considered within the context of this most “American” of genres. But this probably has more to do with the scripting than with Huston’s direction as such. It’s also a product of its time. And of Bogart’s acting. In The Big Sleep (1946), where he takes the role of Philip Marlowe, Bogart’s “angular” style makes entering and leaving a room look like a time-check at the Indy 500. On that occasion William Faulkner worked on the script. On The Maltese Falcon Huston himself took the writing credit, though truth be told he can’t have done much actual writing, because the script is taken almost verbatim from the novel, which is simply cut-down to size, preserving all of Hammett’s notorious plot “inadequacies.”[3] The casting is also doubtful. Mary Astor as Brigid O’Shaughnessy is unconvincing as an apparently 22-year-old femme fatale. Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo introduces an element of European “camp” that plays weirdly against Sydney Greenstreet’s terribly Westminsterish Kasper Gutman (the Fat Man). In fact, all of Huston’s casting decisions appear designed to reinforce rather than complicate Hammett’s flat-on-the-page stereotypes. The film is, in part, a grotesquerie that seems to reach out towards a certain European-ness, such as that depicted in Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1947), set in post-War Vienna (and also starring Peter Lorre, alongside Orson Welles), and of course Fritz Lang’s M: Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder (1931; in which Lorre has the role of a serial child-murder), something which sets it at odds with the mainstream of film noir while nevertheless bearing an enormous influence upon it.

Julie Kirgo, perceiving what might be considered the film’s shortcomings as precisely its strengths, writes,

The film’s chief assets are its crisp dialogue and the bravura performances of the principles. That these performances are overloaded with mannerisms is inconsequential in a film that depends on emphasis of the superficial for its effect.[4]

Kirgo also notes that, “While it is certainly true that most films in the noir genre are despairing in nature, the best are realised in such a way that even the most neurotic characters are endowed with a human dimension and allowed a fascinating ambiguity.” In the end, Kirgo diagnoses, The Maltese Falcon itself suffers from its own “contempt,” before inadvertently hitting upon the key noir element: “As Spade deliberately lays out the pros and cons of letting Brigid ‘take the fall,’ he balances his murderous, lying nature” against the notion that “she loves him or maybe he loves her” – though neither idea is for even the faintest fraction of a moment likely (“it all rings false,” as Kirgo says, exposing the purely rhetorical, narcissistic character of what frequently passes for seduction or motive in noir). “The thrill felt at the end of The Maltese Falcon,” she adds, “is not a poignant one; it is something a little uglier. With Huston’s Spade, the viewer is getting a thrill out of sending Brigid over.” This is what Foster Hirsch optimistically glosses as Spade’s “essential integrity.”[5] The whole “monochromatic” amoralism of Hammett’s text and Bogart’s/Astor’s delivery puts the audience in the position of a showtrial jury: it’s all just about watching the defendants talk themselves out according to the script, barely keeping up a modicum of pretence, so that you can watch them hang regardless, from a rope they’ve been made to carry around with them from the start.


Alan Ladd & Veronica Lake in The Glass Key (1942)

  1. There are worlds of difference between Bogart’s interpretation of Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade character in The Maltese Falcon, and Alan Ladd’s role as Ed Beaumont in The Glass Key (directed by Stuart Heisler a year later). While Huston’s adaptation The Maltese Falcon was heavy on dialogue & mostly restricted to the action of the main characters entering and leaving rooms, Heisler’s adaptation of The Glass Key is a more nuanced rendering, with suspense built around character portrayal and the unfolding of the story on the screen – aided by pulp writer Jonathan Latimer’s script work. Where the similarities lie are in the way both Bogart and Ladd foreground the moral ambivalence of their characters to those around them. But whereas in The Glass Key, loyalty is a commodity that is constantly being tested, in The Maltese Falcon it is merely something to be bought when it isn’t simply being paid lip service.

It’s interesting to consider that both films preceded America’s entry into WW2, when ambivalence around questions of “loyalty” was a pressing social concern at the time, with America’s non-aligned stance somewhat personified in the classic noir figure of the opportunist prepared to betray anyone and everyone for his, or more frequently her, personal advantage. It’s in this heightened degree of ambivalence that The Glass Key departs from Hammett’s novel, and from the earlier 1935 adaptation by Frank Tuttle, thereby also presenting itself more as a product of its time, where – despite Bogart’s character acting – The Maltese Falcon comes across more as a throwback to the picaresque detective fictions of Agatha Christie (replete with exotic plotline, cast of eccentrics, and the detective wrapping it all up with a neat explanation at the end, for the benefit of his captive audience). As a remake of The Glass Key, with borrowings from Red Harvest (1929), the Coen Brothers’s Miller’s Crossing (1990) is the more measured interpretation, exploring the opportunities Hammett’s text offers for a deadpan, even maudlin, style in keeping with the overarching absence of irony indicative of noir as a genre (though with Bogart, you’d never know).

The metaphor of the “glass key” highlights the precarious nature of the relationships formed in a world of corruption, deceit and political expediency. It also suggests the temperamental fragility of the “king maker,” Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy), whose infatuation with a senator’s daughter, Janet Henry (Veronica Lake) causes him to compromise his sense of judgement and risk both his position of authority in the crime world and the established status quo with the “authorities” that keeps him there. In this sense, the script follows a conventional line: a small-time Napoleon who develops delusions of grandeur, ready both to make a fool of himself and sacrifice everything in return for being accepted into the Establishment. Of course it doesn’t work out this way, but neither does it turn bad. Heisler’s film has an unsatisfactory “happy ever after ending.” Learning that the senator’s daughter is in love with his own younger righthand man, Ed Beaumont, Madvig gives them his blessing.

But this conventional three-way romance is off-set by a homoerotic subtext that runs throughout the film. In this, it shares something in common with The Maltese Falcon – but whereas in that film the homoerotic element is focused on the foppish character of Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), in The Glass Key it’s focused on the brutal, sadistic character of the underworld henchman, Jeff (played by noir stalwart William Bendix). Jeff’s relationship with Ed provides an almost psychotic counterpoint to the conventional hetero romance that appears to conclude the film, when Ed and Janet receive Madvig’s blessing. But like Bogart’s Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, Ladd’s Ed Beaumont appears nothing if not ambivalent towards the deceptive and calculating Janet Henry. Like Spade, Beaumont’s attitude to his female counterpart throughout the film is cynical verging upon frigid. And like Spade, Beaumont is prepared to send Janet to the gallows to get what he wants – which is her father’s confession that it was the senator (and not Madvig) who killed his (own) son. Beaumont says to one of the cops: “I was getting worried – afraid we’d have to hang the girl to get the old man to crack.”

The sub-plot, in which the senator’s murdered son has been engaging in a secret affair with Madvig’s sister, points to a certain morbid fatalism in Hammett’s treatment of heterosexual relationships in his novels. As with Brigit O’Shaunnesy’s murder of Clive Thursby in The Maltese Falcon, the death of the senator’s son as well as Madvig’s virtual self-destruction in The Glass Key, points to an utter moral vacancy at the heart of the conventional romance narrative. The soapy resolution at the film’s end can only signal future catastrophe – no good, we are led to understand, can come from sentimental attachments of this or any other kind. All that is left, we might say, is the struggle of a masochistic impulse against a sadistic one, where both at any moment may appear interchangeable, by neither is ever wholly prepared to relent.


Barbara Stanwyck & Fred McMurray in Double Indemnity (1944)

  1. In an essay published at the end of the nineties, Slavoj Žižek describes “the classic noir femme fatale of the ’40s” as “characterised by direct, outspoken sexual aggressivity, verbal and physical, by direct self-commodification and self-manipulation. She has ‘the mind of the pimp in the body of a whore.’”[6] Žižek’s case-in-point is Barbara Stanwyck’s performance in Double Indemnity (directed by Billy Wilder in 1944 and co-written with Raymond Chandler). A new on-screen gender etiquette is signalled from the very first encounter between Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson and Fred McMurray’s Walter Neff in the brazen double-entendres that form their exchange about “speed limits.” In a sense, the entire film is a series of double-entrendres, and we might extrapolate from Žižek to suggest that Stanwyck’s femme fatale is more than simply the prototype of a stock noir “figure” and is instead paradigmatic of what cinema itself had become – just as Double Indemnity is less “about” the story it contains and more a “reflection” on the medium itself (and the old Hollywood syndicate it’d whored itself out to), right down to the (parodic) staging of its own “deathbed confession.”

Wilder revisited and gloriously expanded on this otherwise hackneyed device in Sunset Blvd (1950), whose voice-over narration belongs to a corpse, a scriptwriter no less (William Holden), who we first encounter floating face-down in former siren of the silent screen Gloria Swanson’s swimming pool (her butler just happens to be the real-life director Erich von Stroheim) – a device that achieves a very un-ironic apotheosis in Rudolph Maté’s 1950 film, D.O.A. It’s arguable that Double Indemnity and Sunset Blvd bookend the period in which noir exhibited its greatest creative potential: if Double Indemnity provides both a template and benchmark for the genre as a whole, Sunset Blvd – with its self-reflexive play between Holden’s cool, deadpan persona and Swanston’s gothicised histrionics – inaugurates a distinctly post-noir sensibility, among whose inheritors are the French “New Wave” (from À bout de Soufflé (1960) to the slapstick parodics of Pierrot le fou (1965)) and neo-noir productions like Wim Wenders’s Hammett (1982) and the Coen Brothers’s Barton Fink (1991).

Sunset Blvd not only marks a certain apotheosis of noir, but marks precisely the moment at which it solidifies into genre. The film itself relentlessly pursues this revenance-effect, between the death of the silent era (the “waxworks” in the film) – alluding, among other things, to the genesis of noir with the release of Fritz Lang’s first sound production, M, in 1931 – and the “death” of noir as a subversive form and its subsequent generification (embodied in Holden’s hack screenwriter and Swanston’s cadaverous, delusional femme fatale). The intervening (decisive) incident, of course, is Double Indemnity’s invention of the femme fatale as such (there’s nothing “fatale” about Brigit O’Shaunnesy). If, as Žižek argues, “the subversive character of the noir films is exhibited in the way the texture of the films belies and subverts its explicit narrative line,” it is the figure of the femme fatale that is the effective agent of this subversion (or what Žižek calls the “inherent transgression” of the “patriarchal symbolic universe”). Like cinema itself, as manifested in Sunset Blvd, the femme fatale represents a “male masochist-paranoiac fantasy of the exploitative and sexually insatiable woman.”[7]

But the question isn’t so much that the “threat” posed by the femme fatale is a sufficiently false one to permit its re-expropriation to this “masculine” fantasy, but that it is in fact foundational for its very operation. Film noir is thus seen as a kind of forensic examination of a ubiquitous fantasmatic dependency: the seduction of the image itself in the normalisation of social relations thrown into crisis by the domestic reassigning of gender roles during the Second World War. With the post-War resurgence of commodity capitalism, the femme fatale isn’t simply a commodity, but the commodity, whose seduction is nothing less than the fantasy of consumption itself: of instant gratification, of boundless pleasure, of transgression and redemption within a repaired code of discipline and punishment. Here is the point at which cinema becomes the self-conscious reification of predominantly “American” society as such, commensurate with the advent of the Cold War, TV and the retreat to the suburbs.

The banal yet hallucinatory character of everything that transpires in Double Indemnity call’s to mind Goya’s famous etching, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, from Los Caprichos (1797), whose epitaph reads: “Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters; united with her, she is the mother of arts and the origin of their marvels.” In the figure of the femme fatale the marriage of fantasy and reason produces an ideal dissimulation, for the “art” of the femme fatale, as with the “art” of cinema itself, is not to put reason to sleep, as it were, but to produce – as Deleuze and Guattari say – a too “vigilant and insomniac rationality.”[8] A rationality that believes itself to be fully awake, but whose wakefulness is in fact the very fabric of its “slumber.” This fantasy is so complete that it is even capable of experiencing its own re-awakening, the revelation that all along it has in fact been asleep – yet this too is just a dream: just as in the classic noir, the protagonist first sees himself as the master of situations, logically calculating his advantage over the unwitting, and only later “wakes up” to the reality of the situation, that he’s been played for a sucker from the outset.

But even as he gets down all the details of his “confession” (and Double Indemnity is narratologically simply that: a single long confession) the protagonist is simply playing the fantasy out on another level – reason comforting itself after the fact, so to speak – since in reality both “he” and “it” are still dreaming: the dream of having “understood at last,” while in fact understanding nothing at all. It is, as Derrida says, not so much a question of Reason having been put to sleep, then, as a “slumber in the form of reason.”[9] It’s perhaps no accident that Double Indemnity can be read along these lines. There is something “definitive” in Stanwyck’s portrayal of a woman who talks an infatuated insurance salesman into killing her husband which sets a benchmark for the film noir femme fatale, but also the film language itself, that performs a deconstruction of the very idea of the stereotype to which the genre might otherwise be reduced. Stanwyck’s character with all the ambivalence of a genuine seduction: like a magic screen on which unconscious desires are projected and played back with just enough realism to torment yet constantly evade that “little man” within (like the intuitive “reason” of the film’s “claims adjuster,” played by Edward G. Robinson – a man with no personality to speak of, other than the absence of personality).


Dick Powell & Mike Mazurki in Murder, My Sweet (1944)

  1. Raymond Chandler’s portrait of Moose Malloy, the oversized slow-witted wheel-on wheel-off gimp in his 1940 novel, Farewell, My Lovely, is the closest thing in Chandler to a full-blown satire of the detective genre’s stock-in-trade Coincidence Man and plot catalyst, the classic deus ex machina who in this case doesn’t just resolve the drama when it gets stuck in a tight spot but actually kicks the whole thing off. The story opens with Marlow standing on a sidewalk looking up at “the jutting neon sign of a second-floor dine and dice emporium called Florian’s” and Moose, out of nowhere, standing more or less along side, looking up at the same sign. “He was a big man but not more than six foot five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck. He was about ten feet away from me. His arms hung loose at his sides and a forgotten cigar smoked behind his enormous fingers.” Moose is looking for his old squeeze, Velma, after seven years in the clink, and he gives Marlowe a down-payment on the spot to find her. After first taking Florian’s apart. His girl used to work there, but no more. The next 250 pages is Marlowe’s curiosity getting the better of him.

Farewell, My Lovely – Chandler’s second novel featuring LA private investigator Philippe Marlowe – was adapted for the screen three times: firstly in 1942, under the title The Falcon Takes Over, directed by Irving Reis; then in 1944, by Edward Dmytryk, under the title Murder, My Sweet, with ex-wrestler Mike Mazurki as Malloy and Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe; then in 1975, staring Robert Mitchum, under the book’s original title, directed by Dick Richards. Mitchum also starred in the 1978 remake of The Big Sleep, making him the only film actor to portray Philip Marlowe more than once. Richards’ version of Farewell, My Lovely is also notable for including an early screen appearance by Sylvester Stallone, and it’s probably the only version in which Chandler’s satire isn’t completely lost – which may have something to say about Chandler’s anticipation of the entire neo-noir sensibility. Incidentally, Farewell, My Lovely is also the book Michael Caine’s character is reading on the train to Newcastle early in the 1970s film Get Carter.

Chandler’s novel begins with a description of Malloy. It makes a memorable opening:

It was a warm day, almost the end of March, and I stood outside the barbershop looking up at the jutting neon sign of a second floor dine and dice emporium called Florian’s. A man was looking up at the sign, too. He was looking at the dusty windows with a sort of ecstatic fixity of expression, like a hunky immigrant catching his first sight of the Statue of Liberty. He was a big man but not more than six feet five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck. He was about ten feet away from me. His arms hung loose at his sides and a forgotten cigar smoked behind his enormous fingers.

It’s Marlowe’s accidental encounter with Moose Malloy that sets the ball rolling and gets Marlowe entangled in a blackmail conspiracy involving corrupt Bay City cops, a dope doctor, a psychic, & a big-name racketeer – introducing the figure of the Private Eye motivated by curiosity and a kind of moral independence diametrically at odds with the kind of mercenary character played by Bogart in The Maltese Falcon. This marks something of an evolution in the genre, from Hammett’s cynical Sam Spade to Chandlers wry but principled Marlow, and later Spillane’s Mike Hammer who is motivated by a strong sense of personal and social justice, rather than money (and, like Malowe in Farewell, My Lovely, every one of Hammer’s cases is inaugurated by a chance encounter or a personal involvement, rather than an over-the-counter transaction, painting the portrait of a kind of gritty urban superhero who, despite everything, isn’t “for sale”).

Dmytryk’s decision to cast Powell as Marlowe has been much debated. Powell was best known at the time for his work in musicals and light comedies, a fact that prompted studio execs to demand Dmytryk change the film’s title from Chandler’s original so as not to cause confusion at the box office. For his highly acclaimed 1947 film, Crossfire, Dmytryk cast Mitchum (who’d made his first foray into the noir genre in 1944’s When Strangers Marry, directed by William Castle), and it’s worth considering what type of film Murder, My Sweet might’ve been had Mitchum taken Powell’s role. In 1948 Powell appeared opposite a very ingénue Lizabeth Scott in Andre de Toth’s lame Double Indemnity rip-off, Pitfall, with Powell as the insurance investigator and Scott as the archetypal frail (as far from Stanwyck’s Phyllis Deitrichson as its possible to get without washing up on the other side of the Pacific). Powell, who appeared in several other Hollywood treadmill operations (Cornered, 1945; Johnny O’Clock, 1947; To the Ends of the Earth, 1948) deserves all the credit he gets for being the stiff in the industry’s mortuarisation of a genre which, in the hands of Wilder and Chandler, was never going to tow the line: he’s the future home-viewing entropy man. Endless Powell-clones would thereafter re-enact the contract killing Hollywood’s studios performed on noir, gormlessly trying to scam every last dime out of the grieving widow.

Nevertheless, despite a number of other casting eccentricities, Murder, My Sweet was well received critically at the time and regarded by some critics as the one film adaptation that comes closest to Chandler’s text (if nothing else; though Castle’s remake is closer, and notably Dmytryk eschews Chandler’s opening for a dull set-piece in the shamus’s sanctum sanctorum). It also established a workable framework for much of the noir and neo-noir film-making that followed, with its push towards industry-standard realism and away from the more stylised psychological terrain of Double Indemnity (more closely associated thereafter with the mannerist approach of Alfred Hitchcock, in films like Notorious (1946; in B/W) and Rear Window (1954; in colour) – as an aside, it’s worth noting that for his 1951 film, Strangers on a Train, Hitchcock worked with both Chandler and Hammett on the script).

The element of conspiracy plays a prominent part in Chandler’s novel, and consequently also in Dmytryk’s film.[10] Whereas Double Indemnity focused on a conspiracy of individuals against the “system” (represented by the All Pacific Trust insurance company), in Murder, My Sweet we have the conspiracy within the system directed at the individual (in this case, the PI Marlowe, who sticks his nose in where it doesn’t belong). This isn’t the stereotyped kind of “conspiracy” of corrupt politicians and cops aiding and abetting organised crime, as in The Glass Key, but something potentially more sinister and pervasive which, with the progress of the “Red Scare” and the House Un-American Activities Committee, will give rise to the political conspiracy films of the 1950s, such as The Manchurian Candidate (driven in part by the Cold War propaganda machinery), and eventually, by the time of Nixon’s indictment, to the homegrown paranoia films of the 1970s in which the entire apparatus of government (and not some criminal or external political power) is exposed as conspiring against the American people (take Sidney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor (1975), for example, or Alan Pakula’s All the President’s Men (1976)).[11]


Alan Ladd & Veronica Lake, promotional still for The Blue Dahlia (1946)

  1. George Marshall’s production of Raymond Chandler’s sole original screenplay, The Blue Dahlia (1946), featured the third pairing of noir duo Veronica Lake & Alan Ladd, reprising their roles in This Gun for Hire (1942) and The Glass Key (1942). They appeared in a total of seven films together – in three of which they played themselves – and were considered one of Hollywood’s hottest box-office couples at the time. Their success story, however, had an inauspicious beginning when Ladd was cast as the baby-faced killer, Raven, in This Gun for Hire: Ladd was only 5 feet 5 inches tall & the only actress at that time contracted to Paramount who was shorter than him was Lake, whose breakthrough had come a year earlier – she was 4 feet 11½. Their last on-screen performance together was in Saigon, a film noir directed by Leslie Fenton in 1948. While Ladd’s career continued to flourish into the ’50s, Lake’s tanked: her last major film was Slattery’s Hurricane in 1949. Between then and 1970 she made only three more, brought down by alcoholism and mental instability.

During the filming of The Blue Dahlia – the critical highpoint of Lake’s career – Chandler developed a strong dislike for the lead actress, who he referred to as “Moronica Lake.” (She for her part didn’t know who Chandler was and never read any of his novels, though she’d had herself briefed by a secretary before press interviews and conferences in order to appear in front of the media as being “well-read.”) Bosley Crowther, writing in the New York Times, loudly complained of The Blue Dahlia being one of an “expanding cycle of hard-boiled and cynical films,” though (revealing where the man’s critical faculties really lay) he described Lake as “dangerous and dynamic” and likened her to a “V bomb.” The review ended by saying that “George Marshall has tautly directed from Mr Chandler’s script. The tact of all this may be severely questioned, but it does make a brisk, exiting show.”[12] Despite all the hype around Lake, by the ’60s the actress was living in a $7-a-night hotel in Manhattan, paying her bills by working in the hotel bar. She died penniless in 1973, age 50. Ladd’s career waited until 1953 to tank. He made his last film in 1964, directed by Edward Dmytryk, playing an ex-Wild West gunslinger. He died the same year, from a chemical reaction of alcohol and downers. He, too, was only ’50.

Cast alongside Ladd and Lake in The Blue Dahlia was noir stalwart William Bendix. Bendix’s career was the polar opposite of the film’s stars: his first work was working as a batboy for the New York Yankees, before setting up as a grocer until the Great Depression. His acting career began at the age of 30 thanks to the Federal Theatre Project, part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, with his first film appearance in 1942.[13] Many of his roles were of blue collar characters, contributing to a perceived working class dimension in many noirs that would later be cited by some critics as signalling the genre’s anti-capitalist inclinations and even communist sympathies. (Bendix himself was a Republican.)

The Motion Picture Production Code – also known as the Hays Code – had been defining the film industry’s moral guidelines since 1930, and though it remained in effect until 1968 the Code was increasingly challenged throughout the 1950s, by TV and the growing import of foreign films (which weren’t regulated by the Code). While the Code made no distinction between types of audience or the moral responsibility of the general public, and consequently came in for increasing criticism and non-compliance, the advent of the Cold War nevertheless influenced its continued (selective) application, specifically to neutralise the anti-capitalist critique inherent in many noir film. The Code proscribed profanity, nudity, heavy kissing, illegal traffic in drugs, sexual perversion, white slavery, miscegenation, sexual hygiene, childbirth, child nudity, ridicule of the clergy, or wilful offence to any nation, race or creed. It also regulated the depiction of crime and violence, as well as such things as adultery, which couldn’t be portrayed as either attractive or permissible: all criminal action had to be punished and offset by some “compensating moral value.”

With the advent of HUAC and the Hollywood blacklists (beginning in 1947), the Code was implicitly evoked to counter the depiction of industry leaders, bankers and so on as “criminals.” Just as, until 1938, the Code had prevented the production of films with an explicit anti-Nazi focus. It has been argued that McCarthyism and the Hollywood Blacklists helped reify the sense of unease and increasing paranoia that informs the best film noir and which, in the seventies in particular, when the term film noir first began receiving broad currency in the US, underwrote a resurgence in the genre and the advent of what’s loosely referred to as neo-noir – funnelling the public sense of a pervasive “conspiracy against the people” in the period between the Kennedy assassination and Nixon’s impeachment. The first film to explicitly take on McCarthyism was Storm Centre in 1956, starring another noir screen “goddess,” Bette Davis.


Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Becall in The Big Sleep (1946)

  1. The Big Sleep, published in 1939, was Raymond Chandler’s first novel. It was twice adapted for screen – the well-known Howard Hawks version in 1946 and a later version starring Robert Mitchum, Oliver Reed and Joan Collins, directed by Michael Winner in 1978 (which inexplicably shifted the setting from 1930s LA to contemporary London). The ’46 version is notable for the fact of the script having been written by William Faulkner and well-known screenwriters Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman. The writing uncovered some gaps in Chandler’s original plot. One such gap was the unresolved identity of who murdered the Sternwood’s chauffeur (or if he killed himself): when Hawks asked Chandler, Chandler replied that he had no idea. Other plot aberrations developed during shooting due to the impact of the Hays Code on Chandler’s original storyline, making the novel’s convoluted plot even more difficult. For example: explicit references to Geiger’s trade in pornographic literature, as well as his homosexuality, had to be tempered; a scene in which Carmen Sternwood turns up naked in Marlowe’s bed was replaced with one of her sitting in a chair in Marlowe’s apartment; likewise Carmen’s identity as Regan’s killer, which would have made Marlowe’s love interest (and Carmen’s sister) Vivian – played in definitive fashion by Lauren Becall – an accessory to murder.

Reviewing Hawks’s film on its release, Crowther, in his regular New York Times spot, wrote: “The Big Sleep is one of those pictures in which so many cryptic things occur amid so much involved and devious plotting that the mind becomes utterly confused.”[14] Time magazine described the film as a “crazy, mystifying, nightmare blur…” Hirsch suggests this is all par for the course: “Propelled by a series of criss-crosses, double-crosses, betrayals, deceptions, noir stories like The Big Sleep deliberately try to be knotted and sinuous.”[15] Or possibly just a symptom of the shift, by writers like Chandler and Hammett, away from the neatly resolved plotlines of Christie and Doyle towards character-driven interpersonal drama – in addition to Chandler’s tendency to construct novels by cannibalising short stories published in magazines like Black Mask.

Of Bogart’s performance in The Big Sleep, Chandler said: “Bogart can be tough without a gun. Also, he has a sense of humour that contains that grating undertone of contempt.” Hirsch describes him as having “the face of a man of enormous feeling kept in check… a man with churning insides beneath the still mask… Bogart is the archetypal noir loner. His posture is tensed, hunched; he rarely moves… His means of expression are limited, practically to the point of abstraction, yet he radiates complexity.”[16] The suggestion here is that the true arena of action in film noir is a kind on non-action (not inaction, but rather the feint, the disguise, the ruse) where the real drama is played out verbally. Consequently everything can be said to hinge on language. Hirsch interestingly compares Bogart’s exchanges with Becall to the barbed language of Restoration drama, “their mutual verbal slicing is an index,” he suggests, “of sexual attraction,” though an attraction that is strangely ascetic and muscular, in contrast to the “blatant sexuality” of Martha Vickers’s narcotised Carmen.[17] Violence, too, is mostly of the sublimated kind.

Despite their immediate celebrity as an on-screen couple, Bogart and Becall, who married in 1945, went on to appear in only two more films together, Dark Passage (1947) and John Huston’s 1948 classic, Key Largo. The Big Sleep was shot only a few months after the release of To Have and Have Not (1944; also directed by Hawks), though it didn’t reach the screens until ’46 due to Warner’s efforts to clear its backlog of war films. It was perhaps most notable as a vehicle for the latter film’s two leads, Bogart and Becall. Becall at the time was 19-year’s old to Bogart’s 44. According to Hawks (who had also competed for Becall’s attention), “Bogie fell in love with the character she played, so she had to keep playing it for the rest of her life.”


Ava Gardner & Burt Lancaster in The Killers (1946)

  1. Of German Jewish origin, director Robert Siodmak emigrated to Hollywood in 1939 to escape Nazism. Of his 23 films – mostly psychological thrillers & crime dramas – several are considered noir classics, beginning with The Killers (1946; remade by Don Siegel in 1964[18]), whose protagonist (“the Swede,” played by Burt Lancaster) is murdered at the start of the film in an act of self-directed fatalistic nihilism, with the events leading up to that point then replayed in multiple point-of-view flashback (and flashbacks within flashbacks) in the form of an insurance investigation. Siodmak’s other notable explorations of the noir genre include Cry of the City (1948), Criss-Cross (1949; also with Lancaster), and The File on Thelma Jordan (1949; starring Barbara Stanwyck). In 1952 he returned to Europe.

The Killers is notable, among other things, for representing Lancaster’s screen debut, opposite Ava Gardner and Edmond O’Brien. The Killers was also Gardner’s breakthrough film. Gardner, who later became famous for her relationship with eccentric multimillionaire Howard Hughes and her marriage to Frank Sinatra, also became a close friend of Ernest Hemingway. In 1951 she starred opposite Bogart in The Barefooted Countess. For his part, Lancaster went on to receive an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1960 for Elmer Gantry, and starring in such films as From Here to Eternity (1953; opposite Deborah Kerr), The Unforgiven (1960; opposite Audrey Hepburn), and Frank Perry’s frequently underrated The Swimmer (1966). But it’s his performance in The Killers that is held up by Hirsch as representing the pinnacle of Lancaster’s achievement as an actor: “lying in wait in the shadows of his empty room anticipating the arrival of his executioners with a kind of exaltation, provides one of noir’s great moments.”[19] His entire persona is diametrically opposed to that of Bogart, a weak man “seduced by clever, castrating women.” In certain respects, Lancaster is the ideal figure for noir’s post-War metamorphosis, with his “build of a gymnast,” as Hirsch says, “and with his flashy smile and open-faced handsomeness, he has the look of an all-American – a winner. But his noir characters have a powerful urge towards annihilation…” An emblem, in every respect, for the suicide of the American Dream that will so spectacularly unfold between the Eisenhower years and Watergate.

The script for The Killers, though credited to Anthony Veiller, was actually the work of John Huston and Richard Brooks (unnamed for contract reasons) and was based (for the first 20 minutes) on a short story by Hemingway (who reportedly admired the result). The opening soundtrack of the film (by Miklós Rózsa) was later re-used for the popular 1951-1959 television series Dragnet and is matched in its intensity by Woody Bredell’s camera work and stark lighting effects, combining to produce an atmosphere of constrictive fatalism. The film earned Rózsa an Academy Award nomination for Best Music, along with nominations for Best Film Editing (for Arthur Hilton), Best Director (for Siodmak) and, ironically, Best Screenplay (for Anthony Veiller). Though not ambiguous in the vein of The Big Sleep, the structure of The Killers, with its internal convolutions-upon-convolutions, is arguably the film’s central protagonist. The investigators pursuit of the facts behind the Swede’s death (which is really a pursuit of motive) is also a kind of unmasking of cinema itself, as the story’s so-to-speak “objective correlative”: “Swede,” notes Hirsch, “is one of the most elusive of noir’s anti-heroes, Kitty [i.e. Kitty Collins, played by Gardner] is one of the genre’s most masked spider women; and the film’s own devious structure, its conflicting points of view, its choppy handling of time, reinforce the enigmatic aura that enshrouds the two main characters.”[20]

Carl Macek, in a postscript to his entry on The Killers for Silver and Ward’s film noir encyclopaedia, suggests that it’s precisely these characteristics – so perplexing to many critics – that ostensibly preoccupy Siegel’s 1964 remake, as if the later film were really an attempt to finally neutralise the enigma posed by the original, in the way, perhaps, that much of “neo-noir” represents a kind of displaced symptomatology of noir’s own “primal event” (fetishised, mystified, uncomprehended). Siegel’s version dispenses with the trope of the insurance investigator and instead has the killers themselves dig up the Swede’s past, so as to answer the question that puzzles them as much as anyone: the Swede’s apparent indifference to his own death. In a certain sense, this indifference represents an obscenity, commensurate only with the obscenity embodied in the figure of Kitty Collins’s femme fatale – which Siegel’s remake likewise sets out to neutralise, transforming her into a straight-up hustler, a “form without substance,” as Macek says, “another fixture in a world of clichés.”[21]


Robert Mitchum & Jane Greer in Out of the Past (1947)

  1. James M. Cain’s novel, Build my Gallows High (1946; published under the pseudonym Geoffrey Holmes) was adapted twice for the screen. There was Jacques Tourneur’s 1947 take, with Cain performing uncredited scriptwork – considered by Roger Ebert as one of the greatest of all film noirs – and Taylor Hackford’s 1984 remake, Against All Odds, starring Rachel Ward, Jeff Bridges and James Woods (whose most notable feature seems to have been its soundtrack). There’s a reason, however, for taking at least a cursory look at Against all Odds here, because of the way the film seems to intuit the synergies between Tourner’s classic and Robert Siodmak’s The Killers from 1946. Against all Odds is a kind of synthesis, where Burt Lancaster’s “Swede,” a washed-up heavyweight-turned-crook meets Robert Mitchum’s private detective on the lam, hiding out in a small town in California, working at a gas station under an assumed identity, trying to build a new life, when the past suddenly reaches into the present and pulls him back. The fatalism in both The Killers and Out of the Past has a suicidal momentum: in The Killers it sets the narrative in train; in Out of the Past it represents the narrative’s ever narrowing line – the road to nowhere.

Out of the Past represents the first pairing of Mitchum and Jane Greer (they played alongside each other again, in very different roles, in Don Siegel’s The Big Steal two years later). Mitchum’s acting in Out of the Past is exemplary of the so-called “subjective point of view” of classic noir, something which is emphasised by both the camera work and the plot development. As Lee Horsley writes:

We are brought close to the mind of a protagonist whose position vis-à-vis other characters is not fixed. Treacherous confusions of his role and the movement of the protagonist from one role to another constitute key structural elements in noir narrative. The victim might, for example, become the aggressor; the hunter might turn into the hunted or vice versa; the investigator might double as either the victim or the perpetrator. Whereas the traditional mystery story, with its stable triangle of detective, victim and murderer, is reasonably certain to have the detective as the protagonist, noir is a deliberate violation of this convention.[22]

This brings to mind Žižek’s remarks about the distinction between noir and more traditional crime and detective fiction:

It is… totally misleading to locate the difference between the classical and the hard-boiled detective as one of ‘intellectual’ versus “physical” activity… The real break consists in the fact that, existentially, the classical detective is not ‘engaged’ at all… The hard-boiled detective is, on the contrary, ‘involved’ from the very beginning, caught up in the circuit: this involvement defines his very subjective position… The deceitful game of which he has become a part poses a threat to his very identity as a subject. In short, the dialectic of deception in the hard-boiled novel is the dialectic of an active hero caught in a nightmarish game whose real stakes escape him.[23]

Mitchum’s Jeff Bailey is precisely this kind of figure, fully caught up in a drama whose machinations escape him: he moves from the role of sardonic private eye, suave seducer, opportunist, fugitive, accessory to murder, stranger in a small-town, and so on. There are echoes of Greek tragedy, with even some of its claims to pathos. But unlike Greek tragedy, this subjective trajectory isn’t mediated by the gods but by the fallible will of the individual, whose unravelling is – as per the genre’s conventions – centred upon the figure of the femme fatale. Greer’s interpretation of this role is subtle and likewise multifaceted. Unlike Stanwyck’s Phyllis Deitrichson, who never appears as anything but calculating, Greer’s Kathie Moffat is more like a mirror in which Jeff Bailey’s desire is reflected back at him, so that a facet of himself becomes visible and assumes a form of agency which previously had been unconscious; while Moffat herself remains entirely an enigma – a type of fata morgana, whose role is to draw men towards their unsuspected fate (and thereby, we might say, to show them who and what they “really are”). Žižek has this to say:

What is really menacing about the femme fatale is not that she is fatal for men but that she presents a case of a ‘pure,’ nonpathological subject fully assuming her own fate. When the woman reaches this point, there are only two attitudes left to the man: either he ‘cedes his desire,’ rejects her and regains his imaginary, narcissistic identity (Sam Spade at the end of The Maltese Falcon), or he identifies with the woman as symptom and meets his fate as a suicidal gesture (the act of Robert Mitchum in what is perhaps the crucial film noir, Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past).[24]

The suicidal gesture at the end of Out of the Past might otherwise be described as the assumption, not of Kathie Moffat’s “fate,” but of Fate itself. One can either turn one’s back on the mirror, or enter more deeply into it: the threat of the mirror is that its image appears to us as autonomous, and that it is we who enact its desires; who desire (helplessly) to be one with it.


Lizabeth Scott & Humphrey Bogart in Dead Reckoning (1947)

  1. Dead Reckoning, directed by John Cromwell (1947), represents Bogart’s first screen appearance opposite Lizabeth Scott, who plays the role of the film’s deceptive frail, Coral Chandler. Scott, who also starred in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) and Too Late For Tears (1949), was described in her obituary in The Telegraph (March, 2015) as “the most beautiful face of film noir during the 1940s and 1950s.” This same face was described in Crowther’s New York Times review of Dead Reckoning as “expressionless,” to match Scott’s “awkward and deliberate” movements.[25] Crowther may’ve had a point. Seeking to manufacture an element of frison where there wasn’t any, the public relations department at Paramount called her “The Threat”: “She’s the Threat to the Body, the Voice, and the Look” (referring to Marie McDonald, a contemporary model known as “the Body Beautiful”; Frank Sinatra, “the Voice”; and Lauren Becall, “the Look”). But while Scott’s “husky” register became part of her trademark act, she had a wooden ear and couldn’t sing for love or money: the tortuous floorshow scene in Dead Reckoning was not only dubbed but ripped-off wholesale from Becall’s casino act in The Big Sleep (even her beret in the film is a Becall rip-off). By the mid-’40s, though, Scott was a major Hollywood star, achieving top billing ahead of Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.

Intriguingly Columbia, who produced Dead Reckoning, originally intended Rita Hayworth for the female lead. Hayworth was busy with Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai and so, after Becall also rejected the script, Scott landed the role opposite Bogart by default. Her appearance in the film, however, cemented her close association with noir and contributed to her effectively being typecast in similar roles for the remainder of her career (as well as aiding in the “typecasting” of the femme fatale role itself). She was later considered to have embodied the ultimate femme fatale in the 1948 film Too Late for Tears, a film described by Ronald Schwartz in Houses of Noir as “relatively ‘unknown and unseen’” and deserving of greater recognition “especially for its storyline, acting and the incredible performance of Lizabeth Scott in the femme fatale role.”[26] Her part as Jane Palmer, who murders her present husband (after having also murdered a previous one) “to move out of the ranks of the middle-class poor,” is almost the inverse of Coral Chandler’s entrapped, fatalistic seductress and the apotheosis of the post-War suburban middle class (male) nightmare of the “independent woman.”

For his part, Bogart’s performance in Dead Reckoning was widely praised in reviews of the period as the film’s major recommendation (Macek describes Bogart’s rendition of Rip Murdock as creating “a genuine noir hero… a man who is at once the hunted and the hunter.”[27] The novelty is that, whereas in The Glass Key Ladd’s character is a demobbed officer in Civvy Street who’s gone on the run in order to clear himself of his wife’s murder, Bogart’s “Rip” Murdoch is a serving US Army Captain and recipient of a Distinguished Service Cross, who’s gone AWOL to unravel a murder conspiracy implicating his best friend (Drake, who himself is murdered) in the death of Lizabeth Scott’s husband (she shot him herself, of course): he represents the triumph of law and order, the just state, and the benevolence of the emergent military-industrial complex.

A predictable complaint by critics had to do with the film’s overly complex plotline – hinging on a set-piece romance between Bogart and Scott, with its set-piece ending that performs something of a counterpoint to the Mitchum-Greer deathtrap at the end of Out of the Past (Scott shoots Bogart as they drive away into the night: they crash – Bogart survives but Scott, immaculate in white under a vaseline-soaked lens, dies in hospital). But whereas the structural complexity of films like Out of the Past are symptomatic of a broader social malaise, the complexity of Dead Reckoning stems from the disguise worn (to borrow Althusser’s expression) by the ideological state apparatus itself, personified in the figure of “Rip,” through whom this malaise is, if not cured, at least sublimated. Anticipating the Hollywood propaganda films produced throughout the Korean War, Dead Reckoning signals the accomplished expropriation of the noir genre to the work of normalisation as ideological entertainment – and insofar as this marks a certain return of noir to its cultural and historical origins, it is here that it assumes its properly classical form.


Louis Armand is the Director of the Centre for Critical & Cultural Theory at Charles University, Prague. His books include The Organ-Grinder’s Monkey (2013) and the novel Breakfast at Midnight (2011) described by 3:AM magazine’s Richard Marshall as “a perfect modern noir”.

Presented as a series of lectures, “Film & Critical Culture,” Philosophy Faculty, Charles University, Prague, February – May 2015.

  [1]   Qtd in Richard Brody, Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard (New York: Holt, 2008) 215.

  [2]   Film Noir: An Encyclopaedic Reference to the American Style, eds. Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward (New York: Overlook Press, 1979).

  [3]   There is probably no other script like it in the history of noir, and it’s hardly surprising that virtually the whole thing was shot as if it were a play, slavishly devoted to the authorial word. Never again would Hammett, Chandler, or any of the other big names of hard boiled fiction receive even remotely similar treatment.

  [4]   Julie Kirgo, “The Maltese Falcon,” Film Noir: An Encyclopaedic Reference to the American Style, 181.

  [5]   Foster Hirsch, The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir (New York: Da Capo, 1981) 149.

  [6]   Slavoj Žižek, “From ‘Passionate Attachments’ to Dis-Identification,” UMBR(a): Identity/Identification 1 (1998): 11.

  [7]   Žižek, “From ‘Passionate Attachments’ to Dis-Identification,” 11-12.

  [8]   Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. R. Hurley, M. Seem, and H.R. Lane (New York: Viking, 1977) 122.

  [9]   Derrida, Writing and Difference, 252.

[10]   Unlike Dashiell Hammett, who was imprisoned in 1951 & blacklisted from 1953, Raymond Chandler was never directly involved with HUAC (or only through the associated of his novel, Farewell, My Lovely with Dmytryk’s 1944 adaptation). But Chandler did have a drink problem. He’d given up the booze for health reasons, but during the shooting of The Blue Dahlia he went back on the bottle, believing it was the only way he could gain inspiration to finish the script – which he did, garnering his second Academy Award nomination (after Double Indemnity). He later worked with Hitchcock on Strangers on a Train (1951), which ended acrimoniously. His last completed novel, Playback, was a rewriting of an unproduced screenplay he’d written for Universal Studios and is the only Chandler novel that hasn’t been filmed. In 1955, alcoholic and suffering depression, Chandler attempted suicide. He died in 1959.

[11]   Edward Dmytryk was himself called before HUAC in 1947, soon after making Crossfire, and became known as part of the “Hollywood Ten,” who were cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions about their communist involvement and sentenced to prison terms. Dmytryk had briefly been a party member in 1945, and after spending several years exiled in the UK he finally agreed to testify (in 1951).

[12]   Bosley Crowther, “The Screen in Review,” The New York Times, May 9, 1946.

[13]   The Glass Key, where Bendix played alongside Lake and Ladd for the first time, was his fifth screen appearance in that year.

[14]   Bosley Crowther, “The Screen in Review,” The New York Times, August 24, 1946.

[15]   Hirsch, The Dark Side of the Screen, 75.

[16]   Hirsch, The Dark Side of the Screen, 150

[17]   Hirsch, The Dark Side of the Screen, 34-5.

[18]   Notable for starring Lee Marvin, John Cassavetes, Angie Dickinson and Ronald Reagan in his last on-screen role (and only film appearance as a crook).

[19]   Hirsch, The Dark Side of the Screen, 164-165.

[20]   Hirsch, The Dark Side of the Screen, 73.

[21]   Carl Macek, “The Killers,” Film Noir: An Encyclopaedic Reference to the American Style, 154.

[22]   Lee Horsley, “Out of the Past, Crime Culture (2002): http://www.crimeculture.com/Contents/Film%20Noir.html

[23]   Slavoj Žižek, “Two Ways to Avoid the Real of Desire,” Looking Awry (Cambridge, MA: October, 1991) 60-63.

[24]   Žižek, “Two Ways to Avoid the Real of Desire,” 66.

[25]   Bosley Crowther, “The Screen in Review,” The New York Times, January 23, 1947.

[26]   Ronald Schwartz, Houses of Noir: Dark Visions from Thirteen Film Studios (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2013) 138. Originally Scott was also slated by play opposite Robert Mitchum in The Big Steel (1949) but collapsed and went into hysterics on the third day of shooting and was replaced by Jane Greer.

[27]   Carl Macek, “Dead Reckoning,” Film Noir: An Encyclopaedic Reference to the American Style, 86.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s