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Film Noir$
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Homer B. Pettey and R. Barton Palmer

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780748691074

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748691074.001.0001

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Hard-Boiled Tradition and Early Film Noir

Hard-Boiled Tradition and Early Film Noir

(p.58) 3. Hard-Boiled Tradition and Early Film Noir
Film Noir

Homer B. Pettey

Edinburgh University Press

Hard-boiled detective fiction and film noir are almost exclusively aligned with the desires for money and sex, two mirrored conditions of a fragile human economy. The Maltese Falcon (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), and Murder, My Sweet (1944) certainly rely upon economic issues in their adaptations from the Hammett, Cain, and Chandler novels. All three novels and their film adaptations deal with sexual exchanges for material possessions: Brigid's erotic enticements to Spade for the mysterious falcon; Phyllis's promise of amorous reward for the monetary compensation from the indemnity policy; and Mrs. Grayle's lubricious invitations to Spade in order to guard her jaded secret and thereby her social position. Of course, this concupiscence as capital outlay is hardly limited to feminine desires in film noir, since Spade, Neff, and Marlowe engage in this kind of self-interested manipulation for profit. Emerging during the era of the international Great Depression and the rise of global fascism, film noir often addresses the complex, paradoxical interrelationship of economics and passion. Excess—financial, sexual, material—serves as a central motif in all of these films as it had in the development of the hard-boiled detective genre. While Hammett, Cain, and Chandler established a new style and aesthetic for hard-boiled detective fiction and for film noir, their art also reflected the pervasive economic troubles that plagued Depression-era and early post-war American culture.

Keywords:   Noir, Hammett, Cain, Chandler, Economics, Sex, financial motif, cityscape

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