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American Hardboiled Fiction

Appunti di Letterature Anglo-Americane 2 (in lingua inglese):
The genre's consistency, mythologies, serial conventions, hybridizing practices and multimedia layering are examined, with a particular attention for its film modulations, from the most classic 1940s film noir to 1970s revisitations and parodies.

Esame di Letteratura anglo-americana docente Prof. F. Minganti



Hardboiled storytelling

from Western pulps, through gangster stories and films, to dime novels and urbanized hardboiled

storytelling (Black Mask boys)

E F V , French criminal that decided to give his knowledge to the police,


effectively becoming a criminalist; he became the founder and first director of the crime-detection

Sûrete National, as well as the head of the first known private detective agency. he’s considered to

be the father of modern criminology, as well as the French police department and the first private

detective. his life got turned into literature very early on, inspiring several writers, including Edgar

Allan Poe (particularly with his character C. Auguste Dupin) idea of the private investigator (PI),

someone who had never been officially in the police (=/= Sherlock Holmes).

E A P — considered the inventor of detective stories tales featuring C. Auguste


Dupin + establishes elements that will later on develop in detective fiction genre, such as:

setting: city, metropolis (such as Paris, London, etc) — marked a difference with Western stories

• Dupin ~ Sherlock Holmes — comparison that helps telling a story to people (ex. Detective

• → →

Watson in Dupin he’s the same split with narrative consequences)

1840 T M C — short story, origin of dark novel. archetype of American


hardboiled: 1st person narrator, urban setting, chase as a narrative technique (circular story), moral

value + hardboiled detective as someone between middle-class man, criminal and law

after an unnamed illness, the unnamed narrator sits in an unnamed coffee shop in London. while

he’s sitting there, “a decrepit old man, some 65 or 70 years of age” attracts his attention. the

narrator goes out of the coffee shop and starts chasing after him: the man never stops anywhere,

never buys anything and the narrator ends up chasing him the whole night and well into the

morning after. exhausted, the narrator stands in front of the man, who still doesn’t seem to notice

him. he concludes that the man is “the type and genius of deep crime” due to his inscrutability and

inability to leave the crowds of London.

story built on a chase detective story, but with no conclusion

: 1910-20s success of gangster stories, with no individual criminal. gangsters


come from the country to the city, following the money typical pattern: they die but not after we

have sympathized with them. story ranks the rise and fall of gangsters, making them humans

they become American heroes, ~ self-made man with the idea of being fair to the gang as you are

to your family (mafia is based on it).

R H (1929) by Dashiell Hammett — criminality built around gangs, that control the


power. cities are created more around this power then around the major or police

transformation of ways of managing the cities. clash between aristocracy and new economic

power: self-made man becomes ~ criminal.

a detective from a national agency is summoned to investigate a murder in a Western


mining town named Personville, sardonically referred to by the locals as “Poisonville”. the

murdered man was the town’s leading reformer; his father hires the Op to stay and clean up the

town looks like a western: the twist that separates it from a western is that the town has no

good guys everyone is tapped into some form of corruption, everyone wears a shade of gray

(in westerns there is always a hero). the Op uses his resources to hire both sides and plays both

ends against the middle.

no movies of this novel, although 1961 Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo has the same plot and

numerous parallels



pulp stories for large audience: colored, attractive, fiction aimed primarily to men

• →

• begins publishing after the civil war, just as the radio become popular connection to radios:

radio series with narrative style, strongly based on dialogs and facts

sometimes came out in smart sets: not pulps, printed on good and more expensive paper,

• →

aimed to limited audience urbanization of pulps, aimed to cosmopolitans

at 1st they were aimed to African Americans in town, soon this idea was left behind as they

• →

became magazine based on detective fiction, supernatural and exotic lands it becomes a

true detective story magazine full of actions, where the black mask end up being characters (ex.

women are masks as they are either victims or temptresses).

1926 Captain Joseph T. Shaw becomes director becomes more centered around hardboiled.

• he singles out Dashiell Hammett and his simplicity for the sake of clarity, plausibility and belief.

he creates the : its objective is a realistic style, using the


principle of allowing the characters to act and talk tough and to then demonstrate their abilities

instead of just making them talk about it.

ritualized scenes:

• client goes to office to negotiate for a contract

• PI is never safe, not even in his own office

• routine of detective life

• →

• change of role: from being the hunted to being the hunter (or vice versa) everything is


taken back to the of hunting: darwinistic world of the survival of the fittest, where the

best hunters are those who can anticipate the animal’s behavior

30s films made as if they were serialized: they share the same setting and the classic b/w with

• shadow and light play that depended mainly on the necessity of the studio of saving money.

boom during modernism — emerges the consciousness that culture is a fragmentary assembly

• of voices and institution in conflict with each other + accentuates elements of poplar fiction an

entertainment →

50s crisis of detectives and hardboiled stories as hardboiled fiction is a genre writing, there

• has to be an escalation to keep the genres up

• →

60s people started to talk in literature about the death of the novel it seemed exhausted,

impossible to write new stories. people started to say the same thing about movies (death of

film studies)


• adventure story — it’s a Western that takes place somewhere else a morality play about

retribution, not redemption, where the lawmen is similar to the outlaw in his use of violence

picaresque story — open ended initiation tale, emphasizing action, exploration through a boldly

• drawn central character

gothic fiction — substrata of horror, decline of traditional belief system

• domestic fiction — focused on manners, questions traditional patriarchal authority


• hardboiled hero masculine, mythical elements of folk hero

he exists above everything else, ~ ideal cop

heir of the western hero, can be seen as a gangster

• →

represents urban chronic loneliness consecration of American urban culture: he’s the bad

• conscience of the typical American man in between the 2 wars

narrative disembodied voice: 1st person narrator, but detached

• vigilantism — he avenges fictional transgression and urban American frustration. superior to

• stupid cops he becomes similar to a one-man mob, with the innocence of a psychopath: his

superiority blinds the reader into a false sense of admiration we regard him as sympathetic

and identify with him without seeing how similar he is to criminals

emblem of public rage vs. problems without solution

• :

KEY POINTS — the way of telling an event is the source of telling the truth of the


event itself (lying, making up truths and scenes) hardboiled novels and film noir leaves us

with various versions of reality and truth that makes sense only for those who tell them.

contemporary language

• →

PI — he lies at the center of the triangle of police, client and crime maker


ethos of PI: defends client and tries not to expose them

→ they don’t have to follow the law


→ →

urbanization of the “sheriff” private detectives ~


cacciatori di teste

it is the world of S H , where everything is clear in the end and the order is


restored, in hardboiled tradition there is not only one truth, but as many as the characters

involved difficult to identify with just one character

PI use the data they get over the data they have of a false reality, using it again but with the

knowledge to it being false they use it to unmask the truth

readers tend to pay attention to the picture and lose sight of the meaning, the image that

becomes a faded sensation of memory and that only fills in, particularizes and falsifies the

author’s intention

=/= police stories (parodies of misunderstandings)

idea of law — important as it provides the framework under which the guilty are punished and

• →

the innocent vindicated private eye punishes, meeting out punishment for sin: violent hero


hardboiled came first, noir later on in order to sum up and describe things, things that included

• hardboiled atmosphere. they ended up going beyond “simple” hardboiled

movies were different from the novels more dialogues, always something different

• novels are more direct and show you more than they tell, while in films audience can make an

• idea for himself →

boom of film noir: 2nd half of 40s most of the movies came to EU only post WW2, when

• French critics realized the importance of this genre. in Italy, American films were prohibited

before and during WW2 and can only be imported there thanks to the Marshall Plan.

typical of film noir is the use of different frames, kept together by voice-overs

• scores become one of the distinctive signs of noir movies, along with the shades/light games,

• particularly between blinds


when in the 60s people started to say there could be no more “new” movies, the solution was to

remake the classics

in color — directors decided they wouldn’t film in b/w (only a few films were the exception):

• colorful LA with aesthetic vogues that went through all kind of things (clothes, etc), everything

was turned into pastel colors it became an actual style






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10 mesi fa

Corso di laurea: Corso di laurea in lingue e letterature straniere
Università: Bologna - Unibo
A.A.: 2017-2018

I contenuti di questa pagina costituiscono rielaborazioni personali del Publisher ironlux di informazioni apprese con la frequenza delle lezioni di Letteratura anglo-americana e studio autonomo di eventuali libri di riferimento in preparazione dell'esame finale o della tesi. Non devono intendersi come materiale ufficiale dell'università Bologna - Unibo o del prof Minganti Franco.

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