Dames in the Driver's Seat: Rereading Film Noir

Dames in the Driver's Seat: Rereading Film Noir

Dames in the Driver's Seat: Rereading Film Noir

Dames in the Driver's Seat: Rereading Film Noir

Excerpt

By arguing episodically for the presence of a noir sensibility—a pulp politics— throughout twentieth-century America, I improvise a method for theorizing its peculiar modernism, not as a seamless grand narrative, nor as a tightly focused case study, but as the chaotic repetition of the familiar.

PAULA RABINOWITZ, Black and White and Noir: America's Pulp Modernism

But if we think, as we sometimes do, that we are uncovering [subversion] in the midst of [Hollywood production], that subversion will usually have much more to do with the contradictory conditions of cultural production than with any genuine attempt at counterideological statement. In the first instance Hollywood is a force for social stability and must be understood as such.

PHILIP GREEN, Cracks in the Pedestal: Ideology and Gender in Hollywood

The 1946 film noir The Big Sleep has a brief sequence featuring a professional dame in the driver's seat, a taxi driver played by Joy Barlow (Figure I.1). Barlow's name does not appear in Femme Noir: Bad Girls of Film, nor in The Film Encyclopedia. Hers is a bit part. She is a secure and far from demure version of femininity. Like all the female characters in The Big Sleep, she displays an overt attraction to detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart). She helps Marlowe tail a suspect and then suggests that if he can use her again, he call her. He asks, [Day or night?] and she responds, [Night's better; I work days.] There is much to like about this sequence. The character—white, dark-haired, and beautiful— . . .

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