Dark Cinema: American Film Noir in Cultural Perspective

By Jon Tuska | Go to book overview

2
Hostages of Fate

Because for some the idea of a roman noir may be considered the equivalent of what in English is called the penny dreadful and in German der Schauerroman, I should like to make it clear at the outset that I am using the term in this book in a much broader context. I intend it to encompass that literary trend which for subject matter concentrates on the dark, nightmarish side of life, that goes beyond the dreaming and nostalgia of the Romantic movement on the one hand and the strictly controlled moderation and respect for proportion true of the Classical spirit on the other. This is not to say, however, that the roman noir in its multitude of manifestations has not at various times drawn sustenance from both Classicism and Romanticism. " Toutes les femmes qu'il a eu," Gustave Flaubert confessed to the Goncourts, embodying the essence of Romanticism, "n'ont jamais été que les matelas d'une autre femme rêvée."1 Whereas, for Voltaire, the essence of Classicism is not to dream at all: "Je vais droit au fait -- c'est ma devise."2

In ANATOMY OF CRITICISM: FOUR ESSAYS ( 1957), Northrup Frye commented that "a critic may spend a thesis, a book, or even a life work on something he candidly admits to be third rate, simply because it is connected with something else that he thinks sufficiently important for his pains." 3 I must concede that none of the fiction I intend to discuss in this chapter -- with the possible exception of that of Kay Boyle - is to be compared critically with those works with which I was preoccupied in the previous chapter; but it is necessary to survey this fiction - both the products of what is called the BLACK MASK school and other varieties of the roman noir - to grasp the contributions it made to film noir.

Detective fiction has among its precursors Gothic fiction which began with Horace Walpole CASTLE OF OTRANTO ( 1764) wherein all the action is set against the backdrop of a medieval castle. It was so popular it created its own vogue and was followed notably by Ann Radcliffe THE ROMANCE OF THE FOREST

-43-

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Dark Cinema: American Film Noir in Cultural Perspective
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Illustrations xi
  • Author's Note xiii
  • Introduction xv
  • Part I - Literary Antecedents 1
  • 1 - Tragedy 3
  • 2 - Hostages of Fate 43
  • Part II - Cinematic Antecedents 103
  • 3 - German Expressionist Cinema 105
  • 4 - American Cinema between the Wars 125
  • Part III - American Film Noir 147
  • 5 - The Film Noir Canon 149
  • 6 - Noir Women 199
  • 7 - Noir Men 215
  • 8 - Noir Directors 233
  • Notes 241
  • Chronology and Filmography of Films Noirs 263
  • Bibliography 273
  • Index 283
  • About the Author *
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