The “Dime-Novel Detective Story” was considered trashy craft-art and formulaic, bought at newsstands on your way to work to escape the daily grind. The illustrations to pulp fiction were catchy to the eye and easily bought with pocket change. By the 1930s, American Noir had expanded to a wider range of plots and types than the hardboiled detective story. Raymond Chandler helped legitimize sensational pulp fiction (the magazines were made from wood pulp) and his gritty detective stories from the 30s, 40s, and 50s blossomed from cheap entertainment into influential American pop-culture.
Crime stories in pulps such as The Hardboiled Dicks, edited by Ron Goulart, was a collection of crime stories competing with other pulps: Black Mask, Dime Detective, and Detective Fiction Weekly. Chandler became a principal writer for Black Mask. Just like Marvel Comic Books, if you find an original edition of Black Mask, buy it for me, will you? I’ll pay for the postage.
Chandler was a successful screenwriter of several classic films: Double Indemnity, And Now Tomorrow, The Unseen, The Blue Dahlia, Strangers on a Train, and Playback.
He was author of the detective mystery novels: The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, The High Window, The Lady in the Lake, The Little Sister, The Long Goodbye, Playback, and Poodle Springs (posthumous).
He birthed the popular American detective, Philip Marlowe, immortalized by Humphrey Bogart. Want to learn more about the history of Philip Marlowe? Check out this excellent article by Dave Ordgard.
Raymond Chandler’s style is distinctive. His American detective is nothing like the British mysteries of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie. Here, the gunshots are real and the blood flows. The detective is coarse. He drinks too much and smokes too much. He has a soft spot for beautiful women who mysteriously need his help and often put him in danger. Despite the shady life and femme fatale, the detective has a moral center and does the right thing. He narrates his stories and offers his thoughts and feelings.
Have you heard of Chanderlisms? They are the ludicrous similes that only Philip Marlowe could get away with saying.
“I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun.” Farewell, My Lovely (Chapter 34)
“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”– “Red Wind”
“She opened a mouth like a fire bucket and laughed. That terminated my interest in her. I couldn’t hear the laugh but the hole in her face when she unzippered her teeth was all I needed.”–The Long Good-bye (Chapter 13)
“I belonged in Idle Valley like a pearl onion on a banana split.”–The Long Good-bye (Chapter 13)
American Noir has been a Hollywood staple for decades.
Come back soon to read my upcoming film spotlight on a great Billy Wilder film, Double Indemnity.
What’s your favorite American Noir?