Soft-Boiled Noir

Well, my Doom Patrol reading has hit a bit of a snag, so I’ve been dipping into The Invisibles, which I should have some thoughts on, later in the week… In the meantime, I’ve been building a little site devoted to the discussion of what I like to call “soft-boiled noir”. Here’s the (soft-spoken) manifesto I posted there today–and please consider that invitation at the end of it!

Hi everyone,

My name is Dave and I’m interested in lots of things. I have a more all-purpose blog located elsewhere, and my Strange Cargo entry was drawn from that site. From now on, though, I’m going to restrict myself to posting fresh material here.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which certain directors, mainly in the forties, used noir lighting and narrative techniques to express sentiments that we don’t normally associate with the canonical noir masterpieces… Oh sure, I think everyone understands that these films are works of “dark romanticism”–but scholars tend to emphasize the ways in which these films critique romantic individualism. You know: hard-boiled men and women in subjective death cars for one, racing to the “end of the line”, right off a cliff…

This is the hard-boiled, no holds barred, “life sucks” school of storytelling. Obviously, there’s a lot to be said for these films. The Maltese Falcon, in particular, is one of my favourites (although the novel is even better).

But what about the films that I would describe as “soft-boiled” noirs? And it’s not like this is cut-and-dried either. I would say that Wilder and Hawks are always hard-boiled, while Dieterle and Borzage are always “soft-boiled”–but in the case of Dmytryk or Negulesco, it’s really a matter of interpretation. How many people think of It’s A Wonderful Life as a film noir? I would contend that it is. I’m primarily interested in the way that these films manage to turn radical subjectivity into a bonding agent, not between the self and the world, but the self and other selves… I know that it’s far too early in our relationship for me to be punning with you, dear reader, but I can’t help it–these works turn “alienation” in an “alien nation”, a community composed of selves that never touch, and who respect–and even come to love–each other’s “otherness”.

Anyway, that’s where I’ll be going with this journal. I’ll be watching at least one movie a week, and ranting about it here: Moonrise, Portrait of Jennie, Three Strangers, Angels Over Broadway, Crossfire, A Woman’s Secret, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, and a lot of others…anything I can get my hands on!

And if you feel moved to post something of your own here (whether you agree with the point of view I’ve just put forward or not!), please get in touch with me–I would welcome your colloboration!


Good Day Friends!



  1. Of course, first you’ll have to define “noir,” which is almost as much fun as trying to define “science fiction”…. jess

  2. Dave,

    What Invisibles are you reading? Steven and I have both just finished the whole run, fun stuff! I hope I’ll eventually be able to say something smart about it

    Also, w/r/t yesterday’s post, isn’t Relish a fun little disc?


  3. Seconded! I really like <>The Invisibles<>–in fact, I’m oddly and deeply moved by the series’ ending–and am looking forward to reading what you write about it. jess

  4. Jess,

    On noir: I’m going to take the easy way out on this one and treat noir as a constellation of shooting and stroytelling techniques rather than a genre (which I don’t think it is)… although I will be working on a taxononomy of soft-boiled noir (a la J.W. Hastings’ wonderful taxonomy of caper films)

    Rose (& Jess)

    I’ve only got the first three trades of The Invisibles, which I got a few years ago and never really read, but there’s always the chance that I’ll be able to acquire the rest of them sometime soon (not to mention those elusive DP’s!)

    Also, Rose, I love Joan Osborne–that CD has pretty much everything! I think I like “Lumina” best…


  5. Dave,

    The noir-as-genre issue is interesting. In the beginning, filmmakers didn’t set out to shoot “noirs”: rather they were making thrillers or crime melodramas or detective movies. The term “film noir” was a term used by critics to describe a kind of film with a certain conventions of storytelling technique, subject matter, atmosphere, and point-of-view. However, after the critics had defined “noir” it did become a genre–that is, filmmakers could set out to make a “noir” by aping the conventions of movies that had already been defined as noirs. No one really does this, but I think it would be useful to refer to these self-conscious efforts as “neo-noirs.” I’d include Robert Aldrich, Nicholas Ray, and Jean-Pierre Melville in the first wave of neo-noir directors.


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