By Bran Nicol
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Extra resources for The Private Eye: Detectives in the Movies
The chief difference between second wave films and their classic noir predecessors is that the atmosphere of social alienation and degeneration seems to weigh heavily on the shoulders of the private eye, who becomes a sorry figure at times: anachronistic, lonely, ineffectual, in the grip of an existential crisis, treated contemptuously by those he comes into contact with. He might still be considered ‘heroic’ in some ways – he remains a man of action, and remains comfortable with violence, as well as being attractive to women – but is in fact more reminiscent of the anti-heroes of 45 modernist fiction and film.
As in the original film noirs, the private eye’s quest involves constantly, restlessly, moving from one location to another, tailing suspects, engaging in surveillance work, interviewing suspects and trying to glean information from shady authority figures. The chief difference between second wave films and their classic noir predecessors is that the atmosphere of social alienation and degeneration seems to weigh heavily on the shoulders of the private eye, who becomes a sorry figure at times: anachronistic, lonely, ineffectual, in the grip of an existential crisis, treated contemptuously by those he comes into contact with.
Both these films contain prolonged masochistic sequences which demonstrate the detective’s susceptibility to emasculation. At the other extreme, the private eye Mike Hammer, who appears in I, The Jury (1953) and, most memorably, in Robert Aldrich’s apocalyptic Cold War detective noir Kiss Me Deadly (1955), pushes the ideal of masculine power so far that it becomes almost psychopathic. Hammer was the creation of the right-wing hard-boiled writer Mickey Spillane, who transformed the fearless, wandering Chandleresque detective into a violent, xenophobic misogynist, in a series of best-selling novels in the early 1950s.