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Dream-making. HUM 3280: Narrative Film Fall 2011 Dr. Perdigao September 26, 2011. Origins. Dashiell Hammett novel The Maltese Falcon (1930), serialized pulp fiction

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dream making


HUM 3280: Narrative Film

Fall 2011

Dr. Perdigao

September 26, 2011


Dashiell Hammett novel The Maltese Falcon (1930), serialized pulp fiction

Hammett as Pinkerton detective, granddaughter describes code of being a detective, creating barrier between self and rest of the world, remaining secret, anonymous, invulnerable

Tuberculosis, left Pinkerton, started writing short stories, pulp fiction

Black Mask magazine

Started writing about Sam Spade in 1928, before Depression

Ideas changing during the time

“avaricious aspirations”—hunt for wealth not what one thought it would be

Turning detective story into “literature”

film ing the book
“Film[ing] the book”

Warner Bros. bought film rights

1931 film version, pre-Code The Maltese Falcon, originally titled “Woman of the World,” emphasis on sex, sexuality

Hal Wallis wanted to remake the film

1936 Satan Met a Lady with Bette Davis as femme fatale, falcon as ram’s horn

Inspiration from Welles’ Citizen Kane

John Huston as director, said he would “shoot the book”

Short shooting schedule, small budget, all interior shots

Alterations to satisfy Code

john huston
John Huston

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Key Largo (1948)

The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948)

The African Queen (1951)

The Red Badge of Courage (1951)

Moulin Rouge (1952)

Moby Dick (1956)

Casino Royale (1967)

Wise Blood (1979)

Annie (1982)

Prizzi’s Honor (1985)

The Dead (1987)


Samuel Spade: Humphrey Bogart

Miles Archer: Jerome Cowman

Ruth Wonderly/Brigid O’Shaughnessy: Mary Astor, scandal in personal life, “parody of her life in the press” as Black Widow, femme fatale

Joel Cairo: Peter Lorre

Kasper Gutman: Sydney Greenstreet

Effie Perine: Lee Patrick

defining genres
Defining Genres

As first great detective film

Breaking stereotypes—no good guys, girls

Matching style and content

Film noir

Over-exposure, smoky atmospheres

Name from French film critics but style from German expressionist filmmaking technique

Light and shadow, dramatic camera angles, generally pessimistic world views

Low camera angle, asymmetrical composition

Effects of light slashing through scenes, on bodies


Female workforce in US in early 1940s rose from 11 million to 20 million during the war years (Avila 223)

Despite celebration of “Rosie the Riveter,” animosity toward women abandoning traditional social roles (Avila 223)

Film noir’s representation of “new breed of public women—sassy, conniving, and out to undermine masculine authority through her many misdeeds” (Avila 223)

“crisis of white masculinity at the outset of the postwar period” (225)

“destabilization of the white male identity within the topsy-turvy world of the modern city” (225), anti-hero

Avila, Eric. “Film Noir, Disneyland, and the Cold War (Sub)Urban

Imaginary.” Hollywood’s America: Twentieth-Century America Through Film. 4th ed. Ed. Steven Mintz and Randy W. Roberts. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 219-233. print.

defining genres1
Defining Genres

Drawing from characters and plots of gangster movies and hard-boiled detective fiction of the 1930s (Mintz and Roberts 175)

Gangster films set in the 1930s, Prohibition as context (Corrigan and White 356)

Protagonist representing the law or more ambiguous version of it (176)

Subgenre of crime films

Darkness and corruption in world, characters—no resolution (176)

Paranoia and entrapment (Dick 147)

Canted shots to show world changed, shrouded in fog (147)

Stock characters: private detectives, insurance salesmen, prostitutes, murderous housewives, two-time losers, ex-convicts, and gamblers (147-148)

defining genres2
Defining Genres

Femme fatale and male lover

Death in ending, of either character (Dick 148)

Blonde, wearing white

Idea of fate

Voiceover narration and flashbacks, flashbacks within flashbacks (149)

Plots: whodunit, man/woman in hiding, old dark house, cover-up, murderous couple, murderous lover (149)

defining genres3
Defining Genres

European émigrés fleeing Hitler’s Germany—wartime necessity with limited availability of bright lighting and effects—looming shadows, stark contrasts of darkness and light (Mintz and Roberts 175)

Films and directors “tap[ping] into broader cultural concerns” (175), more realistic than Depression-era films

Shift from or rejection of films that “sought to raise morale and reinforce traditional values,” moving toward representation of gritty view of society in its realism (175)

Influenced by Freudian psychoanalysis, psychological sophistication in genre (177)

Film noir giving “tangible expression to the psychic confusion of a nation that had won the largest war in history but faced even greater uncertainties in peacetime” (Mintz and Roberts 22-23)

i m not heroic
“I’m not heroic”

“World War II had produced far-reaching changes in American life: it accelerated the mobility of the population, raised living standards, and profoundly altered race relations and the role of women. Film noir metaphorically addressed many anxieties and apprehensions: the disorientation of returning GIs, fear of nuclear weapons, paranoia generated by the early Cold War, and anxieties aroused by the changing role of women. Characterized by sexual insecurity, aberrant psychology, and nightmarish camera work, film noir depicted a world of threatening shadows and ambiguities—a world of obsession, alienation, corruption, deceit, blurred identity, paranoia, dementia, weak men, cold-blooded femmes fatales, and, inevitably, murder. Its style consisted of looming close-ups, oblique camera angles, and crowded compositions that produced a sense of entrapment. The films’ narratives were rarely straightforward; they contained frequent flashbacks and voiceovers” (Mintz and Roberts 23).

“We often think of the postwar era as a time of optimism fueled by economic prosperity, but film noir reveals the underside of the era: its anxieties, its paranoia, and, in the wake of the Holocaust, the concentration camp, and the dawn of the atomic age, its doubts about the essential goodness of human nature” (Mintz and Roberts 177).

breaking shots
Breaking Shots

Camera angles similar to those in Citizen Kane

MacGuffin—use of prop, feeding characters’ greed and giving existential weight to tale—Hammett’s “fatalistic metaphor of the futile pursuit of wealth”

Rosebud’s significance


Upsetting conventions


Role of the detective

Sherlock, Jr.?

Masculinity and femininity



Loyalty, truth, integrity (Corrigan and White 176)

“The stuff that dreams are made of”