Category Archives: History and Characteristics of Crime Noir

The Classic Film Noir Protagonist and Inspector Sullivan

Brooding, hard-boiled, anti-social loners who take up the profession of detective. It’s the very definition of the male protagonist in classic film noir productions. Think your job is tough? Compare it to the standard working conditions of the noir male lead. His daily life is spent in the toughest part of towns, usually at night and almost always alone, hunting down dangerous individuals who are just as ready to betray our male lead as kill him. Our detective’s world seems to nothing more than a life filled with crime, betrayal, danger and loneliness. The very city our man lives in dehumanizes him with its tall, concrete buildings, shadowy alleyways and rundown neighborhoods.

Caught up in this confusing moral swamp, the male in the noir story is often filled with inner turmoil. What is right? What is wrong? Thus it is that our male lead becomes by necessity his own man. He lives by his own code. So long as he stays true to his code, he is true to himself and what he believes is right, or in many instances, justice.

Given this grey code of truth, the noir detective is often finds it perfectly acceptable to break the law in order to arrive at the truth, protect his client and if there is such a thing, the innocent.

As with any genre, there is leeway in how a character can be written, so long as the basics are adhered too.

Inspector Sullivan is certainly no exception. His past is filled with violence, betrayal and pain. Pain inflicted both by others and himself. Sullivan stands apart to a small degree from the traditional noir lead for he is a man with a conscience. Not one, but two as I would have it, his own and that of the bothersome Anglican priest, Father Nathan, who befriends Sully whether he wants a friend or not.

Sully is capable of incredible violence, some of which he is perfectly indifferent about and other times troubled by his actions. In his mind the moral difference is determined by whether or not justice was served. The law is nice, but justice is what Sully seeks in his world. In his life he has seen far too much injustice with far too few people who seek to provide justice, particularly for those who cannot defend themselves. That source of injustice could be a single criminal or an entire system aligned against the hapless individual.

Life lived alone means a life that has fewer opportunities to be hurt and more important to Sully, fewer opportunities for others to be hurt. Guilt is Sullys constant companion and belies his tough exterior and attitude of indifference. So is his defined sense of responsibility for those who, for better or worse, become part of his life.

It has been Sullivan’s experience that women are trouble, making him the typical noir protagonist. In the case of the mysterious Sarah, Sullivan is at best confused. She certainly has some of the elements of the femme fatale. Sarah is beautiful, mysterious and as the reader learns, potentially dangerous. It turns out Sarah and Sullivan share a painful secret from their past that tortures them both.

Indifference towards Sarah is not possible for any man. In Sullivan’s case, their relationship is a confusing one on a good day. He feels like a father figure towards the strange, aloof young woman yet cannot help but notice her alluring charms. For her part, Sarah sends as many mixed signals as is possible for a woman, all of which seems to draw Sullivan in deeper and closer to the troubled young woman.

As the series unfolds, the pair grows closer in ways neither could have foreseen.

Despite his desire to live his life alone, Sullivan as a character diverges from the norm for a noir protagonist. He develops a few close friends, excluding Sarah, all of which but one are male. His is a male world and Sully likes it that way.

If you like thrillers and classic noir stories, you’ll like the Inspector Thomas Sullivan series.

Roger Ebert’s Ten Characteristics of Noir Films (Novels for that matter)

The late film critic Roger Ebert liked film noir movies. Let’s be honest, some of Hollywoods best films from the Golden Era were noir. The film many critics say is the best American film ever made, Casablanca, is a noir.

Ebert penned a list of what he believed to be the ten characteristics that made a story a noir. Not all film noir movies fit all ten and the same is true for novels. The list however is a great starting point to determine if a film or novel fits the noir genre.

Here’s Ebert’s list:

1. A French term meaning “black film,” or film of the night.
2. A movie which at no time misleads you into thinking there is going to be a happy ending.
3. Locations that reek of the night, of shadows, of alleys, of the back doors of fancy places, of apartment buildings with a high turnover rate, of taxi drivers and bartenders who have seen it all.
4. Cigarettes. Everybody in film noir is always smoking, as if to say, “On top of everything else, I’ve been assigned to get through three packs today.”
5. Women who would just as soon kill you as love you, and vice versa.
6. For women: low necklines, floppy hats, mascara, lipstick, dressing rooms, boudoirs… high heels, red dresses, elbow length gloves, mixing drinks […]
7. For men: fedoras, suits and ties, shabby residential hotels with a neon sign blinking through the window, buying yourself a drink out of the office bottle, cars with running boards, all-night diners […]
8. Movies either shot in black and white, or feeling like they were.
9. Relationships in which love is only the final flop card in the poker game of death.
10. The most American film genre, because no society could have created a world so filled with doom, fate, fear and betrayal, unless it were essentially naive and optimistic.

To read more visit this site, Roger Ebert.com

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