Arson by night

The police are closing in. The killer is visually behind bars.

The police are closing in. The killer is visually behind bars.

02

hiding in the shadows

I made it my New Year’s resolution to read more Hammett, so it was nice that his short story, Arson Plus, showed up in the NoirMOOC. It’s Hammett’s first published story, and it’s not quite as hardboiled as Red Harvest. I guess he needed to cook a little longer. There are instances in Red Harvest where Hammett wrings volumes out of using just the right word or turn of phrase. With Arson, it doesn’t seem like he was at that level yet – at least nothing jumped out at me on a quick read-through. The story is a fairly straightforward case of arson and deception. The psychological toughness of hardboiled fiction isn’t terribly evident, but a lot of the trappings of the genre are there.

It goes along well with He Walked by Night, directed by Alfred Werker and starring Richard Basehart, the same team that brought us the uranium western, Canyon Crossroads. (Never seen it, just like the idea of a uranium western.) He Walked by Night has all the trappings of a noir film, mainly due to the efforts of cinematographer John Alton. The chiaroscuro photography, the shadowplay, and the low angles all reek of noir. But the story is a basic police procedural. The psychological dimension typical of film noir is largely absent from the storyline. I think that’s significant – it’s about a style that supports the substance, not about the style alone.

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