You are walking down a dank, dark, and dangerous New York City alley in 1944. It’s June and the city is hot as hell: your shirt sticks to you as you hear stiletto heels tap, tap, tapping against the stones in the alleyway behind you. You glance over your shoulder, slightly tipping your black fedora to hide your glance as you do, when what catches your eye but a redhead with a coke bottle figure, a black dress, and a look of pure fatal terror on her face; a couple of thugs are racing after her, guns in hand, looking, it seems, to grab her.
A man in a brown fedora, black tie, and white shirt appears behind them. He pulls out a snub nose .38 revolver and, like the noir pied piper, he somehow manages to get the thugs off the mystery woman’s back. This seemingly random and flawed hero is the private detective in film noir.
Film noir has certain giants in its history who are very much considered to be the founding fathers of hard-boiled as a genre, most if not all contributing to the shaping of certain character archetypes like the private detective or the femme fatale. Basically all of the noir founding fathers did something in the private detective vein. These are the writers who cut their teeth in dime store “pulp fiction” like Black Mask and other detective magazines. These are the writers every film noir fan knows quite well: Dashiell Hammett of The Maltese Falcon — 1941 and 1931 — with his PI Sam Spade, The Falcon was also adapted into a movie called Satan Met a Lady starring Bette Davis, as the second adaptation; James M. Cain of Mildred Pierce (1945) and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946); and Mickey Spillane, the father of the private detective Mike Hammer saga and Kiss Me Deadly (1955).
Yet, quite possibly the most prolific character to be created in all hard-boiled history is arguably Raymond Chandler’s private detective Philip Marlowe. Marlowe has appeared in 14 published novels or stories written by Chandler…