Kiss the Blood off my Hands

New Essays on Film Noir

Nov. 25, 2014
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Photo from Project Muse

One of the pleasures of Kiss the Blood Off My Hands: On Classic Film Noir (published by University of Minnesota Press) is Philippa Gates’ essay, “The Female Detective in Film Noir.” The Canadian film studies professor sets out to revise assumptions about women in noir that have hardened into dogma, especially the one about the two kinds of gals inhabiting those movies: the femme fatale and the woman as redeemer. Feminist academics have reinterpreted the former as “empowering” and the latter as merely dull.

While this bad girl-good girl dichotomy, however interpreted, holds for many films noir, Gates finds that many screenplays don’t fit this either-or categorization. To begin with, Gates has a healthy appreciation for noir’s wide scope. It wasn’t a subset of detective mysteries or crime drama but a style and an attitude, encompassing Rebecca, Gaslight and Mildred Pierce as well as Double Indemnity and Out of the Past.

As her essay’s title indicates, Gates focuses on the often-overlooked film noir female crime investigator. True, many films featured male detectives as ethically uncompromised urban knights striding the mean streets, but Gates identifies a surprising number of movies where women played gumshoe. This perhaps signified a psychological shift running contrary to the usual assumptions that noir represented male anxieties about the new roles assumed by women while they were away during World War II. Many movies with women in the role of investigating a mystery, such as Katharine Hepburn’s Undercurrent or director Douglas Sirk’s Sleep, My Love, were outgrowths of a gothic literary tradition that had always assigned prominence to women. In other noirs, however, women played detective in more hard-edged, contemporary settings.

Kiss the Blood Off My Hands is a provocative set of essays that investigate an old genre with fresh eyes. It is edited by Ohio University’s Robert Miklitsch.


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