There is a genre of literature that I love, but has largely been forgotten today. I’m thinking of the great pulp fiction stories and novels of the 1920s – 1940s. Call it noir, hard-boiled, or just crime stories, some of the greatest characters have arisen from this lost art. In turn, these works inspired a classic film genre: film noir. After all, who can forget Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe? This week I will offer up suggested reading from some of my favorite film noir movies. Much of the material for these iconic films came from amazing novels by writers like James M. Cain and Dashiell Hammett. If you enjoy these movies, you’ll appreciate reading the original.
1) The Maltese Falcon (1930) by Dashiell Hammett
In San Francisco, private detective Sam Spade must wade through the murder of his partner and deceit from an odd cast of characters on the hunt for a mysterious object. –Film info.
2) The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) by James M. Cain
Details the affair between a drifter and a beautiful young woman married to an older man, which eventually leads to murder. –Film info.
3) The Big Sleep (1939) by Raymond Chandler
In L.A., Phillip Marlowe is tasked with finding out who is blackmailing a pair of wealthy and beautiful sisters, but things are not what they seem. –Film info.
4) Mildred Pierce (1941) by James M. Cain
An amazing rags – to riches – to rags again story about a tough lady and the devotion she has for her cruel, selfish daughter. Brought alive by one of my favorite actresses, Joan Crawford, the 1945 film version differs from the novel.
5) The Asphalt Jungle(1949) by W.R. Burnett
Details the planning and unraveling of a jewelry heist. The 1950 film version features one of the first roles of Marilyn Monroe.
From hard and cynical heroes, to gorgeous but dangerous women, to psychotic criminals, noir fiction has a unique flavor all its own. There are many stories that belong on this list, but these are some of the best that became films. Once you get into the genre, you too will be hooked. So enjoy and get ready to be transported to an exciting time and place filled with crooks, dames, and tough guys galore.
For further reading:
Queenpin by Megan Abbott.
The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, edited by Otto Penzler.
Title Quote: The Maltese Falcon (1941), Quotes, IMDB.
Cover Photo Credit: “TypeHype4MaltFalc1941Trailer” by my own screen capture – The Maltese Falcon DVD, 1941 public domain trailer. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.