The term ‘pulp fiction’ originated in the early 20th century when over -the-top escapist crime dramas were mass published on very cheap ‘pulp’ paper to a population that was rising in literacy. These hardboiled detective novels gained popularity leading up to the Second World War and then dwindled in sales with the rise of paper costs and the severity of the WWII conflict stigmatizing fictional violence as insincere during the time.
Despite its decline, by the close of WWII the pulp fiction genre gave rise to a new film genre known as film noir, which eventually gave birth to the gangster film genre. All of the books and films that stemmed from this style defined what today is recognized as Americana and they painted the cities in which they were set as seedy cutthroat often dramatizing more darker and gritty side of the American urban underground and counter-culture. If any one novel defines the pulp fiction genre it’s “The Big Sleep” by Raymond Chandler.
Published in 1939, “The Big Sleep” paints a seedy corrupt picture of Los Angeles early on the reader is made to understand that there is no room for nice guys in this world, with lines like “Knights had no meaning in this game. It wasn’t a game for knights (Raymond Chandler, p23). ” Plot lines deal with the blackmail and loaning of pornography. The implications of rape and drug use, and of course murder. Many of the characters throughout the book double cross one another and demonstrate the dark aspects of human nature.
“The Big Sleep” as well as presenting Los Angeles as an ironically dark and corrupt world beneath the glitz and glamour revealed to really be driven by drugs, shady characters, and ulterior motives, the novel also introduced the character of the fem fatale by having Carmen as the villain. This can bee seen as one of the key pulp fiction plot traits that gave birth to the Film Noir Genre. Film noir is a cinematic genre known for its stylish Hollywood crimes and moral ambiguity; its popular use in film lasted 1940 to 1950 in Hollywood.
A major characteristic of Film noir recognizable in this film is the archetype of the Femme fatale. The term is French for deadly woman, or fatal woman. The main characteristic of a femme fatale is that they are dangerous; they are usually villainous and deceptive in a way that provides them access to power not normally achieved by women, especially during this time period. “The Big Sleep” can be credited for making this character popular, but for also signifying the character trait with Hollywood.
The idea that the woman, a figure heavily objectified during that period in American culture to be seen as unquestionably innocent is anything but in the land ironically titled “The City of Angles. ” While the pulp fiction genre died down shortly after 1939 in publishing, it’s populatiry gave the green light for the production of film noir thrillers, and one of the first of these films was The Maltese Falcon. The 1941 film The Maltese Falcon, based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett and directed by John Huston, has been deemed as the quintessential film noir picture.