Clash of Desires: Detective vs. Femme Fatale


  • Veronika Pituková Department of English and American Studies, Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University, Arna Nováka 1, 602 00 Brno, Czech Republic, Europe



desire, hard-boiled detective fiction, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Daniel Mainwaring, film noir, femme fatale, detective


This article discusses the theme of desire presented in American hard-boiled detective fiction and its subsequent transformation on the screen in form of films noir of the 1940’s. The works in focus are novels The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler and Build My Gallows High by Daniel Mainwaring and their film noir adaptations – The Maltese Falcon (1941), Murder, My Sweet (1944) and Out of the Past (1947). The proposed paper seeks to offer a contrastive analysis of the novels and the films and situate them in their respective social and cultural contexts. The central conflict of this article is presented by the clash between the femme fatale’s and detective’s desires.


Hard-boiled novels present femme fatale as a dame with a past, a spider woman, and the detective as a hero with no future, caught in her web of intrigues. The only way out for the detective is to suppress the sexual desire for the woman and hold strong to his professional code. The femme fatale’s desire for more and for better is deadly and dangerous for those who succumb to her lure, but the detective’s desire for truth can be fatal for the dark lady too.


This clash presented in the novels is confronted with the 1940’s Hollywood production. When the detective frees himself from the sexual lure of the fatal woman he has a chance to live and even bring her to justice, but she can still escape or decide herself what to do with her destiny. Both, the dame and the hero are victims of their desires. The 1940’s films noir’s femme fatales have to pay for their crimes, no matter how crafty, seductive or manipulative they are.


Thus these films present the masculine dominance as strong and undefeated.





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