|Table of Contents|
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. The detective story as a narrative genre
Chapter 2. Popeye's connection and criticism as a visual aid
Chapter 3. Literature and the crucial image in "The Maltese Falcon"
Chapter 4. The vision of color and the black spot in the eye: "Chinatown"
Chapter 5. The vision of color and the marriage story: "Bullitt"
Chapter 6. The saving structure in "Dirty Harry"
Chapter 7. The gospel of the eye: The savior's vision in "Dirty Harry"
WHEN LOGICS DIE: MORAL VISION IN
THE PRIVATE-EYE MOVIES
ARMANDO J. PRATS
.A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL
FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 1975
,?When Logics die, The secret of the soil grows through the eye."
For Tonya, whose lovely image ever shows me
the joy of being a private-eye and
For Bill, "this Boss of mine."
for A. J. Prats
Dirty Harry is an activity
in the blessed blessed eye, the imagination of magnums
born at the arch in an end of episodes
nothings habit the cross where words
suggest, the only image
is a mixture of heights and red stumbling-one sound, a line hovering at his sights-and the stadium is a drug of lights
where words are fat men taking walks,
and this is the torture of the crusty sun that wavers between silencers and shadow
"1no reason for it really"--the badge
expands to multitudes he cannot name,
this moving image of bullets and space
happening and happening that only light e xplores
Philip A. Kuhn
One always wishes that he could remember each and every person who makes possible dreams such as these. But, alas, it!s impossible to go back ten years in time and give credit to the collective body of minds that got this dissertation written. Still, it is imperative that some specific people be iiamed. And the first of those must be Olga and Cuca--not for any one contribution, but for a lifetime of love beyond the boundaries of duty.
Then'there is Phil Kuhn, who so willingly bestows upon me the gifts that are a first-rate poet's images. Sid .Homan broke all kinds of speed-reading records and still came up with solid criticism that improved the value of this study. William Childers took great interest in this dissertation, kept me up to date in my progress, provided the script for "Chinatown," and even taught me how-to thread a l6mm. projector. Paul Newman gladly consented to be conned into obtaining "The French Connection" for me and allowed me to see it in the comforts of my home. I also wish to thank Motley Deakin, who helped in getting me back to Gainesville so I could finish my dissertation.
And in more general terms I wish to thank the Robinson family for always making me feel at home.
Special thanks to Dick Rupp, who, long ago and far away, believed in something like this.
Thanks to the members of the faculty at the University of Kentucky, especially Joe Bryant, Art Gallaher, Frank Burke, and Dick Sugg, who could sort of tell this thing would be written even when they hadn't seen it.
I also wish to express my gratitude to all those
wealthy Italians, and especially to Diego Avegno, as well as to those poor Cubans, Particularly Miguel Diaz and Manuel Asunsolo, who never quite knew what I was up to, but who believed i n me all the same.
The debt that I owe Bill Robinson cannot be repaid in a lifetime and must therefore go unspecified.
Becky, what a good girl you were during all those days when I sweated over the blank pages!
And again, Tonya, is this life's work really enough to show you?
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS . . . . . . . . . . v
ABSTRACT . . . . . . . . . . . . viii
INTRODUCTION . ... . . . . . . . . 1
CHAPTER ONE: THE DETECTIVE STORY AS A NARRATIVE GENRE 13 CHAPTER TWO: POPEYE'S CONNECTION AND CRITICISM AS A VISUAL AID . . . . 48 CHAPTER THREE: LITERATURE AND THE CRUCIAL IMAGE IN "THE MALTESE FALCON . . . 74 CHAPTER FOUR: THE VISION OF COLOR AND THE BLACK SPOT IN THE EYE: "CHINATOWN" 125
CHAPTER FIVE: THE VISION OF COLOR AND THE MARRIAGE STORY: "BULLITT . . . 160 CHAPTER SIX: THE SAVING STRUCTURE IN "DIRTY HARRY". 196 CHAPTER SEVEN: THE GOSPEL OF THE EYE: THE SAVIOR'S VISION IN "DIRTY HARRY" 223 CONCLUSION . . . . . . . . . . . 258
BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . . . . 274
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH . . . . . . . . . 278
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree-of Doctor of Philosophy
WHEN LOGICS DIE: MORAL VISION IN
THE PRIVATE-EYE MOVIES
Armando J. Prats
Chairman: William R. Robinson Major Department: English
A detailed inquiry into the self-generative moral power of five private-eye movies, this study explores the activity by which the private-eye illustrates and clarifies both the medium of the movies and the life in the visible creation. The study begins with a short explanation of "genre." Thereafter, two detective stories are examined in terms of their powers to propel the detective into the cinematic medium. The first such story, Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," is discussed in the light of the narrative's inherent capacities to illuminate the powers of the detective as an agent for the "moral activity" that the story itself announces in the beginning. Immediately following is a brief sketch of the emergence of the interplay between good and evil in the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. This short discussion illustrates the manner in which such an interaction becomes the underlying pattern of action for subseque nt private-eye stories. The second literary narrative discussed in the first chapter is Hammett's "The
Big Knockover." The investigation of this story reveals the transformations that occur in the method of narration, in the structure of action, and in the interplay between good and evil which change the' private "I" as verbal narrator to the private-eye as agent for his medium. The second chapter deals specifically with "The French Connection" as a model for the illustration of the descriptive method adopted throughout the entire study. Closely following the agent's visual activity, this chapter determines the critical approach enacted by the man of the eye through an individual action that defines the moral activity rendered in the narrative. "The Maltese Falcon" comprises the third chapter. This movie is explored in terms of its success in breaking away from the literary story that engenders it. This chapter also establishes the pattern of analysis employed in the discussion of subsequent movies. Each movie is discussed in its structural, dramatic, thematic, and cinematic aspects. Specifically, the thematic aspect deals with the actions of thehero as an illuminator of the visual activity. An investigation of "Chinatown" views the movie as both a departure from the black and white visual structure of "The Maltese Falcon" and as a narrative of limited success in working with and through color as a means of growth in the private-eye movie. The fifth chapter, on "Bull itt," explores not only the movie's capacity to render the positive vision of a world of color, but also
discusses the specific activity through which the public agent or police detective propels himself into the dimension of private-eye. The sixth chapter is devoted exclusively to an in-depth examination of the structure of "Dirty Harry" as rendered in the first three sequences of the movie. The purpose of this chapter is to contrast the structure of "Dirty Harry" with the last three sequences of "Bullitt" and to show the new moral vision into which the privateeye movie has been launched. The seventh and last chapter deals with the dramatic, thematic, and cinematic visions of "Dirty Har y" which are specifically discussed according to the structure of action.explored in the sixth chapter. The conclusion serves a twofold purpose: first, it sums up recurrent themes 'and motifs as well as their variations as they appear in the movies that are discussed throughout the study, and second, it provides a vision of the future of the private-eye movies as a narrative art.
men did not begin to shoot because
there were ready-made targets to aim at.
They made things into targets by shooting at them, and then made special targets to
make shooting more significantly interesting.
There he was, this heroicimage in the brightly lit
stadium. Alone, he slowly descended the cement-block steps. He was going to the center of the field to meet the villain he'd just shot with his .44 Magnum and his eagle eye. Silently. No dramatic confrontation. No words at all. He was now walking on the football field, toward the center, the.arena of an action which no one saw except those of us in the darkness of the theater. As he approached him, the villain began to scream. Quietly yet with all the passion of life in his hoarse voice he asked the villain, "Where is the girl?" The villain just kept screaming about rights to a lawyer. Now standing over the villain's wounded leg, this heroic image that had miraculously emerged from the light, kept asking where the girl was. Ile didn't advise the bad guy of his rights. He just stood over him with the .44 Magnum in his right hand and he was never told where the girl was. But he got his man all right.
Two years ago, after seeing "Dirty Harry," it occurred to me that I had had a vision. I had witnessed a moral act. This heroic image who had been beaten against a concrete cross by the villain at night had emerged from the darkness to chase and finally kill the man who had almost killed him. And then at the end, "High Noon" style, he gave up the badge. He threw it away in disdain. But I saw that Harry's life was not all that was at stake in the movie. It was the movie's life. Either Harry got the villain or the villain got the movie! Harry's actions were not just entertainment, not just wo hours' worth of fantasy titillation. I saw a moral fact. This was my Newtonian apple. I had gone to see "just another movie" and had witnessed, yes, art, a deadly serious and wholly beautiful moral event. Through Harry's heroic agency the life of art and particularly the life of the movies as a visual phenomenon had been affirmed. The basic moral vision resided, I saw, in that affirmation of life.
Now this was not your run of the mill elite "film."
It had no class; and by that I mean that it didn't fit the categories of the old aesthetic to which even as new an art form as the movies has already succumbed. The vision was anti-hierarchical. To use Tom Wolfe's word, the vision had no p lace in the "statusphere" of movie "art." But it was nevertheless morality embodied in an action, wisdom in motion. All the right elements were there. Perhaps I
was wrong, momentarily possessed by the power of the action tomorroww it will seem just another private-eye movie"). But no, this epiphany was for real weeks and months later, today, in fact. I suspect Galileo must have felt pretty much the same way right after he saw what he saw. His vision didn't fit, but he was seeing a whole new order through his telescope. And Columbus, too, must have felt rather awkward when he envisioned a round earth and sailed to discover new passages over the imagined roundness. This exploration of the private-eye movies is just that--an act propelled by a vision that, as art, the private-eye movies
need not fit a priori theories, that they need not conform to the.old system of ideas about art, to the old aesthetic.
As the discoveries or, in the case of this exploration, the conclusions are based on visual fact, it is the vision itself and not the predetermined and accepted notion which is at the center of this inquiry. Columbus' mistake was to call America India. He saw the West and called it East because East is what he wanted to see. I mean that this exploration of the moral terrain of the private-eye movies is no more a question of good than it is of bad, of yes (I discovered) than no (I didn't discover what I wanted to). I make no effort to fit the private-eye movie in a "statusphere" of movie art, or to resound a rallying call to see the private-eye as either an aspect of the old aesthetic
or as a new hierarchy. 'Which is to say that there is no underlying*thesi s, no basic proposition to be categorically proved here. Newness, freshness,. presupposes discovery, and the new is only new as long as it is not forced into categories.. And that means in turn that even if the title of this study announces an explorative inquiry into moral terrain, ethics are not at stake here. There is nothing new in seeing something different conforming to old rational modes, because that only means that the morality comes first and the vision second; and such an order of priority turns the iew into the old. To see the private-eye movie conforming to a rational ethic is not an exploration; it is more akin to colonization. The old must not be allowed to weigh down the vision. Pioneer-like, the thing to do. is travel light.
Following the lead of two millennia of literary criticism, movie critics have succeeded in creating movie categories. Along with, say, the musical, the gangster story, and the Western, the private-eye movie has also been made a
11genre. But the explorations of these categories are usually seen in picture books such as William K. Everson's The Detective in Film and A Pictorial History of the Western Film or Harry Hossent's Gangster Movies. Images (though not still images), of course, are what movies are all about; and insofar as these books show the image, their value cannot be questioned. But careful not to tread aesthetic
turf (perhaps for fear of disturbing the "statusphere"),. these efforts result in histories of the genre. The pictures aroused as embellishment to the subtle perpetuation of a fixed convention. And in the case of Mr. Everson's detective book, the afterword mourns the passing of a "classic" such as "The Maltese Falcon" by stating that in the thirty-four years since, no private-eye story has matched this movie's achievement, and thus implying that the new cannot be good, much less empowered to render its own moral vision. or when critical attention is paid to a genre in a: study such as Stephen K arpf's The Gangster Film, the emphasis, as the subtitle indicates, is on "decay" rather than growth, on judgment rather than evaluation, and on history rather than aesthetic value.
With the vision of Harry's heroic action in mind, I
see no need to lend whatever critical talents I may possess .to the cause of colonization, to merely stating what has taken place without considering its value. Eric the Red looked at America, but Columbus saw it. Columbus explored 'the terrain and brought back the good vision of a new land. No vision, no exploration can be at once historical and new. Yet this investigation does tell a story. And the aim of the story is to clarify the vision of several privateeye movies as powers for good. Specifically, I am trying to show the evolution of the terrain of the private-eye by paying detailed attention to the changes that take place
within almost a century and a half of detective and privateeye stories. And more particularly still, I am attempting to tell the story of the way in which the genre evolves from the word to the image, how, in effect, the detective who uses logic as the power for good, metamorphoses into a private-eye whose visual talents allow him to proclaim another, different good. Thus, while it is certain that the territorial limits of the terrain seem to have been staked out by genre studies, by Erics of criticism, the possibilities for value within the continent are open for discovery. Though the continent be well mapped, the explorer will always see it new when he sees the specific contours that change the region and that make it good. only whe n the concrete and the individual is seen is there freedom to discover value.
And that is the aim of this exploration. To literally see. the moral fact in the genre of the private-eye. The moral fact that I seek is the movie's own. The boundaries of vision are limited only by the imaginative achievement of each movie. The task is, therefore, to see the full splendor of these movies within their self-generated boundaries. Vision, then, is not only the point of departure; it is also the vehicle for the exploration as well as the proposed destination. In other words, the subject matter of this exploration and the method used for discovery converge
upon a unified, organic vision. The question of unity, therefore, is a central concern of this inquiry. It is not enough to'see the continent; it is imperative to see it whole. Thus the farthest frontier of each story and each movie marks but the border of the new terrain created by the next movie.
So if this investigation is true to both its terrain
and its method, then there shall be no question as to whether or not the voyage has been fruitful. The intensity.of the interaction between critical vision and the visible is what matters above all else.
Five movies are specifically discussed in this study. As individual entities, these movies generate a method of self-clarification which in turn enacts a critical vision of the development of the private-eye story and of the private-eye himself as a clarifier of his visual world. But in order to provide a clearer vision of the evolution of the genre, the initial chapter begins with a short discussion of "genre" and of how the term itself operates in behalf of the entire study. The first chapter also explores the first detective story, Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," in contrast to a modern private-I story, Dashiell Hammett's "The Big Knockover." The aim of this inquiry is twofold. First, it attempts to trace the growth of the imagination in the detective and
private-I stories through an examination of the method by which the good is established in each narrative. The second purpose of this chapter is to show the detective story in twentieth-century America and how action and vision emerge to replace deductive logic as the clarifying method, and thus as the new moral activity. The investigation of the modern story is further aimed at defining those forces that make it possible for the imagination to nourish itself from the literary story and to give birth to the privateeye in the movies. Again, this contrast is not raised in the interest of asserting the supremacy of one medium over another. The literary stories are explored only in terms that allow for a clarification of the evolution of the genre.
The second chapter seeks to establish the critical model for the entire exploration by focusing closely on "The French Connection." Particularly, it investigates the power of Popeye Doyle's visual activity to generate a unique critical approach to the narrative and to provide a more general base from which each of the succeeding movies can be explored as events whose inherent moral vision gives rise to the exploration of the new vision contained in the movie that follows it. In other words, the agent's method of action is explored and his activity is offered as that which determines the basic critical approach to each movie
as well as that which justifies the motion into the vision of the next movie.
'Now,.beginning with the exploration of "The Maltese Falcon" in the third chapter, each movie is approached as an individual entity which contributes to the vision of the whole private-eye genre as a moral continent. This exploration cannot attempt to tell a story by merely discussing each movie in isolation. The exploration must point the way to an organic progression from one movie to the next. But this is not to say that the order in which these movi I es are discussed is chronological. Instead, the order in which these movies are explored is dictated by the movie's own power to provide an accurate vision of its end as the beginning of the one that follows it in the story.
Each movie is first summed up in terms of the basic task that confronts the private-eye as an agent for the clarification of the forces at work within the narrative. Thereafter, the discussion of each movie is basically subdivided into four specific areas of inquiry. The first such area deals with the specific structure or the working model of action generated by each movie. The dramatic aspect of the movie is then discussed as a distinct subcategory of the action in order to determine how the word creates conflict in or is incorporated by the new medium.
The third subdivision deals with the theme of the privateeye as a clarifier or illuminator of his particular world of action. This third area of inquiry seeks to examine the manner in which the private-eye serves as an agent to carry forward the possibilities announced in the activity that is established for him by the structure. And the fourth part of each chapter examines the way in which the cinematic eye acts in relation to the act ion, both visual and dramatic, of the private-eye. Not all chapters, however, are subdivided into four distinct sections. For instance, in order to establish the fundamental moral feat that is at stake in "'Bullitt," it is first necessary to discuss the model of action which the cinematic eye sets for Frank. In this instance, the structural and the cinematic are inseparable and thus they cannot be separated from the life of the agent without violating the unity of the narrative act. Or, for example, because Frank has no separate existence. as verbal man and another as man of action, both the dramatic and thematic aspects of "Bullitt" are discussed in the same subdivision. And in the case of "Dirty Harry," where the agent has to work for the liberation of the cinematic eye, there is no subdivision that treats the cinematic apart from the thematic level of action. Thus, two chapters are devoted to "Dirty Harry." The sixth deals exclusively with the visual structure contained in the first three sequences of the movie. This chapter, in turn,
serves to set up the discussion of the dramatic level and of both the thematic and cinematic patterns in the seventh chapter. Moreover, for the sake of contrast and clarification, a subdivision may appear in the chapter that explores a new movie. Thus, the exploration of the cinematic aspects of "Chinatown" is incorporated in the chapter on "Bullitt."
"The Maltese Falcon" is specifically discussed in its relation to the emergence of the private-eye of the American literary story into the cinematic medium. Its action, however, is not explored in direct relation to the Hammett novel. Nevertheless, the inquiry is aimed at a discovery of the method through which the cinematic imagination assimilates the elements of the literary story and crosses media boundaries. Particular-attention is given to.the black and white visual structure and to its success in making the transition from literature. The fourth chapter, dealing with."Chinatown," seeks to discover the way in which the model of action changes once the private-eye enters a world of color. Since "Chinatown" begins with black and white images, it is a suitable terrain in which to explore the power of color to generate evolutionary changes in the genre. A discussion of "Bullitt" serves two distinct purposes. The first is to show the actualization of the potentialities within a world of color that remain unrealized in
"Chinatown." The second aim is to discover the moral value of the transition made within this movie by the agent when, working iri and for the public, he becomes a private-eye. The sixth and seventh chapters deal with "Dirty Harry." As has been mentioned above, the first of these chapters attempts to illustrate the new vision into which the structure of this movie launches the private-eye story. Contrasted with the last three sequences in "Bullitt," the first three of "Dirty Harry" clearly point to a new terrain in the imagination of the private-eye story. The seventh and final chapter is a detailed exploration of dramatic, thematic, and cinematic aspects of "Dirty Harry" in the light of the structure as rendered in the first three sequences of the movi e. The conclusion aims at summing up the moral significance of major themes and dominant motifs discovered throughout the exploration by retracing the growth of the imagination in its encounters with the recurring components of the genre as they appear in the discussion.
THE DETECTIVE STORY AS A NARRATIVE GENRE'
The adoption of a literary genre for critical examination usually entails, first of all, a definition of the limits of the conventional form to be examined. once the limits are established, then the variations within those carefully demarcated boundaries are compared and contrasted. This exploration of the private-eye movies does not pretend to be a traditional genre study. That is, it does not seek to limit or classify. Since, however', by the very nature of the subject that it adopts for inquiry, this study of the detective story must inevitably be a genre study, it is necessary to attend briefly to what is meant here by genre. Conventionally defined, "genre" refers to a style, kind, or sort. But for the purposes of this study, "genre" means "gender"--and not "gender" the noun, but the verb, the act of engendering. In other words, genre is a process or a series of acts capable of producing new and different forms for carrying for ward the life of the imagination. This chapter, then, 'is not devoted t a history of the detective story. Instead, it is an investigation into the
process by which the new nourishes itself from the old forms. Through a discussion of two detective stories,' Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and Hammett's "The Big Knockover," this chapter aims at an illustration of the evolution of the detective in literature in order to show .the manner in which the literary genre grows and makes itself a viable form capable of exciting the cinematic imagination.
In "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," the narrator, C. Auguste Dupin's companion, goes to great lengths to describe the quality of the faculty for which he so admires Dupin. The long introduction attests to the fact that, even more than the mystery itself, it is Dupin's power which turns on the narrator's imagination. As in all introductions, the narrator is faced with the task of guiding us into his topic, of making us see more clearly at every step of his exploration. His first such step is to announce that.there is a power which can be so great in a man as to become "that moral activity which disentangles." 1 From the beginning, the introduction prepares us for an encounter
1 Edgar Allan Poe, "The Fall of the House of Usher" and Other Tales (New York: Signet, 1960), p. 49. Subsequent references to "Murders in the Rue Morgue" are to this edition and will be incorporated into the text in parentheses immediately after the quotation.
with a moral event. The narrator is vitally concerned with a moral activity which so delights him that it actually incites him to write about it. Heestablishes his problem and seeks to clarify it within the moral arena.
Previously, however, the narrator had referred to this moral force as "the analytic power" and to the man who possesses those talents as "the analyst." In a rational fashion, the narrator begins by praising the analytic intelligence, or logic, as the source of all moral good. At least initially, then, it is the analytic intelligence which, according to the narrator, accounts for moral action. Not much later, as the narrator attempts to illustrate the exceptional powers of his friend by using the example of a game of draughts, he tells us that "the analyst throws himself into the spirit of his opponent identifies himself therewith, and not unfrequently sees thus, at a glance, the sole methods(sometimes indeed absurdly simple) by which he may seduce into error or hurry into miscalculation" (p. 50). Essentially, identification entails interaction. The narrator is careful to show that the "necessary identification" entails the obliteration of the ego. Yet the annihiliation of that self which must be destroyed exists and thrives by virtue of the analytic intelligence. It is through analysis itself that we arrive at a Cartesian cogito. Thus, should the analyst remain wholly within an analytic world, it would be impossible for him to identify himself with
"the spirit of his opponent." Should he remain within the limits of logic, he would be incapable of breaking the-bonds of the fiked and would be impotent to see his opponent's 11spirit" as it reveals itself. For example, it is an obvious fact of the story itself that Dupin's narrator-companion must first imagine his hero before he can proceed to analyze the qualities which make him s superior. It is not, therefore., a sufficiently clear statement to say that the power of analysis may "throw" a rival into miscalculation. The fact ofthe story's existence testifies to the narrator's "identification" with his companion. That is, it is evident in the method of the story itself that the imagination unifies the existence of the narrator and that of Dupin. Therefore, following the narrator's own glaring example, it is a much more accurate statement to say that a man of the imagination is the only one who can create the actuality of "an error" in the game of draughts since it is he who possesses the p6wer to envision the acts of his opponent.
Despite the rather confusing example which the narrator employs as he illustrates the powers of the superior moral man, he salvages what little he has contributed to the clarification of those powers by stating that these powers do not depend on mere chance but that there is a method to them. Never does he venture to explore the subtle workings of that method, but, from the foregoing discussion
of the difference between the imaginative and the analytic, it may be possible to ascertain the method by which the narrator's friend solves his cases. First, then, it may be offered for consideration that no method can exist without a process. If, for instance, the analytic powers unravel, they do so at the end of a specific series of acts. But, as noted above, even at the end of the analytic process we are left with loose ends. Thus, to the degree that he cannot see his imagination as a methodizing power, the narrator runs the risk of failing in his endeavor o identify his companion's talents.
As he moves further into his area of inquiry, the narrator touches upon a point that is vital for the clarification of the method of action which so fascinates him. The "analyst," he tells us, makes "a host of observations and inferences. Sq perhaps, do his companions; and the difference in the extent of the information obtained, lies not so much in the validity of the inference as in the
quality of the observation. The necessary knowledge is that of what to observe" (p. 51). The narrator notes that within the realm of his friend's activity, the primordial fact is that consciousness presupposes experience. The analyst nourishes himself from the facts of an observable universe. He invariably acts out of empirical, a posteriori fact. Thus the analyst is not concerned with the way in which
his observation conforms to a pre-established order. If, therefore, abstract truth is not that which is most vital to the analyst, then that which is aimed at in the process of observation is not a rational but a self-created order. Everything depends upon "the quality of the observation," upon the capacity of the senses to incite a vision of a new moral activity in each observable entity.
In the progress of h~is introductio n, the narrator also discusses the difference between ingenuity and analysis. In illustrating the difference between these two faculties, hie seizes upon an analog y which serves as yet another step in the clarification of Dupin's powers. "Between ingenuity and the analytic ability," he says, "there exists a difference far greater, indeed, than that between the fancy and the imagination, but of a character very strictly analogous. It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic" (p. 52). It is thus discovered that throughout the entire introduction the narrator has bee n moving toward an identification of the analytic with the imaginative. He partly recognizes that it is the imagination which accounts for ]upin's ability to solve a crime.
But by the end of the introduction, the narrator has never really stepped beyond analysis as the power behind themoral activity that he seeks to reveal. His juxtaposition of the analytic and the imaginative is in tChe end
nothing but a verbal game. All that he is doing is inventing names when he should be allowing the light of his imagination to'shine upon the narrative process. He plays fast and loose with everything he touches: analysis, fancy, inference, ingenuity, observation, the imagination, but is unwilling to attempt the clarification of any of these. He fails, for instance, in not even suspecting that, as the power which unifies, the.imagination cannot but be totally alien to analysis. He fails to see that the analytic--if one must continue to adhere to the narrator's own term-is, if anything, a phase in the imaginative process. The narrator's own activity shows that while the imagination may break things down, it certainly does not remain content with fragmentation. Consider, for instance, the numerous terms through which he seeks to define and to clarify Dupin's activity. And then consider the fact that no matter how contradictory the definitions may appear, they are all contained within a unified act of the imagination. Thus, when compared with the rest of the story, the introduction itself proves that when the imagination is in its "analytic" or classifying phase, it does not aim at fixing categories, but at rendering an indivisible act. In other words, despite the narrator's attempts at classification, the individual, organic act (of which Dupin's moral activity is a part) is what matters most.
Thus noticing that the obvious rational inclinations
of the narrator are at odds with the achievement of imdginative formf it is readily discovered that the narrative moves toward confusion and divisiveness just as much as it aspires to self-clarification. To employ a conventional critical term, the narrator is unreliable. He is not so, however, because he lies or disguises the facts, but because from the outset he is unempowered to carry the narrative act toward unity. As a consequence of his inability to clarify the action and the method, it is ironically the narrative activity itself which must support the narrator's vague assertions. And it is to the very life of the narrative, to its process aiming at the revelation of the new moral activity, to which the narrator increasingly becomes a burden. While the narrative moves, the narrator's every clarifying effort seems to stop its motion. This initial conflict results in a crossed condition. That is, the narrator 's intellectual inclinations pull the narrative in one direction while the imaginative act itself continues to move in another direction toward the clarification of the moral activity.
Not coincidentally, then, we find the narrator informing us in advance of that which ultimately proves to be the muddled quality of Dupin's powers, a quality which in turn reflects the narrator's own incapacity to focus clearly on
that- moral power. 'Observing him in these moods," the narrator tells us of Dupin, "I often dwelt meditatively upon the old philosophy of the Bi-Part Soul, and amused myself with the fancy of a double Dupin--the creative and the resolvent" (p. 54). By way of illu-strating Dupin's powers, the narrator can go no further than to indulge in the notion that Dupin's capacity for moral activity remains in some misty region that cannot be clarified. Furthermore, the narrator himself continues to widen the gap that separates him from the narrative act by allowing himself to appear 'as the opposite of what he is presumably aspiring to, that is, Dupin's powers. Which is to say, that if it is the powers of his companion which excite the narrator to write, he drifts away from a convergence, an "identification" with those very powers as he persists in finding them of a divisive rather than a unifying nature. The narrator "observes" Dupin, yet fails to imagine him as the unifying force of the narrative. Indulging in what he has previously denied as having any value whatsoever, he "f ancies" the old, the abstract, aid the divided. From observation, which, as will be remembered, the narrator held to be the essential feature distinguishing the superior man from his fellows, the narrator can do no more than idly entertain a feeble notion of ancient thought and thereby reinforce the crossed condition of the narrative.
When we are finally introduced to Dupin the character, we further discover that this man who is endowed with such superhuman powers for moral good is as inept as the narrator himself as a redeemer of the confusion created in the introduction. For instance, the narrator quotes Dupin as saying, "...but observation has become with me, of late, a species of necessity" (p. 56). This analyst, we have been told, can find a wealth of possibilities in the observable. Yet neither Dupin nor the narrator are ever at ease in the light. They are, by their own admission, tenants of the darkness, 'recluses whose sensibilities are injured by the light and who consider it a boon to abandon themselves to random "fancies" which visit them in the dark. The necessity for darkness expressed by Dupin seems to have an obvious priority over the necessity for observation.
In the midst of acts contradicted by words and words that stifle action, the newspaper account of the murders repeatedly relating the "voices in angry contention" heard by all the witnesses at the Rue Morgue becomes more than just another fact in the case to be unravelled by Dupin. Those voices become the dominant motif of the narrative. One ought not to be disturbed by the mystery of the voices related in the newspaper account. They have been heard loudly in the introduction. Whereas in the newspaper story the voices heard by the witnesses were interpreted as degrees of anger in numerous languages, in the narrative it
is the forked tongue of both the narrator and Dupin, who speak in riddles and fail to match the act to the word; Little surprise that later in the story, as Dupin prepares to solve the mystery surrounding the murders in the Rue Morgue, his first assertion is, "We will go and see the premises with our own eyes" (p. 64). The man to whom observation is a necessity, but who lives in the dark, is going to see. Like the narrator's, Dupin's life reveals a wide rift, a crossed existence. Verbally, he asserts that observation is essential. His own life in the darkness, however, contradicts his claim about the necessity to see.
Further into the narrative it is discovered that Dupin's inability to clarify his own method of operation is the very source of the narrator's incapacity to attain unity with his own narrative. Dupin himself is the great clue. It is his own voice, expressing division, angry contention, and ambiguity, that prevents the narrative from moving smoothly forward and illuminating the moral activity promised at the beginning. Consider the following passage as yet another
*example of Dupin' s inability to clarify his exceptional faculty: "'They [the police]," he tells the narrator, "have fallen into the gross but common error of confounding the unusual with the abstruse. But it is by these deviations from the plane of the ordinary, that reason feels its way, if
at all, in its search for the true. In investigations such as we are now pursuing, it should not be so much asked "'What has occurred,'" as 'what has occurred that has never occurred before'" (P. 66). Initially, it must be pointed out that it is reason which, in its penchant for abstract order, eternally dwells upon the "ordinary." Reason never seeks to deviate from the order that it has established from a priori concepts. As such, it is incapable of "feeling its way," of moving through and toward the extraordinary. Second, it follows that if reason cannot deviate from order, there can'be no genuine creation. The truth at which Dupin aims is an exercise performed by the subcategories of reason such as the analytic and reflective intelligences after these have been fed a priori principles that remain static in the fixed order of things. Dupin's efforts at clarifying
his own method remain "abstruse," as abstruse as the previous endeavor on the part of the narrator to shine a light upon his friend's method.
However confusingly Dupin may speak of his method, when he finally does act, he acts at one with the imagination. The attention that he pays to the rusty nail on the window casement, to the deep indentations of finger marks on Mme. L'Espanaye's neck, or to the size of the spread of those hands on that same neck are vital signs of Dupin's imaginative inclinations. But that which most clearly points to his
imaginative propensity is his ability to imagine a creature which could perform the unusual series of acts that have taken place at the Rue Morgue. Out of the observable Dupin has truly created from the extraordinary. He has gone beyond the order of things and, in so doing, has succeeded in unifying out of chaos. The order Dupin creates lies outside the ordinary. That very unity is the sole testimony of the imagination's success in cr eating and organizing, whereas the reason (as embodied in the police and the witnesses) can only detect chaos. 'It is the act of envisioning which accounts for Dupin's superiority. It is such an act which thrusts the narrative forward, away from the divisive condition, and makes it so much more than the jumble of verbal abstractions encountered in the introduction.
But when the unifying activity has been achieved by Dupin, we again find him speaking about his method. Like the narrator,,Dupin only succeeds in undermining his imaginative feat. He makes such absurd statements as, "Fortunately there is but one mode of reasoning upon the point" (p. 68), or "My ultimate object is only the truth" (p. 72). He obviously has not realized that in dealing with a mystery that presented him with infinite possibilities, he was not dealing with just one "point." And, just a s obviously, he confuses truth with unity. or he allows himself to force a confession from the Maltese sailor for reasons of "justice" and "honor." So that if through
his acts he unifies the narrative, in his indulgence in verbal assertions he divides as does the narrator. Where-he succeeds in discovering the culprit, he fails in discovering the source of his powers. To quote Wallace Stevens, Dupin fails to see that "the imagination is a miracle of logic and that its exquisite divinations are calculations beyond analysis, as the conclusions of the reason are calculations wholly within akialysis." 2 Dupin's, the narrator's, and, ultimately, the story's own failure lies in blindness to the fact that as hero and narrator, respectively, they live by an act of the imagination, that their very existence is predicated upon the existence of an imaginative universe. They fail to see that the essence of the clarification of their method was to be wholly and clearly discovered in acts of the imagination rather than in the empty verbosity of rational notions. As a consequence, the story ends on a crossed rather than a unified note. The 11moral activity which disentangles" and which the narrator sets out to clarify cannot extricate itself from the binary structure of action, the irreconcilable opposites created by the narrator's and Dupin's intellectual inclinations. Dupin and the narrator return to their much preferred darkness, leaving it up to the narrative itself to be the only light that shines through the dark filter of duality and to reveal itself as its own agent of self-clarification.
2 The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination (New York: Vintage Books, 1951), p. 154.
The detective and his story grow little in the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. From the first form-engendering narrative of Poe, there is not much to be called new in Holmes' method or in the capacity of his stories to generate new forms. Holmes lives by virtually the same method as Dupin. And, of course, included in that method are the efforts of Dr. Watson, of the imaginative in-the service of the intellectual. In an early Holmes story such as "A Study in Scarlet;" Watson employs many of the same devices employed by the narrator of "Murders in the Rue Morgue." He begins with a history of his acquaintance with Holmes, he establishes the method--"the science of deduction," he calls it--by' virtue of which Holmes is made out to be a superior man, then he lightly touches upon the facts of the case, and proceeds to drift into a tedious history of the motives behind the murderer's actions.
This last step in the method of "A Study in Scarlet," that is, the identification of a clear cause for evil, is the major distinguishing feature between the stories of Poe and Doyle. (Dupin, it will be remembered, says to his narrator-companion, "I wish you, therefore, to discard from your thoughts the blundering idea of motive.") That this is a differentiating element, however, is not necessarily an indication of growth in the genre. Indeed, the passion
to establish a motive is a backward step in the development of the detective story as a narrative genre. Essentially, since motive is analogous to causality or teleology, any imaginative energy expended in.establishing a motive is energy misused to obtrude the onward movement of the narrative. Once motive is established, the narrator and the detective operate in the traditional a priori mode. The detective does not need to move in order to catch his man. once the motive is clear, the conclusions are inevitable. There is~ a clear cause behind every not-so-clear effect.
This penchant for causality is an integral part of
the Victorian passion for absolutes. If Holmes ever looks, it is only to establish a rational motive. Then he usually sits and waits for the culprit. Such is the case in "the Red-Headed League," where Holmes, Watson, Jones, and Merryweather wait in a dark cellar for the appearance of John Clay, the master thief. Or Holmes can establish the line of inheritance to a vast estate and get the killer in The Hound of the Baskervilles. In the Holmesian world, everything pivots around motive. No matter how seemingly irrational the act--a huge hound terrorizing the Grimpen Mire area, for instance--there is always a Stapleton with a claim to the estate behind it all. And, what is more, there is always Dr. Watson, whose imaginative powers are insufficient to break away from that continuous idiotic bafflement at Holmes' deductions.
The search for a rational cause in the detective storyof the later nineteenth century points clearly to Victorian man's search for rational order. All that is and will be has a reason for existing. Everything exists within the confines of a rationally preconceived order such as the Great Chain of Being. It is the supreme moral task of the detective superman to put all that lies outside the'Great Chain back in its proper place. The "moral activity" of the Holmesian narrative consists of a commitment to abstract order, to an order dictated to the imagination by the rational faculty. As a consequence, the narrative usually expends most of what little remains of its energy in the restoration of such an order. The stories succeed in clarifying nothing about themselves as imaginative acts because they are themselves a part of that abstract order and because they exist first and foremost to preserve that order. The stories belong in the place that a rational civilization has reserved for "culture," moth-eaten examples for some defunct notion of moral conduct to abide by.
Despite any significant aesthetic growth, however,
the Victorian version of the genre succeeds in adding a new dimension to the detective story. That is, as a result of the nineteenth century's highly elaborate ethical system, evil finds its proper place in the detective story. True, Poe had introduced the element of evil (and, one might add,
motive) in "The Purloined Letter" before the Victorians appropriated it as the central concern of their stories. But in a world where virtues such as justice and honor constituted the cornerstones of man's rational aspirations, evil b ecomes the-suitable foil for an illustration of the ideal workings of a rational moral system. Thus, the Victorian story displays an unparalleled fascination with evil. For example, the culprit in "Murders in the Rue Morgue" is an orangutan. It has no motive for its actions. As we have seen, the culprit in "The Hound of the Baskervilles" is a savage hound. Here again, there is no real cause, no rational motive upon which the actions of the hound can be blamed since it, too, is an irrational creature. Yet in Doyle'story, there is, as we have also seen above, a rational force behind the actions of the hound. That force is Stapleton's cunning. As we move through Holmes' adventures, we also find John Clay, the master thief. And then there is Professor Moriarty, the academic man, the epitome of reason, who is Holmes' archenemy--a rational power for evil waging moral war on the rational power for good. What this all means, is that in the stories of the later nineteenth century, evil becomes a force to be reckoned with--that it is a power threatening the order of things. The Victorian detective story reflects a major concern of the literary tradition dating to Beowulf. But, as in
Macbeth or in Paradise Lost, in the Victorian story evil is incorporated within a rational creature. In fact, the very existence of evil in these stories is predicated upon .the existence of a thoroughly rational world and thus upon the power of such a world to define good and bad and to distinguish right from wrong.. Like the hero, the evil creature thinks. It is capable of as much intellectual refinement within the scope of the defined wrong as is the hero within the sphere of the outlined good. Hence the divisive force manifested in the early versions of the detective st ry are accounted for in the light of a rational world that can use the intelligence for.as much evil as good.
The dimension of evil added by the Victorian sensibility to the detective story becomes standardized in sub.sequent forms. No longer is it just the deductive powers of the detective which amaze and delight us, but also his ability to vanquish evil. Therefore, the dominant motif of even the modern story is the interplay between good and evil, the armageddon of which we are given a preview in each story. Indeed, as a pervasive force, the interplay between good and evil permeates the movies themselves (though this is not to say that such an interaction has the same consequences or the same significance in recent stories or in the movies).
When seen as a form born out of the stories of Poe and Doyle, the modern detective story does what is best described in the words from the title of Dashiell Hammett's early story: it creates "the big knockover." One has but to read a few words into this story to appreciate the nature of the revolution that has taken place in the genre. In it, action takes precedence over analytic or reflective thought. Unencumbered by the Victorian passion for ethical order, "The Big Knockover" begins by revealing a commitment to action as a possibility for good. Moreover, when we consider the last line of the Op's narrative, where he simply exclaims, "What a life!" 3 we see that, within the context of the entire narrative, the modern story reveals what may be referred to as open form. That is, whereas Dupin and his narrator-companion retire to their precious darkness at the end of the story (and thus to a-world of inactivity) the Op, who has missed the mastermind behind the entire heist, tells us at the end, "Now I could turn the city upside down for him" (p. 411). His
3 Lillian Hellman, ed., The Big Knockover: Selected Stories and Short Novels by Dashiell Hammet (New York: Vintage Books, 1972), p. 411. Subsequent reference to "The Big Knockover" are to this edition and will be incorporated into the text in parentheses immediately after the quotation.
passion for action does not leave him content with returning the stolen money.to Seaman's National and capturing most of the thieves that take part in the heist. He must continue to be the man of action, on the mover because he recognizes that no amount of sophistication in analytic thought will lead him to his man. In his commitment to turning "the city upside down" in the search for his man, the Op is further indicating that he is not through as a living entity, that his story is not over. Although an episode or phase of his life has ended, it has only done so but to begin another.
Yet a further aspect of the modern story is revealed
in the Op's commitment to action. That is, logic has failed as a rational and moral good. The deductive powers of the sleuth are insufficient to enable the Op to capture his man. The fact that he misses the mind at work behind the robbery attests not to the Op as a man incapable of thought, but rather to a world where thought takes a secondary place to action. He lives in a world where theman he follows does not blunder into a neatly laid trap, but moves nimbly and elusively, escaping the powers of the most acute deductive mind.
more significantly still is the emergence of the Op's own imaginative feat as a result of the action. Although the Op tells of how he gets his man in another story,
"$106,000 Blood Money,"-the sequel is not to be seen as the next move that he promises to make at the end of "The Big Knockover."' In actuality, his immediate act consists of ,writing the story itself. His commitment to continue the search propels him into the imaginative dimension. What appears at the end of the story marks the beginning of the narrative process.
The Op's narrative act is clearer than the narrator's in "Murders" or than Dr. Watson's in any of his stories. For one thing, there is no intrusive narrator to stop the action of the story in praise of the deductive or analytic powers of the super detective. It is the superior man himself who writes the story. As the Op is the private investigator, the discrete, nameless entity at work in the case, so he becomes the private I, the very source from which emanates the narrative act. Here, the imagination no longer performs the function of servant to the rational powers of the detective. Instead, it OPE-rates as the everactive source that illustrates the action and carries forward the active possibilities to their inherent fulfillment, to the achievement of unity of action and narrative method.
From the first words of the narrative, it is discovered that the Op acts at one with the life of the narrative. His very first words are, "I found." They are the initial
sign that inquiry and discovery are at the source of the action. The method is the action, and action is the method. The story'begins in medias res. Without causal principles, it is just born as spontaneously as only the imagination can give birth to things. The first two words of the narrative further indicate that in order for the Op to render them at all, he must be where the action is from the very beginning. He is not secludled in the darkness of a musty room waiting for the newspaper report of a-murder to come into his hands, nor is he at some smug place like 221B Baker Street awaiting the arrival of a confused client while idly playing discordant notes on the violin. The Op is at "Jean Larrouy's dive," where he seems to be the only man without a criminal record. From the beginning, then, his is a world of action.
As he leaves Larrouy's, Beno, "the hophead newsie," stops the Op on the street to tip him on the planned knockover of Seaman's National. The Op pays no attention to Beno's information and walks away. But only as far as the next corner, from where he hears the shots that have killed the informer. Those shots trigger the action, they set the story in motion, and, from here on, the Op is faced with following the action where it takes him. Unlike Dupin or Holmes, the Op cannot wait for the action to come to him. The evil forces in the Op's world are powers
in motion and all the logic in the world will not put them behind bars.
The morning after Beno's murder, the Op goes to the offices of Seaman's National for a routine investigation. A few blocks from the bank offices he again finds himself in the thick of the action. "Rounding into Montgomery Street," he says, "I found few sightseers ahead of me. The middle of -the street was filled with trucks, touring cars, taxis--deserted there. Up in the next block--between Bush
and Pine Streets--hell was on a holiday" (p. 358) Again the Op has found. Indeed, his ability to tell his story depends on his capacity to continue to discover--not only the facts that lead him to the solution of the case, but the links in the events that allow him to become a man of the imagination. So he must be a participant in "hell's holiday," he must get himself dirty as he plays in the game against evil. And so the Op goes from the start. In his humorous metaphorical style, he says, "For the next six hours I was busier than a flea on a fat woman" (p. 359). Unafraid, unhampered by intellectual reflections, he dives deep into the action as wholeheartedly as from his first words he has plunged deeply into the narrative act.
After the initial round of "bloodhounding," the Op goes to the Continental Agency's office for a conference with the Old Man, his boss. The Op's description of his
mentor serves as an insight into the ways of the Op himself as active detective:
A tall, plump man in his seventies, this boss of mine, with a white-mustached, baby-pink, grandfatherly face, mild blue eyes behind rimless
spectacles, and no more warmth in him than a hangman's rope. Fifty years of crook-hunting for the Continental had emptied him of everything except
brains and a soft-spoken, gently smiling shell
of politeness that was the same whether things went
good or bad--and meant as little at one time as
another. We who worked under him were proud of his
cold-bloodedness. We used to boast that he could
spit icicles in July, and we called him Pontius
Pilate among ours ,elves, because he smiled politely
when he sent us out to be crucified on suicidal
jobs. (p. 359)
The Old Man has attained a wisdom for which the Op greatly admires him. He has been at hell's holiday and has lived to spit icicles in July. He is the guru, the high-priest of sleuths, and the Op must nourish himself from the old Man's wisdom before he continues to follow the action.
After the Op gives the Old Man the facts that he has been able to gather in six busy hours and has pointed to Bluepoint Vance as the possible mastermind behind the knockover, the Old Man says, "'I'm afraid not,' "'IVance is a shrewd, resourceful and determined crimin4l, but his weakness is one common to his type. His abilities are all for present action and not for planning ahead. He has executed some large operations, but I've always thought I saw in'them some other mind at work behind him. '" "'And who,'" asks the Op in the tradition of his predecessors, "'is this arch-gonif?'" The Old Man answers,
"'1You'll probably know that before I do'" (p. 364). Appropriately to the description of the Old Man which the Op has previously given us, the Old Man's experience tells him that no amount of expertise in sleuthing is going to help him catch his man while sitting at his office and staring out the window. To the great intellectual question asked by the Op, the Old Man answers with an exhortation to action. In the Op's world of motion, questions are but the springboard for an active search that in turn creates more action. So the Old Man's seventy years do not prevent him frcom giving the op a push into the action, from setting him and his story on the move once more.
Then the Op returns to where he first found, to Jean Larrouy's. After an interval of inaction, he goes up the street to Wop Healy's, where he sees the boyish looking Armenian type he had seen walking away from where Beno had been shot. It is at this point in the story that observation, that essential faculty of the super cop's, becomes the force that incites the action. "I watched the young Armenian," says the Op;,and, as the Armenian leaves Healy's, he says, "I followed him out." Motion and not thought is the outcome of observation. When this "optical" man sees, he moves so he can keep on seeing. It is the process of seeing and moving, the rhythms created by these activities, which account for the Op's ability to tell his story. The Armenian, who is carrying messages to all the
hoodlums that participated in the knockover, is, like the Old Man before him, the inciter of the action. For the time being, he is the Op's one clue to the man he wants. If he loses the Armenian, he risks losing not only the mastermind behind the heist, but, most importantly, the action that will allow him to tell his story. So the Op follows the youngster everywhere while Jack Counihan, the young Continental Operative, follows the "skull-cracker" who is also tailing the Armenian boy.
Then, when all the "greetings" have been delivered
by the Armenian, he and the skull-cracker enter a dilapidated rooming house. The boy is out of the Op's sight and so the Op must wait until he emerges from the building. But the skull-cracker comes out alone. As the Op prepares to tail him, he hears a faint scream from the upper level of the building. The Op tells Jack to tail the skullcracker while'he goes to see what the scream has already told him, that the Armenian boy is dead. Close scrutiny .of the room where the boy lies with his throat slit from ear to ear reveals no clue, "not a thing out of which information could be squeezed" (p. 369). The Op merely stands there in the center of the room scratching his chin and thinking in vain. For a moment, seeing and moving has come to nothing. He lives in a moving world where the mere blinking of the eyes may cause him to lose the action. For now, neither he nor his story can go anywhere.
At that moment, however, Sylvia Yount, whom the Op had met at Larrouy' s steals into the room. The Op watches'her moves-from~ a one-inch opening he has left in the closet door. As Sylvia leaves, so does the Op. He has renewed his visual connection with the action. He follows her to Larrouy's, where she asks for "Red." From there he walks after her to the hotel in Stockton Street, where again he hears her asking for Red. Then it is by streetcar to Market and Powell Streets, and once more on foot to Powell and O'Farrel where he sees her step into a taxi where "a customer" is waiting for her. The Op does not follow. She has given him a lead to where the action really is. All that he has to do now is find Red.
After the Op witnesses twenty murders in two separate
locations and has seen the words "Big Flora" written in blood on the wall of one of the apartments, he goes to bed only to be called by the police three minutes later. They are holding Red O'Leary. In the morning, the Op goes to the police station to see how the cops are doing with Red. Red, however, has an alibi for the time during which the robbery took place and the police can get nothing out of him., The police captain, a man of the law and thus a man restrained by abstractions, tells the Op that he can hold O'Leary for twenty-four hours, but the Op tells him, "Suppose you turn him loose now . He's got himself all
alibied up, so there's no reason why he should hide out on us. We'll let him alone all day--give him time to make sure he isn't being tailed--and then we'll get behind him tonight and stay behind him" (p. 377). In contrast to the police captain, the Op recognizes that he has to allow his man to move so he may move along with him. Like the Armenian boy before him, it is now Red O'Leary who provides the Op with his one link to the action.
After Red emerges from his hotel and goes to Larrouy's, there is little for the Op to do but to wait for more action to begin. 'There, in the same place where he first found, the action is brewing as all the hoodlums that have been cheated out of their cut begin to crowd around while they wait for Bluepoint Vance to appear. As the Op waits for Red to make his move, it is as if the story is being charged with electric power for the big igniting moment that will once more set it in motion. And there he sits, in the middle of the arena, knowing that if the action is to continue he must stand between Red and the hoodlums and let Red make his escape so he can continue to follow him. Even when Bluepoint confronts Red and the action threatens the Opts very life, he says, "This big chump was too valuable to lose. We'd have to get ourselves all battered up saving him from the rewards of his own pig-headedness'. There was no justice in it" (p. 386). Clearly, there is no cause for the actions of the Op. He does not do what he does in
the interest of some abstract virtue. So he lives for the action which he finds "valuable." He is in his business for the adtion--not for any intellectualized notions of action as a moral good, but for the action as action.
Before Vance can finish telling Nancy Reagan, who is
at Red's table, the details of how lonely she will be without Red, he finds himself knocked across the next table by Red's fist. Volcano-like, the action erupts. The Op, "blackjack in right hand, gun in left," is already with his back to the rear-entrance door calling out to Red and Nancy to move his way. Now it is Red who must follow the Op. They are in it together, and it is an action which the Op must now generate in order that he can keep on following his man. The violence that takes place as the Op, Jack, Red, and Nancy make th eir exit is indicative of the action that the Op can generate:
A squint-eyed Portuguese slashed at my neck with a
knife that spoiled my necktie. I caught him over the ear with the side of my gun before he could get away, *and saw the ear tear loose. A grinning kid of twenty
went down for my legs--football stuff. I felt his teeth in the knee I pumped up, and felt them break.
A pock-marked mulatto pushed a gun-barrel over the shoulder of the man in front of him. My blackjack
crunched the-arm of the man in front. He winced
sidewise as the mulatto pulled the trigger--and
had the side of his face blown away. (p. 388)
In this action, violence is not just a word to denote a conceptualized form of physical cruelty. It is, rather, a necessary series of acts upon which life depends. The
Op must act in a way that is vital to his life as an active phenomenon. The "Portuguese" and the "pock-marked mulatto" are the embodiment of evil not because they would physically hurt the Op, but because they would prevent him from telling his story, because their action is aimed at stopping all the subsequent acts among which the narrative itself figures as a distinct pos ability.
As they get past the rear door and find themselves
in a dark hallway, the Op says, "'We've got to go somewhere'" (p. 390). As he has to lead Red O'Leary out of the dark, so must he continue the search for the light of those first words that confirm his having gotten somewhere. While in the dark the pursuing hoodlums "were talking about getting lights," it is the Op who, in yet another act of discovery, finds.his way to "A room with two windows through which came a pale glow from the street lights" (p. 390). Unlike Dupin and his companion, the Op is not at ease in the dark. He continues to move past that dim light while carrying O'Leary's big bulk with him. Paralleling the rhythms in which we see the Op lose the thread of the action and regain it, we now see him move from the light into darkness again, then up the roof and down a ten-foot jump to the next building's and up to the next and down a fire escape running down to a back street while in the confusion the police and the hoodlums shoot it out amongst themselves.
When they finally reach the freedom of the open street, the first thing that Red says is that he-is parting way-s with the Op. The Op, one might say, has been too successful at helping Red make his escape. Once again he has to follow where Red will lead. As they walk together down the street, two not-so-tough hoodlums meet Red and the Op. As they fight, the Op manages to position his man with his back to O'Leary's and it is then that he shoots Red in the back. What appears as a willing effort on the part of the Op to stop the action is really the only alternative that he has to losing his man altogether. O'Leary is too powerful for the Op to take one on one. But with Red injured, the Op.can pretend that he wants to help him and hope that the big Irishman will lead him to Big Flora.
Finally, when he meets Big Flora, the Op realizes
that he can't just flash a badge and tell her that she is under arrest. To Flora's "'Who, what, and why,'" the Op quickly creates a new identity for himself. He calls himself Percy Maguire and tells the huge woman and Pogy (the skull-cracker) that he has come for his share of the loot. The Op is now one of the gang. If up to now there has been a trace of difference between the forces of good as exemplified by the Op and the powers of evil as embodied in all the hoodlums, that difference disappears with the Op's new identity. There is no clearly defined act that separates
right from wrong, the Op from Flora, Red, or Pogy. As he did from the beginning, he continues to do as they do, act as they act. It is the Op's very life (and thus the life of the narrative) which is at stake here in this activity. At this stage of the story, neither his loyalty to the Continental agency,.nor the recovery of the money, not even, in fact, the arrest of Big Flora are primary considerations in the Op's range of moral alternatives. He chooses life, his life. Life becomes the only mor-al alternative.
Thus, after the little old man that scurries busily
around the-house tells the Op that he can get him out alive if he will let him escape, the Op sees "a feeble ray of light where there hadn't been a dot" (p. 404). Half an hour before daylight, Big Flora comes to the kitchen to finish off the Op. But the little old man tells her that he will take him to the cellar and that he will do the killing. There, in the literal darkness of the cellar, the Op can do no more than let life have his way with him. As a force capable of generating the action, he has reached his end. He has no choice but to go along with the old man's scheme. As he had previously seen Red as a "valuable" entity, as a value contributing to his passion for action, now he sees the "old gink" as another value contributing to his very existence. Soon, the old man begins to parade the hoodlums down to the cellar. First Red and then Pogy. The Op swiftly knocks them cold with an eighteen-inch lead
pipe. Then,when Big Flora almost shoots him, it is the old man who knocks her unconscious with a blow in the side.of the head..
Even before Bluepoint tells the Op that the old man is the real brain behind the entire heist, the solution to the mystery has ceased to be the primary consideration in the life of the narrative. The essential moral feat confronting the Op is staying alive. The identity of the criminal is not left for the final climactic moment of the story. The narrative has long since stopped aspiring to the illustration of'the ways of the logical mind as its "moral activity." The fact is that the evil element is indispensable for the life of the narrative. As such, it cannot die. It is Papadopoulos himself who has saved the Op's life. And this in turn means that by the end of th e story there is no rationally definable good or evil. out of the interplay between opposing forces is born an aesthetic event, a moral occasion that lies outside the arena of rational polarities. Supposedly the good guy, the Op plays the part of Percy Maguire. Papdopoulos, society's archenemy, has saved the Op's life and has thus allowed him to find his way into the imaginative dimension. The traditional combat between good and evil turns out to be an act of affirmation beyond the boundaries of traditional ethics. Action as motion has been transformed into action as an imaginative feat and thus into a good that finds its place in a concrete rather than an abstract world.
Ultimately, then, the narrative itself reveals its
own power for good by manifesting a creative act. Rather than an illustration of the victory of reason or logic, the narrative displays a victory for the imagination. The interplay between irreconcilable opposites becomes instead the principle of narrative unity. There is no ideal order at the end. Both Papadopoulos and the Op continue to live as they have in the past, on the move, creating a wake of action behind them. Such is "the moral activity" of which the modern story is capable. As a distinct value beyond intellectual notions, it is the imagination which bursts from the shackles of rationalism to assert itself as a moral good. Now it is the imaginative activity which "disentangles." It is not the activity which unravels a mystery, but rather the act which frees itself to affirm the power of life and engender still more action. Along with the Op, we have discovered the value of the imaginative genius to be the spirit of generation and birth. We discover the value of life as a process consisting of changes leading in a specific direction. Along with the Op, in fact, we discover that it is his commitment to life which we, too, make at every moment in our own lives. Indeed, we discover that we neither remain in nor return to a world of darkness, but that we move f forever onward toward the light, discovering always, always exclaiming, "What a life!"
POPEYE'S CONNECTION AND CRITICISM AS A VISUAL AID
Popeye Doyle has followed the Frenchman into a dimly
lit abandoned warehouse. Suddenly he sees a slight movement and tells Buddy, his partner, "Frog One' is in that room." Followed by Buddy, Popeye moves toward a small square of light at the center of the screen. Popeye sees something move--an indistinguishable image. He quickly empties his .38 service revolver in the direction of the motion. Both Popeye and Buddy run toward where Popeye has fired the six shots and discover that Popeye has killed Moulderig, the F.B.I. man who had joined them in the case. Visibly dismayed, Buddy is saying, "It's Moulderig, you shot Moulderig." Popeye merely reloads his gun and moves on further past the doorway where Buddy is kneeling over Moulderig's body. Doyle's image disappears at the end of yet another lighted square at the center of the screen. Suddenly a single shot goes off, the screen goes totally black, and "The French Connection" ends.
As in the Op's case, the connection is incomplete. Neither the Op's narrative nor Popeye's story has an end
consisting of the unqualified triumph of a thoroughly defined good over an evil force threatening the existence of that good. But whereas the Op can turn the open possibilities of his story into a narrative act, Popeye can do no more than disappear into the darkness of the screen. Yet this is not to say that the Op's story is more complete than Popeye's. For if the Op's narrative attests to the powers of the word as an imaginative vehicle whereby the life of action is affirmed, Popeye's story testifies on behalf of the vitality of the moving color image to reveal a visual world where the interaction between the eye and the image has resulted in a narrative activity. Indeed, almost the entire action of Popeye's story consists of establishing a visual connection with "Frog One." The following sequence clearly illustrates Popeye's motivation, that which literally moves him. He follows the Frenchman into the Westbury Hotel and out on the street. He loses him, and then catches a glimpse of him as he turns a corner and enters Maia's flower shop. He waits for the Frenchman outside the shop. Popeye thinks it is just a matter of time until he has him in sight, but finally when he goes to the shop, the Frenchman has eluded him once more. Then hie finds him again--this time at the head of the stairway leading down to the subway terminal. Again Popeye loses his man. But the eye never gives up. Once more he sees the
fleeting imageof his man as he turns to go down another stairway and into the subway station. As "Frog one" waits for the subway, Popeye pretends that he is making a phone call from an adjacent public booth.- Then they both enter the subway. The Frenchman quickly leaves it before it begins to move, and seeing him, Popeye also exits.. Then they both go in and again they both come out. Just as the subway is to begin its motion, "Frog One" comes out, Popeye follows, but the Frenchman quickly goes back in as the automatic doors close on Popeye before he can follow in. Even then, the man of the eye runs after the subway, screaming, cursing, throwing his hat down in disgust, looking at his man, who smiles and waves gently from behind the glass window of the moving subwayClearly, Popeye acts out of the same motivation for action that moves the Op. And while he-may lose his man in this sequence (a prelude to the final scene) that which he never loses is his passion to see. Accordingly, the visual connection is established as an enduring act, as a perennial activity which becomes the dominant power for action throughout the narrative, which becomes, indeed, the narrative itself. But if there are surface similarities between the Op's activity and Popeye's motivations, there are more subtle and basic differences. For one thing, the Op sees but to get to his man, to arrest the "arch-
gonif" behind the knockover. Popeye, on the other hand, knows who the archenemy is relatively early in the narrative. But what is more, the Op gets to his man by following what are basically verbal clues which lead to the visual action (the Old Man telling him that Bluepoint is not the mastermind behind the heist, Sylvia Yount asking for "Red," or the words "Big Flora" written in blood on a wall). on the other hand, the steps leading Popeye to his man are purely visual. Consider, for instance, when he takes Buddy out for a drink at the end of their day. Buddy thinks that they are going to the lounge to relax, but Popeye, who does not know the difference between his duties as a detective and his life as an active eye, has gone to that particular nightclub on the "hunch" that the man he has gone to see, Sal Boca, will lead him to more visual action." He watches Boca handing out large bills and then waits outside the lounge until dawn for him and his wife to come out. He follows them to a street where they change cars (from a late model Mercury to an old Comet). And even then, he follows them to their delicatessen, "Sal and Angie's," which they use as a "front" for their illegal operations.
Evidently,- Popeyes visual activity differs from the Op's verbal act. Popeye's lead entails a connection between the eye and the image which is unmediated by words, analysis, or even by the ethical concerns of the nineteenth century stories. And it is in the difference in methods of action
wherein lies the elementary distinguishing feature between the literary story and the new medium into which the detective genre has propelled itself. In the movie, in a world of images; the detective can do no more than follow the lead of the moving image. If hie is to follow the action he must move as the image moves, for unlike in the literary version, the image, not the word, is the primordial generating source. The task confronting the detective in the movies is a visual'rather than a verbal one. His visual talents converge upon the generating activity of the image. As the image acts upon his receptive eye, Popeye assimilates and incorporates that force and he, too, becomes a generating power. Popeye' s activity glaringly illustrates that logical methods and ethical concerns cease to operate as the dominant forces that account for the narrative achievement. Vision is the only method. The world of images in which Popeye moves does not allow him to replace visual action with intellectual reflection. And as Popeye further illuminates, vision is not just a new method for connecting with the criminal element, it is a way of life onto itself. (The joy of the eye's life is present when Popeye is driving through the streets and sees a girl riding a bicycle. out of his passion to see, he later makes love to the image.)
Moreover, since both the Op and the narrator of
"Murders" willingly submit to the power of words, it is
inevitable that they exist in a world divided between past and present, or, more precisely still, between story and narrative.-act. (Thus, the very presence of the word as a medium acts as the final dimension of the crossed condition present in both stories.) As a direct result of their commitment to words, the first stubborn fact of the literary story resides in the need to live out the action before its results can actually be told. Words and only words empower the active agent to re-create his experience in order-to enact -the narrative process. of necessity, then, the verbal powers pull the literary story toward a world of memory and away from the action itself. The literary medium, it is obvious, does not allow a simultaneity of motion and imaginative activity. Quite simply, before the Op continues to "turn the city upside down" in his search for Papadopoulos, before he can indeed continue to generate the action of discovery which he promises in the end, he has to stop and tell his tale. In short, the story precedes the narrative; and the narrative act in turn precludes the specific motion in search for Papadopoulos.
By contrast, the medium of light, the means of change and growth which gives Popeye his life, demands that he live out all of his story in a world of immediacy, in a domain where both narrative and story converge upon an indivisible and ever-changing present to whose ceaseless unfolding the eye is the only witness. Take, for instance,
the chase sequence. Through the powers of the word, Popeye has been ordered off the case, Moulderig, the F.B.I. man, the man of abstraction, succeeds in convincing Walt, Popeye's superior, that Popeye has "no case" at all, that he is wasting his and everyone else's time. Walt then tells Popeye, "As of right now, you're off special assignment." But as Popeye is walking home, Pierre Nicoli, "Frog One's" hit man, begins to shoot at him from the rooftop of the apartment building where Popeye lives. Popeye makes his way up to the rooftop and sees only the empty brass rifle cartridges and the rifle. He quickly descends and begins to run after Nicoli. Hie loses him at the "El"' station and then sees his man as he is going into the "El." Though he shouts for the train to stop, it moves on. Popeye is next seen on the street. Finally, he commandeers a car and begins to chase the "El" from below. His eyes are always on the move, up and ahead, to the moving train and the oncoming traffic. Meanwhile, the camera cuts from Nicoli and then to Popeye. It is a constant cross-cutting where the camera fuses the action between the good eye and the evil force which has attempted to kill the image.
Ever on the move, Popeye continues to drive through
every obstacle to his passion to converge with the image of the killer. He stops where the "El" is next scheduled to stop, but quickly learns that motion will not submit to
abstractions such as the train's timetable. Again he jumps on the now beaten-up Le Mans and continues to speed through the streets. Also continuing its own intense action, the camera keeps up its cross-cutting activity. It soon shows the train crash. Nicoli is knocked down, rises and though visibly dazed, finally exits the train. Popeye is at the foot of the stairs waiting for him. He shouts for Nicoli to stop, and when the killer just turns around to go up the stairs again, Popeye shoots him in the back, killing him. The initial fact of this sequence points to the powerlessness of the word in the domain of images. Moulderig and Walt, both figures of authority in the law enforcement hierarchy have verbally declared the ineffectiveness of the eye to generate the action, to, in fact, empower the narrative act with its vitality. There is, Walt says, nothing "special" to see, no "assignment" that is the eye's own. Alone, then, Popeye has seen and moved to proclaim not only the powerlessness of the word in a medium of light, but the life of the eye as a generating source, as the wellspring of all the action that can take place once it is wholly emancipated to follow the image's lead. After the episode with Nicoli, the eye has shown that it does indeed have "a case." Popeye shows that the eye and the image are powerful enough to generate an action beyond words. And what is more, Popeye's convergence upon Nicoli's image shows that the encounter with the eye is an inevitability.
In other words, there is no escape from the eye, no other life apart from the one revealed by the agent's visual* powers.
Thus, despite the fact that the words of his superiors seek to disengage Popeye from the action, his moving eye shows the power of the eye to reveal its own potentialities for value. Therefore, the action-engendering eye becomes the unifying phenomenon from which the imaginative eye nourishes itself to create an occasion beyond meaning and necessity, beyond symbol and metaphor as principles of structure. For just as Popeye's actions are empirically verified in the present, so are they empirically emancipated from the abstractions of symbols. Since it is not nourished from the word but fromthe light, Popeye's own image as well as all the others about him cannot possibly be intellectually considered as a device whereby an abstraction can be m ade. 1 Thus, to attempt to distil a thought from the moving image entails an intrinsic cruelty done to its life; it entails an admission, however tacit, that the visual universe is unworthy of our full attention. Popeye's visual activity as we 11 as his living image is not
Susanne K. Langer, Feeling and Form (New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1953), p. xi, defines "symbol" as "any device whereby we are enabled to make an abstraction." Within the context of this discussion I have seen the need to-clarify the image as an entity beyond propositional truths and have therefore seen Langer's definition of symbol as a suitable foil for my exploration of the image.
an idea of the thing, but the thing itself, the organic entity emancipated from the traditional substance-and-, attribute'dichotomy. The interaction between the popping eye and image creates what Alfred North Whitehead has termed "the pure mode of presentational immediacy," which, as he explains, "gives no information as to the past, or the future. It merely presents an illustrated portion of the presented duration. It thereby defines a cross section of the universe: but does not in itself define on which side lies the past, and on which side the future."2 Seeing and moving, Popeye testifies to the fact that his activity is the only reality. Acting autonomously, independent of the onerous commitments to past or future that are at the base of the intellectual tradition, Popeye's eye lives and generates its own life--moving, changing, showing all of its ever-new energy in the immediate present. Acting in and by the light, Popeye becomes an agent for the new medium. And as a living force within the medium, he has also become an agent for genre.
As a result of Popeye's activity, one obvious fact
concerning the detective story as a narrative genre is that, once in a medium of images, the detective or private "I" becomes a private-eye. In a world of images, dancing, changing on the screen, the ego, man's primitive, elemental chord tying him to the womb of his verbal past, has been
2Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (1929; rpt. New York: Harper and Row, 1957), p. 255.
severed. It is now the active, mobile eye which establishes and unifies a unique world of relationships in the world of motion in which it acts. As the chase sequence illustrates, since Popeye's activity is not sanctioned by the legal powers, he is therefore acting out of a private center of energy, the eye. (Significantly, during this scene of intense visual activity, Buddy is not with Popeye. Thus the condition of privacy is reinforced.) This "detective" on the vice squad is not a man shackled by the abstract legal powers. Nor, more importan tly still, is he a deductive mind seeking to restore an abstract order. Rather he is a living eye seeking only the encounter with the concrete particular. Though nominally a police officer, Popeye is a private eye. Clearly lacking an ego that wills the restoration of a social order, all that he is left with as a source of action in his world of images is his own visual powers.
Furthermore, since the light denie's Popeye the possibility for verbal creation, it follows that it denies him the element of "character" in the traditional, lexical, and critical senses of that word, That is, the light which shows him as a moving image denies him an intellectualized frame of reference, a narrow self-defining perspective from which he can "see" himself and his rational identity in relation to other abstractions around him.
First of all, the root sense of the word "character" itself implies the static, the fixed. As such, character entails the age-old notion of a verbally established self resist ing all change in the midst of an ever-moving and ever-growing world. Rationally defined and distilled to the point of active resistance to change, character reveals rational man's perennial passion for certainty and predictability. But as a direct result of his existence in a world charged with the energy of light, Popeye has been wholly divested of the heavy garb of reason and the search for absolute t ruth which were at the core of the activity of both Holmes and Dupin.' He has emerged from that confined larval stage of character-man which is even a characteristic of the Op. Therefore he does not create.out of the fixed immobile "I" but lives as a genius of the eye, generating change out of his eye's interaction with the image. Thus, the new moral activity which Popeye makes manifest resides both in the capacity of his living image to affirm the living powers of a universe of light and in the power of his eye to confirm the vitality of that world of action. His, therefore, is not an ethical morality based on preestablished standards of rational order, but a morality of power, of the value of the living, moving world of light proclaimed by his equally active and mobile eye.
Now if the new moral activity accounts for the basic difference in the life of the "I" and the eye, the Op and
Popeye, the word and light, "The Big Knockover" and "The French Connection," then it follows that the activity itself genei ates an equally different relationship between good and evil. An art of particularity, each private-eye movie, and each movie for that matter, creates its own sense of good and evil. In "The French Connection," the two initial sequences clearly illustrate the power of the new art form to redefine evil with as much clarity as it redirects the perception of the good. The first sequence takes place in Marseilles, in France, the domain of thought, of the cogito, the birthplace of the first detective, the realm of logic and deduction. The old world is the initial setting for this story of the private-eye in the new world and in the new medium. In this old world, Alain ("Frog one") has ordered Nicoli to kill an image, to violate its life, its motion, its possibilities. Significantly, Alain does not even bother to do the killing himself. Which is to say, that he slights the image. He doesn't care to see it. And more importantly still, it is never established that this image who is shot in the face threatens anything but the intellectual rather than the visual properties of Alain's image. In other words, all that can be ascertained fromthe assassination in the beginning of the movie is that somehow the man who is killed threatens the perverse motives of the Frenchman. Thus, just as Alain's
destruction of the image is based upon a motive, so is his invasion of the new world dictated by an abstract motive (personal wealth) that aims at nothing but a violation of the integrity of the eye and the image. There is obviously a basic duality at work in this first sequence. Alain is an image, yet is bent on destroying the powers that confirm the existence of the image by preying.upon the senses of those who are "hooked" on heroin. He comes from the old world to the new, but he does not travel in order to be regenerated, in order to discover, but in order to rule supreme over the lives of others. A victory for this force of evil would consist in the total corruption of the senses and it would also hinder the mobility of the image.
Alain, however, is not only the evil element because he seeks to impose his abstract motives upon others and because he seeks to control the life of the image, but also because he brings the ways of the literary story, the ways of the word, into the image's terrain. He is the bearer of mystery, intrigue, and of hidden identities. As such he is the image wickedly resisting an encounter with the powers of the eye. An intellectual, he possesses an ego which imposes itself upon his existence in a world of light and which wills itself to a condition of invisibility not unlike the one to which Dupin and the narrator of "Murders" willed their lives. And yet, as the active image which he cannot
help.being, Alain is more than just a traditional evil character transplanted from the literary to the cinematic medium. For one thing, as the ending of the narrative illustrates, he moves as nimbly as Popeye himself. He is an image to be seen by the popping eye. Which means that in so being, he, too, is responsible for generating the action. Popeye, it is clear, cannot generate the visual activity unless there is a particular image that teases him into the action. Therefore, while Alain is certainly the source of evil, he is also an active force, an efficient cause of the action and thus a power for a good thatresides outside rational polarities. He is not the absolute embodiment of a perverse force such as is found in the literary stories where evil is absolute and totally pernicious to the order of civilization. For action, not order, is the summum bonum in the story of the eye. Action is the very life of the visual experience. And insofar as Alain contributes to the visual action, he is a vital force for good. Only the perennial threat of.his triumph over the powers of the eye makes him the central evil figure.
On a street in Brooklyn, the camera focuses on the
joyful faces of black children. They are fascinated with the image of Santa Claus. The innocent eyes gape in amazement, delighted with the image before them. It is the innocence of such a vision which Alain and the others like him seek to corrupt. Meanwhile Buddy, who is posing as a
street vendor, suddenly breaks into a bar to begin making arrests. Santa Claus follows. It is Popeye. From behind this mythic figure of infinite goodness emerges.the popping eye itself. Soon they are chasing a black man who runs out from behind the bar. The man stabs Buddy in the arm and escapes, but finally falls and Popeye, still dressed as Santa Claus though his white beard is off, start s beating him. The black, a drug peddler like Alain, has been conquered by the eye. As Alain is to do later, the black pusher has incited the action. But the result of the second sequence is that out of the traditional encounter between mutually opposed forces, the camera eye has magically bred an action that is outside good and evil, an action that, affirms itself as a living occasion altogether beyond the field of rational ethics.
As a result of Popeye's victory at the end of the second sequence of the movie, it is visually announced that the private-eye is the clarifier of vision, that it is the eye which frees from the darkness, which illuminatesand brightens. And the eye clarifies by allowing the images to move rather than by letting them succumb to the powers of abstraction. As a clarifier of the powers of vision, it follows that Popeye acts as an agent for the powers of the light. In the interplay between good and evil, between light and dark, he keeps the image on the move by keeping an
active eye on it. With every act, with every move of his eye, Popeye preserves the pristine innocence of the image from the evil of darkness. His clarifying talent is to be most clearly seen in his power to draw the innocent image away from the dark motivations of the intellect and thereby show a unified world of action, on the move, offering immediate possibilities for the good. Popeye's burden is created for him by the presence of an evil force which, from the beginning, seeks to do away with the activity of the moving, changing image. Therefore, the man of the eye cannot live to assert'verbally the power of the image. Instead he must proclaim the vitality of the visual world through an inexhaustible passion to interact with the image.
Thus, as defined in "The French Connection," action presupposes the interplay between good and evil. And not only is evil embodied in Alain and in his associates such as Nicoli and Boca, but, in a more subtle manner, it is also present in the activity of Moulderig who, as a verbal man, tries to prevent Popeye from seeing the image. (Incidentally, by way of displaying his visual talents all that Moulderig can do is sit at the lobby of the Westbury Hotel thinking all the time that "Frog One" is in his room. It takes a telephone call from Popeye to make this visual dolt "see" that'he has lost his man without every having seen him.) Popeye, therefore, must go at it by himself. The action of the eye does not give way to the sanctity of
the legal system and its hierarchical structure. Popeye is the bearer "of the individual against externally imposed s ystems, against the order of all words, roles, and insti.3
tutions." The moving eye clarifies the image out of a self-generating source of action that knows no authority but its own. Acting out of the private center, Popeye ultimately succeeds in transporting the entire narrative beyond the poles of good and evil. He turns action itself into the supreme moral activity, the living visual event that is the narrative itself.
Popeye's activity extends beyond the screen to invite us to see as he sees. The visual act beckons to a domain where images are seen with an accuracy, a precision, which only their own indiviudal lives can reveal to an eye which, like Popeye's, is always on the move. Therefore, just as Popeye's activity succeeds in clarifying and affirming the living image as a value, so does that very same force succeed in creating its own critical method. In other words, it is futile to come to this exploration of the life of the private-eye armed with what is too often reverentially
3 W. R. Robinson, "The Movies as a Revolutionary Moral Force, Part II," Contempora, 2, No. 1 (1972), 26-34.
referred to as "film theory." It often happens that critical theory is all too willing to violate the immanently generated-world of concrete form in favor of abstract notions or formulas brought to bear upon the movie under consideration. Like Alain, who is the bearer of a power pernicious to the eye, theory more often than not seeks to control the action by imposing itself on the life of the image. An art of motion, the movies cannot be made to conform to static, preconceived intellectual concepts. Action precludes reflection, so that as Popeye's eye resists the intellectual invasion of "Frog One," so does the narrative itself resists control by alien powers.
As a narrative, then, a movie's only obligation is to assert itself as an object of value within its. given medium. Each movie reveals its particular life and demands that it be seen as a concrete actual occasion. Each creates its own method of action and dictates its own critical approach. "Chinatown" operates with a wholly different critical method than does "Dirty Harry." Thus, the adoption of abstract theory--at least in an exploration of a privateeye. movie--would result in the eventual discovery that, like darkness and abstractions, the rational method is also the enemy of the private-eye; that, like "Frog One," theory, too, seeks to do away with the particular form of light witnessed by the eye. Consequently, the literary critic
may be a detective. He may seek to order through words because he is dealing in words. The movie critic, however, cannot but be a private-eye. To see Popeye's activity, an intrinsic value, the critic has to. abandon the intellectual passion for fixed concepts, the hankering for thought as a ruling faculty over empirically witnessed phenomena. When he confronts the movies, the critic must begin by shedding all notions of "film art" and allow the eye to move. He must act like Popeye and avoid missing the connection as Moulderig misses it. As Robert Warshow said,
at ihe center of all truly successful criticism
there is always a man reading a book, a man looking at a picture, a man watching a movie." Popeye's action generates from the organic relationship between the eye and the moving image. His emancipated eye does not see the images from a "point of view," or from a rational perspective, but in a center-to-center relationship between itself and the living image.
Thus, a criticism of the private-eye and his story
.seeks an interaction with the life of the image. It follows that if such a critical method abandons intellectual concepts, the center-to-center relationship which it seeks entails an imaginative rather than a rational vision of
4 The Immediate Experience: Movies, Comics, Theatre, and Other Aspects of Popular Culture (New York: Atheneum,
-970), p. 26.
the private-eye's story. W. R. Robinson has said that both the movie viewer and the critic must seek "a method that concentrates upon describing qualities and their relationships." The source for such a method is to be found in the imagination, or, more accurately, in an imaginative activity which emerges as an extension of the visual powers immediately confronting the eye. Thus, if in rendering the narrative act, the imagination is the image-making power, in studying and exploring that same narrative, the imagination is the power that discovers the value of the visual experience. Image and imagination are wedded to enact a critical method for the exploration of the private-eye's activity. Since the image hides nothing, it is no longer the task of the critic to formulate and reformulate hypotheses by way of ordering what Burckhardt called "the disturbing element" 6 in a work of literary art. Liberated from the divisive power of words and its concomitant ethical considerations of right and wrong and good and evil, the
51"Making Sense of the Movies," The Georgia Review, 23,
No. 2 (1969) 148-168.
6Sigurd Burckhardt, "Notes on the Theory of Intrinsic Interpretation," in Critical Theory Since Plato, ed. Hazard Adams (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1971), p. 1207. Burckhardt says, "I begin to interpret when I tell myself that the 'disturbing element' arises from a discrepancy between my conception and the poem itself."
imaginative eye interacts with the light that emanates from the silver screen and describes the qualities of the relationships'created by the changing light. only in such an active relationship with the image is the criticism one with Popeye's moving eye. To see Popeye as something other than a moving, changing, growing image entails an outright negation of the value of the visible creation. In a confrontation with an activity such as Popeye's chase after Nicoli, it'is futile for the critic to act out of a necessity to interpret or explain. The action is too fast for the intellect to reflect upon it. Where there is nothing to understand through intellectual dissection, theory inevitably fails to reveal the value potentialities of the image.
From the foregoing discussion a hypothetical question can be immediately anticipated: "If the visual interaction between Popeye and Alain accounts for a unique method of critical exploration to which theory is superfluous, what then is the function of movie criticism?" The question, in effect, posits the order of the critical activity in relation to the visual experience. In other words, it asks what comes first, the method or the image. obviously, in a world of images, the senses precede all critical approaches. In the absence of a ruling theory, the visual experience itself has priority. As far as a vision of Popeye's activity goes, then, the critical act constitutes a basic
commitment to the life. of the seen. The critic, therefore, evaluates, literally sees and makes manifest the value and the power of the image through the powers of an imagination that matches the power of the narrative act himself. Thus, although he makes common the value of the image through words, the critic's medium is still Popeye's; it is still the light. And further, since he follows the life of the image, his words are emancipated from the dualistic power of words in their intellectual context. Thus the critic is empowered to show exactly what he has seen. For the supreme value is the visual act--not the visual act as a glorification of the rational powers but the visual act as a self-contained value. In short, the critical "fnto" consists of incorporating the method of the image as a power that illustrates the primordial value of vision.
But more than just out of a commitment to the life of
the action in one movie, imaginative criticism functions out of a fuller, more complete attention to all images. and all forms of visual action. Which is to say that while it is true that the activity of the mind which envisions Popeye's activity seeks a unity with that act, it is also certain that Popeye's life does by no means set the limits to a critical commitment to the life of the image. For example, at the end, when both "Frog One" and Popeye have been engulfed by the darkness, it is obvious that as a narrative, "The French Connection" has come short of that which even its title
promises, namely, the eye's connection with the Frenchman. Therefore, while a criticism of "The French Connection" seeks to dffirm the life of the narrative, this does, not necessarily mean that it is impossible to see its shortcomings as well. Paying close attention to the relations created by and within the narrative act, it becomes possible for the critic to envision, or imagine, the failure of inherent possibilities within the narrative to become living actualities. Thus seeing that the life of the man of the eye and the light comes to an abrupt, black end, it is obvious that the powers of clarification have been denied their intrinsic potentialities to manifest the full value of vision.
The critic, too, acts as a clarifier of the activity
of the life in the visible creation. Following the lead of the private-eye, criticism becomes an enlightening activity. And as a result of the interaction between the visual process and the critical imagination, the evaluating activity renders its own sense of moral vision. For it is the clarifying aspect of the imaginative activity which, like the light itself, enacts the living relationships in Po peye's world. "We see," says Gaston Bachelard, "an endless exchange recurring between vision and the visible.
Everything that makes us see, sees." 7 The full power of the light made visible, the image declares its existence in a self-created world without casual principles greaterthan itself and thereby invites the eye to witness its life in a self-generated arena of action. And in a universe such as Popeye's, charged with the power of the light, only the interaction between the eye and the living image can account for participation in the new moral activity to which "The Fre'ch Connection" attests,
Therefore, the living method enacted by the narrative for the critical attention is a descriptive criticism. As it encounters the image in motion, such an activity primarily consists of a description of changes and their relationships, The descriptive method is the critical equivalent to the aesthetic totality of the life of the light and the image together with the power of motion and the activity of the eye. But such a method is not relegated to the sequential rendering of events in the narrative. Rather its aim is to explore the manner in which the changes contribute to the actualization of aesthetic value. Acting from the process created by the very facts with which Popeye interacts, the critical act is unified with the forces proclaimed
7 On Poetic Imagination and Reverie: Selections from the Works of Gaston Bachelard, trans, Colette Gaudin (Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1971), p. 78.
by the life of the eye. Given the changes essential to the process, this form of critical action illustrates or draws attention to specific inherent possibilities and to the actualities whereby the narrative becomes a living form, a moral activity.
In the end, the model of vision offered by Popeye's
activity invites the critical imagination to a convergence with the powers of the image not unlike the one which Popeye's own eye seeks with the light in the form of "Frog One." An accurate description of this universe of.relationships leading to the stages of concrescence is the task of the critical action. The descriptive act must concentrate on particular moments of growth such as those which may lead into a vision of the growth of Popeye's own visual powers as he seeks his encounter with "Frog One.". And further, the critic as private-eye must see and unify each presentational moment of vision, each moti on, into the precise process of action created out of the interaction between the eye and the image. From each specific and immediate instance of growth, the descriptive imagination must forge a vision of the actual occasion as well as of its potentialities to propel the story forward. Out of a passion to see that .matches the popping eye's own, the critical act, too, is empowered for moral action. Nourishing itself in the image, it, too, testifies to the power of the visible creation and to the value of its vision.
LITERATURE AND THE CRUCIAL
IMAGE IN "THE MALTESE FALCON"
Both "The French Connection" in general and Popeye's visual activity in particular provide an invaluable source for setting up a broad critical base from which to launch the rest of this exploration of the private-eye movies. Both narrative and agent clarify the new moral activity and define the critical method dictated by the visual action. But to begin the actual exploration of the private-eye in the movies with a story such as "The French Connection" is to be blind to the organic growth of the private-eye in the cinematic medium. As no investigation of the detective in literature can begin with "The Big Knockover," so no inquiry into the private-eye movie can start with an exploration of a narrative that takes place some three decades after the private-eye story has solidly entrenched itself in the new medium. To begin in the middle is to miss a vital connection, an essential vision. Therefore, just as this entire exploration started with the first detective story and with an investigation into the method of action which engendered evolutionary changes in the genre, so the
inquiry into the private-eye movies begins with a narrative which not only precedes "The French Connection" in chronological terms, but which also offers a fundamental vision of the emergence of the detective in the movies. For the fact is that Popeye's victory over the villains that threaten the life of his world presupposes other triumphs by other private-eyes--triumphs which are more well-earned than Popeye' s if only because the most demanding task of the early private-eye was to emerge as a suitable agent for a particular kind of action which could further the life of the imagination within the genre.
And certainly, the first great victory of the privateeye in the movies is to be witnessed in "The Maltese Falcon" (1941). Sam's generating feat is really the generating matrix that makes Popeye's activity possible in a way not unlike the one in which Dupin's engendering achievement makes possible the life of the Continental Op. Not only is "The Maltese Falcon" the first significant story of the private-eye's moral victory, but it is also the first story of such a victory achieved through a new method of action. And further, "The Maltese Falcon" is also the story of the imagination as it crosses the boundaries that divide literature from the movies and it fuses a new moral vision out of its interaction with the possibilities inherent in each medium. The new Sam Spade, the private-eye in the
movie, has to act within the life of the new medium, and thus his activity is the most glaring illustration of the life of the imagination as it reworks the action of the literary story, forges the transition by revealing the word made image, and seeks to make the activity of the image whole. Thus, the imaginative task itself tells the basic story of the Maltese Falcon. Sam becomes not only an agent for the good as he clarifies vision and value within the given interplay between good and evil, but he also becomes an agent for the good as he illuminates the narrative feat to which the imagination is committed. Therefore, Sam's vision converges upon the imaginative task in precisely the same manner in which the imagination nourishes itself from Sam's activity. Such, then, is the basic goal that the imagination sets for itself in "The Maltese Falcon." The aim is to proclaim the narrative's independence from the literary medium, to display the new forces at work within the new medium, and, above all, to make the narrative a unified act, connected with, but autonomous from, the literary story.
Now aside from the fact that "The Maltese Falcon" is a movie engendered by a literary story, it is important to see that, almost from the beginning, words seek to hold dominance over the images. This passion for hegemony is established in the initial frameswhen the title is almost
immediately superimposed on the image of a statuette in the form of a falcon. The initial visual fact of the narrative is that the word prevents the eye from seeing the image clearly. The figure of the falcon is dark and in the middleground, almost totally hidden from sight. While the words, white in the foreground, draw the eye's attention, the figure behind them remains a mystery to the eye, showing some but not all of the life that the light can give it. Since words have taken over the screen--materializing and then disintegrating themselves first in the form of the title and subsequently in the form. of the credits--the figure cannot be immediately verified and clarified by the eye. The light that belongs to the image is appropriated by words.
obviously, in so doing, the words themselves have become visual entities, images, in effect. But these images are inexorably anchored to a meaning. Their primarily visual characteristics give way to the ambiguity and irony inherent in all words. In fact, these words are all the more ironic because they are incapable of shedding their abstract properties despite the fact that they nourish themselves not upon other words, but upon the light. The light gives them their life, but their own verbal properties endow them with a divisive power in the intellectual context within which they exist. And although they change
before the eye, they do so only in relation to themselves, so that they are not, in the strictest sense, telling a verbal natrative. Therefore, they remain half image and half word, clarifying neither their potency as visual values nor (because as words they only point to specific concrete acts) their power to retell the story of the word. The most basic function of these images, then, is to announce, by mere presence, the emergence of the literary story, or the story of the word, into a medium of light. But more than that, since they exist in this new medium, they also succeed in creating a basic ironic structure: images that have verbal properties or, conversely, words that exist by the power of the light.
But if these image-words exhibit the rudimentary life of the image so far as they are able to participate in the most simple form of change, then the figure of the falcon, still in the middleground, fails to display even this most elementary of changes. For it remains fixed--leaden, in fact--announcing its existence in a world where motion is not an integral part of the living process. Moreover, the statuette projects a heavy black shadow into the background, thus directing the eye to a false stereoscopic vision, to a uniform perspectivism that can never exist within the particularizing activity of the living eye. This form of the falcon, the representation of that in life which
moves best and sees with such accuracy--this figure of a creature that lives by its eye and its mobility and exemplifies man's passion for freedom--cannot see or move; it cannot grow out of its heavy and static existence. Its wings are folded and fused to its body. And its eye is fixed as it is itself fixed on the screen. The statuette thus seeks to call our attention to a world of perspective as well as to a world of fixed matter divorced fromthe energy of light. It attempts to call attention to its mass; in fact, it seeks to trap the eye into the illusion of mass.
Thus, the visual properties of the figure reinforce
the ironic qualities of the imaged words. When the falcon is seen in conjunction with the words, the elemental ironic structure that was announced by the appearance of the image in the form of the word enters into a second, more sophisticated phase. Like the words, the falcon, too, is an image pointing to something else; it is an image with a meaning and hence an image that denies its own life by its very incapacity to change. This image attempts to draw the ey e into a world of substance, literally into a world where it is in possession of an essential quality upon which it stands fixed. In short, this image becomes a symbol. In the critical, literary sense, the falcon's visual properties seek to translate themselves into no more than elements from which the rational mode is empowered to distil abstractions.
Then, recapitulating the structure contained in the
initial frames, the imaged word reappears over the image of
the bird to draw our attention to an event that altogether
aims at violating the life of the narrative--that is, the
words seek to force the narrative back into the past, into
the "history" of "the maltese falcon." "In 1539," the words
read, "the Knight Templars of Malta, paid tribute to Charles
V of Spain, by sending him a Golden Falcon encrusted from
beak to claw with rarest jewels-but pirates seized the
galley carrying the priceless token and the fate of the
Maltese Falcon remains a mystery to this day--" 1 And as
if it were not enough that these words seek to deny the
story of change within a world of light, they are all the
more perverse because they ascend from the horizontal world
1Richard J. Anobile, ed., The Maltese Falcon (New York: Avon, 1968), p. 8. Subsequent references to the dialogue of the movie are from this book and will be incorporated into the text in quotation marks followed by a page number in parentheses. A note should be made here regarding Mr. Anobile's contribution to the study of "The Maltese Falcon." Since his edition of the dialogue is not based on a screenplay, but on the soundtrack itself, the dialogue is subjected to somewhat arbitrary punctuation. Furthermore, Mr. Anobile has included every dramatic nuance in the dialogue. As a result, such expressions as "er"~ or "yuh" mar the dial1ogue and give it the tone of a comic strip. I have therefore chosen to omit these expressions. Nevertheless, I have chosen, for the most part, to let the words and punctuation stand as they do in this edition without the need for emmendations of my own. After all, Mr. Anobile's slightly less than careful editing of the dialogue is a tacit tribute'to visual predisposition.
of the screen. Moved by their inherently abstract quality, they enact an upward motion into the heavens, compelling the motion of the eye out of the world of the screen where the action is. (This juxtaposition of the fixed image and the abstractive power of the word is again s I een in the following shot--an image of a bridge spanning the horizontal length of the screen with the words "San Francisco" superimposed on it.. This image, therefore, reinforces the structure created by the initial frames. Since the words are pointing to an abstract entity, that is, the city, incapable of being s6en as a particular entity, as well as the name of a man who chose to ascend from the visual world much like the words of the "history" rise out of the screen, this bridge, a unifying structure over the moving waters, fails to counteract the divisive properties of the initial image.) Unquestionably, then, the verbal properties of these rising words hold absolute dominion over their own visual.qualities. Not only do they will themselves out of the visible creation, but almost each word in this "history" points to an abstraction: to the year, the crusading institution, the king with his acquired past and country, the unspecified monetary worth of the falcon, and, above all, the statuette's "mysteriousness." These words, it is evident, want to tell a decidedly verbal story. Abstractions that they are, they exert their power to hold back the story of the eye, to, in fact, return to the literary medium.
Furthermore, since they state that the image that is still seen in the middleground is a mystery, these words succeed in supporting, indeed, augmenting, the initial structure of irony inherent in the contrasts within the opening frames. These words have an aim. As rational tools, they seek to entrench the narrative in a thoroughly defined intellectual past; they seek to immerse the story in a first cause and thus turn the act ion (which they pretend they are able to generate by themselves) into a teleological event-into a world that is not self-generated and immanently organized, but into a discursive cause-and-effect activity that places a premium on rational reflection to the total exclusion of visual action. These words seek to elicit the intellectual conviction that the narrative has a "true" purpose that is dictated by the power of words to bring the past to accountfor the present. And, more perversely still, these words, themselves the source of irony and contradiction, attempt to persuade that only they can explain the "mystery"-of the image when it is they themselves which stand in the way of an initial clarification of the image which in turn they alone claim they are empowered to clarify!
Therefore, the words aim at the enactment of a story
of motive, of an event in which, abstracted from the light, action is consequently based upon and limited to a search for
an object which has no value or power as image, but only as that which it represents in a world saturated with abstractions. It-thus follows that images though they may be (in the most basic sense of being visible entities in a visible medium and since they are not spoken words) these verbal entities violate the life of the image by compelling attention away from the thing itself. Aside from their vertical motion, they want, as do all words within a rational context, to transcend a presentational existence and find a suitable niche in the darkness. Consequently, the words correspond'to the condition of the image of the statuette which, unchanged and incapable of changing, still occupies the half-darkness of the middleground and still projects its heavy shadow on the background. Like the figure of the falcon, the words point to the permanent, to the fixed, and to the substantial. Just as the image of the statuette directs the eye to visual perspectivity, so do these words will the perspective of the past on the story that is about to unfold.
In their pretense to create history, words create
mystery and, as a result, they reinforce the mythical qualities of the image. Inevitably, the imposition of words upon the fixed image generates a structure of conflict with both the'powers of light and motion as well as with the achievement of narrative unity. Within a visual process, within the medium of the moving image enacted by the powers
of the light, the word as a power that reinforces the fixed is irrevocably allied to the powers of evil. Words are., in effect, evil itself. The verbal powers and the condition of the fixed image aspire to the death of the narrative act; they align themselves in direct opposition to the power of the medium to generate a unified act that allows it to leave behind the old literary form. Since
they create chaos and confusion, the word and the static image remain hostile to being incorporated within the light. They want to tell a story in the old way. As the words themselves say, ."to this very day," to the immediate instance when they first appear on the screen, the "fate of the Maltese Falcon remains a mystery." That is all these words can do within the narrative process, that is, to proclaim their impotence for growth through clarification and for unity through action. They testify only to their power to re-enact the past while pointing to their obstinacy to.be functionally assimilated into a unified structure potentially existing in the new medium.
Yet at the same time that the image of the falcon is
burdened with the weight of its past, of its intellectually determined worth, of its mass, and of its heavy shadow, it is also that which excites the eye and incites to a clarifying activity. This basic search to see constitutes the third level of the structure of irony that begins its
development with the juxtaposition of the word and image in the opening shot. As a visual phenomenon, the falcon becomes the dominant image in the most literal sense of the word. With the exception of Sam's, this image rules over the visual passions of the main pa rticipants in the story. Thus, at one level, the search to see the falcon is what the story is all about. There is an unquestionable urge on the part of Gutman, Cairo, and Brigid to see this image, the vision of which is the measure of their commitment to life. Their passion to see, however, does not culminate in an expansion of their visual talents nor does it lead to their growth within the visible creation. Quite the contrary, since their overmastering zeal to see is determined by intellectual motives alien to the activity of the eye, their seeing degenerates into a rational penchant for material possession, into a moral bias for physically holding and actually controlling the image. The energy of the eye and its capacity to lead to union with the image is thus vitiated and ultimately negated by the intellect. Intellectualized out of its inherent value potentialities, the dominant image becomes the heavy object that.controls the heads rather than the power which expands the visual activity. This denial of the intrinsic power of the image by the rational force comes into full view toward the end when, not willing to accept that which is before his eyes as a value, Gutman
frantically scratches the surface of the falcon with a penknife in what is the culminating illustration of intellectual blindness. Gutman wants to get at the substance of this image; and, seeing (ironically) that there is nothing but surface, he shouts, "Fake! It s a phoney!" (p. 224). Thus, this image that can be seen but whose visual value is denied in favor of abstraction, becomes the crucial image. ("Crucial" here is used in its primary etymological sense of.a quality which itself begets crossed or contradictory actions or which, conversely, is unempowered to generate a unified, organic act..) Since it brings to surface the traditional dichotomy between appearance and reality, this image creates mystery. The crucial or crossed image (or x) literally becomes the unknown factor and consequently the essential element for clarification in terms of the moral options available to the participants in the story according to either their visual or rational inclinations. This crucial image begets intrigue in its capacity to propel the narrative through a maze of words, a labyrinth of masks and roles, underneath which lurks either the passion for clarification (as exemplified by Sam) or the quest for possession (as incorporated in Gutmanis character). And finally, the crucial image begets suspense in its inherent capacity to literally bring the action to a halt according to whether the potentialities of the eye or the rational powers are asserted in the end.
hummingg up, then, the crucial image divides; and in
the act of bifurcation it announces a binary structure'out of which ill possibilities must emerge, but within which those same possibilities are doomed to remain. All change in "The Maltese Falcon" takes place within the limitations imposed by the divided structure rendered by the crucial image. Mystery, suspense, and intrigue, traditional elements of the detective story in literature, become more than just conventional subcategories of the rudimentary plot of the detective story and are wholly incorporated components of the principle of irony dominating the narrative. Moreover, the crucial image serves as the vehicle for the exploration of distinct patterns of action on the dramatic, thematic, and cinematic levels, each of which in turn illustrates the achievement of the two moral alternatives implicit in the opposite qualities of the crucial image. Each level of the narrative opens up a more or less limited moral territory, or course of action, leading to a clarification of the crucial image, which defines good and evil for itself within the context of the encompassing structure or medium. The options to which the crucial image invites the participants in the story emerge out of their commitment to either see the image or intellectualize it out of the realm of the visible; to partake in the abundance of life in a world of light or to return to the beginning, to a world of history and causality; to move freely without the
yearning to come to a halt, or to become a fixture, jaded out of all possibilities as a consequence of the pursuit of a linear motion aimed at as the end of all mobility and change. Even within the world of irreconcilable opposites enacted by the crucial image, though, the options still remain open and clear: the choice entails either a search for security--for the death ensuing from the literal securing of the image as an abstraction--or for an active participation in the lif e of the light.
Since its dramatic pattern follows the lead of the
crossed condition established in and by the initial image, it is inevitable that "The Maltese Falcon" be predominantly a talkie. The dramatic substructure bears the heavy reliance on the verbal powers that the historical passage announces in the beginning. That the narrative thrives on talk-is most evident in the following lines where the talk is about talk itself. "You're a close-mouth man?" Gutman asks. And Sam replies, "No. I like to talk." Gutman, in turn, says, "Talking's something you can't do judiciously, unless you keep in practice," and then, "I'm a man who likes to talk" (pp. 130-31). Talk repeatedly invades the screen, and with every raid upon it, it threatens to debilitate the powers of the image, for, by the very fact that it takes
place, for the most pa .rt, at times when only the mouth is moving, speech imposes itself on the image and obscures its powers in precisely the same manner in which the words of the title, of the credits, and of the verbal account of the statuette prevent the image from asserting itself in-thea beginning, Talk casts the shadow of abstraction on the image. As the dark-shadow of the bird points to perspectivity, so does talk direct attention beyond the visual fact itself.
Accordingly, it is significant that the preponderance of the talk taking place within the dramatic aspect of the narrative occurs within the context of acting. Most of the verbal exchanges occur as a dramatic performance on the part of the characters and are aimed at hiding both their identities and their motives and thus at creating a series of plays within a play, fragmentary aspects of narrative substructure, where the images on the screen not only speak their parts, but where the part itself consists of assuming different names and roles (all of which, of course, isin the end, aimed at educing an intellectual sense of truth through the fabrication of the most believable lie!) Donning and doffing masks and roles., the characters are insured of safety and survival within this verbal world. Thus, for instance, Brigid is not just Brigid, but also Miss Wonderly and Miss Leblanc. Or Joel Cairo has four different passports--four different documents identifying him as four