History of the Detective Film In American Cinema

Georgia State University
A History of the Detective Film in American Cinema
Spring 2012

Class Meetings: Monday/Wednesday 2:00 PM – 3:15 PM

Instructor: Erik Clabaugh
Office: One Park Place, 92nd Floor, Penthouse Suite A
Office Hours: Tuesdays 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM (and by appointment)
Email: erikclabaugh@yahoo.com or erikclabaugh@gmail.com
Website: www.erikclabaugh.com

Course Description and Objectives

Traditionally, the detective film has been regarded as a sub-genre within the larger generic frameworks of crime, thriller, noir and gangster films. As a result, it has often been relegated to a minor position in examinations of American film history. Such accounts seemingly overlook the fact that the detective film is almost as old as cinema itself, and has proven to be one of the most enduring, and adaptable, formats for cinematic storytelling.
This course will trace the emergence and evolution of the detective film in American cinema. Beginning with American Mutual and Biograph Company’s 1903 “one-reeler,” Sherlock Holmes Baffled, we will trace the detective’s development through seven distinct phases opening with the classical detective (e.g. Sherlock Holmes, Nick Charles) of early films, and ending with the modern day iteration of detective as scholar/scientist (e.g. Robert Langdon, Alex Cross, and Sherlock Holmes… Again). Finally, we will conclude with two case studies of recent Hollywood detective films.
Along the way, we will explore a host of related issues, including: the adaptation of detective literature to film, gender roles, questions of racial identity and representation, cultural influences, and the role of the political in the detective film.

Primary Objectives:

By the end of the semester, students should be able to answer the following questions:
1. What are the roots of the Hollywood detective film?
2. Why does Hollywood repeatedly return to this genre throughout its history?
3. How has the role of detective as protagonist evolved over time?
4. What does this history reveal about race/gender roles in cinema and society?
5. How do politics figure into the history of the detective film?
6. What can the Hollywood detective film teach us about genre?
7. How might the detective film be analyzed?

Required Texts:

• Course packet
• Online materials (These materials may be accessed via links provided in the syllabus


Students must view assigned films prior to the applicable class session. You are welcome to watch these films on you own, or to organize your own viewing parties. Weekly group screenings will be offered, but attendance is not mandatory.


Presentation: With a partner, students will choose one film that we have not viewed as a class, and present a 15-20 minute discussion based on ideas and concepts covered over the course of the semester.
Take-Home Midterm Exam: This exam will consist of essay questions based on the readings, lectures and films screened in the first half of the semester.
Take-Home Final Exam: This exam will consist of essay questions based on the readings, lectures and films screened in the second half of the semester.

Grading Breakdown:

Midterm Exam- 40%
Final Exam- 40%
Presentation- 10%
Attendance & Class Participation- 10%

Grade Scale: A+: 100- 98, A: 97-94; A-: 93-90; B+: 89-86; B: 86-83; B-: 82-79; C+: 78-76; C: 75-72; C-: 71-69; D: 61-68; F: 60-0

Class Schedule

Week 1

Introduction – Review Syllabus – What is a “Detective Film?”

The Origins of the Detective – Social & Cultural Context – Roots in Literature – Poe & Dupin – Doyle & Holmes
Reading: William Marling – Detective Novels: An Overview http://www.detnovel.com/
Edgar Allan Poe – The Murders in the Rue Morgue www.feedbooks.com/book/795.pdf

Week 2

The Classical Detective – The Game is Afoot!: Early Holmes on Film – In Class Screening: Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900)
Reading: Jon Tuska, “The Reichenbach Falls Caper,” from The Detective in Hollywood (Course packet).
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Adventure of the Empty House

Detecting in the Silent Era – The Detective Versus the Cowboy – Shorts: Nick Carter – Serials: The Exploits of Elaine – Silent “B” Movies: The Thirteenth Hour – Lady Detectives
Reading: William K. Everson, “The Silent Period,” from The Detective in Film (Course packet).

Week 3

The Transitional Detective – Philo Vance – Nick & Nora Charles – Charlie Chan – Gender Roles
Reading: Jon Tuska, “The Philo Vance Murder Case,” and “Chinatown, My Chinatown” from The Detective in Hollywood (Course Packet).
Phlippa Gates, “Movie Modernization: The Film Industry and Working Women in the Depression,” from Detecting Women: Gender and the Hollywood Detective Film (Course Packet).
Screening: The Kennel Murder Case (1933)

Sign Up for Presentations – The Transitional Detective (Cont.) – Slouching Towards Film Noir – Social & Cultural Contexts – The Crime Film Paves the Way: Gangsters!
Reading: Howard Hughes, “I Ain’t so Tough,” from Crime Wave: The Filmgoer’s Guide to the Great Crime Movies (Course Packet).

Week 4

The Transitional Detective (Cont.) – Technical Innovations – Reactions to the Crime Film – Regulation – Hard Boiled Lit v. Soft Boiled Film – Adaptation
Reading: William Marling – Hard Boiled Fiction and Film Noir
Philippa Gates, “The Transitional Detective,” from Detecting Men: Masculinity and the Hollywood Detective Film (Course packet).
Screening: The Public Enemy (1931)

The Noir Detective – Social & Cultural Context: Postwar Disillusionment– European Influences: German Expressionism & French Poetic Realism – Chandler & Hammett
Reading: Kirsten Moana Thompson, “The Professional Crime Solver: From Hard-Boiled Detectives to Crusading Cops,” from Crime Films: Investigating the Scene (Course packet).
Reading: Jon Tuska, “A Conference with Raymond Chandler,” from The Detective in Hollywood (Course packet).

Week 5

The Noir Detective (Cont.) – Early Noir: Three Kinds of Hero – Noir & Psychoanalysis – Transgression – Americanization of the Hero
Reading: Jon Tuska, “Interlude: Film Noir,” from The Detective in Hollywood (Course packet).
Philippa Gates, “The Hardboiled Detective,” from Detecting Men: Masculinity and the Hollywood Detective Film (Course packet).
Screening: The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The Noir Detective (Cont.) – Women in Noir – Social & Cultural Context – WWII & Changing Gender Roles – The Femme Fatale – The Female Detective
Reading: Philippa Gates, “The Maritorious (sic) Melodrama: The Female Detective in 1940s Film Noir,” from Detecting Women: Gender and the Hollywood Detective Film (Course packet).
David W. Madden, “Anne Riordan: Raymond Chandler’s Forgotten Heroine,” from The Detective in American Fiction, Film, and Television (Course Packet).

Week 6

The Noir Detective (Cont.) – Late Noir – Social & Cultural Context: The Cold War & The Threat of Communism – Heroes on the Verge of a Moral Breakdown – Mickey Spillane & Mike Hammer – Kiss Me Deadly & Nuclear Annihilation
Reading: Howard Hughes, “The Liar’s Kiss That Says I Love You,” from Crime Wave: The Filmgoer’s Guide to the Great Crime Movies (Course Packet).
Screening: Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

First Round of Student Presentations

Week 7

The Police Detective – Social & Cultural Context: Changing Values – Ignoring the Cold War? – The Professionalization of Crime Detection – The Procedural – Conservative Notions of Masculinity – The Small Screen: Dragnet
Reading: Philippa Gates, “The Police Detective,” from Detecting Men: Masculinity and the Hollywood Detective Film (Course packet).
Screening: The Naked City (1948)

Second Round of Student Presentations – Midterm Exams Due

Week 8

No Class- Spring Break

Week 9

The Detective as Vigilante Cop – Social & Cultural Context: The 60s & 70’s – Regulation: The Fall of the Production Code & The Rise of the Rating System – Political Terrain
Reading: Robert Ray, “Left and Right Cycles,” from A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema (Course packet).
Screening: Dirty Harry (1971)

Third Round of Student Presentations

Week 10

Race & The Detective – An Overview: 1918 to the Present – Blaxploitation – Ideas of the Other – Representation
Reading: Philippa Gates, “Investigating the “Other”: Race and the Detective,” from Detecting Men: Masculinity and the Hollywood Detective Film (Course packet).
Howard Hughes, “We’re All on the Hustle,” from Crime Wave: The Filmgoer’s Guide to the Great Crime Movies (Course Packet).
Screening: Shaft (1971)

Last Round of Student Presentations

Week 11

Race, Gender & The Detective – Social & Cultural Context – Two Forms: The Sleuth & the Undercover Agent – Challenging Assumptions – Gender Roles & Feminist Responses
Reading: Philippa Gates, “Femme Might Makes Right: The 1970s Blaxploitation Vigilante Crime-fighter,” from Detecting Women: Gender and the Hollywood Detective Film (Course packet).
Screening: Foxy Brown (1974)

No Trespassing: The Emergence of Neo-Noir – Roman Polanski & Chinatown – The Greatest Screenplay Ever Written?: Robert Towne – Adapting Lit to Film – Postmodernism
Reading: Howard Hughes, “Forget it, Jake, it’s…” from Crime Wave: The Filmgoer’s Guide to the Great Crime Movies (Course Packet).
James Maxfield, “The Injustice of It All: Polanski’s Revision of the Private Eye Genre in Chinatown,” from The Detective in American Fiction, Film, and Television (Course packet).

Week 12

The Cop as Action Hero – Social & Cultural Context – Political Influences – Realities of the Blockbuster Era
Reading: Susan Jeffords, from Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1994.(Course Packet)
Screening: Die Hard (1988)

The Cop as Action Hero (Cont.) – The New “Buddy Pic” – Cross Racial Partners: Industry Influence & Economic Forces – In Class Screening: Clips from 48 Hours (1982) & Lethal Weapon (1987)
Reading: Howard Hughes, “There’s No More Heroes Left in the World” from Crime Wave: The Filmgoer’s Guide to the Great Crime Movies (Course Packet).

Week 13

The Criminalist – Social & Cultural Context – Popular Literature – Shifting Perceptions of Masculinity – Gender Roles – Class Conscience
Reading: Philippa Gates, “Detecting Identity: From Investigative Thrillers to Crime Scene Investigators,” from Detecting Women: Gender and the Hollywood Detective Film (Course packet).
Screening: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The Criminalist (Cont.) – Sherlock Holmes All Over Again? – Genre Bending & Blending – Steampunk – Bromance? – Sexuality & The Detective Film
Reading: Colin Carman, “Bromance Flix and the State of Dudedom,” from Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide; Jan/Feb2010, Vol. 17 Issue 1 (Course packet).

Week 14

Case Study: The Curious Case of the Dude in the Nighttime – The Coen Brothers – Neo-Noir – Pastiche – Postmodernism (Cont.) – Dudeism
Reading: Marc Singer, “Trapped by Their Pasts: Noir and Nostalgia In the Big Lebowski,” from Post Script, Winter2008, Vol. 27 Issue 2 (Course packet).
Screening: The Big Lebowski (1998)*
*Note: Instructor is a fully ordained Dudeist Priest.

The Dude (Cont.) – Social & Cultural Context: The Iraq War – The Political in The Big Lebowski – Genre Film as Social Commentary
Reading: Todd A. Comer, “This Aggression Will Not Stand: Myth, War, and Ethics in “The Big Lebowski,” from Substance: A Review of Theory & Literary Criticism, 2005, Vol. 34 Issue 2 (Course packet).

Week 15

Case Study: Formal Play – Backwards Narrative: Memento – Reception: Repeat Viewings
Reading: Karen Renner, “Repeat Viewing Revisited: Emotions, Memory, and Memento,” from Film Studies, Summer2006, Vol. 8 Issue 0 (Course packet).
Screening: Memento (2000)

Memento (Cont.) – Formal Play & The Independent Film – An Audience “In the Know” – Viewing Strategies
Reading: Michael Z. Newman, “Games of Narrative Form,” from Indie: An American Film Culture (Course packet).

Week 16

Review of Important Points & Ideas

No Class
Final Exam Due

Course Packet

Carman, Colin. “Bromance Flix and the State of Dudedom.” Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide (2010).
Comer, Todd. “This Agression Will Not Stand: Myth, War, and Ethics in ‘The Big Lebowski’.” Substance: A Review of Theory & Literary Criticism 34.2 (2005).
Everson, William K. The Detective in Film. Secaucus: The Citadel Press, 1980.
Gates, Philippa. Detecting Women: Gender and the Hollywood Detective Film. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2011.
Hughes, Howard. Crime Wave: The Filmgoer’s Guide to the Great Crime Movies. New York: I.B. Taurus & Company, 2006.
Madden, David W. “Anne Riordan: Raymond Chandler’s Forgotten Heroine.” The Detecive in American Fiction, Film and Television. Ed. Jerome H. Delamater and Ruth Prigozy. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1998.
Newman, Michael Z. Indie: An American Film Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.
Ray, Robert. A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.
Renner, Karen. “Repeat Viewing Revisited: Emotions, Memory, and Memento.” Film Studies 8.0 (2006).
Singer, Marc. “Trapped By Their Past: Noir and Nostalgia in The Big Lebowski.” Post Script 27.2 (2008).
Tuska, Jon. The Detective in Hollywood. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1978.

General Policies:

Incompletes may be given only in special hardship cases. Incompletes will not be used merely for extending the time for completion of course requirements.

Your constructive assessment of this course plays an indispensable role in shaping education at Georgia State. Upon completing the course, please take time to fill out the online course evaluation.

Students who wish to request accommodation for a disability may do so by registering with the Office of Disability Services. Students may only be accommodated upon issuance by the Office of Disability Services of a signed Accommodation Plan and are responsible for providing a copy of that plan to instructors of all classes in which accommodations are sought.

Changes to the Syllabus
This syllabus provides a general plan for the course. Deviations may be necessary.

Georgia State University Policy on Academic Honesty

As members of the academic community, students are expected to recognize and uphold standards of intellectual and academic integrity. The university assumes as a basic and minimum standard of conduct in academic matters that students be honest and that they submit for credit only the products of their own efforts. Both the ideals of scholarship and the need for fairness require that all dishonest work be rejected as a basis for academic credit. They also require that students refrain from any and all forms of dishonorable or unethical conduct related to their academic work.

The university’s policy on academic honesty is published in the Faculty Affairs Handbook and the On Campus: The Undergraduate Co-Curricular Affairs Handbook and is available to all members of the university community. The policy represents a core value of the university and all members of the university community are responsible for abiding by its tenets. Lack of knowledge of this policy is not an acceptable defense to any charge of academic dishonesty. All members of the academic community — students, faculty, and staff — are expected to report violations of these standards of academic conduct to the appropriate authorities. The procedures for such reporting are on file in the offices of the deans of each college, the office of the dean of students, and the office of the provost.

In an effort to foster an environment of academic integrity and to prevent academic dishonesty, students are expected to discuss with faculty the expectations regarding course assignments and standards of conduct. Students are encouraged to discuss freely with faculty, academic advisors, and other members of the university community any questions pertaining to the provisions of this policy. In addition, students are encouraged to avail themselves of programs in establishing personal standards and ethics offered through the university’s Counseling Center.

Definitions and Examples
The examples and definitions given below are intended to clarify the standards by which academic honesty and academically honorable conduct are to be judged. The list is merely illustrative of the kinds of infractions that may occur, and it is not intended to be exhaustive. Moreover, the definitions and examples suggest conditions under which unacceptable behavior of the indicated types normally occurs; however, there may be unusual cases that fall outside these conditions which also will be judged unacceptable by the academic community.

A. Plagiarism: Plagiarism is presenting another person’s work as one’s own. Plagiarism includes any paraphrasing or summarizing of the works of another person without acknowledgment, including the submitting of another student’s work as one’s own. Plagiarism frequently involves a failure to acknowledge in the text, notes, or footnotes the quotation of the paragraphs, sentences, or even a few phrases written or spoken by someone else. The submission of research or completed papers or projects by someone else is plagiarism, as is the unacknowledged use of research sources gathered by someone else when that use is specifically forbidden by the faculty member. Failure to indicate the extent and nature of one’s reliance on other sources is also a form of plagiarism. Any work, in whole or in part, taken from the Internet or other computer-based resource without properly referencing the source (for example, the URL) is considered plagiarism. A complete reference is required in order that all parties may locate and view the original source. Finally, there may be forms of plagiarism that are unique to an individual discipline or course, examples of which should be provided in advance by the faculty member. The student is responsible for understanding the legitimate use of sources, the appropriate ways of acknowledging academic, scholarly or creative indebtedness, and the consequences of violating this responsibility.

B. Cheating on Examinations: Cheating on examinations involves giving or receiving unauthorized help before, during, or after an examination. Examples of unauthorized help include the use of notes, computer based resources, texts, or “crib sheets” during an examination (unless specifically approved by the faculty member), or sharing information with another student during an examination (unless specifically approved by the faculty member). Other examples include intentionally allowing another student to view one’s own examination and collaboration before or after an examination if such collaboration is specifically forbidden by the faculty member.

C. Unauthorized Collaboration: Submission for academic credit of a work product, or a part thereof, represented as its being one’s own effort, which has been developed in substantial collaboration with another person or source, or computer-based resource, is a violation of academic honesty. It is also a violation of academic honesty knowingly to provide such assistance. Collaborative work specifically authorized by a faculty member is allowed.

D. Falsification: It is a violation of academic honesty to misrepresent material or fabricate information in an academic exercise, assignment or proceeding (e.g., false or misleading citation of sources, the falsification of the results of experiments or of computer data, false or misleading information in an academic context in order to gain an unfair advantage).

E. Multiple Submissions: It is a violation of academic honesty to submit substantial portions of the same work for credit more than once without the explicit consent of the faculty member(s) to whom the material is submitted for additional credit. In cases in which there is a natural development of research or knowledge in a sequence of courses, use of prior work may be desirable, even required; however the student is responsible for indicating in writing, as a part of such use, that the current work submitted for credit is cumulative in nature.

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