Hardboiled Detectives Essay, Research Paper
Throughout all of the time periods in American history, there have been many different incarnations of the ?hero with attitude.? These heroes are the ones who refuse to take orders from others and abide by the laws of authority, choosing instead to get things done on their own terms. Such examples of this type of hero have been well defined through our country?s coming of age. During the pioneering days of settling the western territory, cowboys reigned supreme. These men ruled the old west with their gun-slinging ways, letting nothing come between them and what they set out for. Although feared throughout the land, the demeanor and cunning of cowboys could never match the sheer cold-mannered, slick abilities of the hardboiled detectives. These men, heroes in their own right, were every bit as intimidating, if not more so, than their predecessors. Their lack of ties to anything characteristically human (such as family and past experiences) sets up this breed of detectives as the loner-type, relying on their minds and their guts as means to reach an end. Their ability to sniff out crimes by any means necessary (whether lawfully or not) combined with their tough exteriors and nerves of steel make the hardboiled detective a force to be reckoned with, as those who cross them would surely attest to. As portrayed by Dashiell Hammet in The Dain Curse and Raymond Chandler in The Big Sleep, the hardboiled detectives Continental Op and Phillip Marlowe follow this formula for dealing with matters on their own terms that are the epitome of this ?hero with attitude.?
The detective work of the Continental Op and Marlowe is strikingly similar in that both men choose not to adhere to the limitations set upon their work by the authorities. It is a necessity for a detective to posses the ability to set their own limitations if he wishes to be a well-crafted hardboiled detective. These detectives know the risk that comes with a decision as audacious as working outside the boundaries set up by authority, but it is that risk that fuels the fires that burn within this type of detective. The Continental Op very outwardly displays his distaste for those who get in his path, trying to use their authority over a situation to obstruct his duties. In one situation, he arrives at a cult residence where Gabrielle Legget, an important witness in the case he is working on, is being housed. When he tries to gain entry into room, the leader of the cult denies him, saying that Miss Legget was in no condition to have visitors. After several moments of polite argument, the Continental Op finally disregards everything that Mrs. Haldorn says to him, replying, ?Well, we?ve got to see her. If it suits you better, I?m willing to wait half an hour till we can get a policeman up here with whatever authority you make necessary. We?re going to see her.? His utter lack of remorse for refusing her orders are typical of the type of man that he is ? a detective who will not let authority get in the way of his job. While this is not the most legal way of going about being a detective, it is certain that the Continental Op would tell you it is not just the best way, but it is the only way.
Phillip Marlowe, the hard-nosed detective at the center of Raymond Chandler?s The Big Sleep, displays a similar knack for bypassing the restrictions that common man?s law places on his job. Where the Continental Op exhibits persistence and stubbornness in sidestepping authority, Phillip Marlowe displays daring and avoidant behavior regarding authority altogether. As a hardboiled detective, he possesses the need for accomplishing things and carrying out investigations on his own terms, without police interference. Although his path will inevitably cross with that of the legal authorities from time to time, Marlowe would rather not have to deal with the drawn out processes that police work requires. He exhibits this attitude consistently throughout the novel, always taking things into his own hands before reporting his findings to the police. This is the case when Marlowe follows the car of a man he is trailing to a suspicious house ? one that could hold many relevant clues and answer some unanswered questions. While waiting outside the house in his car, he saw a flash of light followed by several gunshots and the sound of a fleeing party. Where most people would take the time to alert authorities of the outburst, Marlowe knew better than to waste his time alerting the people that would slow his case and hinder his progress. Instead, he ?climbed over the railing again and kicked the French window in,? gaining entry to an untainted crime scene. He was now able to make deductions based on the present state of things rather than rely on the inadequate findings of police. Even going one step further, Marlowe treated the scene as if it was his own, moving evidence around and even removing a witness from the scene altogether. He examined the ?limp chilling hand? of a murder victim, ?took the stopper out [of a pot-bellied flagon of brown liquid] and smelled at it,? and ?carried [Carmen] out to her car,? from which he would drive her home. His actions were clearly that of tampering with a crime scene, but as Phillip Marlowe would gladly say, he would not have wanted it any other way. Keeping the authorities out and having a fresh crime scene to himself is a virtual gold mine to all detectives, and a hardboiled detective such as Marlowe would be damned to miss out on such an opportunity.
Philip Marlowe and the Continental Op are joined in other ways than their distaste for abiding by the word of authority. It has been a common theme to see that a key factor in making detectives so superior is that they almost always have a non-human element to them. In the past it was common to see that detectives were superior because of their super-human intellect. In this case, however, Marlowe and the Continental Op are not superior because of something extra that they possess, but rather a human element that they lack. Much of each character?s demeanor is based around their ability to be ?cool as ice? in certain situations, not displaying emotion on a regular basis. This can be attributed to their lacking in several key aspects of ?human? characteristics. For one thing, neither man has a family or a past to help paint his characteristics outside of what he offers through his own actions. Marlowe even coldly states that he is ?unmarried because [he doesn?t] like policemen?s wives.? Lacking such key elements that give human-like qualities to those who possess them reinforce the notion that hardboiled detectives such as these men rely on themselves, and only themselves, for their work and lifestyle. Their lack of expressing emotion also enables Marlowe and the Continental Op to be free of becoming overly attached to a case. Both men state numerous times that they are taking the measures that they are because it is their job to do so and it pays the bills. The Continental Op often refers to the fact that he works for the ?Continental Agency-for the insurance company,? and will not let the case trouble him once it is solved to his approval. Marlowe also displays that he does this work because of the money that he is being paid, and shows no attachment to his cases beyond that. Keeping their emotions at bay and being impersonal in situations like these, the Continental Op and Philip Marlow are able to fulfill the requirements of being ace hardboiled detectives.
In Raymond Chandler?s The Big Sleep and Dashiell Hammett?s The Dain Curse, the two leading detectives are painted as figures that lack specific human elements, making them the rebels that they need to be in order to succeed. The hardboiled detective is one that accomplishes things on his own terms and would go to great lengths (even bypassing authorities) to solve a case. Without a family, a past, and respect for authority, Marlowe and the Continental Op display how a hardboiled detective gets things done ? on their own.