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Detecting Men

Masculinity and the Hollywood Detective Film

Philippa Gates

Publication Year: 2006

Detecting Men examines the history of the Hollywood detective genre and the ways that detective films have negotiated changing social attitudes toward masculinity, heroism, law enforcement, and justice. Genre film can be a site for the expression and resolution of problematic social issues, but while there have been many studies of such other male genres as war films, gangster films, and Westerns, relatively little attention has been paid to detective films beyond film noir. In this volume, Philippa Gates examines classical films of the thirties and forties as well as recent examples of the genre, including Die Hard, the Lethal Weapon films, The Usual Suspects, Seven, Devil in a Blue Dress, and Murder by Numbers, in order to explore social anxieties about masculinity and crime and Hollywood’s conceptions of gender. Up until the early 1990s, Gates argues, the primary focus of the detective genre was the masculinity of the hero. However, from the mid-1990s onward, the genre has shifted to more technical portrayals of crime scene investigation, forensic science, and criminal profiling, offering a reassuring image of law enforcement in the face of violent crime. By investigating the evolution of the detective film, Gates suggests, perhaps we can detect the male.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title and Copyright Pages

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C O N T E N T S

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pp. v-vi

I L L U S T R A T I O N S

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pp. vii-viii

A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S

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pp. ix-x

Part I. The Crime Lab: Theorizing Masculinity and the Detective Genre

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1. Introduction: The Case

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pp. 3-25

From William Powell to Humphrey Bogart—or debonair to tough; from Bruce Willis to William Petersen—or wisecracking to wise: the celluloid detective has evolved over time, processing society’s fears about crime and articulating debates about law enforcement and justice. The 1980s saw cinematic justice exacted by muscle and firepower;...

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2. The Myths of Masculinity

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pp. 27-51

Feminist critics have tended to regard the category of masculinity as a monolithic, stable, unproblematic, and hegemonic idea, against which the representations of women have been measured. For example, Laura Mulvey in her seminal 1975 essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” argues that there is only one dominant type of subjectivity in narrative film and that...

Part II. Investigating Masculinity: The 1940s and the 1980s

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3. Investigating National Heroes:British Sleuths and American Dicks

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pp. 55-94

In a response to the social changes incited by World War II, Hollywood offered audiences two different types of detective-hero in the 1940s: the soft-boiled transitional detective and the hardboiled noir-detective.1 The 1950s also produced two different responses to the Cold War: the conservative cop of the police procedural and the corrupt cop of what have been identified as...

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4. Investigating Crisis: Neo-Noir Heroes and Femmes Fatales

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pp. 95-123

Hollywood film has a history of negotiating masculinity through the denial of cinematic voice and space to women. As Susan Faludi notes, in the 1950s Hollywood film offered fewer emancipated women than they had in the 1930s and 1940s, and fewer films concerned with women in general (Backlash 143–44). ...

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5. Investigating Crisis: The Spectacle of “Musculinity”

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pp. 125-153

The 1980s witnessed the return to noir aesthetics and themes, but parallel to this trend was that of the action film, and its popularity affected the detective genre, with a proliferation of the cop action hero. The cop action film offered a hybridization of the detective and action film by having a detective as protagonist who investigates a crime, with an emphasis on spectacular action as...

Part III. Investigating The Crime Scene: The 1990s and 2000s

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6. Investigating the Hero: The Criminalist

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pp. 157-188

The 1980s were dominated by a processing of masculine crisis and a backlash against feminist empowerment in films like the neo-noir and the cop action film. But the early 1990s experienced a shift to “sensitive men,” which was mirrored in the detective film by the appearance of protagonists who were...

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7. Investigating the “Other”: Race and the Detective

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pp. 189-216

The first detective film with a black protagonist was R. W. Phillips’s 1918 film A Black Sherlock Holmes (Langman and Finn, Silent xv). Although the black detective may have appeared early in the history of the detective genre, this single film is an anomaly, and the black detective as a prevalent character would not emerge for another fifty years, when Sidney Poitier...

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8. Investigating the “Other”: Women and Youth

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pp. 217-252

The early 1990s saw the introduction of kinder, gentler men on screen, mirroring a social shift to the valuing of more sensitive and vulnerable masculinity. But this move away from the hypermasculine action hero also included the proliferation of feminine or “feminized” heroes: women and youths. ...

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9. Investigating the “Other”: The Cult of Villainy

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pp. 253-281

Hollywood has always constructed villains for its heroes to fight, but the villain has rarely received the critical attention that the hero has. Yet without the opposition of villainy there could be no concept of heroism. ...

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10. End of the Investigation: Case Closed

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pp. 283-285

The detective genre has had a long history on the big screen, appearing almost as soon as the medium was born and becoming popular in the sound era as its many characters, complicated plots, suspense, and intrigue were developed. Each decade has seen the dominance and proliferation of at least one trend in the genre: the classical sleuth and softboiled detective in the...

N O T E S

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pp. 287-300

S E L E C T E D F I L M O G R A P H Y

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pp. 301-316

W O R K S C I T E D

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pp. 317-335

INDEX

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pp. 337-346


E-ISBN-13: 9780791481387
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791468135
Print-ISBN-10: 0791468135

Page Count: 356
Illustrations: 26 b/w photographs
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: SUNY series, Cultural Studies in Cinema/Video (discontinued)
Series Editor Byline: Wheeler Winston Dixon

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Subject Headings

  • Masculinity in motion pictures.
  • Detective and mystery films -- United States -- History and criticism.
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