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The Film Noir Private Eye: Debunking the Myth

Of all the tenets of the film noir hardboiled paradigm, none is more deserving of debunking — none is more invalid — than the contention that the private detective is a film noir character prototype, an iconic character in film noir.

During World War II, there are hardly any private eye film noirs. For a few postwar years, there are several. However, considering the hundreds of film noirs that were released, the private detective barely registers as a recurring character-type.

Why doesn’t the PI frequently appear in film noir during the classic period? (Originally, this time frame began the early 1940s and ended in the late 1950s, e.g., 1940-1959. In the 21st. century there has been a growing acceptance that the classic period is from the late 1930s to the mid-1960s.)

More importantly, given the near absolute absence of the PI in the film noir filmography, why has he (sic) been elevated to iconic status in academic and popular writing about film noir?

For the answer to this question — and much more about the private eye in film noir — see the following pages.