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Title: Investigating the system : the screen adaptation of the American private detective novel during the studio era
Author: Kiszely, Philip
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2003
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The figure of the private eye is among the most recognisable of fictional archetypes. From the early-1930s to the mid-1950s, private eye films were a staple of American cinema, yet they were often adapted from novels infamous in both Britain and America for their violence, seediness and moral ambivalence. These stories, written by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane, were usually altered significantly during their transition from page to screen. How and why these changes took place are questions often considered, but rarely answered in a satisfactory way. Literature which refers to screen adaptations such as The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Big Sleep (1946) and Kiss Me Deadly (1955) tends to privilege the author of the source novel or the director of the film. Consequently, the most important aspects of adaptation are overlooked or marginalised. This thesis seeks to understand the screen adaptation of the private eye novel during the Hollywood Studio Era. In so doing, it places particular emphasis on Hollywood's factory-like system of film production, and evaluates the contributions of producers, screenwriters, directors and the industry censor. The thesis maintains that the various tensions between these seemingly opposing elements provided an equilibrium that was crucial to the aesthetic definition of the private eye film. Adopting a paradigmatic approach to illustrate this point, the thesis presents and evaluates contemporaneous opinion. The thesis has an historical emphasis, and begins with an examination of how the private eye literary genre emerged and evolved. It then explores the studio system and introduces the complex role of the producer in adaptation. Although producers are often seen as obstacles to artistry and originality, the thesis suggests that the opposite is true, and that their input was both essential and decisive. This thesis makes use of archival sources to demystify hitherto misunderstood screen adaptations such as Satan Met a Lady (1936). Studio memoranda and documentation are used to introduce new perspectives on films such as The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Big Sleep (1946) and Lady in the Lake (1947), while the creative ideas and values of production executive Darryl Zanuck are explored through his involvement with The Brasher Doubloon (1947). The penultimate chapter examines the important authorial presence of the censor, and the thesis concludes with a summary of the findings and thoughts for further work.
Supervisor: Alan, Marcus Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available