Hard boiled: the detective in popular culture

'A Lone Wolf ... Dynamite with a Girl or Gun’ from a press advertisement for This Gun For Hire, Paramount, 1942.

Our cultural notions of the detective stem largely from film and fiction. Hard Boiled!, an exhibition at the Justice & Police Museum, examined the image of the detective in literature and film.

Hard boiled is one of the most significant styles of crime writing to shape our perception of the detective. The pulp magazines, crime novels and film noir that emerged between 1920 and 1950 transformed the detective archetype, replacing Agatha Christie’s manor houses and country vicarages with Raymond Chandler’s meanstreets and corrupt cities. Alongside the fiction, Hard Boiled! explored film noir themes, like the psychotic villain, the tough hero and the femme fatale.

From the collections of California-based collector Lawrence Bassoff and Screensound, Canberra, Hard Boiled! featured over 80 posters, lobby cards and stills from film noir classics like The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity and This Gun for Hire starring femme fatales like Lana Turner, Barbara Stanwyck and Veronica Lake. It also showcased the fabulously gaudy cover art of 1950s Australian pulp novels by Carter Brown, K.T. McCall and Mark Brody with melodramatic and outrageously cliched titles like My Darling is Deadpan, Homicide Harem and Trouble is a Dame.

Hard Boiled! paid homage to the great crime fiction authors of the past like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain, while analysing the continuing attraction of some of their themes: obsessiveness, corruption and the ’lone wolf’ private eye. The work of local writers, such as Peter Corris, who have been profoundly influenced by American hard boiled crime writing, but give their work uniquely Australia qualities, were also included.

21 October 2000 - 31 October 2001

Become a member

Enjoy free entry to our latest exhibitions for you and up to 4 kids.

Join now