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“Polar noir”: Reading African-American Detective Fiction

 | 
Alice Mills
, 
Claude Julien

II. Space in the detective novel

Boys and Girls in the Neighborhood”: A Rage in Harlem —Chester Himes, 1957 / Bill Duke, 1991

Anne-Marie Paquet-Deyris

Résumé

Chester Himes’s novel A Rage in Harlem, published in 1957 in the U. S. as For Love of Imabelle, was adapted in 1991 by Black actor Bill Duke. As he said in some interviews, it was a true challenge to work on one of Himes’s books because of his love of meticulously described characters, his extremely compact writing and his style hovering between intense emotion and swift humor. The film may not be a first-rate one but its selection of flamboyant characters and of specific sections of the plot, as well as its parody of the western genre and reminiscences of Broadway musicals somehow modify the canon of the detective film.

Texte intégral

  • 1 In this other detective novel, Himes has the pair fully fonction as upholders of the law:
    “All that’
    (...)

1Everything in Bill Duke’s 1991 film, A Rage in Harlem, seems to revolve around the notions of flamboyance and picaresque with, at its very ostentatious center, Imabelle, the eponymous heroine of Chester Himes’s novel originally published in the USA as For Love of Imabelle. Himes’s two type-cast New York cops, Coffin Ed and Grave Digger, the core of his detective fiction, are somewhat diverted from their original function. They are not looking for missing links in the detection chain as they do in The Crazy Kill for instance.1 Overshadowed by Jackson, a naive, religious undertaker’s assistant, and his half-brother Goldie, a Harlem crook selling tickets to heaven and impersonating a man of God, they seem to be filmed as mere token figures, extras at best, assessing facts and situations without really detecting anything. From the start then, the focus shifts from this superb team of private eyes straight from a revisited Film Noir to a motley collection of rogues’ portraits. Drifting away from the dark and cynical vision of the detective genre, Duke definitely adopts a lighter tone which impacts on the form of the storytelling. Jackson’s framing (in the cinematographic sense of the term as well) now takes center stage and somehow substitutes for the trials and tribulations of the two hard-boiled detectives.

2Chester Himes’s narrative draws both on the thriller and grotesque conventions. Combining the detective novel’s brutal, mostly realistic and cynical Hammett-like tone, with a square’s grotesquely chivalrous code, it features an ambivalent structure already subverting traditional, “classic” detective fiction and its genteel codes of behavior with its relentless derision and humor. Jackson is no Chandler’s Marlowe, no knight in shining armor lost outside the courtly universe. And in Bill Duke’s version, he actually gets dangerously close to resembling one of the swindlers he’s fighting to “get his woman back”.

3The story is told in the rogue style and deals with the adventures of male and female crooks from all over Black America who mingle in its very heart, Harlem. Imabelle’s character provides the missing link between bandits and gangsters, country and town, as she temporarily leaves her black gang behind in Mississippi after it was double-crossed over a chest of stolen gold ore. The moment she sets foot in Harlem, she also sets the pace like a lone rascal (or rather some female version of the lone rider figure recurrently referred to in the film) straight from a Deep South no-man’s-land, and she starts triggering most of the action. This fundamental shift of focus somehow imposes a new corpus of rules and structural changes. Himes’s versatile style hovering between intense emotion and swift humor translates as parodic references to other genres, subverting a few “Noir” clichés on the way and somehow reformatting the canons of the detective genre.

Imabelle Comes to Harlem

4From the long night prologue in Natchez to the first day scenes in Harlem, the representation of violence is highly stylized and Imabelle is directly connected with it as she is most often shown as both unwilling witness and catalyst. Impelling everyone around to commit crimes, she actually sets the plot dynamics. Coffin Ed and Grave Digger conversely stop being instrumental in the main plot and its inevitable series of killings, and eventually turn into grotesque doubles of their 1940s and 1950s crime film counterparts.

5While Himes’s novel starts in medias res with the money-baking episode in Harlem, Duke chooses to concentrate on a long explanatory night sequence in the rural South where Blacks and Whites fight each other to death over stolen gold ore. The trailers only start when the southern beauty sets foot in Harlem to meet with black fence Easy Money. The mayhem and squalor of the original neighborhood are considerably downplayed while Himes insists on its isolation and destitution:

Looking eastward from the towers of Riverside Church, perched among the university buildings on the high banks of the Hudson River, in a valley far below, waves of grey rooftops distort the perspective like the surface of a sea. Below the surface, in the murky waters of fetid tenements, a city of black people who are convulsed in desperate living, like the voracious churning of millions of hungry cannibal fish. Blind mouths eating their own guts. Stick in a hand and draw back a nub.
That is Harlem.
The farther east it goes, the blacker it gets (Himes, 1991, 93).

6What James Weldon Johnson used to call “Black Manhattan” in the 1920s provides more than just a backdrop to the unfolding action in the narrative. It’s a direct expression of the district’s community spirit which, in turn, is a reaction to the prevailing viciousness of poverty. For Chester Himes then, Harlem is the territory and it distorts whatever it comes in contact with. Even Coffin Ed and Grave Digger who are, after all, the novel’s true heroes, eventually come out as highly farcical characters. Whatever the turns taken by the sting, they somehow magically and majestically appear but prove to be perfectly inefficient. Himes’s magnificent portrayal of the two hard-boiled cops barely corresponds to the conventions of setting and conflict of detective fiction anyway. His composite aesthetic constantly deflects its dark, disillusioned representation of crime.

They were having a big ball in the Savoy and people were lined up for a block down Lenox Avenue, waiting to buy tickets. The famous Harlem detective-team of Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones had been assigned to keep order.
Both were tall, loose-jointed, sloppily dressed, ordinary-looking colored men. But there was nothing ordinary about their pistols. [...] Whenever anyone moved out of line, Grave Digger would shout, “Straighten up!” and Coffin Ed would echo, “Count off!” (Himes, 1991, 44.)

7But Bill Duke makes an altogether different choice of representation. He often shoots Harlem and its dwellers in tight shots, evoking a colorful street milieu which is a cross between a supreme den of thieves and a rather convivial, self-sufficient community. Chester Himes’s humorous touches mostly resurface as somewhat labored oral and visual gags. Confined to the stereotyped role of comic law-enforcing officers, Coffin Ed and Grave Digger are doomed to deliver the same lines over and over again. The chest of gold almost functions as a full-fledged character accompanying Imabelle wherever she goes, sowing death alike in her wake. So that as the very first figure of the out-of-towner, the dame spreads the seeds of disorder in a rather benevolent suburb where petty larceny and common crimes are the rule. Harlem then is mostly used as a conventional background where the intruders are about to wreak havoc. Partly portrayed as a Film Noir or, less specifically, crime film dangerous woman, Imabelle quite literally turns into a femme fatale. Duke playfully reinvents the prototype of the dangerous female (to borrow from a Roy Del Ruth 1931 film title) peppering it with alternately light and heavy touches of eroticism. After all, she does emerge from dark, even though rural as opposed to urban, surroundings slowly making her way towards a shanty filled with gangsters about to erupt into dark and violent passions.

8So, Imabelle steals the show at the onset. The prologue’s night sequence actually starts with a close up of her superb pair of legs. Just when she is about to prove more resourceful, intelligent and courageous than men, the film director playfully focuses on the dark side of woman’s nature. Contrary to most female characters in the gangster genre, she plays both heroine and villain with gusto. So that Bill Duke offers from the very beginning fresh nuances to the conventional crime drama extending from such wide areas as the detective genre to the gangster genre. From the incipit on, the emphasis is laid on a sophisticated mixture of (feminine) glamour, menace, bleakness and humor. Its somptuous and sensual night images and motifs (Imabelle in a red dress standing by her lover for instance, pleading for a man’life) serve as metaphors for the traditional themes of paranoia, betrayal and steamy sex. But in the cynical and darkly parodic mood of the scene, the gangsters «neutralize» one another during the opening shooting spree filmed in mockingly hectic alternated inside and outside shots. And the archetypal private eyes are still nowhere to be seen —unless the (white) cowboys from the local police troops charging western-style the crooks inside can be defined as such. Actually, the highly stylized representation of the police cavalry rather noisily closing in on the house, with its sheriff ending up ordering the men to “[s]hoot the bastards!”, already foreshadows the parodic portrayal of detectives Coffin Ed and Grave Digger in the next section. In his sequel The Crazy Kill filled with allusions to A Rage in Harlem, Chester Himes has his character Chink refer to them as “these damned Wild West gunmen here to mess up everything” (Himes, 23).

9So the heat is on, to borrow another one of Himes’s titles, and as in classic detective fiction and film, the gangsters are the cops’ reversed figures. But unlike most of these highly codified characters, the loner out to take revenge on society and everyone else beside is a woman. And the western’s traditional metaphoric triangle with the hero standing on top is somewhat distorted in this introductory confrontation between blacks and whites as Slim, towering above Lester and ordering his partner Jodie to “operate” on him, finally proves to be the wrong hero. At the end of the attack sequence, a quick close-up of Imabelle half-smiling at the wheel shows her driving away with a trunkful of gold, leaving mayhem behind. As the woman becomes a moving target, the treasure hunt turns literal, upsetting a few established conventions of the gangster and the western genres alike. Imabelle is a hunted down hunter let loose in the urban jungle.

  • 2 Ironically enough, in quite a few shots Imabelle wears a highly suggestive red dress after the actu (...)

10Once on the other side and clearly typecast as a parodic Film Noir femme fatale, Imabelle pursues her quest in what Spencer Selby calls the “Dark City”. After the insertion of the title and cast shots, she is filmed coming to Harlem as to some conquered territory and, literally as a new Devil in a Blue Dress, since her bright blue dress functions as a humorous tribute paid to Walter Mosley’s classic detective novel.2 Another leg shot imposes a visual link between the film’s two distinct sections as a second close shot of her legs at the Harlem train station mirrors the first visual chiaroscuro shot of her curvaceous body when still in Mississippi. It once more emphasizes movement. Her wilful thrust forward toward some unconfessed goal is reasserted and the heroine’s unimpeded progress ironically echoes the western hero’s as her glorious stride seems to be heralding yet other glorious deeds. But when she asks for her chest to be put in a locker, a porter meets her request with a crudely ambiguous “Whenever, wherever and however.” This first overtly sexual pun instantly deflates whatever heroic potential she may have and initiates a long series of other wordplay and visual gags which fall more into the province of situation comedy than Film Noir. Selby defines the latter as: “[a] historical, stylistic and thematic trend that took place primarily, but not exclusively, within the generic complex of the American crime film of the forties and fifties” (Selby, 1984, 1). Duke’s repeated references to it seem to be forever doomed to be defused and playfully reworked on through a number of technical devices.

Odd variations on a multifaceted frame

11The birth of the heroine is then clearly laid out, but she is born again to an altogether new urban setting where fake blind men walk down the street begging for money, and where cardboard detectives look forever out of place, literally misplaced in a stylized environment of crooked business deals. Actually immediately after the series of painted city scenes with the superimposed cast and credits, another leg shot of a blind man with a white cane functions as transitional motif and barely disguised literary allusion to the writer’s final 1969 pamphlet-novel, Blind Man With a Pistol. It also somewhat heavily underlines that Imabelle has just landed in the black underworld of 1950s New York with its own rules and specific denizens. A whole string of brand-new mock-heroes then appears on screen, including Grave Digger and Coffin Ed “assigned to keep order” as Chester Himes laconically introduces them in the novel (Himes, 1989, 44). Somewhat late in the film, they ludicrously barge into Easy Money’s office holding their guns in their hands.

12The notion of intrusion seems to be central to Bill Duke’s approach. He chooses to focus on the way in which an intruder, mostly Imabelle, once on the inside, disrupts even further an order that the two representatives of the law cannot maintain anyway. He has her repeatedly refer to place and territory throughout the film. To a white crook reproaching her with “shooting up all them good white folks” in Mississippi, she answers “Well, it comes with the territory.” And when left by herself in Easy Money’s Harlem office, she tells him before he is arrested by the detectives “But, I got no place to stay.” This is the beginning of a long series of chance encounters dictating the camera movements and alternated shots of Imabelle in the street and Jackson at work in Mr. Clay’s funeral parlor. Already categorized as a literally dangerous and fatal woman, Imabelle is about to be labelled as the arch-seductress in the unforgettable Annual Undertaker’s Ball sequence. After a dissolve and a close shot of the rotating skirt of a dancer, Bill Duke delightfully films the bodies wildly balancing at the sound of Screamin’Jay Hawkins singing 1950s rhythm and blues. The dark tone and mood abruptly shift to the lighter atmosphere of a Broadway musical inevitably evoking the grandiose ball in Vincente Minnelli’s 1953 musical, The Band Wagon, with Fred Astaire and Cid Charisse. The camera moves caressingly along the vertical axis of Imabelle’s body as she takes off her sun glasses and picks her male victim in the crowd, and the film suddenly takes on a new comic dimension preparing for Jackson’s entrance.

13The gangster movie frame and its stylized representations of violence somehow blend with the comedy trend to produce a hybrid generic complex. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s song “I Put a Spell on You” provides an ironical counterpoint to Imabelle and Jackson’s first and rather terse first exchange. While couples execute skilfully controlled and passionate dance steps and as the lady, in need of a place to stay, latches on to him, Jackson tries to answer Imabelle’s questions and to run away at the very same time:

Jackson: [Looking for an escape route] “I’m Jackson.” [...]
Imabelle: “Do you live nearby?”
Jackson: “Sorry?”
Imabelle: “Let’s go.”

14The whole sequence is a highly comical parody of some musical seduction scene. In its very use of distortion and inversion (Jackson does exactly what should not be done), it somehow achieves the same effect as intense violence. The caricature is so extreme that the film also becomes a murder comedy. It mostly paves the way for a series of visual gags firmly establishing Jackson’s reputation as a god-fearing, excessively naive square, and therefore for the second “substitution” couple, Imabelle and her smitten swain, before halfbrother Goldy eventually makes his own late appearance.

15The heroine’s trials and tribulations are now redoubled with the twists and turns of the mock-hero’s love and professional life. The first grotesque and aborted rehearsal of the subsequent torrid love scene between Imabelle-Robin Givens and Jackson-Forest Whitaker definitively steers the film away from true drama towards situation comedy with its double entendre and visual gags. While Imabelle is desperately trying to excite him, Jackson blandly comments on his undertaker’s job: “It’s a very exciting line of work.” And their exchange about the two portraits on Jackson’s bedroom wall is a model of the genre as it draws a great deal of varying comments on the very same topic (including from the most hard-boiled group of gangsters later on in the film):

Imabelle: “Who’s that?”
Jackson: [With a foolish smile] “Well, that’s Jesus.”
Imabelle: “No, honey. I know who Jesus is. The other one.”
Jackson: [Close-up on his masculine-looking mother] “Ah, that’s my ma. She’s dead now.”

16With these farcical incidents in the life of a law-abiding citizen, Duke also outlines the limits of his own approach and, above all, of his own representation of violence. As in what W. M. Frohock used to call the novel of violence in America in the 1920s and 1930s which considerably influenced the Afro-American novel, violence has a purely aesthetic function. In other words, it no longer operates in the film as the distinctive index of human nature designed to expose the darker side of the American Dream. It just is one of the signs of excess in a world where real goals or lonely male crusaders (or lovely ones as Himes would say) no longer exist, except perhaps for the love-driven Jackson. Duke is not out, like Himes in his first stinging portrayal of institutional and individual racism, If He Hollers Let Him Go, to articulate in brutal, powerful language the psychology of the urban male. The film’s general surfeit of desire, the easy equation between life and death, the absence of any major male figure (there truly is a multiplicity of so-called «heroes», and even Imabelle’s ex-lover, the especially sinister villain Slim, quotes nursery rhymes when getting ready to kill), all point at a universe ruled by transgression for transgression’s sake, where a woman is precisely all the rage. Playing with a few clichés and genres may then well be the director’s way of adapting the very notion of transgression and of exposing the monstrous/joyous faces of disorder and infringement of the law.

17His mixing different genres and rhythms consistently provides various frames, and certainly unexpected ones, for this succession of sometimes boisterous and endearing action sequences. Even the religious fervor of Harlemites is transposed into the conventional setting of a western showdown for instance. When Imabelle is shot in medium close up attending mass with Jackson, the holy trinity of gangsters looking for her, Jodie, Slim in the center, and Hanks, magically appears framed by the church threshold as in a saloon doorway before a major confrontation between hero(ine) and villains. Once more suspense builds up, sustained by the heavily dramatic soundtrack, to be immediately defused in the next scene. When she returns to Jackson’s room by herself, Imabelle barges into Slim and his two partners who decide to take Jackson “for everything he’s got, or...” The camera makes up for the ellipsis as it closes in on Jodie who theatrically pulls his knife and steals Slim’s favorite line, “Pop go the weasel!”

18Comedy of repetition takes precedence here over the next turns of the swindle. The money-baking episode is rapidly evoked by the gang before the same comic scene about the two pictures on the wall is smuggled in again, becoming each time more explicit, as all four accomplices burst out laughing and Jodie sententiously comments on Jackson’s mother: “That’s an ugly bitch!” Later on in the movie, the two detectives will pick up the very same words under similar circumstances, further emphasizing that the distinctions between cops and gangsters are utterly blurred. The dividing line is actually so thin that it is virtually erased as Jackson’s transition from doggedly pious naïf into enamoured pragmatist leads him in turn to repeatedly break the law. He does so mostly in parodic night sequences (with some memorable car chases through Harlem streets and complex ground-level or high-angle shots of gangsters’cars coming in and out) heavily resting on Film Noir’s bleak, brooding atmosphere and dark, doom-laden urban scenes. But only some of the components of Noir style resurface in these tense and brutal sequences which reinstate the enigmatic feel of the dilapidated city at night of great classics like The Maltese Falcon (Dashiell Hammett; John Huston, 1941) or The Big Sleep (Raymond Chandler; Howard Hawks, 1946).

An unconventional robbers-and-robbers skit?

19But precisely, the usually significant motifs of the noir movement and its artistic roots, German Expressionism, French “poetic realism” and the hardboiled tradition in American literature, derived from postwar disillusionment and realism, seem to become inconsequential in Duke’s movie. Quoting French film analyst Raymond Durgnat’s The Family Tree of Film Noir, Spencer Selby insists that Film Noir is not a genre but a style: "It is not defined, as are the western and gangster genres, by conventions of setting and conflict, but rather by the more subtle qualities of tone and mood" (Selby, 1984, 1). It may be difficult however to spot any type of sustained reference to the real conventions of a specific genre in the director’s multidimensional representation of this shady world and its denizens. As Jonathan Romney commenting on his adaptation says: “Quite apart from the relegation of Himes’s regular heroes Coffin Ed and Grave Digger to a marginal role, his grim humor is transmuted here into a sometimes laboured flipness” (Romney, 1991, 47).

20Even the treatment of violence borders on flippancy as it is choreographed at the fast and occasionally pulsating pace of a Broadway musical. And its very extremity in the novel too often becomes a glib, inconsequential brutality in the movie. Unlike in the western and gangster films, its founding violence is not expelled once the community has been fully established, it is recyled over and over again, endlessly reformatted. So that from the introductory sequence’s classicism in violence (in the style of Robert Aldrich’s fast-pace 1955 Kiss Me Deadly or Samuel Fuller), Duke moves on to an eventually arguable use of it. The wild shooting spree in the dark at a Harlem hideout, when Jackson and half-brother Goldy, posing as policemen, break in on Slim and his henchmen seems for instance to be the mere replica of the original Cowboys and Indians raid in the prologue. Once more, the two cops arriving late on the crime scene sabotage the whole operation so that, again, everyone gets off remarkably lightly. The darker and desperate significance of Himes’s violent ghetto scenes is somewhat lost in these episodes repeatedly structured as micro-sequences with a happy ending despite their staple violence.

21The final show in Easy Money’s office stages a playful jamming of codes as well as the same forms of somewhat systematic, -as opposed to motivated, violence. Slim and the fence conclude their deal but fall out, and the ensuing gunfight culminates in a collage, or rather pasting together, of two very diverse imitated styles and classic genre scenes. The first one, when Easy Money’s cherished dog is held at gunpoint by Slim and then crushed against the wall by Goldy, is directly derived from situation comedy. The second one, when Slim wrestles with Imabelle and pulls a knife on her while she is trying to run away, functions as a highly codified Film Noir staircase scene. In the The Maltese Falcon’s last scene before the final fade-out for instance, beautiful and dangerous Brigid O’Shaughnessy is proleptically framed by the bars of the elevator grill whose shadow is projected onto her face while Sam Spade walks down the stairs. Duke chooses to film his own femme fatale in a horizontal shot. As she is locked in a life-and-death struggle with her aggressor, her frantic shadow and the bannister bars as well are reflected against the backdrop of the wall.

22During the last “love” triangle between the arch-villain, the mock-hero and the seductress at the nightclub, Imabelle eventually shoots Slim, saving Jackson’s life. The various oblique and low angle shots of the square fighting his hard-boiled opponent bare-handed while quoting the bible subvert the traditional formulary structure of its western model. Jackson comes out of it alive merely because the formula demands that the hero come out of it alive. In other words, he gets off on a technicality of genre requirement but Imabelle eludes him one more time and he is sent to jail by the two cardboard detectives for robbing his boss. The three-shot of the new family members briefly and ostentatiously reunited, Goldy, Jackson and Imabelle, ironically precedes a shot of Slim’s deserted body lying across the dance floor. This is the last time that Bill Duke yields to what could be called the questionable temptation of violence. He radically veers away from Chester Himes’s troubling mixture of irony and despair, where most of the villains as well as Goldy as sacrificial victim suffer violent deaths, to tread the more conventional path of a Hollywood relatively happy ending.

23The conflict with the villain has been partly resolved through the heroine’s intervention. But the effect achieved by this ultimate reference to the traditional structure of the western film (which includes acknowledgement of a conflict of some sort [agon], deadly fight [pathos] and eventual recognition that the monster had to be killed in order for the community to enjoy peace and prosperity) is not quite one of full restoration of order and happiness. The woman, who is still endowed with a highly ambivalent status, decides on the lone rider’s course and leaves all but part of the money behind. The two brothers’ cliché reconciliation scene on the station platform functions as an ironical re-enactment of the previous family reunion. And the Harlem crooks stay in Harlem (including the fake blind man’s figure completing the show) while the last of the Mississippi gangsters, sitting on a blue train seat in a decidedly white dress, goes back home. As Goldy, a true wanderer of the urban wasteland, cryptically tells Jackson filmed in a medium shot heroically running toward his departing belle: “Good luck, brother. You’re gonna need it!”

  • 3 At the end of A Rage in Harlem, before the southern gangsters get killed, Himes uses these phrases (...)

24Bill Duke’s return to conventions in the epilogue is an index of his constant interfering and at times tampering with various codes and genres. Evil in his film is by no means the corrupt city’s sorry privilege. And his use of violence is often repetitive at the risk of lapsing into senseless brutality, in a logic sometimes at odds with Chester Himes’s meaningful even though violent pantomimes and macabre dances.3

25But then the very flippancy of Duke’s style endows the movie with a literally thrilling rhythm irresistably evoking some great Broadway musicals. Paradoxically, the fact that he uses the burlesque and stereotyping to excess, consistently highlighting the discrepancy between theme and style, allows him to focalize on detail and often reach the intensity of Himes’s minute portrayal of characters. The detective’s quest and triumph may not be at the center of his own cynical universe, but by reassembling a surprising medley of genres and movements and consequently modifying the canon, he somehow paves the way for a definitely idiosyncratic form of Noir and detective film. In this underworld which blurs the distinctions between good and evil and where one needs a badge to tell cop from criminal, hero from villain there are neither gentlemen nor true heroes. As Philip Marlowe pessimistically says in The Big Sleep: “Knights have no meaning in this game. It wasn’t a game for knights” (Chandler, 1948, 153).

26But it is entertainment altogether.

Bibliographie

Works Cited

Béhar, Henry. “Spike Lee, Bill Duke et John Singleton présentés en sélection officielle. Série black en trois rounds.” Le Monde, 9 mai 1991: 20.

Ciment, Michel. A Rage in Harlem. (La Reine des Pommes). Positif n° 365-366, juillet-août 1991: 76.

Chandler, Raymond. 1948. The Big Sleep (1939). Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Clary, Françoise. 1984. Rébellion et Sexualité dans le roman noir américain de Chester Hirnes à Hal Bennett. Thèse de doctorat du 3ème cycle sous la direction du Prof. M. Fabre. Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle.

Frodon, Jean-Michel. « En noir et en couleurs. Los Angeles aujourd’hui, Harlem hier, les cinéastes noirs américains filment les ghettos ». Le Monde, 11 septembre 1991: 17.

Frohoc, W. M. 1963. The Novel of Violence in America. Boston: Beacon Press.

Himes, Chester. 1999. If He Hollers Let Him Go. London: Serpent’s Tail.

— 1991. A Rage in Harlem. New York: Vintage Crime.

— 1989. The Crazy Kill. New York: Vintage Crime.

— 1989. The Third Generation. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press.

Langman, Larry and Finn, Daniel. 1995. A Guide to American Crime Films of the Forties and Fifties. Westport (Conn.): Greenwood Press.

Legrand, Gérard. Sptembre 1991. “Le cave qui se rebiffa. A Rage in Harlem.” Positif n° 367: 31-32.

Romney, Jonathan. 1991. “A Rage in Harlem.” Sight and Sound, Vol. 1. N. 5, Sept. 46-47.

Selby, Spencer. 1984. Dark City. The Film Noir. Chicago and London: St James Press.

Soitos, Stephen F. 1996. The Blues Detective: a study of Afro-American detective fiction. Amherst (Ma.): Univ. of Massachusetts Press.

Tuska, Jon. 1988. The American West in Film. Critical Approaches to the Western. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press.

Notes

1 In this other detective novel, Himes has the pair fully fonction as upholders of the law:
“All that’s missing is just one link,” Grave Digger went on. “What it was that Val had on Johnny that was worth ten G’s. If we had that we’d have it chained down.
“Yeah, but without it the dog’s running loose,” Coffin Ed replied. (Himes, 1989, 110).

2 Ironically enough, in quite a few shots Imabelle wears a highly suggestive red dress after the actual song title Devil in a Red Dress which Walter Mosley himself adapted for the purpose of his book.

3 At the end of A Rage in Harlem, before the southern gangsters get killed, Himes uses these phrases to describe a scene of intense violence which becomes significant in its very excessiveness and stylization:
The girl didn’t cry out, didn’t utter a sound, didn’t faint. Her body went flaccid beneath Jodie’s grip. Her face was stretched into distortion, a drop of blood trickled slowly down her taut neck. Her eyes were huge black pools of animal terror, slanting upwards at the edges, overwhelming her small distorted face. She didn’t breathe. [...]
Hank stared at Grave Digger dreamily without moving, his fingers still curled about the butt of the hidden. 38. Grave Digger stared back. [...] Everything was in pantomime.
The girl backed with [Jodie], followed his every motion with a corresponding motion, as if performing some macabre dance.
(147)

Auteur

Taught at Harvard and Université de Lille. She currently is a professor at Université de Rouen. A specialist of Afro-American literature and culture, she wrote her dissertation on Toni Morrison. A 1996 book, Toni Morrison: figures de femmes, was published by the Sorbonne Univ. Press. She is also the author of numerous articles on cinema and the adaptation of literary sources to the screen.

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2005

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