Since its earliest days the private detective has been a constant presence in cinema. This book traces the history of the private-eye movie, from its emergence in a handful of influential film noirs in the 1940s, through its slow and brilliant decline in 1970s 'neo-noir' cinema, to the passing of its central figure into present-day movie mythology. The private eye is usually seen as a romantic hero, a 'lone wolf' who confronts and makes sense of a violent and chaotic modern world on behalf of the viewer. In his discussion of classic films such as The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and Out of the Past, acclaimed 1970s movies like Chinatown, The Long Goodbye and Klute, and many lesser-known examples, Bran Nicol challenges these stereotypes, arguing that the job of the private eye is not about solving crimes so much as uncovering private worlds, and private lives. Although ostensibly thrillers, such films are actually preoccupied by 'domestic' issues such as work, home, and love. The private eye is revealed as a figure that investigates the concealments of others, at the expense of his own private life.
The Private Eye combines a lucid introduction to an under-explored tradition in movie history with a new approach to the detective in fiction and film. Moving away from the detective as hero, it focuses instead on the dramas and places that feature in private-eye movies. For all detective and noir film buffs, it offers both a novel approach to the private eye in cinema, and a fresh reading of film noir itself.