No Genre for Old Men: Age and Masculinity in Michael Winner's 1978 "The Big Sleep"
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In the 1978 adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, Philip Marlowe, the iconic noir detective, was portrayed by then seventy years old Robert Mitchum. As a result, the detective figure known for his tough working-class masculinity was transformed into an elderly affluent gentleman. The casting choice was an attempt to connect the neo-noir film to its 1940s predecessors, but even despite famous cast members Winner’s movie met with little popular, critical or academic interest. Yet the film serves as a valuable illustration of the challenges of reviving hegemonic masculinity models within genre revivals. My analysis will show how the tension in representations of aged masculinity unravels the logic of neo-noir and masculinity inscribed in the neo-noir hero. Though both noir and neo-noir share an investment in patriarchy, Winner’s film renders the attempts to revive its void. By casting an elderly 1940s icon the film rather than neo became “dated noir,” while its depiction of masculinity proved nothing more than a nostalgic cry for an imagined past of hegemonic masculinity.
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