"I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun."
A tough, cynical
guy with a gun and a lot of Street Smarts
, who solves mysteries with dogged persistence
rather than astounding insight, the Hardboiled Detective was America's Darker and Edgier
response to the classic ideal of the Great Detective
The hardboiled detective is generally a Knight in Sour Armor
or even an Anti-Hero
who lives in a world of Black and Grey Morality
. He's a Private Detective
or Amateur Sleuth
—usually the former. His services are required because Police Are Useless
, so he'll never be a cop, though he may be a retired
one. Expect him to keep a bottle of scotch
in his desk, which is probably located in an office in the low rent district
. Recent depictions typically include the trademark trenchcoat
made popular by Humphrey Bogart
Originating in the early part of the twentieth century, hardboiled detective stories quickly became a major subgenre of Mystery Fiction
. Later, they became strongly associated with Film Noir
. Raymond Chandler
is considered the master of the genre, but it was Humphrey Bogart
's depiction of detective Sam Spade in the 1941 film, The Maltese Falcon
(based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett
), that became the Trope Codifier
By the 1960s
, the hardboiled detective had nearly become a Dead Horse Trope
, but continuing interest in Film Noir
kept it from the brink of extinction. Today it is most often seen in parodies and genre crossovers
(the Hardboiled Detective In SPACE!!
), but can still be played straight in Noir revival or homage. The style, language and fashion of the hard-boiled detective tends to remain solidly anchored in the 1930s
, though, no matter where he appears. Expect him to call his gun a "gat", to refer to women as "dames" and their legs as "gams".
See also: Private Detective
, Amateur Sleuth
, Film Noir
and Fantastic Noir
. Contrast with Great Detective
, Kid Detective
, and Little Old Lady Investigates
. If the character simply provides first-person narration the way detectives in Film Noir
often do, that's Private Eye Monologue
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Anime and Manga
- Gai Kurasawa, a minor character in Darker than Black is an affectionate parody of the hardboiled detective.
- In The Firesign Theater's "The Further Adventures Of Nick Danger", from the album, How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All?, the character Nick Danger, Third Eye is a surrealist take on the trope.
- Decoder Ring Theatre's Black Jack Justice follows the adventures of two hardboiled detectives, occasionally switching between their often-conflicting narratives.
- Hannibal King from Marvel Comics is a vampiric hardboiled detective.
- Rorschach from Watchmen has some elements that seem like a shout-out to the trope, including the trenchcoat and fedora and the Private Eye Monologue (which is actually excerpts from his journal).
- Dr. Occult from The DCU is a hardboiled Occult Detective.
- From the Batman universe, Harvey Bullock is usually one of these. As was late 1980s supporting character Joe Potato.
- The nameless protagonist of Potter's Field by Mark Waid is another.
- Hellboy is an otherworldly version of the noir classic model, a heavy-drinking, chain-smoking, cynical demon with Badass Longcoat who sticks his nose where it doesn't belong, takes a beating, etc. etc. He's often referred to as "The World's Greatest Paranormal Investigator".
- The DC comic character Ms. Tree, created by Max Allan Collins, is a relatively rare female hardboiled detective.
- Steve Ditko loved Hardboiled Detectives, and his two (very similar) characters Mr. A and The Question are objectivist takes on the Trope.
- The title character of the Spanish comic Blacksad is a hardboiled detective in the 1950s — and a cat.
- Nightbeat from The Transformers, Transformers: Classics, and IDW's "-ations" is a Humongous Mecha homage to the genre, up to and including sporting a fedora and trenchcoat◊ and "Bird of Prey!" in particular being almost a retelling of The Maltese Falcon. Whether he's an Amateur Sleuth, a "consulting detective" for the Autobots, or a Private Detective varies depending on the continuity, but he always has the same general hardboiled, noir-ish personality.
- The two Nathaniel Dusk mini-series from DC Comics in the mid 1980s were a loving homage to the genre.
- The titular character from 2000 AD's short lived gamebook/comic hybrid Diceman, Rick Fortune was a variation on this trope, being a hard boiled psychic investigator with a pair of magical dice that could summon a demon amongst other powers.
- The Maltese Falcon features Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, one of the most iconic hardboiled detectives of all time, seeking revenge for the death of his partner and hunting for a missing statuette.
- The Big Sleep features Bogart again as detective Philip Marlowe, probably the second best known example.
- Another Humphrey Bogart example is The Enforcer, where Bogie plays a hardboiled district attorney chasing gangsters. As a lawyer, he's more the Amateur Sleuth version in this one.
- A lesser known example would be the Bogart film Dead Reckoning. He's actually an army man, so it's again more of an Amateur Sleuth type, but Bogart had a cool Private Eye Monologue, which he didn't have in the more iconic Bogart films.
- Out of the Past is a classic Film Noir starring Robert Mitchum as a hardboiled detective trying to escape his past (no spoiler to say he's unsuccessful).
- Jake Gittes in Roman Polanski's Chinatown is an homage to the archetype.
- Parodied with hapless detective Rigby Reardon in the Steve Martin film, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, which features lots of actual footage from classic Film Noir to add to the atmosphere.
- The Animatrix: "The Detective's Story" stars a hardboiled detective.
- Eddie Valiant, the protagonist of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, which used appropriately parodic Film Noir atmospheric touches.
- H. P. Lovecraft in Cast A Deadly Spell is an Occult Detective who is also a perfect example of a Chandlerian detective.
- Hoyle from the surreal and cerebral Noir/SF crossover Yesterday Was A Lie is a distaff version, with fedora, trenchcoat and all, trying to find a missing scientist.
- Louis Simo from Hollywoodland is a deconstruction loosely based on a real detective, Milo Speriglio.
- The 1971 film Gumshoe, starring Albert Finney, features a London man who decides to adopt a Sam Spade-like persona to escape his boring life, and quickly becomes embroiled in a plot involving drugs, gun smuggling, and gangsters.
- Deckard (Harrison Ford) from Blade Runner is more of a deconstruction, being an Antihero with some serious psychological conflicts.
- Sam Diamond (Peter Falk) in Murder by Death is a parody.
- Brendan Frye of Brick is this despite only being in high school.
- Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, protagonist of The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, and other novels, is an iconic and much-copied example. Even the introduction to Marlowe in recent prints sums this trope up pretty well:
I'm a licensed private investigator and have been a while. I'm a lone wolf, unmarried, getting middle aged, and not rich. I've been in jail more than once and don't do divorce business. I like liquor and women and chess and a few other things. The cops don't like me too well, but I know a couple I get along with. I'm a native son, born in Santa Rosa, both parents dead, no brothers and sisters, and when I get knocked off in a dark alley sometime, if it happens, at it could to anyone in my business, nobody will feel the bottom has dropped out his or her life.
- Dashiell Hammett has several, most notably, Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, as well as the recurring, nameless character called "The Continental Op", as seen in Red Harvest.
- Carroll John Daly's "Three Gun" Terry Mack is possibly the Ur Example of this trope, predating Hammett's Continental Op by several months. Daly's Race Williams is also an example.
- Rex Stout:
- Archie Goodwin, in the Nero Wolfe series, was a partial deconstruction. Created during the trope's peak years, Goodwin had many of the classic elements, but he worked for Wolfe, the fat, home-bound Great Detective. Archie did all the footwork and fighting, but tended to avoid the cynicism and world-weariness of the true hardboiled detective.
- Stout had another, much smaller and less popular series starring Tecumseh Fox, who was much more the straight hard-boiled type.
- Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer was an early, over-the-top, ultraviolent, Knight Templar example who is often credited with helping turn the genre into a parody of itself.
- Garrett, P.I. is the Hardboiled Detective recycled in a Standard Fantasy Setting.
- Neil Gaiman wrote some short stories featuring Lawrence Talbot, the Wolfman, as a hardboiled private investigator. "Only the End of the World Again" is one.
- The Marcus Didius Falco series starts out as the hardboiled detective Recycled In Ancient Rome (though he mellows as the series goes on). Living centuries before Noir was invented makes him amusingly Genre Blind.
- Harry Dresden from The Dresden Files is part this, part Sherlock Holmes (showing surprising deductive skills on occasion, to nigh Sherlock Scan levels), part Gandalf. With emphasis on the world weariness by around book 3. The snark continues unabated.
- Invoked by Vincent Rubio in Anonymous Rex. He's a detective — and a velociraptor! He claims he's not really hard-boiled, but he acts like he is because that's what the customers expect. He even uses the "Bogart" persona to pick up female dinos.
- Sara Paretsky's VI Warshawski is a distaff version of the (usually) male hardboiled detective.
- Lazlo Woodbine, from the Far Fetched Fiction of Robert Rankin, is a blatant parody. He insists on using the first person, getting knocked unconscious at his first appearance and can only appear in four scenes (his office, a bar, an alleyway and a rooftop). Considering the outlandish nature of his books, often involving things such as time-traveling Elvis doing battle with Eldritch Abominations out to unmake existence, this makes things awkward.
- Eddie Valiant from Who Censored Roger Rabbit is an homage.
- Conrad Metcalf, the protagonist of Jonathan Lethem's Gun, With Occasional Music. is a hard-boiled detective in a world that doesn't really have a use for them anymore.
- Kinsey Milhone from Sue Grafton's "Alphabet Mysteries" is another example of a female hard-boiled detective.
- Rosie Lavine from Melisa Michaels' Cold Iron and Sister to the Rain is a Chandleresque hardboiled detective Recycled In Urban Fantasy. (Though she prefers gin to scotch.)
- Patrick Kenzie from the Kenzie And Gennaro Series is an updated version set in Boston; a sort of homage to the classics, with all the style, but without many of the stereotypes found in parodies.
Live Action TV
- The 1980s TV adaption of Mike Hammer is either a straight example or a parody, depending on who you ask.
- Spenser For Hire was a rarity; a Hardboiled Detective with an even harder-boiled partner.
- Michael Garibaldi of Babylon 5 has flashes of this from time to time. Picked up, bizarrely enough, by G'Kar of all people.
- In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Dixon Hill is a hardboiled detective holodeck character that Captain Picard is fond of playing.
- Parodied in the PBS Kids' show, Between the Lions, which had a recurring skit featuring "Sam Spud, parboiled potato detective".
- The Electric Company's Fargo North, Decoder was as hard boiled as a kid's show could show.
- In a Storybook Episode of Fringe, Walter casts Olivia as this.
- Kamen Rider Double uses this concept as its main motif.
- Magnum, P.I. has the voice over and cynicism, but wears loud hawaiian shirts instead of a trenchcoat.
- Richard Diamond Private Detective
- In the noir-esque South African Sci-Fi thriller, Charlie Jade, Charlie is an homage to the older Chandler/Hammett style of hardboiled detective. He even sports the classic trenchcoat (though no fedora), and uses the Private Eye Monologue.
- Peter Gunn made from 1958-60, was a Hardboiled Detective with a 50s Jazz cool to him.
- The main cast from the supernatural neo-noir series Angel act as a general deconstruction of the trope, although play some parts to a T.
- On A Prairie Home Companion, the character of Guy Noir is a parodic example.
- The Golden Age of Radio had dozens of hardboiled detective series, including
- Sam Spade
- Phillip Marlowe
- Pat Novak
- Jeff Regan
- Harry Lime
- Box 13
- Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar
- Richard Diamond
- Bold Venture
- Big Town
- Michael Shayne
- That Hammer Guy
- Rogue's Gallery
- The Falcon
- A Call Of Cthulhu scenario included "Artie Gumshoe - Tough Private Investigator" as a pregenerated character, packing a .45 Automatic and with an illustration showing him with a cigarette wearing a fedora and trench coat, inviting him to be played like this trope.
- Joe Diamond in Arkham Horror. He was even given this assignment by a classic dame.
- Richmond from Suikoden II is an homage to the classic noir version.
- Tex Murphy from the Tex Murphy/Mean Streets series of noir/thriller video games is an Affectionate Parody of the genre.
- Scott Shelby from the game Heavy Rain is an aging, asthmatic retired-cop-turned-PI who's on the edge of hardboiled. (Softboiled?)'
- In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Tyrell Badd's appearance and demeanor are intended to evoke the hardboiled detective image. He has a bullethole-riddled trenchcoat, Perma Stubble, a gruff and cynical attitude, and his color scheme is Deliberately Monochrome. However, he works for the actual police when he's not moonlighting as a Phantom Thief.
- Lewton in Discworld Noir both embodies and parodies this trope, due to the Disc's Theory of Narrative Causality; he doesn't know why being a private investigator means he has to wear a trenchcoat and fedora, but he's quite sure it does.
- The Fairly OddParents in Where's Wanda; Timmy wishes to become such a detective after the disappearance of Wanda, and ends up spoofing Sam Spade and Rick Blaine.
- In The Venture Brothers, Hank gets a fedora and affects a classic hardboiled detective personality whenever he's wearing it. It gets him laid for the first time.