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Chandler American Time

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The period of the classic American detective stories, especially the hard-boiled ones. The classic era of Film Noir.

War may have broken out in Europe, but for the moment it's still the Jazz Age in the USA. Big business is overseen by Corrupt Corporate Executives. Young, possibly disabled boys shout newspaper headlines from every street corner. Everybody smokes and everyone wears hats. And while the well-off enjoy former speakeasies turned quasi-legitimate nightclubs, the lingering aftereffects of The Great Depression continue to cast long shadows over the lives of the poor.

The Trope Namer is Stephen King's short story "Umney's Last Case"; it's named in honor of author Raymond Chandler, the writer of The Big Sleep in 1939 and adapter of the screenplay for James M. Cain's Double Indemnity in 1944, making him one of the major Trope Makers and Codifiers of this vision of America.

In King's story, private eye Umney suggests it is "1938, maybe '39, maybe even 1940" and calls this "eighteen months or so before the start of World War II". Prohibition is probably over, but the power that The Mob gained in that period means they run many of the bars and clubs and a few Illegal Gambling Dens. The police may be trustworthy or they may be corrupt. They may very well be brutal.

The differences between this and the Genteel Interbellum Setting, with which it overlaps with the last years of, are pretty much the whole point of Raymond Chandler's essay The Simple Art of Murder: Chandler American Time differs in being more urban, more cynical, more violent, more temporally specific (in terms of the culture depicted, Chandler American Time is confined to the very tail end of the Genteel Interbellum Setting, including the late 1930s, the '40s, and the first few years of the '50s) and quintessentially American, whether geographically confined to the continental US or focusing on what amount to pockets or colonies of America in other places, like Rick's Cafe Americain, Jo Gar's Manila, or cities Americanized by American businesses in the wake of the Second World War.

Crimes are committed by the kinds of people who commit crimes in real life, and by realistic methods. Shootings by ex-gangsters trying to prevent their past being exposed? Yes. Chief of French police chopping a millionaire's head off, then switching it with another head he pinched from the guillotine, all because the policeman was an atheist and wanted to stop the millionaire leaving his fortune to the church? No. (That's the actual solution of Father Brown: The Secret Garden!)

Since elaborate but silly murder methods are out, any crime must have many suspects and incredibly tangled motives in order to be puzzling. This is usually helped along by having the poor sap that kicks off the plot being a bit of an Asshole Victim.

Also the standard timeframe of Two-Fisted Tales, such as Indiana Jones or The Rocketeer. For additional information on the overlapping era in comics, see The Golden Age of Comic Books. Often subject to Comic-Book Time, Setting Update, and Ambiguous Time Period.

Nothing to do with Chandler Bing. Shares the same namesake of Chandler's Law, though not inherently related. Subtrope of Film Noir.


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    Comic Books 
  • Played With in Frank Miller's Sin City, which stylistically has many of the trappings of this but establishes through newer cars and appliances that it was set in the then-present day 1980s.
  • Fawcett Comics' original Spy Smasher stories were set in this time period. Scientist/inventor Alan Armstrong decided to put his gadgets and physical skills to good use fighting against spies and saboteurs in the United States, and created the costumed superhero "Spy Smasher" as his alter-ego. Spy Smasher's adventures ran primarily in WHIZ Comics (yes, the same that starred Shazam!) starting in early 1940 and continuing through the War. Armstrong had no superpowers, and neither did most of his enemies.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Casablanca takes place from December 2 to December 5, 1941 (literally days before American entry into the war) in Morocco, and revolves around American Rick Blaine's attempts to stay neutral in Nazi-occupied Casablanca when an old flame reappears, now married to a man with ties to the French Resistance. Rick's smoky Cafe Americain, his doomed romance with Ilsa, his Odd Friendship with the corrupt Jerk with a Heart of Gold policeman Renault, and the movie's fog-bound goodbye scene have all become often-homaged classics of the genre.
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is set in New York, 1926, and manages to get some of the tropes associated with this in, including a scene in a goblin-run nightclub/speakeasy, complete with a house-elf crooner performing onstage.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Trail of Cthulhu is set in the 1930s, has a downbeat atmosphere, and offers character career options including Private Investigator, Criminal, and Police Detective. Admittedly, the atmosphere comes largely from the Lovecraftian supernatural horror which is the main feature of the game, but the Chandleresque elements are unmistakable.

    Video Games 
  • Grim Fandango, while set in the Eighth Underworld of Aztec Mythology, also takes place during the era, with many a Shout-Out to the genre, including its Everyman salesman/Grim Reaper protagonist Manny Calavera running headlong into a conspiracy that runs to the very heart of the Department of Death.

    Western Animation