Spring 2018 - ENGL 383 D100

Studies in Popular Literature and Culture (4)

Crime and Film Noir

Class Number: 1517

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Mo 10:30 AM – 12:20 PM
    AQ 3153, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units.



A study of popular literature and its cultural contexts. May be defined by genre, author, period, or critical approach. This course may be repeated for credit if a different topic is taught, though students who obtained credit for ENGL 363 prior to Summer 2015 may not take this course for further credit. Breadth-Humanities.


English 383: "Crime and Film Noir"

Crime and film noir give us fictional worlds of extreme moral and epistemic uncertainty, where distinctions between villains and heroes (or police and criminals) are not easy to determine, and which are set in gritty, sinister cityscapes characterized by dislocation and alienation. Noir's worlds are often tragic, emphasizing fatalism and failure, but they are hugely entertaining and interesting. 

After briefly outlining noir’s origins (in Poe, the Gothic, and Expressionism) and looking at its relationship to the murder mystery and hardboiled detective traditions, we will study some of its classic treatments in both literature and film, looking at themes like pessimism, determinism, irrationality and, above all, the destruction of trust. We will start with two bleak James Cain novellas: The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Double Indemnity. Then we will read Hammett’s cynical masterpiece The Maltese Falcon. From there we move on to that most literary (and optimistic) of crime novelists, Raymond Chandler, reading his The High Window. We will conclude with two works — The Talented Mr. Ripley and Pop. 1280 — that take traditional noir in a very psychological, and disturbing, direction.

In addition to studying the novels listed below, students must be prepared to view a number of noir films, especially in Lecture but occasionally at home, and to discuss them in Seminar. Because of this, regular attendance is even more crucial in this course than usual.

NB: There will be a few handouts, sold at cost (perhaps two or three dollars in total).




Regular and enthusiastic participation: 20%

Short 2 page responses to 3 pairs of novels (3x10%): 30%

First paper, due mid term (3-5 pages): 20%

Term paper, due end of semester (4-6 pages): 30%



The High Window, Raymond Chandler (Vintage Crime)
ISBN: 0394758269

The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith (Norton)
ISBN: 9780393332148

The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, and Selected Stories, James Cain (Everyman's Library)
ISBN: 037541438X

The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett (Vintage Crime)
ISBN: 0679722645

Pop. 1280, Jim Thompson (Mulholland Books)
ISBN: 0316403784

Department Undergraduate Notes:

IMPORTANT NOTE Re 300 and 400 level courses: 75% of spaces in 300 level English courses, and 100% of spaces in 400 level English courses, are reserved for declared English Major, Minor, Extended Minor, Joint Major, and Honours students only, until open enrollment begins.

For all On-Campus Courses, please note the following:
- To receive credit for the course, students must complete all requirements.
- Tutorials/Seminars WILL be held the first week of classes.
- When choosing your schedule, remember to check "Show lab/tutorial sections" to see all Lecture/Seminar/Tutorial times required.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://students.sfu.ca/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html