Detective agency? Scoring the amateur female investigator in 1940S hollywood

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Music is a crucial component of the multivalent discourses of gender operating within the 1940s Hollywood crime film, and it engages with interrelated storylines of crime and romance both to create and to contain agency in the problematic figure of the amateur 'working girl' investigator. The soundtrack is used to position characters within archetypes that reflect anxieties about gendered roles and identities in American society, not only drawing attention to the professional activity and associated sleuthing opportunities of the female lead, but also evoking notions of musical ownership that act primarily to reassert more traditional hierarchies of control. Both conventional 'classical' scoring and pre-existing library cues are shown to be significant within the crime film's exploration of issues of justice, criminality, romance and identity; music engages explicitly with character subjectivity and textual mobility in ways that support and subvert other aspects of cinematic narrative. The following films are discussed in detail: Stranger on the Third Floor (Boris Ingster, 1940), Two O'Clock Courage (Anthony Mann, 1945), Deadline at Dawn (Harold Clurman, 1946), and The Big Steal (Don Siegel, 1949).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)543-573
Number of pages31
JournalMusic and Letters
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012


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