Since we are now in the neo-noir period in our studies, I feel that it’s necessary to mention a great comic approach to film noir as portrayed in live-action/animation hybrid “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988) directed by Robert Zemeckis and produced by Steven Spielberg. Just like many neo-noir classics, the film is set in 1947 and it employees multiple technical elements as well as basic themes of the noir period. What is interesting about this film is that even though it is made as a hilarious caricature on film noir, it still captures the viewer and evokes a sense of betrayal, injustice and anxiety.
The film portrays a private investigator Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) who is hired to get dirt on Roger Rabbit’s wife, Jessica. Sounds familiar yet? How many movies of the noir period have we seen that star a private investigator, who makes a living by catching people cheating? Most recent example – Chinatown. In addition, just like Curly in Chinatown, when Roger finds out the truth by looking at black and white pictures of his cheating wife, he is so heartbroken that he starts crying right in the office (Venetian blinds in the background), and is given a shot of liquor.
When Eddie goes out to see Jessica( a classical femme fatale), he travels by dark empty dirty streets to a glamorous toon cabaret. There he witnesses Jessica’s performance, which is done in classical noir style. Don’t know what I mean? Just think of Gilda’s strip tease performance of “Put the Blame on Mame”. Both wear a strapless elegant long dress and long gloves, and even their bodies have a similar shape. Also both women walk around and tease men as they sing.
Another aspect used is a classical good cop – bad cop combination most evident in the Touch of Evil. Both Eddie and Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) supposedly represent police, but Judge is completely corrupt and works only for his own benefit. The judge has a team of gangsters running around with guns and cigarettes doing dirty work for him. Even the threats they give are so similar to each other. For example in Who Framed Roger Rabbit they say “ Step out of the line and we’ll hang you and your laundry to dry”. Similarly, in Chinatown Polanski says to Giddis as he cuts his nose “ Next time you lose the whole thing. I’ll cut it off and feed it to my goldfish”.
The general plot of the “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” also depicts film noir themes. For example, just like in Lady from Shanghai, Double Indemnity and The Touch of Evil, the main character (Roger Rabbit in this case) got framed/used. Also, similarly to most of the movies we watched, the whole plot revolves around control, capital and power: Acme was murdered so that toon town would be owned by a bad guy. And of course there is a femme fatale who stimulates our scopophilia (Mulvey) and leaves Roger Rabbit in distress .
So how does such a comic film based solely on film noir caricatures manage to make us nervous for the fate of the toons? Is it because they are so lovable and cute? I think its because it evokes fears of betrayal, injustice and loss of loved ones which would never be out of date. The film takes classic elements and themes of film noir and by combining it with modern technology makes “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” another neo noir classic to remember.