Caricature of Film Noir in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”

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.
Jessica RabbitGilda

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.

3 thoughts on “Caricature of Film Noir in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”

  1. Great post, Alesia. The gallery works really well here. I don’t think it ever fully hit me that that bit of Roger Rabbit is a direct reference to Chinatown, which it obviously must be. Jessica Rabbit is a kind of composite femme fatale who seems to be mostly styled on Rita Hayworth, with a little Veronica Lake and Barbara Stanwyck thrown in. Gilda seems to be a direct influence — we can’t tell from the B&W film, but Rita Hayworth had bright red hair which became her trademark.

    Naremore mentions Roger Rabbit in chapter 5. What does he say about it? Is he correct in your opinion?

  2. ” Even the comic parodies of noir in the 1980s and 1990s have usually been conservative, given to a kind of window-shopping through the past. A qualified exception is Robert Zemeckis’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” (1988), which deals with a scandal in the L.A. transit system, and which joins the the dark world of “Chinatown” with the anarchic violence of the old Warner cartoons. ” -Naremore, p. 212

    I agree with Namermore on that both movies can’t be considered conservative, compared to classical noir of the past. “Chinatown” depicts nudity in certain scenes, and also covers themes that were considered taboo in the past. The movie about Roger Rabbit, even though it deals with cartoons, also cannot be considered conservative. A direct example is the scene when Jessica Rabbit sings in the cabaret – she basically attaches herself to all those men,a she she is drawn very naughty. If that was meant to be conservative, she would have taken of just one glove, and stayed in place, like Gilda.

  3. Pingback: A Feminist Analysis of Who Framed Roger Rabbit | Classic But New

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