Last week, in talking about something related, Chad and I wandered into a discussion of noir plots and why I tend not to like them, with the strong exception of L.A. Confidential. He eventually put his finger on it:
It's the noble but stupid gesture.
Or, less flippantly, it's because the noir protagonist is upright but the world is not; he stays apart from the corrupt world, but because he's an outside, he can't influence it. He does the right thing and it doesn't matter: the world is not a better place at the end of the story.
In fiction, that's just not to my taste.
Brief notes on application, with spoilers for L.A. Confidential, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and The Fortunate Fall.
For The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, I'm mostly working off my recollection of Chad's recollection of the plots. I've seen both, but I don't remember a damn thing about The Big Sleep, and my recollection of The Maltese Falcon is only slightly better.
But in The Maltese Falcon, I do remember that he turns in the woman for killing his partner (who he didn't like); the Falcon wasn't real, the chase goes on, and she's is going to jail. It's the right thing to do, but it makes no one happier. Apparently Marlowe can tell, partway through uncovering whatever answers there are to The Big Sleep, that the answers will not make his client or anyone else happy, but he pursues them anyway.
In contrast, the ending of L.A. Confidential holds out the promise of change—at the cost, Chad pointed out, of Ed Exley acquiesing in a lie in order to stay in a position where he had influence. In that sense, it's more corrupt than your classic noir (which I hadn't thought of before), and yet I can deal with it so much better.
(During a lull in this discussion, I said, "I have the sudden strong urge to re-read The Fortunate Fall." What I recall of that ending does seem to be similar. I don't know if the format or the other stuff that's going on made the plot more palatable to me; I know that I have more stringent requirements in movies and TV with regard to sympathetic characters and narrative resolution.)
Comments, corrections, recommendations for stuff more on the L.A. Confidential end of things?