top of page

Who Saved Eddie Valiant? How Music Reframed the Film Noir Detective.

Updated: Jan 3

 
Fig. 1: DVD cover of Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).

Across a span of nearly fifty years in detective film noir, the progression of the private eye’s masculinity has been confined by its archetype – silent and immutable. Noir’s traditional private eyes (1941-58) embody the emotional standards of working-class citizens during the Great Depression. Their core values, and masculine attributes such as stoicism, forcefulness and self-reliance, stem from the perpetual fear of failure (Dinerstein, 2008). American audiences emphasized with the morally ambiguous character, understanding that his urgent need to be in control was for the sake of surviving noir’s ‘modern version of purgatory’ (Dimendberg, 2004). After a decade hiatus, the noir genre returned with a slightly modified private eye. He remains a solitary fighter, however; he must now survive his hostile, urban environment without becoming the worst of himself (Nicol, 45).


Unlike the traditional private eyes, who can be viewed as a distant equal to the police force, neo noir detectives are blatantly regarded as inferior to both cops and criminal conspirators. There is additional pressure for the neo-noir private eye ‘to restore himself to a position of security by eradicating the enigma’ (Krutnik, 86) and he often fails, dying or morally bankrupt in the process. Today, however, the ‘burnished and immutable’ (Abbott, 2002) hardboiled detective can be viewed as exhibiting negative traits of masculinity as he remains lost to the silent streets in a never-ending cycle of emptiness and lies.


Only one critically successful Hollywood film has managed to escape the trappings of his own genre, and that is Eddie Valiant from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988).Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a period noir directed by Robert Zemeckis, animated by Richard Williams, and based off Gary K. Wolf’s novel, Who Censored Roger Rabbit? (1981). Detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins), is hired by Roger Rabbit (Charles Fleischer), a cartoon star for Maroon Cartoons, who has been named the primary suspect of a recent murder. As a matter of self-preservation and reputation, Eddie is on the case, and underway the two of them discover an uglier truth that runs deeper than either of them expected.

Fig. 2: Movie still of Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).

In celebration of the film’s 35th anniversary this year, I want to take a moment to discusses how Alan Silvestri’s score, particularly the variations of “Eddie’s Theme,” depicts an aural character arch wherein the detective finally embraces vulnerability and changes for the better. Without music, Eddie would have been lost to the streets just as any other private eye.


The film has a peculiar Disney history – it was not intended to be produced with the Disney name, premiering under one of Disney’s production companies, Touchstone. Disney cartoons are not mentioned in the source material, instead, they were added for the film in collaboration with Warner Brother’s Looney Tunes to present familiar audiences with more familiar animated icons to replace some of the newly created side-characters from Wolf’s universe. Wolf’s turbulent Toon Town is greasy, gritty, and off to the abandoned sides of old Hollywood like its 1920s pulp counterparts. Zemeckis’s Toon Town and script conceptually adapt Wolf’s story and establishes a closer link with Roman Polanski’s 1974 neo-noir Chinatown than its book counterpart. In Chinatown and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, J.J. Gittes and Eddie Valiant are both disregarded as professionals because their hard-to-crack cases are taking pictures of unfaithful lovers and their rude behavior. Each detective desperately attempts to expose the villain and regain their status as a man when they discover a social injustice in their home of Los Angeles, but only one of them succeeds. Guess who?


Figure 3: Silvestri, “Eddie’s Theme” for Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).

Neither modern scoring nor jazz is new style to the noir genre, however, a solo horn carrying the melody is unique to neo-noir. Trumpet solos evoke a nostalgic energy that, according to film scholar David Butler, “is not in line with the sensibility of film noir. Characters are often on the run from the past rather than desiring to return to it” (Butler, 2016). The 1940s aesthetic of Los Angeles is nostalgic for audiences, and not for the main characters, but the melodic horn solo does paint a significant principal theme.


“Eddie’s Theme” (Fig. 3), sums up, the down-on-his-luck detective. It is noisy, with a clear temperament demonstrated by the percussion, and develops several mood swings, which are represented by the improvisatory interchanges of instrumental solos. The remaining instruments of this theme include bass, saxophone, snare drum (with a brush tap), and piano. Many of the film’s cues are variations of the principal theme and signify aural changes that progress the private eye’s character arc. During the first appearance of “Eddies Theme,” all that is known is that he harbors a severe prejudice towards cartoons and a somewhat flirtatious relationship with a barwoman named Dolores (Joanna Cassidy). It is Dolores who reveals to the pub that a cartoon murdered Eddie’s brother by dropping a piano on his head. Although the information is disclosed via a secondary source, the scene successfully achieves emotional sympathy for the private eye, leading to the first variation of “Eddie’s Theme.”



Eddie’s sorrowful reality is viewed explicitly on his return home with the accompanying cue, “Valiant & Valiant” (Clip Above). “Eddie’s Theme” transforms from an upbeat swing to an adagio jazz ballade and the melody is prominently played by a subdued piano. Eddie does not speak in this scene, but his emotions are heard loud and clear. The music shifts when Eddie spies the past photos Dolores took when they and Eddie’s brother were in Catalina. This was their last trip together when the trio were in business defending citizens of Toon Town. Eddie’s smile slowly disappears and as he gazes at his brother’s face, the strings dominate the melody. The only remaining instrument of Eddie’s theme during this interchange is the piano fading under the power of the ‘heart strings.’


Fig. 4: Theodore Valiant's Desk still from Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).

The camera pulls away from the torment on Eddie’s face to show the dusty possessions of his late brother. Most private eyes houses have necessary furniture, but no valuables that indicate a sense of belonging or identity. On the contrary, Eddie’s home is cluttered with newspaper clippings, pictures of his family, and a single Betty Boop doll. As the camera links to various items across the desk, Eddie remembers that his brother is dead, and his trumpet mournfully returns, as if its blast can push the tears away. “Valiant & Valiant” is classifies Caryl Flinn’s definition of an anterior moment, where “previously known characters, places, and relationships have their individual motifs: flashbacks . . . are often initiated when the protagonists hear songs that send them back to better days” (Flinn, 1992). Eddie is physically living in the past and the only way he finds sleep at night is with the help of a whisky bottle.


The next morning Marvin Acme is dead, and Roger pleads for Eddie to solve his case because of his successful history representing ‘toons. He reluctantly agrees, but handling Roger proves to be difficult under the threat of the Toon Patrol led by Judge Doom (Christopher Llyod). While hiding in a movie theatre, Roger timidly asks Eddie why he has such a hatred for ‘toons. In “Eddie’s Story,” Eddie narrates his brother’s last case in Toon Town. When Eddie mentions Teddy’s death, a harp added, outlining harmonic chords in ascending pitches. The harp represents Teddy as an angel above. Upon the tale’s conclusion, a cello solo slowly takes the melodic line to a low, dissonant chord and Roger bursts into tears.

Fig. 5: Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) tells Roger (Charles Fleischer) why he hates 'toons in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).

Later, when witnessing Roger weep over his loss, Eddie recognizes that his prejudice has been misplaced. He is aware that the loss of his brother is not Roger’s fault because he is a ‘toon. His hatred is towards the ‘toon responsible for his brother’s murder. And so, Eddie does something that private eyes never do- he apologizes to Roger for his hostile behavior. Five minutes later, he apologizes again to Dolores, who has arrived with a car to help them escape town.


In act of selflessness, he tells Dolores not to run away with him and find herself a good man. He regrets dragging Dolores to rock bottom with him, but Dolores does not care, and loves him for the lifelong friend he has always been. The strings of “Eddie & Dolores” pull the lovers together in a sweet adagio tempo, ending abruptly on a half cadence. This variation of “Eddie’s Theme” is unresolved because Roger interrupts their romantic moment. Regardless of the music’s brevity, the sentimentality of the scene and orchestra’s lush harmonies reflect Eddie’s vulnerable growth as he continues to acknowledge his past aggressions.

Fig. 6: Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) pours out his liquid courage in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).

When Eddie is about to enter Toon Town for the first time since his brother’s death, he habitually reaches into his jacket for liquid courage. Moments before the whiskey passes his lips, the harp from “Eddie’s Story” returns and he lowers the bottle, as if asking himself would Teddy be proud of who he has become?


Slowly, the strings of “Eddie’s Theme” disintegrate into nothing as he pours the alcohol onto the pavement. This is the penultimate version of “Eddie’s Theme” and the last variation to be dominated by strings. From this moment on, Eddie accepts his brother’s death and breaks a toxic cycle of alcoholism.


At the Acme Factory, Eddie takes on one of Roger’s songs, “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down” by Cliff Friend and Dave Franklin. By adopting the ‘toon anthem from Warner Brother's Loony Tunes and Merrie Melodies, Eddie has come full circle from the grumpy, prejudiced hermit in the first half of the film and momentarily save his friends.


The dip machine may have been stalled, but Judge Doom remains at large. Much like Chinatown’s villain, Noah Cross, whose plans for controlling the water supply from poor farmers, Judge Doom also wishes to control a public need of the people–transportation. Judge Doom bought the Red Car [the film’s name for the Pacific Electric Railway] to dismantle it and destroy Toon Town to build a freeway across the state of California. The construction of the freeway will force people to drive, to buy automobiles and flourish roadside businesses, enriching Doom’s own wealth. The idea is presumed to be so ludicrous by the protagonists that only a cartoon could create such a thing. To the surprise of all the characters, Judge Doom is a humanoid cartoon and Teddy’s murderer. Using Acme’s products, Eddie defeats Judge Doom and his brother my rest in peace. A triumphant trumpet reprises “Eddie’s Theme” and the horrible reminders of Eddie’s past flush down the drain.


If Who Framed Roger Rabbit? directly followed its two most significant influences; Roman Polanski’s Chinatown and Gary K. Wolf’s novel, the film would be unrecognizable. If Who Framed Roger Rabbit? ended like Chinatown, Dolores would be dead, Acme’s will would never be found, Toon Town would be destroyed, Judge Doom would avoid jail because of his financial status, and Eddie would lose everything that he holds dear because of his temper and alcoholic status. If the film stuck closer to Gary K. Wolf’s novel, Eddie would have no brother, no prejudice towards ‘toons, and no character arc or backstory whatsoever. He would have been every other private eye, with a fedora, the occasional bourbon, and a complete indifference to the world around him. Thankfully, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is neither. Instead, Eddie kisses Roger in public to prove that he has truly regained his sense of humor before walking hand in hand into Toon Town with Dolores. The credits roll and Eddie is reborn as a new private eye, one that can accept change and break the entrapment of his own archetype. After all, this is a Disney movie and what would a Disney film be without a happily ever after?


 

Hannah Neuhauser has written extensively about the musical darkness of film noir in her forthcoming article “Lost Without a Cue: Music and Masculinity in Detective Film Noir,” which will be published in Music and the Moving Image Vol. 16 no. 2 (June 2024). To learn more about Hannah and her work, check out her website!

 

References:


Abbot, Megan. 2002. The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.


Butler, David. 2016. “Film Noir and Music.” In The Cambridge Companion to Film Music, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Dimendberg, Edward. 2004. Film Noir and Spaces of Modernity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Dinerstein, Joel. 2008. ‘“Emergent Noir”: Film Noir and the Great Depression in High Sierra (1941) and This Gun for Hire (1942)’, Journal of American Studies 42(3): 415-448.


Flinn, Caryl. 1992. Strains of Utopia: Gender, Nostalgia, and the Hollywood Film Score, Princeton: Princeton University Press.


Krutnik, Frank. 1991. In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity, New York: Routledge.


Nicol, Bran. 2013. The Private Eye: Detectives in the Movies. London: Reaktion.


Polanski, Roman. 1974. Chinatown. Los Angeles, CA: Paramount Home Entertainment.


Wolf, Gary K.. 1981. Who Censored Roger Rabbit? New York: Ballantine Books.


Zemeckis, Robert, dir. 1988. Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Los, Angeles, CA: Touchstone Pictures.


Images:


Fig. 1: DVD cover of Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). Zemeckis, Robert, dir. 1988. Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Los, Angeles, CA: Touchstone Pictures.


Fig. 2: Movie still of Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). Zemeckis, Robert, dir. 1988. Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Los, Angeles, CA: Touchstone Pictures.


Fig. 3: Silvestri, “Eddie’s Theme” for Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).


Fig. 4: Theodore Valiant's Desk still from Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). Zemeckis, Robert, dir. 1988. Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Los, Angeles, CA: Touchstone Pictures.


Fig. 5: Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) tells Roger (Charles Fleischer) why he hates 'toons in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). Zemeckis, Robert, dir. 1988. Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Los, Angeles, CA: Touchstone Pictures.


Fig. 6: Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) pours out his liquid courage in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). Zemeckis, Robert, dir. 1988. Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Los Angeles, CA: Touchstone Pictures.

 

If you love all things Disney, or if you had a presentation that you would love to see written down (and citable) come out into the world, email Bee! Do you have a book coming out and would love to have a launch with us? Email Bee! Did your book, or someone else's book, come out and you want to see us do a book review or an author interview...that's right, email Bee!


Check out our Want to Write for DisNet post.


(Bee's email is also disnetblog@gmail.com)


 

Comentários


bottom of page