Growing up in a small town, local culture consisted of a drive-in theater (which featured more naughty action in the back seat of any given Buick than on screen), and a bowling alley (locatable beneath the toxic cloud of shoe deodorizer spray that hung over it).
With limited entertainment options, I watched a lot of TV. During summer breaks, I would stay up until 3AM, gorging nightly on black-and-white movies. That’s where I fell hard for film noir, thanks to the 1951 drama, Ace in the Hole. The story – about a jaded reporter who milks a tragedy to resuscitate his dead career – wasn't just dark. It was pitch black, personified by the hard-boiled wife of a man trapped by a cave-in who snaps, “I don’t pray. Kneeling bags my nylons.”
I quickly learned the hallmarks of the genre: Everything happens at night. Streets are permanently wet (from rain...or maybe the tears of suckers who have been fleeced?) Fedora-wearing men are doomed to die in a hail of gunfire. Women are untrustworthy objects of unhealthy obsessions. Everyone drives fat-fendered Fords. Every. Single. Person. Smokes.
I loved the mic-drop dialogue most of all. They weren’t just lines. They were bracing slaps across the face. Check out these quotable quotes from three noir classics:
Out of the Past (1947)
Joe couldn't find a prayer in the Bible.
Build my gallows high, baby.
It was the bottom of the barrel, and I was scraping it.
Keep the martinis dry. I'll be back.
If you’re thinking of anyone else, don't. It wouldn't work. You're no good for anyone but me. You're no good and neither am I. That's why we deserve each other.
You know, a dame with a rod is like a guy with a knitting needle.
The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
Experience has taught me never to trust a policeman. Just when you think one's all right, he turns legit.
Why don't you quit cryin' and get me some bourbon?
After all, crime is only a left-handed form of human endeavor.
He won't get very far, that's for sure. He hasn't got enough blood left in him to keep a chicken alive.
If you want fresh air, don't look for it in this town!
Murder, My Sweet (1944)
She was a charming middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud. I gave her a drink. She was a gal who'd take a drink, if she had to knock you down to get the bottle.
I'm afraid I don't like your manner.//Yeah, I've had complaints about it, but it keeps getting worse.
You're not a detective, you're a slot machine. You'd slit your own throat for 6 bits plus tax.
It's a long story and not pretty.//I got lots of time and I'm not squeamish.
Skip the water. Make that one with scotch. It'll save time.
You know, this'll be the first time I've ever killed anyone I knew so little and liked so well. What's your first name?
Let's dispense with the polite drinking, shall we?