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How to Speak Film Noir

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?

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