23 February 2016

The Line-Up (Great Lines) – Pt. I, Film Noir 1


by Paul D. Marks

One of my favorite film noirs is Born to Kill, with Lawrence Tierney, Claire Trevor, Walter Slezak and Elisha Cook, Jr. If you’re in too good of a mood and you want to get knocked down a little, spend a couple hours with these people. Some of the nastiest in the original noir cycle. After you do you’ll need a shower.

That said, the movie has one of my favorite lines of any movie, spoken by Walter Slezak’s sleazy detective character:

Delivery Boy: My that coffee smells good. Ain't it funny how coffee never tastes as good as it smells.

Albert Arnett (Slezak): As you grow older, you'll discover that life is very much like coffee: the aroma is always better than the actuality. May that be your thought for the day.

I think about that line a lot because it’s so true. Not just about coffee but about all kinds of things in life, the expectation of something often being better than the reality. But this post isn’t really about the line and its philosophical undertones. So maybe I’ll leave that for another time.

But the line got me thinking about a lot of great lines. So that’s what this post is about and Part One will be great lines from three of my favorite noir movies (though not my top 3 except for Double Indemnity). Later parts will deal with other types of movies, westerns, dramas, etc. And then onto the books... But since I’m a noir addict I’ll start with my favorite film addiction.

***

Double Indemnity

For my money the ultimate film noir. If I had to show one noir to a Martian to say “this is film noir” it would be this one. Fred MacMurray plays Walter Neff, the hapless insurance salesman to Barbara Stanwyck’s blonde-wigged femme fatale. She hooks him with her anklet and it’s off to the races after that:

Walter Neff: That's a honey of an anklet you're wearing, Mrs. Dietrichson.

*

Walter Neff: Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money - and a woman - and I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman. Pretty, isn't it

*

Walter Neff: Suddenly it came over me that everything would go wrong. It sounds crazy, Keyes, but it's true, so help me. I couldn't hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man.

*

Walter Neff: How could I have known that murder could sometimes smell like honeysuckle?

*

Phyllis: We're both rotten.
Walter Neff: Only you're a little more rotten.

*

Phyllis: I'm a native Californian. Born right here in Los Angeles.
Walter Neff: They say all native Californians come from Iowa.

*

Walter Neff: You'll be here too?
Phyllis: I guess so, I usually am.
Walter Neff: Same chair, same perfume, same anklet?
Phyllis: I wonder if I know what you mean.
Walter Neff: I wonder if you wonder.

*

Walter Neff: It's just like the first time I came here, isn't it? We were talking about automobile insurance, only you were thinking about murder. And I was thinking about that anklet.

*

Walter Neff: Know why you couldn't figure this one, Keyes? I'll tell ya. 'Cause the guy you were looking for was too close. Right across the desk from ya.
Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson): Closer than that, Walter.
Walter Neff: I love you, too.

***

Born to Kill

Claire Trevor and Lawrence Tierney play two of the lowest, meanest, nastiest people you never want to run across. Different from some noirs, much of the movie takes place in upper class San Francisco instead of on the meaner, lower class streets. We see the sleaze and depravity beneath the veneer of civility and respectability. Tierney is a thug, and apparently that’s not too far from the reality of his life. He was busted for drunk and disorderly and assault and battery. And apparently even in his 70s he was getting into trouble. When he played Elaine’s father (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) on Seinfeld they were so scared of him they never asked him back to repeat the role. And on Reservoir Dogs he almost came to blows with Quentin Tarantino because he would show up drunk and not take directions.

In Born to Kill, we have the coffee line mentioned above and several other good ones as well:

Sam Wild (Lawrence Tierney): Oh, I see. You cross the tracks on May Day with a basket of goodies
for the poor slum kid, but back you scoot - and fast - to your own neck o' the woods. Don't you?
Helen Brent (Claire Trevor): I wouldn't say that.
Sam Wild: No, you wouldn't *say* it... but that's the way it is.

*

Mrs. Kraft (to Claire Trevor): You're the coldest iceberg of a woman I ever saw, and the rottenest inside. I've seen plenty, too. I wouldn't trade places with you if they sliced me into little pieces.

*

Helen Brent: I must warn you, though, liquor makes me nosy. I've been known to ask all sorts of personal questions after four cocktails.
Marty Waterman (Cook): 'Sallright. I've been known to tell people to mind their own business. Cold sober, too.

*

Mrs. Kraft: How come you got a hold of this information?
Marty Waterman (Cook): Through underworld connections, like it says in the newspapers. I'm a bad boy.

*

Marty Waterman: You can't just go around killing people when the notion strikes you. It's just not feasible.

*

Mrs. Kraft: Are you trying to scare me?
Helen Brent: I'm just warning you. Perhaps you don't realize - it's painful being killed. A piece of metal sliding into your body, finding its way into your heart. Or a bullet tearing through your skin, crashing into a bone. It takes a while to die, too. Sometimes a long while.

***

The Blue Dahlia

Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake’s third full outing together and probably my favorite. Along for the ride in this Raymond Chandler original screenplay are Hugh Beaumont (later Leave it Beaver’s dad) and the great character actor William Bendix (who also had TV success in The Life of Riley). Ladd and his buddies Bendix and Beaumont are just back from the war—and you know when you say just ‘the war’ it has to be World War II. It seems that Ladd’s wife has been fooling around on him and when she ends up dead the police suspect the estranged husband—or maybe it’s the crazy vet with the plate in his head (Bendix). We’ll see.

Talk about subtext:
'Dad' Newell (Wil Wright): Well, I guess I better be goin', Mr. Harwood.
Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva): Wait a minute - you forgot your cigar.
'Dad' Newell: Oh.
Eddie Harwood: I think it's out.
Eddie Harwood: [he lights it] Cigars go out awful easy, don't they, Dad?
Eddie Harwood: [he blows out his lighter for emphasis] Good night.

*

Eddie Harwood: Half the cops in L.A. are looking for you.
Johnny Morrison (Ladd): Only half?

*

Joyce Harwood (Lake): [Joyce offers Johnny a lift in the rain] Get in.
[Johnny hesitates]
Joyce Harwood: Well, you could get wetter if you lie down in the gutter.

*

Eddie Harwood: Drink?
'Dad' Newell: Don't mind if I do but easy on the water.

*

Corelli, motel operator: You still want that room?
Johnny Morrison: [sarcastically] You sure nobody's dead in it?
Corelli, motel operator: [leading him to the room] Right back this way. You live in San Francisco?
Johnny Morrison: [laconically] Yeah, when I'm there.

*

'Dad' Newell: [examining Helen's – Ladd’s wife – body] Been dead for hours.
Mr. Hughes, assistant hotel manager: Suicide?
'Dad' Newell: Could be.
Mr. Hughes, assistant hotel manager: Better be!
'Dad' Newell: Unh-unh! Too much gun!

*

Johnny Morrison: [discovering his wife in close proximity to Harwood] You've got the wrong lipstick on, Mister.

*

Helen Morrison (Ladd’s wife): I take all the drinks I like, any time, any place. I go where I want to with anybody I want. I just happen to be that kind of a girl.

*

Johnny Morrison: [to the partygoers] Seems I've lost my manners or would anyone here know the difference?

***

Please check out Pam Stack of Authors on the Air Interviewing me a couple of weeks ago: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/authorsontheair/2016/02/04/paul-d-marks-talks-about-writing-and-more-on-authors-on-the-air-live 

And my reading of my Anthony and Macavity-nominated story Howling at the Moon, from Ellery Queen. I don’t think the Barrymore clan has to worry: http://eqmm.podomatic.com/entry/2016-02-01T06_56_00-08_00 

And look for my post on Drinks with Reads at Mystery Playground, going live on Wednesday, Feb. 26th, but one of the pix is already up on the front page: http://www.mysteryplayground.net/p/summer-drinks-with-reads-series.html 


Check out my website: PaulDMarks.com

Well, that’s all folks. At least for now.




9 comments:

janice law said...

It's interesting how artificial and often unrealistic these good lines are. Noir is really very stylized and in its own way as formal as say a Christie cozy

Paul D. Marks said...

So true, Janice. I don't think people talk like that in real life. So it's sort of a formalized way of speaking in the genre.

Eve Fisher said...

I love all three of these movies. And, as for the artificiality of the lines, remember Sam Spade's great line: "The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter."

John Floyd said...

Great movies, Paul. I saw Double Indemnity again not long ago, but now I'll have to re-watch the other two also. DI remains my favorite noir movie, ever.

You're right, no one talks that way in real life--but who cares? Someone once said dialogue should be realistic rather than real.

Great post!

Herschel Cozine said...

In my opinion, Bendix did his best work in Dahlia. (He wasn't the best actor in the world).
Good choices. Like you I believe DI is the best of the noirs. Everything clicked. Thanks for the post.

M.M. Gornell said...

I love this post, not only because of the nostalgia value, which is high, made me want to see Blue Dahlia and Alan Ladd again, but "smart" and "quick" and "sassy" as those great lines are, many also make you think.

(Ah, but Velma is still "aces" with me, even if it does take her awhile to check out the spam folder! (smile))

Velma DiVine said...

I hope that doesn't mean I overlooked one of your comments, Ms Gornell! I checked my in-basket and all I found were spiders, flecks of tobacco, and rationing tokens that John Floyd feeds the pay phone.

Velma DiVine said...

Some think Veronica Lake or maybe Claire Trevor look like me, but I can’t see the resemblance.

Love those lines. Loved Howling at the Moon, too.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for pointing out that line, Eve. It’s the perfect description for all of them.

I agree with you, John, re: Double Indemnity. It is the definition of noir. The other two are really good too. And re: the dialogue, it’s dialogue not real conversation. So maybe a little more colorful. Well, depending on who’s talking of course. :)

Thanks, Herschel. I agree about Bendix not being the greatest actor, but he was always fun to watch I think.

Thanks, Madeline. They are sassy and fun, but like you say many make you think. And, as I said, particularly the coffee line from Born to Kill. I think that just sums up so many things very succinctly.

Thank you, Velma, for your comment about Howling at the Moon. (How much do I owe you?) And, no, I don’t see any resemblance at all. Don’t know what people are thinking...