Voice-over monologue in film noir

Film noir is famous for its sarcastic, metaphor-filled voice-over monologue that often shows just how cynical the protagonist is about life. I thought of this while re-reading Ruta Sepetys Out of the Easy which gets the style and ambiance of the New Orleans French Quarter just right. I appreciate this line about Willie, the bordello madam: “The voice was thick and had mileage on it.”

One of my favorite lines comes from the former TV series “Early Edition” (1996-2000) about a guy who knows stuff because he gets the newspaper a day early: “The fog was as thick as hash-house oatmeal and twice as cold.”

Two silhouetted figures in The Big Combo (1955). The film’s cinematographer, John Alton, was the creator of many of film noir’s stylized images. – Wikipedia

As “Private Eye Monologue” says, “The signature narration style in Film Noir. A bored-looking, world-weary, the utterly cynical detective (hardboiled and/or defective) with his feet on the desk meets a Femme Fatale, while the voiceover gives us his mental play-by-play:” She walked through my door like a tigress walks into a Burmese orphanage — strawberry blonde and legs for hours. No dame her age could afford a coat like that, and the kinda makeup she had on gave me a good idea how she got it. She had bad news written on her like October of ’29.

The 1946 film “The Big Sleep”(Bogart and Bacall) by Raymond Chandler/William Faulkner, and others, is one of the more enduring noir films because of the stars, author, and director, Howard Hawkes. Chandler’s lines are memorable within the genre: “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts,” “I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter nights,” and “Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.”

Wikipedia describes Night and the City as “a 1950  film noir directed by Jules Dassin and starring Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney and Googie Withers. It is based on the novel of the same name by Gerald Kersh. Shot on location in London and at Shepperton Studios, the plot revolves around an ambitious hustler who meets continuous failures.” One can’t help but notice: This is like the Greyhound station for DEATH!

From “Murder, My Sweet,” we get: “Okay Marlowe,” I said to myself, ‘You’re a tough guy. You’ve been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun, shot in the arm until you’re crazy as a couple of waltzing mice. Now let’s see you do something really tough—like putting your pants on.’

From the “Lady from Shanghai”: “Maybe I’ll live so long that I’ll forget her. Maybe I’ll die trying.”

And “Key Largo” “When your head says one thing and your whole life says another, your head always loses.”

According to Wikipedia, “Farewell, My Lovely is a novel by Raymond Chandler, published in 1940, the second novel he wrote featuring the Los Angeles private eye Philip Marlowe. It was adapted for the screen three times and was also adapted for the stage and radio.” I like the 1975 version (classified more as neo-noir) with Robert Mitchum the best: “It was one of those transient motels, something between a fleabag and a dive” and Moose never would have hurt her. It didn’t matter to him that she hadn’t written in 6 years. It didn’t matter that she turned him in for a reward. The big lug loved her… and if he was still alive… it wouldn’t matter to him that she’d pumped 3 bullets into him… What a world.”

There’s no way to sum all this up except to say that anyone who loves noir has already gone over to the dark side.



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