I’ve been binge-watching 1940s and 1950s Hollywood film noir with Howard, who just handed in a big end-of-term assignment that he doesn’t want to talk about. He was happy to have me join his celebratory binge-watch; he apologized in advance for the fact that he would be saying little and staring lots at the TV. He’s watched all of these before, and one of the few things he told me was that he’s dreamt sometimes of being a film noir detective. So then I thought, if you did wake up in a film noir, how would you know? Here are a bunch of signs you’re a character in a Classic Hollywood film noir:
- You’re rotten, rotten to the heart.
- You speak in a rapid-fire staccato, in between pulls of Scotch.
- The sight of her in a black dress makes you feel like you can do anything, like hide a corpse.
- As you stare out a window, a man under a streetlamp stares back.
- As you stare out a window, bars of shadow and light fall on your unreadable face.
- Someone pushes you out a window. Another person sees it happen and blackmails your murderer.
- A wealthy man with obscure perversions is taunting you.
- You slink around in an ill-fitted wig.
- Someone steps into a bar or out of an alley or from behind a door. You light a cigarette to show that you are not afraid.
- Someone from your shadowy past steps out of the shadows. You pour yourself another drink.
- You have the feeling – call it a hunch – that a love affair built on theft, terrible secrets, and murder won’t end well.
- The person you think is dead isn’t. The person you think is alive isn’t. The person you don’t recognize is someone you know who underwent brand new face surgery. They are now blackmailing you.
- The soundtrack of your life is a mix of world-weary monologue, saxophone, and squealing tires.
- The man who wants to kill you giggles a lot. Maybe one of his eyes doesn’t close all the way, not even when he sleeps.
- You express your disillusionment with life through sardonic, sexually charged quips.
- You don’t remember who you’re supposed to kill, but only because you have amnesia. It will pass, and you will be properly vengeful.
- Men in trench coats are waiting for you in a dark stairwell. More of them are waiting for you in a sewer tunnel. There might be a few trying to get into your apartment through a fire escape. Check the dumbwaiter, too.
- You usually clear your head by lighting a cigarette and staring at the world through a rain-slick windshield. If that fails, you go for a walk alone in a dockyard at night.
- A police captain tries to slap the smirk off your face. He fails.
- The person you are passionately embracing has pressed a gun to your stomach.
- The only things you have left are your bravado and a bloodied mouth.
- No man can resist or survive you.
- You spend every night at a seedy dive, or at a boxing match, or alone at home listening to the radio because otherwise the silence would be unbearable.
- An aging moll takes pity on you.
- You secretly hope for the redemptive love of a good woman. You settle for the obsessive love of a murderous hellcat.
- There aren’t any children around. Maybe they’re hiding from you.
- The only thing you’re good at is putting yourself beyond the hope of redemption.
- You may be a no-good stoolie, but there’s a line you won’t cross, and that’s working for a stinking Commie.
- When you get shot, you don’t bleed much, but you do look very surprised, though you should have seen it coming.
- Things you’ve lost track of: the number of times you’ve been double-crossed, the number of drinks you’ve had, and the number of bullets in your gun.
- A woman who is inexplicably devoted to you begs you to be careful. You ignore her.
- You are having a climactic showdown in a bell tower.
- Only you and your gun stand between the dark and the greater dark.
- Your car goes into reverse off a cliff with you in it. Some people will say it was an accident, but you and your murderer and an ineffectual prosecutor all know the truth.