RARA-AVIS: Noir List

Bruce Townley (btownley@sirius.com)
Sat, 27 Nov 1999 18:04:53 -0800 (PST)

Ok, so the flood of century's end lists has kind of gotten to me. What follows is one of my own. Prepare yourself for:


A bunch of guys in hats chase another, lone guy (who could also be in a hat but doesn't have to be), all splashing their soggy, odoriferous, dramatically lit way through the sewers beneath a large city.

Elisha Cook Jr. gets his in the second reel.

Meetings, usually between two guys in fedoras and overcoats, inevitably take place in a shadowy office/hotel lobby/subway or train station.

If the characters get to spend any time outside, it can't be, by any means, in a picturesque forest glen. Nope, direct your enormous sedan to, say, one of those "grasshopper" style oil-pumps that dot vast stretches of L.A. County. If you can't find one of those a railroad switching yard (or some other potential EPA Superfund site) will do.

A car that looks big enough to stand up in pulls up to a crisp looking gas station. A guy in a hat (a peaked uniform one) hustles out and if he has any dialog it's to give sketchy directions to the gang's hide-out, while he's wiping off the windsreen with a vigorous circular motion.

Elisha Cook Jr. checks out right after the fifth commercial break.

That smoldering cigarette butt stays pasted to Robert Mitchum's lower lip
<through the whole scene>, even when he's uttering deathless lines like:
"Baby, I don't care."

A slab faced guy in a snappy fedora and a sharp looking chalk-striped, three piece suit strides into a cigarette smoke choked room, faces down a bunch of other guys seated around a table (probably killing time by playing poker or gin rummy), some of who are, most likely, also wearing hats. While the guys around the table squint up at him through the smoke, the first guy grinds out, "Sa-a-a-a-y, what's the big idea!?". His question is never adequately answered.

Lunch counter short-order cooks, guys who run newspaper or shoe-shine stands and cabbies are all either omniscient or on the take. Sometimes both.

A guy in a fedora and a trench-coat (probably Richard Widmark if it isn't Alan Ladd or Victor Mature) lights up a cigarette for a dame in an inadequately lit side street or alleyway. As the kitchen match or Zippo lighter flares up we finally get to see the dame's face. It's either Gloria Grahame, Marie Windsor or Ida Lupino.

If you <must> be a cheap detective in L.A. it's recommended that you rent office space in the Bradbury Building. That big old air-shaft in the center of the building is perfect for a squealer to plummet down after he's been shot by a concealed gunsel, before he can tell his story.

There's an ironic and laconic voice-over narration throughout the entire film, probably done by a guy was betrayed and then killed before the flick even started. The icing on the cake's the voice-over by that good old unreliable narrator with questionable motives.

If there's no voice-over there's <gotta> be flashbacks, the more the better. They should totally side-track or derail any rational attempt at plotting.

The director of photography has shot the entire film using only the light from the odd 40 watt bulb or blinking neon sign outside the window of a cold-water flat or some cheap flophouse room. Given that, it's done rather artfully.

It sure rains a lot, downtown, for some reason. How else would those sidewalks stay wet?

Cheap, two-bit grifters get to eat out a lot, for some reason.

It's usually about 3 AM in most large cities, for some reason.

A .38 holds a <lot> of bullets, for some reason. If you run out, you know you can just throw the empty gun at the other guy.

If two or more characters (most likely cigarette smoking guys in fedoras and overcoats, natch) stage a late-night meeting in a warehouse, inevitably fisticuffs will break out (if not actual gun-play). Also inevitably no end of cardboard boxes will tumble about as though they were filled with nothing but air.

Capers and big knockovers always collapse, usually fatally. Doesn't stop an apparently endless stream of gimlet-eyed tough guys in fedoras and overcoats and sharp featured dames from starting in on new ones. "This job's gonna be a cinch, see..."

Elisha Cook Jr., after being enmeshed in a web of inexorable betrayal
(mostly of his own making), is finally killed by his so-called "friends" while you've either stepped away to go to the snack bar out front or to check on what's in the fridge.

Bruce T. = btownley@sirius.com

"Sure I live bad. But at least I don't have to work at it."


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2.0b3 on Sat 27 Nov 1999 - 21:05:20 EST