Noir Nook: Noir Talk

Noir Talk

One of my favorite aspects about film noir is the words. They’re not just your garden-variety lines; noir serves up the kind of dialogue that makes you laugh out loud in sheer delight and complete appreciation.

And sometimes it even makes you think.

There are many quotes from noir that are familiar to most classic film lovers, like “The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter,” from The Maltese Falcon, or from Mildred Pierce: “Personally, Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young.” But this month’s Noir Nook takes a look at those lines that aren’t quite as well known, yet are just as deserving of their moment in the shadows (if you will). And if you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing the movies that feature these quotes – what are you waiting for?


CMH_NoirTalk_William Bendix in The Glass KeyThe Glass Key, 1942

“I’ve got just the place for me and you. A little room upstairs that’s too small for you to fall down in. I can bounce you around off the walls – that way we won’t be wasting a lot of time while you get up off the floor.” William Bendix in The Glass Key (1942)

“The next time you must indulge your hot, Spanish passion for dramatics, put on a uniform with polished boots and stomp around your wife’s bedchamber. Do not attempt brilliant decisions.” Luther Adler in Cornered (1945)

“If you’re smart, you can be a hero. If you’re dumb, you can be dead.” Ted deCorsia in The Enforcer (1951)

“Half-drunk, I got better wits than most people. And more nerve.” Brad Dexter in The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

CMH_NoirTalk_Zachary Scott in Danger SignalDanger Signal, 1945

“Face it – if you’re smart enough, you can get just about anything you want. If you can’t get it one way, you can get it another.” Zachary Scott in Danger Signal (1945)

“You seem like a reasonable man. Why don’t we make a deal? What’s it worth to you to turn your considerable talents back to the gutter you crawled out of.” Paul Stewart in Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

“I wouldn’t touch you with sterilized gloves.” Victor Mature in I Wake Up Screaming (1941)

“Is this what you folks do for amusement in the evenings? Sit around toasting marshmallows and calling each other names? Sure, if you’re so anxious for me to join in the games, I’d be glad to. I can think of a few names I’d like to be calling you myself.” Orson Welles in The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

CMH_NoirTalk_Neville Brand and Broderick Crawford in The MobThe Mob, 1951

“I’d fit into your gang perfectly. I could maim and disfigure people for you, and shoot up the ones you don’t like.” Broderick Crawford in The Mob (1951)

“When an impoverished character, unendowed with any appreciable virtues, succumbs to a rich man’s wife, it must be suspected that his interest is less passionate that pecuniary.” Clifton Webb in The Dark Corner (1946)

“Nothing kills me. I’ll die in Stockholm like my great-grandfather, age 93. I’m not scared of anyone. Including you.” John Hoyt in The Big Combo (1955)

“Listen, I got a bullet in my gut and a fire in my brain. It wouldn’t take much for me to let you have it right now.” Dick Powell in Johnny O’Clock (1947)

CMH_NoirTalk_Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles in The Third ManThe Third Man, 1949

“I’m only a little fool. I’m an amateur at it. You’re a professional.” Joseph Cotten in The Third Man (1949)

“Matrimony is a state I don’t recognize. It’s not love – it’s pots and pans and a conversational fistfight every Saturday night, with a paycheck as the purse.” Howard Duff in Shakedown (1950)

“My old man always said, ‘Liquor doesn’t drown your troubles – just teaches ‘em how to swim.’” Gene Lockhart in Red Light (1949)

“The biggest mistake I made before was shooting for peanuts. Five years have taught me one thing: any time you take a chance, you better be sure the rewards are worth the risk, ‘cause they can put you away just as fast for a ten dollar heist as they can for a million dollar job.” Sterling Hayden in The Killing (1956)

CMH_NoirTalk_Richard Conte in New York ConfidentialNew York Confidential, 1955

“Take a look around you. See that busboy over there? He steals from the waiter. The waiter steals from the owner. And the owner gyps the government. Nobody’s handing out any free lunches in the world.” Richard Conte in New York Confidential (1955)

“All you smart guys are prize suckers and I don’t have to be too bright to trip you up. All I have to do is watch and wait. Sometimes not too long, either.” Regis Toomey in Cry Danger (1951)

“It’s a rich world. It hates to give. You gotta take. Somewhere out there, someone owes you something. All you gotta do is have the nerve to collect.” Paul Stewart in Edge of Doom (1950)

“You’d sell your own mother if she was worth anything.” John Garfield in The Breaking Point (1950)


– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub

Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on movies and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and the editor-in-chief of The Dark Pages, a bimonthly newsletter devoted to all things film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.
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10 Responses to Noir Nook: Noir Talk

  1. Karen, that was grand. Such smart, cynical utterances. I hope those writers clapped themselves on the back after pushing those words through their typewriters, and finding the right actors to deliver them.

    May I had a personal favourite from The Unsuspected? Althea (Audrey Totter) doesn’t care for Mildred (Joan Caulfield): “She drank too much milk and her seams were always straight.”

  2. CaitlynD says:

    The dialogue is what I love so much about classic films. One of my recent noir favorites is Brute Force, when the Doctor says to Munsey: “That’s why you’d never resign from this prison. Where else would you find so many helpless flies to stick pins into?” I always try and find ways to use great lines in my daily vocabulary 🙂 I enjoyed reading the quotes you picked and adding more films to my watchlist!

  3. David Hollingsworth says:

    Great post Karen! Obviously, one of the biggest and most important staples of the film noir is the dialogue. It can be snappy, twisty, or subtle. As long as it makes sense and fits the story of any movie.

    • Karen says:

      Thank you, David! You’re so right about the dialogue. There’s nothing like the language of noir — those screenwriters really knew their way around a line!

  4. Gloria Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for a fun post! Especially thanks for reminding us all of LADY FROM SHANGHAI. I can see Welles’ face in my mind, looking slightly dumb and puzzled but continuing to walk forward to his doom with open eyes. Many characters in noir seem to volunteer for their fates but few other characters present with the self-awareness of Welles’ Michael O’Hara.

    • Karen says:

      I love your comments, Gloria (I’m sorry I missed this one until now)! You are so right about Michael O’Hara — he knew what he was walking in from second one, yet he kept right on stepping.

  5. I love these! That’s the thing about film noir, especially the classics – the writing was impeccable. One of my fave lines is from “The Naked Kiss” where Constance Tower’s Kelly talks about changing from her old life, “I saw a broken down piece of machinery. Nothing but the buck, the bed and the bottle for the rest of my life. That’s what I saw.”

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