Friday, September 2, 2011

Shift into freewheeling and let them follow

During our recent trip, we passed the time by listening to Radio Classics on XM radio. Of all that we listened to - some Phil Harris and Alice Faye, lots of Dick Powell playing various gumshoes, Bob Hope and Baby Snooks, we heard the best episode of Pat Novak for Hire featuring Jack Webb of Dragnet fame. The writing was pulp fantastic. Over the top is what the Radio Classics host Greg Bell called it. He's right.

Here are fragments of dialogue from the episode Rita Malloy from April 23, 1949. (You can listen to the full episode and find more info about the program here.)

It sneaks up and paws you like a wet ghost...
I'm not crazy about waking up with strangers sitting on my bed especially if they got baritone voices....
I don't want chatter and cocktails, now give me those keys....
He didn't even give me time to pick a dream....
I stretched out on the floor, dead as a Philadelphia night club....
If you get any good answers, save a couple for me...
I'd have to do something fast. I had about as much a chance as a pound of liver at a cat show....

Lots of fog tonight, huh, Joe?
You're walkin' on it....

Shift into freewheeling and let them follow.........

He's a good man except he thinks it's a waste of the taxpayers' money to put alcohol in torpedoes.

It was the perfect spot for a missionary. The lobby looked like the first act of Rain. There was a pinball machine in one corner, a couple of last year's girls in this year's slacks, and a bleary-eyed little night clerk. He looked like a well-groomed laundry bag. He gave us the fisheye as we started up the stairs....

I view you as my penance, Patsy. The sackcloth for a misspent life.

You'll always be in trouble because you're a patsy and you're dangerous because you move in the twilight
zone between good and evil without any predisposition toward either one.

I think you'd pick the lock to the gates of Heaven....

It was a pretty room if you like dead women on your rugs....

This all ties together since I've been immersed in researching wartime circa 1944 and I've recently developed a thing for listening to music from that era, as well. When I run on the elliptical, I watch episodes of Homefront on Youtube.

 Technology the time machine.

As I listened to these shows, I was listening for the rhythm of the words, the patter, the high points and pauses. For example, I noticed that David Letterman's monologue rhythm is very similar to that of Bob Hope, especially back when he was doing the USO stage shows. Hope, not Letterman. He's not quite that old yet.

Have your eyes glazed over like mine do when MathMan talks Calculus at me? I swear, I wonder sometimes if I couldn't be found on the autism spectrum in the high functioning segment - Asperger's or such because when I'm in, I'm all in. Until the next bright and shiny thing catches my fancy.

Ooooooor, perhaps as one of the bone idle unemployed, I have just a little too much time on my hands. Either way, I quite like escaping into the past where the future looked brighter and you didn't have to fuss with dropped cell phone calls when you're on the phone with AT&T's customer service. I mean, we're in two wars and a chick can't even find a factory job riveting shit.

I know, I know, I'm romanticizing the past, times were tough for a lot of people, you brushed your teeth with powder, tampons weren't mainstream and the internet wasn't even a gleam in the government's eye. I'd never survive without Google for chissakes. Please don't harsh my nostalgia buzz, okay? See this straw? I'm grasping it pretty hard. So.

I've done it again. Completely sidetracked. Back to what I meant to write about. The things that make the dialogue of The Pat Novak show pop are the similes and the wicked turns of phrases that, if you don't listen carefully, you might miss. Sure it's dated and corny, but what's not to love about it? It makes me want to start calling people Bub and Sister and prefacing my declarative sentences with "Listen, see......"

What kinds of dialogue do you like? What are your favorite similes, metaphors, phrases? What movie lines or sentences from novels do you repeat? What's your favorite era?


  1. I want to be in 1930s LA in a Raymond Chandler novel.

  2. Those lines were incredibly mind blowing. If only people wrote such clever things today.

    And Homefront? Was one of my favorite TV shows, I was sad when they cancelled it.

  3. Those lines are fabulous. I've just discovered Mad Men (better late than never) and I'm digging the dialogue. Here's Don Draper, avoiding self-revelation in season one: "Think of me as Moses. Just a baby in a basket."

  4. What kinds of dialogue do you like? I don't.

    What are your favorite similes, metaphors, phrases? I don't smile, don't pop pills & my ray gun is on the fritz.

    What movie lines or sentences from novels do you repeat? Bloody hell.

    What's your favorite era? The one that gets those tough stains out.

  5. I grew up listening to that kind of stuff (well, not Pat Novak, because that was literally before I was born) and I occasionally find myself thinking in that style.

    We could stand more wisecracking, to tell you the truth.

  6. a couple of last year's girls in this year's slacks


    I heard the rest of your post in a similar rhythm. Very cool.

  7. Technology IS a time machine. Completely right.

    Today in the class I teach, we discussed Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" (one of my all-time favorite stories to teach, truly).

    BRILLIANT dialogue in that story. I particularly love the use of the word "fine."

  8. I haven't talked to anyone who has listened to Phil Harris,(other than someone my mother's age) check out his "Thats What I Like About The South" he was a cool cat. I love him.

  9. This is a great post, Lisa. This is the kind of writing of yours that I adore.

  10. Oooh, I loved this! And, yes, I am seeking the time tunnel to take me back to more "civilized" times as well. I can relate...

    BTW, I have a book on my shelf that I think you'd like. It's called "Straight from the Fridge, Dad" by Max Decharne and it's an entire collection of noir dialogue and expressions and their origins. I love flipping through it - I only wish I could memorize them all!

    Lovely post! Have a great three-day weekend!




And then you say....

(Comments submitted four or more days after a post is published won't appear immediately. They go into comment moderation to cut down on spam.)