Private Eye Monologue
The signature narration style in Film Noir. A bored-looking, world-weary, utterly cynical Hardboiled Detective with his feet on the desk meets a Femme Fatale, while the voiceover gives us his mental play-by-play:
The Private Eye Monologue is characterized by certain pronunciation and speech patterns that make it immediately recognizable and utterly cool. The most basic rule to remember is that it is a monologue, so it is spoken (not written), preferably in a deep chain-smoker baritone. The last (or second last) word in the sentence is emphasized, to make clear where it ends. Short, choppy sentences in past tense with little conjunction (buts, howevers, and therefores) between them are preferred, and the lexicon mainly consists of short, simple words; that's why such monologues are so super quotable. Purple Prose and Big Words are taboo.
The most important aspect is thinking-in-metaphors. Metaphors and similes are the alpha and omega of a good Private Eye Monologue, which it wouldn't be without them. They demonstrate the relatively good education of the speaker without estranging him from the audience by sounding geeky. References to popular culture and politics are pure win. Mentioning the climate and the current weather is often a must. Even more impressive are religious (Judeo-Christian) symbolism and mythology, just don't overdo it. Repeating a metaphor or simile is a faux pas.
Must be black and white, with preference given to grimy offices, frosted-glass doors, half-open Venetian blinds, and a cheap and conspicuously open bottle of hooch. Bonus points for saxophone music or impractically slow ceiling fans.
Anime and Manga
- Darker than Black sees Gai Kurasawa start one of these, complete with cigarette smoking, window blinds and other private detective trappings but he gets interrupted by his Genki Girl assistant.
- The Film Noir episode of The Animatrix, Detective Story, is told entirely in this style.
- Roger Smith of the film noir-esque The Big O is a "negotiator" who often ends up investigating the cases of his clients in a manner similar to a Private Eye. He does the Private Eye Monologue frequently, especially during the first season.
"My name is Roger Smith. I perform a much-needed job here in this city of amnesia..."
- Shido from Nightwalker does this often.
- Episodes of Durarara!! are narrated by various characters and sometimes evoke this, especially the one narrated by Intrepid Reporter Shuuji Niekawa.
- Sin City, a stylistic imitation of classic film noir, made extensive use of it, and even managed to play it straight. It is responsible for the classic line, "Walk down the right back alley in Sin City, and you can find anything."
- As a result of Frank Miller and Alan Moore's influence this trope has almost become the industry standard, with internal narrative caption boxes becoming the standard over the more traditional thought bubbles.
- Much of Hellboy: Seed of Destruction is accompanied by Hellboy's internal monologue (and, in a few scenes, Abraham Sapien's, though his isn't nearly as hard-boiled). The first arc was scripted by John Byrne, but Mike Mignola himself doesn't use it.
- Deadpool attempts this in Cable & Deadpool #13. The results are... interesting.
"My name is Wilson. Wade Wilson. I'm a dick. A private dick. A detective! Never mind..."
- Regularly used in the Marvel Comics series Alias
- Occasionally used either unlabeled or as entries in the "war journal" of The Punisher.
- Ms. Tree contains a written narration in this style by the heroine.
- Milo Garrett in One Hundred Bullets.
It's about seven o'clock in the evening. Mid January. The sun nothing but a cigar cherry, as an old man's weak piss of rain gives an oily shine to Tinsletown. This morning I woke up in a hospital.
- The Simping Detective.
- Rorschach's journal in Watchmen is an insane version of this.
- Kabuki - "I feel the burning of their gaze and it keeps me warm. I hold onto it and proceed. I find myself thinking of my sensei again...and of a little girl training her body to perform beyond built in psychological taboos. I think of this as I bite off my finger."
- Android Detective Menlo Park's narration in Dean Motter's Electropolis is very heavy on the wordplay aspect.
- In the Sailor Moon Expanded Fan Verse, Magnesite lives to embody this trope. While a mid-ranking baron in the Dark Kingdom, he had his agents bring him earth video equipment so that he could watch old videos of Humphrey Bogart, to whom he bears a remarkable resemblance. He was eventually trapped in a crystal prison by the Sailor Senshi and his former subordinate Calcite, and the only way for him to pass the time for the next 800 years was to replay every Bogart movie he's ever seen. Line by line, scene by scene, from memory. After he is released and placed on parole by Neo-Queen Serenity, he seeks employment in his idol's footsteps as a seedy detective. Unfortunately, Crystal Tokyo is a utopia, which clashes with his desired dingy atmosphere. In addition, because of his prolonged confinement and means of passing the time, he constantly thinks to himself in terms of the Private Eye Monologue. Sometimes, though, in accordance with the Rule of Funny, he will accidentally monologue out loud; usually when the "dizzy dame with legs that could wrap around my waist with room to spare" standing in front of him is a Senshi looking for a reason to inflict harm.
- The Mass Effect fanfic Noir Tali Is Noir got its start as one of these from the perspective of the eponymous engineer, before being developed into an actual story.
Films -- Live-Action
- Humphrey Bogart, originator of Hardboiled Detective, used a few of these in some of his lesser-known works, for example Dead Reckoning, and in The Barefoot Contessa. The trailer for The Big Sleep had one, but the movie itself didn't.
- The Naked Gun:
<Walking through the city streets>"The attempt on Nordberg's life left me shaken and disturbed, and all the questions kept coming up over and over again, like bubbles in a case of club soda. Who was this character in the hospital? And why was he trying to kill Nordberg? And for whom? Did Ludwig lie to me? I didn't have any proof, but, somehow, I didn't entirely trust him, either. Why was the I Luv You not listed in Ludwig's records? And if it was, did he know about it? And if he didn't, who did? <Looks around to see dense jungle> And where the hell was I?"
- Steve Martin's Rigby Reardon, in Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, takes these to new heights of comic absurdity.
"Carlotta was the kind of town where they spell 'trouble' T-R-U-B-I-L, and if you try to correct them, they kill you."
- The first, movie theater version of Blade Runner came with a voice-over narration by Deckard (Harrison Ford), the main character and titular Blade Runner, who was indeed both a Private Eye and a government assassin of rogue replicants. All of Deckard's voice-overs were removed from the Director's Cut, because they had been added against Ridley Scott's wishes, due to Executive Meddling, in the hopes that the narration would provide some explanation of Deckard and his world for the audience (it didn't). Reportedly, Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford hated them, a sentiment echoed by many moviegoers and critics. According to some, Ford tried to do as bad a job with the voice-overs as possible, an accusation Ford denies.
- "The Girl Hunt" in The Band Wagon is half Private Eye Monologue, half ballet. (It should be noted here that the monologue's writer was Alan Jay Lerner.)
- Parodied in The Hebrew Hammer. Seems to be played straight early in the film, until the colors return to normal and the voice over is revealed to be actually coming from a tape player at his desk.
- The Element of Crime, a film both homaging and deconstructing Film Noir, offers an interesting variation: the whole movie is a hypnosis induced flashback, and the Private Eye Monologue actually consists of a dialogue between the detective undergoing the hypnosis and his therapist. It is also done is the present tense, instead of the past tense.
- Watchmen counts. On Friday night, a comedian died in New York. Someone knows why. Down there... somebody knows...
- The Dresden Files uses this kind of narration when it's not lapsing into novelized anime/comicbook territory. Unlike most examples, though, Harry is perfectly aware of what he's doing, and takes great pleasure in noting when it doesn't all go to spec.
- Lazlo Woodbine, from Robert Rankin's books, as a character is a parody of the Private Eye Monologue, and he only works in the first person even when he appeared in The Suburban Book of the Dead, where everything else was simple third person, and when the characters met, the story ended up mixing third person prose and first person monologue.
- The darkly playful use of simile in this trope dates back to Raymond Chandler's Marlowe novels.
- Chandler is the past master of this. His analogies are usually novel, powerful, and operate on many levels. This effect is often imitated but rarely equaled.
- Even earlier, Dashiell Hammett was using these in his "Continental Op" stories, albeit in a more matter-of-fact and less self-consciously "literary" manner than Chandler.
- Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer started out as a Marlowe knockoff, before finding his own more philosophical voice.
- Robert B. Parker, often considered the heir to Chandler, used this to great effect in his Spenser novels.
- Zoot "Marlowe," the hero of Surfing Samurai Robots and two sequels, is a Philip Marlowe Ascended Fanboy (and also a space alien Twenty Minutes Into the Future), so naturally he narrates in this style.
- Brawne Lamia, a private detective in Dan Simmon's Hyperion Cantos, has a few of these.
- Shakespeare Without the Boring Bits presents Macbeth from the point of view of Macbeth in this manner. "Call me Mac."
- John Taylor sometimes lapses into this when he's describing the Nightside or some of its more appalling neighborhoods and residents. Joanna Barrett indirectly calls him on this in Something From The Nightside, accusing him of lecturing to her rather than conversing.
- Lampshaded and averted in Kiln People by David Brin. The protagonist is a private eye who uses dittos (avatar golems you upload yourself into) with a built-in recorder and a compulsion to narrate everything that happens. But the results are precise and dry.
- The narrator in Neil Gaiman's short story "The Case of the Four-And-Twenty Blackbirds" uses this in a spot-on parody as a private eye explores the seamier side of nursery rhymes.
- Frequently parodied on Whose Line Is It Anyway
"I'm a mob hitman... They call me Jimmy the Exposition!"
- Eventually made into a full blown game, with the exposition delivered as an aside facing the audience
"I noticed that...every time he said somthing, he'd turn and face the wall for several seconds...it was kinda disturbing..."
- Spoofed on Hyperdrive, where Teal interrupts.
- Spoofed on Sabrina the Teenage Witch, where Sabrina interrupted several times.
- In NCIS, when Tony reads a brief excerpt of McGee's mystery novel aloud, he gives it the full film noir treatment.
- Both subverted and used straight in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Necessary Evil", which was done in a Film Noir style. Constable Odo is making his first Federation log entry, which consists of a long rant on the tendency of humans to accumulate useless information, ending with his one sentence report: "Everything's under control." But as Odo investigates an attempted murder which is linked to his past the log entries begin to take on the form of the more traditional narrative. (Odo, it's later revealed, is a fan of Mickey Spillane novels.)
- Magnum, P.I.: Thomas Magnum did this in just about every episode.
- And when rival PI, Luthor Gillis was in town, Luthor turned it up to 11.
- Kamen Rider Double, itself a Homage to Western detective drama, does this regularly.
- Very common on Veronica Mars, which works, given that Veronica moonlights as a private eye.
- Burn Notice: Michael Weston sounds like he's giving a lecture.
- Married With Children had an episode where Al became a private eye and they spoofed the usual monologues, especially by having him monologue while other characters are talking so that he misses important information.
- The TV Series of Mike Hammer was chock-full of this trope, of course.
- Boy Meets World parodies this in the Noir Episode.
- The Bonzo Dog Band's "Big Shot" is a parody of this.
I am the big shot. You heard me right the first time -- name of bachelor Johnny Cool. Occupation -- big shot. Occupation at the moment, just having fun...what a party that was, the drinks were loaded and so were the dolls. I poured a stiff Manhattan and then I saw...Hotsy. What a dame, a big boundiful babe in the region of 38-44-48. ...One hell of a region. She had the hottest lips since Hiroshima and I had to stand back for fear of being burnt. "Whisky wow-wow," I breathed -- she was dressed as Buffo the Bear. In that kind of outfit, she could get rolled at night...(music stops) ...and I don't mean at a craps table.
- Comedy artist Kip Addotta did a piece called "The Frolic Room" that was allegedly a parody of this, with the twist that the Femme Fatale was a lesbian looking for her lover. Unfortunately, Addotta tends to be rather unfunny, so the trope was played more or less straight, making it more awkward than amusing to listen to.
- Parodied by Primus in "Tommy the Cat" (it could also be a First-Person Smartass... hard to tell). They even got Tom Waits to do the spoken word part.
- The Big Heat by Stan Ridgway has elements of this.
- Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes delivers dead-on parodies of the Private Eye Monologue as Tracer Bullet, one of his alter egos.
"I keep two magnums in my desk. One's a gun and I keep it loaded. The other's a bottle and it keeps me loaded. I'm Tracer Bullet. I'm a professional snoop."
- It's surprising how well it's done, since the 10th Anniversary book had Waterson admit he knew nothing about the genre.
- The "Guy Noir: Private Eye" sketches on A Prairie Home Companion are a spoof of this.
"She was tall and long-legged and her blonde hair hung down sort of like what Beethoven had in mind when he wrote the Moonlight sonata. She wore a knit sweater and jeans so tight it looked as if she'd been poured into them and forgot to say When. When she moved, she seemed to undulate under her clothes in ways that took a man's mind off the state of the economy."
- Black Jack Justice has an interesting variation: there are two main character PIs, and they both have this type of monologue. Occasionally parodied by having the two begin arguing through monologues.
- Nick Danger: Third Eye.
Nick Danger: "That reminded me: how had she gotten herself involved with that slimy weasel Rococo? and... how do I make my voice do this?"
- The Doctor Who audio dramas (as well as several of the books and comics, but never the series) have featured a companion of the 6th Doctor named Frobisher. He's a shapeshifter private eye who prefers to spend his time in the shape of a penguin. The audio drama "The Maltese Penguin" pretty much is full of monologues, many of which are entirely inaccurate.
Frobisher (narrating): 'I dived out of sight into an alleyway gracefully. [sound of trash cans crashing and a cat yowling]
- Also played straight with the Philip Marlowe radio series, naturally—at least, the excellent version with Gerald Mohr.
- Lovingly parodied in the ZBS Foundation's Ruby 1: The Adventures of a Galactic Gumshoe series:
Ruby (narrating): ". . . Who really wanted him dead? . . . Yeah, the Author. Authors--they create characters just so they can blow them away. Writing is a dirty business."
- The first episode of The Burkiss Way finishes with a sketch spoofing this:
Harry Nelson: "My name is Harry Nelson, private investigator. I operate on the East Side of Manhattan, where private eyes keep their eyes out for loose women, and private dicks keep getting arrested. The story you're about to hear is true, only the facts have been changed to make it sound better. It was a dismal, thick kind of evening in late November. I was in my office, thinking about no naked girl in particular. Outside, the darkened city was all quiet, just the occasional song and dance number from a jerk splashing about in rain puddles. The door opened, and in walked a dame. She was a redhead, with blonde hair."
Recorded and Stand Up Comedy
- Parodied by the Capitol Steps in the character of Hugh Jim Bissell.
- One of the GURPS Magic Items supplements has an item called "The Black Fedora". Wearing it increases your abilities of deductive reasoning, but also makes you want to put on a trenchcoat and monologue (ie: about gams and their inability to quit), and makes you incapable of using words like "money" or "woman", replacing them with terms such as "dough" and "dame".
- Back when Eberron was a new setting, one of the threads on the official forums discussed running a noir campaign in it. Naturally, it quickly developed into snippets of a half-orc private detective in Sharn following this trope.
- Played straight in the Film Noir Show Within a Show in the musical City of Angels.
- Parodied in Eric Overmyer's In a Pig's Valise.
- The Complete History of America (abridged) has an extended Film Noir pastiche, containing all the essential elements: trenchcoat, fedora, jazz music, assassinations, motorcycles, Lucy Ricardo, Ho Chi Minh's daughter, a puppet Ronald Reagan... In short, it's a parody, like everything else in the show.
- Played straight in both installments of the Max Payne series. In fact, the entire story is provided with a voice-over by the titular character (who has every right to be more than a little grumpy).
- Also parodied in the first game as Max, while in a drug-induced dream, receives a phone-call from himself, where the other him is firing off an endless line of weird metaphors. Max, thinking it is load of gibberish, dismisses it as a prank call, but can't help having a weird sense of deja vu, thinking the caller sounded familiar.
Max: [in a dream, when it is revealed to him that he's in a graphic novel] The truth split my skull open, a glaring green light washing the lies away. All of my past was just fragmented still shots, words hanging in the air like balloons. I was in a graphic novel. Funny as Hell, it was the most horrible thing I could think of.
- In Max Payne 2, Max frequently comes across televisions displaying Dick Justice, a program which openly parodies this trope, and Max's inner monologue itself.
- The fact that the movie didn't have this was a strike against it.
- If some of the trailers are any indication, the third game will carry on this tradition.
- Used and parodied in the video game Discworld Noir, with the usual Discworld insistence that metaphors have to be precise.
Mankin: "Say, I do like your 'ard-boiled dialogue. 'Ow long d'you boil it?"
- Played straight in Full Throttle, which is especially impressive seeing how the protagonist is a outlaw biker gang leader.
- Both played straight and parodied in the Tex Murphy games.
- Used in Metal Gear: "The Hudson river. Two years ago..."
- No voice work, but Hotel Dusk: Room 215 does this stylistically, especially in the post-chapter summaries. The main character's a former NYPD looking for a friend who apparently betrayed him.
- The 1997 Adventure Game based on Blade Runner had its fair share of this; appropriate, considering the game's theme.
- Parodied with detective Flint Paper in Sam and Max. While his manner of speaking is fairly normal, all of his throught processes runs entirely on these. And in "The City That Dares not Sleep" we get to hear Max attempting to do one, when Sam finds his Flint Paper fanfic, full of Stylistic Suck. Noir Sam also does these out loud, but nobody besides him finds them interesting.
- In Famous character Cole McGrath uses this in every comic-style cutscenes.
- L.A. Noire being a Noir game has this at the beginning of every case.
- In the Sluggy Freelance story arc "Phoenix Rising," reporter Nash Straw starts doing one of these after his Face Heel Turn.
- Featured in this strip of The Non-Adventures of Wonderella, as part of the Sin City parody.
- Despite the name, the MS Paint Adventures series Problem Sleuth mostly averts this trope until right at the end, when they become actual private eyes in the real world.
- Technically, they were already private eyes in the real world, and there are hints and splashes of evidence of such scattered throughout the earlier parts of the epic (references to doing things in a hardboiled way, for example). But since the problem that kicks off the plot is the seemingly-simple request to leave your office, you never really get to do your hardboiled monologging because of all the crazy puzzle shit.
- Jip does this in The Squeeze, a film noir parody strip from The Life of Nob T. Mouse.
- Gabriel narrates the fourth chapter of Evil Diva like this. He appears to be writing a film noir novel based on the events happening around him (then again, maybe he just writes his diary entries in the hard-boiled detective voice). It's not spoken dialogue, but it's as close as Gabe can come.
- Pibgorn: the guy in the trenchcoat.
- Loading Ready Run's skit "30 Minutes or Less" shows the gritty world of pizza delivery through this method.
- The series There Will Be Brawl is set in a gritty film-noir-ish version of the Mushroom Kingdom, so it's only natural that Luigi (the protagonist) narrates much of the story in this fashion. It's played completely straight though.
- Ruby Rocket, Private Detective parodies this trope, with the titular detective getting so tangled up in her monologue's bizarre metaphors that she can't hear her potential clients speak.
- Mercilessly parodied in Cracked.com's A Detective Yarn So Clever it Makes Angela Lansbury Look Like a God Damn Mongoloid.
- Parodied in Stupid Mario Brothers with Max Payne saying his out loud which makes him look weird to everyone else.
- 5-Second Films: The Big Drip.
- An entire episode of Codename: Kids Next Door has Hoagie playing the part of a grade school Private Eye with an office in the janitor's closet. Not only does he use the PI dialogue, the entire episode is a parody of the film noir genre with school hallways becoming fog-shrouded streets, the hallway monitor acting like a hard-nosed police detective, and everyone using bad 30's slang.
- The Count Duckula episode "All In A Fog" had the Count playing at being a film noir private eye, and a Running Gag involving other characters asking him how he did the Private Eye Monologue without moving his lips.
- A similar joke occurs in the Bonkers episode "Frame that Toon", which also uses the PI dialogue. At the end, it's revealed that Bonkers isn't doing the narrating, a doppelganger is.
- The Garfield: Babes and Bullets special has Garfield doing this as detective Sam Spayed.
- Batman the Brave And The Bold does this often—rather appropriate, with its regular dropping of the phrase "World's Greatest Detective".
- Superman does one in Superman: The Animated Series, in the episode "The Late Mr. Kent".
- "The Big Claim Up" from Captain Planet has Mat-Ti imagining himself as a private eye doing this.
- Tom and Jerry: Jerry's narration in "Blue Cat Blues" is clearly based off this.
- Spoofed in a Pinky and The Brain episode parodying Film Noir: Brain would do a Spock Speak monologue, and Pinky would suggest the standard Private Eye Monologue alternative.
Brain: It couldn't fail. But then... she walked back into my life. Billie -- a comely female specimen of consummate genetic design.
- Sylvester is this in Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries.
- The 2003 version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003 ranges this in the beginning of each episode from the turtles to their enemies like Shredder ("Tales of Leo" and "Exodus Part 2"), Hun ("Hun on the Run"), and Bishop ("Worlds Collide Part 3", "Aliens Among Us", and "Outbreak"). Seasons 6 and 7 don't apply this. This is a holdover from the comics, which used this trope as a parody of Frank Miller's writing.
- Not only does the titular Bogart/Marlowe-style robotic PI in Gerry Anderson's stop-motion series Dick Spanner, P.I. keep up a near-constant monologue, his narration is the only comprehensible dialogue in the entire show; everyone else's lines consist of a mixture of mumbling, blah blah blahs and the odd proper sentence. The only other character who gets real dialogue is a prisoner who keeps getting pre-empted by Spanners narration anyway.
"He told me he was planning to break out of this joint."
- In the episode "Finding Mary McGuffin", when Phineas and Ferb become detectives for the day. Phineas monologues out loud, much to Candace's annoyance.
Phineas: The sun beat down on the city like a hammer, a relentless hot beating hammer hammering down like a big metaphor that was... hot, for some reason.