Humphrey Bogart… What can I say? He makes me want to swoon.
As such, I’m a big fan of 1940’s movies, particularly those labelled (after the fact) “Film Noir”, described on Google as:
“a style or genre of cinematographic film marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace. The term was originally applied (by a group of French critics) to American thriller or detective films made in the period 1944–54 and to the work of directors such as Orson Welles, Fritz Lang, and Billy Wilder.”
The past can always be romanticized, and for me – the 1940’s films exemplify a bygone era of style and class, when men wore fedoras and women silk stockings. It was a time when polite society dictated manners, grace, and etiquette. There were no computers or cell phones. Detectives had to call for back up from pay phones and information gathering was done the old-fashioned way – questioning people face to face.
However, lest anyone misunderstand my ‘wistful’ tone, I wouldn’t want to actually live in the 1940’s – no more than I would the 1840’s. To enjoy ‘historical’ fiction, one must temporarily put aside the reality of the times (like social injustice) in the spirit of entertainment — just like we do when attending a Renaissance Festival (let’s face it, the reality of medieval Europe was no picnic, but it sure is fun to dress up as a wench or knight, drink mead, eat turkey legs, and watch ye ‘ole jousting tournament).
It was while watching TCM movies one day… ok, gorging myself on a marathon of 1940 black & white oldies, when inspiration struck.
Months earlier, I had been invited to participate in a new writing project, in collaboration with a group of fellow writers, to write a book with “short-story” chapters that shared a common theme and set of circumstances. YET — maddeningly — my creative muse had fled the building and remained missing in action. I had only a general idea for my story, missing key details like plot line, point of view, tone, and voice.
But thanks to Humphrey Bogart, my germ of an idea sparked into flame, and within a few short days, I had a completed story. My muse had returned in full glory…
The book is about to enter its editing phase next month, so the following is subject to change. Here’s the opening scene to my “chapter”:
Retired detective Sean Malone absently sipped the seltzer brought to him by Nurse Flechette and watched the stormy procession of Ravenwood’s newest inductee from his perch beside the parlor room windows. The boorish tittering of the old ladies having their afternoon tea faded as his attention was drawn to the tallish woman marching up the Manor’s stone walkway. He maneuvered his wheel chair for a closer view, feigning nonchalance lest he betray his interest to the resident gossips, and took note of the woman’s clenched teeth, tilted chin, and stiff back. She was accompanied on one side by a long-haired woman whose pinched face looked as if she was sucking on lemons and on the other by a well-dressed man scurrying to keep pace and talking non-stop like a lawyer arguing a case.
As the troupe drew closer, Sean’s pulse quickened. This was no common resident. She wore a tailored suit that accentuated a trim figure, in the same tawny shade of her loose, shoulder length hair. The woman moved with such grace that it was like watching a gazelle in stride. But it was the sharp intelligence in her honey brown eyes that captivated him. This was a lady that could rule kingdoms. What on earth did she need an old folks home for, he wondered. True, Ravenwood was as classy a place as they came, a marvel that he found himself spending his last days in such a place, but still, she seemed much too young. In fact, she didn’t look a day over fifty. And given her vigorous parade up the flagstone steps, she looked to be in the peak of health.
“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine…”. Humphrey Bogart’s voice echoed in Sean’s memory. A warning perhaps? Or was something awakening. He felt the dull shroud of medicine bottles, patronizing nurses, and murky sunshine begin to lift, it was like a brisk autumn wind stirring layers of dust from his dormant senses. Call it professional intuition if you will, or the by-product of experience gained from a life-long career, but the street-smarts he thought long since dead were making a grand return entrance. He couldn’t deny his immediate gut response to this striking, self-possessed woman approaching the house. Sean’s lips absently sought the ghost of his time-honored cigar.
More to follow once the book is published. Suffice it to say for now, I borrowed on the Film Noir genre’s “mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace” to tell a very modern story.