"She walked through my door like a tigress walks into a Burmese orphanage — strawberryblonde and legs for hours. No dame her age could afford a coat like that, and the kinda makeup she had on gave me a good idea how she got it. She had bad news written on her like October of '29."
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. Creative metaphors and similes are the alpha and omega of a good Private Eye Monologue, in stark contrast to the simplicity of the vocabulary. 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.
When done well it is always a consistent narrative. Done badly, this monologue just becomes laughable amounts ofcomplaining like a spoiled emo teen.Nigh impossible to play straight these days. The tough First-Person Smartass, of course, is far from dead.
See Captain's Log for voiceover of the lead character talking out a journal or diary entry.
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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.
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..."
Stan Freberg does this in his classic recording "St. George And The Dragonet."
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.
Rorschach's journal in Watchmen is an insane version of this.
Rorschach: Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face. The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists, and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout "Save us!" And I'll look down, and whisper "No."
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."
Doctor: Guys like Johnny Seaview ain't got time to think about the dusting, lady. Not when there's a killer on every corner...
Majenta: If you're going to talk like that the whole time we're here, then I want nothing more to do with you.
In the Sailor Moon ExpandedFan 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.
Jericho: “She stalked in like a tigress in Mörmease cathouse (meow) – blue hair and legs as far as the eye could see. No dame her age could afford a dress like that, and the makeup she had one gave me a good idea how she got. She had bad news written on her like October of 2010. With that quiet hum of saxophones playing in my head, she must've been Femme Fatal – the kind vibe she was givin' off. And behind me, the rain was coming down like God had broken down crying, and the angels had joined in on it. When you're in a situation like mine, you can only express your thoughts with clever, flowery metaphors.”
Luna: “Who are you talking to?"
Jericho: “She asks, her kinda voice the kind that can make 'good morning' sound like an invitation to bed. The mare cocked a brow-”
Luna: “Seriously, who are you talking to? And it's not raining.”
- This went on for some time, with Luna getting more and more annoyed.
Stiles: Can I come over? I made you those snickerdoodles!
Derek: I hadn't heard his voice in days. Even soaked as it was in suspect intentions, it bombarded me with the same sweetness and seductive spice of those damned delicious cookies of his. It was a ploy, a trap—and I knew better than to get caught.
<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?"
"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.
Hellraiser: Inferno. While only being a police detective, Joseph has a noirish-style internal monologue while working the Engineer case. It's a recap of his personal failures as he's looking back on how he wound up in hell.
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.
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.
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.
In NCIS, when Tony reads a brief excerpt of McGee's mystery novel aloud, he gives it the full film noir treatment.
Parodied in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Big Goodbye". At the denouement, after Riker asks Data what happened in the holodeck, Data puts on an exaggerated Humphrey Bogart-esque voice and manner and begins to monologue "It was raining in the city by the bay. A hard rain. Hard enough to wash the slime —" before Picard tells him to shut up and he meekly turns back to the Ops console (while still wearing his 1940s gangster costume).
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.
Burn Notice: Michael Weston sounds like he's giving a lecture.
Married... with Children had an episode ('Al Bundy, Shoe Dick' S 06 E 11) 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. And, being Al, he also says things aloud he intended to be only in the monologues.
The TV Series of Mike Hammer was chock-full of this trope, of course.
Parodied in Community when Chang comes to think he's a detective, which causes him to take long pauses before answering questions so he can monologue to himself. At the end he and the Dean both do this simultaneously so they drown each other out. And once he gets what he wants, Chang's monologue is just his own insane laughter.
Between the Lions would have occassional noir segments narrated by Sam Spud, a potato detective. He would give cliche narrations like "she was as cool as a cucumber", only to find his client actually IS a cucumber.
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.
In the Dire Straits song "Private Investigations", Mark Knopfler does an exhausted-sounding spoken word vocal on noir themes.
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."
"I've got eight slugs in me. One's lead, and the rest are bourbon. The drink packs a wallop and I pack a revolver."
"Suddenly, a gorilla dragged me into an alley, folded me into an accordion and played a polka on my spine."
"The dame's scream hit an octave usually reserved for calling dogs, but it meant I had a case, and the sound of greenbacks slapping across my palm is music to my ears any day. After all, I'm not an opera critic. I'm a Private Eye."
It's surprising how well it's done, since the 10th Anniversary book had Waterson admit he knew nothing about the genre.
"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.
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.
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."
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.
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 games 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.
Max: [in a dream, when it is revealed to him that he's in a computer game] The truth was a burning green crack through my brain. Weapon statistics hanging in the air, glimpsed out of the corner of my eye. Endless repetition of the act of shooting, time slowing down to show off my moves. The paranoid feel of someone controlling my every step. I was in a computer game. 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.
The third game carries on this tradition in a near a fashion that is straight and grim, depending on the person this could be shocking truth or Narm worthy Wangst.
Max: [right before the finale] So I guess I’d become what they wanted me to be, a killer. Some rent-a-clown with a gun who puts holes in other bad guys. Well that’s what they had paid for, so in the end that’s what they got. Say what you want about Americans but we understand capitalism. You buy yourself a product and you get what you pay for, and these chumps had paid for some angry gringo without the sensibilities to know right from wrong. Here I was about to execute this poor bastard like some dime store angel of death and I realized they were correct, I wouldn’t know right from wrong if one of them was helping the poor and the other was banging my sister…
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?"
Parodied with detective Flint Paper in Sam & Max. While his manner of speaking is fairly normal, all of his thought processes run 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 from "They Stole Max's Brain!" also does these out loud, but nobody besides him finds them interesting.
inFAMOUS character Cole McGrath uses this in every comic-style cutscenes.
L.A. Noire being a Noir game has this at the beginning of every Patrol case.
In Kingdom of Loathing, the Penne Dreadful pasta thrall is a hard-boiled detective inhabiting a skeletal body made out of enchanted pasta who is prone to doing these sorts of monologues. You may find your opponent in combat wondering "Who is he talking to?"
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.
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.
"Into my office walked a dame with million-latinum legs and a swing to her hips that could unphase a tacheon beam. She had trouble stuck to her like stink on Klingon, but the way she set my phaser to stun, I knew I'd be taking the case..."
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.
Reddit Noir, a novelty account on reddit posts all of his comments in this style.
Played straight by Zeddicker in chapter one of No Pity for the Dead: "Women. They're all over the place. I've known my fair share, and I like dames just find. But they can be trouble. Most of them are, even the ones that don't look like it. This one looked like trouble. She was slim built, lithe, filled out her skirt like a second skin, honey-blonde hair playing over her shoulders in lazy half-curls. Eye-lashes longer fourteen to eighteen and probably left as many men devastated in their wake. Tiny mouth like you'd find on a China doll, but call this one "doll" and you'd probably find your next words muffled by your own feet."
An entire episode of Codename: Kids Next Door has Hoagie Gilligan, AKA Numbuh 2, 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. Which is appropriate for the series, seeing as most all of the episodes are either parodies of movies, or movie genres.
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 2003 version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 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 Andersons stop-motion series Dick Spanner keep up a near-constant monologue, his narration is the only comprehensible dialogue in the entire show; everyone elses 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."
"...I'm breaking out of this joint."
"He must have had help on the outside."
"...I had help on the outside."
"It looked like a good scam."
"...It's a good scam."
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. Candace: Stop with the narration and start finding my doll!
As they search, and as Phineas monologues, they interrogate their father, Lawrence, after which this happens:
Phineas: For an average Joe, he gave us an above-average clue. Our next step was clear. Lawrence: (to Candace) Who is he talking to? Candace: Ugh, don't get me started.
Spoofed in the Rugrats episode "The Case of the Malties Woodchuck" (a play off of the Maltese Falcon). Tommy does the private eye monologue, similes and metaphors included, but since he's one year old, the metaphors often get derailed into his own little segways.
Employed in the Jimmy Neutron episode One Of Us when Jimmy investigates the town's sudden transformation into permanently-happy zombies.
Animaniacs spoofed this in their parody of The Maltese Falcon. The episode opens with Yakko narrating. When we see him in his office, he's casually reading from the episode's script.
Ruby Rocket Private Detective. Ruby barely even says a word to the client, and eventually turns him away because she's too busy monologuing to listen to his problem.
While a bit short on metaphor, The Tale Of X9 episode from Samurai Jack is almost wholly done in this style to great effect.