I always want murder to be a little bit funny.
Not real murder, of course. I’m talking fictional murder, the kind that sells millions of books and makes huge box office every year.
We all know that crime in fiction and movies is a construct. No matter how often reviewers call a novel ‘gritty and realistic’, you know it’s actually not. If a work of the imagination really was true to life, it would be like watching grass grow. Most police work is by the book. There are very few shoot-outs and even serial killers are not that common, or we wouldn’t be able to go out at night for a pizza.
Most crime fans know this and accept the sleight of hand. After all, Inspector Morse makes Oxford looks like the backstreets of Tijuana on a bad day and no one seems to mind.
The crime novels I love just aren’t too grim, and the detectives aren’t all cynical heavy-drinking loners. In my experience, a sense of humour is common to most emergency personnel. Admittedly, the humour can be quite black, but it’s a far more common way of coping with death and mutilation than whisky and depression.
The classic thrillers and crime movies like Fargo and Snatch show that the dark stuff works so well when side by side with humour.
Here’s my 14 favourite crime movie lines:
‘A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.’
Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) had all the best lines in The Silence of the Lambs.
‘They all have husbands and wives and children and houses and dogs, and, you know, they’ve all made themselves a part of something and they can talk about what they do. What am I gonna say? “I killed the President of Paraguay with a fork. How’ve you been?” ‘
Martin Q. Blank (John Cusack) talking to his psychiatrist about going to his high school reunion in Grosse Pointe Blank
Brigid: I haven’t lived a good life. I’ve been bad, worse than you could know.
Sam: That’s good, because if you actually were as innocent as you pretend to be, we’d never get anywhere.”
Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) and Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) in The Maltese Falcon
‘If you take away the horror of the scene, take away the tragedy of the death, take away all the moral and ethical implications that have been drilled into your head since grade one, do you know what you’re left with? A 105-pound problem that needs to be moved from point A to point B.’
Robert Boyd (Christian Slater) in Very Bad Things
Charley: Do I ice her? Do I marry her? Which one of these?
Maerose: Marry her, Charley. Just because she’s a thief and a hitter doesn’t mean she’s not a good woman in all the other departments.
Charley Partanna and MaeRose Prizzi (Anjelica Huston) in Prizzi’s Honour
Perry: How about you, Harry, did your father love you?
Harry: Ah, sometimes, like when I dressed up like a bottle. How about yours?
Perry: Well, he used to beat me in Morse code, so it’s possible, but he never actually said the words.
Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) and Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jnr) in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Hans: As Gandhi said…’An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind’. I believe that wholeheartedly.
Bill: No it doesn’t. There’ll be one guy left with one eye. How’s the last blind guy going to take out the eye of the last guy whose still got one eye left? All that guy has to do is run away and hide behind a bush.
Hans Kieslowski (Christopher Walken) and Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell) in Seven Psychopaths
‘You know my feelings. Every day is a gift. It’s just, does it have to be a pair of socks?’
Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) in The Sopranos
Cliff: “What made you join the force, Bruce?”
Bruce: “Police oppression, brother.”
Cliff: “And you wanted to stamp it out from the inside?”
Bruce: “No, I wanted to be a part of it.”
Clifford Blades (Eddie Marsan) and Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) in Filth
Mortimer: You mean you knew what you’d done and you didn’t want the Reverend Harper to see the body?
Abby: Not at tea. That wouldn’t have been very nice.
Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) finds out his Aunt Abby (Josephine Hull) is a murderer in Arsenic and Old Lace
Ida: Are you alone?
Gittes: Isn’t everybody?
JJ Gittes (Jack Nicholson) and Ida Sessions (Diane Ladd) in Chinatown
Postal worker: This is highly irregular.
Lorne Malvo: No, highly irregular is the time I found a human foot in a toaster oven. This is just odd.
David LeReaney and the chilling Billy Bob Thornton in Fargo: The Rooster Prince
Carmen: You’re not very tall are you?
Marlowe: Well, I, uh, I try to be.
Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) and Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers) in The Big Sleep
And finally, a classic moment from Snatch, when Avi (Dennis Farina) thinks the dog has eaten the missing diamond.
Avi: Look in the dog.
Bullet Tooth Tony: What you mean, ‘Look in the dog’?
Avi: I mean, open him up.
Bullet Tooth Tony: It’s not a tin of baked beans! What do you mean ‘open him up’?
Avi: You know what I mean.
Bullet Tooth Tony: [Appalled] That’s a bit strong, innit?
Luckily, the dog manages to escape. Because … well, otherwise, it just wouldn’t be funny. Do whatever you like to the rest of the cast, but rule #1, you leave the dogs alone.