Early 20th Century Pulp Fiction Quotes
Marvelous Metaphor
Twenty-one years of energy pulled forty-two years of apathy to its feet by the shoulders. Cornell Woolrich
The thought slashed into his brain and left chagrin in its wake. George Harmon Coxe
Comprehension hammered some of the cold malevolence out of his eyes.
It reaped one crop of enigmas, and left whole rows of freshly germinating riddles sprouting up behind it…
…a car whined up the hill and vanished in a whispering diminuendo…
The Saint had bluffed on an empty hand against an opponent who, he knew, held at least three aces… Leslie Charteris
What cheap trifles, what thin bubbles, words are; a thousand drifting across an idle day, spoken lightly, dropped carelessly here an there, fading away like snowflakes on water…and yet reappearing out of the void of the memory to strike with a blow like a cudgel. Eugene Thomas
He had friendly eyes and wore no hat over his straight and black hair. It might have been combed with a precision instrument and plastered down with mucilage. Robert Reeves
“…you’re trying to make a pair of deuces beat three aces.” Horace McCoy
I had spent ten dollars of my twenty expense money, and I didn’t have enough leverage anywhere to lift a dime off a cigar counter.
“If you want to call all the plays in this game, you can carry the ball yourself.” Raymond Chandler
“Listen to him chatter!…He’s been vaccinated with a phonograph needle!” Richard Sale
Setting the Scene
…he drove aimlessly around in the drizzling rain, fascinated, as always, by the shining streets and the wetness of the smell and the utter loneliness of the city. Horace McCoy
It was just that velvet hour before dusk…when the raw tints of sunset have begun to fade into an amethyst veil shot with colors, as perfume rises from an ancient garden. Eugene Thomas
The building was a huge white stucco affair, Moorish in style, with great fretted lanterns in the forecourt and huge date palms…The lobby was not quite as big as the Yankee Stadium.
Four white steps, as spotless as the souls of virgins, leading up to an applegreen, deep paneled door, painted as things used to be painted long ago, in the age of leisure. It had a brass knocker and a thumb latch above the handle and one of those bells you twisted, instead of pushing or pulling them, and it rang just on the other side of the door, rather ridiculously, if you were not used to it. Raymond Chandler
The mournful blasts of fog signals booming from the misty darkness of the Bay were as eerie as the sound of hooting owls in midnight woods. Erle Stanley Gardner
…they went into a small dark hall redolent with the mingled smells of new and ancient cooking and mildew and stale humanity.
Through the curtains came the ceaseless grind of Piccadilly traffic and a stir of sultry air tainted with petrol fumes and grime, too thick and listless to be properly termed a breeze… Leslie Charteris
They’ve [Guatemala, Mexico] got Mexican music, American movies, Scotch whisky, German delicatessens, Roman religion, and everything of their own in, and what comes out is a place you could hardly tell from Glendale, California, on a bet. James M. Cain
…the East, alluring, insolent, singing its age-old, subtle siren song in the wanderer’s willing earl, insinuating itself once again into its niche in his heart, flattering him, winning him with the vague caress of its fragrant almond-scented breath. C. S. Montanye
Curious Quips
“You’re being ridiculous.” “I was born that way…”
“Mind you, I don’t want to put any ideas into your head, although there must be lots of room for them…”
“Be careful boy,” she said. “You know I look terrible in black.” Leslie Charteris
“You’re quite a guy…What are you going to be when you grow up—a five-foot shelf?” Raymond Chandler
“I’ll have you know I’m a man of few words and practically no punctuation marks.”
“So am I [a vegetarian]. I let the cow eat the grass and wheat and corn and lettuce and then I go ahead and eat the cow.”
“I just don’t like your type.” “Well, you’re the first one that doesn’t.”
“[The D.A.] is the south end of a north-bound horse.” Robert Reeves
“You can go to hell.” “I can but I like it here better.” Frederick Nebel
“Here is where you will find the cream of the town’s night life.” “Uh, huh, Sour cream.” Eugene Thomas
“You look like the devil.” “Sure, that’s because I’ve been working for him so long.”
“You’ve either said too much, Kid, or not enough.” W. T. Ballard
Deadly Dames
She was having breakfast—bromo-seltzer and a cigarette—and if he called me Angel Face, I wonder what he called her. Helen of Troy would have been homely.
She put her foot down, both literally and metaphorically. A little puff of dust rose from the ground at the impact. Cornell Woolrich
Her eyes were wide-set and there was thinking room between them. Their color was lapis-lazuli blue and the color of her hair was dusky red, like a fire under control but still dangerous.
The door opened and a tall blonde dressed better than the Duchess of Windsor strolled in. Raymond Chandler
She had on more than just a paint job. She was practically enameled. Roger Torrey
It wasn’t so much the ruse—it was its simplicity that stung him…The woman didn’t play square, and he wound himself up like a player rushing in to protest a raw decision.
She wore a violent tangerine negligee. Her unconfined curves roamed about at will as she moved. Robert Reeves
She didn't shake hands, but she gave me her hand just exactly as though she were turning over a part of her body to me.
“Peroxide blonde…Easy on the eyes, and hard on the ears.”
She was standing close to him now, and, as she raised her eyes, he felt drawn as toward some powerful magnet. It was as though he had been staring into an inky pool which had suddenly widened and risen toward him. Erle Stanley Gardner
“We modern girls have nerves of iron, you know, and we only swoon when we think a man needs a little encouragement.” Leslie Charteris
A woman’s eyes, the touch of her hand, the low music of her laugh and the red lure of her lips were sufficient to unlock a thousand closed doors.
She had the face of a wondering child, the smile, fixed and stiff, of a bisque doll, the twinkling feet of a wood nymph. C. S. Montanye
“She is. Anybody’s home girl. Look at the ones she’s wrecked.” W. T. Ballard
…the eyes were smokey, as though to give warning of smoldering, hidden fires. George Harmon Coxe
She had one of those faces that belonged in a chorus and a body she was making more effort to show than to conceal.
She leaned over and kissed me, a soft, light kiss that left my mouth tingling with the thought of what lay behind this girl who could be so completely lovable and so completely deadly. Mickey Spillane
Hysterical Hyperbole
“I like men who can count to nine without using their fingers.” W. T. Ballard
And he was the best shadow since Mary’s little lamb fell foul of some mint sauce. Carroll John Daly
Purple became the dominant color of his complexion. Cornell Woolrich
Simon…probed a tentative fork into the section of warm rawhide crowned with a wodge of repulsive green mash which was apparently the local interpretation of Leg de Mouton under the influence of spinach. Leslie Charteris
A street like that is supposed to be tough, but from the way they talked, you would have thought it was the junior section of the Ladies’ Aid figuring out where to bunk the minister’s brother-in-law that had blown in town kind of a sudden. James M. Cain
Positively Prophetic
“…the world moves in cycles…The East was the height of its glory about twelve hundred and twenty-five…Then came Europe; now America…and after that?…The cycle repeats itself.” Eugene Thomas
…the country was full of little Hearsts and little MacFaddens beating drums and printing flags all over their papers…selling patriotism at cut-rate prices and not giving a good goddam about anything but circulation. Horace McCoy
“If a man gets drunk and kills somebody with his car, it’s your [law’s] job to put him in jail; but if he organizes the killing of several thousand people they make him an earl, and it’s your job to stop the traffic when he wants to cross the street…you can always whitewash a crook if he’s big enough because it isn’t what they call ‘in the public interest’ that he should be shown up.” Leslie Charteris
Pulp Philosophy
No man is a hero to his dentist. Cornell Woolrich
…everybody pays so much attention to living and so little to dying. Horace McCoy
That’s why a gun makes so much noise—because it’s quiet just before. Raoul Whitfield
“Never argue with a bullet.”
He decided that there was nothing in the world so devitalizing as a Sunday afternoon. Robert Reeves
…by those few words he altered the whole course of his own and her existence, for few people have the ability to recognize the linked consequences that hinge on every decision which life puts up to them to make.
“There is no profit…in a loose tongue.” Eugene Thomas
“A man who has made a god of fear is an unhappy man.” Richard Sale
Simply Cynicism
The college training. What good was it? Taught him how to be dissatisfied, taught him to like good clothes, to appreciate good books and pictures; taught him very little abut how to get these things. George Harmon Coxe
“He’d probably give you a dime—if he didn’t have a nickel with him.” Raymond Chandler
Any good swindler or politician can look straight at you; pull the friendly hand-grip while he mentally cuts your throat. Carroll John Daly
So we…wound up in this dead-end up in the San Benny mountains. It hasn’t even electric lights, but it isn’t so bad at that. You can’t quite hear the caterpillars drop.
I don’t give a rap about betting or games of chance…but I never yet chucked down four bits or a dollar on any kind of table at all without it collected everyone else’s dough like flypaper…
No amount of drink or dissipation could do this to anyone, only long illness and the foreknowledge of death. You see faces like that looking up at you from hospital cots when all hope has been abandoned—when the grave is already waiting. Cornell Woolrich
…a little park where men, believing in destiny, sit on benches to wait for it. Eugene Thomas
“The modern pace…defeats is own ends: the public demands that tomorrow’s newspapers be on the street tonight, and so misses the real morning news; that fruit be picked green and softened on the fruit stands; that the Christmas numbers of magazines be on the stands the first of November…Tell me, wouldn't you like some tree-ripened fruit for a change?” Erle Stanley Gardner
All this blood-and-fire business tonight was probably part of the graft to get the Socialists chucked out and leave honest businessmen safe to make their fortunes out of murder. Leslie Charteris
Booze Banter
I had my dinner by turning the little whiskey glass she’d handed me upside down over my mouth… Cornell Woolrich
And he may not be mixed up in this…Water may not be mixed up in Scotch…but the chances are it is. Raoul Whitfield
“He sobered up quickly.” “He’s had a lot of practice.”
She was holding a highball glass and she'd held too many of them. Roger Torrey
He wished he hadn’t had so much liquor and took another drink. Robert Reeves
It [Scotch] was smooth and you hardly noticed it going down. It didn’t take half your tonsils with it, like some of the stuff I had to drink. Raymond Chandler
…[the wine] was good; the best ever, I suppose…But I’ve got low tastes. A shot of booze would have set me up fine! I like my liquor to burn me. Carroll John Daly
“The [gas] can’s as dry as a successful bootlegger’s politics.” Leslie Charteris
Striking Simile
His head felt like a balloon—loaded with lead.
His bashed and battered fedora had once been steel-gray, but now it resembled something that might have been kicked around the street and then left hanging in a tree during the rainy season. Frederick Nebel
The door of the room hung open like a paralyzed mouth.
His humming sounded like a cow being sick.
…a canary-yellow convertible which was about as inconspicuous as a privy on the front lawn. Raymond Chandler
She lit my cigarette for me, and then her own…it was about as electric as a stalled car. James M. Cain
…a woman with a voice like a cultivated foghorn argued with a waiter. Eugene Thomas
“He was in bed and snoring like a freight train on an up-grade.”
…a period of nerve strain which made the clacking of the wall clock seem a veritable tattoo of accusation.
Various disjointed bits of information were flying around loose in his brain like the detached views which are thrown on a picture screen when the film suddenly breaks and the loose ends fly in front of the projecting lens before the mechanism is shut off.
…relaxed as a cat sprawled in the sunlight. Erle Stanley Gardner
The locomotive, coming nearer, let out another eldritch screech which might have come from the soul in torment that was being tormented conveniently close to a powerful microphone.
…located the one unanswerable loophole in the situation and strolled through it with as much room to spare as an ant going through the Arc de Triomphe.
Mr Fairweather’s chins wobbled with the working of his Adam’s apple like rolls of soft raspberry jelly.
He was beginning to feel as if all his co-ordinates of reality were giving way, as if he were wading in grotesque slow motion through a sea of thick and glutinous soup… Leslie Charteris
He strutted and swaggered and acted like an over-grown bantam rooster that was carrying too much weight around the middle. Roger Torrey
“…I don’t think we’ve got any more chance than a poop in a whirlwind—”
It was like the traffic in the Arroyo Seco after a Rose Bowl game. Horace McCoy
After a time, like a bubble rising from a still, secret depth, consciousness came back to him.
“You are as difficult to keep track of as a coin changing hands.” C. S. Montanye
I was as free from a shadow as a human skeleton in a dark room. Carroll John Daly
Musical Musings
…you can drop a stone into Beethoven, and you will never hear it strike bottom.
I had a hell of a good voice…and I had worked on it, lived for it, and let it be a part of me until it was a lot more than just something to make a living with.
He had it [guitar] tuned cockeyed, but I brought it to E, A, D, G, B, and E without snapping any of his strings. James M. Cain
The radio was a chant of pleasure, snatching the symphonic music from the air and offering us orchestra seats though we were far beyond the city, hugging the curves of the Hudson. Mickey Spillane
Anything that was as wrong…to his peculiar mind, was a perpetual irritation to him, much as a note out of tune on a piano would be a perpetual irritation to a musician. Leslie Charteris
She tried for high C and missed. Robert Reeves
He knew its [China’s] music…that blended discord and harmony. He knew its thousand smells, half fragrant, half repulsive, wholly enervating. Eugene Thomas
The early hour quiet was disturbed only by the musical tinkle of wind chimes stirred by a vagrant breeze…Desolation and desuetude accentuated by the music of tiny bells. C. S. Montanye
Tough Guy
I only found out it was a plate-glass window when I came through on the other side of it.
Frozen-face’s gangsters were angels of light and sweetness compared to a maniac like this.
Make up your mind who you wanna be—either way y’gonna sit down on a couple thousand volts. Cornell Woolrich
“If you ever want to kill an Irishman, never start beating on his skull.” Horace McCoy
“I’m all right outdoors…It’s the walls that get me.” Dashiell Hammett
There are impossibilities that are freakish and funny, and impossibilities that are freakish and unfunny; pigs with wings belong to the first kind, but men who cannot die belong to the second kind.
At other times in his life he had lain out like that, immobile as a carved outcrop of rock, combing the dark with keyed-up sense as delicate as those of any savage, when the first man whose nerves had cracked under the unearthly strain would have paid for the microscopic easing of a cramped muscle with his life. Leslie Charteris
Maybe I did have a taste for death. Maybe I liked it too much to taste anything else.
…the boys from the papers…made a straight line for the refrigerator, found it empty, but uncovered a fresh bottle of whisky that I had been saving and helped themselves. Mickey Spillane
The [bell] captain had that smirk of simulated deference which characterizes pimps, panderers and procurers the world over.
There was a chilled, numb feeling in the back of his mind, the feeling of one who has had ideals shattered, who has lost confidence in a friend, and a sense of vague, impending disaster hung over him. Erle Stanley Gardner
In Mexico, the black suit means you got plenty of education, and the black fingernails mean you got plenty of work. James M. Cain
Hardboiled Hollywood
“Fame and fortune is what I am offering you, like Joan Bennet and Hedy LaMarr—only, honest, for my money, you are better looking.”
…the early days of the industry, when the combine controlled the patents, when the independents were fighting for their chance, when actresses were not stars but were billed under their studios! W. T. Ballard
Nothing looks any more forlorn in the rain than a Hollywood palm tree.
On Vine Street I went north towards Hollywood Boulevard crossing Sunset, passing the drive-in stand where the old Paramount lot used to be, seeing young girls and boys in uniform hopping cars, and seeing too, in my mind, the ironic smiles on the faces of Wallace Reid and Vanentino and all the other old-time stars who used to work on this very spot, and who now looked down, pitying those girls and boys for working at jobs in Hollywood they might just as well be working at in Waxahachie or Evanston or Albany… Horace McCoy
“Show business is a calling in which bastardy is not a biological stigma but a business asset.” Robert Reeves
“…proof of the old axiom…That there lives no man with soul so dead, who hasn’t tried to write a picture scenario.”
Eyes which had thrilled millions of picture fans stared into his with compelling power. Erle Stanley Gardner
Sources: W. T. Ballard: A Little Different (1933), A Million-Dollar Tramp (1933), Gamblers Don’t Win (1935), Scars of Murder (1939), Lights, Action—Killer! (1942); James M. Cain: Serenade (1937); Raymond Chandler: The Bronze Door (1939), Trouble Is My Business (1939); Leslie Charteris: The Man Who Could Not Die (1931), The High Fence (1934), The Elusive Ellshaw (1934), The Case of the Frightened Innkeeper (1934), Thieve’s Picnic (1937), Prelude for War (1938); George Harmon Coxe: Murder with Pictures (1935); Carroll John Daly: The Third Murderer (1931), Murder from the East (1934); Erle Stanley Gardner: The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933), The D.A. Calls It Murder (1937), Murder Up My Sleeve (1937), The Bigger They Come (1939); Dashiell Hammett: Woman in the Dark (1933); Horace McCoy: They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1935), No Pockets in a Shroud (1937), I Should Have Stayed Home (1938); C. S. Montanye: Moons in Gold (1936); Frederick Nebel: Murder A La Carte (1933), Hell Couldn’t Stop Him (1935), The Dead Die Twice (1935); Robert Reeves: Dead and Done For (1939); Richard Sale: Not Too Narrow…Not Too Deep (1936); Mickey Spillane: One Lonely Night (1951); Eugene Thomas: Shadow of Chu-Sheng (1933), Yellow Magic (1934); Roger Torrey: 42 Days For Murder (1938); Raoul Whitfield: The Virgin Kills (1932); Cornell Woolrich: Death Sits in the Dentist’s Chair (1934), Walls That Hear You (1934), Preview of Death (1934), Murder in Wax (1935), The Body Upstairs (1935), Kiss of the Cobra (1935), Red Liberty (1935), Dark Melody of Madness (1935), The Corpse and the Kid (1935), Dead on Her Feet (1935), The Death of Me (1935), The Showboat Murders (1935), Hot Water (1935).