Friday, October 9, 2015

The criminal subjunctive

The Lineup (dir. Don Siegel, 1958) is a fine bit of black-and-white filmmaking, a police procedural (not noir, no matter what the DVD claims) in which two detectives pursue two criminals who pursue three travelers who have unwittingly brought heroin-filled keepsakes back to the States. With San Francisco scenery, a chase on an unfinished freeway, and a terrific script by Stirling Silliphant, who would soon create the television series Naked City and Route 66 .

Here, our criminals, Dancer (Eli Wallach) and Julian (Robert Keith), discuss a point of grammar on their way to work.

I wondered if this scene, complete with a “little book,” might be a nod to The Elements of Style. But no, I suppose not. The film was released in June 1958. The Elements of Style was published in April 1959. Grammar and usage as the keys to self-improvement have a long history in American culture. Sherwin Cody, anyone?

My amusing (I hope) explanation of “if I was” and “if I were” is one of the most popular posts on Orange Crate Art. It’s nice to know that speakers and writers want to get it right.

[Is it my imagination, or does Julian strongly resemble Walter White of Breaking Bad ?]

comments: 1

Frex said...

That's adorable!