Characters from Crime and Noir Films in David Thomson’s Suspects
In his 1985 audacious, brain-warping, acid trip of a novel, Suspects, which The Village Voice tagged as a “a dazzling work of narrative invention,” eminent film critic and well-known movie geek David Thomson assembled brief biographies of eighty five famous movie characters, everyone from saints to scoundrels, from such classic films as The Big Sleep, Citizen Kane and Sunset Boulevard, and then imagined all kinds of previously unknown links between them, covering everyone from Jakes Gittes to Travis Bickle. But the book doesn’t just imagine their lives before their films, but after.
Like, did you know that George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life (which Thomson considers noir), had a son, Harry Moseby, who grew up to be a private eye in 1975’s Night Moves?
Or that Noah Cross and Norma Desmond were lovers in the 1920s, that she and Joe Gillis had a son who grew up to be Julian Kay in American Gigolo? The narrator is not merely the author, he has a mission to carry out—a lost family link to find, a thread to pull so that nearly all these disparate characters come together to form a kind of society. Ultimately this examination on how movies affect audiences—not only shaping perceptions and memories, but in some ways coming to stand in for them—can also be read as an unsettling examination of identity and the construction of self through the medium of narratives; or simply as a fascinating take on movie fandom.
Crazy? Yes. The plot? Meh.
But if you can get your head wrapped around the premise, this is definitely the book for you. It’s fan fiction pumped up to eleven (or maybe 13-and-a-half); a weird, wonderful book for people who have seen way too many movies.
- Jake Gittes, Noah Cross & Evelyn Cross Mulwray from Chinatown (1974)
- Rick Blaine, Ilsa Lund, Victor Lazlo & Louis Renault from Casablanca (1942)
- Eileen Wade from The Long Goodbye (1973)
- Norma Desmond & Joe Gillis from Sunset Boulevard (1950)
- Laura, Mark McPherson & Waldo Lydecker from Laura (1944)
- Walter Neff, Phyllis Diedrichson and Barton Keyes from Double Indemnity (1944)
- Vivian Sternwood from The Big Sleep (1946)
- Julian Kay from American Gigolo (1980)
- Dixon Steele from In a Lonely Place (1950)
- Lola Lola from The Blue Angel (1950)
- Brigid Shaughnessy & Casper Gutman from The Maltese Falcon (1941)
- Jeff Bailey from Out of the Past (1947)
- John Klute & Bree Daniels from Klute (1971)
- Travis Bickle fromTaxi Driver (1976)
- Harry Moseby & Paula Iverson from Night Moves (1975)
- Harry Lime from The Third Man (1949)
- John Clay from The Killing (1956)
Other previously undiscovered “facts” and hot rumours:
- Julian Kay (American Gigolo) is the son of Joe Gillis and Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard
- Norma Desmond and Noah Cross (Chinatown) were once lovers.
- Cross may have also been involved in Watergate
- Ilsa from Casablanca returned to Sweden and ended up writing subtitles for Ingmar Bergman movies, before dying in the same plane crash that killed U.N. General Secretary Dag Hammarskjöld
- John Klute becomes a homeless derelict
- Lola Lola from The Blue Angel ends up running a bordello in Touch of Evil
But to end on a happier note:
- Rick and Louis from Casablanca do indeed end up having a beautiful friendship (if you know what I mean).
An added bonus is the filmography at the end, as fine a suggested viewing list as you’d want. But one question remains: I see characters from two Chandler adaptations listed, but… Where’s Marlowe? Then I realized that’s a whole other film.
Ah, the interconnectness of all things…
- “Thomson very slyly builds a narrative out of… seemingly disparate profiles, one that, on paper, reads as utterly ridiculous, but in his hands is as legitimately jaw dropping as it is deeply disturbing. To say much more would be to ruin the book’s dark spell, but suffice to say, the subject of fathers and their children is key to the secret at its center.”
— Zach Vasquez (June 2021, CrimeReads)
- Suspects (1985) | Buy this book
BY THE WAY…
- If you think this book is crazy, you ought to check out Philip Jose Farmer’s 1972 opus, Tarzan Alive, wherein he tries to trace the Lord of the Jungle’s family tree back to Sherlock Holmes, Shell Scott, Doc Savage, Nero Wolfe, Bulldog Drummond and about a million other literary heroes.