I'm sitting in my office polishing my gat when this dame slinks through the door and plants her caboose on my desk. Says she's trying to find out what happened to film noir. Describes it as about 50 years old, black-and-white, with a thing for doomed gumshoes and blond bombshells. ''Sort of looks like German Expressionism,'' she purrs. ''Only gloomier, more cynical, more French.'' I nod knowingly. ''Last time I saw it was in 1958's Touch of Evil,'' I tell her. ''But word on the street is that it's coming back. A cable outfit called Showtime hired some hotshots out of Hollywood to make a six-episode half-hour noir series called Fallen Angels.'' She bats her baby blues and asks who's involved. ''Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, directors Steven Soderbergh, Phil Joanou, and Jonathan Kaplan,'' I reply. First episode airs at 10 p.m. on Aug. 1. ''As a matter of fact,'' I say, lighting her cig, ''I have some glossies of it right here in my files. Take a gander, sweet cakes. It's the stuff dreams are made of...''
1. Taken for a Ride
I'll Be Waiting stars Bruno Kirby as a hotel cop with the hots for a mysterious redhead (Marg Helgenberger). ''It's like a game of chess,'' says Helgenberger. ''He has to figure out who to protect and who to watch out for.''
2. The Big Sleep
In Dead-End for Delia, Gary Oldman stars as a big-city detective called to investigate a corpse that turns out to be his wife (Gabrielle Anwar, pictured). ''The husband spirals into a nightmare, following her trail of past lovers to discover who murdered her,'' says director Phil Joanou.
3. Necktie Party
''Noir is supposed to be so realistic you can taste it,'' says Steven Soderbergh, who directed The Quiet Room, in which Joe Mantegna and Bonnie Bedelia play corrupt cops who get their kicks beating up hookers. ''You're supposed to feel you could bump into any of these characters downtown though you definitely wouldn't want to.''
Alan Rickman and Laura Dern star in Murder, Obliquely, in which a woman falls for a bachelor smoothy suspected of murder. ''This is a stylized, moody story about obsessive love,'' says series producer William Horberg.
5. Copping a Smoke
Gary Oldman lights up for a shadowy scene in Dead-End for Delia. ''It's sort of an Oedipal detective story,'' says producer Horberg. ''The cop is investigating himself more than anything else. It's very bleak. It's urban noir, with lots of rain-slicked streets and long shadows.''
6. Shady Lady
''This was my first truly noir project,'' says Bonnie Bedelia, shot during a quiet moment on The Quiet Room, ''and I must say it was hard not to slip into a Barbara Stanwyck impersonation. The dialogue was so snappy and minimalistic.'' Another challenge: ''It's difficult to look attractive in noir lighting,'' she says. ''It throws circles under your eyes.''
A department-store Santa calls it a night in this supremely noiresque moment from The Quiet Room. ''Ask 10 people what noir is and you'll get 10 different answers,'' says Joe Mantegna. ''To me it's more surrealistic than realistic. Characters always have ironic responses, and even the grittiest frames look perfect.''
8. Hair-Trigger Hanks
Tom Hanks plays a bad guy in I'll Be Waiting, his third directorial effort (he did an episode of ABC's A League of Their Own earlier this year). ''He's gone from being in Big the movie to playing Mister Big,'' says Horberg.