Monday, 27 June 2005
The best movie lines, and then some
By Joseph Planta
VANCOUVER - Last week, the American Film Institute revealed its list of the 100 greatest movie lines. Lists of this sort always seems to created much chatter amongst movie buffs, as well as talking heads on television and radio looking for good discussion or debate fodder. As expected, there's been much hand wringing about the selections made, and the placement of most.
Is "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn," from Gone with the Wind, the most memorable? It's interesting that it came from a literary work, yet other literary works like A Streetcar Named Desire didn't place in the top 25, and something memorable from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? didn't make it. Ditto anything from Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. I'd have expected that oft quoted, "whenever there's a fight so hungry people can't eat, I'll be there," would have made the list.
Surprising in its omission was anything from the following actors, Cary Grant, James Stewart, and John Wayne. There are three Grant quotes in the final nominees list of 400 quotes that were eventually ranked to one hundred, they were from Arsenic and Old Lace, Gunga Din, and Bringing Up Baby. Despite quotes culled from Harvey, It's A Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Philadelphia Story, James Stewart is not represented in the 100 most quoted movie lines. I'd have thunk even one line from It's A Wonderful Life would have made it, you know that one that the kid says at the end of the picture about an angel getting its wings every time a bell rings. Alas not. That Christmas classic is shut out, just like John Wayne.
James Cagney is represented on the list, but what he says has nothing to do with dirty rats or anything like that. His "My mother thanks you. My father thanks you. My sister thanks you. And I thank you," line from Yankee Doodle Dandy made number 97, as did, "Made it, Ma! Top of the World!" from White Heat at number 18. It turns out what he really said was, "That dirty, double-crossin' rat!" which is from the 1931 picture Blonde Crazy. There's also "Come out and take it, you dirty, yellow-bellied rat, or I'll give it to you through the door!" from the 1932 film, Taxi! He never said, 'you dirty rat,' which is legend akin to Bogart saying, 'play it again, Sam,' in Casablanca, which he actually never did. Ingrid Bergman's character said it, and in fact, she said, "Play it Sam. Play, 'As Time Goes By,'" which made number 28 on the list.
With all the palaver about the revelation as to the identity of Deep Throat the last month or so, it's interesting to note that, "Follow the money," from the movie All the President's Men, never made the list. When it was revealed that Deep Throat was in fact Mark Felt, William Goldman, the screenwriter who adapted the Woodward and Bernstein book for the movies, made it known that it was he who came up with, 'follow the money,' as Felt never uttered it in any of his conversations with Bob Woodward. Nonetheless, I'd have thought it to be a memorable movie line, certainly more memorable than "You had me at, 'hello," from Jerry Maguire, which made the list at number 52. Higher than "Hasta la vista, baby" (number 76), or "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me. Aren't you?" (number 63).
The inclusion of a line from Jerry Maguire seems to me a bit of a stretch. Not, "Show me the money!" of course, which quickly became part of the vernacular. Another critic has decried the placement of some of the quotes as skewing on the part of the program's producers to include a little something for younger viewers. If so, then why wasn't, "First rule of Fight Club is-you do not talk about Fight Club," from Fight Club not included?
Other notable omissions, include that scene from Five Easy Pieces, where Nicholson tells the waitress he wants chicken, served between her knees; as well as "I'm Spartacus," from Spartacus. Peter Sellers makes the list for Dr. Strangelove, but he doesn't for his immortal, "I like to watch," from Being There.
Some more notable actors missing include Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and Elizabeth Taylor. Ernest Lehman, one of the more prominent screenwriters of the last half of the 20th century isn't in the top 100. There were a few from The Godfather films, but my favourite, and simply because it's used a lot on The Sopranos, is Al Pacino's, "Just when I thought I was out, the pull me back in," from the third Godfather picture.
The only real life person to make the list is Gary Cooper's portrayal of Lou Gehrig in The Pride of the Yankees. I'm surprised nothing from Patton was used, despite George C. Scott's brilliant performance.
The King of Comedy, Scorsese's magnificent dark comedy, is not on the list, though it's arguable that De Niro's "Better to be king for a night, than schmuck for life," line could warrant inclusion. Also, if social recognition was a barometer, then "It's good to be king!" from Mel Brooks's History of the World: Part I, could have made it, as could have, "Luke, I am your father," from The Empire Strikes Back. Film aficionados will probably decry the exclusion of the "Suppose. . ." sequence from Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurry in Double Indemnity.
It's another worthwhile exercise from the American Film Institute. They've been doing these lists for eight years now. What's next? The one hundred best meals eaten by movie actors on film? The one hundred greatest movie hairdos? Of course, they'll never do the 100 worst movies, or the most overrated actors, or the one hundred best movie flubs, because they'll leave that of E! or some other less prestigious outfit to pick up. After all, it is the American Film Institute. You wonder though, why they do it, and you realise that lists like these are meaningless, except for the express motive for water cooler discussion and debate the following morning.
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