04 June 2016

Crime (and Other) Scenes

A few nights ago I was sitting around with some fellow writers, and we started talking about our favorite movie moments. (It's surprising, sometimes, how seldom we talk about writing.) As it turned out, half the folks in our little group had never watched most of the scenes I described and the other half tended not to agree with me, but it was fun anyway.

As a result of that discussion, I have compiled some of my favorite and most memorable movie scenes, categorized to make a long list seem a little shorter. I've added some quotes too, now and then, and--not that it matters--I have splatted an asterisk beside my personal "best" scene in each group of ten, and explained why I like it so much. By the way, even though many of my female writer friends often accuse me of preferring "guy" plots, you'll see that not all of these scenes I've chosen are from mysteries/thrillers/shoot-'em-ups. (I'm not totally enlightened yet, but I'm making headway.)

Anyhow, here are my picks.

Best openings (in no particular order):

Rear Window
Escape From New York -- "Once you go in, you don't come out."
High Noon
Romancing the Stone -- "That was the end of Grogan . . ."
Raising Arizona -- "Y'all without sin can cast the first stone."
The Natural
Cat People (1982 version)
The Ballad of Cable Hogue -- "Ain't had no water since yesterday, Lord. Gettin' a little thirsty."

*I think the Goldfinger opening works in two ways. The pre-titles "teaser" is a mini-story in itself, which introduces the main character and shows him carrying out a successful mission, talking it over with a colleague, having a liaison with a double-crossing lover, and dispatching a killer. ("Shocking. Positively shocking.") Then comes the second part: a great opening-credits sequence, probably the best of the Bond series, with title song by Shirley Bassey.

Best action scenes: 

Bullitt -- San Francisco car chase
From Russia With Love -- fight on the Orient Express
*Raiders of the Lost Ark -- opening
Ben-Hur -- chariot race
Dances With Wolves -- buffalo hunt
The French Connection -- car/train chase
The Revenant -- bear attack
Aliens -- ending
Titanic -- sinking
The Road Warrior -- tanker chase

*I once read a review that said there's more action packed into the first ten minutes of Raiders than in most full-length features. It contains a good line, too: "Throw me the idol, I throw you the whip." (Sure he will . . .)

Most emotional scenes (for me, at least):

Shane -- ending ("Goodbye, Little Joe.")
Old Yeller -- death scene
To Kill a Mockingbird -- ending ("Hey, Boo.")
Camelot -- Lancelot saving the jouster
The Graduate -- Ben, at the wedding
Up -- death of Carl's wife
Somersby -- the hanging
The Green Mile -- John Coffey's execution
*Dumbo -- his mother cradling him with her trunk, through the bars of her cage
The Abyss -- Virgil's dive to defuse the bomb ("Knew this was one-way ticket.")

*Strangely enough, Ali McGraw croaking at the end of Love Story affects me not one bit, but I can't even think about that Dumbo scene without getting a tear in my eye. And yes, I'm wondering a little about my priorities.

Best music scenes (not counting musicals):

Superman -- flying with Lois ("Can You Read My Mind?")
Star Wars -- the throne room
The Big Country -- opening credits
Deliverance -- porch-swing banjo/guitar duet
Peggy Sue Got Married -- coming home, seeing her mother and sister
Rocky -- training/running the steps
Top Gun -- opening credits
*The Big Lebowski -- dream sequence
Flashdance -- audition
The Man From Snowy River -- taming the colt

*You wouldn't think a scene featuring a Saddam Hussein lookalike, a bowling alley, a woman with a horned Viking helmet, and Dude Lebowski in a toolbelt would be my favorite music-video-within-a-movie ever, but it is. If I recall, he just dropped in to see what condition his condition was in.

Most suspenseful scenes:

Stand by Me -- boys on the train trestle
Blood Simple -- ending
The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) -- starting the engine
*Wait Until Dark -- attack in the apartment
The Deer Hunter -- Russian roulette
The Birds -- arrival of the birds on the jungle-gym
No Country for Old Men -- coin toss at the gas station
The Godfather -- Michael shooting McCluskey and Sollozzo
The Silence of the Lambs -- night-vision in the basement
Reservoir Dogs -- Michael Madsen scene, in the garage ("Fire Is Scary.")

*I first saw Wait Until Dark in college. I thought then--and I still do--that the lights-out, cat-and-mouse battle between Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin was the most riveting thing I'd ever seen. If this one doesn't scare you, and make you root for the heroine, nothing will.

Funniest scenes:

Airplane! -- "Oh, stewardess--I speak jive."
Raising Arizona -- "Son, you got a panty on your head."
Hot Shots, Part Deux -- rescuing the colonel from jail cell
Liar, Liar -- lawyer being honest with lady in the elevator
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels -- "May I go to the bathroom first?"
Me, Myself, and Irene -- baby-feeding scene, on bench
*Blazing Saddles -- campfire symphony
My Big Fat Greek Wedding -- headphone cord scene
Rustler's Rhapsody -- "Got a match?"
Ferris Bueller's Day Off -- Mr. Rooney and Ferris's sister

*I first saw the campfire scene from BS (probably a good alternate title for the movie) in a theater in L.A. in 1974, and I still remember that it brought the house down. NOTE: Please understand that all these favorites are sort of "guilty-pleasure" funny--the kind of things that made me laugh until it hurt. If you want intelligent funny, watch an episode of Cheers, Frasier, M*A*S*H, Newhart, Seinfeld, etc.

Best endings:

A Fistful of Dollars -- "Load up and shoot."
The Shawshank Redemption
The Searchers -- "Let's go home, Debbie."
The Black Stallion
Die Hard
The Last Sunset -- "Primroses."
Dead Poets Society -- "O Captain, my Captain."
Cool Hand Luke -- montage
An Officer and a Gentleman -- "Way to go, Paula. Way to go."

*The odd thing about the last fifteen minutes of Signs is that most of my writer/reader/moviegoer friends don't even like the movie. But I think that scene is a great example of tying up half a dozen threads of foreshadowing into a powerful and satisfying conclusion. ("Swing away, Merrill.")

Best surprise endings:

The Sixth Sense
Presumed Innocent
Fight Club
Chinatown -- "She's my sister and my daughter."
Primal Fear -- "We're a great team, you and me."
The Village
Planet of the Apes
Body Heat
The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
*The Usual Suspects -- "And just like that . . . he's gone."

*The two-part conclusion of The Usual Suspects (the first part in the office, the second out on the sidewalk) still gives me goosebumps. In addition to the twist, it includes one of my favorite movie lines: "The best trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."

Best scenes, period:

Apocalypse Now -- helicopter attack
Psycho -- the root cellar
Saving Private Ryan -- storming Omaha Beach
Witness -- bad guys walking downhill toward the farm
It's a Wonderful Life -- ending ("Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.")
*Once Upon a Time in the West -- opening ("Looks like we're one horse shy.")
Pulp Fiction -- quoting Ezekiel
Twelve Angry Men -- the "same knife" scene ("I'm just saying a coincidence is possible.")
Casablanca -- Ilsa, at the piano ("Play it, Sam.")
True Romance -- "Sicilian" scene ("Tell me--before I do some damage you won't walk away from.")

*I think everything about that first long scene at the train station in Once Upon a Time in the West is cinematic perfection: the creaky windmill, the facial expressions, the humor, the music, the lighting, the way the protagonist is introduced, the steady buildup of tension to an explosive climax. It's another of those "mini-stories" I mentioned earlier--and my favorite movie scene of all time (not just in the West).

Other scenes that I liked a lot: the arrival of Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia; shooting the bucket in Quigley Down Under; the first sight of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park; the two "Do I feel lucky?" scenes in Dirty Harry; the final shootout in L.A. Confidential; the "Is it you?" scene in Somewhere in Time; the death of Oddjob in Goldfinger; the openings of Cliffhanger, The Shining, Midnight Cowboy, and The Magnificent Seven; and the endings of Rudy, M*A*S*H, Brassed Off, Hombre, Breathless (1983), The Cider House Rules, Carousel, Forrest Gump, Back to the FutureBonnie and Clyde, Cat Ballou, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Okay, so I got a little carried away--and remember, all these choices should be preceded by "In my opinion only."

What think you, about all this? Any agreements, or disagreements? Any favorite scenes, or favorite lines of dialogue in scenes? If so, goody goody. If not, I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too.

Now, I wish we could chat longer, but I'm having an old friend for dinner.

Anybody up for a toga party?


  1. It's a great list, John! Overall I agree with about 90-93% of your choices. There might be others I'd put in for Best This or That, but it is a really good list. And there's a few in there that I would not put on my list and a couple I haven't seen. But, unlike the people you were hanging with, I'm pretty much on the same page with you.

  2. Thanks, Paul. I too thought of a few I would add, shortly after this posted, earlier tonight, and when I think about it some more I'll probably wish I'd left a few of these out. The truth is, I--like you--watch so many movies a list of "bests" keeps changing.

  3. The Princess Bride. Almost any scene. Almost any line of dialog. For almost any reason.

    Young Frankenstein. Too many scenes to list.

    Silent Running. When the little robot dies. I tear up every time.

  4. Great list, and I, too agree with a lot of your choices. I also love the ending of The Maltese Falcon "The stuff that dreams are made of", not to mention Mary Astor behind the bars of the elevator; and I keep watching Tombstone just to hear Val Kilmer say "I have not yet begun to defile myself", "You're not wearing a bustle, Kate; how lewd...", and "You are indeed a good woman; then again, you might be the Antichrist."

  5. Oh, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Many scenes.

  6. Michael -- Good additions! Believe it or not, I had a Young Frankenstein scene in there, at some point during the editing process, and a scene from The Princess Bride as well. So many movies, so little room . . .

    I once read that the late great William Goldman, who wrote not only The Princess Bride but the screenplays for Butch Cassidy, Marathon Man, Waldo Pepper, and many other movies, said he'd received more letters and questions and recognition for TPB than for anything else he'd ever written in his life. Everyone loved that book, and the film as well.

    Thanks, Eve! Isn't it funny that the first thing everyone remembers about Tombstone is Val Kilmer's performance. The one time on film, I guess, that Doc Holliday was more interesting and memorable than Wyatt Earp. And yep, I do like that ending to The Maltese Falcon. Now I'll have to dig it out and watch it again.

  7. My apologies for misspelling Ali MacGraw. Wish I could blame it on AutoCorrect. Did I mention the editing process . . . ?

  8. So many excellent choices, John. I could easily add 100 of my own favorites, but I'll limit myself to the peanuts/lemonade scene in DUCK SOUP, Susan Alexander awakening from her suicide attempt in CITIZEN KANE, and Donald O'Connor making 'em laugh in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, just 'cause those three popped into my mind first....

  9. Lovely stuff, and i will be writing about the Princess Bride at SleuthSayers on June 15.

    Favorite musical scene: "Danny Boy" in MILLER'S CROSSING.

    Funny Scenes: The stateroom scene in A Night At The Opera.

    How about best death scenes? I think of Spacey in LA Confidential.

    1. Edward G. Robinson's death scene in SOYLENT GREEN, the last scene EGR filmed before his own death. And not precisely a death scene but for all practical purposes it might as well be: Emil Jannings at the original (pre tacked-on Hollywood happy ending) end of DER LETZTE MANN (released here and more famously known as THE LAST LAUGH)....

  10. Hey Josh! Thanks, old friend. Yep, the more I think about this kind of thing the more great moments I come up with. I confess I left out a lot of scenes from some of the older (and great) movies like Citizen Kane, The Third Man, etc. And I find myself rewatching Gene Kelly dancin' in the rain now and then, and the Marx movies as well.

    I recall one tiny scene from Double Indemnity that I bet few people remember. It was a scene with Fred MacMurray and Stanwyck in the car, by the railroad tracks, when they hop in and are about to make their getaway from the body, and--just for a moment--the car wouldn't start. Not much was made of it, and in fact the car DID start on the second try, but it gave me a little thrill and added some real tension, because if they'd been stranded there that wouldn't been the end of it--they'd have been discovered, convicted, and imprisoned. One of the many reasons why Billy Wilder was such a great director.

    1. Have you read Cameron Crowe's CONVERSATIONS WITH WILDER, John? I just finished it — absolutely fascinating!

  11. Rob, I'll look forward to your piece on The Princess Bride.

    You and I have discussed Miller's Crossing before, and--like Blood Simple--I think it's among the best of the Coen Brothers' movies. Anytime I think of it, I picture the woods, and that almost-execution scene with John Turturro.

    I love the Spacey death scene in L.A. Confidential. Not a surprise ENDing, but definitely a surprise.

  12. I've mentioned this before, but one of my favorite and largely un-heralded scenes is from North by Northwest when Leo G. Carroll is asked why the mystery man (who Cary Grant is mistaken for) was ever created in the first place. Carroll is walking across an airport tarmac. He turns and answers the question but just as he begins to speak an airplane engine revs up and drowns out everything he says. The engine stops just as he finishes. Hitchcock telling the audience "it doesn't MATTER what the underlying story is. You are here for the chase!"

  13. Josh --

    NO, I haven't read that--haven't even heard of it. I'm headed over to Amazon right now to order it. Thanks!

  14. Dale, I do remember that!!! Hitchcock was always playing with the audience that way, it seems. Great movie. I still think the final scene of North by Northwest, with Grant and Saint and Mason, etc., is wonderful, mostly because SO MUCH happens in such a tiny span of time. William Goldman discusses this in one of his books about screenwriting.

  15. Josh, I had originally put Soylent Green in under Best Surprise Endings (for obvious reasons), and for some reason took it out and substituted another movie. (I had originally put 12 movies in each category and then realized that was getting way too long.) I think my favorite Edgar G. Robinson scene is, believe it or not, the one in the finale of The Cincinnati Kid--he is absolutely believable in that one--I love it.

    I have to admit (and boy I hate to) that I haven't seen The Last Laugh--but I will!

  16. "We're going to need a bigger boat." I have seen this movie sooooo many times. Dwight's first all time obssessive favorite. He never fails to say line along with the scene.

  17. Pat Marinelli04 June, 2016 11:57

    What a great topic for a post.
    Wait Until Dark and Dial M for Murder were two movies that scared the daylights out of me.
    I agree with most of your choices, althought my choice for best in each category might change in some places. Not going to the movies (popcorn allergy), I was surprised how few movies I hadn’t seen. Don’t know if I have chosen Dumbo over Old Yeller cause I still cry each time I see it. Couldn’t decide between Flashdash and Top Gun as my first choice for the musical scene and I’d have to add in Dirty Dancing cause “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.” I’d take Ferris’ sister’s scene over Blasing Sadles, but that’s a girl thing. LOL Of course for endings, I’d take An Officer and a Gentleman. I’d have chosen The Sixth Sense for the surprise ending, but I think I need to watch The Usual Suspects again.
    Some of my favortie movies are Under the Tuscan Sun (hated the book), Nights in Rodanthe, Blue Smoke (a Nora Roberts’ book on Lifetime channel), and Purple Hearts with Ken Wahl and Cheryl Ladd which is a great war and love story. I’ll probably think of a hundred more later.

  18. Hey Emily!! Yep, the poor guys needed a bigger boat. Even more fun than that line was the stunned look on Chief Brody's face, and his dangling cigarette, as he backed away from what he'd seen. Great movie. I've heard Roy Scheider came up with that line on the spur of the moment, but that's hard to believe. (I needed a bigger column, to include all the scenes!)

    Pat, I agree that Under the Tuscan Sun was a beautiful (in several ways) movie, and our kids used to walk around humming the Flashdance and Top Gun and Officer and a Gentleman music because I'd taped and watched those scenes so many times. I remember seeing Old Yeller in the movie theater when I was a little kid, and EVERYBODY cried when Travis had to shoot him. But I swear, that Dumbo scene mists me up every time.

  19. I’m not sure if it’s the same dive scene you refer to, but to me the single most memorable scene in any movie ever is what I’ll call the woman’s ‘sacrifice’ scene in The Abyss. It put me in awe. I’d never seen anything like it and probably never will again.

    Even more than The Usual Suspects, Se7en shocked me, although I saw it coming only a minute or two before it actually happened. It was well plotted.

    After a lot of thought, I’ve concluded A Few Dollars More is (for me) the best of the man-with-no-name movies and its ending is particularly gratifying. I suspect it influenced Once Upon a Time in the West.

    Seems to me Silent Running ought to have a few of its scenes nominated for something or another. I agree with Michael Bracken. The rainy closing confrontation of Blade Runner is a favorite.

    I can’t think of any one scene, but Angel Heart struck me as one, long creepy scene.

    I saw Blazing Saddles twice, once in Plymouth, Massachusetts where half the audience walked out during the bean scene. The second time was in Paris. The French don’t outwardly react during movies, no applause or anything like that. Part is the language barrier. Apparently the translation is weak for such lines as “Is that a ten-gallon hat in your lap or are you just glad to see me?”

    Wait Until Dark is also one of my favorites. So is Raiders of the Lost Ark for action. But Ali McGraw, nada. Likewise, Sharon Stone leaves me cold. She could have clipped fingernails during that scene for all the effect it had.

    Speaking of which: No mention of sexiest scene?

  20. Thinking of funniest scenes, I considered It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and W.C. Fields, but I keep coming back to the Marx Brothers. Groucho’s dialogue carries each movie, but my favorite single bit is Chico’s and Harpo’s mirror scene.

  21. Leigh, The Abyss was a great and underrated movie, with fantastic writing and a lot of surprises. I'm always amazed that so many folks haven't heard about it. One of James Cameron's best. The scene I'm referring to was the one where Virgil Brigman went down (into the abyss) to clip the wires to the bomb to save them all, realizing all the time that he wouldn't have enough air for the return trip. The messages being typed back and forth, rather than being spoken, had an even greater impact, for me.

    I also put Seven in, at first, and wound up substituting something else later. You wouldn't believe how many iterations this thing went through. Yep, the "box" scene in Seven was a good surprise.

    Yes, I'm sure For a Few Dollars More was an influence in the later Sergio Leone westerns. And Ennio Morricone's music made all of them even better.

    I agree that Blade Runner and Silent Running will both be remembered forever. Robert McKee said in his screenwriting book Story that no amount of colorful and descriptive prose would ever have been able to convey the splendor and grandeur of even the smallest scene in Blade Runner. There are some things that can only be done via the cinema.

    Blazing Saddles isn't for every taste--but I'm so uncouth I liked everything about it. Even "A wed wose. How womantic."

    As for choosing the sexiest scenes, I was leaving that to you!!!

  22. Leigh, I only just saw your latest comment. Yes, the Marx Brothers movies are a delight, and very few younger moviegoers are aware of how good those films were. I also agree that there were a few part of Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, especially the Jonathan Winters scenes, that'll always be fun to re-watch. Good memories.

  23. John, I am not certain this would qualify as the best scene, but the reaction of Ed Harris in Apollo 13 is riveting. When radio contact is made with the astronauts and the room erupts in cheers, Harris body language and facial expression is pure genius. You can almost feel it.

  24. I love your list, John, though I'll admit I haven't seen all the movies you include. I'd have to agree with Michael about adding just about any scene from The Princess Bride--especially, of course, "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." (Did I really need to quote it? And am I the only one struck by the resemblance, in both appearance and speech, between Vizzini [Wallace Shawn] and John Kasich?)I'd also like to add scenes from what may be my favorite mystery movie, Dead Again. The "I would never hurt you, Margaret" scene might be my candidate for most suspenseful scene--or maybe most shocking scene would describe it better. And Derek Jacobi stuttering out "Well I, for one, am v-v-very interested to see w-w-what's going to happen next" should be a contender for best ending.

  25. Herschel, I'm not sure mine qualify as the best scenes either. This is all entirely subjective. As for the one you've described, I agree! I also recall his statement earlier in that same movie: "Failure is not an option." (Or something like that.) Harris is good in any role he plays.

    Bonnie, the fact that you haven't seen all these movies is to your credit! I see way, way too many. And you're right, Montoya's often-repeated line is a good memory, from that movie.

    I love your observation about Shawn's likeness to John Kasich!!!! I've always said that I thought journalist Christiane Amanpour is actually Antonio Banderas in a wig. When my wife rolled her eyes at that announcement, I asked her, quite reasonably I thought, "Have you ever seen the two of them together?? No. I rest my case."

    YES, Dead Again is a great example of suspense--I'm so glad you mentioned that movie. And Jacobi, like Ed Harris, is always good at whatever he does.

  26. The little girl in red in Schindler's list was genius.

  27. Anonymous, you're right--that WAS genius. The girl in the red coat was one of the most gripping images ever, fraught of course with symbolism on several different levels. It's Spielberg at his best.

    Thanks for reminding all of us of that scene.

  28. The original version of "Gone in 60 Seconds", made in 1974, starring Toby Halicki, has the most awesome car chase scene ever ... something like 45 minutes long & completely genuine. It's also extremely funny! One of the scenes was a Polish wedding which took place at the Dom Polski (Polish home or club) in Dunkirk, New York. Been there several times. The remake with Nicolas Cage is O.K. on its own, but compared with the original is absolute garbage.

    Sexy scenes, well, "Titanic" showed Kate Winslet's bare breasts & was rated PG. Although it was in the context of having her portrait drawn or painted ... she hadn't fallen in love with DiCaprio's character yet.

  29. Good point, about Gone in 60 Seconds. This is one of the few instances where I'd be willing to bet that most of the folks who hear about that movie think first of the remake (in 2000) rather than of the original. Another one might be The Postman Always Rings Twice--I suspect the Jack Nicholson/Jessica Lange version is better-known than the one made back in the forties. Thanks for bringing this up!

    Yep, Titanic was PG but managed to sneak that scene in, probably for the reason you mentioned. Here's something else seems odd:Midnight Cowboy, if I remember right, was rated X when it was released in the late 60s.

  30. Oh, one more, one more! Favorite last line of a movie EVER is from "Some Like it Hot" - "I'm a MAN!" "Well, nobody's perfect."

  31. Eve, that was one of the best comedies ever. I'm beginning to realize that I neglected quite a few of the older movies. Duck Soup has been mentioned in the comments, but other really good comedies were the Abbott and Costellos, the Inspector Clouseau series (well, at least the first two), some of the "Road to" movies, and some of the Cheech and Chongs.

    If you have time, take a look on YouTube at some of those scenes I listed as "funniest." I bet at least a few of them are there. Again, remember that those were not chosen because they were "sophisticated funny." They're mostly the kind of stupid humor that I really like, sometimes. Which brings to mind something I once heard: Jim Carrey said, in an interview, that when he first met Clint Eastwood, Eastwood looked at him hard, squinted, and said, in his quiet, raspy voice, "I loved Dumb and Dumber."

  32. Well, this has been real comment biat, hasn't it?

    Leigh, the mirror scene was Groucho and Haro. Chico only comes in at the end.

    Edgar G Robinson. Have you ever seen the tv movie The Old Man Who Cried Wolf? Not a great flick, but a stunning ending.

    And speaking of Tv flicks, if you want suspense scenes: ANY scene in DUEL, Spielberg's first.

    Have we really skipped Vertigo? For suspense, the moment when Jimmy Stewart (acting wonderfully) realizes what's going on, and slowly looks over at the woman...

    Another of my favorite moments: In Z, the Prosecutor, who has been carefully caling the key event the Incident slips and calls it the Murder. And we know he has changed his mind.

    Oh, and one of the funniest scenes of all time is a picture of a closed door. It's in The King's Speech, and it's hilarious because we know how the speech therapist is reacting on the other side to a piece of news he has just recieved. Not letting us see him react was brilliant.

  33. Rob, there were many, many wonderful scenes I didn't mention, most of them because they never even occurred to me (and probably should have). I did start to include Duel, though--but very honestly (and as you said), I couldn't single out a particular scene. Almost all the scenes in that movie really did exude suspense. And maybe that was because the plot was the kind of thing that could've really happened, to any of us.

    My favorite moment in Vertigo was the one you mentioned--and it was made even more effective because of the fantastic music in that film.

    I would love to see a list of your favorites sometime, probably because you and Leigh and I have talked so often with each other about movies.

  34. One more favorite scene: Crossing Delancey. The pickle man (played by the great Peter Reigert) outsmarting the supposedly smarter intellectuals.
    "That was very kind of you."
    "No. No, it wasn't."

  35. I wasn't sure anyone else had even WATCHED Crossing Delancey. I liked that scene too, Rob--and one of the things I remember most about the movie was the opening, with Amy Irving and Jeroen Krabbe in the bookstore. Loved the music.

    It occurs to me, now and then, that it might be nice to get rid of some of this trivia taking up space in my brain and try to make room for worthwhile information. Anyone else ever feel that way . . . ?

  36. Rob, how embarrassing to misremember the mirror scene scene so completely. No drugs or alcohol were involved. My only excuse is the passage of time. And no, I didn't see the movie when it first premiered.

  37. John,

    Film has an enormous influence on writing. We now think in terms of creating scenes in a cinema sense. I'm impressed by the amount of thought and effort that went into writing this blog.

  38. Papillon. The entire movie for many reasons. Great line: "How do I look?" And Steve McQueen. Just fabulous. I could talk for hours about this film. It'd be a great one to dissect! And it's a true story. And it's McQueen at his best.

  39. Thanks, Jacqueline! i agree that writing "visually" is a great help, at least to me. I find myself thinking in those terms with just about every story and every scene I create. I don't think it's a coincidence that so many writers are also movie fans.

    Hi Deborah! Yes, Papillon has many great scenes--I watched it again not long ago. McQueen's talent was often unappreciated, I think, and of course Hoffman was good in almost every film he made. Thank you for stopping by!


  40. John, I loved this, not only for your list and your comments but for the ones others tossed in. Now you have me recalling some of my own favorite movie lines and scenes. Just to toss out a few that have already popped into mind:

    Flashdance – Jennifer Beals removing her bra from underneath her shirt while talking to Michael Nouri.

    Geoffrey Rush saying to Johnny Depp in one of the Pirate movies: “Well. It's not really a rule, more like a guideline.”

    Hombre - Paul Newman asking a starving, emaciated Barbara Rush, “Would you eat dog now?”

    Hombre again – Paul Newman to Richard Boone: “How you gonna get back down that hill?”

    The Thing (the original): When they open a door and James Arness is standing there and takes a swing at them.

    You also reminded me how much I liked “The Abyss.” I'm always surprised when so few people I talk to are not familiar with it.

    There are so many! I could go on all day remembering my favorites (and probably will.)

  41. I'm a bit behind here, but I'd like to respond to the comments you and Anonymous made about the little girl in the red coat in Schindler's List. I've always wondered if that character was inspired by Elie Wiesel's Night. When Wiesel describes the night he and his family were forced out of their home and on to the train to Auschwitz, he says, "I looked at my little sister Tzipora, her fair hair well combed, a red coat over her arm, a little girl of seven." When they arrive at Birkenau, and the men are separated from the women, Wiesel watches his mother and sisters walk off, his mother stroking Tzipora's hair. "And I did not know that in that place, at that moment, I was parting from my mother and Tzipora forever." That image of the fair-haired little girl in a red coat has always stayed with me; I wonder if it stayed with Spielberg. too.

  42. Earl, good to see you here! Yep, we COULD go on all day, about favorite movies/scenes/lines--and, as someone said earlier, those kinds of memories are good resources for writers. What writer has not "stolen" from favorite movies/stories/novels when creating his or her own tales? Must mention Hombre again: that movie wasn't "just" a Western--it was a lesson in life. I bet I've watched it a dozen time, and yes, it has many memorable lines. Also love the others you referred to.

    Bonnie, I like your idea--I bet that IS where that scene came from. I don't know for sure what inspired it, but it was SO memorable. Schindler's List, as great as it is, remains one of those movies that's hard for me to watch over and over. As, I suppose, it should be.

  43. Oh, boy, do we like different movies, John--except for the opening of Romancing the Stone, the over-the-top Western that Kathleen Turner is writing with tears running down her face. They remade Breathless in 1983? I've never forgotten the ending of Truffaut's 1960 original, Jean-Paul Belmondo dying while Jean Seberg says in her atrocious American accent, "Qu'est-ce que c'est, 'd├ęgueulasse'?" I'd put at least one scene from Cousin Vinny, hard to choose which, among the sidesplitters. And for a music moment, how about in Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Guy Pearce sitting in a giant stiletto on top of the bus traveling through the Australian outback to the strains of Verdi?

    Just read back through the comments. I'm glad to see i'm not the only one who thought Val Kilmer was brilliant as Doc Holliday in Tombstone. I've always thought he was an underrated actor. My scary suspense picks are different from anyone else's because I won't watch horror, but The Ghost and the Shadow with Kilmer and Michael Douglas is on my list, and so is Costa-Gavras's Missing. Both were terrifying: one about a couple of killer lions and the other about the American-backed coup in Chile in 1973 that toppled Allende's elected government.

    And speaking of heartwrenching classic films from children's stories (eg Dumbo), I took visiting Australian friends who had never seen (or read) The Wizard of Oz to see Wicked on Broadway the other night. I had to explain to them that to everyone else in the theater, the show's heroine was otherwise known only as the Wicked Witch of the West. A stunning reversal, twistier than the cyclone that carried Dorothy away from Kansas. Some delicious sly moments, like when the witch (it's not her fault she was born green!) drops in on her sister and says, "There's no place like home."

  44. Hey Liz -- I've seen all the movies you mentioned except (believe it or not) the original Breathless. Yep, they remade it in '83 (I saw it on an IBM trip to Miami) with Richard Gere in the Belmondo role. Nobody would say it's a good movie, but I LOVE the ending. It's probably on YouTube.

    Yes, My Cousin Vinny has a lot of great moments. As I said, too many movies, too little list space. And I grew up on jungle stories, so I of course enjoyed The Ghost and the Darkness--I have it here on my shelf right now. The range of movies Michael Douglas starred in is a little surprising, sometimes. And you're right--Missing will give you chillbumps.

    Wish I could see Wicked--I envy your ability to bop over to a Broadway play anytime you like. Maybe next time I'm up there . . .

  45. Deborah, you quoted my favorite line (though his entire performance is brilliant--the entire cast is good, but he's the best reason to watch that movie).

  46. Okay, Deborah, you and Bonnie are making me feel guilty about not including Tombstone in my list. Let's consider it a work-in-progress.

  47. Now I have to add that I agree with John that Blazing Saddles is hilarious and confess that I was showing off about Breathless, which I saw more than once in French at the height of my ability to speak and understand that language, courtesy of the Peace Corps. Oh, and let's include Val Kilmer's final iteration of "huckleberry" in a list of all-time great deathbed lines. :)

  48. Liz, the only language I speak and understand is Southern. As for Blazing Saddles, I was talking once with one of my more sophisticated writer friends and revealed to her that not only did I like that movie, I didn't like most foreign art films. She raised her nose a little higher and said, "I'm nawt surprised."

    I promise that I will watch the original Breathless. (I've always intended to but never got a round tuit.) But you must also watch the remake, and tell me what you think. Remember, the movie itself isn't much, but I found the ending memorable,

    One more thing: As a lover of Westerns, I am a little surprised, and pleased, that so many of you ladies liked Tombstone. Yippee-ki-yay!

  49. John I loved your list! Some movies and scenes I might add (you KNEW I'd have to!) would include:
    Most emotional: E.T. dying (Elliot reaching for him and they are pulled apart--I can't take it!)

    Best scene that could also be a "sexiest" for heterosexual males at least, and might also be categorized in the funniest scenes (it's got it all): The "Lucille" scene from "Cool Hand Luke":
    A young woman begins washing a car near the inmates, soaping up her own body as well.
    Convict #1: Oh man, oh man, I'm dyin'.
    Convict #2: She ain't got nothin' but, nothin' but one safety pin holdin' that thing on. Come on safety pin, POP. Come on baby, POP.
    Dragline: Hey Lord, whatever I done, don't strike me blind for another couple of minutes. My Lucille!...That's Lucille, you mother-head. Anything so innocent and built like that just gotta be named Lucille.
    Convict: She don't know what she's doin'.
    Luke: Oh boy, she knows exactly what she's doin'. She's drivin' us crazy and lovin' every minute of it.
    Dragline: Shut your mouth about my Lucille.

    Most suspenseful: I cringe everytime I watch the tent scene in "The Sixth Sense" where Haley Joel Osment is inside the tent with his flashlight and you see the clothespins popping off above his head as someone is coming for him...

    (Anyway, you know how I feel about M. Night Shyamalan movies--I love most of them!)

    As for funniest moments in films, I'd have to say I loved most of John Hughes' classics, and there are a few lines and scenes in "Sixteen Candles" that will always be classics for me. Like when The Geek says: Yeah, but, the thing is, I'm kinda like the leader, you know? Kinda like the king of the dipshits.

    What about this category: When did you first realize the person on screen was going to be a star? For example, maybe it was Marilyn Monroe when she appears in "All About Eve." I also loved the first time I remember seeing Ray Liotta. He plays the ex-boyfriend in "Something Wild" and as soon as he's on screen, you're saying, "This guy has that something." He was menacing and icy and handsome all at once.

    And what about the category of best dialogue scenes? There have got to be some real doozies out there. "When Harry Met Sally" would be tops in my book for those.

    Okay, I could go on all day...by the way if you love "The Princess Bride" folks, read the tell-all book about the making of it by one of it's stars, Cary Elwes, "As You Wish." It's terrific reading for any movie fans!

    Okay, John. I guess I should give your blog back to you now.

    --Mary Ann

  50. Hey, Mary Ann! Thanks for stopping in.

    Yes, I remember Lucille's scene--like many of these movies, I saw Cool Hand Luke in college, and--as you can imagine--that scene was a favorite of ours. It's actually one of those movies with so many great moments ("I can eat fifty eggs," "What's your dirt doin' in his ditch?" "Sometimes nothin' is a might cool hand") it's hard to pick one out. But I do still love the ending most.

    All the other scenes you mentioned are great as well. On second (and maybe third) thought, I should've included some moments from Sixteen Candles and the first Home Alone in my "funniest" list.

    Yep, I do remember Liotta from "Something Wild" (though mostly I remember Melanie Griffith), and sometimes I'll have to point you to several of my "Dialogue is Like a Box of Chocolates" columns for both Criminal Brief and SleuthSayers. Movie quotes are ALWAYS a lot of fun.

    Thanks for the recommendation, of Elwes's book--I'll put it on my TBR list from Amazon.

  51. Agree that Peggy Sue Got Married has the best scene, but for the emothional impact, not the music. She's just come home to her teenage life and the phone rings. She grabs it and -- it's Grandma. She is hit with so much emotion she can't speak. Later she explains to her mom, "I dreamed Grandma died."

    I get teary eyed every time I even think of that scene. Like now. Sniff.

  52. Susan, you're right--but in several places I think John Barry's soundtrack for that movie actually helps get my emotions going. And remember the final scene?--it's pretty long, with Peggy and her ex-husband talking at her hospital bedside, and then as the credits start to run, the camera pulls away and the whole thing was a reflection in a wall mirror. A lot of neat images, AND feelings, in that little-known movie.


  53. I can't think of Cool Hand Luke without hearing Strother Martin saying, "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

    And speaking of seeing a fresh new face on the screen and knowing he's gonna be big, I nominate Brad Pitt as the hitchhiking cowboy in Thelma and Louise.

  54. Good ole Strother Martin. Like Ben Johnson and a guy named L.Q.Jones, Martin just seemed to play different versions of the same character in every movie, over and over--and we loved it.

    Earl, that's a good example. Whooda thunk Brad Pitt would become more famous than either Thelma OR Louise?


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