(Post by George Cheyne of Glasgow – April 2021)
Ever sat and watched a new movie, heard a line of dialogue and said to yourself: Bet they’re still saying that in 40-50 years time.
Thought not. Well, you wouldn’t have much reason to, would you?
You’d be far more likely to be caught up with the visuals and plot when watching a film for the first time.
And yet, as the years roll by, there are certain quotes or phrases which become synonymous with movies. It’s as if they’re joined at the hip.
If I offer up: “Here’s looking at you, kid”…“I coulda been a contender”…“Bond. James Bond”…“I feel the need, the need for speed” and “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti”, the chances are you’d be able to identify Casablanca (1942), On The Waterfront (1954), Dr No (1962), Top Gun (1986) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
Two things about these examples. Firstly, there are no representatives from the 1970s – be patient, we’ll come to that – and there is nothing from the 21st Century.
That was deliberate on my part. I feel you have to let these things evolve over time, let them weave their way into the fabric of popular culture and then – and only then – will they be considered classic lines of film dialogue.
The 1970s wasn’t too shabby when it came to marrying up blockbuster movies with killer lines, so here’s my top 10 quotable quotes from that era:
“May the Force be with you.”
Star Wars (1977)
The line by Harrison Ford’s Han Solo character – in a conversation with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) – has inspired generations of kids wielding toy light-sabers ever since the film came out.
And it has been adopted by fans all over the world who celebrate May the fourth as their official Star Wars day.
“You talkin’ to me?”
Taxi Driver (1976)
No matter how many times you’ve seen the clip, it still has the ability to send a chill down your spine as Travis Bickle – played by Robert de Niro – talks to himself in the mirror.
He’s rehearsing for a big confrontation and the iconic scene leaves you in no doubt just what he’s capable of.
“I must be crazy to be in a loony bin like this.”
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
This was a groundbreaking movie of the time and it gave us a groundbreaking performance by Jack Nicholson as asylum inmate Randle P McMurphy.
His memorable one-liner comes near the end when he’s planning a boozy last hurrah for everyone before making his escape from the institution.
“I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”
Apocalypse Now (1979)
There’s no getting away from this quote from Robert Duvall’s Vietnam War officer – it’s been ingrained in the public’s psyche for 40-odd years.
The full 12-inch disco remix version goes like this: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed for 12 hours. When it was all over I walked up. We didn’t find one of ’em, not one stinkin’ dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill…smelled like victory.”
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
Roy Schneider delivers the line after his Chief Brody character gets up close and personal with the giant shark for the first time.
Movie fact: The phrase you still hear over and over again to this day was an ad-lib from Schneider as part of a production crew in-joke.
“I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
The Godfather (1972)
Despite the cotton wool filling his cheeks, Marlon Brando manages to sound calm and menacing at the same time when he says this.
It’s Don Corleone assuring godson Johnny Fontane he will win the race to land a part in a big Hollywood movie. And he does win it..by a horse’s head!
National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
More of a chant than a phrase, but it’s still one of the endearing moments from the movie depicting the ups and downs of the Deltas fraternity house.
John Belushi – as manic Bluto – starts it off to lift the spirits of his frat brothers and it turns into a full-blown raucous drink-fuelled bash. Paaaarty!
“You gotta ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya…punk?”
Dirty Harry (1971)
This one comes after Clint Eastwood’s edgy cop corners the baddie at a disused quarry – and you just know the showdown can only end one way.
Tough-talking Clint gives him the spiel about how he can’t remember if he’s fired five shots or six, allowing his crazed perp the chance to go for his gun…and, well, I’m sure you can guess the rest.
“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more.”
When newscasters go off script with a rant like this, they have the ability to make the news themselves.
Peter Finch’s Howard Beale character, resplendent in trench coat and striped pyjamas, is at the centre of the outburst when he urges his viewers to rise up and howl at the moon.
“What have the Romans ever done for us?”
Life of Brian (1979)
The Monty Python crew nailed it with this scene when John Cleese’s leader of the People’s Front of Judea tries to whip up some agitation against the Romans.
By the time he’s finished, his watered-down diatribe becomes: “All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system and public health..what have the Romans ever done for us?” Genius!
So what have the screenwriters ever done for us? Well, for a start, these unsung heroes of the movie business have given us a legacy that will last forever.
And in doing so they have debunked the myth that a picture is worth a thousand words. Turns out all you need is a handful of well-crafted memorable ones.