Let’s do a few lines

The American Film Institute (AFI) accumulates several “best of” lists, one of which is the 100 Best Movie Quotes. Compilation of such a list is a natural given the propensity of movie screenwriters to secure their immortality by delivering a devastating or memorable line in a script, especially when uttered by a Hollywood icon. Checking out the current list, I have no complaints. These are truly great lines – most are well-known by movie aficionados and lightweights alike. Like most lists, they tend to be a multiple of ten, often a collection of 100. Given the enormous body of work from the emergence of talkies to the present, it seems an injustice to cap the list at 100. To that end, I’ve added 25 more (not in order – that’s too hard to do). And I expect to add another 25 later on. Comments welcome.

When you’re slapped you’ll take it and like it. (“The Maltese Falcon”):
When the foppish Joel Cairo gets under the skin of hard-boiled private eye Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) in this film-noir classic, Spade bitch-slaps him down into the sofa. Cairo’s ineffective attempts to thwart the blows elicits this great line which establishes the relationship the two will have for the rest of the movie.

Look mister, we serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast. (“It’s a Wonderful Life”):
After George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) gets his wish and enters an alternate universe into which he had not been born, he encounters bartender Martini’s evil twin who snarls this stinging retort to Clarence the Angel who had just ordered a glass of milk. This is the kind of line that you would never hear spoken in real life which is what makes it so nice to hear.

When the world slips you a Jeffrey, stroke the furry wall. (“Get Him to the Greek”):
Taken out of context, this sentence makes no sense, but watching Sean “P. Diddy” Combs soporifically stroke an actual furry wall after smoking a powerful joint, the line resonates. It comes to light that the powerful joint – a combo of opiates and psychotropic drugs – is dubbed “Jeffrey” so as to make it seem less threatening.

It takes brass balls to sell real estate. (“Glengarry Glen Ross”):
Screenwriter David Mamet is known for his fast-paced, barbed dialog heavily sprinkled with profanity. Probably his best effort was “Glengarry Glen Ross” about a handful of slightly dishonest real estate salesmen. With quota in jeopardy, the owners bring in Mr. Blake (Alec Baldwin) to give a pep talk – which is actually a thorough dressing down. After challenging their manhood, Blake takes from his briefcase a pair of brass balls tethered together by string, dangles them in front of his trousers and utters this pithy observation.

Heineken? Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon! (“Blue Velvet”):
In a major revival of his career, Dennis Hopper plays the sadistic Frank in David Lynch’s study of the pitfalls of walking on the wild side. In a fashion demonstrated throughout the movie, Frank forcefully exposits his opinion on beer to the snoopy, white-bread teenager Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle McLaughlin).

Who’s Dick Hertz? (“Fast Times at Ridgemont High”):
Ridgemont High School teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston – aka My Favorite Martian) calls out for Richard Hertz and receives no response. He repeats, “Richard Hertz?” A student tells him that the kid goes by Dick, leading to the classic juvenile inquiry played so well by Bart Simpson on Moe the bartender.

I ain’t got time to bleed. (“Predator”):
Starring two future governors, “Predator” is a clever twist on the otherwise stale genre of muscle-bound special forces running around the jungle with enough armaments to overthrow Guatemala. Told that his massive bicep has taken a flesh wound, Jesse Ventura utters this over-the-top line which he reused as the title of his book about politics.

Where should I stick this? (“It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”):
In this star-studded comedy of a slapdash crowd of people competing to be the first to dig up stolen treasure, Ethel Merman plays the loudmouth mother-in-law Mrs. Marcus to milquetoast J. Russell Finch (Milton Berle.) When Ethel picks up a potted cactus and unassumingly asks “where should I stick this,” the look on Berle’s face is priceless.

Stingo, you look… you look very nice, you’re wearing your cocksucker. (“Sophie’s Choice”):
Meryl Streep plays the Eastern European title character with tremendous aplomb, and for her efforts won the Academy Award for Best Actress. In a heavy Polish accent, Sophie compliments Stingo (Peter MacNicol) on his seersucker suit, subbing in a funny, unexpected synonym.

No Ace – just you. (“Stand By Me”):
Kiefer Sutherland plays tough teen rebel Ace in this adaptation of Steven King’s short story “The Body” directed by Rob Reiner. Ace and his friends meet up with adolescent Gordie Lachance (Wil Weaton) and his buddies at the site where lies the dead body of a boy hit by a train. Looking down the barrel of a pistol that Gordie is holding tightly with both hands, Ace tries intimidation. “What are you gonna do – shoot all of us?” Gordie’s confident reply serves notice that the meeting is over.

I want you to hold it between your knees. (“Five Easy Pieces”):
I can’t believe that lines from the classic diner scene in “Five Easy Pieces” are not on the AFI top 100 list. After making no headway on placing an order of toast with the snippy waitress, Jack Nicholson tells her to hold the chicken on a chicken salad sandwich. When he clarifies exactly how he’d like her to hold it, she responds with indignation. With one arm, Jack swiftly clears the table.

I’d buy that for a dollar. (“Robocop”):
Funny satire “Robocop” takes place in dystopian Detroit where crime is out of control, yet everyone on TV seems oblivious to the social decay. At the end of every skit, a goof-ball TV personality sums up by saying “I’d buy that for a dollar” which became a double entendre used for a time in conversation after the movie left the Cineplex.

These go to eleven. (“Spinal Tap”):
Another great line that should contend for top 100 status. Clearly confused about the volume settings on his guitar amp, Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) tries to explain that his equipment is louder because the top number is 11 instead of the standard 10. When questioned about the meaninglessness of it, all the fumbling Nigel can say is “These go to eleven.”

Check out the big brain on Brett! (“Pulp Fiction”):
Samuel Jackson plays Jules, a gangster in the employ of Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), a man whose briefcase containing something quite rare (his soul?) has been stolen. After busting in on the thieves who look more like frat boys than big time criminals, Jules interrogates one of them (Brett, played by Frank Whaley) as to why the French refer to a Quarter Pounder as a Royale with Cheese. Brett’s supposition that the metric system has something to do with it prompts an outburst of sweet sarcasm.

Lunch is for wimps. (“Wall Street”):
Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) sums up the mentality of the 1980s Street nicely.

Help me! Help me! (“The Fly”):
After scientist Andre Delambre (David Hedison) muffs his experiment by entering a transporter accompanied by an unseen house fly, he pops out the other side sporting the fly’s head and other body parts. Although trailers for the 1958 movie present the reveal to his wife of his hairy fly-head as the audience shocker, I personally found the scene where the fly with the scientist’s white head entangled in a spider web to be more creepy. As well as the high-pitch squeal “help me, help me” which has since found its way into popular culture.

Everything that guy just said is bullshit. (“My Cousin Vinny”):
Although completely implausible, “My Cousin Vinny” works in large part due to the stellar performances of Joe Pecci and Marisa Tomei, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Pecci plays bumbling quasi-lawyer Vinny Gambini hired to defend two guys indicted for murder and facing capital punishment (yeah, right.) But who couldn’t love Vinny’s single sentence opening argument in response to the DA’s carefully laid out preamble.

Run that baby. (“All the President’s Men”):
Washington Post investigative reporters Woodward (Robert Redford) and Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) have just nailed a late-night Q&A with Nixon Attorney General John Mitchell in which the AG reveals some potential knowledge of Watergate nefariousness. Editor in Chief Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) mulls over the consequences of publishing the hot-potato story, and concludes that it should run in the next day’s edition. The glee with which Bradlee green-lights the publication captures the sense of the rising role newspapers would play at the time in reining in rogue government.

Coffee is for closers. (“Glengarry Glen Ross”):
Once again, Mamet delivers. Mr. Blake (Alec Baldwin) lays out the severity of life for those salesmen who can’t cut the mustard. The look of incredulity on Shelly Levene’s (Jack Lemmon) face as he pours himself a cup of Java is executed perfectly. Shelly soon learns that second prize in the sales contest is a set of steak knives – and third place is “you’re fired.”

Money is something you need in case you don’t die tomorrow. (“Wall Street”):
Sage advice from airline machinist and union boss Carl Fox (Martin Sheen) to his avaricious bond-trader son Bud (Charlie Sheen). So true when you think about it.

God damn you to hell! (“Planet of the Apes”):
Hack actor Charleton Heston on his knees pounding the sand in anger at the discovery that Earth is finished is something to behold. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear he’s reading the lines off a teleprompter. I saw this movie at a drive-in theater when it first came out and unlike clueless Charleton who thinks he’s landed on a planet in a galaxy far, far away, I knew right away that he was wandering about an Earth overrun by primates. So obvious.

Have you ever tried to pick up your teeth with broken fingers? (“The Crying Game”):
Great line. Defending the honor of his transsexual “girlfriend” Dil (Jaye Davidson), Fergus (Stephen Rea) spouts this challenging query to his cheeky boss. Needless to say, boss-man backs off.

Me so horny. (“Full Metal Jacket”):
Spoken like a true Americanized prostitute. Not grammatically correct, but in some ways more provocative than the King’s English.

Fred, what’s with your fuckin’ hair? (“Mr. Saturday Night”):
BuddyYoung, Jr. (Billy Crystal) is an over-the-hill Borsht Belt comedian with a life-time’s worth of one-liners that no one under 65 finds funny anymore. With the help of a female talent agent half his age (Helen Hunt), Buddy gets a job warming up the audience before the start of a game show. Fred, the host of the game show, sports a mullet-like hairdo, which gives Buddy some nasty ideas.

The cat’s in the bag and the bag’s in the river. (“The Sweet Smell of Success”):
How this Billy Wilder line is not on AFI’s top 100 is beyond me. Does anyone think it’s inferior to “Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.” (“Dracula” – #83), or “I feel the need – the need for speed!” (“Top Gun” – #94) or even top 20 entry “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” (“White Heat” – #18)? Spoken by small-time press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) to big-time gossip columnist J. J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) to indicate the former’s success in solving a problem for the latter, the line is pure noir, like Wilder’s shimmering B&W masterpiece.

This entry was posted in Movies. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.