How many times have we heard the title line used in “spirited” conversation, or, used it, ourselves? If you haven’t you need to try it on someone, pronto. And be sure to let me know what transpires.
As a movie buff and screenwriter, dialogue that strikes a chord and reverberates far beyond a movie’s shelf life is paramount for me. Time and again, I’ve been told that I write great dialogue and I consider that a tremendous compliment because that shit is hard! Those of you who write fiction know how tough it is to craft an exchange between two or more characters that’s not only realistic but makes sense within the context of your plot.
In a screenplay, there’s no room, nor time for fluff. One page of a script equates to roughly one minute of a film. Write a ninety-page script and you have a film that runs an hour and a half long. So given that this is a visual medium as opposed to one where you can go hog wild with exposition, as with a novel, every line has to count, and must propel the screenplay forward.
And the thing is, even a crappy film might surprise a viewer with one or two gems of dialogue. Not often…but it happens.
What does happen frequently: Many of these lines are so hard to forget that they make their way into our lexicon, like the title of this story.
With that, I’ll launch into what I believe are cinematic snatches of dialogue worth remembering, and, if you’re stuck for something to say at a party, worth repeating.
In no particular order.
From “Full Metal Jacket.”
“Me so horny. Me love you long time.”
Yes. That line, from the 1987 Stanley Kubrick film, Full Metal Jacket, another take on the Viet Nam War, takes place in the scene where Matthew Modine’s character, Private Davis, is approached by a Da Nang prostitute. Spoiler alert: Davis does not fork out the ten bucks in exchange for “everything.”
In 1989, the line was further “celebrated” by the rap group, 2 Live Crew and was featured on their controversial album, As Nasty As They Wanna Be, and rocketed to Number 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Rap Tracks Chart.
From “Body Heat”
“You’re not too smart, are you? I like that in a man.”
Newcomer Kathleen Turner sets the screen on fire in the 1981 contemporary noir thriller Body Heat, directed by Lawrence Kasdan. A redo of the 1944 classic, Double Indemnity, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, Turner’s character, Maddy Walker, uses every wile in her repertoire to incite low-life lawyer, Ned Racine, played by William Hurt, into killing her husband.
Ned first sets eyes on Maddy at an outdoor concert in the steaming Florida heat and is instantly smitten. The first shot of Turner, getting up from her seat and walking towards the viewer is a heart-stopper. Dressed in a blinding-white, form-fitting dress that’s slit up the thigh, and looking like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, we can instantly understand why Hurt’s character becomes enmeshed in her web of deceit.
He comes on to her. She tells him she’s married. He keeps going, and that’s when she delivers the “You’re not too smart,” line.
Women, feel free to level some douchebag with it. I’ve always wanted to.
From “A Christmas Story”
“You’ll shoot your eye out!”
How many times have we heard that as kids? This beloved Christmas comedy, which is based on Jean Shepherd’s anecdotal memoir, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, nine-year-old Ralphie, winningly played by Peter Billingsley, wants one thing and one thing only for Christmas. A Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200 shot Range Model air rifle. As one would expect, his parents are firmly against “Santa” gifting their son with a toy that could result in his “shooting his eye out.” How do you think this is resolved? You’ll just have to watch this well-made and kid-friendly film to find out. It’s a loving look at a simpler time and worth repeated viewings.
From “To Have and to Have Not”
“You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together, and blow.”
Probably Lauren Bacall’s greatest scene and defining moment of her career was her maiden voyage in the 1944 film, To Have and to Have Not opposite the megastar who would become her husband, the incomparable Humphrey Bogart. She was just 20 and Bogie, at the height of his career, was 44. Their on-screen chemistry was undeniable. The repartee between the two was sharp and sexy, a combo that carried over in real life, until Bogart’s death in 1957. Based on a novel by Ernest Hemingway and set in Key West, Florida, Bogart plays a boat owner whose affection for his boozy sidekick and love for a mysterious woman result in his aiding gunrunners in a noble cause. Although there are many memorable lines in the movie, the “whistle” is a smokin’ standout.
From “Gone With the Wind”
“I’ll think about it tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day.”
Has there ever been a more memorable procrastinator than Margaret Mitchell’s southern belle and unapologetic vixen, Scarlett O’Hara? In Gone With the Wind, she sets her sights on wealthy plantation owner, Ashley Wilkes but realizes far too late in the game that it’s the rapscallion Rhett Butler who she really loves, and who loved her in return. Until he got fed up AF with her antics. When he finally walks out on her, and she confesses that it’s him she really loves, he utters what is undeniably the film’s second-most memorable line, “Frankly, my dear. I don’t give a damn.” Ahh, romance!
From “Office Space”
“I’m thinking I might take that new chick from Logistics. If things go well I might be showing her my O-face. ‘Oh… Oh… Oh!’ You know what I’m talkin’ about. “Oh!”
“I did absolutely nothing and it was everything I wanted it to be.”
Probably one of the most dead-on depictions of life in a “cube farm” ever filmed, 1999’s Office Space is memorable for its off-the-wall characters like Milton, hilarious dialogue that had us shaking our heads in the agreement of everything that sucks when you spend most of your day toiling in a cubicle, the red Swingline stapler and well — damn near all of it.
As you see, I couldn’t pick just one quote from the movie as the entire script is a boilerplate for any screenwriter who wants to write comedy, and actually make viewers laugh.
Greg Pitts as the raucous character, Drew, gave us the priceless “O-face” line and the look on Peter’s (Ron Livingston) face as he says it is equally priceless.
Peter’s boss, the coffee-swilling Lumbergh, superbly played by Gary Cole, is gloriously unctuous in his delivery of “Mmmmmkay,” every time he brings up Peter’s tardy TPS reports.
Finally, after Peter decides that he’s “just not going to go” to his job, anymore, and instead, spends a day “sitting on his ass,” he declares how wonderful it is to do “absolutely nothing.”
Writing this, so many unforgettable lines of dialogue pop into my head that I could write a story on just this film alone. No doubt, you have your favorites.