You Ain’t Heard Nothing Yet: 20 Obscure Movie Lines We Just Can’t Shake

The Palm Beach StoryFrom the moment Al Jolson ad libbed “Wait a minute folks, you ain’t heard nothing yet!” in The Jazz Singer, movies have been filled with great dialogue. There have been speeches like Orson Welles’ “Cuckoo Clock” lecture in The Third Man and Robert Shaw’s USS Indianapolis story in Jaws. Ingrid Thulin’s lament on life and love in Winter Light for the art house crowd. There have been too many one-liners to count. They begin to run together in a stream of filmic consciousness: “My sister and my daughter an offer he can’t refuse not in Kansas anymore fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night love flies out the door when money comes innuendo here’s looking at you, kid.” I’m sure you can go on and on. And on.

I was watching something recently that brought back those movie lines and many others, some famous, some obscure. For whatever reason, these lines had stayed with me. I figure you know most of the famous ones, so here are twenty somewhat more obscure lines – short speeches and one-liners alike – that I can’t shake. Sometimes it’s because what they say about life. Sometimes it’s because what they say about screenwriting. Sometimes, it’s just because…

“In case I don’t see you again… It’s been very nice knowing you, Miss Breckenridge.”

Bark Cooper (Victor Moore) to Lucy Cooper (Beulah Bondi) in Make Way For Tomorrow, written by Vina Delmar.

It doesn’t get any more poignant than this. A husband and wife, separated by economic troubles and insensitive children, saying farewell for what they both realise may be the final time. If you liked 2014’s Love is Strange, see this ASAP.

“Cold are the hands of time that creep along relentlessly, destroying slowly but without pity that which yesterday was young. Alone, our memories resist this disintegration and grow more lovely with the passing years. That’s hard to say with false teeth.”

The Wienie King (Robert Dudley) to Gerry Jeffers (Claudette Colbert) in The Palm Beach Story, written by Preston Sturges.

This marvellous little speech reveals Sturges’ comic strategy, getting profound, and then undercutting it with a quick bon mot. And it sure helps to have an actor like Dudley delivering the line.

“Make it look like an accident.”

Inspector Donnelly (Barry Fitzgerald) to his police officers in Union Station, written by Sydney Boehm.

This is one of the most chilling lines in American film, in part because it reveals how commonplace police brutality was in pre-Civil Rights Movement America, and in part because it is delivered by the most benevolent of all Irishmen, the impish Barry Fitzgerald. By the way, he is telling his officers to murder a reluctant witness and dump his body so it looks like an accident.

Sweet Smell of Success movie quotes“Cat’s in the bag and the bag’s in the river.”

Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) to J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) in Sweet Smell of Success, written by Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets.

In a stand-out noir chock full of cynically staccato one-liners, this tops them all.

“I told them to build me an assassin. I wanted a killer from a world filled with killers, and they chose you because they thought it would bind me closer to them. But now we have come almost to the end. One last step. And then when I take power, they will be pulled down and ground into dirt for what they did to you. And for what they did in so contemptuously underestimating me.”

Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Angela Lansbury) to Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) in The Manchurian Candidate, written by George Axelrod.

Truly maternal evil. Lansbury’s hateful delivery makes it clear that her personal affront is larger than her concern for her son Raymond, who has been brainwashed into becoming an assassin. Oh, and right after this, she kisses him on the lips in a most non-maternal manner.

“Hardly ever missed, did I?”

Bobby Thompson (Tim O’Kelly) to the police officers taking him into custody in Targets, written by Peter Bogdanovich.

Another chilling moment, as the well-mannered, All-American boy Bobby proudly boasts of his accuracy in murdering innocents with his high-powered rifle.

“We have established the most enormous medical entity ever conceived and people are sicker than ever. We cure nothing! We heal nothing!”

Dr. Herbert Bock (George C. Scott) to Barbara Drummond (Diana Rigg) in The Hospital, written by Paddy Chayefsky.

This was 1971. Kind of rings true today. One of the most underrated and prophetic of all American films. I have never seen Chayefsky and Nostradamus in the same room together.

“I stopped paying attention to him. Instead, I just sat in the car and read a map and spelled out entire sentences with my tongue on the roof of my mouth where nobody could ever see them.”

Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek) to the audience in Badlands, written by Terrence Malick.

Teenage Holly narrates a large part of Badlands in a flat, romance-magazine voice, but never is the expression of her inherent muteness as obvious as it is here.

Escape from Alcatraz Movie quotes“Short.”

Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood) to Charley Butts (Larry Hankin) in Escape From Alcatraz, written by Richard Tuggle.

Charley has just asked fellow inmate Frank to describe his childhood. The one-word answer is a textbook lesson in screenwriting. That one word tells us more about Frank than any speech possibly could.

“You’re not too smart are you. I like that in a man.”

Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner) to Ned Racine (William Hurt) in Body Heat, written by Lawrence Kasdan.

What makes this femme fatale flirtation so great is that Matty is being one hundred percent honest here. But Ned is too stupid to understand that. He will by the end.

“Do you ever get the feeling that there’s something going on that we don’t know about?”

Fenwick (Kevin Bacon) to Boogie (Mickey Rourke) in Diner, written by Barry Levinson.

Fenwick is the smartest of the gang in this fabulous boys movie, and he hits on the vaguely unscratched itch all young men feel in this beautiful pastoral moment.

“A long time ago we knew each other for a short time.”

Nick (William Hurt) to Sam (Tom Berenger) in The Big Chill, written by Lawrence Kasdan and Barbara Benedek.

Nick is the most bitter of the gang, and his skewering of his college friends’ assessment of their relationship strikes a chord for anyone wondering whatever happened to those old college pals.

“And I was saved.”

Matt Macauley (Charlie Korsmo) to the audience in Men Don’t Leave, written by Barbara Benedek and Paul Brickman.

This simple narration, which closes the film, is the most gentle reassurance of the ability of love and family to rescue those in need. And by the same screenwriter who co-wrote the devastatingly cynical line from The Big Chill.

The Last Big Thing movie quotes“The culture is going down on itself! The culture is going down on itself!”

Simon Geist (Dan Zukovic) to the world at large in The Last Big Thing, written by Dan Zukovic.

Transgressive, cynical, and brilliantly witty and observant, this line sums up a sense of self-immolation at the end of the 20th century.

“The Summer I killed my father, I was ten years old.”

Eve Batiste (voice of Tamara Tunie) to the audience in Eve’s Bayou, written by Kasi Lemmons.

This is a great screenwriting trick by Lemmons. By announcing this at the beginning of her story of family and lust and witchcraft, she allows for a very slow build throughout the first act. That line, similar to one Alan Ball uses in American Beauty two years later, hovers over the drama like one of Aunt Mozelle’s ghosts.

“Oh for Pete’s sake. He’s fleeing the interview! He’s fleeing the interview!”

Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) to herself in Fargo, written by Ethan and Joel Coen.

In a film filled with great lines, this is an admittedly odd choice. But whenever I hear it, I can just see the young Marge in her police training days, hearing an instructor say “should a subject flee the interview…” Lines that reveal a character’s realistic history are beautiful to behold.

“I liked her much better when she was an alcoholic crack addict. She gets in one car wreck and all of a sudden she’s Little Miss Perfect and everyone loves her.”

Enid (Thora Birch) to Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) in Ghost World, written by Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff.

The epitome of cultivated teen-age eccentricity.

“You can’t find the right answer if you ask the wrong question. It’s not, ‘why did Woo-jin imprison me?’ It’s ‘why did he release me?’”

Woo-jin Lee (Ji-tae Yu) to Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi) in Oldboy, written by Chan-wook Park, Chun-hyeong Lim, and Jo-yum Hwang.

The greatest revenge film ever turns on this one sudden jolt of obviousness.

Kill Bill movie quotes“Right at this moment, the biggest “R” that I feel is regret. Regret that maybe the greatest warrior I have ever known met her end at the hands of a bushwackin’, scrub, alky piece of shit like you. That woman deserved better.”

Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) to Budd (Michael Madsen) in Kill Bill, vol 2, written by Quentin Tarantino.

The ultimate sign of transgressive sisterhood. The woman who hates you more than anything in the world thinks you deserved a better death.

“My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist.”

Rizvan Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) to TSA agents in My Name is Khan, written by Shibani Bathija and Niranjan Iyengar.

He will say it more than once, but this first utterance hits like a sledge. The fact that it comes from the most popular actor in the world, who is virtually unknown throughout most of the USA, adds an extra layer of meaning to the complex issue of understanding those who are different from you.

An odd blend, I know. But each of these movie lines is stuck in my memory, perhaps incorrectly in some cases. What lines do that for you?

 

Jonathan Eig has taught Screenwriting and Film History at Montgomery College (MD) for the past ten years. In that capacity, he has hosted the popular Montgomery College Film Series at the American Film Institute in Silver Spring, MD. He has been a regular contributor on Huffington Post and his writing about film can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jon-eig/.

19 thoughts on “You Ain’t Heard Nothing Yet: 20 Obscure Movie Lines We Just Can’t Shake

  1. That first utterance of “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist” is one of the very big reasons that’s a four-and-a-half star film on my list. Absolutely spellbinding.
    I’ve seen probably three-quarters of these, and while there are a few where I would have picked different lines (Nancy Hsueh’s character in Targets seemed specifically written to deliver witty, quotable lines), some great explanations on why.

    My favorite obscure quotable line is entirely unintelligible–Rupert Everett’s final line in Dellamorte Dell’Amore, which is a complete game-changer (and a massive spoiler) that turns the movie from a stupid, but funny and on point, zombedy into something brilliant, multi-layered, and worthy of hours of heated debate. I love it when a single line can do that in a movie…

    • I agree about Nancy Hsueh. Bobby’s line isn’t witty or smart. His bland sincerity is what makes it so chilling. I think Bogdanovich had better dialogue when he was writing with Polly Platt.

  2. “He’s my freshman roommate from San Diego State.”

    In Sideways, how an exasperated Paul Giamatti tries to explain to the girl he loves why Thomas Haden- Church, a train wreck of a friend, has been in his life for so long. Like he’s trying to excuse this albatross around his neck because of their early transformative college years.

    “We’re not going to kill him unless we have to.”

    In One False Move, Michael Beach talking to his cohorts Cynda Williams and the trigger-fingered Billy Bob Thornton in the car after they have just been pulled over by a state trooper, who they think may have recognized them. The cool-headed, detached, methodical (Beach)Pluto has already done some nasty things so when he utters the lines you really feel these are some scary individuals and tension follows them in every line Pluto utters.

    and just for kicks…

    “98 bottles of beer on…the…wall… (beat) why were you so unpopular with the Chicago police department?”

    In Midnight Run, a film of many many many great lines, Charles Grodin’s Duke very quickly has gotten under Robert DeNiro’s skin, and in the car, after Walsh (DeNiro) has revealed bits of his life after persistent questioning from Duke, their ad hoc friendship eventually forms.

    • I had forgotten about One False Move. You’re right. Pluto is a fabulous character. Though he has a totally different temperament, I associate him with Don Cheadle’s Mouse in Devil in a Blue Dress, which Franklin made a few years later. “If you ain’t want him dead, why you leave him with me?”

  3. This is from Paper Moon:
    Moses: “I got scruples too, you know. You know what that is? Scruples?”
    Addie: “No, I don’t know what it is, but if you got ’em, it’s a sure bet they belong to somebody else!”

  4. two of my all time favorite lines were in Andy Warhols Frankenstein: “To know life Otto, is to fuck death, in the gallbladder.” And from John waters Female Trouble: ” I wouldn’t suck your Dick hippie, even if you were the last man on Earth and there was oxygen in your balls.

    • John Waters did have a way with words. I suppose he still does. I haven’t watched those movies in years, but I can still hear them.

  5. Interesting choices, Jon. Here’s a personal fave of mine: one of the last lines in Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo,” where Toshiro Mifune says matter-of-factly, “Now it will be quiet in this town”–after obliterating most of the people in it. Brilliant, ironic stuff.

    • Thanks Simon. I found I didn’t think of as many foreign language movies, probably because of having to read the subtitles. But still, great lines transcend.

  6. Many of my favourites here. ‘Ghost World’, the always overlooked ‘Targets’, ‘The Sweet Smell of Success’ (Light me, Sidney) and ‘The Big Chill’. I also like Dietrich’s line in ‘Touch of Evil.’ “He was some kind of a man…What does it matter what you say about people?”
    There have been some good lines in The Sopranos on TV too. They referenced ‘The Godfather Part 3’, with “Just when I thought I was out…They pull me back in.” This TV use of the film reference was just perfect in that episode.
    Great stuff Jon, really enjoyed it.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Ha! “Light me, Sidney” is part of my personal cultural lexicon when I’m dealing with people I can’t stand to be around, but am forced to for various reasons (family or career obligations).
      That movie is full of great ones. As far as quotable zingers, it’s right up there with Sullivan’s Travels and Sunset Blvd.

      • There’s a character in Diner who goes around quoting it. I think that was my introduction to the dialogue, before I actually saw the movie.

        • I always remember it as “Match me, Sidney”, but my brain may be playing tricks on me. It’s been a while since I saw it!

          Love the reference in Diner, too. Another great quotable film. “You never ask me what’s on the flip side” is a favourite.

          The Apartment is up there, too. “Decency-wise, and otherwise-wise” or “Some people take, some people get took”.

          I often find myself slipping obscure quotes into conversations, too, because great screenwriters express what you want to say much better than you can!

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