Alphabetical Movie – Harvey
One of my favorite lines from Harvey is: “In this world you need to be oh so smart or oh so pleasant. Well for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.”
Yes, I condensed the line a little. I believe the sentiment remains.
It is a great line because it defines Elwood P. Dowd in the most precise terms. We understand who he was, why he was unhappy and why he is now (possibly) a little crazy.
Perhaps it is just me but when I think on the movies I consider to be great films, they all have at least one line, if not many, that grab me. Maybe they are laugh out loud funny. Maybe they define a character so perfectly that you need think of that single line and you have the most accurate picture of what they represent.
Take the final line of The Shawshank Redemption. “I hope.” The entire thrust of the movie rests on that last line as we are shown the film was about Red’s path to salvation. Those final whispered words are the perfect punctuation.
How about – well -most any line from Casablanca? I’ll go with my personal favorite:
“I’m shocked, shocked to discover there’s gambling going on!”
“Your winnings sir.”
“Oh! Thank you very much.”
I suppose I like this line so much because if Louis isn’t your favorite character in the film, you clearly have misplaced prioities.
I could pull quotes from every one of my favorite movies that would, I hope, speak to what makes them special if not to everyone, at least to me.
“I don’t know, I’m making this up as I go.”
Howard Hawks, when asked what constituted a good movie, answered “three good scenes. No bad ones.” I wonder what he would say about good lines?
Silent movies would, of course, be exempted.
“I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
There are bad movies that have great lines in them, of course. Hell, Tombstone is littered with great lines. They fall out of Val Kilmer’s mouth and hang around just long enough to distract you from the next stupid thing that someone else says.
“You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous of which is never get involved in a land war in Asia but only slightly less well known is this – never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!”
I’m actually terrible at recalling great movie lines. Maybe it is because I’m getting older or maybe it is because I’ve seen thousands of movies in my life and while I can remember images from most of them, the dialogue begins to bleed together. What remains are the lines that really have an impact.
“I am an exceptional theif and since I’m moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite!”
A great line rarely comes from an actor giving a so-so performance. I hear the line and immediately recall the character. They come from actors who seemed to inhabit a character and give it life beyond the mundane stock characters that inhabit most films.
“I make more money that Calvin Coolidge! Put Together!”
So often the line I remember isn’t delivered by a main character. It is delivered by a character who becomes your favorite because they just have a way with words I can’t ignore.
“Try not! Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
What is interesting about Dowd’s statement is that while it is a lovely sentiment, it isn’t true. You can be very smart and very pleasant. The one trait doesn’t cancel out the other.
Yet we can see why Dowd could not hope to be one or the other. We don’t see it because of the line alone. We see it because of the way Stewart delivers it and because of the way he has played Elwood up to that point in the film. The line is memorable because he is memorable and it defines him.
Great lines do that.
I’ve done far worse than kill you, Admiral. I’ve hurt you. And I wish to go on hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her; marooned for all eternity in the center of a dead planet… buried alive! Buried alive…!