Great Scene: “Jaws”

March 2nd, 2016 by

Monologues are common with stage plays, but not so much with movies. Of course, “motion pictures” are primarily a visual medium — motion pictures — so dialogue, while important, is a secondary form of communication cinematically. However, great dialogue can transcend the adage, “show it, don’t say it.” And perhaps nothing better exemplifies that point than this great scene in the movie Jaws (1975), screenplay by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb, based on the novel by Peter Benchley.

           Brody is looking at a small white patch on Quint's other

                     What's that one, there?

                     Tattoo. Had it taken off.

                     Don't tell me -- 'Death Before
                     Dishonor.' 'Mother.' 'Semper Fi.'
                     Uhhh... 'Don't Tread on Me.' C'mon --

                     'U.S.S Indianapolis.' 1944.

                     What's that, a ship?

                     You were on the Indianapolis? In
                     '45? Jesus...

           Quint remembering.

           CLOSE ON QUINT

                     Yeah. The U.S.S. Indianapolis.
                     June 29th, 1945, three and a half
                     minutes past midnight, two torpedoes
                     from a Japanese submarine slammed
                     into our side. Two or three. We was
                     still under sealed orders after
                     deliverin' the bomb...the Hiroshima
                     bomb...we was goin' back across the
                     Pacific from Tinian to Leyte. Damn
                     near eleven hundred men went over
                     the side. The life boats was lashed
                     down so tight to make the bomb run
                     we couldn't cut a single one adrift.
                     Not one. And there was no rafts.
                     None. That vessel sank in twelve
                     minutes. Yes, that's all she took.
                     We didn't see the first shark till
                     we'd been in the water about an hour.
                     A thirteen-footer near enough. A
                     blue. You measure that by judgin'
                     the dorsal to the tail. What we didn't
                     know... of course the Captain knew...I
                     guess some officers knew... was the
                     bomb mission had been so secret, no
                     distress signals was sent. What the
                     men didn't know was that they wouldn't
                     even list us as overdue for a week.
                     Well, I didn't know that -- I wasn't
                     an officer -- just as well perhaps.
                     So some of us were dead already --
                     in the water -- just hangin' limp in
                     our lifejackets. And several already
                     bleedin'. And the three hundred or
                     so laying on the bottom of the ocean.
                     As the light went, the sharks came
                     crusin'. We formed tight groups --
                     somewhat like squares in an old battle --
                     You know what I mean -- so that when
                     one come close, the man nearest would
                     yell and shout and pound the water
                     and sometimes it worked and the fish
                     turned away, but other times that
                     shark would seem to look right at a
                     man -- right into his eyes -- and in
                     spite of all shoutin' and poundin'
                     you'd hear that terrible high
                     screamin' and the ocean would go
                     red, then churn up as they ripped
                     him.  Then we'd reform our little
                     squares. By the first dawn the sharks
                     had taken more than a hundred. Hard
                     for me to count but more than a
                     hundred. I don't know how many sharks.
                     Maybe a thousand. I do know they
                     averaged six men an hour. All kinds --
                     blues, makos, tigers. All kinds.
                     In the middle of the second day,
                     some of us started to go crazy from
                     the thirst. One fella cried out he
                     saw a river, another claimed he saw
                     a waterfall, some started to drink
                     the ocean and choked on it, and some
                     left our little groups -- our little
                     squares -- and swam off alone lookin'
                     for islands and the sharks always
                     took them right away. It was mainly
                     the young fellas that did that --
                     the older ones stayed where they
                     was. That second day -- my life jacket
                     rubbed me raw and that was more blood
                     in the water. Oh my. On Thursday
                     morning I bumped up against a friend
                     of mine -- Herbie Robinson from
                     Cleveland -- a bosun's mate -- it
                     seemed he was asleep but when I
                     reached over to waken him, he bobbed
                     in the water and I saw his body upend
                     because he'd been bitten in half
                     beneath the waist. Well Chief, so it
                     went on -- bombers high overhead but
                     nobody noticin' us. Yes -- suicides,
                     sharks, and all this goin' crazy and
                     dyin' of thirst. Noon the fifth day,
                     Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura swung
                     around and came in low. Yes. He did
                     that. Yes, that pilot saw us. And
                     early evenin', a big fat PBY come
                     down out of the sky and began the
                     pickup.  That was when I was most
                     frightened of all -- while I was
                     waitin' for my turn. Just two and a
                     half hours short of five days and
                     five nights when they got to me and
                     took me up. Eleven hundred of us
                     went into that ocean -- three hundred
                     and sixteen got out. Yeah. Nineteen
                     hundred and forty five. June the
                     Anyway, we delivered the bomb.

And here’s the scene:

Incredible delivery by Robert Shaw. Incredible scene.

[Originally posted September 19, 2008]

UPDATE: In comments, Dan Gagliasso wrote this:

Come on guys – it is very well known that John Milius wrote that scene over the phone as a favor for Steven Spielberg. Then Robert Shaw (who was a fine writer himself) cut it down some and made it his own. That credit is given in all of the books on the making of “Jaws” and Spielberg has been very public about giving Milius the credit, as well.

The Milius connection is well-known, indeed, as well as Shaw’s reworking of the speech. However that is only part of the story. Here is a direct quote from Spielberg himself taken from a 2011 Ain’t It Cool News interview:

I owe three people a lot for this speech. You’ve heard all this, but you’ve probably never heard it from me. There’s a lot of apocryphal reporting about who did what on Jaws and I’ve heard it for the last three decades, but the fact is the speech was conceived by Howard Sackler, who was an uncredited writer, didn’t want a credit and didn’t arbitrate for one, but he’s the guy that broke the back of the script before we ever got to Martha’s Vineyard to shoot the movie.

I hired later Carl Gottlieb to come onto the island, who was a friend of mine, to punch up the script, but Howard conceived of the Indianapolis speech. I had never heard of the Indianapolis before Howard, who wrote the script at the Bel Air Hotel and I was with him a couple times a week reading pages and discussing them.

Howard one day said, “Quint needs some motivation to show all of us what made him the way he is and I think it’s this Indianapolis incident.” I said, “Howard, what’s that?” And he explained the whole incident of the Indianapolis and the Atomic Bomb being delivered and on its way back it was sunk by a submarine and sharks surrounded the helpless sailors who had been cast adrift and it was just a horrendous piece of World War II history. Howard didn’t write a long speech, he probably wrote about three-quarters of a page.

But then, when I showed the script to my friend John Milius, John said “Can I take a crack at this speech?” and John wrote a 10 page monologue, that was absolutely brilliant, but out-sized for the Jaws I was making! (laughs) But it was brilliant and then Robert Shaw took the speech and Robert did the cut down. Robert himself was a fine writer, who had written the play The Man in the Glass Booth. Robert took a crack at the speech and he brought it down to five pages. So, that was sort of the evolution just of that speech.

Per Spielberg, the U.S.S. Indianapolis speech has its roots in three ‘authors’: Sackler, Milius, and Shaw. Interesting backstory for what is in my view the high-water mark for exposition in movies.

Great Scene: “Michael Clayton”

February 24th, 2016 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today’s suggestion by Rahul Prasad: The 2007 movie Michael Clayton, written and directed by Tony Gilroy. IMDB plot summary:

A law firm brings in its “fixer” to remedy the situation after a lawyer has a breakdown while representing a chemical company that he knows is guilty in a multi-billion dollar class action suit.

It’s actually two scenes, but as continuous action, they play as one. In the first part, Clayton (George Clooney) confronts Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) about information he has gathered related to the legal case and Crowder’s role in the death of Clayton’s longtime friend and associate Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson):

And then this:

This is a brilliant movie capped off by a powerful ending. The first part is almost all dialogue, the confrontation between Clayton and Crowder. The second part is almost zero dialogue, just a locked shot onto Clayton’s face as the cab drives and drives while credits roll. In Clayton’s face, we see the array of emotions roiling inside, perhaps most clearly a sense of sadness because even though he has succeeded in the eventual takedown of the chemical company, nothing will bring back his friend Edens… and nothing will allow Clayton the chance to relive his life while making different choices. He is a fixer who is broken.

As I watched the scene again, I was struck by two callbacks, one visual, one a line of dialogue. The visual is this:

Crowder: This would have to be a longer conversation and it would have to take place somewhere else.
Clayton: Where? My car?

Which, of course, brings to mind this moment:

The other is this:

Crowder: You don’t want the money?
Clayton: Keep the money. You’ll need it.
Don Jefferies: Is this fellow bothering you?
Clayton: Am I bothering you?
Don Jefferies: Karen, I’ve got a board waiting in there. What the hell’s going on? Who are you?
Clayton: I’m Shiva, the God of death.

Which recalls a line from Edens at the very end of this scene:

“I am Shiva, the God of death.”

In recalling Edens’ line to Crowder and Jefferies, Clayton provides an ironic button to the whole sordid affair, but also this: An attempt at redemption. To inflict the justice Edens wanted upon the immoral Powers That Be. But as we can see in the second part of scene, at most for Clayton it’s a pyrrhic victory.

How about you? What’s your take on the last scene from Michael Clayton?

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.

Thanks for the suggestion, Rahul! If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!

[Originally posted October 6, 2014]

Great Scene: “Night Shift”

February 17th, 2016 by

One of the classic 80’s comedies is Night Shift (1982), written by the prolific screenwriting team Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel, and directed by Ron Howard. And if asked if you remember one scene from that movie, it’s most likely this one: The “prostitution” scene, where Bill Blazejowski (a tremendous comic performance by Michael Keaton) attempts to sell a group of hookers on this idea: Use the night shift at the city morgue to run a prostitution ring. Here’s the scene:

I don’t have the script, but here’s a transcript of the dialogue:

What are we really talking about here? What’s the essence of what we’re talking about? I’ll spell it out for you. PROSTITUTION! Hey, we can say. We’re big kids now. A lot of times, it really helps to understand a word if you break it down, so let’s do that now, shall we? Pros… it doesn’t mean anything, you can forget about that… Tit, I think we all know what that means, Tu, two tit and TION of course, from the Latin to shun… to say uh-uh, no thank you anyway I don’t want it, to push away… it doesn’t even belong in this word really, so let’s get rid of that.

I think writers appreciate the inspiration behind this scene even more than most because it finds the humor by breaking down — a word.

[Originally posted September 11, 2009]

Great Scene: “Manhunter”

February 10th, 2016 by

I think we’d all admit the first time Clarice Starling meets Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, that was a great scene:

But what about when we all were introduced to Dr. Lecter? That would be in the 1986 movie Manhunter. Written and directed by Michael Mann with a screenplay adapted from the novel “The Red Dragon” by Thomas Harris, here is a plot summary from IMDb:

Will Graham [William Petersen] is a former FBI agent who recently retired to Florida with his wife Molly and their young son. Graham was a ‘profiler’; one who profiles criminal’s behavior and tries to put his mind into the minds of criminals to examine their thoughts while visiting crime scenes. Will is called out of his self-imposed retirement at the request of his former boss Jack Crawford [Dennis Farina] to help the FBI catch an elusive serial killer, known to the press as the ‘Tooth Fairy’, who randomly kills whole families in their houses during nights of the full moon and leaves bite marks on his victims. To try to search for clues to get into the mind of the killer, Will has occasional meetings with Dr. Hannibal Lecktor [Brian Cox], a charismatic but very dangerous imprisoned serial killer that Will captured years earlier which nearly drove him insane from the horrific encounter that nearly cost Will’s life. With some help and hindrance, Will races against the clock before the next full moon when the ‘Tooth Fairy’ will strike again. Elsewhere, a local photographer named Francis Dollarhyde [Tom Noonan], the killer that Will is looking for, struggles to stay undetected while seeing a hope of redemption when be begins a relationship with a blind woman who is not aware of his double life.

Here is the first meeting between Will and Lecktor:


               We hear three locks opening. The door opens. Graham enters.  
               An attendant behind Graham closes the door and we hear the 
               bolts lock again. As Graham is walking towards us, we WIDEN 
               and TRACK IN. It makes the b.g. disorienting as we get closer 
               to Graham's face. The CAMERA DROPS as Graham sits in a single 
               chair. We haven't yet seen what Graham looks at. Now:

               GRAHAM'S POV: BARRED CELL

               A 6x10 cage. In the center of the bars separating Graham 
               from the occupant is a three-foot-square perspex sheet. The 
               occupant can't get at someone sitting in front of him. In 
               the perspex square is a letter -- passing drawer. In the 
               cell -- laying on his bunk -- is DR. HANNIBAL LECKTOR. He 
               appears to be asleep. His back is to Graham. He has not 
               stirred. Then:

                         That's the same atrocious aftershave 
                         you wore in court three years ago.

                         I keep getting it for Christmas.

               CLOSE: LECKTOR'S HEAD

               turns to us. His small eyes drill into Graham's brain.  
               Lecktor's attitude is professionally psychiatric, as if Graham 
               is the patient.

                         Did you get my card?

                         I got it. Thank you.

               Graham's struggle will be to keep locked-down inside himself 
               all his emotional reactions.

                         And how is Officer Stuart? The one 
                         who was the first to see my basement.

                         Stuart is fine.

                         Emotional problems, I hear. He was a 
                         very promising young officer. Do you 
                         ever have any problems, Will?


                         Of course, you don't.
                         I'm glad you came. My callers are 
                         all professional. Clinical 
                         psychiatrists from cornfield colleges 
                         somewhere. Second-raters, the lot.

                         Dr. Bloom showed me your article on 
                         surgical addiction in the journal of 
                         Clinical Psychiatry.


                         Very interesting, even to a layman.

               Lecktor rolls around and examines the term "layman" in his 
               head. Then:

                         A layman..., layman. Interesting 
                         term. So many experts on government 
                         grants. And you say you're a 'layman?' 
                         But it was you who caught me, wasn't 
                         it, Will? Do you know how you did 

                         You've read the transcript. It's all 

                         No it's not. Do you know how you did 
                         it Will?

                         It's in the transcript. What does it 
                         matter now?

                         It doesn't matter to me, Will.

                         I want you to help me, Dr. Lecktor.

                         Yes, I thought so.

                         It's about Atlanta and Birmingham.


                         You read about it, I'm sure.

                         In the papers. I don't tear out the 
                         I wouldn't want them to think I was 
                         dwelling on anything morbid. You 
                         want to know how he's choosing them, 
                         don't you?

                         I thought you would have some ideas.

                         Why should I tell you?

                         There are things you don't have.  
                         Research materials... I could speak 
                         to the Chief of Staff...?

                         Chilton? Gruesome, isn't he? He 
                         fumbles at your head like a freshman 
                         pulling at a panty girdle.
                         He actually tries to give me a 
                         Thematic and Apperception test.  
                         Hah. Sat there waiting for MF-13 to 
                         come up. It's a card with a woman in 
                         bed and a man in the foreground.  I 
                         was supposed to avoid a sexual 
                         interpretation. I laughed in his 
                         Never mind, it's boring.

                         You'll get to see the file on this 
                         case. And there's another reason.

                         Pray tell.

                         I thought you might be curious to 
                         find our if you're smarter than the 
                         person I'm looking for.

                         Then by implication, you think that 
                         you are smarter than me, since you 
                         caught me.

                         No. I knew that I'm not smarter than 
                         you are.

                         Then how did you catch me, Will?

                         You had disadvantages.

                         What disadvantage?

                         You're insane.

                         You're very tan, Will.

               Graham does not answer.  If anything happens, there is a 
               tightening of the musculature repressing his reactions to 

                         Your hands are rough. They don't 
                         look like a cop's hands anymore.  
                         That shaving lotion is something a 
                         child would select. It has a ship on 
                         the bottle, doesn't it?

               Another silence. Lecktor's eyes look as if they're drilling 
               into Graham's head, trying to find out things. Trying to 
               find a way to hurt Graham. He's very threatening. Then 

                         Don't think you can persuade me with 
                         appeals to my intellectual vanity.

                         I don't think I'll persuade you.  
                         You'll do it or you won't. Dr. Bloom 
                         is working an it anyway, and he's 
                         the best...

                         Do you have the file with you




                         Let me have them, and I might consider 


                         Do you dream much, Will?

                         Good-bye, Dr. Lecktor.

                         You haven't threatened to take away 
                         my books yet.

               Graham gets up and starts to walk away.

                         Let me have the file. Then I'll tell 
                         you what I think.

               Graham stops at the door before he knocks for the attendant.  
               Then he folds the abridged file tightly into the sliding 
               tray. Lecktor pulls it through.


               sits in the chair. He wants a cigarette. He doesn't take 
               one. He waits. And he watches. What he sees:


               Toothbrush, mirror, sink, Sryrofoam cups, soft paper journals, 
               T-shirts, neatly stacked hospital pads, sneakers with no 
               shoelaces, the wall, seatless toilet bowl, etc, etc. All the 
               objects are brilliantly lit with sharp bluish light.  Their 
               edges are sharper and more defined than normal. The shadows 
               of the bars make hard-edged stripes. It is a high resolution, 
               highly brilliant set of images. It feels like a hyper-
               perception of reality, a super-realism perceived by the mind 
               of Graham. It is interrupted when:

                                     LECKTOR (O.S.)
                         There is a very shy boy, Will.


               snaps back to the present, looks at Lecktor.

                         What were the yards like?

                         Big backyards, fences, some hedges, 

                         Because, my dear Will, if this Pilgrim 
                         imagines he has a relationship with 
                         the full moon, he might go outside 
                         and look at it.  Have you seen blood 
                         in moonlight, Will? It appears quite 
                         black. If one were nude, it would be 
                         better to have outdoor privacy for 
                         this sort of thing.

                         That's interesting.

                         It's not 'interesting'. You thought 
                         of it before.

                         Yes. I'd considered it.

                         You came here to look at me, Will.  
                         To get the old scent again, didn't 

                         I want your opinion.

                         I don't have one right now.

                         When you do have one I'd like to 
                         hear it.

                         May I keep the file?

                         I haven't decided yet.

                         I'll study it, Will. When you get 
                         more files, I'd like to see them, 
                         too. You can call me. When I have to 
                         call my lawyer, they bring me a 
                         telephone. Would you like to give me 
                         your home number?



                         Do you know how you caught me, Will?

                         Goodbye, Dr. Lecktor. You can leave 
                         messages for me at the number on the 

               Graham bangs on the door. Locks are starting to be unlocked.  
               Graham can't wait to get out of here. He wants the locks to 
               get unlocked faster!

                         Do you know how you caught me?

               The door is now open. Graham fights down the impulse to run 
               through. As Graham -- controlled -- steps out, what he hears 

                                     LECKTOR (O.S.)
                         The reason you caught me, Will, is: 
                         We're just alike. You want the scent? 
                         Smell yourself.

               The DOOR SLAMS shut on Lecktor.

                                                                    CUT TO:

Here’s the scene from Manhunter:

It’s the same psychological games from Lecktor that we see in Lambs, despite the different spelling of his name.

I thought Manhunter was a really good movie. I also thought that Francis Dollarhyde was even more frightening than Buffalo Bill (but I’m basing that on my experience of reading the books as “The Red Dragon” totally freaked me out).

But the big question is which Lecktor / Lecter do you like better: Cox’s version or Hopkins?

[Originally posted June 11, 2010]

Great Scene: “Heat”

January 20th, 2016 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today’s suggestion by ryanleegilmore.

The 1995 movie Heat, written and directed by Michael Mann, is superior entertainment. Here’s an IMDB plot summary:

Hunters and their prey–Neil and his professional criminal crew hunt to score big money targets (banks, vaults, armored cars) and are, in turn, hunted by Lt. Vincent Hanna and his team of cops in the Robbery/Homicide police division. A botched job puts Hanna onto their trail while they regroup and try to put together one last big ‘retirement’ score. Neil and Vincent are similar in many ways, including their troubled personal lives. At a crucial moment in his life, Neil disobeys the dictum taught to him long ago by his criminal mentor–‘Never have anything in your life that you can’t walk out on in thirty seconds flat, if you spot the heat coming around the corner’–as he falls in love. Thus the stage is set for the suspenseful ending….

Hanna is played by Al Pacino. Robert DeNiro portrays Neil. In this great scene, the two meet for the one and only time in the movie – and as far as I know, it’s the only time they’ve ever shared the screen at the same time in their entire acting careers.

The dialogue drips with subtext, but what is perhaps most interesting is the journey the scene takes. They start off with a bit of cat-and-mouse, prodding and probing each other. Then they strip away the veneer and take a good honest look at each other – and realize they’re really quite similar in terms of their place in life. Then it feels like they’re truly trying to see if there’s a way out of a confrontation. But it ends up pretty much where it started – they know they’re going to be at each other down the road.

Here’s the scene:

Some background on the scene:

* In an interview with Al Pacino on the DVD Special Edition, Pacino revealed that for the scene in the restaurant between Hanna and McCauley, Robert De Niro felt that the scene should not be rehearsed so that the unfamiliarity between the two characters would seem more genuine. Michael Mann agreed, and shot the scene with no practice rehearsals.

* For the restaurant sequence where McCauley and Hanna finally meet, Michael Mann ran two cameras simultaneously in order to generate a greater level of fluidity between both rivals. Since there were no rehearsals for the scene, this approach afforded both men a more generous margin for improvisational experimentation.

* Although this is the second film on which Al Pacino and Robert De Niro have shared top billing, in The Godfather: Part II (1974), they didn’t have a single scene together. In this movie, they only have two scenes together, for a total of less than 10 minutes.

* Many viewers claim that Robert De Niro and Al Pacino never (or hardly ever) actually share screen time during the film, despite the hype surrounding the films release as showcasing their first screen appearance. In most Pan and Scan versions of the film, and TV broadcasts, it does appear that during the “diner scene” the two never actually share the screen, but viewing the film in correct letterbox format, as the director Michael Mann intended, clearly shows the two actors sitting at the table, though only in wide shots.

* The meeting between Robert De Niro and Al Pacino over coffee was shot at Kate Mantilini on Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills. The restaurant recently closed.

If you watch the movie version and compare it to the script, you’ll note that there is a middle section, presumably added by Michael Mann. And that dialogue exchange is this:

HANNA: You know I have this recurring dream. I’m sitting at this big banquet table and all the victims of all the murders I ever worked are sitting at this table and they’re staring at me with these black eyeballs because they got 8-ball hemorrhages from the head wounds. And there they are, these big balloon people, because I found them two weeks after they’ve been under the bed. The neighbors reported the smell. And there they are, all of ’em, just sitting there.
NEIL: Whadda they say?
HANNA: Nothing.
NEIL: No talk?
HANNA: No. Just… they don’t have anything to say. They just look at each other. They look at me. And that’s it, that’s the dream. (snaps fingers)
NEIL: I have one where I’m drowning. And I gotta wake myself up and start breathing or I’ll die in my sleep.
HANNA: You know what that’s about?
NEIL: Yeah. Havin’ enough time.
HANNA: Enough time? To do what you wanna do?
NEIL: That’s right.
HANNA: You doin’ it now?
NEIL: Nah, not yet.

And that segues into “You know we’re sitting here like a coupla of regular fellahs.” It’s interesting to conjecture: Why did Mann add these two ‘confessions,’ both men sharing a secret about their recurring dreams? I’ve got a couple of ideas, but I’m curious to hear what you have to say, so please feel free to weigh in with your comments. Just in general, why do you think this scene works? If anybody cares to do a structural analysis of the scene, breaking it down, that would be groovy.

If you’d like to read the scripted version of the scene, check out my Script To Screen post here.

To read the entire script, go here.

In any event, I think I’m not diving off the deep end to assert that this is a great scene.

Thanks for the suggestion, Ryan! If you have a suggestion for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!

[Originally posted October 1, 2014]

Great Scene: “Dog Day Afternoon”

January 13th, 2016 by

The stand-off. One of the most popular, recurring beats in cinematic history. And why not? There’s typically tension galore — guns waving, people screaming, threats being made. Perhaps the most memorable stand-off in recent movie history is this great scene from Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Written by award-winning screenwriter Frank Pierson, the scene finds Sonny (Al Pacino) outside a bank in which he’s holding several employees hostage in a bungled robbery. Negotiating with Sonny is police Detective Moretti (Charles Durning).

               ON MORETTI

               Behind him a mob scene.  Howard is being led away, weeping.  
               Photographers, cops, a phalanx of cops have their weapons 
               levelled on Sonny like a firing squad.  It is right on the 
               edge of violence... of blowing up.  Sonny and Sylvia are in 
               the shelter of the doorway, Moretti stands on the sidewalk, 
               looking toward Sonny inside the bank.

                         Sonny - come out here a minute.

               At this point, he removes his jacket and drops it to the 
               ground, showing Sonny that he is unarmed.

                         You got these cops outta here.
                         They're comin' in too close.

                         Come on.  I want you to see something.

                         You want me to give up, huh?  Look, 
                         Sal's in back with the girls.  
                         Anything happens to me - one move - 
                         and Sal gives it to them.  Boom boom.  
                         How do I know you won't jump me?

                         I don't forget about Sal and the 
                         boom boom room.  I want you to see 

               Sonny turns back to tell Sal he's going outside.  Moretti 
               stands well out in the street, to reassure Sonny nobody is 
               going to try to jump him.  Sonny stares around; he nudges 
               Sylvia out ahead of him.  As they edge into sight of the 
               Media across the street:

                                     NEWSMEN AND PHOTOGRAPHERS
                         Out in the light.  Hey, Lady!  You're 
                         on TV, Lady!  Smile, any...  god 
                         damn thing...

               ANGLES - SHOWING CROWDS

               straining against police lines: this is where we begin to 
               sense the size of the event.  People are eating popsicles 
               and ice cream.  They are diverted and excited.  Sonny and 
               Sylvia begin to emerge: CATCALLS and HOOTS of greeting...

               CLOSER - SONNY AND SYLVIA

               as he looks around, and the impact of his situation really 
               hits him: he's not only totally surrounded, he's an event.  
               Some of the crowd CHEER him.  An army of Cops, and guns all 
               levelled on Sonny.

                         Let Sal come out, take a look.  What 
                         hope you got?  Quit while you're 
                         ahead.  All you got is attempted 

                         ...armed robbery...

                         Well, armed, then.  Nobody's been 
                         hurt.  Release the hostages, nobody 
                         is gonna worry over kidnapping 
                         charges, the worst you're gonna get 
                         is five years -- you can be out in a 

               Sonny stares at him, his face utterly blank.

                         Kiss me.

               Moretti stops, stares back.


                         When I'm bein' fucked, I like to be 
                         kissed a lot.
                              (bursting out)
                         Who the fuck are you tryin' to con 
                         me into some deal?  You're a city 
                         cop, where's the FBI?  This is a 
                         federal offense, I got kidnapping, 
                         armed robbery, they're gonna bury 
                         me!  You know it, you can't talk for 
                         them, you're some flunky pig tryin' 
                         to bullshit me.  Now God damn it, 
                         get somebody in charge here to talk 
                         to me!

                         Calm down, you're not...

                         Calm down... look at this, look at 

               Gestures at the cops, the wall of rifles and machine guns 
               levelled on him.  It is incredible and terrifying...

                         They wanna kill me so bad they can 
                         taste it!

               He takes a defiant step into the street.  The crowd SCREAMS 
               as they get their first view, which is of Sonny telling the 
               Cops off.  They don't need to hear the words, they can see 

                         Attica!  Attica!  Go ahead!  Blow 
                         off the front of the whole God damn 

               He holds his hands wide offering himself as a target to the 
               hulking officer.

                              (to the TV)
                         If it wasn't for you guys they'd 
                         kill everybody and say it was me and 
                              (to Moretti)
                         You tell 'em to put the guns down.
                         I can't stand it.

               He means it.  Moretti gestures to the officers to back away, 
               lower the guns.  The crowd YELLS: Sonny has beat the Cops.

               He is momentarily their hero.

               It's a breaking point.  Moretti makes a decision.

                              (Cop language command 
                              to put gun away)
                         All right - put the guns down!

               He has to YELL it twice before the Cop slowly, angrily, stuffs 
               the gun into his holster.

               SOUND: The crowd screams.

               ON SONNY

               hearing the Crowd APPLAUSE.  He turns and grins and waves to 
               them.  They SCREAM more.  He turns and waves to the media.  
               They've been YELLING.

                         Hey, over here!  Give us a wave!

               It is at this point that newsman leans out a window of the 
               second floor of the bank, quickly lowering a mike boom.

               Sylvia sees this above her head.

               ON MORETTI

               unhappy, looking around at Sheldon, who shrugs.  He did what 
               he had to do.

               ON SONNY

               Suddenly realizing what control he has, enjoying it.  He 
               turns mockingly his left and his right profile to cameras.

Beyond the inherent tension between Sonny and Moretti, what makes the scene memorable is the surprising twist — “Attica! Attica!” — which effectively shifts the power from the cops to the robbers. Here’s the scene from the movie:

Great scene from a great movie Dog Day Afternoon.

[Originally posted June 5, 2009]

Great Scene: “The Deer Hunter”

January 6th, 2016 by

This has to rank as one of the most riveting scenes in movie history: The Russian roulette sequence in The Deer Hunter (1978). Setting: Vietnam War. Two captured American soldiers, surrounded by Vietnamese guards, forced to take turns putting a pistol to their heads and pulling the trigger, while the guards place bets on who’s going to die. Meanwhile, a third soldier in locked in a floating cage, fighting exhaustion and rats — a worthy ‘ticking clock.’


SAL has absolutely no comprehension of what is about to
happen to him. His eyes are dreamy, far away, as if he had
mentally transported himself to some distant place. There are
great gashes in his head from the blows he has received and
as he stands waiting in the pouring rain he looks exactly
like a very small child who has experienced some terrible

Suddenly the GUARD standing beside SAL wrenches him around.

We see the pit now, CLOSE UP. There are four bloated CORPSES
floating in the muck.

We SAL'S FACE, CLOSE UP. He gives a CRY and tries to turn

We see the GUARDS pick SAL up, SCREAMING. We see the SPLASH
as SAL hits the water and then we see him surface between the
bloated CORPSES, STILL SCREAMING, paddling desperately and
trying to find something solid to hod him up.

NICK stands motionless, stunned, listening to SAL'S SCREAMS.
MERLE has his attention focused on the GUARD IN CHARGE and
when he glances in their direction MERLE slugs NICK in the
stomach and begins beating him furiously to the ground. NICK
struggles to his feet. MERLE attacks him again and now, as
the GUARD IN CHARGE comes over to see what's going on, MERLE
begins hopping up and down, pointing at NICK, pointing at the
revolver in the GUARD'S hand and screaming.

	Him and me!!! Him and me!!!

The GUARDS look at each other, interested.

	Him and me, goddamn it! Him and me!


MERLE and NICK sit facing one another across the rose
patterned kitchen table. The GUARDS are all grinning and even
the SOUTH VIETNAMESE are watching with grim fascination. NICK
has the revolver. He is trembling visibly. Already MERLE has
managed to draw the GUARDS in closer and as NICK spins the
cylinder and cocks the hammer MERLE jumps up and begins
pounding on the table.

	This is it, motherfuckers! Now he's
	going to do it! Watch! You watch!

NICK almost loses what little control is left and his hand
begins shaking violently.

	Look at him! See! This is it and he
	knows it!

Side bets begin changing hands.

	Last chance to lose your money
	there, guys. Goodbye money! Hurry,
	hurry. Here he goes!

NICK puts the revolver against his temple and pulls the
trigger. There is a dull CLICK.

NICK puts the revolver back on the table. His hand is shaking
so badly it falls with a clunk. MERLE grabs it, spins it,
sticks it to his temple and CLICKS OUT, talking all the time:

	This is stupid! You understand
	stupid? On and on! At this rate
	we'll still be here tomorrow!
		(throws the revolver on
		the table)
	Wait a minute. I know! Hey, I got
	it. More! Put in more! You
	understand more? More! More
		(he mimes with his
	Three bullets! You understand
	three? That way BLAM! BOOM!

MERLE hops up and down, laughing maniacally.

	KA-POWIE!!! BA-ROOM!!!... 'Cause I
	want that bastard! Him I want boom!
	Him or me!!!

The GUARD IN CHARGE looks at his COMPANIONS. They all begin
shouting for him to go ahead. The GUARD IN CHARGE purses his
lips, as if imitating a general coming to a decision, and
then nods his assent. The GUARDS all howl. MERLE joins right

	He's terrific! Great fucking guy!

The GUARD IN CHARGE takes the revolver, opens the cylinder
and begins sticking in two more cartridges.


MERLE hops up and down again, then screams at NICK, jabbing
his finger at him, as if in fury.

	Both of us may have to pull on
	this, so get your shit in fuckin'
		(to the GUARDS)
	Him or me!!! Now we got it, him or
		(he rubs his hands and
		sits back down)
	Place your bets, motherfuckers! Now
	we're going! Now we got a game!

The GUARD IN CHARGE places the revolver on the table, spins

	Watch! Now watch! He's going to get
	it. And then KA-POW! BA-ROOMIE!!!

The muzzle stops pointing at MERLE. MERLE scowls, looks over
at the GUARD IN CHARGE. The GUARD IN CHARGE has lifted the
barrel of his AK 47 and is watching him with caution. The
OTHER GUARDS, who are totally caught up in the game, are
yelling and shouting.

	You guys think I'm in trouble,

MERLE picks up the revolver, spins the cylinder, cocks it...

	No way! Never!!!
		(he begins to chant)
	Lemme hear it. Come on,
	motherfuckers, lemme hear it!

MERLE starts it again. The GUARDS who are bett ing on him

		(with GUARDS)

MERLE takes a glance at the GUARD IN CHARGE again. The GUARD
IN CHARGE is still eyeing him with caution.

MERLE places the revolver to his temple... and CLICKS into an
empty chamber.

	See! Nothing to it.

He pushes the gun across to NICK. Then he stabs his finger at
him, screaming again, as if in a fit of rage.

	You got an empty chamber and it's
	in your mind! Just put that empty
	chamber in the gun!

NICK looks down at the revolver and picks it up. He stares at
MERLE for a moment. Then he spins the cylinder, cocks the
hammer, Puts it to his head... and CLICKS into an empty

The GUARDS let out expressions of disbelief. Those betting on
NICK begin taunting those betting on MERLE.

MERLE sits motionless, as if stunned, as if utterly defeated,
his brow furrowed in a mighty frown.

NICK pushes the revolver across the table. His face is
twitching but he gives the gesture a certain flair, as if
throwing back a challenge.

MERLE stares at the revolver -- stares at it with an
expression of utter gloom. Then he reaches out, takes the
revolver in his hand and pulls it toward him, as if he no
longer possessed the strength to pick it up.

	Who's for Merle?
		(he thumps his fist on the
	Is anyone for Merle???

MERLE roams a glowering eve over the watching GUARDS, as if
suddenly discovering himself among traitors. Slowly, he
pushes himself to his feet. The gun is still on the table,
still in his right hand, and as he gets up he lets his body
sag over it.

	Who here is for Merle...?

There is absolute silence now except for the drumming of the
rain. It is as if the war had disappeared, vanished. The
GUARDS stand motionless, hardly breathing, so captivated by
MERLE'S performance that they suddenly resemble little

	Who... here... is for Merle...?

MERLE begins his chant again. His voice is low, very
dramatic, and the GUARD IN CHARGE joins right in.

		(with GUARDS)

MERLE snaps the revolver level in his hand and BLASTS the
GUARD IN CHARGE, hitting him full in the face. At the same
time NICK throws himself into the GUARD who is standing
behind him, spins and slams the GUARD'S AK 47 into his chin.
GUARDS crash over the kitchen table. NICK now opens up with
AK 47, and as MERLE backs off beside him, also with an AK 47,
they GUN the remaining GUARDS to the floor.

It is over in an instant. The BODIES lie in a bloody, tangled
mess under a pathetic paper lantern. The rain drones on --
uninterrupted, undiminished, eternal...

And here’s the sequence from the movie:

Quite a few changes in terms of dialogue between script and screen, but the overall trajectory of the scene plays just the same, leading to its gut-wrenching conclusion.

This is a set-up for another ‘game’ of Russian Roulette, reprised with both Michael and Nicky — an equally as shocking scene.

[Originally posted November 21, 2008]

What were your favorite movie scenes in 2015?

December 31st, 2015 by

Favorite scenes. Memorable moments. I’m convinced this is how viewers most connect with movies. That’s probably one reason why we always get year-end lists like this:

The Best Film Scenes of 2015 (The A.V. Club)

The Best Movie Scenes of 2015 (Entertainment Weekly)

The Best Movie Scenes of 2015 (Indiewire)

The Best Movie Scenes of 2015 (Variety)

The 17 Most Unforgettable Movie Moments Of 2015 (io9)

Got me thinking about what scenes I most remembered from 2015. Here’s one from the movie Mad Max: Fury Road:

This scene takes us from an emotional high to the pits of despair. And the way Miller shot Furiosa’s scream… in silence… brilliant.

How about you? What were some of your favorite scenes and memorable movie moments from 2015?

Great Scene: “Duck Soup”

December 30th, 2015 by

As much of a fan of movies as I am, I’m still shocked to remember that it wasn’t until I was in college that I saw a Marx Bros. movie for the first time. It was a double feature: Coconuts and Duck Soup. I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed so hard as that night. One of the great scenes I remember is the famous mirror scene in Duck Soup. The writing credits are Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby for “story,” and Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin (who worked on many Marx Bros. movies) for “additional dialogue” — but this scene is all Groucho and Harpo. Sorry, no script available online. Enjoy!

For the entire Great Scene series, go here.

[Originally posted January 22, 2010]

Great Scene: “It’s a Wonderful Life”

December 23rd, 2015 by

A fine example of subtext is this memorable scene from the Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life (1946). It’s Mary and George on the phone together with their ol’ pal George Wainwright. And while they’re talking about business opportunities, what are they really talking about?


             MEDIUM CLOSE SHOT

             Sam is seated at his desk, while a couple of his friends are
             nearby, with highballs in their hands.

                            (into phone)
                       Well, George Baileyoffski! Hey, a
                       fine pal you are. What're you trying
                       to do? Steal my girl?

             INT. HATCH HALL – NIGHT


                            (into phone)
                       What do you mean? Nobody's trying to
                       steal your girl. Here... here's Mary.

                                   SAM'S VOICE
                       No, wait a minute. Wait a minute. I
                       want to talk to both of you. Tell
                       Mary to get on the extension.

                            (to Mary)
                       Here. You take it. You tell him.

                       Mother's on the extension.


             CLOSE SHOT – MRS. HATCH

             As she hears this, she hastily hangs up the extension phone
             on which she has been listening.


                       We can both hear. Come here.

             Mary takes the telephone from George and holds it so that of
             necessity George's cheek is almost against hers. He is very
             conscious of her proximity.

                            (on phone)
                       We're listening, Sam.

                                   SAM'S VOICE
                       I have a big deal coming up that's
                       going to make us all rich. George,
                       you remember that night in Martini's
                       bar when you told me you read
                       someplace about making plastics out
                       of soybeans?

                       Huh? Yeah-yeah-yeah... soybeans.

                                   SAM'S VOICE
                       Well, Dad's snapped up the idea.
                       He's going to build a factory outside
                       of Rochester. How do you like that?

             Mary is watching George interestedly. George is very conscious
             of her, close to him.

                       Rochester? Well, why Rochester?

                                   SAM'S VOICE
                       Well, why not? Can you think of
                       anything better?

                       Oh, I don't know... why not right
                       here?  You remember that old tool
                       and machinery works? You tell your
                       father he can get that for a song.
                       And all the labor he wants, too.
                       Half the town was thrown out of work
                       when they closed down.

                                   SAM'S VOICE
                       That so? Well, I'll tell him. Hey,
                       that sounds great! Oh, baby, I knew
                       you'd come through. Now, here's the
                       point. Mary, Mary, you're in on this
                       too. Now listen.  Have you got any

                       Money? Yeah... well, a little.

                                   SAM'S VOICE
                       Well, now listen. I want you to put
                       every cent you've got into our stock,
                       you hear?  And George, I may have a
                       job for you; that is, unless you're
                       still married to that broken-down
                       Building and Loan. This is the biggest
                       thing since radio, and I'm letting
                       you in on the ground floor. Oh,
                       Mary...  Mary...

                       I'm here.

                                   SAM'S VOICE
                       Would you tell that guy I'm giving
                       him the chance of a lifetime, you
                       hear? The chance of a lifetime.

             As Mary listens, she turns to look at George, her lips almost
             on his lips.

                       He says it's the chance of a lifetime.

             George can stand it no longer. He drops the phone with a
             crash, grabs Mary by the shoulders and shakes her. Mary begins
             to cry.

                       Now you listen to me! I don't want
                       any plastics! I don't want any ground
                       floors, and I don't want to get
                       married – ever – to anyone! You
                       understand that? I want to do what I
                       want to do. And you're... and

             He pulls her to him in a fierce embrace. Two meant for each
             other find themselves in tearful ecstasy.

                       Oh, Mary... Mary...

                       George... George... George...


             CLOSE SHOT

             Mrs. Hatch is at the top of the stairs. She practically faints
             at what she sees.

Here is the movie version of the scene:

“He says it’s the chance of a lifetime.” One of the most important lines in the movie. Here the text is about Sam Wainwright offering George and Mary a business investment opportunity. The subtext: George has an opportunity to be with Mary.

But there is a callback later when Clarence says this to George: “You’ve been given a great gift, George: A chance to see what the world would be like without you.”

There’s that word again: Chance. George opted to take the chance to be with Mary. Then he’s given a chance to look back on the ramifications of that choice. So in effect, there is not only subtext in this scene, but also a setup to a later payoff.

[Originally posted September 5, 2008]