Great Scene: “The Exorcist”

August 12th, 2015 by

Adapted for the screen by William Peter Blatty from his best-selling novel and directed by William Friedkin, the 1973 movie The Exorcist grossed an astonishing $441M in worldwide B.O. receipts.

Safe to say, it became a cultural phenomenon. And speaking personally, when I saw it in a theater in Virginia Beach over the Christmas holidays, I remember being absolutely mesmerized by the story – and scared stupid.

There are a number of memorable moments in the movie, but since I was a theology student, I suppose that it makes sense the scene I recall with the most clarity is this one: Where Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) and Father Karras (Jason Miller) work double duty in the rite of exorcism upon Regan (Linda Blair), the poor girl who is possessed by a demon.

Here is the scene taken from what purports to be the shooting script:

Regan sits up and with a nightmare slowness, a fraction at a
time, her head begins to turn, swiveling like a mannequin's and
creaking with the sound of a rusted mechanism. Once again
Damien's attention is diverted and Merrin has to prompt him.


Her head completely turns in a 360-degree turn and stares at


Defender of the human race...

A thunderous earthquake knock both priests to the ground.

...look down in pity...

You killed your mother!!! You left her alone to die!!!! She'll
never forgive you!!! Bastard!!!

Shut up!!

... upon this your servant, Regan Teresa MacNeil.

Another quake knocks them to the ground. Regan falls back, the
bed sheets fly off of the bed and the straps slowly rip apart.
Regan's eyes roll back into the socket and she slowly starts to

I command you by the judge of the living and the dead, to depart
from this servant of God.

Regan is now levitating toward the ceiling, arms out stretched
like a cross.

It's the power! (To Karras)- Holy water.

Karras runs to the bedside table and grabs the bottle of holy
water, he runs back and gives it to Merrin.

It's the power of Christ, that compels you.

The power of Christ compels you.

Merrin sprinkles holy water.

The power of Christ compels you.

Merrin sprinkles holy water and we see a cut appear on her skin.

The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ compels you.
The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ compels you.

Regan begins to descend.

The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ compels you.
The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ compels you.
The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ compels you.
The power of Christ compels you.

Regan lands back on the bed once more.

The power of Christ compels you.

Karras rushes to the bed and ties her hands together to symbolize
the cross.

He brought you low by his bloodstained cross! Do not despise my
command because you no me to be a sinner. It's God himself who
commands you! The majestic Christ who commands! God the Father
commands you! God the son commands you!

As Karras turns away, Regan raises her tied hands and deals him a
powerful blow on the back of his head. He falls to the floor.

God the holy spirit commands you!

Merrin sprinkles more holy water on Regan, she falls back and
screams in pain.

The mystery of the cross commands you! The blood of the martyrs
commands you!

The priests are again knocked to the floor by an earthquake.
Briefly Regan lifts herself toward an apparition of the demon
statue Pazuzu.

Give way to Christ, you prince of murderers. You're guilty,
before Almighty God, guilty before his son, guilty before the
whole human race. It's the Lord who expels you. He who is coming
to judge both the living and the dead and the world by fire.

As Merrin kneels by the bed, Karras crawls over and covers Regan
with a blanket.

Are you tired?

Karras nods.

Let's rest before we start again.

Merrin leaves the room, but Karras stays sat on the bed,
shivering with both coldness and fear. Regan is asleep.

Here is the movie version of the scene:

We often talk about the importance of conflict in our stories. Hard to imagine a more compelling conflict than between two very human priests, their Holy Water, and exorcism liturgy versus a demon and the power of Satan.

How about you? Do you remember the first time you saw The Exorcist?

[Originally posted October 30, 2009]

Great Scene: “(500) Days of Summer”

August 8th, 2015 by

When an original screenplay starts out like this:

Title page: (500) DAYS OF SUMMER by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, First Draft 2006



Next page: BITCH.

You know straightaway you’re reading a comedy. Screenwriters Neustadter & Weber stated they decided with this script to take “every chance we could” to make the story interesting. And they do including this great scene where reality becomes hyper-reality.

The story’s Protagonist Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has been pining away for Summer (Zoeey Deschanel) for precisely 28 days. And this happens:

Tom walks a few more steps.

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, without his even

It's unbelievable. There's a few seconds where Tom isn't sure
if he's dreaming or not. But then he realizes, suddenly, out
of the blue, his best case scenario really is actually


It's the greatest morning of all time!

Tom walks down the street. Or, more accurately, Tom struts
down the street. He's pointing at people as he passes,
winking, doing a little shuffle. He is the man. He checks out
his reflection in a window. A YOUNG PAUL NEWMAN stares

People wave as he passes, they clap, they give him thumbs up.
A parade forms behind him. The POSTMAN, a POLICE OFFICER,
MCCHEESE, everybody loves Tom today. HALL and OATES
themselves walk with Tom singing the song.

Cars stop at crosswalks to let Tom go by. The DRIVERS also
pump their fists in celebration of Tom's achievement last
night. He walks on, the man. We notice the sidewalk lights up
every time he touches the pavement like in "Billie Jean".

CARTOON BIRDS fly onto Tom's shoulder. He smiles and winks at

Compare to the scene in the movie:

You’ll note that the scene as shot is similar but different to the scripted version. No Paul Newman. No Ronald McDonald. No Hall and Oates (though evidently, they came really close to getting the musicians to agree to perform on camera). No “Billie Jean” sidewalk. But that’s not important. What is is that Neustadter & Weber conveyed the tone of the scene, the basic arc of the scene, and provided the director with ideas for the scene.

Often budget and production constraints make certain scene elements impossible to shoot, so a writer has to learn to live with that. But I’ll bet N&W were damn happy they got the animated bird in the scene!

Great scene, great script, great movie.

[Originally posted December 11, 2009]

Great Scene: “2001: A Space Odyssey”

August 1st, 2015 by

I can still remember to this day seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time. The movie screened at the theater on Minot AFB in North Dakota where my family was stationed. I had just turned 15. At the end of the movie, I sat in my seat and didn’t move. The credits rolled, then darkness. I still sat there. The movie was an absolutely mind-boggling experience. I saw the movie several more times before its run ended. Each time I thought I understood it a little more – and a little less. We moved to March AFB near Riverside, California that summer of 1968. I suppose having my own little ‘head trip’ with 2001 was some sort of preparation for the experiences that awaited me in SoCal.

There are so many great scenes in the movie, but the one I want to highlight today is the opening.

It’s interesting to compare the movie to the only script that’s available (to my knowledge). The movie differs in many of the particulars, but when you read the script excerpt below, you’ll see that writer-director Stanley Kubrick and co-writer Arthur C. Clarke knew early on in the writing process both the tone and the symbolism of where this sequence was headed.

It’s also interesting to note how much like a novel the script is:


From their side of the stream, in the never violated safety of
their own territory, the Others see Moonwatcher and fourteen
males of his tribe appear from behind a small hillock over-
looking the stream, silhouetted against the dawn sky.

The Others begin to scream their daily challenge. But today
something is different, though the Others do not immediatly
recognize this fact.

Instead of joining the verbal onslaught, as they had always done,
Moonwatcher and his small band decended from the rise, and
begin to move forward to the stream with a quiet purposefulness
never befor seen.

As the Others watch the figures silently approaching in the
morning mist, they become aware of the terrible strangness
of this encounter, and their rage gradually subsides down to
an uneasy silence.

At the water's edge, Moonwatcher and his band stop. They
carry their bone clubs and bone knives.

Led by One-ear, the Others half-heartly resume the battle-
chant. But they are suddenly confrunted with a vision that cuts
the sound from their throats, and strikes terror into their

Moonwatcher, who had been partly concealed by two males who
walked before him, thrusts his arm high into the air. In his
hand he holds a stoud tree branch. Mounted atop the branch is
the bloody head of the lion, its mouth jammed open with a stick,
displaying its frightful fangs.

The Others gape in fearful disbelief at this display of power.

Moonwatchers stands motionless, thrusting the lion's head high.
Then with majestic deliberation, still carrying his mangled
standard above his head, he begins to cross the stream, followed
by his band.

The Others fade back from the stream, seeming to lack even
the ability to flee.

Moonwatcher steps ashore and walks to One-Ear, who stands
unsurely in front of his band.

Though he is a veteran of numerous combats at the water's edge,
One-Ear has never been attacked by an enemy who had not first
displayed his fighting rage; and he had never before been attacked
with a weapon. One-Ear, merely looks up at the raised club
until the heavey thigh bone of an antelope brings the darkness
down around him.

The Others stare in wonder at Moonwatcher's power.

Moonwatcher surveys the scene. Now he was master of the
world, and he was not sure what to do next. But he would
think of something.

And now, the entire opening “Dawn of Man” sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey:

How about you? Did 2001 boggle your mind the first time you saw it?

[Originally posted April 3, 2009]

Great Scene: “Repo Man”

March 22nd, 2015 by

The cult classic Repo Man (1984), written and directed by Alex Cos, has many memorable scenes. I want to feature the final scene in the movie, but in order to do that, we need to consider two earlier ones. First, there is the introduction of a mysterious car:

“What you got in the trunk?”

“Oh… you don’t want to look in there.”

Reminds you of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction:

The car eventually ends up in the possession of some repo men including Otto (Emilio Estevez), new to the trade, and Miller (Tracey Walter), who works at the repo center. In this scene, Miller shares some of his cockeyed world view with a highly skeptical Otto:

“The more you drive… the less intelligent you are.”

Now the scene in question: The very end of the movie and the intersection of Miller, Otto… and the mysterious car:

“Life as a repo man is always intense.”

Wonderful movie. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor: Watch Repo Man for these and other great scenes.

For the Great Scene archive, go here.

Great Scene: “The Godfather”

March 14th, 2015 by

The dramatic denouement from the classic 1972 movie The Godfather, screenplay by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, novel by Mario Puzo.

IMDb plot summary: The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.

Here is the final scene in the movie:

“This one time. I’ll let you ask me about my affairs.

Kay does. Michael bald-face, stone-cold lies. And how about those last shots:

The final image, the door closing on Kay… and the complete uncertainty in her face about who and what Michael is… and has become.

Great scene. Great movie.

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

Great Scene: “The Conversation”

March 8th, 2015 by

From the 1974 movie The Conversation, written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. From IMDb:

Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), a private surveillance expert in San Francisco, has been hired by the Director to follow and record the actions of his wife, Ann (Cindy Williams), and her lover, Marc (Frederic Forrest). Using three separate microphones, Caul and his associates follow the couple around a park. Later, he pieces together a conversation that clearly indicates the two are in a relationship and that they fear being found out by the Director.

In this scene, Caul goes to the hotel that Ann and Marc mentioned as meeting place in their conversation. He rents an adjoining room and inserts a microphone through the wall to listen to the conversation.

This moment ranks right up there among the most visually arresting images in cinema history:

The original April 1974 NYT review of the movie by Vincent Canby.

Do you remember this scene from The Conversation?

Great Scene: “The Breakfast Club”

February 21st, 2015 by

The classic John Hughes teen comedy The Breakfast Club was released 30 years ago this week. That’s right… you’re officially old! In honor of the movie, here is one of its many great scenes in which Bender attempts an escape, fails, and the others cover for the “ruckus”.

It’s a transition point in the story, where the teens in effect bond in the face of adult authority, setting the stage for the upcoming ‘confessional’ scene.

Man, do we miss John Hughes.

Great Scene: “The Graduate”

February 7th, 2015 by

This memorable montage from the 1967 movie The Graduate, screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry, novel by Charles Webb:

Several things of note:

* The two Simon & Garfunkel songs accompanying the images: “Sounds of Silence” and “April, Come She Will”. Director Mike Nichols was insistent on integrating these and other Simon & Garfunkel songs into the movie.

* The repeated close-ups of Ben’s (Dustin Hoffman) face reinforce the question: What is going on inside his mind as this young man engages in an affair with Mrs. Robinson.

* The masterful use of visual-to-visual transitions: closing and opening doors; Ben’s face at home, Ben’s face in a hotel room; and the classic ending shot of Ben jumping out of the pool, cutting to Ben climaxing atop Mrs. Robinson.

The montage speaks to the genius of Mike Nichols and is a fantastic reminder that movies are primarily a visual medium.

Great Scene: “Stardust Memories”

February 1st, 2015 by

The opening scene in Woody Allen’s 1980 movie Stardust Memories.

IMDb plot summary: While attending a retrospect of his work, a filmmaker recalls his life and his loves: the inspirations for his films.

In some ways, a classic Woody Allen scene recalling that line, “I’d never join a club that would allow a person like me to become a member.” There is the Beautiful Party People Train. And there is the Dour Ugly People Train. Woody is on the latter.

The nightmarish quality of the scene and the black and white images bring to mind Ingmar Bergman, one of Allen’s cinematic inspirations.

The scene sets the tone for a movie that befuddled many Allen fans, a significant departure from the tone and feel of his two most previous movies Annie Hall and Manhattan.

Great Scene: “The Full Monty”

January 17th, 2015 by

While the instinct might be to put the spotlight on this scene from the 1997 comedy The Full Monty:

I going to feature another scene.

IMDb plot summary:

Six unemployed steel workers form a male striptease act. The women cheer them on to go for “the full monty” – total nudity.

After an altercation with police, the guys, who have been training for their performance, decide to give up their plan. By coincidence, they all meet at the unemployment line when a certain song comes over the loudspeakers:

No dialogue, just visuals, but what does it tell us? Logic may have dictated them to forgo their performance, but in the process of rehearsing, something has connected with them. Their minds may be saying no, but their bodies are still saying yes.

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