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.

                                     MORETTI
                         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.

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

                                     MORETTI
                         Come on.  I want you to see something.

                                     SONNY
                         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?

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

               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.

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

                                     SONNY
                         ...armed robbery...

                                     MORETTI
                         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 
                         year.

               Sonny stares at him, his face utterly blank.

                                     SONNY
                         Kiss me.

               Moretti stops, stares back.

                                     MORETTI
                         What?

                                     SONNY
                              (deadpan)
                         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!

                                     MORETTI
                         Calm down, you're not...

                                     SONNY
                         Calm down... look at this, look at 
                         him...!

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

                                     SONNY
                              (continuing)
                         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 
               it.

                                     SONNY
                              (screaming)
                         Attica!  Attica!  Go ahead!  Blow 
                         off the front of the whole God damn 
                         bank!

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

                                     SONNY
                              (to the TV)
                         If it wasn't for you guys they'd 
                         kill everybody and say it was me and 
                         Sal.
                              (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.

                                     MORETTI
                              (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.

                                     MEDIA
                         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.’

EXT. CLEARING IN THE JUNGLE - THE "PITS" - DAY

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
confusion.

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
away.

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.
EXT. CLEARING IN THE JUNGLE - WAITING PRISONERS - DAY

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.

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

The GUARDS look at each other, interested.

			MERLE (CONT'D)
	Him and me, goddamn it! Him and me!

INT. THATCHED HUT - HEAVY RAIN - DAY

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.

			MERLE
	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.

			MERLE (CONT'D)
	Look at him! See! This is it and he
	knows it!

Side bets begin changing hands.

			MERLE (CONT'D)
	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:

			MERLE (CONT'D)
	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
	bullets!
		(he mimes with his
		fingers)
	Three bullets! You understand
	three? That way BLAM! BOOM!

MERLE hops up and down, laughing maniacally.

			MERLE (CONT'D)
	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
in.

			MERLE (CONT'D)
	He's terrific! Great fucking guy!

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

			MERLE (CONT'D)
	KA-POW!!! BA-ROOMIE!!!

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

			MERLE (CONT'D)
	Both of us may have to pull on
	this, so get your shit in fuckin'
	shape!!!
		(to the GUARDS)
	Him or me!!! Now we got it, him or
	me!!!
		(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
it.

			MERLE (CONT'D)
	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.

			MERLE
	You guys think I'm in trouble,
	right?

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

			MERLE (CONT'D)
	No way! Never!!!
		(he begins to chant)
	MERLE IS MIGHTY! -- HA!
	MERLE IS STRONG! -- HA!
	MERLE IS MAGIC! -- HA!
	MERLE LIVES LONG!
	Lemme hear it. Come on,
	motherfuckers, lemme hear it!

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

			MERLE (CONT'D)
		(with GUARDS)
	MERLE IS MIGHTY! -- HA!
	MERLE IS STRONG! -- HA!
	MERLE IS MAGIC! -- HA!
	MERLE LIVES LONG!

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.

			MERLE (CONT'D)
	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.

			MERLE (CONT'D)
	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
chamber.

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.

			MERLE (CONT'D)
		(gloom)
	Who's for Merle?
		(he thumps his fist on the
		table)
	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.

			MERLE (CONT'D)
	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
children.

			MERLE (CONT'D)
	Who... here... is for Merle...?

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

			MERLE (CONT'D)
		(with GUARDS)
	MERLE IS MIGHTY! -- HA!
	MERLE IS STRONG! -- HA!
	MERLE IS MAGIC -- HA!

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.
TWO MORE SHOTS BLAST OUT FROM MERLE'S .45 and we see TWO
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?

              
             INT. SAM'S NEW YORK OFFICE – NIGHT

             MEDIUM CLOSE SHOT

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

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

             INT. HATCH HALL – NIGHT

             MEDIUM CLOSE SHOT – GEORGE AND MARY

                                   GEORGE
                            (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.

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

                                   MARY
                       Mother's on the extension.

             INT. UPPER HALLWAY – NIGHT

             CLOSE SHOT – MRS. HATCH

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

             BACK TO SHOT – GEORGE AND MARY

                                   MARY
                       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.

                                   MARY
                            (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?

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

                                   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.

                                   GEORGE
                       Rochester? Well, why Rochester?

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

                                   GEORGE
                       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?

                                   GEORGE
                       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...

                                   MARY
                            (nervously)
                       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.

                                   MARY
                            (whispering)
                       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.

                                   GEORGE
                            (fiercely)
                       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
                       you're...

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

                                   GEORGE
                       Oh, Mary... Mary...

                                   MARY
                       George... George... George...

                                   GEORGE
                       Mary...

             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]

Great Scene: “The Dark Knight”

December 17th, 2015 by

Some scenes just surprise the crap out of you. And then later, when you think back on it, you realize how well conceived it was from a story point of view, how perfect it was. In the movie The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), a paragon of virtue, loses the love of his life Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) directly because of a trick the Joker (Heath Ledger) plays on Batman (Christian Bale). So when the Joker shows up in Dent’s hospital room, there to recover from burns he received the night of Rachel’s death, we have no idea what the Joker is doing. Why the hell is he here?

In thinking about it, we realize that the Joker knows how crushed Harvey would be at losing Rachel, how much fury and anger he would have, how deconstructed he is. As it turns out, it’s the perfect time for the Joker to work another of his crazed schemes — by putting a pistol in Dent’s hands and pressing the barrel of the gun into his (the Joker’s) forehead, literally putting Dent into a position where he can kill the man responsible for Rachel’s death, the person he loved more than life itself. But then the Joker says this:

INT. DENT'S HOSPITAL ROOM -- CONTINUOUS

The Joker leans in, pressing his head to the gun's barrel.

THE JOKER
It's the schemers who put you
where you are. You were a schemer.
You had plans. Look where it got
you. I just did what I do best-
I took your plan, and I turned it
on itself. Look what I've done
with this city and a few drums of
gas and a couple of bullets.
Nobody panics when the expected
people get killed. Nobody panics
when things go according to plan,
even if the plan is horrifying.
If I tell the press that tomorrow,
a gangbanger will get shot, or a
truckload of soldiers will be blown
up, nobody panics. Because it's
all part of the plan. But when I
say that one little old mayor will
die, everybody loses their minds.
Introduce a little anarchy, you
upset the established order and
everything becomes chaos. I'm an
agent of chaos. And you know the
thing about chaos, Harvey?

Dent looks into the Joker's eyes. Finding meaning.

THE JOKER
It's fair.

Dent looks down at the coin in his hand. Turns it over, feels
its comforting weight. Shows the Joker the good side.

DENT
You live.

He turns the coin over. The flip side is deeply SCARRED.

DENT
You die.

The Joker looks at the coin, looks at Dent admiringly.

THE JOKER
Now you're talking.

Dent FLICKS the coin in the air. Catches it. Looks.

Here is the movie version of the scene:

As we are able to delve deeper into the Joker’s world view, even though it’s exposition, it’s riveting — and a great scene.

[Originally posted November 14, 2008]

Great Scene: “Citizen Kane”

December 9th, 2015 by


Enticing the reader into the story — it’s one of the most critical goals when writing the first few pages of a script. The opening of Citizen Kane achieves that goal by using mystery. Each shot takes us deeper and deeper into the deep, dark shadows of Xanadu, raising one question after another — whose place is this, what the hell happened here — leading eventually to… well, read the scene sequence and find out.

          
          FADE IN:

          EXT. XANADU - FAINT DAWN - 1940 (MINIATURE)

          Window, very small in the distance, illuminated.

          All around this is an almost totally black screen.  Now, as 
          the camera moves slowly towards the window which is almost a 
          postage stamp in the frame, other forms appear; barbed wire, 
          cyclone fencing, and now, looming up against an early morning 
          sky, enormous iron grille work.  Camera travels up what is now 
          shown to be a gateway of gigantic proportions and holds on the 
          top of it - a huge initial "K" showing darker and darker against 
          the dawn sky.  Through this and beyond we see the fairy-tale 
          mountaintop of Xanadu, the great castle a sillhouette as its 
          summit, the little window a distant accent in the darkness.

                                     

                                                                  DISSOLVE:

          A SERIES OF SET -UPS, EACH CLOSER TO THE GREAT WINDOW, ALL 
          TELLING SOMETHING OF: 

          The literally incredible domain of CHARLES FOSTER KANE.

          Its right flank resting for nearly forty miles on the Gulf 
          Coast, it truly extends in all directions farther than the eye 
          can see.  Designed by nature to be almost completely bare and 
          flat - it was, as will develop, practically all marshland when 
          Kane acquired and changed its face - it is now pleasantly 
          uneven, with its fair share of rolling hills and one very good-
          sized mountain, all man-made.  Almost all the land is improved, 
          either through cultivation for farming purposes of through 
          careful landscaping, in the shape of parks and lakes.  The 
          castle dominates itself, an enormous pile, compounded of several 
          genuine castles, of European origin, of varying architecture - 
          dominates the scene, from the very peak of the mountain.

                                                                  DISSOLVE:

          GOLF LINKS (MINIATURE)

          Past which we move.  The greens are straggly and overgrown, 
          the fairways wild with tropical weeds, the links unused and 
          not seriously tended for a long time.

                                                              DISSOLVE OUT:

                                                               DISSOLVE IN:

          WHAT WAS ONCE A GOOD-SIZED ZOO (MINIATURE)

          Of the Hagenbeck type.  All that now remains, with one 
          exception, are the individual plots, surrounded by moats, on 
          which the animals are kept, free and yet safe from each other 
          and the landscape at large.  (Signs on several of the plots 
          indicate that here there were once tigers, lions, girrafes.)

                                                                  DISSOLVE:

          THE MONKEY TERRACE (MINIATURE)

          In the foreground, a great obscene ape is outlined against the 
          dawn murk.  He is scratching himself slowly, thoughtfully, 
          looking out across the estates of Charles Foster Kane, to the 
          distant light glowing in the castle on the hill.

                                                                  DISSOLVE:

          THE ALLIGATOR PIT (MINIATURE)

          The idiot pile of sleepy dragons.  Reflected in the muddy water - 
          the lighted window.

          THE LAGOON (MINIATURE)

          The boat landing sags.  An old newspaper floats on the surface 
          of the water - a copy of the New York Enquirer."  As it moves 
          across the frame, it discloses again the reflection of the 
          window in the castle, closer than before.

          THE GREAT SWIMMING POOL (MINIATURE)

          It is empty.  A newspaper blows across the cracked floor of 
          the tank.

                                                                  DISSOLVE:

          THE COTTAGES (MINIATURE)

          In the shadows, literally the shadows, of the castle.  As we 
          move by, we see that their doors and windows are boarded up 
          and locked, with heavy bars as further protection and sealing.

                                                              DISSOLVE OUT:

                                                               DISSOLVE IN:

          A DRAWBRIDGE (MINIATURE)

          Over a wide moat, now stagnant and choked with weeds.  We move 
          across it and through a huge solid gateway into a formal garden, 
          perhaps thirty yards wide and one hundred yards deep, which 
          extends right up to the very wall of the castle.  The 
          landscaping surrounding it has been sloppy and causal for a 
          long time, but this particular garden has been kept up in 
          perfect shape.  As the camera makes its way through it, towards 
          the lighted window of the castle, there are revealed rare and 
          exotic blooms of all kinds.  The dominating note is one of 
          almost exaggerated tropical lushness, hanging limp and 
          despairing.  Moss, moss, moss.  Ankor Wat, the night the last 
          King died.

                                                                  DISSOLVE:

          THE WINDOW (MINIATURE)

          Camera moves in until the frame of the window fills the frame 
          of the screen.  Suddenly, the light within goes out.  This 
          stops the action of the camera and cuts the music which has 
          been accompanying the sequence.  In the glass panes of the 
          window, we see reflected the ripe, dreary landscape of Mr. 
          Kane's estate behind and the dawn sky.

                                                                  DISSOLVE:

          INT. KANE'S BEDROOM - FAINT DAWN -

          A very long shot of Kane's enormous bed, silhouetted against 
          the enormous window.

                                                                  DISSOLVE:

          INT. KANE'S BEDROOM - FAINT DAWN - SNOW SCENE.  

          An incredible one.  Big, impossible flakes of snow, a too 
          picturesque farmhouse and a snow man.  The jingling of sleigh 
          bells in the musical score now makes an ironic reference to 
          Indian Temple bells - the music freezes -

           

                                    KANE'S OLD OLD VOICE
                        Rosebud...

          The camera pulls back, showing the whole scene to be contained 
          in one of those glass balls which are sold in novelty stores 
          all over the world.  A hand - Kane's hand, which has been 
          holding the ball, relaxes.  The ball falls out of his hand and 
          bounds down two carpeted steps leading to the bed, the camera 
          following.  The ball falls off the last step onto the marble 
          floor where it breaks, the fragments glittering in the first 
          rays of the morning sun.  This ray cuts an angular pattern 
          across the floor, suddenly crossed with a thousand bars of 
          light as the blinds are pulled across the window.

          The foot of Kane's bed.  The camera very close.  Outlined 
          against the shuttered window, we can see a form - the form of 
          a nurse, as she pulls the sheet up over his head.  The camera 
          follows this action up the length of the bed and arrives at 
          the face after the sheet has covered it.

                                                                  FADE OUT:

Of course, Orson Welles is on record as saying that Rosebud was a “rather tawdry device,” but I beg to differ. Tracking the beginning of the script, one eerie shot after the other, ending with that single word of dialogue — “Rosebud” — and its speaker’s death, sucks the viewer into the story’s mystery.

Here’s the opening — the first three minutes and ten seconds of the video.

Here is an 11 minute interview with Orson Welles about Citizen Kane:

What are your thoughts on Citizen Kane?

[Originally posted October 24, 2008]

Great Scene: “Chinatown”

December 2nd, 2015 by

It’s often referred to as a “perfect script”: Chinatown, written by Robert Towne (with uncredited contributions from director Roman Polanski). Looked at one way, it’s simply a murder mystery, but there’s nothing simple about this movie’s plot or the characters, as this famous scene conveys — one of the most memorable plot twists in American movie history:

		224  EXT. BUNGALOW-HOUSE - ADELAIDE DRIVE

			Gittes pulls up in Mulwray's Buick. He hurries to the 
			front door, pounds on it.

			The Chinese servant answers the door.

							CHINESE SERVANT
					You wait.

							GITTES
						(short sentence in
						Chinese)
					You wait.

		225  Gittes pushes past him. Evelyn, looking a little worn but
			glad to see him hurries to the door. She takes Gittes' 
			arm.

							EVELYN
					How are you? I was calling you.
		
			She looks at him, searching his face.

							GITTES
					-- Yeah?

			They move into the living room. Gittes is looking around
			it.

							EVELYN
					Did you get some sleep?

							GITTES
					Sure.

							EVELYN
					Did you have lunch?
					Kyo will fix you something --

							GITTES
						(abruptly).
					-- where's the girl?

							EVELYN
					Upstairs. Why?

							GITTES
					I want to see her.

							EVELYN
					...she's having a bath now... why
					do you want to see her?

			Gittes continues to look around. He sees clothes laid out
			for packing in a bedroom off the living room.

							GITTES
					Going somewhere?

							EVELYN
					Yes, we've got a 4:30 train to
					catch. Why?

			Gittes doesn't answer. He goes to the phone and dials.

							GITTES
					J. J. Gittes for Lieutenant
					Escobar

							EVELYN
					What are you doing? What's wrong?
					I told you we've got a 4:30 --

							GITTES
						(cutting her off)
					You're going to miss your train!
						(then, into phone)
					Lou, meet me at 1412 Adelaide
					-- it's above Santa Monica
					Canyon... yeah, soon as you can.

							EVELYN
					What did you do that for?

							GITTES
						(a moment, then)
					You know any good criminal lawyers?

							EVELYN
						(puzzled)
					-- no...

							GITTES
					Don't worry -- I can recommend a
					couple. They're expensive but you
					can afford it.

							EVELYN
						(evenly but with
						great anger)
					What the hell is this all about?

			Gittes looks at her -- then takes the handkerchief out 
			Of his breast pocket -- unfolds it on a coffee table, 
			revealing the bifocal glasses, one lens still intact. 
			Evelyn stares dumbly at them.

							GITTES
					I found these in your backyard --
					in your fish pond. They belonged to
					your husband, didn't they?... didn't
					they?

							EVELYN
					I don't know. I mean yes, probably.

							GITTES
					-- yes positively. That's where
					he was drowned...

							EVELYN
					What are you saying?

							GITTES
					There's no time for you to be
					shocked by the truth, Mrs. Mulwray.
					The coroner's report proves he was
					killed in salt water. Just take my
					word for it. Now I want to know
					how it happened and why. I want
					to know before Escobar gets here
					because I want to hang onto my
					license.

							EVELYN
					-- I don't know what you're talking
					about. This is the most insane...
					the craziest thing I ever...

			Gittes has been in a state of near frenzy himself.
			gets up, shakes her.

							GITTES
					Stop it! - I'll make it easy. --
					You were jealous, you fought, he
					fell, hit his head -- it was an
					accident -- but his girl is a
					witness. You've had to pay her
					off. You don't have the stomach
					to harm her, but you've got the
					money to shut her up. Yes or no?

							EVELYN
					... no...

							GITTES
					Who is she? And don't give me that
					crap about it being your sister.
					You don't have a sister.

			Evelyn is trembling.

							EVELYN
					I'll tell you the truth...

			Gittes smiles.

							GITTES
					That's good. Now what's her name?

							EVELYN
					-- Katherine.

							GITTES
					Katherine?... Katherine who?

							EVELYN
					-- she's my daughter.

		226  Gittes stares at her. He's been charged with anger and
			when Evelyn says this it explodes. He hits her full in
			the face. Evelyn stares back at him. The blow has forced
			tears from her eyes, but she makes no move, not even to
			defend herself.

							GITTES
					I said the truth!

							EVELYN
					-- she's my sister --

			Gittes slaps her again.

							EVELYN
						(continuing)
					-- she's my daughter.

			Gittes slaps her again.
							EVELYN
						(continuing)
					-- my sister.

			He hits her again.

							EVELYN
						(continuing)
					My daughter, my sister --

			He belts her finally, knocking her into a cheap Chinese
			vase which shatters and she collapses on the sofa,
			sobbing.

							GITTES
					I said I want the truth.

							EVELYN
						(almost screaming it)
					She's my sister and my daughter!

			Kyo comes running down the stairs.

							EVELYN
						(continuing;
						in Chinese)
					For God's sake, Kyo, keep her
					upstairs, go back!

			Kyo turns after staring at Gittes for a moment then
			goes back upstairs.

							EVELYN
						(continuing)
					-- my father and I, understand,
					or is it too tough for you?

			Gittes doesn't answer.

							EVELYN
						(continuing)
					... he had a breakdown... the
					dam broke... my mother died...
					he became a little boy... I was
					fifteen... he'd ask me what to
					eat for breakfast, what clothes
					to wear!... It happened... then
					I ran away...

							GITTES
					to Mexico...

			She nods.

							EVELYN
					Hollis came and took... care
					of me... after she was born...
					he said... he took care of her...
					I couldn't see her... I wanted to
					but I couldn't... I just want to
					see her once in a while... take care
					of her... that's all... but I don't 
					want her to know... I don't want 
					her to know...

							GITTES.
					... so that's why you hate him...

			Evelyn looks slowly up at Gittes.

							EVELYN
					-- no... for turning his back on
					me after it happened! He couldn't
					face it...
						(weeping)
					I hate him.

			Gittes suddenly feels the need to loosen his tie.

							GITTES
					-- yeah... where are you taking her
					now?

							EVELYN
					Back to Mexico.

							GITTES
					You can't go by train. Escobar'll
					be looking for you everywhere.

							EVELYN
					How about a plane?

							GITTES
					That's worse... Just get out of
					here -- walk out, leave everything.

							EVELYN
					I have to go home and get my things --

							GITTES
					-- I'll take care of it.

							EVELYN
					Where can we go?

							GITTES
					...where does Kyo live?

							EVELYN
					-- with us.

							GITTES
					On his day off. Get the exact
					address.

							EVELYN
					-- okay...

			She stops suddenly.

							EVELYN
					Those didn't belong to Hollis.

			For a moment Gittes doesn't know what she's talking 
			about. Then he follows her gaze to the glasses lying on 
			his handkerchief.

							GITTES
					How do you know?

							EVELYN
					He didn't wear bifocals.

			Gittes picks up the glasses, stares at the lens, is
			momentarily lost in them.

		227  EVELYN
		
			from the stairs. She has her arm around Katherine.

							EVELYN
					Say hello to Mr. Gittes, sweetheart.

							KATHERINE
						(from the stairs)
					Hello.

		228  GITTES

			rises a little shakily from the arm of the sofa.


							GITTES
					Hello.

			With her arm around the girl, talking in Spanish, 
			Evelyn hurries her toward the bedroom. In a moment she 
			re-emerges.

							EVELYN
						(calling down)
					-- he lives at 1712 Alameda... do
					you know where that is?

		229  REACTION - GITTES

			He nods slowly.

							GITTES
					-- sure. It's Chinatown.

Here is the scene in the movie up through the shocking revelation:

I suspect most of us remember this scene because of the big reveal itself, but the scene is critical for two other reasons. The first has to do with the Plotline: Instead of having Evelyn arrested, Gittes chooses to let her leave with Katherine, a decision that eventually leads to the famous final scene of the movie. The second thing is about the Themeline or the emotional life of the story: For while the plot winds its way through the manipulative schemes of “the powers that be” in Los Angeles, backroom deals and bribes, it is Gittes’ relationship with Evelyn – and now extending to her daughter (and her sister) Katherine – that provides an emotional touchstone for the audience. This pivotal moment, where Gittes learns of the unspeakable horror perpetrated on Noah Cross’ daughter by Cross himself, is a massive gut check for Gittes, who up to this point has not demonstrated himself to be much of a stand-up guy, at least morally. Now he does, displaying a side of his humanity we had not seen before.

Of course, we can’t discuss this scene without drawing the obvious symbolism: What Cross did to Evelyn, literally screwing her, is the same thing that he and his political and business cronies are in the process doing to Los Angeles, laying the groundwork for the sprawling mess the city became, all to fatten their wallets.

What are you thoughts about this great scene from Chinatown?

[Originally posted February 5, 2010]

Great Scene: "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

November 27th, 2015 by

Fight scenes. Whether swords or knives, guns or fists, lasers or kung fu, fight scenes are a staple of the movies. One problem: They’re so common, what can a screenwriter do to distinguish theirs from all the previous examples? William Goldman came up with an unexpected twist with this fight scene featuring Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and the much bigger Harvey Logan (Ted Cassidy).

BUTCH AND HIS MEN

BUTCH
Now let's just forget about Harvey taking over.
Okay, Flat Nose?

FLAT NOSE CURRY has been nicknamed for obvious reasons.

FLAT NOSE CURRY
You always told us anyone could challenge you --

BUTCH
That's 'cause I figured nobody's do it.

CUT TO:

LOGAN

smiling, starting toward Butch again.

LOGAN
Figured wrong, Butch.

CUT TO:

BUTCH AND HIS MEN

BUTCH
(a little desperate now)
You can't want Logan --

NEWS
-- at least he's with us, Butch -- you been spending
a lot of time gone --

CUT TO:

CLOSEUP - BUTCH

BUTCH
That's 'cause everything's changing now -- it's all going
new on us --

CUT TO:

LOGAN

LOGAN
Guns or knives, Butch?

CUT TO:

BUTCH

Going rapidly on, doing his best to ignore Logan.

BUTCH
--everything's harder than it used to be --
you got to plan more, you got to prepare,
you got to be damn sure you're doing or
you're dead --

CUT TO:

LOGAN

moving in front of Butch now.

LOGAN
Guns or knives?

BUTCH
Neither.

LOGAN
Pick!

BUTCH
I don't want to shoot with you, Harvey.

CUT TO:

LOGAN

smiling.

LOGAN
Whatever you say, Butch.

And suddenly a knife is in his hand and --

CUT TO:

THE MEN

and with the appearance of the knife they start to get really excited, and
from here on in that excitement only builds as they surge toward Logan
who is calmly taking off his shirt. Butch moves to Sundance.

CUT TO:

SUNDANCE

on his horse, waiting quietly at Butch approaches. Butch is doing his best to
cover how he feels.

BUTCH
Maybe there's a way to make a profit on this --
bet on Logan.

SUNDANCE
I would, but who'd bet on you?

BUTCH
I made this gang. You know I did. Now look
at 'em.

CUT TO:

THE GANG

clustered around Logan. He is stripped to the waist and his body is
brutal. Suddenly he calls out --

LOGAN
Sundance -- when we're done, if he's dead, you're
welcome to stay.

CUT TO:

BUTCH AND SUNDANCE

Looking out at Logan. Butch speaks quietly to Sundance.

BUTCH
Listen, I'm not a sore loser or anything, but
when we're done, if I'm dead, kill him.

SUNDANCE
(to Logan, but in
answer to Butch
Love to.

CUT TO:

BUTCH

He fidgets a moment, then starts the long walk back toward Logan.
Logan is younger and faster and stronger and Butch knows it, and
knowing it doesn't make the walk any pleasanter. Still he moves
forward, unarmed as yet, toward the other man.

CUT TO:

LOGAN

watching him come. In the sun his body glistens.

CUT TO:

BUTCH

moving through the gang toward Logan. He is unarmed and a
knife is offered him by one of the gang.

BUTCH
Not yet.
(moving up to Logan now)
Not til Harvey and me get all the rules
straight.

LOGAN
Rules? In a knife fight?
No rules!

As he finishes speaking Butch delivers the most aesthetically exquisite
kick in the balls in the history of the modern American cinema.

CUT TO:

LOGAN

For a moment he just stands there. Then he makes an absolutely
indescribable sound and, as the look on his face moves from disbelief
to displeasure, he sinks slowly to his knees.

CUT TO:

BUTCH

He goes on as if nothing whatsoever had happened.

BUTCH
Well, if there aren't going to be any rules, I guess
we might as well get this fight started. Somebody
say 'one-two-three-go.'

CUT TO:

SUNDANCE
(like a shot)
One-two-three-go.

CUT TO:

LOGAN

He is green now, and still on his knees. Butch approaches, nods, locks his
hands together and, as if swinging a baseball bat, delivers a stunning blow
to Logan's jaw. Logan falls and lies there.

CUT TO:

FLAT NOSE CURRY AND SEVERAL OTHERS

all hurrying to Butch.

FLAT NOSE
I was rooting for you, Butch.

BUTCH
(with great earnestness)
I know, Flat Nose. That's what sustained me
in my time of trouble.

Great stuff. And notice how deftly Goldman wove in one of the key themes of the movie with this line: “That’s ’cause everything’s changing now — it’s all going new on us.” The world is changing (e.g., bicycles!), but Butch and Sundance don’t end up changing, and it costs them plenty — their lives.

Here is the movie version of the scene:

And how much do we miss Paul Newman?

[Originally posted February 27, 2009]

Great scene: “Broadcast News”

November 20th, 2015 by

I love the movie Broadcast News (1987), written and directed by James L. Brooks. The movie is full of great scenes, but this one might be the funniest: The famous “flop-sweat” scene starring Albert Brooks. Playing Aaron, a field reporter desperate to get one shot at being an on-air news anchor, Aaron finally has the opportunity – only to fail in a most visible and embarrassing way:

	INT. NEWS STUDIO - NIGHT

	WE are on the studio floor, FOCUSING on the activity around
	the Anchor Desk and three cameras... The FLOOR MANAGER stands
	ready to cue Aaron, the script is ready to roll on the prompter
	machine.

				FLOOR MANAGER
		Twenty seconds.

	ON AARON

	Making sure he is seated on his jacket -- taking one last look
	at the hand mirror being held by the MAKEUP WOMAN.  She starts
	off -- but Aaron regrabs the mirror almost making her lose her
	footing -- a check -- then another check -- he points to a spot
	on his forehead which she dabs with the makeup sponge... Both of
	them fuss enormously with his hair -- four busy hands.

				FLOOR MANAGER
		Ten seconds.

				AARON
		How many?

				FLOOR MANAGER
		Ten.

				AARON
		Okay.

	He watches the Makeup Woman scurry underneath a camera lens,
	resits on his jacket and finally has the moment the system has
	been denying him for years.  We can HEAR the END OF HIS CUE
	in a barely AUDIBLE CRACKLE from the Floor Manager's earphones...
	"...with Aaron Altman."

				AARON
			(on TV)
		Good Evening...In mood and language
		better suited to an espionage novel
		than the delicate world of the Western
		Alliance, the British Foreign Secretary
		today pounced on what he termed, 'The
		nest of profession spies and amateur
		traitors who were turning NATO
		Headquarters into an instrument whose
		only true function is folly.'  We begin
		our coverage with Edward Towne in London.

	Aaron looks up -- takes a breath.  He's done well -- he's
	punched his words and his one thought for the story.  His gaze
	has been steady, his voice firm but he has begun to perspire.
	He dabs with his finger at the first trickles from his brow --
	brushes some more prominent sweat from his upper lip... He
	beckons nervously to the Makeup Woman -- who comes in and dabs --
	then dabs again as Aaron feels himself under his arms...

				MAKEUP WOMAN
		Gee whiz.

				FLOOR MANAGER
		Five seconds.

	She scurries away, Aaron reaching for another Kleenex from her
	box and missing it... A graphic illustrating his next scripted
	section appears behind him.

				AARON
		...the sub-bases referred to are
		located in five countries...

	And now the moisture on his face is clearly discernible -- the
	Floor Manager and Makeup Woman grimacing at the growing specter
	as they look at a large monitor.

				AARON
		France, Belgium, the Netherlands,
		Spain as...

	And now so much moisture sprouts from his upper lip that he
	pushes his lower lip out to slurp away the sweat... The Makeup
	Woman laughs briefly out loud before catching herself...
	Aaron's eyes dart angrily in her direction.

				AARON
		We well as Great Britain...Our own
		State Department was rocked not only
		by the revelation but from the highly
		unusual persistence from the State
		Press Corps.  Martin Klein reports on
		the ruckus at Foggy Bottom.

	Half-beat until he's sure that he's off -- his shirt now
	showing distinct sweat stains...

				AARON
		Help me.

	The Makeup Woman picks up her Kleenex box -- then thinks
	better of it...

				MAKEUP WOMAN
		Someone finds me some big towels.

	ON AARON

	He blots his face -- some makeup streaked -- by the towel.

				FLOOR MANAGER
		Five seconds.

	ON MAKEUP WOMAN

	As she scurries away, this time entering the control room
	trotting up one stair to look at the monitor... the Director
	talking to his Camera Operators.

				DIRECTOR
		I'd go looser but we wouldn't
		see the graphic.

				TECHNICIAN
			(to other Technician)
		No -- this is more than Nixon ever
		sweated.

	The Makeup Woman now looks at the bank of monitors.

				MAKEUP WOMAN
		Can't you just die for him?

	ON MONITOR

	Aaron's makeup-streaked face.

Here is the scene from the movie:

When you write comedies, you pray for comic bits. Then you milk them for all you can get. This is a GREAT comic bit… and milked for all it’s worth, which is why it’s a Great Scene.

[Originally posted August 15, 2008]