Wednesday, June 22, 2005

If, Frankly, You Give a Damn

The latest American Film Institute television special covered the "100 greatest movie quotes of all time." I'm a sucker for these shows, but the most interesting thing in this one, especially from a copy editor's viewpoint, was just how many of these quotes we get wrong all the time. (In fact, the AFI Web site gets the first one in the show -- No. 100 -- wrong. The line from "Titanic" is "I'm the king of the world," as the TV special shows, not "I'm king of the world." And that's one that people almost always get right.)

Because the show contains actual clips for every line, I'm reasonably sure I'm getting this right (if not, please correct me). So here, as a public service, are the top however-many misquoted famous movie lines (numbering courtesy of the American Film Institute):

89. "Tell them to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper" ("Knute Rockne, All American," 1940). Not so much a misquote as an adaptation, but note that it's not "Win one for the Gipper." And I'm imposing a comma on that movie title even if, as the AFI claims, there is none.

74. "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown" ("Chinatown," 1974). Not "It's Chinatown, Jake."

66. "Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape" ("Planet of the Apes," 1968). As Ray Romano makes clear on the special, there are any number of ways to get this one wrong.

63. "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me. Aren't you?" ("The Graduate," 1967). Not "Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?"

60. "Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into!" ("Sons of the Desert," 1933). Don't we normally say "another fine mess you've gotten us into"? Maybe Oliver Hardy did say that at some point, but it's "nice" and "me" in the AFI's showcase line.

57. "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good" ("Wall Street," 1987). So, it's "Greed ... is good," not "Greed is good." Again, perhaps an adaptation more than a misquote.

51. "You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do you, punk?" ("Dirty Harry," 1971). Commonly misstated along the lines of "Are you feeling lucky today, punk?"

50. "Houston, we have a problem" ("Apollo 13," 1995). An interesting case here, in that the movie version is a misquote, and an often-misquoted one at that (people often say "Houston, we've got a problem"). The actual quote from the actual Apollo 13 in 1970 is "Houston, we've had a problem."

40. "Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get" ("Forrest Gump," 1994). Was, not is.

39. "If you build it, he will come" ("Field of Dreams," 1989). Maybe at some point the movie says they, but the main quote is he.

36. "Badges? We ain't got no badges! We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinking badges!" ("The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," 1948). Not "We don't need no stinking badges."

35. "You're gonna need a bigger boat" ("Jaws," 1975). Not "we're."

34. "I want to be alone" ("Grand Hotel," 1932). Apparently Garbo's alleged "vant" delivery was a myth.

28. "Play it, Sam" ("Casablanca," 1942). Here's one that I think we've come around on. I think it's fairly well known by now that "Play it again, Sam" was never uttered.

26. "Why don't you come up sometime and see me?" ("She Done Him Wrong," 1933). No, Mae West did not say "come up and see me sometime."

19. "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore! ("Network," 1976). The common variant "I'm [not as] mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore" isn't too far off, as at least one of the people following Howard Beale's instructions says it that way.

11. "What we've got here is failure to communicate" ("Cool Hand Luke," 1967). Not "What we have here" or "a failure to communicate."

  9. "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night" ("All About Eve," 1950). Night, not ride.

  7. "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up" ("Sunset Boulevard," 1950). This one sometimes gets turned around.

  4. "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore" ("The Wizard of Oz," 1939). You could make an argument for "I have" (as the AFI special's graphics show), but it's definitely not "I've got" (despite what the AFI Web site says).

  1. "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" ("Gone With the Wind," 1939). Even more so than with the "Play it again, Sam" myth, I think people know now that the formerly common version -- in this case, "Frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn" -- is wrong.

13 comments:

Frank said...

9. "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night" ("All About Eve," 1950). Night, not ride.

I've heard that the seat belts mentioned here are a reference to those on airplanes. They weren't standard equipment in cars in 1950.

MallardFields said...

One of my linguistic pet peeves for some time has been the frequent misunderstanding of the term "quote": many people seem to think it means "something interesting or cool someone said." People may indeed say interesting and/or cool things, but those things only become quotes when someone else repeats them.

In other words, when Rhett Butler said, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," it wasn't a quote, it was a line from the movie. Rhett wasn't quoting anybody. If you repeat it, however, you are quoting him, and it then is a quote.

To put it another way, AIRPLANE isn't "a movie with a lot of great quotes in it," it's "a movie with a lot of great lines in it that people like to quote."

(Too nitpicky? C'mon, you can NEVER be too nitpicky!)

Shepcat said...

One you omitted is 18. "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" from White Heat, which is often abbreviated as "Top of the world, Ma!"

Bill said...

Ah, thanks. "White Heat," to tell you the truth, was one of the handful of titles that had me scratching my head. I had never heard of the movie or the line before.

Eric "Babe" Morse said...

How fun is this? Now I have to go to the site, and not go to bed on time. Thanks!

My $.02:

The "we don' need no steenking badges" line is paraphrased in Blazing Saddles, and this is the version that's stuck.

Play It Again, Sam was a Woody Allen movie; again, folks picked up this version of the line and ran with it.

For years, I've had that Dirty Harry line word for word... the whole scene. One of my favorites. And yeah, the guy felt lucky.

Bill said...

As I almost added (but I had to go to bed at some point), I trust that Woody knew the correct line and intended the title of his movie to be a slight twist. (Boy, I love that movie.)

Kelly said...

The popular story is that "Play it again, Sam" comes from the Marx brothers movie "A Night in Casablanca." (I've never seen it, so I can't confirm this.)

Peter Fisk said...

Well, the whole list is highly suspect because there’s not one scrap of dialogue from Tombstone:

• “You’re a daisy if you do.”
• “I’m yer huckleberry.”
• “Ed, what an ugly thing to say. I abhor ugliness. Does this mean we're not friends anymore?”
• “You know. Stephen Foster. Oh Susannah, Camptown Races...Stephen stinkin’ Foster.” -- “Ah, yes. Well, this happens to be a nocturne.” -– “A which?” -- “You know, Frederic fucking Chopin.”
• “Huh. It’s the drunk piano player. You’re so drunk, you can’t hit nothin’. In fact, you’re probably seein’ double.” -- “I got two guns, [click click] one for each of ya.”
• “That's just my game”
• “You must be Doc Holliday.” -- “That’s the rumor.”
• “Kate! You’re not wearin’ a bustle. How lewd.”
• “I already got a guilty conscience. Might as well have the money too.”
• “You die first, get it?”
• “I don’t know, there’s just somethin’ about ’im. Somethin’ ’round the eyes. I don’t know. Reminds me of ... me. Nope, I’m sure of it, I hate ’im.”
• “Why Johnny Ringo, you look like someone just walked over your grave.”
• “I’m dyin’, how are you?”
• “It appears we must redefine the nature of our association.”

Nicole said...

Peter, Peter, Peter...

Peter Fisk said...

Judy, Judy, Judy ...

(Which Cary Grant never really said in any movie.)

Bill said...

And Cagney never said "You dirty rat," right? (Though we've already demonstrated the extent of my Cagnet knowledge.)

Not a movie example, but as I type this I'm looking at the DVD cover for "Dragnet 1967," with "Just the facts, ma'am" in big type. Apparently Sgt. Joe Friday never said that either.

MDPiii said...

I read through the entire collection of Sherlock Holmes stories back when I was in college (about when they were written)keeping an eye out for the line, "Elementary, my dear Watson." There were lots of uses of "elementary" and lots of "my dear Watson" references, but never together--unless I missed it, which is possible. But to my knowledge, the tag line was first used in the movie series with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Anybody know different?

Dan_W said...

How about "Beam me up, Scotty" from Star Trek. After hearing that this line was never actually said, I found it very funny when Worf, in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" said "Beam me up" in one episode--apparently as an "inside" joke to viewers.