There is a fascinating series running on Radio 4 at the moment on the subject of great cinema speeches. They have a poet who explains the syntax and why the words work so well. So far we have had coulda been a contender; don’t forget . . . we’ll always have Paris and my own all-time favourite, tears in the rain, which ends Blade Runner. I don’t know what’s up next but I would certainly add to that list, ‘. . . in this life or the next’ . . . the pivotal moment of Gladiator and possibly another pivotal moment, ‘I’ll give you my answer now. My answer is no’, from Godfather 2 .I am tempted to mention another crucial cinematic moment, ‘ . . . we need more bullets in the gun . . .’ from Deer Hunter but it’s a line, not a speech and it definitely isn’t poetry.
I’m not big on lists. I know that lists are very often the staples of blogs; is Dylan more important than Miles? Were the Beatles better than the Stones? Is Clint Eastwood a better director than John Ford? I couldn’t care to be honest but the Internet is full of these best speeches lists so there is no shortage of material. For what it’s worth, the American Film Institute [AFI] have a site here listing the Top 100 Movie Quotes of all time so if you are interested, click on the link. These are not speeches, they are quotes, stuff like, ‘You talkin’ to me?’ and ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning’.
So, all caveats taken into consideration, this is my list:
From On the Waterfront: Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger; screenplay credited to Budd Schulberg.
Charley Malloy [Steiger]: ’Look, kid, I - how much you weigh, son? When you weighed one hundred and sixty-eight pounds you were beautiful. You coulda been another Billy Conn, and that skunk we got you for a manager, he brought you along too fast’.
Terry Malloy [Brando]: ‘It wasn't him, Charley, it was you. Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, "Kid, this ain't your night. We're going for the price on Wilson." You remember that? "This ain't your night"! My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn't have to take them dives for the short-end money’.
Charley Malloy: ‘Oh I had some bets down for you. You saw some money’.
Terry Malloy: ‘You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it. It was you, Charley’.
If the link works you can view the scene here.
From Casablanca: Ingrid Bergman and Humphey Bogart; screenplay credited to Casey Robinson.
Ilsa [Ingrid Bergman]: ’But what about us?’
Rick [Humphrey Bogart]: ‘We'll always have Paris. We didn't have it before...we'd...we'd lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night’.
Ilsa ‘When I said I would never leave you...’
Rick ‘. . . And you never will. But I've got a job to do too. Where I'm going, you can't follow. What I've got to do, you can't be any part of. Ilsa, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that. Now, now. Here's looking at you, kid’.
I always thought Casablanca was rather overrated but one can’t deny the power of this scene. Is Rick sincere? All those little smiles. Is the delivery too quick? There is a sense he just wants to get it over with. It feels rehearsed somehow but of course it would be . . . he was probably up in his room rehashing it all day. Judge for yourself. There is a link here.
From Blade Runner: Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer, Harrison Ford silent throughout. Screenplay credited to Ridley Scott and David Peoples but this speech attributed to Rutger Hauer from a draft presented to him on the day of filming.
Roy Batty [Rutger Hauer]: 'I’ve seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears...in...rain.
Time to die’.
You need to see it performed to understand the import of the words. Here is a link. I hadn’t realised until the poet pointed it out, that Tannhäuser Gate is from William Blake.
There is a link to Godfather 2 here but I can’t find a link to Deer Hunter. I may return to this as the series progresses.
Meanwhile, here is the link to Russell Crowe:
‘My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius, father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance -- in this life or the next’.