VHS Revival looks back at those quotes which truly defined their characters
Whenever we speak fondly of a particular character, what is it that immediately comes to mind? Sometimes it might be an action or an expression or some other physical detail that sets them apart, but more often than not it is the words that they use and how they use them. Dialogue can tell us so much about a character, because for most of us words are the primary source of communication, and through them we are able to further understand a subject’s personality and motives; we are able to communicate with them on a whole other level. Cult movies such as Pulp Fiction rely almost entirely on dialogue, and many characters have been defined by the immortal lines they are bequeathed. In fact, many of the greatest characters can be defined by a single turn of expression, those that cut to the very heart of their personas and remind us of all the elements that make them so memorable.
In this article, VHS Revival looks back at the quotes which defined some of cinema’s best-loved characters.
You know what capitalism is? Getting fucked!
Character: Tony Montana
Actor: Al Pacino
Movie: Scarface (1983)
Back in the early 1980s, an influx of Cuban immigrants set sail for Miami as they looked to claim asylum from the oppression of Castro’s communist regime. Amongst the thousands of honest Cuban’s aboard the Mariel boat lift were a secret selection of mental patients and known criminals, rejects who saw a way to exploit certain freedoms which existed in the United States.
In 1983, visionary director Brian De Palma gave us Tony Montana, a thirsty pit bull possessed with the kind of ruthless ambition that would see him rise from foreign peasant to Miami kingpin almost overnight. But Montana would quickly come up against a whole different set of problems, those mired in politics which cannot be settled on the street corners with a gang of banditos.
After clawing his way to the very top Montana felt he had more than earned his lofty drug world vantage, but very soon he would become public property, with everyone from corrupt DEA agents and sleazy offshore bankers gouging his considerable piece of the pie. It wasn’t long before Montana realised that communism and capitalism share the same fundamental obstacles, and that the so-called American dream was something of a nightmare. And of course, with his jail manners and brutally honest vocabulary, there is perhaps nobody else who could have summed it up quite as emphatically.
Maybe he committed suicide.
Actor: Daniel Stern
Movie: Home Alone (1990)
Daniel Stern carved out a pretty nice low-key career for himself. After supporting roles in popular movies such as City Slickers, he would also appear in Woody Allen’s comedy drama Hannah and her Sisters, while even making his mark on the cult movie scene with 1984‘s absurd monster flick C.H.U.D. He even provided the voice over for an older, reminiscent Kevin Arnold in The Wonder Years, a TV show ingrained in the hearts and minds of millions. But even with such a varied and memorable career, he will perhaps be best remembered for his role as idiotic crook Marv from Chris Columbus’ festive family comedy Home Alone.
In hindsight, the many contrivances of Home Alone are hard to swallow. I mean, what are the odds of and eight year old boy devising all of those neat booby traps while possessing the technical mastery required to utilise them? And even if that were possible, what are the chances of hose criminals being so unfortunate as to walk right into every one of them, seemingly incapable of learning from a plethora of painful mistakes? You would think they’d be slim, but then you get to know Marv, and if anyone is capable of such a combination of poor luck and downright ineptitude it is Marv.
Not only does Marv step on a nail and get smashed in the face with an iron, he leaves ridiculous Wet Bandit style clues so the law can track his every move, while even believing that little Kevin McCallister can call the cops from a tree house. Perhaps the most stupid of all of Marv’s acts is when he and long-suffering partner Harry pursue their micro tormentor to the attic, only to find that he has disappeared. Clueless as to the little tyke’s whereabouts, Marv looks down sixty feet in puzzlement. ‘Maybe he committed suicide,’ he dumbly assumes, and the look on Harry’s face tells you all you need to know.
There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that?
Character: Marge Gunderson
Actor: Frances McDormand
Movie: Fargo (1996)
The Coen brothers have made some wonderfully offbeat movies, wowing audiences for close to three decades with their very particular brand of filmmaking. Movies such as The Big Lebowski and No Country for Old Men has elevated the writer/directors to cult status, but for my money Fargo is their greatest achievement, and one of the finest movie’s ever put to celluloid.
A tale of desperate men resorting to desperate measures, the Coens juxtapose the macabre deeds of a couple of outsiders with the salt-of-the-earth town of Brainerd, a community acutely unprepared for the increasingly gruesome events that transpire. After being asked to kidnap the snivelling Jerry Lundegaard’s unsuspecting wife for a piece of the ransom, our two heels get more than they bargained for as the body’s pile up and an internal beef sees their plans turn sour.
Tracking the criminals’ misdeeds with an honest-to-goodness simplicity which defies the convoluted evil smothering her home town is Marge Gunderson, a heavily pregnant detective whose simple soul and banal routine seem at odds with her professional smarts and skillful intuition. But in spite of being mired in the abuse of base criminality, Marge has the wonderful ability to view life in its most elementary terms, and as a consequence is able to elevate herself above the more insidious elements of human nature.
Escorting the cold and vicious Gaear Grimsrud to jail after watching him feed his partner’s leg into a wood chipper, Marge lays it all on the line, plain and simple. ‘There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that?” she asks. “And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day.” And somewhere beneath the layers of dead-eyed inhumanity, you get the impression that our murderer finally realises as much.
I’m calmer than you are.
Character: Walter Sobchak
Actor: John Goodman
Movie: The Big Lebowski (1998)
The Big Lebowski was something of a landmark movie for the Coen brothers. With crime classics such as Blood Simple and Miller’s Crossing, they had long since established themselves as major, innovative players, while black comedy Fargo is perhaps as close to the perfect movie as you are ever likely to find, but it was 1998’s The Big Lebowski which really caught the world’s imagination.
Like much of the Coens’ works, the movie is something of an oddball experience which manages a peculiar poignancy in spite of its zany embellishments. This is due to their offbeat style and surreal set-pieces, but also because of a cast of larger-than-life characters who are at once grounded in reality and belonging to another world entirely.
The story of an L.A. bum tasked with retrieving a trophy wife from a bunch of leather-clad nihilists, The Big Lebowski is a scatter gun odyssey of bumbling PI’s, porn star magnates, and a plethora of other socially inept caricatures, who each play a little piece in the acid trip puzzle.
Perhaps the most memorable of a terrific supporting cast is John Goodman’s Walter Sobchak, a seething malcontent whose time spent fighting in the Vietnam War has left him with a rather considerable chip on his shoulder. Walter has been screwed before and feels he has more than earned his right to certain freedoms, be that finishing his coffee after being asked to leave a cafe, or pulling a gun on his pacifist friend after his toe slips over the line during a league game.
As is the case with the majority of self-righteous loudmouths, Walter is also something of a hypocrite. Worse still, he is a relentless meddler with his combat boot jammed firmly in his mouth, and when the cops show up to their favourite bowling haunt after Walter pulls his piece on their opponent Lebowski finally loses it, demanding that his friend exercise some restraint.
‘I’m calmer than you are,’ Walter childishly retorts. ‘Calmer than you are.’
It is this petty and puerile nature that makes an otherwise raging brute so indelibly likeable.
I’m even considering making up some shit!
Actor: Bill Paxton
Movie: Weird Science (1985)
Weird Science may not be as memorable as Planes, Trains and Automobiles, or as iconic as The Breakfast Club, but it is still one of filmmaker John Hughes’ finest. Hughes has a knack of appealing to teenagers and seems to understand what makes them tick, a fact that is prevalent in the dialogue he writes, which is crude, touching, and consistently hilarious.
Weird Science is the story of a couple of high school losers named Gary and Wyatt who decide to make a girl on their computer, but get more than they bargain for with the feisty and free-spirited Lisa, who manages to turn the house blue and make catatonic statues out of Wyatt’s grandparents before setting them on the track to popularity and ultimately the girls of their dreams.
Their is one fly in the ointment however, and it comes in the shape of Gary’s oppressive older brother, Chet. Chet is a buzz cut sporting, shotgun wielding chauvinist who takes great pleasure in extorting his younger sibling out of every dollar. After a night on the town courtesy of Lisa, Wyatt runs into his brother in the hallway, who seizes his chance to make a quick buck. Pinning Wyatt against the wall, Chet spells out the inevitable, and then some, ‘Here’s the bottom line, Wyatt: I’m telling mom and dad everything. I’m even considering making up some shit!!!’
Having become an award winning writer and director, Bill Paxton was once quizzed by a British newspaper on the part people seem to most remember him for. Chet was his answer, and this was the line fans most wanted to hear.
Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…
Character: John McClane
Actor: Bruce Willis
Movie: Die Hard (1988)
John McClane is everyone’s favourite action hero. Not only does he dedicate his life to putting away dirt bags, he is an everyman devoid of the kind of haughtiness that you typically find with officers of the law. He has no prejudice against colour, creed, or anything else for that matter, and his down-to-earth personality means that he can find common ground with just about anyone, no matter how culturally opposed he and that person might be.
In spite of McClane’s agreeable personality, his life generally sucks, and when he is invited out to Los Angeles by his ex-wife he winds up attending the Christmas party from hell, complete with a building full of international terrorists intent on stealing millions in bearer bonds while leaving no witnesses.
Separated from his family and up to his neck in New York scumbags, McClane is used to getting the short end of the stick, and is humble enough to accept the fact that most of the time he probably deserves it. Because of this he has a playfully cynical nature, one he expresses with a dry, proletarian wit. Never is that wit more relevant than when McClane is crawling through a ventilation shaft having almost been murdered, wondering how in the hell he got into this situation.
‘Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…’ McClane squirms, mocking his wife’s fateful invitation.
He then takes down an entire terrorist group single-handed.
Yippee Ki Yay, motherf@#kers!
I owe him, [and] I owe you.
Character: Billy Hoyle
Actor: Woody Harrelson
Movie: White Men Can’t Jump (1992)
White Men Can’t Jump is another movie whose dialogue is everything. It is an often riotous, bittersweet tale about love and betrayal, about loyalty and honour and the decisions we make. It is about doing the right thing, and how right can be a subjective term in regards to those people who make up our lives. It is a truly wonderful picture, and one of the most underappreciated of the era.
Key to the movie’s success is the quite magical onscreen chemistry of its leading men. Billy and Sidney are top drawer ballers who didn’t quite make it to the big leagues, and as a consequence spend their time hustling for chump change on the wisecracking courts of Los Angeles. Both have money troubles and loyalties to their loved ones, and after a duplicitous run-in the two decide to put aside their differences and team up for the common good.
But Billy, played by a gloriously tragic Woody Harrelson, is bad with money. He is also bad with promises and ultimately relationships. After winning a wad of cash in a tournament his ego gets the better of him and he loses his half to a bet, but after Sidney (Snipes) does his would-be-brother a favour, his house is burgled, and Billy has to choose between doing the right thing and doing [the right] thing. Typically, he makes the wrong decision. Explaining that he owes Sidney a favour, long-suffering girlfriend Gloria recalls him saying the same exact thing to her.
‘I owe him [and] I owe you,’ he pleads as a sheepish but desperate Sidney hangs loose in the background, and Billy’s fate is clear to everyone except poor old Billy himself.
I’d have got him ten.
Character: Fletcher Reede
Actor: Jim Carrey
Movie: Liar Liar (1996)
Back in the mid-nineties Jim Carrey was the biggest movie star in Hollywood, and off the back of smash hits Ace Ventura, The Mask and Dumb and Dumber, the pressure was on for him to deliver. Liar Liar is a by-the-numbers mainstream comedy written specifically for the actor. It may be trite and predictable and downright saccharine at times, but the movie’s writers dangle just enough of a carrot for Bugs to work his magic, and work it he does.
Carrey plays Fletcher Reede, a sleazy, big city lawyer who will sink to just about anything in order to make partner, including screwing his boss and lying to just about everybody he comes into contact with. Fletcher’s son Max is no exception, and he becomes so tired of his father’s lies after he fails to turn up for his birthday that he makes a rather devastating wish, one that prohibits him from lying for an entire day.
Soon Fletcher is telling the truth about everything, offending his boss, alienating his wife and kid, and even managing to estrange himself from long-time assistant Greta, who after realising that her boss is telling the truth decides to probe him for past discrepancies and ends up resigning as a consequence. Fortunately, Fletcher is able to redeem himself, if only temporarily. Recalling a story about a friend who was sued for $6,000 by a burglar who fell and hurt himself while breaking into her house, Greta appeals to her boss’s human side by asking, ‘Is that justice?”
‘No,’ Fletcher replies, bringing a redemptive smile to his assistant’s face. ‘I’d have got him ten.’
Don’t Know. First time.
Character: Mr. Miyagi
Actor: Pat Morita
Movie: The Karate Kid (1984)
In 1984, Rocky Director John G. Avildsen would recycle his winning underdog formula with low key smash The Karate Kid, a movie that would exceed all expectations to become one of the most fondly remembered of the decade. This was in no small part due to the iconic performance of comedian Pat Morita, whose enigmatic blend of wholesome drama and charming relatability earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Oscars, as well as a ringing endorsement from legendary movie critic Roger Ebert.
The Karate Kid is the story of Daniel Larusso, a fatherless fish-out-of-water who quickly becomes the target of some local bullies after his mother uproots them and moves to California. Daniel is soon outnumbered and in desperate need of a mentor, and that mentor comes in the form of apartment janitor Miyagi, a karate master who agrees to train the petulant youngster after a run-in with crazed Vietnam veteran, John Kreese.
Larusso is a gangly teen with a heart of gold, but after becoming the victim of the Cobra Kai dojo’s warped tutelage, he fails to understand the true value of martial arts, and through a series of eccentric life lessons he is taught that karate is about more than just throwing punches, it is about finding balance in life, and understanding that we must learn to fight so that we never have to.
Of course, there will always be moments when those skills are called upon, and when a couple of drunken bigots disrespect our favourite pacifist, Miyagi teaches them a lesson by karate chopping their empty beers bottles into oblivion. Flabbergasted by his sensei’s incredible feat, Larusso asks, ‘How did you do that?’ In response our hero shrugs, displaying the kind of infectious humility that allows an almost mystical figure a human relatability.
If I’m curt with you, it’s because time is a factor.
Character: Winston Wolfe
Actor: Harvey Keitel
Movie: Pulp Fiction (1996)
Before Harvey Keitel’s financial problems turned ‘The Wolf’ into an overbearing marketing gimmick for car insurance ads, he was one of the most sparsely used characters in modern cinema history, and as a consequence one of the most memorable. Pulp Fiction is a movie crammed with iconic characters, and in spite of the brevity of Winston Wolfe’s appearance, he more than holds his own with a selection of unique and wonderful characters who are far more central to the movie’s events.
‘The Wolf’ is so irresistibly quotable that every last one of his lines brings a smile to your face, and it takes an actor of Keitel’s style and range to successfully pull it off. Recruited by Marsellus Wallace to clean up a headless body, The Wolf leaves a party in the middle of the morning and arrives twenty minutes ahead of schedule, barking orders at two of LA’s most notorious henchmen while complimenting his agitated host Jimmy on the quality of his coffee.
The Wolf is smooth and curt in equal measures, an unfettered animal who is all business, and it isn’t long before his prodigious blend of dry wit and taut leadership gets the better of Vincent, a man more concerned with his own image than with the potentially fateful task at hand. Unfazed by Vincent’s apology request, The Wolf is blunt and aggressive, while never rising to the level of confrontation. He is a man whose time is of great value, a fact that he is quick to point out, and if his efforts are not appreciated there are other places where they most certainly will be.
Inevitably, The Wolf proves himself to be a man without prejudice, quickly earning Vincent’s respect and bearing no grudge in regards to his petulant attitude. A true gentleman, and one of the coolest characters ever put to celluloid.
Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.
Character: William Munny
Actor: Clint Eastwood
Movie: Unforgiven (1992)
Clint Eastwood is one of Cinema’s finest and most diverse directors, and he went back to his roots for his genre-tweaking western Unforgiven, a study of unredemption which lays down the old adage that, on a fundamental level, people do not change.
While staying true to those Fordian elements which depict frontier life, the movie was unique in many respects. This was the first time prostitutes were ever portrayed as having strength of character. It is also the first time a cowboy showed any kind of serious regret or remorse for his actions, the first time death was shown to have emotional consequence for the gun-slinging cowboys of the old west.
Having found God and turned a moral corner, a creaking Will Munny is coaxed out of retirement for one final bounty as he struggles to provide for his motherless children on a fruitless pig farm in the middle of nowhere. Struggling with memories of past atrocities, the formerly murderous Will is unable to kill with the same vigour he once did, until the murder of his old friend Ned (Morgan Freeman) brings out the devil in him, fulfilling all of the sinister foreboding which precedes his final showdown with sadistic Sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman).
As Little Bill lies dying on a saloon floor with the rest of his cronies, he claims that he doesn’t deserve to die in that way. Staring cold and hard down the barrel of a shotgun, Munny has a different opinion however, growling a line that is indicative of his notorious past, as well as the morally corrupt present which succeeded in awakening a long dormant demon.
Wanna Hear the most annoying sound in the world?
Character: Lloyd Christmas
Actor: Jim Carrey
Movie: Dumb and Dumber (1994)
Back in 1994, Jim Carrey could do no wrong. After shooting to stardom with smash hits Ace Ventura and The Mask, expectations were high, and his next movie – in which he was paired in an unlikely duo with straight actor Jeff Daniels, proved to be the biggest hit of them all, a movie which not only cemented Carrey as perhaps the world’s biggest movie star, but which also announced writer/directors the Farrelly Brothers as big game, mainstream players.
Perhaps caught up in the fevered hype of Hollywood’s latest comic revelation, Dumb and Dumber was cited by some as being the comedy event of the decade, and although in hindsight that seems to be something of a vast overstatement, Carrey and Daniels exhibited a wonderful onscreen chemistry, and Dumb and Dumber is perhaps the warmest of what would become a predominantly lewd and flimsy catalogue from the Farrellys.
The movie’s charm lies in its inane stupidity, and in particular a couple of zesty physical performances from our two leads. Of all of the movie’s silliness, nothing sums up their distinctive brand of puerile humour like the moment when Harry and Lloyd pick up a hit man posing as a hitchhiker while on their way to return what was meant to be a ransom briefcase to a Mary ‘Samsonite’. Driving the hit man to the point of insanity with their childish games of tag and petty squabbles, he is finally able to calm their antics, only for Lloyd to perform his ‘most annoying sound in the world act’, a screeching falsetto delivered into his passenger’s ear canal like fingers along a blackboard through a megaphone.
Mock! Yeeeeah! Bird! Yeeeeah! Yeah! Yeeeeah!
Favour’s Gonna kill you faster than a bullet!
Character: Carlito Brigante
Actor: Al Pacino
Movie: Carlito’s Way (1993)
In the early ’90s Actor Al Pacino and Director Brian De Palma were reunited for what might be considered a quasi-sequel to their 1983 crime classic Scarface. That movie was Carlito’s Way, and although Tony Montana died in the conclusion of their 80s cult classic, Puerto Rican Brigante is very much the character Montana might have become had he served his time instead of going out in a haze of cocaine fuelled gunfire.
Thanks to sleazy lawyer Davey Kleinfeld, Carlito is out of jail on a technicality, but in spite of the assumptions of the DEA and those who ran with the old Carlito, Brigante is looking to turn legit and make enough to get himself and his sweetheart out of the ghetto. That’s easier said than done, however, and with fresh faces come fresh worries, particularly when the converted Carlito can no longer see the angles that once kept his head above water.
Unbeknown to our antihero, the real problem comes in the form of Kleinfeld, a snake who became a major player in his client’s absence, and who lands himself and Carlito in the kind of trouble you don’t walk away from. Early on in the movie, Kleinfeld is full of favours in his apparent attempts to give his client a leg up in realising his dream, but Carlito is too smart to accept, quickly offering this cult line of pulp wisdom. Unluckily for Brigante, a man who swears by a moral code that only he seems to adhere to, he already feels he owes Kleinfeld for getting him out of jail, and by the words of his prophecy his fate is sealed.
Character: Edward Scissorhands
Actor: Johnny Depp
Movie: Edward Scissorhands
For me director Tim Burton is somewhat overrated, and in spite of his unique visual eye, his great movies are few and far between – either tragically dated like his version of Batman, or simply a case of style-over-substance. Edward Scissorhands is perhaps the director’s finest achievement, a fantastical tale that is grounded through pure emotion.
The film is about alienation, and the way in which those who are different are often feared, and invariably victimised. Edward – a puppy-eyed Frankenstein’s monster who has been hiding out in a Gothic castle at the edge of suburbia – is taken in by an honest-to-goodness resident, and quickly becomes the flavour of the month with the town’s desperate housewives, until ultimately they grow bored and begin to bay for his blood.
Edward’s hands are symbolic of his inability to fit in, and when his attempts at helping a young boy result in him causing the youngster accidental harm, he is run out of town by a murderous rabble hellbent on revenge. Even more tragic is the fact that Ed has fallen in love with his surrogate family’s daughter, Kim, who is the only person the runaway can still trust.
‘Hold me,’ Kim says as the two of them prepare to say goodbye forever, and with a cute double meaning, Edward holds out the same giant hands which clumsily sliced her younger brother, uttering the ironic and heartbreaking words which so accurately highlight his unique predicament. It is a wonderful gilt-edged touch which beautifully encapsulates the movie’s central theme.
Of Course; I’m a Terminator.
Character: T-800 Model 101 Terminator
Actor: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Movie: Terminator 2: Judgement Day
In 1984, Arnold Schwarzenegger exploded onto the mainstream as James Cameron’s indestructible T-800 Model 101 Terminator, a relentless killing machine who combined the seek-and-destroy dread of a slasher movie with explosive sci-fi action. In 1991 Arnie would be brought back to reprise that role in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but T2’s T-800 was not the same heartless monster as his predecessor.
Here Arnie played the movie’s protagonist, a machine which had been reprogrammed by the resistance and sent back in time to protect a young John Conner, who would one day lead them to victory against the automated scourge that is Skynet. This new T-800 had been tweaked to learn from and adapt to human interaction, and once subjected to present day Earth’s environment, he would grow to become something of a surrogate father for John. In the ultimate irony, the student would become the teacher.
When he first arrives however, he is not much different from the T-800 from the original movie. He is a machine with an objective that will stop at nothing to achieve it. For him, human casualties are of no consequence. Early in the movie, a still naive John realises that his new protector will do anything he commands, and it isn’t long before he mischievously picks a fight with two muscleheads with the intention of unleashing his new toy upon them. Wasting no time in dealing with his aggressors, the Terminator pulls out his pistol and attempts to shoot one of them, only for John to misdirect the shot at the last moment. ‘You were gonna kill that guy!’ John exclaims. ‘Of course;’ his guardian replies, ‘I’m a Terminator.’
Not only does this perfectly encapsulate the moral corruption of a machine devoid of empathy, it sets the T-800 on a journey of emotional discovery, while cementing the sequel’s lighter, largely ironic tone. A true classic.