| One night not too long ago, I agreed to do an appearance for a film society in upstate New York. They were showing Cujo, one of my favorites among the films made from my books and stories. They took me out to dinner beforehand (if you don’t take a fee—which I usually don’t—the best things about these gigs are good talk and free chow), and the older gentleman on my left began mourning that films had lost their language. He claimed that in what he called “the age of the director,” the screenwriter has become almost dispensable, and there are no more great cinema lines. As examples of great lines he cited “Play it, Sam” and “We’ll always have Paris” from Casablanca, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” from Gone With the Wind, and “Oh, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home!” from The Wizard of Oz.I didn’t bother telling him that last one had moss on it long before moving pictures were invented, because I took his point, and could have added a dozen more of my own from Hollywood’s supposed golden age (I’d begin with “Rosebud!” from Citizen Kane and end with “It was beauty killed the beast” from the original King Kong). But I don’t agree that there are no more great lines. Between you and me, I think I might have been sitting next to a gent who had grown a little deaf to them.
I have a theory that Americans fall into two groups: those who are passionate about movies and those who aren’t. Those who are live in families that develop a whole stock of great lines, a kind of inner slanguage that helps to trace a family’s growth just as accurately (and sometimes just as poignantly) as old videotapes or Kodaks in a scrapbook. My own kids are now grown up, but they’re still passionate about the movies, and when I asked them for some of their favorite lines from childhood, they were more than happy to comply.
So here come some lines that track the history of my family. I’m curious to know if any of these resonate with you—if they call up the sort of memories we more ordinarily associate with photographs or pop music. If they do, would you write and say so? And if these aren’t the ones that do the trick for you, which ones do? Please let me know.
One caveat about the short list of King family picks: I’ve arbitrarily excluded most “punch-out lines”—ones made to be repeated, crafted as carefully and cynically as advertising slogans. Ergo, no “Hasta la vista, baby,” “I’m the king of the world,” or “Heeee-eeeere’s… Johnny!” It probably would be fair to add “Ahhh’ll be bock,” from the Terminator series; that one, I’m convinced, became a punch-out line purely by accident (the accident being Arnold’s one-of-a-kind accent). Here goes:
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Roy Scheider, in Jaws. It’s the shocked, wide-eyed delivery that makes the line a classic.