A Tenth Anniversary Re-Post: January, 2006
President Calvin Coolidge (1923-29) wasn't prone to conversation. His taciturn nature was so well-known that once, a guest at a White House dinner made a bet that she could get him to say more than two words. When she told the President of her wager, he replied: "You lose."
There's something satisfying about succinct. Brevity's still the soul of wit, now more than ever in our high-speed, info-overloaded culture. Rhetoric and word-glut is too much with us, which is probably why we derive so much pleasure from an effective one-word ad campaign ("Zoom, zoom, zoom!") and the clever, carbo-packed news headline, like Variety's legendary report about how movies that condescended to rural characters were tanking in rural areas: "STICKS NIX HICKS PICS."
Our current need to cut to the chase is clearly what accounts for the popularity of a website that specializes in four word movie reviews (a top-voted Brokeback Mountain review is of course, "Homo on the range").
With movie quotes, context is if not everything, quite a lot. To simply say "Plastics" is to say next to nothing -- but that's precisely what gives the line such a sardonic, ironic charge when it's delivered to young Dustin Hoffman as the one word that will supposedly illuminate his future, in The Graduate. Nonetheless a few words that really work, in context, can conjure up an entire movie experience. At any rate, here's what I found in my search for Memorable Movie Quotes of 3 Words or Less.
Inconceivable! (The Princess Bride)
Dis-ap-point-ed...! (A Fish Called Wanda)
Yo, Adrian! (Rocky)
Bond. James Bond. (Goldfinger, et al)
Hello, gorgeous! (Funny Girl)
Attica! Attica! (Dog Day Afternoon)
Toga! Toga! (Animal House)
Stella! (A Streetcar Named Desire)
Heeeeere's Johnny! (The Shining)
They're he-ere! (Poltergeist)
As if. (Clueless)
La-dee-da... (Annie Hall)
Ack-ack! (Mars Attacks)
I'll be back. (The Terminator)
Follow the money. (All the President's Men)
Play it, Sam. (That's the actual quote: Casablanca)
We rob banks. (Bonnie and Clyde)
What a dump. (Beyond the Forest)
It's alive! (Frankenstein)
I hate snakes. (Indiana Jones)
Jake - It's Chinatown. (Chinatown)
Nobody's perfect. (Some Like it Hot)
Question You Don't Ever Want to Have to Answer:
Is it safe? (Marathon Man)
One-Word Quote Which, as is Annoyingly Typical of This Movie, Would Top Most Cinefiles' Lists of "Most Memorable":
Rosebud. (Citizen Kane)
Inevitably I turn to my bailiwick, for a sub-category worthy of screenwriting craft study: Greatest Romantic Comedy Lines of 1 or 2 Syllables.
Given that romantic comedies tend to be verbose -- witty banter is actually what we expect from a rom-com -- I'm fond of citing the opening of Richard Curtis's Four Weddings and a Funeral as a paradigm of great romantic comedy dialogue.
The movie begins with a wordless montage of various characters getting ready to go to a wedding. We find protagonist Charles (Hugh Grant) still in bed, sleepily picking up his alarm clock and then reacting, eyes widened:
Oh, fuck. Fuck!
Charles runs into housemate Scarlett's room and thrusts her clock at her sleepy face. Scarlett reacts:
Cut to Charles getting dressed in a hurry. He bends to tie his shoes and his suspenders pop off the back of his trousers. Charles:
Cut to Charles and Scarlett in the front of his Volvo. The engine won't start. Charles:
Now that's great dialogue. I'm not being facetious here -- it's truly impressive how much the sequence accomplishes, in terms of story set-up, character and tone, using one four-letter word.
Runners-up in this category would include the fabulous "just-just-just-just--"/"don't-don't-don't-don't--" duet between Dustin Hoffman and his panicked live soap opera TV crew during the climax of Tootsie, and one of the most moving uses of a commonplace word that I've ever heard, in the closing lines of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind -- two syllables repeated by two devastated lovers (He: Okay? She: Okay.) that bring tears to my eyes, every time.
Of course the above list is anything but inclusive, which is where the rest of you come in. What pithy or profound, priceless couple of words have I left out?