Several weeks ago, my husband and I had an at-home date night. Dinner was gluten-free pesto pizza, and the movie was Night Shift, a 1982 comedy directed by Ron Howard and starring Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton as city morgue attendants who decide to become pimps. I was thrilled to see that the film was available on cable, because I had been regularly quoting from a particular scene and wanted to show my hubby the original (which I couldn’t find on YouTube). I first saw Night Shift in the theater when I was 14, because my mother, sister, and I were tired from shopping at the Sherman Oaks Galleria. (Shopping continues to exhaust me.) Though I saw the film again numerous times in my youth, I was amazed at how many of the lines I still remembered. I was also surprised at my restraint: I said only about half of them out loud.
To me, Night Shift represents an HQF (highly quotable film). It offers not just the occasional piece of marvelous dialogue but a continuous succession of amusing utterances. I conducted an informal survey of online lists of “most quotable movies.” The film cited most often was . . . Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (Interject your favorite line here; try to stop at one.) The following movies were also regularly identified: The Princess Bride, The Godfather, The Big Lebowski, Napoleon Dynamite, and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Other popular quotable films included The Wizard of Oz, Airplane!, Pulp Fiction, Mean Girls, Ghostbusters, Forrest Gump, Casablanca, Star Wars, Office Space, Caddyshack, and Young Frankenstein.
I was at a dinner party on New Year’s Eve, and one of the guests suggested playing the game of identifying movies by their quotes. I figured I would be pretty good at this pastime but found myself stumped by the first one: “And we’re walking, and we’re walking.” The line sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it in the 1993 film Dave, in which Kevin Kline portrays a presidential look-alike. That was pretty much the end of the game. However, I ask you to play it with me now! The following quotes are from my personal HQFs. (The answers appear at the end of this post.) If you guess five or more of the corresponding movies correctly, well-done! If you get eight to ten right, you are probably my sister.
- “Watch out for that first step—it’s a doozy!”
- “Where’s the rest of this moose?”
- “Eight o’clock? I don’t know. That’s when I rearrange my sock drawer.”
- “You make someone a bridesmaid, and they shit all over you.”
- “LOVE BROKERS!”
- “I think that the problem may have been that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf.”
- “Yes, Mrs. Mandelbaum, this one I’ll meet.”
- “Oh, that Dorothy. The hair, the teeth, and the smell. That Dorothy.”
- “Do you know what he was planning for next Friday night’s poker game, as a change of pace? Do you have any idea? A luau. A Hawaiian luau. Roast pork, fried rice, spare ribs—they don’t play poker like that in Honolulu!”
- “This land is not for sale. Someday I hope to build on it!”
The American Film Institute undertook the challenge of identifying the 100 greatest movie quotes of all time. Of the most quotable films mentioned earlier, seven have entries on AFI’s list. (Casablanca has six!) Jean Picker Firstenberg, president emerita of AFI, asserts, “Great movie quotes become part of our cultural vocabulary.” Indeed, we use them in our own lives and circumstances, for various purposes: To make a point. To sound clever. To entertain. To start a conversation. To bond with others. To recall the satisfaction evoked by watching the movie.
Ultimately, a memorable quote, from a movie, play, book, television show, or even commercial, is one that resonates with us. It might express an idea to which we would never be able to put words ourselves, witness a fundamental aspect of our character, or educate us about something meaningful. I am reminded of the double-blind-date scene from one of my own HQFs, When Harry Met Sally . . ., in which Marie (Carrie Fisher) quotes Jess (Bruno Kirby) to himself:
JESS: I think restaurants have become too important.
MARIE: I agree. “Restaurants are to people in the 80s what theater was to people in the 60s.” I read that in a magazine.
JESS: I wrote that.
Marie goes on to say, “That piece had a real impact on me.” Jess replies, “It spoke to you, and that pleases me.” Being spoken to can be a profound experience.
In fact, Jess and Marie leap into a cab together at the first opportunity.
Answers: 1. Groundhog Day, 2. Arthur, 3. The Sure Thing, 4. Sixteen Candles, 5. Night Shift, 6. This Is Spinal Tap, 7. Crossing Delancey, 8. Gregory’s Girl, 9. The Odd Couple, 10. Love and Death.