Thursday, September 24, 2009

Perfect Lines

By Johngilstrap

My bachelor’s degree comes from the College of William and Mary in Virginia. As most graduates from prestigious schools, I am capable of being an academic snob when the occasion arises. It happens far less frequently now that I’ve become a gentleman of a certain age, but back in the day, my loyalty to the alma mater was pretty fierce.

In the late ’70s, when I was in college, Virginia Tech (then known as VPI-Virginia Polytechnic Institute) had nothing of the reputation that it enjoys today. It was every good student’s “safety school,” the one you knew you could get into if W&M and UVA let you down. In the good spirit of interschool rivalry, I held it in low esteem. Thus, as a young safety engineer investigating an explosion at the explosives processing plant where I worked, I made multiple references to “Techie engineering” as the primary cause of the accident. It was my throw-away phrase to describe anything that was well-meaning yet substandard.

Remember that I was all of 28 years old at the time. Many minutes into my presentation to the seniormost members of management, after I had committed to this good-humored course of bashing my academic rival, Paul Lumbye, the vice president of all things that paid my salary, raised his hand and said, “John, I think it’s appropriate for me to tell you that I am a graduate of VPI.” Something seized inside my gut. Then he went on to point to a good thirty percent of my senior-executive audience, all of whom were likewise graduates of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and at least twice my age.

When Paul-the-VP was done, the room was silent, and I found myself facing a dozen smug smiles, all of them rejoicing that I had been so thoroughly put in my place. It was my moment to cower and apologize.

Alternatively, it was my moment to show the true depth of my loyalty. With all those eyes staring, I made a point to look Paul in the eye when I asked, “Does this mean I need to start over again and use smaller words?”

To this day, I look at that comment as a pivotal moment in my professional career. I learned that all reasonable people appreciate a great line well-delivered. I wish I could say that I continue to be that glib and fleet of tongue, but forever and ever, I will know that at least once, I delivered a killer rebuttal. It’s a great feeling.

Which brings me to the actual point of this week’s blog entry: great lines. More specifically, great movie lines—the ones that perfectly capture the emotion of the scene and stick with you long into the future.

A few that come to my mind:

“Fill your hands you son-of-a-bitch!” – Rooster Cogburn, True Grit.

“I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted and I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do those things to other people and I require the same of them.” -- J.B. Books, The Shootist

“Are you going to do something, or just stand there and bleed?” -- Wyatt Earp, Tombstone

“Dyin’ ain’t much of a livin’, boy.” – Josie Wales, The Outlaw Josie Wales

“I’m thirty years older than you are. I had my back broke once, and my hip twice. And on my worst day I could beat the hell out of you.” – Wil Andersen, The Cowboys

“The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.” – Rick, Casablanca

"You're gonna need a bigger boat." Chief Brody, Jaws

Each of these lines, at the moment they were delivered, slyed their respective audiences. Certainly, they slayed me. What about you? What are your favorite lines from the real world or the world of fiction? C’mon. You know you have one. Or five. Share.


  1. Also from The Outlaw Josie Wales: "Why? Buzzards gotta eat, same as worms." - Referring to the good folk wanting to take the time to give a "good Chrisitan burial" to the bad guys Clint had just dispatched.

  2. "I've heard about you."

    "What've you heard, Shane?"

    "I've heard you're a low down Yankee liar."

    "Prove it."

  3. Clint Eastwood has some of the best lines ever.

    "You see, in this world, there's two kinds of people, my friend. Those with loaded guns, and those who dig. You dig." - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

    "You're a legend in your own mind." - Sudden Impact

  4. Since no one probably would, I will quote some of my favourite Douglas Adams quotes:

    The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't.

    A learning experience is one of those things that say, "You know that thing you just did? Don't do that."

    Ford, you're turning into a penguin. Stop it.

    And I will end with something that just happened in my current WIP, Cold Summer:

    Gang Banger to pregnant woman who drew a gun in self defense

    "You don't have the balls to shoot me."

    "Very observant. But I don't need balls. I'm a girl and I'm pregnant. I've got hormones. And I'm about to hormone your ass straight to hell."

  5. “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Harry Callahan, Magnum Force

    “I ain’t got time to bleed.” Blain, Predator

    “I’ll be back.” The Terminator, Terminator

    “I don’t care.” Marshal Samuel Gerard, The Fugitive

    “Did ya use enough dynamite, Butch?” Sundance, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

  6. From the little known Rustler's Rhapsody, with Tom Beringer, the "good guy" who has to face another Good Guy instead of the usual villain. The villain, instead of shooting the guns out of Tom's hands (like good guys do), shoots him in the shoulder:

    "You're not a good guy at all."

    "I'm a lawyer you Idiot!!"

    Or from Gary Oldman's villain in Leon, The Professional, upon hearing that his first team of cops got taken out by the professional hitman:

    "Manny? Get me Everyone."

    "Whaddaya mean, evr---?"


    Or Jules in Pulp Fiction:

    "Oh, I'm sorry. Did I break your concentration?"

  7. I'll jump on the Clint Eastwood/Dirty Harry bandwagon:

    "You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya punk?"

  8. DEADWOOD is my favorite source for great lines, but it was a TV show, so I'll pass.

    Clint Eastwood rules in this category. From the end of UNFORGIVEN:

    "You just shot an unarmed man."

    "Well, he should have armed himself if he was going to decorate his saloon with my friend."

    John, your VPI comeback reminds me of an old story. A new boss sends an employee on a business trip to Canada.

    "I don't want to go to Canada. The only things they have in Canada are whores and hockey players."

    "My wife is Canadian."

    "Really? What's she play" Goalie?"

  9. All About Eve, the line delivered by critic Addison DeWitt to movie star Margo Channing (played by Bette Davis), who is in her cups:

    "You're maudlin and full of self-pity. You're magnificent!"

  10. "Sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand."

    My favorite movie, Cool Hand Luke.

  11. "Sometimes, there just aren't enough rocks." Forrest Gump, Forrest Gump.

  12. "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die" - and countless other lines from The Princess Bride:)

  13. Oh no, Clare! Now you've started me giggling in my cubicle and it won't stop all day.

    Princess Bride is too quotable!

    "He's not merely dead, he's just nearly dead."

    As you wi

  14. Uh-oh, Clare is bringing out the big guns. If we're going to keep up, we might have to go to the quotable of all quotables:

    Monty Python, and the Search for the Holy Grail!

    -"How do you know she is a witch?"
    -"Well, she turned me into a newt!"
    -"A newt?!"
    -".....I got better...."


    -"Yes! A spanking!"
    -"No I mustn't stay, I can't"
    -"Yes! Yes! He must give us all a good spanking! And once we've all had a good spanking? The oral sex!"
    -"Well I guess I could stay a bit longer..."

    1. One of my all-time fave quotes. Well said, Sir Galahad.

  15. Okay, here's another true-life killer line. A college frined of mine was student teaching is a very rought part of Newports News, Virginia. When he was writing an assignment on the board, one of the girls in the class said to her friend, loudly enough for the class to hear, "If he thinks I'm gonna do that, he can just kiss my ass."

    I have a confirmed report that my friend turned from the board, faced her and said, "Honey, I could kiss it all day and never hit the same spot twice."

    Okay, and one more:

    Early in my fire service days, I was dispatched to a call for a cat stuck in a tree. My captain was a great guy who'd stepped out of Central Casting as a grizzled fire captain. Chewing on his cigar, he tried to explain to the frantic woman that she had nothing to worry about; that cats always come down sooner or later. "You can't be sure of that," she cried.

    "Sure I can," said the captain. "Have you ever seen a cat skeleton in a tree?"

    John Gilstrap

  16. "But, you shot him in the back."
    "His back was to me."

    El Diablo

    You notice how many of these were Westerns?

  17. One more western movie quote for Miller.

    Dobbs: "If you're the police where are your badges?"

    Gold Hat: "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!" -- The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

  18. I always wonder about how the bad guys can be torturing the good guy and the good guy is being a smart ass.

  19. John Gilstrap actually is one of the more intelligent, most thoughtful and consequently the wittiest guy I know personally. When you are with him you are either thinking or laughing, or both.

  20. From Top Secret! (1984)
    Doctor Flamond:" You see, a year ago, I was close to perfecting the first magnetic desalinization process so revolutionary, it was capable of removing the salt from over 500 million gallons of seawater a day. Do you realize what that could mean to the starving nations of the earth?"
    Nick Rivers: "Wow. They'd have enough salt to last forever!"

  21. The Usual Suspects (1995)
    Interrogation Cop: "I can put you in Queens on the night of the hijacking."
    Hockney: "Really? I live in Queens. Did you put that together yourself, Einstein? What, do you got a team of monkeys working around the clock on this?"

    and another one from the same movie:
    Verbal: "It was Keyser Soze, Agent Kujan. I mean the Devil himself. How do you shoot the Devil in the back? What if you miss?"