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    Movie Dialogue

    By Jan Wahl–

    “If I’d been a ranch, they would have named me The Bar None,” said Gilda, perfectly portrayed by Rita Hayworth in the 1946 movie of the same name. The film also included these lines in the song “Put the Blame on Mame”:

    “When they had the earthquake in San Francisco
    Back in nineteen-six
    They said that old Mother Nature was up to her old tricks
    That’s the story that went around, here’s the real low-down
    Put the blame on Mame, boys
    Put the blame on Mame
    One night she started to shim and shake
    That brought on the Frisco quake
    So you can put the blame on Mame, boys
    Put the blame on Mame.”

    Thinking again of San Francisco, how many of us moved here and said to ourselves, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” recalling that line from The Wizard of Oz? Great movie dialogue and movie song lyrics often stay with us, remembered long after we first viewed the particular film. Another favorite: “You’re not too smart, are you? I like that in a man.” Matty Walker, played by Kathleen Turner, said that in the 1981 film Body Heat.

    Everyone knows the romantic allure of Casablanca and lines like, “Play it once, Sam, for old times’ sake,” before the bittersweet playing of the song “As Time Goes By” by Dooley Wilson (“Sam”). Humphrey Bogart, playing the lead Rick Blaine, also memorably said, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” at key romantic moments with Ingrid Bergman (“Ilsa”).

    More adroit writing was evident for the 1976 movie Network, which in my opinion and that of many others is one of the best films of all time. See it again and notice how writer Paddy Cheyevsky foresaw how television news would be taken over by multinational corporations. Fired new director William Holden (as “Max”) warned the entertainment division: “War, murder, death are all the same to you as bottles of beer.” Frustrated anchorman Peter Finch (“Howard”), in Finch’s final film role, passionately cried out, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

    2005’s Brokeback Mountain broke our hearts with, “I wish I could quit you.” Less sentimental but no less memorable was this from 1957’s The Sweet Smell of Success featuring Burt Lancaster (“J.J. Hunsecker”) and Tony Curtis (“Sidney Falco”): “I’d hate to take a bite of you. You’re a cookie full of arsenic.”

    The screenplay of 1950’s Sunset Boulevard was skillfully crafted by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and D.M. Marshman, Jr. Consider these lines:

    William Holden as Joe Gillis: “You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.”

    Gloria Swanson as Norma: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

    There are also many comedies that showcase fine dialogue. Think of watching Meg Ryan (“Sally”) loudly faking an orgasm in 1989’s When Harry Met Sally and then a woman at a nearby table tells the server, “I’ll have what she’s having.” (The actress who played that woman was Estelle Reiner, the wife of Carl Reiner and the mother of Rob Reiner, who directed the film. Rob cleverly worked her in for just a minute, yet that brief moment was so memorable.)

    In another comedic zinger, Joan Blondell (“Nan Prescott”) in 1933’s Footlight Parade told a scheming blonde: “As long as they’ve got sidewalks, you’ve got a job.” 

    1972’s The Godfather could merit its own column on great movie dialogue. Scholars have pondered, “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” Even a line as seemingly simple as, “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse,” takes on layers of meaning in that epic classic that earned Academy Award honors for Best Picture, Best Actor (Marlon Brando), and Best Adapted Screenplay.

    I could go on about additional incredible movie dialogue but, as Scarlett O’Hara told us in the 1939 film Gone with the Wind, “Tomorrow is another day!”

    Jan Wahl is a Hollywood historian, film critic on various broadcast outlets, and has her own YouTube channel series, “Jan Wahl Showbiz.” She has two Emmys and many awards for her longtime work on behalf of film buffs and the LGBTQ community. Contact her at

    Off the Wahl
    Published on April 20, 2023