In recognition of the TBS network's second annual Just for Laughs comedy festival, running June 15-19 in Chicago, Turner Classic Movies has thrown out their list for the 10 Best Comedy Lines from Classic Movies. That's a mouthful, huh? Nothing like nailing down a genre. If the movie is not considered a "classic" is it immediately disqualified from contention? Does the film even have to be a comedy? What about unintentionally classic funny bad movies? Could we throw in a vote for "You can't piss on hospitality, I won't allow it," from Troll 2? Let the debate begin!
What actually constitutes a classic comedic line though? Is it strictly a punchline or does its inherent quotability over time amongst movie fans earn it a place in history? Looking over TCM's list, there is a combination of true wit, cheesy puns, strict one-liners and openings to larger monologues. There is also doubt that anyone, without looking over what they chose, would choose any more than maybe one on their own list of ten.
"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room."
About as perfect a line as has ever been written in a motion picture. Not only is it an on-target bit of satire in itself, but also sums up the film in just eleven words. And if you don't immediately recognize the movie that is from (Dr. Strangelove) then you really shouldn't have a pony in this race to begin with. Like the Oscar's choice for Best Original Song every year, you might hear better numbers from better artists, but the award is supposed to represent a piece of music that best represents the film for which it was written. The War Room line might not resonate at an evening BBQ amongst friends as an instant laugh inducer the way something from Caddyshack might, but it works on multiple levels that certainly earns its place in the discussion of lists like this.
You might disagree and go straight for the gut punch. Pick a line from Airplane, for example. Any line. What was the first one you came up with? Was it "Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?" Because that is what TCM chose. Is "seven years of college down the drain" or "fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son" any funnier than "Over? Did you say 'over'? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!" The first two were singular lines. The latter, chosen by Turner Classics, is the opening to a monologue. That's like cutting off Crash Davis at "good scotch."
"It's good to be the king," is a fun little proclamation to throw around from History of the World, Part I, but is it necessarily funnier than anything from Anchorman, The Jerk or the collective works of Albert Brooks? Joe E. Brown's "Well, nobody's perfect!" from Some Like It Hot is a great exit line, but there is nothing unique about it. They may as well have included "I'm getting too old for this shit." And how about "I'll have what she's having" from When Harry Met Sally? Again, a great punchline, but would you rather hear your date quote that or do the Meg Ryan part that preceded it?
The rest of the list is as follows:
"It must have been hard on your mother, not having any children." - Ginger Rogers, 42nd Street (1933)
"You can't fool me! There ain't no sanity clause!" - Chico Marx, A Night at the Opera (1935)
"What do they think I am? Dumb or something? Why, I make more money than - than - than Calvin Coolidge! Put together!" - Jean Hagen, Singin' in the Rain (1952)
"Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government." - Michael Palin, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Granted, that is a great line from Monty Python. But as comic groups are concerned, is that the best they could come up with through all the classic Marx Brothers one-liners? It's not even a Groucho quote!
But what do you think? Can you pinpoint your favorite moment from one of the Judd Apatow productions? Are you still riding the wagons of Napoleon Dynamite or Borat? Does your list begin and end with something from Cary Grant? A list of ten makes for a great round table discussion, but is almost inconceivable(!) with so many truly classic lines out there. Not that I want to see what Turner Classics would have come up with across 100 slots though. They may have just included "inconceivable" since "I do not think it means what you think it means." So discuss amongst yourselves loyal, intelligent readers and "let's show this prehistoric bitch how we do things downtown."