Friday, July 30, 2010


Darrell James

In the movie, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Josey (Clint Eastwood) stands in the darkened corner of a bar in Santa Rosa, Texas. It’s post Civil War and Josey is a confederate outcast, refusing to pledge his allegiance to the Union. A bounty hunter arrives to take him to justice…

You're wanted, Wales.
Reckon I'm right popular. You a bounty hunter?
A man's got to do something for a living these days.
Dyin' ain't much of a living, boy.

"Dyin' ain't much of a living, boy." It’s one of my favorite movies and one of my favorite lines. The movie is based on the book Gone To Texas by Forrest Carter.

It’s been said that every good story has one completely unforgettable line. It causes me to consider whether these memorable quotes are the premeditated work of master storytellers or pure accident—the work of characters just being themselves.

I have always believed that fictional characters can take on a life of their own. A kind of metaphysical transference between author and character.

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”

My short story, the Art of Avarice (Politics Noir, Verso 2007), was a 2008 Derringer Finalist. In the story, long term, North Carolina, Gubernatorial incumbent, Berk Cabot, finds himself in a close race against the dark horse challenger, six-time NASCAR champion, Donnie Ray Banner—a wavy haired, Redford type, running on nothing but his good ol’ boy reputation and good looks. As the mudslinging reaches its pinnacle, Berk reminds his campaign manager, “It’s all just politics, the way we do it in the south. We chain our dogs to the porch and send the cat out to lay down with them.”

I recall writing this line without so much as a thought. The character had completely taken charge and decided what to say.

I heard Elmore Leonard say once, in an interview with the late George Plimpton (Paris Review), that he would name a character a certain name and couldn’t get him to talk. He would change the name and couldn’t get him to shut up. Another way of saying, perhaps, that fictional characters become independent of the author who creates them.

Still, you have to give the writer credit. Book and movie characters aren’t real, but writers who are able to fully immerse themselves in their characters psyches, breathe a special kind of life into them.

It’s magic! The work of muses! And for the writer, a thrill like none other.

What’s your take on it? And while you’re at it, what’s your favorite book or movie line?

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”


Carol Grace said...

My favorite - "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore" from The Wizard of Oz.
I also like "It was a dark and stormy night..." Bulwer-Lytton. I'm a sucker for cliches.

G.M. Malliet said...

My favorite line is said by Francis Urquhart, a fictional character created by Michael Dobbs, and portrayed to absolute perfection by Ian Richardson, in House of Cards.

Francis is a politician, as corrupt as they come. His favorite phrase for avoiding answering a question - any question - is some variation on "You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment."

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

My all time favorite movie line: "Sell crazy someplace else, we're all stocked up here." (Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) in "As Good As It Gets")

You're right, Darrell, sometimes characters come right off the page speaking gems and it's our job to transcribe them to the page before they turn to dust.

Kate Thornton said...

One of my favorite quotes - and I have found times where it is both appropriate and useful - is "Man, who videotapes a trash dump?"

Fremont, a fictional character who with his not-too-swift partner, Lougie,form a mutt & mutt duo from one of my favorite authors, Darrell James.

Beth Groundwater said...

My favorite line is from the cult classic, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension:

"Remember, no matter where you go, there you are."

Other great quotes from the movie include:

"Nobody is nobody. Everyone has something to offer."
"There are times when verbal ingenuity is not enough."
"Today's impossible is tomorrow's reality."
"Mystery is the source of all true art and science."

Terri Bischoff said...

"Donkey, the land of Far Away is far, far away." - Shrek 2

Whenever we are on long car trips and my five year olds starts in with "are we there yet" I quote Shrek at him. Usually that results in giggles and all three boys schreeching "DonKEY!"

Keith Raffel said...

Darrell, Had to think about this for awhile. There's Joe E Brown's line at the end of Some Like It Hot: "Nobody's perfect." Or Grace Kelly's last line in To Catch A Thief: "Mother is going to love it here." But the best lines might be from Maltese Falcon (the movie; I can't lay my hands on the book right now). There are so many. Here's a smattering. I love them all.

Sam Spade: All we've got is that maybe you love me and maybe I love you.
Brigid O'Shaughnessy: You know whether you love me or not.
Sam Spade: Maybe I do. I'll have some rotten nights after I've sent you over, but that'll pass.

Sam Spade: Don't be too sure I'm as crooked as I'm supposed to be.

Sam Spade: I hope they don't hang you, precious, by that sweet neck. Yes, angel, I'm gonna send you over. The chances are you'll get off with life. That means if you're a good girl, you'll be out in 20 years. I'll be waiting for you. If they hang you, I'll always remember you.

Detective Tom Polhaus: [picks up the falcon] Heavy. What is it?
Sam Spade: The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.
Detective Tom Polhaus: Huh?

Spade: When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it.

Alan Orloff said...

I'll go with another Eastwood gem: "You've got to ask yourself, 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?"

Darrell James said...

I love all of these. I may have to memorize, Melvin Udall's, Sue Ann. I think it could come in handy.

Kate-you make me blush ;)

Terri- I'll have to use the Shrek line on Diana the next time we travel.

jeff7salter said...

In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Butch asked (more than once), "Who are those guys?". It referred to the posse and trackers following them.
But in a larger sense it summarized the entire movie, because there was always somebody after them.

G.M. Malliet said...

Jeff - You reminded me of a similar and wonderful line: "Who were these men? I wanted to be a nurse."

A thrilling moment from The Verdict, starring Paul Newman.

jeff7salter said...

Somehow I managed to miss that film. Though I recognize its title, of course.
I'm a big Newman fan. Sorry to have him leave us last year.

Vickie said...

Oh, lordy, my favorite movie for best lines, Blazing Saddles....

Best ones:
Lili Von Shtupp: Hello, handsome, is that a ten-gallon hat or are you just enjoying the show?

Mexican Bandit: Badges? We don't need no stinking badges.

Taggart: Has anybody got a dime?
[henchmen grumble, search their pockets]
Taggart: Somebody's gotta go back and get a s&*tload of dimes!

Darrell James said...

Jeff/GM- I always have to smile when I think of Newman... Cool Hand Luke.

Vicki- You're right. Where do you start to pick with Blazing Saddles?