TCM has gotten in the habit of releasing new top tens quite frequently and every now and again one is rather interesting, such as their list of the Top 15 Most Influential Films of All-Time, which set the Internet on fire last April for about two straight weeks and even encouraged some sites to poll their users to see just how TCM’s list compared to a user generated one.
I doubt today’s list will be scrutinized as hard as that one considering comedy is so subjective, but I’m sure many of you will have something to add to the list that you feel should be included. What follows directly below is Turner Classic Movies’ (TCM) list list of the 10 Best Comedy Lines from Classic Movies, which lines from such notables as Groucho Marx, Mel Brooks, Ginger Rogers, Peter Sellers, John Belushi and Rob Reiner’s mother.
The list is presented in chronological order and I’m not exactly sure what they consider to be “classic movies,” but the newest film on the list comes from 1989, so for the sake of argument, if you would like to suggest another line you think should have been included lets cut things of at ’89 and work back from there.
Here’s the list, let your thoughts be known in the comments below. I added video where I could find it. If you can find a clip for those I missed let me know.
“It must have been hard on your mother, not having any children.” — Ginger Rogers, 42nd Street (1933)
Warner Bros.’ Busby Berkeley musicals may be best remembered for his kaleidoscopic choreography, but they were also a treasure trove of wise cracks and put downs, delivered by some of the best “dames” on screen, including Joan Blondell, Una Merkel, Glenda Farrell and Rogers. Even though the films’ plot contrivances and grandiose musical stagings may seem dated today, the zingers that kept audiences laughing remain as fresh as ever.
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“You can’t fool me! There ain’t no sanity clause!” — Chico Marx, A Night at the Opera (1935)
No nose was spared tweaking when the Marx Bros. hit the screen, whether their targets were dignified matrons, bombastic villains or such institutions as college sports, big business and, in this case, grand opera. Not even the English language was safe as Groucho and Chico subjected audiences to some of the funniest pun-ishment they’d ever heard.
“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)
The dumb blonde is one of comedy’s most reliable archetypes, and few were dumber than Lina Lamont, the silent love goddess whose screechy voice and dim wits threaten her career when sound arrives. Conceived for Judy Holliday and considered for Lana Turner, the role ultimately went to Hagen, one of the most talented actors never to become a star.
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“Well, nobody’s perfect!” — Joe E. Brown, Some Like It Hot (1959)
“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.” — Peter Sellers, Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Stanley Kubrick gave viewers more than the daily dose of irony with his comic take on the lunacy of the nuclear arms race, nowhere more so than when President Merkin Muffley used this line to break up a fight between his top military advisor and the Russian ambassador. Although the president was conceived as the film’s straight man, the line, possibly improvised by Sellers, consistently gets one of the film’s biggest laughs.
“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)
Parody reached a new pinnacle when the landmark British comedy troupe released their first entirely original film. The madcap comics took every opportunity to debunk Arthurian legends, with arguably the best being this protest from one of Palin’s eight characters, a peasant questioning the king’s divine authority.
“Over? Did you say ‘over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!” — John Belushi, Animal House (1978)
When Bluto Blutarsky convinces his Delta Tau Chi frat brothers to get back at the school that had thrown them out, a star was born, with Belushi playing one of his most iconic characters in his film debut. He helped make this manic farce one of the most profitable movies ever (earning $141 million to date on a $3 million investment) and popularized a new genre, the gross-out comedy, which would inspire such later hits as Porky’s (1982) and American Pie (1999).
“Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?” — Peter Graves, Airplane! (1980)
Sometimes it’s all in the delivery. Directors Jim Abrahams and the Zucker Brothers, who also wrote the screenplay, knew that one of the funniest lines they ever wrote would be offensive if played for laughs. Therefore, it made sense that, as they did with other key roles in the movie, they would cast an actor (Graves) best known for no-nonsense dramatic roles to deliver it with a perfect deadpan.
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“It’s good to be the king.” — Mel Brooks, History of the World, Part 1 (1981)
Of all the great comic lines crafted by writer-director Mel Brooks (including his invention of the phrase “creative accounting” for 1968’s The Producers), perhaps the most iconic is this quip from his take-off on historical epics. Not only did Brooks use it several times in the film, but he also included it in the stage version of The Producers (2001). It even served as a tagline for the hit Showtime series “The Tudors.”
“I’ll have what she’s having.” — Estelle Reiner, When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
Director Rob Reiner gave his mother one of the greatest punch lines in movie history. Nora Ephron’s script about the problems men and women have being just friends already had the makings of a hit. But the famous deli scene gave it the catchphrase that kept people talking. It was a moment that literally fell from the stars: Meg Ryan suggested demonstrating a fake orgasm rather than just talking about it, as originally written, and Billy Crystal supplied the punch line. Reiner’s mother, a jazz singer off-screen, then gave the perfect dry delivery that left audiences howling.