Somebody Actually Says It

It can be a perfectly natural thing or an extremely clunky thing when a character in a film says the title…when he/she just spits it out. There’s a moment in Steven Spielberg‘s War Horse when a soldier standing next to Joey and discussing him with another soldier actually calls him a “war horse.” Right away that struck me as odd. Why did he have to actually say it? Couldn’t Spielberg have left well enough alone?

It felt the same to me as if Clint Eastwood‘s Unforgiven character had said to Morgan Freeman‘s, “You and me, we’re unforgiven…by most people, I reckon, and by the Lord, for sure.”

It felt the same to me as if Joe Pesci‘s character in Raging Bull had said to his prizefighter brother, “Jesus, Jake…you’re a real raging bull, you know that, ya fuck?” (An anonymous sports announcer saying this nickname in the film is okay because it was a very common term after Jake La Motta became famous.)

It’s always better to not have anyone say or repeat any kind of metaphorical or alliterative description of a character or situation. It would have been overkill, for example, in Arthur Penn‘s The Left-Handed Gun if someone had literally called Paul Newman‘s Billy the Kid “a left handed gun.”

A character saying a name (Spartacus, Bullitt, Dr. No, Patton, Beetlejuice) is never a problem and is pretty much unavoidable. And neither is saying a locale (or an alliterative description of a locale like Sea of Grass or The Big Country) an issue of any kind. But sometimes an explicit description of a location or its whereabouts is verboten. What if someone had said to Cary Grant during the first or second act of North by Northwest that Mount Rushmore “is in a north by northwesterly direction from here”?

It’s actually kind of neat when Some Like It Hot‘s Tony Curtis says to Marilyn Monroe, “Well, some like it hot but I prefer classical.” And it’s intriguing when Anthony Hopkins‘ Hannibal Lecter alludes to The Silence of the Lambs without actually saying those exact words. (The closest he comes is when he talks about “that awful screaming of the lambs”).

It’s fine and sufficient in in The Americanization of Emily when Julie Andrews says “don’t try to Americanize me, Charlie” to James Garner. But if James Coburn had said to Garner that “you’re doing an excellent job with your Americanization of Emily campaign,” it would have been chalk on a blackboard

If anyone in Point Blank had said to Lee Marvin‘s Walker that “you’re too rough and rude, Walker…you’re too point blank” or “if you don’t watch your step someone’s gonna nail you point blank,” audiences would have cringed.

Here’s an even more general rule — if at all possible, don’t ever have any character say the title of a film in a film. Just don’t do it. Simple.

  • Eloi Wrath
  • LexG

    “Albo Gator!”

  • Spout

    ehem . . “forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown”

  • Zach
  • JR

    Dgging deep for more criticisms of War Horse, Jeff?

  • The Thing

    Can we get an example of when the movie title sounds bad in the movie, other than, you know, War Horse?

  • Abbey Normal

    I’ve always thought they should give a quick look at the camera after they say it…break the fourth wall for just a second and acknowledge what’s just happened.

    “Spock, what can we do about…the wrath of Khan?”

    (Shatner glances at us for a brief moment and winks slightly, then returns to face Spock. Scene goes on as before)

  • Krillian

    Anytime someone says the title during the movie, I picture it coming out of their mouth like the Electric Company, and then it blows away in the wind.

    Ossie Davis in Do the Right Thing.

    Craig Robinson in Hot Tub Time Machine.

  • coxcable

    Worst offender…

    Gary Oldman:

    “He’s a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A dark knight.”

    Then cut to black. Then the titles “The Dark Knight” appear.

    Nolan had to choose between the pretention of ending the last line of the movie with the title OR the pretention of putting the title card at the end. And the dork chose both.

  • Mr. Peel

    “Wow. What a view…”

    “…to a kill.”

  • alynch

    I laughed at the final line of The Dark Knight.

  • bulltron

    Aren’t you supposed to yell out “Title!” when this happens?

  • http://www.railoftomorrow.com ScottNye

    Chinatown is actually the best use of that, because although the film barely takes place there, the specter of that area haunts over the picture, especially by the time Jake ends up talking about his past there. That scene, and the finale, take on a greater significance because of the title of the film.

    Last Year at Marienbad is kind of brilliant in a whole other respect, because it’s never actually established if the event in question even took place in Marienbad. Rather fitting for the film.

    My favorite worst offender is The Hours – Ed Harris is great and all, but that title makes a nothing scene seem So Important. And the way Harris says it – “But I still have to face the hours, don’t I?” – makes it seem like The Hours is a secret government committee that’s out to assassinate him.

  • dino velvet

    So you are the mysterious Octopussy!

  • http://scottalanmendelson.blogspot.com Scott Mendelson

    That’s actually a pet-peeve of mine, and something that happens all the time in various 007 films (“or we live to DIE ANOTHER DAY!!!”). My annoyance of this was well known enough among my friends back in the day that they actually turned at me and snickered when Hugo Weaving gravely pronounced that “We now have our FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING…!” on opening night. I think I would have enjoyed Scream quite a bit less if they went with the original title SCARY MOVIE, since characters of course utter the phrase ‘scary movie’ about 1,634 times over the 105 minutes or so. The word ‘Scream’ is only said once, and while it’s noticeable (“It’s a scream, baby!”), it’s at least in the context of the scene.

  • Joe Gillis

    “But more about Eve, rather, all about Eve…”

    “Yes, this is Sunset Boulevard…”

    “They told me to take a streetcar named desire…”

    “We called each other goodfellas…”

    Jeff, stop trying to find reasons to hate War Horse, will ya?

  • MartinBlank

    Penn Jillette once wrote an article (could’ve been Movieline or Premiere, I forget) about a ritual he and some buddies used to have. When a character in a movie said the movie’s title, Penn and his guys would all stand and briefly applaud, then sit down.

    This wasn’t foolproof; Penn acknowledged that near the end of Malcolm X when someone says something like “Malcolm X has been killed,” to stand and applaud would be to invite a truly epic ass-whupping, so common sense was employed in certain cases.

  • Rashad

    Next Saturday night, we’re sending you back to the future!

  • dino velvet

    On the Bond tip (and thanks for the reminder of the clunky, awkward A view to a kill title usage), it seems odd that a slam dunk of a cool title, Live and let die, was never spoken on screen, despite being said in the novel.

    “Scaramanga? Oh yes, The Man with the Golden Gun!”

  • 115thDreamer

    Remember in “Jaws’ when the guys on the boat shouted “Oh shit, Jaws!!!” the first time they saw him? Always hated that…..

    Seriously though, loved how the title was neatly avoided, but alluded to, in “You Can Count On Me”. Near the end, Ruffalo just says “Remember what we used to say to each other?”, referring to their childhood days after their parents died. Laura Linney immediately brightens and says “Of course I do!”. Beautiful moment.

  • DukeSavoy

    Yeah, like when Gopher turns to Cee Cee and says “What’s happening? What do you mean what’s happening? It’s The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Green Grasshopper and the Vampire Lady from Outer Space, that’s what!” Very natural use of the title, really works.

  • George Prager

    “Boom!”

  • mybrainismelting

    And of course, they say “Godfather” quite a few times in…ya know…The Godfather.

    Jeff’s nonsensical campaign against War Horse is nearing witch hunt proportions.

  • Roger Sweets (gnosis)

    Yeah, that is a stupid rule. Jeff, you should try something new and admit after watching those clips that sometimes it works really well.

    Is it sometimes obvious and hamhanded(Face/Off) and some of the examples above? Sure. but not always, and there were plenty of great examples of that in the clips. Gonna ban it in books too – and plays (including some by that hack Shakespeare)?.

    The title is frequently chosen from the text anyway. Some more of the non-obvious (such as the godfather) that worked:

    Gone Baby Gone – my personal favorite from the recent past

    The Departed (by that hack Scorcese)

    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (by a hack team of Gondry and Kaufman)

    Full Metal Jacket (that hack you adore – Stanley K)

    In Bruges

    And I thought the use in The Hours was subtle on spot on. I had forgotten that one.

    anyway plenty of proof that it works often enough, only a fool would stick to an absolute statement on this one.

  • http://www.railoftomorrow.com ScottNye

    gnosis – The Harris bit might have been subtle under different direction, but the final line is inexcusable, when Nicole Kidman says (in voiceover) “always…the hours.” Unless that’s actually a bit from Virginia Woolf’s diary or letters or somesuch, but some quick research suggests that’s not the case. And even if it were, it’d be a damned ham-handed use of it.

    And for the record, I still kind of like The Hours.

    Also, I would love to see a video of Penn Jilette and company standing and applauding every time the characters say “in Bruges” in said film. They’d be tuckered out ten minutes in.

  • 115thDreamer

    Remember in “Jaws’ when the guys on the boat shouted “Oh shit, Jaws!!!” the first time they saw him? Always hated that…..

    Seriously though, loved how the title was neatly avoided, but alluded to, in “You Can Count On Me”. Near the end, Ruffalo just says “Remember what we used to say to each other?”, referring to their childhood days after their parents died. Laura Linney immediately brightens and says “Of course I do!”. Beautiful moment.

  • Noiresque

    @gnosis ‘And I thought the use in The Hours was subtle on spot on. I had forgotten that one.’

    The use of “the hours” in the movie was perfect. The seconds, the minutes, the hours of looking into the void reveals the monotonous misery of the depression suffered by the characters.

  • bfm

    I often assume that it’s because the scriptwriter has written the script under another working title and they’ve switched the name somewhere along the line.

  • beerbelly burl

    More Titles Said In Movie:

    Taxi Driver

    Third Man

    Fanny and Alexander

    The Seventh Seal

    Rumblefish

    Key Largo

    Maltese Falcon

    Goodfellas

    Blade Runner

    Ghostbusters

    Dirty Harry

    Red River

    Fight Club

    Social Network

  • MechanicalShark

    Major props for mentioning The Americanization of Emily. I watched it recently, and found it absolutely fucking brilliant. It’s a stirring anti-war declaration, a celebration of wonderful cowardice. Honor and ego is all well and good, but not if it gets ya killed. James Garner in that movie is my kind of hero. Julie Andrews and James Coburn are terrific, too.

  • JBM…

    Can’t believe one mentioned NEVER BACK DOWN. Thought you fucking punks were film fans.

  • JBM…

    *no one… but I never back down…

  • actionlover

    A character, at some point in the film, says the title. And Jeffrey Wells runs to the computer and types out a nine paragraph whine-a-thon.

    It’s only gonna get better, people.

  • actionlover

    Yay “Moneyball”!

    Boo “War Horse”!

    Go, “Moneyball”, GO!

    Man oh man. Check me into Cedars. I’ve got OSCAR FEVER!

  • JChasse

    “I am gonna make this dream come true. Nobody ever said it’s gonna be easy. It’s hard. It ain’t easy to walk to the top of a mountain. It’s a long, hard walk. It’s a rocky road. But I plan on walking. Oh, I’m gonna walk. Hard. I will walk hard.”

  • Super Soul

    It sure ruined Gandhi for me.

    @115th Dreamer: good call on You Can Count On Me. That was my first thought when I saw this thread.

    Runner up for best alluded-to-but-unspoken title:

    Get Shorty

    Good films that dropped the ball:

    Three Kings (singing it is even worse)

    The Departed (can someone say “shoehorn”?)

    Wonder Boys (gets off on a technicality)

    Films that proudly announce the title, and I didn’t mind it one bit:

    Tender Mercies

    A River Runs Through It

    City of Hope

    Films that had the good sense not to:

    Reservoir Dogs

    Out of Sight

    Dog Day Afternoon

    Ordinary People

    Films in which it would have been truly bizarre to hear the title spoken:

    Sexy Beast

    Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

    Apocalypto

    Run Lola Run

    Star Wars

  • Alexander

    Huh, come to think of it, “Amistad,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Minority Report,” “The Terminal” and “Munich” all have their titles “said” in their films.

    Of couse, I would contend that all of these–possibly save for “Saving Private Ryan,” which at least is a well-read line by Tom Sizemore and feels natural to the situatoin at hand–including “War Horse,” are intrinsically different from the uttering of the word “Unforgiven” in Jeff’s hypothetical example. Just as “Double Indemnity,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “The Apartment,” “The Godfather,” “”Miller’s Crossing,” “Casino,” “Heat” and a plethora of others are in my eyes A-okay because those are merely what is superficially driving the film, or, in the case of some, simply settings and backdrops against which characters orbit with some kind of thematic meaning to them.

    They aren’t really what their particular films are genuinely *about*, thematically. “Unforgiven” would have been about as clear-cut an example as any I can think of for that, however. Someone calling the horse a “war horse” in “War Horse” doesn’t pull the curtain, so to speak, as I find it unlikely the film is actually about the horse. The horse is doubtless the driving force behind it and the main “characer” we follow but while I freely admit to not having seen the film, I’m willing to guess that the film is actually *about* more intangible things. Like Lattrache calling Malik a prophet in “A Prophet”–the prime mover may be what the film is apparently about but the film is actually about matters and themes beneath the absolute immediate surface.

    Besides, “Crash” was about as bad an offender as any I can think of from the past decade and Jeff didn’t choke on that.

  • actionlover

    “It’s a nightmare, a never-ending, cataclysmic quagmire. An apocalypse of biblical proportion. And it’s here. Right here.”

    “Yeah, but like, two weeks ago, right? An apocalypse last month, right? Right?”

    “Now. Right now. We’re looking at an apocalypse NOW.”

    “God help us.”

  • Super Soul

    “You’re the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time, McLane. Too bad, I kind of liked you. I almost regret having to watch you die.”

    “Hard to believe I thought you were a real major. I got all the friends I need. Yippie-kai-yay, motherfucker.”

  • patches23

    “Things change.”

  • BobbyLupo

    just to play devil’s advocate on Jeff’s stupid point, these are the Spielberg movies that don’t, to my knowledge, use their title in the dialogue:

    ‘Duel’

    ‘Jaws’

    ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’

    ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ [all four of them, I guess]

    ‘E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial’

    ‘Empire of the Sun’

    ‘A.I. Artificial Intelligence’

    ‘Catch Me If You Can’

    ‘War of the Worlds’

    I think also ‘Schindler’s List’, ‘The Sugarland Express’, and ‘The Color Purple’, but I’m less sure about them.

    That encompasses almost all of his good movies and very few of his bad ones.

  • gnosis

    Yeah, that is a stupid rule. Jeff, you should try something new and admit after watching those clips that sometimes it works really well.

    Is it sometimes obvious and hamhanded(Face/Off) and some of the examples above? Sure. but not always, and there were plenty of great examples of that in the clips. Gonna ban it in books too – and plays (including some by that hack Shakespeare)?.

    The title is frequently chosen from the text anyway. Some more of the non-obvious (such as the godfather) that worked:

    Gone Baby Gone – my personal favorite from the recent past
    The Departed (by that hack Scorcese)
    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (by a hack team of Gondry and Kaufman)
    Full Metal Jacket (that hack you adore – Stanley K)
    In Bruges
    And I thought the use in The Hours was subtle on spot on. I had forgotten that one.

    anyway plenty of proof that it works often enough, only a fool would stick to an absolute statement on this one.

  • http://www.potenzmittel-natuerliche.de Monkey

    I think you are right about “Schindler’s List”!

  • Bob Violence

    “Don’t be afraid, Sailor.”

    “But I’m wild at heart.”

  • Bob Violence

    “I sure am tired of all these star wars”

  • Floyd Thursby

    I wish Quantum of Solace had been mentioned so I would have some idea what the hell it means.

  • JLC

    What about in the trailer: “We bought a zoo!”

  • Bob Violence

    I wish Quantum of Solace had been mentioned so I would have some idea what the hell it means.

    the short story defines it as “a precise figure defining the comfort, humanity and fellow feeling required between two people for love to survive,” I think we’re better off they just left it unexplained in the movie

  • Super Soul

    “Hey Ed, would you like another take?”

  • http://www.liveforfilms.com Live for Films

    I always hated it in “What About Bob?” when they repeatedly asked that question.

  • Roger Sweets (gnosis)

    Mostly I want to make sure there are 50 comments generated by this silly rule – but

    kudos on the die hard catch, super soul – I have got to watch for that next time.

    I propose the alternate rule – ALL films should have the title directly said in a film – the goal is to do it so subtly that you have to really be listening to catch it.

  • Super Soul

    @gnosis: Don’t get your hopes up. It’s not actually a reference to “Die Hard”, strictly speaking. Plus it’s fake.

    Here’s a proposed candidate for your alternate rule:

    “I suppose you heard we found Charley Wade.”

    “Oh yeah?”

    “Out by the army base. Been there a long time. In those flats near the old rifle range, that area that’s all windblown.”

    “Start digging holes in this county, there’s no telling what’ll come up.”

  • Movie Watcher

    Jurassic Park

    Blade Runner

    The Godfather

    Casablanca

  • gnosis

    Mostly I want to make sure there are 50 comments generated by this silly rule – but
    kudos on the die hard catch, super soul – I have got to watch for that next time.

    I propose the alternate rule – ALL films should have the title directly said in a film – the goal is to do it so subtly that you have to really be listening to catch it.

  • Jason S.

    Rain Man

    Home Alone

    The Piano

    The Breakfast Club

    Clear And Present Danger

    Blue Velvet (I think – could be wrong. Anyone wanna chime in on that one?)

  • Jason S.

    Re: my Blue Velvet comment – Yes – the title is sung but not spoken. I guess that still counts though.

  • Jason S.

    AUTHOR, AUTHOR.

  • TimDG

    “Momma likes to sing Blue Velvet.”

  • CitizenKaned4Life

    “Penn acknowledged that near the end of Malcolm X when someone says something like “Malcolm X has been killed,” to stand and applaud would be to invite a truly epic ass-whupping, so common sense was employed in certain cases.”

    That’s too bad because, boy, would I like to have seen the movie of that.

    This is good stuff, Jeff — very on-point rant from you, IMHO (even if it is just largely an excuse to lash your favorite whipping horse flick again).

  • CitizenKaned4Life

    Staaaar Waaaars

    Nothing But Staaar Waaars

    Give me those Staaar Waaars

    Don’t let them end!

  • Anthony Thorne

    This one features the greatest use of the APOCALYPSE NOW title in cinema history, and clearly met with Francis Coppola’s approval.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hl_QWkvtCXI

  • Cadavra

    “Gotta go, Marge. Playin’ poker tonight with The Odd Couple.”

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