Making the scene

Certain sequences in movies make an indelible impression on appreciative audiences.

Harrison Ford (photo credit: ALLMOVIEPHOTO.COM)
Harrison Ford
(photo credit: ALLMOVIEPHOTO.COM)
This year once again, HOT had the good sense to broadcast the Academy Awards so that all of us dedicated cinephiles could watch the show “live and in color” as they used to say.
Unlike the Emmys and the Golden Globes, which the cable network did not air for its devoted customer base, but we won’t get into that.
Movies are essentially made up of filmed sequences and dialogue, and the more visually impactful the scenes and the more pithy the dialogue, the better.
Certain scenes have become classic movie memorabilia, such as the shower scene in Psycho; the farewell scene in Casablanca; the horse’s head scene in The Godfather; the parting of the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments; and the iconic scene of Marilyn Monroe in her billowing white dress in The Seven Year Itch.
As I take a mental inventory of the many movies I have viewed over the years, certain scenes that have left a lasting impression on me come to the forefront.
For starters, any scene in a Marx Brothers film that features Harpo playing the harp is a segment to remember. In the midst of all the madness and mayhem, that sweet, gentle soul playing that ethereal instrument with such tenderness and dexterity is a sheer joy to watch.
And speaking of plucking the heartstrings, the last scene in An Affair to Remember, particularly the version with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, brings tears to my eyes no matter how often I see that wonderful film.
Another very touching sequence is the final scene in Schindler’s List. I won’t give it away for anyone who has not seen the film, but sharing that finale with the audience was sheer genius on the part of director Steven Spielberg. It was so gratifying, so moving and so life-affirming.
Another favorite scene of mine was from another Spielberg film, Raiders of the Lost Ark. In this scene, the beleaguered Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is confronted by a brutish bearded man wielding a saber, challenging our hero to a duel.
As Jones is about to engage in the sword fight, he pulls out his pistol instead and shoots the man dead in his tracks. That move was so brilliant and so unexpected that it had me laughing straight into the next scene.
According to behind-thescenes information, Jones was in fact supposed to enter into the swordplay.
But Harrison Ford was so exhausted from his previous action sequences, not to mention battered and bruised, that he said to Spielberg, “Can’t I just shoot the guy?” Realizing what a great idea that was, the director scrapped the original script and shot that scene instead.
And for sheer larger-thanlife, over-the-top humor, the scenes with Al Pacino in the role of Alphonse “Big Boy” Caprice in the 1990 film Dick Tracy were simply hilarious. Virtually unrecognizable in his makeup and heavily padded costume, it was so out of character for the consummate dramatic actor to be that funny and that grotesque, and he was marvelous. The otherwise forgettable film was worth seeing just for those scenes alone.
By contrast, I also appreciate the small details that go into a good scene. Russian author Anton Chekhov is quoted as having said something to the effect that if a story opens with the description of a room and there is gun on the wall, by the end of the story that gun has to have been fired.
In other words, everything in a well-crafted scene has to be there for a reason.
So speaking of walls and details, in Martin Scorses’s 1976 film Taxi Driver, Robert De Niro plays an obsessive New York cabbie. At one point we see the spartan rented room he lives in, which essentially contains a cot, a sink, a mirror (“Are you talking to me?”) and a huge map of the world on the wall. When I first saw the film, I thought to myself, “Why would he have a map of the world – he never leaves town?” But as the camera zooms in for a closer look, we see that it is an enormous, detailed map of New York City. Of course, that makes sense. For him, New York is his world.
A far more obscure detail I got a kick out of was in the first of the Superman movies that starred Christopher Reeve (1978). As the young superhero leaves his homestead farm in Smallville to go off to the big city (Metropolis), he says goodbye to his adoptive parents, the Kents. As he bids them a fond farewell, the camera pans to the kitchen breakfast table, where we see a box of Cheerios. Mere coincidence? I think not. To paraphrase Bogart’s classic line in Casablanca, “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world....”
Of all the cold cereals in all the world, what would be more apt in a parting scene than a box of Cheerios? And on that cheerful note, I too will say “Cheerio” – until next year, when the Oscars once again come on the scene.