My bachelor’s degree comes from the College of William and Mary in Virginia. As most graduates from prestigious schools, I am capable of being an academic snob when the occasion arises. It happens far less frequently now that I’ve become a gentleman of a certain age, but back in the day, my loyalty to the alma mater was pretty fierce.
In the late ’70s, when I was in college, Virginia Tech (then known as VPI-Virginia Polytechnic Institute) had nothing of the reputation that it enjoys today. It was every good student’s “safety school,” the one you knew you could get into if W&M and UVA let you down. In the good spirit of interschool rivalry, I held it in low esteem. Thus, as a young safety engineer investigating an explosion at the explosives processing plant where I worked, I made multiple references to “Techie engineering” as the primary cause of the accident. It was my throw-away phrase to describe anything that was well-meaning yet substandard.
Remember that I was all of 28 years old at the time. Many minutes into my presentation to the seniormost members of management, after I had committed to this good-humored course of bashing my academic rival, Paul Lumbye, the vice president of all things that paid my salary, raised his hand and said, “John, I think it’s appropriate for me to tell you that I am a graduate of VPI.” Something seized inside my gut. Then he went on to point to a good thirty percent of my senior-executive audience, all of whom were likewise graduates of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and at least twice my age.
When Paul-the-VP was done, the room was silent, and I found myself facing a dozen smug smiles, all of them rejoicing that I had been so thoroughly put in my place. It was my moment to cower and apologize.
Alternatively, it was my moment to show the true depth of my loyalty. With all those eyes staring, I made a point to look Paul in the eye when I asked, “Does this mean I need to start over again and use smaller words?”
To this day, I look at that comment as a pivotal moment in my professional career. I learned that all reasonable people appreciate a great line well-delivered. I wish I could say that I continue to be that glib and fleet of tongue, but forever and ever, I will know that at least once, I delivered a killer rebuttal. It’s a great feeling.
Which brings me to the actual point of this week’s blog entry: great lines. More specifically, great movie lines—the ones that perfectly capture the emotion of the scene and stick with you long into the future.
A few that come to my mind:
“Fill your hands you son-of-a-bitch!” – Rooster Cogburn, True Grit.
“I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted and I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do those things to other people and I require the same of them.” — J.B. Books, The Shootist
“Are you going to do something, or just stand there and bleed?” — Wyatt Earp, Tombstone
“Dyin’ ain’t much of a livin’, boy.” – Josie Wales, The Outlaw Josie Wales
“I’m thirty years older than you are. I had my back broke once, and my hip twice. And on my worst day I could beat the hell out of you.” – Wil Andersen, The Cowboys
“The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.” – Rick, Casablanca
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Chief Brody, Jaws
Each of these lines, at the moment they were delivered, slyed their respective audiences. Certainly, they slayed me. What about you? What are your favorite lines from the real world or the world of fiction? C’mon. You know you have one. Or five. Share.