An Eloquent, Wry Arrogance Can Make a Classic Line
Amanda Glenn waxes poetic about the beauty of a well delivered line... especially when delivered by the so-called bad guy. Yes, writing is needed to create the line, but casting is absolutely crucial in regards to making that line a classic.
Last week I sent for a DVD of ROBIN HOOD, PRINCE OF THIEVES. Now before my children get worried about me I need to explain. Yes, Errol Flynn is the only real Robin Hood as far as our family is concerned, but there was a scene in this other presentation that I wanted to study. I replayed it again and again, dozen times and it makes me smile every time.
The late Alan Rickman plays the pivotal role of the Sheriff of Nottingham, and at one point in his ramped up mayhem he exclaims, “’I’ll cancel Christmas!” Well, that line to me is classic (the whole scene really, but particularly the line). In fact so much of what Alan Rickman did throughout his career was of that same eloquent, wry, arrogant delivery spoken in his lush dangerous voice. Not just as Snape in the Harry Potter films, nor even as Hans Gruben in Die Hard, he always delivered such delightful, devious energy to every role he played, elevating the simplest of words and making them only memorable, immortal.
I got to thinking that that “wry arrogance” is evident in many an actor in my favorite classic films. As much as I give credit to the writer for coming up with such gems, one must realize that it is an actor’s interpretation that is the perfect seasoning to the perfect stew. Sometimes the humor and presence are in a delivery: Alan Rickman, Bruce Willis, Sidney Greenstreet, Rex Harrison, Harrison Ford, and Rosalind Russell come quickly to mind. Douglas Fairbanks managed it without a word. I have detected it in Cary Grant’s eyebrows. Chaplin did it with a twirl of a furled umbrella. It was present in John Wayne’s walk. Gary Cooper flashed it from his eyes
and doubled down when he spoke. Errol Flynn did it with a sword in his hand. Maggie Smith with and without a magic wand.
Of course, must thank the screenwriter for writing the line, and the director and the producer for their efforts to see that we are entertained, but it is the right actor, who I want to thank most for the experience of almost liking a villain, of smiling at a threat, of feeling comfortable, even down right cozy with a potentially dangerous situation. It is a combination, I think, of a story line created, and the right person delivering it, that give’s me chills and smiles all at the same time in the darkness of the theater. I just love it when an actor delivers a put down and an emotional lift all in the same breath. And that’s why I like watching movies - particularly the classics, especially in a theater. There’s really nothing that matches that joy, and I want to thank the revival houses, the independent theaters and TCM for making those opportunities of immense pleasure possible. Without them, much of the art would be lost to past generations and never seen by today’s audience. And that would truly be villainous.