Well, first of all, say that three times fast. If you can, you’re a better man than I.
Second, I’ll do my best to bring these iconic screen images to life, but the best way to appreciate a visual movie moment is to actually view the movie. So, if you haven’t seen these motion pictures…trust me…do.
And third, my reason for spotlighting these Tinseltown treasures is to remind moviegoers that movies can combine the ultimate expressions of joy and sadness, of love and hate, of passion and romance, and of hope and faith. And sometimes these feelings are expressed through one stylized image. Perhaps not so much lately, as today’s filmmakers often sacrifice potent visuals that touch hearts and linger in memory in preference to those that raise the testosterone levels. But throughout Hollywood’s history, there have been a plethora of movie moments that have inspired the spirit of man. Are you willing to travel with me through time, to before there was CGI or Kristen Stewart, to eras when imagery didn’t batter our brains, but rather made viewers feel good, hopeful, and connected to others?
Let’s start with an image that made audiences laugh – and did so without crudity.
In Jerry Lewis’ 1963 version of THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, the comedian plays a wimpy educator who tries to pump up by going to a gym. When he lifts a barbell, the weight is too much, and while the camera is close on his face, the loud thud sound effect indicates the heavy weights have fallen. The camera pulls back to reveal the professor’s arms – stretched clear to the floor. (As I said, to best appreciate this comic gag, rent the film.)
From the silly to the sublime: One of the most effective silver screen sequences is found in CASABLANCA (1942). In response to the Nazis’ psychological display of authority during a festive nightclub scene, gallant Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid) instructs the band to play France’s national anthem. Members of the orchestra turn to the club’s owner, Rick (Humphrey Bogart), who nods. They begin to play under Henried’s stoic leadership. The song resonates, reminding the patrons, even those who have been buddying it up with the Germans, of their suppressed love of country. That in itself is a powerful scene. But the magic moment comes as Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) looks up at her husband with a look that borders on worship. It’s not just love, but respect and awe all reflected through Bergman’s eyes. It is the single most effective expression of a spouse’s adoration ever placed on film. Ever!
PLACES IN THE HEART (1984): A repentant adulterer is finally forgiven, when his wife, moved by the pastor's sermon taken from 1st Corinthians 13, reaches for her husband's hand, signifying the restoring of a relationship through Christ's love. The scene then concludes, becoming a surrealistic parable of faith. As the communion plate is passed down the pew, we see every major character in the film, including the bad guys, partaking of the sacrament. Suddenly, we see two men, previously murdered, now mystically alive and sitting among the rest of the parishioners. The illustration represents a spiritual healing, a signal of hope and grace, and a challenging message to love and forgive one another. The first time I saw this sequence I was so moved I literally burst into tears. Not the most masculine of admissions, but the ethereal tableau touched me like no other moment I can remember in a film.
SINGING IN THE RAIN (1952): In the world of dance, I’m more devoted to Mr. Astaire than Mr. Kelly. But I suspect that 99% of movie-goers familiar with the dancing-in-the-rain scene, climaxed by that iconic pose of Gene Kelly clinging to the lamppost, drenched in California dew, will agree that it is the greatest screen representation of jubilant newborn love ever staged in a movie. As for the other 1%, well, they just need to see it one more time.
TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944) was the first film to couple Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (they did three more together). I’m sure the writer asked himself as he tried to express the couple’s burgeoning relationship, “What do I write that sounds playful and sensuous, yet not censorable.” He succeeded with: “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.” Once you see that scene, you’ll never forget it. Bogey and Bacall never did.
In 2011’s THE TREE OF LIFE, a thought provoking hymn to life, filmmaker Terrence Malick paints an impressionistic story of a Midwestern family coping with a death, embittered relationships, and haunting questions concerning God and the afterlife. With a tip of the hat to Stanley Kubrik’s 2001, this visual and viscerally emotional feast is sparked by exquisite imagery that is imaginative and profound, intimate and epic. The Tree of Life fearlessly examines ethereal questions with a spirituality that is neither pious nor prejudiced. It’s impossible to pick just one moment that stands out, for its entirety is used to tap into our subconscious, delving into spiritual and life-altering subjects.
Also from 2011, THE ARTIST brought back the strengths and imagination of the 1920s silent era. It reminds moviegoers of the omnipotence of film imagery. At one point, a person in the depths of depression considers suicide. His dog intervenes. That’s right, his dog. The image of that animal tugging on the pant leg of his despondent master should bring a tear to the eye of the most hardened of cynics.
And now for perhaps the most poignant moment I’ve ever seen in a movie. It happens in THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004). While reenacting the physical horrors Christ endured, the film is not really about what mankind did to Him, but about what He did for us. One scene stands out as not only technically impressive, but emotionally impacting. The end of Christ’s journey at Golgotha is seen from above, the camera pulling back and up, the image becoming blurry, as if we are looking through some moist substance. Then, a drop of water splatters on the earth. It is God’s tear, a symbolic cinematic gesture revealing the Father’s pain. This we have never seen in a film depicting the crucifixion. It becomes clear how much our Creator loves his Son, and us.
Well, we’ve just touched upon unforgettable movie moments, but I’ve run out of my allotted space. I didn’t get to bring to mind three amazing moments from John Wayne films (THE SEARCHERS, TRUE GRIT and THE QUIET MAN). Maybe next time. Interested?
Phil Boatwright celebrates 25 years of writing about Hollywood from a Christian perspective. Besides providing a monthly column for Baptist Press, he reviews films for www.previewonline.org. He is also a regular contributor to "The World and Everything In it," a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group, which also publishes WORLD Magazine.