Thursday, September 27, 2007

Monologue Mayhem

If a character is written and directed properly, there are many layers to that character. And as it relates to film making techniques, there are many ways to peel that character to reveal his/her substance. In a conversation with a friend. In a confrontation with an enemy. A reaction to a certain situation. And sometimes if the actor's really got some chops, a simple look can says volumes. And then there's the monologue. The coveted scene. A surefire way to perk the ears of peers and get the pens of critics writing sentence after sentence of praise. Of course audiences love them too. And all of this is under the assumption that the monologue is written well, directed well and performed lights out.

Below, I have assembled a selection of monologues through the years. This is not meant to be a best of list, nor even a list of my favorites. Just a sampling. And a very one-sided one at that. There seems to be a great void as it relates to female monologues. I will judge these as all monologues should be judged: The length of the monologue, the impact of the monologue as it relates to the character and the story, and the best line of the monologue.

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

The Length Of The Monologue: About 1 minute and 45 seconds. Jimmy Stewart makes his point on the floors of Washington without getting too preachy. And that's really saying something. Rank 8

The Impact Of The Monologue: Up until the filibuster Jefferson Smith is seen as a sweet Boy Scout. Then the gloves come off and we discover that Jefferson Smith isn't the simpleton we thought, making him a serious contender in Washington. Rank 9

The Delivery Of The Monologue: By now Jimmy is hoarse from talking all day from the filibuster. He's a bit overly dramatic, but the sincerity and desperation come through loud and clear and you can't help but love him and his performance. Rank 8

Best Line Of The Monologue: "You fight for the lost causes harder than any others." Rank 9

Overall Rank: 8.5

The 25th Hour

The Length Of The Monologue: Slightly over 5 minutes. It seems long but Edward Norton's monologue to himself is riveting and further proves that Spike Lee is an equal opportunity filmmaker. If he hates, he hates all the sides and let's you sort it all out yourself. Rank: 8

The Impact Of The Monologue: This is where Edward Norton's character comes to the realization that he is to blame. It's not unique that a character has an epiphany like this, but still it's well done. Rank: 7

The Delivery Of The Monologue: Norton is the perfect character for this type of monologue. Angry and a bit whiny. But you have to like angry and a bit whiny. Rank: 7

Best Line Of The Monologue: Lots of good lines. Depending on your hot button, take your pick. But nothing of real note. Rank: 6

Overall Rank: 7


The Length Of The Monologue: Five minutes. I'm not going to lie, this could have used a little trimming, but are you going to tell Patton to get off the stage? Rank: 7

The Impact Of The Monologue: In those five minutes, Patton proves why he was one of the finest military leaders the United States has ever seen. Tell me you wouldn't follow that guy into battle. Rank: 8

The Delivery Of The Monologue: Stoic and mean, George C. Scott takes his time punching some lines and breezing through others. His gravely voice is perfect for this dialogue. Rank: 9

Best Line Of The Monologue: "When you put your hand into a bunch of goo, that a moment before was your best friend's face... you'll know what to do." Rank: 10

Overall Rank: 8.5

Glengarry Glen Ross

The Length Of The Monologue: Almost 7 minutes. Not short, but sweet as hell. Rank: 8

The Impact Of The Monologue: We no nothing more about Baldwin's character then from this monologue so it offers us no true insights. He may be an actual sweetheart to his wife and kids, but he's a no-nonsense ass-kicking business man here. But there's something to his ambiguity. Rank: 8

The Delivery Of The Monologue: Few can masterfully deliver Mamet's writing style and Alec Baldwin is one of those few. And few have made such an impact with so little screen time. This monologue and this performance is unforgettable. Rank: 10

Best Line Of The Monologue: "Fuck you, that's my name. You know why mister? Because you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight, I drove an eighty thousand dollar BMW, that's my name." Rank: 9

Overall Rank: 8.75


The Length Of The Monologue: Three and a half minutes. Just enough time to tell a story so frightening, it sobers Hooper and Chief Brody instantly. But in looking at it again, it feels a tad on the long side. Rank: 7

The Impact Of The Monologue: In case you were wondering why Quint has such a prickly shell, this story my help explain it. It also helps explain why he might be a little obsessive when it comes to hunting down sharks. Rank: 9

The Delivery Of The Monologue: Shaw delivers this without emotion as if almost in a trance. He's just drunk enough to tell a sea story he wouldn't tell sober. Rank: 8

Best Line Of The Monologue: "So eleven hundred men went into the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out and the sharks took the rest, June 29th, 1945." Rank: 10

Overall Rank: 8.5


The Length Of The Monologue: Three minutes and forty seconds. A good time for an opening monologue. I wonder what he and the producers had planned if he didn't pass out on stage? Rank: 8

The Impact Of The Monologue: These rants of Howard Beale's have made him an overnight superstar. But instead of being seen as a prophet delivering a warning, it's just viewed as a new form of entertainment. Rank: 8

The Delivery Of The Monologue: Peter Finch screams his warnings as he stomps around the stage. He is big and boisterous and his delivery fits in perfectly with what the audience wants, but it's laced with a true warning not from a mad man, but someone who is truly desperate. He knows he's seen as a freak, but he's at his end, so it doesn't matter. Rank: 9

Best Line Of The Monologue: "Television is not the truth. Television is a goddamn amusement park. Television is a circus. A carnival. A traveling troupe of acrobats, storytellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, side-show freaks, lion-tamers and football players." Rank: 10

Overall Rank: 8.75

Love and Death

The Length Of The Monologue: Around one minute and 20 seconds. Woody is wonderful but in small doses and one minute and 20 seconds is just about right. Rank: 8

The Impact Of The Monologue: Boris tries to summarize what he's learned and he seems at peace with his closure. As much at peace as Woody Allen can be. Rank: 7

The Delivery Of The Monologue: Nothing new here. Woody looking into the camera and stammering about the meaning of life. But this is classic Woody, at a time before he took himself too seriously. Rank: 7

Best Line Of The Monologue: "The key here is to not think of death as an end, but think of it more as a very effective way of cutting down on your expenses." Rank: 9

Overall Rank: 7.75

Blade Runner

The Length Of The Monologue: Around a minute. Short and surprisingly poignant. I am always in awe of how good Blade Runner is and how even now it elevates the Sci-Fi genre to something more. But still, it's pretty short. Rank: 7

The Impact Of The Monologue: Up until this point, Roy Batty seemed like a crazy computer hell-bent on killing everyone. The replicas wanted to prove they were like humans and nothing is more human than the mercy that Roy shows Dekard. Rank: 9

The Delivery Of The Monologue: I might argue that this is Rutger Hauer's finest minute on film. He delivers this perfectly, trying to fight back being shut down so that he can get in these last few sentences. Rank: 8

Best Line Of The Monologue: "I have seen things you people wouldn't believe." Rank: 9

Overall Rank: 8.25


The Length Of The Monologue: About 40 seconds. A man at the end of his rope needs no more time. Rank: 8

The Impact Of The Monologue: Clark is a flake and a kook, so this small monologue does not give us any more peek into his character. Rank: 5

The Delivery Of The Monologue: Chevy Chase does a good job capturing how crazy a father can get when he sets out to make sure everyone has the time of their lives. The writing does the heavy lifting and he delivers it beautifully. Rank: 9

Best Line Of The Monologue: "We're all going to have so much fucking fun, we're going to need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles." Rank: 10

Overall Rank: 8

True Romance

The Length Of The Monologue: Slightly over three minutes. A good amount of time to get in one last insult just before dying. Rank: 8

The Impact Of The Monologue: Clifford Worley seems a simple man living in a simple trailer, but this monologue suggests a more daring side. It's obvious that Clifford is going to die, but instead of going out with a whimper, he goes out blazing. Rank: 8

The Delivery Of The Monologue: Dennis Hopper is a master and it's nice to watch him deliver lines of dialogue that aren't being shouted at the top of his lungs. Despite his looming death, Hopper takes his time to get in one last dig. Rank: 8

Best Line Of The Monologue: "If that's a fact, tell me am I lying? Because you, you're part eggplant." Rank: 9

Overall Rank: 8.25


Anonymous said...

How about Costner's final speech in "JFK?" I love the entire thing, which runs probably seven minutes.

We are having an argument over the site about underrated performances. I consider this one by Costner as underrated.

PIPER said...

I honestly can't remember that speech. I'll check it out. Overall, I think Costner did a fine job in the film, I just didn't care for the film all that much.

TALKING MOVIEzzz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Baker said...

I doubt TV qualifies for this, but Al Swearingen has a BRILLIANT monologue towards the end of season 1 on "Deadwood". What makes it so perfect (besides his tone and delivery) is that it's shot in one long, slowly zooming take as a prostitute gives him a blowjob. The dead look on his face as he delivers his diatribe combined with the extremely uncomfortable placement of the girl's head going up and down is one for the books. Is that on YouTube??

Larry Aydlette said...

Great post. I would include Orson Welles' "cuckoo clock" monologue from "The Third Man."

PIPER said...

Thanks everybody. I always look for sequels to posts, and it looks like I already have a good start.

Mike Doc said...

I can think of a few women's monologues, but can't guarantee they'll be on YouTube:

You did Peter Finch's famous NETWORK monologue; there's also Beatrice Straight's tirade against her unfaithful husband that won her an Oscar for about 4 minutes of screentime. "I'm your wife, dammit! And if you can't work up a winter passion for me, the least I require is respect and allegiance!" I also love Conchata Ferrell's rundown of the new fall shows, where all the character lists include a "crusty-but-benign" judge/doctor/lawyer...

Then there's Julianne Moore's drugstore freakout in MAGNOLIA...

And Frances McDormand's speech to Peter Stormare at the end of FARGO: "Here you are, and it's a beautiful day. Well, I just don't understand it."

Or Bibi Andersson's famous sex on the beach monologue from PERSONA

And Madeline Kahn's "bone structure" monologue from PAPER MOON!

I'll stop now.

12XU said...

thanks pipes for compiling all this stuff here.
I am also glad you left out the clerks monologue, it seemed like they were talking just to talk.

PIPER said...


Thanks for the list. For some reason or another, I was drawing a complete blank as it related to female monologues.