One of my favorite films of all time is the 1940 classic, His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. It’s a lightning-fast-paced movie about love and journalists, and what they’ll do for a scoop.
Two quotes that always catch my attention as I watch the movie, both by Grant, have me laughing out loud, though usually I’m the only one in stitches. Grant plays Walter Burns, whose ex-wife Hildy Johnson, is about to leave his paper to marry Bruce Baldwin. Of Baldwin, Walter says, “He looks like that fellow in the movies—Ralph Bellamy.” What’s funny about that? Well, Bruce Baldwin is played by actor Ralph Bellamy.
In another scene, when told that his newspaper career was through, Walter comes back with, “Listen, the last man that said that to me was Archie Leach, just a week before he cut his throat.” All Cary Grant devotees know that his real name was Alexander “Archie” Leach.
TV has been known for its “inside jokes” as well.
On an episode of NCIS, Kate Todd asks Gibbs what Ducky looked like as a younger man. Gibbs answers, straight-faced, “Illya Kuryakin,” in a nod to actor David McCallum’s character in the 1964 series, Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The NBC series Chuck is known for its guest star turns. A couple of seasons ago Brandon Routh joined the cast as Daniel Shaw. Though Shaw appeared every bit as wholesome and perfect as Captain Awesome, Chuck assured his team that Shaw wasn’t some sort of “Superman.” Brandon Routh had indeed played the Man of Steel in the 2006 feature, Superman Returns.
Why do movies and television shows throw us these silly lines that only make sense to those “in the know”?
I believe it serves two purposes. First, all the people who do “get it” instantly become part of the story and action. After all, inside jokes are for people on the inside. It’s a way for the directors, actors and producers to tell the audience, “You’re part of the family. We know you.”
Second, it works like bait. The filmmakers know there are plenty of viewers watching that will catch the joke, and they will most certainly tell their friends. They in turn, will seek out the work or actor in the reference, thus generating more revenue for Hollywood.
Everybody wants to be “in.”
Sometimes the filmmakers are more subtle about their references. Last week my husband and I went to see Brett Ratner’s new film, Tower Heist, starring Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller, Alan Alda and Matthew Broderick. This film also stars Steve McQueen’s 1963 250 GT Lusso Ferrari, dressed in a lustrous red coat of paint instead of the true chestnut brown. Broderick and the car share a suspenseful scene that tickled at my brain.
I recalled a film from 25 years earlier in which Broderick spends some quality time with a 1961 250 GT California Spyder Ferrari, also bathed in red. The movie was John Hughes’ 1986 classic, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
I laughed constantly through Tower Heist—everybody in the theatre did. I also felt a connection between this new movie and a favorite from my past. I felt included. I felt “in.”
That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!