Hollywood's FINEST: Jack Nicholson's 10 most memorable dialogues
We’ll miss you, Jack.
Not because we won’t see you with your roguish sunglasses sitting in the front row of an awards show -- because you’ve assured us you’ll never stop that -- but we’ll miss you popping out lines of dialogue and hitting us between the eyes with them.
Jack Nicholson has bid goodbye to acting because, at 76, he’s having trouble memorising scripts.
It’s a shame for someone who made so many scripts come alive, someone who took written lines and added his own peculiar paprika to them. Zingers became more ruthless in Jack’s mouth, wit never was drier, ruthlessness became ice, and lunacy was at its loveliest.
Nobody did it better.
Here, then, are my picks of ten fantastic moments of movie dialogue enlivened -- and made immortal -- by a dash of Jack.
10. As Good As It Gets
Jack’s character, Melvin Udall, a popular novelist, is asked how he writes women so well.
His answer: “I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.”
The other truly memorable bit from the film is where Udall tells Helen Hunt’s Carol Connelly that he’s got a really great compliment for her, and then says,” You make me want to be a better man.”
Image: Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt in As Good As It Gets
9. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
Jack’s character, Mac McMurphy, is a convict who’d rather be in a sanitarium.
His comments on shock treatment remain priceless: “They was giving me ten thousand watts a day, you know, and I’m hot to trot! The next woman takes me on’s gonna light up like a pinball machine and pay off in silver dollars!”
Image: Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
8. Terms Of Endearment
“Do you have any reaction at all to my telling you that I love you?” asks Shirley Maclaine’s Aurora Greenway.
Jack’s Garrett Breedlove, hitherto inscrutably silent, says “I was just inches from a clean getaway.”
Image: Jack Nicholson and Shirley MAclain in Terms Of Endearment
Widely considered one of the finest scripts to be made into a Hollywood movie, Robert Towne’s script gave Nicholson’s private investigator character, Jake Gittes, all sorts of wonderfully wry lines.
The best of them comes when Gittes -- with his nose having been cut by a goon’s razor -- is asked if it hurts.
“Only when I breathe.”
Image: Jack Nicholson in Chinatown
6. The Witches Of Eastwick
One of Nicholson’s most memorable monologues comes in this film where his Daryl Van Horne is a stand-in for the devil.
“Do you think God knew what He was doing when He created woman? Huh? No shit, I really wanna know.
Or do you think it was another of His minor mistakes like tidal waves, earthquakes, floods? You think women are like that? S’matter? You don’t think God makes mistakes? Of course He does. We all make mistakes.
“Of course, when we make mistakes they call it evil. When God makes mistakes, they call it… nature. So whaddya think? Women? A mistake? Or did he do it to us on purpose?”
Image: Jack Nicholson in The Witches Of Eastwick
5. Five Easy Pieces
Jack’s character, Bobby, is ordering breakfast in a diner, and, frustrated with the silly rules, is trying to get around them. The rhythm with which the dialogues escalate, unpredictably, all the way to that fatally good last line is marvellous:
Bobby: I’d like a plain omelette, no potatoes, tomatoes instead, a cuppa coffee and wheat toast.
Waitress: No substitutions.
Bob: What do you mean? You don’t have any tomatoes?
Waitress: Only what’s on the menu. You can have a #2: plain omelette, comes with cottage fries and rolls.
Bobby: I know what it comes with but it’s not what I want.
Waitress: I’ll come back when you make up your mind.
Bobby: Wait a minute, I have made up my mind. I’d like an plain omelette, no potatoes on the plate, a cuppa coffee and a side order of wheat toast.
Waitress: I’m sorry, we don’t have any side orders of toast. It’s a muffin or a coffee roll.
Bobby: What do you mean you don’t make side orders of toast? You make sandwiches don’t you?
Waitress: Would you like to talk to the manager?
Bobby: You’ve got bread and a toaster of some kind?
Waitress: I don’t make the rules.
Bobby: Okay, I’ll make it as easy for you as I can. I’d like an omelette, plain, and a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast, no mayonnaise, no butter, no lettuce. And a cup of coffee.
Waitress: A #2; chicken sal sand. Hold the butter, the lettuce, the mayonnaise, and a cup of coffee. Anything else?
Bobby: Yeah, now all you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast, give me a check for the chicken salad sandwich, and you haven’t broken any rules.
Waitress: You want me to hold the chicken, huh?
Bobby: I want you to hold it between your knees.
Image: A scene from Five Easy Pieces
4. The Departed
Gangster Frank Costello lives it larger than most of us can imagine, and he outlines his life succinctly but grandly: “I don’t want to be a product of my environment; I want my environment to be a product of me.”
Image: Jack Nicholson in The Departed
The best Batman villain in the best Batman movie -- and one who took top billing in the posters over Batman himself -- Jack’s Joker had many a twisted line in this 1989 film, but nothing resonated quite like his oddly poetic query: “You ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”
“I always ask that of all my prey. I just… like the sound of it.”
Image: Jack Nicholson's Joker with Michael Keaton's Batman in Batman
2. A Few Good Men
Nicholson played fearsome Marine Colonel Nathan R Jessup in this film, and the man is both eloquent and a pig, as shown with this quote: “There is nothing on this earth sexier, believe me, gentlemen, than a woman you have to salute in the morning.
Promote ‘em all, I say, ‘cause this is true: if you haven’t gotten a blow**b from a superior officer, well, you’re just letting the best in life pass you by.”
And later, as Jessup is being grilled on the stand by Tom Cruise’s Kaffee, Jack busts out that line everyone tries to say for their Jack Nicholson impression:
Jessup: You want answers.
Kaffee: I think I’m entitled.
Jessup: You want answers?
Kaffee: I want the truth.
Jessup: You can’t handle the truth!
Image: JAck Nicholson and Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men