The Independent reports that scientists at Cornell University have created a computer program to break down the formula behind some of cinema catchphrases. Computer scientist Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil (possibly bothered by the fact that his name will never become a catchphrase) wanted to check political speeches and news bulletins to pick out the best lines, but they were a problem, so his team turned to films to understand what drives certain lines into popular culture.
The researchers found that the more memorable quotes were made up of word combinations unlikely to appear elsewhere in the film. But the grammatical structures of the quotes tended to be ordinary. And there’s more use of the indefinite article rather than the definite article, verbs in the past tense and the use of pronouns other than “you”.
The best quote, according to Mr Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, was: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” from Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. He said: “That quote ticks a number of boxes. It has the general aspect but also it has an unusual combination of ‘my dear’ and ‘damn’.” He also pointed to other general quotes such as the opening of Star Wars: ‘A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.’ There are some trends you can pick out of the language. It is no silver bullet; for example, a phrase like ‘I’ll be back’ isn’t easily categorised.”
In other words, from a bunch of scientists who could be doing something useful we get graduates from the School Of The Bleeding Obvious telling us that catchphrases could be anything.
Actually, most of the catchphrases used among my group of wierdo friends don’t come from any of the standard films.
They include; ‘Hello. Goodbye.’ from Michael Crawford’s Scottish dancing attempts in ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em’, ‘I’ll refund the money then, shall I?’ from Ken Russell’s ‘The Boyfriend’, which also spawned ”Let’s face it darling, the closest you got to the West End was Harrow-On-The-Hill’ and (hissing) ‘Play it like Rita!’
From ‘The Producers’ (original version) we got ‘Kindly tender my compliments to the chef’ (the rejoinder being ‘Kindly tender half a buck’) and a dozen others including ‘Filthy, disgusting boids’ and ‘Gu-da pu-day’, Ulla the Swedish secretary’s attempt to answer the phone in English.
Mike Leigh’s ‘Secrets & Lies’ gave us Brenda Blethyn’s squeaky ‘You all right, darlin’?’ and ‘Shifty little bleeder, walks like a crab.’ From ‘Life Is Sweet’ we got ‘Hello Wendy, brought you a pineapple.’ Virtually every line of ‘Abigail’s Party’ became quotable, especially; ‘Beaujolais. Lovely. I’ll just pop it in the fridge.’ and of course ‘Tony. Hands. Come through.’. Old war films are rather good for this – ‘I say, are there any Germans here?’ comes from a British war movie we saw on TV, and is still used by us years later. And ‘It’s all getting a bit French,’ from the virtually lost UK film ‘Funny Bones’. Even more inexplicable is ‘You used to call me your little Blue Lamp Baby’ spoken by Joyce Grenfell in a St Trinian’s film.
The strange thing is there are no Hollywood blockbusters in the bunch at all. We seem to find local intonation much funnier.