Every cliché used to be original, every trope use to be something unique and fresh. “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” We scoff when we hear this now, but when was the time where lines like these captivated audiences? I took a look into cinema’s history to uncover some answers, and I quickly discovered two universal truths:
- Almost every memorable movie line first came from a book. And
- The rest came from Shakespeare. Seriously, the man has the market cornered.
But what about that small margin of other cases? To limit this search, I traced back sayings that were either invented purely through cinema, or first found their traction through the medium despite being phrases used before the 20th century. Let’s start with one that’s tried and true:
This town ain’t big enough for the two of us
Whether it’s a cowboy from the old west or Bugs Bunny giving Yosemite Sam the business, this quote is a cornerstone of the Western genre. And like the genre itself, this quote seems to have entirely originated from Western culture. The line first appeared in the 1929 film, Trampas The Virginian. Here it’s slightly altered to “This country ain’t big enough to hold the two of us.” It was later used in The Western Code (1932) and soon grew into an iconic phrase after that.
This phrase could have easily been used in any number of real life circumstances, however it wasn’t until the 50’s that this line really came into it’s own in Hollywood cinema. War epics such as The Guns of Navarone (1961) and Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) helped to make this popular as well as foreign films like The Cranes are Flying (1957), Letter Never Sent (1959) and The Hidden Fortress (1958).
Cut to the Chase
This phrase became common on the big screen in an unusual way. It was first heard in J.P. McEvoy’s 1929 book, Hollywood Girl, and was originally used for script direction. If scripts weren’t cutting to the meat of the story quickly enough, this as well as “get to the point” were two common phrases often found in the earlier drafts. Apparently some screenwriters were seeing this note often enough that it eventually seeped into their dialogue.
This phrase dates back as early as 1925. Used mainly in print (newspapers and magazines), la-la land first became common to the public in the 1970s. Later, it was taken a step further in 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop, where the saying “la la la I am not listening” became somewhat of a cliché in Hollywood for awhile.
This quote dates back as early as 1846 in the French Novel Memoirs of Matilda: “And then revenge is very good eaten cold, as the vulgar say.” It first appeared in English-speaking films in 1949 with the film King Hearts and Coronets: “Revenge is a dish which people of taste prefer to eat cold.”
“Bugs Bunny - Rides Again.” VeeHD, veehd.com/video/3154744_Bugs-Bunny-Rides-Again.
Martin, Gary. “The Meanings and Origins of English Phrases, Sayings and Proverbs in Everyday Use.” Phrasefinder, 16 May 2018, www.phrases.org.uk/.
McEVOY, J. P. “Hollywood Girl by J. P. McEVOY on Yesterday's Gallery and Babylon Revisited Rare Books.” Yesterday's Gallery and Babylon Revisited Rare Books, Grosset and Dunlap., www.yesterdaysgallery.com/pages/books/12709/j-p-mcevoy/hollywood-girl.
“Pagina Iniziale · Isola Di Rodi.” Isola Di Rodi, rodi.it/. upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/18/Kind_Hearts_and_Coronets.jpg.