Last week, I published my list of the best great scenes in bad movies. Following the rules of reciprocity, here’s my list of the best bad scenes in great movies. Some things listed here are entire acts of films, others are poorly placed lines of dialogue, or cheap sound design. The point is, every scene here took me out of the great movies they are featured in. Please be warned that minor spoilers lurk within. Feel free to share some notable bad scenes from great films as well!
10. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? begins in 1917 (we know this because a title card tells us it’s 1917), after a brief scene, the film jumps to 1935 (again, we’re given a title card). Then, after the film’s opening credits, we cut to… “Yesterday”. What does that even mean – yesterday? It’s such a confusing word choice. Why not “1962” (the year of the film’s release)? Or “Present Day”? If the bulk of the narrative of the film took place over the course of one day, then I guess a “Yesterday” title might make sense. But the movie covers several days, so “Yesterday” makes absolutely no sense to me. Perhaps I’m making too big of a deal out of it, but the first time I saw Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, this “Yesterday” title card distracted me for a majority of the film’s running time. I’ll never understand it.
9. Gone Baby Gone (2007)
“Babe… Nick died.”
Shortly after Patrick (Casey Affleck), Remy (Ed Harris) and Nick (John Ashton) are involved in a gunfight, Patrick returns home and talks with his girlfriend, Angie (Michelle Monaghan). After their talk, the screen fades to black and we hear Angie whisper in voiceover “Babe…………..Nick died.”
I rewatched Gone Baby Gone last week, and literally laughed out loud at this bit of voiceover. There’s nothing wrong with the way Monaghan says the line, but the existence of the line is unnecessary. Immediately after this delivery, we fade in on Nick’s funeral. Isn’t that enough of a signifier of what happened? Voiceover like this screams “Post production save” to me. As in, director Ben Affleck realized in post that fading in on Nick’s funeral wasn’t enough, and instead of shooting a scene where Angie tells Patrick about Nick’s death, they had Monaghan come in a record one line of voiceover. It just seems so unnecessary.
8. Donnie Brasco (1997)
Donnie Brasco is one of cinema’s best, most underrated mob movies. However, it does contain one notable gaff I’ve never been able to get over. Shortly after Sonny Black (Michael Madsen) becomes boss of his family, his temper mounts and he flips out on his crew. Now, this outburst begins with one of the most unrealistic slaps I’ve ever heard in an otherwise great film. As Sonny hits Nicky (Bruno Kirby) on the front of Nicky’s face, a wildly out of place THWACK sound is heard. It sounds like something out of a Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner clip. I still can’t believe that in a movie this great, such a cartoonish bit of sound editing made it all the way into the final cut of the film. (The slap comes at 1:04 in the embedded clip.)
7. 25th Hour (2002)
(Not So) Ugly Hands
The skin on your hands is very close to several bones, so the top of your hands (including your knuckles) bruise easily. If you punch a solid surface as hard as you can (like a new punching bag, a wall, or your best friend’s face), your knuckles will bruise badly. So, if Francis Xavier Slaughtery (Barry Pepper) beat the ever-living shit out of his best bro, Monty Brogan (Edward Norton), Francis’ knuckles would be just as jacked up as Monty’s face. Francis would likely break some fingers, his hand, his wrist, or, at the very least, cause major abrasions and bruising on his knuckles. Yet, the next time we see Francis after the fight, his right hand (his punching hand) is completely unscathed. 25th Hour is a masterpiece, one of my favorite films released so far this century. But this lack of attention to detail is baffling.
6. Cape Fear (1991)
“Traitors to GOD!”
I love the majority of Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear remake. It’s loud and deliberate in all the best ways. But once the Bowden family boards their houseboat on Cape Fear, the movie goes to shit. Cape Fear is designed to be hyperbolic, but a little restraint in this third act would’ve been most welcome. (Listen for the sound effect of Max Cady’s hair at 1:01 in the embedded clip. Sigh.)
5. Short Cuts (1993)
In the 28th minute of Robert Altman’s excellent Short Cuts, Doreen Piggot (Lily Tomlin) hits a young boy with her car, which will ultimately ruin the lives of several people depicted in the movie. The problem is, the accident is so poorly staged, it’s almost funny. No one wants to put a child’s life in danger, including on a movie set, but it’s so obvious that Tomlin’s car is dozens of feet away from the kid when he is hit. The angle is off and the depth of field isn’t remotely deep enough. Robert Altman knows his telephoto zoom lenses, but this is a botched shot all around.
4. Jungle Fever (1991)
Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever ends in such an unusually touching way. It’s the type of odd satisfaction that you’ll only find in a Spike Lee joint. But then the final scene happens and it all but ruins the whole damn movie. As Flipper (Wesley Snipes) walks down his block by himself, a young woman approaches and offers to blow Flipper for $2. Flipper grabs onto her and screams “Noooooooo!!!!” at the top of his lungs as the camera comes swooping in on his face, before resting on a freeze frame. And I get it, the film’s most compelling storyline has to do with drugs, and, in Flipper’s eyes, this young woman could be his daughter in just a few shorts years. But holy shit, there are certainly more subtle ways to convey that message. If it’s even necessary to convey at all.
3. Carrie (1976)
Tuxedo Porn Chipmunks
As Tommy Ross (William Katt) and his buddies try on different tuxedos for their high school prom, they get into a playful argument over money and clothing. Then, out of nowhere, their argument is sped up. For three seconds, the guys talk so fast that their voices sound like Alvin and The Chipmunks, and their movements are all herky-jerky. And that fact that there is already really bad ‘70s-era porn music playing over the scene certainly doesn’t help matters.
2. Rocky I-IV, Rocky Balboa, Creed
(Damn Near) Every Final Fight
I may catch some heat for this, but here it is: the final fight scenes in the Rocky films are not well done. Don’t get me wrong, I like all of these fights (except the final Creed one, more on that in a moment), but they aren’t realistic. For one, the amount of air punching is laughable. And the bruised and battered make-up is distractingly caked on. Of course I love when Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) and Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) go down at the same time at the end of the Rocky II fight. But much of what comes before in that fight is so clumsily staged. But hey, look, I get it, the Rocky movies aren’t about boxing, they’re about love, man. About heart. About fighting for what’s yours.
During the final fight in Rocky Balboa, Rocky saves himself from falling down by putting his hand on the mat (which is a knockdown, period). He does this three times, and it is never once called a knockout. Stallone knows boxing, HBO commentators Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant and Max Kellerman (who make cameos in the scene) know boxing, so I’m amazed that this was allowed to slide. The scene also helped start the ridiculous trend of shooting boxing scenes in cheaply rendered HD, as if it were playing on HBO. I’ll never understand why movies like Rocky Balboa, The Fighter and Creed abandon their compelling, gritty aesthetic to make their film look like shitty HDTV.
And then there’s that final fight in Creed, which ranks among the worst boxing scenes I have ever seen (and, to be clear, I loved the rest of Creed). Such a shame, given that the fight before it is a one-take masterpiece. Creed’s final fight utilizes horribly unconvincing digital effects (the crowd looks like a video game), fast motion while punches are being thrown (it’s literally sped up like a cartoon), and a lack of tension that I found inexplicable. I still can’t believe this fight and the one-take fight are in the same movie.
1. The Godfather (1972)
“Touch my sister again, I’ll kill ya.”
Sonny (James Caan) beating up his brother-in-law, Carlo (Gianna Russo), in The Godfather is the worst scene in a great film that I have ever seen. To go further, it’s one most unconvincing fight scenes of any mainstream movie I’ve ever seen. Thanks to the far too revealing angle of the shot, it’s so obvious that Caan isn’t landing any punches on Russo. The scene is staged so poorly, I’m stunned it appears in what is considered by many (myself included) one of the best films of all time.
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