Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Weekend Roundtable: Anger Management

Anger is a very primal emotion that makes great fodder for movie plots. Our Roundtable this week looks at some of our favorite movie scenes in which characters lose their tempers and rage out.

Shannon Nutt

There are a lot of good choices for this one, but my favorite is the scene in Planes, Trains and Automobiles where advertising executive Neal Page (Steve Martin), after being dropped off in a rental car lot at the airport with keys to a car that isn’t there… then having to walk all the way back to the terminal, goes on an F-bomb rant to the company’s customer service agent (played by Edie McClurg).

The f-word is used by Martin 18 times in under a minute, which has to be a movie record and clarifies why the otherwise PG-toned film got slapped with an R rating.

Deirdre Crimmins

Is there anything better than a cinematic yelling spree? From Birdman to What About Bob?, the catharsis felt when a character violently upchucks all of their frustration and hatred in one cuss-drenched bile pile is truly a beautiful thing. Given our general level of civility in the world, these word spewing rants are our way to live vicariously through a character who has decided to value their emotional expression over friendship, family, and sometimes employment. The crowned king of these outbursts has to be Clark W. Griswold.

The patriarch of the National Lampoon’s Vacation series, played by Chevy Chase, barely holds it together from one movie to the next. It’s hard to pick one single favorite of his rants, but the top two are absolutely in the original Vacation and Christmas Vacation. In one, he goes on about the value in the quest for wholesome family fun, courtesy of one Mr. Marty Moose. In the other, he goes against corporate greed during the Christmas season. Both are noble, family-centered messages that could have been delivered in heartfelt monologues by any other character in any other film, but not by Clark. No. He has zero chill, and his aggressive temper flares are some of the best yelling and raving ever put on screen. Hallelujah. Holy shit. Where’s the Tylenol?

David Krauss

This was an easy one for me, but the scene I’m selecting comes from a film you’ve probably never heard of. The Pirate was a 1948 flop starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, but the Vincente Minnelli-directed musical has developed a devoted cult following in the decades since its release. Sophisticated, satirical, broadly played, and deliciously over the top, this sumptuous musical farce boasts a Cole Porter score, plenty of athletic dancing by Kelly, and one classic number, the delightful Judy/Gene duet, “Be A Clown.” (You might have seen it in various retrospectives, including That’s Entertainment, Part 2.)

The story concerns Manuela (Garland), a sheltered Caribbean island girl in the 1800s who harbors a romantic fascination with the dashing, cutthroat pirate Macoco. A vagabond actor, Serafin (Kelly), learns of this fantasy obsession and masquerades as Macoco in an attempt to woo Manuela. Of course, little does Manuela know that Don Pedro (Walter Slezak), the plump, balding, oily mayor of her rural town – and the man her aunt has arranged for her to marry – is the real, albeit retired, Macoco! The identity mix-up incites a flurry of complications, and though audiences of the day found the film pretentious, there’s nothing highbrow about this hilarious slapstick scene in which a furious Manuela expresses her rage after she discovers Serafin isn’t Macoco after all. The no-holds-barred tirade must have been a glorious cathartic release for Garland, whose tightly wound personality and complex emotions often caused turmoil on the set. Here, she lets it all hang out, blowing off considerable steam by grabbing and smashing every piece of crockery in sight in a spirited attempt to sock it to the charmingly deceitful Serafin. Don’t try this at home, but by all means, enjoy the mayhem!

Brian Hoss

Ridiculous, comedic, legendary, infused with fury… Bruce Campbell as Ash in Army of Darkness is all of these things. And certainly, from ghouls to evil pygmy clones, uptight and filthy feudalists, and the undead army of the film’s name, there are plenty of things for Ash to be enraged by and plenty of reasons to be overwrought. That’s without taking into account the accumulation of calamity from the previous film. While I have many scenes to pick from here, there is none more perfect than the “This is my boomstick” rant.

Second place goes to the “Over the line” scene in The Big Lebowski, which would be funnier if not so touched with believability. Third place goes to Michael Clayton. Not one scene really; more like the entire film.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

As legendary as Jack Nicholson is for unleashing volcanic eruptions of anger, his Bobby Dupea is rather restrained throughout much of the most enduring scene in Five Easy Pieces. Bobby craves wheat toast with his breakfast, and the waitress at this roadside diner snidely refuses. Sure, they have a toaster. Yes, they have wheat bread. But toast isn’t on the menu, so to this waitress’ mind, her hands are tied. Logic and reason can’t sway her, and neither does Bobby’s inspired way of circumventing the diner’s rules. I can’t think of a chicken salad sandwich without this entire sequence replaying in my head, and Bobby’s violent sweep of a tableful of glasses is the perfect punctuation for such a brilliantly written and performed sequence.

Josh Zyber

I’m about to do something you won’t see very often in this blog – praise an Adam Sandler comedy. I’m not much of a fan of Sandler’s comedy shtick, especially in recent years. However, 1998’s The Wedding Singer was an ideal vehicle for his particular ability to transition on a dime from sweet puppy-dog innocence to ballistic outburst of intense rage.

The best moment for this happens the morning after his character, Robbie Hart, has been jilted at the altar, and his fiancée Linda comes to apologize. Robbie struggles through the conversation to stay calm and patient, but as Linda lists off all the reasons she couldn’t go through with the wedding, he cuts her short with the line, “Once again, things that could’ve been brought to my attention YESTERDAY!! The words themselves seem rational and reasonable, but the way his anger builds up over the course of that sentence is a really masterful bit of comic performance.

It’s a shame the actor got so lazy in his later work.

Your Turn

What are your favorite examples of movie characters totally losing their shit?


  1. Csm101

    Frances McDormand in Three Billboards. That is one angry character. My favorite scene is the “who threw the can” scene in which she kicks a young kid in the nards and then a girl in the hoohaa.

  2. photogdave

    Nicholas Cage in 1993’s Deadfall. His creative use of the F word as the major parts of speech in a single sentence is hilarious.

  3. Charles Mall

    Anything by George C. Scott. “You owe me MONEY!” – The Hustler. Or “It was not in the file it was not!” – The Exorcist 3 are two films of his off the top of my head.

  4. KiKS

    The “resignation rant” by James McAvoy, followed by smacking none other than Starlord with a keyboard. From Wanted.

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