Today I’m serving murder.
Following is a list of memorable movie murders – for fun. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I hope you enjoy revisiting the scenes I describe – as disturbing as some of them are. Feel free to comment on your favorites or let me know which ones I may have left out. These are listed in no particular order, but you should BE WARNED this is rife with SPOILERS!!!
This one’s listed on a murder list because it’s overkill.
Bonnie and Clyde (Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway) the young, notorious couple are driving down the road laughing, an old man flags them down because he needs roadside assistance. Or so they think. As Clyde goes out to meet the man a truck is seen driving toward them, suddenly a flock of birds flies out of a tree and the old man scurries to hide under his truck while Clyde is distracted. Something’s definitely wrong. From within the trees and shrubs a barrage of gunfire aimed toward the couple springs out – Clyde’s outside and Bonnie’s still in the car. That’s where they die. A shocking scene – extreme violence as art.
I did a previous post where I commented on this film and scene and you can take a look at it here if you’d like.
“What draws my admiration? What is that which brings me joy?” Baseball!” Then Robert DeNiro, playing Al Capone in this De Palma film, picks up a bat to talk about the importance of teamwork in America’s pastime. He’s talking at a gathering of his team, a banquet with the thugs who go out and do his bidding. And, now and again, dare betray him. As he speaks he walks around the banquet table and stops behind one of those men. Then proceeds to bash the man’s head in with the baseball bat, crushing his skull and spoiling – not only everyone’s appetite – but also the linen.
- Elsie Beckmann (Inge Landut) is murdered off-screen and her toy balloon floats away in M, 1931. Fritz Lang, director.
Peter Lorre is brilliant as Hans Beckert, the most hunted man in Berlin as depicted in this haunting, German crime drama. There’s nothing else I want to offer about this one except to say that you’re unlikely to forget the scene I’m referring to.
Michael murders his mother’s son.
If you’ve seen the Godfather films you know this act, depicted in Godfather II without blood and in a scene where we don’t see neither murderer or victim clearly or up close. Yet, as we’ve come to know this family and its story and recognize those words being spoken, the scene is extremely disturbing. A single shot, the site of a man through a window, a seagull, slight waves of the long island sound and small boat rocking while familiar music plays softly. My God how far this man has fallen. The one who ordered this act and the one who will forever bear the weight of it.
Arguably, the most famous crime scene in the history of film. And with good reason.
Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) checked into the Bates Motel earlier that day. She’s tired and prepares to shower, settling in for the night. She steps into the shower, unwraps the bar of soap, turns on the water – a quick reminder to us from Hitchcock that it could be us in that shower with a signature Point-of-view (POV) shot as if we were in the shower ourselves – we hear nothing but the water. Then the door opens and we can a shadow through the curtain. It looks like a woman – getting closer. THEN as the shower is abruptly opened, a raised hand holding a huge knife and the shrill, unforgettable sound of that music. Close-up, stab, close-up, stab. Over and over and over again. Until it ends. The music stops and we are left to contemplate what just happened. Slowly. Methodically. Pure cinema.
By the time this scene takes place we know all about what Dr. Lecter is capable of. But we haven’t seen him in action.
He is imprisoned in the Shelby County Courthouse, a stronghold surrounded by police. It’s really an impressive set-up, testament to the infamous power of this one man – a massive temporary iron cage has been erected, cordoned off by police barricades. At the moment, Lecter is listening to classical music sitting very comfortably. His dinner, “lamb chops, extra rare” is brought to him by two guards. As he nears the bars to prepare for his required handcuffs, we see he’s had something up his sleeve – or rather, in his mouth – a means to undo the handcuffs and he does so rather easily. So, we know what happens to the guards, they cease to live. But the how is quite chilling. One of the two men gets part of his face bitten off, the Doctor’s special talent, leaving him writhing in pain so Lector could go dispose of the second guard who he, ever so slowly beats to a pulp with a riot baton in that ever-affecting POV shot that shows the scene as if he’s beating me to a pulp. His face smeared with the blood of the guy he bit and the piano plays on. Not enjoyable. And yet, very much so. I hope that’s not the sign of a sick mind.
The next scene, the result of the doctor’s handiwork is also quite shocking.
- She killed the man she loves with all her heart! THE LETTER, 1940. William Wyler, director.
Only Bette Davis can empty a gun into a man out in the open and believably claim self-defense. Possibly one of the greatest opening sequences in film history is also a memorable murder. This gets your attention and FAST! Just imagine if she hadn’t love him!
- Representing all film noir because they can own their very own memorable murder sub-topic is this scene…
The movie opens with the camera far from a house by the ocean. It gets closer and we see a car parked beside it when shots begin to ring out against the sound of waves. By the third of six shots we’re inside the house and see a man being murdered. Handsome, clad in a tuxedo he stumbles toward the camera clutching his chest. The man hits the floor, turns slightly and murmurs “Mildred” right before he dies.
- Ellen Berent Harland watches a drowning in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, 1945. John Stahl, director.
This is as difficult a scene to watch as any – particularly if you happen to be afraid of water as I am. The gorgeous Gene Tierney sitting in that canoe while her young brother-in-law Danny struggles in the water, getting more and more tired until he eventually goes down for good. Drowning takes time folks. This is a one-of-a-kind stone cold killer. And at her worst makes for a most excruciating murder scene.
As Santino’s car drives up to that toll there’s dead silence. He hands the clerk the toll and the car in front of him moves back to block him in, simultaneously the toll clerk drops a coin and disappears from sight. This doesn’t look good. And the barrage of bullets start pounding into him. Riddled with bullets he finally falls. Then they kick him in the face. Despite his hot temper he doesn’t deserve this. The greatest miracle of The Godfather is the fact that Francis Ford Coppola somehow makes us learn to love these men of crime. “Look how they messed with my boy.” I am sorry to lose Sonny and angry and shocked at this extreme disrespect.
There are two sins to go for the serial killer here to complete his task and we get to see them before our eyes. A shocking ending to a great film. Disturbing simply doesn’t cover it and I am not explaining anything else in this scene or the box. Unforgettable. This one gave me nightmares.
“It seems that envy is my sin.”
“Become vengeance, David. Become wrath.”
Somewhat of a controversial film, certainly a controversial topic, AMERICAN HISTORY X is about two brothers and racial hatred. A violent film throughout, the most brutal scene is perhaps the most disturbing I’ve ever seen in a film – it’s extremely painful to watch and causes uncontrollable fidgeting, to say the least.
Derek (Edward Norton) assaults two black gang members who he catches trying to break into a truck his father left him. He shoots one of the two, sadly a compassionate act compared to what’s in store for the other whom Derek forces to bite down on the sidewalk curb and then stomps on his head. And we hear bones crush. It’s a vicious act not easily forgotten that I felt down to my toes. What kind of man comes up with something like this?
- Bruno strangles a girl in an amusement park in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, 1951. Alfred Hitchcock, director.
Bruno Antony may be a bit off kilter, but he’s determined to keep his end of the bargain. In an amusement park he approaches the unsuspecting Miriam, asks her name and takes a firm grip on her neck. Naturally, the woman’s glasses fall off as she struggles for her life, but she hasn’t a chance as we see in the reflection – the glasses become the camera. Slowly Miriam loses the battle as we watch her lifeless body carefully laid down with the killer still in view. Unforgettable, purposeful, Hitchcock.
I must include one of the most memorable montages ever to appear on film. Back to The Godfather I go and the magnificent baptism murders sequence. Michael Corleone is marking his territory as the undisputed boss of bosses of New York’s crime families – the Capo di tutti capi. His sister Connie has asked him to be godfather to her son, Michael Francis and while the godfather renounces Satan and all his works, the gangster’s army is blasting away at his enemies. Even after watching this film numerous times this never ceases to chill one down to the bone while also being in awe of brilliant filmmaking. Themes Coppola uses beautifully, the contrast between religion and violence has never been done better (although we saw it above with the “Hail Mary” scene as well). One for the ages in one of the greatest films ever made.
- A murder for ratings in NETWORK, 1976. Sidney Lumet, director.
We’ve seen psychopaths, organized crime, crimes of passion and crimes in film that make a hell of a statement. But I doubt any of those compares to the assassination of Howard Beale as far as murder as insult, a “hell of a kick-off show for the season.” This one leaves a really bad taste in your mouth. Poor, pathetic SOB Howard Beale deserves better, but we don’t.
There you have them – random memorable movie murders that never fail to stir. Aaah, crime – the gift that keeps on giving .