I was watching the movie “Broadcast News” last night, a film I’d seen in a movie theater when it first came out (1987), but didn’t remember all that well—except, that is, for the scene where wannabee news anchor Albert Brooks is so nervous he sweats up a storm in his tryout appearance, sabotaging his chances at anchor stardom.
“Broadcast News” holds up fairly well as light entertainment, and is also somewhat amusing in its quaint assumption that some people in news have some sort of commitment to the truth. But its ending is a remarkably unsatisfying and lackluster afterthought.
Which got me to thinking about movie endings in general. As with novels or plays, it’s a lot easier to think of a wonderful beginning than to think of a great ending. But it can be done—some movie ending are just about perfect. And good movie endings do not necessarily ride on complete resolution, either; ambiguity can be just as good if done well.
Witness, for example, one of the most famous movie endings of all, that of “Gone With the Wind.” (And by the way, it practically goes without saying that the rest of this post will contain SPOILERS, so if you have somehow remained unaware of the endings of certain well-known movies and don’t want to know them, then please don’t read the rest).
Does the scheming but lovely Scarlett win back the scheming but charming Rhett? After all, we the audience know that these two were made for each other. But Margaret Mitchell would never tell; she closed the book with the question unresolved, and an emphasis on Scarlett’s indomitable will to go on. In the movie, the music doesn’t hurt, either:
And then there’s “High Noon,” one of my favorite movies of all time. Purists may quibble that Will Kane would never have disrespected the office he held by throwing his badge in the dirt the way he does. But still, it’s a great device. The ending is well-nigh perfect (actually, as far as I’m concerned, the whole movie is pretty perfect): the Quaker wife killing a man in order to defend her husband, the tormented look on Cooper’s face throughout, the townspeople emerging from their cowardly hiding, and the stupendous musical theme. Even watching the clip just now, I got a bit teary-eyed:
After that we’ll have a little comic relief. “Some Like It Hot” (1959):
Watching that clip now, in isolation from the entire movie, it occurs to me that what was once preposterous—Osgood’s casual acceptance of the possibility of marrying a man—is now mainstream. And of course Hollywood has in recent years been part of the project to get us to that point, making many movies that present gay relationships (and by implication, I suppose, gay marriage) as a perfectly reasonable alternative to heterosexual ones.
But “Some Like It Hot” played the transvestite aspects of its plot strictly for laughs, making the heterosexual nature of its protagonists crystal clear. If there was a subtext in the movie that was pro-gay (and there may have been), it certainly was exceedingly well-hidden at the time, and was submerged in a genre with an ancient lineage—that of the male performer in drag. In addition, the movie was one of the most genuinely funny films ever made.
And then there’s this one—a movie closing to close the post. It’s not the actual ending of “Casablanca”—that occurs just a few minutes later—but it’s the emotional ending: