In the words of Norma Desmond, ‘We didn’t need dialogue, we had faces’. Sometimes that’s all you need. Sometimes you don’t need dialogue to get the point across and these four dialogue-free classic movie scenes prove that:
Scottie following Madeleine in Vertigo (1958, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) – The timeless beauty of Vertigo comes from the fact that it’s so many things at once. There are so many ways to look at it, so many possible interpretations, that The Garden has dispensed with that for now. But however you look at it, one could argue that the movie is well and truly set in motion when Scottie (James Stewart) follows Madeleine (Kim Novak) in search of answers. This dialogue-free sequence is both eerie and intriguing, and it carefully places the movie’s MacGuffin right where it should be. Not to mention that we get to enjoy Bernard Herrmann’s stunning score throughout – probably my favorite movie score of all time.
Making breakfast in Woman of the Year (1942, dir. George Stevens) – The movie’s progressive message falls through in the last moments, but luckily we get to watch Tess (Katharine Hepburn in an Oscar-nominated performance) hilariously try (and fail) to make breakfast for her estranged husband Sam (Spencer Tracy). A testament to Hepburn’s often overlooked ability for physical comedy, it’s a funny little sequence and a sweet ending to the first movie collaboration of one of the screen’s – and real life’s – greatest couples.
Three hats from Duck Soup (1933. dir. Leo MacCarey) – This is unquestionably one of the funniest things I have ever seen. In fact, I almost didn’t watch it again just now as I wrote this, because I knew I’d get stuck in a Marx Brothers loop and would never finish this article. Bottom line is, this is one of the brothers’ funniest moments, particularly the Chico/Harpo duo, which is always a joy to watch. I could have chosen the mirror scene, but that one’s been talked about ad nauseam, and this is my favorite.
The heist from Rififi (1955, dir. Jules Dassin) – Quite possibly the single greatest dialogue-free scene in the history of cinema. As the gang, led by Tony ‘Le Stephanois’ (Jean Servais) break into Mappin and Webb, their excrutiatingly meticulous plan is laid out before our eyes from start to finish and thirty-two (THIRTY-TWO!) minutes go by just like that. It’s heart-pounding, nerve-wracking and breath-taking.
There are so many scenes to choose from, but these four will have to do for now. Maybe a Part 2 is in order?