November 27, 2019

“I’m mad as hell” — the misquote of a movie line that is itself a misquote!

During almost every recent election season, political commentators seem to talk about “angry voters” of one kind or another.

These disgruntled voters are usually said to be angry about certain current events or something politicians did or didn’t do.

During the last presidential election, I even saw one story that claimed “angry voters are now angry at the angry voters.”

In many stories about angry voters — and in online posts made by angry voters — a common quote used is: “I'm mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

When a source is given for that quote, it’s usually cited as a line actor Peter Finch says in the movie Network, which premiered in New York City on November 27, 1976.

Finch does say something very close to that in the movie.

But the commonly-heard “I’m mad as hell” version is not the actual movie quote.

Network was written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet.

In addition to Peter Finch, the superb cast includes Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Duvall, and Ned Beatty.

What Finch actually says in the movie, as network news anchorman Howard Beale, “the mad prophet of the airwaves,” is:

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

He says the line several times in Network, using the words “I’m as mad as” and “take this” — NOT “I’m mad as” and “take it.”

You can confirm what Finch says by watching the movie or by viewing the scene in which he first unleashes his frequently misquoted line on YouTube.

There’s also an excellent in-depth summary of Network on the AMC website. (It uses the word “gonna” in place of “going to,” though to my ears and in the script, Finch clearly says “going to”).

If you didn’t know Network was released in 1976, you might think the glorious rant Finch gives in it is a commentary on more recent times.

He starts out by saying: “I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad.”

After warming up a bit more by citing a list of bad things, he delivers his call to action:

“So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’”

Ironically, in Chayefsky’s original script, Howard Beale is supposed to say “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

But when the scene the line is first used in was filmed, Peter Finch spontaneously said, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” 

Director Lumet decided to keep the line as Finch spoke it, thus creating a movie quote that’s often misquoted, but which is itself a misquote of what was written in the script.

If you’re interested in misquotes, you can read about some others I’ve discussed in past posts by clicking this link, or by buying books like Ralph Keyes' The Quote Verifier and Nice Guys Finish Seventh, Garson O'Toole's Hemingway Didn't Say That, Elizabeth Knowles’ What They Didn't Say, or They Never Said It by Paul F. Boller and John George.

In the meantime, if you’re as mad as hell about the what’s happening in your community, your state, or in the US, get out and vote, damnit!

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November 16, 2019

Two famous quotes launched by Captain John Paul Jones…

The quotation most people associate with American Navy Captain John Paul Jones is “I have not yet begun to fight.” 

According to legend, Jones said that defiant line during a naval battle with the British on September 23, 1779 when a British officer asked if he was ready to surrender.

Some historians and quote mavens like Ralph Keyes have questioned whether Jones uttered those exact words.

The claim that he did was made a half a century after that battle and other accounts give different responses by Jones.

However, he did say something like it, and the backstory on the legendary version of his answer involves other famous words Jones definitely did say — in writing.

In the fall of 1778, during the height of the American Revolution, Jones was in France trying to get a new warship to use in the fight against the British.

The French government offered him a heavy ship named the Neptune they had captured, but Jones deemed it to be too slow.

So, he wrote a letter to French aristocrat Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont.

De Chaumont was an influential member of the court of King Louis XVI who had been instrumental in arranging various types of French support for the rebellious Americans.

In a letter dated November 16, 1778, Jones told the French nobleman: “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm's way.”

It had long been common to talk about getting someone or something “out of harm’s way,” meaning to remove them from some kind of danger.

But John Paul Jones is generally credited with the first recorded use of the phrase “in harm’s way.”

By the early 1800s, it became a common figure of speech, meaning “in the path of danger.”

It’s most often used to refer to men and women in the military, who are sent “in harm’s way” during wartime.

Not long after Jones wrote his letter to Monsieur Chaumont, the French government gave him a frigate named the Bonhomme Richard.

On September 23, 1779, Jones and the crew of the Bonhomme Richard fought their famous battle off the coast of England against the British war ship Serapis.

At one point, the Bonhomme Richard seemed to be sinking. The commander of the Serapis, Royal Navy Captain Richard Pearson, asked Jones if he would strike his flag and surrender.

That’s when Jones gave his possibly apocryphal reply: “I have not yet begun to fight.”

After lashing the Bonhomme Richard to the Serapis and fighting ferociously, the Americans won the battle and the crew of the Serapis surrendered to them.

In 1962, James Bassett’s bestselling World War II novel, Harm's Way, helped make the term taken from Jones’s letter more widely known than ever.

In 1965, the novel was adapted into the epic movie In Harm's Way, further enhancing the use and recognition of the phrase.

I haven’t read the novel, but I have seen the movie. If you haven’t, you should.

It was produced and directed by Otto Preminger and stars John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Patricia Neal, Tom Tryon, Paula Prentiss and Dana Andrews.

In Harm’s Way is justifiably considered one of the greatest war movies ever made. And, as you now know, its title comes from the most famous words John Paul Jones definitely said.

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