Summer Movies: Best Pep Talks It's the make-or-break movie moment: Backstage, before the starlet's big debut. In the locker room at halftime, when the underdogs are down. Headed into battle, outnumbered 10 to one. Just as the music swells, a brave soul steps forward and delivers the game-changing pep talk. Nominate your favorite.
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Summer Movies: Best Pep Talks

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Summer Movies: Best Pep Talks

Summer Movies: Best Pep Talks

Summer Movies: Best Pep Talks

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Actor George C. Scott portrays Gen. George S. Patton in the movie Patton. AP hide caption

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Actor George C. Scott portrays Gen. George S. Patton in the movie Patton.


It's the make-or-break movie moment: Backstage, before the starlet's big debut. In the locker room at halftime, when the underdogs are down. Headed into battle, outnumbered 10 to one.

Just as the music swells, a brave soul steps forward and delivers the game-changing pep talk. Talk of the Nation movie buff Murray Horwitz has a whole list of pivotal pep talks on film.

Tell us: Which movie pep talk gets you fired up?


And today, we're back with another edition of the Summer Movie Festival.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: Backstage before the premiere, in the locker room at halftime when the home team is losing, or the general as he prepares his troops for battle.

(Soundbite of movie, "Patton")

Mr. GEORGE C. SCOTT (Actor): (as General George S. Patton) Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country.

CONAN: It's the make-or-break moment, the music starts to swell, someone steps forward to say a few words - the pep talk. From sports, to politics, to war, the movies are full of great pep talks. Give us a call and nominate your favorite. Our phone number: 800-989-8255. Email: You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And, of course, no Summer Movie Festival is complete without TALK OF THE NATION'S favorite film buff, Murray Horwitz. He joins us here in Studio 3A. Hey, Murray.

MURRAY HORWITZ: It's great to be here again, Neal. Thanks.

CONAN: And - so what are the ground rules for a pep talk?

HORWITZ: This is - yeah, there - we have to have some. First of all, as always, no TV. It's too bad, too, because I found some great Queen Elizabeth to the troops at Tilbury...

CONAN: Ah, yes.

HORWITZ: know, from the (unintelligible). But it's not just cheering somebody up. I mean, a pep speech really has to spur somebody to action. Also, it's just not just a line, not just a plan, okay, here's what we're going to do. It has to be a speech of exhortation. And I'm making an executive decision here: no speeches to the jury. I mean, that's a different category.

CONAN: That's a different thing.

HORWITZ: A different category, yeah.

CONAN: But is it by definition a speech to a group of people or...


CONAN: ...can it be to one?

HORWITZ: It could be to one person. Somebody pointed out to me, when I was talking about this just at lunch today, that in one of my favorite films of all time, "The General," Buster Keaton gives this pep talk to the girl...

CONAN: In a silent movie.

HORWITZ: a silent movie. He gives her a pep talk. Come on, you can do this. We can do this together. I don't think, though, it can be a person talking to himself. You know, it's like Henry Fonda in "The Grapes of Wrath"...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

HORWITZ: know, wherever there's a guy getting beaten by...

CONAN: Right.

HORWITZ: ...a cop, et cetera, or Dick Powell in "Murder, My Sweet": Now let's see you do something really tough, Marlowe. Let's see you put on your pants.

CONAN: Even the song: You've got the cool, sweet smile of a seeker of wisdom and truth.

HORWITZ: Of a seeker of wisdom and truth. "I Believe in You" from...

CONAN: "I Believe in You," yes, from "How to Succeed in Business."

HORWITZ: "How to Succeed in Business Without" - another song that is not just a cheer-up that you can't do - no "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," you know? You can't - it's not just cheering somebody up. It's getting them to do...

CONAN: But she ends that song in tears.

HORWITZ: That's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: Because apparently the director, Vincent Minnelli, told her her dog had been run over...

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: the commissary truck in between takes. But - it functions when all else is lost, the pep talk, when there's only one way out, there's no hope, no potential path to the goal, there's nothing but hope. And this really is a very cinematic category, Neal, because so many - reaction shots. I mean, it's not a pep talk unless somebody gets pepped up, right? So you see somebody reacting, and so many of these scenes show the power of film, because they're visual. They're - they - I mean, you really see the reactions of the troops as Braveheart's speaking to them.

You know, you see - and also, a lot of them are real. I'm sure we're going to have examples of things that were real pep talks. I mean, I mentioned Queen Elizabeth at Tilsbury.

CONAN: Okay.

HORWITZ: I mean, it's a recorded speech.

CONAN: Well, there was Saint Crispin's Day speech in "Henry V," which Renee(ph) in Minneapolis emails, it's all the points of your leader love you, we the underdogs are going to share in the great glory as we recall how amazing we're going to be today in this struggle against huge odds. Now get out there and go get the bad guys. These are the key components of a great pep talk, and it is in iambic pentameter.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I'd like to see any football coach try that. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother. And go on and on and on and on and on. And then they - and hold their manhoods cheap while any that speaks that fought with us upon...

HORWITZ: Saint Crispin's - and I actually had a football coach who said...

CONAN: But that...

HORWITZ: ...once more into the breach, dear - no, he didn't really.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: But it's really - it's true. And it brings up a good point, that -let's take the two best exemplars there. We've got Laurence Olivier as Henry V, we've got Kenneth Branagh as Henry V.

CONAN: Right.

HORWITZ: Kenneth Branagh is a different style, back in the '40s, but Kenneth Branagh, it's much more of an acting thing. It's a little bit more underplayed, understated, whereas, you know, Laurence - Lord Laurence declaims, you know, it's really speechified.

CONAN: Right. And the difference, of course, Henry V probably did say a few words, probably not iambic pentameter.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: He probably cursed a little bit too.

CONAN: Great books on that. Let's see we get some callers in on the conversion. And let's see if we can go first to - this is Bill(ph). And Bill's with us from Hooksett in New Hampshire.

BILL (Caller): Hi, guys. How do you top Henry V?

CONAN: Well, I'm sure you're going to try.

BILL: I'm going to try. John Belushi in "Animal House".

CONAN: John Belushi in "Animal House"?

BILL: Over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.

CONAN: Let's hear it from the man himself.

(Soundbite of movie, "Animal House")

Mr. JOHN BELUSHI (Actor): (as Bluto) Over? Did you say over? Nothing is over until we decide it is. Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no.

CONAN: The Germans? Anyway.

HORWITZ: And who could stop - who could fail to respond. Bill is right. This is - and there are some in comedies. There - one of my favorite in comedies is when Groucho Marx says to his brother Zeppo in "Horse Feathers" in a football game, he says, Get out there and play like you did last week. I've got five bucks on the other team.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Bill, thanks very much for the nomination. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Collin(ph). Collin with us from Marriott in Ohio.

COLLIN (Caller): Thank you. It's Marietta.

CONAN: Marietta?

HORWITZ: Marietta, on the river. Home of Marietta College.

COLLIN: Oh, it's great. I'm actually standing right here in Marietta College right now.

CONAN: And what's your nomination?

COLLIN: The - my top I would say is from the movie "Any Given Sunday." And it was done by Al Pacino, the speech - the game of inches.

CONAN: Yeah. But how can you believe a football coach who wore a polo shirt under a jacket?

(Soundbite of laughter)

COLLIN: Ah, well, you know. And Vince Lombardi.

CONAN: Well, all in black in Miami? Come on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COLLIN: That's a bit ridiculous but, you know, still a wonderful speech. And I used to play football and, you know, got my team and I pretty riled up and just listening to it, you know, every once in a while, pretty inspirational.

CONAN: All right. Well, thanks very much for the nomination.

HORWITZ: There are...

COLLIN: Great. Thank you very much, Neal.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

HORWITZ: There are so many sports movies obviously that have these in them. And one of my personal favorites, I think, we're now going to hear is "Hoosiers." And we talk about underplaying the scene?


HORWITZ: Gene Hackman starts very slowly and he doesn't really try to exhort them. He just tells them stick to the fundamentals, don't pay any attention to the crowd. I'm getting chills just...

CONAN: Well, even better is the scene where he comes with the ladder and has the kid measure the height of the hoop.


CONAN: It's the same as we have back in...

HORWITZ: That's right.

CONAN: Yeah.

HORWITZ: It's the same everywhere. And he says, if you - he said it - and -what did he say - whatever the score at the end of this game, I'll be proud of you. Whew. I'd play for that guy.

CONAN: Let's go next to Victoria(ph). Victoria with us from Syracuse.

VICTORIA (Caller): Hi, Neal. How are you today?

CONAN: I'm good. How are you?

VICTORIA: I'm good. Thanks. I would like to nominate the Mel Gibson/William Wallace speech in "Braveheart."

CONAN: Well, Mel Gibson playing William Wallace in "Braveheart" rallies the troops to go into battle, knowing of course they're outnumbered.

(Soundbite of movie, "Braveheart")

Mr. MEL GIBSON (Actor): (as William Wallace) But one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. GIBSON: (as William Wallace) (Foreign language spoken)

CONAN: I'm not sure what he said there at the end.

HORWITZ: Well, I don't know if too many few are aware of this. But he also did that under great duress. Half of his face was painted blue at the time.

CONAN: And other parts of his anatomy perhaps. Victoria, thanks very much.

HORWITZ: There's also, Neal, a wonderful - and I don't know if I'm allowed to exhort people to go to YouTube to find it. I'm sure it must be online somewhere.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

HORWITZ: Bob Newhart did a great parody of that speech, you know, in character as Bob, and it's just - it's wonderful.

CONAN: Let's go next to Sarah(ph), Sarah with us from Boulder.

SARAH (Caller): Hi. I'd like to nominate Ben Affleck's speech to Matt Damon in "Good Will Hunting."

CONAN: I would - I had not thought of that.

HORWITZ: Yeah, that's a good one.

CONAN: That is a good one, Sarah. Do you remember the words?

SARAH: Well, when he says, you know, you owe it to us. You don't owe it to yourself. That's ridiculous. You owe it to us because anyone of us would trade what we've got for what you have. You've got a winning lottery ticket and you're not using it.

CONAN: Yeah. Yeah, that's good stuff.

HORWITZ: That's a great nomination, Sarah. Thank you. And it points out that a pep speech in the movies can also redefine objectives. You know, it's like you think it's about this but it's actually about that. There are - I'm trying to think of even in some sports movies, like "Slap Shot" or "Major League," where they say, you know, we can't win but, you know, we can keep this team going. And so all of a sudden it shifts the playing field as Ben Affleck's speech does in "Good Will Hunting." That's terrific. Thanks.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Sarah. Here's an email, this from Eliza(ph) from Valdosta, Georgia. The one that comes to mind immediately is from my childhood. It's our time. It's our time down here. This is from Mikey and "The Goonies".

(Soundbite of movie, "The Goonies")

Mr. SEAN ASTIN (Actor): (as Mikey) Our parents, they want the bestest stuff for us. But right now they got to do what's right for them because it's their time. Their time, up there. Down here it's our time. It's our time down here. That's all over the second we ride up Troy's bucket.

HORWITZ: Oh, god. And, you know, I want to point out, this made a difference in the lives of so many people now in their 30s and beyond. And it's a Richard Donner film, produced by Steven Spielberg. And you would imagine with that kind of a creative team that all of the elements conspire, and that points out something that's present in almost every pep talk, and that's music - sometimes very cheap, manipulative, sentimental music, but it's got to be there.

CONAN: And it swells up sort of after the first phrase and then it starts swelling up.

HORWITZ: Right. Just in case you made a mistake, that you didn't think this is a pep talk, it's a pep talk, folks.

CONAN: Well, I think this next one does not have music behind it.


CONAN: This is an email suggested from Esgram(ph), enjoying the show. I suggest Denzel Washington as Malcolm X. There are a few excellent speeches in that one, including this one.

(Soundbite of movie, "Malcolm X")

Mr. DENZEL WASHINGTON (Actor): (as Malcolm X) Before there was any such thing as a Republican or a Democrat, we were black. Before there was any such thing as a Mason or an Elk, we were black. Before there was any such thing as a Jew or a Christian, we were black people. In fact, before there was any such place as America, we were black. And after America has long passed from the scene, there will still be black people.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: Denzel Washington great is now Malcolm.

HORWITZ: Yeah. And there is music in his voice, for sure. I mean, I don't mean to say that as a kind of cheap endorsement of myself, but it's - there - Denzel Washington also participates in a scene that's almost nothing but music in the film "Glory," where several actors get up and - in the night before the Battle at Fort Wagner, they do it as a kind of prayer meeting, and it's all done to rhythmic clapping and to chanting and to singing, and it's quite a remarkable pep talk.

CONAN: We're talking, of course, with Murray Horwitz. Our Summer Movie Festival continues: Best pep talks. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And Murray, the greatest pep talk in the greatest gin joint in all the world.


CONAN: Yeah. This is, of course, the famous last scene in "Casablanca."

(Soundbite of movie, "Casablanca")

Mr. HUMPHREY BOGART (Actor): (as Rick) If that plane leaves the ground and you're not with him, you'll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.

Ms. INGRID BERGMAN: (as Ilsa) But what about us?

Mr. BOGART: (as Rick) We'll always have Paris.

CONAN: That's such a great scene.

HORWITZ: It is a wonderful scene, and it's juxtaposed with some of the - it's perfect. I mean, just some of the great lines and some of the great cutting, and some of the great shooting of one of the great movies of all time.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to - this is Heather(ph), Heather with us from St. Louis.

HEATHER (Caller): Hi, how are you today?

CONAN: Very good. Thank you.

HEATHER: Good. I would like to nominate Robin Williams' pep talk to the toys in the movie "Toys."

CONAN: To the toys in the movie "Toy Story"?

HORWITZ: No, in "Toys."

CONAN: Oh, in "Toys," excuse me.

HORWITZ: "Toys," right.

HEATHER: Yeah. It is - I have to confess that it's been a long time since I've seen it, but I still remember when I saw it, I was like, I will join the toys and fight for them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HEATHER: It was just a wonderful speech. And there's a rumor, though I don't know if it's true, is that he was just going on on the set and they just turned on the cameras and went with it.

CONAN: I believe that more than a few of his parts have been filmed that way.

HORWITZ: That's quite possible.

CONAN: We don't have that particular tape. We do, though, have a tape of Robin Williams giving a great pep talk. This - the first day of school, the students of the Wilton Academy find themselves with an unconventional English teacher. Robin Williams leaves them with a piece of advice.

(Soundbite of movie, "Dead Poets Society")

Mr. ROBIN WILLIAMS (Actor): (as John Keating) Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.

CONAN: I thought he was going to say rosebud there for a minute.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: And I do have to say that, Heather, even though we almost mistook her for - there are a couple of terrific pep talks in "Toy Story," from different toys.

CONAN: Email, this is from Maggie(ph) in St. Paul. "Miracle," Herb Brooks, Kurt Russell, giving the pep talk before the USA/USSR game. "Remember the Titans" -well, she goes on to other ones. But she has picked out what is in fact my very favorite pep talk of all time.

(Soundbite of movie, "Miracle")

Mr. KURT RUSSELL (Actor): (as Herb Brooks) One game. If we played them 10 times, they might win nine. But not this game, not tonight. Tonight we skate with them. Tonight we stay with them, and we shut them down because we can.

HORWITZ: Because - ah, it's just - and it...

CONAN: I get goose I was at that game.

HORWITZ: You were - you were in Lake Placid?

CONAN: I was there. I was in Lake Placid.

HORWITZ: Holy Moses.


HORWITZ: Well, that's another discussion.

CONAN: That's another discussion. But, I mean, he's got the accent, that little touch of Minnesota there.

HORWITZ: Yeah. And what was - and he also underplays it, and it's very Herb Brooks. Don't forget one of the - in one of the classiest moves in the history of sports, when they won that game, Herb Brooks left the ice. He did not go on and celebrate with them. He said that was their moment.


HORWITZ: And this was just so no-BS, just - look at the time he took. It's a great pep speech. You and Mimi(ph) have great taste.

CONAN: Oh, well, how about you? What's your favorite pep talk?

HORWITZ: Well, as you may know, I have a bit of a background in the musical theater. And...


(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: And there's a movie called "42nd Street" that is just, I mean, the truth is buried in this movie. It's a - and there's a speech at the end of it. There's actually a wonderful speech from Bebe Daniels, the great star who's broken her ankle...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

HORWITZ: Ruby Keeler, exhorting her to go on, it's very sensitive and very feminine and wonderful. But then there's the classic speech of Warner Baxter as the director Julian Marsh to Ruby Keeler as the kid Sawyer.

CONAN: And he says, you know, everything's riding on you. We've got $200,000, weeks of work - no pressure, kid.

(Soundbite of movie, "42nd Street")

Mr. WARNER BAXTER (Actor): (as Julian Marsh) All right, now I'm through, but you keep your feet on the ground and your head on those shoulders of yours and go out, and Sawyer, you're going out a youngster but you've got to come back a star.

CONAN: And I like that intonation there. He says, you've got to come back a star. No, you've got to come back a star.

HORWITZ: No. You've got to come back a star. There's just no - failure is not an option, which is another great speech from "Apollo 13." Ed Harris...

CONAN: These are - so many - what a great category this was (unintelligible). You're going to go out there the film buff, but you're going to come back...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: ...a film buff.

HORWITZ: I've got to come back a film buff.

CONAN: Thanks very much for being with us, Murray.

HORWITZ: Thank you, Neal. Pleasure as always.

CONAN: We're going to take a short hiatus on the film festival, because I'm going on vacation for a couple of weeks.

HORWITZ: You deserve it.

CONAN: And then we'll get back later in the summer with more subjects from Murray Horwitz. We'll keep you informed.

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