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TCM Spotlight: Great Movie Endings
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Remind Me
,White Heat

Great Movie Endings - 3/19-3/23


As Shakespeare put it, all's well that ends well--a truism that certainly applies to movies, where a splendid ending can make a good film memorable and a great one unforgettable. This month, we put the TCM Spotlight on a series of films known for outstanding final moments that seal the deal on totally satisfying cinematic experiences. On the off chance that viewers haven't seen these movies at least once, we should provide a spoiler alert since we're giving away some choice conclusions.

The films are broken into categories beginning with Going Out With a Bang, which is epitomized by one of the most famous endings in movie history--the ambush of the title characters in Bonnie and Clyde (1967). The scene becomes a slow-motion ballet of horror as the bodies of the renegade pair are riddled by bullets. Lady from Shanghai (1948) ends in gunfire, too, with a shoot-out in a funhouse hall of mirrors that not only reflects the violent nature of the main characters but also resolves their twisted relationships. The one thing everybody remembers about the classic monster movie King Kong (1933) is the finale, with an embattled Kong swatting biplanes away from his perch atop the Empire State Building.

Easy Rider (1969) is also known for its violent ending, with two counterculture bikers reaching the end of their road after searching for freedom in a capitalistic society. Night of the Living Dead (1968), a shocker in its day with the graphic portrayal of zombie attacks, delivered one last jolt with the unexpected fate of its hero at the film's end. The final sequence of White Heat (1949) is literally explosive, with James Cagney's gangster going out in a burst of glory atop a gas storage tank that's blown up.

Ending on a Musical Note looks at finales in non-musicals that still carry a melodic resonance. In the biting social comedy The Graduate (1967), its storybook ending for the young lovers seems impinged upon by reality, a final wry comment is made by the Simon and Garfunkel song "The Sound of Silence." In Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times (1936), about a couple who remain resilient during the travails of the Great Depression, the hopeful ending is accompanied by a musical theme from Chaplin himself that later became the song "Smile."

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the epic science-fiction film, famously uses classical music in its score, including Richard Strauss' symphonic "Also sprach Zarathustra," which opens and closes the film. In the haunting final scene, a mysterious fetus floats in space above the earth as the fanfare from the Strauss piece is repeated. The Searchers (1956), the classic Western in which John Wayne leads the search for a girl kidnapped by Comanches, closes with an iconic shot of our hero framed by a doorway, as the Sons of the Pioneers sing the movie's theme, "Ride Away."

Romantic Endings provide sentimental solutions for a number of captivating love stories including those in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), The Way We Were (1973), An Affair to Remember (1957), Annie Hall (1977) and Now, Voyager (1942). In Famous Last Words, lines of dialogue provide an eloquent--if sometimes ambiguous--ending to their respective films. Who can forget Gloria Swanson's, "All right, Mr. De Mille, I'm ready for my closeup," in Sunset Boulevard (1950); Vivien Leigh's "After all, tomorrow is another day" in Gone With the Wind (1939); or Humphrey Bogart's "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship" in Casablanca (1942)? Then there's the workman in Citizen Kane (1941), who is clearing Kane's home and says of precious memorabilia, including Kane's symbolic childhood sled, "Throw that junk in, too."

Reporting on Twist Endings surely provides the ultimate spoilers for susceptible movie watchers, so we will tread lightly in describing the ones that finish off our tribute. Suffice it to say that, in The Third Man (1949), a long final shot shows the resolution of romantic tension between the leading lady (Alida Valli) and the film's protagonist (Joseph Cotten). In Diabolique (1955), we know there are fiendish motives at work, but until the final sequence it's not clear exactly who the fiends are. And, in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), the quarrelsome middle-aged couple reveal their shared secret regarding a young son they both dote upon!

by Roger Fristoe
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