Diner Scenes: A Cinematic Staple

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John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in The Blues Brothers.

There’s a universal appeal to diners—and the modest yet satisfying cuisine they cook up—that never fails to drag in hungry, weary customers from just about all walks of life, which may serve to explain why so-called diner scenes have become such a cinematic staple. After all, a film fan can find common ground with even the most polarizing of characters when coffee cups and ketchup bottles are in full view. Here’s a sample of some memorable movie diner scenes.

The Blues Brothers (1980)

This feature-length spinoff of a Saturday Night Live sketch could reasonably be described as one long music video—its loose, convoluted plot serves mostly as an excuse for Ray Charles, Cab Calloway and others to pop in and perform their classics. But the conceit is fun nonetheless, and one of the film’s liveliest moments occurs when Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) Blues stumble into a diner where their server, Mrs. Murphy, is portrayed by one Aretha Franklin. The obvious draw here is Franklin’s show-stopping performance of “Think,” but her reaction to Jake and Elwood’s orders (four whole fried chickens and a plate of dry white toast) is priceless.

Goodfellas (1990)

Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta in Goodfellas

Then, of course, there’s that feeling you get when you’ve been invited to a nice, relaxing lunch, only to arrive and immediately be asked to put a hit on somebody. Not a feeling most people have experienced, but that was life for Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) in this Martin Scorsese classic. The mobster film consistently injects bits of pathos into moments involving violent and murderous acts, and this diner scene is no exception. It’s surprisingly difficult not to worry about Liotta’s character as his mob associate Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) asks him whether he’d mind “going with Anthony on vacation and taking care of it.” More butter, Henry?

Pulp Fiction (1994)

John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction

It’s been quoted to death and replayed hundreds of times, but it wouldn’t be right to leave out a film whose prologue and epilogue are both titled, “The Diner.” John Travolta, who’s no stranger to diner scenes (remember Grease?) actually spends a good chunk of this one missing in action—on the toilet, to be exact. That leaves Samuel L. Jackson, portraying hitman Jules Winnfield, the opportunity to steal the show, and he does so by reciting jumbled Bible passages like a man possessed and defusing an impossibly tense situation involving two amateur crooks. Through it all, he still finds time to criticize the food—specifically that of his partner, Vincent Vega (Travolta), whose bacon, Jules insists, came from a “filthy animal.”

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Joseph Catrone is the editor of Farmingdale Observer, Hicksville News, Levittown Tribune and Massapequa Observer. He is also a contributing writer to Long Island Weekly and Anton Media Group's special sections.

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