Monday April 9, 2012
The diner is as American as a slice of cheese on a piece of apple pie. Be it Greek or Ukrainian, soda shop or truck stop, in the deep South or New York City, no style of restaurant better represents the melting pot that is our country than the diner (the salad bowl analogy is probably more accurate than melting pot, but diners and salads don't belong together, even metaphorically). If you're on the road or find yourself in need of that elusive 3 am plate of eggs, take a look at our list of the Top 10 Diners in America as well as the Best Diners in our top 50 cities.
The versatility and retro good looks of diners lend themselves well to film. They're a great gathering place for detectives and police to review findings. Conversely, they provide coffee and waffles in the wee hours for amateur thieves laying out the plans for their next heist. They display small town charm with heavily accented friendly folk or backwoods danger with burly characters that don't take kindly to city types. More often than not, there's a surly waitress waiting with a good one liner. Without further ado, here are some of the best diner scenes in film.
Anyone familiar with Twin Peaks knows David Lynch has a thing for diners - much is made of the great coffee and cherry pie at the Double R Diner. He takes it to another level of creepy in Mullholland Drive. Winkie's is the kind of establishment an average Joe or aspiring startlet can escape to feel normal. But dark forces are at work behind the dumpster out back - the kind involving a terrifying hobo and his magical time-warp box.
The thrilling conclusion of Quinton Tarrantino's Pulp Fiction takes place with one final stand off in an LA diner. Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winfield (Samuel L. Jackson), in their dorkiest outfits, discuss the finer points of "digging on swine" and the merits of a pig's personality before two lesser seasoned criminals hold up the restaurant.
In the Coen Brothers criminally underrated The Hudsucker Proxy, two cab drivers sit at the counter at a New York diner and suddenly become the narrators for the following scene. Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) plays on the naivety of Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins), whom our narrators correctly assess when they repeat: "He don't look wise."
I'd be remiss to compile a list of diner scenes and not include one of the most famous restaurant scenes in film from 5 Easy Pieces. Drifter-savant Jack Nicholson outwits a stubborn waitress and circumvents a nonsensical substitution policy. Don't recommend trying this at your local greasy spoon.
In Superman II, the roadside diner is a place inhabited by roughnecks looking to make inapproppriate comments to women and fight any haughty big city types. Superman takes a rare beating after giving up his powers (no clip this time, follow the link). After he regains them later in the movie, he returns to avenge the beatdown (petty revenge is clearly more important than saving the world at the moment).
With Goodfellas, we see the diner as a safe, familiar place. A public place where you're less likely to get whacked.
Though technically a donut shop, Stan Mikita's Donuts in Wayne's World has all the familiar symptoms of a diner. It's a late-night hangout for disaffected youth, a gathering spot for characters to review recent events, and it has a deranged, sleep-deprived proprietor who waxes psychotic to anyone within earshot, including the cameraman.
In the 2004 remake of The Ladykillers, our ragtag bunch of incompetent criminals (a common Coen Brothers theme) led by professor G.H. Dorr (Tom Hanks) gathers at the Waffle Hut to fine-tune the schematics of their casino heist. After bringing his lady friend along to the meeting, the judgment of the tastily named Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons) is questioned.
In Groundhog Day, the local diner in Punxsutawney is particularly diner-y with waitresses named Doris and Alice and patrons with names like Gus. Cheer up, Bill Murray. There are worse fates than being doomed to eat at the same diner every day.
In Mel Brook's Spaceballs, the diner is some sort of hybrid of 50's diner and truck stop ... but in space. The special is not recommended.