The Bad Boys of Baltimore: 35 Years Later, Ten Quotes from “Diner”


by C. Shardae Jobson

In 1982, Barry Levinson‘s Diner, the first installment of his “Baltimore Films” was released in movie theaters. The quintet of young male actors cast for the film was the original Outsiders as far as most of them would go on to star in bigger, notable work of the 1980s and ’90s. Yes, that is Kevin Bacon‘s impish grin you’re seeing. The beginning of what was a decade-long run of Steve Guttenberg‘s boyish charm seduction. Hey, look, Paul Reiser in a supporting role! Then there’s the palpable sex appeal of Mickey Rourke before the stark plastic surgery due to boxing (It has since softened post his Oscar nomination for 2008’s The Wrestler). Oh, and how endearing it is that Ellen Barkin was just as mouthy and adorable to watch in one of her earliest roles.

Taking place in Baltimore, MD during the last week of 1959, Diner followed this close group of friends as they prepared to send off Eddie Simmons (Guttenberg) in marriage. Levinson’s script could be classified as “coming of age”, though this usually applies to protagonists of the teenage set. Upon the dawn of the turbulent 1960s and as twenty-somethings, Diner is an earnest, wise-cracking take on growing up for real. Beyond the high school years.

Simmons is the second in the group to be a groom and all of them are a little antagonistic about their “average” turning points. Sure, they want to get married, but it sucks that that’s what society expects of them, taking the fun out of making their own choices. To act juvenile or conniving was a riot last year. But how rewarding is it knowing it feels like a last resort to prove oneself or your individuality? And girlfriends of past dalliances are flames that take just as long to die hard as old habits do. These Baltimore boys, who are everyday Joes–not even beatniks!– have a lot to discuss.

The movie is called Diner after local spot Hilltop, the meeting place of a lot of their greatest talks and meals. It is also a constant reminder of “back then.”

Diner had a modest run at the box office back in 1982. Critics loved it and in hindsight has been admired for its natural dialogue, a lot of which was reportedly improvised, and again, its cast that would become household names. In a retrospective published in Vanity Fair for its 30th anniversary in 2012, the sub-headline of the article, written by S.L. Price, included that it was “a movie about nothing at all, really” yet “caused a tectonic shift in popular culture.” The definition of tectonic? It’s a fancy way of saying Levinson’s semi-autobiographical film made an impression. (And the selection of that word is provocative, as surely only cinephiles felt that way for many years and the film still doesn’t roll off the tongue of most).

In now having viewed Diner in full, to celebrate its 35th anniversary this year, here are ten quotes I found immensely memorable. And where do you stand on Presley versus Mathis?

  1. “I’m married. We don’t make out.”
  2. “I heard he’s going to law school.” / “Yeah? Well, that’s what I’m talking about. You call that an honest buck?” (Laughs)
  3. “It’s not like I’m doing it [marrying her] just to make her happy. The hell with that.”
  4. “You’re confusing a friendship with a woman…and love. It is not the same.”
  5. “Where’d you get this attitude from?” / “Borrowed. I used to have it back by midnight.”
  6. “I’ll hit you so hard, I’ll kill your whole family.”
  7. “When I listen to my records, they take me back to certain points in my life, okay? Just don’t touch my records, ever.”
  8. “I don’t have any sense of myself anymore. I don’t know what I am. I don’t know if I’m pretty…I have no sense of me.”
  9. “The whole thing with girls is painful. And it doesn’t seem to get easier.”
  10. “If you don’t got good dreams, you’ve got nightmares.”

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