Great Typewriter Scenes

As someone who well remembers what it was like to compose and express thoughts using a typewriter, seeing an old Royal or Corona pop up in a movie is always fun. These are some of my favorite film typewriter moments. Clickety-clack!



Thank goodness we had the typewriter scene early in “Slaughterhouse-Five.” Getting across the trippy, time-hopping aspect of Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novel would have been rough without it. These days, it probably would have been done with a narrator, which isn’t nearly as effective as reading over Billy Pilgrim’s shoulder that he was “unstuck in time.”



This great newspaper story is made all the more real because of the constant clatter of words being typed. You see Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman feverishly converting their intricate reporting into sentences and the movie culminates in a series of paragraphs typed across the screen.



How about a magical typewriter? That’s what Paul Dano has in “Ruby Sparks.” He types up a soul mate for himself – and she comes to life.



Ben Kingsley says it exquisitely in “Schindler’s List.” “This list … is an absolute good. This list is life. All around its margins lies the gulf.” Indeed, the power and urgency of names typed on sheets of paper has never seemed so real.



Now for something unreal. In “Naked Lunch,” a typewriter isn’t just a collection of metal parts daring you to write; it’s a feisty bug with an attitude. What writer hasn’t felt this way on occasion?

MISERY (1990)


Talk about deadline pressure. James Caan is an injured novelist forced to work under the watchful eye of a deranged fan, played memorably by Kathy Bates. There’s plenty of physical pain in “Misery,” and I’m not just talking about how tough a Royal typewriter can be on the pinky fingers.



For delightful silliness, there’s nothing better than watching Jerry Lewis type on an imaginary typewriter. Complete with typing sounds and music, Jerry is a total keystroke maestro.



In this beautiful little character study from a few years ago, Frank Langella is an aging fiction writer coming to grips with family, mortality, loneliness and a novel that just isn’t right. His typewriter is a sacred object, to be treated with respect and reverence. The rest of his life isn’t quite so tidy.



Anyone who bemoans the hassle of lugging around a laptop would do well to see Rosalind Russell putting a typewriter through its paces in “His Girl Friday.” She writes just as fast as she talks – which is pretty damned fast – and her faithful machine appears to weigh as much as a block of cement.



“Saving Private Ryan” has a couple of compelling typewriter moments. One is when Tom Hanks recruits a kid for a dangerous mission, and the young man attempts to bring his typewriter with him. It’s movie shorthand for saying that there are some jobs that can’t be accomplished with words. But in another scene, we see rows of women typing condolence letters to families who have lost a loved one to the war. That’s movie shorthand for saying sometimes words are the only comfort we have.



It would take a much smarter individual than me to piece together all of the symbolism and meanings of “Barton Fink.” It’s a moody mix of creative angst, murder, sex, religion and the value of artistic integrity. Fink (John Turturro) is a New York playwright lured out to Hollywood to write movie scripts in the 1940s. For much of the film, he painfully sits in his hotel room, unable to writer. Another character calls him a “tourist with a typewriter.”



In a much lighter vein, you have Greg Kinnear’s nostalgic love of typewriters in “You’ve Got Mail.” His character is something of a pompous windbag, too enamored with his own observations, but he does have a point when it comes to the sweet sound of typing.



Only Stanley Kubrick could make a stack of typed pages this scary. Poor Shelley Duvall knows that her husband (Jack Nicholson) has been acting crazy, but she doesn’t truly understand the severity of the situation until she goes into the room where he writes. She finds hundreds of sheets repeating the same phrase: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Yikes!

Frankly, I don’t see why there can’t be a typewriter tossed into every movie. It definitely would have helped “John Carter.”