If a film is solidly well-made and affecting and eloquently written and acted, then it will acquire a reputation as a good or very good film. Nothing can ever take that basic fact away. But a film with one wrong scene — something miscalculated, under-sold, not quite there, overplayed — can take that film down a notch. It will always be haunted by “if only they hadn’t,” etc. Obviously a single tonal misstep can’t hurt that much but it can leave a bruise. In short, the flip side of the old Howard Hawks rule still applies. A first-rate movie has three great scenes, and no bad ones.
I got on this jag because a first-rate film I’ve just seen has one small wrongo. I’m not going to mention the film but I’m asking the readership for examples from the past. Name one scene in a universally praised film that could have been cut before the film opened, and without anyone noticing and the producers kind of glad that it’s gone and the star going, “Ahh, all right…I guess we didn’t need it.”
What is the essential quality of a wrongo in an otherwise excellent film? You’re not going to taste awfulness or mediocrity in a quality-level enterprise. What you might encounter, however, will be a scene that doesn’t need to be there. A scene that isn’t a necessary component but a “darling” — something that’s in the film because one of the principals is in love with it and doesn’t care if it contributes profoundly to the whole or not…it’s staying.