the cinematographic origin of ‘to cut to the chase’


Keystone cops

Keystone Cops
photograph: Shades of gray



Of American-English origin, the phrase to cut to the chase means to come to the point.

In cinematography, to cut a film is to make it into a coherent whole by removing parts or placing them in a different order. To cut to is to make a quick transition from one shot to the next, so that to cut to the chase is to cut to a chase scene, hence to cut to an interesting or fast-paced part of a film, deleting less exciting scenes.

In this cinematographic sense, to cut to the chase first appeared in print in Simon and Schuster present the super-colossal wonder picture epoch of this or any other century, Hollywood girl (1929) published in New York by Simon and Schuster and written by Joseph Patrick McEvoy (1897-1958):

… that’s all with a lot of sound and effects and love is just a big gag socko she’s in love hit her in the heart with a custard pie klunk that’s a laugh isn’t that a wow now we cut to the chase she’s after him he’s after her he hides…
Cut to closeup of grass rope burning. She breaks away. Bongo drum beats faster—BOOM BOOM BOOMBOOM BOOM ! ! ! Girl flees thru jungle, on trail to white trader’s shack. Shot, Chaney in plaster cast, chewing orchids. Cut to chase.
Open with closeup of white legs dancing. More white legs, lots of legs. Lap into saxophones. Plant theme song. Quick flashes, breasts, hips, legs.
Jannings escapes―I’ll figure it out later . . . Cut to chase.

The phrase was used figuratively for example in A Lost Letter, a 2002 translation by Christian Saileanu of O Scrisoare pierduta, written in 1884 by the Romanian playwright Ion Luca Caragiale (1852-1912). It is a comic satire about political corruption, which explores the victory of a blackmailer in a provincial government election. This translation contains the following dialogue between William Hansom, Governor, and Nick Yapper, attorney:

– Yapper: Most distinguished sir, you say your heart is on your sleeve… So is mine… I, for one, am a man who likes to get to the bottom of things, to cut! to! the! chase! (Cuts the air with his hand.)
– Hansom: (stamping his foot impatiently): My good sir, I’ll try once again… (enunciating) What do you want in exchange for that letter! Cut! to! the! chase! (Mimics Yapper’s gesture of cutting the air with his hand.)
– Yapper: well… If that’s the way you want it, to cut to the chase, here it is: I want (pleadingly) you to stay out of the fray, or even better, I want you to endorse my candidacy…

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