MULTIPLE SPOILER WARNINGS! (Fried Green Tomatoes, Citizen Kane, Memento, Fight Club, The Usual Suspects, The Sixth Sense)
A Whalenism, usually applied to films, derived from the twist at the end of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (1991), in which the body of the murdered Frank Bennett is barbecued (in a frying pan) to conceal the evidence from the police investigation. As Ninny Threadgoode says, "That frying pan did more than fry chicken that night." The meat is actually served to the Georgia police detective Sheriff Curtis Smoote (played by Raynor Scheine) who is investigating the case. He thinks it tastes so good, in fact, that he unknowingly eats a number of portions of the very evidence he is seeking. On enquiring why it tastes so good, he is told "The secret's in the sauce."
Sipsey (Cicely Tyson) kills Frank Bennett (Nick Searcy) by hitting him over the head with a frying pan.
"The secret's in the sauce."
That ain't no ordinary barbecue...
Can you spot The Frying Pan?
"The Frying Pan" used more generally therefore refers to any secret or obscure plot twist or denouement that may not be obvious to the more dim-witted members of the movie audience (usually my father, Sandy), who "doesn't always see The Frying Pans". He famously didn't realize on first viewing that Frank Bennett was the meat being barbecued.
Other examples of Frying Pans might be the sled Rosebud, which acts as the MacGuffin in Citizen Kane (1941); the notion that Leonard might be deliberately deceiving himself and taking advantage of his own short-term memory loss in Memento (2000); the twist at the end of Fight Club (1999) that reveals the narrator as a schizophrenic, whose alter ego is Tyler Durden; who is Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects (1995); that Bruce Willis is dead in The Sixth Sense (1999); und so weiter, und so weiter.