Monday, December 5, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Playback (Raymond Chandler's Unknown Thriller) - Danger Looms

[Quick Summary: Woman on the run meets a charming man on a train to Canada, but becomes suspect #1 when he ends up dead.]

In 1948, Universal Pictures paid Chandler for this script, but never made it.*

It isn't the strongest script (for several reasons in the forward here).

However, I liked that the script knows exactly what it is, i.e., it is a thriller, and delivers the hallmarks of a thriller.

One hallmark is that danger looms for someone (usually the protagonist).

Chandler does a nice job of never letting it fade, even in a flirting scene:

ex. "MITCHELL: (to Betty) Would you care to see the Seattle paper?

Betty turns slowly, stares at him.

BETTY: No thanks. I've seen Seattle.
MITCHELL: My name's Larry MItchell. I live at Vancouver.

Betty says nothing.

MITCHELL: Same as an hour ago. Remember? I'm the steady type.
BETTY: (coldly) I'm afraid there's nothing I can do about it, Mr. Mitchell.

CAMERA NOW HAS MOVED IN CLOSE ENOUGH TO EXCLUDE THE OTHER ROOMETTES COMPLETELY.

MITCHELL: You could tell me your name. And where you're going.
BETTY: How far does this train go?
MITCHELL: Vancouver, B.C.
BETTY: I'm going to Vancouver, Mr. Mitchell.

She picks up a magazine adn opens it, ignoring him.

MITCHELL: O.K. Be rugged.

He turns, starts out, then looks back at her.

MITCHELL: You're next for the Immigration and Customs. I trust your papers are all in order.

Betty looks up quickly and cannot conceal a startled expression. Mitchell reacts. CAMERA PULLS BACK as he comes out into corridor, looks toward the roomette in which the officals are, then turns toward the next roomette and goes into it....

Canadian officials then go on to Betty's roomette, enter.

CANADIAN IMMIGRATION OFFICIAL: Your name, please.
BETTY: Betty -- Mayfield.

There is a perceptible hesitation which the immigration official notices.

OFFICIAL: Betty Mayfield. Miss or Mrs.?

Mitchell is seen in his roomette, standing near the door listening.

BETTY: Miss Mayfield.
OFFICIAL: And where were you born, Miss Mayfield?
BETTY: New York City.

The official is a little suspicious. He looks down at Betty's hands which are clasped in her lap.

OFFICIAL: I see you are wearing a wedding ring.
BETTY: I've been married. My husband -- (she breaks off and bites her lip)
INSPECTOR: Then I take it Mayfield was not your married name?

He is very polite, but is building up to asking for some identification papers. On this cue, Mitchell comes out of his roomette, crosses, enters Betty's roomette. CAMERA MOVES IN.

MITCHELL: I've wired ahead to --

He breaks off, turns to Inspector, recognizes him.

MITCHELL: Inspector Gillette, isn't it? I'm Larry Mitchell. We've met before, several times.

He takes out wallet adn holds it out to Inspector.

MITCHELL: I cross the border so often I carry an identification card.
INSPECTOR: (glancing at card) Yes, I remember you, Mr. Mitchell. (glancing at Betty) You know this lady?
MITCHELL: Very well. Since 1940, at least. I met her --let me see -- it was New York City, wasn't it, Betty?

Betty nods silently. Inspector turns back to her, handing Mitchell's wallet back.

INSPECTOR: (to Betty) How long do you expect to be in Canada, Miss Mayfield?
BETTY: Oh -- a month.
INSPECTOR: (making up his mind): Thank you. I hope you have a pleasant trip.

He turns away, starts out."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Thrillers are about keeping the tension cranking, even in the funny/romantic/quiet scenes.

Playback (Raymond Chandler's Unknown Thriller, published 1985)
by Raymond Chandler

*It was essentially "lost" until someone discovered it in the Universal archives in the 1980s.

Monday, November 28, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Candidate (1972) - Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts

[Quick Summary: A CA legal aid attorney attempts a senatorial campaign to talk about issues, knowing very well that he'll probably lose against the incumbent.]

Before tv was commonly used to shape public opinion in campaigns...

Before there was campaign finance (1972) and this film...

A journalist named Jeremy Larner was the speechwriter for McCarthy (1968).  He wrote a book,* and this prescient script.

In this film, Robert Redford plays an attorney who wants to talk about issues...except no one else does. His campaign staff wants photo ops (that tell half the story).  The media want sound bites (that sound better than his real responses).

He is worn down little by little, like a death by a thousand paper cuts.

I loved how we do not notice the candidate's gradual slide at first.

The writer creates situations where small compromises are required...and another...and another. Soon, the candidate is in a pit and doesn't know how.**

Here is one such innocent "paper cut":

ex."INT. McKAY HOUSE.

McKay comes in the front door and stops short. Photographer's lights are set up on a stand. Two men stand there.

McKAY: What you doing in my house?
WRITER: I'm having an affair with your wife.
McKAY: Huh?
WRITER: She said if you came in I should say I was a writer from Parade, but you don't believe that.

Nancy emerges from bedroom in riding pants, with crop and felt riding helmet.

NANCY: Oh Bill, this is Mr. Shearer, Bill, and this is Mr. Scott.
McKAY: (shaking hands) From Parade.
WRITER: I trust this is the beginning of a life-long affinity.
McKAY: It's the beginning of something, anyhow. Can you excuse us a minute, gentlemen?
WRITER: Certainly, certainly.

McKay and Nancy step to the side.

McKAY: What's going on?
NANCY: They want to photograph me riding.
McKAY: You haven't worn that stuff in years.
NANCY: You haven't worn that dark suit in years.

McKay starts to walk away, turns back to her.

McKAY: Just not in the house, Nancy. Get those guys out of the house.
NANCY: I was doing it for you.

Nancy starts to cry, turns away, walks back into the kitchen....

McKay follows her into the kitchen - takes her loosely in his arms, comforts her awkwardly. We can see by the way he touches her he is irritated and put off."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: These small compromises really do add up.

The beauty is that they seem so inconsequential at the time...until we pull back to see the big picture 

The Candidate (1972)
by Jeremy Larner

*Nobody Knows: Reflections on the McCarthy Campaign of 1968 (1970)

** It's like a frog in a pot.  It doesn't notice the water is getting warmer, nor when it boils to death.

Monday, November 21, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Arthur (1981) - Zingers Can Clue Into Something Deeper

[Quick Summary: A young drunkard must marry his "family approved" fiancee in order to keep his fortune, but then he falls in love with a poor actress.]

Awhile ago, my interest was piqued after reading this:
...whenever I begin writing a screenplay I always reread one of his. It’s called ARTHUR.
I went looking for any script by Steve Gordon, and/or an Arthur final script.

I found the former,* but couldn't find the latter...until now.

Arthur is the funniest, sharpest, cleverest comedy script that I've read in forever.

What sets it apart? The funniest lines aren't just jokes for a sound bite.  The zingers point to character stuff - pain, loss, humor, loneliness - i.e., clues to something deeper.

Below is our first introduction to Arthur.  Note the funny reactions of the minor characters (Bitterman and Girl) clue us in that something deeper stirs.

ex. "One of the girls approaches the car. In the front seat, the driver in full chauffeur's dress stares straight ahead.  This is BITTERMAN, a black man in his forties. The back seat of the limo has a bar, TV set, a refrigerator and almost every device known for mixing a drink. The girl is GLORIA.

GLORIA: What did you have in mind?

ARTHUR: VD! I'm really into penicillin! (he laughs) Now...that's funny!

Gloria stares at him.

ARTHUR:  I know this is last minute. (he laughs) Ahh ...I finally heard someone laughing. Oh...it was me. What I have in mind...is spending the evening with a stranger who loves me.

GLORIA: It's going to cost you a hundred dollars.

ARTHUR: Oh yeah ...what time do you get off work? (he laughs) I'm kidding. If you laugh a little I throw in nylons and Hershey bars. Let's make it two hundred. But I will ask you to Simonize my car.

Gloria stares at him.

ARTHUR: (looking at her staring) Tell me ...has there been a death in your family? This is funny stuff here.

GLORIA: Who are you?

ARTHUR: I'm rich. That's who I am. Get in the car.

[Gloria gets in.] Arthur pushes a button to talk to the driver.

ARTHUR: (to Bitterman) Bitterman, give her friend a hundred dollars. She came in second.

Bitterman gets out of the car. He approaches the other hooker and gives her a hundred dollars.

GIRL: (to Bitterman) Who is that guy?

BITTERMAN: I'd rather not say.

GIRL: I think I know. I've seen his picture in the paper. That's Arthur Bach...isn't it?

BITTERMAN: Uh...what if it is?

GIRL: Is there something wrong with him?

BITTERMAN: Yes."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I read somewhere that Gordon packed "more jokes per page than anyone else."  Now I realize they're not just jokes, but clues pointing us to deeper character stuff.

Arthur (1981)
Written and directed by Steve Gordon

*I was lucky enough to see the special collection mentioned in that blog post.  It is phenomenal, and includes an early draft of Arthur, as well as scripts from The Practice (1976-77) with Danny Thomas.

Monday, November 14, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: On Golden Pond (1981) - Not Over Explaining a Mean Character

[Quick Summary: A crotchety old dad and sweet mom arrive at their summer home, and become hosts to the teen age son of their daughter's boyfriend.]

I am not interested in mean characters who are only mean in order to get their way.

I am not interested in those types of "one note" characters.

They are predictable, boring, and worst of all, unrealistic.

However, I am interested in characters who are acting mean (either consciously or unconsciously) for complicated reasons:

In this script, Norman (Henry Fonda) is a sour and indignant grouch. He's got a critical tongue, borne with humor by his very nice wife (Katherine Hepburn).
 
Norman is mad that he might be losing his senility. He also doesn't express his feelings well, which has estranged him from his daughter (Jane Fonda).

I loved that the writer did not try to over explain Norman's motives to the readers.* 

Why does he flare out at his wife? Why is he mean, then nice to young Billy?

I am not 100% sure.  He is a messy, and very realistic, person.

In the scene below, note how fast happy turns sour (quick emotional turns):

ex. "He tries on more hats, one of which he'll wear for the rest of the scene.

ETHEL: My father got him for me on my fourth birthday. I wanted a red scooter, but my father said red scooters were excessive and contrary to the ways of the Lord. He told me I'd understand when I got older. Well, I'm a lot older now and I'm afraid I still don't understand. But he gave me Elmer [a doll]. And Elmer and I, the times we've had. He was my first true love, you know.

NORMAN: I've known all along I wasn't the first in line.

ETHEL: No, you were a rather cheap substitute for my darling Elmer. And now he's had a fall, poor dear.

NORMAN: Maybe he was trying to kill himself. Maybe he wants to be cremated. Probably got cancer or termites or something.

ETHEL: Are you hungry, darling?

NORMAN: No. It wouldn't be a bad way to go, huh? A quick front flip off the mantel, a bit of a kick at the last minute, and end up right in the fire. Nothing to it.

ETHEL: Shut up, Norman!

NORMAN: When my number's up, do that for me, would you? Prop me up on the mantel adn point out which way is down. I may even try for a full gainer with a half twist.

ETHEL: Norman Thayer, will you shut up? Your fascination with dying is beginning to frazzle my good humor.

NORMAN: It's not a fascination. It just crosses my mind now and then.

ETHEL: Every five minutes. Don't you have anything else to think about?

NORMAN: Nothing quite as interesting.

ETHEL: Well, what's stopping you? Why don't you take your dive and get it over with? See what it's like?

NORMAN: And leave you alone with Elmer? You must be mad.

ETHEL: Oh, for pity's sake. Come along with me and let's get the canoe off the porch."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  Lay out the truth, but don't over explain the character.

On Golden Pond (1981)
by Ernest Thompson (based on his play)

*In today's scripts, I do not like the trend of over justifying or over explaining what a character does or does not do.

[Similarly:  There can't be loose ends.  Everything must have a concrete answer.] 

This isn't realistic! Life is messy, and you don't always get answers.

Monday, November 7, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Sounder (1972) - Showing Emotional Growth

[Quick Summary: In the 1930s, a young Louisiana black boy grows up with a desire to learn, despite set-backs, on his family's share-cropping farm.]

I've read a lot of scripts in my day.  Good ones. Great ones. Bad ones.

This makes me suspicious of any hard sell,* so I won't try any on you.

However, I will say that there's a lost art in these "Best American" scripts, of which Sounder is one.

Ebert says it best:
The story is so simple because it involves, not so much what people do, but how they change and grow. Not a lot happens on the action level, but there's tremendous psychological movement in "Sounder," and hardly ever do movies create characters who are so full and real, and relationships that are so loving. [my emphasis]
Today's scripts seem to rely on empty action gimmicks: "More set pieces! More explosions! Flashy!"  Too often, I remember the gimmicks and none of the story.

The art of Sounder is that it does have action, but it serves (and not overshadows) the emotional growth.

In the scene below, note:

- There's not much action-y stuff, but it's an important emotional turning point.

- The writer chose images that best conveys how we feel in this heavy moment (sheriff avoids eye contact, kids crying, husband and wife eye-to-eye, saying a silent good-bye, etc.):

ex.  "The sound of the truck is heard moving up close to the house and stopping. Rebecca moves away from Josie Mae and Earl, and stops directly in the face of Sheriff Young.

REBECCA: You been knowin' Nathan for a long time, Sheriff Young, and you now what kind of man he is, and you know the trouble we face in these off-seasons.

The sheriff cannot look her in the face - he walks away from her and everyone, and just looks out over the fields - then finally he motions with his hand to the two deputies, standing at Nathan's side to put him into the truck. They lift him up into the truck as Josie Mae, standing up on the porch with Earl, starts to cry softly as Rebecca moves to the edge of the vehicle, real close to Nathan's face. She kisses him lightly on the mouth, and then they just look on each other for awhile, in a way they knew and loved each other so well. Then in a physical, tough manner, Rebecca turns away and walks up on the porch with Josie Mae and Earl.... [Note her emotional maturity here.]

The truck starts to pull away - David lets go of his grip on Sounder, and makes a dash out into the road.  [Contrasted to David's immaturity here.]

DAVID LEE: Don't take my Daddy! Please don't take my Daddy!

REBECCA: David, come back here!"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: One way to show emotional growth:

- First, writing an emotionally laden scene with a fork in the road (as above).
- Then in the NEXT scene, it will be natural for David Lee to build upon it (maturing), or refuse to do so (tragedy).

Sounder (1972)
by Lonne Elder III
Based on the Newbery medal winning novel by William H. Armstrong

* For more explanation, read this screenwriter's tiprant on a newbie who was "very, very, very enthusiastic" about his script and selling hard.

Also, it reminds us that relationships are everything, and explains why bragging too hard about your script might damage them: "This might be a great script but the prospect of dealing with you is nauseating."

Monday, October 31, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Bonnie & Clyde (1967) - How Relationships Deepen Characters

[Quick Summary: In the 1930s, Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow, and their gang rob banks and leave a trail of frightened locals.]

This script is unusual:

- It is a character study.
- It has a female co-lead.
- It still is discussed, thought it was released 51 years ago.
- It still is a script that I would buy today.
- It still is better than 90% of the scripts that I see today.

So, you may ask, "What makes this script stand out?"

For me, it is the unusual focus on character relationships, even with minor ones, that give the audience a fuller picture of what drives Bonnie and/or Clyde.

[This is a great contrast to many of today's scripts which are so, so focused on plot because that's what you can put in the trailers.*  Too much plot = I get bored.]

ex. Clyde could be a stock character, but how he handles relationships deepens him. 

In the scene below, Buck and his wife Blanche are driving to meet Clyde.  What kind of robber stirs up this kind of joy?  Is he really that bad?

"BLANCHE: All right, now you did foolish things as a young man, honey-love, but you went and paid your debt to society and that was right. But now you just gettin' back in with the criminal element.

BUCK: Criminal element! This is my brother, darlin'. Shoot, he ain't no more criminal than you are, Blanche.

BLANCHE: Well, that ain't what I heard.

BUCK: Now word of mouth just don't go, darlin', you gotta have the facts. Shoot. Why he and me growed up together, slept and worked side by side. (laughing). God, what a boy he was!

BLANCHE: He's a crook.

BUCK: (chidingly) Now you stop bad mouthin' him, Blanche. We're just gonna have us a little family visit for a few weeks and then we'll go back to Dallas and I'll get me a ob somewheres. I just ain't gonna work in your Daddy's church - That's final. (laughing it off, singing)....

EXT. CABIN. The front of the motel. Day.

Buck's car drives up to the cabin, honking the horn wildly. The door of the cabin opens and Clyde comes running out. He is overjoyed to see his brother. Buck jumps out of the car, equally delighted. They hug each other.

CLYDE: (hugging him) Buck!
BUCK: Clyde! You son of a bitch!

They laugh happily and begin sparring with each other, faking punches and blocking punches - an old childhood ritual. There is a great feeling of warmth between the two brothers. Clyde is more outgoing than we have ever seen him before."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Relationships can present hidden sides of a character. They can also change our opinion of him/her.

Bonnie & Clyde (1967)
by David Newman & Robert Benton

* Here's the trailer for this film. Note the focus on the relationships.

Monday, October 24, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Rebel Without a Cause (1955) - "Boxing In" Characters; Subtext

[Quick Summary: After a troubled teen moves to a new town, he's challenged to a drag race and everything quickly spirals out of control.]

I am impressed by this script.

Apparently, writer Stewart Stern had a reputation for the "psychological depth of his screen-writing."*  I can now attest that he deserved it.

I like how Stern "boxes in" characters to bring forth emotions, especially through subtext.

In the scene below:

a) Jim is at the police station waiting for his parents (boxed into a tense situation).

b) Father, Mother, and Grandma show up in evening clothes. [Grandma went with the parents on an evening out?!]  Grandma speaks all in subtext.
 
ex. "FATHER: ...You hear all this talk about not loving your kids enough. We give you lvoe and affection, don't we? (silence; Jim is fighting his emotion but his eyes grow wet). Then what is it? I can't even touch you anymore but you pull away. I want to understand you. Why'd you get drunk? You must have had a reason. (Jim stares straight ahead, trying not to listen). Was it because we went to that party? (silence). You know what kind of drunken brawls those parties turn into - it's no place for kids.

MOTHER: A minute ago you said you didn't care if he drinks.

GRANDMA: He said a little drink. [She contradicts mother in subtext.]

JIM (exploding): You're tearing me apart!

MOTHER: What?

JIM: Stop tearing me apart! you say one thing and he says another and then everybody changes back -  [The pent up anger from tensions at home explodes into the open.]

MOTHER: That's a fine way to behave!

GRANDMA (smiling): Well you know who he takes after!" [Her behavior adds fuel to the conflict.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Characters often have to be "boxed in" for those underlying emotions to erupt.  It helps to have a Grandma egg them on too.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
by Stewart Stern
Adaption by Irving Shulman
From a story by Nicholas Ray

*Also, he wrote the mini-series Sybil (1976).  Need I say more?

** In the 1950s, scripts often included a list the characters with a short description of their characteristics. This is the description of Grandma:

"JIM'S GRANDMA: A chic, domineering woman in her sixties who has made her son Frank dependent upon her for every breath he takes. She is the irritant in the household - the silent ruler - the silent enemy of Frank's marriage."

Monday, October 17, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Miracle on 34th Street (1947) - "Platinum Unicorn"; Multiple POV

[Quick Summary: The real Kris Kringle is hired to be Macy's Santa, but doubters try to get him institutionalized at a court hearing.]

I rarely stumble across a unicorn like this script.

I'd consider it "a unicorn" for any one of the following reasons: *

- It's a double Oscar winner for story AND script.
- It's an Oscar winning comedy.
- It's a strong ensemble comedy.
- It's a funny, fun, deep, four quadrant page turner that reads extremely fast.
- It's got it all: comedy, adventure, romance, suspense, heart, uplifting message.
- It's stood the test of time: a beloved, almost 60 yr. old film that's still shown.

One thing that sets this script apart is its creative use of the ensemble:

1) It isn't limited to one point of view, i.e., we are not always with the protagonist.

2) Despite multiple POVs, there is unity: They all are about Kris Kringle.
- ex. In chambers, the judge speaks to a supporter about the Kringle case.
- ex. In the post office, two postal workers talk about all the mail to the Kringle. 

3) Each point of view is chosen for a reason (reaction, counterpoint, etc.)

- ex. Kringle has been advising customers to go to other stores for hard-to-find toys.  Now we switch to Shellhammer's POV (the manager).

Why do we switch?
a) To show the reaction and effect of Kringle's actions.
b) AND amazingly enough, it also furthers the story.

"INT. SANTA CLAUS FLOOR - DAY

...KRIS'S VOICE: - oh yes we have skates and they're very good - (Shellhammer smiles) - but they're not quite what your boy wants - (Shellhammer frowns) - I'd suggest that you go to Gimbel's, they have exactly what you're looking for.

At the mention of Gimbel's, Shellhammer immediately goes into a state of shock. He stands rigid, dumbfounded - sending customers to their arch rival Gimbel is too much for the human mind to comprehend. He begins to tremble and mutter "Gimbel's" unbelievingly to himself. Now, as the full impact of it all hits him, he moves forward with murder in his heart.

ANGLE - DAIS. Kris and a woman in f.g. Shellhammer is seen coming around the corner of dais menacingly. Shellhammer is all set to commit Santacide but realizes it's impossible in front of so many witnesses. He stalks off, frustrated and angry.

ANGLE - Shellhammer walking - Trucking shot. He is still muttering "Gimbel's" to himself furiously. Now the character of the Mother (we have seen previously with Kris) stops him.

MOTHER: Pardon me, but the guard over there said I was to speak to you. You the head of the toy department?

SHELLHAMMER: (he hasn't got time) Yes madam, but at the moment I'm --

MOTHER: (going right in) I want to congratulate you and Macy's on this new stunt you're doin'. (Shellhammer looks puzzled) Imagine sending people to other stores - I - I don't get it. It's - it's -

SHELLHAMMER: (weakly) It certainly is.

MOTHER: You said it. To think that a big store like this puts the spirit of Christmas ahead of commercial - it's - it's wonderful I never done much shopping here but believe me from now on I'm a regular Macy customer!"
  
WHAT I'VE LEARNED: My whole day changed after reading this script. Amazing.

Also, I was never confused or lost, despite the multiple POVs.  I credit that to a strong unifying center, and well-chosen POVs.    

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Written and directed by George Seaton
Adapted from an original story by Valentine Davies

*Since this script is ALL of the below, I deem this a "platinum unicorn."

Monday, October 10, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Meet John Doe (1941) - The Push & Pull of an Angel and the Devil

[Quick Summary: A hobo is paid to pretend to be John Doe, a disgruntled citizen, and stirs up a media frenzy that he becomes more than he can handle.]

This script must've been a bear to craft.

How do you show internal moral conflict? Externalize it.

Here, the protagonist (John Doe) has both an angel (Colonel) and the devil (Ann).

Ann is a newspaper columnist who makes up a fictional citizen, John Doe, who everyone wants to meet. She hires a John, a hobo (and former minor league player).

You can see why John is torn between Ann vs. the Colonel:

A) John falls for Ann, and the newspaper offers surgery to repair his throwing arm:

ex.  "CONNELL: ...Now I want you to sign this agreement. It gives us an exclusive story under your name day by day from now until Christmas. On December twenty-sixth, you get one railroad ticket out of town, and the Bulletin agrees to pay to have your arm fixed. That's what you want, isn't it?

JOHN: Yeah, but it's got ot be by bone-setter Brown.

CONNELL: Okay, bone-setter Brown goes."

B) The Colonel is looking out for John's best interests:

ex. "JOHN: (as he goes) Hey, stop worrying, Colonel. Fifty bucks ain't going to ruin me.

COLONEL: I seen plenty of fellers start out with fifty bucks and wind up with a bank account!

BEANY: (can't stand it any more) Hey, whatsa matter with a bank account, anyway?

COLONEL: (ignoring him) And let me tell you, Long John. When you become a guy with a bank account, they got you. Yessir, they got you!

BEANY: Who's got him?

COLONEL: The heelots!"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I liked how the push and pull between Ann vs. the Colonel externalizes the battle inside John Doe.

Meet John Doe (1941)
by Robert Riskin
Based on the story by Richard Connell and Robert Presnell

Monday, October 3, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) - A Personal Toll

[Quick Summary: A schoolboy impulsively joins the army, and learns the harsh realities of WWI. ]

I don't like scripts that want to hammer home a "lesson" about war.

This script accomplishes the impressive feat showing the personal cost of war without preaching.  It doesn't hide that war is expensive, exhausting, and stark.

I like how the toll is seen even in the small moments. No guns or explosions needed.

(I do not like that this script is very long. Sigh.)

ex. "WESTHUS: (rising) I'd better get that strap fixed on my helmet.

He picks up a helmet. Detering rises, looks at him, then deliberately snatches the helmet out of his hand.

DETERING: What are you doing with that?
WESTHUS: Hey, what's the joke?
DETERING: Will you let my helmet alone?
WESTHUS:Whose helmet? That's mine!
DETERING: (pointing to another helmet) There's yours, with the broken strap!
WESTHUS: All right. Don't fight a war about it.
DETERING: You wanted to hand me the broken strap, that's all!
WESTHUS: (Drawing back his arm as if to strike) You're crazy!
DETERING: Let him alone, Jaie!

He strikes Westhus, who takes the blow without flinching, looks hard at Detering and fails to strike back. Paul and Kat drag Detering away from Westhus and set him down near the wall. He makes no resistance, and begins to sob.

WESTHUS: He's crazy.
DETERING: Well, what if I am?
KAT: (to Paul) What's the matter with him?
PAUL: (to Kat) He got a letter today. He wants to get back to his farm.
KAT: We'd all like to get back, if it comes to that.
DETERING: A woman can't run a farm alone. That's no good, you know -no matter how hard she works. Here's the harvest coming round again --

Detering suddenly gets up and goes out, unable to control himself."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: To get across a large concept ("war is hell") without preaching, look to the small moments to show the toll on the characters.

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
by Maxwell Anderson, George Abbott, and Del Andrews
Based on the book by Erich Maria Remarque