Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Scripting the West

I've mentioned in the past that . . .

. . . more than cinematography, headliners, casting, costumes, or direction, scripts are what make great Westerns great. Here are two tastes of what I mean. The first is from the classic, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid.

Scene: Butch and Sundance are contemplating their next move. Times are hard. Bank and train robbing in Wyoming ain't what it used to be. The boys need to look elsewhere.

Sundance: What's your idea this time?

Butch: Bolivia

Sundance: What's Bolivia?

Butch: Bolivia. That's a country, stupid. In Central or South America, one or the other.

Sundance: Why don't we just go to Mexico instead?

Butch: 'Cause all they got in Mexico is sweat and there's too much of that here. Look, if we'd been in business during the California Gold Rush, where would we have gone? California . . . right?

Sundance: Right.

Butch: So when I say Bolivia, you just think California. You wouldn't believe what they're finding in the ground down there. They're just fallin' into it. Silver mines, gold mines, tin mines, payrolls so heavy we'd strain ourselves stealin' 'em.

Sundance: You just keep thinkin', Butch. That's what you're good at.

Butch: Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.

My all-time favorite movie is Tombstone. For me, all the components for a fabulous film feast come together in this one. Early on, the movie's most compelling character, Doc Holliday (below), is introduced.

Scene: Saloon. Early morning. Quiet. Tension galore. Undefined menace in the air. In the all-night poker contest about to be concluded, Ed Bailey and friends have been taken to the cleaners by Dr. Holliday.

Ed Bailey:
(moves money forward) That's it, Holliday. Are you in or out?

Doc Holliday: Five hundred. Must be a peach of a hand. (to Kate, who brings him his 57th drink of the night) Oh, thank you, darlin'. Kate! You're not wearing a bustle. How lewd.

Ed: Come on, Holliday, you in or out, goddammit?

Doc: Why, Ed Bailey, you look like you're just about ready to burst.

Ed: Come on! Come on, show!

Doc: Well, I suppose I'm deranged, but I guess I'll just have to call. Cover your ears, darlin'. . . (shows hand) Isn't that a daisy?

Ed: Why, you son-of-a-bitch!

Bystander: Damn, Bailey, just settle down!

Ed: Shut up! (to Doc) Take your money and get out, 'cause I'm tired of listenin' to your mouth.

Why, Ed Bailey, are we cross (taps his pistol butt)?

Ed: Them guns don't scare me 'cause without them guns you ain't nothin' but a skinny lunger.

Doc: Ed, what an ugly thing to say. I abhor ugliness. Does this mean we're not friends anymore? You know, Ed, if I thought you weren't my friend, I just don't think I could bear it (places his pistols on the table). There. Now we can be friends again.

(Ed jumps Doc but soon discovers that the card-slick has more up his sleeve than aces. A dagger puts Ed out of his misery)