'Plaint of the Playwright

'Plaint of the Playwright

[ Monday, September 09, 2002 ]

Now, these aren't the best screenplays in the world (though some are), they're just some screenplays that I think are worth talking about.

So, here are...

Eight Movie Scripts.

1. The Silence Of The Lambs.
This is one of my favorite movie scripts, ever.

There are so many things about it to love, and this is easily Ted Tally's finest hour (he won best Oscar for his script).

My favorite moment in the script is a little after one of the greatest fake-outs in film history (when Gumb answers his doorbell):


as he continues his rummaging.

No, nothing at all. Has the FBI learned
something? Because the police here don't
seem to have the first clue...

Out of the folds of his kimono crawls a Death's-head Moth. It creeps slowly to the center of his back, raising its wings.

MR. GUMB (contd.)
Do you have his description yet, or
some fingerprints...?


unaware, is still glancing around the room. For several agonizing moments, we think she won't see the moth - but then she turns, does see it, and her eyes freeze. A beat of pure fear.

A tremendous struggle to keep her voice calm.

No... no, we don't.

Very carefully, she drops her notebook back into her bag, lowers the bag to the floor. With her fingertips she brushes back the edge of her blazer, loosening its drape.


turns back towards her cheerfully, holding out a business card.

Ahhh. Here's that number.


keeps her distance. They are about ten feet apart.

Good, thank you. Mr. Gordon, do you
have a phone I can use?


is about to reply when the moth suddenly flies up from behind him, flutters past his face. He turns, looking at it. He looks back at Clarice, his mouth still open.


are unmoving, locked on his.


stare back at her, widen.

And they know each other.

This version I've linked to is a little different in some ways to the script I initially read--the end is different from the theatrical version (and was changed, I think, for the better--although this ending is more fun).

Another noteworthy difference is the following note at the beginning of the script:


For legal reasons, the names of three of Tom Harris's characters have had to be changed. It is my hope, and certainly Tom's, that the original names can be restored in time for the making of this movie.

For the purposes of this draft, however, Jack Crawford has become "Ray Campbell," Frederick Chilton has become "Herbert Prentiss," and Dr. Hannibal Lecter is called "Dr. Gideon Quinn."

In case you're wondering why, it's because, as people are suprisingly just finding out now, "Silence Of The Lambs" is actually a sequel to another Harris book, "Red Dragon," which was made into a movie for DeLaurentis in 1986 called "Manhunter."

Since DeLaurentis owned the rights to the characters listed (as they were in the previous film), they eventually had to get permission.

Side note: DeLaurentis also owns the rights to the "Evil Dead" films, and essentially blackmailed Universal for a sequel to "Silence Of The Lambs" by holding up the release of "Army Of Darkness." Eventually, they relented, and currently the right remain with DeLaurentis (who went on to eventually do "Hannibal").

For those wondering why the book "Hannibal" is such an attrocity, it has been suggested that Harris wanted to sabotage the series just so people would stop bothering him about it.

Can't say as I totally blame him.

2. Taxi Driver.
Yeah, yeah, okay, so here's another great script.

It's great for many reasons, but not the least of which is this passage, after Betsy tells Travis to stop calling her, and he shows up at Senator Palantine's rally, looking like...

Well, read for yourself:

TRAVIS looks like the most suspicious human being alive.

His hair is cropped short, he wears mirror-reflecting glasses. His face is pallid and drained of color, his lips are pursed and drawn tight. He looks from side to side. One can now see the full effect of TRAVIS' lack of sleep and sufficient diet -- he looks sick and frail.

Even though it is a warm June day, TRAVIS is bundled up in a shirt, sweater and Army jacket buttoned from top to bottom. Under his jacket are several large lumps, causing his upper torso to look larger than it should. He is slightly hunched over and his hands shoved into his pockets.

Anyone scanning the crowd would immediately light upon TRAVIS and think, "There is an assassin."

Screenwriter Paul Schrader finds a lot of really cool way to describe Travis. Another selection:

Others would notice the breasts, the asses, the faces, but not TRAVIS: he notices the girl's hand that rubs the hair on her boyfriend's neck, the hand that hangs lightly on his shoulder, the nuzzling kiss in the ear.

People think that "Taxi Driver" is about violence, or fame, or even racism...but really, it's about loneliness.

Which may speak to why this movie touched with so many people.

3. Being John Malkovich.
This is one of those weird cases where I personally think that the script is four times funnier than the movie, but I agree with all the changes made.

This was a strange movie anyway, but the original script is even stranger.


--The three other jobs that Craig takes before working at floor 7 1/2.
--"My God, I'm Hitler in the bunker! Aaaahhhh! Aaaah! Oh, I'm just the actor in that Twilight Zone episode."
--The truth about Captain James Mertin. And refrigerator magnets.
--The puppetry smackdown between John Malkovich and a sixty-foot puppet of Harry S. Truman. With British accents.
--The inevitable Chares Nelson Reilly cameo.
--The inevitable Satan cameo.

The script starts differently than the movie, and then pretty much is the same thing, up until the final half when it goes berserk.

As screenwritiers go, Charlie Kaufman is a true original.

4. The Big Lebowski.
This script makes me laugh and laugh.

It's not my favorite Coen brothers movie (it's hard to pin down one favorite, really), but I never fail to chuckle out loud at this one.

Every conversation between The Dude, Walter, and (Shut The Fuck Up) Donny is worth its weight in white gold, but I like this one:

Walter sadly shakes his head.

Fucking Germans. Nothing changes.
Fucking Nazis.

They were Nazis, Dude?

Come on, Donny, they were threatening


Are you gonna split hairs?


Am I wrong?


They're nihilists.


They kept saying they believe in

Nihilists! Jesus.

Walter looks haunted.

Say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism,
Dude, at least it's an ethos.


And let's also not forget--let's not
forget, Dude--that keeping wildlife,
an amphibious rodent, for uh,
domestic, you know, within the city--
that isn't legal either.

I also gotta mention that I absolutely love John Goodman in the movie--I was actually hoping he'd be nominated for a best supporting role in the film. It's not like he's in it for all of it, but he brings so much to it that it saddens me that we'll probably never see a "The Further Adventures of Walter And The Dude."

5. Die Hard.
This really is a classic script, and a helluva good read.

What many people don't realize is that "Die Hard" is actually a sequel to another film called "The Detective," based on the book by Roderick Thorp.

Years after that film, Thorp was asked to write another book with that character (who, logically, would be much older--it's mentioned that he's a WWII vet). I think the idea was that Sinatra wanted to get back into acting. Anyway, he wrote Nothing Lasts Forever, and then Sinatra changed his mind and decided to keep singing, instead.

Cut to fifteen years later, when producer Joel Silver decides he wants to put together a film that's his, all his.

What he figures is that he can save money by finding a script or property already owned by Fox, just to cut cost down. He looks through the library of stuff in 20th Century Fox, and, of course, finds Nothing Lasts Forever.

They asked Sinatra again, who said no, and then they went to Robert Mitchum, who also said no, adding that he was much too old for this kind of thing.

They then had the idea to change the age of the character, and get someone who people liked, but wasn't a movie star.

Enter Bruce Willis, the funny Mickey-Rourke-looking-guy from "Moonlighting." They figured he'd be relatively cheap (by movie star standards, that is--if this had been Stallone or Schwartzenegger the price would be bigger), and that people would respond to the story, stunts, and effects no matter who was in it.

Big gamble, looking back.

Anyway, you know how it turned out...Willis became a huge star, "Die Hard" spurred on a series of imitators, and Silver became very powerful indeed.

Not sure how much of a happy ending that is, actually.

6. Rush Hour.
Okay, so the only reason this is here is so you can see just how different the script is from the final product.

In this case, it's quicker to list which parts are the same:

--One of the main characters is named Carson.
--There is a kidnapping.
--It's set in L.A.
--The Chinese government is involved.

That's pretty much it.

So, how is the original script?

It's okay--it's got a great chase scene in the middle of it involving two motorcycles, a blue Geo, a helecopter, and the Capitol Records building.

It's also got some really dumb dialogue: "You've heard of 'fuck me' pumps? Well, these are 'fuck YOU' pumps!"

This original script is kind of a fun idea: A married couple cop-buddy movie, like Nick and Nora Charles except with a much higher body count. The main storyline involves the two children of a Korean delegate who are kidnapped, strapped to bombs with detonators connected to motion and sound detectors, and are somewhere in the city. If they're not found, it's just a matter of time before they blow up.

And, of course, since the kids are connected to someone having something to do with the government of a foriegn country, their death would--of course--mean nothing less than nuclear war.

It's damn goofy to say the least, with some nice touches here and there, as well as a twist ending that only unexpected because it makes NO FUCKING SENSE.

Still, it's a fun read.

You will probably be laughing more at it than with it, though.

7. Natural Born Killers.
I read this script before I saw the movie--this is one of the few times in my life when I've done that.

About halfway through the script, when I got to the courtroom scene (which is on the deleted scenes but not in the movie itself--it's the scene with Ashley Judd), I slammed shut the script and threw it across the room.

After calming down, I finished the script.

After which, I slammed it shut and threw it across the room again.

After thinking about it, I realized that it had been a long time since I had felt that strongly about a script and that perhaps it deserved a second look.

My largest problem with the finished film (which I hated) is that at no point did it make me feel the same way.

The original script makes no apologies for any of its characters. Mickey and Mallory Knox are who they are for no given reason. They kill the rude, yes, but they kill everyone else, too. Many die who don't deserve it.

Oliver Stone has said that he really had no interest in making the film as it is in the original script.

But what film did Stone want to make?

In the supplimental tape for "Natural Born Killers," Stone says that he cut the Ashley Judd courtroom sequence because, "that was the old Mickey and Mallory" and he wanted to show "that they were having a sense of consequence for their actions."


It's funny that Stone is credited with being cutting edge, since all the changes he makes to the characters seem designed to make Mickey and Mallory Knox more palatable and more forgivable.

And when he's called on that, Stone says "well, that's what I intended."

Okay, whatever, Oliver.

8. American Beauty.

This script is so good that it's almost a screenwriting class in and of itself.

That's all I'll say.

posted by Rob on 12:11 PM | link



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