The most substantial changes in Nightmare Alley are between the novel and the screenplay. For example, in the novel, Stan, who covets Zeena and her act, kills the alcoholic Pete deliberately by giving him a bottle of poisonous wood alcohol instead of bathtub gin. In the screenplay and film, Stan gives Pete the wood alcohol accidentally due to the fact the two bottles look alike. Surely, this change was made to make Power’s character a little more sympathetic to film audiences. Yet, at the same time, it is consistent with the screenplay’s characterization of Stan as a man driven as much by unconscious forces as by motivations he understands.
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ANNA CHRISTIE (1930)
Producer: Irving Thalberg. Director: Clarence Brown. Screenplay dated September 25, 1929 by Frances Marion. Based on the stage play by Eugene O’Neill. Film released February 21, 1930. 123 pp.
The play Anna Christie, which premiered in 1922, was Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer prize-winning attempt to bring to the American theater a female character as strong and complex as the heroines of Ibsen and Shaw. The 1930 film adaptation is primarily known today as mega-star Greta Garbo’s first talking picture, publicized with the slogan, “Garbo Talks!”
Someone has handwritten the name “Shearer” on the upper-right corner of the cover of the script I examined, indicating this copy was most likely intended for MGM star Norma Shearer, who was Production Chief Irving Thalberg’s wife. Shearer would later star in a different Eugene O’Neill adaptation, Strange Interlude (Robert Z. Leonard, 1932). There are also some penciled corrections (most likely by screenwriter Marion) on the screenplay itself.
Scenarist Frances Marion is cited as one of the most renowned female screenwriters of the 20th century, the first writer to win two Academy Awards. Her screen credits include the silent versions of Stella Dallas, The Scarlet Letter, and The Wind. In the sound era, she wrote or adapted screenplays for The Big House, The Champ, Dinner at Eight, and the Greta Garbo version of Camille.
Marion’s screenplay adaptation attempts to be faithful to O’Neill’s play while at the same time adding scenes to make the story more cinematic, and expanding the role of aging “tramp” Marthy for popular character actress Marie Dressler. There was no need to tailor the part of Anna Christie for Ms. Garbo, since it already fit the low-voiced Swedish-born actress like a glove.
Expanding on O’Neill’s play, the heavily descriptive screenplay opens with exterior night scenes of New York’s East River waterfront (meant to create atmosphere) and the coal barge of Anna’s father, Captain Christopher Christopherson. Inside the cabin of the barge, there is a dialogue scene (not in the play) between Christopherson and Marthy, who is living with him, establishing the former as a comic Swede and the latter as a comic drunk. From there we move to the saloon of “Johnny-the-Priest” where O’Neill’s play properly begins. Garbo’s character is not introduced until more than 15 minutes into the film (page 19 of the screenplay) with her famous first line, “Gimme a whiskey – ginger ale on the side – and don’t be stingy, baby.”
Remarkably, the play has not been expurgated in any way. All the references to Anna’s profession as a prostitute, and to having been raped as a young girl on the farm where her father sent her to work, remain intact.
Most of the rest of the screenplay, like O’Neill’s play, takes place on Christopherson’s barge. Because this is a movie, the storm that brings love interest Matt Burke (Charles Bickford) to the barge can be shown, instead of merely being described.
In the play, there is a brief dialogue reference to Matt taking Anna to Coney Island. This becomes the basis for a major 16-page sequence in the middle of Marion’s screenplay showing what happens at the Coney Island amusement park. Matt and Anna ride a roller coaster. They take turns sharp-shooting. Matt is challenged to throw baseballs at targets that, if hit, will dump a pair of naughtily dressed carnival girls out of their beds. The Coney Island sequence reintroduces Marthy (who does not reappear in O’Neill’s play after Act 1), and allows for some foreshadowing by Marthy of the moment when Matt will learn of Anna’s secret past as a prostitute. One of the most admirable things about Marion’s adaptation is how seamlessly the scenes that were entirely her invention blend with the scenes written by O’Neill himself.
The screenplay ends as the play does, with both of Anna’s men, her father and Matt, the sailor she has agreed to marry, shipping out on the same boat to Capetown, leaving Anna alone but promising to return soon, and old Christopherson musing fatalistically, “Fog, fog, fog, all bloody time. You can’t see vhere you vas going no. Only dat ole davil sea – she knows.”
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NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947)
Producer: Daryl F. Zanuck. Director: Edmund Goulding. 3rd Revised Final Shooting Script by Jules Furthman dated May 14, 1947. Based on the novel by William Lindsay Gresham. Film released October 9, 1947. 161 pp.
Jules Furthman (1888-1966) was one of the greatest screenwriters of Hollywood’s golden era, best known for the movies he wrote or co-wrote for directors Josef von Sternberg (The Docks of New York, Thunderbolt, Morocco, Shanghai Express, The Shanghai Gesture, Jet Pilot) and Howard Hawks (Only Angels Have Wings, To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo). His screen adaptation of Nightmare Alley, William Lindsay Gresham’s best-selling novel about the rise and fall of a carnival huckster and phony spiritualist, was arguably Furthman’s most challenging assignment.
A genuinely faithful adaptation of the novel would have the gritty, sordid feeling of Tod Browning’s Freaks (1933). Instead, with Edmund Goulding directing and Lee Garmes as cinematographer, the movie version has the shadowy glossiness of a Twentieth Century-Fox film noir, which in fact it is.
This was the second consecutive film, following The Razor’s Edge (1946), made by star Tyrone Power with director Goulding in an attempt to change Power’s image from romantic leading man to serious actor. For audiences who were familiar with Power, his unsavory Nightmare Alley performance was a revelation and a shock.
Screenwriter Furthman’s challenge was to take the most controversial and unfilmable aspects of Gresham’s novel – having to do with sex, politics, and religion – and adapt them in a way that would be acceptable to the Hollywood Production Code of his day while at the same time retaining the novel’s harrowing essence. Moreover, studio head Darryl F. Zanuck insisted that the movie should have a “redemptive” ending. Notwithstanding all of these obstacles, Furthman’s screenplay is brilliant, and the film has become a cult classic.
Differences between Novel, Shooting Script, and Film
There are only minor changes between this shooting script and the released film, most of them involving the trimming of dialogue and business – for example, in the early carnival sequences, a bit where Zeena the fortune teller (Joan Blondell) corrects Stan’s (Tyrone Power’s) grammar, and a brief deleted scene where Zeena has to stop her act prematurely because her alcoholic husband Pete, who is hidden underneath the stage to feed her information, has passed out.
The most substantial changes are between the novel and the screenplay. For example, in the novel, Stan, who covets Zeena and her act, kills the alcoholic Pete deliberately by giving him a bottle of poisonous wood alcohol instead of bathtub gin. In the screenplay and film, Stan gives Pete the wood alcohol accidentally due to the fact the two bottles look alike. Surely, this change was made to make Power’s character a little more sympathetic to film audiences. Yet, at the same time, it is consistent with the screenplay’s characterization of Stan as a man driven as much by unconscious forces as by motivations he understands.
Most of the real carnival freaks who are in the novel have been omitted from Furthman’s screenplay. Major Mosquito, a midget, appears briefly in the shooting script, but is omitted from the completed film, his lines given to a full-sized performer. The movie, even more than the book, suggests that con artist Stan’s psychic abilities are not entirely fake. However, both the book and the movie believe firmly in the power of Zeena’s Tarot cards to predict a mostly ominous future. (The book is structured like a Tarot deck, featuring a different Major Arcana card for each of its 22 chapters.) It is the fatalism of the book and the film, more than any other factor, that situates them in the world of noir.
The book, screenplay, and film chart Stan the con artist’s climb from carny fortune-telling to nightclub mentalism to a high-priced phony spiritualism designed to fleece the rich. However, in the book, Stan’s spiritualism is cloaked with fake Christianity. He calls himself a Reverend, wears a minister’s collar, and laces his act with quotes from the Bible. The screenplay and the movie eliminate virtually all specific references to Christianity and the Bible.
Stan’s decline begins when he meets Dr. Lilith Ritter (played by Helen Walker in the movie), the manipulative psychotherapist who ultimately out-cons him, playing on his insecurities. In the book, Lilith is an outright dominatrix who subdues a sexually aggressive Stan with a judo flip and later compels him to kneel at her feet painting her toenails. In the shooting script and movie, none of this is overtly expressed, but communicated sub-textually through dialogue, costuming (she dresses androgynously), and performance.
Gresham’s book was very sensitive to issues of race and class. (Gresham himself was a Communist who fought in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.) As you might expect, very little of this makes it into the shooting script or completed film. For example, one of the novel’s scenes in which rail-riding Stan shares a boxcar with a black labor organizer is completely omitted.
The fatalism of book and film is most apparent in their treatment of the “geek,” a degraded carnival performer who bites the heads off live chickens in exchange for a daily bottle of booze and a place to sleep. Stan’s fascination with the geek in the story’s opening scenes telegraphs his ultimate destiny as a geek himself. The book ends with alcoholic Stan, who can sink no lower, accepting the geek job. The screenplay and film follow his degradation as a geek even further, including a night scene in which Stan runs amuck with the screaming horrors.
However, because studio head Zanuck ordered it, the shooting script adds a coda (blue pages dated 6/14/47) in which Stan is rescued by good girl Molly (Colleen Gray).
And finally, there is a coda to the coda (green page dated 8/9/47) in which two carnival workers spell out the moral of the story. “YOUNG MAN: Hey, Boss – how does a guy get so low? McGRAW: He reached too high. . . .”
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MOBY DICK (1954)
Director: John Huston. Screenplay dated May 20, 1954 by Ray Bradbury and (uncredited on this draft) John Huston. Based on the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville. U.S. release: June 27, 1956. 135 pp. plus revisions
The New York Times obituary for American author Ray Douglas Bradbury (1920-2012) referred to him as “the writer most responsible for bringing modern science fiction into the literary mainstream.” Director John Huston (1906-1987) admired the poetic and allegorical qualities of Bradbury’s short stories and novels, notably The Martian Chronicles (1950), and, on the basis of those qualities, concluded that Bradbury would be ideally suited to adapt Herman Melville’s Moby Dick to the screen.
Moby Dick was, in fact, Bradbury’s second foray into screenwriting. His first was the detailed original screen treatment for Jack Arnold’s It Came from Outer Space (1953). However, Moby Dick was Bradbury’s first fully developed screenplay, a screenplay that director Huston, a fine writer himself, helped to shape and revise. Like many of Huston’s best films (The Maltese Falcon, Key Largo, The Night of the Iguana, Reflections in a Golden Eye, Fat City, Wise Blood), Moby Dick is about the interactions of an eccentric ensemble within a circumscribed environment – in the case of Moby Dick, it is Captain Ahab’s ship, the Pequod. Many of Huston’s characters are defined by their obsessions – the obsession of the characters in The Maltese Falcon with acquiring the falcon, the prospectors in The Treasure of Sierra Madre with discovering gold. Thus, Captain Ahab (Gregory Peck), defined by his obsession with finding and wreaking vengeance upon the white whale, is a prototypical Huston protagonist.
“I always thought Moby Dick was a great blasphemy. Here was a man who shook his fist at God. The thematic line in Moby Dick seemed to me, always, to have been: who’s to judge when the judge himself is dragged before the bar? Who’s to condemn, but he, Ahab!” – John Huston (Sarris, 1967)
Protagonists who shake their fists at God are also a recurring motif in Huston’s films. Think of George C. Scott as Abraham in Huston’s The Bible: In the Beginning or Hazel Motes as played by Brad Dourif in Huston’s Wise Blood. An interest in and love for animals is another Hustonian motif, for example, the African elephants in The Roots of Heaven or the wild mustangs in The Misfits. Huston was interested enough in whales and whaling to film footage of actual whalers at work for use in Moby Dick. Moby Dick is clearly among the most Hustonian of Huston films.
Bradbury spent seven months in Ireland working with Huston on the Moby Dick screenplay, an experience that was the basis for his fictionalized memoir Green Shadows, White Whale (1992).
For the most part, Bradbury’s screenplay is faithful to Melville’s novel, following the original plot and incorporating the book’s language into the film’s narration and dialogue whenever possible. (For a good example of this, see the way Bradbury and Huston handle the sermon of Father Mapple, performed by Orson Welles in the film.) One of Bradbury’s most significant additions to what Melville wrote occurs in the scene where close pals Ishmael (Richard Basehart) and Queequeg (Friedrich von Ledebur), on their way to the Pequod, encounter the Stranger (Royal Dano) who calls himself Elijah after the Biblical prophet. In the book, the Stranger delivers dire but vague warnings concerning Captain Ahab, but in Bradbury’s screenplay he makes a specific – and memorably mysterious – prophecy:
Listen. At sea one day ye’ll smell land where there be no land. And on that day, Ahab will go to his grave, but he will rise again within the hour.
To which the completed film appends the following lines:
He will rise and beckon. Then all – all save one – shall follow.
This is good screenwriting, creating suspense for the audience. Will the prophecy be fulfilled? And if so, how? Sure enough, near the film’s conclusion, the crew smells land where there is no land. (It is Moby Dick who is huge enough to carry vegetation and other remnants of the land on his back.) Captain Ahab personally attacks the white whale with his harpoon and dies, strapped by harpoon ropes to the whale’s back as it submerges, but within the hour the whale surfaces again with dead Ahab still strapped to its back, while the rolling motion of the whale causes Ahab’s arm to move as if beckoning the rest of the crew to follow him – which tragically they do – all save Ishmael.
In Green Shadows, White Whale, Bradbury explains how he solved another problem in the screenplay’s construction. To wit, late in Melville’s book, Queequeg, who is a Pacific Islander, becomes catatonic, anticipating his own death, foretold by the throwing of bones, and the book never explains how he emerges from that state. In Bradbury’s screenplay, some of the crew members sadistically provoke Queequeg, even cutting him with a knife, to see if he will emerge from his catatonia – to no avail. But when a crew member is about to murder Ishmael, that is sufficient to rouse Queequeg from his paralysis – such is the love of harpooner Queequeg for his shipmate.
Some literary critics, notably Leslie Fiedler, have commented upon what they perceive to be the homoerotic nature of the Ishmael/Queequeg relationship. In Bradbury’s screenplay, after Ishmael and Queequeg spend a night together at Peter Coffin’s Inn, Queequeg actually refers to the two of them as being “married.” There is no reference to marriage in the film’s revised bonding scene. Instead, Queequeg says, “Your boat, my boat. I eat same food. We sail on same waters. We kill same whale. We friends!”
Bradbury, a writer of fantasies, was particularly attuned to the fantastic and metaphysical elements he found in Melville’s story – the fulfillment of Elijah’s prophecy, the ship’s encounter with the glowing St. Elmo’s fire, and the whale itself seen as a kind of godlike supernatural monster.
Due to the problems of shooting on the water, Huston, in his autobiography, An Open Book, refers to Moby Dick as “the most difficult picture I ever made” (Huston, 1994). Regardless, Moby Dick is a great film, and its screenplay is a poetic work of art in its own right.
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BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE (1958)
Producer: Harry Cohn. Director: Richard Quine. “Final Draft” screenplay by Daniel Taradash dated January 7, 1958. Based on the 1950 play by John Van Druten. Film released November 11, 1958. 141 pp.
Bell, Book and Candle is a romantic comedy. It’s a Christmas film. It’s a New York film. It’s a cat movie. It follows the basic screwball comedy formula in which a comparatively straitlaced male meets an oddball female who shakes up his routine existence – only in this case the woman is a witch. It re-teamed James Stewart and Kim Novak roughly six months after the release of their masterpiece, Vertigo. It is arguably one of the finest adaptations of a stage play to the cinema, taking full advantage of the medium – and inspired casting – to improve upon the original.
London-born playwright John Van Druten (1901-1957) was most famous for his stage adaptation of I Am a Camera, which later became Cabaret. Among his other successful theater works were The Voice of the Turtle, Old Acquaintance, and I Remember Mama, all of which were eventually made into movies. Each of these plays, like Bell, Book and Candle, centers around one or more complex female characters.
Screenwriter Daniel Taradash (1913-2003), who adapted Van Druten’s play, was a major figure in his own right. He adapted the screenplay for Golden Boy (Rouben Mamoulian, 1939), from a play by Clifford Odets. He wrote the original screenplays for Fritz Lang’s Rancho Notorious and the Marilyn Monroe noir Don’t Bother to Knock (both 1952). He won the Academy Award for his screen adaptation of From Here to Eternity (Fred Zinnemann, 1953), thereby establishing himself as Columbia Pictures’ leading screenwriter. He then adapted William Inge’s Picnic to the screen (Joshua Logan, 1956) with Kim Novak as star and James Wong Howe as cinematographer, both of whom were reunited with Taradash for Bell, Book and Candle.
Prior to directing Bell, Book and Candle, Richard Quine (1920-1989) wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for All Ashore (1953), Drive a Crooked Road (1954), and the musical My Sister Eileen (1955), all of which he also directed. The latter film, like Bell, Book and Candle, takes place in New York’s Greenwich Village. He almost certainly made uncredited contributions to the Bell, Book and Candle screenplay.
The screenplay makes major changes to Van Druten’s play. The play takes place entirely in the living room of young witch Gillian Holroyd. The movie unfolds in numerous New York locations, including Gillian’s “African & Island Primitive Art” shop in Greenwich Village, Shep’s (James Stewart’s) publishing house on Fifth Avenue, the ice-skating rink at Rockefeller Center, the top of the Flatiron Building, and, most memorably, the witches’ Zodiac Club in Greenwich Village, a location that is merely talked about in the stage play. The movie also shows and constructs scenes around certain characters who are only spoken about in the play, for example, Shep’s fiancée Merle (Janice Rule) and the formidable witch queen Mrs. De Pass (Hermione Gingold). Gillian’s cat, Pyewacket, who is merely a stuffed animal in most theater productions, is a vivid living presence in the film who causes major plot developments, including the reuniting of Shep and Gillian at the story’s conclusion. Very little magic is actually shown in the stage play. In the film, magic is plentiful, including, among many other examples, the way Gil’s little brother Nicky (Jack Lemmon) can turn off streetlamps with a wave of his hand.
Like many of the greatest works of art – from Shakespeare to Invasion of the Body Snatchers – the movie of Bell, Book and Candle is open to multiple interpretations, some progressive, some reactionary.
In a 1952 interview, playwright John Van Druten stated:
Originally “Bell, Book and Candle” was a rather more serious play. I asked myself what constitutes witchcraft, and I felt the answer lies in the fact that witches primarily seem to exist for their own self-gratification. . . . (However) one has to stop living in terms of “self” if aspects of love are ever to be realized. (Theatre Arts, 1952)
So, for Van Druten, Bell, Book and Candle was about the contrast between a cold, self-centered sexual promiscuity and a vulnerable, emotionally committed true love.
But others have noted a gay subtext in both the play and the film. Van Druten himself was gay, and in his book Open Secret, David Ehrenstein identifies Bell, Book and Candle as Van Druten’s gayest work: “No one with any degree of familiarity with post WWII Greenwich Village will have any trouble seeing the ‘witches’ and ‘warlocks’ of this romantic fantasy for the gays and lesbians they really are, even in the midst of a purely heterosexual main plot.” Ehrenstein further notes that the Zodiac Club, as depicted in the film, is a thinly disguised gay bar (Ehrenstein, 1998).
For screenwriter Taradash, Bell, Book and Candle evoked a different kind of witch hunt. Immediately prior to scripting Bell, Book and Candle, Taradash wrote and directed a film called Storm Center (1956) about the effects of McCarthyism and censorship on a small-town library. Thus, for Taradash, Bell, Book and Candle is to some degree about hiding one’s radical inclinations in a conformist McCarthyite world.
Interestingly, Taradash’s screenplay overtly supports both gay and leftist readings of the film. When Shep and his fiancée first show up at the Zodiac Club, the proprietor asks them for their astrological signs and predicts, “The time is favorable. Look out for queer conditions.” (This line is omitted from the completed film.) Later in the screenplay, as Gil is attempting to explain to Shep how she is different, he asks, “What have you been up to? Have you been engaging in un-American activities?” Her clever response: “No, I’d say very American. Early American.”
For star Kim Novak, who was a beatnik in real life, and her director/lover Quine, the film was about hipsters vs. squares. The identification with the Beat movement is reflected in Novak’s wardrobe.
From a feminist perspective, the film and play are ultimately reactionary. Andrea Simakis, in a review of the play, noted,
“As the action built to its obvious climax – if a witch falls in love, she loses her powers – this woman couldn’t help sigh at the 1950s notion that a girl has to give up her identity to land a man.” (Simakis, 2013)
The differences between this final draft screenplay and the completed film are minimal. The part of Mrs. De Pass has been expanded to give talented comedienne Hermione Gingold (who plays her) more to do. A few lines and one very brief scene have been omitted. One notable addition: when occult writer Sidney Redlitch (Ernie Kovacs) first meets Gillian and her family, who he does not yet know are witches, he makes a toast, not in the screenplay, that evokes the film’s title, “Ring the bell. Close the book. Quench the candle.”
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Producer: Robert Evans. Director: Roman Polanski. Second Draft Screenplay by Robert Towne dated September 7, 1973. 152 pp.
Almost all of the great American private eye films – The Maltese Falcon, Murder My Sweet, The Big Sleep, Out of the Past, Kiss Me Deadly – are adapted from preexisting works, with one outstanding exception: 1974’s Chinatown, based on an original screenplay by Robert Towne that is a masterpiece of narrative construction, meta-history, and myth.
The Vertigo Connection
Which is not to say that Chinatown was unprecedented. It owes something to all of the classic film noirs mentioned above as well as Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. As in Vertigo, Chinatown’s plot is set in motion when its private eye protagonist, Jake Gittes (played by Jack Nicholson), is introduced to a purportedly married woman who is, in fact, an imposter playing the role of that woman. As in Vertigo, Chinatown’s private detective spends most of the film’s first act tailing a person of interest. Both films end tragically with the deaths of their female leads.
Both Vertigo and Chinatown are valentines to the California cities in which they take place. Vertigo is one of the definitive San Francisco films. Chinatown is one of the definitive L.A. films. Both films draw on the histories of their respective cities. Vertigo is filled with references to the Spanish missions of San Francisco’s early days. Chinatown, which takes place in the 1930s, draws on the history of William Mulholland, the first superintendent of the Los Angeles Water Department, and the chicanery involved in bringing water to Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.
Water – Glass – Glasses – Eyes
One of the distinguishing features of Towne’s script is the density of its poetic imagery, in particular its pervasive water imagery. There is some kind of reference to water in virtually every scene. (Chinatown is not the first Towne script to employ this technique. There is a similar density of imagery in Towne’s 1964 screenplay for Roger Corman’s The Tomb of Ligeia.)
Water, in turn, suggests glass, as in the Japanese gardener’s statement to Gittes that the water in the pond outside Evelyn Mulwray’s house is “bad for glass” (bad for grass). Glass, in turn, suggests glasses – the fact that Evelyn’s husband, Hollis, wears glasses is heavily emphasized, and a pair of glasses found at the bottom of the Mulwray pond is a key to identifying Hollis’s murderer. Glasses, in turn, suggest eyes. In one scene, Gittes notes a flaw in the iris of one of Evelyn’s (Faye Dunaway’s) eyes, and this foreshadows her death at the film’s conclusion – shot through that same eye.
Related to the eye imagery, photographs are a recurring image. The movie opens with a close-up of a photograph; the film’s villain is introduced, partially obscured, in a photograph; and later, a photograph firmly establishes a connection between the villain and the murdered Hollis Mulwray. Another major plot point involves photographs of Hollis and his purported mistress published in a newspaper.
What’s in a Name
In this draft, the name of the principal villain (John Huston’s character) is Julian Cross, but the first name “Julian” has been crossed out (most likely by Towne himself) and replaced by the hand-printed name “Justin” wherever it appears. The word “cross” has a dual poetic significance. On the one hand, it suggests death. On the other hand, given the initials J. C., Cross seems like a mischievous reference to Jesus Christ.
In the film, John Huston’s character is named Noah Cross. This, as Andrew Sarris once pointed out, manages to reference both the New and Old Testaments, suggesting an Old Testament patriarch. Further, the name reinforces the film’s water imagery (Noah and the flood) while simultaneously referencing Huston’s film career. (Huston played Noah in the 1966 film, The Bible: In the Beginning, which he also directed.)
Differences between 9/7/73 Screenplay Draft and Film
The 9/7/73 screenplay has essentially the same scene-by-scene structure as the released film – although some of the dialogue, and even some entire scenes, have been eliminated in order to streamline the narrative.
Notably, in the first scene, which introduces Jake Gittes and his client, Curly (Burt Young), there is a section, not in the film, where Curly plays with the idea of killing his unfaithful wife. Jake, naturally, discourages the idea, noting that, “You gotta be rich to kill somebody, anybody, and get away with it” – a line that may have been a little bit too on-the-nose, since it plainly states one of the movie’s major themes.
A deleted scene explains why police Lieutenant Lou Escobar is antagonistic toward the murdered Hollis Mulwray. He blames Mulwray for the collapse of a dam that killed hundreds of Mexican Americans, his people.
While the dialogue of the movie is colorful, memorable, and frequently profane (e.g., the “Chinaman” joke), the screenplay is even more profane. For example, in the screenplay, Jake says that as a result of a potential lawsuit, he and his operatives could be so rich, “we’ll be pissing on ice for the rest of our lives.” In the screenplay – but not in the film – when Jake first meets Cross at his riding club, Cross points to some manure and comments, “Horseshit. Love the smell of it,” and then proceeds to discuss the topic in even more detail.
There is a scene not in the film where a pilot flying Jake in a small plane talks about Cross’s runaway daughter, “Rumor was she was knocked up.” In another deleted scene taking place in an orchard, Jake talks with a professional rainmaker (a “precipitator”).
The Revised Ending
The ending of the screenplay is bleak. The ending of the film, at the insistence of director Roman Polanski, is even bleaker. In both screenplay and film, Evelyn Mulwray is shot by the police while attempting to flee from the father who sexually abused her. However, in the screenplay, Evelyn’s sister/daughter, Katherine, manages to escape, driven away from the scene by Jake’s client Curly. In the film, she is present at the story’s conclusion, heartbreakingly delivered into the custody of her wealthy, clutching, psychopathic father. And both screenplay and film end with the same immortal line, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”
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Bradbury, Ray. Green Shadows, White Whale: A Novel of Ray Bradbury’s Adventures Making Moby Dick with John Huston in Ireland, William Morrow Paperbacks, 2002.
Ehrenstein, David. Open Secret Gay Hollywood 1998, William Morrow Company Inc., 1998.
Fiedler, Leslie. Love and Death in the American Novel, Criterion Books, 1960.
Huston, John. An Open Book, Da Capo Press, 1994.
Jonas, Gerald. “Ray Bradbury, Who Brought Mars to Earth with a Lyrical Mastery, Dies at 91,” New York Times, June 6, 2012.
Sarris, Andrew (editor). Interviews with Film Directors, Bobbs Merrill, 1967.
Simakis, Andrea. “Review: Bell, Book and Candle,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 18, 2013.
Van Druten, John. “Interview, Theater Arts Magazine,” June 1952.
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All uncredited images are courtesy of the fabulous Walterfilm collection.