The Pleasures of the Screenplay

I mean aside from writing them.

My director of photography on EMMA BLUE, Giorgos Arvanitis (, likes to say that it takes three things to make a film: a good script, a good script and a good script.

But it's not QUITE always enough. THE OUTLAW is a case in point—screenplay by Jules Furthman and the great, the unparalleled Ben Hecht; starring Jane Russell (her debut) and Walter Huston, THE actor of his day if we think of Barrymore as theatre. And yet I never saw a movie lie there quite so dead. The directing of Howard Hughes, even helped out by Howard Hawks, somehow embalms it before your eyes. It's like hearing the actors do a read-through—indeed you watch the film not to watch it but to hear the screenplay.

A screenplay is a poem, with a form as tight and limiting and intricate as a sonnet, and those limitations and intricacies must be made to sing.

I have other favorite screenplays (not that THE OUTLAW is my favorite—it's just that it stands there nude), like THE LONG HOT SUMMER, script by William Faulkner, Irving Ravetch, Harriet Frank Jr: "Well, life is very long and full of surprises, Miz Varner, you may jess bah sumpm yet"; and like Truman Capote’s BEAT THE DEVIL: “Harry, we must beware of those men—they’re desperate characters.” “What makes you say that?” “Not one of them looked at my legs!”

And which Rat Pack movie is this from? Dean: “Where’s my drink?” Frank: “In your hand.” Dean: “Is that my hand?”

But the best of all must be TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT by Faulkner and Furthman. ("Take the money and run," said Papa about Hollywood.)

Hawks told Bogart, "I'm going to pair you with somebody who's even more insolent than you are." So in walks nineteen-year-old Lauren Bacall: "Anybody got a match?"

She calls him Steve, though that's not his name. "Listen, Steve..."

"Wuz ya ever stung by a dead bee?" Walter Brennan asks her. "They lie upside down in the grass and you come along barefoot and step on 'em!"

Drinking in a Martinique bar and the cops come in. Bogey smiles. "A lot of them, aren't there, kid."

The cold beauty who resents Bogey faints as he's operating on her husband. Bogey catches her, carries her into her stateroom to drop her on the bed and hesitates just that instant when Baby comes in and catches this. "Tryna guess her weight?"

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