Saturday, August 23, 2008

Hellhound 17: In the Midnight Hour


As Johnson's limp body tumbles to the floor in a heap. His face is puffed and bruised; he moves like his body is too. From the doorway the fat cop tosses Johnson's broken, strings-dangling guitar in after him.

FAT COP: Play yourself some blues--that's what you call 'em, ain't it, black boy? Oh yeah, I dipped my wick in that ink a time or two. Haw, haw, haw!


Wincing with pain, Johnson struggles up onto the bunk, clutching his busted guitar. He looks at it, then hurls it away in disgust--causing himself further pain. He groans loudly, then lies there staring at the darkness.


The fat cop pulls the door open; he is angry.

FAT COP: On your feet, black boy. You lucked out.

Dawson appears behind him.

DAWSON: Robert? You all right?


As Johnson rises from the bunk, still wincing, but putting on a strut.

JOHNSON: Doin' some better now, Miste' Dawson.

He saunters past the fat cop and thrusts the broken guitar into his hands.

JOHNSON: Here go, boss--play you'-self some blues.


Dawson and Johnson emerge and descend the steps to climb into the auto Dawson and Harry are using. Harry has the motor idling; Dawson helps the slow-moving bluesman into the back seat, and he climbs in the front passenger spot. The car speeds off.


Dawson twists around to talk with Johnson while Harry drives.

DAWSON: Good Lord, man, what happened to you?

Johnson shrugs, then flinches from the pain.

JOHNSON: Pool hall fight. An' then I done what the po-lice call re-sistin' arrest.

DAWSON: You mean the cops did that to you? But it was a policeman that called me...

JOHNSON: Jes' one of 'em work on me... (exhibiting torn sleeve and tooth marks) him an' his dog. Smash my gittar too.

HARRY (under his breath): Thank God for small favors...

DAWSON: Shut up, Harry. (to Johnson) No problem, we'll find you something--and deduct it from your wages, of course. (shakes his head) Incredible... How could such brutality be allowed to go on?

Robert laughs aloud at that naive remark.

JOHNSON: You sho' ain't black.


The car stops and Johnson climbs painfully out. Dawson leans out his window to say a few more words.

DAWSON: Stay put this time, Robert, okay? You got everything you need now? Money enough?

JOHNSON: Axe the Dallas po-lice. They got mine.

Dawson digs deep and comes up with a handful of change.

DAWSON: Here's forty-five cents for a meal. Don't blow it on booze, please?

JOHNSON (with a tired grin): Don' need ta--whiskey'n my room already.

Then he painfully mounts the stairs to his clapboard hotel.


Johnson is talking into the wall telephone. His bruised face has been tended to and he is smiling at something camera does not see. He also looks drunk again.

JOHNSON: Miste' Dawson?


Dawson has just picked up his room phone; he is in his underwear, hair touseled, looking half-asleep.

DAWSON: Robert? What the hell's the matter now? (looks at his watch) What do you mean, you're lonesome?


Now we see the object of Johnson's attention--a smiling sexy woman who hands him a glass of whiskey and runs her fingernails down his cheek.

JOHNSON (slurring): I'm lonesome an' they's a gal here. She wants fi'ty cents an' I lacks a nickel...

Clearly over the telephone connection comes the sound of an outraged shout and a receiver slammed down (Dawson reacting at his end). Johnson flinches at the ear shock, then shrugs and hangs up.

JOHNSON: Well, mama, look like you gonn' has t' choose 'tween me an' a fi'-cent-piece.

She looks him over, then answers with her own shrug. She takes his arm, and the two of them head for his room, Johnson weaving a bit.


Shabby furnishings as ever; bare lightbulb illumination from overhead. Johnson sits at a small table, pouring himself another drink; he is bare-chested. The woman frets on the bed in her bra and panties.

WOMAN: Come on, daddy. Leave off that bottle.

Johnson mumbles something stupidly, lifting the glass to peer up through it at the lightbulb.

WOMAN (wheedling): I be good to ya, honest...

She rubs her pubic area but Johnson is paying no attention.

WOMAN (angry now): Shit, you ain't want a woman--all's you need 's a whiskey-tit.

With that, she bounces up off the bed and over to the table. She grabs up the bottle, and when Johnson stupidly turns to look for it, she yanks her bra down and pours a few drops on each nipple, rubbing the alcohol into her flesh. Then she smiles seductively and falls back on the bed, holding the bottle on her belly.

WOMAN: Here ya go, bottle baby...


Johnson lumbers drunkenly to his feet and over to the bed, where he tries to grab the bottle back. But she resists him, and finally he simply hits out at her with his arm and hand, harder than he realizes, knocking her off the bed. Her head strikes a corner of the bedstand, and she goes limp. Johnson looks around for her stupidly, then sees her on the floor. He tumbles off beside her.

JOHNSON (dazed): Mae, honey, i ain' mean t' knock you down...


As seen early in the film when Johnson inadvertently knocked her to the floor.


Johnson awkwardly lifts the woman's head, and his hand comes away with a small smear of blood. He stares at this stupidly for a moment, then reacts with a terrible groan, scuttling backward, letting her head fall to the floor again.


As seen in the death scene, Louise bloody and dead in the hotel room.


Johnson lunges away from the woman, gagging and retching, and half-crawls, half-runs to the room door, yanking it open and stumbling out into the hall.


Johnson staggers away from the room and near the wall telephone falls to his knees once more, vomiting up all the cheap whiskey and bad memories.


The back of his lowered head as he continues to gag and gasp and choke. Finally, the heaving subsides, and he crawls off to another spot where he hunches against the wall, staring blankly.


After a moment, sounds from the hotel room bring him back to awareness. In agony but also relieved, he gets up and staggers back to the doorway. Framed across the room he sees the woman pulling on her dress and dabbing at her head with a handkerchief.


At the sight of Johnson, she lets out a shriek of anger and charges at him. But she stops short, merely holding up her purse threateningly.

WOMAN: Where's my money, motherfucker?

JOHNSON: I... I'm sorry...

He reaches out to her, but she knocks his hands away.

WOMAN: Keep you' monkey paws offa me! Jus' gimme my fifty cents 'fore I calls my mack down on you!

Johnson reaches into his pants pocket and hands her the coins.

JOHNSON: Fo'ty-five cents is all...

She snatches it from him, counts it, then glares at him in anger, wounded dignity, and residual pain. Then she flings the coins in his face.

WOMAN: Keep it, you damn jackass-balls no-good! Your money ain't good enuff!

Then she slams him out of the way with her purse and strides from the room.


He rubs his face where the coins stung, staring after her. Then he wearily turns away.


Johnson stumbles over to the table and collapses into the chair. He looks all the way down--drained, exhausted, sober finally, lost in depression and his memories of other days...


From the scene of Robert's triumphant return to Son and Willie.


His typical charming self, executing a bow.


As she was when first seen, sultry and sexy and fiery.


Tears well up in his eyes and begin to trail down his cheeks. He rubs his neck where the lucky bag once was, then slowly lowers his head onto his arms crossed on the table top. He doesn't move again.

((END OF SECTION 4--of my failings in this script, Johnson's "dark night of the soul" is probably the most overwritten and romantically cliched; chalk it up to a fledgling screenwriter in his 20's trying to write stuff that might somehow seem tragic and mythic. At any rate, Section 5 rises above all this pathos. Stay tuned...))

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