Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Hellhound 20: Someday I Will Return
DAY--EXTERIOR COUNTRY CROSSROADS
This crossing of roads (outside Greenwood, Mississippi) looks very much like the one from Johnson's earlier nightmare, though he does not appear to notice. An ancient rattletrap Ford truck wheezes to a halt, and Robert dismounts from the passenger seat, nodding his thanks to the black driver.
JOHNSON: Thank ya.
CLOSER ON THE TRUCK
As Johnson reaches into the truck for his guitar and suitcase, the driver leans over.
DRIVER: Curtis place up the way there. (winks) Good times tonight an' ev'ry Sat'dy night!
Then he waves and sputters off in the Ford. Johnson turns to survey the surrounding countryside.
Robert's view of his surroundings: two distant farmhouses, early-spring green fields of cotton, some other plantings as well. And up the road, two hundred yards or so, set well back with its own long dirt-road entry, a large wooden structure almost like an overgrown shed--Ralph Curtis's dancehall/tavern, with proud sign "RALPH'S ROADHOUSE."
He sets out walking towards the building.
Inside, it is somewhat less impressive, though rather large--a battered bar and tables in one half and a large dance floor beyond. Ralph himself is sweeping the fance area, while his assistant Charles stands behind the bar, cleaning sink and drain; a can of "RED DEVIL" lye waits on the bartop near him.
Johnson enters from outside and saunters over to Charles.
JOHNSON: Ralph Curtis?
CHARLES (waving toward the back): 'At's him yonder.
Robert deposits his suitcase by the bar and, guitar in hand, heads for Curtis.
ANGLE FAVORING CURTIS
Ralph--Betty Mae's husband--is stocky and stolid, a perennially suspicious, easily perspiring member of the incipient Negro middle class. He looks at Johnson impassively as the bluesman near him.
CURTIS: Yeah? What?
JOHNSON (showing guitar): I play--breakdowns, blues, you name it. Need a job.
CURTIS: This ain' no dime juke or two-bit crib. If you can cut it, could be we use ya.
Johnson runs through a few dazzling runs on guitar and plays the opening to "Preachin' Blues" (heard early in the film). Curtis holds up his hand.
CURTIS: So you got that part down. The rest of it is, we open Satiddy only, you stay sober and play onta dawn on a right night. Two dollars, more if you draw folks good. Well?
JOHNSON: Better'n choppin'.
CURTIS (dismissively): Right. Be here come nine... what's you' name anyway?
Robert is already walking away. He turns back with a half-smile.
JOHNSON: Johnson. Calls me "Blues Boy Bob."
ANGLE ON THE BAR
Johnson picks up his suitcase as he walks by.
JOHNSON (to Charles): So long.
Then he heads on out the door. Curtis has trailed him over to the bar.
CHARLES: Who 'zat? Look some familiar.
CURTIS: Say his name Bob Johnson.
CHARLES (thinking while he cleans mugs): Bob Johnson... Johnson... Well, sho'... 'At's Robert Johnson, from up Rob'sonville way. You heard 'is records, ain'cha? Real woman-poison too, folks say.
Curtis is already frowning and staring after Johnson.
ANGLE OUT THE SCREEN DOOR
Which shows Robert making his way down the road, Betty Mae coming towards him. She doesn't recognize him at first, but then stops in astonishment. The two ex-lovers approach each other slowly. Their initial words are not heard, as Charles continues speaking voiceover:
CHARLES' VOICE: Oh, yes, he pick 'em up an' drop 'em down. Say, Ralph, ain't you' wife come from up there?
As Curtis strides over to the screen door and yanks it open.
CURTIS (back to Charles): Shut you' mouf.
As Curtis emerges and bellows out...
CURTIS: Betty Mae!
ANGLE ON THE TWO
Now the couple is in the foreground and Curtis distant in background, gesturing from the door.
JOHNSON: ... to fin' you, Mae.
Betty Mae waves reassuringly at her husband.
BETTY MAE: I never tol' him, but...
JOHNSON: I be wait out at the crossroads. We got t' talk.
Betty Mae hurries off towards Curtis, but she looks back at Johnson, very much troubled by this encounter. He turns and saunters off.
As Betty Mae approaches her fuming husband.
CURTIS: What 'uz he sayin' at you?
BETTY MAE (not meeting his eyes as she passes): Nothing. He wanted a place in town to stay at. Why, who is he anyway?
She hurries on into the roadhouse. Curtis looks stricken by this casual lie, then somehow both angry and despairing, watching Johnson recede into the distance.