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...))

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hellhound 16: Deep Ellum Blues


Waiting beside a newly arrived train are Dawson, nervously pacing, and Harry, as ornery as ever. The train is emptying, people disembarking, milling around, but no sign of Johnson. Finally, from a far-back car comes Robert--he is dressed in better clothes now but these are wrinkled and dirty too. He is also already drunk, staggering badly; the wound near his eye has healed, leaving a small scar. (In the scenes that follow, Johnson is sullen and careless--not arrogant exactly, just not caring what happens, and careless of black-white relationship rules.) Dawson hurries to meet him.

DAWSON: Robert! Good to see you.

He hold out his hand to shake with Johnson.


Johnson interprets this as an offer of assistance--so he hands his flimsy suitcase to Dawson instead. (His guitar is slung over his back.)


Dawson is surprised, but he quickly passes the suitcase over to surly and reluctant Harry, who handles it as though it might bite.

DAWSON: Welcome to Dallas. How was the trip?

Johnson looks at him stupidly for a beat, then mumbles...

JOHNSON: Fine, fine... better'n ridin' the blin's, I 'spect. (pause) What now, white folks?


Dawson is anxious to get moving, so he sort of half-steers Johnson into walking. Harry is left to carry the suitcase; his disgust is evident.

DAWSON: First thing we do is get you settled in a hotel. We'll be recording in an office I'll show you--starting tomorrow. (then alluding delicately to Johnson's inebriation) If you're ready...

Johnson says nothing, so Dawson babbles on.

DAWSON: We've got to get a dozen or so new numbers--strong stuff. "32-20" didn't hit like "Terraplane," you know. Got to sew up that race market...

They continue through the station, Harry dragging along behind, Dawson guiding Johnson. The white people ignore them, but a couple of black porters turn to watch this odd procession.

JOHNSON: I got the stuff. (sly glance at Dawson) All's I needs now 's a drink.

They pass on out of the station during Dawson's response.

DAWSON: We'll see. But you've got to pull yourself...

The rest is lost to the exterior city noise.


In Dallas's black section, a dingy hall with three tables and a bar. A game is in progress between two men; a young woman, the barman, and another man are watching boredly. Johnson reels in, bottle in hand and guitar on his shoulder. He looks the scene over then makes a zig-zag beeline for the sexy girl.

JOHNSON: Hey there, honey, who's got the game?

WOMAN (coldly): My man Jack.

JOHNSON (moving in): Is that right. Well, peaches, while Jackson's busy, what say you an' me go somewheres an' shake yo' tree.


The woman moves away from him without speaking. Johnson then repositions himself between her and the game.

JOHNSON: Now don' be unfrien'ly, baby--where's 'at Texas hospitality you...

He doesn't finish the sentence because something is jabbing him in the back--Jack has arrived, with the tip of his pool cue grinding into Johnson's kidney area.


Johnson turns to face Jack.

JACK: Lemme cue you in, Eightball--you want a game? You got it. Want trouble, fine, you kin have that too. But Marla... uh-uh.

To emphasize the message, he jams Johnson's stomach with the cue. The bluesman stands quiet as Marla moves around him to stand beside Jack. But when they turn away with a sneer, Johnson slams the bottle down on Jack's head.


Jack drops like a shot, Marla screams and crouches down to help him, and the second player and the no-longer-bored onlooker both charge Johnson, who grins nastily and tosses his guitar aside. The player swings his cue, and Robert dodges him, overturning a small table into the path of his opponents.


As he grabs up several billiard balls and starts hurling these at the opposition.


They dodge two balls, but a third smacks the cue wielder in the gut, doubling him over.


Jack is out cold, and Marla runs screaming out the bar's front door, calling for help. The barman has moved out from behind the bar as well, carrying a sawed-off cue; he and the third man stalk Johnson, who retreats warily, waving his last ball. Then he slings it at the third man, who dodges it just as Johnson himself hurtles through the air and knocks him to the floor.


As the barman and now-recovered second player close in to join the fray. They pummel Johnson with fists and feet until the barman finally slugs him with the sawed-off cue; and Robert passes out...


This is what Robert sees first as he comes to--a snarling dog right in his face.


The Doberman is on a leash held by a fat white policeman. The cop steps back and yanks his dog to heel. Robert shows fear of the dog.

FAT COP: Get up, boy.

Johnson shakes his head to clear it, then clambers to his feet. The barman and a younger cop (Schmidt) approach; everyone else has vanished.

BARMAN (gesturing and pointing): Yes-suh, Miste' Schmidt, crazy nigger come in here, blin' drunk an' spoilin' for a fight, start wreckin' over my place, had to col'-cock him to keep...

Johnson has been rubbing the back of his head, eyeing the dog warily.

JOHNSON (interrupting): Where Jack an' that bitch at, then?

Barman (all innocent): Jack who? (to Schmidt) What I tol' ya, that fool still half outen his mind. Nobody 'cep'im him here since two 'clock.

Johnson starts to move toward the barman, but the fat cop and dog quickly block him.

FAT COP: Stand you' ground, boy. (to Schmidt) C'mon, Smitty--this one's enuff. Nigra in the hand's worth two in the woodpile. Haw, haw, haw!


He grabs Johnson's arm and starts hustling him toward the door. Robert tries to pull loose.

JOHNSON: Hol' up, boss. Need my git-tar.

The fat cop shoves him hard, but Schmidt intercedes.

SCHMIDT: Forget it, Joe. I'll get the guitar.

He picks it up and actually starts strumming it awkwardly while the fat cop impels Johnson ahead of him and out the door.


The street is deserted--black people evidently anxious to avoid the Dallas police. The fat cop shoves Johnson toward the waiting paddy wagon.

JOHNSON: Quit pushin'. I'm goin', aint I?

FAT COP: Naw, boy, you ain't goin'--you smart-assin' me, and I don't cotton to it. You ain't from aroun' here, are ya.

JOHNSON (now Tomming blatantly): Lawd, no-suh, Miste' Charlie, suh. I'se jes' a po' country boy in this big ol' frien'ly city. Doin' some re-cordin, suh, tha's all.

The fat cop is busy snapping handcuffs on Robert, but Schmidt perks up, stopping his half-assed attempt at picking out a tune.

SCHMIDT: That right? You make records? What's your name?


The fat cop throws Johnson into the van as he tries to answer.

JOHNSON (loudly): Robert Johnson. I'm here with the 'Merican Record Corporation! An' they'll be lookin' for me!

Fat cop Joe grabs the guitar and tosses it in on Johnson.

FAT COP: Too bad they ain't gonna find you, boy. You drive, Smitty. (then over Schmidt's half-protest) Nope, Johnson here's a dangerous prisoner, so me an' Smoke's gonna ride inside and keep an eye on 'im.

Johnson is struggling to stand up inside the wagon as the fat cop un-leashes his Doberman, which leaps inside with a growl. Joe winks at Schmidt and climbs inside, pulling the door shut.


Johnson and his guitar are huddled in the forward area, the dog crouched in front of him growling. Joe moves toward them as the van starts moving as well.


He closes in on Robert, cracking his knuckles.

FAT COP: So, you big-mouth, black-ass, uppity-nigra record star, too bad you resisted arrest.