O Brother, Where Art
"O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU"
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
In black, we hear a chain-gang chant, many voices together,
spaced around the unison strike of picks against rock. A
title burns in:
Sing in me, and through me tell the story
Of that man skilled in all the ways of contending...
A wanderer, harried for years on end...
On the sound of an impact we cut to:
splitting a rock.
As the chant continues, wider angles show the chain-gang at
work. They are black men in bleached and faded stripes,
chained together, working under a brutal midday sun.
It is flat delta countryside; the straight-ruled road
stretches to infinity. Mounted guards with shotguns lazily
patrol the line.
The chain-gang chant is regular and, it seems, timeless.
We slowly fade out, returning to
The last of the voices fades.
After a long beat we hear the guitar introduction to Harry
McClintock's 'The Big Rock Candy Mountain.'
A WHEAT FIELD
A road cuts across the middle background. Noonday sun beats
We hear the distant picks and shovels of men at work and
see, rising above ground level, the occasional upraised pick
and spade heaving dirt. Men are digging a ditch alongside
After a long beat, three men pop up in the wheat field in
the middle foreground. They wear faded stripes and grey duck-
billed caps. They scurry abreast toward the camera, throwing
an occasional glance back at the ditch-diggers. A clanking
sound accompanies their run. Oddly, the wheat between them
sweeps down as they run. After a brief sprint they drop back
down into the wheat.
In the background a man enters frame left, strolling along
the road, wearing a khaki uniform and sunglasses, a shotgun
resting against one shoulder. He glances idly down into the
ditch and strolls on out of frame right.
The three men rise back up from the wheat and, clanking,
resume their sprint.
THREE PAIRS OF EYES
They are topped by three cap bills, and peer out from behind
a blind of greenery. We hear distant whistling.
The men are looking at a weathered barn. A young boy,
whistling, is heading down the road that leads away from the
barn, jiggling the traces of the old plough horse that leads
him. He turns a corner and is gone.
The three clanking men (we can now see their leg irons) are
awkwardly chasing a chicken around the yard. The squawking
yardbird doesn't need to move much to elude the three bunched
It curves in a gentle S into the background. It is sun-
We hear clanking footsteps approaching at a trot.
The three men enter in the foreground and trot on down the
lane. The leftmost has a flapping chicken tucked under one
The three men sit in a side-by-side arc around a dying fire,
one of them contentedly picking his teeth with a small chicken
bone, another wiping grease off his chin with a sleeve, the
third idly poking at the fire with a spit.
Each of them, still bound by chains, clinks as he moves.
One of them abruptly cocks his head, listening.
The others notice his attitude and also freeze, listening.
We hear the distant baying of hounds.
From high on a ridge we see the three chained men running
In addition to their clanks we hear a distant chugging sound.
Laterally with the clanking, running feet.
The chugging sound is very loud.
Next to a freight train. A boxcar door is open.
INSIDE THE BOXCAR
The lead convict hooks an elbow in and starts hauling himself
up, his two clanking friends keeping pace outside.
Six hobos sit in the boxcar, lounging against sacks of
O'Daniel's Flour. They impassively watch the convict clamber
in as his two confederates run to keep up.
The convict hauls himself to his feet. In spite of his stubble
he has carefully tended hair and a pencil mustache. He is
As he dusts himself off:
Say, uh, any a you boys smithies?
The hobos stare.
Everett gives an ingratiating smile as, behind him, the second
convict starts to haul himself into the boxcar, the third
convict still keeping pace outside.
Or, if not smithies per se, were you
otherwise trained in the metallurgic
arts before straitened circumstances
forced you into a life of aimless
The convict running outside the boxcar door stumbles and
disappears and the middle convict is yanked out immediately
after. Everett, just finishing his speech, flips forward in
turn, smashes his chin onto the floor and is sucked out the
open doorway, his clawing fingernails leaving parallel grooves
on the boxcar floorboards.
The hobos impassively watch.
The three men tumble, clanking, down the track embankment.
Squush - they come to a rest in swampland at the bottom.
They shake their heads clear, then rise to their feet in the
muck and watch the train recede.
Its fading clatter leaves the baying of hounds.
Jesus - can't I count on you people?
The second con is Delmar.
Everett looks desperately about.
All right - if we take off through
The third con, Pete, bald but also with beard stubble, angrily
Wait a minute! Who elected you leader
a this outfit?
Well, Pete, I just figured it should
be the one with capacity for abstract
thought. But if that ain't the
consensus view, hell, let's put her
to a vote!
Suits me! I'm votin' for yours truly!
Well I'm votin' for yours truly too!
Both men look interrogatively to Delmar.
He looks from Pete to Everett, and nods agreeably.
Okay - I'm with you fellas.
Everett makes a sudden hushing gesture and all listen.
The baying of hounds is louder now, but through it we hear a
distant scrape of metal against metal, like the workings of
a rusty pump. The men turn in unison to look up the track.
A small, distant form is moving slowly up the track toward
As it draws closer it resolves into a human-propelled flatcar.
An ancient black man rhythmically pumps its long seesaw
The three convicts look out at the swampland which begins to
show movement, the bowing grass trampled by men and dogs.
The flatcar draws even and slows.
Mind if we join you, ol' timer?
Join me, my sons.
The three men clamber aboard and the old man resumes pumping.
The three men exchange glances; Delmar waves a clanking hand
before the old man's milky eyes. No reaction.
You work for the railroad, grandpa?
I work for no man.
Got a name, do ya?
I have no name.
Well, that right there may be why
you've had difficulty finding gainful
employment. Ya see, in the mart of
competitive commerce, the-
You seek a great fortune, you three
who are now in chains...
The men fall silent.
And you will find a fortune - though
it will not be the fortune you seek...
The three convicts, faces upturned, listen raptly to the
...But first, first you must travel
a long and difficult road - a road
fraught with peril, uh-huh, and
pregnant with adventure. You shall
see things wonderful to tell. You
shall see a cow on the roof of a
cottonhouse, uh-huh, and oh, so many
The cloudy eyes of the old man stare sightlessly down the
track as the seesaw handle rises and falls through frame.
...I cannot say how long this road
shall be. But fear not the obstacles
in your path, for Fate has vouchsafed
your reward. And though the road
may wind, and yea, your hearts grow
weary, still shall ye foller the
way, even unto your salvation.
The old man pumps - reek-a reek-a reek-a - as all contemplate
Loud and sudden:
The men start, then mumble polite acknowledgement.
The railroad tracks wind to the setting sun. Reek-a reek-a
reek-a - the flatcar rolls, in wide shot, toward the golden
A hot dusty road leading up to a lone farmhouse.
The three men walk, clanking and abreast.
How'd he know about the treasure?
Don't know, Delmar-though the blind
are reputed to possess sensitivities
compensatin' for their lack of sight,
even to the point of developing para-
normal psychic powers. Now clearly,
seein' the future would fall neatly
into that ka-taggery. It's not so
surprising, then, if an organism
deprived of earthly vision-
He said we wouldn't get it! He said
we wouldn't get the treasure we seek!
Everett grows testy:
Well what does he know - he's an
ignorant old man! Jesus, Pete, I'm
telling you I buried it myself, and
if your cousin still runs this-here
horse farm and has a forge and some
shoein' impediments to restore our
liberty of movement-
Bang! A rifle shot kicks up dust in front of the men.
Hold it rah chair!
The front of the farm house shows only a harshly shaded front
porch and a dark screen door.
The screen door swings open and a child emerges on to the
porch and steps down into the sunlight, holding a gun almost
bigger than he is. The grimy-faced boy, about eight years
old, wears tattered overalls.
You men from the bank?
You Wash's boy?
Yassir! And Daddy tolt me I'm to
shoot whosoever from the bank!
He pokes his rifle at the three men, who raise their hands.
Well, we ain't from no bank, young
Yassir! I'm also suppose to shoot
folks servin' papers!
Well we ain't got no papers.
Yassir! I nicked the census man!
There's a good boy. Is your daddy
THE BACK OF THE HOUSE
Wash Hogwallop, a sour-looking bald man, sits near a rusted
bathtub in a yard littered with ancient car parts and farm
implements overgrown with weeds. He is whittling artlessly
at a stick.
He glances up as the three convicts clank around the corner,
then returns to his whittling.
'Lo, Pete. Hooor yer friends?
Pleased to make your acquaintance,
Mister Hogwallop. M'name's Ulysses
'N I'm Delmar O'Donnell.
How ya been, Wash? Been what, twelve,
Still looking sourly at his whittling:
You've grown chatty.
He tosses the stick aside and sighs.
I expect you'll want them chains
THE HOGWALLOP KITCHEN
The four men and little boy sit around the kitchen table
eating stew. A Sears Roebuck catalogue on the boy's chair
brings him to table height. The cons are now rid of their
chains and are dressed in ill-fitting farmer's wear.
They foreclosed on Cousin Vester. He hanged himself a year
And Uncle Ratliff?
The anthrax took most of his cows.
The rest don't milk, and he lost a
boy to mumps.
Where's Cora, Cousin Wash?
Wash glances at the little boy.
Couldn't say. Mrs. Hogwallop up and
Mm. Must've been lookin' for answers.
Possibly. Good riddance, far as I'm
The three men slurp their stew.
I do miss her cookin' though.
This stew's awful good.
He sniffs dubiously at his spoon.
I slaughtered this horse last Tuesday;
'm afraid she's startin' to turn.
Later. The four men sit about listening to a big box radio.
Wash is whittling once again; Everett dips his comb into a
pomade jar and carefully works on his hair; Pete is digging
around with a toothpick; Delmar dreamily waves one hand in
time to the music.
The music ends.
Well, that's the last number for
tonight's 'Pass the Biscuits Pappy
O'Daniel Flour Hour.' This is Pappy
O'Daniel, hopin' you folks been
enjoyin' that good old-timey music,
and remember, when you're fixin' to
fry up some flapjacks or bake a mess
a biscuits, use cool clear water and
good pure Pappy O'Daniel flour for
that 'Pass the Biscuits, Pappy'
flavor. So tune in next week folks,
and till then whyncha turn to your
better half and sing along with Pappy:
'You are my sunshine, my only
Everett clears his throat.
Well, guess I'll be turning in...
He screws the lid back on the pomade.
Say, Cousin Wash, I guess it'd be
the acme of foolishness to inquire
if you had a hairnet.
Got a bunch in yon byurra. Mrs.
Hogwallop's, matter of fact.
Hepyaseff; I won't be needin' 'em.
THE THREE MEN
Sleeping in a hayloft. Everett wears a hairnet over his
painstakingly arranged hair.
Pete snores on the inhale. Delmar whistles on the exhale.
A spotlight plays over the hayloft ceiling and a voice booms:
All right boys, itsy authorities.
The three men rouse themselves.
We gotcha surrounded. Just come on
out grabbin' air!
Everett shrugs his shoulders and peeks down into the barnyard.
Damn! We're in a tight spot!
From high we see a foreshortened lawman holding a bullhorn
surrounded by armed deputies.
Next to the man with the bullhorn, a tin-starred sheriff
watches impassively through mirrored sunglasses, a bloodhound
drooling at his side.
MAN WITH BULLHORN
And don't try nothin' fancy - your
sitchy-ation is purt nigh hopeless.
What inna Sam Hill...?
Pete's cousin turned us in for the
The hell you say! Wash is kin!
An unamplified voice echoes up from the yard:
Sorry Pete! I know we're kin! But
they got this Depression on, and I
gotta do fer me and mine!
Pete screams down from the hayport:
I'M GONNA KILL YOU, JUDAS ISCARIOT
HOGWALLOP! YOU MIS'ABLE HOSS-EATIN'
RAT-A-TAT-A-TAT- Everett pulls Pete down as a tommy gun spits
lead into the hayloft.
Damn! We're in a tight spot!
Pete is enraged:
Damn his eyes! Pa always said never
trust a Hogwallop-COME'N GET US,
So be it! You boys're leavin' us no
choice but to smoke you out.
Oh no! Lord have mercy!
Men approach the barn with torches.
What do we do now, Everett?
Fire! I hate fire!
YOU LOUSY TIN-WEARIN' MOTHERLESS
Everett cuts in, his voice breaking:
NOW HOLD ON, BOYS-AINTCHA EVER HEARD
OF A NEGOTIATION? MAYBE WE CAN TALK
THIS THING OUT!
Yeah, let's negotiate 'em, Everett.
The hayloft is filling with smoke. Flames lick downstairs.
YOU LOUSY YELLA-BELLIED LOW-DOWN
Now hold on, Pete, we gotta speak
with one voice here - CAREFUL WITH
THAT FIRE NOW, BOYS!
Pete grabs a flaming faggot and hurls it down at the deputized
It lands harmlessly in some scattered straw.
You choose it, boys - the prison
farm or the pearly gates!
The straw curls, lights, and the fire scuttles over to a
parked Black Maria.
With a loud airy WHOOOF! the undercarriage of the police van
pops into flame.
The man with the bullhorn sees it.
MAN WITH BULLHORN
Holy Saint Christopher - OUTA THAT
VEHICLE, CHAMP, SHE'S LICKIN' FAR!
Tommy guns are stored in the back of the van. The drum of
one starts spinning.
Flames lick up the outside of the van as - chinka-chinka-
chinka - bullet holes walk across the body.
MAN WITH BULLHORN
Take cover, boys, THAT AIN'T POPCORN!
Yelling men scurry away.
The vehicle rocks and chatters under the force of the many
tommy guns now firing inside. Tires pop, hiss and settle;
doors pop open; glass shatters.
An oncoming car is bouncing crazily across the yard, horn
blaring. Deputies leap out of its path.
The car shoots past the chattering van which still bucks and
bounces on its shocks, its interior strobing and flashing as
if filled with trapped lightning.
The speeding car heads directly for the flaming barn door
and crashes through in a shower of sparks.
The car brakes inside the barn and the driver's door flies
open. The little Hogwallop boy yells over the roar of the
Come on, boys! I'm gonna R-U-N-N-O-F-
Pete, Everett and Delmar pile in.
You should be in bed, little fella.
The doors slam shut and the boy grinds into gear. He has
wood blocks strapped to his feet so that he can reach
accelerator, brake and clutch. He sits on a Sears Roebuck
catalogue to give him a view over the dash.
You ain't the boss a me!
The car speeds for the far wall, sheeted in flame, and bursts
COUNTRY ROAD - DAY
The little Hogwallop boy walks away in long shot down the
middle of the empty road. His walk is unsteady, the wood
blocks still strapped to his feet.
He turns to face us and hollers:
You candy-butted car-thievin' so's
'n so's! I curse yer names!
Pete enters in the foreground and throws a dirt clod at the
boy. It lands shy as Pete yells:
Go back home'n mind yer pa!
We pan Pete over to the shoulder where the car is stopped,
its hood propped open. Everett and Delmar are looking at the
What's the damn problem?
The proprietor is a bespectacled middle-aged man wearing
sleeve garters and a visor. Behind him are stacked, among
other necessaries, sacks of O'Daniel Flour. He pushes a small
tin across the counter.
I can get the part from Bristol;
it'll take two weeks. Here's your
Everett is stunned.
Two weeks! That don't do me no good!
Nearest Ford auto man's Bristol.
Everett picks up the tin.
Hold on there - I don't want this
pomade, I want Dapper Dan.
I don't carry Dapper Dan. I carry
No! I don't want Fop! Goddamnit - I
use Dapper Dan!
Watch your language, young fellow,
this is a public market. Now, if you
want Dapper Dan I can order it for
you, have it in a couple of weeks.
Well, ain't this place a geographical
oddity-two weeks from everywhere!
Forget it! Just the dozen hairnets!
PETE AND DELMAR
On a wooded hillside. They sit at a twig fire, roasting a
small creature on a spit.
It didn't look like a one-horse
He stalks into frame and plops disgustedly down by the fire.
...but try getting a decent hair
And no transmission belt for two
Huh?! They dam that river on the
21st. Today's the 17th!
Don't I know it.
We got but four days to get to that
treasure! After that, it'll be at
the bottom of a lake!
He grimly shakes his head.
We ain't gonna make it walkin'.
Everett has taken out a can of near-empty Dapper Dan. He
scrapes the last of it onto his comb and starts combing his
We hear distant singing - one lone tenor voice.
Well, you're right there, but the
ol' tactician's already got a plan-
Everett fishes a gold watch from his pocket and tosses it to
-for the transportation, that is; I
don't know how I'm gonna keep my
coiffure in order.
Pete looks at the watch, puzzled.
How's this a plan? How're we gonna
get a car?
Sell that. I figured it could only
have painful associations for Wash.
Pete pops the front and reads the inscription.
To Washington Bartholomew Hogwallop.
From his loving Cora. Ay-More Fie-
It was in his bureau.
He screws the lid back on the pomade.
Delmar whistles appreciatively.
You got light fingers, Everett.
You mis'able little sneak thief...
He lurches threateningly to his feet.
You stole from my kin!
Everett scrambles up.
Who was fixing to betray us!
You didn't know that at the time!
So I borrowed it till I did know!
That don't make no sense!
Pete, it's a fool looks for logic in
the chambers of the human heart.
What the hell's that singing?
We can make out the words now, sung by the lone tenor.
Oh Brothers, let's go down, come on
down, don't you wanna go down...
People in white robes are drifting down the hill, through
the woods behind the campsite. They join in with the lead
Oh Brothers, let's go down, down to
the river to pray...
Delmar gazes wonderingly at the white-robed figures as he
Appears to be... some kinda... con-
gur-gation. Care for some gopher?
Everett too watches the white-robed people following in the
wake of the tenor. He answers absently:
No, thank you Delmar - a third of a
gopher would only rouse my appetite
without beddin' her back down.
There are more and more white robes drifting through the
woods, all of them strangely oblivious to the three men.
You can have the whole thing - me'n
Pete already had one...
There is an endless stream now, drifting through the
foreground, the background, the campsite itself.
Oh, sisters, let's go down, come on
down, don't you want to go down...
We ran acrost a gopher village...
The drifting worshipers wear beatific expressions. One only,
a middle-aged woman, notices the three convicts around whom
the rest of the flock blindly drifts. She calls to them:
Come with us, brothers! Join us and
White robes stream down the hill, out of the woods, and down
the riverbank. The voices swell in a great chorus:
We went down to the river one day,
Studying about that good old way,
And who shall wear that robe and
crown, Oh Lord, show us the way...
We are booming down to reveal a minister in the foreground.
He stands belly-deep in the river, easing a white-robed man
back-down into the water. Behind him a line of robed singers
lengthens steadily as people stream out of the woods.
Pete, Delmar and Everett emerge from the woods and gaze down
at the river. White-robed people continue to drift past them.
I guess hard times flush the chumps.
Everybody's lookin' for answers, and
Delmar wades out into the stream, cutting in line.
Where the hell's he goin'?
Delmar has reached the minister and holds his nose as the
minister incantates over him and lowers him into the water.
Well, I'll be a sonofabitch. Delmar's
Pete, don't be ignorant-
Delmar is slogging back through the water.
Well that's it boys, I been redeemed!
The preacher warshed away all my
sins and transgressions. It's the
straight-and-narrow from here on out
and heaven everlasting's my reward!
Delmar what the hell are you talking
about? - We got bigger fish to fry-
Preacher said my sins are warshed
away, including that Piggly Wiggly I
knocked over in Yazoo!
I thought you said you were innocent
a those charges.
Well I was lyin' - and I'm proud to
say that that sin's been warshed
away too! Neither God nor man's got
nothin' on me now! Come on in, boys,
the water's fine!
The smoldering twig fire. A bloodhound on a leash circles
into frame, its tail fiercely wagging.
We follow it as, nose to the ground and straining against
its leash, it waddles over to an empty tin of Dapper Dan
All tight, boys! We got the scent!
Everett drives, shaking his head with a forebearing smile.
Pete, sitting next to him, and Delmar, in back, are both
Pete is sullen:
The preacher said it absolved us.
For him, not for the law! I'm
surprised at you, Pete. Hell, I gave
you credit for more brains than
But there were witnesses, saw us
That's not the issue, Delmar. Even
if it did put you square with the
Lord, the State of Mississippi is
You should a joined us, Everett. It
couldn't a hurt none.
Hell, at least it woulda washed away
the stink of that pomade.
Join you two ignorant fools in a
ridiculous superstition? Thank you
anyway. And I like the smell of my
hair treatment - the pleasing odor
is half the point.
He shakes his head and laughs.
Baptism. You two are just dumber'n a
bag of hammers. Well, I guess you're
my cross to bear-
Pull over, Everett - let's give that
colored boy a lift.
A thirtyish black man in worn go-to-meetin' clothes stands
on the shoulder, waggling his thumb at the passing car. He
grabs his battered guitar case as the car pulls over and
trots up to the open window.
You folks goin' through Tishamingo?
Delmar pushes open the back door.
Sure, hop in.
Everett looks at the man in the rearview mirror as he pulls
How ya doin', boy? Name's Everett,
and these two soggy sonsabitches are
Pete and Delmar. Keep your fingers
away from Pete's mouth-he ain't had
nothin' to eat for the last thirteen
years but prison food, gopher, and a
little greasy horse.
Thank you fuh the lif', suh. M'names
Tommy. Tommy Johnson.
Delmar is genuinely friendly:
How ya doin', Tommy. I haven't seen
a house in miles. What're you doin'
out in the middle of nowhere?
Tommy is matter-of-fact:
I had to be at that crossroads las'
midnight to sell mah soul to the
Well ain't it a small world,
spiritually speakin'! Pete and Delmar
just been baptized and saved! I guess
I'm the only one here who remains
This ain't no laughin' matter,
What'd the devil give you for your
He taught me to play this guitar
Delmar is horrified:
Oh, son! For that you traded your
I wudden usin' it.
I always wondered-what's the devil
Well, of course there's all manner
of lesser imps'n demons, Pete, but
the Great Satan hisself is red and
scaly with a bifurcated tail and
carries a hayfork.
Oh no! No suh! He's white-white as
you folks, with mirrors for eyes an'
a big hollow voice an' allus travels
with a mean old hound.
And he told you to go to Tishamingo?
No suh, that was mah idea. I heard
they's a man there pays folks money
to sing into a can. They say he pays
extra effen you play real good.
Everett's eyes narrow as he studies the man in the rearview.
How much does he pay?
The car is pulling into the parking lot of a single-story
cement-block building with a hundred-foot antenna and a
LISTENING AIN'T NEVER BEEN
SO EASY NOR
As the men get out of the car, Everett snaps his suspenders.
All right boys, just follow my lead.
Everett strides up to a portly middle-aged man who wears
dark glasses and holds a white cane.
Who's the honcho around here?
I am. Hur you?
Well sir, my name is Jordan Rivers
and these here are the Soggy Bottom
Boys outta Cottonelia Mississippi-
Songs of Salvation to Salve the Soul.
We hear you pay good money to sing
into a can.
Well that all depends. You boys do
Everett grimaces, thinking.
Sir, we are Negroes. All except our
a-cump- uh, company-accompluh- uh,
the fella that plays the gui-tar.
Well, I don't record Negro songs.
I'm lookin' for some ol'-timey
material. Why, people just can't
get enough of it since we started
broadcastin' the 'Pappy O'Daniel
Flour Hour', so thanks for stoppin'
Sir, the Soggy Bottom Boys been
steeped in ol'-timey material. Heck,
you're silly with it, aintcha boys?
That's right! We ain't really Negroes!
All except fer our a-cump-uh-nust!
The three singing convicts form a semi-circle behind Tommy,
who plays his guitar into a can microphone. They are
performing a hot and harmonized version of 'Man of Constant
When they finish Everett whoops and slaps Tommy on the back.
Hot damn, boy, I almost believe you
did sell your soul to the devil!
Boys, that was some mighty fine
pickin' and singin'. You just sign
these papers and I'll give you ten
Okay sir, but Mert and Aloysius'll
have to scratch Xes - only four of
us can write.
A caravan of two oversize cars is pulling into the lot just
as Tommy and the three convicts burst out of the station
door, whooping it up.
A sixty-year-old man in enormous seersucker pants held up by
suspenders and the outward pressure of a blooming belly is
getting out of the first car. His face is familiar from
countless sacks of Pass the Biscuits Pappy O'Daniel Flour.
Delmar waves a fistful of money at him.
Hey mister! I don't mean to be tellin'
tales out a school, but there's a
man in there hands out ten dollars
to anyone sings into his can!
I'm not here to make a record, ya
dumb cracker, they broadcast me out
on the radio.
A big shambling man of about thirty has followed him out of
the car. He has the sloping shoulders, the pasty skin, and
the aimlessly bobbing head of an intellectual flyweight.
That's Governor Menelaus 'Pass the
Biscuits, Pappy' O'Daniel, and he'd
sure 'preciate it if you ate his
farina and voted him a second term.
Two other members of the retinue, older men whose girth rivals
the governor's, are Eckard and Spivey.
Finest governor we've ever had in
In any state.
Oh Lord yes, any parish'r precinct;
I was makin' the larger point.
As Pappy brushes by them, Junior wheedles:
Aintcha gonna press the flesh, Pappy,
do a little politickin'?
Pappy slaps at the young man with his hat.
I'll press your flesh, you dimwitted
sonofabitch - you don't tell your
pappy how to cawt the elect 'rate!
Pappy waves his hat at the radio building as singers in faux
hillbilly outfits with various musical instrument cases get
out of the second car.
We ain't one-at-a-timin' here, we
Oh, yes, assa parful new force.
The men head for the station, with Junior lagging.
Shake a leg, Junior! Thank God your
mama died givin' birth-if she'd a
seen ya she'd a died of shame...
It is night.
Tommy sits in the background, playing and singing a slow
blues. The three convicts, holding coffee cups, gaze into
Over the dreamy song:
Why don't we bed down out here
Yeah, it stinks in that ol' barn.
He stretches out.
Pretty soon it'll be nothin' but
feather beds'n silk sheets.
Pete swishes his coffee as he stares into the blaze.
A million dollars.
Million point two.
Five... hunnert... thousand... each.
Four hundred, Delmar.
What're you gonna do with your share
of the treasure, Pete?
Go out west somewhere, open a fine
restaurant. I'm gonna be the maider
dee. Greet all the swells, go to
work ever' day in a bowtie and tuxedo,
an' all the staff'll all say Yassir
and Nawsir and in a Jiffy Pete...
He gives his coffee a thoughtful swish and murmurs:
An' all my meals for free...
What about you, Delmar? What're you
gonna do with your share a that dough?
Visit those foreclosin' sonofaguns
down at the Indianola Savings and
Loan and slap that cash down on the
barrelhead and buy back the family
farm. Hell, you ain't no kind of man
if you ain't got land.
What about you, Everett? What'd you
have in mind when you stoled it in
the first place?
Me? Oh, I didn't have no plan. Still
Well that hardly sounds like you...
A distant Voice:
All right, boys, itsy authorities!
The three men tense up. Tommy stops singing.
Your sitchy-ation is purt nigh
Pete shovels dirt onto the fire as Delmar and Everett scramble
to peek over a low ridge.
Their point-of-view shows a lone barn with their car parked
to one side. Various police vehicles have pulled up facing
the barn, and armed men, their backs to us, train guns on
it, some taking cover on the near side of their parked cars.
Damn! They found our car!
The man with the bullhorn continues, directing his comments
at the distant barn:
We ain't got the time-and nary
inclination-to gentle you boys no
The three convicts notice the sheriff who once again stands
impassively next to the man with the bullhorn, holding a
leash against which a bloodhound strains.
It's either the penal farm or the
fires of damnation-makes no nevermind
The sheriff makes a signal to a man holding a torch, who
skitters up to the barn and lights it.
Damn! We gotta skedaddle!
I left my pomade in that car! Maybe
I can creep up!
Don't be a fool, Everett, we gotta R-
U-N-O-F-F-T, but pronto!
Already lit out, scared out of his
wits. Let's go!
The three men shuffle down the dusty road.
The hell it ain't square one! Ain't
no one gonna pick up three filthy
unshaved hitchhikers, and one of 'em
a know-it-all that can't keep his
Pete, the personal rancor reflected
in that remark I don't intend to
dignify with comment, but I would
like to address your general attitude
of hopeless negativism. Consider the
lilies a the goddamn field, or-hell!-
take a look at Delmar here as your
paradigm a hope.
Yeah, look at me.
Now you may call it an unreasoning
optimism. You may call it obtuse.
But the plain fact is we still have...
close to... close to...
He loses his drift as all three men turn, reacting to the
sound of an approaching speeding car.
...close to... three days... before
they dam that river...
The car comes into view cornering on two wheels. It crashes
back onto all four and, as it speeds along, dollar bills
snap and flutter out its windows. The car roars up to the
three men as Delmar waggles a hopeful thumb. It screeches to
The driver, a young man in a sharp suit with a round, babylike
face, leans over to call through the passenger window.
Is this the road to Itta Bena?
Uh... Itta Bena...
Delmar plucks a fluttering dollar bill out of the air and
looks at it wonderingly. He holds it stretched between two
hands, brings the two sides together, then gives it an
Itta Bena, now, uh, that would be...
Isn't it, uh...
Like a child gazing at soap bubbles, Delmar looks around at
the wafting currency, and yanks another fluttering bill out
of the air.
I'm thinkin' it's uh, you could take
this road to, uh...
There is the sound of a distant siren.
The driver, still patiently leaning over to hear out the two
brainwrackers, shoots a quick look in his rearview mirror.
...Nah, that ain't right... I'm
...I believe, unless I'm very much
mistaken - see, we've been away for
several years, uh...
The driver pushes open the passenger door.
Hop on in while you give it a think.
The three men climb in and the car squeals out.
The driver shoots a glance up to the rearview mirror as the
sirens grow louder, then gropes inside his coat.
Any a you boys know your way around
a Walther PPK?
Well now, that's where we cain't
help ya. I don't believe it's in
The man stops withdrawing the gun and appraises his
passengers. Delmar reacts to the paper currency fluttering
inside the car:
Friend, some of your folding money
has come unstowed.
Just stuff it down that sack there.
You boys aren't badmen, I take it?
Well, funny you should ask-I was
bad, till yesterday, but me'n Pete
here been saved. My name's Delmar,
and that there's Everett.
George Nelson. It's a pleasure.
He opens his door and steps onto the running board, giving
Everett a casual:
Grab the tiller, will ya buddy?
Everett slides over, startled. George Nelson, now fully
outside and facing the pursuit vehicles, has one hand clamped
on the car roof and waves to Delmar with the other.
Hand up that Thompson, Jack.
Delmar gropes in the footwell.
Say, what line of work are you in,
Nelson sends a spray of bullets back at the pursuit car.
COME AND GET ME, COPPERS! YOU
FLATFOOTED LAMEBRAINED SOFT-ASSED
SONOFABITCHES! NO ONE CAN CATCH ME!
I'M GEORGE NELSON! I'M BIGGER THAN
ANY JOHN LAW EVER LIVED! HA-HA-HA-HA-
HA! I'M TEN-AND-A-HALF FEET TALL AND
AIN'T YET FULLY GROWED!
Nelson fires wildly as the pursuit cars gain on him, returning
fire. He suddenly notices a herd of cattle grazing at the
roadside and murmurs:
He swings the tommy gun over with a whoop.
I hate cows worse than coppers!
He lets loose a spray. One of the cows drops and the rest
stampede toward the road.
Aww, George, not the livestock.
Energized, Nelson resumes bellowing:
HA-HA! COME ON YOU MISERABLE SALARIED
SONSABITCHES! COME AND GET ME!
In bovine ignorance of the conventions of high-speed police
pursuit, some of the cows have wandered up onto the road.
The lead police car broadsides one. George Nelson, cackling
wildly, fires into the air as his car recedes.
The car is speeding into town, dodging and weaving through
light traffic as George fires into the air - perhaps a means
of clearing a path, perhaps an expression of high spirits.
The car screeches to a halt and George hops out, and the
three convicts emerge to follow him.
COME ON BOYS! WE'RE GOIN' FOR THE
RECORD-THREE BANKS IN TWO HOURS!
Jowls shaking in a full run, George Nelson bursts through
the door of the bank, followed by the three men.
He fires into the ceiling and leaps up onto a table.
OKAY FOLKS! HOLD THE APPLAUSE AND
DROP YER DRAWERS - I'M GEORGE NELSON
AND I'M HERE TO SACK THE CITY A ITTA
He leaps down, fires into the air again, and sweeps a young
woman standing in line into a full V-J dip, kissing her on
Delmar nudges Everett.
He's a live wire though, ain't he?
Thanky dear! All the money in the
bag, and you can tell your grandkids
you were done by the best! I'M GEORGE
NELSON AND I'M FEELIN' TEN FEET TALL!
He winks at the three men who obediently wait.
It's a kick and a quarter, ain't it
Distant sirens again.
Pardon me, George, but have you got
a plan for gettin' outa here?
Sure boys, here's m'plan!
He whips open his suitcoat to reveal a half-dozen sticks of
They ain't never seen ordnance like
this! WELL, THANK YOU, FOLKS, AND
REMEMBER: JESUS SAVES, BUT GEORGE
NELSON WITHDRAWS! HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-
HA! GO FETCH THE AUTO-VOITURE, PETE!
He sends a burst into the ceiling, and heads for the door as
...it's Babyface Nelson...
WHO SAID THAT?!
The customers stare mutely back.
WHAT IGNORANT LOWDOWN SLANDERIZING
SONOFABITCH SAID THAT?! MY NAME IS
GEORGE NELSON, GET ME?!
The customers shuffle their feet and glance uncomfortably
about. Delmar lays a hand on George's shoulder and tries to
steer him toward the door.
They didn't mean anything by it,
GEORGE NELSON! NOT BABYFACE! YOU
REMEMBER AND YOU TELL YOUR FRIENDS!
I'M GEORGE NELSON, BORN TO RAISE
OUTSIDE THE BANK
The siren grows louder as the four men emerge.
You gotta be a little tolerant,
George; all these poor folk know is
the legend. Hell, they can't be
expected to appreciate the complex
Aww, I'm all right-
He shrugs off Everett's hand and lights the fuse on a stick
This'll put me right back on top!
The car squeals up and, as sirens approach once again, the
three men pile in.
OR-VOIR, ITTA BENA! GEORGE NELSON
THANKS YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!
As the car peels out - KA-BOOM! - the dynamite blows a crater
in the street behind.
It is night.
George Nelson, now strangely quiet, holds a coffee cup and
stares gloomily into the fire.
After a long beat, Delmar, also staring into the fire, slaps
one knee and ejaculates:
Damn but that was some fun though,
won it George?!
George responds, barely audible and without brightening:
Everett and Pete exchange significant looks. Delmar, however,
is less sensitive to the Babyface's mood.
Almost makes me wish I hadn't been
saved! Jackin' up banks - I can see
how a fella could derive a lot a
pleasure and satisfaction out of it!
At length George swishes the coffee around his cup, shrugs,
tosses the coffee and rises.
...Well, I'm takin' off.
He digs into a pocket and tosses his car keys to a dumbfounded
You boys can have the automobile.
Glassy-eyed, he continues to dig in his pockets and lets his
money fall to the ground.
'N might as well take my share a the
What the - where you goin', George?
George has turned woodenly and walks away, leaving the
campfire's flickering circle of light.
...I dunno... who cares...
Delmar stares at Everett, who looks appraisingly at George's
retreating back. Pete scrambles to pick up the loose money.
Now wuddya suppose is eatin' George?
Well ya know, Delmar, they say that
with a thrill-seekin' personality,
what goes up must come down. Top of
the world one minute, haunted by
megrims the next. Yep, it's like our
friend George is a alley cat and his
own damn humors're swingin' him by
the tail. But don't worry, Delmar;
he'll be back on top again. I don't
think we've heard the last of George
Delmar, gazing out at the blackness that has closed over
George Nelson, hasn't really been listening. He turns sadly
Damn! I liked George.
A ploughing farmer has paused to look for the source of
distant string-band music, growing closer. There is also an
approaching amplified voice:
Don't be saps for Pappy; vote for
Stokes and responsible gummint!
A stakebed truck approaches along the road bordering the
field. It is festooned with Stokes banners showing the
candidate holding high a broom. Pickers perform in the bed
of the truck, along with a dancer doing a two-step as he
pushes a broom. A midget in overalls waves his arms, as if
conducting the music.
He's against the Innarests and for
the little man!
This, the driver's voice, is amplified through a flared
speaker mounted on the roof of the cab. As the oncoming truck
draws near, the midget bellows out at the farmer, who has
removed his hat to scratch his forehead.
Greetings, brother! Vote for Stokes!
The voice tails away:
Clean gummint is yours for the askin'!
Our pan with the passing truck comes to rest on the WEZY
We are pulling back from a close shot of the portly blind
Hang on! Lemme slap up a wire.
He turns away to load a recording as he talks into a
Folks, here's my cousin Ezzard's
niece Eudora from out Greenwood doin'
a little number with her cousin Tom-
Tom which I predict you're just gonna
He switches off the microphone as the song, a duet of 'I'll
Fly Away', scratchily issues from a monitor. He turns his
attention back to a well-dressed man sitting nearby.
Now what can I do you for, Mister
How can I lay hold a the Soggy Bottom
Soggy Bottom Boys - I don't precisely
recollect, uh -
They cut a record in here, few days
ago, old-timey harmony thing with a
Oh I remember 'em, colored fellas I
believe, swell bunch a boys, sung
into yon can and skedaddled.
Well that record has just gone through
the goddamn roof! They're playin' it
as far away as Mobile! The whole
damn state's goin' ape!
It was a powerful air.
Hot damn, we gotta find those boys!
Sign 'em to a big fat contract! Hell's
bells, Mr. Lunn, if we don't the
goddamn competition will!
Oh mercy, yes. You gotta beat that
'I'll Fly Away' mixes up to play full over the following.
- The three men walk down a flat delta road, the sun
shimmering off the rough pavement. Their bank loot, wrapped
in a bandanna, is knotted to the end of a stick slung over
- A different road under a threatening sky. The three men
stand in the middle distance, waiting. In the foreground two
little black boys are walking home, each carrying a block of
ice. A horse-drawn cart rumbles in from offscreen and Everett
waggles his thumb. Thunder rumbles.
- A spinning 78 on a green felt turntable. The crude black
label identifies it as 'Man of Constant Sorrow' by the Soggy
- A high shot looking down through the rain past the dripping
eave of a barn, under which Everett, Pete and Delmar have
taken cover. The three hold their coats pinched shut at the
neck as they look forlornly up at the weather.
- The three men walk along a red dirt road elevated through
- The three men sit around a campfire. Everett sits on a
stump, expressively telling a ghost story as Pete and Delmar
gaze at him from below, wide-eyed and rapt.
- The three men walk past a cotton field dotted with burst
- A Woolworth's interior. A sad-faced woman in a calico dress
addresses the clerk:
Do you have the Soggy Bottom Boys
performing 'Man of Constant Sorrow'?
No, ma'am, we had a new shipment in
yesterday but we just can't keep it
on the shelves.
The sad-faced woman is crestfallen.
Oh, mercy. Then - just the purple
- The three men walk down a road excavated through banks of
clay, from which gnarled tree roots protrude.
- A pie rests on a windowsill, steam wafting from it. A hand
enters from below the sill outside and disappears with the
pie. A moment later we see Everett's and Pete's backs as
they scamper away across the yard. A short beat, and then
Delmar peeks over the sill. He ducks back down and then his
hand reaches up to leave a dollar bill. Moments later we see
him scampering away after Pete and Everett.
- Another campfire. The three men sit around it laughing as
they enjoy the pie, each with a slab on a plate improvised
of old newspaper. Everett finishes his piece, licks his thumb
and tosses the newspaper onto the fire.
We jump in to look at the soiled newspaper as flame begins
to curl its edge. A story is headlined 'TVA Finalizing Plans
for Flooding of Arktabutta Valley'. The flame curls the page
away, briefly revealing the page beneath - with a story
headlined 'Soggy Bottom Boys a Sensation - But Who Are They?' -
before it too is consumed.
- A little general store. We are very high, looking down at
a foreshortened Everett, Pete, Delmar and store clerk, who
is wielding a long telescoping pole that stretches toward
us. Everett is pointing up, directing the man with the pole.
He moves it tentatively to and fro until, at a certain point,
Everett nods vigorously.
A reverse shows the end of the pole - a long stock-pincher -
as it closes over a tin of Dapper Dan pomade, resting on a
The exterior of the store shows it to be on a corner of a
little crossroads town. The three men are emerging from the
store just as a car pulls up to one of the two bubble-topped
gas pumps out front. A fancyman in a boater hat gets out of
the car and heads for the store, passing the three; Everett
glances at him and, as the man disappears inside, he dives
into his car, waving for Delmar and Pete to follow. Delmar,
initially reluctant, is hauled into the car by Pete, and the
men take off.
- The spinning 78 recording, as the song enters its last
- A spinning car wheel.
- A panoramic boom up as the car toodles away, down a road
that winds through scrub grass toward a distant sunset.
The three men are driving through the heat of the day. Everett
drives; Pete is slouched in the front passenger seat; Delmar,
in back, picks out 'I'll Fly Away' on a banjo.
Pete listens to something, squints, tilts his head.
Delmar and Everett exchange glances; Everett shrugs and Delmar
We can faintly hear a high, unearthly singing. Barely human,
the sound seems to agitate Pete. He looks desperately out
His hinging point-of-view shows, down the declivity from the
road and half hidden by trees, three women washing clothes
in the river.
Pete's reaction is enormous. He jams a fist into his mouth,
eyes widening. He yanks the fist out and screams:
Everett, startled, does so.
Before the car has even come to a stop Pete's door flies
open and he is stumbling down the bank to the river.
Everett and Delmar follow more casually, Everett chuckling.
I guess o' Pete's got the itch.
AT THE RIVER
The unearthly singing, full volume here, comes from the three
women, beautiful but marked by an otherworldly langor as
they dunk clothes in the stream and beat them against rocks.
Pete is all awkward smiles and deep, burning eyes:
Howdy do, ladies. Name of Pete!
Strangely, the three laundresses do not answer, though they
do smile at him as they continue to sing.
Pete tries again as he reaches into their laundry basket:
Maybe I could help you with the, uh-
He realizes he is holding ladies' undergarments.
Ahem. I, uh...
He drops them back in the basket.
I don't believe I've, uh, heard that
Everett and Delmar have arrived; Everett is loud and jovial:
Aintcha gonna innerduce us, Pete?
Pete's eyes stay glued on the women as he hisses out of the
corner of his mouth:
Don't know their names. I seen 'em
Everett laughs lightly.
Ladies, you'll have to pardon my
friend here; Pete is dirt-ignorant
and unschooled in the social arts.
My name on the other hand is Ulysses
Everett McGill and you ladies are
about the three prettiest water lilies
it's ever been my privilege to admire.
None of the women respond but, as all continue to sing, one
brings a jug marked with three Xes to Everett.
Why, thank you dear, that's very,
He takes a swig.
Mm. Corn licker, I guess, uh, the
preferred local uh...
He passes the jug to Pete as the woman runs her fingers
through his hair.
The other two women are approaching to likewise tousle Pete
Delmar's woman caresses his face and, by squeezing his cheeks,
smushes his mouth into a pucker.
Pleased to meet you, ma'am.
The singing continues. The stream gurgles. Somewhere, in the
distance, flies lazily buzz.
CLOSE ON DELMAR
We are very tight. Delmar's eyes are closed. We hear loud
snoring. At length his eyelids flutter open, but the snoring
Delmar groggily props himself on one elbow.
It is late afternoon. He is still on the riverbank. Everett
The ladies are gone. The hamper of laundry is gone. Pete is
After looking blearily about for a moment, Delmar starts and
staggers to his feet.
Holy Saint Christopher!
He toes Everett urgently in the ribs.
Oh sweet Lord, Everett, looka this!
Pete's clothes are laid out on the ground, not in a heap,
but mimicking the human shape, as if he had been simply
vaporized fron within them.
Everett rouses himself and looks at the clothes: He scans
the opposite river bank.
PETE! Where the heck are ya! We ain't
got time for your shenanigans!
Delmar stares horrified at the pile of clothes: a spot in
the middle of the shirt is rising and falling, rising and
Sweet Jesus, Everett! They left his
Everett joins Delmar to look. The rhythmic rising and falling
now travels up the shirt. A large yellow toad sticks its
head out from under the collar.
Delmar keens. Everett is bewildered.
What on earth is goin' on here! What's
got into you, Delmar!
Caintcha see it Everett! Them sigh-
reens did this to Pete! They loved
him up an' turned him into a horney-
The toad hops down the river bank.
Pete! Come back!
He slides down the bank after the toad, Everett watching in
The toad plops into the river and Delmar dives in after him.
He emerges a moment later with the toad wriggling in his
Don't worry, Pete! It's me, Delmar!
Oh Everett! What're we gonna do?!
We hear soft whimpering as Everett drives, sneaking worried
glances over at the passenger seat.
Delmar has the toad in his lap. He whimpers as he pets it.
Everett hesitantly offers:
...I'm not sure that's Pete.
Course it's Pete! Look at 'im!
The frog croaks.
We gotta find some kinda wizard can
change 'im back!
A beat. Delmar continues to whimper.
Everett squints and shakes his head.
...I'm just not sure that's Pete.
The tables are formally laid with linen. Delmar and Everett
sit at a table, a shoebox between them, deep in conversation.
You can't display a toad in a fine
restaurant like this! Why, the good
folks here'd go right off their feed!
I just don't think it's right, keepin'
him under wraps like we's ashamed of
Well if that is Pete I am ashamed of
him. The way I see it he got what
he deserved - fornicating with some
whore a Babylon. These things-
He points a knife at the shoebox.
-don't happen for no reason, Delmar.
Obviously it's some kind of judgment
on Pete's character.
We are looking over the shoulder of a broad-shouldered man
in a cream-colored suit and a shirt with powder-blue collar.
He is digging into a huge plateful of steak and eggs. Sensing
something, he looks up, cocks his head, and then slowly turns
to look back.
He thus reveals a cream-colored eyepatch with powder-blue
trim; his good eye is looking intently off - at Everett and
Delmar, who continue arguing, out of earshot.
BACK TO EVERETT AND DELMAR
Still heatedly discussing.
The two of us was fixing to fornicate!
The waitress has just arrived for their order. Everett gives
her an ingratiating laugh:
Heh-heh. You'll have to excuse my
rusticated friend here, unaccustomed
as he is to city manners.
He ostentatiously fans some of his money.
Well mamzel I guess we'll have a
couple a steaks and some gratinated
potatoes and wash it down with your
finest bubbly wine-
Watching Everett fan his money. The big man stops chewing
and slowly raises his napkin to his lips to give them a dainty
BACK TO EVERETT AND DELMAR
As Everett closes his menu.
...And I don't suppose the chef'd
have any nits or grubs in the pantry,
or - naw, never mind, just bring me
a couple leafs a raw cabbage.
The big man appears as she leaves.
Don't believe I've seen you boys
around here before! Allow me
t'innerduce myself: name of Daniel
Teague, known in these precincts as
Big Dan Teague or, to those who're
pressed for time, Big Dan toot court.
How d'you do, Big Dan. I'm Ulysses
Everett McGill; this is my associate
Delmar O'Donnell. I sense that,
like me, you are endowed with the
gift of gab.
Big Dan chuckles as he draws up a chair.
I flatter myself that such is the
case; in my line of work it's plumb
necessary. The one thing you don't
want is air in the conversation.
Once again we find ourselves in
agreement. What kind of work do you
do, Big Dan?
Sales, Mr. McGill, sales! And what
do I sell? The Truth! Ever' blessed
word of it, from Genesee on down to
Revelations! That's right, the word
of God, which let me add there is
damn good money in during these days
of woe and want! Folks're lookin'
for answers and Big Dan Teague sells
the only book that's got 'em! What
do you do - you and your tongue-tied
Uh, we uh-
We're adventurers, sir, currently
pursuin' a certain opportunity but
open to others as well.
I like your style, young man, so I'm
gonna propose you a proposition. You
cover my check so I don't have to
run back up to my room, have your
waitress wrap your dinner picnic-
style, and we'll retire to more
private environs where I will explain
to you how vast amounts of money can
be made in the service of God Amighty.
Everett rises and digs in his pocket.
Well, why not. If nothing else I
could use some civilized conversation.
As the three men start to move off, Big Dan gives Delmar a
tilt of the head and a crinkling smile.
Don't forget your shoebox, friend.
We hear bellowing issuing from a curtained private dining-
INSIDE THE PRIVATE ROOM
Pappy O'Daniel sits smoking a cigar, nursing a glass of
whiskey, and soliciting the counsel of his overweight retinue.
Languishing! Goddamn campaign is
languishing! We need a shot inna
arm! Hear me, boys? Inna goddamn
ARM! Election held tomorra, that
sonofabitch Stokes would win it in a
Well he's the reform candidate, Daddy.
Pappy narrows his eyes at him, wondering what he's getting
Well people like that reform. Maybe
we should get us some.
Pappy whips off his hat and slaps at Junior with it.
I'll reform you, you soft-headed
sonofabitch! How we gonna run reform
when we're the damn incumbent!
He glares around the table.
Zat the best idea any you boys can
come up with? REEform?! Weepin' Jesus
on the cross! Eckard, you may as
well start draftin' my concession
speech right now.
Eckard grunts as he starts to rise.
Pappy whips him back down with his hat.
I'm just makin' a point, you stupid
As he settles back Eckard looks around the table and helpfully
Pappy just makin' a point here, boys.
The car boosted from the general store has been pulled off
the road and parked a few yards into a field littered with
bluebonnets and rimmed with moss-dripping oak.
Everett, Delmar and Big Dan sit on a blanket around a large
picnic hamper. Big Dan is just sucking the last piece of
chicken off a bone.
He tosses the bone over his shoulder, belches, and sighs.
Thankee boys for throwin' in that
fricasee. I'm a man a large appetite
and even with lunch under my belt I
was feeling a mite peckish.
Our pleasure, Big Dan.
And thank you as well for that
conversational hiatus; I generally
refrain from speech while engaged in
gustation. There are those who attempt
both at the same time but I find it
course and vulgar. Now where were
Makin' money in the Lord's service.
You don't say much friend, but when
you do it's to the point and I salute
you for it.
Delmar is pleased and embarrassed.
Oh, it weren't nothin', I-
Yes, Bible sales. The trade is not a
complicated one; there're but two
things to learn. One bein' where to
find your wholesaler - word of God
in bulk as it were. Two bein' how to
reckanize your customer - who're you
dealin' with? - an exercise in
psychology so to speak.
He rises to his feet and tosses down his napkin.
And it is that which I propose to
give you a lesson in right now.
He reaches up and with one hand easily rips a stout limb off
a tree. He casually strips its twigs.
I like to think that I'm a pretty
astute observer of the human scene.
No doubt, brother - I figured as
much back there in the restaurant.
That's why I invited you out here
for this advanced tutorial.
His club is ready. He swings at Delmar who staggers back
with a grunt.
Everett wears a puzzled smile.
...What's goin' on, Big Dan?
Delmar, though stunned, is faster to size things up. He
charges Big Dan and wraps his arms around him.
Big Dan rears back and whacks at his head.
Everett is still puzzled, but willing to be instructed:
Big Dan, what're you doin'?
Big Dan walks awkwardly over to Everett with Delmar still
attached to him like a hunting dog locked on to a bear. Big
Dan takes a break from whacking at Delmar to deliver a blow
The blow catches Everett on the chin and sends him reeling.
It's all about money, boys! Atsy
answer! Dough re mi!
Big Dan bear hugs Delmar and tosses him away. He whacks
Everett into a semi-conscious heap and then paws through his
Do unto others before they do unto
He pulls out their wad of cash.
I'll just take your show cards...
He walks over to Delmar who is on the ground moaning, and
kicks him several times.
...and whatever you got in the hole.
He takes Delmar's shoebox and flips off the top.
Inside is a bed of straw with the toad resting on it.
He pokes around the straw with his finger; nothing else
It's nothin' but a damn toad!
Delmar, moaning, looks blearily up through swollen eyes.
Big Dan has the toad in his enormous fist.
Delmar moans through cracked and bloody lips:
No... you don't understand...
Don't you boys know these things
give ya warts?
He squeezes the frog, crushing it, and tosses it away against
Oh Lord... Pete...
Big Dan is over at the car, cranking it up.
End of lesson.
He climbs in.
So long, boys! Hee-hee! See ya in
the funny papers!
The car belches and pops and toodles off down the road.
Delmar staggers to his feet and stumbles over to the carcass
of the frog, weeping.
Pete... Pete... Pete...
PAN DOWN FROM BLACK TO BRING IN A TORCH
Flickering in the night. We hear the rumble of distant thunder
as the continued pan down brings the torch's bearer into
frame - a man with the slavering grin of the dim-witted
sadist. He watches as we hear:
Where are they?!
There is the sound of a lash and a scream.
Talk, you unreconstructed whelp of a
whore! Where they headed?
Another lash brings another scream.
The screams come from Pete. His arms, stretched high over
his head, are tied to a tree limb. His interrogator wields a
Your screams ain't gonna save your
flesh! Only your tongue is, boy!
Another lash, another scream.
Where they headed!
A third man walks into the torchlight, a hound drooling at
his heels. He is Cooley, the sheriff with mirrored sunglasses
whom we remember from previous barn confrontations.
The two men acknowledge by backing away from Pete.
We hear a pat... pat... and then the accelerating pitter-
patter of arriving rain.
Cooley looks up.
Sweet summer rain. Like God's own
He looks back down at Pete.
Your two friends have abandoned you,
Pete. They don't seem to care 'bout
He shrugs, looks off.
Looking up, into black: a rope is tossed up - it recedes out
of the torchlight into black night - and then drops back
down into the light, a noose bouncing at its end.
Stairway to heaven, Pete.
The two henchmen fit the noose over Pete's neck. Cooley licks
his lips. His dog slobbers.
We shall all meet, by and by.
Cooley holds up one hand. The two men pause in fitting the
Pete is sobbing:
BACK OF A HAYTRUCK
Everett and Delmar sit disconsolately on a haybale as the
stakebed truck bounces along a rough country road. They are
both ill-kempt and heavily bruised.
Though still an undammable river of verbiage, Everett now
seems to be talking out of weary habit, not conviction:
Believe me, Delmar, he would've wanted
us to press on. Pete, rest his soul,
was one sour-assed sonofabitch and
not given to acts of pointless
Delmar doggedly shakes his head.
It just don't seem right, diggin' up
that treasure without him.
We distantly hear picks ringing and male chanting. Hollow-
eyed, Everett tries to convince himself as much as Delmar:
Maybe it's for the best that Pete
was squushed. Why, he was barely a
sentient bein'. Now, soon as we clean
ourselves up, get a little smell'um
in our hair, we're just gonna feel a
hunnert per cent better about
ourselves and about...
His voice trails away as he looks out at the road.
They are passing a line of chained men in prison stripes and
duck-billed caps wielding pickaxes and shovels at the side
of the road. Guards bearing shotguns amble back and forth.
As he stares at the line of men Everett tries to pick up his
...and about... life in general...
The prisoners look like phantoms in the heat and dust.
Jesus. We must be near Parchman Farm.
The men, giving throat to a dolorous chain-gang chant, do
not look up at the passing haytruck.
Everett is haunted:
Sorry sonsabitches... Seems like a
year ago we bust off the farm...
The last man in line swings his pick and, as he grows smaller,
looks up. Everett stares.
It is Pete.
Lone and lorn, he returns Everett's slack-jawed stare until
heat ripples and the truck's dusty wake dissolve him away.
Pete have a brother?
Not that I'm aware.
Everett shakes his head as if to clear it.
Heat must be gettin' to me.
The truck rattles on.
Ithaca, Mississippi. On a bunting-covered stage a pencil-
necked man with round rimless glasses addresses a crowd of
The pencil-neck is identified on posters as 'Homer Stokes,
Friend of the Little Man', and, in life as in the pictures,
he shakes a broom over his head. A midget in overalls stands
next to him.
And I say to you that the great state
a Mississippi cannot afford four
more years a Pappy O'Daniel - four
more years a cronyism, nepotism,
rascalism and service to the
Innarests! The choice, she's a clear
'un: Pappy O'Daniel, slave a the
Innarests; Homer Stokes, servant a
the little man! Ain't that right,
The midget enthusiastically seconds:
He ain't lyin'!
When the litle man says jump, Homer
Stokes says how high? And, ladies'n
jettymens, the little man has
admonished me to grasp the broom a -
ree-form and sweep this state clean!
The midget waves his little midget broom in time with Stoke's
It's gonna be back to the flour mill,
Pappy! The Innarests can take care a
theyselves! Come Tuesday, we gonna
sweep the rascals out! Clean gummint -
yours for the askin'!
He beams amid cheers and then, as three girls in gingham
frocks run out to join him:
An' now - the little Wharvey gals!
Whatcha got for us, darlin's?
The oldest girl is about ten.
'In the Highways'!
The haytruck has pulled into the square and Everett and Delmar
are climbing out.
Everett stares at the stage.
Wharvey gals?! Did he just say the
little Wharvey gals?
Delmar shrugs. For some reason, Everett is enraged:
Onstage, the three girls are singing in untrained but
In the highways, In the hedges...
Everett stomps toward the stage, fighting his way through
the crowd. Puzzled, Delmar follows.
You know them gals, Everett?
Everett reaches the stage and climbs up into the wings just
as the song ends. The midget starts buck-dancing to a fiddle
tune as the three little girls, filing off, notice Everett.
He ain't our daddy!
Hell I ain't! Whatsis 'Wharvey' gals? -
Your name's McGill!
No sir! Not since you got hit by a
What're you talkin' about - I wasn't
hit by a train!
Mama said you was hit by a train!
Just a grease spot on the L&N!
Damnit, I never been hit by any train!
At's right! So Mama's got us back to
That's a maiden name.
You got a maiden name, Daddy?
No, Daddy ain't got a maiden name;
ya see -
That's your misfortune!
At's right! And now Mama's got a new
He's a suitor!
Yeah, I know 'bout that.
Mama says he's bona fide!
This worries Everett:
Hm. He give her a ring?
Mama checked it!
It's bona fide!
He's a suitor!
Hm. What's his name?
Vernon T. Waldrip.
Then he's gonna be Daddy!
I'm the only damn daddy you got! I'm
the damn paterfamilias!
Yeah, but you ain't bona fide!
Hm. Where's your mama?
Stokes is announcing from the stage:
And now let's fetch back the Wharvey
gals to sing 'I'll Fly Away'.
The girls call over their shoulders as they run back onstage:
She's at the five and dime.
The faces of a six-year-old girl and her four-year-old sister
Next to them is a two-year-old girl with a string wrapped
around her waist. The other end of the string is held by a
woman in her thirties with a haggard, careworn face. The
woman also holds a babe-in-arms.
Everett, entering, goggles at the infant.
Who the hell is that?!
Starla McGill you mean! How come you
never told me about her?
'Cause you was hit by a train.
And that's another thing - why're
you tellin' our gals I was hit by a
Lotta respectable people been hit by
trains. Judge Hobby over in Cookeville
was hit by a train. What was I
supposed to tell 'em - that you was
sent to the penal farm and I divorced
you from shame?
Well - I take your point. But it
leaves me in a damned awkward position
vis-a-vis my progeny.
A man in a straw boater joins them.
'Lo Penny... This gentleman bothering
Everett sniffs and, catching a scent, squints.
Waldrip's hair, protruding from under his boater, is plastered
against his scalp.
...Have you been using my hair
Your hair treatment?!
Everett covers his anger with an exaggerated politeness.
He draws Penny aside.
Well, I got news for you case you
hadn't noticed - I wasn't hit by a
train. And I've traveled many a weary
mile to be back with my wife and six
That ain't your daddy, Alvinelle.
Your daddy was hit by a train.
Now Penny, stop that!
No - you stop it! Vernon here's got
a job. Vernon's got prospects. He's
bona fide! What're you?
I'll tell you what I am - I'm the
paterfamilias! You can't marry him!
I can and I am and I will - tomorrow!
I gotta think about the little Wharvey
gals! They look to me for answers!
Vernon can s'port 'em and buy 'em
lessons on the clarinet! The only
good thing you ever did for the gals
was get his by that train!
...Why you... lyin,... unconstant...
You can't swear at my fiancee!
Oh yeah? Well you can't marry my
With this he takes a wild swing which Waldrip easily eludes.
Waldrip adapts a Marquess of Queensbury stance and prances
about, delivering stinging punches to the nose of a stunned
and outclassed Everett.
A crowd is gathering and voices murmur:
Who is that man?
He's not my husband. Just a drifter,
I guess... Just some no-account
Its glass doors swing open and Everett is hurled out and
bellyflops into the dust of the street.
...And stay out of Woolworth's!
Romantic music tinnily plays as Delmar and Everett watch,
Everett slumped down and angrily hissing:
Deceitful! Two-faced! She-Woman!
Never trust a female, Delmar! Remember
that one simple precept and your
time with me will not have been ill
Hit by a train! Truth means nothin'
to Woman, Delmar. Triumph a the
subjective! You ever been with a
Well, uh, I - I gotta get the family
farm back before I can start thinkin'
Well that's right! If then! Believe
me, Delmar, Woman is the most fiendish
instrument of torture ever devised
to bedevil the days a man!
Everett, I never figured you for a
Oh-ho-ho yes, I've spread my seed.
And you see what it, uh... what it's
earned me... Now what in the...
The screen is flickering down to black as the music slows to
sludge and stops.
The theater is dark and quiet.
Everett and Delmar, and the rest of the sparse audience,
look restively about.
A man carrying a shotgun enters the auditorium.
He walks halfway down the aisle and stops several rows behind
Delmar and Everett. He scans the theater, then brings a
whistle to his lips.
At his whistle the back doors burst open and a line of chained
men trot in at double-time. With much clanking they file
into one row and then, that row filled, the one behind it.
They remain silently on their feet.
The first guard and two others who escorted in the convicts
scan the theater. The first guard again blows his whistle.
The two rows of chained men sit.
After another silence:
...Okay boys! Enjoy yer pickcha show!
One more whistle cues the movie to grind back up to speed.
A hissing whisper from behind draws Everett and Delmar's
Do not seek the treasure! It's a
Everett and Delmar turn and stare, saucer-eyed. In the middle
of the frontmost row of convicts sits Pete - bald, haunted
After a long, disbelieving stare:
Pete whispers again, urgently:
They're fixin' a ambush! Do not seek
Everett, jaw hanging open, can only stare, as if at a ghost.
Delmar stares also, but finally brings out another:
Do not seek the treasure!
Everett's face remains frozen in horrified disbelief, but
Delmar finally accepts Pete's corporeal reality.
We thought you was a toad!
Pete squints and cocks his head as if to say, What was that?
Delmar repeats the whisper slowly and with exaggerated mouth
We thought... you was... a toad!
Pete shakes his head - didn't catch it - and repeats, also
Do not... seek... the treasure!
A guard murmurs:
Quiet there. Watcha pickcha.
Pappy O'Daniel sits on the veranda of the Governor's Mansion,
smoking a cigar and sipping from a glass of bourbon as the
evening sun goes down.
I signed that bill! I signed a dozen
a those aggi-culture bills! Everyone
knows I'm a friend a the fahmuh!
What do I gotta do, start diddlin'
We cain't do that, Daddy, we might
offend our constichency.
We ain't got a constichency! Stokes
got a constichency!
Them straw polls is ugly.
Stokes is pullin' ah pants down.
Gonna pluck us off the tit.
Pappy gonna be sittin' there pants
down and Stokes at the table soppin'
up the gravy.
Latch right on to that tit.
Wipin' little circles with his bread.
Well, it's a well-run campaign,
midget'n broom'n whatnot.
Devil his due.
Say, I gotten idee.
What sat, Junior?
We could hire us a little fella even
Pappy whips at him with his hat.
Y'ignorant slope-shouldered sack a
guts! Why we'd look like a buncha
braggin' on our own midget! Don't
matter how stumpy! And that's the
goddamn problem right there - people
think this Stokes got fresh ideas,
he's oh coorant and we the past.
Problem a p'seption.
Reason why he's pullin' ah pants
Gonna paddle ah little bee-hind.
Ain't gonna paddle it; he's gonna
kick it real hard.
With his mouth forming an O around his dropping cigar, Pappy
looks sadly from one to the other, like a spectator at a
particularly boring tennis match.
No, I believe he's a-gonna paddle
Well now, I don't believe assa
Well, that's how I characterize it.
Well, I believe it's mawva kickin'
Pullin' ah pants down...
Wipin' little circles with his
In slow motion it is dropping... dropping... dropping through
the night. We hear distant thunder and the howl of a hound.
The sounds recede, and the black background dissolves into a
pan down from a raftered ceiling as the noose fades away.
The continued pan down shows that we are in a barracks-like
cabin. It is night. Convicts are ranged in bunk-beds. Their
snores stand out against the chirp of crickets.
In the upper berth of the foreground bed is Pete. His hands
are clasped behind his head. A manacle and chain links one
wrist to a rail that serves as headboard.
He stares up, haunted, at the phantom noose.
I could not gaze upon that far
He reacts quizically to a whispered:
A moment later Everett rises over the lip of his bed. His
face is blacked and he sways as if standing on a boat.
He is raising a large, long-armed, short-nosed pincering
tool. He locks the nose onto Pete's chain and levers the
arms. As his hand chinks free, Pete does not react to his
We hear an agonized voice from off as Everett continues to
...Cain't stand much longer.
Pete's eyes burn into Everett's.
It was a moment a weakness!
Quitcha babblin' Pete - time to
THE THREE MEN
We track with them as they walk through the moonlit woods.
Delmar's and Everett's faces are thoroughly blacked; Pete is
just finishing blacking his, and he hands the shoe polish
back to Everett.
They lured me out for a bathe, then
they dunked me'n trussed me up like
a hog and turned me in for the bounty.
I shoulda guessed it - typical womanly
behavior. Just lucky we left before
they came for us.
We didn't abandon you, Pete, we just
thought you was a toad.
No, they never did turn me into a
Well that was our mistake then. And
then we was beat up by a bible
salesman and banished from
Woolworth's. I don't know if it's
the one branch or all of 'em.
Well I - I ain't had it easy either,
boys. Uh, frankly, I - well I spilled
my guts about the treasure.
Awful sorry I betrayed you fellas;
must be my Hogwallop blood.
Aw, that's all right, Pete.
Pete is shaking his head, miserable.
It's awful white of ya to take it
like that, Everett. I feel wretched,
spoilin' yer play for a million
dollars'n point two. It's been eatin'
at my guts.
Aw, that's all right.
Pete starts weeping.
You boys're true friends!
He hugs a stunned Delmar.
You're m'boon companions!
He hugs Everett, who looks profoundly uncomfortable.
Pete, uh, I don't want ya to beat
yourself up about this thing...
I cain't help it, but that's a
wonderful thing to say!
Well, but Pete...
He clears his throat.
Uh, the fact of the matter is - well,
damnit, there ain't no treasure!
Now it is Pete's turn to be stunned. He and Delmar stare at
Fact of the matter - there never
So - where's all the money from your
I never knocked over any armored-
car. I was sent up for practicing
law without a license.
Damnit, I just hadda bust out! My
wife wrote me she was gettin' married!
I gotta stop it!
Pete stares vacantly off.
...No treasure... I had two weeks
left on my sentence...
I couldn't wait two weeks! She's
gettin' married tomorra!
...With my added time for the escape,
I don't get out now 'til 1987...
I'll be eighty-four years old.
Delmar, not angry himself, is trying to work it out.
Huh. I guess they'll tack on fifty
years for me too.
Boys, we was chained together. I
hadda tell ya somethin'. Bustin' out
alone was not a option!
...Eighty-four years old.
I'll only be eighty-two.
Pete lunges at Everett.
YOU RUINED MY LIFE!
He tackles him and, with his hands wrapped round Everett's
throat, the two roll over.
Pete... I do apologize.
Eighty-four years old! I'll be gummin'
They have rolled through some brush and their bodies are now
halfway into a clearing. They abruptly stop.
Pete, lying on top of Everett, looks up, startled by loud
chanting. Everett, lying on his back, tries to see as well,
his eyes rolling back in his head.
Their point-of-view shows a great open field where men in
bedsheets parade in formation before a huge fiery cross.
Pete and Everett hastily crabwalk back into the bushes and
then push through with Delmar.
The ranks of hooded men, chanting in a high hillbilly wail,
intersect and shuffle like a marching band at halftime. At
length they stop in perfect formation, still chanting, to
face the Imperial Wizard, who stands in front of the burning
cross dressed in a red satin robe and hood trimmed with gold.
An aisle leads through the middle of the formation to the
burning cross, before which a gibbet has been erected. The
backmost row has stopped, facing away, only a few yards from
the bushes that hide Delmar, Pete and Everett.
As the chanting continues, two Klansmen lead a black man,
whom they grasp by either arm, up the aisle toward the gibbet.
I ain't never harmed any you
It's Tommy! They got Tommy!
Oh my God!
It is indeed Tommy Johnson.
I ain't never harmed nobody!
Pete is staring aghast at the makeshift gibbet.
The noose. Sweet Jesus! We gotta
A broad-shouldered man in the middle of the ranks of Klansmen,
sensing something, slowly turns to look back over his
shoulder. He thus reveals that his hood has only one eye-
He slowly draws off his hood. It is, of course, Big Dan
Teague. His one good eye looks about; his other eye, now
revealed, is hideously clouded and stares up and off in fixed
Everett, still crouched behind the bushes, notices something.
He hisses and points.
The color guard.
Off to one side is a robed and hooded three-man color guard
displaying a Confederate flag.
In front of the crowd the Imperial Wizard raises one satin-
draped arm, and the chanting stops.
Brothers! We are foregathered here
to preserve our hallowed culture'n
heritage! From intrusions, inclusions
and dilutions! Of culluh! Of creed!
Of our ol'-time religion!
Over in the bushes Everett, Delmar and Pete are straightening
up and adjusting their appropriated robes and hoods, having
disposed of the color guard.
We aim to pull evil up by the root!
Before it chokes out the flower of
our culture'n heritage! And our women!
Let's not forget those ladies, y'all,
lookin' to us for p'tection! From
darkies! From Jews! From Papists!
And from all those smart-ass folk
say we come descended from the
monkeys! That's not my culture'n
A roar from the crowd.
Izzat your culture'n heritage?
And so... we gonna hang us a neegra!
A huge roar - and now the ranks resume their chanting.
The color guard hustles up the aisle to draw up behind the
two men leading Tommy to the gibbet. Everett hisses:
Hey Tommy! It's us!
Behind Everett in the deep background someone emerges from
the ranks into the middle aisle. He approaches with a strong,
purposeful stride - Big Dan Teague, bareheaded, holding his
hood under his arm.
Everett hisses again:
Tommy looks back over his shoulder.
Everett is oblivious to the big man approaching from behind.
It's us! We come to rescue ya!
That's mighty kind of ya boys, but I
don't think nothin's gonna save me
now - the devil's come to collect
Tommy, you don't wanna get hanged!
Naw I don't guess I do, but that's
the way it seems to be workin' out.
Listen to me, Tommy, I got a plan -
Whoosh - arriving Big Dan whips the hood from Everett's head.
Everett is exposed - in blackface.
The chanting abruptly stops. The crowd is stunned.
Big Dan whips off the other two hoods - Delmar and Pete, in
From the crowd:
The color guard is colored!
Big Dan roars.
The crowd roars.
Pandemonium breaks out, and the Imperial Wizard takes off
his red satin hood for a better view.
He is the reform candidate Homer Stokes. Next to him, his
midget also pulls of his midget hood.
Stokes is peeved.
Who made them the color guard?
Everett, Pete, Tommy and Delmar, bearing the Confederate
flag, are retreating across the neutral ground separating
the mob of Klansmen from the burning cross. The mob pursues
in full cry.
When the intruders reach the foot of the cross, Delmar turns.
He javelins the flagpole up and out toward the pursuing crowd.
Homer Stokes is mortified.
Damn! Can't let that flag touch the
The crowd gasps and watches, heads tilted back, in silence.
The only sound is the fluttering flag.
Homer Stokes' eyes rise, hesitate and start to fall as the
flag reaches its zenith and starts to descend.
We boom down with the hurtling flag toward a sea of upturned
white hoods. Dead in the middle is bareheaded Dan Teague.
His arms are tensed out at his sides like a waiting kick-off
returner. He squints up with his one good eye, judging
distance and trajectory.
From somewhere we hear a loud BOINK, as of a wire popping.
The flag flutters.
The crowd is silent.