SCREENPLAY 101: THE LION IN WINTER

Guest blogger Greg Beal is the director of the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.

“I should have killed you years ago,” proclaims Henry, King of England.
“There’s no one peeking. Do it now,” responds Eleanor of Aquitaine, his long-estranged wife.

Renowned for its biting dialogue, THE LION IN WINTER (#71 on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays) captures the passion drawing its powerful royal couple together while pushing them forever apart. Adapted from his own play, James Goldman’s brilliant lines spill out of the mouths of Eleanor and Henry, ravishingly portrayed by Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole, both Academy-nominated for their roles, with Hepburn winning her third Oscar (and her second in a row), famously tying with Barbra Streisand (in FUNNY GIRL) for the honor.

Taking place at Christmas in 1183, THE LION IN WINTER is also a story of politics and power, of three sons – Richard, Geoffrey and John – scheming to succeed their father, and of Alais, the king’s young mistress, who is betrothed to Richard. Not to mention that Eleanor was once Queen of France before that marriage was annulled, and the teenage King Phillip of France, her former husband’s son by another wife, has come to retrieve his half-sister Alais’ dowry, or see her married. (For those who don’t read history or Shakespeare, it’s GAME OF THRONES, sans dragons and multiple murders.)

While the narrative is historically significant – for son Richard is the Lionheart and son John would sign the Magna Carta in 1215 – the dialogue is what I remember and cherish. Here’s an exchange from Henry’s first meeting with Eleanor after having had her imprisoned for ten years for fomenting a revolt against his rule.

Eleanor: I don’t much like our children. (Rising, moving toward ALAIS) Only you. The child I raised but didn’t bear.
Alais: You never cared for me.
Eleanor: I did and do. Believe me, Henry’s bed is Henry’s province. He can people it with sheep for all I care. Which, one occasion, he has done.
Henry: Still that? When Rosamund’s been dead for seven years.
Eleanor: Two months and eighteen days. I never liked her much.
Henry: You count the days?
Eleanor: I made the numbers up.

James Goldman deservedly won an Oscar and a WGA Award for his screenplay (in advance of his brother Bill by a year – yes, sibling rivalries abound, even if benign in this case). THE LION IN WINTER was also nominated for Best Picture and won a third Oscar for John Barry’s score.

The selected pages 142-144 depict the final confrontation after his sons have gathered to kill Henry. The screenplay held in the WGF Library is a Second Draft, Revised 6th November (1967). The film went into production that month at Ardmore Studios in Ireland and premiered in the US on October 30, 1968.

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Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category).

SCREENPLAY 101: BEING JOHN MALKOVICH

I had this hilarious gag planned for the BEING JOHN MALKOVICH post in our series detailing the WGA’s 101 greatest screenplays. I had written a whole post that consisted entirely of the word “Malkovich,” over and over again, complete with punctuation, italics and other indications that I was writing in a language that consisted entirely of the word “Malkovich.”

But alas, that was not to be! Some snag in the code basically made the word “Malkovich” appear all over the page, as though our website were being taken over by some kind of virus – malkovich.worm.badtrans.2048 or something. Here’s what it looked like:

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Since it’s Christmas Eve and I don’t exactly have time to poke through the entire back end of our website trying to find the problem, I’ll just give you the alternate opening sequence from an earlier, undated draft in our collection, and wish you a happy holiday.

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BEING JOHN MALKOVICH is written by Charlie Kaufman and is number 74 on the list of the WGA’s 101 Greatest Screenplays.

Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category). Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich.

SCREENPLAY 101: HIGH NOON

Here’s a fun fact about HIGH NOON: U.S. Presidents love it.

Eisenhower screened it three times. Clinton screened it too, and recommended it to George W. Bush, who in turn gifted Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi with one of the film’s original posters. (Bush was also reportedly a fan of the AUSTIN POWERS movies, and was known around the White House for his Dr. Evil impression, but that’s neither here nor there).

It makes sense, if you think about it. Its one-righteous-man-against-the-world stance is applicable to just about any spot on the political spectrum; no matter what your issue is, it’s easy to find some inspiration in Gary Cooper’s actions throughout the film. And you don’t have to be Doris Kearns Goodwin to know that the Oval Office can be a pretty lonely place.

But what’s really cool about HIGH NOON – screenplay by Carl Foreman, based on the short story “The Tin Star” by John W. Cunningham, and number 75 on the WGA’s list of the 101 greatest screenplays of all time – is that Cooper’s character, Will Kane, is clearly terrified the entire time. People tend to remember Will as the strong, silent type – it feels like Tony Soprano mentions this about six times per season in THE SOPRANOS – but both the script and Cooper’s performance make it pretty clear that Will is only keeping it together through sheer force of will.

But the reason Kane is a hero – and a political inspiration to anyone who’s ever, say, looked down the barrel of a recalcitrant Congress – is because he faces the danger head-on without considering the consequences. But that’s not all! He’s got logic on his side, as we see on page 19. Backing down from Frank Miller just doesn’t make sense.

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Plus, hey! He’ll have his whole running crew with him! Surely they’ll have his back!

But then, of course, when he goes to rally the troops in a later scene…

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(Note: Miller is referred to as Mitchell in this early draft.)

You can almost hear the sad horns from The Price Is Right as the town abandons Kane right there in the church. (You might even suspect Foreman and co-producer Stanley Kramer are making a statement about religion by setting this scene in a church. But let’s not get into that right now.)

And one by one, Kane’s compatriots abandon him. His friends. His deputy. Even people who promised their help earlier in the script.

And in a scene on page 91 that didn’t make it into the final movie, Kane actually contemplates suicide:

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…or even attempts it, based on your interpretation of the scene. Did he know the safety catch was on? Will Kane doesn’t seem like a guy who would fire his gun without releasing the safety. On the other hand, he’s clearly shaken by the ordeal he’s about to face: One lawman against four bandits, one of whom is played by Lee Van Cleef. Those odds aren’t good. You could hardly blame him for wanting to take the easy way out.

(Again, there’s probably some symbolic subtext here: Foreman was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee when he was writing the script. That would make anyone feel alone, terrified, and pessimistic about the future.)

That’s why HIGH NOON is a great movie, really. Our cinematic heroes are at their most relatable when they’re in over their head and they know it: Han Solo’s terror as he unknowingly chases two stormtroopers into a hangar full of more stormtroopers. The look that crosses Indiana Jones’s face as he reaches for a gun that isn’t there. Black Widow’s “I don’t see how that’s a party” line as Iron Man leads a giant armored space eel right to her. That’s how we’d feel, right?

Personally, that’s why I’d love to see a version of HIGH NOON with that suicide scene. I like a Will Kane who’s scared stiff. I like a Will Kane who tests out what it might be like to end his own life, rather than letting a bunch of hooligans end it for him (possibly using a much more gruesome methodology). I like a Will Kane who walks right up to the edge of the cliff before turning around to face his pursuers, rather than jump off. Don’t get me wrong – in the final film, he sweats profusely as he watches the clock and makes out his will. There’s no question he’s scared. But there’s scared, and then there’s gun-in-your-mouth scared, and coming back from one isn’t like coming back from the other.

Either way: No wonder presidents want to be like this guy.

The pages cited in this post are from an undated draft, but we also have a draft from August 24, 1951. Both drafts feature the “suicide” scene.

Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category).

SCREENPLAY 101: RAGING BULL

Boxing movies are a lot like submarine movies or zombie movies – no matter how good they are, they tend to fall into the same sorts of patterns. Mardik Martin knew that when he took on the task of co-writing the script for RAGING BULL (screenplay by Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin, based on the book by Jake La Motta with Joseph Carter and Peter Savage), number 76 on the list of the WGA’s 101 best screenplays.

Martin, a longtime confederate of BULL director Martin Scorcese, was reluctant to take on the script, partly because he didn’t want to make a typical boxing movie. “The trouble with RAGING BULL is that the damn thing has been done a hundred times,” he says in the excellent Peter Biskind book EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS (available in our library). “A fighter who has trouble with his brother and wife, and the mob is after him. I don’t want to do another brother-fighter story because that was done in CHAMPION. And ROCKY is out, same company. Same producers!”

Oh, and Martin had no interest in boxing or La Motta, and didn’t like the book the movie is based on. “I think this book is full of shit,” he says in Biskind’s book. “It’s made-up stuff, looks like a PR job.” Most historians and cinephiles seem to agree that BULL was the brainchild and passion project of star Robert De Niro anyway, so much so that during preproduction he naturally took to boxing.

Whatever Martin thought, the final product is compelling, and – for my money at least – the brotherhood angle is what really sells the story. Joey La Motta, played beautifully by then-newcomer Joe Pesci, is consumed with maintaining the delicate balance of his brother’s fragile psyche and the mob goons pulling his strings, which is a lot like trying to balance a house of cards on the San Andreas Fault. In a windstorm. As Earth crashes into the sun.

The very first thing Joey tries to do is appeal to Jake with money, right on page 2:

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The money motivates Jake in the moment, but as we come to see, it’s not really what’s deep in Jake’s heart.

Over the next few pages, we see Joey dicker with mobster Salvy behind the scenes, speaking on Jake’s behalf and struggling with that delicate balance:

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Later in the film, Joey and Salvy come to blows when Joey finds that Salvy very likely has designs on Jake’s wife Vickie; knowing the mad, irrational jealousy that constantly swarms Jake’s head, he knows he has to put out this fire before it starts.

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Oh, and by the way, even a stopped clock is right twice a day; Jake wasn’t exactly wrong to be jealous of Salvy, as we see earlier in the script (apologies for the quality of our scan here):

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But of course, Joey’s attempt to protect Jake from the big bad world is precisely what starts the chaos that ends the two brothers’ relationship.

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In the end, the movie about a boxer having trouble with his brother and his wife ended up being a profound fall-from-grace story, much like ON THE WATERFRONT (which is referenced in the final pages of the script). Along with uncredited partners Scorcese and Robert De Niro (according to David Thompson’s SCORCESE ON SCORCESE), Martin and Schrader imbued the script with the subtlety and realism common to 70s cinema (though this movie is from 1980).

Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category).

SCREENPLAY 101: ADAPTATION

Keri Marken is an MLIS candidate at UCLA, and a Writers Guild Foundation archival intern.

With three scripts on the WGA’s list of 101 Greatest Screenplays, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman appears to have this writing thing down pat. Kaufman has garnered critical acclaim for crafting some of the most original and imaginative storylines, centered on some of the most interesting and awkwardly funny characters. However, Kaufman’s screenplay, ADAPTATION, based on the book “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean, is unique in that the central character happens to be Charlie Kaufman himself.

Positioned at number 77 on WGA’s list, ADAPTATION brings two storylines together—one is Kaufman’s struggle to adapt Susan Orlean’s book for the screen, while the other focuses on the actual plot and characters of the book itself. Kaufman’s writer’s block is a main element in the story, which provides the audience with a glimpse into the writer’s world…one that is fraught with impending deadlines, a lack of motivation, and general feelings of inferiority.

In order to illustrate his struggle, Kaufman employs a fictitious twin brother, Donald, who becomes a constant source of annoyance for Charlie due to his seemingly effortless attempt to launch a screenwriting career. Donald’s inexperience, cliché story ideas, and general naivety contribute to Charlie’s growing neurosis. Kaufman’s impatience is evident in the pages below, when Donald suggests the benefits of attending a screenwriting seminar. Yet, even though Donald represents the frustration that often accompanies the writing process, he is still an integral part of the finished product and as such, earns his own writing credit in this collaborative effort.

Here are four pages from our April 2, 2001 draft:

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Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category).

Screenplay 101: ROCKY

Where does a character gather the resilience and perseverance that will allow him to fight the odds and come out ahead at the conclusion of a story?  Well, in the case of ROCKY, written by Sylvester Stallone and number 78 on the WGA’s list of the 101 all-time greatest screenplays, who knows? And more importantly, who cares?

One reason why this film manages to end in such a high note at the end – despite the fact that Rocky doesn’t win the fight – is because for almost the entire film, Rocky gets dumped on, over and over and over. And that builds sympathy for him. Rocky has a terrible existence. He’s poor, nobody respects him, the aging gym trainer tells him he’s no good, and he gets called a bum multiple times. On top of all that, he really is too old to get taken seriously as a contender.

And yet, through all this, Rocky still manages to defy the odds. But he doesn’t do it in a determination no-holds-barred I’m-gonna-prove-it-type-to-them type of way (except in the scene included here, in which Rocky tells Adrian that fighting Apollo means he will be able to tell the world that he isn’t a bum). Instead, he does so with genuine optimism. His character simply bounces back from every insult and setback, period. And we’re not even sure why that is. We don’t know anything about his past or childhood that might give us an insight as to why he must succeed, except for that one photograph he looks at of himself as kid. He is simply a guy who just sort of seems to forge ahead no matter what comes at him. And in that sense, he is really a fresh protagonist.

Thou they’re labeled individually with earlier dates, the pages here are from a January 7, 1976 draft.

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Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category).

Screenplay 101: THE PRODUCERS

Combine a sleazy Broadway producer taking advantage of little old ladies with one extremely nervous accountant cajoled into performing some “creative accounting.” Mix in a hippie actor named Lorenzo St. Du Bois – or LSD – and a fanatic former Nazi who loves Hitler with all his heart. Blend it all up into a Broadway musical praising the Third Reich. It’s sure to flop, at least if Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) have anything to do with it.

#79 on the WGA’s list of the 101 best screenplays is the 1968 film THE PRODUCERS, written and directed by Mel Brooks. This was Brooks’ directorial debut; he won an Oscar as well as WGA Award for best screenplay.

Max and Leo spend the film scheming to produce the worst musical ever made, intending to keep all the investors’ money. There is no way they can fail with a musical written as a love letter to Adolf Hitler. They don’t count on the audience thinking it’s a farce and loving the show!

Brooks’ eccentric characters and the absurd situations are so far over the top that they almost seem plausible. The pages below, from a 1967 draft, show our producers sucking up to the musical’s writer Franz Liebkind to get into business with him. They involve the unwitting and unhinged Liebkind in their plan, even as Franz reveals his deep admiration for Hitler in a monologue, ending with the declaration that Hitler could “dance the pants off Churchill!” Brooks boldly goes all out on every joke. While the risk of our two titular producers resulted only in jail sentences, the risk Brooks took in making fun of Hitler and the Nazis just 23 years after WWII paid off for him in spades. Bialystock and Bloom’s loss was certainly our gain.

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Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category).

SCREENPLAY 101: REAR WINDOW

This post has some spoilers in it. So tread lightly.

We all have those specific moments that we love – moments that are common to all movies. The meet cute. The turning point. The jump scare. The lull before the storm. The death rattle.

For me, it’s that “oh ****” moment.

It’s hard to describe, exactly, but the “oh ****” moment is so named because it’s that moment that makes you say, out loud, oh ****. Or, if it’s a really good movie, ohhh **************. You know it: The part in GREMLINS when Lynn Peltzer enters the kitchen to find one of the monsters eating Christmas cookies with its back to her. The part in SEVEN where we realize what’s in the box just before Brad Pitt does. The part in THE LADY VANISHES when Gilbert and Iris sit down beneath the window that  Miss Froy had written her name on earlier in the film. The part where you put your hand to your mouth and point at the screen.

And speaking of Hitchcock… here’s number 83 on the list of the WGA’s 101 best screenplays of all time: REAR WINDOW. Screenplay by John Michael Hayes, based on the short story by Cornell Woolrich.

REAR WINDOW has the ultimate “oh ****” moment on page 146. We’ve been watching, from Jeff’s vantage point, Lisa rifling through Torvald’s apartment, looking for evidence. We (along with Jeff) watch helplessly as Torvald arrives home to find Lisa there. Then, he slowly looks up – right into Jeff’s camera lens.

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The moment is especially powerful because we’re just as trapped as Jeff (played by James Stewart in what might be his best role), as Roger Ebert, in his book THE GREAT MOVIES II, notes:

The hero of… REAR WINDOW is trapped in a wheelchair, and we’re trapped, too – trapped inside his point of view, inside his lack of freedom and his limited options. When he passes his long days and nights by shamelessly maintaining a secret watch on his neighbors, we share his obsession…. Here’s a film about a man who does on the screen what we do in the audience – look through a lens at the private lives of strangers.

The reason the film works so well is because Jeff observes the world through the lens of a camera, just as the people watching him do. Such an audience-identification perspective is rightly considered a triumph of filmmaking – but most people might not guess that the screenplay itself is written through the lens of a camera, where Hayes notes that Thorvald’s “head slowly turns, and he looks right up – directly into the lens.” Not “directly at us” or “directly at Jeff” – he’s looking into a camera. Hayes and Hitch had a firm handle on their theme from square one.

Here’s an interview with Hayes on working with Hitchcock, if you’d like to learn more. (Beware – the sound in the video starts off loud and then drops pretty precipitously.)

Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category).

 

SCREENPLAY 101: LA GRANDE ILLUSION

Guest blogger Greg Beal is the director of the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.

How’s this for a miracle? During World War II, the negative of LA GRANDE ILLUSION (written by Jean Renoir and Charles Spaak, number 85 of the WGA’s List of 101 Greatest Screenplays) was destroyed in an allied bombing raid of Paris. Or so it was thought. It turned out the Nazis had stolen the negative of the film Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels declared “Cinematic Public Enemy No. 1,” along with hundreds of others, and moved them to Berlin. Safe in the Reichsfilmarchiv vaults, the French films survived the war (though they did detour to Moscow first, but that’s another story).

The pages excerpted below depict the film’s centerpiece scene, a song-and-dance extravaganza in drag in a German prisoner-of-war camp. Amidst the gleeful insanity, Jean Gabin’s Maréchal bursts onto the stage to announce that the French army has retaken Douaument and, to the chagrin of the German guards, the French and British prisoners leap to their feet to sing “La Marseillaise.” The exquisite moment, later reprised in CASABLANCA, is captured by Renoir’s floating camera as it sweeps past face after face of the joyous allied airmen.

In addition to its standing as one of greatest anti-war films (and as the first foreign film to be Academy nominated for Best Picture), LA GRANDE ILLUSION is also the story of humanity and understanding, friendship and sacrifice, love and loss, and class and racism.  The treatment of the Jewish officer Rosenthal (played by Marcel Dalio) prefigured what was soon to escalate in Nazi Germany.

Charles Spaak’s treatment for LA GRANDE ILLUSION (reprinted in Andre Bazin’s Renoir) includes one last illusion:  as they escape to Switzerland, the former mechanic Maréchal and the nouveau riche Rosenthal (Dolette in the treatment) agree to meet for dinner at Maxim’s in Paris after the war. The final, never filmed shot was to be of an empty table at Maxim’s, marked “Reserved,” for these two men, such able friends during captivity and escape, apparently couldn’t overcome the strictures of class and race to meet again.


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Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category).

SCREENPLAY 101: HAROLD AND MAUDE

Released in 1971, HAROLD AND MAUDE originated from, of all places, writer Colin Higgins’ masters thesis at UCLA.  Its dark humor and unique exploration of the meaning of life are still moving and relevant, even after 40 years.  Join us as we look at #86 on the WGA’s 101 Greatest Screenplays.

The relationship between 20-year-old Harold and 80-year-old Maude is probably one of the most unusual romances ever seen onscreen.  Harold has no direction in life, sees a therapist, attends funerals for fun, and has performed seventeen fake “suicides” by the time we meet him.  Having had enough, his mother arranges dates for him throughout the film – but the only woman who catches his eye is the vivacious and optimistic (not to mention elderly) Maude.  Beyond their common interest in funerals, Maude brings some spontaneity and laughter into Harold’s life – she steals cars, sits nude for a sculptor, evades a cop and appreciates the tiniest differences from one flower to the next.

In these four pages from a May 1970 draft, Maude speaks beautifully about the grandness of life and we see Harold learning to loosen up.  Indicating their growing intimacy, Harold holds Maude’s hand and kisses it.  He notices a number tattooed on her skin, alluding to her past as a Nazi prisoner.  In this short and tender moment, we feel the depth of Maude’s history and begin to understand the reasons for her unconventional behavior, which makes the rest of the film that much more moving.

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Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category).