FILM WRITING

CROPPER'S CABIN
screenplay by
Lorenzo DeStefano

based on the novel by
Jim Thompson

BURDOCK CITY, OKLAHOMA, 2001. This is the land of the Caddo, Choctaw, Creek and Kiamichi Nations. Two figures work a cotton field at dawn. A middle-aged white man, RAY CARVER, and his 18 year-old son, TOM CARVER, move wordlessly through the furrows, picking and bagging. They have the half-starved look of poor folks who canít remember their last good year. Their hands bleed on the raw white cotton. On the hill above them is the splendid Plantation home of MATTHEW ONTIME, the wealthiest Indian in the region. Heís the wealthiest anybody, in fact. Owner of a rich 5000 acre spread, Ontime controls the local economy. Chairman and CEO of the Tribal Casino, heís also President of the local Chamber of Commerce and the Burdock City Savings and Loan. If you want to work at much of anything hereabouts you work with Matthew Ontime.

DONNA ONTIME lowers the power window of her brand new BMW convertible. Matthew's only child, sheís twenty-three and startlingly beautiful. Parked under the willows near Burdock City High School, she waits for the bell to ring, watches as Tom leaves the main building with his classmates. His eyes are drawn towards the willows as the sun hits Donnaís side mirror. Passing on several offers of a ride, Tom crosses the street, slips into the soft leather confines of Donnaís car. Their first kiss is long, familiar, and very hot. Their second is off the charts. Donna turns the air on high, has Tom unzipped in no time. She arches back as they make love. Tom looks up, sees his friends boarding school buses and revving up their cars as Donna shudders recklessly in his lap, tickles his chest with her jet black hair.

Their affair, were it known, would blow Burdock City apart. This is a town where the whites are already uneasy with being less better off than most of the local Indians. Donna is the only thing Matthew Ontime loves besides land and money. His late father was born lucky, before the date and time set by the U.S. GOVERNMENT as "ALLOTMENT HOUR". If you were from one of the four tribes and your direct ancestors were born before 12:00 a.m. on April 22, 1889 you could inherit their share of tribal lands. If you were like ABE TOOLATE, janitor at Burdock City High, and your parents were born after that golden date and time, even by a minute, you got nothing but a last name to remind you of your family's misfortune. There are more Toolates than Ontimes in this northeastern part of Oklahoma known as Green County, green for oil money and envy.

Ray Carver has worked for Matthew Ontime for more years than he can count. To supplement his meager income he sharecrops 40 acres smack in the middle of Ontime's vast holdings. Desperate to lease drilling rights to the 10 acres he owns outright, Ray has been prevented from closing such a deal because of Ontime's refusal to allow drilling on his own land. With the latest offer from Amalgamated Oil of $2500 an acre, Ray has reached the breaking point. He forces a confrontation with Ontime on the issue, is once again rebuffed. Ray wonít take no for an answer this time. He starts a fight that Tom has to step in and finish. Ontime is furious with both of them, cancels the Carver's cropping rights, and orders them off his plantation.

Tom returns to the Ontime plantation the following day, apologizes for his and his fatherís behavior. He tries to convince Ontime to give them their 40 acres of cropping land back but the master wonít bend. Donna could help with her father but canít risk exposing her relationship with Tom. When Tom sneaks inside the house that night to see her heís run off at the end of a horse whip by CHIEF SUNDOWN, Ontime's ranch foreman.

Ray falls into a drunken stupor for a week, takes it out on his wife MARY, a sallow beauty from Holly Springs, Mississippi. He rails at Tom for failing to put things right with Ontime. Lashing out at the only two people still dependent enough to tolerate him, Ray accidentally reveals the true circumstances of Tomís birth. Believing for years that he was an orphan adopted by Ray and Mary back in Mississippi, Tom discovers that Ray is his real father. Heís sickened when he learns the circumstances behind his real motherís death, is preparing to break away from Ray when SHERIFF CLYDE BLUNDEN and DEPUTY MOY PROCK arrive at the Carver homestead. They report that Matthew Ontime is dead, stabbed around midnight the night before. The murder weapon -- a knife with a bone and ashwood handle bearing the initials T.C..

Ray does nothing to defend his son, silences Mary with a murderous stare when the cops start asking questions. As they move to arrest him Tom panics, grabs the Sheriffís gun, and disappears into the head-high corn fields. Holed up in the swamps with a broken ankle, he hears voices from the opposite shore, sees a DOZEN INDIAN LEADERS seated around a fire. They speak the Creek language, perform a ritual banishment on another Indian. The manís ankles are bound, his hands strapped to his sides. Tom squints through the thick smoke, recognizes Abe Toolate.

Tom is given shelter by one of his teachers, MISS TRUMBULL, a sweet-natured matronly sort prone to floral print dresses and good advise. She treats Tomís wounds, listens to his story, assures him that MR. REDBIRD, the principal of Burdock High, is the only person that can help him out of the mess heís in. Tom is wary of giving out his location. Miss Trumbull reassures him until Tom reluctantly agrees, as long as Redbird comes alone. When Redbird comes to Miss Trumbullís house he brings the cops with him.

Captured and put on trial, Tom is defended by a flamboyant attorney from Oklahoma City, CHARLES KOSSMEYER. The halls of Burdock County Justice have never seen the likes of this one man legal steamroller. He talks a fantastic game, pulls out all the stops, fails to keep Tom out of a 20-year stretch at SANDSTONE PRISON. Tom is beaten and harassed by Indian and white inmates alike. Heís put to work in the sandstone quarry, a   Dante's Inferno of unremitting toil. An ďaccidentĒ finally lands him in the prison hospital run by DR. EUSTUS CORDELL, an effeminate angel of mercy who nurses him back to health.

Kossmeyer's appeals come to nothing. Tom is preparing to break out when WARDEN HANEY arrives at his cell, hands him a copy of the Burdock City News with the headline, ďABE TOOLATE CONFESSES TO ONTIME MURDERĒ. Warden Haney explains that Abe stole Tom's knife from his locker at school, used it to kill Ontime out of hatred for their vastly different fates.

Bruised and embittered, Tom is set free, returns to the Carver homestead. The fields are baked dry, the cabin in an abandoned state. He picks up an ax, moves through the torn screen door, can tell right away that Maryís cleared out. Thereís the creak of a chair, the sound of a spoon scraping the edges of a dish. Tom sees his old man hunched at the kitchen table. Ray's eyes are glassy. His mouth is a gaping hole in the gray stubble of his unwashed face, babbles incoherently. Stunned by his fatherís appearance, Tom feels little sympathy. He flings the ax into the wall, walks onto the double rut road and away from here for good. A BMW convertible pulls up beside him. Donna Ontime opens the passenger door, as beautiful as any dream. Tom hesitates before getting in. The car makes a U-turn, heads for the glittering Plantation on the hill.  

for more information on Jim Thompson, visit the Jim Thompson resource page by clicking here

© / ģ 2001                         LORENZO DESTEFANO / PRODUCTIONS A-PROPOS