"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.
Aftar 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 down.
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 the road.
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 men.
It curves in a gentle S into the background. It is sun-dappled, pretty.
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 arm.
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 toward us.
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 himselfto his feet. In spite of his stubble he has carefully tended hair and a pencil mustache. He is Everett.
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
that bayou -
The third con, Pete, bald but also with beard stubble, angrily cuts in.
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 them.
As it draws closer it resolves into a human-propelled flatcar. An ancient black man rhythmically pumps its long seesaw handle.
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
The three concvicts, faces upturned, listen raptly to the blind prophet.
...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
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 his words.
Loud and sudden:
- Izzat clear?
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 horizon.
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 depreived of earthly
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,
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 come May.
And Uncle Ratliff?
The anthrax took most of his cows. The
rest don't milk, and he lost a boy to
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 sunshine...'
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 enquire 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
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
BARNBURNIN' COCKROACHES -
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
Pete grabs a flaming faggot and hurls it down at the deputized congregation.
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.
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 flames:
Come on, boys! I'm gonna R-U-N-N-O-F-T!
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 through.
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 engine.
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 necessarues, 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 pomade.
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 Fop.
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 town...
He stalks into frame and plops disgustedly down by the fire.
...but try getting a decent hair jelly.
And no transmission belt for two weeks
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 hair.
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 Pete.
- 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
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-dellis.
It was in his bureau.
He screws the lid back on the pomade.
Delmar whistles appreciatively.
You got light fingers, Everett. Gopher?
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 voice:
Oh Brothers, let's go down,
Down to the river to pray...
Delmar gazes wonderingly at the white-robed figures as he answers Everett:
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
there's always -
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
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 pomade.
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 dripping wet.
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 Delmar.
But there were witnesses, saw us redeemed!
That's not the issue, Delmar. Even if it
did put you square with the Lord, the
State of Mississippi is more hardnosed.
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 out.
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
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 devil.
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 unaffiliated!
This ain't no laughin' matter, Everett.
What'd the devil give you for your soul,
He taught me to play this guitar real good.
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
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 handpainted sign:
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 Negro
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' by, but -
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 Sorrow'.
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 dollars apiece.
Okay sir, but Mert and Aloysius'll have
to scratch Xes - only four of us can
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
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 the fire.
Over the dreamy song:
Why don't we bed down out here tonight?
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
What about you, Everett? What'd you have
in mind when you stoled it in the first
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 hopeless!
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
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 trap shut!
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 a halt.
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 appraising pop.
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 Mississippi.
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
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
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, Georger, 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 BENA!
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 the lips.
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 boys?
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 dynamite.
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! GO FETCH THE AUTO-VOITURE,
He sends a burst into the ceiling, and heads for the door as customers murmur.
...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 HELL!
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 individual
Aww, I'm all right -
He shrugs off Everett's hand and lights the fuse on a stick of dynamite.
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 Delmar.
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
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 Nelson.
Delmar, gazing out at the blackness that has closed over George Nelson, hasn't really been listening. He turns sadly back.
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
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 radio building.
We are pulling back from a close shot of the portly blind man.
Hang on! Lemme slap up a wire.
He turns away to load a recording as he talks into a microphone.
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 enjoy
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 guitar
accump - accump - uh -
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
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
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 bandana, is knotted to the end of a stick slung over Delmar's shoulder.
- 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 Bottom Boys.
- 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 a bayou.
- 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 pods.
- 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 sad-faced woman is crestfallen.
Oh, mercy. Then - just the purple toilet
- 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 high shelf.
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 verse.
- 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 desists.
We can faintly hear a high, unearthly singing. Barely human, the sound seems to agitate Pete. He looks desperately out the window.
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 otherworldy 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
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, uh...
He takes a swig.
Mm. Corn licker, I guess, uh, the preferred
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 and Delmar.
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.
FADE IN: 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 continues.
Delmar groggily props himself on one elbow.
It is late afternoon. He is still on the riverbank. Everett snores nearby.
The ladies are gone. The hamper of laundry is gone. Pete is gone.
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 falling.
Sweet Jesus, Everett! They left his heart!
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-toad!
The toad hops down the river bank.
Pete! Come back!
He slides down the bank after the toad, Everett watching in perturbation.
The toad plops into the river and Delmar dives in after him. He emerges a moment later with the toad wriggling in his hand.
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 him.
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
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 pat.
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
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
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 friend?
Uh, we uh -
We're adventurers, sir, currently pursuin'
a certain opportunity but open to others
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-room.
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 walk!
Well he's the reform candidate, Daddy.
Pappy narrows his eyes at him, wondering what he's getting at.
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 relays:
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 we?
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
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
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 to Everett.
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 pockets.
Do unto others before they do unto you!
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 inside.
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
ive ya warts?
He squeezes the frog, crushing it, and tosses it away against a tree.
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 bullwhip.
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 mercy.
He looks back down at Pete.
Your two friends have abandoned you, Pete.
They don't seem to care 'bout your hide.
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 noose.
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 sentimentality.
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 shovles 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 thread:
...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 rustics.
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, little fella?
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 waves.
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 enthusiastic harmony:
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 train!
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 beau!
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 light up.
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 train!
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
A man in a straw boater joins them.
'Lo Penny... This gentleman bothering you?
Everett sniifs and, catching a scent, squints.
Waldrip's hair, protruding from under his boater, is plastered against his scalp.
...Have you been using my hair treatment?
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 daughters.
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 wife!
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 drifter...
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 spent!
Hit by a train! Truth means nothin' to
Woman, Delmar. Triumph a the subjective!
You ever been with a woman?
Well, uh, I - I gotta get the family farm
back before I can start thinkin' about that.
Well that's right! If then! Believe me,
Delmar, Woman is the most fiendish instrument
of torture ever devised to bedevil the days
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 attention:
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 Pete.
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 movements:
We thought... you was... a toad!
Pete shakes his head - didn't catch it - and repeats, also overarticulating:
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' livestock?!
We cain't do that, Daddy, we might offend
We ain't got a constichency! Stokes got a
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
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 satchel-ass
Johnnie-Come-Latelies 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 down.
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 it.
Well now, I don't believe assa property
Well, that's how I characterize it.
Well, I believe it's mawva kickin'
Pullin' ah pants down...
Wipin' little circles with his bread...
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 chirr 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 shore...
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 newfound liberty.
We hear an agonized voice from off as Everett continues to sway:
...Cain't stand much longer.
Pete's eyes burn into Everett's.
It was a moment a weakness!
Quitcha babblin' Pete - time to skedaddle.
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 toad.
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 Everett.
Fact of the matter - there never was!
So - where's all the money from your
I never knocked over any armored-car. I
was sent up for paracticing law without
Damnit, I just hadda bust out! My wife
wrote me she was gettin' married! I gotta
Pete stares vacantly off.
...No treasure... I had two weeks left on
I couldn't wait two weeks! She's gettin'
...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.
Eigty-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 weel, 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 gentlemen!
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 save
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-hole.
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 sightlessness.
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
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 heritage!
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 his due!
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 blackface.
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.
Big Dan sets and...
WHAP! He snaps his hands up and together.
He has caught the flagpole. The flag has not touched the ground.
The crowd cheers.
Big Dan looks around, beaming acknowledgement of the cheers.
From somewhere, another BOINK.
As Big Dan's look reaches front again, his smile fades.
His eye tracks up - up -
CREEEEEEK! The fiery cross is twisting and starting to fall.
At the foot of the cross Everett snaps its last huy wire with his pincers - BOINK - and the four men sprint off.
WHOOOOSH - As the crowd scatters, the cross descends toward Big Dan, frozen, looking up.
It crashes in a shower of sparks and embers that obliterates Big Dan Teague.
It is pulling up in front of a town hall from which party sounds filter out.
Pappy O'Daniel emerges from the car with his retinue - Eckard, Spivey and Junior.
I'm sayin' we har this man away.
Assa good idea, Pappy.
Cain't beat 'em, join 'em.
Have him join us, run our campaign
'stead a that pencil-neck's.
Enticements a power, wealth, settera.
No one says no to Pappy O'Daniel.
Oh gracious no. Not with his blandishments.
What's his name again?
Campaign manager? Waldrip.
Vernon T. Waldrip.
Hmm... His folks from out Tuscarora?
Tuscarora? Might be. I b'lieve they is.
Not a doubt in my mind.
Pappy is disgusted:
You don't know where his goddamn folks
from; you speakin' outcha asshole.
Well now Pappy I wouldn't put it that
As the three men make their way up the steps, Eckard's voice is fading:
...but p'haps yaw right...
In wide shot, they disappear into the building.
A reverse shows the wide shot to have been the point-of-view of Everett, Pete, Delmar and Tommy, who peek out from the mouth of an alley. Everett hisses his intelligence:
Well, it's a invitation-only affair;
we'll have to sneak in through the
service entrance -
Wait a minute - who elected you leader a
this outfit? Since we been followin' your
lead we got nothin' but trouble! I gotten
this close to bein' strung up, n'consumed
in a fire, 'n whipped no end, 'n sunstroked,
'n soggied -
'N turned into a frog -
He was never turned into a frog!
Almost loved up though.
Everett is stunned.
So you're against me now, too!... Is
that how it is, boys?
Silence. No one wants to meet Everett's eye. He is saddened.
The whole world and God Almighty... and
now you. Well, maybe I deserve this. Boys,
I... I know I've made some tactical
mistakes. But if you'll just stick with me;
I need your help. And I've got a plan.
Believe me, boys, we can fix this thing! I
can get my wife back! We can get outta here!
Headlights play; the men suck back into the alley as a car passes by.
The car tools up to the banquet hall and Homer Stokes emerges with his midget. The midget tosses his balled-up white hood into the car and both men shrug into their suitcoats.
Stokes is angry:
...goddamn disgrace. Made a travesty of
the entire evenin'...
They too start up the stairs. Stokes's pace is brisk and the midget hops awkwardlly to keep up.
...what I wouldn't give to get my hands
on those agitators. Whoever heard a such
behavior. Even among culluds. Or mulattos,
maybe - I suspect some miscegenation in
their heritage... how else you goin'
explain it - usin' the Confed'it flag as
BANQUET HALL KITCHEN
Everett, Pete, Delmar and Tommy are entering through the back door. The blackface has been scrubbed off but all four now wear long gray beards as disguise, clumsily affixed with spirit gum. Each is carrying a musical-instrument case.
They elbow past the bustling kitchen help.
Scuse me... scuse me... we're the next
Everett, my beard itches.
This is crazy. No one's ever gonna
believe we're a real band.
No, this is gonna work! I just gotta
get close enough to talk to her. Takin'
off with us is got a lot more future in
it than marrying a guy named Waldrip.
I'm goddamn bona fide. I've got the
Out in the banquet hall Penny and Waldrip sit side-by-side at the head table, surrounded by the Wharvey gals. Penny and Waldrip are facing the hall with their backs to the stage as the four bearded band members - Everett, Pete, Delmar and Tommy - take their places.
Pappy O'Daniel stands by Waldrip's chair with an arm draped over his shoulder, leaning in to murmur confidentially. Waldrip sits stiffly erect as he listens, frowning at a spot in space.
Suddenly Waldrip erupts:
Well that's a improper suggestion! I
can't switch sides in the middle of a
campaign! Especially to work for a man
who lacks moral fibre!
He waves his cane, outraged.
You pasty-faced sonofabitch, I invented
Up on the stage, the band has launched into a song.
Pappy O'Daniel was displayin' rectitude
and high-mindedness when that pencil-neck
you work for was still messin' his drawers!
Psst! Penny! Hey! Up here!
As the two men continue to exchange sharp words, penny turns her head to look steeply up over her shoulder.
Everett is up onstage just behind her. As the rest of the band continues to play, he is parting his beard to hiss down at her:
Panny! It's me!
Dismayed, she shakes her head and tries to unobtrusively wave him away. He is undeterred:
No, Penny, listen! We're leavin' the
state! Pusuin' opportunities in another
vebue! I got big plans! Not minstrelsy;
this-here's just a dodge - I'm gonna be
a dentist! I know a guy who'll print me
up a license! I wanna be what you want
me to be, honey! I want you and the gals
to come with me!
She shakes her head vigorously and looks down at her plate as Everett continues pleading to her back:
They're my daughters, Penny! I'm the
king a this goddamn castle!
Stokes has ambled up to the head table.
What're you doin' here, Pappy? I guess
someone let on there was free liquor,
Yeah, you'll be laughin' out the other
side your face come November.
Pappy O'Daniel be laughing' then.
Not out the other side his face, though.
Oh no, no, just the reg'la side -
This byplay is interrupted by a roar from the crowd.
The band has launched into 'Man of Constant Sorrow', precipitating the huge reaction. Everett, still trying to get Penny's attention, looks up, stunned at the ovation.
A cry from the crowd:
Hot damn! Itsa Soggy Bottom Boys!
Everett and the boys, still singing, exchange bemused looks. A shrug, and they lean into the song with a will.
Everett performs an impromptu buck-and-wing, bringing the crowd to new heights of hysteria.
Holy-moly. These boys're a hit!
But Pappy, they's inter-grated.
Well I guess folks don't mind they's
Stokes is also staring at the band, frowning. He murmurs to himself:
Wait a minute...
Everett catches Stokes' look. The two men look at each other, aghast.
Stokes raises his voice accusingly:
...you's miscegenated! All you boys!
Everett raises the volume of his singing. Stokes cries out:
Get me a mike-a-phone!
A mike is thrust into his hand and he bellows into it, overwhelming the music, which the boys eventually abandon. Stokes continues bellowing into the silence:
These boys is not white! These boys is not
white! Hell, they ain't even ol'-timey! I
happen to know, ladies'n gentlemen, this
band a miscreants here, this very evening,
they interfered with a lynch mob inna
performance of its duties!
The crowd stares at him, stone-faced. Stokes plows on:
It's true! I b'long to a certain society,
I don't believe I gotta mention its name,
Nobody joins in the laugh; Stokes slowly strangles on it.
...Ahem. And these boys here trampled all
over our venerated observances an' rich'ls!
Now this-here music is over! I aim to -
Boos start up among the crowd.
I aim to hand these boys over to - listen
to me, folks!
The boos are growing in volume. There are cries of 'More music!' and even one 'Shut up, pencil-neck!'
Listen to me! These boys desecrated a
More boos. Waldrip approaches and nudges the microphone away to murmur confidentially in Stokes' ear. Stokes excitedly retrieves the mike and struggles to be heard:
And they convicts! Fugitives, folks,
escaped off the farm!
This cuts no ice; the boos have become overwhelming.
Folks, these boys gotta be remanded
the 'thorities! Criminals! And I happen
to have it from the highest authority
that that Neegra sold his soul to the
He is hit by a tomato.
The boos are deafening; the Soggy Bottom Boys, sensing opportunity, launch back into the interrupted verse of 'Man of Constant Sorrow'. The boos become wild cheers.
Stokes is being pelted by foodstuffs. Shielding himself with one arm, he bellows into the mike:
Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Is you is
or is you ain't my constichency?
INT. RUSTIC CABIN
Far up some sleepy holler. An old man in overalls and his wife sit hunched before a crystal set, listening to the tinny voice. They look at each other wordlessly, look back at the crystal set.
BACK TO BANQUET HALL
Stokes is almost drowned out by the music as his midget looks apprehensively on.
Is you is or is you ain't -
A disgruntled audience member yanks out the microphone plug; Stokes continues to mouth the inaudible words.
Pappy is considering the crowd.
Goddamn! Oppitunity knocks!
He starts clambering up onto the stage.
Two men advance through the clapping audience holding high either end of an eight-foot rail. When they reach Stokes, other audience members help load him onto the rail.
Onstage, Pappy claps along with the audience.
As they play, the band members fearfully eye Pappy, who advances on them.
Pappy joyfully shakes his fat ass in time to the music and does a little two-step. The audience roars. The band relaxes, performing with even more gusto.
Stokes is being through the crowd on the rail, jeered at and pelted with comestibles until he bangs out the exit.
As the songs rolls into its big finish the audience roars approval, and Pappy elbows in to the microphone, beaming.
That's fine, that's fine!...
He drops one arm around Everett, the other around Delmar.
...Ladies'n gentlemens here and listenin'
at home, the great state of Mississippi
(Pappy O'Daniel, Gov'nor) thanks the
Soggy Bottom Boys for that won-a-ful
Now it looks like the only man in our
great state who ain't a music luvva, is
my esteemed opponent in the upcomin',
Homer Stokes -
Yeah, well, they ain't no accountin'
f'taste. It sounded t'me like he harbored
some kind a hateful grudge against the
Soggy Bottom Boys on account a their
rough'n rowdy past.
Sounds like Homer Stokes is the kinda
fella gonna cast the first stone!
Well I'm with you folks. I'm a f'give and
f'get Christian. And I say, well, if their
rambunctiousness and misdemeanorin' is
behind 'em - It is, ain't it, boys?
Everett hesitates, not sure where this is going.
Sure is, Governor.
Why then I say, by the par vested in me,
these boys is hereby pardoned!
Loud cheers prod Pappy to another level of inspiration:
And furthermore, in the second Pappy
O'Daniel administration, why, these boys -
is gonna be my brain trust!
The band beams, but Delmar leans into Everett, worried:
What sat mean exactly, Everett?
Well, you'n me'n Pete'n Tommy are gonna be
the power behind the throne so to speak.
So now, without further ado, and by way of
endorsin' my candidacy, the Soggy Bottom
Boys is gonna lead us all in a chorus of
'You Are My Sunshine' - ain't ya, boys?
He gives Everett a meaningful look, which Everett holds for a considering beat.
...Governor - that's one of our favorites!
Pappy returns a considered appraisal:
Son, you gonna go far.
The song begins.
The steps of the meeting hall. People stream out of the concert into the warm summer night.
Everett, now relieved of his beard, is walking down the steps with Penny.
I guess Vernon T. Waldrip is gonna be
goin' on relief. Maybe I'll be able to
throw a little patronage his way, get
the man a job diggin' ditches or
rounding up stray dogs.
Is the marriage off then, Miz Wharvey?
McGill. No, the marriage'll take place
Just a little change of cast. Me and
the little lady are gonna pick up the
pieces'n retie the knot, mixaphorically
speakin'. You boys're invited, of
course. Hell, you're best men! Already
got the rings.
He raises Penny's left hand with his own to display their wedding bands - but Penny's finger is bare.
Where's your ring, honey?
I ain't worn it since our divorce came
through. It must still be in the rolltop
in the old cabin. Never thought I'd need
it; Vernon bought one encrusted with
Hell, now's the time to buy it off him
We ain't gettin' married with his ring!
You said you'd changed!
Aw, honey, our ring is just a old pewter
Ain't gonna be no weddin'.
It's just a symbol, honey - PENNY
We'll go fetch it with ya, Everett.
Honey, it's just - Shutup, Delmar -it's
I have spoken my piece and counted to
She walks off.
Oh, goddamnit! She counted to three!
Sonofabitch! You know how far that
His attention, and everyone else's, is drawn by a procession on the street below. A crowd carrying torches jogs behind a man in clanking leg irons and wrist manacles who is being escortes by four policemen trotting alongside, their nightsticks held across their chests in riot-ready formation.
Everett and the rest of the Soggy Bottom Boys descend the last couple of steps to meet the oncoming criminal. Delmar cries out:
It is indeed George Nelson, grinning and game despite his heavy restraints.
'Lo, boys! Well, these little men
finally caught up with the criminal a
the century! Looks like the chair for
George Nelson. Yup! Gonna electrify me!
I'm gonna go off like a Roman candle!
Twenty thousand volts chasin' the rabbit
through yours truly! Gonna shoot sparks
out the top of my head and lightning
from my fingertips!
As he passes he turns to call back over his shoulder:
Yessir! Gonna suck all the power right
outa the state! Goddamn, boys, I'm on
top of the world! I'M GEORGE NELSON AND
I'M FEELIN' TEN FEET TALL!
Delmar, smiling, shakes his head as he watches him go.
Looks like George is right back on top
In the black we hear snuffling, growing louder, closer, slobberier.
A crack of light. We are inside a cupboard. Its door is being nosed open by an eagerly sniffing snout.
As the door swings wide the inside of the cupboard is washed with light. It contains, next to a tangled bunch of hairnets, several neatly stacked tins of Dapper Dan pomade.
Everett, Pete, Delmar and Tommy are walking through the woods.
Well, at least you boys'll get to see
the old manse - the home where I spent
so many happy days in the bosom of my
family - a refugium, if you will - with
a mighty oak tree out front and a happy
little tire swing...
They emerge into a clearing. The cabin stands before them. It is indeed a peaceful-looking haven with a mighty oak tree in front. There is, however, no tire swing; instead, three nooses hang from one stout limb.
Where's the happy little tire swing?
Two shotgun-wielding goons fall in behind the four men and push them forward.
Moving forward reveals, next to the oak tree, three fresh-dug graves. Standing at the far lip of each grave is a rough pine coffin.
The sheriff with mirrored sunglasses, Cooley, steps off the porch, the drooling hound at his heels.
End of the road, boys. It's had its
twists and turns -
- but now it deposits you here.
The goons are shoving them toward the tree. Three gravediggers, having just finished their work, emerge from the three graves. They are shirtless black men with bandanas round their necks.
You have eluded fate - and eluded me -
for the last time. Tie their hands, boys.
You can't do this -
Didn't know you'd be bringin' a friend.
Well, he'll have to wait his turn -
Hang on there -
- and share one of your graves.
You can't do this - we just been pardoned!
By the Governer himself!
It went out over the radio!
Is that right?
The leering goons, who have been lashing the men's wrists behind their backs, pause, their sadism stymied. They look to Cooley for guidance.
So too does the drooling hound.
...Too bad we don't have a radio.
The goons recover their leering grins and resume their happy task.
The gravediggers stand next to the graves, leaning on their shovels. They begin to sing a slow and dirgelike 'You've Got to Walk That Lonesome Valley'. Sweat glistens on them and trickles down their faces like tears.
God have Mercy!
It ain't fittin'!
It ain't the law!
The law. Well the law is a human
Cooley gives the faintest smile.
Perhaps you should take a moment for
Oh my God! Everett!
I'm sorry we got you into this, Tommy.
Good Lord, what do we do?
Pete is in tears. Tommy is terrified. Delmar bows his head to silently pray.
Everett bows his head as well. He murmurs:
Oh Lord, please look down and recognize
us poor sinners... please Lord...
The singing of the gravediggers begins a mournful swell.
...I just want to see my daughters again.
Oh Lord, I've been separated from my
family for so long...
The mornfully building song is now supported by a bass more palpable than audible - the song, it seems, rising out of the earth itself.
...I know I've been guilty of pride and
sharp dealing. I'm sorry that I turned my
back on you, Lord. Please forgive me, and
help us, Lord, and I swear I'll mend my
ways... For the sake of my family... For
Tommy's sake, and Delmar's, and Pete's...
The rumble is building.
...Let me see my daughters again. Please,
Lord, help us... Please help us...
The rumble erupts into a deafening roar.
A wall of water is crashing through the hollow.
It egulfs everything and everybody. The cabin itself is ripped away; the Soggy Bottom Boys are knocked off their feet and all is noise and confusion.
A silent world. Everett tumbles in the current in natural slow motion.
Suspended around him are scroes of tins of Dapper Dan pomade.
Other objects spin slowly by; framed sepia-tinted family portraits, tree limbs, a fishing pole, an outhouse door, a frying pan, a noose, an old banjo, the wild-eyed frantically paddling bloodhound, a tire with a rope tied around it.
The churning torrent opens into a lowland to become a newly created river, fast-moving but no longer violent.
After a beat of hold on the rippling waters, the surface is broken by the up-bob of a pine coffin.
The coffin floats downstream for a beat and then Everett pops out of the water next to it, gasping for air, shaking his head clear of water, and moving his shoulders to finish freeing himself from the rope round his wrists.
Pete and Delmar emerge nearby, gasping for air.
The men hang onto the coffin, which bears them downstream. Dazed, they look around.
The inundated valley shows only the occasional roof- or treetop poking out of the newly formed river. All is quiet except for the gurgle of water.
A miracle! It was a miracle!
Aw, don't be ignorant, Delmar. I told
you they was gonna flood this valley.
That ain't it!
We prayed to God and he pitied us!
It just never fails; once again you two
hayseeds are showin' how much you want
for innalect. There's a perfectly
scientific explanation for what just
That ain't the tune you were singin' back
there at the gallows!
Well any human being will cast about in a
moment of stress. No, the fact is, they're
flooding this valley so they can hydro-
electric up the whole durned state...
Everett waxes smug:
Yessir, the South is gonna change.
Everything's gonna be put on electricity and
run on a payin' basis. Out with the old
spiritual mumbo-jumbo, the superstitions and
the backward ways. We're gonna see a brave
new world where they run everyone a wire and
hook us all up to a grid. Yessir, a veritable
age of reason - like the one they had in
France - and not a moment too soon...
His voice trails off as he notices something.
A cottonhouse in the middle of the river is submerged to its eaves. A cow has taken refuge on its roof. It stands staring at Everett, who returns the stare.
He shakes off the vision and clears his throat.
Not a moment too soon. Say, there's Tommy!
Tommy has indeed just surfaced downstream, clinging to a half-submerged piece of furniture.
What you ridin' there, Tommy?
The furniture beneath him begins to rotate in the current and, to keep his head above water, Tommy climbs in place like a hamster on a wheel. As the chest exposes its ribbed upper half:
Everett and Penny walk arm in arm, the seven Wharvey gals behind. The girls sing 'Angel Band' as the grown-ups talk.
All's well that ends well, as the poet
That's right, honey.
But I don't mind telling you, I'm awful
pleased my adventuring days is at an end...
He fumbles in his pocket.
...Time for this old boy to enjoy some
That's good, honey.
And you were right about that ring. Any
other weddin' band would not do. But
this-here was foreordained, honey; fate
was a-smilin' on me, and ya have to have
He is slipping it onto her hand.
That's not my ring.
- in the gods - Huh?
That's not my ring.
That's one of Aunt Hurlene's.
You said it was in the rolltop desk!
I said I thought it was in the rolltop
You said -
Or, it might a been under the mattress.
Or in my chiffonier. I don't know.
Everett shakes his head.
Well, I'm sorry honey -
Well, we need that ring.
Well now honey, that ring is at the bottom
of a pretty durned big lake.
A 9,000-hectacre lake, honey.
I don't care if it's ninety thousand.
Yes, but honey -
That wasn't my doing...
Indignation quickens her pace. Everett keeps up, and the two are pulling forward out of frame.
Course not, honey, but...
We are now on the Wharvey gals who follow in a ragged bunch, still singing. From somewhere distant, through the song, we can just hear a rhythmic clack of metal on metal.
The second-to-last girl is the oldest; she holds a piece of string along which we travel, still listening to Penny and Everett, off:
I counted to three, honey.
Well sure, honey, but...
We reach the end of the piece of string; it is wrapped around the waist of the toddler, who lingers in frame. She gazes down a quiet street at the edge of town that ends in an open field.
...finding one little ring in the middle
of all that water...
His voice, and that of the singing girls, recedes.
...that is one hell of a heroic task...
The string is given a tug and the little girl waddles out of frame.
A train track is thus revealed in the distance. The rhythmic clack is from the hand-pumped flatcar.
The blind seer pumps the car along the distant track, singing harmony under the Wharvey gals' receding voices.