Genre: Western Adventure
Premise: An Old West magician is forced to break an outlaw from a Mexican prison.
About: Chosen out of the Repped Week Pile because I was hooked by the logline. All I know about this script is that the writer, Jamie Nash, is repped by Chad Marting of Elements Entertainment. To my understanding, although Nash has representation, he hasn't made a big spec sale yet, which qualifies him for Repped Week.
Writer: Jamie Nash
Chances are, if you've written a screenplay about a magician, I am going to find it, and I am going to read it.
Can't help it. You can blame Professor Stark, who got me hooked on magician stories two years ago when he handed me his own nasty little revenge tale that featured a magician as a hero. I guess we can never foresee our addictions, but once we've had our first hit, it's game over, man.
Which is why I chose "Quicker Than the Eye" out of all the other scripts that were submitted for Repped Week.
Yep, sometimes it's as simple as that. Look at that fucking logline. It's so simple, yet it tells me everything I need to know.
So who's our magician, Rog?
Max Harding is The British King of Cuffs. We meet him at the turn of the century, 1899 to be exact, and he's performing the infamous Bullet Catch at a tumbleweed theater somewhere in the Old West. We learn that this trick has not only been the death of other magicians, but Max's own father. Right away, we understand that Max is trying to live up to his father's legacy.
He's helped by his lovely assistant Anabelle, probably my favorite character in the script. What I like about these two is that they seem to have their own language. They're great performers, and they know each other so well, they seem to communicate in their own silent, mentalism code.
The other cool thing about Anabelle is that she's not only a dynamo with throwing knives, she's multidimensional, generally someone you don't want to cross, especially if you're a gunslinger plotting against her.
Anyways, the Marshall certifies the lethalness of the forty-five Anabelle is going to shoot at Max. But to raise the stakes, as the trick demands, an old-timer in the audience stands up, demanding that they use his lethal long-barreled revolver. Max acquiesces, to which Anabelle says, "This is suicide."
"This is theater."
With much drama, perhaps with some crocodile tears from Anabelle, they successfully perform the Bullet Catch. An entertaining scene of a trick we all know about, but it gets interesting when the theater owner tries to cheat Max and Anabelle out of their ticket sales.
Max holds a single coin in his hand and says, "The audience was nearly thirty."
"You questioning my ethics?" the theater owner replies.
And now we're getting a taste of the West as the theater owner threatens them with bullets if they push the point. Of course, this is when Anabelle steps in with her throwing knives, indicating to the cheat that it's not Max he should be worrying about.
In their stage coach, Anabelle informs Max that there's going to be an addition to the act. "Cards? Mentalism?"
"Conjuring. I'm with child."
And here's the point of conflict between these two: Anabelle is being maternal, and as such, she expresses that she needs to get out of this lawlessness.
Because of Max's flaw, this causes enough friction to make the conflict between these two compelling.
What's Max's flaw?
Max is driven by his father's legacy. He's picked up his mantle to make a mark in the world as a great magician, and it's something he won't let go of. He can't. To complicate matters, he's not making enough money to support Anabelle, much less her and a child.
Anabelle's view on carrying his father's legacy?
"Legacies are burdens penniless parents leave to their sons."
So what happens next?
Right when Anabelle is about leave Max, their stage coach is attacked by a group of bandits. Even though our heroes are outnumbered, they're not going down without a fight. Things start to look up when the old-timer from their show comes to their aid, but appearances are deceiving. A nice reversal as we discover he's working in cahoots with these outlaws. He betrays them and Max and Anabelle are whisked off to Mexico.
It's in Mexico that we meet the antagonist, Last Rites Lowry, a gunslinger and bounty hunter who has been a murderer for a long time. He saw Max's show in San Antonio and was enlightened by the magician's acts of "self-liberation". He remembered Max's prowess getting in and out of handcuffs, shackles, locks.
He needs Max to break into Los Cryptos, a Mexican prison run by bandits, where the prisoners are kept in dungeons, shackled to the walls.
So who's Max supposed to break out?
Max is supposed to find a man named Little Bill Pickford and break him out of the converted army base turned jail. Lowry claims to be amigos with Pickford, and he wants to rescue him from the firing squad which will take place on the next day or so.
Max tries to refuse, saying that his skill is all an act. To prove the magician wrong, Lowry has his goons try to hang him, but of course he survives the noose and impressively escapes.
He makes it clear to Max.
Successfully break Pickford out of prison, or he's going to kill Anabelle, who we also know carries Max's child. His legacy.
So the second act of the script is the prison break?
Pretty much. It's quick and dirty as Max is escorted to the prison by Lowry's men with the corpse of Antonio, one of the Warden's boys who tipped Lowry off to Pickford's imprisonment in Los Cryptos.
Max shackles himself to Antonio's lifeless body and says, "There isn't a key in the world that can open this shackle."
At the prison, the Warden isn't too happy to see that one of his men has been murdered. He tries to unshackle Max and the boy, only to get frustrated, so he sends them to the blacksmith. Only problem is, the sadistic blacksmith is Antonio's brother.
A tense tableau as the blacksmith is going to do more than unshackle Max.
He puts his arm in a vise.
He's going to saw his hand off.
But Max escapes the shackle and the vise and he uses magic and fire to defeat the blacksmith, escaping into the bowels of the prison.
What about Anabelle?
We cut between Max's mission and Anabelle's predicament with Lowry. We're treated to an entertaining dinner. They talk about Max. Lowry cuts to the quick. "I'm implying old Max is too busy with what's up his sleeve to see what's in his sights."
More is revealed about Lowry, who also seems to care about his own legacy, an interesting juxtaposition to Max. "Man gets to my age, he thinks about what he's left behind. I've had some scraps. Brought in my share of bad guys. But I'm hardly a house hold name."
We're hitting our thematic beats.
The threat of rape is present, but Anabelle is apt at defending herself and keeping violation at arm's length. The dinner turns into a stand-off between a man with a gun and a lady armed with steak knives.
It takes Lowry's goons to get him off death's doorstep and away from the woman who can throw a knife quicker than he can draw a gun.
How does Max escape the prison?
It's pretty simple, but daring nonetheless. Max captures a prison guard, who takes him to Pickford. Pickford is a brute of a man who isn't afraid of violence, but is scared of enclosed spaces. He has claustrophobia, which creates complications for Max when he tries to talk the outlaw into hiding inside a coffin.
They scuffle, and Max finally manages to best the behemoth and stuffs him into a coffin that will be carried out of the prison by the unsuspecting Undertaker.
Max has to get past the Warden and his army of men, which he does by engaging in a swashbuckling fight with the Warden and his saber, defending himself with two canes.
What I liked about Max's escape sequence is that he manages to escape by sparing lives, even when he gains control of a Gatling gun on the prison walls. This could have turned into a massacre, and in most Westerns influenced by Peckinpah, this would have. But Max escapes by attacking the Warden's pride.
This was a smart, refreshing choice, or that's how it struck me, as I've read lots of scripts with scene upon scene of ruthless killing.
But everything's not as it seems, right?
Of course, we have another twist at the act turn going into the finale, which involves Pickford's relationship with Lowry. They may or may not be amigos at all.
And it might turn into a race to discover the whereabouts and head of Ten Thousand Dollar Tackett, a dead gunslinger who carries a ten thousand dollar bounty.
And Lowry might be interested in acquiring a legacy where he's the man who'll be remembered for bringing down a character such as Tackett.
Sounds pretty cool. How was it?
I like this script a lot. It's a great concept with a solid execution. Clocking in at a sleek ninety-three pages, this is a really fast page-turner full of great dialogue with an entertaining cast of likeable characters.
It's Elmore Leonard-ish in the way that even the villains have their likeable moments.
I think the speed and pace, while being the script's strength, is also its weakness. There are moments where it goes too fast, as I wish there was more to the escape. Feels like it needs an extra sequence, as I'd like to see Max be put in more peril when he first enters the prison. I feel like he just needs more screentime to settle into his predicament, where both him and the audience can process the terror of his imprisonment.
The ending is especially harsh, and I wonder if the tale has earned the blunt bloodshed and revenge angle it goes for in the finale. It's heartbreaking, and it felt like a cruel turn of events. I was moved nonetheless, but I wonder if there was another route for Max and his story.
But alas, "Quicker Than the Eye" is an inventive Western, refreshing even. It melds the wonder and world of the stage magician with the mystique of the Western, and it does so successfully. It's a small, little adventure movie that deserves to be on screen.
Hollywood, take note.
When else are you going to find a Western that features a magician as a hero?
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Screwball Banter. Well-written screwball banter in adventure scripts between the protagonist and the heroine is always entertaining. Always. The dialogue between Indy and Marion in Raiders, the rapid-fire repartee in the Iron Man movies, the wacky witticisms in any Joss Whedon adventure. Where do you think it all came from? Screwball Comedy, mein friends. If you want to learn how to write original and fun dialogue, go gorge yourself on everything from The Lady Eve to Bringing Up Baby. Absorb it all like a sponge, then filter the style in the way only you can do it, distilling it through your own unique personality and sensibility for story and character. Combined with complex characters and thrilling adventure, you have, at the very least, the ingredients to keep a reader like me entertained.
To get in touch with Roger, you can e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org