Screenplay by Alan Nafzger (110 pages)
One stormy Texas night in 1879, Leah and Rose’s lives are inextricably thrown together, bonded by a common flaw. Leah ‘s on the run from her abusive husband and Rose is being beaten and choked on a Fort Worth street. Evasion, blackmail, murder, betrayal, revenge and saddlebags loaded with $40,000 … it’s all there… and then some.
This screenplay is a western set in 1879’s Fort Worth, Texas.
Leah has been unwise enough to marry a violent preacher, Tom. He is not only a alcoholic but also a wife beater. The city is perfectly unaware of the sad life of the preacher’s wife, but they do nothing. The story begins with her hiding his whisky. He gets revenge by beating her and selling her horse. The horse keeps running off from his new home to return, but still it is the principle of the matter. The preacher takes all the money and goes drinking.
In the middle of the night, Leah leaves their house and comes upon a disturbance in the street. Rose, a saloon girl, is being beaten by a cowboy named Wiley. The two women clearly have something in common. Leah is already mad, and now she loses it. She slams Wiley with a 2 x 4 to the back of the head, and the two women, instantly bonding, carry his unconscious body to Leah’s house, where they share a cigarette while the cowboy dies in the bathtub.
Men are more violent than women, yes, and guilty of abuse, yes, although the percentage of male monsters is incalculably higher in the movies than in life. This film however turns things on their head. Leah and Rose commit crimes that are morally justifiable because of their gender. And, because of their men, we even like them for it. They have to conceal the death, for example, because “no one would believe” they had not committed murder. My own theory is that any jury in 1870s Texas would not believe a woman’s story that the man was violent and Leah had come to the defense of the town’s prostitute.
The dead cowboy has a brother who is a wealthy bad guy. A coyote chews off the corpses finger but it is the women who send it with a ransom demand. A sheriff comes to investigate, gets in on the scheme and alters it with designs of his own. His plan is to take half of the ransom, but things will not work out for him.
THE ENTIRE PLOT
Leah arrives home at the nice home she shares with the John, the Preacher. John has wrecked the place, initially searching for his whiskey, then in a rage at not finding them. Suddenly she sees that her horse is untied in the back of the house. John has sold the horse but he has returned. She feeds and takes care of the horse returning him to the barn and she packs her saddlebags. She locates a newspaper from St. Louis and she thinks she will go there. She saddles the horse and sets off for the bus stop.
Just as she starts to leave town, Leah and the horse come across a fight in the street. Leah is riding the horse. She sees a burly drunk cowboy, Wiley, forcing Rose over the boardwalk and attempting to strangle her. The horse is agitated and throws Leah. Leah grabs her husband’s rifle from the horse; she is about to shot the cowboy but instead chooses to whack him on the head. He falls to the ground.
Leah advises Rose to take Wiley home and tell the sharriff. Rose can’t – she can’t ride a horse, and anyway, Wiley is her boyfriend and she works for his rich brother. The girls drag Wiley’s inert form back to the Preacher’s house. They dump Wiley in the bathroom, so that he can sleep off the drink and the blow to the head.
The girls smoke a cigarette to calm themselves, and slowly get to know each other. Leah starts to give Rose a haircut. When they hear a crash from the bathroom. They rush in and find that Wiley has collapsed on the floor, dead. Leah panics as she realises that technically, she people might think that she has murdered him. She explains to Rose that she must leave town and return East and that she should pretend that Wiley disappeared from her bed while she was sleeping.
They drag the cowboy’s body out into the brush.
Leah retrieves the whiskey incase her husband returns.
Seth Birkenfeld, Wiley’s brother, is a cattle broker, banker, restaurant and saloon owner. Seth has a talk with the sheriff. At the saloon, Rose’s boss asks Rose to enquire about Wiley with the customers. She pretends to do this, but sneaks off to talk to Leah. Leah helps Rose to sound convincing.
Back at the house, Rose is horrified when coyotes have arrived at the dead body. One has chewed off Wiley’s finger. Leah shoots the coyote and retrieves the finger.
Sheriff John “Coffee” Hays visits Rose at the saloon. He is distracted by her beauty, but becomes increasingly suspicious of her behavior. She picks up a rag off the bar and screams. There is Wiley’s severed finger, and a crudely lettered note, telling Seth to pay a $20,000 ransom for Wiley’s release. Rose is to deliver the ransom. Hays takes the finger back to the jail. The deputy is reading and figures that the finger was taken from someone already dead.
Hays takes the finger to Seth Birkenfeld, naming the ransom sum as $40,000, and assuring him that his brother is still alive. By now he is obsessed with Rose and has begun weaving his own fantasy about running away with her and the excess money.
He plants the suspicion in Seth’s mind that Wiley may have hacked off his own finger in order to extract money from his brother. Seth threatens Rose, implying she is involved in a plot with Wiley.
Back at the jail, Hays brushes off his colleague’s questions about the missing person’s case, claiming that it was all just a domestic situation, which will resolve itself.
Rose steels herself to horse, recalling Wiley’s unorthodox teaching methods. She and Leah arrive at the cattle yard to make it look as if the kidnappers have been using it.
The girls go back to Leah’s house. Suddenly, John appears on the balcony, swaying and suffering alcohol withdrawals. As he threatens the girls, Leah grabs a cooking knife and defends herself. John backs down and begs for his whiskey. He reaches in to take his stash and his hand comes out holding a pistol. The tables are turned and the girls have to explain Wiley’s body and the ransom. At gun point John forces Leah to drink along with him. The women fight back, overcoming John they tie him up in the bedroom.
Rose has to go work at the saloon to allay suspicion and she tells Leah to visit her the following day at the hotel to arrange the payment of the ransom.
Sheriff Hays has taken a shotgun gun from the jail, and he burns the ransom note.
He visits Rose, and he tells her that he will take her away, and make her happy. She is terrified. He leaves silently. Rose tries to warn Leah, but can’t find her. As she looks out into the garden, a figure appears behind her. Seth Birkenfeld threatens her and then spends the night in her hotel room, waiting to take her to the office.
At Birkenfeld Bank, Seth has the ransom money taken from the safe, and hands it in saddlebag to Hays. Both are playing their own game, pretending to believe the other. Hays extracts half the cash, putting it in his saddlebag, before handing over the ransom to Rose.
Rose goes off with the ransom money, followed by Hays. She rides off into the prairie, where Leah’s horse is waiting with a saddlebag over his back. Rose stuffs the money into the saddlebag and the horse takes off, just as Hays arrives. He grabs Rose and handcuffs her to a cactus. He rides off after the horse. As he runs through the city, the horse is recognized by his owner, a hopeless drunk and a friend of John, who challenges Hays. The sheriff realizes that this man knows where the horse is going.
A shy and young carpenter has always had his eye on Rose. He has followed her and the Sheriff out into the brush. He returns to town and gets his saw. He cuts down the cactus and pulls a few thorns out of Rose.
The horse arrives at the Preacher’s home and Leah takes him inside the barn. Hays has followed and he crashes into the barn. Mayhem ensues. Hays shoots at the body of Brain buried in the hay; Leah thinks he’s killed John. Seth Birkenfeld, who’s been following Hays, appears and points his gun at Hays, but suddenly John appears and shoots Hays with his shotgun. Birkenfeld, showing no sign of gratitude that his life has just been saved, shoots John through the heart and turns his attention to Leah. Shots ring out and she flinches but finds herself unhurt. Rose is standing in the doorway holding a gun, and Seth Birkenfeld slumps to the ground.
Rose takes off on Hayss’ horse to the train station with Leah on her horse and the money. They are about to get on a train but, Rose is still in handcuffs. Hoping to find some keys, they return to Hayss’ horse, and discover the second bag of money Hays had taken. With double the money, Rose and Leah take the first train out, ready for a new life.
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