Saturday, May 05, 2012

Study in Conflict

Night Fire by Cait London
*** ***

I've written several historical romance western subgenre and still love them. But the other day, I was taking some veg time and watched this movie. It was a real jewel in the study of character conflict.

Stagecoach to Thunder Rock 1964

In conversations with other writers/readers, this comment comes up frequently, regarding quality of writing and that is depth of character, i.e. “while the storyline could have been great, there was nothing to grab me, no substance to the characters.”

While just one of many western movies of its time, this one offers a great character/conflic/motives/needs study for writers. This is easily available on Netflix, etc.

If you can work through this carefully, you’ll see inner/outer, man against man, etc. conflict.

The cast is sturdy, with veteran actors:
·       Barry Sullivan: as “Horn” the straight, unbending sheriff who must face the man who rescued him as a child and who raised him. The name, Horn, is vital and probably sucked from Tom Horn, but indicates a tough/hardened man.
·       Marilyn Maxwell: the experienced “hired-woman” who has returned to home with nothing to show.
·       Scott Brady: A paid, but ethical gunslinger, who is a loving father and husband and must have money for his blind daughter’s operation.
·       Keenan Wynn: The man who took in Horn, the father of 2 other sons, and who has a bounty on his head.
·       Lon Chaney, Jr.: A father who has given up all hope and drinks to dull his pain, who does not challenge his screwish, money-driven wife.
·       His wife (sorry, don’t know her name): She is desperate to save their home and support, the stage coach rest stop.
·       A younger daughter: (don’t know her name): Very young; she’s desperate to get out of the country and see “life”.
·       A supporting cast that you’ll see in other westerns, etc., i.e. John Agar.

The Story:
Mission: Sullivan heads for the ranch home where he grew up. As sheriff, he’s after bank robbers, who happen to be his adopted family. Gets into a shootout, where he kills one of Wynn’s son (who looks like a very young Elvis Presley) and takes the other son prisoner.

He also takes the bank's holdup saddle bag with $50,000.  Note: This is the Prize, The Possession, that all want to save their problems.

Meanwhile, the town’s corrupt council wants the money back, has posted a bounty on the brothers and father of Sullivan. That’s where Scott Brady comes in on the stage coach with his wife and blind little girl. He’s after the bounty for that operation. He’s classy, not the usual type. Note: Motive

Maxwell comes in on the stage, too. The corrupt council does not want her around as she knows all their evil secrets. So she’s promptly shipped out with Brady on the stage coach.

Note:  Ticking Clock. From opposite directions, two parties are bound to meet at the stage coach rest stop and they will clash.
Note: The rest stop is where Maxwell grew up in her parents’ home/business, but left to see the world, and returns as a high class prostitute, also very classy. SETTING.
Note: SETTING is endangered of being repossessed, due to Chaney’s poor banking/loans.

Back to Story line:
As Maxwell gets off the stage, she is greeted lovingly by Mother, who thinks Maxwell is a school teacher and has brought money to save them. Which she hasn’t.
Meanwhile, Sullivan knows he’ll have to face the man who saved and brought him up, Wynn, who is coming after the remaining Bad Son, now prisoner.
Maxwell doesn’t want her younger sister, so desperate to leave the rest stop, to head out into the world as she did.
Younger sister is desperate and just wants $10 for stage fare.

Past Relationships: (Too often, we forget using the past as characterization/movites, etc.) Brady is just waiting to get his bounty on the Bad Son, which he must take from Sullivan. NOTE: An ex-sheriff, Brady sympathizes with the older Sullivan, who is going to be removed by town council as he is too straight. NOTE: their motive is to get a new sheriff, who will play ball with them.

Maxwell and Sullivan were young and in love once. She wants that again, but he knows he’s facing Wynn and tells her to wait until that battle is over.

Sisters: Younger adores older, who must reveal that she is not a school teacher.

Chaney, Jr. and wife: He loves her, but has been worn down, letting her rule.

Wife and Mother: Loves her daughters, but desperate to save their home/income.

In possession of the $50k and the Bad Son, who is tempting everyone to get him a gun to kill Sullivan, this character—the sheriff—is a CHARACTER OUT ON A LIMB.

If you get a chance to study this 1964 western, Stagecoach to Thunder Rock, and outline the conflicts, the combusion of all these characters and their motives, needs, etc., you’re in for quite the learning task.

Then, you might want to work on your own ending? J