Sunday, November 2, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'To Kill a Saturday Night' (1971)

This rather abstract art originally accompanied 'To Kill a Saturday Night.'

NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Tales for a Sexy Night.
The story: "To Kill a Saturday Night," originally published in Black and White, Vol 2., No. 1, Pendulum, February 1971 and pseudonymously credited to "Ann Gora." [Some sources give the publication date as 1972]. The story was republished in the book Tales for a Sexy Night, Vol. 2 (Gallery Press GP 102, 1973) and was based on an original screenplay by Ed Wood.

Synopsis: On an uncomfortably hot Saturday night in a small town, plantation workers Art and Pete spend their meager pay on cheap, bitter red wine and discuss what to do with the evening as they sit on a curb. The more cunning of the two, Pete suggests visiting the local "whores," but dim-witted Art says he's so drunk he "couldn't raise it for a hell fire."

Pete has other ideas in mind: he wants to kill a couple of the prostitutes, Lulu and Mazie, rob them, and use the money to purchase more "likker." Art has his doubts and worries that these murders will upset the men in town and arouse the attention of the sheriff, but Pete assures him that this plan is "fine and decent and right with the world." They continue to speculate about the benefits of killing the whores, and their conversation eventually becomes circular and repetitive. Finally, Pete and Art agree that they must murder the prostitutes eventually, but they don't have to do so this very weekend. With that, they both fall asleep.

Wood trademarks: Alcohol (in this case, extremely cheap and bitter red wine); liquor store (cf. Fugitive Girls); conversation between two blue-collar laborers (cf. the gravediggers in Plan 9, the foundry workers in Glen or Glenda?); prostitutes; references to bodies, graves, and cemeteries; threats of violence against school teachers (cf. Devil Girls); speculation about robbing a gas station (cf. The Violent Years); character names Mac (cf. Plan 9) and Mazie (cf. Take It Out in Trade).

Excerpt: "Saturday night of the week was meant for getting away from the damned plantation and all the hard work and getting into town and getting good and liquored up and getting laid. Only when a guy got too liquored up he wasn't any good in bed. He couldn't get a rise out of his dork if he had to. He could only sit there and slap hell out of it and cuss himself in the mirror when he went to the toilet..."

John Carradine and David Ward: the ideal Pete and Art.
Reflections: "To Kill a Saturday Night" is one of the better-known short stories in the Wood canon because it was almost adapted for the screen and thus becomes another one of those "roads not taken" in the Wood filmography. In 1973, Ed Wood had an idea for an anthology or omnibus film that would consist of three short tales: "Mice on a Cold Cellar Floor," "Epitaph for the Town Drunk" (aka "Epitaph for the Village Drunk") and "To Kill a Saturday Night." The recurrent themes in these stories seem to be alcohol, poverty, death, and despair.

Interestingly, these three bleak-sounding scripts were sold at auction by Bonhams in January 2014 for a mere $250. The film was never made, but Ed Wood had a couple of actors in mind for the two main roles: John Carradine and David Ward. This strikes me as perfect casting. The sinister, bloviating Carradine would have been a natural as the demented, pseudo-philosophical Pete (who speculates that sweating is as good as bathing since sweat is water), while eternal second-stringer David Ward would have lent an eerily affectless, blank malleability to Art. Had Ed Wood gone ahead with his proposed trilogy, the resulting movie might have been one of the most serious and memorable motion pictures he ever did.

Certainly one of the strangest and most disturbing works attributed to Ed Wood, "To Kill a Saturday Night" simultaneously recalls two of the more celebrated works of literature of the previous century: Samuel Beckett's absurdist play Waiting for Godot (1953) and John Steinbeck's Depression-era novella Of Mice and Men (1937). From the former, we get the simultaneously funny and tragic image of two tramps, jabbering nonsensically at each other as they sit in an isolated location and accomplish precisely nothing. From the latter, we get a glimpse into the rough-and-tumble, hardscrabble lives of two hard-working farmhands with limited options in their lives. The relationship between Pete and Art might well be a ghoulish parody of that between George and Lenny. Instead of endlessly hearing about "the rabbits," dim bulb Art wants Pete to expound on the benefits of murdering prostitutes. 

The story's elliptical structure, which suggests that Pete and Art have probably had this same conversation every Saturday night for years, is highly unusual for Ed Wood. There are no consequences here, at least not from a legal standpoint. It is enough that these two miserable men are trapped in a rancid purgatory for what may be forever. Those who claim Edward D. Wood, Jr. was entirely bereft of talent and could not write dialogue or create believable characters are advised to check out this story.

Next: "Blood Splatters Quickly" (1973)