The Mysterious Mr If, Part the Eightth

It’s that time again — my unproduced screenplay befouls your screens with its rotten words and crumbling punctuation marks. It was comedy writer Graham Linehan who advised me that grotesque overwriting, of the kind you’ll see below, isn’t necessarily helpful in selling a script. If the thing is funny, the argument goes, the most straightforward text is your best bet for conveying that. I was probably unduly influenced by Bruce Robinson’s published script for WITHNAIL AND I, which opens with a brilliant and entirely unfilmable literary joke (“Dostoevsky once said that Hell might be nothing more than a room with a chair. In this room, there are several chairs.”)

True Crime was a fun character to write, like Mr Netherbow but even more linguistically unhinged. Just as Mr N gets a lot of Shakespeare, TC touches upon William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience with his cry of “Weep weep!”

If’s final appearance in this installment is certainly inspired by Lon Chaney’s colorful cape-swirling on a rooftop in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, while his entry via the French windows is Christopher Lee related: the impossible redness of Lee’s cape’s lining burned itself into my brain at an impressionable age. Now read on –

INT. BARBER SHOP – EVENING

An electric razor BUZZES menacingly.

Howie gets a haircut for his date.┬áHe reads the paper as he’s groomed – a headline cries FISHMONGER DERAILED.

NEWSCASTER (O.S.)

Police are treating the opera as suspicious. In other news, a basilisk was found nailed to a church door in Leith today -

INT. POLICE STATION – NIGHT

NEWSCASTER (O.S.)

- prompting calls for a crackdown on mythical -

Turner marches in. PC. THROWER lowers his Conan Doyle.

THROWER

Message for you, Inspector.

(consults note pad)

“Meet me under Sherlock Holmes if you want to know about… If.”

TURNER

Who’s it from?

THROWER

Didn’t say. Just gave me the message and sort of… swirled off, Sir.

TURNER

Description?

THROWER

He didn’t give one.

Surrounded by assholes. Turner sighs impatiently.

TURNER

YOU give one, then.

THROWER

About six foot, raincoat, smelled of shite.

Turner hurries out and Thrower returns to THE VALLEY OF FEAR.

EXT. TOP OF LEITH WALK – NIGHT

A STATUE of Sherlock Holmes peruses the busy intersection.

Turner strides up to Holmes, walks around him.

Upon returning to his starting point, he finds a raincoated man, TRUE CRIME, fists in pockets, huddled against the gusting wind.

Turner regards the man, uncertain, sniffs, becomes sure.

TURNER

You wanted to see me?

A bleary eye regards him.

TRUE CRIME

Call me True Crime. My real name was… erased. I’d like to tell you my story, but there are… blanks.

TURNER

Tell me what you can.

TRUE CRIME

I was born. Or so I presume. I became a writer the way other people become fat, from greed and laziness. I couldn’t make things up so I set them down. Facts.

INT. TRUE CRIME’S STUDY – NIGHT

Quaint and dusty volumes akimbo before him, True Crime types, cigarette on lip. He’s less grizzled and filthy now.

TRUE CRIME (VO)

The facts of the case. I inhabited the True Crime section of every book shop. I told the stories of the Old Masters of crime; Gaston Mulberry, the cat poisoner of Paris, Lubert Frill, the great shark thief, and Mabeline O’Silver, rapist of the ice rinks.

Crime flicks through a dirty great book of assaults and stops, cigarette springing erect in his maw.

TRUE CRIME (VO)

Then one night I fell upon the skewer of history that was to be my unhaving. If! The very word sends paroxysms through my thigh. Mr. If, the Diabolo of the Senses, the deranged guru of sin and oblivion. The fist of Fate was up me and I didn’t know it from Adam’s.

An engraving of a shadowy phantom adorns the leaf before him. He fingers the page sensuously.

TRUE CRIME (VO)

But of course! It’s never been done! A really true history of the billion wrongs of evil old If! The Tangerine Outrage! The Exploding River! The Strange Affair of the Hissing Nunnery. And the Curious Case of the Sunrise Who Swallowed February. At last – a factual and scholarly study of the infamous loon – and who better to commit it to printing than this myself?

French windows burst open.

A shadowy figure.

A cow moos.

TRUE CRIME (VO)

“Shame on you, sister!” declaimed the spectre rampant. Ooh, he was angry. “You have crimed against my non-existence, rendered realer my phantasmal nothingness, and for that you shall moan!”

True Crime’s typewriter bursts into flames.

Mr. If strides at him, engulfing the frame in

DARKNESS

EXT. TOP OF LEITH WALK – NIGHT

Turner and True Crime face each other.

TRUE CRIME

I’d called him back, all inadvertent, from some imaginary hinterworld, and upset his nothingness like a child with bricks. He told me I’d nevermore inscribe, that my every gesture henceforth would remove facts from the world. Through bravery or stupid, I doubted his mouth. The penalty was big.

INT. TRUE CRIME’S STUDY – niGHT

True Crime stands on a precipitous pile of wobbly hardbacks, a noose round his neck, looped over a beam and clasped in the jaws of a floppy-eared RABBIT on the floor.

True Crime tries hard to keep his balance.

TRUE CRIME (V.O.)

“For a hundred years I was myth and folderol,” he hinted. “And then you have to pin me to the notice board of reality with your research and typing. Tush on you, sir!”

The sound of True Crime’s narration slowly blends into that of Mr If’s own voice.

MR. IF

I romped delightful in the naked meadows of limbo, till this brute world hauled me from ecstatic nothingness and stood me goosepimpling in a line-up with tinned spam and flatirons, the unfeeling objects of mere reality. But I shall wreak my nastiness upon all that is concrete! Death to the actual! All hail the untrue! Hoppla!

From nowhere he CRACKS a ringmaster’s bullwhip at the oblivious bunny.

True Crime sweats and teeters.

If stamps his feet, shrieks, and cajoles.

MR. IF

Here, bunny wunny wunny.

Heaving a sigh, he abandons the rabbit and kicks the books from under True Crime.

The author drops to the floor. The rabbit, still clutching the rope, is yanked into the air. Releasing the rope, it shoots across the study, breaking a window on exit.

Crime looks up, terrified, from a collapsed pile of books as If sweeps up to him.

MR. IF

So…you still defy me?

TRUE CRIME

It’s not true… I don’t -

If produces, from nowhere, a conjuror’s WAND.

MR. IF

Prepare to be dishevelled!

EXT. TOP OF LEITH WALK – NIGHT

True Crime IS rather dishevelled.

TURNER

So he…dishevelled you? Mussed you up a bit, I expect?

TRUE CRIME

THIS, he did… and THIS!

True Crime withdraws his forelimbs from his raincoat.

Instead of hands he has big ERASERS. Turner is appalled.

TRUE CRIME

Pencil erasers for hands. Robbed of limb, gift and ribbon, I rove the world, rubbing at nothing. Unable even to wipe mine own arse. Pity me, most wretched of creatures! Weep weep, weep weep!

He scurries off into the darkness leaving the inspector mopping his brow, vexed, perplexed and perspiring.

Watching from above is Mr. If. He clings to the Holmes statue, his cape billowing. He slaps a dunce’s cap on Sherlock and pounces off like a jungle cat or big nancy.

A great BOOFT of lightening hurts the sky.

And it is TO BE CONTINUED…

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4 Responses to “The Mysterious Mr If, Part the Eightth”

  1. Chuck V. Says:

    I sense a bit of Beckett in True Crime as well.

  2. Oh probably — or maybe Joyce, the way he remakes the language (I’d read Beckett and hadn’t read Joyce at the time, but his influence is inescapable). And maybe even the Burgess of Clockwork Orange played a role.

    Of course it’s just a burlesque of all that, not the real thing.

    Next week I’m going to try and draw up a blue-sky cast list, but I welcome suggestions.

  3. Great expression!

    “I’m not an actor. But I am a bit of a performer.” – Lindsay Anderson.

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