Route 7 Review
Issue # 2015
Frank Scozzari lives on the California central coast. He is an avid traveler and once climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa. A multiple Pushcart Prize nominee, his award-winning short stories have been widely anthologized and featured in literary theater.
“What's our wide-eyed Irish leprechaun doing outside my door?” Bogart’s voice asked.
“Just wanted to have a little talk,” the voice of Peter Lorre replied.
“Okay, but make it fast,” said the old man quickly, stealing the line before Bogart could speak it.
“Okay, but make it fast,” Bogart then repeated on the big screen.
The old man chuckled.
After fifty minutes, he turned on the lamp on the second machine, giving it time to warm up. After another five minutes he began watching for the cue mark; a small circular flash in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, and when he saw it, he clicked on the motor of the second projector. And when it flashed a second time, he pressed the changeover button. Then he heard the splice go through the machine and the images from the second projector immediately took over, flicking out the black and white celluloid, without interruption, exactly where the first reel had finished off.
“Now that’s the way to do it!” he said. “None of this three, two, one,” referring to the numerical countdown seen onscreen if the cue mark was missed.
The old man chuckled, thinking back to a time when René had mistimed a changeover. He had been left to manage the projection booth for only a minute and still
couldn’t get it right! And there was that awful gap of white screen between the reels, and the painful groans of all the theater patrons.
The old man clicked off the motor on the first machine and began watching the film through the keyhole. On screen now were Jennifer Jones and Humphrey Bogart, standing on the Terrace of Infinity, high above the Amalfi Coast. The cinemascope image provided a panoramic view of sea and mountains that stretched from one side of the screen to the other. It seemed to be filmed from the height of an airplane, which gave a real appreciation for the beauty of this place. And the dialog was the quick and clever, bringing a smile to the old man’s face.
“There are two good reasons for falling in love,” Jennifer Jones said. “One is that the object of your affection is unlike anyone else, a rare spirit. The other is that he’s like everyone else, only superior, the very best of a type.”
“Well if you must know, I’m a very typical rare spirit,” the old man said before Bogart echoed the same line onscreen.
“How long have you lived here?” asked Jennifer Jones.
“The longest I’ve lived anywhere,” the old man recited, again beating Bogart to the punch.
“Didn’t you ever have a mother and a father and a house?”
“No I was an orphan,” the old man said loudly. “Then a rich and beautiful woman adopted me.”
The old man smiled as Bogart repeated the lines; “No I was an orphan. Then a rich and beautiful woman adopted me.”
Like Sunday mass, the old man thought, easier than reciting lines from the good book. And as the movie progressed, the old man lost himself, as he often did, in the romantic action and intriguing storyline. The images on the screen danced in his head as if they were real.
Now a trio of characters, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, and Bogart, found
themselves shipwrecked and washed ashore on a deserted beach. A hoard of horse-backed nomads stormed down a hillside firing shots at them. Everyone was frightened, except Bogart, and the old man, who stood fearless in the projection booth.
The old man raised his hands and said bravely, “Better get down everyone!” He made his voice sound tough and cynical.
Seconds later, Bogart raised his hands and repeated the line on the big screen.
“Africa,” the old man then said aloud as if he were speaking directly to the nomad chieftain. “It’s not a bad place to land. No customs forms to fill out.”
When Bogart repeated the lines, the old man chuckled.
The film finished, and during the intermission the old man replaced the reels with the second feature, The African Queen. He waited the customary twenty minutes for everyone to return from the concessions and then rolled the film. Once he heard the projector running smoothly, he sat down at the projection table and listened to its melodic sound.
“You are a good machine,” he said, patting it on its side. “You bring life to the ordinary. You create magic from nothing.” Then he sighed. “But like me, you are old and replaceable!”
He stretched his arm out comfortably on the table and laid his head upon it, and in his mind he watched the movie, following along as if it were playing in his head. He knew every scene, every word; all the facial expressions. The smooth clicking sound of film rushing through the gate, coupled with his cerebral reenactment, brought him to the place he loved best, his nirvana.
But he did not watch Bogart and Hepburn. He was with them in the boat, going down the Ubangi River. And he recited Bogart’s lines as if they were his own. And he watched Katherine Hepburn’s transformation from one who despised an aging old drunk, to one who loved. And now that she’d become smitten with this rugged old man, unkempt and capable as he, he accepted her expressions of adornment as if they were meant for him.
In his head, the reels spun forward at lightening speed. Before he knew it, Bogart stood with a noose around his neck being interrogated by a nasty German sea-captain; accused of being a spy for which death was the only penalty.
But it was not Bogart; it was the old man.
“Don’t give in!” the old man mumbled. He felt the ship rocking beneath him as if he were really afloat. “Be brave Rosie! Be strong! It is for love and country!”
As the large German vessel, the Louisa, drifted closer to the African Queen, the makeshift torpedoes pointing from the Queen’s bow closed in on the Louisa’s hull.
“Take cover Rosie!” the old man shouted, bracing himself for the explosion. “I’ll be with you shortly!”
Though the celluloid images danced vividly in his head, they had barely finished the first reel on the projector beside him. On the screen, the first cue marked flashed by, then the second, then the end of the film looped through the gate, and suddenly, nothing but a white stream of light shone out from the projector. And the groaning and booing from the audience was almost instantaneous.
“Roll the damned film!”
“Hey! Wakeup up there!” another screamed from the front of the house.
But the old man’s head remained down on the table, resting on his out-stretched arm; his eyes closed and his expression intense. Even if he wanted to, he could not move. He had a noose around his neck, and the rope was pulling tightly.
“Be brave, Rosie!” he mumbled again.
Then the projection room door swung open with a bang, slamming against the forward wall, and in stormed René, as livid as he could possibly be.
“This’s it!” he screamed. “You are through!”
The old man lifted his head as René rushed past him and lunged for the changeover button on the second projector. He pressed the button, and instantly the images returned to the screen below.
“Thank you!” someone yelled from the auditorium.
“About time!” another screamed out.
“You are finished!” René shouted to the old man. “Get your things and leave!”
“What?” the old man asked.
It took a moment for the old man to gather himself. He had barely stepped off the deck of the Louisa.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Get your things and leave! Now! I’ll mail you your check.”
“But I thought I had three more months?”
“Not no more. You are through, now!”
René grabbed the old man’s collar, lifted him from the chair, and using his grip, escorted him to his bag, which was against the wall. The old man picked up the bag and then René pushed him to the door.
There was nothing the old man could do. He was too dazed and confused to resist, and when he was heaved through the door, pushed out like a rag doll, he nearly tumbled down the stairs. He dropped several steps before he could stop his momentum and regain his balance. Then he straightened himself, turned back, and looked up at René, who stood with both hands on his hips.
“Get out!” René yelled, pointing toward the front door of the lobby.
The old man continued down the steps, made his way through the foyer, and pushed his way out the front doors.
“He is a man without honor,” he mumbled to himself. “He is a man with no loyalty.”
As he walked down the street in darkness to his apartment, he thought of Garbo; her persona as Mata Hari, strong and defiance against all odds and in the face of certain death. Her image danced in his head, feverously; the coins of her hip-scarf chattering like wind chimes in a hurricane. Every movement of her body showed him her strength and will to overcome. She is the bold and daring one, he thought; the one never to give in to the misalignments and abuses of power.
Then, in his mind, he saw the bottle of gin awaiting him, there on his table in his dreary apartment, and the image of Garbo faded to black.
   Dialogue from the public domain movie Beat the Devil, screenplay by John Huston and Truman Capote.