Paul Dickson, the writer, gave me your name. He was a little cranky on the phone today.
This is my “Hollywood treatment” of the best of my screenplays. Please consider it for Paramount, MGM, and TriStar.
AMERICA ESCAPE (or FROZEN ICE)
The expedition ship Wildworld Cause, with a worldwide passenger list of 24 wealthy dilettantes, is trapped in Antarctic ice. (Only one of the passengers knows or cares about the natural history, or history of the age of exploration, of the southernmost continent.) They are on board to drink, to eat gourmet food, to gamble. They can easily mistake a skua for an Adelie penguin. I’m hoping that Shirley MacLaine is loose, that is to say, interested.
The ship is registered in Panama, but owned by Russians. A Russian icebreaker is sent to free her. The rescue ship is called Smasher or Smashed. Its name is unclear as the lettering on the gunwale is Cyrillic and scuffed.
The relief ship’s electronics fail. Then its cutting-plow cracks and there is no one aboard who can read the Japanese instructions for its replacement. She too is trapped.
The U.S. is called upon, but her two state-of-the-art icebreakers are at the top of the world: They are very near the North Pole cutting ice for vessels laying cables for a vast N.S.A. network far from the control of any Congress. Almost no one but the deceased Clancy knows of it.
Supplies are running out on Wildworld Cause. Lights flicker. The sea ice groans and booms.
The U.S. does have helicopters at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, that can do the job, but only two that can venture as far as the ship’s position and return loaded with passengers. The first flies and picks up 12, but on the return crashes. All survive but they must trek 11 miles in blizzard conditions to find more stable ice. Several die gruesome deaths as ice breaks off the surface sheet and they plunge into freezing waters. Others are consumed by leopard seals, and a pretty blonde is torn apart by skuas. (In an homage to Hitch, this occurs in an ice formation that looks remarkably like an old-time phone booth.)
And . . . two young people have fallen in love, of course. (Love scene shot from outside a white tent lit orangey with silhouettes cast on the canvas, art imitating life and vice versa, while Vaughan Williams music rises.) As a rescue team on sledges nears from McMurdo, a crevasse opens and the lovers perish. They cling to icicles that drip drip drip as they bid farewell to each other as their bodily heats rise. (I must say, Mr. Douglass, Hitchcock! Hitchcock! Hitchcock!)
Meanwhile, aboard Wildworld Cause the 12 remaining passengers find out that a malfunction in the second helicopter will require a repair part that cannot be delivered to McMurdo for three months. (The nut needed is manufactured in Pakistan, of all places.) The pilots can make only this one trip! Problem: Twelve people remain, six Americans, four Russians, one Moroccan, and one Costa Rican, and five of the Americans are overweight by 25 percent. Therefore only 11 souls can be airlifted.
A lottery is agreed upon. The loser will be blindfolded and then pushed overboard by the “winner” of another lottery. But . . . we see another passenger pushed (by an unidentifiable character) into the ice-strewn sea! And another! Then as in “Ten Little Indians” our sorry cast one by one vanishes, wishing they had known of the travails of Scott and Shackleton, of Wilson’s watercolors.
Only two remain alive as the last-chance helicopter approaches — the very slender Costa Rican teacher and an overweight American insurance executive (whose firm insured the Wildworld Cause).
Flashback: The Costa Rican is a member of the E.L.F. He coined the phrase, “If you build it, we will burn it.”
Flashback: The American executive was given the trip as a 45th wedding anniversary gift by his loving wife. She died before she could sail of a dreadful, incurable disease. Only the desolation of the Antarctic will match his own, he thinks.
One nut after another pops from a bolt in the ship’s railing in the subfreezing cold as the two men grapple for their lives, like Moriarty and Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls. One will fall 40 feet to his death on Antarctic ice. They punch and kick and do jujitsu. We hear the helicopter in the distance. Foof foof foof! The rail gives way. Locked in tragic embrace, over the side the antagonists go!
We see the searchlights of the helicopter scanning the forlorn ship and the reflecting ice. (This scene happens in deep twilight, perhaps caused by clouds, although it is summer at the South Pole.) The pilot speaks: [crackle, crackle, crackle] “McMurdo. Rescue 2. McMurdo. ‘Ah, a man’s reach should [crackle, crackle, crackle] ’ceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?’ ” [crackle, crackle, crackle]
But die they don’t. Because they are both wearing L.L. Bean winter-ready garments when they hit the water (yes, water); they survive. A warm cave of liquid has been created in the Antarctic ice by an N.S.A. substation. The two men, floating in their duck-down clothes, are sucked into the station by a tremendous undersea vacuum that might have been imagined by Greene’s man in Havana.
There then they sit, hopelessly holding out hope, dripping, when the N.S.A. man says, “What can I do with you? What on earth can I do with you?”
Thank you for your kind consideration of this work of fiction; no persons alive or dead ever had any of these thoughts, etc.
P.S. Sequel to follow! Prequel to follow!
Dan Marsh, a native Long Islander and frequent "Guestwords" contributor, writes from Garrett Park, Md.