189-“Cream of the Jest”

Directed by Richard Donner, Written by Shimon Wincelberg.

STANLEY ADAMS as Caleb Musgrove
CATHERINE MCLEOD as Nora Musgrove
JEFF DAVIS as Abner Blessington
NAOMI STEVENS as Ma Kafka
SHAWN MICHAELS as Crony
PETER BROCCO as Young husband
RAYMOND BAILEY as Walter B. Jonas M.D. (uncredited)
‘SNUB’ POLLARD as Townsman (uncredited)
JACK STONEY as Townsman (uncredited)
SID TROY as Townsman (uncredited)

Do you think there’s something disgraceful about a man backing down when he doesn’t have a chance? Stay and watch a man die, Nora, and learn something.

 

INT. PALADIN’S HOTEL ROOM – DAY

We see an elderly gunsmith carefully measuring gunpowder onto the pan of a very accurate laboratory scale.

GUNSMITH
18.6 grains. Mr. Paladin? Uh, you won’t reconsider changing the ratio of carbon to nitrocellulose by just a pinch?

Paladin emerges from his bedroom, having dressed to go out somewhere.

PALADIN
No! (slams door) It took me eight months to work out that formula!

Paladin dons his silk smoking jacket and walks toward the gunsmith.

GUNSMITH
Your usual amount, Mr. Paladin?

PALADIN
That’s right.

GUNSMITH
That will be $4 a dozen.

PALADIN
(pouring himself a drink from an elegant decanter on a silver tray)

The usual guarantee?

GUNSMITH
Underwritten by Lloyd’s of London. If this powder explodes in your hands, $10,000 for the loss of each limb, and $15,000 for loss of your eyesight. Of course, you don’t stand a chance of, uh, cashing in. As long as you don’t overload the cartridges, this powder is as stable as the Rock of Gibraltar.

(a knock at the door)

PALADIN
Come in, Hey Boy.

HEY BOY
Mr. Paladin.

Hey Boy approaches the Gunsmith to see what he is doing. As the gunsmith lights up the power, he plugs his ears in anticipation of an explosion. The powder just flares up. Hey Boy then goes over to Paladin and makes a gesture to Paladin indicating that the Gunsmith is a bit crazy.

HEY BOY
Bakadali (Chinese language)

PALADIN
(replies in agreement)
Bakadalil (Chinese language)

GUNSMITH
I always feel that when matters have deteriorated to a point where a man reaches for his gun, only the finest quality smokeless powder is good enough. Uh, don’t you agree?

PALADIN
Absolutely.

GUNSMITH
Of course, there’s always those bargain hunters. You know, men who’ll continue to put black powder into their cartridges and bad whiskey in their stomach, and by these false economy measures, make doubly certain that their lives will be nasty, brutish, and short. Now, about bullets…Now, here is an absolutely top-quality 225-grain bullet made especially for me by a little man in Yonkers. Just the right weight for maximum range without loss of accuracy.

PALADIN
Now, you know I always use a burden primer.

GUNSMITH
That, Mr. Paladin, is an unnecessary luxury.

PALADIN
Well, shooting a man creates a rather intimate relationship,
and I hate to be thrifty at another man’s expense.

GUNSMITH
It’s your money.

PALADIN
Hey Boy, pack the bags.

HEY BOY
Yes, sir.

PALADIN
Have this ready in an hour?

GUNSMITH
Impossible. There are some things in this world, Mr. Paladin, that cannot be hurried.

PALADIN
Well, how long?

GUNSMITH
Three hours, perhaps five. What’s your hurry?

PALADIN
Well, I have to leave for Santa Fe now.

GUNSMITH
Oh, not bad news, I hope.

PALADIN
No. I have a chance to pick up one of the last authentic pieces of early Santa Clara pottery. The man who has it will only hold it until Friday noon.

GUNSMITH
Well, travel without a gun, like other people.

PALADIN
You know, I’ve thought of trying that sometimes. But, for now, I guess I’ll just have to pick up some ready-mades down the street.

GUNSMITH
It’s your life.

EXT. SANTA FE – NEW MEXICO – DAY

PALADIN
Tell me where I find some good water around here.

CALEB MUSGROVE
Water. Please, water.

PALADIN
What’s the matter with you? Can’t you read?

CALEB MUSGROVE
Huh?

PALADIN
Look at that.

CALEB MUSGROVE
Oh! I’m a dead man for sure now. Why didn’t you warn…Why didn’t you warn me?

PALADIN
Is there a doctor in this town? Doctor! Doctor?

WALTER B. JONAS M.D.
Yeah?

PALADIN
A man out there has had some poisoned water. Will you help me get him in here?

WALTER B. JONAS M.D.
Who?

CALEB MUSGROVE
Would you look at your face? You sure fell for that!

WALTER B. JONAS M.D.
Huh. You’re about the third one this month that’s tumbled for that poison water joke.

PALADIN
Well, I’m very happy to have furnished you with some amusement.

WALTER B. JONAS M.D.
I’m not amused that easily. I’m just glad that he has some other victims. Maybe he’ll leave me alone. He used to send me out on so many sleepless errands. One night, l… I refused to go. The patient died.

PALADIN
“A jest that gives no pain is no jest.”

WALTER B. JONAS M.D.
Cervantes. That and five cents will buy you a glass of beer. You look like you could use one.

CALEB MUSGROVE (O.S.)
He seen me drink all that poison water, I tell you, he like to die! He was a good one, huh?

We see a sign that reads: “MA KAFKA’S OYSTER HOUSE SALOON – ALES & SPIRITS”

Paladin walks briskly into the saloon for a drink.

INT. SALOON – DAY

CALEB MUSGROVE

(extending his hand to Paladin)

No hard feelings, neighbor? Oh, don’t be sorehead, mister. I’ll make it up to you.
Man’s got no sense of humor whatsoever. Come on.

Ma Kafka serves Paladin his beer.

PALADIN
Thank you. Well, I’d better get back to my horse before something happens to that urn of mine.

MA KAFKA
Are you carrying someone’s ashes? Well, I’ll have a clean bed ready for you when you come back.

PALADIN
Thank you.

 

CALEB MUSGROVE
Here’s your jug, mister. I just thought I’d bring it over now… Oh!
I’ll buy you a beer. You look a little green around the gills.
Two beers. Aw, takes less muscle to smile than to frown, I always say.

PALADIN
Oh, you do, do you?

CALEB MUSGROVE
I don’t like to brag, mister, but if it wasn’t for me to put a little ginger into things,
this town would shrivel up and die of tedium.

PALADIN
Well, I trust your fellow citizens appreciate what you’re doing for them.

CALEB MUSGROVE
You look for appreciation in this world, mister, you’re bound to die a disappointed man.
No, sir. I get my satisfactions out of a job well done.

PALADIN
Such as?

CALEB MUSGROVE
Man’s a poor sport…ain’t but two things you can do with him. Keep playing them cute little tricks on him until he learns to laugh along with us.

PALADIN
And if that doesn’t take?

CALEB MUSGROVE
Make things so hairy for him he’ll be glad to leave town.

PALADIN
Don’t you find that a little risky?

CALEB MUSGROVE
Man’s a sorehead…he’s bound to make trouble sooner or later.
Anyway, you gonna stay here for dinner with us?

PALADIN
Don’t you have a home? A wife?

CALEB MUSGROVE
Wife? Sure, I got a wife. What’s she got to do with it?

PALADIN
Well, doesn’t she cook dinner for you?

CALEB MUSGROVE
Why, sure. Sure she does. But you just wait until you taste Mrs. Kafka’s stuffed cabbage.
Oh, you’ll see why a man doesn’t exactly break his neck to get home.
I’ll have a small whiskey.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

NORA MUSGROVE
Caleb?

CALEB MUSGROVE
Nora, what do you want?

NORA MUSGROVE
How long you gonna be? I’m waiting dinner for you.

CALEB MUSGROVE
Well, uh… Nora, now, I don’t need nobody to tell me when to come home to eat.
Well, drink up, boy.

CALEB MUSGROVE
Well, I feel right privileged sitting next to Abner Blessington.
I guess that’s a name that we all heard.
What’s your line, Mr. Blessington?

ABNER BLESSINGTON
I’m a gambler.

CALEB MUSGROVE
Is that so? Is that a fact?

ABNER BLESSINGTON
Yes, that is a fact.

CALEB MUSGROVE
Well, hearing it from you, Mr. Blessington, I believe you. Indeed, I’m relieved.
Because I had heard from others that, uh, you had other occupations.
Mrs. Kafka, I’d feel right insulted if I was you.

Seems like Mr. Blessington ain’t taking a liking to your cooking.

ABNER BLESSINGTON
Not at all, Mrs. Kafka. It’s just that, in my sedentary occupation,
a man tends to put on weight much too quickly.

CALEB MUSGROVE
Um, have some beer, Mr. Blessington. Ice cold.
Oh! Oh!

ABNER BLESSINGTON
If you ever again play me any sort of a trick, prank, humbug, or jest…

INT. HOUSE – EVENING

CALEB MUSGROVE
Nora, did you see what I pulled on that greenhorn? He like to die from shock!

NORA MUSGROVE
I waited dinner for you until now.

CALEB MUSGROVE
Well, now, honey, you didn’t expect me to seriously pass up a capital opportunity like this, did you? Why… Why, I’d never forgive myself. Well… Well… Well, ask them.
That… That… That flame shot up just like a volcano. We all like to died laughing.

NORA MUSGROVE
Caleb, he didn’t laugh.

CALEB MUSGROVE
Well, he’s on his way to learning a lesson out of life…not to take himself so blame serious.

MA KAFKA
Nora, will you take him home and lock him up?

CALEB MUSGROVE
Oh, now… now… now, wait a second. I got to think me up a topper to this one.

PALADIN
Caleb, that man meant exactly what he said.

CALEB MUSGROVE
Well, uh, what do you think I am, chickenhearted? Why… Why, he… he… he dared me.
Now… Now, you seen that, didn’t you? Mister, he… he offered a challenge to me in the presence of my wife. Now, do you think I could ever hope again to hold her respect if I backed down on it? What kind of a man do you take me for?

PALADIN
A man devoid of one of nature’s most precious gifts…a sense of humor.

CALEB MUSGROVE
Come on, honey.

INT. PALADIN’S HOTEL ROOM – DAY

PALADIN
Come in.

NORA MUSGROVE
Ahem. Mrs. Kafka says this is yours. Will you help me?

PALADIN
Do what? Protect your husband?

NORA MUSGROVE
I don’t expect you to endanger your own life. I’m sure Mr. Blessington could kill you as easily as he could Caleb. All I want you to do is find my husband and stop him before he does whatever he sets out to do.

PALADIN
And you have no idea what that might be?

NORA MUSGROVE
Well, some elaborate piece of foolishness, no doubt, with half the loafers in town staked out for his audience. Mister, if you don’t stop him somehow, Blessington will kill him.

PALADIN
Which is Blessington’s room?

NORA MUSGROVE
21. If Caleb’s going to do anything to him, he’ll have to come up those stairs.

PALADIN
You sit here.

NORA MUSGROVE
Oh, I knew you’d be a friend to him.

PALADIN
I am not a friend to your husband. I don’t like practical jokers.
The only thing worse I know is somebody whose lack of humor permits them to kill.

NORA MUSGROVE
It’s too late. There’s Caleb going back home.

PALADIN
Maybe there’s still time.

NORA MUSGROVE
What is it?

PALADIN
It’s a love letter to Blessington.

NORA MUSGROVE
A love letter?

PALADIN
“Dear Handsome Stranger, I’ve been much taken by your manly demeanor at the little altercation this evening, and since my husband will be away at the ranch overnight, I wonder if you will do me the honor of paying a visit to your admiring and anxiously awaiting.”

NORA MUSGROVE
Well, who is it signed by?

PALADIN
Nora Musgrove.

NORA MUSGROVE
Let me see that. It’s his handwriting, sure enough.

PALADIN
Well, what would you do if Blessington came around in the middle of the night, panting with ardor?

NORA MUSGROVE
Why, I’d bend a poker over his head before he got his other foot in the door.

PALADIN
And Caleb and all his friends skulking around in the bushes, having a great laugh.

NORA MUSGROVE
Surely, you’re not going to deliver that thing.

PALADIN
Absolutely.

EXT. ALLEY IN TOWN – DAY

CALEB MUSGROVE
What are you doing here?

PALADIN
Well, with your kind permission,
I thought I’d come along and watch the fun.

CALEB MUSGROVE
Well, hunker down. You can watch him get his. Shh. He’s coming now.
Wait until she opens the door and he starts to get amorous.
She’ll give him a taste of something he won’t forget for the rest of his life.

ABNER BLESSINGTON
Madam?

NORA MUSGROVE
I thought you’d never come.

TOWNSMAN
What did you do, Cal, send her a letter too?

CALEB MUSGROVE
Shut your mouth!

TOWNSMAN
Yes, sir, Cal. You sure taught that fellow
a lesson he’ll never forget.

CALEB MUSGROVE
I’ll teach him a lesson. Give me your gun.

PALADIN
Cal, where’s your sense of humor?

CALEB MUSGROVE
Sense of humor! At a time like this? Give me your gun.
Blessington! Blessington, I know you’re in there! I know you’re in there!

ABNER BLESSINGTON
You set this up to trap me, didn’t you? Okay, I’m in the trap now. Let’s see you spring it.

NORA MUSGROVE
No, please, no!

CALEB MUSGROVE
I ain’t no gunfighter. Never said I was.
But a man’s got a right to act in defense of his own home, ain’t he?

ABNER BLESSINGTON
Absolutely. Well, let’s see you do it now. Let’s see you act in defense of your own home.
Or isn’t your wife’s honor worth defending?

CALEB MUSGROVE
Nora!

PALADIN
Nora! Nora, you think there’s something disgraceful about a man backing down in the face of certain death? Anyone’s values can change under these circumstances.
Watch. All right, Blessington. I set this up. You want a gunfight, you have it with me.
Come on, Blessington. Or don’t you think Mrs. Musgrove is worth fighting for?
Blessington, you think a stupid practical joke is worth a man’s life? Come on.

ABNER BLESSINGTON
I’ll be in Denver tomorrow.

PALADIN
Well, lucky people of Denver.

CALEB MUSGROVE
(shouting)
Get out of here, all of you! Can’t a man come home to his wife
without a lot of loafers sitting around, gawking and laughing?

CALEB MUSGROVE
What’s so funny?