Sunday, August 23, 2009

Don't Make a Scene: Catch-22

The Story: Authors cringe when you talk about making a movie from their work. I remember seeing an author on the old "Dick Cavett Show" who grumbled that helping to write the movie's screenplay was akin to "holding the coat of the man who's molesting your child."

And so, Joseph Heller's "Catch-22."

I don't know how Heller felt about Mike Nichols' film of his most famous best-seller, overall, but I do know this: he loved this scene.

He loved this scene so much, he told its author, Buck Henry, that he wished he'd thought of it for the book.

High praise, and why this is the scene for the week.

The Set-Up: Every war movie has its "scrounger," the "get" guy, the "dog-robber," the "King Rat"—the one who can acquire the things that people need and want and sets up a black-market lemonade stand of his stores. Joseph Heller took the concept and used it to satirize the monstrous greed of 50's Corporate America in the character of Milo Minderbinder ("What's good for MM Enterprises is good for America"), who would sell the pilot's parachute silk for profits, leaving the air-crews with promisary notes for shares in his "Syndicate." Mike Nichols and Buck Henry took the idea a bit further and made Heller's Milo a wheeler-deeler turned fascist dictator. In this scene, Yossarian (Alan Arkin) confronts Milo (Jon Voight) over Milo's deal with the German government to bomb the Allied air-base, which managed to kill Nately (Art Garfunkel). Milo would have no trouble sitting on the board of Enron or Halliburton. Why, who knows how far he could have gone? Or would have gone?

Yossarian runs after Milo's motorcade and attempts to board the jeep where Milo is standing in the glow of the klieg lights. Milo's police contingent hold Yossarian back.

Yossarian: Milo, I'm gonna kill you, you murdering son of a bitch!

Milo Minderbinder: Don't hurt him.

Milo: I know how you feel...

Milo: ...but it wasn't my fault.

Yossarian: Who's fault was it?

Milo: No one. Nately was the victim of certain economic pressures, the laws of supply and demand.

Yossarian: You unbelievable bastard! (The MMP's punch Yossarian in the stomach, and he crumples.) Uhhh!

Milo: Do you want me to take you to her?
Yossarian: (gasping) Who?
Milo: Nately's whore. Aren't you looking for her?

Yossarian: (gasping) You know where she is?

Milo: Of course I do.

(Milo gestures and the MMP's load Yossarian onto the Jeep)

Milo: You're AWOL, Yossarian. I thought you knew better than that. That's not smart. Nately wouldn't do anything that dumb.

Yossarian: He's dead.
Milo: It's too bad. He was a nice fellow.
Yossarian: And your boys made a nice direct hit on him.

Milo: But he died a rich man. He had over 60 shares in the Syndicate.
Yossarian: What good is that? He's dead.
Milo: Then his family will get it.
Yossarian: He didn't have time to have a family.
Milo: Then his parents get it.
Yossarian: They don't need it, they're rich.

Milo: Then they'll understand.

(Milo gestures to the MMP's and Yossarian is thrown out of the Jeep)


Words by Buck Henry

Pictures by David Watkin and Mike Nichols

"Catch-22" is available on DVD from Paramount Home Video.

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