Sunday, August 10, 2003

[8/10/2011] Woody Allen Tonight: Part 1 of "Death Knocks" (from "Getting Even") (continued)


"The time is near midnight. Suddenly we hear a noise,
and Nat sits up and looks at the window."

"Organized crime is a blight on our nation. While many young Americans are lured into a career of crime by its promise of an easy life, most criminals actually must work long hours, frequently in buildings without air-conditioning."
-- from Monday night's "Woody Allen Tonight"
"A Look at Organized Crime"

Okay, this has nothing to do with tonight's offering, "Death Knocks." It's just that I love this bit from "A Look at Organized Crime" and on Monday night, with two other pull-quotes slotted in, I didn't get a chance to pull it out.

"Death Knocks" appeared originally in The New Yorker of July 27, 1968.

(from Getting Even)
Part 1

The play takes place in the bedroom of the Nat Ackermans' two-story house, somewhere in Kew Gardens. The carpeting is wall-to-wall There is a big double bed and a large vanity. The room is elaborately furnished and curtained, and on the walls there are several paintings and a not really attractive barometer. Soft theme music as the curtain rises. Nat Ackerman, a bald, paunchy fifty-seven-year-old dress manufacturer, is lying on the bed finishing off tomorrow's Daily News. He wears a bathrobe and slippers, and reads by a bed light clipped to the white headboard of the bed. The time is near midnight. Suddenly we hear a noise, and Nat sits up and looks at the window.

NAT: What the hell is that?
[Climbing awkwardly through the window is a sombre, caped figure. The intruder wears a black hood and skintight black clothes. The hood covers his head but not his face, which is middle-aged and stark white. He is something like NAT in appearance. He huffs audibly and then trips over the window sill and falls into the room.]
DEATH [for it is no one else]: Jesus Christ. I nearly broke my neck.
NAT [watching with bewilderment]: Who are you?
DEATH: Death.
NAT: Who?
DEATH: Death. Listen -- can I sit down? I nearly broke my neck. I'm shaking like a leaf.
NAT: Who are you?
DEATH: Death. You got a glass of water?
NAT: Death? What do you mean, Death?
DEATH: What is wrong with you? You see the black costume and the whitened face?
NAT: Yeah.
DEATH: Is it Halloween?
NAT: No.
DEATH: Then I'm Death. Now can I get a glass of water -- or a Fresca?
NAT: If this is some joke --
DEATH: What kind of joke? You're fifty-seven? Nat Ackerman? One eighteen Pacific Street? Unless I blew it -- where's that call sheet? [He fumbles through pocket, finally producing a card with an address on it. It seems to check.]
NAT: What do you want with me?
DEATH: What do I want? What do you think I want?
NAT: You must be kidding. I'm in perfect health.
DEATH [unimpressed]: Uh-huh. [Looking around] This is a nice place. You do it yourself?
NAT: We had a decorator, but we worked with her.
DEATH [looking at picture on the wall]: I love those kids with the big eyes.
NAT: I don't want to go yet.
DEATH: You don't want to go? Please don't start in. As it is, I'm nauseous from the climb.
NAT: What climb?
DEATH: I climbed up the drainpipe. I was trying to make a dramatic entrance. I see the big windows and you're awake reading. I figure it's worth a shot. I'll climb up and enter with a little -- you know . . . [Snaps fingers] Meanwhile, I get my heel caught on some vines, the drainpipe breaks, and I'm hanging by a thread. Then my cape begins to tear. Look, let's just go. It's been a rough night.
NAT: You broke my drainpipe?
DEATH: Broke. It didn't break. It's a little bent. Didn't you hear anything? I slammed into the ground.
NAT: I was reading.
DEATH: You must have really been engrossed. [Lifting newspaper NAT was reading] "NAB COEDS IN POT ORGY." Can I borrow this?
NAT: I'm not finished.
DEATH: Er -- I don't know how to put this to you, pal . . .
NAT: Why didn't you just ring downstairs?
DEATH: I'm telling you, I could have, but how does it look? This way I get a little drama going. Something. Did you read Faust?
NAT: What?
DEATH: And what if you had company? You're sitting there with important people. I'm Death -- I should ring the bell and traipse right in the front? Where's your thinking?
NAT: Listen, Mister, it's very late.
DEATH: Yeah. Well, you want to go?
NAT: Go where?
DEATH: Death. It. The Thing. The Happy Hunting Grounds. [Looking at his own knee] Y'know, that's a pretty bad cut. My first job, I'm liable to get gangrene yet.
NAT: Now, wait a minute. I need time. I'm not ready to go.
DEATH: I'm sorry. I can't help you. I'd like to, but it's the moment.
NAT: How can it be the moment? I just merged with Modiste Originals.
DEATH: What's the difference, a couple of bucks more or less.
NAT: Sure, what do you care? You guys probably have all your expenses paid.
DEATH: You want to come along now?
NAT [studying him]: I'm sorry, but I cannot believe you're Death.
DEATH: Why? What'd you expect -- Rock Hudson?
NAT: No, it's not that.
DEATH: I'm sorry if I disappointed you.
NAT: Don't get upset. I don't know, I always thought you'd be . . . uh . . . taller.
DEATH: I'm five seven. It's average for my weight.
NAT: You look a little like me.
DEATH: Who should I look like? I'm your death.
NAT: Give me some time. Another day.
DEATH: I can't. What do you want me to say?
NAT: One more day. Twenty-four hours.
DEATH: What do you need it for? The radio said rain tomorrow.
NAT: Can't we work out something?
DEATH: Like what?
NAT: You play chess?
DEATH: No, I don't.
NAT: I once saw a picture of you playing chess.
DEATH: Couldn't be me, because I don't play chess. Gin rummy, maybe.
NAT: You play gin rummy?
DEATH: Do I play gin rummy? Is Paris a city?
NAT: You're good, huh?
DEATH: Very good.
NAT: I'll tell you what I'll do --
DEATH: Don't make any deals with me.
NAT: I'll play you gin rummy. If you win, I'll go immediately. If I win, give me some more time. A little bit -- one more day.
DEATH: Who's got time to play gin rummy?
NAT: Come on. If you're so good.
DEATH: Although I feel like a game . . .
NAT: Come on. Be a sport. We'll shoot for a half hour.
DEATH: I really shouldn't.
NAT: I got the cards right here. Don't make a production.
DEATH: All right, come on. We'll play a little. It'll relax me.
NAT [getting cards, pad, and pencil]: You won't regret this.
DEATH: Don't give me a sales talk. Get the cards and give me a Fresca and put out something. For God's sake, a stranger drops in, you don't have potato chips or pretzels.
NAT: There's M&Ms downstairs in a dish.
DEATH: M&Ms. What if the President came? He'd get M&Ms, too?
NAT: You're not the President.
DEATH: Deal.


* * *

TOMORROW NIGHT IN PART 2 OF "DEATH KNOCKS": Nat deals, and the highest-stakes game of gin rummy begins


Here's the plan (subject to change, of course): Friday night we'll have "A Twenties Memory," and then Sunday and Monday we'll have "Hassidic Tales, with a Guide to Their Interpretation by the Noted Scholar."


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