First-Place Winner, May – October 2003 Screenplay Contest – Full-Length Series
Written by GEORGE M. FERRIS
Drama. Field of Dreams set in the early days of aviation. A barnstorming mail pilot faces his past and the perils of a trans-Pacific air race as he risks everything for the respect of a teenage boy.
In the 1920's, Clark McDonough, 16, is orphaned and sent to live with Ed and Sue Prouty, his mother's half-brother and his young wife, in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. The Prouty's live next to an airfield used by the fledgling air mail service. Clark's father was a pilot who went missing in action in WW I, and Clark is drawn to the airfield against the wishes of Ed Prouty.
Trying to finagle some flying lessons, Clark takes odds jobs at the airfield without telling the Prouty's. Even though he quickly learns that company policy prohibits any kind of flying lessons, Clark bonds with the colorful types who first flew the mail - and in particular with Keith Mackey, the most recent pilot to be hired. Big Al Touhey, the hard-drinking, whoring, card-cheating pilot who offends everybody, begins picking on Clark when the boy refuses to help him cheat at cards. When Clark inadvertently spills a bucket on paint on Touhey's brand new roadster, Touhey grabs him when no one is around and beats the crap out of him. When he finds out from the other pilots, it's Keith who steps forward to give Touhey some of his own medicine. Keith thrashes Touhey within an inch of his life in a marathon fistfight and sends him packing. Later, at the risk of losing his job, Keith wins Clark's friendship for life by giving him flying lessons on the sly. For Clark, soaring at dawn over the Pennsylvania farmland is the thrill of a lifetime.
When the airlines start up, the airfield closes down, and the pilots lose their jobs. Facing grim economic facts, Keith and Ernie the mechanic pool their savings and risk everything on an air race between Oakland, California and Honolulu. Everything in Clark wants to go to Oakland to be part of their ground crew, but Prouty refuses to let the boy go. Clark is heartbroken. Finally even an old stone like Edgar Prouty can't ignore Clark's pain - he surprises everyone and slips Clark a train ticket to Oakland.
In Oakland, reckless and unprepared pilots flock to the race with planes that are flimsy and just plain dangerous for a two-thousand-mile flight over water. Keith and Ernie are more careful, but just before the race, disaster strikes. Keith loses the good luck medallion he's never flown without. For Keith, this is the worst possible omen. He refuses to go. With the checkered flag waving and competitors' planes taxiing for take-off, Ernie does his best to persuade Keith to go on with the flight. Certain that if he flies, he dies, Keith turns Ernie down flat, and that's when Ernie levels the heavy artillery.
Ernie tells Keith that Clark has a photo of a woman he calls his mother. Ernie knows that Keith has a picture of the same woman on his dresser. "Clark is your son," Ernie tells him. "And if you ever want his respect, you better get on that airplane." Keith is silent. Ernie can't budge him. But just as the team is about to be disqualified from the race, Keith shows up on the flight line. As the airplane warms up for the flight, Keith takes Clark aside and reveals who he really is. Clark is shocked, then hurt and angry.
Keith explains to his son that he ran away to fly in World War I but never found the courage to return to the family he deserted. When he heard that Clark's mother had died, he knew Clark would be coming to stay with Edgar Prouty because Prouty was Clark's mother's only living relative. Keith took the flying job in Pennsylvania to be near Clark. As he explains, "If I couldn't be your father, I hoped I could be your friend."
Clark embraces Keith, and for thirty seconds they are father and son. Then the race takes over. Keith climbs aboard the plane and gives his son a confident wave. The plane takes off in the direction of the Hawaiian Islands. Clark maintains a vigil all night. The next morning Ernie comes forward and gives Clark the tragic news - Keith never arrived in Hawaii. Somewhere over the Pacific, his plane went down. Keith is never seen again.
With Keith's sacrifice, Clark learns the true meaning of courage and devotion. When he returns to Pennsylvania with Ernie, Clark tells Ernie that he intends to fly his first solo as a tribute to Keith. Just before Clark takes off on his solo flight, Ernie gives him Keith's missing good luck medallion - after Keith had taken off, the medallion turned up in the cuff of Ernie's pants, where it had fallen in the hectic moments before the race. Later, as he circles above the clouds and the good luck medallion around his neck glints in the sun, Clark realizes his future as an aviator has grown from roots in his father's past.
EXT. OFFICE BUILDING WINDOWS – DAY
WINDOW WASHERS work on a scaffold, ignoring the sights.
Below is the rumble of traffic. Then comes a new noise -- an airplane, a full-throated twelve-cylinder baritone.
A shape appears reflected in the windows. It has struts, wires, and sandwiched wings. The reflection glides across the windows and is gone. The window washers don’t see it.
A VINTAGE BIPLANE
RUMBLES across the cityscape, its fuselage streaked with exhaust.
A PILOT hunches in the rear cockpit. He banks the plane around a gleaming hospital.
EXT. HOSPITAL PARKING LOT
A Ford Explorer pulls into a parking place. DAWN WILCOX, 40, and her son PETER, 12, climb out.
The plane ROARS overhead and catches Peter’s attention. He watches it circle at a distance.
INT. HOSPITAL ADMISSIONS
Dawn signs in with the RECEPTIONIST.
Peter mills around behind her. He’s nervous. Passing by is a parade of human misery -- PATIENTS in wheelchairs, in gurneys, WALK-IN’s IN PAIN, anxious VISITORS, SECURITY GUARDS lounge nearby, joking, indifferent. It’s a scary place.
INT. HOSPITAL CORRIDOR
A NURSE leads Dawn and Peter past a row of rooms.
Ever been in a hospital before?
Not like this.
He’s just a little nervous, that’s all.
Honey, today’s the day I have to make
that presentation, so I can only stay a
little bit, okay?
Peter, we talked about this -- it’s the
Board of Directors...I'd change it if I
could, but I can't...
What about Dad?
He’s coming straight from the airport --
soon as he gets in.
You’re going to be fine, young man. Here
INT. HOSPITAL ROOM
An empty bed waits for Peter. A hanging curtain screens off the other bed. Dawn takes a quick glance around it, then takes the Nurse aside.
Can’t we put my son in with someone
a little closer to his age?
We try to do that, Ma’am, but the East
Wing is shut down.
What about switching somebody?
I’ll talk to my supervisor.
You need to take off your clothes and
put on this gown and slippers. Stow
your things in this locker here, all right?
The Doctor will be in soon.
The Nurse leaves.
Peter, you understand -- I have to go.
I guess so.
They’re tonsils. Tonsils come out every
Yeah, but they’re my tonsils.
She gives him a kiss.
It’ll all be over before you know it. I’ll
be back soon -- I promise.
She slips out. Peter sits alone on the bed, forlorn.
I wish my Dad was here...
Peter slips into his gown and slides onto the bed. This is not a good place for a twelve-year-old to be. He chokes back some tears.
Still got my tonsils... Only things that work...
The tip of a cane lifts a little bit of the divider aside. Through the opening Peter can see CLARK McDONOUGH, 89 and frail with an IV in his arm.
Where are they?
Mom’s giving a presentation to the
board of directors. She couldn't get out
In business, huh?
And your Dad?
Flying in from New York. He’s got the
Paris route this month, and they got
snowed in at Kennedy...
My son’s stationed in Okinawa... He’s on
his way here now...Hope he makes it.
A BEAT. Clark waits out a wave of pain.
My name is Clark McDonough... What’s
They can’t reach each other to shake so they wave.
Suppose I tell you I was a pilot myself.
Hell, I was flying before your Dad was born.
And my dad flew before me...
You betcha –
There is a ROAR as the biplane flashes past the window.
Wow, that was close...
Somebody didn’t get the word about height
So because of him -- that’s how you got
to be a pilot?
Maybe. Wanna hear?
Well, Mr. Wilcox, that could take some tellin’.
You see, when I was just a little older you, I
had to go through what no kid should...My
mother died, and I hadn't even grown out of
BEGIN FLASHBACK HERE
EXT. TRAIN – DAY
A train hustles along a flat stretch of track, smoke belching from the engine.
CLARK McDONOUGH, now 15, hangs halfway out one of the Pullman cars, face into the wind. He wears a jacket with a black armband on one sleeve. His eyes glued on something --
paces the train and pulls gradually ahead of it.
OLD CLARK (V.O.)
That was the spring of 1927, and I was sent
to live with my mother's half-brother Edgar
Prouty, in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania...
EXT. MAIN STREET – DAY
An Essex motorcar cruises along a tree-lined street.
So I was sent to live with my mother’s half-
brother Edgar Prouty, in Bellefonte,
EDGAR PROUTY, 48, drives. Next to him sits SUE PROUTY, 38, his prim-looking wife. Clark is
wedged in back with his luggage.
VOICE (V.O.) (CONT’D)
He worked for the Excelsior Paint Company
and grabbed Aunt Sue as his last chance to
snag a mate...
EXT. PROUTY HOME
A frame house. Modest but proud. On the roof is a rooster weathervane.
The Essex pulls into the drive, and the handbrake CREAKS. Prouty loads a suitcase under each arm.
What have you got here, Clark? Cannon balls?
The Good Lord has not seen fit to bless
Susan and I with children, so if you
want -- when you want...
I hope you’ll consider yourself a Prouty.
There’s a place in town I can get to monogram
your shirts cheap.
He staggers inside under the load. The screen door SLAMS behind him. Clark surveys the house uneasily. Sue surveys it with him.
What Ed’s trying to say is -- he wants you
to like him as much as he likes you...
Clark hoists a heavy suitcase out of the car.
Don’t hurt yourself!
I can do it.
He promised your mother we’d look after
you... And maybe we're new at it, but
we’re sure gonna give it a try.
Clark! Where are you?!
Prouty climbs the last few steps. Clark brings up the rear. It is hot and dusty. Prouty dodges a light bulb hanging by a cord.
There’s a little too much Fahrenheit in
the daytime, but crack open the windows,
and you get a nice breeze off the meadow...
(drops the bags with a THUMP)
Isn’t this swell?
Yes, Uncle Edgar.
Really? You think so? Good.
(rubs his hands together)
Now we see about getting you some gainful
He starts downstairs when a DEAFENING ROAR comes out of nowhere.
skirts the trees and flashes over the house, missing the weathervane by about a yard. The wash of the plane makes the rooster spin on its axis.
Dust settles from the rafters. Prouty goes into a rage and throws open the window. Clark is at his shoulder.
settles down below the trees and out of sight.
shakes his fist.
You’re asking for it, Mister!
(to Sue, downstairs)
Sue! Susan! They’re at it again!
I told you! It’s that weathervane!
And I told you! I’m not taking it down!
It’s those Air Mail hooligans! Ever since
they put in that flying field, I can't get any
(moves away from the window)
Clark, you’ll learn I’m a reasonable man. But
I forbid you from every going near that flying
Until you’re fifty. Or forty-five at least.
(points a finger at him)
And you better not be air-minded.
Good. Lunch is in --
(looks at his watch)
twenty-seven minutes from –
right now! Welsh rarebit. Don’t be late.
Prouty goes downstairs.
Clark watches him go. He picks up the biggest suitcase and carries it awkwardly over to the bed. He dumps it on the bare mattress. A cloud of dust rises.
Blinking, Clark flips the latches and opens it.
INSIDE THE SUITCASE
It’s packed solid with “Knights of the Air,” “Aces High,” and “Tales of von Richtofen’s Flying Circus” -- wall-to-wall books about flying.
INT. SECOND FLOOR
Sue meets Prouty as he sets foot in the hallway.
Does he like it?
Of course he likes it! He thinks it’s dandy!
All right, Ed, but don’t try so hard...
(off her look)
INT. ATTIC – NIGHT
Clark lies in bed, wide awake.
The window opposite him has no blinds. A shaft of light blasts through the window, then goes out. A few seconds pass, then it blasts through again, and so on.
Clark picks a picture frame off the bedside table. He scoots around in bed and looks at it by the light of the airport beacon.
shows a photograph of a YOUNG WOMAN holding a BABY as she rocks on a front porch.
Tears start to well up. Clark sets the photo back on the table, then lays his head on the pillow, and wipes his eyes.
EXT. FLYING FIELD – DAY
The airfield is a rutted pasture lined by a hangar and two large shacks, built of raw wood. Next to them is a tall gantry with a searchlight up top.
A motorcycle bounces down the dirt lane and onto the airfield. Keith Mackey wears a leather jacket and calf-high flying boots. His face is dotted with road grit. Keith dismounts and leans the Indian motorcycle against the hangar.
ERNIE PARDO, 40 and heavy-set in greasy overalls, emerges from the hangar with a carburetor in his hands.
They trade salutes, then gladhand each other. Good to see ya, Pal.
I got the boss all warmed up for you...
So -- this is Bellefonte...
That’s what they call it.
Keith, lemme put you a question.
What happened in Kansas City?
There was trouble, and it was time to
hot-foot it outa there.
I bet. You flying that hooch in from Canada
Ernie -- c’mon -- !
I put myself on the line for you, friend.
Better don’t try that here.
Keith says nothing. He swings a leg back over his motorcycle.
What about meeting the boss?
Gimme an hour. I got an errand to run.
Oh -- and guess who’s here?
Al Touhey. Your ol’ pal.
You’re shittin’ me.