Maverick by William Goldman
William Goldman has won two Academy Awards, one for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid and the other for All The President’s Men, both outstanding motion pictures.
This gifted author has also written a quintessential book on Hollywood, called Adventures in the Screen Trade, from which we learn about screenplays, the so called ‘author films”, Robert Redford and his misbehavior after the launch of Butch Cassidy and during the preparations for All the President’s Men, Dustin Hoffman’s bad attitude on the set of Marathon Man and so much more.
The brilliance of the work of William Goldman is also evident on Maverick, which is an excellent, entertaining comedy, adventure and action feature all packed into one film which should have received more attention and acclaim.
Mel Gibson as the hero, Bret Maverick, Jodie Foster in the role of Annabelle Bransford, James Garner- who was the original Maverick- as Marshal Zane Cooper, Graham Greene as Joseph, Alfred Molina in the role of Angel and last but not least James Coburn as Commodore Duvall form a remarkable, memorable team.
Bret Maverick is an excellent card player, who should be added to the famous line of gamblers and players, from Rainman to Rounders, from Casino to The Hustler of The Color of Money.
He wants to join a special contest to be held on the boat with incredible stakes, comparable to the World Championships that would award millions of dollars today, for at that time, the top prize of half a million dollars was the equivalent of tens of millions in the currency of the present.
The protagonist meets Annabelle Bransford, a petty criminal who tries to steal the wallet and other small trophies, until moving to higher stakes and- maybe- getting away with a huge amount.
Together with Annabelle and Zane Cooper, Bret runs into a group of settlers that have been robbed by evil men, some of them dressed as Native Americans, but in a territory where these are known to be peaceful.
In exchange for a negotiated ten per cent of the money recuperated, the hero and his comrades in arms try to find the abhorrent robbers and when they do, the protagonist does all the work- in one of the very amusing scenes- while Zane is only watching for…one could be killed in such moments.
They get the money back to the women and children that want to build a church and they have to watch as the calculations are made and these people get sad, for without the reward, they will not be able to construct their desired temple.
Therefore Maverick decides to renounce the reward and they are then faced with a large group of Native Americans that threaten to kill and take people prisoners, only this is another occasion for merriment, because the hero knows the language and it is soon clear that he is in cahoots with their leader, Joseph and it is all for a show and part of the game.
Bret Maverick tells Joseph to shout and make threatening gestures, then to point in anger and agitation and when he translates, he talks about hands being cut off and says that the “Indians” want to take Annabelle prisoner- at which Joseph, who speaks excellent English and knows some French too, asks his friend if he cannot actually take her.
Finally, the generous, brave, self-sacrificing protagonist offers to become the prisoner of the enemy and then joins his friend and they prepare some other plot, to get close to the three thousand needed to enter the Winner Take All poker game, for which he does not have the funds.
Joseph has an interesting proposition for a cruel, sadistic hunter, who has killed many animals of the forest, but he is bored now and looking for a new thrill, hence the proposition to kill a human being- is this legal? Asks this villain, but when he learns that it does not matter, he gets interested.
Part of the scheme was to fix his rifle so that the target cannot be shot, but when this does not work, the hunter is offered the bow with arrows and told he has to kill the Native American with traditional weapons.
The supposedly old man who constitutes the prey is in fact an amusingly decorated and painted Bret, who runs from the arrow, but he is then hunted with the rifle, after his “friend” has negotiated an increase in the prize for this human trophy to the tune of two thousand dollars.
Of this money, the poor Maverick only gets a quarter, for he is lied about the real sum at stake, and now he has enough to join the big cards game, where he plays with magnificent skill and even uses…”magic”.
Annabelle is one of the players, but the better skilled hero has already instructed her on her failings, she has habits that give her hand away, such as playing with her curls or with her teeth in moments when she has a favorable or a bad set of cards, with an added heavy breathing at this last, crucial game.
There are many unexpected changes in the plot; one character is in charge with law and order, while at the same time preparing a coup de theater, another seems to be honest when he is only biding his time.
In final minute of the film we have the biggest surprises of all- William Goldman writes in the aforementioned Adventures in the Screen Trade about the incredible finale for North by Northwest, when so much happens during seconds…well, wait until you see the end of Maverick…