By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist January 19, 2011 at 6:01AM
Yesterday, Vulture debuted the first 15 pages of long-deceased writer/director Sam Peckinpah’s buried script, “The Texans.” Judging from the first few pages, the film is a classic western, involving Native Americans and the takeover of their land, with “Avatar”-like nature messages strewn throughout. The genre has seen somewhat of a revival, most recently with the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit.”
Producer Al Ruddy (“The Godfather,” “Million Dollar Baby”) found the script while cleaning out his belongings after dissolving his long-time partnership with producer Andre Morgan. The screenplay had been sitting in his desk for almost 20 years. Ruddy remembered that he first hired John Milius (“Apocalypse Now”) to write the script, but wasn’t happy with Milius’ draft of the story. He then approached Peckinpah to make some changes: Peckinpah did so, turning in a 250-page draft of the story. The script was in development with Ruddy for almost 10 years, but Ruddy recalled that when “City Slickers” came out in 1991, he didn’t feel that there was room for a classic western film anymore, so the project was shelved. Until now. Ruddy has hired Jim Byrnes (writer of TV Westerns like “How the West was Won” and “Gunsmoke”) to get the script down to 150 pages -- still a formidable length by today’s Hollywood standards -- and find a director to push the script through to the screen.
Peckinpah, known for his revisionist approach to the western genre where anti-heroes took the place of the cowboy-hero like in “The Wild Bunch,” was also a notorious alcoholic and drug abuser who often brought his addictions to set. He battled many producers and crew members on the sets of his films, damaging his reputation in Hollywood. Ruddy first approached Peckinpah to revise Milius version of “The Texans,” Peckinpah had just come off of “Convoy,” a box office hit but a critical failure that was more known around Hollywood circles for coming in late and over budget. According to Ruddy, Peckinpah wanted to revitalize his career by going back to what made him famous in the first place -- the western -- but he didn't get the chance.
Peckinpah remains a controversial director, and with Rod Lurie remaking his “Straw Dogs” set to hit theaters later this year, the helmer's work will continue to be talked about. But here’s to hoping somebody great comes aboard and some of the true grit found in Peckinpah's westerns comes back to the big screen. -Catherine Scott