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A one handed stranger comes to a tiny town possessing a terrible past they want to keep secret, by violent means if necessary.
Reno Smith: I believe a man is as big as what he's seeking. I believe you're a big man, Mr. Macreedy. John J. Macreedy: Flattery will get you nowhere. Reno Smith: Why would a man like you be looking for a lousy Jap farmer? John J. Macreedy: Ohhh, dadgum, maybe I'm not so big. Reno Smith: Oh yes you are. I believe a man is as big as what'll make him mad. Nobody around here seems big enough to get you mad. John J. Macreedy: What makes you mad, Mr. Smith? Reno Smith: Me? Nothing, nothing... John J. Macreedy: Ah, you're a pretty big man yourself, then. Yet the... the Japanese make you mad, don't they? Reno Smith: Well, that's different. After that sneak attack on Pearl Harbor... John J. Macreedy: Komoko made you mad. Reno Smith: It's the same thing. Loyal Japanese-Americans, that's a laugh. They're all mad dogs. What about Corregidor, the death march? John J. Macreedy: What did Komoko have to do with Corregidor? Reno Smith: He was a Jap, wasn't he?
Doc T.R. Velie Jr.: First, I sell 'em a piece of land. Do you think they farm it? They do not. They dig for gold. They rip off the topsoil of ten winding hills, then sprint in here all fog-heaved with excitement, lugging nuggets - big, bright, and shiny. Is it gold? It is not. Do they quit? They do not. Then they decide to farm, farm in a country so dry that you have to prime a man before he can spit. Before you can say "Fat Sam" they're stalled, stranded, and starving. They become weevil-brained and buttsprung. So I bury 'em. But why bore you with my triumphs?
Doc T.R. Velie Jr.: Four years ago something terrible happened here. We did nothing about it, nothing. The whole town fell into a sort of settled melancholy and all the people in it closed their eyes, and held their tongues, and... failed the test with a whimper. And now something terrible's going to happen again -- and in a way we're lucky, because we've been given a second chance.
John J. MacReedy: [picks up Cole's knife] Wouldn't it have been easier to wait until I turned my back? Or are there too many witnesses present? Reno Smith: You're still in trouble. John J. MacReedy: You're in trouble. Whatever happens, you're sunk. Reno Smith: You got things a big twisted... John J. MacReedy: You killed Komoko, Smith, and sooner or later, you're gonna go up for it. Not because you killed him, because I think in a town like this you can get away with it, but because you didn't have guts enough to do it alone. You put your trust in guys like these and Hector here - not the most dependable of God's creatures. And one of these days, they're gonna catch on that you're playing 'em for a sap. And then what are ya gonna do? Peel 'em off, one by one? And in the meantime, one of 'em's gonna crack. And when they do, you're gonna go down - but HARD. Cause they got something on ya, Smith. Something to use when the going gets tough. And it's getting tougher every minute! [hurls the knife at Smith]
Pete Wirth: My memories are so pleasant as it is... John J. Macreedy: It's gonna take an awful lot of whiskey to wash out your guts. Go on, go on! Swill it! What is there left for you to do? You're as dead as Komoko and you don't know it... Pete Wirth: You don't have to remind me. I've never forgotten. John J. Macreedy: Oh, isn't that noble of you. You haven't forgotten. And you're ashamed. That's really noble of you. I suppose four years from now, you'll be sitting around here telling people you haven't forgotten me either. That's real progress. In the meantime, I'll be as dead as a - WHY DON'T YOU TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED?
Doc T.R. Velie Jr.: Why did you come here, Mr. Macreedy? John J. Macreedy: Did Komoko have any other family besides his son Joe? Doc T.R. Velie Jr.: Son? Nobody around here ever knew he had a son. John J. Macreedy: Yes, he had a son. He's dead too. He's buried in Italy... Why, this Komoko boy died trying to save my life. They gave him a medal. I came here to give it to his old man. I figured the least I could do was give him one day out of my life.
Liz Wirth: [going to be shot by Smith] I did everything you said! Reno Smith: You two started out in a car and that's the way you're gonna end up - over a cliff, burning! You can blame Macreedy for that, he said I had too many witnesses. Liz Wirth: But why me? Why start with me? Reno Smith: I gotta start with somebody.
[last lines] Second Train Conductor: What's all the excitement? What happened? John J. Macreedy: A shooting. Second Train Conductor: Thought it was something. First time the Streamliner's stopped here in four years. John J. Macreedy: Second time.
John J. Macreedy: Your friend's a very... argumentative fellow. Reno Smith: Sort of unpredictable, too. Got a temper like a rattlesnake. Coley Trimble: That's me all over. I'm half horse, half alligator - you mess with me and I'll kick a lung outta' ya! What d'ya think of that? John J. Macreedy: No comment. Coley Trimble: You know, talkin' to you is like pullin' teeth. You wear me out.
Coley Trimble: You're a yellow-bellied Jap lover! Am I right or wrong? John J. Macreedy: You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice. Coley Trimble: [gets ready to scrap] You don't like my voice?
Reno Smith: I swear, you're beginning to make me mad. John J. Macreedy: All strangers do, hmm? Reno Smith: No, they don't. Not all of them. Some do, when they come around snooping... John J. Macreedy: Snooping for what? Reno Smith: I don't know, outsiders coming in, looking for something... John J. Macreedy: Looking for what? Reno Smith: I don't know! Somebody's always looking for something in this part of the West. To the historian it's the Old West, to the book writer it's the Wild West, to the businessman it's the Undeveloped West -- they say we're all poor and backward, and I guess we are, we don't even have enough water. But to us, this place is *our* West, and I wish they'd leave us alone! John J. Macreedy: Leave you alone to do what? Reno Smith: I don't know what you mean.
Sheriff Tim Horn: Let Smith find himself a new boy. I can't take it another day. Four years ago, if I'd of done my job, if I'd of checked up and found out what happened. But I didn't! It was just like Smith figured... I didn't even try to find out. Don't you understand? You know, when you wear this badge, you're the Law. And when somebody does something against the Law, then you're supposed to do something about it. Me - I did nothin'. That's what's eatin' me. What kind of prescription you got for that? Doc Verlie: I don't know. I haven't found one for myself. But there's one thing, Tim: don't quit. Sheriff Tim Horn: Why not? Doc Verlie: Because maybe this feller Macreedy's got the prescription.
Doc T.R. Velie Jr.: Smith owned Adobe Flat. He leased it to Komoko. He figured he had cheated him because you gotta have water to raise anything. There never was any water on Adobe Flat. Komoko dug a well. He must have gone down sixty feet Pete Wirth: He got plenty of water. That made Smith pretty sore. He didn't like Japs anyway. The day after Pearl Harbor, Smith went to Sand City. John J. Macreedy: Yeah, he got turned down, trying to enlist. Pete Wirth: Well, when he got back, he was pretty sore. Around ten o'clock, we all started drinking. John J. Macreedy: Ten in the morning. Pete Wirth: Yeah. Smith, Coley, Sam, Hector, and me - we were all drunk. Patriotic drunk. We wanted to go out to scare the Jap a little and have a little fun. Well, when we got there, he heard us comin' and he locked the door. And then Smith started a fire. And the Jap - he came running out. His clothes were all burning. And then Smith shot him. I didn't even know he had a gun. John J. Macreedy: Then you got scared and buried him, and kept your mouths shut, hmm? Pete Wirth: Yeah. John J. Macreedy: Well, go ahead and have your drink now. You're gonna need it.
Sam, Cafe Proprietor: What'll you have? John J. Macreedy: What've you got? Sam, Cafe Proprietor: Chili and beans. John J. Macreedy: Anything else? Sam, Cafe Proprietor: Chili without beans.
Sam, Cafe Proprietor: Maybe he's a cop or somethin'. Doc T.R. Velie Jr.: Ever see a cop with a stiff arm? Sam, Cafe Proprietor: Maybe his arm's all right. Maybe he's just hangin' onto something tight in his pocket. Doc T.R. Velie Jr.: Like what? A pistol? A stick of TNT so he can blow up the whole mangy, miserable town?
Doc T.R. Velie Jr.: They're gonna kill you with no hard feelings. John J. Macreedy: And you're gonna sit there and let 'em do it. Doc T.R. Velie Jr.: I try to live right. I drink my milk every day. But mostly, I try to mind my own business - which is something I'd advise you to do.
Reno Smith: Look, Mr. MacReedy, there is a law in this county against shootin' dogs. But when I see a mad dog, I don't wait for him to bite me.
Doc T.R. Velie Jr.: [on Macreedy] He's no salesman, that's for sure... unless he's peddlin' dynamite!
John J. Macreedy: You know, I know what your trouble is, son. You'd like me to die quickly, wouldn't you, without wasting too much of your time; or quietly, so I won't embarrass you too much; or even thankfully, so your memory of the occasion won't be too unpleasant.
Hector David: Real cool guy. Reno Smith: Doesn't push easy, huh? Hector David: Well, that's it. That's just it. He pushes TOO easy.
Reno Smith: My name's Smith. I own the Three Bar Ranch. I want to apologize for some of the people in town. John J. Macreedy: Act like they're sitting on a keg. Reno Smith: A keg? Of what? John J. Macreedy: Heh-heh, oh, I don't know. Diamonds? Gunpowder? Reno Smith: Oh, it's nothing like that. We're suspicious of strangers, is all. Hangover from the old days, the Old West. John J. Macreedy: I thought the tradition of the Old West was hospitality. Reno Smith: I am trying to BE hospitable, Mr. Macreedy.
Coley Trimble: I think Macreedy's a nothin', a nobody. So there's nothin' to worry about. What can he find out?... That Komoko... Suppose he finds out. Reno Smith: A nobody like Macreedy can raise a pretty big stink. The point is, who'd miss a nobody like Macreedy if he just, uh, say, disappeared? Who, Coley? Pete Wirth: Why don't we wait?... I mean, maybe he won't find anything. Maybe he'll just go away. Reno Smith: Not Macreedy. I know those maimed guys. Their minds get twisted. They put on hair-shirts and act like martyrs. All of 'em are do-gooders, freaks, troublemakers. Pete Wirth: Let's wait and see. There's no danger yet. Reno Smith: No danger, he says. This guy's like a carrier of small pox. Since he's arrived, this town has a fever, an infection, and it's spreading.
Mr. Hastings, Telegrapher: There must be some mistake. I'm Hastings, the telegraph agent. Nobody told me this train was stopping. John J. Macreedy: They didn't? Mr. Hastings, Telegrapher: No, I just told you they didn't. And they ought to. What I want to know is why didn't they? John J. Macreedy: Maybe they didn't think it was important. Mr. Hastings, Telegrapher: Important? It's the first time the streamliner's stopped here in four years.
Reno Smith: [to Tim] You're not Sheriff any more. You're so pathetic you just lost a job.
Doc T.R. Velie Jr.: I was just wondering what all you people are worrying about... not that I have the slightest idea. I hold no truck with silence. I've got nothing to hide. It's just that you worry about the stranger only if you look at him from a certain aspect - from my perspective, I look upon him with the innocence of a fresh-laid egg.
Doc T.R. Velie Jr.: [about the medal] Maybe we need it. It would give us something to build on. This town's wrecked, just as though it was bombed out. Maybe it can come back. John J. Macreedy: Some towns do and some towns don't. It depends on the people. Doc T.R. Velie Jr.: That medal would help.
John J. Macreedy: [to the town mortician] Mind not looking at me like that? Doc T.R. Velie Jr.: Like what? John J. Macreedy: Like a potential customer. Doc T.R. Velie Jr.: Huh. Everyone is. I get 'em comin' and goin'.
First Train Conductor: Man, they look woebegone and far away. John J. Macreedy: Oh, I'll only be here twenty-four hours. First Train Conductor: In a place like this, it could be a lifetime.
Reno Smith: You don't know anything about Komoko, now do you, Tim? Sheriff Tim Horn: I do not. That's the point. Reno Smith: The point is, what you don't know won't hurt you. Sheriff Tim Horn: Maybe there's something that I ought to know. Maybe there's something that I ought to ask you, before the stranger comes back here and starts breathing down my neck. Reno Smith: Tim, you're just a lost ball in the high weeds! I told you a long time ago, nothing happened for you to worry about. Sheriff Tim Horn: Thing is, I do worry. Maybe I ain't much else, but I'm sure a worrier. And I'm still the Law. Reno Smith: Then do your job, Tim. Sheriff Tim Horn: What is my job, Mr. Smith? Maybe I'd better find out before Macreedy does it for me. Reno Smith: Macreedy'll do nothing... and neither will you, Tim. Sheriff Tim Horn: Suppose I decide to try? Reno Smith: That might be dangerous. Tim, you got the body of a hippo, but the brain of a rabbit; now don't overtax it. Sheriff Tim Horn: ...Yes, Mr. Smith.
John J. Macreedy: I got a problem of my own. Doc T.R. Velie Jr.: You sure have, they're going to kill you with no hard feelings. John J. Macreedy: And you're going to sit there and let 'em do it. Doc T.R. Velie Jr.: Don't get waspish with me, mister. John J. Macreedy: Oh, I'm sorry, I, uh... Doc T.R. Velie Jr.: Yeah, well, I feel for you, but I'm consumed with apathy. Why should I mix in?
John J. Macreedy: I want to go to a place called Adobe Flat. Are there any cabs available? Mr. Hastings, Telegrapher: Adobe Flat? John J. Macreedy: Yeah. Mr. Hastings, Telegrapher: No cabs.
Mr. Hastings, Telegrapher: Sure you don't want some lemonade? It don't have the muzzle velocity of some other drinks drunk around here, but it's good for what ails you.
Hector David: I believe a man is nothing unless he stands up for what's rightfully his. What do you think?
Reno Smith: Send a wire to Nick Gandi in Los Angeles. Tell him to find out everything he can about John J. Macreedy. Tell him I want to know fast. Don't get too nervous too fast, Hector, you're as jumpy as a stall horse... And while you wait I'll talk to him.
Liz Wirth: Things change. John J. Macreedy: Sure do. And Smith is the kid who changes 'em, isn't he?... What's wrong with this town of yours, Miss Wirth? Liz Wirth: I don't want to get involved. John J. Macreedy: Involved in what? Liz Wirth: Whatever you're up to. Whatever happens, I've got to go on living in this town. These people are my neighbors, my friends. John J. Macreedy: ALL of 'em? Liz Wirth: This is my town, Mr. Macreedy, like it or not. John J. Macreedy: Well, if you don't like it, why do you stick around? Liz Wirth: My brother Pete, he'd never leave. John J. Macreedy: Didn't it ever occur to you that you might leave without him? You look like a pretty independent young lady. Your brother seems to me... Liz Wirth: Weak. Yeah, I know. That's why I couldn't leave him. John J. Macreedy: What did your brother do? Liz Wirth: What do you care? What do you care about Black Rock? John J. Macreedy: I don't care anything about Black Rock. Only it just seems to me that there aren't many towns like this in America. But one town like it is enough and because I think something kind of bad happened here, Miss Wirth, something I can't quite seem to find the handle to. Liz Wirth: You don't know what you're talking about. John J. Macreedy: Well, I know this much: the rule of law has left here and the gorillas have taken over.
Reno Smith: She must have strained every muscle in her head to get so stupid.
[after Liz provided directions to Komoko's farm to Macreedy, who gave her $10] Reno Smith: You shouldn't have done that. Liz Wirth: I thought it would be better if he went out there and got done with it. What can he find out? I wouldn't do anything to hurt you, Reno, you know that. Reno Smith: This is liable to be the hardest ten dollars you ever earned in your life.