Return to the Busted Flush By Mike White. In Cashiers du Cinemart #14, I explored the cinematic life of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee in "The Lonely Silver Screen...

In Cashiers du Cinemart #14, I explored the cinematic life of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee in "The Lonely Silver Screen." The character’s outings in Darker Than Amber (Robert Clouse, 1970) and Travis McGee (Andrew V. McLaglen, 1983) ranged anywhere from dismal failure to acceptable misfire. Along the path from MacDonald’s colorful collection of McGee tales were strewn several unspectacular screenplays for other proposed McGee adaptations. None of these hit the mark, with the exception of the elusive Bright Orange for the Shroud by Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot.

Based on the sixth book of the McGee series, the script is dated March 10, 1989—a few short months before Rossio and Elliot found their earlier work, Little Monsters, on the big screen. When considering the string of kids’ movies that the writing team has had a hand in—from Aladdin to Treasure Planet—the maturity of Bright Orange comes as a pleasant surprise. Based on one of the core McGee tales, the screenplay follows knight errant Travis McGee and his trusted friend, Meyer, on one of their quests to right the wrongs done to good-hearted people by sinister forces. Not only does McGee vex two businessmen who sought to swindle one of his oldest friends out of his land, but he also squares off against the prototypical MacDonald foe, Boone Waxwell. Like Max Cady from The Executioners (filmed twice as Cape Fear) and Junior Allen from The Deep Blue Good-by, Waxwell acts like a backwards, backwoods buffoon to cover for his keen, albeit malevolent, intellect and unrepentant brutality.

Along the way, Travis helps out a pair of damaged women—one a recent widow and another with a terminal illness. No Lothario, McGee’s brand of common sense and emotional respect gives him the additional chivalrous quality that makes him an endearing and enduring character. The judicious use of occasional voiceover narration from McGee also increases our identification with his complex character.

With proper casting and direction, Bright Orange for the Shroud could have been the proper introduction to the silver screen for Travis McGee. However, this version foundered. Recently, rumors of another McGee script have surfaced. This time, Dana Stevens is taking on the first McGee book, The Deep Blue Good-by. Only time will tell if McGee will ever successfully sail into theaters this century.

Article revised and available in the Impossibly Funky Collection

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