When a carnival mannequin turns out to be a real human body, the police are called in to investigate. This is a true story. “Sideshow Bandit” is a feature length screenplay that begins in 1976 when a film crew for the Six Million Dollar Man discover something odd about a day-glo orange dummy hanging in a Laff-in-the-Dark ride at Long Beach, CA.
Setting up to shoot a scene, a techie tries to move the mannequin but its arm falls off, revealing sinew.
INT. LA CORONER’S DEPT. – DAY – 1976. The orange fun-house corpse is wheeled through the hallways. Everywhere cadavers await autopsy like so many loaves of bread waiting to be sliced. Technicians and other staff crane their necks to get a glimpse of the day-glo body as the gurney rolls by. The fetid air crackles with excitement – it isn’t every day one gets a mummy into the morgue.
As the autopsy on John Doe #255 reveals clues, we are cast back in time to the real life story of Elmer McCurdy, wanna-be cowboy and failed train robber, circa 1911.
Born to an unwed teenager in 1880, Elmer grows up in the small town of Bangor, Maine. Though his mother loves him completely, his boyhood is marred by the stigma of being a bastard child. He escapes into fantasies of riding with Jesse James.
But as the twentieth century dawns, the wild west of Elmer’s youth is quickly retreating and he has joined the legions of unemployed, itinerant men. He rides the rails, sleeps in hobo camps, does a stint in jail, joins the army, works odd jobs. He develops a cough, now known to have been tuberculosis, and drinks to ease it. He falls in love with a woman he can never have, is driven out of several towns, and befriends a stray dog who becomes his best friend.
Hell bent on making a name for himself, Elmer robs a train carrying royalty payments for the Osage nation. But he uses too much nitroglycerin and the heat from the explosion melts four thousand dollars worth of silver coins into the safe. With nothing to show for his efforts but the conductor’s watch and a jug of whiskey, Elmer holes up in the hayloft of an old barn belonging to his friend Charlie Revard. Charlie is an Osage gentleman farmer who, despite Elmer’s betrayal of his tribe, tries to help the drunk and depleted outlaw.
But early one morning, a posse tracks Elmer down and, in a shoot out Jesse James would’ve been proud of, Elmer, age thirty-one, is killed. Which brings us back to 1976, where a pair of forceps has extracted a bullet jacket from the mummy’s torso.
“Sideshow Bandit” is a Drama with Western overtones and Comedic turns. It’s the story of a forgotten man, remembered. A great piece of Americana, the screenplay interweaves Elmer’s life with his afterlife as a sideshow attraction and the fascinating story about how a coroner unraveled the mystery of the carnival mummy. “Sideshow Bandit” has won –
And was an Official Selection at –
And was shortlisted for Best Screenplay 2019 –
And is the Grand Prize Winner of The Write Room Screenplay Competition 2019: thewriteroom.org/screenplay-competition-2018-19/
WINNER “BEST SCREENPLAY” : Sideshow Bandit by Marie Wilson. Marie Wilson’s writing has appeared in the Globe and Mail, NOW magazine, Fireweed and She Does the City. Harper Collins published her novel “The Gorgeous Girls”, calling it “the thinking woman’s erotica” and it is now being adapted for the screen. Marie lives in Toronto.
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Laff in the Dark & Town of Bangor, Maine: photographers unknown
Elmer McCurdy shortly after his death, at Johnson’s Funeral Home in Pawhuska, OK: WJ Boag
Ferris Wheel by Aaron Schwartz
“Sideshow Bandit” poster by Aaron Schwartz