Will Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight Ride Again?

Tarantino may shoot his Western movie after all, which should please anyone who's dared to read the script

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Jerod Harris / 2013 Getty Images

Quentin Tarantino attends Variety Home Entertainment Hall Of Fame on December 10, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

One midnight during the 2010 Venice Film Festival, Quentin Tarantino loped onto the stage of the Perla theater to introduce Minnesota Clay, the 1964 spaghetti Western directed by Sergio Corbucci. Tarantino wasn’t just the President of the Jury that year, but also the inspirer of a festival retrospective of Corbucci’s works. He began his 12-minute speech by declaring, “This is for the people in this room, not for YouTube,” and advised everyone to shut off recording equipment. Tarantino was enlightening, authoritative and passionate that night — especially when he noticed one fellow in the aisle with a camera phone. After a couple of angry warnings, he had the guy thrown out.

Within a week, a video of his performance was on YouTube.

The problem with being Quentin Tarantino — the world-famous auteur of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, the two-part Kill Bill, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained — is that he’s shadowed by an army of geeks who are exactly like the Tarantino of 25 years ago. This former clerk at the Manhattan Beach, Cal., Video Archives has seen and thought smartly about every low-budget action film made over the past half-century in the U.S., Hong Kong, South Korea, South America, the Philippines and, of course, Italy. His avatars share his obsessions: They pore over fabulous, obscure films, often in illegal dupes, and try tracking down every precious artifact of those buried treasures — posters, director interviews, inside dish and even unpublished screenplays.

(READ: Quentin Tarantino’s Master Class at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival)

A couple of weeks ago, Tarantino called Deadline Hollywood’s Mike Fleming Jr. to rage against the perfidy of the movie business. He had completed a first draft of a Western script, The Hateful Eight, and sent it to six friends, including Reginald Hudlin, a producer on Django Unchained, and the actors Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern. Someone (not Roth, Tarantino was sure) had copied the screenplay and shared it with “everyone in Hollywood.” So dammit, the director would not shoot his script next winter as he had planned: “I give it out to six people, and if I can’t trust them to that degree, then I have no desire to make it.” He said he would negotiate with publishers to make a book of the screenplay.

By speaking out against what he saw as a betrayal, Tarantino perhaps inadvertently made The Hateful Eight the year’s must-read script. Three days later, the inevitable happened: the website Gawker posted a link to what it said was the screenplay. And three days after that, the predictable happened: Tarantino’s lawyers sued Gawker for a million dollars in damages.

(SEE: TIME Video on the Tarantino Hateful Eight fracas)

The scripts for Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained had made their way to the Internet before they went into production, though never at such an early stage. So what was the big deal? “I do like the fact that everyone eventually posts it, gets it and reviews it on the net,” the writer-director told Fleming. “Frankly, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I like the fact that people like my shit, and that they go out of their way to find it and read it.” Then the explosion. “But I gave it to six motherf—ing people!”

He may still give it to the world. Like the Bride played by Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, the project may have risen from the dead. As Jeff Sneider of The Wrap tweeted:

That’s great news, since the Hateful Eight first draft is a super-cruel, ferociously cool read. (Not that I’ve read it.) And the secret word for this Western in the snow is… Corbucci.

(READ: Corliss on Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2)

“When a writer writes a script, he directs it in his head,” said David Newman and Robert Benton, the screenwriters who dreamed up Bonnie and Clyde. “And when a directs directs a script, he rewrites it on the screen.” A good script puts the reader in the picture — painting in words the images and characters meant to splash across the screen. Because Tarantino’s writing is so vivid, the Wyoming hills come alive with the sound of “nerve-jangling music,” the aroma of good coffee and the menace of bad men convening in a kind of Appalachian summit of warped machismo.

“I had so much fun doing Django,” he told Jay Leno on The Tonight Show last November. “I love Westerns so much that after I taught myself how to make one, it’s like ‘Okay! Let me make another one now that I know what I’m doing’.” Apparently he wanted a panoramic sprawl of vistas, as photographed in 70mm — a format rarely used nowadays, though Paul Thomas Anderson filmed The Master in 70.

(READ: A review of Django Unchained)

The script’s first words:

“A breathtaking 70MM filmed (as is the whole movie) snow covered mountain range. A staggering opening vista, set to appropriately nerve jangling music. At the bottom left of this big 70MM SUPER CINEMASCOPE FRAME, we see a STAGECOACH being pulled by a team of SIX HORSES rip snorting through the bottom of the landscape. Now, still in big super cinemascope 70mm filmed gloriousness, we follow along with the lone STAGECOACH DRIVER fighting and guiding these six horses to shelter.”

The upper-case evocation of visual grandeur — referencing the John Ford Westerns Stagecoach and The Searchers, a tale of two men hunting a precious bounty in the snow — is just the eye candy served up before the poison pellets of dialogue. Aside from being the first Tarantino movie title since Kill Bill a decade ago that doesn’t send SpellCheck into a tizzy (“Inglourious?” “Basterds?” “Django?”), The Hateful Eight would be his indoorsiest feature film since 1992′s Reservoir Dogs. Like Dogs, it has two main locations — the interior of the stagecoach and, for four of its five “chapters,” a general store and bar-restaurant known as Minnie’s Haberdashery — and eight main characters with violent backgrounds and criminal intent. (One character is addressed as “Mr. Black,” which recalls Dogs’ color-coordinated pseudonyms of the men pulling a heist.)

(READ: TIME Discovers Tarantino with Reservoir Dogs)

With all the action taking place in 24 hours, before and during a snowstorm that isolates Minnie’s from the nearby town of Red Rock, The Hateful Eight could almost be a play. Two plays, in fact: both made into memorable movies, both about criminals holding innocents people hostage. In Archie Mayo’s 1936 film version of Robert E. Sherwood’s The Petrified Forest, set in an Arizona roadside restaurant, Humphrey Bogart as gunman Duke Mantee snarls threats at Bette Davis and Leslie Howard. And in John Huston’s 1948 film of Maxwell Anderson’s Key Largo — Florida hotel, tropical storm — gangster Edward G. Robinson lords it over Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Throw in another filmed play: William Inge’s Bus Stop, with chantoozy Marilyn Monroe wooing bumptious cowboy Don Murray in a diner during a Kansas blizzard.

In The Hateful Eight, the Marilyn equivalent — evil twin, really — is Daisy Domergue (who could be played by Thurman), the stagecoach prisoner of bounty hunter John Ruth (most likely Madsen). Ruth is bringing Daisy to Red Rock to face the hangman for some really rotten crime. As the script describes her: “This once pretty WHITE LADY (maybe before the trip, maybe years ago), wears a once pretty dress, and a once sexy smirk.” But she hasn’t lost her wiles, and the ruthless John Ruth suspects that one or more of her confederates will try to free Daisy.

(PHOTO GALLERY: A Look Back at 20 Years of Tarantino)

On the way, two other tough men hitch a ride: Maj. Marquis Warren (a perfect fit for Samuel L. Jackson), who fought for the North in the recently concluded Civil War; and Chris Mannix, late of a rebel paramilitary group, who says he is the new sheriff of Red Rock. (The Nolanfans.com contributor known as Allstar suggests Joseph Gordon-Levitt for the Chris role.) When the coach arrives at Minnie’s, Ruth finds that Minnie is gone and a Frenchman named Bob (Allstar guesses Vincent Cassel) is running the place. Also in residence: an Englishman, Oswald Mobray (Roth?), an aged Confederate General, Sanford Smithers (Dern, with a drawl) and a “cowboy fella, in a cow puncher uniform complete with cool brown cow puncher hat,” called Joe Gage (Allstar suggests Matthew McConaughey).

You could say that, like Django Unchained, this is a Western about two bounty hunters, one white (Ruth), one black (Warren), with many profane and illuminating exchanges on the place of people of color in the America of the 19th century, and the 21st, too. Every Tarantino movie needs at least one WTF scene, and in the draft of The Hateful Eight there’s a doozy involving Warren — identified as “a sly LEE VAN CLEEF type with a bald pate, silver hair on the sides, a distinguished mustache, and a tall slim frame” — and Sandy “Don’t Give a Damn” Smithers. Even on the page, it’s a stomach-turning and soul-singeing. It’s also huge: “We see what Maj. Warren describes. But we see it in the BIG WIDE 70MM SUPER CINEMASCOPE VERSION.”

(READ: Tarantino talks with Jeff Ressner about Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown)

Fans with even a fifth of Tarantino’s synoptic movie lore will recognize names and motifs from disreputable old films. The Major is named for Western writer-director Charles Marquis Warren, who created the TV series Gunsmoke and the movies Seven Angry Men (one short of Eight) and Tension at Table Rock (just the other side of Red Rock, perhaps?). Daisy’s surname, “pronounced Dahmer-goo,” is a tribute to Faith Domergue, the Howard Hughes protégée who played the female lead in the Western Santa Fe Passage, directed by Tarantino favorite William Witney. When we first see Warren, he is sitting atop the three corpses of men he killed for bounty; one, he says, is “Warren Vanders”; that’s name of an actor who appeared in Western movies and TV shows, including Bonanza episodes directed by Witney. The important function of a pot of coffee — Tarantino, in his genius-with-a-ninth-grade-education way, spells it “coffy” — triggers memories of the young Pam Grier, star of Jackie Brown, in the blaxploitation film Coffy.

But the main referent is Corbucci, who had virtually no American reputation in his lifetime; he died in 1990 at 63. To the Italian audience he was known as “the other Sergio,” since he followed and expanded on Leone’s itch to honor, update and subvert the classic American Western. The two men shared a bitter, comic tone, and both used composer Ennio Morricone to infuse operatic grandeur into their tart tales. They had also given young American TV actors their first feature-film starring roles: Clint Eastwood in Leone’s 1964 A Fistful of Dollars, Burt Reynolds in Corbucci’s Navajo Joe in 1966. The same year, Corbucci’s Django, a smash throughout Europe, spawned more than a hundred imitations and made an international star of Franco Nero — who has a nice cameo in Django Unchained, telling Jamie Foxx that, yes, he knows that the D in his name is silent.

(READ: A tribute to the Music Man with No Name — composer Ennio Morricone)

In the list of the 20 all-time best Italian Westerns he provided to the Spaghetti Western Database, Tarantino cedes pride of place to Leone: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and For a Few Dollars More hold the top two slots, while Once Upon a Time in the West and A Fistful of Dollars are fifth and sixth. But four Corbuccis appear as well: Django in third place, The Mercenary fourth, Navajo Joe ninth and The Great Silence 14th.

What Tarantino admires, he often borrows and Americanizes. The ear-cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs is straight from C0rbucci’s Django — except that, in the original, the victim is forced to eat his own ear. In Django Unchained, a saloon bears the name “Minnesota Clay”; Tarantino has said Corbucci was the film’s “spiritual godfather.” Kill Bill Vol. 2 samples Morricone’s theme from The Mercenary; and Corbucci is one of eight men to whom Tarantino dedicated the film. (The others: Leone, Witney, Van Cleef, Charles Bronson, Italian horror specialist Lucio Fulci and Hong Kong martial-arts directors Chang Cheh and Lo Lieh.) One delightfully weird connection: in 2007 Tarantino did a nice acting turn in Japanese director’s Takashi Miike’s nutsy Corbucci tribute Sukiyaki Western Django.

(READ: The Western, the genre they couldn’t kill)

The movie’s closest Corbucci kin is the “Northern Western” The Great Silence, in which bounty hunters led by Klaus Kinski’s aptly-named Loco prey on outlaws hiding in the Utah mountains. The mute hero (Jean-Louis Trintignant) rides through snowy landscapes — as Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz do in Unchained, as Ruth and Warren do in the Hateful Eight script— on his path to dark destiny. The octet of scoundrels in this first draft will travel just as rough a road.

Whether we get to see that road in all its snarling grandeur remains to be seen. This week, MTV.com’s Kevin P. Sullivan tried nudging the filmmaker along with an “open letter” that said:

“You don’t owe The Hateful Eight to your fans, as many of those fans believe, or anyone else. You owe yourself those grand 70mm vista shots and the contained, dialogue-heavy scenes. Anyone can tell by reading the script that you were really excited to make this movie. You shouldn’t let one person’s mistake or ‘betrayal’ keep you from doing that.”

That’s right. Tarantino should do it for his younger self, the one who loved movies — especially Sergio Corbucci movies — so much that he had to make a few great ones. How about one more?