Box Canyon by Mark Laing | Script Revolution

Box Canyon

An LAPD cop digs into the truth behind a body in a barrel and finds himself right in the middle of a conspiracy involving a nuclear power plant in 1959.



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Based On: 
A true story of a nuclear meltdown at the Sodium Reactor Experiment at the SSFL in LA in 1959.

It's July 1959 and technicians scramble to prevent a meltdown at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) nuclear reactor in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile at Union Station, Lieutenant Richard Charlton, head of the LAPD Intelligence Division, "Greets" some mobsters arriving by train. The LAPD has a special division dedicated to shadowing gangsters who arrive in LA and escorting them back east. Charlton is accompanied by his sidekicks Norm Elden and Manny Balboa. They enjoy beating up on organized crime as much as Richard.

The mobsters on the train mock the cops, throwing food at them but the LAPD elite division makes short work of the gangsters and tosses the ones still alive onto a freight car heading east. Richard notices a small cat hiding in the train's shadows and pockets it for safekeeping. The men joke that it is the soul of the dead gangster. But the heat, the violence, and the cat seem to be working on the cops' consciences as afterward, Richard seems lost in reflection. The violence, the pointlessness may be catching up on him.

As the sun rises over downtown, morning also comes early at Richard's home in Silverlake, but it's a false dawn, 240 miles away from atomic bombs being tested in the Nevada desert. Richard's Black wife Vida catches the light and catches Richard coming in. She knows he has a "thing" for 'colored' girls and she's been watching him like a hawk.

Chief Pete Pitcher, the head of the LAPD, sends the team on a special mission to San Pedro Harbor where the LAPD crew finds a corpse of a man in a barrel. The body mysteriously has no hands and shows no signs of rigor mortis or decomposition. The man looks like he's been shot with a speargun.

As the cops leave the harbor they are waylaid by a mysterious Black Woman, who is watching from afar with binoculars taking photos with a Kodak camera. Richard can't resist. It's Sydney Williams, a worried-looking Kodak private eye, but we don't know it yet as she's wearing a veil and pillbox hat. Richard tells her they found a "white kid" in a barrel and she responds that she "has his back,.” This cryptic message and the fluttering eyelashes resonates with Richard but Norm pulls him away before Richard can get too familiar.

Meanwhile, LAPD Chief Pete Pitcher instructs Richard to check on the SSFL lab where there may have been an accident. He suggests going under cover of the LAPD elite pistol team where Richard is a crack shot. Richard questions the SSFL's director David Trinity on the death at "The Hill" but gets nowhere. They also meet sinister security head Captain Raul Escobar.

Richard goes to the Formosa Cafe to meet Jane Legg who claims to be the ex-wife of the black man in the barrel. Jane tells Richard that Darryl, her ex, and the man in the barrel was murdered by someone at the SSFL, "Murdered because of something he found out at Box Canyon." Richard thinks she's nuts and that Darryl was killed with a speargun at the harbor.

As Richard leaves the Formosa he's jumped by the massive thug Titus who starts pounding our hero into a lamppost. He's saved by the mysterious Sydney Williams, the Kodak investigator and a swell dame for sure. Sydney, just Richard's type — black and a knockout with great gams, introduces herself formally this time and tells Richard Kodak is investigating the fogging of their films back east. As they flirt she tips him off about RKO Radio Pictures. "The Conqueror" was shot downwind from the test sites and rumors abound that John Wayne is sick with radiation poisoning.

Meanwhile, Richard can't resist his nature as Sydney comes on strong to him. He tracks down billionaire filmmaker Hayward Hough and discovers Hough has a passion for men as well as women. But, as the authorities turn up the heat, sending AEC thugs to harass the cops, Vida walks out, tired of feeling terrified and tired of Richard's cheating.

Atomic Energy Commission thugs harass the police team at every turn and Richard is sent photos of the handless man in a tryst with Hayward Hough. AEC thugs assault Vida and Richard in turn. After a particularly vicious assault, Richard takes out two federal goons at night, at a distance, while both are running away. It's an almost impossible shot and one only a sharpshooter could make.

At the SSFL Norm and Rich finally confront Trinity that Hayward Hough and Trinity were both seeing Darryl Legg, who is actually Sydney's twin brother. Trinity wanted to scare Darryl off from reporting "The Conqueror" scandal and stop seeing Hough so had him set up but Darryl died in an accident when control rods skewered him to the ceiling where he remained undiscovered, for three days.

As Richard is piecing together the murder Sydney emerges from the shadows and sidles up to Trinity looking like she's been playing it both ways. But Sydney shoots Trinity when she finds out what happened to her brother. Raul wants to pin the murder on Richard and locks him and Norm in the SRE reactor room which is still radioactive.

Facing death Norm calls Richard out on his philandering ways with black women treating them no better than plantation slaves. This hits Richard like a gamma-ray and, facing mortality, he vows to mend his ways. Raul enters, intending to finish them off faster with another poisonous reaction but Richard, using his sharpshooter skills, manages to make another near-impossible shot through Norm's open mouth and kills Raul, who falls on the off-switch stopping the reaction.

Vida forgives Richard, who promises to stop philandering, and we end the movie in Baldwin Hills Cemetery as a heavy lead coffin is being lowered into the ground and covered in concrete. It's a military send-off for Darryl. At the back of the crowd stands Sydney, holding a pair of Darryl's small white gloves. She waves a sad goodbye to Richard. Vida holds Richard's arm tightly and tips her head to acknowledge Sydney.

All Accolades & Coverage: 

Script Reader Pro "Recommend." VPF, (Virtual Pitch Fest) September and October HOTLIST WINNER 2nd Place - Mark Laing's "Box Canyon." (Most requested scripts.)

LASD - our hero is a member of the LAPD version - a super crackshot.
Submitted: June 14, 2021
Last Updated: December 21, 2022

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Mark Laing's picture

The Writer: Mark Laing

My dad was a journalist and managed to get banned by the racist Apartheid regime in South Africa - we escaped to America and I spent part of my childhood in New York and the East Coast. When I'm not writing I mentor students at UEA (The University of East Anglia) and help out photographing events at KITS (Kids in the Spotlight) - a charity to help foster kids by training them to write, cast, and star in their own short films. SAG and AFTRA actor. Graduated from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Journalist, script reader, and screenwriter with four completed scripts, several treatments, staged readings. Script Reader, Edward Pressman productions, Beverly Hills... Go to bio
Agency: MZA Michael Zanuck Agency
Agent: Michael Zanuck

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