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Online Exclusive: JOSEPH WALSH,
Screenwriter of California Split



Charlie is at the table throwing, and you realize he’s in a whole other world. Bill can’t break through. Bill walks slowly away from the tables. As he gets outside, Charlie walks out behind him and says, “Look at that. You didn’t trust me, you thought I was locked in, you didn’t trust that all I needed to do was have a taste of what was going on here.” And of course Bill is thrilled to have his friend back.

At that moment, a cab pulls up. Out come two guys who could be a younger, identical version of Charlie and Bill. They’re saying right away, “Hey guys, how’s the action in this joint? Is it going good?” Of course, that’s all you’ve got to say to Charlie. He goes off: “Oh, you kidding? Action? Unbelievable place. We’ve won four trillion dollars. Rip this place to shreds!” And he’s carrying on with the two guys. The look-alikes go into the casino hopped up. Bill and Charlie are going to get in the same cab. Bill gets in first, but Charlie closes the door on him. He hands the cab driver a hundred dollars and says to him, “Here, here’s a hundred dollars. I want no stops, you go straight to the airport. Take this crybaby to the airport, he can’t handle this anymore.”

Bill rolls down the window and says, “Charlie, what’re you gonna do with your life?” And here's the last line of California Split. Charlie says, “I’m gonna take the best price I can.” He holds up his hand and gives his two fingers in victory, and we freeze-frame on this incredible smile.

On a sidenote, Elliott is still mortified that his line changed the ending. He still tells me about it. He says, “I put doubt where there was never any doubt. When you wrote the script and the ending, there was never any doubt.”

Elliott would have wanted to shoot the ending. And most people think — including the people at Columbia — that it cost the picture $10 million. And in truth, it is a very strange ending. You don’t pull the rug from under an audience’s feet. I went to a lot of screenings of that movie, and audiences didn’t know what to feel when they walked out of the theater after those two guys broke off like that. If they would have went out the other way, it would’ve been tragic-sweet: They’re leaving each other, but because one guy’s smiling, you know they’re gonna get back together again. You’ve had the great ride, but it’s not all fun and games.

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