“Catcher In The Rye,” Act I

I’m getting started with the adaptation. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, please read this first.

Opening scene: Arguably the most important scene in a film. Sets the mood, the tone, first impression. I’m a big believer in not having the first scene of a film be a “throwaway” scene. You know what bugs me? Movies that open with someone waking up to an alarm clock going off and then going through their morning routine, making the kids breakfast, getting the newspaper and all that jazz. YAWN. But I’m already digressing.

Here is the opening sequence, starting on Thomsen Hill at Pencey Prep in Agerstown, Pennsylvania.


HOLDEN CAULFIELD, 16, stands next to a cannon on top of lonely hill overlooking the lights and fanfare of a Pencey Prep football game. He is tall and gangly, sports a crewcut, school-issue shirt and tie and a too-thin windbreaker. His breath comes out in white puffs and he hops up and down to keep warm.

He shoves his gloveless hands into his pockets . The thin sound of distant CHEERS and DRUMMING from the game reaches him on the wind.


The QUARTERBACK for Pencey, dressed in a maroon and black uniform, passes the ball and it’s caught perfectly by a teamate, who runs it in for a touchdown.

CHAOS erupts in the stands. The Pencey Pep Band launches into the fight song, people jump up and YELL, hug, ring COWBELLS.


Holden watches the crowd. There are tears in his eyes but he brushes them away and takes off running.


Holden runs down the hill and across the campus lawn.


Holden darts across Route 204, a rural highway. Halfway, he slips on an ice patch and falls on his knee.

A car SKIDS to a stop on the road, ending up just a few feet from Holden. The driver lays on the HORN. Holden holds up his hands “Don’t Shoot” style to appease the driver and limps out of the way.


Holden stands in front of a red door with a plastic Christmas wreath affixed to it. He presses the doorbell over and over again.

HOLDEN: C’mon, c’mon. Open the damn door already.

MRS. SPENCER, 71, a Mrs. Claus-lookalike in a dress and apron, opens the door. Her ruddy face lights up.

MRS. SPENCER: Holden! How lovely to see you! Oh, you must be frozen to death.

HOLDEN: How’ve you been, Mrs. Spencer? How’s Mr. Spencer? He over his grippe yet?

MRS. SPENCER: Over it! Holden, he’s behaving like a perfect — I don’t know what— Come in, come in. He’s in his room, dear.

She ushers Holden inside and shuts the door.

Now we’re into the movie and have established that Holden is an outsider. He’s above the “big game,” both literally and figuratively. He isn’t dressed appropriately, he’s kind of a mess, etc. etc. Of course, the success of this opening sequence depends on the actor who plays Holden. It all hinges on him because the facial expressions reveal all. Mannerisms, the way he runs, it all has to convey A LOT in lieu of any dialog.

The next scene is Holden talking to Mr. Spencer, his history teacher, who obviously has a fondness for Holden but wants him to straighten out and take things more seriously. This is Chapter 2 in the book.

This is a perfect example of what I was referring to in my first post about the dialog being ready-made in many places. This scene is pretty much already written for us, with some minor adjustments and trimming.


Holden stands at the foot of MR. SPENCER’s bed. Mr. Spencer, 73, wearing a ratty bathrobe that hangs open to reveal his white old-man chest, is propped up in bed reading the Atlantic Monthly. Various bottles, glasses, cups, dirty dishes and tissues spill across the nightstand next to him and onto the bed. The bedroom itself is messy, disheveled, the curtains are drawn – it’s become a sick room.

HOLDEN: Uh– Hello, sir. I got your note. Thanks a lot. You didn’t have to do that, though. I’d have said good-bye.

SPENCER: Have a seat there, boy.

He waves towards the end of the bed and Holden sits down. Spencer chucks the Atlantic Monthly down towards the end of the bed and it falls to the floor. Holden picks it up and places it on the bed.

HOLDEN: How’s your grippe, sir?

SPENCER: M’boy, if I felt any better I’d have to send for the doctor.

Spencer LAUGHS at his own joke, which send him into a fit of coughing. He reaches for a glass of water and raises it to his lips with a shaking hand. Some spills across his chest.

SPENCER: So you’re leaving us, eh?

HOLDEN: Yes, sir. I guess I am.

SPENCER (nodding like crazy): What did Dr. Thurmer say to you, boy? I understand you had quite a little chat.

HOLDEN: Yes, we did. We really did. I was in his office for about two hours, I guess.

SPENCER: What’d he say to you?

HOLDEN: Oh– Well, about Life being a game and all. And how you should play it according to the rules. He was pretty nice about it. I mean he didn’t hit the ceiling or anything. He just kept talking about Life being a game and all. You know.

SPENCER: Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays by the rules. How do you think your parents will take the news?

HOLDEN: Well– they’ll be pretty irritated. They really will. This is about the fourth school I’ve gone to. I wasn’t going to say anything to them, sir, until I get home on Wednesday night.

Spencer nods and picks his nose. Holden stops talking to watch in fascination. Realizing what he’s doing, Spencer stops picking his nose and struggles to sit up straighter in bed. His bathrobe gapes open even more.

SPENCER: How many subjects did you carry this term?

HOLDEN: Five, sir.

SPENCER: And how many are you failing?

HOLDEN: Four. I passed English all right because I had all that Beowulf and Lord Randall My Son stuff when I was at the Whooton School.

SPENCER: I flunked you in history because you knew absolutely nothing. Ab-so-lutely nothing. Your, ah, exam paper is over there on top of my chiffonier. On top of the pile. Bring it here.

Holden goes over to the chiffonier, brings back his paper and hands it to Spencer, who handles it with just his fingertips, like it’s a turd.

SPENCER: We studied the Egyptians from November 4th to December 2nd. You chose to write about them for the optional essay question. Would you care to hear what you had to say?

Holden looks down at the ground to avoid Spencer’s gaze.

HOLDEN: No, sir, not very much.

SPENCER clears his throat, puts on his bifocals and begins to read.

SPENCER: The Egyptians were an ancient race of Caucasians residing in one of the northern sections of Africa. The latter as we all know is the largest continent in the Eastern Hemisphere.

Holden puts his head in his hands.

SPENCER (CONT.): The Egyptians are extremely interesting to us today for various reasons. Modern science would still like to know what the secret ingredients were that the Egyptians used when they wrapped up dead people so that their faces would not rot for innumerable centuries. This interesting riddle is still quite a challenge to modern science–

Holden gets up and paces around the room.

SPENCER (CONT.): And you dropped me a note at the bottom.

HOLDEN: You don’t have to–

Spencer holds the paper closer to his face and reads.

SPENCER (CONT.): Dear Mr. Spencer, That is all I know about the Egyptians. I can’t seem to get very interested in them although your lectures are very interesting. It is all right with me if you flunk me though as I am flunking everything else except English anyway. Respectfully yours, Holden Caulfield.

Spencer chucks the paper towards Holden, who scrabbles to catch it and place it on the foot of the bed.

SPENCER: Do you blame me for flunking you, boy?

HOLDEN: No, sir! I certainly don’t. I would have done the same thing. I would. It’s– people don’t appreciate how tough it is to be a teacher.

SPENCER: Do you feel absolutely no concern for your future, boy?

HOLDEN: Oh, I feel some concern, all right. Sure. Sure, I do. But– not too much, I guess. Not too much.

Spencer shakes a finger at Holden.

SPENCER: You will. You will, boy. You will when it’s too late.

HOLDEN: Well– I–

SPENCER: I’m trying to help.

HOLDEN: I know you are, sir. Thanks a lot. No kidding. The thing is, though, that I have to get going. I have quite a bit of equipment at the gym I have to get to take home with me. I really do. But don’t worry about me. I mean it.

Holden edges toward the door, hand on door knob.

HOLDEN (CONT): I mean it. I’m just going through a phase right now. Everybody goes through phases and all, don’t they?

SPENCER: I don’t know, boy. I don’t know.

Holden comes back over to the bed and offers Spencer his hand. They shake. Spencer grips Holden’s forearm and holds his hand tight.

SPENCER: Good-bye, boy.

Holden bolts for the door.



A rundown dorm room with two single beds, two armchairs, etc. A shower sectioned off with curtains divides the room from the one next door.

Holden crashes through the door and throws his windbreaker on the floor. He whips off his tie and tosses it on his bed. He picks up a RED HUNTING HAT and swings the peak around to the back of his head.

He picks up a copy of Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen and settles into one of the armchairs.

There is a RUSTLING from behind the shower curtain and suddenly, ROBERT ACKLEY, 18, pushes aside the curtain. He is tall but stooped, with very bad acne and greasy hair. He pauses, surveying the room.



Holden ignores him and continues to read his book. Ackely emerges from the bathroom and tours the room, picking stuff up and putting it back down. He picks a jock strap up from the other chair with one finger and flings it onto the floor.

He turns and lingers over a photo on Holden’s desk. He picks it up to examine the girl.

ACKLEY: How was the fencing? We win or what?

HOLDEN: Nobody won.


HOLDEN: Nobody won. I left the goddamn foils and stuff on the subway.

ACKLEY: On the subway, for Chrissake! Ya lost them, ya mean?

Ackley comes over and stands right over Holden, blocking his light.

ACKLEY: What the hell ya reading?

HOLDEN: Goddamn book.

Ackley shoves the book back so he can see the title.

ACKLEY: Any good?

HOLDEN: This sentence I’m reading is terrific.

He tosses the book on the floor and pulls his hat down over his eyes.

HOLDEN: I think I’m going blind. Mother, darling, everything’s getting so dark in here.

ACKLEY: You’re nuts, I swear to God.

Holden starts groping in front of him, swiping at Ackley.

HOLDEN: Mother, why won’t you give me your hand!

Ackley moves out of the way and disappears into the bathroom

ACKLEY (Off Screen): For Chrissake, grow up. Where the hellja get that hat? Up home we wear a hat like that to shoot deer in, for Chrissake. That’s a deer shooting hat. Your folks know you got kicked out yet?


Ackley emerges from the bathroom with a nail clippers and settles on Holden’s bed. He takes off his socks and starts clipping his toenails.

HOLDEN: How about using the table or something? I don’t feel like walking on your crumby nails in my bare feet tonight.

ACKLEY: Where’s Stradlater at, anyway?

HOLDEN: Down at the game. He’s got a date.

ACKLEY: Who’s his date? Boy, I can’t stand that sonuvabitch.

HOLDEN: He’s crazy about you. He told me he thinks you’re a goddamn prince.

ACKLEY: He’s got this superior attitude all the time–

HOLDEN: Do you mind cutting your nails over the table, hey?

ACKLEY: He thinks he’s intelligent. He thinks–

HOLDEN: The only reason you’re sore at Stradlater is because he said that stuff about brushing your teeth once in awhile. He didn’t mean to insult you. All he meant was you’d look better and feel better if you sort of brushed your teeth once in a while.

ACKLEY: I brush my teeth. Don’t gimme that.

HOLDEN: No, you don’t. I’ve seen you, Ackley kid–

ACKLEY: Stop calling me Ackley kid, goddamn it. I’m old enough to be your father.

The room door BANGS open and WARD STRADLATER, 18, barges in. He has a football player’s broad build, boyish face and a crew cut.  He is covered in snow.

He goes over to Holden and slaps him playfully on each cheek.

STRADLATER: Hey, Holden my boy, you going anywhere special tonight?

HOLDEN: What the hell’s it doing out – snowing?

STRADLATER: If you’re not going anyplace special, how ’bout lending me your hound’s tooth jacket?

He takes off his shirt and puts a towel around his neck. He’s a guy who feels very good about his body.

HOLDEN: I don’t really want you stretching it with our goddamn shoulders and all. Who won the game?

STRADLATER: It’s only the half. We’re leaving. How’sa boy, Ackley?

Ackley GRUNTS and gets up, scattering nail clippings onto the floor. He retreats through the shower curtain.

Stradlater roots through Holden’s closet and pulls out the jacket.

Now, in order to save some space and because I’m worried about this becoming tedious, I’m going to outline the next couple of scenes:

Holden watches Stradlater shave and get ready for his date. Stradlater pressures Holden to write his English composition. Holden finds out that Stradlater’s date is a girl Holden knows – Jane Gallagher – from home. Holden tries to play it off like it isn’t a big deal but he’s clearly disturbed by the fact that Stradlater is taking Jane out; Stradlater is a major operator. Holden questions Stradlater, then tells him not to tell Jane that Holden got kicked out of school.

Holden types, trying to work on Stradlater’s essay. He gets up and digs through his packed-up suitcase to get out his dead brother’s, ALLIE, baseball mitt. The mitt is covered in poems written in green ink. Holden holds the glove and reads the poems.

A flashback scene of Holden at 13, breaking all the windows in his parents garage with his fist, one after another. He moves inside the garage and tries to break all the windows on the station wagon but his hand is broken and he ends up on the ground, crying and bloodied. Holden’s DAD comes out to the garage and picks him up.


Stradlater saunters down the dorm hallway. He WHISTLES and his shoes CLICK on the linoleum.

Holden gives Stradlater the essay; Stradlater reads it and is upset – it’s all wrong. Holden rips it up. He asks Stradlater about Jane and what they did but Stradlater won’t tell him if he had sex with Jane or not. Holden tries to hit Stradlater but Stradlater easly puts him on the floor; they argue. Stradlater punches Holden in the face and leaves.

Holden, still bloody, shakes Ackley awake and asks if he can sleep in his room since Ackley’s roommate is away for the weekend. Ackley says no.

Stradlater is asleep. Holden changes out of his pajamas, packs up all his stuff, counts his money.

Holden goes down the hallway carrying his suitcases, wearing his hunting cap. He is crying. He stops at the top of the stairs and yells, “Sleep tight, ya morons!” at the top of his voice, then trips down the stairs.

End of Act I (roughly 18 scenes including everything – running down hills, walking down the hall – and I’m open to the fact that not all of them are completely necessary and/or that the major scene between Holden and Mr. Spencer might be too long).

But I’m declaring this the end of Act I because the story is launched and the premise is set up: 16-year-old kid, confused and lonely, is kicked out of prep school and decides to take off early because he can’t stand being there anymore – now he’s off into uncharted territory and “off the grid” for a few days.

One thought on ““Catcher In The Rye,” Act I

  1. Oh, and for any diehard Catcher fans or fanatics or anyone who actually cares about this adaptation thingy, this takes us through chapter 7, about 68 pages in my book but my book has large type.

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