This, I think is a brilliantly acted scene, but moreover a brilliantly shot scene. I love the way the camera closes in on Frodo and Gollum as Gollum whispers his insinuations, so that Sam is almost excluded from the picture—which is just what is happening in the scene.
Again, because the film scene bears so little resemblance to the book scene, I have posted the book excerpt below the caps. Regarding the book excerpt, I think Ian Holm and Willian Nighy's acting of this scene in the BBC radio play is *perfection*.
Film Scene: On the stairs of Cirith Ungol, the theatrical version.
Gollum is leading Frodo and Sam up the nearly vertical “stair”. The hobbits labour heavily, especially Frodo, who is in front. Frodo’s foot slips perilously, but he hangs on. Minas Morgul is visible far below them.
Gollum: (Turning to Frodo) Careful, master! Very far to fall! Very dangerous on the stairs.
Gollum reaches the top first and turns to give Frodo a hand up.
Gollum: Come, Master!
The Ring tumbles free from Frodo’s shirt as he struggles, dangling from its chain. Gollum watches enthralled as It tinkles against the rock, and slowly reaches towards Frodo, the Ring, or both.
Gollum: Come to Sméagol….
Sam, coming up behind Frodo, sees.
Sam: Mister Frodo! (Pulls his sword and brandishes it) Get back, you! Don't touch him!
With a flick of his eyes Gollum comes to himself and grabs Frodo’s wrist, pulling him up onto the ledge, leaving Sam to struggle on his own, sheathing his sword with a grunt.
Gollum: Why does he hates poor Sméagol? What has Sméagol ever done to him? (To Frodo) Master? (Frodo, panting, does not answer but Gollum strokes his back gently as he speaks) Master carries a heavy burden. Sméagol knows: heavy, heavy burden. (Looking back at Sam with impatience) Fat one cannot know. Sméagol will look after Master.
Having come around to Frodo’s head, Gollum whispers intently, glancing at Sam who still is struggling to get up.
He wants It. He needs It, Sméagol sees it in his eye. Very soon he will ask you for It—you will see. The fat one will take It from you.
Frodo listens to Gollum with growing agitation, finally looking back at Sam with alarm, clasping the Ring tightly.
~ Theatrical scene from RotK, "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol", widescreen edition.
Book scene, from The Stairs of Cirith Ungol, "The Great Tales".
In a dark crevice between two great piers of rock they sat down: Frodo and Sam a little way within, and Gollum crouched upon the ground near the opening. There the hobbits took what they expected would be their last meal before they went down into the Nameless Land, maybe the last meal they would ever eat together. Some of the food of Gondor they ate, and wafers of the waybread of the Elves, and they drank a little. But of their water they were sparing and took only enough to moisten their dry mouths.
‘I wonder when we’ll find water again?’ said Sam. ‘But I suppose even over there they drink? Orcs drink, don’t they?’
‘Yes, they drink,’ said Frodo. ‘But do not let us speak of that. Such drink is not for us.’
‘Than all the more need to fill our bottles,’ said Sam. ‘But there isn’t any water up here: not a sound or a trickle have I heard. And anyway Faramir said we were not to drink any water in Morgul.’
‘No water flowing out of Imlad Morgul, were his words,’ said Frodo. ‘We are not in that valley now, and if we came on a spring it would be flowing into it and not out of it. ‘
‘I wouldn’t trust it,’ said Sam, ‘not till I was dying of thirst. There’s a wicked feeling about this place.’ He sniffed. ‘And a smell, I fancy. Do you notice it? A queer kind of a smell, stuffy. I don’t like it.’
‘I don’t like anything here at all,’ said Frodo, ‘step or stone, breath or bone. Earth, air and water all seem accursed. But so our path it laid.’
‘Yes, that’s so,’ said Sam. ‘And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually—their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on—and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same—like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?’
‘I wonder,’ said Frodo. ‘But I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale. Take any one that you’re fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.’
‘No, sir, of course not. Beren now, he never thought he was going to get that Silmaril from the Iron Crown in Thangorodrim, and yet he did, and that was a worse place and a blacker danger than ours. But that’s a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it—and the Silmaril went on and came to Eärendil. And why, sir, I never thought of that before! We’ve got—you’ve got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?’
‘No, they never end as tales,’ said Frodo. ‘But the people in them come, and go when their part’s ended. Our part will end later—or sooner.’
‘And then we can have some rest and some sleep,’ said Sam. He laughed grimly. ‘And I mean just that, Mr. Frodo. I mean plain ordinary rest, and sleep, and waking up to a morning’s work in the garden. I’m afraid that’s all I’m hoping for all the time. All the big important plans are not for my sort. Still, I wonder if we shall ever be put into songs or tales. We’re in one, of course; but I mean: put into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards. And people will say: “Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring!” And they’ll all say: “Yes, that’s one of my favourite stories. Frodo was very brave, wasn’t he, dad?” “Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits, and that’s saying a lot.”’
‘It’s saying a lot too much,’ said Frodo, and he laughed, a long clear laugh from his heart. Such a sound had not been heard in those places since Sauron came to Middle-earth. To Sam suddenly it seemed as if all the stones were listening and tall rocks leaning over them. But Frodo did not heed them; he laughed again. ‘Why, Sam,’ he said, ‘to hear you somehow makes me as merry as if the story was already written. But you’ve left out one of the chief characters: Samwise the stouthearted. “I want to hear more about Sam, dad. Why didn’t they put in more of his talk, dad: That’s what I like, it makes me laugh. And Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam, would he, dad?”’
‘Now, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam, you shouldn’t make fun. I was serious.’
‘So was I,’ said Frodo, ‘and so I am. We’re going on a bit too fast. You and I, Sam, are still stuck in the worst places of the story, and it is all too likely that some will say at this point: “Shut the book now, dad; we don’t want to read any more.”’
‘Maybe,’ said Sam, ‘but I wouldn’t be one to say that. Things done and over and made into part of the great tales are different. Why, even Gollum might be good in a tale, better than he is to have by you, anyway. And he used to like tales himself once, by his own account. I wonder if he thinks he’s the hero or the villain?’
Gollum!’ he called. ‘Would you like to the hero—now where’s he got to again?’
There was no sign of him at the mouth of their shelter nor in the shadows near. (…)
Entries for this series:
~ Stairs of Cirith Ungol Pt. 1: Main essay for this series, plus EE scene, "You listen to me...."
~ Stairs of Cirith Ungol Pt. 2: “He wants it….”
~ Stairs of Cirith Ungol Pt. 3: “I can carry it….”
~ Stairs of Cirith Ungol Pt. 4: “Go home….”
Tables of Links: