The sixties were ending and Alan Sharp, a young Scottish novelist in America, found his muse on the frontier. By then everything seemed to be falling apart. Hopes and certainties had evaporated. Consensus was fractured. It was the bloody season of political assassinations. Thomas McGuane, another wild and libidinous young writer, would begin a Key West novel with an appropriately sweeping summation of despair: “Nobody knows, from sea to shining sea, why we are having all this trouble with our Republic.” Alan Sharp, no stranger to despair, also found his way to the sparkling waters, the fetid swamps, the heavy air of the Florida Keys.

By 1971, Sharp had relocated his young family from London to America. It made sense professionally to be based in Hollywood, and it also gave Sharp, who once described himself as “pathologically promiscuous,” an opportunity to escape “that whole Femalestrom [sic.] I was in.” Two films he’d written – The Last Run and The Hired Hand – arrived in cinemas that summer. Remembering Paula of the Florida Keys, he began sketching two new spec screenplays. The first was called Tepic in the Morning. Sharp registered a 144-page draft with the Library of Congress for copyright purposes in early February 1972, and made plans to direct the film himself in Mexico that summer. The story was a Bogart/Huston pastiche enriched by Sharp’s Mexican road trip. But the script would depart from convention. In 1971, he described a scenario

in which we set up the thriller framework, then don’t use it. [We have] the standard thriller scene – the expatriate in the small Mexican town, the arrival of the girl, the corrupt police official, the stolen money . . . then we leave the framework [. . .] [It’s] like being in a huge expensive house with all these rooms and bathrooms and beds and you put a sleeping bag down on the floor. I hope it’s a kind of alienation effect.

But the planned 1972 production did not go ahead, and Tepic was put on hold. It was finally realised as Little Treasure (1985), a film starring Margot Kidder, Ted Danson, and Burt Lancaster. It was the only film Sharp would direct himself.

The screenplay centres on a character directly inspired by Paula of the Florida Keys. Margo is a former stripper who comes down to an unnamed town in Mexico – Sharp ultimately filmed in Tepoztlán and other locations in the states of Morelos and Durango – at the invitation of her long-absent father, a former bank robber. While there she meets an American expatriate, Eugene, who is drifting through the remote towns of Mexico projecting movies. After her father dies, Margo drags Eugene back to America on a quixotic search for her dad’s long-buried and possibly mythical loot in the ghost towns of New Mexico. The eventual film does for a time leave its generic framework – in a frankly vague and meandering way. As a stripper, Margot refuses to “drop her string” and appear bottomless. When she transgresses this personal rule at the insistence of a wealthy client at a private party, she has an emotional breakdown. The relationship goes to hell: the obsessive Margo shoots Eugene (non-fatally) when he decides to call off the search for the loot.

But the collapse of the 1972 production did not stop Sharp’s career momentum. He was established in Hollywood and had come a long way from the provincial Scottish town of Greenock. Now living with his family in a house with a pool in the vicinity of the legendary Chateau Marmont, Sharp developed a fondness for water volleyball. The dismally-received film Myra Breckinridge (1970) had been shot at the Marmont, and Dan Sharp remembers that his father tried in vain to persuade 20th Century-Fox to give him the film’s large statue of Gore Vidal’s transgender heroine “so he could put it in our yard next to where it had stood in the movie.”

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