A Letter For Frances
Logline: A young female high school student struggles to maintain an ingrained family tradition that formed her identity, while fighting to give voice as she finds her path to love, independence and passion.
It is the fall of 1928, FRANCES BERTOLLI, is a beautiful, caring, and intelligent high school senior at Omaha Central High in Nebraska. She comes from a strict Sicilian family that monitors all of her activity and puts rigid limitations on her. Frances has a beautiful singing voice and is secretly coached by CLARA BOWMAN, a fashionable and progressive woman in her late twenties. Clara tells Frances that she must prepare one of the students for a local singing competition and that unless she agrees to partake in the competition, Clara cannot take the time to instruct her anymore. Frances admits to Clara that her parents would not approve of either her singing or singing in a competition. She asks a couple questions about the competition, considers it for a moment, and then resolvedly agrees to compete.
On the way home, Frances is approached by PHIL BRUNO; an awkward and nerdy nineteen year old that has a crush on her. Phil asks Frances out and she stammers out a rejection and runs home, relieved to be away from him. Frances works at a beauty salon set up in the front of her good friend ETTA GIOVANNI’S house. Etta is a fun-loving, shapely young woman in her early twenties. As they relax in Etta’s house, Etta says she must get a birthday present for her brother, Carl. Frances notices the pictures of Etta’s brothers: Vinnie and Carl. “They’re both very handsome” she remarks. After work, Frances and Etta go shopping for a birthday gift for Carl and stop at a little drugstore.
Frances and Etta notice a strange contraption that the drugstore owner explains as a photo booth. Eager to try the new invention, both girls sit and get their picture taken together. States away, in Rockford, Illinois, Etta’s brother, CARL ACCURRI, a strong, kind, and hardworking young man, returns from his work on the railroad. As he approaches his family-filled house, his energetic nephew, JOEY, runs up to him with a package from Etta. Carl opens the package to reveal a sports cap and begins reading Etta’s letter. As he reads the letter, Carl also finds a picture of both Etta and Frances. Carl is attracted to and intrigued by Frances and puts the letter in his breast pocket. Back in Omaha, Frances anxiously waits to sing in the competition. She takes the stage and begins singing. The judges and the audience are enraptured by her performance and she wins the competition.
. In Rockford, Carl celebrates his birthday dinner with his family. VINNIE, his cocky and cunning younger brother, who is involved with mafia dealings, chides him for his blue-collar work on the railroad. Carl defends his “honest work” but Vinnie encourages Carl to join him so he doesn’t have to work on the railroad anymore. Disgusted, Carl refuses and warns Vinnie that “somebody down the line always gets hurt”. Vinnie brazenly disregards his warning and flaunts his fresh cash earnings in front of both Carl and their father, GUISSEPPE ACCURRI who only wishes his two sons would get along. Back in Omaha, Etta’s husband, FRANK GIOVANNI, who is also involved in the same mafia dealings as Vinnie, talks with Vinnie about a bootlegging deal they are arranging.
Back in Rockford, Vinnie finishes setting up the deal with the bootleggers who threaten that “there’s a lot riding on this deal” but Vinnie is recklessly confident that it will all work out. Etta tells Frances that Carl sent a letter to her. She is shocked that the handsome young man she saw in the picture would write her out of the blue, but she takes the letter and reads it. Frances is delighted by what she reads and they begin to write back and forth. One day, while working with Etta at her salon, Frances ponders over another letter from Carl. Etta points out that she is in love with Carl and Frances confesses that, though she and Carl have a connection, her marriage will most likely be arranged to another man. Frances is deeply distraught by this and wonders how their relationship could possibly survive.
As Frances continues her lessons with Clara, Clara helps encourage the glimmer of an independent spirit that she sees in her. Both Etta and Carl come to see Frances at her singing competition and Carl is even more taken by Frances. She wins the competition and meets Carl backstage. He asks for a moment alone with Frances and he asks her if she would like to go on a date with him and though Frances desperately wants to, she tells him that there is no way it would work with the way her parents micromanage her life. Carl refuses to give up and he confesses to Etta that he is in love with Frances but when Vinnie finds out, he badgers Carl about his new relationship.
That night, Carl serenades Frances outside her home with his saxophone and the next morning Frances stops by Etta’s house to speak with Carl and the two agree to meet later at the park. Vinnie enters the kitchen and is introduced to Frances. He makes flirtatious comments which Frances brushes off, but Carl warns Vinnie that he is “skating on thin ice”. Vinnie goes to a produce warehouse to meet with Frank. Upon entering, Vinnie is also introduced to the infamous area Don, MR. BRUNO. Vinnie makes a bold bootlegging proposal to Mr. Bruno. He says that they will pay him to develop his controlled territory but that Vinnie’s group will own everything and that, if the business grows enough, Mr. Bruno can “buy” them out. He also pulls out a wad of cash for Mr. Bruno. He takes the money and the deal is set. In the park, Carl confesses his love for Frances and, though she is caught off guard, she admits to Carl how deeply she cares for him too.
One day, as Frances balances cooking dinner for the family and watching her baby brother, SYLVESTER, Etta stops by and gives her a gift: a beautiful compact. Frances is reluctant to accept the gift saying her mother will not allow her to wear makeup. Etta says that this is just between them and urges her to just hide the compact. Frances likes the idea and joyously receives the gift. Carmella walks in and is disappointed at the mess Frances has made so she begins to help her. As she does, they begin to discuss her relationship with Etta and Carmella finds a ribbon from Frances’s gift. She asks suspiciously about the ribbon and Frances says Etta gave her the ribbon for her hair. “You want to look like a woman of the streets?” Carmella scolds Frances and tosses the ribbon into the stove. Frances talks with Clara about her future.
She asks what would happen if she wins the scholarship at the singing competition, if she would she be able to have a professional singing career, and she learns more about Clara’s life choices. Frances ponders all these things deeply, wondering what choice is best for her. She walks home past a bakery where Carmella and Mrs. Vito are selecting some bread. Both women notice her and Carmella motions for Frances to come inside. On their way home, Carmella harshly scolds Frances for wandering downtown “unescorted”. When they arrive home, Carmella prepares dinner with Frances and continues scolding her for “always breaking the rules” of their family. She announces that her father has agreed to arrange a marriage between her and Phil Bruno. She says that they are coming to the “Festa” party that the Bertolli family is throwing.
. Frances is horrified by the news and she and Carmella argue. Carmella asserts that Frances will marry Phil but Frances holds her ground. At the dinner table, Frances boldly confesses to her father, BIAGO, that she does not want to marry Phil. Biago chastises Frances for rejecting the match and, in tears, Frances says if they go through with the match that they’ll “be sorry” Frances writes to Carl in a letter all about what her parents have planned for her. Frank and Vinnie finalize the deal with Mr. Bruno and Mr. Bruno gives Vinnie a crate of oranges with a false top. Underneath the false top lies Bruno’s payment for control of his new territory. Carmella and Frances prepare for the Festa. She tries to encourage Frances that she will grow to love Phil, but Frances listens quietly, knowing she never will.
. During the Festa, while looking for her father, Frances is hit on by a young man in the shadows. Startled and suspicious, Frances steps in a bit closer to see who it is, and the young man quickly grabs her, pulls her into the shadows and kisses her. Alarmed, Frances pulls back quickly and glares at the young man she now recognizes as Vinnie. Phil witnesses all of this and flies to Frances’s defense. Vinnie comes unglued and grabs Phil by the throat, totally unaware whose nephew he is. All eyes watch as Mr. Bruno approaches the scene. “I see you’ve met my nephew, Vinnie” he says placidly. Vinnie backpedals but Phil insists that Vinnie was messing around with Frances. Frances does her best to diffuse the situation insisting that Vinnie was just asking her a question.
Back in Rockford, Carl reads Frances’s latest letter which vaguely recounts of her unwanted encounter with Vinnie. Carl is upset over all of the threats to his and Frances’s relationship. He asks his friend AL if he would come with him to Omaha so he can ask Frances to marry him. In Omaha, Biago discovers Frances’s secret singing pursuit and he and Carmela confront and harshly chastise Frances. They forbid her to have singing lessons anymore or even to attend school. Frances is crushed. Clara decides to go and speak with Biago and Carmella about Frances’s future. Though Clara pleads with them, Biago and Carmella are highly defensive of their traditional Sicilian parenting and are unmoved. Once Frances discovers that Carl is in town, they meet in the local park and discuss what has been happening to her. After discussing her trials and consoling her, Carl presents a ring to Frances and proposes.
Though Frances wants to say yes, she expresses to Carl that her parents would never allow them to be together and that she is still considering pursuing a college education. Carl graciously receives the ring back from Frances, still not ready to give up. Frances visits with Clara and Etta at Etta’s house and the three begin to discuss her future. An argument begins as Etta sides with the idea of Frances marrying Carl and Clara sides with the idea of Frances pursuing a college degree. Frances yells at both of them to stop fighting and announces that she is going to make her own decisions. Frances returns home to find that Fortuna has gotten into her secret stash of cosmetics. Fortuna stands near the table, crying, with a livid Carmella. She lays into Frances, interrogating her as to where she acquired all these things. Frances confesses that it was Etta and Carmella forbids Frances from working for her anymore and says that her father will find her another job.
In rebellious strength, Frances tells Carmella that she doesn’t know what’s best for her and Carmella slaps Frances hard across the face. Frances walks out the back door and Carmella breaks down. Frances calls Carl asking him to meet her downtown and they drive down a country road. She announces that she wants to accept the college scholarship and Carl becomes upset at the thought of having to wait even longer to be together. He says he’s afraid of losing her, but calms down and says he’ll support Frances no matter what she chooses. Biago takes Frances to apply for a job at Brandeis Department store and she tells her father that they will call her Uncle Tony and tell him if they want an interview with her. Frances goes to speak with Etta and she apologizes for upsetting Frances. Frances then tells Etta that she is going to marry Carl. Thrilled and excited, the two girls celebrate.
Carl walks in and Frances takes him aside and tells him that she wants to marry him. The two make plans to marry in secret and Carl calls Frances’s uncle, pretending to be the manager of Brandeis Department Store, and says that they would like to employ Frances. At Etta’s dinner table, Carl announces that he and Frances are getting married and then immediately leaving for Rockford. Vinnie gets on the phone and sets up the deal to smuggle money back to Rockford in the orange crate. The police are now watching Carl’s car and tracking their activity. Vinnie picks up on this and informs Mr. Bruno but does not tell Carl that they are being followed. Frances prepares to run away with Carl and destroys all of the letters Carl ever sent to her to cover their tracks. Biago drops Frances off at what he believes is her interview at the department store and Frances calls Carl’s hotel room but Vinnie picks up instead.
She tells Vinnie to tell Carl to meet her at Leavenworth and 26th in an hour. Frances leaves the department store and heads to a local diner. She calls Clara and asks if she would be the witness at her wedding and Clara agrees to meet them at the courthouse. Vinnie got the address wrong and he, Carl, and Al pull up to 6th and Leavenworth. Frances waits and waits for Carl to come and Carl waits and waits for Frances to show up. The police officers continue to track Carl’s car. Becoming more and more anxious, Frances calls the hotel and finds out that Carl has checked out. Vinnie tries to convince Carl that he has been stood up, but Carl has faith in Frances. He decides to go look for Frances and Al goes to the back of the trunk to have himself an orange. Vinnie flies to the back of the car, lays into Al, and snatches the crate away from him. Deeply discouraged, and well past their appointed meeting time, Frances begins walking back to where she came from. Carl, Vinnie, and Al, drive down the streets looking for Frances and Carl finally spots her.
He speeds up and passes the car behind him that is being driven by Phil Bruno. Carl slams on the brakes, pulls a U-turn, and stops on the other side of the street. Carl and Vinnie get out of the car and Carl leads Frances to the car. Phil witnesses the whole thing and believes that Frances has just been kidnapped. He goes to a local drugstore and calls the police. Clara waits at the courthouse for the group. She asks the receptionist how late the Justice of the Peace will perform weddings and the receptionist informs her that the Justice of the Peace has already left for the day. Back at the drugstore, Phil tells his uncle all about what happened. Now realizing that the police are following Vinnie for multiple reasons, Mr. Bruno calls CHACHO, Vinnie’s colleague from Chicago, and cuts the alliance between them, unbeknownst to Vinnie. As the group continues on, Carl stops at a stop sign and, along with the undercover police following them, another police car and a policeman on horseback begin following them with sirens blaring, believing they are kidnappers.
Vinnie tells Carl to floor it so that they can get past the state line. The group makes it across the state line into Iowa and the police cars halt. When they reach the courthouse, Clara explains that the Justice of the Peace is gone and Frances becomes frustrated and discouraged. Carl suggests getting married tomorrow in Rockford but Clara reminds him that crossing the state line as an unmarried couple is illegal. Carl is also frustrated. “We’ll just have to risk it” he says. Frances snaps at Carl saying she’s “the one risking everything” which both hurts and angers Carl. Clara whispers to Frances that she can come back with her. Frances pauses, quieting her thoughts so she can remember what her heart’s desire really is. She hands Clara a letter to her parents and asks her to give it to them for her. Clara realizes that Frances is committed to her decision and she suggests that Carl and she apply now to get their marriage license so that they can get into Illinois.
Hope renewed, Frances walks over to Carl, reconciles with him, and presents Clara’s idea. Clara heads back to Omaha and the group stops at a local diner where they hear about Frances’s “kidnapping” on the radio. Back in Omaha, Carmella and Biago are heartbroken over Frances’s letter. They now just want Frances back in their arms. As Carl, Frances, Al, and Vinnie head on to Rockford, a policeman on a motorcycle follows the car with his siren blaring. Carl pulls over and discovers that the policeman only pulled him over for speeding. Carl begins charming the unassuming officer with the news that he is on his way to get married and the officer lets the offense slide. In the back, Vinnie conceals a loaded revolver underneath his jacket, ready to act if necessary. Carl offers the officer some oranges and goes to the trunk to retrieve some. Vinnie protests and follows Carl and the officer to the back, his hand on the gun in his pocket. Carl removes the crate top and hands the officer some oranges for his family.
After the officer leaves, Carl gets back in the car and asks Vinnie what’s going on. Al alludes to the fact that Vinnie has a gun on him and Carl demands that Vinnie get out of the car so that they can talk. They walk to the back of the car and begin arguing about Vinnie’s involvement in the mob. Vinnie pushes Carl and he falls to the ground as Vinnie tries to leave. Carl gets up and takes Vinnie’s arm, demanding that they finish talking. Vinnie takes a swing at Carl and the two begin to scuffle. Carl maneuvers the gun away from Vinnie and opens the chamber, letting the bullets fall out. Vinnie breaks away from Carl and tries to snatch the gun away from him. A shot rings out and Frances screams, throws open the door, and Al and her race to the back of the car. Carl pushes Vinnie to the back of the trunk and throws the gun into the brush. Carl opens the trunk and removes Vinnie’s suitcase. Vinnie demands the oranges and Carl pulls out the crate. As Vinnie tries to take the crate from him, it falls to the ground and bundles of cash tumble out.
Everyone looks at the sight in shock for a moment and then Carl closes the trunk and gets back in the car. Carl, Frances, and Al take off, leaving Vinnie in a cloud of money and dust. The next morning, the group pulls up to Carl’s house and Chacho and three of his other colleagues are there. Chacho informs Carl that Vinnie’s gotten him in trouble and that mob members are blaming Vinnie and Carl for it. Carl laughs it off and tells Chacho that Vinnie is near Des Moines, that he’ll bring the money, and not to worry. Guisseppe emerges from the house and greets Carl and Frances warmly. Latter, at the dinner table Guisseppe says that Frances will “always be a daughter” to him. Anxiety accumulates in Frances again as she expresses to Carl that she has invited her parents to their wedding but hasn’t heard from them.
Carl once again gives Frances the engagement ring and she smiles as she receives it, symbolizing the choice she has made for herself. The phone rings and Carl picks it up to hear Etta on the other end. She asks to have Carl put Frances on the phone. Frances takes the phone and asks Etta if her mother is there. She talks to her mother and announces that she is going to get married. Carmella protests once again but Frances calmly and politely holds her ground. Her mother hangs up on her. On their wedding day, Carl and Frances are at the train station waiting for relatives. Frances waits hopefully for her parents but as the multitude of passengers disembarks, they are nowhere to be found. Carl suggests that they leave and, disheartened, Frances agrees.
As they walk away, Frances hears a familiar voice behind her. Frances turns and sees Carmella, Biago, and her UNCLE TONY and her and Carmella’s eyes meet. Frances and Carmella embrace each other. Carmella compliments Frances on the “strong, beautiful young woman” she has become and says how proud she is of her. At their lavish wedding reception, Biago gives Carl his blessing but admits that “had I caught you I would ‘a cut’ a your throat” he says. Biago smiles and embraces Carl. As a waltz begins, Carl and Frances look at each other as if they are the only two in the room. They begin to dance and Frances exudes the joy of knowing she will never regret the choice she made.