Friday, July 13, 2018

On The Red Carpet With Jason Voorhees

A blog entry from 2009 - logged a few days before another Friday the 13th when I went to the premiere of the FRIDAY THE 13th remake...



This has been a busy week. I’m still playing catch up after turning in the quicky second draft (which I’m not counting as an official draft because I only made a few changes from the version we did our pile of meetings on) and on top off all the work that piled up over the holidays, on Thursday my parents were in town on their way elsewhere - and I had lunch with them, then on Friday my ex was in town and we spent the day together, and it’s been raining like crazy, and Saturday and Sunday I did a bunch of errands - and saw a movie Sunday night.... and then on Monday I went to the premiere of the new FRIDAY THE 13TH movie at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, then the party afterwards. My top secret remake is for the producer of F13, and I was invited to the big premiere... maybe buttering me up before I get fired. “Let’s invite Bill to walk on the red carpet with the stars, it will be a nice memory for him when we replace him with David Koepp.”

The question is always - eat first? Since I was early, I decided to grab some food at one of the Hollywood & Highland restaurants - this place where you look at pictures of food on a screen at your table and touch the screen - ordering by computer - and then the waiter brings the food to your table. Kind of cool - except when I had my touch screen menu in GRID RUNNERS it was the table surface instead of this monitor in the middle of the table. Not as cool as my sci-fi version.

Because it’s been raining in Los Angeles, and I don’t mean the usual light sprinkles that brings out the TV news logos for STORM WATCH!, this has been danged heavy rain - no car windshield wiper can keep up with it. Buckets. Monday it was supposed to rain, so they had set up tents on Hollywood Blvd and a tent hallway over the red carpet. Because a prompt man is a lonely man, I was already in the cinema when the stars arrived, but it’s strange when the rope is up to keep people away from *you* (instead of the other way around).

This link takes you to the red carpet slide show at IMDB... no shots of me.

Friday The 13th Red Carpet.

Dress was “business casual”, and since I have never worked in an office in my life, I have no idea what that is. I worked at Safeway, where we wore ties and aprons... and I worked in a warehouse where I wore jeans and steel toed boots. For the past 20 years I have worked as a writer... that is my business. Marcel Proust worked in his dressing gown and pajamas... in an interview Susannah Grant (ERIN BROCKOVICH) said she wrote naked (and she’s a very attractive woman) - could I show up at the premiere in my PJs or nekked and be allowed in? I wore a good pair of jeans, a black dress shirt, and a tan sport jacket... and noticed some people who appeared to be dressed in some new homeless style that must be all the rage in Paris - they looked like they were going through the dumpsters behind Grauman’s moments before. Others were in suits... and the women who weren’t subscribers to homeless chic were in hot evening wear.



In the lobby I bumped into the producer - my boss - and he seemed happy to see me, but didn’t say a word about that second draft. I’m fired for sure. My giant ticket has an assigned seat number on it, and the ushers are freakin’ Nazis about making sure you sit in the correct seat. They are polite, they show you to the seat... but then they stand there and make sure you sit in the seat on your ticket and not some better seat. All of the ushers are big guys - probably bouncers in real life. My seat is okay, on the left side aisle. The stars and real VIPs are sitting in the center section. The producer and his date are sitting in the center section, along with some entourage members. The stars are the last to arrive... except for the guy who plays Jason - he’s early, and squeezing out every second of fame he can. There’s actually a line of people getting autographs.

The Head Of Production guy from the company and his girlfriend come down the aisle, lead by a bouncer/usher, and he stops to say hello. He mentions that everybody loves my draft, but also mentions with FRIDAY THE 13TH coming out, everybody is just loving the producer - they expect it to be a big hit, and studio eager to work with him on the next project... which seems to be mine. Then the bouncer/usher prods the HOP and his GF down to their seats, and I don’t get to ask follow up questions... so does he think they really loved my script or are just saying that to kiss the producer’s butt? Too late... but I do notice the HOP and GF have worse seats than I do - way on the end of a row. How did I get a better seat? Maybe he *asked* for a seat in the corner so that he could zip out if he got a phone call?

Then, the last stars trickled in as the house lights went down and the movie started....



The new FRIDAY THE 13th is okay. Not a remake, not a re-imagining, but kind of a sequel to the first film... using parts of the first 3 original films. Totally respects the first film (and its end twist) even though it has Jason alive instead of drowned... and then we get a totally 80s style horror movie, just with a much bigger budget. Boobs and blood and some cool kills. I would tell you my favorite kill, but that would be a spoiler. Let’s just say, it’s at the pier. We eventually even get the shh-shh-shh-shh-ha-ha--ha theme, too. There was a scene where they are being chased by Jason and blast into the cabin and the stoner kid is smoking.... and I wish the lead (Jared Padelecki - who is as tall as I am) would have told the stoner “Shh-shh-shh” and the stoner kid would have laughed. I also wish they had Kevin Bacon and Betsy Palmer do cameos, that would have been cool. There are some okay kills (some recycled from the first 3 films), some okay suspense scenes, and some stuff swiped from SEE NO EVIL and HILLS HAVE EYES (remake) 2. Completely delivered - and has the longest prologue scene ever. It starts out funny, some great lines and a good scene where a guy and gal are trying to hook up but the nerd just keeps getting in the way. And once we see Camp Crystal Lake, it’s abandoned, desolate, spooky... kind of reminded me of Mandalay from REBECCA.

Four problems (for me at least):

1) We get the Jason legend up front, so the people have nothing to discover or learn over the course of the film. No goal, no secrets to uncover... nothing to do except get killed one by one in interesting ways with a machete. Most of these films (like the first one) have the kids piece together the mystery of why they are getting killed as they are getting killed one-by-one. That gives them a goal and a purpose, other than just having the machete strike them in an unusual way.

2) There are two sets of teen victims, and they are interchangeable. Both sets have stoner kids, both have geek kids, both have handsome a-holes, etc. They needed a better variety of characters, since these guys were all lunchmeat. And the characters need to be not complete cliches. Not only did we get two identical sets of teens, they were stock characters... not real at all.

3) Jason has zero motivation. Yes, I know it’s a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie, but there is a completely illogical kill in the film (actually two of them) that kind of make the film impossible. Yes, these kills are similar to ones from the original movies - but they didn't make any sense there, either. Jason has to have some reason to kill, and his motivation must aim directly at kids who go camping around Crystal Lake (like the camp counselors in the original, and all of the rest of the kids in the sequels). But here Jason kills some people who will bring in the authorities, and he can’t do that. There’s no reason for him to do it, and if he does it that will bring in the law. We don’t need an FBI task force at Crystal Lake headed by Will Graham and/or Clarice Starling.

4) and this ties to #1 - I love it when one of the characters fight back - that always gets a cheer from the audience. And you’d expect out of all of these *victims* that one person would have balls. Here, we *almost* get a fighting back scene - but it’s, um, nipped in the bud.

But I laughed and screamed and (this is sick) laughed at the more inventive kills and had a good time. It is what it is. It delivers what you want from a FRIDAY THE 13th movie. I think it's going to make some money.



Afterwards, I tracked down the producer to suggest a director I like (we don’t have one at this time - nor do we have our star anymore - and there’s a story behind that which I will tell after the statute of limitations runs out for this job) (oh, and I didn't tell him those 4 problems I had with the film - I'm not *trying* to get fired), and found him on the stairs - people passing him and congratulating him. He introduced some people to me as “the writer of the next one” - which made me feel like I am probably not going to be fired tomorrow - and then asked if I had a ticket to the afterparty in my envelope... *many* people didn’t get them. I had a ticket and free valet parking ticket with a map on the back. Cool that he made sure I had one. We all kind of walked out at the same time...

But the party was a block away at My House on LaBrea, so I decided to walk (with some other people) and they drove. Another rope to keep others out... but I got right in without a problem. The club was big, already crowded, and lines for food. There were also wait-people with trays of food, so I figured I’d avoid the lines, grab a beer, and grab stuff off trays. I ended up talking to another writer I know, a woman who I later discovered was a producer, and an FX guy I know. I know stunt men and FX guys - I have no idea why. I know Kane Hodder, who was Jason in some of the original films, he was also in at least one film I wrote.

Anyway, I’m not good at socializing. I don’t mingle well. I usually know somebody, and hang out with them at parties... but I had this pocket ful of business cards and I didn’t get out a single one. I basically sat in the corner and talked to people I already knew.



Okay, I have a thing for redheads. In any FRIDAY THE 13th movie (or clone) there are hot girls who get nekkid and get killed and the nice girl who keeps her clothes on and survives. This new film kind of mixes that up so that you aren’t sure who will die, but the nice girl from the first group of victims was this cute redhead, Amanda Righetti. I had joked on a message board that if anyone else was at the premiere to say hello to me (because I’d be wallflowering in some corner), but if I was with a hot starlet half my age - wait until she shoots me down before saying hello. The table we were at was away from the DJ so that we could talk... and most of the stars ended up in that area (so they could talk). That meant we were surrounded by hot starlets half my age in great evening gowns. Check out the IMDB slide show. Anyway, the FX guy went to get a round of drinks and I said if that redhead came over I would give away his seat. And here’s where it gets funny - FX guy comes back with drinks, other writer and producer go to mingle... and someone asks if they can sit down in the now empty seats... Amanda Righetti! And her boyfriend. So I say hello and try to start a conversation... but she completely shuts me down and focuses on her BF... and if I’m not sitting an inch away from her.

Eventually I do a circle of the club, Wes Craven nods and smiles to me - we were on a panel together once, but there’s no way he remembers my name. I’m just a familiar face. I also pass the Producer, his back to me, and overhear him say my name... but pass by before I hear the end of the sentence ("I'm firing him tomorrow!") - but that's my paranoia kicking in. Things seem to be going pretty good on this project. After drinking free beers and eating free food (chocolate chip cookie and chocolate milk shooters for desert), I split... passing some guy that looks a little like Carl Ellsworth (who wrote RED EYE and DISTURBIA and the LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT remake) and it wasn’t until I was out the doors that I realized it probably *was* Carl. I thought about going back to say hello, but instead I walked back to Hollywood & Highland and my vehicle and headed home...

Where a couple of streets over, every police and news helicopter was hovering and a couple dozen police cars and something like three SWAT trucks were ready for action because a night-long police pursuit had come to an end there. It had been on the news live for 2 hours as they chased this guy all over Los Angeles, ending up a couple of blocks away from my apartment. Eventually the helicopters stopped and I went to sleep.

Now I’ve only got a screening on Wednesday, a thing on Thursday, meeting friends for drinks on Friday... and all of the stuff still in my in basket from before the holidays.

UPDATE: Nada! We lost another star and another director and I think the perfect window of opportunity for this film closed. The heat disapated. A strange thing happens when a project has been sitting on the desk for too long - the producer thinks it needs to be "made fresh" by doing a rewrite that may change the very reason why people liked it in the first place. Several months after this premiere, the producer had a new idea for the script to freshen it up... and I thought the idea was a script killer that would destroy the project. I was afraid if this version were ever put to paper if would kill the film's chances of *ever* being made - so I became a difficult writer and walked away. Could have made a rewrite fee - but would rather have the film get made. Around the same time horror remakes as a genre lost heat, on to found footage... so now I don't think it will *ever* be made. Pisser. Only 1 in 10 scripts that are bought or developed ever get made, most end up on the shelf forever. I have scripts at studios all over town on the shelves...

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Planned Unpredictablity - and SEVEN MEN FROM NOW.



Movies: PUSH - One of those scripts that needed a lot of work or a great director... it didn't seem to get either. The story has this fatal flaw - the MacGuffin doesn't show up until act 3, and before that it's a lot of people talking in grungy rooms and every so often a completely pointless fight scene that doesn't accomplish anything and winning or losing doesn't matter to the story. So it's all filler material. Imagine RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, but instead of finding the ark and having it stolen and trying to steal it back... they don't find the ark until the very end of the movie, and the rest of the time Indy and the Nazis just say mean things to each other. Indy can't kill the Nazis because the movie would be over, and the Nazis can't kill Indy for the same reason... so it would just be pointless filler action. That's PUSH.

There's a point in one of the fights where Fanning tells Hounsou they can't kill Evans, it will change the future - so Hounsou tells his guy to stop. And I wondered - what was the point if all they can do is beat him up and let him go so that they can have another fight where they *have* to let him go. It's pointless. Everyone is just wasting time until Act 3 when we can actually have an action scene that changes the story... maybe.

Dialogue is often terrible and expositional, characters are often caricatures, and action scenes are pointless - and often silly (things that looked good on paper look like cartoons in real life - telekinetic guns are just funny to watch). Also, key elements aren't introduced until *way* too late - sinking the story. Again - it's like they were making it up as they went along, when the plot twists required things to be set up.

I think most acting is brought down by dialogue - but the acting is okay. Hounsou needed to be given more to do - he's one of those great guys who can elevate crap, and they mostly just had him stand there. Fanning is okay - drunk scene is a highlight. Belle looks stoned, and is playing the femme fatale, but in the most unsexy clothes you can imagine. Evans is kind of the lead, and needed more character - or at least some personality. Cliff Curtis has a great role, and he's also one of those actors you can put in a crap film and he makes it better (10,000 BC with Belle).

Plot, by the way, makes no sense.

Plus, what is The Division going to do with this stuff? We don't have a demonstration of what's possible, and we don't have a villain's plan to thwart. They are cardboard villains after a worthless MacGuffin.

Directing is crap. The whole movie looks like they forgot to color time it. The angles and composition are often weird. They have these ultra grainy shots, and at first I thought it was for a purpose... but then they'll have one when there's no remote viewing, so maybe there is no purpose. Shaky cam, quick cuts, the usual crap. It's difficult to make Hong Kong look this bad on film - it's lighted wrong. Things that should be magic on film end up being dull. Fanning is psychic and has a sketch pad where she draws these images of the future, and instead of the magical match of sketch and reality, it's just kind of there. Hard to screw something like that up, but they do.

The film needed to be more fun, more exciting, and more emotionally involving. Just kind of lays there like a carp. No envelopes were pushed, though they did use some pretty red envelopes as part of the story.

- Bill


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Thursday, July 12, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: The Poisoner

The Poisoner

The spider web fills the screen, it's Boris Karloff's THRILLER!



Season: 1, Episode: 17.
Airdate: January 10, 1961.


Director: Herschel Daugherty
Writer: Robert Hardy Andrews
Cast: Murray Matheson, Sarah Marshall, Brenda Forbes, Jennifer Raine, Maurice Dallimore.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith, kicking ass.
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline.
Producer: William Frye.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Thomas Edward Griffith, the man who made this lovely picture the destroyed it, really lived. He was a writer, a painter and a critic. Now, in each of these arts he displayed talent, but his real genius lay elsewhere. We have the testimony of Charles Lamb, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and other famous witnesses that Griffith was the master of the gentle art of murder. A dabbler in the occult and a connoisseur of the exotic, Griffith was far ahead of the medical men of his time in the lethal science of toxication. In simpler terms, Griffith was a poisoner. That’s the name of our play, The Poisoner. And among those threatened by sinister gentleman played by Mr. Murray Matheson, are his wife played by Miss Sarah Marshall, her mother played by Miss Brenda Forbes, her sister played by Miss Jennifer Raine, and his uncle played by Mr. Maurice Dallimore. Oh, by the way, if in the course of our story someone brings you a cup of tea or a spot of brandy... I suggest you let *them* take the first sip.”



Synopsis: A somewhat unusual *true crime* episode, also unusual because it’s an Early Victorian Era period piece which takes place on London’s foggy streets. I’m sure part of the allure of this story was that it’s a Jack The Ripper type tale about a fellow who was very well known at the time who killed just about everyone he was related to by blood or marriage... and got away with it!

Thomas Edward Griffith (the actual fellow was named Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, and more on him in the review section) (played by Murray Matheson giving an amazing performance), was a social climber. Not born into a wealthy family, both parents dead, he desired the prestige and admiration of a member of high society... so he decided to “fake it until you make it”. He lived in a luxurious house filled with pieces or art and antiques. He threw lavish parties so that he could be seen with members of society much higher up the food chain than he was. His clothes were tailored by one of the best. He drank the best brandy and dined at the finest restaurants. Even though, he was close to broke.

Although he’d inherited from his father, his Uncle George (Maurice Dallimore) was executor, and detested his lifestyle... so he was kept on a tight allowance. Uncle George thinks he should sell all of the crap in his house and get a job... but Thomas has never worked a day in his life and has no intention of starting now. He spends his days as a catty critic for a newspaper known for his clever insults, painting watercolors that are good enough for a gallery show or two, and writing witty little booklets on a variety of subjects of interest to the social set. Things a member of high society would do. The problem is, his lavish lifestyle means that he is going deeper and deeper into debt...



Enter the beautiful society woman Francis Abercrombie (Sarah Marshall) , hot and half his age. She is sophisticated, well dressed and travels in the same elite social circles. Thomas marries her before anyone else has a chance to ask... planning to live on her fortune and wait for his Uncle George to die so that he can get his hands on all of his inheritance instead of just his month allowance.

At the lavish post wedding party, his water color painting of his wife is on display over the fireplace. All of the society men think she’s hot, and are jealous of Thomas... which is everything he has ever wished for in life. To further this adoration, he introduces his beautiful wife to all of those members of high society he wants to impress... Then the door opens and these two yapping white trash women and their cat enter: his mother in law and sister in law! You see, his wife is flat broke as well; and like him, was a social climber hoping to marry into money. He ends the party before he is completely embarrassed by these uninvited guests...



Mrs. Abercrombie (Brenda Forbes) is a drunk old woman with a loud mouth and all sorts of complaints about almost everything. There’s a shot where she bends over, most unladylike, and you half expect to hear loud flatulence. Maybe that was planned but the censors said no. New sister in law Helen (Jennifer Raine) is confined to a wheelchair for some reason, and has nothing good to say about anything. If mother complains, sister is an Olympic contender... bitching about everything. And they, of course, have a cat. Oh, and Mrs. Abercrombie has sold her house and all of her belongings to move in with Francis’ new rich husband.

That night, Thomas opens an ornate cabinet exposing a selection of items, selects a “Borgia ring”, fills it with poison and puts it on his finger... then, acting like the perfect host, secretly pours some poison from the ring into a brandy decanter and offers it to his new mother in law... not realizing sister in law Helen is watching from her wheelchair upstairs. Thomas goes upstairs, into his wife’s bedroom, and tells her that everything will be alright. That’s when Mrs. Abercrombie drinks the brandy and drops dead... and Helen screams, and calls Thomas a murderer!



After the funeral, Francis and Helen return with... the family attorney. Mrs. Abercrombie’s death was ruled natural causes, even though Helen believes that Thomas poisoned her. But instead of Francis inheriting the money... it goes to invalid sister Helen. Thomas will never get his hands on a cent of it. Thomas storms out...

How could things get worse? When he returns, Francis tells him that his Uncle is here, waiting for him in the guest room upstairs... and some creditors have come and threatened to cut off his food and booze and some other things if he doesn’t pay his long overdue bills. Wonderful...

Thomas gets a lecture form his Uncle George about those creditors... and how he should sell everything and get a job and live within his means. Thomas would have liked to ask for more money, but he can’t for fear Uncle George will cut his allowance and *force* him to work. He shudders at the thought of working. Before Thomas can poison Uncle George’s brandy, the old man takes a sip and keels over! Snoopy Helen is watching this from the doorway and once again gets to scream “Murderer!”



But Uncle George is *not* dead... he’s just had a heart attack and must remain in bed resting for a few weeks. Hey, and uninvited house guest... more fun for Thomas! The doctor tells Thomas to make sure he takes a pill every so many hours and that it can be taken with a glass of brandy as a stimulant (medicine has changed over the years). Thomas is not going to be subjected to *weeks* of lectures by this old man, so he poisons the brandy decanter, and when Uncle George wakes up, tells him to take his pills with a glass of brandy as per doctor’s orders. Uncle George takes his medicine... and dies... and snoopy sister in law Helen was watching through the keyhole the entire time!

Thomas discovers her spying, and walks towards her menacingly... she backs up her wheelchair in fear... going over the edge and down the staircase (like Arbogast in PSYCHO), breaking her neck when she lands. Thomas quickly hides in the room with his dead uncle, as his wife Francis comes out of her room and sees her sister dead at the base of the stairs. When she screams, Thomas comes out of the room and asks what’s wrong... but Francis isn’t buying it, she *knows* that Thomas killer her sister. Then she spots dead Uncle George on the floor behind him. Thomas says Uncle George must have had another heart attack and died... but Francis points to the *dead cat* next to the spilled brandy and accuses Thomas of killing both of the dead humans plus the cat plus her mother.



When the police come, Thomas has a packed bag ready for jail. He explains to the policeman that it’s probably a waste of time to arrest him, since the only possible witness against him is his wife, and a wife can not testify against her husband. They take him anyway... charged with three murders.

Jail. One huge cell filled with a bunch of smelly criminals. A bucket to poop in.



Thomas is immaculately dressed, sitting at a table writing; when the officers come to take him to the court room for his arraignment hearing.

At the hearing, the Prosecutor makes his case for triple murder by poisoning. When he’s finished, Thomas asks the Judge if he may speak... and then tears apart the Prosecutor’s case. There are no witnesses, one of the victims died of a broken neck, another was ruled natural causes, the third had just had a serious heart attack and no trace of any known poison was found in his system by the medical examiner. The Prosecutor says there are poisons that are *not* known that there is no test for at this time. Thomas counters that until these poisons are discovered and there is some way to test for them, there is not a shred of evidence and to waste the court’s time any further...

And the Judge dismisses all charges.



The officer who arrested Thomas comes to the jail cell release him, saying that some day he will find the evidence that convicts him. Thomas explains that it is no longer possible for him to be convicted of those crimes... it would be double jeopardy. Before being released, Thomas writes out a check on his dead Uncle George’s account and gives it to the officer... to be split among his cellmates. Thomas says goodbye to each of the cellmates, and hopes each uses their share to follow their dreams.

When he returns home, Thomas tells his wife Francis that now only she stands between him and the inheritance from her mother and sister. He prepares two glasses of brandy and lets her see him putting poison from his ring into one of them. Then tells her she has a choice: drink up now, or continue their marriage with each’s money pooled into one happy household account. Francis runs upstairs to her room...



Thomas looks at the water color painting of Francis over the fireplace, takes the poker, and crosses it out (his marks replicating the “spider web” used in the bumpers of the show, leading me to believe at some point they planned on fading from the “spider web” to the defaced painting, then didn’t do it). Then takes the two glasses of brandy upstairs, kicks in his wife’s bedroom door, and again gives her the choice between drinking poison and living with him happily ever after.

Before she answers, someone banging on the front door. The police Officer has come to arrest him. Thomas explains that he *can not* be arrested for any of those three murders, even if he were to admit that he committed them: double jeopardy. So the Officer is wasting his time... please go away.

The Officer smiles and says he’s not being arrested for murder, but for forging his dead uncle’s signature on that check. Which the Officer witnessed, so it’s open and shut. Thomas will be shipped off to Australia to prison where he will spend the rest of his life doing hard labor...

He asks for one final drink before he’s taken away, grabs the poisoned glass of brandy and downs it... falling over dead.

Twist!



Review: Based on the true story of Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, and fairly accurate. His mother died in childbirth, so he went to live with his grandfather who was the editor of The Monthly Review, and grew up in a literary household. Thanks to a family connection he went to a private school (where that family connection was headmaster) and learned how to live amongst the wealthy, even though he was not wealthy himself.

He was a social climber on the fringe of high society and did have an exhibition of his paintings at the Royal Academy and wrote art criticism for several magazines and newspapers... as well as booklets on a variety of subjects. And he did poison all of those people and got away with it. In fact, he even poisoned at least one other person! In reality when those creditors came after him he and his wife *moved in* with Uncle George... who died shortly afterwards. He fled to France at one point, was arrested for carrying strychnine in that trick ring of his and spent six years in prison, then we he returned to England he was instantly arrested to stand trial for forgery. Instead of taking a dose of his own poison, he was sent to the Tasmanian prison colony. He worked on the road gang, later as a prison hospital orderly, and eventually was allowed to paint portraits of many important people and their family members... and those portraits exist in museums and collections today. The history of the Tasmanian Colony can be seen n his paintings. He was the subject of Charles Dickens’ “Hunted Down” and Edward Bulwer Lytton’s novel “Lucretia”, Oscar Wilde’s “Pen, Pencil, and Poison”, and pops up as a character in the Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure Of The Illustrious Client”. The most famous poisoner in history!



Murray Matheson is perfect in this episode. He’s one of those actors who was on almost every TV show as a guest star, and you probably recognize his face. He was the bookstore owner who helped BANACEK in every episode. Here he gives an amazing performance where he’s both vain & dismissive and sympathetic. Oddly, you identify with his character and *want* him to knock off these white trash relatives by marriage. Matheson seems to have fun treating everyone as his inferior, and the audience wishes they were that clever and witty and stylish. This performance is similar to some of those great Vincent Price performances in Corman’s Poe movies. It’s a brilliant performance, and it turns this episode into one of the better ones.

All of the other performances are great, especially Brenda Forbes and Jennifer Raine as the mother and sister in law from hell. As I said, when Forbes bends over unladylike you can almost hear her loudly passing gas... even though that is not on the sound track.

The period setting and production design makes the episode seem lavish. There are horse drawn carriages and spooky foggy nights and that elegant house... it seems more like a movie than a TV episode.

The score by Jerry Goldsmith (CHINATOWN) is amazing. The Pete Rugolo scores had all been variations on the THRILLER theme music, and when Goldsmith took over it took him until this one to really leave his mark. This is a great score (on the DVD it’s an isolated track, so it may end up on my iPod eventually), and really gives us a look at the great film composer that Goldsmith would become in just a few years.

This is a fun episode that would have been at home on HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, which is a good thing... because we’re about to go back to spy novel adaptations for a while. Just when it was getting good, we go back to the ho hum!

Bill

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Film Courage Dialogue Part 1 & 2 & 3!

Here are three Film Courage segments which belong together - the Barista Theory Of Dialogue and Character Vocabulary and now Bumper Sticker Dialogue - the first, second and third in a long conversation about writing dialogue. This is kind of a verbal extract from the Dialogue Blue Book.







- Bill

bluebook

41 Tips On Dialogue!

*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!

*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to create interesting protagonists! How to remove bad dialogue (and what *is* bad dialogue), First Hand Dialogue, Awful Exposition, Realism, 41 Professional Dialogue Techniques you can use *today*, Subtext, Subtitles, Humor, Sizzling Banter, *Anti-Dialogue*, Speeches, and more. Tools you can use to make your dialogue sizzle! Special sections that use dialogue examples from movies as diverse as "Bringing Up Baby", "Psycho", "Double Indemnity", "Notorious", the Oscar nominated "You Can Count On Me", "His Girl Friday", and many more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 160 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!



USA Folks Click Here.

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Other countries check your Amazon websites... it's there!

The next 3 Blue Books will be DESCRIPTION, STRUCTURE, and BLOCKBUSTERs (all 3 in 2016 I hope). Everyone wants the OUTLINES Blue Book, and I've promised it for the past couple of years, but the problem is I don't have enough ideas for new chapters, yet... and I want to get it up to 200 pages. I hope that over the next year I'll come up with some new chapter ideas and get that out at the beginning of 2017.

Thank you to everyone!

Bill

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: SCHLOCK! (1973)

SCHLOCK (1973) written and directed by John Landis.

This is one of my favorite films... and you have never heard of it.



First, a bit of background... In the 70s there were a bunch of skit comedy movies like THE GROOVE TUBE (with Chevy Chase and Richard Belzer and "Brown 25" - we make dolls out of it) and TUNNEL VISION (with Phil Proctor and Howard Hessman and Kissinger grilled on a Sesame Street type show about Viet Nam). And they were okay... and then came KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE and it was 100 times funnier than the others. I saw KFM in my local cinema, and when I drove to Los Angeles I saw it in some funky old Hollywood Blvd cinema. That movie was made for me! I was alternating between short super 8mm thrillers and skit films, and KFM was the ultimate skit film. So much better than GROOVE and TUNNEL. Who directed it? Some guy named Landis.





I had a subscription to National Lampoon Magazine, which was huge back then, and they decided to make their first movie, called ANIMAL HOUSE. And who did they get to direct it? That Landis guy from KFM!

I landed a job managing a movie theater, part of a small chain that began as Jerry Lewis Family Cinemas, but that company went bankrupt and this guy bought all of the ones in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was managing one out in the East Bay, and my biggest problem was that the owner never booked a studio movie. He booked all kinds of weird crap, and then expected us to sell tickets to this junk! We showed a comedy spaghetti western called ONION BREATH about a cowboy who wasn't a quick draw, he just had really bad breath, starring Terrence Hill, and that was one of the *better* movies. We had a low budget horror movie with Christopher Lee that had the worst special effects I have ever seen. We had one bad film after another...

And then we showed SCHLOCK!

Directed by that Landis guy!




It was his first film, it had been sitting around on the shelf for years, and the guy who owned the cinemas made some sort of deal to show it for a week. The doorman in my cinema, who was an artist and drew some amazing pictures (I hired him because he was talented and needed a job), actually drew and inked the poster... because whatever poster there had been previously we didn't have access to. Tim drew this amazing poster, and they made copies, and that poster went from cinema to cinema around the Bay Area along with the single print of the film.

But the amazing thing - SCHLOCK was funny as hell! We had a college nearby, and I made up mini posters and put them up all over campus (did the same for my Halloween show of PSYCHO) and we packed the cinema every night. Because it played 3 times a day and 5 times on weekends, I could quote every single line of dialogue from the movie. And it was *funny*. My favorite part - after the ape kills a whole playground full of people, the coroner puts all of the body parts into Hefty Trash Bags to take to the morgue and try to put them together to figure out exactly how many victims there were... and the local TV station has a contest: if you can guess how many people the parts all add up to, you can win a free dinner for 2 at a local restaurant. The TV news guys was a Ted Baxter type, who is shocked to find out the ape may be what is called "Homo Erectus". Plus, there is a cute blind girl who has been dating a guy for years and has just had eye surgery and when the bandages come off... will she like the way the guy looks? The killer ape tries to attack the blind girl, but she thinks he's a dog and plays fetch with him... And all kinds of other silly gags. I loved this film - it was the only thing we showed at that cinema that wasn't complete crap!

Landis plays the killer monkey, who is just misunderstood... and some dude named Rick Baker did the make up. This film was made for pocket change, but is so packed with jokes it got Landis on THE TONIGHT SHOW! If you are ever wondering where the film SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY (from that line of dialogue in 2001) comes from, this is the flick. I have no idea what the availability is today, but for a movie made by a group of friends for pocket change it has lots of laughs.

Bill

Friday, July 06, 2018

THE BIRDS: Storyboards

THE BIRDS...



Alfred Hitchcock believed you didn’t want to be figuring out what the heck you were going to shoot and how you were going to shoot it with the entire cast and crew waiting around on the clock... The place to figure out your movie was before you had hundreds of people standing around waiting. So Hitchcock (and many other directors of the time) storyboarded their films. Sometimes just the tricky scenes, sometimes the whole film. You could shot list the easy stuff, but actions scenes or scenes that required trained birds or special effects of some sort? Better to have those boarded so that you could show each department what was required for them in each shot. So here are some of the storyboards for THE BIRDS.

BIRDS Storyboards and a swell article from BFI.

To read the Fridays With Hitchcock on THE BIRDS, click back there.

bluebook

Thursday, July 05, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: The Closed Cabinet. NEW!

MEW! SEASON 2!!!



The spider web fills the screen, it's Boris Karloff's THRILLER!



THRILLER: The Closed Cabinet

Season: 2, Episode: 10.
Airdate: November 27, 1961

Director: Ida Lupino
Writer: Kay Lenard & Jess Carneol.
Cast: Olive Sturgess, David Frankham, Jennifer Raine, Peter Forster, Patricia Manning.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: Benjamin H Kline.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Evil begats evil. And the evil does not die. The sins of the fathers doom the children through generations yet unborn. Impossible, you say? The superstition from the dark ages. Well, perhaps our story tonight will help you change your mind. We start with a curse and a riddle, inexplicabily bound together. Somewhere in this room lies the clue that will solve the riddle and lift the curse. But 300 years have passed since Dame Alice pronounced that awful curse, and still the riddle is unsolved. Tonight we are concerned with two brothers - the last of the cursed Mervyns and the women who love them. Our players are: Olive Sturgess, David Frankham, Jennifer Raine, Peter Forster, and Patricia Manning. Turn off your lights. Close your windows. And even of the wind should rise, relax... if you can! While we pick up our story in the year 1880, during the reign of her gracious majesty Queen Victoria, and when our tale is told, you’ll believe in curses as sure as my name is Boris Karloff.”



Synopsis: A dark and stormy night. 1580. Lady Beatrice (Patricia Manning) discovers her abusive husband Hugh Mervyn is drunk, and using a dagger found in a secret drawer, murders him and then herself. The bodies are discovered by a Maid (Myra Carter), who finds the dagger next to Beatrice’s corpse and screams... Dame Alice (Doris Lloyd) comes running, takes the dagger from the Maid and then spots her son murdered on the bed... and puts a curse upon the family: “Out of evil comes death! In each generation there shall be a Mervyn who will bring shame and death to the family, for eternity... An end there shall be, but it is beyond the wisdom of man to fix it, or the wit of man to discover it. Who fathoms the riddle, lifts the curse. Pure blood, stained by the blood stained knife, heals the Mervyn shame, ends the Mervyn’s strife,” she says as she returns the dagger to its secret compartment.



1880: The Mervin Castle. A coach pulls up and Evie Bishop (Olive Sturgess) steps out and is welcomed by her cousins Lucy Mervyn (Jennifer Raine) and George Mervyn (Peter Forster) and enter the castle... where handsome Alan Mervyn (David Frankham) descends the staircase and takes Evie in her arms. Alan lives in London and avoids the castle completely, but when he heard that Evie was coming to visit he braved a stay. Eveie has heard that the castle is haunted, that there is a room in the castle that is filled with ghosts... and she would like to stay there. She has never seen a ghost. As she jokes about ghosts, George and Lucy look very uncomfortable. Evie insists on staying in the haunted room, and when Lucy shows her to the room, the two men seem less than happy.

In the “haunted room” (from the opening scene) Lucy tells Evie that several Mervyn relatives have died violent deaths in this room - which would account for the ghosts. The cabinet (where the dagger is hidden) is still there, and Lucy jokes about the legend of the curse. Though there have been a bunch of deaths in this room, Lucy believes it is due to the Mervyn men’s anger issues.



Alan and George have an argument - Alan believes that the curse is real, and staying in this castle is putting Lucy’s life at risk. George believes it’s just hokum - sure, there have been a lot of murders in the family, but whose family hasn’t had them?

As Evie looks around the castle, candles flicker where there is no breeze... and she sees the ghost of Lady Beatrice for a moment. Then the ghost vanishes. When Evie heads downstairs for dinner, she hears the two men arguing and listens in. When George leaves, she comes downstairs and talks to Alan - it’s love!

When George and Lucy come in, Evie asks if their houseguest will be joining them? Who? The woman upstairs. The ghost!



After dinner, Alan takes Evie on a tour of the castle’s hallways to look at the paintings of the family - stopping at Lady Beatrice. That’s the ghost she saw!

A dark and stormy night... awakens Evie. Blows open the windows. She gets up and closes them, and when she goes back to sleep the ghost of Lady Beatrice pops up in a doorway. Trying to communicate with her. Warning her that she is the next victim of the curse?

The next morning when Evie mentions the storm, she gets funny looks: there was no storm. Is she crazy? Alan takes Evie on a tour of the castle grounds, and she tells him that she wants to solve the mystery of the curse so that Alan will feel comfortable in his home. Evie wants to see the dungeon (doesn’t everyone?), but the door is locked to When Alan goes to get the key... the door magically opens as soon as he is gone. Nothing haunted about that at all.



Evie goes in alone - lots of cobwebs down here, but none get on her face. She manages to completely avoid all of the webs and maintain her perfect hair. Doors open one-by-one in front of her, taking her down to the crypt... where she comes face to face with Hugh Mervyn! Well, a bust of him. And finds a cat-o-nine-tails *whip* on his coffin. What’s that all about? Deeper in the crypt she finds a secret room with Lady Beatrice’s coffin... and Lady Beatrice’s ghosts makes an appearance and points at Evie. That’s when Alan runs in, and the ghost vanishes. But was the ghost pointing at her or the wall behind her? On the wall, and inscription under the cobwebs: “Where woman sinned, the maid shall win. But God help the maid who sleeps here-in.” Alan tells her that no one in the family ever knew where Lady Beatrice’s coffin was. No one had ever discovered this secret room until now.

George, with a riding crop in hand, tells Alan and Evie that they could not have found Lady Beatrice’s coffin - no one has found it for 300 years. Men in the family have looked for it and never found it, so how could Evie have found it? George loses his temper... and we get some angry exposition about how Lady Beatrice’s ghost appeared to their mother the night before she died... and now Lady Beatrice has appeared before Evie. George loses it and almost whips Alan. George’s temper is out of control! He storms out of the room.



Alan drops a few pages of exposition on Evie about the curse... and how Hugh was physically abusive to Lady Beatrice until she killed him one night during a violent storm. The storm that was brewing inside her for all of those years of abuse by a drunken husband?

That night, as Lucy plays the harp and George naps, Alan and Evie flirt... and then he sees her to her room like a gentleman... and they almost kiss. Victorian romance at its hottest! I believe this moment was put there to show that Evie was still a virgin - pure - and therefor able to lift the curse. But it’s not set up very well, and we don’t particularly care if they kiss or not - which is a mistake.

Evie does not go to bed - she sits up, waiting for the storm to come. The storm waiting or the storm without? When it comes, it blows open the windows violently. Meanwhile, Alan looks outside his window - no storm, clear skies. This is a nice moment because it shows that the haunted room really is haunted. Evie goes to sleep and the storm blasts the windows open again... and Lady Beatrice appears. She raises her hand to beckon Evie... and Evie is back in time, drunk Hugh Mervyn sleeping in the bed she just got out of. Lady Beatrice points to the cabinet, and Evie finds the secret lever to open it... And takes out the dagger! She is possessed by Lady Beatrice!



She moves to the bed, where Hugh is sleeping, raises the knife and... stops herself from stabbing him, but slices her hand in the process. She shows her bleeding hand to Lady Beatrice’s ghost, “The maid has won,” and the ghost vanishes, leaving Evie alone in the room. The bed is empty. The storm is gone.

She runs out into the hallway, yelling for Alan. He runs from his room and they embrace in the hallway. She tells him what happened, shows him her hand... and there is no blood on her hand. He thinks it might be a nightmare, but she convinces him that she has lifted the curse. In the haunted bedroom, she tells him how to open the drawer... and he finds the dagger with Hugh Mervyn’s crusted blood on it... and another drawer opens and there is a scroll with the curse and, heck, Evie did it and lifted the curse! So he finally kisses her. They can be married with very little chance that he will physically abuse her and maybe even kill her during an argument!



Review: The luck of laziness! I had intended on writing up all of these entries a couple of years ago, and had I done that I’m not sure I would have seen the subtleties in this episode or commented on them as much as will now that we’ve had the MeToo Movement. Though domestic abuse is not the same as inappropriately touching someone, they both fall under the umbrella of ahole male dominance. Though this episode doesn’t really work, I’m cutting it some slack because it’s “a very special episode pf THRILLER”, just like the alcoholism episode. It’s 1961 and domestic violence is a major problem in America (Time Magazine would do an article on the epidemic a couple of years later) and this episode is going to slyly get the message out disguised as a ghost story.



I’m sure that Ida Lupino was hired to direct this episode to give it a woman’s sensibility, but it is not one of her better episodes. I think the screenplay may be getting in the way - but I wonder about the lead actress. The scenes where she *avoids* the cobwebs just seem odd - did the actress not want to get messy? Or was that seen as “degrading” to a female and not done in this episode? Either way, it removes the spooky element from the haunted house story. One of the elements of horror is the “Eeeew!” Factor. If you think of all of those moments in horror movies where you have went “Eeeeew!” mentally (or even outloud), that feeling of revulsion is one of the things that add to the dread and creepy feeling of the film. In horror movies people *touch* gross things and *step in* gross things and *back into* gross things and maybe even sit in gross things. Horror movies are filled with rats and bats and worms and corpses and all kinds of gross things that the characters encounter. There are things that look as if they smell bad in horror films. Things that get on your hands that you need to wash off *now*, but you are miles away from running water. Horror movies put their characters through hell - even the survivors - and that is part of what makes them work, and what makes the survivors strong.

But for whatever reason, here we remove the revulsion and end up with a lead character who just wanders through a haunted castle and easily pushes aside cobwebs as if they are curtains dividing rooms. If someone thought that the women in the story have gone through enough abuse at the hands of their husbands that they needed to avoid abusing them with cobwebs, that was a mistake. It actually weakens a character if they don’t have to go through hell.



I have noted the used of cobwebs and spider webs in earlier episodes, and how sometimes they are just a piece of the background and sometimes there are the focus of the scene. Revulsion is a “no budget” special effect that packs a punch, so you want to make cobwebs part of the scene - something that can not be avoided. So removing the revulsion was a mistake - no matter what the reason.

Lupino does get a few of her creative shots in - and that’s one of the reasons why I love her in low budget films and TV work. Other directors will just do wide shot and close ups - coverage - but she gets those Hitchcock shots in there. Here we have a couple of great early shots - a nice shot through the coach windows as Evie arrives at the castle, and a creepy paranoid shot from a balcony above as Alan watches her enter the castle’s main room. Later in the episode is a great moving shot as the group relaxes in the castle main room at night, it circles them like a Brian DePalma shot. And there is a cool shot *through* the harp at George and Lucy. I suspect with so many locations, there wasn’t time for much else, and the rest is competently directed. I wish she had done more in the creepy dungeon and crypt scenes, but it’s TV. Made on a schedule with a hard deadline. They are okay.



One of the other problems with the episode is Jennifer Raine’s decidedly non-British accent. She has some sort of Southwestern twang, and every time she opens her mouth it takes you out of the episode. Though the others don’t go full-on-British accents, they have that mid-Atlantic sound that Americans can understand but still sound vaguely British.

Though I give kudos to the script for taking on an issue, the story is muddled and the curse and riddle are just a mess. Even after watching it several times, I’m not sure that either actually makes sense. And a clue to understanding the curse ends up written on a wall in Lady Beatrice’s tomb, but this is all still confusing. Too many moving parts to the curse. Too many foot notes. Instead of being something simple (and rhyming) it’s so convoluted you need to take notes through the episode... and even though I did that I’m still confused by it! The reason for the curse also is muddled - the mother of the murdered abuser curses her own family line? There was a better way to do it - having Lady Beatrice curse the family as she is being killed by her husband, but maybe the censors said no to that?



I do like that the curse of domestic abuse is “handed down” from father to son in this story. George’s anger issues are seen as the family curse. But that scene where he has the riding crop in his hand really needed to create suspense and fear that he might use it on his wife, and not in a kinky way. Again, that may have been a censors thing - we don’t want to offend all of the wide beaters in the audience! We need to protect our ratings!

So this episode isn’t very spooky or scary, even though it takes place in a nice haunted castle. Next episode works better - a “weird tales” story about people who communicate with the dead... and the dead aren’t happy with what is going on in the world of the living!

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Happy Independence Day

This is Independence Day in the USA, a holiday that is not meant to celebrate blockbusters starring Will Smith, nor is it about fireworks, nor is it about soldiers or war or the military, nor is it about barbequing burgers and hot dogs.

It's about the document below which says that "All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" and that "When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government" among other things. Hey, you can read it! If you have a USA Passport, you *should* read it. If you do not have a USA Passport, it seems that we have some nice chain link "apartments" waiting for you. Yes, I know you were born here, but we will need to see a passport...


IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

(signatures)

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton
Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: THE LAST OF SHEILA (1973)

Directed by: Herbert Ross.
Written by: Anthony Perkins & Stephen Sondheim..
Starring: Richard Benjamin, Raquel Welch, James Coburn, Ian McShane, Dyan Cannon, James Mason, Joan Hackett.
Produced by: Herbert Ross .
Music by: Billy Goldenberg, with the song “Friends” by Bette Midler.
Production Design by: Ken Adam - all of the great James Bond films.



THE LAST OF SHEILA is one of my favorite films, and arguably the best mystery film ever made (and if you want to argue about it - head to the comments section!). Mystery films are a dead genre now, and even in those years when they were popular, they were not that popular. This film comes from a point in the 1970s where MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS and CHINATOWN were hits on the big screen (with a bunch of Agatha Christie films popping up afterwards), and shows like ELLERY QUEEN on the small screen. Whenever I say that Mystery Films Are Dead, a bunch of people chime in with the titles of cop shows... which are not mysteries. Mysteries are an audience participation genre - and the best example of that is probably the ELLERY QUEEN show, where just before the final commercial Ellery or the announcer would tell the audience that they have all of the clues to solve the crime - all of the evidence - and during the commercial break you were supposed to be the detective and explain to your family who did it and why and what all of the evidence that *proves* that they are the killer before the commercials are over and Ellery Queen brings all of the suspects together and does his version. You didn’t *guess* who did it, you *deduced* who did it using the evidence you were shown. Your job as a reader or a viewer in a mystery is to pay attention to the clues and motives and knowledge of means and each suspect’s opportunities and figure out who done it...



Which is why the genre is either dead or back for a few years and then dead again. The audience has to *work at it*... and most people don’t really want to think in the cinema. In fact, most development executives don’t want to have to think while reading a script. Every time I sell a mystery script, the first thing that happens in rewrites is a “mysterectomy” where the mystery and clues are removed and it is turned into a straight thriller. That way the director and prop guy and everyone else doesn’t have to worry how many martini glasses on the table have lipstick marks in every scene. But for some reason, in the 1970s, the genre was hot and people *wanted* to solve the puzzles... and THE LAST OF SHEILA was made.

It’s an original Screenplay by Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates) and Stephen Sondheim (a bunch of Broadway musicals like WEST SIDE STORY) who may have been a couple at the time, and if you look at the relationship between the Richard Benjamin character and the James Coburn character, you might wonder if there may be some autobiographical elements in there. I have no idea, but Sondheim *was* a puzzle nut - and so is Coburn’s character. The film was directed by Herbert Ross, FOOTLOSE, GOODBYE GIRL, PLAY IT AGAIN SAM, and a million other big hits... And the cast is amazing - you may not realize that Richard Benjamin was a *huge* movie star at the time, he was the lead in WESTWORLD! The *star*! You know who James Coburn and Raquel Welch and James Mason are, Dyan Cannon was a star - and once married to Cary Grant - she is still alive and *hot* at 81!, Joan Hackett played the “nice girl” lead in a bunch of movies like SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF, and the fairly young new face was some intense British actor named Ian McShane... The plot is clever, the dialogue is clever and it’s a blast to watch. And it’s a movie industry story as well as being a mystery!



Egomaniacal and cruel big shot film producer Clinton Green (James Coburn) has a party at his mansion in the Hollywood Hills... he is probably the most hated man in Hollywood, and lives to make people squirm. There’s a great shot where we start in a luxury car where the driver is smoking a joint, and it is passed from Parking Valet to Parking Valet until we can see through the mansion window, where Clinton and his wife Sheila (Yvonne Romain) are fighting... then storms out of the house and down the winding road... where she is hit and killed by a car. Great shot of her corpse reflection as the car backs up to see if she is dead or alive before speeding off. The police never find the car or discover who was driving. It is an unsolved crime, and the seed from which this whole film grows.

One year later, Clinton invites a group of Hollywood types to spend summer on his yacht in the Mediterranean playing games and soaking up the sun... all of them were at that party where Sheila was killed... all of them are suspects in her death. Clinton types the name on the invitation, and then we are introduced to the character in their natural habitat...

Big time agent Christine (Dyan Cannon) used to be fat, and this is a great performance - she *acts* fat, even though she’s hot. The role may have been written for a plump actress, but Cannon plays it as a recent Jenny Craig grad who just knows she’s going to put on all of the weight in the near future - she’s hitting on all of the men, and acting really insecure. This counters her tough-gal occupation, and she is introduced in her office barking orders followed by “Kiss, kiss” - insincere manners. Totally Hollywood!



Alice, (Raquel Welch) as the hot movie star who is no longer in her 20s, but is still a star. But for how long? Welch will remind you of Julia Roberts today - at that strange age where you don’t know what’s going to happen to her career. Is she going to play *moms*? Is she going to become a character actor? What happens when you hit your “hot babe” pull date? She is recently married to...

Anthony, (Ian McShane) is Alice’s super intense Manager/Husband and great as a brawler, an insecure slice of beefcake. They are introduced in the airport and Alice is mobbed by Paparazzi... and Anthony actually slugs a photographer and breaks his camera and then slugs someone else. This guy can not keep his temper under control, and when Alice tries to be apologetic, he scolds her - these people will ruin her image!

Philip (James Mason) a once famous film director who is now doing TV commercials and not liking it. Introduced shooting an oatmeal commercial with a bunch of bratty little girls, one of them sits on his lap... and pees on him. Philip is always aloof but never mean - and Mason is one of those actors who can deliver any line and make it sing. Philip is floating along on some higher level than everyone else - he’s a director! that’s a step down from God - but at the same time, he is afraid he might not land a job directing Clinton’s next film.

Tom (Richard Benjamin) is the screenwriter, who is broke and really needs a job... his last gig was doing on set rewrites on a low budget spaghetti western. It’s strange to think that Benjamin was a star once because he’s so unlike what we think of as a star today... but he’s an everyman when that was popular. When I first saw this film, I was a kid and wanted to be a screenwriter - so this was the perfect hero. But his character Tom is a “cautionary tale” about screenwriters. He has a stack of scripts that haven’t sold - including “Freak Show”, which he would love to sell to Clinton. He is currently living off his wife...

Lee (Joan Hackett), whose family has been in the film biz for generations and she has childhood memories of sitting on Mason’s lap. Lee’s family money ($5 million in 1973 money) has been supporting Tom while he tries to sell a script. She says paying for everything isn’t a problem... but you can see on both of their faces that it really is. Both characters are introduced at her luxurious home, where he’s laying around on the sofa instead of writing and she is drinking non-alcoholic beverages.



So those are the guests on the cruise, our suspects - each was there the night Sheila was killed by the hit and run driver, and did I mention the games? On the first day of the cruise everyone is given a card with the name of a criminal on it, like “The Shoplifter” - none of the other players knows what criminal is on your card. When the yacht docks at some exotic locale, Clinton gives the group a clue at exactly 8pm, and then each of them scrambles to follow the clue to some other clue and find the Shoplifter’s Lair before everyone else. So the clue in the Shoplifter game is a silver key marked Sterling 18k. What does it mean? This is a French port, so one of the players realizes that French for key is “Clef” - and there’s a jazz club with that name... Others think the “sterling” on a silver key is the clue. Everyone has a theory... and they follow the clue leads to a clue leads to a clue.

There’s a great bit in this game where a tourist couple wandering through the village keeps crossing paths with each of the players - connecting them with each other.



Once you find the Shoplifter’s Lair there is a clue with the identity of whoever holds The Shoplifter card. It’s a crime scene with a dead detective (dummy) and clues to the killer. You know that the criminal is a Shoplifter, because all of the clothes and other items in the room still have their price tags on them. Follow the clues and you will find which one of our players has the Shoplifter Card... and you get points. “Everything with Clinton is points,” Tom says. Once the person holding The Shoplifter card finds the Lair, the game is over - a sign is placed at the Shoplifter’s Lair that says The Game Is Over - and everyone else is a loser. No points for them! Oh, and there’s a time limit - when the boat headed back out to the yacht leaves, you’d better be on it!

There is a chart of who has won and lost each round in the yacht’s cabin, and the person who solves the most games is the ultimate winner (and may end up with a job on Clinton’s next film). If you have The Shoplifter card, you want to solve it before everyone else so that the game is over and you are the only winner of that round. A fun little game for rich Hollywood types to play, except - did I mention the cruel streak?



Each of the crimes on the cards are things a member of the group has actually been accused of. As is explained a bit later - Clinton wouldn’t give the actual shoplifter The Shoplifter card, because everyone would get angry and quit. So no one knows the cruel element of the game until enough games are played that the pattern appears. And that is when the real fun begins... because some of the crimes on the cards are more than just embarrassing, they are blackmail material.

You are a Shoplifter.
You are a Homosexual.
You are an Informant.
You are an Ex-Convict.
You are a Little Child Molester.

Oh, and one of the cards says You are a Hit And Run Killer on it.



So Clinton’s real game is to expose Sheila’s killer at the end of the cruise, while ruining everyone’s lives along the way. “That’s the thing about secrets. We all know stuff about each other, we just don’t know the same stuff,” as Alice says... she was actually once busted for shoplifting early in her career, and it was covered up. Tension builds and soon there are attempts on people’s lives - a really frightening scene where someone turns on the ship’s propellers while Christine is swimming near the rear of the yacht and she is swept towards the giant rotating blades!



But this story isn’t just a murder mystery, it’s also a showbiz story! And each of these folks being tortured by Clinton’s game also wants to be in his new movie - the story of his dead wife to be titled “The Last Of Sheila”. Each of the players is competing with each other for the attention of the most hated man in Hollywood, and backstabbing each other to climb over each other’s corpse to reach the top - a job on this proposed film about the murder victim. If you are in the business, or just a big enough movie fan to get the jokes, it’s a lot of fun as it skewers the film business... especially those second tier studio flicks with stars who are trying to hold on to their stardom and directors and writers who are no longer on their way up...

Super intense Anthony is not very good at kissing ass, but does his best...” My aspirations do run closer to the production end of things, if you know what I mean. What would you say, and please be absolutely frank, to me asking you for an associate producership on this upcoming film?” What Clinton would say is - a humiliating fake crying sound, boo-hoo-hoo, that morphs into laughter. He cuts off Anthony’s balls in front of everyone else. And that makes the others both afraid of Clinton and happy that with Anthony out of the running, maybe they will win Clinton’s favor. It’s vicious!

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Okay, someone is murdered in addition to long dead Sheila (or it wouldn’t be much of a movie) at the halfway point, and the director and screenwriter partner up to solve the murder in a Holmes & Watson kind of thing. The screenwriter, Tom, leading the investigation... which only makes sense because the screenwriter is the brains of any film. But the director, Philip, actually finds the big clue at an unexpected moment. The way these two work together is great, and James Mason has played Watson a few years later in MURDER BY DECREE.

The great thing about this film is that it completely plays fair - the audience can play along and solve the murder themselves. The clues are all there. In fact, the great thing about the ending when Tom and Philip are taking it clue-by-clue explaining who did it and how, is that they show you a clip from the movie you have already seen... and this time you notice the killer picking up the murder weapon! Before, you saw the exact same piece of film and didn’t notice it. (Though the new piece of film continues to show the killer actually pocketing it... the original clip stopped just before they put it in their pocket.) But everything was right there on film and you could have easily followed the clues to the killer. Ellery Queen could have popped up before the end and said you had all of the information to solve the crime. The film clips we have already seen are the reason why I love this film because I was paying attention and missed some of the clues. In the cinema, you wonder if the clip is the same in the denouement on video you can literally zip back and compare! Dang - the killer used that amazing skill earlier in the film!

And one of the great things about how this story plays fair, is that there are three different solutions to the murder in the film - the first one makes sense if you noticed some of the clues, the second one if you noticed most of the clues, and the last if you noticed all of the clues. That way we have different prime suspects you can build a case for, and we can have an obvious suspect and a least likely suspect and still have a twist ending with the actual killer. We also have Sheila’s murder and the victim halfway through the story - they may or may not have been killed by the same person. So even if you are a mystery fan, there are all kinds of variables that have been carefully set up to throw you off the track!



There is a great scene where they lay all of their cards on the table and we see the secret crimes for the first time... and Tom asks each to pick the card that is their secret. Needless to say, no one wants to admit to being any of those things. So there are disputes over who *wants to be* the Homosexual - which isn’t nearly as bad as a Child Molester or a Hit And Run Killer. And then there’s a fight over who gets to be the Ex-Convict! These characters are all clever and witty, but none are very nice (except Welch’s Alice, who is way too sweet to be a sexy movie star... and that’s what makes the character interesting). Each character is well rounded to begin with, and once you discover who has what secret, you see realize small things in their personality have set these revelations up. They are twists, but completely logical. Once the Hit And Run Killer is revealed, you can watch the film again and if you focus on that character you not only can see all of the clues... you can see a great performance by that actor. In the background of scenes they react to discussion of Sheila differently than other characters. You don’t notice this first time through, but it’s an amazing performance.

Another great element of this screenplay is that the title, “The Last Of Sheila”, is kind of “punned” throughout the story. It has different meanings at different times. So it’s the death of Clinton’s wife, it’s the title of the movie he is planning to make, the yacht is the “Sheila” so it is where Christine is almost mangled by the propellers, and a secret clue to the killer... part of Clinton’s cruel games.



This is one of the films I use as an example in SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING along with THE VERDICT on how to not lose the audience when your identification character becomes a suspect. When the hero may be the villain. Usually in a mystery, like MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, the detective is not a suspect. But here, both our Holmes and our Watson have great motives and enough clues to make us wonder if they are going to be revealed as the killer. And because we have a shallow suspect pool, there is a character in this story who we have grown to like... who ends up being a killer. I’m not going to spoil the ending, but the film manages to pull off the seemingly impossible task of *not losing the audience* after this killer is revealed. This story walks a dangerous tight-rope and doesn’t fall, which is a miracle. Great writing skills involved in this.

And the locations are fantastic - one of the games takes place in an abandoned monastery on a tiny island at night, with only candles to illuminate the dark spooky hallways. It's a great creepy location, and all of the players are dressed as monks so you can not tell them apart. This sequence is almost like a horror story - lots of spooky atmosphere and scares. Though most of the story is on a yacht in the Mediterranean - beautiful and fun - the games are at night and in interesting locations like the monastery.

And quotable dialogue: “The harder you try to keep a secret in, the more it wants to get out.”



What is frightening is that Hollywood wants to remake this film... as a comedy! Huge mistake! The best way to remake this film - use the original screenplay and do not change a single word. Maybe hire a typist to change any anachronisms, but DO NOT HIRE A SCREENWRITER because they may change something that is already perfect. Of course, Hollywood doesn’t do that, so they will probably hire some version of this movie’s Tom to do a rewrite that isn’t nearly as good as the original. The recent remake of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS turned it into an action flick at times, because mysteries are a hard sell today... so maybe they should just put off any remake until mysteries come back into fashion? Then they don’t need to make it as a comedy or an action film, they can just make it as a mystery?

THE LAST OF SHEILA is a great mystery film, but if you don’t want to play along and solve the crime like Ellery Queen, it’s a vicious look at Hollywood with a bunch of great performances... and starring that guy who starred in WESTWORLD. Warner Archive has it on DVD, sold at Amazon and other fine retailers.

- Bill

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