Friday, May 17, 2024

Fridays With Hitchcock: Needle In The Haystack Shot

This is a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I am a "guest expert" on. The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock, and they did a special episode... starring me!

Of course, I have my own books on Hitchcock...



Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the “Master Of Suspense”; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?

This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!


Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

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German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

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Click here for more info!


We all know that Alfred Hitchcock was the Master Of Suspense, but did you know he was the most *experimental* filmmaker in history?

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 53 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

Films Examined: “Rear Window”, “Psycho”, “Family Plot”, “Topaz”, “Rope”, “The Wrong Man”, “Easy Virtue”, “Lifeboat”, “Bon Voyage”, “Aventure Malgache”, “Elstree Calling”, “Dial M for Murder”, “Stage Fright”, “Champagne”, “Spellbound”, “I Confess”, and “The Trouble with Harry”, with glances at “Vertigo” and several others.

Professional screenwriter William C. Martell takes you into the world of The Master Of Suspense and shows you the daring experiments that changed cinema. Over 77,000 words.

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.


Thursday, May 16, 2024

Thriller Thursday: MARK OF THE HAND

Mark Of The Hand

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

Season: 1, Episode: 4.
Airdate: 10-04-1960

Director: Paul Henreid (“Casablanca”).
Writer: Eric Peters based on a novel by Charlotte Armstrong (“The Unsuspected”).
Cast: Mona Freeman, Jessie Royce Landis, Shepperd Strudwick, Rachel Ames, Judson Pratt.
Music: Pete Rugolo.
Cinematography: John L. Russell (“Psycho” and Hitchcock Presents).

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “An instrument of murder is hardly a proper toy for an eight year old, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. And this instrument casts an evil shadow even beyond the death of this corpse. And upon it is the mark of the hand. That’s the name of our story. It’s from a novel by the celebrated Charlotte Armstrong. Let me assure you my friends, this is a thriller.”

Synopsis: A woman screams. Paul Mowry (Berry Kroeger) races out of his house, across the yards, and into the luxurious home next door where he finds his brother Charlie dead on the floor of the library... shot in the back! Hottie Sylvia Walsh (Mona Freeman) stands over him, screaming. No gun in her hand. Paul looks at the third person in the room... calmly sitting in a chair holding the murder gun in her hand... 8 year old Tessa Kilburn (Terry Burnham). Sugar and spice and everything nice... a cold blooded killer!

Others rush into the room: Tessa’s father Douglas (Shepperd Strudwick), nanny Betty (Rachel Ames) and wheelchair bound Grandmother Kilburn (Jessie Royce Landis). All are shocked that the cute little 8 year old murdered the man who lives next door.

Detective Gordon (Judson Pratt) arrives and begins his investigation. Sylvia is the fiancé of Douglas Kilburn, they are soon to be married. She says that Paul often came over for coffee on Sundays, and they were having a pleasant conversation when she noticed that Tessa had opened the gun case and was playing with a pistol. When they told her to please put the pistol back in the gun case, Tessa *fired* the gun! First hitting the chandelier, then hitting Charlie in the back! Sylvia scuffled with Tessa and got the gun out of her hands, but by that time it was too late... Charlie was dead. She screamed, and Charlie’s brother Paul ran over from next door entering through the glass doors. Detective Gordon questions everyone else, ending with Tessa... who is in bed. Tessa tells him she will never speak again... and says nothing else.

Detective Gordon is frustrated, says if Tessa doesn’t talk he will have to put her in a psychiatric hospital under observation. He doesn’t want to do that. He asks Grandmother Kilburn if Tessa has ever been under psychiatric care... and she says of course not.

Meanwhile, Tessa stands at her bedroom window staring across the way at Paul in the house next door. Creepy! Is she crazy?

Detective Gordon continues his investigation, uncovering that Tessa *was* under psychiatric care at one point. Goes back to question the family and Douglas admits that Tessa began acting out when he began dating Sylvia... and caused some problems. But never did anything violent. Again he tries to get Tessa to talk, but she remains silent. Oh, and her fingerprints were on the murder gun (which is where the episode title comes from: the mark of her hand is on the gun). If Tessa would tell what happened, it might just be an accident and the case could be closed without sending an 8 year old to the gas chamber... but she remains silent (and creepy).

Detective Gordon gets information that one of the people involved has a criminal record (but we aren’t told who at this point). We *suspect* that it might be Douglas. Does crime run in the family? Detective Gordon eventually reveals that the *victim* had a criminal history: forgery and blackmail and all sorts of nasty things... and that Sylvia *knew* the victim years ago, before she met Douglas! Twist! Sylvia tells Douglas that she *did* know dead Charlie, was even engaged to him at one point... but after they broke up he was obsessed with her and stalked her and rented the house next door with his brother Paul... and she was doing *everything* to keep Charlie from doing something to ruin the upcoming marriage.

Detective Gordon goes next door to question Paul, but before he can discover anything interesting, Sylvia screams again! The two men rush next door where Sylvia says that cute (creepy) little Tessa tried to stab her with a knife! They run into Tessa’s bedroom, where the kid stands holding a kitchen knife in her hand. Tessa hands Gordon the knife, but doesn’t say a word. Creepy creepy creepy!

Detective Gordon questions Sylvia about this new incident... and Sylvia admits that she lied before. She made Tessa shooting Charlie sound like an accident, when in truth Tessa shot the man in cold blood. She’s an evil child who *kills* people she doesn’t like. She’s crazy, and needs to be institutionalized... or arrested for murder. Gordon doesn’t want to arrest an 8 year old kid, but it’s looking more and more like he has no choice. If he doesn’t put the little girl behind bars, she’s going to murder someone else.

Douglas goes upstairs and has a heart to heart with Tessa, apologizes for not being a good father, apologizes for seeming to care more about Sylvia than his own daughter. Tells her that he doesn’t believe she shot Charlie or tried to stab Sylvia or any of the other things she’s been accused of. He loves her, and will always love her. Big hug time.

Meanwhile, downstairs, nanny Betty has realized that something is wrong: Gordon said they found Paul’s fingerprints on the table, but he rushed into the room through the glass doors and went straight to his brother’s body... never touched the table. And the table had been cleaned after dinner last night... so how did his fingerprints get there?

Paul and Sylvia have a whispered discussion where they spill the beans: they have been in cahoots the whole time, setting up Douglas. Getting rid of little Tessa so that after the marriage Sylvia is the only heir. But when Charlie got cold feet, they shot him... and used his death to frame Tessa. They hear a noise and realize that Grandmother Kilburn has been listening. Sylvia opens the gun case, grabs a pistol, and goes upstairs to murder the wheelchair bound old woman!

Grandmother Kilburn gets Sylvia to confess to everything one more time, then Sylvia points the gun at her and... Detective Gordon and Douglas and Betty rush into the room and overpower her, take the gun away and Gordon slaps the cuffs on Sylvia. It was a trap all along.

Review: Though better than the first two episodes, a bit of a slide back from our last episode. Though some real suspense is generated at the end when Sylvia goes up to murder Grandmother, much of the episode is more of a cozy murder mystery with some soapy elements.

There is kind of a Hitchcock reunion feel to the episode with Landis from NORTH BY NORTHWEST and TO CATCH A THIEF in the cast and John Russell behind the camera. Paul Henreid, Victor Laszlo from CASABLANCA, directs... and gives the episode some nice moving shots.

One of the problems might be the kid seems to be a “bad seed” in the story, but is shown to be more cute than threatening. When she stares out her window at Paul, she’s just not creepy enough. I’m sure part of this was probably network censors wanting them to tone it way down, but with Tessa portrayed more as a kid than a crazy psycho, the episodes loses a lot of impact. Though still a bit of a stumble from last week’s episode, we’re still on the right track. This one is much closer to a thriller than the other episode about a kid with a gun, and the story is tight and focused and easy to understand. All of the performances are pretty good, with the actor playing Paul exuding a weaselly menace even when he’s playing the brother of the victim. Landis is great as always, playing older than her age. Mona Freeman looks like trouble from the opening scene, and that might be a bit of a give away. She’s an obvious femme fatal in the role of faithful fiancé... and we know she’s probably the guilty one from the first scene. Strudwick, who gets a shout out in some Elmore Leonard novel, was an over the hill pretty boy at this point in his career, but is handsome and dignified and really brings tears to your eyes in that father/daughter scene. That scene elevates the whole episode.



Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, May 15, 2024



One night, sitting in Residuals Bar in Studio City (where the DRAGONHEART script was conceived) and drinking a Guiness, I was telling one of the stories that usually end up on this blog - a story about some poor misguided person in the film biz, and one of my friends said: “Where do you find these people?” I replied, “I bet I know all the losers in Hollywood”.... and they said that should be the title of my autobiography (or this blog). But instead, this blog ened up being called SEX IN A SUBMARINE due to a crazy script note I got from HBO on CRASH DIVE, and ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD was a title without a story... until now.

When looking for regular features for the blog for 2018-2019, I thought it would be fun to tell a bunch of those stories of the oddballs I’ve met in the almost 30 years I’ve been in this business. I’m changing all of the names to protect the very very guilty (and avoid meeting lawyers) but the stories you are about to read are true... well, mostly true.


Built in 1956, the Casa Vega restaurant on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks has been a celebrity haunt since they opened the doors. Cary Grant was a regular, as were Marlon Brando and Michael Jackson and Jane Fonda and Dyan Cannon... these days Gwent Sefani and Al Pacino and Tom Hanks and the Spielbergs and the Kardashians and even George Clooney (when he’s in town) are part of the dinner crowd. The place is a fake adobe villa with a terra cotta roof on the main drag of the San Fernando Valley... just down the street from where I live. The drinks aren’t cheap, but for a while when I was getting lots of stuff on screen (and the production bonuses that come with that) I’d often meet friends there for a drink or two. A couple of times I even had dinner, but never spotted any celebrities, though one night they told me that Clooney was buying drinks for the house the night before. Just my luck!

Often at a table in the bar was a producer who I will call Martin, though his real name is... oh, wait, that could get me in trouble. You could tell Martin was successful because he didn’t care what the hell you thought of him. He was dressed down, as if he might be on his way to the bowling alley down the street, but wore a Rolex on his wrist... and was rumored to drive a blue Ferrari Testarossa - and I actually saw him pull into valet parking in that car once. So I was a corroborating witness on that part of his legend. I didn’t even know they made them in blue - I thought they were all bright red.

Martin would hold court at his booth, and wanna-be actors and actresses and directors and writers would often fight for a seat. I was usually with my friends, but a couple of times when I was there alone I just sat at the bar. Gotta be cool, right? Can’t look desperate. I often wonder if that theory has lost me jobs in the past? I know people who fawn over people and end up being thrown a bone now and then - and use that to move up in the business. A director I know started out by becoming everyone’s “number one fan” and then asked everyone he knew who was important if they’d be in his short films - and ended up with stars and directors and others in short films that he’d show to the next level of people in the business and a producer ended up hiring him to direct a real movie, just based on the names in his short films. I don’t do that stuff... but where would I be if I did? Could I be driving a blue Ferrari like Martin?

But playing it cool kind of worked - a few times I got invited to Martin’s booth and tried to figure out just what films he had produced. This was in those dark ages before IMDB when you had to read the trades or watch all of the credits to know who was involved in a film. So I was always looking for clues when I was invite over to his booth. Once Martin mentioned that he was working with Swayze on his new film, so I combed the trades for what film Patrick Swayze was currently working on. Another time he said he was negotiating with Stallone for the lead in his new film. He’d name drop and I’d search the trades for the project. The problem was, the trades didn’t report on everything. Hollywood Reporter had a weekly list of films in production, pre-production, and post production - but they were bare-bones listings and the ones with Stallone or Swayze or whoever else he’s mentioned starring didn’t list all of the producer credits. I’m not going to tell you how much time I spent looking for clues to his films... because then you wouldn’t think I was cool anymore.

He’d often name drop movie stars and big time directors and tell stories about them that only an insider could ever know. He’d talk about all of the red carpet movie premieres he went to - and sometimes would describe some actresses dress... and when they showed the premiere on Entertainment Tonight, that’s the exact dress she was wearing! So even though I could never find the Stallone project that he was working on, I knew that there was one. He’d tell stories about stars and name directors and other producers that not only sounded true, sometimes the same stories would pop up here and there in the press... so they *were* true. At some point in all of this, I was going to Casa Vega in hopes of being invited over to his booth. How could I turn this into a script sale?

See? I’m not cool.

One time when I was at the bar, he was at his regular booth... with an incredibly beautiful woman. No one else was invited to the booth that night. She had to be an actress, right? The next big star? Had to be. I wish I was a producer!

So, an actor I had worked with on one of my little cable movies had a supporting role in a huge summer blockbuster from Warner Brothers, and invited me to the premiere. They had given him a handful of tickets and I guess his first choices were all busy or maybe he wanted to make sure he had great dialogue in the thing I was writing or whatever. He invited me. I had to wear uncomfortable shoes. I was going to be at this big premiere that Martin had mentioned he was going to. *That* was my chance to land a job, right? Instead of me being invited over to *his* booth where *he* had all of the power (and I was just some idiot writer), we would both be on equal ground at the premiere. Either at the premiere or the after-party I would casually pitch one of my scripts to him, saying I was just finishing it up... and let him ask to be the first to read it. He knew I was a working screenwriter and had just written an HBO World Premiere Movie - not exactly a Warner Bros summer blockbuster, but there was a full page advert in TV Guide for the film, which I’d once showed him (I was showing it to my pals at the bar and he wanted to take a look, so I was still cool, I think). Hey, we’re both on the red carpet and I mention the new script, and...

So I get to the premiere with the star of my next cable flick and his entourage and start looking for Martin. It’s not like you can look for the blue Ferrari or something, the way these things work is that the red carpet is all about photographers taking pictures of stars... so supporting actors and their entourage are either ushered in first or saved until last. Big producers like Martin are not in the same group as we were... I did spot some other stars - Nick Nolte was there! Why didn’t I bring my VHS of 48 HOURS for him to sign?

Once inside, I looked around for Martin, couldn’t spot him. Also looked around for that hot actress, just in case that was his date. Couldn’t spot her, either. There are ushers who take you to your section, and we were not sitting in the same section that Martin would be sitting in. We were in the seats where supporting actors who were in a few scenes but had their credit in the end roll rather than the opening titles were seated. It was still cool for me - lots of familiar faces. Hey, it’s that guy! Hey, it’s that woman who plays magazine editors! Hey, it’s the guy who plays blue collar guys!

After the movie, we are walking back to the valet stand to retrieve my actor friend’s SUV that we all carpooled in from the Valley, and I happen to glance at one of the event security guards - and it’s Martin. What? I go up to talk to him, and he’s already telling me that he’s just filling in as security at this event, not a day job or anything, just a favor for a friend. You know, just helping out They were a man short and he... just happened to have a suit that matched all of the other security guy’s suits. I told him it was cool, I just wanted to say hello. It was awkward.

The next couple of times I was at Casa Vega, he nodded to me but didn’t wave me over to his booth. It was an interesting kind of avoidance you see in Hollywood where people smile and nod and greet each other - then move on as quickly as possible.

A couple of months later he invited me to his premier.

Yes, he was an actual producer. He had made a low budget horror film starring the *brother* of a big movie star. Same last name, different first name. Also, different level of talent. There was no red carpet for his premiere, and it was an old theater in the Valley... he did pull up in his rented blue Ferrari - there’s a company that rents luxury cars. The movie wasn’t very good - there was a top secret government lab in the story, and the official government sign outside the building had a misspelled word. Oops! The monster also was one of the worst rubber suits I’ve ever seen, and the actor within - not the movie star’s brother - moved like a human. Not convincing. The story seemed as if it had originally been a father and son drama that got a last minute rewrite into a monster movie because some distributor told Martin that horror sells. As far as I know, the film was never released - not even on VHS or DVD or anything else... even with a real movie star’s brother. People think that every movie gets to DVD (or VHS back when this took place), but probably most independent films don’t even make it that far. They end up in film cans in people’s garages. I have no idea if that’s what happened with Martin’s film - but I never saw it anywhere, and even just now when I looked it up on Amazon I didn’t get any hits.

There are a lot of star’s brothers in movies. And star’s sisters. And star’s children. And probably even star’s parents. Some are talented, some are not. Remember, Eric Roberts is the great Oscar nominated actor from STAR 80 and RUNAWAY TRAIN and his sister is the one riding his coattails. There are a whole bunch of actors who end up in the business because they are related to someone famous. This particular one wasn’t very good, but he had a famous last name.

I went to Casa Vega with friends a few times after that, and Martin was still holding court at his booth. I’d nod to him and then drink with my friends. I decided not to blow his cover. Heck, he had a day job - no sin in that. Heck, he probably met the movie star’s brother at some event where he was working as a security guard! He rented an expensive car - not the only customer at that luxury car rental place. Hollywood believes in surface over substance - if you look like a big shot, you are a big shot. You can rent cars and clothes and luxury apartments and arm candy, and how can they tell you apart from the people who don’t rent or lease those things but *own* them? And half of the “real people” rent or lease some of those things anyway. Show don’t tell. As Fernando used to say, "It is better to look good than to feel good." It’s better to look important than to really be important - less responsibility. This business is full of people who fake it until they make it... and sometimes end up just faking it forever...

And in Hollywood, no one can hear you scream.

I wonder if Martin worked the Golden Globes on Sunday night?

- Bill

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Trailer Tuesday: THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962)

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962) Directed by: John Frankenheimer.
Written by: George Axelrod based on the novel by Richard Condon..
Starring: Frank Sinatra, Janet Leigh, Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury.
Produced by: George Axelrod, Frank Sinatra, Howard W. Koch.
Music by: David Amram.

This is like the original paranoid political thriller... and it wasn't just an innovative screenplay and story, the direction is inventive and cool... and when you compare how the direction tells the story in this film as opposed to how some directors of current blockbusters seem to make choices which distract from the story, you wonder what the hell happened to film directors? So many amazing things in this film!

During the Korean War, Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is a cold, unlovable, disciplinarian officer - hated by his men. Their Korean translator (Henry Silva) leads the platoon through the woods... where they are attacked by the enemy.

Later, Shaw gets a hero’s welcome home - he has won the Congressional Medal Of Honor for single-handedly overpowering their North Korean captors after three days and rescuing his platoon... only two men were lost in the escape. Shaw is met at the airport by his overbearing mother Eleanor Iselin (Angela Lansbury) and his hated step-father conservative Senator Iselin (James Gregory) - who try to use his heroism to help Iselin’s political career. Shaw tells them he won’t be part of their schemes, and is headed to New York to take a job as a journalist.

Meanwhile, Captain Ben Marco (Frank Sinatra) who was in Shaw’s platoon and recommended him for the Medal Of Honor, is suffering from a recurring nightmare... and discovers that he isn’t the only member of the platoon who has this same nightmare. Weird! In the nightmare, he’s at a women’s gardening club meeting... where Sgt Shaw strangles one member of the platoon to death and then shoots another in the head. And some members of the women’s gardening club turn into Chinese and Russian military men. Weird. And the two platoon members Shaw kills in the dream happen to be the two who were killed in their escape. What does this dream mean?

I love how everyone who was in the platoon has the same dream, but all of the dreams are individualized and different. When they get to James Edwards (the Black guy)'s version of the dream - it's exactly the same, but every character's race is flipped. The old white ladies in the garden club become old Black ladies, and the Black servant becomes a white servant. This film has a great sense of sly humor (probably due to the tone of the source novel written by the clever Richard Condon).

Captain Marco, who *hated* Shaw, when asked what he thinks of him is *compelled* to answer, “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.”... as are all of the other men. They all use the exact same words! What? “It's not that Raymond Shaw is hard to like. He's IMPOSSIBLE to like!” Marco digs around, uncovers the truth - the entire platoon was brainwashed over the three days they were captured, and Shaw - the war hero - has been programmed to kill! Oh, and his step-father Iselin claims there are 207 communist spies in the Department Of Defense, and that managed to catapult him into the headlines... and since this is an election year, Iselin ends up in the Vice President position on the ticket. One sniper shot away from becoming President! And Marco thinks that Shaw might be that sniper. But how can you prove any of this? With the Republican Convention only a few days away, and Iselin the expected Vice Presidential candidate, Marco must figure out a way to convince his commanding officer that he’s *not* crazy or suffering from “shell shock” (PTSD), but that there is a real assassination in only a few days!

One of the great things about this film is how *everyone* is programmed in one way or another. Characters are programmed to *think* in certain ways which help the plan, young attractive people are programmed to fall in love with the one person their parents disapprove of, liberals are programmed to hate conservatives and vice versa, people are programmed to judge a book by it’s cover - whether that is an actual book (Marco has read hundreds of them since coming home) or a figurative book like their Korean translator who asks Raymond Shaw for a job and Shaw says he doesn’t need a translator in New York City - everyone speaks the same language. Senator Iselin is programmed to say or do anything that will get him elected - he doesn’t believe any of it, he’s a puppet with his wife pulling the strings... and China and Russia pulling *her* strings! Marco’s superior is programmed to think that men returning from war can be a little paranoid... and the unmarried business woman Marco meets on the train (Rose, played by Janet Leigh) is programmed to mother an emotionally wounded man. Oh, and the voting public is programmed to fear and distrust anyone who doesn’t fear and distrust. The film looks at all kinds of “programming” in addition to Raymond Shaw’s brainwashing. One of the great things from Condon’s novel - he was a satirist who wrote thrillers that commented on society - and in this case the whole Red Scare paranoia of the 1950s, with McCarthy and Nixon seeing a communist in every pumpkin patch.

The story is also a nice retelling of Oedipus Rex - Raymond Shaw has a full-on tongues-down-throats kissing scene with his mother at one point, and (spoiler) shoots his stepfather. The thing I find fun about this movie is that the role Janet Leigh played just before this was Marion Crane in PSYCHO - another film about a man with some mommy issues. Heck, after this she played Rosie in BYE BYE BIRDIE who has serious problems with her fiance’s overly protective mother played by Maureen Stapleton. It’s like she was typecast as “the other woman” that comes between a boy and his mother!

I know this wasn’t the first American movie with a big martial arts fight scene (those MR MOTO films), but it has an *epic* hand to hand fight scene between Marco and the Translator when they bump into each other in Shaw’s apartment. That’s another bit of “programming”, by the way - each man recognizes the other as an enemy, even though they served together in the war. This hand to hand fight scene *destroys* the apartment, the way that Postal Carrier destroys Kathy Hale’s (Faye Dunaway) apartment when he fights Turner hand to hand in THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR. This is a *savage* fight, and we get to see a table karate chopped in half!

While we’re on how influential this film is, the Political Convention scene with a sniper waiting to kill the candidate gets lifted for THE PARALLAX VIEW (which, like CONDOR, also features character actor Walter McGinn). So much of MANCHURIAN ends up “homaged” in other movies that it’s like patient zero for political thrillers.

Hey, since I brought up McGinn (sleazy Parallax recruiter and Sam, Condor’s most trusted friend), let’s look at some of the amazing supporting cast in this film, beginning with James Edwards. This film and Kubrick’s THE KILLING is where I first became aware of him, and he is in my favorite scene from THE KILLING (playing the lonely parking lot attendant who befriends the crippled ex-soldier played by the great Tim Carey - and after really connecting as human beings, casting aside all prejudice that society programs into us concerning race and injuries, when it comes time for Carey to pull out his sniper gun and kill the lead horse, he can’t get rid of Edwards. He tries everything, eventually using the N word and really emotionally damaging Edwards’ character. It’s a three tissue scene). Once I’d realized that the same actor played both roles, I began noticing him in other movies - in Sam Fuller’s THE STEEL HELMET (awesome movie!), in PATTON, in Don Siegel’s COOGAN’S BLUFF, in Phil Karlson’s PHENIX CITY STORY, in Robert Wise’s THE SET UP, and in his big break out role HOME OF THE BRAVE (1949) as the only Black soldier in a white platoon going on a dangerous mission behind enemy lines on a Japanese held island. Edwards was one of the first black actors to play serious roles in Hollywood. He paved the way for Poitier.

Henry Silva is one of the most recognizable villains in film - he has that skull-like face that meant he would never play a romantic lead but never be without work. Between CODE OF SILENCE (Chuck Norris) and ABOVE THE LAW (Steven Seagal) he’s kicked all kinds of martial arts hero ass, and he’s one of those guys who played the villain at least once on every 70s and 80s TV show. He was in the original OCEANS 11 with Sinatra and the remake with Clooney. Plus, a ton of B movies where he played the villain and gave way more than he was paid. Though he was always cast in ethnic roles, he was born in New York... and is still with us.

The other villain, Chinese brain wash expert Dr. Yen Lo is played by Khigh Dhiegh, an incredibly charismatic actor who would also appear in John Frankenheimer’s SECONDS, but you probably know him as the recurring mega-villain in the original HAWAII 5-0 show, Wo Fat. He was the Ernst Stravro Blofeld to Jack Lord’s Steve McGarrett for the run of that show.

Oh, and the Russian in the Korea flashback / Women’s Gardening Club scene is Reggie Nalder, who played the assassin in the Jimmy Stewart version of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH - which we look at in the new HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE book.

Unlovable Raymond Shaw falls in love with a young woman from the other side of the political aisle - a real Romeo & Juliet romance - played by Leslie Parrish (who played cute young women for decades until she quit the business in the 70s), and her father - the extremely liberal Senator Thomas Jordan - was played by the great John McGiver. A pudgy character actor with a distinctive voice (always sounded as if he was out of breath) who is another one of those actors who has been in everything... including my favorite TV show as a kid, MR. TERRIFIC, as the head of the Government’s Bureau Of Special Projects, which turns a complete wimp into a superhero with a top secret power pill. You probably know him from MIDNIGHT COWBOY, where he plays the “pimp” who turns out to be ultra religious (and is what brings Joe and Ratso together). McGiver played judges and mayors and all sorts of politicians, and you always felt like he knew whatever power he had was fragile and eventually he’s be carted off. Of course, in MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE he gets shot dead....

So, unlovable Raymond Shaw may be brainwashed to kill, and kind of an uncaring jerk, but he’s a profoundly lonely man... and when he meets Jocelyn Jordan (Parrish), she is his salvation. She loves him, even though he’s a jerk mama’s boy. She can see the goodness underneath all of those layers of armor. Shaw kind of is like Norman Bates, and Jocelyn breaks through to him and makes him a better man. They get engaged. Shaw stops being such a jerk. He is on a path to a normal life...

And then the phone rings.

“Why don't you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?”

The trigger phrase that turns Shaw into a remote control assassin... and he is ordered to kill Senator Thomas Jordan.

The remake with Denzel Washington got some basic stuff wrong... Um, the reason why it's a game of solitaire is because no one ever asks you if you want to play solitaire - it’s a one person game! So it is the perfect "trigger phrase". The remake has Shaw’s *name* as the “trigger phrase” - which means a freakin’ telemarketer could accidentally turn him into an assassin! But who would call you up and ask you to play solitaire? Great “trigger phrase” because no one would ever say that...

But after the voice on the phone *does* say it, Shaw goes to Jordan’s house with a silenced pistol to kill him. Except Jordan isn’t alone - Jocelyn is there. So he doesn’t only kill his target, he kills the only woman who ever loved him. This is a huge, tragic, scene - where you actually feel sorry for this unlovable man. Like “Romeo & Juliet”, the star-crossed lovers don’t make it until the end credits. This scene, and the ones that follow, turn the film into an epic tragedy...

All of which leads to a great race against time ending where Marco discovers the plan - that Shaw is a remote control assassin for the Russians, and his mother and Senator Iselin may look like ultra-conservative communist haters... but they’re really Russian agents! And Shaw will assassinate the Presidential Candidate leaving Iselin as the Man Who Will Be President. A Russian spy in the White House! The Convention Scene is as tense and exciting as the Albert Hall scene in THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, with some shocking violence and a great twist ending.

I mentioned earlier that novelist Richard Condon writes witty, satirical thrillers, and one of the basic elements of thrillers is *humor* - and this is something that seems lost on development executives in Hollywood these days. The remake was dry and dead serious, and when we think of thrillers - from Hitchcock to Roman Polanski to Brian DePalma - they all contain some form of humor, often in the form of irony, or the absurd, or comic relief characters. The idea of a dead serious thriller is as problematic as the idea of a dead serious superhero movie... which is a current problem. People go to the cinema to be entertained, and if we go back to those great 70s thrillers like THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR or MARATHON MAN or PARALLAX VIEW, those are amusing and entertaining films with a touch of humor to balance the gritty suspense. One of the most common reactions to the threat of serious bodily harm is humor... and that may be in the form of nervous laughter or using humor as a defense mechanism or in an attempt to de-escalate the situation. The *absence of humor* is unrealistic in a thriller. One of my favorite scenes in MARATHON MAN is when Dustin Hoffman’s character needs to enlist the help of the juvenile delinquents that live across the street from him, ring their door buzzer, and when he says his name they have no idea who he is... and he’s forced to say, “It’s *creepy* from across the street” - because they call him “creepy”. Then they know him! Hey, it’s creepy! Come on up! And after he gets these guys to break into his apartment and steal some clothes for him (and take his television and anything else they want as payment) a pair of badguys watching Hoffman’s apartment interrupt them - asking them what they’re doing. One of the badguys pulls a gun... and then *all* of the juvenile delinquents pull guns. Must be a dozen guns aimed at these two badguys! That always gets a big laugh... and the punchline is the one juvenile delinquent who *struts* into the apartment as if he owns the place (and owns those two badguy’s asses). That’s a great thriller scene! Richard Condon’s novels are wicked and dark and funny in a sick and twisted way.

This film was directed by one of my favorites, John Frankenheimer, who made a series of great films in the 50s and 60s and then hit a slump in the mid 70s... only to resurrect himself in the 80s with an awesome film version of an Elmore Leonard novel... which lead to some hit or miss films including RONIN - which probably introduced him to a new generation who never saw BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ. You’ll be seeing some of his other films featured in future Trailer Tuesday entries!

Voice over is by the great Paul Frees, a radio actor who had a very distinctive voice. You’ve heard his voice in a million different things, from Disneyland theme park rides to commercials to Saturday morning cartoons! He lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and passed away 30 years ago... but his voice is still part of the Haunted Mansion!

MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is the prototype political thriller... and beautifully shot and acted. The film was co-produced by Frank Sinatra, who had it pulled from distribution when JFK was assassinated - so for many years it went unseen... along with SUDDENLY, another Presidential assassination movie co-produced and starring Sinatra where he played the assassin - a disgruntled ex-military sniper. I may do a Trailer Tuesday on that film sometime in the future. If you want to know the great thing about having Sinatra as co-producer, check out the Senator’s luxurious private plane... that’s Sinatra’s, loaned to the film for the scene! If you haven’t seen this one, check it out!

- Bill

Friday, May 10, 2024

Fridays With Hitchcock: John Michael Hayes

Screenwriter John Michael Hayes was born on May 11, 1919 in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Hayes was one of the first screenwriters I noticed. After watching a ton of movies, and realizing that someone had to write them, I started looking at the names of the writers in the credits of some of my favorite movies... and noticed Hayes’ name popping up again and again in Hitchcock films. He scripted REAR WINDOW from a short story I had read by one of my favorite fiction writers, Cornell Woolrich. Because I knew the short story, I also knew what was invented and changed for the movie - a bunch of stuff! Great stuff! Practically the whole movie is new material, since the story is about an invalid man and his male servant and the murder across the courtyard. I realized that for movies, they didn't just take the book and reformat it - they had to completely rethink it for the screen. The short story - "It Had To Be Murder" - takes place almost entirely in the protagonist's mind. He *thinks* he saw a murder across the courtyard. There are no other suspects or characters (except for his male servant), so it's a whole story about what the protagonist think... and that's not a movie! A movie is what we see and hear (that results in what we feel). Hayes also wrote the remake of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY and TO CATCH A THIEF for Hitchcock.

Hayes began as a newspaper reporter - like many other screenwriters. Writing the news meant dealing with crazy deadlines, and being able to spot the story and why it mattered and how to make the readers care... and doing that day after day after day. Much of that applies tro screenwriting as well, but after serving in the Army in WW2, Hayes moved to California and began writing for Radio Dramas like "Sam Spade" and "Inner Sanctum" - both were top shows. His first credit was for the TV series SUSPENSE in 1951 (adaptations of his radio scripts), and his first film credit was Budd Boetticher's RED BALL EXPRESS in 1952 (about Army truck drivers). The following year, 3 films including Anthony Mann's THUNDER BAY starring Jimmy Stewart, TORCH SONG starring Joan Crawford, and WAR ARROW with Maureen O'Hara and Jeff Chandler... which is a lot of star power for his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th films. Since Stewart was in THUNDER BAY, he might have had something to do with hiring Hayes to write REAR WINDOW.

In the middle of those 4 films for Hitch, was A DOG'S LIFE - a story from the point of view of a dog!

In 1957 he adapted the big best seller PEYTON PLACE into a hit movie.

Then high profile adaptations: Thorton Wilder's play THE MATCHMAKER and Terrence Rattigan's SEPERATE TABLES (1958), Samson Raphaelson's BUT NOT FOR ME (1959), John O'Hara's BUTTERFIELD 8 (1960), Hellman's CHILDREN'S HOUR (hey, Sam Spade!)(1961), Enid Bagnold's CHALK GARDEN (1964), Harold Robbins' THE CHARPET BAGGERS and Harold Robbins' WHERE HAS LOVE GONE? (both 1964), HARLOW (1965), Lawrence Durrell's JUDITH (1965), Harold Robbins' NEVADA SMITH (1966), uncredited work on WALKING TALL (1973), and his final credit was IRON WILL in 1994. He died in 2008... at 89 years old.

One of the interesting things about Hitchcock was that he was loyal to his writers. If he got along with a writer and that writer did good work - he just kept working with them. Because Hitch was turning out movies and later had his TV show and other things that took up his time, he needed screenwtriters who he could trust to go off and write the screenplay on their own. Even in the silent films, you will see the same names again and again (Elliot Stannard!).

But in addition to knowing Hayes from REAR WINDOW, I also knew Hayes from his script of Lillian Hellman’s play THE CHILDREN’S HOUR, the version that starred James Garner. I played that role in my High School theater department version. I was talking about CHILDREN’S HOUR on the day Hayes died, because I had just seen a screening of DOUBT - which is pretty much the same story but set in a Catholic school. And I knew Hayes from HARLOW and THE CARPET BAGGERS and NEVADA SMITH... and WALKING TALL. His name popped up on a bunch of films I’d seen.

Hayes career as a radio writer also had some connections with me - I had some of those SAM SPADE shows on tape when I was a kid) and INNER SANCTUM (had a bunch of those on tape, too). After writing 1,500 radio scripts, he started writing movies and became Hitchcock’s main writer... which made him one of the top writers in town. Intreresting that his last produced script was the Disney dog sled movie IRON WILL in 1994 - which I think I saw on opening night!

What were the first screenwriters you noticed?

- Bill

My books on Hitchcock's films...



Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the “Master Of Suspense”; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?

This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!


Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99 Click here for more info!



We all know that Alfred Hitchcock was the Master Of Suspense, but did you know he was the most *experimental* filmmaker in history?

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 52 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

Films Examined: “Rear Window”, “Psycho”, “Family Plot”, “Topaz”, “Rope”, “The Wrong Man”, “Easy Virtue”, “Lifeboat”, “Bon Voyage”, “Aventure Malgache”, “Elstree Calling”, “Dial M for Murder”, “Stage Fright”, “Champagne”, “Spellbound”, “I Confess”, and “The Trouble with Harry”, with glances at “Vertigo” and several others.

Professional screenwriter William C. Martell takes you into the world of The Master Of Suspense and shows you the daring experiments that changed cinema. Over 77,000 words.

Click here for more info!

Thursday, May 09, 2024


Dialogues With Death

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

Season: 2, Episode: 11.
Airdate: December 4, 1961

Director: Herschel Daughtery
Writer: Robert Arthur.
Cast: Boris Karloff, Norma Crane, Ed Nelson, William Schallert, George Kane, Jimmy Joyce, Estelle Winwood.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Bud Thackery.
Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Sound advice indeed. But rather the sort of thing one would expect to be offered by a psychiatrist to a patient who is still breathing in a surrounding such as these. But Pop Jenkins can hardly be described as a pillar of the medical profession with an upholstered office and a custom made contour couch. For his purposes however, I’m sure that he prefers the quiet dignity of the morgue and the solid support of the well refrigerated slab. I might also mention that he has one distinct advantage over his accredited colleagues. You see, his patients can never, never become violent. Imagine being able to carry on a tet0a0te with a cadaver. How fascinating. Well, tonight we have two stories for you about people who can do just that... and for reasons which must be apparent already, we call our play, “Dialogues With Death”. Our players are: Norma Crane, Ed Nelson, Estelle Winwood, and your obedient servant as Colonel Jackson Beauregard and Pops Jenkins. Now settle back, and listen, listen very carefully, you may find that you are one of the gifted ones.”

Synopsis: “Pops” Jenkins (Boris Karloff) who works the night shift at the city morgue gets a new customer - the millionaire night club owner Dan Gordon. Once the ambulance crew leaves, Pops pulls up a chair next to Gordon’s drawer and talks to the corpse... and he pauses and listens as if the corpse talks back. Is the old man crazy?

Three days later at the newspaper office: Editor Tom Ellison (Ed Nelson) and reporter Harry (George Kane) are trying to figure out what the next day’s headline might be. The police seem to have hit a brick wall when it comes to solving the Dan Gordon murder, and no news doesn’t sell papers. So Tom suggests they go down to the morgue and take some pictures of Gordon’s body and run them on the front page.

At the morgue they overhear Pops talking to a corpse...

While Harry takes his pictures, Tom asks Pops if he talks to all of his customers... and asks if Gordon might have mentioned who killed him. Pops says yes, but then regrets it. That was in confidence between Gordon and Pops. Tom presses Pops to the point that Pops accidentally blurts out that Professor MacFarland at the University shot Gordon. Now he has betrayed a confidence! Harry says that he took a picture of Professor MacFarland two years ago when he won a pistol shooting championship - MacFarland was an Army hero... but Harry is skeptical. Tom asks Pops why a Professor at the University would murder a night club owner? MacFarland’s sister Gloria was a singer at Gordon’s night club, and Gordon was attracted to her. Tom asks where the gun used to kill Gordon is, and Pops says it’s in the lower right hand drawer of his desk... but Gordon says he doesn’t blame the Professor for shooting him... and doesn’t want him arrested.

At Professor MacFarland’s Office: Tom and Harry ring the bell and MacFarland (William Schallert - Patty Duke’s dad on “The Patty Duke Show”) opens the door. They say they are working on a story about his sister, and they are invited in. MacFarland wants to know what this is all about, and Tom says that Don Gordon was murdered and they know that MacFarland’s sister had worked in his night club as a singer and was not treated well by the dead man. MacFarland asks them to leave. Now. He’s bust and doesn’t have time for this. Tom keeps pressing - says that he had heard MacFarland killed Gordon.

The Professor is about to physically remove them, when Tom picks up the picture of MacFarland’s sister from the top of the desk and tosses it to Harry, who moves to the other side of the room - MacFarland following to get the picture back. That’s when Tom goes to the desk, opens the drawer, and pulls out the murder weapon.

MacFarland wants the gun back, says he will call the police. Tom says go ahead and call them, then he and Harry leave with the gun.

Tom and Harry speed away on a foggy road at night. Tom believes this is the biggest story of their lives, they have the murder weapon and the killer is a prominent citizen whose sister was involved with a mobster. Harry doesn’t like any of this - how could Pop Jenkins know which drawer the gun was in? Tom turns a corner... and there is a man standing in the middle of the street!

Dan Gordon - who is dead!

Tom swerves the car to miss the man, but loses control and the car plows into the guard rails and goes off the side of the hill, smashing and crashing below...

Tom wakes up, crawls to the upside down car - Harry is trapped inside. He can’t get the door open to rescue him. Tom says he will go get help and climbs up the side of the hill to the foggy street. No sign of the dead man. No other cars on the road at this hour. He walks back to town. It’s a freakin’ long walk.

He walks past a few dark buildings towards one where the lights are on... the morgue. Opens the door and steps inside, and Pop runs up to him. Helps Tom over to a chair where he sits down and tells about the car wreck and finding the gun *exactly* where Pop said it would be - how was that possible? Tom wants Pop to explain how he could know where the gun was, and no “hocus pocus” about talking to the dead, that’s impossible...

That’s when the two ambulance crew guys who brought in Dan Gordon’s body enter, telling Pop that they have a couple of new customers for him. Pop tells Tom he’ll be back to answer all of his questions in a moment, goes to talk to the ambulance crew guys... who have put the two corpses in a couple of empty drawers. But they need him to sign for them. Pop signs for the two bodies.

When the ambulance guys leave, Pop calls Tom over to the drawers and pulls one open - providing all of the answers... under the sheet is Harry’s corpse. Killed in a car wreck. Tom is broken up, feels guilty. If only he had gotten help earlier. Then Pop pulls out the other drawer, pulls back the sheet covering the corpse, and calls Tom over. Tom looks down at his own corpse. When Pop pushes Tom’s corpse back inside the cooler, Tom is no longer there. Pop tells Tom that Gordon did not want the information about MacFarland and his sister becoming public, so he showed up on that foggy road to stop them... and caused their wreck. Then Pop gives advice on how to accept death.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Well, now that you’ve been exposed to an excellent example of communication with the dead, I wonder just how many of you believe that it can actually be true. What? You’re only half convinced? Well if what you are about to see fails to convince you completely than I’m afraid I must refuse to accept any responsibility whatsoever. Well, let us adjourn into a setting which in its own cheerful way bridges the gap between life and death every bit as effectively as the morgue. Morripo - a plantation which once wore the crown of antebellum splendor, but now rigor mortis has set in. It has been captured in the coffin of time and sealed in the shroud of the swamp. Yes, my friends, at Morripo you will be confronted with the final proof.”

Synopsis: Eccentric “Colonel” Beauregard Jackson Finchess (Karloff) and his equally strange sister Emily (Estelle Winwood) are at home in their rotting plantation one night when a car’s headlights shine outside. Someone is coming. Are they lost? Emily says she spoke with their nephew Charles, who is dead, just last night - he’s almost ready to continue his journey. There’s a knock at the door and their nephew Daniel Le Jean (Ed Nelson) and his wife Nell (Norma Crane) enter the room. Aunt Emily says, “We didn’t recognize you because you’re dead” cheerfully. “You were killed in a hold up in Chicago”, the Colonel adds. Daniel says the report of his death was a mistake, but he let it stand to escape from the police. The weird thing is that Aunt Emily insists that they are dead... she’s really weird. Daniel says he’s here to collect the money his brother Charles left him when he passed away... and to hide out from the police.

Daniel and Nell go up to his old bedroom, which is covered in an inch of dust and cobwebs - creepy! The weird thing here is that they don’t do anything a normal person would do in a dusty room. Nell doesn’t want to hide out in the old plantation for three weeks, she wants to split the minute they get his brother’s inheretence. D

aniel shows Nell around, pointing out the family mausoleum - the ground is too wet for burying people, so they all in the crypt. He tells a story about his grandfather Jules who was nailed into his coffin a bit prematurely. He and Aunt Emily went into the crypt, and when she had a “conversation” with his grandfather, Daniel closed the crypt door on her, locking her inside. Just a silly joke a kid would pull. Someone found Aunt Emily and let her out - and she said that Jules was already dead, told her so himself from inside the coffin. Since then she believes that she can communicate with the dead.

Daniel knows that his brother hid the money in the house somewhere, and wants Nell to keep the Colonel and Aunt Emily busy while he searches for it.

The Colonel gives Nell a tour of the house, showing her the paintings of all of the family members, including the great grandfather who was buried alive, and the grandfather who was buried with a telephone in his coffin, just in case.

Daniel finds a strong box in Charles’ room, and when he opens it - just papers but no money. Aunt Emily tells him the money is in Daniel’s empty coffin in the crypt - $50,000!

On that stormy night, Daniel and Nell enter the family crypt with tools to open the coffin and retrieve the $50,000. They search for his coffin, finding it behind a plaque that states the day of his death - a few days ago! Weird! They pry open the coffin... and it’s filled with money! But the crypt door slams shut... and they are trapped inside.

In the living room of the Plantation, Aunt Emily returns from a walk outside in the rain, where she has closed the crypt... just as young Daniel had done to her years ago.

Daniel and Nell try to pry the door, but the pry bar breaks. Meanwhile, the water in the crypt is starting to rise... will they drown in the crypt? Nell remembers the telephone in Daniel’s father’s coffin. They pry the lid off the coffin and search under the rotted corpse to find the telephone. Daniel calls and gets the operator, asks to be connected to the Sheriff, it’s a matter of life and death! Gets the Sheriff and tells him the whole story. The Sheriff says to be patient, he’ll get there. Daniel hangs up the phone....

In the Plantation... The Colonel hangs up the phone, and Aunt Emily says it will take Daniel and his wife a while to get used to being dead, then she will go visit them and have a little chat. But first, how about some music? The Colonel sits down the harpsichord and plays a song.

Review: A fun pair of weird tales and a chance for Karloff (and Ed Nelson) two play two very different roles. Maybe even three roles, since he plays the host as well. I probably said this in another entry, but since Karloff is such a good host it is easy to forget that he’s a great actor as well. Here, as “Pops”, he is kind of the groovy old man... and as Beauregard he is the old Southern gentleman. Seeing him back to back in these roles, you can see how - even with the larger than life personality he had at this point in his career - he can find ways to slip into the characters. Pops is a youthful old guy, and Beauregard is a dotty old guy. The characters seem to be different ages... yet played by the same guy. Karloff’s career was all about playing characters - often under a ton of make up - but here we have him play two different people with no make up. Just a beret in one episode and his gray hair in the other. His *walk* is different.

Also a great showcase for Ed Nelson - who you probably recognize from a couple of other episodes like CHEATERS, but also probably recognize from every danged TV show from the late 50s to the mid-90s. This guy was in everything! And versatile enough to keep coming back in some TV series like HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL as five different characters... in fact, five seems to be his magic number of TV shows. In Westerns he would play a military officer, a Mexican, a farmer, a gunslinger, a lawyer... and then on to the next western. He did a bunch of early Roger Corman movies, and his last role was in RUNAWAY JURY. 192 movies and TV series with around 5 episodes per TV series (except for the ones where he was a series regular). One of those “that guy” actors.

The first story has an amazing opening shot - from the shadow of the City Morgue door sign on the floor to a slow tour of the morgue with ambulance drivers delivering a corpse and when they leave Pops walks across the room and grabs a chair and sits next to the drawer door and has a conversation with the corpse as the camera dollies closer and closer to his face. A three minute shot! Amazing. There are several nice shots like this in the episode, and considering they had to shoot two different stories in two different locations, this is one of Daughrety’s better episodes.

The crypt in the second story is a great set - and as it fills with water, you wonder if they built it in a tank. One of the weird issues with that second episode is that the bed is covered with cobwebs and dust... but nobody shakes off the bedding and cleans off the cobwebs before they go to sleep. Eeeew! This sort of odd behavior almost sinks the story. Also, Norma Crane who gets top billing and has about a third as many credits as Nelson, including FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, over acts like crazy in the episode.

Two stories for the price of one, and both of them fun.

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

ATLIH: Gary And The Entourage Table

This blog was originally going to be called ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD, but I was afraid that would scare away readers... and sex sells, right? But I have this huge list of stories about people and events that fit the ALL THE LOSERS theme, so I'm going to start writing them up and running them on Wednesdays, in rotation with some (painful) funny stories about my career. Because I'm starting a Blue Book now, here is and entry from the past...

From years ago, but always relevant...

I sit in coffee shops all day and write on my laptop. They are my office. I do two or three coffee shops a day. Living in Los Angeles, no matter what coffee shop I go into, there are people in the biz or the fringes of the biz all around me. The Barista is in a band. The guy sitting at the next table is also working on his script. The gal over there is wearing a NY Film Academy jacket - she just got out of class... and there’s what I call the Entourage Table.

The Entourage Table isn’t an actual table, it’s this group of a half dozen guys in their 20s who want to be actors. Most of them work as waiters, but when they aren’t trying to remember today’s specials, they are sitting at a table in Starbucks shooting the breeze. I’m sure they spend more time hanging out at Starbucks together than waiting tables... or practicing their craft. They’re *always* here. Some are here when I arrive (from another coffee shop) and here when I leave.

They watch Entourage and think if they only had a Vince (friend who was a star) they could be club hopping and doing Paris Hilton.

I overhear them saying things like that... and bitching about how Hollywood is rigged. How, if they had been cast in that role instead of Johnny Depp, they would have played the role much differently. How they can’t find a good agent or manager who will get them out there - you know, to the right people, who can make a difference. How they aren’t getting any auditions... or if they *did* get an audition, they didn’t get cast because they didn’t have the right look for the role. Or they need better headshots - all of these guys think they’re missing auditions because of bad headshots. They’re sure that some actors get work because they have an in with the casting agent. Sometimes, they get an audition and blow it off - it’s some low budget movie or -worse- a student film. These guys are holding out for leads in Oscar calibre material. I mean, why waste your time on crap? All of these guys are sure that they will eventually be discovered - so they have that Oscar speech memorized.

These same guys have been having these same conversations for years. I’ve watched them switch restaurants (different colored aprons rolled up on the table) and have temp-girlfriends... and even flirt with the NY Film Academy gal.

Every once in a while my friend Gary jogs into that same Starbucks to grab a coffee. We say hello, but he doesn’t stay to chat - he’s on his way somewhere. Gary is a working actor. You’ve seen him on TV a lot - and in a bunch of movies. He’s not a star, he just plays small roles. There was a year or two where he was on about 3 sitcoms at the same time playing the ex-husband of the sitcom leads. That’s a Gary role: he just looks like an ex-husband. When Gary isn’t working on some movie or TV show, he’s on stage. He acts in comedies, dramas, Shakespeare, musicals. In fact, as I write this, he’s probably on stage somewhere. Acting is Gary’s natural state.

I’ll be reading the LA Times Calendar section (entertainment) and run across his name in some review of a play by accident. Once, I was reading a review of a play where Alicia Witt was playing a stripper at a bachelor party... just to see how seriously she played the role - did she get nekkid? When I ran across Gary’s name. He was one of the guys at the bachelor party - not the best man, not the guy who gets married... just one of the guys. And the review spent a paragraph or two on how good he was in the role. That’s the cool thing about bumping into Gary’s name by accident in a review - he does great work and the critics always notice. Now, Gary has done all kinds of plays - big ones, little ones... and I’m not sure he gets paid for all of these. He may not get paid for any of them - if the house has less than 100 seats, they aren’t covered by the unions. But Gary lives to act...

And he acts for a living. Someone sees him in some play and that might led to a role on a TV series or film. And if no one sees him? He’s still doing what he loves.

On his way out of the Starbucks, one of the guys at the Entourage Table notices Gary, "Hey, isn’t that the guy from that Sam Jackson movie?"
"Yeah. I wonder who he blew to get that part?"
"He’s probably got an in with some casting agent - if I had that kind of connection."
"I wonder who does his headshots?"

How different we are than actors, right?

- Bill

Tuesday, May 07, 2024

Trailer Tuesday:

The plague keeps mutating...


Starring: Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danielli.
Written by: Richard Matheson (as Logan Swanson) and William Leicester.
Directed by: Sydney Salkow.
Produced by: Robert Lippert (owner of a movie theater chain in the Bay Area!)

Okay, I am a huge fan of the Richard Matheson novel I AM LEGEND, even though I haven't read it in years. I first read it, probably in high school. Still have that copy. If you don't know who Matheson is, he's the guy who wrote all of those TWILIGHT ZONE episodes you remember. Seriously - make a list of 5 episodes and I'll bet at least 3 of them are his. Anyway, that's how I discovered him. I was a fan of old THE TWILIGHT ZONE TV show, noticed that Matheson wrote some of my favorite episodes, discovered that he wrote books, too... and Stephen King called his haunted house book HELL HOUSE the best horror novel ever written. And Matheson also wrote the book that was made into INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, one of my favorite Saturday afternoon Sci-Fi movies. Matheson was also the screenwriter on all of the previous Corman Poe movies except PREMATURE BURIAL.

This was the first adaptation of I AM LEGEND, which would be made twice more - once with Chuckles Heston and once with Will Smith (and is up for a reboot now)... and was the inspiration for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (so just about every modern zombie movie owes its existence to the book). Here's the thing - no one has ever done a completely faithful version of the book. So, several years ago they decided to correct that, and make *the book*. A screenplay was written that everyone loved - exactly like the book (which is awesome by the way). They needed a star, and Ah-nuld stepped up - not the guy I see playing Robert Neville, who is kind of a typical 1960s suburban husband. But I would accept Ah-nuld if the movie was like the book, rather than like that ultra macho mindless Heston version. Then Ah-nuld became governator and the project was shelved.... Until someone dug it out and did a bunch of rewrites and some more rewrites and suddenly it was nothing at all like the book... and so they made it with Will Smith, and it is the *least faithful* version of the book! I can only hope that this new reboot goes back to the theory of making a more faithful version of the book. Until then, this old movie from the 1960s is the best version.

The book is kind of a through-the-looking-glass commentary on 1960s suburban life - the kind of stuff on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and OZZIE & HARRIET and FATHER KNOWS BEST. Robert Neville is the typical suburban husband and father who carpools to work every day with his buddy Ben Cortman... then a plague breaks out that turns everyone into vampires. Now all of his neighbors and everyone he knows lives at *night* and he is the sole person who lives by day - his world has been turned completely upside down.

His car pool buddy Ben Cortman is now the leader of the vampire clan in his suburban town (I think it was either Pasadena or Glendale in the novel) - and comes for him every night, pounding on his door and screaming for him to come out... so that they can kill him. Every day Neville goes from house to house through the town, searching for the vampires and driving stakes through their hearts... mostly searching for the leader, Cortman. The people he stakes - are his neighbors, his friends. It's a terrible job, but they become an army at night... and soon they will be powerful enough to get through the barricaded windows and doors of his typical suburban home. Every morning, his lawn is littered with dead vampires - people he knows. He has to clear them, take them to the giant bonfires that were designed to burn the dead when the plague had just begun taking lives...

The film opens with the sun rising on the horizon, which may just seem like a nice shot... but it is life or death for Robert Morgan (Vincent Price). Next we see some spooky shots of a city - empty. Not a single person on the streets. No cars moving. Nothing. As we get closer - there are cars wrecked on the side of the roads and dead bodies in the streets. What happened? A sign in front of a church says: The End Has Come!

Now to suburbia - and Robert Morgan’s typical suburban house... dead bodies on the lawn. The alarm goes off, and Morgan wakes up. It’s 3 years after the apocalypse - the plague which wiped out everyone but himself. He goes about his typical morning - coffee, checking the garlic wreath on his front door, checking his electricity generator in the garage... where his typical suburban station wagon is housed. Unbolting and opening the garage door, and loading up all of the dead bodies on his lawn into the back of that station wagon, using his ham radio to see if there is anyone else out there... but he is alone.

A map on the wall shows all of the sectors of the city where he has searched for their “nest” - the place they hide from the sunlight during the day. He grabs a bag of wooden stakes and heads out for the day... a typical day in the life of Robert Morgan. His first stop is the fire pit where he disposes of the bodies. Then he goes shopping - an abandoned supermarket where he picks up garlic and supplies. Then he goes searching for sleeping vampires... staking the ones he finds. Then disposing of those bodies at the fire pit. Then he heads home before dark. New garlic wreaths for the doors and windows, and then night... alone in the house as they attack, lead by Ben Cortman (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) his old car pool buddy from before the plague. “Morgan come out! Come out!” He cranks the music to drown out their voices.

The next morning, it begins again...

He begins making a new batch of stakes on his lathe... then quits and goes to the mausoleum where his wife’s coffin is... and accidentally falls asleep there. When he wakes up, the sun has set! The vampires rule the world. He must get past an army of vampires to get back to his car, then speeds away.

At his house, Ben Cortman waits for him and an army of vampires surround the house. He gets out of the car and makes it to his front door, battling vampires along the way. Once inside, he is safe. That night, he plays home movies of his wife Virginia (Emma Danieli) and daughter Kathy (Christi Courtland) in happier times... his daughter’s birthday party. Ben Cortman is there - they were best friends before all of this. Morgan breaks down...

28:45 minutes in, Morgan flashes back to before the plague...

Kathy’s birthday party. Ben Cortman comes with presents - Kathy showers him with kisses, then goes to play with all of the other kids. When she is gone, Ben shows Morgan a newspaper story - Hundreds Killed By Plague. The plague is carried by the wind, will it reach the United States? Ben and Morgan are scientists working on the plague.

Weeks later, the winds are blowing and Kathy is sick. The plague? Or maybe just the flu? Virginia claims to feel fine, but she is secretly ill as well. Morgan is worried about Kathy... Virginia is scared.

At the Mercer Institute (like the CDC) Morgan and Ben try to solve the riddle of the plague. The streets are filled with bodies, which the government tries to take to the fire pit. The rumor is that if the bodies are not burned... they come back. As vampires. Morgan thinks these are just crazy rumors, Ben thinks it’s possible that the virus can cause vampirism. That’s crazy talk...

Kathy contracts the plague... and goes blind. The final stage before death. He and Virginia do everything they can to see to her medical condition. Virginia wants to call a doctor, but Morgan warns if they call a doctor the doctor will be forced to report Kathy as infected, and... They want a funeral, but if she dies under a doctor’s care they will take her body to the huge bonfire pit and toss her in with the others. There is nothing as sad and horrible as the mass pit where they burn the dead from the book... And that is also in this Vincent Price version.

Morgan’s turn to drive, he goes to pick up Ben and head to work. Ben has hung garlic wreathes from his door and gone into full survivalist mode - he’s not leaving the house ever again. Morgan drives to the lab alone... and find the lab vacant except for his boss Dr. Mercer. The only two people left to find the cure.

When Morgan goes home, he sees one of the government trucks driving down the street. His daughter Kathy has died... Virginia is practically catatonic. She called the doctor and...

Morgan gets in his car and races to catch up with the truck. There are crowds of people at the fire pit, mourning their loved ones as they are thrown into the flames. Morgan breaks though the lines, chased by guards, and tries to stop them from tossing Kathy’s body into the fiery mass grave. Instead, gets there just in time to see her body thrown into the pit with all of the others.

A few days later, it’s Virginia who has gone blind... and then dies from the plague. Can he call for the government truck to take her corpse to the fire pit? “No. I won’t let them put you there. I promise. I won’t let them put you there.” So he sews her up in a shroud and sneaks out in the middle of the night with her corpse in the back of the station wagon... and buries her somewhere beautiful. Under a nice tree. Where she can be at peace. .

Night. Home. Alone. He hears a sound... a whisper... “Let me in. Let me in.” The front door knob is moving! He opens the door to see who’s there...

His wife Virginia, covered in dirt! “Robert... Robert...” She tries to embrace him, to sink her teeth into him and feed off him. He backs away... This is the love of his life... back from the dead! A miracle. He just wants to hold her in his arms. Kiss her. Tell her how much he has missed her, how much he loves her... But instead he must pound a stake into her heart! This scene destroys him... and destroys us.

52:45 we come out of the flashback, Robert Morgan remembering what he was forced to do to what was once his wife. Outside his car pool buddy Ben Cortman - after he turns into the car pool buddy from hell - and his gang have torn the station wagon apart. These two characters had a *history* and a *relationship* which brings drama and baggage to the scenes where Cortman and Morgan battle each other. Having to kill his friends and neighbors by day is gut wrenching - a normal guy having to do terrible things to survive. But this is his new life, and has been his life for three years, now.

The next morning Robert wakes up, survey’s the damage.

He goes car shopping, comes home with a new station wagon. As he parks it, he sees the dog poking around for food. He tries to catch it, but the dog speeds away. The animal hasn’t stayed alive all of these years by allowing itself to be caught. But the dog is *hope* - another living thing! He isn’t the last living thing on earth. He searches for the dog without success... but does find a group of vampires staked with iron bars. That means there is another *human* alive somewhere.

Back at home he tries the ham radio again, trying to find that other human out there. Hears the dog yelping outside. Unbolts his front door and goes out to get him... the dog has been injured. Brings him in, tends to him. Morgan now has a friend... at 60 minutes.

He checks the dog’s blood... it has the plague. He’s forced to stake it before it turns on him. There is no hope.

As he is burying the dog, he spots a figure in the distance... in the daylight... a woman? 62 minutes in, Robert Morgan is not alone. He chases the woman, who runs like hell. He finally catches her. “Wait! I couldn’t be out here in the daylight if I was one of them. You know that they can’t come out until sundown. Do you want to come with me? Or do you want to face them?” She comes with Morgan... following him home as the dog did.

At Morgan’s house, he makes dinner for her. She is Ruth Collins (Franca Bettoia), her husband died in the plague. Morgan grabs a bunch of garlic and pushes it against her face, she turns away - and he accuses her of being one of them. He doesn’t trust *anyone* anymore. She says she watched her husband torn to pieces by those... things... and now he thinks that she is one of them?

Morgan relents, apologizes, and serves her dinner... but she isn’t hungry.

That night, Ben Cortman pounds on the door and yells fro Morgan to come out. He tells Ruth that Ben used to be his best friend, but now? “When I find him I’ll drive a stake through him, just like all the others.” She wonders how he can do that to someone who used to be his friend.

Morgan wants to give her a blood test, to make sure she isn’t infected. She just wants him to trust her - no blood test.

That night, Morgan hears her coughing in her room and goes in to see if she’s okay - discovers her shooting up! She admits, she *was* one of them. But now she is cured, as long as she gets her injection every night. A cure. “We’ve had it for some time, now.”

The vampire society... she’s a spy sent to find out what Morgan knows, but it seems he knows much less than they do. “We’re alive. Infected, yes, but alive. We’ve organized a society.”
“And you want me to join?”
“You *can’t* join us. You’re a monster to them. Why do you think I ran when I saw you? Even though I was supposed to spy on you, I was so terrified... from what I’ve heard about you. You’re a legend in the city. Living by day instead of night, many of the people you destroyed were still alive. You are a monster!”
She tells him they are coming for him tonight, and he job is to keep him here, in the house, until they come. To kill him. For all of the murders that he has committed.

She passes out... and when she wakes up, Morgan is giving her a transfusion of his blood. His immune blood has cured her. He gives her a wreath of garlic, and she can breath it without getting sick. She’s cured! Morgan says he can cure *everyone* with his blood. That’s when the Vampire Military comes to capture Morgan. They kill Ben Cortman and all of the “uncured” vampires and chase Morgan through the streets. Eventually they corner him in a church... and they stake *him*. As he lays dying, Ruth comforts him. “They were afraid of *me*? And he dies.

“We’re all safe now.”

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Though I haven't read the novel in years, one of the things I loved about it when I first read it was how it looked at vampires *scientifically* - all of the vampire lore gets a logical explanation that makes complete sense. In the book, Neville doesn't begin as a scientist, the part of his days not staking his friends and neighbors is spent trying to figure out what happened - and that leads him to learn about science and learn about the plague at the abandoned public library... which gives us all of these amazing logical reasons behind vampires being killed by wooden stakes, and garlic repelling them, and light burning them. You read the book and begin to believe that vampires *could* really exist. That feeling is in this film as well - with Morgan testing the blood of the dog and then Ruth.

The book's title comes from the end - a huge twist where we discover that Neville is a monster to the vampires. To them, he's a serial killer. I think they could have pulled that twist end in today's popcorn world in the Will Smith version or even this new reboot. I think as long as 99% of the film has Neville as "hero", that 1% where we reveal he's a monster won't rock the boat too much. And he's still a vampire killer - which may be a good thing to most of the audience. But to those of us who were looking for more than popcorn, that end would have had us thinking about being on the right side or wrong side in a war - is there really any difference? On both sides, people are killed.

There's a Matheson short story about a suburban guy who cuts himself shaving... and bleeds oil. Now, everywhere he looks he sees people eating greasy food and realizes that he's lived with his eyes closed his entire life - and he is a robot. I think the end of LEGEND and this Price film version has Neville opening his eyes... and Cortman and all of the vampires are not really any different than they were before - they still have their eyes closed. They see him as a monster... and he gets a chance to see them as people.

It's strange that this cheapo Vincent Price version you can download on the internet for free is closest to the book. Even though Richard Matheson wrote the screenplay for this version, *he* thought it got watered down on the way to the screen due to budget limitations and censorship restrictions and used a pseudonym. The film was shot in *Italy* subbing for suburban USA and every movie had to be acceptable for general audiences - and the book deals with the sexual issues of being the last man on earth surrounded by naked vampire women who are using their bodies to lure him out to their undeadly embrace. Matheson wished the film had more money and more artistic freedom, but oddly the two films made when with larger budgets and more freedom ditched what makes this story great - it holds up a mirror to *our world* and *our lives*. But, maybe this new reboot will be a faithful version. Who knows?


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