Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Trailer Tuesday: CRISS CROSS

Director: Robert Siodmak
Writers: Daniel Fuchs, based on a novel by Don Tracy.
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Yvonne DeCarlo, Dan Duryea.

This is one of my favorite movies, but I have no idea when I first saw it. Most likely on the Late Late Show. Back in the old days, when there were only 3 networks and a handful of local stations with local programming, they always had a late night movie. Networks like NBC would show some fairly new movie during prime time, kind of the way HBO has fairly new movies today. So the late show movies were always something old, from the 1940s or 1950s... stuff like CASABLANCA. After the late show movies there was... nothing. TV stations closed down for the night at 2 or 3AM and after the sign off (America The Beautiful over The Blue Angels flying in formation) there was a test pattern until the Farm Report the next morning. No infomercials. When I came home from working at the Movie Theater, I’d usually watch the Late Late Show on Friday and Saturday nights and catch some classic film... and that probably included CRISS CROSS.


CRISS CROSS is a film noir based on a novel by Don Tracy and kicks off our Don Tracy Appreciation Week. Don who? you ask... hey, me too! The only reason why I know this novelist’s name is from the opening titles of CRISS CROSS, but when I came to this week’s Thriller Thursday episode it was based on a novel by... Don Tracy. Hey! What a weird coincidence! So I looked him up online and discovered his two most famous novels ended up as this movie and that TV episode. Tracy was a journalist who hit it big with his second novel “Criss Cross” and then crashed and burned with his third novel “How Sleeps The Beast?” about racial conditions in the modern south... which was too controversial for the times. After returning from World War 2, he shifted gears and wrote some sprawling historical adventure novels like “Crimson Is The Eastern Shore”, “Roanoke Renegade”, and “Carolina Corsair”. He came back to noir with “The Big Blackout” (Thriller Thursday) and in the sixties he wrote a detective series about a military policeman solving crimes on base and off (kind of like NCIS). Because this was the Paperback Revolution, he also wrote a huge stack of TV and movie novelizations under a pseudonym. A recovering alcoholic, he wrote an AA self help book in the 70s. Oddly, I have never read any of his detective series, even though those were the kinds of books I hunted for in used bookstores. Now I’m going to try and track some down.


The film opens with Steve Thompson (muscular Burt Lancaster) making out in a night club parking lot with his ex wife Anna (sexy Yvonne DeCarlo who you may know from THE MUNSTERS), who is married to some other guy now... Slim Dundee (the slimy Dan Duryea who improves every movie he is in) a local crime boss. They enter the club separately, but later that night Thompson and Dundee get involved in a fight in a back room of the club, and Thompson’s detective pal Pete Ramerize breaks it up and asks Thompson if he wants to press charges. Thompson says no, then ends up with Dundee and his gang in the men’s room washing up... and we discover the fight was just for the sake of the detective.... but got out of hand because Dundee thinks his wife Anna may be fooling around with her ex husband. Thompson is an armored truck guard who is the inside man for a robbery by Dundee and his gang scheduled for the next day.

When the Armored Truck goes on a pick up, the two guys packing huge bundles of money into bags are talking about how their wives overpay on laundry soap by 3 cents... this kind of contrast is one of the things that makes the film great.

About 13 minutes into the film, just before the robbery, the Armored Truck now filled with bags of money, Thompson remembers how he came to be here...

And we get to the meat of the story in a 50 minute flashback (in an 88 minute film)... which is not a crime story, but the story of a man with a broken heart. Thompson returns to Los Angeles after years of drifting from city to city, working a variety of odd jobs, trying to forget Anna... his ex wife who broke his heart. Film Noir is all about the four Ds: Darkness, Destiny, Despair, and of course Doom... and Destiny plays a large part in Thompson’s homecoming. When he gets to his family house, no one is home... so he wanders through the city ending up at... the night club where he and his ex wife used to hang out. He tries to call her several times, but something always gets in his way... like a warning.

The night club has a separate bar attached, and there are two great recurring characters in that bar that you will remember long after you’ve forgotten the plot of some recent hit film. The bartender (Percy Helton) who thinks Thompson might be an undercover checker with the Alcoholic Beverages Commission is a real character, and it’s fun to watch their relationship change as time goes on. The lush who sits at the end of the bar all day (Joan Miller) is one of those great characters and great performances that makes you feel as if you’ve known her all of your life. And it’s *unusual* to make that drunk at the end of the bar a woman... you feel like she was maybe Rosie The Riveter during the war and afterwards her life went south... and here she is. I looked up the actress who played that role and she worked consistently. One of the great things about writing during the studio system was that they had all of these great character actors under contract and you could write a role for them. In the Supporting Characters Blue Book I talk about some of the great characters who pop up as Pirate #7 or Cowboy #9 (and often played both roles in different movies) and how well developed those little roles were. You remembered them. There’s a nice bit in CRISS CROSS where the Bartender is trying to tell someone how much he appreciates the Lush, his favorite customer... and she doesn’t know if she should be insulted or not. It’s a great moment for both of them. Oh, and at one point in the night club Anna is dancing with some handsome young man... a no lines extra in the film... played by a not yet famous guy named Tony Curtis!

But Thompson and Anna are destined to bump into each other... and that happens. He knows that she is wrong for him, that if they get back together again he will just end up heartbroken again... and that’s what happens. As soon as they begin dating again, she hooks up with Dundee and *marries* the mobster, leaving Thompson stood up at the night club. When Dundee leaves on business, destiny brings them together again... but this time he’s fooling around with a mobster’s wife.

How destiny brings them together: Dundee has to catch a train on business and at the last minute *doesn’t* take Anna. Thompson is at the train station... after learning about their marriage he’s thinking about splitting town to avoid the pain of bumping into her. An employee behind a center counter bends down for a moment and Thompson gets a glimpse of the woman on the other side... Anna. Thompson tries to avoid her by going outside... but Anna has gone outside as well. She plans on getting in her car and driving home... but Dundee’s #2 man is in the car, driving it to the city where Dundee is going so that they’ll have a vehicle there. Which leaves Anna and Thompson the only two people with nowhere to go outside the train station. Destiny keeps bringing them together... and if Dundee finds out about it they are both dead.

Let me take a minute to mention the Los Angeles locations. Union Station is the train station, and they really shot there. I know that sounds silly, but movies were made on the backlot at this time, and there was some train station set that all movies used. CRISS CROSS went out on the streets of Los Angeles, and you get all kinds of great shots of places in the city that no longer exist. The trolley cars, Hill Street, the old houses, this film is a moving snapshot of Los Angeles in the late 40s. It’s fascinating to watch just for the scenery.

When they eventually get caught together by Dundee, Thompson tries to talk his way out of it... by saying that he actually was there to talk to Dundee. See, he has a job that needs some criminals. Thompson has gotten his old job as an Armored Truck guard back, and has a scheme to commit a robbery. Needs criminal help. Dundee and his gang come in on the robbery... and now Thompson’s cover story for being with Anna has turned him into a criminal. Maybe there’s a fifth D in Noir: degradation. Thompson would do anything to get Anna back, he has never gotten over her... she’s in his blood. And going from respected armored truck guard to criminal just to keep her in his life is a major fall for him. The problem is: he says it off the top of his head to pacify Dundee... but it all becomes too real when they bring in a planner and put together a crew and buy vehicles and explosives and fake uniforms and gear up to do the job.

Which leads us up to that sixty three minute mark with Thompson back behind the wheel of the Armored Truck as they head to the ambush... and our final twenty five minutes of the film.

Don Westlake writing as Richard Stark wrote a series of heist novels featuring a guy named Parker, and a handful of them are armored truck robberies... and no to are the same. The “high concept” in a heist story is the method they use to pull the heist. You need something original. The robbery here involves a monthly factory payroll delivery in cash, a tanker truck that will block the road to the factory to keep away the police, and other elements... but the main thing is the inside man: Thompson. He not only has to remove the third guard (who would stay in the truck and shoot the robbers) but put the second guard at ease when he thinks continuing the cash delivery might be dangerous for just two guards. In the planning scene we see how the plan *will* work, but execution is where things tend to go wrong...

And if you were Dundee and you had a chance to kill the guy who was sleeping with your wife during the robbery, what would you do? So instead of Thompson’s rule that the other guard (his friend Pops who is dating Thompson’s mom) and of course himself will not be harmed in the robbery; Pops is killed and Dundee tries to kill Thompson. The two exchange gunfire, wounding each other... but Thompson manages to kill a bunch of the other robbers... but the money and Dundee vanish.

Thompson wakes up in the hospital a hero... but his detective pal Pete Rameriz knows he had to be part of the robbery, and warns him that Dundee is still alive and will be hunting him. Which leads to a *great* sequence of complete paranoia as Thompson is trapped in his hospital bed, leg and arm in casts and elevated with cables... and suspicious people linger in the hospital hallways and shadows pass just outside his field of vision... often falling over the pebbled glass window. This has you on the edge of your seat. One particular guy is sitting in the hallway... and Thompson asks the nurse to bring him in. Ends up being a nice guy husband whose wife was in a car accident instead of one of Dundee’s thugs. Now Thompson *begs* the husband to stay with him (so that no one can sneak in and kill him in his sleep), but the husband says he needs to stay outside his wife’s door incase she wakes up... leaving Thompson alone.

Since this entry is now twice the usual length, I’m going to stop before we get to the ending... but what’s interesting is how it remains the story of a man with a broken heart, still in love with his ex wife, right up until the end. I think one of the things good films do is have an emotional throughline that is connected to theme. It’s Thompson still being hung up on his ex wife that drives the whole story... from the dramatic side of the story to the crime side of the story. These things are all connected. This is one of my favorite movies because all of the pieces come together perfectly... and I think we all still have some past love in our blood... and wish we could get over that long ago broken heart.

I suspect that CRISS CROSS is one of the Coen Brothers favorite movies, since Lancaster’s character often says “Sure, sure” a phrase said often by Paul Newman’s character in HUDSUCKER PROXY and there’s a dialogue from Anna, “I didn’t do anything wrong” which is echoed by Thompson later... and a very similar thing happens in BLOOD SIMPLE with the line “I didn’t do anything funny.” I think it would be fun to look at Soderbergh’s remake of CRISS CROSS next week...


Monday, March 02, 2015

Lancelot Link: No Awards!

Lancelot Link Monday! Awards season is finally over! The Best Actors are back to being actors, the Best Directors and back to directing... anbd hopefully you have returned to writing. Unless you are still caught up in the White/Gold or Blue/Black debate. Or trying to capture llamas. Or wearing Lupita Nyong'o's Oscar gown. Did that gown have white pearls or black pearls? While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

Here are a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Focus........................... $19,100,000
2 Kingsman........................ $11,750,000
3 Spongebob Worthy................ $11,200,000
4 Fifty Shades.................... $10,927,000
5 Lazarus......................... $10,600,000
6 McFarland........................ $7,797,000
7 Am Sniper........................ $7,700,000
8 DUFF............................. $7,150,000
9 Still Alice...................... $2,695,000
10 Hot Tub 2.................... $2,400,000

2) General Meetings Explained.

3) How Much Does An Oscar Mean At Box Office?

4) BREWSTER MILLIONS Again! But this time with Robert Townsend directing.

5) Alfred Bester's STARS MY DESTINATION to finally hit the screen? Hey, there's an Oliver Stone script for DEMOLISHED MAN out there, too!


7) Will new ALIEN movie ignore 3 and 4?

8) Return Of The Power Rangers?

9) THE CROWDED ROOM still has DiCaprio, seems to be loosing Cameron.

10) SPECTRE News.

11) ROCKY sequel CREED turns Stallone into Burgess Meredith.

12) A nice collection of interviews with Writer/Directors.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:





Friday, February 27, 2015

Fridays With Hitchcock:

Screenplay by Pete Viertel and Joan Harrison and Dorothy Parker.

The middle child between THE 39 STEPS and NORTH BY NORTHWEST, this is a man-on-the-run-through-landmarks story. It’s strange - when we think of Hitchcock movies, after we get past PSYCHO, we tend to think of them all as man-on-the-run films, when there are really only five where the guy is running. Though there are a lot of falsely accused people, very few of them *run*. In SPELLBOUND he escapes the institution and then *hides*. In THE WRONG MAN he’s stuck in jail! But these three films use the “double chase” method with the man on the run pretty much the whole time. Like in NORTH BY NORTHWEST where our hero Roger O. Thornhill is chasing spy George Kaplan as well as *being chased* by the police, in SABOTEUR our hero is chasing the real saboteur as well as being chased by the police.

Nutshell: During World War 2, Glendale, California factory worker Barry Kane (Bob Cummings) ends up prime suspect in a fire that takes down his plant and kills his best friend and ends up on the run. He believes a new employee named Fry (Norman Lloyd) was behind it, but there is no employee with that name at the plant. So, Barry goes in search of Fry - while evading a nationwide manhunt - and discovers a vast terrorist cell operating in the United States composed of US citizens who think we’d be better off under German rule. As he chases Fry across the country, he encounters all sorts of Americans with opinions on what makes America a great country (a bit of wartime propaganda) and ends up kidnaping cute advertizement model Patricia (who is on billboards for a mortuary!) (played by Priscilla Lane). She starts out thinking he’s guilty, ends up learning he’s innocent and helping him... and they stop the terrorists from blowing up a brand new battleship and take down the terrorist cell lead by important members of high society Charles Tobin (suave Otto Kruger) and Mrs. Van Sutton (elegant Alma Kruger - no relation) ... which ends in a fight on the Statue Of Liberty!

Experiment: Though no story experiment, the film is filled with great technical experiments, many you probably never noticed. I’m going to talk direction here and writing in the Great Scenes section, so we will be jumping back and forth in the narrative a bit.

In the first few minutes of the film we get a great shot that may have inspired some of the suspense techniques used in THE PARALLAX VIEW and THE INTERNATIONAL - a very still shot of a factory wall... the stillness broken by a cloud of thick black smoke that drifts slowly into frame... and eventually takes over the frame, turning everything black with smoke. The idea of using the *lack of motion* to highlight the smoke is a great exercise in contrast that was used again and again by Alan J. Pakula in PARALLAX and seems to pop up almost accidentally in THE INTERNATIONAL (which leads me to believe it may have been in the script but didn’t make it to screen, along with some of the other suspense elements in that film). The smoke looks even more sinister because ity is the only thing moving in the shot.

There’s a trick shot in the Carnival Caravan sequence - when the police stop the caravan and wee see all of those vehicles stretched out into the distance with policemen searching them, that’s a forced perspective shot with miniature vehicles... and miniature *people* - the policemen farthest from the camera are little people!

There’s an interesting shot in the Soda City sequence when Patricia is hiding in the next room and the two terrorists are talking with Barry. They hear a noise from the room she is hiding in and go to investigate. That’s done in a fairly long take, which makes us feel as if she vanishes before our eyes - she’s in that other room, makes a noise, they go to investigate and the room is empty. No actual vanishing occurred, because we just heard the *sound* in the next room, but it makes us feel as if we have seen the impossible.

There are some other great shots and sequences, but let’s get right to the good stuff: the dress rehearsal for VERTIGO where we *actually see* an actor fall off the Statue Of Liberty’s torch, screaming all the way down to the ground. If there was ever an impossible shot - this is it. But today we know exactly how it was done - a composite shot with actor Norman Lloyd on a platform that could rotate, and the camera yanked from a medium shot - hundreds of feet at high speed - to an extreme long shot where he’s little more than a spec. Marry that shot to the shot from the Statue Of Liberty’s torch, and we see an actual human falling - so much better than some bland shot of a dummy falling, and we can have a great POV shot of our hero as the only one who can prove him innocent falls out of his grip and splats.

Hitch Appearance: Outside a Rexall Drugstore, looking through the window.

Great Scenes: Because this film is the brother to NORTH BY NORTHWEST, I’m going to find different aspects of the story to highlight than the ones I used in NbNW... and that started out a challenge but I think I’ve pulled a couple of interesting lessons from SABOTEUR...

Clues To Locations: One of the most important things in a screenplay is what I call the “A-B-C of the plot” - the logical way that one thing leads to another in a story so that none of it seems forced or contrived. Many screenplays have problems with this - including a couple of movies I’ve recently seen. Usually you have an antagonist that is driving the story - and we have what I call “tennis plotting” - when the protagonist reacts to what the antagonist has done, and the antagonist then reacts to the protagonist, and then the protagonist reacts to what the antagonist did. It goes back and forth like a game of tennis. But some stories, especially mysteries and some thrillers, have a trail of clues that are followed. That’s how SABOTEUR works, so let’s take a look at how stories like that are plotted.

In SABOTEUR our hero starts out knowing nothing - not even who the villain is - and one piece of evidence leads to the next which leads to the next and he learns more along the way. The key to plotting a story like this is to have our hero find information that logically leads to the next piece of information, without any of it seeming obvious. We don’t want the audience to get ahead of the hero, we want them to be along for the ride.

SABOTEUR opens with Barry and his buddy going on a lunch break at the defense plant. They are distracted by a pretty gal doing Rosie The Riveter work and bump into new guy at the plant, Fry... causing some stuff to fall out of his jacket pocket. Barry and his buddy apologize and pick up Fry’s things, one of which is an envelope. After the sabotage, Barry tells the police about Fry - but there is no employee named Fry! Barry goes on the run - and realizes he must find Fry (a goal) to clear himself...

And we get a great memory flash of picking up that envelope. The envelope goes from out of focus, into focus, and we can read the address - a ranch. But other parts of the envelope remain blurry - just like a real memory. That’s great, because later in the film he will have to remember the same envelope and concentrate on that blurry area - giving us two clues from one envelope. The ranch address clue leads Barry to the ranch, where the ranch owner Charles Tobin says he’s never heard of Fry. We get the memory flash again - the envelope comes into focus - and this time we can clearly read the name of the ranch and know that Tobin is lying. While Barry is acting as if he believes that he’s in the wrong place, Tobin leaves for a moment to take a phone call, and Tobin’s toddler granddaughter starts digging things out of Tobin’s coat pockets... and one thing is a telegram with the words “Soda City” on it. That leads Barry to Soda City... which is a ghost town.

Barry and Patricia search the ghost town and find a building with a ringing telephone! That building is being lived in by somebody. There is also a strange hole cut in a door. Barry and Patricia search the room and find a telescope and a tripod - and when they put one on the other the telescope is the perfect height to look out that hole in the door. They look through the telescope and see the Hoover Dam. Note how most of these clues are “some assembly required” - like that telescope. Instead of giving us something obvious, Barry must either remember or put the pieces together to figure out where he’s going. If at all possible, give your protagonist a bunch of pieces to the puzzle or a riddle of some sort, so that it doesn’t seem too easy.

In the Soda City shack they are discovered by the terrorists, and Barry uses a newspaper that calls him the prime suspect in the factory sabotage as his bona fides to prove he’s a terrorist, too... so one of the terrorists agrees takes him to safety in New York City... where he discovers their plan to blow up a new battleship. Each clue leads him to a location where he finds another clue that leads him to the next location. Because he has to *work* to find the next clue, it doesn’t seem as if the next step is just being handed to him. Even that toddler digging around and uncovering the telegram was done as a suspense scene where he could be killed if he doesn’t get that telegram back in Tobin’s pocket before he comes back.

Hitchcock’s Chocolates:

There is no excitement in things going right, so when Barry tries to return the telegram to the coat pocket the toddler grabs it and runs right into Tobin’s arms. Busted! Okay, you are out west at the Deep Springs Ranch - how do you escape?

Hitchcock had this great theory of organic screenwriting that if your story takes place is Switzerland, you make a list of all of the things that Switzerland is famous for, all of the things you would naturally find in that country, and use those things in your story. The same things goes with characters - what is the character’s occupation, what tools is he or she familiar with... and those are the tools they will gravitate to in order to solve the problem. So when you are going to have a chase that begins at a ranch in the west, it’s going to be on horseback instead of in cars. And when Barry is trying to get to that ranch in the first place, he has to figure out some way to travel that can not be traced by the police... what moves across country that is fairly anonymous? Long haul truckers. The highways are full of trucks, and if he hitches a ride on one he will blend right in.

We have Hoover Dam and Ghost Towns and a great dive off a bridge that echos a similar scene in THE 39 STEPS. This seems obvious - but all of those cross country locations are landmarks or things that are interesting parts of the landscape, and once we get to New York City we have scenes in Radio City Music Hall and on the Statue Of Liberty and a major plot element deals with sky scrapers and taxi drivers! If the story takes place in New York City, these are the places and things you expect to see.

The other element in SABOTEUR is World War 2 and the war effort - and these elements also form the story. There is a war effort fund raiser, and the terrorists are blowing up a new battle ship... again, these things may seem obvious, but many screenplays don’t do this. They’d go to Switzerland and forget to show a chocolate maker or the Alps or people skiing. Or have Barry escape from the ranch in a car. Or have Barry be an executive instead of a factory worker in a defense plant.

Look at your story and where it takes place and make some lists of elements that are part of those things. You want the pieces to be part of the whole - connected.

Invisible Storytelling: There is some great “invisible storytelling” in this film - information delivered to the audience through a situation and actions rather than dialogue. Though some of the dialogue gets a little heavy handed, there’s a great bit lifted from FRANKENSTEIN where our man on the run ends up taking shelter from the storm at a remote cabin in the woods... owned by a Blind Man (Vaughan Glaser) who lives there with his dog. Barry is careful not to use his name and careful not to give the blind man any clues to his identity. Lots of suspense, as Barry is in handcuffs at this point and doesn’t want to rattle them - how do you explain that noise? He’s also been on the run for a while and is starving, and grabs an apple, taking a bite. The Blind Man hears this - and tells him to help himself, and if he would like a drink or some dinner, that’s fine. The Blind Man does not see Barry as a wanted man - doesn’t know that Barry’s face is planted all overt town on wanted posters, and when the radio gives a description of this wanted saboteur, has no idea what Barry looks like. Justice is blind.

But when the Blind Man’s niece Patricia arrives, she sees who Barry is, thinks he’s dangerous and wants to turn him over to the police, just based on the newspaper headlines and radio reports. She is judging a book by its cover - or its news reports in this case. But the Blind Man can see the truth - Barry has not acted violent or dangerous and in America a man is innocent until proven guilty. The Blind Man has known who Barry was all along - heard his handcuffs when he came through the door. But instead of judging Barry on the press reports, judges him on his actions. He’s a polite young man. The Blind Man tells Patricia to drive Barry down to the blacksmith’s shop to have the handcuffs removed...

But she double crosses him - and they become that couple from THE 39 STEPS... he takes her hostage and slowly proves that he isn’t a bad guy but a wrongly accused man.

Another get piece of “invisible storytelling” - when the fire breaks out at the factory, Fry hands Barry a big industrial fire extinguisher and tells him to go put it out. Barry’s best friend takes the fire extinguisher from Barry and runs into the burning factory... But Fry has filled the extinguisher with gasoline! And Barry’s friend catches fire and burns to death (on camera - gross!). When the long haul trucker picks up Barry, there is a fire extinguisher mounted inside the truck right next to where he’s sitting. Barry looks at the fire extinguisher and turns away from it in fear... And the trucker starts talking about how handy having a fire extinguisher can be - and all of the truck and car fires where people would have burned to death... and everything the trucker says about the fire extinguisher reminds *us* about Barry’s friend having that gasoline filled fire extinguisher blow up in his hands and turn him into a human fireball.

Just as this film is about World War 2, it is also about America - so another bit of “invisible storytelling” comes after Barry and Patricia’s car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and they end up jumping on a Carnival Caravan in the middle of the night. They knock on the back door, it opens... and there is nobody on the other side! Until Barry and Patricia look down and see The Major - a midget. This is a car full of Circus Freaks! There’s the Bearded Lady - her beard in curlers for the night. The Fat Woman (why was that a freak?). The Siamese Twins who are in the middle of a spat and not talking to each other, “Will someone tell her to do something about her insomnia? I keep tossing and turning all night!” The Strong Man. And the most eloquent of the group, the Human Skeleton - a tall very very thin man. All of these very different people - different than you and me and different than each other.

When the police stop the Caravan and begin searching the cars, The Major says they should throw Barry out. He’s going to get them all in trouble. As The Major tries to throw Barry and Patricia out of the Caravan Car, the Human Skeleton says they should put it to a vote. So, they vote. All of these very different people, setting aside their differences, voting to make a decision that the whole group will live by. Even the very vocal Major goes along with the outcome of the vote (which is to hide Barry and Patricia from the police). Okay - just as we’ve had blind justice, we now have a diverse group of people voting and then working together after they have voted. That’s America, folks! We may not like each other, but we’re family - and when we vote on something, the majority wins and even those who voted against pitch in. Once we as a country have agreed to something, we are *all* Americans and we *all* accept the decision. A great piece of patriotism disguised as a comedy scene with freak show members. At no time in this scene does anyone say, “We’re Americans!” but the scene *demonstrates* the concept of democracy. With a bearded lady. And Siamese Twins that aren’t talking to each other.

Nice Villains: One of the great things about this script are the villain characters - not a mustache twirler in the group! You don’t want cardboard cut out 2 dimensional villains in your screenplay - they just seem fake. You always want villains who are motivated and real - and SABOTEUR has some of the creepiest scenes of any Hitchcock film when the killers do normal, everyday things that make them just like someone you might know... and that’s more frightening than having villains who you can spot twirling their mustaches from a mile away. You can avoid the EVIL villains, and they are easily spotted by the police... but when the nice guy next door is a killer? You could be dead before you figure it out.

One of the things I like to do with my villains (and other characters) is “character shading” - you show an aspect of their character that isn’t plot related (except it really is - because you are making the villain more realistic, and that makes them more frightening). So when we first meet our master villain, Charles Tobin - the leader of a pro-Nazi terrorist cell made up of USA citizens - he’s playing with his cute little grand daughter at poolside in his backyard. If he owns a big rubber stamp that says “Find Him & Kill Him” it isn’t shown in this scene. He’s introduced as a fairly typical grandfather, and a kind and helpful person. The scene goes out of its way to show him as a normal person, not someone you should fear... And that is brilliant! Because he *is* someone you should fear - a terrorist leader! If Barry were to tell the police that this nice grandfather were the leader of a terrorist cell, the police would not believe him. So being a nice grandpa isn’t just a great cover for Tobin, it also makes him more powerful... and more realistic. He’s just like you and me... except he’s going to blow up Hoover Dam.

Later, after Barry convinces the two terrorists at Soda City that he is one of them, the soft spoken blond Freeman (Alan Baxter) offers to transport him cross country to New York where the terrorist cell is headquartered. In the car along the way, Freeman talks to Barry about his young son and his beautiful flowing blond hair... is he wrong not to have his son’s hair cut? Freeman talks about how when he was a boy (in Germany) he had long blond hair, and he wants his son to grow up to be like him. The great thing about this exchange is that it makes Freeman into a good father, worried about his son’s hair and yet trying to give his son a sense of values. Of course, those would be Nazi terrorist values! It is a creepy scene, because the exact same conversation might come from some 1950s family sitcom dad - nothing evil about anything Freeman says, but again we get “family values” that include world domination and killing a bunch of innocent people. To Freeman, blowing up Hoover Dam or sinking a new battleship is just another day at work, and he’ll go home to his wife and family like any other sitcom dad... and that is more frightening to me than any mustache twirler.

Once they get to New York City, we are introduced to the leader of the East Coast branch of this terrorist cell - society matron Mrs. Sutton (Alma Kruger) who lives in an impossibly luxurious Manhattan apartment and is involved in a number of charities... which are probably fronts for Nazi spy rings. She is that wealthy society woman who is more concerned with her jewelry than trifles like politics - a silly rich woman - except that is her cover. She is really a cut-throat terrorist disguised as Margaret Dumont. This is elegant high society, not the kind of people we think about when we think of terrorists. Mrs. Sutton is having a charity ball, and seems more concerned with the party than with twirling her mustache - and her conversation isn’t about pure evil and world domination, but about making sure her guests are served properly and her reputation as a pillar of the community.

Barry ends up busted, because Charles Tobin is there - and they have a nice little conversation about how much money can be made through intelligent investments if the Nazis conquer the United States. Tobin also mentions that after Patricia escaped she went right to the police... but it was one of Tobin’s policemen - there are many police officers who believe the United States might have more law and order under the Nazis. Tobin has Barry taken to where they are holding Patricia... and after a few moments of confusion where Patricia thinks Barry really is one of them, she finally realizes he is a prisoner, too... and the pair attempt an escape.

Trapped In A Crowd: Barry and Patricia end up in the grand ballroom, in the middle of Mrs. Sutton’s big charity event. When they head to the exit doors, a pair of tuxedo-clad men block the exit. There are a pair of men in tuxedos blocking every exit. They are trapped in a crowded charity ball - with a full orchestra and people dancing and sipping drinks and joking. Barry goes up to a guest and explains that he’s a prisoner and people are trying to kill him... and the guest just laughs. Gotta be a joke, right? The guys in tuxedos at the doors are just staff members there to open the door for you and keep out the party crashers. Barry tries another guest... and this one tells him that it will all be easier if he and the girl just give themselves up. You can not tell who the bad guys are! They look just like anybody else!

Barry and Patricia need to get deep enough into the crowd that the terrorists can’t really do anything to them... so they start *dancing* like many of the other guests - while they look for some way out of this. They are surrounded by people - almost all of them just regular folks who are here for the charity ball - but still trapped. It’s a great suspense scene... and just when you think maybe they can keep dancing until they find some way out of this, a guy comes and cuts in - dancing with Patricia. She’s been captured while *dancing*.

Barry comes up with a scheme that is the halfway point in the evolution of that scene from THE 39 STEPS where Robert Donat makes a speech at a political rally to avoid capture, and that scene in NORTH BY NORTHWEST where Cary Grant disrupts the auction to avoid capture... He grabs the microphone, has everyone applaud their host Mrs. Sutton, and then announces that Mrs. Sutton has graciously offered to auction off one of the famous Sutton Family Jewels tonight - and Mrs. Sutton is forced to take off an expensive bracelet and auction it off, which completely disrupts the villains plans to capture him because now Barry is the center of attention, and forces Mrs. Sutton and some of her henchmen to also be the center of attention - unable to do anything while Barry attempts to escape... and fails! The story does a great job of making you think he’s found a way to escape... only to have him captured again.

Biggest To Smallest: Eventually, after the use of a fire sprinkler and a paper airplane, both Barry and Patricia escape and try to stop Fry from blowing up a brand new battle ship... and Patricia follows Fry to the Statue Of Liberty, and Barry shows up to capture Fry - the only man who can prove that he’s not the saboteur who burned down the factory. Barry chases Fry up to the torch, where there’s a great illustration of Hitchcock’s “biggest to smallest” theory. This is an interesting theory because it is both a *story* theory and a *film/editing* theory, the way that a “scrod” is both a fish and a way of preparing a fish. The idea is that a large event can be caused by a small thing, or that in the middle of a large event there is a small drama that is important. Often these story elements are shot with a single shot that goes from extreme long shot to close up or by editing shots together from extreme long shot to close up.

In one of my favorite unknown Hitchcock films, YOUNG AND INNOCENT, they guy and gal on the run have and they discover the real killer has twitchy eyes and will be at a certain address at a certain time. They take the only witness who can identify the killer to the address - a packed night club! Hundreds of people dancing and a live band! The camera does an amazing overhead shot that begins with our heroes entering the night club, drifts over the packed nightclub and the hundreds of people to the opposite side of the room, then glides down to the band... ending on a close up of one band member’s eyes as they twitch uncontrollably.

Biggest to smallest.

In SABOTEUR, when Barry corners Fry on the torch, Fry takes a step back, loses balance, falls over the edge! The only one who can prove Barry is innocent! But when Barry looks over the edge, Fry is hanging on to Liberty’s palm! Barry climbs down to rescue him... and we get these great long shots of those two little humans on the HUGE Statue Of Liberty... and we edit from shot to shot getting closer until we have Barry holding Fry’s coat sleeve trying to pull him up... then even closer - to the stitching that connects the sleeve of the coat to the body of the coat as the stitches begin to unravel!

Look for Barry holding onto Fry under the torch in the upper left hand side of this picture:

Biggest to smallest.

This huge dramatic scene on the Statue Of Liberty all comes down to a thread!

The police arrive, hear enough from Fry to exonerate Barry, then the last stitch unravels and Fry falls...

And we get to see him fall all of the way down and splat in one shot.

Sound Track: Frank Skinner - an okay score, not up to Herrmann standards, but it’s not obtrusive.

Hitchcock always seemed to be getting in trouble with the government with his wartime movies - in NOTORIOUS his plot was about Germany building an atomic bomb when *we* were still working on it... and working on it in secret. When Hitchcock used something ultra top secret for his plot, the FBI wanted to know who told him about it. Hitchcock said atomic bombs were a theory, he just figured someone would be trying to use that theory to make a real bomb.

And in SABOTEUR he got into trouble for a shot of the capsized Normandie in New York Harbor. While filming SABOTEUR, the SS Normandie - an ocean liner - was being turned into a troop ship in New York Harbor when a fire broke out and the *huge* ship ended up capsizing. Universal Studios dispatched newsreel cameramen for some footage that would be used on the news - but Hitchcock gave them some special instructions on a couple of shots he wanted... and then cut those shots into the movie: Fry driving past the capsized Normandie sees the ship and smiles - as if he sunk it! Because this implied that there were real saboteurs working in New York City and that they actually got away with sinking the Normandie while it was under military guard, the FBI expressed their anger at the scene to Hitchcock.

The biggest problem with SABOTEUR are the two stars - Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane. It’s not easy to love that Bob - he overacts and gives the most obvious and on-the-nose line readings. He spends half of the film being angry - and the rest of the film being dull instead of charming. Priscilla Lane is cute and wholesome and plastic. When she tells him that she’s a model, you think - WTF? She’s about as far from a model as you can get (even in 1944).

And the two have zero chemistry - actually, they have *negative* chemistry. When they kiss while dancing, it’s a good kiss - but you don’t believe it for a second. No heat, no passion, not even any *fun*. The script said “kiss” and they kiss. These two are a poor substitute for either Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint or Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll. As screenwriters we have no control over casting at all, and many film are sunk by bad casting. All of the other elements work well, but the casting kills it.

Just as THE PARADINE CASE was killed by casting Louis Jordan (and Gregory Peck), this film would have been a million times better with a different actor in the lead - someone who wouldn’t have yelled half of his lines. But, it’s still a fun movie with some great scenes and a great way to kill a couple of hours.

- Bill

The other Fridays With Hitchcock.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thriller Thursday: THE PURPLE ROOM

The Purple Room

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

Season: 1, Episode: 7.
Airdate: 10/25/60

Director: Douglas Heyes
Writer: Douglas Heyes
Cast: Rip Torn, Richard Anderson, Patricia Barry.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: Bud Thackery

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Don’t be alarmed. The woman who just screamed is perfectly quiet now, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. You see, she’s been dead for nearly a hundred years. Her bed is empty, and whatever it was that seemed to frighten her so is gone. *Seems* to be. But I can tell you this much: that bed won’t be empty much longer and other screams will soon be heard. Whose? Perhaps yours. Or those who will join us here: Mr. Rip Torn, Miss Patricia Barry, Mr. Richard Anderson, and... Well, it seems the rest of our cast can not be raised. They’re dead, you know. Spend a night with us in the Purple Room, if you dare! Let me assure you my friends, this is a thriller!”

Synopsis: Born skeptic Duncan (an impossibly young Rip Torn... who you know as the gruff boss from MEN IN BLACK) has just inherited an old house in Baton Rouge which has been in the family for years... and is supposedly haunted. Duncan doesn’t care, the house is on valuable property some big company wants to buy so he figures he’ll flip it and make a fortune. Nice plan, but the will requires him to live in the house for one year before he can sell it... and stay in the house one full night along with the other heir... his cousin Oliver (Richard Anderson from SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN) and his wife Rachel (Patricia Barry). If he can not spend the full night in the haunted house his cousin Oliver gets it. So there’s a bit of a competition involved: who can stay the whole night in the house, Duncan or Oliver? Since Duncan believes in money but not ghosts, he sees no possibility of losing.

Oliver, Rachel and Duncan drive to the house, in a remote area near a swamp... heck, it’s the PSYCHO house on the Universal backlot along with the swamp from the film... the art of using existing sets. They enter the house, which has no electricity and no phone and hasn’t been lived in for decades. Candles do little to illuminate the house. It’s spooky as heck. They climb the stairway to the bedrooms, and Oliver dares Duncan to sleep in the Purple Room... where all of the deaths have taken place including that most recent one 100 years ago. Duncan isn’t afraid of no ghosts, so he takes the room, even after Oliver relates the legend of the room...

A hundred years ago Captain Jeremy Ransom and his wife of only seven days were alone in the house on honeymoon, when they heard strange sounds from downstairs. Ransom gave his gun to his new bride for protection and then went downstairs to investigate. After more strange noises, the new bride hears footsteps coming up the stairs... a strange shuffling and dragging that was *not* her husband. As the thing came closer and closer to her in the darkness, she fired the gun again and again... killing her own husband... who had been stabbed by a burglar downstairs and was staggering upstairs for help. Then she went mad and spent the rest of her life in an asylum.

Oliver smiles: “This place is all yours... and everything it contains.”

In the middle of the night Duncan hears strange noises from downstairs and wakes up. After he lights the candle, it blows out... and all kinds of weird things begin happening in the Purple Room. Things move all by themselves. Duncan believes it’s Oliver and his wife trying to scare him, they’ve just rigged the room ahead of time. When things keep happening and he sees a picture on the wall move, he pulls the picture away... and there is just the wall behind it. The *solid* wall. WTF? He hears more noises downstairs, grabs his gun and heads downstairs.

Where something lurks in the shadows.

A knife flies at him, sticking into the floor.

The thing in the shadows moans and starts shuffling towards him. It’s Ransom’s ghost! Face rotted, knife sticking from its bloody chest. Dragging its leg as it gets closer and closer and closer to him. Duncan fires his pistol at it again and again and again... and the things keeps coming towards him!

Closer and closer and closer!

Duncan screams, clutches his chest and falls to the floor.

The rotting corpse walks right up to him... and pulls off his mask, it’s Oliver. Rachel comes out of the shadows and checks his pulse... he’s *dead*. Not part of the plan at all! They were just supposed to scare him enough that he left the house, not *kill him*. Change of plans. They carry his body out to the car, drive down the road to the swamp and drive the car off the road into the swamp, put Duncan behind the wheel, and walk back to the house. Now they can claim that Duncan got scared in the middle of the night and ran... and Oliver and Rachel had not a thing to do with his death.

Back at the house they clean up and remove all of the planted tricks and devices to scare Duncan... and then go to bed in the Purple Room. It *is* the master bedroom in *their* new house, after all. But in the middle of the night they hear strange noises from downstairs. A prowler? Oliver grabs Duncan’s gun, pours out the expended blank shells and loads it with *real* shells, then starts out of the Purple Room. But Rachel is frightened, so Oliver gives her the gun and goes downstairs to confront the prowler.

In the dark and spooky house, Oliver tries not to be afraid... but some *thing* is creeping up the stairs towards him, dragging its leg just like the Captain Ransom legend. When the thing gets closer, closer, CLOSER Oliver stumbles and falls down the stairs... the thing continues up the stairs... to the Purple Room!

Rachel is terrified as the thing opens the bedroom door and stumbles inside. She fires the gun, again and again until it clicks dry. Killing the thing. She carries the candle to the thing... and it’s *Duncan*. Not a fatal heart attack after all, he was unconscious and weak... And she has shot him six times. She goes downstairs and finds Oliver, shook up but okay. Tells him that she has shot Duncan... and that’s when the police come after finding the abandoned car and hearing the shots. Oliver and Rachel are headed to prison.

Review: Not only do we get the PSYCHO house and swamp, we get a great Weird Tales type story! After last week’s talky crime drama, the show finally seems to get on track with an episode that fulfills the promise of the series’ name. My favorite episodes of the show are thrillers filled with nail biting suspense and the Weird Tales stories that creep into horror (though usually with a twist). I want to be on the edge of my seat or scared to death, and my favorite episodes deliver on this. Though nothing from THRILLER can ever beat the Hitchcock UNLOCKED WINDOW episode for sheer terror, some get pretty close.

This one is just okay. Not enough Haunted House stuff to build our terror before Duncan comes face to face with dead Captain Ransom downstairs, it needed several more “gags” up in the Purple Room when Duncan wakes up. Since Oliver and Rachel have had plenty of time to rig the room, you’d thing they would have come up with at least as many things as in THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. I’m guessing somewhere along the line the writer/director feared there wasn’t enough time to show *how* Oliver managed to do anything really weird after Duncan supposedly drops dead. But I think the audience would have gone with it, since we went with the blown out candle gag and the moving painting with a solid wall behind it. He should have gone whole hog and had all kinds of weird stuff happening in the Purple Room. Remember, this was made at a time when film special effects where often done with thread and smoke and mirrors. The audience would accept any crazy thing happening in the room, because they really had to do it for the episode. If the writer/director thought the audience might have questioned a bunch of weird stuff, all he had to do is have Oliver say he apprenticed under a magician when he was a kid or something.

The *direction* is also not doing much to ramp up the suspense and dread. Lots of great moving camera shots, but makes the mistake of not showing the POV of the protagonist, which is where all of the suspense and dread resides. I don't understand how there can be directors out there who don't get this, but in my blog entry on THE THING prequel I noted that was the big problem with the film... and used an example of how to do it right from DIABOLIQUE. Other THRILLER episodes have some great direction that really adds suspense and dread. Ida Lupino directed a bunch of episodes and hers are awesome. That woman knew what to do with a camera! Most of the creepy stuff here is done by keeping things bathed in shadows, and that *does* work a little.

The best thing about the episode is the great twist where Oliver and Rachel’s attempt to fool Duncan into believing the Captain Ransom ghost haunts the house mostly backfires... but then they replicate the legend without thinking when they hear the noises downstairs. Oliver gives her the gun the same way Ransom gave his bride the gun a hundred years earlier. Love the irony! That’s what we expect from a Weird Tales type story, the scheme bites the schemers on the ass!

Weird Tales this week, edge of the seat thriller next week!


Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The New Alien Movie Revealed!

From FIVE Years Ago!

Thursday March 25th, the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood is showing a double bill of Dan O'Bannon, the writer who created ALIEN... (John Carpenter's first directing gig DARK STAR which is lots of fun and kind of the charcoal sketch for ALIEN, and THE RESSURECTED). So this seems like the perfect time to announce...


Once you click to the cover art, keep clicking away for the new film's source material! This is a major scoop!

Looks like Fridays With Hitchcock returns on Friday. Miss any entries? Here they are:
Fridays With Hitchcock

Hey, did you miss the Brad Pitt Guy story?
The Brad Pitt Guy

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: LOOSENING UP DIALOGUE - Realistic.. but better than real.
Dinner: Togos Ham Sandwich.
Bicycle: Short ride - post office.
Pages: Frustrating day - not much writing. Did a quick revision on the treatment for the new assignment, but that was nothing.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

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.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Lancelot Link Monday: And The Winners Are... THE SAME!!!!

Lancelot Link Monday! So I've been complaining for years that the Oscars are just a rerun of the Independent Spirit Awards, the way NBC cashed in on the SNL 40 show by rerunning it Friday. Hey, if we've seen the Spirit Awards, no reason at all to watch the Oscars. And finally, someone else noticed this and wrote a danged article about it (included in the links). We need some Oscar Reform on the double! Why can't we go back to the rules at the first Academy Awards and have one Best Picture for big glossy mainstream movies and one Best Picture for arty movies? That's they way they did it at the first Academy Awards! Let's do that again! While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

Here are a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Only Shades Of Grey............. $23,246,000
2 Kingsmen Trio................... $17,525,000
3 Spongebob 2..................... $15,500,000
4 McFarland (not Spanky)............ $11,315,000
5 The DUFF (not Howard)............ $11,025,000
6 American Sniper (not Graffiti).......$9,650,000
7 Hot Tub Time Machine 2........... $5,800,000
8 Jupiter Descending................ $3,660,000
9 Imitation.......................... $2,565,000
10 Paddington....................... $2,289,000

FIFTY SHADES fell 73 percent in it's seconds weekend, target audience having seen the movie rolled over and went to sleep... though it still did good business in 2nd place. HOT TUB TIME MACHINE without Cusack? Flopped. Folks, it's all about John Cusack!

2) Oscar Winners!

3) Independent Spirits Winners (how many are the same?)

4) Hey, Someone Else Asks If The Spirits And Oscars Are The Same Thing, So Why Watch The Oscars?

5) Round Up & Analysis Of 2014 Spec Sales.

6) Oscar Nominated Screenplays.

7) Michael Cimino on the Oscars and his career.

8) Awesome Grab Bag Of Film Stuff, from Wes Anderson's framing to Saul Bass titles to DON'T LOOK NOW's editing.
9) E.L. James wants to put the handcuffs and blindfold on Universal.

10) International Trailer for MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.

11) MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 5 is shooting again...

12) Will Spielberg Direct New Indiana Jones Movie? Will he add a Nuke The Fridge scene?

And the Car Chase Of The Week:





Friday, February 20, 2015

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Foreign Correspondent (1940)

Screenplay by Charles Bennett and Joan Harrison, with punch up by Robert Benchley and James Hilton... and Ben Hecht.

Before Pearl Harbor, the United States was supposedly neutral in World War Two, and movies reflected this. Though part of that may have been to sell American movies to overseas audiences (including Germany), another part was that the country was divided on the war in several different ways. After World War 1, most people in the United States were isolationists and believed the new war in Europe had nothing to do with us. We were not the world’s police, we did not owe any other country anything. Unless the United States was invaded, it wasn’t our war.

Even after Germany invaded Poland and six other countries in three short months and Japan invaded Manchuria, Americans were still divided into Isolationists and Interventionists. One group thought should stay out of the war entirely - after the bombing of Pearl Harbor many people *protested* that we should stay out of the war, and the other group thought we should stop Germany from taking over Europe.

One of the largest Isolationist groups was America First - a strange mix of 1940s left wing peaceniks and businessmen who wanted to sell things to Germany ... and some reputed pro-Hitler pro-Nazis Americans. Basically, anyone who wanted America to stay out of the European War for whatever conflicting reasons they may have had. The America First group grew in popularity just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, believing that sending military aid to England left the United States vulnerable to attack. Hollywood couldn’t ignore the war, so they made movies that either ignored both sides... or were strongly Isolationist or strongly Interventionist (depending on the politics of the producer and studio). Disney was an Isolationist and an America Firster and made cartoons against the United States entering the war. Other studios made films like A YANK IN THE RAF which seemed designed to show the brave British pilots fighting the evil other guys - the film still had to sell to Germany, right? Somewhere in here, the German Ambassador to the United States not only complained about these pro-Interventionist movies, but actually managed to get some studios to fire “non-Aryan” employees. Weird, huh?

A year before Fox made A YANK IN THE RAF, independent producer Walter Wanger, who flew fighter planes in World War 1, made FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT - a pro-intervention film that calls a Hitler a “Hitler”. A piece of pre-WW2 propaganda made long before Pearl Harbor and the rest of the Hollywood pro-Interventionist films that would follow. Wanger was Jewish, born in San Francisco, and one of the top producers in Hollywood. Also, a bit of a rable rowser - he made Fritz Lang’s YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE (criminal leads), John Ford’s STAGECOACH, and after going to prison for shooting his wife’s lover he made Don Siegel’s RIOT IN CELL BOCK 11 (pro-prison reform). He was making edgy films before that phrase existed.

To direct FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT he rented Alfred Hitchcock from David O’Selznick - and Hitch brought his favorite writers and crew. Charles Bennet, who wrote Hitchcock’s first sound movie BLACKMAIL, as well as THE 39 STEPS. THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and five other Hitchcock films (plus many more screenplays you may know and love) and Joan Harrison who wrote five films for Hitchcock and went on to produce his TV show for a while and edit his fiction magazine and the short story collections. Both were British writers Hitchcock took with him when he came to America and both probably had family back in the UK in peril unless the United States joined the war. FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT may have been pro-Intervention before any other film, but it was still a *Hollywood* movie, and profit came first. The film had to be a sell tickets, and lots of them.

Nutshell: Big city crime reporter Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) is sent to Europe to cover the biggest crime around - World War 2. The newspaper editor is tired of foreign correspondents who just print government press releases and wants a tough investigative reporter who won’t believe everything he’s told. Jones is introduced to Stephen Fisher (suave Herbert Marshall), head of a United Nations-like peace group who are trying to stop the war from escalating. The key man on the side of peace is Dutchman Van Meer - a kindly old man. Jones manages to share a cab with Van Meer on the way to a peace conference in London, thinking he’s going to get an exclusive interview - but Van Meer just talks about pigeons in the park (really). At the peace conference Jones flirts like crazy with a beautiful woman, Carol (Laraine Day), who ends up being Fisher’s daughter. But Van Meer ends up mysteriously called away before he can speak... he just vanishes.

Before Van Meer’s next speech, he is shot dead by an assassin, there’s a car chase, all kinds of twists and turns, and the discovery that Van Meer may still be alive - a double was shot - and the peace group may not be interested in peace at all. The other players in the story are British journalist ffoilliott (ultra suave George Sanders), always drunk UK desk reporter Stebbins (comedian and co-writer Robert Benchley), UK-based bodyguard Rowley (Edmund Gwenn), and creepy Fisher family friend Mr. Krug (Eduardo Ciannelli). The film is basically a globe trotting spy story, much like a James Bond film, which uses a lot of great locations and offers us some fantastic lessons on Set Pieces, Speeches, Gags, and Leading the Audience.

Hitch Appearance: Walking down the street past Jones when he hears Van Meer's name... and jogs back to split a cab with him and secretly pump him for information. Of course, he only gets pigeon talk.

Sound Track:Alfred Newman – a good score that works for the comedy aspects, the romance, and the suspense. In scenes like the windmill sequence that are mostly silent except for the background noise, the music is unobtrusive yet still adds to the suspense and tension. The main theme is kind of whimsical and works well with Joel McCrea's charming nice guy lead.

Bird Appearance: Van Meer goes on and on about the damned pigeons in the park. Also a great scene where Jones hides in Van Meer’s cell when the villains come in to question him... and Van Meer looks *right at him*! The villains look where Van Meer is looking... and see only a bird. Jones is hiding in the shadow behind the bird.

Hitch Stock Company: Hitchcock often used the same actors again and again in movies, and FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT is no exception. Edmund Gwenn starred in THE SKIN GAME way back in 1931 and WALTZES FROM VIENNA in 1934 and would show up in THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY in 1955 and do some work on the TV show, and Herbert Marshall starred in MURDER back in 1930 and did a few episodes of the TV series, and George Sanders was in REBECCA.

Experiment: Though some of the film takes place in London, the only experiment here is that this is Hitchcock’s first American film about Americans. REBECCA had a British cast, and once those soundstage doors were closed he might as well have been shooting it in England. But here we have a story about an American - a fish out of water in England and Europe... two places where Hitchcock would feel at home. So for Hitchcock part of the challenge was find a way to see locations that were familiar to him as an outsider would see them.

This was also a “loan out” movie - Hitch was under contract to Selznick, but Selznick was renting him out to other producers for a hefty fee and paying Hitchcock his normal salary... and pocketing the rest. This was discussed in more detail in the entry on THE PARADINE CASE. Selznick was famous for putting stars and directors under contract and then *not* making movies with them, but renting them out to other producers and making a pile of money. Though Selznick was a big name after GONE WITH THE WIND (which is still probably the #1 film of all time in ticket sales) he really didn't make many movies. Most of his income was probably from renting out people like Hitchcock.

FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT is a great example of Gags, Set Pieces, Speeches, and Leading The Audience. So those are the elements we will look at in this entry.

Gags: One of my favorite things about older films that we seem to have lost in current movies are *gags* - though gags don’t have to be funny (there are many serious gags and running gags in older movies) because Hitchcock had a great sense of humor, many of the running gags in FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT are funny. Not laugh outloud funny, but a little smile that pops up in a few scenes.

When I say “gags” I don't mean jokes, like the newspaper managing editor (Harry Davenport) telling an editor watching the news wire not to declare war for a couple of minutes, I mean some physical or verbal bit that may be repeated throughout the story.

The first gag is all about names - the managing editor decides that “Johnny Jones” doesn’t sound dignified enough to be a foreign correspondent, so our hero is given the new name “Huntley Haverstock”. Every time people ask him his name, there’s a moment where he hesitates... and when he answers “Huntley Haverstock” they always give him a strange look. Sometimes he tries to explain that it isn’t his real name... and that’s what elevates this gag from just a gag: it is thematic. One of the elements in the film is that people are not who they claim to be or appear to be: every character seems to have a real identity underneath who they claim to be. So “Huntley” is really Johnny Jones, and a bodyguard is really an assassin and the peace organization’s PR gal is really the leader’s daughter and a homeless man is really an assassin and a trusted character is really the villain and Van Meer has a double who was killed and even “Old man Clarke” ends up being a hot single woman. Everyone in this film has a second identity, and all of that starts with the running gag about Johnny Jones getting a name change. Oh, and there’s ffoilliott’s name - which is a running gag in itself.

The next gag is Jones always losing his hat. There’s a great scene on the ship before it sales for England where Jones and all of his friends and family see him off. He’s going to a world at war, and they may never see him again. Everyone brings him gifts, including a bowler hat, which he models. When Jones takes off his hat to hug his mother for what may be the last time (a big moment) his little niece and nephew take turns trying on that hat and giggling. The great thing about this complete kid cuteness is that it’s *family* which amplifies Jones’s goodbye with his mother rather than distracting from it. When the whistle blows and all of the friends and family hurry off the ship before it sets sail... the little boy has the hat in his hand.

Throughout the film, Jones keeps losing his hat - and it’s not just a gag, it’s often an important part of the plot. Every time he checks his hat for a function or takes it off, it’s gone and must be replaced. But after chasing Van Meer’s assassin in Holland, and having the assassin's car just vanish near some windmills, Jones’ hat blows off across a field... and when he looks up he sees the sails of a windmill moving in the *opposite direction* as the wind. So the hat shows us the direction of the wind... before it lands in a stream and is ruined. Another hat falls off on the observation deck of Westminster Cathedral tower in London to show how far down it would be if Jones were pushed to his death (and then someone does that!). Later in the film Jones says he was “just talking through his hat” - the whole movie is about hats! Though it’s amusing every time Jones loses his hat, usually these errant hats also give us some story information at the same time. Both the name gag and the hat gag are not just amusing, they are critical parts of the story. They may have been *funny* but they were integral to the story as well.

Oh, and during that car chase there’s a drunk guy with a pint of beer in his hand who keeps trying to cross the street... but every time a car roars past. Finally he just turns around and goes back into the pub.

Another great running gag is the little Latvian man who seems to be at every function that Jones attends, but doesn’t speak a word of English and Jones (of course) speaks no Latvian. For some reason these two always end up hanging out together having a non-conversation (sort of miming) and like the lost hats and multiple identities, the little Latvian works his way into the story a few times. The great thing about this little guy is that he has the most expressive face of anyone I’ve ever seen on film - and manages to come up with the perfect expression to communicate whatever he can only say in Latvian. In one great scene there’s a knock on the door of Jones’ hotel room, and two men who claim to be the police want to take him downtown for questioning... except Jones slyly tests them, and they don’t seem to be police at all (more false identities) so he says he was just going to take a bath, and could they wait a moment? He goes into the bathroom, locks the door, turns on the water... and climbs out the window onto a very narrow ledge wearing only his robe and underpants!

A very tense scene as he moves along the ledge - birds getting in his way at one point - looking for an unlocked window. Finds one - Carol’s hotel room - and climbs into the bathroom. Carol has some people visiting in the living room, and eventually a guest finds Jones wearing only his bathrobe in the bedroom... and says something to Carol. Carol tells Jones he must leave the way he came before there’s a scandal, and that’s when the little Latvian guy sticks his head into the room, looks from Carol to Jones... and gives a mischievous smile. Soon all of the guests have left so that Jones and Carol can continue whatever they were (or weren’t) doing.

There’s a clever gag next, where Jones get his clothes out of the room with the two false policemen by calling every service in the hotel from maid to maintenance to room service to valet and has them all come up to the room at the same time - trapping the two false policemen - as a bribed bell hop grabs clothes from his closet and sneaks out in the confusion... neglecting to grab Jones’ hat, of course.

Another little one time gag is when a bodyguard hired to protect Jones turns out to really be an assassin trying to kill him... by pushing him off the Westminster Cathedral Tower... and the front page of the newspaper has an arrow showing the path of the victim on his way from the tower to the street. I guess those tabloids haven't changed much! Again – it's a newspaper reporter making the front page of the newspaper, and that's tied to story.

Set Pieces: The Cathedral Tower scene is one of several great set pieces in FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, and this film (like THE 39 STEPS) seems to be a predecessor of the James Bond films and today's big summer tentpole action flicks. Hitchcock films always had big spectacle scenes – even the silent films! A set piece is a big exciting scene – in the studio days it was a scene so amazing that it was worth building a new set for, rather than just using an existing set on the back lot. Though not all set pieces actually meant building a new set, they were the huge spectacle scenes that would end up in the trailer... just like the big action scenes of today. If you think about those huge James Bond movie action scenes, that's what we're talking about... in the early 1940s.

Van Meer Assassination: Jones goes to an event in Holland where Van Meer is supposed to speak. There is a huge crowd outside the venue, even though it is raining. Dozens of reporters and photographers. Everyone has an umbrella... except Jones, who is in a trenchcoat. Jones has shared a cab with Van Meer previously and hopes to use this to his advantage and get an interview. He greets Van Meer, who just gives him a blank look as if he doesn't recognize Jones. Huh? Then a photographer asks to snap a photo of Van Meer... but there's a gun on the camera! When the flashbulb goes off, so does the gun! Van Meer is shot in the face and killed!

The Assassin runs into the crowd, and all we see are a sea of umbrellas moving as he makes his getaway. Jones gives chase – diving into the sea of umbrellas. Using the umbrellas as kind of a sea of tall grass that moves when the unseen assassin runs through is a great visual, and kind of the predecessor of those early scenes in JAWS where all we see are the barrels or the wake of the shark. It's *evocative* and interesting. A way to make a common chase uncommon and interesting. This is something we can use in our screenplays (I've used different versions in several screenplays – from tall grass rustling to a crowd being jostled). Find the creative and interesting way to write the scene!

The assassin blasts out onto a crowded street, Jones in pursuit. The assassin turns and fires his gun at Jones... killing a bike rider who comes between them for a moment. The assassin keeps firing – killing bystanders! There is a panic on the street. The assassin hops into a getaway car and zips off. Jones basically hijacks a car on the street, ordering the driver to follow the assassin's car. The driver of the car? British reporter ffoilliott (George Saunders) and Fisher's daughter Carol. They give chase – and we get a great car chase, with the assassin firing out the window at them. This chase on rainy streets would be at home in a current action flick – it's pretty exciting.

The chase ends when they lose the assassin's car on a deserted country road filled with windmills. This is where Jones' hat blows away... in the opposite direction than the sails of one of the windmills are turning. Something is strange with that windmill! While ffoilliott and Carol go to get the police, Jones sneaks into the dark windmill...

The Windmill Scene: Okay, they probably built the windmill set for this scene, since it's not likely they had one sitting around on the lot in Hollywood. Jones sneaks into the windmill, which is full of huge turning gears like an obstacle course of wooden teeth. Once Jones sneaks in, he realizes he is in the middle of terrorist central! The assassin is being debriefed in one area and other guys with guns are wandering around – it's like a James Bond scene where Bond sneaks into Blofeld's lair!

Jones hides behind the machinery... but his trenchcoat gets caught in the giant gears, pulling him into their teeth. He has to remain ultra-quiet (the terrorists are only a few feet away) and figure out how not to be ground to pieces. He manages to solve this problem, then climb to an upper room in the windmill... where he finds Van Meer. Wait – he's dead? Jones talks to him – discovers that a double was killed so that the villains would have time to drug and torture Van Meer in order to discover a secret clause in a peace treaty. Jones wants to help Van Meer escape, except for a couple of problems: Van Meer has been given a drug and is doped out of his mind... and the door opens and the terrorists come in! Jones climbs some stairs and hides... but he can't get away because he will make too much noise. So he's stuck halfway in and halfway out of the room.

The terrorists try to get Van Meer to talk – but he looks away... RIGHT AT JONES! Oh, and there's a freakin' bird flying around where Jones is hiding, not making it easy to be quiet. The terrorists turn to look at what Van Meer is staring at... and Jones moves back, hugging the wall, trying to blend with the shadows... and the bird flutters around and the terrorists think that's what Van Meer was looking at. Very tense scene!

But it keeps on going! One of the great things about all of these set pieces is that they have multiple suspense scenes in them and just keep ratcheting up the thrills. Jones manages to get up the stairs and out of the room where they have Van Meer hostage, but now the only way out of the windmill is to go down the stairs and across an exposed interior ramp... with the assassin and two men who are debriefing him *right there*. He waits in the shadows, and when the assassin pulls a sweater over his head – covering his face for a moment – Jones zips across the ramp to the shadows on the other side. Another great suspense bit... and a great idea. How many times have you pulled a sweater or sweat shirt over your head and been “blind” for a second or two? Using that in a suspense scene is genius!

Jones manages to escape, but when he returns later with the police, Van Meer is gone and all evidence that he was ever there has vanished. Jones goes to show the police the car they chased, opens a barn door to expose... an old hay wagon. The police are skeptical. But foilliot notes a homeless guy who was sleeping in the windmill as he rubs dirt on his very clean hands – that's no homeless guy! By the time, the police don't believe anything they say and leave...

Cathedral Tower: Once back in London, Fisher advises Jones that with his life in danger it would be a good idea to hire a professional bodyguard. Jones thinks this is crazy – he's a crime beat reporter who is used to danger. But by this is the father of the woman he loves, so he agrees. The bodyguard is Rowley (Edmund Gwenn) a little man in a bowler hat. When he thinks they are being followed by another car, he has their cab pull over in front of Westminster Cathedral and tells Jones they can lose whoever is following them by going up to the tower – which is open to tourists. Once they get up there, it's obvious that Rowley is not a bodyguard, but an assassin out to kill Jones. There is a great suspense scene on the observation deck of the tower – a group of school kids with a priest on a field trip of some sort, a husband and wife, and some other tourists look out over London from the extreme height... and we know the moment that Rowley and Jones are alone, Jones is going to get thrown over the side to the street hundreds of feet below. Splat! So we get an interesting version of the “ticking clock” - as each tourist leaves, we are closer to Jones' death! Part of the suspense comes from Jones wanting to leave – and Rowley finding some new landmark for him to look at from the tower. Just as the last tourist leaves, the elevator doors open with a husband and wife. The husband wants to look over the ledge, the wife is afraid of heights. Rowley manages to talk her into insisting that her husband leave with her... and that means finally Jones and Rowley are alone, and Jones is going to be thrown over the side to the street below!

This is where we get that tabloid newspaper front page with the arrows showing the path of the guy who fell to his death.

Captured! After several plot twists and some detective work, ffoilliott and Jones find the house where they are keeping Van Meer in London... but everything goes completely wrong when they go to rescue him and they are captured. It's a great reversal. In this scene they torture Van Meer to get the information about the secret clause, and because this is a 1940s movie where they couldn't pull a HOSTEL and use some power tools on the old guy, they do something very clever. They prepare to torture Van Meer, and the camera pans away to the other terrorists... who look away in HORROR as Van Meer screams off screen. Whatever they are doing to him, it makes the bad guys want to puke. There's an action scene here where they rescue Van Meer, but the cool thing is a “How Did They Do That?” shot of ffoilliott jumping out a window, and in one shot (no cuts) we see him fall out a window, rip through an awning, and race down the sidewalk. And it's George Sanders – movie star – not some stuntman. How did they do it? Well, it was an articulated dummy that goes out the window and rips through the awning, and the ripped awning covers the dummy as Sanders races out and down the sidewalk – his face right there for the camera to see. These are the kind of imaginative tricks that didn't cost a lot of money, but just looked amazing on camera. You could do them today in a low budget film.

Plane Shot Down: The ultimate set piece in this film is a Pan Am Airliner from London to the USA being shot down. This is one of the greatest scenes in cinema, and was swiped by Robert Zemeckis for CASTAWAY. One of those “How Did They Do That?” scenes. Jones and ffoilliott are in the coach section of the plane, Fisher and Carol are in the first class section, when an enemy battleship starts firing at them! This is a passenger plane! The plane is hit and starts going down... and we end up with a full scales disaster movie that rivals anything Hollywood has put out since. Not some little scene, this is massive. First we have the drama of the plane being fired on, when the United States is not involved in the war at this time – we are supposed to be neutral. People on the plane are *complaining* instead of panicking... until the plane gets hit and starts to go down. You know those live vests that are supposed to be under your seat in case of the unlikely event of a water landing? People are grabbing them, because they are in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. One woman says that she refuses to put on the life jacket, they're silly... and then is shot dead when the enemy ship continues to fire on them! Okay – panic in the passenger section...

In the cockpit – the two pilots try their best to land the plane on the water, but they know it's not going to be a Miracle On The Hudson – they are coming in too fast. Now we get one of the most amazing shots in cinema history: without a cut, we are in the cockpit – water coming closer and closer and closer – and then we hit the water... and the cockpit window shatters and water rushes inside the cockpit and floods the interior. No cuts. Way before CGI and any type of FX that can make fake water look real. What you see on film actually happened! Sort of. The cockpit window was a movie screen that they showed the ocean getting closer and closer on. So you could see the pilots in the cockpit and the ocean getting closer all in the same shot. Then, without cutting, the plane hits the water and it bursts through the window. Okay, we have that movie of the ocean getting closer – and the movie projected on the window/screen shows them *hitting the water*... and that's when they empty a freakin' tank of water through the window – ripping the screen (as if it's glass) and flooding the cockpit. All one shot – no cuts!

Hey, but that's still the beginning of the sequence!

The whole interior of the plane floods! As the water rises, passengers have to find pockets of air near the ceiling as they make their way to the back of the plane (where there is more air... for now). Our four characters and all of the others struggle to get out of the plane. Doors are jammed. They find suitcases and slam them against a window until they break it... then they have to climb out – careful of the jagged glass and the crashing waves – to the roof of the plane. Some passengers die. Carol almost gets washed away as she climbs out – some stuntwoman was probably bruised badly, slammed against the side of the plane by the waves and almost torn off the side into the ocean (some huge water tank at the studio). The handful of survivors (including our four) get to the top of the plane...

Hey, but there's still more to come!

They realize the body of the plane is sinking, but one of the wings – which has been torn off during impact – is still floating. So they dive onto the wing before the plane body sinks! Most of them have to swim to the wing, and not all of them make it. The ocean is a volcano of waves. Our four and some others make it onto the wing... and the wing begins to sink! Too many people!

Then some other stuff happens...

Speeches: I probably have some Script Tip where I warn against speeches in screenplays. It's not that speeches are *bad*, it's that much of the time what a writer has isn't really a speech, it's just some guy talking forever with no one replying. It's supposed to be a conversation, supposed to be *dialogue*, but ends up one person talking. An actual speech is fine – as long as it's exciting enough to sustain its length. The soliloquy from HAMLET? Great speech! Write something like that and everyone will love it. That speech about the gold watch in PULP FICTION? Amazing! Write something like that and people will call you a genius. But just some boring stuff that drags on and on? No thank you. Bores the crap out of me in real life, and isn't any more exciting on screen... in fact – it's worse.

But FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT has some great speeches. The first great speech is from Carol, and it's part of a great example of leading the audience. When Jones meets Carol, he thinks that she's the PR Girl for Fisher's Peace Group and flirts with her like crazy. When the meeting begins, he tells her to come and sit with him at the press table where they can talk – no one wants to listen to the boring speeches. She sits at the dais in the front of the room near Fisher. Jones keeps sending her notes – trying to pick her up. When the meeting starts, Fisher notes that Mr. Van Meer was called away, but his daughter will be making the keynote speech in his absence. And we see the woman sitting to Fisher's left:

As Fisher continues to talk about his daughter and her qualifications, we keep seeing this woman to his left... and Jones realizes they are in for one heck of a boring speech and tunes out... But when Fisher is finished, the woman to his left starts to stand... but it's just repositioning herself in her chair... and Carol stands. This is a great example of leading the audience – we are sure that the woman to Fisher's left is his daughter, so when Carol stands it's a twist. But the writers had to *create* that woman to Fisher's left to lead us in the wrong direction. Without that woman, it would have been obvious that Carol was his daughter – no other woman on the dais in the right age range. An important part of screenwriting is leading the audience – creating the characters and situations that will make the reader/viewer jump to the wrong conclusion so that the actual conclusion is unexpected. Leading the audience astray is part of our job. If we didn't have that woman who was *not* Fisher's daughter sitting to his left, the scene would have been boring and obvious. This way, Carol being Fisher's daughter is a little twist.

To the speech – Carol stands to make her speech and sees Jones starring at her with puppy-dog eyes and it breaks her concentration... so she works off her notes. Except 50% of her note cards are from Jones asking her out in amusing ways! So she fumbles some more before getting on track with her speech – which uses some of the things that Jones said to her as examples of why they need a Peace Group. This becomes the “mission statement” for Fisher's group, so that we understand why an organization dedicated to peace is needed in this time of impending war. Using some of the things Jones said, makes the speech amusing – and in some ways part of the love story subplot. The speech is over before you know it, and very entertaining.

There's also a little speech by Van Meer in the taxi-cab ride about people feeding the pigeons in the park that is about how those seemingly boring parts of every day life are really what is important.

A great story decisions happens 59 minutes into the film. There is a plot twist and one of the characters we think is a good guy is secretly one of the bad guys. Now, any time the *hero* talks about how bad the badguys are, how they are morally corrupt, etc, it's just going to sound like a bunch of On The Nose speechifying. So the writers give this speech to... the secret bad guy! *We* know they are bad by this point, so while this villain is talking about how vile and evil the villains are, he is really talking about himself. That makes it ironic and interesting – and yet we still get that speech about how bad the badguys are. A great have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too situation, and it actually helps to shade the secret bad guy character! What could have been trite becomes fascinating. I think this is a great technique to put in your toolbox – have the secret villain talk about the villains instead of the hero.

One hour and thirty one minutes in, there's a speech by Van Meer and Fisher and his peace group. It's right before he's tortured, and the situation makes the speech work. If the villains are torturing a man to talk and he gives a great speech, we are cheering for him.

Eight minutes later the secret bad guy is caught and confesses to the people who trusted him – and the confession is emotional. All about having to live a secret life and lie to people who care about him. It's an apology and a confession all rolled into one... and might make you cry. Hey, it's also really some exposition about why he was secretly a bad guy... but you may be a little misty eyed and not realize that.

There's also a fairly clever bit where Jones has been rescued and is on an American ship – they are forbidden to give any information to the press, but are allowed to call a family member to tell them that they are okay. Jones calls his editor – pretending it's his Uncle – and then has what seems to be a conversation with the ship's captain that is really Jones dictating the story to the editor on the other end of the open phone line. This is a big pile of exposition, but because it is being done in a sly and clever way we laugh at the big blocks of facts – Jones is sneaking them right past the ship's captain!

The last speech is a rousing patriotic “let's get in there are fight the Nazis” pro-war speech. Totally political. The producer obviously though we should intervene and help Europe fight the Nazis... and that's the background of the story... but made very clear at the end. Jones is doing a radio broadcast from London when a bombing raid has the radio station people ordering him to the bomb shelter – but he refuses and continues his broadcast to America. When the lights in the radio station go out, he says the lights have gone out here in Europe, but they are shinning bright in America, and we need to bring our light to the rest of the world where it's needed. This speech is so well written you want to enlist! And that is the key to speeches in screenplays – they have to be *great*. They have to rival that HAMLET speech. They have to be as funny and fascinating as that Gold Watch speech from PULP FICTION. The speech itself must be entertaining and amazing – and any spare word needs to be cut.

Human Villain:

One of the great things that happens with the secret bad guy in FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT is that once he has been revealed to the audience we get to see how difficult his decisions are – his actions are against his country and that makes them against some of the country members who are his friends in the film. His actions will hurt people he cares about... and that makes his decisions very difficult to make at times. He is not an evil villain, he is a guy with different political beliefs than those around him who is trying to do what he believes to be the right thing... even though we see that it is wrong. It's important to make sure your villain isn't some cardboard cut-out Snidely Whiplash human cartoon, but a real person. Real people are more frightening than 2D obviously fake villains.

FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT is a fun action thriller that holds up pretty well after all of these years. The characters are engaging and the situations are filled with suspense and a fair amount of humor. All of this, and I never mentioned Robert Benchley's shtick – he plays the previous foreign correspondent to spends his time drinking to excess and whoring around and sending the government's press releases with his name on them as his stories to the newspaper... and his on the wagon and forced to drink milk throughout the film. He has an amusing phone conversation where he says the same phrase again and again, with different emphasis – so it's like a whole conversation using the same words. Lots of fun stuff I couldn't get to in these 6,750 words!

- Bill


More Fridays With Hitchcock!



*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Kindle!

*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to find great ideas! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is around 155 pages!

Only $2.99 - and no postage!

eXTReMe Tracker