Thursday, October 18, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: Portrait Without A Face

NEW SEASON 2!!!

THRILLER: Portrait Without A Face

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



Season: 2, Episode: 14.
Airdate: Dec. 25, 1961 (The Christmas episode?) Director: John Newland
Writer: Jason Wingreen.
Cast: Jane Greer, Robert Webber, Katherine Squire, George Mitchell, John Banner.
Music: Morton Stevens
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Producer: William Frye



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Robertson Moffat’s greatest masterpiece doomed by the shot of an assassin’s crossbow to remain just as we see it - blank, lifeless as the murdered artist himself. It is said that art is a human effort, having for its purpose the transmission to others of the highest and noblest feelings which men have risen. Well, my friends, tonight you’ll see that the activity of art can be inhuman as well. And that its purpose, at least in this case, is shall we say, unexpected. The victim’s vacant canvas should give you a hint of the title our play. It’s called Portrait Without A Face. Look closely, and it will reveal the identity of our leading players. They are: Jane Greer, Robert Webber, Catherine Squire, George Mitchell, and Brian Gaffikin. Sit back, relax if you can, while we whet your pallete with some bold strokes of terror. Oh, do you have a skylight? Be sure to bolt it securely, otherwise you won’t know that you are absolutely alone.”



Synopsis: In his studio, egotistical painter Roberston Moffat (John Newland) is strangling over-acting newspaper reporter Nat Fairchild (Brian Gaffikin) and tosses him to the floor. Fairchild says he didn’t want to come, but she begged him to try and get the painting back. Moffat laughs - says she begged him to paint her nude. Moffat pours himself a drink and pontificates on death... and says he’s going to paint the Angel Of Death, and orders Fairchild to get out. Once Fairchild is gone, the phone rings - Marie, the woman in the nude painting begs him to give it to her. He refuses.... but does ask if she wants to hook up. She hangs up instead.

As Moffat gets his brushes and paints ready, someone climbs the wall of the studio with a crossbow, opens the skylight, fires an arrow into Moffat’s *head*, killing him. Closes the window and vanishes.



Six Months Later: Art Appraiser Arthur Henshaw (Robert Webber) arrives at the Moffat house and is *greeted* by crazy old Aunt Agatha Moffat (Katherine Squire) who asks if he’s from the Janus Gallery in New York. Moffat left all of his paintings to Janus because he discovered him, but Moffat’s wife Ann keeps all of the paintings in the house until she dies... so Janus will probably be long dead before he sees any of the paintings. Crazy old Aunt Agatha is an exposition machine who rattles off information and backstory and plot points and just about anything else the story needs. She tells him the police still have no clues as to who shot the arrow into Moffat’s head.

Ann Moffat (Jane Greer from OUT OF THE PAST) descends the stairs and introduces herself, and crazy Aunt Agatha scampers away. As Ann shows him out the backdoor of the house and across the courtyard to the studio, Henshaw says he’s here to catalogue all of the paintings so Janus can decide what to show at Moffat’s last exhibition. No one has been in the studio since the murder.

She unlocks the door and shows Henshaw around, pointing out Moffat’s last canvas... which is blank. But Henshaw looks at it and says it is not blank... Ann takes a look, and there is a painting of Moffat’s head on the floor with the arrow sticking out of it in the corner of the canvas - the rest is blank. Ann faints.



Dr. Grant (Gage Clarke), who has the worst bedside manner ever, scolds Ann for fainting and yells at her to keep calm. On his way out, Dr. Grant has a conversation with Henshaw about why she fainted. Henshaw says the canvas was blank, and then there was part of a painting on it. “Do you realize what you’re saying?” Dr. Grant replies. Unfortunately, I’m not sure anyone has any idea what they are talking about - because they avoid the word “ghost” and avoid anything that might make you think that’s what they are talking about. Also, they forgot to plant that the painting of dead Moffat was in Moffat’s style. Grant scolds and yells at Henshaw, then leaves.

Ann gets out of bed, tells Henshaw that she must destroy the painting, and heads out the backdoor into a night thick with fog. They have a conversation about the key to the studio - there was only one, Ann didn’t even have a key until her husband died and she was given his. They discuss the arrow shot through the skylight - could someone have entered the studio through the skylight and painted on the canvas... maybe the killer? The fog is so think in some of these shots that the actors didn’t have to show up for work that day.

In the studio, crazy Aunt Agatha is looking at the painting a cackling. They send her away, and Henshaw closes the door. Henshaw goes to get the canvas... and looks at it for a long long long time. Anne eventually comes over and sees that someone has added to the painting - dead Moffat’s body has now been added. Henshaw wants to leave and lock the studio door behind them and call the police. Now we get Ann saying that the painting is in her husband’s style. “He’s dead, but he’s painting this picture.”



Sheriff Pete Browning (George Mitchell - the old drunk in ANDROMEDA STRAIN) shows up and says it’s crazy - Moffat can’t be painting from beyond the grave. Henshaw tells him that he’s sent for the greatest art critic in the world to authenticate the painting. Browning isn’t sure what that will prove... and that’s when Fairchild shows up unannounced. He’s heard rumor that Moffat is painting from beyond the grave, can Sheriff Browning or Henshaw verify this? Again, this guy is over-acting like crazy. Browning shows Fairchild out... then asks Ann for the key to the studio so that he can investigate this alleged ghost painting.

Henshaw helps Ann upstairs, then goes to the studio - where Browning is looking at the painting. Browning pulls up a chair to make sure no ghosts add to the painting overnight. Henshaw goes upstairs in the studio to catalogue paintings.

Crazy Aunt Agatha runs around in the thick fog cackling.

Ann looks out her bedroom window at the fog.

Fairchild looks through the gates at the fog.

Crazy Aunt Agatha makes a cup of coffee, then looks out the window at the fog... and sees a MAN! She screams!



Sheriff Browning hears this and runs out of the studio and through the fog into the kitchen, where Ann is comforting crazy Aunt Agatha... and the MAN is standing in the kitchen. He is Professor Martin Vanderhoven (John Banner, Sgt Schultz) the art expert. He explains how many times he knocked at the front door before coming around to the back and looking through the kitchen window, scaring Agatha, Then he explains exactly why he came here... to examine the painting. Browning realizes that no one is guarding the painting and races back to the studio... Everyone follows.

Browning looks at the canvas and calls for Henshaw, who has been upstairs all along, and says that no one has entered or left the studio. Except, more of the room has been painted - including a roughed out version of the ceiling and skylight!

Vanderhoven says this is definitely Moffat’s work. How is that possible? He’s been dead for six months. Vanderhoven touches the new portion of the painting - and the paint is still wet. Impossible! Vanderhoven wants to take more time to study the painting.



Meanwhile, crazy Aunt Agatha is using a Ouija Board in the livingroom and cackling... while all of the other cast members wait. For some reason, Fairchild is there.

Vanderhoven comes back from the studio and says it is Moffat’s work - but that is impossible. Everybody freaks out in their own way.

Sheriff Browning wants to take the painting to the police station, and Henshaw stops him in the fog - neither actor really needed to show up for this scene, the fog is so thick you can barely see them. Henshaw says the painting belongs to Janus Galleries, and as the representative of the owner, he can’t let Browning have it. Besides - it’s not finished. Browning goes to get a court order.



Henshaw is going to spend the night in the studio guarding the painting.

Fairchild spends the night in a bar. Someone sits across from him - unseen. Fairchild has a file on Henshaw... he was captain of the archery team in college.

Ann grabs a knife and goes into the studio to destroy the painting... but Henshaw wakes up and stops her. That’s when they notice that more of the painting has been filled in. The skylight, but not the face of the killer. Henshaw asks if she killed her husband - she says she hated him, but didn’t kill him. Dude was an a-hole, and screwed every woman who posed for him.



Henshaw says he believes that the killer will return to the scene of the crime to destroy the painting...

And a masked man climbs over the wall with a cross bow!

Henshaw tells her that *he* has been doing the painting - as an art student he learned how to mimic the styles of other painters. He is doing this to catch the killer. He couldn’t tell her until he knew that she wasn’t a suspect. That’s when they hear the noise from the skylight. Henshaw tells her to sit in the chair, and then he races upstairs to the door overlooking the skylight (um, kind of negates the locked room aspect of the mystery) and tangles with the masked cross-bow dude... throwing him through the skylight!

Outside, Fairchild grabs a screaming girl in the fog and brings her into the studio for no apparent reason, where Henshaw rolls over the dead masked man and pulls off the mask... exposing Sheriff Browning. The screaming girl is Marie, Browning’s wife (Alberta Nelson)... who was the nekkid girl Moffat painted who called him in the first scene. Browning found out and got jealous and...

Then, for no apparent reason, everyone looks at the painting as Browning’s face is painted by Moffat’s ghost! Creepy... not!



Review: Newland’s technical direction is a small step better than in his last episode, there is actually a moving shot in this hour! But still, most of his plan is to set up a camera and have actors act in front of it - zero actual direction. This stands out in scenes in the living room set and the art studio set when characters are so far away from the camera that it is like watching a stage play. In the episode’s teaser, where he plays the famous artist *and* directs, there is an awkwardly shot conversation where Fairchild is in close up talking to Moffat in long shot... and the different sizes of the characters on screen is confusing. Had this been done for some purpose it might be okay, but it just seems like Newland wasn’t thinking about how the shots would cut together.

The living room scenes often have the camera planted somewhere and characters move back and forth across a diagonal in front of it - again, making it seem like a stage play. One of the weird things about that moving shot is that it goes from two characters talking to each other on the sides of the screen in profile (flat shot), to behind one of the characters so we can only see the back of his head for the rest of the conversation. What’s that all about? Newland’s flat lack of style has been an issue with all of his episodes since Stephen King’s favorite PIGEONS FROM HELL, where he couldn’t make cobwebs creepy... here he doesn’t make fog creepy.



But the biggest problem with this episode is that it doesn’t get the creepy concept to the audience until close to the end. Whether that is the fault of the screenplay or the direction (most likely both), despite several chunks of exposition, the concept that Moffat is painting his killer’s face from beyond the grave isn’t made clear or even made creepy and strange until the episode is almost over. Yeah, someone is painting that canvas, but the critical information that the painting is in Moffat’s style is never mentioned - and never shown - until Sgt Schultz shows up. The direction is so flat that it can’t make the additions to the painting spooky - someone is just painting - and the writing seems to miss that this is important information. The writer, Wingreen, is a character actor whose face you would recognize - but this is one of 5 TV episodes he wrote, and no one ever asked him back. My guess - due to all of that clunky exposition in an early scene - is that *on the page* we are told that the painting is in Moffat’s style, but because it is never shown in any way - that information stays on the page.



One of the issues here is that for a story that hinges on the painter’s style, prop paintings all seem to be from different painters with different styles. There is never a sequence after the post-death painting has begun that shows shots of Moffat’s previous work and compares it to the post death painting to show the audience that it’s the dead guy doing the painting. One of the checks and balances in cinema is that if the writer drops the ball and the information is on the page but not the stage, the director can rectify that and come us with a visual way to show that information. Here, that wasn’t done. So the concept of a dead man painting his killer doesn’t pop up until too close to the end.



Oh, and the painting is NOT of the killer. Another big issue. The painting is of Dead Moffat with a tiny little piece of the painting being where the killer was. Prop department failure? Writer failure? Director failure? All three?

Though better than his previous entry, Newland’s theory on shooting fast for TV seems to be minimal set ups - and not in a great Stanley Kubrick’s THE KILLING way. He has one more episode coming up, let’s see if there is more camera movement and style than in his previous entries. Meanwhile, the next episode is a clever little crime story about the family that slays together...

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Quentin Tarantino's Early Muppet Movies

From 2009....

Most people don't know that before Tarantino directed most of the films we know of... in fact, before he even directed his *first* film, MY BEST FRIEND'S BIRTHDAY, he worked extensively with the Muppets. Here are some trailers for those early films, to prepare you for KILL HITLER VOLUME 1... I mean, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS...



The thing about Tarantino - he pushes everything to the limit so that you *remember* his work, his dialogue, his characters. That's a lesson we can apply to our scripts - don't wimp out, don't pull punches.

Classes On CD - Recession Sale! Stock market is going up, buy now!

- Bill

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: The Wind And The Lion

One of my favorite movies, and probably one you have never heard of... now on BluRay thanks to the wonderful people at Warner Archive.

Many people think that after the dark films of the 70s, STAR WARS came along and changed everything with its rousing story of adventure. But adventure was already a major component of 70s films, with John Huston’s epic adventure THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING and this fun swashbuckler released a couple of years before STAR WARS and written and directed by one of Lucas’ friends, John Milius. There are sword fights and romance and cliff hangers and fantastic stunts and it all takes place in a world far away and many years ago.

It is a great film for 12 year olds of all ages - filled with larger than life characters and all kinds of romance and adventure. And *knowing* that it's a boy's adventure story it often takes the point if view of a 12 year old boy in the story.



John Milius is one of my favorite directors, and when I met him a few years ago this was the film I mentioned loving - even though many of his other films are also among my favorites. I start every day listening to the Basil Poledouris theme to CONAN THE BARBARIAN, and I thought PUBLIC ENEMIES paled big time in comparison to DILLINGER. They have tried remaking CONAN and RED DAWN without success and I believe part of that is because they missed Milius' point. His movies were usually about two strong people in combat - and the *respect* the combatants had for each other and the honor of a good fight. In the original RED DAWN the Cuban villain allows the Wolverines to remove their wounded in one scene - even though he could easily kill them and end his problems. But he is a man of honor - even though he is the villain. In the remake we have evil Korean villains who have no trace of humanity or honor. Just *eeeeevil*! Even though Milius and I have completely different political beliefs, he never demonizes the other side in his films. Though he may not agree with the opposing government’s goals (or maybe even the hero’s government’s goals - governments are usually corrupt), the warriors on the battlefield are not evil guys. His antagonists are not two dimensional mustache twirlers, they are real people.

The great thing about having two strong forces locked in battle is that you get to explore each character... plus there’s no shortage of action. This is something today's film makers (and production execs with stupid notes) should consider. Hitchcock said "The better the villain, the better the picture", and "better" includes being more fleshed out and dimensional. If a giant asteroid smashes earth, we don't *feel anything* about the asteroid... it's just a rock. We can't hate the asteroid... it's just a rock. The problem with the Korean villains in the RED DAWN remake is that they were just rocks... no trace of humanity that could pull out our emotions.




With THE WIND AND THE LION we have a story loosely based on an actual historical event - the kidnaping of two Americans in the middle east and the quest to get them back unharmed. In real life it was 64 year old American citizen Ion Perdicaris and his son, kidnaped by Berber warrior Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli and his horsemen from his villa in Morocco to secure a ransom and political power from the Sultan... and President Teddy Roosevelt famously said: “Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead!” and moved in the Marines. As a romance between a dashing Berber warrior and some 64 year old dude probably wasn’t going to play in 1975, Milius changed the 64 year old man into an attractive young woman with her *two* children and as I said earlier, has the story seen through the eyes of the boy. Not accurate history, but it’s an adventure film not a documentary. Most of the other characters and even some of the dialogue remains true.

The film is a true epic - big action, big emotions, big romance, big stars and an amazing Jerry Goldsmith score. It’s like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA meets RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Sean Connery plays the Raisuli as a handsome sheik on horseback, a young Candice Bergan played Eden Perdicaris, and Brian Keith steals the show playing Teddy Roosevelt. The film is filled with great sword fighting scenes and some of the most amazing horse stunts you will ever see - lots of horses *indoors* on stairways and rooftop chases!

What is interesting is that our kidnaper is the *love interest* and the male lead in this story. The main conflict is between the Raisuli and Teddy Rosevelt... who never share a single scene. This telegram (from the film) sums up their conflict: “To Theodore Roosevelt - you are like the Wind and I like the Lion. You form the Tempest. The sand stings my eyes and the Ground is parched. I roar in defiance but you do not hear. But between us there is a difference. I, like the lion, must remain in my place. While you like the wind will never know yours. - Mulay Hamid El Raisuli, Lord of the Riff, Sultan to the Berbers, Last of the Barbary Pirates.” Roosevelt sends his Marines to track down the Raisuli, and rescue Mrs. Pedecaris and her children.




Since Roosevelt and the Raisuli never share a scene, the story finds some excellent other forms of conflict. Mrs. Pedecaris is a prim and proper woman who is used to servants and elegant accommodations and manners... who is kidnaped and forced to take an extended camping trip in the desert where there is no indoor plumbing and no indoors. She wears many layers of clothing to preserve modesty, but these things aren’t exactly camping and horse riding attire. The Raisuli doesn’t help his side by chopping off the head of a thief in one scene... and forcing Mrs. Pedecaris to find a way to change clothes in front of his band of Barbary Pirates. So we have Pedecaris against the Raisuli, constantly battling each other (and falling in love along the way... this *is* a movie).

But we also have the politics. The Raisuli’s reason for kidnaping Mrs. Pedecaris is to force the Sultan and his uncle the Bashaw (Vladek Sheybal, who tangled with Connery in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE) into removing the foreign influences from the country. The place is *filled* with Americans and English and Germans and everybody else trying to make deals for the country’s resources, and sell European goods (like weapons) to the Sultan. The country has become corrupt, and the Raisuli believes they will be conquered through commerce by the west. The Germans end up the main negative influence in this story, probably because of those spiked helmets. But does this remind you of any other political situation? Wait, there’s more... because the USA sends in the Marines (lead by Steven Kanaly) to protect their interests and rescue Mrs. Pedecaris... which seems a bit like Viet Nam. Now, one of my other favorite Milius films BIG WEDNESDAY is *about* Viet Nam... and in that film he has one of the three leads make the decision to serve his country with honor while the other two don’t go to war. So Milius doesn’t seem to be on the anti war side of Viet Nam. But there are still traces of a meddling United States becoming involved with a foreign conflict that is such a rat’s nest that there’s no way we can understand it, let alone do anything to solve it. The real conflict is between the Sultan & Bashaw and the Raisuli... and the Raisuli is the Bashaw’s *brother*! (Wait, does that make the sultan Raisuli’s son? Maybe, never brought up.) There is nothing America can do to resolve the internal politics of this country.



Teddy Roosevelt is portrayed as a President who must do *something* after an American is kidnaped. He sends his Ambassador (the great Geoffrey Lewis) to try negotiation with the Sultan, hoping the Sultan will grant the Raisuli a section of the kingdom that will be free from foreign influences... but the Sultan is fickle and would rather play with his German machinegun. Many of the scenes concern Roosevelt’s love of nature, the building of the national parks system, and the Grizzly Bear he has shot on a hunting trip and wants to have stuffed and mounted... not as an inferior to humans, but as a fierce animal (kind of the king of the American jungle). John Huston plays his *slippery* Secretary Of State John Hay, who tries to manipulate the President... without success. The politics on both sides are convoluted and confusing... only the individuals like Roosevelt and the Raisuli have honor.

This film has a rousing score by Jerry Goldsmith which I bought on vinyl probably the day I first saw the film (there was a Soundtracks Only store in San Francisco) and I have it to this day (and a CD without as many scratches). If you don't know who Goldsmith was, he was probably the greatest modern film composer... and I prefer him over John Williams. He also scored CHINATOWN and THE BLUE MAX and THE OMEN and... well, lots of great scores! The film was shot by Billy Williams who was nominated a few times for Best Cinematography Oscar but only won once for GANDHI. Stunts by Terry Leonard, who also did the stunt coordination on RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and APOCALYPSE NOW and RED DAWN and most recently on AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2.




When the film came out I was a teenager and movies still opened on Wednesdays and only opened in major cities... played there for a month or two, then opened in the suburbs (which used to be called “Roadshow”). So, to see the movie on opening day, my friend Dave and I drove all the way to San Francisco and saw the very first matinee. Not packed. But afterwards, we pretended to sword fight all the way back to the car. I saw the film one more time in San Francisco, then once when it played “roadshow” in Concord. This was one of those movies that got me excited about making movies when I grew up. I wanted to do big, exciting, swashbucklers like this!

The film was not a big hit, nor was it a flop. It did okay. What I always find strange is how people will find fault with some movie... and then ignore the same problem in some movie they like. The two big things critics disliked about this film were Sean Connery’s Middle Eastern accent (which sounded Scottish) and that they changed the kidnaped dude to a kidnaped chick. Has Connery ever had an accent in a movie that wasn’t Scottish? Did we ever care? And how many movies based on some true event stay completely true to what happened? They all dramatize things! Were there major complaints about SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE bending the facts? No - it was a movie! I think the critics thought it was *fun* when movies had been gritty and serious for the past few years. The year WIND came out was the same year ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and DOG DAY AFTERNOON and SHAMPOO came out. Nobody could see STAR WARS in the crystal ball. WIND AND THE LION wasn’t one of the top ten films that year, though a film Milius did some uncredited writing on called JAWS was #1.

THE WIND AND THE LION is one of those films that people fall in love with. I still love the film and watch the DVD probably once a year... and now it's out on BluRay!

Milius Interview:


Check out THE WIND AND THE LION on BluRay. It might make you feel like a 12 year old again, and you might sword fight with a broom... and break something.

One of my favorite films.

- Bill

Friday, October 12, 2018

HITCH 20: Mr. Blanchard's Secret (s2e1)

HITCH 20, Episode 6: Mr. BLANCHARD'S SECRET.

This is a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I have been a "guest expert" on (season 1). The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock and here is the first episode of the second season, which looks at the importance of specifics on screen (and on the page, or it never gets to the screen). This new season is without me. I was juggling too many things and thought I'd squeeze it in, but just didn't have the time. But I'm still be featuring it here, because it's a great show.



Mr. Blanchard's Secret... we can discuss the episode in the comments section, and maybe I'll add some commentary on the episode here.

I decided I would write this *before* watching the episode, so that I wasn’t influenced by what the others said (just as if I was part of this episode)...

The big lesson in this episode for me is ABLA, Always Be Leading the Audience. Just as the director frames the shot to draw the audience’s eyes to some object, you want the story to draw the audience’s minds to some conclusion... show them the information and allow them to make the jump. You create the misdirection. In a mystery, you don’t just throw a bunch of suspects into a room and let the audience pick the most likely suspect (who ends up not being the killer), you *point to the most likely suspect* so that everyone watching the mystery thinks the same person is the killer, that way there is a twist when the real killer is exposed. How a twist works is by misdirection, and just as a magician draws attention to one hand while palming something with the other, when we tell a story we will draw attention to one thing in the story so that the audience focus on that thing... and doesn’t notice the other possibilities. We want to always be leading the audience.



This is a story about storytelling, and the protagonist, Babs Fenton is a writer. A storyteller.

It’s kind of a comedy version of REAR WINDOW.

Babs is the audience surrogate *and* the leader in this episode. She gives us the information... it’s all filtered through her, the way a movie is filtered through the camera’s angle and movement and framing. She has never seen new neighbor Mr. Blanchard’s wife, so maybe he has murdered her? Now that we have been lead in this direction, all of the things we see add further evidence to this scenario. Our vision has been narrowed so that we only see things that fit that possibility. When Babs bumped into him at the grocery store (a husband doing the shopping?) he acted strange when she asked about his wife.

Babs makes a sandwich in the middle of the night... and sees Blanchard peeking through her window! She decides this is a good reason to throw on a robe and knock on his door... and when no one answers and the door is unlocked, she pulls a Grace Kelly and enters the house! Now we get a nice little suspense/dread scene as she pokes around in the house. More evidence! The house is decorated for function rather than beauty, obviously a man’s work. And upstairs, Mrs. Blanchard’s bedroom is suspiciously immaculate. But there is a photo of the Blanchards. When Babs looks in the closet, it’s filled with nice clothes...

And that’s when Blanchard pops up behind her... and startles her. Then escorts her to the front door and out of the house.






Even though her husband John acts as the voice of reason, and keeps telling her this is all her imagination in overdrive and there is obviously some logical explanation. The audience may even know that he’s probably right... but look at this evidence! Look at how weird things are! The fascinating thing about John is that he forces the audience to take a position. We dig in... John offers no explanation for the strange things happening at the Blanchard house.

The next place the story leads the audience is to the idea that Mrs. Blanchard is a prisoner in her own home due to some dark secret... maybe she’s a drunk? That Blanchard lost his well paid university professor job and became a teacher at the high school because of his wife’s drunken scandals. This new theory also fits the evidence, the way a new suspect might in a mystery. Instead of just having some vague scandal, we are pointed in the direction of a specific scandal. That leads to Blanchard killing his wife...

Which is when Mrs. Blanchard shows up at the door. After being lead in one direction, twist! When Babs invites her in and goes to get some coffee (the story is still leading us with the coffee), Twist again as Mr. Blanchard pops up to take his wife home.

And that leads us back to the prisoner in her own home scenario.

Until, in the middle of the night, Blanchard leaves the house carrying a heavy duffel bag... filled with Mrs. Blanchard’s body?

Again, husband John says all of this sounds like her imagination at work... but offers no explanation for the duffel bag in the middle of the night.

And then Mrs. Blanchard shows up again for coffee. Explains that she and her husband had a fight and he threw some clothes in a duffel bag and left. He’ll be back for dinner.

Now we get some nice misdirection: as Babs and Mrs. Blanchard have coffee and a smoke, we are lead to think about the Blanchard’s relationship which is being discussed rather than an important clue that happens right before our eyes. Magic!






When Mrs. Blanchard leaves, she steals the ornate cigarette lighter.

When Babs discovers the ornate cigarette lighter is missing, she knows the Blanchards’ secret: Mrs. Blanchard is a klepto! This explains why he lost his university job and why he keeps her locked up in her room.

Now we get a new twist that leads the audience in a different direction: A woman fitting Mrs. Blanchard’s description has been found murdered. Beaten to death. Babs is sure that when Mr. Blanchard discovered that his klepto wife has stolen again, he went crazy and killed her. Husband John says she’s imagining things again, and insists they go down to the morgue so he can prove to her that this *isn’t* Mrs. Blanchard. Again, we have been lead by the story: the focus is on that dead woman in the morgue. The audience only thinks of: will it be Mrs. Blanchard or not? The audience is not allowed to think of other things, only what the story has focused on.

When Babs opens the front door on the way to the morgue... there are Mr. & Mrs. Blanchard with the ornate cigarette lighter, which Mr. Blanchard has repaired as a housewarming gift. Twist! The end.

By leading the audience the story makes them think about what the writer wants them to think about, rather than the other thousands of possibilities. This way we can perform the magic of storytelling, creating suspense and twists and a fun experience.

Now I’m going to watch the new HITCH 20 episode and see what everyone else said.

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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

Films Included: NOTORIOUS, SABOTAGE, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE 39 STEPS, REBECCA, TO CATCH A THIEF, FRENZY, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, THE LODGER, THE BIRDS, TORN CURTAIN, SABOTEUR, VERTIGO, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934), THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1955), SUSPICION, and NUMBER SEVENTEEN. 17 Great Films!

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

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OTHER COUNTRIES:
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UK Folks Click Here.

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Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And...




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Bill

Thursday, October 11, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk.

NEW! SEASON 2!!!



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



Season: 2, Episode: 13.
Airdate: December 18, 1961

Director: John Brahm.
Writer: Donald S. Sanford from the story by Margaret St. Clair.
Cast: Jo Van Fleet, John Carradine, Paul Newlan, Hal Baylor.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Ray Flin.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Imagine a woman with such poise, such calm, in the presence of... whatever happened to young Johnny. Remarkable. The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk, that’s the title of our excursion into the impossible, tonight. Or is what happened to Johnny impossible in this day? He was a thief. Whatever he got he deserved, you say. Well, my friend, how can you judge until you know the full horror that overtook him out there in the farmland? That’s a puzzle I invite you to solve in company with our cast. Jason Longfellow played by John Carradine, Sheriff Tom Willetts played by Paul Newlan, Peter Gogan played by Hal Baylor, the remarkable Mrs. Hawk portrayed by Jo Van Fleet. If you’ve ever yearned for a small farm, a few chickens, a cow, and a pig or two... or three... I particularly recommend this story, because as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, you’ll learn some animal husbandry that even the experts never dreamed of.”

Synopsis: A pair of hobos / day laborers, Jason (John Carradine) and Peter (Hal Baylor), put out their campfire and prepare to leave, wondering where their pal is. Across the field is an old country house with a big sign in front “Isle Of Aiaie” Home Of The Pampered Pig. Visitors Welcome. Mrs. C. Hawk proprietor.”



Inside the house, their pal Johnny (Bruce Dern) (with a tattoo of an arrow through a heart on his arm) is having a meal served by Mrs Hawk (Jo Van Fleet) - he did a day’s work at the pig farm and is quitting. Mrs. Hawk doesn’t want him to quit... and touches him in a way you usually don’t touch employees... and Johnny takes a step back. She says she will give him his pay, but first a goodbye drink of her blackberry brandy. Okay, anything to get his money and get out of here. He downs it, and when she goes to get his pay, grabs the empty brandy decanter and follows her into the little home office. He’s going to hit her and rob her of *all* her money. A really good creep up suspense moment... will she hear him and turn around? When he gets ready to hit her she spins around... and tells him that he can have all of the money if he wants, she won’t even call the cops. He takes her strong box and runs!

Then she hears him scream: “Help me!” from the yard... and she smiles. He keeps screaming!
Then hogs begin snorting and squeeling!
And the screaming stops.



Peter wants to help Johnny, but Jason thinks it’s too late. Peter mentions that hungry hogs are dangerous - they will eat a human... and blames Jason for sending Johnny in to steal, knowing he might end up a meal. The two fight a little, and then Jason explains his real plan. A personals advert from Mrs Hawk in a magazine, “Attractive widow, owner of prosperous farm, desires lonely young man to share her work and future.” Jason believes she requested “lonely" young men because they are less likely to have families who will question their disappearance. She’s a serial killer. Jason plans to blackmail her... using Peter as bait.

At the County Fair, Sheriff Tom Willetts (Paul Newlan from M SQUAD) makes his rounds, while Mrs Hawk displays her prize pig Nammon... which has won all of the awards at the fair. The pig also has a tattoo with an arrow through a heart on it’s front leg... just like Johnny did. WTF? She chases down the Sheriff and does some heavy flirting with him... but he politely rejects her. He's a middle aged man who is nervous around women... and she's a woman who is several steps past "aggressive". A maneater.



When she drives home with the prized pig in the back of her truck, Peter and Jonathan are waiting for her... answering her personals advert in the magazine. Peter is the potential husband, Jason is his uncle. She serves them tea and cookies, and then Jason leaves... and Peter stays in the guest room of the house. So they can get to know each other better. Peter is a little nervous about what that might entail.

That night, Peter sleeps fully clothed.
Something wakes him up in the middle of the night, and he looks out the window. Spots Mrs. Hawk in her nightgown walking into the pig barn with a bowl of... grapes. She feeds the big hogs, calling them all by name. Creepy! One of the hogs seems angry, so she tells it that it can come back for a little while... The pig with the same tattoo as Johnny had. And we get a cool moving shot where she follows the pig to the house, and when it walks behind a cart for a moment she points her wooden pig prodder at it and Johnny comes out on the other side of the cart. Johnny is the pig! Mrs Hawk takes Johnny-pig in to her bedroom... for reasons not fully explained in the story, but we wonder about corkscrew personal parts. Peter sees Mrs. Hawk and Johnny entering the bedroom and sneaks out of the house.



Next morning she notices Peter missing.... and then there is a knock at the door: the Sheriff. Official business. It seems that her day laborer Johnny and his partner Peter are both wanted by the police for robbing a man. She turns away so that he doesn’t see her expression when she learns that Johnny and Peter know each other. Sheriff Willetts mentions that both are traveling with an old hobo - Jason. She shifts gears and pours on the flirting, which makes Sheriff Willetts nervous, so he leaves.

Jason finds Peter back at their camp and asks why he isn’t in the house with Mrs. Hawk? Peter tells him what he saw, and Jason believes all of it. He wants to poke around the house... but that means that Peter has to go back.

Peter returns and tells Mrs. Hawk that he saw one of her pigs escape so he tried to chase it down, failed to grab it. “He’ll come home when he’s hungry,” she says. And she has breakfast waiting for him - pancakes... with blackberry syrup. As Peter eats she says she feels bad about running his uncle Jason off and wonders if he’s available to come to dinner tonight? Peter fumbles a bit, because he was supposed to ask her if uncle Jason could come by for dinner. She keeps pouring on the blackberry syrup... and there’s a nice shot where Peter eats a fork-full of syrupy pancakes and makes a sound halfway between a belch and a pig’s snort and the camera moves to Mrs. Hawk as the sounds become all pig snorts. Peter has become a pig.



That night, Jason comes by for dinner... and while waiting, studies a painting on the wall of a young woman with a wooden pig prodder surrounded by adoring pigs. They have a nice verbal battle - a chess game - where Jason talks about the painting, and she tries to normalize it. He seems to know everything about her. She tries to deflect him and charm him away from these subjects. He grabs a photo from a table and asks who this is - needs to know the family his nephew is marrying into, right? Mrs Hawk says it’s her niece Meddy. “Would that be a pet name for Medea?” He asks where Peter is... and she answers “tamed”. She offers him a glass of blackberry wine. He accepts the glass, but doesn’t drink it... and says he knows all about her. The “C” stands for Circe - she is the Greek Goddess of magic and witchcraft. Through the use of her magic wand she can turn her enemies into pigs and other beasts. She asks what he wants? Jason smiles: Every cent she has and the farm. This won’t be the first time she has been forced to move, right?

Jason will need a pen and paper to draw up a contract for sale of the farm - and Mrs. Hawk attempts to trick him several times. She dips the top of the pen in a bottle when he isn’t looking. He draws up the contract, putting the top of the pen in his mouth at one point. She signs the contract... then flirts with him, and asks if he would like to see the pigs.

At the barn, Jason fears a trap... so he takes the flashlight and goes in alone. The barn is dark and spooky.



In one pen, a big hog wears Peter’s suit!
From outside the barn she asks, “Do you see him?”
“Yes... I see him.”
“You’re lucky, Most of my friends don’t have the opportunity to see what’s going to happen to them.”

She tells him it was on the tip of the pen, and when he screams and tries to escape from the barn, she locks the door.... locking him in the barn with Peter and Johnny and all of the others... and then he begins snorting like a pig!

Meanwhile: Sheriff Willetts and a kid are searching their camp on the field across from the house, and find Jason’s library of mythology... and finds his notes on Mrs. Hawk. Weird notes. Does he believe them?



Sheriff Willetts goes to visit Mrs Hawk, and she starts in on the flirting to make him uncomfortable. He says he is here on official business... and wants her to go in the house while he searches. She waves the pig pusher at the pigs and they are all suddenly silent, then she leaves and lets him search.

Sheriff Willetts does a search of the barn, fairly suspenseful. He finds nothing.

In the house, he studies the painting of the young woman surrounded by adoring pigs. Finds a stash of watches and cigarette lighters and other things from her victims. That’s when she comes in with a pot of coffee and cups on a serving tray. “Tom, you know something about me, don’t you?” He says he knows what happened to all of the missing men, he knows who she really is. She does the flirting thing again. He will have nothing to do with it... and she says she is willing to give her confession. Has he told anyone else her secret? “If I told anybody a thing like that they’d lock me up!” She smiles... and then touches his lips with her fingers... giving him a taste of that blackberry potion. She points the pig prodder at him and... the Sheriff turns into a pig!



Later, she sells all of her pigs to the slaughterhouse and watches as they are loaded into the back of the truck, saying goodbye to each of them by name. The Sheriff pig has a star shaped marking on its chest. As the two slaughterhouse drivers prepare to leave, they talk about what a great woman Mrs Hawk is - she cared so much about those pigs of hers.

Mrs. Hawk goes back to the house... and a young man shows up, answering her personals advert in the magazine. She smiles at him.





Review: This is a great episode, that hits on all cylinders. The writing is witty, the story is dark and twisted, and the direction (lighting, camera moves) milk it for every creepy moment.

The acting is also superb, especially Jo Van Fleet (from Oakland) who you may know from EAST OF EDEN or COOL HAND LUKE or Polanski’s THE TENANT or the TV movie SATAN’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS. She is an unconventionally attractive woman, and vamps the hell out of it this episode. She is sex incarnate. Were the TV censors asleep at the switch? Her hands are all over every male character in the story and she dresses like the farmer’s daughter from all of those dirty jokes. I had a still I was going to pull for this of her bending down in front of John Carradine to offer him a drink that is offering him her cleavage as well - but it was kind of pervy. She just oozes sex whenever she’s on screen, to the point that it feels like a trap (which is what she was going for). This isn’t just a sexually aggressive woman, there is a danger vibe here. Even before Bruce Dern is turned into a pig, you know she has some sort of evil plan for him. This is a great performance in an episode filled with them.

John Carradine is also great as the hobo/conman, and the scenes with him and Van Fleet are two masters at the top of their game battling it out. Carradine playing a conman is a great casting - he can ham it up and it fits his character. Did I say: Ham it up?



You may not be familiar with Paul Newlan who plays the Sheriff, but he was usually working across the lot on Lee Marvin’s M SQUAD show as the Chief Of Detectives - and is great here as the shy, lonely, Sheriff in this episode - when Van Fleet comes on to him, he gets so flustered that the audience feels uncomfortable. Another great performance by an old pro character actor.

Hal Baylor is another one of those character actors with well over 100 credits - he was on every Western show ever made and pops up in John Wayne movies, too. He’s also in A BOY AND HIS DOG.

Director John Brahm did 12 episodes of THRILLER, including CHEATERS, DARK LEGACY, THE PREDICTION and GOOD IMAGINATION. He was also one of the main directors on TWILIGHT ZONE and HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and MAN FROM UNCLE. On this show his episodes range from competent to great - and this is one of the great ones. The single shot where the pig turns into Bruce Dern would be a mind blower today, and a scene where Carradine is poking around in the spooky pig barn with a flashlight builds all kinds of dread. The payoff - a pig in Peter’s suit - doesn’t work as well as a shock moment, but farm animals in clothes tend to be funny... and that’s the problem, here. But still a great moment in a twisted episode.



The story itself, and screenplay by Donald Sanford, is creepy and shocking. I think Kevin Smith should have watched this episode before making TUSK. Smith’s movie is a bunch of talking heads scenes, this episode has creepy scenes and shock moments and the talking heads scenes are battles between clever characters trying to outsmart each other. Oddly, due to the Sheriff character, this episode is also reminiscent of PSYCHO. Various characters disappear in a spooky old house, and the plodding Sheriff puts the pieces together and realizes that something is really wrong, here. I love the early bit of leading the audience / misdirection when Peter mentions that hungry hogs will eat people - that adds so much dread to every scene. You are waiting for the secret to be that Mrs. Hawk feeds people to her pigs... so when it is revealed that her pigs are people, it’s a great moment.

Another great element in this episode is Karloff's introduction - most of them are kind of blandly written, but this one is witty and fun (and brief).

A great episode after a slightly boring one... and next up is another episode directed by the fellow who directed the boring one. Will it be better than his last episode? Stay tuned!



- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Book Report: The Night And The Music

From Seven Years Ago...

Thanks to Lawrence Block having a great time with this new e-book technology and rounding up his old work, dusting it off, and putting it up on Kindle – I've been reading a lot of his stuff lately. I've been a fan since I bought SINS OF THE FATHERS at DeLauers News Stand in Oakland because it had some James M. Cain quote on the cover – and I love James M. Cain. Block has been a prolific writer since he was in college – check out AFTERTHOUGHTS for a strange history of his career in the form of collected afterwords to his books – and the most important lesson we can learn from him is...

MATERIAL.




This is a lesson that I have recently learned while expanding the Blue Books. If you seldom write anything, you end up with not much material to collect and publish somewhere. On the Blue Books I find that I have a pile of articles and Script Tips and long answers to people's online questions that for some reason I saved (most are not saved anywhere – maybe a million words lost). And all of these things can be rewritten and used to expand the Blue Books. Someone once asked me a question about some subject, I gave a long and detailed answer, and now that answer goes into a Blue Book and helps a bunch of people. But that only works if you've done the writing first. If you *have* the material. The same is true with screenplays – if someone is looking for a female lead thriller with limited locations – I have something like that. Because I wrote it instead of just thought about writing it. (Though, I have *many* stories I only thought about writing – and I don't have anything to show for that.)




Well, Lawrence Block wrote a pile of short stories and novels and novellas. In AFTERTHOUGHTS he talks about writing a novel a month for one publisher, and then setting up a deal with another publisher for *another* novel a month. Dude was a machine! And you might think that the stuff he just jammed out under some crazy deadline would be crap... but it's not. That ends up being the strange thing about reading these guys who write fast – speed has nothing to do with accuracy. They are two different things. A pulp writer like Walter Gibson could turn out a novel (or two) a month and those books read better than much of the stuff that some writer spent years to write today. And those Walter Gibson titles are still in print! Block was writing two novels a month for years when he started out... and now most (or all) of those novels have reverted back to him – and he's putting them up on Amazon for Kindle and B&N for Nook (and other formats). He has all of these books and short stories that he owns, and he's not just embracing new technology and putting them on Kindle – he's freakin' all over it! It's been fun to watch him progress – from some short stories with no covers, to some photo of Block as the cover (the one with the cute Panda from his China trip on the cover of some violent action story was kind of amusing), to his current covers that kick ass. He's become an e-book maven! And he has a huge catalogue of material to release.

So the lesson I have learned from all of this is – write a stack of stories and scripts! Later these things will be worth something. That *idea* you had yesterday? Why didn't you just write it? Then you would *have something*. And if the writing sucks – just rewrite it later! But a story unwritten is... well, it's nothing! Block has been taking all of these things he's written long ago and not only turned them into some money for his pocket, he's made these stories available to all of his long time fans... and probably created *new* fans. He would not have been able to do that without having written them in the first place.




Which brings us to THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC, which is a collection of Matthew Scudder short stories. After I bought those first three Matt Scudder novels at DeLauer's Newsstand in Oakland (12th Street BART station) I waited for more... and there weren't any. But there were some short stories every once in a while in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine or Alfred Hitchcock Magazine (I don't remember which) and it was always cool to see that Scudder was still alive and kicking... and eventually the novels came back.

I have probably said this here before, but SINS OF THE FATHERS is one of my favorite mystery novels of all time... because it's all about the characters. Matt Scudder's investigation is more about *why* these people did these things than *who* did them. He really digs in to motivations... and traces the whole crime back to one moment in a character's past when she was a little girl. That moment triggered at least two deaths.

After the first three Scudder novels, Block moved on to other characters... but every once in a while had an idea for short story with the character – and now those are collected here along with some new stories. To make this world even smaller for me – the introduction is written by screenwriter Brian Koppelman (ROUNDERS, SOLITARY MAN) who has some knowledge of my existence.

If you don't know Scudder – he was a NYC cop who drank on duty, took a bribe now and then, and was no saint... but when he kills a kid by accident, he gets fired from the force, drinks even more and loses his wife and kids to divorce... and now lives in a crappy hotel downtown and hangs out in Armstrong's Bar (and some others) and will help out “friends” for a fee. He's not a private detective, he's just a guy with skills. He drops 10% of whatever he makes into the poor box of the nearest Catholic Church, even though he's not much of a believer. He's a man riddled with guilt who figures helping people with his donations might make him feel better about himself... I don't think it ever does. If you want to hire him, you drop by Armstrong's and the bartender or waitress will point him out.




The first short story in the collection I read in AHMM when it was first published – I had a subscription. It's about one of those waitresses at Armstrong's who takes a dive out of her apartment window. Her sister hires Scudder, because she's sure her sister was murdered. The story takes all kinds of twists – but the great thing about it is that it all comes back to motivations and characters and the *human* side of crime. The second story is about a dead bag lady – one of those street people you might see every day but never think about. After she's killed, her lawyer finds Scudder in the bar and tells him she left him some money – not much. Scudder feels guilty getting money for nothing, and decides to find out who she was and how she died. Again, instead of seeing the surface of the person, Scudder really digs in to who the person was... and you will never look at a homeless person the same way after reading this story. Each of these stories takes some person you might never think of – that guy who bought a round in the bar once – and digs deep into their lives, and you learn about them *and* Scudder in the process.

One of the great things with the stories is that they often explore “holes” in the series between novels (the new novel A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF does this) – and one of the stories flashes back to *before* SINS OF THE FATHERS to give us a story of Scudder while he was still a cop on the force solving a crime with his old partner. The cool part of this is that the partner is talked about in other books (and may even be a character in some books – I forget... hey, a good reason to re-read them all!) - but here we get a story about a young Scudder working with his partner back in the days before his life imploded... as remembered by the old Scudder. Again, the great thing here is that it's about his partner and a sort of mixed up morality where sometimes doing the wrong thing is really the right thing. A story that will haunt you – as most of these will. You'll be thinking about the bag lady for months, I guarantee it.




When we get to the new stories – and Mick Ballou, the retired hitman/mobster who shows up in later Scudder novels – the tales are full of melancholy and regret and deal with aging and death. Scudder has kicked the bottle, taken up the 12 steps, and has a new wife... who was part of his old cop life. The last story (brand new - written for this collection) takes place at Mick's after hours bar on the night before it meets the wrecking ball – and how reckless driven young men end up being thoughtful old men remembering their pasts... kind of like me remembering reading most of these stories when they were first printed and telling you about it here.

The great thing about Scudder as a character is that he has gone through profound changes in his life – ups and downs – yet continues to be a series character that we look forward to spending more time with. Other series characters either don't change and often get stale, or change in ways that seem to remove their emotional problems leaving us with an empty coat solving crimes. These stories show Scudder at different points in his life, dealing with different issues in his life and those issues as a doorway into the problems of others. It's a great collection of stories... and makes me glad I happened to walk into DeLauers Newsstand that day and spot that one paperback out of the thousands and met Matt Scudder.

- Bill

Note: Picture of DeLauers above was taken from my cellphone over the holidays (when I actually read this book) - it's still there.


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Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: TOGETHER & ALONE (1998)

My friend Duane made this film, and ever since seeing it on a borrowed VHS, I have made sure to see it every time it plays in some Los Angeles cinema, which is fairly often, because once the programmer at the New Beverly or American Cinematheque saw it *they* also want to see it again and again. And now it is finally hitting Blu-ray for a 20 Year Anniversary. So here's my review from one of teh times I saw it in teh cinema...

Director: Duane Whitaker.
Writer: Duane Whitaker.
Starring: Casey Siemaszko, Stacie Randall, Daniel Roebuck, Tim Thomerson, Joe Unger, Duane Whitaker, Mariah O'Brien, Joe Estevez.
Produced by: Nell Isgate, Patricia Anne Isgate-Hayward.
Cinematographer: Sean Hughes II.
Music by: Matt Davis.

TOGETHER & ALONE - I had seen it once on DVD or VHS, but never on the big screen. This film is the bridge between Robert Altman and Mumblecore. When I'd seen it earlier, I got a little teary at the end. This time, other parts got to me as well. Big ensemble cast playing people living on the fringe in Hollywood who know they are not going to make it. The hope has been pounded out of them. Like in Duane's EDDIE PRESLEY, they all hang at the same greasy spoon diner - and that is where their lives intersect. Very funny, very sad - this is one of those films that some critic somewhere needs to discover and champion. Duane wrote the script, directed, and plays one of the roles. The film was made for pocket change, and I suspect some of the stuff shot on the streets of Hollywood was done without permits (there’s a bit at the end where an unsuspecting person ends up part of a scene where a character goes crazy and starts yelling). The one problem with the film is that it does not have the flow of Duane's EDDIE PRESLEY (directed by the great Jeff Burr) and there are abrupt and jarring cuts between scenes... but that kind of fits right into the whole Mumblecore thing, so we’ll just say this film was ahead of its time.





This is the old trailer, new one for the Blu-Ray release further down.

Here are the story threads in this tale of one day in the life of Hollywood hopefuls who lose all hope...

Billy (Casey Siemaszko) is a guitar player with real talent in some garage band that plays all kinds of low rent clubs. He’s dating a rich girl from a wealthy Texas family, and is about to be introduced to her father (Tim Thomerson) for the first time, and is a little nervous. So nervous that he misses a sound check with his band - who are about to cut a demo record. That demo record might be Billy’s big break...

Zevo (Duane) is the leader of the band - all of them have really big hair - and gets pissed off when Billy’s a no show, and tries to turn the rest of the band against Billy and vote him out of the band. Problem is, the rest of the band are idiots, and Billy is a good guitar player, and Billy also brings beer to rehearsals sometimes. Zevo is so cheap that he goes into a strip bar to borrow the phone when there’s a perfectly good payphone outside. After the band stops being distracted by strippers, they decide to vote Billy out of the band - leaving them without their most talented member and leaving Billy adrift and without hope. There’s a nice scene where Billy and his girlfriend end up at the base of the Capitol Records Building, and he talks about his dreams of a recording deal... and how they are probably never going to happen.

In the Greasy Spoon Diner where their lives intersect...

Chad the screenwriter (Tom Denolf) lays out his pens in a specific pattern on the counter and opens his legal pad to write... when a pair of pests sit on either side of him. An older dude who keeps asking him what he’s doing... and eventually starts to hit on him with the weirdest pick up lines you’ve ever heard, and Dougie Westa (Danny Roebuck) the worst actor in the world - his car is plastered with his headshots in a parody of Dennis Woodfruff’s car - sits on the other side of Chad and asks if there’s a role in the script for him. These three guys provide some great comedy bits throughout the film.

At another table are burned out actor Roscoe (Joe Unger in an Oscar calibre performance - really, this is one amazing piece of acting) and just out of film school young director Gene (Thomas Draper) who is buttering up Roscoe to be in his short film about a door-to-door bible salesman who kills people. Though I have no idea what % of the film this story thread is, it *dominates* the film due to Unger’s performance as a guy who knows he’s a has-been without ever really being somebody. He’s spent his life being a bit part player with his best roles on the cutting room floor (in real life, Unger’s big break-out role in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK ended up on the cutting room floor). He has this great rant about how Hollywood just screwed him over, and how lesser talents went farther. Unger manages to be angry and vulnerable and sad all at the same time... and Gene has to put up with all of this in order to get Roscoe in his short film. Gene has a girlfriend, who is an actress....

Buy Together & Alone BlueRay

Laura (Stacie Randall) is taking an acting class from blowhard acting teacher Blaine (Joe Estevez - Martin Sheen’s brother) who has a big showcase for his acting class coming up where big time agents and big time talent scouts are supposed to be in the audience. There will be wine and cheese after the showcase, but only if the acting students bring the wine and cheese, because Blaine sure as hell isn’t paying for it. When Roscoe talks bout those guys who got undeserved breaks, he mentions Blaine’s name - Blaine was once in an episode of LASSIE in a featured role. Blaine has a photo of him and Lassie in his scrap book... that he shows to Laura after class... just before trying to rape her. See, she’s the only one in his class with any talent, so obviously they were meant to be together, right? Laura kicks him in the nuts - hard - and splits for the diner and Gene.

The part that made my eyes damp the first time I saw it was Janet (Harri James) the female comedian who goes to open mike night and bombs. Bombs big time. And realizes that she is not funny at all, and her dream is never going to happen. After being booed off stage, she gets in her beat up old car... which blows up! Now she has no car, no dreams, no nothing. She wanders to a bus stop where she meets Rusty (John Bishop) a shaggy guitar player who hasn't really made it, but sold some songs. As they wait for the bus - which never comes - they tentatively hit it off... and decide to take a cab to her place, where they do not have sex... but share some powerful moments where they talk about their failure to crack Hollywood. Then, as she sleeps, he writes a song about her. A sad song. The funny part about this is that I started getting misty eyed at the friggin’ bus stop scene! I knew that song was coming, and it was already working on me! Anyway, that is one great scene.



There are two “glue characters” who also connect these story threads... Buffy the free-spirit waitress at the greasy spoon café (Mariah O’Brien) and the chatty philosopher / taxi driver (Larry Lyles) who picks up Rusty and Janet and a few of the other characters and transports them from one location to another. Chad the screenwriter works up the nerve to flirt with Buffy, and eventually asks her out. This is a great little scene. Afterwards, there’s a funny scene where Gene and Laura are talking and he jokes about a 3-way with another woman. Laura puts him on the spot by calling over Buffy and asking why she thinks men want that kind of stuff. Buffy thinks it’s just because they’re dogs, thinks the whole 3-way thing is gross... except for the time she did it, oh, and the other time she did it, oh, and the time before that when she did it, and...

The taxi driver guy talks a mile a minute and has a theory about everything and is funny as hell - he practically steals the show! You keep wanting one of the other characters to flag down a taxi! He has this crazy story he tells about how his ex-wife ran away with some clown... a real clown. Guy who does kids birthday parties. Worst thing was that she got custody of his little girl, and he wasn’t around to be a father to her... some clown was. When Buffy flags down the taxi, and it’s his cab, we can’t wait to hear whatever rambling monologue he’s going to do while he drives her home after her shift. Along the way, they pass Roscoe - who has flipped out and is wandering the streets of Hollywood screaming, then when he pulls up in front of her apartment she kisses him and it’s revealed that she is his daughter. Cool moment that brings all of the story threads together.

This is a pocket change movie that I enjoyed much more than any of the Mumblecore films I've seen - some critic needs to discover and champion this film so that it can find a larger audience...

And it seems that has happened enough that we finally have a Blu-Ray!

- Bill

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Sunday, October 07, 2018

Raindance 2018 Winners

Here they are, the winners for this year's Raindance Film Festival!

Film of the Festival – Princesita

Best UK Feature – We The Kings

Best International Feature – Princesita

Best Director – Rene Eller (We)

Best Screenplay – Sophie Fillières (When Margaux Meets Margaux)

Best Cinematography – Sergio Armstrong (Princesita)

Best Performance – Sara Caballero (Princesita)

Best DocumentaryFeature – Tre Maison Dasan

Discovery Award – Silent Night

Best Short of the Festival – Souls Of Totality

Best UK Short – Landsharks

Best Documentary Short – Earthrise

Best Animation Short – Blind Mice

Best Music Video – Solicitous

Best Festival Campaign - Mike Rogers for Matsuchiyo - Life Of A Geisha

Webfest Jury Award – Bidune Kais (Undocumented)

Webfest Audience Award – Gimel

Raindance Spirit Award – This Is Love

Congratulations to everyone!

- Bill
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