Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Trailer Tuesday: PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE

Directed by: Brian DePalma.
Written by: Brian DePalma, music & lyrics by Paul Williams.
Starring: William Finley, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, Paul Williams.


He sold his soul for rock and roll...

About two years ago Edgar Wright hosted the 40th anniversary of Brian DePalma’s PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE to a sold out crown in the massive Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. Most of the surviving cast was there, but star William Finley had recently passed away; so this was also a bit of a memorial for him as well. Since PHANTOM is one of my favorite movies, one that I saw in its brief initial run back in 1974, and several times since then... I was in that packed cinema. Wait, you’ve never heard of the film? That’s great! You have something to look forward to!

Buy the border Brian DePalma is one of my favorite directors, and most people know him from BLOW OUT or maybe CARRIE... but those films were made in the middle of his career. He began making odd arthouse films and comedies... and kind of discovered Robert DeNiro (as well as many other actors who would later become famous). His first successful film was an anti (Viet Nam) war comedy starring Robert DeNiro, Gerrit Graham, and Jon Warden called GREETINGS (1968) about three friends who get their draft notices at the same time and each figures out a way to avoid being sent to Viet Nam where they will likely return in a body bag. It’s kind of a series of skits with these three characters that lampoons the time period and the social turmoil in the United States surrounding the war. Jon Warden was the star, with DeNiro and Graham as his sidekicks, and by the end of the film DeNiro is the only one who gets sent to Viet Nam... to return in the sequel HI MOM! (Introducing Charles Durning) which looks at the early 70s, and everything from Organic Food to the Black Power Movement (“Be Black Baby!”).

After a string of successful comedies, they gave DePalma a comedy studio film starring Orson Welles and The Smothers Brothers... which flopped. DePalma went back to indie films and played around with Hitchcock and horror (he had previously done a comedy with Hitchcock overtones called MURDER ALA MOD, starring William Finley... who was a member of his stock company of actors).



His brilliant Hitchcockian horror flick SISTERS was a big hit (I have the Critereon edition) and his next film was going to be called PHANTOM OF THE FILMORE, starring Finley in a mash up of every classic horror movie ever made, plus a satire of the music industry. After writing the script, he approached Paul Williams to write the music figuring he’d start at the top (Williams had written a string of hits at this point) but to his surprise this was *exactly* what Williams was looking for, When you’ve written a string of hit pop songs, you want to try the exact opposite. A rock opera that makes fun of the music biz? Sign him up! Williams also ended up playing the villain, Swan, who has made a little deal with the Devil to look forever young and be incredibly successful. Somewhere along the way, promoter Bill Graham had a lawyer inform them that they couldn’t use the name of his Filmore club, and the film became PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE.

This film came *before* ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW and just about everyone believes it’s better... but it flopped, as did ROCKY HORROR. The difference? ROCKY HORROR’s distrib played it at midnight shows where it became the phenomenon that it is today. PHANTOM was distributed by 20th Century Fox and they didn’t even know what a midnight show was! So everybody was doing the Time Warp Again and nobody remembered PHANTOM. Well, that’s not exactly true. Those who had seen it the first time it came out kept it alive in revival houses where the introduced their friends to the film. I know I dragged friends to it whenever it played in Berkeley. I had the soundtrack on vinyl and played it frequently, and can sing along with every song if required. I also probably know every line of dialogue. Too bad they didn’t do midnight shows back in the day because then *everybody* would know about this film rather than ROCKY HORROR (though we wouldn’t know about Tim Curry, so maybe it’s good things turned out as they did). But what about the story?

Well the story is about a very talented artist who gets ripped off by The Man... something that screenwriters can identify with.

Winslow Leach (William Finley) is a struggling composer working on a rock opera version of Faust who manages to get a gig playing music between shows (when people are leaving the venue, glorified Muzak) for the multi platinum 50's nostalgia band The Juicy Fruits. Mysterious music producer Swan (Paul Williams) who represents the Fruits is about to open a new rock venue and is looking for a new sound... and when he hears Winslow’s music he thinks this may be it. He orders his tubby underling Philbin (the amazing George Memoli, who is also in Scorsese’s MEAN STREETS, ROCKY, Paul Schrader’s BLUE COLLAR and a bunch of other great 70s stuff) to grab the music and ditch Winslow. Buy the border After “submitting his music to Swan” through Philbin and not hearing back, he tries Swan’s office building, where he’s on a “beat up on sight” list, and after recovering tries Swan’s mansion where he discovers a long line of female singers practicing one of his songs. The best of the bunch is the beautiful and talented Phoenix (introducing Jessica Harper) and Winslow learns from her that Swan has stolen his music, claimed it as his own, and is auditioning females singers for the opening of the Paradise Club. Winslow tries to see Swan (by dressing up as a female singer) and gets beaten up and dumped on the street, where a pair of cops plant some heroin in his purse and arrest him.

In Sing Sing Prison (everything in this film is musical) Winslow is volunteered against his will for a medical experiment funded by Swan’s company where they extract every tooth in your mouth and replace it with stainless steel.

Winslow escapes prison, discovers that the Juicy Fruits have recorded an album of his music done 50's style, goes to destroy all of the vinyl record at Swan’s factory... but trips and his head lands in the record press... smashing his face and leaving the offensive album permanently engraved in his skin.

After recovering, Winslow goes to the Paradise Club where the Fruits are rehearsing for opening night (as a new group: the Beach Bums, doing early 60s style music)... and dons a costume and mask from the costume storage room (becoming The Phantom) before planting a bomb that injures the Fruits and stopping them from desecrating his music. Buy the border Winslow is captured by Swan, who locks him away to complete the rock opera for Phoenix to sing... except Swan has no intention of having Phoenix open the club, she’s way too wholesome. And when Winslow has finished his rock opera? Swan walls him into the room faster than you can say Poe’s Cask Of Amontillado.

So Swan has to find a new opening night act for the Paradise in a great *one shot* audition scene that features a dozen music acts so unbelievable that they’re believable... and settles on glam rocker Beef (Gerrit Graham, stealing whatever movie he is cast in). One of the great things about this film, which came up in the panel discussion afterwards, is how well it *predicts* new music trends and even specific bands. It’s kind of like NETWORK in that regard, you see it now and think they are making fun of KISS when they use the Juicy Fruit band members dressed in black with patterns painted on their faces in black and white... but KISS didn’t even exist when this film was made! Though this is a satire of the music business, it’s crazy creations would eventually come true! Buy the border On opening night for the Paradise, Winslow as the Phantom breaks out and threatens Beef, telling him that only Phoenix can sing his songs, and anyone else who tries dies. Beef doesn’t want to go on, Philbin insists... and in the middle of Beef’s CALIGARI style opening number the Phantom zips a neon lightning bolt down at Beef, electrocutes him, and Beef fries on stage... while the audience calls for an encore. Swan has Phoenix go out and sing to calm the crowd... and she’s a massive hit!





Realizing it will take something really amazing to top a rock star burning alive on stage, Swan decides he will *marry* Phoenix on stage, and then have a sniper kill her dead. That’s entertainment! Now Winslow/Phantom must stop this from happening, even though he knows that the woman he loves has willingly agreed to marry Swan in exchange for stardom. No matter what happens, things will not end happily ever after.

Buy the border

After the film, the panel spent about an hour talking about the making of the film (in Dallas Texas standing in for New York City) where their production designer Jack Fisk (his first film) had an assistant named Sissy Spacek who would later star in the movie CARRIE for DePalma after starring in some film called BADLANDS. Jack and Sissy married and are still together, and I bumped into them and chatted at some low rent Oscar party that made the mistake of inviting me. Jack and Sissy were not on the panel, but hammy GerritGraham, still hot Jessica Harper, Paul Williams, Juicy Fruits Harold Oblong and Jeffrey Comanor (who was carried onto stage, then got up and jogged around a little), plus the film’s editor Paul Hirsch, who learned how to edit films with DePalma who then introduced him to his Hollywood Brats friends where Lucas hired him to edit STAR WARS and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and he later edited MISSION IMPOSSIBLE GHOST PROTOCOL and SOURCE CODE and RAY and a zillion other big films, and William Finley’s widow Susan joined the panel later (she’s in the movie as an extra!). The always amazing Edgar Wright moderated. They had all kinds of great stories about making the film, and Williams talked about making this crazy decision to write music which was the opposite of what he was known for while trashing the industry he was a part of.

It was an amazing night, and the film is just as funny as the day it was made. A real gem waiting to be discovered by any of you who haven’t seen it yet. The songs have great pop hooks and subversive lyrics... you’ll be humming them later. Because it’s DePalma it is filled with all kinds of crazy film experiments and homages, including a recreation of the opening scene from TOUCH OF EVIL as a musical number with the Beach Bums band!



The Panel Discussion (someone videoed it!)

Bill

Buy the border

Friday, March 15, 2019

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Robert Rodriguez on Spellbound

With ALITA in theaters and a new $7k film on its way, Fridays With Hitchcock this week features the director of EL MARIACHI Robert Rodriguez on that wacky dream sequence in SPELLBOUND:



And here is that dream sequence:



Bill





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



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.

Click here for more info!

Bill

Thursday, March 14, 2019

THRILLER Thursday: YOURS TRULY JACK THE RIPPER

Best Of Thriller...

Yours Truly Jack The Ripper

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



Season: 1, Episode: 28.
Airdate: April 11, 1961

Director: Ray Milland (the movie star).
Writer: Barre Lyndon (?) based on a story by Robert Bloch
Cast: John Williams (TO CATCH A THIEF), Donald Woods, Adam Williams (NORTH By NORTHWEST), Edmon Ryan, Miss Beverly Hills.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith.
Cinematography: Kenneth Peach.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The surgeon’s scalpel. An instrument of mercy in the hands of a skilled physician. A lethal weapon in the hands of a madman. A murder, such as the subject of our story for tonight. No one knows who this man was. No one ever saw his face. His identity has always been one of the world’s great mysteries. He killed only women. And only a certain kind of women. And his murders were often accompanied by stranger forbidden rites. For months on end he terrorized London, defying whole divisions of police. And it was they who nicknamed him Jack The Ripper. Well, he disappeared from the scene as suddenly as he had come. Similar murders followed at intervals in other countries. There are many who believe that Jack The Ripper still walks the Earth. Still continues his diabolical activities. That’s a chilling thought. Especially when it’s accompanied by highly convincing proof that it may be true. Let us discover the facts for ourselves in the company of such distinguished players as Mr. John Williams, Mr. Donald Woods, Mr. Edmon Ryan, and Miss Nancy Valentine. I suggest that you viewers draw just a little closer together... the Ripper always struck down solitary victims, you know. It would be a pity if a member of our audience became *dis*membered.”



Synopsis: In 1888 prostitute Mary Jane Kelly leaves a pub in London and walks home down the foggy streets. She sneaks past a policeman, turns a corner in the fog and bumps into another policeman. This cop tells her she knows better than to be out at night... Jack The Ripper might be hiding in the shadows waiting for her. We get exposition about the past murders, and then the cop tells her to buzz off and get home. Mary Jane enters her room, locks the door... and then is attacked by Jack The Ripper! He holds a leather gloved hand over her mouth to stifle her screams as pulls out his knife and inserts it into her body again and again...

On the street a man and woman sing the ballad of Jack The Ripper. “What do I look like? Who can I be? All the blinking coppers is out after me! They think I’m here, they think I’m there; but when they come to collar me I vanish in the air! Oh what do I look like? Who can I be? Well here’s a bit of something they can say of me: I ain’t a butcher, I ain’t a kid, and I ain’t a flurrying skipper. I’m just your own dear loving friend... Yours truly, Jack The Ripper!”



In 1961 New York City the Chief Of Detective Jago (Edmon Ryan) and his team look over a map marked with the locations of the murders. Police Psychologist Dr. John Carmody (Donald Woods) introduces him to a British consultant Sir Guy Hollis (John Williams) who has flown over to aid them in the quest for the killer. Sir Guy is the foremost expert of Jack The Ripper, and has a crazy theory: this isn’t some killer imitating Jack The Ripper, this *is* Jack The Ripper. Detective Jago says he’d have to be, what, 90 to 100 years old? How is that even possible? Sir Guy explains that the Ripper was responsible for six murders in London, and since then there have been groupings of six murders in the exact same pattern with similar M.O.s over the years in one country after another. Every 2 years and 8 months there has been a month of carnage... for 70 years. “Suppose he hasn’t gotten any older?” When Detective Jago says the natural process of life is to grow older, Sir Guy counters with the *unnatural* process of life. Sir Guy doesn’t know whether Jack The Ripper kills to stay young or uses the stolen organs as demonic sacrifices or what.. But the *facts* point to all of these murders as being his: they contain elements of the original Jack The Ripper crimes that were never made public. Things from police reports that were kept from the press. Detective Jago thinks this is all unbelievable bull crap, but Sir Guy has charts that predict the next murder will be in 3 days and gives Jago the general location of the killing as well.



Detective Jago thinks Sir Guy is crazy... but sees nothing wrong with an increased police presence in the area Sir Guy says the murder will take place three nights from now. If they catch the killer in the act, Jago is a hero... if nothing happens it will just prove that Sir Guy is a crackpot.

On the dark foggy street Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody drink coffee at the police command post, waiting...

A prostitute leaves a bar and walks down the foggy streets of New York City. Just as Mary Jane Kelly did in the opening scene, she sneaks past one policeman and then is startled by another policeman. This policeman tells her she shouldn’t be out at night alone with these killings, just as the policeman told Mary Jane in 1888. This policeman walks the prostitute back to her apartment, and makes sure she locks and bolts the door. Once the prostitute is safe inside her apartment, she disrobes and lays on her bed, when the phone rings... a client. She gets his hotel room number, hangs up and gets off the bed... when Jack The Ripper attacks! He has crawled through an open window, just as he’d done back in 1888 with Mary Jane. He clamps a leather gloved hand over her mouth to stifle her screams, then inserts the knife again and again...

Later That Night: Detectives on the scene. The CSI Team dusts for fingerprints, collects evidence, Sir Guy tells a skeptical Detective Jago that this crime scene is *identical* to the Ripper crime scene. Jago is confused: the streets were filled with cops. How could The Ripper have got past all of them? “He was here... now he’s gone.”



The Next Morning: Every newspaper’s headline is about the Ripper murders.

Detective Jago reluctantly asks Sir Guy what their next step should be. Sir Guy explains that evidence points to Jack The Ripper hiding among artists and Bohemians over the years. He would be accepted there, and one of the suspects in the original murders in 1888 was a painter. The other murders over the years have also had painter suspects. So let’s see if any strangers have popped up in the beatnik corner of the city? They go to Greenwich Village to interview beatnik artists, a really odd bunch, including strange painter Kralik (Adam Williams) who has just painted beautiful model Arlene (Nancy Valentine)... in a strange painting filled with death imagery. Is this Jack The Ripper?

When they ask him how it is possible for Jack The Ripper to still be alive and killing, Sir Guy gives a great bit of Freakonomics, “There’s a strange rhythm to The Ripper’s murders. Just as there are cyclical rhythms which control other things. There are rhythms which control the sun spots, every seventeen years a particular type of locusts swarms and flies. Every fourteen years the price of nutmeg peaks then drops again. But in The Ripper’s murders, there’s always 126 days between his first and second murder, but only half that, sixty three days, between the second and the last... the sixth.”

One of the other beatniks thinks it would be fun to go to the hooker’s funeral. Sir Guy and Dr. John Carmody think this is a good idea... if Kralik (or one of the other painters or beatniks) is Jack The Ripper, maybe they’ll do something at the funeral to expose their identity?

At the hooker’s funeral, there’s a pallbearer mishap and the coffin is dropped in front of the model, the lid pops open, the corpse pops out... with all of the carvings on display. The corpse of the hooker’s eyes pop open and it *stares* at Arlene and Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody and Detective Jago. Complete freak out! Screaming erupts. Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody look for signs that one of the beatniks might be the Ripper... nothing. They are all freaked out... except Kralik.



At The Police Station: Sir Guy uses his past case histories to predict the next murder. It seems tied to the Art Gallery Event which will display creepy Kralik’s painting and the work of the other beatniks. The police set up flood lamps and up the security around the Gallery. No way someone can sneak in or out without being seen this time! But if Kralik or one of the other beatnik artists is Jack The Ripper, they will have an invitation to the event, right? They will *already* be inside.

Detective Jago and the beatnik artists do not mix... giving us a little comedy. But Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody seem to get along well with the weirdos. Dr. Carmody admits he studied sculpture when he was a student, but was so bad he’s glad he had that doctor thing to fall back on. At the gallery there is a contest for best work of art by the beatniks, and a serious art critic as the judge. An amusing bit where he insults each piece of art (and the creator) as he goes around the room making notes on who will win the prize. He’s mean and destructive to everyone... and ends up completely tearing Sir Guy apart as well. Hmmm, what if Jack The Ripper was an *art critic* instead of an artist?

Sir Guy sits with Arlene and what begins slightly pervy with Sir Guy talking about how beautiful she is, turns into something emotional when she tells him that she has a daughter (she’s not married) and her kid is in the Children’s Hospital right now. Arlene goes every night to visit and kiss her goodnight. A powerful emotional moment. She tells Sir Guy that she must leave now, before the winner of the contest is announced, but she’ll be back after she kisses her daughter goodnight.

Kralik’s painting of Arlene wins, and everyone wonders where Arlene is. Sir Guy says she has gone to visit her daughter at...



Children’s Hospital. Night. Fog. Spooky. Arlene walks through a maze of cars in the parking lot to get to the entrance. Suspense builds. The silhouette of a Man is following her between the cars... or is he just going to the hospital as well? When Arlene makes it through the maze of cars to the hospital steps, The Ripper steps from that shadows and puts a leather gloved hand over her mouth... that’s when a Police Car cruises past, stops, and shines it’s spotlight through the parking lot. Arlene struggles to scream for help, then stops when she realizes the alternative. Torn between screaming and not getting stabbed, Arlene stays still until the Police Car moves on... then it is too late for her. The Ripper uses his blade on her.

The graveyard. Kralik in front of a headstone not far from the hooker’s headstone... Arlene’s. He tells Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody that he’s going crazy: did he paint all of that death imagery in the painting because he *knew* she was going to be killed? Or did The Ripper see his painting and decide to make Arlene his next victim? Kralik says he’s been visiting Arlene’s daughter in the hospital every night, but hasn’t worked up the nerve to tell her that her mother is dead. He’ll have to tell her eventually... but dreads it.

Police Station: Sir Guy knows the final murder will be tomorrow night, and believes he knows where. But Dr. Carmody questions his methods: using the same “formula” couldn’t the murder site be here or here? Sir Guy admits that is possible, but thinks his choice is most likely. By this point, complete skeptic Detective Jago is a believer. As crazy as Sir Guy’s theories seemed at first, he has *accurately* predicted the murders.



The next location perfectly matches the location of a strip club. Cops all over the streets outside, undercover inside. Sir Guy asks Carmody what happens in a strip club, and when Carmody explains, Sir Guy decides they should go inside and watch. Det Jago is in there, pretending to be a customer... but, um, distracted by Miss Beverly Hills taking it all off (we get a shot of her high heels by the time she gets down to bra and panties). After the stripping, Carmody says someone should make sure Miss Beverly Hills is okay and elects himself. We follow him back as he checks on her in the dressing room, then returns. Sir Guy suggests they step outside for some fresh air, and so that Sir Guy can smoke.

In the dark foggy alley behind the strip club, they hear a noise... a man walks through the shadows... when he steps into the light, just some guy. Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody relax. Sir Guy says if they don’t catch the Ripper tonight, he has learned enough from this series of killings to capture him the next time. They have gotten very very close this time. Sir Guy pulls out a cigarette, asks Dr. Carmody for a light... but Carmody pulls a knife and STABS Sir Guy! Sir Guy is confused: “John, why?” Dr. John Carmody smiles and says, “Not John... Jack!” and disappears int the fog.



Review: You can’t lose with a serial killer on the loose in a foggy city at night. One of the great things the episode does is give us the same sequence twice, which builds dread and suspense the second time because we know what happened the first time. When the hooker is killed in 1888 that completely sets up the terror in the present day scene. Once she sneaks past the first cop exactly the same way it happened before, we know what is coming... and just want to warn her not to go home.



Arlene’s parking lot scene is great, suspense stretched to the breaking point... and then all of the little “gags” like the police car stopping.





Lots of good red herring characters, including Kralik and even one of the weird beatnik women. And the story plays fair: though you don’t really suspect Dr. Carmody, we do know that his first name is John and that he used to be a sculptor and he doesn’t react normally to any of the crimes (but we think it’s just because he’s a police psychologist). We suspect Sir Guy for a long stretch of the story. He’s the weirdo, and Dr. Carmody is more of the voice of reason. What’s cool is that once we know Carmody is Jack, we realize that “voice of reason” stuff was trying to sway Sir Guy and Detective Jago into being cautious so that Jack could take advantage of that caution and strike.

Both Arlene’s scene where she talks about her daughter and Kralik’s scene where he talks about Arlene and her daughter are nice moments of real emotion which elevate this episode above most twist ending tales. It’s been a while since I read the short story, so I don’t remember if those moments were in the story or something added by the screenwriter. Either way, they create a reality which makes the murder of Arlene even more shocking.



Well directed by movie star Ray Milland, who worked with John Williams on Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER (which we look at in my EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR book). The episode is very atmospheric, both in the feeling of dread on those foggy streets and the world of the beatnik painters and sculptors on the edge of the art world. Detective Jago’s “conversion” from complete non believer to someone who is sure that Sir Guy is right is done with subtlety.

I mentioned Sir Guy’s “Freakenomics” speech because it’s crazy logical and adds a strange kind of verisimilitude to his wacky theories. It helps sell the idea that Jack The Ripper really could still be alive and killing...

Which brings me to the last part of this week’s entry! When telling a friend about this episode, I mentioned that the Bloch short story had been adapted twice, here and on STAR TREK. So I thought I’d rewatch that STAR TREK episode... and discovered that it was not a direct adaptation of YOURS TRULY JACK THE RIPPER, even though it was also written by Robert Bloch. But the STAR TREK episode is somewhere between a sequel and a rewrite of the story, so let’s take a look at it as well!



STAR TREK: WOLF IN THE FOLD

Written by Robert Bloch.



From Miss Beverly Hills in that strip club we cut to a Belly Dancer Kara (Tania Lemani) is a similar club. Kirk, Scotty and Bones are taking some shore leave on the “pleasure planet” Argelia known for it’s pacifist hedonists... and Scotty is digging on the dancer. Kirk as arranged for her to come to their table afterwards and be Scotty’s date for the night. Scotty has just recovered from some sort of accident on the Enterprise and this is his reward. The customer at the next table Morla (Charles Dierkop) and a member of the band Tark (Joseph Bernard) give Scotty the stink eye when he flirts with the Belly Dancer and makes plans to take her on a walk, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

After Scotty and the Belly Dancer are gone, Kirk and Bones decide to head to another bar and find their own entertainment... but in the foggy streets of the village, they hear a woman’s scream and run over to find the Belly Dancer stabbed multiple times... and Scotty standing over her with a knife in his hand!



Because everyone on this planet would rather make love not war, they are not set up for a murder investigation. The sole policeman is Detective Hengist (John Fiedler) who questions Scotty... getting nothing because Mr. Scott is suffering from amnesia. The Prefect of the planet Jaris (Carles Macauley) and his uberhot wife Sybo (Pilar Seurat - INDEPENDENCE DAY screenwriter Dean Devlin's *mom*!) want to use the traditional Argelian Empathic Contact to find out whether Scotty killed the Belly Dancer or not. Kirk asks if they can beam down a technician with a special tricorder that can probe Scotty’s mind to find out what his amnesia may be covering up. When the pretty technician Lt. Tracy (a redshirt in a blue shirt played by Virginia Aldridge) beams down she goes with Scotty into a private room to probe his mind...

Uberhot psychic wife Sybo wants to touch the knife to see what she can get a vibe off of it, but they can not find the knife. It has vanished! And then there is a scream. Technician Tracy dead, Scotty standing over her with the murder knife! That’s when Detective Hengist shows up with the two guys who gave Scotty the stink eye earlier.

Detective Hengist wants to interrogate Scotty, wants to jail him and start the trial as soon as possible. Hey, one woman murdered at Scotty’s feet and he’s discovered with the murder knife might be some sort of accident (well, not really) but *two*? Even if Scotty can’t remember a thing, he’s still guilty as hell! Kirk talks the Prefect into allowing them to use the Argelian Empathic Contact to find out what happened, and everyone joins hands in a circle, like a seance, and Uberhot Sybo starts seeing visions. Visions of Redjac, and the Hunger That Will Never Die. An evil spirit that murders women to stay alive. That’s when the lights go out. When they come back on, Scotty is holding the Uberhot Sybo’s blood soaked body... and that damned knife again!

Detective Hengist is ready to jail Scotty when Kirk appeals to Prefect Jaris: can they transport everyone onto te Enterprise and use their lie detector gizmo to find out if Scotty has murdered these three women or not? The Prefect, whose wife as just been brutally murdered, says “Sure”.



Onboard the Enterprise they put Scotty on the lie detector to testify. He did not kill Sybo... but he is not lying when he says he has no memory of Kara and Lt. Tracy’s murders. Detective Hengist as had enough of this nonsense. They put Morla on the machine, he’s innocent, too. Kirk turns detective and decides to use the computer to run Sybo’s last words... Redjac. Discovers it’s a nickname for Jack The Ripper! “A man couldn’t survive all these centuries!” But what if it *isn’t* a man, but an evil alien spirit thingie that lives forever and possess the bodies of humans? Hengist wants to arrest Scotty and quit chasing after ghosts. Kirk asks the computer for dates and places for murders similar to Jack The Ripper’s... and we get the same list from YOURS TRULY with some additions on other planets between Earth and Argelia. The same spacing patterns, etc... the computer is playing John William’s role... and Hengist the detective is very similar to Dr. Carmody. The last murders where on Hengist’s home planet of Rigel 4! Hengist freaks, tries to escape, is captured... and drops dead!

Jack The Ripper (the spirit) has entered the Enterprise’s computer and now controls the ship... and the air supply! It will soon kill the entire crew, slowly, and feed off their fear!

Kirk and Spock hatch a plan to keep the computer busy trying to find the last digit of Pi as they give the crew a sedative that keeps them docile and happy and try to eradicate the evil spirit. The spirit pops into Prefect Jaris and then Hengist again... and Kirk takes Hengist, tosses his onto the transporter, and beams him out into space. The end.



So many similarities to YOURS TRULY, especially the idea of one of the investigators being the killer. The same murder pattern information is shared by both, and the post 1888 crime locations are the same (until we leave Earth, that is). It’s somewhere between a major rewrite of YOURS TRULY and a sequel, but certainly interesting to see both episodes back to back! John Fiedler is perfect casting, he usually plays mousey little guys... and fits perfectly as the overly officious Detective on a planet with no crime. Last person you’d expect to be Redjac!

Robert Bloch is one of my favorite horror writers, and his stories pop up here and on TWILIGHT ZONE and on HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. In addition to PSYCHO he has some great novels like AMERICAN GOTHIC and FIREBUG (neither have been adapted into movies) and has a pun filled, clever writing style.

Next episode is a deal with the Devil gone wrong... do these deals ever go right?



Bill

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

That's Exploitation!

From January 2010...

The last night I was in Northern California on my holiday visit, I had dinner and drinks and saw BITCH SLAP with my two oldest friends, Van and John. That almost didn’t happen. When I arrived in town those were the first two people I called - we often do New Year’s Eve together, and always see a bunch of holiday release films together and talk about those people we know who are no longer around and the great times we had when we were in our 20s... long ago. Got right through to John and we saw a bunch of movies (reviews are coming), but Van went right to voice mail... and his voice mail was filled. No way to leave a message. This concerned me a little, but I’d gotten a recent e-mail from Van so I knew he was alive and well... just hard to get in contact with, I guess.

Van is a character. The great thing about old friends is that you know what all of their issues are, have gotten mad at them a thousand times, and are now over it. Van is famous for being unreliable. Not in some serious way, he just gets side tracked sometimes. Also, he’s a dreamer... which is great when you are 20, kind of a problem when you are older. But no one on earth has a bigger heart, and when my life went to hell after NINJA BUSTERS fizzled and Wendy split, he gave me a job laying carpet and pointed out that there were other women in the world (mostly by example - you could drop Van into a Lesbian Convention and he’d convert some of them). But I can not count the number of times he’s been a no-show or ambled in hours late. Used to make me angry, now I just accept it. So, when I couldn’t get through to him I just figured it was the usual Van thing.

I kept calling and getting that full voice mail the whole time I was in the Bay Area, and John tried to call him with the same results. Finally I got an e-mail from him - hey, how come I hadn’t called him? All of this ended up being *my fault* - he had changed cell phone carrier, had a new number, and even *gave me his new number*. But I kept calling the old one, because I’m an idiot and it was on my cell phone. John was doing the same thing. Once I called the new number he had given me months before, he answered on the second ring. New Years Eve had passed and I was about to return home...

John and I had seen AVATAR in 3D without Van...

But BITCH SLAP was opening on Friday night in limited release! The perfect film for 3 guys who enjoy upper torso bundles of pleasure! I figured Friday might be crowded, and John was busy Saturday, so maybe Sunday? Sunday was a great day because the cast and writer would be in San Francisco that night! Except Van already had tickets for AVATAR on Sunday... so we last minute adjusted to Monday night. The next morning I would return to Los Angeles.

Van knows every single great hole-in-the-wall restaurant and bar in the Bay Area. When we were laying carpet, no matter what city the job was in, he knew the best place to get breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Van suggested we meet at this restaurant/bar called The Belltower which was a couple of blocks from the cinema. When I arrived, I recognized the place - we’d had breakfast there once and it was great. John arrived and we had a beer, and then Van showed. We had a great dinner, then went to the cinema...

BITCH SLAP!




The plot? Three hot chicks in the desert.

Directed by Rick Jacobson, who directed a couple of my movies and is a great guy - I may not agree with all of his artistic choices, but he *has* artistic choices and actually would listen to whatever I had to say. He wasn’t an asshole. After making a bunch of low budget films he moved to TV and directed a bunch of TV shows including HERCULES and XENA and now he’s a TV director.

He and one of the writers on XENA decided to bankroll their own film, made on the cheap, and the result is BITCH SLAP. The film uses all kinds of low budget tricks - most of the story takes place in a patch of desert in the middle of nowhere with a beat up old trailer and a windmill. Easy location to shoot at, and when things blow up and catch fire (which they do as the story goes on) probably easy to get permits and a fire marshal - not a burnable tree or scrub for miles in any direction.

The cast is also small: mostly the three women: Hel (Erin Cummings) who is all-business and dresses like a business woman. Camaro (America Olivo) who is the tough gal, just released from prison, who wears jeans and a tied off shirt. Trixie (Julia Voth) the stripper who appears to be all body and no brains, who is wearing a gold dress. The plot has them drive their vintage Thunderbird to this no-man’s land to find a buried treasure, and flashbacks fill in the details and provide plot twists. There are also two men who are part of the main cast, Gage (Michael Hurst) a gangster who has been skimming from legendary crime boss Pinky for years - and the buried treasure is that loot. He’s handcuffed in the trunk of the Thunderbird. And Deputy Fuchs (Ron Melendez) a cop who thinks the three gals might be in trouble and stops to help... and also becomes their prisoner - chained up in that old trailer. Five main characters, one main location, six breasts.

In a moment I’ll talk about some of the other money saving tricks they used - I’ll bet the budget was lower than you might guess - but first let’s talk about...

EXPLOITATION FOR FUN & PROFIT



The review in the Los Angeles Times complained that BITCH SLAP was an exploitation film send up without the send up... and this made me scratch my head, because I never got the memo that it was a send up, and when you read the poster or publicity stuff (they had a great gimmick to make you see it more than once - collectable postcards for each of the characters in the film, and they gave away a different one every night) there was nothing about this being a send up... it was pretty much advertized as a fun exploitation film that *knows* it’s an exploitation film. Which makes it just an exploitation film.

Back in the drive in days, there were lots of exploitation films - made cheap and filled with things that would attract and audience. Lowest common denominator stuff like fast cars and topless women and machine guns. A studio film might have all of those things in a pretty story - and those things serviced the story. An exploitation film was *about* the exploitation stuff, with a flimsy story connecting the elements. Now, some exploitation films had *great* stories connecting the elements, and now those films are considered art. Tod Browning’s FREAKS is a great film, but where would it be without the promise of seeing a bunch of side show freaks? And the suggestion of side show freaks having sex with a hot blonde woman? Hey - I gotta see that!

And the drive in exploitation films offered the same sort of forbidden thrills. Hey, what really goes on in a women’s prison where they evil lesbian warden enjoys whipping the hot naked prisoners? Hey - I gotta see that!

One of the things I hate in studio films, I love in exploitation films: “kitchen sinking”. So many of those A.I.P. drive in films seemed like a grab bag of cool stuff threaded together into a film. So you might have custom hot rods and acrobats and some rock & roll band and a bikini beach party and dogs that do tricks and martial arts and a monster... all in the same movie! Hey - I gotta see that!

I’ve seen studio films that try to throw in a little bit of everything and end up with nothing, and the reason why is that the film is supposed to be about the story... and just ends up being about a little bit of everything. A mainstream studio film is all about the story, and even though it may have fast cars and hot women and a machine gun, it’s not ever about those things. Those things are elements of the story, not the story itself. The exploitation is in the background not the foreground.

Someone on a messageboard a couple of months ago was lamenting the 50s and 60s when Americans went to see foreign films... and even though that was before my time sitting in a cinema seat, I can tell you from conversations with those older than I am - they went to foreign films to see boobies. American films had no nudity at all - we still had censorship under the old system. But foreign films managed to sneak in nudity and the censors didn’t seem to care, maybe because the films were “cultural” and had subtitles and not everyone was going to flock to see them. Except a surprising number of normal middle class Americans saw a bunch of foreign films... often featuring nudity or lingerie or lots-a-cleavage. Thank you, Sophia Loren! Hey - I gotta see that!

Foreign films ended up being exploitation films! Just, with culture!


And that is the problem with the poor exploitation film - it has no culture. It is honest about its intentions. You may see a foreign film for culture... um, cleavage culture... but you see an exploitation film for the exploitation. We always complain that people these days go to the movies for the explosions and CGI - the exploitation elements. And it’s funny that I will hate TRANSFORMERS and then have an excited conversation with another film fan about that amazing street shoot out in HEAT. Okay, why isn’t HEAT an exploitation film? Why is a long shoot out in some B movie just stupid and a similar scene in HEAT complete genius? Well, it’s that HEAT isn’t just that shoot out (and the other great action scenes). But, isn’t there room in cinema for a film that *is* just about the shoot outs? A film that isn’t going to try and pass itself off as culture, and just be its sleazy self? A film that knows that one of the main reasons why you go to see HEAT or some big budget Hollywood movies is the exploitation elements? “You’ll believe a man can fly.” “From the moment they met it was murder.” Movies are all about sex and violence and exploitables... Heck, how many pages would be left in The Bible if we cut out all of the sex and violence?


And another issue with exploitation is - why is some low budget genre flick that is aiming for being a just fun time, not good enough for a theatrical release in art house cinemas in select cities, and have critics for the L.A. Times show up and review the film; but a film trying to be “so bad it’s good” gets shown and reviewed? Why does society say it’s okay to make fun of exploitation, but not just accept a movie that may not have stars but does have plenty of stuff that blows up... unless there is a star in it or a massive budget? Why is *studio exploitation* taken more seriously than low budget exploitation? If John Sayles’ PIRANHA was released today, would Variety even show up to review it... let alone call it the best film ever made about the Viet Nam War? If DEATH RACE 2000 were released today, would anyone take it seriously? Or would it just be dismissed and sent to video and never noticed or reviewed? We used to have genre distribs like Canon and New World that made low budget action films and got them into cinemas and reviewed and on the mainstream radar, so that those stars and directors and writers could cross over to studio films. Where do you think directors like Jonathan Demme and writers like John Sayles came from? Does the Los Angeles Times review direct to video films? Nope... Rick Jacobson may have directed a stack of movies, but this is probably his first film that has ever been reviewed in print. Because it’s trying to be bad!

So, we come to BITCH SLAP which is honest about its intentions - it just wants to be a Russ Meyer movie. It doesn’t want to be a *send up* of a 1960s exploitation movie, it wants to *be* a 1960s exploitation movie. Hey, what’s wrong with that? Why can’t the Los Angeles Times critic just judge it as an exploitation movie? When I saw the trailer, I said to myself, “Hey - I gotta see that!”

CHEAP THRILLS

The film is what it is - good cheap exploitation. And though there’s lots of blood squibs, the level of violence is pretty tame for all of the machinegun fire. People get shot a zillion times and have little red dots on their clothes. And the sex? This film is one big tease! I don’t remember any nudity, though I do remember LOTS of cleavage and some simulated sex on a TV soap opera level. It just *seems* raw and nasty.


I mentioned the flashbacks, and they’re lots of fun. The movie opens with Trixie in her pretty party dress crawling through the burning wreckage of the trailer wondering how she came to be here, and we get a title card that says FOUR HOURS EARLIER and get a snippet of background, and then we go back to the wreckage for a minute or two of present day before we get a title card that says FOUR HOURS AND 8 MINUTES EARLIER... and that sets the tone for the flashbacks - they are frequent and often a little silly. I kept waiting for TWENTY YEARS EARLIER where the three girls are in the same crib awaiting diaper changes. This ends up being a great running gag that never seems to wear out its welcome.

The other thing is the split screen, which is over done on purpose... though not nearly as overdone as in the last OSS-117 movie. The thing I love and hate about Rick (director) is that he’s creative - in NIGHT HUNTER he did that shaky-cam thing in all of the action scenes, which I absolutely hated... even though Paul Greengrass swiped that technique a decade later for the second BOURNE movie. I loved what he did in BLACK THUNDER, though - he mounted the camera on a rig that allowed it to turn 360' (upside down) and slid the camera back and forth in the plane cockpit shots so that you could feel the plane banking and looping and doing all of the amazing dogfight stunts. That was genius! If the plane spun upside down in the dogfight, so did the cockpit shot of the pilot (our hero). So the split screen stuff in BITCH SLAP is cool 24-style stuff. It worked really well.

The film has some great confined cameos - characters whose roles are spread throughout the film but were probably shot out in a single day - by Kevin Sorbo and Lucy Lawless (that Hercules/Xena connection)... with a twist! Lucy plays Mother Superior in a funny flashback that reveals that one of the gals used to be a nun in a convent who was *very popular* with the other nuns... and Sorbo plays the head of a spy organization in a bunch of little scenes probably shot in a single day, because one of the gals is revealed to be a top secret undercover female version of James Bond.


Here’s the confined cameo twist - Sorbo isn’t just at one location, he’s all over the place... thanks to green screen. The majority of the flashbacks are green screen shots. Now, this is a low budget movie that can not afford great special effects, and all of the green screen shots have those outlines that make them look like green screen... except thanks to SIN CITY and all of those stylized comic book films, we no longer need perfect looking green screen and effects as long as we can used a stylized cartoony background. And that’s just what BITCH SLAP does - the flashbacks are not real looking at all, they look like SIN CITY, so any imperfection in green screen or even location plate disappears. A scene in Russia where Sorbo meets with spy-gal Hel at a train station has a stylized cartoon look that adds to the production value instead of subtracts from it. The movie has these great surreal flashbacks that seem arty.

One of the other tricks the film uses is the old doorway in the ground gag - from A BOY AND HIS DOG. When they finally find the treasure, it’s not just some trunk full of cash - it’s a vault that opens into the earth, and they climb down a ladder to some gangster version of that huge warehouse from the end of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK filled with just about anything someone could steal... including nukes and heavy artillery and all kinds of loot.

BUT, WHAT ABOUT THE STORY?



The film is good sleazy fun. I laughed several times. The problem with making a “So Bad It’s Good” movie is that often it just turns out bad. The key to is to keep it funny, so that we know you aren’t taking this seriously. BITCH SLAP has enough gags to keep us laughing, and is so over the top in many of its scenes that you know they aren’t taking this seriously. Exaggeration is funny - and this film gets laughs from seeing how complicated it can make its Mexican Standoffs, and how crass it can make its simulated sex scenes. But some of the dialogue is raw instead of clever, and the characters are so paper thin there’s no way to mine anything but surface gags from them (Trixie pole dancing with a shovel while they are supposed to be digging is her best character-related gag). I wish it had been more clever, but maybe I’m the only one in the audience who cared about that? The plot and much of the action is contrived to the point of “Oh, come on!” - often for no reason at all the girls will get into a fight - maybe that was supposed to be a gag that didn’t work so it just seemed like a bad movie thing. I know it seems silly to point out that they needed a better excuse for their exploitation scenes, but that would have made me think “Bad on purpose” for those contrived scenes instead of “Just bad”. And the end of the film is just bad no matter how you slice it - there is a twist that is so contrived and sledge-hammered in that I walked away liking the film less. And both of my friends jumped on the end, too - so it wasn’t just picky Bill. You have to play fair with plot twists, folks! Hey, I saw the color of her underwear and figured out the twist - but the character doesn’t seem to know about their own double cross in the scenes where they are pulling the double cross! Again, this is one of those things where the film isn’t as clever as it needs to be. But those story issues aside - a lot of fun for 90 minutes!

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Pigeon Holing Yourself - and the equally kinky practice of Self Branding.
Yesterday's Dinner: Chicken Caesar Salad at Fuddruckers.




ALL SIX CLASSIC CLASSES!
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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Trailer Tuesday: Captain Blood

Directed by: Micheal Curtiz.
Written by: Casey Robinson based on the novel by Rahael Sabatini.
Starring: Olivia DeHaviland, Errol Flynn, Lionel Atwill, Basil Rathbone.


CAPTAIN BLOOD is one of my all time favorite movies. Based on a novel by Rapheal Sabatini that I read in grade school, thanks to my 6th grade teacher Bob Olsen who had these massive bookshelves in his classroom filled with all kinds of adventure and romance and other genres of fiction - not kids books, *adult* books. Of course, nothing you couldn’t let a 6th grader read - but Bob’s theory was that kids would read grown up books just to show that they are grown up - and books that were more realistic would be interesting to kids who lived in the real world. Nothing that talked down. We had to write a huge stack of book reports every year, and extra credit and prizes to hose who read the most books. I think Bob Olsen save my life, gave me a direction, and made me what I am today. And all of the Sabatini novels on his shelves I gobbled up... and bought copies of my own so that I could re-read them over summer vacation.



BLOOD is a pirate adventure book about Dr. Peter Blood, who takes no sides in war - his job is to help the injured. When he treats a rebel fighting against the government of England, he’s arrested and put on trial. Blood tells the judge he’s a doctor, not as rebel. Neutral. The judge sentences him to *death* for saving the life of a rebel. Instead of death, they ship all of the convicts to the British colonies in the Caribbean as slaves to work on plantations. Blood and his slave pals all get whipped and mistreated... and Blood has now taken a side - with the rebels. Oh, he’s bought by plantation owner’s niece Olivia DeHaviland - she buys him just to piss off her uncle. Blood insults him.

After being whipped for being insolent, Blood plans an escape for the slaves by boat. Many of the slaves have been in the navy, and know how to sail. One guy is the key to everything - he was a navigator. Without him, they’re dead in the water. The day before the escape plan, the plantation owner sees Blood whispering to the navigator and while Blood is off working, whips the navigator kid to try and get him to talk. This is a great scene, because if the kid talks - the escape is foiled. If he doesn’t talk - they may whip him to death, and the escape is foiled. Either way, they’re screwed. The kid doesn’t talk, and is close to death - which ruins the escape plan. Except Spanish ships attack and d loot the town... which creates a perfect diversion for their escape. They manage to carry the navigator guy to the docks where their boat is waiting... but it was shelled by the Spanish ship! It’s sunk! Blood hatches a plan to *steal the Spanish ship* while the Spaniards are on shore looting... and the slaves become pirates.

One thing I have to mention are the supporting characters in this film - they are so well written and well played that they become real (even if the dialogue gets a little clunky now and then). There’s a slave-pirate who always quotes the Bible... but finds ironic passages to quote, so he comes off funny instead of as a zealot. There is a tough guy, always itching for a fight. The guy who always has his flask - even in sword fights. All of the bit-part slave-pirates have *personalities* and their own little goals. The colony’s Governor is a great character - this fey, flamboyant guy in a powdered wig always complaining about his gout. The Governor’s doctors both have distinctive personalities. The guy in debtor’s prison who sells Blood the boat... and gets swept up in the escape, becoming one of Blood’s pirates by mistake. Every single minor character is an individual in this film.

And all of the great character actors under contract at Warner Bros play these roles as if they’re competing for an Oscar. If a character is only in one scene, they do everything in their power to be the most memorable character in that scene. You end up with all of these amazing actors playing amazingly well defined characters. I’ve always wanted to take over programming at TCM for a week and do a festival of great character actors in bit parts. You would see several movies with completely different stars in different genres and wonder why these films are on the same program... then you’d notice some guy like Ned Sparks is in every movie. Who is Ned Sparks you are probably asking? Well, he’s this guy who played bit parts in a lot of movies who had a very distinctive voice - and you’d recognize his voice from a couple of cartoon characters who swiped it. I think most people know the cartoons more than the real guy whose voice the imitated. But BLOOD has all of these great bit part players (but no Ned Sparks) playing the pirates - the guy in the background of some shot not only has a character, the actor playing that character is trying to make sure you remember him!


Blood has a pirate constitution which is basically that all money is divided evenly - no one gets a larger share. All work is divided evenly - no one gets to goof off. And if one of them is injured on the job, they get a pension (of course, it’s a pirate movie, so this is all about how many pieces of eight you get if your arm gets chopped off in battle... and it goes through every savage injury you can imagine and some you can’t). Oh, and no raping women. There are enough women of easy virtue at Tortuga, no reason to rape any. And the big one - people are not for sale.

So we get all kinds of great pirate adventures, and on Tortuga Blood decides to partner with a French pirate played by Basil Rathbone using that fake French accent from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. More pirate adventures... and Rathbone captures a ship carrying... Olivia DeHaviland! Rathbone’s plan is to rape her and then ransom her to her plantation owner Uncle who is now the governor of the British colony. When Blood shows, he has to stop that. First with reason, and when that doesn’t work, with some damned cool sword fighting. There’s nothing like a Rathbone/Flynn sword duel - those guys actually knew how to use swords. I think Rathbone was actually a fencing champ or something in real life. So the fight scene is just amazing stuff.



Once Blood wins, he jokes with DeHaviland that she is now *his* slave. He owns her as she once owned him. She hates him... but we know they are going to hook up.

Blood decides to take DeHaviland back to the British Colony, even though he knows her uncle has every British ship in the area trying to capture and kill for him. This leads to a mutiny - and Blood has to talk his pirates into doing him this one favor... that could result in their death. This is a great scene, where one-by-one they join him.

When they get back to the British Colony, they find it under attack by French battleships - and no British ships to defend it. Blood and his pirates have to decide what side they are on, and that leads them to attack the two French ships. A great sea battle - obviously models in some shots, but when they get close enough to throw the grapnels and pull out the swords, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. A non-stop sword fight with lots of twists and turns and reversals.

They began as rebels, became slaves, became pirates, and end as heroes.

How many current movies take their lead characters through so much?

CAPTAIN BLOOD is not only a big exciting adventure film, it makes a point about freedom and equality and how a government needs to answer to the people, not *use* the people.

Bill

Friday, March 08, 2019

Hitchcock: Suspense vs. Surprise

If it's Friday, this must be Hitchcock day on the blog! I'm squeezing in another Hitch interview segment...



And HITCH 20 will soon return for Season 4... Here's something to tide you over!



- Bill






Of course, I have my own books focusing 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

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






USA Readers 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 52 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

THRILLER Thursday: Letter To A Lover

SEASON 2!!!



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



Season: 2, Episode: 8.
Airdate: Nov. 13, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty.
Writer: Donald S. Sanford based on a play by Sheridan Gibney..
Cast: Ann Todd, Murray Matheson, Felix Deebank.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “It is said that sins only speak, but murder shreiks out. And yet the victim’s employee has stripped the scene of clues. Well, she’s obviously covered up for someone, you say. But for whom? The late doctor, or perhaps one of the surviving members of our cast? Look closely and see if you can pick the killer. Is it Sylvia Lawrence played by Ann Todd? Or her loving husband Andrew played by Murray Matheson? It might even be Donald Carvers, Sylvia’s old beau played by Felix Deebank. Or Nurse Webber portrayed by Avis Scott. Now which one of them made the fatal inciusion with the good doctor’s own scalpel? That my friends is the question we are about to explore. But just one word of caution - keep your eyes and ears alert, for as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, I promise you a solution full of surprises! We’ve dallied long enough, let’s get to the heart of the matter!” (And he shoves the scalpel into the heart of a cut-away dummy with organs on display.)

Synopsis: Sylvia Lawrence (Anne Todd) is leaving her doctor’s office, sees a man in the hallway and hides. When the coast is clear she leaves the building, walking out to the street and into the subway (this is London) where Andrew (Murray Matheson) is sitting in his car watching. When she’s gone, Andrew enters the building... and then a taxi pulls up in front of the building and Nurse Webber (Avis Scott) steps out - she has a terrible scar on her face - and pays off the driver. Webber enters the doctor’s office and Andrew hides behind a file cabinet... sneaking out once she’s far enough inside (though she does catch a glimpse of him), then Nurse Webber spots the dead Doctor Evans on the sofa, stabbed with his own scalpel! Then she spots a note on the doctor’s desk... and a handkerchief clue. She cleans up the crime scene, removing some evidence, then calls the police. The opening minutes are like a French farce!

Sylvia arrives at Donald Carver’s (Felix Deebank) flat, says “Donald, I had to!” and promptly faints. He brings smelling salts and she wakes to tell him she wasn’t feeling well so she stopped by (because if you feel ill, best place to go is your ex-boyfriend’s place). Donald wants to know if she has split with her husband. She answers no, he isn’t happy about that but before he can even pour himself a drink she’s split!

She takes a taxi home, where luggage is in the entry hall. Andrew steps out - kind of a reveal that he’s her husband - and tells her that they have a long drive ahead of them, doesn’t she remember? For whatever illness she was seeing the doctor, one of the symptoms is memory loss. Andrew tells her that they’ve been planning this trip to the country house to get away from it all. She doesn’t remember.

The foggy country house. There’s a moment of schlock shock where the guard dog barks at her. The country house is old and dark and spooky and all of the furnishings are shrouded in cloths. When Sylvia isn’t looking he yanks the telephone cord from the wall.

Over a week later, and the shrouds are off the furniture... and Sylvia wants to drive into the village. She hasn’t left the house. Andrew says some other day, it’s raining. The Mail Man comes, and Sylvia quickly jots a letter and seals it in an envelope, and gives it to him and says if her husband asks not to tell him... it’s a surprise. Andrew asks the Mail Man if his wife gave him anything, and the Mail Man refuses to answer - but if she had, once anything is given to a Mail Man it’s in the hands of the government. The Mail Man has a note for Andrew... to meet Nurse Webber at the local pub.

Nurse Webber recognized Andrew as the man from the crime scene and wants some money for retrieving the note from the dead doctor’s desk - record of Sylvia’s appointment at the time of the doctor’s murder. She still has all of the other evidence including Sylvia’s monogrammed handkerchief - and she needs a regular monthly payment. Andrew says he can give her a job as a maid at the country house.

Later, Donald arrives at the country house after getting her letter. Sylvia tells him that she’s a prisoner here, then the not-quite-as-spooky-as-Mrs Danvers-from-REBECCA Nurse Webber interrupts them. Sylvia tells her, “There’ll be a guest for dinner.” Donald and Sylvia have a soap opera conversation, part of which has to do with Andrew having a heart condition. Then Andrew comes downstairs and they have one of those soap opera awkward conversations between two men in love with the same woman. When Sylvia leaves to dress for dinner (not that she was in a bathrobe previously - these people put on formal wear in the country house to *eat*), Andrew asks Donald what was in the letter Sylvia sent him. But that’s when Nurse Webber enters to say that someone let the dog out, and Andrew has to go chase it down... in his tuxedo.

This gives Donald time to search Andrew’s study for a gun while simultaneously calling London to find out about Andrew’s heart doctor... who has changed his name to... Evans! The same doctor that Sylvia had! The same doctor who was murdered! That’s when Andrew shows up and tells Donald that Sylvia murdered Doctor Evans, and he has brought her here to protect her. Sylvia was having an affair with Doctor Evans...

Later, Sylvia tells Andrew that Dr. Evans was dead when she got there - even though she seemed to have had a drink with him as Nurse Webber found a martini glass with Sylvia’s lipstick on it. Andrew says he hired Dr. Evans to meet Sylvia at a party and begin an affair with her (?) in order to diagnose Sylvia (who refused to see a doctor for her condition, whatever it might be). Sylvia accuses Andrew of being crazy.

When Andrew goes into town for supplies, Donald breaks into the house - he wants to know if Sylvia was cheating on both her husband and Donald with Dr. Evans? But Andrew hasn’t gone into town, he somehow knew Donald would show up and calls the police to say that he shot a prowler and then points his gun at Donald. He wants the letter that Sylvia sent... for reasons that don’t make much sense. But he does admit to killing Dr. Evans because he was afraid Evans might tell Sylvia what was wrong with him (Andrew). Donald hands over the letter, which ends up saying nothing incriminating about Andrew, and then tells Sylvia that he’s breaking it off with her because she refuses to leave Andrew, and things get soapier than a year of Days Of Our Lives...

And then the Police show up... about the prowler. Then leave.

Then Andrew kills himself. And Donald leaves so that he has an alibi, and in the morning Sylvia is supposed to get Nurse Webber to open the study door to discover the corpse... except the next morning when Nurse Webber opens the door there is no sign of Andrew or the gun or any blood or brain matter. And his car is gone.

Sylvia goes to London to see Donald - but he isn’t home... but there’s a Detective (Jack Greening) at his house. They were tipped off that she and Donald were going to leave the country. Huh?

The Detective drivers her back to the Country House... where all of the furniture is shrouded again. The Detective wants to know what’s going on... and that’s when Nurse Webber comes in and accuses Sylvia of murdering Doctor Evans, who was Webber’s... Husband! And she accuses Sylvia of murdering Andrew. They found Andrew’s body in his car in the river, they’re pulling it out now.

The Detective leaves, and then Andrew sneaks in with a gun - he’s done this whole scheme to make it look as if Sylvia killed him. Andrew is crazy - paranoid and delusional. Sylvia wants to stall him until the Detective returns, so Andrew pours two drinks and puts poison in one. They drink, the Detective returns to arrest Sylvia, sees Andrew and just accepts that he’s alive, and then Donald enters out of nowhere with a doctor’s note from Andrew’s previous psychiatrist which says he’s crazy and capable of murder. And then the Detective arrests the murderer of Dr. Evans... Nurse Webber! Then Andrew drops dead - he poisoned himself. It’s like freakin’ Hamlet!

Review: It’s almost as if there was a saboteur in the production company or something. Every time they seem to get a series of good episodes in a row going, someone screws it up with an episode like this... usually based on a novel or in this case a stage play. These episodes are usually not horror or thriller, but some sort of mystery or drama. Hey, I love mysteries! But the episodes of this show that really work are the horror and suspense tales, that’s what makes it unique in the world of anthology shows.

I think one of the problems with adapting a novel or stage play is that they are longform type stories and you really need to identify the core story and jettison all of the subplots. Here we have a stage play that may have been three acts and over two hours on stage, but they try to cram all of it into the 45-50 minutes of an hour long TV show. So some of it seems like a soap opera - too many plot threads and plot twists in too little time. And these subplots all eat away at the main plot and rob the story of suspense and character and make the twists seem silly.

You know what else goes missing when you have this many subplots and this much plot crammed into a single episode? What the hell is the letter from the lover? There is a letter in this story, but it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the story. She invites Donald to the country house... but that’s not a big enough deal to name the story after the letter. I suspect the letter was a bigger deal in the stage play, and just got lost in the translation to 45-50 minutes.

The episodes that seem to work best on this show are longish short stories (Novelettes) which seem to adapt to very close to 45-50 minutes (minus head and tail credits and Karloff’s introduction). The Woolrich stories they have done fit the running time perfectly without padding or cutting, same with the Bloch stories. Those are the ones I’ve read before and after seeing the episodes. Why can I figure this out, but the producers keep trying to cram a full novel’s worth of story into 45 minutes? Seems like sabotage to me!

We’re probably going to do another rerun next week, because I’ll be watching the Oscars this weekend!

- Bill

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Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Scene Of The Week: The Wind And The Lion

One of my favorite films is John Millius's THE WIND AND THE LION, and here's a great scene with Brian Keith as Teddy Roosevelt on a hunting trip in Yosemite talking about a grizzly bear he's just killed...


The bear is part of the character's story thread - and shows up in several later scenes as it is stuffed and posed and eventually Teddy has his picture taken with it. Each scene with Teddy has some small bit about the bear - or maybe a large bit. He jumps up on his desk at one point to show the pose he wants for the stuffed bear.

The great thing about this "bear subplot" is that it allows the character to talk obliquely about elements of the main plot (a kidnaping in Morocco that may start a war) without being obvious or on the nose. In some ways, the dead grizzly is a "code" or a symbol that allows him to speak about the political situation without ever talking politics. I have a script tip about "symbolic dialogue" - when a character talks about one thing but is actually talking about something else.

This is a great technique to use if having your character talk about the plot situation would result in dull or obvious dialogue. Let them talk about something else... and let it have a second meaning about the plot situation.

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 which were 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.

John Milius is one of my favorite directors, and when I met him 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 remade CONAN and RED DAWN and neither worked. 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 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. Even though Milius and I have completely different political beliefs, he never demonizes the other side. 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... and there’s no shortage of action.




Here we have a story loosely based on an actual historical event - the kidnaping of an American 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 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 Rooselvelt. 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!




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 a 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.

Milius Interview:


If WIND AND THE LION pops up on TCM, check it out. It might make you feel like a 12 year old again, and you might sword fight with a broom... and break something.

I love the Goldsmith score, but also love the cinematography and direction. Just in that Grizzly clip, there are some images so beautiful they could be paintings. Millius is one of those directors who is kind of forgotten now, but made some amazing films... and needs to be rediscovered by a new generation.

- Bill
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