Friday, December 08, 2023

Hitchcock 20: BREAKDOWN (s1e2)

There's a great new documentary video series focusing on the 20 TV episodes that Hitchcock directed called HITCH 20. This episode of the show is a great HITCHCOCK PRESENTS episode called BREAKDOWN with Joseph Cotten as a ruthless businessman who downsizes a loyal long time employee... and then ridicules him for breaking down and crying. It's really a lot of fun, so take a look:





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

Bill

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:
(links actually work now)

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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.

Price: $5.99

UK Folks Click Here.

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Thursday, December 07, 2023

THRILLER Thursday: Late Date

Best Of Thriller: LATE DATE

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



Season: 1, Episode: 27.
Airdate: April 4, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty.
Writer: Donald Sanford based on the story by Cornell Woolrich (REAR WINDOW)
Cast: Larry Pennell, Ed Platt, Jody Fair.
Music: Great Jerry Goldsmith score.
Cinematography: Ray Rennahan.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Put yourselves in young Larry Weeks’s shoes my friends. You’ve just come home from a carefree day at the beach. Mind and body exhilerated by the sun and water. And what awaits? The tragic evidence of murder. Now ask yourself: What would you do next? Remembering always that the one person you love most in all this world, your own brother, was the killer. Would you phone for the police? Would you run from this terrible scene? Or would you have the courage to do what Larry Weeks will do? But before you answer, let me introduce the people who you will meet in tonight’s excursion with a corpse. Mr. Larry Pennell, Mr. Edward Platt, and Miss Jody Fair. Now for those of you who are still undecided let us see exactly how young Larry did handle this grim problem.”

Synopsis: Summertime, and everyone is at the beach. Mid 30s Larry Weeks (Larry Pennell) walks back to his suburban home, expecting to find it empty... but his middle aged brother Jim (Ed Platt from GET SMART) is back a day early... and looks like hell. It’s Thursday, and Jim works in the city during the week, staying at an apartment there, and only comes home on Friday for the weekend. When Larry asks if Jim’s wife Doris is upstairs, Jim mysteriously answers yes, but don’t go up there. Larry climbs the stairs to the bedroom to find Doris dead on the bed... neck broken.

Jim says he discovered she had been cheating on him, and just snapped... as did her neck. Larry says she began cheating a week after they were married, met a guy named Syd in a beer joint and with Jim away all week...



When Jim wants to go to the police, Larry talks him out of it. And by accident, Jim has caught a break: he forgot his train punch card and had to buy a ticket at the station, round trip, so he could go back in the morning. No one on the Thursday train recognized him, because he always comes home on Friday. Larry convinced Jim to sneak back to the station, take the next train to the city, and hang out with friends the way he usually would on a Thursday... to create an alibi. Then, using his punch card when he comes back on Friday, make sure that people *do* remember him on the train. Meanwhile, Larry will deal with the corpse.

But before Jim can leave, his daughter Helen (Jody Fair) returns from the beach. Larry tries to get rid of her by saying her boyfriend Gordon went to the beach to pick her up, but Helen says she’s already talked to Gordon... they’re going to the movies tonight and she can’t very well go in her bathing suit. She slips past Larry into the house. Will she discover Jim and ruin the plan? Helen takes off her wrap and is headed for the hall closet when Larry spots a coat tail hanging out of the closet door... is this where Jim is hiding? Larry tries to take her wrap for her, but she refuses. Opens the closet door: nobody there. Then she asks Larry if Doris is home. Larry says no, and Helen says: great, I can break into her room and use her make up and perfume. That’s where the corpse is!



Larry heads her off at the door to Doris’ room, makes sure it’s locked. While Larry and Helen are talking upstairs, Jim sneaks out downstairs. Helen goes into her bedroom, then sticks her head out and says to Larry: Doris probably didn’t lock the door to the shared bathroom, so Helen can still get in and use her make up and perfume. When Helen ducks back into her room, Larry scrambles to unlock the door to Doris’ room, slip inside, and then tries to close and lock the connecting bathroom door before Helen can try the door... but Helen goes into the bathroom first, turns on the light. Larry hides next to the door, unseen... but Doris’s corpse is in plain view sprawled on the bed!

That’s when the doorbell rings. Helen yells for Larry to answer it, it’s probably Gordon. But Larry can’t move or make a sound without being discovered. When Gordon keeps ringing the doorbell, Helen goes out to the hall (next to the door to Doris’ room) and yells down that it’s open, and Gordon enters. While Helen is on the other side of that door, Larry grabs Doris’ corpse and tries to hide it in the bedroom closet, but the door is locked. Helen goes back into the bathroom, and Gordon yells from downstairs to put on some of that expensive perfume that Doris uses... and Helen enters Doris’ bedroom!

Larry and the corpse hide behind the bed as Helen puts on make up and perfume, then steps back from the full length mirror to check herself out... almost stepping on Dead Doris’ foot! The phone rings. When Doris leaves the room, Larry sneaks out into the hall and says he’s got it, answers the phone downstairs... it’s Doris’ boyfriend Syd! Wants to know if she’s home. He says she’s out, call back later. Helen and Gordon leave for the night.



That night: Larry goes out to the car, pops the trunk, pulls out everything and puts it in the garage... including the spare tire. Doesn’t notice the nosey next door neighbor woman sitting on her porch, watching him. Back in the house, the phone rings... it’s boyfriend Syd again asking if Helen has come home. Larry comes up with a plan: says she’s having dinner with some friends at the Paradise Club and will meet him there at 8:30. But he should park in the back of the lot so that her friends don’t see him. Syd says he’ll be there. Larry checks his watch: 8:00. The ticking clock has begun. He lights a cigarette, gets ashes on the livingroom rug... and figures out a plan. He pours some ink on the rug, wraps Doris’ corpse in the rug, then calls a cleaner and says he’s spilled ink on his carpet, can he drop it off tonight? The cleaner is closed, but the guy says to ring the bell and he’ll open the door for him. Larry picks up the rug to carry it out to the car... and a shoe falls out. He stuffs the shoe back inside, plugs both ends of the rolled carpet with pillows, an carries it out to the car...

Where the Nosey Nextdoor Neighbor asks what he’s doing.



Larry tells her he spilled ink on the rug. She wonders why he’s taking it to the cleaners *now*, why not wait until morning? Larry explains that he doesn’t want the ink to set in. Then, in front of the NNN he has to put the rug in the trunk of the car. But it doesn’t bend like a rug, because it has a dead person inside. Suspense! He gets it in the trunk, closes it, gets in and... the car has trouble starting. He needs to getout of there *now*, the clock is ticking the Nosey Nextdoor Neighbor is watching. The car finally starts and Larry starts to drive away... when a police car cruises down the street! He *follows every possible law” as he backs out and drives off...

A winding mountain road with a sign for the Paradise Club announcing that it’s only 2 miles away. Larry turns the corner, clock ticking, he’s going to make it... then runs over something and gets a flat tire. Pulls the car to the shoulder and takes out the rug/corpse, slinging it over his shoulder. That’s when a car pulls up next to him. Two friends of Larry’s who want to help him. Change the tire? No spare. Drive you to a gas station to get a tire? He has to get this rug to the cleaners. Drive you to the cleaners, rug in the backseat? Um, no... it’s not that far, I can walk it. The rug is light. (He’s sweating like crazy, trying to make the rug look light). Will they discover the body? They say, “Your funeral” and get back in the car and zoom away.

Larry lugs the rug up the winding road, wondering if he’s going to get there in time.



On the road, a pick up truck pulls up next to him. The driver offers him a ride, he’s going past the Paradise Club. Larry puts the rug in back, climbs in. The driver asks him all kinds of questions about what he’s doing out at this hour with a rug. Larry tells his ink story and the driver says that’s bunk: he *stole* the rug. He’s hoping to sell it to someone at the Paradise Club, right? Right? Larry has no idea which way to answer... but the driver starts speeding up... faster and faster and faster. Larry says he wants out. The driver *throws him out*! Larry manages to yank the rug out of the back of the truck before hitting the shoulder with his shoulder and rolling down the side of the hill.

When he comes to, he’s messed up, but alive. His watch is broken. No idea what time it is. He climbs the hill, realizes he’s at the Paradise Club... and there’s Syd at the back of the parking lot in his car! Larry backtracks, finds the rug, puts it on his injured shoulder and carries it to the bushes behind Syd’s car.



Syd looks at his watch, impatient, then gets out of his car and goes into the Paradise Club looking for Doris. Meanwhile, Larry unrolls the rug, revealing Doris. How long will it take Syd to find out Doris isn’t in the club and come back to his car? Another ticking clock. Larry gets the corpse into the back seat of Syd’s convertible, makes sure her purse and identification and everything else that will make it look like she was out with Syd and he killed her, then slips back into the bushes *seconds* before Syd returns to his car, pissed off. For a moment, Larry is afraid Syd will look in the backseat and this whole thing will blow up while Larry is hiding a couple of feet away. But Syd pulls out a pint of booze, downs it, gets behind the wheel and drives off.

Larry rolls up the rug, goes to the Paradise Club and flags a cab, tells the driver he has to get this rug to the cleaners before the owner splits... puts the rug in the cab and they drive off...

Syd speeds down the winding road in his convertible, unaware that Doris’ corpse is in the backseat. He’s drunk and angry and speeding and...

When the cab drops Larry off at his house, he realizes that he’s done it. He’s saved his brother Jim from going to prison for murder! Now the Dead Doris Problem is Syd’s. Larry goes inside... and someone is inside, hiding in the shadows!



Jim. He tells Larry he couldn’t go through with it. He killed Doris and he wants to go to the police and confess. Larry says you can’t do that, Doris isn’t upstairs, she’s in the back seat of Syd’s car. How do you expect to explain that to the police? Jim still wants to confess, no matter what. Jim leaves the house, with Larry chasing behind him, trying to talk him out of confessing... when a police car stops in front of the house and two officers step out. “Are you James Weeks?” Jim says he is. The Police Officer is sorry to have to tell him that his wife was killed in a car accident along with another man. The Officer shows Jim some of the personal effects that Larry planted in the car. “Are these your wife‘s?” Jim says they are. The Officer says he can come down to make a formal identification in the morning, and they get in the police car to drive away.

Jim is completely off the hook.

But Jim walks down the sidewalk to the police car and gets into the back seat... and Larry follows him.



Review: I first saw this episode as a kid, and was blown away. It is *intense* edge of the seat suspense, and *relentless*. It never lets up. I had no idea who Cornell Woolrich was when I first saw the episode, and it was only later that I put two and two together and realized the same guy who wrote the short story that REAR WINDOW was based on wrote the short story that this episode and my other favorite from the series GUILLOTINE was based on. Around that time, Ballantine Books began republishing all of the Woolrich novels and short stories and I consumed them like a starving man. Woolrich was one of the three fathers of Noir and this episode fits right into the Noir genre: all about the darkness within and the descent of a good man into evil. This episode and an episode of HITCHCOCK PRESENTS called ONE MORE MILE TO GO were the inspirations for my DANGEROUS CURVES script, which is always a bridesmaid and I wish someone would just buy and make. The end of the short story this episode is based on, THE KID AND THE CORPSE (aka BOY WITH BODY) from 1935 is basically the end of Act One in DANGEROUS CURVES... and I wondered what happened if you got away with murder?



Before we look at the great stuff in this episode, let’s look at what almost sinks it. The short story has two titles (common for stories to get a new title with each new magazine publication back then to trick readers into thinking it was something they hadn’t already read), and KID and BOY are right there in those titles. Instead of Larry being the hunky younger brother of Jim in the story, he’s Jim’s shy son just out of high school... and not hunky at all. The idea of a *kid* doing all of this stuff to protect his *father* is a hundred times more involving than some studly mid 30 year old doing it to protect his middle aged brother. The age change also robs the story of it's Noir roots: a *boy* doing these things to protect his father is a descent into darkness, a grown man doing it makes the character seem bad from the start (which is a crime story but not Noir). Larry Pennel was just bad casting... and the muscle T didn't help... but this is the lead character, and somewhere someone thought they should get someone who looks like a movie star, and cast the muscular star of RIPCORD who would later play a parody of a hunky movie star named Dash Riprock on THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES who keeps getting set up with Ellie Mae. Instead of worrying that this boy will never be able to pull this off, we get this strong and overly confident guy who we *know* will pull it off. Instead of the father/son bond, we get this brother thing which still kinda works... but the consequences of having your brother go to prison and having your *dad* go to prison are completely different. If dad goes to prison, you are homeless and your whole future changes for the worse. This casting screw up almost sinks the episode: the story is kid of father, son, daughter and wicked stepmother... the episode loses all of that. Maybe they were afraid to cast a kid for censorship issues? An adult hiding a body is bad enough, but a kid?



That censorship thing is no doubt the reason for the complete cop out ending. In the story, after the police tell them that Doris died in the car accident, the story is *over*. They’ve gotten away with murder! Time for celebration! But they probably couldn’t have that ending on TV in the early sixties. I just like to pretend the episode ends before Ed Platt goes out to the police car to confess... that’s a much happier ending.

Now for the great stuff: this episode is a textbook on suspense. There isn’t a scene or moment that doesn’t have suspense!

The moment when Helen wants to put her coat in the closet and Larry sees the tail of a coat sticking out between door and jam and we *know* that’s where Jim is hiding. Every chance for suspense is used... and this is a great lesson! When you have a scene in your thriller, look at all of the little ways you can milk it for suspense. The ways to turn the feeling of suspense into tangible things like that coat tail in the door. We know that Jim is hiding *somewhere* which is a vague suspense element. That can work, but it works *better* if we have a concrete suspense element like that coat tail sticking out of the closet. The great part of this is that as soon as the closet door is opened and Jim is *not* there, Helen asks if Doris is home... switching the suspense to someone else, something worse, she can discover! Escalating the suspense!



An other cool thing is when Larry is taking everything out of the car trunk so that he can fit the body in there, and takes out the spare tire. At the time we think nothing of it: he needs as much room as he can get. But that’s really a great set up for the problem with the flat tire later. When he gets the flat, we remember that he has no spare and realize he’s *really* screwed! The audience is always trying to jump ahead, and part of our job is to *hide* those set ups and plants so that they can’t figure out what happens next. Even if you do worry about him taking out the spare tire, there’s enough suspense afterwards (with the nosey neighbor, the car not starting, the cop car) to make it slip your mind until he gets the flat tire.

The episode uses a great “clock” or “time lock” with the meeting set at 8:30 at the Paradise Club. Woolrich frequently used this suspense device, in one of my favorite novels PHANTOM LADY the chapters are all titled with the number of days it is before the protagonist is put to death for murdering his wife... and it counts down chapter by chapter until they send him to the electric chair! Here we know Larry has a half hour to get Doris’ corpse to the Paradise Club, plenty of time! But then things go wrong. Things like the sign telling us the club is 2 miles away when he gets the flat help escalate the tension with that ticking clock. The broken watch is a great tool as well.

We also get to see Larry *think*. When he gets cigarette ashes on the rug, then looks down at the rug... we know he’s thinking that taking the rug to the cleaners is a great way to get the body out of the house, and create an alibi for himself.



One of great things in thrillers is that characters often have to do things completely against their nature and against logic, which often enters into the absurd. Here we have Larry broken down on the side of the road with this damned heavy carpet to carry to the Paradise Club and the clock ticking... and his *friends* offer him a ride. He’d have to be crazy to say no, right? But there’s a dead body in that rug, so he must fight against people offering to *help him*! It makes no sense. It’s a great scene, because he must say and do absurd thing to get rid of them. The rug is light as a feather... but he’s sweating like crazy!

One of the things I note in my Thriller class is how *the world* seems to turn against protagonists in thriller stories, and here Larry finally gets a ride with the pick up truck driver... only to have that driver accuse him of being a thief and then try to steal the rug! Larry is being accused of one crime, and can’t very well explain his innocence without exposing that he’s guilty of a far worse crime! So he just takes the driver’s abuse.

There’s also a great lesson in set ups and pay offs with Syd, Doris’ boyfriend. He’s been waiting in some bar for her all night, and when he heads to the Paradise Club he’s been drinking in his car waiting for her... and getting more angry every minute. This is completely logical behavior for this character. When he comes out of the Paradise Club and thinks Doris has stood him up, speeding away in a rage is logical behavior. The winding road to the Paradise Club has already been established with Larry, so it’s not some crazy coincidence that Syd would drive off the road and crash. We never feel like that ending is contrived, because it’s been set up so well there’s almost no other possible ending. Which is why it’s a shame that the episode felt the need to have Jim confess after we get that great plot twist.

This episode was directed by Herschel Daughtery, who is probably most famous as a regular director on the show filming on the same lot, HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. Though not on the same level as Hitch, he was a really good TV director who knew how to make suspense work on the small screen and worked on all of the great action and drama shows of the time. The script by Sanford does a great job of putting Woolrich’s relentless suspense on screen, and Daughtery makes sure those suspense situations and scenes make it to the screen. Next week we’ll look at one of Robert Bloch’s most famous stories, YOURS TRULY JACK THE RIPPER, and the sequel to that story he wrote as an episode of STAR TREK. Two for one!

Bill

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Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Compulsive Kindness

It's the Holiday Season - be kind to people working retail, be kind to strangers... just be kind!



When I was a little kid, my mother would always get compliments from other people on how well behaved my brother and sister and I were. When we were in public we never raised our voices, let alone ran around and roughhoused. We stood in a straight line. We didn’t touch things that were not ours. We might fight like cats and dogs at home, but in public we never pushed each other or hit each other or even raised our voices. My parents raised us well and lead by example. We did unto others as we would have them do unto us. None of this had anything to do with religion or threats of being whipped with a belt - it was just good behavior. When we were out in public, we had a code of conduct to follow.

Back then I believe most kids had a code of conduct to follow when they were out in public. I know our friends the Holloway kids did... though I don’t remember them standing in a straight line - that may have just been something my mom came up with. Though some kids were little hellions, most behaved when in public. That’s what was expected of kids at the time. We always said “please” and “thank you” and “excuse me” and “may I be excused” when we had finished dinner. We had to ask permission before doing anything unusual - and if all of this sounds like we were some sort of Stepford Kids, nothing could be farther from the truth. We built forts and dug fox holes to play army and often played in the forbidden creek behind the house if mom was busy doing something and we didn’t think we’d get caught. We were normal kids, who had some manners and did unto others.

The mind set of doing unto others and considering other people has stuck with me into adulthood. So has saying “please” and “thank you”. When I’m working in a coffee shop and they put my drink on the counter, I always say “thank you” even if I am across the room plugging in the laptop. It’s only polite. And this got me thinking about all of the things that I do that are traces of those childhood lessons in being polite.

1) I always say “please” and “thank you” and “you’re welcome”.

2) I always try to have a genuine smile for people. I hate those plastered on fake smiles, and I have been guilty of wearing them every now and then. When I smile at people, 99% of the time I mean it. I also try to be positive - and trust people and be nice to people as my default. I know people who start out suspicious and angry, I don't want to be one of those people.

3) I clean up after myself - I always try to leave things where and as I found them. If I am in the grocery store and decide not to buy something in my cart, I take it back to the shelf where I found it and even face it and make it look pretty - because that's probably what it looked like when I grabbed it. If it didn't look like that? I'm leaving the world in better shape than I found it. That's the goal whether it's a grocery store or an interaction with a stranger.

4) When I’m at a stop light, I always look *both* ways before turning right or pulling out. I also look both ways before crossing a street - or doing just about anything. Always good to know what's around you - instead of not caring.

5) Probably because I’m often on a bicycle, I stop my car behind the limit line, not in the middle of the cross walk. You know, that extra foot doesn’t get me there any faster. When I'm driving, I go with the flow of traffic - rather than race to the next stop light. Oddly, I get there the same time as the car that races through traffic.

6) When squeezing past someone or crossing in front of their sight line or any number of other things, I say either “excuse me” or “pardon me”. Since many people in Los Angeles speak Spanish as their primary language, I usually say “pardon me” because I think it is easier for everyone to understand. I don’t say “pardon me” for me, I say it to be polite to others.

7) I park within the lines, and as straight as possible. This means it may take me an extra minute to position my car - but that makes it easier for people parked on either side to open their doors and pull their cars out of their parking spot.

8) When I am paying at a cash register, I make sure my money is faced when I hand it to the clerk. When I worked retail I had to face my money at the end of the day, so I know what a pain it is to get a wad of messy money. It takes a second to put all of the bills face up and rightside up before handing it to the clerk.

9) I look before moving. If I’m going to take a step to the side or a step back, I look at the spot where I’m moving to *before* moving so that I don’t step on anyone. Saves me from having someone else's coffee on my clothes.

10) I am patient. Okay, not always - never at the post office - but I try to be patient most of the time. Whether I’m in a rush or not will not change how fast things happen or how fast other people move. Better to just take it easy.

11) By the time I get to the front of the line, I am completely ready to order. I know exactly what I want, and the answer to any of the normal question I might be asked (“Soup or salad?” “Do you want fries with that?” “Room for cream?”) I don’t want to waste the time of the people behind the counter or the people behind me because I am not prepared. By the time I stand in line, I know exactly what I want.

12) When I am walking on the sidewalk, I walk on the right side (or the left side) - never in the center. If the people in front of me are walking on the left side, I walk on the left side... so I'm not creating a maze for people walking towards me. Everyone moving in the same direction should be walking on the same side of the sidewalk. I want to make it easy for people behind me to pass me, and people coming in the opposite direction to get around me.

13) When I step off and escalator or through a door I continue to walk several steps to make sure I am not blocking people behind me. I usually keep walking and survey my surroundings to see where I want to go, rather than stop and look around. That way I’m not holding up traffic.

14) When I am next in a check out line, I have money in my hand as well as a selection of change, so that nobody has to wait for me to dig into my pocket to find that nickle. I’m *prepared* to pay for my purchases. Oh, and because I’m strange, I often add up my items in my mind and figure in tax and have a pretty good estimate of what the total is going to be. I’m usually within a dollar either way, and that helps me know what kind of bills I should have in my hand when I get to the checkstand.

15) If I’m talking on my cell phone in public, I try to use a quiet voice or go outside - I don’t want to bother other people with my conversation... and I kind of like privacy.

16) I try not to kick a man when he’s down. Once I’ve made my point, I back off. Though I’m sure I’ve kept hammering away at somebody a few times on message boards, I usually back off. Also, when someone has a bad day, I don’t make it worse... even if I hate them and my evil side would love to destroy them. It’s not fair.

17) I always go to the restroom or go outside to blow my nose. It’s gross to do it somewhere people are watching or listening... let alone trying to eat a meal.

18) I gauge traffic when I am merging, and pull out in an opening with enough distance between the car in front and in back of me... and at the same speed they are going. I don't stop to merge - that's silly. I don’t want to cause anyone to jamb on their brakes or have to swerve - I want it to be a smooth blend of my car into the stream of traffic.

19) If I am walking with friends on the sidewalk and others approach us in the opposite direction, I step behind or in front of my friend(s) so that we are walking single-file, allowing those walking towards us half of the sidewalk to pass us. This isn’t always easy - I have some friends who don’t get it, and if I fall back, so do they.

20) When I’m wrong, I apologize, and I mean it.

21) My cell phone ringer is either set low or on vibrate - the rest of the world doesn’t have to know my phone is ringing, and I really don’t care if you hear my cool ringtone or not (it’s the Peter Gunn theme - which is used in a bunch of commercials, and I often reach for my phone when it’s just a Chase Bank commercial on TV.)

22) I don’t block other people in an aisle or a store or a walkway or anyplace else - and I try not to stand in front of things other people might want access to.

23) If I make a mistake more than once, I try to make sure I don’t make it a third time. You are supposed to learn from your mistakes, not keep making them over and over again. Sometimes, if it’s some sort of bad habit, I find some way to punish myself if I keep doing it. I’m too old to have my mom spank me, so sometimes I have to spank myself. Not literally. But I do not reward myself for failure or making mistakes - I take away some pleasure until I stop screwing up.

24) I do not talk on my cell phone when I get to the front of a line - that’s when I need to be focusing on paying or ordering or talking with the person on the other side of the counter. It’s rude to the person behind the counter, it's rude to the person on the phone, and rude to the people standing behind me when I fumble through trying to hold two conversations at once.

25) In the grocery store, I push my cart down the right side of the aisle, and either stay on that right side when grabbing items off the shelves or move far enough away from my cart that I am not blocking both sides of the aisle - one side with my cart and one side with me shopping. I always leave half the aisle empty so that other people with carts can get past me.

26) If I am crossing a street as a pedestrian (or just walking across a parking lot entrance) I look at traffic in all directions - some times it’s easier to wait for one car to pass even though I have the right of way. If I have to wait a minute so that things run smoother for everyone else, no big deal. And if cars are waiting for me to cross the street, I walk *fast* - I don’t take my time when I’m also taking other people’s time. The same thing if I am in my car: sometimes things will move faster if I let the other car go first. My car has well over 100,000 miles on it, and I have honked the horn maybe a dozen times. When I am out in the world, it's all about what works best for the world, not what works best for me. Oh, and I always use my turn signal. Always. Even in parking lots.

27) I try to be aware of everyone around me and stay out of people’s way. If I’m blocking a bunch of people from getting where they want to go because I’ve got my head in the clouds thinking about something or talking on the phone or whatever - I’m holding up the whole danged world!

28) When I pick a table at a restaurant or a coffee shop, I try not to pick one that would be of better use to someone else - I’m one person, so I don’t take a large table that might be better used by a family or a group, I don’t take a table designed for handicapped access or might be more convenient for an elderly person. Sometimes these are the only tables available, so I have no choice - but I always think about others when I select a table.

29) If I’m walking in a shopping mall or hallway or sidewalk and need to stop, I move to the side (near the wall) and *then* stop, so that I am not suddenly stopping in front of someone and am out of the way *before* I slow down or stop.

30) I try to help people whenever possible - not because of some sort of karma thing where what goes around will come around back to me (that would be nice, but I’m not sure that’s really how the world works), but just because it usually takes the same amount of effort to help people as to put them down or even ignore them. There are all kinds of people who seem to go out of their way to be mean or dismissive to people - and that’s a lot of work just to be negative. Usually it takes the same amount of work to help people - and that makes the world a little better. I don’t go out of my way looking for people to help, I just help anyone whose path crosses mine. That may be holding the door open for someone with their arms full or answering a question on a message board I visit or helping somebody find something if I know where it is (a street, a business, or even an item in the store). Most of these are silly little things that are part of our day-to-day lives, but my “default setting” is helpful. One of those things I learned from my parents.

By the way, I think one of the reasons why my brother and sister and I were so well behaved in public is that my mom encouraged us to *think about playing* and imagine what we would do when we got home and were allowed to run around in the yard and have fun. Or think about our toys and hobbies (my brother and I would think about Hot Wheels, my sister would think about Barbies - Mattel Toys won either way). Or think about our favorite televison shows or the book we were reading. We would sort of play in our minds... and entertain ourselves. No need to be little hellions in the grocery store. Those good manners, and thinking of others as well as ourselves, have stuck with me from childhood into adulthood.

(This was going to be called "Compusive Manners" but that didn't have the same ring to it.)

Thank you for reading this.

- Bill

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Trailer Tuesday: The Two JACK FROSTS

It's the holiday season!

When Hollywood isn't remaking classics or turning bad TV shows into films, they are ripping off B Movies and hoping that no one will notice. It's bad enough that three years after that HBO World Premiere movie about the scummy deep-core drillers trying to plant nukes in a killer asteroid hurtling toward Earth (WITHIN THE ROCK), Hollywood does their big budget rip-off version (ARMAGEDDON)... or when the year after my HBO World Premiere movie VIRTUAL COMBAT was in the can, Paramount buys a script with the exact same plot called VIRTUOSITY... or when three years after my NIGHT HUNTER premieres on CineMax, New Line does a scene-for-scene remake called BLADE. But now Hollywood is ripping off obscure direct to video flicks.




Like JACK FROST (1996)... becoming JACK FROST (1998).

Yes, kids, there WAS an early frost.

In a fit of masochism, I decided to watch both the 1996 B horror movie version from A-Pix and the big budget 1998 family film version from Warner Bros. and here is my report...

CONCEPT:

In JACK FROST (1998) Michael Keaton plays a killer blues singer named Jack Frost who gets killed in snow storm related car accident on the way to a gig (the biggest day of his life) and is reincarnated as a talking snowman.

In JACK FROST (1996) Scott MacDonald plays a serial killer with the blues named Jack Frost who gets killed in a snow storm related car accident on the way to his execution (the last day of his life) and is reincarnated as a talking, killing snowman.

In JACK FROST (1998) Joseph Cross is Keaton s neglected son, yearning for his father s attention... but dad is too busy with his career. Dad constantly lies to his son, flakes out on an important hockey game, then is too busy to spend Christmas with the family because he has a gig to play.

In JACK FROST (1996) Zack Eginion is the Sheriff (Chris Allport)'s neglected son, yearning for his father s attention... but dad is too busy with his career. Dad doesn't lie to his son, doesn't flake out, but is too busy dealing with a series of gory murders to spend Christmas with the family.

MAN AND SNOWMAN:




In JACK FROST (1998) musician Jack Frost is reincarnated as a snowman after his son plays a magic harmonica.

In JACK FROST (1996) killer Jack Frost is reincarnated as a snowman after he gets splashed with top secret government DNA goo transported in a tanker truck.

In BOTH versions of JACK FROST there is a touching, emotional scene where the lonely son puts the eyes, nose, buttons and hat on the snowman, unaware that it is alive! Really creepy stuff! You expect the snowman to grab the kid at any minute!

JACK'S BACK:

In JACK FROST (1998) Henry Rollins plays a guy who freaks out when he sees the walking, talking snowman, and spends the rest of the film running through town acting crazy.

In JACK FROST (1996) F. William Parker plays a guy who freaks out when he sees the walking, talking snowman, and spends the rest of the film running through town acting crazy.

In JACK FROST (1998) the snowman is created by expensive computer animation, but the black button eyes... black as coal, emotionless, evil... make him look creepy.

In JACK FROST (1996) the snowman is some guy in a bad costume, but the carrot nose and button eyes... cartoonish, obviously fake... make him look silly.

JACK BE NIMBLE:

In BOTH versions of JACK FROST the snowman removes his head and holds it up so that he can see through a high window.

THOSE MEAN BULLY KIDS:

In JACK FROST (1998) the son gets into a snowball fight with a gang of bully snowboarder kids, and is saved when Jack Frost the snowman pummels the lead bully kid with thousands of snowballs. Hooray!

In JACK FROST (1996) the son gets into a fight with a gang of bully sledging kids, and is saved when Jack Frost the snowman cuts of the lead bully kid s head with a sledge blade. Yech!

CRUEL SCENES (part 1):




In JACK FROST (1998) there is a scene where a dog rips off Jack Frost's arm! A scene where Jack Frost is hit by a snowplow and dumped into a snow bank! A scene where Jack Frost's head falls off, and he makes a few smart-ass remarks before putting it back on.

In JACK FROST (1996) there is a scene where Jack Frost smashes a woman's face into tree decorations until she dies! A scene where Jack Frost shoves an axe handle down a guy s throat! A scene where Jack Frost s head falls off, and he makes a few smart-ass remarks before putting it back on.

In JACK FROST (1998) there is a creepy scene where Jack Frost (snowman) follows the son around, stalking him, frightening him.

In JACK FROST (1996) there is a creepy scene where Jack Frost (snowman) follows the son around, stalking him, frightening him.

JACK THE RIPPER:

In JACK FROST (1998) there is a terrifying scene where the son hangs off the edge of a cliff! A frightening scene where bully kids are smashed flat by a giant Indiana Jones snowball! A scary scene where a bully kid rolls down a cliff!

In JACK FROST (1996) there is a really silly scene where a babe gets naked and takes a bath... not knowing that the water in the tub is really Jack Frost in his liquid state. Sort of Jack and Jill in a pail of water...

NIPPING AT YOUR TOES:




JACK FROST (1998) has a suspense scene where the babelicious mom (Kelly Preston) is about to discover the walking, talking, smart-ass snowman is in her kitchen after noticing a big wet footprint/puddle on the linoleum.

JACK FROST (1996) has a suspense scene where the babelicious mom (Eileen Seeley) is about to discover the walking, talking, smart-ass snowman is in her kitchen after noticing a big wet footprint/puddle on the linoleum.

EVERYTHING BUT THE KITCHEN SINK:

In BOTH versions of JACK FROST a leaky kitchen sink in babelicious mom's house figures into the plot.

THE SNOWMAN TALKS!

Sample funny dialogue from JACK FROST (1998) - "You the man!" "No, YOU the man!" "No, I'm the SNOW man!" (Jack and his son bonding)

Sample funny dialogue from JACK FROST (1996) - "Hey! I can see your house from here!" (Jack catapulted into the air)

YOU DON'T KNOW JACK:




In BOTH versions of JACK FROST no one seems to find anything unusual or silly about a walking, talking, wise-ass snowman. It's as if this kind of thing happens every day. In the big budget family film version, the son has no problem believing in the talking snowman, but needs to be convinced that it's his musician dad, Jack Frost, reincarnated.

In the B movie horror version, the FBI and Sheriff have no trouble believing that the talking snowman is killing people, or that it's really serial killer Jack Frost reincarnated. The only characters who think a talking snowman is a crazy idea are portrayed as crazy themselves. Both films never try to come up with a rational explanation for why a guy would be reincarnated as a snowman, instead they try (and fail) to create a world where being reincarnated as a snowman is a normal occurrence. (Yeah, that happened to my Uncle Phil... my Uncle Harvey was reincarnated as an invisible rabbit...)

In JACK FROST (1998) the son tells the bully that the talking snowman is his dad, and the bully JUST BELIEVES HIM! Then, for some dumb reason, becomes the son's friend/helper! Huh?

In JACK FROST (1996) a scientist tells the FBI agent that the talking snowman is the serial killer, and the FBI agent JUST BELIEVES HIM! Then, for some dumb reason, the FBI agent and scientist team up to capture the snowman! Huh?

I'M MELTING:

In JACK FROST (1998) Jack's days are numbered because a warm front is moving in, melting the snow on the town's streets. In one scene, the son threatens Jack Frost with a hair dryer... really sick, if you consider it s his reincarnated dad!

In JACK FROST (1996) they filmed someplace where there wasn't any snow on the streets in the first place... but they spread around some white "snow blankets" to make it look like winter. It looks like it's about 80 degrees in most of the scenes. You wonder what effect heat has on Jack Frost. In one scene, the Sheriff threatens Jack Frost with a hair dryer... really confusing if you consider that Jack Frost has the power to turn into water in order to sneak under locked doors, then re-freeze himself into a snowman. If they blast him with hair dryers, why doesn't he just use his re-freezing powers.

JACK IN THE BOX:

In JACK FROST (1998) the son tries to keep Jack from melting by jamming him inside the kitchen freezer... almost caught by mom when she notices the melting ice cubes.

In JACK FROST (1996) Jack gets the drop on some teenagers by jamming himself in the kitchen freezer... then attacking when they look for ice cubes.

JACKING OFF:

In the late JACK FROST (1998) the snowman gets knocked to pieces, and re-assembles himself WRONG! Head in the wrong place, arms in the wrong place, etc. Of course, he makes a wise-ass remark about it.

In the early JACK FROST (1996) the snowman gets knocked to pieces, and re-assembles himself WRONG! Head in the wrong place, arms in the wrong place, etc. Of course, he makes a wise-ass remark: "Look, I'm a Picasso!"

CRUEL SCENES (part 2):




In JACK FROST (1998) in a tender, touching scene, the son slams holes in his reincarnated snowman dad with hockey pucks - about a dozen holes - you can see right through all of them! But Jack scares the hell out of his son by sneaking up behind him and yelling BOOOO! a couple of times as revenge. Jack Frost ties a dog to a sledge and WHIPS IT as if it s a dog team! But still, Frost MELTS in the heat - sizzling across a hot asphalt parking lot... losing many of his precious bodily fluids! And, did I mention the son trying to melt his ass with a hair dryer?

In JACK FROST (1996) they use hair dryers to melt half of Jack's head off, stab him with ice picks, throw him out a window, run over him with a car, and toss him in a furnace. Actually, nothing in the horror movie version holds a candle to the cruel, evil, sick stuff that happens in the family film version!

I ONLY HAVE ICE FOR YOU:

In the later FROST, the son gets his snowman dad into the mountains before he melts. But snowman dad tells the kid that his job on earth is over (I guess he scared the crap out of enough people) and it s time for him to move on. But Jack has seen Spielberg s E.T. in his pre-snowman days, so he tells his son, "If you ever need me, I'll be right here," and touches the kid's heart. Then there s a bunch of special effects and the snowman seems to blow away... up to heaven!

In the early FROST, they kill him by forcing him into a pick-up truck bed filled with anti-freeze. Jack dissolves, his arm falls off, and other fake looking effects happen and the snowman melts away... down to hell!

CONCLUSIONS:

BOTH versions of JACK FROST end with white credits on a black background, with cute little cartoons of snowmen in the margins. I swear - it's the exact same credit sequence! (Only the names were changed to protect the guilty!) Both end title rolls have jokes hidden in the credits, with the family film claiming that "No Snowmen Were Harmed In The Making Of This Film".

Come on! Of the two JACK FROSTs, the family comedy provides more horror and cruelty, while the horror version is actually funnier! The horror version actually has better family values, and more characters with more morals! It s a strange, strange world we live in, Master Jack!

- Bill



Click here for more info!

Only $5.99

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!

Friday, December 01, 2023

Fridays With Hitchcock: Hitch Techniques by Jeffrey Michael Bays

Years ago "Hitchcock Whisperer" Jeffrey Michael Bays contacted me about being one of the "talking heads" in his new series HITCH 20, looking at Hitch's 20 TV episodes that he directed both for his own show and a couple of others.

Though the last batch of episodes are being held up by rights issues (these are the episodes Hitch directed for other shows - which have fallen through the cracks), Jeffrey has gone on to write a book on Hitchcock techniques for Indie Filmmmmakers and made a feature film and kept creating cool stuff on YouTube...

Like this:



So check out his Hitchcock book and all of his other cool stuff!

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, November 30, 2023

Thriller Thursday: The Twisted Image



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



THE TWISTED IMAGE


Season: 1, Episode: 1.
Airdate: 9/13/1960


Director: Arthur Hiller
Writer: James P. Cavanagh, based on a novel by William O’Farrell.
Cast: Leslie Nielsen, George Grizzard, Natalie Trundy, Dianne Foster.
Music: Pete Rugolo.
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon.


Buy The DVD!

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Her eyes. They were often upon him. Candid, admiring, possessive. Her eyes. Her extraordinary eyes. Alan Patterson was aware of her eyes. And used to them. In the lunch counter. In the elevator. He was aware of them for almost a month. And they were to lead him into guilt and terror and murder... as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. Our story is about a watcher, and the watched... and a not so innocent bystander. There’s an outsider, too: Alan’s wife. Four pairs of anxious eyes. But no one could see the shattering effect of... the Twisted Image. Well, I’ll say no more, but I promise you one thing: this is a thriller!”

Synopsis: Successful executive Alan Patterson (Leslie Nielsen) has a pair of stalkers: Lilly (Natalie Trundy), an attractive female employee who has some crazy fatal attraction crush on him... and will do anything to ruin his marriage so that she can become his next wife; and Merl (George Grizzard), an envious mail room employee at the company who wants to take over Alan’s life... once Alan is out of the way, of course. So we have a hybrid of FATAL ATTRACTION and SINGLE WHITE FEMALE, decades before either of those movies were made.

Lilly shows up at Alan’s office at lunchtime, and insists he take her to lunch. His secretary sees them together, and assumes... and when they go to lunch, another business associate sees them together and assumes... But during the lunch, Alan is a bit freaked out by Lilly: she flat out says she’s going to marry him. When he says he is already married and has a kid, she is not deterred at all. She’s crazy! She calls him at home and leaves odd messages with his wife... who thinks he may be cheating.



When Alan has lunch with Lilly to tell her to just leave him alone, she *loudly* professes her love for him in the company lunch room... and is overheard by Merl, who now has some leverage against the boss he love/hates. It’s hinted at that Merl is Gay and also has a strange crush on Alan... he’s very similar to Bruno in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN in some respects. When delivering the mail, Merl steals Alan’s watch from his office.

The more Alan tells Lilly to leave him alone, the more she calls his home and office. His marriage is eroding, his wife (Dianne Foster) is sure that he is cheating on her with Lilly. His life is falling apart!

One night Merl seeks out “Alan’s mistress” Lilly, telling her he has a message from Alan. Merl has a cheap bottle of wine and soon we have *two* drunk mentally unstable people in Lilly’s apartment... both in love with the same man. When Merl puts the moves on Lilly, trying to live out his Alan fantasy, she pushes him away... and he kills her. Oops!

That’s when Alan knocks on the door to demand that Lilly leave him the hell alone. Oops!

But Merl knocks him unconscious, steals his wallet, and wipes away all of his own finger prints... making it appear as if Alan killed Lilly. When wakes up and finds the dead body of the woman who everyone thinks is his mistress, Alan leaves Lilly’s apartment, and he’s seen by the building manager... who then discovers her dead body. Now Alan has to find the real killer before the police catch him.

Merl goes out on the town, using Alan’s money and Alan’s identification.

Alan’s wife goes to have it out with Lilly... arriving just in time to see the police take her out in a body bag. Did Alan murder his mistress?

Alan decides Merl is #1 suspect, goes to his apartment... but Merl isn’t there. When Merl does come back, he sees Alan’s car on the street, and steals it... becoming more like Alan every minute. Wearing his watch, driving his car, dressed to look like him. The transformation is almost complete! But to actually *become* Ala,, Merl goes to Alan’s house and accosts Alan’s wife... *his* wife, now. Then takes Alan’s cute little kid! And holds a gun to her head! Now Alan must race home to save his wife and kid from the maniac pretending to be him.

Review: For the amount of talent involved and the number of great episodes this series would have, not an amazing first episode. Though you might only know Leslie Nielsen from comedies, he began as a serious dramatic actor... and that’s why he was perfect in movies like AIRPLANE! The audience expected him to be serious... as he is in this episode.

You may not be familiar with George Grizzard, but he was a hot actor at the time, cutting his teeth on TV before moving on to films (one of my favorite cop movies you’ve never heard of WARNING SHOT) like ADVISE AND CONSENT... but you would probably recognize the older version of him as the stern father of the bride in BACHELOR PARTY and the old version of Ryan Philippe in FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS. So we have a great cast.

Director Arthur Hiller was a TV veteran at the time, who would go on to direct huge Hollywood hits like LOVE STORY as well as great films like THE HOSPITAL and MAN IN THE GLASS BOOTH... and comedies like the original THE IN LAWS.

Writer James P. Cavanaugh was a writer for Hitchcock Presents, and many other TV crime shows. So we have all of this talent, and the episode is kind of a muddled mess.

Novelist William O'Farrell was probably famous at the time for his novel REPEAT PERFORMANCE, which is kind of GROUNDHOG DAY as a thriller, about a man who must relive the year he commits murder over and over again.

I suspect the reason is that this hour long episode is based on a novel... and what might work over the course of a novel might not work well when condensed into an hour of TV. The two stalkers thing seems unrealistic; this isn’t a movie star, it’s a business executive! In order to flesh out each character we spend some extra screen time on scenes like Merl and his sister having a dispute... which was probably a fine scene in the novel, but here it seems to come out of left field and slow down the story. And compressing all of the things that happen into a couple of days makes it seem like Alan has the worst luck in the world. When the two stalkers come together, that just seems like a huge coincidence. So we have a story that probably worked well in book form condensed into too little time... and all of the things that could be either set up or glossed over in the book now seem abrupt. The story also ends up “too plotty”, so much going on that we don’t get enough time to really see the emotional impact on Alan. Things like Merl transforming himself into Alan are rushed, and often end up more exposition than demonstration. Adding to this is that the thriller aspects don't kick in until the last quarter of the show. Too much going on!

The music for this episode is basically variations on the THRILLER theme, which makes it seem a little cheap. The same composer will do *great* work on later episodes, like PAPA BENJAMIN (about a big band leader, which Rugalo was before doing TV scores) who must deal with a voodoo curse.

Despite all of this, it’s a competent episode... it just probably should have been a two parter or something. The acting and direction is fine, and the idea that an insignificant person in your life could turn your world upside down like this is scary. I almost wish they had split the story into two stories, one with the crazy FATAL ATTRACTION woman at the office and the other with the SINGLE WHITE FEMALE stalker who transforms themself into a clone of you... an unstable, violent, murderous clone. That way each idea could have been fully explored, and more time spent on the suspense of the situation. One of the reason why I loved this show as a kid were the episodes that take a simple situation and ramp up the suspense until it is unbearable. When we come to GUILLOTINE, you’ll see a great example of that: will a poisoned executioner make it to work today? This isn’t a bad episode... but it doesn’t display the brilliance this show will achieve in later episodes.

FADE OUT.

Bill

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Flashback: The Instant Pitch

A rerun from 2007...

Screenwriters have to be able to think on their feet. You never know when an opportunity will present itself, or where an idea night be hiding, or when a chance to sell a script might pop up. A novelist has the luxury of time, a screenwriter has to come up with the solution to a story problem in a meeting with the producer right after he points out the problem. One of the things I've learned is that the longer a problem goes without the writer solving it, the more likely someone else will jump in with a solution that just doesn't work... but it's now your job to make it work...

After selling the script that got me to Los Angeles, I made the mistake of locking myself in a Van Nuys apartment for two years writing scripts and NOT networking until my money from the sale was almost gone. I thought that my sale to a company on the Paramount lot would result in my phone ringing off the hook from other producers - didn't happen. Though my sale was announced on the front page of The Hollywood Reporter, the film was never made and the producer went back to TV... leaving me without even the connection that got me to town in the first place! Now I had a mound of scripts and didn't know anybody to sell them to. But I did know about the American Film Market - where independent films are sold to independent distributors. Though the AFM wasn't open to the public, I had connections with my hometown newspaper and managed to get a press pass into the event. I now had nine days to meet a producer and sell a script, or I would have to begin looking for a day job.

Though I have nothing against day jobs, and there's no reason to be embarrassed if you're paying the bills while waiting for your screen writing career to kick in, I'd rather sell a script than do heavy manual labor. So I was REALLY motivated.


I passed out business cards and script synopsis to everyone who seemed likely to buy a script from me. I met a director who was cranking out films for Roger Corman and had a new horror movie premiering at the end of the market, did I want to see it? Sure! Though I didn't know anything about this director, I did know about Roger Corman. He's responsible for giving half of Hollywood their start. Francis Ford Coppola make DEMENTIA 13 for Corman, Jonathan Demme's first film was for Corman, Scorsese made a film for Corman, Ron Howard directed car crash films for Corman, John Millius wrote some biker films for Corman, Jack Nicholson wrote and starred in a bunch of Corman films, and one of my screen writing idols, John Sayles, began his screen writing career with a string of great scripts for Roger Corman films. Corman gives raw talent a way to break into the business - like a film internship. The only drawback - he doesn't pay much (but it's better than working at Kinkos copies or McDonalds). This director had a particularly colorful Corman story - he'd began as a janitor at the company and worked his way up to director. I wondered what kind of movie a janitor might make.

After making some more good connections - even passing out some scripts - the end of the week rolled around, and the screening of the janitor-director's film. I bumped into the director and I got to tell him about my scripts on the way to the screening. He asked to read one - but told me most of the films he did for Corman were shot on existing sets. He was sort of the B Team - after the A Team had finished a film, he would shoot on their sets. Interesting.

We get into the theater and I see what kind of film a janitor makes... It had a funny script that poked fun at the horror genre, but the direction was crude.

Afterwards the director asked what I'd thought... more thinking on my feet! I told him I thought it was funny and mentioned a couple of the places where the direction was okay. I lied a little.

A couple of months later I got a call from the director. The A Team would wrap shooting a film tonight, could I show up at 6am, tour the set, then pitch him the best story I could come up with using that set at 7am? Sure! Why so early? Well, there was still a day left on the construction crew's contract, and if the set couldn't be reused they'd have them use that day to tear it down. Corman loved to save money by getting every last minute of labor out of his crew. I told him I'd tour the set at 6am and see him at 7am.

I'm not a morning guy. The last time I saw 6am was when I stayed up all night. The big challenge was going to be waking up and staying awake.

The next morning I drive out to "The Lumberyard", Roger Corman's studio in Venice. Venice is a beach community with a row of trendy shops and restaurants... and a really ugly industrial section where the city's bus repair yard and a couple of junk yards compete with overgrown vacant lots of "City's Greatest Eyesore" prize. The Lumberyard is a couple of old warehouse-style buildings surrounded by mounds of old sets and props. Parts of plywood rocket ships and sections of fake castle walls and parts from a plastic mini-sub mock-up. It looked like the junkyard at the end of time. I parked in the lot and the head of the construction crew opened the door for me and pointed out the sets: about five rooms.

You've probably never seen a set in natural light. They look fake. I once toured the STAR TREK set on the Paramount lot, and it looks like it's made out of plywood and Styrofoam (it is). When we shot GRID RUNNERS, the cloning lab was the old operating theater at a run-down mental institution. The construction guys painted only the places that would show on camera, and did a slap-dash job. It looked like an abandoned building... but from the right angle with the right lighting looked like a high tech cloning lab. All of the things that looked fake in real life looked real on film.

The set at The Lumberyard was no different. It was a futuristic night club, a spaceship interior, and a high tech office complex of some sort. Most of it was made out of Styrofoam hot dog and hamburger containers - like the kind your Big Mac used to come in. Sheets of these Styrofoam containers covered plywood walls, adding texture. They were painted a metal gray color, and didn't look like hamburger containers at all.

But the Big Mac container walls reminded me of what I'd be doing if I didn't land this job. As I toured the set, drinking coffee and brainstorming, I came up with a fantastic idea. Each section of the set added to that idea. Hey - I had a great lead character, a high concept conflict, some big emotional scenes, and a way to make use that nightclub set for a couple of pivotal action-packed scenes. By 7am, I was fully caffeinated and ready to pitch my great idea to the director.

The director breezed in at 7:05 and I sat him down and pitched him my brilliant idea. The coffee was really kicking in by then, and I gave one of the most passionate pitches of my career. I explained the lead character's emotional conflict, and how he was forced to deal with it when this amazing event happens that thrust the entire world into danger. I told him about the fantastic action scenes that would take place in the night club set, and this chase I'd come up with for this long hallway, and a big romantic scene with the leading lady where the hero professes his undying love for him, then she breaks his heart by betraying him in a major plot twist. I could see him imagining every scene and knew I had him.

After I was finished he sat there for a while, thinking about the pitch. Thinking about the characters. Imagining the scenes. Imagining himself directing the scenes. He nodded a few times, thinking it over. Then he turned to the lurking construction guy, smiled, and said: Strike it!

The crew began tearing down the set.

By the time I left, it was half torn down!

A couple of days later I got a call from another producer I'd met - he wanted to buy my TREACHEROUS script. I wouldn't have to work at McDonald's after all!

- Bill


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