Friday, September 20, 2019

HITCH 20: The Case Of Mr. Pelham (s1e3)

There's a great new documentary video series focusing on the 20 TV episodes that Hitchcock directed called HITCH 20, where I am one of the "guest experts". This episode is on THE CASE OF MR. PELHAM about a man who is haunted by a double who is trying to take over his life! A really weird tale, which may have been more at home of the THRILLER TV Show which was shot on the same lot. It's really a lot of fun, so take a look:



Two important things I talked about were cut for time:

1) This episode is based on a book by the screenwriter of Hitch's YOUNG AND INNOCENT which had actually been adapted into a film *the same year* in England. It has even been made a few times since then, including a film with Roger Moore titled THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF in 1970. And someone should sue *Harlan Ellison* because his SHATTERDAY short story (made into one of my favorite NEW TWILIGHT ZONE episodes) uses the same idea. (kidding... but it would be funny payback for the TERMINATOR lawsuit.)

2) The *magic* shot. There's part of the shot in the HITCH 20 episode, we see a wide shot of the bar, move in to Pelham flagging down the Psychiatrist, then asking him to join him, and then the camera dollies backwards as they walk to a table and sit down... except that table could *not* have been there when they were dollying back! The camera would have bumped into it! So *off camera* the table was rolled into place as the camera was dollying backwards! It's one of those crazy furniture moves that Hitchcock used in ROPE so that the camera would be able to move fluidly "through" furniture and walls. By making the furniture and walls movable, they could dolly backwards "through" that table in the bar that Pelham and the Psychiatrist would be sitting at! A magic shot!

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

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:
(links actually work now)

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, September 19, 2019

THRILLER Thursday: DIALOGUES WITH DEATH

NEW FOR SEASON 2!!!

Dialogues With Death

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



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



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



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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

Dan Gordon - who is dead!

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

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



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

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

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



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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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



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

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

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

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Film Courage Plus: You Need To Keep Writing!

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 2015... and that's around 36 segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

You have to keep writing after making a sale!



Welcome To Your New Day Job!

The good news is that you just sold a screenplay or landed an assignment or had a screenplay go out wide - you’re in the business, baby! You can quit that awful day job you have struggled with and finally have time to write full time!

Except for one small problem...

You have a new day job. All of the business bullcrap of being a professional screenwriter. If you think you are now a full time writer, think again! One of the things that happens when you have a script go out wide or sell is that everyone in town wants to meet with you. When I had scripts go to 50 studio based producers, I usually ended up with around 48 meetings and at 2-3 meetings a day that is a full month of your time driving from one studio to another... and you will never have all of your meetings on the same lot! My meetings were always on 3 different sides of town with insane traffic between them. One meeting I was late for because I blew a tire on the freeway and ended up dirty and frazzled when I finally got there. Great first impression!

And no writing got done when I was doing all of those endless meetings. I *wanted* to write, but at the end of the day I was just too tired.

But after that month, you are free to write, right?

Nope. One of the side effects of meetings is the “busy work” of “pitching your take” on projects. Out of those 48 meetings, none of them bought me screenplay but many of them had writing jobs they thought I might be a good fit for - so they gave me books and magazine articles and all kinds of other stuff to read and then return with my take on. Of course, I wasn’t the only one doing this - every writer they had met with over the past few weeks was reading the same book and pitching their take. But you end up spending a lot of time doing this... when you should be writing.

Meetings becomes your full time job, and you have to squeeze in writing in whatever spare time you have left over. It’s like you are back to having a day job!

But here’s the problem: Once you get done with all of the meetings and the meetings generated by the meetings? You need a new script in order to get new meetings. The hope is that one of these scripts sells or one of your takes gets you an assignment. But you need a constant supply of new screenplays.

One of the things I learned the hard way was that it’s a good idea to have a stockpile of scripts ready to go. Though I had a bunch of scripts written, most of them needed some rewrite work to match them with the current market... and that slowed things down a little. The more prepared you are for that big break, the better you can handle it. And you will need to adjust from writing in your spare time with your old day job to writing in your spare time with your new day job... and getting pages done!

Your career is going to be like a treadmill where you need to keep running!

ONE FOR ME

But what if your script sells or lands you and assignment? Will you still need to do all of those meetings?

Yes. That’s part of the problem: you will need to strike while the iron is hot. It’s common for a screenwriter to do all of those meetings for the next gig while you are supposed to be writing the assignment you were just paid for. It’s common to “stack” assignments - use the heat from one job as bait to get other jobs and end up with two or three assignments with similar deadlines.... and now all you have to do is write them all! I once ended up with walking pneumonia because I was working non-stop on a couple of different screenplays that were going into production. A man’s gotta know his limitations - and I learned where mine are!

Your so called career will always be about the next script and the next gig. But even if you land an assignment, you will need to figure out how to squeeze in a new spec script so that you can do the next round of meetings and land your next assignment - because once you finish that assignment you are unemployed! One of the things I did on assignments was treat everything as “one for them, one for me” - I would make sure that I had enough time and made enough money to write a spec script that I could send out as bait for new assignments (or maybe even sell). Even in the years where I had three scripts go to screen (the mid 90s were very very good to me), and all of the rewriting on those three projects; I made sure to write 2-3 scripts a year for myself. So I wrote 5-6 scripts a year, 3 of them got made and went through all of the hell of rewrites. But I had new scripts to recharge my career if need be... and it often did. You are always breaking in!

One of the problems with those extremely low budget gigs that you see on places like Ink Tip is that you can’t earn enough money to pay for the time to write that one for me script, and it’s like the treadmill moving faster and faster. So part of every script deal you make needs to include some plan on your part for writing a new spec script. If you take one of thise low pay gigs, you need to make sure you are paid enough to write a one for you. That probably means asking for more money, but if that ends up a deal breaker: “Reading Periods” can be the answer.

One of the wacky things with assignment contracts is that they spell out how much time you have to write each draft, and how much time the production company has to read the screenplay and give you notes before the next draft. Now, *you* must turn in your draft on time... but they often screw up when it comes to the reading period. It might be 2 weeks in the contract... and end up a month! Hurry up and wait! But that 2 weeks which may end up a month? That’s the one for you. When I was having three scripts filmed a year, if they weren’t all happening at the same time, I would use the reading period to work on my own project. A great “palate cleanser”, and I would end up with some work done on the “one for me” script.

The important thing is not to get so tied up with *their* project that you neglect *your* project. I don’t expect you to have three projects going a year for a few years like I did... but that *could happen*!

CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES!

There is a tendency when you sell a script or land an assignment to relax. I think in another of the Film Courage interviews I talk about selling COURTING DEATH to the company with the deal at Paramount and then holing up in my apartment and just leisurely writing - living the dream! But the problem became that after my 2 years of money was gone, I had some new scripts but had done nothing to network or get those scripts to market... and had to scramble to find a deal. I know some people who didn’t even write new scripts... and were in real trouble! You have to keep generating material, even after you are “successful”. Every month there is a new “flavor of the month”.

Here’s the problem with waiting until you *need* a gig to write a bunch of new screenplays - you will be writing from desperation. Instead of having fun writing your spec scripts, you will be trying so hard to make this the one that will start the deals and meetings happening again that the script will suck. I have a friend on FaceBook who has been single for a long time and is at the point of begging women to date him. Do I have to tell you that doesn’t work? Well, it doesn’t work with screenplays either - they can read in your writing that you are trying desperately to make a deal. You want your scripts to be so cool they think they don’t have a chance to date them, not so desperate and needy that they are the nightmare date. So don’t wait until the last minute! Make sure writing new screenplays is part of your “business plan” and included in writing those assignments!

You can have a sale or assignment and think that you have “made it” and can take it easy for a while... but you can’t! You have to keep writing, keep generating new material, and keep getting that material out there in the world so that when this deal has run its course you have a new one waiting. Yes, take a vacation... but that’s a week or two, right? Taking a vacation for a month or six months is probably a mistake. When you are not on vacation, you need to be working! This is a career - a marathon rather than a sprint. You need to always be writing new screenplays... even when you think you have “made it”. The problem with being a freelance writer is that once you have sold a screenplay or completed and assignment... you are unemployed! You will always be looking for work. Which means you will always be working.

Make sure you have a plan to keep writing scripts after you have landed a gig!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Trailer Tuesday: Sisters (1973)

Halloween is just around the corner!

Director: Brian DePalma.
Writer: Brian DePalma & Louisa Rosa.
Starring: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning, the always awesome Bill Finley.
Sound Track: Bernard Herrmann.

With the film SISTERS (2015) on video, I thought we'd look at the original film from 1973... oh, wait, it *wasn't* a remake of the 1973 movie? Then why the hell didn't they come up with a different title so people wouldn't confuse the two movies? Well, hell - here's the Trailer Tuesday for SISTERS anyway...

Brian DePalma is one of my favorite directors, and not just because he does a great job of imitating Hitchcock - I love his comedies like HI MOM! and HOME MOVIES... and his dramas like CASUALTIES OF WAR. Though he makes a mis-step or two, he's always interesting and has done some amazing visual experiments - he's the king of split screen. My favorite faux Hitchcock film of his is OBSESSION, but his film SISTERS is creepy and has enough jump moments to keep you above your seat when you aren't on the edge of it.



We basically have the old "Two sisters: One Good, One Evil" - but this time they have a deeper connection. They were conjoined twins. Danielle and Dominique. The problem is - which one is this? The nice one, or the psycho? The movie opens with a Candid Camera type TV show where a guy in the men's locker room at a gym sees a hot blind girl come in and start taking off her clothes. How long before he tells her she's in the wrong locker room? After the episode is over, the guy and the girl hook up - she's Danielle (an actress who can see) and she lives in a NYC apartment with her sister Dominique. They go back to her place, her sister is out, and make love. The next morning, the guy discovers that today is Danielle's birthday... goes out and buys a cake... but when he comes back, runs into Dominique...



The scene ends with him writing Help Me on the window in his blood, and reporter Jennifer Salt sees it and calls the police. Dominique splits, leaving Danielle with the dead guy. Great split screen sequence where Danielle's ex-husband (Bill Phantom Of The Paradise Finley) is trying to clean up the blood and dispose of the body on one side while Jennifer Salt is leading the police up to the apartment on the other side. Instead of cross cutting for suspense, our eyes do the cutting as we look back and forth between the two sides of the screen. This is split screen used to tell the story - not as a gimmick.

The great thing about this film is that it's PSYCHO and REAR WINDOW and FREAKS and EYES WITHOUT A FACE and several other flicks all put into a blender and turned into one seamless story that never seems like it rips off a specific movie. The ending is in a mega-spooky metal institution - and is ultra-creepy.

The Crazy Dream Sequence From Sisters.

Music by Bernard Herrmann, who did so many great scores for Hitchcock. DePalma uses all of *his* stock company of actors, from Jennifer Salt to Bill Finley to Charles Durning - the only guy who doesn't show up is DePalma discovery Robert DeNiro. One of the great things in the end is when Jennifer Salt is attached to Dominique in a FREAKS inspired scene... so there's kind of a PERSONA reference going on there as well. This was a drive in movie that did really well and put DePalma back on the map after GET TO KNOW YOUR RABBIT flopped big time, and though it was schlock horror back then, today it's a Critereon DVD with a bunch of extras. The music is creepy enough to give you nightmares! And a textbook on how to use split screen. You'll never sit on a sofa bed again.

- Bill


Friday, September 13, 2019

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

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Thursday, September 12, 2019

THRILLER Thursday: The Prediction

The Prediction

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



Season: 1, Episode: 10.
Airdate: 11/22/1960


Director: John Brahm
Writer: Donald S. Sanford
Cast: Boris Karloff, Audrey Dalton, Alan Caillou, Abraham Sofaer, Murvyn Vye, Alex Davion.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: John L. Russell (PSYCHO)




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The unfortunate gentleman you’ve just observed has had a most terrifying experience. You see, his business is *pretending* to be clairvoyant... but the glimpse he just had into the future was true, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. Imagine if you will, the plight of a man who finds his premonitions concerning those he loves coming true in the most horrible and violent ways. The name of our play is “The Prediction”, and appearing with me are Miss Audrey Dalton, Mr. Alex Davion, Mr. Abraham Sofaer, Mr. Alan Caillou, and Mr. Murvyn Vye. Let me assure you my friends, this is a thriller.”

Synopsis: In London, night club psychic Mace (Boris Karloff) is a fake... a great showman who entertains the audience with predictions of happy marriages and surprise good luck and other lightweight predictions... but tonight is different. Something weird happens to Mace and his beautiful assistant Norine (Audrey Dalton) realizes he’s going off script... when a skeptic asks who will win the big boxing match tonight, Mace screams that they must stop the fight because one of the boxers... Tommy... will die in the ring! When Mace tries to run off the stage, he trips and goes down, and the club owner Gus (Abraham Sofaer) has them drop the curtains. Backstage, Mace asks Norine’s loser father Burton (Alan Caillou) to race to the Boxing Match and stop the fight before Tommy gets killed. Burton races off...

Mace rests in his dressing room, worried that his crazy performance will get him and Norine fired. Because his beautiful assistant’s father is a drunk and a loser, Mace has become a father to her and takes care of both of them. He’s very protective of Norine... so when Gus knocks on the door and says he needs to see Mace immediately in the club. It’s a surprise party for Mace! Gus loves Mace, he’s the club’s best act. But the party is broken up by Gunner Gogan (Murvyn Vye) the manager of Tommy the boxer... who accuses Mace of making money from his fighter’s death. What? Seems that Burton *didn’t* warn anyone that Tommy would die, instead he bet against him and made $100! Gus and the others have to pull Gogan off Mace, and they tell him that Burton was sent to warn them, didn’t he? Gogan goes to find Burton...



Nadine has a secret fiancé, Grant (Alex Davion), her father Burton does not approve of their relationship. Grant wants her to marry him, now... run away and find a priest. But her father is a huge problem that has to be solved before she can get married...

Mace finds Burton in a pub, drinking and fooling around with a woman half his age (who may be a hooker, at the very least a woman of easy virtue)... spending that $100 as if there is more where that came from. And isn’t there? If Mace can keep making predictions, Burton can keep betting and winning! Mace and Burton have an argument, and Burton splits with the hooker (or whatever). Mace has another vision: Burton will be murdered!

The hooker (or whatever) leads Burton into a dark alley where a huge dude hits him in the head with a brick and steals his money and goes off with the hooker (or whatever). She was part of it all along, luring him to be mugged.

Mace feels *guilty* over Tommy and Burton’s deaths. “Did I forsee Burton’s death? Or will it to happen?” He’s a mess. When he hears that Gogan has been arrested for Burton’s murder, Mace has Gus call the police anonymously and give them the names of the hooker (or whatever) and her accomplice. He just *knew* the names! Then he has another vision... and warns Gus not to cross the stage to meet a man named Harcourt. Gus says he doesn’t know anybody named Harcourt.



Outside the night club: Grant asks Nadine to marry him now that she doesn’t have to take care of her father (I know that sounds terrible, but the dialogue makes it work). Grant has been transferred to another city and wants her to quit as Mace’s beautiful assistant and come with him. Nadine says she can’t just quit... and goes into the club. Grant follows her in to watch the show and try to change her mind afterwards.

Gus goes out on stage... when he gets a message: some guy named Harcourt is waiting in his office. Harcourt? He starts to cross the stage to his office... when a hanging sandbag falls from the rafters right at his head! But Mace runs across the stage and knocks Gus out of the way, the sandbag misses both of them.



Harcourt is a police detective who wants to know who made the anonymous call about Burton’s murder... because they were right. Was this a witness to the murder who didn’t come forward? Gus protects Mace by telling Harcourt that there are many phones in the club, and it could have been anyone. But Harcourt is suspicious.

Mace and Nadine do their act... when Mace has another vision and starts yelling for a man named Grant to come forward, he knows a man with that name is in the audience. Grant this is Mace’s way to break up the relationship and keep his beautiful assistant... and ducks out the back doors. Mace yells that the man named Grant must not make his trip... because he will die!

Later in a pub: Grant tells Nadine he is leaving the next night and wants her to go with him no matter what Mace says. She says no.



Grant goes to Mace, says he loves Nadine and wants to marry her... and Mace says: Great! Congratulations to both of you! I want whatever makes Nadine happy. Grant asks about the prediction, was it just a ruse? Mace says it was real, and Grant *will* die if he travels tomorrow night. Grant doesn’t believe him, and *needs* to leave tomorrow night to get to his job on time. So Mace tells him if he sees a sign that says “Edinburgh, 50 miles” he needs to turn around and come back. Grant agrees to this.

The next night, after the show, Mace and Nadine have a big emotional goodbye. And he warns her about the “Edinburgh, 50 miles” sign. Nadine leaves, gets in the car with Grant and drives off...

And Mace has another premonition: Grant and Nadine will be in an accident and a fire will burn them to death! Mace grabs Gus and they try to chase them down and stop it.

Now we get all kinds of clever stuff right out of Mace’s premonition as Grant and Nadine drive down the highway at night. This is where the story gets fun, because offhand things Mace said like “You’ll need a raincoat” even though it isn’t raining start to become true, and that makes us start to worry that both Nadine and Grant will die in a fiery car wreck. They do almost hit a stalled truck full of refuse in the middle of the road (at night) but Grant brakes at the last minute. The truck driver’s flare had burned out. Truck driver asks if they will tell the repair service at the big truck stop down the road to send help back, and they agree and drive off... just as the truck driver tosses a bent up old road sign deeper into his truck bed. What do you think that sign said?



Meanwhile, Mace and Gus as speeding to save them... take a short cut... and get to the big truck stop before they do, asking an attendant if they’ve passed by yet. Nope. So they head down the road towards Grant and Nadine. After only a few minutes Mace asks Gus to stop the car, and Mace gets out in the rain and stands in middle of the street with his hands up... just as Grant and Nadine’s car rounds the corner towards him! Grant tries to stop the car, but the asphalt is slick and they skid into Mace... killing him! And a minute later, the big truck stop behind them EXPLODES in a giant fireball! So Mace gave his life to prevent Grant and Nadine from going to that truck stop. The end is both a twist and emotional.

Review: The great thing about having Boris Karloff as your host is that he’s also a fine actor, and in this episode he is completely believable as the paternal fake psychic (the kind of role he might have played in a film) and gets two pretty good emotional scenes where he gets a chance to act. Though not one of the great episodes, it’s a lot of fun and there are some nice twists along the way.

The fake psychic who becomes real is a great plot, better used in one of my favorite Cornell Woolrich novels THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (made into an okay movie with Edward G Robinson). That book has a great prediction: that a man will die at the claws of a lion... and takes place in *New York City* where that seems unlikely... until a lion escapes from the zoo! The great twist in that book is that the man dies at the feet of one of the lion statues in front of the library. Here the fun is in watching all of the small elements of Mace’s prediction come true, which builds dread that the big one will come true. That’s a great writing technique, by the way: have a prediction and piece by piece have it come true, leading us to believe it will *all* come true... then find that twist where it comes true im an unexpected way!



For a TV episode, it feels much bigger than whatever its budget was: the two cars on country roads at the end has a great deal of production value, and the night club set seems very real. The pub gets used twice in the story, so it earns its keep.

Once again we are on the right track! This is the type of story I think of when I think of the THRILLER TV show. Something that is either straight suspense or creepy weird tale. Will next week’s episode stay on track? It stars Elisha Cook, jr and a pre DICK VAN DYKE SHOW Mary Tyler Moore and has some elements of SPEED!

Bill



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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Film Courage Plus: Writing On Deadline

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015... and that's 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

Screenwriting means working on a deadline... sometimes an insane deadline:

I know you don’t want to hear this, but most spec scripts (screenplays written to sell) are never sold... they are “job applications” for paid writing assignments. You know, adapting some comic book or novel or board game or toy or whatever into a movie script. The *job* of writing. And like every job, there are deadlines.

Writers like to fantasize about quitting the day job and just sitting at home in their Pjs writing whenever the inspiration strikes. Being an artist. But reality is completely different - for a professional writer, writing becomes their day job and they have all of those things they hated from the old day job. Idiot bosses? Yeah, there are producers I’ve worked for who make my old day job bosses look like geniuses. Catty co-workers who blame you for their mistakes? You will encounter those, too - true story: on one of my films for a cable network the director came up with a scene that was so expensive it would bust the budget. I told him there was no way the producer would keep this scene in the script, because it not only served no story purpose it would cost as much as every other scene in the script combined. I suspected it was just come power play on the part of the director - to see how far he could push the producer, to see if he could get his way - but I told him I didn’t want to write the scene. He insisted. I wrote the scene. The next story meeting, the producer turned to me and said he was surprised that I would write a scene like that into the script; didn’t I know this was a cable film not a summer blockbuster? Before I could say it was the director’s idea, that director turned to the producer and said, “I told Bill it was a budget buster, but he didn’t listen and wrote it anyway.” And you thought your day job was bad! But the other thing from your day job you will have to deal with are deadlines. You can’t just write when inspiration strikes, you have to write to get things finished on time.

And the closer the project gets to production, the more those deadlines become etched in stone.

One of the production companies I wrote HBO World Premiere Movies for was Royal Oaks (no longer with us) and they were a factory for cable movies. At one point they were making 36 movies a year for a variety of cable networks. That was in the mid-1990s when every new start up network had their own movies, and when established networks like USA Network had 48 original movies a year. Add in Lifetime and all of the rest and there was this insane need to MOWs, and Royal Oaks supplied a chunk of them. Oh, and they also made movies for Studio’s Home Entertainment Divisions (direct to video). There was a “big board” on the wall that showed all of the projects and where they were at on the road from idea to finished film delivered to the network or studio. 36 films with 36 deadlines. And within each large deadline (delivery) were smaller deadlines - like the treatment and each draft of the screenplay. As I’ve said before, on a movie for HBO like STEEL SHARKS before I even pitched the story there was an airdate. A time slot at HBO that the movie would fill. If I didn’t get the screenplay finished in time, they wouldn’t finish making the movie in time... and HBO would be showing a test pattern or something on March 26th at 9pm.

You may not want to think of making movies as if it’s a factory, but at a production company or a studio that’s exactly what it is. They make movies as a consumer product just like some other company makes shoes... in fact, there was a point in time where a shoe company owned a studio! If you think that big studios don’t have big boards like Royal Oaks did, tell me - what are the release dates for the next ten Marvel movies? How about the next five STAR WARS movies? Okay, how about the next three FAST & FURIOUS movies? All of those deadlines! Most of those projects don’t have screenplays or writers or even story ideas! But they already have deadlines. That’s the film business! It is a business!

So you will need to get used to working on a deadline.

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work,” Stephen King

“If you wait for inspiration to write; you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter,” Dan Poynter


LAZY WRITERS!


I have self imposed deadlines on my spec screenplays, and try to treat them as if they were any other (real world) deadline. The reason why is that without a deadline I wouldn’t get anything done... I have to be my own boss and crack the whip on myself. Just as my protagonists wouldn’t be rushing to disarm a bomb if that big red LED cliche timer was set for five years from now, I wouldn’t have any real reason to finish a script if there was no deadline and my natural laziness would take over. And I am naturally lazy. I think most of us are. Our default mode is - check out Facebook and then maybe get lost reading articles on something you find mildly interesting and then maybe watch a little TV and then... hey, time for bed! I can do nothing like a pro! But a pro writer needs to write - so I have deadlines and page quotas and write as if it’s my job, because it *is* my job.

And even if it is not your job now, you *want* it to be your job, right?

That means you will need to be able to write quality material on a deadline.

There are folks on message boards who think being forced to write on a deadline results in bad writing. They are probably not going to make it as a professional. Actually, they *could* make it as a professional if they quit fighting the idea of deadlines and just accept that is part of the job and they’ll have to learn how to incorporate deadlines into their writing. People always fight against what they fear - they proclaim that “X is the downfall of creativity!” because they know they are not good at X and they fear X so they want to avoid doing X at all costs. Hey, the world isn’t going to bend to you, you will have to bend to the world. You will have to grow and learn and figure out how to deal with X like everyone else has. Just the way things are. In real life there are deadlines, and fighting against the idea of deadlines is not going to make them vanish. There are still those big boards at production companies and studios listing the release dates for movies that have yet to be written, and when you land one of those jobs you will have to make the deadline no matter what Douglas Adams may have said.

TWO METHODS


There are two methods to make deadlines - Slow & Steady and Holy Crap This Is Due Tomorrow! You know these two methods from when you were in school and had homework. Slow & Steady is the recommended method - what your mom and teachers told you to do - and what I will tell you is the best way to do things. Not that you will listen... but it makes me feel better to know that I’ve told you.

Slow & Steady: In another of the Film Courage segments I talk about How To Be Productive (Even If You Have A Life) and talk about how I managed to write 3 screenplays a year while working a day job (and having a life) by writing one good page a day. Just one. Because those single pages add up to 3 screenplays by the end of the year. Once I “went pro” I used the same method, just upped the number of pages per day to 5. Five pages a day is a screenplay in a month. Yeah - a first draft, but still a screenplay. And that will result in you making almost every deadline you will encounter as a professional screenwriter. In the BREAKING IN Blue Book we look at assignments and deadlines, and how you will often “stack” assignments (take more than one job, because you never know if anyone will ever hire you again) and being able to do a draft in a month will cover you even if you stack a couple of assignments. You will make your deadlines. Slow & Steady wins the race.

The other method - the one your mom and teachers warned you about - is Holy Crap This Is Due Tomorrow! and you know how that works when you pulled those all nighters after procrastinating for a couple of weeks and not doing your homework. You didn’t use the Slow & Steady method, so the only thing left is to just drink a whole pot of coffee or a six pack of Mountain Dews and write the damned thing. There are people who prefer this method to Slow & Steady, but I’m always afraid I’m going to end up with 30 pages to write and 5 minutes to write it in... and I’m just not that fast. I’m also afraid that I’ll burn out halfway through or that some unforseen event will sidetrack me. Heck, when I stacked a couple of projects with tight deadlines once, I ended up with walking pneumonia afterwards. I’d worked myself into exhaustion. What if that exhausting and pneumonia had struck when I was only halfway done with the script? I’d have missed the deadline!

One of the things that helps me on tight deadlines is that the Slow & Steady method creates a confidence that the Holy Crap method does not. If I know I can write 5 pages a day, every day, and not suffer burn out... I can adjust that up to 10 pages a day if need be. And I’ve had those crazy deadlines where I needed to turn out 10 great pages a day to make my deadline because there was a Start Shooting date on the big board. I think I talk about some of these deadlines in this Film Courage segment.

But in the real world of screenwriting, you will need to know how to use both methods. Because even though Slow & Steady is preferable, you may end up with some insane real world production deadline like I had on GRID RUNNERS when they had to scrap the Act 3 I had written due to a change in location and I had to write a brand new Act 3 *overnight*. There was literally a production crew sleeping while I was writing, and when they woke up in the morning and went to the set to shoot that day’s scenes? Well, I had to have finished writing them, get them to the production office so that they could make copies, and then those copies had to be sent to the set so that they could film them. The closer your project gets to production, the more important making those deadlines becomes! When the project is *in production* missing a deadline means the cast and crew have nothing to do (but are still being paid) and the film may crash and burn as a result. Yes, movies get shut down when the screenwriter misses a deadline. You may cost the production company tens of millions of dollars! Do you think they’re going to hire you again after that? That *anyone* is going to hire you again? So you need to be able to use both the Slow & Steady method and the Holy Crap method as a professional screenwriter, and I really think that using the Slow & Steady helps a lot when you need to do the Holy Crap method. But maybe that’s just me. No one really cares which method you use, as long as you make the deadlines.

Because, like any other job, this one has deadlines. Often hard deadlines where a cast and crew is waiting for you to finish so that they can start. So start training for those deadlines *now*!

Good luck and keep writing!

Oh, and instead of a tip jar... if you liked this why not buy a book over there? Thanks! -->

- Bill

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Trailer Tuesday: THE IPCRESS FILE (1965)

One of my favorite films.

Director: Sidney J. Furie (BOYS IN COMPANY C)
Writers: James Doran, Bill Canaway.
Starring: Michael Caine, Sue Lloyd, Guy Doleman, Nigel Green.
Produced by: Harry Saltzman.
Cinematographer: Otto Heller (BAFTA (British Oscars) nominee for ALFIE, winner for this film... and the lighting is amazing.)
Music by: John Barry (the James Bond movies) - and it’s a great score!

Sort of the “anti-Bond”, but made by the producers of the Connery films. Harry Palmer is The Spy Who Does Paperwork in this predecessor to THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR. There is a form for everything - a form to get a gun, a form to fill out if you fire the gun... and if you manage to hit someone? No end to the amount of paperwork! This is the *government* - it’s all about filling out forms! Forms for stake outs, forms to requisition a car, forms for *not* discovering any information. Harry hates paperwork, but he’s a genius at sifting through it for clues - to find an enemy agent with no known address, he checks for parking tickets... because like Turner in CONDOR, Harry Palmer is brains rather than brawn. The other anti-Bond element here is that Harry is not great at fighting and when he shoots a gun he tends to screw up.

Oh, and this is a paranoid thriller, which we will talk about later.



There are so many great things about this film that I will never get to all of them, but you have young Michael Caine in his first starring role and amazing camera work by Otto Heller and a great John Barry score and a clever script and... well, let’s start at the beginning.

TEASER



The film opens with what you would call a “teaser” in television. A car driving down the streets of London with two men in the backseat: one is reading “New Scientist Magazine” and the other keeps looking behind the car and ahead of the car and generally building up the audience’s paranoia that something is going to happen. The car makes it to a train station where the paranoid man, Agent Taylor (Charles Rea), accompanies the scientist Radcliff (Aubrey Richards) to the train and his train compartment. A porter follows with the luggage. In the train station Agent Taylor is on high alert, looking for danger.

Once Radcliff is secure in his compartment, Agent Taylor goes back to the car... where he spots Radlciff’s camera, grabs it, and races to the train. When he opens the train compartment door, the man reading “New Scientist Magazine” lowers the magazine from his face, exposing that he is *not* Radcliff. What? This is a great reveal, because the imposter is wearing the same clothes and same hat as Radcliff. If you are going to show that the scientist has been switched, you want to find a way to do it that has maximum impact. We think the man reading “New Scientist Magazine” in the train compartment is Radcliff right up until the moment his face is revealed.

Next shot is the train leaving the station and the camera turns slowly to reveal Agent Taylor dead on the side of the tracks.

Okay, that’s a great way to begin a movie!

IDENTITY

Now that we have our problem, we need to introduce our protagonist, and we get a swell scene behind the titles: Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) wakes up in the morning and prepares for a day of work. It is a simple scene which tells us EVERYTHING we need to know about this character. He has to find his glasses before he can see the alarm clock. Everything is a blur! He grinds his own gourmet coffee beans, and uses a complicated coffee maker (kind of an in-film advert, since one of the producers owned the company that made the gourmet coffee making machine). Harry looks out his flat window while drinking his coffee. Later, he finds a woman's necklace in his bed... while searching for his misplaced gun. There’s a bit of a zoom shot to the gun - and guns get close ups in this film, which is unusual. And then Harry leaves his apartment, late for work. One of the reason why I think this is a predecessor for CONDOR is that Harry is an ordinary guy in a job that starts out boring in the story (Harry is doing stake out duty on someone) and then suddenly becomes dangerous. Can he handle that? He’s not just the spy who does paperwork, he’s an *underdog* spy!

Introduction To Harry:



The interesting thing about the Deighton novels are that they are told first person and we never learn the character’s name... he is a spy and has a dozen aliases. An element of the novels is the loss of identity - when you use so many different names, who are you really? And the film does a great job of illustrating this through story and situations. Never knowing the name worked on the page, but they needed something to call him on screen, so - legend has it - the producer asked Caine for the most boring first name he could imagine, and Caine responded “Harry” to Harry Saltzman. And he didn’t get fired!

IPCRESS makes the job of spying mundane: a bunch of stakes outs and surveillance jobs followed by paperwork, so that when it explodes with action it seems much bigger due to the contrast. Caine plays Harry as a problem child who probably needed a good spanking many years ago, but now knows exactly how far he can push authority before it pushes back.

His boss, Colonel Ross (Doleman), hates him and has him transferred to Major Dalby’s department where he has to fill out stacks of paperwork as they try to find the kidnapped scientist who has been put up for auction by an espionage agent for hire code-name, BlueJay (Frank Gatliff) an Albanian who sells secrets... and people. Dalby (Nigel Green) “doesn’t have the sense of humor that Ross has” (which was none at all) and cracks the whip on Harry again and again. Harry finds a friend in team member Carswell (Gordon Jackson) and a love interest in team member Jean (Lloyd) - who may be a spy for Ross’s department... but she thinks that Harry is a spy for Ross’s department. Neither trusts each other - though they sleep together. That’s the kind of paranoid movie this is - the spies are spying on other spies!

DIALOGUE





The film has all kinds of great dialogue, including this exchange when Harry shows up for his first day of work at Dalby’s department:

Harry: “The fellow whose job I'm taking, will he show me the ropes?”
Dalby: “Maybe - if you're in touch with the spirit world.”
Harry: “I beg your pardon?”
Dalby: “He was shot this morning.”

Great punchline! Not funny (well, maybe in a sick way), but adds impact to the end of the dialogue exchange. You always want to put the stinger in the tail.



In the commentary, director Sidney J. Furie says that the script was awful and they were rewriting it on the set... I always discount when a director says this, because it’s usually a power grab. The plotting and dialogue in the film is so well done that it’s difficult to believe Furie - even though he’s one of my favorite directors. There’s a great example of a “payback line” - when Harry goes to Ross’s office, he leaves the door open and Ross says, “Close the door.” When Harry goes to Dalby’s office he leaves the door open and Dalby says, “Shut the door”. Then at the end of the movie, Harry has taken control and knows that either Ross or Dalby is a traitor, and invites them to the villain’s warehouse. When Dalby enters, Harry tells him to “Shut the door.” Playing back to the authority figures now that he is in control. So many great pieces of dialogue in this film, “A word in your shell-like ear”.

When he comes home to find Jean searching his flat (is she working for Ross or Dalby?) he asks if she has finished searching and she says “Yes.” “Then you know where the whisky is?” “Yes.” “Fix us both one, will you?” And this begins a romance with absolutely no trust at all. By the way, Jean has a nice little character moment where she talks about her spy husband who was murdered... and how Dalby gave her a job so that she could support herself. It’s emotional... and expositional. We *think* we know that her loyalties are with Dalby. But are they?



In the middle of this mistrust, she asks Harry: “Do you always wear your glasses?” “Yes... except in bed.” And then she takes off his glasses and kisses him.

Plus we have great story related visual elements that had to be in the screenplay - a CIA Agent wears glasses with broken frames, taped together with bright white tape. Another CIA Agent smokes a pipe. Characters have what I call “instant identifiers” in the Action Screenwriting book - a prop or piece of costume that allows the audience to recognize and differentiate characters. The two CIA Agents are easy to tell apart. The other Agents on Dalby’s team each have a prop or costume element that helps us tell them apart. These are screenplay related things, not something you figure out on the set at the last minute. Those taped together glasses end up a clue used later in the story.

So much of the dialogue and plotting are story related, and the film was obviously shot out of sequence (even though Furie says otherwise) that it’s impossible to believe that this script wasn’t at least most of the way there when they began shooting. Hey, maybe one of the two writers was hired to punch up the dialogue during production, but this film has a complex plot where characters are often double agents, lying, duplicitous... and yet, when you rewatch the film you can see the “tells” in their earlier scenes. It’s based on a book, dammit! The story was always there.

WEIRD SHOTS



But director, Sidney J. Furie, and DP Otto Heller come up with the most inventive angles and shots I’ve ever seen - which is one of the reasons why this is one of my favorite movies. Almost every single shot has something in soft focus in the foreground or is “canted” or “dutch” - at a strange angle. What’s interesting is how much fuzzy foreground obscures the shots - there are times when 75% of the screen is someone’s out of focus shoulder or something in the way of the shot. This may sound as if it would be irritating, but it is actually fascinating. You feel as if you are watching the story unfold looking over that shoulder or peeking through that cell door. Just amazing original shots. The lighting is also amazing - Heller paints with shadows, here. One of my favorite shots is early in the film when Ross climbs a spiral staircase to meet with Dalby, there must be a dozen different kinds of shadows in that shot! All with a real light source. There are scenes in darkness that look really really dark, except due to classic lighting techniques you can see what is happening. This seems to be a lost art, today.

Harry’s parking ticket clue leads him to the Science Library where he discovers BlueJay and his henchman HouseMartin, and when he tries to follow them? There is a whole fight scene shot through the glass of one of those red British phone booth - mullion coming between Harry and this huge bodyguard - and every other interesting combination of foreground and background is used to make the fight scene really interesting. Furie re-imagines action scenes as chess matches or tennis games and stages them in unusual ways throughout the film.

I don’t think there is a single “flat” shot in the entire film, and nothing that looks like TV “coverage”. The above mentioned shot through the cell door is amazing, because cell door has a crossed grille that creates diamond like openings... and the scene plays out with characters moving from one diamond to another - the chess match idea.



One of the great visual clues is a piece of paper where BlueJay has written his phone number, but it’s a fake disconnected number. Flip the paper over and it’s a flier for a military band concert. Harry and Dalby meet with BlueJay to make a deal for missing scientist Radcliff... and much of the scene is shot between the cymbals!

Because Harry wears glasses, the element of sight is used in both action scenes (you know he means business when he carefully folds up his glasses and puts them in his pocket) and other scenes (Harry with glasses off looks over a blurry crowd of scientists after Radcliff is returned and sees a person who does not belong) - the glasses become part of the way the story is told. Though this may be vaguely racist today, the scientists scene has an audience of white scientists in white labcoats and an African American CIA Agent in a suit. Though the image on screen is a blur, we can see that one of these people is not a scientist - and when Harry puts his glasses on, he goes after the Agent... who tells him, “I’m going to tail you until I know you are clean... and if you are not clean... I’m going to kill you.”

Which leads to the African American CIA Agent being found dead in Harry’s apartment. He flips the light switch, and there the body!



Other great visual elements include one of the greatest twist-reveals ever put on film, a shot through the keyhole of Harry’s flat of an intruder with a gun, a Polanskiesque shot where a door is opened to hide one character so that we focus on the other, the camera mounted on an armored car that batters down a door - we see it all POV, a Busby Berkeleyesque choreographed prisoner for money exchange in an underground parking garage with a deadly twist, the whole IPCRESS brain washing sequence - which includes an amazing Christ-symbolism bit where Harry jams a rusty nail into his palm to try to avoid the brainwashing, a multi-level following scene in a building, and an amazing ending where a brainwashed Harry must decide who to kill and who not to kill... which we will look at in a moment.

TANGLED WEBS



The other way that this story is like THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR is that it has a faction inside the government’s espionage agency working against the government. We have no idea who can be trusted... and you can not trust the government itself.

Ross keeps trying to get Harry to hand over the file on their investigation, code named “Ipcress” because that word was written on a piece of audio tape found in the abandoned warehouse that they smashed into because they think BlueJay was using it for some mysterious reason. That scene in the abandoned warehouse (“Disused factory” a character calls it) is great for many reasons. Harry calls in the raid - with a British version of a SWAT Team - using “CC1 authority” that he doesn’t have. Dalby shows up before the raid... and Harry is in trouble. But Dalby tells the SWAT Team to go ahead, and they ram the door and storm the warehouse... which is empty except for a huge metal cross. Harry hits the metal cross and it makes a unique noise... which will be used as a sound cue to remind us when we see the same metal cross later. Lots of awesome sound design in this film! When the SWAT Team leader complains that their time has been wasted on an empty warehouse, Dalby covers for Harry - showing that despite all of the conflict between the two men, they are on the same side. Harry does a thorough search even though the warehouse was empty - and finds an old wood burning stove... still warm. Inside it: that audio tape with “Ipcress” written on it. Dalby offers to buy Harry and Carswell lunch.

When they play the bit of audio tape, all they get are strange noises - what do they mean? To add to the paranoia, there’s that CIA Agent with the broken glasses who is spying on Harry, and someone in one of the departments may actually be working for BlueJay. Jean who may be working for Ross. Ross who wants Harry to mictofilm the Ipcress File, and everyone else who may be working for the good guys or the bad guys... or may just be unaware of larger things going on. In a scene where Harry and Carswell go to interrogate a prisoner picked up by the police, Harry tells the police Desk Sargent, “Palmer.” The Desk Sargent replies, “Oh, Mr. Palmer’s just left, sir, with another gentleman. He said he’s be back soon, would you like to wait? Everything is under control, sir.” Harry flips open his ID, “I’m Palmer.” And their witness is dead in his cell - murdered by whoever had fake ID saying he was Palmer. You can’t trust *anyone* in this film!



Harry uncovers a plot to kidnap British scientists, brainwash them until they spill all of their secrets, then wipe their memories clean so that they are unable to function. 16 British Scientists have had their brain washed, 17 when you add in Radcliff. The cool thing about this 60s film is that it uses all of the real brainwashing devices from the CIA’s MK-ULTRA program, which wasn’t made public until the 70s. How they knew about these things in this film, I do not know. Were there CIA leaks that ended up in (novelist) Len Deighton’s hands?

SPOILER: There’s a great scene where Carswell thinks he knows what “Ipcress” means and shows Harry a book. He asks to borrow Harry’s car to check on something. Harry puts the book and the Ipcress File in his desk and locks it. And then we see Carswell driving, stopping at a stop light... and when the light turns green the car doesn’t move. The cars behind it honk their horns. The car still doesn’t move. Then we get a shot of the front window... with a bullet hole from a rooftop sniper, and Carswell dead behind the wheel! There are rooftop snipers out there, just waiting for Harry!

This leads to a great emotional scene where Harry realizes that he is partially responsible for Carswell’s death, and there is some survivor’s guilt. He finds a place to be alone and grieve... and then Jean finds him and holds his hand. Great little scene! When he goes back to the office - his locked drawer has been pried open and the book and Ipcress file are gone. This is in a British secret service office! How can someone get passed the security to do that?

Harry tells Jean he’s going to hide somewhere...

BRAIN WASHING



Which leads to one of my favorite bits in the film where BlueJay kidnaps Harry... and he wakes up in a crappy cell in some old industrial building, and BlueJay tells him that it would be pointless to try to escape, because he's in Albania. How can he get help if he does not speak Albanian? Where would he run to? He has no passport, no identification. Even if he escaped, he's still trapped in this foreign land. The signs are in Albanian, the prison guards wear Albanian military uniforms, and everyone speaks Albanian. Harry is screwed.

The brainwashing scene is right out of MK-ULRA program - they begin with disorientation by feeding him at strange hours and keeping the same exact lighting in his cell so that he has no idea how many days have passed. He is often starved, because the food is too hot to eat and taken away if he doesn’t eat it. Harry finds a rusty nail that he uses to mark the “days” (period between meals being offered) on the prison walls - which are filled with th markings of other prisoners counting the days... some maybe hundreds of years old.

Then they proceed to brainwash him using the IPCRESS method... assaulting him with visuals and sounds (that Ipcress noise) that drive him crazy and lower all resistence. A form of sensory deprivation. Oh, and the suspended cube they wheel him into (strapped to a wheel chair) is suspended by a metal cross like the one from the warehouse... "Listen to me. Listen to me. You will forget the IPCRESS file, you will forget your name..." Harry jams that rusty nail into his palm, "My name is Harry Palmer. My name is Harry Palmer." But he loses the nail... and the brainwashing begins to work.

That's when Harry decides to escape... running out of the old industrial building where all of the signs are in Albanian, to... Downtown London! He was never taken to Albania! The whole thing was a ruse to make him not try to escape! This is one of dozens of little story touches that make IPCRESS FILE a really cool movie.

CHOICES



And now we come to an amazing twist that reveals who broke into his desk to steal the Ipcress File and book and who is the secret enemy agent working for BlueJay. Harry believes that either Ross or Dalby is the main enemy agent, and calls both to the “Albanian prison”, where he disarms both and has them stand under a light - so that we have a spotlight on our two suspects. Then he has them plead their case on why they are not the traitor. But is Harry brainwashed? Will he shoot the actual traitor, or has he been hypnotized to shoot the innocent man and let the real traitor walk free... and continue to work his way up the command of the British Secret Service?

I love movies where intelligent guys get sent into the field, where they are clueless, and must fight to survive. Harry gets in so much trouble, and the story is so clever and twisted and has so many double and triple crosses that I can watch it again and again... oh, and it’s visually really really cool.

A great clever screenplay coupled with great inventive direction and Michael Caine at the top of his game surrounded by a bunch of great British actors. Oh, and the musical score is one of John Barry’s best! They made two sequels in the 60s and a couple in the 90s (with an old Michael Caine) but the first one is the best. Check it out!

- Bill

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