Friday, February 05, 2016

The Lost Hitchcock Film

So here is some background on this “lost Hitchcock film” THE WHITE SHADOW...

When Hitchcock was 21 - the year was 1920 - he got a job with Famous Players Lasky, an American film company that opened a studio in England. That company would eventually become Paramount Pictures. Hitchcock was interested in film and studying advertizing art in college and submitted some art for title cards to the new studio... and was hired. In the silent era, movie title cards had the minimum dialogue to tell the story - hand lettered in an easy to read style - and a small illustration. Hitchcock’s example for Truffaut was: “George was living a fast life” and the illustration would be a candle burning at both ends. Writing title cards was part of post production, because often a film changed completely during production and the assembled shots might tell a completely different story. Hitchcock told the story of a drama that didn’t turn out well, so the title cards were comedy dialogue that transformed the meaning of the scenes so that the film became a crazy comedy.



Hitchcock did title cards on numerous films... and was curious about films, so he asked questions and learned about the various jobs. Part of titling a film was reading the screenplays, and he learned how to write scripts and occasionally wrote a last minute scene for the films - kind of production rewrite work.

During this time Hitchcock directed a short film, NUMBER THIRTEEN (1922) which he says was never completed.

When Famous Players Lasky left the studios, British producers took over and Hitchcock was promoted to assistant director. On a film called ALWAYS TELL YOUR WIFE (1922) the director became ill and Hitchcock and the star completed the film - Hitch was kind of coy when he told this story to Truffaut, so my guess is that the star actually directed the remaining scenes and Hitch just did his assistant directing chores and maybe made a suggestion or two.



In late 1922 producer Michael Balcon began producing films at the studio and hired young Hitchcock as his assistant director for a series of films to be directed by Graham Cutts, starting with WOMAN TO WOMAN. Hitchcock was ambitious, and when they needed a screenplay offered to write it... and had a spec script sample he had written to show what he could do. He wrote the script, was assistant director, did set design (art school background), did the title cards, and was Graham Cutts’ assistant. He performed these tasks on the entire series of films: WOMAN TO WOMAN (1922), THE WHITE SHADOW (1923), THE PASSIONATE ADVENTURE (1924), THE BLACKGUARD (1925), and THE PRUDE’S FALL (1925). Of the five, Hitchcock said WOMAN TO WOMAN was the best of the lot. Oh, the film editor and script supervisor on all of these films was Hitch’s future wife Alma - these are the projects where they met and fell in love.

Hitchcock had a falling out with Cutts on PRUDE’S FALL, but instead of being fired, producer Michael Balcon gave Hitch his first actual directing job on THE PLEASURE GARDEN (1925)... which will be the *last* entry in the Fridays With Hitchcock series.



The “lost film”, THE WHITE SHADOW, was the second in that series. Directed by Graham Cutts, screenplay co-written by Hitchcock who also did sets. Hitch had nothing to say about it to Truffaut, so I’m guessing it was just a job. These films were all melodramas, shot in 6 weeks, and none of them were very popular. This one was about twin sisters: one good, one evil. Maybe the first time they did that story, but I'm guessing not. It got bad reviews when it opened... many critics pointing to the silly script (co-written by Hitch). It would take a few more years for Hitchcock to find his footing and make BLACKMAIL (1929) before he started to become the director we now know. I suspect when these three remaining reels are restored and shown at that screening in Beverly Hills... it will be kind of a let down. Interesting to see an old film that Hitchcock did some work on, but not really a Hitchcock movie (he didn’t direct it).



The guy who *did* direct the film, Graham Cutts, basically fired Hitch... and that allowed him to begin his career as a director. Later, when Hitch was gearing up to make THE 39 STEPS (the film that would get him to Hollywood) he needed a second unit director for some odds and ends establishing shots and the producer suggested... Graham Cutts. Hitchcock said he couldn’t hire Cutts, since he had basically began as Cutts’ assistant. The producer told Hitch that Cutts had fallen on hard times and really needed a job and was willing to do the second unit stuff. Hitch hired him. So it came full circle, and Cutts sort of became Hitchcock’s assistant. Or maybe Hitch was repaying Cutts for the on-the-job-training on films like WHITE SHADOW. Maybe we should do a retrospective of Graham Cutts’ films, as the man who created Hitchcock?

And here's the film, if you're interested: THE WHITE SHADOW.

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: How Many Stories Can One Movie Tell?
Dinner: A family New Years Meal.
Pages: No, recovery from drinking instead.
Bicycle: No. I'm in the Bay Area.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

THRILLER Thursday:
WHAT BECKONING GHOST?

What Beckoning Ghost?

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



Season: 2, Episode: 1.
Airdate: Sep. 18, 1961

Director: Ida Lupino
Writer: Donald Sanford based on a story by Harold Lawlor.
Cast: Judith Evelyn, Tom Helmore, Adele Mara, Frank Wilcox.
Music: The great Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: John F. Warren
Producer: William Frye



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Imagine entering a room and discovering your own coffin? And a wreath inscribed: “To My Dear Wife, Rest In Peace”. Now, then: would you believe your eyes, or would you think, perhaps, that you have actually caught some glimpse into the future. Or, perhaps you might suspect some grisly plot against your sanity. Now please - no snap judgements. You might be right, and then there would be no need for you to suffer through the frightening ordeal as time runs out for... Mildred Beaumont, played by Judith Evely, her husband Eric played by Tom Helmore, and her young sister Lydia as played by Adele Mara. What’s that? You think you have the answer? Don’t be too sure, because I warn you as sure as my name is Boris Karloff you’re in for a terrifying surprise. And if you’re tempted to scream, just sit back and follow this advice: Rest In Peace.”



Synopsis: A luxurious estate, middle aged Mildred (Judith Evelyn) a famous concert pianist and her once pretty boy boozer husband Eric (Tom Helmore from VERTIGO) are celebrating her release form the hospital. He wants her to take it easy, her heart is still fragile. But she insists on celebrating and goes downstairs to fetch a bottle of champagne while he lights the bedroom fireplace. Downstairs she hears a noise, goes into the dark drawing room - and what she sees shocks her! A coffin with a funeral wreath which says: “My Dear Wife Requiescat In Peace”. She staggers out of the room... falls to the floor.

Mildred wakes up on the sofa to find Eric and her younger sister Lydia (Adele Mara) over her - but where the coffin was there is now a table. Has she gone crazy? They call for her doctor...



Mildred wakes up the next morning, and Eric has pills ready - the doctor said she must take them. Not her doctor - he’s on vacation - Dr. Bartoli who is looking after his patients. Lydia comes in with coffee and where Eric is protective of Mildred, she is more compassionate. They have two very different ways of caring for her - and are often fighting each other over her. Husband and sister do not get along, but her illness has placed them all under the same roof to take care of her. Mildred has no memory of the doctor coming... though she has a perfect memory of the coffin and funeral wreath. When Eric leaves she looks at the pill vial - prescription by Dr. Bartoli. Why can’t she remember him?



Lydia wakes her up for dinner... but Mildred thinks it’s still morning and this is breakfast. She has no memory of the entire day... and Dr. Bartoli’s visit. Lydia asks if she remembers Dr. Bartoli’s visit this afternoon, and Eric tells Lydia not to badger her - of course she remembers... she’s had no sedation today. Mildred lies and says she remembers. Lydia replies, “See? You’re just as sane as I am.” The phone rings, it’s Dr. Bartoli... Eric says he’ll take the call in the next room so that Mildred can rest. The moment he’s out of the room Mildred picks up the bedside phone and listens in - Eric tells the doctor she seems to have had another memory lapse, and Bartoli replies that if this continues she will have to be institutionalized. When she hears Eric hang up, she does as well. Dr. Bartoli is real - why can’t she remember him? Is she crazy?

A few days later, Eric tells Mildred that he will be away for a week on a business trip, but Lydia will be there to take care of her. And he has ordered a piano for her bedroom so that she can practice... get back to normal. Dr. Bartoli doesn’t want her to go downstairs and use the piano in the drawing room due to her... incident. He has Mildred sign all of the checks to pay the bills before he leaves - which shows us that he has no access to the money. Lydia enters while she’s signing checks, and they have a heart-to-heart. Though Lydia dislikes Eric, Mildred’s control over the finances has made Eric chase all of these terrible business deals so that he can have money of his own... without going to Mildred for an allowance. She ends up paying when the businesses go bust, and sooner or later he’s going to leave her. Why not take him off the leash and let him share in her estate - let him write the checks and feel more like a man? Mildred decides to call her lawyer in the morning.



When Eric returns from his business trip her hears Mildred upstairs playing the new piano... Lydia bumps into him on the staircase and tells him that Mildred has agreed to sharing the estate with him and the paperwork has been signed. And Eric kisses her - one heck of a kiss. Twist!

Eric greets Mildred, and she tells him she has a surprise: the legal document that shares all of her wealth with him... without any conditions or exceptions. Eric takes the document, then calls her lawyer - says that the document was a mistake, and asks that the lawyer *destroy* the office copy. After hanging up he tells Mildred that he didn’t marry her for her money, he married her because he loves her - and he tears up the document and throws it in the fireplace. Mildred smiles and that night they celebrate with champagne... he loves her!



In the middle of the night Mildred wakes up - hears an organ playing a funeral dirge. She goes downstairs to the drawing room, heart pounding, and inside the room is the coffin and funeral wreath! The coffin is open for viewing... and she looks inside. At herself! She is dead in the coffin! Mildred has a heart attack and dies.

Eric comes in, checks her pulse... dead. The Mildred in the coffin rises up and steps out - it’s Lydia in make up.



Eric hides the coffin and wreath in the basement, and we see all of the elements of the scheme - including a tape recording of the false Dr. Bartoli and the bust of Mildred that they used to create the make up for Lydia to wear. After they’ve hidden the evidence, Eric and Lydia call an ambulance...

The crypt: Mildred’s headstone with birth and death date above Eric’s with only birth date. Eric and Lydia pay their respects... then return home to celebrate their new fortunes. Lydia flips through a stack of sympathy cards and laughs at one with a mistake: “Heartfelt sympathy on the loss of your dear husband Eric Beaumont,” unsigned.

Eric is surrounded by memories of his dead wife, plus some full bottles of booze...

In the middle of the night Eric hears music from Mildred’s room and staggers upstairs - he’s so drunk he can barely walk. In the bedroom he finds the piano lid open... someone steps behind him (jump moment) - Lydia. She didn’t hear anyone playing the piano - could it be that he’s drunk? She puts him in Mildred’s bed to sleep it off.



The next morning Eric goes downstairs and finds a funeral wreath by the door: “My Beloved Husband, Rest In Peace”. What? Lydia enters, has no idea where the wreath came from... but there’s a card. Inside the envelope... Mildred’s wedding ring. She was *buried* wearing the ring, how is this possible? But it *is* her ring. Lydia thinks it’s just a copy of the ring - if it isn’t it means that Mildred has escaped her grave, right?

Eric goes to the crypt - the stone vault is intact. But Eric’s headstone now has a death date engraved on it! One day from now!

The next morning Lydia prods Eric about what he found at the crypt. Eric is very calm and in control when he tells her that someone has filled in the date of his death. He accuses her of being behind it, since she was the one who convinced him to “gaslight” Mildred into having a heart attack. If Eric dies or is found legally insane, all of the money goes to Lydia. Lydia thinks Eric is just trying to blame her for his guilt... that this is his scheme to drive her crazy. If Eric did hear the piano playing, as he claimed, it couldn’t have been Lydia - she can’t even play Chopsticks. That only leaves Mildred’s ghost...



That night, Eric is drunk again... hears the piano playing from downstairs... staggers out of his room, sure that it’s Lydia playing... but he bumps into Lydia in the upstairs hallway. And Lydia doesn’t hear the piano playing. “It’s just your imagination.” It can’t be Mildred returned from the grave. It can’t be. She takes the bottle of booze away from him, says he’s drunk. Eric pushes Lydia aside - booze bottle breaking all over her - and staggers down the stairs to confront Mildred’s ghost.

In the drawing room - a coffin! The doors close behind Eric, the piano begins playing on its own!



Lydia comes downstairs - pounds on the locked door to the drawing room.

Inside the room, drunken Eric looks at the piano and says it’s not real - ghosts don’t exist - and is then *hurled* out the window to his death by... something unseen.

A Detective (Frank Wilcox) questions Lydia - who smells of booze and explains that Eric was alone in the room, doors locked, when he fell out the window. But the doors were not locked, and the evidence shows force was involved in Eric’s window exit - he had to be pushed. Lydia should just admit that they’d been drinking, fought, and she pushed him out the window. Then, Lydia hears the piano music - the Detective nor any of the other policemen can hear it. She tries to jump out the window, but the Detective stops her. Lydia is taken to an asylum... and the photo of Mildred on the piano is smiling.



Review: And we’re back! Season Two of THRILLER starts off with a solid episode that perfectly marries the thriller and horror side of the series. Where Season One was trying to find itself, trying to figure out if it was a crime drama or a thriller show or a horror or weird tales; this season the show knows exactly what it is. No more crime drama, no more mobsters, no more bland episodes.

This episode is a nice riff on DIABOLIQUE with a horror twist... directed by the awesome Ida Lupino who directed some of the best episodes of season one. The screenplay here is by Donald Sanford who wrote 15 episodes of THRILLER including MR. GEORGE. One of the best writers on the show.



Lupino always pushes the envelope technically, doing the kind of directorial work that would be impressive in a film with a long shooting schedule, let alone on a quick TV schedule. On MR. GEORGE she did that amazing POV shot on the swing - I still have no idea how she got a huge TV camera to move like that. Here she does some amazing work as well - there is an awesome shot with a three section mirror where Mildred and Lydia take different panes in the mirror and the whole shot is their reflections moving from pane to pane. Fantastic shot, and much better than just shooting the same scene without the reflection. Still an easy mostly stationary shot, but the reflection allows the shot to be broken into three sections and have the characters move between them.



But the most amazing shot of the episode is a tipsy hand held shot as a drunken Eric staggers down the stairs. It’s a single take and would be an impressive shot with today’s lightweight equipment... but with those huge heavy 1960s studio cameras? Impossible! Yet the shot remains in perfect focus - when today even stationary shots often end up soft and fuzzy. This hand held shot reminded me of some of the great stuff that Sam Fuller was doing a few years earlier in his Korean War movies with hand held camera work on rugged terrain. Though Lupino was a Don Siegel protégé, I think she pulled inspiration from everywhere... and the idea of using hand held to put us in the shoes of the character is a great way to give a film or TV show a sense of realism. Today directors use “shaky cam” for no apparent reason, which makes it pointless. It doesn’t add to the story. But here the hand held is used for a specific reason, to give the audience the tipsy feeling of trying to get down those stairs when you’re almost too drunk to stand on your own.

And last but totally not least is a great POV shot of Mildred’s ghost as she throws Eric out window. Instead of showing us the ghost, the audience *is* the ghost... and we get to get revenge for Mildred’s murder. Though I’m sure the TV censors were behind the ironic twist end, with Lydia innocent of Eric’s murder by guilty of Mildred’s murder... but it’s a great touch that she gets her just deserts in the end.

Though this is a pretty good episode, it pales when compared with the episode that comes next week!

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Film Courage Plus: Creating Suspense

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. As they have been releasing the interview segments from 2015 every week or so, I have dug back into their archives and tweeted some of the segments from 2014... so they won't be forgotten. There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 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?

So here is the second one. I'm still not sure whether the article should come before or after the clip, so this time around it's *before* the clip - you can tell me which way you think would work best in the comments section.

Creating suspense on screen:

Keeping the audience on the edge of their seat is the function of SUSPENSE. Suspense is not the same as action, nor is it the same as surprise, nor is it the same as mystery. Suspense is the *anticipation* of an action. The longer you draw out the anticipation, the greater the suspense. Hitchcock explained; "Two men are having an innocent little chat. Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath the table between them. Nothing happens, then all of the sudden, BOOM! There is an explosion. The audience is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has been an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now let us take a SUSPENSE situation. The bomb is underneath the table, but the audience knows it... Probably because they have seen the villain place it there. The audience is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one O'clock, and there is a clock in the decor. It is a quarter to one. In this situation, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating, because the audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: 'There's a bomb beneath you, and it's about to explode!' In the first case, we have given the audience fifteen seconds of SURPRISE at the moment of the explosion. In the second case, we have provided them with fifteen MINUTES of SUSPENSE."

It’s no secret that I love thriller films and Hitchcock movies - my upcoming book is HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE which uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to illustrate different principles of suspense. But suspense isn’t confined to the thriller genre, it’s used in *every* genre to create tension. That romantic comedy where we know that one of the pair has that secret that will ruin the budding relationship if discovered... suspense is built around the anticipation of that discovery. In a movie of survival, be it THE MARTIAN or THE REVENANT suspense is built around situations where we anticipate the worst possible thing happening... and then the scene builds around that anticipation until it is resolved by the action. In REVENANT we know that bigoted fur trapper Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) plans on harming Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio)’s son - and that scene builds tension until we get the action. Instead of the action being over in a flash, the audience has been given the information that it will happen and that makes us squirm in our seats as we see Fitzgerald’s plan unfolding. Instead of a couple of seconds of surprise we have a whole scene of tension and suspense. In dramas we often have suspense built around a secret that our protagonist doesn’t want discovered. Every genre uses suspense to build emotions before the action.

There are Four basic kinds of suspense: the "ticking clock" (or time lock) and "cross cutting" and “secrets” and “focus objects”. The Hitchcock example above is a ticking clock. We are given an event which will occur at a certain time, and our suspense builds as we get closer and closer to the time of the event. Cross Cutting takes two things we don’t want to see in the same place and gets them progressively closer to each other - like two trains hurtling towards each other on the same track. The closer they get to each other, the more suspense. A good example of this method is in Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW where our protagonist Jeffries sends his fiancé Lisa to search the apartment of suspected murdered Lars Thorwald. Jeffries has gotten Thorwald out of the apartment on the pretext of meeting him at a restaurant down the street, but when he doesn’t show Thorwald becomes impatient and returns home. Jeffries watches through the rear window of his apartment as Lisa searches the apartment as Thorwald returns - entering the building, climbing the stairs, walking down the hallway to his front door, unlocking the door, and...

Secrets are another form of suspense which is often used in dramas and comedies and romances. A character has a secret which they do not want to have discovered, and another character gets closer and closer to discovering it. In YOU’VE GOT MAIL we know the secret of Tom Hanks’ character - he’s the big corporate bookstore owner who is putting the small independent bookstore owned by Meg Ryan out of business... but the two meet and fall in love, and now he must keep that true identity secret from her because it will kill the relationship. The audience knows that secret exists, so we are in suspense that it will be discovered. Another type of secret suspense can be found in Hitchcock’s ROPE (an experimental film which we look at in my HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR book) - two men have murdered a friend and placed his body in a giant trunk in their livingroom... moments before having a party in that same livingroom in honor of the now dead friend. Everyone wonders where David is... but we know that he’s inside the trunk they are serving a buffet dinner from. Suspense builds as things happen which get some of the party guests looking closer at the trunk than the killers would like. Will their secret be discovered or will they get away with murder?

FOCUS OBJECTS


That trunk is what I call a “focus object”, and in the Film Courage clip I mention the middle ages sword and sex flick FLESH + BLOOD, where Princess Jennifer Jason Leigh has been kidnaped by Mercenary Rurger Hauer, and eventually becomes his mistress. Hauer is leader of a band of Mercenary soldiers - knights in rusted armor - who are raping and pillaging their way across Europe. They were double crossed by the evil Prince who Jennifer was engaged to, and now they are doing everything possible to make that Prince's life hell on earth. Eventually they capture the Prince, and chain him up near a well. Princess Jennifer, Hauer's mistress and the Prince's finace, is about to have a meal with all of the other mercenaries celebrating the capture of the Prince.

Before the other mercenaries reach the table, the Prince grabs a piece of plague infested meat from the trash and drops it in the well, poisoning the drinking water.

Jennifer sees this, and the question is - will she tell anyone? As the water is brought from the well to the table, tension builds. The water in the jug becomes the "focus object". Water is poured into glasses of several mercenaries who were not kind to her when she was kidnaped. She wants revenge against them, so she says nothing.

The Prince watches her, waiting for her to tell them that the water is poisoned. She sees the shackled Prince watching her, and she watches the mean mercenaries drink the poisoned water one-by-one.

That jug of poisoned water goes from mean mercenaries... to women and children. The poisoned water is poured into their glasses and they start to drink it... will Jennifer tell them it is poisoned? Suspense builds.

The Prince watches her, waiting for her to stop them from drinking. But both of them watch as the women and children drink the poisoned water.

Then the jug of poisoned water is passed to Rutger Hauer, her lover. He pours a glass of water. Will she let him drink it? She is torn between the man she was engaged to and the man she sleeps with every night. What will she do? Hauer is having a conversation with some of the others, and every time he grabs the glass to drink, someone says something and he responds instead of drinks. Suspense builds.

The Prince, shackled by the well smiles at her. What will she do?

As Hauer lifts the glass to his lips, she...

See how focus objects work? They create suspense by giving the protagonist and the audience the same secret information that is tied to an object... and then places that object where the secret can be discovered by characters who can not know that secret.

All of these techniques rely on *dramatic irony* - giving information to the audience that one or more characters do not have. The key is letting the audience know that the water is poisoned or that the body is in the trunk or that Tom Hanks is also that bastard with the big chain bookstore that is putting Meg Ryan out of business. If the audience is not given this information, there can be no suspense or tension... and the story is flat and dull. Our job as writers is to *lead the audience* - to use information to control what they think and feel. Hitchcock called it playing the audience like an instrument. By giving them specific story information at the perfect time we bring them inside the story - they know the secret that some other character does not and now they have a stake in the story. The audience wants that secret to remain a secret. The audience wants to warn the characters that there is a bomb under the table. The audience participates in the story and feels what the characters feel. Our job as writers is not just to tell the story, but to use techniques like suspense in order to tell that story well. To involve the reader and viewer so that it becomes their story as well.

Always be leading the audience. Always be in control of your story and when the information is given to the audience. What do you want them to know and when do you want them to know it? And *why* do you want them to know this information at this specific time in your tale?

- Bill






HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

- Bill

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Trailer Tuesday: TIME AFTER TIME (1979)

Happy Groundhog Day! TIME AFTER TIME AFTER TIME AFTER TIME AFTER TIME? Now a TV show? On ABC? Click back there for more info!

TIME AFTER TIME

Director: Nicholas Meyer.
Writer: Nicholas Meyer based on the novel by Karl Alexander.
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, David Warner, Mary Steenburgen.


I’m sure when you read the title of this week’s movie you thought about the Cyndi Lauper song and wondered if the movie was named after it... well, it’s the other way around. Lauper’s song was inspired by a late night TV showing of this film.

TIME AFTER TIME is a great sci fi thriller romance, which seems like one genre too many, but like TERMINATOR (made five years later, but with many of the same story beats) it manages to balance all of these genres effortlessly. This was Nicholas Meyer’s (STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN) first film as a director, and you’d never know it. He was a novelist and screenwriter, hot off THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION and for some reason they let him direct a film and adapt the novel by Karl Alexander (whose dad wrote OLD YELLER). Okay, the real backstory is that Meyer read his friend’s novel and optioned it, wrote the script, and somehow bargained his way into directing. Wait, the backstory on that is that Meyer had been directing short films for most of his life, which lead to a job at Paramount doing publicity for movies like LOVE STORY. Even with the back stories, getting a shot at directing a film like this is amazing.

And with a cast that pits Malcolm McDowell against David Warner? Wow!



The story starts in 1893 London where a Prostitute staggers out of a pub and is brutally murder by Jack The Ripper... we never see his face, only his musical pocket watch.

A few streets away, H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell in cute mode) is having a dinner party for fellow scientists and intellectuals where he will unveil his latest creation. But they are waiting for Wells’ best friend Dr. John Stevenson (David Warner) who breezes in late, saying he had an emergency operation to perform. Wells believes that with civilization progressing as it has, there will be no war or violence or famine in the future... it will be a utopia. And his new invention will prove this... it is a time machine. He takes the group to the basement, where he has built the time machine, which travels 2 years per minute. Explains how it works, including that it will automatically return to the present if the key is not in the ignition. Wells is a little afraid to try the time machine...

That’s when the cops knock on the door... they have traced Jack The Ripper to this very house! When the police search, Dr. Stevenson has vanished but his medical bag contains... the bloody knife and souvenirs of Jack’s latest murder. Wells’ best friend is Jack The Ripper! Not finding Dr. Stevenson, the police search the neighborhood... but Wells checks the basement. The time machine is gone! When it returns automatically (because the key is in Wells’ pocket) he discovers that Jack The Ripper has escaped into 1979! Utopia will be destroyed by this serial killer!

Wells grabs all of his money and jewelry (from the maid) and chases Jack The Ripper into the 20th Century...

Ending up in an exhibit of H.G.Wells stuff (including the time machine) in San Francisco. There’s a great bit where he swaps his time travel damaged glasses for a pair in his desk drawer... part of the exhibit!

Now we have a *great* fish out of water story, as a guy from the late 1800s has to figure out how to navigate San Francisco in the 70s. Every small thing we take for granted becomes fuel for comedy as he tries to adapt. Oh, and there is heartbreak when he realizes instead of utopia, things have gotten much much worse!

Time After Time DVD - Buy it!

When he goes to exchange his British pounds for US dollars, he realizes that Jack The Ripper would have to do the same thing, and goes from bank to bank in San Francisco’s financial district until he finds the one... the Bank Of England... where cute Currency Exchange Manager Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen) (who hasn’t had a date in ages find this British Gentleman *very* attractive) offers to show him around the city... if he’s traveling alone. So we start our love story, with all of the usual things you’d find in a romantic comedy, plus the “age difference”. Wells *does not* tell her he’s a time traveler from the 1800s, that would end the relationship in an instant... he lies. And you know that eventually that lie will be discovered and end the relationship.

Oh, but this isn’t just a high concept time travel romantic comedy... Jack The Ripper is lose in San Francisco and starts killing women! Amy tells Wells that the other oddly dressed British Gentleman was looking for a hotel, and she suggested the Hyatt Regency (which must have been base camp for the production because Justin Herman Plaza and the other surrounding locations get a work out!). Wells zips over to the hotel and faces Jack The Ripper... his friend John Stevenson.

And here we get what makes this film great. Because at the core it is about the relationship between these two men who are close friends... but this serial killer thing has come between them. There’s a great scene between the two, where Stevenson tells Wells that he belongs in this violent time period completely and utterly, just as much as Wells does not belong here. Wells is so crushed that his friend is downright evil that he’s practically speechless. When he threatens to take Stevenson to the authorities, the killer knocks him down and takes off running and we get an elevator chase in the Hyatt hotel (same elevators that were used in HIGH ANXIETY) and an interesting foot chase in the environs around the hotel. There used to be a cinema there that I may have even seen this film in back in 1979, and they run right past the entrance. Stevenson ends up being hit by a car and rushed to the hospital, where an administrator later tells Wells that he died. Jack The Ripper is dead.

Back to our romcom... until the murders continue and Wells realizes that Stevenson was not killed (it was an administration mistake, since none of these guys has any ID) and now Wells must find Jack The Ripper and stop his bloody reign of terror. Lots of nice chase stuff, and the “room mate is murdered and we think it’s the leading lady” gag that would later pop up in TERMINATOR.

Wells’ secret finally comes out, endangering his relationship with Amy... and when Wells goes to the police he sounds like an escapee from an insane asylum, which means he is on his own when it comes to capturing Jack The Ripper. The film has one of the most romantic endings of any film... rivaling SOMEWHERE IN TIME which would come out the following year.

One of the things I love about this movie is how we are put in Wells’ shoes and *learn* how things work in the 20th Century. There’s a great scene where Amy takes him on a drive over the Golden Gate Bridge to the redwoods, kind of retracing the trip from VERTIGO... and Wells studies all of her actions as she drives the car, figuring out what everything does. He stares at her legs as she hits the gas and the brakes, and she thinks he’s just appreciating her gams. All of this comes into play later, when Wells is forced to chase after Jack The Ripper and a kidnaped Amy in her car... realizing how much easier driving looks when a cute woman is doing it. He manages to smash into half the cars in San Francisco. It’s a great chase because it’s both exciting and funny.

One of the places where this film hasn’t aged well is the score by the brilliant Mikos Rozsa, which just seems too big now. Rozsa is one of my favorite film composers, but I think a story about a man thrust into the 70s needed a more contemporary score. It just seems intrusive at times. But that’s a small thing in a fun film. I have no idea what the box office was like, but the reviews were all great, and the film is one of the inspirations for BACK TO THE FUTURE, to the point of having both films use the same date (November 5) in the story... and of course, Steenburgen is the romantic interest in BTTF3. Oh, and that Cyndi Lauper song!

Clever stuff: H.G. Wells second wife was named Amy Robbins, and the prime suspect in the ripper murders was Dr. Stephenson.

If you haven’t seen it, check it out... just for a “cute” version of Malcolm McDowell.

Bill

Monday, February 01, 2016

Lancelot Link: Everyone Gets An Award!

Lancelot Link Monday! STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS is about to hit $2 billion bucks. Disney paid $4 billion for the rights to make sequels to all of the LucasFilms titles - STAR WARS and INDIANA JONES being the two big series. With FORCE AWAKENS #3 in the USA over the weekend (still going strong) they have recouped have of that investment in *one film*. Hell, even if they burn out the franchise with one new Star Wars movie every year, they'll be deep into the black by the time we're sick of all of these characters. Sooner or later Disney is going to run out of characters to spin off with their own films... but I sure hope they explore that fan theory that Porkins (from STAR WARS) has evolved into Snoke. While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...




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


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Kung Fu Panda 3................. $41,000,000
2 Revenant........................ $12,400,000
3 Star Wars TFA................... $10,782,000
4 Finest Hours.................... $10,327,000
5 Ride Along 2..................... $8,345,520
6 Boy.............................. $7,894,000
7 Dirty Grandpa.................... $7,575,000
8 5th Wave......................... $7,000,000
9 50 Shades Black.................. $6,186,648
10 13 Hours......................... $6,000,000




2) Do You Know About TUGG? A Way To Get Your Indie Film Into Cinemas. LAZER TAG Just Made $1 Million At Tugg Screenings!

3) Never Buy Life Rights From A Bankruptcy Sale.

4) SAG Winners - Full List.

5) The Writers Of STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON Tell All!

6) Sundance Award Winners.

7) *Editing* As Storytelling And THE FORCE AWAKENS.

8) Christopher Nolan On The Future Of Film.

9) Relativity's Problems. Let The Hate Begin!

10) John Carpenter's CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON.

11) ACE (Editing) Awards Winners.

12) Gwen Returns In Next STAR WARS Movie... (Um, I like the tall women.)

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



The Marvel title from Lucas Films.

Bill

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Hitchcock's Lost TV Episode

In 1955 Alfred Hitchcock became the world's most famous director thanks to his TV show ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. The show ran from 1955 to 1962... when it expanded into the ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR and continued to run until 1965. An entire decade as one of TV's top rated shows... with Hitch doing comic introductions and warning us about the upcoming commercials. Hitchcock directed a handful of episodes over the years as well.

In 1957, NBC decided to do an anthology series called SUSPICION which would be a mix of *live* TV and filmed episodes, hosted by Dennis O'Keefe (LEOPARD MAN) and co-produced by Hitchcock's company... with many of the filmed episodes using Hitch's TV crew (who would later make the movie PSYCHO). The very first episode was directed by Hitchcock... and has kind of been lost over the years. O'Keefe split after hosting several episodes and the odd mix of live and filmed didn't catch on... and the show didn't have enough episodes for syndication (only 40 episodes were made), so it never popped up in reruns like HITCHCOCK PRESENTS or the other show that used most of the HITCHCOCK crew - THRILLER hosted by Boris Karloff. So this Hitchcock directed episode has been unseen for years. Based on a great short story by Cornell Woolrich (REAR WINDOW) who is one of my favorite writers and the master of suspense on paper.





And that episode is the subject of the new episode of HITCH 20...







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




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Bill - Bill

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Film Courage: How To Be Productive

Next week in this spot we're beginning Season 2 of BORIS KARLOFF's THRILLER TV Show - THRILLER Thursdays. But this week begins a new project, which will be switched to Wednesdays next week.

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. As they have been releasing the interview segments from 2015 every week or so, I have dug back into their archives and tweeted some of the segments from 2014... so they won't be forgotten. There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 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?

So here is the first one. I'm still not sure whether the article should come before or after the clip, so this time around it's *before* the clip - you can tell me which way you think would work best in the comments section.

HOW TO BE PRODUCTIVE
Writers write.

Sounds simple, right?

The problem is that it’s not about writing that one great screenplay that changes everything, it’s about writing for a living. Writing screenplay after screenplay after screenplay. Being a professional writer means writing every day (like any other job), writing on a deadline, writing screenplay after screenplay after screenplay. If you are looking for a Manager or Agent, they represent *writers* not screenplays. Once they send your screenplay out into the world and nobody buys it, it is a “busted spec” - a dead script. And that means you need to have another script to send out into the world, then another, then another, then another... until you sell a screenplay or land an assignment. Heck, to get that Agent or Manager you need to keep sending out query after query (each for a new screenplay) to Managers and Agents on your target list until they read one that makes them sign you. This probably sounds like a lot of work... and it is.

So, how do you do that? How do you keep writing screenplays until you land an Agent or Manager and then keep writing screenplays for them until you land a paying gig, and then keep landing paying gigs for the rest of your life?

That’s a very good question.

Complicated by, you know, life. You have a mortgage or rent to pay. You have a family. You have a job that eats up a minimum of 40 hours or your week (add in commute time and those extra hours you worked and all of the other parts of real life). How do you find any time at all to write all of those screenplays, and how do you find the will to stick with it? You barely have time to relax after work, let alone crank out screenplays. Well, here’s a ten point plan to help you get something done...

1) Don't depend on inspiration - it's a trap! At the end of the day, it's always going to be you and the blank page. So you have to figure out how to get yourself motivated. It's always going to be from the inside instead of the outside. You can’t depend on anyone else - motivation is *your* job. This is a business where, when they love your work and buy your work, the first thing they do is tell you everything they hate about it and want changed right away... instead of how much they like what you've written. So looking for or depending on external motivations aren't going to help you in the long run - you have to figure out how to keep writing through the crap that life hands out.

2) Set aside a specific time every day to write - can be as little as 15 minutes, but that is the time that anyone who bothers you gets punched in the face as hard as you can. There are plenty of success stories about people who wrote on their lunch hours or wrote on their commute to work (though most of those involve people who take a train or subway - if you drive to work, probably best not to have the laptop open). Find a half hour or an hour every day that is just for writing - and make sure everyone who might bother you understands that it’s your writing time and you *will* punch them in the face as hard as you can if they bother you.

3) If all you do in that 15 minutes (or half hour or hour) is just stare at the blank screen, it's a win...

4) But you'd rather write, right?

5) So be prepared to write! Outline your screenplay. A step outline is easiest - just bullet point scene-by-scene. The great part about an outline is that you can play around with it and solve all your story problems while it's just a page or two of outline... instead of 110 pages of screenplay. Less writing for the garbage can.

I think of screenwriting as “creative steps”, because that’s how things are done professionally. When you land an assignment, they don’t just cut you a check and send you off to write the screenplay, there are “steps”. In fact, it’s called a “Step Deal”. You do one step at a time, and are paid for each step. There are “reading periods” where the producer (or their intern) reads each step and then gives you notes and tells you what they want you to do in the next step. One of those steps is always a *Treatment* - a scene-by-scene version of the screenplay. Since you are going to have to work that way as a professional screenwriter anyway, might as well train yourself now. Work in creative steps. My first creative step is to get the overall story under control. I write an outline, and then rework the outline until the story part of the script works. That gives me a roadmap that gets me from the beginning to the end by the very best possible route. Now to the next creative step which is writing each of those scenes in my bullet point outline - and I know that Mary and John break up... but *how* do they break up? The outline may give me the basics of what happens, but not *how* it happens or any of the hundreds of possible details about how that scene plays out. That’s the fun part of the next creative step - once you have the outline, you still have all kinds of fun things to figure out during the “writing step”.

6) The other great thing about an outline is that it breaks your story down into bite sized pieces which are easier to write. You don't have to write a whole screenplay, just this one scene. A scene is about 2 pages, so you can knock that out in a day or two... but if it takes you a week, you are still making progress. Some scenes are easy, some are more difficult. What matters is that you make a little progress every day.

And that is the key to getting things done. You can become overwhelmed at having to write a 110 page screenplay (or a 100,000 word novel), and that may lead to you “choking” and writing nothing at all. But a scene? A couple of pages? Heck, even if you only write half of that scene - *one* page a day - you can handle that, right? And all of those pages add up. Slow and steady wins the race, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and any other cliches you can come up with - all true.

7) If you end up with only 15 minutes a day, it may make sense to outline the scene itself. This also works if you ever get stuck (and you will). Just start by writing down all of the things the scene needs to do for the story. Then figure out the most interesting ways those things can happen. Then figure out the most interesting order for those things to happen. Now you have a scene that is broken down int bite-sized pieces. If you only have 15 minutes, you can write one of those little pieces, right? Or at least part of one of those pieces. The key is to make progress every day, even if it's just a little progress. In the Film Courage clip I talk about how I wrote 3 screenplays a year while working a full time job by just writing one page a day. Hey, there are days when I was on a roll and wrote more than one page a day, but my goal was to write one page on *bad days* (and you will have plenty of those, every writer does).

8) "Nothing succeeds like success!" That may not make much sense, but if you write half a page, a quarter of a page, a sentence - you are making progress, and that will make you feel good and keep you "self-inspired" to write the next day. Momentum is everything, and if you write a page every day it becomes easier to write that page (or half a page or quarter of a page or sentence) as time goes on. You build up momentum. Today’s writing leads to tomorrow’s writing.

But sooner or later something will happen and you will miss a couple of days and all of that momentum will be lost. It will be hard as heck to get it rolling again - but that is what you have to do. If you fall off the horse, the best thing to do is get back on and ride again, and all of those cliches - which are also true. The next thing on our little list will help you to get back on the horse or dust yourself off or whatever cliche you have selected that best illustrates this...

9) Most important thing: Your Doorway Into The Story. Make sure your screenplay is personal. A piece of you. That way you won't want to abandon it. It would be like abandoning your arm or leg or head. "What right does my head have to call itself me?" I write action and thrillers and horror - and even if it is an assignment, my first step is to find that piece of me in the story. Most of my screenplays are just cheap therapy - and I either begin with the personal emotional conflict I want to work though in fiction form or I search for it and find it within whatever story idea I've come up with (or assignment I have accepted). We look at this in the Ideas Blue Book.

There are times when I've been offered paid writing jobs and turned them down because I couldn't find my story within their story. Better to wait until something comes along that I can find a "doorway" into than write something that I don't give a crap about. Here's one of my script tips about finding that doorway on a script of mine that got filmed *twice*: Writing BLACK THUNDER - Sibling rivalry is something I completely understand. I am not the favorite son. I'm the guy who has to work harder just to get noticed, and that's an issue I'm still working through... so I pitched a story dealing with that subject and ended up getting paid to write the screenplay.

Everything I've written has a "personal core" that keeps me from abandoning it, because it may be about fighter pilots and explosions - but it is still really about me. There will come a time when writing your screenplay that you want to abandon it. You hate it. You want to write something else instead. Don’t give in to this! There are people who have a dozen half written screenplays and not a single one that’s *finished*. You can’t do anything with a half written screenplay (okay, you can train puppies and line birdcages). So you want to get all the way to FADE OUT with your script! The best way to do that is have a personal connection to the story so that it’s difficult to let go of. Find your “doorway” into the story - that thing that makes it *part of you*. That not only makes it more difficult to abandon when the going gets rough, it also makes it a better story.

10) Now just write a little bit every day, and the pages add up. I used to write 1 hour a day before work, but really all I required myself to write was one page a day. That's it. One page. And 1 page times 365 days is 3 rough draft screenplays a year. Look, if you write a third of a page a day in 15 minutes, that a screenplay a year - and that puts you ahead of most people who would rather talk about writing than actually write every day and get progressively better and eventually sell something or land an assignment and have a handful of credits on IMDB that represents about a tenth of what they've been paid to do (only about 10% of stuff you sell or are hired to write ever makes it to the screen). (Which is another reason why you have to keep turning out new screenplays - when one project gets shelved you need a new screenplay to keep your *career momentum* going!)

When you are being productive, it helps keep you productive. Momentum. When you lose momentum, you need to push yourself to start moving again. It's not easy at first, but when you start rolling at 5mph it's much easier to roll to 10mph and keep increasing speed than it is from a cold start. Starting's a bitch!

And this may be what you are facing now - so just push yourself a little at first (even force yourself) and it gets easier. Forced writing can be rewritten, smoothed out, improved. But you can’t rewrite what isn’t written. So write! One Writers Block Breaker is to just write nonsense that doesn't matter to get started. That gets things rolling. Then just keep it rolling. Not easy... but possible. All of this is building good habits of regular writing, which comes in handy when you have a career and deadlines and need to write a certain number of pages a day to turn in your assignment on time.

And now the Film Courage clip...



Good luck, and keep writing!

- Bill

NEXT WEEK: THRILLER Thursday Season 2 - an episode directed by the awesome Ida Lupino!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Death Machines Trailer

This is an old blog entry from 2008, and since I hung out with Paul over the holidays (and we went to Eric Lee's NINJA BUSTERS party), and I mentioned this film just last night to my friend Kris, I thought I'd rerun this entry.

This is for Bill over at Pulp 2.0... and anyone else who likes well aged cheese...



My connection to this movie? It was directed by Paul Kyriazi, who got me into the biz when he gave me 2 weeks to write NINJA BUSTERS. Paul went to the same community college that I did, and took the same film class. I would constantly bump into him at the movies - which was strange when it was some cinema 30 miles away from home showing some obscure samurai film. DEATH MACHINES was made for drive ins, shot on 35mm and probably Panavision (scope) for not much money. I saw it at the "premiere" at the Pleasant Hill Motor Movies... which is now a shooping center. No champagne at this opening, but beer was smuggled in, along with some friends, in the trunk of the car.

Paul tells a funny story about the plane explosion - they bought the plane from a guy, blew it up, then sold him back what was left for parts. The truck that drives through the restaurant? A real closed restaurant waiting to be torn down - they did it for real. The building that explodes - also set for demolition. That's how they could do this for pocket change.

The money for this film came from Ron Marchini, who wanted to be the next Chuck Norris. He wasn't much of an actor, so I think they made his character a mute. Ron has gone on to have a low budget career in action films.

DEATH MACHINES has so many bad lines, my friends and I quote them... and most of these guys worked on the film! "Hey, there go the guys that cut off my arm!" The Dragon Lady's accent is so thick you want subtitles. "I have him compweeetwy under my contwow!"

But here's the thing - this movie was made local, played drive ins, and was (I think) #11 in the USA when it opened in July 1976. It was a successful summer movie. Most of that is due to the big scenes on a small budget - which was creativity instead of cash. One of the things I learned from Paul, that's even in my article in the current Script Magazine, is to come up with a handful of "How Did They Do That? shots" - like the plane taxiing, starting to take off, then exploding. Did they kill the pilot for that shot? Doing something unusual or seemingly impossible on screen adds production value, and may not cost you very much money (just creativity).

And if you can sell back what's left of the plane as parts...

- Bill

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Trailer Tuesday: THE UNDERNEATH



Directed by: Stephen Soderbergh.
Written by: Soderbergh based on the novel by Don Tracy.
Starring: Peter Gallagher, Elisabeth Shue, Alison Elliott, Paul Dooley, the great William Fichtner.
Director Of Photography: Elliot Davis.
Music: Cliff Martinez.

The remake of one of my favorite films CRISS CROSS, Stephen Soderbergh’s THE UNDERNEATH (1995), which was his fourth film... and not a success. After the failure of this film he dove off the deep end, making some crazy low budget films... and found his soul again. It’s odd to think of Soderbergh as a crime film director, but when you look at the genre he keeps coming back to again and again it’s crime films... from OUT OF SIGHT to OCEAN’S 11. This is his first crime film, and he decided to remake a classic... which seldom works. My guess is that after SEX LIES AND VIDEOTAPE and the *great* KING OF THE HILL and the equally interesting KAFKA, he decided to do something mainstream that would earn him the studio cred to do that Clint Eastwood thing where you make one movie “for them” and they allow you to make one movies for you. But all of that backfired. The “one for them” flopped...

Not because of the cast. Peter Gallagher plays the role Burt Lancaster played in CRISS CROSS. Sexy TV actress Alison Elliott played the ex wife played by Yvonne DeCarlo. The always creepy William Fichtner played the creepy Dan Duryea role. Paul Dooley played the “Pops” character. And Shelly Duvall pops up as the nurse in the hospital, and Joe Don Baker plays the guy who owns the armored truck company in cameos. These are all good actors, and Fichtner shines in his role. So, what was the problem?



Every screenplay is made up of millions of choices, and every movie ends up being those choices plus a million other choices. The problem is, if you make one major wrong choice it all falls apart. Though you may think the idea of remaking a classic film like CRISS CROSS was the wrong choice, there are plenty of remakes that work. The problems usually come with the choices made while remaking the film. For a while Warner Brother was planning on remaking one of my favorite films THE LAST OF SHEILA (which is a great mystery film) as a *comedy* and getting rid of the mystery element. That never happened. But the big problem with remakes in Hollywood is often that they come up with some crazy drastic change that kills the story. Hey, the reason why the story was successful in the first place was because it *wasn’t* a comedy (or whatever). Why not fix some of the little problems instead of screwing around with what made it successful in the first place?

The *good* changes in THE UNDERNEATH end up being instead of his younger brother getting married as the excuse he uses to himself for the reason he comes home again, it’s his *mother* getting married to the “Pops” character. This is great because “Pops” is going to be the casualty in the robbery, so in this version it’s his mother’s new husband who gets killed! More emotional, right? The other change is that instead of his old friend who is the cop who comes after him... it’s his *brother*! Again, upping the emotional ante. These were both great changes.

Another change was the addition of a “nice girl” to give Gallagher a choice between his exwife (who is nothing but trouble) and this nice girl played by Elizabeth Shue. He meets her on the bus coming back to town, and she works in the bank branch where the robbery will take place in this version. Part of the new robbery scheme is to use information he gets from her to help Dundee’s gang pull the robbery. That makes her an unwilling accomplice, cool idea!

But all of these good choices are undercut by the bad ones.

Instead of our lead leaving town because he’s still hung up on his ex wife and even Los Angeles isn’t big enough for the both of them, Gallagher is a gambling addict who spends every cent the couple has on sports betting, and when he loses so much that the mob is going to kill him, he leaves town... leaving his soon to be ex wife to deal with all of the crap he’s left behind. Not only does this make our protagonist not a sympathetic guy, it removes the core of the story... that he’s still hung up on his ex wife. That’s the engine that runs the machine, and they remove it. Oh, and he never worked for the Armored Truck company, so there’s this silly convoluted way for him to get hired. Oh, and since the ex wife isn’t really a fan of his, the really uncomfortable scene in CRISS CROSS where he’s caught by Dundee with his ex and comes up with the robbery thing as an excuse and then must go through with it... no longer exists. All of the big dramatic scenes from the original are gone.

And by making the protag a major screw up, having the cop be his brother this time around robs all of the drama from that! In CRISS CROSS the cop was his old friend, who really liked him and thought the ex wife was trouble... and that scene in the hospital when he confronts Lancaster and says he knows Lancaster had to be part of the robbery is a *heart breaker*. The cop knows his best friend became a criminal and has to deal with all of those mixed up feelings... and Lancaster has to deal with them, too. It’s like when your parents say you disappointed them... man, that’s tough to take! Now that the protag is a screw up, and *he* is the problem? No drama at all. The brother cop doesn’t have his heart broken because he never trusted his brother in the first place. He is *established* as hating his brother (Can’t believe you wore our father’s suit to mother’s wedding).

And the robbery is almost an anti set piece here, with Pop’s death being just another thing that happens. No drama.

The film uses different tints, as Soderbergh would later do in TRAFFIC, but here I could not figure out what the purpose was. Soderbergh also does a fractured chronology, a dozen times more fractured than CRISS CROSS but not as fractured as THE LIMEY. At first I though the colors (blue and green mostly) were past and present... but then we got a past scene that was green and I was confused. Then I thought it was story threads, with the robbery plot being green and the romance plot being blue, but it wasn’t that, either. There’s a scene that changes from blue to green midway, but then changes back. I rewatched that scene a couple of times but still can’t figure out why.

The other thing Soderbergh does is an extended POV shot when Gallagher is in his hospital bed. It’s not all one shot, but we don’t see Gallagher in the hospital, just his POV. The problem here is that it isn’t used to effect. Instead of creating paranoia, it’s just a long POV shot. Because there is no focus on people passing the pebbled glass and the man sitting in the hallway just out of view as in CRISS CROSS, there is *absolutely no suspense in this scene*. It’s like a stunt shot that undercuts all of the emotions! Instead of finding a better way to do the scene, it’s a *worse* way... which is just a show off shot. Michael Bay filmmaking.

And the film ends with a pointless and illogical twist that kind of undercuts the whole movie. I liked this movie more when I first saw it than I did when I watched it right after CRISS CROSS. It’s a misfire from a director who went on to do some really good crime films (THE LIMEY really is one of my favs).

- Bill

Monday, January 25, 2016

Lancelot Link: Where Are The Nudists In The Academy?

Lancelot Link Monday! Have you ever seen a Nudist Actor presenting an award on the Oscars show? Have you ever seen a movie with a Nudist character? I'm not talking about a character in a nude scene, I'm talking about let's say a scene at the Police Department in an action film where one of the two rival cops is a Nudist? Or a Western with a Nudist Cowboy? Or ever a romantic comedy where the Best Friend is a Nudist? Okay - the last SHERLOCK HOLMES movie had Mycroft as a Nudist... but the least represented people in movies are Nudists. That's the real problem that everyone is ignoring. While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...




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


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Revenant........................ $16,000,000
2 Star Wars TFA................... $14,257,000
3 Ride Along 2.................... $12,960,000
4 Dirty Grandpa................... $11,525,000
5 The Boy......................... $11,260,000
6 5th Wave........................ $10,700,000
7 13 Hours......................... $9,750,000
8 Daddy's Home..................... $5,270,000
9 Norm............................. $4,100,000
10 Big Shorts....................... $3,500,000


Slow snow weekend.

2) The Academy Ansrews Diversity Questions.

3) China Invades Universal Pictures With Half A Billion Bucks!

4) BIG SHORT Writer Charles Randolph Interview.

5) Who Needs Screenwriters?

6) 50 Hot Screenwriters!

7) 70 Awesome Frames From Movies. (I don't know if these were collected from One Perfect Shot on twitter, but if you don't follow him, DO IT NOW! @OnePerfectShot

8) Indie Maven James Schamus Interview Part 1. Indie Maven James Schamus Interview Part 2.

9) Films Which *May* Be Hot At Sundance This Year.

10) NOT Hot At Sundance This Year! (note: in the past many Sundance film have not been picked up for any sort of distribution, including DVD and prisons. The reason why there is a Sundance Channel and Sundance video label is due to *winning* films often not being picked up. That helps explain the remark about not being enough commercial films this year.

11) The Making Of REVENANT.

12) And The BEST PICTURE Award Goes To...

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



Yes - a NUDE car chase! From one of my favorite PINK PANTHER movies A SHOT IN THE DARK (which takes place in a nudist colony)/

Bill

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