Thursday, August 21, 2014

Creating Suspense & Dread:
The Leopard Man

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I had this ugly 2 bedroom apartment in Van Nuys that ended up being the crash pad for all of my Bay Area friends. The sofa bed in my office was mostly used by the DEAD BEAT gang - we made this behind the scenes of horror movie show on VHS and sold them at Fango conventions. So I was hanging out with horror movie people and going to horror conventions since coming to Los Angeles, and was making little horror movies along with those private eye movies and Hitchcockian thrillers and cop action flicks and parody films on super 8mm film Though it’s a parody of PSYCHO, my film PSICKO! was still designed to be a horror film about the incorrect use of electric carving knives. I’m a longtime horror fan, and even though I can appreciate some gorefest like MARTYRS, the films I really love are the spooky ones like the original THE HAUNTING and those great Val Lewton low budget horror flicks for RKO. The ones that used suspense and dread. The ones that were evocative and creepy and used the darkness within our imaginations to fill in the gore.



For a completely fictionalized version of the Val Lewton story, check out THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL where low budget film producer Kirk Douglas gets a job making a movie about cat-men for a studio... and realizes the best man in a cat suit still looks stupid, so he decides to use suspense and dread instead of dudes in costumes and ends up with a hit. Lewton had the same thing happen at RKO - he got a job making horror movies in the low budget division and ended up making a bunch of classic horror films like CAT PEOPLE and ISLE OF THE DEAD and LEOPARD MAN. These films played on Bob Wilkins Creature Features when I was a kid and on the Saturday afternoon movies sometimes, and they scared me. Scared me deeper than any of the other fright-fest movies. They played on my secrets fears, and touched me on some primitive level that caused them to live on in my childhood nightmares. As a jaded teenager when I watched these films, they still scared me. As an adult watching these films at the UC Theater in Berkeley, they still scared me. I bought the box set on DVD a couple of years ago, and they still scare me. Okay, I know that it’s a movie and I know that there’s no such thing as women who turn into panthers when they get horny and these movies are in black and white and shot on sound stages and are fake... but they still work just like that original version of THE HAUNTING works and the remake does not. Robert Wise directed THE HAUNTING... and was one of Val Lewton’s three “staff directors” in his horror division at RKO.



THE LEOPARD MAN is one of those trifecta movies for me like REAR WINDOW - produced by Val Lewton, directed by the great Jacques Tourneur (OUT OF THE PAST) and based on a novel by Cornel Woolrich (REAR WINDOW). A bunch of my favorite people working together! The Woolrich novel is one of his “Black” series, where noir gets its name, and is an intense page turner. The book and movie have different endings, take place in different cities, and have some other minor differences, but the film is pretty faithful to the book. The main way it is faithful is the use of suspense and dread, which are really why all of the Lewton movies work so well. They all have these great suspense sequences that build and build and build...

So let’s take a look at one of those great scenes from LEOPARD MAN, tear it apart and see how it ticks. This scene is almost word-for-word from the novel. Oh, I guess it needs some set up...

Kiki Walker (Jean Brooks) is a night club singer stuck in New Mexico with her promoter Jerry Manning (the great Dennis O’Keefe) where the big star is flamenco dancer Clo-Clo (exotic one-named actress Margo). In order to steal the show from Clo-Clo, Jerry comes up with this great stunt - a rented leopard on a leash that Kiki will walk in with during Clo-Clo’s performance... then Kiki will go on and become the big star. Only things don’t go exactly as planned and the leopard escapes into the night. Now, the leopard is on the loose in the New Mexico town... waiting to attack anyone who ventures out at night. Both the novel and film have an interesting structure, which has Jerry and Kiki as the leads - but often in the background of a sequence. This is the first leopard attack, and it goes from the panic after the leopard escapes to Clo-Clo walking home at night and townspeople saying hello to her along the way... one of whom is Teresa Delgado, who becomes the lead character in this sequence.



Now let’s take a look at how that sequence works...

1) SUSPENSE is the anticipation of a known action. It is *not* the action - and the longer the anticipation is stretched out, the greater the suspense. A *known* action means the audience knows what is (probably) going to happen and that creates the suspense. Hitchcock’s examples were the two men discussing baseball statistics while a bomb with a timer ticks away under the table - and he directed a TV episode based on a Woolrich short story called 4 O’CLOCK about a man who rigs a bomb to kill his cheating wife and her lover at 4pm... then his house gets robbed and the robbers tie him up in the basement across from that ticking bomb. As each minute passes, the suspense builds. We *know* what will happen at 4pm, and the anticipation of that explosion is what creates the suspense. Hitch’s other example was similar to a scene from REAR WINDOW, where someone is searching an apartment and does not know that the apartment resident is climbing the stairs and will soon discover the searcher. This version of suspense has two things we do not want to see in the same shot getting closer and closer - like two trains on the same tracks hurtling toward each other. Even though the searcher does not know about the resident getting closer, the *audience knows*, and that’s where the suspense comes from. It’s Dramatic Irony - the audience knows what the character does not. Suspense is created by the anticipation of the resident discovering the searcher in his apartment... what will Grace Kelly do?

2) DREAD is the anticipation of an *unknown* action. We know that something bad is going to happen, but are not sure exactly what is going to happen or where the threat is coming from. Dread is usually the version of suspense that we find in a horror movie, because a major element in horror is *fear of the unknown*. For dread to work, we need to create a situation where a bad action of some sort might happen...

3) Like an escaped leopard in the town. That is the HORROR SITUATION, the same way Jason wandering around Camp Crystal Lake with his machete is a horror situation. This is the first requirement for a scene of dread - what the heck are we dreading? It must be established in some early scene, and like Jason wandering around with his machete, the escaped leopard will create the horror situation for the entire movie.



4) The SEQUENCE SITUATION. Okay, we know the leopard is out there waiting to kill someone, now we have to get some tasty someone out there to be killed. This is where horror movies often stumble - the stupid teens go into the house where the crazy old lady with the knitting needles is supposed to be hiding, and the last people who went into that house had their eyes needled out and died... so let’s just go in and look around, okay? You need some *good reason* to go into that house... or out into the town after dark when there’s a hungry leopard roaming the streets. So we have Mrs. Delgado run out of cornmeal while making dinner, and sending Teresa out into the night to buy some. The further motivation is that this is *Mr. Delgado’s* dinner, and mom doesn’t want her hard working husband to come home and not have the dinner he deserves. So Teresa will have to go to the store - simple as that.

5) REMIND US WHY. That escaped leopard was, like, ten minutes ago. We need to remind the audience why Teresa doesn’t want to go to the store. This isn’t done because the audience is stupid or forgetful - the title has “Leopard” in it - but to “poke the tiger”. Let’s say we have that bomb under the table while the two guys discuss baseball statistics from the Hitchcock example - if we never show the ticking bomb, we have lost the suspense. Even though the audience knows the bomb is under the table, we need to keep showing it to keep that fear in the forefront of their minds... so that they don’t get interested in those baseball stats. Every time we show that bomb, we are poking the tiger - and poking the audience’s fear. So when Teresa’s little brother makes the hand-shadow on the wall of the tiger, it reminds us what is out there. It puts it back in the front of our minds. Yes, we knew it was there, but the reminder pokes us.

6) TWO-FERS! Why the hand-shadow thing is genius - the leopard will be hiding in the shadows! So turning the leopard into a shadow in this scene makes us fear the shadows. Any time you have several ways to do something, look for one that is a “two-fer” - that manages to do two or more things at the same time.

7) MAKE US SYMPATHIZE. Okay, we have a teenaged girl about to go outside where a vicious leopard may be waiting, you’d think that was enough to make us sympathize with her, right? Well, probably... but why not do a little more? Why not show her fear? The problem with those stupid teens that waltz into the crazy knitting needle house is that they don’t show the basic fear anyone with an IQ over 70 would have. So let’s make Teresa smart enough to know she might get killed by that leopard, and try everything to get back into the house. This shows us that she’s afraid, and also shows us that she isn’t stupid - and both things make us sympathize with her. Of course if she is allowed to stay in the house we lose all of the dread... so her mean mom sends her back outside to get the cornmeal and tells her not to come back without it... and then does something that seems like part of this scene, but is actually a set up for a later scene: she bolts the door closed so Teresa can not sneak back in. Now Teresa has NO CHOICE but to go out into the night and get that corn meal.



8) NO EASY OUTS. One of the great ways to ratchet up suspense and dread is to create an easy solution to the problem... then yank it away. This knocks the audience off balance, and also tells them that there will not be an easy solution here - things are going to get worse. Because dread is the anticipation of an unknown event, we need to find ways to make things worse without tipping our hand to what, exactly, is going to happen. By having Teresa go to the “Provisions” market close to home, and have them closed, and the owner unwilling to reopen just for her; we have just made things worse without actually doing anything. No leopard has attacked her, yet. She isn’t even far from home... but she has already hit a roadblock. There has already been a reversal of fortune that has popped Teresa deeper into trouble. If she had just gone straight across the arroyo to the other market without going to the “Provisions” market, she would not have seemed as if she were in as much danger. This set back makes the trip to the other market a larger problem. Oh, and I love the situational irony that if Teresa had not fought with her mother for so long about going out, she would probably have made it to the “Provisions” market before it closed.

9) SPOOKY SETTINGS. To get to the other market before it closes, Teresa takes a short cut through the arroyo and under the rail road trestle. This scene is wall-to-wall dread. The location is unpopulated - no one there to help her. She is *alone*, and that makes her vulnerable. It is dark and spooky and bathed in shadows - and we have already been tipped to the black leopard hiding in shadows by the brother’s shadow-puppet. Under the train trestle is all shadows. When you are creating dread, find the spooky location that’s frightening even before you tell us there may be a hungry leopard roaming around in there. In CAT PEOPLE there is a great dread scene in an indoor swimming pool at night - one of the characters is stealing a swim, so there are very few lights on. The combination of darkness and water and being indoors all makes that location somewhere you wouldn’t want to be... then add that cat woman with her claws and... The dark train trestle is a spooky location - and the scene where Teresa walks under it is stretched out for maximum dread. Oh, but there are two more things about Teresa and the Train Trestle...



10) SCHLOCK SHOCK. You know those damned cats that jump out of cupboards in horror movies? Those hands that suddenly grab the lead’s shoulder, and turn out to be their friend? That stuff is what I call schlock shock. Schlock is poorly made, shoddy, merchandise. So Schlock Shock is a cheap jump moment. But it serves a couple of purposes - it is usually a diversion followed by the *real* shock moment. The cat jumps out of the cupboard, the audience screams for a moment, then realizes it is just a cat... and let’s their guard down... and then the killer crashes through the window! Because the audience has let their guard down the killer crashing through the window is a bigger scare. The other purpose for schlock shock is to “poke the tiger” some more. To remind us that bad things could happen at any minute. After an excruciating walk through that darkness (where there is standing water) she comes out the other side without encountering any leopards. Then that tumble weed comes skittering out from the darkness under the train trestle, we jump out of our skin for a moment... then realize it’s just a tumbleweed... then realize there could easily be a leopard in that darkness, too. We are reminded of the reason for our terror... Now, that has been one great bit of dread... but it was *really* just the set up for the return trip!

11) BREAKING THE TENSION. A good screenplay is peaks and valleys. Too much action, too much suspense, too much tension... dissipates the effectiveness. So to keep that dread strong, we need to mix it up a little. After that schlock shock tumbleweed, we get to the bright, well lighted market with the kind old man behind the counter. Guess what? Teresa has made it to her goal! She has made it to the market to buy the cornmeal. We can breath a sigh of relief, right? All of the elements here tell us that she is safe, that the leopard is not going to get her, that she will get that cornmeal home to mom and dad will have that dinner he deserves after his long day at work. The store keeper is paternal and funny and jokes with Teresa. And they have a conversation about being afraid of the dark, which is a great two-fer because it makes us think this might all be about Teresa having this silly childhood fear which puts us at ease... but also poke that tiger a little because it is still dark outside and there is still a leopard out there. Hmmm, I wonder which it will be? All just her imagination? Or a serious threat of leopard attack? This two-fer manages to keep us in unknown territory! When Teresa says she’s not really afraid of the dark, what could happen to her? We think “Leopard attack!” She prompts our thoughts of the danger in this situation.

And when she says that she is not afraid of the dark, that is not the truth, it is what she wishes were true. The safety of the market has allowed her to push her fears back into her subconscious and pretend they do not exist. She *says* that she is not afraid, but moments later she wil be back in the darkness, surrounded by shadows, and we will see that her actions speak louder than her words.

12) Though this has nothing to do with dread or horror or suspense, I love this line from screenwriter Ardel Wray, “The poor don’t cheat one another, we’re all poor together.”

13) SECOND TIME TERROR. Okay, the last time Teresa was at this train trestle the only danger came from a tumble weed, so it’s safe, right? Here’s the great thing about going back to the train trestle - we already know it is spooky, and the audience secretly knows we wouldn’t be going back there unless something was going to happen this time. It can’t just be another tumble weed. If it was just the spooky location again and nothing happens it’s a waste of time... so our dread grows because this is a *known* location, and horror is fear of the *unknown*, so if nothing was going to happen she’d have to walk through some *unknown* spooky place. Our subconscious tells us that you don’t go back to a spooky location where nothing happens twice - so something is going to happen this time... but what? Unknown. Teresa creeps to the dark trestle, shadows, dripping water, darkness...



14) TRIPLE SHOCK. Remember how I said Schlock Shock was a great way to make the audience lower their guard so that you can get ‘em with real shock? LEOPARD MAN has a great twist on that method - and any time you can break the pattern in a way that works better than the pattern is great. Here, we have Teresa see what appear to be a pair of glowing eyes in the darkness under the trestle... the leopard? Then the eyes disappear - was it just her imagination? Teresa takes a few steps deeper into the darkness under the train trestle, and we *know* those were the eyes of a leopard and it is now about to pounce on her! Just when the audience thinks this is going to be a real leopard attack... a train ROARS over the trestle - schlock shock! We jump out of our skins, then relax when we realize it was just a train, then remember those eyes in the darkness - we should not have relaxed! When Teresa recovers from the train scare and makes it all of the way through the darkness under the train trestle - which is stretched out to our breaking point, she doesn’t make it through quickly because that would kill the building dread - she looks up and sees the leopard! Waiting for her. The killer she has spent the entire sequence trying to avoid is now RIGHT THERE. And she is in serious trouble. Instead of the schlock shock/relax/real shock rhythm we get a possible real/relax/schlock shock/relax/real shock rhythm that we don’t expect.

15) RUN FOR YOUR LIFE! The leopard pounces! Now that we have seen the leopard, we no longer have fear of the unknown and no longer have dread - so we switch to suspense and suspense techniques. A chase where the antagonist is getting closer and closer and closer is a basic way to create suspense - you’ve seen it in hundreds of movies, at least one with Cary Grant and a crop duster where there ain’t no crops. You have also seen it in a hundred horror movies, at least one with Michael Myers chasing Jamie Lee Curtis in Haddonfield on Halloween. And we get that chase here as well, including the typical heroine trip. What saves this trip from cliche country is that she spills the cornmeal all over the place - the very reason she was out in this dangerous situation in the first place! Ironic, isn’t it? Teresa trips, falls, spills the cornmeal, then scrambles to her feet and runs home with that hungry leopard in hot pursuit!



16) DRAMATIC IRONY = SUSPENSE. For reasons we will get to in our next section, instead of showing the end of this chase scene, we go back inside the Delgado house. This allows some more of that wonderful dramatic irony, plus some great suspense. You may have noticed that two are often connected - if the audience knows something that the characters do not, we want to yell at the screen that the characters are making a mistake. That’s what happens here - I don’t know if this scene was gut wrenching for you or not, but it was for me. We start out with mom drying dishes and the brother reading the comics when there is POUNDING on the front door and Teresa yells “Let me in, let me in! If you love me, let me in!” And mom turns to the brother and says something about Teresa dilly-dallying and spending half the night just to get cornmeal. Not taking the threat we know is real seriously. We know Teresa has just outrun a freakin’ leopard to get to the front door - which is bolted - and her mom thinks she is just being pushy like a typical teenager. And the more the mom says pointless and unnecessary things, the more the suspense grows - it’s like those guys discussing baseball statistics! The less mom seems to care about Teresa’s problems outside the door, the more WE care... and the more we want to scream at her to shut the eff up and get that door open before the leopard attacks! The more mom says things that are mundane or boring or do not matter, the greater the suspense - due to the dramatic irony of the situation. We know Teresa is going to be *killed* if mom doesn’t do something right now, but mom doesn’t know this.

17) EVEN MORE SUSPENSE. Mom figures out something might be wrong when Teresa SCREAMS, and now she runs to the door to open it. But remember when she bolted the door at the beginning of this sequence so that Teresa couldn’t sneak back in? I’ll bet your forgot up until now - there’s been so much dread and suspense and fear, how could you remember a locked door? Well, that bolt is *stuck* and no matter how hard mom tries to shoot it open, it just won’t budge. Which creates suspense - will she get the bolt open and the door open before the leopard rips her daughter to shreds? The brother runs to get a block of wood to use as a hammer to POUND that bolt open. Suspense isn’t just that main thing, it is all of the details and actions that are part of the main thing. Each one of those details, like running to get that block of wood, extends and strengthens the suspense - in a way, those are tiger pokes. Just trying to loosen the bolt isn’t enough action to keep the suspense going, we need plans and possibilities. We need things that do not work - which are similar to that “provisions” market in that the failure builds our dread, builds our fear, escalates the terror.



18) VIOLENT ACTION. Since dread is the anticipation of an *unknown* action, we eventually have to get to the action or it has all been a tease. The difference between these Val Lewton movies and today’s gorefests is how they show the action. Not whether there is action or not, not whether the action is bloody and gory or not - but what they decide to show and what they leave up to your imagination. So the decision is made *not* to show cute little Teresa being ripped to shreds, which is one of the reasons we go inside the Delgado house instead of stay outside that door with Teresa and the leopard. We get that nice suspense bonus from being inside the house, but I doubt the censors would have allowed them to show Teresa being killed back in 1943. But if you think by not showing it the action is not violent, you are dead wrong. This is a horror movie. The level of violence is horrific. We just don’t see it. Teresa screams, the leopard growls, there are the sounds of a vicious and violent attack... and then... that pool of blood practically pours from under the door! That pool of blood is visual proof of the carnage on the other side of that door - and we need that proof to fill in all of the ugly details with our imagination. That blood tells us Teresa is dead. Without that blood, she may still be okay, just in need of a doctor. But the blood is a coda to the scene. Gotta have it.

19) EMOTION PICTURES. Movies are about emotions. Creating the emotions in the viewer, like dread and fear and suspense... but also allowing the viewer to feel the emotions of characters. One of the greatest parts of this sequence is when Teresa’s mom realizes that her daughter is in real danger and she has not believed her. And that whatever happens to her daughter, she bares some of the responsibility... and will feel as if it is all her fault. This is a gut wrenching emotional scene - Teresa’s mom realizes that she has doubted her daughter, and that doubt has lead to her daughter’s death. It is only a line, a moment, in the scene - but that moment is powerful emotions that will haunt us. Look for moments of emotion in your scenes, and remember that the most powerful emotions are the ones that make us uncomfortable. A mother realizing she may have killed her own daughter is more powerful than all of those scream moments in the film. Those are the emotions of great tragedy... and that is why LEOPARD MAN is more than just a cheapo horror movie from the 1940s... it is a work of art, and one of Martin Scorsese’s favorite films.

20) You may have noticed that this sequence works in the basic three act structure: introduce the conflict, the conflict escalates, a midpoint (the market), the conflict escalates further, then the resolution of the conflict. Hard to avoid something so basic. This sequence seems like a stand-alone, but it is actually one of several sequences where the leopard attacks again and again, escalating the conflict for Jerry and Kiki who are responsible for the leopard’s escape. With every new victim, they get into more trouble with the town and the police and it becomes more apparent that Jerry will have to capture or kill the leopard himself. He is pulled deeper and deeper into the quicksand with every new victim, and must find a way out. Each sequence ends by tying Jerry and Kiki back into the story - with their problems worse than before.

Okay, that is one of a handful of sequences in LEOPARD MAN where people and leopards eventually meet without a pleasant outcome. It’s a good example of how to build dread and also how to create gory bloody violent deaths - that are not graphic. Just because the death is not shown doesn’t mean that it is pleasant and doesn’t mean that the audience doesn’t experience it. We want to make sure there is horror in the horror! If we can’t see it, you need to make sure we imagine it. This scene is a great example of how to make a scene scary and keep the fear and dread building until the violent pay off. Things to consider if you are writing a horror or suspense script.

Hey, what does that look like on that page? Do we just write “scary things happen” and the director makes up all of the details? Nope! Below is this sequence from the shooting script of LEOPARD MAN by Ardel Wray - and all of the thrills and chills are there on the page. Check it out!



INT. DELGADO HOUSE - NIGHT

The Delgado house is typical of the poorer Mexican homes in New Mexico. This main room, which is small, serves as living room, bedroom and kitchen. An Indian blanket covers the doorway into the only other room. The adobe walls are plastered with pictures of religious subjects.

The wooden floor is bare. There is a charcoal-burning brasero in one corner. Pots and pans on the hearth of the fireplace show that it is a supplementary stove, The rest of the furniture consists of an iron bedstead, a large and hideous oak table and an open-faced china cabinet which contains the Delgado treasures.

Pedro, Teresa's nine-year-old brother is seated at the oak table, eating from a bowl of frijoles. He is, and looks like, an imp. Teresa is backing away from her mother, who turns away from the window to face her angrily.

TERESA
(evidently resuming a discussion)
But, Mamacita -- why can't Pedro go this time? I'm so tired...

PEDRO
(complacently)
I'm too young.

SRA. DELGADO
If your father comes home and there are no tortillas, he will shout and tomorrow it will be all over town: the family of Juan Delgado is too poor to buy corn meal! Do you wish we should be so disgraced?

Teresa shakes her head, but makes no move to go. Exasperated, Sra. Delgado reaches for the nearest weapon -- the broom.

SRA. DELGADO
Then go!

Sra. Delgado brandishes the broom toward Teresa, who backs up again.

PEDRO
I know what she's afraid of...

Pedro lifts his hand. It casts a sharp shadow on the wall behind him. Watching the shadow, he manipulates his fingers so as to create the shadow of a leopard's head in miniature.

PEDRO (CONT'D)
This!

SRA. DELGADO
And what, por todos los santos, is "this"?

Teresa braves the threatening broom and moves a step toward her mother.

TERESA
(eager to be believed)
The leopard, Mamacita. They say a lady at the El Pueblo had it on a string and it ran away. It hasn't been found yet...

SRA. DELGADO
A leopard?

PEDRO
(gleefully)
They're big -- and they jump on you!

Pedro jumps the shadow on the wall, to simulate the leap of a leopard.

SRA. DELGADO
(furiously)
Did you ever meet one of those things yet when you went to the store for me?

Teresa swallows, shakes her head mutely.

SRA. DELGADO
(bellowing)
Then you won't meet one this time either! Now get out! Do as I told you!

Sra. Delgado gives the broom such a backward swing of final purpose that Teresa hurriedly opens the door behind her and slinks out backwards -- her big liquid dark eyes, still futilely pleading, the last to disappear. Sra. Delgado moves after her, pushing the door closed.

She puts the broom in the corner and goes to where Pedro is seated. Here she stands a moment, fondly watching him as he masticates his beans. Behind her the door stealthily opens.

Teresa tries to sneak back into the room. Mamacita sees the movement and makes a tempestuous rush toward her, but Teresa sidles out of the door before she can be caught. Mamacita, muttering, slams the door shut and with difficulty pushes the heavy, rust-covered iron bolt into place.

EXT. DOORWAY DELGADO HOUSE - NIGHT

Teresa stands outside the door. We hear the heavy bolt inside driven home forcibly.

SRA. DELGADO (V.O.)
Now you will not come in again, not until you bring the corn meal with you!

EXT. STREET OUTSIDE DELGADO HOUSE - NIGHT

Teresa steps down from the single doorstep outside her house.

She crosses her arms and pulls her shoulders together in a gesture of fear. She looks once, despairingly, at the closed door behind her and then reluctantly steps out into the dirt road and starts walking.

EXT. CALDERON GROCERY - NIGHT

Only a large corner window, with the word. "Provisiones" printed on it shows that this ordinary house is a grocery store. In the moonlight, one can see a few boxes of groceries stacked on shelves inside. Teresa comes up to the window and peers in. She knocks on the window.

TERESA
Senora Calderon It is Teresa, Senor. Teresa Delgado.

Over Teresa's shoulder, we see the interior of the little store light up dimly as a curtain is pulled at the back of the room.

Beyond the curtain is revealed another room, brightly lit by a bare electric globe hanging from the ceiling on a cord. Under the light, a man sits at a table, heartily eating from a plate heaped with food.

The curtain has been pulled back by Senora Calderon. We see her only in silhouette and the details of her face and figure are indistinguishable. We do see, however, that her long black hair is down her back and she is braiding it. She walks a little ways into the darkened store.

SRA. CALDERON
(speaking loudly to be heard through the window)
The store is closed.

TERESA
I just want a sack of corn meal for my father's supper!

SRA. CALDERON
Tomorrow.

TERESA
(imploringly)
It'll just take a second. ..Please or I must go clear across the

Arroyo to the big grocery --

Teresa taps against the window hopefully. But Sra. Calderon turns back toward the doorway into the inner room, where the solitary feaster hasn't even bothered to look up during this exchange.

SRA. CALDERON
(as she goes)
It means taking off the lock again, putting on the light, measuring the meal. It's too much trouble. Once I close, I close!

Sm. Calderon steps into the inner room and draws the curtain closed behind her, as she speaks the last words. Again the store is in darkness -- only a rim of light showing around the edges of the curtained doorway.

TERESA
(quietly, hopelessly)
Senora...

There is no reply. Teresa turns away.

DISSOLVE TO:

EXT. EDGE OF ARROYO - NIGHT

The Arroyo is a deep narrow cut in the mesa, bone dry in this season. Its floor of bleached sand and weeds stretches desolately wider a vast moonlit sky. Here and there, children's feet have scuffed steep little trails down the banks.

Teresa appears at the top of one of these trails. She looks down into the Arroyo -- and then off to the right.

A distance down the Arroyo is a bridge which carries a train track across the dry river bed. To divert the rush of rain water in winter and spring, the bridge is underpropped by two slanting stone piers. They stand out like ribs against the blackness of the underpass, which they divide into three tunnels.

Teresa's face shows her dread of the Arroyo. She turns back the way she came, takes a step away, hesitates and then returns to the edge of the bank.

She starts down the little trail, her feet sliding in the loose sand and a shower of pebbles bouncing down ahead of her.

EXT. ARROYO FLOOR - NIGHT

Teresa stands at the bottom of the bank. She looks off to the bridge again. Then she starts walking forward slowly, a very little figure in the large loneliness of the night.

EXT. EAST SIDE OF BRIDGE - NIGHT

Teresa comes up to the face of the underpass with its three openings. She stares from one black tunnel mouth to another.

She glances behind her, then looks at the underpass again.

Teresa goes forward again, toward the middle tunnel.

EXT. EAST ENTRANCE OF MIDDLE TUNNEL - NIGHT

The roof of the underpass is only a little higher than Teresa's head and the passage is not more than ten feet wide.

The opening is dimly lit by the moonlight, but beyond it is dense blackness. Teresa enters slowly. She takes a few steps toward the blackness - and stops. She listens. Teresa moves forward again, walking as lightly as possible. The light dims rapidly, so that after Teresa has taken a half dozen steps, she is swallowed up in complete blackness.

The CAMERA HOLDS for a moment on the dark underpass before Teresa emerges from the blackness on the West side. A light scratching sound is heard. Teresa's eyes widen in panic as she hears it and she hurries out of the tunnel, watching fearfully ever her left shoulder. She must cut across in front of this other tunnel in order to get to the south bank.

She starts across, never taking her eyes off the black tunnel mouth. Suddenly she gives a convulsive start and a little cry escapes before she can control it. A shadowy shape, low to the ground, detaches itself from the dimness of the tunnel opening and moves toward her. Almost at once, we see that it is a large tumbleweed, blowing clown the Arroyo in the wind.

Teresa sighs soundlessly and goes on to the foot of the bank.

She starts scrambling up another steep little path.

DISSOLVE

INT. BIG GROCERY STORE - NIGHT

This is a fairly good sized room, lined with shelves and counters. A tall, Indian-type Mexican with iron-grey hair puts a paper sack of cornmeal on the counter in front of Teresa.

She starts toward the door, but noticing a bronze cage with two toy birds in it, a mechanical device which has stood there for years, she goes toward it, puts down her sack of corn meal and goes up close.

TERESA
Oh, the toy birds!

MANUEL
You've seen them before. I couldn't chase you away from the counter when you were a little girl.

She winds up the bird cage.

TERESA
I'd forgotten them.

MANUEL
(smiling, good humoredly, skeptical)
Every day you see them --and you have forgotten them? Oh, I remember my little Teresita -- I remember the little girl who was afraid of the dark. They shouldn't send you.

The birds have begun to sing, a highly mechanical rendering of a bird song.

TERESA
I'm not afraid. What could happen to me?

The birds sing and she pretends to listen. Manuel leans against the inner door of the grocery watching her, smiling and amused. Finally his smiling irks her into action. She picks up her sack of corn meal.

TERESA (CONT'D)
(as she starts off)
I'll pay you tomorrow.

MANUEL
Never fear - - next time you come.
The poor don't cheat one another.
We're all poor together.

In the bronze cage the two birds continue to sing their mechanical song. Their heads turn from side to side.

We hear the door close behind Teresa. The birds are still singing as we...

DISSOLVE TO:

EXT. CORNER WEST SIDE OF BRIDGE - NIGHT

There is a sound of slow, measured dripping. It comes from water seeping out between two rocks and dropping onto another rock below. These rocks are piled up at the juncture of the bridge and the left bank and the water is evidently leaking from some water main or sews go pipe running under the highway overhead.

EXT. WEST SIDE OF BRIDGE - NIGHT

Teresa is approaching the entrance of the middle tunnel, She is evidently scared - her footsteps are lagging and she holds the sack of corn meal in both hands, as if feeling its weight. She looks fearfully at the black tunnel before her and comes to a standstill, trying to peer into the blackness.

In the silence, the dripping of the water can be heard.

Teresa looks up and to the left to locate the sound. She sees the shining dampness on the rocks.

She turns back to the middle tunnel before her -- and, drawing a deep breath of resolution, starts to enter it. But she hesitates and then, suddenly, veers over to the left. She peers into the opening of that tunnel.

INT. OPENING OF NORTH TUNNEL - NIGHT

The wall of the tunnel is also damp with the seepage from above. It reflects the outer moonlight in glistening streaks, so that the blackness here is not so complete as in the other tunnel..

EXT. WEST SIDE OF BRIDGE - NIGHT

Teresa gets a fresh grip on the bag of corn meal by shifting her hands under it -- and walks into the entrance of the north tunnel.

INT. NORTH TUNNEL - NIGHT

Again, the crunching sound of Teresa's footsteps are magnified in the enclosure of the tunnel walls. It is very dim, but the luminosity of the damp wall casts a faint light on Teresa, reflecting in her wide, frightened eyes.

She walks slowly and lightly, her eyes going from side to side in the darkness, her neck and head held rigidly. Suddenly she stops with a sharp intake of breath, Ahead of her and to her left are two tiny gleams of light. Teresa backs away from them. As she does so, they seem to fall and vanish.

Slowly Teresa moves forward again, staring at the place where the lights had been. As she moves parallel to the spot, they appear again. A half-cry dies away in her throat --she sees that the gleams are two drops of seepage, trickling down the side of the tunnel wall.

Teresa half closes her eyes and sways a little, faint with fear. Then she forces herself to move forward again. She takes one -- two fearful steps -- and then the underpass reverberates with a sudden tremendous shock of sound - more a giant vibration than actual noise.

It is a train passing overhead.

INT. NORTH TUNNEL - NIGHT

As Teresa stands transfixed, the terrific roar continues.

Second after second, flashes of light as brilliant as lightning illuminate the interior of the tunnel the reflections thrown into the Arroyo by the train windows.

And then, as abruptly as it began, the noise ceases. It is cavernously dark in the tunnel again. In this thick stillness, Teresa walks forward once more.

EXT. EAST SIDE OF BRIDGE - NIGHT

In the frame of the tunnel opening, Teresa stands for a moment. Behind her, there is a new sound -- a mere whisper of sound carried forward on the light wind. A little shower of rubble falls from the top of the concrete pier. Teresa turns to look behind her.

Crouched on one of the piers of the trestle - and seen only very dimly in the darkness -- is the leopard, looking down into the Arroyo.

An enormous big HEAD CLOSE UP of Teresa.

An enormous big HEAD CLOSE UP of the leopard, its clear golden eyes fixed and staring.

EXT. ARROYO FLOOR - NIGHT

Teresa's nails dig into the paper sack of corn meal and little trickles of the meal start spilling from the slits.

Her eyes widen and her face falls slack from the horrible shock of what she sees. She turns and runs.

EXT EDGE OF ARROYO - NIGHT

Teresa scrambles frantically up over the edge of the bank.

She stumbles and falls and the sack of corn meal drops from her hands and spills onto the ground. In a single move, Teresa is on her feet and running again. A shadow flashes over the spilled meal and we hear a heavy, ripping snarl.

INT. DELGADO HOUSE - NIGHT

It is quiet and peaceful in the Delgado home. Senora Delgado is puttering about the brasero. Pedro, on all fours, is reading a comic book, his rump high in the air, his chin two inches from the book. Suddenly, a wild rain of knocks on the door fill the little room. Sonora Delgado, at the brasero, drops a spoon with a clatter and Pedro springs up.

TERESA'S VOICE
(screaming)
Mamacita, let me in! Let me in, let me in!

SENORA DELGADO
Hah!

Sonora Delgado smirks knowingly and puts her hands on her hips.

TERESA'S VOICE
If you love me, let me in -- !

SENORA DELGADO
(mimicking Teresa)
Mamacita -- let me in. Let me in, now that I've spent half the night getting the corn meal!

TERESA'S VOICE
It's coming - it's coming closer.
I can see it...

PEDRO
She is afraid of the leopard.

SENORA DELGADO
Just what she needs -- something to

NIP AT HER HEELS AND HURRY HER UP -

She is interrupted by a scream so high, of such agonized finality, that it makes the others before it seem like nothing at all. Mingled with the scream and blurring the end of it comes an impact of such violence that the whole door structure shakes with it from top to bottom. A puff of dust wells up around the door from the impact of the blow.

REPRO
(his voice high with fear)
Madre do Dolores, she isn't fooling!

Pedro jumps to his feet. An instant change has come over the face of Senora Delgado. She hurls herself forward.

SENORA DELGADO
(beseechingly)
Wait, Teresa! I come! I will let you in...

Senora Delgado tugs at the rusty bolt.

SEN0RA DELGADO
Only a moment, querida, hija do mi
alma -- your mother is here --

As Senora Delgado tugs vainly at the bolt, Pedro darts over to the fireplace and grabs up a stone from the hearth.

SENORA DELGADO
Your mother will let you in - -

Pedro rushes to the door and pushes his mother's hands aside.

He hammers the unruly bar back with the stone.

Then, he draws back and looks down at his feet. Senora Delgado's horrified eyes follow his glance.

Under the crack of the door seeps a dark tongue of blood, widening and lengthening on the rough wooden floor.



And here is a link to the entire script:
LEOPARD MAN screenplay by Ardel Wray.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Writing Over 40 - how to sell a script or land an assignment in age conscious Hollywood.
Dinner: Salad with some dead chickens in it.
Pages: Yikes! This article was the one I wrote *after* the one that I was going to run on the blog today. The other one got pushed back.
Bicycle: Yes - a NoHo ride on both Sat & Sun. I feel better, but there is still some pain in the wrist if I twist it in unusual ways, so I'm thinking about going to the doctor (which I fear, because I do not want a cast on my arm - I can take the brace off to type, but a cast?)
Movies: MACHETE and TAKERS...


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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Robot Monsters With Breasts!

Some movies are so bad that they're good... and others are bad and weird and make you wonder about the people who made them. Here are two of the strangest films I have ever seen - both are about robot monsters and both have no shortage of topless women...



EXTERMINATOR CITY is a train wreck of a film that combines puppet robots and GIRLS GONE WILD. You know how some films require that you consume a 12 pack in order to enjoy them (I've written many of these)? This film requires you to drop acid *and* do mushrooms to fully understand the story. The robot puppets are kind of MST-3000 style - and the only thing that moves is their mouths. The bodies don't move, the camera doesn't move. I got the feeling the whole film was made by one guy with a tri-pod. He would set up the camera, then operate the robot puppet. There are no "two shots" of robots - that would require an extra person. So we get close up of Cop Robot intercut with close up of Psychiatrist Robot. Never both in the same shot. Never any two characters in the same shot. No long shots or wide shots at all.

The "story" has a robot serial killer attacking big breasted women just as they begin playing with their upper torso bundles of pleasure for no reason. But the robot serial killer is never in the same shot as the babes - and they aren't even on the same tape stock - the robots are crisp, the babes are fuzzy grainy - maybe shot on the director's mom's camcorder.

There is *never* a shot of the robots *and* the babes. Even the killing scenes have no interaction.

The robot serial killer was an exterminator - and kills all kinds of big plastic toy bugs. Oh, and mounted animal heads on his walls often talk to him. He's crazy... It doesn't make much sense, but it's just so weird you keep watching to see if it ever makes sense. No - it gets *weirder*. The Robot Cop begins to develop the traits of the Robot Serial Killer! And those plastic toy bugs show up all over the place. It's like NAKED LUNCH made by a really horny 13 year old boy obsessed by robots!

Because there are never any shots where the robots *move* or enter a room, there are these crazy shots used to connect scenes - a really bad miniature building with a toy space ship on a wire zipping past really fast. I think he made it really fast so that we wouldn't be able to tell it was some toystore model, but it ends up so fast that we aren't sure *what* it is.

This is Ed Wood film making at its finest. "Perfect!"

The only humans in this film are the topless babes... puppet robots play every other role.

I found out about this movie on a message board where people were discussing the weirdest movie they have ever seen. This was the "winner". I'll tell you, it's hard to imagine any film that is weirder now that I've seen it... but, you should *not* see it. EXTERMINATOR CITY is like a giant zit on someone's face - not pretty to look at, but can you really *not* look at it?

Meanwhile, LADY TERMINATOR is a film that should not be seen sober. It’s a Indonesian knock off of TERMINATOR, but obviously someone in the legal department was worried, so the opening of the film sets it up as based on the legend of the South Sea Queen (I think) who had 100 husbands and bite off all of their man-parts with an eel she hides in her woman-parts. Blood sprays from many a man’s groin area in this film. Like a garden hose of red liquid. Not subtle or realistic. Well, after husband #100 pulls out the eel and saves his man-parts, the South Sea Queen puts a curse on his family - specifically his great grand daughter - and returns to the sea.

Cut to decades later, this smokin’ hot babe who could not act her way out of a rice paper bag, claims to be an anthropologist studying for her thesis who is researching the South Sea Queen legend. Whenever she said she was an anthropologist, it got a laugh - like Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist in that James Bond movie.

Just when you are about to leave the cinema because her acting is so bad it actually hurts, she dons a bikini and dives into the cursed area of the South Sea where the Queen vanished, and comes back as the Lady Terminator... hell bent on finding that Great Grand Daughter and killing her.


And now we get the silliest rip off of TERMINATOR you can imagine, as this often topless killing machine (not really a machine, just a possessed anthropologist) chases the Great Grand Daughter chick - who is a disco singer (so that we can get a bunch of disco numbers throughout the film) and also uses the eel hidden in her woman-parts to bite the man-parts off a bunch of guys. Yes, she comes naked from the ocean and steals the clothes from some punkers on the beach (and bites off their man parts with her hidden eel), yes there is a TechNoir bar scene where she finds the Great Grand Daughter chick singing and machineguns at least a hundred extras, yes there is a scene where her eye is injured and she cuts it out... then washes it off in the sink, dries it on a towel, and replaces it, yes there is a scene where she drives a car into the police station and kills at least a hundred extras dressed as cops with a machine gun, yes she (thankfully) doesn’t talk much as the Lady Terminator. She just walks around bare chested with a machinegun and kills people. Just like Ah-nuld did.

But the funniest parts of this movie are when they try to make it look like it takes place in America. The cops - in a police station unlike any you have ever seen before (there are sofas and recliners) have a never-ending conversation about how much they love hot dogs. After about the third hot dog conversation you wonder if there is supposed to be a strang Gay subtext to these scenes... and wonder if this is plot related. Will the Gay cops save the day because they don't put their man-parts in lady-parts and are immune to the Lady Terminator?

Two of the cops are some sort of Starsky & Hutch undercover team - one has a dyed blond mullet that does not match his very ethnic features at all. They say strange things like, “I’m here in the States” which make you wonder where they might have been before. It’s just crazy - bad!

The often topless Terminator chick can not be killed - she takes a million bullet hits that don’t scar her smokin’ hot body at all, her car gets hit by missiles (and even the car is unscratched!) and almost at the end of the movie after she has caught fire and comes out of it with a totally burned face - but her boobs are completely undamaged. This film has its priorities!

Oh, for some unexplained reason after catching on fire and losing her machine gun, she develops laser rays from here eyes that burn men’s man-parts off. The writer of this film has some issues.

What are your favorite So Bad They're Good movies and So Weird You Won't Believe It! movies?

- Bill



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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Trailer Tuesday: Captain Blood

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


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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill

Monday, August 18, 2014

Lancelot Link: When I'm 64

Lancelot Link Monday! Getting too old for this shit? The big movie this weekend was *supposed to be* THE EXPENDABLES 3, and for a while they thought it might be #2 after TURTLES but it ended up #4... after the no stars comedy LET'S BE COPS! Is that because the novelty of old stars has completely warn off? EXPENDABLES was kind of a stunt film: hey, let's take a bunch of old farts who used to be stars in the 80s and put them all in the same film! Okay, they did that twice, but third time was not a charm. Would it have made more money with a better story and fewer old stars? 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 over a half dozen links plus this week's car chase...


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Mutant Turtles.................. $28,400,000
2 Guardians Of Galaxy........... $24,735,000
3 Let's Be Cops.................. $17,700,000
4 Expendables 3.................. $16,200,000
5 Giver............................ $12,760,000
6 Into The Storm................ $7,720,000
7 Hundred Foot.................. $7,109,000
8 Lucy............................. $5,317,000
9 Step Up Five................. $2,700,000
10 Boyhood........................ $2,150,000


2) Floor plans for TV and movie sets.

3) Gay Hitchcock Films.

4) Movie Monster Bodycount.

5) Martin Scorsese's 85 Films You Need To See.

6) Christopher McQuarrie On USUAL SUSPECTS.

7) Is Netflix Getting Into Film Presale Financing?

And the Car Chase Of The week:



Keeping it topical.

Bill



Friday, August 15, 2014

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Strangers On A Train (1951)

Like REAR WINDOW, this is another “Perfect Storm” movie for me: Patricia Highsmith is another one of my favorite writers and it’s a shame that Hitchcock only brought one of her novels to the screen because they seem like a perfect match. Highsmith played in the noir playground, often taking the villain’s side and showing how difficult it is to lead a life of crime. Her short stories are often brutal, and she has a way of getting under your skin so that you can’t stop thinking about some scene or nasty plot twist. When you read one of her books and someone does something very very wrong, you often think, “I could do that. I can imagine myself killing someone like that.” And you *shouldn’t* be able to imagine doing these things yourself. But her books take you so far into that world, you can imagine crossing whatever moral lines you might have.

These days, Highsmith is probably best known as the writer of THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY which was made in to a film with Matt Damon. That’s the first in a series about Tom Ripley, badguy, and by now most have been made into films. What’s ironic is that the best Ripley film is Wim Wenders’ excellent Hitchcock homage AMERICAN FRIEND... with probably the worst Ripley, Dennis Hopper. Just completely miscast. The best Ripley is John Malkovich - he was born to play the role - in the bland remake of FRIEND called RIPLEY’S GAME (title of the novel). I still haven’t seen Barry Pepper’s version in RIPLEY UNDER GROUND, the last of the original trilogy to be filmed.

STRANGERS was the first Highsmith novel to be filmed, and now they are talking about remaking it... a better idea would be to make THE BLUNDERER (filmed in France ages ago), a similar story about two men and two murders. But I don’t think anyone in Hollywood actually knows how to read, so we’ll just be getting remakes of the movies.

Oh, and add in that hardboiled novelist Raymond Chandler took first crack at the script, and the “perfect storm” is complete. Chandler and Hammett and Carroll John Daly were the founders of the Hardboiled genre, and when I was in high school I read everything of theirs I could get my hands on. Chandler wrote the novels THE BIG SLEEP and MURDER, MY SWEET are based on, and the books are sarcastic and brutal and show a corrupt Los Angeles where the people in the mansions are often more dangerous than the thugs on the streets. Though Chandler’s name is on a couple of great films, he wasn’t very successful as a screenwriter. He didn’t get along with anyone, and had a drinking problem. On STRANGERS he was replaced by Czenzi Ormonde, one of Ben Hecht’s assistants.



Nutshell: Tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger) meets spoiled heir Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) on a train, where Bruno tells him his plan for a perfect murder - in order to have a perfect alibi and not leave behind any personal evidence, two people with someone to kill *swap murders* - they each do the other’s killing. Though Guy has a crazy estranged wife knocked up by some other guy (she’s not sure who) he would like removed from is life, he laughs it off as a joke. But after his estranged wife (Laura Elliot) is strangled to death, Bruno shows up at his doorstep and demands that Guy kill his stern millionaire father who wants Bruno to, you know, get a job. When Guy refuses, Bruno threatens to plant evidence at Guy’s wife’s murder scene that points directly to Guy. Will Guy kill Bruno’s father... or be arrested and probably convicted for murdering his slutty wife?




All of this is complicated because Guy is leaving tennis for... politics! He is working for Senator Morton (Leo G. Carroll) and dating the Senator’s hot daughter Ann (Ruth Roman) and adored by the Senator’s teenaged daughter Barbara (Patricia Hitchcock, director’s daughter). Guy thought his estranged wife was a problem while she was alive... wait until he’s accused of her murder!

Experiment This is one dark story, and the story experiment is the transference of guilt between Guy and Bruno (from the novel). The story frequently cross-cuts between both characters for suspense as well - and does it in interesting ways.

The film experiment is in sound design. There are several points in the film where a *sound* becomes the flashback. Instead of a visual flashback, we get the sound of a train or a calliope at the amusement park to remind us of a past event.

Also the use of visual symbols, from hands that are used to strangle to glasses that both Guy’s murdered wife and Guy’s girlfriend’s sister wears. If you just watch for the use of hands in the film, you’ll see they pop up again and again - aside from strangling, characters get manicures, they look at their hands, there are big close ups of *hands* doing things throughout the film. Things like this can be in a screenplay, but may be too subtle for most readers to notice. That’s no reason not to put them in, but don’t be surprised when 99% of the folks who read your script never notice.

Hitch Appearance: Carrying a massive string base trying to board a train.



Great Scenes: STRANGERS ON A TRAIN has a couple of iconic Hitchcock scenes that get swiped for other movies and homages. But even the lesser known scenes are packed with tension and suspense and just plain creepiness. This is a film that gets under your skin, because as Bruno says in a scene. Haven’t we all fantasized about killing someone? And haven’t you ever struck up a conversation with a stranger who becomes ever more stranger the more you talk to them?

The movie opens with two sets of train tracks joining into one... and two pair of legs (with very different taste in shoes that give us a clue to character) are on a similar collision course. One going right, one going left... both entering a train... then the shoes takes seats and bump into each other as both sets of legs cross at the same time. That’s the first time we tilt up to see Guy and Bruno’s faces... and Bruno insinuates himself into Guy’s train trip and his life... and comes up with his murder swap idea. Guy laughs it off and gets off the train, leaving his monogrammed cigarette lighter behind.



Listening Booth: Guy was taking the train to his home town to try and negociate a divorce with his estranged wife so that he can marry the Senator’s daughter. His slutty wife Miriam works in a music store with several glass-walled sound proof listening booths, and one of those booths is where they have their little conversation. It is a great location, because if we look at the booth from the outside we get picture without sound. That allows for some interesting choices for the way the scene is presented.

We begin inside the booth as Miriam refuses to grant Guy a divorce. He tries to hang on to his temper by asking her why she wants to remain married to him when she is carrying another man’s baby. Woah! This is a 1951 movie, can they talk about stuff like that? Even in a soundproof booth? What’s more, it’s later implied that she ha no idea who that other man is. She’s “playing the field” and dating a whole bunch of other men. We always think of movies from sixty years ago as being G rated, and some were... but not Hitchcock’s films. Sex was part of all of his films, and here we have a married man who is probably sleeping another woman while his wife is sleeping with just about everybody. And she thinks remaining married to Guy while his political star rises will put her in a much better position when she eventually does grant him a divorce. And what is he going to say? His wife got knocked up by some other guy? He *can’t* divorce her without looking like he’s running out on his pregnant wife.

When Guy loses his temper, we go outside the booth and see the scene from the music store manager’s point of view. Guy seems to suddenly explode with violence and attack his wife in a rage. The manager has to go pull him off of her. The great thing about this scene is that the manager has no idea what Miriam has said, no idea she’s blackmailing Guy and maybe even destroying his political career. He only sees Guy go crazy and attack his wife. If the audience is a little ahead of the curve and guesses that Bruno may act on his crazy scheme and murder Miriam, this scene ratchets up the tension. Now there are witnesses that have seen Guy attack his wife. All of these things will make Guy look guilty and probably get him arrested, tried, convicted and executed for murder.



Tunnel Of Love: The next time we see Miriam, Bruno is following her. She gets on a bus with not one, but two, hunky younger guys... and Bruno hops on the same bus. Miriam and the boy toys get off the bus at an amusement park... as does Bruno. When Miriam notices Bruno following her, he smiles...and so does she. What is clearly a killer stalking his victim becomes twice as creepy because she flirts with him. When they come to one of those carnival games where your strength is gauged by how hard you can pound a sledge hammer like mallet to ring a bell, the two boy toys just aren’t strong enough to ring the bell. Miriam looks around for the man following her... doesn’t see him, and is *disappointed*. Then spots Bruno grabbing the mallet. They smile at each other, then he easily rings the bell. She licks her lips. Most disturbing.

When Miriam and the boy toys get on a little boat that goes through the tunnel of love before berthing on an island in the middle of the amusement park, Bruno hops in the next boat. In the Tunnel Of Love - darkness and shadows. Echoes of laughter. Suspense builds. The killer and victim in the same dark place. Once the tension builds to the breaking point - what is happening in the darkness? - Miriam screams! We see the shadows of one figure grabbing another on the wall of the Tunnel Of Love - Bruno killing Miriam? No - one of her boy toys copping a feel.




The two boats are beached on the little island - filled with couples making out. Miriam runs through the moonlit trees, her boy toys chasing behind. She’s teasing them. She runs into someone in the darkness - Bruno. He flicks a cigarette lighter - Guy’s monogrammed lighter - to illuminate her face. When she sees it’s that older man who was following her through the amusement park, she smiles... and then Bruno strangles her. Miriam’s glasses fall to the ground - and in a great shot, we see the strangulation reflected in the lenses. She falls to the ground, dead. Bruno starts to leave, realizes he’s dropped Guy’s lighter, goes back for it. Picks up Miriam’s glasses while he’s at it. Then, we hear the boy toys scream when they find Miriam dead. More screams and panic as Bruno calmly pilots his little boat back to the amusement park. While everyone else at the amusement park is looking out at the island, Bruno is calmly walking in the opposite direction. The contrast is creepy.

Your Turn: When Guy returns home, Bruno is waiting in the shadows behind a wrought iron gate across the street, “I did it.” Guy joins him in the shadows, each on opposite sides of the gate - opposite sides of the bars. Bruno tells Guy that he killed Miriam, and now it’s Guy’s turn. Guy doesn’t believe him, so Bruno shows him the glasses. Guy thinks Bruno is crazy, threatens to call the police... But Bruno says he can’t go to the police. “Why would I kill your wife?”




And here we get the Transference of Guilt - Bruno’s guilt rubs off on Guy. Guy wished his wife were dead, and he gets his wish. Even though Bruno was the actual killer, that guilt is transferred to Guy. Not only will everyone else believe that Guy is somehow responsible for his wife’s murder, *Guy* will begin to believe he is responsible for his wife’s murder. And the more he tries to escape the guilt, the deeper he will sink. Evidence will begin to mount, and Guy will have to struggle to prove his innocence. Big problem - he *feels* guilty, and it’s much more difficult for an innocent man to prove what he *didn’t* do. Add to that - innocent men are often bad liars, and this is a situation where Guy *must* lie again and again to people who know him well enough that they can tell that he is lying.

While Guy is realizing that he can not go to te police without looking like an accomplice or worse, a police car pulls up in front of his apartment - police there to tell him that is wife is dead. Guy doesn’t want to be seen, and hides deeper in the shadows with Bruno, moving behind the wrought iron gate. Now both men are on the same side of the gate - the shadowed side. And the iron bars cast shadows over Guy’s face - like jail cell bars. This is a great bit, because the sides of the wrought iron gate give us a way to show the transference of guilt - a way to show that Guy is no longer in the light... and is now in the darkness. A cool device like the gate allows something internal to become external - we can see Guy’s guilt, and see the prison bars across his face.

When the police car leaves, Guy comes out from the darkness and tells Bruno he will *not* kill his father... and to leave him alone.

Bruno - Everywhere! Bruno does not leave him alone, the two are now connected by this murder. Everywhere Guy goes, Bruno is there - watching him.

Guy’s alibi for the time of his wife’s murder is a drunken Professor who was in the club car of the train with him. Note: trains again. The police find the Professor, who was on that train... but has no memory of Guy or anything else from that night. Not much of an alibi. And it would have been possible for Guy to murder his wife and then hop the train at a later station - still seeing the drunken Professor in the club car. The police label Guy as prime suspect and give him 24 hour police surveillance.




Guy befriends one of the detectives following him (they’re both going the same place, so why not split a cab?) but everywhere Guy goes... there is Bruno. Will the Detective notice Bruno and ask who that guy is? Since Bruno is the real killer, and killed Miriam *for* Guy, that last thing he wants is the police finding out about Bruno. The great thing about these scenes is that Bruno as been given a distinctive look, so we can have Guy and the Detective driving past the Lincoln Monument with Bruno standing at the top of the steps... and we *know* that’s Bruno’s silhouette. Paranoia builds... where will Bruno pop up next time? He seems to be everywhere!

Guy and Ann (the Senator’s hot daughter) are having a conversation in some public building when Bruno steps out of the shadows and beckons him over. Guy excuses himself and has a whispered conversation with Bruno about killing his father... not too loud - doesn’t want Ann to overhear. But Ann doesn’t need to hear the words - she can see the two men whispering together. I have no idea how popular Patricia Highsmith’s novels are in the Gay Community, but her stories often have a Gay undercurrent to them. Tom Ripley is obviously bisexual, and in STRANGERS we have two men who share a secret... and it’s almost a metaphor for a Gay affair that a straight man is trying to cover up. While Ann is watching them whisper to each other, you can’t help but feel you are watching a woman discovering that the man she loves... loves another man. After the whispered conversation, when Ann asks what that was all about, Guy lies that it was just a tennis fan... and she knows it’s a lie... and he worries that she knows it’s a lie.

A great example of contrast is a practice match Guy plays as a warm up to a big tennis tournament he’ll be playing in later in the film. This scene not only has Guy trying to act normal while Bruno puts the screws into him to kill his father and the Detective watching him is right over there... Bruno is in the stands! The stands are filled with people watching the match, all of them following the ball back and forth across te court. Except Bruno. As every head turns to follow the ball, Bruno remains focused on Guy. Bruno’s focus is so different than everyone else’s that you wonder if the Detective will notice.

He Was Strangling *Me* After the match, Bruno is chatting with Ann and some friends at the country club. Guy has no choice but to join the table... and be seen with the man he’s trying to avoid. Ann’s little sister, Barbara, asks Guy who the attractive man is... and he has to find some way to warn her away from Bruno without explaining how he knows about him. But when Bruno sees Barbara - and her glasses- the calliope music from the amusement park plays in his mind (and on the soundtrack), and he stares at her. Creepy.

Later, the Senator has a party... and there’s Bruno! Guy tries to avoid him... and Ann watches how both men behave when they are in the same room together. Bruno is the life of the party, chatting with a couple of society matrons about the perfect murder. They laugh at the conversation - he’s joking around. Who would they want to kill if they could? How would they do it and get away with it? The whole conversation is something we’ve probably joked about or thought about - which draws *us* into the guilt. And it’s the same thing as the film’s concept - isn’t there someone we wish were dead? Wouldn’t it be great if we could find some way to kill them and get away with it?




Bruno explains that the very best weapon is one that is easy to conceal and difficult to trace - your bare hands. He puts his hands on one of the matron’s necks to demonstrate... then sees Barbara watching him, and that calliope music plays in his mind again (and on the soundtrack so that we can hear it) and his hands tighten on the matron’s neck. Tighter. Tighter. Tighter! The other matron screams, and they pry Bruno off... and this is Guy’s worst nightmare. The man who murdered his wife, the man he wants to have nothing to do with, has just become the focus of attention. Guy has to find a way to get Bruno out of there before people start asking questions... and he knows that’s not going to happen. The can of worms has been opened. The big deep dark secret about his relationship with Bruno is about to be made public.

Afterwards, Barbara tells Guy that the entire time Bruno was strangling the matron, he was staring right at her. “His hands were on her neck, but he was strangling *me*!”

How Did You Get Him To Kill Her? The secret is out. Ann corners Guy and asks him, “How did you get him to kill her?” Guy can’t lie, can’t hide the truth... must confess everything to the woman he loves. What I think is interesting is that there is a similar scene in REAR WINDOW where Grace Kelly finally comes over to Jimmy Stewart’s side after spending much of the film disbelieving him. The male lead and female lead reach a point where they team up - and together they try to resolve the problem. Guy confesses everything, and even though Ann isn’t completely on his side, she’s getting there. Eventually she and Barbara will help him deal with Bruno.

Killing Bruno’s Father: But before things can get better they must become much much worse. Guy realizes there is no way out of this mess without dragging down the Senator and the woman he loves. Bruno has his lighter and Miriam’s glasses and will plant them as evidence that *Guy* killed her... unless Guy upholds his half of the deal and murders Bruno’s father. Bruno has given him a gun and a map of the house and a key to the front door. Guy makes the toughest decision anyone can make... and calls Bruno to tell him to make sure he has an alibi for tonight.

This scene combines dread and suspense... you don’t want Guy to do it. You also don’t want him to be caught doing it. There is no good way for this scene to end. Something should stop Guy from doing it... but that would mean Guy gets caught. It’s a great dilemma - and it draws the audience right into the scene. Guy crosses a huge lawn to get to the front door - will he be seen? Will he turn around and go back? By stretching it out, it becomes agony for the audience. We are on the scene-rack, and stretching the scene makes it more painful. Guy uses the key the door, and is now in Bruno’s house. At this point, he’s broken the law and is in big trouble no matter what happens. He has the gun in his pocket. He opens the map and finds the stairway leading up to Bruno’s father’s bedroom....



And on the steps is a guard dog.

Growling at him.

He must get past the dog.

Step by step as he climbs the stairs he gets closer to the growling dog.

When he reaches the dog, he holds his hand down for the dog to sniff... or maybe bite off. The dog sniffs him, licks his hand, allows him to continue up the stairs.

And this is more great dilemma stuff, because we *don’t want him* to continue up the stairs. If the dog had attacked him, he wouldn’t be able to kill Bruno’s father. But, now he can... and we don’t want that!

Guy follows the map to Bruno’s father’s room. Pulls the gun from his pocket. Approaches the bed where someone is sleeping. Suspense and tension and dread reaching a boiling point. You don’t want to see what’s going to happen next. And....

Guy whispers - more secrets - to Bruno’s father that Bruno has sent him up here to kill him, and Bruno is a very disturbed person, and needs to be locked away somewhere, and...




The light clicks on and the sleeping man swings out of bed - it’s Bruno. Nothing at all Gay about Bruno in bed having a whispered conversation with Guy at the foot of the bed. Bruno whispers that his father wasn’t home tonight - he tried to tell Guy this when he called. Bruno is not happy with the double cross - and not happy with Guy. He grabs the gun. Guy tries one last time to reason with Bruno, but that is impossible. Guy walks out of the room, down the hall, down the stairs... with Bruno aiming the gun at him the entire time. Will Bruno fire? The closer Guy gets to the front door, the more tension builds.. You *know* Bruno is going to fire. But that would wake mother...

Tennis Match/Lost Lighter: Now we have a great piece of cross-cutting suspense. Bruno is going to plant the monogrammed cigarette lighter at the murder scene the next night... and Guy needs to stop him. Only one problem: that’s the day of the big tennis tournament. So, if Guy can win his match early, he can hop a train and stop Bruno from planting the evidence. Ann and Barbara will help him evade the detectives watching him... which is good, because the police have decided to arrest him after the tennis match. Though all of their evidence is circumstantial, there are no other suspects, and Guy has been acting really guilty.



Guy playing the tennis match is cross-cut with Bruno going out to the amusement park to plant the lighter at the crime scene... But things go wrong on both ends. Guy plays like a lunatic, trying to win the game... but his opponent is much better than he thought and the match ends up tied and is not an easy win. Bruno accidentally drops the cigarette lighter down a drainage grate at the amusement park and has to retrieve it. We cross cut between both actions - will Guy win his match in time to stop Bruno? Will Bruno retrieve the lighter before Guy can win his match? Each action is drawn out to build suspense... and eventually Guy wins his match and Bruno recovers the lighter. Now, can Guy stop Bruno before he plants the lighter on the island?





Carousel Gone Wild: Guy gets to the amusement park *seconds* before Bruno gets on a boat to the island... but the police are in hot pursuit - following Guy. We get a chase and fight that ends up on that carrousel with the calliope music, which goes out of control when the police chasing guy accidentally shoot the operator - who falls onto the controls. As the carrousel starts moving at warp drive - throwing people off - it’s as if both Guy and Bruno are on the same bit of insanity. The carrousel becomes a metaphor for Bruno’s psychosis - and Guy is trapped in it. The two men battle it out on the carrousel as the police watch. The police have found the Tunnel Of Love boat rental dude - and eyewitness who has seen the killer - and ask him if the guy on the carrousel is the same guy. He says “yes”. Now the police are sure that *Guy* is the murderer. A fellow is dispatched to climb under the out-of-control carrousel and switch it off... so that they can capture Guy. Guy continues to battle Bruno... wooden horse hooves almost smashing Guy’s face at one point! The carrousel reaches the breaking point and “crashes” (pieces go flying) (closest thing to an explosion you can get with a carrousel). Bruno is crushed under the carrousel... dying. The police arrest Guy. Not the ending you expected, huh?



The Tunnel Of Love dude says, “No, that’s not him. The other fella.” Guy tells the police that Bruno killed his wife and came here to plant his lighter. They go up to the dying Bruno and try to get him to confess... but he pins it all on Guy! He says Guy asked him to go out to the island to retrieve Guy’s monogrammed lighter, that Guy left behind when he killed Miriam! Then, Bruno dies.

Did Bruno have time to plant the lighter on the island after-all? Is Guy going to be executed for *wishing* his slutty wife were dead?

Not the end you expected, huh?

Then, as Bruno dies, his hand opens... and there’s the lighter. The police let Guy go - he’s innocent. The end.

Sound Track: Another great Dimitri Tiomkin score. Dark, lush, and with that haunting Tiomkin rhythm. Though I prefer the Herrmann scores for Hitchcock, Tiomkin’s partnership with the director produced some great work... as did Rozsa’s (which we’ll come to in a couple of weeks).

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN is one of my favorite Hitchcock films, and it really holds up. The transference of guilt is great in this film, and while watching it *I* always feel guilty. If you have ever fantasized about killing someone, or wished your enemy was dead... this movie will probably haunt you long after you’ve seen it.

- Bill

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