Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thriller Thursday: The Twisted Image

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


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

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

Buy The DVD!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Wednesday, March 21, 2018

DVD Extras & Fletch

From way back in 2007...

I love movies, have seen a pile of them, and often read up on my favorite films to learn some of the cool stuff about how they were made.

Recently they released a new set of Film Noir flicks, including THE BIG STEAL, and the LA Times did a blurb about the set... but they neglected to mention what I thought was the most fascinating bit of background on that film. The reason why that film was made was to spring Robert Mitchum from jail. Mitchum had been busted for smoking pot (something he did regularly) and was serving time in county lock up... not in the Paris Hilton section, he was in general pop. There were photos of him behind bars, both in his cell and on a work detail. So the studio came up with this scheme to get his sentence reduced - they created a film starring Mitchum and put it into production. After shooting a chunk of the film without Mitchum, they went to a judge and claimed the film would crash and burn, costing the studio a bunch of money, unless Mitchum was available to work. Hey, Los Angeles is an industry town, and by this point they had shot everything they could without the star... so the decision was made to cut Mitchum’s sentence so they could finish the film. And if you watch the film closely, you can see how Mitchum’s footage was often shot during a different season than the other stuff - winter in some shots and spring in others.

Anyway, because I love stuff like this, one of the things I enjoy about DVDs are the extras. On VHS you just got the movie, on DVD you get all kinds of fun stuff. There’s a great extra on ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST that goes to all of the film’s locations *today* and shows you what they look like. There is also a huge doc on the composer, Ennio Morricone (the reasoon why we have Morricone as a film composer is because he and Leone were childhood friends, and Leone asked his friend to write music for his movies)... plus the usual behind the scenes and interviews and tons of bonus material. I love to watch deleted footage - though usually you can see why those scenes were cut. I love all of this stuff.


So, on my recent DVD binge, I bought a bunch of stuff including a new special edition of FLETCH that promised all kinds of fresh bonus materials.

Okay, some background...

I love mystery and crime fiction. Back in the 70s, I was looking at the new crime fiction on the shelves of some bookstore (probably B Daltons) and stumbled on this new book called FLETCH by Greg MacDonald with a blurb from James M. Cain - one of my favorite writers. Cain said this was a great book... and that was enough for me to pick it up and read the first page. Wow!

So I waited until it hit paperback and bought it (I still have that copy). Clever, funny, lots of plot twists, great lead character who was obviously inspired by Woodward & Bernstein. And when the next Fletch book came out, I bought it. And the third Fletch book. And the spinoff books about Flynn. And every Fletch book that Greg McDonald wrote. Oh, and his non-series books, too. This guy was an amazing writer - he could fool *me* with his clever plot twists. The books won all sorts of awards, too.

So, when they announced they were making a movie, I was excited.

When they cast Chevy Chase, I was heartbroken.

Fletch is *clever* and *intelligent*... Chevy Chase does prat falls.

But two things looked promising: the script was being written by Andrew Bergman, a mystery writer himself (The Big Kiss Off, Hollywood & Levine) who knew how the genre worked... and also how to write movies - he was co-writer on BLAZING SADDLES. The film was going to be directed by Michael Ritchie, a very clever satirist who made one of the greatest films of the 70s - SMILE. Ritchie made sophisticated comedies, not prat-fall films. He also made political and social films like DOWNHILL RACER and THE CANDIDATE. Also, I had actually met him - he lived in Berkeley, California and often premiered his films at Bay Area film festivals. I was a kid then, and would often sneak past security to meet the film makers. We’d had a couple of conversations. If there was anyone who could turn this great book into a movie it was Ritchie.

So, the film comes out and it’s good news / bad news.

The bad news is that Chevy Chase has a fantasy sequence and wears goofy disguises and falls down a few times.

The good news is that they took care to keep the mystery plot and keep each and every clue so that you could play along. (The way mysteries work - they are interactive - the audience has all of the clues to solve the mystery and is racing the detective character to solve it. Bad mystery films don’t “play fair” and leave out the clues.) The book had 2 different mysteries, the movie combined them... but actually added the clues to set that up. It’s a really well crafted mystery. And Chevy Chase tones it down - because the story is serious, he has to be serious much of the time.

The film is probably Chevy Chase's best work... and one of the few good mystery films to come out of Hollywood since CHINATOWN.

There are Fletch lovers who hate the movie because of Chase - and I can understand that. But Hollywood is going to cast a star in the lead role, and who else was there?

They’re looking at doing a new Fletch movie with a new star... and I have no idea who could play him. (Who do you think should play Fletch now?) Can we clone Cary Grant or William Powell?


Which brings us back to the extras on the new FLETCH DVD...

The exec at Universal who approved of the extras on this DVD needs to be fired... or better yet, escorted to the Hollywood border and banished for life. I have never seen worse extras on a DVD - these extras are so bad, I would rather have a version of the DVD without them.

The extras completely disrespect this film.

I want my money back.

So what do we get for extras? A completely self-indulgent film starring the *producer of the extras* who thinks that he is funny - but he is not. He does a pile of lame gags that are not funny, and interviews some cast and crew members - which would be okay, except at least half of the interviews are about *him* - the producer of the extras! He's some guy in his late 20s who obviously thinks the world revolves around him. After a few minutes, you're tired of the guy - his ego is *massive* and his talent is minuscule.

No Chevy Chase interview - which is weird because Chase has done all kinds of low budget films lately - many haven't even been released (BAD MEAT).

Also - nothing about the Fletch novels by Greg McDonald - the *source* of the character and story. The novels were so popular that they bought the rights to use the novel's logo for the movie. But from these extras you would never even know there was a book - let alone and entire series. And you's never know these books are big award winners, and bestsellers. They just ignore the books completely.

Which is too bad, because you could make an amazing little doc about the books. You see, McDonald wrote them out of order. Things mentioned in passing in the first book end up being the central plot in later books... which take place before the first book. It’s kind of like MEMENTO - except it doesn’t work backwards, it’s scattershot. You read FLETCH AND THE WIDOW BRADLEY and he’s newly divorced from his first wife... when he was divorced from his second wife in FLETCH. Oh, this is a prequel! And at the end of the series McDonald wrote FLETCH WON and FLETCH TOO - which start the series chronologically. Anyway, an extra sorting out this jigsaw would have been a great addition... but the extras don’t even mention the books.

Instead of any behind the scenes, instead of anything about the books, instead of anything about the director (who made some great stuff - and made Robert Redford into a big star), instead of anything that focuses on the very clever plotting of the story (from the book), we get a short about the extras producer and a bunch of random clips from the film.

Someone at Universal should lose their job over this.

All they had to do was call me, and I could have filled them in.

How does one get a job producing the extras for a DVD? What are the qualifications? What are the *responsibilities*? Do they realize how important this stuff is to the folks who buy DVDs? And - the most frightening question - do these guys think these cruddy DVD extras will lead them to a feature directing gig?

What are your favorite DVD extras... and your least favorites?

- Bill

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: The Great Santini


Director: Lewis John Carlino.
Writers: Lewis John Carlino based on the novel by Pat Conroy
Starring: Robert Duvall, Michael O'Keefe, Blythe Danner, Stan Shaw.

I was joking around about Father’s Day movies on twitter and suggested this film... then realized that this may be one of those films which has fallen through the cracks and many people have no idea it exists (and didn’t get the joke). This is arguably Robert Duvall’s finest performance (he was nominated for an Oscar); and that says something, doesn’t it? It’s a drama, a coming of age movie... except you are never quite sure if it is that son or the father who is coming of age. Probably both. The reason why I first saw this movie was because it was written and directed by Lewis John Carlino, the screenwriter who adapted SECONDS (one of my favorite movies.) For a while there I saw everything Carlino did, which included some great work like RESURRECTION (1980) and THE SAILOR WHO FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE SEA and he wrote the original THE MECHANIC. I liked this movie so much that I tracked down the novel by some guy named Pat Conroy and began reading his stuff. That guy can write!

The story takes place in 1962. Duvall plays Bull Meechum (nicknamed The Great Santini) , a hard ass Marine fighter pilot who is a bit of a contradiction: he wants those in his command to be disciplined, tough as nails, unemotional, and fearless... but he’s a man child who is constantly pulling practical jokes on his superiors and is secretly afraid that he is losing his edge due to age. He is a warrior without a war... and ends up fighting those around him. *He* is a discipline problem, so he gets shipped from his base in Spain back to a training base in the South Carlolina in the USA... and his family. And begins to fight them.

His wife is played by Blythe Danner (who you know as Gwenyth Paltrow’s mom, but she was a stage and TV star at the time), a religious woman who has learned to put up with Bull’s verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse. Oldest son Ben, who is our protagonist, played by Michael O’Keefe whose next role would be the lead in CADDYSHACK the following year. And three other children, including teen daughter Mary Anne played by Lisa Jane Persky and a preteen boy and girl. The whole family is packed up pre dawn to drive to the new military base somewhere in the South. Bull does not stop if you have to go to the bathroom or are hungry or thirsty. You need to be *disciplined*. And if the family wants to sing some song he doesn’t like, he sings over them as loudly as possible... he is in command!

Rounding out the cast is the great Stan Shaw, and this may have been the first film I noticed him in. He plays Toomer, a stuttering Black man who sells honey and flowers and becomes Ben's best friend in their new town. But this is the deep South in the 60s and whites and blacks don’t hang out together... and the antagonist in this subplot is Red played by David Keith (who should not be confused with Keith David). This also may have been the first time I ever saw Keith in a role, and he would go on to become a star and play the lead in LORDS OF DISCIPLINE (also based on a Conroy novel) as well as a bunch of other movies... before falling into B movies. When Jim and I were doing our Russian film, he was one of the guys we looked at to be the lead. He played *Elvis* in a Chris Colombus film, then ended up in B movies. No idea why. There are only so many leading men slots and maybe someone else came along and knocked him out of his position. Anyway, he gives a great performance as a complete racist dick in this film.

Here’s Bull pulling a practical joke when a superior officer wants him and his men to quiet down because they are disturbing the officer’s dinner...

Eldest son Ben is a senior in High School, about to turn 18, and has just made the Varsity basketball team in his new school. All he wants is the love and respect of his father... who is genetically incapable of giving him those things. You know all of those bastard Marine Basic Training Drill Instructors in movies? Now imagine that’s your dad. He shows you his love by belittling you and maybe even hitting you (to toughen you up). Ben’s problem to some extent is that he is his father’s son, and is competitive and strives to be the best (looking for his father’s respect). Well, that brings the two of them into conflict again and again, as Bull wants Ben to follow orders like a good Marine and Ben is struggling to become an adult. Early in the film, Bull tells Ben *exactly* what his adult life will be. He will go to college. He will join the Marines. He will meet a woman and start a family. He will do at least two tours of the Marines, after that he will stay because it is his destiny... or he will disappoint his father and do something else. Ben feels trapped in all of this.

One of the ways this conflict is demonstrated on screen is a father and son game of basketball. Hey, a place for Ben and his father to have a good time together. Only Bull does not lose at anything, ever. So when his son beats him, he does not take it well...

Ben continues to battle his father throughout the movie. No matter what he does, he can not live up to his father’s impossible expectations. There is a scene at the big basketball game where Ben is playing an amazing game, and a member of the other team intentionally fouls him, knocking him to the floor. Bull tears out of the stands and orders his son to knock that player down. Screaming at his injured son! Ben fights back by purposely missing both free throws. Which *infuriates* Bull, who paces the sidelines as if he’s the coach. When the opposing player gets the ball, Bull ORDERS Ben to take him to the floor. Again and again, until Ben finally knocks the player down... and breaks the player’s arm in the process. Ben is ejected from the game...

And gets chewed out by his coach for not being able to stand up to his father. Yeah, coach, you try it.

There’s a major subplot where Ben becomes involved in the fight between Toomer and racist Red. Bull orders him to stay out of it, but Toomer is his best friend and Bull has to do something. This subplot thread comes to a head when Red and his racist pals all grab guns and go to Toomer’s shack to show him who is boss... and Ben races across town to help his friend. Defying Bull’s orders. Bull decides it’s best to punish his son for doing the right thing.

When Ben turns 18, Bull takes him to the Officer’s Club on base... and we end up with a macho drinking battle between the two...

THE GREAT SANTINI is filled with great performances and manages to be funny and heart warming and heart breaking all at the same time. All of the characters are clearly drawn (Mary Anne uses sarcasm to deal with her problems fitting in to a new school every time Bull gets transferred, and will Bull himself), and you get a glimpse of the pre Civil Rights South where segregation was the law of the land and white people didn’t befriend black people without paying the consequences. The movie was made with the cooperation of the Marine Corps, and there are plenty of air combat drills in the film. I neglected to mention all of the airplane stuff because for me the movie is about the two Meechum men battling it out. Another one of those films I fear is forgotten...


Friday, March 16, 2018

Fridays With Hitchcock: HITCH 20: One More Mile To Go (s2e2)


This is a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I have been a "guest expert" on (season 1). The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock and here is the first episode of the second season, which looks at the importance of specifics on screen (and on the page, or it never gets to the screen). This new season is without me. I was juggling too many things and thought I'd squeeze it in, but just didn't have the time. But I'm still be featuring it here, because it's a great show.

This is one of the episodes I wanted to cover, because I have some interesting connections to it... and not just that David Wayne played Ellery Queen’s dad on the TV show that I loved as a kid.

First: I seemed to have accidentally homaged this episode with my DANGEROUS CURVES screenplay. When I was a kid, all of these shows were rerunning on other TV stations and I would watch them after school. THRILLER and HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and TWILIGHT ZONE and a bunch of others. They were great! Well, somewhere in my 20s I began writing DANGEROUS CURVES as a novel, and the scene that made my girlfriend at the time wonder if maybe she should break up with me was where the husband confronts his cheating wife while tending the fireplace and that barbed fireplace poker ends up going right through her... and it’s not easy to get out! In the screenplay version, she hits her head on the edge of the fireplace (the poker thing was way too graphic, and what could be alluded to in prose would be seen on film).

And after that? He wraps his dead wife in a blanket and puts her in the passenger seat of *her* car and drives here across town to where he lover waits for her. Um, “homaged” from the THRILLER episode LATE DATE which was based on a Woolrich story called “Boy With Body”. It’s like all of these TV shows I saw as a kid went into my head, percolated, and then came out in this novel/screenplay.

Well, in my novel/screenplay the husband gets pulled over by a friendly cop for having a broken tail light (just like in this episode), but instead of the body in the trunk... it’s right there next to him in the passenger seat! He tells the cop that his wife is asleep... and the cop says his girlfriend snores like a chainsaw, unlike the quiet sleeping wife. I had a lot of fun with that friendly cop, building suspense because he’s talkative and nice and not seeming to be a threat at all... except the husband is sweating bullets because his wife is *dead*! After the cop gives him the ticket and tells him to make sure he gets the tail light fixed first thing in the morning, the husband drives away... and I stop “homaging” this episode and start to do something original...

Because the dead wife wakes up (she wasn’t quite dead) and this startles the husband so much he drives off a cliff and wakes up in the hospital where the doctor says: “I have good news and bad news. Good news - you came out of the accident with only bruises and scrapes. Bad news - your wife died in the accident.” So our husband has kind of gotten away with murder... end Act One. Then things go really really wrong. So, um, I subconsciously swiped some stuff from this episode, plus...

Second: The guy who plays the friendly Highway Patrol officer in this episode, Steve Brody? Well, he’s Robert Mitchum’s double crossing partner in one of my favorite movies OUT OF THE PAST... and he was the father of the director of my first “Hollywood movie” TREACHEROUS. How Hollywood works: if your dad was a famous character actor, they let you direct some movies... until you have so many flops that they don’t let you direct any more. But it was cool when the director told me his dad was Steve Brody, because I knew exactly who that was because he was in one of my favorite films. I had no memory of him in this episode, probably because he’d gained some weight between OUT OF THE PAST and this. But a weird connection to a HITCHCOCK episode... I’ve worked with the actor who played the antagonist’s son!


One amazing thing about this episode is that the first 10 minutes of the 25 minute episode are completely dialogue free! It’s all visual storytelling. We begin *outside* the window of the house, spying on the couple who lives inside. We can discuss rear window ethics later, but the whole idea of the audience as voyeur which Hitchcock explored in many films is explored here as well. We watch the wife confront her husband (who is trying to read the newspaper) and see the argument escalate and the husband pick up the fireplace poker... but we can’t hear what they are saying. We are outside the house looking through the window. We don’t go inside until *after* the husband has struck his wife repeatedly with that firepoker. Once inside the house, and inside the *character* of the husband (we are seeing the story from his point of view, now) (not physically his point of view, but he is the character we identify with), the story remains without dialogue (well, who is there to talk to?) as the husband wraps up the dead wife and puts her and some chains and weights in the trunk of his car, then drives off to the boondocks to dump her in a lake... and our first piece of dialogue is when the friendly Highway Patrolman pulls him over for the faulty tail light.

The subject of that argument between the husband and wife is unimportant. The details might even be distracting, the story isn’t about if he left his dirty socks on the floor or flirted with a waitress or whatever... it’s about a dead body in the trunk of a car. The argument is like a MacGuffin, it causes the story but the specifics aren’t as important as people might think they are. Hey, husbands and wives argue. Why isn’t as important as what this leads to... that dead body in the trunk.

The friendly antagonist is also a great touch. Often writers think the antagonist has to be a bad guy, but an antagonist is just the person that comes between the protagonist and their goal... and our protagonist wants to find a place to bury the wife he just killed, so a cop is a logical antagonist. Doesn’t have to be an evil cop... in fact, the more helpful this cop is the better for the story. I have a script tip about nice antagonists like Cameron Diaz in MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING... she’s the nicest character in that movie! The great thing about this Highway Patrolman is that he’s nice and friendly and also an authority figure. So when he tells the husband that he needs to get that tail light fixed right away, to make sure he doesn’t get into an accident; the husband *must* do as the Patrolman says. The Highway Patrolman doesn’t want the husband to get into an accident, and those things can happen; he’s seen them first hand. The more the husband tries to avoid fixing the tail light, the more the Patrolman explains how dangerous it can be. The Patrolman and his tail light repair are right between our protagonist and his goal. He has to get the tail light fixed before he can bury his dead wife in the trunk.

Now we get some great nail biting suspense as the husband and Patrolman go to a nearby gas station, where the mechanic installs a brand new tail light bulb... which doesn’t light. Is it the bulb? The Patrolman looks at the bulb, looks good. So what could it be? Hey, probably a wire in the trunk... let’s pop it open and take a look!

And now it escalates. Whether it’s action of suspense, it’s important for it to escalate. After the husband hides his trunk key, the Patrolman says that’s okay... he can pop the trunk on these old cars by hand! When he fails at that, he asks the mechanic for a crow bar, because he can pop the trunk that way. When the husband says he doesn’t want his paint scratched, the Patrolman says he’ll be really careful. Thing just keep escalating! In the chapter in my HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR on ROPE I look at “poking the tiger”, reminding the audience about the suspense situation. In ROPE it’s a body in a shipping trunk, here’s it’s a body in a car trunk. But in both cases, people have to keep hanging around the trunk and trying to open it... and that’s what keeps the suspense going. And they have to keep poking around the situation itself, poking that tiger as well. The Patrolman asks why the back of the car is so heavy... what does he have in the trunk? “Tools.” What kind of tools? While the Patrolman is trying to get open the trunk (physically) he is also prying away verbally. This keeps that suspense escalating on two fronts!

Peaks And Valleys: nonstop action and nonstop suspense will result in diminishing returns... so your story needs peaks and valleys. Just when you think the Patrolman is going to pop that trunk open with the crowbar and discover the dead wife’s body... the husband realizes that the tail light has come one! All of this shaking of the car has “fixed” that wire problem, at least temporarily. The husband tells the Patrolman he’ll have it fixed first thing in the morning, is it okay if he drives home? The Patrolman says sure, and the husband hands the mechanic some money for the bulb, gets in the car, and gets the hell out of there. Away from the threat. Away from the conflict. We go from a peak to a valley, and the audience has a chance to catch their breath. We can relax... kind of. Just as the husband keeps looking in the rearview mirror for that Patrolman, so do we. There’s still a dead body in the trunk. There’s still a problem. The protagonist has not reached their goal, yet... one more mile to go.

Peak... just when we have relaxed, the Patrolman zooms up and pulls over the Husband. Poking the tiger again. The Patrolman says he zoomed off so fast, he forgot to get his change. Here you go! By being *helpful* the Patrolman is causing more problems than if he were a cliche antagonist. You can get mad at a cliche antagonist, you can lose your cool... but a nice guy? You have to remain completely calm and friendly, which isn’t easy when your wife is dead in the trunk of your car.

Valley... Husband takes the money and the Patrolman tells him to be careful.

Peak... That tail light goes out again, and the Patrolman pulls him over again...

Back and forth. By allowing the audience the relax, the next peak is that much more frightening.

Okay, those were my thoughts on the episode, now let me watch it and see what everyone else said...


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


Click here for more info!


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.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: The Grim Reaper

Best Of THRILLER Thursday: The Grim Reaper

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

Season: 1, Episode: 37.
Airdate: June 13, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty
Writer: Robert Block from a story by Harold Lawlor
Cast: William Shatner, Natalie Schafer, Elizabeth Allen, Scott Merrill, Henry Daniell, Paul Newlan.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: Bud Thackery
Producer: William Frye

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Yes, the painting did finish it’s morbid creator, but I can assure you that our story is not finished. Oh, no... it’s only just begun.”
(He swipes his hand over the scythe in the painting...)
“Blood! Think of that. This painting is over 100 years old, yet real blood still glistens on the scythe of the Grim Reaper, which by no mere coincidence is the title of our story tonight. How strange indeed that the immortality sought by a mad artist would assume the form of death. But even stranger are the fearful consequences of these others whenever the Grim Reaper’s scythe drips blood. Our principal players are: William Shatner, Natalie Schafer, Elizabeth Allen, Scott Merrill, Fifi D’Orsay, and Henry Daniell. You’ve seen the harbinger of evil, someone is in mortal danger as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. Ah, ah, ah! Stay where you are! I’ll join you as we wait... and watch.”

Synopsis: 1848.... Henry Daniell shows up in the middle of the night looking for an artist named Henri Rodin, the maid shows him upstairs. Rodin is crazy, evil, a drug addict, and has been painting his “masterpiece” behind locked doors. Daniell gets her to unlock the door... because he is Rodin’s father. They find him hanging from the rafters. His “masterpiece”? A painting of the Grim Reaper! Did he finish the painting, or did the painting finish him?

Present day: A mansion in the hills named Graves End. Paul Graves (Shatner!) drives up in a sports car, spots a hearse parked out front. His Aunt Beatrice Graves (Natalie Schafer, Mrs. Howell!) greets him with a hug and explains that she bought the hearse for publicity, and drives it around town. She’s a famous mystery writer and has decorated the mansion to look like something out of a Charles Adams cartoon. The public expects her to be a bit of a character and a kook. Aunt Beatrice uses her maiden name Graves as well, much easier than using any of the names of her extensive list of exhusbands... or the name of her new one!

Gerald Keller (Scott Merrill) is half Aunt Beatrice’s age, and very pretty. He shakes Paul’s hand. Gerald is a hunk actor rapidly approaching his pull date. Paul asks for his autograph for a friend’s ten year old daughter who has a crush on him. While Aunt B is giving him the house tour, she asks why he’s visiting... does he need money? Paul says no, he’s concerned about her. Before he can explain why, Aunt B’s attractive young secretary Dorothy Lindon (Elizabeth Allen) enters. “Dorothy does all of my typing and most of my spelling as well.” Seems the cook has quit because of that thing in the library...

In the library: The Grim Reaper painting.... that’s why Paul came. He read that she had bought it, and was concerned. Since it was painted in 1848 it has had 17 owners, and 15 of them have met with violent and mysterious deaths. The painting is cursed. Everyone who owns it... dies. Aunt B says that’s exactly why she bought it! Look at all of the publicity she has gotten from it already! She doesn’t believe in the curse: the people who owned it previously were military leaders and European nobility, the kind of people who sometimes die suddenly and mysteriously. Everybody dies. Paul argues that everyone who died was warned first... the scythe in the painting began to bleed! That’s the legend. Aunt B thinks it’s just superstitious nonsense...

That’s when Paul notices that the blade is bleeding now!

Later, Dorothy starts to make a phone call to Aunt B’s shrink when Gerald stops her. Gerald hits on her, tries to kiss her... not knowing that Aunt B is in the next room watching them. Dorothy races out the balcony... where she runs into Paul. Paul tries to convince Dorothy to help him destroy the painting before it destroys his Aunt.

Paul finds his Aunt B sitting in front of the painting, drinking... drunk. She thinks Gerald and Dorothy are having an affair and hope the painting’s curse is true so that she will die and they can be together. Or maybe ship her off to an alcohol rehab clinic so that they have time together. Paul says he doesn’t think Dorothy is plotting against her, but does think the bleeding painting is a warning. But everything Paul says is a cliche from a murder mystery or horror tale, Aunt B calls him on each line! She says that Death is her business partner... she’s a mystery writer. She tells Paul to leave her alone and drinks a toast to the Grim Reaper...

In the middle of the night, a noise. Paul, Dorothy and Gerald run to the top of the stairs... and see Aunt B laying dead at the base of the stairs!

The Detective (M SQUAD’s Paul Newlan) says it’s accidental death.

Dorothy tells Paul that she suspects Gerald may have something to do with Aunt B’s death. Just as she decides to leave... Aunt B’s lawyer shows up to read the will. *Everything* was left to Gerald. Paul gets nothing, and Dorothy doesn’t even get a few thousand for doing Aunt B’s spelling. The lawyer is creeped out by the Grim Reaper painting and says he felt the that entire time he was reading the will it was watching him. But the Reaper has no eyes... just a skull.

Later: Dorothy has packed and is leaving and Paul says his goodbyes... he’s staying over the weekend. She warns him that Gerald can not be trusted.

That night: Paul is typing something when Gerald enters. He couldn’t sleep. Paul gives him a sleeping pill. Gerald says he hasn’t been able to sleep since Aunt B died. The cursed painting is his now... will the scythe drip blood again? Twist: Paul says there never was any blood, it was his trick. He was broke, needed a reason to see Aunt B again so that he could hit her up for some cash. The cursed painting was a great excuse... to inherit all of her money. *He* pushed Aunt B down the stairs, hoping to inherit a fortune. Gerald notes that Paul wasn’t even in the will, he inherited nothing. Paul counters that when Gerald dies he’ll inherit it all as Aunt B’s only remaining relative. What? Paul pulls the page from the typewriter and says it’s Gerald’s confession to the police saying that he pushed Aunt B down the stairs and killed her. Remember that “autograph” he signed? And that sleeping pill? The confession is also a suicide note. Poison. Paul watches as Gerald slowly and painfully dies.

Gerald makes it to the phone, dials the police... and before he can say anything dies. Paul grabs the phone and tells the police that he has discovered Gerald’s body...

The Detective says the confession wraps it all up, but he did some research on that painting, and there’s a pretty good case for that curse being believable. He’s a cop, but that painting is freaky. He asks if Paul plans to stay in the house, now. Paul says he’s headed back to his apartment tonight. The Detective leaves.

Paul hears a noise from the library...

When he looks at the Grim Reaper painting he hallucinates Aunt B’s face over the skull, and then Gerald’s face... this freaks him out! He runs out of the library, upstairs, grabs his suitcase and starts to leave, when there is a knock at the door. The Detective???

Dorothy. She heard on her car radio about Gerald’s death and came back. She realized that they MUST destroy that painting before more people die. Paul is the owner, now, right? She wants to burn it. In the library, Paul stops her from burning the painting, admits that he the blood was just a trick. There is no curse. Dorothy realizes that Paul killed Aunt B and Gerald... and Paul offers to share all of his new fortune with her. They can be rich together! She points to the painting and screams that the arm is moving. When Paul turns to look at it, she runs out of the library and locks him inside!

Paul pounds on the door, then walks across the library to the doors leading out to the patio... notices something strange halfway there. The painting has changed. The Grim Reaper is no longer in the painting. What? How is that possible? Then he hears the wooshing of the scythe!

Dorothy comes back with the Detective... and they find Paul sliced to pieces. How is that possible, he was locked into the room... alone! But the painting? The scythe is now dripping blood!

Review: Shatner *and* Mrs. Howell from GILLIAN’S ISLAND! This episode makes you wish that Robert Bloch had adapted last week’s PIGEONS FROM HELL, because aside from Bloch being one of the greatest horror writers of the time period, he was also a damned *clever* writer (I know I’ve mentioned his wicked wordplay in previous entries). He makes words *dance*. Here he adapts a story that reminds me of a Levinson & Link script (those guys created COLUMBO) where a mystery writer ends up at the center of a mystery. The first episode of COLUMBO, MURDER BY THE BOOK, was a corker about a mystery writing team played by Martin Milner & Jack Cassidy... and when Milner dies somewhat mysteriously his partner Cassidy becomes prime suspect... but as a mystery writer he thinks he knows how to outsmart Columbo. Some kid named Spielberg directed that one.

This one was directed by Herschel Daugherty, who did some good work here on THRILLER and next door on ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. His work isn’t as inventive as Lupino’s, but is competent (unlike last week’s director). This is a clever mystery with a supernatural twist end, witty and stylish and offers the perfect part for a hambone like Shatner.

The plotting is great, and after the spooky supernatural opening with Henry Daniell I expected the rest of the story to be horror based... but as it unfolds, I began to suspect that Aunt Beatrice’s mystery writer character wasn’t an accidental choice. All of the characters are scheming against each other! This is a mystery *disguised* as a horror tale! I wonder what the audience in 1961 thought of this older woman with a husband half her age? That was before “cougar” was part of our vocabulary.

When the young husband makes a move on the young secretary, and we get the feeling Shatner is thinking about inheriting everything from his Aunt and maybe hooking up with that attractive secretary; that we begin to see this as a crime scene waiting to happen. But the story keeps us guessing! Even when we suspect Shatner may have pushed Auntie down the stairs, the story is *presented* to us in a way that seems like the cursed painting is behind her death. It keeps us guessing what the genre is: horror or mystery... and Bloch does a great job of making sure we are never quite sure.

Also unlike last week’s PIGEONS, all of the actors sparkle. Merrill, who was a Broadway star with only 3 TV credits, manages to be slick and sleazy and charming all at the same time. Natalie Schafer manages to be kooky and cute and then turns sad and morose after she spies on her husband making a pass at her secretary... she *acts*! There’s a good drunk scene where this eccentric and powerful woman shows how vulnerable she is beneath her armor. That’s a combination of good acting, good writing, and good directing. There’s a swell scene between Shatner and the young husband where the conversation is about having trouble sleeping but the subtext is all about Shatner not inheriting a cent. *This* is where the reveal finally comes that this is a mystery rather than a horror story, and the clever bit of plotting with the autograph *in one of the first scenes* being the signature on the suicide note is brilliant! Shatner hambones it up, smug and clever and superior. He calmly watches the man die, giving off this vibe that he wishes the guy would hurry it up... he doesn’t have all day.

And the final twist, where the story goes from mystery disguised as horror to actual horror is brilliant. When we see that the Grim Reaper has exited the painting, instead of *showing* the Grim Reaper, we only see the shadow of the scythe and hear it wooshing through the air as we slowly more closer and closer to the trapped Shatner. That shadow is more frightening than some dude in a hoodie.

There couldn’t be a better final episode of a mixed bag first season. What began as a crime show, then added horror, ends with an episode that is both crime *and* horror. Now that the show has found its footing and morphed into a horror show, season two will focus on terror. But just as the real TV show took a break for summer, THRILLER Thursday will also take a break for summer and return to the blog when Autumn warns us that Halloween is just around the corner...


Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

You Have *Potential*!

From 2009...

In the remake update post (about HOUSE which starred William Katt) we talked about this crazy idea that the director they love is hotter than the one I know because their guy’s film hasn’t been released yet. That gives him *potential*, where the director I have a connection to has just made a film that was released and got great reviews.

Ages ago when my friend Jim and I were doing our Russian film we ran into the *potential* thing when we were casting our lead. This project began when Jim and I were wandering around Location Expo (an event that no longer exists) and stopped by the booth for the St. Petersburg Studios. Communism had just fallen in Russia, and after decades of government run film industry, the studios were scrambling to make money. We had a meeting with them, and discovered that we could make a movie in Russia for very little money. I put together a treatment for a RED HEAT type film in reverse - starting in Texas and going to Russia - with the cool idea that the “hero” would be killed on page 10 and the comedy-relief sidekick would be thrust into the hero position and have to track down the killer. That’s when we got a call from Mosfilm, who heard we were thinking about shooting a movie in Russia and wondered if we would like to meet with them before we signed any contracts with St. Petersburg. They had a brand new office in Los Angeles to try and attract movies to Russia - even though only a couple of indie films had shot there so far.

Mosfilm made us an offer we could not refuse. They had Panavision cameras and an onsite Kodak approved lab and an onsite hotel and undercut the other guy’s prices and, the clincher, had access to some buildings set for demolition (we could blow them up) and some military equipment we could have access to (helicopter chase for cost of fuel) and could use their connections to get us locations like Red Square.

Oh, and they had a couple of conditions - they wanted to be co-producers and cast Russian stars in the Russian roles. That’s a condition? We loved it! They had head shots and video of some stars, and the ones they were pushing were great. They had an actress who had been in a recent Russian film that had played in the USA, and had done a Playboy spread to promote the film. Yes! They had Russia’s biggest rock star, who wanted to get into acting, and showed us his music video. Yes! Everyone they showed us was someone who would add to the film. Their motivation was to make sure the film was a big hit in Russia and some ex-Soviet countries that they would keep as part of the deal. These were places that US distribs didn’t have a foot hold in, yet, so giving them away cost us nothing.

I wrote the script, taking place in Moscow and using all of the materials we now had access to... and the result was a film we could make for a budget of around $1 million that would look like LETHAL WEAPON - we had a helicopter chase! We blew up an apartment building! We had a big dock-side action sequence!

What we didn’t have was an American star.

Jim was (and is) a clever guy. He had bought the mailing list from one of the trades, and had the home addresses of a bunch of movie stars and famous folks. And he had begun looking for our American star - bypassing agents and managers and going directly to their home address. Our financial contacts might get us around $1 million, but not that much more, so we weren’t targeting Tom Cruise... we were looking at B movie stars. We already had the late, great, Steve James as our villain. Steve and I had been trying to put together a movie for a while - he was a great actor (from John Sayles films) who was usually the side kick to Chuck Norris or Michael Dudikoff and had starred in a couple of low budget films. The problem with most of the stuff he was in was that it never showed what an amazing actor he was. This guy had done theatre in New York. I didn’t think we could get the money for our film with him as the star, but villains are always big juicy roles... and Steve said yes. I wrote a part for him that would make him the star he should have been. A great villain with some big juicy acting scenes.

But for our star... We came up with a list, and the guy we really liked was Thomas F. Wilson. Who? The guy who played various versions of Biff in all of the BACK TO THE FUTURE movies. He was a stand up comedian, great for the comic relief role (which turned into the lead on page 11). And if you watch the three B2TF movies, he’s an amazing actor. I honestly think that’s why his career didn’t really take off after the trilogy - you can’t tell it’s the same guy playing Biff in all those films! He’s the teen Biff, the fat Biff, the handsome Biff, the cowboy Biff, the loser Biff, the billionaire Biff... he’s completely different in each role - even *physically* different (losing or gaining weight). So, we had a meeting with him... and he brought along a team of managers and agents and lawyers and gardeners. A half dozen people! After getting through all of their BS, we finally got a chance to talk with Tom, who was a very nice, very funny guy, who was interested.

We took our package to our #1 distrib/money source. We had put together a sheet that showed all of the movies Tom had been in, what their domestic and worldwide grosses were. Beside the B2TF movies, he’s been in ACTION JACKSON and a handful of other movies that made a bunch of money. So, we are looking at a guy who seems like an easy sell...

But he was not. They didn’t know him by name. They said, you put his name on the poster, and nobody knows who that is. Find us the name that everybody already knows.

They didn’t care that his films had made a ton of money, they didn’t care that this film would cost them $1 million and look like a huge studio action film... they wanted a name they knew.

Every other distrib/money source we had a contact with told us the same thing.

Lesson learned: Just because someone is a great actor who has been in movies that everybody in the world has seen does not make them a bankable star.

So, Jim and I went back to the list, and cycled through a bunch of actors. Some were turned down by the distrib, some of them turned down the project. We had met with some line producers who had made one of the handful of US films to actually shoot in Russia, and they said the biggest problem we would have is that after decades of working under the Soviet model, most Russian crews worked about as fast as those people behind the counter at the DMV. We would have to double our shooting schedule because they moved so slow. We had included this in our budget and schedule... but the big problem with a star, even a B movie star, is that their time is money. We had the same amount to pay for twice the shooting time. Some stars turned us down because they didn’t want to leave home for two months, others didn’t want to work for half their rate.

Then we had a meeting with William Katt at Stanley’s on Ventura Blvd, and we found our star. First, everyone knew who he was from GREATEST AMERICAN HERO and CARRIE and a bunch of other stuff, including one of my favorite films, BIG WEDNESDAY. Second, he had a great attitude about the project - looking at this as an adventure, going to a place very few people had been to before. He wasn’t as concerned about the money, he thought just going someplace cool would be worth it. So, we had an interested star who completely fit all of the distrib/money source’s conditions.

We had a meeting with them, figured we’d walk out with a start date and a million bucks...

But a strange thing happened. They said, we love William Katt, but if you could get us Brad Pitt we’d fund this thing tomorrow. And we said, Brad who? At this point in time, Brad Pitt had done two movies - a low budget horror flick called CUTTING CLASS and an indie film called JOHNNY SUEDE. Neither film had made any money. But Pitt had *potential*. He *might be* a really big star. Word on the street was that he was the next big thing.

So, Jim and I went through our distrib/financing contacts looking for someone who would give us the money based on the people we had now. A real TV star who everyone knew who had starred in some great films (CARRIE, BIG WEDNESDAY, etc) who was more interested in the adventure of making a film in an interesting location than making a pile of money. We were pretty much ready to go... and everyone said, Get us this Brad Pitt kid and we’ll give you the money. And again, we said Brad who?

So, I rented CUTTING CLASS on VHS, a silly slasher movie where Pitt played the villain... and really didn’t understand why they would want this guy. He was okay, but he wasn’t even the star of the movie! Jim tried to track him down, but I don’t think he had a subscription to Hollywood Reporter at that time so he wasn’t on our list. After spending a lot of time, we found out that *everyone in town* had been told that Pitt was the next big thing and that everyone in town was fighting to hire him, and that there was no way in hell that he would be in a low budget film that would take two months of his life to shoot in Russia.

We went back to our first choice in distrib/financing and told them that Brad Pitt was a no-go. By now, William Katt had gone on to do another movie or two and was unavailable for a while. Thomas F. Wilson was doing a stand up comedy tour, also unavailable. Everyone else we had talked to had gone on to some other project and we would have to wait for them.

What I didn’t understand was why Tom Wilson was a “no” because the audience wouldn’t recognize his name on the poster, yet this Brad Pitt guy was so hot... when the audience would not only not recognize his name, they wouldn’t know his face or any of the movies he had been in. This distribution company did some small theatrical releases and the rest went to VHS and cable. It was common to list the star’s most popular films on the back of the VHS box. That means even if the audience doesn’t know an actor by name, if they recognized his face and wondered where they know him from they can flip over the box and discover this guy was in a bunch of films they have seen and liked... and they rent the movie. And the answer was... Tom Wilson may have been in a bunch of hit films, and he was a known quantity... but Brad Pitt was *hot* because he had *potential* - he was unknown. He hadn’t made a flop yet, or made a film that didn’t turn out, or proven that maybe he wasn’t the next big thing, yet. This makes no sense to me - but in the fear-driven film biz it's part of the way they operate. Of course, Brad Pitt really was the next big thing - even though it took him a whole bunch of movies to become a star - so maybe all of these distribs/financing sources were right. If we had been the ones to get Pitt instead of CUTTING CLASS, we’d... well, let me ask you - have you ever heard of CUTTING CLASS? Yeah, that’s what I thought. So it didn’t matter whether we had Pitt or not.

What happened while we were jumping through all of these hoops trying to find a star was that the “Russian Mafia” had begun shooting up Moscow and kidnaping Americans for ransom and all kinds of other things that made no one want to make a film in Russia right now... and our project just died. The only thing that really remains from it is the frame of the story-board that I used as an illustration on the front of my book. We had a bunch of the big action scenes story-boarded to make it easier to communicate what we wanted to our crew, and make filming a little faster and more efficient. A couple of years ago I did a rewrite on the script because I had a producer with some Russian connections interested, but the producer was... unusual... and that rewrite was lost when Fry’s repair guys wiped my hard drive to replace a plastic hinge on my laptop. I thought I had it backed up on my desk top and on a disk, but both ended up being the old version. Pisser.

The big lesson I learned from all of this is that *potential* beats experience in Hollywood. So, you have potential... I just have experience. You could be destined for greatness! I have written a movie about robot hookers from outer space for Roger Corman. Use your potential!

- Bill

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: COPS & ROBBERS (1973)

Cops & Robbers (1973)

Directed by: Aram Avakian (11 HARROWHOUSE).
Written by: Don Westlake, based on his novel.
Starring: Cliff Gorman, Joseph Bologna, John P. Ryan, Martin Kove.
Produced by: Elliot Kastner (every 70s crime film plus WHERE EAGLES DARE).
Music by: Michel Legrand.

This film is based on a novel by three of my favorite writers, Don Westlake, and he wrote the screenplay as well. Wait, some of you may wonder how one man can be three of my favorite writers, so maybe I should explain. Westlake was a prolific writer who broke in during the paperback revolution writing soft core porn under various pseudonym’s, often with his poker pal Lawrence Block (hey, another one of my favorites!). He was writing 2 novels a month for a while, and when he broke into mainstream mysteries he was just as prolific... and wrote different styles of fiction under different pseudonyms. So he wrote his comedy caper novels like THE HOT ROCK and BUSY BODY and SPY IN THE OINTMENT and HELP! I AM BEING HELD PRISONER under his own name, and the violent world of Parker novels like POINT BLANK under Richard Stark, and these great mopey private eye novels about a guy named Mitch Tobin under the name Tucker Coe. Plus some other books under other names. But here’s the kicker... nobody knew he was any of these other guys. Okay, maybe his agent knew, but these weren’t “Don Westlake writing as” books, these were completely different writers with completely different writing styles as far as anyone knew. A book written as J. Morgan Cunningham features a cover blurb by Westlake that says, “I wish I had written this book!” and everyone just assumed he hadn’t. So he was three of my favorite writers, three different guys who wrote different types of crime novels in different styles until he “came out” in an interview in the mid 70s which included all of his other personalities... and I was shocked!

Anyway, Westlake had this term for novels that didn’t fit in any genre, “Tortile Taradiddles” which I believe comes from Lewis Carroll... and COPS AND ROBBERS is definitely one of those. It’s a caper film that isn’t quite a comedy and isn’t quite serious. Maybe light comedy, but even that makes it sound funnier than it is. What it is is *amusing* (cue the great speech from GOODFELLOWS). That’s probably why no one remembers this film and maybe why it wasn’t a hit when it came out. It’s an amusing film written by Westlake, based on his own novel... but not really a comedy.

Click For Trailer.

Joe (Joseph Bologna) and Tom (Cliff Gorman) are New York City cops who live next door to each other in some crappy ticky tacky suburb in Long Island and car pool to work together every day. Because both are *honest* cops, they have mortgages and mounting bills and are basically risking their lives on the job every day for not enough money to live on. Joe is a patrol cop, Tom is a detective. Neither wants to be a corrupt cop, but it would be nice to have enough money to pay the damned bills every month.

Joe’s partner gets shot during some stupid call and is hospitalized, Joe reaches a breaking point decides to rob a liquor store in uniform. Gets just over $200... enough to pay some of those bills that have gone to red notice. And here’s the thing: *everyone* says the robber was some guy masquerading as a cop. The liquor store owner says he didn’t act like a cop, the police department doesn’t want *anyone* to think that a cop might also be a robber, and the media warns the public about “fake cops” who rent uniforms from costume shops. So Joe completely gets away with it!

One morning while driving to work, Tom brings up the fake cop pulling a robbery and Joe admits that was him. Tom is not shocked, he’s curious... and the two begin planning one big heist that will set them up for life. Anything under a million bucks each isn’t worth it. One robbery means less chance of getting caught, the reason why robbers get caught is because they just keep doing it and the law of averages says they’ll eventually be caught or shot by a store owner. But who the heck has $2 million they can steal?

Well, these guys are *cops*, so they know *crooks*, and crooks know this kind of stuff, right? They have an endless supply of “technical advisors”. Tom knows just the guy to help them: “Patsy O’Neill” whose real name is Pasquale Aniello, and is biggest crime kingpin in New York City. Tom has his rap sheet, knows where he lives, knows his phone number, knows his criminal record. Never been convicted. An anonymous phone call later, Tom has a meeting with Patsy at his mansion. Wearing a bad disguise, Tom asks Patsy for his illegal advice in the crime lord’s private bowling alley. (There was a time when bowling matches were broadcast on network TV every week the way Monday Night Football is broadcast today.) Patsy tells Joe the easiest thing to steal pound for pound are barer bonds from a Wall Street brokerage house. But Patsy can only pay 20 percent of the face value, so for $2 million they have to steal $10 million... and Wall Street brokerage houses are like freakin’ Fort Knox! Impossible to rob!

Buy the border

Hey, nothing is impossible. Joe and Tom come up with a clever plan to pull the impossible robbery... using their uniforms as a way past most of the security. But what they need is a huge diversion, and that comes with the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20th, 1969. On August 13th, 1969 the Astronauts had a huge ticker tape parade on Wall Street... the *perfect* diversion! There will be hundreds of cops on the street, so they can blend into the crowd, and most of the police force will be dealing with the parade! Plus, the brokerage house will be distracted by the parade as well.

Wearing fake mustaches, they enter the brokerage house in uniform saying there was a complaint that people were throwing objectionable material out the office window (near the vault). One of the managers takes them past all kinds of security almost all the way to the vault! Everyone is distracted by the parade, and these are cops... not crooks. Near the vault, Joe and Tom tell the manager they are not real cops, and they’re here to rob the vault. The manager cooperates (they are pointing guns at him) and takes them through the final security and into the vault. They handcuff the manager and his secretary and proceed to grab $10 million in barer bonds, easy as pie! Until the alarm sounds... and police flood the building searching for two guys dressed as cops. Realizing they will never be able to walk out with the $10 million in bonds, Tom comes up with a great plan: instead of stealing the bonds, all they have to steal is a *headline*. They shred the bonds and throw them out the window as part of the ticker tape parade (a suspense scene because the police are searching room by room for them). They walk out of the building pretending they were some of the police called to search for the two fake policemen. Heck, their badges are *real*! (More suspense as they have to get past the security guy at the front desk who thinks they are fake cops.)

The next day, the headlines are all about the two fake cops who stole $12 million in barer bonds. What? Where’d the other $2 million come from? That manager and his secretary each stole a million bucks and blamed them! So the danged manager ended up with more money than they did!

Buy The DVD

But they have stolen a headline, and gangster Patsy believes they have $10 million in barer bonds and will trade $2m in cash for them. Now all they have to do is outsmart New York’s biggest crime lord and get his $2m in exchange for barer bonds they do not have. Of course, they manage to do this... but nothing is easy! And Patsy has to answer to his superior in the mob for losing the $2 million dollars.

The interesting thing about the film is that it takes place in the early 70s New York City that SERPICO and MEAN STREETS and FRENCH CONNECTION take place in. It has the same gritty look and feel as those films, even though it’s lighter in tone. The Michel Legrand music is often a little too upbeat, and I suspect it was trying to turn an amusing film into something they could sell as comedy. Cliff Gorman, who gets star billing in this film, was a 70s actor who was ain AN UNMARRIED WOMAN and ALL THAT JAZZ and a bunch of other NYC based films, and guest starred on every TV show that filmed there... then just kind of vanished from stardom, even though he continued working until his death in 2002. Bologna became the bigger star, and if you don’t know him by name you totally know him by sight. He’s Adam Sandler’s father in BIG DADDY and was Michael Caine’s horn dog friend in BLAME IT ON RIO. He has a movie shooting *now*. A tortile taradiddle like this would probably never be made today because it doesn’t fit in any genre and they’d have no idea how to sell it, but it’s a nice little film that is amusing if not laugh outloud funny. You want these two guys to get away with it.


Friday, March 09, 2018

Fridays With Hitchcock:
The Paradine Case (1947)

Screenplay by David O. Selznick.

Do I really have to say anything more?

Okay, for those of you who may not know who David O. Selznick was: He was the legendary producer who made the Best Picture Oscar winner GONE WITH THE WIND which is also the record holder for box office in adjusted dollars - yes, it even beat AVATAR. Name any film you think was a massive hit, GONE WITH THE WIND made more money in adjusted dollars. Selznick was also legendary for his ego and for micro-managing to the point of insanity. He would send lengthy memos to *everyone* involved in one of his films explaining what he wanted in minute detail. Often the memos were wacky - he once sent a 30 page telegram... and the last line of the telegram said to disregard the telegram! In the 1970s someone collected many of these crazy memos and published them in a book, MEMO FROM DAVID O. SELZNICK - I have a copy somewhere. At first, reading the memos made my brain hurt... then they became laugh-out-loud funny. He wrote memos on things so small and insignificant you wonder how he found the time to do anything else. So, imagine the lunatic, egotistical, head of production for the studio writing a screenplay...

To be fair, Selznick began in the story department at MGM - because in those good old days of Hollywood they promoted *screenwriters* and people who worked in the story department to producers and heads of production. Hollywood back then was not about deals and lawyers and agents, it was about *stories*. From the story department he worked his way up to producer at MGM, and produced a string of hits - which probably didn’t help that out-of-control ego of his. He married his boss’s daughter, Irene Mayer, and decided that he was too good for MGM, so he quit and started his own company - Selznick International. If you are ever on the Sony lot, you can still see his building. It looks much smaller than it does on film.

Selznick was the guy who brought Alfred Hitchcock over from England... and brought a bunch of European stars to the United States, including Ingrid Bergman. What he would do is sign them to a long term contract with his “studio”, which had yet to make a single film. Then he would “rent them” to another studio for more money... and make a profit. So, let’s say he was paying Ingrid Bergman $1X a month, he would rent her out to MGM for $5X and keep the difference. Bergman got paid the same no matter what. Because Selznick and Hitchcock did not get along, Selznick “rented” Hitchcock to other studios from 1941-1944 for five different movies, and basically lived off the money Hitchcock earned for him. Pimp-daddy Selznick. The director of an Oscar winning film could get top dollar... and all of that money went into Selznick’s pocket. During that period of time he made only one movie as a producer - SINCE YOU WENT AWAY... the rest of his money was from pimpin'.

Though he made a handful of successful movies at his “studio”, the film he made in 1939 was the one he’s best known for - GONE WITH THE WIND.

I think that film ruined him.

Imagine making the biggest box office film of all time *and* having it win Best Picture Oscar. What do you do for an encore?

Well, the year after he won Best Picture Oscar for producing GONE WITH THE WIND, he won Best Picture Oscar for producing REBECCA... directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

After that Selznick seemed to be *exclusively* trying to make movies that would be massive box office hits *and* win the Best Picture Oscar. Because Hitchcock was under contract to him, he was either being “rented” to some other studio or producer or making some film for Selznick. Some of these films, like SPELLBOUND, were “Hitchcock movies”, but THE PARADINE CASE is pure Selznick... a big glossy soap opera of a film that seemed created to pander to both the mass audience *and* the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences membership. The film starred his new discovery from Europe Alida Valli (THE THIRD MAN), who he hoped to rent out as soon as she became a star, and Gregory Peck - another contract player, and a young hunky French actor he was grooming for stardom, Louis Jourdan (SWAMP THING). Hitchcock disliked the project, but was under contract and had no choice but to make it. Hitchcock brought in his own writers, and Selznick didn't send anyone to pick one of the writers up at the airport - so he flew back home. Eventually Selznick took over and wrote the screenplay himself, which Hitchcock must have loved. Hitch and Selznick were battling every day on the set. It’s hard to believe that this film falls between NOTORIOUS and ROPE on Hitchcock’s resume, because it’s so unlike either one of those films... it’s overwrought.

It was also Hitchcock’s last movie for Selznick - he walked off the set at the end of shooting. His contract was complete, and he was now a free man...

THE PARADINE CASE was a massive box office flop.

Nutshell: In London, rich and beautiful widow Mrs. Paradine (Valli) is about to sit down to dinner when the police arrive and arrest her for the murder of her husband. She gets the most respected criminal barrister in England, Anthony Keane (Peck) to represent her in his robes and powdered wig...

Okay, while you’re wondering how Peck did with his British accent, we’ll get on with the synopsis.

Because Mrs. Paradine is the most beautiful and seductive woman in the world, Keane’s wife Gay (Ann Todd) becomes jealous and worries that she will lose her man. Keane’s older law partner, Sir Simon (Charles Coburn) also worries about this, but his college girl daughter hopes that Mrs. Paradine will break up the marriage and then dump Keane so that she can swoop in and take him, because she thinks he’s a dreamy older man.

Oh, speaking of older men, the trial’s Judge (Charles Laughton) is a complete letch and keeps hitting on Keane’s wife. It’s kind of implied that if she sleeps with him, he may favor her husband in the case. Though his character doesn’t show up for a while, Louis Jourdan plays the dead Mr. Paradine’s valet Latour who may or may not have been playing hide the salami with Mrs. Paradine while her husband slept in the next room. I know that I’m leaving out some people who were either having sex with other people or at least wanted to have sex with other people, but you get the idea.

The first 2/3rds of the story takes place before the trial while all of these people are trying to get into each other’s pants. The last third is all in the courtroom - but far from Perry Mason excitement. There are only two suspects and no surprises. The story isn’t about who the killer is, it’s about who is gonna sleep with who and who already slept with who. Sex for the mass audience, powdered wigs and frilly shirts for the Academy.

Peck doesn’t even attempt a British accent.

Experiment: I’m sure that the main experiment was trying to get through the film without killing Selznick...

But the film has one amazing shot - as Mrs. Paradine sits at the defendant’s table in court, Latour enters the court room behind her and walks to the witness stand, and Hitchcock does a great composite shot with Mrs. Paradine in the foreground (one element) and Latour walking in the background (the other element) with both images moving so that it seems as if she can *feel* him entering the courtroom and - without looking back - *sense* him as he walks around her. It’s a great shot concept - she knows he is there without ever seeing him.

There is also the reverse of the shot, from Latour’s POV when he leaves the witness stand. Basically one great shot done twice.

Oh, and a nice overhead of the courtroom when Keane leaves after realizing his client is guilty.

Hitch Appearance: Leaving the train station, carrying a cello.

Great Scenes: Well, no suspense scenes, so let me talk about some of the soap opera stuff.

The opening scene where Mrs. Paradine is arrested is shocking, and managed to find a way to sneak in the victim visually. A huge painting of Mr. Paradine hangs on the wall, and is the center of much of the scene. But there is some great confusion by Mrs. Paradine about how one is supposed to get arrested - they just served dinner, will she be allowed to eat first? And what about packing a bag? She has no point of reference.

At the police station, she is searched and stripped and a matron goes through her beautiful hair with a comb searching for contraband. Hitchcock has done similar scenes that were even better - involving fingerprint ink you can’t remove. I would have gone full-force and had them delouse her with spray hoses, but it seems like everything is blanded... probably due to Sezlnick’s screenplay.

There’s a great scene with Charles Laughton as the horny old judge who sits next to Peck’s wife on the sofa and grabs her hand and puts her hand on her leg (stealing a feel) and makes it pretty clear that he wants to screw her and that it would be good for her husband’s trial if she said yes. Laughton steals every scene he is in - almost rescuing the film. Almost.

There’s kind of a spooky scene where Peck goes to the scene of the crime - the Paradine country estate - and it’s closed up, dark, spooky... and has a Mrs. Danvers-like woman showing him around... and Louis Jourdan’s valet seems to appear and disappear without ever leaving or entering a room. There’s more atmosphere in that scene than in the rest of the film.

The courtroom trial is boring because we have two suspects: Mrs. Paradine and the valet Latour, and neither tries to blame the other or has any shocking witness stand reveals. The one and only is that Mrs, Paradine may have visited Latour’s room after dark.

In HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT, Hitchcock complains about all of the casting - and rightly so - but spends a great deal of time explaining why Louis Jourdan was dead wrong as Latour. If that is supposed to be the big shocker in court, it doesn’t work if she was sleeping with some beefcake guy like Jourdan. He’s better looking than she is!

There’s only shock if Latour is *ugly* - and this goes back to my problems with UNDER CAPRICORN - Hollywood often makes the mistake of hiring pretty people when the role requires really ugly people. That film was another woman-who-sleeps-with-a-man-beneath-her story, and Bergman and Joseph Cotton seem like a reasonable pair. In PARADINE, Valli is a beautiful woman, but Jourdan is a beautiful man. They belong together - no shock. You can “tell us” that Jourdan is a servant and Valli is wealthy and that it is scandalous for her to sleep with him, but there is no class distinctions on screen. There are only *physical* distinctions.

Hell, she goes to his room! If the script would have made him the groom and had him sleeping in an apartment in the stables and the first time they got busy was after a ride on the floor of the stable amongst piles of hay and manure, we have something! And that is something that a *screenwriter* can do to guard against casting issues. We can create a *situation* that is shocking, so the casting won’t kill the scene.

An *idea* doesn’t show up on screen, only the execution of the idea - the image or dialogue that turns the idea into something concrete that we can see or hear. The *idea* of sleeping with a man below her class needs to be turned into something we can see or hear. Since we are not involved in casting as screenwriters, it has to be a situation or dialogue. That roll in the hay (and manure) - whether we do that with actions (visual) or with courtroom testimony (dialogue) we need to get it out there. But we do not have shocking testimony or shocking visuals... Instead we have a very dull Q&A of suspects on the stand who do not want to incriminate each other so they don’t really say anything.

Sound Track: Excellent score from the always dependable Franz Waxman.

THE PARADINE CASE is basically a big glossy soap opera with a couple of interesting shots, that Hitchcock practically disowned. He walked off after his rough cut, leaving David O’Selznick to sort out the rest. I’m sure he sent a 30 page memo to Hitchcock afterwards.

- Bill


The other Fridays With Hitchcock.

Thursday, March 08, 2018


Best Of Thriller...

Yours Truly Jack The Ripper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Written by Robert Bloch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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