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...
HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR
Click here for more info!
HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!
We all know that Alfred Hitchcock was the Master Of Suspense, but did you know he was the most *experimental* filmmaker in history?
Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 53 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.
Films Examined: “Rear Window”, “Psycho”, “Family Plot”, “Topaz”, “Rope”, “The Wrong Man”, “Easy Virtue”, “Lifeboat”, “Bon Voyage”, “Aventure Malgache”, “Elstree Calling”, “Dial M for Murder”, “Stage Fright”, “Champagne”, “Spellbound”, “I Confess”, and “The Trouble with Harry”, with glances at “Vertigo” and several others.
Professional screenwriter William C. Martell takes you into the world of The Master Of Suspense and shows you the daring experiments that changed cinema. Over 77,000 words.
UK Folks Click Here.
German Folks Click Here.
French Folks Click Here.
Espania Folks Click Here.
Canadian Folks Click Here.