Friday, September 30, 2016

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Robert Rodriguez on Spellbound

Fridays With Hitchcock this week features the director of EL MARIACHI Robert Rodriguez on that wacky dream sequence in SPELLBOUND:



And here is that dream sequence:



Bill





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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the “Master Of Suspense”; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?

This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!

Films Included: NOTORIOUS, SABOTAGE, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE 39 STEPS, REBECCA, TO CATCH A THIEF, FRENZY, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, THE LODGER, THE BIRDS, TORN CURTAIN, SABOTEUR, VERTIGO, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934), THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1955), SUSPICION, and NUMBER SEVENTEEN. 17 Great Films!

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99



Click here for more info!

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.

Click here for more info!

Bill

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Thriller Thursday: WORSE THAN MURDER

Worse Than Murder

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



Season: 1, Episode: 3. Airdate: 09-27-1960

Director: Mitchell Lieson (Woolrich’s NO MAN OF HER OWN). Writer: Mel Goldberg based on a novel by Evelyn Berckman. Cast: Constance Ford, John Baragrey, Christine White, Harriet MacGibbon, Dan Tobin, Jocelyn Brando. Music: Pete Rugolo. Cinematography: John F. Warren (from HITCHCOCK HOUR).



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “It is difficult to violate the privacy of dreams. After all, there are no witnesses to our night time fantasies. But when a man’s nightmares are an accurate reflection of the truth, and in trying to relieve his suffering he commits that truth to paper, there he creates greater torments than those of his restless sleep, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. We’re concerned now with a woman who makes use of a nightmare to persecute the innocent as well as the guilty. A persecution that is much worse than murder. That’s the name of our story. We assure you my friends, this is a thriller!”

Synopsis: High estrogen crime drama. Three women, each commit some horrible crime, while the men stand by on the sidelines. Oh, and all of these women are related by marriage or blood, so this is a *family* of killers! A wealthy family.

The episode opens with ancient Uncle Archer in a hospital bed dreaming about the time he helped kill his father... then he passes away. Leaving behind a stack of diaries, including a new one on his hospital bed. High maintenance Connie Walworth, Archer’s “favorite nephew’s widow” arrives for a visit with flowers, is told that Archer has passed away, and lifts the new diary on a lark. Connie has been kissing up to Uncle Archer in hopes of a prime space in his will, but Archer died intestate... and all of the money will go to his bedridden sister Myra (Harriet MacGibbon) (who is Connie’s mother in law) and her plain jane daughter Anne (Christine White). Oh, and Myra *hates* Connie, since she’s been living off her since the death of her son (Connie’s husband) in a car wreck. When Connie goes to the family mansion and hits Myra up for a loan, she is refused... it’s time for her to find a job or a man or both. But when Connie mentions that Uncle Archer kept diaries, Myra reconsiders and gives Connie the loan in hopes that she will forget about the diaries. This, of course, makes Connie wonder what could be in the diaries.



Plain jane daughter Anne is dating Myra’s doctor Dr. Mitchell (probably old enough to be Anne’s father) (John Baragrey) and it’s fairly obvious he’s sniffing around for Myra’s money... When Connie leaves, Anne notices Dr. Mitchell checking her out. Maybe she should dye her hair blonde and dress more provocatively?

Connie is a sexy, scheming bottle blonde predator... a real femme fatale, in a story where the men are secondary characters. As in Robert Wise’s BORN TO KILL, the female lead here uses men to get what she wants... and in Connie’s case, manipulates and blackmails women as well. It’s obvious she only married her (late) husband for his money, and after spending all of it on her and then dying; Connie needs a new source of income. If she can find a way to cut in to the family fortune, she’ll do it... even if that means playing dirty.



When Connie gets to her apartment, her landlord Ray (Dan Tobin) is waiting for her... wondering where the rent is. When she tells him Uncle Archer died and left her nothing, Ray *insists* on the rent, he’s waited long enough! Connie invites him up to her apartment to settle the bill. Yes, this is a 1960 TV episode, and she’s gonna screw her landlord to pay the rent! And our next scene has Connie in lingerie in bed reading the diary outloud to Ray the landlord! Yikes! The diary passage is Uncle Archer’s recurring nightmare about the night he and “M” murdered their father so they could inherit his fortune. Is “M” for Myra?

Connie calls to see if she can stop by the hospital to pick up the other diaries... finds that they have already been delivered to Myra. So Connie heads to the newspaper morgue where she discovers a story about Myra and Archer’s father’s death by accidental overdose of insulin... a nurse lost her job as a result. Connie goes to talk to the Doctor, only to find that he has passed away, but the disgraced nurse is still alive... living in a crappy apartment downtown. The Nurse (Jocelyn Brando) is a drunk, living in poverty because that long ago accident with Myra and Archer’s father still hangs over her. The Nurse refuses to answer Connie’s questions, but when she leaves the room, Connie searches her closet and jewelry... and finds all kinds of expensive things. Where did they come from? The Nurse breaks down and says she has been blackmailing *Myra* because Myra and Archer murdered their father.



When Connie confronts Myra with this, spilling the details that the Nurse gave her; Myra almost has a heart attack (literally) and Connie holds Myra’s digitalis over her head like a carrot. Then gives it to the old woman. Connie says she’ll take $100,000 to hand over the diary and not go to the police. Oh, and in 24 hours.

Listening at the door is plain jane Anne... who has fixed up her hair, put on some make up, and dressed up; to keep her Dr. Mitchell boyfriend from straying. She hears everything and realizes her aged mother might be thrown in jail if she doesn’t do something. She breaks her date with Dr. Mitchell, throwing the relationship into turmoil. When Myra phones the bank to have $100,000 delivered, Anne *knows* her mother is a murderer. To protect her, Anne becomes a criminal...

Anne breaks into Connie’s apartment, searching for the diary. Finds it... just as Connie pulls up, with Dr. Mitchell! See, Connie has been making a play for the doctor just to cover all the bases. She invites him upstairs to her room (to screw?) as both Anne... and Ray the landlord... watch. Dr. Mitchell kisses her and declines instead of reclines. Then Connie goes up stairs, and Anne scurries to find a hiding place in the apartment.



Problem is, when Connie enters she sees Anne hiding behind the sofa reflected in a mirror and grabs a fire poker. There’s a scuffle, Anne splits with the diary... Connie chasing after her.

Meanwhile, Myra’s condition gets worse and she is taken to the hospital... dying. She admits to Dr. Mitchell killing her own mother with Uncle Archer so they could inherit her money... and now Connie is doing something similar to Myra. She begs Dr. Mitchell to make sure Connie gets no more money... then dies.

Anne returns to the mansion, doesn’t notice the package of money from the bank waiting for Connie to claim it; and burns the diary in the fireplace. When Connie arrives, she pulls the burning diary out of the fireplace, then Connie and Anne scuffle as the burning diary sets the curtains and house on fire! Cat fight in the flames! Then Connie splits (never seeing the money) and the mansion burns to the ground. Anne escapes the fire into Dr. Mitchell’s arms... and Connie is arrested for blackmail.



Review: This is more like it! Though more of a crime drama instead of a thriller, it’s fast paced, filled with twists and turns and has some *awesome* dialogue. Not just the catty conflict lines (which are clever and fun), but the rest of this episode is filled with witty and quotable lines. I don’t know if this is the work of screenwriter Goldberg or if he pulled them from the novel, but it’s constantly entertaining. And lots of juicy scenes with women tangling (verbally and even physically). Constance Ford plays Connie like a sexual force of nature, and I believe costume department neglected to supply her with a bra, in addition to the blatant implied sex scene with her landlord there’s no shortage of what appears to be nipplage in many shots. Were the censors asleep?

The men in this episode are disposable objects used by the three women, even Uncle Archer only held his mother with Myra gave her the lethal injection. It’s interesting to see a show that focuses on the sex that is deadlier than the male... and has so much fun turning men into playthings. Director Lieson was a “woman’s director” in Hollywood, who made many lush female lead films... including the adaptation of Cornell Woolrich’s “I Married A Dead Man” with Barbara Stanwick called NO MAN OF HER OWN, which is kind of a guilty pleasure of mine. This episode has gloss and a real feeling of those old Joan Crawford potboilers. Bitchy fun, with clever and cutting dialogue. This was a good (not great) episode, but on the right track! Will the next episode continue towards greatness... or derail?

FADE OUT.



Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Film Courage Plus: My First Pitch

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. As they have been releasing the interview segments from 2015 every week or so, I have dug back into their archives and tweeted some of the segments from 2014... so they won't be forgotten. There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 2015... and that's 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

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

MY FIRST PITCH


Shall we talk about pitching?

For some odd reason, new writers seem obsessed with pitching... maybe because they are shy by nature and worry that they will have to become performers, or that they believe all they need to do is tell someone their amazing idea and they get to meet Spielberg and date underwear models and live in a mansion. Neither of those is really true, but the last one is pure fantasy. If you are a new writer you will not be pitching unwritten screenplays, you will be pitching to get someone to read one of the stack of screenplays you have already written. And even though statistically some writer somewhere might be dating an underwear model, that’s probably never going to be you. Sorry. We’re writers. We date normal people, if we’re lucky. There is some chance of meeting Spielberg, though.

The shy by nature thing probably isn’t as large of a problem as you may think, and we’ll get to that in a moment.

THREE TYPES OF PITCHES


There are at least three types of pitches: Elevator, Pitching Takes, Pitching Projects. There may be more, but this is just a short article to accompany the film clip!

ELEVATOR PITCHES: That’s the common term, but basically it’s when you briefly pitch a written screenplay. You’ll do this at Great American Pitchfest or some film festival or screenwriting event. Thought they give you 5 minutes at GAPF and most other events, but that’s *total* time in front of some junior development executive - you won’t be pitching that whole time! You’ll need time to introduce yourself and for a little small talk. These events are really more about making connections than selling screenplays - so you want to get to know them and for them to get to know you, *then* pitch. And that only gives you a couple of minutes for your pitch. I’ve been on the panel at Raindance Film Festival’s pitching competition Live Ammunition! and they start out giving the contestants 5 minutes, then it goes down to 3, and sometimes it gets down to 1 minute. So think 2 minutes, you can always go longer if they give you more time. Basically - think of how you will pitch your screenplays if you are on an elevator and Steven Spielberg steps on after you. You have to get the story across before you get to his floor! That means you will be focusing on the *concept* of your story and not actually telling the story. The key elements in your pitch will be the concept, the protagonist, and the conflicts (emotional and physical). Basically an elevator pitch is like a logline... but with a few more sentences. The seed of idea, not whole tree and all of its branches! Never bore people with the details. Keep it focused! Big idea, person, problem.

PITCHING TAKES: I have a whole Script Tip on pitching your take - basically that’s what you do when a producer has read a couple of great screenplays you have written and think you would be perfect for an assignment, so they give you the Intellectual Property to look over and have you come back and pitch how you would adapt that property into a movie screenplay. I have a stack of books and magazine articles and even a bunch of old VHS tapes (old movies a producer owned the rights to and was interested in remaking) from these meetings... and each one I came back and pitched my take for. If you complain that so many movies are remakes and sequels and you just wish someone would give a new writer a break and buy something original, you haven’t yet realized that even remakes and sequels are written by *somebody*, and that somebody might be you. Pitching your take is all about how your would adapt the material - and your unique spin on the material or the way you would crack a difficult book or the theme within the material you want to explore. One of the magazine articles I was given (a producer at Universal whose Oscars were on display in the lobby of his office) was a xerox of a xerox of a xerox - and every single screenwriter in Hollywood had been given a copy to pitch. So they aren’t looking for a standard, “Well, I’d just put it in screenplay format and then clean it up” type of pitch - they are looking for what *you* as the writer will bring to this... what you will do that makes it unique and interesting. I was up for a sequel at once, and what they were looking for was an *additional* amazing high concept idea to graft onto the one from the first film. These pitches range from something similar to an elevator pitch where you just explain your angle, to a full telling of the story scene-by-scene. Everything depends on what the producer wants - just ask.

PITCHING PROJECTS: You have sold a screenplay or landed an assignment or two and you are now an in demand screenwriter... with a cool idea for a movie. Now, you could write the screenplay on spec and sell it to a producer, but your reps decide it would be more advantageous for the producer to hire you to write the screenplay. There are all kinds of reasons for this, including keeping you on the project for rewrites... because they have originally developed the screenplay with you. This is a long form pitch that goes scene-by-scene and can include everything from props to flip charts to images and “look books”. You are basically performing the story to the executives, and they will decide if they want to pay you to write this script or not... after they give you notes (Does it have to be on a ship? Why couldn’t the Titanic be a *space* ship?).

Though we already had a screenplay on the HOUSE remake, it was decided to do a longform pitch at each of the studios we had meetings with... and I’d never formally done this before at the studio level. I’d done longform pitches to producers I’d worked with in the past - in fact, I’d pitched several different versions of this story. But it’s different when you’re pitching to a studio VP for a producer. More pressure, less casual. One of the things I did was use a Hot Wheels car as a prop in part of the pitch, and at the end of the pitch I would zoom the car across the conference table to the executive. If he caught the car before it went off the end of the table, I figured he or she was interested. Not many cars hit the floor. But this was kind of a frightening situation for me because I’m not a performer, I’m a writer - and these pitches depend to some degree on the performance.

You may think that pitching your project is great because you will get paid to write it, but the fact is - you pretty much have it already written (at least a very detailed outline) to pitch it in the first place. Much of the really hard creative work usually has to be done first. I really prefer to spec a script than pitch it and hope someone says yes. That way, the script goes all over town and I just stay home and wait by the phone... instead of me driving all over town having to do a bunch of performances in hopes someone says yes. I kind of hate pitching.

THE PITCH ITSELF


Wait, Bill, you said we shouldn’t be worried about performance when pitching... and now you say you hate pitching? Both can be true, you know. I hate longform pitching because it requires some performance skills, but chances are you won’t have to worry about longform pitching for a while (if at all). You will mostly be pitching scripts that you have already written in order to interest someone in reading them, or pitching your take on some project (which is usually short and to the point and not doing a one man show in front of a bunch of bored studio suits). Those are more about the concept than the performance. The Live Ammunition Pitch Competition at Raindance is a great example of how performance doesn’t matter that much. The panel are a bunch of top Executives from British film companies - BBC, Channel 4, and others. Here’s a picture of me sitting next to the producer of THE CRYING GAME on the panel.



There are usually 75-100 people pitching at the event, and many are nervous writers who screw up their pitches or get stage fright or whatever... they are far from perfect. But they may have an amazing idea or a character we’ve never seen on film before, and that’s what is interesting. The “judges” are people looking for a great story, not looking for the actor to star in that great story. One year, a writer actually got an actor friend to pitch their screenplay. This was an amazing performance by a talented actor... and it wasn’t even in our top ten! Why? The story was bland - something that no one would stand in line for an hour in order to pay to see. The winner that night was a writer who stumbled through their pitch and gave a *terrible* performance - but had a great story! And that’s really what matters - the great story. So don’t worry about performance, worry about have a great *concept* - something that is both unique and universal. Worry about have a great star role, that will attract an A-lister who can open the movie. Worry about having an idea that can generate a bunch of big, juicy, emotional scenes... and will also generate big spectacle scenes that can be used in the trailer along with that amazing concept to sell tickets. Don’t be afraid of the performance side of pitching - just make sure you have a great story to pitch! When you hear 75-100 pitches in a single night at something like Raindance’s Live Ammunition, you realize how many bland ideas are out there.

And now the Film Courage clip...

My First Pitch:




Good luck, and keep writing!

- Bill

BRAND NEW!

bluebook

405 Pages!

*** SELLING BLUE BOOK *** - For Kindle!


Should really be called the BUSINESS BLUE BOOK because it covers almost everything you will need to know for your screenwriting career: from thinking like a producer and learning to speak their language, to query letters and finding a manager or agent, to making connections (at home and in Hollywood) and networking, to the different kinds of meetings you are will have at Studios, to the difference between a producer and a studio, to landing an assignment at that meeting and what is required of you when you are working under contract, to contracts and options and lawyers and... when to run from a deal! Information you can use *now* to move your career forward! It's all here in the Biggest Blue Book yet!

Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 400 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!



USA Folks Click Here.



UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Other countries check your Amazon websites... it's there!

Seriously - TEN TIMES larger than the paper version (still on sale on my website)! That's just crazy!

The next 3 Blue Books will be DESCRIPTION, STRUCTURE, and BLOCKBUSTERs (all 3 in 2016 I hope). Everyone wants the OUTLINES Blue Book, and I've promised it for the past couple of years, but the problem is I don't have enough ideas for new chapters, yet... and I want to get it up to 200 pages. I hope that over the next year I'll come up with some new chapter ideas and get that out at the beginning of 2017.

Thank you to everyone!

Bill

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Trailer Tuesday: THE IPCRESS FILE

IPCRESS FILE (1965)
Director: Sidney J. Furie
Writers: James Doran, W. H. Canaway
Starring: Michael Caine, Sue Lloyd, Guy Doleman, Nigel Green.

One of my favorite movies.

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



The great thing about IPCRESS is that it makes the job of spying mundane - a bunch of boring stake outs and surveillance jobs - then it explodes with action that seems much bigger due to the contrast. The great Michael Caine plays Harry as a problem child who probably needed a good spanking many years ago and now knows *exactly* how far he can push authority before it pushes back. He uncovers a plot to kidnap British scientists, brainwash them until they spill all of their secrets, then wipe their memories clean so that they are unable to function. The cool thing about this 60s film is that it uses all of the real brainwashing devices from the CIA’s MK-ULTRA program, which wasn’t made public until the 70s. How they knew about these things in this film, I do not know. Were there CIA leaks that ended up in (novelist) Len Deighton’s hands?

His boss, Colonel Ross (Doleman), hates him and has him transferred to Major Dalby’s department where he has to fill out stacks of paperwork as they try to find a kidnapped scientist who has been put up for auction by an espionage agent for hire code-name, BlueJay (Frank Gatliff) an Albanian who sells secrets... and people. Dalby (Nigel Green) “doesn’t have the sense of humor that Ross has” (which was none at all) and cracks the whip on Harry again and again. Harry finds a friend in team member Carswell (Gordon Jackson, from THE CREEPING UNKNOWN) and a love interest in team member Jean (Lloyd) - who may be a spy for Ross’s department. That’s the kind of paranoid movie this is - the spies are spying on other spies! Ross keeps trying to get Harry to hand over the file on Dalby's investigation, code named “Ipcress” because that word was written on a piece of audio tape found in an abandoned warehouse they think BlueJay was using. When they play the bit of audio tape, all they get are strange noises - what do they mean? To add to the paranoia, there’s a CIA Agent who is spying on Harry, and someone in one of the departments may actually be working for BlueJay. You can’t trust *anyone* in this film!

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

The director, Sidney J. Furie, comes up with the most inventive angles and shots I’ve ever seen - which is one of the reasons why this is one of my favorite movies. There is a whole fight scene shot through the glass of one of those red British phone booths - mullion coming between Harry and this huge bodyguard - and every other interesting combination of foreground and background is used to make the fight scene really interesting. Furie re-imagines action scenes as chess matches or tennis games and stages them in unusual ways. Because Harry wears glasses, the element of sight is used in both action scenes (when Harry’s glasses get stomped it changes the outcome of a fight) and other scenes (Harry with glasses off looks over a blurry crowd of scientists and sees a person who does not belong) - the glasses become part of the way the story is told.

Here is our introduction to Harry Palmer...



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

SPOILER: One of my favorite bits in the script is when BlueJay kidnaps Harry... and he wakes up in a crappy cell in some old industrial building, and BlueJay tells him that it would be pointless to try to escape, because he's in Albania. How can he get help if he does not speak Albanian? Where would he run to? He has no passport, no identification. Even if he escaped, he's still trapped in this foreign land. Then they proceed to brainwash him using the IPCRESS method... "Listen to me. Listen to me. You will forget the IPCRESS file, you will forget your name..." Harry jams that rusty nail into his palm, "My name is Harry Palmer. My name is Harry Palmer." But he loses the nail... and the brainwashing begins to work. That's when Harry decides to escape... running out of the old industrial building where all of the signs are in Albanian, to... Downtown London! He was never taken to Albania! The whole thing was a ruse to make him not try to escape! This is one of dozens of little story touches that make IPCRESS FILE a really cool movie.

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

- Bill

Monday, September 26, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Cowboy Grab Bag

Lancelot Link Monday! A western topped the box office this weekend. Denzel's star power? Return of the genre? While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...




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


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Mag Seven ...................... $35,000,000
2 Storks.......................... $21,805,000
3 Sully........................... $13,830,000
4 Jones Baby....................... $4,520,000
5 Snowden.......................... $4,144,989
6 Witch............................ $3,950,000
7 Breathe.......................... $3,800,000
8 Suicide.......................... $3,110,000
9 Bough............................ $2,500,000
10 Kubo............................. $1,103,000




2) Can A Western Be Contemporary?

3) BRIDGET JONES beats MAGNIFICENT SEVEN At The Box Office?

4) News From Raindance Film Fest!

5) Sorkin Masterclass Cliff Notes?

6) BOUND FOR GLORY Is One Of My Favorite Films... Article Plus Screenplay!

7) Wayne Wang On San Francisco Cinema.

8) Scripts For THE NIGHT MANAGER? Here You Go!

9) Wim Wenders On James Cameron.

10) Curing The *Symptom* of Ageism In Hollywood While Ignoring The Disease...

11) Jeff Nichols On LOVING.

12) RIP: Bill Nunn.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:





Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

-
Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:

Friday, September 23, 2016

The French Hitchcock?



If you've seen INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, the movie playing at Shoshana's cinema that gets bumped for the Hitler Assassination Plan is called LE CORBEAU (THE RAVEN) - she has to take the letters off the marqee. The film was directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, who is often called the French Hitchcock. Clouzot also directed a couple of my favorite films, WAGES OF FEAR and DIABOLIQUE. He is a great director - knows how to build tension to the breaking point. LE CORBEAU was only his second film, but it still works decades later.

LE CORBEAU is about an alof handsome young doctor in a village hospital who begins to get threatening letters signed by "The Raven". The letters accuse him of having an affair with an older doctor's pretty young wife... and of being an abortionist, who may even have been the one who knocked up all of the women he's accused of aborting. Because he wasn't born in the village, he's seen as an outsider... and when word gets out people believe these rumors.

The old doctor's wife also gets a letter from The Raven... and soon half the village are getting threatening letters accusing them of some rumored activity. The Raven knows *everyone's* secrets! Who can it be? The old cuckold doctor and young doctor basically must work together to find out who is The Raven. And there are some *great* suspects and a really shocking twist end. Actually, a double twist.



Though this is an early film of Clouzot's - not as suspenseful as DIABOLIQUE, it still packs a punch and has some very well drawn characters and it will keep you guessing until the end. The alof doctor is an interesting protagonist because he has a deep dark secret - and we think we know what it is and we are completely wrong. The character is a twist.

If you're curious about French films made during WW2 and during the Nazi Occupation, check this one out. Oh, and look between the lines for a message about living and working in Nazi Occupied France.

- Bill

Thursday, September 22, 2016

THRILLER Thursday: The Prediction

The Prediction

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



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


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




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

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

Bill



Buy The DVD!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Trailer Tuesday: DARK PASSAGE

Dark Passage (1947)

Directed by: Delmer Daves.
Written by: Delmer Daves based on the novel by David Goodis.
Starring: Bogart, Bacall, Bennett, Moorehead.


DARK PASSAGE is a great film, even though I did not own it on DVD until after seeing it on the big screen again a few years ago. David Goodis is one of those great Noir writers, darker than dark. His stories are bleak and contain all of those D Words that make Noir fiction a genre: Darkness, Despair, Doom, Destiny, and Dead ends. Now (2014) I'm getting ready to rewatch a couple of other films based on his books, MOON IN THE GUTTER and NIGHTFALL and SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER.



The house lights go down, and some great Franz Waxman music begins (it is a week later, and I still can not get that music out of my head!) And the WB shield appears on the screen. I love Warner Bros movies - they were gritty when other films were glossy. Even their big Busby Berkeley musicals were about some broke composer and some out of work chorus girl who team up and put on a hit show that saves some theater.

DARK PASSAGE - based on a novel by the amazing Dave Goodis, produced by Jerry Wald (ex-screenwriter - back then they promoted *writers* to producer jobs and studio head of production), written and directed by Delmer Daves (DESTINATION TOKYO), starring Bogart & Bacall and Agnes Moorehead and lots of Warner Bros bit players.



The film opens with escape from San Quentin that is shot POV from the lead character (Bogart) - we never see him... just what he sees. Though the first 65 minutes of the film are from the lead character’‘s POV, and we don’t see Bogart’s face for that entire time, it isn’t 100% POV - it’s a combo of shots of POV and wide and long shots. So the film actually opens with a shot of a garbage truck filled with garbage cans leaving San Quentin Prison... then a pair of hands come out of a garbage can, and they rock it off the back of the truck. POV from inside the can as it rolls down the hill, then a great shot from *inside* the can as the prisoner crawls out, gets his footing, and escapes...

From there on it’s POV from the prisoner - as he ditches his prison shirt, hides from a dozen police on motorcycles looking for him, etc. He *hops a fence* to the road to hitch a ride - amazing stuff. Can you imagine trying to hoist one of those huge old 35mm cameras over the fence with some actor’s arms in your way (as the prisoner’s arms).

He gets picked up by a grifter... and they hear the radio report about the escaped convict! Great POV shot from our convict hero Vince Parry (voiced by Bogart) as the grifter hears the convict’s description and looks up and down at *us* - type of shoes, color of eyes, hair, etc. *We* punch the grifter and escape... and then we are picked up by Bacall, who has some connection to the convict... but what?



Bacall lets him hide out at her place, furnishes him with new clothes, and takes care of him... why? She won’t tell him. Vince was convicted of murdering his wife, has always claimed he was innocent, was convicted to life in prison, and now the only way to have a normal life is to find the real killer before the police catch up with him for escaping San Quentin. But how can he do that with his face on the cover of every newspaper?

Vince gets some back alley plastic surgery in some really dirty tenement where the doctor had his license yanked years ago... very similar to the scene in MINORITY REPORT. The doctor is this crazy guy, who tells him that a botched surgery could make him look like a bulldog... or worse. Does Vince have a place to stay? He’s not supposed to move for a while after the surgery, and needs someone who will take care of him. Well, Vince has already contacted his oldest friend who always believed he was innocent, who will take care of him after the surgery.

But when Vince is dropped off there after the surgery he finds his friend murdered - whoever actually killed Vince’s wife is getting rid of anyone who Vince can go to for help. So Vince has no choice but to *walk* across San Francisco right after surgery - climbing endless flights of stairs (those ones under Coit Tower) to Bacall’s apartment building. She takes him in again....



Okay - 65 minutes into the film, the bandages come off and we see the movie star's face for the very first time. Imagine doing that in a modern film. For half the film we do not see the star's face! While Bacall is slowly taking off the bandages there is this fear that he will look like a bulldog... or worse. But he looks just like Humphrey Bogart! After he looks in the mirror, we ditch the POV stuff and the last half of the movie is a Bogart & Bacall crime film.

I had mis-remembered the film (or maybe this is what happened in the book, which I read about a decade ago) - but I thought after he got the plastic surgery he re-enters his old life with his new face and gets to question all of his old friends about himself and see himself from their POV... and gets to hear what people really think about him. Though that’s touched on in a scene of the film, it really isn’t explored much because the last half of the story picks up speed and is action-action-twist-action! Relentless pacing, and some *savage* plot twists!



Bogart finds the one guy who can prove he's innocent, the guy fights him, the guy goes off a cliff and splats. No way to prove himself innocent! I'm not going to spoil the film with all of the other characters who die - but some *shocking* unexpected deaths in this film. Everyone who can help him prove that he didn’t kill his wife ends up dead. So not only do we not see the movie star’s face for the first 65 minutes, the film manages to kill off people that usually do not get killed off in a film like this. Lots of “you can’t do that in a movie!” scenes.

The film still works - is clever and has shocking twists and a great Franz Waxman score and really well done suspense scenes (one is almost a French Farce - with everyone wanting to go into the room where Bogart is hiding) - and fantastic San Francisco location work. Though San Francisco stuff was probably 2nd unit - the film feels like it was all shot there. You get a real feel for the city, and the film uses some interesting locations that you wouldn’t see in a film that just used the tourist locations.

A little side note on the novelist, David Goodis - in print he was the king of downer noir. A few months ago I read his “lost” novel THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN about a drunk and his wife on holiday in some Caribbean country... and while the husband is drinking and whoring, his wife starts screwing some other dude... and then everybody dies. He’s best known for DARK PASSAGE and SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER (filmed by Truffaut) and NIGHTFALL (made into another great noir film) and STREET OF NO RETURN and MOON IN THE GUTTER and CASSIDY’S GIRL and THE BURGLAR (which was made into the film THE BURGLARS which I featured some great stunt clips from in the blog entry “I Do My Own Stunts”). As a writer, he was famous for his crazy practical jokes - he would fall down stairs at movie studios and fake nose bleeds and do all kinds of things that seemed to upset studio folks. He was a loose canon in a fun way.



He also is famous for probably being the creator of THE FUGITIVE TV series... After the show aired, he sued that the show was swiped from DARK PASSAGE - the escaped man sentenced for murder who is searching for the real killer. By the time the lawsuit got to court, Goodis was dead and so were all of his relatives... and they settled with the lawyer for the estate for $12k! Stall long enough and everyone is dead and the people left standing don’t really care!

DARK PASSAGE is a darned good film, and if you have ever walked with me through an underground parking garage with one of those overhead signs that tells you the head clearance, you know Goodis is a major influence on my practical joking. Whack! Ouch, my head!

DARK PASSAGE is available once more on DVD thanks to Warner Archive (link below, click on the DVD box).

Bill




Monday, September 19, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Emmy Winners

Lancelot Link Monday! The strange thing about TV now is that it's not just traditional TV, it's all of these cable channels and internet channels and... well, anything that can get to your TV at home. And the doors have opened to all kinds of things - the once dead format of the mini-series has made a return, with "limited series" shows which end up more like novels than a typical TV show. The doors are open! What will *you* try to get through them? While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...




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


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Sully .......................... $22,000,000
2 Blair Witch...................... $9,650,000
3 Bridget Jones 3.................. $8,240,715
4 Snowden.......................... $8,023,329
5 Don't Breathe.................... $5,600,000
6 When The Bough................... $5,525,000
7 Suicide Squad.................... $4,710,000
8 Wild Life........................ $2,650,000
9 Kubo............................. $2,509,000
10 Pete's Dragon.................... $2,041,000




2) Emmy Award Winners List.

3) Scripts From Emmy Nominated Shows!

4) And The Oscar Goes To...

5) Are Indie Films Completely Dead?

6) Indie Film Incubator? Will This Help?

7) Universal Emerging Writers Fellowship Winners Are...

8) Best Samurai Movies *Not* Directed By Kurosawa. (when the two samurais face off on the street and prepare to do battle, the subtitles always say something about honor... but what they are really saying in Japanese is "Hey, who does your hair?"

9) Behind The Scenes on BLOOD SIMPLE. Includes Screenplay.

10) Wim Wenders Interview.

11) Is Netflix The New Big Studio?

12) Top 100 Film Courage Segments For Last Month. Check out #6 and #21.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



A car chase from 1966 TV!

Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

-
Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:

Friday, September 16, 2016

Del Toro Talks Hitchcock.

Guillermo Del Toro talks about how Hitchcock influenced his films and more... - Bill



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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the “Master Of Suspense”; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?

This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!

Films Included: NOTORIOUS, SABOTAGE, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE 39 STEPS, REBECCA, TO CATCH A THIEF, FRENZY, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, THE LODGER, THE BIRDS, TORN CURTAIN, SABOTEUR, VERTIGO, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934), THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1955), SUSPICION, and NUMBER SEVENTEEN. 17 Great Films!

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.






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 52 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Bill

Thursday, September 15, 2016

THRILLER Thursday: The Devil's Ticket

THRILLER: Devil’s Ticket

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



Season: 1, Episode: 29.
Airdate: April 18, 1961

Director: Jules Bricken
Writer: Robert Bloch adapts... Robert Bloch!
Cast: Macdonald Carey, Patricia Medina, Joan Tetzel, John Emery.
Music: Big lush Morton Stevens score... heard it somewhere before.
Cinematography: John Russell.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The name of our story is The Devil’s Ticket. It has to do with an artist, and they tell us that one picture is worth a thousand words. You will see Macdonald Carey, Joan Tetzel, Patricia Medina, and John Emery. Now there’s a rogue’s gallery if I ever saw one! And I can assure you they’re up to no good, as you’ll find out for yourself if you have the courage to stay with us.”

Synopsis: A Pawn Shop as the sun sets. Pawn Shop owner Spengler (Robert Cornthwaite) is nervous as he closes up, makes sure all of the doors and windows are locked as if he’s expecting an invasion... that’s when the bell over the door begins ringing like crazy. He carefully opens the front door... what could be on the other side? A creature? Sees his cat jumping up and grabbing the bell cord. Brings in the cat, relocks and bolts the front door, and goes to the counter where there’s a HUGE pile of money. He starts counting it when the back door BLASTS open, and fog enters the Pawn Shop. A voice startles him: it’s Satan, saying they had a deal... and now it’s time for him to pay. The cat freaks out...



Crappy apartment: Hector Vane (Macdonald Carey) and his wife Marie (Joan Tetzel) sit at the dinner table eating the last of their food. They are flat broke. He’s a painter who does amazing portraits which capture the souls of his subjects... but everyone wants abstracts these days. He hasn’t sold a painting in ages. He looks for something to take to pawn for a few bucks so that they can eat... realizes they have nothing left except his ratty old coat, and his paintings. He swore he’d never pawn a painting, but...

Pawn Shop: Hector goes to pawn one of his paintings, but Spengler isn’t there. A strange man lets him in... he doesn’t introduce himself, but he goes by many names (Satan played wickedly by John Emery). Satan loves the painting, but tells Hector that he’d rather loan him money on another commodity. In a sly and subtle scene, Satan introduces himself without names, explains that he will pawn Hector’s soul for 90 days in exchange for Hector’s dreams of success as a painter... but at the end of those 90 days Hector must return and give Satan the pawn ticket *and* a painting of someone else... a painting that captures their very soul. Hector’s soul will be returned, but the subject of his painting will lose theirs.

Hector puts the pawn ticket in the pocket of his ratty coat and heads home...



Where Marie tells him a gallery just called, they want to do a one man show of his work. Not just any gallery, but a big uptown gallery where rich people go to buy paintings! Any skepticism about whether the new pawnshop owner was Satan or not disappears.

The Gallery: *All* of Hector’s paintings sell for top dollar, and there are art collectors eagerly awaiting whatever he paints next! They are *rich*!

Luxurious apartment: Hector and Marie sit at a massive dinner table eating a feast. The same scene as before, just with a whole lot more money.



Hector goes to the Pawn Shop with a painting... a landscape. Satan tells him that’s not the way it works: it must be the painting of someone you know... and it must capture their soul. Their soul for yours.... and he has 26 days left to paint and deliver the picture.

Hector tells Marie he’s going to their old apartment, now his studio, to paint. She doesn’t understand why he kept that place... why not find a nice studio? They can afford it. Hector says he likes to be reminded of where he came from...

But really, he uses the studio to meet his mistress Nadja (Patricia Medina) a model he never got around to painting... but bedding? That’s what he does now instead of paint. Nadja wants him to ditch his wife and go to the Mexican Riviera with her. Problem is, the day she leaves is the day he needs to deliver his painting.



Hector sees a psychiatrist Dr. Frank (Hayden Rorke, Dr. Bellows from I DREAM OF JEANNIE) and explains the whole Satan thing. Dr. Frank doesn’t believe in Satan, thinks this new Pawnshop Owner is just some dude playing with Hector’s mind. He only has Hector’s soul if that’s what Hector believes. Hector asks if the dude isn’t Satan, how come Hector became instantly successful after making the deal? Dr. Frank agrees to go to the pawn shop and talk to this guy who may or may not be Satan.

At a fancy restaurant, Hector has dinner with Nadja... and tells her he *will* go away with her.

When he goes to see Dr. Frank the next day, the doctor is gone and Satan is behind his desk. Satan warns him not to do anything like that again. Don’t go to the police, don’t call a lawyer (“In my time, I’ve had dealings with many lawyers”), just deliver the painting... in 13 days.

Hector thinks he has a solution: he will paint Marie... who he no longer loves. But as he paints his wife, he falls in love with her all over again. This creates a problem: he finished the painting with just over 2 days until his pawn ticket and the painting are due... but now he’s fallen back in love with is wife.


When the wife is out, he brings his mistress over to see the painting... and she reacts like a madwoman! She can see that Hector is still in love with his wife just by looking at it, so she SLASHES the painting to ribbons! Then she runs off, saying their relationship is over. To make things worse, the phone rings and it’s Satan reminding him he has 48 hours to deliver the painting.

Hector locks himself in his room and paints nonstop for 48 hours... falls asleep. Marie knocks on the door, he says come in... that the painting is finished. As soon as he delivers it to the customer, they can run off together... a second honeymoon. Marie leaves for a moment, then returns... tells Hector he has a visitor. It’s Satan.

“You know why I’m here. Give me my painting!”



Hector invites Satan in, tells him he will really like the painting he’s done, it really captures the subject’s soul. He unveils the painting, and it’s... Satan! Hector explains that Satan kept asking for *his* painting, so this is a painting of *him*, as per contract. Satan is shocked, he has actually been bested by a mortal. This has never happened before! Satan tells Hector to give him the pawn ticket and Hector’s soul will be returned, and he gets to keep all of the fame and fortune he’s built for the past 90 days plus any he makes for himself in the future. Hector asks Marie to get him his old coat...

She returns with a brand new one. “Surprise!” She got him a new coat for their second honeymoon! Hector asks what she did with his old coat? Marie says it was so old and ratty that she burned it...

Satan smiles at Hector, “Now it’s your turn to burn!”



Review: Bloch adapts Bloch this week in a clever little weird tale probably from Weird Tales Magazine originally. There have been some Bloch short stories adapted on Thriller before, but this is the first time he did it himself. Though best known for PSYCHO, Bloch is one of the great horror writers of the 1950s and one of my favorites. I probably discovered him through Norman Bates, but stayed for Weird Tailors and all of his wonderful short stories and novels. He is the master of the clever writing with lines like “He cut off her scream, and her head” and “He'd captured her heart, and put it in a glass jar”. In this episode there’s all kinds of clever lines, like Satan’s line about knowing a bunch of lawyers.

Even though this episode has a built in ticking clock, with the 90 day pawn ticket and the days ticking down throughout; this is more a twist end story than a tale of suspense like YOURS TRULY JACK THE RIPPER (which also has a twist end, but manages to build some real suspense and dread whenever one of the women goes walking after dark). No suspense situations in this episode, it ends up being more of a drama about the toll of success. Part of the problem might be the direction, which is typical TV so some of the things which might be milked for suspense end up being used for surprise. But the*type* of story is less suspense and more twisted tale.



Macdonald Carey is a really odd choice for the lead, who is supposed to be a young struggling artists and is even called “young man” by a couple of characters... Carey was not young when this was made. The other characters were adjusted upwards as well, with Nadja his mistress looking late 30s... compare her to the hot young artist’s model from YOURS TRULY! Even though Carey seems to old, that age adds a layer of desperation which may not have been there with a younger actor. This old man has been struggling all of these years and *still* hasn’t made it?



Just as beatniks were part of the time period so they pop up in YOURS TRULY, having an analyst or psychiatrist was also an element of the times... and shows up in this story, When Hector goes to see Dr. Frank, that would make more sense at the time than going to the police... people went to their shrinks. Their shrink would solve the problem. One of the elements of a thriller story like NORTH BY NORTHWEST is that the authorities have to be taken out of the equation... so Roger Thornhill is accused of a murder and can’t go to the police for help. Here, Hector goes to his shrink for help... and we must remove the authorities from the equation... so Dr. Frank’s power must be nullified. That kind of tells us something about the power of psychoanalysis at the time period: it’s equal to calling the police!

How do you show Hector worrying about his pawned soul? You can’t *show* someone’s soul, right? So you need to find a symbol of their soul... and that’s the pawn ticket. I call this a “twitch”, it’s a physical manifestation of the protagonist’s emotional conflict. He’s worried about his soul, so he pulls the pawn ticket out of the pocket of his ratty old coat and looks at it, and we understand that he’s worried that he might lose his soul. You find a symbol, and this one comes directly from the story. It’s a great device to show us what is going on inside a character’s head. Every time Hector takes the ticket out and looks at it, we understand what he’s thinking.



Speaking of that ratty old coat, because it’s the big end twist, in order to “play fair” we have to establish that the wife wants to get rid of that coat and make sure that’s understood by the audience but also forgotten by the audience (to make it a twist). Here’s where *the story* makes this work: Hector has a secret reason for keeping the ratty old coat that his wife doesn’t know: the pawn picket in the pocket. So even though it makes sense for him to throw away the old coat, we know why he wants to keep it. Several times, when the wife is wearing new clothes and Hector puts on his ratty old coat it makes sense for her to comment on it... and the audience doesn’t notice that they are being set up for that twist at the end. We’re so busy worrying that the wife will discover the pawn ticket that we don’t realize we’re being set up for her *not* discovering the pawn ticket. That’s some good writing!

Probably because I’m more into the suspense based episodes, this one is in the good category but not in my great category. It is very entertaining, and John Emery kills it as Satan... he milks every one of Bloch’s clever lines!

Next week we look at an episode that may have inspired Stephen King’s CARRIE.

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Creating Suspense & Dread:
The Leopard Man

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



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



THE LEOPARD MAN is one of those trifecta movies for me like REAR WINDOW - produced by Val Lewton, directed by the great Jacques Tourneur (OUT OF THE PAST) and based on a novel by Cornel Woolrich (REAR WINDOW). A bunch of my favorite people working together! The Woolrich novel is one of his “Black” series, where noir gets its name (Noir was a fiction genre in the 1800s, but it's resurgence in the 30s and 40s was due to the publication of novels and stories by the three fathers of modern noir: Woolrich, McCoy and James. M. Cain), and the novel BLACK ALIBI is an intense page turner. The book and movie have different endings, take place in different cities, and have some other minor differences, but the film is pretty faithful to the book. The main way it is faithful is the use of suspense and dread, which are really why all of the Lewton movies work so well. They all have these great suspense sequences that build and build and build...

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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



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

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

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

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

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



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

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



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

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



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

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

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

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

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



INT. DELGADO HOUSE - NIGHT

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

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

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

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

PEDRO
(complacently)
I'm too young.

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

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

SRA. DELGADO
Then go!

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

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

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

PEDRO (CONT'D)
This!

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

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

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

SRA. DELGADO
A leopard?

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

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

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

Teresa swallows, shakes her head mutely.

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

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

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

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

EXT. DOORWAY DELGADO HOUSE - NIGHT

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

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

EXT. STREET OUTSIDE DELGADO HOUSE - NIGHT

Teresa steps down from the single doorstep outside her house.

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

EXT. CALDERON GROCERY - NIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SRA. CALDERON
Tomorrow.

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

Arroyo to the big grocery --

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

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

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

TERESA
(quietly, hopelessly)
Senora...

There is no reply. Teresa turns away.

DISSOLVE TO:

EXT. EDGE OF ARROYO - NIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

EXT. ARROYO FLOOR - NIGHT

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

EXT. EAST SIDE OF BRIDGE - NIGHT

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

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

Teresa goes forward again, toward the middle tunnel.

EXT. EAST ENTRANCE OF MIDDLE TUNNEL - NIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

She starts scrambling up another steep little path.

DISSOLVE

INT. BIG GROCERY STORE - NIGHT

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

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

TERESA
Oh, the toy birds!

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

She winds up the bird cage.

TERESA
I'd forgotten them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DISSOLVE TO:

EXT. CORNER WEST SIDE OF BRIDGE - NIGHT

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

EXT. WEST SIDE OF BRIDGE - NIGHT

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

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

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

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

INT. OPENING OF NORTH TUNNEL - NIGHT

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

EXT. WEST SIDE OF BRIDGE - NIGHT

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

INT. NORTH TUNNEL - NIGHT

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

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

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

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

It is a train passing overhead.

INT. NORTH TUNNEL - NIGHT

As Teresa stands transfixed, the terrific roar continues.

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

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

EXT. EAST SIDE OF BRIDGE - NIGHT

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

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

An enormous big HEAD CLOSE UP of Teresa.

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

EXT. ARROYO FLOOR - NIGHT

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

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

EXT EDGE OF ARROYO - NIGHT

Teresa scrambles frantically up over the edge of the bank.

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

INT. DELGADO HOUSE - NIGHT

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

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

SENORA DELGADO
Hah!

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

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

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

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

PEDRO
She is afraid of the leopard.

SENORA DELGADO
Just what she needs -- something to

NIP AT HER HEELS AND HURRY HER UP -

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

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

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

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

Senora Delgado tugs at the rusty bolt.

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

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

SENORA DELGADO
Your mother will let you in - -

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

He hammers the unruly bar back with the stone.

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

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



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

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

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


bluebook

IT'S BACK!

*** SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Kindle!

*** SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Nook! (coming soon)

Why pay $510 for a *used* copy of the 2000 version when you can buy the Expanded 2011 Version - now over 460 pages - for $9.99? NEW Chapters! NEW Techniques! NEW Examples! It's the book pro screenwriters recommend! An Oscar Winner and the co-writer of FOUR of the Top 20 Box Office Movies Of All Time recommend it! (which is probably why someone is selling a used copy for $510.) Filled with techniques you will not find anywhere else!

Only $9.99 - and no postage!



bluebook

NEW!

*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Kindle!

*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to find great ideas! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is around 155 pages!

Only $2.99 - and no postage!


Wait... There's more!

bluebook

NEW!

*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Kindle!

*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to create interesting protagonists! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is once again around 155 pages!

Only $2.99 - and no postage!

eXTReMe Tracker