Notes On The Episode:
Many things get cut for time, so let’s talk about them here...
1) First off - sorry for the bad sound! My friend who was scheduled to shoot my episodes this season landed a studio gig and couldn’t shoot the first two episodes, so I called another friend who does sound on movies (thinking that the sound is more important than the picture, right?). He shows up completely unprepared, with no headset - so he has no idea what any of this sounds like until it’s too late to do anything about it. Weird, because I have a pair of cheap headphones in my camera bag (with my cheap camera). So the first two episodes this year will have iffy sound quality in my segments. Now on to the episode itself...
2) This story hits the ground running when it comes to characters - the Wife appreciates things that are internal and emotional (experiencing all of these wonderful places on vacation) and the Husband is completely external. This opening discussion does a great job of defining their differences as they discuss their vacation plans. I love her line, “That’s the whole trouble with you, William. If you can’t drink it, wear it, or ride in it you think it has no value.” Finding a great jab like that which both sums up the character and is the kind of witty put down that makes the audience laugh is a great two-fer. That’s not an OTN line of dialogue because it’s *mean*. The Wife has put up with a bunch of his crap in this conversation and she gets the last word (sort of).
3) Is that line the trigger for the Husband’s bet? This gets into the “tennis plotting” thing in my SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING - every action causes an equal and opposite reaction, and the characters knock the tennis ball of plot back and forth between them. The Husband triggers the Wife’s comment, her comment triggers his wish to prove himself (he’s very insecure), and it goes back and forth until we reach the end.
4) Leading The Audience. This is a big part of playing the audience like a musical instrument, though it has to do with the story elements rather that the shots (actually, in harmony with the shots). As writers our job is to Always Be Leading. We know this isn’t the best marriage in the world, then the Husband bribes the Steward for a vial of pills. He takes the vial of pills with him when he mixes his Wife’s drink. What does this lead the audience to believe? What does the audience expect to happen next? By leading the audience to jump to a conclusion, what *actually* happens becomes unexpected. Hey, this is HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, people poison each other on this show! So the audience jumps to the conclusion that the pill vial may be poison and the Husband will put some poison in his Wife’s drink and kill her... But the “twist” is that they are seasick pills and the Husband just doesn’t want his Wife to see his weakness - he’s seasick and needs to take a pill to keep from vomiting. The great thing about this is that it isn’t just leading the audience to jump to that poisoning scenario (adding a bit of excitement in this opening scene) it’s also all about *character* - the Husband not wanting to appear weak. Remember, he’s all about appearances, about the external.
The other nice little bit of Leading The Audience is the word “Pool”. Just as the Husband is lead to believe that this “pool” might involve swimming, so does the audience at first. The great thing about words with multiple meanings is that they can lead to confusion, and confusion creates realistic dialogue (we look at that technique in the Dialogue Blue Book). Always be looking for words with multiple meanings to use in dialogue, then lead the audience to think one meaning is being used when it is actually another meaning. That creates unpredictable dialogue which seems real. The odd thing about leading the audience is that the more a writer *plans* the more the result seems *unplanned*. If a conversation is about the “Ship’s Pool” the audience will jump to the conclusion that it is the swimming pool on the ship, instead of a *betting* pool on the ship.
5) Last but totally not least - this episode has a busted twist. The twist comes out of the blue and makes no sense at all! This lead me to re-read the Roald Dahl short story again to see where the episode went wrong. The answer: casting.
In the short story, the two women passengers are also Aged Mother and Middle Aged Daughter... but the “witness” was the Aged Mother who is slyly established as suffering from dementia, so the Daughter doesn’t believe her. Somehow in casting these roles were reversed and a middle aged actress was cast in the “Aged Mother” role and an elderly actress cast in the “Middle Aged Daughter” role. I know that sounds confusing, but the results are that the twist end where the Mother is not believed because she has dementia is flipped so that the Daughter is disbelieved by her Mother. Why? Never set up! Makes no sense at all! So the twist end is more of a WTF? moment than a twist.
How they could have fixed this: The earlier scene where the Husband and the (witness) Daughter character bump into each other in the passageway should have given her dialogue with double meanings. One meaning should have seemed innocuous and the other clearly showing that the character is delusional. Just off the top of my head, the word “unbalanced” can deal with rocking boats and sanity. That’s the obvious choice, with a little thought I could probably come up with the more clever version... but it just shows you how easy this problem was to solve (yet it didn’t get solved). Even if the script was written with the intention of the “witness” character being that Aged Mother, you still want to do all that you can at the script stage to make the story work. As writers we have no control over casting, so I always write for the worst possible casting choice instead of the best possible casting choice - just in case. You don’t want to depend on everything going right, because there are so many variables in making a film that something is always going to go wrong. Often many things! So you want the screenplay to be the very best that it can be and not depend on the competency of others. I’m sure the casting choice on this episode made sense at the time (I’m guessing that the younger woman seemed like a potential love interest in that earlier scene so they swapped the roles of Mother and Daughter... not realizing that would bust the twist ending). A plot twist is revealing what has always been true, so in earlier scenes that trust must be present. There is a Leading The Audience element to this - we want to lead the audience to *not* see that truth earlier in the story, even though it is there. Something like dialogue with two meanings or actions which can be understood in two different ways or a clever diversion so that we are too busy looking at A when the obvious trust is B are things that can help a twist. The HITCHCOCK PRESENTS show was famous for it’s twist endings, so this is something that they should have under control.
I think the next episode up is POISON, based on a famous short story that was adapted into a famous ESCAPE RADIO THEATER episode.
Of course, I have my own book on Hitchcock...
HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR
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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?
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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.
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