Thursday, July 28, 2016

Thriller Thursday: ROSE'S LAST SUMMER

This episode aired a few days ago on ME TV, so I thought I'd rerun it...

Rose’s Last Summer

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

Season: 1, Episode: 5.
Airdate: 10/11/1960

Director: Arthur Hiller
Writer: Marie Baumer, based on a novel by Margaret Millar
Cast: Mary Astor, Lin McCarthy, Jack Livesey
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: John L. Russell

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Rose French. In the blur of memory the face grows dim, but do you remember the name? Twenty years ago, Rose French... the remarkable Rose French.. As a servant girl or as a princess? She was a quicksilver star in a celluloid heaven. If a woman would sell her soul to achieve such fame, what wouldn’t she do to get it back? Poor Rose, that was all she wanted, to relive the past. And those who loved her, Frank Clyde for instance, could do nothing to stop her. For the comeback trail could lead to strange and sinister places. To a lonely garden, into a night of terror, it could even lead to the face of a painted doll. For the comeback trail is a journey without maps, sure as my name is Boris Karloff. Poor Rose French, and her last desperate summer. That’s the name of our story: Rose’s Last Summer. Let me assure you, my friends, this is a thriller.”

Synopsis: Mary Astor famously explained the Five Stages Of Stardom: “Who's Mary Astor? Get me Mary Astor. Get me a Mary Astor Type. Get me a young Mary Astor. Who's Mary Astor?”

Rose French (Mary Astor) is a once famous movie star, a real doll; now a washed up drunk living in a crappy apartment in Los Angeles... forgotten by time. She was married to three men... and divorced by them. Two were pretty boy actors who lived off her fame, one was a Howard Hughes like millionaire who may be the only man she has ever loved. But now she is alone. When she gets an unusual acting job out of the blue, she takes it... No fame or fortune involved, no spotlights and red carpets; that’s not what Rose is looking for. Just a chance to practice her craft... in some town in California called LaMesa. What’s the role?

A few weeks later, Rose French is found dead in LaMesa, in the garden of some dead millionaire’s toy manufacturer’s mansion. The young doctor at the rehab facility where she once dried out Frank Clyde (Lin McCarthy) and that Howard Hughes like ex husband Dalloway (Jack Livesey) show up at the inquest, where it is revealed she died of a massive heart attack, and had been in poor health for years. The two men team up, because the doctor had examined Rose not that long ago, and she had *no* heart condition and was in pretty good health for a boozer. Did someone kill her? Poison her and make it look like a heart attack? They head to LaMesa to investigate.

The garden of the dead toy manufacturer’s mansion is accessible from the street, did she just wander in and die? While poking around they spot an old woman watching from the window, and ring the bell. They talk to the son of the toy millionaire, Willet Goodfield (Hardie Albright) and his wife Ethel (Dorothy Green), about Rose’s death, and they claim they know nothing. She was just this strange woman who wandered into their yard and dropped dead. When they ask to talk to Willet’s mother, who may have seen something from her window, Willet tries to dissuade them. When they insist, old Mrs. Goodfield yells from upstairs that she will see them.

Mrs. Goodfield is heir to Horace Goodfield’s Sweet Marie Doll fortune, and old woman who walks with a cane and spends much of her time confined to her bed. She’s cranky, but answers Frank and Dalloway’s questions. She didn’t see anything, but it’s a tragedy that the woman died on their property. When Dalloway continues with a bunch of follow up questions, Mrs. Goodfield orders him out of the room, she needs her rest. While this is going on, Frank pokes around the house and discovers a piece of evidence that makes it look like Rose may have been inside the house. Frank and Dalloway leave highly suspicious of the family, and do further investigation...

Now we get our big twist, much like in the classic thriller MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS, the role Rose was hired to play is playing is a real person... Mrs. Goodfield. Millionaire toy maker Horace Goodfield left his fortune in an odd trust: his widow must live to her sixty fifth birthday for she and Willet to inherit... but the widow has a bad heart, and the family is afraid she will pass away before her birthday. So they hire Rose to play the window in the event she dies before her upcoming birthday. Rose does an amazing job, and Willet and his wife have trouble telling them apart. But when Mrs. Goodfield does die before her birthday, they have to figure out some way to get rid of the body... and decide to dye her hair, put her in Rose’s clothes with all of Rose’s ID and place it in the garden. Plan worked: nobody thought it was Mrs. Goodfield, and when her birthday rolled around Rose played the role perfectly and Willet got his hands on his father’s fortune...

But when Rose wants her money so that she can go back to her life, Willet asks, “What life?” You see, Rose is *dead*. Rose has nowhere to go, no life to live... nothing. Willet gives her a bottle of booze to wash away her depression... and when she’s passed out drunk they carry her out to their car to dispose of her. But Rose was *acting* passed out, and she escapes, running for her life as Willet and Ethel chase her in the car trying to run her down. A nice suspense scene, ending with Frank and Dalloway arriving at the Goodfield mansion with the police, hearing the screams from the car chase a few streets over, and rescuing Rose. Nice ending as Rose and Dalloway walk off together.

Review: MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS is about an actress who gets trapped in the role of a real person who was murdered, and can’t escape after she discovers they are setting her up as a suicide. This episode tells a similar story, but through characters outside the conflict who are investigating the mystery. This works fine, because by the halfway point we switch POVs and get Rose’s story, the character who *is* inside the conflict. What’s great is that Mary Astor gets to play duel roles, and pulls off both of them. When she is playing Mrs. Goodfield, you don’t recognize her at all and think she may be part of the conspiracy to kill Rose. And in the flashback sequence, she gets a *third* role, playing the real Mrs. Goodfield under the name “Helen Quintal” in the opening credits so that the audience won’t jump ahead of the story... the way Hitchcock did publicity shots with the chair for Mrs. Bates. She does a great job of playing the real Mrs. Goodfield against Rose playing Mrs. Goodfield, and manages to make each distinctive. So we get a great performance by Mary Astor at that time in her career she was probably the latter “Who is Mary Astor?”

The episode does some stock footage jet setting, from Dalloway’s yacht to San Francisco (where Horace Goodfield died) and from gritty downtown to the luxurious gated estate. All of this is very convincing, and gives the show some scope. Though the car chase and attack scene is tame compared to what we might expect on a TV series today, it’s great for the time. The novel it’s based on is by Margaret Millar, who was Mrs. Ross Macdonald (“Archer” filmed as HARPER with Paul Newman) and a great crime novelist in her own right. Again we get PSYCHO cinematographer John L. Russell shooting the episode, and Arthur Hiller who would go on to direct the hit LOVE STORY as well as critical favorite THE HOSPITAL does a good job... but on a show like this it’s all about pacing, and this episode works well.

Though not on a par with some of the great edge of your seat suspense episodes or the creepy horror episodes of the show, this is a solid entry that really showcases the talent of Mary Astor... and makes you realize there should *never* be a time when Hollywood asks “Who is Mary Astor?” just because an actor or actress is older. Mary Astor doesn’t play a 30 or 40 year old in this episode, and looks great... no crazy plastic surgery. For an actress who was a star in the silent age, and the femme fatale in the Bogart version of THE MALTESE FALCON, she gives a great star turn here and shows that she could still act circles around most actors half her age. What is the reason for that? Oh, yeah: *Experience*.



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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Relaxed For Your Convenience!

From 4 years ago...

So this year I had to take the written driver’s license test, which I have not taken in decades because they keep just renewing my license; and I thought I’d better do some studying first. I grabbed my old Driver’s Handbook from the last time I took the written test from my files and read it a few times. Now, some of you are wondering why I would have kept that old thing, but it was filled with great research information - reaction times, stopping distances, turning ratios at certain speeds, and all sorts of other wonderful things that have managed to make it into car chases I have written over the years. All of those things the Driver’s Handbook cautions you *not* to do are the very things people do in action movies - so now I knew what the limits were and how to use them to survive. I have a car chase where I used the reaction time thing so that my hero driving 90 mph could hit the brakes and stop before going off a cliff, but the villain’s reaction time coupled with the stopping time meant they would never be able to stop in time. Hey, the section on driving on icy roads is like notes for a car chase! The paragraph on speed and stopping distance between cars was a *warning* in the Handbook - but an invitation to write an action scene to me.

So the old Handbook was in a file cabinet with a bunch of gun brochures and Radio Shack catalogues.

But after studying the old handbook, I realized there were probably a whole bunch of new laws - so I went down to the DMV to get a new handbook an study up.

And that’s how I discovered why there are so many bad drivers in California.

They seem to have relaxed the laws to make them all more *convenient* for drivers.

The *old* handbook said that you could only make a U Turn where there was a sign that said U TURN OKAY... the *new* handbook said you could make a U Turn *anywhere* except where there was a sign prohibiting it. This explains all of those people making U Turns on the blind corners of Ventura Blvd where the speed limit is 40 mph... and all of those accidents that are the result of that.

The *old* handbook said if you were making a right turn, you had to make it into the right lane, and if you were making a left turn you had to make it into the left lane; the *new* handbook said that you could turn into *any* lane. Well, the problem with that is that in California you can make a right turn on a red - so if a car turning left ends up in the right lane and a car turning right ends up in the right land - you have a collision. That’s not to mention the confusion of places where there are *two* left turn lanes - and if both cars want to end up in the right lane after the turn - collision. I recently witnesses a fender bender on Ventura & Vineland where that happened - both cars turning left wanted to be in the right lane and hit each other. Going slow, no one was hurt, and they corrected after bumping into each other - but there was damage done to both cars... and it could have been worse. Sometimes it *is* worse and people die.

The new handbook had *nothing* about reaction time and stopping distances and all of the other cool *hard facts* about dangerous driving - that stuff was probably a downer, right? No one likes to be told that they need one car length for every ten MPH between them and the car in front of them to stop safely, right? Hell, at 40 mph that is about 80 feet - who leaves that much room between cars these days? We love to be almost bumper-to-bumper on the freeway at 60mph. And all of the other laws about unsafe turning speeds and construction zones (used to be 25mph or 10mph under the posted speed limit unless posted otherwise) but the new handbook list *no* construction zone speed limit at all - so just floor it!

The two things that managed to carry over from old handbook to new were the tricky things about which car had the right of way on a narrow mountain road and speed limits around school buses... but it seemed like the new handbook was “drive safe but don’t sacrifice convenience” and the old handbook was rules-rules-rules/safety-safety-safety. The old handbook was two hands on the steering wheel at all times in the 10 and 2 position, the new handbook didn’t even mention things like that because you might be eating a hamburger or putting on make up with that other hand.

What the heck? No wonder there are so many more poor drivers! No wonder there are so many more accidents! No wonder I keep almost getting killed while riding my bicycle every day! All of the safe driving laws they used to have, have been replaced for driver’s convenience! Sure - there are more accidents and near accidents, but at least you can make a U Turn in the middle of a blind corner on a street where cars are going 40mph! You didn’t have to drive until you found a safe street to pull onto and a safe place to turn around and then safely turn onto the street you began on in the opposite direction. It takes a lot of time to be safe - we have places to go!

We would rather do what is convenient than what is safe. Rather do what is easy than what is responsible. I’m not going to get into how that is reflected in many other parts of life in the USA - I’ll leave that to you - but it seems like we want to roll through a stop sign when it is convenient for us... but when some other driver does it (causing an inconvenience for *us*) we want them thrown in jail for life. We don’t want to drive safe, we want the other guy to watch out for us. We don’t want any law that is inconvenient to us - even if that law has a logical reason behind it and will save lives.

Don’t believe me?

California just voted to change the (new) law on texting and driving - it’s now *okay* to text and drive!

I guess not being able to text while tailgating at 60mph was inconvenient.

Passing the written test was way too easy.

- Bill




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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Trailer Tuesday: Panic In The Streets (1950)


Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: Richard Murphy (BOOMERANG, COMPULSION), Daniel Fuchs (CRISS CROSS), based on a story by Edward & Edna Anhalt (SATAN BUG).
Starring: Richard Widmark, Barbara Bel Geddes, Paul Douglas, and the great Jack Palance and great Zero Mostel.

After seeing DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES sunday night, with it's opening montage showing us news footage of the plague that wipes out almost all human life on Earth, I thought it would be fun to look at a film from the past with a different look at the plague. 1950's PANIC IN THE STREETS stars Richard Widmark as a CDC doctor... not a crazed killer or a snarky hit man! He's the good guy in this one. The film takes place in New Orleans, and was shot on location (unusual for this time period) but was directed by Elia Kazan, the dude who took advantage of the new method style of acting and married it to a documentary style of cinema with great results. Kazan's *next* film was A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and a few films after that he directed ON THE WATERFRONT, and then EAST OF EDEN. Though most of his films dealt with a social issue, he was working in a time where the easiest way to do that was in crime films like this one.

Our story starts when a guy is murdered... but he would have died anyway because he had the plague. The plague! Now it's a race-against-time search for the killer (Jack Palance)... who also has the plague and is *spreading it* with every person he touches. Doctor Widmark and Detective Paul Douglas have 48 hours to find Palance before creates a city-wide epidemic. This is a great idea because "patient zero" is someone who does not want to be found (because he's a killer).

There are chase scenes and shoot outs and fight scenes and a plane chasing a plague ship and... well, it's danged exciting. It's a thriller. But it also really gets into police vs. doctors vs. city politics vs. freedom of the press vs. the public good. Because this crisis - the killer roaming the streets with the plague - requires all kinds of difficult decisions - and as they argue in a speeding car whether they should kill this guy (because he's a menace to society) or make sure they don't kill him (because they need to know everyone he came into contact with) we get to examine the way society works - and why our version may not work.

We get to look at what's right, what's wrong, what works and what doesn't work. Should they give the press the story to possibly save lives... even though that will force the killer underground and they won't capture him in time? Is freedom of the press more important than capturing a criminal? The film really digs into issues.

It also digs into character - Widmark is a low paid government doctor who hides in his work, causing problems with his wife Barbara Bel Geddes and their kid. There are some great family issues going on during the crisis, including Widmark's decision *not* to get his family out of town as they get closer and closer to the crisis point. (Some of the detectives gets their families out of the danger zone). The film works as a pursuit film, a gangster film, a cop film, a social issues film, and a drama... and *won* Best Screenplay that year. It manages to get everything right.

Plus there are a great pair of scenes between Widmark and Douglas, where Douglas completely takes responsibility for something Widmark did - to the point of endangering his future. Because it's what Widmark wanted, he doesn't notice the sacrifice. Later, when he realizes what Douglas has done, he kicks himself a bit... then later makes everything right by taking responsibility for something Douglas has done - that could really screw up Widmark's future.

The locations are amazing: coffee packing houses, ships, rooming houses, waterfront warehouses, and suburban homes. In a time where movies were shot in the back lot, this film explores New Orleans while avoiding anyplace you've ever seen in a tourist video. We get the places people live and work and avoid the tourist traps. It's a great, gritty look at the city. And there is an attention to detail that makes even the action set pieces very personal.

This is a really well written thriller, and when Widmark explains to the cops how Palance could hop a plane and spread the plague nation-wide within a day, it's really frightening. That's what could happen in the late-40s... imagine what could happen today?



Monday, July 25, 2016

Lancelot Link: Linked Again!

Due to losing wifi, here are the links from this time in July in 2012...

Lancelot Link Monday! To prepare you for the last BATMAN movie (until the In High School reboot) 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 three cool links plus this week's car chase...

1) 25 Best "That Guy" Actors.

2) Confessions of a TV Movie writer.

3) 10 Writing Tips From Joss Whedon.

And the car chase of the week!

- Bill

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Thriller Thursday: The Big Blackout

The Big Blackout

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

Season: 1, Episode: 12.
Airdate: 12/6/1960

Director: Maurice Geraghty
Writer: Oscar Millard from a novel by Don Tracy
Cast: Jack Carson, Charles McGraw, Nan Leslie, Jeanne Cooper.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Producer: Maxwell Shane

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Our friend is in big trouble, because his name is Burt Lewis... was he also once a man named Bill Logan? He doesn’t know. Because until he took the cure, he spent two years in an alcoholic black out, and for long periods of time he couldn’t remember anything. Did he do something in that time for which a man with a gun has come to get him? He doesn’t know. All at once his big blackout has caught up with him. That’s the name of our story: The Big Blackout. And our principle players are Miss Nan Leslie, Mr. Charles McGraw, Miss Jeanne Cooper, and starring Mr. Jack Carson. Sure as my name is Boris Karloff, I advise you to slide back in your chair and take a firm grip on it, because this, my friends, is a thriller!”

Synopsis: Somewhere between Travis McGee and Woolrich’s BLACK CURTAIN is this Florida based story of a charter boat captain who may or may not have been a criminal in the two years he can’t remember. Total alcoholic blackout. The story opens with Burt Lewis (the always manly Jack Carson from MR. & MRS. SMITH, THE MALE ANIMAL, MILDRED PIERCE) getting a phone call in the middle of the night from the local motel owner that they have a drunk. Burt is the local AA guy, a recovering alcoholic who knows the best way to handle drunks. He tells his sleeping wife Midge (Nan Leslie) he’s headed out...

The Paradise Motel looks a heck of a lot like the Bates Motel... except it’s in Florida, right? Hot motel owner Ethel (Jeanne Cooper) leads Burt to one of the rooms where a guy who checked in under the name “Adams” is passed out drunk on the bed. In really bad shape. Ether is the widow of Burt’s dead best friend... and she needs a man... now. Burt reminds her that he’s married and they search the drunk guy’s room for contact information while they wait for an ambulance to take him to a local rehab facility. Burt finds a gun... and a note in the drunk’s wallet that says “Bill Logan is using the name Burt Lewis at Sea Beach. He runs a charter boat. Find him and ask him things. When he tells you what we want to know, put him away”.

Ethel tells Burt that the drunk was asking all kinds of questions about him, so she thought they might know each other. Burt has never seen this guy before in his life... or has he? That two year blackout... what did he do back then?

The next morning Burt goes to his boat to grab his gun in case things go south... but is interrupted by a strange old man named Hawkins (Paul Newlan) who wants to hire him for a fishing charter and asks a lot of questions about Ben Logan. The old guy gives him two crisp $50 as down payment on the fishing trip... which is way too much. Burt leaves without taking his gun.

Burt goes to the rehab clinic to talk to “Adams”, but the doctor tells him “Adams” isn’t ready for visitors, yet. Burt pretends to leave, but heads to the back door and breaks in... passing an old drunk named Charlie Pringle (Chubby Johnson) who apologizes for falling off the wagon but asks if Burt could find him a bottle somewhere... and sneaks into “Adams” room. He approaches the man, tries to wake him... but when he rolls “Adams” over there’s a bullet hole in the man’s head!

Mean town cop Wright (the always growling Charles McGraw) accuses Burt of killing “Adams” and asks where he got a pair of crisp $50 bills... did he rob the dead guy? Wright just hates ex cons... and where do you think Burt dried out? Prison. He had fallen in with the wrong crowd while drunk... but what else might Burt have done while he was drunk? Who would send a hitman after him? Burt is prime suspect in Adam’s murder, even though he never saw the guy before in his life (or did he?).

Wright tells his deputy Burt’s backstory: they used to be friends, until Burt’s wife and kid were killed in a car accident and he became a drunk... then a criminal.

At home, Burt’s wife Midge is waiting with Ethel the slutty motel owner. Both want to know what happened... but Ethel’s questions make it sound like she thinks he did it. When Ethel leaves, two hoods enter the house. Burt recognizes Fisher (Robert Carricart) from prison, who wants to know about Logan. They grab his wife, start beating on Burt...

Conveniently cop Wright shows up, the two thugs leave through the back door... and Wright gets another chance to hassle Burt. When Burt says the two men were looking for someone named Ben Logan, Wright reacts for a moment... then goes back to playing tough cop. He says they’ve found the gun that killed “Adams” and shows it to him... it’s *Burt’s gun!* He says he’s never seen it before. When Wright leaves, Burt heads to the liquor cabinet... then stops himself.

Burt decides to take his wife to the motel just in case the thugs come back. He realizes that whoever killed “Adams” had to walk right past Charlie Pringle’s rehab clinic room, and that crazy drunk would ask anyone walking past to get him a bottle to help him dry out. Burt calls the clinic and is told Charlie skipped... so now Burt must go from bar to bar looking for Charlie. A great device, because Burt is faced with temptation again and again. In joint the bartender tells him that Charlie was there, but left because he had some big deal meeting that would make him enough money to pay off his bar tab...

That’s when cop Wright shows up to hassle him... Burt says he’s there looking for Charlie, and Wright says Charlie’s dead: the victim of a hit and run. Everyone Burt comes into contact with gets killed. Burt looks down at a drink on the bar... almost takes it, but resists.

Burt calls one of his prison pals to get some background, and is told a man named Ben Logan was smuggling drugs into the country and stole $700,000 worth of product... and Logan was using a fishing boat... and just happened to have the same initials as Burt Lewis. Hence, all of these hit men coming after him.

The next morning is his fishing charter with the old man named Hawkins, who questions him relentlessly about Ben Logan... Hawkins is the father of a man killed by Logan, and is out for revenge. And here’s the twist: Hawkins knows that Burt *isn’t* Logan, because his son sent a picture of himself with Logan in the background. That’s when he gets the call on his radio... the motel owner was beaten up and his wife has been kidnaped!

Thug Fisher calls: wife for information. Burt meets them in an abandoned boathouse and shows him the picture of Logan from Hawkins... that *is* the guy they are looking for. Burt explains that guy is dead: he was Ethel the motel owner’s husband. *Ethel* must have the $700k in drugs (or have sold it, since she always seems to have money). Fisher leaves to get the drugs or the money from Ethel, and Burt kicks some ass with the thug they leave behind to guard him and his wife. You have Jack Carson in your episode, there’s gonna be a fist fight!

Burt races to the Motel, gets there after an off screen gun battle where all of the thugs are killed and Ethel is seriously wounded. Burt now knows that Ethel was the one who killed “Adams” and Charlie and framed him... to keep her part in the stolen $700k in drugs secret. But what was *Burt’s* part in this? Was he involved during those 2 years of alcoholic black out? He asks Ethel on her deathbed (in front of cop Wright) if he was involved in the drug running... and she says he wasn’t. He was too drunk to be dependable. And also, too honest. She dies, and the spider web closes over the screen as the episode ends.

Review: Though not one of the best episodes, it works okay for TV... and you can tell it was condensed from a novel (because it has some crazy story short cuts here and there). The main problem ends up being the wife character, who is underwritten and has awful dialogue (and/or is an awful actress). But it keeps the mystery as to who is Ben Logan going throughout... with plenty of false suspects, especially officer Wright and Hawkins. Because we are looking for a *man* we never suspect that Logan might be the motel owner’s dead husband... and she is basically “Logan” at this point.

One of the great things this episode does is tie the protagonist’s emotional conflict (he’s a recovering alcoholic) into the story in many different ways. The idea that *he* could be Logan and not remember due to his alcoholic blackout is the engine that runs the machine, here... but every place Burt goes is somewhere booze is served (except for the rehab center, which is filled with his mirror images). This is a story where the physical conflict and emotional conflict are twisted together so tightly that every scene about the plot ends up also being about the character. Even the cop Wright’s antagonism is due to a past scuffle they had when Burt was drunk which has left Wright physically scarred. The motel owner Ethel is *constantly* drinking in front of Burt... but asking if it’s okay first (calling attention to it!). The assassin who calls himself “Adams” (fake name) is a drunk! And the witness to the murder Charlie is a drunk, which means Burt has to hang out in bars to find him. There are scenes where Burt is home, and tempted by alcohol in the liquor cabinet... he is surrounded by the thing that brought him down, and the constant pressure of that murder frame tightening on him has him looking at that escape the bottle provides.

Another great thing the episode does is use visual storytelling... Burt’s gun has two pieces of tape on the grip. When officer Wright shows Burt the murder gun, it has two pieces of tape on the grip. We *instantly* know this is Burt’s gun and feel the same thing the character feels. Burt doesn’t show any reaction at all, that would land him ion handcuffs. But we know what he’s thinking and feeling because *we* are thinking and feeling the same thing. “Crap, that’s *his* gun!” It’s those two pieces of tape that make it work, finding the specific that is easy for the audience to spot.

Next week on Thriller we’ll look at an episode reminiscent of “Strangers On A Train” that deals with gambling addiction.


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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Smoke & Mirrors

Today is my birthday, so this blog entry is a rerun while I try to see how many Free Grand Slams I can get by going all over Los Angeles...

From over ten years ago in 2006...

Yesterday I wrote 4 pages. The day before I wrote 6 pages. Three days ago I wrote 5 pages. I'm almost over the big hump with this page one rewrite on STEEL CHAMELEONS - all of the 100% new stuff is almost done. Soon I’ll just be rewriting existing scenes - most are getting a major face lift, and there are still some 100% new scenes left to write... but Act 1 is so completely different that as soon as I get through that it will be much easier going. Writing is boring stuff. Do you really care about that really cool idea I came up with on page 23?

But you might be mildly interested if I told you that Tom Cruise was attached, right? That makes it exciting - a real movie. I was visiting a friend at Cedar-Sinai hospital and got off on the wrong floor by mistake and ended up in the *Pediatric Plastic Surgery wing* where baby Surrey was getting some work done so that he looked more like Tom and less like the sperm donor (you wondered why Tom & Katy took so long to show him to the public? The kid's little plastic surgery scars had to heal) and after I accidentally witnessed this, Tom agreed to play a small role in my film - more or less what Jackie Chan did in PROTECTOR. But the great thing is, now that Tom's onboard, I was able to get Billy Bob and Julia and Marilyn Monroe in a very small role. I know she’s dead, but... (insert Monty Python ash tray joke here)

All bullshit.

This town is full of bullshit. It’s as if people who move here leave their values at home and bring the fertilizer. Everyone has some big deal going... in their minds.

Most of my Script Tips are either analysis of films or “this worked for me” advice. I tend not to share the things that didn’t work, or the lessons that I just refuse to learn. Hyping yourself is one of those lessons. Though I’m not from the mid-west, my parents brought me up to tell the truth and be modest about my accomplishments. If you’ve been visiting my site for a while, you may have noticed my resume “evolving”. In the beginning I never mentioned a single project that didn’t make it all the way to screen. Because my goal is to actually get scripts on screen, I considered the ones that were bought and shelved to be failures. I got paid, but they didn’t get made. Now I include them.

I also didn’t talk about *potential* deals that didn’t pan out. If a script that didn’t get made is a failure, what the heck is a script that didn’t even get bought? Who cares about how many meetings I got off that script or how many potential assignments I was up for - that’s all smoke. Nothing to show for that... But you may have noticed I include some of those things in my resume, now. That started when I was up for a rewrite job at 20th Century Fox... and didn’t get it when somebody else demanded a $300k producer’s fee if they hired me. This guy was *supposed* to be looking out for my best interests. That made me angry enough to talk about it.

But the main thing that contributed to loosening up my resume to include actual accomplishments that didn’t end up on celluloid? The amount of complete bullshit out there. When everyone else has Tom Cruise attached to their project (in their minds) and you’ve actually had two meetings with C/W while they were on the Paramount lot because they read and liked your scripts, why should I keep my real meetings a secret? One of the things I always say about printed film budgets is that if it’s an Independent genre film - divide by at least two. A guy who has made a low budget wants to make you think it cost more... and wants the distrib who picks it up to pay as if it cost more to make. If it’s a studio film - multiply by two. Studio films always go way over budget and they try to keep that secret - if you knew how much it really cost to make that bomb, the studio would look like a bunch of morons. I’m afraid that the same sort of inflation adjustment may go on when people read my credits, so why leave something *real* off my resume? Hey, I really did turn down the job adapting ANGELS & DEMONS. I *am* a moron!

But I draw the line at lying. That’s the lesson I just refuse to learn... and you won’t be seeing a Script Tip anytime in the future about padding your resume or misrepresenting yourself. Though the truth may be different than the way the final credits were attributed, I’m not going to take credit for something I didn’t do.

Which puts me in the minority in this town.


About a decade ago, I met writer who claimed to have written a movie in production at Warner Bros... he even had a copy of the script with his name on the cover. He made sure everyone saw it and everyone was impressed... and later we found out he *typed* the script. His job was to format scripts to mesh with the Warner Bros format - he worked in the secretarial pool at Warners.

A couple of years later I met a writer who told me he was the best writer in town. He didn’t stop there, though - he hired a publicity firm to spread the word. Next thing you know, he’s actually being interviewed in magazines as one of the new hot writers in Hollywood. He hadn’t sold a script, optioned a script, or even made semi-finalist in a contest. He just hired a PR firm. Now here’s where the story gets weird... someone believes the hype! He’s signed by some young agent at William Morris. That gets him ink in the trades - legitimizing the “hot writer” claims. It also gets him pitch meetings all over town... where he sells a pitch! They guy does have the gift for gab - he can convince you that he really is the best writer in town... until you actually read his writing.

I had never read any of his scripts until a couple of years ago. He went out of his way to keep them away from myself and any other actual writers. For good reason. He has these wild ideas that sound good until they end up on paper - I call them “underhanded pitches”. The problem is, the idea doesn’t make much sense if you think about it. In a pitch meeting, there isn’t time to think about it... but when you’re reading the script, you realize the idea just falls apart. Okay, now add poor execution. Because this guy wasn’t the best writer in town, he was kind of bland. All of his characters sounded exactly alike, all of his scenes were things we had seen before, and some of his stories were... well, you’ve already seen the movie, just with a different title. A friend of mine read one of his scripts and told me it was almost scene-for-scene AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. One of his scripts that I read was THE MECHANIC with the names changed and this completely ludicrous center-piece assassination that probably sounded amazing when pitched... but just made no sense on the page. Two of their scripts had SIXTH SENSE like plot twists at the end that came from out of the blue and were not even possible when you stopped to think about them.

So the poor execution (and turning in the script after their deadline) killed the first big studio deal... but they had already rode that hype to a couple of other deals. By the time a mutual friend had slipped me a couple of their scripts, they were telling everyone about the stars who were attached or interested. Oddly, none of those scripts ever got made, despite the caliber of stars attached.


I was having coffee with a producer friend a couple of days ago, and he was telling me about his frustration with the bullshit in this town. He has some private investors who are willing to put up gap financing or completion funds for films with stars, a distrib, and the rest of the money in place. Every day he is brought projects... and the story is always the same. Someone claims they have Billy Bob attached, Paramount onboard to distribute, Gary Marshall directing, and half the money committed. . They just need the other half of the budget. The first thing my friend wants to know is - if you have these people attached and Paramount is going to distribute, why doesn’t the studio just put up the money? And that’s when the hype begins to unravel.

“Well, we know someone in distribution at Paramount, and they said once we have the film made they are *very* interested in considering it for distribution. We have this letter from them that says that...”

Folks, Paramount is a distribution company. They have acquisition people there whose job is to watch movies and decide if Paramount wants to distribute them or not. It’s not difficult to get that person to do their job. But they watch a bunch of movies and only select a few a year. Having Paramount say they’ll watch your finished film is not a distribution agreement.

“Well, we have this letter from Billy Bob’s agency, saying that he’s interested in starring in our film if we meet his price and conditions and schedule...”

Folks, actors - even movie stars - are just like us. They are in a business where they really don’t know where their next check is coming from... and if you’ve got the money to pay them, they will star in your movie... unless they have a better gig (that scheduling part) or if the project completely sucks and they don’t need the money (conditions). I know you’ve seen some awful movie with a big star and said to yourself, “They did this one for the money!” And you’re probably right. There’s a difference between Billy Bob really wanting to make your movie, and Billy Bob saying he’ll do it for the money.

“Well, we can get the script to Gary Marshall....” But he’s never read it.

I’ve talked to Gary Marshall before. He has a theater across the street from Priscilla’s Coffee Shop (where I used to write every day for maybe 8 years) and sometimes he comes in. The famous Bob’s Big Boy is across the street the other way, and I’ve seen him there, too. I can easily get a script to Gary Marshall... what he does with after that is another thing entirely. There are two garbage cans between his theater and Priscilla’s. Even if he decided to read it, that’s no guarantee that he’ll direct it. Most likely, it will end up in one of those garbage cans, anyway. Access to a director or a star or anyone else is meaningless.

I had a meeting with a “producer” I had never heard of before at his office on Sunset. He’d “heard good things about me”. I was there for maybe 30 seconds before he began name dropping stars he was working with on other projects. And he wanted me to write a script for Big Name Star. He kept promising me a meeting with Big Name Star... I wrote a treatment, got notes (supposedly from the Big Name Star) and they asked if I would rewrite the treatment for free based on Big Name Star’s notes. Sure. Then they asked if I would start the script before they cut me a first draft check, because Big Name Star wanted to read it... and I balked. I asked for that promised meeting with Big Name Star. Turns out, they had partied with Big Name Star several times in the VIP room of some Sunset club... they had provided the cocaine. Now, I’m sure that actual films have been made based on relationships like this, but none with my (unpaid) screenplays.

My producer friend told me he’s been brought about 50 projects over the past month - all have supposedly had stars and studios and directors and partial funding... and not a single one of them *actually* had any money or people attached. It was all smoke.

And here’s the part that bothers me the most - he told me that none of the scripts he read (maybe half of the 50) were even close to good. Most were bad ideas poorly executed. One he had on his desk that day was riddled with typos and mis-spells. I’m not talking about a couple of things here and there, I’m talking about up to dozen mis-spells on a single page! (but Billy Bob was attached.) Even though the “producers” with these projects were full of crap, they were still getting all of these scripts out there to real people like my friend. And sometimes the bullshit becomes reality... and they get made! (More on that in an upcoming blog entry called Trilogy Of Terror.)

The moral of the story - the lesson that I refuse to learn - is that bullshit works.


One of my tips on my Guerrilla Marketing CD is to figure out some way to make an impression when you meet with someone. That’s advice that I give but really don’t use myself - I’ve seen it work really well for others, though. That doesn’t mean I don’t accidentally make an impression - I’m a big guy, 6'4" and not exactly thin. So people might remember me by size. But for a while when I had a manager and scripts going out wide and a bunch of studio meetings, I would ride my bicycle to any meetings at Universal, Warner Bros. or Disney. I live in Studio City - close to all three - and when you drive they always have you park on the opposite side of the lot from your meeting. Never fails. Studios tend to have these guest parking structures that are nowhere near anyone’s office. On a bicycle I could literally park at the front door. When I met with Will Smith’s company they were on the Universal lot - in a bungalow way the hell down by the mighty Los Angeles River. I would have had to walk *miles* from the parking structure to get there! What happened is, at those three studios, some folks knew me as the “bicycle guy”. I had a meeting with a producer a few months ago, and he asked if I rode my bike. I told him I drove (he’s in an office on Wilshire, now) and he was mildly shocked that I even knew how to drive. Maybe this bicycle thing isn’t the best image to have in the film biz.

I have a screenwriter friend who has created his own image... and come to believe his own bullshit. I find this strange. I’ve known him for over a decade, and it’s funny to see the conflicts between *his* reality and actual reality. More amusing than most of the comedies I saw this summer. If you listen to him, he was on staff at a TV show, and both Fox and MTV thought he was a really hot writer. A TV star read and flipped over one of his scripts. Etc. As someone who was around through all of this, it happened very differently. My favorite story is his TV show staff job - ask him and he’ll tell you about going all the way to the top and actually getting on staff before the show was canceled. He believes this. Once when I was invited to a screening, I brought him along... and who do you think was there? That TV executive who hired him on staff! So he decides to go up and say hello...

And the guy doesn’t remember him at all.

For a while I thought it might be that he didn’t ride a bicycle to his meetings or do anything else to make an impression... but then the TV executive goes down his list of people on staff the season they were canceled... and my friend’s name is nowhere on that list. The funny part is - my friend is trying to convince this guy that he’s mistaken! He keeps reminding the executive of things that happened... in my friend’s mind.

I was there for the TV star who flipped over his script - what really happened was that he gave the script to a crew member on the star’s show... and nobody really knows what happened next. In fact, nobody really knows whether the crew guy gave the script to the TV star. The crew guy says he did, but he has his own little dream world going on. But to hear my friend tell it, the star wanted it to be his next project... then he was offered something else by the Network and did that instead.

Truth is - he’s never had a paying gig. You’d think with all of the projects he talks about, one would have actually ended up as a paycheck. Nope. But he still believes that he was on staff for a TV series and had all of these stars drooling over his scripts.


I tend to be very self depreciating about my career (as one of my characters might say - “Does he really have any other choice?”) - I have referred to my films as crappy on many occasions (usually when I’m speaking to a crowd) and often call them forgettable. Whenever anyone says they’ve just rented one of my films, I always say “Writer offers no refunds.” Though I had high hopes for every single one of them, they grew up differently than I had planned. Now I’m left in the same position as some serial killer’s mom - they’re my kids and I love them... but I’m sorry for the pain they may have caused you.

Everyone tells me I shouldn’t do this. That I should hype the hell out of my films. I’m still on the fence on that one. If The Washington Post reviewer was smoking crack and gave NIGHT HUNTER 3 (out of 4) stars, I have no problem mentioning that. That’s a fact - I have the newspaper somewhere in my office “closet of doom” to prove it. But I often will mention my theory that it was a drug related incident. I’ve seen NIGHT HUNTER - it’s about vampires and it sucks. Some good scenes made it to the screen, but most did not. Most of the things I really loved about the script are nowhere to be found in the movie.

I always refer to IMPLICATED as “Victim Of Director” and tell everyone how terrible it is. Recently a friend of mine rented it, and I warned him how bad the film was... and he told me how surprised he was that it was pretty good. He enjoyed it. Talked about some scenes and dialogue and characters he really liked. He thought it was better than some recent theatricals he’s seen. He thought I was overly critical.

Maybe I am. I know what the script was - and it’s so much better than what’s on film. But, I’m sill going to warn you - this is not a good film.

Here’s the problem - When people ask if I’ve written anything they’ve seen, I always say “Probably not.” Most people haven’t seen anything I’ve written. Most producers haven’t seen anything I’ve written - and never will. So the only thing anyone in this business will ever know about my films is what I tell them. Their only source for information is me. So shouldn’t I stand up for my own movies? Shouldn’t I tell people how great they are? (even if it’s not entirely true?) Maybe I should hype the heck out of my movies?


I wonder if the other writer with the PR firm getting his name into all of the papers believes his own press? Or does he know it’s crap? I never can tell. Whenever I talk to him, he acts like the press release stuff is true. He’s since pitched a project to 20th Century Fox, who bought it... then the project died for some reason. He says it was studio politics - someone with a vendetta against him. I know he turned in the script late (again) and that the studio hasn’t assigned another writer to the project - and isn’t looking. I also know that his agents at WMA aren’t doing anything for him anymore, and nobody seems to want to hire him. Maybe the bullshit caught up with him?

This town is full of producers who have never produced anything, projects with big name stars “attached” and people who can help you get your script to the right places for a fee. Take it all with a grain of salt. When someone says they’re a producer, ask them what they have produced (then ask for a screener copy). Look up people on IMDB and also try to find (and watch) their films. And even if everything they say really does check out - be careful. Sometimes the bullshit artists get enough people to believe them that some of the bullshit comes true... even though they are still bullshit artists. Just because a producer has a real poster on his wall for a real movie starring Nicolas Cage does not mean that he’s for real.

All I know is that if people only believe half of what I say is true, I’d better start saying that I’ve had *36* crappy movies made. Oh, wait... I mean *brilliant* *Oscar worthy* movies made. And Tom Cruise starred in every one of them.

- Bill

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Trailer Tuesday: GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933

I always manage to get the plots to 42nd STREET and GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 mixed up, because both have amazing Busby Berkeley dance numbers and both share the same casts and both deal with survival during the Great Depression. This is the film with the plot I remember, but always seem to think it’s 42nd STREET.

You might wonder why a guy who has a book on writing action movies is a huge fan of Warner Bros musicals from the 30s, but that would be thinking in cliches... so stop that right now! Oddly enough, the big set pieces in Busby Berkeley films have much in common with big action set pieces in today’s films... and probably even more in common with martial arts films (since both deal with graceful physical actions). My main love for these films comes from their gritty reality base... these are movies from the Great Depression *about* the Great Depression. While MGM was turning out glossy escapist fantasy musicals, Warner Brothers was known for gritty social issues film... and that extended to their musicals. Just as I love the WB long haul trucker movie THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT and their film about guys stringing power lines across the country MANPOWER, these musicals are about real people struggling to pay the rent and doing hard physical work (dancing). GOLD DIGGERS was directed by Mervyn LeRoy who may be most famous for his gangster film LITTLE CAESAR and crime film I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG, but went on to direct the film version of MISTER ROBERTS and THE FBI STORY (with Jimmy Stewart).

Choreographer Busby Berkeley basically reinvented the musical with his amazing production numbers, and went from Broadway choreographer to film choreographer to director of film musicals to... director of THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL, one of the best crime films of the 1930s and probably John Garfield’s best film. After that, he invented Carmen Miranda’s hat of fruit before heading to MGM where he directed Ester Williams’ *underwater* dance numbers in movies like MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID, also directed by Mervyn LeRoy.


Directed by: Mervyn LeRoy
Written by: Erwin Gelsey and James Seymour based on the play by Avery Hopwood.
Musical Numbers by: Busby Berkeley.
Songs by: Al Dubin & Harry Warren.
Starring: Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Ned Sparks, Guy Kibbee, Warren William, Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers.

Hey, the gang from 42nd STREET is back in this Great Depression musical! The story begins in an apartment filled with out of work actresses, so poor that they have one good pair of shoes and one good dress between them. The have to be careful not to schedule auditions or day job interviews at the same time, or someone will have to go in clothes with patches and frayed hems. Not that anyone has an audition or job interview, we’re in the middle of the great depression and everyone is flat broke except the very wealthy who only lost part of their fortunes in the stock market crash. This pad o gals can’t even leave their apartment, because they’d have to walk past the building manager’s office, and they are months behind on their rent (the manager keeps slipping notes under the door warning of eviction). Their only entertainment comes from listening to the cute composer across the alleyway Brad (Dick Powell) work on his songs as he avoids *his* building manager. Polly (Ruby Keeler) has a crush on Brad, and often flirts with him from window to window. Nobody knows how they’re going to afford food, because all of the Broadway Theaters are closed... no one has money to put on a show and hire them.

Enter Barney (Ned Sparks, playing the same role as in 42nd STREET just with a different name) a scheming Broadway producer who has a plan. Because the theaters are broke, he’s made a deal with one to put on a show on spec. They’ll make money off ticket sales. He’s also found a potential investor to cover the hard costs of putting on a show... but he needs a cast and some songs. So he shows up at the pad o gals and convinces them to rehearse for free for pay later. Hey, it’s a chance for the gals to get out of the apartment and maybe make enough money to pay their back rent so they won’t be evicted. It’s pretty obvious that Barney has nothing but a scheme... and when he hears Brad’s music, he thinks he has a composer! (Great in joke as Barney calls the movies composers Dubin & Warren and fires them!) Basically, he puts together a show where everyone is working on spec, They have the labor, and that’s most of what’s needed.

Brad and Polly can now flirt face to face with no alley separating them, and it’s love. Barney wants Brad to play the lead, since he knows the songs (and maybe Barney can pay Brad once for two jobs), but Brad is ultra publicity shy and says he can’t be seen on stage. This causes some of the girls to wonder if he’s a criminal on the run or something.

Everything is going great, until that potential backer for the hard costs of the show backs out, leaving them in big trouble. All of this work for nothing...

Except (plot twist) Brad claims he can cover the hard costs. They set up a meeting where Brad will show up with a cashiers check for the hard costs of the show... and wait and wait and wait as Brad doesn’t show. Just when they’re sure Brad is nothing more than a schemer, maybe using this funding thing as a way to get into Polly’s pants, he shows up with the money. Where did he get it? Rob a bank? Brad doesn’t want to tell anyone where he got it, not even Polly. He *is* a bank robber, right?

When the juvenile lead gets lumbago on opening night (because he’s well over 40) they need someone to jump in and take his place... and Brad reluctantly steps in. They show is a huge hit, Brad’s face ends up in the newspapers... and the other shoe drops.

Brad *isn’t* a bank robber, he’s the black sheep son of a wealthy Boston family who disapproves of doing *any* work for a living. This is one of those families who is so rich the Stock Market crash only made a small dent in their fortune. They send older brother Lawrence (the always sleazy Warren William) and his best friend Peabody (the always pudgy Guy Kibee) to rescue Brad from the horrors of singing and dancing on Broadway. But when the two wealthy gentlemen come to the pad o gals, and Lawrence wants to know how much money it will take to buy Polly in order to release his brother from her spell. Due to some confusion they think Carol (Joan Blondell) is Polly and she insists that this conversation take place somewhere more civilized, over a bottle of champagne and a steak. So Lawrence and Peabody end up on a double date with Carol and Trixie (Aline MacMahon)... and we get to the gold digger part of our story. The gals could easily make a bunch of money by selling Polly’s love for Brad, but they would never do anything to harm Polly and the concept that love has a price offends them. This is an interesting social point, as Lawrence believes that love can be bought, and Carol and Trixie believe it has no price. When you are wealthy, everything has a price. When you are broke, you learn the true value of simple things like love and friendship.

Somewhere in here, an impossibly young Sterling Holloway (WINNIE THE POOH) show up as a bellboy and gets a single line of dialogue. Also in the cast in small roles (uncredited) are future Mrs. Ronald Reagan and Oscar Winner Jane Wyman, future tough guy and LEOPARD MAN star Dennis O’Keefe, future cowboy star Wild Bill Elliott (as a dancer!), and character actor Charles Lane (IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE) as the snooty society reporter who blows Brad’s cover.

The two gals manage to hook Lawrence and Peabody. There’s a great scene where a passed out drunk Lawrence is stripped and put in Carol’s bed, wakes up, and once again tries to buy his way out... but realizes that maybe these actresses are not evil incarnate, and maybe he’s *in love* with “Polly” (Carol). This creates a huge problem, because he thinks that he is in love with his brother’s gal! As the show goes on, we get a great false identity farce, which ends with a triple wedding. As usual, no shortage of half naked women, because this is precode. Side boob, top boob, underboob, and lots of sheer lingerie.

Let’s talk about the musical numbers for a moment, because there are some great ones here including an amazing show stopper at the end. The film opens with “We’re In The Money” with Berkeley’s signature “Parade Of Face” where every one of the beautiful chorus girls gets a big close up. Ginger Rogers sings this number, which (because we are still pre code) features scantily clad women with giant gold coins. The most amazing thing about this number is Rogers singing in *pig latin* for a verse or two! I couldn’t talk in pig latin that fast, let alone sing it! This is the cold opening number of the show, and ends prematurely as the repo men come to take the sets and costumes and props in a very funny scene.

Next up is one of the songs from the show, “Petting In The Park”, with Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell and a bunch of scantily clad gals in very risque situations. Billy Barty plays a horny baby (you read that right) who at one point, as the chorus girls are undressing behind a shade with *naked* silhouettes of bouncing boobs, starts to slowly pull the shade up! By the time the shade is raised, the chorus girls have changed into tin (!) breastplates and panties and dance away. The number ends with Powell unable to get into Keeler’s pants or breastplate, and Barty hands him a can opener! Powell proceeds to open Keeler’s outfit and we fade out. Hey, the *subject matter* of this song is heavy petting! This is one of those scenes you can’t believe are in a film made in 1933. The silhouettes behind that shade are *nude*.

One of the most beautiful dance numbers ever put on film is the “Shadow Waltz” with Powell and Keeler and Rogers and the rest of the gals. The chorus girls have *neon violins” they play in the dark, creating amazing kaleidoscopic images when the lights turn down. If “Petting In The Park” focused on ass, this number focuses on class. It’s worth the price of admission.

View That Number Here.

But it’s not the best number in the film. That would be the closing song, “My Forgotten Man” sung by Joan Blondell and Etta Moten. This has been a film about the Great Depression, and the social and class issues that event brought to the surface in America. This number focuses on the problems of impoverished veterans... and hits hard. All of those soldiers who fought in the Great War (WW1) returned as broken men, only to be broken again by the Great Depression. The number is in stark German Expressionistic images and deals with homeless vets. So many great moments in the number, including a policeman rousting a homeless man sleeping on the street, and Blondell opening the homeless man’s lapel to display war medals. This is a heart breaker of a song that shows how poorly the country treated war veterans after the economy went south. Hey, no parallels to today, right? The number ends with an amazing Busby Berkeley dance number that combines soldiers marching off to war in the background as homeless men march in search of jobs in the foreground. This is the conclusion of a film that has mostly been a comedy look at the struggles of surviving in the Great Depression... and makes you realize how serious poverty is.

Warner Brothers cranked out musical like this throughout the depression. Berkeley choreographed dance numbers in *five* musicals in 1933 alone! These films allowed people to forget their troubles for a couple of hours without ignoring that they had those troubles. The pad of gals and it’s concept that if people work together we can get through these temporary problems gave people hope and probably kept them from fighting with each other when things got tough. These films kept Warner Brothers in the black, and maintained their identity for gritty realism... even with these lavish musical numbers!


Monday, July 18, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Laura Link, Female Chimp Edition

Lancelot Link Monday! So, the new GHOSTBUSTERS opened this weekend, an did okay business. It's also getting good reviews. It seems that all of those people who thought casting women would ruin it were mistaken (I'm being polite). But will this begin a trend where every movie remake has the roles reversed? DIRTY HARRIET? ALL ABOUT STEVE? THREE WOMEN AND AN OLD MAN? While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

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

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Secret Pets..................... $50,560,000
2 Ghostbusters.................... $46,000,000
3 Tarzan.......................... $11,120,000
4 Finding Dory.................... $11,040,000
5 Mike & Dave...................... $7,500,000
6 Purge TP......................... $6,080,000
7 Central Int...................... $5,300,000
8 Infiltrator...................... $5,287,124
9 BFG.............................. $3,747,000
10 ID4 2............................ $3,450,000

2) Indie Box Office.

3) Talking Animals Are Hot! Is It Time To Remakes A BOY AND HIS DOG?

4) Just In Time For BLADERUNNER 2!

5) Darth Vader Hits Virtual Reality.

6) Moderate Budget Indie Films Area Dead - Make Them Yourself For $35k.

7) GHOSTBUSTERS (remake) Director Paul Feig Interviewed.

8) My Friend Ramesh Suggested This NYB Based Film Interview Podcast.

9) Why WONDER WOMAN Needed A Female Director.

10) Are Agencies The New Media Giants?

11) Casting Of New Spielberg Film... That Guy From Star Wars. And Casting News About The EMOJI Movie!

12) Title Cards For Classic Movies.

13) James Wan On Horror.

14) Sacramento's Joe Carnahan (who bought a copy of my book ages ago after BLOOD, GUTS first screened in Sacramento) On His Unfilmed Screenplays.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

Okay, no cars and no chase....


Buy The DVDs




Thursday, July 14, 2016

THRILLER Thursday: Pigeons From Hell

Pigeons From Hell

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

Season: 1, Episode: 36.
Airdate: June 6, 1961

Director: John Newland
Writer: John Kneubuhl based on a story by Robert E. Howard (Conan)
Cast: Brandon DeWilde, Crahan Denton, Ken Renard, David Whorf, Guy Wilkerson, Ottola Nesmith.
Music: Morton Stevens
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon.
Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The swamp is alive! Crawling with creatures of death. Creatures that lurk, camoflauged in the undergrowth waiting patiently for an unsuspecting victim. And our young friend was alarmed by a flight of pigeons. Harmless you say? Well you’ll see that he has good cause for alarm, for those were no ordinary pigeons. They were the pigeons from hell. That is both the title and the substance of our story. Spirits come back from the dead to guard their ancestral home against intruders. Spirits that in life fed on evil and now in death return to feed upon the living. Return each night, driven relentlessly by the spell of a terrible curse. In our story the living... I mean the players... are, Brandon DeWilde, Crahan Denton, and David Whorf. Join us now, as night is falling at the old house where the evil dwells and two brave young brothers dare to intrude.”

Synopsis: College kids Tim (Brandon DeWilde) and Johnny (David Whorf) are taking a road trip through the backwoods of Louisiana when their car gets stuck in the mud. Johnny goes to look for a piece of wood to shove under the wheels so they can get the car out... and discovers an ancient abandoned plantation, surrounded by pigeons. Maybe someone can help them out? But when he gets closer to the house, the pigeons attack him! He screams, and Tim runs over. By then the pigeons have flown away. They check out the old mansion... empty. Maybe a place to spend the night and get the car out in the morning?

The old plantation is vacant, cobwebs and dust... spooky. Tim tells Johnny to find some firewood while he goes to the car and gets their sleeping bags and stuff. When he leaves, Tim looks at the cobwebbed painting of a beautiful woman who used to live here... and maybe still does in some form. Johnny returns with the sleeping bags, rolls them out in front of the fire and they go to sleep. While they sleep the pigeons flock inside a room upstairs... cooing.

In the middle of the night, Johnny wakes up, hears a sound from upstairs: a woman humming? Goes up to check it out.

Johnny’s scream wakes Tim up, he heads upstairs... where Johnny waits with an hatchet! Covered in blood, walking in a trance. He advances toward Tim! Tim races down the stairs, away from Johnny, away from the house. Through the darkness, into the swamp... when he trips and hits his head. Unconscious.

Tim wakes up in a shack, where Sheriff Buckner (Crahan Denton) is searching his pockets while Howard and his wife look on. Buckner says Howard was hunting raccoons and found Tim passed out cold. Tim tells Buckner what happened... but says Johnny is dead. His head was smashed in, split open; but he was still walking with a hatchet in his hand. Dead, but still walking! Sheriff Buckner says that must be the old Blassenville Plantation and tells Howard to get his shotgun, they’re going back there. But Howard runs off. He’s not going in that spooky old place.

Buckner and Tim head back to the old house in his station wagon. It’s dark, but Buckner has a lantern. Tim doesn’t want to go back inside... but he does. There is a trail of blood on the stairs, leading to... the room with the sleeping bags where Johnny lays dead, hatchet still in hand. Buckner covers the corpse while Tim breaks down. “Why do you suppose he went upstairs?” Tim says from the moment they saw this house it was as if Johnny was listening... to something. And those pigeons surrounding the house. Buckner says he’s lived here his entire life and never seen any pigeons.

Buckner says he has to arrest Tim for Johnny’s murder. There were only two people in the house and one was killed with a hatchet and the other is still alive.

Buckner wants to go upstairs to investigate, and Tim tags along (not wanting to be left downstairs with his dead brother). Tim points out the cut in the wall where Johnny swung the hatchet at him. They find a huge puddle of blood where Johnny must have been struck by the hatchet... and a door in the darkness behind that point.

Buckner opens the door and enters the room, gun in hand. Tim behind him, scared. Suddenly the lamp goes out. Weird. They get the hell out of the room, go back down the stairs... and the lamp suddenly lights up again. Buckner says he doesn’t think Tim killed Johnny, but doesn’t really want to admit that the solution is supernatural. Everyone believes this plantation is haunted, but a Sheriff can’t really list that as a cause of death or the murderer on paperwork, right? Buckner decides to put Johnny’s body in his station wagon and then go back into the plantation house and poke around the crime scene.

Back inside the house, Tim asks Buckner who’s the woman in the paining? Elizabeth Blassenville, she was the last one who lived here. The house had fallen to ruins and the rest of the family had vanished... probably left for the city. The rumor is that Elizabeth moved to San Francisco and got married. Tim wonders if they were all scared away by whatever’s in the house now? Buckner doesn’t think so. The family lived here alone: no one would work for them because they had a mean streak. The plantation workers ran away except for one, Jacob Blount, who stayed on... and is still alive in an old shack. A young servant girl Eula Lee, she was physically beaten and ran away. Buckner and Tim get upstairs and this time the lantern remains lit.

They go into the room again... and there’s a piano covered with dust, except for the keyboard. A diary in a drawer: Elizabeth’s... an entry talks about the sounds of footsteps in the night. Ghosts. Or Eula Lee? The diary seems to suggest that instead of the rest of the family running away, they had been murdered horribly in the house.

As they leave the room, Buckner notices that a door in the hallway which was open is now closed. How is that possible? Buckner opens the door to investigate... the lantern goes out. Buckner decides instead of going in that room, maybe they’d better go see Jacob Blount in his shack.

Old Jacob Blount tells Sheriff Buckner and Tim that everyone in the house is dead... but they come back at night... as pigeons. Blount tells them that Eula Lee was not a servant, she was a half sister. Maybe Eula Lee still lives in the house? Blount says he’s afraid to say anything, because of a voodoo curse. A curse that can turn people into zombies who can not control their own actions. They live forever, time means nothing to them... they can command the dead: command the birds, command the snakes. Jacob says he can say no more, for fear she will come. Buckner wants to know if it’s Eula Lee... if she’s still alive.

And that’s when the snake attacks Jacob! Killing him.

Did Eula send the snake to kill him?

When they get to Buckner’s car, it is *covered* with pigeons!

Back in the plantation house Buckner loads his gun wondering how Eula Lee could be behind this: she’d be ancient by now. Buckner doesn’t believe in voodoo.

Tim falls asleep, wakes up... alone. Buckner is gone. Hears the woman humming from upstairs and starts climbing the stairs. In a trance. The door to that room that had closed on its own is open, and ancient Eula Lee steps out with a butcher knife ready to cleave his head in two! Suddenly shots ring out: Buckner shoots old Elua Lee.

In the room, Buckner finds a secret doorway into a room where the skeletons of all of the family members are hidden! Eula Lee murdered them all.

Review: In DANSE MACABRE Stephen King calls this "one of the finest horror stories of our century"... probably not knowing he’s make it into this century as well. I think King must have seen this episode at an impressionable age, because it really didn’t do it for me. Even though Brandon DeWilde was probably a big “get” for the show (he was the kid in SHANE and the younger brother in HUD and an Oscar nominee), I’ve never been much a fan of his acting. He’s also in that notorious Hitchcock episode THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE which was way too violent for prime time (a magic act where a woman is sawed in half goes very very wrong), but he always seems like the character in that episode... who was what we now call “mentally challenged”. He’s kind of stiff and always comes off kind of stupid. And here’s what’s crazy about this episode: he’s a hundred times better than the guy who plays his brother! All of the acting sucks in this episode, and the writing and direction doesn’t make up for it.

Samoan screenwriter John Kneubuhl also adapted PAPA BENJAMIN for this series and did KNOCK THREE ONE TWO (with Warren Oates as the simpleton), and seems to stick the actors with exposition heavy dialogue and nonsensical story moments. They go upstairs and poke around, then decide to go downstairs for no reason, then go back upstairs. It’s as if they are moving around for no reason other than padding out the scene. I’m sure these things made sense in the short story, but none of that made it to screen. Much of the plantation and family backstory is so convoluted and confusing that I want to track down the short story to find out what really happened. My *guess* is that Eula was a bastardess half slave, but none of that is on screen (a quick Google search confirms this... though the character has a different name in the short story). Instead of *discovering* this information, it just gets dumped on us. Also, for two college kids stuck in a spooky rural area like the pair in AMERICAN WEREWOLF, neither of these kids has any real personality or any clever dialogue. So we have stiff actors and stiff dialogue in a boring situation...

And blandly directed. Where PARASITE MANSION milked it’s old house for creepy and spooky shots, here it’s just some abandoned place. That shot in PARASITE where she pulls back the wardrobe and the spiderwebs are so thick and creepy that you want to move away from the TV screen has no comparison in this episode. The camera is blandly placed and actors just act in front of it. No use of cinema at all! Also, not a single POV shot to put us in the shoes of the protagonists. So this guy doesn’t seem to be good with actors *and* doesn’t seem to know what to do with the camera.

The pigeons? Hey, pretty well trained! They flock at the right place, and when they attack the kid, it’s convincing.

I only wish the rubber snake that attacks Jacob was as convincing! But it doesn’t even move! He actually reaches down and grabs it, then has to shake it to make it look like it’s moving. It’s obviously a rubber snake.

Oh, and what’s with all of the B names? Nothing worse than a huge block of exposition and every name mentioned begins with the letter B! Confusing!

What a waste of a 6/6/1961 episode!

Though this isn’t the worst episode of THRILLER, it’s probably in the bottom third. Next week we get the last episode of the season (then we are taking a break for the summer) and thankfully the show went out on a strong note... with SHATNER!


Buy The DVD!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Trailer Tuesday: With A Friend Like Harry (2000)

After seeing THE GUEST I was reminded of this French film, and decided to pop WITH A FRIEND LIKE HARRY into the machine and watch it again. I had seen it in the cinema, bought the DVD... and it sat on my shelf in the shrink wrap ever since. The odd thing about those silly French folks is that while America seems to shun most thrillers, the French love them. One of my favorite Don Westlake non series novels, THE AX, is about the economic downturn in the USA and a mid level management guy who realizes there are a couple dozen guys applying for the same jobs that he is... everyone is out of work! Then he decides the only way to land a job is to eliminate the competition, and becomes a serial killer of downsized mid level executives. Great *American* story... but no studio in America seemed to want it, so it was made in France by none other than Oscar Winning director Costa Gavras... with French actors speaking French. Hey, things were tough all over. But why do great American thrillers end up being made in France?

HARRY is an original screenplay by Gilles Marchand and the director Dominik Moll, but it’s the kind of story that Patricia Highsmith (STRANGERS ON A TRAIN) might have written.

I'm sure we all have had someone come up to us, call us by name, talk about some shared experience... and we don't know who the hell they are. We have forgotten them, but they have not forgotten us. They were nothing in our lives, but we were everything to them. Okay, that scene happens in a highway rest stop men's room at the opening of HARRY... do you want to be recognized while you are peeing? Do you want to shake some stranger’s hand, or worse: hug them?

Michael* (Laurent Lucas) and his wife Claire (Mathilde Seigner) and their three little girls (one a perpetually crying baby) have been taking a road trip to the ramshackle country house a couple hours past the retirement community where his overbearing parents live. They have a beat up old station wagon without air conditioning... and France is in the middle of a heat wave. The kids are miserable, and so are Michael and Claire. They stop at the gas station to change the baby’s diaper and use the facilities... never thinking that Michael might run into some one he knows.

Or, pretends to remember.

It seems that Michael and Harry (Sergi L√≥pez) went to high school together years ago, and Harry claims that Michael collided with him on the soccer field once and broke Harry’s front tooth. Michael remembers none of this. Harry claims they were friends way back in high school because they had so much in common, but now one is a struggling teacher with a wife and his three little (always screaming) kids and the other has inherited his father's fortune after he and his mother died in that tragic accident and drives a Mercedes sports car with a hottie named “Plum” (Sophie Guillemin) in the passenger seat. Michael has a life full of problems... and Harry believes in solving problems... permanently. Harry would like to buy dinner for Michael and his family, but Michael says he needs to get to the country house before nightfall so his kids can get to sleep at their bedtimes. Harry says he has some bottles of wine in the trunk, why not follow them to the country house and have a glass or two with them? Have you ever had someone invite themselves into your life and you just didn’t have the balls to tell them “no”?

It just keeps getting worse!

This is a great set up for a thriller because it has happened to all of us, and opens our life to potential peril when we allow some sinister stranger into our home... our lives... our family.

Basically Harry and Plum move in, sleeping in the best bedroom (because Michael wants to impress him). And Harry begins helping the struggling teacher. When the stationwagon breaks down, Harry buys them a brand new SUV. Michael tries to turn down the gift, but Harry explains ever since his parents died he has had more money than he could ever spend, so why not help out an old friend?

Because they missed a planned stop at the retirement community so that Michael’s overbearing parents could see their grand kids, his father calls and *insists* that they drive over. Michael tries to dissuade them, his father really shouldn’t be driving at night, and ends up agreeing to drive out in the new SUV and pick them up, then deliver them back to the retirement community afterwards.

When he gets there, you understand why Michael keeps his distance from his father and mother, and does not accept any gifts from them... those gifts come with *many* strings attached. His father is a manipulative ahole, a retired dentist who *insists* on giving Michael a dental exam and teeth cleaning in the spare room where he has all of his old dental equipment! This is one of those brilliant absurdist thriller scenes which help the audience feel ill at ease as they suppress their laughter at how silly (but creepy) the scene is. One of the great things about this story is that they keep finding odd things that you can relate to... that person who recognizes you but you do not recognize them, this scene where the overbearing father offers something you do not want, but you can’t really decline without hurting his feelings, and later scenes where Michael and hottie Plum meet in the bathroom and have a strangely erotic moment... it’s filled with uncomfortable scenes that just get weirder and weirder!

Michael mentions Harry, and his father remembers him! In fact, his father tells the same story about how Michael *irresponsibly* ran into Harry on the soccer field and broke his tooth and Michael’s father had to repair it for free... always cleaning up after his screw up son...

When Harry meets Michael’s parents, he realizes that they are what is holding his old friend back. They seem to go out of their way to belittle him, they offer him help (but in such a way that Michael would be forever in their debt if he accepted), and they won’t just help him financially without a bunch of strings and lectures and shaming. Harry realizes that Michael would be better off if his parents had the same sort of tragic accident that befell Harry’s parents... and makes it so! He calls Michael’s parents and says it is an emergency, they must drive out to the country house... then Harry steals a delivery van and runs them off the road, killing them.

Eventually things come to the point that Michael realizes all of his recent good fortune is due to Harry’s help... and that he has become an accomplice to Harry’s crimes. Can he let this man continue to kill people... even if it means that Michael gets everything he secretly desires? Or should he stop Harry before it’s too late?

WITH A FRIEND LIKE HARRY is a great thriller with the genre’s required humorous absurdity. Like STRANGERS ON A TRAIN’s rocky relationship between two men, one who may secretly love the other, HARRY takes us deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole until helping him bury a body just seems normal. An average man’s life suddenly spins out of control and he must step up to set it right... can he do that?

A couple of years ago they announced a US remake which would be directed by Kimberly Peirce with a script by Wentworth Miller, but according to a Variety story, she is no longer attached... which is too bad. After seeing Miller penned STOKER I would have lost Miller and kept Peirce. Though you can't judge a screenplay by its movie, I always worry a little about actors who write. Actors sometimes have a tunnel vision about *their* craft which results in a screenplay with good scenes that often don't add up to a story. STOKER's big problem was the script. We’ll see what happens if they ever make it.


* I've used the American spelling instead of "Michel" to avoid confusion.
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