Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Great Movie Moments:
Harry's Intro - THE THIRD MAN

When BAFTA - the British version of The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences - decided to come up with a list of the 100 Greatest British Films Of All Time, the #1 position did not go to an adaptation of Shakespeare or some other classic novel, nor to any of the gritty realistic films of the 60s and 70s... but to a *thriller* that was a huge financial success - THE THIRD MAN (1949). Based on a novel by Graham Green and directed by Carol Reed, it’s fun and funny and filled with chases and action scenes and other typical genre stuff. Just done right, and about the subject of black market medicine after World War 2.

If you have not seen the film - shame on you, and I’m going to spoil the heck out of it.

The story is about American Holly Martins - a pulp western writer with a silly name - who goes to Vienna when his old pal Harry Lime offers him a job. But when he arrives he discovers that Lime is *dead* - hit by a truck in a mysterious accident. Though only two people (who claim to have been Harry’s friends) were present when Harry died... one witness claims to have seen a third man, who was not questioned by the police. Martins acts like one of his Cowboy Sheriff characters and decides to track down the truth - because maybe Harry was *murdered* and the third man is the killer. This gets Martins into all kinds of trouble, because Harry was involved in the black market and those two “friends” of his are dangerous criminals. Between the criminals and the police (British military police) people are following Martins and maybe trying to kill him. Then, one night, he sees one of the people following him...



Twist - Harry is alive!

- Bill

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Trailer Tuesday: TOUCH OF EVIL

TOUCH OF EVIL (1958) (re-cut version)
Stars: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich, Dennis Weaver.
Writer: Orson Welles based on novel BADGE OF EVIL by Whit Masterson.
Director: Orson Welles

Almost sixty years after its initial release, a recut version of Orson Welles' classic film noir is back on the screen, fifteen minutes longer... darker, more evil than ever before.

Based on the 58 page memo Orson Welles sent to studio chief Edward Muhl after seeing Universal's cut down version, resorter Rick Schmidlin, Oscar winning editor Walter Murch, and film historian Jonathan Rosenbaum have created the film as Welles envisioned it. A posthumous director's cut.

The plot of TOUCH OF EVIL plays as if it were written yesterday. A Mexican district attorney (Charlton Heston!) takes time out from prosecuting a drug cartel to get married. While on honeymoon with his sexy American wife (Janet Leigh) they witness a car-bomb murder. While Heston helps the bordertown detective (Orson Welles) with the investigation, Leigh is taken to a motel for safe keeping. Some honeymoon. Detective Welles instantly finds a suspect, searches his apartment, and finds two sticks of dynamite... But Heston KNOWS the evidence was planted, and that Welles is framing the poor Mexican shoe clerk for the crime. While Heston is busy compiling proof that Welles is a corrupt cop, the drug cartel kidnaps Leigh. Now Heston must rescue his wife AND find the evidence which will bring down crooked cop Welles.

This may sound like a typical cop drama, but Welles turns it into a tour de force, taking us into the strip clubs, whorehouses, and dark twisted alleys of the border town. Creating nightmare images so vivid, you can practically smell the raw sewage in the canal that runs through the slums. In 1950s America, at a time when Beaver was Ward and June's son, the raw sexuality sweating from every enlarged pore of this film must have been more than shocking. The grimy streets, the gang-bangs with bull- dyke gang girls who want to stay and watch. "Hold her legs!" Even the phone sex between a lingerie clad Leigh (looking good enough to eat) and Heston at a store's public phone is given the added perverse twist of having the blind store owner listening to every word... and smiling. This is the type of twisted film David Lynch wishes he could make.

Welles was constantly pushing the limits of film making, and you'd be hard pressed to find a director working today who could pull off half the amazing shots in this film. Visually TOUCH OF EVIL would be innovating if it had been made today, and many of the filmic elements we take for granted had their roots in this film.

The most obvious change in the recut version is the famous 3 minute opening tracking shot (the subject of the opening scene in THE PLAYER). In the old version, Universal used this shot as a title sequence, destroying the suspense and obscuring the amazing camera work. The re-cut removes the titles, so that you can see everything clearly. This amazing shot opens with an assassin setting a bomb timer for 3 minutes. The assassin spots the victim, then races to the victim's car and plants the bomb in the trunk, darting into the shadows just as the victim turns the corner. Then the camera pulls to a high overhead as the victim drives away. The camera follows overhead as the victim drives through town, lowering to street level as the victim waits for a couple (Heston & Leigh) to cross the street. Suspense builds as Heston & Leigh walk on the street next to the car with the ticking bomb. At the border checkpoint, both Heston & Leigh and the car with the bomb are stopped for the usual round of boring questions. Tick. Tick. Tick. Heston & Leigh are allowed through the border at the same time as the car. It's when Heston & Leigh stop to kiss that the car zooms away... and explodes into the sky. ALL of this is done in one continuous shot.

Like nothing you have ever seen before.

touch DVD

Another amazing shot you may miss if you aren't watching carefully. It's so effortless, so smooth, you don't even realize you're watching one of the most difficult shots ever put on film. At the shoe clerk's apartment, there is a LONG continuous shot (X minutes) where the camera moves from room to room following Heston. In order to do this shot, the apartment set was built with break away walls and furniture on wheels. The camera glides through the apartment effortlessly, through a team of police investigators, into the bedroom, into a minuscule bathroom where Heston washes his face, then retraces its steps back to the living room through the crowd of investors to the front door of the building. More complicated than the long takes in Hitchcock's ROPE because of the break away walls, moving furniture, and sheer number of actors the camera must jockey around while maintaining a smooth glide.

Every frame of the film is meticulously composed by Welles and his DP Russell Metty (the camera operator was Philip Lathrop, who would go on to do amazing DP work himself in films like POINT BLANK). Giant shadows on buildings chase characters through the street. Deep focus makes hunter and prey clearly visible in the same shot, even though they are hundreds of feet away from each other. Characters are shown in shadow, from low angles, often with the neon from honky-tonk bar signs strobing across their faces. A scene in a file room using deep focus to underscore the amazing composition obtained when certain file drawers in the room have been pulled out, turning the shot into a fascinating visual puzzle.

One shot you may not notice is the conversation between Heston and an American District Attorney in a car moving through the back alleys of town at 60 mph. At the time this shot would normally have been done as rear projection, but Welles mounts the camera on the car and has Heston drive like a mad man. No stunt double. That's Charlton tearing through town, zipping through intersections without even slowing down.

touch DVD

Though the rec-cut version is a vast improvement over the studio's 96 minute trimmed down version, the problems with TOUCH OF EVIL remain the same. The parallel plots seem unfocused, Leigh's kidnapping taking away much of the power of Heston trying to bring down Welles' corrupt chief detective. The plotting is light: we are given little in the way of actual investigation into the frame ups, Heston just goes into a file room and comes out with evidence. Lastly, there's Heston's performance as a Mexican District Attorney: he's laughably unbelievable.

But the amazing work by Welles as an actor (fat, ugly, sad), Joseph Calleia as his second in command (not wanting to believe that "the cop who taught him everything" might be a monster), Valentin De Vargas as the handsome gang member who organizes the gang-bang, Dennis Weaver as the whacked out motel night man who can't think of woman and bed at the same time without getting flustered, and Akim Tamiroff as the crime lord with the bad toupee make this film memorable.

The rocking score by Henry Mancini uses Afro-Cuban rhythms and seems as modern as the theme Mancini would write for PETER GUNN the following year. And the pianola music that plays in Marlene Dietrich's whore house sticks in your mind for days. Dietrich, as the madam who was Welles' lover twenty years and sixty pounds ago gets all of the great lines:

"You're a mess, honey. You ought to lay off those candy bars."

Welles amazing direction and Metty's crisp, styling camera work are more modern, more innovative, than anything you will see today. After almost sixty years, TOUCH OF EVIL is more powerful than ever.

Bill

Article on the restoration: PURE EVIL

Friday, August 26, 2016

Fridays With Hitchcock: Needle In The Haystack Shot

This is a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I am a "guest expert" on. The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock, and they did a special episode... starring me!





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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Bill

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Thriller Thursday: The Watcher

The Watcher

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



Season: 1, Episode: 8.
Airdate: 10/25/1960


Director: John Braham
Writer: Donald Sanford (MIDWAY) based on a story by Dolores Hitchens.
Cast: Martin Gable, Olive Sturges, Richard Chamberlain, Alan Baxter.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: Neal Beckner




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The incident you’ve just witnessed, described by the police and the press as an accident... which of course it wasn’t just as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. We’re concerned now with some of the people who live in the resort town where the... accident... took place several weeks ago. We’re going to see these people through the eyes of a murder at large. Unidentified, unsuspected, unpredictable. As the urge to kill again becomes irresistible. The name of our story is The Watcher, and our principle players are: Mr. Martin Gable, Miss Olive Sturges, Mr. Richard Chamberlain, Mr. Stewart Irvin, Miss Gloria Clark, Miss Irene Hervey, and Mr. Alan Baxter. Take my word for it, this is a thriller!”

Synopsis: Before Karlloff’s opening, we see a middle aged man, Mr. Frietag (Martin Gable), push an unconscious young woman into a lake from a row boat, and when she comes to and begins thrashing in the water... holds her head underwater until she is dead. Frietag is a mild mannered school teacher... who is a serial killer... and he is vacationing in this lakeside resort for the summer.

The Lakeside Resort has three distinctive classes of people: the Very Wealthy who have mansions and expensive sailboats, the Summer Tourists, and the Working Class people who take care of the mansions and sailboats and work in the restaurants and stores. Larry (an impossibly young pre KILDAIRE Richard Chamberlain who just had a birthday on 3/31) does boat repair and lives with his church going Aunt, his parents are dead. Beth (Olive Sturges) is the daughter of a socialite and lives in one of those mansions. Both are 20 years old and in love with each other... even though neither’s family would approve if they ever found out. Their relationship is a secret...



Except a man is watching them make out in Beth’s parked car a couple of houses down from where Larry lives. That man is Mr. Frietag (Martin Gable), who turns from the window of the boarding house room he is renting for the summer and types a letter to the town Sheriff, saying there is another “corrupter” and he will have to kill again...

At work the next day, Larry is doing boat repairs when Mr. Frietag visits... and warns Larry that an intelligent good looking boy like him shouldn’t get sidetracked by girls. They will just bring him down. Larry could go to college and improve himself. “An older man can sometimes keep a boy straight. Life is full of dark paths, it’s so easy at your age to lose the way. Many temptations come our way...” It doesn’t seem like Mr. Frietag really wants to keep Larry “straight”... more like he is obsessed with him sexually, keeps talking about how attractive Larry is. In this conversation Frietag mentions that Larry was distracted from his path by Suzie... the girl who was drowned. Larry should not make the same mistake twice.

Larry is creeped out by Frietag, tells him he can run his own life and gets rid of him.



Beth has lied to her mother, saying she’s going to a girlfriend’s house... when really she’s going to see Larry at work and bring him some food. Beth has a drunken Uncle (Stuart Irwin) who promises to cover for her if she’ll cover for him (he’s not supposed to be drinking). When Beth gets’ to Larry’s boat repair that night, it’s raining... and someone is watching her from the shadows (Frietag). She gets spooked, drops the food on the wet street and runs inside. Frietag keeps watching them, she will be his next victim.

Sheriff Archer (Alan Baxter) gets the letter from the serial killer and wants to do something about it, but before you can say “JAWS” his boss tells him to leave it alone. This is a tourist town and they don’t want to scare off the summer guests... and lets slip about the previous letter confessing to Suzie’s murder. Sheriff Archer asks why this letter was covered up, and is told that they don’t know if it’s a hoax or not. Why alarm people if it’s just some wacko with a typewriter claiming to have murdered a girl whose death was ruled an accidental drowning? Sheriff Archer decides to poke around on his own...

Larry’s only day off, and he goes on a picnic with Beth up in the mountains. Beth must be home early because Mother is having a huge garden party and Beth must attend. Not a problem. When they drive up to the mountain, Frietag follows in his car.



Of course, after they picnic food has been eaten, Larry and Beth (in bathing suits) make out on the picnic blanket... when they hear a noise from above. Someone is watching them. Creepy! Larry decides to confront the watcher, and climbs up the hill with Beth in tow. They get to the path above them and no one is there... but there is evidence that someone *was* there watching them the whole time. Creepy!

Time for Beth to get back, so they go to the car... but someone has slashed tires. Because Beth has twisted her ankle earlier, she has to stay with the car while Larry takes the tire and wheel into town for repairs. He rolls the tire down to the street and hitches a ride... leaving Beth alone in the car as the darkness settles over the mountain. Someone is in the brush watching the car. Bushes move, but whenever Beth looks closer, no one is there. Her imagination?

No Frietag. When night has fallen he creeps up to the car and tries to the doorknobs. All locked. This freaks out Beth inside the car as someone jiggles the car doors. Finally Frietag grabs a rock and tries to break the window! Beth lays on the car horn...



Frietag drives down the mountain, passing a gas station and spotting Larry working on the tire in the garage. Frietag sneaks in, clubs Larry with a tire iron, slides his body under a car up on a lift... and hits the button so that the car slowly descends and crushes Larry! So much for Larry and Frietag as a couple.

Sheriff Archer gets to the Mountain after getting a call about a dead girl in a car. Discovers Beth in the car... *alive*. Her horn honking brought others picnickers and Frietag ran away. Archer takes Beth home and her Mother wants her to put on a party dress and pretend like nothing happened. WTF? Mother thinks appearances are more important than her daughter almost being killed by a serial killer.



Archer gets the call that Larry has been found at the garage... alive. The tire rim saved him from the descending car... but the blow to the head has left him unconscious. Nearest hospital is far away, so they take him to his home with the doctor. Bed rest. Beth has an argument with her mother, says she isn’t going to be who her mother wants her to be, but who she really is... and that is a girl in love with a boy. Beth splits to be by Larry’s bedside.

But you know who is staying across the street from Larry? Mr. Frietag. And when he sees Beth go to visit Larry, well, he realizes he must kill her. Frietag has a *great* conversation with Larry’s aunt downstairs. Larry’s Aunt is religious, but Frietag is a religious zealot... he doesn’t see religion as a private matter but something that you must force on others. He’s a scripture ranting lunatic. But the Aunt must go to the pharmacy, and allows Frietag to stay in the house and look after the two kids upstairs.

The moment she’s gone, Frietag does that creepy serial killer stair climb, and tries to kill Beth while an injured Larry looks on. Things don’t go as planned and Beth throws Frietag out the second story window where he lands like Michael Myers on the lawn. Dead.



Review: Though not as great as the HITCHCOCK PRESENTS Unlocked Window episode, this is a creepy serial killer story in a time when that was still a new idea. This was made the same year as PSYCHO, which was kind of the first slasher film. Audiences hadn’t really seem stories like this, let alone see one in the comfort of their living room! The creepy scenes are okay, but don’t live up to the potential of the situations (Beth in her car as an unseen Frietag tries opening all of the doors is shown from *outside the car* instead on inside with Beth).

I wonder if anyone in that 1960s audience didn’t get the sexual obsession that ultra religious Frietag had for Larry. The show kind of plays it up as Frietag seeing Larry’s interest in women as “sinning” but there’s a real sexual undercurrent in there. Frietag is the sinner, but instead of dealing with his own issues lashes out at the innocent people who stir up those issues within him. Freud 101. In fact, the theme in this episode seems to be about hypocrisy: Frietag is the ultra religious man who uses his beliefs to cover his killing, Beth’s Mother is the society woman who would rather ignore her daughter’s almost murder to avoid a scandal, and Archer’s boss would rather pretend there is no serial killer than scare away tourists. The characters who go against the hypocrisy: Sheriff Archer, Beth’s Uncle, etc show us the other side.



It’s always interesting to read books or watch movies and TV shows from a different era, because we can see how much times have changed. When this was made (1960) being overly religious and sharing your religious beliefs with strangers was seen as odd... maybe even crazy. Today we see what was overly religious as just being religious. The traits that make Frietag a zealot in this episode are considered “normal” today. Strange how the “good old days” are very different than we imagine them to be. You watch an old show like this and see how people in 1960 reacted to things, or read a book from the 1940s where housewives and highschool students are smoking pot, or go back to when cocaine was the ingredient that gave Coca Cola its name... and today’s world seems *ultra* conservative. Except, it isn’t really conservative if it is different than “the good old days” is it?

This is another episode on the right track. Even though the trapped in the car scene and the stair climb and the mountain watcher scenes were not the best they could be, they were suspense scenes and this really was a thriller!

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Scene Of The Week: Gun Crazy (bank robbery)

I read a blog entry on another blog with the 20 Greatest Long Takes In Movies and was surprised that they left this one out. Many of those long takes in movies are kind of stunts - they usually just set the scene or show scenery instead of tell the story. The opening from TOUCH OF EVIL and the whole damned film of ROPE are the exceptions. But how many long takes are not just showing the story - but the concept of the unbroken take is what creates emotions in the audience?

This scene from GUN CRAZY is all one take... and because we are *trapped* in that take with no edits to help us escape, the suspense escalates. We can not cut to inside the bank. We can not cut to some other place. We are stuck *here*, in *this shot*, dealing with all of the problems *in this shot* and can not escape! It's a great scene, and there's an interesting rif on it in SPRING BREAKERS where we see the robbery through the window of the getaway car. But the *economy* of this scene really adds to the tension...



GUN CRAZY is a great film, a low budget film, and I talk about it a little in the Film Noir Class, and here's my review...

Gun Crazy - the DVD
GUN CRAZY is an adult story. Not Hollywood fluff. It’s dark. It’s sexy. Probably the thing that impressed me the most when I first saw it were Peggy Cummins’ *very* tight black trousers. Women in 1940s movies always wore skirts and dresses. If they did wear pants they were non-sexual - often mannish. But here we have pants so tight it’s almost as if she’s naked.

The three boys look at the bobcat
The story is about a boy (eventually played by John Dall) who has a gun fetish. In the opening scene he steals a gun from a shop window, admires it while the alarm blares, then takes off running... tripping on the wet street. The gun goes sliding across the wet street until it hits a man’s boot... tilt up... a *Police*man’s boot. Next scene - the boy in court explaining to the judge how much he just loves guns. He doesn’t feel whole unless he has a gun in his hands. We’ll leave that up to Uncle Sigmund... but that’s what drives the film - this guy needs a gun to feel like a man. At the trial we meet his two best friends - one is the policeman’s son, the other wears glasses so you know he’ll grow up to be a writer - and they tell the judge that our hero isn’t a killer, on a camping trip he couldn’t shoot a wildcat that was hanging around their campsite (great flashback). He couldn’t bring himself to shoot at it. Wow, same problem as Jon Voight in DELIVERANCE! Boy is sentenced to reform school, from there he goes into the army, then he comes home.

Now we have adult John Dall and his two pals - one is now a cop and the other is a writer for the town newspaper. The carnival is in town, so that’s where they go.
Peggy Cummins - trousers so tight there's a visible panty line
The great thing about this film are the set pieces. In the old studio days, it was a scene so juicy the studio would pay for a new set to be built. You don’t need a new set for a set piece, you just need a big juicy scene... and even though GUN CRAZY was a low budget film, probably shot on leftover sets that had been used a million times before and real locations that could be got cheap - and in the case of one set piece, probably shot without any set at all - the film is full of amazing set pieces.

sure - shoot at my head
The Carnival - maybe the same one from THE RING (1927) - has a sharp shooter as it’s main attraction. Sexy Peggy Cummins in those skin-tight pants. She shoots balloons from around her assistant, shoots a cigarette out of her mouth, and all of the other carny tricks you usually see with a knife thrower. The Barker, an aging pretty boy, announces that for a mere $50 you can test your shooting skills against the master... and possibly win $500. Kind of the same deal as THE RING, just with guns instead of fists. John Dall’s buddies put up the money, and we get a great set piece as Dall and Cummins try to out shoot each other... and fall in lust in the process. Because Dall is an amazing shot, the Barker keeps upping the ante in order to win the bet. Eventually it comes down to this insane trick where a crown that holds a half dozen matches is put on Dall’s head and Cummins *lights the matches* with her bullets. All but one. Then it’s her turn to wear the crown. Dall lights them all. Look, I don’t want even the best sharp shooter in the world to be aiming a gun at my *head* from across the room, let alone firing at me six times. That’s just crazy! Dall ends up with a job at the carnival...
sex and violence - the film was made in the 40s, how old are your grandparents - could this be them after doing it?
Now we have a great scene - not a set piece, but a juicy *dramatic* scene that deals with the romantic triangle between the Barker and Cummins and Dall. One of the interesting things is how they used a metaphor to tell us who was sleeping with who. When Dall first joins the carnival, the Barker asks if he has a car... he says no. Cummins wants him to ride with them, the Barker says there isn’t room in their car... Dall can ride with the clown. If you watch who rides with who in the carnival scenes, you can see Cummins and Dall getting together and the Barker riding alone. Which brings us to the big juicy scene where all of this blows up. Real good. The Barker has a claim on Cummins and tells Dall he’s out of here if he doesn’t honor it. The result of the big blow up is *Cummins and Dall* leaving together (in the same car), which leads us to some relationship stuff where they realize they are broke, and then Cummins’ plan to make money...

By armed robbery.
John Dall exits the bank as Peggy tries to sweet talk the cop - all from the back seat of the getaway car Now we get one of the greatest scenes in low budget history - that “backseat bank robbery” above. It’s a single continuous shot - several minutes - taken from the back seat of their car as they drive down the street of a town, find the bank, hope that there is a parking spot, Cummins pulls into a spot near the front of the bank and Dall gets out. After Dall goes into the bank, a cop walks down the sidewalk, stops near the front of the bank! Cummins pulls the car up, gets out, flirts with the cop, and tries to steer him away from the bank. Not happening. This builds suspense. She keeps trying to get the cop out of the way, but he won’t budge. Then the alarm goes off. She hits the cop, just as Dall bolts out of the bank doors with the money. back seat camera They get in the car, Dall driving, and now we get a shoot out and car chase from the back seat of the car. All one shot. The great thing about this is that it was probably dirt cheap - we don’t need the bank interior and extras and setting up lights in the location. It’s *one* camera set up. But it gives you the feeling that you are right there - in the getaway car with them. When the cop fires at the car, he’s firing at *you*. And it’s all one cool shot. This is a *great* scene!
John Dall with a bag full of guns and steaks
The big set piece is the armed robbery that will make them rich. Dall thinks this means they can retire to some exotic location and just be together for the rest of their lives. Cummins thinks only about how much money they will end up with. The target for the armed robbery - the Armour meat packing plant payroll. Well before anyone thought of product placement, we get a *real* company name and a *real* meat packing plant. Again, this was probably due to the low budget. They found a practical location and probably couldn’t afford to change all of the signs.

everyone tells him hes in the wrong area including this armed guardThis is one of those split second timed robberies where all kinds of things can go wrong... and do. It’s a tense scene, then it blows up and becomes a big action scene. The great part about it are the pieces of the set piece. Dall drives up in a truck filled with beef on hooks. He gets some steaks from a butcher and puts them in his bag, then walks to the offices and has to get past a half dozen people who tell him he’s in the wrong area. Dall tells them he has the steaks for the boss’s barbeque. Everyone tells him there’s no refrigeration here - he should take the steaks back to the plant. The deeper he gets into the office, the more he and the steaks are out of place. Eventually he gets to the boss’s floor... where Cummins is working as a secretary, Here it’s Cummins who tells him he’s in the wrong place - as she leads him right into the boss’s office, where they kidnap him and have him fill the steak bag with payroll money. And here’s where we see the beginning of the end - Cummins gets trigger happy and shoots a whole lotta people on the way out. It’s a great big run and gun scene - lots of action to break the tension that has come before.

After that set piece they are on the run, and we get a great sequence where they have their last night out as a couple. They go to the Santa Monica Pier and go on carnival rides - bringing us back to the beginning of their relationship. Then they go to a dance hall, and have a nice, tender, relationship scene... not knowing that the police have traced them to California and are waiting outside. They manage to escape with nothing - they even lose some of the clothes on their backs. Only one place to go...

Back to Dall’s home town. Now we get a great scene with the criminals and Dall’s sister’s family.... trying to act normal when people come over. Dealing with kids playing in the yard when you are harboring a pair of fugitives. And eventually a great scene with Dall and his two childhood friends - the cop and the reporter. A low budget film needs big scenes like this one - juicy drama where childhood friends are on opposite sides of the law... and Dall is kind of in the middle. Cummins is all for just killing them- in fact, she’d kill anyone if it allowed them to escape. She’d kill the kids (and that is in the film). In fact, there’s a great unseen scene where Cummins does *something* to Dall’s sister and her entre family - maybe she just locks them up, maybe she kills them all. We never find out which it is, because we come to the other big amazing set piece...

The one that probably has no set!
smoke and tuleDall and Cummins end up chased by every cop in the state, and blood hounds, and posses and probably villagers with pitchforks... but since they are chased through a foggy swamp, we just *hear* all of these things. I’m not sure if we see a single dog - though there may be a stock shot of dogs chasing - but we *hear* packs of blood hounds cha!sing them. We hear hundreds of cops searching the foggy swamp for them.

The swamp is... well, it’s 99% fog and 1% a couple of thatches of tule grass.
can you hear all of those cops and dogs?
The big scene where th!ey hide and the cops and dogs search - is just them behind a thatch of tules surrounded by fog. And it works! It’s an amazing scene. Probably shot in some warehouse with a smoke machine. Just goes to show you, *imagination* and *inventiveness* can create production value if you don’t have any cash.

GUN CRAZY still holds up, mostly due to the amazing set pieces and great sequences and fairly obvious sexual overtones... oh, and Cummin’s skin tight trousers.

- Bill

Nothing sexual about this


Nothing sexual about this... - Bill

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Trailer Tuesday: EDDIE PRESLEY (1992)

What's the use of having a blog if you can't plug your friends' movies?

EDDIE PRESLEY (1992)

Directed by: Jeff Burr
Written by: Duane Whitaker
Starring: Duane Whitaker, Clu Gulager, Roscoe Lee Browne, Danny Roebuck, Quentin Tarantino, Lawrence Tierney, Tim Thomerson, Rusty Cundiff, Bruce Campbell, a million others.

A few years back the Egyptian Cinema did a double bill of indies written by my friend Duane, who I may be having coffee with as you read this. You know Duane as the Pawnshop Owner from PULP FICTION, but he's one of those guys who pops up in a bunch of movies playing redneck blue collar guys. EDDIE PRESLEY looked great on the big screen. I think I had seen it once before in the cinema, some others times on video. To me, what is strange about the film is that it's based on Duane's one man stage show... but that's only the last third of the film - about 40 minutes of screen time. I think the hour of material Duane wrote to more-or-less pad it out is more entertaining than the play material - the padding is the kind of stuff that is Duane's artistic sweet spot: he's the Robert Altman or PT Anderson of broken Hollywood dreams. Hmm, maybe some background...



Duane’s one man show was about this Elvis impersonator whose performance goes wrong and ends up having a complete nervous breakdown on stage and tells his life story and sings a couple of songs. It’s this crazy, funny monologue. Well, my friend Jeff, who directed the movie, had just gone through absolute hell on TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3 - New Line had micro-managed the film, wanted him to tone the horror way down so that they could get a more favorable rating and play to a wider audience, then took the film away from him in editing and the film they released bombed because it was wimpy and the horror was tame. The CHAINSAW movies are about a guy with a chainsaw who chainsaws people - you can’t exactly make the PG-13 version of that and have it work. So Jeff was pissed off at the studio system and wanted to make his own movie his own way... and Duane, who had played a role in TCM3 had this one man show, and Jeff saw it and thought they could expand it into a feature. Because this was an indie film, they found the money completely outside the system - private investors. They made the film and it was released on video by a really small distrib (which also released John Lee Hancock’s first film) and that was basically that. Oh, the big coup for EDDIE PRESLEY was that it was the first movie bought by The Sundance Channel.

The 60 minutes that is not Eddie Presley on stage having a complete breakdown are about the days leading up to that performance, plus some great flashbacks in black & white to Eddie’s life before he ended up in Hollywood. Eddie lives in his van parked on the street in Hollywood - inside the van is a shrine to his past, when he used to make a living touring small-to-medium venues as Eddie Presley. He picks up his messages on a pay phone and works as a security guard at night. The Back Door Club is the location for the end of the film, the Van is a location, the Security Job is another location, and there’s also the Greasy Spoon Diner - that’s about it for locations.

In the Security Guard story thread, Ted Raimi is one of the other guards, and Lawrence Tierney is the hardass supervisor with a photo album of sleeping guard Poloroids. Willard Pugh plays another security guard and there's a nervous female security guard (Harri James) who has a major crush on Eddie. Raimi and Pugh and James’ characters and Eddie are best friends - and they would do anything to see him succeed. When he finally gets his gig at the Back Door Club, they take the night off from work so they can see him... and pull some favors from friends and friends-of-friends to get him a cut-rate limo to take him to the gig.

In order to stay awake on these night shifts so that he doesn’t get fired, Eddie fills his thermos at a greasy spoon cafe filled with Hollywood losers of all types... plus his girlfriend works there as a waitress. She’ll fill the thermos if the boss isn’t looking, and maybe get him a free breakfast. She wants to actually go out on a real date - but Eddie’s always broke. She’s a wanna-be actress, but has had no luck so far landing a role in anything. These characters in the Diner Thread are Duane’s forte - the struggling artists who litter the streets of Hollywood trying to hang onto their dreams but knowing that they are only dreams... and the reality is that they're a waitress. When Eddie’s not in the diner, there’s a skanky female porn star trying to make the moves on his waitress with promises of leading roles in adult entertainment... is a part a part? Will she do porn?




The other diner regulars are a colorful group, from the toll-taker guy who requires a cigarette from everyone who passes by his seat at the counter, to my favorite character in the film - Clu Gulager's sleazy agent. Hair badly dyed jet black, he tells prospective clients (all gals fresh off the bus) that he has major connections and can make them into stars... and when the pay phone on the wall behind him rings, he answers it with his talent agency name. I've had this agent!

The last thread are the Flashbacks in beautiful black & white of Eddie’s pre-Hollywood life in Texas, with Joe Estevez as his strict father and Barbara Patrick (Robert’s wife) as his soon-to-be-ex-wife. Eddie was a successful pizza store owner (take out only) who sells his business to live his dream of being an Elvis impersonator. Father thinks he’s an idiot, wife divorces him and takes the kid... and Eddie and his band go out of the road. Jeff’s cuts from present to past and back are great - match cut stuff with a character from the present drinking a cup of coffee to one in the past drinking a cup of coffee. There is a great flow to the story which makes it seem less episodic. Because the black and white stuff was shot later, Jeff would end a scene with some action that could be duplicated months later when Duane had lost a bunch of weight and looked like a younger version of himself. Eventually the flashbacks get darker and darker (in tone, not lighting) and Eddie flips out in a burger joint and ends up sent to an insane asylum, where the guards include Quentin Tarantino (before he was famous) and Bruce Campbell and director Rusty Cundiff.

The last third of the film at the Back Door Club is filled with some great characters - the late great Roscoe Lee Brown plays the club owner, Tim Thomerson does a great cameo as an angry comedian, stand up comic Puppy Thomas is the world’s worst ventriloquist, and practically stealing the show is Danny Roebuck as Eddie’s warm up act - the world’s most unlucky magician: when he tries to pull the rabbit out of his hat, it bites him and he bleeds all over the place for the rest of his performance... which includes him accidentally catching fire and unable to put himself out. Then Eddie gets up on stage, everything goes wrong, and he has his big break down right in front of us.

Though that ending was the whole reason they made the film, I really like the parts of the film that come before that. You get a real feel for people on the fringes in Hollywood, the hopefuls without hope...

The film is available on DVD at Netflix, I have no idea if it's on their streaming service or not. Made for pocket change, a nice little labor of love. Bill

Monday, August 22, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Movie Star Edition

Lancelot Link Monday! If you build it they will come... unless what you are building is yet another remake of BEN HUR, in that case they will stay away and see something else. There are a bunch of people online who believe the failure of the new BEN HUR movie is that it's teh remake of a classic... but those people don't seem to realize that the Heston version was *also* the remake of a classic - the 1925 version with Francis X. Bushman was the definitive version that could not be topped... until the Heston version came along. The problem isn't remakes, it's *bad* remakes - every remake is going to be compared to the original, so you'd better make a film that compares well. One that people who love the original will also love. Wait... where have I heard this before? Oh, yeah, the failure of GHOSTBUSTERS. The problem is that those in charge have zero idea what *quality* is anymore - they are suits! If studios were smart, instead of promoting ex-agents to become studio heads, they would take a page from the Golden Age of Hollywood and promote *screenwriters* to run studios - people who understand story and know when things just aren't working. I think the biggest problem with studios today is that the are run by businessmen and businesswomen who have no idea who this particular business works. 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 Suicide Squad................... $20,710,000
2 Sausage......................... $15,325,000
3 War Dogs........................ $14,300,000
4 Kubo 2.......................... $12,610,000
5 Ben Hur......................... $11,350,000
6 Pete's Dragqueen................ $11,331,000
7 Bad Mom.......................... $8,068,000
8 Jason ReBourne................... $7,980,000
9 Secret Pets...................... $5,770,000
10 Jenkins! (not Alan)............... $4,300,000




2) Indie Box Office Numbers.

3) Do Movie Stars Matter?

4) Tom Cruise Thinks Movie Stars Matter *A LOT*!

5) My Favorite Hitchcock Film Is NOTORIOUS... Here's an article on the film PLUS THE SCREENPLAY!

6) LEBOWSKI Spin Off About Jesus!

7) Popularity Of Genres Around The World. Does Horror Sell Well In Transylvania?

8) KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS Director On The Influence Of Kurosawa.

9) Do State's Film Incentives Work?

10) David Lynch's First Film... Watch It Now!

11) Mel Brooks - Why BLAZING SADDLES Could Never Be Made Today.

12) Are Characters The Color Of Their Skin? Or Are They The Character Of Their Character?

And the Car Chase Of The Week:





Bill

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

THRILLER Thursday: The Cheaters

The Cheaters

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



Season: 1, Episode: 15.
Airdate: Dec. 27, 1960


Director: John Brahm
Writer: Donald Sanford based on a story by Robert (PSYCHO) Bloch.
Cast: Henry Daniel, Mildred Dunnock, Harry Townes, Jack Weston, Paul Newlan.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith takes over from Rugolo.
Cinematography: John Russell from PSYCHO.
Producer: William Frye and Maxwell Shane.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “When a man shuts himself off from his neighbors, when he conducts mysterious experiments behind locked doors, there’s bound to be talk. There were those who whispered that Dirk Van Prinn was a sorcerer, and worse. He might never have been remembered at all, had he not his research lead him to the discovery of a most unusual formula for making glass. Dirk Van Prinn hanged himself before dawn. His story might have ended there if he’s had the courage to smash those spectacles. But like many another scientist he could not bare to destroy his own creation. Too bad, because years later others tried them on. In The Cheaters, our story for tonight, a junk man named Joe Henshaw played by Mr. Paul Newlan, a little old fashioned lady named Miriam Olcott played by Miss Mildred Dunnock, her nephew Edward Dean played by Mr. Jack Weston, and finally a man who discovered the real purpose of the spectacles Sebastian Grimm, played by Mr. Harry Townes. What they saw through those yellow gold lenses they never forgot. And neither will you my friends, because as sure is my name’s Boris Karloff, this is a Thriller.”



Synopsis: Two hundred years ago, inventor Dirk Van Prinn creates a special type of glass after many failed experiments, and fashions a pair of glasses. These are not rose colored glasses, kind of the opposite. When Van Prinn looks in the mirror while wearing the glasses, what he sees drives him mad and makes him kill himself.

200 years and a commercial break later, junk man Joe Henshaw (Paul Newlan, who was also in the Big Blackout episode) has paid $100 for the contents of the long abandoned house where some crazy inventor used to live. It’s kind of like the sixties version of STORAGE WARS. His wife Maggie (Linda Walkins) and partner Charlie (Ed Nelson, who is almost as many episodes as Karloff) think he was crazy to pay that much! $100? What if there’s nothing inside?

Henshaw and Charlie go to the spooky old house and poke around inside... nothing worth anything in here. Henshaw climbs upstairs to Van Prinn’s laboratory... where the door is locked. Must be something good inside? They break open the door, and all of the lab equipment has already been taken away. There are shelves of books... which turn to dust when you open them. An old desk may be worth something... but the wood is rotted. The only thing Henshaw can find is a pair of glasses hidden in the desk... and he could use a pair of glasses.



When Henshaw gets home, Maggie is all dolled up and has an impressive meal laid out. What’s the occasion? It was Henshaw’s birthday a few weeks back and they never celebrated. Charlie comes over with some booze and it’s a party. But when Henshaw puts on the glasses he found in the old house, he can *hear* what Charlie and Maggie are thinking... he can see the truth. Maggie has been cheating on him with Charlie and they plan to kill him and take over the business. He pulls off the glasses, and they’re both just having a normal conversation. He notices a word etched in the old fashioned frames: Veritas... “truth” in Latin. When he puts the glasses back on, they’re planning his murder so that he can be together... get him drunk enough and... Henshaw takes off the glasses and walks outside to his junk yard, finds a crow bar, comes back inside and kills them both. A policeman (John Mitchum, Robert’s brother) hears the screams and arrests Henshaw.

A couple of years later and after the commercial break, Miriam Olcott (Mildred Dunnock) is an old woman confined to her bed and her room by her nephew Edward Dean (Jack Weston) and his wife Olive (Barbara Eiler). She wants to go out, but Olive says she should just take a nap. But Miriam sneaks out of the house and goes on an adventure. She goes wandering through the town, stopping in stores to look at things. She eventually ends up walking past Henshaw’s place, where some other junk dealer has bought the contents and is hauling it away. She spots a pair of antique glasses and buys them for a quarter from the junk dealer. Shopping excursion over, she heads back home...



Where Edward and Olive are waiting for her, worried. The reason why she must stay in her room is because if she wanders off she may just get lost and forget where she lives. Miriam says she was out shopping and tries on the glasses... and hears what they are really thinking. That’s she probably stole the glasses, she’s a senile old problem and they only reason they take care of her is that she’s worth a fortune and when she dies they inherit... except they hoped that she would already be dead by now. What’s keeping her so long? She takes off the glasses, shocked, and they tell her that her doctor is on his way, and Edward and Olive are heading out for the night.

When the doctor arrives, Miriam tries to tell him her nephew and his wife want to kill her, but the kindly doctor just believes it’s dementia and tries to calm her. He goes downstairs to get some brandy to calm her, returns and pours her a glass. Miriam puts on the glasses and discovers that her kindly doctor is in on the murder plot, and plans to get her drunk and push her down the stairs tonight while Nephew and Wife are out tonight establishing an alibi. She grabs a knitting needle, and when the doctor brings her the glass of brandy, stabs him to death.



A couple of years later and after the commercial break, Edward and Olive have inherited all of that money and are attempting some social climbing with their new found wealth. They have a costume party at their house and have invited all of the wealthy important people in town, including a judge and a semi famous writer, Sebastian Grimm (even though he’s a prick). Edward dressed as Benjamin Franklin, hoping to impress everyone, but Grimm (Harry Townes) does nothing but ridicule him because everyone knows Franklin wore spectacles.

The men go into the parlour to play poker, and Edward is trying to impress them with large bets... and losing money to everyone. Olive brings in some muchies... and Aunt Miriam’s antique glasses. Edward puts them on, and really looks like Ben Franklin! Even Grimm says those antique glasses make him look perfect. Edward is happy for a moment, until he hears what the other men are really thinking... they want to keep playing so they can take away all of Edward’s money that they don’t think he deserves. One of the players is cheating, and has hidden a pair of aces under his arm. Edward can’t believe these guys are cheating at cards, and calls the guy on it. The guy manages to make the accusation backfire on Edward... and make him look like a sore loser who is making false charges. This turns into a fistfight between the two men, and Edwards gets punched in the face, falls over and hits his head... dying.

Grimm scoops up the glasses...



A few months and a commercial break later, Grimm tells his wife Ellen (Joan Tompkins) that he has been researching the glasses and has discovered all of the past deaths, starting with Van Prinn’s suicide, and believes these glasses show anyone who wears them the truth. But he has not put them on because he believes the glasses were invented not to learn the truth of what others think of you... but the truth about yourself. Grimm has written a new book about the glasses, except for the last chapter. The last chapter will come after he learns the truth about himself.

He goes to Van Prinn’s spooky old house, climbs the dark staircase to his laboratory, sits in front of the same mirror where Van Prinn put on the glasses... and puts the glasses on and looks in the mirror. And sees the truth about himself. And screams and goes mad, ripping nis face off with his bare hands. And just before the fade out, he drops the glasses and crushes them beneath his shoe. Then probably hangs himself.



Review: Now that’s more like it. A nice little Weird Tales type story about how dangerous the truth can be, written by the dude who wrote PSYCHO. I’ve read this story (and most of Bloch’s stuff) and it’s interesting how an episodic short story is a perfect match for a TV show with commercials. Each segment ends at the commercial, so we begin the new segment with different characters. This makes up for those early episodes with glacial slow pacing. Though the show is still kind of blandly directed, it moves quickly, has a cornucopia of stars, and wit (from Bloch’s story... that guy was a sick comedian who wrote lines like this one from PSYCHO. “It was the face of a crazy old woman. Mary started to scream, and then the curtains parted further and a hand appeared, holding a butcher’s knife. It was the knife that, a moment later, cut off her scream... And her head.”). The puns on “cheaters”, from the reading glasses to the cheating card players and couple elevate the story.

My bland direction comment is mostly about the scenes in the spooky old house, where production design did a great job of hanging cobwebs and covering everything with a believable 200 year old layer of dust, but the shots end up bland angles so the all of the spooky stuff goes to waste. The Brahm and Sanford team did well with PREDICTION and WATCHER, so maybe there was a time crunch with this episode? It is 4 stories with 4 casts and that might have lead to the pedestrian haunted house stuff. The cast has fun with their roles, especially Weston, who is a comic actor playing a petty social climber and manages to give a nuanced performance. Mildred Dunnock also has fun playing a possibly senile old woman who turns into a sly killer. Townes and Daniel are always great, and here both play their roles to the hilt.

One of the nice touches is how they create “glasses vision” so that the audience knows we are hearing the thoughts of the characters rather than what they are saying. The lighting scheme is changed, with the lights low and angled up, creating a spooky look. This way they can cut from a shot in “glasses vision” of people speaking to a shot normal lighting and we know that now we are hearing what they are actually saying.



One of the things that doesn’t work as well is having the lines they are saying when we are hearing what they are thinking replicate the lines they are actually speaking... just with a few different words. This is a great concept, but in practice we end up hearing most of the same words twice in a row. They might have been able to make this work with some better dialogue editing, but they may have been afraid the audience might have become confused.

The December 27th airdate makes it almost a Christmas episode!

A good episode, and next week another Bloch based episode that features a dozen mirrors... and Shatner! Can he stop himself from looking into all of those mirrors?

Bill

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Trailer Tuesday: 11 HARROW HOUSE (1974)

Directed by: Aram Avakian (Don Westlake's COPS & ROBBERS).
Written by: Jeffrey Bloom and Charles Grodin based on the novel by Gerald A. Browne.
Starring: Charles Grodin, Candice Bergen, James Mason, Trevor Howard, John Gielgud.
Produced by: Elliot Kastner (every 70s crime film plus WHERE EAGLES DARE).
Edited by: Anne V. Coates (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA to OUT OF SIGHT).

This is one of my favorite films that you’ve never heard of, and I have the poster framed (though not on my wall right now, not enough space). It’s an odd film, a sixties style caper movie made in the 70s and starring Charles Grodin who couldn’t really open a movie. Probably the main reason for the movie is that it is based on a best selling novel by Gerald A. Browne who wrote a bunch of breezy caper books that everyone took to the beach to read in the 70s and 80s. Only a couple ended up on screen, this one and another film that wasn’t a hit GREEN ICE starring Ryan O’Neal and Anne Archer. I read a bunch of his books, which always dealt with gemstones and were usually fun caper stories against a glamourous background... with a bit of conspiracy theory thrown in. They’re kind of Cary Grant movies. The combination of comedy and crime is probably what attracted me to the books and this movie. I had not seen it since it was released, but thanks to those wonderful folks at Shout Video I now have it on DVD and have watched it a couple of times. It’s an acquired taste sort of thing, and a flawed film whether you like it or not.



The story gets off to a great start with an unconscious man under a doctor’s care on an airplane, headed to a hospital for life saving surgery. He is taken off the plane and loaded into an ambulance, the doctor hops in back, and the ambulance speeds off. A Man watches all of this, and smiles. In the back of the ambulance, the unconscious man sits up, and he and the doctor open a secret compartment in his medical bag where a bunch of smuggled diamonds are hidden... Then the ambulance is blown to smithereens!

That Man is an enforcer from 11 Harrowhouse in London, the secret organization which controls diamonds throughout the world. The Diamond Exchange. In order to keep the price up, only so many diamonds are allowed out in the world. Every diamond ever bought or sold starts with a raw diamond from 11 Harrowhouse. They are the conspiracy theory part of the story.



Howard Chesser (Charles Grodin) is at the bottom of the list of diamond buyers from 11 Harrowhouse, he’s a smart ass American who doesn’t know how to dress (his suits are not from one of the approved tailors) and he’s, well, common. There’s a great little scene where he lights a cigarette in the waiting room and the receptionist *wordlessly* stares at him until he puts it out. When it’s his turn, Meechum (Sir John Gielgud) who is in charge, insults Chesser and gives him very few raw diamonds at an outrageous price... and since this is a conspiracy/monopoly, Chesser has no choice but to buy them. The vault manager who does the diamond handling, Watts (James Mason), apologizes to Chesser for his treatment. Watts is the only one at the company who isn’t a prick.

Chesser complains to his girlfriend Maren (Candice Bergen) about how they treat him, and she suggests: “My money is your money, if you have to be humiliated, be humiliated with me.” She’s the widow of a formula one driver and rich beyond anyone’s wildest dreams... but he doesn’t want to be a kept man. Oh, and if they get married? She loses all of the money.



The next day they are walking down a dark and spooky pedestrian tunnel and are attacked by two men... who subdue them and then give them an *invitation* to meet with the UK’s wealthiest man Massey (Trevor Howard) who made much of his money from oil. Massey lives on an estate the size of a state, where all of his servants are mutes so that they won’t blab to the press. Except for the security force, which is kind of a private army. Massey would like to hire Chesser to purchase and have cut a huge diamond that will be named after him... because when you already have everything, why not have a diamond named after you? Chesser agrees, buys the raw diamond at Harrowhouse and takes it to Amsterdam to be cut by the world’s best diamond cutter. But on the road to Massey’s estate to deliver the diamond, Chesser and Maren are attacked by a pair of thugs and the diamond stolen. Those thugs look a lot like members of Massey’s security detail. But Chesser is over a barrel... and Massey convinces him to rob 11 Harrowhouse of *everything*. To keep the price of diamonds high, they keep a large percentage off the market in the vault deep underground. Impossible to get in or out... so how do you steal anything from this vault?



The film’s tagline is intriguing...

This is like no robbery you've ever imagined.
THE CHALLENGE: Steal 12 billion dollars in uncut diamonds.
THE TASK: Break into the most securely guarded fortress devised by man.
THE PLAN: Use amateurs armed with ingenuity, guts, a cockroach, a thin cord, and a vacuum cleaner.
THE RISK: Death.



Wait... a cockroach and a vacuum cleaner?



And now we get to the fun part where Chesser approaches vault manager Watts who has always been kind to him, and tries to hint around that he’d like Watts to betray the Diamond Exchange and 11 Harrowhouse... while Watts is hinting around that the company is screwing him and he’d do anything to get revenge. Watts has been working for the company for 29 years, and has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Problem is, the Diamond Exchange will *not* provide his family with any pension if he fails to work for the company for 30 years. His doctors say he probably won’t last that long. His family will be penniless. If he can screw over the Diamond Exchange *and* provide for his family? He’s in.

Chesser comes up with a plan, but the great thing about this film is you know it will take the cockroach and vacuum cleaner and the thin cord... but have no idea how those items will be used. And that’s the fun!



The caper is lots of fun, with Chesser a complete scaredy cat and Maren an insane risk taker and Watts getting a very dignified revenge. Lots of suspense, too: from guards doing their rounds to Chesser almost falling off the roof to Watts over exerting himself and almost passing out during the middle of the burglary. Some great sight gags as Maren chills champagne in 12 billion worth of diamonds while munching of a carrot. A caper film is all about how clever the scheme is to get past all of these impossible obstacles, and this movie takes you step by step through how they do it using those items. The vault that is impossible to steal from, and the insanely clever plan that allows them to empty it.

But after they have successfully stolen every diamond from that underground vault at 11 Harrowhouse, they now have to figure out how to get their money from Massey for delivering the *truck full* of diamonds. Their plan is to hide the truck on a building site among a bunch of other trucks and heavy equipment, and take a satchel with a sample of the diamonds to Massey’s estate. Massey is a man who cheats at *dog shows*. Impossible to trust him.



And this proves to be the right choice, as Massey and his private army try to steal the satchel of diamonds from them and get them to tell where the rest are; which leads to a massive car chase on the grounds of the estate and some shoot outs and explosions and other Act 3 stuff. The tone is often a little weird here, as they go for a fun romp action feel... but people are trapped in cars that go over a cliff and explode.

That inconsistent tone is one of the issues with the film, along with post production voice over with Grodin quipping about what happens on screen. The VO was actually one of my favorite parts when I first saw it, as it gives the whole things a 40s private eye movie feel... and also does what the movie PULP does so well: gives us tough guy patter when the film shows the protag being anything *but* tough. The scene in the dark pedestrian tunnel has Grodin getting the crap beaten out of him and collapsing, as the VO says “Lucky for him he let me go, in another minute I would have had him”. Some great laughs. Now the VO seems obviously added after some terrible test screening, though it is still amusing. This was obviously Grodin’s baby, he cowrote the script and stars... and it’s too bad this didn’t rocket him to stardom. But maybe if he had become a big star, he wouldn’t have been cast as second banana in MIDNIGHT RUN?

11 HARROWHOUSE is an acquired taste, but if you love sixties caper movies (and great British casts) it’s worth a look. I like it despite all of it’s problems.

Bill

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Hits & Misses!

Lancelot Link Monday! Last week a group of angry fans signed a petition to destroy Rotten Tomatoes because it said bad things about SUICIDE SQUAD and BATMAN V SUPERMAN... even though RT doesn't write any of the reviews on the site, it just links them and averages out the "grade". They are only the messenger. This week we get an angry letter from an ex-WB employee about *why* those films got such bad reviews. We also got week #2 for SUICIDE SQUAD which nosedived by over 67% (which isn't really that bad... but also not good). Meanwhile, SAUSAGE PARTY - an R rated cartoon that everyone expected to open with about $10m in 5th or 6th place... was #2 with $33.6m. WTF? SAUSAGE was made for under $20m with a great voice cast, and everyone would have been happy if it had made the $10m and then was later released to disk and streaming. But the big question seems to be - has WB mishandled their DC theatricals? Was Zack Snyder the completely wrong choice to be in charge of those films? (my answer is *yes*). Should Zack Snyder be shown to the Hollywood city limits and told not to return? (my answer is...) 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 Suicide Squad................... $43,770,000
2 Sausage......................... $33,600,000
3 Pete's Dragon................... $21,501,000
4 Jason Bourne.................... $13,620,000
5 Bad Moms........................ $11,450,000
6 Secret Pets...................... $8,840,000
7 ST BATH & BEYOND................. $6,800,000
8 FF Jenkins....................... $6,580,000
9 9 Lives.......................... $3,500,000
10 Lights Out....................... $3,220,000


It's been a while since I posted a year-to-date comparison, so box office this year is only ahead of last year by 5.1%, only ahead of 2014 by 11.9%, only ahead of 2013 by 5.7%, only ahead of 2012 by 5.7%, and only ahead of 2011 by 10.4%. Though one of the issues is that this year has been packed with expensive duds (GHOSTBUSTERS was not in the top 10 this week!) so people may be going to the movies but they might not be going home happy; movies like BAD MOMS and SAUSAGE and LIGHTS OUT (and other horror flicks) are doing a great job of earning money on a budget. I still think the real solution is to *really* have a studio low budget genre division that does what BlumHouse does so well - great genre films for $5m or less. The problem is - studios have no idea how to make films at that budget, and when they hire some director who is used to making a film for $130 million to make one for $5 million the movie usually crashes and burns. The key here is to hire the next generation of John Carpenters (guys like James Wan) who know how to make a film on a budget. You know, there are plenty of guys and gals working in the low budget world right now that they could hire... and it would be nice to hire John Carpenter while they're at it. The thing about "budget friendly" movies is that they are a whole different animal than a $100m studio film, and require completely different skills. There was a time when every studio had a low budget division - which not only kept the average picture cost down, it was also a great training ground for writers and directors and everyone else... maybe they should return to that?

2) Indie Box Office.



3) Open Letter To WB & DC About BvS and SS "Underperforming". Seriously - just get the person who is in charge of DC TV to take over DC features and problem is solved!

4) SUICIDE SQUAD - Can A Film Be A Hit & A Flop At The Same Time?

5) Feature Doc On John Carpenter?

6) The Best Movie Of The Summer... but is there an audience?

7) RIP: R2D2.

8) Jame Schamus On Adapting Philip Roth's INDIGNATION.

9) PETE'S DRAGON - How A Micro Budget Director Got A Hollywood Gig.

10) What Are You Seeing On Memorial Day 2017?

11) A Look AT THE THIRD MAN...

12) Things Writers Should Avoid In Contracts.

13) 13 Things You Need To Do If Making Your Own Film.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



Okay, dragon chase...

Bill

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

THRILLER Thursday: The Poisoner

The Poisoner

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



Season: 1, Episode: 17.
Airdate: January 10, 1961.


Director: Herschel Daugherty
Writer: Robert Hardy Andrews
Cast: Murray Matheson, Sarah Marshall, Brenda Forbes, Jennifer Raine, Maurice Dallimore.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith, kicking ass.
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline.
Producer: William Frye.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Thomas Edward Griffith, the man who made this lovely picture the destroyed it, really lived. He was a writer, a painter and a critic. Now, in each of these arts he displayed talent, but his real genius lay elsewhere. We have the testimony of Charles Lamb, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and other famous witnesses that Griffith was the master of the gentle art of murder. A dabbler in the occult and a connoisseur of the exotic, Griffith was far ahead of the medical men of his time in the lethal science of toxication. In simpler terms, Griffith was a poisoner. That’s the name of our play, The Poisoner. And among those threatened by sinister gentleman played by Mr. Murray Matheson, are his wife played by Miss Sarah Marshall, her mother played by Miss Brenda Forbes, her sister played by Miss Jennifer Raine, and his uncle played by Mr. Maurice Dallimore. Oh, by the way, if in the course of our story someone brings you a cup of tea or a spot of brandy... I suggest you let *them* take the first sip.”



Synopsis: A somewhat unusual *true crime* episode, also unusual because it’s an Early Victorian Era period piece which takes place on London’s foggy streets. I’m sure part of the allure of this story was that it’s a Jack The Ripper type tale about a fellow who was very well known at the time who killed just about everyone he was related to by blood or marriage... and got away with it!

Thomas Edward Griffith (the actual fellow was named Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, and more on him in the review section) (played by Murray Matheson giving an amazing performance), was a social climber. Not born into a wealthy family, both parents dead, he desired the prestige and admiration of a member of high society... so he decided to “fake it until you make it”. He lived in a luxurious house filled with pieces or art and antiques. He threw lavish parties so that he could be seen with members of society much higher up the food chain than he was. His clothes were tailored by one of the best. He drank the best brandy and dined at the finest restaurants. Even though, he was close to broke.

Although he’d inherited from his father, his Uncle George (Maurice Dallimore) was executor, and detested his lifestyle... so he was kept on a tight allowance. Uncle George thinks he should sell all of the crap in his house and get a job... but Thomas has never worked a day in his life and has no intention of starting now. He spends his days as a catty critic for a newspaper known for his clever insults, painting watercolors that are good enough for a gallery show or two, and writing witty little booklets on a variety of subjects of interest to the social set. Things a member of high society would do. The problem is, his lavish lifestyle means that he is going deeper and deeper into debt...



Enter the beautiful society woman Francis Abercrombie (Sarah Marshall) , hot and half his age. She is sophisticated, well dressed and travels in the same elite social circles. Thomas marries her before anyone else has a chance to ask... planning to live on her fortune and wait for his Uncle George to die so that he can get his hands on all of his inheritance instead of just his month allowance.

At the lavish post wedding party, his water color painting of his wife is on display over the fireplace. All of the society men think she’s hot, and are jealous of Thomas... which is everything he has ever wished for in life. To further this adoration, he introduces his beautiful wife to all of those members of high society he wants to impress... Then the door opens and these two yapping white trash women and their cat enter: his mother in law and sister in law! You see, his wife is flat broke as well; and like him, was a social climber hoping to marry into money. He ends the party before he is completely embarrassed by these uninvited guests...



Mrs. Abercrombie (Brenda Forbes) is a drunk old woman with a loud mouth and all sorts of complaints about almost everything. There’s a shot where she bends over, most unladylike, and you half expect to hear loud flatulence. Maybe that was planned but the censors said no. New sister in law Helen (Jennifer Raine) is confined to a wheelchair for some reason, and has nothing good to say about anything. If mother complains, sister is an Olympic contender... bitching about everything. And they, of course, have a cat. Oh, and Mrs. Abercrombie has sold her house and all of her belongings to move in with Francis’ new rich husband.

That night, Thomas opens an ornate cabinet exposing a selection of items, selects a “Borgia ring”, fills it with poison and puts it on his finger... then, acting like the perfect host, secretly pours some poison from the ring into a brandy decanter and offers it to his new mother in law... not realizing sister in law Helen is watching from her wheelchair upstairs. Thomas goes upstairs, into his wife’s bedroom, and tells her that everything will be alright. That’s when Mrs. Abercrombie drinks the brandy and drops dead... and Helen screams, and calls Thomas a murderer!



After the funeral, Francis and Helen return with... the family attorney. Mrs. Abercrombie’s death was ruled natural causes, even though Helen believes that Thomas poisoned her. But instead of Francis inheriting the money... it goes to invalid sister Helen. Thomas will never get his hands on a cent of it. Thomas storms out...

How could things get worse? When he returns, Francis tells him that his Uncle is here, waiting for him in the guest room upstairs... and some creditors have come and threatened to cut off his food and booze and some other things if he doesn’t pay his long overdue bills. Wonderful...

Thomas gets a lecture form his Uncle George about those creditors... and how he should sell everything and get a job and live within his means. Thomas would have liked to ask for more money, but he can’t for fear Uncle George will cut his allowance and *force* him to work. He shudders at the thought of working. Before Thomas can poison Uncle George’s brandy, the old man takes a sip and keels over! Snoopy Helen is watching this from the doorway and once again gets to scream “Murderer!”



But Uncle George is *not* dead... he’s just had a heart attack and must remain in bed resting for a few weeks. Hey, and uninvited house guest... more fun for Thomas! The doctor tells Thomas to make sure he takes a pill every so many hours and that it can be taken with a glass of brandy as a stimulant (medicine has changed over the years). Thomas is not going to be subjected to *weeks* of lectures by this old man, so he poisons the brandy decanter, and when Uncle George wakes up, tells him to take his pills with a glass of brandy as per doctor’s orders. Uncle George takes his medicine... and dies... and snoopy sister in law Helen was watching through the keyhole the entire time!

Thomas discovers her spying, and walks towards her menacingly... she backs up her wheelchair in fear... going over the edge and down the staircase (like Arbogast in PSYCHO), breaking her neck when she lands. Thomas quickly hides in the room with his dead uncle, as his wife Francis comes out of her room and sees her sister dead at the base of the stairs. When she screams, Thomas comes out of the room and asks what’s wrong... but Francis isn’t buying it, she *knows* that Thomas killer her sister. Then she spots dead Uncle George on the floor behind him. Thomas says Uncle George must have had another heart attack and died... but Francis points to the *dead cat* next to the spilled brandy and accuses Thomas of killing both of the dead humans plus the cat plus her mother.



When the police come, Thomas has a packed bag ready for jail. He explains to the policeman that it’s probably a waste of time to arrest him, since the only possible witness against him is his wife, and a wife can not testify against her husband. They take him anyway... charged with three murders.

Jail. One huge cell filled with a bunch of smelly criminals. A bucket to poop in.



Thomas is immaculately dressed, sitting at a table writing; when the officers come to take him to the court room for his arraignment hearing.

At the hearing, the Prosecutor makes his case for triple murder by poisoning. When he’s finished, Thomas asks the Judge if he may speak... and then tears apart the Prosecutor’s case. There are no witnesses, one of the victims died of a broken neck, another was ruled natural causes, the third had just had a serious heart attack and no trace of any known poison was found in his system by the medical examiner. The Prosecutor says there are poisons that are *not* known that there is no test for at this time. Thomas counters that until these poisons are discovered and there is some way to test for them, there is not a shred of evidence and to waste the court’s time any further...

And the Judge dismisses all charges.



The officer who arrested Thomas comes to the jail cell release him, saying that some day he will find the evidence that convicts him. Thomas explains that it is no longer possible for him to be convicted of those crimes... it would be double jeopardy. Before being released, Thomas writes out a check on his dead Uncle George’s account and gives it to the officer... to be split among his cellmates. Thomas says goodbye to each of the cellmates, and hopes each uses their share to follow their dreams.

When he returns home, Thomas tells his wife Francis that now only she stands between him and the inheritance from her mother and sister. He prepares two glasses of brandy and lets her see him putting poison from his ring into one of them. Then tells her she has a choice: drink up now, or continue their marriage with each’s money pooled into one happy household account. Francis runs upstairs to her room...



Thomas looks at the water color painting of Francis over the fireplace, takes the poker, and crosses it out (his marks replicating the “spider web” used in the bumpers of the show, leading me to believe at some point they planned on fading from the “spider web” to the defaced painting, then didn’t do it). Then takes the two glasses of brandy upstairs, kicks in his wife’s bedroom door, and again gives her the choice between drinking poison and living with him happily ever after.

Before she answers, someone banging on the front door. The police Officer has come to arrest him. Thomas explains that he *can not* be arrested for any of those three murders, even if he were to admit that he committed them: double jeopardy. So the Officer is wasting his time... please go away.

The Officer smiles and says he’s not being arrested for murder, but for forging his dead uncle’s signature on that check. Which the Officer witnessed, so it’s open and shut. Thomas will be shipped off to Australia to prison where he will spend the rest of his life doing hard labor...

He asks for one final drink before he’s taken away, grabs the poisoned glass of brandy and downs it... falling over dead.

Twist!



Review: Based on the true story of Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, and fairly accurate. His mother died in childbirth, so he went to live with his grandfather who was the editor of The Monthly Review, and grew up in a literary household. Thanks to a family connection he went to a private school (where that family connection was headmaster) and learned how to live amongst the wealthy, even though he was not wealthy himself.

He was a social climber on the fringe of high society and did have an exhibition of his paintings at the Royal Academy and wrote art criticism for several magazines and newspapers... as well as booklets on a variety of subjects. And he did poison all of those people and got away with it. In fact, he even poisoned at least one other person! In reality when those creditors came after him he and his wife *moved in* with Uncle George... who died shortly afterwards. He fled to France at one point, was arrested for carrying strychnine in that trick ring of his and spent six years in prison, then we he returned to England he was instantly arrested to stand trial for forgery. Instead of taking a dose of his own poison, he was sent to the Tasmanian prison colony. He worked on the road gang, later as a prison hospital orderly, and eventually was allowed to paint portraits of many important people and their family members... and those portraits exist in museums and collections today. The history of the Tasmanian Colony can be seen n his paintings. He was the subject of Charles Dickens’ “Hunted Down” and Edward Bulwer Lytton’s novel “Lucretia”, Oscar Wilde’s “Pen, Pencil, and Poison”, and pops up as a character in the Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure Of The Illustrious Client”. The most famous poisoner in history!



Murray Matheson is perfect in this episode. He’s one of those actors who was on almost every TV show as a guest star, and you probably recognize his face. He was the bookstore owner who helped BANACEK in every episode. Here he gives an amazing performance where he’s both vain & dismissive and sympathetic. Oddly, you identify with his character and *want* him to knock off these white trash relatives by marriage. Matheson seems to have fun treating everyone as his inferior, and the audience wishes they were that clever and witty and stylish. This performance is similar to some of those great Vincent Price performances in Corman’s Poe movies. It’s a brilliant performance, and it turns this episode into one of the better ones.

All of the other performances are great, especially Brenda Forbes and Jennifer Raine as the mother and sister in law from hell. As I said, when Forbes bends over unladylike you can almost hear her loudly passing gas... even though that is not on the sound track.

The period setting and production design makes the episode seem lavish. There are horse drawn carriages and spooky foggy nights and that elegant house... it seems more like a movie than a TV episode.

The score by Jerry Goldsmith (CHINATOWN) is amazing. The Pete Rugolo scores had all been variations on the THRILLER theme music, and when Goldsmith took over it took him until this one to really leave his mark. This is a great score (on the DVD it’s an isolated track, so it may end up on my iPod eventually), and really gives us a look at the great film composer that Goldsmith would become in just a few years.

This is a fun episode that would have been at home on HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, which is a good thing... because we’re about to go back to spy novel adaptations for a while. Just when it was getting good, we go back to the ho hum!

Bill

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