Thursday, August 24, 2017

THRILLER Thursday: The Devil's Ticket

THRILLER: Devil’s Ticket

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



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

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



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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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



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



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

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



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

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

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

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Scene Of The Week: THE THIRD MAN

The scene of the week is a nice bit of threatening dialogue from THE THIRD MAN, and a reunion between two old friends Holly (Joeseph Cotton) and Harry (Orson Welles)... after one of their funerals. The great thing about this conversation is how charming and fun Harry makes his threats and his justifications for criminal activities. He's a bad guy you just want to hang out with.



The British Film Institute selected THE THIRD MAN as the Best British Film Ever Made - and it's hard to argue with that. It does a million things right, it has one iconic scene after another, some amazing lines (this scene doesn't have the film's best lines!) and is a great thriller with a huge action-chase set piece at the end which has been lifted in dozens of other films. If you haven't seen it - check it out. Actually filmed in the rubble of Post WW2 Vienna!

This is one of my favorite films - and I can watch it again and again. The characters, scenes, and story are all great. The story has a really messy and messed up romance - can you fall in love with your dead best friend's girlfriend and not have it be just a little awkward? I also love the humor in the film - like all great thrillers it straddles absurdity. The yappy little dog. Saved by a speech on cowboy literature. The misplaced slide in the slide show. It's a great example of how to balance a film.

Comments section is open for discussion of the scene.

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Emotion Pictures - Tip #1 - it's all about making the audience feel something!
Dinner: I've been brown bagging lately - to keep from eating so much fast food.
Bicycle: Short ride, even though Sundays are supposed to be my long ride day. I stuck around the dollar cinema area in NoHo so that I could see THE CALL.
Movies: PAIN & GAIN - Could this be Michael Bay’s best movie? A small time crime flick, based on a true story, that seems to focus more on characters than explosions. Marky Mark, The Rock, and Anthony Mackie are body builders in Miami who fall under the spell of a TV self help guru who preaches that material things are all that matter and you should DO whatever it takes to get them. Well, there’s this obnoxious rich guy (Tony Shalhoub) who works out at their gym; why not kidnap him, force him to sign over his house and car and boat and money to Marky Mark, and then they dump him on the side of the road, broke and powerless? Sounds like a plan!

Except Shalhoub continues to be a prick and won’t sign over anything... instead he insults Marky Mark for being too stupid and lazy to *earn* the money like he did. So they beat him with sex toys until he gives in and signs, then try to collect... except the contracts need to be *notarized* and that requires that a Notary witness Shalhoub’s signing of the documents - can’t exactly bring a Notary down to the adult novelty goods warehouse where they have him tied up, can they?

It’s one damned thing after another, because these guys *haven’t * thought their plan through and aren’t very bright. They’re the kind of body builders who use steroids because it’s a short cut. They want the riches without the work. But they are DOERS and find a Notary at the gym they can coerce into signing and stamping their documents... and now all are rich! Marky Mark moves into Shalhoub’s mansion... and the neighbors like him better than the old owner.

But soon their money is spent and they need to kidnap someone else - this time a sleazy phone sex company owner. And here’s where things go very wrong, and the phone sex guy and his bimbo girlfriend end up dead on Mackie’s brand new carpet in his brand new house with his brand new wife coming home in a couple of hours. Which requires a trip to the hardware store for chainsaws and rubber gloves and all of the things one would need to chop up bodies into little pieces and dump them in the swamp. Somewhere in here Shalhoub - living in a crappy motel he can’t even pay for - hires a retired private detective (Ed Harris) to get his stuff back. And things begin unraveling even more...

The problem is, Bay is Bay. The story takes place in Miami, so there’s no shortage of shots of fast cars and girls in bikinis and all of those things from BAD BOYS. He uses all of his style-without-substance camera tricks, and the characters are all surface. Yeah, they aren’t very deep characters to begin with, but for a story that focuses on the characters we need to dig a little deeper into their lives. The Rock carries a skateboard everywhere, just got out of prison where he found God... but that’s the extent of his character. It’s just a bunch of surface things. You know, even people who aren’t very bright are still *people* - they have fears and dreams and regrets and secrets and souls. Even though this was based on a true story, I think Bay should have pulled out his checkbook and hired Elmore Leonard to write the book first, then adapted that book. These guys are the type of small timers that Leonard understands and could create vivid living characters - which this film really needs. It’s kind of ironic that a film about guys who are all about surface materia goods ends up all slick surface with nothing much underneath. Bay *is* these guys! He’d rather do his signature shots than find the shots that best tell the story. Style over substance. But the story is so loopy and fun that it even works with Bay’s direction - making this his best film so far.

DVDs: KILLING THEM SOFTLY - On the other side of the spectrum from Michael Bay is Andrew Dominic who adapted and directed this film. An ultra-low-key director who seems to like slow paced character studies... he should have directed PAIN & GAIN! This film is based on a book by the great George V. Higgins, who I discovered after seeing THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE with Robert Mitchum. I read a handful of his novels, and Higgins’ thing is dialogue. His stories are about small time crooks who sit in bars and cars in the middle of the day and discuss the problems in their mundane lives with witty street language. What Quentin Tarantino didn’t steal from Elmore Leonard he stole from Higgins - his books are like all of the Jules and Vincent conversations strung together with a really mundane shooting or two. Higgins’ stories * use* the mundane and ordinary to make his small time hoods into real people - those guys at the end of the bar who seem like regulars. His characters talk about all of the small problems associated with crime - in EDDIE COYLE one of the big issues is what happens to the family while you are behind bars... how do they pay the mortgage and buy groceries? By focusing on the details of criminal life, and using his gift for witty street dialogue, Higgins took us into the world of criminals. His books were like the anti-GODFATHER - no glamor at all!

In this film, based on COOGAN’S TRADE, Ray Liotta plays a charismatic host to an illegal back room poker club... one of those small time mobsters on the front lines. His club was robbed once by a couple of young punks - and the mob sent an enforcer to make sure Liotta didn’t hire the two punks himself. The enforcer (a nice Sam Shepard cameo) *likes* Liotta, so when he says he didn’t do it after a mild beating, he lets him go. But the robbery has caused *all* of the mob’s poker games in the area to shut down for safety reasons, and that costs them. Years later, Liotta get drunk and admits that he hired the two punks - but by then everything is okay and the mob does nothing. Hell, everybody loves Liotta - he’s a great guy.

But a low level criminal nicknamed The Squirrel, who runs a dry cleaners, realizes that if Liotta’s illegal poker game is robbed *again* everyone will naturally suspect him... and no one will suspect The Squirrel. So, he hires a couple of punks - both fresh out of prison - to knock over the illegal poker club. These two losers are the center of the story - one is a heroin addict who steals pure breed dogs and sells them in Florida (but driving them there - they shit and fart and bark the whole way - is a hassle) and the other doesn’t have a car or a job or anything - and their bar and street conversations about their dreams and regrets make the story come alive. The poker game robbery is tense - because they are idiots and keep screwing things up. They use thick dish washing gloves which make it hard to handle the crappy guns they bought. They get the smallest size nylon stockings - which smash their faces when used as masks. They are completely incompetent... But manage to pull off the robbery.

So the mob calls for hitman Brad Pitt to clean up the mess. He’s met by Driver - the guy who handles all of the mob’s business transactions. Driver and Pitt have a series of car conversations about the job which focus on the small stuff - Driver complains that nobody in the mob will make a decision, they never agree with each other, and *he* ends up having to do everything. Pitt (Coogan) knows The Squirrel and doesn’t want to be the guy who pulls the trigger on him, because it means listing to the guy beg for his life and get all emotional and make all sorts of excuses. Pitt wants to hire a subcontractor hitman played by James Gandolfini...

But that ends up a nightmare. Gandolfini is a drunk womanizer who is henpecked by his wife and does nothing but bitch and complain. Pitt ends up just putting out this guy’s fires - he insults the hotel staff and runs up his bar tab and room service and has a parade of hookers he refuses to tip - and still hasn’t hit The Squirrel. Pitt spends all of his time trying to find some way to get Gandolfini off his ass... and eventually gives up.

Then Pitt shoots some people in bloody but mundane scenes and restores peace and balance to the mob world so that the illegal poker games can begin again.

So, this is my type of movie, and (unlike PAIN & GAIN) the style of direction perfectly matches the subject matter and story. But for some weird reason Dominic takes a book written in the early 70s and plops it into the 2008 financial melt down and *fills* it with radios and TV with George W. Bush speeches about bailing out banks and GM... and then campaign stuff from the Presidential election. This stuff is sledge hammered in so hard it threatens to capsize the whole film. Michael Bay subtlety. Actually, worse than that. You want the *story* to demonstrate the theme or point or whatever - not some obtrusive radio broadcast whenever two characters are in a car or TV broadcast when they are in a bar. Aren’t there any radio stations that play music? Don’t TVs in bars usually have the game on? If the idea was to parallel the financial melt down with the mob’s financial melt down after the poker games were closed - why not just stick with the mob story and let *us* draw the parallel? Come on! This is a movie that appeals to a smart audience, so why dumb it down? Why not *use the story* to make your point?

- Bill

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Trailer Tuesday: THE IPCRESS FILE

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

One of my favorite movies.

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



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

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

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

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

Here is our introduction to Harry Palmer...



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

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

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

- Bill

Monday, August 21, 2017

Self Imposed

From 2011...

If you wander into the Studio City branch of the Los Angeles Public Library system, as I do every once in a while when I need to do research that can’t be found online, you will find a couple of rows of computers you can sign up to use in the back... and probably at least one homeless guy (with a duffle bag containing all of his belongings) surfing porn while the librarians discuss how to get him the hell out of there. In the old days, before computers, there were rows of typewriters in some libraries that you could rent for 25 cents and hour... and just like those rental computers in Kinkos, they were often being used by students who didn’t own a typewriter but still had to turn in typewritten papers in order to get a grade. Years ago Ray Bradbury, who did own a typewriter, bought a couple of rolls of quarters and went to his local public library to write a novel. The reason for going to the library is that a limited number of quarters equals a limited number of hours and the minute you sit down to that keyboard the clock is ticking. You need to get pages written! By the way, that novel was FAHRENHEIT 451.

Writers do all kinds of tricks to get themselves focused on writing. As I write this, the greatest living writer of private eye fiction, Lawrence Block, is *somewhere* writing a new novel. He’s not telling where. He’s been posting on FaceBook, but makes sure any clues to his location are impossible to figure out (a photo through his hotel room window has a view you could find in a million places). This is a common thing for novelists - they go to writers retreats or some strange city’s hotel room without their normal life’s distractions and lock themselves away in order to get a book done. Raymond Chandler was once famously locked in a room with a week’s supply of booze and a typewriter so that he could finish a project. Whatever works to get the pages done.

I usually look at time away from home as a way to get things done. Over the holidays I wrote a new script, and that wasn’t the first time I’ve done that. I”ve written several scripts over the holidays, using the time I spend out of town as a self imposed deadline. I wrote JUST BEFORE DAWN in 2 weeks over the holidays... and thought I had a deal for it when I returned... but the deal fell apart.

This time over the holidays (Thanksgiving to New Years - extended vacation) I planned on writing the new script *and* working on the book rewrite... but only managed to get the new script finished. Part of the reason for not getting things done was hanging out with friends, and that’s an acceptable excuse. The other part was a deal that seemed to be about to close any minute, my lawyer doing a great job of keeping things going in my absence. But the strange distraction of having to hop a plane at any minute for a meeting, and the strange way the deal was evolving from spec sale to some other sort of strange thing that didn’t make any sense, kept distracting me from writing. I was that dog in UP and the deal was the squirrel. The deal kept falling apart and then coming back together again and again, and it became a crazy soap opera where I had to know what happens next... and that took time and focus away from the work I was supposed to be doing. That deal eventually fell apart. It involved an actor whose name you know.

But over the holidays, while the deal looked like it was going to happen, airfares went on sale and I bought a round trip ticket to an undisclosed location. I thought I’d probably be doing rewrites on the deal in January and I had this other script I needed to get written, and would probably need some time off in late February. Plus - the airplane tickets were a deal! But when that spec sale fell apart, I got bummed out and thought maybe that week of vacation might be the consolation prize.

Except, like a squirrel, another spec deal popped up with its own set of strange elements and my hard working lawyer was busy again hammering out contract points. Once again, this was a distraction that kept getting in the way of my writing the new script, and at one point I went a little crazy about one of the deal points and probably spent a whole week doing nothing but bouncing off the walls. But this deal also crashed and burned at the last minute a day before I left for vacation. So, I was behind on the new script, and had not finished the rewrite of the Action Book, and had not done a pile of other things on the To Do List (new Script Tips? Um, never got around to writing any).

So, I decided to take this vacation week and write. I wouldn’t lock myself in my hotel room, but I’d be in a strange city without any of the usual distractions with a limited amount of time. I would not be able to finish the Action Book rewrite, but I could get a huge chunk of it done and finish the rest at my leisure. I decided to tackle the chapters that needed the most work, get them out of the way. I was looking forward to crossing off chapter after chapter and finishing the week with all of the heavy lifting done on the book rewrite. I would come home with things crossed off the To Do List!

Except, that hasn’t really happened. It was a great plan, but I managed to impose all kinds of problems on myself that sabotaged my self imposed deadlines. The first thing that happened wasn’t really my fault - I twisted my leg and my trick knee decided to become tricky again... as I was leaving the plane. So, I start off in pain. On top of that, I hadn’t been sleeping well, and that carried over on vacation for a while - then I ping-ponged between not enough sleep and over sleeping. But the biggest hurdle I imposed on myself was a frustration/depression/anger over having two deals crash and burn. That nagged at me - was there some reason? Was it because the scripts sucked? Was it because I’ve lost it? Was it because I’m out of touch?

Standard “Writer’s Paranoia” - when there often doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the business, you start to wonder if maybe your whole career is a mistake... and someone finally caught on. Or maybe there was an expiration date no one told me about, some sort of LOGAN’S RUN for my screenwriting career? These worries are silly, but like those squirrels they can keep you from focusing on what’s important.

Add to that the idea of starting with the most difficult stuff - which isn’t exactly a confidence or momentum builder. I *struggled* with the most difficult chapter to rewrite for freakin’ **days**! The plan was to knock off a chapter a day, and when that didn’t happen I became even more frustrated/depressed/angry. Crap! What if I never* get the book revised? What if it takes me months when I’m working on it full time? This made me want to avoid work, rather than continue... and I was on vacation, wasn’t I?

But here’s where I really screwed up - when I was playing hooky, I just felt guilty over not working... and didn’t enjoy myself much. Man, I just ruined a whole week! I didn’t get much done and I didn’t have much fun.

I have not gone to the movies. I brought 4 new DVDs with me, and have not watched any of them. I brought a book with me, and haven’t opened it. I have walked past a museum almost every day I have been here, and have not gone inside. Whenever I have done anything touristy, I have felt guilty about not writing.

So, now I have the most difficult chapter rewritten, but lots more to do. And I have to get back to work on the new script, because I really should have spent the week working on that - people are waiting. That means - I’m going to have to self impose a deadline to get that new script *finished* and just forget about the squirrels and forget about those self doubts and f/d/a about having a couple of deals crash and burn late in the game.

This is being written on the last full day of my vacation, and I think I’m just going to just say screw it and take the rest of the day off. Then, when I get back to Los Angeles, write like a son of a bitch to get this script finished. Maybe I’ll take another self imposed vacation week to get a few more chapters of the book rewritten.

Meanwhile, my lawyer has been working his ass off while I freak out and it seems one of the dead projects may be alive at some other place. The director from the busted project seems to have carried my script to a company that wanted to hire him. Maybe I'm not a fraud afterall?

If you have trouble getting pages written, find some way to create a self imposed deadline... then actually write!

- Bill

PS: Folks, no cheering up needed! I'm fine. Part of this blog is sharing what I am feeling, especially if it's something I think you guys might also experience. I don't want to be some god-like Robert McKee that you are not allowed to make eye contact with and has no emotions. I'd rather be as honest as I can.

Friday, August 18, 2017

HITCH 20: REVENGE (s1e1)

There's a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I have been a "guest expert" on, and the new season begins in a couple of months. So here is the very first episode - the "pilot" - which is without me:

This episode is REVENGE, and the story is a corker: a man's wife is brutally raped and he extracts his revenge when she recognizes the attacker on the street. I actually prefer the remake done in the 1980s, due to casting: Where Ralph Meeker (who played Mike Hammer) seems like the kind of guy who would have no problem extracting revenge, the remake had David Clennon (who always plays geeks with triple chins) who has a great deal of trouble with the physical aspects of revenge... making it even more gut wrenching.









Of course, I have my own books focusing 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.

And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






USA Readers click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

We all know that Alfred Hitchcock was the Master Of Suspense, but did you know he was the most *experimental* filmmaker in history?

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 52 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

THRILLER Thursday: The Fatal Impulse

The Fatal Impulse

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



Season: 1, Episode: 11.
Airdate: 11/29/1960
Director: Gerald Mayer
Writer: Philip MacDonald based on a story by John D MacDonald.
Cast: Robert Lansing, Witney Blake, Elisha Cook, Steve Brodie, Conrad Nagle and Mary Tyler Moore.
Music: Pete Rugolo.
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “A phone call in the night. A threat to kill. And then a public announcement that the killing will take place. Is this man just a publicity seeker? Or will he be driven to kill? Will he succumb to the impulse? That’s the name of our story, “The Fatal Impulse”. Our principal players are Mr. Robert Lansing, Miss Witney Blake, Mr. Lance Fuller, Mr. Elisha Cook, Mr. Steve Brodie, and Mr. Conrad Nagle. Before very long, one of these girls unwittingly will be carrying a deadly bomb through the crowded city. As sure as my name is Boris Karloff, one man’s impulse will paralyze a great metropolis for six terrifying hours. I do hope you’re not addicted to biting your nails, because this, I’m quite sure you will agree, is a thriller!”



Synopsis: The episode opens with a campaign poster for Walker Wylie for Mayor next to a pay phone, then has a limping Harry Elser (Elisha Cook jr from THE MALTESE FALCON and just about every Film Noir ever made) dragging his leg to the pay phone, dialing a number, then putting a handkerchief over the phone to disguise his voice as he threatens to kill... Mayoral candidate Walker Wylie (Conrad Neagle, who manages to make everything he says sound like a lie, even his character’s *name*) who was sound asleep in his bed moments before. Wylie hangs up the phone and goes back to sleep. Elser puts some more coins in the phone and calls every newspaper, TV and radio outlet telling them that he will kill Walker Wylie, get those headlines ready!

Detective Rome (Robert Lansing who always reminded me of an alien) and his partner Sgt Hannigan go to Wylie’s office to question him... and his secretary just lets them through without even showing their badges! Rome chews out Wylie, who obviously doesn’t take the threat seriously. Wylie tells Rome he doesn’t have a single enemy in the world (but he’s so insincere that you know there must be millions of them)... Rome doesn’t believe it, says until they find out whether there is or is not a real threat, Wylie will have a policeman with him 24/7. Wylie argues that he’s running for *Mayor* and can’t have a bunch of stupid detectives interfering with his life. Plus, he’s the main guest on a late night talk show tonight! The interview will be shot here in his office at 11pm, can’t have a cop sitting next to him for that! Rome insists, leaves Hannigan behind for protection...



Elser in his garage carefully makes a bomb. It’s a small bomb with a mercury switch, about the size of a couple of packs of cigarettes. Gently places it in another box packed with cotton balls to keep it from being shaken, and...

At Wylie’s Office they are prepping for the TV filming. Crew guys are going in and out of the office... and Elser in a maintenance jumpsuit manages to sneak in with some, right past Hannigan, saying he’s there to change the light bulbs. . When the real crew guys leave, he sits in Wylie’s chair, opens a desk drawer, carefully takes the bomb out of the box and prepares to put in the drawer... when Wylie’s secretary steps into the office and yells for Hannigan! Elser slides the bomb into his pocket, tries to escape... But Hannigan rushes into the office and they fight. Elser tips one of the big TV lights onto Hannigan’s head, glass shattering and leaving Hannigan with raw hamburger for a face and completely blind. Elser makes his escape...



But the alarm has been rung. Rome and some detectives search the building for Elser (a limping man), who is hiding in a janitor’s closet. Elser changes out of the jump suit into a business suit and when the clock strikes 5 he leaves the janitor’s closet and joins the crowd of businessmen and secretaries leaving work for the day. He manages to squeeze into a packed elevator full of women and floor by floor suspense builds as people get on and off the elevator. We know he has the bomb in his pocket, and if it goes off? All of these innocent people will die.

When the elevator reaches the ground floor, everyone exits... and Rome and his men spot Elser and give chase! Elser races across a busy street with Rome and the cops right behind him... and then gets hit by a truck. Rome searches him for the bomb, can’t find it... and Elser’s last words are “girl in the elevator”. The figure the bomb was set to got off around 11pm when Wylie would be at his desk on the TV talk show... and there were around a dozen women on that elevator with him. But who are these women? One of them has a bomb in her purse that will blow up at 11pm tonight, unless she shakes it enough to blow up earlier. “There’s some girl walking around this city with a bomb” and she doesn’t know it.

Rome has his men track down the names of every woman on Wylie’s floor who left work at 5pm, plus any woman who had an appointment with a business on that floor who left at 5pm. Make a list on the squad room chalkboard. Find those women. Interview them. Search their purses for the bomb. Cross them off the list if they didn’t have the bomb. He knows that a couple of women got on the elevator at different floors, but has to start somewhere.



Meanwhile, Rome and his new partner Detective Dumont (Steve Brodie, who was Mitchum’s treacherous partner in OUT OF THE PAST and the father of the director of my movie TREACHEROUS) go to Elser’s house to search for clues. In the car on the way Dumont and Rome discuss Rome’s lack of love life after losing his wife, so we know these two guys have been friends or a long time. They discover that Elser was one of Wylie’s employees who was fired and denied his pension and holds a grudge (kind of like Dennis Hopper in SPEED). When Dumont goes to search the garage... booby trap! The whole garage blows up, killing Dumont right before Rome’s eyes. He’s lost two partners and the episode isn’t even half over!

8:15...

At the Squad Room, they are crossing names off the list on the chalkboard... it’s down to four *known* women who they have not been able to contact. Rome and another detective split the final four and try to find them. Rome tracks down an artist who had an appointment on that floor named Jane Kimball (Whitney Blake) who he finds in a night club with her boyfriend Robert (Lance Fuller). Robert is kind of combative to Rome, he’s on a date here and this cop is screwing it up. Rome explains about the bomb... and Jane and Robert become a lot more cooperative. Rome *carefully* takes the purse out of the crowded nightclub to the lawn in back and *cautiously* takes each item out looking for the bomb. Nothing. No bomb. When he gives Jane back her purse, Robert is mad as hell for ruining their evening... and then it gets *worse* when Jane says that she had been in the building applying for an artist job with her portfolio... and can *draw* all of the people in the elevator. Robert sits on the sidelines pissed off as Jane draws all of the faces.



The last girl on Rome’s list is a wife with a *very* jealous husband. They are fighting when Rome rings the doorbell, and the problem is... the wife was visiting her lover in the office building and lies to Rome about being in the building. But when Rome explains about the bomb, the wife must admit to cheating in front of her husband... and her husband grabs her purse looking for evidence! Now Rome must wrestle the bag away from the husband, and there may be a bomb inside! After the careful search of the purse... Rome finds nothing.

9:20...

At the Squad Room, *all* of the names are crossed off the list on the chalkboard. Rome is stumped. The only possibility is some woman *not* on their list. How can they find her?

In the night club, Jane remembers the woman in glasses who came into the elevator on a lower floor... and calls Rome.

Rome tracks down the woman in the glasses and goes to her apartment. The woman is played by a pre DICK VAN DYKE SHOW Mary Tyler Moore, who tells Rome she checked both her purse and her portfolio and no bomb in either one...

Rome realizes that Jane had her art portfolio with her in the elevator, and it was never searched. He tries to call her at the club, she’s left! He races to her home...

Almost 11:00!



Jane and Robert come home from the nightclub (to her house) and once the door is closed Robert’s hands are all over her... oh, and the bomb is there, too! It has fallen out of her portfolio onto the sofa... and is behind a cushion where it can not be seen. As Robert guides Jane to the sofa and makes all kinds of moves on her, the bomb is *underneath her head* behind that cushion. Jane is trying to get him to behave, when there’s a knock at the door. Detective Rome. He asks where her portfolio is, she tells him it’s in the bedroom, he carefully searches it... no bomb.

Tick tick tick... a minute before 11:00!

Rome has no idea where the bomb is... was there another woman on the elevator? Someone they missed? Robert wants him the hell out of there. Rome asks where she put the portfolio when she came home that afternoon, and Jane says on the desk.

Rome starts looking around the desk when Jane remembers it wasn’t the desk, it was the sofa. Rome carefully searches the sofa... finding the bomb! Tells Robert and Jane to get the heck out of the house and run like hell. Then carefully removes the bomb and as the clock strikes 11:00, tries opening the window and it’s *stuck*... breaks the window and throws it outside and explodes on the lawn!

A moment later Jane returns without Robert, and it kinda looks like she’s gonna hook up with Rome. The end.



Review: This was a good, tense, episode... really reminiscent of SPEED in many ways. The “shell game” of having one of 12 or 13 women be carrying around the bomb and not knowing it is a great device, and I’m guessing the John D. MacDonald story gets deeper into who these different women are (we only get 3 of them in the episode). They do a great job of showing us the clock every once in a while, and I wish they had done more of that... but there probably wasn’t time. You do get that ticking clock feel. And when we finally get to Jane’s house, that bomb becomes a great “focus object” ticking away under that sofa cushion as Jane’s boyfriend tries making out with her. The only hiccups in the episode are things that have to do with a limited TV budget: the night club that Jane and her boyfriend are in seems to be a set with one booth and no extras... so we really don’t get a scene where Rome has to carefully carry that bomb outside. And explosions are off camera. Also, some time restraints turn conversations like the one about Rome’s dating life into obvious expositional moments. But these are minor quibbles for an episode that keeps ramping up the tension and really has you worried at the end that they will not find that bomb that has fallen between the sofa cushions in time. This was a really good episode and shows the promise of what the show can do with purse suspense.

The show has finally found its footing, and for a while we’ll alternate between suspense and weird tales... though next week is more crime story, with a twist.

Bill





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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Scene Of The Week: GOODFELLAS

If you've read Secrets Of Action Screenwriting you know that one of my favorite writing tools is *Magnification*, which I learned in Dan Arnold’s acting class in High School. The basic idea is to make something normal sized and make it much bigger. Stakes and conflict and emotions are all raised. Something average becomes something larger than life... large enough to fill that big screen. This works with concepts, emotions, and understanding the emotions of your characters.

This scene also deals with *Tension* - which is unresolved conflict. To create tension you must have a conflict... and the conflict needs to be ongoing and active and not solved. Once you resolve the conflict, you remove the tension. If you allow the audience to forget the conflict, you remove the tension. On Fridays when I do the Hitchcock entries, there are a couple on tension and suspense and “poking the tiger” to keep the audience aware that there is an existing conflict. If you don’t poke the tiger the conflict dissipates and you lose all of the tension.

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So here is a scene that uses both elements, and it’s one of my favorite scenes. From GOODFELLAS (1990) written by Nicholas Pileggi, based on his true crime book. Directed by Martin Scorsese, and it’s like his 15th feature film. He’s one of my favorite directors, never really had a hit like his fellow “Hollywood Brats” but is always doing great work. Ages ago, when I was fresh out of high school, I sent him a letter asking if he’d read one of my screenplays... and he said yes! I sent some crappy early screenplay and got a great letter back from the head of his production company telling me to stick with it, etc. The polite brush off - but the guy never had to be polite in the first place. That script was ANYONE CAN LOSE and a friend asked me about it a couple of days ago - it’s one of those scripts with some great scenes but the story doesn’t work well. People remember it and wonder if I ever figured out how to fix it. Nope. But, back to GOODFELLAS...

Henry Hill is a small time crook way out on the fringe of organized crime, who wants to move up. So he looks to make some new friends who are equally ambitious and see if they can team up to move up the mob ladder... and become the new generation of organized crime. Now here’s the thing - this is kind of like meeting someone *and* a job interview, and the people you are meeting may be armed and may have just killed someone five minutes ago.

So let’s use our magnification tool. Remember those times in your past you were hanging out with someone who you wanted to impress... and *didn’t* want to offend? Might have been a job interview or a first date or meeting your romantic partner’s best friend or some other situation where you were hanging out with someone important and didn’t want to screw it up. Now, because we are all human, we have probably all screwed up in this situation at least once. I am socially inept and have some for of social tourettes that kicks in when I'm with people I need to impress - so that I always say the completely wrong thing. I get nervous and probably try too hard and end up saying something stupid. Because of that, I work hard *not* to do that when I meet people I want to impress, which makes me even more nervous... But you’ve probably blown it a couple of times, right? Now we’re going to take that anxiety and that mistake and *Magnify* it. We’re going to raise the stakes and emotions and turn that first meeting into a life or death situation. You are hanging out with a guy who kills people. You don’t want to say the wrong thing in this situation, you don’t want to accidentally offend him...



Funny how?

Great scene, and see how they keep “poking the tiger” to keep that tension alive?

This is a great example of how to take a “throw away scene” and make it so entertaining that we’re talking about it 23 years later... but it also helps us identify with Henry (Ray Liotta) and is the perfect introduction to Tommy (Joe Pesci).

While we’re on Joe Pesci - he won an Oscar for this performance, and his speech was: "This is an honor and privilege, thank you," because he didn’t think he was going to win and had no planned acceptance speech. Pesci as been in a bunch of great films, and is always great in lesser films. Would you believe his first time on screen was in HEY LET’S TWIST (1961) because he was a Rock & Roll guitar player for the featured band The Starliters... and even recorded a Rock & Roll solo album as a singer: “Little Joe Sure Can Sing”! He was a childhood friend of Frankie Valli, and was instrumental in the formation of The Four Seasons (he’s even a character in JERSEY BOYS!). So the whole Rock & Roll career, then a new career as an actor that leads to an Oscar win and another nomination plus a bunch of memorable films.

( Joe Pesci plays guitar in a band on The Lucy Show (1966) - Carol Burnett co-stars.) Magnification and Tension work hand-in-hand in this scene, but they can work separately as well in scenes. Tension is a great scene tool, and when I get around to doing the Scenes Blue Book there will be a whole chapter on tension techniques.

The comments section is open for discussion of the scene.

- Bill

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Trailer Tuesday: DARK PASSAGE

Dark Passage (1947)

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


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



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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

Bill




Monday, August 14, 2017

Mamet Memo

David Mamet sent this nice little memo to the writers of THE UNIT, which contains all of the basics of screenwriting in very few words...

Mamet's Memo

That's like a whole screenwriting course in a page.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: COINCIDENCES - How many can I have in my script? Are bad coincidences okay?
Dinner: Movie Hot Dog...
Bicycle: Short ride.
Pages: Couple of pages.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Birthday With Hitchcock: Good Evening.

Happy Birthday, Sir Alfred Hitchcock!

Hitchcock's birthday is Sunday (the 13th)! What movie will you watch to celebrate?

James Allardice wrote all of the intros for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Alfred Hitchcock Hour, plus wrote the Hitchcock lead trailers for his films up until 1966 when he died. The Hitchcock intros were witty and dark and their own little stories which usually started with "Good evening" and then continued through the commercial breaks until coming to some sort of fun (often twist) ending just before the final credits rolled. These intros turned Hitchcock into a *star*. Just like a Kardasian, his name was on everything! I read the ALFRED HITCHCOCK AND THE THREE INVESTIGATORS books as a kid (which were the inspiration for GOONIES and EXPLORERS) and "graduated" to the Dell HITCHCOCK PRESENTS anthologies (in my old bedroom at my parent's house there is an ancient paperback titled STORIES THEY WOULDN'T LET ME DO ON TV which I reread over the holidays) and also ALFRED HITCHCOCK MYSTERY MAGAZINE (which I still had a subscription to until recently). Hitch became the first director who was recognizable to the general public... all because of these sly and wry little intros for his TV show.

While looking for *one* of the intros a couple of days ago, I found *all* of them. So I figured I'd share them with you. Since there were 359 episodes between HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and HITCHCOCK HOUR and Hitch introduced all of them, this clip shows just the opening moments of the little story that each tells. Someone else will have to do a massive supercut of *all* the Hitchcock material!

All of the Hitchcock intros!



Of course, I have my own book on a selection of Hitchcock's films that do wild experiments with story and cinema...

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!

Only $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.



- Bill

Of course, my first book on Hitchcock...




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

We all know that Alfred Hitchcock was the Master Of Suspense, but did you know he was the most *experimental* filmmaker in history?

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 53 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

THRILLER Thursday: WELL OF DOOM.

Well Of Doom

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



Season: 1, Episode: 23.
Airdate: February 28, 1961


Director: John Braham
Writer: Donald S. Sanford based on a story by John Clemons
Cast: Ronald Howard, Henry Daniell, Torin Thatcher, Richard Kiel.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith being awesome.
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon.
Producer: William Frye.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Imagine meeting two suck netherworld creatures on your wedding night. Beelzebub, Moloch, Belial. All names that men have given to Satan. Or is it possible that Robert Penrose has actually encountered the evil one himself? Or was this violent incident the start of some monstrous practical joke conceived by the young man’s friends? Or by his enemies? Well, perhaps a glimpse of tonight’s players will give you a clue? Mr. Ronald Howard, Mr. Henry Daniell, Mr. Torin Thatcher, Miss Finton Minor, and Mr. Richard Kiel. Impossible to guess, you say? Very well, let’s turn back the clock and pick up our young bridegroom before the start if tghis fateful journey. But I warn you ladies and gentleman, if you have a faint heart, tune away, because it may stop in your throat, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff.”

Synopsis: Kind of the horror version of THE HANGOVER...



Robert Penrose (Ronald Howard) and his servant Teal (Torin Thatcher) are heading to Penrose’s bachelor party in a limousine on a foggy country road... and running late. Penrose asks the Chauffeur (Billy Beck) if he can drive any faster, and is told not unless they want to end up in a ditch. That’s when the Chauffeur sees something through the fog on the road in front of them and hits the brakes hard. Standing in the middle of the road is a giant, Styx (Richard Kiel)... next to him is Moloch (Henry Daniell) holding a pair of ancient pistols. The Chauffeur says it’s a *monster* on the road, and then monster Styx yanks open the limo’s door and pulls out the Chauffeur!

Penrose climbs out of the Limo, and calmly tells Moloch to have his man release the Chauffeur so that they can get to the bachelor party. He’s sure that his jokester Best Man Charlie has paid them well to pull this prank, but they are running late and they have to go. Moloch says that this is no prank, he is Beelzebub, Moloch, Belial... Satan! And Penrose has a price to pay for his past sins. Penrose compliments the man’s acting but insists that they must be going... and that’s when Styx seems to kill the Chauffeur! Casting his body aside on the country road, forcing Penrose back inside the limo and then climbing into the driver’s seat and popping open the door for Moloch! They have been kidnapped!

After Karloff’s intro, we flash back to a few hours before the kidnap...



Penrose is at home on his family estate, when he gets a call from his bride to be Laura (Fintan Meyler) and they discuss the upcoming marriage (tomorrow) and the Bachelor Party tonight. She warns him not to let his Best Man Charlie get him into trouble... that guy is a loose cannon joker, and they all might end up in jail... and Penrose would miss the wedding. Penrose says that won’t happen, he’s wise to his Best Man’s tricks.

After Penrose hangs up, his servant Teal comes in... and there is tension between the two men. Teal used to work for his father, and basically *raised* Penrose. But somewhere along the line Penrose treated Teal poorly and the two have been estranged for years. Penrose apologizes to Teal for whatever happened in their past and says that even though when his new bride moves in, his plan *had* been to let Teal go... he has decided to keep Teal on. The problems of the past can be set aside. Teal is almost a father to him. Teal thanks him for this... then Penrose asks if he’ll be a part of the wedding and come with him to the Bachelor Party, unknowingly putting his servant’s life in danger.



Bride Laura goes to bed early, probably resting up for her honeymoon night... when someone breaks into her bedroom and sneaks up to her bed. When she wakes up and looks at her assailant... it’s the giant Styx!

Now back to the kidnap in the car where we began...

Penrose is sure this is all Best Man Charlie’s practical joke... and Moloch fires one of this antique pistols at the seat neat Penrose. The gun in very real. Penrose now wonders if this is a real kidnap. He tells Moloch he’d gladly pay the ransom if they would just get out of his car so that he could go to his Bachelor Party. He offers half a million dollars... but Moloch says that’s just not enough. Styx turns onto a dirt road, stops the limousine and they get out.

Styx has a pair of torches, and Moloch snaps his fingers at them... lighting both! They take Penrose and Teal through the foggy moors. Teal recognizes the area as part of Penrose’s estate... an area that is no longer used. Moloch does a couple of other completely supernatural things... is he really Satan? They are lead to the “Block House”, and Moloch tells Penrose that he has been here before when he was six years old... and gives details that *only Penrose could know*. Freaky! Teal and Penrose attack! Fighting for their lives! But Moloch turns and points at Teal and WHAM! Teal drops dead! He turns to Penrose and asks if he’ll be more cooperative, now.



The Block Room was used for prisoners and torture centuries ago... but also, maybe decades ago by Penrose’s father. In the cell where they lock up Penrose is an old well... and many of his father’s enemies ended up thrown into that well to die. Moloch wants Penrose to pay for his father’s sins. Not just with money, but with a deal with the devil... a contract with Satan. All his worldly goods, his estate, his money, his soul... and his bride. In exchange for his life. Just sign on the line. Then Moloch goes to the cell on the opposite side of the room... where they have Laura in chains!

After Moloch and Styx leave, Penrose has a cell to cell conversation with Laura. He has a plan: he will make a rope from his blanket, attach it to the inside of the well where they can not see, sign the contract and once Laura is released... throw himself into the well to commit suicide. Once they have left the dungeon, he’ll climb out of the well, escape the cell, and rescue Laura. (The cell has a loose bar, Penrose snuck out, then snuck back in when he heard them coming down the stairs.)



The plan works kind of according to plan, except instead of faking his suicide Styx picks him up and throws him into the well!

Penrose wakes up in the well, grabs the home made rope and starts climbing out of the well... but the peg attaching the rope to the well is pulling out of the ancient well. Suspense... will he be able to get out before the peg pulls out? He gets to the top, gets out of his cell, Laura is not in her cell, so he climbs the stairs out of the dungeon to rescue her...



At the top of the stairs, he spies Styx in street clothes and Moloch taking off his wig and make up... talking to someone who was behind the whole scheme. When the mastermind turns around, it’s Teal. The servant was afraid that Penrose was going to ditch him once he got married after all of the damned work Teal has done... so the plan is to kill Penrose, kill Laura, claim they have gone away on honeymoon... and just take over the estate. But Styx doesn’t have the guts to kill Laura. Then Styx (or whatever his name is) asks how they can trust Teal to give them their cut of the fortune when he’d turn against the boy he raised into a man? Moloch and Teal draw on each other... shoot and kill each other! Then Penrose comes up the stairs and Styx freaks out... trips and falls down the stairs and dies. Penrose rescue Laura from the next room and they have to race to their wedding!



Review: Great Goldsmith score... very atmospheric locations and scenes. One of the great things about a story that takes place on the foggy moors of England is that all of that fog not only makes it spooky, it hides Studio City just beyond the backlot at Radford Studios. The interior sets are great.

Henry Daniell is great, but I wish they had kept the “is this a joke or isn’t this” going for longer than a minute. When we see the Bride To Be kidnapped at the top of the episode we *know* it isn’t a joke, and that lessens the impact. Much like the suspense generated by not knowing if a character is or isn’t a killer, not knowing if the situation is a practical joke played by the Best Man or a real kidnap... or really Satan... would have kept us guessing and uneasy because we did not know.



They also seem to downplay some of the tricks Daniell does which make him look like Satan: the lighting of the torches, etc. Those should have been amped way up. Daniell is a great hambone actor who seems to be reined in here, when he’s playing *Satan*. If there was ever a role for overacting! There’s a way to present supernatural magic on screen that shocks the audience, but here it’s kind of matter of fact dull.

One of the nice scenes that could have been better was the cell to cell communication in the dungeon between Bride To Be and Groom. For some reason she taps her foot (because she’s gagged) when a panicked conversation would have been much better. The foot tapping makes me wonder if the original story was designed to make us doubt that she was really in there, think that even at this late stage it might all be a practical joke played by the Best Man. I can see no other reason to have her mute.

I do love how Penrose’s plan is to pretend suicide by jumping into the well, and then Styx *throws him* into the well. We get the same result, by an unpredictable and unplanned method. One of the techniques for making your story unpredictable is to have a character with a plan, and then have things not happen according to plan. Penrose still ends up in the well.

The plan that goes wrong was also used earlier when Penrose and Teal are being taken to the block house and make a plan to attack Moloch and Styx and escape... and that ends with Moloch killing Teal by magic just when it looks like they are winning their fight and will escape.

This was a pretty good episode which could have been much better. The great thing here is how a large scale ghost story is told on a TV budget using some establishing shots and a fog machine.

Bill



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