Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Trailer Tuesday: The Haunting (1963)

"It was an evil house from the beginning - a house that was born bad."

I first saw this film in grade school on a rainy day when instead of going out to play we went to the multi-purpose room for a movie... and instead of just getting wet outside, all of us got scared to death and probably scarred for life. This film scares me *now*.



THE HAUNTING doesn't have any blood at all... yet it has regular scares throughout the film - and lots of DIRECT CONFLICT between the source of the scares and the protagonists. This is tricky, because THE HAUNTING is about ghosts and has no special effects - no guys in sheets, no double exposure FXs, nothing we can *see*.

The biggest mistake of the remake was turning it into a CGI fest... we fear the unknown, when we see a bunch of FX, it isn't unknown anymore.

"'Unknown.' That's the key word. 'Unknown.' When we become involved in a supernatural event, we're scared out of our wits just because it's unknown. The night cry of a child. A face on the wall. Knockings, bangings. What's there to be afraid of? You weren't threatened. It was harmless, like a joke that doesn't come out."

Though we can't see the ghosts in the original, we CAN see what they do. The original version of THE HAUNTING has five characters and only one of them dies - at the very end. But they are constantly in peril throughout the film, and often in conflict with each other. Even though nobody dies for 99% of the film's running time, there are a bunch of big scary scenes - it's as much fun to have a character *almost* killed as it is to have them killed.

"Haven't you noticed how nothing in this house seems to move until you look away and then you just... catch something out of the corner of your eye?"




It's a haunted house story about a team of ghostbusters who are going to "cleanse" a very haunted house. Richard Johnson is the professor leading the expedition into the world's most haunted house. Claire Bloom and Julie
Harris are two different kinds of psychics, Rusty Tamblin (from my INVISIBLE MOM movie) represents the owner of the house and the actress playing Johnson's wife (can't remember her name). The scares are (brilliantly directed) scenes with ghosts pounding on the walls or doors samming on their own or people almost being swept off balconies by the wind or spiral staircases becoming untethered and almost falling over or people having to walk down long hallways in the dark while wind or shadows chase them. The ghosts are constantly chasing our heroes! The ghosts are looking for fresh blood - and our five ghostbusters are in peril from the moment they enter that house. The ghosts don't just call on the phone and breathe heavy, they actively try to kill every member of the team!

"Look, I know the supernatural is something that isn't supposed to happen, but it does happen."

Though the most famous scary scene is probably that spiral staircase sequence, my favorite couple of minutes of absolute terror is a scene where ghosts pounding on the door to Harris and Bloom's bedroom actually begin to push the door inwards - bending it to the breaking point! The door just keeps bending inwards. Will the ghosts break through the door to get our team of psychics? This scene goes on so long you almost pass out from holding your breath in fear! And that door bows so far inwards you know it will break any minute! No blood (but the scene will drain the blood from *you*!) but scary as hell! This is the kind of "old school horror" audiences
are looking for - direct conflict between the terrifying and the protagonists... and when a movie like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (1,2,3) comes along, the reason why it's a success is that it builds that sense of dread that gets us on a primal level...

Real suspense based on a real threat.

"When people believed the earth was flat, the idea of a round world scared them silly. Then they found out how the round world works. It's the same with the world of the supernatural. Until we know how it works, we'll continue to carry around this unnecessary burden of fear."

The best part about the original HAUNTING is that between these great bloodless scare scenes, you get to "catch your breath" with scenes of mentally unbalanced romance as Julie Harris interprets everything that Richard Johnson does as proof that he's secretly in love with her. The guy's married and doesn't even flirt with her - but she's so delusional that she's sure it's love. This is almost as creepy as the ghost attacks (just in a different way). So the "valleys" in the ghost story are "peaks" in the twisted romance story (kind of Harris's character coming of age late in life - she's been sheltered since that incident where stones rained on the family home when she was a kid... and has never been on her own or in love before). There are no slow spots in a (good) movie, just different kinds of excitement.

Robert Wise, the director, got his start as editor of a little film called CITIZEN KANE... and went on to direct CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE and BODY SNATCHER for Val Lewton. After that, he directed a string of great films - everything from ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW to WEST SIDE STORY to THE SOUND OF MUSIC to ANDROMEDA STRAIN. I think he kind pf blows apart the autuer theory because all of his films are just *good* - but I don't see much connection between them other than - *good*. THE HAUNTING was the height of his career - and it's a million times for frightening than the remake.

It was totally cool working with Rusty Tamblyn on INVISIBLE MOM - I made sure to show up on his days. It was totally cool.

Though THE HAUNTING is okay for kids - no sex, no blood, no gore - know that it is damned scary...

- Bill

Monday, October 30, 2017

It's A Wonderful Night Of The Living Dead!

Jim Wynorski's 976 EVIL 2, which stars Brigitte Nielsen - so you know it's good, has one of my all time favorite sequences ever put on film... one of the top-heavy babes is watching TV late at night and has to choose between NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, but her remote control goes wacky and gets both movies... and she falls asleep and ends up in the mash-up flick...



This movie was made in 1992 when mash-ups didn't exist, yet. Because both films were in public domain, it was *legal* for them to use this in their direct to video flick. It always makes me laugh that every time you hear a bell, a zombie takes you to hell.

- Bill

Friday, October 27, 2017

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

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Trailer Tuesday: THE LADY IN THE LAKE (1947)

LADY IN THE LAKE

70 years ago *yesterday* (January 23, 1947) this movie opened in the USA...

About a year ago I watched all of the REC movies again and think the first one may be the best Found Footage movie ever made (*much* superior to the American remake) because, even though the entire movie is seen from the perspective of the news camera, the shots are composed beautifully. The American remake (QUARANTINE) just didn’t seem to understand the degree of difficulty ... and is filled with sloppy framing and soft focus. REC manages to have *artistic* framing even when the camera is “dropped” in an attack scene. I often wonder how many times they “dropped” the camera to get that perfect framing of what would be seen in the action that comes afterwards. But the very idea of Found Footage from someone’s video camera all traces back to this film, THE LADY IN THE LAKE (1947), an interesting experiment that fails.



Robert Montgomery was a star at MGM, who played pretty boys and dashing romantic leads... but he was ambitious and knew the days of being a handsome guy were numbered and wanted to direct (where you could get old and nobody cared). This was his first film as a director... and he managed to make the most experimental film made by a studio at that time (actually, no one has done this since). The Raymond Chandler Philip Marlowe novels were all told first person, so he thought he would make the *film* first person... as in “first person shooter games”. You see the story through Marlowe’s eyes. Sounds interesting doesn’t it?

Here are the problems:

1) The cameras at the time were huge and heavy, so instead of agile movements that mimic a human walking, we have limited dolly shots. Most of the time the camera moves into a position and then *sits there*, maybe with an occasional pan to follow a pretty receptionist. Unlike Hitchcock’s ROPE which features a story told in a single take (sort of) and a fluid camera that moves from one amazing angle to another, these shots seldom move. Once the camera dollies into a room, it just sits there and people talk to it. There are a couple of scenes where the camera does a limited dolly in the middle of a scene to “look at something”, but mostly it just sits there. So we have these static shots most of the time which are *dull*!

2) No cutting! Because it’s Marlowe’s POV we can’t cut from one shot to another, we are stuck with the same shot for the whole scene! This kills the pacing. In ROPE we also have no traditional editing, but the camera moves from “shot” to “shot” and angle to angle, giving us the feeling of different shots. It’s that “dog juice” thing, because there are no cuts in ROPE the camera has to do even more movement to make up for it. But here: no cuts... and no camera movement.

3) One of the side effects of the limited mobility of the camera is that the film ends up mostly set bound. That title LADY IN THE LAKE? Well, a big chunk of the novel takes place at Little Fawn Lake (Lake Arrowhead)... where a dead body is found in the lake... but the film never goes to Little Fawn Lake so we never see the murder victim or any of the suspects from there! The problem is: there's a reason for the novel's title. The body found in the lake, and Marlowe discovering it (along with cabin caretaker Bill Chess) is critical to the story. It's what the story is *about*. Instead, about 75 percent of this film is Audrey Totter looking at the camera talking. This is a private eye movie, and when you think about other Marlowe movies like THE BIG SLEEP and MURDER MY SWEET, they are filled with action scenes! Here, no action scenes! The closest we get is a car chase done with process shots (so it’s still in a studio) which ends with a car wreck... where Marlowe/Camera dollies to a bush and hides behind it as a police car arrives. The fistfight scene is *one punch*, and you wonder what a director more interested in the action elements of the story could have done with that fight scene.

4) Because we never go to Little Fawn Lake, we get these scenes where Marlowe talks *straight to the camera* as he sits in his office, telling us the story. What this means is when Audrey Totter isn’t looking RIGHT AT US and talking to us, Marlowe is LOOKING RIGHT AT US and talking to us! It’s all exposition, all the time! So with damaged pacing from the experiment we add boring exposition... we might as well be sitting in a room having Robert Montgomery and Audrey Totter just telling us the story! But even that would probably be better because we’d get Chandler’s great writing. Instead we get a pile of plotty exposition.

Oh, in addition to Audrey Totter, some other cast members may look familiar to you from TV! Lloyd Nolan went from B movie cops to TV doctors, playing the doctor lead on JULIA (first TV series starring an African American woman) and played doctors on QUINCY and ELLERY QUEEN and a million other TV shows as guest star or recurring characters. Leon Ames also played doctors on TV, but you know him as next door neighbor Gordon Kirkwood on MR. ED. Hottie Jayne Meadows has also been in a million TV episodes and has even played Florence Nightingale... but she also looks just like her sister Audrey who was Jackie Gleason's wife on THE HONEYMOONERS. All of these actors look straight into the camera whenever they are in a scene!



The screenplay is by Steve Fischer, a pulp writer turned screenwriter (I WAKE UP SCREAMING) and his work is usually really good... but I think here he is shackled by the concept and Montgomery’s idea of how the story should be told. Somewhere along the way, Marlowe has been changed from Private Eye to Pulp Fiction Writer for this story... so, if all of the above wasn’t boring enough now we have conversations about writing and publishing! In the novel the missing woman Marlowe is searching for is the wife of a perfume and cosmetics millionaire, in the film this is changed to the publisher of pulp novels... so that we can have even more talk about publishing! This film is trying to put us to sleep! Add to that, it takes place at *Christmas* so the opening title cards are happy Christmas Card pictures over Christmas Carols! You wonder if you may have put in the wrong DVD! It *does* end with a gun, but instead of being kind of a twist, it seems to me like a tonal car wreck (and the rest of the film continues that wreck). The audience at the time knew who Chandler was, and had seen a couple of Marlowe movies and were expecting something like THE BIG SLEEP... and ended up with this!

Lloyd Nolan, who played MICHAEL SHAYNE on the big screen (one of those films was based on Chandler’s THE HIGH WINDOW which would later be made as a Marlowe film starring *George* Montgomery) plays the cop, here... and not only do we lose Little Fawn Lake in this story, we also lose Bay City (seeing only the inside of the police station). Hey, Bay City is a major part of the novel! Chandler’s Bay City is one of those great fictional locations, but not in this film. Though we get slugged in the eye and kissed, it’s really lame compared to the subjective camera work in DARK PASSAGE made the year before. In that film, the camera doesn’t stick with the lead’s POV, but cuts all over the place to keep the pace going. Just, when we have those shots in the story that would have been “over the shoulders” instead we get a full POV shot. DARK PASSAGE *works*! This film does not. And having the whole film being people LOOKING DIRECTLY AT YOU is really weird!



Another issue with LADY IN THE LAKE is that there are *a couple* of shots of Montgomery's reflection in a mirror, which I'm sure was tricky, but there are a half dozen shots with mirrors where Montgomery is *not* reflected at all! Once you establish that we will see him reflected in mirrors, you have to show his reflection in mirrors from that point on (or get rid of the mirrors from the sets!). They show a mirror in some scene where he *should* be reflected, and he's not! It's like an epic fail!

I think people underestimate the difficulty of just making a movie. In this case, Montgomery (who seemed to have not a clue about the language of cinema) tried to do a huge experiment right out of the gate... and it fails big time. It would be interesting to see a first person movie like this *now*, with the level of action we expect to see in a first person shooter game. This film is a curio: like most experimental films, it fails. But interesting to see... and you instantly learn how *not* to make a private eye movie.

Skip the film, read the Chandler novel instead.

Bill

Monday, October 23, 2017

Is 80's Style Action Dead?

From Feb 2013...

You may have noticed that Stallone’s new film BULLET TO THE HEAD was not #1 over the weekend (it came it at #6!)... and that An-nuld’s movie THE LAST STAND sunk like a stone last weekend (it opened at #10... and two weeks later was #27 behind the Oscar Nominated Short Films in limited release!). We have a new DIE HARD movie right around the corner, and there is lots of talk on various movie message boards that 80s style action movies are over. Maybe even action films are we know them are over. Do you think that’s true?

I hope it’s not true - since I have a book on how to write action movies (though it’s good for all genres).

Well, let’s take a look at 1980s action flicks. Both Ah-nuld and Stallone were the #1 stars of action films in that decade and they spilled over into the early 1990s.  These guys were as big as Burt Reynolds was in the 70s! Hmm, maybe that wasn’t a good example...

After the 80s, Stallone continued acting, and his film career was kept alive mostly through ROCKY and RAMBO sequels, along with the recent 80s throwback EXPENDABLES films that are kind of like those 70s disaster movies that have a dozen has-been stars who combine to make one star.

After that 80s period, Ah-nuld quit films to become the Governator and ended up in EXPENDABLES 2: ELECTRIC BUGALOO, which was a hit!  But LAST STAND was his big return to action movie stardom as the lead.

Other 80s action stars like Bruce Willis have stuck around, though aren’t as big as they used to be... and some like Jean Claude Van Damme and Seagal ended up working in B movies where they continued that thing they do, just at reduced budgets.

Are 80s action movies dead, or is it just the careers of those 80s stars (who are getting a little long in the tooth to be an action star)? Is it the stars or the genre?

ELEMENTS

One thing to consider is that a film is a popular film isn’t due to just one thing, but a combination of elements that include the star... plus dozens of other things. When they all come together you have a hit... but we can look at bot Stallone and Ah-nuld’s filmographies and find misses, even when they were as big as Burt Reynolds was in the 70s. People often like the cherry pick one particular element and say the film was successful because of that. Sure, Ah-nuld was a big star and people would often go see movies just because he was in them...  but some of those films sucked, or didn’t have the other elements that audiences expected in an Ah-nuld film. Or, like RAW DEAL, the film had Ah-nuld and action... but the story was kind of bland, so the audience wasn’t as excited by it as they were by PREDATOR.

Often a film becomes a hit because of elements that might seem silly alone - I love BULLITT, but I think without both McQueen and that car chase, it would be just a standard cop film. It would still be on my DVD shelf, but probably not on almost everybody’s DVD shelf. I think RONIN is similar - take out the car chases and would anyone want to see this film a second time? But the car chases plus RONIN’s cast of great character actor types and a really hard edged attitude makes it a hit.

Studios and producers often cherry pick some element and decide *that* is what made the film a hit, which is why when some new take on a fairy tale does well... there are a half dozen more new takes on fairy tales, and some are HENSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS. It’s never one element - it’s a combination. So just making a movie starring Ah-nuld doesn’t guarantee a hit... but Ah-nuld in the right combination of elements might. You have to look at *all* of the elements.

But shouldn’t Ah-nuld in a bad-ass action flick equal box office? Those are the two important elements, right? It’s not like Ah-nuld in a rom-com or something.

Well, let’s take a look at Ah-nuld’s big action hits from that 80s/90s period, starting with his biggest hit...

TERMINATOR 2 - robot from the future goes back in time to *protect* the boy who will someday lead humans to defeat the robot-ruled world in the future.

TRUE LIES - meek geeky husband is really James Bond like spy and must save the world (and his family) from terrorists after they steal a couple of nukes.

TOTAL RECALL - regular guy takes a vacation to Mars, where it ends up he’s a double agent who has been brainwashed to forget his action-packed past... and now is in danger!

END OF DAYS - Bodyguard has to save woman from becoming Satan’s girlfriend and having his kid... which will signal the End Of Days when Satan rules the earth.

PREDATOR - military team goes into the jungle to save politicians in a plane crash and come up against an alien hunter who sees them as prey.

RUNNING MAN - prisoners engage in a fight to the death on a game show that is rigged for ratings... and has some wild-ass contestants.

Okay, I’ve left out the comedies like TWINS and JUNIOR and KINDERGARTEN COP to focus on the action films. But compare the *type of action story* from Ah-nuld’s 80s/90s  films to LAST STAND. Do you see any difference?

Okay, let’s look at Stallone’s action films (excluding the Rocky and Rambo films)...

CLIFF HANGER - Mountain rescue dude is sent to save a group of people after a plane crash... except it was a mid-air heist and now he’s battling mega-criminals on a mountainside!

DEMOLITION MAN - When the world’s top criminal is thawed out in a pacifist future, the authorities thaw out the world’s most violent cop to stop him from taking over the world.

JUDGE DREDD - I am the law! Cop in the future is framed, sentenced, and now must escape and prove his innocence... by finding another cop who shares elements of his DNA.

DAYLIGHT - Robbers with a truck full of explosives take out the Holland Tunnel at rush hour, and a rescue guy goes into the tunnel to help the survivors escape... and ends up tangling with the robbers.

TANGO & CASH - Two extreme cops (almost cartoonish)  who hate each other are framed and thrown into prison together, and now must survive life behind bars, then escape and bring down the drug kingpin who framed them.

COBRA - When a massive cult of killers called “The New Order” descends on city and begins killing *lots* of innocent people, a cop must protect the only witness who can help convict them - an ultra hot model.

Okay, once again I’ve left out the comedies and series films, but compare the *type of stories* in Stallone 80s/90s films to BULLET TO THE HEAD. Do you see any difference?

It seems to me that the problems *isn’t* 80s/90s style action films, because BULLET TO THE HEAD (despite being directed by the great Walter Hill) and LAST STAND are completely unlike 80s/90s style action films. Both films are small and low key compared to the wild high concepts that were the norm in 80s/90s action films. There is no science fiction component nor any disaster movie component. Both of these two new films have *dull ideas* compared to the films from the 80s/90s. They are kind of bland... missing *key elements* of the films that made these two guys into stars. A cartel leader escaped and tries to cross the border? A cop partners with a hitman to take down a common enemy? Neither of these story ideas are all that interesting, leaving the only draw a couple of old movie stars playing roles much blander than they did when they were the world’s biggest stars... in stories that are much blander. One element does not make a movie!

GRUMPY OLD MEN

I think the 80s/90s style action film is fine - if anyone ever makes one again! Ah-nuld and Stallone might have some problems re-entering action movie stardom, but the easy answer there is to do what Eastwood did when he got a little long in the tooth - partnered with a younger ***star*** like Charlie Sheen. Johnny Knoxville is *not* a movie star (unless he’s sticking fireworks up his butt), he’s a comic relief sidekick at best. The problem is, Stallone and Ah-nuld need to be the comic relief sidekick now. They need to be re-introduced as the second billed actor... and maybe they will someday be back as the #1 star, maybe not. Hey, actors need to act their age. The odd thing about an action star is that they are beefcake to a female star’s cheesecake. You don’t see actresses Ah-nuld or Stallone’s age doing sexpot roles... they’re playing moms and grandmothers. That’s okay! And it’s okay for Ah-nuld and Stallone to play their age - and *not* be the star. One of the things about the new DIE HARD movie is that Willis is playing *dad* to a kid in the big action role. They get to play buddy action (an 80s staple - usually with a top comedy star partnered with an action star) and the story seems *big* and exciting (not a small story like Stallone and Ah-nuld got stuck with). A few years ago I got called in to pitch stories for a Vin Diesel buddy action film with Stallone (whose career wasn’t so hot at that point). Though I’m not sure Diesel is the star to bring back Stallone right now - I can easily see how putting them together might be good for both of them. Someone get on that!  Maybe The Rock and Ah-nuld can pair up? Or have Ah-nuld play Jake Gyllenhaal’s grandfather? (Both have difficult to spell last names.)

I also wonder if CGI stunts have created a focus on high concept stunts at the expense of high concept stories? If you look at the scenes in PREDATOR - they are great action scenes but *connected* to the high concept of the story itself. Now we have all of these wild CGI action scenes in stories that are kind of pedestrian - and because the action scenes are not connected to the concept, the concept may have to be more realistic to make up for the over-the-top action. They aren’t connected.

Another possible issue is *nostalgia* - why are we making 80s/90s style action flicks in the first place? Why aren’t we doing something new? Plus, these seem to be kind of the faulty memory version of what 80s/90s action flicks were like. Everyone complains about all of the remakes these days, and I usually jump in to point out that remakes have *always* been part of Hollywood movies. But the difference is - in the old days the remakes were *not* nostalgic - they were new spins on an old story. They would take a successful story and give it a modern twist. Now it seems they want to take an old story and make it seem like a film from the old days. Where’s the twist?  Instead of longing for those action films from the good old days, we should be making the amazing new films that people will be fondly remembering a couple of decades from now.

By the way, if you wonder whether the action film is dead... did you see the trailer for FAST 6 on last night’s Superbowl broadcast? I’d say action is alive and well.  Can’t wait to see it!



- Bill

Thursday, October 19, 2017

THRILLER Thursday: Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook

Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook

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



Season: 1, Episode: 20. Airdate: February. 7, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty Writer: Alan Caillou Cast: Alan Caillou, Kenneth Haigh, Audrey Dalton, Alan Napier, J. Pat O’Malley Music: Jerry Goldsmith Cinematography: Benjamin Kline. Producer: William Frye



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Do you believe in witchcraft? Witches have plagued the human race since history first began. Although now a days, in America at least, they’ve become nothing more than an illusion with which to tease the childish imagination on Halloween. But no so in the old world. In Italy for example witchcraft is still called The Old Religion. And in England, even today, the legal definition of a witch stands on the statute books as a person who has conference with the Devil. And in a place like Dark Woods, deep in the mountains of the Welsh borders, where the village cowers in the shadows of the Druid stones, and ancient sacrifical circle put there, oh, who knows when. For these simple villagers, time does not move very fast. The old habits, the old fears, die hard. Our story tonight deals with the attempts to exercise a witch. Our leading players are Mr. Kenneth Haigh, Miss Audrey Dalton, Mr. Alan Caillou, Mr. Alan Napier, and Miss Doris Lloyd. Join us now, won’t you, as we try to beat the Devil at his own game.”

Synopsis: In the small village of Dark Woods on the Welsh border, there are not only Stonehenge like Druid Stone Formations... there are those who still practice Witchcraft and those who capture witches and burn them at the base of the stones. After a Farmer is the victim of a ritual killing, London detective Harry Roberts (Kenneth Haigh) and his new bride Nesta (Audrey Dalton) have their honeymoon plans changed at the last minute as he is sent to the remote village to investigate the murder. Some honeymoon!

No sooner do they arrive at the spooky crime scene at the Druid Stones than a creepy old man with a pitchfork (hay fork) confronts them. He wonders why anyone would be at this God forsaken place, used by Witches & Warlocks to sacrifice victims. Roberts says he’s a police officer, and the old man with the pitchfork says that is impossible because *he* is the only police officer in this area... he is Constable Evans (Alan Napier, Alfred The Butler from the TV show BATMAN). Roberts shows his ID, introduces his wife, and Evans lowers the pitchfork. Evans believes more in Witches than in city police procedures, thinking the whole idea of sending a city detective to deal with a rural issue like Witchcraft makes no sense. Roberts wants to talk to the “mayor” of the village, Sir Wilfred, and they walk down to Roberts’ car and drive down the winding country roads.



On those winding country roads, new bride Nesta screams “Watch out!” and pulls the steering wheel, forcing the car off the road and into a ditch. She claims she saw a black dog in the road, but neither Roberts nor Evans saw it. Evans says he’ll have the car towed and repaired in the morning, and they are close enough to walk to Sir Wilfred’s estate (a huge mansion which exists in stock footage).

Sir Wilfred (Alan Caillou) is a worldly and wealthy man, who explains that country folk are much different than city folk... and still believe in witchcraft. He also mentions that it would have been impossible for Nesta to see a black dog in the road, as no one in the village owns a black dog... because black dogs are associated with witchcraft. Legend has it that a black dog once turned into a woman, a witch! So no one in the village would own such an animal. Nesta insists she saw a black dog, and Evans clearly thinks she may be crazy. Sir Wilfred’s maid interrupts, saying that someone has stolen the clothes hamper... and this is sinister rather than silly because witches are traditionally burned in wicker baskets, like the missing clothes hamper. This is when Nesta notices the flicker of flames through the window at the Druid Stones, and they all race out of the stock footage mansion.

A woman has been burned alive as a witch!

In the local pub/hotel, Evans tells the locals that Nesta has seen a black dog, and everyone is shocked. The town drunk (J. Pat O’Malley) gives some nice exposition about the village’s recurring problems with witches and witchcraft. The question seems to be: is Nesta a witch?

That’s when Roberts and Nesta and Sir Wilfred enter, and we get another block of exposition which is less entertaining when Roberts says that this isn’t witchcraft, it’s the work of a lunatic. Roberts wants to know if anyone in town has mental issues. Sir Wilfred admits that his own father was institutionalized for a while. Since everyone in the village believes in Witches, that’s not going to be a clue to anyone’s insanity.

When Roberts and Nesta go up to their room for their honeymoon night, he asks if she’ll help with the investigation by doing research at the county seat a few miles away. Then Nesta goes wacky when she sees a black dog... where there isn’t one. Is she crazy?



Next day, Roberts is at Evans’ house with Sir Wilfred examining evidence and notices that the victim’s pocket watch is missing. Here we meet Evan’s Old Mum (Doris Lloyd) who makes the finest tea in the village... if you know what I mean, and I think you do. (Heck, she’s *ancient*!)

We get some cross cutting between Nesta searching the county records while Roberts and Sir Wilfred and some military guys with metal detectors look for the missing watch at the crime scene. Nesta shows up just as the find the watch, and Roberts says they should easily be able to lift some fingerprints and find the killer. He’ll need to send the watch to Scotland Yard, and since the day’s mail has already left, will the watch be safe overnight at the post office? Sir Wilfred assures him that it will, and later we discover this is all Roberts’ scheme: he will stake out the post office that night and who ever breaks in is the killer. Another night without the honeymoon consummation! (Is Detective Roberts secretly Gay? Dude keeps finding new reasons not to sleep with his new bride!)

That night while Roberts is watching the post office, Evans and his Old Mum break into the hotel and kidnap Nesta, take her up to the Druid Stones, and prepare to burn her alive in a wicker basket. Sir Wilfred sees the fire and races up to the Druid Stones to battle it out with Evans, who is his bastard brother! They have the second least convincing scythe vs. pitch fork battle in the history of television, and then Evans kills Sir Wilfred, shocking his Old Mum by killing is half brother! Evans prepares to burn Nesta... and that’s when Roberts sees the black dog at the post office and, like Lassie, the black dog gets Roberts to follow it up the hill to the Druid Stones where we get the *first* least convincing scythe vs. pitch fork battle in the history of television. After Roberts knocks Evans down, he rescues Nesta, and then all four of them just walk down the hill as if nothing had happened. WTF?



Review: This is one of those episodes that tries to do too much at once, and succeeds at doing nothing well. Biggest problem is that it’s essentially a mystery about Evan’s Old Mum being mother to both wealthy Sir Wilfred and yokel Evans, and Sir Wilfred’s father being insane, and that town drunks father being hanged for killing witches. Somehow all of those things are connected, and the story takes too much time trying to figure all of that stuff out. The spooky stuff and suspense take the back seat, which makes this thriller not much of a thriller. Caillou is a good actor (you’d know him if you saw him), but despite writing a pile of TV episodes I’m not sure he was much of a writer. Actors are often so focused on the character and drama elements that they miss the overall story part... and this story has so much going on in it that it ends up a mess. The pub scene lasts almost a quarter of the show, and gets stagey after a couple of minutes. The episode is filled with exposition at the expense of suspense and action.

Hershel Dougherty who directed 24 episodes of HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and 3 episodes of the hour long Hitch show, brings nothing to this episode. Might be because it was shot on a tight schedule or that the script was more focused on the mystery elements, but even a “schlock shock” moment in the country records room where Nesta removes a book from the shelf to expose a man watching her on the other side is shot from an ineffective angle. The black dog looks *cute* instead of dangerous, and the Druid Stones just end up bland. The fight scenes were awful, and I wish someone would explain the ending where everyone just walks down the his as if nothing has happened. A real WTF? moment. Again, this may be because the script focuses more on the mystery than the suspense and spooky elements... but the director didn’t save the script.



Add to that, Kenneth Haigh’s performance as Detective Roberts, which seems like a roadshow version of Robert Morse... only prissy. He spends half of his screen time rolling his eyes. Part of that may have been dialogue that focused on the conflict between city and country, but he seemed to turn every line into a minor complaint... and this became irritating after a while.

Napier does as great job as a superstitious local, and manages to make his dialogue work (a line about trees having nothing better to do than grow ends up an insult to Roberts). A shame that he’s only remembered for BATMAN.

Best thing about the episode is Goldsmith's score, which adds suspense and thrills where there aren't any. One of his best scores for the series - he was working hard to make the episode work despite its problems.

Not a great episode, but next up is another Brahm episode based on a novel... by THE KILLING’s Lionel White.

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Trailer Tuesday: RIVER'S EDGE

RIVER’S EDGE (1986) written by Neal Jimenez, directed by Tim Hunter.

I have called Keanu Reeves “The Luckiest Actor In Hollywood” because he has been in so many hit movies. But maybe it *isn’t* luck? Maybe Keanu actually selects roles that he finds interesting or scripts that he thinks are mind blowing page turners? Keanu has not only been in a bunch of big box office hits, he has also been in a bunch of art house favorites like MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO and PERMANENT RECORD. Oh, and the now forgotten film RIVER’S EDGE which not only launched the career of screenwriter Neal Jimenez, it also brought back Dennis Hopper and probably paved the way for the films of David Lynch. The film is based on a true story, a murder that happened in the Sacramento area; and my friend Tom’s uncle was one of the investigating officers on the case. The story made the news because it was one of those “shocking how immoral our children have become” outrages, since all of the kids in the high school not only knew about the murder, they had visited the body for fun. Kind of like a field trip. Cool! A dead girl! Dare you to touch her!



My other odd connection to this film is the actor who plays the teen killer Samson, Danny Roebuck, is a friend of a friend of mine and I’ve met him a couple of times. Danny is one of those actors who is in *everything*, from being the cop on Matlock to the dad in the Cody Banks movies. He’s a great guy, a real fan of horror movies, and when I was trying to “earn” my producer credit on CROOKED I got my friend Duane (the pawnshop owner from PULP FICTION) to talk to him about playing suspects... except the producers decided not to hire them and to hire complete unknowns (who were their friends) instead. So, instead of a group of suspects that you recognized so that you didn’t know who the guilty party was because *all* of the suspects were recognizable actors... there were a bunch of unknowns and Gary Busey. Who do you think the killer is? I didn’t know Danny when I first saw the film, didn’t know Tom’s uncle investigated the case, and had never heard of screenwriter Jimenez. I just thought the film was great.

The movie is all about how this younger generation is desensitized and unemotional, and that carries through the film in several story threads in addition to the main story. High school kid Samson (Danny Roebuck) murders a girl in his class Jamie (Danyi Deats) after having sex with her at the edge of the (Sacramento) river, then stops to have a cigarette as if nothing has happened. Ten year old problem kid Tim (Joshua Miller) watches this happen from a bridge... but doesn’t go to the police. Later Tim tells a group of high school kids, including his older brother Matt (Keanu) and perpetually stoned Layne (Crispen Glover) plus a couple of Jamie’s friends including Clarissa (Ione Skye) about the dead body... and they take a field trip. All of the kids look at the dead girl, kick her to make sure she’s dead, etc... and even though they all knew her, none of them seems to care. It’s just kinda cool. They go back to school and their every day lives as if nothing had happened.

Except both Matt and Clarissa separately realize they feel terrible, Jamie was their friend... and even though Layne wants everyone to rally around Samson, can they really support the friend who killed over the friend who was murdered?

Matt’s home life is hell, his mother is a nurse with an unemployed boyfriend... his bother Tim makes that kid from THE OMEN seem well mannered (Tim takes baby sister Kim’s doll and chops it up) and steals cars, smokes pot, robs houses and eventually steals a gun with the intention of killing someone. This is a *ten year old*. The little sister’s “dead doll” runs an amazing parallel to the dead girl at the river’s edge, and the doll’s grave eventually triggers Matt to call the police anonymously about dead Jamie and Samson. And narking on Samson is what leads to Kid Brother Tim gunning for Matt.

The police question all of the kids, and ask Matt how he feels about Jamie’s death, and he answers: “I don’t know.” Even though he was disturbed enough to anonymously call the police, he is still desensitized to emotions. The policeman says he’s tired of hearing “I don’t know how I feel” from all of the kids he interviews. They all say the same thing: none of them feel.





Samson is hiding out at drug dealer Feck’s house (Dennis Hopper in a signature weird role), where Feck lives with his blow up doll Ellie. Yes, he has a long term romantic relationship with an inflatable girl. Feck is another parallel story: he once contributed to the death of the woman he loved and still feels guilt over it. At first Feck thinks Samson has much in common with him, but then he realizes Samson feels nothing and no longer wants to hide the killer.

Matt confesses to Clarissa that he called the police, and they realize they may be the only two people in their school who are disturbed by Jamie’s death. Both have been plagued by nightmares and guilt. This leads to romance: both care, and care about each other. While they are making love they hear gunshots...

Feck has taken Samson to the river’s edge and killed him. In the process, Feck’s inflatable doll Ellie blows into the river, later prompting one of my favorite lines in the movie when the kids spot the blow up doll in the water: “That's Ellie. Feck's girlfriend. I wonder what she's doing here?”

Talked to Danny last night, and he sent me this awesome shot from the set!



The chilling thing about this film is how what was true about the younger generation in the 80s being desensitized and not caring seems even more true today. There’s a TV commercial for mobile phones that talks about the joy of being alone... and isn’t the least bit ironic. We live in a world where people don’t interact with other people, we interact with *screens*. Think about how crazy that is for a moment. There are people today who text each other when they are sitting across from each other. Talk about desensitized! THE RIVER’S EDGE held a mirror up to the 1980s... and had no idea things would only get worse. Keanu gives a great performance, as does Danny Roebuck and Dennis Hopper and everyone else in the cast. Let me mention one of the greatest acting jobs in the film: Danyi Deats as the dead Jamie. Imagine having to play dead for an entire film! Deats is a TV and Music Video producer now (some of Sting’s videos). This is one of those lost movies where everyone gave an amazing performance, and screenwriter Jimenez would go on to adapt Tony Hillerman’s Native American cop mystery THE DARK WIND and write and direct the amazing film WATERDANCE after he became paralyzed. He was one of the team of poker playing screenwriters who contributed to the fun film SLEEP WITH ME (famous for the Tarantino speech about TOP GUN as a Gay love story). If you like gritty, edgy flicks, check out RIVER’S EDGE.

Bill

PS: That set shot has a digital watermark, so steal it and I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Optimistic Disappointment

An old blog entry re-run... from 2008.

Tuesday I ran the Romeo-to-Rambo Script Tip, which is always good for a few messages and some spirited debate. The responses are always: "Why are you so pessimistic?" "Why would anyone want to be a screenwriter if your stuff is just going to get screwed up?" "Why do they always screw stuff up?" "How can I make sure they don't change a single word of my script?" and "How often can Bill name drop in a single blog entry?"

First - no matter who you are, no matter how many Oscars you have on your mantle, no matter how many #1 hit movies you'd written... you will be rewritten. It's just the way the business works. Hollywood goes through screewriters the way screenwriters go through toner cartridges. They are constantly replacing them. Not for any logical reason - the excuse you hear is often "We think you've given it your best shot, but it's time to move on" or "We're thinking about taking it in a new direction, and need a new screenwriter to take it there" or "We've used all of your contracted rewrites." Love him or hate him, when Joe Eszterhas was the top screenwriter in Hollywood, they paid him $3 million for BASIC INSTINCT... then fired him the next day and brought in another writer. That was the most anyone had ever paid for a screenplay, so you'd think they must have liked it; but replacing writers is business as usual in Hollywood. One of the amusing things about this business is that sometimes - after a parade of writers has ruined your screenplay - sometimes they hire you back to rewrite whatever mess they ended up with. Of course, you aren't rewriting your *original* script, you're rewriting the crappy messed up rewritten by an army of damned dirty apes version.

And often you are the one who ruins your script. They own it, and if your contract includes 2 rewrites and a polish (as mine always do) they will order you to make all kinds of stupid changes. When you and I think of rewrites, we think of *improving* our screenplays, but producers think rewrites are to *change* your script. Change it completely. Change the genre, the protagonist, the arena, the locations... hey, can they be cowboys? As Joe Gillis says in SUNSET BLVD. "The last one I wrote was about Okies in the dust bowl. You'd never know because when it reached the screen, the whole thing played on a torpedo boat." You know, a writer wrote that line.

Even if you fund the film yourself (so that you’re the boss) things will get changed by the time they hit the screen. As directors will tell you, film is a director’s medium... so whatever weird idea the director comes up with goes in the film. And you can’t sell a film without a star - which gives the star all kinds of power over the film. On one of my movies the actor (who was being paid a cool million) decided that his character should recite some poetry in the film, to show his sensitive side. And he *must* wear his lucky leather jacket - even though it didn’t fit the character he was playing at all. You know what the answer to that was? Change the character! Plus, there were some things he wanted in the story that made no sense - but without this guy there was no movie. So I did the rewrites... hating every minute of it. I’ve had directors who had me change *researched facts* to be what the director thought was true. And this blog’s name comes from a really silly note I got from HBO on CRASH DIVE - they wanted a sex scene in a film that takes place on a submarine manned by 110 *men*. No women allowed. “A *gay* sex scene?” I asked. “No! No! With a woman!” (Today they’d *want* the gay sex scene.) “How do I get a woman on the submarine?” “You’re the writer - be creative!” Next thing you know, there’s some hot woman having wild monkey sex on a submarine for no apparent reason.

Even if you were the director, star, producer, writer, prop guy and everything else; you need to bend the script to fit the locations and shooting schedule - and that often means major changes. Things go wrong on every movie... and that means you’ll need to make changes on the fly to get things back on track. It rains, so that big outdoor scene now takes place in the warehouse where you store your equipment. When you make a film there are hundreds of people involved and hundreds of things that can go wrong. Everything seems to be conspiring against you. You never really get your vision up in screen. You have to compromise with real life and hope what ends up on screen is close to what you wrote.

I was at Frank Darabont's house once, and across from his desk he had a bookcase filled with his own scripts. I thought that was kind of odd (and maybe a little vain), so I asked him about it. He told me those were *his* screenplays the way *he wrote them*. I liked that idea so much, I now have a bookcase in my office with *my* scripts the way I wrote them. You know, I wonder what Frank's Indiana Jones was like? (Actually, I think I have the PDF in my “to read” pile along with INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (hey - spellcheck flagged that!)

The only thing we control is our scripts... so we have to be happy with what's on the page, not what ended up on the screen. If it's all about what ended up on the screen, it's a lifetime of heartbreak...

Which is why a screenwriter needs to be optimistic. You must have hope that some day you will end up with the right combination of director and actors and producers who all want to make the script you've written. Usually everyone wants to make a different story, and the whole thing goes to hell.

I’ve had a couple of films that got close to what I wanted. HARD EVIDENCE is probably closest to what I wrote (although the rewrites for location had the horrors of spending your life in a Canadian prison *instead of* a Mexican prison and much more sex than the spec script had), and it’s also my most financially successful films. You’d think that would be a compelling reason not to completely screw up my scripts - but Hollywood is all about changing a silk purse into a sow’s ear. On CYBERZONE the director and I were on the same page - but it was not a page that lead to Oscar nominations. The producer wanted a film about robot hookers from outer space... so that’s what we made. The director and I were both making the same movie - a comedy - but the distrib wanted a *serious* movie about robot hookers from outer space. So the jokes were cut out as well as some of the character stuff and we ended up with a silly movie instead of a funny one... but most of what I wrote is still there on screen, though. It’s a miracle.

And on every film (except CROOKED) something I wrote ends uo on screen. Usually a handful of scenes in each film remain more or less intact - and I can be happy about them. I used to *hate* BLACK THUNDER and CRASH DIVE, but both films have grown on me. The parts that I wrote now overshadow the parts that got messed up on the way to the screen. And I’m always hoping that the next script makes it to the screen the way I wrote it... or maybe even *better* - I would really love to work with a director with a vision and a cast with real talent who make *positive* contributions to the film. I don’t mind changes that improve the script - I *welcome them*. I have had some *good* notes on scripts in the past - and would love to get more of those! It’s the silly ones that change the script into crap I could live without. Every new script sale is another chance to have a great movie made!

I was on a panel once with Robert Roy Pool who wrote the spec script that became ARMAGEDDON a couple of years ago. His original script was about a guy in the government whose job was to write reports about reports. He'd read dozens of reports and condense them into a paragraph each for the Presidential briefing. He came across a bunch of different things in different reports that seemed to be connected - the most amusing one was an Indian tribe that wanted to move their reservation because their shaman had forseen a giant asteroid hitting Earth where their reservation was now. He discovers that there really is a giant asteroid heading toward Earth, but the government covers it up. So he goes about grabbing his estranged wife and everyone he loves and finding a safe place for them - some caverns he knows about from reading reports. They find safety... and the asteroid strikes. Okay, about a dozen writers were hired - one after another - to change that into ARMAGEDDON. One of the things that *every* writer hated was the scene where the Mir space station blows up for no reason. Now, some of these writers were being paid huge amounts of money to do these rewrites - there were Oscar winners - and every single one of them *lost* the argument and had to have the Mir space station blow up for no reason. The film is *nothing* like Robert's original script, and I don't think any of those dozen rewriters liked it much.

But Robert and none of those writers quit the business because the script was ruined by bad notes... instead, they went on to write other things. Because every script is a chance to have it all come together (by some miracle) or maybe just get pretty close. Good films *do* get made. Great films *do* get made. Sometimes it all comes together. You just have to have faith that it will happen sometime... and until then, you still have that bookshelf of scripts the way you wrote them.

You have to be optimistic in this business. You have to believe that the next script will end up on screen even better than the way you wrote it - that the producer and director and cast will come up with some amazing ideas that you never thought of and turn a great script into a completely fantastic amazing script. And even if that deal doesn’t work out and results in another disappointment... there’s the deal after that!

Somewhere down there, there’s a pony!

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Character Conservation and ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Subway Black Forest Ham.
Bicycle: Sunday they closed off some major streets in downtown LA so that cyclists could ride from downtown to the sea... but I'm on the other side of the hill, so I just rode west.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Thriller Thursday: Girl With A Secret

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



Season: 1, Episode: 9.
Airdate: 11/15/1960


Director: Mitchell Leisen.
Writer: Charles Beaumont based on a novel by Charlotte Armstrong.
Cast: Faye Bainter, Paul Hartman, Myrna Fahey, Victor Buono, Cloris Leachman.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “An attache case. A classic ingredient in tales of cloak and dagger. Was the young lady correct? Was it switched on purpose? As sure as my name is Boris Karloff, the contents of that case will soon trap these two young people in a web of terror. Alice, the bewildered bride, doesn’t yet know that her husband’s life will depend upon her silence. She’ll become a girl with a secret. That’s the name of our story. Our principle players are Miss Faye Bainter, Mr. Paul Hartman, Miss Myrna Fahey, Mr. Rhodes Reason, Miss Cloris Leachman, and Mr. Harry Ellerbe. I assure you my friends, this is a thriller.”

Synopsis: After a couple of great episodes in a row, we go back to...



At an airport, newlyweds Anthony (Rhodes Reason) and Alice (Myrna Fahey from Corman’s HOUSE OF USHER) wait for their baggage and she talks about the pressure of meeting her (wealthy) inlaws for the first time. When Anthony sets down his attache case for a moment to grab his suitcase, a Stranger sets down his *identical* attache case to do the same and grabs Anthony’s attache case by accident when he leaves. Or was it an accident? Alice seems to think the Stranger did it on purpose. She points out the Stranger to Anthony and says to stop him before he drives away... but Anthony tells her it’s no big deal, he’ll just open the Stranger’s attache case, find his ID, and call him and swap cases later. They’ve had a long flight and Anthony just wants to get home to Pasadena and relax.

When they leave the airport, an evil looking Henchman (Rex Holman) is following them...

On a narrow, twisting road in the hills (probably where the 134 Freeway would end up) the Henchman tries to pass them on a particularly dangerous curve and “accidentally” hits their car, almost forcing them over a cliff! Alice is scared and confused, did that guy *try* to kill them or was it an accident? Seems like weird stuff is happening around her new husband! Why?



The family estate in Pasadena looks oddly like the Munster’s house from the outside (same backlot house), but the inside is a luxurious mansion where the entire family seems to hang out night and day, with Cousin Beatrice (Cloris Leachman) playing the piano for the entertainment of her boyfriend Walter (Harry Ellerbe) plus Uncle Gregory (Paul Hartman) and Aunt Hortense (Anne Seymour) and matriarch Geraldine (Faye Bainter) who is Anthony’s grandmother. The whole family meets the new daughter in law, and give her the normal third degree you would give a new wife... which kind of adds to Alice’s paranoia. Anthony excuses himself for a moment to get the luggage out of the car... but instead goes to the car to open the Stranger’s attache case... which is empty except for a cryptic note... which Anthony decodes!

He starts up the car and goes to the Stranger in a public library... where we discover that Anthony is some sort of spy and the Stranger is a fellow spy, who warns him that the bad guys are onto him. Anthony tells the Stranger that he knows: an attempt was made on his life earlier.

Cut to our evil badguy played by Victor Buono (King Tut from BATMAN), as the Henchman enters his evil lair to report that his attempt on Anthony’s life *failed*. Buono needs to know how much Anthony knows about his evil operation, and keep him from stopping whatever the heck that evil operation is. It’s kinda vague.



Anthony gets back to the Munster House, and nobody seems to notice he was missing. He and Alice are unpacking in their room... when she discovers an airplane ticket in his coat pocket. To Mexico City. She confronts her new husband... is he cheating on her? Anthony quiets her, opens the bedroom door... and there’s the Maid (Esther Dale) listening in on the conversation. He tells the Maid to please keep this little domestic dispute to herself, then closes the door and whispers to Alice... that he’s a spy! He has a secret mission to Mexico City to do things that will help foil Victor Buono’s evil operation... and while he’s gone she must keep his secret. No one can know that he has gone to Mexico City, *no one*. Not even family members. Alice will keep the secret while Anthony is away.

Anthony tells his family that he’s been called back to New York on business for a while, and to please take care of his new wife. Cousin Beatrice is already planning ways to mess with Alice in order to make matriarch Geraldine hate the new bride. And that, folks, is the set up!

And the halfway point.

After Anthony leaves on his secret mission, Alice is “alone” in the house with all of these strangers... and the Maid, who asks for some hush money or she’ll tell everyone that Anthony has gone to Mexico City. Alice gives her ear rings (which are expensive as heck) to the Maid to keep her quiet... but when Cousin Beatrice notices the Maid wearing Alice’s ear rings she accuses the Maid of stealing them, and this brings in matriarch Geraldine who insists the Maid return the ear rings... and creates a larger problem as the Maid now wants $300 to keep her mouth shut.

Alice brings the money to the Maid... and there is a knock at the Maid’s door! The evil Henchman! Alice hides in the murphy bed folded up against the wall and listens as the Henchman questions the Maid, doesn’t get any answers... so he kills her and then searches the room for some clue as to where Anthony may have flown to... almost finding Alice hiding in the folded up bed! The Henchman leaves, heading back to...



Victor Buono’s evil lair, where Buono is talking to... Walter! Cousin Beatrice’s boyfriend! They have blackmailed Walter into being part of the evil operation and spying on Anthony. It was Walter who gave the information that sent the Henchman to the Maid’s apartment. Twist!

Back at the Munster House, Alice returns and is freaked out... afraid she’ll be accused of the Maid’s murder and won’t be able to tell anyone that it’s all because her husband is really a spy. Walter hammers away at Alice about the murder of the Maid... did she do it? Why did she give the Maid those ear rings? Alice walks out... leaving the rest of the family to scheme. Walter and Uncle Gregory think Alice needs to get some rest and suggest giving her some tranquilizers... Walter wants to give her a whole bunch! Then take her to a friend of his who will give her some sodium penathol so she will tell the truth about the Maid’s murder and the family will know how to handle it. They don’t want to be harboring a murderer, do they? Think of the scandal!



A few weeks later Anthony gets back from Mexico City with all of the info to stop Victor Buono’s evil operation... and asks Grandmother Geraldine where Alice is. Geraldine says...

Alice never gave up your secret. They were going to drug her and make her talk, but Geraldine smuggled her out of the house and to a friend’s place in Los Angeles. She’s safe... and Geraldine thinks she’s a danged good wife.

Anthony gets to the address where Alice is hiding out... and it’s a drug store where she is working behind the counter. Just as they embrace, turncoat Walter and the evil Henchman come in with guns... but the Drug Store Owner shoots them both in the most boring action scene ever on television. Meanwhile Victor Buono is being arrested. Anthony and Alice live happily ever after.



Review: Actually, the problem here is the difference between what works as a thriller on that page versus what works on the screen. I can easily imagine this as a nail biter on the page, but it’s all internal... most of the suspense concerns what the character is *feeling*, and we can’t see that. In a way we have a story like REBECCA, about a shy new bride dealing with her new husband’s secret... and you’d think the hubby being a spy instead of a dreamy rich dude with a dead first wife would, but it doesn’t. Hubby is off screen doing spy stuff in Mexico City... and the only thing close to Mrs. Danvers is Leachman’s character, who is just a stuck up rich girl (instead of a foreboding frozen faced Maid who has the real power in the house). The Maid in this story is old and frail... not much of a physical threat. Also not much of any kind of threat because she knows the secret but really can’t do anything with it. And for a story that’s mostly confined to the family house, there isn’t even the sort of suspense and intrigue from REBECCA or NOTORIOUS. The family is mostly just sitting around doing nothing. None are really threats, no real suspense... Alice is just an outsider when it comes to the family rather than a target.

I suspect the story also loses something from whatever scope the novel may have had versus the confines of a TV budget and shooting schedule. This gets into my Dog Juice Theory: when the story gets smaller you need to increase the “juice” to keep it exciting, and in this case the juice would be suspense. Add to this the stiff acting and massive overacting of the villains (they’re on screen for so little time they only have time to be evil without any time for actual characterization).



So the whole episode comes off as kind of bland and boring, and that car chase scene can’t really make up for it. The suspense set piece with Alice hiding in the Murphy bed is also kinda dull... though there is a moment where she is almost discovered. And the reveal that Walter is working with the badguys is nonexistent! He’s just in a scene with Buono. No *twist* to it. Part of this is the writing isn’t finding ways to amp up the suspense and part is the director, Mitchell Leisen (who’s contract requires his *signature* as his credit), who was a famous director of big glossy studio films in the 1930s to1950s and doesn’t seem to be at home in the thriller genre... even though he directed Cornell Woolrich’s NO MAN OF HER OWN in 1950 (which ended up more soap opera than thriller). Leisen directed episode 3 and this one... and then was off to some other TV show and get that nifty signature title card.

After two good episodes in a row we go off track again with this one... but next week? Karloff takes a role in a weird tales type story!

Bill



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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Trailer Tuesday: PETULIA (1968)

PETULIA (1968)

Directed by: Richard Lester.
Written by: Lawrence B. Marcus.
Starring: Julie Christie, George C. Scott, Richard Chamberlain, Joseph Cotten.
Director Of Photography: Nic Roeg.
Music: John Barry.

The British Invasion of the sixties extended to film, and two of my favorite movies are from UK directors who came to the USA in the late sixties to make films that partially take place in San Francisco and featured Alcatraz in the stories and used crazy fractured chronology that turned cinema into a visual poem... and both begin with the letter “P”. This is the *other one*. Everybody knows my favorite film is John Boorman’s POINT BLANK (1967) because it can be watched again and again and is open to so many different interpretations, not because the story is vague but because the story is so *dense*. Packed with more information than you can see at one viewing. Though PETULIA is probably something you might watch more than once, it’s more because you may not get the scene order in your mind first time around and need to see it again to confirm that you’ve put the puzzle together correctly... also because it contains some great performances and an amazing score by John Barry.



The story is kind of Plot 52B: Middle aged, recently divorced man Archie (George C. Scott) meets a free spirited young woman Petulia (Julie Christie) at a party and they have an affair that changes the direction of his life... except this is the dark, psychodelic version where nothing is as it seems. The story takes place in 1968 San Francisco. Which was ground zero in the cultural revolution. There have always been some form of “hippy”, a young anti establishment group that tries to shake up the world... from the Beats to Flappers to Wandervogels to Swing Kids. But add all of the things happening in the 1960s from Civil Rights to Women’s Rights to Viet Nam War Protests, we really had a cultural revolution. Add in the changes in technology and the explosion of drug culture in America and you have a volatile point in history... and that’s when and where this film takes place.

Where this movie takes that stock plot and makes it original is in its fractured chronology. It has flashbacks and flashforwards and flashsideways and just jumps around time like crazy... even pausing for some odd images that we can only assume are *symbolic* of the relationships. “It’s a Pepsi generation,” as Archie says at one point. Like POINT BLANK, the film comes off as a tone poem *and* a movie and has an amazing style that seems to have been lost today (except for filmmakers like Soderbergh who used it in his homage to POINT BLANK, THE LIMEY). Since two of my favorite films that begin with the letter P both use this technique... as well as all of those Nic Roeg films... I think it’s interesting that no one does this anymore. Oh, and speaking of Nic Roeg, he was the DP on this film... and his last film as DP for another director. He would co direct his next film, the equally trippy PERFORMANCE. Roeg's movies were a huge influence on me, and some of my screenplays (like the unproduced LAST STAND) use the fractured chronology that Roeg took away from this film directed by Richard Lester.

The other difference between PETULIA and all of the other films about middle aged dudes who hook up with a hippy girl half his age is the *bleak* and edgy look at life. This film has no shortage of shocking moments.



Archie is a doctor who attends a hospital fund raiser where Janis Joplin and Big Brother And The Holding Company and The Greatful Dead are entertainment, and this strange young woman Petulia keeps hitting on him. What? She’s half his age and way out of his league and doesn’t seem to take no for an answer. She points out her jealous husband (Richard Chamberlain) who is a wealthy failed yacht designer living off his uberrich father (Joseph Cotton) who is kind of the “whale” this whole shindig is aimed at. Petulia has only been married for six months, and is already trying to find someone to have an affair with... and Archie is the lucky guy. They head to an ultra modern no tell motel: where the desk clerk is on a video screen and the keys and credits cards or cash go into a vending machine below that video screen. Oh, the desk clerk on that video screen is played by Richard Dysart (from THE THING and a million other films) in his first role! So begins the affair from hell...

Petulia is wild and unpredictable, but not always in a good way. You see, she’s being physically abused by her husband who is a few steps from crazy. Returning from their honeymoon in Baja, a little Mexican kid tries to sell them some junk while they wait to cross the border back to the USA... and when Petulia jokingly invites the kid into the car... her husband David decides to *kidnap* the kid and take him all the way back to San Francisco! He beats the hell out of her a few times, and when Archie tries to talk to David about it, he’s basically told to mind his own business if he wants the hospital to get its regular donations. Petulia smashes windows in order to steal whatever she wants, including a *tuba* that Archie is stuck returning to the store (and probably paying for the broken window.) Archie gets more trouble than pleasure from this affair. Why did she pick him?



In a flashback at the *end* of the movie, you find out why... and it has to do with that kidnapped Mexican kid. The film is a puzzle, and you really have to pay attention to put the pieces together.

Along the way, Archie has to deal with all of the normal problems of a divorced guy, from his ex wife Polo (Shirley Knight) who is still in love with him... but dating the most boring man in the world (Roger Bowen) to try to make him jealous, to his two sons who like mom’s new boyfriend better, to fellow doctor Barney (Arthur Hill) who is about to break up with his wife, to the nurse May (Pippa Scott) who has a crush on him and wonders why he’s having an affair with a woman half his age who is so much trouble. Just as the film’s chronology is fractured, the way we live our lives is equally fractured.



PETULIA is more than just a time capsule of the late sixties, it’s a haunting film with a haunting John Barry score with strong images and a nightmare look at that cliche middle aged crazy plot... and an ending that might remind you of... ANNIE HALL! A movie you will never forget. Directed by Richard Lester, who probably invented the music video with films like The Beatles A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and HELP.

PETULIA is an uncommon movie.

Bill

Monday, October 09, 2017

Tarantino's Top 20 Spaghetti Westerns

Now that Tarantino's BASTERDS has blown up the box office, it seems like a good idea to look at his favorite Spaghetti Westerns... I'm sure you'd read my article on BASTERDS in Script Magazine and have seen the movie and maybe even seen the Italian film with the same title in order to compare. So what else is there left to do but look at his favorite Italian cowboy films?

Tarantino’s Top 20 Spaghetti Westerns.




1. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly




2. For a Few Dollars more




3. Django




4. The Mercenary / A Professional Gun




5. Once Upon a Time in the West




6. A Fistful of Dollars




7. Day of Anger




8. Death Rides a Horse




9. Navajo Joe




10. The Return of Ringo




11. The Big Gundown




12. A Pistol for Ringo




13. The Dirty Outlaws




14. The Great Silence




15. The Grand Duel




16. Shoot the Living, Pray for the Dead




17. Tepepa




18. The Ugly Ones




19. Django, Prepare a Coffin




20. Machine Gun Killers





Click on the DVD box for more information on the movies. The score for THE BIG GUNDOWN is one of my favorites, and the Django films are a lot of fun. One thing about all of these films is you start to wonder if Lee Van Cleef just moved to Italy and got rich - he ends up being in so many of these movies it's crazy.

Somewhere, there is a land where men do not kill each other. Somewhere, there is a land where...

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!
Blue Books are back!
- Sweet 17 Bonus - a Joe Eszterhas book!


- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Symbolic Dialogue (and comedy) and 40 DAYS AND 40 NIGHTS.
Yesterday's Dinner: Something at Mel's Diner.
Movies: I've seen the genius of GI JOE and will soon comment on that.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

THRILLER Thursday: The Merriweather File.

The Merriweather File

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



Season: 1, Episode: 21.
Airdate: February 14, 1961


Director: John Brahm
Writer: John Kneubuhl based on a novel by Lionel White (Kubrick’s THE KILLING)
Cast: James Gregory, Bethel Leslie, Edward Pimms, Ross Elliott.
Music: Pete Rugolo.
Cinematography: John L. Russell.
Producer: Maxwell Shane




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The lady has good reason to scream. An intruder has broken into her home and made a deliberate attempt to end her life. Is this child’s rubber ball just a prop to seal the broken glass, or does it have a deeper symbolic meaning? Well, the answers to that question and many others are contained in The Merriweather File. That’s the name of our story based on the exciting story by Lionel White. Our leading players are Mr. James Gregory, Miss Bethel Leslie, Mr. Edward Pimms, and Mr. Ross Elliott. As sure is my name is Boris Karloff, this story will lead you through a most fascinating labyrinth of terror. And if you find your way out, well that’s more than I can promise for Anne and Charles Merriweather in the ensuing thriller.”

Synopsis: Night. Someone breaks into the suburban home of the Merriweathers through the kitchen door, turns on the oven and every burner on the range without lighting them, and uses a child’s ball to plug the hole they have broken in the glass of the kitchen door before leaving. The gas fills the house... and Ann Merriweather (Bethel Leslie) asleep in her bed, wakes up suddenly. Goes down to the kitchen and almost passes out before she gets the gas off, then she sees the ball in the window and screams! She runs next door to her neighbor Howard’s house and pounds on the door. Howard (James Gregory) answers in his robe, asks what happened, and Ann says someone tried to kill her. When Howard (a lawyer) wants to call the police, Ann pleads with him not to... she’s afraid it will upset her husband Charles who is away on business. You see, three years ago, after their son was killed in an accident, Ann tried to commit suicide by gassing herself in the over. She’s afraid husband Charles will just think she tried it again. Already Charles secretly blames her for the death of their son and has taken a job where he’s mostly on the road so that he doesn’t have to deal with her. Ann doesn’t want to make things any worse. Howard asks if there’s a gun in the house. Ann says Charles owns a gun, but she doesn’t know where it is and wouldn’t know how to use it. Howard suggests she get a dog for protection...

When Charles (Ross Elliott) returns from his business trip, he buys her a dog... then apologizes for not taking her out, he’s going to play cards with his buddies at the club instead. The next morning he’s back on the road. “Wish I didn’t have to go on the road so often...” Ann goes to bed, and the next morning when she wakes up, he is already gone.

Charles is driving down the highway when he gets a flat tire. Tries to open the trunk to grab the spare and jack... but his key is missing from his key ring. Odd. He flags down a police car, tells the officers the problem, and they call for a mechanic to come with skeleton keys. The mechanic comes, pops open the trunk... exposing the body of a dead guy! The police slap the cuffs on Charles and take him downtown.



Police Station: Charles is being questioned by Detective Giddeon (the ubiquitous Edward Binns) with Howard acting as family lawyer and Ann in the room. Charles says he didn’t kill that guy, had no idea he was in the trunk of his car, and no idea how he would even get into the trunk of his car. When Detective Giddeon asks him where he was the night before, Charles says he was playing cards with his buddies, then went to a bar alone after the club closed, then... well, he doesn’t have an alibi for after the bar closed. He says he was drunk and decided to sleep it off in the car. Sounds suspicious.

Howard asks if he can talk to his client in private and asks Charles about the suspicious sounding non alibi. Charles tells Howard that he wasn’t drinking in that bar alone, he was with his girlfriend... and he was also with her after the bar closed. But he doesn’t want Ann to know. Their relationship is in enough trouble without her knowing that he’s having an affair. Howard says that it may come to a choice between being arrested for murder and ruining your already rocky marriage. Charles says he’ll wait for that time to come to make his decision.

Charles remains in custody, and Howard begs Ann to stay in his house tonight. He obviously has feelings for her. She declines, says she has the dog to protect her. That night, the same gloved person in black breaks into her house again, searches for something, and when Ann wakes up and discovers the intruder, they scuffle... and the intruder escapes. Ann screams, Howard hears her and runs over from his house, and Ann tells him, “He came back, and tried to kill me!”



The next morning, Giddeon and several police officers are on the scene. Searching for clues. Giddeon suggests to Howard that Charles may have had an accomplice in the murder who came back to destroy evidence because Charles is in jail. Nobody wonders why the guard dog didn’t bark at the intruder, because no one in this film has read any Sherlock Holmes. When the garbage truck pulls up, Howard asks Detective Giddeon if he could use a cup of coffee and starts to lead him to his house... but Giddeon stops, follows the garbage men to the garbage cans and has them dump the trash. Then Giddeon searches through the rubbish... and finds a gun!

Not just any gun, Charles’ gun... and the gun that was used to kill that guy in the trunk of Charles’ car!

Giddeon grills Charles again, who keeps insisting that he’s innocent and has no idea how the dead guy got into the trunk of his car, or how his gun was used to kill the dead guy. He’s been framed... but, um, still has no alibi for the time of the murder. Oh, and the victim’s name is Jake Carver, does Charles or Ann know anybody by that name? Nope. Howard asks again to speak with Charles privately, and tells him the time has come to admit to the affair and reveal his mistress/alibi. This is *serious*. Charles reluctantly gives Howard the name of his mistress and a note to give her, and Howard goes to find her.

Virginia (K.T. Stevens from the soaps YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS and DAYS OF OUR LIVES) tells Howard that she *was* with Charles that night, will testify to it in court, and it’s a shame that this will end Charles’ marriage, but he has been trying to get a divorce for a while but Ann wouldn’t grant it. When Virginia leaves the room to get ice for her drink, Howard pokes around and finds a picture of Virginia with... Jake Carver!



Howard tells Ann about Charles affair with Virginia, while Ann plays with her wedding band, pulling it off and on (great piece of business!). Ann says she was going over her bank books and discovered that Charles withdrew $3k from their account the night before the murder. Howard assures her that they are going to get to the truth no matter how many lies Charles uses to cover it up! We get the feeling that Howard is now working against his client Charles in order to end up with Ann. Is *Howard* behind the murder and break ins?

Howard has Virginia come forward... and it backfires big time. Seems that $3k missing from Charles’ bank account ended up in Carver’s bank account, and Charles and Virginia may have worked *together* to murder Carver because Charles owed him money. Carver was an organized crime guy, who was a bookie, did loan sharking, and broke a kneecap or two. Howard pulls Charles aside and says he might as well admit to killing Carver. Charles says he *did not* kill Carver, but knew him and owed him money. Paid him the $3k, and that should have been the end of it. Howard thinks the only way to get Charles off is for him to come clean, admit he knew Carver but did not kill him. He’s guilty of cheating on his wife, guilty of owing money to a bookie, but not guilty of murder.

Charles gets on the stand, tells the truth, is found guilty and given the death penalty. He keeps insisting that he did not kill Carver, but they execute him anyway.

Three years later: Detective Giddeon stops by Howard’s house just before Christmas. He’s just come from the women’s prison, where Virginia is very ill and made a deathbed confession: she and Charlie *did not* murder Carver. But she was the burglar who broke into the house and turned on the gas, because Ann would not grant Charles a divorce. And the guard dog Charlie gave Ann was *Virginia’s* dog, which is why the dog didn’t bark when Virginia broke in again, looking for evidence that might clear Charles. Because when the gas thing didn’t work, Charles and Virginia hired Carver for $3k to *murder* Ann, but when Carver showed up that night... Ann was waiting for him with Charles’ gun and shot Carver dead! Put the body in Charles’ trunk, took the trunk key off Charles’ key ring, and framed Charles for the murder she committed. Since she could not have known that Carver was coming to kill her, she must have been waiting to murder Charles! Ann is a cold, calculating, killer! Howard is shocked by this...

Then the front door opens and Ann comes in, kisses Howard, and Howard introduces her as his wife. He’s married to a killer!



Review: This is a mystery masquerading as a thriller, with some nice twists. The issue is the bland direction (again) which removes some of the tension from scenes. That may be due to the rushed schedule of television (though the Alfred Hitchcock Hour often had some great stuff... and in four or five episodes we’re going to have some great stuff here on Thriller). This was the cinematographer of PSYCHO, so they had the skilled DP, they just had to tell him what to do. The twists seem to lose some of their impact due to this pedestrian direction, even though I have to give points for all of the action scenes with the Burglar *not* showing their face or even giving away that it was a woman.

One of the things I found fascinating was the negative characterization of the mistress. Yeah, she’s a mistress... but they purposely make her apartment messy as hell, and when Howard comes over to interview her and there’s a stack of magazines on the sofa, she tosses them *on the floor* so that he can sit down. This is obviously either network censors or the director trying to avoid the network censors. It might be characterization, but she’s in a beautifully decorated apartment.

I loved the way Ann played with her wedding band while Howard told her that her husband had been cheating on her, that was a great touch.

On the whole, not a bad episode but could really have used a more visual touch. I really thought that James Gregory’s character was going to be unmasked at the end as the killer who had set up Charles so that he could end up with Ann... but having Ann as the killer and Howard as the dupe was a nice twist. How long before she kills him?

We are now a third of the way through the episodes.

Bill

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