Friday, August 31, 2018

Hitchcock: The Kuleshov Bikini & MARNIE

There is a musical version of MARNIE? MARNIE THE MUSICAL - Review!

Originally I was going to rerun the MARNIE entry with some rewriting to both expand the entry and focus on the similarities to the FIFTY SHADES OF GREY trilogy to celebrate the musical, but you'll have to look at Hitch explaining Kuleshov using a babe in a bikini instead of a bowl of soup.

Hitchcock explaining the Kuleshov Experiment using a hot babe in a bikini:





But here is the rape/sex/honeymoon night scene from MARNIE to prepare you for the last FIFTY SHADES movie, which hit video a couple of months ago....



NOTE: When Mark and Marnie are in the outer room, check out the specific shots and how they tell the story. We begin with Mark at eye level as he looks at Marnie's shadow moving around in the bedroom. By showing Mark looking and then showing what Mark is looking at, we *become* Mark at this point.

But when Marnie enters the room, Mark is shown from a slightly low angle, making him superior to the audience... he becomes powerful (while sitting down and not really moving). He has become dominant... while Marnie is shown from a distance, making her distant and unattainable. Every *angle* and *movement* of the camera is part of telling the story the way words are when writing a screenplay. This is basic cinematic language, but something that some directors don't seem to speak these days.

Boning up?

Once Mark goes into the bedroom, we get a great shot with Mark on one side of the frame and Marnie on the other, separated from each other. They have a verbal battle, and at this point they seem to be evenly matched (according to the shot). But then the shot *moves* in on Mark's face. When a shot gets closer to the subject, they become more important... more powerful. So this shot begins with two evenly matched people on opposite sides of some issue and then turns one into the more powerful (and aggressive) one. That's where it gets all FIFTY SHADES OF GREY...

We get some shocking implied nudity... and Marnie seems to go catatonic. When Mark puts his coat around her, we get an interesting combination of shots: Mark and Marnie from an overhead (Mark is powerless to make her respond to his kisses) to a low angle (he's going to *take* the power) and that's when we get...

That great shot where Marnie seems to float into bed. This shot would be replicated by the Coen Brothers in BLOOD SIMPLE.

If you are going to direct, you have to speak the language!

And here is Sean Connery discussing working with Hitch on MARNIE...



And here's Hitch discussing MARINE...



- Bill




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.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: DIALOGUES WITH DEATH

NEW FOR SEASON 2!!!

Dialogues With Death

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



Season: 2, Episode: 11.
Airdate: December 4, 1961



Director: Herschel Daughtery
Writer: Robert Arthur.
Cast: Boris Karloff, Norma Crane, Ed Nelson, William Schallert, George Kane, Jimmy Joyce, Estelle Winwood.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Bud Thackery.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Sound advice indeed. But rather the sort of thing one would expect to be offered by a psychiatrist to a patient who is still breathing in a surrounding such as these. But Pop Jenkins can hardly be described as a pillar of the medical profession with an upholstered office and a custom made contour couch. For his purposes however, I’m sure that he prefers the quiet dignity of the morgue and the solid support of the well refrigerated slab. I might also mention that he has one distinct advantage over his accredited colleagues. You see, his patients can never, never become violent. Imagine being able to carry on a tet0a0te with a cadaver. How fascinating. Well, tonight we have two stories for you about people who can do just that... and for reasons which must be apparent already, we call our play, “Dialogues With Death”. Our players are: Norma Crane, Ed Nelson, Estelle Winwood, and your obedient servant as Colonel Jackson Beauregard and Pops Jenkins. Now settle back, and listen, listen very carefully, you may find that you are one of the gifted ones.”



Synopsis: “Pops” Jenkins (Boris Karloff) who works the night shift at the city morgue gets a new customer - the millionaire night club owner Dan Gordon. Once the ambulance crew leaves, Pops pulls up a chair next to Gordon’s drawer and talks to the corpse... and he pauses and listens as if the corpse talks back. Is the old man crazy?

Three days later at the newspaper office: Editor Tom Ellison (Ed Nelson) and reporter Harry (George Kane) are trying to figure out what the next day’s headline might be. The police seem to have hit a brick wall when it comes to solving the Dan Gordon murder, and no news doesn’t sell papers. So Tom suggests they go down to the morgue and take some pictures of Gordon’s body and run them on the front page.

At the morgue they overhear Pops talking to a corpse...

While Harry takes his pictures, Tom asks Pops if he talks to all of his customers... and asks if Gordon might have mentioned who killed him. Pops says yes, but then regrets it. That was in confidence between Gordon and Pops. Tom presses Pops to the point that Pops accidentally blurts out that Professor MacFarland at the University shot Gordon. Now he has betrayed a confidence! Harry says that he took a picture of Professor MacFarland two years ago when he won a pistol shooting championship - MacFarland was an Army hero... but Harry is skeptical. Tom asks Pops why a Professor at the University would murder a night club owner? MacFarland’s sister Gloria was a singer at Gordon’s night club, and Gordon was attracted to her. Tom asks where the gun used to kill Gordon is, and Pops says it’s in the lower right hand drawer of his desk... but Gordon says he doesn’t blame the Professor for shooting him... and doesn’t want him arrested.



At Professor MacFarland’s Office: Tom and Harry ring the bell and MacFarland (William Schallert - Patty Duke’s dad on “The Patty Duke Show”) opens the door. They say they are working on a story about his sister, and they are invited in. MacFarland wants to know what this is all about, and Tom says that Don Gordon was murdered and they know that MacFarland’s sister had worked in his night club as a singer and was not treated well by the dead man. MacFarland asks them to leave. Now. He’s bust and doesn’t have time for this. Tom keeps pressing - says that he had heard MacFarland killed Gordon.

The Professor is about to physically remove them, when Tom picks up the picture of MacFarland’s sister from the top of the desk and tosses it to Harry, who moves to the other side of the room - MacFarland following to get the picture back. That’s when Tom goes to the desk, opens the drawer, and pulls out the murder weapon.

MacFarland wants the gun back, says he will call the police. Tom says go ahead and call them, then he and Harry leave with the gun.



Tom and Harry speed away on a foggy road at night. Tom believes this is the biggest story of their lives, they have the murder weapon and the killer is a prominent citizen whose sister was involved with a mobster. Harry doesn’t like any of this - how could Pop Jenkins know which drawer the gun was in? Tom turns a corner... and there is a man standing in the middle of the street!

Dan Gordon - who is dead!

Tom swerves the car to miss the man, but loses control and the car plows into the guard rails and goes off the side of the hill, smashing and crashing below...

Tom wakes up, crawls to the upside down car - Harry is trapped inside. He can’t get the door open to rescue him. Tom says he will go get help and climbs up the side of the hill to the foggy street. No sign of the dead man. No other cars on the road at this hour. He walks back to town. It’s a freakin’ long walk.



He walks past a few dark buildings towards one where the lights are on... the morgue. Opens the door and steps inside, and Pop runs up to him. Helps Tom over to a chair where he sits down and tells about the car wreck and finding the gun *exactly* where Pop said it would be - how was that possible? Tom wants Pop to explain how he could know where the gun was, and no “hocus pocus” about talking to the dead, that’s impossible...

That’s when the two ambulance crew guys who brought in Dan Gordon’s body enter, telling Pop that they have a couple of new customers for him. Pop tells Tom he’ll be back to answer all of his questions in a moment, goes to talk to the ambulance crew guys... who have put the two corpses in a couple of empty drawers. But they need him to sign for them. Pop signs for the two bodies.

When the ambulance guys leave, Pop calls Tom over to the drawers and pulls one open - providing all of the answers... under the sheet is Harry’s corpse. Killed in a car wreck. Tom is broken up, feels guilty. If only he had gotten help earlier. Then Pop pulls out the other drawer, pulls back the sheet covering the corpse, and calls Tom over. Tom looks down at his own corpse. When Pop pushes Tom’s corpse back inside the cooler, Tom is no longer there. Pop tells Tom that Gordon did not want the information about MacFarland and his sister becoming public, so he showed up on that foggy road to stop them... and caused their wreck. Then Pop gives advice on how to accept death.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Well, now that you’ve been exposed to an excellent example of communication with the dead, I wonder just how many of you believe that it can actually be true. What? You’re only half convinced? Well if what you are about to see fails to convince you completely than I’m afraid I must refuse to accept any responsibility whatsoever. Well, let us adjourn into a setting which in its own cheerful way bridges the gap between life and death every bit as effectively as the morgue. Morripo - a plantation which once wore the crown of antebellum splendor, but now rigor mortis has set in. It has been captured in the coffin of time and sealed in the shroud of the swamp. Yes, my friends, at Morripo you will be confronted with the final proof.”



Synopsis: Eccentric “Colonel” Beauregard Jackson Finchess (Karloff) and his equally strange sister Emily (Estelle Winwood) are at home in their rotting plantation one night when a car’s headlights shine outside. Someone is coming. Are they lost? Emily says she spoke with their nephew Charles, who is dead, just last night - he’s almost ready to continue his journey. There’s a knock at the door and their nephew Daniel Le Jean (Ed Nelson) and his wife Nell (Norma Crane) enter the room. Aunt Emily says, “We didn’t recognize you because you’re dead” cheerfully. “You were killed in a hold up in Chicago”, the Colonel adds. Daniel says the report of his death was a mistake, but he let it stand to escape from the police. The weird thing is that Aunt Emily insists that they are dead... she’s really weird. Daniel says he’s here to collect the money his brother Charles left him when he passed away... and to hide out from the police.

Daniel and Nell go up to his old bedroom, which is covered in an inch of dust and cobwebs - creepy! The weird thing here is that they don’t do anything a normal person would do in a dusty room. Nell doesn’t want to hide out in the old plantation for three weeks, she wants to split the minute they get his brother’s inheretence. D

aniel shows Nell around, pointing out the family mausoleum - the ground is too wet for burying people, so they all in the crypt. He tells a story about his grandfather Jules who was nailed into his coffin a bit prematurely. He and Aunt Emily went into the crypt, and when she had a “conversation” with his grandfather, Daniel closed the crypt door on her, locking her inside. Just a silly joke a kid would pull. Someone found Aunt Emily and let her out - and she said that Jules was already dead, told her so himself from inside the coffin. Since then she believes that she can communicate with the dead.



Daniel knows that his brother hid the money in the house somewhere, and wants Nell to keep the Colonel and Aunt Emily busy while he searches for it.

The Colonel gives Nell a tour of the house, showing her the paintings of all of the family members, including the great grandfather who was buried alive, and the grandfather who was buried with a telephone in his coffin, just in case.

Daniel finds a strong box in Charles’ room, and when he opens it - just papers but no money. Aunt Emily tells him the money is in Daniel’s empty coffin in the crypt - $50,000!

On that stormy night, Daniel and Nell enter the family crypt with tools to open the coffin and retrieve the $50,000. They search for his coffin, finding it behind a plaque that states the day of his death - a few days ago! Weird! They pry open the coffin... and it’s filled with money! But the crypt door slams shut... and they are trapped inside.



In the living room of the Plantation, Aunt Emily returns from a walk outside in the rain, where she has closed the crypt... just as young Daniel had done to her years ago.

Daniel and Nell try to pry the door, but the pry bar breaks. Meanwhile, the water in the crypt is starting to rise... will they drown in the crypt? Nell remembers the telephone in Daniel’s father’s coffin. They pry the lid off the coffin and search under the rotted corpse to find the telephone. Daniel calls and gets the operator, asks to be connected to the Sheriff, it’s a matter of life and death! Gets the Sheriff and tells him the whole story. The Sheriff says to be patient, he’ll get there. Daniel hangs up the phone....

In the Plantation... The Colonel hangs up the phone, and Aunt Emily says it will take Daniel and his wife a while to get used to being dead, then she will go visit them and have a little chat. But first, how about some music? The Colonel sits down the harpsichord and plays a song.



Review: A fun pair of weird tales and a chance for Karloff (and Ed Nelson) two play two very different roles. Maybe even three roles, since he plays the host as well. I probably said this in another entry, but since Karloff is such a good host it is easy to forget that he’s a great actor as well. Here, as “Pops”, he is kind of the groovy old man... and as Beauregard he is the old Southern gentleman. Seeing him back to back in these roles, you can see how - even with the larger than life personality he had at this point in his career - he can find ways to slip into the characters. Pops is a youthful old guy, and Beauregard is a dotty old guy. The characters seem to be different ages... yet played by the same guy. Karloff’s career was all about playing characters - often under a ton of make up - but here we have him play two different people with no make up. Just a beret in one episode and his gray hair in the other. His *walk* is different.

Also a great showcase for Ed Nelson - who you probably recognize from a couple of other episodes like CHEATERS, but also probably recognize from every danged TV show from the late 50s to the mid-90s. This guy was in everything! And versatile enough to keep coming back in some TV series like HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL as five different characters... in fact, five seems to be his magic number of TV shows. In Westerns he would play a military officer, a Mexican, a farmer, a gunslinger, a lawyer... and then on to the next western. He did a bunch of early Roger Corman movies, and his last role was in RUNAWAY JURY. 192 movies and TV series with around 5 episodes per TV series (except for the ones where he was a series regular). One of those “that guy” actors.



The first story has an amazing opening shot - from the shadow of the City Morgue door sign on the floor to a slow tour of the morgue with ambulance drivers delivering a corpse and when they leave Pops walks across the room and grabs a chair and sits next to the drawer door and has a conversation with the corpse as the camera dollies closer and closer to his face. A three minute shot! Amazing. There are several nice shots like this in the episode, and considering they had to shoot two different stories in two different locations, this is one of Daughrety’s better episodes.

The crypt in the second story is a great set - and as it fills with water, you wonder if they built it in a tank. One of the weird issues with that second episode is that the bed is covered with cobwebs and dust... but nobody shakes off the bedding and cleans off the cobwebs before they go to sleep. Eeeew! This sort of odd behavior almost sinks the story. Also, Norma Crane who gets top billing and has about a third as many credits as Nelson, including FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, over acts like crazy in the episode.

Two stories for the price of one, and both of them fun.

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Flashback: Set Crashing

My buddy Van Tassell and I hung out a week ago after seeing the movie FORBIDDEN POWER at a film festival in Las Vegas. I think Van is my oldest friend - I've known him since I was 18, and when I go home for the holidays we grab beers and see movies.

Whenever anyone filmed a movie in the San Francisco Bay Area, Van and I snuck on the set. Growing up in the East Bay Area - halfway between Oakland and Stockton - San Francisco always seemed like some far off place you only went to on special school field trips or when you went to the zoo on your birthday. Actually, we usually went to the Oakland Zoo on my birthday. I saw San Francisco more in movies than in real life.

So when I started making my own movies on 8mm and Super-8mm, my buddy Van Tassell and I began driving into the city and sneaking onto movie sets... to watch the pros at work.

Van installs carpets for a living (any out of work film guys could always find a job tearing up jute padding and carrying heavy rolls of carpet for Van) and his carpet tool pouch looks EXACTLY like a film grip's tool pouch. This was part of the plan to sneak onto movie sets - look like someone who belongs. So we would dress like grips, filling the tool pouch with film tools.

I subscribed to Weekly Variety, and they printed the films in production. Whenever anything was shooting in San Francisco (a popular location) we'd take a few days off from our day jobs to crash the set. To find out where they were filming I'd call the city permit office and pretend to be somebody from a newspaper covering the film or a caterer who forgot where to send the food truck. They'd tell me where the permit was issued for, but usually it was a vague answer like "They're shooting in the Marina District today" - maybe they didn't believe my story?

So Van and I would pile in his red Bronco - it was used as a picture vehicle in Paul's movie WEAPONS OF DEATH.... the hero's truck - and just drive around the Marina District until we spotted two dozen huge trucks. Then we'd just follow the cables to the set. The key was to be cool and blend in. We looked like grips, but we also had to ACT like grips. A couple of times someone would actually ask us to do something, and we always did it. I actually carried a 9-K light from the truck to where they were shooting on one set.

Van and I became pros at blending in, and we crashed a bunch of sets. Mel Brooks filmed HIGH ANXIETY in San Francisco, and we were there. Don Siegel shot TELEFON and ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ and we were there. But the best story is when they shot the James Bond movie VIEW TO A KILL. We didn't know it would become the worst James Bond movie ever - we just knew that James Bond was shooting in San Francisco, so Van and I decided to go out and watch. Dressed as grips.

The day Van and I crashed the set they were doing this huge effects scene - burning down City Hall. They had rigged all of these gas explosions on the building. They had Roger Moore's stunt double on a fire truck. They'd hired a bunch of extras to run in panic and some stunt men who would actually catch on fire. It was going to be very expensive, and they could only do it once. Boy did we pick the right day to crash the set!

So, we're doing our best to look like grips - helping ourselves to doughnuts on the craft services table - when we notice these two guys hop the rope and sneak onto the set. Well, that creates a danger to us. If they start checking to see who belongs on the set and who doesn't, we'll be kicked off before they start filming. Van and I come to a dead stop in the doughnut line, causing REAL grips to complain.

These two sneak-ins are wearing warm-up suits and look WAY out of place. They're also laughing - probably a little drunk. Then they see the food and start to come over!

Oh man. They're walking right towards us. Laughing so loud, people are starting to notice them. A couple of big Security Guards hear the laughter, turn and see the two sneak-ins, and move to intercept them... Coming right at us!

Two big Security Guards.
Walking towards Van and me.
We both freeze for a minute, then one of the REAL grips tells us to stop hogging the doughnuts. So we try to move away from the craft services table, but that means moving TOWARDS the two sneak-ins... and those two big Security Guards.

Shit! No choice!
Van and I play it really cool and move away from the table, pretending to be REALLY interested in the sprinkles on our doughnuts. The two sneak-ins brush past us on the way to the food. One of the Security Guards says, "Hey! You two!" Van and I try NOT to look at them, but both of us are wondering if they're talking to us or the sneak-ins. What if the Guards know everyone on the crew and know we don't belong? Can they arrest you for crashing a set?

They two big Security Guards are coming right at us. One puts his hand on my shoulder. Busted!!!

"Excuse me," he says as he moves me aside to get to the sneak- ins. Van and I watch the sneak-ins get rousted by the two big Security Guards. They are told to leave the area... but they hang around on the sidelines.

Close call. Van and I eat our doughnuts and watch the extras get instructions on how to run in panic when City Hall explodes behind them. The extras are told they can't screw up the shot, because they are only going to do it once. Van and I watch as the FX guys turn on their remote controls and they get the Roger Moore stunt guy on top of the fire truck. "This is gonna be cool," Van whispers to me.

Everyone takes their places as they get ready to blow up City Hall. Lights blast on. The director whispers to the AD who yells: ACTION! They start filming. The extras walk down the street calmly. BLAM! City Hall explodes into flames! The fire truck races into the shot...

And the two sneak-ins in warm ups hop the rope, run RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA and yell "City Hall's on fire! City Hall's on fire!" Then they run away, like the rest of the extras... blending into the crowd.

Van and I have been on a dozen film sets and have always stayed in the background. Always played it cool. Always tried to blend in. We can say to friends, "Yeah, we were on the set of that James Bond movie. We watched them burn down city hall." But those two sneak-ins?

They're actually IN THE MOVIE!

- Bill

Friday, August 24, 2018

Hitchcock: Organic

Jimmy Stewart in REAR WINDOW uses a camera to defend himself... He's a professional photographer, what else would he use?



I have a whole article on this, written for Script Magazine about a decade ago, called Hitchcock's Chocolates that gets into using the character and story to find all of the details of your screenplay. It always goes back to character - any question or problem you are having with your screenplay - think character, theme, story... and you will find the answers.

- Bill

Thursday, August 23, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: The Prediction

The Prediction

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



Season: 1, Episode: 10.
Airdate: 11/22/1960


Director: John Brahm
Writer: Donald S. Sanford
Cast: Boris Karloff, Audrey Dalton, Alan Caillou, Abraham Sofaer, Murvyn Vye, Alex Davion.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: John L. Russell (PSYCHO)




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The unfortunate gentleman you’ve just observed has had a most terrifying experience. You see, his business is *pretending* to be clairvoyant... but the glimpse he just had into the future was true, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. Imagine if you will, the plight of a man who finds his premonitions concerning those he loves coming true in the most horrible and violent ways. The name of our play is “The Prediction”, and appearing with me are Miss Audrey Dalton, Mr. Alex Davion, Mr. Abraham Sofaer, Mr. Alan Caillou, and Mr. Murvyn Vye. Let me assure you my friends, this is a thriller.”

Synopsis: In London, night club psychic Mace (Boris Karloff) is a fake... a great showman who entertains the audience with predictions of happy marriages and surprise good luck and other lightweight predictions... but tonight is different. Something weird happens to Mace and his beautiful assistant Norine (Audrey Dalton) realizes he’s going off script... when a skeptic asks who will win the big boxing match tonight, Mace screams that they must stop the fight because one of the boxers... Tommy... will die in the ring! When Mace tries to run off the stage, he trips and goes down, and the club owner Gus (Abraham Sofaer) has them drop the curtains. Backstage, Mace asks Norine’s loser father Burton (Alan Caillou) to race to the Boxing Match and stop the fight before Tommy gets killed. Burton races off...

Mace rests in his dressing room, worried that his crazy performance will get him and Norine fired. Because his beautiful assistant’s father is a drunk and a loser, Mace has become a father to her and takes care of both of them. He’s very protective of Norine... so when Gus knocks on the door and says he needs to see Mace immediately in the club. It’s a surprise party for Mace! Gus loves Mace, he’s the club’s best act. But the party is broken up by Gunner Gogan (Murvyn Vye) the manager of Tommy the boxer... who accuses Mace of making money from his fighter’s death. What? Seems that Burton *didn’t* warn anyone that Tommy would die, instead he bet against him and made $100! Gus and the others have to pull Gogan off Mace, and they tell him that Burton was sent to warn them, didn’t he? Gogan goes to find Burton...



Nadine has a secret fiancé, Grant (Alex Davion), her father Burton does not approve of their relationship. Grant wants her to marry him, now... run away and find a priest. But her father is a huge problem that has to be solved before she can get married...

Mace finds Burton in a pub, drinking and fooling around with a woman half his age (who may be a hooker, at the very least a woman of easy virtue)... spending that $100 as if there is more where that came from. And isn’t there? If Mace can keep making predictions, Burton can keep betting and winning! Mace and Burton have an argument, and Burton splits with the hooker (or whatever). Mace has another vision: Burton will be murdered!

The hooker (or whatever) leads Burton into a dark alley where a huge dude hits him in the head with a brick and steals his money and goes off with the hooker (or whatever). She was part of it all along, luring him to be mugged.

Mace feels *guilty* over Tommy and Burton’s deaths. “Did I forsee Burton’s death? Or will it to happen?” He’s a mess. When he hears that Gogan has been arrested for Burton’s murder, Mace has Gus call the police anonymously and give them the names of the hooker (or whatever) and her accomplice. He just *knew* the names! Then he has another vision... and warns Gus not to cross the stage to meet a man named Harcourt. Gus says he doesn’t know anybody named Harcourt.



Outside the night club: Grant asks Nadine to marry him now that she doesn’t have to take care of her father (I know that sounds terrible, but the dialogue makes it work). Grant has been transferred to another city and wants her to quit as Mace’s beautiful assistant and come with him. Nadine says she can’t just quit... and goes into the club. Grant follows her in to watch the show and try to change her mind afterwards.

Gus goes out on stage... when he gets a message: some guy named Harcourt is waiting in his office. Harcourt? He starts to cross the stage to his office... when a hanging sandbag falls from the rafters right at his head! But Mace runs across the stage and knocks Gus out of the way, the sandbag misses both of them.



Harcourt is a police detective who wants to know who made the anonymous call about Burton’s murder... because they were right. Was this a witness to the murder who didn’t come forward? Gus protects Mace by telling Harcourt that there are many phones in the club, and it could have been anyone. But Harcourt is suspicious.

Mace and Nadine do their act... when Mace has another vision and starts yelling for a man named Grant to come forward, he knows a man with that name is in the audience. Grant this is Mace’s way to break up the relationship and keep his beautiful assistant... and ducks out the back doors. Mace yells that the man named Grant must not make his trip... because he will die!

Later in a pub: Grant tells Nadine he is leaving the next night and wants her to go with him no matter what Mace says. She says no.



Grant goes to Mace, says he loves Nadine and wants to marry her... and Mace says: Great! Congratulations to both of you! I want whatever makes Nadine happy. Grant asks about the prediction, was it just a ruse? Mace says it was real, and Grant *will* die if he travels tomorrow night. Grant doesn’t believe him, and *needs* to leave tomorrow night to get to his job on time. So Mace tells him if he sees a sign that says “Edinburgh, 50 miles” he needs to turn around and come back. Grant agrees to this.

The next night, after the show, Mace and Nadine have a big emotional goodbye. And he warns her about the “Edinburgh, 50 miles” sign. Nadine leaves, gets in the car with Grant and drives off...

And Mace has another premonition: Grant and Nadine will be in an accident and a fire will burn them to death! Mace grabs Gus and they try to chase them down and stop it.

Now we get all kinds of clever stuff right out of Mace’s premonition as Grant and Nadine drive down the highway at night. This is where the story gets fun, because offhand things Mace said like “You’ll need a raincoat” even though it isn’t raining start to become true, and that makes us start to worry that both Nadine and Grant will die in a fiery car wreck. They do almost hit a stalled truck full of refuse in the middle of the road (at night) but Grant brakes at the last minute. The truck driver’s flare had burned out. Truck driver asks if they will tell the repair service at the big truck stop down the road to send help back, and they agree and drive off... just as the truck driver tosses a bent up old road sign deeper into his truck bed. What do you think that sign said?



Meanwhile, Mace and Gus as speeding to save them... take a short cut... and get to the big truck stop before they do, asking an attendant if they’ve passed by yet. Nope. So they head down the road towards Grant and Nadine. After only a few minutes Mace asks Gus to stop the car, and Mace gets out in the rain and stands in middle of the street with his hands up... just as Grant and Nadine’s car rounds the corner towards him! Grant tries to stop the car, but the asphalt is slick and they skid into Mace... killing him! And a minute later, the big truck stop behind them EXPLODES in a giant fireball! So Mace gave his life to prevent Grant and Nadine from going to that truck stop. The end is both a twist and emotional.

Review: The great thing about having Boris Karloff as your host is that he’s also a fine actor, and in this episode he is completely believable as the paternal fake psychic (the kind of role he might have played in a film) and gets two pretty good emotional scenes where he gets a chance to act. Though not one of the great episodes, it’s a lot of fun and there are some nice twists along the way.

The fake psychic who becomes real is a great plot, better used in one of my favorite Cornell Woolrich novels THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (made into an okay movie with Edward G Robinson). That book has a great prediction: that a man will die at the claws of a lion... and takes place in *New York City* where that seems unlikely... until a lion escapes from the zoo! The great twist in that book is that the man dies at the feet of one of the lion statues in front of the library. Here the fun is in watching all of the small elements of Mace’s prediction come true, which builds dread that the big one will come true. That’s a great writing technique, by the way: have a prediction and piece by piece have it come true, leading us to believe it will *all* come true... then find that twist where it comes true im an unexpected way!



For a TV episode, it feels much bigger than whatever its budget was: the two cars on country roads at the end has a great deal of production value, and the night club set seems very real. The pub gets used twice in the story, so it earns its keep.

Once again we are on the right track! This is the type of story I think of when I think of the THRILLER TV show. Something that is either straight suspense or creepy weird tale. Will next week’s episode stay on track? It stars Elisha Cook, jr and a pre DICK VAN DYKE SHOW Mary Tyler Moore and has some elements of SPEED!

Bill



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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Scene Of The Week: JAWS (bloody beach)


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The amazing thing about JAWS is that it is so well made it stands up now... and is better than most current films. In fact, compare JAWS to JURASSIC PARK (same director) and JAWS still wins. Better characters and situations and more suspense. The novel JAWS is kind of a pulpy beach read - a big chunk of it focuses on the affair between Mrs. Brody and hunky young Matt Hooper. All of that was removed for the film, and some great scenes were added. In fact, what always impresses me about JAWS is how many great scenes and memorable scenes are in the film. Just for fun, why not write a list of the great or memorable scenes you can remember. Doesn’t matter how long it has been since you have seen the movie, in fact - the longer it has been the better! If you haven’t seen the film since 1975, those scenes you can remember now made an impression.

Got your list? Well, I know which two scenes are on the top, and we’ll be looking at one of those later in the series, but now let’s look at one that is probably further down your list...  A memorable scenes.

This scene happens about 13 minutes into the film... you read that right! The movie begins with the teens on the beach, skinny dipping, shark attacking the girl. Great way to start a film! The audience knows there is a shark out there. Next we have a scene that introduces Martin Brody and his wife and kids - he’s new on the job. He was an NYPD cop, who came to Amity... and is not thrilled by the water. He’s also over protective of his kids - he warns them the swing set isn’t safe.

Next scene we have our missing girl, and the guy she was with is showing Brody where she disappeared... and then they find what is left of her. Shocking! The town’s medical examiner confirms it as “Shark Attack”. Brody asks where they keep the “Beach Closed” signs... and finds out they don’t have any.

So Brody heads down to the store to buy sign making supplies. Now, here’s the great thing - the bike shop guy wants Brody to deal with the kids at the Kung Fu class, because they keep kung fuing his fence and even his bikes. The small town problems he *thought* he was going to deal with! He gets to the store, and more small town problems are discussed as he buys the paint and brushes and signs. He tells his deputy to take the stuff back to the police station and have the *secretary* make the signs, she has better penmanship. This becomes an issue!

Then Brody gets cornered by the Mayor and City Council Members on a ferry - and is pressured to change the cause of death to “boating accident” and pressured to keep the beaches open. The Mayor gives that great little speech about how when someone yells “Barracuda!” no one cares, but when someone yells “Shark!” it creates a panic. Brody *knows* this was a shark attack, but bends under the pressure. It’s him on that ferry against a handful of others - his bosses - who press him to do what he knows is the wrong thing.

Which brings us to this scene, about 13 minutes into the film. See how fast paced this film is? But it doesn’t seem that way - we get a good introduction to Brody and his family, a feel for small town life, introduce Body’s deputy and secretary, a look at small town politics... all while dealing with the shark attack. These aren’t a bunch of quick-cut MTV scenes, these scenes are concise and do many things at once. Packed with information, and emotion...

And then we have our day at the beach...




This scene is all about Brody *knowing* that he was pressured to do the wrong thing. He’s on edge - watching the people in the water.  We get to know some minor characters - the Kitner Boy and his Mom, the Boy and his Dog, the Woman on the raft... and Bad Hat Harry (Bryan Singer’s production company!). All of these people will be players in the scene.

This scene has two great Hitchcock techniques - the “Hitchcock Wipes” where a passing person bridges the cuts so that it all flows as if it is one piece of film. This technique was used in “Rope” and “Frenzy”.  In JAWS each wipe takes us closer and closer to Brody - focusing on how intently he is watching the people in the water... worried about a shark attack. The other technique is the “Dolly/Zoom” from “Vertigo”, where the camera dollys at the exact same rate as the lens zooms to that we get an expansion or compression of the background.

One of my favorite bits is when the guy *blocks Brody’s line of sight to the water* in order to talk about red curbs or whatever mundane thing. This creates suspense and frustration for Brody’s character - and that perfectly transfers to the audience. Conflict is the key to everything, and here we have another person with a small problem getting in Brody’s way when there is a much bigger problem. The great payoff with this is the screaming girl and her boyfriend. This heightens the tension. Even though it’s a fake out, we *know* that something is going to happen for real.

Now we “make it personal” with his kids getting into the water. He’s concerned, but hold back - tries to act cool. His kids swim way out there... towards the Kitner Boy.

Now it’s Bad Hat Harry who blocks his line of sight. The conflict has *escalated* because Brody’s kids are out there... in potential danger.

Escalating the tension and building dread is the Boy unable to find his Dog. That stick he was throwing is floating in the water... but no Dog fetching it. Something is wrong.

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Did you see that? One of the great things about the shark eating the Kitner Boy is that it happens *in the background* of the shot of Brody’s kids and their friends swimming. Instead of making it obvious, the shot puts it in the background so that we aren’t quite sure what we saw. That’s more ominous than if they made it obvious. The folks on the beach aren’t sure what they are seeing, as well. That’s when we get the great “Dolly/Zoom” and Brody - knowing this is all his fault for being spineless - runs to the edge of the water and yells for everyone to get out of the water.

Here’s where we get more wonderful conflict. The parents race *into the water* to grab their kids! Into danger! Now Brody is trying to get the parents back to the shore (unsuccessfully) as well as get the kids to swim to shore. Absolute panic! Once everyone is on shore and heading away from the water, one person is walking *toward* the water - Mrs. Kitner. The scene ends just over 18 minutes into the film... with the bloody raft brushing up against the shore.

That’s not even one of the top two scenes you wrote down, which were probably “We’re gonna need a bigger boat!” and Quint relating his experience on the USS Indianapolis during WW2.

What does that look like on the page?



               EXT. AMITY BEACH - DAY

               A plump jelly-bowl of a woman plunges into the ocean. There's 
               enough there to satisfy the most gluttonous shark. Buoyant, 
               joyful, she splashes away in abandon. From her, we pan off 
               to reveal other cheerful bathers enjoying that last 
               uncluttered weekend before the season starts in earnest.

               ANGLE ON THE WATERLINE

               A Man and his dog are romping at the water's edge. The Man 
               is throwing a stick out into the surf, the dog, a happy 
               retriever, is bounding into the waves after it.

               TWO YOUNG PEOPLE ON THE BEACH

               A Girl and her Boyfriend leave their blanket and run for the 
               water, playing tag, chasing each other, having a wonderful 
               time.

               ANGLE ON BIRTHDAY PARTY ON THE SAND - MARTIN AND ELLEN BRODY

               He is sitting stiffly in a beach chair, scanning the beach 
               with careful, cautious looks, eyeballing everything that's 
               going on.

               Around their particular blanket and umbrella are a number of 
               adults and their kids, the youngsters gathered to celebrate 
               Michael's birthday. Ellen is dishing out ice cream and cake 
               from a cooler chest to the raucous 10-year-olds. Michael's 
               hand is still bandaged.

                                     MAX TAFT
                              (an adult)
                         Looks like another big season. Gets 
                         worse every year.

                                     MRS. TAFT
                         And none of them from the Island. 
                         Just a lot of bother.

               Brody (and we) hear a shrill scream from the water. He 
               stretches to look past the group, to see what's happening 
               out there.

               BRODY'S POINT OF VIEW - THE WATER

               The young lady is disappearing under the water, pulled under 
               the waves by some force. She is shrieking. She pops right up 
               again riding the shoulders of her boyfriend, who pulled her 
               under. She's laughing hysterically. Brody is unamused.

               THE ADULTS

                                     BRODY
                              (to Taft)
                         What?

                                     TAFT
                         Present company excepted, but off-
                         islanders are a pain in the butt. 
                         Pardon my French.

               Ellen captures Sean, and holds him playfully, an example.

                                     ELLEN
                         What about this kid? What if he were 
                         born here. That make him an islander?

                                     TAFT
                         Just 'cause a cat has kittens in an 
                         oven, it don't make them muffins.

                                     SEAN
                         I'm not a muffin! I'm a boy!

               Brody rumples his hair and sets him off to play.

               ANGLE ON ANOTHER SMALL BOY, PLAYING ALONE

               It's Alex Kintner, and his mother, nearby, reading a novel.

               Alex is towing a funny rubber raft, and headed for the water.

                                     MRS. KINTNER
                         Alex! Alex Kintner! Where do you 
                         think you're going?

                                     ALEX
                         Water. Just once more, please?

                                     MRS. KINTNER
                         Let me see your fingers --

               He holds out his hands.

                                     MRS. KINTNER
                         They're beginning to prune. 10 minutes 
                         more.

               Alex starts for the ocean. Behind him, Michael and his gang 
               are also heading for the inviting waves. Brody is watching 
               them go, his spine rigid with tension.

               MAN AND HIS DOG

               As Alex and the boys hit the water, we see the man throwing 
               his stick into the waves, his dog swimming strongly after 
               it.

               BRODY'S POINT OF VIEW

               Out beyond the kids and the dog, the Fat Lady is bobbing 
               around, out way too far, isolated from the other swimmers.

               UNDERWATER VIEW - EXT. - DAY

               A fish's-eye view of the bathers: lots of little kicking 
               legs, rafts with tasty arms dangling in the blue, slowing 
               circling, favoring one raft (little Alex's). The Kintner 
               boy's legs and arms are kicking and paddling, producing 
               bizarre underwater vibrations of more than passing interest.  
               Dog goes by, dog-paddling along.

               ON THE BEACH

               Brody is half-rising, looking out over the water. The Fat 
               Lady is not where he remembered her. He scans the water 
               anxiously.

                                     ELLEN
                         Do you want the boys to come in? 
                         Honey, if you're worried...

               A Black Object swims across the water. It's the dog, breasting 
               against the surf.

               ANGLE ON THE WATER - BRODY'S POINT OF VIEW

               It's the Fat Lady, floating, relaxing. A black object swims 
               up to her. It's not the dog. It rears up out of the water.

               It's a man in a black bathing cap. They exchange distant 
               pleasantries, he strokes away.

               ANOTHER ANGLE - WATER

               Alex Kintner, paddling around, making boat sounds, tooting, 
               going "vroom, vroom."

               ANGLE ON THE BOY AND GIRL

               They kiss, embrace, kiss again. Strong stuff. They sink 
               beneath the waves, knotted in an embrace.

               ANGLE ON MICHAEL BRODY AND HIS FRIENDS

               He's trying to salvage a soggy piece of birthday cake, holding 
               it above the water, paddling with his other hand. The bandage 
               has come part way loose, and his cut is trailing in the water.

               BRODY AND ELLEN ON THE BEACH

               Ellen is rubbing suntan oil on his back, and he is allowing 
               himself to relax part way. His eyes still nervously scan the 
               beach in a constant surveillance. Mr. Keisel is coming out 
               of the water, toweling off vigorously, exclaiming to himself.

                                     BRODY
                              (to Keisel)
                         How's the water?

                                     KEISEL
                         Too cold. I'm going in again Labor 
                         Day. Hope we get this weather next 
                         weekend.

                                     ELLEN
                         You're very tight, y'know?
                              (digs in)
                         Right there.

                                     BRODY
                         Ow.
                              (he sees something)
                         He's gotta be more careful in the 
                         water...

               ANGLE ON THE GANG PLAYING IN THE WATER

               Michael has just been drenched. He splashes back. A big 
               waterfight ensues, the boys splashing and chopping at the 
               water, shouting battle cries and karate whoops. Alex is 
               paddling around near them, but not involved with them.

               ALONG THE WATERLINE ON THE BEACH

               The Man with the Dog is whistling into the ocean, looking 
               for his dog.

                                     DOG MAN
                         Buster! Hey, Buster! Here boy!
                              (whistles)
                         He continues to ad lib calling his 
                         dog, but there's no answer, no dog 
                         in the water.

               THE WATERFRONT

               A huge splash explodes in the water near the gang, an eruption 
               of foam and spray that stops everyone cold for a moment.  
               They stop to see who was responsible.

                                     A KID (MATHEW)
                         Hey, no fair splashing in the eyes!

               Before anyone can answer, another kid (P.J.) renews the 
               battle, whooping a karate cry, and slashing at the water 
               with his hand like a little kung-fu warrior, advancing through 
               the waves.

               CLOSE ON MATHEW, SPLASHING BACK

               He hits the water, which sprays up suspiciously pink. He 
               stares at it, surprised.

               CLOSE ON P.J.

               His hands are dripping deep pink, the red matting his hair, 
               running into his eyes. He looks down. The boys are surrounded 
               with a deep pink slick, their little bodies ringed by a 
               spreading stain of blood.

               ANGLE ON SHORE, A TOURIST AND HIS WIFE

               He's pointing frantically out to sea.

                                     TOURIST
                         Something in the water. Right there! 
                         Didn't anyone see it?

                                     WOMAN
                         There's blood in the water.

               ANGLE ON BRODY

               He leaps to his feet, nearly knocking Ellen over, and starts 
               for the water.

                                     ELLEN
                         What is it...?

               Brody is pelting towards the water. He kicks sand over an 
               annoyed Mrs. Kintner, who looks up, just in time to hear 
               Brody's bellow.

                                     BRODY
                         Michael! Sean! Out of the water. 
                         Everybody out of the water! Michael! 
                         Get out!

               His urgency communicates itself to the others. Ellen snatches 
               Sean up from where he's been playing in the sand. Other 
               parents are calling their kids, hysteria mounting. People 
               rush into the water, dragging their children and families 
               bodily out of the ocean. The first kids coming out of the 
               surf are frantically trying to wash the sticky blood off 
               their bodies. The sight of the red sends the beach into a 
               full panic.

               CLOSE ON BRODY

               He rushes into the water, up to his ankles, and suddenly 
               stops, unable to move into deeper water. He is urging Michael 
               out, holding his hands out to his son, who is slogging through 
               the surf towards his dad. He stands there immobilized by the 
               water, nervously helping people out of it onto the beach.

               ANGLE ON MICHAEL

               As he emerges from the water, Alex Kintner's raft washes in 
               behind him, ripped in half, the water pink, the foam spreading 
               the stain onto the sand as the wave breaks.

               ANGLE ON MRS. KINTNER

               Her voice rising into panic and hysteria with each unanswered 
               cry.

                                     MRS. KINTNER
                         Alex! Alex? Alex...!


- Bill

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: Death Machines

A year ago I returned from almost a month working on a film written and directed by my friend Paul Kyriazi called FORBIDDEN POWER that’s a typical kung fu-hot alien babe-BASIC INSTINCT-biker bar fight-love story-THEY LIVE! Like conspiracy of businessmen-chess match-yachting--devil doll-car chase-noir-computer programming-supernatural-actual train wreck-country western-workplace drama-nuclear missile launch codes-piano bar-rubber run before a date-shoot out-dead body disposal-action flick. You’ve probably seen a million of them. Yesterday I saw the finished film at a Festival in Las Vegas. Here’s a still from the film...



This is a low budget film, shot in Seattle in 3 weeks (was supposed to be 2) that I ended up “producer” on - which means any job that no one else wanted to do I got stuck doing. Paul promised short days, and I’d spend most of my time sitting in a chair doing continuity. Nothing strenuous. I arrived a few days early so that I could wander around Seattle (a city I passed through on my way to Vancouver a few years back to teach a class, but haven’t *really* been to since I was 5 years old and my parents went there on vacation). So I was put to work the minute I got off the plane building sets and moving heavy stuff for days that often went 17 hours and got *no* days off until the last week of the shoot when I got a day off an spent it doing that Seattle sight seeing... when I should have just stayed in bed and slept! It was a great adventure, working with old friends I’ve known since I was 18 years old and saw this movie...



My connection to this movie? It was directed by Paul Kyriazi, who got me into the biz when he gave me 2 weeks to write NINJA BUSTERS. Paul went to the same community college that I did, and took the same film class. I would constantly bump into him at the movies - which was strange when it was some cinema 30 miles away from home showing some obscure samurai film. DEATH MACHINES was made for drive ins, shot on 35mm and probably Panavision (scope) for not much money. I saw it at the "premiere" at the Pleasant Hill Motor Movies... which is now a shooping center. No champagne at this opening, but beer was smuggled in, along with some friends, in the trunk of the car.

Paul tells a funny story about the plane explosion - they bought the plane from a guy, blew it up, then sold him back what was left for parts. The truck that drives through the restaurant? A real closed restaurant waiting to be torn down - they did it for real. The building that explodes - also set for demolition. That's how they could do this for pocket change.

The money for this film came from Ron Marchini, who wanted to be the next Chuck Norris. He wasn't much of an actor, so I think they made his character a mute. Ron has gone on to have a low budget career in action films.

DEATH MACHINES has so many bad lines, my friends and I quote them... and most of these guys worked on the film! "Hey, there go the guys that cut off my arm!" The Dragon Lady's accent is so thick you want subtitles. "I have him compweeetwy under my contwow!"

NEW TRAILER:


But here's the thing - this movie was made local, played drive ins, and was (I think) #11 in the USA when it opened in July 1976. It was a successful summer movie. Most of that is due to the big scenes on a small budget - which was creativity instead of cash. One of the things I learned from Paul, that's even in my article in the current Script Magazine, is to come up with a handful of "How Did They Do That? shots" - like the plane taxiing, starting to take off, then exploding. Did they kill the pilot for that shot? Doing something unusual or seemingly impossible on screen adds production value, and may not cost you very much money (just creativity).

And if you can sell back what's left of the plane as parts...

And now the film has been rediscovered and there's a new trailer and a Collector's Edition BluRay complete with extras and commentary track and cast interviews and other cool stuff. Paul did an introduction at Toho Studios Samurai Village backlot set. For some reason Paul's work has been rediscovered and is now playing festivals.

deathmachines
Click box for Amazon info.

So now Paul is making this new film, FORBIDDEN POWER, to capitalize on all of these blue ray special editions of his films from the 70s and 80s that are coming out. What was once drive in cheese is now some sort of low budget classic. NINJA BUSTERS being rediscovered is what started all of this. So blame me...

A couple more pictures from the Seattle shoot...











- Bill

Friday, August 17, 2018

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Jamaica Inn (1939)

Screenplay by Sidney Gilliat and Joan Harrison based on the novel by Daphne DuMaurier.

JAMAICA INN was Hitchcock’s last film in England and his first of three films based on a Daphne DuMaurier story. His next film would also be from a DuMaurier novel - REBECCA - which would win the Oscar for Best Picture. In doing some research for this entry, I read an article that said REBECCA almost didn’t happen due to JAMAICA INN. It seems DuMaurier - kind of the J.K. Rowling of her time - had seen JAMAICA INN and *hated* it, and was making waves about Hitchcock directing REBECCA.

And she had good reason to hate this film - it took me several viewings to make it all of the way through. It’s a Gothic Melodrama - which probably ends up being the second most common type of Hitchcock movie after Man On The Run Thrillers. That seems odd when you think about it, but so many of Hitchcock’s films end up in that genre: from MARNIE (sort of) UNDER CAPRICORN to SUSPICION to REBECCA. This films are usually about innocent women who come under the spell of men with dark secrets and suspense and drama ensues. On the paperback aisle these books have covers that show a woman in a nightgown running away from a castle or mansion that has the silhouette of a stern looking man in the window. Though these stories can be filled with suspense and intrigue like REBECCA, they can also be over-the-top melodrama like UNDER CAPRICORN. JAMAICA INN fits somewhere between the two, and the film’s major flaw seems not so much Hitchcock’s direction or even the subject matter... but the star.




Nutshell: In 1800 England, young Mary (a hot 18 year old Maureen O’Hara in her very first role) is an orphan sent to live with her Aunt Patience and Uncle Joss in a costal village in Cornwall, where Uncle owns a scummy tavern called Jamaica Inn. This place is so rough the stage coach won’t even stop *near* there and dumps Mary and her baggage in front of the Governor’s Mansion. Governor Sir Humphrey (Charles Laughton) offers to escort Mary to Jamaica Inn - a place so dangerous Sir Humphrey’s groom tries to talk him out of it. They ride to the Inn, and Sir Humphrey gets the hell out of there. Mary meets her Uncle (Leslie Banks) and Aunt (Marie Ney) and is shown to her room. Downstairs in the bar, a criminal gang - lead by her Uncle - are arguing over the loot from a bit of piracy. Seems these fellows have an inside man who tells them when ships are passing the rugged coast, and they cover the lighthouse light so that the ships crash into the shore, then steal the cargo and Uncle Joss takes it to his fence. Mary discovers all of this, saves a gang member Trehearne (Robert Newton) from death, Trehearne kidnaps her, she goes to Sir Humphrey for help, and gets kidnaped a couple more times before the film is over. Along the way, she meets a nice guy and some romance blossoms... the end.

We’ll look at the plot details in a few minutes.

Experiment: This is a case of “Be careful what you wish for”. Hitchcock had worked his way up from drawing title cards to directing films, and had managed to direct a string of hits that sold tickets not only in England, but in the world. His 39 STEPS and LADY VANISHES were massive international successes... but both were genre films and looked down upon by some critics. Hitch wasn’t working with top tier stars, he was often working with B level actors in the U.K. Hey, everyone knows who Nova Pilbeam is, right? She’s the *star* of YOUNG AND INNOCENT, the film he made just between LADY VANISHES and SABOTAGE. As soon as someone like Robert Donat became a star, he quit doing genre films (and moved to the America to do dramas like GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS). Hitchcock’s films were successes despite not having big name stars in the leads.

But just as LADY VANISHES resulted in a contract from GONE WITH THE WIND producer David O. Selznick and a ticket to America, it also attracted the attention of Oscar winning movie star Charles Laughton. Finally - a movie star who wanted to work with Hitchcock! Laughton was born in England, had become a star there, and then moved to America where the real money was. In America he was the star of prestige films like MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY and LES MISERABLES. Having him in a Hitchcock film guaranteed both box office and critical success - and a chance for Hitchcock to be seen as more than just a genre filmmaker.

But everything has a price, and Laughton was the 300 lb gorilla - instead of JAMAICA INN being a Hitchcock movie, it ended up a Charles Laughton movie... and instead of the story being about an innocent girl sent to live in a den of scum and villainy... it became the story of Sir Humphrey the Governor of the district and his descent into madness (and over acting). I’m sure the reason why DuMaurier hated the film was that it was no longer about the lead character, but about a side character from her book who had now taken center stage. But let’s face it - the lead character of Mary was played by an actress who had never done a film before, and Sir Humphrey was played by an Oscar winner. Who do you think should get more screen time?



In the Hitchcock/Truffaut Book, Hitch has little good to say about Laughton, telling a story about how Laughton refused to be shot from the waist down until he figured out how his character would walk. Other weird elements are Laughton’s *eye brows* which have been shaved and replaced by crazy melodramatic eyebrows about halfway up his forehead. But the biggest problem are all of the endless scenes that feature Laughton but have little to do with the story - there is an additional writer credited and I wonder if Laughton brought in his own pet scribe to beef up his role. The character is supposed to be the villain (oops, spoiler!) but there are a bunch of scenes that show him descending into madness - which allow Laughton to chew through a whole studio full of scenery - so that by the end, instead of being the bad guy... he has a big end scene where we are supposed to feel sorry for him because he’s crazy. Even Mary, who he has tried to kill several times in the story, yells that the police should leave him alone because he doesn’t know what he is doing. They try to make the villain into the victim - and that manages to undermine the whole damned film! But it’s easy to image the Oscar winner Laughton insisting on the rewrite that turns him from bad guy into poor victim... even if it kills the film. Though I am no fan of the auteur theory and believe the *producer* should be in charge (though, maybe not if that producer is Selznick), I think actors are the last people who should be in charge. Most of them are vain and more interested in how many lines they have in the script than what the script is about. And this is a case where that prestigious star who could have turned a Hitchcock film into something critics may have respected ended up killing the film. It’s a great (over) acting showcase for Charles Laughton, but not a great movie. Watchable (it’s not drek like UNDER CAPRICORN) but coming between LADY VANISHES and REBECCA it’s kind of a disappointment. Hitchcock did not leave England on a bang, but on a whimper.

Hitch Appearance: I’ve seen the film several times now, and can not tell you where he is... but he claims he is in there!

Bird Appearance: Seagulls flying over the crashed ship as it is being looted at the beginning, also the woman with the duck on the stage coach.

Hitchcock Stock Company: Basil Radford from LADY VANISHES is one of Laughton’s cronies. Leslie Banks (Joss) was the husband in the original MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (freakin’ great actor... he was also Zaroff in THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME). One of the other cronies, George Curzon, is also in MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and YOUNG AND INNOCENT.

Screenwriting Lessons: Even though this is not a great film, it *does* provide some great lessons. Part of the film’s problem is that it gets so much right that when it goes wrong it ruins everything - like a cigarette put out in a fried egg in a big British breakfast. The film has a great “experiment” in using “bumpers” between scenes, is a model of how to start a screenplay (first ten pages), shows us how to individualize supporting characters, and is a good example of the basic three act structure... and has some nice little suspense scenes.

Opening Scenes: Edgar Allan Poe said, "If the writer's initial sentence isn't effective, then he has failed in his first step," and the same is true with the opening scene of your screenplay. You want your script to hit the ground running and pull the reader, and later the viewer, into the story. JAMAICA INN has a great opening scene. And a great first image...



After the opening credit roll and a brief legend telling us about the treacherous coast of Cornwall, a wave crashes and *washes away the words*. Though this is direction rather than screenwriting, something like this might actually be in the screenplay. After you write the legend (similar to the one that begins STAR WARS) you could write that a wave crashes against the letters and washes them away. That would help illustrate that this is a savage place of action rather than words.

You want your opening pages to set the tone and mood and establish the world of your story in a way that is exciting and involving for the reader (and later viewer). My first experience at the American Film Market was at a screening where all of the buyers in the audience left after the first ten minutes... and every other film I saw at AFM had buyers splitting at about the ten minute mark. By that point they knew if they were going to buy the film (and it would be seen) or not buy it (and it would never hit a screen or video player or TV station). That was decided by the first ten minutes of the film. So if your script takes a while to get started, find a way to get the ball rolling earlier. Often the problem is just starting the story too soon - before anything happens. Start when the story starts.



JAMAICA INN goes from that crashing surf to the Inn itself - a strange German expressionistic building - at night, as a man scurries down the stairs, mounts a horse and rides to the beacon on the coast. The ride is done with a series of quick wipes, like in STAR WARS. Hey, transitions are not our job as screenwriters, but this gives you an idea of how *little* time was spent on the page for his ride. It’s not about riding to the beacon, it’s about what happens next...

Off the coast is a ship, using the beacon to navigate around the treacherous rocks on the coast. There is a great combination of models and real shots here - we see a model ship pitching in the rough waters, and cut to a real ship set where the captain and crew struggle to keep the ship on course. This looks real - it’s difficult at first to tell that models were used. Hitchcock has great model work in his films, and we’ll talk more about that in the YOUNG AND INNOCENT entry. But what the model and real life set combination does here is create some amazing spectacle in the first minute or two of the film. This is not some little story set in a house, this is a huge event!

The rider looks away from the ship, and takes a black cloth and completely covers the beacon! Now there is no way for the ship to navigate around the rocky coast! This is a great moment because it’s not at all what you would expect, and that *intrigues* us. On the page that’s a WTF? moment where you *must* read on to find out why someone would do such a thing. The most important thing to do in your first ten pages is *involve* the reader - all of the car chases and actions scenes and spectacle stuff in the world is meaningless if the reader isn’t pulled into the story. You want them to need to know what happens next.



Back on the ship, they have lost sight of the beacon and believe they are heading *away* from the rocky coast... Then the ship hits the rocks along the coast again and again - smashing and crashing! The mast breaks and comes down! The ship rolls to its side and crashes into the rocky shore. This is *huge* spectacle, and is impressive even today. Again, that combo of model and real ship with real actors allows Hitchcock to show the whole ship slam into the rocks and turn on its side... then cut to *real people* on a *real ship’s deck* (a set) react. Water washes over the damaged ship, and the crew jumps into the water and swims to shore. We are still wondering why that rider would black out the beacon, when...

The crew members make it to shore... and are attacked by armed men. WTF? Now we *really* want to know what is going on. The leader yells for the armed men to make sure there are no survivors. Soon the sea is filled with the floating bodies of dead sailors. Okay - why run a ship into the rocks just to kill the crew? Then we get the answer when the leader, Joss, yells at his gang to get the cargo before the ship is destroyed, and the armed men jump onto the ship and start passing down the cargo, which ends up on a horse drawn wagon. As they are ready to leave, a ship crew member staggers out of the water and Joss has one of his men murder him.

Usually a script will begin with either the protagonist or the antagonist, or the physical conflict. In this case we begin with the antagonist, Joss and his gang of thieves - pirates without a ship.

From here we cut to our protagonist, young Mary, on a stage coach rambling through the darkness of the countryside. She tells the people across from her - a man and a woman with a duck - that she is headed to Jamaica Inn and asks if they know of it. Both are evasive... This shows us that she is a stranger in these parts and naive. Each line of dialogue or action in this scene serves a purpose - it is all establishing her character, but also giving us information about Jamaica Inn. A two-fer! When the coach gets close to Jamaica Inn it *increases speed* and passes the point where Mary should have been dropped off! She yells at the driver that she wanted to get off there - and this shows that she is not a weak woman. She stands up for herself. Even if she is not worldly, she is also not a wimp. The coach stops in front of the Governor’s Mansion and they throw her trunk down and then roar away, leaving her in the darkness.

Creepy Dudes: Part of the Gothic Melodrama genre is the innocent girl in a world of creepy dudes. Mary is an orphan - her father is dead - and she is given two father figures in the story: Sir Humphrey and her Uncle Joss.



When Sir Humphrey is called away from dinner with his cronies by his butler because there is a young woman at the door, he waddles in to meet Mary... and goes into perv mode. He does everything he can to charm and flatter her, and asks for her to remove her coat so that he can get a good look at her. Um, total perv moment. When Mary says she is on her way to Jamaica Inn, he offers to put her up in his mansion. More prevy stuff. She doesn’t seem to notice - not worldly in the ways of men at all. Sir Humphrey insists on going with her to Jamaica Inn. When they arrive, he carefully lowers her trunk and then rides off... leaving her in the darkness in front of the spooky looking building.

She knocks on the door and it’s yanked open by Joss. Now, at this time we only know Joss as the leader of the gang that killed all of the sailors. Since he’s not dressed well, she believes him to be a servant or doorman and orders him to get her Aunt or her Uncle - the owner of the Inn. She has no idea how dangerous this man is. No idea that he is a cold blooded killer. This is a *good* example of audience superiority suspense - we fear for Mary because we know this guy is a killer and she just thinks that he’s a doorman or something, and is ordering him around. Then we get a good twist - he’s not a doorman, he is her Uncle Joss. Her Uncle is the leader of the gang of killers!



Now Uncle Joss shows what a great guy he is by trying to give her a big old incestuous mouth kiss... but Aunt Patience comes downstairs and Joss quickly moves away from Mary and puts his arm around his wife, trying to look innocent and failing miserably. Joss then orders his wife to grab the girl’s trunk or he’ll punch her... see what a nice guy he is! Once Patience is guiding Mary up to her room, Joss goes into the tavern where the gang waits...

Talk about creepy guys! The gang has seen Mary and are discussing who gets to rape her first. They are fighting about their place in the gangbang line when Joss enters the room and tells them to knock it off. The second in command, Harry, always trying to turn the others against Joss; asks why he wants her all to himself when there’s enough for everyone. After a bit more discussion Joss explains that she’s his niece... and one of the gang asks why he didn’t say that in the first place. It’s obvious that Mary is not safe here... there isn’t a single nice guy for miles!



The other pervs in the room are Alfred Hitchcock and *us*. Nudity and the hint of nudity have been part of cinema since the very beginning - and JAMAICA INN has the beautiful 18 year old Maureen O’Hara and isn’t above a bit of titillation. In a scene were Mary must escape the villainous gang she is forced to strip down to her slip and dive into the ocean... and later we get a wet slip clinging to her curves when she comes out of the water. This scene is completely innocent by today’s standards, but I’m sure back in 1939 it was completely pervy.



Bumpers: One of the interesting things done in the film (and probably the screenplay) is the use of a “bumper” between scenes instead of a fade out and fade back in. When we come to the end of a “chapter” instead of a traditional fade out we get a shot of the wooden sign for the Inn blowing in the wind. This is not only a unique way to marry scenes that may not connect to each other, it keeps the story moving forward. Every FADE OUT basically kills the pacing - putting on the brakes and bringing the film to a complete stop for a moment. By using the sign as a “bumper” we do not stop the story at all, we just move to the sign for a moment between chapters and then get back to the story. Because it is *always* the Jamaica Inn sign, we understand that it is an “end chapter” device and not just some random shot of the sign. If you do something like this, find a “bumper” that you can use throughout the screenplay.

Three Act Structure: Though the first screenwriting book was written in 1913 (and my Vintage Screenwriting #1 is from 1920), many folks think the three act structure is some fiendish device invented by Syd Field to sell books and shackle creativity. But the Three Act Structure predates movies by many years, being over 2,400 years old and the observation of that Aristotle dude. It’s kind of a story basic - a tool used to make sure you actually have a story. You can use the tool consciously or subconsciously - as long as in the end your story works. Let’s hear what 6 time Oscar winning screenwriter Billy Wilder (who made his last film years before Syd Field’s book came out) has to say about the three act structure...

Act 1: Introduce the conflict - get the cat up a tree.
Act 2: Escalate the conflict - throw rocks at the cat.
Act 3: Resolve the conflict - get the cat down from the tree.

It’s just that simple. No page numbers, no crazy rules. You have a person with a problem., the problem gets worse, the person solves the problem (or in a tragedy - the problem solves the person... Hamlet dies). Basic stuff.

JAMAICA INN was made when Syd Field was still a teenager, so he obviously had nothing to do with its three act structure, it’s most likely that Aristotle dude again. Whether the writers consciously used the three act structure or just wrote the screenplays and it ends up there subconsciously doesn’t really matter. It’s there, plain as day.

Act One has Mary coming to Jamaica Inn, surrounded by danger. No shortage of creepy guys who want to rape and murder her (in whatever order works) and because the Inn is in a remote area there is no place to run. Though she is not *locked in to the conflict* yet, she is surrounded by it. The conflict has been there from the very first scene.

When the gang in the tavern begins rumbling about not getting much from their haul, Trehearne (Robert Newton - who will also play a pirate later in his career) suggests that maybe the fence isn’t giving them good value. Maybe someone isn’t good at math. This forces Joss to defend his secret boss, and we see just how volatile this group is - several members think *they* should be running it, not Joss... especially second in command Harry (Emlyn Williams) who whistles his contempt for Joss.



But Joss shows why he is the leader in a scene that shows a clever way to introduce each of the gang members. He asks each how long they have been looting with him, and each has a unique way of answering. “Salvation”, the religious member of the gang, “We’ve been lost souls together for two years and seven months.” Dandy, the tattooed member, remembers the woman he was sleeping with, finds the heart tattoo with her name on his chest (filled with heart tattoos with women’s names) and answers “Four years.” Each member has a character related way of answering the question, so we not only get all of the information, but we learn who each character is. Finally it comes to Trehearne, and Joss answers for him: “Mr. Trehearne has been with us the *enormous* time of two months. Eight weeks. Fifty-six days. How’s that for arithmetic?”

The gang focuses on the new guy Trehearne, grabs him, searches his pockets, and finds some coins - proving that he is the thief among thieves. They decide to hang him right there in the tavern!



Mary’s room is above the tavern, and she has heard all of this - now she knows just how much danger she is in. Through a gap in the boards she watches as they grab a rope, make a noose, slip it around Trehearne’s neck... and hang him! One of the basic elements in a thriller is characters who spy on others, whether it’s Jimmy Stewart looking through binoculars in REAR WINDOW or Kyle MacLachlan looking through the slatted closet door in BLUE VELVET. Mary can’t just watch a man die, so she grabs the knife from her dinner plate (when they introduced the knife, you just thought it was for the meal) and pries off a board and cuts the rope - saving Trehearne’s life. But also ending Act One, because now the gang is after *her* as well as Trehearne! This is at the 30 minute point in the film.



Act Two has Mary escaping as the gang scrambles to find her. Outside the Inn (in the darkness) she tries to find a place to hide... can’t... and can hear the gang getting closer. When an arm descends from the roof, grabs her, and hauls her up... just as the gang storms out of the Inn. Trehearne has saved her life (just as she saved his) and they are on the run together. She has gone from being someone on the fringe of danger to the target for danger - and that’s why we are in Act Two. Now Mary is *locked into the conflict*. There are a handful of nice little suspense scenes were Mary and Trehearne must be quiet on the roof while the gang is right below them, one where they hide behind a boulder with the gang on the other side, and then Mary wakes up in a sea cave with Trehearne’s arm around her. Creepy dude alert! She tries to escape, finds a boat tethered outside the cave and unties it... when Trehearne pops up behind her. He drags her back into the cave, tells her she isn’t safe out there... but she thinks she isn’t safe in here with him and goes back out to the boat... which has now floated away. And on the cliffs above, one of the gang members sees the boat and yells for the others!



This is where we get the strip-to-your-slip scene so they can swim away (hiding behind a rock while gang members row past in a boat). Act Two is filled with conflict-conflict-conflict. They go to the Sir Humphrey for help (running from one father figure into the arms of another... and Humphrey is really creepy when she shows up in just a wet slip). And Trehearne and Sir Humphrey go back to Jamaica Inn to capture the gang... but end up captured themselves and tied to chairs where they await their deaths! Mary ends up captured by Joss, who takes her away to loot another ship. This brings us to Act Three, and it’s 100 minutes into the film.

Act Three has Mary grow a pair. She has been running for most of Act Two and now she is going to turn and fight. We get a replay of the opening scene - a gang member blacks out the beacon while the rest wait on the shore to kill the sailors and loot the ship. But this time, Mary is in the wagon. While the gang gets their weapons ready, Mary escapes and races up the cliff, fights the gang member at the beacon and *throws him off a cliff!* Then pulls off the cover so that the ship can see the beacon and steer away.



At the same time, Trehearne escapes and goes to the authorities about the gang. The gang is arrested, but the mastermind has escaped... and Trehearne and Mary team up to go after him... (even though Mary *does* managed to get kidnaped one more time - she is the most kidnaped person in the world!) This leads them to a ship in the harbor that the mastermind plans to escape on. From a production standpoint this is great, because I’m sure it is the exact same ship set they used in the opening scene. They corner the mastermind and we get a conclusion that resolves the problem. Act Three is all about resolving the conflict - and Mary becomes a kick ass heroine instead of the innocent woman surrounded by creepy guys. She and Trehearne are a couple... the end.

See how that works? Introduce the conflict. Escalate the conflict. Resolve the conflict. No page numbers, no formula, just kind of the basic way a story works.

Early Reveals: One of the issues with the film that can probably be traced back to Laughton is the early reveal that he is the villain. Instead of a twist later in the story, the reveal happens at the 23:30 minute mark. It’s a great scene where Uncle Joss goes upstairs to talk to his fence/boss and we do not see the mastermind’s face for a moment... just a roll of fine silk that is being pulled out by someone off screen... who asks for a pair of scissors so that he can cut off his share. That is obviously Laughton’s voice, and he is then revealed. Though this allows Laughton more screen time in Act Two (because we know he is the villain) it also wastes a twist at the end of Act Two when Laughton is revealed to Mary and Trehearne and everyone else as the villain. Though this may create some suspense from “audience superiority” when Mary and Trehearne go to Laughton for help, that is only a couple of scenes before his reveal, which means there isn’t much room for any suspense generated by the “audience superiority” to work. Instead, it kind of makes Mary and Trehearne look stupid.



Hitchcock does the same thing in VERTIGO when he reveals that Judy is actually Madeline - and that is controversial. People (including me) think by revealing the information instead of holding it for a twist, instead of creating impact on the audience it just makes us feel quesy and weird that Jimmy Stewart is making Judy over into Madeline. It’s off-putting. And I think that’s what happens in JAMAICA INN as well - instead of a great twist (which was probably in the novel) we get an entire Act Two where Charles Laughton gets to over-act and we think our leads are morons. When you reveal the information is an artistic choice, and there are times when an early reveal might intensify the suspense... but here it doesn’t serve much purpose at all. You have to weigh the decision and figure out whether your story is better served by and early reveal (and suspense) or a later reveal (and a twist).

Compare this to the later reveal that Trehearne is a policeman - something that really works. For most of Act Two Mary believes that Trehearne is a *criminal* and that she is in danger every moment that she is with him. Though he rescues her (and she rescued him), and protects her from the other cut-throats, he is still *one of them* and she doesn’t believe that she is safe. She spends much of Act Two trying to escape him, and it is only close to the *end* of Act Two when they go to Sir Humphrey’s mansion for help that he reveals himself to be an undercover police officer. At that point she believes that she is safe - and that would be a fine time to have revealed that Sir Humphrey is the villain. But throughout most of Act Two Mary is threatened both by Uncle Joss’s gang *and* by Trehearne who has kidnaped her. She is caught between a rock and a hard place. If Trehearne had been revealed as an undercover cop at the beginning of Act Two, it would have removed the conflict from them being together. She would have been between a rock and a comfy chair. Um, I pick the comfy chair.

Sound Track: Nice big adventurous score by Eric Fenby that fits the scope of the film.

JAMAICA INN isn’t a bad film, but Charles Laughton’s character and performance overshadow everything else making it a movie about a Governor going crazy instead of a movie about an innocent young woman in a world full of criminal cut throats. Laughton just knocks the whole thing out of balance, and you can’t stop looking at those crazy obviously fake eyebrows and wonder what the hell he was thinking. Laughton would later direct his own thriller, one of the best films ever made. But that’s for some other blog called One Friday With Laughton.

- Bill

The other Fridays With Hitchcock.


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