Friday, September 28, 2018

HITCH 20: BACK FOR CHRISTMAS (s1e4)

There's a great new documentary video series focusing on the 20 TV episodes that Hitchcock directed called HITCH 20. This episode is BACK FOR CHRISTMAS which stars Hitchcock regular John Williams (TO CATCH A THIEF) as a henpecked husband who finds a permanent solution to his marital problems. In my Thriller class, I talk about the importance of comedy in a thriller to balance the story and make the thrills even more thrilling (peaks and valleys), and this episode has a great light comedy tone which heightens the suspense. Hitch called PSYCHO a comedy... and this episode is as funny as a steel pipe to the side of the head!



There is one more episode of HITCH 20 in this season, which I'll post next Friday.



Of course, I have my own books focusing on Hitchcock...

Bill

- Bill

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:
(links actually work now)

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And....



HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






HITCHCOCK'S MOST DARING EXPERIMENTS!



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: Choose A Victim

CHOOSE A VICTIM

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



Season: 1, Episode: 19.
Airdate: January 24, 1961


Director: Richard Carlson
Writer: George Bellak
Cast: Larry Blyden, Susan Oliver, Vaughn Taylor, Billy Barty, Tracey Roberts.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Producer: Maxwell Shane




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “What the young man is touching is the rotor of her beautiful expensive sports car, without which it will never start. The first gambit by Ralphie Teal, who feels that the world is his oyster. Whose tastes are becoming very expensive. And who knows, if the only way he can satisfy those tastes is for him to Choose A Victim, the title of tonight’s story. Our leading players are Mr. Larry Blyden, Miss Susan Oliver, Mr. Vaughn Taylor, and Miss Tracy Roberts. And as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, you’ll find it puzzling to choose the victim of tonight’s macabre events. You may find yourself grossly mislead, possibly surprised, but we do hope that you enjoy this thriller.”

Synopsis: Past his pull date beach bum Ralphie Teal (Larry Blyden) imagines himself a player... he may hang out with his main squeeze Fay (Tracey Roberts) who works at the beach’s boardwalk arcade, but he’s always scanning the girls on the beach for fresh talent. When Edith Landers (Susan Oliver) pulls up in a sports car and steps out in a bathing suit, Ralphie comes up with a scheme. He pulls the rotor cap from the sports car and waits for Edith to return. When he car doesn’t start, he has her pop the hood... tells her the engine is flooded and she’ll have to wait a half hour before trying to start it again, and he knows a great little coffee shop around the corner. During that half hour he hits on her *hard*, trying to create an instant relationship with this wealthy young woman. Oh, she has jewelry in her purse which catches Ralphie’s eyes. He waits to make sure his car starts right up (he’s replaced the rotor cap) and comes up with a plan for their next meeting.



The next day she drives up to the beach again, and Ralphie goes down to the sand to flirt with her. He invites her back to his little beachfront apartment for coffee... and she says yes. Somewhere in here Fay knocks at the door and Ralphie gets rid of her, but Fay starts to become supicious and jealous. Edith tells Ralphie that her parents died and left her a fortune, but her mean Uncle is the executor and has her on an allowance and is always after her to settle down and get married to someone in her social strata. She’ll never have any fun as long as her Uncle is around. When she leaves, Ralphie asks if he can hitch a ride, because his car is being repaired near where she lives (this makes absolutely no sense, but she agrees).

At the mansion where she lives, Ralphie gets out and insists on walking to the car repair place (which probably doesn’t exist). When she goes inside the house, Ralphie takes note of the address and security measures.

Edith’s mean Uncle (Vaughn Taylor) gives her a lecture when she comes inside. He is kind of a pain in the butt...

Fay wants to go out with Ralphie, but he says he’s got something to do... Dressed in all black, wearing black gloves, he slides a big glittering knife into his pocket.

That night, while Edith sleeps, Ralphie breaks into her bedroom looking for all of those jewels in her purse: a diamond bracelet and necklace. She wakes up! Ralphie puts his hand over her mouth and his big glittering knife to her throat. When the wind blows the closet door shut, mean Uncle asks if Edith is okay, and she says she’s fine... and *doesn’t* tell him that Ralphie is in her room. She even lets Ralphie leave (without jewelry) and tells him to meet her tomorrow under the boardwalk.



The next day, Edith tells Ralphie that they must not be seen together because her mean Uncle will get mad... and Ralphie agrees, since he doesn’t want Fay to find out he’s cheating on her. Edith gives Ralphie a very expensive cigarette lighter and some other gifts, and begins planting the idea that they could be together in her mansion if only mean Uncle would drop dead. It takes a while for Ralphie to catch on, and suggest that maybe they should *help* her Uncle drop dead somehow.

Ralphie comes up with a plan. Uncle often drives on a winding cliffside road into town to drink at a luxurious bar... and drives back over that dangerous road when drunk. They can stop him at a particularly dangerous curve, Ralphie will tell him his car has broken down, and while Uncle is distracted, Edith can ram his car over the cliff with Ralphie’s car. When Uncle leaves the house, she’s to call the payphone at the arcade and let it ring 2 times then hang up. No completed call means it can’t be traced by the police later on. But Ralphie will hear it, come and pick up Edith, and they will wait on that dangerous curve for Uncle to return drunk...

Fay wants to go out with Ralphie when the phone rings, and he has to stop the Arcade Boss (Billy Barty) from answering. Two rings, then nothing. Ralphie says he’s busy and splits.



Ralphie and Edith wait in the dark car until Uncle’s car drives up, and Ralphie gets out and stops it. He has to keep talking to Uncle while Edith puts the car in gear and rams Uncle’s car... be she never does. Uncle drives off and Ralphie blows up at Edith. She says she just couldn’t do it. Ralphie realizes he’ll have to do it himself, and it’s probably best for Edith to be somewhere public getting an alibi.

There’s a bit of suspense that doesn’t work, when after Edith calls the arcade phone booth and lets it ring twice, Uncle ends up loaning his car to a friend and she must stop Ralphie for killing the wrong man, but eventually it’s Ralphie and Mean Uncle on that dangerous curve, and Mean Uncle goes over the cliff (where his car, like a good movie or TV car, explodes for no apparent reason on its way down). Mean Uncle is dead and Ralphie and Edith can live happily ever after in her mansion.

When Ralphie gets back to his apartment, he find Edith waiting there for him! She was supposed to be somewhere establishing an alibi! But she says she was worried and wanted to make sure it went well. There’s some kissing, and then Edith leaves so that she’ll be home when the police come to tell her about the terrible accident. But when Edit leaves, she forgets one of her gloves.

Next morning, Ralphie is awoken by pounding on his door: the police! Detective Hazlett (Guy Mitchell) says they need to take him downtown for questioning.



Detective Hazlett and others interrogate him, they *know* he killed mean Unlce. But how? They search him and find: Mean Uncle’s cigarette lighter and wallet! Ralphie claims the lighter is his, a gift! Has no idea where the wallet came from. Then call in Edith and she I.D.s him as the creep who kept hitting on her at the beach and might have followed her home once. Ralphie keeps insisting that they have a relationship, but Edith asks the police why a woman like her would ever date a beach bum like him. Makes no sense at all. The police believe her, and she walks out... leaving Ralphie in line for the electric chair while she no longer has a mean Uncle.

On the street in front of the Police Station she goes to put on her gloves... and can only find one! She left the other at Ralphie’s apartment! When she goes to break in and retrieve it, she spots *Fay* breaking into Ralphie’s apartment, looking for evidence of his cheating... and Fay find the glove! Edith follows Fay, waiting for a chance to steal the glove back. Fay goes to work, where the Arcade Manager tells her that Ralphie was arrested for murder. Fay can’t believe this. Ralphie is a cheater and a thief, but not a killer! When Fay sets the glove down on the counter and goes to the back of the arcade, Edith moves quickly to snatch up the glove... But Detective Hazlett gets there first. He smelled Edith’s expensive perfume on Ralphie’s clothes, and wondered if maybe Ralphie was telling the truth about Edith being in on the murder. They slap the cuffs on Edith and haul her away.



Review: This is the kind of story you would find on ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, and has some great twists and nice possibilities for suspense... but it just doesn’t deliver. The suspense scenes don’t seem to work, even though you can clearly see that they were written to work. The director, Richard Carlson, was an actor who had directed some TV episodes by this time, but seems not to have the skill set to shoot a suspense scene. On a show like HITCHCOCK every episode was suspense based, so they hired directors who could do that, and if you were a director hired for the show you know that’s what they needed from you. THRILLER was so erratic that a director may have been originally considered for one of the more dramatic episodes and then end up doing a horror episode or a suspense episode. The scene where Ralphie breaks in to Edith’s bedroom has her asleep in the background, which is a suspense situation... but it comes off flat and kind of boring. It’s Ralphie looking for the bracelet and necklace with no real possibility of being caught... even though you can see that possibility is how the writer intended the scene to work. Every scene that seems to be written for suspense comes off kind of dull. When Ralphie has to keep talking to mean Uncle as he waits for Edith to ram the car is just a talk scene... when it was obviously written to be nail biting suspense as he must keep talking and talking. So the episode is bland.

Also, Larry Blyden seems miscast. I don’t know his career, but he seems more light a light comedy guy... that funny next door neighbor in a sitcom... than a sleazy beach bum / thief. Though both women are attractive, this is James M. Cain territory and Edith seems particularly non sexy for a femme fatale. I have no idea whether that was a censorship issue or more bland direction, but for a hot woman in a bathing suit she comes off cold in scene after scene. The actress Susan Oliver had a career playing vamps, so it’s not like she didn’t know how to do that... it was someone else’s choice.

Again, because this is a Pete Rugolo score, I wonder if this wasn’t an earlier episode held until later to make room for good ones like HUNGRY GLASS?

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Flashback: The Instant Pitch

A rerun from 2007...

Screenwriters have to be able to think on their feet. You never know when an opportunity will present itself, or where an idea night be hiding, or when a chance to sell a script might pop up. A novelist has the luxury of time, a screenwriter has to come up with the solution to a story problem in a meeting with the producer right after he points out the problem. One of the things I've learned is that the longer a problem goes without the writer solving it, the more likely someone else will jump in with a solution that just doesn't work... but it's now your job to make it work...

After selling the script that got me to Los Angeles, I made the mistake of locking myself in a Van Nuys apartment for two years writing scripts and NOT networking until my money from the sale was almost gone. I thought that my sale to a company on the Paramount lot would result in my phone ringing off the hook from other producers - didn't happen. Though my sale was announced on the front page of The Hollywood Reporter, the film was never made and the producer went back to TV... leaving me without even the connection that got me to town in the first place! Now I had a mound of scripts and didn't know anybody to sell them to. But I did know about the American Film Market - where independent films are sold to independent distributors. Though the AFM wasn't open to the public, I had connections with my hometown newspaper and managed to get a press pass into the event. I now had nine days to meet a producer and sell a script, or I would have to begin looking for a day job.

Though I have nothing against day jobs, and there's no reason to be embarrassed if you're paying the bills while waiting for your screen writing career to kick in, I'd rather sell a script than do heavy manual labor. So I was REALLY motivated.


I passed out business cards and script synopsis to everyone who seemed likely to buy a script from me. I met a director who was cranking out films for Roger Corman and had a new horror movie premiering at the end of the market, did I want to see it? Sure! Though I didn't know anything about this director, I did know about Roger Corman. He's responsible for giving half of Hollywood their start. Francis Ford Coppola make DEMENTIA 13 for Corman, Jonathan Demme's first film was for Corman, Scorsese made a film for Corman, Ron Howard directed car crash films for Corman, John Millius wrote some biker films for Corman, Jack Nicholson wrote and starred in a bunch of Corman films, and one of my screen writing idols, John Sayles, began his screen writing career with a string of great scripts for Roger Corman films. Corman gives raw talent a way to break into the business - like a film internship. The only drawback - he doesn't pay much (but it's better than working at Kinkos copies or McDonalds). This director had a particularly colorful Corman story - he'd began as a janitor at the company and worked his way up to director. I wondered what kind of movie a janitor might make.

After making some more good connections - even passing out some scripts - the end of the week rolled around, and the screening of the janitor-director's film. I bumped into the director and I got to tell him about my scripts on the way to the screening. He asked to read one - but told me most of the films he did for Corman were shot on existing sets. He was sort of the B Team - after the A Team had finished a film, he would shoot on their sets. Interesting.

We get into the theater and I see what kind of film a janitor makes... It had a funny script that poked fun at the horror genre, but the direction was crude.

Afterwards the director asked what I'd thought... more thinking on my feet! I told him I thought it was funny and mentioned a couple of the places where the direction was okay. I lied a little.

A couple of months later I got a call from the director. The A Team would wrap shooting a film tonight, could I show up at 6am, tour the set, then pitch him the best story I could come up with using that set at 7am? Sure! Why so early? Well, there was still a day left on the construction crew's contract, and if the set couldn't be reused they'd have them use that day to tear it down. Corman loved to save money by getting every last minute of labor out of his crew. I told him I'd tour the set at 6am and see him at 7am.

I'm not a morning guy. The last time I saw 6am was when I stayed up all night. The big challenge was going to be waking up and staying awake.

The next morning I drive out to "The Lumberyard", Roger Corman's studio in Venice. Venice is a beach community with a row of trendy shops and restaurants... and a really ugly industrial section where the city's bus repair yard and a couple of junk yards compete with overgrown vacant lots of "City's Greatest Eyesore" prize. The Lumberyard is a couple of old warehouse-style buildings surrounded by mounds of old sets and props. Parts of plywood rocket ships and sections of fake castle walls and parts from a plastic mini-sub mock-up. It looked like the junkyard at the end of time. I parked in the lot and the head of the construction crew opened the door for me and pointed out the sets: about five rooms.

You've probably never seen a set in natural light. They look fake. I once toured the STAR TREK set on the Paramount lot, and it looks like it's made out of plywood and Styrofoam (it is). When we shot GRID RUNNERS, the cloning lab was the old operating theater at a run-down mental institution. The construction guys painted only the places that would show on camera, and did a slap-dash job. It looked like an abandoned building... but from the right angle with the right lighting looked like a high tech cloning lab. All of the things that looked fake in real life looked real on film.

The set at The Lumberyard was no different. It was a futuristic night club, a spaceship interior, and a high tech office complex of some sort. Most of it was made out of Styrofoam hot dog and hamburger containers - like the kind your Big Mac used to come in. Sheets of these Styrofoam containers covered plywood walls, adding texture. They were painted a metal gray color, and didn't look like hamburger containers at all.

But the Big Mac container walls reminded me of what I'd be doing if I didn't land this job. As I toured the set, drinking coffee and brainstorming, I came up with a fantastic idea. Each section of the set added to that idea. Hey - I had a great lead character, a high concept conflict, some big emotional scenes, and a way to make use that nightclub set for a couple of pivotal action-packed scenes. By 7am, I was fully caffeinated and ready to pitch my great idea to the director.

The director breezed in at 7:05 and I sat him down and pitched him my brilliant idea. The coffee was really kicking in by then, and I gave one of the most passionate pitches of my career. I explained the lead character's emotional conflict, and how he was forced to deal with it when this amazing event happens that thrust the entire world into danger. I told him about the fantastic action scenes that would take place in the night club set, and this chase I'd come up with for this long hallway, and a big romantic scene with the leading lady where the hero professes his undying love for him, then she breaks his heart by betraying him in a major plot twist. I could see him imagining every scene and knew I had him.

After I was finished he sat there for a while, thinking about the pitch. Thinking about the characters. Imagining the scenes. Imagining himself directing the scenes. He nodded a few times, thinking it over. Then he turned to the lurking construction guy, smiled, and said: Strike it!

The crew began tearing down the set.

By the time I left, it was half torn down!

A couple of days later I got a call from another producer I'd met - he wanted to buy my TREACHEROUS script. I wouldn't have to work at McDonald's after all!

- Bill


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: THE LADY IN THE LAKE (1947)

LADY IN THE LAKE

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

Friday, September 21, 2018

HITCH 20: The Case Of Mr. Pelham (s1e3)

There's a great new documentary video series focusing on the 20 TV episodes that Hitchcock directed called HITCH 20, where I am one of the "guest experts". This episode is on THE CASE OF MR. PELHAM about a man who is haunted by a double who is trying to take over his life! A really weird tale, which may have been more at home of the THRILLER TV Show which was shot on the same lot. It's really a lot of fun, so take a look:



Two important things I talked about were cut for time:

1) This episode is based on a book by the screenwriter of Hitch's YOUNG AND INNOCENT which had actually been adapted into a film *the same year* in England. It has even been made a few times since then, including a film with Roger Moore titled THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF in 1970. And someone should sue *Harlan Ellison* because his SHATTERDAY short story (made into one of my favorite NEW TWILIGHT ZONE episodes) uses the same idea. (kidding... but it would be funny payback for the TERMINATOR lawsuit.)

2) The *magic* shot. There's part of the shot in the HITCH 20 episode, we see a wide shot of the bar, move in to Pelham flagging down the Psychiatrist, then asking him to join him, and then the camera dollies backwards as they walk to a table and sit down... except that table could *not* have been there when they were dollying back! The camera would have bumped into it! So *off camera* the table was rolled into place as the camera was dollying backwards! It's one of those crazy furniture moves that Hitchcock used in ROPE so that the camera would be able to move fluidly "through" furniture and walls. By making the furniture and walls movable, they could dolly backwards "through" that table in the bar that Pelham and the Psychiatrist would be sitting at! A magic shot!

Of course, I have my own books focusing on Hitchcock...

- Bill

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

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OTHER COUNTRIES:
(links actually work now)

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And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






USA Readers click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

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Thursday, September 20, 2018

Thriller Thursday: WORSE THAN MURDER

Worse Than Murder

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



Season: 1, Episode: 3. Airdate: 09-27-1960

Director: Mitchell Lieson (Woolrich’s NO MAN OF HER OWN). Writer: Mel Goldberg based on a novel by Evelyn Berckman. Cast: Constance Ford, John Baragrey, Christine White, Harriet MacGibbon, Dan Tobin, Jocelyn Brando. Music: Pete Rugolo. Cinematography: John F. Warren (from HITCHCOCK HOUR).



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “It is difficult to violate the privacy of dreams. After all, there are no witnesses to our night time fantasies. But when a man’s nightmares are an accurate reflection of the truth, and in trying to relieve his suffering he commits that truth to paper, there he creates greater torments than those of his restless sleep, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. We’re concerned now with a woman who makes use of a nightmare to persecute the innocent as well as the guilty. A persecution that is much worse than murder. That’s the name of our story. We assure you my friends, this is a thriller!”

Synopsis: High estrogen crime drama. Three women, each commit some horrible crime, while the men stand by on the sidelines. Oh, and all of these women are related by marriage or blood, so this is a *family* of killers! A wealthy family.

The episode opens with ancient Uncle Archer in a hospital bed dreaming about the time he helped kill his father... then he passes away. Leaving behind a stack of diaries, including a new one on his hospital bed. High maintenance Connie Walworth, Archer’s “favorite nephew’s widow” arrives for a visit with flowers, is told that Archer has passed away, and lifts the new diary on a lark. Connie has been kissing up to Uncle Archer in hopes of a prime space in his will, but Archer died intestate... and all of the money will go to his bedridden sister Myra (Harriet MacGibbon) (who is Connie’s mother in law) and her plain jane daughter Anne (Christine White). Oh, and Myra *hates* Connie, since she’s been living off her since the death of her son (Connie’s husband) in a car wreck. When Connie goes to the family mansion and hits Myra up for a loan, she is refused... it’s time for her to find a job or a man or both. But when Connie mentions that Uncle Archer kept diaries, Myra reconsiders and gives Connie the loan in hopes that she will forget about the diaries. This, of course, makes Connie wonder what could be in the diaries.



Plain jane daughter Anne is dating Myra’s doctor Dr. Mitchell (probably old enough to be Anne’s father) (John Baragrey) and it’s fairly obvious he’s sniffing around for Myra’s money... When Connie leaves, Anne notices Dr. Mitchell checking her out. Maybe she should dye her hair blonde and dress more provocatively?

Connie is a sexy, scheming bottle blonde predator... a real femme fatale, in a story where the men are secondary characters. As in Robert Wise’s BORN TO KILL, the female lead here uses men to get what she wants... and in Connie’s case, manipulates and blackmails women as well. It’s obvious she only married her (late) husband for his money, and after spending all of it on her and then dying; Connie needs a new source of income. If she can find a way to cut in to the family fortune, she’ll do it... even if that means playing dirty.



When Connie gets to her apartment, her landlord Ray (Dan Tobin) is waiting for her... wondering where the rent is. When she tells him Uncle Archer died and left her nothing, Ray *insists* on the rent, he’s waited long enough! Connie invites him up to her apartment to settle the bill. Yes, this is a 1960 TV episode, and she’s gonna screw her landlord to pay the rent! And our next scene has Connie in lingerie in bed reading the diary outloud to Ray the landlord! Yikes! The diary passage is Uncle Archer’s recurring nightmare about the night he and “M” murdered their father so they could inherit his fortune. Is “M” for Myra?

Connie calls to see if she can stop by the hospital to pick up the other diaries... finds that they have already been delivered to Myra. So Connie heads to the newspaper morgue where she discovers a story about Myra and Archer’s father’s death by accidental overdose of insulin... a nurse lost her job as a result. Connie goes to talk to the Doctor, only to find that he has passed away, but the disgraced nurse is still alive... living in a crappy apartment downtown. The Nurse (Jocelyn Brando) is a drunk, living in poverty because that long ago accident with Myra and Archer’s father still hangs over her. The Nurse refuses to answer Connie’s questions, but when she leaves the room, Connie searches her closet and jewelry... and finds all kinds of expensive things. Where did they come from? The Nurse breaks down and says she has been blackmailing *Myra* because Myra and Archer murdered their father.



When Connie confronts Myra with this, spilling the details that the Nurse gave her; Myra almost has a heart attack (literally) and Connie holds Myra’s digitalis over her head like a carrot. Then gives it to the old woman. Connie says she’ll take $100,000 to hand over the diary and not go to the police. Oh, and in 24 hours.

Listening at the door is plain jane Anne... who has fixed up her hair, put on some make up, and dressed up; to keep her Dr. Mitchell boyfriend from straying. She hears everything and realizes her aged mother might be thrown in jail if she doesn’t do something. She breaks her date with Dr. Mitchell, throwing the relationship into turmoil. When Myra phones the bank to have $100,000 delivered, Anne *knows* her mother is a murderer. To protect her, Anne becomes a criminal...

Anne breaks into Connie’s apartment, searching for the diary. Finds it... just as Connie pulls up, with Dr. Mitchell! See, Connie has been making a play for the doctor just to cover all the bases. She invites him upstairs to her room (to screw?) as both Anne... and Ray the landlord... watch. Dr. Mitchell kisses her and declines instead of reclines. Then Connie goes up stairs, and Anne scurries to find a hiding place in the apartment.



Problem is, when Connie enters she sees Anne hiding behind the sofa reflected in a mirror and grabs a fire poker. There’s a scuffle, Anne splits with the diary... Connie chasing after her.

Meanwhile, Myra’s condition gets worse and she is taken to the hospital... dying. She admits to Dr. Mitchell killing her own mother with Uncle Archer so they could inherit her money... and now Connie is doing something similar to Myra. She begs Dr. Mitchell to make sure Connie gets no more money... then dies.

Anne returns to the mansion, doesn’t notice the package of money from the bank waiting for Connie to claim it; and burns the diary in the fireplace. When Connie arrives, she pulls the burning diary out of the fireplace, then Connie and Anne scuffle as the burning diary sets the curtains and house on fire! Cat fight in the flames! Then Connie splits (never seeing the money) and the mansion burns to the ground. Anne escapes the fire into Dr. Mitchell’s arms... and Connie is arrested for blackmail.



Review: This is more like it! Though more of a crime drama instead of a thriller, it’s fast paced, filled with twists and turns and has some *awesome* dialogue. Not just the catty conflict lines (which are clever and fun), but the rest of this episode is filled with witty and quotable lines. I don’t know if this is the work of screenwriter Goldberg or if he pulled them from the novel, but it’s constantly entertaining. And lots of juicy scenes with women tangling (verbally and even physically). Constance Ford plays Connie like a sexual force of nature, and I believe costume department neglected to supply her with a bra, in addition to the blatant implied sex scene with her landlord there’s no shortage of what appears to be nipplage in many shots. Were the censors asleep?

The men in this episode are disposable objects used by the three women, even Uncle Archer only held his mother with Myra gave her the lethal injection. It’s interesting to see a show that focuses on the sex that is deadlier than the male... and has so much fun turning men into playthings. Director Lieson was a “woman’s director” in Hollywood, who made many lush female lead films... including the adaptation of Cornell Woolrich’s “I Married A Dead Man” with Barbara Stanwick called NO MAN OF HER OWN, which is kind of a guilty pleasure of mine. This episode has gloss and a real feeling of those old Joan Crawford potboilers. Bitchy fun, with clever and cutting dialogue. This was a good (not great) episode, but on the right track! Will the next episode continue towards greatness... or derail?

FADE OUT.



Bill

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Film Courage Plus: What Unsold Screenwriters Need To Learn!

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 2015... and that's around 36 segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?



WHY HAVEN’T I BROKEN IN?

I love when they put me on the spot like this? Are professional writers just better writers than those who haven’t broken in yet? And the answer is: Maybe. A screenplay has so many moving parts and getting them lined up for a professional isn’t going to happen always. I have screenplays that just don’t work - and when I figure out how to make them work I will rewrite them and have something. But many new writers either don’t see the flaw in their script or see it and try to market the script. Hey, there is a chance that the flaw won’t matter to some specific producer - it’s not an issue with their company. And an amateur becomes a professional. But often there is some issue with the screenplay that stops it from going all the way.

There are three elements to a screenplay: The story itself, the way that story is told, and the writing itself. New writers often struggle with the first one and when they master that don’t even look at the other two items. The way the story is told is what I call “structuring” and it’s not three acts or saving cats, it’s when information is revealed to the audience. I look at it in the STRUCTURING Blue Book and in the STORY Blue Book. When is the best time to reveal this information? For a story to unfold it must be folded by the screenwriter first - we need to plant the information that will be revealed later. So this can be a difficult element. The writing itself is how well you write and your individual voice - your writing style. We look at that in the DESCRIPTION & VOICE Blue Book. Part of the reason why they hire one writer over another is that their voice gives the script a feel that other similar screenplays do not have. So one thing that the professional has are those last two elements, and unsold writers may not have mastered those yet. They have told a great story, but how they tell it and how they write it may not be at a professional level, yet. Hey, they’ll get there!

NOTHING CAN STOP A GREAT SCRIPT

I tell the Garage Band story in the clip, as well as the story of the Temp Receptionist. Some other danged writer (too lazy to Google) said you could drop a great script on Hollywood Boulevard and it would find its way to a studio... and I believe that is true. I believe that once you get all of those moving parts in a screenplay to work together, nothing is stopping that script! It will travel!

My first "Hollywood sale" was a screenplay called COURTING DEATH that sold to a company at Paramount. I was living in my home town, and had zero connections. But I had scripts.

I had a low budget drive in flick called NINJA BUSTERS made in my home town by a local director... and then went back to the day job for a decade. I wrote 3 scripts a year - which is just a page a day. After around 7 or 8 years back at the day job I optioned a script called TREASURE HUNTER to a company in Beverly Hills for $5k. I had read an advert in the back of Variety - this company was looking for a jungle adventure script. I sent logline and they requested the script. Though I had an agent at the time, he was the worst agent in the business and he almost screwed up the option deal.

The director of NINJA BUSTERS was making direct to video movies after drive ins closed down, and worked with a local actress who was, um, very attractive, and single. And so I gave her my new screenplay and said, "There's a role in here that is perfect for you." She took the screenplay, read it, and promptly moved to Los Angeles. I am unlucky in love.

In Los Angeles she was hired to play Victim #5 in a low budget horror film. Her role was basically taking off her top and being killed. She gave my script to a guy on the crew (!) and told him there's a role in here that is perfect for her. Now my script began traveling around Los Angeles - everyone gave it to their best connection in the business. As I say in the clip, this is a business where people do favors to advance their careers. So my scripts floated around town, and three years later I am putting on my steel toed boots to go to work at my warehouse day job when the phone rings....

The guy on the phone says he's Daniel calling from New Century/Visions Entertainment at Paramount, is my screenplay COURTING DEATH still available?

Okay - obviously my friend Van Tassell playing a practical joke on me. We play practical jokes on each other all the time (still do). We had just gone to a party where Van had drank way too much, so on Monday while he was at work, I had every woman I know call his answering machine and say, "Hello, this is Heather, we met at that party Friday night and I'd really like to see you again, I gave you my number, call me." So he comes home from work and there are a dozen women who want him to call them, and he calls me in a panic and says, "Bill, did you see what I did with all of these phone numbers?"



So I figured this was payback.

"If you are really at Paramount, Daniel, how about giving me a number and I'll call you back." Daniel gives me a number with a 213 area code. Van really did his homework on this one!

I call back expecting to get a pizza parlor or a payphone, and realize it is not a joke. I ask where they got the script, and Daniel says a name of someone I don't know. This script traveled all over town and ended up at this company at Paramount.

Sold it. David Fincher was attached to direct at one point in time. I hated the idea because all he'd done was a couple of Madonna videos. He backed out to do ALIEN 3 and my project fell apart. They tried to put it together with some other directors but it was never made. Only 10% of the screenplays they buy ever make it to the screen.

But here's the thing: You need a script that travels. And that’s how things work in this business.

People think it’s all about who they know, but a great script opens doors for you.

Everyone wants to know the secret handshake or be introduced to the guy in charge... but none of that is going to matter if they don’t have a great script! So focus on writing a great screenplay - not a screenplays that you think is great, but a screenplay that people who hate you and want you to fail think is a great screenplay. You want a screenplay that strangers who are slogging through a stack of screenplays will read and think, “This is the one!”

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill



Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: THE IPCRESS FILE (1965)

One of my favorite films.

Director: Sidney J. Furie (BOYS IN COMPANY C)
Writers: James Doran, Bill Canaway.
Starring: Michael Caine, Sue Lloyd, Guy Doleman, Nigel Green.
Produced by: Harry Saltzman.
Cinematographer: Otto Heller (BAFTA (British Oscars) nominee for ALFIE, winner for this film... and the lighting is amazing.)
Music by: John Barry (the James Bond movies) - and it’s a great score!

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

Oh, and this is a paranoid thriller, which we will talk about later.



There are so many great things about this film that I will never get to all of them, but you have young Michael Caine in his first starring role and amazing camera work by Otto Heller and a great John Barry score and a clever script and... well, let’s start at the beginning.

TEASER



The film opens with what you would call a “teaser” in television. A car driving down the streets of London with two men in the backseat: one is reading “New Scientist Magazine” and the other keeps looking behind the car and ahead of the car and generally building up the audience’s paranoia that something is going to happen. The car makes it to a train station where the paranoid man, Agent Taylor (Charles Rea), accompanies the scientist Radcliff (Aubrey Richards) to the train and his train compartment. A porter follows with the luggage. In the train station Agent Taylor is on high alert, looking for danger.

Once Radcliff is secure in his compartment, Agent Taylor goes back to the car... where he spots Radlciff’s camera, grabs it, and races to the train. When he opens the train compartment door, the man reading “New Scientist Magazine” lowers the magazine from his face, exposing that he is *not* Radcliff. What? This is a great reveal, because the imposter is wearing the same clothes and same hat as Radcliff. If you are going to show that the scientist has been switched, you want to find a way to do it that has maximum impact. We think the man reading “New Scientist Magazine” in the train compartment is Radcliff right up until the moment his face is revealed.

Next shot is the train leaving the station and the camera turns slowly to reveal Agent Taylor dead on the side of the tracks.

Okay, that’s a great way to begin a movie!

IDENTITY

Now that we have our problem, we need to introduce our protagonist, and we get a swell scene behind the titles: Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) wakes up in the morning and prepares for a day of work. It is a simple scene which tells us EVERYTHING we need to know about this character. He has to find his glasses before he can see the alarm clock. Everything is a blur! He grinds his own gourmet coffee beans, and uses a complicated coffee maker (kind of an in-film advert, since one of the producers owned the company that made the gourmet coffee making machine). Harry looks out his flat window while drinking his coffee. Later, he finds a woman's necklace in his bed... while searching for his misplaced gun. There’s a bit of a zoom shot to the gun - and guns get close ups in this film, which is unusual. And then Harry leaves his apartment, late for work. One of the reason why I think this is a predecessor for CONDOR is that Harry is an ordinary guy in a job that starts out boring in the story (Harry is doing stake out duty on someone) and then suddenly becomes dangerous. Can he handle that? He’s not just the spy who does paperwork, he’s an *underdog* spy!

Introduction To Harry:



The interesting thing about the Deighton novels are that they are told first person and we never learn the character’s name... he is a spy and has a dozen aliases. An element of the novels is the loss of identity - when you use so many different names, who are you really? And the film does a great job of illustrating this through story and situations. Never knowing the name worked on the page, but they needed something to call him on screen, so - legend has it - the producer asked Caine for the most boring first name he could imagine, and Caine responded “Harry” to Harry Saltzman. And he didn’t get fired!

IPCRESS makes the job of spying mundane: a bunch of stakes outs and surveillance jobs followed by paperwork, so that when it explodes with action it seems much bigger due to the contrast. Caine plays Harry as a problem child who probably needed a good spanking many years ago, but now knows exactly how far he can push authority before it pushes back.

His boss, Colonel Ross (Doleman), hates him and has him transferred to Major Dalby’s department where he has to fill out stacks of paperwork as they try to find the kidnapped scientist who has been put up for auction by an espionage agent for hire code-name, BlueJay (Frank Gatliff) an Albanian who sells secrets... and people. Dalby (Nigel Green) “doesn’t have the sense of humor that Ross has” (which was none at all) and cracks the whip on Harry again and again. Harry finds a friend in team member Carswell (Gordon Jackson) and a love interest in team member Jean (Lloyd) - who may be a spy for Ross’s department... but she thinks that Harry is a spy for Ross’s department. Neither trusts each other - though they sleep together. That’s the kind of paranoid movie this is - the spies are spying on other spies!

DIALOGUE





The film has all kinds of great dialogue, including this exchange when Harry shows up for his first day of work at Dalby’s department:

Harry: “The fellow whose job I'm taking, will he show me the ropes?”
Dalby: “Maybe - if you're in touch with the spirit world.”
Harry: “I beg your pardon?”
Dalby: “He was shot this morning.”

Great punchline! Not funny (well, maybe in a sick way), but adds impact to the end of the dialogue exchange. You always want to put the stinger in the tail.



In the commentary, director Sidney J. Furie says that the script was awful and they were rewriting it on the set... I always discount when a director says this, because it’s usually a power grab. The plotting and dialogue in the film is so well done that it’s difficult to believe Furie - even though he’s one of my favorite directors. There’s a great example of a “payback line” - when Harry goes to Ross’s office, he leaves the door open and Ross says, “Close the door.” When Harry goes to Dalby’s office he leaves the door open and Dalby says, “Shut the door”. Then at the end of the movie, Harry has taken control and knows that either Ross or Dalby is a traitor, and invites them to the villain’s warehouse. When Dalby enters, Harry tells him to “Shut the door.” Playing back to the authority figures now that he is in control. So many great pieces of dialogue in this film, “A word in your shell-like ear”.

When he comes home to find Jean searching his flat (is she working for Ross or Dalby?) he asks if she has finished searching and she says “Yes.” “Then you know where the whisky is?” “Yes.” “Fix us both one, will you?” And this begins a romance with absolutely no trust at all. By the way, Jean has a nice little character moment where she talks about her spy husband who was murdered... and how Dalby gave her a job so that she could support herself. It’s emotional... and expositional. We *think* we know that her loyalties are with Dalby. But are they?



In the middle of this mistrust, she asks Harry: “Do you always wear your glasses?” “Yes... except in bed.” And then she takes off his glasses and kisses him.

Plus we have great story related visual elements that had to be in the screenplay - a CIA Agent wears glasses with broken frames, taped together with bright white tape. Another CIA Agent smokes a pipe. Characters have what I call “instant identifiers” in the Action Screenwriting book - a prop or piece of costume that allows the audience to recognize and differentiate characters. The two CIA Agents are easy to tell apart. The other Agents on Dalby’s team each have a prop or costume element that helps us tell them apart. These are screenplay related things, not something you figure out on the set at the last minute. Those taped together glasses end up a clue used later in the story.

So much of the dialogue and plotting are story related, and the film was obviously shot out of sequence (even though Furie says otherwise) that it’s impossible to believe that this script wasn’t at least most of the way there when they began shooting. Hey, maybe one of the two writers was hired to punch up the dialogue during production, but this film has a complex plot where characters are often double agents, lying, duplicitous... and yet, when you rewatch the film you can see the “tells” in their earlier scenes. It’s based on a book, dammit! The story was always there.

WEIRD SHOTS



But director, Sidney J. Furie, and DP Otto Heller come up with the most inventive angles and shots I’ve ever seen - which is one of the reasons why this is one of my favorite movies. Almost every single shot has something in soft focus in the foreground or is “canted” or “dutch” - at a strange angle. What’s interesting is how much fuzzy foreground obscures the shots - there are times when 75% of the screen is someone’s out of focus shoulder or something in the way of the shot. This may sound as if it would be irritating, but it is actually fascinating. You feel as if you are watching the story unfold looking over that shoulder or peeking through that cell door. Just amazing original shots. The lighting is also amazing - Heller paints with shadows, here. One of my favorite shots is early in the film when Ross climbs a spiral staircase to meet with Dalby, there must be a dozen different kinds of shadows in that shot! All with a real light source. There are scenes in darkness that look really really dark, except due to classic lighting techniques you can see what is happening. This seems to be a lost art, today.

Harry’s parking ticket clue leads him to the Science Library where he discovers BlueJay and his henchman HouseMartin, and when he tries to follow them? There is a whole fight scene shot through the glass of one of those red British phone booth - mullion coming between Harry and this huge bodyguard - and every other interesting combination of foreground and background is used to make the fight scene really interesting. Furie re-imagines action scenes as chess matches or tennis games and stages them in unusual ways throughout the film.

I don’t think there is a single “flat” shot in the entire film, and nothing that looks like TV “coverage”. The above mentioned shot through the cell door is amazing, because cell door has a crossed grille that creates diamond like openings... and the scene plays out with characters moving from one diamond to another - the chess match idea.



One of the great visual clues is a piece of paper where BlueJay has written his phone number, but it’s a fake disconnected number. Flip the paper over and it’s a flier for a military band concert. Harry and Dalby meet with BlueJay to make a deal for missing scientist Radcliff... and much of the scene is shot between the cymbals!

Because Harry wears glasses, the element of sight is used in both action scenes (you know he means business when he carefully folds up his glasses and puts them in his pocket) and other scenes (Harry with glasses off looks over a blurry crowd of scientists after Radcliff is returned and sees a person who does not belong) - the glasses become part of the way the story is told. Though this may be vaguely racist today, the scientists scene has an audience of white scientists in white labcoats and an African American CIA Agent in a suit. Though the image on screen is a blur, we can see that one of these people is not a scientist - and when Harry puts his glasses on, he goes after the Agent... who tells him, “I’m going to tail you until I know you are clean... and if you are not clean... I’m going to kill you.”

Which leads to the African American CIA Agent being found dead in Harry’s apartment. He flips the light switch, and there the body!



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

TANGLED WEBS



The other way that this story is like THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR is that it has a faction inside the government’s espionage agency working against the government. We have no idea who can be trusted... and you can not trust the government itself.

Ross keeps trying to get Harry to hand over the file on their investigation, code named “Ipcress” because that word was written on a piece of audio tape found in the abandoned warehouse that they smashed into because they think BlueJay was using it for some mysterious reason. That scene in the abandoned warehouse (“Disused factory” a character calls it) is great for many reasons. Harry calls in the raid - with a British version of a SWAT Team - using “CC1 authority” that he doesn’t have. Dalby shows up before the raid... and Harry is in trouble. But Dalby tells the SWAT Team to go ahead, and they ram the door and storm the warehouse... which is empty except for a huge metal cross. Harry hits the metal cross and it makes a unique noise... which will be used as a sound cue to remind us when we see the same metal cross later. Lots of awesome sound design in this film! When the SWAT Team leader complains that their time has been wasted on an empty warehouse, Dalby covers for Harry - showing that despite all of the conflict between the two men, they are on the same side. Harry does a thorough search even though the warehouse was empty - and finds an old wood burning stove... still warm. Inside it: that audio tape with “Ipcress” written on it. Dalby offers to buy Harry and Carswell lunch.

When they play the bit of audio tape, all they get are strange noises - what do they mean? To add to the paranoia, there’s that CIA Agent with the broken glasses who is spying on Harry, and someone in one of the departments may actually be working for BlueJay. Jean who may be working for Ross. Ross who wants Harry to mictofilm the Ipcress File, and everyone else who may be working for the good guys or the bad guys... or may just be unaware of larger things going on. In a scene where Harry and Carswell go to interrogate a prisoner picked up by the police, Harry tells the police Desk Sargent, “Palmer.” The Desk Sargent replies, “Oh, Mr. Palmer’s just left, sir, with another gentleman. He said he’s be back soon, would you like to wait? Everything is under control, sir.” Harry flips open his ID, “I’m Palmer.” And their witness is dead in his cell - murdered by whoever had fake ID saying he was Palmer. You can’t trust *anyone* in this film!



Harry uncovers a plot to kidnap British scientists, brainwash them until they spill all of their secrets, then wipe their memories clean so that they are unable to function. 16 British Scientists have had their brain washed, 17 when you add in Radcliff. The cool thing about this 60s film is that it uses all of the real brainwashing devices from the CIA’s MK-ULTRA program, which wasn’t made public until the 70s. How they knew about these things in this film, I do not know. Were there CIA leaks that ended up in (novelist) Len Deighton’s hands?

SPOILER: There’s a great scene where Carswell thinks he knows what “Ipcress” means and shows Harry a book. He asks to borrow Harry’s car to check on something. Harry puts the book and the Ipcress File in his desk and locks it. And then we see Carswell driving, stopping at a stop light... and when the light turns green the car doesn’t move. The cars behind it honk their horns. The car still doesn’t move. Then we get a shot of the front window... with a bullet hole from a rooftop sniper, and Carswell dead behind the wheel! There are rooftop snipers out there, just waiting for Harry!

This leads to a great emotional scene where Harry realizes that he is partially responsible for Carswell’s death, and there is some survivor’s guilt. He finds a place to be alone and grieve... and then Jean finds him and holds his hand. Great little scene! When he goes back to the office - his locked drawer has been pried open and the book and Ipcress file are gone. This is in a British secret service office! How can someone get passed the security to do that?

Harry tells Jean he’s going to hide somewhere...

BRAIN WASHING



Which leads to one of my favorite bits in the film where BlueJay kidnaps Harry... and he wakes up in a crappy cell in some old industrial building, and BlueJay tells him that it would be pointless to try to escape, because he's in Albania. How can he get help if he does not speak Albanian? Where would he run to? He has no passport, no identification. Even if he escaped, he's still trapped in this foreign land. The signs are in Albanian, the prison guards wear Albanian military uniforms, and everyone speaks Albanian. Harry is screwed.

The brainwashing scene is right out of MK-ULRA program - they begin with disorientation by feeding him at strange hours and keeping the same exact lighting in his cell so that he has no idea how many days have passed. He is often starved, because the food is too hot to eat and taken away if he doesn’t eat it. Harry finds a rusty nail that he uses to mark the “days” (period between meals being offered) on the prison walls - which are filled with th markings of other prisoners counting the days... some maybe hundreds of years old.

Then they proceed to brainwash him using the IPCRESS method... assaulting him with visuals and sounds (that Ipcress noise) that drive him crazy and lower all resistence. A form of sensory deprivation. Oh, and the suspended cube they wheel him into (strapped to a wheel chair) is suspended by a metal cross like the one from the warehouse... "Listen to me. Listen to me. You will forget the IPCRESS file, you will forget your name..." Harry jams that rusty nail into his palm, "My name is Harry Palmer. My name is Harry Palmer." But he loses the nail... and the brainwashing begins to work.

That's when Harry decides to escape... running out of the old industrial building where all of the signs are in Albanian, to... Downtown London! He was never taken to Albania! The whole thing was a ruse to make him not try to escape! This is one of dozens of little story touches that make IPCRESS FILE a really cool movie.

CHOICES



And now we come to an amazing twist that reveals who broke into his desk to steal the Ipcress File and book and who is the secret enemy agent working for BlueJay. Harry believes that either Ross or Dalby is the main enemy agent, and calls both to the “Albanian prison”, where he disarms both and has them stand under a light - so that we have a spotlight on our two suspects. Then he has them plead their case on why they are not the traitor. But is Harry brainwashed? Will he shoot the actual traitor, or has he been hypnotized to shoot the innocent man and let the real traitor walk free... and continue to work his way up the command of the British Secret Service?

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

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

- Bill

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