Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: American Friend (1977)



Directed by: Wim Wenders.
Written by: Wim Wenders based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith.
Starring: Bruno Ganz, Dennis Hopper, Lisa Kruezer, Gerard Blain, Sam Fuller & Nicholas Ray
Director Of Photography: Robby Muller.
Music: Jürgen Knieper.

THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY is getting a longform TV version from the writer of LUTHER, so let's look at another story in the Ripley series...

One of the things I have realized over the years is that the films you saw when you first *really* got into movies become your favorites because they opened doors in your mind that you didn’t even know existed. Often someone younger than I (that doesn’t take much these days) mentions one of their favorite film... and it’s some movie I think is a piece of crap. Of course, I saw it later in life when whatever door that movie opened for them had already been opened for me... so instead of being amazed at whatever the film did, I compared it to all of the other films that did that and found it lacking. But the same thing happens to me frequently: those young people who had the door opened by their film finally get around to seeing mine and think, “What’s the big deal?” This has taught me to be less judgmental about those films people love. Better that they love films than not love them!

So, in the 70s I caught this film because someone called it “Hitchcockian” and became a fan of Wim Wenders (to this day). This is not the usual Wenders film at all, but I found it fascinating that he actually understood how to make a suspense film: he knew how to use the camera to tell the story and use editing to create suspense. When someone shows that they know how to do something difficult like this, I cut them a lot of slack when they go off and do their own thing in their own style. So I was a fan of his films which are often valentines to America. He can take a 9 year old girl and turn her into the tour guide for America - seeing our world through her eyes... or show us small town life in Texas, or give us a Hollywood full of conspiracies and crime, or the great America road trip... in Germany! But I first discovered him with this Hitchcockian film based on a Patricia Highsmith RIPLEY novel about a normal dad and husband who discovers he is dying of a rare disease and is offered a fortune to leave for his family... all he has to do is kill a guy. A total stranger. A mobster the world would be better off without. Could you kill someone to help your family?



As you can see, BREAKING BAD's concept really owes a lot to AMERICAN FRIEND... the idea of a quiet intelligent man doing terrible things that are against the law to provide for his family because he is terminally ill... and killing a bunch of gangsters in the process... is the basic story of both. In both the lead must keep his side job secret from his wife and kid, and when it is discovered instead of appreciating the *huge* personal and emotional sacrifices he has gone through to provide for his family, they turn against him and he must fight to win them back. The parallels are strong between the two... which makes me wonder why nobody ever mentioned it.

Wenders was a genius for combining Highsmith’s RIPLEY'S GAME and RIPLEY UNDER WATER (the second and third novels in the series after THE TALENTED MR.) and then taking Jonathan's point of view instead of Ripley's. Instead of being the puppet master's story, we get the puppet... who finds himself in over his head just to provide for his family after he dies. The story is filled with twists and turns and has a bit of that 70's stillness used in films like THE PARALLAX VIEW. The film is also filled with music, and a love for The Beatles... and Volkswagen Beetles. Beautifully shot by Robby Muller, with a great score by Jürgen Knieper (who also scored RIVER’S EDGE), the film has a deliberate pace that works for the story...

Jonathan (Bruno Ganz who would later play Hitler in that DOWNFALL movie that you haven’t seen but *have* seen that one scene where Hitler loses it in a million memes) is a picture framer whose wife (Lisa Kreuzer) works for an auction house, and when he is introduced to Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper, I wish it had been John Malkovich who played this role in a remake) he refuses to shake his hand. Ripley feels insulted, and later when a Paris mobster Minot (Gerard Blaine) is looking for an assassin who can not be traced back to the mob, Ripley gives him Jonathan. You see, Jonathan has a rare blood disease may not have long to live. So Minot approaches Jonathan and offers him a second opinion at the most prestigious hospital in Europe... all expenses paid... as long as Jonathan listens to his offer afterwards. Jonathan goes in for the test... and Minot creates *forged* results saying that Jonathan is knocking on death’s door. Then offers Jonathan a job killing a mobster on a train. Here’s the thing: worst that can happen if Jonathan is caught is that he’ll die before trial, and his family will still get the money and be provided for. Jonathan reluctantly agrees... and then goes to kill the man. Except it’s never as easy as you think. This leads to one of the most intense suspense scenes I’ve seen as Jonathan can’t find the right time to shoot the guy... and every second he hesitates is a chance to be caught!



Eventually he kills the mobster, only to find out there are more mobsters to be killed and Minot wants Jonathan to kill a well guarded mobster on a train. (Lots of trains in this film, it *is* by Highsmith who wrote STRANGERS ON A TRAIN). This time he is *way* over his head and his whole life spirals out of control. One of the things I swiped from this film for my HARD EVIDENCE script that was made for USA Network was the way the protagonist feels he can’t tell his spouse about this problems, when he needs all of the help he can get. Eventually Jonathan admits everything to his wife and they team up to resolve the conflict... though not in the way they thought.

One of the great things are all of the cameos by film directors. Sam Fuller and Nicholas Ray (playing the dead painter Derwatt from RIPLEY UNDERGROUND) and Lou Castel. Wenders was a real fan of American noir films and cast his heroes in the film... later he would make a documentary about Ray’s final days.



The film is an interesting hybrid between studio movie and European arthouse, technically really well made but still focusing on character and those small moments (I love when Jonathan is playing with his son or trying to get two halves of a frame to come together. This film along with Wender’s Polanskiesque GOALIES ANXIETY AT THE PENALTY KICK are slick Hollywood style films with that indie bent. He knew how to do dolly shots and crane shots and make a film that looks bigger than it probably was. His other films like ALICE IN THE CITY and THE WRONG MOVE and KINGS OF THE ROAD have a ragged indie feel to them. Oh, and this film landed him a big Hollywood picture, HAMMETT (the dude who wrote THE MALTESE FALCON based on a novel by Joe Gores... though the movie throws out almost everything from the book), and the failure of that Hollywood film lead to the success of PARIS, TEXAS and WINGS OF DESIRE. He’s done some interesting work since then on films like UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD and THE END OF VIOLENCE and the doc BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB and he has a new movie out this year.



- Bill

Sunday, November 18, 2018

RIP: Pablo Ferro.

Yesterday Pablo Ferro passed away. Who? you say... Ferro was one of the great film opening credit artists along with Saul Bass and Maurice Binder, and you have seen his work. Everywhere. He designed the titles for BEETLE JUICE, and almost a hundred other films. To connect the "deaths come in threes" - Ferro got his start as an illustrator working with Stan Lee, and did the titles for GOOD WILL HUNTING which William Goldman was an advisor on.

Here is a samle of his work...



Here is the full opening title sequence from BULLITT...



Here is the Dr STRANGELOVE opening totle sequence...



THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR titles mimic the multiple slip screens in the film...



Buy The DVDs

Friday, November 16, 2018

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Hitch 20: LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER (s2e5)

This is a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I have been a "guest expert" on (season 1). The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock and here is the third episode of the second season, which looks at the importance of specifics of Hitchcock's work on screen (and on the page, or it never gets to the screen). This new season is without me. I was juggling too many things and thought I'd squeeze it in, but just didn't have the time. But I'm still be featuring it here, because it's a great show.



Now I’ll watch the episode of HITCH 20 and see what everyone else said...



This week's bonus is a behind the scenes look at the Crop Duster scene from NORTH BY NORTHWEST...





Of course, I have my own book on Hitchcock...




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Bill

Thursday, November 15, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook

Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook

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



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

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



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

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

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



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

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

A woman has been burned alive as a witch!

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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



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

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

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

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

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Mark Twain's Rules Of Writing

Mark Twain's Rules for writing, based on his reading of James F. Cooper's DEERSLAYER:

"Cooper's art has some defects. In one place in 'Deerslayer,' and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offences against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.

There are nineteen rules governing literary art in the domain of romantic fiction--some say twenty-two. In Deerslayer Cooper violated eighteen of them. These eighteen require:

1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere. But the Deerslayer tale accomplishes nothing and arrives in the air.

2. They require that the episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it. But as the Deerslayer tale is not a tale, and accomplishes nothing and arrives nowhere, the episodes have no rightful place in the work, since there was nothing for them to develop.

3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others. But this detail has often been overlooked in the Deerslayer tale.

4. They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there. But this detail also has been overlooked in the Deerslayer tale.

5. They require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say. But this requirement has been ignored from the beginning of the Deerslayer tale to the end of it.

6. They require that when the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description. But this law gets little or no attention in the Deerslayer tale, as Natty Bumppo's case will amply prove.

7. They require that when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship's Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it. But this rule is flung down and danced upon in the Deerslayer tale.

8. They require that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader as "the craft of the woodsman, the delicate art of the forest," by either the author or the people in the tale. But this rule is persistently violated in the Deerslayer tale.

9. They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable. But these rules are not respected in the Deerslayer tale.

10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the reader of the Deerslayer tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.

11. They require that the characters in a tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency. But in the Deerslayer tale this rule is vacated.

In addition to these large rules there are some little ones. These require that the author shall:

12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.

13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.

14. Eschew surplusage.

15. Not omit necessary details.

16. Avoid slovenliness of form.

17. Use good grammar.

18. Employ a simple and straightforward style."

Most of those also work for screenwriting.

- Bill

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: THE HITCHHIKER (1953)

Directed by: Ida Lupino.
Written by: Ida Lupino, Collier Young, Daniel Mainwaring (uncredited), adaptation by Robert Joseph.
Starring: Edmond O'Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Tallman.
Director Of Photography: Nicholas Musuraca.


THE HITCH HIKER is a low budget film from 1953 that just kicks all kinds of ass. Basically it’s three men, a car, and the great outdoors... but like the three person, two rooms ALICE CREED, you never notice that it’s a low budget movie because it’s so well made, well written, and intense. They gave a damn when they made this film! They knew they didn’t have money, so they made up for it with suspense and drama and some amazing *ideas*. A great idea costs nothing, but has a ton of production value. The amazing idea here is... an eyelid that is scarred so that it permanently open. Yes, that actually is a great idea. Wait until we get to it, and you’ll see its brilliance.



The film opens with a title card telling us this is based on a true story, and that this same thing could happen to you. So I did a little googling and discovered it really was based on the true story of Billy Cook, a notorious killer. Cook’s mother died when he was five years old, and his loving father took all of the children to live in an abandoned mine and fend for themselves while Daddy exercised his new found bachelorhood. Billy and his siblings were eventually discovered by child protective services and put into foster homes... except for Billy. Because Billy had a deformed eyelid... it never closed. The whole side of his face was a mess. He ended up under state care and eventually tried his hand at crime and was arrested at age 12 and sent to a reformatory for boys. He enjoyed hurting others, and when he turned 17... was transferred to a state prison. While in prison, he beat a few fellow inmates with a baseball bat... showing really poor sportsmanship. He was released at 22, found his father and told him he planned on buying a gun and making his living through robbery, armed. Billy drifted into El Paso, TX just before Christmas, 1950, bought a gun, and went out to the highway and hitchhiked. He robbed and killed anyone who would pick him up, stealing their cars until they ran out of gas and then hitchhiking for a lift into the next town to buy gas. He killed an entire family: father, mother, three kids and a dog, near Wichita Falls, Texas and dumped the bodies in a mineshaft in Missouri. He hitchhiked and killed to Blythe, California, where he killed a traveling salesman from Seattle and threw his body in a ditch. By this point in time he was wanted throughout the USA and every cop in the Southwest was actively looking for the hitchhiking killer. Hitchhiking, Billy kidnaped two men on a hunting trip, James Burke and Forrest Damron, and forced them to drive him south and across the border into Mexico... and on to Santa Rosalia. Once they reached Santa Rosalia, Burke and Damron knew they would be killed, but an odd thing happened: The Chief Of Police of the small Mexican town had been reading the American papers and recognized Billy Cook and captured him without a gunfight. Handed him over to the FBI, and he spent the rest of his life in prison. Cool true story, huh? And... that eyelid!



The film changes the names to protect the innocent and guilty, turning Billy Cook into Emmett Myers (William Tallman, DA Hamilton Burger on PERRY MASON) but keeping that creepy deformed eyelid. The movie opens with a (face unseen) Myers hitchhiking, getting picked up, killing the drivers and taking off in their cars. Again and again.

Then we cut to garage mechanic Roy Collins (Edmund O’Brien from DOA and THE WILD BUNCH) and his best friend draftsman Gil Bowen (Frank Lovejoy from IN A LONELY PLACE) getting away from the wives for a week of fishing and camping, tooling along the back roads of California, when they spot a hitchhiker next to his car... and stop to pick him up. Hell, it’s *miles* to the nearest gas station and this is a back road. Who knows when another car will pass by?

The Hitchhiker sits in the darkness in the back of the car, not very communicative. When they ask about things like a gas can he becomes argumentative, but people can be grumpy if they’ve been standing there waiting for a ride for a while. It’s frustrating. Bowen decides to offer him a cigarette, but when he turns around he sees the gun pointing at him. They have picked up the notorious Emmett Myers who kills *all* of his victims. It’s only a matter of time before they are dead.

But Myers has made the most wanted list and needs to get across the border into Mexico... and since everyone is looking for one man, he figures he has a better chance as one of three buddies going on a fishing trip. He keeps the gun on Collins and Bowen and makes it pretty clear they are alive only as long as he needs them. This begins the road trip from hell, where Myers does everything he can to torture the two on their way south of the border to Santa Rosalia where a ferry boat will take him to the Mexican mainland... where he can vanish.



Simple story, but what makes this work are great performances by Tallman (who can go from unassuming gangly guy to crazed psycho in an instant) and the other two leads who are regular guys faced with a terrifying experience, plus intense pacing. This story comes up with a million things that can spark violence...

When they stop for gas at a service station, Myer demands minimal conversation... but the service station attendant is friendly and that means they have to be rude to him. Then they drive off without taking their change.

When they pull over in the middle of nowhere so that Myers can chart his path to Santa Rosalia with the least chance of being caught, he has Collins pop the trunk... and in there with the fishing equipment is a rifle. As Collins reaches for it, Myer *taunts* him to try something... he’ll be dead before he gets it out if the trunk.

The gun belongs to Bowen, who was in the army and says he’s an okay shot. So Myer arranges a little target practice. He has Collins walk way out in the desert with a tin can, and when Collins tries to set it on a rock, Myers tells him just to hold it... no, hold it closer to your body... closer. Then sees just how good a shot Bowen is. He either shoots the can out of his friend’s hand from hundreds of feet away with a 22 calibre rifle, or Myer shoots him. Bowen has no choice but to shoot... and hits the can! Of course, Collins practically pisses himself. Myers keeps having Collins hold the can closer and closer, and you just know that one friend is accidentally going to kill the other. Really intense! But all a game to Myers, who laughs and takes control of the rifle.

Though Myers is no criminal mastermind, he’s also not an idiot. He has a method to get both men in and out of the car so that he can keep the gun on them the whole time and they have little chance of escaping or trying to overpower him. He has thought this through. They keep to back roads in Baja, avoiding cities or large towns. And they pull way off the road to camp...





And here’s where the tension kicks in. Because due to that eyelid defect, Myers always sleeps with one eye open. Who knows if he’s asleep or awake? There are three camping scenes, and each one is filled with tension as they can’t figure out if they should make a break for it or not. The always open eye is starring at them. Every time they think they might be able to sneak away because it seems like Myers is sleeping, that always open eye looks right at them! The three scenes are filled with tension just because of the *idea* of that defective eyelid. Yes, it's from the real guy... but realizing that it could be used for scenes like this was purely the work of the writers. Cost of all of this suspense? A little make up around the eye.

Some of the other fun: Stopping for provisions at a Mexican grocery store: Bowen speaks Spanish but Myers doesn’t want him to be speaking any Mexican to anyone! Except the store owner speaks no english. Bowen almost gets shot, as does the store owner's cute little girl who wants to talk.

Myers takes Bowen’s expensive watch.

When they hit a bump, Collins hits the car horn and it *sticks*, drawing attention to them! Now Collins has to stop the car and repair the horn under the gun (literally) so they can get back in the car and zoom off before a man with a donkey reaches them.

Collins gets pistol whipped when he can’t find a working radio station in the middle of nowhere that has US news bulletins so that Myer can find out if the police are closing in one them. Collins is beaten so bad he can no longer drive and Bowen has to take over.

Myers wants them to move faster, and the car gets a blow out and almost wrecks... then they have to change the tire and a young Mexican couple driving by asks if they need any help (and almost gets killed). Again, Collins and Bowen have to be very rude to them in order to get them to drive away.



Things escalate until Collins just loses it. He breaks and becomes such a loose cannon that Bowen is afraid Myer will just shoot him. But Myers *loves* that Collins has broken under the pressure: proves Collins is weak and Myers is in control. That night when they camp, Collins decides to make a break for it and Bowen goes along. They wait until Myers’ eye is closed, worried that the other eye is still staring right at them. And race into the bushes... but Myer’s other eye pops open, and he chases the two running men... in the car! A great low budget NORTH BY NORTHWEST scene, and then Collins is hit by the car and they are recaptured.

They drive to an abandoned water well, and Collins and Bowen are sure they are about to be killed and dumped into the well. Lots of tension. But eventually they move on, by foot after the car’s gas tank is torn open by a rock, and get to Santa Rosalia, which both men know is the end of the line for them. This is where they die...

Made on a very low budget, this film with a limited cast that takes place either inside the car or in the desert has all kinds of thrills, May seem tame compared to THE HITCHER, but still intense. Lupino is one of my favorite directors, a great actress from the golden age who gave an Oscar calibre performance in one of my favorite films THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT, was amazing as the *tough* blind woman in another favorite film ON DANGEROUS GROUND, and the tough bank robber’s girl in HIGH SIERRA... who decided to direct and stepped in when the director of a film she was starring in became ill. From that point on, she and her husband (magazine and screenwriter Collier Young) formed a production company The Filmakers, and began making films with Lupino as director. She just did it. Their first films were social issues movies that are still relevant and kind of shocking. OUTRAGE is a movie about rape that is more cutting edge and honest than any film on the subject made since. Somewhere along the line she worked with another one of my favorite directors, Don Siegel (DIRTY HARRY, THE LINE UP), and learned all of his cinematic tricks... and she became what she called “the poor man’s Don Siegel” making hard hitting crime films like this. (Siegel's other protege was an actor named Clint Eastwood.)



Her direction style is like Siegel’s: deceptively straight forward. Nothing showy or flashy, yet still completely in control of the story, using angle and composition and movement to amplify the emotions. She also knew how to create suspense and tension, and soon on THRILLER Thursday we will get to her amazing episode GUILLOTINE. In HITCH HIKER she manages to give the film a documentary feel (it *is* based on a true story) and still use cinematic techniques to amp up the tension. For a film made on a budget it still packs a punch.

Oh, and I guess I should mention this film was secretly cowritten by my favorite screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring (OUT OF THE PAST... now on BluRay! and the original INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS, and from Oakland!) who had his credit snatched away by producer Howard Hughes because Mainwaring did not share his politics (he was a friend to blacklisted writers and “fronted” for a couple of them). Lupino and Young ended up with screenplay credit. So here we have one of my favorite directors with one of my favorite writers and a buck fifty budget making a nifty little low budget thriller. Hey, it’s public domain, so you can watch it free!

Bill

Friday, November 09, 2018

Hitchcock's Lost TV Episode (s2e4)

In 1955 Alfred Hitchcock became the world's most famous director thanks to his TV show ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. The show ran from 1955 to 1962... when it expanded into the ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR and continued to run until 1965. An entire decade as one of TV's top rated shows... with Hitch doing comic introductions and warning us about the upcoming commercials. Hitchcock directed a handful of episodes over the years as well.

In 1957, NBC decided to do an anthology series called SUSPICION which would be a mix of *live* TV and filmed episodes, hosted by Dennis O'Keefe (LEOPARD MAN) and co-produced by Hitchcock's company... with many of the filmed episodes using Hitch's TV crew (who would later make the movie PSYCHO). The very first episode was directed by Hitchcock... and has kind of been lost over the years. O'Keefe split after hosting several episodes and the odd mix of live and filmed didn't catch on... and the show didn't have enough episodes for syndication (only 40 episodes were made), so it never popped up in reruns like HITCHCOCK PRESENTS or the other show that used most of the HITCHCOCK crew - THRILLER hosted by Boris Karloff. So this Hitchcock directed episode has been unseen for years. Based on a great short story by Cornell Woolrich (REAR WINDOW) who is one of my favorite writers and the master of suspense on paper.





And that episode is the subject of the new episode of HITCH 20...







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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the “Master Of Suspense”; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?

This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!

Films Included: NOTORIOUS, SABOTAGE, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE 39 STEPS, REBECCA, TO CATCH A THIEF, FRENZY, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, THE LODGER, THE BIRDS, TORN CURTAIN, SABOTEUR, VERTIGO, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934), THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1955), SUSPICION, and NUMBER SEVENTEEN. 17 Great Films!

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99






HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

- Bill

Thursday, November 08, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: Girl With A Secret

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



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


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




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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

And the halfway point.

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

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



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

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



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

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

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



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

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



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

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

Bill



Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

0 to 110 in 60 Seconds

From TEN YEARS AGO!

FIRST: I have *finally* finished the first draft of the remake project, handed it in, and now kicking myself over all of the things I forget to write in the script. I’m actually planning on doing a touch up on the script while they are reading it. But mostly I’m happy with it, even though the whole project has been a challenge. Sometime in the future I may blog about the difficulties of remakes - do you remain faithful to the original or try to do something different and interesting?

SECOND: Between part 3 of my Writer’s Bloc interview and John August’s great blog entry on real world deadlines, you probably have a lot of questions about deadlines, and Grant was first to ask in the comments section. Because I’m sure many of you have the same question, and the answer is probably too long for the comments section, I’m answering here.

Grant has a good method for writing a script that allows him three weeks of prep time to really work out his characters and story before going to script. I have said this before - most people jump into their scripts way too soon, and don’t know their story and characters well enough - and it shows. Characters are inconsistent - or sketchy, and often the script wanders around looking for the story. Sometimes the best way to tell the story isn’t used - and it’s told in the easiest (and dullest) way. So spending the time to realy think through the story and characters before you go to script is a great thing....

But how does that work with real world deadlines?

Though in the interview I talk about a couple of times where I’ve had 2 weeks to write a script, that’s not how it normally works. Depending on the project, you are usually given a month to 12 weeks - sometimes more, in your contract. But, as John August mentions in his blog entry, just because they give you several months in your contract doesn’t mean they want you to wait until the last minute to turn in the script. I know a pair of writers who turn in their scripts at the very last minute... and I think their careers have suffered because of it. Just like anything else - you don’t want to wait until the last minute. Usually what will happen is the producer will call for a progress report, and though they sound happy and cheerful, what they really mean is “Where the hell is my script, slacker?” I got that call on the remake project because, even though I have a good prep method for writing scripts, I screwed up by abandoning it with this one. Instead of taking a couple of days to completely re-outline and write up a new treatment after getting the last minute changes, I thought I could just work those things out while writing the script... and boy was I wrong! I spent *weeks* trying to make the script work with the last minute changes - writing, throwing away, rewriting, reworking, throwing away, rewriting scenes. Much like my protagonist, I learned a valuable lesson.

When you are working on an assignment, usually it works in steps... and that means you won’t have to do everything at once. The first step is a treatment, and on many of the projects I’ve done I’ve had as little as a week - but never less than that. (Actually, I have had less time on one of those 2 week brain killer projects - but that’s unusual.) So much of your prep work will take place in that week. If you can figure out the basic story and characters and then do a beat sheet that you can turn into a treatment in 7 days, you’ll be okay. Most of the time they wanted about a 15 page treatment, and I could write that in a day from a beat sheet. Though you may need to compress some of your prep work to get that treatment done within the week, and you may end up skipping some steps... and maybe even putting in some long hours. But here’s your ace in the hole...

Once you turn in your treatment, there is a “reading period” - usually a week, or as long as the time allotted to write the treatment. That’s right - it takes them as long to read it as it took you to write it. Some of them probably move their lips while reading and have to look up “hard words” in the dictionary. But what this means to you - you have another week of prep for the script. While they are reading, you aren’t working on your tan in Mazatlan, you are doing all of the prep work that you couldn’t accomplish in that one week where you had to write the treatment. So you may turn in your treatment with a limited understanding of your characters and work that out while they are reading, or that place in the story you couldn’t quite figure out - so you faked your way through it in the treatment, you now have a week to figure out how to make it work.

None of this is leisurely. Whatever writer said that his wife didn’t understand that when he was looking out the window for an entire afternoon - he *was* working... well, that guy isn’t going to be spending as much time looking out the window. You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to inspire yourself. You have to work your butt off. The good thing about writing on a tight deadline - even though you may be pulling a lot of all-nighters and might become a stranger to friends and family, it’ll be over before you know it!

The thing about treatments - though WGA MBA says a producer can not reject a treatment and force you to rewrite treatments until they accept it, I would rather do a reasonable number of treatments (which means do some work for free) and get the story right before we move on to script, than go directly to script with a bunch of notes that completely change everything about the story... and have my first draft of the script be kind of a story experiment that everyone realizes doesn’t work... and you end up replaced by some other writer before there’s a story everyone agrees on. It seems like less work in the long run to write a few treatments than to have every draft be a completely different story with completely different characters. Sometime I will tell the story of my year writing treatments and scripts for a producer... you need to know when to say no!

Okay, so two weeks after they fire the starter gun, you have a meeting where they talk about the treatment they had a week to read - and often didn’t read - and if they want to go directly to script without continuing to play around with treatments, they’ll send you off to write. Your contract will a writing period for the first draft and a reading period for them to read it... or read the coverage... or have their assistant give them a 2 minute briefing on the way to the meeting. My 2 week situations have all been about meeting an airdate or production start date... and whenever there’s a hard deadline - be it 3 weeks or 3 months - it’s all about some real reason why they need the finished script. Whether it’s a pre-production date or a window for a star or a funding source - they need the script, so you need to get the rear in gear and write it. If there isn’t a hard deadline, and you’re just going by your contract - the producer will want it sooner rather than later - even though they may sit on it without reading it for weeks. Once they’ve commissioned the script, they want to see it as soon as possible. That doesn’t mean do a half assed job writing it - turning in crap on time is still turning in crap - but it does mean getting the work done as soon as possible.

I guess everything depends on how rough your rough draft is. Rewrites are part of a step deal, too - but that first draft you turn in has to be something that looks and reads like a script. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it has to be good enough. Even though I’ve just turned in my first draft, while they are reading, I am tweaking. As long as that first draft reads okay, you’ll be doing the second draft... and that will be much better because you’ve been working while they were reading.

The main thing to do is not worry. Okay, worry a little. The first time you have to make some deadline, you may think it’s impossible - and you may go crazy getting the work done and panic every other day... but once you’ve handed in the draft on time, you realize you *can* do it. It’s like sky diving or bunjee jumping - the first time you are sure you will die. Once you survive, you have the confidence to do it again. You figure out how to adapt to whatever the situation is.

One thing I’ve learned about writing scripts on a deadline - you find some specific skill you have that is “coasting” - Oddly, I learned from NINJA BUSTERS and DROID GUNNER that I am pretty good at buddy banter off the top of my head - so if I have to write a script fast, I want it to be a buddy action script so that I can use that odd skill to turn out some pages that everybody likes quickly. I’ve also learned that my subconscious comes up with some great things when I don’t have time to think - and I’m sure yours will, too. And you will also discover that you will be able to come up with some great ideas on the fly - I never thought I could come up with anything off the top of my head (except hair pulled from the approaching deadline) but I come up with some amazing things when I’m in the middle of a scene - one trick of mine is to come up with *details* that may later pay off, and if they don’t - they are still good details.

Most of the time you will be given a reasonable amount of time to write your first draft. The producer does want the script as soon as possible, but they also want a good script. This *is* a business. There are deadlines. You need to be able to write on a schedule and get work done on time. You’ll get the hang of it.

Classes On CD On Sale!

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: How To Study A Script.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Burger King on the run... Friday - mom's home cooking.
Pages: No pages yesterday, but I finished the danged script!

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: COOLEY HIGH (1975)

Directed by: Michael Schultz
Written by: Eric Monte
Starring: Glynn Turman, Lawrence Hilton Jacobs, Garrett Morris, Cynthia Davis.
Produced by: Steve Krantz (for AIP).
Music by: Freddie Perren.




Do you want to know the importance of franchises in motion pictures? George Lucas had a massive hit movie which is largely forgotten today and ends up a footnote in his career... a hit film that changed pop culture and opened the door for other huge hit films that imitated it or were inspired by it... a hit that is alluded to in other films and gets a whole subpolot in Brian DePalma’s PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE and surely spawned BACK TO THE FUTURE. But because there wasn’t really any potential for a franchise and the sequel they tried to use to cash in on the massive success of the original flopped (the original’s concept was only good for one story, as opposed to STAR WARS which was originally planned as a 9 film series but still left room for dozens of other films like the upcoming YOUNG JABBA and the next film in the current trilogy). Elton John’s hit “Crocodile Rock” only exists because this film created that mass change in pop culture that brought back the music from the 50's and early 60s. I’m talking about the film that spawned the HAPPY DAYS TV show, that huge hit AMERICAN GRAFFITI. I was in High School when it came out, and suddenly every school dance was 50's themed, Prom and Homecoming Dance, and what kids were wearing - we were all dressed the way our parent’s dressed when they were in High School! The film’s sountrack (of old 50's and 60s’ hits) went Triple Platinum and landed at #10 on the Billboard charts (the STAR WARS album didn’t make it to the top 100... though the disco version of the theme song was a hit single). Did STAR WARS change music or fashion or slang?

The tagline for AMERICAN GRAFFITI was “Where were you in ‘62?” and the film we are going to look at this week takes place two years later in a galaxy far, far away - instead of the suburban high school experience with school dances and cruising and malt shops, we get the urban high school experience. It was also a hit and spawned a TV series (WHAT’S HAPPENING), launched a bunch of careers, and created one of film’s greatest unsolved mysteries...

Where were you in ‘64?

The Chicago Projects?



This Black urban version of AMERICAN GRAFFITI swaps joy riding in stolen cars for cruising, the Cabrini-Green housing projects in Chicago for suburban tract homes, a crappy diner (Martha’s) for the malt shop, Garrett Morris for Terry McGovern as the favorite teacher, a new girl in school for that girl in the white T-Bird, and Motown hits for The Beach Boys and Buddy Holly.

Preach (Glynn Turman) and Cochise (Lawrence Hilton Jacobs) are best friends and seniors at Edwin G. Cooley Vocational High School. They’ve grown up in the slums, and are likely to stay in the slums unless some miracle occurs. The miracle for Cochise comes in the form of a possible basketball scholarship to some college - he’s the star player in their high school and if he can get out of the projects and into some college he has a chance. Preach would also like to get into some college, but despite being probably the smartest kid at Cooley, he doesn’t apply himself - skipping class constantly. Preach is a dreamer - a writer and poet. Black kids can get basketball scholarships, but poet scholarships? What college needs a bunch of Black poets to win anything? So Preach sees graduation from High School as a possible dead end... and that scares him. There’s a great scene where Preach tells the others of his dream of going to Hollywood and becoming a famous writer, and they laugh at him. Preach blows up and says he won’t work in any factory for the rest of his life. But he knows he probably will.


DEFAULT DRAMA


The film opens with a comedy scene where Cochise wakes up Preach so they can head to school, and we get most of the background on these two characters. I have a Script Tip in rotation about how every film, no matter the genre, is a drama by default. A comedy film works because there is drama underneath, and this film uses the conflict of their situation to create comedy. And like the current hit GIRLS TRIP, after a series of funny episodes the drama underneath comes to a head and things that began as comedy slowly turn more dramatic. But that’s after we’ve had a bunch of laughs as we become friends with these characters.

Preach and Cochise cut class along with two of their friends, Pooter (Corin Rogers) and Tyrone (Joseph Carter Wilson), and bumper surf on the back of the bus - hanging on to the outside! - across town to the zoo, where they hop the turnstile, con a girl at the snack shack into giving them some popcorn and candy bars, and just have a fun day goofing off that the zoo. Preach and Cochise have a method of cutting class without getting caught by returning for the last class of the day, so all of the fun they have is kind of against a ticking clock and sometimes it looks as if they aren’t going to make it. In their goofing off, a gorilla throws poop at Pooter - and a big bunch of poop gets stuck to his sweater. No matter how much he tries to clean it off, some of it’s still there. When time runs out, they hop the turnstile on the elevated train and head back - but Pooter’s gorilla poop sweater quickly clears the train car.

When they get to school, there is a chance for Pooter to sweet talk a cute girl, but the sweater ruins it. This film has a great tone - even though the background is the gritty city, the kids get into the usual high school trouble and have all kinds of fun. They are looking for love... and sex... and go to house parties where they break into the liquor cabinet. They have the standard High School romantic issues - Preach is going out with Sandra (Christine Jones) and fears she might get pregnant and he’ll end up as a factory worker instead of a writer. Where Cochise has his future mapped out with college and maybe an NBA career, Preach is a gambler - both with his life and his spare change. He’s constantly throwing dice with guys who are trouble.

Like a pair of neighborhood kids who have “Just Said Yes To Drugs” and “Just Said No To School”, Robert (Norman Gibson) and Stone (Sherman Smith) who are interesting antagonists, since they are childhood friends of Preach and Cochise whose lives have turned to crime. If Preach loses too much money to Robert and Stone, they won’t hesitate to beat the crap out of their childhood pal. It’s an interesting dynamic and kind of sums up the story. Nostalgia and fun... with a hint of danger in the background. In between Preach & Cochise and Robert & Stone is Damon (Maurice Marshall) who is a wanna-be gangster. Damon is a good kid who sees crime as the only future where he’s not broke. Preach is both well read and literate, and a gambler - which brings him into contact with dangerous people.

And gambling at Martha’s Diner is where Preach and Cochise first see the new girl at school, Brenda (Cynthia Davis), who is beautiful and aloof and smart as a whip. AMERICAN GRAFFITI had the blonde in the T-Bird (Suzanne Somers) who was the ideal but unattainable dream girl, and here we have Brenda. She’s out of *everyone’s* league.

But when the guys go to a house party on Friday night, Preach spots Brenda and makes a play for her (hoping Sandra doesn’t notice). Brenda is impressed that he is a poet and writer... but just when you think things are going Preach’s way, Damon starts a fight that pretty much destroys the house. The girl who threw was worried that her parents might find out... and now the door to the bathroom has been broken off its hinges!


COMEDY CAR CHASE


Preach and Cochise leave the party and Robert and Stone pull up in a Cadillac they borrowed from a friend - would the guys like to go for a drive? Sure! Preach ends up behind the wheel, and they drive around town having a great time. When they stop at a light next to a police car, Robert and Stone tell Preach to be cool... the car isn’t exactly “borrowed” - it’s stolen. We go from comedy to more serious - but still fun. Preach jumps the light, the police give chase, and now we have a comedy car chase - but with serious repercussions if they are caught. The car chase goes through a series of amusing obstacles, ending when they drive through a warehouse and the police car chasing them gets picked up by a forklift! As the two police officers demand that the forklift driver lower them, Preach and Cochise and Robert and Stone zoom away... laughing at the two cops.

On Saturday Preach, Cochise, Tyrone and Pooter study for a history test... get bored... and decide to go to the movies. But the guys are broke - so they go up to a couple of hookers pretending to be cops, “busting them” and confiscating all of their money. Unlike the movie scene in another High School coming of age movie, DINER, there is no popcorn bucket with a hole in it... but there is a fight Pooter accidentally starts which causes them to race out of the theater.

The story has an episodic structure, with comedy scenes like the zoo and the house party and the car chase and the hookers and movie fight loosely connected together - each is a comedy adventure in Preach and Cochise’s life. One of the issues is that the episodes don’t really add up to anything and don’t escalate in any meaningful way. AMERICAN GRAFFITI has a character arc for each of its characters, and the scenes with each are pieces of those larger arcs. Here we get pieces... that are amusing and have you laughing, but don’t seem to be building to anything larger - even though there is something larger.


BETRAYALS


That changes around halfway into the story when Preach and Brenda hook up. After several scenes where we think it might happen and then it doesn’t, and we’ve given up on this potential romance, Brenda agrees to go back to his place. Where she tells him she’s a virgin. Oh, boy! It’s bad enough that he’s cheating on Sandra, but he’s looking for a one night stand... what is Brenda looking for?

Afterwards, Preach lets slip that when he first saw Brenda he bet Cochise that he could sleep with her, and this doesn’t win him any points with her. She storms out, past Preach’s little sister, and there goes any chance of a rematch.

Monday at school, Preach and Sandra are getting ready for class (and that history test) when Brenda comes up to him and gives him a big passionate kiss... then leaves. This starts a fight between Preach and Sandra... and she breaks up with him... secretly rebounding with Cochise. There is a big moment where Cochise considers the repercussions of sleeping with his best friend’s girl - then does it anyway.

Just as Preach and Cochise get ready to take that history test... the police arrive and arrest them for stealing that Cadillac. Robert and Stone have also been arrested. They are taken to the police station and split up, where the police try to turn them against each other. But even though Robert and Stone actually stole the car, they decide not to snitch on them. They’ve known each other since they were kids, right?

Their history teacher, Mr. Mason (Garrett Morris), comes to their rescue. Many of the other teachers know these kids have little or no future so they just go through the motions of teaching them - but Mr. Mason is different. There’s a great scene where Mason and one of the policemen share a confiscated joint and he tells the cop that Robert and Stone are criminals - too late for them, but Preach and Cochise are good kids with futures. Both are headed to college. If they are charged with car theft, no scholarships and no college and no future. The cop decides to let Preach and Cochise go and arrest Robert and Stone.


SET IT UP!


Two of the greatest scenes in this film are with minor characters who are never really set up... and that makes them feel more like plot devices than people. If Mr. Mason had been part of the story before this scene, it would have been a much stronger scene. And that doesn’t mean you’d have to spend a lot of screen time with Mr. Mason - just introduce him early and keep him in the background of some scenes. Maybe even make him antagonistic at first, warning Preach and Cochise not to goof off so much. That way when he came to their rescue it would have had more impact. But this is one of those great scenes and characters that could have been used better in the story.

The other character that just pops up out of nowhere and steals a scene is Preach’s Mom (Mary Larkins) who works three different jobs to pay rent and keep food on the table. After hearing about Preach’s arrest and that girl he had up in his room and all of the other things that are against house rules, she tells Preach to go get the belt - the one she has been threatening to use on the kids for years - and prepare to get his ass whooped. Preach goes up to get the belt and prepares for his punishment, but when he gets back downstairs his Mom has fallen asleep. So he kisses her gently and goes out. This is a great moment, but it’s also the only scene that his Mom appears in! Hey, he had a Mom from the very beginning, right? Why not set her up in an earlier scene, instead of just have her show up here as kind of a plot point?

SPOILERS!

There’s a reason why this film is remembered today, why they are talking about remaking it, why it is referenced in songs by the Fugees and others. We’ve laughed, but now it’s time to cry...

Spoilers for the ending of COOLEY HIGH follow.

You have been warned.

Preach discovers that Cochise has slept with Sandra and they get into a huge argument - their friendship is over.

Meanwhile, Robert and Stone - out on bail - believe that the reason why the police let Preach and Cochise go is because they two snitched on them...

Preach escapes Robert and Stone, bumps into Brenda - who tells him that Cochise is waiting under the elevated train tracks. Preach knows that Robert and Stone might find him, and races to save him...

But Robert and Stone and their toady Damon *have* found Cochise, and are taking turns punching him. When it’s Damon’s turn, he wants to show off in front of the real gangsters, and punches Cochise so hard his head hits the train trestle... and dies.

Preach discovers Cochise dead, and breaks down. This is a very serious and unexpected ending to what has up until now been a comedy. We have had hints of danger all along, but no one expects the hero to die.

There’s a great final scene, as Preach waits until Cochise’s funeral is over - and when everyone else has left, says a personal goodbye before heading to Los Angeles.



Just like AMERICAN GRAFFITI there is a “where are they now” credit sequence that tells us Preach became a successful Hollywood screenwriter, Brenda became a librarian and has three kids, Robert and Stone were killed in a liquor store hold up, etc.

Though the film is a lot of fun, that ending is what haunts me to this day. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll fall in love... and even if you're a white guy from the suburbs you will identify with these characters and share in their high school experiences - which were similar to mine in many ways. Heck, I saw this movie at the drive in when I was the age of these characters.

Screenwriter Eric Monte went on to create GOOD TIMES and WHAT’S HAPPENING? and write for MOESHA, director Michael Schultz is one of the great directors - he followed this up with CAR WASH and GREASED LIGHTNING and SARGENT PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND and one of my favorites BUSTIN’ LOOSE! and he directed Denzel Washington’s first film - over 100 directing credits including lots of my favorite TV shows (ROCKFORD FILES to CHUCK) - how come he’s not famous? You know what happened with the two stars - they continued being stars! But the big mystery is Cynthia Davis who played Brenda - and steals every scene that she is in. Drop dead beautiful, can deliver a comedy line, great in the dramatic scenes... and this is her only credit. She just vanished off the face of the earth! Did she really become a librarian and pop three kids like her character? How did this great talent just vanish?

- Bill

PS: There's an internet site that says Cynthia Davis is a married grandmother - even has pictures.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Fridays With Hitchcock: HITCH 20: The Perfect Crime. (s2e3)

This is a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I have been a "guest expert" on (season 1). The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock and here is the third episode of the second season, which looks at the importance of specifics of Hitchcock's work on screen (and on the page, or it never gets to the screen). This new season is without me. I was juggling too many things and thought I'd squeeze it in, but just didn't have the time. But I'm still be featuring it here, because it's a great show.

THE PERFECT CRIME (Season 2, Episode 3).

Hitchcock was famous for saying that he didn’t like mysteries, so this episode ends up being a send up of the genre and Sherlock Holmes and C. Auguste Dupin are alluded to as our protagonist’s equals... then the story tears our protagonist apart piece by piece.



Oh, I should mention that this famous detective is played by Vincent Price... and for me that’s the coolest part of this episode: Hitchcock directing Vincent Price!

The story has a lawyer played by James Gregory coming to see the great detective about a case he may have got wrong... and an innocent man who may have been executed. Though most of the story is those two verbally battling it out in Price’s living room, there are a trio of flashbacks that show us portions of Price’s detective work and then Gregory’s information which changes the story so that some of the evidence from Price’s flashback has a different explanation. The flashbacks have no dialogue, they are all narration... and this reminded me of Hitchcock’s much better experiment alomg the same lines in BON VOYAGE (1944) one of his films for the French Resistence. I look at that film in EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR... it shows the same story twice, but the information we learn the second time around changes what we’ve seen the first time. In a way it’s the predecessor of movies like RUN LOLA RUN and HILARY AND JACKIE and RASHOMON where the same story is seen multiple times and possibly for different points of view so that it changes every time we see it. BON VOYAGE shows an RAF Pilot who was shot down behind enemy lines and a Polish POW using the French Underground to escape Nazi Occupied France... and that’s what happens the first time we see the story. The second time, we discover that the Polish POW is actually an enemy soldier who is killing all of the French Underground members that the RAF pilot takes him to! In PERFECT CRIME we see Price at the scene of the crime collecting evidence and noting things like the footprints of the killer pacing back and forth outside the crime scene... but in Gregory’s version of that event the innocent man isn’t pacing back and forth, he’s walking back and forth of the real killer’s footprints (his lover) to obscure them. The same piece of evidence has two different meanings!




One of the other interesting scenes in a episode is when Price and Gregory have a verbal duel, each trying to show the other that they are superior. Hitchcock shoots both men from about waist level aiming up at their faces so that they appear to be towering over us... superior to us. By having Price verbally blast away at Gregory from this angle which makes him appear to be superior, he gets the upper hand... until we cut to Gregory countering, verbally showing his superiority to Price (which the up angle makes Gregory seem superior to us)... and then we cut back to Price who counters... and because we cut back and forth between these two men shown at an upward angle so that they seem superior to the audience, we feel that this really is a duel of wits!

Things like camera angles, camera movement, composition, juxtaposition, and lighting are part of the basic language of cinema which Hitchcock was fluent in. Note the change in lighting on Price during the verbal dueling scene.





Bill

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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the “Master Of Suspense”; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?

This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!

Films Included: NOTORIOUS, SABOTAGE, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE 39 STEPS, REBECCA, TO CATCH A THIEF, FRENZY, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, THE LODGER, THE BIRDS, TORN CURTAIN, SABOTEUR, VERTIGO, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934), THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1955), SUSPICION, and NUMBER SEVENTEEN. 17 Great Films!

Only 125,000 words!

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HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Bill
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