Thursday, November 29, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: A Good Imagination

Good Imagination.

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



Season: 1, Episode: 31.
Airdate: May 2, 1961

Director: John Brahm
Writer: Robert Bloch adapts Robert Bloch
Cast: Edward Andrews, Patricia Barry, Ed Nelson, Britt Lomond.
Music: great whimsical score by Morton Stevens
Cinematography: Benjamin Kline
Producer: William Frye



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Crime and Punishment. That in a nutshell is our story for tonight. Except instead of a neurotic student and his nemesis, our play is about a beautiful wife with an intemperate taste in men... and her discerning husband whose reservations will stop at nothing, not even murder. This good man however is not an ordinary killer. He has flair, imagination, a good imagination. That’s the name of our play. And our players are: Patricia Barry, Ed Nelson, and Edward Andrews as the injured bookworm. Join us now as we watch this bookworm turn... to murder.”

Synopsis: Handsome Randy Hagen (William Allyn) sleeps in his luxurious bachelor apartment... and is awakened by a noise. A door slamming? He walks into his living room, which has been ransacked. What? “Louise?” Meek Frank Logan (Edward Andrews) pops up from behind a table, “Louise isn’t here, I’m her husband.” Randy wants to know what’s going on, Logan says it’s obviously a case of burglary. “You tried to steal my wife. How do you think I got in here? With that key that you gave her.” He holds up the key in a gloved hand and says he knew about them all along. Randy asks what he wants, Logan replies that he must not have a very good imagination. “It will appear as if burglars broke into your apartment and you were killed trying to defend yourself.” Randy says “Don’t shoot me!” and Logan replies that he doesn’t have a gun, carefully puts his glasses in his pocket and grabs a medieval mace off a display on the wall, chases Randy into the bedroom and beats him to death. Comes out, puts his glasses back on, picks up a fallen copy of “Crime And Punishment” and sets it on the table before he leaves.



Louise Logan (Patricia Barry) comes home from Randy’s funeral and finds Logan in the living room reading a book. He says he came home early from the book convention, it was dead. Logan does a great job of needling her, asking how well she knew him. Why she felt the need to go to his funeral. How he died. “He was the type you’d expect to be shot by a jealous husband,” Logan says... and his wife turns white. Then Logan hands her the key to Randy’s apartment, says he found it on her dresser but it doesn’t fit any of the doors in the house. Louise grabs the key and leaves...

Louise tells her lawyer brother Arnold (Britt Lomond) that she suspects Logan may have murdered Randy. Arnold doesn’t believe someone like Logan is capable of murder... he’s a bookworm! Arnold agrees to hire Private Eye Joe Thorp (Ken Lynch) to look into Randy’s murder off the record.

Thorp comes into Logan’s bookstore pretending to be a customer, but Logan outsmarts him and gets him to admit he’s a Private Eye. That’s when Thorp turns the tables and says maybe they can make a deal... Thorp knows Logan took a flight out here from the book convention on the night Randy was murdered... and took a flight back to the convention a few hours later. He demands $10k for his silence. Thorp will meet Logan at 8pm at brother in law Arnold’s fishing cabin... Arnold will be there at 9pm and Thorp will tell him everything if Logan doesn’t show up with the money.



9pm, Arnold shows up at the cabin... and finds Logan sitting inside. Logan pours Arnold a drink and explains that Thorp demanded $10k to keep his mouth shut, and Logan gave him the money. Arnold is shocked, “He just took the money and ran?” No, he’s out back in a boat waiting for you. Arnold downs the drink, and Logan takes him out back to the dock where Thorp sits in a boat... dressed in fishing clothes. Arnold accuses Logan of killing him, and Logan explains that he’s just unconscious from the drugs I put in his drink, and yours. Carefully takes off his glasses and puts them in his pocket, then puts semi conscious Arnold in the boat with Thorp, rows the boat to the middle of the lake and capsizes it... swimming back to shore.



After Arnold’s funeral, Logan buys a house in the country so that Louise can escape the memories of her brother’s death in that fishing accident. No one around for miles. Logan will be working in the city, but come to the country house for the weekends. She’s stuck there alone... no man for miles.

Knock on the door... it’s local hunky handyman George Parker (Ed Nelson) wondering if Louise needs any work done? One thing leads to another and...



Logan comes home unexpected. George pretends to be inspecting the fireplace for repairs and leaves... but Logan suspects.

At the end of the summer, Logan decides to sell the country house... and George and Louise hatch a plan to steal the money from the house sale and run away together.

Logan asks George to help him brick up a section of the basement where rats might congregate before they hand over the house to the new owners. George asks where Louise is, Logan says she went into town to get the money for the house sale. When George has finished bricking the section of the basement, Logan hands him a beer. George asks if Logan is going to have one, and he says he never drinks around firearms. Logan has a gun, plays with it, puts it in his pocket. Gives George another beer and they examine the wall. The mortar has set, Logan asks if George can hear that noise behind the wall. Like a mouse. Then Logan tells George that he and Louise have separated...



Logan tells George that Louise was alive when he put her in the section, but George killed her when he walled her up in the section. Hasn’t George read Poe’s “Cask Of Amontillado”? Oh, that’s right... George doesn’t read. But George *does* freak out and runs away, as Logan laughs!

That night Logan is reading in the living room... when Louise comes home. Twist! She says a state trooper stopped her on the road to check her I.D. but wouldn’t tell her why. Logan says he knows why and it has to do with George. He was supposed to come and wall up that section of the basement... but never showed. Logan had to do it himself... would she like to see?



On the way down to the basement, Logan says that he got a call from the police that George had burst into the police station and accused Logan of murdering Louise and walling her up in the basement. Logan told them his wife was in town, which is why the state trooper stopped her on the road. Obviously George has gone crazy. When Louise breaks down, Logan takes her to the wall... which now has the bricks removed. She thought he had bricked the wall himself. Logan carefully takes off his glasses, puts them in his pocket, and says he will... “My alibi will be set, and so will the cement.” He finished walling her in the basement when...

The police chief shows up... with George! They thought if George could see Mrs. Logan again, he’d snap out of this strange delusion he has that she’s bricked up in the basement. Can Logan bring his wife to the door???



Review: One of the great things that both THRILLER and HITCHCOCK did was often tell stories from the *villain’s* point of view. We get to be mean and nasty and evil for a half hour or an hour and then go back to being nice people afterwards. All of use have dark fantasies, and these shows allowed us to safely explore them (without actually bricking our spouse inside a wall). Villains always seem to have more fun than heroes, so it’s fun to pretend to be one for an hour.

And this is an *understandable* villain. We can relate to him. He’s clever and witty and well read (this began as a short story by Robert Bloch, so readers were the primary audience for the story), and always several steps ahead of everyone else. If we aren’t that person, we’d all like to be that person. And whether you are quoting Bugs Bunny or Vizzini from THE PRINCESS BRIDE most people are morons. Here we have a cheating gold digger wife who seems to never learn her lesson. One lover dies under mysterious circumstances and she just keeps bleeding her husband dry as she searches for another. The people Logan kills aren’t innocent by a long shot... and also aren’t very bright. What’s fun about this story is that Logan *warns* his future victims ahead of time using book references, but they aren’t readers so they fall into his traps. Had they been more clever and better read, they would probably have survived!



The script is filled with the clever wordplay that Bloch is famous for, as I mentioned in an earlier entry his short stories and novels are filled with lines like “He cut off her scream... and her head.” He dances with language, finding dark puns and finding words that connect two different thoughts. The dialogue in this episode is fun!

One of the great elements of this episode is the perfect crime at the end, which is like an intricate chess game and requires George to go to the police and accuse Logan of murder while Louise is still alive (and the police can find her). There’s a stageplay by Lucille Fletcher (SORRY, WRONG NUMBER) called NIGHTWATCH (first staged in 1972) which does something similar, turning the only person who might be suspicious of the missing victim into a crazy lunatic by having them witness a false murder and make accusations... which are easily proven false because the victim is still alive at that point. This is also used to some extent in Hitchcock’s VERTIGO and DePalma’s BODY DOUBLE where a witness tells the police about a *false murder*. This is a great device, and in this case not only helps Logan get away with the murder but also gets revenge on George by making him look crazy.

This is a fun, dark episode with some great suspense and a twist ending. Next week we have a charming story about a little girl and her best friend... who happens to be dead.

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

LIMITLESS!
Take a pill & scripts write themselves!

From about 7 years ago...

Okay, I hate the trailer for the new movie LIMITLESS, because it looks like some slacker’s fantasy. Bradley Cooper takes a pill and can access 100% of his mind and - after not writing a single word on his novel - pounds the thing out in 4 days and renegotiates his deal for more money! No hard work involved. Okay, is there anyone left in the world that believes that crap about only being able to use 10% or 20% of their brain? It comes from an advert for a self help book from 1936, and it’s complete bull shit. Though we can’t use 100% of our brain to *think* with, that’s because a large part of our brain is being used for unimportant activities like remembering to breathe and making sure your heart beats and blood flows and limbs move when you want them to move. If you really want to use 100% of your brain for thinking, that would be at the expense of your heart beating and stuff.




But, if we can get past that completely wrong fact, there already exists a pill that will allow you to work to your full potential - and it’s *free*! It’s called Get Off Your Ass And Do Something, and no prescription is required. Nothing prevents you from working at your full potential... except you. The problem with this pill is that it’s bitter and hard to swallow. Most people avoid it. Can you blame them? There’s nothing fun or easy or stylish about Getting Off Your Ass And Doing Something. It’s, well, WORK. That’s the four letter word most people hate. Would you really want to watch a movie where Bradley Cooper sits at his desk every day and *types*? Even if he did it shirtless, I don’t think many people would find that very exciting.

Can I be honest with you? I don’t much like that Get Off Your Ass And Do Something pill myself. I’ve taken them now and then, and it’s not pleasant. That work thing is boring and sweaty. Plus, I look silly typing in Starbucks with my shirt off.

There are lots of people on message boards who think they will sell their first screenplay for a million bucks and date underwear models while sipping champagne and floating around in Spielberg’s pool. That’s the LIMITLESS version. The more realistic version involves writing a stack of scripts, rewriting them, doing all kinds of hard work and networking, and maybe landing an assignment that never gets made. Sure, I know a couple of people from messageboards who worked their asses off and actually sold their scripts (not the first scripts for either one) and the scripts actually got made into theatrical movies with stars. Cool. Those are the couple that I know who *seem* like overnight successes - and I know a whole lotta people.

There’s a great guest blogger entry on John August’s site who tells her story of working her ass off and becoming a professional writer. She’s done some series work on the 90210 reboot and wrote the sequel to MEAN GIRLS. It’s a great story, an inspiring story.... and a bunch of LIMITLESS people in the comments section are tearing down her accomplishments. You see, in the LIMITLESS fantasy land, earning a living as a screenwriter is just a bunch of crap if you aren’t floating in Spielberg’s pool with those underwear models. It’s not about the reality (work) it’s about the fantasy (being a rich and famous writer). To the LIMITLESS crowd, you start at the top! And there is only the top!

OVERNIGHT SUCCESS!




Okay - I’m maybe not impartial, here, because I’m not floating in Spielberg’s pool, but the percentage of screenwriters who write big blockbuster movies is small. Look at all of the movies made every year for cinemas, TV, Cable, DVD, etc... now add in all of the TV episodes... now add in all of the stuff you may not think of like reality shows and game shows and talk shows and soap operas and upscale online content and... well, there are a lot of working writers in the biz who will never write a summer tentpole movie starring Will Smith or even Bradley Cooper. They are still professional screenwriters and still earn a living doing what they love to do. None of them are likely to be floating in Spielberg’s pool, unless it’s some sort of SUNSET BLVD. thing, and they’re face down. (Sorry - a moment imagining Spielberg walking down the stairs in that slinky Salome dress, asking if they’re ready for his close up.) Hey, we all dream of writing that script that sells for millions and makes us suddenly attractive to underwear models, and that’s okay - but we also dream we will wake up and gremlins will have rewritten our Act 2 overnight. Unfortunately, neither has happened to me. I have to do that damned rewrite myself, and underwear models still don’t seem to care about me.

But I’ve been writing scripts for a living for the past 20 years, now.

And it’s a lot of work.

But I get paid for doing what I love to do - mentally playing “dress up” and being a spy or a tough cop or whatever cool fantasy *I* come up with. So I love my work (even though some days I don’t really like it). Would be nice to have the millions and underwear models, but at least I’m not cleaning the bathrooms at the Rossmore, CA Safeway Grocery Store. And I’m not stacking pallets in a warehouse. I’m not working any sort of day job - just writin’.

But if you were to find one of those people who might be floating in Spielberg’s pool surrounded by underwear models, that Cinderella story of their that sounds a lot like LIMITLESS? Fiction. 99.9% of those overnight success stories had some very long and very dark nights. The LIMITLESS people like to point to those folks... without ever digging very deep into their legends to find out of they are true or not. LIMITLESS people would rather believe the fantasy than search for facts they’d rather not know...




Hey, Frank Darabont got to direct his first sale SHAWSHANK, so can I! Except, Darabont co-wrote NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3, and THE BLOB remake, and FLY 2, and then worked on a bunch of TV shows writing numerous episodes, and had already directed a TV movie before SHAWSHANK. But for PR purposes, we’ll just start with SHAWSHANK.

Stallone and ROCKY? Myth! Complete PR fabrication - the hot script was PARADISE ALLEY, not ROCKY... and Stallone had done 13 acting gigs before ROCKY including *starring* in two films... and he was a writer on LORDS OF FLATBUSH made two years earlier. But we’ll just start with ROCKY for PR purposes, and sweep the whole PARADISE ALLEY thing under the rug.

My favorite of all of these overnight success stories is Jeff Maguire who wrote IN THE LINE OF FIRE. If you haven’t heard the PR version of that one, he was broke and Tom Cruise wanted to buy IN THE LINE OF FIRE and star in it, but Maguire turned that down because Cruise was too young, and the script got to Eastwood and the rest is history. Overnight success. Cinderella story. LIMITLESS! Except, Maguire had something like a dozen *produced credits* before IN THE LINE OF FIRE, including one starring Stallone (VICTORY - directed by John Huston!). The PR people have erased all of these films from his bio, but his first produced credit was a horror movie called VAMPIRE LUST.

There was no overnight success for these people - they worked hard! They took that other pill and Got Off Their Asses And Did Something. I think it’s disrespectful to ignore all of the work they did before that overnight success (even if their PR people have erased it... like those missing days from Bradley Cooper’s life in LIMITLESS). But it’s crazy to think the fictionalized version will happen to you, when it didn’t even happen to them. It’s difficult enough to sell a script or get an assignment, let alone start at the top!

MY APPLICATION TO BE CEO




Love him or hate him, Paul Haggis is the only screenwriter to write back-to-back Oscar Best Picture Winners, and he picked up a Best Original Screenplay Oscar while he was at it. He’s got that new film on DVD - THE NEXT THREE DAYS - and lately he’s been in the news for dumping Scientology and talking about it in the press. But he’s another overnight success, right? He took the LIMITLESS pill, right? Well, before CRASH, Haggis was a TV writer - and the *creator* of WALKER, TEXAS RANGER. He often jokes that he makes more money on Walker rerun residuals than on CRASH and his other movies combined. So, if you’re one of those people who commented on John August’s site and don’t think you could ever write something like WALKER, TEXAS RANGER... that’s a route to an Oscar! Haggis wrote on a bunch of TV low-profile series like DUE SOUTH (that Mountie show on CBS that usually aired over summer) and YOU TAKE THE KIDS and FACTS OF LIFE and DIFFERENT STROKES and WHO’S THE BOSS... also some good shows like LA LAW and EZ STREETS and THIRTYSOMETHING. But he didn’t even start on those junky TV sit-coms... he started on Saturday morning cartoons writing SCOOBY-DOO. Because that’s where the doors open for a TV writer. I know a bunch of people who started out writing animation TV or syndicated stuff - things that are not glamorous and underwear models have no interest in. But it’s a start. It’s a foot in the door. It’s writing for a living. And if you end up with a career like Paul Haggis’ *before* CRASH and that’s all there is? Hey - you have earned a living writing screenplays for a living... and those WALKER, TEXAS RANGER residuals are pretty good!

I think the reason why people on August’s boards poo-poo this professional writer’s career is that it’s the unglamourous hard work stuff - no fantasy! And they don’t want to even consider that they might have to dirty their hands writing MEAN GIRLS 2 or something. That’s *work*. They just want to take that LIMITLESS pill and skip all of that.

CUT TO: THE CHECK





The thing that amazes me is the LIMITLESS fantasy people. It’s as if they want to just cut to the Spielberg pool thing and avoid that whole *writing* part... and to me the writing is the fun part (well, you know what I mean). I didn’t want to become some generic form of rich and famous, I wanted to be a professional screenwriter - to write screenplays for a living. To make up stories and great lines of dialogue and cool scenes. I wanted to write! The part they don’t show in LIMITLESS, because it involves a lot of work typing and stuff. I may fantasize about cutting to: script finished, but I suspect if that really happened I would hate it. I love coming up with that killer line or story twist or bit of character. If I was in life just for the money I’d be doing something with much better odds of making a pile of money - I’ve joked that the guy who was hired as a bagger the same day as I was at Safeway is now a Regional Manager for the West Coast and probably making much more than I am and maybe working less. But I would not be happy doing that.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t aim high and try to be floating in Spielberg’s pool surrounded by underwear models (I hope they can swim) - always do great work and always aim for the stars - but allow for a bit of realism: know that you may not sell your first script for $2 million... instead you may end up getting a gig writing DVD sequels to movies or some other non-glamourous and non-famous gig... And you want to do your best work when you get those gigs and *enjoy them* (even though there’s a lot of typing involved) because professional writers don’t only write those Will Smith blockbusters, they also write SCOOBY-DOO cartoons, and TEEN WOLF TV show on MTV, and UNDISPUTED 3, and all kinds of other jobs where you get paid to write. All of that is *work* - no fantasy pill that you take and suddenly have the finished screenplay and a pile of money.

BLUE PILL OR RED PILL?


So, here’s is the pill: bitter and hard to swallow...




You need to look at your life. You probably have a family and kids and a job and all sorts of other responsibilities. You may not have much free time. Well, figure out just how much time you can spend writing every day - an hour? Half an hour? 15 minutes? Your lunch hour at work? Whatever you can spare. You know your life. You may have to organize your time better to find that half hour or whatever. But once you’ve figured it out, stick by it - that is your writing time. You are going to focus on *writing* during that time. Explain to the kids how important this is, and lock a door if you have to. But once you commit to that writing time - write (with a shirt or without - your decision). I’ve said this before - if you write 1 page every day, you have 3 first drafts by the end of the year. You know what the hard part is? Writing a page a day. Keeping that going. You will fail at first... or, more likely, you will get a page done every day for a while and then fail. Guess what? That’s okay. There is no such thing as permanent failure. Miss a few days (or months) and you can still go back to writing every day. If you keep screwing up and don’t write for two weeks for every week you do write? That’s a screenplay by the end of the year. How is that failure? You have given birth to a screenplay! But the more you stick to writing every day (yes, you can take weekends off if you want), the better. Everything is a habit. If you writing every day, when your time comes to write - your brain is ready to write.

Some people find that rituals help - I don’t mean sacrificing goats, I mean background music, having a beverage ready, maybe even wearing certain clothes. Whatever tells your mind that this is writing time. The important thing is to take that writing time and use it for writing. When I worked at the warehouse, I thought about my scene all day while I was on the clock, so that I could spend my writing time doing as much writing as possible - scenes already in my head. If you can find those moments in your non-writing time that allow you to think out a scene or exchange, that helps in many ways. For me, getting pages done is a form of reward. Momentum is a big thing. If I can write my pages today, it helps me write my pages tomorrow. I think it also helps if you can look forward to your writing time - if you can get excited about the scene you are going to write later that day or tomorrow morning while everyone else is asleep. If you find yourself spending your writing time *not* writing, you need to figure out why that is happening and change something. If you only have an hour a day, or 15 minutes a day, you need to spend that time putting words on paper (or computer screen).

I’m not going to lie to you and say that the Get Off Your Ass And Do Something pill tastes great and you’ll want to take one every day - it’s *work* - but in the real world we need to use the rest of our brain for stuff like breathing and making sure our heart keeps beating, so that LIMITLESS pill is probably not a good idea in the first place.

Maybe the film will address this?

In a speech where Bradley Cooper is not wearing his shirt.

- Bill

Thursday, November 22, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: Terror In Teakwood

Best Of THRILLER Thursday...

Terror In Teakwood

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



Season: 1, Episode: 33.
Airdate: May 16, 1961


Director: Paul Henreid.
Writer: Alan Caillou from a short story by Harold Lawlor
Cast: Guy Rolfe, Hazel Court, Charles Aidman, Reggie Nalder.
Music: Awesome Jerry Goldsmith score, piano solos by Caesar Giovannini.
Cinematography: John Warren.
Producer: William Frye



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Cruelty has a human heart. Jealousy a human face. And Terror? Terror has the human form divine. Tonight we will see how one man’s cruelty and jealousy create a terror which can scarcely be considered human, and which waits silently, malevolently, beneath the lid of this teakwood chest. That’s the bname of our story, Terror In Teakwood. Join us now as these others did who had the misfortune to learn what it contains: Mr. Guy Rolfe, Miss Hazel Court, Mr. Charles Aidman, and Mr. Reggie Nalder. Oh, no: I can’t permit you to leave, you’ve already learned a great deal too much. I can only suggest that you get a grip on yourself.”

Synopsis: Creepy Graveyard: The Night Watchman (skull faced Reggie Nalder the assassin from Hitchcock’s remake of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH) accepts a bribe from a well dressed Vladimir (Guy Rolfe) to break into a crypt. The Night Watchman watches as something terrible happens in the crypt... Something that frightens the night watchman at a cemetery!



Music composer Jerry Welch (the always trustable Charles Aidman) has a visit from his ex girlfriend Leonie (Hazel Court who was a regular in all of the Corman / Vincent Price horror films which were made after this) who asks for his help with her husband, famous concert pianist Vladimir, who is convinced that someone is trying to kill him. Last night she woke up to find him in torn and bloody pajamas. He won’t go to the police. And this isn’t the first time she has awoken to find him like this... and each time he tells her not to tell anyone about it. She wants Jerry to work as her husband’s assistant, live on site at their home, and find out what is happening on these bloody nights.

Jerry asks his mentor Papa Glockstein (Vladimir Sokoloff) for advice and information: does he have any idea what may be happening with Vladimir? Vladimir is obsessed with surpassing rival composer and concert pianist Carnowitz, who is dead... in fact, Vladimir took Leonie on their honeymoon to Carnowitz’s funeral to make sure he was really dead. Since then he has been afraid for some reason. Their conversation is interrupted by a panicked phone call from Leonie that Vladimir has locked himself in his room and is screaming like hell!



Leonie ties to get the doors open as her husband plays the piano and screams in agony. When he stops playing, she steps away from the doors... as he opens them and staggers out: torn up and bloody! As if he had been attacked by a maniac while playing the piano. He falls to the floor unconscious.

When Jerry gets there, Leonie has cleaned Vladimir up and he is resting on the sofa. Leonie tells Jerry that he was playing the “Carnowitz Seventh Sonata” when the episode occurred. Jerry wants to call a doctor, but Vladimir wakes up and says: “No doctor!” Leonie introduces Jerry to Vladimir as the new assistant, and Vladimir orders Jerry to forget what he has seen: he expects his employees to do exactly what he says. His second order of business: he wants Jerry to look after a teakwood box until he returns. Keep it in sight always and whatever happens, don’t open it.

The mysterious teakwood box. Like a miniature coffin. What could be inside of it? Jerry is curious, but dares not open it. He keeps it under lock and key in his room at the house. What could it be....?



At the Concert Hall: Vladimir is an amazing pianist. As he practices, Jerry asks Leonie questions about Vladimir’s odd behavior. If someone is trying to kill him, why doesn’t he want to go to the police? All of this began when Carnowitz died... except Leonie believes that Carnowitz may still be alive and has faked his death. On their honeymoon, Vladimir went to Carnowitz’s crypt and came back angry... she thinks he discovered the crypt was empty, and now Carnowitz has followed Vladimir back to New York and is behind these strange attacks. That sounds crazy, but before the attacks she hears someone playing the “Carnowitz Seventh Sonata”, and it can’t be Vladimir... because only Carnowitz could play that piece due to his oversized hands. In fact, Carnowitz composed the pieces just so Vladimir (with his smaller delicate hands) could never play it. Jerry wonders if Carnowitz is alive, is he trying to drive Valdimir crazy... and worries that Vladimir’s sanity may already on shaky ground. But why would Carowitz fake his own death just to drive Vladimir mad?



When Jerry and Leonie sneak out for a drink, Vladimir notices...

And someone follows them down the street... Carnowitz?

Jerry hears the footsteps following them in the darkness, and suspense builds. He sends Leonie into the bar and springs a trap on the man following them: not Carnowitz, but the Cemetery Night Watchman. They struggle, and when Jerry subdues him and asks what he wants, the Night Watchman says: “Money.” If he tells what he saw happen in that graveyard they will throw Vladimir in prison forever. He wants Jerry to tell this to Vladimir. When Jerry asks about Carnowitz being alive, the Night Watchman just laughs.

Jerry thinks the answers may be in that teakwood box, opens it to discover...

Carowitz’s severed hands!



Jerry goes to Music Critic Sylvia (Linda Watkins) who tells him that Vladimir has made a last minute change in his program for his big concert tonight, and will be playing the “Carnowitz Seventh Sonata”... and she can’t wait for him to fail in front of a concert hall filled with people! Vladimir and Carnowitz were bitter rivals, and Carnowitz only wrote the Seventh Sonata because he knew Vladimir would never be able to play it with his small hands. Carnowitz had the most beautiful hands in the world, and asks Jerry if he ever saw them. Jerry says he has (!).

At the concert hall, Papa Glockstein makes an emergency call to have a new piano sent over right away. When Jerry arrives, Papa shows him the piano they had planned on using for the performance: broken into a dozen pieces! Who would do such a thing? Jerry describes the Night Watchman and asks if they’ve seen him. Yes, he was looking for Vladimir and they told him to come back for the performance. Jerry says after the concert they will call the police about the vandalism, but for now they don’t want to concern Vladimir with this. He needs to concentrate on his music.

Leonie comes to the concert hall and talks to Jerry: she thinks Vladimir may have seen them together and may be jealous. He can be very violent when jealous. Jerry says he figured that out... and tells her what he found in the box. A man who would cut off his rival’s dead hands? Scary! Jerry wants Leonie to leave Vladimir now (and come away with him?)... but she must go to the concert. Jerry says he will be there with her.



The Concert: Jerry and Leonie watch Vladimir play, while Sylvia takes a smoke break outside and talks to Papa about Vladimir’s impending failure in front of a sold out crowd. Sylvia’s photographer shows up late, and she tells him to find a place and take some great photos... of Vladimir’s epic failure. Sylvia is going to kill Vladimir’s career tonight.

A hush falls over the concert hall: Vladimir prepares to play “Carnowitz Seventh Sonata”... Sylvia takes her seat inside to watch. Everyone is waiting for him to fail, but Vladimir does an amazing job! How can he possibly hit those two keys simultaneously? Has he somehow stretched his hands? When he finished there is a standing ovation! Even Sylvia stands and applauds! But when Vladimir stands up to take his bow, Leonie notices that he’s bleeding from his wrists! She passes out.

At their home: Leonie is asleep in bed after the doctor gave her a sedative. Vladimir comes home, angry at his assistant Jerry for not being there when the concert was over: he had to take a taxi home! Does he not understand what an assistant’s duties are? Vladimir eventually makes sure his wife is okay, then talks about the concert and his amazing victory over his dead rival. Jerry walks the doctor to the door and Vladimir stays in the room with Leonie...

...As the Night Watchman breaks in to the apartment through the fire escape, armed with a machete. He wants money from Vladimir, a lot of money! Vladimir fights the Night Watchman and tosses him off the fire escape. Splat!

Then Vladimir goes to his sleeping wife and caresses her face as if nothing has happened. She wakes up and freaks as the hands touch her... calling for Jerry... then goes back to sleep. Id his wife cheating on him with that assistant?



Vladimir goes to see Jerry, carrying the teakwood box. He confronts Jerry, and wants him to open the box... there is nothing inside. Vladimir also has the machete. He screams that Carnowitz was a second rate pianist with freakish large hands... but now Vladimir has conquered him. He stole his hands, and then the hands *came alive* when he put them on like gloves so that he could play the Seventh Sonata! The hands fought him at first, but soon Vladimir tamed them. Vladimir has put the severed hands on Leonie’s bed, and soon the hands will attack her and kill her! Because she cheated on him with this... assistant!

When she screams from the other room, Jerry fights Carnowitz, getting the machete away from him and knocking him out, then running to her bedroom. He breaks down the door! She is laying on the bed with *handprints* on her throat! But alive!



Then we see the severed hands crawling across the floor... towards them? Suspense as Leonie insists that Jerry take her out of the apartment, away from the hands... and Jerry just wants to make sure she’s okay. Then they hear Vladimir scream!

Jerry and Leoni go into Vladimir’s room where they find him dead on the floor... strangled by the hands of his rival! The hands still around his throat, dead now.

Review: Stephen King can have (the upcoming) PIGEONS FROM HELL, *this* is the episode that scared the crap out of me as a kid. The severed hands in the box freaked me out, and the crawling hands? Nightmares for weeks. Even watching it for this entry, and realizing the hands were cheap chromakey special effects, it’s pretty disturbing. You wonder what people though when this was beamed into their living rooms in 1961. I’ll bet there were *adults* with nightmares after this was first shown.

This also shows you how limited and inexpensive special effects can make a story shot on a limited budget work. A couple of episodes from now we’ll look at King’s favorite PIGEONS and how that episode takes the *idea* of being susceptible to an evil spirit into something terrifying. It doesn’t take money to scare people (or give a kid nightmares for weeks).

What I found interesting this time around was how well the story explored the theme of jealousy. Vladimir is jealous of Carnowitz and his large hands. Vladimir becomes jealous of Jerry and his relationship with Leoinie. Sylvia has jealousy issues with Vladimir. Everyone in this story is defined by their jealousy! Even the Night watchman is jealous of all of these people’s money... he works hard for a living and this man just plays the piano!



I think one of the great things about this episode is how it keeps topping itself. The horror escalates as the story plays out. First it’s Vladimir being torn up and bloody. Then we see the severed hands in the box (which you might think is the big scare moment). But there’s more! The crawling hands!

I also love how they keep leading us in the wrong direction. The focus on the whether Carnowitz is actually dead or not gives us a story to follow before those hands are revealed... and we are sure that the man following them in the darkness is Carnowitz... right up until the twist when it’s revealed as the Night Watchman. That’s when we shift from Carnowitz being alive to what’s in the box... and why Vladimir might have taken that particular trophy from the crypt. The story keeps surprising us by leading us in the wrong direction and then introducing information that changes what we thought was the truth. That’s how to write!

I love the idea that Carnowitz wins in the end. That the hands Vladimir cut off and wore as gloves to conquer Carnowitz are the same hands that kill him. Ironic.

Direction by actor Paul Henried (CASABLANCA) is solid. Jerry Goldsmith score is *exceptional*, one of his best for this series.

As we near the end of the first season, you may have noticed a shift in the type of stories. The series began with mostly crime stories and a few suspense tales, and later introduced horror stories... and now has dropped the crime stories completely to focus on horror and suspense. The rest of the season will focus on horror, with an antique mirror the center of the next tale of terror.

Bill



Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

What Else You Got?

From March 2010...

You don’t only need more than one script, you need more than one story.

BREAKING AWAY (1979) written by Steve Tesich, is one of my favorite movies. Hey, working class guys and bicycles, how could it not be? Tesich won Best Original Screenplay Oscar for that script, and if you’re on the Script Secrets newsletter mailing list, this month there was a nice big article about that film that used DVD box art from Tesich’s other films as art. Because I loved BREAKING AWAY so much when it came out, I became a huge fan of the screenwriter and tracked down every other movie he wrote and was in line to see it on opening day. Though all of them featured working class guy leads, none were as good as BREAKING AWAY. The one that came closest was his adaptation of THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, a novel I had read before seeing the movie. Tesich died with only six movies...





Last week the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles showed 2 of Tesich’s films, EYEWITNESS and FOUR FRIENDS - both of which I had seen on opening day. I did not like FOUR FRIENDS at all back then, but thought EYEWITNESS was okay - which is not the same as good. Later on I would rent EYEWITNESS on VHS a couple of times, and it was watchable, had some great stuff, but nothing I wanted to buy. So I haven’t seen either film in a long time, and thought I’d zip over to Hollywood and watch them again.

The American Cinematheque is like a film museum - they show older movies and foreign films and cutting edge indie films that have no distrib. It’s funny, but you’d think Los Angeles would be full of things like this... but it is not. I used to go to revival cinemas in the Bay Area all the time - and practically lived in the UC Theater in Berkeley where they had a different double bill every night, and “theme days” so that you could see every John Huston movie on Tuesday nights... get that day off from work! But in Los Angeles, movie capitol of the world, we have the American Cinematheque at Grauman’s Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, and the New Beverly down the street (now part owned by Quentin Tarantino) and the Silent Movie House between them. That’s pretty much it. Oh, the Nu Art and the Aero in Santa Monica. And the cinemas are not crowded - every time I go to the Nu Art I practically have the cinema to myself.

When I arrived at the Egyptian, it was almost empty... and pretty much stayed that way.

That’s a shame. In fact, it’s *shameful*.

Here we are in the film capitol, and no one is going to see films! The American Cinematheque has all of these great programs, and usually gets some great guest speakers between films. So they showed a couple of lost grindhouse movies a couple of nights ago and had stars and cinematographer and just about every living person involved in these two films made in the 70s. It’s like *live* DVD extras. And when they do these things... a couple more people show up. I went to one last year where there were more people on the panel between the movies than in the cinema seats! Hey, this is LA, can we get a full house? Can some studios push their employees to see some of these films? Would be wonderful if the development people would show up and see some films... I tend to think the priorities in the film biz get mixed up - it is about making movies. Movies are more important than anything else. If I ran a studio, I’d have a pop quiz every once in a while where I asked everyone at the studio to tell me what film they had seen in a cinema last week, and anyone who didn’t go to the movies gets fired. Bam, outta here. “Hey, I’m the head of production, I don’t have time to...” Bam, outta here. If you’re gonna make ‘em, you gotta watch ‘em.

So - studios and people who love film and live in Los Angeles - please go to the movies.

Side note - about 15 years ago, the American Cinematheque had no home cinema and was kind of squatting at the Chaplin Cinema at Raleigh Studios (across from Paramount). Those were heady days for me - I had movies shooting and would go to see a Sam Fuller double bill and Sam Fuller was there! So were all kinds of hot shot young filmmakers and screenwriters. I had “season tickets” to the Fuller movies and had a big name director sitting behind me and a screenwriter who was the next big thing in the chair beside me. That little cinema was packed! Then they renovated the Egyptian - this big old movie palace like it’s more famous sister Grauman’s Chinese - and had a permanent home... and people seemed to stop going. I don’t think one thing caused the other, I think there may have been some sort of tidal shift in the business, and all of those movie addicts who worked in the biz were replaced by ex-lawyers and ex-agents and dealmakers. People who didn’t seem to need to see pre-code movies with female nudity from the early 1930s or “Race” westerns (Black cowboys!) or Fritz Lang thrillers from the 30s and 40s. *I* needed to see all of those films.

I also needed to see if the Tesich films were better than I remembered them. The guy had written one of my favorite films... how could I dislike FOUR FRIENDS those many years ago? Was I in a bad mood the day I saw it? Was I just too young to get it? The film was directed by Arthur Penn (BONNIE AND CLYDE, LITTLE BIG MAN) and written by an Oscar Winner.

THE MOVIES...


The small group of us turn off our cell phones, house lights go down, and...



FOUR FRIENDS (1981) was a mess. It’s obviously Tesich’s autobiography - a little boy and his mother come from Yugoslavia to live with his father - who works in the steel mills. Father ain’t the type to hug anyone. Then we get the first of about two dozen jumps ahead in time, since this is the characters *entire life* in one film. Now our boy Danny is in high school in the early 60s and played by Craig Wasson (BODY DOUBLE) and we also meet the other three friends: Jim Metzler (guest star on every TV show you can think of, star of the 2 NORTH AND SOUTH miniseries) as Tom, Michael Huddelston (who now plays pudgy middle aged guys) as David, and Jodi Thelen as the woman all 3 guys love, Georgia. The film has a half dozen different narrators, and instead of all being important characters in the story, our first narrator is Georgia’s next door neighbor. We only see her looking out the window of her house - she is not really a character in the story at all!

There is no main plot at all - except Danny’s life - but there are dozens of subplots. I’d list them all, but I’d have to pay more for bandwidth. Danny and his dad. Danny and his flute (plays it in band). Danny and his Black friend. Danny and his anti-steel-mill rant at career day. A bunch of others in this small High School segment of the film, but the main one is probably that Danny is in love with Georgia, when she wants to sleep with him thinks it’s too soon and turns her down, so she sleeps with the other two guys (separately). And gets pregnant by one of them. Oh, man - I forgot the school bully subplot! That one even plays out later in the film! Did I forget any other subplots that come back later?

To add to the story-mess, after high school the four friends split up and go their separate ways... So that we can introduce a whole new cast when Danny goes to college!

Film is a tonal mess, too. It has no genre at all, and seems to jump between teen sex comedy and class-warfare drama and druggy film and epic romance and TAXI DRIVER.

Yes, TAXI DRIVER... in more ways than one!

Anyway, Danny goes away to college where he has a disabled roommate (which is a whole subplot) and both guys are virgins and want to get laid. Their dorm room is wall-to-wall Playboy centerfolds and there are jokes about wacking off, etc, It’s ANIMAL HOUSE or AMERICAN PIE or whatever. Danny falls for his roommate’s hot sister, proposes to her, but her parents are filthy rich and they disapprove of him (especially her father played by James Leo Herilhey who wrote MIDNIGHT COWBOY and overacts like you would not believe. It’s a shame that he didn’t have any scenes with Georgia, because that actress is so over the top you’d think she was on some Broadway stage trying to make sure the people in the back rows can see her gestures.)

Anyway, rich father finally agrees to the wedding and we get this big epic wedding scene where working class Danny seems out of place, and then he jokes with his college roommate guy - hey, we’re kind of back in AMERICAN PIE territory for a moment, and then Danny’s new father-in-law gives a toast to the bride and groom and halfway through the toast pulls out a gun and shoots his daughter and Danny and then himself in the head. WTF?

In the middle of this mostly romantic and comedic streak when this hardcore violence erupts out of nowhere! Though there are some clues to the father-in-law being a bit wacky, the problem is that his motivations are kind of script spackled in there and none of the characters *behave* as they should before the incident. It’s as if *after* he’d written the shooting scene he went back and threw in a bit to justify it... but then didn’t change anything in between so it still comes off unmotivated.

Anyway, Danny survives, though he has lost an eye... except it seems to grow back later (huh?) and he gets a job driving a taxi, because that way he can introduce a whole new cast... and see Danny hit rock bottom - kind of a homeless taxi driver.

Meanwhile, Georgia and David are married and raising Tom’s baby and Georgia decides to split for New York to find herself and gets involved with hippies and drugs and some sort of glam-rock thing. She goes to a far out party with her friend where there is sex and drugs and rock and roll... and a pretty new sports car in the middle of the loft where the party takes place. Everything is wild and fun and hippish! Her friend - who has just been introduced and I’m not even sure what her name is - hops in that sports car in the middle of the party, and it starts and goes into reverse and zooms out of the top story loft and plummets to the street below where it explodes like something in a Michael Bay film. WTF? One minute a swinging good time, the next Georgia’s friend is incinerated.

While the tone is jumping around from light to dark to just weird, the story is too. Danny meets a nurse and they have a relationship and then Georgia shows up and Danny finally gets a chance to sleep with her, then she splits... and Danny’s relationship with the nurse is over and Danny becomes a steelworker like his dad and has a relationship with some other girl and we get more and more incidents and subplots and things that probably happened in Tesich’s life but don’t mean anything, and then he goes home to patch things up with his dad and... well, remember that bully from high school? He’s a cop now and there’s a zany comedy bar-room brawl with him, that Danny wins by barfing on him, and I’ve left out some subplot stuff - his Black friend from high school marching with Martin Luther King (off screen) and his college roommate dying and not being able to see man landing on the moon and Dave losing his toupee and Tom marrying a Vietnamese woman have having two daughters but still visiting the kid he had with Georgia and... well, there just isn’t enough bandwidth for all of it. Danny’s eye grows back and he ends up with Georgia at the end... but that hasn’t resolved his issues with his stern father, so we get some scenes about that. Finally it ends!

EYEWITNESS


House lights go up at the Egyptian... and when the lights go back down for the second film, we’ve lost a chunk of the audience.



EYEWITNESS is an okay film - with a great thriller concept. William Hurt plays a janitor in an office building who discovers the body of one of the tenants - an evil Vietnamese ex-General who got Hurt’s fellow janitor, played by James Woods at his James Woodiest, fired. Hurt worries that Woods may have killed the guy, so when the police question him (Detective #2 played by Morgan Freeman) he lies and says Woods hasn’t been at the building since he was fired. Actually, Woods was there the day of the murder. On his way out, he spots hot TV reporter Sigourney Weaver and realizes this is his chance to try and charm her into bed. He offers an exclusive interview... then hits on her on camera. In order to keep seeing Weaver, he has to claim to have information about the murder... yet never give it to her. Problem is, evil Vietnamese hit dudes overhear him and come after him. This is a cool idea - but the script pretty much ignores it. Sure, every once in a while some inept action scene pops up, but the story spends as much time on the romance and on all of these subplots (including Hurt’s romantic relationship with Wood’s sister played by Pam Reed, which includes an *amazing* great scene where they profess their non-love for each other) and Weaver’s romance with pretty-man Christopher Plummer who is involved in raising money for Jewish causes (huh?) and several scenes about horses and some scenes about Hurt's dog who is kind of the canine version of Burt Kwouk from the PINK PANTHER movies. Oh, and some *great* stuff with Kenneth McMillan as his disabled and drunken dad. But it’s a lot of light dramedy stuff crammed into a thriller concept.

The thriller scenes do not work at all. There’s a chase scene that’s okay... but a scene where bad guys give Hurt’s dog rabies or something as a way to kill him makes no sense at all, and the big action end (sarcasm) where Hurt fights the villain in a Manhattan indoor horse barn in some *building* makes no sense at all. Not enough thriller scenes and the ones we get don’t work at all. Oh, and who the villains are and what they’re after? Weirdest and most unbelievable coincidence in film history. Kind of a “Are You Effing Kidding Me?” moment.

And that’s the big problem, here. Tesich wrote one great script, did a really good adaptation... but seemed unable to do anything else. He did not seem to have the skills to pull of a thriller, and FOUR FRIENDS may be his life story but it has no story. The thing I liked about the movies was the working class background of his characters - whether it’s working in a steel mill or working as a building’s janitor, he shows real people doing real work and makes it part of the story. We need more of that. But it seems as if he’s just parting out the same story again and again. Like he has *one* story to tell - educated working class guy locks horns with immigrant father and enjoys bike riding (did I mention that aspect of EYEWITNESS? Sorry... and AMERICAN FLYERS is all about bike racing). The relationship between Danny and Tom in FOUR FRIENDS is similar to the relationship between Hurt and Woods in EYEWITNESS. It as if he has a few dozen scenes and a few dozen characters that he rearranges to make a different script.



We all have our “mega themes” that pop up in our scripts - those elements of our lives that show up in many of our character’s lives. That’s fine, in fact - that’s great. We want our screenplays to be personal rather than generic. But we need to have *many* stories to tell, and *different* stories, and be able to work within some popular *genre* so that once we’ve won our Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and the phone starts ringing with people who want to buy our next original screenplay or have us come in and pitch stories, we can keep our writing career going.

There’s a script tip in rotation about having enough screenplays finished, so that when someone reads a script and likes it but doesn’t want to buy it and asks “What else you got?” you can give them some other script... and *keep* giving them scripts until they find one they want to make or hire you to write a script for them. You *need* more than one good screenplay...

But you also need the screenplays to be different stories with different characters. If all of your scripts are the same basic story with the names changed - or just similar stories - you burn out fast. Chances are, that producer is going to be reading script #2 and wonder why it all seems so familiar. Did he pick up script #1 by mistake? Even though it is smart to specialize in one genre, you want different stories within that genre. That means you need to be able to come up with dozens, maybe hundreds, of different stories... and different characters... and different scenes.

One script may open the door for you, but one script is not a career. If you spend 25 or more years writing screenplays and get paid for one script or assignment every year - that’s at least 25 *different* stories you’re going to need... but actually maybe 4 or 5 times that many, because you will also need fresh new stories for the scripts and pitches that *do not sell*. When I get called in to pitch ideas for some cable producer, I have to pitch 5 *different* story ideas the day after tomorrow... and if I get a call like that every month? That's 60 ideas a year - 60 *different* ideas a year. That’s a lot of different stories - do you have many different stories with different characters? Can you imagine yourself *writing* 100 different stories in your career? Do you have that many stories in you?

Hey, Steve Tesich won an Oscar for BREAKING AWAY, but I don’t think anyone will really remember his other films. (There *are* people who saw FOUR FRIENDS as kids and loved it, a small buy seemingly loyal fan base - the film is filled with topless scenes, has an anti-authority lead character, and deals with father-son issues... many teen boys liked these aspects - but the film was a flop when it was released and was not a hit on VHS or DVD... and the print the American Cinematheque showed was old and faded because there is no demand for it today.) I think someone should remake the *concept* of EYEWITNESS, just not the script... but the other films he wrote (with the exception of GARP) are forgotten now and will only become more forgotten as time goes on.

You don’t only need more than one script, you need more than one story.

* AMERICAN CINEMATHEQUE
* NEW BEVERLY CINEMA
* SILENT MOVIES ON FAIRFAX
* Nuart Theater


- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: OPENING GRABBERS - and old movies from the 1940s that took the time to introduce characters and stories... not like today's movies.
Dinner: Togos Tuna sandwich... whole wheat.
Bicycle: Zipped up to NoHo, then managed to get back to the Ventura & Vineland Starbucks with *perfect* timing as people began leaving for dinner.
Pages: Well, finished and turned in my interview with the A-Team writers only one day late... and then we had that quake, and now I'm working on the new assignment.

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

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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
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