Thursday, December 27, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: The Ordeal Of Dr. Cordell

The Ordeal Of Doctor Cordell

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



Season: 1, Episode: 24.
Airdate: March 7, 1961


Director: Lazlo Benedek
Writer: Donald S. Sanford
Cast: Robert Vaughn, Kathleen Crowley, Robert Ellenstein, Marlo Thomas.
Music: Morton Stevens
Cinematography: Benjamin Kline
Producer: Maxwell Shane




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Such are the hazards of scientific research. As strange as it may seem, this is not the end but only the beginning of “The Ordeal Of Dr. Cordell”. Are leading players are, Mr. Robert Vaughn, Miss Kathleen Crowley, Mr. Robert Ellenstein, and Mr. Russ Conway. Speaking if chemistry this Thriller is a mixture of one part scientific possibility, one part imaginative melodrama, and two parts pure terror.” (Poof! Karloff disappears from the lab) “Oh dear! Well these are the hazards of science!”

Synopsis: Like a script for THE OUTER LIMITS rejected because it had no monster...

On a college campus research facility...



Scientist Dr. Frank Cordell (Robert Vaughn) is working with chemicals in a safety lab with an airlock, with fellow scientist Dr. Lois Walker (Kathleen Crowley) supervising at the control panels on the other side of the glass. There’s an explosion and fire, and gas fills the safety lab! Dr. Walker wants to vent the lab, but Dr. Cordell says the oxygen will just feed the fire... he needs to get the fire out first. But as he uses the fire extinguisher to spray the flames, the gas seems through his gas mask and... he passes out just as he gets the fire out. Dr. Brauner (Robert Ellenstein) rushes in after hearing the alarm, and they vent the gas... but have to wait until has all been sucked out of the room before they can open the airlock and pull out Dr. Cordell. By that time, he’s dead.

Dr. Brauner does a Pulp Fiction and stabs him in the heart with adrenaline, gives him oxygen, and brings him back from the dead.



Dr. Cordell comes to, says he’s fine, and wants to go back to work. But he’s worried: They’ve spent 2 years trying to find an antidote to the enemy’s latest nerve gas... and by mistake he has just discovered something much worse... something that a gas mask doesn’t provide protection from. Dr. Brauner (the boss) orders Cordell to go home and get some rest. Walker offers to drive him home, and walks him to the door, where they kiss. They aren’t just coworkers, they are lovers. There’s a birdcage on the front porch of Cordell’s house, and the little bird begins ringing it’s little toy bell...

But to Cordell, the sound is magnified and is driving him crazy. Giving him the ultimate migraine headache. He reaches into the cage and grabs the bell, stopping the bird from pecking at it. Though he *was* going to invite Walker in, she thinks it may be better for him to get some sleep. He *was* dead only a couple of hours ago.

After she leaves, the bird starts pecking at the bell again, driving Cordell crazy...

Dr. Cordell wakes up the next morning when his maid Mrs. Heath (Helen Brown) tells him he has a phone call from Dr. Walker. He rubs sleep from his eyes and picks up the phone, and she wants to know if he wants to go to lunch. Lunch? Yes, it’s almost noon. That’s when Mrs. Heath screams from the porch.

Someone has crushed the bird to death. It’s mangled body on the floor of the cage. Mrs. Heath thinks it might be some neighbor kids.

Later, Dr. Cordell and Dr. Walker return from lunch, and when Cordell reaches in his pocket he pulls out... the bird’s little bell. He quickly hides it before Walker can see it.

Cordell becomes focused on recreating that gas again. When Dr. Brauner comes in to see how he’s doing, and Walker mutes the intercom, Cordell becomes paranoid and enraged. Why are they talking behind his back? Walker says Brauner just wanted him to stop in for a physical check up. Cordell sends her home and sticks around the lab...



When a pretty CoEd (yes, that’s Marlo Thomas) looking for the library. Cordell goes ballistic, asking how she got past the security door. Seems that the security door doesn’t close properly and needs to be fixed. Cordell calms down, steps outside to point out the Library Building on campus, and when the CoEd walks away, her bell ear rings ring, driving Cordell crazy. He races after the CoEd and...

Wakes up at home the next morning when the alarm goes off at 8am.
What happened last night?
There’s a single bell ear ring on his night stand, covered in blood.

There’s a police car parked outside the research building. A Detective Boutaric (Russ Conway) questioning Walker and Brauner. A CoEd was *brutally* murdered last night just across from the research building, did Cordell see her? Cordell says no one can get into the lab area due to the security door. So he didn’t see her. Cordell overhears Dr. Brauner unleash a big pile of exposition on Dt. Boutaric about how chemical imbalances in the brain may cause homicidal urges which can not be controlled. Oh, so that’s what’s up with Cordell! When the Detective leaves, Cordell asks Brauner if homicidal urges are caused by chemical unbalance, could they be cured with chemicals? Yes, that’s possible...

Cordell becomes even more obsessed with his lab work, discovering exactly what combination of chemicals caused his current (psycho killer) condition. When Dr. Walker brings Chinese take out to the lab and asks him to break for dinner, Cordell goes ballistic and screams at her. “Science and ego make lousy chemistry!” She breaks up with him and storms out... passing Detective Boutaric, who has just discovered that Maintenance *repaired* the security door because it wasn’t closing properly this morning, because Cordell asked them. So the CoEd *could* have entered the lab. Cordell insists she still did not come into the lab, but the detective is suspicious.

Dr. Brauner tells Cordell he is overworking and gives him a choice: Take a vacation or resign. He suggests that maybe Cordell and Walker might take that a vacation together as a honeymoon... but Cordell doesn’t tell him they’ve broken up. Cordell opts for the vacation.

When he leaves the research building that night and crosses the college campus to his car, he passes a big football game rally... including another CoEd ringing a cowbell. The sound drives him crazy... He follows the CoEd as she leaves and before you can say "Less cowbell!"...



He wakes up in a crappy downtown hotel... the bell the CoEd was ringing on the floor. The news reports another CoEd has been brutally murdered, crushed by someone’s monster’s hands. He calls the front desk: it’s *Wednesday*, how long was he sleeping? Cordell writes a suicide note and prepares to kill himself... then calls Walker at the lab and warns her *not* to continue the experiments. She asks why. “I have to talk to you somewhere alone.” She agrees to meet him at the campus chapel at midnight and leaves.

Meanwhile, Detective Boutaric has found the bloody ear ring in Cordell’s house and knows he’s the killer.

Cordell goes to the deserted chapel at the strike of midnight... which means the bell begins ringing, which drives him crazy! He climbs the stairs to the bell tower. At the top of the tower, he tries to stop the bell, but it’s huge. Walker enters the chapel and hears Cordell screaming and climbs the stairs. When she gets to the top of the stairs, Cordell sees her and attacks! She fights him off, pushing him away... and the bell knocks him out of the bell tower and he SPLATS! On the ground below.



Review: If the bells had turned Cordell into a *physical* monster, this could have been an OUTER LIMITS episode. The story has elements of Jekyll And Hyde and maybe Hunchback Of Notre Dame, and even though this was 3 years before THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Robert Vaughn was probably a “get”. He had a bunch of TV roles in his past by this time. But I kind of think he’s slightly wrong for the role: part of Dr. Jekyll is that he’s more contemplative, and that’s the trait this role needs. An actor who really feels terrible that he’s been killing cute CoEds. Vaughn is such a charismatic guy that it covers the emotional side of this character. He does a great job, and is probably more subdued than usual... but he’s still Robert Vaughn. But what the heck, it’s a fun episode.

In addition to Marlo Thomas’ 4th role on film, you may recognize Robert Ellenstein who plays the supervising scientist as the assassin from NORTH BY NORTHWEST who says: “Yes, a joke. We will laugh in the car” when they grab Cary Grant out of that bar at gunpoint a couple of minutes into that film. He was one of those actors who did everything, and you may recognize him from the great original 3:10 TO YUMA or his recurring villain on THE WILD WILD WEST or STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME where he played the Federation Council President.



The production design and sets are great, all of the lab equipment looks real. There’s also some great stock footage of the pre game bonfire party from USC or UCLA that helps sell the big pre game rally scene.

The director, Lazlo Benedict, directed Brando’s THE WILD ONE before becoming a prolific TV director... but I’m not sure he had the visual skillset to handle suspense. The scene where Walker climbs the stairs to her possible death is kind of bland. By this time PSYCHO had played in cinemas with a great primer on how to make climbing stairs filled with tension and suspense. Some of these episodes are really well directed and others are kind of TV bland: with a director coming in and getting the shots on film (this becomes more apparent after next week’s episode which has one amazing shot that would be just as amazing if it had been in a big budget movie). But Lazlo does one amazing thing here: Cordell’s “crazy vision” is a nice twisted image effect done with a lens (there was no digital back then, so everything was practical to some extent). It’s a great way for the audience to experience his insanity... and it always ends in a blackout that is held just long enough to make us wonder what the heck happened during it when Cordell wakes up.



They also do a great job making us imagine the brutality of these murders while showing us nothing. I’m going to give the credit for this to writer Donald Sanford who wrote some of the other creepy episodes and seemed to know how to get maximum impact on a TV budget. The story has some great reveals, like when Dr. Cordell reaches into his pocket for a match to light Dr. Walker's cigarette and comes out with the bird's bell... then has to quickly hide it from her and grab his matches pretending that he didn't just learn who smashes his bird to death.

Hey, was that the bell or belltower set from VERTIGO?

A really good entry in the series, but with just a little more could have been one of the great ones... But that’s okay, because we’re about to get a grouping of great episodes!

Bill



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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Kiss Of Death

Day after Christmas, let's go back ten years on the blog and see what I posted...

This is Richard Widmark's first film role... and he steals the movie. Notice how the character is in contrast with himself - that's what makes him interesting. In films we'd had happy-go-lucky people who enjoyed their work, and we'd had hit men... but never happy-go-lucky hit men who enjoyed their work! He does those two things that don't seem like they belong together, and makes it all seem natural.



And another attack on Great Britain, sorry!

UK's Movies For Men 2:

Sunday April 12th, 21:00 - Crash Dive - The crew of a nuclear submarine rescues supposed victims of a boat disaster, but the victims turn out to be terrorists intent on capturing nuclear weapons aboard the sub. 1997.

Tuesday April 14th, 13:50 - Black Thunder - When the world's most powerful stealth jet fighter falls into enemy hands, only one man can get it back. Starring Michael Dudikoff.

Tuesday April 14th, 22:05 - Crash Dive - The crew of a nuclear submarine rescues supposed victims of a boat disaster, but the victims turn out to be terrorists intent on capturing nuclear weapons aboard the sub. 1997.

I'm sorry for the pain I have caused anyone who watches these.

- Bill

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: The Two JACK FROSTS

Merry Christmas!

When Hollywood isn't remaking classics or turning bad TV shows into films, they are ripping off B Movies and hoping that no one will notice. It's bad enough that three years after that HBO World Premiere movie about the scummy deep-core drillers trying to plant nukes in a killer asteroid hurtling toward Earth (WITHIN THE ROCK), Hollywood does their big budget rip-off version (ARMAGEDDON)... or when the year after my HBO World Premiere movie VIRTUAL COMBAT was in the can, Paramount buys a script with the exact same plot called VIRTUOSITY... or when three years after my NIGHT HUNTER premieres on CineMax, New Line does a scene-for-scene remake called BLADE. But now Hollywood is ripping off obscure direct to video flicks.




Like JACK FROST (1996)... becoming JACK FROST (1998).

Yes, kids, there WAS an early frost.

In a fit of masochism, I decided to watch both the 1996 B horror movie version from A-Pix and the big budget 1998 family film version from Warner Bros. and here is my report...

CONCEPT:

In JACK FROST (1998) Michael Keaton plays a killer blues singer named Jack Frost who gets killed in snow storm related car accident on the way to a gig (the biggest day of his life) and is reincarnated as a talking snowman.

In JACK FROST (1996) Scott MacDonald plays a serial killer with the blues named Jack Frost who gets killed in a snow storm related car accident on the way to his execution (the last day of his life) and is reincarnated as a talking, killing snowman.

In JACK FROST (1998) Joseph Cross is Keaton s neglected son, yearning for his father s attention... but dad is too busy with his career. Dad constantly lies to his son, flakes out on an important hockey game, then is too busy to spend Christmas with the family because he has a gig to play.

In JACK FROST (1996) Zack Eginion is the Sheriff (Chris Allport)'s neglected son, yearning for his father s attention... but dad is too busy with his career. Dad doesn't lie to his son, doesn't flake out, but is too busy dealing with a series of gory murders to spend Christmas with the family.

MAN AND SNOWMAN:




In JACK FROST (1998) musician Jack Frost is reincarnated as a snowman after his son plays a magic harmonica.

In JACK FROST (1996) killer Jack Frost is reincarnated as a snowman after he gets splashed with top secret government DNA goo transported in a tanker truck.

In BOTH versions of JACK FROST there is a touching, emotional scene where the lonely son puts the eyes, nose, buttons and hat on the snowman, unaware that it is alive! Really creepy stuff! You expect the snowman to grab the kid at any minute!

JACK'S BACK:

In JACK FROST (1998) Henry Rollins plays a guy who freaks out when he sees the walking, talking snowman, and spends the rest of the film running through town acting crazy.

In JACK FROST (1996) F. William Parker plays a guy who freaks out when he sees the walking, talking snowman, and spends the rest of the film running through town acting crazy.

In JACK FROST (1998) the snowman is created by expensive computer animation, but the black button eyes... black as coal, emotionless, evil... make him look creepy.

In JACK FROST (1996) the snowman is some guy in a bad costume, but the carrot nose and button eyes... cartoonish, obviously fake... make him look silly.

JACK BE NIMBLE:

In BOTH versions of JACK FROST the snowman removes his head and holds it up so that he can see through a high window.

THOSE MEAN BULLY KIDS:

In JACK FROST (1998) the son gets into a snowball fight with a gang of bully snowboarder kids, and is saved when Jack Frost the snowman pummels the lead bully kid with thousands of snowballs. Hooray!

In JACK FROST (1996) the son gets into a fight with a gang of bully sledging kids, and is saved when Jack Frost the snowman cuts of the lead bully kid s head with a sledge blade. Yech!

CRUEL SCENES (part 1):




In JACK FROST (1998) there is a scene where a dog rips off Jack Frost's arm! A scene where Jack Frost is hit by a snowplow and dumped into a snow bank! A scene where Jack Frost's head falls off, and he makes a few smart-ass remarks before putting it back on.

In JACK FROST (1996) there is a scene where Jack Frost smashes a woman's face into tree decorations until she dies! A scene where Jack Frost shoves an axe handle down a guy s throat! A scene where Jack Frost s head falls off, and he makes a few smart-ass remarks before putting it back on.

In JACK FROST (1998) there is a creepy scene where Jack Frost (snowman) follows the son around, stalking him, frightening him.

In JACK FROST (1996) there is a creepy scene where Jack Frost (snowman) follows the son around, stalking him, frightening him.

JACK THE RIPPER:

In JACK FROST (1998) there is a terrifying scene where the son hangs off the edge of a cliff! A frightening scene where bully kids are smashed flat by a giant Indiana Jones snowball! A scary scene where a bully kid rolls down a cliff!

In JACK FROST (1996) there is a really silly scene where a babe gets naked and takes a bath... not knowing that the water in the tub is really Jack Frost in his liquid state. Sort of Jack and Jill in a pail of water...

NIPPING AT YOUR TOES:




JACK FROST (1998) has a suspense scene where the babelicious mom (Kelly Preston) is about to discover the walking, talking, smart-ass snowman is in her kitchen after noticing a big wet footprint/puddle on the linoleum.

JACK FROST (1996) has a suspense scene where the babelicious mom (Eileen Seeley) is about to discover the walking, talking, smart-ass snowman is in her kitchen after noticing a big wet footprint/puddle on the linoleum.

EVERYTHING BUT THE KITCHEN SINK:

In BOTH versions of JACK FROST a leaky kitchen sink in babelicious mom's house figures into the plot.

THE SNOWMAN TALKS!

Sample funny dialogue from JACK FROST (1998) - "You the man!" "No, YOU the man!" "No, I'm the SNOW man!" (Jack and his son bonding)

Sample funny dialogue from JACK FROST (1996) - "Hey! I can see your house from here!" (Jack catapulted into the air)

YOU DON'T KNOW JACK:




In BOTH versions of JACK FROST no one seems to find anything unusual or silly about a walking, talking, wise-ass snowman. It's as if this kind of thing happens every day. In the big budget family film version, the son has no problem believing in the talking snowman, but needs to be convinced that it's his musician dad, Jack Frost, reincarnated.

In the B movie horror version, the FBI and Sheriff have no trouble believing that the talking snowman is killing people, or that it's really serial killer Jack Frost reincarnated. The only characters who think a talking snowman is a crazy idea are portrayed as crazy themselves. Both films never try to come up with a rational explanation for why a guy would be reincarnated as a snowman, instead they try (and fail) to create a world where being reincarnated as a snowman is a normal occurrence. (Yeah, that happened to my Uncle Phil... my Uncle Harvey was reincarnated as an invisible rabbit...)

In JACK FROST (1998) the son tells the bully that the talking snowman is his dad, and the bully JUST BELIEVES HIM! Then, for some dumb reason, becomes the son's friend/helper! Huh?

In JACK FROST (1996) a scientist tells the FBI agent that the talking snowman is the serial killer, and the FBI agent JUST BELIEVES HIM! Then, for some dumb reason, the FBI agent and scientist team up to capture the snowman! Huh?

I'M MELTING:

In JACK FROST (1998) Jack's days are numbered because a warm front is moving in, melting the snow on the town's streets. In one scene, the son threatens Jack Frost with a hair dryer... really sick, if you consider it s his reincarnated dad!

In JACK FROST (1996) they filmed someplace where there wasn't any snow on the streets in the first place... but they spread around some white "snow blankets" to make it look like winter. It looks like it's about 80 degrees in most of the scenes. You wonder what effect heat has on Jack Frost. In one scene, the Sheriff threatens Jack Frost with a hair dryer... really confusing if you consider that Jack Frost has the power to turn into water in order to sneak under locked doors, then re-freeze himself into a snowman. If they blast him with hair dryers, why doesn't he just use his re-freezing powers.

JACK IN THE BOX:

In JACK FROST (1998) the son tries to keep Jack from melting by jamming him inside the kitchen freezer... almost caught by mom when she notices the melting ice cubes.

In JACK FROST (1996) Jack gets the drop on some teenagers by jamming himself in the kitchen freezer... then attacking when they look for ice cubes.

JACKING OFF:

In the late JACK FROST (1998) the snowman gets knocked to pieces, and re-assembles himself WRONG! Head in the wrong place, arms in the wrong place, etc. Of course, he makes a wise-ass remark about it.

In the early JACK FROST (1996) the snowman gets knocked to pieces, and re-assembles himself WRONG! Head in the wrong place, arms in the wrong place, etc. Of course, he makes a wise-ass remark: "Look, I'm a Picasso!"

CRUEL SCENES (part 2):




In JACK FROST (1998) in a tender, touching scene, the son slams holes in his reincarnated snowman dad with hockey pucks - about a dozen holes - you can see right through all of them! But Jack scares the hell out of his son by sneaking up behind him and yelling BOOOO! a couple of times as revenge. Jack Frost ties a dog to a sledge and WHIPS IT as if it s a dog team! But still, Frost MELTS in the heat - sizzling across a hot asphalt parking lot... losing many of his precious bodily fluids! And, did I mention the son trying to melt his ass with a hair dryer?

In JACK FROST (1996) they use hair dryers to melt half of Jack's head off, stab him with ice picks, throw him out a window, run over him with a car, and toss him in a furnace. Actually, nothing in the horror movie version holds a candle to the cruel, evil, sick stuff that happens in the family film version!

I ONLY HAVE ICE FOR YOU:

In the later FROST, the son gets his snowman dad into the mountains before he melts. But snowman dad tells the kid that his job on earth is over (I guess he scared the crap out of enough people) and it s time for him to move on. But Jack has seen Spielberg s E.T. in his pre-snowman days, so he tells his son, "If you ever need me, I'll be right here," and touches the kid's heart. Then there s a bunch of special effects and the snowman seems to blow away... up to heaven!

In the early FROST, they kill him by forcing him into a pick-up truck bed filled with anti-freeze. Jack dissolves, his arm falls off, and other fake looking effects happen and the snowman melts away... down to hell!

CONCLUSIONS:

BOTH versions of JACK FROST end with white credits on a black background, with cute little cartoons of snowmen in the margins. I swear - it's the exact same credit sequence! (Only the names were changed to protect the guilty!) Both end title rolls have jokes hidden in the credits, with the family film claiming that "No Snowmen Were Harmed In The Making Of This Film".

Come on! Of the two JACK FROSTs, the family comedy provides more horror and cruelty, while the horror version is actually funnier! The horror version actually has better family values, and more characters with more morals! It s a strange, strange world we live in, Master Jack!

- Bill



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

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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.

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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Thriller Thursday: Child's Play

CHILD’S PLAY




Season: 1, Episode: 2.
Airdate: 9/20/1960


Director: Arthur Hiller.
Writer: Robert Dozier (THE CARDINAL and the Ryan O’Neal version of Elmore Leonard’s THE BIG BOUNCE.)
Cast: Frank Overton (Dad), Bethel Leslie (Mom), Tommy Nolan (Hank).
Music: Pete Rugolo.
Cinematography: Bud Thackery.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Sometimes children become so lost in a world of imagination, they’re unable to find their way back. Then there is only danger before them, sure as my name is Boris Karloff. We’re concerned now with a boy whose imagination brings him to a crisis involving not only himself but also his family. A crisis that begins, but does not end as child’s play. Let me assure you my friends, this is a thriller!”



Synopsis: Kind of a scaled down version of THE SHINING, minus the supernatural elements. An ignored, love starved wife (Bethel Leslie) makes a last ditch attempt to save her family by insisting that her cold, self centered, workaholic husband (Frank Overton) and their completely neglected son Hank (Tommy Nolan) spend three weeks vacation in a remote mountain cabin where they will have no choice but to bond and heal. Great plan, but ahole Dad claims one room as his office and spends the whole time working (he’s a writer, like Jack from THE SHINING) and forbids any disturbance for the entire three weeks (though demands that his wife keep his coffee cup full). So, no healing for the family again this year.

While the wife sulks, the son (who is used to being completely ignored by his parents) spends his day imagining epic adventures outdoors... playing cowboy sheriff chasing an evil desperado named Black Bart. The episode begins in media res with an incident from close to the end of the episode where Hank points a *real* rifle at a terrified fisherman...

But our story opens with Hank playing with a toy six shooter and pretending that a fallen tree near the cabin is a dangerous cliff he must balance on the edge of wile chasing his quarry... as his Mom calls him in for lunch. She comes out and asks him what he’s doing, he explains the perils of falling off the end of a cliff, and she tells him he needs to hurry up and get across or he’ll miss lunch. That’s when Dad comes out, and orders him to come in right this very minute... and Hank falls off the log, screaming all the way down...

This is a great way to show the family dynamics and set up Hanks’s underlying motivations throughout.

Mom pulls Dad aside and explains the reason why Hank is spending this vacation in his imagination is because Dad is completely ignoring him. Dad says he’s very busy, doesn’t have time for this, and Mom suggests he take a break and take Hank hunting this afternoon. Dad says he’s too busy this afternoon... but maybe tomorrow. Which is what he says *every day*. They go in for lunch...



Hank tries to engage his Dad in conversation... but Dad is pretty much a dick. When Mom suggests Dad take Hank hunting this afternoon, Hank gets excited and starts talking about the animal tracks he spotted this afternoon... Then Dad says he’d like to take Hank hunting, but can’t: has too much work. Hank is broken hearted, excuses himself. Dad lashes out at Mom for putting him on the spot like that. An argument begins that will last the rest of the episode.

Hank puts on his toy gun... then sees the real rifles in the gun rack. Grabs one, fills his pockets with shells, and goes out to play.

Most of the rest of the episode focuses on the argument between Dad and Mom, with a few shots of Hank wandering around in the woods with a loaded rifle, chasing “Black Bart”. Dad wants to know why Mom doesn’t punish Hank more often, why she allows him to play let’s pretend instead of dealing with reality. The more Dad says things like this, the more we realize that he’s the reason why Hank is this way. Dad just wants to be left alone for the rest of the vacation so that he can work. Unlike Jack’s novel in THE SHINING, this Dad writes completely accurate technical articles... and has no understanding of imagination. At one point the argument escalates so that Mom admits she has been considering divorce, and this vacation was supposed to get the family back together... which leads Dad to snap back that she hates his job. Hates that he works. Why can’t she just raise the kid and do the housework and leave him alone!



Dad asks Mom why Hank is even here, why didn’t he go to the summer camp he went to last year, so that he’d be out of their hair and Dad could get some work done? Well, it seems that Hank has been kicked out of the summer camp for acting out last year. He tried to play William Tell by shooting an apple off another kid’s head! Dad asks why she didn’t tell him so that he could punish Hank? Mom says that may not have been the best solution to the problem, and Dad says he’s punish Hank when he gets back from playing. This guy is never going to win Dad Of The Year or Husband Of The Year.

Meanwhile, Hank has happened upon a Fisherman (Parley Baer) and aims his rifle at him. Fires a couple of shots when the Fisherman starts towards him. Then they both sit down while Hank figures out what to do next.

Mom and Dad’s blow up leaves Dad alone in his office... finally realizing that his family is disintegrating and maybe he should stop being a major dick. He decides maybe he will go hunting with Hank afterall, goes to grab the guns... and realize that one is missing! Mom and Dad are worried, Dad says he’ll go out and get Hank... and loads up the other rifle. Um, WTF? Dad is going to shoot his son? Mom mentions the rifle may not help the situation, so he reluctantly puts it back on the rifle rack and they go to find Hank together.

Meanwhile, Hank has gotten the Fisherman to put an apple on his head, and the Fisherman is doing everything in his power to talk Hank out of shooting at it. The whole thing ends up about the William Tell trust test thing, and Mom and Dad find Hank in time for Dad to offer to take the Fisherman’s place and put the apple on his own head. Hank shoots it off, and the family hugs each other. Oh, and Dad’s name is *Bart*.



Review: Unlike the first episode which had too much happening for an hour long show, this episode is simple and direct... but suffers one of the same problems that first episode had: basically a drama until the end, when everything happens at once (and it feels rushed). For a show called THRILLER, these two first episode manage to spend 3/4 of the show on the build up (without suspense or thrills) and then try to cram in all of the thrills at the end. Though this show is about a kid trapped in fantasy world running around with a loaded rifle, the majority of the running time is that argument between Mom and Dad. When we get a shot of Hank with the rifle, he’s just walking around. (Though, at one point they have him cross a waterfall which is dangerous.)

It’s more than halfway through the running time when Hank stumbles on the Fisherman... and then they just sit down on the ground while Hank figures what he’s going to do with him. The last ten minutes (of a 50 minute episode) is when we get the William Tell Apple On The Head thing... and it’s only the final 7 minutes where we have Mom and Dad and Hank and the rifle (and the Fisherman, of course) all in the same scene! So, 7 minutes with some thrills in a 50 minute episode! Oh, wait, I forgot to subtract the family hug screentime.

The problem is, instead of focusing on the kid with the loaded rifle wandering around (and eventually holding a man hostage) which is suspenseful, they focus on the husband and wife arguing... which is boring. This argument doesn’t even work as a discussion of baseball statistics while a bomb ticks under the table, because there is no bomb until the last 10 minutes! The suspense stuff is rushed instead of stretched until it becomes unbearable. That’s how suspense works: because it is the anticipation of an event, we want to stretch out that anticipation. So instead of Hank trying to shoot the apple of the Fisherman’s head in the last 10 minutes, that should have been bumped forward. Instead of being in the last quarter of the episode, it should have been either at the halfway point... or maybe at the end of the first quarter. The show should have focused on the suspense of the kid with the gun rather than the bickering parents.

Frank Overton who plays the Dad is all one note ahole, even after they are out searching for Hank together at the end. It’s as if he’s still an ahole, and after this hug he’s gonna paddle the hell out of Hank. The performance needed to better show Dad realizing the errors of his ways and softening, the Overton didn’t do that. Overton was the Sheriff in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD who says “Let the dead bury the dead” at the end and lets Boo Radley off the hook... a compassionate performance. So maybe it was Arthur Hiller’s direction, though Hiller is a damned good director. The Dad character just never changes, when that is kind of the point of the story.



Also, the child actor who plays Hank is *way* too old. He’s a teenager, in a role that seems written for some one younger.

Music by Pete Rugolo is great this time around, lots of primal percussion instruments.

By the way, I really dislike stories that equate an active imagination with being violent and dangerous. Why do writers write stuff like this? There are freakin’ serial killer scripts (and movies) about kids with imagination who take it too far and kill a bunch of people. Um, I have an active imagination and am one of the least dangerous people I know. I kind of suspect those without imaginations are more dangerous, they may lack empathy. I can imagine myself in someone else’s shoes, they can’t. It almost seems like this episode was written by the Dad character at times!

The show will *soon* find its footing and live up to its name (episode 5, ROSE’S LAST SUMMER has some great hints of MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS, and episode 7, THE PURPLE ROOM, is great stuff!), but these first couple of shows are not the best examples of the show I fell in love with as a kid.

FADE OUT.

Bill

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Talent Shortage Part 2: The Revenge

Last Wednesday and today, this 2 part series from 2007!

Lots of response on the last entry, here are some more answers and thoughts.

So many of these bad AFM films were written-produced-directed by the same person, who might have been able to do *one* of those jobs right - but they were not looking to hire anyone else (or even get advice from anyone else).

I was in the lobby for a while yesterday, and talked to a few writers. One had financing from private sources and had written a script... and he was looking for a distrib and a director and someone to physically produce the film. This guy told me every producer or director who has read the script so far had the exact same problems with it... but he was sure he'd find someone who shared his vision.

I think this guy did an amazing thing in finding the money to make a film... but he either needs to fix the script or find someone to rewrite it. He isn't interested in doing either.

So many of the companies at AFM are clones of the company I talked about in a previous entry (about the stunt guys) - and they don't know what is a good script and even if they find one someone at the company rewrites it into crap. They don't have talent and they don't care... and they're in charge.

The main thing at market is still that the middle has fallen out - I was talking to a couple of producers who said the only films that can make a profit are extreme low budgets ($10-15k) and movies made for $2 million with stars working below their rate in the cast... or big stars in big budget movies that the studio will buy.

Oh, and those rare really great films.

The $15k and below movies - writers don't get paid.

The $2 million movies with stars - well, those deals usually begin with someone who has access to a star who will work below below their rate... the guy with access has a script, and no matter how bad that script is, that's the one that gets made.

The studio style films work just like any other studio film... and often they begin with star access. When I talk to these guys, the thing I hear over and over again is - who is attached?

One of the producers I talked with is a guy I know who made a $100k film that distribs are offering him the kind of money on that only makes sense if the film had cost $15k. He found his script on Craig's List (why even look there?) and I read it. The script had lots and lots of problems, not the least of which was that it could not be made on $100k. I gave him notes and told him he needed to create a small role and hire a name to play it. He passed my notes on to the writer... who ignored them. The problem is, the producer didn't have any money in his budget to pay the writer for rewrites or hire another writer... and the writer didn't want to lift a finger to improve his script. So it was filmed as is, without the role written for a name, and now it's a crappy film without even a single name in the cast. Hard to sell one of those.

Now, my first question is why not start with a good script? But obviously there aren't enough out there. Well, not enough out there that this guy could afford. But why not wait until you find a good script before making the film? Why just grab the first script that comes along? I would really worry if there wasn't a better script than this one... even on Craig's List.

Those middle movies that start with a script - very few of those are made these days. The focus is so much on the stars, that the scripts are an afterthought. Big mistake! When you're cruising the aisles at Blockbuster and you see some new movie you've never heard of with some big name star - that may be one of these suckfests.

I had 2 films come out on DVD this year, and both ended up completely screwed up because there isn't enough talent (or people who care) in the other creative departments. What pissed me off most is that in one case they had a script that everyone thought was really good... so they changed it. People who didn't know anything about screenwriting made changes that turned it into crap. But these people were in charge - they paid me - so they must know more than me, right? Okay... this is headed into sour grapes territory, so I'm going to get back on topic: There is a big talent shortage - and even if they buy a good script, it doesn't end up good by the time it hits the screen.

For me the frustrating part is that we could have better movies, producers could make more money, and good writing could be rewarded... if they just put quality first. The guy with the great star connection and the not-so-great script? You know, maybe it would be a better film with someone else's script? The guy with the great money connection and the not-so-great script? Wouldn't the investors be more happy with him if he found a great script that would bring a greater financial return? Shouldn't the focus be on making a good film?

Maybe the stars and producers and directors should learn the difference between a good script and a script that makes *them* look good? You know, they would make more money in the long run, and actually look better in the long run. You have to put the film first.

Look, if someone offered me a bus-load of money to write a rom-com, I'm not going to take it. I'm the wrong writer for that job. I know my limitations. This project would be better off with some other writer.

I think the quality of the project has to come before ego. Has to come before everything... or we'll just end up with more bad films.

NOT MY JOB



I think this is the real problem: no one wants to do their job. Agents don't want to search for new talent, so they only read scripts that are referred to them. Producers don't want to search for scripts, they want agents to find them... and they would rather someone just hand them a script that already has Tom Cruise attached - saves them finding a star.

The result of all of this are films like BATTLEFIELD EARTH - John Travolta attached to a script, and he'll work for below his quote.

And speaking of Tom Cruise, I haven't seen LIONS FOR LAMBS, but it's not getting good reviews. The reason why it got made? Well, Tom Cruise's company and Redford's company wanted to make it.

Problem is - I don't see a major change in the way business is done any time in the future. Writers are the least important part of the equasion. So many companies at AFM believe that a script is a script. If they want to make good movies, movies with a shelf life, they need to start with a good script... then make sure every other element in the film is good.

This may happen because of the policy shift at Blockbuster - starting in January they are remodeling stores to focus on DVD sales instead of rentals. You may rent a DVD because of good box art, but you aren't going to spend $25 to *buy* a DVD unless it's a movie that you plan on seeing more than once - and that means it has to be a good movie... and good movies start wih good scripts.

Of course, this shake up will take *years* for producers to figure out. If they ever do.

- Bill

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Trailer Tuesday:
THE SILENT PARTNER

THE SILENT PARTNER (1978)

Director: Daryl Duke
Writers: Curtis Hanson (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL)
Starring: Elliott Gould, Christopher Plummer, Susannah York, John Candy.






It’s no secret that thrillers are my favorite genre, and I saw this Canadian gem when it was first released back in 1978. I have no idea if some critic called it Hitchcockian or not, but it has that STRANGERS ON A TRAIN vibe where two strangers become connected by crime. It also takes place during the Holiday Season with a background of Mall Santas and Holiday Parties and the Christmas Rush at stores... and a Santa with a gun.

Shy, chess playing Miles (Elliott Gould) is the head bank teller at a mall branch. He is approaching middle age, and this is the best it is ever going to get for him. He has a crush on the woman who is in charge of safety deposit boxes, Julie (Susannah York), but she’s having an affair with the married bank manager. He has a dead end life, and part of that is not being very assertive.

During the busy Christmas season, Miles is in charge of all of the Merchant deposits from the mall... all of the money people spend on gifts and clothes and meals comes to *his* window. Tens of thousands of dollars in *cash* every day. The bank manager trusts him with the money, but won’t recommend him for a promotion.

Miles discovers a deposit slip with a hold up note written on it in block letters... but with a distinctive “G”. Someone was planning on robbing the bank, then decided not to. Later he notices that one of the Mall Santas has a sign asking for donations to the poor... hand lettered with the same distinctive “G”. That is the robber! The next day, Miles puts all of the big cash deposits in his lunch box instead of the cash drawer... and when that Mall Santa comes in and hands him the stick up note, Miles gives him all of the money in the drawer, then triggers the alarm... and puts his lunch box full of cash in his briefcase. The old Security Guard gets into a shoot out with the Mall Santa, but he gets away....



Everybody run! Santa's gotta gun!

Miles is interviewed on TV, they say his name... and also the amount stolen (which is much much more than the Mall Santa ended up with). So the Mall Santa calls Miles, tells them that they are *partners* in this robbery, and if he knows what is good for him he will share the money. This begins a great cat and mouse game between Miles and the vicious bank robber (Christopher Plummer) where each tries to outsmart the other without being caught by the police. The background is the holidays, and Miles ends up taking Julie to the Bank Manager’s Christmas Party so that the Bank Manager’s wife won’t figure out he’s cheating. This leads to Julie confiding that she is facing the same dead end as Miles... and they two hook up. While the Bank Robber makes Miles’ life hell in the background. Miles has to figure out some way to outsmart the Robber, without screwing up his new relationship with Julie. And it’s much more complicated than that! (a character gets their head cut off, Miles loses the money, all sorts of fun things happen!)



John Candy plays another teller who hooks up with the hottest woman in the film (the new teller hired as Christmas Help). This is a great thriller, edge of your seat suspense, and does an amazing job of quietly setting up later complications (the new bank’s vault will be surrounded by a massive underground wall of cement is mentioned in passing, and pays off much later!). A great little movie, and written by some guy named Curtis Hanson (who would later win an Oscar for L.A. CONFIDENTIAL). I love this movie so much that I tracked down the Danish novel it’s based on (“Think Of A Number”, found it in a mystery book store in London) and read it. The book ends differently (in the film Miles and Julia talk about running away from the city to some tropical paradise and starting over again... and that’s what happens in the book and that is where the Bank Robber finds them), but the story is basically the same and the book also takes place at Christmas Time.

Check this film out if you haven’t seen it!

Bill


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Thursday, December 13, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: The Man In The Middle

Man In The Middle

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



Director: Fletcher Markle
Writer: Howard Rodman from the novel by Charlotte Armstrong.
Cast: Mort Sahl, Sue Randall, Frank Alberson, Werner Klemperer, Burt Remsen.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: John L. Russell.
Producer: Fletcher Markle




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The departing eves dropper is Sam Lynch, the conversation he has just overheard will change his life abruptly. It may even finish it. These two men, Mr. Clark (so called, he hasn’t used his real name in years), his good friend Mr. Baby Hoffman, take their work quite seriously. As you would have overheard, their current enterprise concerns the kidnaping and murder of a very beautiful Miss Kay Salisbury. Mr. Clark and Mr. Hoffman know that Mr. Lynch has overheard them. And Mr. Lynch knows that they know that he knows. Mr. Lynch also knows that if he talks, no one would believe him no one would believe him and he would be murdered. But if he doesn’t talk, Miss Salzbury will be murdered. This is the predicament of The Man In The Middle. That’s the name of our story based on a prize winning novel by Charlotte Armstrong. Our principle players are: Mr. Mort Sahl, Miss Sue Randall, Mr. Frank Alberston, and Mr. Werner Klemperer. As sure as my name is Boris Karloff, eves dropping can be very dangerous. You will agree fervently, as you enjoy this... Thriller.”

Synopsis: Sam Lynch (Mort Sahl) is having a beer in a booth in the back of his regular bar when he overhears a conversation from the next booth... two men plotting to kidnap a young society woman named Kay Salisbury just before her wedding and hold her for ransom... but kill her after they get the money. The two men are Mr. Clark (Werner Klemperer from HOGAN’S HEROES) and Baby Hoffman (Julian Burton), career criminals. Sam doesn’t know what to do... and that’s when Clark spots him listening in a mirror on the bar’s wall. He is confronted by the two men, says he didn’t hear anything... but they don’t believe him. Sam sits at the bar, knowing the two will listen to *his* conversation with the Bartender, and tells a heck of a long story about the time he saw a dog on the freeway and wanted to save it, but realized *he’d* get hit by a car in the process and it made more sense to just let the dog die. It wasn’t his dog, why should he care? When Sam gets up to leave, he bumps into another bar patron who hits him up for some drink money (to show Sam is a good guy after that speech).



Sam goes to his job as a TV writer... doesn’t realize that Clark and Hoffman are following him. In the writer’s room everyone is trying to write a skit, and Sam pitched a skit that is *exactly* what just happened to him in the bar. In minute and boring detail. The other writers don’t like it, and instead of Sam explaining what just happened to him, he gets all defensive and leaves... And Clark and Hoffman follow him again.

In Sam’s apartment, there’s a knock at his door: Clark and Hoffman! Clark watches as Hoffman beats the crap out of Sam as a warning to keep his mouth shut. If the police become involved, they will kill him.

Sam goes to warn Kay Salisbury’s father that she is in danger. In the elegant entry hall he bumps into Kay (Sue Randall) who is a sheltered young woman, and cute. When Sam gets his audience with millionaire Charles Salisbury (Frank Alberson) and Kay’s lawyer fiancĂ© (who is just a raging ahole), they mistake his warnings that Kay is in danger for some sort of shake down and refuse to pay him. Now, instead of just explaining the situation, Sam decides it’s time for one of his rambling monologues... this time about pacifists during the war. I’m sure it’s making some point, but neither I nor Mr. Salisbury got it... and still think Sam’s trying to get money from him based on some vague threat of danger that Kay might be in. When Salisbury agrees to cut him a check for his time, Sam storms out... without ever explaining the situation.



Sam bumps into Kay near his car, tries to warn her that she’s in danger but comes off sounding completely crazy. Then he notices Hoffman talking with the Maid at the servants entrance, and points him out to Kay. Kay says that’s the Maid’s boyfriend, nothing to worry about. Sam could explain that Hoffman is really a kidnaper, but it just seems easier for him to kidnap Kay himself and drive off with her unconscious in his car. That way she’ll be safe, right?

At Sam’s mountain cabin, he tries to calm Kay... but again doesn’t think that just telling her what is going on is a good idea. So she thinks he’s a kidnapper.

Meanwhile, Hoffman tells Clark that Kay has vanished unexpectedly, and the family has not called the police. They decide to call Mr. Salisbury and go through with their ransom demands even though they don’t have Kay.

Salisbury rounds up $80k of the $100k ransom and can’t get any more. When the kidnapers call, he says all he can get is the $80k and they reluctantly agree to accept $20k less than they asked. They give Salisbury directions for the drop and say they’ll release Kay 12 hours after they have the money. Salisbury delivers the money, gets knocked out by Hoffman, and makes it home when he comes to.



Meanwhile, Sam is pacing in the cabin and talking to himself as Kay listens. More boring monologue stuff. He decides to lock Kay in the cabin and go to a payphone to call Mr. Salisbury so that he won’t worry about his daughter. Except Salisbury misunderstands and thinks that Sam is the kidnapper and hasn’t released Kay because of the $20k. Now, all Sam would have to do is tell the truth at this point, but instead he decides to get offended and mention Clark and Hoffman’s names before he hangs up.

Sam calls the bar, asks to talk to that guy he gave some money to in the first scene and asks him to find Clark and Hoffman and tell them that he wants to deal with them, as long as they don’t kill Kay (or Sam). That guy says “sure” and Sam says they can meet in some other bar later. Who knows what Kay is doing all of this time.

Sam is sitting in the bar waiting for the guy he called, who is late. When the guy finally staggers in, Sam gives a speech about being drunk (because there’s always time for that) and then the guy says Hoffman *shot* him and he’s dying and Clark says: no deal, Sam & Kay both get killed. Then he dies. At no time does Sam ever think to himself that if he hadn’t have done that long speech about getting drunk the guy might have lived long enough for an ambulance to arrive. Nope.

Sam leaves the dead guy in the bar booth and goes to a pawn shop and buys a gun. Where we get a conversation about the price of an illegal gun in this city.

Meanwhile, Salisbury has called the police, and the police have rounded up Clark, who has an alibi for the time of the ransom drop... so the police let him go. But follow him.



At the cabin, Sam gives Kay his car keys and tells her to drive home. She wants to know what is going on, and instead of just explain, he argues with her or a while (which is mostly another one of his speeches). Eventually she takes the car keys and drives off, and Sam finds the best place to hide the gun in the cabin so that it will be easy to get to when he needs it.

Kay drives down the road... passing Clark and Hoffman who are headed to the cabin (I don’t know how they knew where it was) and Hoffman sees her and they turn around and chase after her. There’s a short car chase, they run Kay off the road, she escapes on foot and Hoffman chases after her while Clark drives to the cabin to deal with Sam.

Clark shows up at the cabin, and Sam tries to put him to sleep with another speech, and when that doesn’t work he pulls his hidden gun and aims it at Clark... which is when the door opens and Hoffman and Kay come in. When the shoot9ing starts, Kay dives for cover. Sam kills both Clark and Hoffman, and gets a flesh wound in the process. Because a TV writer who has never used a gun before is a better shot than two career criminals. The police show up, and it looks like Kay and Sam might hook up. The end.



Review: Where do I begin? This episode has a great concept, in fact... I seem to have accidentally ripped it off for a short story called “Rear Booth” that is coming soon. I”m sure I saw this decades ago and the only thing I could remember was overhearing the bad guys conversation... and my memory of that combined with “Rear Window” sparked *my* story idea (which is not the same as this story). But with this great concept, the story misfires again and again. There is no suspense, and way too much speechifying. I have no idea what Sam’s job was in the book, but I’ll bet it was not a TV writer. That just seemed like incestuous writing. The story manages to keep Sam and Clark on different story tracks most of the time, too. Oh, and the idiot plotting where Sam would rather get frustrated and walk away than just explain what is going on.

Mort Sahl (who is still with us) was the biggest comedian of the time, and they must have been incredibly happy to get him... and maybe they shouldn’t have been. Sahl was a low key political comedian who didn’t rely on punchlines, and had a vocal delivery that kind of reminds me of Norm MacDonald. Kind of a monotone with a little bite. All of that works great on a comedy stage, but doesn’t work at all in a dramatic role. He plays this whole thing in a sad sack monotone with almost no emotions. He’s too low key for these situations, and I wonder if they wrote all of those speeches because Sahl’s comedy routine was basically telling a long story about something from the headlines. He just sinks this episode.

And Colonel Klink also gives a very subdued performance, playing the brainiac crime planner who never gets emotional. So we have both protagonist and antagonist speaking in a monotone!

I suspect that the ahole fiancé was in on the kidnaping in the book, otherwise there would be no reason for his character to exist.

Director Markle was one of the staff producers on the show, and this was his last episode... and the only one he directed. He was responsible for many of the episodes up until this point that I didn’t think worked.

What could have been an interesting thriller ends up not working, due to a misfire script and bland direction and a terrible performance by Mort Sahl (admittedly out of his element). But next week we get a weird tales story about glasses that allow you to see... well, THEY LIVE may owe something to this episode.

Bill

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Talent Shortage

For the next 2 Wednesdays, this 3 part series from 2007!

So, I’ve been wandering the halls of the American Film Market for the past couple of days, and it seems that there are more films than there are talented people who can make films.

If you don’t know, the American Film Market is a trade show for independent films held every year at the Leow’s Hotel in Santa Monica. It used to be in Beverly Hills, and it used to be in February. For the past few years it seems to get smaller as it gets larger. Now it’s in 2 hotels, but not nearly as crowded as it used to be.

Though Miramax and Focus Films show up, most of the companies at AFM fall under the classic definition of “Indie” - films made outside the studio system. That includes everything from future Oscar nominees (I think more Oscar winners come from AFM than anywhere else) to schlock genre films you find on the bottom shelf at Blockbuster... and everything in between. Hundreds and hundreds of movies - and most of them aren’t very good. Even the prestige films - the ones that they hope will be nominated for Oscars - often suck. They make a bunch of prestige films, and not all end up making it to the big screen... and only 5 of those get nominated. The schlock genre films? Well...

No one sets out to make a bad movie. Even the schlock genre films are trying to be great genre films. Budget really has nothing to do with whether a film is good or not - we’ve all seen a huge Hollywood summer film that stinks. But money can often hide the stink behind special effects or movie stars. Of course, none of that seemed to help EVAN ALMIGHTY. A low budget film is just stinky, not much you can do.

We’ve also seen great low budget films. I remember when I first saw EL MARIACHI, the $7k action flick with more cool action and more humor and more just wild stuff than most $100 million Hollywood action flicks. Did you see the mind-bender sci-fi flick PRIMER? Also made for pocket change.

Usually when I see a film that sucks, the most sucky part is usually the script. I can’t figure that out, because the one part you can work on until it’s close to perfect without spending a whole lot of money is the script. Sure, you have to pay a writer to do some rewrites... but the only other cost is *paper*. On sale at Fry’s Electronics - 500 sheets for 99 cents. And if you only buy good scripts, it’s up to the *writer* to do the rewrites before you buy it.

Bad writers are part of the talent shortage - readers say most of the scripts they read are crap... and you’ve read scripts on Zoetrope or some other site that stinks. You know there are bad scripts out there... in fact, statistically, some of you reading this are probably responsible for some of those bad scripts. You probably don’t know it. But *somebody* is writing all of those bad scripts. There is a shortage of good scripts, and it seems like there are many more films than there are good scripts.

Now, I know first hand that a good script can be turned into crap on the way to the screen. I was talking to an actor who was in one of my films about the director who completely ruined the film... and that’s part of the talent shortage. One you have a good script, there are a lot of people involved in making a film, and any of them can screw it up.

A BAD FILM



So, a friend of mine is a distrib and sometimes producer, and he has a suite at AFM. He owns cameras and lighting equipment and a warehouse (studio) and makes his films for what you have in your checking account. The costs are digital tape, crew, cast, and food. As I’m wandering the halls he asks if I have time to see a movie. Sure, why not? I have missed the first few minutes, but the story is kind of RESERVOIR DOGS on Alcatraz with a monster. That may sound a little crazy to you, but it works - these heavily armed thieves pulling a heist on Alcatraz start double crossing each other... but when they start finding members of the team dead they blame the double crossers and don’t realize a monster is responsible. Eventually they have to take on the monster. A good little genre idea.

And the script was pretty good. Some funny lines, some good conflict among the thieves, and the characters were interesting enough and more fleshed out than many big budget Hollywood films I’ve seen. So what went wrong?

Well, three things. First - though my friend told me there was Alcatraz footage in the beginning (that I missed), the film was obviously shot in his warehouse on a jail cell set they built. A couple of cells. It really needed some “scope” and some production value. I’ve taken the Alcatraz tour a few times - it’s not very expensive, and they take you out on a boat to the prison then take you through the entire prison and even lock you up in a cell and in Solitary as part of the tour. It would have been easy to grab a Southwest flight from LA to SF ($39 each way), take the tour with a video camera and shoot all kinds of great stock footage. Hey, for a couple of bucks more, they could have either brought one of the actors and grabbed some shots of them in the actual prison. Hey, if the actor was too expensive, just someone in the actor’s *costume* - shoot them from the back or from a distance. But someone has to *think of this*.

The second big problem was production design. This film was shot in my friend’s warehouse, and the prison cells looked pretty good... but two of the sets were downright awful. They killed the film for me. Like the script, the sets are something that you can put together long before you shoot the film. No need to keep a cast and crew waiting. The two sets that were so bad they ruined the film for me were the Warden’s Office - which looked like it was furnished out of a dumpster, and the Security Room. Okay, you have this security room that is supposed to be filled with monitors so that they can watch every square inch of the prison and make sure no guards or police or park rangers are coming to get them. They post one of the thieves there - think that guy in DIE HARD who pretends to be a security guard. This is a good part of the script - makes sense in the story and shows the writer was thinking. But we don’t see the monitors - what we see are the ass ends of a half dozen computer monitors. That don’t match. Probably the result of more dumpster diving. What they *should have done* is taken 50 different photos at Alcatraz - towers, hallways, cellblocks, fences, exercise yard, etc. Something else to do on that tour. Then take 49 of those photos and make 8x8 transparencies. Build a framework - 7 photos wide, 7 photos tall. Paint it silver or black. Mount the transparencies. Back light them. Instant bank of monitors! What’s more - you have 49 shots of *real* Alcatraz on the monitors! That’s *added production value*. But someone has to *think of this*.

Third problem was flat, boring, direction. Here’s the thing - you have no money. You have a cast that are mostly not that great. You have sets that look cheap. What you need to do is use a direction style that adds energy and takes the focus away from the stuff that doesn’t work. I would have done the EL MARIACHI thing and kept the camera moving and kept the angles changing. I would have use that gonzo style they used in SHOOT ‘EM UP. The subject matter opens the door for this. Moving shots and quick cuts and different angles would have focused us on the *actor* (or whatever the subject of the shot was) and kept us from seeing all of the cheapo stuff... but instead we get lengthy unmoving shots on sticks were you have time to notice all of the production value issues. By the way, the guy who wrote that pretty good script (much much better than most films at 10 times the budget)... also directed. As the writer, he should have asked for a better director! Again - someone needs to *think of the direction*.

The problem is - more movies than people who can think.

TALENT, TIME, MONEY



Look, I know how difficult it is to make a film with no money. I should probably be saving my criticisms for the $200 million dollar Hollywood suckfests. But when you are spending the *time* and what little money is in the budget to make a film, you might as well make a film that is going to change your career... or at least be pretty good. Why waste the money?

My robot hooker from outer space flick was made in 9 days with very little money. Really nothing to brag about. But someone (probably the director) found these freak fish with arms and legs at some fish store and had an aquarium full of them in one character’s office. That was a touch that elevated this low budget film a little - one of many. When you don’t have money, talent and creativity and even just trying to make a good film matter more than ususal.

At AFM there seems to be a talent shortage. There are scripts that aren’t good. Directors that aren’t good. Actors that aren’t good. DPs that aren’t good. Set designers that aren’t good. Either that or they don’t care.

I’m kind of a weird optimist type - I believe that almost everyone can learn and improve themselves. I believe that the bad director just needs to learn about film theory and work a little harder and maybe become a better director. The director the actor and I were talking about has a *massive* ego and thinks he knows it all... when he knows next to nothing. That’s probably the biggest problem with movies of any budget - the bigger the ego the more likely the emperor has no talent. But the bigger the ego the more likely some producer believes this kid really knows something.

There are people who think they don’t need to do the 100% job on a low budget film because it’s a low budget film... when the truth is, you *must* do the 100% job on a low budget film because there is no star or FX to distract the viewer from the problems. The lower the budget, the more talent required just to make it half good!

MY FILM IS GREAT



One of the things that bothers me the most when I wander the halls at AFM, watching the trailers playing on monitors, is the number of films where the script just stinks... in the 5 minute trailer! I mean, if they can’t find enough good bits of dialogue for the trailer, they’re in a heap-o-trouble! Plus the movies that have the exact same plot we’ve seen a million times before - watch for a new movie starring Daryl Hannah about a car load of teens on their way someplace whose car breaks down in some out of the way location where the locals stalk ‘em and kill ‘em one by one. Did they use carbon paper to write that script? Tracing paper? I mean, how completely unoriginal can you get? Why spend the money on a real cast (Daryl Hannah and some other names) for such a retread of a story?

When I look at the credits on most of these stinky trailers I often see that they are written and produced and directed by the same person. Now, I’m all for making your own movie... but I think a man needs to be aware of his limitations. If you are a talented director but can’t write worth beans - find someone who knows how to write. And I don’t mean find someone to type up your lame-ass kids car breaks down story, I mean find a good script with a good idea and buy the script... then don’t eff it up. If you are great at finding money but can’t direct or write, just find the money and hire talented folks to do the other stuff. I’ve seen movies that completely sucked - but the guy found the funding and keeps finding the funding for more movies that completely suck. The problem is - these folks who have one talent often think they have *all* talents. They don’t. The reason why we still talk about Orson Welles is because he was the guy who had all of the talents (except the one for making movies that made money). Hey, Welles was, like, 70 years ago! In all that time, we haven’t found some other guy to talk about... and it sure ain’t you. Most people struggle with *one* talent, don’t think you can do it all. Now, if you are making a film on pocket change that’s a different story - you can’t afford anybody else. Kevin Smith knows he’s not a visual director and knows he’s not a mainstream screenwriter - so he keeps his budgets low and does what he does. He knows his limitations. CHASING AMY cost $250k. If you’re making that credit card film, go for it. But when you get to the level of some of these guys who make one bad film after another - yet they have real budgets and real stars - maybe it’s time to figure out where your talents lie and let somebody else do the other stuff. If you aren’t a great writer find someone who is!

So many of the producers at AFM really don’t care - it’s all a product to them. That means we have to care twice as much. We have to work twice as hard. We have to call upon our hidden reserves of talent to turn some low budget genre flick into a film that really delivers the goods to the audience. The kind of film you might rent for the nice box art... but after watching it you realize you have found a real gem. You tell your friends about it. You *buy* the danged DVD so that you can see it again.

As I wander down the hallways of AFM and pass the poster for I AM OMEGA (I keep waiting for the copyright police to raid the Asylum offices), I realize there is only so much talent in Hollywood... and there’s not enough to go around.

If you have a choice... Be talented. Care about your work. Make good movies. Don’t let your ego get in the way.

Don't be part of the talent shortage - be part of the talent solution!

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

Yesterday’s Dinner: Steak & Eggs at Norm’s in Santa Monica - kind of a low key celebration. More on that later in an entry called Seller's Remorse.
PAGES: Nada. Zip. Zilch.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Young And Innocent (1937)

Screenplay by Charles Bennett, Edwin Greenwood, and Anthony Armstrong, based on a novel by Josephine Tey (“Daughter Of Time”).

This is a forgotten Hitchcock film that deserves to be remembered... but it lives in the shadow of LADY VANISHES. It's a chase film like THE 39 STEPS with some amazing set pieces and some sparkling dialogue and clever scenes. In HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT, Hitch said he wanted to do a film starring young people... but I don't think the age difference between these characters and those in THE 39 STEPS isn't much – the leads are in their 20s somewhere, but both are adults and have already had some interesting experiences in life. My quip on the experiment behind JAMAICA INN was that it had a real star rather than some unknown like Nova Pilbeam... and *this* is the film with Nova Pilbeam above the title. This was her fourth film, and her best known role before this was as the kidnapped daughter in Hitchcock's original MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. As the kidnapped daughter most of her role was offscreen. Right before this film she had played Lady Jane Grey in NINE DAYS A QUEEN, and her studio was grooming her to be a star.. and here she is in YOUNG AND INNOCENT – the *star* of the film.

Ten years later she would be retired.




I had never heard of this film when I first saw it projected at the old Telegraph Theater in Berkeley, California. I hadn't heard of many of Hitchcock's early films. They would show two or three Hitchcock films a night with the hits like LADY VANISHES up front and the ones you've never heard of at the end of the night to a mostly empty cinema. Some of those late films I fell asleep during portions of, but this film kept me awake. It was fun and exciting and if it had only had “name stars” we would all know about it now. But instead it's that footnote: the movie Hitchcock made before LADY VANISHES.


Nutshell: Struggling young screenwriter Rob Tisdall (Derek DeMarney) is on his way to movie star Christine Clay's mansion on the beach for a story meeting when he sees something in the water... Christine, dead, strangled with a belt! He ends up arrested for the murder because Christine left him the balance she owed him for a screenplay he had written for her... and he is unable to explain where his raincoat and belt is. Lots of circumstantial evidence against him, so he escapes – kidnaps the Chief of Police's daughter Erica (Pilbeam) and tries to find his raincoat belt and any other evidence that will prove he could not have been the killer. Unlike THE 39 STEPS which has some big set pieces that will set the stage for NORTH BY NORTHWEST, here we have smaller set pieces and a rural setting. Rob and Christine chase his raincoat to a pub, where it was stolen by a homeless guy Old Will (Edward Rigby) and then they track down Old Will... and then things take a turn for the worst! We'll look at how the plot works, because that is one of the little lessons this film has to offer.

Experiment: Not much of an actual experiment, but Hitch said he was making a film with young leads – and that may be true. Pilbeam was the studios rising young star, and Hitch was the one who made her that by casting her in MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. She had been a child star on stage before that, and how much of her casting was Hitch's idea and how much was the studio's is anyone's guess. Looking back she seems an odd choice for a studio-groomed star – she's not the most photogenic person on Earth. Kind of like those child stars who grow up to look a little strange. Her problem is that she's kind of plain looking – and that's fine when you're a kid actor, but as an adult – as Valentin says in THE ARTIST – you need something that makes you look special and different. Pilbeam doesn't have a beauty mark or any other distinguishing features... except maybe unruly hair. Her co-star DeMarney had starred in a film called ADVENTUROUS YOUTH ten years earlier – making him probably not all that young when this film was made. Before this film he had been in THINGS TO COME – an international hit and one of the great science fiction films. But where Pilbeam did a handful more films and quit the business, DeMarney starred in British films until 1966. Though there are also some kids in the film, including one scene-stealer at a birthday party scene who has the greatest comic delivery I've seen on film in years, the rest of the cast are *not* young.

Some of the more interesting elements in the film are things that he had done before like use of models or “biggest to smallest” tracking shots or disaster movie elements that are particularly well done in this film. We will talk about them in the “lessons” section.




Hitch Appearance: He's a newspaper photographer outside the courthouse who does not want to go looking for the escaped murderer.

Hitch Stock Company: I mentioned that Nova Pilbeam was the daughter in THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, and playing her father in this film is Percy Marmont from RICH AND STRANGE and THE SECRET AGENT, plus Mary Clare (the Baroness in LADY VANISHES) as Pilbeam's aunt and Basil Radford (Charters in LADY VANISHES plus a bunch of other Hitchcock films) as her uncle, and George Curzon who plays Christina's husband was in JAMAICA INN and MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, and John Longden who plays the handsome detective was also the handsome detective in BLACKMAIL. I thought it was great to see Radford and Clare from LADY VANISHES as husband and wife – and they had a great chemistry together... you could have spun them off as series characters like they did with Charters and Caldicott.




Bird Appearance: When the dead body is found on the beach there's a great shot of seagulls flying – I have no idea how he shot it, but we are in the air with the gulls!

Screenwriting Lessons: The film is a lot of fun, and I've used some of the elements in Script Tips in the past because it contains some great examples of gags and showing a decision on screen – we'll look at the gags and decisions, as well as opening your screenplay *in media res* and A-B-C plotting and disguises... as well as some film elements like models and biggest to smallest and disaster scenes. Though the last elements may not directly relate to screenwriting, I'll try to pull them in by looking at how those things might end up on the pages of our screenplays.




In Media Res: Latin for “in the middle of things” - the idea of starting a story when it is already in progress rather than starting at the beginning. The story hits the ground running with very little exposition, and the audience figures things out as the story progresses, or the story may start in the middle (to begin with action) then flashback to how the characters got to be in such a place. This is a common way to start screenplays which may have a bunch of potentially boring exposition up front. You've seen it done in movies like HANGOVER – which begins very close to the end when all is lost, and then flashes back to show us how they got to this point.

YOUNG AND INNOCENT starts in the middle of a *scene* and then just keeps going. No flashback to lead us up to that scene, the film begins in the middle of a major argument between movie star Christine Clay and her husband Guy – she wants a divorce and he refuses. He accuses her of cheating on him with a succession of “boys” - the 1930's term for boytoys or himbos. She is an attractive woman in her late 30s or maybe early 40s. The film begins with all of the dirt! The polite part happens before the film begins, and we are at the name calling part... and Guy calls his wife *something*, but thanks to a censor-friendly thunderclap we can't hear exactly what. Probably slut or whore. She slaps him *hard*... and does her best to explain away the parade of hunky men who have visited her bedroom.

The great thing about starting the film in the middle of this argument is that it allows a lot of secret exposition – when Guy says he found her in the chorus line and used his connections to turn her into a star, just so she can dump him and sleep with “boys” - it's like a verbal slap... but tells us who they are and why they are calling each other names and slapping each other. He's a musician, she's a movie star. She has outgrown him... but he will not allow her to divorce him. He has *invested* in her, and now that she's making money she wants to dump him? After the slap, Guy storms outside into the storm and puffs on his cigarette. When lightning flashes, his eyes twitch like crazy. That's a clue, too – but we don't know it at this point.

Starting a film with the story in progress like this forces the audience to pay attention. We have no idea who these people are or even their names – but they are yelling at each other and saying nasty things about each other.

The next scene has our hero Rob walking along the edge of the cliff overlooking the beach when he sees something in the water and climbs down to investigate – a dead woman! When he sees her face he says: “Christine” - so she is the woman in that first scene, and dead, and this guy knew her. One of her “boys”? As he runs to get help, two attractive girls come onto the beach, see the dead woman, see the man running away, and scream...

When the police arrive, they ask who found the body and Rob says he did... but the two girls say *they* did, and saw Rob running away. The policemen believe the attractive girls over the guy – and next thing you know he's being interrogated in the police station. Though these cuts to a scene in progress isn't exactly In Media Res, it's starting each scene *late* - when then conflict has kicked in. We don't need to see Rob arrested and driven to the police station and the beginning of the interrogation – it's more interesting to start the scene just before the big moment in the interrogation. The police ask Rob how well he knew the victim, and his answer makes him sound guilty... They ask if she had ever given him money (for services?) and he answers, yes – she paid him for a story. They're accusing him of being in the British version of SUNSET BLVD – some broke young screenwriter who took money from an older star in exchange for sex. Does he own a raincoat? Of course he does. Where is it? Well, it was stolen a week ago. Convenient... Everything makes him sound more guilty – then they drop the bombshell... she left him money in her will. Motive for murdering her?




Rob passes out... and that's when Erica comes in and tries to revive him. She knows how because she used to be a Girl Scout. And she used to work with the cornerman for a boxer. And she knows that a stiff shot of brandy will get his heart racing again. And she knows how to slap really hard because she's used to driving around with horny policemen. She has a great comeback for everything – and one of this film's charms is that the characters all have quick wits.

Story Gags:




In the entry on FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT we talked about “gags” - which are one of my favorite things about older films. Gags don't have to be funny – they can be serious or suspenseful or romantic or “action gags” (covered in SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING) – they are little details in a scene. Older films, for whatever reason, seem to be filled with all of these great details that make a scene seem real and are often amusing or entertaining... and *full*. Scenes in older films seem *packed* with information and entertainment. Often when I watch a recent film there is the basic scene and that's it! None of the details or “mini story beats” that gags used to provide. In the VISUAL STORYTELLING book I look at gags in silent films – and I suspect that's where came from. In a silent film there was no dialogue or even sound effects, so they needed more *story* to fill the screen. Gags were those bits of story. Probably when silents ended there were lots of writers who were either used to writing gags, or writers who specialized in gags – and when they worked in sound films they just added all of those gags... and when they died off, so did the gags.

When they lead Rob across the street to the courthouse he passes Erica trying to start her beat up old jalopy. To do this, she has a string attached to the throttle and she can pull on while cranking the engine... and this is a gag. Not funny at all, just a detail... that becomes part of the story every time her car is started. It's used in a variety of ways, to create suspense, to force her to come along on a car chase (she's the only one who knows how to start the car), and it prevents strangers from driving her car. When the detectives pull Rob past the car he tells her it might need a shot of brandy in order to start.




Rob gets stuck with the worst public defender in the history of courtrooms! He's scatterbrained, is sure that Rob is guilty, and wears glasses that are a quarter inch thick. And he wants to know how much Rob has on him, because once he's convicted they will take his money away and the lawyer won't make any money. He has 2.30 on him, and the lawyer takes the 2 (it's British money, so forgive me if I got the details wrong here). The money is part of an important “gag” that threads the story together – now that he's down to .30, and later in the story he will use that money to buy gas for the female lead... and she will realize he spent his last cent on her and that will be her motivation for going back to help him – to give him back the money she borrowed. We'll look closer at that in the section on Romantic Pivot Characters. But something as small as the coins in a character's pockets may be critical to your story... or *can be* fun to keep track of and use later. These details, or “gags” make a story seem real and “dense”.

When the lawyer puts his glasses down, Rob secretly snags them... and when their case is called Rob manages to give the bailiff and his blind lawyer the slip in a crowded hallway by walking next to a man of his build wearing similar clothes... and the police officer guides the other man into the courtroom.




Rob escapes... ducking through a courthouse door... where another bailiff seats him in the gallery for a trial... which ends up being *his* trial! Every good thing that happens backfires into a bad thing – and that's something that happens throughout the story. It creates a balance... and keeps the story exciting and suspenseful because of the good news/bad news aspect.

So now he's trapped in the courtroom he was supposed to be in – will they find him? Rob tries to leave... but the Bailiff stands guarding the door. As word of his escape spreads, the courtroom begins clearing, except for his public defender who is lost in thought trying to read paperwork without his glasses. That's when Rob pulls out the thick stolen glasses, puts them on as a disguise (the first of many – we'll look at disguises in a moment) and walks out of the court house past all of the policemen and bailiffs who are looking for him.




That's the good news – the bad news is that the glasses are so thick he *can't see where he's going*! And he is outside the courthouse where an army of policemen are searching for him! He stumbles down the sidewalk... to freedom.

Remember Erica's car gag? When a pair of policemen want to commandeer her car to give chase, they don't know how to use the string to start it... so she ends up the driver!

Next we get a great visual gag, as we see a beautiful country road as Erica and her old jalopy slowly enters the frame. Wait, where are the two cops? *Pushing* the jalopy – it's out of gas. When a horse drawn farmer's cart comes by, the two cops commandeer it... but the farmer has to drive... and the two cops have to sit in back with the pigs. Pigs and pigs? Was that a joke back in 1937? Yes it was! “Pigs” as slang for police goes back to 19th century Germany. Learn something new every day.

Romantic Pivot Character:




As soon as the two policemen leave in the pig cart, Erica pushes the car herself – and it's remarkably light... because Rob is actually doing all of the pushing.

One of the new chapters in SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is on “Pivot Characters” like Tommy Lee Jones in THE FUGITIVE who start out as an antagonistic character who believes the protagonist is guilty, but as the story progresses they begin leaning to the other side and end up *helping* the protagonist by the end. Pivots actually can work both ways, and we take a closer look at that in the book – but here we have a combination Pivot Character and Love Interest. Erica begins believing that Rob is guilty and that she will be arrested and convicted for helping him to escape... but as the story goes on, scene-by-scene she begins to wonder if he might be innocent, and then eventually she risks everything to help him.

The great thing about this is that it is a *gradual* change in Erica's character. Because she is also the love interest, and Rob is a charming man, the thing that comes between them in the “rom-com” thread of this story is that she believes he might be a killer... So they may have a witty conversation and we know they were meant to be together and hope they hook up by the end of the film, we understand why Erica isn't just jumping into his arms. This is a great combination of character purposes because when she begins to believe him, the barriers to their relationship begin to evaporate... so she can help him prove he's innocent *and* hook up with him at the end. But early on, she's just as much a kidnap victim as Faye Dunnaway in THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR. Scared, wondering how to escape without maybe setting this guy off. He's accused of murdering the last woman he was with, right?




When they get the car to a gas station, we get some more gags – the gas station owner's little boy pumps the gas, and has to stand on a bucket to reach... and the bucket falls over so Rob has to rescue him. This is a great bit because Erica finally has a chance to escape while Rob is helping the kid – but would a killer help the kid? She sticks around, and Rob spends his last cent on gasoline for her car. She stresses that she is *not* on his side – her father is the chief of police – and asks why he isn't taking his situation more seriously. Rob says, “I can laugh because I'm innocent. You don't believe me. I wish you did.” That sums up her whole Romantic Pivot Character.

Show The Decisions:

Whether your script is a drama, a comedy, or a thriller there's always a decision that must be made in order to solve the external (plot) problem. The decision your protagonist makes is the most important part of your screenplay - it reveals the theme. The meaning of your script. In the Visual Storytelling Blue Book I look at decisions as a way to reveal character – and that technique is used in YOUNG AND INNOCENT.




While they were at the gas station and Rob is helping the kid pumping the gas, Erica is unattended. Will she run? Will she tell the gas station owner that he’s a fugitive from the law? She almost does... but *decides* not to. When they are done, Rob asks the gas station owner for directions to the truck stop where he lost his raincoat - the evidence that exonerates him. “At the Y in the road, turn left ... if you turn right, it just takes you back into town.” The Y in the road is a *physical decision* - something where we can see the outcome.

But after they leave the gas station, instead of taking him to the Truck Stop where he lost his raincoat, she pulls up at a vacant old mill and kicks him out of the car. She is the daughter of the Chief of Police and can not help him. She drives home...




One of the other techniques in the Visual Blue Book is the Echo Scene – where the same location is reused in order to show the difference in characters or situation. Erica has dinner with her army of little brothers and widower dad two times - the first time shows the whole family (except Erica) happy and joking, the second time shows everyone quiet and solemn after Erica has been accused of aiding an escaped killer.

The first dinner scene the conversation is about the escaped murderer – and each of the brothers is a well defined character, from the intellectual brother to the youngest one who killed a rat with his BB gun and brought it to the dinner table. Erica listens to various theories on why he will be caught – biggest problem is that he only had .30 on him and will only last as long as the food he can buy. Intellectual brother says if he buys .30 of chocolate he'll last longer (and has a scientific argument to back it up). Erica realizes all of Rob's .30 went into her gas tank, and makes a decision...

So now we get the scene where she goes back to the old mill and gives Rob some food and repays the gas money. This is the first scene where she actually listens to him explain why he's innocent. But it's all cut short because the two policemen who were in her car and then the pig cart? They spot someone in the Old Mill and investigate. A gag where the policemen are “detained” by Erica's barking terrier – one cop says if he grabs the dog he'll earn an extra stripe on his sleeve, the other cop says what good is a stripe if the dog takes off his arm. It's a *terrier*!

Rob and Erica escape – starting the car string suspense – and race out of there with the dog chasing after them (as well as the two policemen). Erica wants to slow down so that they can grab the dog – Rob is afraid that will get them caught. A decision must be made. Rob decides to slow down for the dog – and this shows that he cares about her. He will put his safety in danger for her pet.

Now they are headed in the direction of that truck stop – and there is a road sign that shows the Y ahead and tells where each branch goes – just in case we've forgotten. Erica drives to the Y in the road, and she must make a decision - believe that he is innocent and turn left, or turn right and take him back to the waiting police. Which will she do? This takes something *internal* (does she believe him?) and turns it into an action. We can't see her believing him, we can see her turning one way or the other. She makes a left turn, and we know that she believes him and is going to help him. Each has made a decision that helps the other at the expense of their safety.

A B C Plot:

Plots can work in any number of ways – maybe as many ways as there are stories. In SECRETS OF ACTION I look at a few different ways that action films are plotted, and here's one of them: the A-B-C plot where one thing leads to the next thing which leads to the next. All of that sounds pretty normal, and you have seen this sort of plot in many films and stories. It's a staple of traveling mysteries – one clue leads to the next clue which leads to the next clue. There isn't a direct line from A to Z, it's a series of individual steps, each of them leading to the next step but none of them leading to the end.




At the truck stop, Erica goes in to ask about the raincoat while Rob waits outside. Surrounded by truck drivers, this gives her a great situation to show how clever she is when she slings a zinger at every trucker with a pick up line or rude remark. But when she asks about the raincoat – everyone clams up. When one trucker talks – saying that a homeless guy known as Old Will The China Mender was wearing a new coat one day, the whole joint erupts into a fist fight – which is filled with great gags. Erica must get across the room – which is filled with punching people. Once she gets out through the back door she sees Rob going in through the front door to rescue her – and now he's got to turn around and get out... and gets punched in the face, Another great gag as Erica tries to clean the wound in a drinking fountain where the water goes up and down in an unpredictable rhythm, so she never knows where to position his head... then the trucker who talked to her before tells her she can find Old Will at Nobby's Homeless Shelter by the railroad. That's where the next clue is – from A to B. Instead of the truck driver leaving the scene in any normal way, he's yanked back into the fight!




So the next clue leads to Nobby's and Old Will, and Old Will ends up having the raincoat – but it has no belt (meaning Rob has no proof that he's innocent) but Old Will says when the man gave it to him it didn't have a belt. A man? Old Will says the man had twitchy eyes – blinking all the time... but that's the end of the trail. Until Rob finds a matchbook in the raincoat pocket from the Grand Hotel – and that's the next destination (A to B to C). Each clue leads to another clue – but the first clue does not lead to the last. You have to take it step-by-step.

But before we even get to Nobby's, the story takes a detour to play...

Blind Man’s Bluff:

There are scenes in movies which are so well crafted that the purpose of the scene may not be apparent – that “drinks with an old friend” scene in FARGO is a great example. Here we have a similar scene – it seems as if you could cut it and not hurt the story... except it's one of those quiet pivotal scenes in the story. Erica needs a cover story to tell her dad (the Chief Of Police) where she went to today – and her aunt lives on the way to Nobby's, so if they can stop in there first for a minute...

Rob waits outside while Erica goes in to visit her Aunt for a minute – but today is her niece's birthday, and the Aunt insists she stay and have some cake. Now Erica is trapped inside while Rob waits outside... until Erica's Uncle pulls up and asks who he is and then why Erica would leave him outside... and brings him into the party!




Though the party is filled with silly hats and gags like the little boy who wants to go outside... because he has to pee, there is a deeper reason for this scene than its entertainment value. Erica's Aunt asks her who the young man is – typical relative reaction to a single gal turning up with an attractive guy - but Erica can't tell her his name (since he's wanted by the police) or even any details about him. Rob pops over and introduces himself – giving some crazy name right out of the FLETCH movie, and now he's stuck with that name for the rest of the party. When he zips away the Aunt asks what he does for a living and she makes up an occupation – advertizing slogan writer. The problem is, a moment later Erica has joined the festivities and the Aunt asks Rob about his job... and he has no idea what Erica has said – so his answers are *crazy sounding* (if he writes advert slogans). This makes the Aunt suspicious... and now Erica and Rob must work together to make all of these various lies sound like some form of truth.

In the past scenes with Rob and Erica – they were *together* and that meant the conflict was between them: she didn't believe he was innocent (and even if he was – he'd kidnapped her), but this scene has Rob and Erica surrounded by other people. Instead of the conflict being between them, it's the two of them against the world. This is the scene where Rob and Erica actually become a team and work together. It seems frivolous and funny, but it serves a deeper purpose – and when Rob makes jokes, Erica laughs at them. Earlier she wondered how he could joke at a time like this – now she is joking along with him. Before this scene they were at odds with each other, during this scene they must work together.




Where the Aunt is suspicious, the Uncle believes that they are young lovers who just want to get out of here so that they can make out – so within the party we have a quiet conflict between the Aunt and Uncle. When the Aunt does something that will force them to stay and give her more information, the Uncle finds some way for them to get out of there. Eventually it comes down to a game of Blind Man's Bluff, where the Uncle insists that the Aunt be “it” and wear the blindfold. Now we get a great little suspense scene where Erica and Rob must get out of the room quietly before the blindfolded Aunt grabs them (and that's who she's trying for). Several close calls, and finally they escape.

Rob and Erica *laugh together* in the car as they zoom away – on the same side for the first time. But remember the good news/bad news thing? For every good thing that happens there is some bad thing to balance it out? As soon as the Aunt finds out they have escaped, she rushes to the phone to call Erica's Father and ask who that man with Erica is... and the Aunt's description matches the escaped killer. Erica's Father calls for the police to be on the look out for his daughter's car, and things have just gotten much worse without Erica or Rob knowing about it.

Doesn't take long for them to find out – they get pulled over by one of the pig cart Cops as drive through town... and have to escape at high speed. Now Erica's Father knows she's somehow mixed up with the escaped killer – and Erica realizes that it is now serious – she is an accessory. Before she might have found a way to escape prosecution – now the only way for her to stay out of prison is to prove that Rob is innocent. Good news – they are together. Bad news – if they can't find the evidence, they are both going to prison.

Only A Model:




One of the amazing things in older films like this is the use of *very* detailed models. The exterior of the snowed in ski chalet at the beginning of THE LADY VANISHES and the beautifully detailed miniature of Hitler's headquarters at the beginning of NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH look like the real thing – it's only the knowledge that they didn't have helicopter shots (and that the camera is not moving as if this were an actual location) that tips us off. The amazing thing about many of these models is that they are “articulated” - portions of them move, and they may even feature moving *humans*. All of this makes them seem very real. Even though modern audiences will know they are models, they will also probably think they are pretty amazing.

In YOUNG AND INNOCENT we have this amazing overhead shot of the industrial section of the city down by the railroad track and slowly move in – past a moving truck on the street – and as a train passes by on the tracks, and move down to a parked car – where Rob stands outside talking to Erica behind the wheel. At one point Rob and Erica are miniatures – little model people on this detailed train set – then we cut to a different angle of the real people in the exact same positions for a conversation. Shots like this give the film a huge scope – these are *helicopter shots* of the town, which were pretty much impossible in real life back then. The moving model cars and trains look real – as do the buildings.

In LADY VANISHES we go from a high overhead of the train stuck in an avalanche and move slowly down to the village and the ski lodge... then – in the same shot – move up to the window of the ski lodge lobby and look inside. That's when we cut to a shot of inside the ski lodge with real people. But the detail is amazing – and having the ability to do a “helicopter shot” before there were helicopters adds production value... And gives us a “Biggest To Smallest” element, which we will discuss later in the blog entry.

After the Nobby's scene which comes next, more models are used in a car chase in the rail yards where Rob cuts across the tracks in front of a speeding train, leaving the police behind them. This would have been a dangerous (if not impossible) stunt to do at the time, but with the use of very realistic models you get all of the thrills. If you think the use of models and miniatures is something from the distant past, they were commonly used in films up until the advent of high quality CGI work – and the next time you watch THE STING note that the elevated train is a model! My friend Fred who does disaster movies for cable has used toy store model cars and forced perspective to create a street full of wrecked and burning cars – without having to wreck or burn any actual cars (which would be expensive). So the old techniques are still in use.

In a screenplay, there is no need to identify what is going to be a miniature or CGI or a special effect – just write what we see and let the people in charge decide how these things will be done. If a building blows up, it blows up. If a giant shark attacks, a giant shark attacks. No reason to call attention to what kind of special effects will be used – just write the screenplay!

Disguise & Disguise:




Rob is going to go into Nobby's to look for Old Will, and tells Erica that she will be safe in the car. Both are exhausted by this point – running on very little sleep. Because Erica's old jalopy is parked between two trains it is impossible to see, and she can sleep in the car without much worry of being disturbed.

But to get into Nobby's, Rob will have to disguise himself as a homeless man. One of the motifs in the film are people wearing disguises or altering their appearance. This may tie in to Rob appearing to be guilty, but it's used in several different scenes. Here Rob puts on an old cap, turns his coat inside out, covers it with dirt, and tries to look and act like he's homeless. At the front desk of the homeless shelter he says hello to Nobby behind the counter... except it's *not* Nobby – Nobby has been dead since before the war. Rob claims to be a friend of Old Wills and asks if he's there. The (suspicious) guy behind the counter says not yet, but they've held a cot 68 for him. Rob gets onto his cot, keeps his eyes on cot 68... then falls asleep. Wakes up and cot 68 is empty – but has been slept in. There are a bunch of homeless men hanging around talking, so Rob asks the guy behind the counter which one is Old Will... and the counter guy answers with “I thought he was your pal?” This disguise isn't working very well.

Rob knows that Old Will repairs china, so he breaks a cup – which does the trick, but also gets the counter guy on the phone to the police. Rob grabs Old Will and runs for Erica's car – and we get our car chase with the near miss by the train.




Later in the story we will get two more examples of disguises – the matchbook that leads them to the Grand Hotel, an elegant place with a grand ballroom. So Old Will the homeless guy (with an attitude) must be transformed into a well dressed gentleman to get through the doors and look for the nan who gave him the raincoat. They take him to a suit rental place, and Old Will is Cinderella headed to the ball – except he's still a homeless guy under the fancy suit and top hat. He has a bad attitude, and when he orders tea at the Grand Hotel the waited asks “China or India?” and he yells “TEA!” no even understanding that there might be different kinds of tea. Just like Rob's homeless disguise, Old Will's gentleman disguise doesn't cover who he really is.




Once in the Grand Ballroom Old Will can't spot the man who gave him the raincoat... because *he* is in a disguise! So we have one disguised man looking for another disguised man! I don't know whether using the disguise motif was thematic or some sort of amazing creative coincidence (which is just another term for subconsciously thematic) but the characters keep dressing up- as people they are not throughout the film. Everybody does it!

Disaster scenes:

Back to the homeless shelter – after Rob drags Old Will out to Erica's car and they zoom away with the police in hot pursuit, they get a head start when they zip past that speeding train... but the police are still back there. So, in the middle of this car chase Rob grills Old Will about the raincoat, discovers that Old will *is* wearing it (he sports the homeless layered look) – but there is no belt! The belt that killed Christine Clay came from *Rob's* raincoat! Old Will tells him the man who gave him the coat had a twitch – both eyes blinking at the same time. Hey, we know that's Christine's husband! But Rob and Erica don't know that, and have no idea where to find the twitching man... and the police are chasing them. Old Will suggests they hide at the Old Mines, and she pulls her jalopy off the road and into the mine...

And we get an amazing disaster scene.




What's interesting about Hitchcock movies are that many have disaster scenes: the plane crashing and sinking in FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, the ship sinking in LIFEBOAT, and here we get a great mine cave in YOUNG AND INNOCENT. They drive the jalopy into the mine to hide... and the ground gives way and the car begins sinking. Rob and Old Will scramble out... but Erica is still in the car, and it begins falling faster! Rob reaches down to grab here, and we get that signature Hitchcock shot of hands grabbing for hands that's in almost all of his films. To add to the suspense of this scene – the police arrive! Rob finally grabs Erica's hand, just as the ground completely gives way and the car plummets! He pulls her up, then scrambles away – but the police grab Erica.

The great thing about the mine cave in scene is that it is amazing spectacle – much like the plane crash in FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT. This is the kind of huge scene that elevates a little movie like this and gives the audience an exciting experience they probably did not expect. Our job as screenwriters is to fill the screen – and a movie screen is pretty darned big, so we will need some big scenes like this.

As Low As You Can Go:




Good drama is about conflict – and at this point the characters are overwhelmed with conflict. Rob has found his raincoat on Old Will – but not the belt. It seems that the evidence that he thought would prove him innocent proves him guilty. Erica is questioned by the police and may be charged – she goes home and we have the echo of that earlier dinner scene with all of her brothers, but this time they look on her with pity – she's either a criminal or a kidnap victim (or both). It is a tension filled meal, and after dinner it gets worse: Erica's Father calls her into his study and shows her his resignation papers. He can't be Chief Of Police if his daughter helped a killer escape. They have a big dramatic father-daughter conversation which might be at home in an Oscar nominated drama. But remember that even in a thriller or any other genre film, drama is basis of the story. It always comes down to the *people*. The events of the story have seriously damaged Erica's relationship with her father. Her whole life has gone to hell. She goes to her bedroom and cries herself to sleep.

This is the ultimate low point for all of the characters. One of the problems with many screenplays is that the characters never hit bottom. The writer doesn't want to make it too hard on them, wants to protect them, and makes their problems easier than they should be. But the lower you go, the greater the stakes and the conflict, the more we will cheer when those problems are resolved. Never make it easy on your characters!




Just when we think all is lost, Rob climbs through Erica's window – and they embrace. Part of going so low is giving them (as a couple) something to lose. That means they must be a potential couple by this time. I think part of saving her from the mine cave in was to solidify their relationship. They *are* in love – which means in addition to everything else they will lose, they are also going to lose each other. Rob has decided to turn himself in and stop running – probably end up convicted of a murder he did not do. Even if Erica is not convicted, she has caused her father to be ruined. It can not get any worse than this...

And that's when they find that matchbook from the Grand Hotel and have a new lead to the real killer.

Biggest To Smallest:

So once Erica and Old Will get to the Grand Hotel, with Rob hiding outside, they have to find a man who twitches... in a huge luxury hotel's ballroom. How do we show that needle in a haystack situation visually? One of the Hitchcock theories was biggest to smallest – and in the entry on NOTORIOUS we took a look at that theory in action in the party scene where the camera goes from a high overhead of the party and cranes down in a single shot to focus on the key in Ingrid Bergman's hand.




In YOUNG AND INNOCENT we have one of those amazing tracking shots – it starts outside, overhead - enter the night club - hundreds of people, which one is the killer? And as the camera slowly moves over the room with too many suspects for them to weed through before the police arrive, the camera slowly moves down to eye level and creeps up to the killer's *eyes* - they fill the screen... and then twitch! Cool shot and it makes us wonder how they will ever get through all of those false suspects to find the real killer - the needle in a haystack.

Though the two examples from Hitchcock films seem to be director related, *we* can also use “Biggest To Smallest” to show how a large event (like the party in NOTORIOUS) actually comes down to something small and personal. In the original DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, Klatuu causes the power all over the Earth to cut out for half an hour as a sample of what he can do. The sequence begins with global issues - the big picture - as cities across the globe go dark. Then each successive piece of the sequence gets “smaller” - from freeways filled with stalled cars to city streets... and finally down to a woman pulling wet clothes out of her stalled washing machine. From the global problem to the personal problem. You might not be able to relate to a whole city going dark, but you can sure relate to a bunch of half washed clothes. The “Biggest To Smallest” technique is a great way to take a major problem and show it at a personal level - and that’s something we can use in our screenplays.

To add to the difficulty in YOUNG AND INNOCENT – disguise and disguise – Old Will is dressed as a gentleman and the killer – Christine Clay's musician husband Guy – is in blackface. The whole band is in blackface. So even with Old Will looking around the room, he doesn't recognize the man who gave him the raincoat. The police are on their way – so the clock is ticking. Erica and Old Will decide that dancing around the ballroom will allow them to look at more people, only Old Will has no idea how to dance. They do it anyway – a bit of comedy – but Old Will doesn't see the man.




But the man sees Old Will – Clay recognizes the homeless guy he gave the raincoat to and begins twitching like crazy. There's a great visual here where Clay *sees* the dressed up Old Will as the homeless bum. When the police arrive and seal off all of the exits, Clay's twitch goes out of control and he's screwing up his music.

Just when you think the problem will be resolved, Rob steps forward and gives himself up to protect Erica. The police send a waitress in to ask Erica and Old Will to give themselves up and leave without incident – and they do! The killer is this close, and they are all leaving!




Just as we had good news/bad news to balance things out, at the end of the story we have some bad news/good news. Clay sees the police talking to Old Will and Rob (and Erica) and assumes they are here for him – and collapses. Someone calls for a doctor, but what they get is a Police Chief's daughter who learned first aid in the Girl Scouts... who helps the musician in blackface... and notices his eyes twitching... and calls over Old Will... who identifies him once they remove the make up... and when they ask Clay what happened to the belt on the raincoat, Clay is sure they are already here to arrest him and confesses to killing his wife. That solves all of the problems...

But there is still an important story moment.

Erica runs into Robs arms... then goes to hug her father and apologize... then brings the two men in her life together to shake hands. While all of these chase scenes were going on, another story was playing out in the background about a young women who meets a man and realizes she must leave her father's home to be with this man. The normal story of first adult romance. And even though her father at first does not approve of this man, she must make peace between them so that she has *both* of the important men in her life. All of that is done in a silent scene where she goes from one man that she loves to the other, and then brings them both together... THE END.

Sound Track: Louis Levy - nice score.

YOUNG AND INNOCENT is a fun forgotten Hitchcock film that deserves to be remembered. It's a chase film, about a struggling young screenwriter who is accused of murdering a famous actress, and the daughter of the police chief who hates him then loves him as he finds the evidence that proves he's innocent. This is a breezy chase film, kind of like 39 STEPS. Probably less known because the cast isn't as attractive nor as famous. But fun to see again.

- Bill

The other Fridays With Hitchcock.


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