Friday, January 18, 2019

Fridays With Hitchcock: FRENZY (1972)

FRENZY (1972)

Screenplay: Anthony Schaffer based on the novel by Arthur La Bern.
Starring: Jon Finch, Barry Foster, Anna Massey, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Alec McCowen.

Hitchcock’s second-to-last film manages to combine many of his most popular elements into one story: We get the wrongly accused man story - this time very similar to one of his other lost gems, YOUNG AND INNOCENT. We also get a STRANGERS ON A TRAIN story of guilt transferred. Plus we get a sexy, violent, shocking serial killer story like PSYCHO. Hey, add a twist ending and you've got quintessential Hitchcock. Oh, and it's funny and clever, too - screenplay by the brilliant Anthony Shaffer...writer of the original SLEUTH, the original WICKER MAN, and SOMMERSBY. This is the best Hitchcock film in the post-PSYCHO period.




After a bunch of interesting failures after PSYCHO - movies that only Robin Wood could love - Hitchcock needed a hit... and here it is. FRENZY is a return to England and to London. The business had changed, and Hitchcock - who always seemed ahead of the curve - had coasted on past brilliance in the 60s until he stopped dead. This was the film that restarted him - and probably the film he should have gone out on. Though it’s about a man who is wrongly accused, he isn’t on the run like in NORTH BY NORTHWEST, instead he’s kind of “a man on the hide” - trying to find some safe place to hole up or some scheme to avoid the police by being smuggled out of the country. After years of sly winks from Hitchcock about sex - trains entering tunnels - the new permissive world of cinema practically demanded that he do a film full of nudity and sex. This is Hitchcock’s only R rated film. Instead of those glossy Hollywood “personality” stars like Cary Grant that he had used in the past, or the new method actors and low-key guys like Paul Newman - who didn’t match his style, FRENZY stars a bunch of fine British stage actors. You don’t know their names, but you may have seen them in movies or on TV before. The hostess of Masterpiece Theater, Jean Marsh, plays a role. Whether Hitchcock was returning to his roots or his comfort zone, the results are a fun and frightening little film that is still fun to watch.




Nutshell: Bitter bartender Richard Blaney (Jon Finch) seems to have lost everything in his divorce, including many of his friends. The one pal who took his side was Bob Rusk (Barry Foster) who runs a produce company at Covent Garden. These two are polar opposites. Where Blaney's life is a mess, Rusk is on top of the world.

London is plagued by the Neck Tie Killer - who strangles swinging single women with neck ties. When Blaney’s ex-wife (Barbara Leigh-Hunt) becomes the latest victim only a day after they had a very public fight, he finds himself on the run from the police. Unfortunately, everyone sided with the ex-wife in the divorce, and no one will believe he's innocent. And when another Neck Tie Killer victim can be traced back to Blaney? Even his old pal Rusk thinks he’s guilty... and turns him in to the police. Lots of twists and turns, and one of those great end twists where the real killer is revealed.




Hitch Appearance: In a crowd listening to a political speech - right
at the beginning of the film... then someone spots a dead woman floating in the Thames River, naked except for a neck tie. “Is that my club tie?” someone asks.

Hitch Stock Company: Elsie Randolph who plays the Hotel Clerk was also in RICH AND STRANGE (1931).

Birds: One of the few Hitchcock films without birds - though there are some seagulls in the opening shot and a quail is served at dinner.

Experiment: Hitchcock plays it safe as far as story is concerned. FRENZY is a great example of taking us into a world, Hero & Villain “Flipsides”, character flaw creating story, set ups, and traditional twist endings. There are also some visual experiments in the film that we look at in MASTERING SUSPENSE.

A great summation of Hitchcock's thrillers that also works as kind of a little tour of London and a behind the scenes of Covent Garden market. Lots of suspense, twists, and a fun look at what happens when you lose all of your friends in the divorce... except for the bad boys you used to hang out with as a bachelor. Great script by Shaffer, great cinematography by Gilbert Taylor. Marred by iffy music by Ron Goodwin (replacing Bernard Herrmann after he had a falling out with Hitch). Hitchcock's best film in the Post-“Psycho” era (after he began to believe all of those critics that called him a genius - and made mostly cruddy films). A modern film, that holds up really well and has some great lessons on protagonist and antagonist relationships and twists.

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

- Bill

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






USA Readers click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

THRILLER Thursday: GUILLOTINE

SEASON 2!!!!

Guillotine

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



Season: 2, Episode: 2.
Airdate: Sep. 26, 1961

Director: Ida Lupino.
Writer: Charles Beaumont based on the story by Cornell Woolrich.
Cast: Robert Middleton, Danielle de Metz, Alejandro Rey.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith.
Cinematography: Benjamin Kline
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The early dawn. The gleaming knife. A man seized in his cell by armed guards in his stocking feet, snatched from a dream of freedom to be thrust into the waiting embrace of Madame Guillotine. Altogether an unenviable experience. Not however inevitable. It is related that there have been certain criminals, cutthroats and murderers all, who have by one means or another evaded this chilling fate. Well, the efforts of one such fellow to alter his ordained destiny form the substance of tonight’s story.

“The location: France. The year: 1875. And the theme? Well, you might call it togetherness. The normal association of a body and the head it comes with. You’re about to meet three people who enjoy seriously conflicting viewpoints on the subject. (The guillotine blade slices down, dropping a head into the basket which Karloff retrieves.) Here is the condemned man, Robert Lamont, who desires to keep his head while others about him are losing theirs. Enacted for us by Alejandro Rey. (The blade slices and the next head.) His good wife and the chief source from which his present dilemma obtains, Babette. Played by Danielle de Metz. (The blade slices and the next head.) And the third figure in this grisly triangle, the estimable and much maligned Mssr. De Paris. Public servant par excellence, portrayed by Robert Middleton.

“This drama may be considered, not to raise a tribute to the march of civilization, but also for the unconquerable spirit of convicted murderers. Of course, such practices may soon become things of the past. With modern methods of scientific liquidation instant death is now available to the masses without fuss and in most cases without undue delay. The old traditional ways were always so much more quaint.”



Synopsis: The Executioner “Mssr deParis” (Robert Middleton) tests the guillotine. They raise the blade, he locks the “trigger”, then pushes the lever with his foot to release the trigger. The blade glides down in a flash - through the neck stockade where a prisoner will soon be. The Executioner smiles. They place a cabbage in the neck piece and the Executioner pushes the trigger lever with his foot again. Wooosh! The cabbage is cleanly sliced in half. Half falls into the “head basket” below. The device is ready for it’s next victim...

Hours before dawn: In the darkest cells of the prison, two Guards have removed their shoes and creep to a cell where two condemned men sleep. Professional gambler Robert (Alejandro Rey) wakes up when the cell door opens. Are they coming for him? No, the Guards grab the other prisoner, who screams for his life. Robert watches through the cell door as they take him away...

Just before dawn: The cell door opens again and Robert turns - are they coming for him as well? No, it is his wife Babette (Danielle de Metz) who has bribed a guard for this visit. We get a nice piece of dramatic exposition on how he got to this place: he discovered Babette was cheating on him and killed the man. He claims he has forgiven Babette, but seems to rub in her indiscretion again and again, which makes her attempts at last minute reconciliation difficult. He kisses her and tells her that he has forgiven her, but can not forget. That her testimony against him may have damned him to this fate, but he knew they would force her to take the witness stand. That any other jury would have come back with a “not guilty” verdict, because of the “unwritten law”. There is all kinds of baggage in this relationship - and love and anger are in equal parts.



Cheering from outside the cell, and Robert and Babette look out the window to see the prisoner being escorted to the guillotine. Woosh! Plop - the head falls into the basket.

Robert tells her that soon it will be his turn, and Babette asks what can she do? Robert tells her that tradition, an unwritten law, that if the Executioner dies on the day of an execution the condemned man is set free. So if she can find out what day Robert is to be killed, and then kill the executioner... they can be together again. Babette isn’t all that hot on killing a man... will she do it or not?

The Executioner is given his next assignment from the warden... Robert. The clock is tricking... but ticking until *when*?



A Few Days Before The Execution: Outside a café, Babette carries a basket of flowers, selling boutonaires... and approaches Executioner. He is amazed by the bright colors of her carnations, and asks where she buys her flowers. She says she grows them herself, this is a family flower that has been in her family for generations. The Executioner’s hobby is gardening, and he asks her to sit with him for a moment and discuss flowers. She flirts with him as they discuss flowers - and there’s no shortage of words and phrases with double meanings here. He is a lonely older man, a sad man, and she is a beautiful woman. She offers him clippings of her family’s carnations... and asks when she can come by with them... cleverly finding out that he must get up very early on Thursday to work. So they make a date for Wednesday afternoon.

After he leaves, Babette accepts a drink from one of the other customers - a carriage Cab Driver (Gaylord Cavallaro) who informs her that man she was talking to was the Executioner. The most hated man in Paris. This is more sly exposition, as this guy is trying to pick her up by giving her some information... including that the Executioner will cut off a man’s head for money, but he wouldn’t hurt a cockroach without being paid...



This episode is filled with great matchcuts, and on the word “cockroach” we go from an empty saucer in the café to an identical saucer in Babette’s flat with a cockroach eating some poison on it and keeling over onto its back - legs convulsing. Babette is timing the roach’s death as she brushes her hair. She pours the poison into an ornate little tin, wraps it in her lace handkerchief and...

The Day Before The Execution: Her lace handkerchief on her lap as she sits in the Executioner’s garden on Wednesday afternoon. He plants the clippings while she flirts with him. When he’s finished he sits with her and breaks the bad news that he knows will break his own heart - he tells her that he is the city’s executioner. But she doesn’t seem to be repulsed like everyone else... like every other woman he has ever met in his life. “I am not under sentence, Mssr. And until I am, I don’t see why I should fear you.” Wait... is this a chance for the executioner to find love? Romance? This young woman knows his secret and continues to flirt with him.

This is a great scene, because she is flirting with the man who will take off her husband’s head... unless she poisons him dead. And he is a charming, shy, sympathetic man... who dislikes his job, but someone must do it.



They are close to kissing when they’re interrupted by his housekeeper Mdm LeClerc (Janine Grandel), who is calling him to dinner. The housekeeper is stern, abrasive, and reminiscent of Danvers from Hitchcock’s REBECCA. Oh, and slightly jealous. She tells Babette that she must leave now. Babette grips the lace handkerchief with the poison cannister as he walks her to the front gate. How will she poison him now? She offers to take a stroll with him later that night, but he says he must get up very early for work tomorrow. She says his dinner smells delicious and he gets the hint and asks her to dine with him.

Dinner for three. No shortage of tension as Mdm LeClerc snipes at her the whole time... while Babette tries to figure out some way to drop her poison into his food while the housekeeper isn’t looking. Had it just been the two of them dining, it would have been much easier. His wine glass is right there... but the housekeeper is watching her like a hawk. The tin of poison stays wrapped in the lace handkerchief.



After dinner, the Housekeeper steps into the kitchen for a moment and Babette asks the Executioner for a glass of water as a way to distract him so that she can pour the poison into his brandy snifter. But the moment his back is turned for a moment and the tin is out of her lace handkerchief the Housekeeper returns. Dinner is over, time for her to leave... and she still hasn’t poisoned him!

Time is ticking away until dawn and the execution!



The Housekeeper mentions that she is preparing the Executioner’s favorite breakfast for his pre-dawn breakfast - apple pancakes (pastry). Babette asks Mdm LeClerc if she will show her how they are made, and the two women go into the kitchen. On the counter is a big bowl of chopped and seasoned apples next to the dough. Babette asks her to write down the recipe, and while Mdm LeClerc is doing this she dumps the tin of poison into the apple mixture and quickly stirs it. The poison looks like the cinnamon. Babette quickly sets the stirring spoon down as the housekeeper hands her a folded piece of paper with the recipe.

In the prison, a guard slides a folded piece of paper to Robert. A note from Babette saying that he need not fear the dawn, she has completed her assignment.



The Morning Of The Execution: The Executioner’s Assistant (Peter Brocco) preps the bladeless guillotine for Robert’s execution.

The two Guards take off their shoes and creep to a cell where condemned men sleep... this time they have come for Robert. The Warden (Gregory Morton) enters with a Priest (Guy deVestel) for Robert’s final confession. Robert apologizes for getting the Priest up so early in the morning, but he has nothing to confess.

The Executioner finishes a big plate of his favorite breakfast, the apple (poisoned) pancakes. Checks his watch - time to go. Grabs the guillotine blade in it’s leather carrying case and checks the blade - very sharp. Puts on his coat and leaves the house - briskly walking across town in the pre-dawn light.



In the pre-dawn light the Warden and Priest and Guards escort Robert through the prison hallways to his death. Robert continues to turn down the Priest - if he dies without final confession he will be sent to Hell. Robert wonders why everyone is so sure that he will die today, and makes a 2 to 1 bet with the Warden that he will live to see the sun set again.

The Executioner continues briskly walking across town - almost marching - to Robert’s execution. But he halfway down this street he stops for a moment, removes his handkerchief and wipes sweat from his brow. Is the poison finally taking effect? Or is it just a warm morning? He checks his watch...

The Executioner’s Assistant checks his watch - the Executioner is running a little late this morning, but there is still plenty of time.

The Warden and Guards escort Robert downstairs, Robert almost tripping at one point. “Watch your step, Mssr.”



The Executioner almost trips... he is now feeling sick. He holds his stomach, has to stop for a moment to wipe the sweat again. Passes a bar with a sign advertising Cognac...

The Warden pours Robert a snifter of Cognac, and one for himself - the condemned man’s final drink. A philosophical conversation... then Robert asks if it is true that if the Executioner dies on the day of the execution the next man in line is pardoned? Yes... but this Executioner has never been late, never been ill... never had so much as a stomach ache.

The Executioner holds his stomach, leaning over a fountain - sick. He staggers down the street, face sweating, sees a pharmacy and pounds on the doors. No one answers - it’s before dawn. He continues staggering forward, hanging onto the pillars of a building to stay upright. Marching forward to Robert’s execution, the case with the guillotine blade at his side. He passes a barber shop...

The Barber (scene stealer Marcel Hillaire) arrives to shave Robert and cut his hair - must look good for his execution, right? A very macabre conversation between the two: they talk of going to Hell, and the Barber says it is a myth that he draws the line on the neck for the Executioner to follow, and he has never loaned his razor to a prisoner so that he wouldn’t have to face the national blade... all myths.

The Executioner continues forward in agony. He *will* make it to the execution. Nothing can stop him... even though he is sweating like a horse.



A sweaty horse and the cab behind it stops at the prison’s side gate. The Cab Driver helps Babette down from the carriage, joking with her about being front row for the execution. Flirting with her in an odd way. She shoots him down, he drives away. Babette asks the Gate Guard if she can enter here to see the execution. Nope - this gate is only for the Executioner. The public gate is around the corner. Has the Executioner arrived yet? Not yet. She smiles.

The Warden tells Robert that the Executioner is here, now, testing the machine. He has never been late. “I can assure you that at this very moment he is raising his hand in a signal to his assistants.” For the first time Robert looks worried.



The Executioner raises his hand to hail the taxicab as it comes towards him. The Cab Driver stops, climbs down to where the Executioner is doubled over in agony. “Something I ate...” The Cab Driver offers to take him to a doctor, but the Executioner says he *must* get to the prison to fulfill his duty. The Cab Driver says he will take the man to a doctor because that is the right thing to do, but he will *not* take him to the prison to take another man’s life. One of the great things about this episode is that it manages to keep you on the edge of your seat while discussing capital punishment. If the Cab Driver takes the Executioner to the prison, Robert dies. If he refuses, Robert has a chance at living. So the stakes in this conversation are the stakes in the story. And it’s dramatic, because the Executioner is seriously ill... but still arguing that he must do his sworn duty. And the great side-effect of budget constraints in television is that this is the same Cab Driver from the café, the same one who just took Babette to the prison and was on his way back from the prison when the Executioner flagged him down. So we *know* this character. His earlier conversation with Babette about how the Executioner wouldn’t kill a cockroach but sees nothing wrong with killing a man tints this conversation. The Cab Driver tells him that his conscience will not permit him to take him to the prison, but it is only a few hundred yards away, and drives off.

The Executioner continues staggering towards the prison... towards Robert’s death.



Ten Minutes Before The Execution: The Assistant tells the Warden that the Executioner has not arrived yet, not even a message from him. There will not be time for a test before the execution. Robert is no longer worried... the Warden is worried.

The Executioner staggers relentlessly towards the prison - it is within sight now. He leans up against a wall, sick. A Policeman approaches, thinks he’s a drunk, tells him he should go home and sleep it off. The Executioner says he *must* get to the prison... then keels over.

Robert and the Warden have a conversation about execution versus rehabilitation - again, this is perfectly in context for the story and even adds to the suspense because the longer they stall the execution the more likely that the Executioner will finally stagger into the prison with the guillotine blade and Robert will lose his head. Robert - the gambler - asks if he shouldn’t be taken to the execution platform about now. Hey, the spectators must be disappointed. The Warden has Robert taken out to the courtyard, knowing that if the Executioner doesn’t show up it will be a major public embarrassment for him.

That Policeman wants to get the Executioner to a doctor, but he *must do his duty*... so the Policeman helps him to the prison.



They bring Robert out to the courtyard - the spectators go wild. Robert looks through the crowd for Babette - can’t see her. The Priest makes one final effort to get Robert’s confession, but he refuses. Minutes tick away - if they get to the time of the execution and the Executioner has not arrived, Robert goes free.

Babette is not in the crowd because she is still at the prison’s side gate - counting down the minutes there, worried that the Executioner still may arrive. He is a big man, did she put enough poison in his food for such a big man? What if he is *not* dead? What if he is still coming to the execution?



And then the Executioner appears across the street, held up by the Policeman (Vance Howard, Opie’s dad). The Policeman yells for the Gate Guard to give him a hand. Babette backs up, hiding in the doorway. Terrified that the Executioner will fulfill his duties. The Policeman and Gate Guard practically carry the Executioner to the gate, leaning him against the wall only inches from Babette as they open the door. The Executioner looks right at her and asks, “Why?” She tries to get away from him, but is trapped in the doorway - trapped with the man she murdered. A shy and lonely man... now close to death. “I thought you were fond of me. For the first time in my life someone who... Why?” Big dramatic moment. Babette says she has never seen him before in her life and walks away.

The Executioner tells the Policeman to stop her, and she is taken into custody. The Executioner tells her that he *will* keep his appointment, and there’s an echo here of her earlier line about not having to fear him because she is not under sentence. Well, she will be now!

The Executioner’s Assistant and the Prison Doctor (Charles LaTorre) come out, and they take the Executioner into the courtyard... and the guillotine... and Robert.



Robert is preparing for victory, when the Executioner is carried into the courtyard. The spectators cheer - the show will not be cancelled! Robert realizes this can go either way - his confidence vanishes.

The Executioner falls to the ground. The Assistant takes the case with the guillotine blade from him and attaches the blade. They help the Executioner to his feet.

Robert says, “He will never make it,” but he’s not sure he believes that.



The Executioner’s legs no longer can hold up his stout body, but they carry him towards the platform... closer... closer... closer! Robert repeating, “He’ll never make it!” with less confidence with every foot closer to the platform.

Robert is taken up to the guillotine, his neck placed in the stockade, his head dangling over the head basket. He yells that no one but the Executioner must touch the trigger.

Only the Executioner and the Prisoner are allowed on the platform, so they lay the Executioner down at the base of the steps.

“No one else! You hear me, no one else!” Robert is screaming and crying and...

The Executioner is *crawling* slowly up the stairs to the platform. Each step is agony.



The spectators are screaming.

Robert is screaming.

The Executioner is slowly crawling across the platform to the guillotine. One inch at a time. Closer... closer... closer.

Robert is screaming, “He can’t kill me! He can’t kill me!”

The Executioner crawls right up to the guillotine trigger! And then drops to the platform - unmoving.



Robert’s screaming turns from terror to hope.

The Prison Doctor climbs up onto the platform, holds up the Executioner’s arm to take his pulse. Conforms that he is dead.

Robert’s hope turns to triumph, to joy - he will be set free! “He’s dead! I win! I win! I win!”

The Prison Doctor lets go of the Executioner’s wrist... and his arm falls... and hits the trigger... and the blade falls... and so does Robert’s head.

The end.



Review: Another perfect storm for me - Ida Lupino *and* Cornell Woolrich! When I first watched the THRILLER show as a kid, this is the episode that stuck with me. It had me on the edge of my seat for a full hour. Would the executioner make it to the prison? I was a little concerned when watching it again that it wouldn’t hold up to my memories... but it was just as great as I remembered it.

As I’ve said before, Woolrich is known as one of the three fathers of modern Noir fiction, and the films made from the work of those three and their contemporaries are what we know as Film Noir. Woolrich is the guy who put the Noir in Noir thanks to his “Black Series” of novels, including BRIDE WORE BLACK, BLACK PATH OF FEAR, BLACK ANGEL, and many others. And if you are wondering how Noir can have three fathers and no mothers, Woolrich is probably closest to taking that mother role... not because he was Gay, but because he specialized in female lead stories. Noir from the woman’s point of view. Many of his stories, including this one, deal with women doing terrible things to save the men in their lives. Since Noir is about good people doing bad things... and discovering the darkness within that they wish they’d never uncovered, the idea of an “innocent” housewife stepping over the line to help her husband out of a jam is prime Noir territory and Woolrich mined it throughout his career.



I have always wanted to do a more faithful film adaptation of his novel BLACK ANGEL about a basically quiet and subservient suburban housewife whose husband is accused of murder and there is so much evidence that he *will* be convicted... so comes out of her shell and becomes a detective, going undercover to trace his steps on the days leading up to the murder in order to uncover the real killer. But this quest creates one line after another that she must cross - creating a spiral of descent into the darkness. How far will she go? Will she start using drugs in order to be accepted by addicts as she goes undercover following a lead? Yes! Will she become a prostitute and sleep with a bunch of strange men in order to follow a lead? Yes! As the quiet housewife spirals down and down in search of the evidence to clear her husband of these charges - degrading herself again and again - we begin to wonder if this man is worth all of this. If *anyone* is worth all of this. And also - if she proves him innocent, will he want whatever is left of her back? This is an awesome Noir story that Hollywood cleaned up for film - robbing it of all of its darkness. In the novel she proves that he is innocent and they live happily ever after... but Woolrich, like Raymond Chandler and many other pulp writers of the time, based his novels on short story material he’d previously had published... and in the short story version, “Angel Face”, she degrades herself only to discover that her husband is guilty, was always guilty, and their whole marriage was based on her believing his lies. And that’s the Noir ending I would use on a new film version. Darker than dark.

A similar ending to this story GUILLOTINE - where our wife character Babette must seduce and murder the executioner in order to save her husband’s life... and after she does all of these terrible things, it ends up being all for nothing. How dark can you get?



Though this is a fairly simple story - will Babette be able to poison the Executioner for the first half and then will the Executioner make it to the execution for the second half - it is all about suspense. Both of those situations are focused on suspense and the episode (and Lupino’s direction) are relentless in keeping us on the edge of our seats in anticipation. This is another Woolrich trait - where Hitchcock was the master of suspense on screen, Woolrich was the master of suspense on the page. Where they two intersect - the movie REAR WINDOW and the TV episode 4 O’CLOCK - we end up with classics. Woolrich knew how to keep the suspense escalating on the page, and in his novel PHANTOM LADY (which also needs a more faithful remake) the chapter titles tell us how many days until the protagonist will be executed for a murder he did not commit - even before the murder has occurred in the story! Talk about a page turner! You can’t finish one chapter without seeing the title of the next chapter with the number of days left... and you end up continuing to read. Can’t put it down! This episode uses those same suspense tools. We know when Robert will be executed and count down the days, hours, minutes, seconds until that happens.



One of the reasons why the suspense works in this episode is what I call the “THUNDERBALL Theory” in my Secrets Of Action Screenwriting book. In the James Bond movie THUNDERBALL the villain Largo has *two* nuclear weapons, and “tests” one on an island before hiding the other somewhere in Miami. That way the audience can see the destruction this weapon causes so that they know what would happen if the one in Miami detonates. If the audience doesn’t understand what will happen, if it remains abstract, there is less suspense generated. In GUILLOTINE we open with the title device being tested so that we understand what will happen later if Robert’s neck ends up meeting that hurtling blade. We get some great visual exposition showing us step-by-step how the device works - including that trigger which will become very important at the very end of the episode where there is no time to explain anything. You always want to get exposition up front so that it doesn’t get int the way of the ending. We don’t want to be explaining how that trigger works moments before the Executioner’s arm drops on it! Plus, knowing the full scope of the “event” gives the anticipation of that event (suspense) more weight. It’s not an abstract concept, this execution by guillotine, we have seen what that blade can do to a cabbage. And they *do* use this blade on the necks of men - which we know because that test at the beginning of the episode is for Robert’s cellmate... who loses his head soon after that test.

Hey, that brings up another great storytelling tool used in this episode - repeating the events that lead up to the execution. The episode opens with the Guards taking off their shoes and sneaking up to the death row cell to take the next victim of the guillotine... and grabbing Robert’s cellmate. By showing this procedure early in the episode, when we see the same procedure happening again we *know* that Robert will suffer the same fate. It makes the execution *real* and amps up the suspense in the situation. It’s a cousin to the THUNDDERBALL Theory - by showing what happens early, we turn an abstract idea into something tangible and that creates suspense later. This isn’t just some vague idea of a bad thing that might happen, we’ve *seen it happen*.



But the key to this episode and the key to this being effective as Noir is Robert Middleton’s performance and the way his character is portrayed. The Executioner must be both a serious threat *and* a sympathetic victim. Simultaneously. That’s a tough thing to pull off for a writer and a director and an actor - and here all three manage to walk that razor’s edge without being cut. Middleton, a character actor probably best known for the brutish escaped convict in DESPERATE HOURS, probably does his best work in this episode. When his blurry vision clears for a moment at the prison doors and he recognizes Babette, we genuinely feel for him. “Why? I thought you were fond of me. For the first time in my life someone who... Why?” That’s a heartbreaker!

The amazing thing this episode does is make up both want the Executioner to succeed in getting to the prison to do his job, and *not* make it to the prison so that Robert won’t lose his head. Ida Lupino manages to pull that off (with the help of Middleton and TWILIGHT ZONE screenwriter Beaumont - 22 episodes!) masterfully. Lupino is one of those great directors who somehow has slipped through the cracks and is not studied today. Part of that may be because she had to fight for every credit and ended up directing a bunch of silly TV shows like GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, but her work was always imaginative and amazing. Here she gives us POV shots from the Executioner that replicate the blurry fever vision of a poisoned man. Her THRILLER episodes and films are often filled with amazing visual experiments (frequently mentioned in this series), but she also knows exactly how to create suspense through editing and angle and camera movement. Her film THE HITCHHIKER is edge of the seat suspense. Here we have a simple story which is just a guy walking to work, right? Some other director might have made it just as exciting as some guy walking to work, but Lupino turns out an episode that was my favorite as a kid and still holds up as an adult.



Oh, gotta mention the amazing Jerry Goldsmith score! One of the major components in creating the suspense in this episode is his relentless score makes us feel the determination of the Executioner. Goldsmith was my favorite composer of film music from my lifetime, and long before he became one of cinema’s greatest composers of the 70s and 80s, he cut his teeth doing weekly scores for TV shows like THRILLER. His music elevates many of the weaker episodes and turns great ones like this into classics.

Okay, I’ve probably oversold this episode, but it’s still my favorite after all of these years and Stephen King and his PIGEONS FROM HELL can go suck it. Next week the streak of good episodes continues with an adaptation of Poe’s THE PREMATURE BURIAL, and after that another great creepy episode based on Robert Bloch’s THE WEIRD TAILOR. Stay tuned!

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

ATLiH: Rubber Gloves Of Death!

ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD: RUBBER GLOVES OF DEATH!

As usual, the names and details have been changed to protect the very very guilty!

One of the things about low budget movies that bothers me these days is that so many of them just suck. Now, I fully understand films made on low budgets have little or no money to do things, but often it seems as if no one on the film is trying to make up for that with creativity, imagination, and passion. It often seems like they just don’t care. I know that good films, even great films, can be made for no money. I see films in festivals made on a shoestring like FAVOR and DOWN AND DANGEROUS and FOREV and JOE SHERMANN SONG and dozens of others (sorry if I didn’t mention your film) that just kick ass. They are often *better* than anything Hollywood could do on a Hollywood budget. I also see some films that don’t quite work, but you can see the filmmakers really trying to make something excellent, they just didn’t have the cash or some small thing sunk them. But often I see low budget films where it seems like nobody gave a damn...

And that’s a problem.

Recently I rented a low budget film that a guy I know was involved in. A sci fi action flick. Now, I can get behind a cheap sci fi action flick. I interviewed the guys who made SIX STRING SAMURAI before the film came out, and *that’s* a wild ride! But this film just sucked... because the people involved obviously didn’t care. They were just making a product - and not even a very good one.

The way to become a loser in Hollywood is not to care. Even if you are making a cheapo genre film, make it the best it can possibly be. Not the best you can make it, because you always want to stretch and grow - so make it the best it can be (which is better than you can do... you have to stretch). In this case, the writer-director just didn’t care and made 90 minutes of pure torture.





This was one of those “Mockbusters” - a cheapo film designed to have enough similarities to a big studio blockbuster to maybe fool someone into thinking it’s a prequel or sequel or maybe that studio blockbuster available in a RedBox kiosk or on the shelves at Walmart at the same time it’s in the cinemas. These films basically use the TV adverts and trailers of the big studio blockbuster to help sell their cheapo version. Before striking gold with the SHARKNADO movies, producer The Asylum made a ton of these - even being sued by studios because they copied the posters and other elements of movies like BATTLESHIP (AMERICAN BATTLESHIP) and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (THE DAY THE EARTH STOPPED) and THOR (ALMIGHTY THOR) and TRANSFORMERS (TRANSMORPHERS) and 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN (18 YEAR OLD VIRGIN) and I AM LEGEND (I AM OMEGA). But this wasn’t an Asylum movie - it was made by other folks with the same scheme. Can I tell you the biggest problem with a “Mockbuster”? You can easily compare it to the actual big budget blockbuster... and these films don’t compare well.

The story opened on a space ship... which was the worst CGI exterior I have ever seen (why not use a model if you can’t afford good CGI? This looked like a really bad cartoon of a spaceship. Heck, you could build your own unique model of the space ship - all that takes is time *before production begins* when you don’t have a cast and crew waiting.) And when we cut to the interior? It was some office with a drop ceiling and a visible drinking fountain in the background (how would that work in zero gravity?) and there was a gameboy console or something on a desk. Nothing was done to dress the office to make it look like a spaceship. The space ship had drop ceilings and florescent lights and a drinking fountain and square windows with vertical blinds. WTF?





I worked on a friend’s sci fi movie where he took cardboard and curved it to look like a space ship wall and painted it gray and made some oval windows with black cardboard sheets that had little LED lights punched into them as stars. Cost him a couple bucks total. He also built a pretty nice control console and put a couple of $29 desk chairs behind it (the actor’s bodies covered the chairs, but they could turn like STAR TREK chairs). The console had knobs and buttons and blinking lights and screens with green gel and lights behind them. Basically, he took a couple of weeks before he made the film to build the space ship set in his garage. It looked amazing on film. This film made by this looser that I paid real money to rent? No time spent on anything!

The story had a spaceship filled with hot female prisoners crashing on an alien planet, and (of course) the aliens want to capture the women and mate with them... because if a spaceship filled with *alien* females crash landed on Earth, the first thing you’d think was: can we have sex with them? Sure, they’re green and look like lizards or something, but can we have sex with them? That’s the whole danged plot! Except the escaped female prisoners are attractive human women.

Now here’s the thing about cheapo films like this - they are exploitation flicks. My friend Fred Olen Ray says that “nudity is the cheapest special effect”, and many a bad film I rented back in the VHS days and watched with buddies from work while drinking beer and eating pizza were saved by nudity and inventive action and some funny lines. Here are two things about nudity (female or male or aliens wearing rubber gloves for some reason) - and these not only appeared in ever version of my SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING book, they go all the way back to the xeroxed “generic script notes” that spawned that book: 1) A rape scene is **not** a sex scene (it’s a violence scene, and if you write it or film it to be “sexy” that’s just plain disturbing and wrong), and 2) All nudity must make sense! If a character just gets naked for no reason, that’s stupid! They have to get naked for a logical reason! Fred has a movie (don’t remember which one) where a character gets completely spattered with blood when one of their friends is killed by a monster, and what would *you* do if you were covered in blood? Wash it off! So the character takes a shower - and now we get a suspense scene where we know the monster is out there and this character is *vulnerable* because they are naked. Hey, it’s the danged “Psycho” shower scene, but with a monster instead of Mrs. Bates. I’m not saying this is art, but you understand why the character takes off her clothes. She’s not just disrobing for the pervs in the audience - there’s a logical reason. Nudity has to make sense! Even a crappy film where nudity might be the only thing that saves the movie from being torture needs to have *motivated* nudity. Or else it just seems cheap (which it is, but we don’t want the audience to be thinking that). Even with the six pack and the pizza, you want the story to make some sort of sense.





When I pitched my BLADE RUNNER type script STEEL CHAMELEONS about the underground railroad for androids that wanted to pass as human... and ended up getting paid to write a movie about robot hookers from outer space, I decided to write the exact kind of movie that my buddies from work would want to see. A six pack and pizza movie. Funny, lots of action, some inventive elements, maybe a little parody of some popular film snuck in there (EMPIRE STRIKES BACK in that case) and some *motivated* female nudity (and even some shirtless dudes in case someone watched it with their girlfriend). Fred directed that, by the way. So you might have watched that film and thought it was stupid, but it would at least be *fun* and include all of the elements the target audience wanted to see. “Hey, I saw this movie, and it was terrible... but funny and had a cool spaceship battle and beautiful women.” (Or hunky dudes, if that’s what you enjoyed). But there’s a *criteria* for films like this... do you think this film delivered on any of the required elements?

The aliens chasing our escaped women? Well, they obviously bought some cheap alien masks the day after Halloween, and then had the actors playing the aliens dress in jeans and long sleeve shirts (so they didn’t need to do full body make up). Oh, and tennis shoes. But what about the *hands*? The alien hands that would be grabbing for these escaped women? Well, instead of doing any sort of make up, they just gave them yellow rubber gloves. Worst looking aliens *ever*! I did better stuff when I was making super 8mm films in High School!





Then the rest of that film was filled with “we don’t care” costumes and “we don’t care” acting and “we don’t care” sets and “we don’t care” props and a “we don’t care” script and, worst of all, no action! Most of the film was two or more characters standing somewhere talking about action that had happened earlier. No action scenes at all!!!!

You know what’s almost as cheap as nudity? A foot chase or a fight scene. Or even a shoot out - when I was doing those stupid super 8mm films in High School I had toy guys from Toys R Us painted to look real, and created cool muzzle flares by wrapping match heads in aluminum foil and heating the end (this was built into the toy gun - a disposable cigarette lighter to do the heating). The match heads exploded out of the barrel, which looked really cool at night. I also used flash bulbs built into those Toys R Us plastic guns with a battery that connected when the trigger was pulled. And blood squibs - a bent piece of aluminum tubing hidden in the victim’s shirt, plastic aquarium hose going down the body connecting the tubing to a lens cleaner bellows taped onto the bottom of their shoe, filled with Kayro Syrup blood. The victim stomps on the bellows and the blood sprays from their chest! You could shoot them in a long shot! People always wanted to know how I did that - because there was no visible special effects rig and the victim could show their empty hands on camera (no trigger in their hands). As long as the foot was angled right or off screen. So if I could do a cool shoot out when I was an idiot High School student, someone making a film that I could rent from a legit rental source could probably do the same... if they cared.





Now, here was the funny part: this was obviously shot in the woods somewhere. Once they were off the flying rental office, they landed on some wooded planet where the female prisoners escaped and those aliens in Playtex gloves chased them. Except they didn’t. There was no chasing in the film at all. When the hero woman escaped, she instantly twisted her ankle and was recaptured within seconds.

She got maybe two steps, max.

Then it was back to evil alien in bad Halloween mask making a never ending speech gesturing with his rubber gloved hands as if he had been interrupted while scrubbing the toilet as attractive female hero just sits there listening and waiting her turn to make *her* never ending speech. If I had the woods, I would sure as hell use them for a great foot chase. I would have characters hide and almost be discovered, generating suspense. I would have spent the time to write a great script, because the one thing a low budget film has as an advantage is pre-production time. The more time you spend in prep, the more you can solve problems long before they pop up on set. The more you can craft something exciting that won’t cost a lot of money to make. I would have taken the time to write the greatest script ever. I would do a big action chase thing like MOST DANGEROUS GAME, but with aliens! MOST DANGEROUS GAME was a low budget film when it was made...

But here? No chases, no danger, no nothing... just people sitting and talking.

Wearing rubber gloves and Halloween masks.

For 90 very very long minutes.

With absolutely no nudity, motivated or not.

And no hunky dudes, if that’s what you enjoy.





And nothing they said was clever or amusing - it was dead serious, as if they expected the audience to take all of this stuff as if were Shakespeare or something. Hey, wait, Shakespeare is damned funny! All of that clever word play and those dirty jokes for the groundlings!

But nobody involved cared enough to make this even slightly amusing, or have any chases or suspense or action or anything else that people might want to see. That’s what makes the writer-director of this mess a loser. They didn’t care. They were just trying to fill 90 minutes of film so they could collect their check and go home.

You have to care. You have to do the best that can be done with what you have. You have to give it your all... even if the movie is about robot hookers from outer space when you wanted to make something like BLADE RUNNER. It’s better to try and fail than to not try at all.

- Bill

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Trailer Tuesday:
Seconds (1966)

SECONDS (1966)

Director: John Frankenheimer.
Writer: Lewis John Carlino (THE MECHANIC, THE GREAT SANTINI, RESURRECTION) based on a novel by David Ely.
Starring: Rock Hudson, Will Geer, Salome Jens, Jeff Corey, Murray Hamilton.
Cinematography: James Wong Howe.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Producer: Edward Lewis.


I was going to run this last week, but hadn’t snagged the screen grabs yet, so I put it off until this week... and danged if the great Cinephelia website didn’t run an article of SECONDS last week! Hey, it’s a great movie, and if you know about it you want to share it with others.



SECONDS is a thriller about getting a second chance at life and realizing that you take all of your emotional problems with you. This is a slow burn story, but like MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, it deals with constant paranoia. It is *always* creepy. Where MANCHURIAN deals with the idea that you may not be in control of your own life (mind control), SECONDS deals with having to constantly pretend to be someone you are not... and the fear that people may discover who you really are. Areal man with fake memories or a fake man with real memories. So they are two sides of the same coin, and it’s interesting that Frankenheimer made them back to back. This was kind of his paranoia period, and we will look at SEVEN DAYS IN MAY sometime in the near future.

The film is based on a novel by David Ely (who wrote some great TWILIGHT ZONE type science fiction novels) and I not only have the paperback somewhere in a box, I have the movie poster on my office wall! This is one of my favorite films, and a great example of paranoid thrillers, and we’ll look at that genre a little bit here. Rock Hudson gives the performance of a lifetime - he was a light comedy pretty boy actor before this film... and here he does dark, deep, drama. Some silly online review thought that Hudson was the weak point of the film, but I think it’s the opposite - he’s what makes the film work. A story about bringing your past baggage to a new life is improved by an actor who brings his light frothy fun past film baggage to a story about a man with a severely screwed up life.

One of the things that has to be mentioned upfront is the wild ass cinematography. Almost every shot in this film is strange, and that adds to the general feeling that something is wrong. Most of it is shot with wide angle lenses or extreme wide angles (fish eyes) and the film uses a lot of experimental shots and hand held photography and camera rigs that are similar to steadycam - which would not be invented for another ten years. Who did all of this wild camerawork? Some new kid? Nope! James Wong Howe... who was born in the 1800s. His first credit as director of photography was in 1923, and you may know his work as director of photography on THE THIN MAN or (“Come with me to the Casbah”) ALGIERS or KINGS ROW or YANKEE DOODLE DANDY or a whole bunch of Bogart films or the noir western PURSUED or MR BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE or THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS or HUD or... well, the guy had 141 credits as cinematographer. He was 67 years old when he shot this film, and it’s one of the most innovative films you will ever see.

Lots of places list this film as science fiction, which is strange because there is nothing in this film that couldn’t have been done in 1966... but the concept just seems crazy. It’s a simple idea that we have all thought of, but nobody seems to have written it before David Ely. Haven’t we all wished we could hit the “do over button” on our lives and start all over again? Not make all of those stupid mistakes? Do the things we wanted to do instead of the things we thought we had to do? *Everyone* has wished that. And one of the basics of thrillers is the secret wish that comes true, but not exactly as the protagonist planned.

The Saul Bass title sequence is twisted fun house mirror shot of a human eye, a human ear, a human face... setting us up for weird. Jerry Goldsmith gives us creepy organ music reminiscent of Bach’s Toccata & Fugue D Minor. For the director’s title card - a face completely bandaged except for eyes and screaming mouth, an image that can also be seen in SUTURE (1993) and TIMECRIMES (2007). The crazy warped image of the face warps into... New York’s Grand Central Station.

A Man In A Hat watches middle aged Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) as he buys a newspaper, then follows him through the station. Paranoia - someone actually is following our protagonist. Some amazing freaky shots here - the camera is attached to the Man In A Hat so that we get a hand held style moving over the shoulder shot and a moving face shot as he follows Hamilton... which makes us feel as if there is something weird about the Man In A Hat. When Hamilton steps onto a train, the Man In The Hat says his name, and when Hamilton turns he hands him a note. Then the train doors close and the train starts moving. Who was that guy?

Hamilton is on a train full of commuters headed home - all in suits, all reading newspapers, all exactly the same. He pulls out the note: just an address: 34 Lafayette Street. What does it mean?

In suburbia, with his middle aged wife Emily (Francis Reid) in his typical suburban home. His marriage is stale, he is no longer excited by his job or his life. The phone rings LOUDLY. On the other end is a man claiming to be his dead friend Charlie Evans. Impossible. But the voice on the phone knows things that only Charlie Evans could know. Things from their college days that no one else knows - a message scratched on the felt covered base of an old tennis trophy they won long long ago. How is this possible? Evans says, “I’m alive! More alive than I’ve been in the past 25 years!” and tells him to go to the address he was given tomorrow at noon. WTF? This story will give us a series of WTF? moments in the middle of a completely mundane setting, and that adds to our paranoia. If a strange thing happens in a strange world, that’s expected. But when some really strange thing happens in our boring real world? Unsettling.

The next day on his lunch hour Hamilton goes to the address... a dry cleaners. What? He asks the Old Man using the steam press if he’s in the right place... and the Old Man ignores him and continues to work. This can’t be the right place, it’s a dry cleaners. Hamilton turns to leave and the Old Man tells him there’s a new address...

A meat packing house. Another completely mundane location - though this one is filled with sides of bloody beef. Also can’t be the right place... but one of the Butchers calls him by the code name and says, “Come with me.” They give Hamilton a butcher’s uniform to put on, walk him through the plant past hundreds of sides of beef, and put him in the back of a refrigerated truck. WTF? When the door is closed, Hamilton is riding in complete darkness to his destination...

A run down industrial building on the outside, a modern office building on the inside. This adds to the strangeness, and makes us wonder how many of those run down buildings we see every day are hiding some secret high tech interior? He’s ushered into an executive office and given a cup of coffee while he waits. He gets sleepy while waiting, closes his eyes and drifts off... exhaustion or drugged coffee? He has this weird dream where he floats into a room, and there is a beautiful young woman in a bed, and he has sex with her, and she screams... and then he wakes up, still waiting in the executive’s office.

He decides to leave, goes to the elevator - but there are no up or down buttons on the wall next to the elevator doors. Weird. He searches the building for a way out, stumbling on a room full of young businessmen at desks. None will tell him where the exit doors are. He is sent back to the executive’s office where Mr. Ruby (the great Jeff Corey) is waiting for him, “I’ve been assigned to go over the circumstances of your death.” WTF? Then Ruby begins talking about cost factors as if he’s an insurance salesman or something. Boring and mundane... Except the conversation is about finding a corpse that is a perfect match for Hamilton and obliterating the teeth and fingerprints and any other form of identification and then creating a realistic accident - they will need an accident because the service costs $30,000 (in 1966 money) and will be paid for with an insurance policy, so there can be no question of suicide or foul play. And Ruby is eating chicken the entire time. “Your death selection is the most important decision of your life.” WTF? Hamilton looks confused, and when Ruby hands him a pen and says, “If you’ll sign right here”, Hamilton doesn’t take the pen from him. So Ruby pulls down a screen in the office and shows Hamilton a little film... where he is having sex with the young woman from his dream and she is fighting him. Blackmail. Ruby leaves the room, and Hamilton is alone...

Until a voice from behind him says there’s a message from Charlie.

Hamilton turns and kindly Old Man (Will Geer) has been sitting on the sofa behind him. WTF? He wasn’t there in an earlier shot, and now he is. He just appeared. Charlie wanted Hamilton to know that rebirth is painful, and the blackmail movie is just to help him make the decision to go forward, he doesn’t really want to go back, does he?

And here, 30 minutes into the film, we discover what all of this is about (though we’ve probably figured much of it out already) - this secret company allows you a second chance at life. You’re a middle aged man who once had dreams of being an artist, but took that day job in a bank to pay the rent. Then you got married, and the rent became a mortgage, and you had children and there was less time for art, and now that the kids have left the nest... you have lost your dreams. You are a banker, not an artist. You are dissatisfied with the way your life turned out, but this company will give you a second life. You die, and are reborn (after extensive plastic surgery to make you look like a young virile Rock Hudson) and can now pursue that youthful dream of being an artist. Much better than buying a sports car and having an affair with a younger woman!

“This is what happens to the dreams of youth,” kindly Old Man says after Hamilton talks about all of the things that are “good” about his life now. When the Old Man hands him the pen, he signs the contract...

35 minutes in, we see the plastic surgery procedure. Very graphic for its time... almost procedural. What sells the transformation are diagrams that show John Randolph’s face and Rock Hudson’s face with notations.

Then we see an obituary for Hamilton - died in a hotel room fire...

And Hamilton recovering, his face completely covered in bandages, his hands and fingers completely covered (fingerprint reassignment). He can’t talk because he’s been given dental implants (dental records) and his vocal cords have been altered to create new vocal chords - he will sound different. His doctor, Innes (Richard Anderson, who would do the same for the 6 Million Dollar Man years later), tells him he will need to hit the gym so that his body matches his new youthful face.

39 minutes in, the bandages come off and Hamilton is swiveled around in his chair to look in the mirror - a great reveal. Hamilton now looks like Rock Hudson, but with gray hair and dozens of stitches on his face... and he cries at the sight. He’s beautiful.

At 40 minutes the exercise montage begins - he’s a middle aged man who must retrieve his 30 year old body from years of neglect.

Guidance Adviser Davalo (Khigh Dhiegh from MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE) talks to him about his future career - they have drugged and hypnotized him to discover what his career dreams used to be before he gave them up. Davalo plays a tape where Hamilton says he wanted to be a tennis pro and a painter. There’s a great shot here where the new Hamilton is reflected in a mirror while listening to the tape of the old Hamilton. Davalo has a whole new bio for him as a artist, complete with past gallery shows. They will supply him with fresh paintings for a while as he develops his own work. “You see, you don’t have to prove anything anymore. You are accepted.” People will believe his new identity until he grows into it.

At the 45 minute mark, Hamilton is now Tony Wilson - Rock Hudson’s face and body and hair - on a plane to Malibu... where he lives. At the airport, a total stranger calls the name Tony Wilson and has a conversation as if he knows him. WTF? This is a great flip of the undercover cop recognized by someone from his real life scene. He has no idea who this guy is. How to talk to him. How to react to him. He may look like Wilson, but he’s still Hamilton on the inside.

Malibu: Tony Wilson has a house in the Colony overlooking the beach and a butler named John (Wesley Addy) who knows his secret and is here to help. Wilson looks at the art in his gallery, the bedroom, the books on the shelf... he’s living a stranger’s life. Will he be discovered? The *concept* creates the paranoia.

Wilson tries to become that person who belongs in this house... begins a painting. Walks along the beach. There’s a great moment where he’s trying to fall asleep and looks at the empty side of the bed... lonely. On the beach he meets Nora Marcus (Salome Jens) and there’s a character based suspense moment when he introduces himself... will he use his old name? Nora is in her early thirties and hot and a little wild. Four years ago she was a typical suburban housewife, and wondered “Is this it?” So she left that life and came here.

We have now escalated the suspense, because he might slip in front of this woman. Now he *must* act like Wilson instead of Hamilton.

At 59 minutes in, Wilson and Nora go on a date to a wild bacchanal at a vineyard where everyone gets drunk on wine, takes off their clothes and crushes grapes naked in a big wood tub. A big turning point for Hamilton/Wilson - this is about as far from middle age, middle class banker as you can get! “Now the season ends, and the old vines are buried deep. Now in dying, Bacchus gives us his blood so that we may be born again!” (Note the thematic dialogue! This film is filled with thematic dialogue and scenes.) Wilson freaks - still Hamilton under his skin - and when Nora takes off her clothes and jumps into the tub naked, he remains an outsider...

Until the crowd strips him naked and tosses him into the tub with all of the other naked men and women. After fighting for a moment, he gives in to his new life... and dances naked with Nora in the crushed grapes surrounded by naked men and women. “Yes! Yes!”

(This is a 1966 movie with full frontal nudity... though that was cut out for theatrical release so you just get backal nudity, the DVD version has restored the rest of the scene, and it’s very much required for the story - imagine being one of those stuffy people in 1966 who was watching this movie and suddenly there were completely naked people on screen. You would react exactly as Hamilton/Wilson does.)

At 67 minutes in, Wilson and Nora are a couple, kissing on the beach as the sun sets.

Now that Hamilton is comfortable as Wilson, he throws a housewarming party for the others in the Colony. John helps introduce him to his neighbors. Wilson has had a couple of drinks too many and we get a great woozy shot with the camera strapped to his body (which will be used in another of my favorite films, MEAN STREETS). The problem is, the more Wilson drinks the more he is liable to slip and expose himself as Hamilton. To ratchet up the suspense, one of his neighbors is a lawyer who went to Harvard... where Hamilton went to collage.

There’s a great moment at the party where Wilson sees a group of men discussing something in the corner and drunkenly goes over to talk to them... and they basically ignore him. At his own party and he’s still an outsider. When he tells the lawyer neighbor that he used to be a Harvard alumnus, but not anymore, Nora tries to pull him away. Soon everyone at the party is surrounding him... and he blows it big time. He reveals himself as Arthur Hamilton, and all of the men at the party grab him and drag him into his bedroom and hold him down...

John comes to the front of the pack and tells Hamilton/Wilson that he hasn’t just blown his cover, he may have blown the covers of all of these men - they are all “reborns”. He screams...

And Nora comes in. Is she one, too? Remember what she said about starting her life all over again?

This is the ultimate paranoia scene, because if Nora and all of these people are part of the “conspiracy” of reborns, how many other people are part of the conspiracy? Can he trust *anyone*? If he goes to the police, will the Desk Sargent be part of the conspiracy? There’s a great Cornell Woolrich short story about a cult that buries its members alive, and the protagonist goes to the police... and the cop is part of the cult! Movie like THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR use the idea that anyone can be part of the conspiracy in scenes like the one after the massacre at the beginning of the movie when Condor looks from one pedestrian to another and they all seem to be acting strange. Are they all potential assassins? Here we get the same feeling that *anyone* could be a reborn. How can you tell that they aren’t? It’s as if everyone in the world might be out to get you...

At 78:30 into the film, it’s the morning after the party and his dead friend Charlie calls. Hamilton/Wilson tells him he wants out of this pretend life, Charlie says that’s impossible. Charlie also tells him Nora *isn’t* a reborn, but she is a company employee who was paid to become his girlfriend and sleep with him. That doesn’t go over well. Charlie explains that the company knows in the beginning of your new life you might make mistakes, so they provided Nora just in case that happened. And that he and Charlie are tied together, so Hamilton/Wilson has to get his shit together, stay in the Colony until he becomes 100% Wilson.

So at the 80 minute mark, Hamilton/Wilson sneaks out and takes a plane back to Scarsdale. His old home, his old life... and his old wife. Awesome shot while he’s waiting to see his old wife, and looks at a photo of Hamilton and Wilson is reflected over it... and we pull back to see him reflected in a mirror. Mirror shots throughout the film show the duel life he’s living.

When Emily comes in, they have an awkward conversation where he realizes that you can’t go home again. This is a great scene, and you have seen versions of it in films like ROBOCOP (the original) and even a variation of it in THE PUNISHER on Netflix with the Micro character and his family. The great thing about this scene is that Wilson gets Emily’s view of Hamilton... and it’s not what he expected. “He lived as if he were a stranger, here, he never let anything touch hm. He was absorbed in *things* - his job, mostly. He worked hard, but became more detached. We lived our lives in a polite, celibate, truce. Arthur had been dead a long long time before they found him in that hotel room.” Do we create our own hells? Our own traps? Do we always have the choice to live a new life, but just choose not to? One of the great things about this scene is how Rock Hudson *ages* while listening to her - he reverts back to Hamilton. This is a great performance.

I forgot to mention that behind all of the things going on in the scene with his old wife from his old life is an undercurrent of suspense. Will she recognize him? Will he blow it and do something stupid like tell her who he really is? The *situation* creates this suspense. The concept of a thriller often creates suspense.

When he leaves, Emily gives him a wrapped object - the only thing she has left of Hamilton’s - and when he unwraps it on the street outside... it’s the tennis trophy with the message scratch on the base that began this whole story. Then a car pulls up, and John steps out to take him back...

But not to Malibu, to the company. Hamilton/Wilson wants to try again - a new life. Not Hamilton or Wilson, but someone else. John says that may be possible... and we’ve hit the 89 minute mark. Can you hit reset more than once? How many do overs do you get?

At the company Mr. Ruby tells him that in order to go through the process again, he will have to recommend a new client - who will go all of the way through the process as he did. The business is all word of mouth, they can’t exactly advertize in newspapers, can they? Wilson can’t think of anyone off the top of his head, and Ruby says that’s okay, and they escort Wilson to that room full of young businessmen at desks from the beginning of the movie. His job is to cold call anyone he knows who might be interest in a second chance at life. All of these young businessmen? The same as him - people whose second lives didn’t work out. Who carried all of the baggage of their first life with them. This is a frightening scene - more frightening than many horror movies. What if we are the biggest problem in our lives. How do fix that?

The businessman who refused to tell him the way out in the scene at the beginning? His college buddy Charlie (the awesome Murray Hamilton). Wilson has a great speech here about how his life as Hamilton was all about what society said was important - things, not people or meaning. And his life as Wilson was also “things” oriented. But this third time? He’s going to look for meaning...

Then they call Charlie’s name - he finally gets to be reborn again!

Or will he? Because this story has a very dark twist at the end.

But first we get a swell pep talk from the kindly Old Man about how the company keeps plugging away despite it’s failure rate, which is a very cynical look at our lives and our society... and it’s failure rate.

And then we get an awesome fish eye lense sequence and that twist end.

SECONDS is one of those great unknown films that builds real suspense in a realistic setting through its wild concept and even wilder cinematography. It’s a great example of paranoid thrillers that don’t involve spies or political conspiracies or any of the other “action genre” oriented elements, just a man filled with regret over the way his life turned out who gets a chance to start over again. To have a second chance at life. It’s one of John Frankenheimer’s best films, and the kind of movie that you want to tell everyone about after you’d seen it... and now I’ve told you.

- Bill





The Novel:



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