Thursday, February 28, 2019

THRILLER Thursday: Mr. George.


(Though I have the next episode in season 2 ready to go - I haven't pulled all of the images, yet... and am exhausted today. So I'm playing hooky and doing a rerun.)

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

Season: 1, Episode: 32.
Airdate: May 9, 1961

Director: Ida Lupino
Writer: Donald Sanford based on a story by Stephen Grendon
Cast: Gina Gillespe, Virginia Gregg, Lillian Bronson, Howard Freeman.
Music: Sweet Jerry Goldsmith score.
Cinematography: John Warren.
Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Our little friend Priscilla is obviously on urgent business. But in a cemetery, you say? Ah, my friends, this is no ordinary child as you can see, oh no indeed. You see, she has a very special friend and protector resting here. Oh yes, to the rest of the world her friend is properly deceased and quite quite cold. But since Priscilla is not aware of adult concepts of life and death she simply knows that Mr. George has changed his address. That’s the title of our story, Mr. George, and it concerns the fearful effect his untimely demise has on our leading players. They are: Virginia Gregg, Lillian Bronson, and Howard Freeman... and most importantly, Priscilla herself as played by Miss Gina Gillespe. And Mr. George. I warn you, hold tight to your own concepts of life and death because before the hour has ended Priscilla and her special guardian may change them.”

Synopsis: A mansion (Munster House) at the turn of the century. A little girl Priscilla (Gina Gillespie) watches from the top of the stairs until the adults have left the entryway to the house, then sneaks out to see Mr. George... at a graveyard. She goes to his tombstone and leaves a note on his grave... she wants him to come back and live with them.

Meanwhile, the adults are discussing their problem. Priscilla’s mother was wealthy and owned this house. When she passed away, the house and money was put in a trust for Priscilla with Mr. George (the family lawyer... and maybe Priscilla’s mother’s lover) as executor. Now that Mr. George has died, the trust will be passed to Judge Lambeau... who doesn’t trust these adults, who are Priscilla’s cousins: slightly crazy Adelaide Leggett (Lillian Bronson), stuffy Jared Leggett (Howard Freeman) and scheming Edna Leggett (Virginia Gregg). Edna’s dreams of wealth aren’t going to happen on the monthly allowance from Priscilla’s trust. Edna is already scheming: if Priscilla dies, they are next in line for the fortune. Jared goes upstairs...

Just as Priscilla returns. She waits until he’s gone before sneaking upstairs to her room... but she hits the squeaky step, and Edna races out to catch her. But Priscilla is already gone. Did she hear them plotting?

Edna tries to convince Jared to make sure Priscilla has some sort of accident. Jared tells her not to say such things, especially around Adelaide, since she’s crazy and there’s no telling what she might do... and if she did something and was caught, well, she’d be out her share of the inheritance, right?

In Priscilla’s bedroom, the rocking chair next to the bed begins to move and Mr. George’s ghost (voice of Les Tremayne) talks to her. He verbally tucks her in, wishes her a good night, and then the light goes out (by itself?). It’s a really sweet scene... with an unseen ghost.

In the morning, Priscilla runs downstairs to find the cook gone. Edna has fired her along with the rest of the staff. Priscilla goes outside and has a tea party with her doll. She tells her doll how much she misses Mr. George... then the wind blows through the trees and Mr. George’s voice says that he’s back, to watch over her. She thinks Mr. George is playing hide and seek with her, and looks all over for him.

In the house, Adelaide grabs Edna and points out Priscilla talking to herself. Is Mr. George out there somewhere? Or just the kid’s imagination?

At breakfast, Priscilla tells them that Mr. George was talking to her. Jared tells her she must go to her room, and when she is ready to forget this nonsense she can come down. When she’s gone, Edna tells Adelaide she read in the newspaper about some children who climbed in an old trunk and the lid locked... and they suffocated. If such a thing were to happen to Priscilla, they’d all inherit her money.

Adelaide goes to Priscilla’s room and says she thinks she knows where Mr. George might be hiding... up in the attic. Let’s go up and look for him. Adelaide and Priscilla go up to the spooky attic, where Adelaide tries to get Priscilla to look in an old trunk. But when she gets close enough to push inside, Mr. George calls for her to run to her room. Adelaide yells for her to come back... and the trunk lid falls on Adelaide’s neck and kills her!

After Adelaide’s funeral, George’s sister Laura Craig (Joan Tompkins) comes to visit. When George was ill and thought he might be dying he wrote to Laura... telling her all about the evil cousins. There’s a nice moment where Edna, dressed entirely in black from the funeral, and Laura, dressed in a white hat and light colors; do a sort of verbal tug of war over Priscilla. Edna orders Priscilla go upstairs to her room, and they escort Laura out of the house. Darkness wins.

When Edna goes up to Priscilla’s room, the rocking chair is moving and the little girl is talking to Mr. George. Of course, Edna can’t hear him and thinks Priscilla just has an over active imagination. Orders her to stop fooling around and go down to dinner. Now. When they leave Jared walks past... and sees the rocking chair moving on its own. Could George’s ghost be haunting the house? Could George’s ghost have killed Adelaide?

The next day, Jared sees Priscilla on the swing and thinks this might make for a good accident... so he begins pushing her on the swing. Tells her his arms are getting tired and she should get off, then tries to push the swing at her head! Mr. George tells her to run to her playhouse, quick! The swing blasts at her head, missing it. Jared yells for her to come back... then notices the swing has stopped midair. How is that possible? Then it shoots down and hits Jared in the neck... killing him. Great swing POV shot as it moves back and forth over Jared’s body.

Another funeral wreath on the front doors of the house.

Edna finds Priscilla playing hide and go seek with her “imaginary friend” and punishes her. Priscilla says it is Mr. George. Edna asks how can she know who it is if she can’t see him? It’s all in her mind. Is it? Edna sends Priscilla to her room, then there is a knock at the door... Laura Craig. Judge Lambeau has given Laura custody of Priscilla. Light and darkness face off again. Edna can stay in the house. Laura will come to pick up Priscilla at 10am tomorrow.

The next morning Edna ties a piece of string across the top of the stairs and calls for Priscilla to come down. Priscilla starts to run down, but Mr.George tells her to go down the *back stairs* and go to the playhouse. Edna keeps yelling for Priscilla to come down stairs this minute! When she gets no answer, she goes upstairs to grab her... making sure the string is disconnected first. Priscilla isn’t upstairs. Edna blows a gasket and races downstairs... but the string *connects* all by itself! Edna trips and falls down the stairs to her death.

Priscilla meets Laura at the playhouse and they board the streetcar for Laura’s house. Priscilla tells Mr. George that he’ll have to hurry or he’ll be left behind. Mr. George tells her that Laura will look after her now, so this will have to be goodbye. Priscilla says goodbye to Mr. George (dare you not to cry) and the streetcar takes Priscilla to her new home, as the front gate to the old home closes by itself.

Review: This is a strange little story! A tale of ghosts and murder and revenge... that’s charming and heart warming! How do you maintain that balance for an hour? In a strange way this is similar to last week’s episode, since it deals with an underdog character surrounded by schemers... except this underdog is a completely innocent little girl who gets her revenge through her best friend who is a ghost. Not an evil ghost, but a protective ghost. Last week we had an adulterous wife and no shortage of men who don’t mind that she’s married, this week we get Killing Cousins. Both stories feature dark humor and a whimsical tone. It’s impossible not to root for the happy little girl when these downright evil people descend on her and try to steal her inheritance. While they scheme, she has fun! While they fight amongst themselves, she plays in the play house! They are all about money, she is all about just having a great time. And guess what wins in this parable?

One of the great things about this episode is that all three cousins die *by their own schemes*. Adelaide tries to trap Priscilla in an old trunk, and the trunk lid drops on her neck and kills her. Jared tries to kill Priscilla with the swing, not realizing that what goes up (out?) must come down... and the swing slamming into his throat and killing him. Edna creates the tripline on the top of the stairs, and then trips on it herself. It’s as if their own evil is killing them (with a little help from Mr. George).

Hey, Mr. George is an amazing character! He is never seen, but manages to make a real emotional impression on us. We love this (dead) guy! He seems to be as happy and playful in death as Priscilla is in life.

I mentioned the score in the credits, it’s a sweet Jerry Goldsmith score that kind of reminds you of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. The innocence of childhood with a touch of seriousness (for those lessons we learn in childhood). In fact, this is kind of the ghost story version of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD... similar tone of small town (even though this is a turn of the century city where Priscilla knows the driver of the horse drawn streetcar). There’s a real feeling of a simpler time.

Though this is Ida Lupino’s second episode on the series as a director (of nine), this shows what a remarkable director she was. She manages to maintain that tricky tone for the hour without a single fumble. She also does some wonderful camera work for an hour long show shot in a week. Other directors seem content to just set up the camera in the easiest spot and let the action unfold in front of it. Here Lupino opens with a complicated moving shot and then continues to pepper the episode of with great angle (that shot of the two evil aunts) and does an amazing shot where the camera is *on the swing* with Priscilla’s POV on the swing, and later a Swing Eye View as the swing passes back and forth over dead Uncle Jared. Cameras weighed a ton back then, so I have no idea how she pulled off this shot. It’s also a *haunting* shot, as the swing drifts back and forth over Jared’s corpse.

I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m a huge fan of hers, and her work in Film Noir both in front of the camera and behind the camera is remarkable. But how could her work as director on THE HITCH HIKER prepare her for an episode like this? This sweet, tear inducing, ghost story? Before her stint on THRILLER she directed 8 episodes of my favorite western show, HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL. This is such a sweet episode, that it’s hard to believe she was directing a manly man western show before this! Or that she would direct the ultimate edge of the seat suspense episode of THRILLER only a few episodes from this.

Next week an episode directed by Paul Henreid (Victor Lazlo in CASABLANCA) about a famous pianist and his rival... and a war that goes beyond the grave.


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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Scene Of The Week: CARRIE (1976)

There's a new documentary about Brian DePalma (does it surprise anyone that he's one of my favorite directors?) that purports that DePalma does not copy Hitchcock, he just speaks the same language. The language of cinema. That DePalma has made all kinds of movies - from comedies to horror to thrillers to dramas - and even though he's obviously a fan of Hitchcock, much of what critics see as Hitchcock in many of his films is just speaking the visual language of film. Of course you shoot it that way - you don't want to look illiterate, do you? You want to clearly communicate to the audience, right? Last week we looked at a clip from JAWS with techniques that were lifted from Hitchcock, but few people diminish Spielberg's talent for speaking the language of film, why do they always go after DePalma? Before we look at our scene from CARRIE, here's a look at DePalma's low budget horror flick SISTERS...

And now the CARRIE entry...

After last week’s very long take that was locked down in the back seat of the getaway car in GUN CRAZY, I thought it would be fun to look at kind of the opposite - a scene where the camera moves but the protagonist stays in the same spot... and this underappreciated shot from Brian DePalma’s CARRIE (1976). This was the first version of Stephen King’s first best seller to hit the screen, and so far the best. There was a TV version and a sequel/remake (RAGE) and now we are getting a remake by the talented Kimberly Peirce who directed one of my favorite indies BOYS DON’T CRY. I think she’s a great match for the material, and her version will end up different than DePalma’s because she has a different point of view...

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But the DePalma film made him a star director (it was his *tenth* feature film!) And also made many cast members into stars. It was John Travolta’s *second* film (after THE DEVIL’S RAIN) and Piper Laurie’s return to the big screen after a *15 year* absence after her Oscar nominated performance as the love interest in THE HUSTLER opposite Paul Newman, and Amy Irving’s first movie, and P.J. Soles’ (ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, HALLOWEEN) first movie, and William Katt’s first movie, and Nancy Allen’s first movie, and Betty Buckley’s first movie, and Edie McClurg’s first movie. What’s interesting about all of these young actors is that they were cast in CARRIE after auditioning for another film... called STAR WARS. DePalma sat in on Lucas’ auditions and picked people for *his* film... yes, that means John Travolta and William Katt might have played Luke Skywalker!

Usually when we think of *Exposition* we think of Basil Exposition from the AUSTIN POWERS movies (or his cousin Prompter Exposition who always asks those leading questions so that someone can spend a couple of minutes of screen time talking on-and-on about what has happened and why it happened and any other story information the audience needs to know. “As a scientist, I’m sure you know that...” Boring stuff that often brings the story to a halt *and* ends up silly. Part of a screenwriter’s job is to find ways to hide exposition so that the audience has no idea they are getting the information. In the Dialogue Blue Book I look at some techniques like using conflict in the scene to disguise the exposition, but Lawrence D. Cohen’s screenplay for CARRIE uses *actions* to give us the necessary exposition. Instead of that verbal exposition dump, we get an intense emotional scene packed with information... and all in one shot!

This shot *begins* at Tommy (William Katt) and Carrie (Sissy Spacek)’s prom table after they have just decided to go ahead and vote for themselves as Prom King & Queen even though they don’t have a chance in hell of winning. That’s when Norma (P.J. Soles) picks up the ballots from the table, and we follow her as she picks up other ballots from other tables. We see how the ballots are collected from all of the kids at the prom, and then we see Norma kiss her boyfriend and drop the ballots on the floor behind him, telling him to kick them behind the wall, then she grabs *fake* ballots from his coat as she pulls away from him. We see how they switch the ballots so that Carrie and Tommy will end up winning. All of this information we get visually, through the actions of the characters. No one has to tell us that they are switching the ballots...

And so far no one has told us *why* they are switching the ballots. This builds mystery.

Then we follow Norma to the faculty table where the ballots will be counted, and then she knocks on the window under the stage where Chris (Nancy Allen) and Billy Nolan (John Travolta) are hiding... and Chris is holding on to a rope. This hands off the scene, and Nancy goes on as we hold on Chris and Billy for a moment. Chris pulls slightly on the rope, and we *follow the rope*... to the back of the stage where Sue Snell (Amy Irving) sneaks in and hides behind the stage. Sue feels the rope moving, and we follow the rope up to the rafters over the stage... and that bucket of pig’s blood directly over the King & Queen’s chairs on the stage, and then look past the bucket of blood - back to where the shot began - at Carrie and Tommy sitting at their table as their names are announced as King & Queen... and they head toward the stage.

We now know *why* the ballots were switched, and we also know what is about to happen. This creates tension and dread and suspense...

Carrie White, who begins this story in blood when she has her first period in the gym shower, and was doused over the head and face by a glass of water by her mother at the dinner table; now will be drenched with pig’s blood on prom night... and they’re all going to laugh at her. This creates emotions in the viewer - Carrie has gone from bullied weird girl in a sack dress to Cinderella prom queen... and now that her life seems to have turned around we don’t want anything bad to happen to her.

More exposition told visually. No one *tells us* what the plan to ridicule Carrie at the prom is, or how it will work. Instead we *see* the exposition. As the audience traces that rope to the bucket of blood, their terror builds. They wish they could find some way to stop the inevitable. Instead of some dry verbal exposition, we get an emotional experience.

I was looking for the earlier clip - a single amazing shot that shows the whole ballot-box stuffing scheme at the prom as Carrie and Tommy actually begin to have a relationship in the background, but that clip is nowhere to be found on YouTube. When I was looking for this shot on line, all of the clips available either began at the end of the shot or somewhere in the middle. It seemed as if no one realized this was all one single long take. The clip labeled “Full Prom Scene” started at the end of the shot! Another clip that was all about the camera work, managed to start in the *middle* of the shot! It’s as if no one noticed this was all one long take - they were too busy experiencing the story unfold. Finally I found a clip on YouTube that *linked* a clip of the actual entire prom scene, and I was able to start at the beginning of this shot (but had no way to end the clip). Here’s that clip of the whole prom - and it begins with a long slow take reminiscent of the ballroom shot from Hitchcock’s YOUNG AND INNOCENT. The purpose of the long takes is to slow down the pacing to create contrast and shock/excitement after the pig’s blood when the action and horror kick in. The same way we use long sentences to slow the tempo down and short sentences to quicken the pacing.

And in the next series of shots, Sue Snell will trace the rope to the rafters, realize what is going to happen, and try like hell to stop it. She becomes our surrogate in the scene. Her success would be our success, her failure becomes our failure. Here’s that scene:

Exposition doesn't need to be someone talking on-and-on to give us that dump of information, we can give the information to the audience visually... and make it emotional and exciting!

- Bill

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Trailer Tuesday: THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962)

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962) Directed by: John Frankenheimer.
Written by: George Axelrod based on the novel by Richard Condon..
Starring: Frank Sinatra, Janet Leigh, Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury.
Produced by: George Axelrod, Frank Sinatra, Howard W. Koch.
Music by: David Amram.

This is like the original paranoid political thriller... and it wasn't just an innovative screenplay and story, the direction is inventive and cool... and when you compare how the direction tells the story in this film as opposed to how some directors of current blockbusters seem to make choices which distract from the story, you wonder what the hell happened to film directors? So many amazing things in this film!

During the Korean War, Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is a cold, unlovable, disciplinarian officer - hated by his men. Their Korean translator (Henry Silva) leads the platoon through the woods... where they are attacked by the enemy.

Later, Shaw gets a hero’s welcome home - he has won the Congressional Medal Of Honor for single-handedly overpowering their North Korean captors after three days and rescuing his platoon... only two men were lost in the escape. Shaw is met at the airport by his overbearing mother Eleanor Iselin (Angela Lansbury) and his hated step-father conservative Senator Iselin (James Gregory) - who try to use his heroism to help Iselin’s political career. Shaw tells them he won’t be part of their schemes, and is headed to New York to take a job as a journalist.

Meanwhile, Captain Ben Marco (Frank Sinatra) who was in Shaw’s platoon and recommended him for the Medal Of Honor, is suffering from a recurring nightmare... and discovers that he isn’t the only member of the platoon who has this same nightmare. Weird! In the nightmare, he’s at a women’s gardening club meeting... where Sgt Shaw strangles one member of the platoon to death and then shoots another in the head. And some members of the women’s gardening club turn into Chinese and Russian military men. Weird. And the two platoon members Shaw kills in the dream happen to be the two who were killed in their escape. What does this dream mean?

I love how everyone who was in the platoon has the same dream, but all of the dreams are individualized and different. When they get to James Edwards (the Black guy)'s version of the dream - it's exactly the same, but every character's race is flipped. The old white ladies in the garden club become old Black ladies, and the Black servant becomes a white servant. This film has a great sense of sly humor (probably due to the tone of the source novel written by the clever Richard Condon).

Captain Marco, who *hated* Shaw, when asked what he thinks of him is *compelled* to answer, “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.”... as are all of the other men. They all use the exact same words! What? “It's not that Raymond Shaw is hard to like. He's IMPOSSIBLE to like!” Marco digs around, uncovers the truth - the entire platoon was brainwashed over the three days they were captured, and Shaw - the war hero - has been programmed to kill! Oh, and his step-father Iselin claims there are 207 communist spies in the Department Of Defense, and that managed to catapult him into the headlines... and since this is an election year, Iselin ends up in the Vice President position on the ticket. One sniper shot away from becoming President! And Marco thinks that Shaw might be that sniper. But how can you prove any of this? With the Republican Convention only a few days away, and Iselin the expected Vice Presidential candidate, Marco must figure out a way to convince his commanding officer that he’s *not* crazy or suffering from “shell shock” (PTSD), but that there is a real assassination in only a few days!

One of the great things about this film is how *everyone* is programmed in one way or another. Characters are programmed to *think* in certain ways which help the plan, young attractive people are programmed to fall in love with the one person their parents disapprove of, liberals are programmed to hate conservatives and vice versa, people are programmed to judge a book by it’s cover - whether that is an actual book (Marco has read hundreds of them since coming home) or a figurative book like their Korean translator who asks Raymond Shaw for a job and Shaw says he doesn’t need a translator in New York City - everyone speaks the same language. Senator Iselin is programmed to say or do anything that will get him elected - he doesn’t believe any of it, he’s a puppet with his wife pulling the strings... and China and Russia pulling *her* strings! Marco’s superior is programmed to think that men returning from war can be a little paranoid... and the unmarried business woman Marco meets on the train (Rose, played by Janet Leigh) is programmed to mother an emotionally wounded man. Oh, and the voting public is programmed to fear and distrust anyone who doesn’t fear and distrust. The film looks at all kinds of “programming” in addition to Raymond Shaw’s brainwashing. One of the great things from Condon’s novel - he was a satirist who wrote thrillers that commented on society - and in this case the whole Red Scare paranoia of the 1950s, with McCarthy and Nixon seeing a communist in every pumpkin patch.

The story is also a nice retelling of Oedipus Rex - Raymond Shaw has a full-on tongues-down-throats kissing scene with his mother at one point, and (spoiler) shoots his stepfather. The thing I find fun about this movie is that the role Janet Leigh played just before this was Marion Crane in PSYCHO - another film about a man with some mommy issues. Heck, after this she played Rosie in BYE BYE BIRDIE who has serious problems with her fiance’s overly protective mother played by Maureen Stapleton. It’s like she was typecast as “the other woman” that comes between a boy and his mother!

I know this wasn’t the first American movie with a big martial arts fight scene (those MR MOTO films), but it has an *epic* hand to hand fight scene between Marco and the Translator when they bump into each other in Shaw’s apartment. That’s another bit of “programming”, by the way - each man recognizes the other as an enemy, even though they served together in the war. This hand to hand fight scene *destroys* the apartment, the way that Postal Carrier destroys Kathy Hale’s (Faye Dunaway) apartment when he fights Turner hand to hand in THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR. This is a *savage* fight, and we get to see a table karate chopped in half!

While we’re on how influential this film is, the Political Convention scene with a sniper waiting to kill the candidate gets lifted for THE PARALLAX VIEW (which, like CONDOR, also features character actor Walter McGinn). So much of MANCHURIAN ends up “homaged” in other movies that it’s like patient zero for political thrillers.

Hey, since I brought up McGinn (sleazy Parallax recruiter and Sam, Condor’s most trusted friend), let’s look at some of the amazing supporting cast in this film, beginning with James Edwards. This film and Kubrick’s THE KILLING is where I first became aware of him, and he is in my favorite scene from THE KILLING (playing the lonely parking lot attendant who befriends the crippled ex-soldier played by the great Tim Carey - and after really connecting as human beings, casting aside all prejudice that society programs into us concerning race and injuries, when it comes time for Carey to pull out his sniper gun and kill the lead horse, he can’t get rid of Edwards. He tries everything, eventually using the N word and really emotionally damaging Edwards’ character. It’s a three tissue scene). Once I’d realized that the same actor played both roles, I began noticing him in other movies - in Sam Fuller’s THE STEEL HELMET (awesome movie!), in PATTON, in Don Siegel’s COOGAN’S BLUFF, in Phil Karlson’s PHENIX CITY STORY, in Robert Wise’s THE SET UP, and in his big break out role HOME OF THE BRAVE (1949) as the only Black soldier in a white platoon going on a dangerous mission behind enemy lines on a Japanese held island. Edwards was one of the first black actors to play serious roles in Hollywood. He paved the way for Poitier.

Henry Silva is one of the most recognizable villains in film - he has that skull-like face that meant he would never play a romantic lead but never be without work. Between CODE OF SILENCE (Chuck Norris) and ABOVE THE LAW (Steven Seagal) he’s kicked all kinds of martial arts hero ass, and he’s one of those guys who played the villain at least once on every 70s and 80s TV show. He was in the original OCEANS 11 with Sinatra and the remake with Clooney. Plus, a ton of B movies where he played the villain and gave way more than he was paid. Though he was always cast in ethnic roles, he was born in New York... and is still with us.

The other villain, Chinese brain wash expert Dr. Yen Lo is played by Khigh Dhiegh, an incredibly charismatic actor who would also appear in John Frankenheimer’s SECONDS, but you probably know him as the recurring mega-villain in the original HAWAII 5-0 show, Wo Fat. He was the Ernst Stravro Blofeld to Jack Lord’s Steve McGarrett for the run of that show.

Oh, and the Russian in the Korea flashback / Women’s Gardening Club scene is Reggie Nalder, who played the assassin in the Jimmy Stewart version of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH - which we look at in the new HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE book.

Unlovable Raymond Shaw falls in love with a young woman from the other side of the political aisle - a real Romeo & Juliet romance - played by Leslie Parrish (who played cute young women for decades until she quit the business in the 70s), and her father - the extremely liberal Senator Thomas Jordan - was played by the great John McGiver. A pudgy character actor with a distinctive voice (always sounded as if he was out of breath) who is another one of those actors who has been in everything... including my favorite TV show as a kid, MR. TERRIFIC, as the head of the Government’s Bureau Of Special Projects, which turns a complete wimp into a superhero with a top secret power pill. You probably know him from MIDNIGHT COWBOY, where he plays the “pimp” who turns out to be ultra religious (and is what brings Joe and Ratso together). McGiver played judges and mayors and all sorts of politicians, and you always felt like he knew whatever power he had was fragile and eventually he’s be carted off. Of course, in MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE he gets shot dead....

So, unlovable Raymond Shaw may be brainwashed to kill, and kind of an uncaring jerk, but he’s a profoundly lonely man... and when he meets Jocelyn Jordan (Parrish), she is his salvation. She loves him, even though he’s a jerk mama’s boy. She can see the goodness underneath all of those layers of armor. Shaw kind of is like Norman Bates, and Jocelyn breaks through to him and makes him a better man. They get engaged. Shaw stops being such a jerk. He is on a path to a normal life...

And then the phone rings.

“Why don't you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?”

The trigger phrase that turns Shaw into a remote control assassin... and he is ordered to kill Senator Thomas Jordan.

The remake with Denzel Washington got some basic stuff wrong... Um, the reason why it's a game of solitaire is because no one ever asks you if you want to play solitaire - it’s a one person game! So it is the perfect "trigger phrase". The remake has Shaw’s *name* as the “trigger phrase” - which means a freakin’ telemarketer could accidentally turn him into an assassin! But who would call you up and ask you to play solitaire? Great “trigger phrase” because no one would ever say that...

But after the voice on the phone *does* say it, Shaw goes to Jordan’s house with a silenced pistol to kill him. Except Jordan isn’t alone - Jocelyn is there. So he doesn’t only kill his target, he kills the only woman who ever loved him. This is a huge, tragic, scene - where you actually feel sorry for this unlovable man. Like “Romeo & Juliet”, the star-crossed lovers don’t make it until the end credits. This scene, and the ones that follow, turn the film into an epic tragedy...

All of which leads to a great race against time ending where Marco discovers the plan - that Shaw is a remote control assassin for the Russians, and his mother and Senator Iselin may look like ultra-conservative communist haters... but they’re really Russian agents! And Shaw will assassinate the Presidential Candidate leaving Iselin as the Man Who Will Be President. A Russian spy in the White House! The Convention Scene is as tense and exciting as the Albert Hall scene in THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, with some shocking violence and a great twist ending.

I mentioned earlier that novelist Richard Condon writes witty, satirical thrillers, and one of the basic elements of thrillers is *humor* - and this is something that seems lost on development executives in Hollywood these days. The remake was dry and dead serious, and when we think of thrillers - from Hitchcock to Roman Polanski to Brian DePalma - they all contain some form of humor, often in the form of irony, or the absurd, or comic relief characters. The idea of a dead serious thriller is as problematic as the idea of a dead serious superhero movie... which is a current problem. People go to the cinema to be entertained, and if we go back to those great 70s thrillers like THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR or MARATHON MAN or PARALLAX VIEW, those are amusing and entertaining films with a touch of humor to balance the gritty suspense. One of the most common reactions to the threat of serious bodily harm is humor... and that may be in the form of nervous laughter or using humor as a defense mechanism or in an attempt to de-escalate the situation. The *absence of humor* is unrealistic in a thriller. One of my favorite scenes in MARATHON MAN is when Dustin Hoffman’s character needs to enlist the help of the juvenile delinquents that live across the street from him, ring their door buzzer, and when he says his name they have no idea who he is... and he’s forced to say, “It’s *creepy* from across the street” - because they call him “creepy”. Then they know him! Hey, it’s creepy! Come on up! And after he gets these guys to break into his apartment and steal some clothes for him (and take his television and anything else they want as payment) a pair of badguys watching Hoffman’s apartment interrupt them - asking them what they’re doing. One of the badguys pulls a gun... and then *all* of the juvenile delinquents pull guns. Must be a dozen guns aimed at these two badguys! That always gets a big laugh... and the punchline is the one juvenile delinquent who *struts* into the apartment as if he owns the place (and owns those two badguy’s asses). That’s a great thriller scene! Richard Condon’s novels are wicked and dark and funny in a sick and twisted way.

This film was directed by one of my favorites, John Frankenheimer, who made a series of great films in the 50s and 60s and then hit a slump in the mid 70s... only to resurrect himself in the 80s with an awesome film version of an Elmore Leonard novel... which lead to some hit or miss films including RONIN - which probably introduced him to a new generation who never saw BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ. You’ll be seeing some of his other films featured in future Trailer Tuesday entries!

Voice over is by the great Paul Frees, a radio actor who had a very distinctive voice. You’ve heard his voice in a million different things, from Disneyland theme park rides to commercials to Saturday morning cartoons! He lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and passed away 30 years ago... but his voice is still part of the Haunted Mansion!

MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is the prototype political thriller... and beautifully shot and acted. The film was co-produced by Frank Sinatra, who had it pulled from distribution when JFK was assassinated - so for many years it went unseen... along with SUDDENLY, another Presidential assassination movie co-produced and starring Sinatra where he played the assassin - a disgruntled ex-military sniper. I may do a Trailer Tuesday on that film sometime in the future. If you want to know the great thing about having Sinatra as co-producer, check out the Senator’s luxurious private plane... that’s Sinatra’s, loaned to the film for the scene! If you haven’t seen this one, check it out!

- Bill

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Make the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE book #1 Wednesday!

It's make the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE book #1 Wednesday!


In honor of the Oscars, VINTAGE SCREENWRITING #1 will be FREE through Wednesday.
But FIRST, let me plug the new book - MISSION IMPOSSIBLE - STORY IN ACTION.
Kind of a BUY ONE Get one FREE!




All Six Movies analyzed! All of the mission tapes, all of the “that’s impossible!” set pieces and stunts, the cons and capers - and how these scenes work, the twists and double crosses, the tension and suspense (and how to generate it), the concept of each film as a stand alone with a different director calling the shots (broken in the sixth film), the gadgets, the masks, the stories, the co-stars and team members (one team member has been in every film), the stunts Tom Cruise actually did (and the ones he didn’t), and so much more! Over 120,000 words of fun info!


Here's the plan: I want this book to be #1 on Amazon's Screenwriting List on Wednesday 2/27. So if you guys tell your screenwriting and film fan friends about this book - and the plan to make it #1 on Amazon on Wednesday - I think we can make it! And they get the VINTAGE SCREENWRITING #1 book for free...

NO KINDLE REQUIRED! Get the *free* app (any device, except your Mr. Coffee) on the order page on Amazon!

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Now the FREE book....

Screenwriting books have been around as long as films have. This series reprints vintage screenwriting books with a new introduction and history, plus new articles which look at how these lessons from almost 100 years ago apply to today’s screenplays. Anita Loos book is filled with information which still applies. In addition to the full text of the original book, you get the full screenplay to Miss Loos' hit THE LOVE EXPERT, plus several new articles on the time period and women in Hollywood.



Why pay $510 for a used version of the 240 page 2000 version that used to retail for $21.95? (check it out!) when you can get the NEW EXPANDED VERSION - over 500 pages - for just $9.99? New chapters, New examples, New techniques!

"SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is the best book on the practical nuts-and-bolts mechanics of writing a screenplay I've ever read." - Ted Elliott, co-writer of MASK OF ZORRO, SHREK, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and the sequels (with Terry Rossio). (ie; 4 of the top 20 Box Office Hits Of ALL TIME.)

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"Bill Martell is one of Hollywood's best action-adventure writers, with 19 produced films to his credit. His "little blue books" on the art of screenplay writing are legendary," Best Selling novelist Dale Brown ("Strike Force", "Flight Of The Old Dog").

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Expanded version with more ways to find great ideas! Your screenplay is going to begin with an idea. There are good ideas and bad ideas and commercial ideas and personal ideas. But where do you find ideas in the first place? This handbook explores different methods for finding or generating ideas, and combining those ideas into concepts that sell. The Idea Bank, Fifteen Places To Find Ideas, Good Ideas And Bad Ideas, Ideas From Locations And Elements, Keeping Track Of Your Ideas, Idea Theft - What Can You Do? Weird Ways To Connect Ideas, Combing Ideas To Create Concepts, High Concepts - What Are They? Creating The Killer Concept, Substitution - Lion Tamers & Hitmen, Creating Blockbuster Concepts, Magnification And The Matrix, Conflict Within Concept, Concepts With Visual Conflict, Avoiding Episodic Concepts, much more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!
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Your story is like a road trip... but where are you going? What's the best route to get there? What are the best sights to see along the way? Just as you plan a vacation instead of just jump in the car and start driving, it's a good idea to plan your story. An artist does sketches before breaking out the oils, so why shouldn't a writer do the same? This Blue Book looks at various outlining methods used by professional screenwriters like Wesley Strick, Paul Schrader, John August, and others... as well as a guest chapter on novel outlines. Plus a whole section on the Thematic Method of generating scenes and characters and other elements that will be part of your outline. The three stages of writing are: Pre-writing, Writing, and Rewriting... this book looks at that first stage and how to use it to improve your screenplays and novels.

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William Goldman says the most important single element of any screenplay is structure. It’s the skeleton under the flesh and blood of your story. Without it, you have a spineless, formless, mess... a slug! How do you make sure your structure is strong enough to support your story? How do you prevent your story from becoming a slug? This Blue Book explores different types of popular structures from the basic three act structure to more obscure methods like leap-frogging. We also look at structure as a verb as well as a noun, and techniques for structuring your story for maximum emotional impact. Most of the other books just look at *structure* and ignore the art of *structuring* your story. Techniques to make your story a page turner... instead of a slug!

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This book takes you step-by-step through the construction of a story... and how to tell a story well, why Story always starts with character... but ISN'T character, Breaking Your Story, Irony, Planting Information, Evolving Story, Leaving No Dramatic Stone Unturned, The Three Greek Unities, The Importance Of Stakes, The Thematic Method, and how to create personal stories with blockbuster potential. Ready to tell a story? Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 85,000 words - 251 pages!
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*** HOOK 'EM IN TEN *** - For Kindle!

Your story doesn't get a second chance to make a great first impression, and this book shows you a bunch of techniques on how to do that. From the 12 Basic Ways To Begin Your Story, to the 3 Stars Of Your First Scene (at least one must be present) to World Building, Title Crawls, Backstory, Starting Late, Teasers and Pre Title Sequences, Establishing Theme & Motifs (using GODFATHER PART 2), Five Critical Elements, Setting Up The Rest Of The Story (with GODFATHER), and much more! With hundreds of examples ranging from Oscar winners to classic films like CASABLANCA to some of my produced films (because I know exactly why I wrote the scripts that way). Biggest Blue Book yet! Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 100,000 words - 312 pages!
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Expanded version with more ways to create interesting protagonists! A step-by-step guide to creating "take charge" protagonists. Screenplays are about characters in conflict... characters in emotional turmoil... Strong three dimensional protagonists who can find solutions to their problems in 110 pages. But how do you create characters like this? How do you turn words into flesh and blood? Character issues, Knowing Who Is The Boss, Tapping into YOUR fears, The Naked Character, Pulp Friction, Man With A Plan, Character Arcs, Avoiding Cliche People, Deep Characterization, Problem Protagonists, 12 Ways To Create Likable Protagonists (even if they are criminals), Active vs. Reactive, The Third Dimension In Character, Relationships, Ensemble Scripts, and much, much morePrint version is 48 pages, Kindle version is once again around 205 pages!
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*** VISUAL STORYTELLING *** - For Kindle! (exclusive)

Show Don't Tell - but *how* do you do that? Here are techniques to tell stories visually! Using Oscar Winning Films and Oscar Nominated Films as our primary examples: from the first Best Picture Winner "Sunrise" (1927) to the Oscar Nominated "The Artist" (which takes place in 1927) with stops along the way Pixar's "Up" and Best Original Screenplay Winner "Breaking Away" (a small indie style drama - told visually) as well as "Witness" and other Oscar Winners as examples... plus RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 200 pages!
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*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!
*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Nook!
Expanded version with more ways to create interesting protagonists! How to remove bad dialogue (and what *is* bad dialogue), First Hand Dialogue, Awful Exposition, Realism, 50 Professional Dialogue Techniques you can use *today*, Subtext, Subtitles, Humor, Sizzling Banter, *Anti-Dialogue*, Speeches, and more. Tools you can use to make your dialogue sizzle! Special sections that use dialogue examples from movies as diverse as "Bringing Up Baby", "Psycho", "Double Indemnity", "Notorious", the Oscar nominated "You Can Count On Me", "His Girl Friday", and many more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!
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What is a scene and how many you will need? The difference between scenes and sluglines. Put your scenes on trial for their lives! Using "Jaws" we'll look at beats within a scene. Scene DNA. Creating set pieces and high concept scenes. A famous director talks about creating memorable scenes. 12 ways to create new scenes. Creating unexpected scenes. Use dramatic tension to supercharge your scenes. Plants and payoffs in scenes. Plus transitions and buttons and the all important "flow"... and more! Over 65,000 words!
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Expanded version with more techniques to flesh out your Supporting Characters and make them individuals. Using the hit movie BRIDESMAIDS as well as other comedies like THE HANGOVER and TED and HIGH FIDELITY and 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and many other examples we look at ways to make your Supporting Characters come alive on the page. Includes Story Purpose of characters and Subplots. Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is around 150 pages!
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Expanded version with more techniques to help you through the desert of Act Two! Subjects Include: What Is Act Two? Inside Moves, The 2 Ps: Purpose & Pacing, The 4Ds: Dilemma, Denial, Drama and Decision, Momentum, the Two Act Twos, Subplot Prisms, Deadlines, Drive, Levels Of Conflict, Escalation, When Act Two Begins and When Act Two Ends, Scene Order, Bite Sized Pieces, Common Act Two Issues, Plot Devices For Act Two, and dozens of others. Over 67,000 words (that’s well over 200 pages) of tools and techniques to get you through the desert of Act Two alive!
Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 208 pages!
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Should really be called the BUSINESS BLUE BOOK because it covers almost everything you will need to know for your screenwriting career: from thinking like a producer and learning to speak their language, to query letters and finding a manager or agent, to making connections (at home and in Hollywood) and networking, to the different kinds of meetings you are will have at Studios, to the difference between a producer and a studio, to landing an assignment at that meeting and what is required of you when you are working under contract, to contracts and options and lawyers and... when to run from a deal! Information you can use *now* to move your career forward! It's all here in the Biggest Blue Book yet!
Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 400 pages!
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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!


Only 125,000 words!

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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?


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. Over 77,000 words!

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Over 240 pages!
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He's back! The release of "Terminator: Genisys" (now on BluRay) is set to begin a new trilogy in the Terminator story... 31 years after the first film was released. What draws us to these films about a cybernetic organism from the future sent back in time? Why is there a new proposed trilogy every few years? This book looks at all five Terminator movies from a story standpoint - what makes them work (or not)? What are the techniques used to keep the characters and scenes exciting and involving? How about those secret story details you may not have noticed? Containing a detailed analysis of each of the five films so far, this book delves into the way these stories work... as well as a complete list of box office and critical statistics for each film. This book is great for writers, directors, and just fans of the series.

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All five "Bourne" movies (including "Legacy" and it's potential sequels) - what are the techniques used to keep the characters and scenes exciting and involving? Reinventing the thriller genre... or following the "formula"? Five films - each with an interesting experiment! A detailed analysis of each of the films, the way these thrillers work... as well as a complete list of box office and critical statistics for each film. This book is great for writers, directors, and just fans of the series.

PRICE: $3.99 - and no postage!

UK Folks Click Here.

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"SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is the best book on the practical nuts-and-bolts mechanics of writing a screenplay I've ever read." - Ted Elliott, co-writer "The Mask Of Zorro", "Shrek" and "Pirates Of The Caribbean".

"William C. Martell knows the action genre inside out. Read and learn from an expert!" - Mark Verheiden, screenwriter, "Time Cop" and "The Mask", head writer on "Smallville" and "Constantine".

"This book is dangerous. I feel threatened by it." -Roger Avary, Oscar winning screenwriter, "Pulp Fiction" and "Killing Zoe".

"Bill Martell is one of Hollywood's best action-adventure writers, with 19 produced films to his credit. His "Blue Books" on the art of screenplay writing are legendary and "Secrets of Action Screenwriting" is the best." - Best selling novelist Dale Brown.

"My only complaint with SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is that it wasn't around when I was starting out. The damned thing would have saved me years of trial and error!" - Ken Wheat, screenwriter, "Pitch Black" and "The Fly 2".

"There's an art to writing for guys like Chuck Norris -- thanks to Bill Martell's book, I was prepared." - Genia Shipman, screenwriter, "Walker: Sons of Thunder".

"Finally a screenwriting book written by a working professional screenwriter. Bill Martell really knows his stuff, showing you how to write a tight, fast screenplay." - John Hill, screenwriter, "Quigley Down Under" and "Closed Encounters Of The 3rd Kind".

These links all lead to the USA store, if you are in some other country and want to write a review for your country, go to your Amazon website.

Thank you all again.


Friday, February 22, 2019

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)

Screenplay by Norman Krasna.

There are no cross-dressing killers, no stolen microfilm, no man wrongly accused of a crime in this Hitchcock film - it’s a standard rom-com. Weird, huh? I have seen all of the Hitchcock films on the big screen including this one - a non-thriller - but I have to admit I saw MR. & MRS. SMITH decades ago on a Hitchcock triple bill and it was the last film playing and, well, I may have fallen asleep. I have not see it since, and never owned it on VHS and did not own it on DVD... and worried that it might suck. Did I really want to buy the DVD? I mean, spending $15 for THE PARADINE CASE was a waste of money, but I could chalk it off to being a completist, right? I mean, it may be lame, but it is still kind of a thriller. MR & MRS SMITH is a rom-com, a chick flick...

So I grabbed my Hitchcock/Truffaut to see what Hitch said about it... and he says nada! When Truffaut brings up the film, Hitch tells an amusing anecdote about Carole Lombard and then changes the subject. The only thing he really says about the film was that it was a favor to Lombard and he just followed the script. Did I really want to buy this on DVD?

Worse - the film was part of a $99 box set and I owned all of the other movies but one. Sure, I could get it at Amazon for $70... but I didn’t want to spend anything near that much for a rom-com that probably put me to sleep the last time I saw it. Damn this blog!

Then I discovered that there were 3rd party vendors who had probably bought the set, broken it up and sold all of the popular films (STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, NORTH BY NORTHWEST) and were now stuck with MR. & MRS. SMITH... and were selling it for $4. Deal.

Here’s the thing - this is a typical 1940s rom-com, funny, charming, and good. I think if Hitchcock had *not* directed it, people would love it and put it up there with THE AWFUL TRUTH and HIS GIRL FRIDAY. But the Hitchcock audience isn’t really the rom-com audience and vice-versa... so people haven’t given it a chance. I thought it was fun.

Nutshell: David (Robert Montgomery) and Ann Smith (the beautiful Carole Lombard) are a passionately married Manhattan couple... and have rules that will keep them married. That passion thing is great when things are going well in the relationship, but when things go wrong they are just as passionate and throw things at each other. So they have the rules - one of which is that no one can leave the bedroom after a fight until they have made up. Problem is, this cuts into David’s work week sometimes (he’s a lawyer). They can stay angry at each other for a loooong time!

Another rule is that after they’ve made up, each gets to ask the other a question... and they must answer honestly. Note to men in a relationship: this is a trap. No woman ever wants you to answer honestly (“Yes, those jeans make your ass look *massive*!”) they want to hear the lie that makes them feel good. So David makes a huge mistake by answering that he misses being single and probably wouldn’t marry Ann if he had to do it all over again. He loves her, he can’t live without her, but probably wouldn’t marry her again. She doesn’t like this answer, but they’re married, so the point is moot, right?

When a clerk (Charles Halton) from the town they were married in tells David that one of those only-in-the-movies clerical errors has nullified their marriage, he thinks for a moment that this may be his chance for freedom. The clerk was a childhood friend of Ann’s, stops by their apartment to visit and lets slip that she isn’t really married to David. Ann expects him to re-propose that very night and whisk her away to a Justice Of The Peace to go through the vows again. Her mother forbids her from sleeping with David until they are once again married. That night, David takes her to the cozy little restaurant where he first proposed... which is now a dump... and Ann thinks he’s going to pop the question. But he doesn’t. When they get home he chills some champagne. Um, now he can pop the question - but how will they get to a Justice of the Peace? When David gets into his silk Pjs, Ann blows her top. He expects her to sleep together even though they are not married? She throws him out.

David is sure that Ann will come crawling back to him... but that does not happen. Instead she finds a job and begins dating again.

Then Ann hooks up with David’s partner Jefferson (Gene Raymond) - a deep fried Southern Gentleman, and it looks like they’re getting engaged to be married! When David objects, Ann notes that she is not his wife, and legally has never been his wife - he has no claim on her.

David realizes he may fantasize about being single again, but the reality sucks! He *must* break up Jefferson’s relationship with Ann and win her back!

Experiment: Well, it is a rom-com. By this time Hitchcock was firmly established as the Master Of Suspense - he’d become famous in England for his thrillers like THE 39 STEPS and THE LADY VANISHES... and that’s why he was brought to America. But Carole Lombard was a friend, was a huge movie star, and wanted to do a film with Hitchcock... so he made a rom-com. The anecdote he told Truffaut was about his first day on the set - when he arrived there were three little cattle pens with a calf in each - wearing a name tag on its collar with the names of the stars. Lombard’s joke (she and her husband Clark Gable were notorious practical jokers - and the most tragic tale in CITY OF NETS is about the joke that preceded Lombard’s death in a plane crash, which devastated Gable). So - it’s a rom-com.

Hitch Appearance: When David and Jefferson come out of Ann's building together, then go in opposite directions, Hitchcock walks in front of the building.

Great Scenes: Let’s look at some rom-com things and other lessons that we can apply to any screenplay, starting with...

Story Point Of View: A common complaint about recent rom-coms is that they seem to be about the guy - KNOCKED UP seems to focus on Seth Rogen’s point of view instead of split equally between the couple. Well, it seems like that’s nothing new, as the lead character in MR. & MRS. SMITH is not Carole Lombard, or even Lombard & Montgomery... it’s Robert Montgomery. The film opens with Lombard in bed pretending to be asleep after a spat, and Montgomery tries to slyly get her attention with funny faces and hijinks (which come off charming rather than lame). This scene is not only told from his POV, some of the shots are his POV... and this continues throughout the film. Though I think you *can* have a rom-com where each member of the couple trades off as protagonist; it seems that in the end, one or the other is dominant (the “main protagonist”). That’s what happens here...

But whether one character is the protagonist or two, each scene takes a side and shows it from that character’s point of view. When Ann is waiting for David to pop the question at dinner... and then later at home... those scenes all take her side. We are not neutral in those scenes, we are given the information to understand her character and we see the scene from her side of the dispute... but not his. We know her plan is to accept when he re-proposes... but we have no idea what David’s plan is. Did he plan on proposing at the little restaurant? What’s his plan when he slips into his Pjs? We do not know - but we do know that her plan is *not* to sleep with him until they are married again. We have taken her side in this sequence. And there is a great reason for this - it creates drama and suspense. If we know everything, it’s dull - like knowing how a movie ends. We want to *use* POV to create intrigue. Since knowing David’s intentions remove the suspense from the scene, we take Ann’s side and keep David’s intentions secret. After she kicks David out, we take his side for most of the rest of the movie.

Do you know who is the “lead character” in each of your scenes... and why?

Visual Symbols: A picture is worth a thousand words. After that opening scene spat has been resolved, there is a scene where Ann shaves David with a straight razor. You may wonder what the heck that is all about, but the answer is - it *shows* the trust between them with an intimate act. We can’t exactly show them hitting the sheets in 1941 (and that may even be tonally wrong for 2010) but we can show them doing something together that is personal... and that also shows trust and seems domestic - you wouldn’t let your best friend do this, but you might let your wife. Again, there are a million things that might show two people comfortable with each other in an intimate situation - but what can we show in 1941?

The great thing about the shaving scene is that it not only shows trust and intimacy and comfort with each other now, it is actually a set up for a later payoff near the end that shows Ann recovering her trust and comfort with David. When we see her shave his unconscious body (okay - weird), we realize that they are going to get back together. And David, who is not really unconscious, trusts her not to use the razor on him.

A visual symbol that is designed for a laugh: After being kicked out, David goes to his club which has hotel style rooms available for men who have been kicked out of the house (and maybe bachelors between apartments). There is a board with room keys on it, several empty hooks *with name cards over them* because some poor slob got into a fight with the wife and is now living there. David has to ask the clerk if there is a room available, and the clerk makes a big deal about saying that David has never asked for one of the room keys in the entire time he has been a club member. Then makes a big deal about grabbing the key and giving it to David - this is a *moment*. David and Ann never leave the apartment until they have made up... and now David has been kicked out. The key is symbolic of this being a major problem in the relationship, not just a little bump.

But the great thing is that the key becomes a running gag that gets a laugh (well, from me) every time they show it. David spends the whole day trying to win Ann back, and just when you think she may forgive him... he’s back at the club getting that room key. - Eventually the board of keys has his name on a card over one key.

There are many other little visual symbols in the film - like Ann replacing the name plaque on the apartment door with a card with her maiden name - David keeps tearing it down every time he goes to the apartment and there is always a new one when he comes back. And, um, there’s a pair of skis at the end that, um, seem kind of symbolic of a successful re-honeymoon.

Symbolic Supporting Characters: The other symbolic thing are some of the supporting characters. When David checks into the room in the club, he is now one of the guys who got kicked out of the house by their wives for a variety of reasons. The character he hangs out with is Big Chuck (Jack Carson) who is constantly being kicked out by the wife, and offers David some advice on what to do to get her back if it was a minor infraction... and how to have a good time as a temporary bachelor if you end up with an extended stay at the club. In a way, Big Chuck is a married guy’s fantasy of bachelorhood - he drinks and smokes and whores around and doesn’t care what the wife says. He’s on a “marriage vacation”... and that is kind of David’s fantasy, isn’t it?

Big Chuck *symbolizes* David’s fantasy of being a single guy again, but still with the safety net of being married. He is an externalization of what David is thinking. You want to find the external and concrete visual way to show what’s going on in a character’s heart or mind - and Big Chuck is the kind of guy David wishes he was. That way, we can have David interact with his wish (instead of just having him think - which we can not see) and a great deal of comedy comes from the fantasy version being different than the reality version.

Something else that David and every other married man fantasizes about? Those hot single women out there! Big Chuck sets up a double date - setting up David with a hot single woman who will “show him a good time” (we all know what that means). But the fantasy is not the same as the reality - and David’s date is a loud uneducated bottle blonde who gulps champagne as if were water and smokes like a factory. You fantasize about slutty women and that’s what you get. What makes this scene great is that they are in a fancy restaurant (in contrast to the women) and guess who are a few tables over? Ann and Jefferson. So we get a direct comparison between David’s wife and the single woman David hopes to score with. Um, the sure thing never looked so bad!

This is also a good example of escalation of conflict within a scene. You think once David meets his date that things can't get worse. Then the date starts ordering half the menu. Then she's so loud and obnoxious that everyone in the restaurant is starring at them. Then Ann and Jefferson spot them. And it *keeps* getting worse!

There’s a great gag in this scene where David realizes that Ann is looking in his direction and moves his chair so that he seems to be sitting with the elegant woman at the next table... which works until her husband comes back. David ends up with a broken nose - which should be a good way to get the hell out of the restaurant... except his date used to date a boxer and knows all of the tricks for stopping a nose bleed. Right in the middle of the elegant restaurant. This is the date from hell! Instead of just being the bad situation, things keep happening that makes it worse and worse and worse - it's like Indiana Jones in the treasure cave in RAIDERS as a date! Just when you think it could never get any worse...

Does the conflict continue to escalate in your scenes. Once you have the bad situation, what are all of the things that make it worse?

Bellamys: One of the standard characters in a romantic comedy is the “Bellamy”, named after Ralph Bellamy from HIS GIRL FRIDAY. This is also a symbolic character - in a rom-com the couple splits up or maybe even has never been together in the first place... so how do you *show* that the love interest is *rejecting* the protagonist? At the end, how do you *show* that the love interest is *choosing* the protagonist? What you need is a romantic rival - someone who symbolizes a life for the love interest without the protagonist. Enter The Bellamy (which sounds like a really weird Kung Fu film). This is the guy or gal the love interest is either already engaged to or begins dating after the break up. A physical thing that gets in the protag’s way of winning the love interest back. The strangest Bellamy ever is Otto the blow up pilot in AIRPLANE! Usually it is someone who is the opposite of the protagonist in some way.

Where David in MR. & MRS. SMITH is impulsive and passionate and his life is kind of a mess, Jefferson is conservative and well mannered and steady as a rock. Jefferson will put Ann on a pedestal and treat her like a lady - always polite and quiet and calm. He symbolizes a relationship for Ann that is quiet and safe and predictable. The opposite of David. This takes a decision that is in Ann’s head: wild passion or safe predictability, and puts it on screen where we can see it. Without the Jefferson character, we could not see what she was thinking. There is actually an early scene with Ann sitting in the center of the sofa with a man at either end verbally fighting for her.

The great thing about a Bellamy character is that it not only shows us the choices the love interest makes, it also brings out the character of the protagonist (and the Bellamy). It is easier to see how wild David is when we have Jefferson to compare him with. Jefferson is the perfect Southern gentleman, always opening doors, always polite, always quiet... and that helps to highlight David’s unpredictable behavior. There’s an early scene at the law office where David has neglected his work and Jefferson has been covering for him. Without Jefferson, we wouldn’t see how David was *supposed to be* at work. All of the wild passionate things that David does would just seem romantic without Jefferson to show us a different sort of romance that seems much more practical.

And that is the big choice Ann has to make: security or passion?

If You Know What I Mean Subtext: David doesn’t make that decision easy. He doesn’t understand how he became suddenly single. Sure, he admitted to Ann that he secretly wished he were single again, but now that he’s single the only thing he wants is to be married to Ann again... and she’s off with some other guy... and not just any other guy, his *business partner*! So he begins a series of schemes to get her back again.

One of the more amusing schemes is some “obvious subtext” - when David discovers that Jefferson plans on *marrying* Ann, and is going to introduce her to his very conservative Southern parents, David crashes the meeting. Jefferson’s parents do not know that Ann is David’s ex-wife (well, they were never actually married), and think this is just some woman their son is dating. So when David butts into the meeting, Jefferson’s parents introduce him to Ann... and he says they have already met...

Then begins a series of clever bits of dialogue that are designed to be misunderstood by Jefferson’s parents. David says he’s seen a great deal of Ann - implying that he’s seen her naked, yet never actually saying that. David talks about how Ann is great at serving breakfast in bed. Line after line! Everything seems innocent, but these lines are designed to lead the other person to jump to that guilty conclusion. It’s a strange sort of subtext, because we are meant to understand the hidden meaning, as are the other characters in the scene... yet nothing is said directly. Jefferson’s parents eventually grab their son and take him into the next room - the bathroom, for humor - and ask what sort of woman this Ann is... and what is her relationship to his business partner?

Jefferson manages to put out that fire... which leads to a vacation with Jefferson, his parents, and Ann in a ski lodge. And David follows them, and starts more schemes, eventually placing Ann in the position where she must make a choice between these two types of men, and these two specific men... and then David does something that causes Ann to raise her legs up and cross her skis.

Sound Track: Excellent! A great whimsical score by Edward Ward performed by human lips - whistling. The music adds to the film and never gets in the way of the film.

Though MR. & MRS. SMITH is not a typical Hitchcock film, it is a pretty good romantic comedy from that period and both Lombard and Montgomery are charming and fun. I thought this entry was going to be more painful to write than it was - I really enjoyed the movie. If you are a fan of old rom-coms, check it out.

- Bill




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?

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