Friday, March 29, 2019

The French Hitchcock?

If you've seen INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, the movie playing at Shoshana's cinema that gets bumped for the Hitler Assassination Plan is called LE CORBEAU (THE RAVEN) - she has to take the letters off the marqee. The film was directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, who is often called the French Hitchcock. Clouzot also directed a couple of my favorite films, WAGES OF FEAR and DIABOLIQUE. He is a great director - knows how to build tension to the breaking point. LE CORBEAU was only his second film, but it still works decades later.

LE CORBEAU is about an alof handsome young doctor in a village hospital who begins to get threatening letters signed by "The Raven". The letters accuse him of having an affair with an older doctor's pretty young wife... and of being an abortionist, who may even have been the one who knocked up all of the women he's accused of aborting. Because he wasn't born in the village, he's seen as an outsider... and when word gets out people believe these rumors.

The old doctor's wife also gets a letter from The Raven... and soon half the village are getting threatening letters accusing them of some rumored activity. The Raven knows *everyone's* secrets! Who can it be? The old cuckold doctor and young doctor basically must work together to find out who is The Raven. And there are some *great* suspects and a really shocking twist end. Actually, a double twist.

Though this is an early film of Clouzot's - not as suspenseful as DIABOLIQUE, it still packs a punch and has some very well drawn characters and it will keep you guessing until the end. The alof doctor is an interesting protagonist because he has a deep dark secret - and we think we know what it is and we are completely wrong. The character is a twist.

If you're curious about French films made during WW2 and during the Nazi Occupation, check this one out. Oh, and look between the lines for a message about living and working in Nazi Occupied France.

- Bill

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



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 53 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

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

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

Click here for more info!


Thursday, March 28, 2019

THRILLER Thursday: An Attractive Family


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

Season: 2, Episode: 15.
Airdate: January 1, 1962

Director: John Brahm.
Writer: Robert Arthur.
Cast: Richard Long, Otto Kruger, Leo G. Carroll, Joyce Bulifant, Joan Tetzel.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Henry Freulich.
Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “What you have witnessed, my friends, was of course a dream. But was it a fearful dream of self destruction? A dark premonition of murder? Or was it one of those nightmares which means just the opposite of what they seem? Well, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, you’re going to find out, And in doing so, you’ll meet an attractive family named Farrington. Marian, Bert, and Dick Farrington. In fact, that’s the title of our story: An Attractive Family. There’s nothing one could dislike about them, unless you object to the fact that they occasionally commit a casual murder. Of course, you really shouldn’t object to that. Afterall, they only do it when it’s absolutely necessary. But then, I’ll let you form your own opinion. And now, permit me to introduce our players. They are: Richard Long, Joan Tetzel, Otto Kruger, Leo G. Carroll, and Joyce Bulifant. Remember, no hasty judgments! I’m sure there are several attractive families living on the same block... right there with you. That’s a shocking thought, wouldn’t you say?

Synopsis: Virginia Wells (Joyce Bulifant - Marie from the MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW) runs up to a gated old mansion with a sculpture garden and... the statues tell her to come up to the house! The Bates House from PSYCHO. She climbs the stairs, enters the house... which is filled with cobwebs and vacant. The statues inside tell her to go up the stairs... to do what she has to do, what she came to do... She climbs the spooky stairs, covered with cobwebs, to a door. Inside the room - a noose hangs from the ceiling with a chair underneath it... waiting for her. The voices tell her to do what she came here to do. A trio of shadows on the wall tell her she must do it. The shadows tell her that if she does it she will be at peace, like Alice. And she hangs herself!

New England: 1947. On a beautiful lake, new bride Marian Drake (Joan Tetzel) and her wealthy new husband George (William Mims) and Marian’s brother Dicky Farrington (Richard Long from THE BIG VALLEY in super sleazy mode) decide to take a canoe ride to a picnic spot. George is afraid of the water, can’t swim, and Marian makes a joke about he even shied away from Niagra Falls on their honeymoon. The local guy who rents them the canoe mentions that, although the lake is supposed to be bottomless, it’s actually 800 feet deep. This doesn’t make George any less afraid of the water. Marian jokes that they plan to stay on the surface, and row across the lake...

She drops her paddle in the water, asks George to grab it for her.. And he tips over the canoe in the process. Marian and Dicky grab the canoe - George panics and drowns. Well, there’s a moment where it looks like George might keep his head above water until they are rescued, so Dicky makes sure his head is below water - holding him down until he drowns.

Mexico: 1955. Dicky is the newlywed this time, his new bride is the quiet and studious Alice Wells (Diedre Owens) and they are on honeymoon, with Dicky’s Uncle Bert (Otto Kruger from MURDER MY SWEET) tagging along. Some conversation about how Alice is a lonely girl who never had a date and never expected to get married... and that she and her sister are wealthy orphans with a bank in charge of their estate. Oh, and they just made new wills and took out life insurance policies on each other - with double indemnity for accidental deaths.

Uncle Bert wants to take a picture of Dicky and Alice on the edge of a cliff with a beautiful view of the mountains in the background. Has her take off her glasses - sun glare, you know. Take a step back... another step... and she’s off the edge of the cliff and Dicky has just inherited and collected on the life insurance.

New England: Present Day (1962). In their luxurious family home, Dicky, Marian and Uncle Bert discuss their need for cash. They are broke. The liquor store won’t take their credit and Uncle Bert is down to his last bottle of booze. It seems that when Alice met her tragic death in Mexico, half of her estate went to her little sister Virginia - Jinny - and Dicky became the executor. Well, Dicky embezzled a bit, and when Virginia reaches 21 the money is all hers... and she will discover that some of it is missing. So Virginia has become their house guest over summer, and they plan on making sure that she dies before her upcoming 21st birthday. That way the embezzled money is never discovered and they inherit Virginia’s money as well. Win, win!

Major Downey (Leo G. Carroll) comes to pick up Virginia to go bird watching, and they stumble upon the old Merriview House (the Psycho house) with it’s spooky sculpture garden - from the opening scene. Downey tells her the history of the place - Merriview hung himself in an upstairs room and the house has been vacant ever since. Rumor is, the house is haunted. On the way back, Downey spots some mushrooms, “Nature’s bounty!”, and Virginia picks them.

Back at the house, Virginia shows Marian the mushrooms and Marian says that Virginia can have them for dinner. Not enough to share. When Virginia leaves the room, Marian tells Dicky and Uncle Bert that the mushrooms are poison - this solves all of their problems!

At dinner, Virginia tries to get Dicky to eat a mushroom - and he has to find a way out of it. Every time Virginia starts to put a mushroom in her mouth, someone says something that she responds to... and doesn’t eat the mushroom. Some mild tension is built here, but they don’t build it very well. Before Virginia can take a bite of the mushrooms, she accidentally spills her plate and the mushrooms go into the trash.

On to plan B - a picnic near a cliff. When Virginia goes to bed, the rest of our attractive family begins planning her death.

Virginia wakes up screaming from a nightmare - the show’s teaser - and tells Mariam and Dicky about the dream where she hangs herself in the old Merriview House.

The next morning, before the picnic by the cliff, Marian calls the local doctor to ask if there’s a psychiatric specialist who can help Virginia, because she has been having suicidal thoughts.

Dicky and Virginia go out on the picnic, Marian and Uncle Bert will join them later. Dicky takes her to the cliff and tries everything to get her to go to the edge - but nothing works. Virginia tells Dicky that her sister Alice wrote her a letter the day she died... a letter about Dicky. Dicky worries that the letter might be incriminating, wants to know what it said...

Since the cliff isn’t working, Dicky takes Virginia to the old Merriview House. She’s afraid, but he tells her that she must confront her fear... And drags her up the spooky stairs to the room from her dream... the room with the noose and the chair. Marian and Uncle Bert join them, encouraging her to face her fears - stand on the chair, put the noose around her neck. Virginia does this (WTF?) and then she says that Marian and Dicky and Uncle Bert are just trying to kill her... the way they killed her sister Alice! The three admit that this is true, and get ready to kick out the chair...

When Major Downey and the town Sheriff burst into the room and arrest the three. This whole time, Virginia and Major Downey have been trying to trick them into confessing - it’s been a sting operation all along!

Review: The sting operation makes no sense.

The twist ending in this story is completely out of left field to the point that it’s obvious that the writer didn’t know it was coming. The thing about any plot twist like this is that it was there all along. If Virginia and Major Downey were doing all of this to get them to confess to murdering Virginia’s sister, then those characters knew that is what they were doing and when we see them together they should be working out their next step in the sting... but instead, they are acting as if they have no idea that there is a sting.

But instead we open with the hanging nightmare - which she shouldn’t be having if the old house and the hanging ending is part of the plan. Isn’t the purpose of the nightmare to steer them towards trying to kill her in the old house - where the Major and Sheriff can be hidden with recording equipment to over hear the confession? Why would she have this nightmare if she was in control of the sting? And why would we have the scene where Major Downey takes her on the birdwatching hike to the old house and explains the whole backstory to her? Wouldn’t she know the backstory if she were part of the sting? This twist end makes no sense at all! The story doesn’t ,match the twist!

Many writers don’t outline their short stories - heck, they’re *short*. But usually they have the whole story in their minds before they sit down to write it. Both of the “Crime Time” short stories that I’ve published on Kindle have twist ends, and I actually began with the twist ends on both and then working backwards to the beginning. I’m pretty sure that’s how most writers do it, because you have to set up the twist end’s reality at the very beginning and then have that reality exist while diverting the reader’s attention away from that reality in the rest of the story. If Norman Bates and his mother are the same person, you can’t have a bunch of scenes in the beginning showing them both together having a conversation - that’s impossible.

And having Virginia actually put her neck in the noose which standing on that rickety chair makes no sense as part of any plan.

Of course, there’s an odd possibility that there were some script notes involved here - the episode opens with the dream sequence - which doesn’t make any sense if Virginia is part of the sting and trying to get revenge for her sister... but the point in the story where she has the nightmare and then tells Marian about it is much later in the story. So a decision was made to move that upfront so that the episode could start strong. Without the strange dream sequence, this episode is a standard thriller - and maybe they were trying to make it seem more like a horror story? There’s also the possibility that Major Downey was originally a villain and there wasn’t a sting, which would make Virginia not in on it... but that’s a whole bunch of major conjecture. The writer, Robert Arthur, also wrote THE PRISONER IN THE MIRROR and DIALOGUES WITH DEATH, two pretty good episodes... so I’m trying to figure out how he would end up with this nonsensical twist ending.

One of the things that works with the episode are the murders - each is well planned with the boat rental guy as a witness in George’s drowning: they make sure to talk about George being unable to swim in front of him, and Uncle Bert actually takes a picture of Alice stepping off the edge of the cliff with no one around her.. And the call to the psychiatrist about Virginia’s suicidal dreams. So you can see how they have managed to get away with it for all of these years. There was a woman in Marin, CA who had a dozen wealthy husbands die of natural causes and it took forever for police to become suspicious.

Richard Long, the nice guy lawyer on THE BIG VALLEY is great here are a super charismatic, slick, and sleazy - he seems to be having a great time playing a villain. There’s also a really creepy incestuous scene where he makes out with sister Marian that must have had the censors worried. Joyce Bulifant, who played Ted’s airhead girlfriend on MTM and the mother of the dying girl on her way to the Mayo in AIRPLANE! seems like an odd choice - unless it was all about the twist end sting. She’s playing naive to the point of stupid. It’s always great to see Otto Kruger, and he gets to play a charming con man.

The birdwatching allows an amusing last line... about spotting a trio of vultures.

Not one of the best episodes in the series, but still kind of fun... as long as you don’t think about that twist ending for over a second.

- Bill

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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Scene Of The Week: THE GODFATHER

Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER has no shortage of great scenes, and this week we’re going to look at one of my favorites - Michael’s First Kill.

Irony and Contrast are two connected elements that make for a great scene. If a bad man has to do a bad thing, it’s not interesting. If a good man has to do a bad thing, *that’s* a scene! If a good man has to do something just plain evil for a good reason - that’s the stuff that makes a film memorable.

In THE GODFATHER we have three brothers vying for their father's love in order to inherit the family business - a Mafia crime family:

1) First born Sonny is strong, aggressive, combative... and won't take no for and answer. He's quick with his fists - again, we have traits that come to mind when we think of running a crime family.

2) Middle child Fredo loves drinking and gambling and women and will lie through his teeth to get what he wants. These are all traits that might be of value if he were running the criminal organization.

3) Then we come to Michael - he's studious, quiet, honorable, patriotic and could be the poster boy for traditional American family values. If you were to make a checklist of things that don't fit our image of mobster, you'd have Michael. He's completely at odds with the other characters in the film - he's NOT a criminal type at all. He's the least likely brother to be chosen to run the family... which why he is perfect for this scene.

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With Michael as the protagonist of this scene (and the film) we have a story that is constantly interesting because it has built in conflict - Michael is NOT as tough as Sonny was, he is not as duplicitous as Fredo... How can he possibly survive as head of the family? The original reason why he's eventually chosen by his father is that he is the kind of "straight-arrow" non-criminal type who can lead the family out of criminal enterprises into legitimate business. But that choice hasn’t been made yet...

Michael (Al Pacino) has returned from WW2 a hero, has a girlfriend from outside the mob world Kay (Diane Keaton) and is on course to become a legit business man. But problems begin when Sollozzo (the great Al Lettieri) wants the Corleones to finance his heroin business, and the Don (Marlon Brando) refuses to become involved in the drug trade. Sollozzo causes some very violent problems like having Don Corleone shot while buying oranges. Now *someone* needs to get revenge and stop the assault on the family once and for all. Should they send violent Sonny (James Caan) or liar Fredo (John Cazale) - people who could easily pull the trigger? Problem there is that Sollozzo and his pet cop McClusky (Sterling Hayden) *know* they can’t trust those two. But the straight arrow law abiding Michael? He’s the good son, the one even the villains can trust.

Which makes him the perfect assassin... and also the most dramatic choice. Can Michael do it? Can a good man do a bad thing? Will he break down?

These questions create lots of suspense in the scene. But the scene is *filled* with suspense. Some of that comes from the good man doing the bad thing, but there are great moments - when he can’t find the gun behind the flush tank, and then that pause at the bathroom door where he wonders if he can do this. Then, we get a whole damned conversation with Sollozzo. As the conversation goes on, we wonder if Michael will ever pull the gun and do it. Time is running out. What if they finish dinner and Sollozzo and McClusky are still alive?

Because there are no subtitles for the conversation in Sicilian (it’s kind of a silent moment with talking) here’s what they say:

SOLLOZZO: "I'm sorry..."

MICHAEL: "Leave it alone." ( or ) "Forget about it."

SOLLOZZO: "What happened to your father was business. I have much respect for your father. But your father, his thinking is old-fashioned. You must understand why I had to do that."

MICHAEL: "I understand those things..."

[Waiter brings McCluskey's veal, then exits.]

SOLLOZZO: "Now let's work through where we go from here."

MICHAEL: "How do you say... ?" [Then Michael returns to speaking English.]

[After Michael returns from the bathroom]

SOLLOZZO: "Everything all right? I respect myself, understand, and cannot allow another man to hold me back. What happened was unavoidable. I had the unspoken support of the other Family dons. If your father were in better health, without his eldest son running things, no disrespect intended, we wouldn't have this nonsense. We will stop fighting until your father is well and can resume bargaining. No vengeance will be taken. We will have peace, but your Family should interfere no longer."

The great thing about a great movie is that everything gets tied together in a single scene: this is a *plot scene*, it's also a violent scene (and this is a gangster flick), and a character scene, and a story scene. It serves many purposes in the film, and is the thing that pushes Michael to the head of the family (also, Sonny gets machine gunned to pieces, so he’s kind of out of the running). It’s a fantastic scene from two fantastic movies (there is no GODFATHER 3 in my book), and there’s a good chance we’ll look at another film from one of the films later in the series. By the way, in the First 10 Pages Blue Book expansion that I’m working on, I have articles on *both* films’ opening 10 minutes. These are great films with great beginnings... plus great scenes like this one.

As usual, scene discussion in the comments section

- Bill

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Trailer Tuesday: DEAD RECKONING (1947)

Dead Reckoning

Noir City is coming to the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian at the end of this week and I already have my tickets. The idea behind Noir City is to find the obscure gems that people may not have seen before, and show them on the big screen for a couple of weeks. They often have any of the cast and crew who are still around show up for Q&A afterwards. I believe they also restore - or push for the restoration - of many of these films. A big studio star vehicle from the 1940s might get restored by the studio, but some cheap little noir film may not. It's great to see these films on the big screen... and often the audience is packed with VIPS who are fans of the genre. They showed a bunch of Argentine Cornell Woolrich films one year that I had never seen... not had anyone else in the USA. In honor of the upcoming festival and it's focus on the screenwriting work of Steve Fisher, I thought it would be fun to look at some Noir movies, including some that I have seen at previous Noir Citys... though this week’s entry is a film that I saw at the Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood a few years back on a Bogart Double Bill...


Directed by: James Cromwell.
Written by: Oliver Garrett and Steve Fisher, and three more screenwriters including the producer.
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lizaberth Scott, Morris Carnovsky, Marvin Miller.
Produced by: Sidney Biddle .
Music by: Marlin Skiles.

Columbia Pictures noir films were an odd mixed bag. Where Warner Bros was gritty and real, Columbia was often glossy and trying their damnedest to look like MGM, just without the money or stars that MGM had. This could be a good thing when you had a noir film like GILDA which is about exotic night club singers and has a Gay subtext - the glossy look fit that story. It could also work when you had some crazy maverick like Orson Welles making a wacked out noir film like LADY FROM SHANGHAI. But to keep the lights on, Columbia often imitated RKO - making cheap genre films like the WHISTLER series (which I plan on looking at in the near future). So you never knew what you were going to get with this studio and the style didn’t always match the subject matter.

At times DEAD RECKONING seems like a soap opera with some shoot outs. Where a Bogart film like DARK PASSAGE from Warner Bros was gritty and real, DEAD RECKONING is glossy and seems to have way too much kissing. Also, at times it seemed to be made of leftover parts of much better movies. There's a scene from THE MALTESE FALCON, and a scene from OUT OF THE PAST and a scene from...

DEAD RECKONING was directed by the great James Cromwell (PRISONER OF ZENDA, SINCE YOU WENT AWAY) and is glossy and pretty to look at. Script by Oliver Garrett (DUEL IN THE SUN) and the great Steve Fisher (I WAKE UP SCREAMING and LADY IN THE LAKE) and some other guys. The script is kind of a mess - all over the place and making no sense at times. You get the feeling that it began as one story and was rewritten into another. I don’t know whether it began as a cheap genre film and then was turned into a soapy love story or vice versa. It does have some great snappy dialogue. It’s one of those Bogart films that you remember the good parts of and forget the strange parts of... until you see it on the big screen again. I don’t own this on DVD, and hadn’t seen it in decades before the screening.

Story starts with a beaten up Bogart confessing to a Priest - and flashback to the story with Bogart doing VO (the reason for the confession to the priest)... but we come out of flashback at end Act 2... and Bogart goes to kick ass in present time. Except - not as much ass-kicking as I wanted. Lots of kissing though - as if someone thought people went to Bogart movies to watch him kiss Liz Scott. That’s why I wonder what sort of rewrite process this went through - it’s got that DUEL IN THE SUN soap opera feel... and then some wild ass action that is pure Steve Fisher. And that VO is snappy and fun - which is probably also due to Fisher. He does great tough guy dialogue and monologues... and that might be a good reason to watch this film.

Bogart plays paratrooper Rip Murdock on his way by train with best bud "Professor" Johnny Drake (William Prince) to pick up Congressional Medals of Honor in Washington DC. Drake seems reticent to get a medal pinned on him by the President, which is odd. When he drops a gold Senior college pin on the train and Murdock picks it up to hand it back to Drake, he notices that the pin is from Yale... and has another man’s name on it. John Joseph Preston. Did Drake steal it from this Preston guy? Before they arrive in DC, Drake jumps off the train in Philly and disappears. Why? Murdock’s commanding officer orders him to find Drake and get him to the ceremony on time, and Murdock must turn detective to find his friend.

Murdock remembers the pin, calls Yale and gets the last known address for the name that was on the pin... a corrupt resort city on the Gulf of Mexico. By the way, this movie may also hold the record for phone booth scenes.

When he arrives at the local hotel, there is a reservation for him... and a note from Drake that says to wait for him. But Drake is a no show, and Murdock pokes around - discovering that an unidentified man was burned to a crisp in a suspicious single car accident. Drake? Murdock decides to investigate and get revenge for Drake’s murder...

Murdock goes to the morgue to look at the body - which has a melted gold blob like Drake’s Senior Pin from Yale - and bumps into local cop Kincaid (Charles Cane) who asks Murdock all kinds of questions, which he evades. But Murdock believes the body might be Drake’s and heads to the newspaper to look through back issues... and discovers that Drake was really John Joseph Preston... and was wanted for murder! He changed his name and enlisted in military to hide from the police!

“Dusty” Chandler (Liz Scott) - whose real name is "Coral" but Murdock will end up calling her "Mike" - was the woman whose husband Drake may have killed to hook up with... but there are also these mobsters who seemed to wander in from THE BIG SLEEP and some MALTESE FALCON femme-fatale scenes and other scenes from other movies and a story that goes all over the place... To be fair, Steve Fisher often has wacky plotting in his screenplays. HELL'S HALF ACRE and THE CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS from 2019's Noir City Fest often seemed like he was making them up as he went along.

Murdock heads to the nightclub where she sings, to interview a bartender who was a witness to the Chandler murder (?) named Louis Ord (George Chandler - how confusing was this set when they were shooting?). Ord says that Drake gave him a letter for Murdock before he was killed in the car accident... and that's when crazy psycho club bouncer Krause (Marvin Miller) who is Moose Malloy on steroids, approaches. Ord says that he'll give Murdock the letter later. Somewhere in here are a couple of poorly dubbed songs from Dusty and Murdock stops his investigation to listen.... and later dances with Dusty. There's a freakin' brutal scene here where, after Dusty talks about how much she loved Johnny Drake, he tells her that he just saw Drake. Where? On a slap in the morgue. She misses a dance step or two. He tells her he had to break the news to her that way, so that he could gauge her reaction - he now knows that she didn't kill him. Then we get the scene from THE BIG SLEEP where Dusty and Murdock gamble together and after Dusty loses, Murdock wins big and have to go to the club’s owner to get the okay to get paid...

The club is owned by mobster Martinelli (Morris Carnovsky) who is a bad carbon copy of Eddie Mars in THE BIG SLEEP - a criminal who seems more like a business owner. Instead of a pair of comic relief henchmen like Mars had, Martinelli has a Krause. Martinelli gives Murdock and Dusty drugged drinks. Ord is the waiter who brings them, and tries to tell Murdock about the drinks in front of Martinelli and Krause - but Murdock realizes if he *doesn't* drink, Ord will be busted and he will never get the letter from Dead Drake. So he downs the drugged drink... and one of those pools of darkness from MURDER MY SWEET opens up and swallows him. Actually, the pools of darkness in this film have parachutes at night. Oh, and I forgot to mention that Murdock's catch-phrase is "Geramino!".

The next morning, Murdock wakes up in his hotel room with the corpse of Ord and Detective Kincaid knocking at his door. He manages to hide the body in a hotel laundry cart. The cops were tipped off that Murdock may have killed someone... and search his room finding nothing. But Kincaid stakes out the hotel lobby... and we get another phone booth scene as Murdock has Kincaid paged claiming to be a call from headquarters... so that Murdock can snag Dusty out of the lobby and go down to the hotel parking garage... where he puts Ord's body in the trunk of her car.

Murdock and Dusty have teamed up - which requires him to kiss Dusty a lot. Take the number of kissing scenes you would expect in a revenge movie and multiply by ten. Okay, now add two more.

Okay, that's an exaggeration. Here’s the thing about all of these kissing scenes - there may actually have been just as many kissing scenes in DARK PASSAGE (though I doubt it) but *those* kissing scenes were part of the story, part of what the characters would naturally do. In RECKONING they seem to just kiss whenever they are in the same room with each other. It’s like they were trying to make this into a love story by adding more kissing instead of actually having a love story subplot. They only kiss a handful of time, but they just kiss for no real reason and kind of unexpectedly and without motivation... and the camera lingers on the kisses. And this is his dead best friend's girlfriend who was married, so any kissing just seems wrong. Though I haven't counted the kisses in THE BIG SLEEP I only remember one at the end - maybe there was one at the gas station house, too... but that's only two. Here, they kiss for no apparent reason in the car, then there's a freakin' huge kiss a few minutes later, then a few more kissing scenes.

There's also a bit of dialogue that hasn't aged well, where Murdock thinks women should be miniaturized so that men can carry them around in their pockets and only make them full sized when men want them. "You know, the trouble with women is they ask too many questions. They should spend all their time just being beautiful."

There's a nice suspense scene here where (after kissing) they get pulled over by a cop for speeding... with dead Ord in the trunk. They have to talk their way out of a ticket - by saying they are newlyweds - which leads to a public display of affection (kissing) in front of the cop.

Murdock believes that Martinelli's goon Krause killed Ord and stole the letter and now that letter is in Martinelli's safe - it's actually more complicated than that, but we don't have 90 minutes. Murdock gets the name of a retired safe cracker through his connections and they visit him. The safe cracker's son just returned from the war, with a bunch of mementos like Japanese swords and German incendiary grenades. He teaches Murdock how to crack Martinelli's safe and gives him some incendiary grenades... and then Murdock and Dusty kiss some more.

After the kissing, Murdock breaks into Martinelli’s office to crack the safe and get the letter - which is purely a plot device. The safe is already busted open and the letter is gone and he smells Dusty’s perfume moments before *someone* knocks him out. When he wakes up, Martinelli and Krause are knocking him around to find out where the letter is. Where is Bette Davis when you need her? Murdock escapes... goes to the church where he confesses... and we are out of Act Two and into Act Three and some wild-ass action scenes including the use of napalm indoors (the grenades) - not recommended, by the way. "Scratch one hoodlum!"

The ending is so insanely convoluted that everyone was married to everyone else and everyone secretly killed everyone else and everyone was blackmailing everyone else. Seriously. Just pair up any two characters in this story and they were once married. Pair up any two characters and one of them killed the other. And everyone was blackmailing everyone else. If you though the plot of THE BIG SLEEP was confusing, this movie will make your head explode. Anyway, Dusty and Martinelli were married and she was also married to Chandler and was having an affair with Drake but now claims to be in love with Murdock... but before you can say THE MALTESE FALCON Dusty tries to kill Murdock and there’s a car crash and Dusty is fatally injured and Murdock gets to have a scene where he loves her but she dies in some weird soap opera scene.

One of the problems with DEAD RECKONING is the dialogue - something might be set up in one scene, and then the dialogue doesn't pay it back - when it seems obvious that's what was supposed to happen in this scene. I suspect the five screenwriters may have been working at cross-purposes - maybe one writing a crime film and the other writing a big soapy romance and the other three doing some version of either of those. It has big time tone problems - with some soap opera stuff and then some violent action scene. And the cute nicknames aren't that cute in this film, and many of the gags fall flat - with lots of glossy photography of kissing.

Now, when I was a little kid, I thought that kissing girls was for sissys. But the problem with the kissing in DEAD RECKONING is that it all seems so forced. Oh, and Scott's singing is so poorly dubbed you don't believe it for a second - unlike the Andy Williams (minus the bear) singing for Bacall in BIG SLEEP. Originally Rita Hayworth was to play the female lead in this flick, but she split to play the femme fatale in her husband’s movie LADY FROM SHANGHAI and they got stuck with Lizabeth Scott who looks *older* than Bogart and has no lip syncing abilities.

The weird thing about Lizabeth Scott is that I love her in other films - she’s the lead in one of my favorite films PITFALL and doesn’t seem like an older woman to Dick Powell. But here, for reasons I can’t figure out, she seems old - might be the wardrobe or the dialogue or maybe the problem is that Bogart’s character was *written* to be younger - a guy returning from WW2 is likely to be in his 20s so maybe the character was written young and Scott was supposed to be an older woman and the characterization and dialogue makes you think that she’s old. This movie - and Scott - get a shout out in Woody Allen’s PLAY IT AGAIN SAM, so maybe it’s just me and this odd hybrid of glossy soap opera and violent revenge flick works for everyone else. (Note: In reading reviews, a lot of negative reviews mention how stiff and "mannered" Scott is, so it's not just me.)

Just for fun, here’s some info on the co-screenwriter of DEAD RECKONING, Steve Fisher. I’m sure they brought in Fisher for the noir stuff, since he was one of those great noir writers you’ve probably never heard of. Like David Goodis he was a novelist who worked on and off as a screenwriter on B movies. His novel I WAKE UP SCREAMING was made into a great noir film with Victor Mature, and that probably put Fisher on the map. SCREAMING is about a hot starlet whose best friend is murdered by a maniac, and she thinks the maniac is now stalking her. She goes to the cops, and the detective in charge of the case is... the man stalking her! And he’s trying to frame Mature for the murder... and now Mature and the hot starlet have to get the proof that the detective is the killer. Um, no one wants to believe them about that. Great concept - what if you went to the police, but a policeman was the killer? Fisher’s crime novels ended up getting him back into screenwriting, where he wrote a bunch of crime films like the all POV film LADY IN THE LAKE and one of the THIN MAN series. Many of his novels have been reprinted recently by Hard Case Press. There was this period in time when Pulp Novels and Pulp Movies intersected and the guy who wrote some throw away crime novel might also write some throw away crime movie.

Anyway, DEAD RECKONING seems like a mis-fire - a movie trying to be Noir but also trying to be some glossy soap opera thing at the sale time. Not an unwatchable movie - but not the classic Noir that you might expect from the film’s reputation.. Fine for a Saturday afternoon on TCM, not as good on Saturday night on the big screen with your legs scrunched up under your neck because there is no legroom in the Billy Wilder Theater. I think the gloss worked against it - makes it seem like a big budget A movie with a sleazy B movie revenge action plot... and an interesting indoor use of napalm*.


Dead Reckoning

*Actually incendiary grenades - but crazy Krause is burned alive while staggering around a room.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Fridays With Hitchcock: John Michael Hayes

Around 10 and a half years ago at this time we lost screenwriter John Michael Hayes at age 89 (November 19th, 2008).

Hayes was one of the first screenwriters I noticed. After watching a ton of movies, and realizing that someone had to write them, I started looking at the names of the writers in the credits of some of my favorite movies... and noticed Hayes’ name popping up again and again in Hitchcock film. He scripted REAR WINDOW from a short story I had read by one of my favorite fiction writers, Cornell Woolrich. Because I knew the short story, I also knew what was invented and changed for the movie - a bunch of stuff! Practically the whole movie is new material, since the story is about an invalid man and his male servant and the murder across the courtyard. Hayes also wrote the remake of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY and TO CATCH A THIEF for Hitchcock.

But I also knew Hayes from his script of Lillian Hellman’s play THE CHILDREN’S HOUR, the version that starred James Garner. I played that role in my High School theater department version. I was talking about CHILDREN’S HOUR on the day Hayes died, because I had just seen a screening of DOUBT - which is pretty much the same story but set in a Catholic school. And I knew Hayes from HARLOW and THE CARPET BAGGERS and NEVADA SMITH... and WALKING TALL. His name popped up on a bunch of films I’d seen.

Hayes began his career as a radio writer for shows like SAM SPADE (I had some of those on tape when I was a kid) and INNER SANCTUM (had a bunch of those on tape, too). After writing 1,500 radio scripts, he started writing movies and became Hitchcock’s main writer... which made him one of the top writers in town. He adapted BUTTERFIELD 8 and PEYTON PLACE for the screen in addition to the Harold Robbins novels. His last produced script was the Disney dog sled movie IRON WILL in 1994. He will be missed.

What were the first screenwriters you noticed?

- Bill

My books on Hitchcock's films...



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!

Price: $5.99 Click here for more info!



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.

Click here for more info!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

THRILLER Thursday: The Grim Reaper

Best Of THRILLER Thursday: The Grim Reaper

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

Season: 1, Episode: 37.
Airdate: June 13, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty
Writer: Robert Block from a story by Harold Lawlor
Cast: William Shatner, Natalie Schafer, Elizabeth Allen, Scott Merrill, Henry Daniell, Paul Newlan.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: Bud Thackery
Producer: William Frye

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Yes, the painting did finish it’s morbid creator, but I can assure you that our story is not finished. Oh, no... it’s only just begun.”
(He swipes his hand over the scythe in the painting...)
“Blood! Think of that. This painting is over 100 years old, yet real blood still glistens on the scythe of the Grim Reaper, which by no mere coincidence is the title of our story tonight. How strange indeed that the immortality sought by a mad artist would assume the form of death. But even stranger are the fearful consequences of these others whenever the Grim Reaper’s scythe drips blood. Our principal players are: William Shatner, Natalie Schafer, Elizabeth Allen, Scott Merrill, Fifi D’Orsay, and Henry Daniell. You’ve seen the harbinger of evil, someone is in mortal danger as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. Ah, ah, ah! Stay where you are! I’ll join you as we wait... and watch.”

Synopsis: 1848.... Henry Daniell shows up in the middle of the night looking for an artist named Henri Rodin, the maid shows him upstairs. Rodin is crazy, evil, a drug addict, and has been painting his “masterpiece” behind locked doors. Daniell gets her to unlock the door... because he is Rodin’s father. They find him hanging from the rafters. His “masterpiece”? A painting of the Grim Reaper! Did he finish the painting, or did the painting finish him?

Present day: A mansion in the hills named Graves End. Paul Graves (Shatner!) drives up in a sports car, spots a hearse parked out front. His Aunt Beatrice Graves (Natalie Schafer, Mrs. Howell!) greets him with a hug and explains that she bought the hearse for publicity, and drives it around town. She’s a famous mystery writer and has decorated the mansion to look like something out of a Charles Adams cartoon. The public expects her to be a bit of a character and a kook. Aunt Beatrice uses her maiden name Graves as well, much easier than using any of the names of her extensive list of exhusbands... or the name of her new one!

Gerald Keller (Scott Merrill) is half Aunt Beatrice’s age, and very pretty. He shakes Paul’s hand. Gerald is a hunk actor rapidly approaching his pull date. Paul asks for his autograph for a friend’s ten year old daughter who has a crush on him. While Aunt B is giving him the house tour, she asks why he’s visiting... does he need money? Paul says no, he’s concerned about her. Before he can explain why, Aunt B’s attractive young secretary Dorothy Lindon (Elizabeth Allen) enters. “Dorothy does all of my typing and most of my spelling as well.” Seems the cook has quit because of that thing in the library...

In the library: The Grim Reaper painting.... that’s why Paul came. He read that she had bought it, and was concerned. Since it was painted in 1848 it has had 17 owners, and 15 of them have met with violent and mysterious deaths. The painting is cursed. Everyone who owns it... dies. Aunt B says that’s exactly why she bought it! Look at all of the publicity she has gotten from it already! She doesn’t believe in the curse: the people who owned it previously were military leaders and European nobility, the kind of people who sometimes die suddenly and mysteriously. Everybody dies. Paul argues that everyone who died was warned first... the scythe in the painting began to bleed! That’s the legend. Aunt B thinks it’s just superstitious nonsense...

That’s when Paul notices that the blade is bleeding now!

Later, Dorothy starts to make a phone call to Aunt B’s shrink when Gerald stops her. Gerald hits on her, tries to kiss her... not knowing that Aunt B is in the next room watching them. Dorothy races out the balcony... where she runs into Paul. Paul tries to convince Dorothy to help him destroy the painting before it destroys his Aunt.

Paul finds his Aunt B sitting in front of the painting, drinking... drunk. She thinks Gerald and Dorothy are having an affair and hope the painting’s curse is true so that she will die and they can be together. Or maybe ship her off to an alcohol rehab clinic so that they have time together. Paul says he doesn’t think Dorothy is plotting against her, but does think the bleeding painting is a warning. But everything Paul says is a cliche from a murder mystery or horror tale, Aunt B calls him on each line! She says that Death is her business partner... she’s a mystery writer. She tells Paul to leave her alone and drinks a toast to the Grim Reaper...

In the middle of the night, a noise. Paul, Dorothy and Gerald run to the top of the stairs... and see Aunt B laying dead at the base of the stairs!

The Detective (M SQUAD’s Paul Newlan) says it’s accidental death.

Dorothy tells Paul that she suspects Gerald may have something to do with Aunt B’s death. Just as she decides to leave... Aunt B’s lawyer shows up to read the will. *Everything* was left to Gerald. Paul gets nothing, and Dorothy doesn’t even get a few thousand for doing Aunt B’s spelling. The lawyer is creeped out by the Grim Reaper painting and says he felt the that entire time he was reading the will it was watching him. But the Reaper has no eyes... just a skull.

Later: Dorothy has packed and is leaving and Paul says his goodbyes... he’s staying over the weekend. She warns him that Gerald can not be trusted.

That night: Paul is typing something when Gerald enters. He couldn’t sleep. Paul gives him a sleeping pill. Gerald says he hasn’t been able to sleep since Aunt B died. The cursed painting is his now... will the scythe drip blood again? Twist: Paul says there never was any blood, it was his trick. He was broke, needed a reason to see Aunt B again so that he could hit her up for some cash. The cursed painting was a great excuse... to inherit all of her money. *He* pushed Aunt B down the stairs, hoping to inherit a fortune. Gerald notes that Paul wasn’t even in the will, he inherited nothing. Paul counters that when Gerald dies he’ll inherit it all as Aunt B’s only remaining relative. What? Paul pulls the page from the typewriter and says it’s Gerald’s confession to the police saying that he pushed Aunt B down the stairs and killed her. Remember that “autograph” he signed? And that sleeping pill? The confession is also a suicide note. Poison. Paul watches as Gerald slowly and painfully dies.

Gerald makes it to the phone, dials the police... and before he can say anything dies. Paul grabs the phone and tells the police that he has discovered Gerald’s body...

The Detective says the confession wraps it all up, but he did some research on that painting, and there’s a pretty good case for that curse being believable. He’s a cop, but that painting is freaky. He asks if Paul plans to stay in the house, now. Paul says he’s headed back to his apartment tonight. The Detective leaves.

Paul hears a noise from the library...

When he looks at the Grim Reaper painting he hallucinates Aunt B’s face over the skull, and then Gerald’s face... this freaks him out! He runs out of the library, upstairs, grabs his suitcase and starts to leave, when there is a knock at the door. The Detective???

Dorothy. She heard on her car radio about Gerald’s death and came back. She realized that they MUST destroy that painting before more people die. Paul is the owner, now, right? She wants to burn it. In the library, Paul stops her from burning the painting, admits that he the blood was just a trick. There is no curse. Dorothy realizes that Paul killed Aunt B and Gerald... and Paul offers to share all of his new fortune with her. They can be rich together! She points to the painting and screams that the arm is moving. When Paul turns to look at it, she runs out of the library and locks him inside!

Paul pounds on the door, then walks across the library to the doors leading out to the patio... notices something strange halfway there. The painting has changed. The Grim Reaper is no longer in the painting. What? How is that possible? Then he hears the wooshing of the scythe!

Dorothy comes back with the Detective... and they find Paul sliced to pieces. How is that possible, he was locked into the room... alone! But the painting? The scythe is now dripping blood!

Review: Shatner *and* Mrs. Howell from GILLIAN’S ISLAND! This episode makes you wish that Robert Bloch had adapted last week’s PIGEONS FROM HELL, because aside from Bloch being one of the greatest horror writers of the time period, he was also a damned *clever* writer (I know I’ve mentioned his wicked wordplay in previous entries). He makes words *dance*. Here he adapts a story that reminds me of a Levinson & Link script (those guys created COLUMBO) where a mystery writer ends up at the center of a mystery. The first episode of COLUMBO, MURDER BY THE BOOK, was a corker about a mystery writing team played by Martin Milner & Jack Cassidy... and when Milner dies somewhat mysteriously his partner Cassidy becomes prime suspect... but as a mystery writer he thinks he knows how to outsmart Columbo. Some kid named Spielberg directed that one.

This one was directed by Herschel Daugherty, who did some good work here on THRILLER and next door on ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. His work isn’t as inventive as Lupino’s, but is competent (unlike last week’s director). This is a clever mystery with a supernatural twist end, witty and stylish and offers the perfect part for a hambone like Shatner.

The plotting is great, and after the spooky supernatural opening with Henry Daniell I expected the rest of the story to be horror based... but as it unfolds, I began to suspect that Aunt Beatrice’s mystery writer character wasn’t an accidental choice. All of the characters are scheming against each other! This is a mystery *disguised* as a horror tale! I wonder what the audience in 1961 thought of this older woman with a husband half her age? That was before “cougar” was part of our vocabulary.

When the young husband makes a move on the young secretary, and we get the feeling Shatner is thinking about inheriting everything from his Aunt and maybe hooking up with that attractive secretary; that we begin to see this as a crime scene waiting to happen. But the story keeps us guessing! Even when we suspect Shatner may have pushed Auntie down the stairs, the story is *presented* to us in a way that seems like the cursed painting is behind her death. It keeps us guessing what the genre is: horror or mystery... and Bloch does a great job of making sure we are never quite sure.

Also unlike last week’s PIGEONS, all of the actors sparkle. Merrill, who was a Broadway star with only 3 TV credits, manages to be slick and sleazy and charming all at the same time. Natalie Schafer manages to be kooky and cute and then turns sad and morose after she spies on her husband making a pass at her secretary... she *acts*! There’s a good drunk scene where this eccentric and powerful woman shows how vulnerable she is beneath her armor. That’s a combination of good acting, good writing, and good directing. There’s a swell scene between Shatner and the young husband where the conversation is about having trouble sleeping but the subtext is all about Shatner not inheriting a cent. *This* is where the reveal finally comes that this is a mystery rather than a horror story, and the clever bit of plotting with the autograph *in one of the first scenes* being the signature on the suicide note is brilliant! Shatner hambones it up, smug and clever and superior. He calmly watches the man die, giving off this vibe that he wishes the guy would hurry it up... he doesn’t have all day.

And the final twist, where the story goes from mystery disguised as horror to actual horror is brilliant. When we see that the Grim Reaper has exited the painting, instead of *showing* the Grim Reaper, we only see the shadow of the scythe and hear it wooshing through the air as we slowly more closer and closer to the trapped Shatner. That shadow is more frightening than some dude in a hoodie.

There couldn’t be a better final episode of a mixed bag first season. What began as a crime show, then added horror, ends with an episode that is both crime *and* horror. Now that the show has found its footing and morphed into a horror show, season two will focus on terror. But just as the real TV show took a break for summer, THRILLER Thursday will also take a break for summer and return to the blog when Autumn warns us that Halloween is just around the corner...


Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Treadmill

From 9 years ago...

So, I’m working on this script and I have a deadline. That means I must turn in a script by that deadline.

Now, I know writers who are always late turning in their scripts - and I think that’s not a way to keep getting assignments. They give you a deadline for a reason. Sometimes it may be arbitrary, but usually there is some purpose for the deadline. Because so many of my scripts have been for cable TV, there is usually an air date when the movie will be shown - and they usually know that date before I start writing! In this case, the producer knows he will shoot the film in June or July (and that will get locked down soon - he’s scouting locations now). That means I must have my script finished on time, or they will be on location with the cast and crew... and nothing to shoot! So the deadline has a purpose, and I can’t be late.

There are other writers I know who make their deadline by handing in 110 pages of typing - but not much in the way of a finished script. They just crap out something by the time the deadline hits. This is also a bad idea. You are turning in crap on time. The assignment isn’t to turn in crap, it’s to turn in a screenplay. Another thing about cable TV movies is that air date means they are gearing up to make the film while you are writing it - and your first draft will go out to talent. That means your first draft needs to *impress* talent. So it can’t just be 110 pages of typing on time... and it can’t be late. It has to be a really good, shootable, first draft. On this film, same thing - this first draft script will be used for casting (and probably everything else - scheduling, budgeting, the director will design his shots, etc) so the first draft has to be good and close to the final draft. Hey, it’s still going to go through changes, but we have a really good idea of what the script will be. The reason for turning in a good first draft isn’t arbitrary either.

No pressure there.

Every day I wake up and have to write.

It is my job, and I am on the clock.

I wake up, maybe do some warm up work - a blog entry or something else. Sometimes the warm up is figuring out what the heck I’m writing today, and scribbling some notes. Sometimes it’s setting up the Script Tip for tomorrow. But there is something I am doing while drinking the morning coffee (provided I remember to buy it) and trying to remove that layer of sleep fog. Now, here’s where humor comes in - after actually remembering to buy coffee yesterday, today I filled the Mr. Coffee with water and coffee grinds and started this blog entry... then realized somewhere along the way that I didn’t have a cup of coffee... then realized that I also hadn’t turned on Mr. Coffee. This happens often enough, that there are days I leave the house without any coffee, and still a little foggy. But I do all of the morning things on that list from THE LOOKOUT (shower... with soap), and go out into the real world.

Some days there are errands that must be done - post office, blue book folding and stapling, picking up blue books from copy place, and all of the normal stuff you have to do. I try to use that time to think of what I’m going to write - but sometimes the errand takes over, and I completely forget about the script.

Once I get to whatever coffee shop I am writing in this afternoon, I sometimes have to plan out the day’s work. I try to plan out tomorrow’s work at the end of the night, but that doesn’t always happen. Now, this plan can be anything from a few scribbled notes to a page-by-page outline to a scribbled dialogue exchange. Basically, I want to have some idea of what they heck I’m writing - the purpose of this scene at least. I’m not writing a first draft, I’m writing the draft that goes out to the stars, so I want it to be pretty good. Last week, I actually wrote all of the dialogue for a scene longhand, then did a rewrite of that dialogue *plus* plugged in the action when I typed it. The scene was the police interviewing the family of a missing woman, so they were looking for clues - and the family might even be suspects. While one cop did the interview, the other poked around the house looking for clues and chimed in every now and then when they found something interesting. You’ve seen this scene a million times on LAW AND ORDER, but every time it’s different because the crime and suspect and family are different. This is also an exposition scene - setting up information that will play out later. And, the police do not know at this time that the missing person was killed by a monster - so the scene has to work two ways: as the cops thinking it’s a normal case, and the evidence they uncover which is weird. Because they are cops, they don’t think “Hey! A Monster is behind this!” They have to think it’s a normal crime - and that means clues have to lead to a normal suspect (the red herring) *and* lead to the monster (when they look back later). So the questioning scene was kind of complicated, and writing it out longhand helped.

Now, I have to write 5 pages a day, rain or shine. If I fail, I must make up those pages by the end of the week (if possible). I like to begin each week fresh. That didn’t happen this week, but I hope it will happen next. I just don’t want the cloud of being behind hanging over me. If you reach a point where you are too far behind, it leads to despair.

I’m going to write 2-3 scenes a day on the average. Some days I have a lot of short scenes, but usually it’s 2 scenes of about 2 pages and a 1 pager. I try to break that up with a meal between the two main scenes, that way I can poke around on the next scene while I’m eating - scribble some notes or at least focus on it. This isn’t always easy, because I usually change venues, too - and end up at the coffee location where all of my friends are... and we all go to dinner. That can work sometimes, because it’s a real break in the writing - I’m thinking about something other than the script. But sometimes it kills momentum, and I have to figure out what the heck I was writing and why and get my head back into the game after dinner... Which is also tough because I’m at the coffee shop where my friends hang out. When everybody knows your name, it’s hard to get anything done.

Another thing that throws me off course is putting up tomorrow’s script tip - if I didn’t set it up while waking up, I have to do that now. That sometimes means doing a “polish” on an old tip to bring it up to date - and every once in a while it means a full fledged rewrite using a new film example. That takes time and takes me off course.

The other big distractions are message boards - I’ll take a break in the middle of a page and get involved in some message board discussion and forget what my script is about. I have to focus on the script again - and that can take a little time. This is why I try to get as much done before my meal as I can.

Now, some of you may be wondering why I write in coffee shops instead of at home. Several answers to that, but when I write at home I find that my sock drawers get ultra organized and I spend a lot of time digging through things in my office looking for that one notebook out of the thousand with the dialogue idea I had 10 years ago that might work in this scene. Basically - many more distractions at home, where all of my stuff is, than a coffee shop where all I really have is the laptop. My old laptop had a wifi card that had to be manually inserted, and that was great - it kept me off the internet. The new laptop has a built in wifi card - and that adds to the distractions.

But after my meal and all of this other stuff, it’s back to the script - usually for that second big scene of the day. Now, this is often the scene that gets the most outline work, because this is the scene that I write at the end of the day with the most distractions. When I’m on assignment like this, I often skip my regular coffee shop where everybody knows my name in favor of someplace else - and I do that maybe half the week or more. Problem is, you still need to be a human being while you are writing, and that means you still must have some contact with other humans. And your friends get pissed if you neglect them. So I usually cut down on meals with friends instead of cutout. This time I have a plan to do something really different - though I haven’t started, yet. I’m thinking about doing coffee shops in other areas of Los Angeles for 3 days a week. The problem with this may be that the new area will be a distraction. But I’m going to give it a shot next week. I’m hoping that mixing it up will inspire me... and as a writer, I can work wherever my laptop is, so why always take it to the same places?

Back to the second big scene - I work through that, and if I’m lucky, actually finish it and have enough time to think about what I’m writing tomorrow. Jot some notes while I’m still in the story.

Now, one of the things about the writing treadmill is that I’m so focused on the story that other things fall through the cracks. You know, I forget to turn on Mr. Coffee in the morning. So between the keys and screen of my closed laptop is a To Do List in a plastic sleeve. Actually, a pair of lists. One is the long range list, the other is kind of a weekly list - all of the little things I’ll forget when I’m so focused on turning out pages. Yikes... just like the Dymo labels in THE LOOKOUT. Right now there are 25 items on that list - some are producers I need to call or e-mail. Big problem often is that I don’t even look at the list when I open my laptop for fear I’ll get distracted. So the list of things that I’m afraid may fall through the cracks... often still falls through the cracks, But at least *some* of it gets done this way.

I stop drinking caffeine mid-day, because I already have enough trouble sleeping. But the difficult part of the writing treadmill is that you have to keep at the top of the game until the pages get done... and then, suddenly, it’s time to call it a day. Sometimes there is still enough time left to see a movie and unwind, but some days those 5 pages take the whole damned day, and there really isn’t unwind time - I have to go to sleep so that I can get up and go to work. Here’s where the insomnia strikes and screws up my schedule. Because even if I pop in a DVD, I’m still wound up and in the story. My brain hasn’t shut off. One of the things that helps is exercise - and that bicycle that I said I was going to buy a few months back is still at the bike shop unpurchased. I have been taking some long walks, lately - usually at my meal break. I am the only guy walking in Los Angeles (except crazy homeless people.) Problem is - walking takes more time than biking, so I have to get off my butt and buy a bike. I keep *not* walking because I don’t have the time, and that leads to insomnia, and that leads to screwing up a day and wasting even more time than if I’d walked. So, I have to get back to doing regular exercise - it helps when I’m doing a script on the clock.

My plan to make up the 2 days this week... hasn’t happened. It seems like I’m able to get up to my 5 a day, and keep that going... but the extra pages at the end of the day? Those haven’t happened, yet. Yesterday I spent more time walking than writing, and I needed that... but I’m now 2.5 days behind. That means every day next week I have to write 7.5 pages instead of 5 pages a day... and I’m not sure that I can do that. Maybe I can. But if I can’t, I’ve built in enough time so that I can *easily* make up those days before my deadline.

At the end of the day, when I’ve made my 5 page quota (and any make up pages) and I’m thinking back over that clever little bit of dialogue or character or action that really made that scene work, I feel like I really accomplished something... and then I have to go to sleep so that I can get up and go to work and keep doing that until the script is finished. It’s the treadmill - it’s the job - but I love doing it. A few months from now I will be watching them shoot this script in Hawaii - watching actors say my lines (or whatever they want to say instead of my lines) and all of this endless work will just be a memory.

But, until then, I have pages to write!

- Bill

PS: This whole deal fell apart! I finished the script on time, but the producer's money dropped out and he scrambled for a while to find another distrib that would finance him, which didn't happen. For a couple of years I thought this would get set up and start shooting... but now it is shelved forever.

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Revealing Information - NEW! Using the new thriller GRETA as an example.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Pizza, don't tell my doctor!

Movies: CAPTAIN MARVEL - Kind of blah.


I hated the action scenes, almost a shakycam feel. No character, no story, no emotions, no reversals. As if they just handed it to the stunt coordinator and said: They fight. The FRENCH CONNECTION car chase misses the whole point of the car chase in the original - it was a character scene all about how far Doyle would go. Would he kill pedestrians? The STAR WARS canyon scene was also blah - no close calls. You have to understand action scenes to shoot one... Or it's just unexciting.

The reunions on Earth also had no emotional punch. Wonder if that was stuff that never made it off the page?

There were times when I thought the film was written and directed by robots.

The records room thing with the automatic lights seemed like it was written for suspense... But not used that way in the scene. Was the first writing team's script brilliant?

How I would have done it: Vers would have been Jason Bourne with traces of memories instead of the Supreme Intelligence thingie. She keeps having these vivid, emotional dreams. Lawson dying in her arms. Maria and the kid... And their house. Make the house a symbol - iconic. Now, you're going to say they had memories... But they were all flat and unemotional. She and Maria dancing - but not the big emotional version of that. They were the robot version.

I would also have a nightmare where some unseen person shoots her after Lawson dies - and Jude tells her lots of new soldiers have nightmares about Skrulls.

Now instead of keeping her emotions in check, she is advised to forget about her dreams. (see how that works?) Jude tells her there is no such world as in her dreams. She needs to focus on being a good soldier, so that she will be ready for her first mission.

But Vers is obsessed with her dreams, her forgotten past, and searches for information about this blue planet from her dreams. But it doesn't seem to exist.

On her first mission, Jude introduces her and Djimond says "Who?" - a callback that also deals with her search for her past and identity. By the way - they shouldn't let her pilot the ship... flying should still be a dream until she discovers more about her past.

Once we get to Earth, things start to look familiar and we build to the scene where she sees Maria's iconic house - from her dreams! This is a big moment.

Another moment is seeing who shot her... Jude. I would have some blood on his boots trigger it. Lawson's blood in the past, someone else's blood present. And the payback line about never forgetting her dreams.

I also would have made flying more of a big thing.

Loved the falling down and standing up stuff. That was a strong moment. Also liked when we get the "Cuba" callback - this was cool because the mistake now becomes the code.

Larson is the bright spot in the movie - she and Jackson are a buddy action team and she's the funny one. That was also a missed opportunity - not much in the way of banter between them, so they have to pull it off with charm.

This is one of the lesser Marvel movies at a time when the Russo Brothers have helped lead the franchise away from the terrible 2s (THOR & IRONMAN & ULTRON) and given us some damned good films (many better reviewed by snooty critics than half of this year's Best Picture nominees). So this is a disappointment.

PS: the shopping center with the Blockbuster and Radio Shack? The dead shopping center where the NoHo dollar theater is! It was in the background of a couple of shots! Since they are always shooting stuff there, I'll bet some night when I was watching some crappy film last year that set was there!

- Bill

Tuesday, March 19, 2019


Directed by: Brian DePalma.
Written by: Brian DePalma, music & lyrics by Paul Williams.
Starring: William Finley, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, Paul Williams.

He sold his soul for rock and roll...

About two years ago Edgar Wright hosted the 40th anniversary of Brian DePalma’s PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE to a sold out crowd in the massive Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. Most of the surviving cast was there, but star William Finley had recently passed away; so this was also a bit of a memorial for him as well. Since PHANTOM is one of my favorite movies, one that I saw in its brief initial run back in 1974, and several times since then... I was in that packed cinema. Wait, you’ve never heard of the film? That’s great! You have something to look forward to!

Buy the border Brian DePalma is one of my favorite directors, and most people know him from BLOW OUT or maybe CARRIE... but those films were made in the middle of his career. He began making odd arthouse films and comedies... and discovered Robert DeNiro (as well as many other actors who would later become famous). His first successful film was an anti (Viet Nam) war comedy starring Robert DeNiro, Gerrit Graham, and Jon Warden called GREETINGS (1968) about three friends who get their draft notices at the same time and each figures out a way to avoid being sent to Viet Nam where they will likely return in a body bag. It’s kind of a series of skits with these three characters that lampoons the time period and the social turmoil in the United States surrounding the war. Jon Warden was the star, with DeNiro and Graham as his sidekicks, and by the end of the film DeNiro is the only one who gets sent to Viet Nam... to return in the sequel HI MOM! (Introducing Charles Durning) which looks at the early 70s, and everything from Organic Food to the Black Power Movement (“Be Black Baby!”).

After a string of successful comedies, they gave DePalma a comedy studio film starring Orson Welles and The Smothers Brothers... which flopped. DePalma went back to indie films and played around with Hitchcock and horror (he had previously done a comedy with Hitchcock overtones called MURDER ALA MOD, starring William Finley... who was a member of his stock company of actors).

His brilliant Hitchcockian horror flick SISTERS was a big hit (I have the Critereon edition) and his next film was going to be called PHANTOM OF THE FILMORE, starring Finley in a mash up of every classic horror movie ever made, plus a satire of the music industry. After writing the script, he approached Paul Williams to write the music figuring he’d start at the top (Williams had written a string of hits at this point) but to his surprise this was *exactly* what Williams was looking for, When you’ve written a string of hit pop songs, you want to try the exact opposite. A rock opera that makes fun of the music biz? Sign him up! Williams also ended up playing the villain, Swan, who has made a little deal with the Devil to look forever young and be incredibly successful. Somewhere along the way, promoter Bill Graham had a lawyer inform them that they couldn’t use the name of his Filmore club, and the film became PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE.

This film came *before* ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW and just about everyone believes it’s better... but it flopped, as did ROCKY HORROR. The difference? ROCKY HORROR’s distrib played it at midnight shows where it became the phenomenon that it is today. PHANTOM was distributed by 20th Century Fox and they didn’t even know what a midnight show was! So everybody was doing the Time Warp Again and nobody remembered PHANTOM. Well, that’s not exactly true. Those who had seen it the first time it came out kept it alive in revival houses where the introduced their friends to the film. I know I dragged friends to it whenever it played in Berkeley. I had the soundtrack on vinyl and played it frequently, and can sing along with every song if required. I also probably know every line of dialogue. Too bad they didn’t do midnight shows back in the day because then *everybody* would know about this film rather than ROCKY HORROR (though we wouldn’t know about Tim Curry, so maybe it’s good things turned out as they did). But what about the story?

Well the story is about a very talented artist who gets ripped off by The Man... something that screenwriters can identify with.

Winslow Leach (William Finley) is a struggling composer working on a rock opera version of Faust who manages to get a gig playing music between shows (when people are leaving the venue, glorified Muzak) for the multi platinum 50's nostalgia band The Juicy Fruits. Mysterious music producer Swan (Paul Williams) who represents the Fruits is about to open a new rock venue and is looking for a new sound... and when he hears Winslow’s music he thinks this may be it. He orders his tubby underling Philbin (the amazing George Memoli, who is also in Scorsese’s MEAN STREETS, ROCKY, Paul Schrader’s BLUE COLLAR and a bunch of other great 70s stuff) to grab the music and ditch Winslow. Buy the border After “submitting his music to Swan” through Philbin and not hearing back, he tries Swan’s office building, where he’s on a “beat up on sight” list, and after recovering tries Swan’s mansion where he discovers a long line of female singers practicing one of his songs. The best of the bunch is the beautiful and talented Phoenix (introducing Jessica Harper) and Winslow learns from her that Swan has stolen his music, claimed it as his own, and is auditioning females singers for the opening of the Paradise Club. Winslow tries to see Swan (by dressing up as a female singer) and gets beaten up and dumped on the street, where a pair of cops plant some heroin in his purse and arrest him.

In Sing Sing Prison (everything in this film is musical) Winslow is volunteered against his will for a medical experiment funded by Swan’s company where they extract every tooth in your mouth and replace it with stainless steel.

Winslow escapes prison, discovers that the Juicy Fruits have recorded an album of his music done 50's style, goes to destroy all of the vinyl record at Swan’s factory... but trips and his head lands in the record press... smashing his face and leaving the offensive album permanently engraved in his skin.

After recovering, Winslow goes to the Paradise Club where the Fruits are rehearsing for opening night (as a new group: the Beach Bums, doing early 60s style music)... and dons a costume and mask from the costume storage room (becoming The Phantom) before planting a bomb that injures the Fruits and stopping them from desecrating his music. Buy the border Winslow is captured by Swan, who locks him away to complete the rock opera for Phoenix to sing... except Swan has no intention of having Phoenix open the club, she’s way too wholesome. And when Winslow has finished his rock opera? Swan walls him into the room faster than you can say Poe’s Cask Of Amontillado.

So Swan has to find a new opening night act for the Paradise in a great *one shot* audition scene that features a dozen music acts so unbelievable that they’re believable... and settles on glam rocker Beef (Gerrit Graham, stealing whatever movie he is cast in). One of the great things about this film, which came up in the panel discussion afterwards, is how well it *predicts* new music trends and even specific bands. It’s kind of like NETWORK in that regard, you see it now and think they are making fun of KISS when they use the Juicy Fruit band members dressed in black with patterns painted on their faces in black and white... but KISS didn’t even exist when this film was made! Though this is a satire of the music business, it’s crazy creations would eventually come true! Buy the border On opening night for the Paradise, Winslow as the Phantom breaks out and threatens Beef, telling him that only Phoenix can sing his songs, and anyone else who tries dies. Beef doesn’t want to go on, Philbin insists... and in the middle of Beef’s CALIGARI style opening number the Phantom zips a neon lightning bolt down at Beef, electrocutes him, and Beef fries on stage... while the audience calls for an encore. Swan has Phoenix go out and sing to calm the crowd... and she’s a massive hit!

Realizing it will take something really amazing to top a rock star burning alive on stage, Swan decides he will *marry* Phoenix on stage, and then have a sniper kill her dead. That’s entertainment! Now Winslow/Phantom must stop this from happening, even though he knows that the woman he loves has willingly agreed to marry Swan in exchange for stardom. No matter what happens, things will not end happily ever after.

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After the film, the panel spent about an hour talking about the making of the film (in Dallas Texas standing in for New York City) where their production designer Jack Fisk (his first film) had an assistant named Sissy Spacek who would later star in the movie CARRIE for DePalma after starring in some film called BADLANDS. Jack and Sissy married and are still together, and I bumped into them and chatted at some low rent Oscar party that made the mistake of inviting me. Jack and Sissy were not on the panel, but hammy GerritGraham, still hot Jessica Harper, Paul Williams, Juicy Fruits Harold Oblong and Jeffrey Comanor (who was carried onto stage, then got up and jogged around a little), plus the film’s editor Paul Hirsch, who learned how to edit films with DePalma who then introduced him to his Hollywood Brats friends where Lucas hired him to edit STAR WARS and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and he later edited MISSION IMPOSSIBLE GHOST PROTOCOL and SOURCE CODE and RAY and a zillion other big films, and William Finley’s widow Susan joined the panel later (she’s in the movie as an extra!). The always amazing Edgar Wright moderated. They had all kinds of great stories about making the film, and Williams talked about making this crazy decision to write music which was the opposite of what he was known for while trashing the industry he was a part of.

It was an amazing night, and the film is just as funny as the day it was made. A real gem waiting to be discovered by any of you who haven’t seen it yet. The songs have great pop hooks and subversive lyrics... you’ll be humming them later. Because it’s DePalma it is filled with all kinds of crazy film experiments and homages, including a recreation of the opening scene from TOUCH OF EVIL as a musical number with the Beach Bums band!

The Panel Discussion (someone videoed it!)


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