Friday, August 16, 2019

Birthday With Hitchcock: Good Evening.

Happy Birthday, Sir Alfred Hitchcock!

Hitchcock's birthday was Tuesday (the 13th)! What movie did you watch to celebrate?

James Allardice wrote all of the intros for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Alfred Hitchcock Hour, plus wrote the Hitchcock lead trailers for his films up until 1966 when he died. The Hitchcock intros were witty and dark and their own little stories which usually started with "Good evening" and then continued through the commercial breaks until coming to some sort of fun (often twist) ending just before the final credits rolled. These intros turned Hitchcock into a *star*. Just like a Kardasian, his name was on everything!

I read the ALFRED HITCHCOCK AND THE THREE INVESTIGATORS books as a kid (which were the inspiration for GOONIES and EXPLORERS) and "graduated" to the Dell HITCHCOCK PRESENTS anthologies (in my old bedroom at my parent's house there is an ancient paperback titled STORIES THEY WOULDN'T LET ME DO ON TV which I reread over the holidays) and also ALFRED HITCHCOCK MYSTERY MAGAZINE (which I still had a subscription to until recently). Hitch became the first director who was recognizable to the general public... all because of these sly and wry little intros for his TV show.

While looking for *one* of the intros a couple of days ago, I found *all* of them. So I figured I'd share them with you. Since there were 359 episodes between HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and HITCHCOCK HOUR and Hitch introduced all of them, this clip shows just the opening moments of the little story that each tells. Someone else will have to do a massive supercut of *all* the Hitchcock material!

But that clip has been removed by someone evil at YouTube and Universal. So here is an interview with Hitch from Dick Cavett...



Of course, I have my own book on a selection of Hitchcock's films that do wild experiments with story and cinema...

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Only $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.



- Bill

Of course, my first book on Hitchcock...




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 53 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Thriller Thursday: The Watcher

The Watcher

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



Season: 1, Episode: 8.
Airdate: 10/25/1960


Director: John Braham
Writer: Donald Sanford (MIDWAY) based on a story by Dolores Hitchens.
Cast: Martin Gable, Olive Sturges, Richard Chamberlain, Alan Baxter.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: Neal Beckner




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The incident you’ve just witnessed, described by the police and the press as an accident... which of course it wasn’t just as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. We’re concerned now with some of the people who live in the resort town where the... accident... took place several weeks ago. We’re going to see these people through the eyes of a murder at large. Unidentified, unsuspected, unpredictable. As the urge to kill again becomes irresistible. The name of our story is The Watcher, and our principle players are: Mr. Martin Gable, Miss Olive Sturges, Mr. Richard Chamberlain, Mr. Stewart Irvin, Miss Gloria Clark, Miss Irene Hervey, and Mr. Alan Baxter. Take my word for it, this is a thriller!”

Synopsis: Before Karlloff’s opening, we see a middle aged man, Mr. Frietag (Martin Gable), push an unconscious young woman into a lake from a row boat, and when she comes to and begins thrashing in the water... holds her head underwater until she is dead. Frietag is a mild mannered school teacher... who is a serial killer... and he is vacationing in this lakeside resort for the summer.

The Lakeside Resort has three distinctive classes of people: the Very Wealthy who have mansions and expensive sailboats, the Summer Tourists, and the Working Class people who take care of the mansions and sailboats and work in the restaurants and stores. Larry (an impossibly young pre KILDAIRE Richard Chamberlain who just had a birthday on 3/31) does boat repair and lives with his church going Aunt, his parents are dead. Beth (Olive Sturges) is the daughter of a socialite and lives in one of those mansions. Both are 20 years old and in love with each other... even though neither’s family would approve if they ever found out. Their relationship is a secret...



Except a man is watching them make out in Beth’s parked car a couple of houses down from where Larry lives. That man is Mr. Frietag (Martin Gable), who turns from the window of the boarding house room he is renting for the summer and types a letter to the town Sheriff, saying there is another “corrupter” and he will have to kill again...

At work the next day, Larry is doing boat repairs when Mr. Frietag visits... and warns Larry that an intelligent good looking boy like him shouldn’t get sidetracked by girls. They will just bring him down. Larry could go to college and improve himself. “An older man can sometimes keep a boy straight. Life is full of dark paths, it’s so easy at your age to lose the way. Many temptations come our way...” It doesn’t seem like Mr. Frietag really wants to keep Larry “straight”... more like he is obsessed with him sexually, keeps talking about how attractive Larry is. In this conversation Frietag mentions that Larry was distracted from his path by Suzie... the girl who was drowned. Larry should not make the same mistake twice.

Larry is creeped out by Frietag, tells him he can run his own life and gets rid of him.



Beth has lied to her mother, saying she’s going to a girlfriend’s house... when really she’s going to see Larry at work and bring him some food. Beth has a drunken Uncle (Stuart Irwin) who promises to cover for her if she’ll cover for him (he’s not supposed to be drinking). When Beth gets’ to Larry’s boat repair that night, it’s raining... and someone is watching her from the shadows (Frietag). She gets spooked, drops the food on the wet street and runs inside. Frietag keeps watching them, she will be his next victim.

Sheriff Archer (Alan Baxter) gets the letter from the serial killer and wants to do something about it, but before you can say “JAWS” his boss tells him to leave it alone. This is a tourist town and they don’t want to scare off the summer guests... and lets slip about the previous letter confessing to Suzie’s murder. Sheriff Archer asks why this letter was covered up, and is told that they don’t know if it’s a hoax or not. Why alarm people if it’s just some wacko with a typewriter claiming to have murdered a girl whose death was ruled an accidental drowning? Sheriff Archer decides to poke around on his own...

Larry’s only day off, and he goes on a picnic with Beth up in the mountains. Beth must be home early because Mother is having a huge garden party and Beth must attend. Not a problem. When they drive up to the mountain, Frietag follows in his car.



Of course, after they picnic food has been eaten, Larry and Beth (in bathing suits) make out on the picnic blanket... when they hear a noise from above. Someone is watching them. Creepy! Larry decides to confront the watcher, and climbs up the hill with Beth in tow. They get to the path above them and no one is there... but there is evidence that someone *was* there watching them the whole time. Creepy!

Time for Beth to get back, so they go to the car... but someone has slashed tires. Because Beth has twisted her ankle earlier, she has to stay with the car while Larry takes the tire and wheel into town for repairs. He rolls the tire down to the street and hitches a ride... leaving Beth alone in the car as the darkness settles over the mountain. Someone is in the brush watching the car. Bushes move, but whenever Beth looks closer, no one is there. Her imagination?

No Frietag. When night has fallen he creeps up to the car and tries to the doorknobs. All locked. This freaks out Beth inside the car as someone jiggles the car doors. Finally Frietag grabs a rock and tries to break the window! Beth lays on the car horn...



Frietag drives down the mountain, passing a gas station and spotting Larry working on the tire in the garage. Frietag sneaks in, clubs Larry with a tire iron, slides his body under a car up on a lift... and hits the button so that the car slowly descends and crushes Larry! So much for Larry and Frietag as a couple.

Sheriff Archer gets to the Mountain after getting a call about a dead girl in a car. Discovers Beth in the car... *alive*. Her horn honking brought others picnickers and Frietag ran away. Archer takes Beth home and her Mother wants her to put on a party dress and pretend like nothing happened. WTF? Mother thinks appearances are more important than her daughter almost being killed by a serial killer.



Archer gets the call that Larry has been found at the garage... alive. The tire rim saved him from the descending car... but the blow to the head has left him unconscious. Nearest hospital is far away, so they take him to his home with the doctor. Bed rest. Beth has an argument with her mother, says she isn’t going to be who her mother wants her to be, but who she really is... and that is a girl in love with a boy. Beth splits to be by Larry’s bedside.

But you know who is staying across the street from Larry? Mr. Frietag. And when he sees Beth go to visit Larry, well, he realizes he must kill her. Frietag has a *great* conversation with Larry’s aunt downstairs. Larry’s Aunt is religious, but Frietag is a religious zealot... he doesn’t see religion as a private matter but something that you must force on others. He’s a scripture ranting lunatic. But the Aunt must go to the pharmacy, and allows Frietag to stay in the house and look after the two kids upstairs.

The moment she’s gone, Frietag does that creepy serial killer stair climb, and tries to kill Beth while an injured Larry looks on. Things don’t go as planned and Beth throws Frietag out the second story window where he lands like Michael Myers on the lawn. Dead.



Review: Though not as great as the HITCHCOCK PRESENTS Unlocked Window episode, this is a creepy serial killer story in a time when that was still a new idea. This was made the same year as PSYCHO, which was kind of the first slasher film. Audiences hadn’t really seem stories like this, let alone see one in the comfort of their living room! The creepy scenes are okay, but don’t live up to the potential of the situations (Beth in her car as an unseen Frietag tries opening all of the doors is shown from *outside the car* instead on inside with Beth).

I wonder if anyone in that 1960s audience didn’t get the sexual obsession that ultra religious Frietag had for Larry. The show kind of plays it up as Frietag seeing Larry’s interest in women as “sinning” but there’s a real sexual undercurrent in there. Frietag is the sinner, but instead of dealing with his own issues lashes out at the innocent people who stir up those issues within him. Freud 101. In fact, the theme in this episode seems to be about hypocrisy: Frietag is the ultra religious man who uses his beliefs to cover his killing, Beth’s Mother is the society woman who would rather ignore her daughter’s almost murder to avoid a scandal, and Archer’s boss would rather pretend there is no serial killer than scare away tourists. The characters who go against the hypocrisy: Sheriff Archer, Beth’s Uncle, etc show us the other side.



It’s always interesting to read books or watch movies and TV shows from a different era, because we can see how much times have changed. When this was made (1960) being overly religious and sharing your religious beliefs with strangers was seen as odd... maybe even crazy. Today we see what was overly religious as just being religious. The traits that make Frietag a zealot in this episode are considered “normal” today. Strange how the “good old days” are very different than we imagine them to be. You watch an old show like this and see how people in 1960 reacted to things, or read a book from the 1940s where housewives and highschool students are smoking pot, or go back to when cocaine was the ingredient that gave Coca Cola its name... and today’s world seems *ultra* conservative. Except, it isn’t really conservative if it is different than “the good old days” is it?

This is another episode on the right track. Even though the trapped in the car scene and the stair climb and the mountain watcher scenes were not the best they could be, they were suspense scenes and this really was a thriller!

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Film Courage Plus: Creating Suspense

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me, around 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

Yesterday was Hitchcock's birthday...

Creating suspense on screen:

Keeping the audience on the edge of their seat is the function of SUSPENSE. Suspense is not the same as action, nor is it the same as surprise, nor is it the same as mystery. Suspense is the *anticipation* of an action. The longer you draw out the anticipation, the greater the suspense. Hitchcock explained; "Two men are having an innocent little chat. Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath the table between them. Nothing happens, then all of the sudden, BOOM! There is an explosion. The audience is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has been an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now let us take a SUSPENSE situation. The bomb is underneath the table, but the audience knows it... Probably because they have seen the villain place it there. The audience is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one O'clock, and there is a clock in the decor. It is a quarter to one. In this situation, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating, because the audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: 'There's a bomb beneath you, and it's about to explode!' In the first case, we have given the audience fifteen seconds of SURPRISE at the moment of the explosion. In the second case, we have provided them with fifteen MINUTES of SUSPENSE."

It’s no secret that I love thriller films and Hitchcock movies - my upcoming book is HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE which uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to illustrate different principles of suspense. But suspense isn’t confined to the thriller genre, it’s used in *every* genre to create tension. That romantic comedy where we know that one of the pair has that secret that will ruin the budding relationship if discovered... suspense is built around the anticipation of that discovery. In a movie of survival, be it THE MARTIAN or THE REVENANT suspense is built around situations where we anticipate the worst possible thing happening... and then the scene builds around that anticipation until it is resolved by the action. In REVENANT we know that bigoted fur trapper Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) plans on harming Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio)’s son - and that scene builds tension until we get the action. Instead of the action being over in a flash, the audience has been given the information that it will happen and that makes us squirm in our seats as we see Fitzgerald’s plan unfolding. Instead of a couple of seconds of surprise we have a whole scene of tension and suspense. In dramas we often have suspense built around a secret that our protagonist doesn’t want discovered. Every genre uses suspense to build emotions before the action.

There are Four basic kinds of suspense: the "ticking clock" (or time lock) and "cross cutting" and “secrets” and “focus objects”. The Hitchcock example above is a ticking clock. We are given an event which will occur at a certain time, and our suspense builds as we get closer and closer to the time of the event. Cross Cutting takes two things we don’t want to see in the same place and gets them progressively closer to each other - like two trains hurtling towards each other on the same track. The closer they get to each other, the more suspense. A good example of this method is in Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW where our protagonist Jeffries sends his fiancĂ© Lisa to search the apartment of suspected murdered Lars Thorwald. Jeffries has gotten Thorwald out of the apartment on the pretext of meeting him at a restaurant down the street, but when he doesn’t show Thorwald becomes impatient and returns home. Jeffries watches through the rear window of his apartment as Lisa searches the apartment as Thorwald returns - entering the building, climbing the stairs, walking down the hallway to his front door, unlocking the door, and...

Secrets are another form of suspense which is often used in dramas and comedies and romances. A character has a secret which they do not want to have discovered, and another character gets closer and closer to discovering it. In YOU’VE GOT MAIL we know the secret of Tom Hanks’ character - he’s the big corporate bookstore owner who is putting the small independent bookstore owned by Meg Ryan out of business... but the two meet and fall in love, and now he must keep that true identity secret from her because it will kill the relationship. The audience knows that secret exists, so we are in suspense that it will be discovered. Another type of secret suspense can be found in Hitchcock’s ROPE (an experimental film which we look at in my HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR book) - two men have murdered a friend and placed his body in a giant trunk in their livingroom... moments before having a party in that same livingroom in honor of the now dead friend. Everyone wonders where David is... but we know that he’s inside the trunk they are serving a buffet dinner from. Suspense builds as things happen which get some of the party guests looking closer at the trunk than the killers would like. Will their secret be discovered or will they get away with murder?

FOCUS OBJECTS


That trunk is what I call a “focus object”, and in the Film Courage clip I mention the middle ages sword and sex flick FLESH + BLOOD, where Princess Jennifer Jason Leigh has been kidnaped by Mercenary Rurger Hauer, and eventually becomes his mistress. Hauer is leader of a band of Mercenary soldiers - knights in rusted armor - who are raping and pillaging their way across Europe. They were double crossed by the evil Prince who Jennifer was engaged to, and now they are doing everything possible to make that Prince's life hell on earth. Eventually they capture the Prince, and chain him up near a well. Princess Jennifer, Hauer's mistress and the Prince's finace, is about to have a meal with all of the other mercenaries celebrating the capture of the Prince.

Before the other mercenaries reach the table, the Prince grabs a piece of plague infested meat from the trash and drops it in the well, poisoning the drinking water.

Jennifer sees this, and the question is - will she tell anyone? As the water is brought from the well to the table, tension builds. The water in the jug becomes the "focus object". Water is poured into glasses of several mercenaries who were not kind to her when she was kidnaped. She wants revenge against them, so she says nothing.

The Prince watches her, waiting for her to tell them that the water is poisoned. She sees the shackled Prince watching her, and she watches the mean mercenaries drink the poisoned water one-by-one.

That jug of poisoned water goes from mean mercenaries... to women and children. The poisoned water is poured into their glasses and they start to drink it... will Jennifer tell them it is poisoned? Suspense builds.

The Prince watches her, waiting for her to stop them from drinking. But both of them watch as the women and children drink the poisoned water.

Then the jug of poisoned water is passed to Rutger Hauer, her lover. He pours a glass of water. Will she let him drink it? She is torn between the man she was engaged to and the man she sleeps with every night. What will she do? Hauer is having a conversation with some of the others, and every time he grabs the glass to drink, someone says something and he responds instead of drinks. Suspense builds.

The Prince, shackled by the well smiles at her. What will she do?

As Hauer lifts the glass to his lips, she...

See how focus objects work? They create suspense by giving the protagonist and the audience the same secret information that is tied to an object... and then places that object where the secret can be discovered by characters who can not know that secret.

All of these techniques rely on *dramatic irony* - giving information to the audience that one or more characters do not have. The key is letting the audience know that the water is poisoned or that the body is in the trunk or that Tom Hanks is also that bastard with the big chain bookstore that is putting Meg Ryan out of business. If the audience is not given this information, there can be no suspense or tension... and the story is flat and dull. Our job as writers is to *lead the audience* - to use information to control what they think and feel. Hitchcock called it playing the audience like an instrument. By giving them specific story information at the perfect time we bring them inside the story - they know the secret that some other character does not and now they have a stake in the story. The audience wants that secret to remain a secret. The audience wants to warn the characters that there is a bomb under the table. The audience participates in the story and feels what the characters feel. Our job as writers is not just to tell the story, but to use techniques like suspense in order to tell that story well. To involve the reader and viewer so that it becomes their story as well.

Always be leading the audience. Always be in control of your story and when the information is given to the audience. What do you want them to know and when do you want them to know it? And *why* do you want them to know this information at this specific time in your tale?

- Bill






HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 53 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

- Bill

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Trailer Tuesday: CRISS CROSS



CRISS CROSS (1949)
Director: Robert Siodmak
Writers: Daniel Fuchs, based on a novel by Don Tracy.
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Yvonne DeCarlo, Dan Duryea.

This is one of my favorite movies, but I have no idea when I first saw it. Most likely on the Late Late Show. Back in the old days, when there were only 3 networks and a handful of local stations with local programming, they always had a late night movie. Networks like NBC would show some fairly new movie during prime time, kind of the way HBO has fairly new movies today. So the late show movies were always something old, from the 1940s or 1950s... stuff like CASABLANCA. After the late show movies there was... nothing. TV stations closed down for the night at 2 or 3AM and after the sign off (America The Beautiful over The Blue Angels flying in formation) there was a test pattern until the Farm Report the next morning. No infomercials. When I came home from working at the Movie Theater, I’d usually watch the Late Late Show on Friday and Saturday nights and catch some classic film... and that probably included CRISS CROSS.

)

CRISS CROSS is a film noir based on a novel by Don Tracy and kicks off our Don Tracy Appreciation Week. Don who? you ask... hey, me too! The only reason why I know this novelist’s name is from the opening titles of CRISS CROSS, but when I came to this week’s Thriller Thursday episode it was based on a novel by... Don Tracy. Hey! What a weird coincidence! So I looked him up online and discovered his two most famous novels ended up as this movie and that TV episode. Tracy was a journalist who hit it big with his second novel “Criss Cross” and then crashed and burned with his third novel “How Sleeps The Beast?” about racial conditions in the modern south... which was too controversial for the times. After returning from World War 2, he shifted gears and wrote some sprawling historical adventure novels like “Crimson Is The Eastern Shore”, “Roanoke Renegade”, and “Carolina Corsair”. He came back to noir with “The Big Blackout” (Thriller Thursday) and in the sixties he wrote a detective series about a military policeman solving crimes on base and off (kind of like NCIS). Because this was the Paperback Revolution, he also wrote a huge stack of TV and movie novelizations under a pseudonym. A recovering alcoholic, he wrote an AA self help book in the 70s. Oddly, I have never read any of his detective series, even though those were the kinds of books I hunted for in used bookstores. Now I’m going to try and track some down.

But CRISS CROSS...



The film opens with Steve Thompson (muscular Burt Lancaster) making out in a night club parking lot with his ex wife Anna (sexy Yvonne DeCarlo who you may know from THE MUNSTERS), who is married to some other guy now... Slim Dundee (the slimy Dan Duryea who improves every movie he is in) a local crime boss. They enter the club separately, but later that night Thompson and Dundee get involved in a fight in a back room of the club, and Thompson’s detective pal Pete Ramerize breaks it up and asks Thompson if he wants to press charges. Thompson says no, then ends up with Dundee and his gang in the men’s room washing up... and we discover the fight was just for the sake of the detective.... but got out of hand because Dundee thinks his wife Anna may be fooling around with her ex husband. Thompson is an armored truck guard who is the inside man for a robbery by Dundee and his gang scheduled for the next day.

When the Armored Truck goes on a pick up, the two guys packing huge bundles of money into bags are talking about how their wives overpay on laundry soap by 3 cents... this kind of contrast is one of the things that makes the film great.

About 13 minutes into the film, just before the robbery, the Armored Truck now filled with bags of money, Thompson remembers how he came to be here...

And we get to the meat of the story in a 50 minute flashback (in an 88 minute film)... which is not a crime story, but the story of a man with a broken heart. Thompson returns to Los Angeles after years of drifting from city to city, working a variety of odd jobs, trying to forget Anna... his ex wife who broke his heart. Film Noir is all about the four Ds: Darkness, Destiny, Despair, and of course Doom... and Destiny plays a large part in Thompson’s homecoming. When he gets to his family house, no one is home... so he wanders through the city ending up at... the night club where he and his ex wife used to hang out. He tries to call her several times, but something always gets in his way... like a warning.



The night club has a separate bar attached, and there are two great recurring characters in that bar that you will remember long after you’ve forgotten the plot of some recent hit film. The bartender (Percy Helton) who thinks Thompson might be an undercover checker with the Alcoholic Beverages Commission is a real character, and it’s fun to watch their relationship change as time goes on. The lush who sits at the end of the bar all day (Joan Miller) is one of those great characters and great performances that makes you feel as if you’ve known her all of your life. And it’s *unusual* to make that drunk at the end of the bar a woman... you feel like she was maybe Rosie The Riveter during the war and afterwards her life went south... and here she is. I looked up the actress who played that role and she worked consistently. One of the great things about writing during the studio system was that they had all of these great character actors under contract and you could write a role for them. In the Supporting Characters Blue Book I talk about some of the great characters who pop up as Pirate #7 or Cowboy #9 (and often played both roles in different movies) and how well developed those little roles were. You remembered them. There’s a nice bit in CRISS CROSS where the Bartender is trying to tell someone how much he appreciates the Lush, his favorite customer... and she doesn’t know if she should be insulted or not. It’s a great moment for both of them. Oh, and at one point in the night club Anna is dancing with some handsome young man... a no lines extra in the film... played by a not yet famous guy named Tony Curtis!



But Thompson and Anna are destined to bump into each other... and that happens. He knows that she is wrong for him, that if they get back together again he will just end up heartbroken again... and that’s what happens. As soon as they begin dating again, she hooks up with Dundee and *marries* the mobster, leaving Thompson stood up at the night club. When Dundee leaves on business, destiny brings them together again... but this time he’s fooling around with a mobster’s wife.

How destiny brings them together: Dundee has to catch a train on business and at the last minute *doesn’t* take Anna. Thompson is at the train station... after learning about their marriage he’s thinking about splitting town to avoid the pain of bumping into her. An employee behind a center counter bends down for a moment and Thompson gets a glimpse of the woman on the other side... Anna. Thompson tries to avoid her by going outside... but Anna has gone outside as well. She plans on getting in her car and driving home... but Dundee’s #2 man is in the car, driving it to the city where Dundee is going so that they’ll have a vehicle there. Which leaves Anna and Thompson the only two people with nowhere to go outside the train station. Destiny keeps bringing them together... and if Dundee finds out about it they are both dead.



Let me take a minute to mention the Los Angeles locations. Union Station is the train station, and they really shot there. I know that sounds silly, but movies were made on the backlot at this time, and there was some train station set that all movies used. CRISS CROSS went out on the streets of Los Angeles, and you get all kinds of great shots of places in the city that no longer exist. The trolley cars, Hill Street, the old houses, this film is a moving snapshot of Los Angeles in the late 40s. It’s fascinating to watch just for the scenery.

When they eventually get caught together by Dundee, Thompson tries to talk his way out of it... by saying that he actually was there to talk to Dundee. See, he has a job that needs some criminals. Thompson has gotten his old job as an Armored Truck guard back, and has a scheme to commit a robbery. Needs criminal help. Dundee and his gang come in on the robbery... and now Thompson’s cover story for being with Anna has turned him into a criminal. Maybe there’s a fifth D in Noir: degradation. Thompson would do anything to get Anna back, he has never gotten over her... she’s in his blood. And going from respected armored truck guard to criminal just to keep her in his life is a major fall for him. The problem is: he says it off the top of his head to pacify Dundee... but it all becomes too real when they bring in a planner and put together a crew and buy vehicles and explosives and fake uniforms and gear up to do the job.

Which leads us up to that sixty three minute mark with Thompson back behind the wheel of the Armored Truck as they head to the ambush... and our final twenty five minutes of the film.



Don Westlake writing as Richard Stark wrote a series of heist novels featuring a guy named Parker, and a handful of them are armored truck robberies... and no to are the same. The “high concept” in a heist story is the method they use to pull the heist. You need something original. The robbery here involves a monthly factory payroll delivery in cash, a tanker truck that will block the road to the factory to keep away the police, and other elements... but the main thing is the inside man: Thompson. He not only has to remove the third guard (who would stay in the truck and shoot the robbers) but put the second guard at ease when he thinks continuing the cash delivery might be dangerous for just two guards. In the planning scene we see how the plan *will* work, but execution is where things tend to go wrong...

And if you were Dundee and you had a chance to kill the guy who was sleeping with your wife during the robbery, what would you do? So instead of Thompson’s rule that the other guard (his friend Pops who is dating Thompson’s mom) and of course himself will not be harmed in the robbery; Pops is killed and Dundee tries to kill Thompson. The two exchange gunfire, wounding each other... but Thompson manages to kill a bunch of the other robbers... but the money and Dundee vanish.



Thompson wakes up in the hospital a hero... but his detective pal Pete Rameriz knows he had to be part of the robbery, and warns him that Dundee is still alive and will be hunting him. Which leads to a *great* sequence of complete paranoia as Thompson is trapped in his hospital bed, leg and arm in casts and elevated with cables... and suspicious people linger in the hospital hallways and shadows pass just outside his field of vision... often falling over the pebbled glass window. This has you on the edge of your seat. One particular guy is sitting in the hallway... and Thompson asks the nurse to bring him in. Ends up being a nice guy husband whose wife was in a car accident instead of one of Dundee’s thugs. Now Thompson *begs* the husband to stay with him (so that no one can sneak in and kill him in his sleep), but the husband says he needs to stay outside his wife’s door incase she wakes up... leaving Thompson alone.



Since this entry is now twice the usual length, I’m going to stop before we get to the ending... but what’s interesting is how it remains the story of a man with a broken heart, still in love with his ex wife, right up until the end. I think one of the things good films do is have an emotional throughline that is connected to theme. It’s Thompson still being hung up on his ex wife that drives the whole story... from the dramatic side of the story to the crime side of the story. These things are all connected. This is one of my favorite movies because all of the pieces come together perfectly... and I think we all still have some past love in our blood... and wish we could get over that long ago broken heart.

I suspect that CRISS CROSS is one of the Coen Brothers favorite movies, since Lancaster’s character often says “Sure, sure” a phrase said often by Paul Newman’s character in HUDSUCKER PROXY and there’s a dialogue from Anna, “I didn’t do anything wrong” which is echoed by Thompson later... and a very similar thing happens in BLOOD SIMPLE with the line “I didn’t do anything funny.” I think it would be fun to look at Soderbergh’s remake of CRISS CROSS next week...

Bill

Friday, August 09, 2019

Fridays With Hitchcock: Documentary On Hitch!

Here is a full length documentary on Hitchcock and his films...





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

Bill

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:
(links actually work now)

UK Folks Click Here.

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HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 53 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

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

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

Price: $5.99

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

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Canadian Folks Click Here.

Bill

Thursday, August 08, 2019

THRILLER Thursday: The Cheaters

The Cheaters

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



Season: 1, Episode: 15.
Airdate: Dec. 27, 1960


Director: John Brahm
Writer: Donald Sanford based on a story by Robert (PSYCHO) Bloch.
Cast: Henry Daniel, Mildred Dunnock, Harry Townes, Jack Weston, Paul Newlan.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith takes over from Rugolo.
Cinematography: John Russell from PSYCHO.
Producer: William Frye and Maxwell Shane.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “When a man shuts himself off from his neighbors, when he conducts mysterious experiments behind locked doors, there’s bound to be talk. There were those who whispered that Dirk Van Prinn was a sorcerer, and worse. He might never have been remembered at all, had he not his research lead him to the discovery of a most unusual formula for making glass. Dirk Van Prinn hanged himself before dawn. His story might have ended there if he’s had the courage to smash those spectacles. But like many another scientist he could not bare to destroy his own creation. Too bad, because years later others tried them on. In The Cheaters, our story for tonight, a junk man named Joe Henshaw played by Mr. Paul Newlan, a little old fashioned lady named Miriam Olcott played by Miss Mildred Dunnock, her nephew Edward Dean played by Mr. Jack Weston, and finally a man who discovered the real purpose of the spectacles Sebastian Grimm, played by Mr. Harry Townes. What they saw through those yellow gold lenses they never forgot. And neither will you my friends, because as sure is my name’s Boris Karloff, this is a Thriller.”



Synopsis: Two hundred years ago, inventor Dirk Van Prinn creates a special type of glass after many failed experiments, and fashions a pair of glasses. These are not rose colored glasses, kind of the opposite. When Van Prinn looks in the mirror while wearing the glasses, what he sees drives him mad and makes him kill himself.

200 years and a commercial break later, junk man Joe Henshaw (Paul Newlan, who was also in the Big Blackout episode) has paid $100 for the contents of the long abandoned house where some crazy inventor used to live. It’s kind of like the sixties version of STORAGE WARS. His wife Maggie (Linda Walkins) and partner Charlie (Ed Nelson, who is almost as many episodes as Karloff) think he was crazy to pay that much! $100? What if there’s nothing inside?

Henshaw and Charlie go to the spooky old house and poke around inside... nothing worth anything in here. Henshaw climbs upstairs to Van Prinn’s laboratory... where the door is locked. Must be something good inside? They break open the door, and all of the lab equipment has already been taken away. There are shelves of books... which turn to dust when you open them. An old desk may be worth something... but the wood is rotted. The only thing Henshaw can find is a pair of glasses hidden in the desk... and he could use a pair of glasses.



When Henshaw gets home, Maggie is all dolled up and has an impressive meal laid out. What’s the occasion? It was Henshaw’s birthday a few weeks back and they never celebrated. Charlie comes over with some booze and it’s a party. But when Henshaw puts on the glasses he found in the old house, he can *hear* what Charlie and Maggie are thinking... he can see the truth. Maggie has been cheating on him with Charlie and they plan to kill him and take over the business. He pulls off the glasses, and they’re both just having a normal conversation. He notices a word etched in the old fashioned frames: Veritas... “truth” in Latin. When he puts the glasses back on, they’re planning his murder so that he can be together... get him drunk enough and... Henshaw takes off the glasses and walks outside to his junk yard, finds a crow bar, comes back inside and kills them both. A policeman (John Mitchum, Robert’s brother) hears the screams and arrests Henshaw.

A couple of years later and after the commercial break, Miriam Olcott (Mildred Dunnock) is an old woman confined to her bed and her room by her nephew Edward Dean (Jack Weston) and his wife Olive (Barbara Eiler). She wants to go out, but Olive says she should just take a nap. But Miriam sneaks out of the house and goes on an adventure. She goes wandering through the town, stopping in stores to look at things. She eventually ends up walking past Henshaw’s place, where some other junk dealer has bought the contents and is hauling it away. She spots a pair of antique glasses and buys them for a quarter from the junk dealer. Shopping excursion over, she heads back home...



Where Edward and Olive are waiting for her, worried. The reason why she must stay in her room is because if she wanders off she may just get lost and forget where she lives. Miriam says she was out shopping and tries on the glasses... and hears what they are really thinking. That’s she probably stole the glasses, she’s a senile old problem and they only reason they take care of her is that she’s worth a fortune and when she dies they inherit... except they hoped that she would already be dead by now. What’s keeping her so long? She takes off the glasses, shocked, and they tell her that her doctor is on his way, and Edward and Olive are heading out for the night.

When the doctor arrives, Miriam tries to tell him her nephew and his wife want to kill her, but the kindly doctor just believes it’s dementia and tries to calm her. He goes downstairs to get some brandy to calm her, returns and pours her a glass. Miriam puts on the glasses and discovers that her kindly doctor is in on the murder plot, and plans to get her drunk and push her down the stairs tonight while Nephew and Wife are out tonight establishing an alibi. She grabs a knitting needle, and when the doctor brings her the glass of brandy, stabs him to death.



A couple of years later and after the commercial break, Edward and Olive have inherited all of that money and are attempting some social climbing with their new found wealth. They have a costume party at their house and have invited all of the wealthy important people in town, including a judge and a semi famous writer, Sebastian Grimm (even though he’s a prick). Edward dressed as Benjamin Franklin, hoping to impress everyone, but Grimm (Harry Townes) does nothing but ridicule him because everyone knows Franklin wore spectacles.

The men go into the parlour to play poker, and Edward is trying to impress them with large bets... and losing money to everyone. Olive brings in some muchies... and Aunt Miriam’s antique glasses. Edward puts them on, and really looks like Ben Franklin! Even Grimm says those antique glasses make him look perfect. Edward is happy for a moment, until he hears what the other men are really thinking... they want to keep playing so they can take away all of Edward’s money that they don’t think he deserves. One of the players is cheating, and has hidden a pair of aces under his arm. Edward can’t believe these guys are cheating at cards, and calls the guy on it. The guy manages to make the accusation backfire on Edward... and make him look like a sore loser who is making false charges. This turns into a fistfight between the two men, and Edwards gets punched in the face, falls over and hits his head... dying.

Grimm scoops up the glasses...



A few months and a commercial break later, Grimm tells his wife Ellen (Joan Tompkins) that he has been researching the glasses and has discovered all of the past deaths, starting with Van Prinn’s suicide, and believes these glasses show anyone who wears them the truth. But he has not put them on because he believes the glasses were invented not to learn the truth of what others think of you... but the truth about yourself. Grimm has written a new book about the glasses, except for the last chapter. The last chapter will come after he learns the truth about himself.

He goes to Van Prinn’s spooky old house, climbs the dark staircase to his laboratory, sits in front of the same mirror where Van Prinn put on the glasses... and puts the glasses on and looks in the mirror. And sees the truth about himself. And screams and goes mad, ripping nis face off with his bare hands. And just before the fade out, he drops the glasses and crushes them beneath his shoe. Then probably hangs himself.



Review: Now that’s more like it. A nice little Weird Tales type story about how dangerous the truth can be, written by the dude who wrote PSYCHO. I’ve read this story (and most of Bloch’s stuff) and it’s interesting how an episodic short story is a perfect match for a TV show with commercials. Each segment ends at the commercial, so we begin the new segment with different characters. This makes up for those early episodes with glacial slow pacing. Though the show is still kind of blandly directed, it moves quickly, has a cornucopia of stars, and wit (from Bloch’s story... that guy was a sick comedian who wrote lines like this one from PSYCHO. “It was the face of a crazy old woman. Mary started to scream, and then the curtains parted further and a hand appeared, holding a butcher’s knife. It was the knife that, a moment later, cut off her scream... And her head.”). The puns on “cheaters”, from the reading glasses to the cheating card players and couple elevate the story.

My bland direction comment is mostly about the scenes in the spooky old house, where production design did a great job of hanging cobwebs and covering everything with a believable 200 year old layer of dust, but the shots end up bland angles so the all of the spooky stuff goes to waste. The Brahm and Sanford team did well with PREDICTION and WATCHER, so maybe there was a time crunch with this episode? It is 4 stories with 4 casts and that might have lead to the pedestrian haunted house stuff. The cast has fun with their roles, especially Weston, who is a comic actor playing a petty social climber and manages to give a nuanced performance. Mildred Dunnock also has fun playing a possibly senile old woman who turns into a sly killer. Townes and Daniel are always great, and here both play their roles to the hilt.

One of the nice touches is how they create “glasses vision” so that the audience knows we are hearing the thoughts of the characters rather than what they are saying. The lighting scheme is changed, with the lights low and angled up, creating a spooky look. This way they can cut from a shot in “glasses vision” of people speaking to a shot normal lighting and we know that now we are hearing what they are actually saying.



One of the things that doesn’t work as well is having the lines they are saying when we are hearing what they are thinking replicate the lines they are actually speaking... just with a few different words. This is a great concept, but in practice we end up hearing most of the same words twice in a row. They might have been able to make this work with some better dialogue editing, but they may have been afraid the audience might have become confused.

The December 27th airdate makes it almost a Christmas episode!

A good episode, and next week another Bloch based episode that features a dozen mirrors... and Shatner! Can he stop himself from looking into all of those mirrors?

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

ATLiH: Walking The Concrete Carpet

An ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD entry from 2006...

Thursday night I went to a movie premiere. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were no shows, and I didn’t get a chance to joke with Bill Murray or Jack Black. Entertainment Tonight didn’t scream for an interview with me, and I wasn’t blinded by a million flashes from press cameras. I didn’t get a chance to ask either recently single Kate Hudson or just divorced Denise Richards to ask if anyone was sitting next to them (and might I?). You see, this wasn’t one of those fancy red carpet movie premieres in Westwood or at Grauman’s Chinese in Hollywood... this one was held at the Culver Studios (where David O’Selznick’s huge mansion offices sit, you’ve seen it in the credits before GONE WITH THE WIND and NOTORIOUS) - it’s part of Sony. That still sounds pretty good, right? But this was a rented screening room - no red carpet, just a concrete sidewalk. And the movie wasn’t some big studio blockbuster, it was the latest film from legend-in-his-own-mind Donny Vitamin.

I *have* gone to those red carpet premieres a couple of times. The late Chris Penn was a friend of an actor I’ve worked with a few times, so I walked the red carpet at the premiere of MULLHOLLAND FALLS as part of his entourage. On the real red carpet it’s mostly about not ruining any photographer’s shot of Nick Nolte - basically trying not to be seen on the red carpet.

Here, no one cared if I was on the concrete sidewalk except the security guard who made sure my name was on the list before pointing out where to park the car.

This was a Donny Vitamin movie.

I don’t know where I first met Donny. Might have been at the American Film Market, might have been at a Film Artist’s Network meeting. Donny is a character. He has this comb-over-fro.... kind of reminds you of Trump’s hair. Poofy. And he's always popping vitamins... I think he told me he gets regular B-12 injections. Donny has been around forever, working as a comic book writer and cartoon writer. His big claim to fame: he wrote the novelization of a huge hit movie because he went to college with the director. That novelization became a best seller in paperback due to the film being a massive hit... and a career is born!



I saw Donny’s first film on the big screen TV in a coffee shop (also a premiere with no red carpet) - it was a *musical* about a guy who gets transported back to cave man times and has to escape stop-motion dinosaurs left over from some other movie and a clan of amazon-like cave girls lead by a too-old-for-a-loin-cloth Karen Black. If you can get past the song and dance aspect, the film is... clumsy and not all that well made. Compare it to DINOSAUR ISLAND, co-directed by my friend Fred Olen Ray and my arch-enemy Jim Wynorski which is a fun 6 pack movie about Navy guys who get shipwrecked on an island filled with half nekkid women and man eating dinosaurs. ISLAND isn't going to win any Oscars or make any ten best lists, but it's a pleasant waste of time. It uses the same elements as in Donny's - just put to better use. ISLAND is like an R rated Edgar Rice Burroughs story (and, as a kid reading those books, the Frazetta covers and descriptions of what the women were hardly wearing - the books were R rated to begin with). ISLAND is a fun T&A film, Donny's movie is... a really inept musical.

Oddly enough, the cinematographer on DINOSAUR ISLAND was the cinematographer on Donny’s new film which is a sequel to his previous (low budget horror) movie that I watched on DVD - which was crudely made, but featured lots of naked women. The sequel is more of the same. Basically a soft core porn film about an aging museum curator who discovers an ancient amulet that allows her to recapture her youth as long as she has simulated lesbian sex with a different stripper-trying-to-act every night. Of course, the museum is some cinderblock building with a nick-knack shelf fill of Egyptian junk, and the editor’s office at a big tabloid newspaper is a desk and chair shoved up against the wall in some warehouse. In one of the first scenes, two strippers show up at the opening of the mummy exhibit at the museum. What were they doing there? They acted like strippers, with air-head dialogue about liking old stuff. You know what they were doing there? They were setting up a pointless simulated lesbian sex scene after they leave the museum. What does that have to do with the story? Nothing. Did they have to be air-head strippers? Nope - but, you know, all air-head strippers have lesbian sex in their free time. This is so far past lazy writing I don’t know what to call it!

The film had zero production value - as if it was thrown together at the last minute. The dialogue was awful and the story made no sense at all - in one scene a captured tabloid reporter is wrapped like a mummy for no apparent reason, except that it would be cool to have her unwrapped in the very next scene. They can't even come up with a *bad* excuse to wrap her up! Characters stumble into scenes without reason or motivation... and the whole film looks cruddy. Obviously shot in a warehouse, without anyone caring enough to make it look like whatever location it’s supposed to be in the story.



Before the film, Donny did a little intro where he told us the film was shot for $100k in a week. Now, that isn’t much time to shoot a film, but my CYBERZONE (DROID GUNNER) film was shot in 9 days (a week and an extra weekend) and it looks pretty good. It’s also a sci-fi action flick with space ship battles and all kinds of other time consuming production value elements. As for the $100k budget, afterwards I wondered what they did with the money. Seriously. I’ve seen films made for half that budget that looked much bigger and, well, competent. Since the whole thing was shot in a warehouse in a week, we aren’t talking much in the way of cost. Cast was non-SAG, crew was probably minimal... where did the money go? This terrible film a friend of mine made, SLAUGHTERHOUSE MASSACRE, was shot for a third of their budget in 12 days with lots of gore FX... and a couple of nekkid women. Oh, and we rented a small town location for a chase and did stunts and had a room full of sides of beef, plus a tower of pig heads and some other cool production value stuff. We *built* sets! Even when things went wrong, like losing the school at the last minute, they built a classroom set that looks like a real classroom. It was built in a warehouse, by the way. But there are classroom seats and a chalkboard and the walls are dressed like a classroom. This was all done at the last minute... and looks a million times better than anything in Donny's film.

It seemed as if the only reason this film was made was the simulated lesbian sex stuff. Now, I like nekkid girls as much as the next guy. I can understand why a middle aged man with a bad comb-over would want to make a movie filled with nekkid girls in their 20s. But why make it a *bad* movie? It seemed as if the film part was just an excuse for the nekkid girls. No effort was put into anything, except rounding up nekked girls. The thing that pissed me off the most was that tabloid office, because with a little effort they could have made it look like a real office - but they didn’t. Porn films have better production value - and who cares whether a location is convincing in a porn film?

Sure, this is just a cruddy T&A film, but why did it have to be a bad one? It’s being sold as a horror film, so why not spend a *minute* on the horror plot? Or some real horror? Or some suspense? Why not make the sets convincing? The story convincing? The characters more than moronic cliches (porn films have more characterization than this film - really!)? The leading lady’s acting was bad on purpose - she was given air-head dialogue and then played it so over-the-top that *cartoon characters* are more realistic. Why *try* to make it crappy? Why not make it the best it can be within the confines of budget and schedule and talent? Donny told me he spent twice as much time writing the script as he did making the movie - and the result is something that’s worse than a porn script! Those lucky plumbers and pizza delivery guys have better motivation and dialogue... and more realistic acting. If you’re going to go to all of the trouble to make a film, why not at least *try* to make it good?



You know that scene in ED WOOD where Johnny Depp watches the terrible scene and says “Perfect!” - that’s an untalented film maker who is passionate about his work. At least Ed Wood *cared*. The thing I don’t understand is when they don’t care. I once had a director *read the newspaper* on set, yelling “Action!” and “Cut!” when nudged by an assistant. What is this guy doing in the business? This is my big beef about Donny's film and many other films - the people making them don’t care.

I think you can have nekkid girls a third your age in the film and *still* make it a good film. Even if you have limited talent, if you *try* to do good work, if you *care*, at least the film will be the best you can make it. It may not be great, but it will be something.

After the film was over, there was a little reception with wine and veggie platters in the parking lot. Many cast members were there - including the strippers, who were more intelligent in real life than on screen (they had to be). I think more thought was put into the veggie platters than the film... but I was confused by the whole screening. Why would you rent a theater at Sony to show this film? Why not just collect your check and pretend you never made it? After a few minutes of mingling with sub-Z grade “celebs” (from the Rock Riddle cult - I will do an All The Losers post on them in the future), I bolted down that concrete carpet to the parking garage and got out of there.

Even if you are doing a low budget exploitation movie, you have to *care*. You have to make it the best movie possible at whatever your budget is. Donny only made one film after this... and then people stopped giving him money to make movies. I have no idea what he's doing now.

- Bill

Names have been changed to protect the... well, not exactly innocent!

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Trailer Tuesday: SCHLOCK! (1973)

SCHLOCK (1973) written and directed by John Landis.

This is one of my favorite films... and you have never heard of it.



First, a bit of background... In the 70s there were a bunch of skit comedy movies like THE GROOVE TUBE (with Chevy Chase and Richard Belzer and "Brown 25" - we make dolls out of it) and TUNNEL VISION (with Phil Proctor and Howard Hessman and Kissinger grilled on a Sesame Street type show about Viet Nam). And they were okay... and then came KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE and it was 100 times funnier than the others. I saw KFM in my local cinema, and when I drove to Los Angeles I saw it in some funky old Hollywood Blvd cinema. That movie was made for me! I was alternating between short super 8mm thrillers and skit films, and KFM was the ultimate skit film. So much better than GROOVE and TUNNEL. Who directed it? Some guy named Landis.



I had a subscription to National Lampoon Magazine, which was huge back then, and they decided to make their first movie, called ANIMAL HOUSE. And who did they get to direct it? That Landis guy from KFM!

I landed a job managing a movie theater, part of a small chain that began as Jerry Lewis Family Cinemas, but that company went bankrupt and this guy bought all of the ones in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was managing one out in the East Bay, and my biggest problem was that the owner never booked a studio movie. He booked all kinds of weird crap, and then expected us to sell tickets to this junk! We showed a comedy spaghetti western called ONION BREATH about a cowboy who wasn't a quick draw, he just had really bad breath, starring Terrence Hill, and that was one of the *better* movies. We had a low budget horror movie with Christopher Lee that had the worst special effects I have ever seen. We had one bad film after another...

And then we showed SCHLOCK!

Directed by that Landis guy!




It was his first film, it had been sitting around on the shelf for years, and the guy who owned the cinemas made some sort of deal to show it for a week. The doorman in my cinema, who was an artist and drew some amazing pictures (I hired him because he was talented and needed a job), actually drew and inked the poster... because whatever poster there had been previously we didn't have access to. Tim drew this amazing poster, and they made copies, and that poster went from cinema to cinema around the Bay Area along with the single print of the film.

But the amazing thing - SCHLOCK was funny as hell! We had a college nearby, and I made up mini posters and put them up all over campus (did the same for my Halloween show of PSYCHO) and we packed the cinema every night. Because it played 3 times a day and 5 times on weekends, I could quote every single line of dialogue from the movie. And it was *funny*. My favorite part - after the ape kills a whole playground full of people, the coroner puts all of the body parts into Hefty Trash Bags to take to the morgue and try to put them together to figure out exactly how many victims there were... and the local TV station has a contest: if you can guess how many people the parts all add up to, you can win a free dinner for 2 at a local restaurant. The TV news guys was a Ted Baxter type, who is shocked to find out the ape may be what is called "Homo Erectus". Plus, there is a cute blind girl who has been dating a guy for years and has just had eye surgery and when the bandages come off... will she like the way the guy looks? The killer ape tries to attack the blind girl, but she thinks he's a dog and plays fetch with him... And all kinds of other silly gags. I loved this film - it was the only thing we showed at that cinema that wasn't complete crap!







Landis plays the killer monkey, who is just misunderstood... and some dude named Rick Baker did the make up. This film was made for pocket change, but is so packed with jokes it got Landis on THE TONIGHT SHOW! If you are ever wondering where the film SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY (from that line of dialogue in 2001) comes from, this is the flick. I have no idea what the availability is today, but for a movie made by a group of friends for pocket change it has lots of laughs.

Bill

Friday, August 02, 2019

Hitchcock: Organic

Jimmy Stewart in REAR WINDOW uses a camera to defend himself... He's a professional photographer, what else would he use?



I have a whole article on this, written for Script Magazine about a decade ago, called Hitchcock's Chocolates that gets into using the character and story to find all of the details of your screenplay. It always goes back to character - any question or problem you are having with your screenplay - think character, theme, story... and you will find the answers.

- Bill


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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






USA Readers click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

THRILLER Thursday: The Poisoner

The Poisoner

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



Season: 1, Episode: 17.
Airdate: January 10, 1961.


Director: Herschel Daugherty
Writer: Robert Hardy Andrews
Cast: Murray Matheson, Sarah Marshall, Brenda Forbes, Jennifer Raine, Maurice Dallimore.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith, kicking ass.
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline.
Producer: William Frye.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Thomas Edward Griffith, the man who made this lovely picture the destroyed it, really lived. He was a writer, a painter and a critic. Now, in each of these arts he displayed talent, but his real genius lay elsewhere. We have the testimony of Charles Lamb, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and other famous witnesses that Griffith was the master of the gentle art of murder. A dabbler in the occult and a connoisseur of the exotic, Griffith was far ahead of the medical men of his time in the lethal science of toxication. In simpler terms, Griffith was a poisoner. That’s the name of our play, The Poisoner. And among those threatened by sinister gentleman played by Mr. Murray Matheson, are his wife played by Miss Sarah Marshall, her mother played by Miss Brenda Forbes, her sister played by Miss Jennifer Raine, and his uncle played by Mr. Maurice Dallimore. Oh, by the way, if in the course of our story someone brings you a cup of tea or a spot of brandy... I suggest you let *them* take the first sip.”



Synopsis: A somewhat unusual *true crime* episode, also unusual because it’s an Early Victorian Era period piece which takes place on London’s foggy streets. I’m sure part of the allure of this story was that it’s a Jack The Ripper type tale about a fellow who was very well known at the time who killed just about everyone he was related to by blood or marriage... and got away with it!

Thomas Edward Griffith (the actual fellow was named Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, and more on him in the review section) (played by Murray Matheson giving an amazing performance), was a social climber. Not born into a wealthy family, both parents dead, he desired the prestige and admiration of a member of high society... so he decided to “fake it until you make it”. He lived in a luxurious house filled with pieces or art and antiques. He threw lavish parties so that he could be seen with members of society much higher up the food chain than he was. His clothes were tailored by one of the best. He drank the best brandy and dined at the finest restaurants. Even though, he was close to broke.

Although he’d inherited from his father, his Uncle George (Maurice Dallimore) was executor, and detested his lifestyle... so he was kept on a tight allowance. Uncle George thinks he should sell all of the crap in his house and get a job... but Thomas has never worked a day in his life and has no intention of starting now. He spends his days as a catty critic for a newspaper known for his clever insults, painting watercolors that are good enough for a gallery show or two, and writing witty little booklets on a variety of subjects of interest to the social set. Things a member of high society would do. The problem is, his lavish lifestyle means that he is going deeper and deeper into debt...



Enter the beautiful society woman Francis Abercrombie (Sarah Marshall) , hot and half his age. She is sophisticated, well dressed and travels in the same elite social circles. Thomas marries her before anyone else has a chance to ask... planning to live on her fortune and wait for his Uncle George to die so that he can get his hands on all of his inheritance instead of just his month allowance.

At the lavish post wedding party, his water color painting of his wife is on display over the fireplace. All of the society men think she’s hot, and are jealous of Thomas... which is everything he has ever wished for in life. To further this adoration, he introduces his beautiful wife to all of those members of high society he wants to impress... Then the door opens and these two yapping white trash women and their cat enter: his mother in law and sister in law! You see, his wife is flat broke as well; and like him, was a social climber hoping to marry into money. He ends the party before he is completely embarrassed by these uninvited guests...



Mrs. Abercrombie (Brenda Forbes) is a drunk old woman with a loud mouth and all sorts of complaints about almost everything. There’s a shot where she bends over, most unladylike, and you half expect to hear loud flatulence. Maybe that was planned but the censors said no. New sister in law Helen (Jennifer Raine) is confined to a wheelchair for some reason, and has nothing good to say about anything. If mother complains, sister is an Olympic contender... bitching about everything. And they, of course, have a cat. Oh, and Mrs. Abercrombie has sold her house and all of her belongings to move in with Francis’ new rich husband.

That night, Thomas opens an ornate cabinet exposing a selection of items, selects a “Borgia ring”, fills it with poison and puts it on his finger... then, acting like the perfect host, secretly pours some poison from the ring into a brandy decanter and offers it to his new mother in law... not realizing sister in law Helen is watching from her wheelchair upstairs. Thomas goes upstairs, into his wife’s bedroom, and tells her that everything will be alright. That’s when Mrs. Abercrombie drinks the brandy and drops dead... and Helen screams, and calls Thomas a murderer!



After the funeral, Francis and Helen return with... the family attorney. Mrs. Abercrombie’s death was ruled natural causes, even though Helen believes that Thomas poisoned her. But instead of Francis inheriting the money... it goes to invalid sister Helen. Thomas will never get his hands on a cent of it. Thomas storms out...

How could things get worse? When he returns, Francis tells him that his Uncle is here, waiting for him in the guest room upstairs... and some creditors have come and threatened to cut off his food and booze and some other things if he doesn’t pay his long overdue bills. Wonderful...

Thomas gets a lecture form his Uncle George about those creditors... and how he should sell everything and get a job and live within his means. Thomas would have liked to ask for more money, but he can’t for fear Uncle George will cut his allowance and *force* him to work. He shudders at the thought of working. Before Thomas can poison Uncle George’s brandy, the old man takes a sip and keels over! Snoopy Helen is watching this from the doorway and once again gets to scream “Murderer!”



But Uncle George is *not* dead... he’s just had a heart attack and must remain in bed resting for a few weeks. Hey, and uninvited house guest... more fun for Thomas! The doctor tells Thomas to make sure he takes a pill every so many hours and that it can be taken with a glass of brandy as a stimulant (medicine has changed over the years). Thomas is not going to be subjected to *weeks* of lectures by this old man, so he poisons the brandy decanter, and when Uncle George wakes up, tells him to take his pills with a glass of brandy as per doctor’s orders. Uncle George takes his medicine... and dies... and snoopy sister in law Helen was watching through the keyhole the entire time!

Thomas discovers her spying, and walks towards her menacingly... she backs up her wheelchair in fear... going over the edge and down the staircase (like Arbogast in PSYCHO), breaking her neck when she lands. Thomas quickly hides in the room with his dead uncle, as his wife Francis comes out of her room and sees her sister dead at the base of the stairs. When she screams, Thomas comes out of the room and asks what’s wrong... but Francis isn’t buying it, she *knows* that Thomas killer her sister. Then she spots dead Uncle George on the floor behind him. Thomas says Uncle George must have had another heart attack and died... but Francis points to the *dead cat* next to the spilled brandy and accuses Thomas of killing both of the dead humans plus the cat plus her mother.



When the police come, Thomas has a packed bag ready for jail. He explains to the policeman that it’s probably a waste of time to arrest him, since the only possible witness against him is his wife, and a wife can not testify against her husband. They take him anyway... charged with three murders.

Jail. One huge cell filled with a bunch of smelly criminals. A bucket to poop in.



Thomas is immaculately dressed, sitting at a table writing; when the officers come to take him to the court room for his arraignment hearing.

At the hearing, the Prosecutor makes his case for triple murder by poisoning. When he’s finished, Thomas asks the Judge if he may speak... and then tears apart the Prosecutor’s case. There are no witnesses, one of the victims died of a broken neck, another was ruled natural causes, the third had just had a serious heart attack and no trace of any known poison was found in his system by the medical examiner. The Prosecutor says there are poisons that are *not* known that there is no test for at this time. Thomas counters that until these poisons are discovered and there is some way to test for them, there is not a shred of evidence and to waste the court’s time any further...

And the Judge dismisses all charges.



The officer who arrested Thomas comes to the jail cell release him, saying that some day he will find the evidence that convicts him. Thomas explains that it is no longer possible for him to be convicted of those crimes... it would be double jeopardy. Before being released, Thomas writes out a check on his dead Uncle George’s account and gives it to the officer... to be split among his cellmates. Thomas says goodbye to each of the cellmates, and hopes each uses their share to follow their dreams.

When he returns home, Thomas tells his wife Francis that now only she stands between him and the inheritance from her mother and sister. He prepares two glasses of brandy and lets her see him putting poison from his ring into one of them. Then tells her she has a choice: drink up now, or continue their marriage with each’s money pooled into one happy household account. Francis runs upstairs to her room...



Thomas looks at the water color painting of Francis over the fireplace, takes the poker, and crosses it out (his marks replicating the “spider web” used in the bumpers of the show, leading me to believe at some point they planned on fading from the “spider web” to the defaced painting, then didn’t do it). Then takes the two glasses of brandy upstairs, kicks in his wife’s bedroom door, and again gives her the choice between drinking poison and living with him happily ever after.

Before she answers, someone banging on the front door. The police Officer has come to arrest him. Thomas explains that he *can not* be arrested for any of those three murders, even if he were to admit that he committed them: double jeopardy. So the Officer is wasting his time... please go away.

The Officer smiles and says he’s not being arrested for murder, but for forging his dead uncle’s signature on that check. Which the Officer witnessed, so it’s open and shut. Thomas will be shipped off to Australia to prison where he will spend the rest of his life doing hard labor...

He asks for one final drink before he’s taken away, grabs the poisoned glass of brandy and downs it... falling over dead.

Twist!



Review: Based on the true story of Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, and fairly accurate. His mother died in childbirth, so he went to live with his grandfather who was the editor of The Monthly Review, and grew up in a literary household. Thanks to a family connection he went to a private school (where that family connection was headmaster) and learned how to live amongst the wealthy, even though he was not wealthy himself.

He was a social climber on the fringe of high society and did have an exhibition of his paintings at the Royal Academy and wrote art criticism for several magazines and newspapers... as well as booklets on a variety of subjects. And he did poison all of those people and got away with it. In fact, he even poisoned at least one other person! In reality when those creditors came after him he and his wife *moved in* with Uncle George... who died shortly afterwards. He fled to France at one point, was arrested for carrying strychnine in that trick ring of his and spent six years in prison, then we he returned to England he was instantly arrested to stand trial for forgery. Instead of taking a dose of his own poison, he was sent to the Tasmanian prison colony. He worked on the road gang, later as a prison hospital orderly, and eventually was allowed to paint portraits of many important people and their family members... and those portraits exist in museums and collections today. The history of the Tasmanian Colony can be seen n his paintings. He was the subject of Charles Dickens’ “Hunted Down” and Edward Bulwer Lytton’s novel “Lucretia”, Oscar Wilde’s “Pen, Pencil, and Poison”, and pops up as a character in the Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure Of The Illustrious Client”. The most famous poisoner in history!



Murray Matheson is perfect in this episode. He’s one of those actors who was on almost every TV show as a guest star, and you probably recognize his face. He was the bookstore owner who helped BANACEK in every episode. Here he gives an amazing performance where he’s both vain & dismissive and sympathetic. Oddly, you identify with his character and *want* him to knock off these white trash relatives by marriage. Matheson seems to have fun treating everyone as his inferior, and the audience wishes they were that clever and witty and stylish. This performance is similar to some of those great Vincent Price performances in Corman’s Poe movies. It’s a brilliant performance, and it turns this episode into one of the better ones.

All of the other performances are great, especially Brenda Forbes and Jennifer Raine as the mother and sister in law from hell. As I said, when Forbes bends over unladylike you can almost hear her loudly passing gas... even though that is not on the sound track.

The period setting and production design makes the episode seem lavish. There are horse drawn carriages and spooky foggy nights and that elegant house... it seems more like a movie than a TV episode.

The score by Jerry Goldsmith (CHINATOWN) is amazing. The Pete Rugolo scores had all been variations on the THRILLER theme music, and when Goldsmith took over it took him until this one to really leave his mark. This is a great score (on the DVD it’s an isolated track, so it may end up on my iPod eventually), and really gives us a look at the great film composer that Goldsmith would become in just a few years.

This is a fun episode that would have been at home on HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, which is a good thing... because we’re about to go back to spy novel adaptations for a while. Just when it was getting good, we go back to the ho hum!

Bill

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