Thursday, October 31, 2019

THRILLER Thursday: A WIG FOR MISS DEVORE

SEASON 2: A WIG FOR MISS DEVORE

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



Season: 2, Episode: 19.
Airdate: January 29, 1962.
Director: John Brahm.
Writer: Donald S. Sanford based on the story by August Derleth.
Cast: Patricia Barry, John Baragrey, John Fiedler, Herbert Rudley, Linda Watkins, Pamela Searle.
Music: Morton Stevens - though it's really Jerry Goldsmith's score for GUILLOTINE.
Cinematography: Benjamin Kline.
Producer: William Frye.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Well, that was a gruesome surprise even for a hangman. A stunningly beautiful courtesan is dropped into the pit, and a moment later, her executions discover a withered hand, claw-like, clutching a wig. Well, of course the noose usually does have a disastrous effect upon the human body, but nothing like this. (Picks up wig) How strange. I should think it must have something to do with this wig. There is something weird and frightening about it. Look my friends, look! It’s only clothe and hair. Lustrous red hair to be sure, but hardly very mysterious. At least, that’s what the characters in tonight’s story thought. Unfortunately for them. My I introduce Sheila Devore, played by Patricia Barry. George Machik, played by John Baragrey. Herbert Bleake, played by John Fiedler. Arabella Foote, played by Linda Watkins. And Max Quinke, played by Herbert Rudley. We call our story A Wig For Miss Devore, and naturally I refer to this particular wig. Now my friends, you know all about the magic that the sorcerers of the silver screen put on film for your entertainment. Well tonight, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, you will learn that sorcery can be performed without celluloid. Behind the cameras, and perhaps even in your own livingroom.”



Synopsis: In mid-1700s England, a beautiful young woman is escorted to the gallows. No crowd of onlookers, no official doctor to pronounce the death, this execution will be in private - because this woman has been accused and convicted of witchcraft. Part of that witchcraft charge against Meg Payton (Pamela Searle) includes the murder of six men. The Man whose job is to remove the corpse after the hanging wants Payton to remove her wig - even if they were to execute the King himself, he would have to remove his wig. She refuses, and the Hangman allows her to keep it - she won’t be needing in a couple of minutes. As the Hangman prepares to pu the noose around her neck, she says: “Your hands are trembling, let me help you,” and slides the noose around her own neck. As the Hangman prepares to pull the lver, she says, “Meg Payton does not die here.” Then, the trap door opens and she does the long drops with the hard stop. Dead. The Man goes down to collect the body... and screams! The wig has fallen off, and Meg Payton has become a withered old monster.



1962 Los Angeles: Blonde Bombshell way past her pull date Miss Sheila Devore (think Marilyn Monroe if she had made it to her mid-forties - but she died 7 months after this episode aired) thinks that she has found the perfect screenplay for her comeback - the epic biography of witch Meg Payton who was hung 200 years earlier. Her loyal assistant, Herbert Bleake (the always great John Fiedler who gets a mention in our entry for “Yours Truly Jack The Ripper”) tries to talk her out of it - it’s an expensive period piece. Maybe she should look through all of the scripts one more time, just to be sure? It’s obvious that Bleake is secretly in love with her... but too shy and mousy to say so. Bleake used to be a studio production accountant who worked on all of her films. As her assistant, he knows that she’s too old for the role and the studio would never spend that kind of money on a movie starring her - his job is to always protect her. But she *insists* on doing the witch script, and for authenticity (and publicity) wants to use the actual wig that Meg Payton wore. Studio Chief Max Quinke has been regularly sending her flowers and begging for her to come back to work since she retired... Bleake says he will go to the studio and set up the deal.

Studio chief Max Quinke (Herbert Rudley) says no way! How old is she? It’s alluded to that Quinke had an affair with her... when she was younger. Bleake says Quinke has been sending her flowers regularly since she retired begging her to come back, and this script is her comeback. Quinke hasn’t been sending her flowers all of those years - Bleake has. You see, as production accountant, Bleake knows that when big star Devore and producer Quinke and director George Machik formed a production company together and made all of Devore’s biggest hits, they had him do some “Hollywood bookkeeping” so that Quinke and Machik could steal all of the profits from 32 of her films. Millions. So it would be to Quinke’s advantage to greenlight Devore’s comeback instead of deal with the police and IRS and probably end up in prison.

And that is how film deals are made.



The Comeback: On the set, director George Machik (handsome John Baragrey) warns the crew to behave when Miss Devore comes on set - she has been retired for a long time, and this is her comeback, and she may have... aged.

But when Devore comes out, dressed in the costumes and Payton’s actual red wig, she’s young and hot! She looks 25 years old! And she acts the hell out of her scene - she’s still got it! Watching from the side-lines is Hedda Hopper inspired gossip reporter Arabella Foote (Linda Watkins), who can’t believe this is the middle aged Miss Devore. Devore has been in seclusion since her retirement, but she must have had a bunch of face lifts to look this good. Foote is the villainess of the story - trying to find the secret of Devore’s good looks. She’s in the background of almost every scene.

After the day’s shooting, director Machik hits on Devore - they had an affair when she was younger as well. Maybe they could go out to dinner tonight? Devore says she can’t - there’s a party at studio chief Max Quinke’s mansion in Hollywood. Machik wasn’t invited to the party? Machik tells her that Quinke stole from her - skimmed the profits on 32 of her films. Though Machik knew about this, he was afraid to go up against the powerful producer. Maybe Devore should ditch Quinke’s party and go to dinner with Machik?

Devore arrives at Max Quinke’s marvelous mansion for the party... and she is the only guest! Quinke wants to rekindle old flames. His mansion has an indoor fountain, and he puts on music so that they can dance around the fountain. Quinke asks her why she is still wearing the wig after the day’s filming is over. Has she gone method? He’d love to see her beautiful blonde hair....



Meanwhile, assistant Bleake knocks on the door of the mansion, which is opened by a butler. Bleake has a letter that he must give to Miss Devore - very important that she read it. The butler turns him away - he’s not going to interrupt his boss when he’s trying to score.

Quinke keeps asking Devore to take off the red wig... and he gets his wish. Quinke screams in horror! She tells him she knows about skimming the profits from the 32 movies, then pushes him back... into the fountain... where he hits his head and drowns.

We never see Devore’s face without the wig - but the arm that pushes Quinke was withered and old, as if the energy keeping Devore looking young was sucking years off her life. Devore puts the wig back on... just as director Machik shows at the mansion.

Devore tells him that she and Quinke were dancing and he tripped and hit his head on the fountain. Machik says that she shouldn’t be involved because Quinke stole all of that money from her - that can be misconstrued as a motive. Also, that they need a way to keep Machik from being forced to testify against her if it ever comes to that... hey, why don’t we get married? A wife can’t be forced to testify against her husband. She agrees.



Last Day Of Production: They film the last scene of the movie, as Devore playing witch Payton is lead to the gallows, and tells the Hangman, “Your hands are trembling, let me help you,” and puts the noose around her neck. I love how we go back to the opening scene of the episode, here. After filming the scene, it’s a wrap - and the party begins!

Bleake shows at her dressing room with the letter, and she tells him that she doesn’t want to read it. When he keeps pushing, she breaks his heart by saying that she never really cared about him. He was just someone who did things for her. He leaves, practically in tears.

Gossip columnist Foote follows Bleake to a bar, and gets him drunk. A shoulder to cry on. He shows her the letter from the museum where they got the wig, claiming that it is cursed - and the previous owners murdered men who did them wrong. Foote leaves so fast Bleake’s head almost hits the bar when she pulls her shoulder away.

In director Machik’s luxurious penthouse apartment, the newlywed couple discuss their future together on the balcony overlooking the city of Los Angeles at night. Now that the film has wrapped, he wants her to take off that silly wig. She tells him she knows that he was part of embezzling profits from those 32 films, and now that they are married, she can’t testify against him on embezzlement charges. He tries to talk his way out of it, he’s good at that... but she takes off the wig. We don’t see her face, but we see his. He screams in horror and steps away from her - over the balcony railing and all the way down to the street. SPLAT! Now she has inherited all of the money he embezzled.

THE LEGEND OF MEG PAYTON is a huge hit - lines circling around the block. Devore is a big star again, sought after by every producer at every studio.

In her dressing room, a burley security guard catches ex-assistant Bleake trying to break in. She tells the security guard to let him in, and Bleake tells her about the cursed wig. He doesn’t care that she broke his heart, he just wants to help her. He truly cares about her. But she doesn’t want his help - she has everything she wants. “After a while, the wig grows on you.”

At The Wrap Party For The Next Film, Devore is twisting the night away with a much younger man. Gossip columnist Foote and a Photographer watch from the sidelines, and she explains her plan to him: she is going to enter Devore’s dressing room and confront her with the letter from the museum about the cursed wig. At a certain point, the photographer bursts into the dressing room and takes a picture of Devore without the wig...



In the dressing room, Foote confronts Devore with the letter. The wig has dark, demonic powers. Foote accuses Devore of murdering the two men, and who knows how many others, to get to where she is now. “A frowsy old bag puts on a wig and overnight mind you, becomes a ravishing beauty.” Foote manages to grab Devore’s wig and rip it off her head. Devore screams. The photographer breaks in and snaps a picture. Devore runs out of the room with a towel over her head - hiding her face. Leaving the wig on the floor.

Bleake (and everyone else) chases Devore through the studio lot between sound stages. She turns and one point, sees Bleake behind her, and tells him, “Don’t let them see me!” Bleake tries to help her get away, but she trips and falls and is surrounded by everyone else. They turn the lights on her - exposing her withered, ugly face. She looks at least 100 years old. She screams and dies in Bleake’s arms... and he still loves her.

In the dressing room, a plain-jane Maid sees the wig on the floor and snatches it up. When no one is looking she puts it on and looks at herself in the mirror - a hot young woman looks back at her. The end.



Review: An episode that takes on the issues of Ageism, sexism, and #MeToo... in 1962?

After getting off to a rocky start - I sure hope that Pamela Searle was the producer’s girlfriend and that she wasn’t chosen for her acting abilities - this turns into a great episode that combines elements of Grand Guignol and Hollywood (a marriage made in heaven, or maybe hell). This episode is fun, and skewers movies from Hollywood bookkeeping to more serious subjects like women being aged out of the business while older men are promoted. We’ll get to the serious subjects in a moment, because I think that’s what makes this one topical today.



But first, an appreciation for Patricia Barry, who only has 145 credits and was working up until 2014 - two years before her death at 93 years old. Her first film credit is in 1946 (she only made 6 films that year) and she’s in freakin’ SEA OF LOVE, one of my favorite films. She’s in a couple of other episodes of THRILLER, but this is an amazing performance. She plays both versions of Devore, and they are completely different people with completely different looks. She was 40 years old when she made this episode - basically the older Miss Devore - but perfectly played the young hot Miss Devore. Here’s the thing about those 145 credits on IMDB - her three episodes of THRILLER count as 1... and this episode alone is like playing two roles. She seemed to be one of those great dependable actors that you could hire for 6 films in the same year and she did her best work in all 6. Once TV became popular, she was doing multiple episodes on multiple shows within the same year - so she was dependable and professional. This episode made me want to binge watch a whole bunch of movies and TV stuff that she was in, just to see all of the different characters she played - because even if all of those 1946 movies were playing the love interest, I’ll bet they were different people. Her work here is great, and there could not be an episode without someone of this talent playing Devore.

There is a whole subgenre of horror movies about people who have been taken advantage of by others getting their revenge through some sort of supernatural method that they seemingly can not control. From Oliver Stone’s THE HAND (where Michael Caine’s hand lost in a freak accident tracks down those who wronged him) to CHRISTINE (which may have introduced the self driving car) and lots of other movies feature the Dr. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE tale with a supernatural item like Miss Devore’s wig. Spielberg did a similar episode - though nuttier - on his AMAZING STORIES show in the 1980s called HELL TOUPEE and written by a couple of 12 year olds (seriously) about a hairpiece that gets revenge for the meek fellow who wears it. DEVORE does a great job of taking a powerless person and giving them the power that they need... at a price.



Okay, time to talk about that powerless person - and why this episode resonates sixty years later. Back in 1962, this was an episode about Hollywood (and the world’s) seeing women as second class citizens and how agism in Hollywood only matters if you are female. No one wants to hire Devore because she’s old... but they regularly hire male actors who are even older. When you watch a movie today and the male lead is over sixty and the female lead is half that age, something is wrong. Why do older actors get to keep working and older actresses become unemployed? Take your favorite movie from the 1980s - is the male lead still starring in movies? Is the female lead? It’s strange that Stallone still gets to play ROCKY and RAMBO, but how many 73 year old actresses are starring in movies? Sharon Stone is my age, in great shape, and still working... in small supporting roles (she steals the show in DISASTER ARTIST). Why isn’t she *starring* in big movies like (over a decade older) Stallone is? Hollywood has an ageism/sexism problem... and this episode of THRILLER is all about that. Devore is over the hill and un-hireable in her 40s. It always amazes me when an issue like this is explored on a TV series in the 1960s and is still with us today. Is nobody paying attention?

The other issue this episode explores that is still with us today is #MeToo - and maybe it ties in to the ageism/sexism thing... and that bad taste joke I made about the actress who played the witch being someone’s girlfriend. The two powerful men in this episode each had a previous relationship with Devore when she was a young, hot, actress. Though this episode never mentions casting room couches, both men had no problem sleeping with Devore when she was young... but now neither wants to touch her... until they see her in the wig. Then, they are all over her. Both men not only make passes at her, they seem to feel like it’s part of their job description to sleep with the talent. They are powerful men, and that gives them the right to make these advances. Compare those characters with Bleake her assistant - who is in love with her and even has power (the knowledge of the embezzling) but never pushes Devore into any sort of relationship. The moment Devore shows up at producer Quinke’s mansion and she is the only guest, that’s a #MeToo moment. He has lied to her with only one intention. Again, here’s a 60 year old TV episode that focuses on an issue that is still with us today. How many years have there been jokes about the casting room couch? We knew that was wrong all of those years - that’s at the core of those jokes, yet did nothing about it. Being a leacher was never a good thing. The plot of this story has these powerful men taking advantage of a woman - by ripping her off, but also by trying to control her, and by using their power to sleep with her. Yeah, this is a revenge story, so she goes along with their seduction to kill them, but the minute both the producer and director see that she is still hot - they are all over her. Assistant Bleake is kind of the “control” in this experiment - he never stops helping her. Even at the end, he is the one protecting her while all of the others *want* to out her as a disfigured old hag.

If you think older movies and older TV shows didn’t get “political”, it’s just because you were too young to notice... and maybe have a Warner Brothers movies deficiency.

But aside from exploring a couple of issues that I’m sorry to say are still with us today, this is a FUN episode.

It grows on you.

Next time, another horror tale - this one about a killer scarecrow.

- Bill

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Trailer Tuesday: THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES

THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971)

Starring: Vincent Price, Joseph Cotten, Hugh Griffith, Terry Thomas.
Written by: James Whiton, William Goldstein.
Directed by: Robert Fuest.
Produced by: Sam Arkoff and James H. Nicholson (American International Pictures)




This one which is certainly the strangest horror movie due to the musical numbers. Yes, musical numbers. Sometimes with dancing. In a horror movie.

Okay, it may not be as weird as what you are imagining now, because these are not big Busby Berkeley dance numbers with corpses or slasher victims dancing in formation - it’s just Vincent Price’s serial killer dude dancing with his lovely assistant or just playing a song on his organ while his band of life size mechanical musicians play along. All kinds of good old tunes from the 1920s. Between the murders. Yes, that *is* still weird.

The great thing about those mechanical musicians is that it perfectly sets the stage for Phibes serial killings - which are often have a “automated” component and use contraptions and Rube Goldberg-like devices that kill people bby some form of remote control. Which makes this fun. And that’s the tone, here - fun murders. Fun scares. Just plain fun... and maybe the predecessor of the movie SEVEN.



1920s London: Dressed in a black hooded cape, Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price) plays the organ in his own private concert hall, then grabs his baton and conducts his life size wind up band, The Clockwork Wizards, as they play. A door opens in the concert hall and his beautiful assistant Vulnavia (Virginia North) steps out and dances with Phibes... then dances down to the garage beneath the concert hall. Phibes lowers a black shrouded bird cage through a portal in the floor, and Vulnavia straps the cage onto the back of a beautiful vintage automobile and climbs inside, where she is joined by Phibes and they drive away into the night.



In his bedroom Dr. Dunwoody (Edward Burnham) turns off the light to sleep. The skylight of his bedroom opens and that black shrouded bird cage is lowered in to the room. The black shroud is removed with a string, then the cage is raised back out of the room: empty. The skylight closes.

Dr. Dunwoody hears a noise and awakens... sees something fluttering in his room. What could it be? A vampire bat! No, a dozen vampire bats! One lands on his bed and crawls up to his neck and...

Back home, Phibes enters the concert hall and sits at his organ, playing as the platform the organ is on descends to his bed chambers.

Dr. Dunwoody’s butler brings breakfast in the morning, “Good morning, sir.” But when he uncovers the breakfast a bat lands on the eggs and sausages. WTF? Where did that bat come from? He looks up and sees the dozen bats hanging upside down throughout the room... and Dunwoody’s bloody yet bloodless corpse on the bed.

In a room with nine wax statues, Phibes puts a gold chain with a symbol on its amulet around the neck of the one that looks like Dunwoody... then sets it afire.

Police at the scene of Dunwoody’s death. Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) and Inspector Tom Schenley (Norman Jones) discuss the completely weird case, and a previous strange case where another surgeon died - he was stung to death by hundreds of bees in his library until his entire body was covered with boils. Could there be a connection?

In his bedroom, Phibes dresses, putting on his clothes, his ears, his nose, his hair... WTF? The great thing about this film is that there is no massive information dump at the beginning where you are told everything, instead *everything* is mysterious and you get one little clue at a time. So we don’t know what happened to Phibes or even what he looks like before he puts on his face... we just know that he does put on his face. And at this point of the story, he has not spoken a word. Phibes at his organ and plays... and it ascends into the concert hall.



At a Masquerade Party, Phibes wears a bird mask and one of those gold chains as Dr. Hargreaves (Alex Scott) chats with him. Hargreaves hasn’t brought a mask - he seems to have been given the only invitation to omit that detail, but Phibes has brought along a spare - a toad mask that fits over the entire head. As Phibes clamps it on, a ratchet operated by a hidden clockworks begins to slowly move on the mask. Hargreaves enjoys the party for a while, until the mask begins to tighten... and he falls to the floor surrounded by guests with blood spewing out the frog’s mouth and eye holes. They are shocked.

Phibes puts a gold chain around the wax figure that looks like Hargreaves and sets it ablaze.

In his office at Scotland Yard, Inspector Trout tells the Chief that they have a rash of doctor’s deaths - strange. The Chief wants him to keep this from the press: Bats, Bees, Frogs? The papers would run all kinds of wild stories. The Chief believes that the three doctor’s deaths are not connected - “There’s some very strange people practicing medicine these days.”



None stranger than Dr. Longstreet (Terry Thomas), who begins watching erotic videos of a woman dancing with a snakes as soon as his housekeeper Miss Frawley has left. His projector goes on the fritz, and when he looks up from fixing it... the beautiful Vulnavia (Dr. Phibes’ Assistant) is in the room. She sits him in a chairs and ties his arms to the arm rests with silken cords. Longstreet is no doubt thinking this will turn into 50 Shades Of Gray, when gray faced Phibes enters the room... and shoves a needle into his arm. A needle attached to a pint jar. Longstreet attempts to fight - clutching at the gold chain with the symbol medallion around Phibes’ neck and tearing it off... as his blood drains. And Vulnavia plays the violin. Soon 8 pint bottles are filled.

Inspector Tom has what might be a clue to this string of strange doctor deaths: at some point in time each of the doctors worked with a Dr. Visalius...



Inspector Trout arrives at Dr. Visalius’ (Joseph Cotton) house and finds him playing with an electric train while his teenaged son watches. “Do the names, Hargreaves, Thornton, and Dunwoody mean anything to you, sir?” Dr. Visalius knew all three, he had a conversation with Thornton only a few days ago. The phone rings, and it’s for Inspector Trout. After taking the call, Trout asks Visalius if he knew a Dr. Longstreet. “Knew?”

Yes, past tense.

At the crime scene - Inspector Trout interviews Longstreet’s housekeeper Miss Frawley, who heard violin playing in the street last night. It seemed strange at the time, but was beautiful music. She has never seen the necklace with the strange symbol on its amulet before, “It’s not mine and it’s certainly not his.”

Meanwhile, as Phibes prepares to use a blowtorch on Longstreet’s wax figure he realizes he has lost the necklace. His perfect crimes have accidentally left behind a clue. He hesitates for a moment... then torches the wax bust of Longstreet.

Trout interviews jeweler Goldsmith (John Laurie) who made the necklace with the strange amulet, who says it is one of a set of ten. Each had a different symbol. They were made for a lady. She paid in cash - now way to trace it, and she gave no name or address. A tall attractive young lady who didn’t speak much, but was fashionable. Goldsmith says he doesn’t know what the mark means, but he believes that it’s Hebrew.

Trout interviews a Rabbi (Hugh Griffith) who identifies the mark as the symbol for “Blood”... one of the Ten Curses visited upon the Pharaohs before Exodus. The Rabbi gives Trout (and us) a brief lesson in these Ten Curses: Boils, Bats, Frogs, Blood, Rats, Hail, Beasts, Locusts, Death Of The First Born, and then Darkness. Hey, something to look forward to!

Dr. Phibes plugs an electrical cable into a jack on the side of his neck and the other end of the cable is plugged into an old Victrola on a wheeled stand. Then he looks at a photo of his dead wife and tells her he will get revenge for her death. 9 people killed her and 9 shall die! His voice comes out the Victrola speaker - tinny and strange. So, Phibes not only has to put on his face before he goes out for the night, the only way he can speak is through this speaker. What the hell happened to him?

Dr. Vesalius has compiled a list of all of his recent surgeries for Inspector Trout: 1,200! Out of those, there are 37 cases where he worked with any two of the 4 victims... out of those there are 12 where he worked with 3 of the 4 dead... but only 1 where he worked with all 4. Victoria Regina Phibes. They were too late and she died. They called her husband, Dr. Anton Phibes, and he raced back... but his car drove off a cliff and he died. Burned to death. Only his ashes were recovered at the crash site. So it must be some other madman who is doing this... but who? Trout says he will provide police protection for the final five.

Phibes old automobile pulls up next to a country lake and parks, Vulnavia steps out and pops the hood, looking distraught, just as Dr. Hedgepath (David Hutcheson) drives by. He has his chauffeur pull over to see if the lady needs some help. The Chauffeur gets out, goes to the car and asks the attractive young lady if there is some problem with her car. That’s when Phibes kills the chauffeur, then carries a mechanical contraption to Dr. Hedgepath’s car. Vulnavia puts a music box with a dancer on the seat next to Dr. Hedgepath, who smiles at her, until she closes the door. Phibes puts his mechanical contraption between the front seats in the chauffeur’s section and...

Inspector Tom reports to Trout: Everyone of the remaining potential victims have police protection except one - Dr. Kitaj, who seems to be out of the country. He flies his own plane, so it is difficult to know where he is at any time. After Dr. Phibes’ death, his bank accounts were transferred from Switzerland to an account in London, then the account was liquidated and taken as cash by an attractive young woman. Very odd.



Crime scene - Trout and Tom at Dr. Hedgepath’s car parked near the lake... A police officer found the dead chauffeur, but the man he was driving is still in the car. The officer did not even open the door - to preserve evidence, of course. Trout goes to the car and the windows are completely frozen over. Um, it’s spring. It’s about as sunny as a day in the English countryside gets. How can the windows be *frozen*? He tries to open the door - it’s frozen shut! He finally gets it open and see Hedgepath *frozen solid* in the back seat! The curse of hail *inside the car*!

Dr. Vesalius follows up on his own clue he came across while talking to his teenaged son - Dr. Phibes was a famous organist, and the local sheet music salesman Mr. Darrow (John Laurie) knew him... and claims that he is *still* a customer, even after his death. What? How is that possible?

Trout and Vesalius go to Mr. & Mrs. Phibes crypt. Inside, two coffins. One has fresh roses on top. They open Anton Phibes’ coffin and inside find... a box with ashes. Trout says all that this proves is that *someone* was incinerated in that accident, but not necessarily Dr. Anton Phibes. Maybe his chauffeur? They open Mrs. Phibes coffin and... it’s empty!

Dr. Phibes and Vulnavia drive to an airfield owned by the London Aeroplane Club, where Dr. Kitaj (Peter Gilmore) hops in his airplane and goes through the steps involved in starting up a biplane. Meanwhile Inspector Tom races in his car to warn Dr. Kitaj that he is in danger. Kitaj get the plane going and taxis down the field... Tom chasing in his car. But Dr. Kitaj takes off...

On a hill near the airfield Phibes watches the plane take off through a telescope as Vulnavia plays the violin.



In the plane, Dr. Kitaj is attacked by a hundred hungry rats! They bite him all over... and he loses control of the plane. It crashes. Which allows Tom to finally catch up with it.

Phibes dances with Vulnavia in celebration. He drinks a glass of champagne... through a hole in the other side of his neck. What the hell is under Phibes’ face when he takes it off at night?

Inspectors Trout and Tom hustle Dr. Whitcombe (Maurice Kaufmann) off to a safehouse in the country where they can protect him 24/7. Whitcombe says he needs to return to London in a few days to tend to his patients. They assure him it will only take a few days to figure out who this killer is and capture him. As they prepare to leave Dr. Whitcombe’s building, a brass unicorn statue blasts through the doors and pierces him - screwing his body to the entry hall wall behind him. Trout and Tom must twist Whitcombe’s body around to unscrew it from the wall. The Curse Of Beasts.



Dr. Phibes puts the golden necklace with the amulet on the wax bust of Whitcome and sets it on fire. Then plays his organ and looks at photographs of his dead wife projected on the wall in a slide show. Within 24 hours his work will be finished.

Inspector Trout tells the chief that the brass unicorn was *fired from a catapult* into Dr. Whitcombe. Marvelous shot. Trout gets dressed down for not solving this case, and always showing up to prevent the next victim’s death moments after it has already occurred. His timing is terrible. Trout thinks he’s getting closer to preventing a murder, since they were actually with this last victim when he was killed.

Phibes has a wheelbarrow full of *brussell sprouts* and dumps them into a cauldron attached to what seems to be a still... and begins distilling green goop.

Inspector Trout has the hospital where soon-to-be-victim #8 Nurse Allen (Susan Travers) is working surrounded by police. Police cars. Policemen. Plain clothes officers. Undercover officers. There is no way in or out of the hospital, except maybe by balloon. Dr. Vesalius is also in the hospital, and he tries to calm down Nurse Allen who doesn’t want all of the police officers meddling in her life. The two get onto an elevator where an orderly with a cart stands in the corner... but we recognize him as Phibes. Vesalius explains to Nurse Allen that a man is trying to kill her and all of these police are just here for her protection.



Phibes rolls his cart into a room, unrolls a lifesize drawing of a naked woman on a bed onto the floor and positions it exactly where a bed would be if this room were furnished. Pulls out a drill and drills through the drawing’s head into the floor... through the ceiling of the room below where Nurse Allen sleeps. He carefully dribbles his brussell sprout syrup through the hole and onto her face as she sleeps... then unleashes a jar of *massive* locust through the hole. The locust go for the brussell sprout syrup on her face and...

Inspector Trout and Dr. Vesalius sit in the hospital - the two last potential victims are in the same place and under extreme police protection. Nothing to worry about. They discuss the remaining causes of death - locust, darkness, and death of the first born sons - and Dr. Vesalius says his older brother passed away years ago, so no chance of first born sons being his fate... and then Inspector Trout yells for police cars to speed to Dr. Vesalius’ house and make sure his teenage son is protected. They never thought of that! Vesalius goes with Inspector Tom to his house to make sure is son is okay.

Phibes puts the last of the locusts through the hole by hand, then looks through the hole at Nurse Allen...

When Inspector Tom and Dr. Vesalius get to his house, they discover the back door has been forced open and his son is gone. Inspector Tom races back to the hospital to tell Trout.



Inspector Trout tells Tom they’ve obviously been guarding the wrong potential victim, so they will give one final check on Nurse Allen and then go to Vesalius’ house and process it for clues. The police officer posted at the Nurse’s quarters is still there - no one has come in or out. They knock on the door, no answer. They open the door... and inside find Nurse Allen *covered in locusts* which have *eaten away her face*!

Phibes burns the wax bust of Nurse Allen.

Inspector Trout tells Dr. Vesalius they’re doing everything they can to find his son. The phone rings and when Vesalius picks it up - organ music. Then Phibes strange electronic voice says: “Nine killed her. Nine shall die. Eight have died, soon to be nine. Nine eternities in doom! The organ plays until midnight, the large house in Muldeen Square, come alone.” Vesalius wants to go alone, Trout insists that he come along. Vesalius says he must make a phone call first, then knocks out Trout with the phone and leaves.



Dr. Vesalius pulls up at the large house and rings the bell. Vulnavia answers the door, and leads him to Phibes. “I have killed 9 times in my life, Vesalius, how many deaths can be attributed to you?” Hey, Surgeons don’t murder people, they just make mistakes. It’s different... unless the mistake killed someone you love. Vesalius demands to see his son, pleads to see his son. Phibes says he will see his son - in a way that may bring back memories. Through the glass floor of the ballroom Vesalius sees his son on an operating table below!

Trout wakes up, takes a drink to give him courage, and heads to Phibes’ house.

Phibes tells Vesalius that his son’s neck is locked onto the operating table, and the key has been inserted into his son’s body next to his heart. There is an X-Ray showing this. To free his son he must perform an operation and remove the key. One slip and he will kill his own son! Oh, and there’s a ticking clock - there is a Rube Goldberg device that will release acid onto his son’s head in exactly 6 minutes. Starting... Now! Dr. Vesalius puts on his gloves and gets to work!



Phibes tells Vulnavia to destroy all of the evidence then turns to Dr. Vesalius and explains that Phibes’ wife lived only 6 minutes on the operating table, so his son has only six minutes. Phibes removes his *face* to show Dr. Vesalius what was left of him after he was burned in that car accident - basically just a skull! Yikes!

Trout and several policemen arrive at Phibes’ house.

With 30 seconds left, Dr. Veslaius removes the key from next to his son’s heart and quickly unlocks the padlock and moves his son out of the path of the acid drop as it drips down... onto Vulnavia!



Phibes is putting his face back on as Trout and the other police search the house for him. Then Trout spots the organ rising from the depths. They try to figure out how it can be lowered, as downstairs Phibes moves to his bed... where his dead (and embalmed) wife lays. He lays next to her, hooks up his arm to an IV that replaces his blood with embalming fluid and presses a button which brings the canopy down over the bed - darkness and the 10th death. By the time Trout and the police get there, no sign of Phibes. The end.

Or is it? The problem with killing your serial killer at the end is that if your film is a big hit like PHIBES was, they will want a sequel, right? So tomorrow we’ll look at that sequel which co-stars the great Robert Quarry (COUNT YORGA) who was also in one of my films as well as Peter Cushing... and which may be the predecessor of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK!!!!

- Bill



Buy the pit



Friday, October 25, 2019

Fridays With Hitchcock: Hitch 20: Banquo's Chair (s3e3)

Season 4 is coming soon!

This is a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I am a "guest expert" on. The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock and here is the third episode of the third season, which looks at the terror of the unseen in Hitchcock's work.





off!

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!

May Price: $3.99 --- June 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.



- 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.

Bill

Thursday, October 24, 2019

THRILLER Thursday: THE STORM

NEW! SEASON 2: THE STORM

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



Season: 2, Episode: 18.
Airdate: January 22, 1962.

Director: Hershell Daugherty Writer: William D. Gordon, based on a story by MacIntoch Malmar.
Cast: Nancy Kelly, David McLean, James Griffith, Jean Carroll.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: John F. Warren.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “George Herbert, rector of Bemerton once wrote, ‘By all means tale some time to be alone. Salute thyself. See what thy soul doth wear.’ One wonders if it is possible ever to heed that advice. Does the condition of safe solitude exist? Here, for example, we have a wide still space about us, and a curtain of heavy weather descended to cut off the rest of the world. Yes, we have the illusion of solitude. But here too are some witnesses who will attest that the illusion is grotesquely false: Janet Wilson whose character is portrayed by Nancy Kelly, Ben Wilson to be played by David McLean, and Ed Brandes played by James Griffith. And... dear ,em I think I’ve forgotten someone - of course, it’s Baba. (He picks up the black cat.) Baba who perpetuates the name of the Egyptian philosopher of the 18th Dynasty, 1600 BC. It’s a pity, wouldn’t you say, that Baba was the only witness to a murder? And such a brutal one. The victim so young, so beautiful, so helpless. The killer safe - free to roam the stormy night, perhaps to kill again. And again. As for little Baba, I suspect that only he knows the secret of solitude without danger. But the others? Seclusion will become the cradle of panic. The storm, from which the story derives its title from, has many ingredients: wind, rain, wickedness, terror. But I needn’t tell you anymore - you’ll be there to see it explode in all its glory.”



Synopsis: A storm rages. Outside a large country home - miles away from the next house - a black cat watches as a Man chases a Woman. We see neither’s face. The man catches the woman near a fence and strikes her... killing her... and she falls to the ground. Her limp arm tangled in a fence. We see that she is wearing a distinctive diamond ring.

There is a killer on the loose in the storm.

Janet Willsom (Nancy Kelly) pulls up in front of that large country home in a taxi cab driven by creepy Ed Brandes (James Griffith - more quirky than creepy) who warns her that the storm will be getting worse, there will be flooding and road closures, so maybe he should take her to the hotel in town. She says that she has been away, and just wants to get home. He offers to carry her bags inside...



Once inside, the cat (Baba) greets her... and Brandes the taxi driver continues to come on to her like a super lonely guy. You feel sorry for him. He offers to take the suitcases to the bedroom, he asks if she has anything alcoholic to drink, he asks if she wants him to spend the night to keep her safe. Janet tells him that she is expecting her husband any minute, pays him and gets him to leave.

Now she is alone in the house during the storm. Just her and the cat.

Lightning. Thunder. Wind. Rain.

The house is cold, so she turns on the furnace... but it isn’t working. Cold, So she puts on a jacket. Bundled up. She starts a fire in the fireplace, and goes to the phone to call her husband. This is a rural area, and every call goes through an operator, who Janet talks to for a while. The gossip line. She gets some information on the storm - which is getting worse - as the operator tries to connect to her husband Ben (David McLean). No answer at the office, he must already be headed home. Driving in this weather. Janet was going to warn him that she came home a day early after tending to a sick sister.

She hangs up the phone and we get an exposition filled flashback of her and Ben’s relationship. Even though both are middle aged, they have only been married a couple of years. They found each other late in life, and Ben swept her off her feet. This is the first of a couple of exposition dump flashbacks, and one major thing that it does is put a face on the offscreen husband.

The flashback ends when the power flickers... then goes out. Suddenly there is a loud banging from outside and the cat shoots across the room.

Janet looks out the window and discovers the noise is the cellar door banging open and closed. She grabs her raincoat and goes outside to secure it. Weird that it wasn’t latched closed.

Back inside the house, the power goes out. Darkness.



She grabs her coat and a flashlight, goes back outside and opens the cellar door, descending into the darkness. The cellar is creepy (but the spider webs never come into contact with the actress). She goes to the fuse box and checks the fuses - all are good. This is a downed power line somewhere. She goes back into the house, securing the cellar doors behind her. Grabs candles and hopes that Ben comes home soon.

The fire has died down, and when she stokes it with newspapers from a bin, she finds a letter addressed to her husband, and we get another flashback - this time to explain that in the past her husband kept getting letters from some woman named Agnes that he claimed was his cousin. Ben doesn’t open the letters in front of Janet and refuses to talk about them. All of this seems suspicious as hell in a brief flashback, but for some reason Janet just accepts it. We aren’t even at the first commercial and I already know who the killer and the victim are in this story.



She puts the cat outside, and then notices that the cellar window is open. It’s as if the cellar is beckoning to her. She grabs the flashlight and raincoat and goes down to close and lock the cellar window... and discovers a dead woman in a trunk! And the dead woman is wearing that distinctive diamond ring!

She races back inside the house and tries to call the police, but the storm has fouled up the phone lines - she can hear the operator but the operator can’t hear her.

She hears someone outside! She runs out to the garage, goes to the hook on the wall where the keys to the old pick up truck should be... but they are gone! She gets into the pick up, and the keys are in the ignition. She starts it up and drives away from the house, but a tree branch blocks the road. When she tries to get around it, she gets stuck in the mud. She runs back to the house, closes and locks the door, then notices an icepick on the kitchen table (earlier she had told the taxi driver that neither she nor her husband drinks, so what the heck is the ice pick for?). She grabs the ice pick to use as a weapon, and searches the house... finding the cat inside and wet shoe prints on the floor. Someone else is in the house!



The front door rattles. She goes up to the door, ice pick ready, and unlocks the door... daring the killer to come in. This does not seem like a safe thing to do, nor a sensible thing to do.

A man enters and when she tries to stab him with the ice pick, he grabs her... it’s Ben, her husband. She tells him about the dead woman in the cellar and he doesn’t believe her. He takes her down into the cellar to show her that it’s all her imagination... and there is no dead woman in the trunk. She imagined it all.

Back inside the house, she still wants to phone the police, and he talks her out of it. She mentions the letter that she found, but it isn’t where she put it. Ben says that he noticed it when he came in and put it in his pocket. When he pulls it out, that distinctive diamond ring comes with it, and falls on the floor. Ben is the killer!

Janet runs, Ben chases. She runs to the pick up truck, and we get a “cavalcade of bodies” scene when she pulls a tarp from the back and there is the dead woman! She screams, then keeps running. Ben stops chasing her for some reason, the end. Kind of a weird ending - it’s as if they ran out of film or time, so Ben just stops chasing her.



Review: This episode predates the classic Hitchcock Hour AN UNLOCKED WINDOW by a couple of years, and shows how the same idea can be a great episode and a bland one. This is the bland one. The one that keeps making mis-steps at the script stage.

Right from the beginning we get odd choices in the story. If the Taxi Driver is supposed to be our potential killer, he certainly doesn’t act like it. Though casting was a huge mistake here, James Griiffith seems like the guy at the top of the list when you look up “Taxi Drivers” in the casting directory, when the role really needs someone seriously creepy and strange; the real problem is the dialogue isn’t creepy and strange enough. He seems like a lonely guy hitting on a woman alone, instead of a potential murderer. This is where you want “two way dialogue” that has both a conversational meaning and a deeply disturbing meaning. Things that can be taken two ways. But you also want just straight out crazy stuff. If the Taxi Driver had talked about the dangers of the storm and how he once saw a new litter of puppies drown in a house basement... his house’s basement when he was a child... and he just watched them from the stairway... that would have made this guy a potential killer. He needed to be a serious threat that she must get out of her house... and then we fear that he might be waiting in the cellar for her. But he’s a lonely guy with lonely guy talk... pathetic instead of a threat.



Once he’s gone, it’s just Janet and the cat for most of the story - and it seems as if they have padded out the story instead of tried to create actual suspense and dread. Various noises keep sending her into the cellar... but because we have no idea that there is the body of a dead woman down there, it really doesn’t matter. Unlike the Hitchcock episode where we know that there is an escaped lunatic killer on the loose in the storm, here we have no constant warning that something bad might happen. Once we have negated the Taxi Driver as a threat, we just have the storm and that opening teaser where a woman is killed. Now, if that teaser had shown the killer taking the body into the cellar, where he maybe is waiting out the storm, that might have made those pointless trips to the cellar to latch a window more suspenseful... but minus a threat in the cellar, it’s just a woman in the dark securing a window - no big deal. And a huge chunk of this episode is her securing windows and being afraid of owls. They must have thought the storm was enough to be afraid of - but a storm is just rain, and it washes off.



The other issue with the script are these dead flashbacks designed to give us information that the exposition dumps on the phone with the operator didn’t cover. I’m sure in the story that this was adapted from, she sees the letter addressed to her husband and remembers their conversations about the letters... but instead of finding a way to *adapt* this scene to a visual dramatic medium, the script just does what the story does. It comes off as boring *and* an obvious exposition plant for the Husband Is The Killer Twist (which kills the twist). Instead, I would have had her read the letter and discover that her husband has a crazy admirer who is threatening to come to the house - making this mystery woman another possible killer in the storm.



If they had also made the mystery woman a threat, they could have had all sorts of fun with wet or muddy footprints in the house... a woman’s shoes... and now she tries to match her shoes to the prints. It would have given her something active to do, and built up the suspense.

It’s as if every time there is a chance to make the episode work, the script does the opposite of what it should have done.

Instead of racheting up the suspense and dread with actual things that are potential threats - things that are legitimate fears - if comes up with a bunch of excuses that just pad out the story until we get to the twist ending. This is where “poking the tiger” is important in a screenplay or story - whatever the actual physical threat is, it needs to be regularly shown in the story in order to remind the audience that it is there. Once we have that unlocked window in the Hitchcock episode, things begin to happen in the house that remind us of the crazy killer... and tell us that the killer is IN THE HOUSE. Not a potential threat, but an actual threat. Here, that noise outside is just an owl.



One of the other things that doesn’t work is that cat - which seems to exist only for scenes where she put the cat outside and then somehow the cat is inside. I didn’t even nothing this until she mentions it outloud close to the end. Was I supposed to be keeping track of the cat this whole time?

The end is also a complete let down. It seems like they just ran out of time or film and ended it with the husband in the storm. He could still have chassed and killed her. A better ending would have been to have a police car roll up (the operator had them do a check) or even the creepy Taxi Driver return because he stole something personal from the house and decided to return it an apologize. Something to actually resolve the conflict of the killer husband. But nope.

Next week we go to Hollywood for the story of a washed up old sexpot who gets one last chance at stardom... with a little help from a witch.

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Friday, October 18, 2019

Fridays With Hitchcock:
HITCH 20: POISON (s3e2)

COUNTDOWN TO SEASON 4!!!

This is a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I am a "guest expert" on. The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock and here is the second episode of the third season, which looks at the terror of the unseen in Hitchcock's work.



Notes on the episode:

First off: How cool is the Poking The Tiger graphic? That totally made my day!

Many things get cut for time, so let’s talk about them here...

1) Once again, sorry for the sound issues - I think that’s why so little of my comments end up in this episode.

2) Though this story takes place somewhere in the tropics it was shot on the Revue Lot in Studio City (now CBS Radford) on a soundstage. The next three episodes covered were shot when the show had moved a couple of miles down the street at Universal, so that’s where I’ll be for those episodes.

3) This story by Roald Dahl is probably best known as a famous radio drama from Escape Radio Theater starring Jack Webb and William Conrad - that show’s most famous episode. Because this story deals with the unseen, radio is a perfect medium for it... our imaginations are already primed because we have to imagine everything else... so when you add that poisonous snake we can easily imagine the worst. Here is a page with a link to that episode: ESCAPE RADIO THEATER - POISON.

4) Hey, speaking of the unseen and that clip from JAWS - one of the cool things about this episode is that it deals with *dread*, which is a cousin to suspense. I think I talk a little more about that at the end of the episode. Dread is the “fuel” for horror because it’s roots are in “fear of the unknown” - we know that something terrible may happen but we don’t know when that will happen: it’s the Hitchcock bomb under the table and ticking clock... with no clock. When we can’t see the threat and we don’t known when or where it will strike, this creates unease in the audience and fear. Though people often credit the mechanical shark breakdown with the success of JAWS (because without the shark they had to depend on dread) I’m fairly sure that Spielberg is a smart enough filmmaker to know how dread works and had probably seen CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (from the same studio as JAWS) and knew that it’s more effective *not* to show the monster before the attack to create dread... which is fear of the unknown, and often unseen.

By the way - even in a monster movie you eventually must show the monster (as this episode eventually shows us the snake) because the audience needs to know that it actually exists. Seeing is believing. Watch JAWS again and note how the *fin* is in almost every scene just before the shark attack. Just because the shark is below the surface and can not be seen before the attack doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist - you still need to show it, so that the audience will know it. The monster is there - in the shadows - and eventually you must show it when it attacks!

The technique of dread may be an element of horror movies, but it can be used in any genre. One of the Trailer Tuesdays in rotation is on the noir film GUN CRAZY which uses dread in it’s final scene - where our protagonist couple are trying to escape from the police and end up huddled together in a foggy swamp with the *sounds* of the police and their barking bloodhounds all around them. Because we can not see these threats, they create dread. It’s not suspense - a known threat (ticking clock or something we can see) but dread which deals with fear of the *unknown* and/or *unseen*.

This episode of HITCHCOCK PRESENTS uses elements from other genres - like dread from horror movies and the heist genre. I think that’s important for filmmakers to remember - just because your story is in one genre doesn’t mean you can’t use the tools and techniques of other genres. You want to use every tool and technique to make the best possible movie... so know the techniques and how they work!

5) As I said in the episode - whether it’s suspense or dread, you need to poke the tiger and remind the audience that the threat is there, so they don’t forget. You may think, “of course they won’t forget, that’s what the story is about!” but suspense (and dread) will *dissipate* if you don’t keep reminding the audience... and when something is unseen you have to keep those tiger pokes coming. The character’s coughing is a great way to poke the tiger - think of how often something like a sneeze is used in comedy films to do the same thing. Come up with a list of “pokes” to keep your suspense bubbling! “The chloroform will be very cold, but don’t move!” Coughing, sweating, his buddy poking and prodding, the chloroform, the tube, and everything else that can keep the suspense in the forefront of the audience’s mind! Keep poking that tiger!

6) In Hitchcock’s explanation of how suspense works, he talks about the bomb under the table that we know will go off at a specific time and the clock on the wall counting down the minutes... and the two people at the table talking about something innocuous like *baseball scores*. That last part is often forgotten or misunderstood by filmmakers and screenwriters... and of course, development folks. You not only don’t want any conversation that will distract from the suspense, you also want conversation that is *pointless* - if someone is saying something important or interesting or with purpose then the audience will understand why they aren’t focusing on the bomb under the table (or whatever the suspense generator is). That dissipates the suspense because there is other important information in the scene. So suspense *increases* if the conversation is meaningless... like that wrong number when phoning for the doctor in POISON. Not just the wrong number, but *talking about it* afterwards instead of getting right back to dialing that phone and getting help. Frustration is an element of suspense - “Don’t just stand there, do something! Do something!” One of the notes I’ve gotten in suspense scenes from clueless Development Execs deals with dialogue like those baseball score conversations... they just don’t understand the basics of how suspense works! You *want* that wrong number and then the silly conversation about making the mistake before dialing it again - that ramps up the suspense!

7) The Heist Genre element that I mention in the show: Heist movies usually have a scene where the plan is discussed step-by-step, and this episode uses that technique with the doctor’s plan to knock out the snake. He explains exactly what he is going to do, so that the audience can *anticipate* each step and its effect before it happens. Suspense is the *anticipation* of a known action... so the audience is now able to anticipate the outcome of each step in the plan... and wonder if things will go wrong. If they don’t know what is going to happen, there is no suspense - just things happening. Because we know what is *supposed to happen* in a heist scene, when something doesn’t happen as planned the audience worries that it will cause larger problems. Here, each step in the plan to knock out that poisonous snake has the ability to go wrong and cause larger problems (well, the guy will be bitten and die - that’s a pretty big problem), so as each step is meticulously done and small problems occur, the audience is on the edge of their seats worried that even small deviations in the plan may have fatal consequences.

8) Love the ironic twist ending!

Next episode of HITCH 20 I’ll be a couple of miles down the street at Universal Studios, where the show moved to after this season.

- Bill

Of course, I have my own 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.

Bill

Thursday, October 17, 2019

THRILLER Thursday: Choose A Victim

CHOOSE A VICTIM

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



Season: 1, Episode: 19.
Airdate: January 24, 1961


Director: Richard Carlson
Writer: George Bellak
Cast: Larry Blyden, Susan Oliver, Vaughn Taylor, Billy Barty, Tracey Roberts.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Producer: Maxwell Shane




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “What the young man is touching is the rotor of her beautiful expensive sports car, without which it will never start. The first gambit by Ralphie Teal, who feels that the world is his oyster. Whose tastes are becoming very expensive. And who knows, if the only way he can satisfy those tastes is for him to Choose A Victim, the title of tonight’s story. Our leading players are Mr. Larry Blyden, Miss Susan Oliver, Mr. Vaughn Taylor, and Miss Tracy Roberts. And as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, you’ll find it puzzling to choose the victim of tonight’s macabre events. You may find yourself grossly mislead, possibly surprised, but we do hope that you enjoy this thriller.”

Synopsis: Past his pull date beach bum Ralphie Teal (Larry Blyden) imagines himself a player... he may hang out with his main squeeze Fay (Tracey Roberts) who works at the beach’s boardwalk arcade, but he’s always scanning the girls on the beach for fresh talent. When Edith Landers (Susan Oliver) pulls up in a sports car and steps out in a bathing suit, Ralphie comes up with a scheme. He pulls the rotor cap from the sports car and waits for Edith to return. When he car doesn’t start, he has her pop the hood... tells her the engine is flooded and she’ll have to wait a half hour before trying to start it again, and he knows a great little coffee shop around the corner. During that half hour he hits on her *hard*, trying to create an instant relationship with this wealthy young woman. Oh, she has jewelry in her purse which catches Ralphie’s eyes. He waits to make sure his car starts right up (he’s replaced the rotor cap) and comes up with a plan for their next meeting.



The next day she drives up to the beach again, and Ralphie goes down to the sand to flirt with her. He invites her back to his little beachfront apartment for coffee... and she says yes. Somewhere in here Fay knocks at the door and Ralphie gets rid of her, but Fay starts to become supicious and jealous. Edith tells Ralphie that her parents died and left her a fortune, but her mean Uncle is the executor and has her on an allowance and is always after her to settle down and get married to someone in her social strata. She’ll never have any fun as long as her Uncle is around. When she leaves, Ralphie asks if he can hitch a ride, because his car is being repaired near where she lives (this makes absolutely no sense, but she agrees).

At the mansion where she lives, Ralphie gets out and insists on walking to the car repair place (which probably doesn’t exist). When she goes inside the house, Ralphie takes note of the address and security measures.

Edith’s mean Uncle (Vaughn Taylor) gives her a lecture when she comes inside. He is kind of a pain in the butt...

Fay wants to go out with Ralphie, but he says he’s got something to do... Dressed in all black, wearing black gloves, he slides a big glittering knife into his pocket.

That night, while Edith sleeps, Ralphie breaks into her bedroom looking for all of those jewels in her purse: a diamond bracelet and necklace. She wakes up! Ralphie puts his hand over her mouth and his big glittering knife to her throat. When the wind blows the closet door shut, mean Uncle asks if Edith is okay, and she says she’s fine... and *doesn’t* tell him that Ralphie is in her room. She even lets Ralphie leave (without jewelry) and tells him to meet her tomorrow under the boardwalk.



The next day, Edith tells Ralphie that they must not be seen together because her mean Uncle will get mad... and Ralphie agrees, since he doesn’t want Fay to find out he’s cheating on her. Edith gives Ralphie a very expensive cigarette lighter and some other gifts, and begins planting the idea that they could be together in her mansion if only mean Uncle would drop dead. It takes a while for Ralphie to catch on, and suggest that maybe they should *help* her Uncle drop dead somehow.

Ralphie comes up with a plan. Uncle often drives on a winding cliffside road into town to drink at a luxurious bar... and drives back over that dangerous road when drunk. They can stop him at a particularly dangerous curve, Ralphie will tell him his car has broken down, and while Uncle is distracted, Edith can ram his car over the cliff with Ralphie’s car. When Uncle leaves the house, she’s to call the payphone at the arcade and let it ring 2 times then hang up. No completed call means it can’t be traced by the police later on. But Ralphie will hear it, come and pick up Edith, and they will wait on that dangerous curve for Uncle to return drunk...

Fay wants to go out with Ralphie when the phone rings, and he has to stop the Arcade Boss (Billy Barty) from answering. Two rings, then nothing. Ralphie says he’s busy and splits.



Ralphie and Edith wait in the dark car until Uncle’s car drives up, and Ralphie gets out and stops it. He has to keep talking to Uncle while Edith puts the car in gear and rams Uncle’s car... be she never does. Uncle drives off and Ralphie blows up at Edith. She says she just couldn’t do it. Ralphie realizes he’ll have to do it himself, and it’s probably best for Edith to be somewhere public getting an alibi.

There’s a bit of suspense that doesn’t work, when after Edith calls the arcade phone booth and lets it ring twice, Uncle ends up loaning his car to a friend and she must stop Ralphie for killing the wrong man, but eventually it’s Ralphie and Mean Uncle on that dangerous curve, and Mean Uncle goes over the cliff (where his car, like a good movie or TV car, explodes for no apparent reason on its way down). Mean Uncle is dead and Ralphie and Edith can live happily ever after in her mansion.

When Ralphie gets back to his apartment, he find Edith waiting there for him! She was supposed to be somewhere establishing an alibi! But she says she was worried and wanted to make sure it went well. There’s some kissing, and then Edith leaves so that she’ll be home when the police come to tell her about the terrible accident. But when Edit leaves, she forgets one of her gloves.

Next morning, Ralphie is awoken by pounding on his door: the police! Detective Hazlett (Guy Mitchell) says they need to take him downtown for questioning.



Detective Hazlett and others interrogate him, they *know* he killed mean Unlce. But how? They search him and find: Mean Uncle’s cigarette lighter and wallet! Ralphie claims the lighter is his, a gift! Has no idea where the wallet came from. Then call in Edith and she I.D.s him as the creep who kept hitting on her at the beach and might have followed her home once. Ralphie keeps insisting that they have a relationship, but Edith asks the police why a woman like her would ever date a beach bum like him. Makes no sense at all. The police believe her, and she walks out... leaving Ralphie in line for the electric chair while she no longer has a mean Uncle.

On the street in front of the Police Station she goes to put on her gloves... and can only find one! She left the other at Ralphie’s apartment! When she goes to break in and retrieve it, she spots *Fay* breaking into Ralphie’s apartment, looking for evidence of his cheating... and Fay find the glove! Edith follows Fay, waiting for a chance to steal the glove back. Fay goes to work, where the Arcade Manager tells her that Ralphie was arrested for murder. Fay can’t believe this. Ralphie is a cheater and a thief, but not a killer! When Fay sets the glove down on the counter and goes to the back of the arcade, Edith moves quickly to snatch up the glove... But Detective Hazlett gets there first. He smelled Edith’s expensive perfume on Ralphie’s clothes, and wondered if maybe Ralphie was telling the truth about Edith being in on the murder. They slap the cuffs on Edith and haul her away.



Review: This is the kind of story you would find on ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, and has some great twists and nice possibilities for suspense... but it just doesn’t deliver. The suspense scenes don’t seem to work, even though you can clearly see that they were written to work. The director, Richard Carlson, was an actor who had directed some TV episodes by this time, but seems not to have the skill set to shoot a suspense scene. On a show like HITCHCOCK every episode was suspense based, so they hired directors who could do that, and if you were a director hired for the show you know that’s what they needed from you. THRILLER was so erratic that a director may have been originally considered for one of the more dramatic episodes and then end up doing a horror episode or a suspense episode. The scene where Ralphie breaks in to Edith’s bedroom has her asleep in the background, which is a suspense situation... but it comes off flat and kind of boring. It’s Ralphie looking for the bracelet and necklace with no real possibility of being caught... even though you can see that possibility is how the writer intended the scene to work. Every scene that seems to be written for suspense comes off kind of dull. When Ralphie has to keep talking to mean Uncle as he waits for Edith to ram the car is just a talk scene... when it was obviously written to be nail biting suspense as he must keep talking and talking. So the episode is bland.

Also, Larry Blyden seems miscast. I don’t know his career, but he seems more light a light comedy guy... that funny next door neighbor in a sitcom... than a sleazy beach bum / thief. Though both women are attractive, this is James M. Cain territory and Edith seems particularly non sexy for a femme fatale. I have no idea whether that was a censorship issue or more bland direction, but for a hot woman in a bathing suit she comes off cold in scene after scene. The actress Susan Oliver had a career playing vamps, so it’s not like she didn’t know how to do that... it was someone else’s choice.

Again, because this is a Pete Rugolo score, I wonder if this wasn’t an earlier episode held until later to make room for good ones like HUNGRY GLASS?

Bill

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