Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Pre-Braggers

From 2010...

You just want to say, “Hey buddy, keep it in your pants!”

Message boards are full of them. People who brag about things they have yet to do. Accomplishments they have yet to accomplish. “I have written a great screenplay.” “My script is better than (current hit feature film).” “When I win my Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, I’m going to...” “Anyone can write a stupid script like that, I’m going to write ART!” And hundreds and hundreds of other boasts of things that have not yet happened. It is so easy to say the script you have not yet written is better than the script that was written and sold and made and distributed and just opened at #1 over the weekend. But how can you possibly prove that?

Pre-Braggers always join a message board and come on strong - they post all kinds of stuff about how great they are and how bad everyone else is moments after signing up. They never spend any time lurking on the boards and reading past posts to see who everyone is and get a hang for what is going on, because the other people on the board do not matter - only *they* matter. Whatever subjects were being discussed before they arrived do not matter. This often becomes amusing, because they have no idea how many pro writers are on the boards or how many other writers are *way* ahead of them on their journey to becoming a professional writer. They are the only important ones! And eventually they say or do something stupid to a pro who could probably help them if they weren’t the center of the world and no one else matters.

Pre-Braggers also *start topics* rather than add to existing topics, because what they want to talk about is more important than what anyone else is talking about. Mostly, they want to talk about themselves. Instead of being part of the group conversation, they want everyone to be part of their conversation (as long as other people agree with them, if they disagree - they snap). And the Pre-Bragger’s conversations tend to be about how great they are, or how awful Hollywood movies are, or how wrong headed someone who actually knows what they are talking about is. They are experts without experience. When they start a thread, it is not about *discussion*, it is about *them* - it is bragging disguised as whatever subject is in the thread title. They believe *their* opinion about some popular film is what is right, and your opinion is wrong... and any facts that do not support their beliefs are wrong, no matter how many there are. They will dismiss every fact other posters bring up, and support their theory with... nothing. Just their opinion. Which is more important than everyone else’s opinion because they are a brilliant writer and everyone else is not.

And that’s a big problem with Pre-Braggers - they believe they have some sort of amazing talent that the rest of us do no have, so they will just waltz in and succeed while the rest of us who have worked our butts off will fail. Because for the Pre-Bragger it is not about all of the hard work we have done, it isn’t about hard work at all... it is about them being special. Them being the chosen one. If we are working so hard and have not cracked it, yet, there must be something wrong with us.

SELF CONFIDENCE



A Pre-Bragger is brimming with self confidence... in fact, they have way too much self confidence. That can be very irritating. Now, I do not think self confidence is a bad thing - without it we would never venture from our homes. But, like in all things, there needs to be a balance. You can have too much self confidence and be an arrogant prick (many Pre-Braggers are) and be completely blind to your faults. Pre-Braggers never realize how much work their scripts need, because there is no room for improvement if you are already perfect. I believe that you need enough self doubt to make you do that extra rewrite before you give your script to your best contact... but enough self confidence to give your script to that best contact. The problem with the Pre-Bragger is that they seem to have no self doubt at all - and way too much ego!

Can I tell you what is completely unfair about all of this? Hollywood is full of crap, so when someone steps forward who is full of crap... people listen to them. There is usually that moment on a messageboard where people believe the crap the prebagger is dishing out... and this carries over into the real world as well. So, as much as I might hate those arrogant prick Pre-Braggers, they are the ones who push me aside to get *their script* into the hands of my best contact. When someone tells me they have written the greatest script in the history of cinema, red flags raise all over the place... but some executive might think they need to read that script, because what if it really is the greatest script in the history of cinema? Can they afford *not* to read it? When you have a producer whose career may be built on a big-old-pile-of-dung, they may hear a Pre-Bragger’s BS and think “This kid may have something!”

Of course, most of the time that script is dead on arrival - the thing is so awful that it gets cut down by negative coverage and that’s the end of it. When you have no self doubt, you don’t do those rewrites the script requires. On rare occasions there is a good idea in that dreadful script, and it may last a little longer... but in my experience with the scripts of Pre-Braggers they tend to have those ideas the rest of us throw away because they are too bland or silly. Because a Pre-Bragger believes in their absolute genius writing abilities, little things like having a good idea are often not part of the equation. Or they have one of those Cloning-Jesus-From-The-Shroud-Of-Turin plots that every other first time writer comes up with. To the no-self-doubt Pre-Bragger these ideas are brilliant!

I have no idea what happens on tracking boards, but I suspect any Pre-Bragger script that gets read is discussed... and word gets out about them. They may end up having very few people interested in their “genius script”. What you want as a writer is to develop “fans” of your work who will champion you to their bosses and remember you or your script when they end up in some situation where they need a great script. Without “fans” you don’t get very far, and probably a third of my income is due to “fans”. A Pre-Bragger might be able to do the sales spiel for a script and get someone to read it, but we are in a buyer’s market and the script itself has to be something they want to buy. They don’t make a movie from the sales spiel. (Okay, sometimes they do - if your name is Michael Bay or Steven Spielberg or Tony Scott... and those guys are not Pre-Braggers, they have done a bunch of stuff they can brag about.)

The rest of us, who are waiting until something actually happens before we start bragging, have a better chance of finding those “fans” because we really are working our butts off trying to make the script better before we show it to anyone. We know our shit stinks, so we try to remove all of the shit from the script before we let anyone read it. Hey, we also know we aren’t prefect and there may be some smelly stuff we missed this time around, but we will catch it on the next rewrite. I just had a producer request a script, so I did a quick rewrite on it before sending it to him. I have no idea how many times that script has been rewritten over the past 15 years, but this time I removed one line of dialogue I never really liked and added one line of dialogue that I think really improves a scene... plus many many small changes - better words or phrasing and sometimes a quick trim of a scene that seems to go on too long when I read it this time. It’s all honing the script... and I think you stop doing that when the script gets filmed. Though, I once did post production dialogue tweaks for ADR on one of my scripts. It’s not over until it’s on the shelf at Blockbuster or airing on TV or up there on the screen in front of a paying audience.

MY ENORMOUS TALENT



At which time, a Pre-Bragger sees your film and says on some messageboard that they are a hundred times more talented than you are. That they will break in with *art* that will not be compromised because everyone will see the brilliance of their work and will not wish to change it. They are geniuses! If they only got that lucky break like I did, we could all see that their scripts are true art because their enormous talent is larger than that of the writer of that script that was bought and filmed and is in wide release this week. But how can you prove that?

You can’t... which is the safety net for Pre-Braggers.

Pre-Braggers often believe in that “Crap Plus One” theory of Terry Rossio’s - they see some awful film that has gone through the big meat grinder of Hollywood and think that anyone can do better than that... but they have not read the version of the script that sold. They think being better than the worst means you are better than everyone... but you are just better than the worst - and no one buys the worst (well, sometimes bad scripts do sell, but there is some amazing backstory involved in those sales that the Pre-Bragger doesn’t take into account). When people trash some “new writer” they often don’t realize how hard they have worked to get to that point - they might look at their IMDB listing and not realize that’s the tip of the iceberg. If only 10% of *sold* scripts end up on screen, for every credit listed there is a very good chance of 9 other “phantom credits” that don’t show up anywhere... but the writer still worked their butts off on them. The guys who wrote TOP GUN had been working as professional writers for 10 years before getting their first credit... that’s a lot of scripts that aren’t on IMDB, and a lot of actual hard work that those guys did. They may seem to just show up and sell a script, but they’ve really been working very hard “off camera”, and their scripts have gotten better and better.

Many Pre-Braggers haven’t even finished one screenplay - they are still working on it, because it is a work of epic brilliance. If you haven’t finished your script, it’s easy for it to be better than a script that is finished - because the script itself is still mostly fantasy. Whatever is in your head is much better than what is on someone else’s pages. Once we take those perfect fantasies from our minds and turn them into actual words, they always lose something. Which is frustrating. Why can’t my scripts be as great on the page as they are in my imagination? Well, as time goes on we get better at finding the best words and stringing them together into better sentences and putting those sentences in a better order - and our scripts get a little closer to the brilliant story sparking through our synapsis. But the fantasy of the script will always be better than reality... and those Pre-Braggers will continue to be legends in their own minds.

The thing about Pre-Braggers is that right out of the gate they insist that they are brilliant - before they have done anything! The most difficult thing for *any* writer is getting that stuff from their heads onto a page in some form that doesn’t stink. Name your favorite writer and they work hard. Sure, after a while things get easier due to practice and experience (two things a Pre-Bragger does not have), but writing is never easy. Who was it that said easy reading is damned hard writing?

The more you write, the more you learn. If you have not finished your first screenplay, or have only written one script, you are probably still in the learning phase and not the earning phase. If a Pre-Bragger has actually written 2 or maybe even 3 scripts, they often believe all 3 are *brilliant* because they haven’t learned enough to know how bad they probably are. When you’ve written a few scripts and go back and read your first, it may read like the work of a talented amateur - but you will see all of the places where it could be better based on *what you have learned*.

We learn from our mistakes, and if you don’t think you have ever made any mistakes... you are probably a Pre-Bragger. You might want to be a little more self-critical, because everyone you tell that you are faultless, will soon begin tearing you apart to find your faults. Human nature. Right now there are Pre-Braggers writing about what a blow hard I am in the comments section, because I obviously don’t see their genius. As one guy on a message board said recently, “You’ve never met anyone like me, you’ve never read a script as good as mine!”

Trust me when I say he will never let us read his script in order to prove this. What if I stole his idea? What if I stole his brilliant dialogue? “We can’t let the Russians see the big board!”
HANDJOB SEXPERTS



My favorite type of Pre-Bragger reminds me of that guy in the Monty Python Flying Circus “Nudge Nudge Wink Wink” routine - they come on strong but are a little short on experience. They want to write a sex manual, but they’ve never gotten any more than a handjob. These Pre-Braggers explode onto message boards with news that they have just been signed by some big agency or had a script go out wide that resulted in a bunch of meetings or may have even optioned or even sold some script to someone. They land an assignment and think they are king of the hill. So they start a bunch of topics that are all about how great they are - or they write some pseudo article about how to sell a script or write great stuff based on their experience... except the article is really all about how brilliant they are. Almost no practical information. Because *you* can’t achieve the brilliance that *they* have achieved because *you* are not an amazing genius like they are. They start these threads but the only real advice in them seems to be: “Be Me”. They aren’t about helping other writers, they are about bragging about their handjob...

But as the late great Bill Kelley (WITNESS) once said, you don’t really know anything until you’ve had a script filmed. Not to piss on your success, but there are all kinds of steps along the way, and even though you may have just optioned a script, and I congratulate you on that accomplishment, there are some more steps ahead of you. And even once you’ve had a film made, you have to figure out how to get the next film made... and then get a *good* film made. I’m still working on the last part. Most people realize that once you have optioned a script you still have a ways to go, but a Pre-Bragger thinks they have reached the top of the stairs and are above everyone else. So they start a thread to look down on all of us.

What is always amusing is when some Pre-Bragger pops up on the message boards as king of the hill because they got an option or an assignment... and fail to realize that a bunch of other people on the boards have also achieved this. So while they are bragging like crazy about their option, they don’t realize that some of the people they are bragging to have accomplished this long ago and often many times and don’t think it’s much to brag about... especially if the Pre-Bragger has the normal condescending attitude and occasional insult.

If you option a script or land an assignment and announce it on the boards, we will all congratulate you. If you start throwing your weight around and your ego is out of control... you are a Pre-Bragger and I am going to have fun sitting back and watching you self destruct. And you will. Because you can’t claim to be a sex expert if all you’ve had is a handjob. That handjob may put you ahead of some people, but not others. And that handjob isn’t intercourse, and we all know it - even the virgins. The more you claim to be the sex expert when all you’ve had is a handjob, the more you are setting yourself up for a big fall when the handjob is as far as it goes. You may be imagining that handjob is going to lead to a page-by-page reincatment of the Kama Sutra, but wait until you actually do that reinactment before you start bragging about it. Lots of people get the handjob and nothing else.

THE MAN IN THE MIRROR



Now, some of you may be wondering how the hell the writer of crap like CRASH DIVE and VICTIM OF DESIRE and BLACK THUNDER can be writing this without being the very Pre-Bragger that he’s talking about. Hey, good point! I am not an Oscar winning screenwriter, and never claimed to be. But I done it... and with a woman... and more than once! I’ve had sex 19 times so far (more like - I’ve been screwed 19 times), not with hot lingerie models, but with those gals who are still in the pick up bar at last call. The woman parts are still the same with those last call girls, so it still counts as sex. And those last call girls are drunk and have been around and are probably harder to satisfy - you really have to work at it! And you need to have skills that you may not need with those hot lingerie models - things the guy who has only had a handjob can’t even imagine.

It’s difficult enough to write a screenplay where a name actor will play the lead and they will throw a ton of money on FX and stunts, and a reasonably good director will be calling the shots... but I have to write a script for a guy whose skill is kicking people in the head, that has to be made for the catering budget of a studio film, with some idiot directing. Um, part of my job is to write a screenplay that takes all of that into account and still is tolerable to watch if you have had enough alcohol. Easy for a Pre-Bragger to think they can do better, but they may not realize all of those obstacles are involved. You have to be able to jump the hurdles that Pre-Braggers don't even know exist.

And I almost never start a thread on a messageboard, I mostly jump in with an answer or opinion as part of the discussion. Hey, I have this blog for my opinion, but I usually do not link blog entries unless they are educational (like the LEOPARD MAN entry). When I post on a messageboard I often include a signature link to my website, and if you are interested you can click on it... but I’m not going to post a whole Script Tip on some messageboard (to be honest - I *have* done this on MWS when my site moved from .com to .net - just to get the word out that I was still alive - and *yes* that was spammish). But I do not think any messageboard is my private blog that is all about me. Um, these are places for *discussions*... not posts that are all about a Pre-Bragger’s genius.

Plus, whenever I am in a *discussion* that is out of my pay-grade, I realize that I am not the expert and always back up whatever I say with some link to some article or statistics or corroborating evidence from a trusted source. I’m not going to try to pass myself off as an expert on some subject that I know something about but not everything about. And because these are *discussions* other people may call me wrong and pull out their evidence. It’s not all about me, it’s all about the subject and trying to figure out how to further our screenwriting careers... yours and mine. You may know something that I do not... and I want to hear that and figure out how to use it!

BREAK IN, STAY IN, SURVIVE



One of the things Pre-Braggers don’t realize is that even if they have gotten a handjob, the most difficult part of screenwriting is to continue working when you are not flavor of the month. Breaking in is close to impossible, staying in when everybody on that message board wants your job is even more difficult... And if years later you are still working as a screenwriter? Well, you are probably doing something right. And I extend that to all of the screenwriters that I have ever trashed in my life - Akiva Goldsman may have written the film version of LOST IN SPACE, but he’s still working in the biz and still writing popular movies. Pre-Braggers often discount the “popular” part, because they are geniuses and true artists, but we are writing for an audience. If the audience keeps buying tickets for movies written by Akiva Goldsman, that means he has something that other writers do not have. We need to look at his films and figure out what that thing is! I’ve had a couple of meetings with Akiva’s company and met him, and he’s a nice guy who reads science fiction novels and seems like he really cares about his work. Those things that I don’t like about his scripts are obviously not as important as the things that the audience *does* like... and I just hope that isn’t nipples on the Bat Suit.

There was a Pre-Bragger on a messageboard I frequent who came on strong because he’d had a handjob, and trashed all of the pros on the board because it was so easy for him to get this handjob, and we were all talking about how difficult the business is. Well, his handjob actually lead to a produced low budget film. Congratulations! Except after that - nothing. And I don’t think the low budget film was ever released. Now, he avoids that message board because he would just be saying all of those things he trashed us for - this is a difficult business! It’s easy to brag when things are going well, but when you hit that big brick wall we all hit eventually? When things go completely wrong? Again, the problem with Pre-Braggers (even the ones with a credit) is that they get their bragging ahead of their career. They think once they make that first sale, and it gets made, it’s smooth sailing from then on. Well, maybe it is - but you can’t brag about the “smooth sailing from then on” until you have gotten to some point in the “then on”. When you brag about something that hasn’t happened, you will always get in trouble because you don’t know what the future will bring. None of us does. Those of us who have struggled in this biz are still trying to figure it out.

It’s okay to brag about your accomplishments, but don’t get ahead of your accomplishments. Don’t brag about what has yet to happen. Do the work first. If you are a nice person online who doesn’t put down everyone who is not you, and you have some success (even a handjob), everyone will congratulate you. I know I will. If you are an @hole online who insults everyone and posts things that are all about your genius? If you win an Oscar, many people will still think you’re an @hole.

Don’t be an expert without experience! Don’t brag about things you haven’t done yet! Don’t substitute ego for talent and hard work!

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: The Pitch Reveals! - your pitch exposes all of the flaws of your screenplay.
Dinner: Del Taco in NoHo down the street from the dollar cinema.
Pages: Some work on an article for the First 10 Pages Blue Book Expansion.
Bicycle: Yes - a medium ride.
Movie: NEED FOR SPEED at the dollar cinema. Worth every penny (and not a cent more)!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Trailer Tuesday: THE HITCHHIKER (1953)

Directed by: Ida Lupino.
Written by: Ida Lupino, Collier Young, Daniel Mainwaring (uncredited), adaptation by Robert Joseph.
Starring: Edmond O'Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Tallman.
Director Of Photography: Nicholas Musuraca.


THE HITCH HIKER is a low budget film from 1953 that just kicks all kinds of ass. Basically it’s three men, a car, and the great outdoors... but like the three person, two rooms ALICE CREED, you never notice that it’s a low budget movie because it’s so well made, well written, and intense. They gave a damn when they made this film! They knew they didn’t have money, so they made up for it with suspense and drama and some amazing *ideas*. A great idea costs nothing, but has a ton of production value. The amazing idea here is... an eyelid that is scarred so that it permanently open. Yes, that actually is a great idea. Wait until we get to it, and you’ll see its brilliance.



The film opens with a title card telling us this is based on a true story, and that this same thing could happen to you. So I did a little googling and discovered it really was based on the true story of Billy Cook, a notorious killer. Cook’s mother died when he was five years old, and his loving father took all of the children to live in an abandoned mine and fend for themselves while Daddy exercised his new found bachelorhood. Billy and his siblings were eventually discovered by child protective services and put into foster homes... except for Billy. Because Billy had a deformed eyelid... it never closed. The whole side of his face was a mess. He ended up under state care and eventually tried his hand at crime and was arrested at age 12 and sent to a reformatory for boys. He enjoyed hurting others, and when he turned 17... was transferred to a state prison. While in prison, he beat a few fellow inmates with a baseball bat... showing really poor sportsmanship. He was released at 22, found his father and told him he planned on buying a gun and making his living through robbery, armed. Billy drifted into El Paso, TX just before Christmas, 1950, bought a gun, and went out to the highway and hitchhiked. He robbed and killed anyone who would pick him up, stealing their cars until they ran out of gas and then hitchhiking for a lift into the next town to buy gas. He killed an entire family: father, mother, three kids and a dog, near Wichita Falls, Texas and dumped the bodies in a mineshaft in Missouri. He hitchhiked and killed to Blythe, California, where he killed a traveling salesman from Seattle and threw his body in a ditch. By this point in time he was wanted throughout the USA and every cop in the Southwest was actively looking for the hitchhiking killer. Hitchhiking, Billy kidnaped two men on a hunting trip, James Burke and Forrest Damron, and forced them to drive him south and across the border into Mexico... and on to Santa Rosalia. Once they reached Santa Rosalia, Burke and Damron knew they would be killed, but an odd thing happened: The Chief Of Police of the small Mexican town had been reading the American papers and recognized Billy Cook and captured him without a gunfight. Handed him over to the FBI, and he spent the rest of his life in prison. Cool true story, huh? And... that eyelid!



The film changes the names to protect the innocent and guilty, turning Billy Cook into Emmett Myers (William Tallman, DA Hamilton Burger on PERRY MASON) but keeping that creepy deformed eyelid. The movie opens with a (face unseen) Myers hitchhiking, getting picked up, killing the drivers and taking off in their cars. Again and again.

Then we cut to garage mechanic Roy Collins (Edmund O’Brien from DOA and THE WILD BUNCH) and his best friend draftsman Gil Bowen (Frank Lovejoy from IN A LONELY PLACE) getting away from the wives for a week of fishing and camping, tooling along the back roads of California, when they spot a hitchhiker next to his car... and stop to pick him up. Hell, it’s *miles* to the nearest gas station and this is a back road. Who knows when another car will pass by?

The Hitchhiker sits in the darkness in the back of the car, not very communicative. When they ask about things like a gas can he becomes argumentative, but people can be grumpy if they’ve been standing there waiting for a ride for a while. It’s frustrating. Bowen decides to offer him a cigarette, but when he turns around he sees the gun pointing at him. They have picked up the notorious Emmett Myers who kills *all* of his victims. It’s only a matter of time before they are dead.

But Myers has made the most wanted list and needs to get across the border into Mexico... and since everyone is looking for one man, he figures he has a better chance as one of three buddies going on a fishing trip. He keeps the gun on Collins and Bowen and makes it pretty clear they are alive only as long as he needs them. This begins the road trip from hell, where Myers does everything he can to torture the two on their way south of the border to Santa Rosalia where a ferry boat will take him to the Mexican mainland... where he can vanish.



Simple story, but what makes this work are great performances by Tallman (who can go from unassuming gangly guy to crazed psycho in an instant) and the other two leads who are regular guys faced with a terrifying experience, plus intense pacing. This story comes up with a million things that can spark violence...

When they stop for gas at a service station, Myer demands minimal conversation... but the service station attendant is friendly and that means they have to be rude to him. Then they drive off without taking their change.

When they pull over in the middle of nowhere so that Myers can chart his path to Santa Rosalia with the least chance of being caught, he has Collins pop the trunk... and in there with the fishing equipment is a rifle. As Collins reaches for it, Myer *taunts* him to try something... he’ll be dead before he gets it out if the trunk.

The gun belongs to Bowen, who was in the army and says he’s an okay shot. So Myer arranges a little target practice. He has Collins walk way out in the desert with a tin can, and when Collins tries to set it on a rock, Myers tells him just to hold it... no, hold it closer to your body... closer. Then sees just how good a shot Bowen is. He either shoots the can out of his friend’s hand from hundreds of feet away with a 22 calibre rifle, or Myer shoots him. Bowen has no choice but to shoot... and hits the can! Of course, Collins practically pisses himself. Myers keeps having Collins hold the can closer and closer, and you just know that one friend is accidentally going to kill the other. Really intense! But all a game to Myers, who laughs and takes control of the rifle.

Though Myers is no criminal mastermind, he’s also not an idiot. He has a method to get both men in and out of the car so that he can keep the gun on them the whole time and they have little chance of escaping or trying to overpower him. He has thought this through. They keep to back roads in Baja, avoiding cities or large towns. And they pull way off the road to camp...





And here’s where the tension kicks in. Because due to that eyelid defect, Myers always sleeps with one eye open. Who knows if he’s asleep or awake? There are three camping scenes, and each one is filled with tension as they can’t figure out if they should make a break for it or not. The always open eye is starring at them. Every time they think they might be able to sneak away because it seems like Myers is sleeping, that always open eye looks right at them! The three scenes are filled with tension just because of the *idea* of that defective eyelid. Yes, it's from the real guy... but realizing that it could be used for scenes like this was purely the work of the writers. Cost of all of this suspense? A little make up around the eye.

Some of the other fun: Stopping for provisions at a Mexican grocery store: Bowen speaks Spanish but Myers doesn’t want him to be speaking any Mexican to anyone! Except the store owner speaks no english. Bowen almost gets shot, as does the store owner's cute little girl who wants to talk.

Myers takes Bowen’s expensive watch.

When they hit a bump, Collins hits the car horn and it *sticks*, drawing attention to them! Now Collins has to stop the car and repair the horn under the gun (literally) so they can get back in the car and zoom off before a man with a donkey reaches them.

Collins gets pistol whipped when he can’t find a working radio station in the middle of nowhere that has US news bulletins so that Myer can find out if the police are closing in one them. Collins is beaten so bad he can no longer drive and Bowen has to take over.

Myers wants them to move faster, and the car gets a blow out and almost wrecks... then they have to change the tire and a young Mexican couple driving by asks if they need any help (and almost gets killed). Again, Collins and Bowen have to be very rude to them in order to get them to drive away.



Things escalate until Collins just loses it. He breaks and becomes such a loose cannon that Bowen is afraid Myer will just shoot him. But Myers *loves* that Collins has broken under the pressure: proves Collins is weak and Myers is in control. That night when they camp, Collins decides to make a break for it and Bowen goes along. They wait until Myers’ eye is closed, worried that the other eye is still staring right at them. And race into the bushes... but Myer’s other eye pops open, and he chases the two running men... in the car! A great low budget NORTH BY NORTHWEST scene, and then Collins is hit by the car and they are recaptured.

They drive to an abandoned water well, and Collins and Bowen are sure they are about to be killed and dumped into the well. Lots of tension. But eventually they move on, by foot after the car’s gas tank is torn open by a rock, and get to Santa Rosalia, which both men know is the end of the line for them. This is where they die...

Made on a very low budget, this film with a limited cast that takes place either inside the car or in the desert has all kinds of thrills, May seem tame compared to THE HITCHER, but still intense. Lupino is one of my favorite directors, a great actress from the golden age who gave an Oscar calibre performance in one of my favorite films THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT, was amazing as the *tough* blind woman in another favorite film ON DANGEROUS GROUND, and the tough bank robber’s girl in HIGH SIERRA... who decided to direct and stepped in when the director of a film she was starring in became ill. From that point on, she and her husband (magazine and screenwriter Collier Young) formed a production company The Filmakers, and began making films with Lupino as director. She just did it. Their first films were social issues movies that are still relevant and kind of shocking. OUTRAGE is a movie about rape that is more cutting edge and honest than any film on the subject made since. Somewhere along the line she worked with another one of my favorite directors, Don Siegel (DIRTY HARRY, THE LINE UP), and learned all of his cinematic tricks... and she became what she called “the poor man’s Don Siegel” making hard hitting crime films like this. (Siegel's other protege was an actor named Clint Eastwood.)



Her direction style is like Siegel’s: deceptively straight forward. Nothing showy or flashy, yet still completely in control of the story, using angle and composition and movement to amplify the emotions. She also knew how to create suspense and tension, and soon on THRILLER Thursday we will get to her amazing episode GUILLOTINE. In HITCH HIKER she manages to give the film a documentary feel (it *is* based on a true story) and still use cinematic techniques to amp up the tension. For a film made on a budget it still packs a punch.

Oh, and I guess I should mention this film was secretly cowritten by my favorite screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring (OUT OF THE PAST... now on BluRay! and the original INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS, and from Oakland!) who had his credit snatched away by producer Howard Hughes because Mainwaring did not share his politics (he was a friend to blacklisted writers and “fronted” for a couple of them). Lupino and Young ended up with screenplay credit. So here we have one of my favorite directors with one of my favorite writers and a buck fifty budget making a nifty little low budget thriller. Hey, it’s public domain, so you can watch it free!

Bill

Thursday, November 21, 2019

THRILLER Thursday: Portrait Without A Face

NEW SEASON 2!!!

THRILLER: Portrait Without A Face

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



Season: 2, Episode: 14.
Airdate: Dec. 25, 1961 (The Christmas episode?) Director: John Newland
Writer: Jason Wingreen.
Cast: Jane Greer, Robert Webber, Katherine Squire, George Mitchell, John Banner.
Music: Morton Stevens
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Producer: William Frye



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Robertson Moffat’s greatest masterpiece doomed by the shot of an assassin’s crossbow to remain just as we see it - blank, lifeless as the murdered artist himself. It is said that art is a human effort, having for its purpose the transmission to others of the highest and noblest feelings which men have risen. Well, my friends, tonight you’ll see that the activity of art can be inhuman as well. And that its purpose, at least in this case, is shall we say, unexpected. The victim’s vacant canvas should give you a hint of the title our play. It’s called Portrait Without A Face. Look closely, and it will reveal the identity of our leading players. They are: Jane Greer, Robert Webber, Catherine Squire, George Mitchell, and Brian Gaffikin. Sit back, relax if you can, while we whet your pallete with some bold strokes of terror. Oh, do you have a skylight? Be sure to bolt it securely, otherwise you won’t know that you are absolutely alone.”



Synopsis: In his studio, egotistical painter Roberston Moffat (John Newland) is strangling over-acting newspaper reporter Nat Fairchild (Brian Gaffikin) and tosses him to the floor. Fairchild says he didn’t want to come, but she begged him to try and get the painting back. Moffat laughs - says she begged him to paint her nude. Moffat pours himself a drink and pontificates on death... and says he’s going to paint the Angel Of Death, and orders Fairchild to get out. Once Fairchild is gone, the phone rings - Marie, the woman in the nude painting begs him to give it to her. He refuses.... but does ask if she wants to hook up. She hangs up instead.

As Moffat gets his brushes and paints ready, someone climbs the wall of the studio with a crossbow, opens the skylight, fires an arrow into Moffat’s *head*, killing him. Closes the window and vanishes.



Six Months Later: Art Appraiser Arthur Henshaw (Robert Webber) arrives at the Moffat house and is *greeted* by crazy old Aunt Agatha Moffat (Katherine Squire) who asks if he’s from the Janus Gallery in New York. Moffat left all of his paintings to Janus because he discovered him, but Moffat’s wife Ann keeps all of the paintings in the house until she dies... so Janus will probably be long dead before he sees any of the paintings. Crazy old Aunt Agatha is an exposition machine who rattles off information and backstory and plot points and just about anything else the story needs. She tells him the police still have no clues as to who shot the arrow into Moffat’s head.

Ann Moffat (Jane Greer from OUT OF THE PAST) descends the stairs and introduces herself, and crazy Aunt Agatha scampers away. As Ann shows him out the backdoor of the house and across the courtyard to the studio, Henshaw says he’s here to catalogue all of the paintings so Janus can decide what to show at Moffat’s last exhibition. No one has been in the studio since the murder.

She unlocks the door and shows Henshaw around, pointing out Moffat’s last canvas... which is blank. But Henshaw looks at it and says it is not blank... Ann takes a look, and there is a painting of Moffat’s head on the floor with the arrow sticking out of it in the corner of the canvas - the rest is blank. Ann faints.



Dr. Grant (Gage Clarke), who has the worst bedside manner ever, scolds Ann for fainting and yells at her to keep calm. On his way out, Dr. Grant has a conversation with Henshaw about why she fainted. Henshaw says the canvas was blank, and then there was part of a painting on it. “Do you realize what you’re saying?” Dr. Grant replies. Unfortunately, I’m not sure anyone has any idea what they are talking about - because they avoid the word “ghost” and avoid anything that might make you think that’s what they are talking about. Also, they forgot to plant that the painting of dead Moffat was in Moffat’s style. Grant scolds and yells at Henshaw, then leaves.

Ann gets out of bed, tells Henshaw that she must destroy the painting, and heads out the backdoor into a night thick with fog. They have a conversation about the key to the studio - there was only one, Ann didn’t even have a key until her husband died and she was given his. They discuss the arrow shot through the skylight - could someone have entered the studio through the skylight and painted on the canvas... maybe the killer? The fog is so think in some of these shots that the actors didn’t have to show up for work that day.

In the studio, crazy Aunt Agatha is looking at the painting a cackling. They send her away, and Henshaw closes the door. Henshaw goes to get the canvas... and looks at it for a long long long time. Anne eventually comes over and sees that someone has added to the painting - dead Moffat’s body has now been added. Henshaw wants to leave and lock the studio door behind them and call the police. Now we get Ann saying that the painting is in her husband’s style. “He’s dead, but he’s painting this picture.”



Sheriff Pete Browning (George Mitchell - the old drunk in ANDROMEDA STRAIN) shows up and says it’s crazy - Moffat can’t be painting from beyond the grave. Henshaw tells him that he’s sent for the greatest art critic in the world to authenticate the painting. Browning isn’t sure what that will prove... and that’s when Fairchild shows up unannounced. He’s heard rumor that Moffat is painting from beyond the grave, can Sheriff Browning or Henshaw verify this? Again, this guy is over-acting like crazy. Browning shows Fairchild out... then asks Ann for the key to the studio so that he can investigate this alleged ghost painting.

Henshaw helps Ann upstairs, then goes to the studio - where Browning is looking at the painting. Browning pulls up a chair to make sure no ghosts add to the painting overnight. Henshaw goes upstairs in the studio to catalogue paintings.

Crazy Aunt Agatha runs around in the thick fog cackling.

Ann looks out her bedroom window at the fog.

Fairchild looks through the gates at the fog.

Crazy Aunt Agatha makes a cup of coffee, then looks out the window at the fog... and sees a MAN! She screams!



Sheriff Browning hears this and runs out of the studio and through the fog into the kitchen, where Ann is comforting crazy Aunt Agatha... and the MAN is standing in the kitchen. He is Professor Martin Vanderhoven (John Banner, Sgt Schultz) the art expert. He explains how many times he knocked at the front door before coming around to the back and looking through the kitchen window, scaring Agatha, Then he explains exactly why he came here... to examine the painting. Browning realizes that no one is guarding the painting and races back to the studio... Everyone follows.

Browning looks at the canvas and calls for Henshaw, who has been upstairs all along, and says that no one has entered or left the studio. Except, more of the room has been painted - including a roughed out version of the ceiling and skylight!

Vanderhoven says this is definitely Moffat’s work. How is that possible? He’s been dead for six months. Vanderhoven touches the new portion of the painting - and the paint is still wet. Impossible! Vanderhoven wants to take more time to study the painting.



Meanwhile, crazy Aunt Agatha is using a Ouija Board in the livingroom and cackling... while all of the other cast members wait. For some reason, Fairchild is there.

Vanderhoven comes back from the studio and says it is Moffat’s work - but that is impossible. Everybody freaks out in their own way.

Sheriff Browning wants to take the painting to the police station, and Henshaw stops him in the fog - neither actor really needed to show up for this scene, the fog is so thick you can barely see them. Henshaw says the painting belongs to Janus Galleries, and as the representative of the owner, he can’t let Browning have it. Besides - it’s not finished. Browning goes to get a court order.



Henshaw is going to spend the night in the studio guarding the painting.

Fairchild spends the night in a bar. Someone sits across from him - unseen. Fairchild has a file on Henshaw... he was captain of the archery team in college.

Ann grabs a knife and goes into the studio to destroy the painting... but Henshaw wakes up and stops her. That’s when they notice that more of the painting has been filled in. The skylight, but not the face of the killer. Henshaw asks if she killed her husband - she says she hated him, but didn’t kill him. Dude was an a-hole, and screwed every woman who posed for him.



Henshaw says he believes that the killer will return to the scene of the crime to destroy the painting...

And a masked man climbs over the wall with a cross bow!

Henshaw tells her that *he* has been doing the painting - as an art student he learned how to mimic the styles of other painters. He is doing this to catch the killer. He couldn’t tell her until he knew that she wasn’t a suspect. That’s when they hear the noise from the skylight. Henshaw tells her to sit in the chair, and then he races upstairs to the door overlooking the skylight (um, kind of negates the locked room aspect of the mystery) and tangles with the masked cross-bow dude... throwing him through the skylight!

Outside, Fairchild grabs a screaming girl in the fog and brings her into the studio for no apparent reason, where Henshaw rolls over the dead masked man and pulls off the mask... exposing Sheriff Browning. The screaming girl is Marie, Browning’s wife (Alberta Nelson)... who was the nekkid girl Moffat painted who called him in the first scene. Browning found out and got jealous and...

Then, for no apparent reason, everyone looks at the painting as Browning’s face is painted by Moffat’s ghost! Creepy... not!



Review: Newland’s technical direction is a small step better than in his last episode, there is actually a moving shot in this hour! But still, most of his plan is to set up a camera and have actors act in front of it - zero actual direction. This stands out in scenes in the living room set and the art studio set when characters are so far away from the camera that it is like watching a stage play. In the episode’s teaser, where he plays the famous artist *and* directs, there is an awkwardly shot conversation where Fairchild is in close up talking to Moffat in long shot... and the different sizes of the characters on screen is confusing. Had this been done for some purpose it might be okay, but it just seems like Newland wasn’t thinking about how the shots would cut together.

The living room scenes often have the camera planted somewhere and characters move back and forth across a diagonal in front of it - again, making it seem like a stage play. One of the weird things about that moving shot is that it goes from two characters talking to each other on the sides of the screen in profile (flat shot), to behind one of the characters so we can only see the back of his head for the rest of the conversation. What’s that all about? Newland’s flat lack of style has been an issue with all of his episodes since Stephen King’s favorite PIGEONS FROM HELL, where he couldn’t make cobwebs creepy... here he doesn’t make fog creepy.



But the biggest problem with this episode is that it doesn’t get the creepy concept to the audience until close to the end. Whether that is the fault of the screenplay or the direction (most likely both), despite several chunks of exposition, the concept that Moffat is painting his killer’s face from beyond the grave isn’t made clear or even made creepy and strange until the episode is almost over. Yeah, someone is painting that canvas, but the critical information that the painting is in Moffat’s style is never mentioned - and never shown - until Sgt Schultz shows up. The direction is so flat that it can’t make the additions to the painting spooky - someone is just painting - and the writing seems to miss that this is important information. The writer, Wingreen, is a character actor whose face you would recognize - but this is one of 5 TV episodes he wrote, and no one ever asked him back. My guess - due to all of that clunky exposition in an early scene - is that *on the page* we are told that the painting is in Moffat’s style, but because it is never shown in any way - that information stays on the page.



One of the issues here is that for a story that hinges on the painter’s style, prop paintings all seem to be from different painters with different styles. There is never a sequence after the post-death painting has begun that shows shots of Moffat’s previous work and compares it to the post death painting to show the audience that it’s the dead guy doing the painting. One of the checks and balances in cinema is that if the writer drops the ball and the information is on the page but not the stage, the director can rectify that and come us with a visual way to show that information. Here, that wasn’t done. So the concept of a dead man painting his killer doesn’t pop up until too close to the end.



Oh, and the painting is NOT of the killer. Another big issue. The painting is of Dead Moffat with a tiny little piece of the painting being where the killer was. Prop department failure? Writer failure? Director failure? All three?

Though better than his previous entry, Newland’s theory on shooting fast for TV seems to be minimal set ups - and not in a great Stanley Kubrick’s THE KILLING way. He has one more episode coming up, let’s see if there is more camera movement and style than in his previous entries. Meanwhile, the next episode is a clever little crime story about the family that slays together...

- Bill

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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Film Courage Plus: My First Pitch

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. 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?

MY FIRST PITCH


Shall we talk about pitching?

For some odd reason, new writers seem obsessed with pitching... maybe because they are shy by nature and worry that they will have to become performers, or that they believe all they need to do is tell someone their amazing idea and they get to meet Spielberg and date underwear models and live in a mansion. Neither of those is really true, but the last one is pure fantasy. If you are a new writer you will not be pitching unwritten screenplays, you will be pitching to get someone to read one of the stack of screenplays you have already written. And even though statistically some writer somewhere might be dating an underwear model, that’s probably never going to be you. Sorry. We’re writers. We date normal people, if we’re lucky. There is some chance of meeting Spielberg, though.

The shy by nature thing probably isn’t as large of a problem as you may think, and we’ll get to that in a moment.

THREE TYPES OF PITCHES


There are at least three types of pitches: Elevator, Pitching Takes, Pitching Projects. There may be more, but this is just a short article to accompany the film clip!

ELEVATOR PITCHES: That’s the common term, but basically it’s when you briefly pitch a written screenplay. You’ll do this at Great American Pitchfest or some film festival or screenwriting event. Thought they give you 5 minutes at GAPF and most other events, but that’s *total* time in front of some junior development executive - you won’t be pitching that whole time! You’ll need time to introduce yourself and for a little small talk. These events are really more about making connections than selling screenplays - so you want to get to know them and for them to get to know you, *then* pitch. And that only gives you a couple of minutes for your pitch. I’ve been on the panel at Raindance Film Festival’s pitching competition Live Ammunition! and they start out giving the contestants 5 minutes, then it goes down to 3, and sometimes it gets down to 1 minute. So think 2 minutes, you can always go longer if they give you more time. Basically - think of how you will pitch your screenplays if you are on an elevator and Steven Spielberg steps on after you. You have to get the story across before you get to his floor! That means you will be focusing on the *concept* of your story and not actually telling the story. The key elements in your pitch will be the concept, the protagonist, and the conflicts (emotional and physical). Basically an elevator pitch is like a logline... but with a few more sentences. The seed of idea, not whole tree and all of its branches! Never bore people with the details. Keep it focused! Big idea, person, problem.

PITCHING TAKES: I have a whole Script Tip on pitching your take - basically that’s what you do when a producer has read a couple of great screenplays you have written and think you would be perfect for an assignment, so they give you the Intellectual Property to look over and have you come back and pitch how you would adapt that property into a movie screenplay. I have a stack of books and magazine articles and even a bunch of old VHS tapes (old movies a producer owned the rights to and was interested in remaking) from these meetings... and each one I came back and pitched my take for. If you complain that so many movies are remakes and sequels and you just wish someone would give a new writer a break and buy something original, you haven’t yet realized that even remakes and sequels are written by *somebody*, and that somebody might be you. Pitching your take is all about how your would adapt the material - and your unique spin on the material or the way you would crack a difficult book or the theme within the material you want to explore. One of the magazine articles I was given (a producer at Universal whose Oscars were on display in the lobby of his office) was a xerox of a xerox of a xerox - and every single screenwriter in Hollywood had been given a copy to pitch. So they aren’t looking for a standard, “Well, I’d just put it in screenplay format and then clean it up” type of pitch - they are looking for what *you* as the writer will bring to this... what you will do that makes it unique and interesting. I was up for a sequel at once, and what they were looking for was an *additional* amazing high concept idea to graft onto the one from the first film. These pitches range from something similar to an elevator pitch where you just explain your angle, to a full telling of the story scene-by-scene. Everything depends on what the producer wants - just ask.

PITCHING PROJECTS: You have sold a screenplay or landed an assignment or two and you are now an in demand screenwriter... with a cool idea for a movie. Now, you could write the screenplay on spec and sell it to a producer, but your reps decide it would be more advantageous for the producer to hire you to write the screenplay. There are all kinds of reasons for this, including keeping you on the project for rewrites... because they have originally developed the screenplay with you. This is a long form pitch that goes scene-by-scene and can include everything from props to flip charts to images and “look books”. You are basically performing the story to the executives, and they will decide if they want to pay you to write this script or not... after they give you notes (Does it have to be on a ship? Why couldn’t the Titanic be a *space* ship?).

Though we already had a screenplay on the HOUSE remake, it was decided to do a longform pitch at each of the studios we had meetings with... and I’d never formally done this before at the studio level. I’d done longform pitches to producers I’d worked with in the past - in fact, I’d pitched several different versions of this story. But it’s different when you’re pitching to a studio VP for a producer. More pressure, less casual. One of the things I did was use a Hot Wheels car as a prop in part of the pitch, and at the end of the pitch I would zoom the car across the conference table to the executive. If he caught the car before it went off the end of the table, I figured he or she was interested. Not many cars hit the floor. But this was kind of a frightening situation for me because I’m not a performer, I’m a writer - and these pitches depend to some degree on the performance.

You may think that pitching your project is great because you will get paid to write it, but the fact is - you pretty much have it already written (at least a very detailed outline) to pitch it in the first place. Much of the really hard creative work usually has to be done first. I really prefer to spec a script than pitch it and hope someone says yes. That way, the script goes all over town and I just stay home and wait by the phone... instead of me driving all over town having to do a bunch of performances in hopes someone says yes. I kind of hate pitching.

THE PITCH ITSELF


Wait, Bill, you said we shouldn’t be worried about performance when pitching... and now you say you hate pitching? Both can be true, you know. I hate longform pitching because it requires some performance skills, but chances are you won’t have to worry about longform pitching for a while (if at all). You will mostly be pitching scripts that you have already written in order to interest someone in reading them, or pitching your take on some project (which is usually short and to the point and not doing a one man show in front of a bunch of bored studio suits). Those are more about the concept than the performance. The Live Ammunition Pitch Competition at Raindance is a great example of how performance doesn’t matter that much. The panel are a bunch of top Executives from British film companies - BBC, Channel 4, and others. Here’s a picture of me sitting next to the producer of THE CRYING GAME on the panel.



There are usually 75-100 people pitching at the event, and many are nervous writers who screw up their pitches or get stage fright or whatever... they are far from perfect. But they may have an amazing idea or a character we’ve never seen on film before, and that’s what is interesting. The “judges” are people looking for a great story, not looking for the actor to star in that great story. One year, a writer actually got an actor friend to pitch their screenplay. This was an amazing performance by a talented actor... and it wasn’t even in our top ten! Why? The story was bland - something that no one would stand in line for an hour in order to pay to see. The winner that night was a writer who stumbled through their pitch and gave a *terrible* performance - but had a great story! And that’s really what matters - the great story. So don’t worry about performance, worry about have a great *concept* - something that is both unique and universal. Worry about have a great star role, that will attract an A-lister who can open the movie. Worry about having an idea that can generate a bunch of big, juicy, emotional scenes... and will also generate big spectacle scenes that can be used in the trailer along with that amazing concept to sell tickets. Don’t be afraid of the performance side of pitching - just make sure you have a great story to pitch! When you hear 75-100 pitches in a single night at something like Raindance’s Live Ammunition, you realize how many bland ideas are out there.

And now the Film Courage clip...

My First Pitch:




Good luck, and keep writing!

- Bill

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Thank you to everyone!

Bill

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Trailer Tuesday: The Wind And The Lion (1975)

One of my favorite movies, and probably one you have never heard of... now on BluRay thanks to the wonderful people at Warner Archive.

Directed by: John Millius.
Written by: John Millius.
Starring: Sean Connery, Candice Bergen, Brian Keith, Geoffrey Lewis, John Huston, the great Vladek Sheybal.
Director Of Photography: Billy Williams.
Music By: the great Jerry Goldsmith, one of my favorite of his 254 scores.


Many people think that after the dark films of the 70s, STAR WARS came along and changed everything with its rousing story of adventure. But adventure was already a major component of 70s films, with John Huston’s epic adventure THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING and this fun swashbuckler released a couple of years before STAR WARS and written and directed by one of Lucas’ friends, John Milius. There are sword fights and romance and cliff hangers and fantastic stunts and it all takes place in a world far away and many years ago.

It is a great film for 12 year olds of all ages - filled with larger than life characters and all kinds of romance and adventure. And *knowing* that it's a boy's adventure story it often takes the point if view of a 12 year old boy in the story.



John Milius is one of my favorite directors, and when I met him a few years ago this was the film I mentioned loving - even though many of his other films are also among my favorites. I start every day listening to the Basil Poledouris theme to CONAN THE BARBARIAN, and I thought PUBLIC ENEMIES paled big time in comparison to DILLINGER. They have tried remaking CONAN and RED DAWN without success and I believe part of that is because they missed Milius' point. His movies were usually about two strong people in combat - and the *respect* the combatants had for each other and the honor of a good fight. In the original RED DAWN the Cuban villain allows the Wolverines to remove their wounded in one scene - even though he could easily kill them and end his problems. But he is a man of honor - even though he is the villain. In the remake we have evil Korean villains who have no trace of humanity or honor. Just *eeeeevil*! Even though Milius and I have completely different political beliefs, he never demonizes the other side in his films. Though he may not agree with the opposing government’s goals (or maybe even the hero’s government’s goals - governments are usually corrupt), the warriors on the battlefield are not evil guys. His antagonists are not two dimensional mustache twirlers, they are real people.

The great thing about having two strong forces locked in battle is that you get to explore each character... plus there’s no shortage of action. This is something today's film makers (and production execs with stupid notes) should consider. Hitchcock said "The better the villain, the better the picture", and "better" includes being more fleshed out and dimensional. If a giant asteroid smashes earth, we don't *feel anything* about the asteroid... it's just a rock. We can't hate the asteroid... it's just a rock. The problem with the Korean villains in the RED DAWN remake is that they were just rocks... no trace of humanity that could pull out our emotions.




With THE WIND AND THE LION we have a story loosely based on an actual historical event - the kidnaping of two Americans in the middle east and the quest to get them back unharmed. In real life it was 64 year old American citizen Ion Perdicaris and his son, kidnaped by Berber warrior Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli and his horsemen from his villa in Morocco to secure a ransom and political power from the Sultan... and President Teddy Roosevelt famously said: “Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead!” and moved in the Marines. As a romance between a dashing Berber warrior and some 64 year old dude probably wasn’t going to play in 1975, Milius changed the 64 year old man into an attractive young woman with her *two* children and as I said earlier, has the story seen through the eyes of the boy. Not accurate history, but it’s an adventure film not a documentary. Most of the other characters and even some of the dialogue remains true.

The film is a true epic - big action, big emotions, big romance, big stars and an amazing Jerry Goldsmith score. It’s like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA meets RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Sean Connery plays the Raisuli as a handsome sheik on horseback, a young Candice Bergan played Eden Perdicaris, and Brian Keith steals the show playing Teddy Roosevelt. The film is filled with great sword fighting scenes and some of the most amazing horse stunts you will ever see - lots of horses *indoors* on stairways and rooftop chases!

What is interesting is that our kidnaper is the *love interest* and the male lead in this story. The main conflict is between the Raisuli and Teddy Rosevelt... who never share a single scene. This telegram (from the film) sums up their conflict: “To Theodore Roosevelt - you are like the Wind and I like the Lion. You form the Tempest. The sand stings my eyes and the Ground is parched. I roar in defiance but you do not hear. But between us there is a difference. I, like the lion, must remain in my place. While you like the wind will never know yours. - Mulay Hamid El Raisuli, Lord of the Riff, Sultan to the Berbers, Last of the Barbary Pirates.” Roosevelt sends his Marines to track down the Raisuli, and rescue Mrs. Pedecaris and her children.




Since Roosevelt and the Raisuli never share a scene, the story finds some excellent other forms of conflict. Mrs. Pedecaris is a prim and proper woman who is used to servants and elegant accommodations and manners... who is kidnaped and forced to take an extended camping trip in the desert where there is no indoor plumbing and no indoors. She wears many layers of clothing to preserve modesty, but these things aren’t exactly camping and horse riding attire. The Raisuli doesn’t help his side by chopping off the head of a thief in one scene... and forcing Mrs. Pedecaris to find a way to change clothes in front of his band of Barbary Pirates. So we have Pedecaris against the Raisuli, constantly battling each other (and falling in love along the way... this *is* a movie).

But we also have the politics. The Raisuli’s reason for kidnaping Mrs. Pedecaris is to force the Sultan and his uncle the Bashaw (Vladek Sheybal, who tangled with Connery in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE) into removing the foreign influences from the country. The place is *filled* with Americans and English and Germans and everybody else trying to make deals for the country’s resources, and sell European goods (like weapons) to the Sultan. The country has become corrupt, and the Raisuli believes they will be conquered through commerce by the west. The Germans end up the main negative influence in this story, probably because of those spiked helmets. But does this remind you of any other political situation? Wait, there’s more... because the USA sends in the Marines (lead by Steven Kanaly) to protect their interests and rescue Mrs. Pedecaris... which seems a bit like Viet Nam. Now, one of my other favorite Milius films BIG WEDNESDAY is *about* Viet Nam... and in that film he has one of the three leads make the decision to serve his country with honor while the other two don’t go to war. So Milius doesn’t seem to be on the anti war side of Viet Nam. But there are still traces of a meddling United States becoming involved with a foreign conflict that is such a rat’s nest that there’s no way we can understand it, let alone do anything to solve it. The real conflict is between the Sultan & Bashaw and the Raisuli... and the Raisuli is the Bashaw’s *brother*! (Wait, does that make the sultan Raisuli’s son? Maybe, never brought up.) There is nothing America can do to resolve the internal politics of this country.



Teddy Roosevelt is portrayed as a President who must do *something* after an American is kidnaped. He sends his Ambassador (the great Geoffrey Lewis) to try negotiation with the Sultan, hoping the Sultan will grant the Raisuli a section of the kingdom that will be free from foreign influences... but the Sultan is fickle and would rather play with his German machinegun. Many of the scenes concern Roosevelt’s love of nature, the building of the national parks system, and the Grizzly Bear he has shot on a hunting trip and wants to have stuffed and mounted... not as an inferior to humans, but as a fierce animal (kind of the king of the American jungle). John Huston plays his *slippery* Secretary Of State John Hay, who tries to manipulate the President... without success. The politics on both sides are convoluted and confusing... only the individuals like Roosevelt and the Raisuli have honor.

This film has a rousing score by Jerry Goldsmith which I bought on vinyl probably the day I first saw the film (there was a Soundtracks Only store in San Francisco) and I have it to this day (and a CD without as many scratches). If you don't know who Goldsmith was, he was probably the greatest modern film composer... and I prefer him over John Williams. He also scored CHINATOWN and THE BLUE MAX and THE OMEN and... well, lots of great scores! The film was shot by Billy Williams who was nominated a few times for Best Cinematography Oscar but only won once for GANDHI. Stunts by Terry Leonard, who also did the stunt coordination on RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and APOCALYPSE NOW and RED DAWN and most recently on AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2.




When the film came out I was a teenager and movies still opened on Wednesdays and only opened in major cities... played there for a month or two, then opened in the suburbs (which used to be called “Roadshow”). So, to see the movie on opening day, my friend Dave and I drove all the way to San Francisco and saw the very first matinee. Not packed. But afterwards, we pretended to sword fight all the way back to the car. I saw the film one more time in San Francisco, then once when it played “roadshow” in Concord. This was one of those movies that got me excited about making movies when I grew up. I wanted to do big, exciting, swashbucklers like this!

The film was not a big hit, nor was it a flop. It did okay. What I always find strange is how people will find fault with some movie... and then ignore the same problem in some movie they like. The two big things critics disliked about this film were Sean Connery’s Middle Eastern accent (which sounded Scottish) and that they changed the kidnaped dude to a kidnaped chick. Has Connery ever had an accent in a movie that wasn’t Scottish? Did we ever care? And how many movies based on some true event stay completely true to what happened? They all dramatize things! Were there major complaints about SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE bending the facts? No - it was a movie! I think the critics thought it was *fun* when movies had been gritty and serious for the past few years. The year WIND came out was the same year ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and DOG DAY AFTERNOON and SHAMPOO came out. Nobody could see STAR WARS in the crystal ball. WIND AND THE LION wasn’t one of the top ten films that year, though a film Milius did some uncredited writing on called JAWS was #1.

THE WIND AND THE LION is one of those films that people fall in love with. I still love the film and watch the DVD probably once a year... and now it's out on BluRay!

Milius Interview:


Check out THE WIND AND THE LION on BluRay. It might make you feel like a 12 year old again, and you might sword fight with a broom... and break something.

One of my favorite films.

- Bill

Friday, November 15, 2019

Hitchcock: The Kuleshov Bikini & MARNIE

There is a musical version of MARNIE? MARNIE THE MUSICAL - Review!

Originally I was going to rerun the MARNIE entry with some rewriting to both expand the entry and focus on the similarities to the FIFTY SHADES OF GREY trilogy to celebrate the musical, but you'll have to look at Hitch explaining Kuleshov using a babe in a bikini instead of a bowl of soup.

Hitchcock explaining the Kuleshov Experiment using a hot babe in a bikini:





But here is the rape/sex/honeymoon night scene from MARNIE to prepare you for the last FIFTY SHADES movie, which hit video a couple of months ago....



NOTE: When Mark and Marnie are in the outer room, check out the specific shots and how they tell the story. We begin with Mark at eye level as he looks at Marnie's shadow moving around in the bedroom. By showing Mark looking and then showing what Mark is looking at, we *become* Mark at this point.

But when Marnie enters the room, Mark is shown from a slightly low angle, making him superior to the audience... he becomes powerful (while sitting down and not really moving). He has become dominant... while Marnie is shown from a distance, making her distant and unattainable. Every *angle* and *movement* of the camera is part of telling the story the way words are when writing a screenplay. This is basic cinematic language, but something that some directors don't seem to speak these days.

Boning up?

Once Mark goes into the bedroom, we get a great shot with Mark on one side of the frame and Marnie on the other, separated from each other. They have a verbal battle, and at this point they seem to be evenly matched (according to the shot). But then the shot *moves* in on Mark's face. When a shot gets closer to the subject, they become more important... more powerful. So this shot begins with two evenly matched people on opposite sides of some issue and then turns one into the more powerful (and aggressive) one. That's where it gets all FIFTY SHADES OF GREY...

We get some shocking implied nudity... and Marnie seems to go catatonic. When Mark puts his coat around her, we get an interesting combination of shots: Mark and Marnie from an overhead (Mark is powerless to make her respond to his kisses) to a low angle (he's going to *take* the power) and that's when we get...

That great shot where Marnie seems to float into bed. This shot would be replicated by the Coen Brothers in BLOOD SIMPLE.

If you are going to direct, you have to speak the language!

And here is Sean Connery discussing working with Hitch on MARNIE...



And here's Hitch discussing MARINE...



- Bill


Of course, I have my own books 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!

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OTHER COUNTRIES:
(links actually work now)

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



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, November 14, 2019

THRILLER Thursday: The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk.

NEW! SEASON 2!!!



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



Season: 2, Episode: 13.
Airdate: December 18, 1961

Director: John Brahm.
Writer: Donald S. Sanford from the story by Margaret St. Clair.
Cast: Jo Van Fleet, John Carradine, Paul Newlan, Hal Baylor.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Ray Flin.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Imagine a woman with such poise, such calm, in the presence of... whatever happened to young Johnny. Remarkable. The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk, that’s the title of our excursion into the impossible, tonight. Or is what happened to Johnny impossible in this day? He was a thief. Whatever he got he deserved, you say. Well, my friend, how can you judge until you know the full horror that overtook him out there in the farmland? That’s a puzzle I invite you to solve in company with our cast. Jason Longfellow played by John Carradine, Sheriff Tom Willetts played by Paul Newlan, Peter Gogan played by Hal Baylor, the remarkable Mrs. Hawk portrayed by Jo Van Fleet. If you’ve ever yearned for a small farm, a few chickens, a cow, and a pig or two... or three... I particularly recommend this story, because as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, you’ll learn some animal husbandry that even the experts never dreamed of.”

Synopsis: A pair of hobos / day laborers, Jason (John Carradine) and Peter (Hal Baylor), put out their campfire and prepare to leave, wondering where their pal is. Across the field is an old country house with a big sign in front “Isle Of Aiaie” Home Of The Pampered Pig. Visitors Welcome. Mrs. C. Hawk proprietor.”



Inside the house, their pal Johnny (Bruce Dern) (with a tattoo of an arrow through a heart on his arm) is having a meal served by Mrs Hawk (Jo Van Fleet) - he did a day’s work at the pig farm and is quitting. Mrs. Hawk doesn’t want him to quit... and touches him in a way you usually don’t touch employees... and Johnny takes a step back. She says she will give him his pay, but first a goodbye drink of her blackberry brandy. Okay, anything to get his money and get out of here. He downs it, and when she goes to get his pay, grabs the empty brandy decanter and follows her into the little home office. He’s going to hit her and rob her of *all* her money. A really good creep up suspense moment... will she hear him and turn around? When he gets ready to hit her she spins around... and tells him that he can have all of the money if he wants, she won’t even call the cops. He takes her strong box and runs!

Then she hears him scream: “Help me!” from the yard... and she smiles. He keeps screaming!
Then hogs begin snorting and squeeling!
And the screaming stops.



Peter wants to help Johnny, but Jason thinks it’s too late. Peter mentions that hungry hogs are dangerous - they will eat a human... and blames Jason for sending Johnny in to steal, knowing he might end up a meal. The two fight a little, and then Jason explains his real plan. A personals advert from Mrs Hawk in a magazine, “Attractive widow, owner of prosperous farm, desires lonely young man to share her work and future.” Jason believes she requested “lonely" young men because they are less likely to have families who will question their disappearance. She’s a serial killer. Jason plans to blackmail her... using Peter as bait.

At the County Fair, Sheriff Tom Willetts (Paul Newlan from M SQUAD) makes his rounds, while Mrs Hawk displays her prize pig Nammon... which has won all of the awards at the fair. The pig also has a tattoo with an arrow through a heart on it’s front leg... just like Johnny did. WTF? She chases down the Sheriff and does some heavy flirting with him... but he politely rejects her. He's a middle aged man who is nervous around women... and she's a woman who is several steps past "aggressive". A maneater.



When she drives home with the prized pig in the back of her truck, Peter and Jonathan are waiting for her... answering her personals advert in the magazine. Peter is the potential husband, Jason is his uncle. She serves them tea and cookies, and then Jason leaves... and Peter stays in the guest room of the house. So they can get to know each other better. Peter is a little nervous about what that might entail.

That night, Peter sleeps fully clothed.
Something wakes him up in the middle of the night, and he looks out the window. Spots Mrs. Hawk in her nightgown walking into the pig barn with a bowl of... grapes. She feeds the big hogs, calling them all by name. Creepy! One of the hogs seems angry, so she tells it that it can come back for a little while... The pig with the same tattoo as Johnny had. And we get a cool moving shot where she follows the pig to the house, and when it walks behind a cart for a moment she points her wooden pig prodder at it and Johnny comes out on the other side of the cart. Johnny is the pig! Mrs Hawk takes Johnny-pig in to her bedroom... for reasons not fully explained in the story, but we wonder about corkscrew personal parts. Peter sees Mrs. Hawk and Johnny entering the bedroom and sneaks out of the house.



Next morning she notices Peter missing.... and then there is a knock at the door: the Sheriff. Official business. It seems that her day laborer Johnny and his partner Peter are both wanted by the police for robbing a man. She turns away so that he doesn’t see her expression when she learns that Johnny and Peter know each other. Sheriff Willetts mentions that both are traveling with an old hobo - Jason. She shifts gears and pours on the flirting, which makes Sheriff Willetts nervous, so he leaves.

Jason finds Peter back at their camp and asks why he isn’t in the house with Mrs. Hawk? Peter tells him what he saw, and Jason believes all of it. He wants to poke around the house... but that means that Peter has to go back.

Peter returns and tells Mrs. Hawk that he saw one of her pigs escape so he tried to chase it down, failed to grab it. “He’ll come home when he’s hungry,” she says. And she has breakfast waiting for him - pancakes... with blackberry syrup. As Peter eats she says she feels bad about running his uncle Jason off and wonders if he’s available to come to dinner tonight? Peter fumbles a bit, because he was supposed to ask her if uncle Jason could come by for dinner. She keeps pouring on the blackberry syrup... and there’s a nice shot where Peter eats a fork-full of syrupy pancakes and makes a sound halfway between a belch and a pig’s snort and the camera moves to Mrs. Hawk as the sounds become all pig snorts. Peter has become a pig.



That night, Jason comes by for dinner... and while waiting, studies a painting on the wall of a young woman with a wooden pig prodder surrounded by adoring pigs. They have a nice verbal battle - a chess game - where Jason talks about the painting, and she tries to normalize it. He seems to know everything about her. She tries to deflect him and charm him away from these subjects. He grabs a photo from a table and asks who this is - needs to know the family his nephew is marrying into, right? Mrs Hawk says it’s her niece Meddy. “Would that be a pet name for Medea?” He asks where Peter is... and she answers “tamed”. She offers him a glass of blackberry wine. He accepts the glass, but doesn’t drink it... and says he knows all about her. The “C” stands for Circe - she is the Greek Goddess of magic and witchcraft. Through the use of her magic wand she can turn her enemies into pigs and other beasts. She asks what he wants? Jason smiles: Every cent she has and the farm. This won’t be the first time she has been forced to move, right?

Jason will need a pen and paper to draw up a contract for sale of the farm - and Mrs. Hawk attempts to trick him several times. She dips the top of the pen in a bottle when he isn’t looking. He draws up the contract, putting the top of the pen in his mouth at one point. She signs the contract... then flirts with him, and asks if he would like to see the pigs.

At the barn, Jason fears a trap... so he takes the flashlight and goes in alone. The barn is dark and spooky.



In one pen, a big hog wears Peter’s suit!
From outside the barn she asks, “Do you see him?”
“Yes... I see him.”
“You’re lucky, Most of my friends don’t have the opportunity to see what’s going to happen to them.”

She tells him it was on the tip of the pen, and when he screams and tries to escape from the barn, she locks the door.... locking him in the barn with Peter and Johnny and all of the others... and then he begins snorting like a pig!

Meanwhile: Sheriff Willetts and a kid are searching their camp on the field across from the house, and find Jason’s library of mythology... and finds his notes on Mrs. Hawk. Weird notes. Does he believe them?



Sheriff Willetts goes to visit Mrs Hawk, and she starts in on the flirting to make him uncomfortable. He says he is here on official business... and wants her to go in the house while he searches. She waves the pig pusher at the pigs and they are all suddenly silent, then she leaves and lets him search.

Sheriff Willetts does a search of the barn, fairly suspenseful. He finds nothing.

In the house, he studies the painting of the young woman surrounded by adoring pigs. Finds a stash of watches and cigarette lighters and other things from her victims. That’s when she comes in with a pot of coffee and cups on a serving tray. “Tom, you know something about me, don’t you?” He says he knows what happened to all of the missing men, he knows who she really is. She does the flirting thing again. He will have nothing to do with it... and she says she is willing to give her confession. Has he told anyone else her secret? “If I told anybody a thing like that they’d lock me up!” She smiles... and then touches his lips with her fingers... giving him a taste of that blackberry potion. She points the pig prodder at him and... the Sheriff turns into a pig!



Later, she sells all of her pigs to the slaughterhouse and watches as they are loaded into the back of the truck, saying goodbye to each of them by name. The Sheriff pig has a star shaped marking on its chest. As the two slaughterhouse drivers prepare to leave, they talk about what a great woman Mrs Hawk is - she cared so much about those pigs of hers.

Mrs. Hawk goes back to the house... and a young man shows up, answering her personals advert in the magazine. She smiles at him.





Review: This is a great episode, that hits on all cylinders. The writing is witty, the story is dark and twisted, and the direction (lighting, camera moves) milk it for every creepy moment.

The acting is also superb, especially Jo Van Fleet (from Oakland) who you may know from EAST OF EDEN or COOL HAND LUKE or Polanski’s THE TENANT or the TV movie SATAN’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS. She is an unconventionally attractive woman, and vamps the hell out of it this episode. She is sex incarnate. Were the TV censors asleep at the switch? Her hands are all over every male character in the story and she dresses like the farmer’s daughter from all of those dirty jokes. I had a still I was going to pull for this of her bending down in front of John Carradine to offer him a drink that is offering him her cleavage as well - but it was kind of pervy. She just oozes sex whenever she’s on screen, to the point that it feels like a trap (which is what she was going for). This isn’t just a sexually aggressive woman, there is a danger vibe here. Even before Bruce Dern is turned into a pig, you know she has some sort of evil plan for him. This is a great performance in an episode filled with them.

John Carradine is also great as the hobo/conman, and the scenes with him and Van Fleet are two masters at the top of their game battling it out. Carradine playing a conman is a great casting - he can ham it up and it fits his character. Did I say: Ham it up?



You may not be familiar with Paul Newlan who plays the Sheriff, but he was usually working across the lot on Lee Marvin’s M SQUAD show as the Chief Of Detectives - and is great here as the shy, lonely, Sheriff in this episode - when Van Fleet comes on to him, he gets so flustered that the audience feels uncomfortable. Another great performance by an old pro character actor.

Hal Baylor is another one of those character actors with well over 100 credits - he was on every Western show ever made and pops up in John Wayne movies, too. He’s also in A BOY AND HIS DOG.

Director John Brahm did 12 episodes of THRILLER, including CHEATERS, DARK LEGACY, THE PREDICTION and GOOD IMAGINATION. He was also one of the main directors on TWILIGHT ZONE and HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and MAN FROM UNCLE. On this show his episodes range from competent to great - and this is one of the great ones. The single shot where the pig turns into Bruce Dern would be a mind blower today, and a scene where Carradine is poking around in the spooky pig barn with a flashlight builds all kinds of dread. The payoff - a pig in Peter’s suit - doesn’t work as well as a shock moment, but farm animals in clothes tend to be funny... and that’s the problem, here. But still a great moment in a twisted episode.



The story itself, and screenplay by Donald Sanford, is creepy and shocking. I think Kevin Smith should have watched this episode before making TUSK. Smith’s movie is a bunch of talking heads scenes, this episode has creepy scenes and shock moments and the talking heads scenes are battles between clever characters trying to outsmart each other. Oddly, due to the Sheriff character, this episode is also reminiscent of PSYCHO. Various characters disappear in a spooky old house, and the plodding Sheriff puts the pieces together and realizes that something is really wrong, here. I love the early bit of leading the audience / misdirection when Peter mentions that hungry hogs will eat people - that adds so much dread to every scene. You are waiting for the secret to be that Mrs. Hawk feeds people to her pigs... so when it is revealed that her pigs are people, it’s a great moment.

Another great element in this episode is Karloff's introduction - most of them are kind of blandly written, but this one is witty and fun (and brief).

A great episode after a slightly boring one... and next up is another episode directed by the fellow who directed the boring one. Will it be better than his last episode? Stay tuned!



- Bill

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