Friday, January 31, 2020

Fridays With Hitchcock: FRENZY (1972)

FRENZY (1972)

Screenplay: Anthony Schaffer based on the novel by Arthur La Bern.
Starring: Jon Finch, Barry Foster, Anna Massey, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Alec McCowen.

Hitchcock’s second-to-last film manages to combine many of his most popular elements into one story: We get the wrongly accused man story - this time very similar to one of his other lost gems, YOUNG AND INNOCENT. We also get a STRANGERS ON A TRAIN story of guilt transferred. Plus we get a sexy, violent, shocking serial killer story like PSYCHO. Hey, add a twist ending and you've got quintessential Hitchcock. Oh, and it's funny and clever, too - screenplay by the brilliant Anthony Shaffer...writer of the original SLEUTH, the original WICKER MAN, and SOMMERSBY. This is the best Hitchcock film in the post-PSYCHO period.




After a bunch of interesting failures after PSYCHO - movies that only Robin Wood could love - Hitchcock needed a hit... and here it is. FRENZY is a return to England and to London. The business had changed, and Hitchcock - who always seemed ahead of the curve - had coasted on past brilliance in the 60s until he stopped dead. This was the film that restarted him - and probably the film he should have gone out on. Though it’s about a man who is wrongly accused, he isn’t on the run like in NORTH BY NORTHWEST, instead he’s kind of “a man on the hide” - trying to find some safe place to hole up or some scheme to avoid the police by being smuggled out of the country. After years of sly winks from Hitchcock about sex - trains entering tunnels - the new permissive world of cinema practically demanded that he do a film full of nudity and sex. This is Hitchcock’s only R rated film. Instead of those glossy Hollywood “personality” stars like Cary Grant that he had used in the past, or the new method actors and low-key guys like Paul Newman - who didn’t match his style, FRENZY stars a bunch of fine British stage actors. You don’t know their names, but you may have seen them in movies or on TV before. The hostess of Masterpiece Theater, Jean Marsh, plays a role. Whether Hitchcock was returning to his roots or his comfort zone, the results are a fun and frightening little film that is still fun to watch.




Nutshell: Bitter bartender Richard Blaney (Jon Finch) seems to have lost everything in his divorce, including many of his friends. The one pal who took his side was Bob Rusk (Barry Foster) who runs a produce company at Covent Garden. These two are polar opposites. Where Blaney's life is a mess, Rusk is on top of the world.

London is plagued by the Neck Tie Killer - who strangles swinging single women with neck ties. When Blaney’s ex-wife (Barbara Leigh-Hunt) becomes the latest victim only a day after they had a very public fight, he finds himself on the run from the police. Unfortunately, everyone sided with the ex-wife in the divorce, and no one will believe he's innocent. And when another Neck Tie Killer victim can be traced back to Blaney? Even his old pal Rusk thinks he’s guilty... and turns him in to the police. Lots of twists and turns, and one of those great end twists where the real killer is revealed.




Hitch Appearance: In a crowd listening to a political speech - right
at the beginning of the film... then someone spots a dead woman floating in the Thames River, naked except for a neck tie. “Is that my club tie?” someone asks.

Hitch Stock Company: Elsie Randolph who plays the Hotel Clerk was also in RICH AND STRANGE (1931).

Birds: One of the few Hitchcock films without birds - though there are some seagulls in the opening shot and a quail is served at dinner.

Experiment: Hitchcock plays it safe as far as story is concerned. FRENZY is a great example of taking us into a world, Hero & Villain “Flipsides”, character flaw creating story, set ups, and traditional twist endings. There are also some visual experiments in the film that we look at in MASTERING SUSPENSE.

A great summation of Hitchcock's thrillers that also works as kind of a little tour of London and a behind the scenes of Covent Garden market. Lots of suspense, twists, and a fun look at what happens when you lose all of your friends in the divorce... except for the bad boys you used to hang out with as a bachelor. Great script by Shaffer, great cinematography by Gilbert Taylor. Marred by iffy music by Ron Goodwin (replacing Bernard Herrmann after he had a falling out with Hitch). Hitchcock's best film in the Post-“Psycho” era (after he began to believe all of those critics that called him a genius - and made mostly cruddy films). A modern film, that holds up really well and has some great lessons on protagonist and antagonist relationships and twists.

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

- Bill

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






USA Readers click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

THRILLER Thursday: The Man In The Middle

Man In The Middle

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



Director: Fletcher Markle
Writer: Howard Rodman from the novel by Charlotte Armstrong.
Cast: Mort Sahl, Sue Randall, Frank Alberson, Werner Klemperer, Burt Remsen.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: John L. Russell.
Producer: Fletcher Markle




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The departing eves dropper is Sam Lynch, the conversation he has just overheard will change his life abruptly. It may even finish it. These two men, Mr. Clark (so called, he hasn’t used his real name in years), his good friend Mr. Baby Hoffman, take their work quite seriously. As you would have overheard, their current enterprise concerns the kidnaping and murder of a very beautiful Miss Kay Salisbury. Mr. Clark and Mr. Hoffman know that Mr. Lynch has overheard them. And Mr. Lynch knows that they know that he knows. Mr. Lynch also knows that if he talks, no one would believe him no one would believe him and he would be murdered. But if he doesn’t talk, Miss Salzbury will be murdered. This is the predicament of The Man In The Middle. That’s the name of our story based on a prize winning novel by Charlotte Armstrong. Our principle players are: Mr. Mort Sahl, Miss Sue Randall, Mr. Frank Alberston, and Mr. Werner Klemperer. As sure as my name is Boris Karloff, eves dropping can be very dangerous. You will agree fervently, as you enjoy this... Thriller.”

Synopsis: Sam Lynch (Mort Sahl) is having a beer in a booth in the back of his regular bar when he overhears a conversation from the next booth... two men plotting to kidnap a young society woman named Kay Salisbury just before her wedding and hold her for ransom... but kill her after they get the money. The two men are Mr. Clark (Werner Klemperer from HOGAN’S HEROES) and Baby Hoffman (Julian Burton), career criminals. Sam doesn’t know what to do... and that’s when Clark spots him listening in a mirror on the bar’s wall. He is confronted by the two men, says he didn’t hear anything... but they don’t believe him. Sam sits at the bar, knowing the two will listen to *his* conversation with the Bartender, and tells a heck of a long story about the time he saw a dog on the freeway and wanted to save it, but realized *he’d* get hit by a car in the process and it made more sense to just let the dog die. It wasn’t his dog, why should he care? When Sam gets up to leave, he bumps into another bar patron who hits him up for some drink money (to show Sam is a good guy after that speech).



Sam goes to his job as a TV writer... doesn’t realize that Clark and Hoffman are following him. In the writer’s room everyone is trying to write a skit, and Sam pitched a skit that is *exactly* what just happened to him in the bar. In minute and boring detail. The other writers don’t like it, and instead of Sam explaining what just happened to him, he gets all defensive and leaves... And Clark and Hoffman follow him again.

In Sam’s apartment, there’s a knock at his door: Clark and Hoffman! Clark watches as Hoffman beats the crap out of Sam as a warning to keep his mouth shut. If the police become involved, they will kill him.

Sam goes to warn Kay Salisbury’s father that she is in danger. In the elegant entry hall he bumps into Kay (Sue Randall) who is a sheltered young woman, and cute. When Sam gets his audience with millionaire Charles Salisbury (Frank Alberson) and Kay’s lawyer fiancĂ© (who is just a raging ahole), they mistake his warnings that Kay is in danger for some sort of shake down and refuse to pay him. Now, instead of just explaining the situation, Sam decides it’s time for one of his rambling monologues... this time about pacifists during the war. I’m sure it’s making some point, but neither I nor Mr. Salisbury got it... and still think Sam’s trying to get money from him based on some vague threat of danger that Kay might be in. When Salisbury agrees to cut him a check for his time, Sam storms out... without ever explaining the situation.



Sam bumps into Kay near his car, tries to warn her that she’s in danger but comes off sounding completely crazy. Then he notices Hoffman talking with the Maid at the servants entrance, and points him out to Kay. Kay says that’s the Maid’s boyfriend, nothing to worry about. Sam could explain that Hoffman is really a kidnaper, but it just seems easier for him to kidnap Kay himself and drive off with her unconscious in his car. That way she’ll be safe, right?

At Sam’s mountain cabin, he tries to calm Kay... but again doesn’t think that just telling her what is going on is a good idea. So she thinks he’s a kidnapper.

Meanwhile, Hoffman tells Clark that Kay has vanished unexpectedly, and the family has not called the police. They decide to call Mr. Salisbury and go through with their ransom demands even though they don’t have Kay.

Salisbury rounds up $80k of the $100k ransom and can’t get any more. When the kidnapers call, he says all he can get is the $80k and they reluctantly agree to accept $20k less than they asked. They give Salisbury directions for the drop and say they’ll release Kay 12 hours after they have the money. Salisbury delivers the money, gets knocked out by Hoffman, and makes it home when he comes to.



Meanwhile, Sam is pacing in the cabin and talking to himself as Kay listens. More boring monologue stuff. He decides to lock Kay in the cabin and go to a payphone to call Mr. Salisbury so that he won’t worry about his daughter. Except Salisbury misunderstands and thinks that Sam is the kidnapper and hasn’t released Kay because of the $20k. Now, all Sam would have to do is tell the truth at this point, but instead he decides to get offended and mention Clark and Hoffman’s names before he hangs up.

Sam calls the bar, asks to talk to that guy he gave some money to in the first scene and asks him to find Clark and Hoffman and tell them that he wants to deal with them, as long as they don’t kill Kay (or Sam). That guy says “sure” and Sam says they can meet in some other bar later. Who knows what Kay is doing all of this time.

Sam is sitting in the bar waiting for the guy he called, who is late. When the guy finally staggers in, Sam gives a speech about being drunk (because there’s always time for that) and then the guy says Hoffman *shot* him and he’s dying and Clark says: no deal, Sam & Kay both get killed. Then he dies. At no time does Sam ever think to himself that if he hadn’t have done that long speech about getting drunk the guy might have lived long enough for an ambulance to arrive. Nope.

Sam leaves the dead guy in the bar booth and goes to a pawn shop and buys a gun. Where we get a conversation about the price of an illegal gun in this city.

Meanwhile, Salisbury has called the police, and the police have rounded up Clark, who has an alibi for the time of the ransom drop... so the police let him go. But follow him.



At the cabin, Sam gives Kay his car keys and tells her to drive home. She wants to know what is going on, and instead of just explain, he argues with her or a while (which is mostly another one of his speeches). Eventually she takes the car keys and drives off, and Sam finds the best place to hide the gun in the cabin so that it will be easy to get to when he needs it.

Kay drives down the road... passing Clark and Hoffman who are headed to the cabin (I don’t know how they knew where it was) and Hoffman sees her and they turn around and chase after her. There’s a short car chase, they run Kay off the road, she escapes on foot and Hoffman chases after her while Clark drives to the cabin to deal with Sam.

Clark shows up at the cabin, and Sam tries to put him to sleep with another speech, and when that doesn’t work he pulls his hidden gun and aims it at Clark... which is when the door opens and Hoffman and Kay come in. When the shoot9ing starts, Kay dives for cover. Sam kills both Clark and Hoffman, and gets a flesh wound in the process. Because a TV writer who has never used a gun before is a better shot than two career criminals. The police show up, and it looks like Kay and Sam might hook up. The end.



Review: Where do I begin? This episode has a great concept, in fact... I seem to have accidentally ripped it off for a short story called “Rear Booth” that is coming soon. I”m sure I saw this decades ago and the only thing I could remember was overhearing the bad guys conversation... and my memory of that combined with “Rear Window” sparked *my* story idea (which is not the same as this story). But with this great concept, the story misfires again and again. There is no suspense, and way too much speechifying. I have no idea what Sam’s job was in the book, but I’ll bet it was not a TV writer. That just seemed like incestuous writing. The story manages to keep Sam and Clark on different story tracks most of the time, too. Oh, and the idiot plotting where Sam would rather get frustrated and walk away than just explain what is going on.

Mort Sahl (who is still with us) was the biggest comedian of the time, and they must have been incredibly happy to get him... and maybe they shouldn’t have been. Sahl was a low key political comedian who didn’t rely on punchlines, and had a vocal delivery that kind of reminds me of Norm MacDonald. Kind of a monotone with a little bite. All of that works great on a comedy stage, but doesn’t work at all in a dramatic role. He plays this whole thing in a sad sack monotone with almost no emotions. He’s too low key for these situations, and I wonder if they wrote all of those speeches because Sahl’s comedy routine was basically telling a long story about something from the headlines. He just sinks this episode.

And Colonel Klink also gives a very subdued performance, playing the brainiac crime planner who never gets emotional. So we have both protagonist and antagonist speaking in a monotone!

I suspect that the ahole fiancé was in on the kidnaping in the book, otherwise there would be no reason for his character to exist.

Director Markle was one of the staff producers on the show, and this was his last episode... and the only one he directed. He was responsible for many of the episodes up until this point that I didn’t think worked.

What could have been an interesting thriller ends up not working, due to a misfire script and bland direction and a terrible performance by Mort Sahl (admittedly out of his element). But next week we get a weird tales story about glasses that allow you to see... well, THEY LIVE may owe something to this episode.

Bill

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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Scene Of The Week: JAWS (bloody beach)


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The amazing thing about JAWS is that it is so well made it stands up now... and is better than most current films. In fact, compare JAWS to JURASSIC PARK (same director) and JAWS still wins. Better characters and situations and more suspense. The novel JAWS is kind of a pulpy beach read - a big chunk of it focuses on the affair between Mrs. Brody and hunky young Matt Hooper. All of that was removed for the film, and some great scenes were added. In fact, what always impresses me about JAWS is how many great scenes and memorable scenes are in the film. Just for fun, why not write a list of the great or memorable scenes you can remember. Doesn’t matter how long it has been since you have seen the movie, in fact - the longer it has been the better! If you haven’t seen the film since 1975, those scenes you can remember now made an impression.

Got your list? Well, I know which two scenes are on the top, and we’ll be looking at one of those later in the series, but now let’s look at one that is probably further down your list...  A memorable scenes.

This scene happens about 13 minutes into the film... you read that right! The movie begins with the teens on the beach, skinny dipping, shark attacking the girl. Great way to start a film! The audience knows there is a shark out there. Next we have a scene that introduces Martin Brody and his wife and kids - he’s new on the job. He was an NYPD cop, who came to Amity... and is not thrilled by the water. He’s also over protective of his kids - he warns them the swing set isn’t safe.

Next scene we have our missing girl, and the guy she was with is showing Brody where she disappeared... and then they find what is left of her. Shocking! The town’s medical examiner confirms it as “Shark Attack”. Brody asks where they keep the “Beach Closed” signs... and finds out they don’t have any.

So Brody heads down to the store to buy sign making supplies. Now, here’s the great thing - the bike shop guy wants Brody to deal with the kids at the Kung Fu class, because they keep kung fuing his fence and even his bikes. The small town problems he *thought* he was going to deal with! He gets to the store, and more small town problems are discussed as he buys the paint and brushes and signs. He tells his deputy to take the stuff back to the police station and have the *secretary* make the signs, she has better penmanship. This becomes an issue!

Then Brody gets cornered by the Mayor and City Council Members on a ferry - and is pressured to change the cause of death to “boating accident” and pressured to keep the beaches open. The Mayor gives that great little speech about how when someone yells “Barracuda!” no one cares, but when someone yells “Shark!” it creates a panic. Brody *knows* this was a shark attack, but bends under the pressure. It’s him on that ferry against a handful of others - his bosses - who press him to do what he knows is the wrong thing.

Which brings us to this scene, about 13 minutes into the film. See how fast paced this film is? But it doesn’t seem that way - we get a good introduction to Brody and his family, a feel for small town life, introduce Body’s deputy and secretary, a look at small town politics... all while dealing with the shark attack. These aren’t a bunch of quick-cut MTV scenes, these scenes are concise and do many things at once. Packed with information, and emotion...

And then we have our day at the beach...




This scene is all about Brody *knowing* that he was pressured to do the wrong thing. He’s on edge - watching the people in the water.  We get to know some minor characters - the Kitner Boy and his Mom, the Boy and his Dog, the Woman on the raft... and Bad Hat Harry (Bryan Singer’s production company!). All of these people will be players in the scene.

This scene has two great Hitchcock techniques - the “Hitchcock Wipes” where a passing person bridges the cuts so that it all flows as if it is one piece of film. This technique was used in “Rope” and “Frenzy”.  In JAWS each wipe takes us closer and closer to Brody - focusing on how intently he is watching the people in the water... worried about a shark attack. The other technique is the “Dolly/Zoom” from “Vertigo”, where the camera dollys at the exact same rate as the lens zooms to that we get an expansion or compression of the background.

One of my favorite bits is when the guy *blocks Brody’s line of sight to the water* in order to talk about red curbs or whatever mundane thing. This creates suspense and frustration for Brody’s character - and that perfectly transfers to the audience. Conflict is the key to everything, and here we have another person with a small problem getting in Brody’s way when there is a much bigger problem. The great payoff with this is the screaming girl and her boyfriend. This heightens the tension. Even though it’s a fake out, we *know* that something is going to happen for real.

Now we “make it personal” with his kids getting into the water. He’s concerned, but hold back - tries to act cool. His kids swim way out there... towards the Kitner Boy.

Now it’s Bad Hat Harry who blocks his line of sight. The conflict has *escalated* because Brody’s kids are out there... in potential danger.

Escalating the tension and building dread is the Boy unable to find his Dog. That stick he was throwing is floating in the water... but no Dog fetching it. Something is wrong.

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Did you see that? One of the great things about the shark eating the Kitner Boy is that it happens *in the background* of the shot of Brody’s kids and their friends swimming. Instead of making it obvious, the shot puts it in the background so that we aren’t quite sure what we saw. That’s more ominous than if they made it obvious. The folks on the beach aren’t sure what they are seeing, as well. That’s when we get the great “Dolly/Zoom” and Brody - knowing this is all his fault for being spineless - runs to the edge of the water and yells for everyone to get out of the water.

Here’s where we get more wonderful conflict. The parents race *into the water* to grab their kids! Into danger! Now Brody is trying to get the parents back to the shore (unsuccessfully) as well as get the kids to swim to shore. Absolute panic! Once everyone is on shore and heading away from the water, one person is walking *toward* the water - Mrs. Kitner. The scene ends just over 18 minutes into the film... with the bloody raft brushing up against the shore.

That’s not even one of the top two scenes you wrote down, which were probably “We’re gonna need a bigger boat!” and Quint relating his experience on the USS Indianapolis during WW2.

What does that look like on the page?



               EXT. AMITY BEACH - DAY

               A plump jelly-bowl of a woman plunges into the ocean. There's 
               enough there to satisfy the most gluttonous shark. Buoyant, 
               joyful, she splashes away in abandon. From her, we pan off 
               to reveal other cheerful bathers enjoying that last 
               uncluttered weekend before the season starts in earnest.

               ANGLE ON THE WATERLINE

               A Man and his dog are romping at the water's edge. The Man 
               is throwing a stick out into the surf, the dog, a happy 
               retriever, is bounding into the waves after it.

               TWO YOUNG PEOPLE ON THE BEACH

               A Girl and her Boyfriend leave their blanket and run for the 
               water, playing tag, chasing each other, having a wonderful 
               time.

               ANGLE ON BIRTHDAY PARTY ON THE SAND - MARTIN AND ELLEN BRODY

               He is sitting stiffly in a beach chair, scanning the beach 
               with careful, cautious looks, eyeballing everything that's 
               going on.

               Around their particular blanket and umbrella are a number of 
               adults and their kids, the youngsters gathered to celebrate 
               Michael's birthday. Ellen is dishing out ice cream and cake 
               from a cooler chest to the raucous 10-year-olds. Michael's 
               hand is still bandaged.

                                     MAX TAFT
                              (an adult)
                         Looks like another big season. Gets 
                         worse every year.

                                     MRS. TAFT
                         And none of them from the Island. 
                         Just a lot of bother.

               Brody (and we) hear a shrill scream from the water. He 
               stretches to look past the group, to see what's happening 
               out there.

               BRODY'S POINT OF VIEW - THE WATER

               The young lady is disappearing under the water, pulled under 
               the waves by some force. She is shrieking. She pops right up 
               again riding the shoulders of her boyfriend, who pulled her 
               under. She's laughing hysterically. Brody is unamused.

               THE ADULTS

                                     BRODY
                              (to Taft)
                         What?

                                     TAFT
                         Present company excepted, but off-
                         islanders are a pain in the butt. 
                         Pardon my French.

               Ellen captures Sean, and holds him playfully, an example.

                                     ELLEN
                         What about this kid? What if he were 
                         born here. That make him an islander?

                                     TAFT
                         Just 'cause a cat has kittens in an 
                         oven, it don't make them muffins.

                                     SEAN
                         I'm not a muffin! I'm a boy!

               Brody rumples his hair and sets him off to play.

               ANGLE ON ANOTHER SMALL BOY, PLAYING ALONE

               It's Alex Kintner, and his mother, nearby, reading a novel.

               Alex is towing a funny rubber raft, and headed for the water.

                                     MRS. KINTNER
                         Alex! Alex Kintner! Where do you 
                         think you're going?

                                     ALEX
                         Water. Just once more, please?

                                     MRS. KINTNER
                         Let me see your fingers --

               He holds out his hands.

                                     MRS. KINTNER
                         They're beginning to prune. 10 minutes 
                         more.

               Alex starts for the ocean. Behind him, Michael and his gang 
               are also heading for the inviting waves. Brody is watching 
               them go, his spine rigid with tension.

               MAN AND HIS DOG

               As Alex and the boys hit the water, we see the man throwing 
               his stick into the waves, his dog swimming strongly after 
               it.

               BRODY'S POINT OF VIEW

               Out beyond the kids and the dog, the Fat Lady is bobbing 
               around, out way too far, isolated from the other swimmers.

               UNDERWATER VIEW - EXT. - DAY

               A fish's-eye view of the bathers: lots of little kicking 
               legs, rafts with tasty arms dangling in the blue, slowing 
               circling, favoring one raft (little Alex's). The Kintner 
               boy's legs and arms are kicking and paddling, producing 
               bizarre underwater vibrations of more than passing interest.  
               Dog goes by, dog-paddling along.

               ON THE BEACH

               Brody is half-rising, looking out over the water. The Fat 
               Lady is not where he remembered her. He scans the water 
               anxiously.

                                     ELLEN
                         Do you want the boys to come in? 
                         Honey, if you're worried...

               A Black Object swims across the water. It's the dog, breasting 
               against the surf.

               ANGLE ON THE WATER - BRODY'S POINT OF VIEW

               It's the Fat Lady, floating, relaxing. A black object swims 
               up to her. It's not the dog. It rears up out of the water.

               It's a man in a black bathing cap. They exchange distant 
               pleasantries, he strokes away.

               ANOTHER ANGLE - WATER

               Alex Kintner, paddling around, making boat sounds, tooting, 
               going "vroom, vroom."

               ANGLE ON THE BOY AND GIRL

               They kiss, embrace, kiss again. Strong stuff. They sink 
               beneath the waves, knotted in an embrace.

               ANGLE ON MICHAEL BRODY AND HIS FRIENDS

               He's trying to salvage a soggy piece of birthday cake, holding 
               it above the water, paddling with his other hand. The bandage 
               has come part way loose, and his cut is trailing in the water.

               BRODY AND ELLEN ON THE BEACH

               Ellen is rubbing suntan oil on his back, and he is allowing 
               himself to relax part way. His eyes still nervously scan the 
               beach in a constant surveillance. Mr. Keisel is coming out 
               of the water, toweling off vigorously, exclaiming to himself.

                                     BRODY
                              (to Keisel)
                         How's the water?

                                     KEISEL
                         Too cold. I'm going in again Labor 
                         Day. Hope we get this weather next 
                         weekend.

                                     ELLEN
                         You're very tight, y'know?
                              (digs in)
                         Right there.

                                     BRODY
                         Ow.
                              (he sees something)
                         He's gotta be more careful in the 
                         water...

               ANGLE ON THE GANG PLAYING IN THE WATER

               Michael has just been drenched. He splashes back. A big 
               waterfight ensues, the boys splashing and chopping at the 
               water, shouting battle cries and karate whoops. Alex is 
               paddling around near them, but not involved with them.

               ALONG THE WATERLINE ON THE BEACH

               The Man with the Dog is whistling into the ocean, looking 
               for his dog.

                                     DOG MAN
                         Buster! Hey, Buster! Here boy!
                              (whistles)
                         He continues to ad lib calling his 
                         dog, but there's no answer, no dog 
                         in the water.

               THE WATERFRONT

               A huge splash explodes in the water near the gang, an eruption 
               of foam and spray that stops everyone cold for a moment.  
               They stop to see who was responsible.

                                     A KID (MATHEW)
                         Hey, no fair splashing in the eyes!

               Before anyone can answer, another kid (P.J.) renews the 
               battle, whooping a karate cry, and slashing at the water 
               with his hand like a little kung-fu warrior, advancing through 
               the waves.

               CLOSE ON MATHEW, SPLASHING BACK

               He hits the water, which sprays up suspiciously pink. He 
               stares at it, surprised.

               CLOSE ON P.J.

               His hands are dripping deep pink, the red matting his hair, 
               running into his eyes. He looks down. The boys are surrounded 
               with a deep pink slick, their little bodies ringed by a 
               spreading stain of blood.

               ANGLE ON SHORE, A TOURIST AND HIS WIFE

               He's pointing frantically out to sea.

                                     TOURIST
                         Something in the water. Right there! 
                         Didn't anyone see it?

                                     WOMAN
                         There's blood in the water.

               ANGLE ON BRODY

               He leaps to his feet, nearly knocking Ellen over, and starts 
               for the water.

                                     ELLEN
                         What is it...?

               Brody is pelting towards the water. He kicks sand over an 
               annoyed Mrs. Kintner, who looks up, just in time to hear 
               Brody's bellow.

                                     BRODY
                         Michael! Sean! Out of the water. 
                         Everybody out of the water! Michael! 
                         Get out!

               His urgency communicates itself to the others. Ellen snatches 
               Sean up from where he's been playing in the sand. Other 
               parents are calling their kids, hysteria mounting. People 
               rush into the water, dragging their children and families 
               bodily out of the ocean. The first kids coming out of the 
               surf are frantically trying to wash the sticky blood off 
               their bodies. The sight of the red sends the beach into a 
               full panic.

               CLOSE ON BRODY

               He rushes into the water, up to his ankles, and suddenly 
               stops, unable to move into deeper water. He is urging Michael 
               out, holding his hands out to his son, who is slogging through 
               the surf towards his dad. He stands there immobilized by the 
               water, nervously helping people out of it onto the beach.

               ANGLE ON MICHAEL

               As he emerges from the water, Alex Kintner's raft washes in 
               behind him, ripped in half, the water pink, the foam spreading 
               the stain onto the sand as the wave breaks.

               ANGLE ON MRS. KINTNER

               Her voice rising into panic and hysteria with each unanswered 
               cry.

                                     MRS. KINTNER
                         Alex! Alex? Alex...!


- Bill

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Trailer Tuesday:
Seconds (1966)

SECONDS (1966)

Director: John Frankenheimer.
Writer: Lewis John Carlino (THE MECHANIC, THE GREAT SANTINI, RESURRECTION) based on a novel by David Ely.
Starring: Rock Hudson, Will Geer, Salome Jens, Jeff Corey, Murray Hamilton.
Cinematography: James Wong Howe.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Producer: Edward Lewis.


I was going to run this last week, but hadn’t snagged the screen grabs yet, so I put it off until this week... and danged if the great Cinephelia website didn’t run an article on SECONDS last week! Hey, it’s a great movie, and if you know about it you want to share it with others.



SECONDS is a thriller about getting a second chance at life and realizing that you take all of your emotional problems with you. This is a slow burn story, but like MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, it deals with constant paranoia. It is *always* creepy. Where MANCHURIAN deals with the idea that you may not be in control of your own life (mind control), SECONDS deals with having to constantly pretend to be someone you are not... and the fear that people may discover who you really are. A real man with fake memories or a fake man with real memories. So they are two sides of the same coin, and it’s interesting that Frankenheimer made them back to back. This was kind of his paranoia period, and we will look at SEVEN DAYS IN MAY sometime in the near future.

The film is based on a novel by David Ely (who wrote some great TWILIGHT ZONE type science fiction novels) and I not only have the paperback somewhere in a box, I have the movie poster on my office wall! This is one of my favorite films, and a great example of paranoid thrillers, and we’ll look at that genre a little bit here. Rock Hudson gives the performance of a lifetime - he was a light comedy pretty boy actor before this film... and here he does dark, deep, drama. Some silly online review thought that Hudson was the weak point of the film, but I think it’s the opposite - he’s what makes the film work. A story about bringing your past baggage to a new life is improved by an actor who brings his light frothy fun past film baggage to a story about a man with a severely screwed up life.

One of the things that has to be mentioned upfront is the wild ass cinematography. Almost every shot in this film is strange, and that adds to the general feeling that something is wrong. Most of it is shot with wide angle lenses or extreme wide angles (fish eyes) and the film uses a lot of experimental shots and hand held photography and camera rigs that are similar to steadycam - which would not be invented for another ten years. Who did all of this wild camerawork? Some new kid? Nope! James Wong Howe... who was born in the 1800s. His first credit as director of photography was in 1923, and you may know his work as director of photography on THE THIN MAN or (“Come with me to the Casbah”) ALGIERS or KINGS ROW or YANKEE DOODLE DANDY or a whole bunch of Bogart films or the noir western PURSUED or MR BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE or THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS or HUD or... well, the guy had 141 credits as cinematographer. He was 67 years old when he shot this film, and it’s one of the most innovative films you will ever see.

Lots of places list this film as science fiction, which is strange because there is nothing in this film that couldn’t have been done in 1966... but the concept just seems crazy. It’s a simple idea that we have all thought of, but nobody seems to have written it before David Ely. Haven’t we all wished we could hit the “do over button” on our lives and start all over again? Not make all of those stupid mistakes? Do the things we wanted to do instead of the things we thought we had to do? *Everyone* has wished that. And one of the basics of thrillers is the secret wish that comes true, but not exactly as the protagonist planned.

The Saul Bass title sequence is twisted fun house mirror shot of a human eye, a human ear, a human face... setting us up for weird. Jerry Goldsmith gives us creepy organ music reminiscent of Bach’s Toccata & Fugue D Minor. For the director’s title card - a face completely bandaged except for eyes and screaming mouth, an image that can also be seen in SUTURE (1993) and TIMECRIMES (2007). The crazy warped image of the face warps into... New York’s Grand Central Station.

A Man In A Hat watches middle aged Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) as he buys a newspaper, then follows him through the station. Paranoia - someone actually is following our protagonist. Some amazing freaky shots here - the camera is attached to the Man In A Hat so that we get a hand held style moving over the shoulder shot and a moving face shot as he follows Hamilton... which makes us feel as if there is something weird about the Man In A Hat. When Hamilton steps onto a train, the Man In The Hat says his name, and when Hamilton turns he hands him a note. Then the train doors close and the train starts moving. Who was that guy?

Hamilton is on a train full of commuters headed home - all in suits, all reading newspapers, all exactly the same. He pulls out the note: just an address: 34 Lafayette Street. What does it mean?

In suburbia, with his middle aged wife Emily (Francis Reid) in his typical suburban home. His marriage is stale, he is no longer excited by his job or his life. The phone rings LOUDLY. On the other end is a man claiming to be his dead friend Charlie Evans. Impossible. But the voice on the phone knows things that only Charlie Evans could know. Things from their college days that no one else knows - a message scratched on the felt covered base of an old tennis trophy they won long long ago. How is this possible? Evans says, “I’m alive! More alive than I’ve been in the past 25 years!” and tells him to go to the address he was given tomorrow at noon. WTF? This story will give us a series of WTF? moments in the middle of a completely mundane setting, and that adds to our paranoia. If a strange thing happens in a strange world, that’s expected. But when some really strange thing happens in our boring real world? Unsettling.

The next day on his lunch hour Hamilton goes to the address... a dry cleaners. What? He asks the Old Man using the steam press if he’s in the right place... and the Old Man ignores him and continues to work. This can’t be the right place, it’s a dry cleaners. Hamilton turns to leave and the Old Man tells him there’s a new address...

A meat packing house. Another completely mundane location - though this one is filled with sides of bloody beef. Also can’t be the right place... but one of the Butchers calls him by the code name and says, “Come with me.” They give Hamilton a butcher’s uniform to put on, walk him through the plant past hundreds of sides of beef, and put him in the back of a refrigerated truck. WTF? When the door is closed, Hamilton is riding in complete darkness to his destination...

A run down industrial building on the outside, a modern office building on the inside. This adds to the strangeness, and makes us wonder how many of those run down buildings we see every day are hiding some secret high tech interior? He’s ushered into an executive office and given a cup of coffee while he waits. He gets sleepy while waiting, closes his eyes and drifts off... exhaustion or drugged coffee? He has this weird dream where he floats into a room, and there is a beautiful young woman in a bed, and he has sex with her, and she screams... and then he wakes up, still waiting in the executive’s office.

He decides to leave, goes to the elevator - but there are no up or down buttons on the wall next to the elevator doors. Weird. He searches the building for a way out, stumbling on a room full of young businessmen at desks. None will tell him where the exit doors are. He is sent back to the executive’s office where Mr. Ruby (the great Jeff Corey) is waiting for him, “I’ve been assigned to go over the circumstances of your death.” WTF? Then Ruby begins talking about cost factors as if he’s an insurance salesman or something. Boring and mundane... Except the conversation is about finding a corpse that is a perfect match for Hamilton and obliterating the teeth and fingerprints and any other form of identification and then creating a realistic accident - they will need an accident because the service costs $30,000 (in 1966 money) and will be paid for with an insurance policy, so there can be no question of suicide or foul play. And Ruby is eating chicken the entire time. “Your death selection is the most important decision of your life.” WTF? Hamilton looks confused, and when Ruby hands him a pen and says, “If you’ll sign right here”, Hamilton doesn’t take the pen from him. So Ruby pulls down a screen in the office and shows Hamilton a little film... where he is having sex with the young woman from his dream and she is fighting him. Blackmail. Ruby leaves the room, and Hamilton is alone...

Until a voice from behind him says there’s a message from Charlie.

Hamilton turns and kindly Old Man (Will Geer) has been sitting on the sofa behind him. WTF? He wasn’t there in an earlier shot, and now he is. He just appeared. Charlie wanted Hamilton to know that rebirth is painful, and the blackmail movie is just to help him make the decision to go forward, he doesn’t really want to go back, does he?

And here, 30 minutes into the film, we discover what all of this is about (though we’ve probably figured much of it out already) - this secret company allows you a second chance at life. You’re a middle aged man who once had dreams of being an artist, but took that day job in a bank to pay the rent. Then you got married, and the rent became a mortgage, and you had children and there was less time for art, and now that the kids have left the nest... you have lost your dreams. You are a banker, not an artist. You are dissatisfied with the way your life turned out, but this company will give you a second life. You die, and are reborn (after extensive plastic surgery to make you look like a young virile Rock Hudson) and can now pursue that youthful dream of being an artist. Much better than buying a sports car and having an affair with a younger woman!

“This is what happens to the dreams of youth,” kindly Old Man says after Hamilton talks about all of the things that are “good” about his life now. When the Old Man hands him the pen, he signs the contract...

35 minutes in, we see the plastic surgery procedure. Very graphic for its time... almost procedural. What sells the transformation are diagrams that show John Randolph’s face and Rock Hudson’s face with notations.

Then we see an obituary for Hamilton - died in a hotel room fire...

And Hamilton recovering, his face completely covered in bandages, his hands and fingers completely covered (fingerprint reassignment). He can’t talk because he’s been given dental implants (dental records) and his vocal cords have been altered to create new vocal chords - he will sound different. His doctor, Innes (Richard Anderson, who would do the same for the 6 Million Dollar Man years later), tells him he will need to hit the gym so that his body matches his new youthful face.

39 minutes in, the bandages come off and Hamilton is swiveled around in his chair to look in the mirror - a great reveal. Hamilton now looks like Rock Hudson, but with gray hair and dozens of stitches on his face... and he cries at the sight. He’s beautiful.

At 40 minutes the exercise montage begins - he’s a middle aged man who must retrieve his 30 year old body from years of neglect.

Guidance Adviser Davalo (Khigh Dhiegh from MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE) talks to him about his future career - they have drugged and hypnotized him to discover what his career dreams used to be before he gave them up. Davalo plays a tape where Hamilton says he wanted to be a tennis pro and a painter. There’s a great shot here where the new Hamilton is reflected in a mirror while listening to the tape of the old Hamilton. Davalo has a whole new bio for him as a artist, complete with past gallery shows. They will supply him with fresh paintings for a while as he develops his own work. “You see, you don’t have to prove anything anymore. You are accepted.” People will believe his new identity until he grows into it.

At the 45 minute mark, Hamilton is now Tony Wilson - Rock Hudson’s face and body and hair - on a plane to Malibu... where he lives. At the airport, a total stranger calls the name Tony Wilson and has a conversation as if he knows him. WTF? This is a great flip of the undercover cop recognized by someone from his real life scene. He has no idea who this guy is. How to talk to him. How to react to him. He may look like Wilson, but he’s still Hamilton on the inside.

Malibu: Tony Wilson has a house in the Colony overlooking the beach and a butler named John (Wesley Addy) who knows his secret and is here to help. Wilson looks at the art in his gallery, the bedroom, the books on the shelf... he’s living a stranger’s life. Will he be discovered? The *concept* creates the paranoia.

Wilson tries to become that person who belongs in this house... begins a painting. Walks along the beach. There’s a great moment where he’s trying to fall asleep and looks at the empty side of the bed... lonely. On the beach he meets Nora Marcus (Salome Jens) and there’s a character based suspense moment when he introduces himself... will he use his old name? Nora is in her early thirties and hot and a little wild. Four years ago she was a typical suburban housewife, and wondered “Is this it?” So she left that life and came here.

We have now escalated the suspense, because he might slip in front of this woman. Now he *must* act like Wilson instead of Hamilton.

At 59 minutes in, Wilson and Nora go on a date to a wild bacchanal at a vineyard where everyone gets drunk on wine, takes off their clothes and crushes grapes naked in a big wood tub. A big turning point for Hamilton/Wilson - this is about as far from middle age, middle class banker as you can get! “Now the season ends, and the old vines are buried deep. Now in dying, Bacchus gives us his blood so that we may be born again!” (Note the thematic dialogue! This film is filled with thematic dialogue and scenes.) Wilson freaks - still Hamilton under his skin - and when Nora takes off her clothes and jumps into the tub naked, he remains an outsider...

Until the crowd strips him naked and tosses him into the tub with all of the other naked men and women. After fighting for a moment, he gives in to his new life... and dances naked with Nora in the crushed grapes surrounded by naked men and women. “Yes! Yes!”

(This is a 1966 movie with full frontal nudity... though that was cut out for theatrical release so you just get backal nudity, the DVD version has restored the rest of the scene, and it’s very much required for the story - imagine being one of those stuffy people in 1966 who was watching this movie and suddenly there were completely naked people on screen. You would react exactly as Hamilton/Wilson does.)

At 67 minutes in, Wilson and Nora are a couple, kissing on the beach as the sun sets.

Now that Hamilton is comfortable as Wilson, he throws a housewarming party for the others in the Colony. John helps introduce him to his neighbors. Wilson has had a couple of drinks too many and we get a great woozy shot with the camera strapped to his body (which will be used in another of my favorite films, MEAN STREETS). The problem is, the more Wilson drinks the more he is liable to slip and expose himself as Hamilton. To ratchet up the suspense, one of his neighbors is a lawyer who went to Harvard... where Hamilton went to collage.

There’s a great moment at the party where Wilson sees a group of men discussing something in the corner and drunkenly goes over to talk to them... and they basically ignore him. At his own party and he’s still an outsider. When he tells the lawyer neighbor that he used to be a Harvard alumnus, but not anymore, Nora tries to pull him away. Soon everyone at the party is surrounding him... and he blows it big time. He reveals himself as Arthur Hamilton, and all of the men at the party grab him and drag him into his bedroom and hold him down...

John comes to the front of the pack and tells Hamilton/Wilson that he hasn’t just blown his cover, he may have blown the covers of all of these men - they are all “reborns”. He screams...

And Nora comes in. Is she one, too? Remember what she said about starting her life all over again?

This is the ultimate paranoia scene, because if Nora and all of these people are part of the “conspiracy” of reborns, how many other people are part of the conspiracy? Can he trust *anyone*? If he goes to the police, will the Desk Sargent be part of the conspiracy? There’s a great Cornell Woolrich short story about a cult that buries its members alive, and the protagonist goes to the police... and the cop is part of the cult! Movie like THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR use the idea that anyone can be part of the conspiracy in scenes like the one after the massacre at the beginning of the movie when Condor looks from one pedestrian to another and they all seem to be acting strange. Are they all potential assassins? Here we get the same feeling that *anyone* could be a reborn. How can you tell that they aren’t? It’s as if everyone in the world might be out to get you...

At 78:30 into the film, it’s the morning after the party and his dead friend Charlie calls. Hamilton/Wilson tells him he wants out of this pretend life, Charlie says that’s impossible. Charlie also tells him Nora *isn’t* a reborn, but she is a company employee who was paid to become his girlfriend and sleep with him. That doesn’t go over well. Charlie explains that the company knows in the beginning of your new life you might make mistakes, so they provided Nora just in case that happened. And that he and Charlie are tied together, so Hamilton/Wilson has to get his shit together, stay in the Colony until he becomes 100% Wilson.

So at the 80 minute mark, Hamilton/Wilson sneaks out and takes a plane back to Scarsdale. His old home, his old life... and his old wife. Awesome shot while he’s waiting to see his old wife, and looks at a photo of Hamilton and Wilson is reflected over it... and we pull back to see him reflected in a mirror. Mirror shots throughout the film show the duel life he’s living.

When Emily comes in, they have an awkward conversation where he realizes that you can’t go home again. This is a great scene, and you have seen versions of it in films like ROBOCOP (the original) and even a variation of it in THE PUNISHER on Netflix with the Micro character and his family. The great thing about this scene is that Wilson gets Emily’s view of Hamilton... and it’s not what he expected. “He lived as if he were a stranger, here, he never let anything touch hm. He was absorbed in *things* - his job, mostly. He worked hard, but became more detached. We lived our lives in a polite, celibate, truce. Arthur had been dead a long long time before they found him in that hotel room.” Do we create our own hells? Our own traps? Do we always have the choice to live a new life, but just choose not to? One of the great things about this scene is how Rock Hudson *ages* while listening to her - he reverts back to Hamilton. This is a great performance.

I forgot to mention that behind all of the things going on in the scene with his old wife from his old life is an undercurrent of suspense. Will she recognize him? Will he blow it and do something stupid like tell her who he really is? The *situation* creates this suspense. The concept of a thriller often creates suspense.

When he leaves, Emily gives him a wrapped object - the only thing she has left of Hamilton’s - and when he unwraps it on the street outside... it’s the tennis trophy with the message scratch on the base that began this whole story. Then a car pulls up, and John steps out to take him back...

But not to Malibu, to the company. Hamilton/Wilson wants to try again - a new life. Not Hamilton or Wilson, but someone else. John says that may be possible... and we’ve hit the 89 minute mark. Can you hit reset more than once? How many do overs do you get?

At the company Mr. Ruby tells him that in order to go through the process again, he will have to recommend a new client - who will go all of the way through the process as he did. The business is all word of mouth, they can’t exactly advertize in newspapers, can they? Wilson can’t think of anyone off the top of his head, and Ruby says that’s okay, and they escort Wilson to that room full of young businessmen at desks from the beginning of the movie. His job is to cold call anyone he knows who might be interest in a second chance at life. All of these young businessmen? The same as him - people whose second lives didn’t work out. Who carried all of the baggage of their first life with them. This is a frightening scene - more frightening than many horror movies. What if we are the biggest problem in our lives. How do fix that?

The businessman who refused to tell him the way out in the scene at the beginning? His college buddy Charlie (the awesome Murray Hamilton). Wilson has a great speech here about how his life as Hamilton was all about what society said was important - things, not people or meaning. And his life as Wilson was also “things” oriented. But this third time? He’s going to look for meaning...

Then they call Charlie’s name - he finally gets to be reborn again!

Or will he? Because this story has a very dark twist at the end.

But first we get a swell pep talk from the kindly Old Man about how the company keeps plugging away despite it’s failure rate, which is a very cynical look at our lives and our society... and it’s failure rate.

And then we get an awesome fish eye lense sequence and that twist end.

SECONDS is one of those great unknown films that builds real suspense in a realistic setting through its wild concept and even wilder cinematography. It’s a great example of paranoid thrillers that don’t involve spies or political conspiracies or any of the other “action genre” oriented elements, just a man filled with regret over the way his life turned out who gets a chance to start over again. To have a second chance at life. It’s one of John Frankenheimer’s best films, and the kind of movie that you want to tell everyone about after you’d seen it... and now I’ve told you.

- Bill





The Novel:



-

Friday, January 24, 2020

Fridays With Hitchcock: Family Plot (1976)

Family Plot (1976)

Screenplay: Ernest Lehman based on the novel “Rainbird Pattern” by Victor Canning.
Starring: Bruce Dern, Karen Black, William Devane, Barbra Hershey.
Director Of Photography: Lenny South... who had an office on Lankershim in the Valley and I met him!
Music: Great John Williams score!



Hitchcock's final film. I have a soft spot for this film - it was the only Hitchcock movie I saw in a cinema during it's initial release. I was too young to see the others when they came out, my parents wouldn’t let me see THE BIRDS in the cinema as a kid... had to wait for the cut down TV version. Though FAMILY PLOT isn't Hitchcock at his best, it's a fun film... written by the multi-Oscared Ernest Lehman who also wrote NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Though not a chase film, both films share the same sense of humor.

I sometimes think Hitchcock should have quit after FRENZY - that was a good film to go out on. The great thing about FRENZY is that it’s a 70s film - gritty and raw and really performance oriented. It seems like an unusual film for Hitchcock. FAMILY PLOT is kind of a return to his comfort zone. It’s like an old studio movie, and much of it *looks* like it was shot on a sound stage. It seems very tame compared to FRENZY, and even the sexy dialogue seems like something from a Doris Day/Rock Hudson movie instead of a movie made in the 1970s..



Hitchcock had a bunch of projects crash and burn, and some he cancelled himself because they required extensive location shooting and he wasn’t up to it. He’d just had a pacemaker installed and was getting back up on his feet. One of the projects he was working on that didn’t pan out was an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s “Unknown Man #89" - which has a very similar plot to this film. “Unknown Man” is about a recovering alcoholic process server - famous for once serving a rock star on stage - hired to track down a missing heir by a freakin’ evil lawyer. This lawyer obtains lists of missing stockholders, tracks them down, makes a deal to get them their stock in exchange for a large percentage. In this case, it’s the son of a chauffeur who inherited some stock that is now worth millions. The problem is, that kid has grown up to become an armed robber who does not want to be found. The great thing about the book is the process server falls off the wagon big time and has to scrape his life back together again... and along the way finds some missing self respect and kicks a little ass. He goes from doing what he’s told, to standing up to that freakin’ evil lawyer and his trigger happy bodyguard... and we discover the true meaning of “Chinese And Canadian Food”. Anyway, Hitchcock made this film instead.



FAMILY PLOT is a great experiment in storytelling, but also offers experiments in casting and an interesting technical experiment that Hitch had done once before on NORTH BY NORTHWEST (so maybe it was really an Ernie Lehman experiment).

One of the great things about FAMILY PLOT is the strange cast - it *stars* Bruce Dern. Dern played psycho Viet Nam Vets and twitchy villains and is probably most famous for being the only actor to ever *kill* John Wayne on screen. Shot him in the back in THE COWBOYS. Not a leading man... but has a great sarcastic delivery like his pal Jack Nicholson. Dern had played a role in Hitchcock’s MARNIE early in his career, and played characters on the “Hitchcock Presents” TV show. In MARNIE he was the rapist - not the kind of guy you cast as your romantic lead. One of the reasons why I was interested in this movie when it first came out was Dern as the *hero*. Totally weird casting. Gotta see that!



On the villain side we have Karen Black, who was probably the biggest star in the cast when this was made. Karen Black was *the* leading lady of the 1970s. From EASY RIDER to FIVE EASY PIECES to PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT to the Redford version of THE GREAT GATSBY to NASHVILLE to AIRPORT 75 to TRILOGY OF TERROR, Karen Black was in *everything*. She had that great combination of animal sensuality and tough vulnerability that allowed her to play wealthy Southern Belles or Truck Stop waitresses. She always seemed *real*. I mentioned in the Protagonist Blue Book that FIVE EASY PIECES is one of my favorites, and she shines in that film. You feel for her.

Her partner in crime was played by the always suave William Devane, who replaced Roy Thinnes halfway through shooting - you can still see Thinnes in long shots. Devane had played JFK on TV, and was considered a leading man... not a villain. One of the great things he brings to the film is his charisma - early in the film you are rooting for him and Black to get away with their crimes - they are so clever and elegant and cool. Hey, and the great Ed Lauter plays a childhood friend of Devane's who will kill anyone for a buck fifty. This is an eclectic cast, unusual for a big studio film.



The reason behind the odd casting experiment? Hitchcock came up through the studio system where stars were under contract with the studio and didn’t really cost the production anything, the studio would assign a star to a movie or the star might select a movie based on script and director. Hitchcock was a name director and all of the stars wanted to work with him. He could pick and choose. But when the studio system began to disintegrate in the 1960s, stars became free agents and began demanding high salaries... and getting them. Hitchcock *hated* paying a huge chunk of his film’s budget to stars, after paying half of his budget on the stars for TORN CURTAIN in 1966 (when stars were still “cheap”) he never made another movie with a star in the lead. TOPAZ, FRENZY and FAMILY PLOT all use character actors in their lead roles. Karen Black, the only one who might be considered a star in this cast, was never the star of any of those films she was in. The closest she comes to being the main attraction in a movie are FAMILY PLOT and DAY OF THE LOCUST, where the rest of the cast are character types. TRILOGY OF TERROR was a TV movie, where she was big enough to carry the movie.

Though the cast of FAMILY PLOT is more edgy/indie than a typical studio film, that may have also lead to it’s relatively poor box office. Great to see Bruce Dern play the romantic lead... but few people did.

Hitch Appearance: Silhouetted in a window at city hall's bureau of records.



Nutshell: Fake psychic Harris learns that a wealthy client’s sister gave up a kid born out of wedlock when she was a teen, and now wants to find the kid and put him in her will. If Harris and Dern find him, the wealthy client will pay them a huge chunk of money. Only one problem - that bastard child is now a notorious jewel thief known as “The Trader” who is the top story on every TV news program. How do you find a man who is doing everything in his power not to be found?

Dern is a failed actor who drives a cab, and throughout the film gets to use his acting abilities to play everything from a private detective to a sympathetic friend in order to get information.

Meanwhile, suave criminal Devane and his accomplice Black have a novel way of getting rich - they steal wealthy *people* and ask for famous jewels as ransom. Hey, aren’t you supposed to steal jewels from wealthy people? By twisting that around, it makes Devane’s “Trader” an unusual jewel thief.



The film contains some great Hitchcock set pieces, including a Bishop kidnaped in the middle of Mass, a crazy out of control car going down a winding mountain road, a car chasing our couple who are on foot, and several other great scenes.

There’s more on this film in my HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR book where we look at its use of *Intersecting Story Lines* and Extreme POV Car Chase and Double Entendres and the Puzzle Set Piece and the Arthur Adamson Montage and using Weird Weapons in the Thriller Genre and Start/Stop Story Issues. Check it out!

- Bill

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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

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And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






USA Readers click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, January 23, 2020

THRILLER Thursday: Man In A Cage.

Man In A Cage.

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



Season: 1, Episode: 18.
Airdate: January 17, 1961




Director: Gerald Mayer (the FATAL IMPULSE episode).
Writer: Maxwell Shane and Stuart Jerome, based on a novel by John Holbrook Vance.
Cast: Philip Carey, Diana Millay, Barry Gordon, Theodore Marcuse, Eduardo Ciannelli.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: John L. Russell
Producer: Maxwell Shane.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The frightened young man in the truck speeding away from death on a road in Morocco is Noel Hudson, and American. He fancies himself a soldier of fortune, running guns to a group of Arab nationalists. But now the adventure has turned to terror. Noel Hudson has goo reason to be terrified, there is some doubt that he will ever again be seen alive. Well what is the mysterious cargo that Noel is so frightened of? Sure as my name is Boris Karloff, you’ll learn the answer to that and many other mysteries in Morocco as you view THE MAN IN THE CAGE, from the novel by John Holbrook Vance. Our leading players are: Mr. Philip Carey, Miss Diana Millay, Master Barry Gordon, Mr. Theodore Marcuse, Mr. Al Ruscio, and Mr. Eduardo Ciannelli. Smuggling, murder and North African intrigue are the exciting ingredients in this Thriller.”

Synopsis: Noel Hudson (Guy Stockwell) is somewhere between Indiana Jones and Han Solo in a leather jacket and fedora, an American smuggler in Morocco. After delivering a shipment of guns, he is told at gunpoint that he’ll be taking a pair of boxes marked “soap powder” back to Tangier. He doesn’t want to take the mystery boxes, but they insist and even send one of their armed men with him. Noel is dead tired and wants to pull the old truck off the dirt road to sleep, but his armed passenger says he can sleep after they deliver the boxes. There’s a struggle in the truck cab, Noel twists the gun around and shoots his passenger by accident, dumps the body out of the truck and drives away into the night... never to be seen again. Both Noel and the truck completely vanish in the desert.



Just over 3 weeks later, successful businessman Darryl Hudson (Philip Carey) shows up in Tangier looking for his younger brother. When he checks into the hotel, a little Arab boy named Slip Slip (Barry Gordon giving the best performance in the episode while being just a little kid) helps him with the bags. Every one of the handful of extras in the hotel lobby looks obviously suspicious and listens in as Hudson checks in. There are no characters in this episode who act natural if there’s a chance to act shifty. Slip Slip tells Hudson that he helped his brother sometimes, and for a small price can show him where Noel’s apartment was.

The landlady (Danielle Aubry) tells Hudson that the apartment has been broken into a searched several times... and everything is in disarray. Hudson pokes around but can find no clues, and figures if there *were* clues they’ve been discovered and taken away by someone else. Hudson tells the landlady that he got a letter from his brother, and asks her if she can read the postmark. She can not. One thing Hudson does find is a picture of his brother and some blonde babe at the beach, which he pockets.

Back at the hotel, some Big Guy grabs Hudson at the front desk and says Mr. Upshaw wants to see him, and drags him into an alcove... where Upshaw (Theodore Marcuse) waits with his niece Ellen (Diana Millay). Upshaw was Noel’s “employer”, the fellow behind running the guns to Arab Nationalists... and he looks ethnic and speaks with some undefinable accent. But his daughter Ellen is blonde and looks and talks like she comes from Burbank. Upshaw wants to see the letter, Hudson refuses to show it to him. Upshaw says brother Noel split with his payment for the guns, and owes him a million bucks. Hudson manages to get out of there and heads to the hotel bar.



Everyone in this Tangier hotel bar seems to have come from New York City, judging by their accents. The Bartender says Noel was a regular at the bar, and some other New Yorker, a Car Salesman, says he hasn’t seen Noel for about 3 weeks. That’s when the Hot Girl from the beach photo sits down (Arlette Clark) another blonde in North Africa. What’s up with that? The Hot Girl says Noel stood her up 3 weeks ago, so she’s looking for a new boyfriend. Before Hudson can ask any more question, he gets a phone call from a Mystery Man (who actually looks like an Arab) and the Mystery Man says he has vital information about Noel, but of course can not give it to Hudson on the phone, so they must meet as Mystery Man’s apartment at 8pm tonight.

When Hudson gets there, Mystery Man has been tortured almost to death... bleeds all over Hudson’s suit... then Mystery Man jumps off his balcony to his death. When Hudson leaves the apartment, locals begin chasing him. Instead of getting an exciting chase, we cut to commercial.

After the commercial, Hudson is back in his hotel room trying to wash the blood out of his suit jacket when there’s a knock at the door. Inspector Le Boude (Eduardo Ciannelli) who questions him about Noel. Now, it seems as if the script may have built some suspense around the Inspector discovering the bloody suit jacket, but it’s fumbled so badly that no suspense is generated. The Inspector asks if Hudson talked to the dude who was tortured and Hudson says he didn’t and the Inspector tells him he’s gotta leave town in 48 hours and then leaves.



Hudson goes down to the hotel restaurant where he bumps into Upshaw’s blonde Burbankian niece Ellen, who tells him she’s supposed to use her womanly whiles to get her hands on that letter from Noel. She also spills the beans that the two cardboard boxes Noel was transporting back to Tangier for her uncle were filled her heroin. Hudson says his gun running brother would never transport heroin, that stuff kills people! But Ellen says it is true.

Slip Slip pulls Hudson away, saying he found a guy who knows where Noel is *now*. Hudson is taken to meet the guy in some office, and we recognize him as the Arab Nationalist guy who took possession of the guns and insisted that Noel take the two boxes of heroin back to Tangier as payment, Allah El Kazim (Al Ruscio) and his minon. They demand he hand over the letter from Noel, and when he refuses there is a 3 second knife and gun skirmish which ends in them searching Hudson and not finding the letter. Hudson says he mailed it to himself... so they take his passport (as ID to pick up the letter at the post office) and lock Hudson in a cage. Hey, you probably wondered when we’d get to the man in a cage part, right? Well, here it is!



Hudson gets out of the cage using a piece of rope and a branch and races to catch Allah El Kazim and his buddy before they can pick up the letter. Too late! But when Allah El Kazim and his buddy get into their product placement sedan in the post office garage, Hudson pops up from the back seat and takes their guns and the letter. He demands they give him information, and they tell him where Noel was last seen: a roadside hotel between the place where he delivered the guns and Tangier. Hudson then lets them read the letter... which has no actual information in it. Just a request for Hudson to send him enough money to fly back to the United States. So this letter from Noel that has been propelling the plot forward is actually pointless.

Hudson goes into the hotel bar, where everyone seems to be a New York City transplant and asks the Car Salesman guy if he can rent a car for tomorrow morning because he thinks he has a lead on where his brother Noel might be. Car Salesman guy says “sure” and that he’d like to go along and help.

When Hudson gets back to his hotel room, that blonde from Burbank is waiting for him for no apparent reason. He tells her he has a lead on Noel and has rented a car for tomorrow morning, she says “I have a car, let’s go now!” and they do.

At the roadside hotel, the desk clerk tells them that Noel spent a night there, sent the letter to Hudson from there, and also mailed these two boxes to his own address.



Hudson and Ellen the blonde Arab girl from Burbank drive back to Tangier, looking for the best place for someone to hijack Noel’s truck... why they never thought to do this much earlier in the story is a mystery. They find Noel’s truck at the bottom of a cliff. Noel dead behind the wheel. With zero emotions, Hudson says they need to get back to Tangier to find those two boxes of heroin!

Noel’s Landlady says, “Yeah, there were a couple of boxes mailed to Noel’s apartment, but I put them down in the basement rather than inside his apartment for no apparent reason except it would prevent all of those people searching the apartment from finding them.” Okay, she really didn’t say that... but it was something close. Hudson and the blonde Burbank babe go into the basement (do apartment building in Tangier even have basements?) and they find the boxes of heroin, and that’s when the Car Salesman shows up, because he’s the villain behind everything. The Car Salesman gets ready to kill Hudson and Burbank, when... the Inspector and a bunch of cops show up and save the day, because Slip Slip saw what was happening and called the cops. The end.



Review: Oh boy! After a few good episodes we return to the stinkers. It seems like every time they adapt a best selling novel on this show, it backfires. Here we probably had a big action packed foreign intrigue novel that got pared down for television until it’s a bunch of people acting suspicious in a hotel. Here it seesm like the novel might have been some wacky combination of THE MALTESE FALCON (that letter everyone is after, plus Marcuse playing some roadshow version of Sydney Greenstreet) and THE THIRD MAN (common man looking for killer of adventurous brother and in over his head). But the letter proves to be worthless, and our hero has *read* the letter and knows this. So the MacGuffin that moves the story forward has no value, and in the end no one really cares about it *or* the story. The main thing about a MacGuffin is that it needs to be the most important thing in the story. It’s what fuels the story. Here we have a lame MacGuffin and a lame story. Maybe in the novel the letter was more important and had a code or something, but here it’s just this false way to move the story forward. Bette Davis was after a more important letter...

The common man in a dangerous world element also doesn’t work, since the world here isn’t all that dangerous. Villains like Upshaw (Marcuse) politely leave when asked. Once they put him in that titular cage, he’s out in a minute. There is a real shortage of action for a story in this genre: even the fistfights are over in a flash. We end up with an episode filled with talking and people looking overly suspicious. The episode Mayer previously directed, FATAL IMPULSE, was a suspense episode that generated some real tension. Here he fumbles the scene with the bloody suit jacket and the Inspector... was this due to the director or was the scene just not written well on the page? Add to all of this Philip Carey is kind of an action guy, which undercuts the fish out of water element that Joseph Cotton had in THIRD MAN. You never feel that our hero is in any real danger.

The bigger issue for me was the lack of ethnic actors in the episode. It’s one thing to have only a couple of characters who looked like Arabs, but another to have so many characters obviously look and sound American and not even try an accent. Except for the stock footage, you’d think this whole episode *takes place* in New York City! This was obviously shot on the backlot, but even a movie like CASABLANCA had a cast that looked like they belonged in North Africa. Both of the women in this episode are *blonde* without a single ethnic looking woman in sight! The Bartender’s wife who we see in a couple of shots looks American. This works against the stock footage of Tangier, so that watching it you never believe it’s anywhere other than Studio City, California (which is where it was shot). Los Angeles was a cosmopolitan city back then, with plenty of actors who looked Arab... why not cast any of them?

No suspense, no clever lines, no twists, it’s just a completely bland episode.

Because we’re back to Rugolo doing the music, I wonder if this episode had been shot earlier and aired later? Maybe they made a bunch of novel adaptations, realized they didn’t work, and spread them out throughout the season so that we didn’t start the show with a bunch of stinkers?

I wish I could say next week’s episode is going to be better...

Bill

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