Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Trailer Tuesday: COPS & ROBBERS (1973)

Cops & Robbers (1973)

Directed by: Aram Avakian (11 HARROWHOUSE).
Written by: Don Westlake, based on his novel.
Starring: Cliff Gorman, Joseph Bologna, John P. Ryan, Martin Kove.
Produced by: Elliot Kastner (every 70s crime film plus WHERE EAGLES DARE).
Music by: Michel Legrand.


This film is based on a novel by three of my favorite writers, Don Westlake, and he wrote the screenplay as well. Wait, some of you may wonder how one man can be three of my favorite writers, so maybe I should explain. Westlake was a prolific writer who broke in during the paperback revolution writing soft core porn under various pseudonym’s, often with his poker pal Lawrence Block (hey, another one of my favorites!). He was writing 2 novels a month for a while, and when he broke into mainstream mysteries he was just as prolific... and wrote different styles of fiction under different pseudonyms. So he wrote his comedy caper novels like THE HOT ROCK and BUSY BODY and SPY IN THE OINTMENT and HELP! I AM BEING HELD PRISONER under his own name, and the violent world of Parker novels like POINT BLANK under Richard Stark, and these great mopey private eye novels about a guy named Mitch Tobin under the name Tucker Coe. Plus some other books under other names. But here’s the kicker... nobody knew he was any of these other guys. Okay, maybe his agent knew, but these weren’t “Don Westlake writing as” books, these were completely different writers with completely different writing styles as far as anyone knew. A book written as J. Morgan Cunningham features a cover blurb by Westlake that says, “I wish I had written this book!” and everyone just assumed he hadn’t. So he was three of my favorite writers, three different guys who wrote different types of crime novels in different styles until he “came out” in an interview in the mid 70s which included all of his other personalities... and I was shocked!

Anyway, Westlake had this term for novels that didn’t fit in any genre, “Tortile Taradiddles” which I believe comes from Lewis Carroll... and COPS AND ROBBERS is definitely one of those. It’s a caper film that isn’t quite a comedy and isn’t quite serious. Maybe light comedy, but even that makes it sound funnier than it is. What it is is *amusing* (cue the great speech from GOODFELLOWS). That’s probably why no one remembers this film and maybe why it wasn’t a hit when it came out. It’s an amusing film written by Westlake, based on his own novel... but not really a comedy.



Click For Trailer.

Joe (Joseph Bologna) and Tom (Cliff Gorman) are New York City cops who live next door to each other in some crappy ticky tacky suburb in Long Island and car pool to work together every day. Because both are *honest* cops, they have mortgages and mounting bills and are basically risking their lives on the job every day for not enough money to live on. Joe is a patrol cop, Tom is a detective. Neither wants to be a corrupt cop, but it would be nice to have enough money to pay the damned bills every month.

Joe’s partner gets shot during some stupid call and is hospitalized, Joe reaches a breaking point decides to rob a liquor store in uniform. Gets just over $200... enough to pay some of those bills that have gone to red notice. And here’s the thing: *everyone* says the robber was some guy masquerading as a cop. The liquor store owner says he didn’t act like a cop, the police department doesn’t want *anyone* to think that a cop might also be a robber, and the media warns the public about “fake cops” who rent uniforms from costume shops. So Joe completely gets away with it!

One morning while driving to work, Tom brings up the fake cop pulling a robbery and Joe admits that was him. Tom is not shocked, he’s curious... and the two begin planning one big heist that will set them up for life. Anything under a million bucks each isn’t worth it. One robbery means less chance of getting caught, the reason why robbers get caught is because they just keep doing it and the law of averages says they’ll eventually be caught or shot by a store owner. But who the heck has $2 million they can steal?

Well, these guys are *cops*, so they know *crooks*, and crooks know this kind of stuff, right? They have an endless supply of “technical advisors”. Tom knows just the guy to help them: “Patsy O’Neill” whose real name is Pasquale Aniello, and is biggest crime kingpin in New York City. Tom has his rap sheet, knows where he lives, knows his phone number, knows his criminal record. Never been convicted. An anonymous phone call later, Tom has a meeting with Patsy at his mansion. Wearing a bad disguise, Tom asks Patsy for his illegal advice in the crime lord’s private bowling alley. (There was a time when bowling matches were broadcast on network TV every week the way Monday Night Football is broadcast today.) Patsy tells Joe the easiest thing to steal pound for pound are barer bonds from a Wall Street brokerage house. But Patsy can only pay 20 percent of the face value, so for $2 million they have to steal $10 million... and Wall Street brokerage houses are like freakin’ Fort Knox! Impossible to rob!

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Hey, nothing is impossible. Joe and Tom come up with a clever plan to pull the impossible robbery... using their uniforms as a way past most of the security. But what they need is a huge diversion, and that comes with the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20th, 1969. On August 13th, 1969 the Astronauts had a huge ticker tape parade on Wall Street... the *perfect* diversion! There will be hundreds of cops on the street, so they can blend into the crowd, and most of the police force will be dealing with the parade! Plus, the brokerage house will be distracted by the parade as well.

Wearing fake mustaches, they enter the brokerage house in uniform saying there was a complaint that people were throwing objectionable material out the office window (near the vault). One of the managers takes them past all kinds of security almost all the way to the vault! Everyone is distracted by the parade, and these are cops... not crooks. Near the vault, Joe and Tom tell the manager they are not real cops, and they’re here to rob the vault. The manager cooperates (they are pointing guns at him) and takes them through the final security and into the vault. They handcuff the manager and his secretary and proceed to grab $10 million in barer bonds, easy as pie! Until the alarm sounds... and police flood the building searching for two guys dressed as cops. Realizing they will never be able to walk out with the $10 million in bonds, Tom comes up with a great plan: instead of stealing the bonds, all they have to steal is a *headline*. They shred the bonds and throw them out the window as part of the ticker tape parade (a suspense scene because the police are searching room by room for them). They walk out of the building pretending they were some of the police called to search for the two fake policemen. Heck, their badges are *real*! (More suspense as they have to get past the security guy at the front desk who thinks they are fake cops.)

The next day, the headlines are all about the two fake cops who stole $12 million in barer bonds. What? Where’d the other $2 million come from? That manager and his secretary each stole a million bucks and blamed them! So the danged manager ended up with more money than they did!

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But they have stolen a headline, and gangster Patsy believes they have $10 million in barer bonds and will trade $2m in cash for them. Now all they have to do is outsmart New York’s biggest crime lord and get his $2m in exchange for barer bonds they do not have. Of course, they manage to do this... but nothing is easy! And Patsy has to answer to his superior in the mob for losing the $2 million dollars.

The interesting thing about the film is that it takes place in the early 70s New York City that SERPICO and MEAN STREETS and FRENCH CONNECTION take place in. It has the same gritty look and feel as those films, even though it’s lighter in tone. The Michel Legrand music is often a little too upbeat, and I suspect it was trying to turn an amusing film into something they could sell as comedy. Cliff Gorman, who gets star billing in this film, was a 70s actor who was ain AN UNMARRIED WOMAN and ALL THAT JAZZ and a bunch of other NYC based films, and guest starred on every TV show that filmed there... then just kind of vanished from stardom, even though he continued working until his death in 2002. Bologna became the bigger star, and if you don’t know him by name you totally know him by sight. He’s Adam Sandler’s father in BIG DADDY and was Michael Caine’s horn dog friend in BLAME IT ON RIO. He has a movie shooting *now*. A tortile taradiddle like this would probably never be made today because it doesn’t fit in any genre and they’d have no idea how to sell it, but it’s a nice little film that is amusing if not laugh outloud funny. You want these two guys to get away with it.

Bill

Friday, March 27, 2020

Hitchcock Talks Terror

Here is a two part interview with Hitchcock from 1964 where he talks about all kinds of wonderful things, from fairy tale terror to "photgraphs of people talking" vs. pure cinema.

And Fairy Tales?



- Bill

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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






USA Readers click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

--

Thursday, March 26, 2020

THRILLER Thursday: God Grante That She Lye Stille

SEASON 2!!!

God Grante That She Lye Stille

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



Season: 2, Episode: 5.
Airdate: Oct. 23, 1961


Director: Herschel Daugherty
Writer: Robert Hardy Andrews from the short story by Lady Cynthia Asquith.
Cast: Sara Marshall, Ronald Howard, Henry Daniel, Victor Buono.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: Benjamine Kline
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “God grant that she lie still. How would you like to have that grim wish carved on your tombstone? Not rest in peace, but fear - fear of the undead for whom there is no rest. Or, as Shakespeare had King Richard say: ‘Let’s take of graves, of worms, of epitaphs. Make dust our paper, and with rainy eyes might sorrow of the bosom of the earth, for nothing can we call our own... but death.’ Well, I trust that puts you in the proper mood for what you are about to see and hear. Our story is by Lady Cynthia Asquith, and to bring her tale to life we’ve chosen a cast of distinguished players: Sarah Marshall, Ronald Howard, Henry Daniel, Avis Scott, and Madeleine Holmes. They say that Elspeth Clewer dies three hundred years ago. But did she? We’ll find out now, my friends, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff.”

Synopsis: 1661: Condemned witch Elspeth Clewer (Sarah Marshall) is being burned at the stake in public by crazed local Priest Weatherford (Henry Daniel) “For if the body of a witch and vampire be not utterly destroyed by fire, her curse descends on her posterity until the last generation.” Elsbeth laughs at the priest and the townspeople, “You can not destroy that which will not burn. That within me will not be killed and will not rest!” They burn her alive - while she chants, “First fire, then death - so it shall always be until my body is returned to me!”



Present Day: Lady Margaret Clewer (Sara Marshall) hears her little Sheen dog barking, and ask him what’s wrong. She goes to the window to look out, but her maid Sarah (Madeleine Holmes) warns her not to - there’s... something... out there. Lady Margaret opens the doors and steps onto the balcony - nothing outside but a “witches moon”. The dog freaks and runs away... and Sarah goes to fetch him. Lady Margaret has returned to her ancestral home for her 21st birthday (this Sunday) in order to receive her inheritance, and this is her first night in the estate. Just behind the huge old mansion is the family cemetery... along with Elspeth Clewer’s grave. Behind Margaret her birds chirps in their cage and she puts a cover over them and wishes them a goodnight, then starts back to close the balcony doors...

When the ghost of Elspeth floats in. Margaret runs to close the doors... and the ghost vanishes. But when she turns to the mirror - Lady Margaret casts no reflection. What? Laughter from the bed - Elspeth’s ghost is in the bed, beckoning to her! Elspeth chants the fire & death thing... and Margaret screams and faints. Sarah runs in to find her on the floor... and the balcony doors open.

Next morning, handsome Dr Stone (Ronald Howard) arrives to check out Lady Margaret - who has been in some sort of coma. He tells Sarah to open the curtains and windows, and as soon as the sunlight touches her face, Lady Margaret wakes up. She says she saw a face outside the window... and then freaks at the memory. Dr. Stone says her heart is strained and she’ll need to rest and take it easy - and gives her a sedative. Says he’ll be back that night. Margaret asks Sarah where Sheen is - and is told he’s vanished. Maybe found his way out of the house.



Dr. Stone takes a look for the dog on the grounds... wanders into the family cemetery... to Elspeth’s grave with its strange epitaph. When he turns around there is a man behind him! He’s John Weatherford (Henry Daniel) the local Vicker - who likes to walk while studying his sermon. Dr. Stone asks about the inscription, and Weatherford tells him Elspeth was a with and a vampire... Stone doesn’t believe in such things. Lady Margaret’s 21st birthday is the 300th anniversary of Elspeth’s death at the stake. Dr. Stone says this is all very interesting, then gets the heck out of there.

That night Dr. Stone is reading by the fireplace when his phone rings... Maid Sara calling to report that Lady Margaret has vanished. He tells her to keep calm, he’s on his way. He drives over, and the first place he stops is the cemetery for some reason... where he finds Lady Margaret passed out in the rain on Espeth’s grave. When he lifts her up to carry her back to the house, there is that pesky Weatherford standing behind him again! It’s as if the Vicker lives to be a jump scare... except the shots are framed wrong so there’s never any actual jump scare.

The next morning, Dr. Stone opens the balcony doors and looks down at the grave. Lady Margaret is awake, wondering if they’ve found her dog. Nope, but she still has those birds. Dr. Stone wonders if she needs a psychiatrist - because of seeing that face - and tries to psychoanalyze her. She has no memory of last night and how she ended up on that grave.

That night Dr. Stone is at home reading again when there is a knock at his door. Weatherford, with the records of Elspeth’s trial... then he vanishes mysteriously.



Stone reads the trial records when his door bursts open, and there’s maid Sarah. Lady Margaret has locked herself in her room, taken her phone off the hook and is screaming... and talking to someone named Espeth. So they head on over to the estate.

At the estate, Dr. Stone kicks open the door to find Lady Margaret in bed covered in mud... and for some reason Sarah decides to look in the bird cage, where the two birds are dead! Their heads have been torn off! Wham! The door opens and Weatherford is there (does nobody knock in this story?) along with his servant, who has been with him for many years... The servant has found Lady Margaret’s dog... murdered! Throat cut! Weatherford offers to have his servant bury the dog, and suggests Stone just tell Lady Margaret that the dog ran away. Um, okay. Then Weatherford leaves and Stone returns to Lady Margaret covered in mud and gunk in bed, previously in progress.

Sarah says there’s something sticky in Lady Margaret’s hand... and her mouth is covered with blood! Did she bite the heads off the birds?

When Lady Margaret wakes up, Dr. Stone has to tell her that her longtime maid Sarah has quit and split... but Stone has hired a private nurse, Miss Emmons. Stone leaves and we leave with him, because a doctor is much moire interesting than a woman who may be possessed by a with and may have bitten the heads off her birds.

Dr. Stone reads the witch trial transcripts - which gives us a whole bunch of exposition read by Henry Daniel about this curse and the witchcraft stuff... including drinking the blood of birds. Dr. Stone sets down the transcripts and bolts out of his house.



Dr. Stone arrives at the estate, where Nurse Emmons gives him a bunch of exposition about how Lady Margaret has been acting strange and talking to herself and yelling “Ley me in, I need a body!” and other wacky stuff. As soon as she finished with the exposition, Lady Margaret screams from upstairs and they run up to find out what’s going on.

Upstairs, the ghost of Elspeth is at the balcony... but she vanishes when Dr. Stone breaks down the door again. Lady Margaret is fine, she just screamed because that’s what the script said to do. She falls asleep. Dr. Stone decides to spend the night.

That night.... a possessed Lady Margaret stabs sleeping Nurse Emmons with a knife!

Except, the next morning Nurse Emmons is fine. Huh? Lady Margaret is sleeping. Huh? Dr. Stone tells Nurse Emmons that he has called a psychiatrist from London to come down. Then he calmly asks the nurse how that cut on her arm is. Fine. Wait - so Lady Margaret stabs Nurse Emmons in the arm, and that’s that? They just act as if nothing has happened? Who reacts like that?



The Psychiatrist (Victor Buono!) tells Stone that Lady Margaret is wack-a-doodle... and her heart condition has worsened. Oh, and she’s been asking for Dr. Stone. He goes upstairs as the shrink leaves. Stone and Lady Margaret *flirt with each other*, because that seems like the right thing to do in the situation. Then Lady Margaret says the best thing for her now would be to die, so that she’d be safe... then falls asleep. Or maybe passes out.

Later, Lady Margaret is sleeping as Dr. Stone sits up next to her when someone knocks on the door. He goes to answer it, opening the door to expose - Weatherford!

Upstairs, Lady Margaret wakes up, walks to the balcony as if in a trance, opens the doors so that Elspeth can enter. “I must be lodged!”



Downstairs, Weatherford tells Stone that Lady Margaret isn’t the only cursed family - his family has been sworn to make sure Elspeth never possesses another body and does very bad things again. That’s why he’s been lurking. Of course, that’s when Lady Margaret screams from upstairs, and both men run up to find out what is going on.

The break open the door in time to see Elspeth’s ghost pulling out of Lady Margaret’s body and walking out to the balcony. Lady Margaret wakes up - says that she’s won! She’s won! And then kisses Stone and then drops dead. That’s just the kid of girl she is!

Weatherford says Lady Margaret has defeated Elspeth by dying without popping any kids, ending the family line and any chance for Elspeth to inhabit any more bodies. The end.



Review: After a strong start to season 2 we get an episode that doesn’t really work... but at least it has Henry Daniel in the cast. One of the big problems with the episode is that it has no idea whose story it is - we begin in the past with our villain Elspeth, then jump to the present with Lady Margaret and spend a while with her as the protagonist, then jump to Doctor Stone for the majority of the story. The problem is that we go from a “first hand” character who is at the center of the conflict (Lady Margaret) to some secondary character (Stone) who has zero involvement in the conflict - he’s a “second hand” character who doesn’t have a dog in the race or a horse in the fight. There’s a point early in the story where we leave Lady Margaret’s house with Stone and basically spend the rest of the episode with him - watching him *read* in his house. How exciting is that? This is Lady Margaret’s story... or maybe even Henry Daniel’s Weatherford’s sort (since he is tasked to make sure Elspeth doesn’t take over Lady Margaret’s body), but this secondary character? Who cares?



And that’s only one of the episode’s problems - it’s also filled with endless exposition that just drones on and on and on, characters often act weird - doing things that help the plot move forward rather than anything a real person would ever do. It’s as if the characters know what needs to happen next and just does whatever creates that result. Though the writer may know what happens next, the art is getting to that next plot point in a way that’s logical and natural and completely what the character would do in that situation. It’s not that the writer doesn’t know what happens next, it’s that they find the way to get there that feels natural. What real humans would do in that situation. But this episode’s story is so contrived at points that characters do crazy things like look for a lost dog in a graveyard and go *straight to Elspeth’s grave* for no apparent reason other than the story needs to introduce that information. Again and again, characters do things that move the plot forward that just make no sense at all.

Henry Daniel’s character seems to exist just for exposition and failed jump scares - shot wrong so there is no actual jump scare. He’s suitably menacing and creepy (as usual), but seems as if he was just pasted into the story to give us a ton of back story and be creepy.



Herschel Daugherty was a competent TV director who did 24 episodes of HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and 16 episodes of THRILLER and one or two episodes of just about every show on TV for a couple of decades... but his work always seems more competent than inventive. Though last week’s episode WEIRD TAILOR had some great shots, there was nothing there to compare to some of the best work by other directors on this show. I think that often a not great episode might be “saved” by some interesting direction. Had the jump scares with Henry Daniel worked in this episode, it might have been better... but it’s just kind of bland.

This is one of those episodes where 100 monkeys with typewriters could have written a better script... and then it was just directed blandly. It’s probably not the worst episode of the series, but it’s in the bottom third.

- Bill

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Film Courage Plus: Big Screens Need Big Ideas

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

It's a big screen, you need ideas big enough to fill it!



You say you have an idea for a movie... but do you? Maybe you have an idea for a TV show or a novel or a short story or a mini-series or a stage play or a ... How can you be sure that your idea is a *movie*?

In the clip I talk about the problem with many of my early screenplays - they were too small for the big screen. The story ideas would have been better suited to TV. Even though longform cable shows like GAME OF THRONES might make this theory a little confusing, for the most part the size of the average screen reflects the size of the idea necessary to fill that screen. So when you are coming up with ideas for movies - the big screen - you need larger than life ideas. That average FBI profiler chases serial killer idea is fine for a smaller screen, but you need something with a larger scope to make it big enough for the big screen.

"Look, there’s no question that we are heading toward a future where event films are only going to become more event-sized. You’ve got so many options in your home for viewing content that there has to be a need for you to leave your home, and what is going to drive you to do that?" Joe Russo - AVENGERS ENDGAME.

A movie is seen on a big screen by hundreds of thousands of people around the world at the same time (more or less). You sit in a crowded cinema to see a movie, so it is not a small intimate story. You are sharing it with 300 people when you see it. The story needs *scope* (not the mouth wash, the spectacle) - as I say in the clip, people have to spend a small fortune to go to the cinema these days, it needs to be an *event* in order to get them to leave their homes and drive and park and spend all of that money. Just a regular story is going to be a tough sell to the producer and a tough sell to the audience.

I know that many of you are mentally coming up with a list of movies that prove me wrong, and that’s fine... but the business is changing as I write this. The middle has fallen out and medium budget films are failing at the box office. There was an article a while back in Variety about movies like LONG SHOT that have two stars, a great funny story, and even though it deals with a Presidential race... the story was too small to attract the kind of audience it needed to make back it’s money. Low budget films can still work because they don’t have to make as much money to recoup their costs, but everything else needs to be a big enough event to get a mass audience. The middle movies end up being “we’ll wait for Netflix” - which seems to be where those mid-range romantic comedies are being made these days. So the bigger the screen, the bigger the idea needs to be...

Yeah, you have a wall sized TV and comfy cinema seats with built in cup holders at home... but the average person is watching a 32" TV set in their livingroom. They watch those kind of small, intimate, personal stories that fit that screen size. Cop shows and comedies and other things about real people - rather than larger than life characters. Of course, even TV has shows about witches and aliens and zombies - because even on a small screen people want to watch escapist stories. But in a cinema? Larger than life stories are expected. So is your idea big enough to fill the screen?

COMING UP WITH BIG IDEAS

When I had my day job working in the warehouse for a decade, I wrote a good page a day - and that's 3 scripts a year for a grand total of 30 scripts. One of my current spare time projects (like I have spare time) is to rewrite all of these old scripts and make the ideas big enough to fit the screen. One that I finished rewriting a few years ago was about a bodyguard and a woman pregnant with the President's kid - and the President's people want her dead so that he can be re-elected. THE BODYGUARD meets what's in Bill Clinton's pants. This was pre-Clinton though, and was kind of a JFK-like Prez and a Marilyn Monroe type. There always seemed to be some movie with a similar idea, just as I prepared to send it out. First we had THE BODYGUARD, then we had all of those Clinton scandal movies like ABSOLUTE POWER and MURDER AT 1600 where the President is having an affair and kills the girl himself. Not exactly my script, but kind of the same idea. Just when those had run their course we got a half dozen Bodyguard-Protects-Pregnant-Babe movies, at least two or three of which starred Clive Owen. My script needed something that really made it different! That made it big enough for the screen.

One of those Clive Owen movies had the *only pregnant woman in the world* - after babies just stopped being born. That’s a big idea! I wrote my script back when I didn't understand that high concept isn't just doing search and replace to make it The President or make the bad guys into Vampires or have the story take place In Outer Space. I had a weak concept - one that was obvious instead of inventive. The more unique your concept is, the less likely someone else will come up with it and the more likely it will be something personal.

What I needed was *more* imagination to make it more unique (and more personal) (and bigger in scope).

So, what I needed to do was give this old script a high concept injection that would change the core of the story. To take the basic plotting and characters and overlay a new high concept. Add a new weird element. Make it a bigger story. The bodyguard protecting the pregnant babe is still there - but instead of her pregnant with the President's kid, I raised the stakes and changed the genre by having the father be someone even more powerful. So the story is *now* about the Vatican's version of Indiana Jones who unearths the key to cracking a code in the missing Dead Sea Scroll... and discovers that the second coming is about to take place - the Second Son will be born in a certain hospital on September 29th... So the archeologist jets to the hospital to find and protect the pregnant woman from Satan's minions - who want to kill her before she gives birth. Various forms of demons attack (instead of The President's handler's secret hit squad) and each form of demon is some cool kind of monster. I tried to make the demons all kind of high concept. Coming up with them was fun. And the new end twist - she gives birth, and it's *Satan's* son! Okay - kinda RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK meets THE BODYGUARD meets DAVINCI CODE meets CONSTANTINE meets THE OMEN... but much better than the stale script it began life as... and it examines faith and responsibility, a couple of things I've been thinking about lately. I'm hoping they hire Clive Owen as the lead.

TWO TOOLS FOR SISTER SARA



Here are two basic tools for making your idea bigger - MAGNIFICATION and SUBSTITUTION. The above is an example of substitution - I rewrote a script with a small idea about assassins trying to kill a woman because she is pregnant with the President’s child, and substituted Satan as the father. That only changes everything. Basically substitution is a “high concept injection” - you can take a small or smallish story and substitute a larger or more cinematic conflict. I really like 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE - which is the story of a woman who gets into a car accident and wakes up in a stranger’s house... and the stranger is pretty damned strange. Does that sound like MISERY? A man gets intro a car accident and wakes up in a stranger’s house? Same basic story concept. MISERY is about a novelist who wakes up in his Number One Fan’s house - and she wants him to write a new novel just for her... or else. A snow storm keeps him trapped in the house, until... In 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE it isn’t a snow storm, it’s an alien invasion. Substitution. The weirdo doesn’t want her to write a novel, but she may be needed to help him propagate the human race. Eeew!

The great thing about 10 CLOVERDFIELD is they use the alien invasion as a mystery element - she doesn’t believe it happened and thinks this old guy is just a pervert... until she sees what is going on outside the bunker. Substitution is kind of a cosmetic change - though you still have to do a page one rewrite to turn a story like MISERY into a story like 10 CLOVERFIELD, the story conflict remains about someone being held captive inside a building and the cat and mouse relationship between them. The snow storm or alien invasion is the background.

MAGNIFICATION is going to change the story conflict itself. Make the conflict larger. This is a tool that can be used to find your “doorway” into a story - so you probably don’t know what it feels like to be wrongly accused of murder and going on the run from the police... so how can you write about that authentically? How can you get into that character? But you probably have been wrongly accused of doing something at work - stealing Milton’s red stapler or maybe someone’s lunch or maybe screwing up when really it was someone else who screwed up. And you have had to hide from Milton (or whoever’s lunch went missing) for part of the day - avoiding them in hallways. So you can magnify those authentic emotions - blow them way out of proportion - to understand how it feels to be wrongly accused of murder and write something like THE FUGITIVE.

I actually used both MAGNIFICATION and SUBSTITUTION in my script rewrite - magnifying the importance of the child that the woman was pregnant with. Once you magnify it from the President's illegitimate child to the Second Coming, that changes absolutely every word in the screenplay... Which is why it's better to *start* with the big idea... Like Joe Russo says in the quote.

You can do the same thing with a small idea - use magnification to blow the conflict out of proportion so a small conflict is now a huge conflict. Big enough to fill the screen.

ACTIVE LIFESTYLES

In one of my Script Tips in rotation I look at one of the keys to an *indie* drama - give the protagonist an “active lifestyle”. BREAKING AWAY is one of my favorite films, about four blue collar kids about to graduate high school and wondering what comes next. A typical coming of age film. So what makes it a *movie*? What gives this story “scope”? Well, our protagonist is a cyclist and there is a world championship bike race in the city nearby - and he can race against the professionals! Now we have a protagonist who competes in a visually exciting sport, and a race that has cyclists from around the world - it’s a world event, not a small town event. In THE WRESTLER we have a story about where Mickey Rourke plays an old has been who is trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter... but he’s an ex-wrestler (active lifestyle) who wants to prove his worth by climbing in the ring again. Now we have something visual and interesting. More cinematic.

You always want to come up with story ideas that are big enough to fill the screen, but also personal - so that you can write authentic emotions and not go crazy writing draft #27 because you have a connection to the story.

A year ago I had a project where I needed to come up with a bunch of pitches for sequels to movies in a studio's library. After selecting some movies, my next step was to let my imagination run wild and find interesting and unusual story ideas for a sequel - to take the unique idea from the original and add another unique idea. More high concept injection. While doing this, I looked for stories that were personal to me - things the protagonist could wrestle with that were things that I have wrestled with. Some of the ideas I came up with are really cool - personal and completely wild... and large enough to fill the big screen.

Having a Big Idea at the core of your screenplay is important once you boil it all down to a logline, because the logline is all about the concept. If it's a small, unimaginative concept that is probably an automatic "no". Like it or not, movies are an *event* and need to have big ideas. This is one of the reasons why I like to come up with the logline before writing the screenplay - it insures that I have that big idea at the core. Hey, most of my movies were for independent Production Companies making movies for cable networks, and *they* didn't want a standard action script if they could get one with a high concept!

So, if you use your imagination and stay away from small stories, which puts your script in a good stack - there may be another script in there that has the same idea as yours, but there aren't hundreds of them. Then, if you make it personal, you have a script that may have the same idea as another script, but is still a *unique* take on that idea. And we get ARMAGEDDON and DEEP IMPACT. And if there is still a script in the stack that has the same general idea as yours, find all of the ways that your idea is different and do a major rewrite focusing on those elements... and if that doesn't do it, twist the concept even more and do a page one rewrite. If someone just sold a script with a similar idea as yours - just make yours different. And make sure that your story is big enough to fill the screen!

Good luck and keep writing!

More on this in the Ideas Blue Book!

- Bill

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Thank you to everyone!

- Bill

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Trailer Tuesday:
LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964)

LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964)

Starring: Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danielli.
Written by: Richard Matheson (as Logan Swanson) and William Leicester.
Directed by: Sydney Salkow.
Produced by: Robert Lippert (owner of a movie theater chain in the Bay Area!)




Okay, I am a huge fan of the Richard Matheson novel I AM LEGEND, even though I haven't read it in years. I first read it, probably in high school. Still have that copy. If you don't know who Matheson is, he's the guy who wrote all of those TWILIGHT ZONE episodes you remember. Seriously - make a list of 5 episodes and I'll bet at least 3 of them are his. Anyway, that's how I discovered him. I was a fan of old THE TWILIGHT ZONE TV show, noticed that Matheson wrote some of my favorite episodes, discovered that he wrote books, too... and Stephen King called his haunted house book HELL HOUSE the best horror novel ever written. And Matheson also wrote the book that was made into INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, one of my favorite Saturday afternoon Sci-Fi movies. Matheson was also the screenwriter on all of the previous Corman Poe movies except PREMATURE BURIAL.

This was the first adaptation of I AM LEGEND, which would be made twice more - once with Chuckles Heston and once with Will Smith (and is up for a reboot now)... and was the inspiration for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (so just about every modern zombie movie owes its existence to the book). Here's the thing - no one has ever done a completely faithful version of the book. So, several years ago they decided to correct that, and make *the book*. A screenplay was written that everyone loved - exactly like the book (which is awesome by the way). They needed a star, and Ah-nuld stepped up - not the guy I see playing Robert Neville, who is kind of a typical 1960s suburban husband. But I would accept Ah-nuld if the movie was like the book, rather than like that ultra macho mindless Heston version. Then Ah-nuld became governator and the project was shelved.... Until someone dug it out and did a bunch of rewrites and some more rewrites and suddenly it was nothing at all like the book... and so they made it with Will Smith, and it is the *least faithful* version of the book! I can only hope that this new reboot goes back to the theory of making a more faithful version of the book. Until then, this old movie from the 1960s is the best version.



The book is kind of a through-the-looking-glass commentary on 1960s suburban life - the kind of stuff on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and OZZIE & HARRIET and FATHER KNOWS BEST. Robert Neville is the typical suburban husband and father who carpools to work every day with his buddy Ben Cortman... then a plague breaks out that turns everyone into vampires. Now all of his neighbors and everyone he knows lives at *night* and he is the sole person who lives by day - his world has been turned completely upside down.

His car pool buddy Ben Cortman is now the leader of the vampire clan in his suburban town (I think it was either Pasadena or Glendale in the novel) - and comes for him every night, pounding on his door and screaming for him to come out... so that they can kill him. Every day Neville goes from house to house through the town, searching for the vampires and driving stakes through their hearts... mostly searching for the leader, Cortman. The people he stakes - are his neighbors, his friends. It's a terrible job, but they become an army at night... and soon they will be powerful enough to get through the barricaded windows and doors of his typical suburban home. Every morning, his lawn is littered with dead vampires - people he knows. He has to clear them, take them to the giant bonfires that were designed to burn the dead when the plague had just begun taking lives...



The film opens with the sun rising on the horizon, which may just seem like a nice shot... but it is life or death for Robert Morgan (Vincent Price). Next we see some spooky shots of a city - empty. Not a single person on the streets. No cars moving. Nothing. As we get closer - there are cars wrecked on the side of the roads and dead bodies in the streets. What happened? A sign in front of a church says: The End Has Come!

Now to suburbia - and Robert Morgan’s typical suburban house... dead bodies on the lawn. The alarm goes off, and Morgan wakes up. It’s 3 years after the apocalypse - the plague which wiped out everyone but himself. He goes about his typical morning - coffee, checking the garlic wreath on his front door, checking his electricity generator in the garage... where his typical suburban station wagon is housed. Unbolting and opening the garage door, and loading up all of the dead bodies on his lawn into the back of that station wagon, using his ham radio to see if there is anyone else out there... but he is alone.



A map on the wall shows all of the sectors of the city where he has searched for their “nest” - the place they hide from the sunlight during the day. He grabs a bag of wooden stakes and heads out for the day... a typical day in the life of Robert Morgan. His first stop is the fire pit where he disposes of the bodies. Then he goes shopping - an abandoned supermarket where he picks up garlic and supplies. Then he goes searching for sleeping vampires... staking the ones he finds. Then disposing of those bodies at the fire pit. Then he heads home before dark. New garlic wreaths for the doors and windows, and then night... alone in the house as they attack, lead by Ben Cortman (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) his old car pool buddy from before the plague. “Morgan come out! Come out!” He cranks the music to drown out their voices.

The next morning, it begins again...

He begins making a new batch of stakes on his lathe... then quits and goes to the mausoleum where his wife’s coffin is... and accidentally falls asleep there. When he wakes up, the sun has set! The vampires rule the world. He must get past an army of vampires to get back to his car, then speeds away.



At his house, Ben Cortman waits for him and an army of vampires surround the house. He gets out of the car and makes it to his front door, battling vampires along the way. Once inside, he is safe. That night, he plays home movies of his wife Virginia (Emma Danieli) and daughter Kathy (Christi Courtland) in happier times... his daughter’s birthday party. Ben Cortman is there - they were best friends before all of this. Morgan breaks down...

28:45 minutes in, Morgan flashes back to before the plague...

Kathy’s birthday party. Ben Cortman comes with presents - Kathy showers him with kisses, then goes to play with all of the other kids. When she is gone, Ben shows Morgan a newspaper story - Hundreds Killed By Plague. The plague is carried by the wind, will it reach the United States? Ben and Morgan are scientists working on the plague.



Weeks later, the winds are blowing and Kathy is sick. The plague? Or maybe just the flu? Virginia claims to feel fine, but she is secretly ill as well. Morgan is worried about Kathy... Virginia is scared.

At the Mercer Institute (like the CDC) Morgan and Ben try to solve the riddle of the plague. The streets are filled with bodies, which the government tries to take to the fire pit. The rumor is that if the bodies are not burned... they come back. As vampires. Morgan thinks these are just crazy rumors, Ben thinks it’s possible that the virus can cause vampirism. That’s crazy talk...

Kathy contracts the plague... and goes blind. The final stage before death. He and Virginia do everything they can to see to her medical condition. Virginia wants to call a doctor, but Morgan warns if they call a doctor the doctor will be forced to report Kathy as infected, and... They want a funeral, but if she dies under a doctor’s care they will take her body to the huge bonfire pit and toss her in with the others. There is nothing as sad and horrible as the mass pit where they burn the dead from the book... And that is also in this Vincent Price version.



Morgan’s turn to drive, he goes to pick up Ben and head to work. Ben has hung garlic wreathes from his door and gone into full survivalist mode - he’s not leaving the house ever again. Morgan drives to the lab alone... and find the lab vacant except for his boss Dr. Mercer. The only two people left to find the cure.

When Morgan goes home, he sees one of the government trucks driving down the street. His daughter Kathy has died... Virginia is practically catatonic. She called the doctor and...

Morgan gets in his car and races to catch up with the truck. There are crowds of people at the fire pit, mourning their loved ones as they are thrown into the flames. Morgan breaks though the lines, chased by guards, and tries to stop them from tossing Kathy’s body into the fiery mass grave. Instead, gets there just in time to see her body thrown into the pit with all of the others.



A few days later, it’s Virginia who has gone blind... and then dies from the plague. Can he call for the government truck to take her corpse to the fire pit? “No. I won’t let them put you there. I promise. I won’t let them put you there.” So he sews her up in a shroud and sneaks out in the middle of the night with her corpse in the back of the station wagon... and buries her somewhere beautiful. Under a nice tree. Where she can be at peace. .

Night. Home. Alone. He hears a sound... a whisper... “Let me in. Let me in.” The front door knob is moving! He opens the door to see who’s there...



His wife Virginia, covered in dirt! “Robert... Robert...” She tries to embrace him, to sink her teeth into him and feed off him. He backs away... This is the love of his life... back from the dead! A miracle. He just wants to hold her in his arms. Kiss her. Tell her how much he has missed her, how much he loves her... But instead he must pound a stake into her heart! This scene destroys him... and destroys us.

52:45 we come out of the flashback, Robert Morgan remembering what he was forced to do to what was once his wife. Outside his car pool buddy Ben Cortman - after he turns into the car pool buddy from hell - and his gang have torn the station wagon apart. These two characters had a *history* and a *relationship* which brings drama and baggage to the scenes where Cortman and Morgan battle each other. Having to kill his friends and neighbors by day is gut wrenching - a normal guy having to do terrible things to survive. But this is his new life, and has been his life for three years, now.

The next morning Robert wakes up, survey’s the damage.



He goes car shopping, comes home with a new station wagon. As he parks it, he sees the dog poking around for food. He tries to catch it, but the dog speeds away. The animal hasn’t stayed alive all of these years by allowing itself to be caught. But the dog is *hope* - another living thing! He isn’t the last living thing on earth. He searches for the dog without success... but does find a group of vampires staked with iron bars. That means there is another *human* alive somewhere.

Back at home he tries the ham radio again, trying to find that other human out there. Hears the dog yelping outside. Unbolts his front door and goes out to get him... the dog has been injured. Brings him in, tends to him. Morgan now has a friend... at 60 minutes.



He checks the dog’s blood... it has the plague. He’s forced to stake it before it turns on him. There is no hope.

As he is burying the dog, he spots a figure in the distance... in the daylight... a woman? 62 minutes in, Robert Morgan is not alone. He chases the woman, who runs like hell. He finally catches her. “Wait! I couldn’t be out here in the daylight if I was one of them. You know that they can’t come out until sundown. Do you want to come with me? Or do you want to face them?” She comes with Morgan... following him home as the dog did.

At Morgan’s house, he makes dinner for her. She is Ruth Collins (Franca Bettoia), her husband died in the plague. Morgan grabs a bunch of garlic and pushes it against her face, she turns away - and he accuses her of being one of them. He doesn’t trust *anyone* anymore. She says she watched her husband torn to pieces by those... things... and now he thinks that she is one of them?



Morgan relents, apologizes, and serves her dinner... but she isn’t hungry.

That night, Ben Cortman pounds on the door and yells fro Morgan to come out. He tells Ruth that Ben used to be his best friend, but now? “When I find him I’ll drive a stake through him, just like all the others.” She wonders how he can do that to someone who used to be his friend.

Morgan wants to give her a blood test, to make sure she isn’t infected. She just wants him to trust her - no blood test.

That night, Morgan hears her coughing in her room and goes in to see if she’s okay - discovers her shooting up! She admits, she *was* one of them. But now she is cured, as long as she gets her injection every night. A cure. “We’ve had it for some time, now.”



“We?”
The vampire society... she’s a spy sent to find out what Morgan knows, but it seems he knows much less than they do. “We’re alive. Infected, yes, but alive. We’ve organized a society.”
“And you want me to join?”
“You *can’t* join us. You’re a monster to them. Why do you think I ran when I saw you? Even though I was supposed to spy on you, I was so terrified... from what I’ve heard about you. You’re a legend in the city. Living by day instead of night, many of the people you destroyed were still alive. You are a monster!”
She tells him they are coming for him tonight, and he job is to keep him here, in the house, until they come. To kill him. For all of the murders that he has committed.




She passes out... and when she wakes up, Morgan is giving her a transfusion of his blood. His immune blood has cured her. He gives her a wreath of garlic, and she can breath it without getting sick. She’s cured! Morgan says he can cure *everyone* with his blood. That’s when the Vampire Military comes to capture Morgan. They kill Ben Cortman and all of the “uncured” vampires and chase Morgan through the streets. Eventually they corner him in a church... and they stake *him*. As he lays dying, Ruth comforts him. “They were afraid of *me*? And he dies.

“We’re all safe now.”



Buy the pit

Though I haven't read the novel in years, one of the things I loved about it when I first read it was how it looked at vampires *scientifically* - all of the vampire lore gets a logical explanation that makes complete sense. In the book, Neville doesn't begin as a scientist, the part of his days not staking his friends and neighbors is spent trying to figure out what happened - and that leads him to learn about science and learn about the plague at the abandoned public library... which gives us all of these amazing logical reasons behind vampires being killed by wooden stakes, and garlic repelling them, and light burning them. You read the book and begin to believe that vampires *could* really exist. That feeling is in this film as well - with Morgan testing the blood of the dog and then Ruth.

The book's title comes from the end - a huge twist where we discover that Neville is a monster to the vampires. To them, he's a serial killer. I think they could have pulled that twist end in today's popcorn world in the Will Smith version or even this new reboot. I think as long as 99% of the film has Neville as "hero", that 1% where we reveal he's a monster won't rock the boat too much. And he's still a vampire killer - which may be a good thing to most of the audience. But to those of us who were looking for more than popcorn, that end would have had us thinking about being on the right side or wrong side in a war - is there really any difference? On both sides, people are killed.

There's a Matheson short story about a suburban guy who cuts himself shaving... and bleeds oil. Now, everywhere he looks he sees people eating greasy food and realizes that he's lived with his eyes closed his entire life - and he is a robot. I think the end of LEGEND and this Price film version has Neville opening his eyes... and Cortman and all of the vampires are not really any different than they were before - they still have their eyes closed. They see him as a monster... and he gets a chance to see them as people.

It's strange that this cheapo Vincent Price version you can download on the internet for free is closest to the book. Even though Richard Matheson wrote the screenplay for this version, *he* thought it got watered down on the way to the screen due to budget limitations and censorship restrictions and used a pseudonym. The film was shot in *Italy* subbing for suburban USA and every movie had to be acceptable for general audiences - and the book deals with the sexual issues of being the last man on earth surrounded by naked vampire women who are using their bodies to lure him out to their undeadly embrace. Matheson wished the film had more money and more artistic freedom, but oddly the two films made when with larger budgets and more freedom ditched what makes this story great - it holds up a mirror to *our world* and *our lives*. But, maybe this new reboot will be a faithful version. Who knows?

Bill



Buy the pit

Friday, March 20, 2020

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)

Screenplay by Norman Krasna.

There are no cross-dressing killers, no stolen microfilm, no man wrongly accused of a crime in this Hitchcock film - it’s a standard rom-com. Weird, huh? I have seen all of the Hitchcock films on the big screen including this one - a non-thriller - but I have to admit I saw MR. & MRS. SMITH decades ago on a Hitchcock triple bill and it was the last film playing and, well, I may have fallen asleep. I have not see it since, and never owned it on VHS and did not own it on DVD... and worried that it might suck. Did I really want to buy the DVD? I mean, spending $15 for THE PARADINE CASE was a waste of money, but I could chalk it off to being a completist, right? I mean, it may be lame, but it is still kind of a thriller. MR & MRS SMITH is a rom-com, a chick flick...

So I grabbed my Hitchcock/Truffaut to see what Hitch said about it... and he says nada! When Truffaut brings up the film, Hitch tells an amusing anecdote about Carole Lombard and then changes the subject. The only thing he really says about the film was that it was a favor to Lombard and he just followed the script. Did I really want to buy this on DVD?


Worse - the film was part of a $99 box set and I owned all of the other movies but one. Sure, I could get it at Amazon for $70... but I didn’t want to spend anything near that much for a rom-com that probably put me to sleep the last time I saw it. Damn this blog!

Then I discovered that there were 3rd party vendors who had probably bought the set, broken it up and sold all of the popular films (STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, NORTH BY NORTHWEST) and were now stuck with MR. & MRS. SMITH... and were selling it for $4. Deal.

Here’s the thing - this is a typical 1940s rom-com, funny, charming, and good. I think if Hitchcock had *not* directed it, people would love it and put it up there with THE AWFUL TRUTH and HIS GIRL FRIDAY. But the Hitchcock audience isn’t really the rom-com audience and vice-versa... so people haven’t given it a chance. I thought it was fun.




Nutshell: David (Robert Montgomery) and Ann Smith (the beautiful Carole Lombard) are a passionately married Manhattan couple... and have rules that will keep them married. That passion thing is great when things are going well in the relationship, but when things go wrong they are just as passionate and throw things at each other. So they have the rules - one of which is that no one can leave the bedroom after a fight until they have made up. Problem is, this cuts into David’s work week sometimes (he’s a lawyer). They can stay angry at each other for a loooong time!

Another rule is that after they’ve made up, each gets to ask the other a question... and they must answer honestly. Note to men in a relationship: this is a trap. No woman ever wants you to answer honestly (“Yes, those jeans make your ass look *massive*!”) they want to hear the lie that makes them feel good. So David makes a huge mistake by answering that he misses being single and probably wouldn’t marry Ann if he had to do it all over again. He loves her, he can’t live without her, but probably wouldn’t marry her again. She doesn’t like this answer, but they’re married, so the point is moot, right?




When a clerk (Charles Halton) from the town they were married in tells David that one of those only-in-the-movies clerical errors has nullified their marriage, he thinks for a moment that this may be his chance for freedom. The clerk was a childhood friend of Ann’s, stops by their apartment to visit and lets slip that she isn’t really married to David. Ann expects him to re-propose that very night and whisk her away to a Justice Of The Peace to go through the vows again. Her mother forbids her from sleeping with David until they are once again married. That night, David takes her to the cozy little restaurant where he first proposed... which is now a dump... and Ann thinks he’s going to pop the question. But he doesn’t. When they get home he chills some champagne. Um, now he can pop the question - but how will they get to a Justice of the Peace? When David gets into his silk Pjs, Ann blows her top. He expects her to sleep together even though they are not married? She throws him out.




David is sure that Ann will come crawling back to him... but that does not happen. Instead she finds a job and begins dating again.

Then Ann hooks up with David’s partner Jefferson (Gene Raymond) - a deep fried Southern Gentleman, and it looks like they’re getting engaged to be married! When David objects, Ann notes that she is not his wife, and legally has never been his wife - he has no claim on her.

David realizes he may fantasize about being single again, but the reality sucks! He *must* break up Jefferson’s relationship with Ann and win her back!

Experiment: Well, it is a rom-com. By this time Hitchcock was firmly established as the Master Of Suspense - he’d become famous in England for his thrillers like THE 39 STEPS and THE LADY VANISHES... and that’s why he was brought to America. But Carole Lombard was a friend, was a huge movie star, and wanted to do a film with Hitchcock... so he made a rom-com. The anecdote he told Truffaut was about his first day on the set - when he arrived there were three little cattle pens with a calf in each - wearing a name tag on its collar with the names of the stars. Lombard’s joke (she and her husband Clark Gable were notorious practical jokers - and the most tragic tale in CITY OF NETS is about the joke that preceded Lombard’s death in a plane crash, which devastated Gable). So - it’s a rom-com.

Hitch Appearance: When David and Jefferson come out of Ann's building together, then go in opposite directions, Hitchcock walks in front of the building.

Great Scenes: Let’s look at some rom-com things and other lessons that we can apply to any screenplay, starting with...

Story Point Of View: A common complaint about recent rom-coms is that they seem to be about the guy - KNOCKED UP seems to focus on Seth Rogen’s point of view instead of split equally between the couple. Well, it seems like that’s nothing new, as the lead character in MR. & MRS. SMITH is not Carole Lombard, or even Lombard & Montgomery... it’s Robert Montgomery. The film opens with Lombard in bed pretending to be asleep after a spat, and Montgomery tries to slyly get her attention with funny faces and hijinks (which come off charming rather than lame). This scene is not only told from his POV, some of the shots are his POV... and this continues throughout the film. Though I think you *can* have a rom-com where each member of the couple trades off as protagonist; it seems that in the end, one or the other is dominant (the “main protagonist”). That’s what happens here...




But whether one character is the protagonist or two, each scene takes a side and shows it from that character’s point of view. When Ann is waiting for David to pop the question at dinner... and then later at home... those scenes all take her side. We are not neutral in those scenes, we are given the information to understand her character and we see the scene from her side of the dispute... but not his. We know her plan is to accept when he re-proposes... but we have no idea what David’s plan is. Did he plan on proposing at the little restaurant? What’s his plan when he slips into his Pjs? We do not know - but we do know that her plan is *not* to sleep with him until they are married again. We have taken her side in this sequence. And there is a great reason for this - it creates drama and suspense. If we know everything, it’s dull - like knowing how a movie ends. We want to *use* POV to create intrigue. Since knowing David’s intentions remove the suspense from the scene, we take Ann’s side and keep David’s intentions secret. After she kicks David out, we take his side for most of the rest of the movie.

Do you know who is the “lead character” in each of your scenes... and why?




Visual Symbols: A picture is worth a thousand words. After that opening scene spat has been resolved, there is a scene where Ann shaves David with a straight razor. You may wonder what the heck that is all about, but the answer is - it *shows* the trust between them with an intimate act. We can’t exactly show them hitting the sheets in 1941 (and that may even be tonally wrong for 2010) but we can show them doing something together that is personal... and that also shows trust and seems domestic - you wouldn’t let your best friend do this, but you might let your wife. Again, there are a million things that might show two people comfortable with each other in an intimate situation - but what can we show in 1941?

The great thing about the shaving scene is that it not only shows trust and intimacy and comfort with each other now, it is actually a set up for a later payoff near the end that shows Ann recovering her trust and comfort with David. When we see her shave his unconscious body (okay - weird), we realize that they are going to get back together. And David, who is not really unconscious, trusts her not to use the razor on him.





A visual symbol that is designed for a laugh: After being kicked out, David goes to his club which has hotel style rooms available for men who have been kicked out of the house (and maybe bachelors between apartments). There is a board with room keys on it, several empty hooks *with name cards over them* because some poor slob got into a fight with the wife and is now living there. David has to ask the clerk if there is a room available, and the clerk makes a big deal about saying that David has never asked for one of the room keys in the entire time he has been a club member. Then makes a big deal about grabbing the key and giving it to David - this is a *moment*. David and Ann never leave the apartment until they have made up... and now David has been kicked out. The key is symbolic of this being a major problem in the relationship, not just a little bump.




But the great thing is that the key becomes a running gag that gets a laugh (well, from me) every time they show it. David spends the whole day trying to win Ann back, and just when you think she may forgive him... he’s back at the club getting that room key. - Eventually the board of keys has his name on a card over one key.

There are many other little visual symbols in the film - like Ann replacing the name plaque on the apartment door with a card with her maiden name - David keeps tearing it down every time he goes to the apartment and there is always a new one when he comes back. And, um, there’s a pair of skis at the end that, um, seem kind of symbolic of a successful re-honeymoon.




Symbolic Supporting Characters: The other symbolic thing are some of the supporting characters. When David checks into the room in the club, he is now one of the guys who got kicked out of the house by their wives for a variety of reasons. The character he hangs out with is Big Chuck (Jack Carson) who is constantly being kicked out by the wife, and offers David some advice on what to do to get her back if it was a minor infraction... and how to have a good time as a temporary bachelor if you end up with an extended stay at the club. In a way, Big Chuck is a married guy’s fantasy of bachelorhood - he drinks and smokes and whores around and doesn’t care what the wife says. He’s on a “marriage vacation”... and that is kind of David’s fantasy, isn’t it?

Big Chuck *symbolizes* David’s fantasy of being a single guy again, but still with the safety net of being married. He is an externalization of what David is thinking. You want to find the external and concrete visual way to show what’s going on in a character’s heart or mind - and Big Chuck is the kind of guy David wishes he was. That way, we can have David interact with his wish (instead of just having him think - which we can not see) and a great deal of comedy comes from the fantasy version being different than the reality version.




Something else that David and every other married man fantasizes about? Those hot single women out there! Big Chuck sets up a double date - setting up David with a hot single woman who will “show him a good time” (we all know what that means). But the fantasy is not the same as the reality - and David’s date is a loud uneducated bottle blonde who gulps champagne as if were water and smokes like a factory. You fantasize about slutty women and that’s what you get. What makes this scene great is that they are in a fancy restaurant (in contrast to the women) and guess who are a few tables over? Ann and Jefferson. So we get a direct comparison between David’s wife and the single woman David hopes to score with. Um, the sure thing never looked so bad!

This is also a good example of escalation of conflict within a scene. You think once David meets his date that things can't get worse. Then the date starts ordering half the menu. Then she's so loud and obnoxious that everyone in the restaurant is starring at them. Then Ann and Jefferson spot them. And it *keeps* getting worse!




There’s a great gag in this scene where David realizes that Ann is looking in his direction and moves his chair so that he seems to be sitting with the elegant woman at the next table... which works until her husband comes back. David ends up with a broken nose - which should be a good way to get the hell out of the restaurant... except his date used to date a boxer and knows all of the tricks for stopping a nose bleed. Right in the middle of the elegant restaurant. This is the date from hell! Instead of just being the bad situation, things keep happening that makes it worse and worse and worse - it's like Indiana Jones in the treasure cave in RAIDERS as a date! Just when you think it could never get any worse...

Does the conflict continue to escalate in your scenes. Once you have the bad situation, what are all of the things that make it worse?

Bellamys: One of the standard characters in a romantic comedy is the “Bellamy”, named after Ralph Bellamy from HIS GIRL FRIDAY. This is also a symbolic character - in a rom-com the couple splits up or maybe even has never been together in the first place... so how do you *show* that the love interest is *rejecting* the protagonist? At the end, how do you *show* that the love interest is *choosing* the protagonist? What you need is a romantic rival - someone who symbolizes a life for the love interest without the protagonist. Enter The Bellamy (which sounds like a really weird Kung Fu film). This is the guy or gal the love interest is either already engaged to or begins dating after the break up. A physical thing that gets in the protag’s way of winning the love interest back. The strangest Bellamy ever is Otto the blow up pilot in AIRPLANE! Usually it is someone who is the opposite of the protagonist in some way.




Where David in MR. & MRS. SMITH is impulsive and passionate and his life is kind of a mess, Jefferson is conservative and well mannered and steady as a rock. Jefferson will put Ann on a pedestal and treat her like a lady - always polite and quiet and calm. He symbolizes a relationship for Ann that is quiet and safe and predictable. The opposite of David. This takes a decision that is in Ann’s head: wild passion or safe predictability, and puts it on screen where we can see it. Without the Jefferson character, we could not see what she was thinking. There is actually an early scene with Ann sitting in the center of the sofa with a man at either end verbally fighting for her.




The great thing about a Bellamy character is that it not only shows us the choices the love interest makes, it also brings out the character of the protagonist (and the Bellamy). It is easier to see how wild David is when we have Jefferson to compare him with. Jefferson is the perfect Southern gentleman, always opening doors, always polite, always quiet... and that helps to highlight David’s unpredictable behavior. There’s an early scene at the law office where David has neglected his work and Jefferson has been covering for him. Without Jefferson, we wouldn’t see how David was *supposed to be* at work. All of the wild passionate things that David does would just seem romantic without Jefferson to show us a different sort of romance that seems much more practical.

And that is the big choice Ann has to make: security or passion?

If You Know What I Mean Subtext: David doesn’t make that decision easy. He doesn’t understand how he became suddenly single. Sure, he admitted to Ann that he secretly wished he were single again, but now that he’s single the only thing he wants is to be married to Ann again... and she’s off with some other guy... and not just any other guy, his *business partner*! So he begins a series of schemes to get her back again.

One of the more amusing schemes is some “obvious subtext” - when David discovers that Jefferson plans on *marrying* Ann, and is going to introduce her to his very conservative Southern parents, David crashes the meeting. Jefferson’s parents do not know that Ann is David’s ex-wife (well, they were never actually married), and think this is just some woman their son is dating. So when David butts into the meeting, Jefferson’s parents introduce him to Ann... and he says they have already met...




Then begins a series of clever bits of dialogue that are designed to be misunderstood by Jefferson’s parents. David says he’s seen a great deal of Ann - implying that he’s seen her naked, yet never actually saying that. David talks about how Ann is great at serving breakfast in bed. Line after line! Everything seems innocent, but these lines are designed to lead the other person to jump to that guilty conclusion. It’s a strange sort of subtext, because we are meant to understand the hidden meaning, as are the other characters in the scene... yet nothing is said directly. Jefferson’s parents eventually grab their son and take him into the next room - the bathroom, for humor - and ask what sort of woman this Ann is... and what is her relationship to his business partner?




Jefferson manages to put out that fire... which leads to a vacation with Jefferson, his parents, and Ann in a ski lodge. And David follows them, and starts more schemes, eventually placing Ann in the position where she must make a choice between these two types of men, and these two specific men... and then David does something that causes Ann to raise her legs up and cross her skis.

Sound Track: Excellent! A great whimsical score by Edward Ward performed by human lips - whistling. The music adds to the film and never gets in the way of the film.

Though MR. & MRS. SMITH is not a typical Hitchcock film, it is a pretty good romantic comedy from that period and both Lombard and Montgomery are charming and fun. I thought this entry was going to be more painful to write than it was - I really enjoyed the movie. If you are a fan of old rom-coms, check it out.

- Bill

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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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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.

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