Thursday, April 30, 2020

THRILLER Thursday: YOURS TRULY JACK THE RIPPER

Best Of Thriller...

Yours Truly Jack The Ripper

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



Season: 1, Episode: 28.
Airdate: April 11, 1961

Director: Ray Milland (the movie star).
Writer: Barre Lyndon (?) based on a story by Robert Bloch
Cast: John Williams (TO CATCH A THIEF), Donald Woods, Adam Williams (NORTH By NORTHWEST), Edmon Ryan, Miss Beverly Hills.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith.
Cinematography: Kenneth Peach.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The surgeon’s scalpel. An instrument of mercy in the hands of a skilled physician. A lethal weapon in the hands of a madman. A murder, such as the subject of our story for tonight. No one knows who this man was. No one ever saw his face. His identity has always been one of the world’s great mysteries. He killed only women. And only a certain kind of women. And his murders were often accompanied by stranger forbidden rites. For months on end he terrorized London, defying whole divisions of police. And it was they who nicknamed him Jack The Ripper. Well, he disappeared from the scene as suddenly as he had come. Similar murders followed at intervals in other countries. There are many who believe that Jack The Ripper still walks the Earth. Still continues his diabolical activities. That’s a chilling thought. Especially when it’s accompanied by highly convincing proof that it may be true. Let us discover the facts for ourselves in the company of such distinguished players as Mr. John Williams, Mr. Donald Woods, Mr. Edmon Ryan, and Miss Nancy Valentine. I suggest that you viewers draw just a little closer together... the Ripper always struck down solitary victims, you know. It would be a pity if a member of our audience became *dis*membered.”



Synopsis: In 1888 prostitute Mary Jane Kelly leaves a pub in London and walks home down the foggy streets. She sneaks past a policeman, turns a corner in the fog and bumps into another policeman. This cop tells her she knows better than to be out at night... Jack The Ripper might be hiding in the shadows waiting for her. We get exposition about the past murders, and then the cop tells her to buzz off and get home. Mary Jane enters her room, locks the door... and then is attacked by Jack The Ripper! He holds a leather gloved hand over her mouth to stifle her screams as pulls out his knife and inserts it into her body again and again...

On the street a man and woman sing the ballad of Jack The Ripper. “What do I look like? Who can I be? All the blinking coppers is out after me! They think I’m here, they think I’m there; but when they come to collar me I vanish in the air! Oh what do I look like? Who can I be? Well here’s a bit of something they can say of me: I ain’t a butcher, I ain’t a kid, and I ain’t a flurrying skipper. I’m just your own dear loving friend... Yours truly, Jack The Ripper!”



In 1961 New York City the Chief Of Detective Jago (Edmon Ryan) and his team look over a map marked with the locations of the murders. Police Psychologist Dr. John Carmody (Donald Woods) introduces him to a British consultant Sir Guy Hollis (John Williams) who has flown over to aid them in the quest for the killer. Sir Guy is the foremost expert of Jack The Ripper, and has a crazy theory: this isn’t some killer imitating Jack The Ripper, this *is* Jack The Ripper. Detective Jago says he’d have to be, what, 90 to 100 years old? How is that even possible? Sir Guy explains that the Ripper was responsible for six murders in London, and since then there have been groupings of six murders in the exact same pattern with similar M.O.s over the years in one country after another. Every 2 years and 8 months there has been a month of carnage... for 70 years. “Suppose he hasn’t gotten any older?” When Detective Jago says the natural process of life is to grow older, Sir Guy counters with the *unnatural* process of life. Sir Guy doesn’t know whether Jack The Ripper kills to stay young or uses the stolen organs as demonic sacrifices or what.. But the *facts* point to all of these murders as being his: they contain elements of the original Jack The Ripper crimes that were never made public. Things from police reports that were kept from the press. Detective Jago thinks this is all unbelievable bull crap, but Sir Guy has charts that predict the next murder will be in 3 days and gives Jago the general location of the killing as well.



Detective Jago thinks Sir Guy is crazy... but sees nothing wrong with an increased police presence in the area Sir Guy says the murder will take place three nights from now. If they catch the killer in the act, Jago is a hero... if nothing happens it will just prove that Sir Guy is a crackpot.

On the dark foggy street Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody drink coffee at the police command post, waiting...

A prostitute leaves a bar and walks down the foggy streets of New York City. Just as Mary Jane Kelly did in the opening scene, she sneaks past one policeman and then is startled by another policeman. This policeman tells her she shouldn’t be out at night alone with these killings, just as the policeman told Mary Jane in 1888. This policeman walks the prostitute back to her apartment, and makes sure she locks and bolts the door. Once the prostitute is safe inside her apartment, she disrobes and lays on her bed, when the phone rings... a client. She gets his hotel room number, hangs up and gets off the bed... when Jack The Ripper attacks! He has crawled through an open window, just as he’d done back in 1888 with Mary Jane. He clamps a leather gloved hand over her mouth to stifle her screams, then inserts the knife again and again...

Later That Night: Detectives on the scene. The CSI Team dusts for fingerprints, collects evidence, Sir Guy tells a skeptical Detective Jago that this crime scene is *identical* to the Ripper crime scene. Jago is confused: the streets were filled with cops. How could The Ripper have got past all of them? “He was here... now he’s gone.”



The Next Morning: Every newspaper’s headline is about the Ripper murders.

Detective Jago reluctantly asks Sir Guy what their next step should be. Sir Guy explains that evidence points to Jack The Ripper hiding among artists and Bohemians over the years. He would be accepted there, and one of the suspects in the original murders in 1888 was a painter. The other murders over the years have also had painter suspects. So let’s see if any strangers have popped up in the beatnik corner of the city? They go to Greenwich Village to interview beatnik artists, a really odd bunch, including strange painter Kralik (Adam Williams) who has just painted beautiful model Arlene (Nancy Valentine)... in a strange painting filled with death imagery. Is this Jack The Ripper?

When they ask him how it is possible for Jack The Ripper to still be alive and killing, Sir Guy gives a great bit of Freakonomics, “There’s a strange rhythm to The Ripper’s murders. Just as there are cyclical rhythms which control other things. There are rhythms which control the sun spots, every seventeen years a particular type of locusts swarms and flies. Every fourteen years the price of nutmeg peaks then drops again. But in The Ripper’s murders, there’s always 126 days between his first and second murder, but only half that, sixty three days, between the second and the last... the sixth.”

One of the other beatniks thinks it would be fun to go to the hooker’s funeral. Sir Guy and Dr. John Carmody think this is a good idea... if Kralik (or one of the other painters or beatniks) is Jack The Ripper, maybe they’ll do something at the funeral to expose their identity?

At the hooker’s funeral, there’s a pallbearer mishap and the coffin is dropped in front of the model, the lid pops open, the corpse pops out... with all of the carvings on display. The corpse of the hooker’s eyes pop open and it *stares* at Arlene and Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody and Detective Jago. Complete freak out! Screaming erupts. Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody look for signs that one of the beatniks might be the Ripper... nothing. They are all freaked out... except Kralik.



At The Police Station: Sir Guy uses his past case histories to predict the next murder. It seems tied to the Art Gallery Event which will display creepy Kralik’s painting and the work of the other beatniks. The police set up flood lamps and up the security around the Gallery. No way someone can sneak in or out without being seen this time! But if Kralik or one of the other beatnik artists is Jack The Ripper, they will have an invitation to the event, right? They will *already* be inside.

Detective Jago and the beatnik artists do not mix... giving us a little comedy. But Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody seem to get along well with the weirdos. Dr. Carmody admits he studied sculpture when he was a student, but was so bad he’s glad he had that doctor thing to fall back on. At the gallery there is a contest for best work of art by the beatniks, and a serious art critic as the judge. An amusing bit where he insults each piece of art (and the creator) as he goes around the room making notes on who will win the prize. He’s mean and destructive to everyone... and ends up completely tearing Sir Guy apart as well. Hmmm, what if Jack The Ripper was an *art critic* instead of an artist?

Sir Guy sits with Arlene and what begins slightly pervy with Sir Guy talking about how beautiful she is, turns into something emotional when she tells him that she has a daughter (she’s not married) and her kid is in the Children’s Hospital right now. Arlene goes every night to visit and kiss her goodnight. A powerful emotional moment. She tells Sir Guy that she must leave now, before the winner of the contest is announced, but she’ll be back after she kisses her daughter goodnight.

Kralik’s painting of Arlene wins, and everyone wonders where Arlene is. Sir Guy says she has gone to visit her daughter at...



Children’s Hospital. Night. Fog. Spooky. Arlene walks through a maze of cars in the parking lot to get to the entrance. Suspense builds. The silhouette of a Man is following her between the cars... or is he just going to the hospital as well? When Arlene makes it through the maze of cars to the hospital steps, The Ripper steps from that shadows and puts a leather gloved hand over her mouth... that’s when a Police Car cruises past, stops, and shines it’s spotlight through the parking lot. Arlene struggles to scream for help, then stops when she realizes the alternative. Torn between screaming and not getting stabbed, Arlene stays still until the Police Car moves on... then it is too late for her. The Ripper uses his blade on her.

The graveyard. Kralik in front of a headstone not far from the hooker’s headstone... Arlene’s. He tells Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody that he’s going crazy: did he paint all of that death imagery in the painting because he *knew* she was going to be killed? Or did The Ripper see his painting and decide to make Arlene his next victim? Kralik says he’s been visiting Arlene’s daughter in the hospital every night, but hasn’t worked up the nerve to tell her that her mother is dead. He’ll have to tell her eventually... but dreads it.

Police Station: Sir Guy knows the final murder will be tomorrow night, and believes he knows where. But Dr. Carmody questions his methods: using the same “formula” couldn’t the murder site be here or here? Sir Guy admits that is possible, but thinks his choice is most likely. By this point, complete skeptic Detective Jago is a believer. As crazy as Sir Guy’s theories seemed at first, he has *accurately* predicted the murders.



The next location perfectly matches the location of a strip club. Cops all over the streets outside, undercover inside. Sir Guy asks Carmody what happens in a strip club, and when Carmody explains, Sir Guy decides they should go inside and watch. Det Jago is in there, pretending to be a customer... but, um, distracted by Miss Beverly Hills taking it all off (we get a shot of her high heels by the time she gets down to bra and panties). After the stripping, Carmody says someone should make sure Miss Beverly Hills is okay and elects himself. We follow him back as he checks on her in the dressing room, then returns. Sir Guy suggests they step outside for some fresh air, and so that Sir Guy can smoke.

In the dark foggy alley behind the strip club, they hear a noise... a man walks through the shadows... when he steps into the light, just some guy. Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody relax. Sir Guy says if they don’t catch the Ripper tonight, he has learned enough from this series of killings to capture him the next time. They have gotten very very close this time. Sir Guy pulls out a cigarette, asks Dr. Carmody for a light... but Carmody pulls a knife and STABS Sir Guy! Sir Guy is confused: “John, why?” Dr. John Carmody smiles and says, “Not John... Jack!” and disappears int the fog.



Review: You can’t lose with a serial killer on the loose in a foggy city at night. One of the great things the episode does is give us the same sequence twice, which builds dread and suspense the second time because we know what happened the first time. When the hooker is killed in 1888 that completely sets up the terror in the present day scene. Once she sneaks past the first cop exactly the same way it happened before, we know what is coming... and just want to warn her not to go home.



Arlene’s parking lot scene is great, suspense stretched to the breaking point... and then all of the little “gags” like the police car stopping.





Lots of good red herring characters, including Kralik and even one of the weird beatnik women. And the story plays fair: though you don’t really suspect Dr. Carmody, we do know that his first name is John and that he used to be a sculptor and he doesn’t react normally to any of the crimes (but we think it’s just because he’s a police psychologist). We suspect Sir Guy for a long stretch of the story. He’s the weirdo, and Dr. Carmody is more of the voice of reason. What’s cool is that once we know Carmody is Jack, we realize that “voice of reason” stuff was trying to sway Sir Guy and Detective Jago into being cautious so that Jack could take advantage of that caution and strike.

Both Arlene’s scene where she talks about her daughter and Kralik’s scene where he talks about Arlene and her daughter are nice moments of real emotion which elevate this episode above most twist ending tales. It’s been a while since I read the short story, so I don’t remember if those moments were in the story or something added by the screenwriter. Either way, they create a reality which makes the murder of Arlene even more shocking.



Well directed by movie star Ray Milland, who worked with John Williams on Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER (which we look at in my EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR book). The episode is very atmospheric, both in the feeling of dread on those foggy streets and the world of the beatnik painters and sculptors on the edge of the art world. Detective Jago’s “conversion” from complete non believer to someone who is sure that Sir Guy is right is done with subtlety.

I mentioned Sir Guy’s “Freakenomics” speech because it’s crazy logical and adds a strange kind of verisimilitude to his wacky theories. It helps sell the idea that Jack The Ripper really could still be alive and killing...

Which brings me to the last part of this week’s entry! When telling a friend about this episode, I mentioned that the Bloch short story had been adapted twice, here and on STAR TREK. So I thought I’d rewatch that STAR TREK episode... and discovered that it was not a direct adaptation of YOURS TRULY JACK THE RIPPER, even though it was also written by Robert Bloch. But the STAR TREK episode is somewhere between a sequel and a rewrite of the story, so let’s take a look at it as well!



STAR TREK: WOLF IN THE FOLD

Written by Robert Bloch.



From Miss Beverly Hills in that strip club we cut to a Belly Dancer Kara (Tania Lemani) is a similar club. Kirk, Scotty and Bones are taking some shore leave on the “pleasure planet” Argelia known for it’s pacifist hedonists... and Scotty is digging on the dancer. Kirk as arranged for her to come to their table afterwards and be Scotty’s date for the night. Scotty has just recovered from some sort of accident on the Enterprise and this is his reward. The customer at the next table Morla (Charles Dierkop) and a member of the band Tark (Joseph Bernard) give Scotty the stink eye when he flirts with the Belly Dancer and makes plans to take her on a walk, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

After Scotty and the Belly Dancer are gone, Kirk and Bones decide to head to another bar and find their own entertainment... but in the foggy streets of the village, they hear a woman’s scream and run over to find the Belly Dancer stabbed multiple times... and Scotty standing over her with a knife in his hand!



Because everyone on this planet would rather make love not war, they are not set up for a murder investigation. The sole policeman is Detective Hengist (John Fiedler) who questions Scotty... getting nothing because Mr. Scott is suffering from amnesia. The Prefect of the planet Jaris (Carles Macauley) and his uberhot wife Sybo (Pilar Seurat - INDEPENDENCE DAY screenwriter Dean Devlin's *mom*!) want to use the traditional Argelian Empathic Contact to find out whether Scotty killed the Belly Dancer or not. Kirk asks if they can beam down a technician with a special tricorder that can probe Scotty’s mind to find out what his amnesia may be covering up. When the pretty technician Lt. Tracy (a redshirt in a blue shirt played by Virginia Aldridge) beams down she goes with Scotty into a private room to probe his mind...

Uberhot psychic wife Sybo wants to touch the knife to see what she can get a vibe off of it, but they can not find the knife. It has vanished! And then there is a scream. Technician Tracy dead, Scotty standing over her with the murder knife! That’s when Detective Hengist shows up with the two guys who gave Scotty the stink eye earlier.

Detective Hengist wants to interrogate Scotty, wants to jail him and start the trial as soon as possible. Hey, one woman murdered at Scotty’s feet and he’s discovered with the murder knife might be some sort of accident (well, not really) but *two*? Even if Scotty can’t remember a thing, he’s still guilty as hell! Kirk talks the Prefect into allowing them to use the Argelian Empathic Contact to find out what happened, and everyone joins hands in a circle, like a seance, and Uberhot Sybo starts seeing visions. Visions of Redjac, and the Hunger That Will Never Die. An evil spirit that murders women to stay alive. That’s when the lights go out. When they come back on, Scotty is holding the Uberhot Sybo’s blood soaked body... and that damned knife again!

Detective Hengist is ready to jail Scotty when Kirk appeals to Prefect Jaris: can they transport everyone onto te Enterprise and use their lie detector gizmo to find out if Scotty has murdered these three women or not? The Prefect, whose wife as just been brutally murdered, says “Sure”.



Onboard the Enterprise they put Scotty on the lie detector to testify. He did not kill Sybo... but he is not lying when he says he has no memory of Kara and Lt. Tracy’s murders. Detective Hengist as had enough of this nonsense. They put Morla on the machine, he’s innocent, too. Kirk turns detective and decides to use the computer to run Sybo’s last words... Redjac. Discovers it’s a nickname for Jack The Ripper! “A man couldn’t survive all these centuries!” But what if it *isn’t* a man, but an evil alien spirit thingie that lives forever and possess the bodies of humans? Hengist wants to arrest Scotty and quit chasing after ghosts. Kirk asks the computer for dates and places for murders similar to Jack The Ripper’s... and we get the same list from YOURS TRULY with some additions on other planets between Earth and Argelia. The same spacing patterns, etc... the computer is playing John William’s role... and Hengist the detective is very similar to Dr. Carmody. The last murders where on Hengist’s home planet of Rigel 4! Hengist freaks, tries to escape, is captured... and drops dead!

Jack The Ripper (the spirit) has entered the Enterprise’s computer and now controls the ship... and the air supply! It will soon kill the entire crew, slowly, and feed off their fear!

Kirk and Spock hatch a plan to keep the computer busy trying to find the last digit of Pi as they give the crew a sedative that keeps them docile and happy and try to eradicate the evil spirit. The spirit pops into Prefect Jaris and then Hengist again... and Kirk takes Hengist, tosses his onto the transporter, and beams him out into space. The end.



So many similarities to YOURS TRULY, especially the idea of one of the investigators being the killer. The same murder pattern information is shared by both, and the post 1888 crime locations are the same (until we leave Earth, that is). It’s somewhere between a major rewrite of YOURS TRULY and a sequel, but certainly interesting to see both episodes back to back! John Fiedler is perfect casting, he usually plays mousey little guys... and fits perfectly as the overly officious Detective on a planet with no crime. Last person you’d expect to be Redjac!

Robert Bloch is one of my favorite horror writers, and his stories pop up here and on TWILIGHT ZONE and on HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. In addition to PSYCHO he has some great novels like AMERICAN GOTHIC and FIREBUG (neither have been adapted into movies) and has a pun filled, clever writing style.

Next episode is a deal with the Devil gone wrong... do these deals ever go right?



Bill

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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

2002: Year Of The Treadmill (part last)

A rerun from 11 years ago at this time, about something that happened just over 18 years ago...

After writing a million treatments, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Ringo Lam have become tired of waiting for the script and are on their way out the door... I could pound out a script that could stop them, but the producer has instead decided to have me write a brand new treatment that takes place in South Africa. And after a stack of free treatments, this one will be for pay - hooray! Nice to have another treatment check, but we are no closer to going to script than we were when I started this project months and months ago. Will these treatments ever stop?

After reading a bunch of books on South Africa and watching some travel videos I did a version where he was a bodyguard in South Africa and the badguys were only stealing some diamonds instead of assassinating anybody. He was less involved in this story - still managing to run into the bad guys by accident over and over again.

This treatment was thrown away. Jean Claude Van Damme and Ringo Lam signed to do another movie... they’d still be interested in reading the script, if ever there was one. But now they were off on some other project and my guess is that MGM will lower our budget unless we can find a new star and a new hot director. Could Jamie Lee Curtis play a bodyguard in South Africa, I asked... the producer did not answer.

Every project has a certain amount of *momentum* - as long as it’s moving forward quickly, everyone is excited and that excitement can actually turn a script into a film. People want to make movies, and if your project is hurtling towards the screen like a juju-bee hurled by a twelve year old, everyone wants to be part of it. But when things begin to slow down, people start jumping ship... and no one really wants to replace them. The end result of slowing down is *stopping* - and no one wants to be attached to a stalled film. That’s a dead film.

I suspect my Hawaii film is completely dead at this point. It slowed down due to a possible actor’s strike - and because that strike kept dragging on without ever happening, the Hawaii project slowed to a crawl. Now that the actors are probably going to sign a contract (a year later) the economy sucks so bad I can’t imagine this thing ever happening. Another script of mine on some producer’s shelf forever. You have to strike while the iron is hot. There is a perfect time for the project, and if you miss that time because you are waiting for some other time, you lose momentum and things start to fall apart. The Hawaii thing waited too long, trying to play it safe... and now it’s over.

But back to 2002....

Even though I had some fresh cash in the bank on the never-ending treatment project, I wouldn’t get the nice big check for writing the script until the producer approves one of the treatments. And that was never going to happen if he kept throwing them away and coming up with new ideas (He’s an IRS agent in Latvia! He’s an ex-CIA assassin in Afghanistan! He’s a body builder in Bulgaria!). I wrote a new South Africa treatment with all of his crazy story-killing notes and now the protagonist had nothing to do with the story at all, he was just in scenes where things happened to other people. It had turned to dog-doo. I hated the treatment, but by this point I was a typing monkey and the producer wasn’t listening to anything I said in our story meetings.

That’s one of the things I will never understand about this business - you are hired because they have read a bunch of your scripts and like them... then they want you to write something that goes against everything they liked about those sample scripts. If they’d just let you do your job and keep out of your way, they’d probably end up with a much better script. But instead, the new treatment is basically dictation - nothing of me in there - and it has a completely passive protagonist and a complete non-sense plot and things that happen for no reason and massive plot holes and crazy coincidences and no conflict and zero emotional conflict...

One of the running battles I’ve been having with this producer - he wants to do something like BOURNE, just without the character stuff that made BOURNE more than just a bunch of cool action scenes. He *wants* a completely 2D character - not a complicated guy who worries that the more he discovers who he really is, the more he may not like himself much. Every treatment I am fighting to make sure the lead character has some character - and those elements are the first things he wants to remove on the next treatment. I am so masochistic, I don’t give up the fight. I want this to eventually go to script, and I want it to be a *good* script. Not just a bag-o-action. But after all of these treatments and losing our lead and director, I’m just keeping my mouth shut and doing what I’m told. Duane Haller in WHITE LINE FEVER was right - you cause trouble and all you get is trouble. So I crank out the treatment and turn it in and wait for the next meeting where it will be thrown out and I will be given a new random country and a new random occupation for the lead and a new random action event.

It was November by then, and I had spent almost the whole year writing treatment after treatment and never getting any closer to script

When the next meeting actually began with a new location, I quit. I tried to control my temper, but I may have failed a little. I complained that we were no closer to script than when I began and that I was getting tired of writing things that would never end up on screen. Part of my problem may be that I am “spoiled” - I actively seek out the people who actually make movies instead of just make deals, so lots of stuff ends up on screen. Hey, it may turn out crap by the time it gets to screen - but so do lots of big budget studio films... and the other 90% of the scripts the studio bought that year just get rewritten into crap and never make it to screen. I had done more that a fair number of free rewrites, and it was time to move on.

Looking back on it all, I think the problem was the producer couldn’t deal with the pressure of having MGM’s future on his shoulders. I think he choked. We all want to do our best work, but there’s a clever way of not ever failing by not ever finishing your work. Plenty of screenwriters do this - they write and rewrite and change things and never manage to get to FADE OUT. Because once they finish the script, the script can be read and judged and it might suck. But a script they are still working on? Always brilliant! I think this producer, whose history was a bunch of MOWs that were here this week, gone the next... just a way to sell laundry soap; was afraid that his first big theatrical would come out and flop big time, maybe even pull down the studio, and it would all be his fault. He couldn’t deal with that kind of pressure, so he postponed his failure (or success) by never having a project that could go to screen. The silly part about this is that when we had that treatment that actually attracted the talent required to make the movie, he should have pulled the trigger, gone to script, then made the sucker. At that point, the cast would have resulted in *some* box office, and would have been successful on DVD even if the film sucked. And there would have been other people who could have shared he blame if the film was a total stinker - you can blame the director or the star or even blame me.

There comes a time when the rewards outweigh the risks - or are at least equal - and it makes sense to just do it. You can’t succeed without the possibility of failure - and failure is not a bad thing. Failure is just a step on the road to success. In this case, the producer might have made a film for a major studio that would have been one of their big releases for the year. How many big studio films flop every year? MGM was coming off a string of flops - expensive flops - so this may have just been another MGM flop. Hey, it would be used in the same sentence as films that cost $100 million! That elevates the producer! Strange as it probably seems - being the producer of a $100 million film that flopped is better than being the producer of a $1 million film that does well for its budget. Same goes for writers, too. I wrote a film that made *five times* its production cost in profits! But I’m a footnote, and the writers of some big budget flop are popular because someone gambled $200 million on their last script.

This producer could not have failed even if he had failed - because he would move up a few rungs on the ladder. He would be making $10 million studio films instead of $2 million network MOWs. Um, the producer’s fee is much larger - even if the film tanks.

Before writing this blog entry I decided to look up the producer and see what happened to him. I had done this once before, but thought I’d check again. Well, he has disappeared from the face of the earth. His last credit was an MOW made before my association with him. His website is gone. His company is no longer listed anywhere (and hasn’t been for years). He is out of the business. MOWs were dying at the time we were working together, so he had to find a different kind of film to produce. Move forward because he could not move back. In a way, our project was the best way to keep his career as a producer - and it seems that he has lost that. Every time I search for him, I find nothing... not even a trace of him since our project.

Here’s the good news and bad news of it all: Hey, I paid rent and expenses for a year of freakin’ slave labor! And since the producer is MIA and our deal was for a treatment for Jamie Lee Curtis as a newlywed and one of the crappy treatments in Dubrovnik, I’m thinking the free treatments that I wrote are mine. I was not paid for them. How can anyone other than me own them? So the school teacher treatment is something I plan on developing - it was my idea and I think there may be a market for it. The great treatment I wrote that attracted the talent is also mine - written before the second treatment payment. The bad news on that - I was writing so many treatments on this project that somewhere along the line that one was saved over by another treatment. I *do* have a hard copy of that treatment... except for the last three pages of the 15! Somewhere along the line those pages fell off the original - damned Staples staples! - and I probably have the notes on how it ends somewhere.... Where did I put all of those 2002 notebooks? I only discovered the 3 missing pages over the holidays when I brought all of this stuff with me to clean it up and set it up as something I might write this year. Now, it looks like I’ll have to take some time to figure out what was on those last three pages - maybe I’ll script it next year.

I’m also looking at all of the other versions of the treatments for either scenes or storylines or characters that I can steal. The two college girls one I may completely re-treat and turn into a Hitchcock kind of thing in some country other than Portugal.

I call stuff like this my “Phantom Credits” - work you’ve done and were paid for that never ended up going to screen, so there’s nothing on IMDB about it. You look at 2002 and you think I did nothing that year - when the opposite is true. Many of those years without any IMDB credits were years where I worked my butt off and got paid for some project that never went to film. Maybe one out of ten of the scripts they pay for go to screen, which means for every credit you see on IMDB there are 9 more you do not see.

Because I write for production - I try not to write anything that will still take a number of steps before it can be made, or is impractical from a production point of view - I’ve managed to get a higher percentage of purchased projects on screen. But I still have a bunch of things on shelves all over town that will never get made. After five years, you can buy those scripts back at cost - what you were paid. I often wonder whether I should do that (I’ve bought back three scripts, and still own them). Usually I think the future scripts are better than the past scripts. The future scripts have *potential*.

- Bill

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Trailer Tuesday: THE DEVILS EIGHT (1969)

A slight break in Pandemic Cinema...

THE DEVIL'S EIGHT (1969)

Directed by: Burt Topper.
Written by: John Millius (THE WIND AND THE LION), Willard Huyck (AMERICAN GRAFFITI), Larry Gordon (48 HOURS), and James Gordon White (THE INCREDIBLE TWO HEADED TRANSPLANT *and* THE THING WITH TWO HEADS).
Starring: Christopher George, Ross Hagen, Fabian, Leslie Parrish, screenwriter Larry Bishop, Robert DoQui, Ron Riflkin (with hair!).
Produced by: Jack W. Cash.
Cinematography by: Richard C. Glouner (PAYDAY).
Music by: Michael Lloyd & Jerry Styner.




You may think that The Asylum Studios created the "mockbuster" movie like THE DAY THE EARTH STOPPED (which means it stood still) and many many others like I AM OMEGA (I AM LEGEND and OMEGA MAN), but coming up with a cheap knock off of a big budget studio film is nothing new in this business, and probably goes back to the silent era. So we are going to kill a couple of birds with the same stone in this entry and look at a B movie knockoff of THE DIRTY DOZEN which also happens to be ground zero for a bunch of screenwriters who would become very famous in five years and a co-star who has been in a couple of movies that I have written, and is one of those charismatic B actors who can take some stupid line that I wrote and deliver it as if it were Shakespeare and make me look good. I saw this film on the big screen at the New Beverly Cinema on a doubke bill with one of my favorite films, THE WIND AND THE LION, a few years back...



THE DEVILS 8 begins with a great opening scene, very much like the opening of 48 HOURS, chain gang somewhere in the South with prisoners doing backbreaking work (though, none of it made much sense - one guys was breaking rocks and another guy was throwing them in a lake! One guy was just sawing boards. But its was all hard work stuff) - then a fight breaks out between prisoners: one of them is our star Christopher George from RAT PATROL. Just like in 48 HOURS, the fight is a way for the prisoners to overpower the guards and escape. George grabs a bunch of prisoners - 8 of them - and says he has an escape route. They run through the woods, coming out at a clearing... where a huge helicopter lands! There are *military guys* with guns in the helicopter! George tells the guys not to worry - this is part of the plan. What plan?

Cool flashback to George and some hottie making out in a car when his carphone rings (when this film was made, that was sci-fi or James Bond) and it’s a mission. George has to stop making out and go to do some spy work. In this case - it’s breaking up a huge moonshine operation run by this GODFATHER-like guy named Burl, played by some fat old guy. Seems that Burl’s organization has Senators and Congressmen and Police and maybe even FBI guys on his payroll. He’s a big fish, and George is supposed to find some way to take him down.

We get out of the flashback in another cool screen-bending dissolve...

STRUCTURE FAILURE




And here’s where we begin to run into trouble. Because DEVILS 8 has some serious structure problems. Because it’s a knock off of THE DIRTY DOZEN, it kind of steals the way that film worked - where about half of the film is training a bunch of anti-authority criminals to become good enough soldiers to complete the mission... and all of the conflicts involved in having a dozen guys with bad attitudes who hate each other living under the same roof. Then, the last half is the mission against the Nazis - and how it goes wrong but they still manage to blow the hell out of the place. Okay, that works for DIRTY DOZEN because the mission is complicated and the guys are a major challenge to train. But in DEVILS, even though the guys are escaped prisoners and have all kinds of conflict with each other - including racial: Henry (Robert DoQui) is pretty much hated by everyone because he’s black - there isn’t a single psycho like Telly Savalas or a real hardcase like John Cassavetes. These 8 convicts may all be lifers, but they are reasonable guys. So the conflict between them is not as intense as it is in DOZEN. Plus, the training is, well, mostly lame. They wrestle. All at once. No one is trained in karate or something, they just all wrestle. They learn to shoot guns, but it’s kind of boring target practice without any tension. They learn to drive crappy cars through a slalom course of cones - wow! Though there are some car wrecks here that really help this section of the film - there aren’t enough crashes and they aren’t very cool and they aren’t *story related*. Just a car crashing in the middle of nowhere.

This half of the movie ends with some crazy stuff - throwing grenades out of cars for no apparent reason. Well, actually, by the end of the film they will have to do this, but in the training camp it makes no sense. And there isn’t any clear set up in this that pays off in that later scene - it’s just a scene where they get to blow up garbage cans with grenades - kind of false action.

They really needed to create conflicts between team members and milk them during the training scenes. This is usually where I bring up the large cast of characters in ALIENS and how we knew each one of them and they were *paired* in the story with the person they had the most conflict with. to keep even the small scenes full of conflict and drama and create arcs for each character... and that doesn't happen here. If they had done that, and then had some *real* hand to hand combat training instead of wrestling and some more interesting target practice (maybe some practice storming a house) and other things that could become very dangerous if your partner wanted to kill or eff you up, the first half of the film would have been entertaining (instead of a slog). Look for the *personal conflicts* in your story and pair up characters!

After their training is over, they go out to somewhere in the South where Burl’s moonshine gang rules the roads.

ROSS HAGEN - THIEF




And here’s the crazy part about this film - the star is Christopher George from RAT PATROL, but the great role in the film - the “lead” in a way - is Ross Hagen playing Frank Davis, ex-moonshine runner and ex-member of Burl’s Gang. Part of this may be Ross acting the hell out of his role, and part of it is that this is the most interesting character in the film once we get to moonshine country. Though Frank was an important character in the training scenes, when we get the ex-gang member back into gang country he becomes the center of the conflict. Ross (who passed away in 2011) was in a couple of films I’ve written, and was one of those actors that can turn the line “How are you?” into two dozen different things - he came to the show with interesting line readings you’d never considered or ever knew existed. He was a great actor for low budget movies because you just hire him and he gives a good performance. He had a bunch of low budget films and a whole bunch of TV guest star stuff on his resume...

But in DEVILS 8 he steals the film from Christopher George.

Steals it from the star.

In order to get him to work against his old gang, George tells him that it wasn’t cops who killed his brother, it was Burl. Now, we don’t know if that’s true or not at that point, and that’s a good technique to use in a script because it turns one moment into several moments. He tells Frank (Ross) that Burl killed his brother, and Frank has to deal with being betrayed by his own gang. Then Frank wonders if George lied to him in order to get him to work against his own gang - and there are some mistrust moments. Once they get to town, Frank discovers that Burl *did* kill his brother, and this confirmation takes us back to Frank feeling betrayed... and then angry... and then grabbing a weapon and going after Burl! Which will blow the whole operation!

George’s plan to take down Burl doesn’t make any sense, but here it is: The 8 are going to hijack whisky shipments until Burl comes to them and makes a deal that they should work together, and show them where the stills are, and tell them who all of the crooked cops and politicians are. Wouldn’t it be easier for Burl to just kill them all? Oddly enough, the plan works...



A couple of scenes later, Frank and George show up at Burl’s place... and guess who the gang boss is sleeping with? Cissy! And Frank has to just take it and not do anything when the man who killed his brother is also sleeping with the woman he loves! That *situation* makes Frank the most important character in the film. On a message board someone asked why we need a character arc, and I said my usual: that I like to think of it as the “emotional conflict” rather than the character arc because it covers more ground. This is a great example of an “emotional conflict” - Frank’s character doesn’t really have much of an arc. Sure, he goes from being a convict to a guy working with the feds, and he becomes more cooperative with George, but his plan is pretty much to kill the guy who killed his brother, and that plan doesn’t change. He wants revenge, he will get revenge. No real arc, there. But he goes through all kinds of emotional hell in this film. He goes back to his home town and is ostracized and has to watch Burl put his fat hands all over the woman he loves and wants to kill the sucker but can’t because it will blow the mission. Compare Ross Hagen’s role of Frank with Christopher George’s cool spy guy who has no emotional conflicts at all, and you wonder why Chris George didn’t demand to play Frank.

Oh, somewhere along here I recognized the fat actor who played Burl... as 1950s pretty boy actor Ralph Meeker (who played Mike Hammer in KISS ME DEADLY) - man, he got fat! One of the reasons I didn't recognize Meeker until late in the film is that he isn't credited in this film until the end. But Meeker went from pretty boy to playing pudgy Southern Cop roles in only a few years. He was a character actor on a million TV shows in the 70s, and retired after the killer pancake movie WITHOUT WARNING. Here he does a great job as the pudgy good old boy moonshiner.

THE OTHER 7






While Ross Hagen is stealing the film from the star, the other guys on the team kill time until the big ending by skinny dipping with hot girls from town and getting into bar room brawls. This stuff all seems like padding - and the big structure problems is that it *is* padding - the film has prison break in scene one and a big action scene at the end and the rest is mostly filler material. Some of it is entertaining filler material, but it kind of slows down the pacing because nothing *important* is happening. This movie gets the cat up the tree and then gets it down, but never throws rocks at it... and makes you realize how important structure is in a screenplay.

One thing I should mention are the characters of the other guys, because they are much better than most low budget exploitation flicks. Singer Fabian is one of the guys, I think the mechanic, and Ron Rifkin is one of the guys - but I have no idea which one because I did not recognize him. Rifkin was in the new version of A STAR IS BORN and on NEW AMSTERDAM (I have never watched that show) and was the evil Sloane on ALIAS (Okay, I have watched that one) and I know him as a middle aged man... and this film was made in 1969 - it was his very first film! I have no idea which one of those young guys was Rifkin. But he may or may not have been the drunk one.... One of the guys has been on the chain gang for a while and the first thing he thinks of when they escape is finding himself a drink. When they hijack Burl’s runners, he swipes some bottles for himself and gets really drunk... and becomes a problem because he’s an alcoholic working undercover as a rum-runner - and keeps getting drunk and screwing up. Except - while searching for something to drink, he spots a truck full of booze and climbs in... and the truck goes to the secret still compound. Now he is not only so drunk he can’t stand, he has the information the team needs for that big action ending.



And we get a big action ending where that throwing hand grenades from a moving car training comes in handy, and most of the 8 die glorious deaths. But the big end action scene is much simpler than the end scene in DIRTY DOZEN and shorter, too. So where DIRTY DOZEN has that big killer action end that is at least a full third of the film, DEVILS 8 has a good action ending but not good enough to make up for the padding that has come before it. Still, they blow up 3 or 4 big stills in towers and wreck any car they have not yet wrecked. The problem is, the action scene isn't fleshed out - it's too simple. Destroy the stills. Okay, they do that and the story is over. What they needed to so is come up with a series of steps and set backs on the way to destroying the stills and Burl's operation. This is why the *writing* is an important part of action scenes - you need to figure out all of the small conflicts and set backs along the way to the big explosion at the end. If you look at the end of 48 HOURS the end action scene is complicated - it begins with the hijacked bus, has a trade for the girl, a big crash and a shoot out and a moment where the regroup and then go to Chinatown for the final action sequence which is made up of several parts - the shoot out at the women's apartment where Billy Bear and Gance were hiding, the shootout with Billy Bear, a chase over Chinatown's rooftops (a maze chase) and finally a high noon shootout between Cates and Gance. All of these steps escalate the final action scene and keep it exciting with twists and turns - we don't just have the big shootout at the women's apartment and it's over, Billy Bear and Gance *escape* (setback) and then Billy Bear and Reggie have a shoot out scene and then we have the chase and then... It's not "they fight", it's a series of scenes and moments. The problem with the action scenes in DEVIL'S 8 is the complete lack of complications and details. For a drive in movie, it needed more action!

I should mention the music - there’s a theme song that’s okay, but the score was just awful. Mike Curb was to blame. It’s kind of SMOKEY & THE BANDIT funny good old boy music, when this film is not a comedy at all. There are scenes where characters are getting *hurt* and this goofy music is playing in the background. It did not work. The theme was fine - one of those ballad things.

THE DEVIL'S 8 is one of those throw away drive in movies they made back in the day, with some great performances and a bunch of screenwriters who would later become famous. Larry Gordon would produce John Millius's DILLINGER in 1973 and then produce Walter Hill's greatest hits. Maybe worth a look, just for the talent that would soon become famous.

- Bill

Writing Screenplays That Sell

Monday, April 27, 2020

New: LOGLINES, TREATMENTS, & PITCHING

It appears that I have a new book for 2020!

NEW!

bluebook

THE LOGLINES, TREATMENTS, & PITCHING Blue Book!

DISTILLING YOUR SCREENPLAY

Loglines, Treatments, Pitching, Look Books, Pitch Decks, One Pagers, Rip-O-Matics, oh my!

You have written a brilliant 110 page screenplay, but how do you get anyone to read it? You need to distill it down into some form of verbal moonshine or story rocket fuel that will ignite that bored development executive or manager or agent and get them to request your screenplay. But how do you shrink those 110 pages into a 25 word logline or a 2 minute elevator pitch or a one page synopsis or a short paragraph?

How do you take that brilliant visual told story and great characters and snappy dialogue and dramatic moments and spectacular conflict and distill it into 25 words? How is that even possible? And keep it so interesting that that bored development executive reads it and wants to buy your screenplay and turn it into a movie that will make people laugh and cry and kiss $12 goodbye? The most common way is by crafting an amazing logline – rocket fuel – that will make people in the industry want to read your screenplay. The first thing that anyone asks about your screenplay is “What's it about?” and a logline is the answer. They have been used in the film business for almost 100 years, and are the secret to breaking in.

In this just under 100,000 word book we will look at all forms of “distilled story” that you are likely to encounter as a screenwriter, and take you step-by-step through the creation. We will look at the most effective ways to pitch your screenplay, and how the pitch reveals problems with your screenplay. Just about every question that you might have is answered in this book! Including how to use Look Books as a creative tool as well as a sales tool, and why some commercial pitch platforms may be a waste of money. We look at the 4 types of pitches, how a one page synopsis is a “birth to death” element of your screenplay – you may use one to sell the screenplay, and the distributor may use that same one pager on the back of the Blu-ray box! The critical elements needed in any logline. And much more!

So, what's your logline?

THE LOGLINES, TREATMENTS, & PITCHING Blue Book! - On SALE - Only $3.99!

Here's the plan: I want this book to be #1 on Amazon's Screenwriting List on Wednesday 4/29. So if you guys tell your screenwriting and film fan friends about this book - and the plan to make it #1 on Amazon on Wednesday!

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UK Folks Click Here.

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Friday, April 24, 2020

Gus Van Hitchcock's PSYCHO

From back in 2009... so that must have been Raindance 2004

Five years ago at the Raindance Film Festival, I met these crazy guys from The Media Lounge who make film collages that play in London night clubs. They had a feature length program playing in the festival called BRING ME THE HEAD OF ROB LOWE, which had me laughing so hard I almost passed out. Basically it was a bunch of great short pieces connected by DVD extra interviews with Robe Lowe where he said *the exact same thing* in a different location. One of the great short bits was where they mixed up the audio track of one movie trailer with the video of another... and they matched! So, the audio voice over from some cute family film with the video from some violent action flick - and the words seemed to describe the images.

I wondered what those guys were up to... and they have a bunch of collage movies on YouTube, including this mash up of PSYCHO and the remake, set to music.





- Bill



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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

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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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Thursday, April 23, 2020

THRILLER Thursday: Letter To A Lover

SEASON 2!!!



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



Season: 2, Episode: 8.
Airdate: Nov. 13, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty.
Writer: Donald S. Sanford based on a play by Sheridan Gibney..
Cast: Ann Todd, Murray Matheson, Felix Deebank.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “It is said that sins only speak, but murder shreiks out. And yet the victim’s employee has stripped the scene of clues. Well, she’s obviously covered up for someone, you say. But for whom? The late doctor, or perhaps one of the surviving members of our cast? Look closely and see if you can pick the killer. Is it Sylvia Lawrence played by Ann Todd? Or her loving husband Andrew played by Murray Matheson? It might even be Donald Carvers, Sylvia’s old beau played by Felix Deebank. Or Nurse Webber portrayed by Avis Scott. Now which one of them made the fatal inciusion with the good doctor’s own scalpel? That my friends is the question we are about to explore. But just one word of caution - keep your eyes and ears alert, for as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, I promise you a solution full of surprises! We’ve dallied long enough, let’s get to the heart of the matter!” (And he shoves the scalpel into the heart of a cut-away dummy with organs on display.)

Synopsis: Sylvia Lawrence (Anne Todd) is leaving her doctor’s office, sees a man in the hallway and hides. When the coast is clear she leaves the building, walking out to the street and into the subway (this is London) where Andrew (Murray Matheson) is sitting in his car watching. When she’s gone, Andrew enters the building... and then a taxi pulls up in front of the building and Nurse Webber (Avis Scott) steps out - she has a terrible scar on her face - and pays off the driver. Webber enters the doctor’s office and Andrew hides behind a file cabinet... sneaking out once she’s far enough inside (though she does catch a glimpse of him), then Nurse Webber spots the dead Doctor Evans on the sofa, stabbed with his own scalpel! Then she spots a note on the doctor’s desk... and a handkerchief clue. She cleans up the crime scene, removing some evidence, then calls the police. The opening minutes are like a French farce!

Sylvia arrives at Donald Carver’s (Felix Deebank) flat, says “Donald, I had to!” and promptly faints. He brings smelling salts and she wakes to tell him she wasn’t feeling well so she stopped by (because if you feel ill, best place to go is your ex-boyfriend’s place). Donald wants to know if she has split with her husband. She answers no, he isn’t happy about that but before he can even pour himself a drink she’s split!

She takes a taxi home, where luggage is in the entry hall. Andrew steps out - kind of a reveal that he’s her husband - and tells her that they have a long drive ahead of them, doesn’t she remember? For whatever illness she was seeing the doctor, one of the symptoms is memory loss. Andrew tells her that they’ve been planning this trip to the country house to get away from it all. She doesn’t remember.

The foggy country house. There’s a moment of schlock shock where the guard dog barks at her. The country house is old and dark and spooky and all of the furnishings are shrouded in cloths. When Sylvia isn’t looking he yanks the telephone cord from the wall.

Over a week later, and the shrouds are off the furniture... and Sylvia wants to drive into the village. She hasn’t left the house. Andrew says some other day, it’s raining. The Mail Man comes, and Sylvia quickly jots a letter and seals it in an envelope, and gives it to him and says if her husband asks not to tell him... it’s a surprise. Andrew asks the Mail Man if his wife gave him anything, and the Mail Man refuses to answer - but if she had, once anything is given to a Mail Man it’s in the hands of the government. The Mail Man has a note for Andrew... to meet Nurse Webber at the local pub.

Nurse Webber recognized Andrew as the man from the crime scene and wants some money for retrieving the note from the dead doctor’s desk - record of Sylvia’s appointment at the time of the doctor’s murder. She still has all of the other evidence including Sylvia’s monogrammed handkerchief - and she needs a regular monthly payment. Andrew says he can give her a job as a maid at the country house.

Later, Donald arrives at the country house after getting her letter. Sylvia tells him that she’s a prisoner here, then the not-quite-as-spooky-as-Mrs Danvers-from-REBECCA Nurse Webber interrupts them. Sylvia tells her, “There’ll be a guest for dinner.” Donald and Sylvia have a soap opera conversation, part of which has to do with Andrew having a heart condition. Then Andrew comes downstairs and they have one of those soap opera awkward conversations between two men in love with the same woman. When Sylvia leaves to dress for dinner (not that she was in a bathrobe previously - these people put on formal wear in the country house to *eat*), Andrew asks Donald what was in the letter Sylvia sent him. But that’s when Nurse Webber enters to say that someone let the dog out, and Andrew has to go chase it down... in his tuxedo.

This gives Donald time to search Andrew’s study for a gun while simultaneously calling London to find out about Andrew’s heart doctor... who has changed his name to... Evans! The same doctor that Sylvia had! The same doctor who was murdered! That’s when Andrew shows up and tells Donald that Sylvia murdered Doctor Evans, and he has brought her here to protect her. Sylvia was having an affair with Doctor Evans...

Later, Sylvia tells Andrew that Dr. Evans was dead when she got there - even though she seemed to have had a drink with him as Nurse Webber found a martini glass with Sylvia’s lipstick on it. Andrew says he hired Dr. Evans to meet Sylvia at a party and begin an affair with her (?) in order to diagnose Sylvia (who refused to see a doctor for her condition, whatever it might be). Sylvia accuses Andrew of being crazy.

When Andrew goes into town for supplies, Donald breaks into the house - he wants to know if Sylvia was cheating on both her husband and Donald with Dr. Evans? But Andrew hasn’t gone into town, he somehow knew Donald would show up and calls the police to say that he shot a prowler and then points his gun at Donald. He wants the letter that Sylvia sent... for reasons that don’t make much sense. But he does admit to killing Dr. Evans because he was afraid Evans might tell Sylvia what was wrong with him (Andrew). Donald hands over the letter, which ends up saying nothing incriminating about Andrew, and then tells Sylvia that he’s breaking it off with her because she refuses to leave Andrew, and things get soapier than a year of Days Of Our Lives...

And then the Police show up... about the prowler. Then leave.

Then Andrew kills himself. And Donald leaves so that he has an alibi, and in the morning Sylvia is supposed to get Nurse Webber to open the study door to discover the corpse... except the next morning when Nurse Webber opens the door there is no sign of Andrew or the gun or any blood or brain matter. And his car is gone.

Sylvia goes to London to see Donald - but he isn’t home... but there’s a Detective (Jack Greening) at his house. They were tipped off that she and Donald were going to leave the country. Huh?

The Detective drivers her back to the Country House... where all of the furniture is shrouded again. The Detective wants to know what’s going on... and that’s when Nurse Webber comes in and accuses Sylvia of murdering Doctor Evans, who was Webber’s... Husband! And she accuses Sylvia of murdering Andrew. They found Andrew’s body in his car in the river, they’re pulling it out now.

The Detective leaves, and then Andrew sneaks in with a gun - he’s done this whole scheme to make it look as if Sylvia killed him. Andrew is crazy - paranoid and delusional. Sylvia wants to stall him until the Detective returns, so Andrew pours two drinks and puts poison in one. They drink, the Detective returns to arrest Sylvia, sees Andrew and just accepts that he’s alive, and then Donald enters out of nowhere with a doctor’s note from Andrew’s previous psychiatrist which says he’s crazy and capable of murder. And then the Detective arrests the murderer of Dr. Evans... Nurse Webber! Then Andrew drops dead - he poisoned himself. It’s like freakin’ Hamlet!

Review: It’s almost as if there was a saboteur in the production company or something. Every time they seem to get a series of good episodes in a row going, someone screws it up with an episode like this... usually based on a novel or in this case a stage play. These episodes are usually not horror or thriller, but some sort of mystery or drama. Hey, I love mysteries! But the episodes of this show that really work are the horror and suspense tales, that’s what makes it unique in the world of anthology shows.

I think one of the problems with adapting a novel or stage play is that they are longform type stories and you really need to identify the core story and jettison all of the subplots. Here we have a stage play that may have been three acts and over two hours on stage, but they try to cram all of it into the 45-50 minutes of an hour long TV show. So some of it seems like a soap opera - too many plot threads and plot twists in too little time. And these subplots all eat away at the main plot and rob the story of suspense and character and make the twists seem silly.

You know what else goes missing when you have this many subplots and this much plot crammed into a single episode? What the hell is the letter from the lover? There is a letter in this story, but it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the story. She invites Donald to the country house... but that’s not a big enough deal to name the story after the letter. I suspect the letter was a bigger deal in the stage play, and just got lost in the translation to 45-50 minutes.

The episodes that seem to work best on this show are longish short stories (Novelettes) which seem to adapt to very close to 45-50 minutes (minus head and tail credits and Karloff’s introduction). The Woolrich stories they have done fit the running time perfectly without padding or cutting, same with the Bloch stories. Those are the ones I’ve read before and after seeing the episodes. Why can I figure this out, but the producers keep trying to cram a full novel’s worth of story into 45 minutes? Seems like sabotage to me!

We’re probably going to do another rerun next week, because I’ll be watching the Oscars this weekend!

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

2002: Year Of The Treadmill (part three)

A rerun from 11 years ago at this time, about something that happened just over 18 years ago...

Our story so far...



A producer with a deal at MGM wanted me to write a script for him, so I began (as usual) by pitching 5 story ideas... for Jamie Lee Curtis as the lead, which could be shot as a piggy-back on another project he had going in New Zealand. He liked an idea about newlyweds on vacation, the husband is kidnapped and the wife has to get him back. I wrote a 15 page treatment, which he loved... but then he changed his mind and wanted to shoot in Mexico, so the treatment became about a mother and son whose yacht comes to port in Mexico, and the son is kidnapped and the mom has to go Rambo to get him back. He loved that treatment, too, but wanted to change the lead to a girl in her mid-20s, and shoot in Portugal. So I came up with 5 ideas, pitched them, and he picked one and we wrote up a treatment... and several treatments later we were doing a male lead martial arts film in Dubrovnik.

So far, I had only been paid to write the original treatment and the others were “free rewrites” - just with completely different stories and locations and lead characters. After doing a few more treatments I decided I’d had enough of this, and I was going to write a *great* treatment that would cause the producer to pull the trigger and go to script (where I would get another check) and maybe we’d be making a movie. This new treatment was better than BOURNE - it had all kinds of great action scene ideas you’ve never seen before and a cool story idea about an attempt to assassinate Kofi Annan. We need to get to scripts soon, because we’re shooting in September... But then we lost our star... when he didn’t become a star, after playing a pivotal role in both MATRIX sequels.

seinfeld DVD - Buy it!
And someplace around here it became a bigger project - after reading the new treatment they wanted to spend the full $10 million on this film! It would be a big MGM theatrical release starring... Jean Claude Van Damme with action director Ringo Lam. Cool! My first big theatrical release! Ringo Lam is a Hong Kong action director, and I’m a big fan of his work. The female lead looked like it was going to be that French girl from MISSION IMPOSSIBLE and some other name actors were up for supporting roles.

I tell the producer I’m tired of writing treatments and would like to go to script. Maybe verbally pitch the next version, and if he likes it I’ll script it instead of treatment it. He’s not sure about that idea - what if something happens after we go to script and we need to do a page one? I tell him we need to make up our minds because September is right around the corner. We need a script. The producer writes me a check... for another treatment. Not the script check. I am happy, sort of. This is paying the bills but not even coming close to paying for the work.

The amazing thing is that I have now been paid twice for the "same treatment" - even though it has really been dozens of treatments. Often producers don't want to pay you for the treatment at all, and often (subtext: usually) I'm okay with that. A treatment is the path to a script, and if doing a week's work gets me a script gig, that's a nice incentive. But I am also used to producers who are in the business of making movies. One of the reasons why I liked this producer is because he came from the world of MOWS (movies of the week) where you often get hired knowing that the movie will air at 9pm on September 17th on ABC, and everything is a race to get the script done so that they can start production. MOW producers don't endlessly develop like this... they make movies.

Many producers seem to be in the business of developing scripts, not making movies. I have no idea how they stay in business and keep their offices on the studio lots, but they almost never actually make a film. A few years back Sean Connery sued a producer because he didn't make movies - including a couple with Connery attached. These producers will have you read a stack of books to pitch your take on them... but never actually turn any of those books into scripts. Or they buy scripts and cycle through a half dozen writers doing rewrites on a script that will never be a movie. I don't understand these producers - who aspires to be the gelding at a stud farm?

For a writer, you can easily get trapped doing a year of reading books and giving your take, or reading scripts they've bought and pitching your rewrite, or just doing endless meetings where nothing ever comes of it. All of the money you've banked from the last script deal for that rainy day? Well, this is a rainy *year* - where you work your butt off on projects for some producer who doesn't actually make movies... they just develop scripts.

seinfeld DVD - Buy it!
Only I've been paid *twice* for this treatment - a miracle!

Of course, the producer threw out the treatment that everybody loved - because he had a better idea. By now, the “better ideas” were all much worse than what had come before. In the next version the hero was just a bodyguard who wasn't really trying to stop the assassination - he just kind of stumbled around and eventually ended up stopping the assassination by accident... with many many many other weird changes. It was total crap, and I was afraid I’d be stuck writing the script version... we were running out of time.

The producer had MGM and Ringo Lam and Jean Claude Van Damme all waiting for the script... which I hadn't started because he kept throwing out treatments. Every couple of weeks I’d write a new 15 page treatment and then he’d throw it out and come up with a different idea and a different location and a different co-star and a different job for the hero and a different everything else! And September was right around the corner! Everybody wants to know where the script is - and I tell the producer we need to decide on a story so that I can start writing the script. Though I’m a fast writer, it’s still going to take a month. The producer postponed the film until October... and that was kind of the last possible month to start shooting before Dubrovnik became neck-deep in snow.

MGM was wondering where the script was. Jean Claude Van Damme was wondering where the script was. Ringo Lam was wondering where the script was. We needed to take a treatment to script if we were going to beat the snow.

I went to the next meeting with a copy of the best version of the Kofi Annan assassination treatment. Because we had to go to script RIGHT NOW to avoid the snow, I wanted to make sure we took the best story to script. I was prepared to fight for that version.

The producer said he didn’t like the Kofi Annan version, and he had some new ideas to “improve” the stumbling bodyguard version. I said we didn’t have time to do a new version and still film in Dubrovnik before it was neck-deep in snow. I thought the weather would end up being the thing that made the producer make up his mind so that we could go to script... no such luck! The producer said - we’ll move the story to South Africa, where weather isn’t a problem.


I wanted to jump across the desk and strangle him. It was time to get off the pot and go to script. I had a great treatment - the one that got us a cast and director onboard - and instead we keep throwing away treatments and changing them into crap and not getting any closer to script. Instead of strangling him, I lost my temper. Now, even when I lose my temper I’m still fairly calm and reasonable. I’m still interested in explaining why I am right and they are wrong. And I don’t make it all about my emotions - I make it about the *evidence*, the *reasons* why I believe one method is better than another. But one thing I have learned in my travels in Hollywood - most people don’t give a damn if you can prove they are completely wrong, because they’re “mommy” and that makes them always right - even if they are wrong. This big ego thing gets in the way of making rational decisions. The more you can show them that their method won’t work, the more they fight for it. So, I leave the meeting with a new meeting in a week where I am supposed to deliver a treatment that takes place in South Africa... and has to do with diamond smuggling.

So, we have no Jean-Claude Van Damme, no Ringo Lam... and my guess is that MGM might lower our budget unless we can find a new star and a new hot director. Nice to have another treatment check, but we are no closer to going to script than we were when I started this project months and months ago. Will these treatments ever stop?

Well, you can find out in the last part next Wednesday...

- Bill


Because the comments on this blog entry contain references to these elements from when I first ran it in 2009...

Yesterday’s Dinner: Gilled Cheese sandwiches at the Standard downtown with a couple of attractive women, which are not nearly as good as the ones in the Library. A whole weekend of drinking and eating to excess at the Fango horror movie convention.

Movies on TV...
Saturday, April 25th, M4M2 (UK) 13:50 - Black Thunder - When the world's most powerful stealth jet fighter falls into enemy hands, only one man can get it back. Starring Michael Dudikoff.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Trailer Tuesday: OHMSS (1969)

ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969)

Directed by: Peter Hunt.
Written by: Richard Maibaum based on the novel by Ian Fleming.
Starring: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas.
Produced by: Broccoli & Saltzman.
Music by: John Barry, maybe his best Bond score.
Cinematography by: Michael Reed.


If you ask real James Bond fans what the best Bond film is, the answer you will usually get is: ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE.

"Huh? Never heard of it? Was it a Roger Moore or a Sean Connery?"
Neither.
"Then it had to be the Timothy Dalton one I didn't see."
Not Dalton either.
"I was sure I saw all of the Brosnan movies, even the silly ones where Denise Richards was a scientific genius and the one where the car ice skates on its roof. And I saw all of the recent ones with Daniel Craig, even the terrible one that came after CASINO ROYALE."
It was the one that starred George Lazenby.
"Who?"



Lazenby played Bond in one film, between Connery and... Connery. After YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE Connery walked away from the series to do something else... and they did one of those worldwide searches for the next James Bond and came up with this guy Lazenby... from Australia! Compared to Connery, Lazenby was... a little light. He was a male model, not an actor, and where Connery could deliver a quip with an underlying threat, Lazenby’s delivery of quips was a little more like Moore. Audiences rejected him, and his agents screwed things up so that he wouldn’t be in a second film - even though this film was originally made to set up the next film in the series.

So he ends up the only one film Bond, with Connery returning two years later for DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, and then Moore takes over... except for the parallel universe Bond movie NEVER SAY NEVER. So he had this one Bond film (and he’s really not bad) and it’s what is probably the best of all Bond films. After Connery’s films were getting too gadget filled and beginning to creep into that over-the-top tone that the Moore films would thrive in, the decision was made to tone this one down and be more faithful to the Fleming novel... which was more of a straight forward spy film, even though it was written post THUNDERBALL and included the mega-villain Blofeld and SPECTRE instead of the Russians and SMERSH, as the books before McClory came along did. This was more like FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE in tone - even with the mega-villain. And Connery almost starred. Originally this was going to come right after McClory’s THUNDERBALL to kind of correct course, but the problem was - there was no snow! This story involves epic ski chases, and for that you need a snowy winter. So the Japan based YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE was made instead... and Connery decided that would be his last Bond film. So they scrambled to find a replacement, and ended up with this Lazenby fellow.

The reason why this is often considered the best in the series by fans is due to that course correction back to the FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE tone - it’s a great mix of amazing action and exotic locations and real suspense scenes along with great characters and real emotions. This is the movie where James Bond gets married, where James Bond cries. You may think that both of those are out of character, but that is what makes this film special - we get to see a different side of Bond as well as the usual stuff. And Lazenby knows how to throw a punch! He did most of his own stunts (broke his arm doing a skiing stunt, so in some scenes he has his coat over his arm to hide the cast) and broke a stuntman’s nose in a fight scene. Australia!

BOND MEETS HIS MATCH
The story opens without showing Bond’s face as he speeds down a winding ocean side road in the latest model Aston-Martin, and is passed by a beautiful woman - Tracy (Diana Rigg) in a red Mercury Cougar convertible. When he lights a cigarette we can see his face for the first time - a new Bond (George Lazenby). He pulls off the road when he spots Tracy’s parked car and watches as she attempts to commit suicide by walking into the sea - and speeds down to rescue her. After setting her down on the sand, he is suddenly attacked by two men - and we get a vicious fight scene that uses boat anchors and oars and everything else as weapons - the thing that I loved about the Connery fight scenes was that they were brutal and inventive and it always seemed like stunt men might have actually been hurt in the process. This is one of those fight scenes. Great way to start a movie. After Bond beats both of the much larger guys, Tracy gets into her car and speeds off... and Bond races to his car and tries to speed after her...

Spotting her car parked in front of a luxury hotel and casino.

Bond and Tracy hook up after some gambling.

The next morning, she is gone... and so is his gun.


Hey, I have just left out another freaking brutal fight scene between Bond and a HUGE guy in Tracy’s hotel room - she gave him the key, and instead of being greeted by her he almost gets his ass whipped, then goes back to his own room and finds her in bed waiting for him - and a suspense scene where that HUGE guy goes to Bond’s room while he and Tracy are screwing and almost breaks in... then decides not to. There are too many fight scenes and suspense scenes in this movie to mention all of them, so just assume that there are a couple between every scene that I do mention. (That’s why this is a fan favorite - no shortage of action and suspense).

When Bond leaves the hotel, that HUGE guy and another guy are waiting for him in the parking area... with Bond’s gun. They kidnap him (after a fight) and take him in a suspense filled scene to the docks where he meets...

Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti) who is the head of the Corsican mob - but like all mobsters he has a front in construction. He is Tracy’s father, and tries to convince Bond to be Tracy’s Bodyguard/Lover/Role Model because she is wild and needs to be tamed. He offers Bond a bunch of money... but Bond explains that he’s an agent of Her Majesty’s Secret Service and what he really wants is information of Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas this time around) and his cat. Draco says that might be possible...

TWO FILMS IN ONE!

When Bond shows up at M’s office and throws his hat and flirts with Moneypenny and gets chewed out and taken off the Blofeld case and hands in his resignation, he goes back to Draco and accepts the deal - he will date and maybe even marry Tracy in exchange for information on Blofeld. The film does a great job of balancing these two storylines - Bond & Tracy and Bond vs. Blofeld with many overlapping scenes. We get a personal story about a side of Bond that we don’t normally see, and probably the most exciting Bond story... which includes a virus designed to spread throughout the world.

We get a great suspense scene where Bond breaks into Blofeld’s lawyer’s office while the lawyer is away for lunch and cracks his safe using a computerized safe cracking machine that has been “airlifted” by crane into the upper floor office from one of Draco’s construction sites across the street. Bond has to get the safe open, photocopy all of the Blofeld documents, close the safe and get the safe cracking computer back on the crane and leave the office in an hour... and the lawyer comes back a little early. This is a cool scene and works really well - with the added bonus of having Bond reading Playboy while the safe cracking computer is trying every possible combination. He steals the Playboy magazine and passes the lawyer on the way out... still reading it.

Bond discovers that Blofeld is in the Swiss Alps doing some kind of allergy research and trying to assume the fortune and royal title of Count Bleauchamp by hiring noted genealogist Sir Hillary Bray to prove his lineage...

CONNECTIONS

Which brings us to a great story element - everything is connected in this story. The title is about *royalty* (Her Majesty) and that connects all kinds of things in the story and film. The color *purple* - a royal color - is present in the decor of the casino and some other locations. Tracy is actually a Contessa - Corsican royalty. Blofeld has a two pronged plan, one of the major elements is to prove that he is the Baron Bleauchamp (royalty) so that he can have access to that family’s money and throne and respect. The way Bond gets into Blofeld’s stronghold is by pretending to be Sir Hillary Bray - an expert on royal families and genealogy. Every danged thing in this film is about *royalty* (even the curtains and wallpaper) - and echoes back to the film’s title. The title sequence features a crown!

As I have said in some of my books and a bunch of articles in Script Magazine, *everything* in a film is connected. Everything. That is a basic of storytelling - Unity. A good film has it...

When Bond shows up at Draco’s birthday extravaganza to start his relationship with Tracy, as per his deal with Draco, she bolts. This woman is Bond’s equal, and has figured out there’s a deal and doesn’t want any damned man who is bought for her by daddy. Bond chases after her, finds her crying, and tells her that his emotions can’t be bought... and they begin an actual romance. Which includes lots of horse riding montages. But just when it looks like there may be an actual love connection here...

Bond has to go to Blofeld’s stronghold, disguised as Sir Hillary Bray, and do a version of that PBS show FINDING YOUR ROOTS with Ernst Stravro Blofeld. And Tracy breaks up with him forever.

VILLAIN’S FORTRESS

Blofeld’s stronghold is a mystery, and when Bond (as Bray) gets off the train in Switzerland he is met by Rosa Kleb clone Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat) - Blofeld’s henchperson... Blofeld likes to promote evil women with German accents. They are followed by a suspicious man in a Volkswagen Bug named Campbell (Bernard Horsfall) who ends up the Felix Lieter clone in this story... but at this point we don’t know if he is a good guy or a bad guy, which creates some suspense. Bunt is in a horse drawn sleigh which can cover terrain that the Volkswagen can not - and Campbell loses them when they get into a helicopter and fly away. All of this is a great build up to the reveal of the villain’s fortress...

The helicopter lands on the roof of a mountain top stronghold right out of a James Bond film... that was actually a restaurant in real life. But this place is crazy megavillain hide out looking. Inside, Bunt introduces Bond to a group of super hot young women in their 20s from all over the world who are there for allergy treatments. We will later learn that these are Blofeld’s “Angels Of Death”, so I am just going to call them that. These women have been at the mountaintop stronghold for a long time without any male companionship, so you can guess what is going to happen. I mean, Bond and Tracy have broken up, he’s kind of on the rebound, and in a room full of hot and horny women of every race and country?

One of them - the English Girl - is played by an impossible young Joanna Lumley from AB-FAB... and there’s a great scene where Bond is in a formal kilt at dinner and she writes her room number in lipstick on his upper thigh. Bond breaks out of his room at night, sleeps with her and another girl and does some general sneaking around. He verbally spars with Blofeld a bit about his claims of royalty - trying to get him to leave the stronghold and go someplace where he can be arrested, but that doesn’t work.


One night while sneaking into rooms to have some more sex with all of these hot young women, Bond discovers that they girls aren’t here for allergy treatment. Producer Harry Saltzman, who made IPCRESS FILE, uses the (real CIA MKULTRA) mind control methods again, but this time it’s Blofeld saying “Listen to me”. He is brainwashing the girls to become his agents - and he has created viruses that will be passed by the hot babes (one from every country in the world) and destroy the world's food supply... and then a virus that will make everyone very very sick. This plan is really topical now - not just due to COVID-19, but there is also lots of concern about modified grains and animals and the health risks of eating them. GMOs? Cloned corn anyone? How about cloned cows? Or mad cow disease? (Which gets a mention in this film.) All of these things are part of Blofeld's plot to control the world. It's always the world - no one ever wants to control Canarsie, NY. Why is that?

But this 1969 evil villain’s plan seems even more relevant today. I wondered why they haven’t remade it with Daniel Craig - and the Bond quits HMSS and gets married elements fit the Craig version of Bond. I think this was a lost chance at an amazing movie. Oh, and it’s a Christmas film! It takes place in the days leading up to Christmas, and there’s even a song about Christmas Trees that will get on your nerves and the virus is in an aerosol spray given to the Angeles Of Death as Christmas gifts!

HERO & VILLAIN

As usual, Blofeld is a few steps ahead of Bond and knows that he isn’t Sir Hillary Bray, and captures him so that he can explain the details of his plan and then lock up Bond in a completely escape proof room - the mechanical room for the overhead cable cars that connect the stronghold on the top of the mountain to the ski village below. Great suspense scene as Bond tries to escape by climbing up the giant gears to the cable that leads outside, where he can maybe find some way to climb up the side of the building - but the cable cars keep going back and forth - causing the giant gears to move and almost crush him and then the cable that he is holding onto pulls him out of the building and hundreds of feel over the edge of the mountain. Feet dangling.

One of the great things about this scene and the fight scenes and all of the rest of the action is that Lazenby does many of his own stunts. Though it isn’t him dangling from the cable over nothing, it is him in some of the scary and hairy scenes with the gears. And in fight scenes - Lazenby the non-actor was famous on set for bringing his brawling past to the fights... and actually connecting every once in a while... breaking a stuntman’s nose in a scene. There are enough shots where you can see that it is Lazenby doing the stunt that it sells all of the places where a stuntman takes over. Most of the shots with him in the grinding gears is actually him.

Bond escapes the mechanical room and climbs up the side of the building like Cary Grant in NORTH BY NORTHWEST and sneaks back inside just in time to hear Blofeld’s final mind control instructions to the Angels Of Death - as they open their Christmas presents. Make up kits, where the compact is a secret radio receiver and the perfume spray is a deadly virus. Blofeld will radio the IPCRESS command phrase when they are supposed to release the virus, if his multimillion dollar demands and his royal title requirements are not met. As royalty Blofeld will be some form of above the law - so he will get away with all of this... and now we enter the non-stop action phase of the film.

AMAZING CHASES

Bond is discovered, the Angels Of Death are sent by cable car down to the village to be dispersed to all of the corners of the world, and Bond must stop them... which requires that he ski down the mountain chased by Blofeld’s army who have machine guns as well as skis. This is one of the greatest ski chases ever filmed - exciting and filled with insane stunts, and shot with “you are there” angles by Olympic skier Willy Bogner - who skied backwards holding the camera while doing insane moves, and some amazing moving overhead shots - thanks to a crazy basket rig under a helicopter that allowed a camera man to swing back and forth while being suspended under the chopper as they followed the action. If the ski chase seems slightly familiar to you it’s because this is Christopher Nolan’s favorite James Bond film and he swiped part of it for a dream in INCEPTION. This is one of two amazing ski chases in the film. Oh, lots of machine guns and skiing off cliffs and other fun stuff. Oh, and a skier gets ground up in a snow plow! This is one of the high points of any Bond film.

When Bond evades Blofeld and his skiing army, he ends up in the ski village which is packed with tourists celebrating the holidays, and we have a great suspense hide and go seek version of the Junkanoo chase in THUNDERBALL with Bond trying to blend into the crowd as he is hunted by Blofeld’s army. There’s a great fight scene in a shed filled with giant bells in here, where Bond is trying to be quiet so as not to attract the other bad guys as he fights one of them - and the danged bells keep ringing! Again, the imagination involved in these fight scenes is great - it’s not just a fight scene, it’s in a room filled with bells of all sizes which clang and bring more badguys. This also is a great illustration of “Hitchcock’s Chocolates” - the idea of using all of the things that we associate with a location into the story. Make a list of things that you might find in an Alpine ski resort and it ends up in this chase and fight scene.

He eventually hides out at a skating rink- trying to blend in - while Bunt leads the search for him... and a pair of sexy women’s legs skate right up to him! Caught? He looks up to see... Tracy. How did she find him? She asked her father where Bond was. Does she have a car? This is another example of how the two plots, personal and action, logically connect throughout the story. Because Bond has quit HMSS and is using Draco’s criminal and business connections to infiltrate Blofeld’s stronghold - from using Draco’s construction company to get the safe cracking equipment hoisted to Blofeld’s lawyer’s office, to a later use of Draco’s helicopters and criminal army, to things like this - not a coincidence that those sexy skater legs belong to Tracy... that love story element is logically connected.

BOND & TRACY

Now we get an epic car chase as Bunt chases Bond and Tracy in her Cougar down very icy roads and narrow snow plowed roads that seem more like bobsled slaloms. There is some "drifting" before that was even a word - which is really cool on icy roads! Lots of machine gun fire, here, too! They end up crashing into a stock car race - part of the festivities - and now we have a car chase in a circle with a bunch of other cars that are just part of the race and don’t have machine guns. This is one of those silly Roger Moore things that were beginning to intrude on the series... but maybe the only one in this film. I always call YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE the “Indiana Jones James Bond Film” because it’s out of the fry pan into the fire - one bad situation creating the next, and sometimes without much logic. Though this film minimizes that, it pops up in the stock car race in the snow in an Alpine skiing village.

They end up winning the race, evading Bunt and her machine guns, and hiding themselves and the car in an old barn for the night... where Bond proposes marriage to Tracy. She is the perfect match for him. The strong woman who compliments him. She’s wild, but so is he. They make love, and he tells her that he will have to quit Her Majesty’s Secret Service because it is too dangerous for a married man. This is a great scene - human and romantic and shows us a side of Bond that we have never seen before. It’s also funny and playful - there’s almost a call-back to GOLDFINGER when Bond insists that Tracy sleep in a haycart so that she will be a virgin on their wedding night (too late!) and then topples the haycart so that she rolls into his arms. They’ll practice safe distancing after they are officially engaged.

The next morning Blofeld and Bunt storm the old barn!

And find it empty - except for Tracy’s Mercury Cougar.

Bond and Tracy heard them coming and skied away...

Another exciting epic ski chase, but this time Blofeld uses a mini rocket launcher to cause an avalanche! Bond and Tracy must out-ski the avalanche! Really exciting scene as they almost succeed in outrunning the massive avalanche... They almost make it, but are buried in the snow. Blofeld and his army come after them, and capture Tracy... but Bond manages to escape.

Leaving behind the woman he loves.

LEAVING HMSS

Bond asks M for help rescuing Tracy, but is refused - Blofeld holds all of the cards. He is threatening the world with his killer virus, and everyone has decided to pay him. The threat of the virus is something that no government is really equipped to deal with. It’s a war from inside. Even if they know who all of the Angels Of Death are, there is no way to find them and isolate them before Blofeld’s deadline. Easier to pay his demands. Too bad about Tracy...

Tracy, as Blofeld’s captive, is trying to outsmart him and get as much information about his plan as she can... maybe she will be able to hep stop the spread of the virus if she can escape? This is a great Diana Rigg scene - she verbally spars with Blofeld and shows that she really is Bond’s equal. This is the scene that is usually *Bond* verbally sparring with the villain, where we learn some details of his plan, but instead of Bond being captured and watching the end of the world on television, it’s Tracy.

Telly Savalas is not as good a fit as Blofeld as Donald Plesance in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, but a bigger star. Pleasance had that weird accent and those strange mannerisms, and Savalas plays it completely American - no accent. I think that Pleasance was the best Blofeld, mostly because he was so strange. Savalas always seems like a guy you might have a beer with after work, maybe play a game of poker with (though I guess that’s a bad idea - Lazenby lost a bunch of money playing poker with Savalas at night after filming). The weird feeling helps a villain seem unpredictable and threatening. I never get that from Savalas in this film. They recast Blofeld because they wanted him to ski and fight - but there really isn’t that much of either in the film that isn’t done by Savalas’ stunt man.

CRIMINAL COMMANDO RAID

Once again Bond resigns his job and goes to Draco for help.

They storm the stronghold in a trio of helicopters with a bunch of mercenaries and rescue Tracy (who does a pretty good job of rescuing herself in a great fight scene with a HUGE badguy - that Mrs. Peel martial arts training comes in handy in the film), and set charges to destroy the stronghold and the radio used to contact the Angels Of Death - ending Blofeld’s plan. This is a smart resolution - they can’t find all of the Angels Of Death scattered all over the world in time to prevent Blofeld from triggering them into weapons - and unleashing the virus - but they can find and destroy the method that Blofeld needs to use to trigger them: the radio set up in the stronghold.

But after the charges have been set and Tracy has been rescued and the helicopters fly away, Bond isn’t on them - he is chasing Blofeld! More ski chase action, plus a great *bobsled chase* and a fight on a bobsled. The Bobsled chase and fight are exciting - and the stuntmen who did some of the more crazy things... actually did them. Stuff that no sane person would do. The fight on the bobsled ends with Blofeld’s head slamming into a tree... and “branching off” as Bond quips

And then Bond and Tracy get married and live happily ever after....

The emotional element is one of the things that makes this Bond film work even without Connery. The other things that make it one of the best (if not the best) are the amazing action scenes - those amazing ski chases, and all of the other action scenes are balls-to-the wall great stuff! The tone is less jokey, more gritty, in this film (with one exception). The score by John Barry is probably the best Bond score ever - some of it gets reused in later films.

Seriously - this is the film they should have remade as the next Bond film. It has everything going for it, and very few people have seen it... plus that virus plot that is probably too topical, now.

Something to watch while this virus has you shut in...

- Bill






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