Thursday, May 24, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: Pigeons From Hell

Stephen King has a new book out, so let's look at his favorite episode!

Pigeons From Hell

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



Season: 1, Episode: 36.
Airdate: June 6, 1961

Director: John Newland
Writer: John Kneubuhl based on a story by Robert E. Howard (Conan)
Cast: Brandon DeWilde, Crahan Denton, Ken Renard, David Whorf, Guy Wilkerson, Ottola Nesmith.
Music: Morton Stevens
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The swamp is alive! Crawling with creatures of death. Creatures that lurk, camoflauged in the undergrowth waiting patiently for an unsuspecting victim. And our young friend was alarmed by a flight of pigeons. Harmless you say? Well you’ll see that he has good cause for alarm, for those were no ordinary pigeons. They were the pigeons from hell. That is both the title and the substance of our story. Spirits come back from the dead to guard their ancestral home against intruders. Spirits that in life fed on evil and now in death return to feed upon the living. Return each night, driven relentlessly by the spell of a terrible curse. In our story the living... I mean the players... are, Brandon DeWilde, Crahan Denton, and David Whorf. Join us now, as night is falling at the old house where the evil dwells and two brave young brothers dare to intrude.”



Synopsis: College kids Tim (Brandon DeWilde) and Johnny (David Whorf) are taking a road trip through the backwoods of Louisiana when their car gets stuck in the mud. Johnny goes to look for a piece of wood to shove under the wheels so they can get the car out... and discovers an ancient abandoned plantation, surrounded by pigeons. Maybe someone can help them out? But when he gets closer to the house, the pigeons attack him! He screams, and Tim runs over. By then the pigeons have flown away. They check out the old mansion... empty. Maybe a place to spend the night and get the car out in the morning?

The old plantation is vacant, cobwebs and dust... spooky. Tim tells Johnny to find some firewood while he goes to the car and gets their sleeping bags and stuff. When he leaves, Tim looks at the cobwebbed painting of a beautiful woman who used to live here... and maybe still does in some form. Johnny returns with the sleeping bags, rolls them out in front of the fire and they go to sleep. While they sleep the pigeons flock inside a room upstairs... cooing.

In the middle of the night, Johnny wakes up, hears a sound from upstairs: a woman humming? Goes up to check it out.



Johnny’s scream wakes Tim up, he heads upstairs... where Johnny waits with an hatchet! Covered in blood, walking in a trance. He advances toward Tim! Tim races down the stairs, away from Johnny, away from the house. Through the darkness, into the swamp... when he trips and hits his head. Unconscious.

Tim wakes up in a shack, where Sheriff Buckner (Crahan Denton) is searching his pockets while Howard and his wife look on. Buckner says Howard was hunting raccoons and found Tim passed out cold. Tim tells Buckner what happened... but says Johnny is dead. His head was smashed in, split open; but he was still walking with a hatchet in his hand. Dead, but still walking! Sheriff Buckner says that must be the old Blassenville Plantation and tells Howard to get his shotgun, they’re going back there. But Howard runs off. He’s not going in that spooky old place.



Buckner and Tim head back to the old house in his station wagon. It’s dark, but Buckner has a lantern. Tim doesn’t want to go back inside... but he does. There is a trail of blood on the stairs, leading to... the room with the sleeping bags where Johnny lays dead, hatchet still in hand. Buckner covers the corpse while Tim breaks down. “Why do you suppose he went upstairs?” Tim says from the moment they saw this house it was as if Johnny was listening... to something. And those pigeons surrounding the house. Buckner says he’s lived here his entire life and never seen any pigeons.

Buckner says he has to arrest Tim for Johnny’s murder. There were only two people in the house and one was killed with a hatchet and the other is still alive.

Buckner wants to go upstairs to investigate, and Tim tags along (not wanting to be left downstairs with his dead brother). Tim points out the cut in the wall where Johnny swung the hatchet at him. They find a huge puddle of blood where Johnny must have been struck by the hatchet... and a door in the darkness behind that point.



Buckner opens the door and enters the room, gun in hand. Tim behind him, scared. Suddenly the lamp goes out. Weird. They get the hell out of the room, go back down the stairs... and the lamp suddenly lights up again. Buckner says he doesn’t think Tim killed Johnny, but doesn’t really want to admit that the solution is supernatural. Everyone believes this plantation is haunted, but a Sheriff can’t really list that as a cause of death or the murderer on paperwork, right? Buckner decides to put Johnny’s body in his station wagon and then go back into the plantation house and poke around the crime scene.

Back inside the house, Tim asks Buckner who’s the woman in the paining? Elizabeth Blassenville, she was the last one who lived here. The house had fallen to ruins and the rest of the family had vanished... probably left for the city. The rumor is that Elizabeth moved to San Francisco and got married. Tim wonders if they were all scared away by whatever’s in the house now? Buckner doesn’t think so. The family lived here alone: no one would work for them because they had a mean streak. The plantation workers ran away except for one, Jacob Blount, who stayed on... and is still alive in an old shack. A young servant girl Eula Lee, she was physically beaten and ran away. Buckner and Tim get upstairs and this time the lantern remains lit.

They go into the room again... and there’s a piano covered with dust, except for the keyboard. A diary in a drawer: Elizabeth’s... an entry talks about the sounds of footsteps in the night. Ghosts. Or Eula Lee? The diary seems to suggest that instead of the rest of the family running away, they had been murdered horribly in the house.



As they leave the room, Buckner notices that a door in the hallway which was open is now closed. How is that possible? Buckner opens the door to investigate... the lantern goes out. Buckner decides instead of going in that room, maybe they’d better go see Jacob Blount in his shack.

Old Jacob Blount tells Sheriff Buckner and Tim that everyone in the house is dead... but they come back at night... as pigeons. Blount tells them that Eula Lee was not a servant, she was a half sister. Maybe Eula Lee still lives in the house? Blount says he’s afraid to say anything, because of a voodoo curse. A curse that can turn people into zombies who can not control their own actions. They live forever, time means nothing to them... they can command the dead: command the birds, command the snakes. Jacob says he can say no more, for fear she will come. Buckner wants to know if it’s Eula Lee... if she’s still alive.



And that’s when the snake attacks Jacob! Killing him.

Did Eula send the snake to kill him?

When they get to Buckner’s car, it is *covered* with pigeons!

Back in the plantation house Buckner loads his gun wondering how Eula Lee could be behind this: she’d be ancient by now. Buckner doesn’t believe in voodoo.

Tim falls asleep, wakes up... alone. Buckner is gone. Hears the woman humming from upstairs and starts climbing the stairs. In a trance. The door to that room that had closed on its own is open, and ancient Eula Lee steps out with a butcher knife ready to cleave his head in two! Suddenly shots ring out: Buckner shoots old Elua Lee.

In the room, Buckner finds a secret doorway into a room where the skeletons of all of the family members are hidden! Eula Lee murdered them all.



Review: In DANSE MACABRE Stephen King calls this "one of the finest horror stories of our century"... probably not knowing he’s make it into this century as well. I think King must have seen this episode at an impressionable age, because it really didn’t do it for me. Even though Brandon DeWilde was probably a big “get” for the show (he was the kid in SHANE and the younger brother in HUD and an Oscar nominee), I’ve never been much a fan of his acting. He’s also in that notorious Hitchcock episode THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE which was way too violent for prime time (a magic act where a woman is sawed in half goes very very wrong), but he always seems like the character in that episode... who was what we now call “mentally challenged”. He’s kind of stiff and always comes off kind of stupid. And here’s what’s crazy about this episode: he’s a hundred times better than the guy who plays his brother! All of the acting sucks in this episode, and the writing and direction doesn’t make up for it.

Samoan screenwriter John Kneubuhl also adapted PAPA BENJAMIN for this series and did KNOCK THREE ONE TWO (with Warren Oates as the simpleton), and seems to stick the actors with exposition heavy dialogue and nonsensical story moments. They go upstairs and poke around, then decide to go downstairs for no reason, then go back upstairs. It’s as if they are moving around for no reason other than padding out the scene. I’m sure these things made sense in the short story, but none of that made it to screen. Much of the plantation and family backstory is so convoluted and confusing that I want to track down the short story to find out what really happened. My *guess* is that Eula was a bastardess half slave, but none of that is on screen (a quick Google search confirms this... though the character has a different name in the short story). Instead of *discovering* this information, it just gets dumped on us. Also, for two college kids stuck in a spooky rural area like the pair in AMERICAN WEREWOLF, neither of these kids has any real personality or any clever dialogue. So we have stiff actors and stiff dialogue in a boring situation...



And blandly directed. Where PARASITE MANSION milked it’s old house for creepy and spooky shots, here it’s just some abandoned place. That shot in PARASITE where she pulls back the wardrobe and the spiderwebs are so thick and creepy that you want to move away from the TV screen has no comparison in this episode. The camera is blandly placed and actors just act in front of it. No use of cinema at all! Also, not a single POV shot to put us in the shoes of the protagonists. So this guy doesn’t seem to be good with actors *and* doesn’t seem to know what to do with the camera.

The pigeons? Hey, pretty well trained! They flock at the right place, and when they attack the kid, it’s convincing.

I only wish the rubber snake that attacks Jacob was as convincing! But it doesn’t even move! He actually reaches down and grabs it, then has to shake it to make it look like it’s moving. It’s obviously a rubber snake.



Oh, and what’s with all of the B names? Nothing worse than a huge block of exposition and every name mentioned begins with the letter B! Confusing!

What a waste of a 6/6/1961 episode!

Though this isn’t the worst episode of THRILLER, it’s probably in the bottom third. Next week we get the last episode of the season (then we are taking a break for the summer) and thankfully the show went out on a strong note... with SHATNER!

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Film Courage Plus: Creating Suspense

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. As they have been releasing the interview segments from 2015 every week or so, I have dug back into their archives and tweeted some of the segments from 2014... so they won't be forgotten. There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 2015... and that's 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

So here is the second one. I'm still not sure whether the article should come before or after the clip, so this time around it's *before* the clip - you can tell me which way you think would work best in the comments section.

Creating suspense on screen:

Keeping the audience on the edge of their seat is the function of SUSPENSE. Suspense is not the same as action, nor is it the same as surprise, nor is it the same as mystery. Suspense is the *anticipation* of an action. The longer you draw out the anticipation, the greater the suspense. Hitchcock explained; "Two men are having an innocent little chat. Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath the table between them. Nothing happens, then all of the sudden, BOOM! There is an explosion. The audience is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has been an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now let us take a SUSPENSE situation. The bomb is underneath the table, but the audience knows it... Probably because they have seen the villain place it there. The audience is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one O'clock, and there is a clock in the decor. It is a quarter to one. In this situation, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating, because the audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: 'There's a bomb beneath you, and it's about to explode!' In the first case, we have given the audience fifteen seconds of SURPRISE at the moment of the explosion. In the second case, we have provided them with fifteen MINUTES of SUSPENSE."

It’s no secret that I love thriller films and Hitchcock movies - my upcoming book is HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE which uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to illustrate different principles of suspense. But suspense isn’t confined to the thriller genre, it’s used in *every* genre to create tension. That romantic comedy where we know that one of the pair has that secret that will ruin the budding relationship if discovered... suspense is built around the anticipation of that discovery. In a movie of survival, be it THE MARTIAN or THE REVENANT suspense is built around situations where we anticipate the worst possible thing happening... and then the scene builds around that anticipation until it is resolved by the action. In REVENANT we know that bigoted fur trapper Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) plans on harming Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio)’s son - and that scene builds tension until we get the action. Instead of the action being over in a flash, the audience has been given the information that it will happen and that makes us squirm in our seats as we see Fitzgerald’s plan unfolding. Instead of a couple of seconds of surprise we have a whole scene of tension and suspense. In dramas we often have suspense built around a secret that our protagonist doesn’t want discovered. Every genre uses suspense to build emotions before the action.

There are Four basic kinds of suspense: the "ticking clock" (or time lock) and "cross cutting" and “secrets” and “focus objects”. The Hitchcock example above is a ticking clock. We are given an event which will occur at a certain time, and our suspense builds as we get closer and closer to the time of the event. Cross Cutting takes two things we don’t want to see in the same place and gets them progressively closer to each other - like two trains hurtling towards each other on the same track. The closer they get to each other, the more suspense. A good example of this method is in Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW where our protagonist Jeffries sends his fiancĂ© Lisa to search the apartment of suspected murdered Lars Thorwald. Jeffries has gotten Thorwald out of the apartment on the pretext of meeting him at a restaurant down the street, but when he doesn’t show Thorwald becomes impatient and returns home. Jeffries watches through the rear window of his apartment as Lisa searches the apartment as Thorwald returns - entering the building, climbing the stairs, walking down the hallway to his front door, unlocking the door, and...

Secrets are another form of suspense which is often used in dramas and comedies and romances. A character has a secret which they do not want to have discovered, and another character gets closer and closer to discovering it. In YOU’VE GOT MAIL we know the secret of Tom Hanks’ character - he’s the big corporate bookstore owner who is putting the small independent bookstore owned by Meg Ryan out of business... but the two meet and fall in love, and now he must keep that true identity secret from her because it will kill the relationship. The audience knows that secret exists, so we are in suspense that it will be discovered. Another type of secret suspense can be found in Hitchcock’s ROPE (an experimental film which we look at in my HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR book) - two men have murdered a friend and placed his body in a giant trunk in their livingroom... moments before having a party in that same livingroom in honor of the now dead friend. Everyone wonders where David is... but we know that he’s inside the trunk they are serving a buffet dinner from. Suspense builds as things happen which get some of the party guests looking closer at the trunk than the killers would like. Will their secret be discovered or will they get away with murder?

FOCUS OBJECTS


That trunk is what I call a “focus object”, and in the Film Courage clip I mention the middle ages sword and sex flick FLESH + BLOOD, where Princess Jennifer Jason Leigh has been kidnaped by Mercenary Rurger Hauer, and eventually becomes his mistress. Hauer is leader of a band of Mercenary soldiers - knights in rusted armor - who are raping and pillaging their way across Europe. They were double crossed by the evil Prince who Jennifer was engaged to, and now they are doing everything possible to make that Prince's life hell on earth. Eventually they capture the Prince, and chain him up near a well. Princess Jennifer, Hauer's mistress and the Prince's finace, is about to have a meal with all of the other mercenaries celebrating the capture of the Prince.

Before the other mercenaries reach the table, the Prince grabs a piece of plague infested meat from the trash and drops it in the well, poisoning the drinking water.

Jennifer sees this, and the question is - will she tell anyone? As the water is brought from the well to the table, tension builds. The water in the jug becomes the "focus object". Water is poured into glasses of several mercenaries who were not kind to her when she was kidnaped. She wants revenge against them, so she says nothing.

The Prince watches her, waiting for her to tell them that the water is poisoned. She sees the shackled Prince watching her, and she watches the mean mercenaries drink the poisoned water one-by-one.

That jug of poisoned water goes from mean mercenaries... to women and children. The poisoned water is poured into their glasses and they start to drink it... will Jennifer tell them it is poisoned? Suspense builds.

The Prince watches her, waiting for her to stop them from drinking. But both of them watch as the women and children drink the poisoned water.

Then the jug of poisoned water is passed to Rutger Hauer, her lover. He pours a glass of water. Will she let him drink it? She is torn between the man she was engaged to and the man she sleeps with every night. What will she do? Hauer is having a conversation with some of the others, and every time he grabs the glass to drink, someone says something and he responds instead of drinks. Suspense builds.

The Prince, shackled by the well smiles at her. What will she do?

As Hauer lifts the glass to his lips, she...

See how focus objects work? They create suspense by giving the protagonist and the audience the same secret information that is tied to an object... and then places that object where the secret can be discovered by characters who can not know that secret.

All of these techniques rely on *dramatic irony* - giving information to the audience that one or more characters do not have. The key is letting the audience know that the water is poisoned or that the body is in the trunk or that Tom Hanks is also that bastard with the big chain bookstore that is putting Meg Ryan out of business. If the audience is not given this information, there can be no suspense or tension... and the story is flat and dull. Our job as writers is to *lead the audience* - to use information to control what they think and feel. Hitchcock called it playing the audience like an instrument. By giving them specific story information at the perfect time we bring them inside the story - they know the secret that some other character does not and now they have a stake in the story. The audience wants that secret to remain a secret. The audience wants to warn the characters that there is a bomb under the table. The audience participates in the story and feels what the characters feel. Our job as writers is not just to tell the story, but to use techniques like suspense in order to tell that story well. To involve the reader and viewer so that it becomes their story as well.

Always be leading the audience. Always be in control of your story and when the information is given to the audience. What do you want them to know and when do you want them to know it? And *why* do you want them to know this information at this specific time in your tale?

- Bill






HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 53 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

- Bill

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: Panic In The Streets (1950)

Ebola! In the news again!

Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: Richard Murphy (BOOMERANG, COMPULSION), Daniel Fuchs (CRISS CROSS), based on a story by Edward & Edna Anhalt (SATAN BUG).
Starring: Richard Widmark, Barbara Bel Geddes, Paul Douglas, and the great Jack Palance and great Zero Mostel.


After seeing DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES sunday night, with it's opening montage showing us news footage of the plague that wipes out almost all human life on Earth, I thought it would be fun to look at a film from the past with a different look at the plague. 1950's PANIC IN THE STREETS stars Richard Widmark as a CDC doctor... not a crazed killer or a snarky hit man! He's the good guy in this one. The film takes place in New Orleans, and was shot on location (unusual for this time period) but was directed by Elia Kazan, the dude who took advantage of the new method style of acting and married it to a documentary style of cinema with great results. Kazan's *next* film was A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and a few films after that he directed ON THE WATERFRONT, and then EAST OF EDEN. Though most of his films dealt with a social issue, he was working in a time where the easiest way to do that was in crime films like this one.

Our story starts when a guy is murdered... but he would have died anyway because he had the plague. The plague! Now it's a race-against-time search for the killer (Jack Palance)... who also has the plague and is *spreading it* with every person he touches. Doctor Widmark and Detective Paul Douglas have 48 hours to find Palance before creates a city-wide epidemic. This is a great idea because "patient zero" is someone who does not want to be found (because he's a killer).


There are chase scenes and shoot outs and fight scenes and a plane chasing a plague ship and... well, it's danged exciting. It's a thriller. But it also really gets into police vs. doctors vs. city politics vs. freedom of the press vs. the public good. Because this crisis - the killer roaming the streets with the plague - requires all kinds of difficult decisions - and as they argue in a speeding car whether they should kill this guy (because he's a menace to society) or make sure they don't kill him (because they need to know everyone he came into contact with) we get to examine the way society works - and why our version may not work.

We get to look at what's right, what's wrong, what works and what doesn't work. Should they give the press the story to possibly save lives... even though that will force the killer underground and they won't capture him in time? Is freedom of the press more important than capturing a criminal? The film really digs into issues.

It also digs into character - Widmark is a low paid government doctor who hides in his work, causing problems with his wife Barbara Bel Geddes and their kid. There are some great family issues going on during the crisis, including Widmark's decision *not* to get his family out of town as they get closer and closer to the crisis point. (Some of the detectives gets their families out of the danger zone). The film works as a pursuit film, a gangster film, a cop film, a social issues film, and a drama... and *won* Best Screenplay that year. It manages to get everything right.


Plus there are a great pair of scenes between Widmark and Douglas, where Douglas completely takes responsibility for something Widmark did - to the point of endangering his future. Because it's what Widmark wanted, he doesn't notice the sacrifice. Later, when he realizes what Douglas has done, he kicks himself a bit... then later makes everything right by taking responsibility for something Douglas has done - that could really screw up Widmark's future.

The locations are amazing: coffee packing houses, ships, rooming houses, waterfront warehouses, and suburban homes. In a time where movies were shot in the back lot, this film explores New Orleans while avoiding anyplace you've ever seen in a tourist video. We get the places people live and work and avoid the tourist traps. It's a great, gritty look at the city. And there is an attention to detail that makes even the action set pieces very personal.

This is a really well written thriller, and when Widmark explains to the cops how Palance could hop a plane and spread the plague nation-wide within a day, it's really frightening. That's what could happen in the late-40s... imagine what could happen today?

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES!

Bill

Friday, May 18, 2018

HITCH 20: The Crystal Trench (s3e5)

This is a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock and here is the last episode of the third season on THE CRYSTAL TRENCH and the importance of locations in story.



CRYSTAL TRENCH extras...

In this episode we look at the relationship between story and location, and how a location can be a character in your story. In an old article in Script Magazine called HITCHCOCK’S CHOCOLATES we sweated the small stuff and looked at the relationship between characters, their tools, and their environment. Using location and props to help tell your story. How do you keep all of these elements organic, and even explore theme through location?

"One of the interesting aspects of "The Secret Agent" is that it takes place in Switzerland," Hitchcock says in HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT (1967 Simon And Schuster). "I said to myself, What do they have in Switzerland? They have milk chocolate, they have the Alps, they have village dances, and they have lakes. All of these ingredients were woven into the story. Local topographical features can be used dramatically as well. We used lakes for drowning and the Alps to have our characters fall into crevasses."



IS THIS THE RIGHT PLACE?


Most of us give little thought to our locations, using them only as backgrounds for our stories. They end up little more than theatrical flats - a two dimensional painting of a street our characters act in front of. But location can influence story, and story elements can grow from a location.

A man walking down a dark alley.

A man walking in a park filled with children.

Both scenes show a man walking, but each 'background' will have a different effect on the audience, and on the character's mood and actions. The location changes effects the character and the character effects the direction of the story.

Orson Welles' brilliant THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (based on a novel by Sherwood King) takes place in San Francisco and uses the location to advance the story. The story of a yacht captain (Welles) who becomes involved with a beautiful woman (Rita Hayworth) and her evil husband (Everett Sloan) in a strange fake murder for life insurance scheme is like a check list of San Francisco landmarks. From Chinatown to Sausalito to Steinhart Aquarium to Playland At The Beach amusement park.

In LADY FROM SHANGHAI locations are not just background to the story, they help shape it. When the scheme goes wrong and Welles is hunted through the city by the police - no one to turn to - he hides in a Chinatown theater. Surrounded by people speaking a strange language, laughing at jokes he doesn't understand, the character is out-numbered and alone simultaneously. The choice of environment strengthens the emotions in the scene.

My DEAD RUN script is a fast paced thriller about a conspiracy to keep a murdered political candidate alive through CGI computer animation. The logical location for this story was someplace where the computer industry has deep roots. Silicon Valley was the obvious choice, but I went with the second city on my list: Seattle, Washington.

What do we find in Seattle? The Space Needle, the logging industry, gourmet coffee shops, grunge-rockers, the monorail, Puget Sound, trolley cars, and Ballard Locks Park all made my list.

Then I decided what scenes would gain the most from each of my locations. The sunny Ballard Locks Park seemed like a perfect place for a sniper attack, my end action scene would be on the Space Needle, and I could use the monorail in a chase scene. My candidate would be involved in logging and environmental issues. Everything on my location list helped to shape the final script. The plot helped me choose the city, but each individual setting influenced the way scenes played. I used the location not just as a background, but to help tell the story.

It's important to make sure your story matches the location, that the story grows naturally from the location and vice versa. You want to find the most effective setting for your story. If you are writing a script about a pair of doomed lovers, can you think of a better location than a sinking ship? The minute Jack and Rose meet each other on the Titanic, the clock is ticking. We know their relationship will be over as soon as that ship sinks. Doomed lovers, doomed location. The location is an organic part of the story.

In THE CRYSTAL TRENCH that glacier *is* a character in the story, as is the mountain the men are climbing. How could this story work in a desert? In a city? On a farm? The story is all about the glacier!

TWO TOOLS FOR SISTER SARAH





"In Hitchcock’s THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, James Stewart plays a doctor, and behaves like one throughout the whole picture," Francios Truffaut says in HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT. "His line of work is deliberately blended into the action. For instance, before telling Doris Day that their child has been kidnapped, he makes her take a sedative." Stewart's character prepares the sedative calmly, professionally. He's using the tools and methods familiar to him to solve the immediate problem.

Characters will always use familiar tools, given the choice. Tools are an extension of occupation, and occupation is an extension of character and theme. A plumber with a slide rule or a nun with a machine gun seems strange. A character s choice of tools gives us insight into his or her personality and background. They are more than just props.

In Robert Benton's KRAMER VS. KRAMER Dustin Hoffman's wife runs off to find herself, leaving him to take care of his young son. The first morning without Mom, Hoffman has to prepare breakfast. Hoffman is used to grabbing a cup of coffee on the way out the door... that's the extent of his breakfast knowledge.

His son wants french toast. So Hoffman grabs the tools he is familiar with to make the french toast. Instead of using a bowl and a whisk, he uses a coffee cup and a spoon. Breaks the eggs into the cup, beats the eggs with the spoon, then tries to dip the bread in the egg batter. His attempt to make french toast is a complete failure. He will have to learn how to use new tools as a single dad.

In my NIGHT HUNTER film, Don "The Dragon" Wilson plays the last of the vampire hunters, drifting from town to town on the trail of blood suckers. I envisioned him as a man without friends, without family, without a home. Homeless.

In the script when all of his vampire killing tools are taken away from him by the police, he is forced to find new equipment. Would he go into a store and buy it? Not in character. He's homeless, he dumpster dives. He turns discarded items found in the trash into lethal killing tools. Tools that fit his character. One hundred percent organic.

In CRYSTAL TRENCH we not only have the mountain climbing tools, we have that great telescope focused on the side of the mountain that features in scene after scene. The great thing about that telescope is that it’s not only a tool, it’s what I call a “Twitch” in my “Secrets Of Action Screenwriting” book - it’s a physical device that symbolizes an emotional conflict. It’s focused on the dead men, right? So the telescope *becomes* the dead men - a way to have them in a scene when they are actually on the side of the mountain many miles away.

Make a list of your character's "familiar tools", those things they're most comfortable using. These will be the first thing they reach for when they're trying to solve a problem. Tools they know how to use. Tools they know how to use. Tools which help illuminate character through actions.

STOCK COMPANY


In previous episodes of HITCH 20 we’ve talked about Hitchcock’s “stock company” of actors, and I look at Hitch’s loyalty to cast and crew members in HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE. Though many of the HITCH 20 episodes feature John Williams (the actor, not the composer) these past two episodes have featured THE AVENGERS’ Patrick Macnee. In ARTHUR he was the town constable, and here he’s the glacier expert - two very different characters!

This brings the third season of HITCH 20 to a close...

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!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:
(links actually work now)

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And...




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 53 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Bill

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Film Courage Plus: The 100 Idea Theory

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. As they have been releasing the interview segments from 2015 every week or so, I have dug back into their archives and tweeted some of the segments from 2014... so they won't be forgotten. There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 2015... and that's 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

So here is the third one. I'm still not sure whether the article should come before or after the clip, so this time around it's *before* the clip - you can tell me which way you think would work best in the comments section.

The 100 Idea Theory:



I never tell anyone that I’m a screenwriter, because the first thing that will happen is they will say they have this great idea for a movie and then spend a couple of hours telling me that idea and then offer to let me write their idea for 50% of whatever the script sells for. Awesome deal! My friend John has gone so far as to have fake business cards printed up for parties & social events where this might happen that say he builds custom septic tanks to fit your unique personality - no one wants to tell him their ideas of make him that 50% deal. *Everyone* has an idea for a screenplay. How many billions of people are there on Earth right now? They all have an idea for a screenplay.

It isn’t enough just to have an idea, or even have a good idea, you need a *great* idea.

One of the things we look at in the IDEAS Blue Book is not just how to find an endless number of ideas, but how to find the good ones... and the great ones. The gold. Because finding movie ideas is a lot like panning for gold - it’s 99% dirt and mud and 1% gold. The problem often is, new writers come up with one idea... and that’s part of the 99% that’s mud. Not a problem, unless they take that idea to script - and then they have a script with a dirt idea. How do you pitch that? How do you make the logline in your equery to managers and agents and producers sound good when it’s dirt? You can’t. In Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN due to a clumsy mistake by Igor, they build the monster using an abnormal brain - so the monster is alive, but has a “bad brain”. You don’t want a screenplay with a “bad brain”.

Though ideas are a dime a dozen (because everyone on Earth has one) they are also gold. The key is to “pan for gold” and find the very best idea and then take it to script. Don’t end up with 110 pages of “mud”.

But how do you find the best idea? There are people who think that any idea that “sticks with you” is a good one. You forgot that other idea, but remembered this one... it has to be good! I’m not sure having a faulty memory is any indication of an idea being good or not. Other people have a variation on the faulty memory theory they like to call “I’m really passionate about this idea!” But anyone who has lived long enough to have their heart broken a couple of times knows that passion sometimes doesn’t last, and passion also doesn’t equal quality. I have been passionate about relationships only to look back on them a year later and wonder if I was crazy. In fact, there are probably a hundred songs that equate love and passion with insanity! You can probably name a couple of those songs off the top of your head, right? So maybe being passionate about an idea is not the best way to judge whether it is good or not? Sure, we want an idea that we are passionate about, but *only* being passionate about it is excluding all other criteria and may end up falling in love with the wrong person. There are a bunch of movies about people who fall in love with people who then try to kill them. Do you want to write 110 pages only to find out this was one of those crazy lovers? FATAL ATTRACTION in screenplay form? Probably not - that’s why you’ll want to expand your criteria beyond only passion.

Hemingway said you should write drunk and edit sober, and that’s the key to this whole writing thing. Create in one step, edit in another step. Coming up with raw ideas is creating, but finding the best idea is editing. Most people leave out the editing part. They often just come up with an idea and write it... and end up with 110 pages of blah. You want to use both sides of your brain - the creative side and the analytical side. No half brained ideas! Come up with a bunch of ideas (drunk) and then (sober) analyze each idea and select the best one using rational criteria. Panning for gold. Because you love the idea isn’t good enough - remember that hell relationship you had? You thought you loved them. So take emotions out of the equation when you are *selecting* ideas.

The 100 Idea Theory in the Film Courage clip is about using that insane, passionate creativity to find 100 ideas... then using the sober analytical side of your brain to select the best idea from that 100.

One problem new writers often have is that they only have one idea. Hey, this is a business of ideas! I often get called in to pitch 4 or 5 ideas to fit a producer’s specific needs... and if they don’t like any of those, pitch 4 or 5 more. A decade ago when the SyFy Channel probably still had “i”s in their name, I had meetings with 3 different producers who were making movies for them. At one company I pitched 10 actual science fiction stories, at another I pitched 10 disaster stories that had not been done yet, and the third I pitched 10 monster movies that had never been done. 30 ideas - not a single one ended up a paid gig (though two of those companies each liked an idea enough to bring me back the next year and talk about it). But you will need to come up with a stack of ideas. Your manager will have you pitch a bunch of ideas and they’ll select the one they think has the best chance. So you need a bunch of ideas - not just one. Get used to the idea that you will need a bunch of ideas!

In the IDEAS Blue Book we look at how to open your eyes to ideas - they are all around you, but you have to look for them! One of the examples in that book is an idea I had while walking to a class on ideas I was teaching for the Raindance Film Festival one year. Ideas are *everywhere*! And here’s one of the secrets from that Blue Book - any idea that you come up with you have some personal connection to. If there are ideas all around you, the ones that *you* see are the ones that speak to you. The ones that I see are the ones that speak to me. The ones that you are passionate about, even though it may not be love at fights sight. Novelist John D. McDonald said that if you show ten writers the same event, each will come up with a different idea based on that event. Why? Because we see the ideas that are personal to us and miss the ones that have nothing to do with us. Which means those odd random ideas you come up with like that one I came up with while walking across London to my class at Raindance? Personal idea. Something I could be passionate about. I see the ideas that connect to me, you will see the ideas that connect to you.

Once you come up with a bunch of them, sober up and analyze those ideas to find the best one. Then script it. It’s much better to pick the great idea from the 100, the gold from the dirt, and script it... than to write 100 scripts and have 99 of them be “dirt ideas” and only one of them be gold. What do you do with the other 99 scripts? Train puppies? Line birdcages?

Once you go through the 100 ideas and find that one great commercial one - the one that millions of people worldwide will pay to see - now your job is to figure out why it is personal to you. What about that idea spoke to you. Knowing why that idea is personal to you is the key to making it your passion project even if it’s some wildly commercial high concept genre story. You will need to know why that idea is personal to you, why you spotted that idea among the billions and billions out there; before going to screenplay. If you don’t know why your subconscious was passionate about this idea, it will be tough to write it with passion. And the next creative step here is to “write drunk” and be giddy with passion about this idea and the story that comes from it. Once you’ve found the gold amongst the dirt and mud, you need to turn that gold into a wedding band and marry it for 110 pages and every rewrite that comes after that. You want the idea that isn’t that love at first sight (which may just be hormones), but love that is going to last. Love that inspires you to mix metaphors like panning for gold and falling in love and whatever other crazy things I’ve said here to explain screenwriting.

It’s a business of ideas, but not just any ideas - you want to find the gold! Start digging!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill

bluebook

GOT IDEAS?

*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Kindle!

*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to find great ideas! Your screenplay is going to begin with an idea. There are good ideas and bad ideas and commercial ideas and personal ideas. But where do you find ideas in the first place? This handbook explores different methods for finding or generating ideas, and combining those ideas into concepts that sell. The Idea Bank, Fifteen Places To Find Ideas, Good Ideas And Bad Ideas, Ideas From Locations And Elements, Keeping Track Of Your Ideas, Idea Theft - What Can You Do? Weird Ways To Connect Ideas, Combing Ideas To Create Concepts, High Concepts - What Are They? Creating The Killer Concept, Substitution - Lion Tamers & Hitmen, Creating Blockbuster Concepts, Magnification And The Matrix, Conflict Within Concept, Concepts With Visual Conflict, Avoiding Episodic Concepts, much more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


Other Countries: UK folks click here for YOUR IDEA MACHINE.

German folks click here for YOUR IDEA MACHINE.

French folks click here for YOUR IDEA MACHINE.

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Canadian folks click here for YOUR IDEA MACHINE.

Other countries check your Amazon stores!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933

I always manage to get the plots to 42nd STREET and GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 mixed up, because both have amazing Busby Berkeley dance numbers and both share the same casts and both deal with survival during the Great Depression. This is the film with the plot I remember, but always seem to think it’s 42nd STREET.

You might wonder why a guy who has a book on writing action movies is a huge fan of Warner Bros musicals from the 30s, but that would be thinking in cliches... so stop that right now! Oddly enough, the big set pieces in Busby Berkeley films have much in common with big action set pieces in today’s films... and probably even more in common with martial arts films (since both deal with graceful physical actions). My main love for these films comes from their gritty reality base... these are movies from the Great Depression *about* the Great Depression. While MGM was turning out glossy escapist fantasy musicals, Warner Brothers was known for gritty social issues film... and that extended to their musicals. Just as I love the WB long haul trucker movie THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT and their film about guys stringing power lines across the country MANPOWER, these musicals are about real people struggling to pay the rent and doing hard physical work (dancing). GOLD DIGGERS was directed by Mervyn LeRoy who may be most famous for his gangster film LITTLE CAESAR and crime film I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG, but went on to direct the film version of MISTER ROBERTS and THE FBI STORY (with Jimmy Stewart).

Choreographer Busby Berkeley basically reinvented the musical with his amazing production numbers, and went from Broadway choreographer to film choreographer to director of film musicals to... director of THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL, one of the best crime films of the 1930s and probably John Garfield’s best film. After that, he invented Carmen Miranda’s hat of fruit before heading to MGM where he directed Ester Williams’ *underwater* dance numbers in movies like MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID, also directed by Mervyn LeRoy.



GOLDDIGGERS OF 1933.

Directed by: Mervyn LeRoy
Written by: Erwin Gelsey and James Seymour based on the play by Avery Hopwood.
Musical Numbers by: Busby Berkeley.
Songs by: Al Dubin & Harry Warren.
Starring: Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Ned Sparks, Guy Kibbee, Warren William, Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers.

Hey, the gang from 42nd STREET is back in this Great Depression musical! The story begins in an apartment filled with out of work actresses, so poor that they have one good pair of shoes and one good dress between them. The have to be careful not to schedule auditions or day job interviews at the same time, or someone will have to go in clothes with patches and frayed hems. Not that anyone has an audition or job interview, we’re in the middle of the great depression and everyone is flat broke except the very wealthy who only lost part of their fortunes in the stock market crash. This pad o gals can’t even leave their apartment, because they’d have to walk past the building manager’s office, and they are months behind on their rent (the manager keeps slipping notes under the door warning of eviction). Their only entertainment comes from listening to the cute composer across the alleyway Brad (Dick Powell) work on his songs as he avoids *his* building manager. Polly (Ruby Keeler) has a crush on Brad, and often flirts with him from window to window. Nobody knows how they’re going to afford food, because all of the Broadway Theaters are closed... no one has money to put on a show and hire them.



Enter Barney (Ned Sparks, playing the same role as in 42nd STREET just with a different name) a scheming Broadway producer who has a plan. Because the theaters are broke, he’s made a deal with one to put on a show on spec. They’ll make money off ticket sales. He’s also found a potential investor to cover the hard costs of putting on a show... but he needs a cast and some songs. So he shows up at the pad o gals and convinces them to rehearse for free for pay later. Hey, it’s a chance for the gals to get out of the apartment and maybe make enough money to pay their back rent so they won’t be evicted. It’s pretty obvious that Barney has nothing but a scheme... and when he hears Brad’s music, he thinks he has a composer! (Great in joke as Barney calls the movies composers Dubin & Warren and fires them!) Basically, he puts together a show where everyone is working on spec, They have the labor, and that’s most of what’s needed.

Brad and Polly can now flirt face to face with no alley separating them, and it’s love. Barney wants Brad to play the lead, since he knows the songs (and maybe Barney can pay Brad once for two jobs), but Brad is ultra publicity shy and says he can’t be seen on stage. This causes some of the girls to wonder if he’s a criminal on the run or something.

Everything is going great, until that potential backer for the hard costs of the show backs out, leaving them in big trouble. All of this work for nothing...



Except (plot twist) Brad claims he can cover the hard costs. They set up a meeting where Brad will show up with a cashiers check for the hard costs of the show... and wait and wait and wait as Brad doesn’t show. Just when they’re sure Brad is nothing more than a schemer, maybe using this funding thing as a way to get into Polly’s pants, he shows up with the money. Where did he get it? Rob a bank? Brad doesn’t want to tell anyone where he got it, not even Polly. He *is* a bank robber, right?

When the juvenile lead gets lumbago on opening night (because he’s well over 40) they need someone to jump in and take his place... and Brad reluctantly steps in. They show is a huge hit, Brad’s face ends up in the newspapers... and the other shoe drops.



Brad *isn’t* a bank robber, he’s the black sheep son of a wealthy Boston family who disapproves of doing *any* work for a living. This is one of those families who is so rich the Stock Market crash only made a small dent in their fortune. They send older brother Lawrence (the always sleazy Warren William) and his best friend Peabody (the always pudgy Guy Kibee) to rescue Brad from the horrors of singing and dancing on Broadway. But when the two wealthy gentlemen come to the pad o gals, and Lawrence wants to know how much money it will take to buy Polly in order to release his brother from her spell. Due to some confusion they think Carol (Joan Blondell) is Polly and she insists that this conversation take place somewhere more civilized, over a bottle of champagne and a steak. So Lawrence and Peabody end up on a double date with Carol and Trixie (Aline MacMahon)... and we get to the gold digger part of our story. The gals could easily make a bunch of money by selling Polly’s love for Brad, but they would never do anything to harm Polly and the concept that love has a price offends them. This is an interesting social point, as Lawrence believes that love can be bought, and Carol and Trixie believe it has no price. When you are wealthy, everything has a price. When you are broke, you learn the true value of simple things like love and friendship.

Somewhere in here, an impossibly young Sterling Holloway (WINNIE THE POOH) show up as a bellboy and gets a single line of dialogue. Also in the cast in small roles (uncredited) are future Mrs. Ronald Reagan and Oscar Winner Jane Wyman, future tough guy and LEOPARD MAN star Dennis O’Keefe, future cowboy star Wild Bill Elliott (as a dancer!), and character actor Charles Lane (IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE) as the snooty society reporter who blows Brad’s cover.

The two gals manage to hook Lawrence and Peabody. There’s a great scene where a passed out drunk Lawrence is stripped and put in Carol’s bed, wakes up, and once again tries to buy his way out... but realizes that maybe these actresses are not evil incarnate, and maybe he’s *in love* with “Polly” (Carol). This creates a huge problem, because he thinks that he is in love with his brother’s gal! As the show goes on, we get a great false identity farce, which ends with a triple wedding. As usual, no shortage of half naked women, because this is precode. Side boob, top boob, underboob, and lots of sheer lingerie.



Let’s talk about the musical numbers for a moment, because there are some great ones here including an amazing show stopper at the end. The film opens with “We’re In The Money” with Berkeley’s signature “Parade Of Face” where every one of the beautiful chorus girls gets a big close up. Ginger Rogers sings this number, which (because we are still pre code) features scantily clad women with giant gold coins. The most amazing thing about this number is Rogers singing in *pig latin* for a verse or two! I couldn’t talk in pig latin that fast, let alone sing it! This is the cold opening number of the show, and ends prematurely as the repo men come to take the sets and costumes and props in a very funny scene.

Next up is one of the songs from the show, “Petting In The Park”, with Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell and a bunch of scantily clad gals in very risque situations. Billy Barty plays a horny baby (you read that right) who at one point, as the chorus girls are undressing behind a shade with *naked* silhouettes of bouncing boobs, starts to slowly pull the shade up! By the time the shade is raised, the chorus girls have changed into tin (!) breastplates and panties and dance away. The number ends with Powell unable to get into Keeler’s pants or breastplate, and Barty hands him a can opener! Powell proceeds to open Keeler’s outfit and we fade out. Hey, the *subject matter* of this song is heavy petting! This is one of those scenes you can’t believe are in a film made in 1933. The silhouettes behind that shade are *nude*.

One of the most beautiful dance numbers ever put on film is the “Shadow Waltz” with Powell and Keeler and Rogers and the rest of the gals. The chorus girls have *neon violins” they play in the dark, creating amazing kaleidoscopic images when the lights turn down. If “Petting In The Park” focused on ass, this number focuses on class. It’s worth the price of admission.

View That Number Here.

But it’s not the best number in the film. That would be the closing song, “My Forgotten Man” sung by Joan Blondell and Etta Moten. This has been a film about the Great Depression, and the social and class issues that event brought to the surface in America. This number focuses on the problems of impoverished veterans... and hits hard. All of those soldiers who fought in the Great War (WW1) returned as broken men, only to be broken again by the Great Depression. The number is in stark German Expressionistic images and deals with homeless vets. So many great moments in the number, including a policeman rousting a homeless man sleeping on the street, and Blondell opening the homeless man’s lapel to display war medals. This is a heart breaker of a song that shows how poorly the country treated war veterans after the economy went south. Hey, no parallels to today, right? The number ends with an amazing Busby Berkeley dance number that combines soldiers marching off to war in the background as homeless men march in search of jobs in the foreground. This is the conclusion of a film that has mostly been a comedy look at the struggles of surviving in the Great Depression... and makes you realize how serious poverty is.



Warner Brothers cranked out musical like this throughout the depression. Berkeley choreographed dance numbers in *five* musicals in 1933 alone! These films allowed people to forget their troubles for a couple of hours without ignoring that they had those troubles. The pad of gals and it’s concept that if people work together we can get through these temporary problems gave people hope and probably kept them from fighting with each other when things got tough. These films kept Warner Brothers in the black, and maintained their identity for gritty realism... even with these lavish musical numbers!

Bill

Friday, May 11, 2018

Fridays With Hitchcock: HITCH 20: ARTHUR (s3e4)

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

Not the great Dudley Moore movie nor the terrible remake, but an episode of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS directed by Hitchcock and starring that fellow who was the MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE...



Once again I am in front of Universal Studios where this episode of HITCHCOCK PRESENTS was shot... and yes, they brought hundreds of live chickens and some chicken wranglers onto the lot and into the soundstage (this episode was shot indoors with some awesome background paintings making it look as if were out on a farm in the middle of the UK somewhere). Check out the shot where the police are searching - that’s an indoor set!

The episode focuses on breaking the fourth wall, but underneath that is something pretty common in film - the use of Voice Over Narration to get us into the head of a potentially unsympathetic character. If a character may be difficult to identify with, one of the techniques often used is to allow us to see the world through their eyes by giving them a running commentary - usually funny and amusing and entertaining. Adding an extra layer of story. So in a movie like DOUBLE INDEMNITY where our protagonist is a murderer, it helps to know their motivations and understand them... and it also helps that Walter Neff is amusing so that the narration is entertaining. The example I often use is another film from the same director, SUNSET BLVD, where protagonist and narration Joe Gillis is not just a screenwriter, his narration is filled with amazingly witty lines. You could remove the narration and the film still works perfectly, but it is so much better with that added layer of entertainment... plus it turns Gillis and Neff (and Arthur) into our friends and confidants. They are telling us their secret thoughts.



As I said in the episode, having Arthur talk directly into the camera also turns this into an odd satire on cooking shows, which were popular at the time. We watch Arthur prepare some meals, his presentation is beautiful, and he’s charismatic. Because cooking shows were inexpensive to produce in studios (still are) there were a bunch of them at the time, and the narration is just part of that.

But the narration doesn’t let the writer off the hook for telling the story visually - we see the dishes in the sink, the disk as the ashtray, the broken cup... and the audience wants to kill her, too. She has disrupted his orderly life. The narration might get us closer to Arthur, but all of those images, plus Helen herself, make us fully understand the chaos she has brought to Arthur’s life.

The actress who plays Helen, Hazel Court, may look familiar to you because she was a regular in all of those Corman Poe horror flicks we looked at last year during Halloween. THE RAVEN, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, and PREMATURE BURIAL among others. This episode even feels a bit like a Poe story. A UK actress who came to Hollywood and played all kinds of roles in lower budget movies and TV. I love her in this role - she manages to be irritating when doing minor things.



One of the fun things is the noise the chicken makes in the opening scene of the film is the same noise that Helen makes when Arthur strangles her. You can decide whether it’s the chicken or Helen’s strangulation sounds.

Which brings up strangulation - interesting, because that was the murder method in Hitchcock’s ROPE as well, and in both we side with the killers who then play a game of cat & mouse with an authority figure who is also a very close friend. In ROPE it’s their professor played by Jimmy Stewart, and here it’s the local constable played by Patrick MacNee who is his best friend. This is one of two episodes directed by Hitchcock that MacNee was in, what is that? 10% of the 20 episodes Hitchcock directed? The other episode is next up on HITCH 20, I think (this episode is Season 5 Episode 1 and that episode is Season 5 Episode 2). But the relationship between Arthur and the Constable is interesting because they are both close friends and on opposite sides of the law. There’s a great conversation about being alone, and therefor in control of your life. This gets to the core of what the story is about, aside from running your wife through an industrial strength grinder.

Hitchcock often experimented with giving the audience a walk on the wild side by telling the story from the “villain”s point of view. ROPE and PSYCHO and this episode put us in the shoes of the badguys and show us the world through their eyes, and make us worry that they will be caught be the authorities. And just for the trivia side of things, the female lead in PSYCHO, Janet Leigh, was the female lead in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE which starred Lawrence Harvey... the star of this episode ARTHUR. Everything is connected!

- Bill

Now on to the NEW book!
This is the "pre-launch" date, there will be an official Launch Party soon, with party hats and noise makers and clowns and balloons and... Okay, maybe none of those things (unless you buy them yourself). But from now until the end of the month the book is $2 off!

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Accidentally still at the May Price of $3.99

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- Bill

Of course, my first book on Hitchcock...




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



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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.

UK Folks Click Here.

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Bill

Thursday, May 10, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: Trio For Terror

Trio For Terror

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



Season: 1, Episode: 25.
Airdate: March 14, 1961


Director: Ida Lupino
Writer: Barré Lyndon (?) based on stories by August Derleth (Extra Passenger), Wilkie Collins (Strange Bed) and Nelson Bond (Medusa).
Cast: Reginald Owens, Robin Hughes, John Abbott, Michael Pate, Richard Lupino.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Producer: William Frye




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “This is an English pub. Just the place for a little something to warm the cockles of your heart... while I chill your blood. They give you a mulled claret here, guarenteed to fortify you against, well, against anything. If the people’s clothes seem strange, well it’s because we’re back in 1905. When a dollar was still a dollar and the British pound was a beautiful gold coin. We are going to see three forces of evil. Three stories, each a masterpiece of strangeness and terror.”

(First Story)

“In this room is a young man who is on his way to commit murder. She wants money, he wants her. Well, to satisfy both of these desirous young people someone will have to die. Drink your claret, you’re going to need it. You are about to meet the extra passenger in one of the eeriest tales ever told.”

(Second Story)

“You’ll take another glass of this claret, of course. It will brace you for a different force of evil. All of the night birds show up in a pub like this sooner or later. Musicians between shows, detectives looking for someone, peers of the realm, reporters, actors, men about town, floatsom of a great city. People in trouble, or looking for trouble.”

(Third Story)

“I sometimes think, perhaps you do too, how outrageous it would have seemed to anyone a hundred years ago if they had been told that someday men would be doing exactly what you’re doing now. Listening to a voice, watching a picture plucked as it were out of the air. We’ve learned a lot in the last 100 years. But how much do you suppose had been forgotten in the last five thousand? You know how scientists scoff at folklore and ancient beliefs? But every now and then they amaze themselves with a discovery that our remote ancestors were right afterall. Our third take of terror contains the echo of an ancient fable which may not be a fable at all. It begins with a manhunt, a search for a murderer, a strangler if you will.”



Synopsis: A turn of the century PULP FICTION episode, with a pub as the hub instead of that bar where Butch and Vincent Vega hang out.

THE EXTRA PASSENGER


Our first story begins in our turn of the century British pub where Simon (Richard Lupino) and Katie (Iris Bristol) plot murder. Simon’s crazy rich uncle spends all of his time studying the occult. When he dies, Simon becomes very wealthy... but Katie suggests that the old guy might need a little prodding into the grave and Simon has a perfect plan. An alibi that the police could never break. He buys out a private compartment on a train, the Conductor punches his ticket. When the train comes to the stop near his uncle’s house he sneaks off the train, races to his Uncle’s house. His Uncle (Terence de Marney) has a rooster chained to a Ouiji Board kinda thing, and is so focused on his experiment to bring a flower back to life temporarily that he doesn’t hear Simon sneak in... until it’s too late. Simon beats his Uncle to death with a pestle, wipes the blood from his hands, and leaves the house.



Outside he has a car stashed. He gets in the car and speeds to the next train station. According to his time tables, he can just make the train because the road takes a more direct route than the train. He parks the car, has to run to make the train, sneaks back into his compartment *seconds* before the Conductor checks into the compartment. Simon pretends he had dozed off, now he has the perfect alibi. He never left the train. He has gotten away with murder!

But when the Conductor leaves he notices he’s not alone in the car... there is a strange man in black sitting quietly in the corner. Simon tells him this is a private compartment, the Man In Black says his Uncle was a warlock and had the ability to send a *walking corpse* to do his bidding. When the Man In Black looks up... it’s Simon’s Dead Uncle! He attacks Simon...



The Detective examines Simon’s dead body on the train and says he was killed by a rooster’s talons.

A TERRIBLY STRANGE BED


Our second story begins at the bar of that pub, where Collins (Robin Hughes) and Ashton (Francis Bethencourt) are discussing how terribly bored they are. They’ve seen all of the plays on the West End, what is left for entertainment? An older woman (Jacqueline Squire) sitting alone at a table pipes up and suggests they go to Hussar House, which has gambling in the back room. The two men mention the establishment’s reputation: in the past dead bodies have been found in the vicinity with rumors that they were gamblers robbed of their winnings. The old woman says those are just rumors. Though Ashton pleads exhaustion, Collins decides to try his luck.



The back room at Hussar House is filled with gamblers, and Collins finds himself winning most of their money over the course of the night. He has a massive stack of chips! The Hussar himself (Reginald Owen), a war hero in full uniform, takes Collins under his wing and makes sure he is treated well. His drinks are on the house, and the Husser makes sure Collins’ glass is always full. Collins feels so lucky, he decides to bet everything on one spin of the roulette wheel... and wins! The Husser shows him how to wrap his money in an old cloth so that he won’t be robbed on the street... the cloth weighs as much as a cannon ball! But Collins has had so much to drink he’s wobbly. The Hussar comps him into a room for the night: the turn of the century version of a VIP room complete with a huge canopied bed. Collins puts his winnings under his pillow and goes to sleep.

In the middle of the night, Collins hears a noise and awakens... the canopy is lowering, about to crush him! He rolls out of the bed at the last moment and the canopy crushes the pillows... which would have been his head!



After he catches his breath, the canopy begins to rise again... and a secret door begins to open in the wall! Collins grabs his winnings and pops out the window onto the ledge, hiding. He grabs a drain pipe and starts to climb down... but the pipe breaks and he almost falls! It was never meant to hold a man. Lots of suspense generated. He finally gets to the alley, races away with his winnings wrapped in the old bit of cloth.

He gets to Ashton’s flat, tells his friend about winning all of the money and almost being killed. Then opens the old cloth to expose... one of the cannon balls that had decorated the military themed casino. And his winnings?

A yacht with the Hussar and the Old Woman from the pub sails for tropical climes.

THE MASK OF MEDUSA




A scream in the night! The Leighton Stranger has struck again! Another woman killed! But this time, the police have a clue: the killer left behind a black leather glove. The police have quadroned off the section of London where the woman was killed and are doing a house to house search for a man wearing only one glove (Michael Jackson?).

Hiding in an alley, Shanner (Michael Pate) runs his glove along the wall... the other hand is bare. As the police search, he tries to find somewhere to hide... an unlocked door. But this is the middle of the night, every door is locked... except this one! A strange shop with a sign announcing that it features statues of 12 Famous Killers. Shanner takes off his single glove and puts it in his pocket, then sneaks into the dark shop...

A group of people are *starring at him* in the darkness! Shanner freaks out! Then he realizes these are the statues. He puts his hands around the neck of a female statue... and someone *touches him* in the darkness.



The shop owner Mr. Milo (John Abbott) turns on the light and asks if Shanner would like Milo to give him a tour. Shanner acts like a customer, and Milo goes from statue to statue telling the history of this killer, his methods, his victims, and other interesting information. It’s creepy. The statues are very detailed, very lifelike... but made of stone. Milo finally comes to the notorious killer Dr. Hartwell, and Shanner is confused: how could Milo have made a statue of the man, there were no known photographs of him and his victims couldn’t very well describe him. Plus, he was never captured! In fact, the police have never captured any of these killers on display! Shanner is suspicious and asks how he came to sculpt such lifelike figures. Milo says he has methods of his own. Shanner asks if this is a model of Dr. Hartwell... or the doctor himself? “Yes. That was Dr. Hartwell.” Shanner is shocked: “You killed them and petrified them! You’re a worse murderer than any of them!” Mr. Milo says he did not kill them. It was the Gorgon’s head. He is from Greece, and was digging around and found the head of Medusa carefully kept in a case...

Shanner wants to call him crazy... but there is a knock at the door. The Police doing their house to house search! Milo opens the door... and there are now 13 statues in the collection. Shanner stands very still as a pair of detectives (Richard Peel and Noel Drayton) enter the shop. There’s some great suspense as the two detectives poke around in the shop as they tell Mr. Milo they are chasing Leighton Strangler, and for the first time they have a real clue: the black glove. One of the detectives looks at the statues, examining them closely, commenting on how detailed they are but also mentioning that if they were statues of convicted and executed killers Milo might have a bigger crowd. One of the detective comes right up to Shanner, but moments before he discovers that Shanner is *not* a statue, the other detective says they need to be getting on to find the strangler.



Once they are gone, Shanner suggests that Milo help him sneak past the police. He says he’s had some problems with the police in the past, and if Milo could put him in a crate and then hire a wagon to take him past the police, he would gladly pay. When Shanner reaches into his pocket top pull out some money, he also pulls out the single black leather glove... and it drops on the floor between the two men. Milo looks at the glove and states that Shanner is the Strangler, the killer the police are searching for!

Shanner says that Milo is by far worse, having killed all of these other killers. Milo says they were turned to stone by the Medusa, and Shanner doesn’t believe him. Milo opens an ornate case, standing behind it, and exposes the head of Medusa... and Shanner turns to stone!

The last shot has Milo changing the sign on the door from 12 statues to 13.





Review: When I think of the THRILLER TV show, I think of Ida Lupino. When I watched these as a kid when they were rerun on some non network channel, my favorite episodes were GUILLOTINE and LATE DATE (coming up) and both were based on short stories by Cornell Woolrich, one of the three fathers of Noir fiction (oddly, there are no mothers). Sometime later I tracked down Woolrich’s novels and short stories (which had just been republished) and read them all. One of my first trips to Los Angeles included a trip to the UCLA Special Collections Library which housed a bunch of ancient pulp magazines, and I spent a few days reading stories in Dime Detective and others by Woolrich and Norbert Davis and many others. But also in those closing credits of GUILLOTINE was the name of the director, Ida Lupino. Wait, that’s can’t be the actress from that Bogart film HIGH SIERRA and that awesome Noir flick ON DANGEROUS GROUND, can it? Turns out it was. Turns out Lupino reached a point in her movie star career where she realized she would someday be too old to star and decided to start working on the other side of the camera. She wrote and directed all kinds of crime films from thrillers to noir to just plain old action. And she was *great*! Probably one of the main reasons why she caught my attention was that her career intersected with that on Don Siegel, who is one of my favorite directors. He directed a little film called DIRTY HARRY you may have heard of. Lupino cowrote PRIVATE HELL 36 which Siegel directed. Lupino cowrote that film with one husband () and costarred in it with another husband (Howard Duff), probably making for a tense set. But she went from actress to screenwriter to director, and was excellent at all of them. On Trailer Tuesday a while back I featured her film THE HITCHHIKER, which is edge of the seat suspense.



Lupino treats this episode like a movie, using camera angles and movement to build suspense and create visual reveals and reversals. I mentioned that last week’s episode had a pedestrian sequence of a character climbing a spiral staircase to their possible doom, but in this episode Lupino makes scenes like climbing down the drainpipe outside of the Hussar House incredibly suspenseful. But the most amazing bit of direction in the episode is an amazing single shot in MEDUSA where we go from Shanner looking at the Medusa head and pan and dolly to the Medusa head with Milo behind it, and then after Milo closes the case we follow him back to Shanner... who is now a statue. All in one shot. No cuts. I call these “sells it shots” because without a cut Shanner the human has becomes the statue of Shanner, and that sells that it really happened and isn’t some movie trick. That guy really turned to stone! Of course, behind the scenes there was probably a great deal of careful and quiet moving of the actor off his mark and the statue onto the mark. But tricky and inventive shots like this are something unexpected on a TV show’s tight shooting schedule... and this particular episode has *three* stories with *three* different casts, which would have been difficult for anyone to pull off. But all three segments use a level of visual storytelling that most of the previous episodes never got close to.

Next up is an episode based on a Woolrich story followed by *another* episode based on a Woolrich story followed by an episode based on Robert Bloch’s second most famous piece of writing.

Bill



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