Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Trailer Tuesday: COPS & ROBBERS (1973)

Cops & Robbers (1973)

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


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

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



Click For Trailer.

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

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

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

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

Buy the border

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

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

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

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

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

Bill

Friday, May 07, 2021

Fridays With Hitchcock: John Michael Hayes

Screenwriter John Michael Hayes was born on May 11, 1919.

Hayes was one of the first screenwriters I noticed. After watching a ton of movies, and realizing that someone had to write them, I started looking at the names of the writers in the credits of some of my favorite movies... and noticed Hayes’ name popping up again and again in Hitchcock film. He scripted REAR WINDOW from a short story I had read by one of my favorite fiction writers, Cornell Woolrich. Because I knew the short story, I also knew what was invented and changed for the movie - a bunch of stuff! Practically the whole movie is new material, since the story is about an invalid man and his male servant and the murder across the courtyard. Hayes also wrote the remake of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY and TO CATCH A THIEF for Hitchcock.









But I also knew Hayes from his script of Lillian Hellman’s play THE CHILDREN’S HOUR, the version that starred James Garner. I played that role in my High School theater department version. I was talking about CHILDREN’S HOUR on the day Hayes died, because I had just seen a screening of DOUBT - which is pretty much the same story but set in a Catholic school. And I knew Hayes from HARLOW and THE CARPET BAGGERS and NEVADA SMITH... and WALKING TALL. His name popped up on a bunch of films I’d seen.

Hayes began his career as a radio writer for shows like SAM SPADE (I had some of those on tape when I was a kid) and INNER SANCTUM (had a bunch of those on tape, too). After writing 1,500 radio scripts, he started writing movies and became Hitchcock’s main writer... which made him one of the top writers in town. He adapted BUTTERFIELD 8 and PEYTON PLACE for the screen in addition to the Harold Robbins novels. His last produced script was the Disney dog sled movie IRON WILL in 1994. He died in 2008. He will be missed.

What were the first screenwriters you noticed?

- Bill

My books on Hitchcock's films...

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!



HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR





HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

Click here for more info!

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Old Burt Lancaster

From 5 years ago...

This week we’re going to look at Burt Lancaster’s career when other actors had long since retired. Robert Mitchum continued to play tough guys, Lancaster played *retired* tough guys the way Clint Eastwood plays roles like that today.

Lancaster was an interesting guy... A working class kid who was a high school athlete, landed a college sports scholarship but dropped out to become a *circus acrobat*. He also worked as a singing waiter before WW2, and when he returned from the war he auditioned for a play and landed on Broadway... where he was discovered by a talent agent (who would later become his producing partner). He was a handsome athletic guy who could sing and dance... and make women swoon. His first role was the *lead* in THE KILLERS with Ava Gardner directed by Robert Siodmak (who directed CRISS CROSS and some other great Lancaster films). Lancaster was kind of like the George Clooney of his day: he didn’t just want to play handsome men in typical Hollywood movies, he wanted to control his career... so he formed a production company and began making his own films. Like Clooney, these were often the kind of edgy and unusual films that the studios *wouldn’t* make... like SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS.

And Lancaster grabbed his circus pal Nick to do stunts and often co star in films. Lancaster was nominated for a pile of Oscars, won one for ELMER GANTRY, and continued to make interesting films throughout his career (a string of great films with John Frankenheimer, and the recently released to BluRay THE SWIMMER which is probably the weirdest movie ever made with a Hollywood star). But when he was getting up there in years... he seemed to be rediscovered.



Though the movie that really brought him back (he didn’t go anywhere) was ATLANTIC CITY in 1980, I’m going to start off with the only movie he directed, THE MIDNIGHT MAN (1974), the story of an old tough guy ex cop working as a security guard on a college campus who finds himself at the center of a murder investigation. It’s kind of a geriatric private eye movie that deals with aging and action at the same time, I think most people have forgotten it. Susan Clark and Harris Yulin from NIGHT MOVES pop up, and screenwriters Quinn Redeker (DEER HUNTER) and Bill Lancaster (THE THING) (Burt’s son) play roles. It wasn’t a hit, but I think it got some good reviews. I read the novel (“The Midnight Lady And The Mourning Man” by David Anthony) and probably saw the movie when it opened in my town. Haven’t seen it since, and I’m curious what it looks like now that *I’m* older.



1900 (NOVECENTO) (1976) is one of my favorite movies, but a completely acquired taste. Bernardo Bertolucci’s sprawling story of Italy from the year 1900 to 1976 stars Robert DeNiro and a young handsome Gerard Depardieu as childhood friends from different sides of the tracks who fall in love with the same woman (Dominique Sanda). DeNiro is the son of the wealthy estate owner, Burt Lancaster... and Depardieu is the dirt poor kid of the senior field worker, Sterling Hayden. This film is filled with beautiful images and an amazing performance by Donald Sutherland. Lancaster and Hayden, two old tough guys, are great in the early part of the film when the two lead characters are little boys. This was one of several films that Lancaster made in Italy as an older actor.



ATLANTIC CITY (1980) was the film where people noticed Lancaster all over again, playing a retired mobster living in Atlantic City and pretending to have once been more important than he really was. He hooks up with a young casino worker played by Susan Sarandon, who applies lemon juice to various places on her body... and wants to get enough money together to move to the south of France. She’s married to a bum who steals some drugs from the mob, and brings a whole world of hurt down on them... and Lancaster’s mostly tall tales of being a mobster turn to action reality. This is a kind of a film noir mixed with Italian neo realism... and shows an Atlantic City that no longer exists. The city before it was rebuilt with all of the new casinos.



LOCAL HERO (1983) is a great film. If you haven’t seen it, stop everything you are doing now (except breathing) and check it out! This is a gentle comedy by Bill Forsythe about an oil company flunky (Peter Riegert) sent into a small Scotland town to convince the residents that they should accept and love the new oil company refinery that is going where their town used to be... and move the heck out. This is one of those great movies that feels like a life changing experience, and is kind of the prototype for many UK comedies to come like WAKING NED DEVINE about unusual occupants of small towns. When Riegert runs into trouble getting some townspeople to sell the homes that have been in their families for generations for something as silly as *money*, the big boss (Lancaster) comes to town to convince them... and ends up recapturing the magic of small town life and decided that maybe this isn’t the right spot for a refinery.



Just for fun, I’m throwing in TOUGH GUYS (1986), a buddy comedy with very old buddies... Lancaster and Kirk Douglas are the old version of the kind of gangster roles they played, just released from prison and trying to figure out how the world works now. The film is uneven, but has some funny scenes that I can still remember... including one where Lancaster and Douglas end up in a gay bar without knowing it... and are asked to dance. These two guys realize they are never going to fit in with the world now... and decide to go back to their armed robbery past.



And though his career still had a few films to go, let’s wrap it up with FIELD OF DREAMS (1989), because I saw it on the big screen at the Egyptian Theater about a year ago and it was still an experience. Lancaster plays Moonlight Graham, who played only one game in the Major Leagues and then retired to become a country doctor. Lancaster plays the old version of Graham, again playing the old retired tough guy... this time a retired athlete. Lancaster began as a high school athlete and gets to play the old version of that in FIELD OF DREAMS.

Even at the end of his career, Lancaster was charming and charismatic and commanded the screen in every scene... and still virile as hell. One of those larger than life movie stars who had a great onscreen third act playing characters who were old but still cooler than I’ll ever be.

Bill

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

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






Friday, April 30, 2021

Fridays With Hitchcock: TOPAZ (1969)

“Topaz” (1969)

Screenplay: Samuel Taylor based on the novel by Leon Uris
Starring: Frederick Stafford, John Vernon, John Forsythe Roscoe Lee Brown.


This film was based on a big best selling beach read by Leon Uris - one of those ripped from the headlines things about the secret shenanigans behind the Cuban missile crisis, filled with as much intrigue between the sheets as behind the doors of the embassies... and a cast of thousands. And the major problem with TOPAZ is probably with the source material's scope. Novels are an entirely different medium than screenplays and the movies that come from them. There are many things that you can do in a novel that just don't work in a movie. As I noted in the last chapter, a movie is viewed all in one gulp and we expect the story to flow and the pieces to connect to each other. Usually the audience does what I call the “skin jump” where they imagine themselves as the lead character and live the story on screen vicariously. They imagine they are James Bond or Indiana Jones or Neo from THE MATRIX or the character looking for love in a romantic comedy.




A book is a completely different animal – though there *are* books that you might read in one gulp, for the most part books are read chapter-by-chapter and we put a book marker in and set it aside. We may take days or weeks or even months to read a single book. So the focus is often on the *chapters* rather than the overall story. Even if a chapter ends with a cliff-hanger, it also usually works as a self-contained unit, giving us someplace to put a book mark and set the book aside. Due to the way the story is delivered to us – chapter by chapter – a book can be episodic and doesn't need to be from the protagonist's point of view. Because we can “get into a character's head” it is easier for us to identify with everyone, even the antagonist. We can bounce from character to character without ever being pulled out of the story. So the problem with adapting some novels is that they work so much differently than a movie works that our best set is probably just to toss the book and just run with the concept... or just leave it as a book. Some things are more at home in the medium they were created in.



The big problem with TOPAZ is that there is no lead character - it bounces back and forth between characters - so most of the scenes “star” minor characters that we haven't really gotten to know. The tone also works against it – a “ripped from the headlines” story often plays like a “just the facts” documentary, which means low key drama and less focus on emotions and drama. Combine that tone with no lead character to identify with and we end up with a story that was probably exciting in book form but ends up dull on screen. The screenplay is by Sam Taylor who wrote VERTIGO, but his skill set may not have been able to tame this all- over-the-place novel. The film just isn't very good, but does contain an amazing experiment which makes it well ahead of its time. Twenty five years before PULP FICTION, this film does a very similar story experiment.

Experiment: A big one! The film actually has four plots - and each is like its own little story. Like PULP FICTION, different lead characters in each story with some overlapping characters who show up in more than one story, and one character who connects all four. It's a great experiment that probably comes directly from the novel's structure – but like most experiments, it ultimately fails. But let's look at it anyway, since PULP FICTION shows that it *can* work. Here are the four stories...

In Denmark: A top ranking Russian and his family defect to the USA.
In the USA: While the Cuban delegation is in town, secret documents are photographed that hint at Russian missiles sent to Cuba.
In CUBA: Spies find the Russian missiles.
In FRANCE: A high level spy ring in the French government is exposed.

Wow, that seems almost linear and not nearly as complicated as the movie is. But when Frederick Stafford (who?) walks into frame, we have no idea who the hell he is and he has to “earn” our identification... and in TOPAZ the characters are each on screen for only a brief time before we are on to the next character. Not enough time to get to know them, let alone like them or care about them or hope they resolve whatever problems we really don't have enough time to learn about. So that Hitchcock aversion to paying star salaries backfires in this film.



Nutshell: In the USA segment, an American CIA agent (John Forsythe) wants to bribe the secretary (Donald Randolph) to Castro's right hand man (John Vernon) to steal his papers.... but doesn't want it traced back to the USA, so he goes to his pal in the French espionage pal (Frederick Stafford) who is having problems with his wife (Dany Robin) to get his son-in-law (Claude Jade) to provide a sketch of the secretary so that his agent (the late great Roscoe Lee Brown) whose cover is a florist, can pretend to be a reporter for Ebony Magazine in order to get past security and bribe the secretary so that he can photograph the papers. Oh, and Castro's right hand man has a head of security and the florist has an assistant and the son-in-law is obviously married to the French espionage pal's daughter and... well, there are no shortage of characters in this one segment alone! And the character who does the actual spying stuff is Roscoe Lee Brown - a peripheral character who we will never see again.

That's the big problem with the story - in the Cuba section it's not any of our main *Cuba story* characters who sneak onto the military base to photograph the missiles, it's some characters we've never seen before who are only in this once sequence... so when they are in trouble, we don't care. They are disposable characters... and *all* of the characters in this film are disposable - they do their little bit of the story and then we never see them again.



It's like a movie about the extras instead of stars.... and there are no movie stars in the film. Zilch. Hitchcock had paid *half* the budget of his previous film TORN CURTAIN on Newman and Julie Andrews' salaries and that film bombed... so he ditched stars completely for this film, and it suffers because of it. The closest we have to a lead character is the French espionage guy played by Stafford - but he never goes on any dangerous missions himself - he hires someone else. Which means he ends up with soap opera plots - his marriage is in trouble, he's having an affair with an agent, his wife is having an affair with a guy who ends up being a Russian spy, his daughter and son in law have issues... All kinds of silly things that make for a great beach read, but don't work very well on the big screen.

Hitch Appearance: A nurse pushes him through the airport in a wheelchair... then he stands up and walks away.

Music: Maurice Jarre does an okay score that sounds a lot like his JUDGE ROY BEAN score - so maybe he recycled it.

Bird Sightings: Hey, a seagull ruins their whole mission in Cuba!

Hitchcock Stock Company: John Forsythe was an odd choice for romantic lead in THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY.

The whole film is kind of ho-hum and shows the problem with doing experiments in a script and film - most experiments fail. That’s why we call them experiments. Even though some of the experiments in Hitchcock’s films don’t entirely succeed, they usually have a handful of great scenes to make up for it, or the experiment itself is interesting to watch (like in ROPE). Here we discover the importance of having a protagonist who is involved in the entire story - *the* pivotal character in each segment. We learn this because this experiment fails in this case - four stories with four different protagonists squeezed into a 143 minute film doesn’t give us much time to care about any of these people or get to know them... so they remain chess pieces moved around the board to tell the story. The more you split the focus among different protagonists, the more you split our emotions so that we don’t have time to care. We take a closer look at this film and it’s episodic structure (and how it paved the way for PULP FICTION) in HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR.

- Bill






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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

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OTHER COUNTRIES:


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






USA Readers click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Thriller Thursday: THE GUILTY MEN

The Guilty Men

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



Season: 1, Episode: 6.
Airdate: 10/18/1960


Director: Jules Bricken
Writer: John Vlahos
Cast: Everett Sloane, Jay C. Flippin, Frank Silvera, John Marley.
Music: Pete Rugolo.
Cinematography: John L. Russell




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Three boys from the slums. One wanted to be a doctor, one wanted to be a lawyer, and the third... he just wanted to be Mr. Big. All three achieved their ambitions with surprising results, as sure is my name is Boris Karloff. They are the guilty men, and that’s the name of our story. That sound you hear is a heart beat. A heart beat that held together a fantastically powerful organization dedicated to big business. The big business of crime. Let me assure you my friends, this is a thriller.”

Synopsis: Kind of a precursor to GODFATHER and GODFATHER 3, the story begins with a boy names Cesare is running down a city street at night, then climbing a fire escape to a New York City rooftop that looks a lot like the rooftop set from VERTIGO... where two other boys are hanging out. The other boys ask what happened when they hear the police sirens from below, and Cesare tells them he got the money to pay for their father’s funeral... $400. His brother Tony is outraged, but Lou asks if he’s going to need an alibi. Cesare says no alibi required, he’s a clever kid and got away clean. Tony doesn’t think their father would want to be buried in a fancy coffin bought with dirty money. Papa wanted the boys to get good jobs and be decent people. Brother Cesare disagrees: “I don’t want the neighbors to laugh, we couldn’t give the old man a decent funeral, capice? We needed the money so I got it, it don’t matter how.”. “It matters to Papa, how many times he tell us a man who lives by violence, he dies the same way.” “I gotta wise saying, too: He who takes gets, and it don’t matter how. You just take and take and take.” These three boys in the slums of New York in the 1920s talk about their futures... Tony dreams of being a doctor, Lou dreams of being a lawyer... and Cesare dreams of being the biggest mobster ever known.



Now we get a montage of Cesare Romano’s rise from that kid on the rooftop to crime kingpin through stock footage and newspaper headlines. As prohibition comes in, he rises to the top, and when prohibition is voted out he organizes all of the other bootleggers into a crime syndicate that controls all of the illegal vices people crave. When the feds begin cracking down, he turns his front businesses into *real* businesses and is able to walk away from Senate hearings a free man because his hotels and shipping and other businesses are legit... they make a ton of money (even though they are still used as fronts from some criminal enterprises). Which takes us to 1960, present day...

An aging “Charlie” (Cesare) Romano (Frank Silvera) is meeting with all of the mob bosses beneath him who form The Syndicate, and some are angry that they so corporate that they are no longer criminals. Leading the pack is Gans (Jay C. Flippin) who thinks they should focus on heroin and other hard drugs before someone else moves in. Charlie says they made record profits *legally*, why push their luck? Mob Lawyer Lou (Everett Sloane) agrees. But Gans is the up and comer, like Mantegna’s Joey Zasa in GODFATHER 3, and thinks heroin is the new Prohibition... and they could become so powerful the government couldn’t touch them. Charlie gets angry and... collapses to his chair, grabbing for his heart pills.



At Charlie’s estate, doctor brother Tony (John Marley... from THE GODFATHER) attends to Charlie as Lou looks on. Charlie and Tony are hardly on speaking terms these days, but Tony is still his doctor. Tony tells Charlie he needs to get his anger under control, that’s what triggered the heart attack today... and then calls his bother scum for being part of the drug trade and says goodbye to Lou and goes back to the hospital. When he’s gone, Charlie and Tony discuss their heroin business... should they drop it? Tony says they should either drop it or get into it 100 percent. Charlie wants desperately to be legitimate, to put his criminal past behind him and decides to get out: *not* allow any part of the syndicate to import or sell drugs.

At the next meeting, Charlie proposes they stop being part of the drug traffic... Gans argues that it’s millions of dollars being thrown away, and they should *focus* on the heroin business and make even more money. Lawyer Lou offers to mediate the dispute between the two men, and most of the other mobsters are dismissed from the meeting. Charlie and Gans face off, the argument becomes heated, comes to blows... and Charlie has another heart attack, reaching for his pills. Gans pulls them away. Charlie reaches, reaches, reaches for his pills. Can’t get them. Dies of a heart attack.



Twist: Lawyer Lou was in on it... afraid that Gans *would* take over the mob, and the mob is 98 percent of Lou’s business. He couldn’t survive if Charlie lost control, so he went along with Gans and kept his job.

Charlie’s funeral: all three boys together again, but one is dead.

Gans in now in control... and wants to go full force into the drug business. When some of the legit business guys and Lawyer Lou think they should not get into it, or at least be very very cautious, Gans rubs out one of them making it look like suicide. The problem with the suicide? It splashes mud on everyone else in the syndicate including Lawyer Lou. For Lou the plan has backfired: he never really wanted to be *Gans* lawyer. In trying to save his income he has sold his soul and is liable to go down with *Gans*. He decides to turn states evidence against Gans and the mob... not knowing that Gans has his phones tapped, and after cutting a deal, leaves to turn himself in... and is shot dead in the street by Gans. But the police arrive and shoot it out with Gans and his men, the end. Everyone who lived by violence has died by violence.



Review: There are a handful of THRILLER episodes that are crime dramas and seem like rejected episodes of THE UNTOUCHABLES that found their way to THRILLER. This is one of them. Many TV shows take a while to figure out what they are, and that must have been even more difficult with an anthology show like THRILLER. There are no continuing characters and no continuing storyline, and for a while no specific *genre*. Hitchcock has a history of films which set the tone for his show, but even that show had occasional episodes that didn’t seem to fit. Hey, it’s television, we have to make a one hour show every single week! Eventually THRILLER would find itself and center on suspense with a touch of weird tales thrown in, but this week it was a crime drama.

And the accent is on the *drama* here, as most of the episode takes place in the mob’s boardroom with dangerous men... talking. This episode could easily have been a stage play about corporate politics instead of organized crime. So it seems slow and stagey, and they chunk of stock footage from some other gangster movie or show with all of the car chases and explosions and tommy gun fights looks even more like stock footage because of it. And doesn’t really inject any action into the episode. Even the three murders on screen, Charlie’s and the other mobster who doesn’t go along with Gans and Lou’s, don’t have any have action. Lawyer Lou’s is the only one with the kind of action you’d expect in a gangster story: he gets plugged in a drive by. Charlie’s comes closest to being suspenseful (THRILLER material) because they have to hold him away from his pills long enough to die. Actually an okay scene. The other murder is off screen, with only the discovery of the body on screen. Imagine THE GODFATHER without the violence or the pageantry.

The scene with Charlie and his pills comes in the last half of the episode! That gives you an idea of how much talk there is. And after Charlie is dead... more talk!



One of the great things this episode does is give us a “bridge” between the boys and their adult counterparts, most notably with Cesare/Charlie who slaps his hand on a table hard when making a point. We end with the boy Cesare slapping his hand down and, after the credits and montage, begin with Charlie slapping his hand down on the board room table. Easy for the audience to understand that the boy is now this man. Things like this are part of old school screenwriting and I fear are being lost these days.

It’s great to see John Marley in a GODFATHEResque story made almost 15 years before that film... but his character vanishes at the end. After Charlie’s funeral he isn’t in a single scene. I would have squeezed him in at the very end, just because he *is* the surviving brother. Technically fine, and watchable. But the *next* episode gets us back on course to what THRILLER would become.

FADE OUT

Bill

Buy The DVD!



Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Trailer Tuesday: THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH

MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964)

Starring: Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher, Patrick Magee.
Written by: Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell, based on Poe's MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and HOP FROG.
Directed by: Roger Corman
Produced by: Roger Corman
Cinematography: Nicolas Roeg




After the success of FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, the next film in Roger Corman's Poe series was originally going to be RED DEATH, but the story of a hooded Death seeking out victims during the plague was deemed too much like Bergman’s THE SEVENTH SEAL about a hooded Death seeking out victims during the plague. So the project was shelved at that time, and Corman went on to make PIT AND THE PENDULUM. But a few years later, everyone had forgotten that silly Swedish film and they decided to make RED DEATH, with R. Wright Campbell rewriting Beaumont’s original screenplay. Campbell had just written SECRET INVASION which Corman made for Allied Artists in Dubrovnik for $600k. Corman was often hired by studios to make big films on a small budget. Campbell went on to become a best selling novelist, and I have a bunch of his mysteries on my shelf.

Unlike the earlier films in the series, this was shot in England (due to a production incentive) on left over sets from BECKET, which would be nominated for 12 Oscars... including sets. So they ended up with Oscar winning sets... from another movie! The film also used one of the British stars of BECKET, David Weston, as the romantic lead Gino. The cast is filled with great British actors, many before they became famous. It’s weird to see M from the James Bond movies, Robert Brown, playing a *guard* in a couple of scenes!



One of the great things about making films on a budget is that you end up hiring young talent before they become famous, and the director of photography on this film is Nicolas Roeg. This film was fairly early in his career, though he had already done 2nd unit work on LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and the next year would do some 2nd unit work on DOCTOR ZHIVAGO. Roeg would eventually become a famous cinematographer, and then a famous director - he directed another great Halloween treat DON’T LOOK NOW. He’s one of my favorite directors because his films are “unstuck in time” and often smoothly bounce between time periods using match cuts.

Though this is a beautiful movie, it is more intellectual and less visceral. Where the first two Corman Poe movies were filled with dread and spooky scenes and disturbing situations and all kinds of great scares, this film is a “thinkie”. It’s all about people’s religious beliefs and the ability for humans to be cruel. Not as much about the cruelty itself. So where PIT may have had audiences screaming in terror, this film was more likely to have them discussing the meaning of life. It really is similar to THE SEVENTH SEAL!



A desolate landscape. An old woman gathering firewood is beckoned by a Man dressed in a long red cloak - The Red Death. He holds out a white rose to her, but in his hands the rose turns blood red. “Take this to your village and tell the people: The day of their deliverance is at hand.”

In the village, Prince Prospero’s carriage roars in at high speed... almost running over a toddler playing in the road. Prospero (Vincent Price) thanks the village for their taxes of grain and meat and invites them to his annual ball... where they will be confined to the courtyard and thrown table scraps (as one villager says). Another villager (Nigel Green from IPCRESS FILES) says that an old woman met a holy man who said their day of deliverance is at hand... deliverance from Prospero’s tyranny. Prospero orders the two men killed, but a young woman, Francesca (Jane Asher) begs him to spare them. Prospero gives her a Sophie’s choice - pick one to die. One is her fiancĂ© Gino (David Weston), the other her father. Interrupted by the old woman’s screams - she is dying of the plague... the Red Death. Her face covered with hideous bloody sores.



Prospero asks if either of the men or Francesca touched the old woman? No. So he takes the three with him and orders the village burned to the ground.

At the castle: Francesca is stripped and thrown in a bathtub. Prince Prospero orders his wife Juliana (Hazel Court and her freckled cleavage) to dress her in a fine gown and instruct her on being a lady so that she may attend the party as a guest. She shouldn’t worry - her lover and father ad safe.

In the castle’s ballroom, Alfredo (Patrick Magee from CLOCKWORK ORANGE) and Prospero discuss terror. Then Prospero introduces, for your pleasure, the dancers (both little people) Esmeralda (Verina Greenlaw) and HopToad (Skip Martin)- she does a graceful dance, but accidentally knocks over Alfredo’s wine goblet so he slaps her to the floor. HopToad goes to comfort her. Prince Prospero announces to his guests a masquerade ball at midnight Sunday... but do not wear red. He tells them that the Red Death has reached the village - the plague is just outside the castle walls - but here they are safe.



That’s when Francesca enters - she cleans up well. Prince Prospero takes her on his arm as he ridicules and insults his guests... and the other guests laugh.

Prospero takes Francesca into an apartment where she will stay and they discuss cruelty, and the cruelty of God for bringing famine and pestilence and death. Francesca believes God balances out those things with love and hope... but Prospero thinks there is little hope in this world. When Francesca moves to open a door in the apartment, Prospero blocks her - she is forbidden to go into that room. Tomorrow she can see her lover and her father.

That night, a shadow falls over Francesca as she sleeps... a noise awakens her. She lights a candle and searches the bedroom... a dark figure in the corner! Just her robe on a coatrack. She puts on the robe and follows the noise - echoes of Prospero doing some sort of incantation - through the dark, empty castle. To a pair of golden doors. She opens the doors, moving deeper and deeper into a dark room, to a final set of black doors. Beyond them - Juliana on a strange throne in a trance, Prospero seemingly dead on a slab. She goes to touch Prospero - and his eye blast open. She screams and runs out of the room, through all of the doorways, through the dark castle... where she bumps into a dark figure! Alfredo. “Did I startle you, my dear?” She runs away.



Next morning, Prospero shows Francesca how his falcon hurts and kills other birds... and explains how to turn a falcon into a slave (which is all subtext, baby!). And lets slip that where she worships God and is a Christian, he worships Satan the Lord Of Flies.

A carriage arrives - a late party guest Scarlotti and his wife. Prospero denies them entrance to the castle because the Red Death is upon the countryside. Scarlotti begs to be allowed in, tells Prospero he can screw his wife if they’d just let them in. Prospero says he’s already had that doubtful pleasure... then shoots him with an arrow and tells the wife she should kill herself before she succumbs to the Red Death and throws a sword down to her...

Great Nic Roeg match cut as the sword falls into Gino’s hand in the caste’s prison where a Knight (Robert Brown from the James Bond movies) explains that he will have to fight Francesca’s father to the death - only one will survive. So he’d better get to training. And Gino and the Knight sword fight. The Knight thinks this will be easy, but Gino has some skills. Prospero takes Francesco down to watch this sword fight. She sees that the two men in her life are alive... but for how long?



As they leave the prison, Francesca takes a wrong turn in the dark tunnels and Prospero corrects her, “This way my dear, it would be better.” She hears screaming from that wrong turn destination... the torture chamber. Prospero says his distant relative used that torture chamber during the Spanish Inquisition in the name of God (making Prospero some relative of Medina from PIT AND THE PENDULUM?). We get more discussion of religion... “I don’t want to hurt you my dear. I want to save your soul so that you can join me in the glories of Hell. I will take you by the hand, and lead you through the cruel light into the velvet darkness.”

Meanwhile, jealous Juliana decides the way to keep Prospero’s hands off Francesca is to go all the way with Satan, and gives her vows at a Satanic altar to give her soul to Satan... and seals the deal by branding her boobs with his symbol. Ouch!



In another part of the castle Alfredo and HopToad have a conversation about full sized women and HopToad’s interest in finding other employment... he fears for Prospero’s rein. HopToad is a clever and cunning man... a manipulator. He convinces Alfredo not to dress in his demon costume for the masquerade ball, but as a gorilla - there is an actual stuffed gorilla in a trophy room in the castle that no one has been in for decades. While all of the other guests are dressed in simple costumes designed to show off their bodies, Alfredo will be able to frighten them with his performance as a beast.

Francesca is awakened in the night by another noise... someone is trying to break into her room! She hides behind the curtains as the door bursts open! Juliana enters, and Francesca comes out from the curtains. Then notices Juliana’s boob brand - WTF? She says she has only one more rite and then she will be wed to Satan - and Prospero and eternal life will be hers. Then she gives Francesca a key - so that she can escape the castle. Take Gino and her father and leave now!



Francesca creeps through the dark tunnels under the castle to the prison area... sneaking past the guards to their cells. Through the spider webs, she looks through each cell door - a nice jump moment as a prisoner’s face pops into the cell window. She finds Gino and her father and rescues them... now they must sneak out of the prison. They are caught be the prison guards and there is a fight, Gino shows his sword skills - killing the three guards - and they escape. They get to the side door of the castle where Juliana has bribed the guards, and Francesca taps on the shoulder of the Guard, who spins to face her - it’s Prospero dressed as a guard!

Captured.

Francesca says that Juliana set them up, betrayed her! Prospero says Juliana betrayed *him*... and she will pay, as will Gino and her Father. She begs him, but Prospero says that Gino and her father killed three guards, that’s a sin in *her* religion, is it not? So they must pay for their sins... and fight each other to the death as an exhibition before the masquerade ball.



The big feast before the ball: Prince Prospero gives an anti-toast as he throws daggers into the massive dinner table, saying that not only will Scarlotti and his wife not be attending the celebration because they’re dead; there are people in attendance who have plotted against him... and will be punished as the party goes on. Guests begin looking at each other wondering if it’s them. Tonight’s festivities begin with two men fighting to the death. Francesca gasps as Gino and her father are brought into the room by guards. Prospero explains that these two men have refused to fight each other, since their religion tells them to love thy neighbor; but he has devised a way to allow them to save the other’s life. “There are five daggers here, one of them is impregnated with a poison that kills in five seconds. Each man in turn will cut his forearm. Shall we begin? Will you not lay down your life for your brother?”



Her father selects a knife and slices his arm... tick tick tick... five seconds later he is still alive. “Next.” Gino selects a knife and slices his arm... tick, tick, tick... everyone watches and suspense builds. Gino does not die. “Next.” Her father selects a knife and slices his arm... tick, tick, tick... guests eat and watch the show, but five seconds later her father still stands. “Next.” Gino selects one of the last two knives, sealing either his fate or Francesca’s father’s. He slices his arm... tick, tick, tick... big suspense build... but he is still standing after five seconds. All eyes are now on Francesca’s father and that last dagger. He smiles, pulls it from the table and says, “Five seconds” before stabbing the dagger at Prospero! But Prospero is faster with his sword and runs it through Francesca’s father before the poisoned blade can touch him. She screams as he father falls to the floor, dead. Prospero says the game was not played properly, so Gino will die as well. But not by Prospero’s hand, by *God’s hand* - Gino will be sent back to his plaque ravaged village. Francesca begs him to spare Gino, if Prospero does... she will do anything he wants. Anything. Prospero is pretty sure that will happen whether he saves Gino or not.

He dismisses all of the guests - return at midnight in costumes and let no one see you between now and then.

Then Juliana removes a red flower from the front of her gown to expose her branded boob and tells Prospero that she is ready.



The guards dump Gino in the woods, where he can hear the echoes of a woman’s scream coming from the castle. Francesca or Julliana? He runs through the dark and foggy woods where he bumps into... The Red Death. No chess playing, but a nice discussion with death about life, and how Gino can possibly rescue the woman he loves. The Red Death gives him a Tarot card... tells him this is the answer. But what is it? Gino hears a noise in the woods and runs towards it...

In the castle, HopToad dresses Alfredo in the gorilla’s skin. “Sure it’s hot, but after the unmasking you can take it off... the game will be over.” What is HopToad up to?

In the woods, Gino finds some surviving villagers going to the castle to beg forgiveness for whatever they have done to bring on the red death. Gino tries to stop them, fails.

In the castle, Juliana and her branded boob is in the Satanic Temple portion of the castle taking unholy communion... after she drinks the potion, she has a psychedelic dream (in tinted and warped images): Dancing Aztecs looking for a sacrifice, all kinds of other evil dudes looking for sacrifices... ending with her screaming. Waking up to Prospero’s laugh. “I am betrothed of the death, and I have seen the terror.”



She follows his echoing voice into the clock room of the castle, where a razor sharp pendulum also reminds us of PIT AND THE PENDULUM. The voice says the clock is like the beating of the heart, the footsteps of the assassin... destiny! And then the falcon attacks Juliana and tears away at her face as she screams! Since this isn’t a Hitchcock film it does not peck out her eyes (missed opportunity). She falls to the floor, dead... just as the guests show up for the masquerade ball! Much screaming ensues.

The masque begins!

The village survivors arrive at the castle gates and beg the Night Watch guards for mercy... they decide to inform Prince Prospero of this, it might amuse him. Gino tries to encourage the villagers to die like men. Gino walks away from them. Prospero listens to their pleas for sanctuary, and refuses - telling them to return to their village. “But we will die if we return.” So Prospero saves them a trip and has the archers shoot them all... except for the child.

Prospero joins the party in progress, telling the guests that only 6 people from the village survived the Red Death, but because his guests are within the castle walls there is no possibility of them contracting the plague. Francesca asks what happened to the six survivors, and Prospero said he had them killed... better than starving to death or dying of the plague, right? Now that Juliana is dead, Prospero plans on hooking up with Francesca.

Gino scales the castle walls to rescue the woman he loves... and when he drops within there is someone in the shadows watching him... Mr. Red Death himself. He orders Gino to go no further, and at the stroke of 1am, he will send Francesca to him. Gino doesn’t want to wait, but he has no choice.

In their chambers, HopToad tells Esmerelda that they will escape the castle tonight - Prospero is a larger threat than the plague. Then he leaves to accompany Alfredo to the party... as the gorilla’s trainer.



Alfredo is grabbing random women as the gorilla, he throws one to the floor and prepares too mount her. HopToad lowers the chandelier until it just over Alfredo, ties him to the chandelier and hoists him above the ballroom. Everyone laughs, HopToad splashes brandy all over Alfredo - as Alfredo splashed his wine on him once. Of course the brandy and the candles of the chandelier are a bad combination, and soon Alfredo is burning alive as the other guests watch. Prospero has the guards clear away the burned Alfredo’s corpse, and find HopToad... to give him 5 pieces of gold for providing the excellent entertainment.



Then Prospero notices a guest dressed in red, and he forbid them from wearing red! He goes to investigate - crossing the busy dance floor with Francesca. Chases him into the Satanic Temple. Prospero tries to guess the identity of the guest...
“Is my costume such a disguise that you don’t recognize me?”
Then he recognizes him, “So you have come. The Prince Of Darkness.”
“I am death.”
“Who do you come for? All?”
“Not all.”
Prospero smiles, “I knew I was right, I have won!”
“It is the time of unmasking,” Red Death returns to the ballroom, Prospero and Francesca follow. “It is time for a new dance to begin.”



In the ballroom, as Red Death walks past dancers they grow ugly red sores... until all of the guests have the sores of the plague. Prospero smiles, “Our master will be pleased. I brought all of these souls to him. I taught them his worship. I corrupted them for him. I knew he was supreme when no one else did. I built a chapel to Satan and I prayed to him and I made a pact with him and these, all of my friends, I promised them safety.” Prospero thinks his promise is the kind of joke Satan will appreciate. Red Death orders Francesca to go to the fortress wall, go now. Prospero says, “Yes, go... and I will join you when this is over,” and kisses her. Francesca leaves.



When she’s gone, Red Death says that Satan is not his master... Death has no master. Prospero tries to argue that Satan is the supreme God, but Death tells him that each man creates his own God, his own heaven, his own hell. Prospero demands to see Red Death’s face and yanks off the mask... exposing his own face covered with bloody sores. “No! No!” he runs away... across the dance floor of the damned. The dying guests reach out to grab Prospero, getting their blood all over him! When Prospero reaches the other side of the dance floor, Red Death is there waiting for him. You can’t escape death. And soon, all of the guests lay dead on the floor at Prospero’s feet.

Prospero runs back into the Satanic Temple... where Red Death waits for him. And Prospero’s face erupts in bloody sores and he falls to the floor dead.

The only survivors of the Red Death: HopToad and Esmerelda, Gino and Francesca, and the child from the village who was not shot by the castle archers.

- Bill



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