Monday, December 17, 2007

Going Postal (part two)

stuff Uwe Boll in here then have DeNiro from Mean Streets walk past(When last we left our hero, he was standing in a slow moving line at the post office remembering past lines in the post office when he was just starting out writing short stories... much as Marcel Proust ate a cookie and remembered things past...)


Most of Stephen King’s short stories had been published in magazines called Gent and Dude, published by Dugent Publications... in exotic Florida. The editor was a guy named Maurice Dewalt. I read the King stories, and decided to write some horror stories similar to them for Dugent. Now, I was a fan of King and Matheson and Bloch and many other horror writers, and one of the things I loved about King’s work was that the lead characters were normal guys - some guy working in a factory picking up an extra shift cleaning out the basement who runs into some pretty big rats down there. I could see myself writing this kind of stuff. So I wrote a stack of short stories and began sending them to men’s magazines - even Playboy - why not? Just another day standing in line at the post office.

Now, I wasn’t just sending these guys horror stuff, I was also writing James M. Cain style noir pieces and John D. McDonald style action pieces, and some Chandler influenced mystery stuff. There were dozens of magazines, and if I were going to make a living and pay the rent on the *house* that Wendy and me and the three dogs and a horse were living in, I needed to sell a lot of stories every month. I had a day job at Safeway, but what I wanted to do was write full time.

(Okay, the horse wasn't living in the house. It wasn't living in the back yard, either. It was boarded at some ranch where we had to clean the stall. But it ate like a... well, like a *horse*!)

I was writing screenplays, too, and making short films. In fact, Wendy starred in my CARRIE take off, just to bring it back to Stephen King. It was part of my MONDO SHORTS - UNDERWEAR OF THE WORLD complilation. I made a lot of short films back then, and my first 35 minute compilation was called SHORTS OF BILL MARTELL and the titles were on underpants. The "sequel" was a mocumentary like MONDO CANE that looked at underpants from all over the world... and would then use a kind of Monty Python inspired stream on consciousness to go from undershorts to film shorts. Part of the fun was trying to figure out how to get from a CARRIE parody to NIGHT OF THE LIVING LIFE INSURANCE SALESMEN using underpants from around the world. But the short films and my super 8mm feature and 16mm James Bond parody were things that costme a lot of money so that I could show them in the garage - turned into a cinema by removing our cars and adding folding chairs - to my friends. No way to make any money from the shorts... the money was in short *stories*.

All of this work resulted in an even larger collection of rejection slips.

Just as a test, I sent some stories to literary magazines that only paid in copies. You’d get 5 or maybe 10 copies of the magazine. And that’s what I’d get. No rejection slips, just copies of some magazine that was probably self published (back when that wasn’t easy). Now, here’s where I missed learning a valuable lesson - I should have been self publishing my own damned magazine! I knew all of the printers in town, I probably could have used some of my Safeway money to start up the magazine and hopefully subscribers would have kept it going. But I was a *writer* not a publisher. Creative, not a business guy. I already had a job...

Well, two jobs if you consider all of the time I spent standing in line at the post office to mail short stories.

But a strange thing happened. Maurice Dewalt began sending me scribbled notes on the bottom of my rejection slips. The guy who published Stephen King’s early work liked my work! After a bunch of notes, Mr. Dewalt wrote one that said they would have published this one, but I needed to read some short stories from the current magazine. Editorial needs had changed.

So I went down to the book store... and they didn’t have any copies of the magazine. The clerk told me to try a liquor store.

That’s where I found them. I bought a copy of Dude and a copy of Gent and a couple of others I had been submitting to. I had a *subscription* to Playboy, so I knew exactly what the stories in Playboy were like, and I’d bought a few issues of Penthouse now and then and knew what the stories in there were like... I just figured that the smaller magazines had the same kinds of stories, just not by big name writers.

Well, that might have been true once, but now these magazines were competing with *Hustler* magazine, not Playboy and Penthouse. The stories all had sex in them. Graphic sex. Often, unusual sex. Could I write that? Could I write stories that were, well, pornography... then stand in line at the Post Office surrounded by other people, and *mail* the porno stories to exotic Florida? Could I write that kind of stuff for a living?

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Story from character.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Burger and fries at Nation's Giant - which used to be across the street and a couple of blocks down, but they moved when they put in the new downtown shopping center - they moved *everything* that was the old downtown Pleasant Hill. What didn't move, got buldozed.

Murder My Sweet - the DVD DVDs: MURDER MY SWEET with Dick Powell and Claire Trevor and Mike Mazurki. My favorite Chandler film - yes, I like it more than THE BIG SLEEP and some of you will now want to burn me at the stake. Sorry. I think Bogart does the Marlowe tough guy stuff great, but nobody captures the smart-ass whimsey of Marlowe like Dick Powell. He insults everyone with charm. When Bogart insults you, you stay insulted. Powell sneaks the insult in, pulling one over on the insultee. And the rest of the cast is just amazing - who other than Mike Mazurki could ever play Moose Malloy? And Otto Kruger was born to play Jules Amthor, psychic to the stars. And Claire Trevor - one of the most amazing actresses *ever* - plays a great fake rich woman: she is *all* attitude with nothing at all behind it. You know, it's difficult to play a bad actress in such a way that we know it's the character. When we finally pull away the attitude, she's an ex-hooker struggling to keep her past a secret. Claire Trevor is one of those actresses like Gloria Grahame, she shows up in all kinds of Noir and crime flicks, but you never know if she'll play a femme fatale or a sympathetic gal from the wrong side of the tracks who helps out the hero.

The thing about MURDER MY SWEET is that I know every single line of the movie by heart, and watching it becomes kind of a ROCKY HORROR experience. There was a time when I knew the difference between the two versions that showed on TV - all I can remember now is that one of them had the scene where Marlowe lights a match on a statue's ass and the other doesn't. But there were two versions - each missing scenes that the other included. Maybe there was a 5 minute difference in running time or something and one fit a certain number of late night commercials and the other fit the other used car lot commercial formula. Who knows? But just a great flick.

Gun Crazy - the DVD
DVDs: GUN CRAZY - So I’ve been watching a whole bunch of Film Noir in prep for the audio class and since I mentioned this film when I was talking about THE BIG COMBO a few entries ago, I had to pull it out and watch it again. I probably first saw this film at the UC Theater in Berkeley a couple of decades ago, and was blown away by it. First, like most noir, it’s an adult story. Not Hollywood fluff. It’s dark. It’s sexy. Probably the thing that impressed me the most when I first saw it were Peggy Cummins’ *very* tight black trousers. Women in 1940s movies always wore skirts and dresses. If they did wear pants they were non-sexual - often mannish. But here we have pants so tight it’s almost as if she’s naked.

The three boys look at the bobcat
The story is about a boy (eventually played by John Dall) who has a gun fetish. In the opening scene he steals a gun from a shop window, admires it while the alarm blares, then takes off running... tripping on the wet street. The gun goes sliding across the wet street until it hits a man’s boot... tilt up... a *Police*man’s boot. Next scene - the boy in court explaining to the judge how much he just loves guns. He doesn’t feel whole unless he has a gun in his hands. We’ll leave that up to Uncle Sigmund... but that’s what drives the film - this guy needs a gun to feel like a man. At the trial we meet his two best friends - one is the policeman’s son, the other wears glasses so you know he’ll grow up to be a writer - and they tell the judge that our hero isn’t a killer, on a camping trip he couldn’t shoot a wildcat that was hanging around their campsite (great flashback). He couldn’t bring himself to shoot at it. Wow, same problem as Jon Voight in DELIVERANCE! Boy is sentenced to reform school, from there he goes into the army, then he comes home.

Now we have adult John Dall and his two pals - one is now a cop and the other is a writer for the town newspaper. The carnival is in town, so that’s where they go.
Peggy Cummins - trousers so tight there's a visible panty line
The great thing about this film are the set pieces. In case you missed that Script Tip, a set pieces is a big scene. In the old studio days, it was a scene so juicy the studio would pay for a new set to be built. You don’t need a new set for a set piece, you just need a big juicy scene... and even though GUN CRAZY was a low budget film, probably shot on leftover sets that had been used a million times before and real loactions that could be got cheap - and in the case of one set piece, probably shot without any set at all - the film is full of amazing set pieces.

sure - shoot at my head
The Carnival - maybe the same one from THE RING (1927) - has a sharp shooter as it’s main attraction. Sexy Peggy Cummins in those skin-tight pants. She shoots balloons from around her assistant, shoots a cigarette out of her mouth, and all of the other carny tricks you usually see with a knife thrower. The Barker, an aging pretty boy, announces that for a mere $50 you can test your shooting skills against the master... and possibly win $500. Kind of the same deal as THE RING, just with guns instead of fists. John Dall’s buddies put up the money, and we get a great set piece as Dall and Cummins try to out shoot each other... and fall in lust in the process. Because Dall is an amazing shot, the Barker keeps upping the ante in order to win the bet. Eventually it comes down to this insane trick where a crown that holds a half dozen matches is put on Dall’s head and Cummins *lights the matches* with her bullets. All but one. Then it’s her turn to wear the crown. Dall lights them all. Look, I don’t want even the best sharp shooter in the world to be aiming a gun at my *head* from across the room, let alone firing at me six times. That’s just crazy! Dall ends up with a job at the carnival...
sex and violence - the film was made in the 40s, how old are your grandparents - could this be them after doing it?
Now we have a great scene - not a set piece, but a juicy *dramatic* scene that deals with the romantic triangle between the Barker and Cummins and Dall. One of the interesting things is how they used a metaphor to tell us who was sleeping with who. When Dall first joins the carnival, the Barker asks if he has a car... he says no. Cummins wants him to ride with them, the Barker says there isn’t room in their car... Dall can ride with the clown. If you watch who rides with who in the carnival scenes, you can see Cummins and Dall getting together and the Barker riding alone. Which brings us to the big juicy scene where all of this blows up. Real good. The Barker has a claim on Cummins and tells Dall he’s out of here if he doesn’t honor it. The result of the big blow up is *Cummins and Dall* leaving together (in the same car), which leads us to some relationship stuff where they realize they are broke, and then Cummins’ plan to make money...

By armed robbery.
John Dall exits the bank as Peggy tries to sweet talk the cop - all from the back seat of the getaway carNow we get one of the greatest set pieces in low budget history - the “backseat bank robbery”. It’s a single continuous shot - several minutes - taken from the back seat of their car as they drive down the street of a town, find the bank, hope that there is a parking spot, Cummins pulls into a spot near the front of the bank and Dall gets out. After Dall goes into the bank, a cop walks down the sidewalk, stops near the front of the bank! Cummins pulls the car up, gets out, flirts with the cop, and tries to steer him away from the bank. Not happening. This builds suspense. She keeps trying to get the cop out of the way, but he won’t budge. Then the alarm goes off. She hits the cop, just as Dall bolts out of the bank doors with the money.back seat cameraThey get in the car, Dall driving, and now we get a shoot out and car chase from the back seat of the car. All one shot. The great thing about this is that it was probably dirt cheap - we don’t need the bank interior and extras and setting up lights in the location. It’s *one* camera set up. But it gives you the feeling that you are right there - in the getaway car with them. When the cop fires at the car, he’s firing at *you*. And it’s all one cool shot.
John Dall with a bag full of guns and steaks
The big set piece is the armed robbery that will make them rich. Dall thinks this means they can retire to some exotic location and just be together for the rest of their lives. Cummins thinks only about how much money they will end up with. The target for the armed robbery - the Armour meat packing plant payroll. Well before anyone thought of product placement, we get a *real* company name and a *real* meat packing plant. Again, this was probably due to the low budget. They found a practical location and probably couldn’t afford to change all of the signs.

everyone tells him hes in the wrong area including this armed guardThis is one of those split second timed robberies where all kinds of things can go wrong... and do. It’s a tense scene, then it blows up and becomes a big action scene. The great part about it are the pieces of the set piece. Dall drives up in a truck filled with beef on hooks. He gets some steaks from a butcher and puts them in his bag, then walks to the offices and has to get past a half dozen people who tell him he’s in the wrong area. Dall tells them he has the steaks for the boss’s barbeque. Everyone tells him there’s no refrigeration here - he should take the steaks back to the plant. The deeper he gets into the office, the more he and the steaks are out of place. Eventually he gets to the boss’s floor... where Cummins is working as a secretary, Here it’s Cummins who tells him he’s in the wrong place - as she leads him right into the boss’s office, where they kidnap him and have him fill the steak bag with payroll money. And here’s where we see the beginning of the end - Cummins gets trigger happy and shoots a whole lotta people on the way out. It’s a great big run and gun scene - lots of action to break the tension that has come before.

After that set piece they are on the run, and we get a great sequence where they have their last night out as a couple. They go to the Santa Monica Pier and go on carnival rides - bringing us back to the beginning of their relationship. Then they go to a dance hall, and have a nice, tender, relationship scene... not knowing that the police have traced them to California and are waiting outside. They manage to escape with nothing - they even lose some of the clothes on their backs. Only one place to go...

Back to Dall’s home town. Now we get a great scene with the criminals and Dall’s sister’s family.... trying to act normal when people come over. Dealing with kids playing in the yard when you are harboring a pair of fugitives. And eventually a great scene with Dall and his two childhood friends - the cop and the reporter. A low budget film needs big scenes like this one - juicy drama where childhood friends are on opposite sides of the law... and Dall is kind of in the middle. Cummins is all for just killing them- in fact, she’d kill anyone if it allowed them to escape. She’d kill the kids (and that is in the film). In fact, there’s a great unseen scene where Cummins does *something* to Dall’s sister and her entre family - maybe she just locks them up, maybe she kills them all. We never find out which it is, because we come to the other big amazing set piece...

The one that probably has no set!
smoke and tuleDall and Cummins end up chased by every cop in the state, and blood hounds, and posses and probably villagers with pitchforks... but since they are chased through a foggy swamp, we just *hear* all of these things. I’m not sure if we see a single dog - though there may be a stock shot of dogs chasing - but we *hear* packs of blood hounds chasing them. We hear hundreds of cops searching the foggy swamp for them.

The swamp is... well, it’s 99% fog and 1% a couple of thatches of tule grass.
can you hear all of those cops and dogs?
The big scene where they hide and the cops and dogs search - is just them behind a thatch of tules surrounded by fog. And it works! It’s an amazing scene. Probably shot in some warehouse with a smoke machine. Just goes to show you, *imagination* and *inventiveness* can create production value if you don’t have any cash.

GUN CRAZY still holds up, mostly due to the amazing set pieces and great sequences and fairly obvious sexual overtones... oh, and Cummin’s skin tight trousers.

- Bill

Nothing sexual about this

Nothing sexual about this...


Jake Hollywood said...

I always thought Bogart was all wrong for Marlowe (though Bogart was the perfect Sam Spade) and that Dick Powell was the perfect choice (though I have to admit Elliot Gould was a good alternative choice)...Here's an interesting fact about Mike Mazurki, he owned a bar for a little bit (which in my misspent youth I may have frequented a lot) and someplace in the family archives I have a picture of the two of us together sharing a pitcher of beer...Mike was a great storyteller too.

Anonymous said...

Oooh... Uncle Bill's story is getting juicy! So, will he write porno? Will he?

Anonymous said...

porn? in the p.o.?

Now that's, gOING pOSTAL!

I think I'd lick that stamp!

Wooooo! Hooooo!

eXTReMe Tracker