Friday, January 29, 2021

HITCH 20: The Crystal Trench (s3e5)

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



CRYSTAL TRENCH extras...

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

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



IS THIS THE RIGHT PLACE?


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

A man walking down a dark alley.

A man walking in a park filled with children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TWO TOOLS FOR SISTER SARAH





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STOCK COMPANY


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

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

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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:
(links actually work now)

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And...




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Bill

Thursday, January 28, 2021

THRILLER Thursday: Portrait Without A Face

NEW SEASON 2!!!

THRILLER: Portrait Without A Face

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



Season: 2, Episode: 14.
Airdate: Dec. 25, 1961 (The Christmas episode?) Director: John Newland
Writer: Jason Wingreen.
Cast: Jane Greer, Robert Webber, Katherine Squire, George Mitchell, John Banner.
Music: Morton Stevens
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Producer: William Frye



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Robertson Moffat’s greatest masterpiece doomed by the shot of an assassin’s crossbow to remain just as we see it - blank, lifeless as the murdered artist himself. It is said that art is a human effort, having for its purpose the transmission to others of the highest and noblest feelings which men have risen. Well, my friends, tonight you’ll see that the activity of art can be inhuman as well. And that its purpose, at least in this case, is shall we say, unexpected. The victim’s vacant canvas should give you a hint of the title our play. It’s called Portrait Without A Face. Look closely, and it will reveal the identity of our leading players. They are: Jane Greer, Robert Webber, Catherine Squire, George Mitchell, and Brian Gaffikin. Sit back, relax if you can, while we whet your pallete with some bold strokes of terror. Oh, do you have a skylight? Be sure to bolt it securely, otherwise you won’t know that you are absolutely alone.”



Synopsis: In his studio, egotistical painter Roberston Moffat (John Newland) is strangling over-acting newspaper reporter Nat Fairchild (Brian Gaffikin) and tosses him to the floor. Fairchild says he didn’t want to come, but she begged him to try and get the painting back. Moffat laughs - says she begged him to paint her nude. Moffat pours himself a drink and pontificates on death... and says he’s going to paint the Angel Of Death, and orders Fairchild to get out. Once Fairchild is gone, the phone rings - Marie, the woman in the nude painting begs him to give it to her. He refuses.... but does ask if she wants to hook up. She hangs up instead.

As Moffat gets his brushes and paints ready, someone climbs the wall of the studio with a crossbow, opens the skylight, fires an arrow into Moffat’s *head*, killing him. Closes the window and vanishes.



Six Months Later: Art Appraiser Arthur Henshaw (Robert Webber) arrives at the Moffat house and is *greeted* by crazy old Aunt Agatha Moffat (Katherine Squire) who asks if he’s from the Janus Gallery in New York. Moffat left all of his paintings to Janus because he discovered him, but Moffat’s wife Ann keeps all of the paintings in the house until she dies... so Janus will probably be long dead before he sees any of the paintings. Crazy old Aunt Agatha is an exposition machine who rattles off information and backstory and plot points and just about anything else the story needs. She tells him the police still have no clues as to who shot the arrow into Moffat’s head.

Ann Moffat (Jane Greer from OUT OF THE PAST) descends the stairs and introduces herself, and crazy Aunt Agatha scampers away. As Ann shows him out the backdoor of the house and across the courtyard to the studio, Henshaw says he’s here to catalogue all of the paintings so Janus can decide what to show at Moffat’s last exhibition. No one has been in the studio since the murder.

She unlocks the door and shows Henshaw around, pointing out Moffat’s last canvas... which is blank. But Henshaw looks at it and says it is not blank... Ann takes a look, and there is a painting of Moffat’s head on the floor with the arrow sticking out of it in the corner of the canvas - the rest is blank. Ann faints.



Dr. Grant (Gage Clarke), who has the worst bedside manner ever, scolds Ann for fainting and yells at her to keep calm. On his way out, Dr. Grant has a conversation with Henshaw about why she fainted. Henshaw says the canvas was blank, and then there was part of a painting on it. “Do you realize what you’re saying?” Dr. Grant replies. Unfortunately, I’m not sure anyone has any idea what they are talking about - because they avoid the word “ghost” and avoid anything that might make you think that’s what they are talking about. Also, they forgot to plant that the painting of dead Moffat was in Moffat’s style. Grant scolds and yells at Henshaw, then leaves.

Ann gets out of bed, tells Henshaw that she must destroy the painting, and heads out the backdoor into a night thick with fog. They have a conversation about the key to the studio - there was only one, Ann didn’t even have a key until her husband died and she was given his. They discuss the arrow shot through the skylight - could someone have entered the studio through the skylight and painted on the canvas... maybe the killer? The fog is so think in some of these shots that the actors didn’t have to show up for work that day.

In the studio, crazy Aunt Agatha is looking at the painting a cackling. They send her away, and Henshaw closes the door. Henshaw goes to get the canvas... and looks at it for a long long long time. Anne eventually comes over and sees that someone has added to the painting - dead Moffat’s body has now been added. Henshaw wants to leave and lock the studio door behind them and call the police. Now we get Ann saying that the painting is in her husband’s style. “He’s dead, but he’s painting this picture.”



Sheriff Pete Browning (George Mitchell - the old drunk in ANDROMEDA STRAIN) shows up and says it’s crazy - Moffat can’t be painting from beyond the grave. Henshaw tells him that he’s sent for the greatest art critic in the world to authenticate the painting. Browning isn’t sure what that will prove... and that’s when Fairchild shows up unannounced. He’s heard rumor that Moffat is painting from beyond the grave, can Sheriff Browning or Henshaw verify this? Again, this guy is over-acting like crazy. Browning shows Fairchild out... then asks Ann for the key to the studio so that he can investigate this alleged ghost painting.

Henshaw helps Ann upstairs, then goes to the studio - where Browning is looking at the painting. Browning pulls up a chair to make sure no ghosts add to the painting overnight. Henshaw goes upstairs in the studio to catalogue paintings.

Crazy Aunt Agatha runs around in the thick fog cackling.

Ann looks out her bedroom window at the fog.

Fairchild looks through the gates at the fog.

Crazy Aunt Agatha makes a cup of coffee, then looks out the window at the fog... and sees a MAN! She screams!



Sheriff Browning hears this and runs out of the studio and through the fog into the kitchen, where Ann is comforting crazy Aunt Agatha... and the MAN is standing in the kitchen. He is Professor Martin Vanderhoven (John Banner, Sgt Schultz) the art expert. He explains how many times he knocked at the front door before coming around to the back and looking through the kitchen window, scaring Agatha, Then he explains exactly why he came here... to examine the painting. Browning realizes that no one is guarding the painting and races back to the studio... Everyone follows.

Browning looks at the canvas and calls for Henshaw, who has been upstairs all along, and says that no one has entered or left the studio. Except, more of the room has been painted - including a roughed out version of the ceiling and skylight!

Vanderhoven says this is definitely Moffat’s work. How is that possible? He’s been dead for six months. Vanderhoven touches the new portion of the painting - and the paint is still wet. Impossible! Vanderhoven wants to take more time to study the painting.



Meanwhile, crazy Aunt Agatha is using a Ouija Board in the livingroom and cackling... while all of the other cast members wait. For some reason, Fairchild is there.

Vanderhoven comes back from the studio and says it is Moffat’s work - but that is impossible. Everybody freaks out in their own way.

Sheriff Browning wants to take the painting to the police station, and Henshaw stops him in the fog - neither actor really needed to show up for this scene, the fog is so thick you can barely see them. Henshaw says the painting belongs to Janus Galleries, and as the representative of the owner, he can’t let Browning have it. Besides - it’s not finished. Browning goes to get a court order.



Henshaw is going to spend the night in the studio guarding the painting.

Fairchild spends the night in a bar. Someone sits across from him - unseen. Fairchild has a file on Henshaw... he was captain of the archery team in college.

Ann grabs a knife and goes into the studio to destroy the painting... but Henshaw wakes up and stops her. That’s when they notice that more of the painting has been filled in. The skylight, but not the face of the killer. Henshaw asks if she killed her husband - she says she hated him, but didn’t kill him. Dude was an a-hole, and screwed every woman who posed for him.



Henshaw says he believes that the killer will return to the scene of the crime to destroy the painting...

And a masked man climbs over the wall with a cross bow!

Henshaw tells her that *he* has been doing the painting - as an art student he learned how to mimic the styles of other painters. He is doing this to catch the killer. He couldn’t tell her until he knew that she wasn’t a suspect. That’s when they hear the noise from the skylight. Henshaw tells her to sit in the chair, and then he races upstairs to the door overlooking the skylight (um, kind of negates the locked room aspect of the mystery) and tangles with the masked cross-bow dude... throwing him through the skylight!

Outside, Fairchild grabs a screaming girl in the fog and brings her into the studio for no apparent reason, where Henshaw rolls over the dead masked man and pulls off the mask... exposing Sheriff Browning. The screaming girl is Marie, Browning’s wife (Alberta Nelson)... who was the nekkid girl Moffat painted who called him in the first scene. Browning found out and got jealous and...

Then, for no apparent reason, everyone looks at the painting as Browning’s face is painted by Moffat’s ghost! Creepy... not!



Review: Newland’s technical direction is a small step better than in his last episode, there is actually a moving shot in this hour! But still, most of his plan is to set up a camera and have actors act in front of it - zero actual direction. This stands out in scenes in the living room set and the art studio set when characters are so far away from the camera that it is like watching a stage play. In the episode’s teaser, where he plays the famous artist *and* directs, there is an awkwardly shot conversation where Fairchild is in close up talking to Moffat in long shot... and the different sizes of the characters on screen is confusing. Had this been done for some purpose it might be okay, but it just seems like Newland wasn’t thinking about how the shots would cut together.

The living room scenes often have the camera planted somewhere and characters move back and forth across a diagonal in front of it - again, making it seem like a stage play. One of the weird things about that moving shot is that it goes from two characters talking to each other on the sides of the screen in profile (flat shot), to behind one of the characters so we can only see the back of his head for the rest of the conversation. What’s that all about? Newland’s flat lack of style has been an issue with all of his episodes since Stephen King’s favorite PIGEONS FROM HELL, where he couldn’t make cobwebs creepy... here he doesn’t make fog creepy.



But the biggest problem with this episode is that it doesn’t get the creepy concept to the audience until close to the end. Whether that is the fault of the screenplay or the direction (most likely both), despite several chunks of exposition, the concept that Moffat is painting his killer’s face from beyond the grave isn’t made clear or even made creepy and strange until the episode is almost over. Yeah, someone is painting that canvas, but the critical information that the painting is in Moffat’s style is never mentioned - and never shown - until Sgt Schultz shows up. The direction is so flat that it can’t make the additions to the painting spooky - someone is just painting - and the writing seems to miss that this is important information. The writer, Wingreen, is a character actor whose face you would recognize - but this is one of 5 TV episodes he wrote, and no one ever asked him back. My guess - due to all of that clunky exposition in an early scene - is that *on the page* we are told that the painting is in Moffat’s style, but because it is never shown in any way - that information stays on the page.



One of the issues here is that for a story that hinges on the painter’s style, prop paintings all seem to be from different painters with different styles. There is never a sequence after the post-death painting has begun that shows shots of Moffat’s previous work and compares it to the post death painting to show the audience that it’s the dead guy doing the painting. One of the checks and balances in cinema is that if the writer drops the ball and the information is on the page but not the stage, the director can rectify that and come us with a visual way to show that information. Here, that wasn’t done. So the concept of a dead man painting his killer doesn’t pop up until too close to the end.



Oh, and the painting is NOT of the killer. Another big issue. The painting is of Dead Moffat with a tiny little piece of the painting being where the killer was. Prop department failure? Writer failure? Director failure? All three?

Though better than his previous entry, Newland’s theory on shooting fast for TV seems to be minimal set ups - and not in a great Stanley Kubrick’s THE KILLING way. He has one more episode coming up, let’s see if there is more camera movement and style than in his previous entries. Meanwhile, the next episode is a clever little crime story about the family that slays together...

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Book Report: The GREAT WAY Trilogy

From 3 years ago... The Great Way Trilogy by Harry Connolly. The first book was just on sale, so it's topical again!

May contain light spoilers... but I also may lie about who survives, so there!

THE WAY INTO CHAOS


Best Movie Ever Made

My friend Harry Connolly (20 PALACES novels) has a new epic trilogy and the last book was released yesterday... but I have already read it along with it’s brother and sister. Harry’s first 20 PALACES novel CHILD OF FIRE was one of Publisher’s Weekly’s 100 Best Books Of 2009 and got a starred review. The first novel in this new series also got a great starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, so you don’t have to take my word for it’s quality. It kicks ass.

My plan with the first book, THE WAY INTO CHAOS, was to read a chapter or two every night before going to sleep, except every danged chapter ends with a cliffhanger and you end up reading the next chapter and the next chapter and the next chapter and suddenly it is 4am and you realize you have to work the next day (well, that same day), and... There’s a chapter that ends with the hero falling off a flying boat into a city overrun with monsters! How are we expected to just set the book down and falll asleep? Impossible!

There are two protagonists, and if you pay attention to the art next to the chapter number you’ll know which this chapter is about.

“Tyr” Tejohn is a legendary warrior without a war, who ends up with a cushy palace job as weapons instructor and bodyguard to the slacker Prince. A good thing, because age has crept up on Tejohn and his knees and eyesight aren’t what they once were. But he still has his hands full, the Prince would rather get drunk and cause trouble. When the Empire suddenly falls to an unknown enemy (monsters they call “grunts” who hunt, kill & eat humans), Tejohn must get the Prince and his slacker friends to safety... but what if there is no safety?

Cazia is one of the Prince’s slacker friends, a spoiled teenaged sorcery student who may be the last survivor who knows how to cast spells. She and Tejohn don’t like each other, but both are sworn to protect the Prince. So we have our sword and our sorcery... in a world which has suddenly gone to hell. All of the characters are fully formed flesh and blood people and the world created is complex and fascinating. I particularly liked how before the fall of the empire, the ability to sing a song that tugs the heartstrings of the audience is more valuable than gold. The book also does a great job of giving both male and female characters equal time, so whether you’re looking for epic battle scenes with an aging warrior or a magical story about a teen sorceress learning how to use her powers with the fate of the world at stake, this book has you covered.

Publisher’s Weekly called it “immersive, thrilling, and elf-free epic fantasy”, and even though this is epic fantasy, the story is more like King Arthur and Merlin than Lord Of The Rings. The magic is logical and well grounded: one of the handful of spells turns air into water... which might even be possible through science. In other words: I had no trouble believing any of it even though I’m more into crime fiction these days. Oh, and though there is violence there is no sex of any kind. This is something I might have read as a teenager.

THE WAY INTO MAGIC


Best Movie Ever Made

The second book in the trilogy is my favorite, it’s the EMPIRE STRIKES BACK of the trilogy. That’s not to imply there are singing teddy bears who live in a tree house city in the third book (though there are talking alligators in a log city at the bottom of a lake, but they’re scary as hell!). Tejohn our warrior and Cazia our apprentice sorceress split up on two different missions to try to save whatever’s left of their world... and both face darkness within that they never knew existed.

Tejohn travels across the ravaged land to find the Prince’s wizard uncle who may know a spell that can save mankind from the grunts... before there isn’t any mankind left to save. Now that the empire has dissolved, his status is no longer currency and he finds himself struggling to survive as a commoner (and worse). In the past he could roll into a city and they would give him the best room and meals and anything else he wanted, he was a “Tyr”... now that his privilege is gone he must pay for everything in labor (which doesn’t get him much). Plus, all of the kingdoms which were in alliance as the Empire are now fighting among themselves, and Tejohn speaks the language of the enemy. No shortage of battles... and Tejohn comes to realize frightening truths about himself that he never wanted to know.

Cazia leads two other girls into the forbidden Valley Of Qorr, where monsters lurk... and perhaps the answers to where the grunts came from. Yes, girls. Not women. Cazia is only 15 years old, and with her is the preteen Princess Ivy who is betrothed to the Prince in an arranged marriage, plus a beautiful slave girl Kinz. The three go on an amazing adventure which could have been a full length novel in itself. When I was a kid MYSTERIOUS ISLAND was one of my favorite movies, and the Valley Of Qorr has all of the adventure and monsters of that film... or maybe of the Barsoom novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. It’s big fantasy adventure, and these three girls are challenged every step of the way. But just as Luke Skywalker learns about the darkside of The Force in EMPIRE, Cazia learns about the darkside of sorcery on this adventure... and it takes a toll that I will not spoil for you.

The great thing about these books is that *anyone* can die in them, and all of the characters are so well drawn that you care about even the minor characters. There’s an old woman traveling saleswoman who turns everything into a deal and has so much personality that she leaps off the page. Also, the world building continues in this book, and the details are amazing. The way an oxen herd is fed as it is on the move is impossible to forget. Oh, and note how fleshtone is part of the class system in this world... that’s kind of fun. One of the great things about all three books are the bits of mystery: in this book we discover that someone from the surprise attack on the castle in the first book has survived... but we don’t know who that is until it is revealed later in the book. Is it the King? The Queen? One of the other characters we grew to love who we thought died? Things like this help drive the story. The other great thing are the characters dealing with the dark sides... and throughout all three books the idea that everything they know is wrong. They see the world from their point of view, and when that world is destroyed they see things as they really are... which is often the opposite of what they believed it to be.

Though everything gets worse for our two heroes in this book, they get better for the reader!

WAY INTO DARKNESS


Best Movie Ever Made

The final book continues to twist expectations. Tejohn and Cazia are reunited and find the Prince’s Master Sorcerer Uncle, who has extremely poor housekeeping skills. They develop the weapon that can kill the “grunts”, but now they need an army to go into battle and use that weapon. Problem is, soldiers are the first casualties in any war... and now they are left with farmers and children. Tejohn and Cazia try to round up an army: Tejohn at the Twofin Fortress where he knows there are a handful of good soldiers, and Cazia in the castle of her estranged father (which is far enough away from ground zero in the grunt attack that they may not have been attacked yet). Both find situations are not exactly as they seem, and must resolve these problems before they can put together any sort of army...

Once again, anyone can die in these books. There’s a character we come to love who doesn’t make it until the end of the book. That one shocked me, and I had to reread that scene because I just could not believe this person would die. Again, well drawn minor characters make the whole story seem real. There are a bunch of old women servants to the Master Sorcerer Uncle who both love and hate their jobs, and we completely understand each of them. Because the story pushes forward, there are also characters who kind of get left behind (like Kinz) who I really want to spend more time with. The side effect of well drawn characters is that you don’t want them to die or have their subplot stories end.

The other thing that drives this final chapter is the question: why? Why did the grunts attack now? Where did they come from? What do they want (other than to eat people)? And who is behind all of this? These answers are the real solution to the conflict, because if they can find out *why* they can prevent it from happening again. This requires Tejohn and Cazia to form some strange alliances in order to get information... like those scary as hell alligators in their log city. The alligators (Lakeboys) regularly feed on humans, so you are never sure if they are working with Tejohn and Cazia to save themselves from the grunts... or if they are just preparing dinner.

One of the interesting things about this book is a chapter that plays like a scene from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. I know that sounds crazy, but there is a scene in this book that has the same feel as that trippy light show end of the Kubrick film. This plays into the idea that everything we know is wrong... that we see the world around us through our eyes and we may not see the truth (which is more complicated). Sometimes we think it’s all about us, when really it has nothing to do with us... we’re just so vain we think that we are the center of the world when we don’t really matter that much. Though these are sword and sorcery fantasy novels filled with sword fights and intrigue, they also have characters who are forced to reevaluate their lives and a story that might make the reader stop and think about our world here on Earth (where we don’t have as many sword fights or giant birds).

I finished reading the third book a few days ago, and I already miss Tejohn and Cazia and Princess Ivy and Kinz. I felt as if I went of this epic adventure with them... and I want to go on another one!

(click on any of the covers above for more info on Amazon!)

Bill

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Trailer Tuesday: THE HITCHHIKER (1953)

Directed by: Ida Lupino.
Written by: Ida Lupino, Collier Young, Daniel Mainwaring (uncredited), adaptation by Robert Joseph.
Starring: Edmond O'Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Tallman.
Director Of Photography: Nicholas Musuraca.


THE HITCH HIKER is a low budget film from 1953 that just kicks all kinds of ass. Basically it’s three men, a car, and the great outdoors... but like the three person, two rooms ALICE CREED, you never notice that it’s a low budget movie because it’s so well made, well written, and intense. They gave a damn when they made this film! They knew they didn’t have money, so they made up for it with suspense and drama and some amazing *ideas*. A great idea costs nothing, but has a ton of production value. The amazing idea here is... an eyelid that is scarred so that it permanently open. Yes, that actually is a great idea. Wait until we get to it, and you’ll see its brilliance.



The film opens with a title card telling us this is based on a true story, and that this same thing could happen to you. So I did a little googling and discovered it really was based on the true story of Billy Cook, a notorious killer. Cook’s mother died when he was five years old, and his loving father took all of the children to live in an abandoned mine and fend for themselves while Daddy exercised his new found bachelorhood. Billy and his siblings were eventually discovered by child protective services and put into foster homes... except for Billy. Because Billy had a deformed eyelid... it never closed. The whole side of his face was a mess. He ended up under state care and eventually tried his hand at crime and was arrested at age 12 and sent to a reformatory for boys. He enjoyed hurting others, and when he turned 17... was transferred to a state prison. While in prison, he beat a few fellow inmates with a baseball bat... showing really poor sportsmanship. He was released at 22, found his father and told him he planned on buying a gun and making his living through robbery, armed. Billy drifted into El Paso, TX just before Christmas, 1950, bought a gun, and went out to the highway and hitchhiked. He robbed and killed anyone who would pick him up, stealing their cars until they ran out of gas and then hitchhiking for a lift into the next town to buy gas. He killed an entire family: father, mother, three kids and a dog, near Wichita Falls, Texas and dumped the bodies in a mineshaft in Missouri. He hitchhiked and killed to Blythe, California, where he killed a traveling salesman from Seattle and threw his body in a ditch. By this point in time he was wanted throughout the USA and every cop in the Southwest was actively looking for the hitchhiking killer. Hitchhiking, Billy kidnaped two men on a hunting trip, James Burke and Forrest Damron, and forced them to drive him south and across the border into Mexico... and on to Santa Rosalia. Once they reached Santa Rosalia, Burke and Damron knew they would be killed, but an odd thing happened: The Chief Of Police of the small Mexican town had been reading the American papers and recognized Billy Cook and captured him without a gunfight. Handed him over to the FBI, and he spent the rest of his life in prison. Cool true story, huh? And... that eyelid!



The film changes the names to protect the innocent and guilty, turning Billy Cook into Emmett Myers (William Tallman, DA Hamilton Burger on PERRY MASON) but keeping that creepy deformed eyelid. The movie opens with a (face unseen) Myers hitchhiking, getting picked up, killing the drivers and taking off in their cars. Again and again.

Then we cut to garage mechanic Roy Collins (Edmund O’Brien from DOA and THE WILD BUNCH) and his best friend draftsman Gil Bowen (Frank Lovejoy from IN A LONELY PLACE) getting away from the wives for a week of fishing and camping, tooling along the back roads of California, when they spot a hitchhiker next to his car... and stop to pick him up. Hell, it’s *miles* to the nearest gas station and this is a back road. Who knows when another car will pass by?

The Hitchhiker sits in the darkness in the back of the car, not very communicative. When they ask about things like a gas can he becomes argumentative, but people can be grumpy if they’ve been standing there waiting for a ride for a while. It’s frustrating. Bowen decides to offer him a cigarette, but when he turns around he sees the gun pointing at him. They have picked up the notorious Emmett Myers who kills *all* of his victims. It’s only a matter of time before they are dead.

But Myers has made the most wanted list and needs to get across the border into Mexico... and since everyone is looking for one man, he figures he has a better chance as one of three buddies going on a fishing trip. He keeps the gun on Collins and Bowen and makes it pretty clear they are alive only as long as he needs them. This begins the road trip from hell, where Myers does everything he can to torture the two on their way south of the border to Santa Rosalia where a ferry boat will take him to the Mexican mainland... where he can vanish.



Simple story, but what makes this work are great performances by Tallman (who can go from unassuming gangly guy to crazed psycho in an instant) and the other two leads who are regular guys faced with a terrifying experience, plus intense pacing. This story comes up with a million things that can spark violence...

When they stop for gas at a service station, Myer demands minimal conversation... but the service station attendant is friendly and that means they have to be rude to him. Then they drive off without taking their change.

When they pull over in the middle of nowhere so that Myers can chart his path to Santa Rosalia with the least chance of being caught, he has Collins pop the trunk... and in there with the fishing equipment is a rifle. As Collins reaches for it, Myer *taunts* him to try something... he’ll be dead before he gets it out if the trunk.

The gun belongs to Bowen, who was in the army and says he’s an okay shot. So Myer arranges a little target practice. He has Collins walk way out in the desert with a tin can, and when Collins tries to set it on a rock, Myers tells him just to hold it... no, hold it closer to your body... closer. Then sees just how good a shot Bowen is. He either shoots the can out of his friend’s hand from hundreds of feet away with a 22 calibre rifle, or Myer shoots him. Bowen has no choice but to shoot... and hits the can! Of course, Collins practically pisses himself. Myers keeps having Collins hold the can closer and closer, and you just know that one friend is accidentally going to kill the other. Really intense! But all a game to Myers, who laughs and takes control of the rifle.

Though Myers is no criminal mastermind, he’s also not an idiot. He has a method to get both men in and out of the car so that he can keep the gun on them the whole time and they have little chance of escaping or trying to overpower him. He has thought this through. They keep to back roads in Baja, avoiding cities or large towns. And they pull way off the road to camp...





And here’s where the tension kicks in. Because due to that eyelid defect, Myers always sleeps with one eye open. Who knows if he’s asleep or awake? There are three camping scenes, and each one is filled with tension as they can’t figure out if they should make a break for it or not. The always open eye is starring at them. Every time they think they might be able to sneak away because it seems like Myers is sleeping, that always open eye looks right at them! The three scenes are filled with tension just because of the *idea* of that defective eyelid. Yes, it's from the real guy... but realizing that it could be used for scenes like this was purely the work of the writers. Cost of all of this suspense? A little make up around the eye.

Some of the other fun: Stopping for provisions at a Mexican grocery store: Bowen speaks Spanish but Myers doesn’t want him to be speaking any Mexican to anyone! Except the store owner speaks no english. Bowen almost gets shot, as does the store owner's cute little girl who wants to talk.

Myers takes Bowen’s expensive watch.

When they hit a bump, Collins hits the car horn and it *sticks*, drawing attention to them! Now Collins has to stop the car and repair the horn under the gun (literally) so they can get back in the car and zoom off before a man with a donkey reaches them.

Collins gets pistol whipped when he can’t find a working radio station in the middle of nowhere that has US news bulletins so that Myer can find out if the police are closing in one them. Collins is beaten so bad he can no longer drive and Bowen has to take over.

Myers wants them to move faster, and the car gets a blow out and almost wrecks... then they have to change the tire and a young Mexican couple driving by asks if they need any help (and almost gets killed). Again, Collins and Bowen have to be very rude to them in order to get them to drive away.



Things escalate until Collins just loses it. He breaks and becomes such a loose cannon that Bowen is afraid Myer will just shoot him. But Myers *loves* that Collins has broken under the pressure: proves Collins is weak and Myers is in control. That night when they camp, Collins decides to make a break for it and Bowen goes along. They wait until Myers’ eye is closed, worried that the other eye is still staring right at them. And race into the bushes... but Myer’s other eye pops open, and he chases the two running men... in the car! A great low budget NORTH BY NORTHWEST scene, and then Collins is hit by the car and they are recaptured.

They drive to an abandoned water well, and Collins and Bowen are sure they are about to be killed and dumped into the well. Lots of tension. But eventually they move on, by foot after the car’s gas tank is torn open by a rock, and get to Santa Rosalia, which both men know is the end of the line for them. This is where they die...

Made on a very low budget, this film with a limited cast that takes place either inside the car or in the desert has all kinds of thrills, May seem tame compared to THE HITCHER, but still intense. Lupino is one of my favorite directors, a great actress from the golden age who gave an Oscar calibre performance in one of my favorite films THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT, was amazing as the *tough* blind woman in another favorite film ON DANGEROUS GROUND, and the tough bank robber’s girl in HIGH SIERRA... who decided to direct and stepped in when the director of a film she was starring in became ill. From that point on, she and her husband (magazine and screenwriter Collier Young) formed a production company The Filmakers, and began making films with Lupino as director. She just did it. Their first films were social issues movies that are still relevant and kind of shocking. OUTRAGE is a movie about rape that is more cutting edge and honest than any film on the subject made since. Somewhere along the line she worked with another one of my favorite directors, Don Siegel (DIRTY HARRY, THE LINE UP), and learned all of his cinematic tricks... and she became what she called “the poor man’s Don Siegel” making hard hitting crime films like this. (Siegel's other protege was an actor named Clint Eastwood.)



Her direction style is like Siegel’s: deceptively straight forward. Nothing showy or flashy, yet still completely in control of the story, using angle and composition and movement to amplify the emotions. She also knew how to create suspense and tension, and soon on THRILLER Thursday we will get to her amazing episode GUILLOTINE. In HITCH HIKER she manages to give the film a documentary feel (it *is* based on a true story) and still use cinematic techniques to amp up the tension. For a film made on a budget it still packs a punch.

Oh, and I guess I should mention this film was secretly cowritten by my favorite screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring (OUT OF THE PAST... now on BluRay! and the original INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS, and from Oakland!) who had his credit snatched away by producer Howard Hughes because Mainwaring did not share his politics (he was a friend to blacklisted writers and “fronted” for a couple of them). Lupino and Young ended up with screenplay credit. So here we have one of my favorite directors with one of my favorite writers and a buck fifty budget making a nifty little low budget thriller. Hey, it’s public domain, so you can watch it free!

Bill

Friday, January 22, 2021

Fridays With Hitchcock: HITCH 20: ARTHUR (s3e4)

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

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



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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

- Bill

Now to plug my Hitchcock books...

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Accidentally still at the May Price of $3.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.



- Bill

Of course, my first book on Hitchcock...




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Bill

Thursday, January 21, 2021

THRILLER Thursday: The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk.

NEW! SEASON 2!!!



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



Season: 2, Episode: 13.
Airdate: December 18, 1961

Director: John Brahm.
Writer: Donald S. Sanford from the story by Margaret St. Clair.
Cast: Jo Van Fleet, John Carradine, Paul Newlan, Hal Baylor.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Ray Flin.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Imagine a woman with such poise, such calm, in the presence of... whatever happened to young Johnny. Remarkable. The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk, that’s the title of our excursion into the impossible, tonight. Or is what happened to Johnny impossible in this day? He was a thief. Whatever he got he deserved, you say. Well, my friend, how can you judge until you know the full horror that overtook him out there in the farmland? That’s a puzzle I invite you to solve in company with our cast. Jason Longfellow played by John Carradine, Sheriff Tom Willetts played by Paul Newlan, Peter Gogan played by Hal Baylor, the remarkable Mrs. Hawk portrayed by Jo Van Fleet. If you’ve ever yearned for a small farm, a few chickens, a cow, and a pig or two... or three... I particularly recommend this story, because as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, you’ll learn some animal husbandry that even the experts never dreamed of.”

Synopsis: A pair of hobos / day laborers, Jason (John Carradine) and Peter (Hal Baylor), put out their campfire and prepare to leave, wondering where their pal is. Across the field is an old country house with a big sign in front “Isle Of Aiaie” Home Of The Pampered Pig. Visitors Welcome. Mrs. C. Hawk proprietor.”



Inside the house, their pal Johnny (Bruce Dern) (with a tattoo of an arrow through a heart on his arm) is having a meal served by Mrs Hawk (Jo Van Fleet) - he did a day’s work at the pig farm and is quitting. Mrs. Hawk doesn’t want him to quit... and touches him in a way you usually don’t touch employees... and Johnny takes a step back. She says she will give him his pay, but first a goodbye drink of her blackberry brandy. Okay, anything to get his money and get out of here. He downs it, and when she goes to get his pay, grabs the empty brandy decanter and follows her into the little home office. He’s going to hit her and rob her of *all* her money. A really good creep up suspense moment... will she hear him and turn around? When he gets ready to hit her she spins around... and tells him that he can have all of the money if he wants, she won’t even call the cops. He takes her strong box and runs!

Then she hears him scream: “Help me!” from the yard... and she smiles. He keeps screaming!
Then hogs begin snorting and squeeling!
And the screaming stops.



Peter wants to help Johnny, but Jason thinks it’s too late. Peter mentions that hungry hogs are dangerous - they will eat a human... and blames Jason for sending Johnny in to steal, knowing he might end up a meal. The two fight a little, and then Jason explains his real plan. A personals advert from Mrs Hawk in a magazine, “Attractive widow, owner of prosperous farm, desires lonely young man to share her work and future.” Jason believes she requested “lonely" young men because they are less likely to have families who will question their disappearance. She’s a serial killer. Jason plans to blackmail her... using Peter as bait.

At the County Fair, Sheriff Tom Willetts (Paul Newlan from M SQUAD) makes his rounds, while Mrs Hawk displays her prize pig Nammon... which has won all of the awards at the fair. The pig also has a tattoo with an arrow through a heart on it’s front leg... just like Johnny did. WTF? She chases down the Sheriff and does some heavy flirting with him... but he politely rejects her. He's a middle aged man who is nervous around women... and she's a woman who is several steps past "aggressive". A maneater.



When she drives home with the prized pig in the back of her truck, Peter and Jonathan are waiting for her... answering her personals advert in the magazine. Peter is the potential husband, Jason is his uncle. She serves them tea and cookies, and then Jason leaves... and Peter stays in the guest room of the house. So they can get to know each other better. Peter is a little nervous about what that might entail.

That night, Peter sleeps fully clothed.
Something wakes him up in the middle of the night, and he looks out the window. Spots Mrs. Hawk in her nightgown walking into the pig barn with a bowl of... grapes. She feeds the big hogs, calling them all by name. Creepy! One of the hogs seems angry, so she tells it that it can come back for a little while... The pig with the same tattoo as Johnny had. And we get a cool moving shot where she follows the pig to the house, and when it walks behind a cart for a moment she points her wooden pig prodder at it and Johnny comes out on the other side of the cart. Johnny is the pig! Mrs Hawk takes Johnny-pig in to her bedroom... for reasons not fully explained in the story, but we wonder about corkscrew personal parts. Peter sees Mrs. Hawk and Johnny entering the bedroom and sneaks out of the house.



Next morning she notices Peter missing.... and then there is a knock at the door: the Sheriff. Official business. It seems that her day laborer Johnny and his partner Peter are both wanted by the police for robbing a man. She turns away so that he doesn’t see her expression when she learns that Johnny and Peter know each other. Sheriff Willetts mentions that both are traveling with an old hobo - Jason. She shifts gears and pours on the flirting, which makes Sheriff Willetts nervous, so he leaves.

Jason finds Peter back at their camp and asks why he isn’t in the house with Mrs. Hawk? Peter tells him what he saw, and Jason believes all of it. He wants to poke around the house... but that means that Peter has to go back.

Peter returns and tells Mrs. Hawk that he saw one of her pigs escape so he tried to chase it down, failed to grab it. “He’ll come home when he’s hungry,” she says. And she has breakfast waiting for him - pancakes... with blackberry syrup. As Peter eats she says she feels bad about running his uncle Jason off and wonders if he’s available to come to dinner tonight? Peter fumbles a bit, because he was supposed to ask her if uncle Jason could come by for dinner. She keeps pouring on the blackberry syrup... and there’s a nice shot where Peter eats a fork-full of syrupy pancakes and makes a sound halfway between a belch and a pig’s snort and the camera moves to Mrs. Hawk as the sounds become all pig snorts. Peter has become a pig.



That night, Jason comes by for dinner... and while waiting, studies a painting on the wall of a young woman with a wooden pig prodder surrounded by adoring pigs. They have a nice verbal battle - a chess game - where Jason talks about the painting, and she tries to normalize it. He seems to know everything about her. She tries to deflect him and charm him away from these subjects. He grabs a photo from a table and asks who this is - needs to know the family his nephew is marrying into, right? Mrs Hawk says it’s her niece Meddy. “Would that be a pet name for Medea?” He asks where Peter is... and she answers “tamed”. She offers him a glass of blackberry wine. He accepts the glass, but doesn’t drink it... and says he knows all about her. The “C” stands for Circe - she is the Greek Goddess of magic and witchcraft. Through the use of her magic wand she can turn her enemies into pigs and other beasts. She asks what he wants? Jason smiles: Every cent she has and the farm. This won’t be the first time she has been forced to move, right?

Jason will need a pen and paper to draw up a contract for sale of the farm - and Mrs. Hawk attempts to trick him several times. She dips the top of the pen in a bottle when he isn’t looking. He draws up the contract, putting the top of the pen in his mouth at one point. She signs the contract... then flirts with him, and asks if he would like to see the pigs.

At the barn, Jason fears a trap... so he takes the flashlight and goes in alone. The barn is dark and spooky.



In one pen, a big hog wears Peter’s suit!
From outside the barn she asks, “Do you see him?”
“Yes... I see him.”
“You’re lucky, Most of my friends don’t have the opportunity to see what’s going to happen to them.”

She tells him it was on the tip of the pen, and when he screams and tries to escape from the barn, she locks the door.... locking him in the barn with Peter and Johnny and all of the others... and then he begins snorting like a pig!

Meanwhile: Sheriff Willetts and a kid are searching their camp on the field across from the house, and find Jason’s library of mythology... and finds his notes on Mrs. Hawk. Weird notes. Does he believe them?



Sheriff Willetts goes to visit Mrs Hawk, and she starts in on the flirting to make him uncomfortable. He says he is here on official business... and wants her to go in the house while he searches. She waves the pig pusher at the pigs and they are all suddenly silent, then she leaves and lets him search.

Sheriff Willetts does a search of the barn, fairly suspenseful. He finds nothing.

In the house, he studies the painting of the young woman surrounded by adoring pigs. Finds a stash of watches and cigarette lighters and other things from her victims. That’s when she comes in with a pot of coffee and cups on a serving tray. “Tom, you know something about me, don’t you?” He says he knows what happened to all of the missing men, he knows who she really is. She does the flirting thing again. He will have nothing to do with it... and she says she is willing to give her confession. Has he told anyone else her secret? “If I told anybody a thing like that they’d lock me up!” She smiles... and then touches his lips with her fingers... giving him a taste of that blackberry potion. She points the pig prodder at him and... the Sheriff turns into a pig!



Later, she sells all of her pigs to the slaughterhouse and watches as they are loaded into the back of the truck, saying goodbye to each of them by name. The Sheriff pig has a star shaped marking on its chest. As the two slaughterhouse drivers prepare to leave, they talk about what a great woman Mrs Hawk is - she cared so much about those pigs of hers.

Mrs. Hawk goes back to the house... and a young man shows up, answering her personals advert in the magazine. She smiles at him.





Review: This is a great episode, that hits on all cylinders. The writing is witty, the story is dark and twisted, and the direction (lighting, camera moves) milk it for every creepy moment.

The acting is also superb, especially Jo Van Fleet (from Oakland) who you may know from EAST OF EDEN or COOL HAND LUKE or Polanski’s THE TENANT or the TV movie SATAN’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS. She is an unconventionally attractive woman, and vamps the hell out of it this episode. She is sex incarnate. Were the TV censors asleep at the switch? Her hands are all over every male character in the story and she dresses like the farmer’s daughter from all of those dirty jokes. I had a still I was going to pull for this of her bending down in front of John Carradine to offer him a drink that is offering him her cleavage as well - but it was kind of pervy. She just oozes sex whenever she’s on screen, to the point that it feels like a trap (which is what she was going for). This isn’t just a sexually aggressive woman, there is a danger vibe here. Even before Bruce Dern is turned into a pig, you know she has some sort of evil plan for him. This is a great performance in an episode filled with them.

John Carradine is also great as the hobo/conman, and the scenes with him and Van Fleet are two masters at the top of their game battling it out. Carradine playing a conman is a great casting - he can ham it up and it fits his character. Did I say: Ham it up?



You may not be familiar with Paul Newlan who plays the Sheriff, but he was usually working across the lot on Lee Marvin’s M SQUAD show as the Chief Of Detectives - and is great here as the shy, lonely, Sheriff in this episode - when Van Fleet comes on to him, he gets so flustered that the audience feels uncomfortable. Another great performance by an old pro character actor.

Hal Baylor is another one of those character actors with well over 100 credits - he was on every Western show ever made and pops up in John Wayne movies, too. He’s also in A BOY AND HIS DOG.

Director John Brahm did 12 episodes of THRILLER, including CHEATERS, DARK LEGACY, THE PREDICTION and GOOD IMAGINATION. He was also one of the main directors on TWILIGHT ZONE and HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and MAN FROM UNCLE. On this show his episodes range from competent to great - and this is one of the great ones. The single shot where the pig turns into Bruce Dern would be a mind blower today, and a scene where Carradine is poking around in the spooky pig barn with a flashlight builds all kinds of dread. The payoff - a pig in Peter’s suit - doesn’t work as well as a shock moment, but farm animals in clothes tend to be funny... and that’s the problem, here. But still a great moment in a twisted episode.



The story itself, and screenplay by Donald Sanford, is creepy and shocking. I think Kevin Smith should have watched this episode before making TUSK. Smith’s movie is a bunch of talking heads scenes, this episode has creepy scenes and shock moments and the talking heads scenes are battles between clever characters trying to outsmart each other. Oddly, due to the Sheriff character, this episode is also reminiscent of PSYCHO. Various characters disappear in a spooky old house, and the plodding Sheriff puts the pieces together and realizes that something is really wrong, here. I love the early bit of leading the audience / misdirection when Peter mentions that hungry hogs will eat people - that adds so much dread to every scene. You are waiting for the secret to be that Mrs. Hawk feeds people to her pigs... so when it is revealed that her pigs are people, it’s a great moment.

Another great element in this episode is Karloff's introduction - most of them are kind of blandly written, but this one is witty and fun (and brief).

A great episode after a slightly boring one... and next up is another episode directed by the fellow who directed the boring one. Will it be better than his last episode? Stay tuned!



- Bill

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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Film Courage: Writing From Desperation.

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. There were 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

WRITING FROM DESPERATION

So you have quit your day job and given yourself a year or two years or whatever is in your bank account to make it as a professional screenwriter... and as that deadline gets closer and closer and you haven’t sold anything, panic and desperation begins to set in... and you realize that low budget horror always sells, and even though you absolutely hate horror, you decide to write a horror screenplay so that you can make enough money to avoid having to work for a living... Good idea?

Terrible idea.



One of the unwritten rules in screenwriting is to never write about screenwriters or writers or Hollywood - it’s incestuous and the general film audience usually can’t relate to the characters... and being a screenwriter is not a common fantasy, like being a superhero or being a tough guy or falling in love or any of the other things that are part of the “dream fulfillment” of the movies. But every once in a while, a Hollywood insider does a “tell all” movie about their experiences in the business (carefully turned into fiction) and sometimes those films are successful... like the great SUNSET BLVD () directed by Billy Wilder (a screenwriter) and written by Wilder and Charles Brackett and D.M. Marshman, Jr. It’s one of the handful of Film Noirs about screenwriters, and a great example of what can happen to you when you are writing from desperation.

In the opening scene, screenwriter Joe Gillis is dead in the swimming pool of a decaying Hollywood mansion, then we flashback to how he came to be in this pool... A crappy Hollywood apartment where he is 3 months behind in his rent and about to be evicted, when there is a knock at the door - a couple of guys from the collection agency who have come to reposes his car, and would like him to hand over the keys. Joe tells them that he loaned his car to a friend who drove it to Palm Springs, sorry. Check the apartment garage if they don’t believe him. After they leave, he goes to the parking lot where he has hidden his car, and heads to the Paramount Lot where he has a meeting with a producer named Sheldrake, who might buy his script and get him out of this financial mess... He pitches the script to Sheldrake, who is skeptical - it doesn’t sound very good. Gillis lies, and says that 20th Century Fox is also interested in it. Sheldrake buzzes his Development Girl, who comes in with the coverage. “I covered it, but I wouldn’t bother. It’s from hunger. It’s just a rehash of something that wasn’t very good to begin with.” (That’s about 6 minutes into the movie - it doesn’t waste any time.) Gillis pleads with Sheldrake for any kind of assignment, he needs the money. But he is sent on his way...

Because when you write from desperation, it shows.

When you just hack out something for a buck, it shows.

When your heart isn’t in it, it shows.

One of those things that producers often say that they are looking for in a screenplay is “passion” - they want this to be the story that you have to tell (not just for money), the story that is a part of you, that has soul. All of the things that tend to disappear when you are writing from desperation, when you are writing from panic. Though the cliche of the serious writer in their garret with only beans to eat while they complete their masterpiece is romantic, in real life that’s no way to write anything that’s actually good. I have a Script Tip called “Projectors” about how whatever we write can’t help but show our feelings and attitude and emotions - our writing *is* who we are - so if you are a bitter angry person, you will be writing bitter angry stories that are probably not going to be entertaining.

After I sold COURTING DEATH to a company at Paramount and moved to Los Angeles, I had 2 years worth of rent and expenses plus a production bonus when they made the film. Except they didn’t make the film. I spent two years like Joe Gillis - holed up in my apartment writing screenplays - and had done absolutely no networking or work to get some other screenplay sold. I could have written all of those screenplays in my hometown of Concord, CA and saved a bundle! Los Angeles is a very expensive place to live. So when my two years of rent and expenses was almost spent, I went into panic mode and tried to figure out how to sell a screenplay. But I was trying to sell the screenplays that I had written from my heart and soul (even though they contained explosions) before I realized that I was running out of money. And I sold one, that managed to get made. And there were others that got me studio meetings and a couple that ended up optioned. I realized that I needed to spend more time on the business side of the screenwriting business and from that point on I actually became a professional screenwriter (as in, I continued to sell screenplays and land assignments).

Another writer I knew was not as successful, and called me in the middle of the night asking if he could crash at my apartment because he’d just been evicted and everyone else he’d called had turned him down. I didn’t know this guy very well, and was probably at the bottom of his list of people to call, and I turned him down as well. I realized that I never wanted to be in that position, and decided that if I was getting close to running out of money again, I would just get a day job. And at one point back in those early years, I had one - working in a wine shop in the Brentwood district, a few blocks from where O.J. Simpson would later murder his wife and her friend. Allegedly. But I realized that it was better for me to write with confidence and heart and soul instead of writing from panic and desperation.

Better for you to do that, too.

So if you give yourself some arbitrary deadline like 5 Years Until I Make It or whatever, don’t quit that day job! You can write 1 page a day and have 3 first drafts in a year... which is what I did when I was working at the warehouse. That’s how I wrote COURTING DEATH (which sold and got me to Los Angeles) and a bunch of other screenplays, some that sold, some that got me assignments, and some that nothing happened with. Lots that nothing happened with! That’s how screenwriting works - you will write a stack of screenplays in order to sell one or land one assignment. So you need something to pay the bills in the meantime.

DAY JOBS FOR SCREENWRITERS

You don’t want to be writing from desperation. It’s difficult to write when you are worried about financial problems, so it’s best to have an income while trying to break in. What you want is a “disposable job” rather than a career. A career will get in the way of your career! I always picked jobs that I wouldn’t want to do for the rest of my life, as an incentive to write and not do it for the rest of my life. If I got too comfortable at my day job, it became my real job. So I looked for jobs that would pay the rent, didn’t require me to think much (so that I could be figuring out scenes at work) and had regular hours so that I could plan my writing around it. I know people who work in advertizing and do other things that are writing based day jobs and that’s good news and bad news; the good news is that you are writing and getting paid for it, the bad news is that you might use all of your creative energy writing ad copy for a toilet cleaner. But if you have a steady and stable job that is paying the bills, keep it until you have made enough money to survive for at least a year...

And then don’t be afraid to go back to work. There’s no shame in not being evicted and panic calling some guy you know in the middle of the night to see if you can crash at his place, you know, just until you sell something.

But once you get to Los Angeles, there are some day jobs that put you into contact with peopel in the business, and are better than working in a warehouse. In the “Breaking In Bluer Book” I have 15 ways to make connections in Los Angeles, and some of them are day jobs like working as an Office Production Assistant, Reader, Writer’s Assistant or Personal Assistant, and a bunch of others. But jobs that put you in contact with people in the business can be helpful - I know a limousine driver who takes people back and forth to the airport (and other places) and often has celebrities in the back of his limo... and became a Film Producer because he managed to option a screenplay and sign some second tier movie stars from the back of his limo, and then give the package to a few investors and producers and distributors in the back of his limo. Only in Hollywood! But the kind of job that puts you in contact with upscale clients that is in that “disposable” classification is a great way to make connections while you are paying the rent, and because it’s disposable you can quit when you sell a screenplay and then come back to it later if you need to. That was part of the reason why I choose working in the wine shop in Brentwood - celebrities and producers buy wine and I might meet them. That was the plan. I learned that movie stars and producers had personal assistants that did all of their shopping for them... so that’s maybe a better job choice.

But aside from the “disposable jobs” that put you in contact with people in the business, there are also disposable jobs that you can just pick up and drop whenever you want, and those are also good if you have moved to Los Angeles and suddenly find yourself in need of a job to keep from worrying about paying the bills so that you can concentrate on your screenplay and put your heart and soul into it. Scott Frank, writer-director of QUEEN’S GAMBIT (based on the Walter Tevis novel), told me that he trained to be a bartender because that was a job that you could do anywhere and there was always someone hiring. Lots of actors and actresses wait tables between acting gigs, and Kathleen Turner went back to waiting tables after filming her star-making role in BODY HEAT... she has talked about waiting tables when the posters with her picture started going up around town. If you ask any waiter in Los Angeles what they are auditioning for, they will have an answer!

IT’S GOTTA HAVE HEART!

But the main thing to do is find a way to be able to focus on your writing, and not be worried about looming eviction like that writer who wanted to crash at my place just, you know, until he sold something. He never had another film credit, so maybe he never sold anything? He might have become like Joe Gillis in SUNSET BLVD - just writing ‘From hunger. It’s just a rehash of something that wasn’t very good to begin with,” and being so desperate and panicked that they are unable to put your heart and soul into your work.

You don’t want to just hack out what you think they want, because they don’t want hack work - they want something that you care about, that you are passionate about... that is also wildly commercial and will sell a bunch of tickets. What you write from hunger and desperation is going to smell of hunger and desperation - it’s not going to be that story that you needed to needed to tell. Later in SUNSET BLVD Joe Gillis bumps into that studio reader who trashed his script at a New Year’s Eve party, and she tells him that she read over all of the scripts he had submitted to the studio and found one with a great supporting character that she thought should have been the main character. Joe says that he knew someone like that character, and that subplot was personal and emotional to him... and the reader said that showed, and he should break off that character and write a new script about them... and he does. And that’s also what you need to do - find the stories that you are passionate about that also have commercial appeal and write those. Write the kind of movies that you regularly pay to see every week in the cinema - that you would stand in line to see! And you can’t write those from desperation! As writers, we are our “instrument” - we create from within, and it’s difficult to do that if you are worried about something else... so find the ways to be comfortable enough that you *can* create.

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill



BREAKING IN?
bluebook

405 Pages!

*** BREAKING IN BLUE BOOK *** - For Kindle!


Should really be called the BUSINESS BLUE BOOK because it covers almost everything you will need to know for your screenwriting career: from thinking like a producer and learning to speak their language, to query letters and finding a manager or agent, to making connections (at home and in Hollywood) and networking, to the different kinds of meetings you are will have at Studios, to the difference between a producer and a studio, to landing an assignment at that meeting and what is required of you when you are working under contract, to contracts and options and lawyers and... when to run from a deal! Information you can use *now* to move your career forward! It's all here in the Biggest Blue Book yet!

Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 400 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!



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Seriously - TEN TIMES larger than the paper version (still on sale on my website)! That's just crazy!



Thank you to everyone!

Bill
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