Friday, April 30, 2021

Fridays With Hitchcock: TOPAZ (1969)

“Topaz” (1969)

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


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




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



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

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

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

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



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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

- Bill






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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

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.

And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






USA Readers click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Thriller Thursday: THE GUILTY MEN

The Guilty Men

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



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


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




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

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



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

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



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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

FADE OUT

Bill

Buy The DVD!



Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Trailer Tuesday: THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH

MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964)

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




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

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



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

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



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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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



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

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



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

Captured.

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



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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

The masque begins!

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

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

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

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



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



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



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



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

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

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

- Bill



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Friday, April 23, 2021

Fridays With Hitchcock: FRENZY (1972)

FRENZY (1972)

Screenplay: Anthony Schaffer based on the novel by Arthur La Bern.
Starring: Jon Finch, Barry Foster, Anna Massey, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Alec McCowen.

Hitchcock’s second-to-last film manages to combine many of his most popular elements into one story: We get the wrongly accused man story - this time very similar to one of his other lost gems, YOUNG AND INNOCENT. We also get a STRANGERS ON A TRAIN story of guilt transferred. Plus we get a sexy, violent, shocking serial killer story like PSYCHO. Hey, add a twist ending and you've got quintessential Hitchcock. Oh, and it's funny and clever, too - screenplay by the brilliant Anthony Shaffer...writer of the original SLEUTH, the original WICKER MAN, and SOMMERSBY. This is the best Hitchcock film in the post-PSYCHO period.




After a bunch of interesting failures after PSYCHO - movies that only Robin Wood could love - Hitchcock needed a hit... and here it is. FRENZY is a return to England and to London. The business had changed, and Hitchcock - who always seemed ahead of the curve - had coasted on past brilliance in the 60s until he stopped dead. This was the film that restarted him - and probably the film he should have gone out on. Though it’s about a man who is wrongly accused, he isn’t on the run like in NORTH BY NORTHWEST, instead he’s kind of “a man on the hide” - trying to find some safe place to hole up or some scheme to avoid the police by being smuggled out of the country. After years of sly winks from Hitchcock about sex - trains entering tunnels - the new permissive world of cinema practically demanded that he do a film full of nudity and sex. This is Hitchcock’s only R rated film. Instead of those glossy Hollywood “personality” stars like Cary Grant that he had used in the past, or the new method actors and low-key guys like Paul Newman - who didn’t match his style, FRENZY stars a bunch of fine British stage actors. You don’t know their names, but you may have seen them in movies or on TV before. The hostess of Masterpiece Theater, Jean Marsh, plays a role. Whether Hitchcock was returning to his roots or his comfort zone, the results are a fun and frightening little film that is still fun to watch.




Nutshell: Bitter bartender Richard Blaney (Jon Finch) seems to have lost everything in his divorce, including many of his friends. The one pal who took his side was Bob Rusk (Barry Foster) who runs a produce company at Covent Garden. These two are polar opposites. Where Blaney's life is a mess, Rusk is on top of the world.

London is plagued by the Neck Tie Killer - who strangles swinging single women with neck ties. When Blaney’s ex-wife (Barbara Leigh-Hunt) becomes the latest victim only a day after they had a very public fight, he finds himself on the run from the police. Unfortunately, everyone sided with the ex-wife in the divorce, and no one will believe he's innocent. And when another Neck Tie Killer victim can be traced back to Blaney? Even his old pal Rusk thinks he’s guilty... and turns him in to the police. Lots of twists and turns, and one of those great end twists where the real killer is revealed.




Hitch Appearance: In a crowd listening to a political speech - right
at the beginning of the film... then someone spots a dead woman floating in the Thames River, naked except for a neck tie. “Is that my club tie?” someone asks.

Hitch Stock Company: Elsie Randolph who plays the Hotel Clerk was also in RICH AND STRANGE (1931).

Birds: One of the few Hitchcock films without birds - though there are some seagulls in the opening shot and a quail is served at dinner.

Experiment: Hitchcock plays it safe as far as story is concerned. FRENZY is a great example of taking us into a world, Hero & Villain “Flipsides”, character flaw creating story, set ups, and traditional twist endings. There are also some visual experiments in the film that we look at in MASTERING SUSPENSE.

A great summation of Hitchcock's thrillers that also works as kind of a little tour of London and a behind the scenes of Covent Garden market. Lots of suspense, twists, and a fun look at what happens when you lose all of your friends in the divorce... except for the bad boys you used to hang out with as a bachelor. Great script by Shaffer, great cinematography by Gilbert Taylor. Marred by iffy music by Ron Goodwin (replacing Bernard Herrmann after he had a falling out with Hitch). Hitchcock's best film in the Post-“Psycho” era (after he began to believe all of those critics that called him a genius - and made mostly cruddy films). A modern film, that holds up really well and has some great lessons on protagonist and antagonist relationships and twists.

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

- Bill

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:


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






USA Readers click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Thriller Thursday: Child's Play

CHILD’S PLAY




Season: 1, Episode: 2.
Airdate: 9/20/1960


Director: Arthur Hiller.
Writer: Robert Dozier (THE CARDINAL and the Ryan O’Neal version of Elmore Leonard’s THE BIG BOUNCE.)
Cast: Frank Overton (Dad), Bethel Leslie (Mom), Tommy Nolan (Hank).
Music: Pete Rugolo.
Cinematography: Bud Thackery.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Sometimes children become so lost in a world of imagination, they’re unable to find their way back. Then there is only danger before them, sure as my name is Boris Karloff. We’re concerned now with a boy whose imagination brings him to a crisis involving not only himself but also his family. A crisis that begins, but does not end as child’s play. Let me assure you my friends, this is a thriller!”



Synopsis: Kind of a scaled down version of THE SHINING, minus the supernatural elements. An ignored, love starved wife (Bethel Leslie) makes a last ditch attempt to save her family by insisting that her cold, self centered, workaholic husband (Frank Overton) and their completely neglected son Hank (Tommy Nolan) spend three weeks vacation in a remote mountain cabin where they will have no choice but to bond and heal. Great plan, but ahole Dad claims one room as his office and spends the whole time working (he’s a writer, like Jack from THE SHINING) and forbids any disturbance for the entire three weeks (though demands that his wife keep his coffee cup full). So, no healing for the family again this year.

While the wife sulks, the son (who is used to being completely ignored by his parents) spends his day imagining epic adventures outdoors... playing cowboy sheriff chasing an evil desperado named Black Bart. The episode begins in media res with an incident from close to the end of the episode where Hank points a *real* rifle at a terrified fisherman...

But our story opens with Hank playing with a toy six shooter and pretending that a fallen tree near the cabin is a dangerous cliff he must balance on the edge of wile chasing his quarry... as his Mom calls him in for lunch. She comes out and asks him what he’s doing, he explains the perils of falling off the end of a cliff, and she tells him he needs to hurry up and get across or he’ll miss lunch. That’s when Dad comes out, and orders him to come in right this very minute... and Hank falls off the log, screaming all the way down...

This is a great way to show the family dynamics and set up Hanks’s underlying motivations throughout.

Mom pulls Dad aside and explains the reason why Hank is spending this vacation in his imagination is because Dad is completely ignoring him. Dad says he’s very busy, doesn’t have time for this, and Mom suggests he take a break and take Hank hunting this afternoon. Dad says he’s too busy this afternoon... but maybe tomorrow. Which is what he says *every day*. They go in for lunch...



Hank tries to engage his Dad in conversation... but Dad is pretty much a dick. When Mom suggests Dad take Hank hunting this afternoon, Hank gets excited and starts talking about the animal tracks he spotted this afternoon... Then Dad says he’d like to take Hank hunting, but can’t: has too much work. Hank is broken hearted, excuses himself. Dad lashes out at Mom for putting him on the spot like that. An argument begins that will last the rest of the episode.

Hank puts on his toy gun... then sees the real rifles in the gun rack. Grabs one, fills his pockets with shells, and goes out to play.

Most of the rest of the episode focuses on the argument between Dad and Mom, with a few shots of Hank wandering around in the woods with a loaded rifle, chasing “Black Bart”. Dad wants to know why Mom doesn’t punish Hank more often, why she allows him to play let’s pretend instead of dealing with reality. The more Dad says things like this, the more we realize that he’s the reason why Hank is this way. Dad just wants to be left alone for the rest of the vacation so that he can work. Unlike Jack’s novel in THE SHINING, this Dad writes completely accurate technical articles... and has no understanding of imagination. At one point the argument escalates so that Mom admits she has been considering divorce, and this vacation was supposed to get the family back together... which leads Dad to snap back that she hates his job. Hates that he works. Why can’t she just raise the kid and do the housework and leave him alone!



Dad asks Mom why Hank is even here, why didn’t he go to the summer camp he went to last year, so that he’d be out of their hair and Dad could get some work done? Well, it seems that Hank has been kicked out of the summer camp for acting out last year. He tried to play William Tell by shooting an apple off another kid’s head! Dad asks why she didn’t tell him so that he could punish Hank? Mom says that may not have been the best solution to the problem, and Dad says he’s punish Hank when he gets back from playing. This guy is never going to win Dad Of The Year or Husband Of The Year.

Meanwhile, Hank has happened upon a Fisherman (Parley Baer) and aims his rifle at him. Fires a couple of shots when the Fisherman starts towards him. Then they both sit down while Hank figures out what to do next.

Mom and Dad’s blow up leaves Dad alone in his office... finally realizing that his family is disintegrating and maybe he should stop being a major dick. He decides maybe he will go hunting with Hank afterall, goes to grab the guns... and realize that one is missing! Mom and Dad are worried, Dad says he’ll go out and get Hank... and loads up the other rifle. Um, WTF? Dad is going to shoot his son? Mom mentions the rifle may not help the situation, so he reluctantly puts it back on the rifle rack and they go to find Hank together.

Meanwhile, Hank has gotten the Fisherman to put an apple on his head, and the Fisherman is doing everything in his power to talk Hank out of shooting at it. The whole thing ends up about the William Tell trust test thing, and Mom and Dad find Hank in time for Dad to offer to take the Fisherman’s place and put the apple on his own head. Hank shoots it off, and the family hugs each other. Oh, and Dad’s name is *Bart*.



Review: Unlike the first episode which had too much happening for an hour long show, this episode is simple and direct... but suffers one of the same problems that first episode had: basically a drama until the end, when everything happens at once (and it feels rushed). For a show called THRILLER, these two first episode manage to spend 3/4 of the show on the build up (without suspense or thrills) and then try to cram in all of the thrills at the end. Though this show is about a kid trapped in fantasy world running around with a loaded rifle, the majority of the running time is that argument between Mom and Dad. When we get a shot of Hank with the rifle, he’s just walking around. (Though, at one point they have him cross a waterfall which is dangerous.)

It’s more than halfway through the running time when Hank stumbles on the Fisherman... and then they just sit down on the ground while Hank figures what he’s going to do with him. The last ten minutes (of a 50 minute episode) is when we get the William Tell Apple On The Head thing... and it’s only the final 7 minutes where we have Mom and Dad and Hank and the rifle (and the Fisherman, of course) all in the same scene! So, 7 minutes with some thrills in a 50 minute episode! Oh, wait, I forgot to subtract the family hug screentime.

The problem is, instead of focusing on the kid with the loaded rifle wandering around (and eventually holding a man hostage) which is suspenseful, they focus on the husband and wife arguing... which is boring. This argument doesn’t even work as a discussion of baseball statistics while a bomb ticks under the table, because there is no bomb until the last 10 minutes! The suspense stuff is rushed instead of stretched until it becomes unbearable. That’s how suspense works: because it is the anticipation of an event, we want to stretch out that anticipation. So instead of Hank trying to shoot the apple of the Fisherman’s head in the last 10 minutes, that should have been bumped forward. Instead of being in the last quarter of the episode, it should have been either at the halfway point... or maybe at the end of the first quarter. The show should have focused on the suspense of the kid with the gun rather than the bickering parents.

Frank Overton who plays the Dad is all one note ahole, even after they are out searching for Hank together at the end. It’s as if he’s still an ahole, and after this hug he’s gonna paddle the hell out of Hank. The performance needed to better show Dad realizing the errors of his ways and softening, the Overton didn’t do that. Overton was the Sheriff in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD who says “Let the dead bury the dead” at the end and lets Boo Radley off the hook... a compassionate performance. So maybe it was Arthur Hiller’s direction, though Hiller is a damned good director. The Dad character just never changes, when that is kind of the point of the story.



Also, the child actor who plays Hank is *way* too old. He’s a teenager, in a role that seems written for some one younger.

Music by Pete Rugolo is great this time around, lots of primal percussion instruments.

By the way, I really dislike stories that equate an active imagination with being violent and dangerous. Why do writers write stuff like this? There are freakin’ serial killer scripts (and movies) about kids with imagination who take it too far and kill a bunch of people. Um, I have an active imagination and am one of the least dangerous people I know. I kind of suspect those without imaginations are more dangerous, they may lack empathy. I can imagine myself in someone else’s shoes, they can’t. It almost seems like this episode was written by the Dad character at times!

The show will *soon* find its footing and live up to its name (episode 5, ROSE’S LAST SUMMER has some great hints of MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS, and episode 7, THE PURPLE ROOM, is great stuff!), but these first couple of shows are not the best examples of the show I fell in love with as a kid.

FADE OUT.

Bill

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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Indiana Jones And The Digital Danger

Since they are casting the new Indiana Jones movie, here's what I thought of the last one back in 2008...

Buy The crystal skull dvd STAR TREK movies - even numbers, INDIANA JONES movies - odd numbers.

Probably like most everyone else in the world, I couldn’t wait to see the new Indiana Jones movie. It opened on Thursday, but my friends and I saw it on the first Friday night. This was going to be the big event of summer, and I predicted that the film would still be playing by the time August rolled around - people would want to see it again and again. I knew the lines were going to be crazy, so my friends and I decided to go to the Arclight - where you buy a specific seat in the cinema. No reason to stand in line, you already know exactly where you are going to sit. I was in charge of buying tickets, and got absolutely perfect seats... a month before the film opened.

Now, I have to tell you there are movies that I liked so much I exited the cinema, stood in line, bought a ticket for the next available showing, and saw the film for a second time on the same night. And I wondered if we’d all want to do that with INDIANA JONES? Should I buy seats in the next available show on Friday night? Or maybe for the second weekend? Hard to plan a month ahead... I decided not to buy a second set of seats until after we’ve seen the movie. If it was great, it would be sticking around long enough to see it a second time. Heck, it’s a crowded summer - every weekend a new movie, and a bunch of them I want to see. So maybe a couple of weeks between INDIANA experiences would be a good idea.

Who would have guessed that none of us would want to see the new INDIANA JONES movie ever again?

Buy The raiders dvd
OPENING - REVERSALS

The cinema is packed - everyone is excited - I’m excited. This is Indiana Jones! Now, here’s a strange little thing - if I were talking to my friends back home (the guys I first saw RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK with) this wouldn’t be INDIANA JONES 4, it would be RAIDERS 4. It’s a sequel to the first film. As much as Lucas wants us to think of the first STAR WARS as A NEW HOPE and the first RAIDERS as INDIANA JONES AND THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, that isn’t going to fly with those of us who saw the first films on opening night... We know what we saw and trying to revise history is pointless. So I’m here to see the latest RAIDERS movie.

And it opens beautifully with that prairie dog hill. Gets a laugh... then we get out introduction to Indy - and it’s the hat and the traditional silhouette - that’s still cool. We get a line reffing that fact the Harrison Ford is old, and that’s okay... But what is wrong with Harrison Ford’s dialogue? Is not just wooden, his mouth doesn’t seem to be moving very much - it’s as if he has bad dentures or something. The longer the scene plays, the more I wonder if they ADRed his dialogue - basically did a post production rewrite - then did some digital nonsense to make his lips move with the words. The end result looks like bad dubbing... actually, not *bad* dubbing, but *almost* good dubbing, where it’s so close you don’t think it’s dubbing, but it just looks a little strange. So now I’m focused on his lips...

In the first 3 films, Indy is sarcastic, witty, clever. Here, he just says stuff. Every once in a while he makes some reference to his age - which is funny for a while, but part of being an action hero - even a self depreciating one - is to say the things we wish we were clever enough to come up with. I have a notebook in my pocket at all times just in case I come up with one of those lines.

So, eventually Indy ends up in that 1950s town full of mannequins from the remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES, and we know what that means. Indy runs around the town pointlessly for a while, then finds a refrigerator with a massive sticker that proclaims “Lead Lined!” - because come moving day, refrigerators aren’t heavy enough already - we gotta add a layer of lead for no reason whatsoever. Oh, wait - to give Indy someplace to hide during a nuclear blast.

There’s a massive nuclear explosion - houses disintegrate - but that danged lead lined fridge goes flying like something from a Road Runner cartoon, then bounces around the desert for a while until the door opens and Indy falls out... and you half expect little animated birds to fly around his head. It’s so cartoonish and impossible and silly.

And I know we’re in big trouble.

I also start to wonder if Michael Bay directed this mess.

Let’s compare this to the first movie - RAIDERS - where we had that giant boulder... but what we really had were a whole bunch of little things that create reversals in that scene. From the moment he swaps the bag of sand for the gold idol... and it’s just a little bit too heavy, everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Dozens of things. It’s not just running around some town pointlessly until he finds a fridge - it’s a few dozen different challenges where Indy thinks he’s going to get out of it... then there’s the reversal and it looks like he’s going to die... then he finds the solution to that problem which lands him right in the middle of the next problem. That’s what makes it exciting. The details. My favorite part of that great sequence - Alfred Molina swings across this bottomless pit (bottomless was legal back then) and leaves Indy behind. There’s a stone door slowly closing - it will trap them. Molina makes a deal - he’ll throw the whip (so Indy can swing across the pit) if Indy will throw the idol. Indy throws the idol, Molina drops the whip and splits with the idol. Indy looks at the pit... looks at the slowly closing door. He jumps. Doesn’t quite make it. His hands grab the crumbling dirt at the edge of the pit. He scrambles, looking for purchase as gravity pulls at him. Then he sees a vine coming out of the ground and grabs it, pulling himself up... but the vine starts coming out of the ground! Crap, he’s falling again! He lets go of the vine and grabs the edge, pulling himself up the side... and onto solid ground... but the stone door has almost descended all the way! Only a few inches before he’s trapped! See how cool that is - out of the frying pan into the fire - things just keep getting worse. And every time he escapes, he ends up in trouble again. It’s not pointless running around - it’s an exciting sequence of events.

This opening scene was more like that diamond kicking musical number from the second film... actually, much of this film was like the second film. More on that in a minute. By the way, had this been my film, Indy would have glowed green in every night scene after the nuclear blast.... in keeping with the Road Runner cartoon feel of the film.

VILLAINS & HEROES

One of the other great things about the opening to RAIDERS was introduction of Belloq. Not just a great villain, but a character who helps define Indy *and* sets up the theme. Belloq is the more successful version of Indy: suave, cultured, and ruthless...

BELLOQ
I know you despise me. We always hate
in others that which we most fear in
ourselves. You and I are very much alike.

INDY
Now you’re getting nasty.

BELLOQ
Archeology is our religion, yet we have both
fallen from the pure faith. Our methods have not
differed as much as you pretend. I am but a shadowy
reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to
make you like me. To push you out of the light.


The rest of the story will compare Indy and Belloq in scene after scene - how far will Indy go to get the Ark? And by the end, when Belloq will do anything to see what’s inside the Ark, Indy is able to curtail his curiosity and close his eyes. He can give up the Ark and Belloq can not.

In TEMPLE IF DOOM we get a cardboard villain - the head Thugee, but in LAST CRUSADE we get something different - a femme fatale. She uses her wiles to lure Indy into solving the riddle of the Grail’s location... then does a great double cross where she pretends to be in danger, but is really faking it to get Dr. Jones (sr)’s book. What’s interesting about this character is that she begins as a villain, realizes she is just a tool of the Nazis, and *doesn’t* scream for help when Indy confronts her at the Nazi rally. She ends up playing one side against the other to get what *she* wants - the Grail. Again, her character pulls drama and emotional conflict to the surface in Indy’s character. Behind her we have some evil Nazis and a Howard Hughes-like millionaire who also plays each side against the other so that he can get his hands on the Grail. The theme in LAST CRUSADE is faith and belief - it opens with Indy saying that the only thing that matters are *facts* and by the end he must make a literal *leap of faith* to get the grail. So having a villain who you don’t know whether you can believe or not isn’t just a great way to give Indy an emotional conflict - it’s a way to demonstrate theme through character.

But in RAIDERS 4, we get another cardboard character - a Russian scientist played by Cate Blanchett in a black wig. She wants the Crystal Skull for... what? So that she can read people’s minds... which may come in handy if you’re playing poker or on a first date, but how exactly does that matter to anyone in the audience? We must stop her before she finds out everyone thinks her wig looks silly! Even if she could *control* our minds - which we don’t really get any proof of - how would that help her control the world? I mean, what’s the plan? She runs around the USA forcing people to look into the skull’s eye sockets until she has all of us under her control, then she makes us communists? This isn’t a very good plan. Compare that to RAIDERS, where an army that leads with the Ark is *unconquerable*. The danged thing shoots bolts of lightning that fry anyone in front of it! Hey, if that fell into the hands of the Nazis, they could win WW2 and we’d all be eating bratwurst. LAST CRUSADE gives eternal life to anyone who drinks from the cup - which means Hitler can not be killed if he gets his hands on the Grail. Again, we’ll be eating bratwurst if Indy fails.

BANNED IN RUSSIA?

Some dude in the Russian government wants to ban RAIDERS 4 from their country because it’s anti-Russia. Before I saw the film, I thought that guy was crazy... but now I’m not so sure. The problem is, instead of some sort of actual demonstration of Soviet menace, we get a demonstration about Soviet menace - which means a whole lot of speechifying. All of these folks with signs saying the Soviets are evil and people making speeches that the Soviets are evil... and it’s just this big lump of crap in the film. I suspect it’s there to tell us who the enemy is in the film - but what it does is *tell* us. Instead of making the villain and the villain’s plan the enemy. Problem is - cardboard villain and pointless villain’s plan. So they use a bunch of script spackle to tell us that the Soviets are really really bad... but give us no reasons *why* they are bad. And we never really see them do anything bad. Sure, they kidnap Indy, but that’s what happens to characters like Indy. It’s expected. But no villain’s plan - and no *stakes*. No “or else factor”. If the Soviets get the crystal skull.... not much happens. They have no plans to use it in the cold war, nothing.

One of my favorite film is IPCRESS FILE - a Cold War spy movie. In it, the bad guys are kidnaping our top scientists... and erasing their brains. When we pay a bunch of money to get these scientists back, they can no longer function as scientists. “The brain drain” they call it. The Soviets can make all kinds of scientific advances - all kinds of high tech weapons advances - and our scientists can no longer *think*. At a time when the arms race was big news, the idea that they could incapacitate our scientists... after finding out everything they knew... was scary. If CRYSTAL SKULL had just had some sort of similar plan, some stakes, an “or else factor”, we would have known why Indy had to stop the Soviets and wouldn’t have needed a bunch of speeches about how evil the Soviets are. You know, it’s not that the villain is evil, it’s that they want to do something that will harm us, so our hero must stop them.

A *huge* problem with CRYSTAL SKULL is that it’s filled with huge chunks of exposition... and the exposition just keeps coming! They keep telling us stuff!

ACTIVE PLOT & PASSIVE PLOT

If the hero must stop the villain from doing something, we have an active plot. Our characters must do something. RAIDERS and LAST CRUSADE had active plots. But CRYSTAL SKULL seems to have lifted the defective plot from TEMPLE OF DOOM. One of the basic elements of an adventure story is a quest - a search. Whether we are looking for King Solomon’s Mines or the Elephant Burial Grounds, characters in adventure stories are *searching* for something. This is a basic of adventure stories. Heck, even the T&A knock-off PERILS OF GWENDOLINE had the busty leading lady searching for a rare butterfly in a jungle filled with topless Amazons. Adventure is about the quest, the search... and yet in TEMPLE OF DOOM there is no quest! They literally crash-land into a story where the plot is to return a sacred stone to a village. In CRYSTAL SKULL they get the skull in the freakin’ opening scene - and the story is about returning it... the same danged plot with the same danged problems as TEMPLE OF DOOM!

Because the villain has no plan, and there is no quest in the story, we end up with a kind of mystery style story about what the Crystal Skull really is. The problem here is that if we don’t know what the powers of the skull are, there is no threat of those powers - no or else factor. So we kill the story. The mystery has no real reason to be solved. Doesn’t matter what the skull is - same results no matter what it is. We end up with a pointless story. And the mystery format means people are always explaining things - exposition city! You can have a mystery that uses visual instead of verbal exposition. In fact, LAST CRUSADE has a swell scene where they are looking for Roman numerals in a church, and the number ten is the key to the mystery. They search - and we see many parts of the church - but no number ten. Then Indy climbs a stairway and looks down - and the light through the window has formed an X on the floor - the number 10. No one has to say it, we *see* it. But CRYSTAL SKULL gives us only people explaining things endlessly... which kind of brings the story to a dead stop (not a good thing for an adventure film).

One of the great things in both LAST CRUSADE and RAIDERS is that we get a legend up front, then we never have to explain anything. In RAIDERS we get the legend of the Ark... “The Bible speaks of the Ark leveling mountains and laying waste to entire regions. An army which carries the Ark before it... is invincible.” What’s more - we get *pictures*! They *show* us what the Ark can do! Once we have that legend, we don’t need to be told anything else. Same with the Grail - once we know the legend, we need no further exposition. Legends may be expositional, but they are designed to be fascinating. I’ve been watching a bunch of episodes of the old BORIS KARLOFF THRILLER TV show, and watched one last night starring William Shatner about a painting famous for killing its owners. Everyone who buys the painting has died a grisly death. When Shatner tells us this legend, it’s filled with entertaining grisly deaths... Each death is exciting to hear about. So in a brief and entertaining bit of expositional dialogue, we know people are going to die grisly deaths in this episode... and for the rest of the episode we don’t need to be told anything else. LAST CRUSADE gives us the legend of the 3 Knights... and that’s a very entertaining story, *plus* it gives us all of the information we need about the Grail for the rest of the film. When Indy gets to the “Grail chamber” and there’s a knight in there - we know exactly who he is.

In CRYSTAL SKULL we get a new chunk of explaination every ten minutes or so.

WHOLE LOTTA SCREAMING GOING ON

But the most annoying part of CRYSTAL SKULL is the characters. All they do is scream at each other for no reason. That’s another way this is like TEMPLE OF DOOM - a film that had the most annoying screaming woman ever put on film up until Dakota Fanning in WAR OF THE WORLDS. And Spielberg married her (not Dakota Fanning - that would be illegal - Kate Capshaw). Indy is reunited with the love of his life, Marion Ravenwood, and all they seem to do is scream at each other... about *nothing*. Pointless bickering. Doesn’t tell us anything about the characters or about theme or about their relationship. Just bickering. Compare this to the clever banter in RAIDERS between the same characters.

And compare the relationship and the scenes about the relationship. There’s a great scene in RAIDERS where Marion has been kidnaped and put in a wicker basket. Indy is chasing the basket to get her back - and we get a great rif on the Hitchcock Redcap scene from NORTH BY NORTHWEST (one of many cool scenes in RAIDERS swiped from great films - like the STAGECOACH chase scene) - where Indy is popping the tops off wicket baskets looking for her... and finally chases the basket down an alley where it is tossed in the back of a truck filled with explosives... that Indy causes to wreck and *explode* killing Marion. Wow! After that, Indy becomes a drunk. He’s an emotional mess. His eyes are teary. He’s sitting in a bar pounding down drinks. He killed the woman he loved. It’s *his* fault. And that’s where Belloq finds him and ends up accidentally nudging him back on course. But characters in RAIDERS have real emotions, and the story explores them. Hey, it’s still an adventure film - but the people don’t just bicker without reason, everything they do and say is about their relationships. Indy and Marion. Indy and Sallah (some of the greatest buddy exchanges on film).

In SKULL, when Mutt (stupid name - an in joke because Lucas’ dog is named Indiana) is revealed as Indy’s son, there is no real drama, no real emotions... just more pointless bickering. No real emotions. Hey - I find out I have a son, I’m liable to get a bit emotional about it - and get emotional with the kid. RAIDERS has real demonstrations of emotion between Indy and Marion - when he finds out that she’s alive, they have a big moment together... before he ties her back up and leaves the tent. Even their first meet at her bar is emotional - she slugs him. Then we get a chunk of scene about their past relationship, how she feels that he used her and dumped her... and he apologizes, and genuinely seems to feel bad about the way he treated her. They hadn’t seen each other for a couple of years in RAIDERS and they have this emotional relationship scene... in SKULL they haven’t seen each other in over a decade... and we get zilch. That’s not real human behavior.

Hey, Indy has a son... nothing emotional about that. Instead we get a quip about how he should stay in school or something. A gag, but no hug. Hey - I don’t want to turn this into some touchie-feelie chick flick or something, I just want the same level of father and son emotions we had in CRUSADE between Connery and Ford. Tender but prickly.

After that, the film turns into a film about a disfunctional family... when I paid to see an adventure film. Hey, you can do both... but SKULL doesn’t even give us a single real dramatic scene about the family... let alone incorporate the family into the adventure story (the way RAIDERS incorporates the Indy/Marion relationship into the adventure). We just get bickering. Cartoon characters and cartoon situations - no real people involved. You know, as a real person who paid real money to see this film, I want it to be about real human emotions. Hey, I want adventure, too - but I want to believe the people involved are real... not some sort of lifelike animation.

DIGITAL DANGER - DEATH OF ACTION?

Speaking of animation - I think CGI is the death of the action movie. First, I have to credit my friend Kris with the phrase “digital danger”. We were watching some movie - probably the second MUMMY movie (just to keep everything in the adventure arena) and he coined the phrase to describe that awful scene at the end where Brendan Fraser has to fight that CGI thing that used to be The Rock. Now, anytime the hero has to outrun a digital explosion or battle something that will be added later or deal with some sort of green screen terror, it’s digital danger. Not *real* danger. Danger that is added in post production.

The first three films were made before CGI existed. Everything you saw on film was “real” to some extent. That great STAGECOACH rip-off scene in RAIDERS where Indy on a horse gets involved in a chase that involves motorcycles and military vehicles and Indy ends up underneath that truck being dragged along the road... real stuntmen did that. Nothing in that scene seemed fake, because it was all real. Even that mine car roller coaster scene in TEMPLE OF DOOM was “real” - they build miniature mining cars on a track and filmed it, cutting to the real actors in real mining cars for close ups. But the miniature mining cars were real and only did what real things can do. Nothing fake. Nothing unrealistic. Nothing that pulls you out of the movie because it’s completely impossible.

Every action scene in CRYSTAL SKULL was just plain fake - impossible. Unreal.

Look, I’m an action guy - I love action scenes - but I don’t want them to be cartoons. You can create the most realistic CGI in the world, but if what that CGI shows is completely impossible, that CGI doesn’t work. Scene after scene didn’t work. It was fake because it just could not happen. We have very realistic looking people in a Road Runner cartoon. Instead of being excited by the action scenes, they bored me. I knew they were fake. Instead of being amazed at the stunts - knowing that a real person did them (a guy I know, Chuck Waters, did many of the stunts in the first 3 films) and knowing that there was actual danger - I didn’t care. What harm can post-production CGI do to a person? It was a cartoon.

This just shows you how out of touch Lucas (and maybe Spielberg) are with current films. These overblown and impossible fake action scenes might have played back in the early 80s when James Bond was fighting Jaws in outer space in MOONRAKER and dealing with whatever he was dealing with in OCTOPUSSY, but this is the gritty new millennium where every action scene in the Bond film CASINO ROYALE is ultra realistic - heck, Bond spends much of that film with his face ripped up. Didn’t they realize a little thing called BOURNE IDENTITY changed the way action scenes and action films work? Everything is gritty and real since BOURNE - even BATMAN is realistic! The action scenes from the first 3 INDY movies better fit what today’s post-BOURNE audience expects... Funny thing is, the producer of those realistic BOURNE movies is Frank Marshall... one of the producers of CRYSTAL SKULL (and all of the other INDY movies). You’d think he might have mentioned it to Lucas in passing. “Hey, George, big fake action scenes don’t play anymore.”

And the action scenes were also *meaningless* - they were junk action. That scene where they play hot-potato with the crystal skull will driving jeeps near a CGI cliff? Pointless. Just a bunch of CGI in a scene that has no story purpose and doesn’t explore the theme in any way.

Another thing about those action scenes - no “cool factor”. Okay - take the fist fight with the freakin’ huge guy in front of the out of control flying wing plane in RAIDERS. That flying wing plane was cool and a piece of real history. That scene also swipes from HITCHCOCK... the scene in THE BIRDS with the gasoline spill heading toward the fire. What was the cool and real thing in any action scene in SKULL? I got no feel for the Cold War era at all - nothing from the time period was integrated into the action scenes. These were bland, generic action scenes... that looked like cartoons.

Mark Verheiden (TIMECOP) and I once had a conversation about Jackie Chan movies, and what I call “action porn”. He’s a story guy, and wants the action scenes to be story related. I agree... but admit to liking “action porn” where the story makes no sense - and may just be an excuse for a bunch of cool action scenes. Jackie Chan usually tries to have a story, but some of the other Hong Kong stuff is just action without reason. But here’s the thing about those silly Hong Kong movies that are just excuses for action - they have amazing action scenes. Inventive action scenes. Maybe even high concept action scenes. You can watch those films just for the action scenes, because they are tremendous. If SKULL had scenes that amazing, it could be enjoyed just as a stupid roller coaster ride. But the action scenes are fake and unimaginative and boring and have zilch to do with story. They are crap action. And the characters are cartoonish. Actually, that’s insulting to Pixar - the characters in any Pixar cartoon are more realistic. In fact, the *danger* in INCREDIBLES is more real, and the characters and situations are more real, than in SKULL.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for RAIDERS #5 - odd number, it will probably be great!

- Bill
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