Sunday, May 30, 2021

Happy Memorial Day!

Today is the day in the United States where we honor our fallen soldiers: soldiers and sailors and marines and air force folks and everyone else who have died defended this country. I grew up during an unpopular war (Viet Nam) and the mistake then was to transfer feelings about the war to those people who were fighting it - usually poor kids who had no way to avoid the draft, and were doing their best to serve their country. I think we have all learned from that mistake - no matter what we think about war, the people fighting it who *gave their lives* to serve their country deserve our respect. Defending our freedom is the most important thing someone can do. Those who want to take away or limit our freedom must be fought, both abroad and in this country.

And note: Memorial Day is set aside for those who *gave their lives*, not those who are still alive (that's what Veteran's Day is for). So please, honor our fallen soldiers and sailors and air force and marines today.

These are from of my favorite war movies that show the courage of our men and women in uniform...

THE BIG RED ONE (1980) written & directed by the great Sam Fuller. Unfortunately this is the trailer for the re-release...



GO FOR BROKE (1951)...

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GARDENS OF STONE (1987) Directed by Francis Ford Coppola.


A clip from STEEL HELMET (1951) directed by Sam Fuller...



FIXED BAYONETTES (1951) also directed by Sam Fuller...



THE BOYS IN COMPANY C (1978) directed by Sidney Furie...



Those are some of my favorites, and if there are any that you haven't seen - check them out. And take some time today to thank and be thankful to those people who have given their lives or gave their lives for this country.



- Bill

Friday, May 28, 2021

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)

Screenplay by Norman Krasna.

There are no cross-dressing killers, no stolen microfilm, no man wrongly accused of a crime in this Hitchcock film - it’s a standard rom-com. Weird, huh? I have seen all of the Hitchcock films on the big screen including this one - a non-thriller - but I have to admit I saw MR. & MRS. SMITH decades ago on a Hitchcock triple bill and it was the last film playing and, well, I may have fallen asleep. I have not see it since, and never owned it on VHS and did not own it on DVD... and worried that it might suck. Did I really want to buy the DVD? I mean, spending $15 for THE PARADINE CASE was a waste of money, but I could chalk it off to being a completist, right? I mean, it may be lame, but it is still kind of a thriller. MR & MRS SMITH is a rom-com, a chick flick...

So I grabbed my Hitchcock/Truffaut to see what Hitch said about it... and he says nada! When Truffaut brings up the film, Hitch tells an amusing anecdote about Carole Lombard and then changes the subject. The only thing he really says about the film was that it was a favor to Lombard and he just followed the script. Did I really want to buy this on DVD?


Worse - the film was part of a $99 box set and I owned all of the other movies but one. Sure, I could get it at Amazon for $70... but I didn’t want to spend anything near that much for a rom-com that probably put me to sleep the last time I saw it. Damn this blog!

Then I discovered that there were 3rd party vendors who had probably bought the set, broken it up and sold all of the popular films (STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, NORTH BY NORTHWEST) and were now stuck with MR. & MRS. SMITH... and were selling it for $4. Deal.

Here’s the thing - this is a typical 1940s rom-com, funny, charming, and good. I think if Hitchcock had *not* directed it, people would love it and put it up there with THE AWFUL TRUTH and HIS GIRL FRIDAY. But the Hitchcock audience isn’t really the rom-com audience and vice-versa... so people haven’t given it a chance. I thought it was fun... And a great example of Hitchcock's directing techniques at work. This is a Hitchcock film! It shows all of those theories about cinema and direction that he talks to Truffaut about in his thrillers used in a romantic comedy!




Nutshell: David (Robert Montgomery) and Ann Smith (the beautiful Carole Lombard) are a passionately married Manhattan couple... and have rules that will keep them married. That passion thing is great when things are going well in the relationship, but when things go wrong they are just as passionate and throw things at each other. So they have the rules - one of which is that no one can leave the bedroom after a fight until they have made up. Problem is, this cuts into David’s work week sometimes (he’s a lawyer). They can stay angry at each other for a loooong time!

Another rule is that after they’ve made up, each gets to ask the other a question... and they must answer honestly. Note to men in a relationship: this is a trap. No woman ever wants you to answer honestly (“Yes, those jeans make your ass look *massive*!”) they want to hear the lie that makes them feel good. So David makes a huge mistake by answering that he misses being single and probably wouldn’t marry Ann if he had to do it all over again. He loves her, he can’t live without her, but probably wouldn’t marry her again. She doesn’t like this answer, but they’re married, so the point is moot, right?




When a clerk (Charles Halton) from the town they were married in tells David that one of those only-in-the-movies clerical errors has nullified their marriage, he thinks for a moment that this may be his chance for freedom. The clerk was a childhood friend of Ann’s, stops by their apartment to visit and lets slip that she isn’t really married to David. Ann expects him to re-propose that very night and whisk her away to a Justice Of The Peace to go through the vows again. Her mother forbids her from sleeping with David until they are once again married. That night, David takes her to the cozy little restaurant where he first proposed... which is now a dump... and Ann thinks he’s going to pop the question. But he doesn’t. When they get home he chills some champagne. Um, now he can pop the question - but how will they get to a Justice of the Peace? When David gets into his silk Pjs, Ann blows her top. He expects her to sleep together even though they are not married? She throws him out.




David is sure that Ann will come crawling back to him... but that does not happen. Instead she finds a job and begins dating again.

Then Ann hooks up with David’s partner Jefferson (Gene Raymond) - a deep fried Southern Gentleman, and it looks like they’re getting engaged to be married! When David objects, Ann notes that she is not his wife, and legally has never been his wife - he has no claim on her.

David realizes he may fantasize about being single again, but the reality sucks! He *must* break up Jefferson’s relationship with Ann and win her back!

Experiment: Well, it is a rom-com. By this time Hitchcock was firmly established as the Master Of Suspense - he’d become famous in England for his thrillers like THE 39 STEPS and THE LADY VANISHES... and that’s why he was brought to America. But Carole Lombard was a friend, was a huge movie star, and wanted to do a film with Hitchcock... so he made a rom-com. The anecdote he told Truffaut was about his first day on the set - when he arrived there were three little cattle pens with a calf in each - wearing a name tag on its collar with the names of the stars. Lombard’s joke (she and her husband Clark Gable were notorious practical jokers - and the most tragic tale in CITY OF NETS is about the joke that preceded Lombard’s death in a plane crash, which devastated Gable). So - it’s a rom-com.

Hitch Appearance: When David and Jefferson come out of Ann's building together, then go in opposite directions, Hitchcock walks in front of the building.

Great Scenes: Let’s look at some rom-com things and other lessons that we can apply to any screenplay, starting with...

Story Point Of View: A common complaint about recent rom-coms is that they seem to be about the guy - KNOCKED UP seems to focus on Seth Rogen’s point of view instead of split equally between the couple. Well, it seems like that’s nothing new, as the lead character in MR. & MRS. SMITH is not Carole Lombard, or even Lombard & Montgomery... it’s Robert Montgomery. The film opens with Lombard in bed pretending to be asleep after a spat, and Montgomery tries to slyly get her attention with funny faces and hijinks (which come off charming rather than lame). This scene is not only told from his POV, some of the shots are his POV... and this continues throughout the film. Though I think you *can* have a rom-com where each member of the couple trades off as protagonist; it seems that in the end, one or the other is dominant (the “main protagonist”). That’s what happens here...




But whether one character is the protagonist or two, each scene takes a side and shows it from that character’s point of view. When Ann is waiting for David to pop the question at dinner... and then later at home... those scenes all take her side. We are not neutral in those scenes, we are given the information to understand her character and we see the scene from her side of the dispute... but not his. We know her plan is to accept when he re-proposes... but we have no idea what David’s plan is. Did he plan on proposing at the little restaurant? What’s his plan when he slips into his Pjs? We do not know - but we do know that her plan is *not* to sleep with him until they are married again. We have taken her side in this sequence. And there is a great reason for this - it creates drama and suspense. If we know everything, it’s dull - like knowing how a movie ends. We want to *use* POV to create intrigue. Since knowing David’s intentions remove the suspense from the scene, we take Ann’s side and keep David’s intentions secret. After she kicks David out, we take his side for most of the rest of the movie.

Do you know who is the “lead character” in each of your scenes... and why?




Visual Symbols: A picture is worth a thousand words. After that opening scene spat has been resolved, there is a scene where Ann shaves David with a straight razor. You may wonder what the heck that is all about, but the answer is - it *shows* the trust between them with an intimate act. We can’t exactly show them hitting the sheets in 1941 (and that may even be tonally wrong for 2010) but we can show them doing something together that is personal... and that also shows trust and seems domestic - you wouldn’t let your best friend do this, but you might let your wife. Again, there are a million things that might show two people comfortable with each other in an intimate situation - but what can we show in 1941?

The great thing about the shaving scene is that it not only shows trust and intimacy and comfort with each other now, it is actually a set up for a later payoff near the end that shows Ann recovering her trust and comfort with David. When we see her shave his unconscious body (okay - weird), we realize that they are going to get back together. And David, who is not really unconscious, trusts her not to use the razor on him.





A visual symbol that is designed for a laugh: After being kicked out, David goes to his club which has hotel style rooms available for men who have been kicked out of the house (and maybe bachelors between apartments). There is a board with room keys on it, several empty hooks *with name cards over them* because some poor slob got into a fight with the wife and is now living there. David has to ask the clerk if there is a room available, and the clerk makes a big deal about saying that David has never asked for one of the room keys in the entire time he has been a club member. Then makes a big deal about grabbing the key and giving it to David - this is a *moment*. David and Ann never leave the apartment until they have made up... and now David has been kicked out. The key is symbolic of this being a major problem in the relationship, not just a little bump.




But the great thing is that the key becomes a running gag that gets a laugh (well, from me) every time they show it. David spends the whole day trying to win Ann back, and just when you think she may forgive him... he’s back at the club getting that room key. - Eventually the board of keys has his name on a card over one key.

There are many other little visual symbols in the film - like Ann replacing the name plaque on the apartment door with a card with her maiden name - David keeps tearing it down every time he goes to the apartment and there is always a new one when he comes back. And, um, there’s a pair of skis at the end that, um, seem kind of symbolic of a successful re-honeymoon.




Symbolic Supporting Characters: The other symbolic thing are some of the supporting characters. When David checks into the room in the club, he is now one of the guys who got kicked out of the house by their wives for a variety of reasons. The character he hangs out with is Big Chuck (Jack Carson) who is constantly being kicked out by the wife, and offers David some advice on what to do to get her back if it was a minor infraction... and how to have a good time as a temporary bachelor if you end up with an extended stay at the club. In a way, Big Chuck is a married guy’s fantasy of bachelorhood - he drinks and smokes and whores around and doesn’t care what the wife says. He’s on a “marriage vacation”... and that is kind of David’s fantasy, isn’t it?

Big Chuck *symbolizes* David’s fantasy of being a single guy again, but still with the safety net of being married. He is an externalization of what David is thinking. You want to find the external and concrete visual way to show what’s going on in a character’s heart or mind - and Big Chuck is the kind of guy David wishes he was. That way, we can have David interact with his wish (instead of just having him think - which we can not see) and a great deal of comedy comes from the fantasy version being different than the reality version.




Something else that David and every other married man fantasizes about? Those hot single women out there! Big Chuck sets up a double date - setting up David with a hot single woman who will “show him a good time” (we all know what that means). But the fantasy is not the same as the reality - and David’s date is a loud uneducated bottle blonde who gulps champagne as if were water and smokes like a factory. You fantasize about slutty women and that’s what you get. What makes this scene great is that they are in a fancy restaurant (in contrast to the women) and guess who are a few tables over? Ann and Jefferson. So we get a direct comparison between David’s wife and the single woman David hopes to score with. Um, the sure thing never looked so bad!

This is also a good example of escalation of conflict within a scene. You think once David meets his date that things can't get worse. Then the date starts ordering half the menu. Then she's so loud and obnoxious that everyone in the restaurant is starring at them. Then Ann and Jefferson spot them. And it *keeps* getting worse!




There’s a great gag in this scene where David realizes that Ann is looking in his direction and moves his chair so that he seems to be sitting with the elegant woman at the next table... which works until her husband comes back. David ends up with a broken nose - which should be a good way to get the hell out of the restaurant... except his date used to date a boxer and knows all of the tricks for stopping a nose bleed. Right in the middle of the elegant restaurant. This is the date from hell! Instead of just being the bad situation, things keep happening that makes it worse and worse and worse - it's like Indiana Jones in the treasure cave in RAIDERS as a date! Just when you think it could never get any worse...

Does the conflict continue to escalate in your scenes. Once you have the bad situation, what are all of the things that make it worse?

Bellamys: One of the standard characters in a romantic comedy is the “Bellamy”, named after Ralph Bellamy from HIS GIRL FRIDAY. This is also a symbolic character - in a rom-com the couple splits up or maybe even has never been together in the first place... so how do you *show* that the love interest is *rejecting* the protagonist? At the end, how do you *show* that the love interest is *choosing* the protagonist? What you need is a romantic rival - someone who symbolizes a life for the love interest without the protagonist. Enter The Bellamy (which sounds like a really weird Kung Fu film). This is the guy or gal the love interest is either already engaged to or begins dating after the break up. A physical thing that gets in the protag’s way of winning the love interest back. The strangest Bellamy ever is Otto the blow up pilot in AIRPLANE! Usually it is someone who is the opposite of the protagonist in some way.




Where David in MR. & MRS. SMITH is impulsive and passionate and his life is kind of a mess, Jefferson is conservative and well mannered and steady as a rock. Jefferson will put Ann on a pedestal and treat her like a lady - always polite and quiet and calm. He symbolizes a relationship for Ann that is quiet and safe and predictable. The opposite of David. This takes a decision that is in Ann’s head: wild passion or safe predictability, and puts it on screen where we can see it. Without the Jefferson character, we could not see what she was thinking. There is actually an early scene with Ann sitting in the center of the sofa with a man at either end verbally fighting for her.




The great thing about a Bellamy character is that it not only shows us the choices the love interest makes, it also brings out the character of the protagonist (and the Bellamy). It is easier to see how wild David is when we have Jefferson to compare him with. Jefferson is the perfect Southern gentleman, always opening doors, always polite, always quiet... and that helps to highlight David’s unpredictable behavior. There’s an early scene at the law office where David has neglected his work and Jefferson has been covering for him. Without Jefferson, we wouldn’t see how David was *supposed to be* at work. All of the wild passionate things that David does would just seem romantic without Jefferson to show us a different sort of romance that seems much more practical.

And that is the big choice Ann has to make: security or passion?

If You Know What I Mean Subtext: David doesn’t make that decision easy. He doesn’t understand how he became suddenly single. Sure, he admitted to Ann that he secretly wished he were single again, but now that he’s single the only thing he wants is to be married to Ann again... and she’s off with some other guy... and not just any other guy, his *business partner*! So he begins a series of schemes to get her back again.

One of the more amusing schemes is some “obvious subtext” - when David discovers that Jefferson plans on *marrying* Ann, and is going to introduce her to his very conservative Southern parents, David crashes the meeting. Jefferson’s parents do not know that Ann is David’s ex-wife (well, they were never actually married), and think this is just some woman their son is dating. So when David butts into the meeting, Jefferson’s parents introduce him to Ann... and he says they have already met...




Then begins a series of clever bits of dialogue that are designed to be misunderstood by Jefferson’s parents. David says he’s seen a great deal of Ann - implying that he’s seen her naked, yet never actually saying that. David talks about how Ann is great at serving breakfast in bed. Line after line! Everything seems innocent, but these lines are designed to lead the other person to jump to that guilty conclusion. It’s a strange sort of subtext, because we are meant to understand the hidden meaning, as are the other characters in the scene... yet nothing is said directly. Jefferson’s parents eventually grab their son and take him into the next room - the bathroom, for humor - and ask what sort of woman this Ann is... and what is her relationship to his business partner?




Jefferson manages to put out that fire... which leads to a vacation with Jefferson, his parents, and Ann in a ski lodge. And David follows them, and starts more schemes, eventually placing Ann in the position where she must make a choice between these two types of men, and these two specific men... and then David does something that causes Ann to raise her legs up and cross her skis.

Sound Track: Excellent! A great whimsical score by Edward Ward performed by human lips - whistling. The music adds to the film and never gets in the way of the film.

Though MR. & MRS. SMITH is not a typical Hitchcock film, it is a pretty good romantic comedy from that period and both Lombard and Montgomery are charming and fun. I thought this entry was going to be more painful to write than it was - I really enjoyed the movie. If you are a fan of old rom-coms, check it out.

- Bill

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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!

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HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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Thursday, May 27, 2021

THRILLER Thursday: Masquerade

SEASON 2!!!

Masquerade

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



Season: 2, Episode: 6.
Airdate: Oct. 30, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty Writer: Donald S. Sanford, based on the story by Henry Kuttner. Cast: Elizabeth Montgomery, Tom Poston, John Carradine, Jack Lambert, Dorothy Neumann. Music: Jerry Goldsmith channeling Bernard Herrmann. Cinematography: Benjamin Kline. Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Well, it would seem that Charlie is not only an imaginative writer, but has another most unusual talent as well: peopling his stories with flesh and blood characters... or was that old man flesh and blood? No, don’t answer too quickly, for this is the sort of night where all manner of unnatural creatures crawl through the dark corners of the earth. When the full moon cowers behind the storm, and the wolfsbane reaches out with its evil, hungry brush. Yes, my friends, on just such a night as this who knows what masquerade the living dead may choose? Masquerade. That’s the name of our story. And the Masqueradrers: May I present Mr. And Mrs. Charlie Denham, played by Elizabeth Montgomery and Tom Poston; and John Carradine, Jack Lambert, and Dorothy Newman as the infamous Cartas. Now that you’ve been formally introduced I’ll make you a promise. Before this terrifying adventure has ended you’ll change some of your outdated ideas about vampires... as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. Don’t be alarmed, I can assure you the old faithful weapons are not outdated. And those of you who happen to have some silver bullets or sharp pointed wooden sticks around the house have nothing whatever to fear. As for you others, perhaps you’ll be prepared next time... if there is a next time.”

Synopsis: Writer Charlie Denham (Tom Poston) and his wife Rosalind (Elizabeth Montgomery) are on their second honeymoon... trapped in a rainstorm in a convertible with a torn roof in the middle of nowhere and stop at the most run down, decrepit bed and breakfast in the Southern half of the United States (the PSYCHO house making another guest appearance on the show). Charlie jokes that places like this are where travelers end up on the menu... and explains step-by-step what will happen to them beginning with the old fashioned door knocker falling off the door due to dry rot and the crazy old patriarch of the family inviting them in and warning them about the vampires in these parts...



When they get to the door there *is* an old fashioned door knocker, and then the door is opened by the crazy old patriarch of the Carta clan Jed (John Carradine) carrying an old fashioned oil lamp who invites them in. Jed is dressed in dirty rags, looks like a hillbilly cannibal’s poorest cousin. When the door closes, the knocker falls off - dry rot.

Rosalind keeps joking with crazy old Jed - about him eating them, and he responds by saying that they don’t eat the visitors, they just kill them and steal their money. A joke? Rosalind wants to get back in the car and drive to their destination - no matter the weather. Charlie counters that *she* was the one who insisted they stop. The old man is just joking, right?



Old Jed is building up the fire in the livingroom to warm them up, and tells them to make themselves at home. Charlie asks if they can borrow some dry clothes (WTF?) because Rosalind’s clothes are soaked. Jed says he’ll get something... then tells them about the local legends of vampires, and the recent suspicious deaths. When he leaves, Rosalind admits that she’s terrified... then strips out of her wet dress and wraps a blanket from the sofa around her. They have a conversation about hillbilly vampires - Charlie thinks that might make a good story idea, but Rosalind thinks no one would believe it... people have a preconceived notion of what vampires look like.

That’s when Lem Carta (Jack Lambert, from Don Siegel’s version of THE KILLERS) steps into the room with clothes, startling them. He’s creepy. Says that Mother is coming down to say hello later. Charlie tells Lem to leave, and don’t peek through the keyhole... which is weird because they are in the livingroom and there is no door. I suspect the script was written for a different location and nobody fixed it when they shot this scene in the livingroom - one of many weird disconnects in this episode between what people say and what we see. Lem is also supposed to be Jed’s grandson - except they are both similar in age... so they didn’t fix the script after casting, either. Lem leaves - there is no door - and Rosalind takes off the blanket to put on the dirty old dress (WTF?) - which is much shorter than what she had on. Charlie puts on the dirty checked shirt and overalls...



When Charlie hears a woman laughing... and it’s not Rosalind!

Then a bat flies through the livingroom startling Rosalind!

Charlie smells food, so they decide to creep deeper into the cobwebbed old house to seek dinner.

In the kitchen: Jed is sharpening a knife while Lem pleads to allow him to kill and butcher this one... Jed killed the last few. But Jed says he’s experienced in slitting throats , so he’s gonna do it this time.

Charlie and Rosalind follow the cooking smells to the kitchen... where Jed has finished sharpening the knife. Jed tells Charlie that Lem’s mother has been dead for a decade - found dead on her bed, drained of blood... legend was from vampires. Jed says that he doesn’t believe in vampires - they’d need to change with the times or they’d be discovered. Rosalind says she’s not hungry anymore and runs to the front door... which is locked! Charlie says they are locked in... and then that woman’s laughter begins echoing from the walls again!

Charlie decides they’re going to search for the laughing woman... and they run into more bats on the way to the kitchen where they discover a butchered pig in the pantry. They creep upstairs and discover Ruthie (Dorothy Neumann) in a locked room - a prisoner, chained to the wall. She says she’ll show them the way out of the house if Charlie releases her. But after he does, she runs away into the night... after locking them in the room.



They escape the room, get into a spat, have a make up kiss... and then try to find the way out of the house. They discover some muddy footprints that *begin* at a wall. Secret passage or vampires who can walk through walls? Secret passage - with steps going into the basement. So they go down the steps... to the basement, where Charlie finds some moonshine and the guest book - which contains names of people and what valuables they stole from them!

That’s when Jed and Lem discover them! Jed is angry that they let Ruthie go - she’s a vampire. Oh, and Lem has set up a bed for them. So they go into the bedroom, where they find a locked door with the clothes of the previous guests. There are rats and lightning and other scary things that require Rosalind to jump so that her short skirt flips up (I know that sounds pervy to mention, but I see no reason why these hillbillies would give her an Ellie-Mae outfit except to provide scenes like these).

Later that night: the storm ends and Rosalind wakes up... and walks out of the room as if in a trance! Charlie wakes up and searches for her - finding Lem dead on the floor, sucked dry of blood with a pair of fang marks in his neck! Jed is shocked, says the whole vampire thing was just a joke. Laughter from the basement - Charlie wants to investigate, Jed warns him not to go down there. Charlie discovers Ruthie with a knife!

Later, Charlie comes upstairs and finds Rosalind, explains to her that he had to deal with Ruthie - it was her or him. Rosalind has the front door key - she knocked out Jed to get it, and they two leave. Hop in their car, drive away.

Just before dawn: at the resort destination where they had previously been driving to, they are finally able to get some rest... in a king-sized coffin. They are the vampires!



Review: Novelist Don Westlake has this term for stories that don’t fit in any genre, or maybe fit in too many genres - The Tortile Tarradiddle. It comes from Lewis Carroll. This story tries to be all things to all people and ends up not working for anyone. Though we may look at something like this as “meta” now, I wonder at the time how following every single cliche in the genre played. As a short story, it probably worked - one of my favorite Richard Matheson stories, “Tis The Season”, is a clever comedy story that makes fun of post apocalyptic tropes. Because it’s cleverly written, we know that Matheson is making fun of these tropes. The problem with a TV adaptation is that we wouldn’t be able to read the writing and we’d just see all of the tropes, all of the cliches... and even with the comedy dialogue it still might not work. I don’t really think this episode works - but I’m fairly sure (without reading it) that the story it is based on probably does,



This points out a problem with adapted material - often a book or story is famous *for its writing* and none of that writing shows up on screen, only the physical things being written about. There are novels where the way a chair is described is laugh outloud funny, but on screen it is just a chair... or just a character... or just a simple action like a character sitting down. The humor (or whatever) of the novel is in *how* things are described rather than *what* is being described. And only the *what* ends up on screen. I’ve read screenplays that do this as well - a funny read, but nothing funny actually happening. The funny part is in how it’s described on the page.

So we have a story that’s a big bundle of cliches where they push the comedy to the point of it becoming obvious and less funny. Doesn’t really work. What’s kind of interesting is John Carradine’s character saying “She’s got spunk, I like a woman with spunk” years before Lou Grant would say that to Mary Tyler Moore. Also - is this the first time a married couple slept in the same bed on television? Elizabeth Montgomery and Tom Poston do a pretty good job of playing the Nick & Nora Charles of vampires - and maybe because they are undead they could share a bed on TV and the censors didn’t care? The cast is interesting because this was a pre-BEWITCHED Montgomery, and she’s cute and sexy and lights up the screen. But just as we know Montgomery as a sexy young woman, we mostly know Poston as a crotchety old man from that last Bob Newhart show. So it seems slightly weird to see them as a couple (of about the same age) in this episode. The other thing that’s interesting about this episode is that it uses the “car breaks down in cannibal country” trope long before TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE... long before it was a trope (at least in cinema). So we have an unsuccessful entry that wasn’t as much fun as they probably thought it was.

Next week, Ida Lupino returns behind the camera for an episode she wrote with her cousin.

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Briarpatch

Here's an old blog post from August of 2009:

The late, great, Ross Thomas, who specialized in action and spy novels with a healthy dose of humor, has a book called BRIARPATCH. In Thomas’ world, a Briarpatch was the territory under the control of a spy or criminal or political king maker. Might be a city or a larger territory, or maybe even a country. These guys built their territory from the ground up, and now nothing happened in their Briarpatch that wasn’t approved of or licensed or taxed by them. One of my favorite Thomas novels, THE FOOLS IN TOWN ARE ON OUR SIDE, is about an organization that moves in and takes over U.S. City Briarpatches from the old guard and installs their own governments - conquering the Briarpatch and making it their own. Behind this scheme was, I think, a retired spy with a thirst for power. They destabilized some U.S. city’s government - some old political machine that was some old guy’s Briarpatch, and then installed their own government... just as the ex-spy had done for the CIA in a number of oil rich third world countries.


Friday’s Hitchcock entry was originally postponed because I was traveling to the San Francisco Bay Area for a class reunion... and to help my dad with some manual labor around the house. I figured I’d write it and get it up Sunday, but that was before I fell into two different Briarpatches... which means you won’t get to read about ROPE and Hitchcock’s one shot movie until this coming Friday.

I spent Saturday afternoon helping my friend John doing some interesting construction work. John has been a friend of mine forever, he acted in some of my little movies decades ago and crewed on others. These days he makes short films for those 48 hour film challenge contests, directs live theater in the Bay Area, and has written a couple of plays that have been performed. He’s one of the founders of a Bay Area theatre company, too. But it’s not *his* Briarpatch that this story is about...

A local playwright named Kathy - John has directed a couple of her plays - read an article about a group who were trying to preserve one of the Word War 2 Victory ships, the Red Oak, which had been in the “Moth Ball Fleet” (hundreds of old Navy ships “stored” in the San Francisco Bay for decades - and featured in the Sam Peckinpah film THE KILLER ELITE). Since there was no World War Three, these ships had no purpose and were going to be scrapped by the Navy. The Red Oak Victory was built in Richmond, CA - in the Kaiser Shipyards - so a group turned preserving this ship into their Briarpatch. They had it towed back to the shipyards where it was built and have set about restoring it - as a floating museum. I’ve toured the ship and it’s really cool - many of the rooms are exactly like they were in WW2 - and they do sleepovers for Scouts in the crew’s bunks (which the kids probably think are neat, but the crew probably thought was just this side of torture) and tours and events.

Kathy was fascinated by the way these ships were built - often a whole ship was built in a single day - by shipbuilding crews that included a large number of women... Rosie The Riveter. My grandfather worked in the Richmond Shipyards, and probably worked on this ship, too. But Kathy wrote a play about the women in the WW2 workforce who built ships and did “man work” while most of the men where off fighting the war. And she contacted the people in charge of the Red Oak Victory to see if they would be interested in staging her play *on the ship*. They said yes, and the project I helped John and Kathy with was building a stage area in one of the ship’s holds. As we were working on this, one of the people in charge of the Red Oak Victory restoration/museum project was talking to Kathy about other plays that might also be performed on this new theater space - like MR. ROBERTS. Now it seems that Kathy may have her own Briarpatch - doing plays about the Navy and ship building on the Red Oak Victory. She built this territory from the ground up. Read about the ship being restored, talked to the people in charge about doing a play onboard, and now may be the “theatre director” for the ship. She’s in charge of the plays done in the new theatre area we built on the ship - and may even turn that into a career. Before Kathy, no one had even thought about doing plays on the ship.

TRASH FILM ORGY


After we finished work on the stage area, I dragged John to Sacramento to the Trash Film Orgy Midnight Movie. I know Trashy Christy Savage from online (and may have met her before, but don’t remember). She (and a couple of friends) have created their own interesting Briarpatch - during summer they do a midnight movie festival at Sacramento’s historic Crest Theater - one of those grand old movie palaces from the 1930s. The place is huge! Because next weekend is my reunion, this was my only chance to go to the midnight show.


The movies are promised to be trashy and bad, and the whole thing is like a ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW party. The event begins at 11:30pm with kind of carnival booths in the lobby of the cinema... I believe a fair number of folks had come from the bars nearby and were in a good mood to see a bad movie, so it was a party atmosphere. At the booth up front you could buy festival T shirts and paraphernalia, *plus* DVDs of the low budget movies Christy has produced. Christy and her friends make movies like
MONSTER FROM BIKINI BEACH in Sacramento - no reason to move to Hollywood - and sell the films online. MONSTER is a fun combo of 1960s beach movie and 1950s monster movie, and delivers everything you would want from a movie with that title. Unlike the Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello movies from the 60s, bikini tops do *not* stay on (the monster’s first move always seems to be tearing off the bikini top). This is the kind of film that would play at some second string drive in as the B side of the double bill - and that is meant as a compliment. Christy has made the perfect film for $2 a carload night when you smuggled in a couple of cases of beer.

Now, I don’t know whether the midnight shows exist to further their filmmaking projects, or if the filmmaking is an extension of the midnight shows... but it’s all Christy’s Briarpatch. She has built this territory in Sacramento where she gets to make films and have a party almost every Saturday night over summer where she shows so-bad-they-are-good exploitation movies. At midnight (actually, it was 12:08) they start the party in the theatre with a comedy group doing a skit to warm up the audience. Oh, there’s a DJ who has been playing records up until now - lots of metal. There is a giant talking Tiki Head who is MC - and gets the audience chanting all kinds of silly things. After the comedy, they start the film...


LADY TERMINATOR should not be seen sober. It’s a Indonesian knock off of TERMINATOR, but obviously someone in the legal department was worried, so the opening of the film sets it up as based on the legend of the South Sea Queen (I think) who had 100 husbands and bite off all of their man-parts with an eel she hides in her woman-parts. Blood sprays from many a man’s groin area in this film. Like a garden hose of red liquid. Not subtle or realistic. Well, after husband #100 pulls out the eel and saves his man-parts, the South Sea Queen puts a curse on his family - specifically his great grand daughter - and returns to the sea.

Cut to decades later, this smokin’ hot babe who could not act her way out of a rice paper bag, claims to be an anthropologist studying for her thesis who is researching the South Sea Queen legend. Whenever she said she was an anthropologist, it got a laugh - like Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist in that James Bond movie.

Just when you are about to leave the cinema because her acting is so bad it actually hurts, she dons a bikini and dives into the cursed area of the South Sea where the Queen vanished, and comes back as the Lady Terminator... hell bent on finding that Great Grand Daughter and killing her.


And now we get the silliest rip off of TERMINATOR you can imagine, as this often topless killing machine (not really a machine, just a possessed anthropologist) chases the Great Grand Daughter chick - who is a disco singer (so that we can get a bunch of disco numbers throughout the film) and also uses the eel hidden in her woman-parts to bite the man-parts off a bunch of guys. Yes, she comes naked from the ocean and steals the clothes from some punkers on the beach (and bites off their man parts with her hidden eel), yes there is a TechNoir bar scene where she finds the Great Grand Daughter chick singing and machineguns at least a hundred extras, yes there is a scene where her eye is injured and she cuts it out... then washes it off in the sink, dries it on a towel, and replaces it, yes there is a scene where she drives a car into the police station and kills at least a hundred extras dressed as cops with a machine gun, yes she (thankfully) doesn’t talk much as the Lady Terminator. She just walks around bare chested with a machinegun and kills people. Just like Ah-nuld did.

But the funniest parts of this movie are when they try to make it look like it takes place in America. The cops - in a police station unlike any you have ever seen before (there are sofas and recliners) have a never-ending conversation about how much they love hot dogs. After about the third hot dog conversation you wonder if there is supposed to be a strang Gay subtext to these scenes... and wonder if this is plot related. Will the Gay cops save the day because they don't put their man-parts in lady-parts and are immune to the Lady Terminator?

Two of the cops are some sort of Starsky & Hutch undercover team - one has a dyed blond mullet that does not match his very ethnic features at all. They say strange things like, “I’m here in the States” which make you wonder where they might have been before. It’s just crazy - bad!

The often topless Terminator chick can not be killed - she takes a million bullet hits that don’t scar her smokin’ hot body at all, her car gets hit by missiles (and even the car is unscratched!) and almost at the end of the movie after she has caught fire and comes out of it with a totally burned face - but her boobs are completely undamaged. This film has its priorities!

Oh, for some unexplained reason after catching on fire and losing her machine gun, she develops laser rays from here eyes that burn men’s man-parts off. The writer of this film has some issues.

Anyway, halfway through this mess of a movie the Trash Film Orgy has an intermission, which is a good thing. Bad movies are only entertaining for so long, and then they just become bad. Because of all of the cop-talk about how much they enjoy eating hot dogs, the intermission show included a hot dog eating contest. I donated some Classes on CD as part of the prize package. All of the contestants were gals, and the Giant Tiki Head MC commented on this. Members of the comedy team gave play-by-play, and it was a lot of fun - people sitting in the first 8 rows were pelted with hot dogs. This primed us for the second half of the movie - which was just as silly as the first.

By the way, whenever the Great Grand Daughter chick did a disco number (which was fairly often considering she had a killing machine babe hunting her night and day), people got up and danced. Many comments were hurled at the screen (hey, it looks so easy on Mystery Science Theater - but most of the comments were just not funny). (They should have had the comedy folks or Tiki Head come up with some prepared funny material to throw at the screen, and I think the Tiki Head needs some Dean Martin style dancers.) And before they showed the film there were some comedy shorts and trailers for locally made films. It was a fun little party... I did a quick headcount and there were more than 200 people in the audience... Christy’s little cult, her Briarpatch.

To me, the most interesting thing wasn’t the awful movie and it’s odd ideas about male and female relationships and the care and feeding of eels, it was that Christy had carved out this piece of the world for herself where she can make her fun little movies and have a weekly party during summer showing old trashy movies. She didn’t need to move to Hollywood, she created her own Hollywood and became a big fish in a small pond.

There are alternatives to Hollywood. You don’t need to sell a script to a studio. You can create your own little Briarpatch and make your own little movies and have your own local events. You can be the big fish in the small pond - and never have to deal with stupid story notes or bone-head producers or all of the crap in this business. You can do it yourself like Christy and Kathy.

Saturday night at the Trash Film Orgy - BLACK BELT JONES with Jim Kelly (star of one of my favorite flicks, THREE THE HARD WAY) and more foley work than 20 studio films put together - if you’re in the Sacramento area, check it out!

* The Red Oak Victory
* RIVETS - The Musical
* Trash Film Orgy Midnight Movie
* Monster From Bikini Beach

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Point Of View and RUNNING SCARED.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Denny's Grand Slam halfway to Sacto.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Trailer Tuesday: Captain Blood

Directed by: Micheal Curtiz.
Written by: Casey Robinson based on the novel by Rahael Sabatini.
Starring: Olivia DeHaviland, Errol Flynn, Lionel Atwill, Basil Rathbone.


CAPTAIN BLOOD is one of my all time favorite movies. Based on a novel by Rapheal Sabatini that I read in grade school, thanks to my 6th grade teacher Bob Olsen who had these massive bookshelves in his classroom filled with all kinds of adventure and romance and other genres of fiction - not kids books, *adult* books. Of course, nothing you couldn’t let a 6th grader read - but Bob’s theory was that kids would read grown up books just to show that they are grown up - and books that were more realistic would be interesting to kids who lived in the real world. Nothing that talked down. We had to write a huge stack of book reports every year, and extra credit and prizes to hose who read the most books. I think Bob Olsen save my life, gave me a direction, and made me what I am today. And all of the Sabatini novels on his shelves I gobbled up... and bought copies of my own so that I could re-read them over summer vacation.



BLOOD is a pirate adventure book about Dr. Peter Blood, who takes no sides in war - his job is to help the injured. When he treats a rebel fighting against the government of England, he’s arrested and put on trial. Blood tells the judge he’s a doctor, not as rebel. Neutral. The judge sentences him to *death* for saving the life of a rebel. Instead of death, they ship all of the convicts to the British colonies in the Caribbean as slaves to work on plantations. Blood and his slave pals all get whipped and mistreated... and Blood has now taken a side - with the rebels. Oh, he’s bought by plantation owner’s niece Olivia DeHaviland - she buys him just to piss off her uncle. Blood insults him.

After being whipped for being insolent, Blood plans an escape for the slaves by boat. Many of the slaves have been in the navy, and know how to sail. One guy is the key to everything - he was a navigator. Without him, they’re dead in the water. The day before the escape plan, the plantation owner sees Blood whispering to the navigator and while Blood is off working, whips the navigator kid to try and get him to talk. This is a great scene, because if the kid talks - the escape is foiled. If he doesn’t talk - they may whip him to death, and the escape is foiled. Either way, they’re screwed. The kid doesn’t talk, and is close to death - which ruins the escape plan. Except Spanish ships attack and d loot the town... which creates a perfect diversion for their escape. They manage to carry the navigator guy to the docks where their boat is waiting... but it was shelled by the Spanish ship! It’s sunk! Blood hatches a plan to *steal the Spanish ship* while the Spaniards are on shore looting... and the slaves become pirates.

One thing I have to mention are the supporting characters in this film - they are so well written and well played that they become real (even if the dialogue gets a little clunky now and then). There’s a slave-pirate who always quotes the Bible... but finds ironic passages to quote, so he comes off funny instead of as a zealot. There is a tough guy, always itching for a fight. The guy who always has his flask - even in sword fights. All of the bit-part slave-pirates have *personalities* and their own little goals. The colony’s Governor is a great character - this fey, flamboyant guy in a powdered wig always complaining about his gout. The Governor’s doctors both have distinctive personalities. The guy in debtor’s prison who sells Blood the boat... and gets swept up in the escape, becoming one of Blood’s pirates by mistake. Every single minor character is an individual in this film.

And all of the great character actors under contract at Warner Bros play these roles as if they’re competing for an Oscar. If a character is only in one scene, they do everything in their power to be the most memorable character in that scene. You end up with all of these amazing actors playing amazingly well defined characters. I’ve always wanted to take over programming at TCM for a week and do a festival of great character actors in bit parts. You would see several movies with completely different stars in different genres and wonder why these films are on the same program... then you’d notice some guy like Ned Sparks is in every movie. Who is Ned Sparks you are probably asking? Well, he’s this guy who played bit parts in a lot of movies who had a very distinctive voice - and you’d recognize his voice from a couple of cartoon characters who swiped it. I think most people know the cartoons more than the real guy whose voice the imitated. But BLOOD has all of these great bit part players (but no Ned Sparks) playing the pirates - the guy in the background of some shot not only has a character, the actor playing that character is trying to make sure you remember him!


Blood has a pirate constitution which is basically that all money is divided evenly - no one gets a larger share. All work is divided evenly - no one gets to goof off. And if one of them is injured on the job, they get a pension (of course, it’s a pirate movie, so this is all about how many pieces of eight you get if your arm gets chopped off in battle... and it goes through every savage injury you can imagine and some you can’t). Oh, and no raping women. There are enough women of easy virtue at Tortuga, no reason to rape any. And the big one - people are not for sale.

So we get all kinds of great pirate adventures, and on Tortuga Blood decides to partner with a French pirate played by Basil Rathbone using that fake French accent from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. More pirate adventures... and Rathbone captures a ship carrying... Olivia DeHaviland! Rathbone’s plan is to rape her and then ransom her to her plantation owner Uncle who is now the governor of the British colony. When Blood shows, he has to stop that. First with reason, and when that doesn’t work, with some damned cool sword fighting. There’s nothing like a Rathbone/Flynn sword duel - those guys actually knew how to use swords. I think Rathbone was actually a fencing champ or something in real life. So the fight scene is just amazing stuff.



Once Blood wins, he jokes with DeHaviland that she is now *his* slave. He owns her as she once owned him. She hates him... but we know they are going to hook up.

Blood decides to take DeHaviland back to the British Colony, even though he knows her uncle has every British ship in the area trying to capture and kill for him. This leads to a mutiny - and Blood has to talk his pirates into doing him this one favor... that could result in their death. This is a great scene, where one-by-one they join him.

When they get back to the British Colony, they find it under attack by French battleships - and no British ships to defend it. Blood and his pirates have to decide what side they are on, and that leads them to attack the two French ships. A great sea battle - obviously models in some shots, but when they get close enough to throw the grapnels and pull out the swords, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. A non-stop sword fight with lots of twists and turns and reversals.

They began as rebels, became slaves, became pirates, and end as heroes.

How many current movies take their lead characters through so much?

CAPTAIN BLOOD is not only a big exciting adventure film, it makes a point about freedom and equality and how a government needs to answer to the people, not *use* the people.

Bill

Friday, May 21, 2021

Fridays With Hitchcock: Torn Curtain (1966)

TORN CURTAIN (1966)
Screenplay: Brian Moore.
Starring: Paul Newman, Julie Andrews, Lila Kedrova, Tamara Toumanova, Wolfgang Kieling.
Director Of Photography: John F. Warren (a HITCHCOCK PRESENTS DP who also worked on THRILLER).
Music: John Addison.

Hitchcock's *other* Cold War movie (I'm not counting NORTH BY NORTHWEST - which uses the Cold War as a backdrop but isn't really about the Cold war) is much better than TOPAZ, but still a lesser Hitchcock film. As I've probably said before, despite the insistence of critic Robin Wood that the 60s films were Hitchcock's best, mostly they are disappointments with a good scene or two - Hitchcock was believing his press and coasting. Though Hitchcock hated having the studio stick him with big movie stars like Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, they are part of what makes this film a hundred times better than TOPAZ. The film has a few cool shots, one great scene, and some other scenes that are okay. It's a watchable film, Hitchcock’s 50th film.

Nutshell: TORN CURTAIN is about a top nuclear scientist Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman) who attends a conference of atomic scientists in Denmark with his fiancĂ© and assistant Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews). Michael was working on the “Gamma Missile Program” which is top secret... but the government cut his funding. Michael seems distant and secretive and she thinks he may be up to something strange - perhaps having an affair - and she starts to follow him and spy on him. In the mix is a creepy East German scientist Karl who also seems to be following Michael around town. Sarah spies Michael picking up a plane ticket at the concierge desk and she asks him about it. He tells Sarah that he plans to skip the rest of the conference and fly to Stockholm, where he’s been offered the funding to continue with his research. But Sarah discovers his plane ticket *wasn’t* to Stockholm... it was to Berlin in East Germany. Behind the Iron Curtain!

When Michael defects to East Germany, Sarah follows... and now Michael is stuck behind the Iron Curtain with her... protecting her and trying to keep her from discovering exactly what he is up to. Is he cheating on her with the enemy? Nope - he's actually faked his defection in order to get close to one of *their* Atomic Scientists and work with him long enough to find the answers the United States needs for the Gamma Missile Project. Only a nuclear scientist could get this information from another nuclear scientist: no spy would know what to ask. But once Michael has his information, not only does he have to escape from behind the Iron Curtain, he must get Sarah out as well... Michael ends up kind of like that spy stuck with the bureaucrat from Hitch's pitch - except she's his fiance as well. Michael must fulfill his mission *and* make sure the woman he loves doesn't get killed in the process.




Experiment: No big story experiment in this film... but Hitch mentioned in “Hitchcock/Truffaut” the difficulties he had working with method trained Paul Newman.

Hitch Appearance: In a hotel lobby with a baby on his lap.... Here it is on YouTube:


Score: This film is probably most famous for being the movie that resulted in divorce between the long-term team of Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann. Hitch rejected his score, and hired John Addison.

Great Scenes: One of the greatest Hitchcock scenes is in this not so great movie - the murder of Gromek. Hitchcock thought movies make murder too easy - casual almost. When someone was killed on screen back then, they’d get shot, clutch their chest, and fall over dead. Since it was the 1960s, there was some blood... but not much. But even if you think about films today, the hero sprays a bunch of bad guys wit machine gun fire, there’s a blood squib, then they all fall over dead. It’s over in a second or two. That makes it look easy, and Hitchcock wanted to show how difficult it was to kill a man. This scene is intense, scary, messy, and makes the typical movie scene where the good guy kills the bad guy into a long and frightening experience.

Paul Newman’s scientist Michael is followed to his contact in the underground’s farm by East German Agent Gromek, and must prevent him from calling the police and having them all arrested. With a taxi driver waiting just outside te farmhouse, this must be a silent fight - they can’t use a gun and they can’t let Gromek use his gun. Newman knocks the gun from Gromek’s hand, the farmer’s wife grabs it, realizes it will make noise... and grabs a huge knife instead. But when she stabs Gromek, the blade breaks off inside him, and he’s *still* grappling with Newman. She hits him repeatedly with a shovel, and eventually he goes down... but he’s still very much alive. As Newman catches his breath, Gromek moves to his feet, opens the window to call for the Taxi Driver. Newman and the farmer’s wife, pull him away from the window and slam it closed... and Gromek proceeds to strangle Newman! This guy just won’t die! Eventually the farmer’s wife turns on the gas oven without lighting it, and they drag the fighting Gromek to the open oven door, stick his head inside... then have to hold him seemingly forever until he finally succumbs.



That is the single action or suspense scene in the first *88 minutes* of the film. The problem with this story is that the structure is all wrong: not much happens in Act One and Act Two, and then Act Three (the escape) is full of action scenes. Though there are some minor suspense scenes earlier, nothing that really gets the blood flowing! Small stuff like Sarah discovering his plane tickets and Karl the East German scientist helping Sarah find the bookstore. It’s all small potatoes stuff that’s not very exciting.

So Act Three is start and stop escape scenes... There is an overlong sequence on a bus trying to escape from East Germany that has a few tense moments. The bus is a fake, identical to the real bus, and filled with fake passengers, running 10 minutes ahead of the real bus. The problem is, the police are all over the place looking for Newman and Andrews by this time, and they are stopped and searched. Tension builds as the police check everyone’s papers, and we know Newman’s and Andrew’s papers are forged. After that bandits rob the bus... and the police decide to give the bus an escort! Now the police are *with them* the whole time, and the *real* bus is catching up to them! Some tension here... but the scene goes on four times longer than it should.

Other scenes - an escape from a research facility surrounded by police, an escape from the ballet - surrounded by police, an escape from the post office - surrounded by police... and for those of you who are fans of TOP SECRET, the bookstore scene! It’s always fun to see the exact scene parodied in a ZAZ film, and TORN CURTAIN has that scene. Somewhere in all of these escape scenes is an *endless* scene where they have coffee with an old East German woman who wants them to sponsor her moving to the United States... and an equally endless scene at the Post Office looking for a specific employee who is part of the underground... before the police surround the place. And if anyone can explain the reason why the ballerina *freeze frames* in the ballet scene, I'd love to hear it (yes, we get to watch a huge chunk of *ballet* in Act Three).

In my HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE book we look at the suspense scenes which all revolve around *escape* - and even though not all of them work, we look at how they *were supposed to work* or *could have worked* with lots of step-by-step information on how to make escape scenes work.

TORN CURTAIN is too long, not enough real suspense, and seems to have the scenes in the wrong acts - it doesn’t build to and ending as much as peter out to an end. Both Paul Newman and Julie Andrews seem way too low-key to make this work. Newman was a Method actor, and gives a quiet and realistic performance without any trace of personality... and Hitchcock relied on the personality of the actors to carry the characters. Working in the old studio system, where they cultivated exciting larger than life stars like Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, he seemed to struggle in the new gritty version of Hollywood. This film was made a couple of years after Cary Grant starred in the best of the Hitchcock imitations, CHARADE directed by Stanley Donen, and the same year Donen directed another Hitchcock homage ARABESQUE starring Gregory Peck in a story very similar to TORN CURTAIN. Though this is not Hitchcock’s best film by a long shot, it does have an interesting idea and is much better than TOPAZ.

- 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!

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OTHER COUNTRIES:


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






USA Readers click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

THRILLER Thursday: God Grante That She Lye Stille

SEASON 2!!!

God Grante That She Lye Stille

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



Season: 2, Episode: 5.
Airdate: Oct. 23, 1961


Director: Herschel Daugherty
Writer: Robert Hardy Andrews from the short story by Lady Cynthia Asquith.
Cast: Sara Marshall, Ronald Howard, Henry Daniel, Victor Buono.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: Benjamine Kline
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “God grant that she lie still. How would you like to have that grim wish carved on your tombstone? Not rest in peace, but fear - fear of the undead for whom there is no rest. Or, as Shakespeare had King Richard say: ‘Let’s take of graves, of worms, of epitaphs. Make dust our paper, and with rainy eyes might sorrow of the bosom of the earth, for nothing can we call our own... but death.’ Well, I trust that puts you in the proper mood for what you are about to see and hear. Our story is by Lady Cynthia Asquith, and to bring her tale to life we’ve chosen a cast of distinguished players: Sarah Marshall, Ronald Howard, Henry Daniel, Avis Scott, and Madeleine Holmes. They say that Elspeth Clewer dies three hundred years ago. But did she? We’ll find out now, my friends, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff.”

Synopsis: 1661: Condemned witch Elspeth Clewer (Sarah Marshall) is being burned at the stake in public by crazed local Priest Weatherford (Henry Daniel) “For if the body of a witch and vampire be not utterly destroyed by fire, her curse descends on her posterity until the last generation.” Elsbeth laughs at the priest and the townspeople, “You can not destroy that which will not burn. That within me will not be killed and will not rest!” They burn her alive - while she chants, “First fire, then death - so it shall always be until my body is returned to me!”



Present Day: Lady Margaret Clewer (Sara Marshall) hears her little Sheen dog barking, and ask him what’s wrong. She goes to the window to look out, but her maid Sarah (Madeleine Holmes) warns her not to - there’s... something... out there. Lady Margaret opens the doors and steps onto the balcony - nothing outside but a “witches moon”. The dog freaks and runs away... and Sarah goes to fetch him. Lady Margaret has returned to her ancestral home for her 21st birthday (this Sunday) in order to receive her inheritance, and this is her first night in the estate. Just behind the huge old mansion is the family cemetery... along with Elspeth Clewer’s grave. Behind Margaret her birds chirps in their cage and she puts a cover over them and wishes them a goodnight, then starts back to close the balcony doors...

When the ghost of Elspeth floats in. Margaret runs to close the doors... and the ghost vanishes. But when she turns to the mirror - Lady Margaret casts no reflection. What? Laughter from the bed - Elspeth’s ghost is in the bed, beckoning to her! Elspeth chants the fire & death thing... and Margaret screams and faints. Sarah runs in to find her on the floor... and the balcony doors open.

Next morning, handsome Dr Stone (Ronald Howard) arrives to check out Lady Margaret - who has been in some sort of coma. He tells Sarah to open the curtains and windows, and as soon as the sunlight touches her face, Lady Margaret wakes up. She says she saw a face outside the window... and then freaks at the memory. Dr. Stone says her heart is strained and she’ll need to rest and take it easy - and gives her a sedative. Says he’ll be back that night. Margaret asks Sarah where Sheen is - and is told he’s vanished. Maybe found his way out of the house.



Dr. Stone takes a look for the dog on the grounds... wanders into the family cemetery... to Elspeth’s grave with its strange epitaph. When he turns around there is a man behind him! He’s John Weatherford (Henry Daniel) the local Vicker - who likes to walk while studying his sermon. Dr. Stone asks about the inscription, and Weatherford tells him Elspeth was a with and a vampire... Stone doesn’t believe in such things. Lady Margaret’s 21st birthday is the 300th anniversary of Elspeth’s death at the stake. Dr. Stone says this is all very interesting, then gets the heck out of there.

That night Dr. Stone is reading by the fireplace when his phone rings... Maid Sara calling to report that Lady Margaret has vanished. He tells her to keep calm, he’s on his way. He drives over, and the first place he stops is the cemetery for some reason... where he finds Lady Margaret passed out in the rain on Espeth’s grave. When he lifts her up to carry her back to the house, there is that pesky Weatherford standing behind him again! It’s as if the Vicker lives to be a jump scare... except the shots are framed wrong so there’s never any actual jump scare.

The next morning, Dr. Stone opens the balcony doors and looks down at the grave. Lady Margaret is awake, wondering if they’ve found her dog. Nope, but she still has those birds. Dr. Stone wonders if she needs a psychiatrist - because of seeing that face - and tries to psychoanalyze her. She has no memory of last night and how she ended up on that grave.

That night Dr. Stone is at home reading again when there is a knock at his door. Weatherford, with the records of Elspeth’s trial... then he vanishes mysteriously.



Stone reads the trial records when his door bursts open, and there’s maid Sarah. Lady Margaret has locked herself in her room, taken her phone off the hook and is screaming... and talking to someone named Espeth. So they head on over to the estate.

At the estate, Dr. Stone kicks open the door to find Lady Margaret in bed covered in mud... and for some reason Sarah decides to look in the bird cage, where the two birds are dead! Their heads have been torn off! Wham! The door opens and Weatherford is there (does nobody knock in this story?) along with his servant, who has been with him for many years... The servant has found Lady Margaret’s dog... murdered! Throat cut! Weatherford offers to have his servant bury the dog, and suggests Stone just tell Lady Margaret that the dog ran away. Um, okay. Then Weatherford leaves and Stone returns to Lady Margaret covered in mud and gunk in bed, previously in progress.

Sarah says there’s something sticky in Lady Margaret’s hand... and her mouth is covered with blood! Did she bite the heads off the birds?

When Lady Margaret wakes up, Dr. Stone has to tell her that her longtime maid Sarah has quit and split... but Stone has hired a private nurse, Miss Emmons. Stone leaves and we leave with him, because a doctor is much moire interesting than a woman who may be possessed by a with and may have bitten the heads off her birds.

Dr. Stone reads the witch trial transcripts - which gives us a whole bunch of exposition read by Henry Daniel about this curse and the witchcraft stuff... including drinking the blood of birds. Dr. Stone sets down the transcripts and bolts out of his house.



Dr. Stone arrives at the estate, where Nurse Emmons gives him a bunch of exposition about how Lady Margaret has been acting strange and talking to herself and yelling “Ley me in, I need a body!” and other wacky stuff. As soon as she finished with the exposition, Lady Margaret screams from upstairs and they run up to find out what’s going on.

Upstairs, the ghost of Elspeth is at the balcony... but she vanishes when Dr. Stone breaks down the door again. Lady Margaret is fine, she just screamed because that’s what the script said to do. She falls asleep. Dr. Stone decides to spend the night.

That night.... a possessed Lady Margaret stabs sleeping Nurse Emmons with a knife!

Except, the next morning Nurse Emmons is fine. Huh? Lady Margaret is sleeping. Huh? Dr. Stone tells Nurse Emmons that he has called a psychiatrist from London to come down. Then he calmly asks the nurse how that cut on her arm is. Fine. Wait - so Lady Margaret stabs Nurse Emmons in the arm, and that’s that? They just act as if nothing has happened? Who reacts like that?



The Psychiatrist (Victor Buono!) tells Stone that Lady Margaret is wack-a-doodle... and her heart condition has worsened. Oh, and she’s been asking for Dr. Stone. He goes upstairs as the shrink leaves. Stone and Lady Margaret *flirt with each other*, because that seems like the right thing to do in the situation. Then Lady Margaret says the best thing for her now would be to die, so that she’d be safe... then falls asleep. Or maybe passes out.

Later, Lady Margaret is sleeping as Dr. Stone sits up next to her when someone knocks on the door. He goes to answer it, opening the door to expose - Weatherford!

Upstairs, Lady Margaret wakes up, walks to the balcony as if in a trance, opens the doors so that Elspeth can enter. “I must be lodged!”



Downstairs, Weatherford tells Stone that Lady Margaret isn’t the only cursed family - his family has been sworn to make sure Elspeth never possesses another body and does very bad things again. That’s why he’s been lurking. Of course, that’s when Lady Margaret screams from upstairs, and both men run up to find out what is going on.

The break open the door in time to see Elspeth’s ghost pulling out of Lady Margaret’s body and walking out to the balcony. Lady Margaret wakes up - says that she’s won! She’s won! And then kisses Stone and then drops dead. That’s just the kid of girl she is!

Weatherford says Lady Margaret has defeated Elspeth by dying without popping any kids, ending the family line and any chance for Elspeth to inhabit any more bodies. The end.



Review: After a strong start to season 2 we get an episode that doesn’t really work... but at least it has Henry Daniel in the cast. One of the big problems with the episode is that it has no idea whose story it is - we begin in the past with our villain Elspeth, then jump to the present with Lady Margaret and spend a while with her as the protagonist, then jump to Doctor Stone for the majority of the story. The problem is that we go from a “first hand” character who is at the center of the conflict (Lady Margaret) to some secondary character (Stone) who has zero involvement in the conflict - he’s a “second hand” character who doesn’t have a dog in the race or a horse in the fight. There’s a point early in the story where we leave Lady Margaret’s house with Stone and basically spend the rest of the episode with him - watching him *read* in his house. How exciting is that? This is Lady Margaret’s story... or maybe even Henry Daniel’s Weatherford’s sort (since he is tasked to make sure Elspeth doesn’t take over Lady Margaret’s body), but this secondary character? Who cares?



And that’s only one of the episode’s problems - it’s also filled with endless exposition that just drones on and on and on, characters often act weird - doing things that help the plot move forward rather than anything a real person would ever do. It’s as if the characters know what needs to happen next and just does whatever creates that result. Though the writer may know what happens next, the art is getting to that next plot point in a way that’s logical and natural and completely what the character would do in that situation. It’s not that the writer doesn’t know what happens next, it’s that they find the way to get there that feels natural. What real humans would do in that situation. But this episode’s story is so contrived at points that characters do crazy things like look for a lost dog in a graveyard and go *straight to Elspeth’s grave* for no apparent reason other than the story needs to introduce that information. Again and again, characters do things that move the plot forward that just make no sense at all.

Henry Daniel’s character seems to exist just for exposition and failed jump scares - shot wrong so there is no actual jump scare. He’s suitably menacing and creepy (as usual), but seems as if he was just pasted into the story to give us a ton of back story and be creepy.



Herschel Daugherty was a competent TV director who did 24 episodes of HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and 16 episodes of THRILLER and one or two episodes of just about every show on TV for a couple of decades... but his work always seems more competent than inventive. Though last week’s episode WEIRD TAILOR had some great shots, there was nothing there to compare to some of the best work by other directors on this show. I think that often a not great episode might be “saved” by some interesting direction. Had the jump scares with Henry Daniel worked in this episode, it might have been better... but it’s just kind of bland.

This is one of those episodes where 100 monkeys with typewriters could have written a better script... and then it was just directed blandly. It’s probably not the worst episode of the series, but it’s in the bottom third.

- Bill

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