Wednesday, June 30, 2021

ATLiH: HOLDING COURT AT CASA VEGA

ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD...

One night, sitting in Residuals Bar in Studio City (where the DRAGONHEART script was conceived) and drinking a Guiness, I was telling one of the stories that usually end up on this blog - a story about some poor misguided person in the film biz, and one of my friends said: “Where do you find these people?” I replied, “I bet I know all the losers in Hollywood”.... and they said that should be the title of my autobiography (or this blog). But instead, this blog ened up being called SEX IN A SUBMARINE due to a crazy script note I got from HBO on CRASH DIVE, and ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD was a title without a story... until now.

When looking for regular features for the blog for 2018-2019, I thought it would be fun to tell a bunch of those stories of the oddballs I’ve met in the almost 30 years I’ve been in this business. I’m changing all of the names to protect the very very guilty (and avoid meeting lawyers) but the stories you are about to read are true... well, mostly true.

HOLDING COURT AT CASA VEGA


Built in 1956, the Casa Vega restaurant on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks has been a celebrity haunt since they opened the doors. Cary Grant was a regular, as were Marlon Brando and Michael Jackson and Jane Fonda and Dyan Cannon... these days Gwent Sefani and Al Pacino and Tom Hanks and the Spielbergs and the Kardashians and even George Clooney (when he’s in town) are part of the dinner crowd. The place is a fake adobe villa with a terra cotta roof on the main drag of the San Fernando Valley... just down the street from where I live. The drinks aren’t cheap, but for a while when I was getting lots of stuff on screen (and the production bonuses that come with that) I’d often meet friends there for a drink or two. A couple of times I even had dinner, but never spotted any celebrities, though one night they told me that Clooney was buying drinks for the house the night before. Just my luck!

Often at a table in the bar was a producer who I will call Martin, though his real name is... oh, wait, that could get me in trouble. You could tell Martin was successful because he didn’t care what the hell you thought of him. He was dressed down, as if he might be on his way to the bowling alley down the street, but wore a Rolex on his wrist... and was rumored to drive a blue Ferrari Testarossa - and I actually saw him pull into valet parking in that car once. So I was a corroborating witness on that part of his legend. I didn’t even know they made them in blue - I thought they were all bright red.

Martin would hold court at his booth, and wanna-be actors and actresses and directors and writers would often fight for a seat. I was usually with my friends, but a couple of times when I was there alone I just sat at the bar. Gotta be cool, right? Can’t look desperate. I often wonder if that theory has lost me jobs in the past? I know people who fawn over people and end up being thrown a bone now and then - and use that to move up in the business. A director I know started out by becoming everyone’s “number one fan” and then asked everyone he knew who was important if they’d be in his short films - and ended up with stars and directors and others in short films that he’d show to the next level of people in the business and a producer ended up hiring him to direct a real movie, just based on the names in his short films. I don’t do that stuff... but where would I be if I did? Could I be driving a blue Ferrari like Martin?

But playing it cool kind of worked - a few times I got invited to Martin’s booth and tried to figure out just what films he had produced. This was in those dark ages before IMDB when you had to read the trades or watch all of the credits to know who was involved in a film. So I was always looking for clues when I was invite over to his booth. Once Martin mentioned that he was working with Swayze on his new film, so I combed the trades for what film Patrick Swayze was currently working on. Another time he said he was negotiating with Stallone for the lead in his new film. He’d name drop and I’d search the trades for the project. The problem was, the trades didn’t report on everything. Hollywood Reporter had a weekly list of films in production, pre-production, and post production - but they were bare-bones listings and the ones with Stallone or Swayze or whoever else he’s mentioned starring didn’t list all of the producer credits. I’m not going to tell you how much time I spent looking for clues to his films... because then you wouldn’t think I was cool anymore.

He’d often name drop movie stars and big time directors and tell stories about them that only an insider could ever know. He’d talk about all of the red carpet movie premieres he went to - and sometimes would describe some actresses dress... and when they showed the premiere on Entertainment Tonight, that’s the exact dress she was wearing! So even though I could never find the Stallone project that he was working on, I knew that there was one. He’d tell stories about stars and name directors and other producers that not only sounded true, sometimes the same stories would pop up here and there in the press... so they *were* true. At some point in all of this, I was going to Casa Vega in hopes of being invited over to his booth. How could I turn this into a script sale?

See? I’m not cool.

One time when I was at the bar, he was at his regular booth... with an incredibly beautiful woman. No one else was invited to the booth that night. She had to be an actress, right? The next big star? Had to be. I wish I was a producer!

So, an actor I had worked with on one of my little cable movies had a supporting role in a huge summer blockbuster from Warner Brothers, and invited me to the premiere. They had given him a handful of tickets and I guess his first choices were all busy or maybe he wanted to make sure he had great dialogue in the thing I was writing or whatever. He invited me. I had to wear uncomfortable shoes. I was going to be at this big premiere that Martin had mentioned he was going to. *That* was my chance to land a job, right? Instead of me being invited over to *his* booth where *he* had all of the power (and I was just some idiot writer), we would both be on equal ground at the premiere. Either at the premiere or the after-party I would casually pitch one of my scripts to him, saying I was just finishing it up... and let him ask to be the first to read it. He knew I was a working screenwriter and had just written an HBO World Premiere Movie - not exactly a Warner Bros summer blockbuster, but there was a full page advert in TV Guide for the film, which I’d once showed him (I was showing it to my pals at the bar and he wanted to take a look, so I was still cool, I think). Hey, we’re both on the red carpet and I mention the new script, and...

So I get to the premiere with the star of my next cable flick and his entourage and start looking for Martin. It’s not like you can look for the blue Ferrari or something, the way these things work is that the red carpet is all about photographers taking pictures of stars... so supporting actors and their entourage are either ushered in first or saved until last. Big producers like Martin are not in the same group as we were... I did spot some other stars - Nick Nolte was there! Why didn’t I bring my VHS of 48 HOURS for him to sign?

Once inside, I looked around for Martin, couldn’t spot him. Also looked around for that hot actress, just in case that was his date. Couldn’t spot her, either. There are ushers who take you to your section, and we were not sitting in the same section that Martin would be sitting in. We were in the seats where supporting actors who were in a few scenes but had their credit in the end roll rather than the opening titles were seated. It was still cool for me - lots of familiar faces. Hey, it’s that guy! Hey, it’s that woman who plays magazine editors! Hey, it’s the guy who plays blue collar guys!

After the movie, we are walking back to the valet stand to retrieve my actor friend’s SUV that we all carpooled in from the Valley, and I happen to glance at one of the event security guards - and it’s Martin. What? I go up to talk to him, and he’s already telling me that he’s just filling in as security at this event, not a day job or anything, just a favor for a friend. You know, just helping out They were a man short and he... just happened to have a suit that matched all of the other security guy’s suits. I told him it was cool, I just wanted to say hello. It was awkward.

The next couple of times I was at Casa Vega, he nodded to me but didn’t wave me over to his booth. It was an interesting kind of avoidance you see in Hollywood where people smile and nod and greet each other - then move on as quickly as possible.

A couple of months later he invited me to his premier.

Yes, he was an actual producer. He had made a low budget horror film starring the *brother* of a big movie star. Same last name, different first name. Also, different level of talent. There was no red carpet for his premiere, and it was an old theater in the Valley... he did pull up in his rented blue Ferrari - there’s a company that rents luxury cars. The movie wasn’t very good - there was a top secret government lab in the story, and the official government sign outside the building had a misspelled word. Oops! The monster also was one of the worst rubber suits I’ve ever seen, and the actor within - not the movie star’s brother - moved like a human. Not convincing. The story seemed as if it had originally been a father and son drama that got a last minute rewrite into a monster movie because some distributor told Martin that horror sells. As far as I know, the film was never released - not even on VHS or DVD or anything else... even with a real movie star’s brother. People think that every movie gets to DVD (or VHS back when this took place), but probably most independent films don’t even make it that far. They end up in film cans in people’s garages. I have no idea if that’s what happened with Martin’s film - but I never saw it anywhere, and even just now when I looked it up on Amazon I didn’t get any hits.

There are a lot of star’s brothers in movies. And star’s sisters. And star’s children. And probably even star’s parents. Some are talented, some are not. Remember, Eric Roberts is the great Oscar nominated actor from STAR 80 and RUNAWAY TRAIN and his sister is the one riding his coattails. There are a whole bunch of actors who end up in the business because they are related to someone famous. This particular one wasn’t very good, but he had a famous last name.

I went to Casa Vega with friends a few times after that, and Martin was still holding court at his booth. I’d nod to him and then drink with my friends. I decided not to blow his cover. Heck, he had a day job - no sin in that. Heck, he probably met the movie star’s brother at some event where he was working as a security guard! He rented an expensive car - not the only customer at that luxury car rental place. Hollywood believes in surface over substance - if you look like a big shot, you are a big shot. You can rent cars and clothes and luxury apartments and arm candy, and how can they tell you apart from the people who don’t rent or lease those things but *own* them? And half of the “real people” rent or lease some of those things anyway. Show don’t tell. As Fernando used to say, "It is better to look good than to feel good." It’s better to look important than to really be important - less responsibility. This business is full of people who fake it until they make it... and sometimes end up just faking it forever...

And in Hollywood, no one can hear you scream.

I wonder if Martin worked the Golden Globes on Sunday night?

- Bill

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Trailer Tuesday: With A Friend Like Harry (2000)

A FRIEND LIKE HARRY (2000)

Directed by: Dominik Moll.
Written by: Dominik Moll and Gilles Marchand.
Starring: Laurent Lucas, Sergi López, Mathilde Seigner, Sophie Guillemin.
Cinematography by: Matthieu Poirot-Delpech.
Music by: David Whitaker.




After seeing THE GUEST I was reminded of this French film, and decided to pop WITH A FRIEND LIKE HARRY into the machine and watch it again. I had seen it in the cinema, bought the DVD... and it sat on my shelf in the shrink wrap ever since. The odd thing about those silly French folks is that while America seems to shun most thrillers, the French love them. One of my favorite Don Westlake non series novels, THE AX, is about the economic downturn in the USA and a mid level management guy who realizes there are a couple dozen guys applying for the same jobs that he is... everyone is out of work! Then he decides the only way to land a job is to eliminate the competition, and becomes a serial killer of downsized mid level executives. Great *American* story... but no studio in America seemed to want it, so it was made in France by none other than Oscar Winning director Costa Gavras... with French actors speaking French. Hey, things were tough all over. But why do great American thrillers end up being made in France?

HARRY is an original screenplay by Gilles Marchand and the director Dominik Moll, but it’s the kind of story that Patricia Highsmith (STRANGERS ON A TRAIN) might have written.



I'm sure we all have had someone come up to us, call us by name, talk about some shared experience... and we don't know who the hell they are. We have forgotten them, but they have not forgotten us. They were nothing in our lives, but we were everything to them. Okay, that scene happens in a highway rest stop men's room at the opening of HARRY... do you want to be recognized while you are peeing? Do you want to shake some stranger’s hand, or worse: hug them?

Michael* (Laurent Lucas) and his wife Claire (Mathilde Seigner) and their three little girls (one a perpetually crying baby) have been taking a road trip to the ramshackle country house a couple hours past the retirement community where his overbearing parents live. They have a beat up old station wagon without air conditioning... and France is in the middle of a heat wave. The kids are miserable, and so are Michael and Claire. They stop at the gas station to change the baby’s diaper and use the facilities... never thinking that Michael might run into some one he knows.

Or, pretends to remember.

It seems that Michael and Harry (Sergi López) went to high school together years ago, and Harry claims that Michael collided with him on the soccer field once and broke Harry’s front tooth. Michael remembers none of this. Harry claims they were friends way back in high school because they had so much in common, but now one is a struggling teacher with a wife and his three little (always screaming) kids and the other has inherited his father's fortune after he and his mother died in that tragic accident and drives a Mercedes sports car with a hottie named “Plum” (Sophie Guillemin) in the passenger seat. Michael has a life full of problems... and Harry believes in solving problems... permanently. Harry would like to buy dinner for Michael and his family, but Michael says he needs to get to the country house before nightfall so his kids can get to sleep at their bedtimes. Harry says he has some bottles of wine in the trunk, why not follow them to the country house and have a glass or two with them? Have you ever had someone invite themselves into your life and you just didn’t have the balls to tell them “no”?

It just keeps getting worse!

This is a great set up for a thriller because it has happened to all of us, and opens our life to potential peril when we allow some sinister stranger into our home... our lives... our family.

Basically Harry and Plum move in, sleeping in the best bedroom (because Michael wants to impress him). And Harry begins helping the struggling teacher. When the stationwagon breaks down, Harry buys them a brand new SUV. Michael tries to turn down the gift, but Harry explains ever since his parents died he has had more money than he could ever spend, so why not help out an old friend?

Because they missed a planned stop at the retirement community so that Michael’s overbearing parents could see their grand kids, his father calls and *insists* that they drive over. Michael tries to dissuade them, his father really shouldn’t be driving at night, and ends up agreeing to drive out in the new SUV and pick them up, then deliver them back to the retirement community afterwards.

When he gets there, you understand why Michael keeps his distance from his father and mother, and does not accept any gifts from them... those gifts come with *many* strings attached. His father is a manipulative ahole, a retired dentist who *insists* on giving Michael a dental exam and teeth cleaning in the spare room where he has all of his old dental equipment! This is one of those brilliant absurdist thriller scenes which help the audience feel ill at ease as they suppress their laughter at how silly (but creepy) the scene is. One of the great things about this story is that they keep finding odd things that you can relate to... that person who recognizes you but you do not recognize them, this scene where the overbearing father offers something you do not want, but you can’t really decline without hurting his feelings, and later scenes where Michael and hottie Plum meet in the bathroom and have a strangely erotic moment... it’s filled with uncomfortable scenes that just get weirder and weirder!

Michael mentions Harry, and his father remembers him! In fact, his father tells the same story about how Michael *irresponsibly* ran into Harry on the soccer field and broke his tooth and Michael’s father had to repair it for free... always cleaning up after his screw up son...

When Harry meets Michael’s parents, he realizes that they are what is holding his old friend back. They seem to go out of their way to belittle him, they offer him help (but in such a way that Michael would be forever in their debt if he accepted), and they won’t just help him financially without a bunch of strings and lectures and shaming. Harry realizes that Michael would be better off if his parents had the same sort of tragic accident that befell Harry’s parents... and makes it so! He calls Michael’s parents and says it is an emergency, they must drive out to the country house... then Harry steals a delivery van and runs them off the road, killing them.

Eventually things come to the point that Michael realizes all of his recent good fortune is due to Harry’s help... and that he has become an accomplice to Harry’s crimes. Can he let this man continue to kill people... even if it means that Michael gets everything he secretly desires? Or should he stop Harry before it’s too late?



WITH A FRIEND LIKE HARRY is a great thriller with the genre’s required humorous absurdity. Like STRANGERS ON A TRAIN’s rocky relationship between two men, one who may secretly love the other, HARRY takes us deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole until helping him bury a body just seems normal. An average man’s life suddenly spins out of control and he must step up to set it right... can he do that?

A couple of years ago they announced a US remake which would be directed by Kimberly Peirce with a script by Wentworth Miller, but according to a Variety story, she is no longer attached... which is too bad. After seeing Miller penned STOKER I would have lost Miller and kept Peirce. Though you can't judge a screenplay by its movie, I always worry a little about actors who write. Actors sometimes have a tunnel vision about *their* craft which results in a screenplay with good scenes that often don't add up to a story. STOKER's big problem was the script. We’ll see what happens if they ever make it.

Bill

* I've used the American spelling instead of "Michel" to avoid confusion.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Hitchcock: Suspense vs. Surprise

If it's Friday, this must be Hitchcock day on the blog! I'm squeezing in another Hitch interview segment...



And HITCH 20 will soon return for Season 4... Here's something to tide you over!



- 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, June 24, 2021

THRILLER Thursday:
THE PREMATURE BURIAL

SEASON 2!!!!

The Premature Burial.

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



Season: 2, Episode: 3.
Airdate: Oct. 2, 1961

Director: Douglas Heyes.
Writer: William Gordon and Douglas Heyes, based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe.
Cast: Patricia Medina, Sidney Blackmer, Scott Marlowe, William Gordon, and Boris Karloff
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Bud Thackery.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The boundaries which separate life and death are shadowy and vague. Who is to say where exactly the one ends and the other begins? In certain mysterious maladies all functions of vitality in the human body seem to stop. And then, some unseen force sets that magic pinions and the wizard wheels in motion once again. The silver cords has not been cut, the golden bowl has not been broken. And the soul? One wonders. What meantime has happened to the soul? Many years ago, Edgar Allan Poe pondered the questions of mysterious sleeps and strange awakenings in a story entitled ‘The Premature Burial’. Well, we’ve prepared a new adaptation of that story for you to enjoy tonight. And tonight, Poe’s characters will be brought to life by... Patricia Medina as Victorine Lafourcade, Sidney Blackmer as Edward Stapleton, Scott Marlowe as Julian Boucher, William Gordon as Dr. March, and this sinister gentleman as Dr. Thorne. And as sure as his name is Boris Karloff, this is a Thriller!”



Synopsis: A rainy day. A funeral. Dr. Thorne (Boris Karloff) and Dr. March (William Gordon) watch as their friend Edward Stapleton (Sydney Blackmer) is laid to rest in his family crypt... today was to be his wedding day, but instead is his funeral. Thorne doesn’t understand how a 50 year old man in good health suddenly dies. He was Stapleton’s physician, but was away for few days so Dr. March attended to his sudden death. Was he poisoned? Dr. Thorne plans on pulling the coffin from the crypt and doing a post mortem... whether his bride-to-be Victorine likes it or not.

As everyone leaves the cemetery, the coffin inside the crypt begins moving... Shaking! It falls over and a hand breaks out from within and attempts to *open the coffin*! Failing, it becomes motionless.



Thorne and March bring the coffin back to the hospital, where Thorne is amazed that Stapleton’s skin is still pink... and he twitches a bit. March thinks perhaps a poison used to kill him may have also preserved the body. Thorne decides to try the galvanic battery on him - an early version of defribrillator paddles - to see if they can restart his heart. And it works! The dead man suddenly lurches to his feet, speaking gibberish... some sort of Frankenstein’s monster? He passes out - but his heart is beating, he’s alive! Alive!

Stapleton recovers in a hospital room... Dr. Thorne has diagnosed him with a form of catalepsy. Stapleton says he was never unconscious - he was aware of every moment he was trapped in that coffin. Aware of being pronounced dead when he was alive. It was worse than hell - completely paralyzed and unable to tell anyone that he was alive! He worries about Victorine, his bride-to-be. How is she taking his death?



Victorine (Patricia Medina) is busy making out with her lover Julian (Scott Marlowe), the painter hired by Stapleton to paint his soon-to-be wife. Unfortunately, Stapleton died *before* the marriage, so she is not a wealthy widow... and will be unable to continue paying for his artist loft and their secret relationship. There is an interesting age dynamic here - Julian is younger than Victorine (her boy-toy) and Stapleton is older than Victorine (making her his trophy wife). The age differences in the relationships bring out all sorts of character conflicts in both couples - it’s an important element in the story. Just as they kiss, the doorbell rings...

Dr. Thorne tells the widow that she may put away her grief... Edward Stapleton is alive.

At the hospital, Thorne tells Victorine that Stapleton is terrified that he will be buried alive again, so he has notified every doctor in the county of his condition and shows her a medical bracelet and neck medallion he has created for Stapleton to wear which say “Do Not Bury Me” with information about his condition, this way there will be no mistakes... no reason for Stapleton to fear a premature burial again. Thorne believes that Stapleton over-exerted himself in an attempt to impress his younger fiancé, and that lead to his attack. So please - when he is discharged from the hospital, make sure he does not over-exert himself again.

Julian sees a second chance at inheritance - Victorine can now marry Stapleton, and if he dies they’ll become rich.



Wedding bells. A strange honeymoon night - Stapleton shows her the crypt in the backyard of his estate that he designed and had built while he was in the hospital recovering. The stone door can be opened automatically by pressing a lever. There is ventilation, and water and food and blankets... and a dram of good brandy. The coffin is designed for comfort, and there is a cord which she is to *personally* place in his dead hands - if he revives inside the coffin he can pull the cord and ring a bell on the roof of the crypt. If she hears the bell, she is to come to the crypt and rescue him. He makes her promise that he will not be buried anywhere but in this crypt, with the cord in his hands. He will not live through being buried alive again.

As they settle into marriage, Stapleton takes it easy in his library - playing his lyre and reading Sir. Walter Scott... and Victorine finds ways to prod him into over exerting himself again. She suggests they travel...



While on holiday she does everything in her power to push him to his limits, and finally he collapses in the woods. She carefully removes the medical bracelet and medallion, rolls a stone away and buries them underneath... then calls for a doctor.

Stapleton is *not* taken home to be buried, but buried in that foreign land. Not in his special coffin, in his special crypt... but in a standard coffin (with a small glass window for viewing the body) buried in the ground. Awesome shot from inside the coffin at Victorine and the other mourners as the dirt is shoveled over the small window.



Wealthy widow Victorine Stapleton visits her lover Julian and tells him that now she can give him *everything* she has promised him. They get it on!

Dr. Thorne visits the widow , he is executor of Stapleton’s estate. He wonders why (and how) the medical bracelet and necklace were missing from his body... you see, he’s been doing a little investigating. Victorine believes the medals - made of silver - were probably stolen. “Are you certain that Edward was dead when they buried him?” She gets angry at the hidden accusation in that question - isn’t Thorne’s reason to be here a discussion of Stapleton’s will? Yes - Stapleton left his entire fortune to her. Just one thing - for her to inherit, Stapleton’s body must be buried in that special crypt with that cord in his dead hands. No inheritance until his body has been moved. Yikes!



Dr. Thorne will oversee the transportation of the body - all she has to do is sign the exhumation request. If she refuses, Stapleton’s fortune goes to his cousins. She signs.

The special crypt. The coffin he was buried in is opened, and his corpse transferred to his special coffin. Dr. Thorne places the cord between his dead hands... closes the coffin lid. Victorine watches, repulsed by all of this. Before the crypt’s stone door is closed, she places a picnic basket of canned food inside.

That night, Julian comes to the house to celebrate their new fortune, their new relationship... but that crypt in the backyard is a huge buzz-kill. How can they have a relationship with her dead husband out there? Julian laughs, “Let the old jack in the box deteriorate where it pleases him. We probably owe him that, darling.” Victorine relaxes, drinks to her dead husband... and the soon-to-be husband across from her. But before they can kiss, the bell tolls.

Not Wedding Bells...

The bell from the crypt...

The bell with the cord in Stapleton’s dead hands.

Julian believes it’s just the wind... until the crypt’s door opens!

Julian and Victorine creep into the vault to make sure he’s still dead in his coffin...



But the coffin is empty.

In the moonlight, Victorine sees a man in a shroud wandering the grounds in the distance. Impossible! Impossible! The man had been buried for six weeks! No food. No water. He can not have still been alive! Victorine freaks out.

Julian is still trying to find some rational explanation - but there really isn’t any.



In the library, Stapleton’s Sir Walter Scott book is open on his chair, his lyre nearby. Did these things get there on their own? Julian believes it is Dr. Thorne - who suspects, doesn’t he? - pretending to be Stapleton, placing these things in the library. It’s all Thorne’s evil trick! In the window behind Julian - the corpse of Stapelton in its shroud! Freak out moment! As the corpse glides away from the window, Julian yells for Thorne to come back - to take off the shroud and show himself.

Julian takes Victorine upstairs to her bedroom - she needs to rest. But on the bed - the medical bracelet and necklace! How could they get there? No one knew where she buried it... except Stapleton! His eyes were open as he lay there... he saw her! Only he knew where she buried them!

Then the lyre music drifts up from the library.



When they get to the library, the lyre is there but no shrouded corpse. But then Victorine sees him in the window watching them. She grabs Stapleton’s pistol and hands it to Julian, “You’ll have to kill him.” Julian takes the pistol, aims it at the shrouded form, “I see you Thorne, now leave us alone! Leave us alone, or so help me I’ll shoot!” Before he can fire, a voice behind him... Dr. Thorne. Then who was that in the window? Victorine looks from the corpse in the window over to Thorne - two different people. “It was never you... it *was* Edward!” Then she faints.

Julian and Thorne carry her to her bed... then Thorne asks Julian if Stapleton is alive? The crypt door is open, the bell rang? Julian says it is impossible... but Dr. Thorne says it is possible - men have survived long periods of cataleptic coma, like a bear in hibernation. He and Julian go downstairs... where the front door opens and Stapelton enters. Wrapped in his shroud. He slowly approaches Julian - close enough that the artists can see his face. It *is* Stapleton! He slowly walks upstairs. A hand on Julian’s shoulder - Thorne. The doctor says that Stapleton is alive and wants to be with his wife. He wants to share his joy of being alive with the woman who loves him. Julian says that she never loved Stapleton, she just married him for his money... so that she and Julian could be wealthy together. Dr. Thorne asks Julian if Victorine knowingly buried Stapleton alive? Yes! “The necklace and bracelet - she took them off him and buried them under a stone.”

Upstairs, Stapleton’s shrouded corpse wakes up Victorine... who is now close to insane.

Victorine comes downstairs holding the necklace, says she tried to persuade Stapleton to put it back on... maybe Dr. Thorne can help her. She’s gone over the edge.



That’s when Stapleton’s corpse glides to the top of the staircase. Thorne asks him to come downstairs... and Julian freaks out. Tries to run away. But Thorne grabs him. As Stapleton’s corpse slowly comes down the stairs, Julian admits to everything - Victorine drove Stapleton to another attack, hid the necklace and bracelet, did not tell the doctors of his condition, had him buried in foreign soil... all of this so that they could be together and inherit his fortune! Stapleton keeps climbing down the stairs, closer, closer, closer! His face a pale mask - skin white! After Julian has confessed to everything, implicated Victorine in murder; Stapleton’s corpse touches him... the Stapleton reaches up and *takes off his face*.

It is a pale white mask - Stapleton’s death mask. Underneath it - Dr. March.

When Dr. Thorne went to retrieve the body, he went to the place in the woods where he had died... and found a stone with no moss on it. Moved. Underneath the stone - the bracelet and necklace. And inside the coffin? Stapleton had been buried alive and tried to claw his way out! Died a horrible death from suffocation inside that coffin. Murdered by Victorine. The only way to prove it - get Victorine and Julian to admit their guilt.



Review:One of the most interesting things about this episode is how it uses the raw material of Poe’s story in unusual ways. The Karloff introduction is almost taken word for word from Poe’s introduction in the story. Though the narrator in Poe’s story is the fellow who is buried alive, he tells us of previous incidents of people buried before their time - including the story of Victorine and Julian (a writer in the story instead of a painter & sculptor) - she was the one buried alive in that story. Also the story of Stapleton, who broke open his coffin inside his crypt... but was unable to escape the stone slab which walled him inside... they later discovered his skeleton! By taking all of these pieces and reforming them into a Weird Tales type story of murder and revenge, we have a great Season 2 entry... and great roles for both Karloff and the screenwriter as doctors!



The story has traces of Poe’s TELL TALE HEART mixed in around the halfway point, where the dead man haunts his two killers, and that’s what makes this episode more than just the original Poe story... turning it into something that will make you squirm and scream. All kinds of nice horror moments, and that great moment where they think it’s Thorne pretending to be Stapleton... but Thorne is in the room behind them. Kind of a jump moment and a twist all in one.

That idea of having the corpse return for revenge is a stroke of genius, and we have to give a bunch of credit to screenwriter William Gordon (who gets to play the corpse) for coming up with a way to turn the creepy Poe story about being buried alive into an all out scare-fest. The great twist that it’s a scam to force the killers into admitting their guilt is icing on an already delicious cake. This episode was made a year before the Corman AIP version, and I think they did more in an hour than the feature did in half again as much time. Here’s the link to that movie.



Some great direction in this episode as well, with shots like the one from inside the coffin as the dirt is being shoveled into a grave a stand out. Some great low angles and high angles and moving camera shots and reveals. One of the things the elevate the good episodes of the series is the *cinema* style direction (based on specific shots) and often is present in the bad episodes is the “TV style direction” (master shot, close up, coverage - but no specific shots). It seems like there was a secret war of direction styles going on behind the scenes, between old school like television style and movie style on this show... which points out the importance of directors. Even with the same DP, one director turns in a pedestrian episode and another turns in an amazing episode.

And this is one of the handful of episodes where Karloff gets to do more than hosting duties. He’s basically the lead character, here, and gives a great performance again. Karloff’s deal on the show involved getting the chance to act in some of the episodes, and even though he was an old man at the time he always seems to give it his all when he could have easily coasted. This was the guy who played the monster in the original FRANKENSTEIN back in 1931... and thirty years later he’s using electricity to bring a dead guy back to life.

Season 2 of THRILLER is on a roll! And next week is another great episode - the weirdly twisted Robert Bloch story about a custom made suit... where the custom is demon worship!

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Special Guest: Harry Connolly on Studying Screenwritng

From 2015...

My friend Harry Connolly has been writing guest blogs to promote his new (awesome) GREAT WAY Trilogy, and knocking it out of the park with each one. All kinds of amazing insight and information on writing that applies to novels, short stories, and screenplays. He should write a book! So my blog is privileged to host this guest blog...

2019: Harry has a new book, the first in a series - and it just came out! ONE MAN: CITY OF THE FALLEN GODS. I just bought my copy and will dive into it soon! The great thing about Harry's novels is that he creates a vivid world that you can disappear into for a couple of hours before bed (that's when I read). A whole world that is not like our own. Check out his new book or his old ones.

INT. BOOKSTORE - DAY: How Studying Screenwriting Made Me a Better Novelist (Mostly)

Way back in the misty dawn of the 1990s, I was a noob author on the internet, looking for advice.

Boy, did I find it.

One of the earliest places I went searching was from pro novelists. Nice people, but none of the advice they gave me seemed all that helpful. I wanted to know how to put together a really great book, and the responses were, essentially: "Try not to be boring."

Now, this is the ultimate advice. Really, there is no better advice than this. "Be interesting" is the only rule of writing. Everything a writer learns about their craft brings them toward this goal.

But I wasn't looking for that. I wanted to talk dialog. I wanted tips on creating characters and conflict. I wanted concrete rules. That's when I found screenwriting.

Now, this was back in the days of Syd Field, who specified actual page numbers where people should put act breaks. It was very, very rigid. Too much so, honestly.

Not that I knew about Field at first. I was just this guy writing terrible fiction. Some actor friends told me to write a script so they could be in it, and gave it a try. Had I ever seen an actual film script before? Nope. Lots of plays (I studied Modernist Drama in college, mainly because plays are so short) but no screenplays. You can imagine how good they weren't.

Then, while bumping around from one message board to another, I discovered Wordplay.

I think just about every person who goes online is searching for a peer group, even if they don't realize it. They seek out a circle of friendly voices who share their interests, enthusiasms, and ambitions. Someone to cheer them on or buck them up. Someone willing to tell them they're full of shit.

Just as important are contrasts. The horror writer has a lot to learn from the kitchen sink drama writer, and vice versa. The woman who wants her name on big budget summer tentpole movies has a lot to learn from the woman writing arch indies. They define themselves and their work by their differences. And they can argue.

God, how we argued. Antagonists, flashbacks, outlining: it was an endless competition of ideas, and while I argued passionately, I was wrong as often as I was right.

But what did I learn in all that back and forthing that I'm still using today?

1) The elegant flourish. There's an early scene in Budd Schulberg's What Makes Sammy Run where a movie producer complains about an Ivy League playwright he's hired. The script he turned in had a 20 page scene where a husband and wife argued, bickered, and fought, and the playwright insisted every line of dialog was necessary to establish the man's contempt and the dismal state of their marriage. The producer brought on another writer, a guy with barely a high school education. New guy throws out the argument entirely and writes a new scene: The husband and wife are on an elevator. A pretty young woman gets on, and the man takes off his hat.

That was it, a single moment that encapsulated the situation perfectly. Short, simple, telling. I've been searching for ways to do that in my own writing ever since.

2) Hurry up! One of the first things screenwriters at the time were told was that any dialog over three lines was too long. (And script formatting is really narrow for dialog.) Get to the point without being on the nose, then get out.

The same was true for scenes. Start late and end early. Get to the conflict, then the next, then the next. Anything that didn't move the story forward had to be cut.

Novels can be a digressive form, with characters telling little stories about their lives, or doing the dishes, or stopping for coffee with an old friend. That's not a bad thing, and I certainly don't mind reading digressive books. I don't like writing them, though. I try to keep the story moving, and I inevitably get editorial notes asking me to slow things up and take a little more down time.

3) Be the expert. This was a hard one, because it doesn't mean what a novelist would assume it means. It's not an injunction to study sword-fighting before writing a duel, or to interview a bunch of cops before writing a procedural. That advice ought to be so obvious that nobody should need it. This means to be an expert in your own storyΓÇöto know it inside and out.

In fact, this came from the Wordplay column called You're The Expert; the reason screenwriters are supposed to be experts is to effectively respond to studio notes. That's not an issue for my type of writing, but when I'm stuck on a scene, or unsure what direction the plot should go, I ask myself what a really great would do. How would [extraordinary author] write this scene?

It's a surprisingly effective way to break through a block, and research has confirmed that people are more creative when they imagine themselves to be someone else. Research requires actual expertise, but creatively it helps to have the pretend kind.

What about that "Mostly?" There's one aspect of novel writing that studying scripts didn't prepare me for, and it wasn't what I expected. If you watch the opening of The Godfather, you see an amazing outdoor wedding partyΓÇöthe people, the decorations, the food, all of it. In a script, that's covered by the words EXT. WEDDING PARTY - DAY or whatever. A novelist has to do the work of the art department, the wardrobe department, casting, and all the rest.

But I expected that. What I didn't expect was the profound difference in the way prose text operated. In a script, the text doesn't have a lot of flow because so much of it is instruction. Scene headers, dialog names and parentheticals, "legends", all of them break the flow of the narrative and dialog.

Prose has none of that. Not only is the text very linear, it comes in a flow that's largely unbroken (with the exception of chapter headers or asterisks scene breaks). That task of stringing words together into sentences, then tying sentences together into paragraphs, then arranging paragraphs properly, it a lot like beadwork, and it was the biggest hurdle I faced. While revising first drafts, I found sentences in the wrong order, paragraphs that repeated exposition, unnecessary prepositional phrases, and worse.

Learning to control the flow of text and the transitions between sentences over page after page of prose, instead of in small bursts of narration, was the skill that elevated my game to earn a publishing contract and a career.

Obviously, it isn't absolutely necessary for novelists to study screenwriting; plenty of pros have done well without it. One of the strengths of the novel format is the extraordinary variety of styles and subject matters. Nothing really matters except that one rule I mentioned at the top.

But I'll always be wedded to the stripped-down, full-speed-ahead aesthetic of the script, and I'll always be grateful to the screenwriters (including my host here) who taught me what I needed to know to become a pro novelist.

Now watch me gently segue into a note about my latest, blurbed "Epic Fantasy that reads like a Thriller" by Greywalker author Kat Richardson.

The Way Into Chaos Cover

Have I mentioned that it received a starred review in Publishers Weekly? Bill wrote a review of the entire trilogy. You can also find out more about that first book on my website.

If you want to see the fast-paced style I've been talking about, you can read the sample chapters I've posted on my blog.

Thanks for reading.

BIO: Harry Connolly's debut novel, Child Of Fire, was named to Publishers Weekly's Best 100 Novels of 2009. For his epic fantasy series The Great Way, he turned to Kickstarter; at the time this was written, it's the ninth-most-funded Fiction campaign ever. Book one of The Great Way, The Way Into Chaos was published in December, 2014. Book two, The Way Into Magic, was published in January, 2015. The third and final book, The Way Into Darkness, was released on February 3rd, 2015. Harry lives in Seattle with his beloved wife, beloved son, and beloved library system.

In case you missed any of Harry's other guest blogs...

My Favorite Bit.

Why Talent Is Evil.

My Superpower As A Writer.

It's Dangerous To Go Alone.

Failing On Your Own Terms.

The Most Difficult Part To Write.

Experts Vs. Bumpkins.

Always Blame Yourself!

And the books:

Click covers for more info!

Chaos Magic Darkness











PS: Lancelot Links will be on *Tuesday* this week!

Bill

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Trailer Tuesday: The Great Santini

Father's Day was a couple of days ago!

THE GREAT SANTINI (1979)

Director: Lewis John Carlino.
Writers: Lewis John Carlino based on the novel by Pat Conroy
Starring: Robert Duvall, Michael O'Keefe, Blythe Danner, Stan Shaw.

I was joking around about Father’s Day movies on twitter and suggested this film... then realized that this may be one of those films which has fallen through the cracks and many people have no idea it exists (and didn’t get the joke). This is arguably Robert Duvall’s finest performance (he was nominated for an Oscar); and that says something, doesn’t it? It’s a drama, a coming of age movie... except you are never quite sure if it is that son or the father who is coming of age. Probably both. The reason why I first saw this movie was because it was written and directed by Lewis John Carlino, the screenwriter who adapted SECONDS (one of my favorite movies.) For a while there I saw everything Carlino did, which included some great work like RESURRECTION (1980) and THE SAILOR WHO FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE SEA and he wrote the original THE MECHANIC. I liked this movie so much that I tracked down the novel by some guy named Pat Conroy and began reading his stuff. That guy can write!

The story takes place in 1962. Duvall plays Bull Meechum (nicknamed The Great Santini) , a hard ass Marine fighter pilot who is a bit of a contradiction: he wants those in his command to be disciplined, tough as nails, unemotional, and fearless... but he’s a man child who is constantly pulling practical jokes on his superiors and is secretly afraid that he is losing his edge due to age. He is a warrior without a war... and ends up fighting those around him. *He* is a discipline problem, so he gets shipped from his base in Spain back to a training base in the South Carlolina in the USA... and his family. And begins to fight them.



His wife is played by Blythe Danner (who you know as Gwenyth Paltrow’s mom, but she was a stage and TV star at the time), a religious woman who has learned to put up with Bull’s verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse. Oldest son Ben, who is our protagonist, played by Michael O’Keefe whose next role would be the lead in CADDYSHACK the following year. And three other children, including teen daughter Mary Anne played by Lisa Jane Persky and a preteen boy and girl. The whole family is packed up pre dawn to drive to the new military base somewhere in the South. Bull does not stop if you have to go to the bathroom or are hungry or thirsty. You need to be *disciplined*. And if the family wants to sing some song he doesn’t like, he sings over them as loudly as possible... he is in command!

Rounding out the cast is the great Stan Shaw, and this may have been the first film I noticed him in. He plays Toomer, a stuttering Black man who sells honey and flowers and becomes Ben's best friend in their new town. But this is the deep South in the 60s and whites and blacks don’t hang out together... and the antagonist in this subplot is Red played by David Keith (who should not be confused with Keith David). This also may have been the first time I ever saw Keith in a role, and he would go on to become a star and play the lead in LORDS OF DISCIPLINE (also based on a Conroy novel) as well as a bunch of other movies... before falling into B movies. When Jim and I were doing our Russian film, he was one of the guys we looked at to be the lead. He played *Elvis* in a Chris Colombus film, then ended up in B movies. No idea why. There are only so many leading men slots and maybe someone else came along and knocked him out of his position. Anyway, he gives a great performance as a complete racist dick in this film.

Here’s Bull pulling a practical joke when a superior officer wants him and his men to quiet down because they are disturbing the officer’s dinner...



Eldest son Ben is a senior in High School, about to turn 18, and has just made the Varsity basketball team in his new school. All he wants is the love and respect of his father... who is genetically incapable of giving him those things. You know all of those bastard Marine Basic Training Drill Instructors in movies? Now imagine that’s your dad. He shows you his love by belittling you and maybe even hitting you (to toughen you up). Ben’s problem to some extent is that he is his father’s son, and is competitive and strives to be the best (looking for his father’s respect). Well, that brings the two of them into conflict again and again, as Bull wants Ben to follow orders like a good Marine and Ben is struggling to become an adult. Early in the film, Bull tells Ben *exactly* what his adult life will be. He will go to college. He will join the Marines. He will meet a woman and start a family. He will do at least two tours of the Marines, after that he will stay because it is his destiny... or he will disappoint his father and do something else. Ben feels trapped in all of this.

One of the ways this conflict is demonstrated on screen is a father and son game of basketball. Hey, a place for Ben and his father to have a good time together. Only Bull does not lose at anything, ever. So when his son beats him, he does not take it well...



Ben continues to battle his father throughout the movie. No matter what he does, he can not live up to his father’s impossible expectations. There is a scene at the big basketball game where Ben is playing an amazing game, and a member of the other team intentionally fouls him, knocking him to the floor. Bull tears out of the stands and orders his son to knock that player down. Screaming at his injured son! Ben fights back by purposely missing both free throws. Which *infuriates* Bull, who paces the sidelines as if he’s the coach. When the opposing player gets the ball, Bull ORDERS Ben to take him to the floor. Again and again, until Ben finally knocks the player down... and breaks the player’s arm in the process. Ben is ejected from the game...

And gets chewed out by his coach for not being able to stand up to his father. Yeah, coach, you try it.

There’s a major subplot where Ben becomes involved in the fight between Toomer and racist Red. Bull orders him to stay out of it, but Toomer is his best friend and Bull has to do something. This subplot thread comes to a head when Red and his racist pals all grab guns and go to Toomer’s shack to show him who is boss... and Ben races across town to help his friend. Defying Bull’s orders. Bull decides it’s best to punish his son for doing the right thing.

When Ben turns 18, Bull takes him to the Officer’s Club on base... and we end up with a macho drinking battle between the two...



THE GREAT SANTINI is filled with great performances and manages to be funny and heart warming and heart breaking all at the same time. All of the characters are clearly drawn (Mary Anne uses sarcasm to deal with her problems fitting in to a new school every time Bull gets transferred, and will Bull himself), and you get a glimpse of the pre Civil Rights South where segregation was the law of the land and white people didn’t befriend black people without paying the consequences. The movie was made with the cooperation of the Marine Corps, and there are plenty of air combat drills in the film. I neglected to mention all of the airplane stuff because for me the movie is about the two Meechum men battling it out. Another one of those films I fear is forgotten...

Bill



Friday, June 18, 2021

Fridays With Hitchcock: Psycho Hitch?

Here's a great short film that takes shots from PSYCHO and other Hitchcock movies and some of the trailer footage from PSYCHO and FRENZY and creates a story starring Hitchcock!

Master of Suspense. Short Film. from Fabrice Mathieu on Vimeo.

- Bill



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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.






HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 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.

Bill

Thursday, June 17, 2021

THRILLER Thursday: Letter To A Lover

SEASON 2!!!



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



Season: 2, Episode: 8.
Airdate: Nov. 13, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty.
Writer: Donald S. Sanford based on a play by Sheridan Gibney..
Cast: Ann Todd, Murray Matheson, Felix Deebank.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “It is said that sins only speak, but murder shreiks out. And yet the victim’s employee has stripped the scene of clues. Well, she’s obviously covered up for someone, you say. But for whom? The late doctor, or perhaps one of the surviving members of our cast? Look closely and see if you can pick the killer. Is it Sylvia Lawrence played by Ann Todd? Or her loving husband Andrew played by Murray Matheson? It might even be Donald Carvers, Sylvia’s old beau played by Felix Deebank. Or Nurse Webber portrayed by Avis Scott. Now which one of them made the fatal inciusion with the good doctor’s own scalpel? That my friends is the question we are about to explore. But just one word of caution - keep your eyes and ears alert, for as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, I promise you a solution full of surprises! We’ve dallied long enough, let’s get to the heart of the matter!” (And he shoves the scalpel into the heart of a cut-away dummy with organs on display.)

Synopsis: Sylvia Lawrence (Anne Todd) is leaving her doctor’s office, sees a man in the hallway and hides. When the coast is clear she leaves the building, walking out to the street and into the subway (this is London) where Andrew (Murray Matheson) is sitting in his car watching. When she’s gone, Andrew enters the building... and then a taxi pulls up in front of the building and Nurse Webber (Avis Scott) steps out - she has a terrible scar on her face - and pays off the driver. Webber enters the doctor’s office and Andrew hides behind a file cabinet... sneaking out once she’s far enough inside (though she does catch a glimpse of him), then Nurse Webber spots the dead Doctor Evans on the sofa, stabbed with his own scalpel! Then she spots a note on the doctor’s desk... and a handkerchief clue. She cleans up the crime scene, removing some evidence, then calls the police. The opening minutes are like a French farce!

Sylvia arrives at Donald Carver’s (Felix Deebank) flat, says “Donald, I had to!” and promptly faints. He brings smelling salts and she wakes to tell him she wasn’t feeling well so she stopped by (because if you feel ill, best place to go is your ex-boyfriend’s place). Donald wants to know if she has split with her husband. She answers no, he isn’t happy about that but before he can even pour himself a drink she’s split!

She takes a taxi home, where luggage is in the entry hall. Andrew steps out - kind of a reveal that he’s her husband - and tells her that they have a long drive ahead of them, doesn’t she remember? For whatever illness she was seeing the doctor, one of the symptoms is memory loss. Andrew tells her that they’ve been planning this trip to the country house to get away from it all. She doesn’t remember.

The foggy country house. There’s a moment of schlock shock where the guard dog barks at her. The country house is old and dark and spooky and all of the furnishings are shrouded in cloths. When Sylvia isn’t looking he yanks the telephone cord from the wall.

Over a week later, and the shrouds are off the furniture... and Sylvia wants to drive into the village. She hasn’t left the house. Andrew says some other day, it’s raining. The Mail Man comes, and Sylvia quickly jots a letter and seals it in an envelope, and gives it to him and says if her husband asks not to tell him... it’s a surprise. Andrew asks the Mail Man if his wife gave him anything, and the Mail Man refuses to answer - but if she had, once anything is given to a Mail Man it’s in the hands of the government. The Mail Man has a note for Andrew... to meet Nurse Webber at the local pub.

Nurse Webber recognized Andrew as the man from the crime scene and wants some money for retrieving the note from the dead doctor’s desk - record of Sylvia’s appointment at the time of the doctor’s murder. She still has all of the other evidence including Sylvia’s monogrammed handkerchief - and she needs a regular monthly payment. Andrew says he can give her a job as a maid at the country house.

Later, Donald arrives at the country house after getting her letter. Sylvia tells him that she’s a prisoner here, then the not-quite-as-spooky-as-Mrs Danvers-from-REBECCA Nurse Webber interrupts them. Sylvia tells her, “There’ll be a guest for dinner.” Donald and Sylvia have a soap opera conversation, part of which has to do with Andrew having a heart condition. Then Andrew comes downstairs and they have one of those soap opera awkward conversations between two men in love with the same woman. When Sylvia leaves to dress for dinner (not that she was in a bathrobe previously - these people put on formal wear in the country house to *eat*), Andrew asks Donald what was in the letter Sylvia sent him. But that’s when Nurse Webber enters to say that someone let the dog out, and Andrew has to go chase it down... in his tuxedo.

This gives Donald time to search Andrew’s study for a gun while simultaneously calling London to find out about Andrew’s heart doctor... who has changed his name to... Evans! The same doctor that Sylvia had! The same doctor who was murdered! That’s when Andrew shows up and tells Donald that Sylvia murdered Doctor Evans, and he has brought her here to protect her. Sylvia was having an affair with Doctor Evans...

Later, Sylvia tells Andrew that Dr. Evans was dead when she got there - even though she seemed to have had a drink with him as Nurse Webber found a martini glass with Sylvia’s lipstick on it. Andrew says he hired Dr. Evans to meet Sylvia at a party and begin an affair with her (?) in order to diagnose Sylvia (who refused to see a doctor for her condition, whatever it might be). Sylvia accuses Andrew of being crazy.

When Andrew goes into town for supplies, Donald breaks into the house - he wants to know if Sylvia was cheating on both her husband and Donald with Dr. Evans? But Andrew hasn’t gone into town, he somehow knew Donald would show up and calls the police to say that he shot a prowler and then points his gun at Donald. He wants the letter that Sylvia sent... for reasons that don’t make much sense. But he does admit to killing Dr. Evans because he was afraid Evans might tell Sylvia what was wrong with him (Andrew). Donald hands over the letter, which ends up saying nothing incriminating about Andrew, and then tells Sylvia that he’s breaking it off with her because she refuses to leave Andrew, and things get soapier than a year of Days Of Our Lives...

And then the Police show up... about the prowler. Then leave.

Then Andrew kills himself. And Donald leaves so that he has an alibi, and in the morning Sylvia is supposed to get Nurse Webber to open the study door to discover the corpse... except the next morning when Nurse Webber opens the door there is no sign of Andrew or the gun or any blood or brain matter. And his car is gone.

Sylvia goes to London to see Donald - but he isn’t home... but there’s a Detective (Jack Greening) at his house. They were tipped off that she and Donald were going to leave the country. Huh?

The Detective drivers her back to the Country House... where all of the furniture is shrouded again. The Detective wants to know what’s going on... and that’s when Nurse Webber comes in and accuses Sylvia of murdering Doctor Evans, who was Webber’s... Husband! And she accuses Sylvia of murdering Andrew. They found Andrew’s body in his car in the river, they’re pulling it out now.

The Detective leaves, and then Andrew sneaks in with a gun - he’s done this whole scheme to make it look as if Sylvia killed him. Andrew is crazy - paranoid and delusional. Sylvia wants to stall him until the Detective returns, so Andrew pours two drinks and puts poison in one. They drink, the Detective returns to arrest Sylvia, sees Andrew and just accepts that he’s alive, and then Donald enters out of nowhere with a doctor’s note from Andrew’s previous psychiatrist which says he’s crazy and capable of murder. And then the Detective arrests the murderer of Dr. Evans... Nurse Webber! Then Andrew drops dead - he poisoned himself. It’s like freakin’ Hamlet!

Review: It’s almost as if there was a saboteur in the production company or something. Every time they seem to get a series of good episodes in a row going, someone screws it up with an episode like this... usually based on a novel or in this case a stage play. These episodes are usually not horror or thriller, but some sort of mystery or drama. Hey, I love mysteries! But the episodes of this show that really work are the horror and suspense tales, that’s what makes it unique in the world of anthology shows.

I think one of the problems with adapting a novel or stage play is that they are longform type stories and you really need to identify the core story and jettison all of the subplots. Here we have a stage play that may have been three acts and over two hours on stage, but they try to cram all of it into the 45-50 minutes of an hour long TV show. So some of it seems like a soap opera - too many plot threads and plot twists in too little time. And these subplots all eat away at the main plot and rob the story of suspense and character and make the twists seem silly.

You know what else goes missing when you have this many subplots and this much plot crammed into a single episode? What the hell is the letter from the lover? There is a letter in this story, but it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the story. She invites Donald to the country house... but that’s not a big enough deal to name the story after the letter. I suspect the letter was a bigger deal in the stage play, and just got lost in the translation to 45-50 minutes.

The episodes that seem to work best on this show are longish short stories (Novelettes) which seem to adapt to very close to 45-50 minutes (minus head and tail credits and Karloff’s introduction). The Woolrich stories they have done fit the running time perfectly without padding or cutting, same with the Bloch stories. Those are the ones I’ve read before and after seeing the episodes. Why can I figure this out, but the producers keep trying to cram a full novel’s worth of story into 45 minutes? Seems like sabotage to me!

We’re probably going to do another rerun next week, because I’ll be watching the Oscars this weekend!

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Flashback: Set Crashing

My buddy Van Tassell and I hung out a couple of years ago after seeing the movie FORBIDDEN POWER at a film festival in Las Vegas. I think Van is my oldest friend - I've known him since I was 18, and when I go home for the holidays we grab beers and see movies.

Whenever anyone filmed a movie in the San Francisco Bay Area, Van and I snuck on the set. Growing up in the East Bay Area - halfway between Oakland and Stockton - San Francisco always seemed like some far off place you only went to on special school field trips or when you went to the zoo on your birthday. Actually, we usually went to the Oakland Zoo on my birthday. I saw San Francisco more in movies than in real life.

So when I started making my own movies on 8mm and Super-8mm, my buddy Van Tassell and I began driving into the city and sneaking onto movie sets... to watch the pros at work.

Van installs carpets for a living (any out of work film guys could always find a job tearing up jute padding and carrying heavy rolls of carpet for Van) and his carpet tool pouch looks EXACTLY like a film grip's tool pouch. This was part of the plan to sneak onto movie sets - look like someone who belongs. So we would dress like grips, filling the tool pouch with film tools.

I subscribed to Weekly Variety, and they printed the films in production. Whenever anything was shooting in San Francisco (a popular location) we'd take a few days off from our day jobs to crash the set. To find out where they were filming I'd call the city permit office and pretend to be somebody from a newspaper covering the film or a caterer who forgot where to send the food truck. They'd tell me where the permit was issued for, but usually it was a vague answer like "They're shooting in the Marina District today" - maybe they didn't believe my story?

So Van and I would pile in his red Bronco - it was used as a picture vehicle in Paul's movie WEAPONS OF DEATH.... the hero's truck - and just drive around the Marina District until we spotted two dozen huge trucks. Then we'd just follow the cables to the set. The key was to be cool and blend in. We looked like grips, but we also had to ACT like grips. A couple of times someone would actually ask us to do something, and we always did it. I actually carried a 9-K light from the truck to where they were shooting on one set.




Van and I became pros at blending in, and we crashed a bunch of sets. Mel Brooks filmed HIGH ANXIETY in San Francisco, and we were there. Don Siegel shot TELEFON and ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ and we were there. But the best story is when they shot the James Bond movie VIEW TO A KILL. We didn't know it would become the worst James Bond movie ever - we just knew that James Bond was shooting in San Francisco, so Van and I decided to go out and watch. Dressed as grips.

The day Van and I crashed the set they were doing this huge effects scene - burning down City Hall. They had rigged all of these gas explosions on the building. They had Roger Moore's stunt double on a fire truck. They'd hired a bunch of extras to run in panic and some stunt men who would actually catch on fire. It was going to be very expensive, and they could only do it once. Boy did we pick the right day to crash the set!

So, we're doing our best to look like grips - helping ourselves to doughnuts on the craft services table - when we notice these two guys hop the rope and sneak onto the set. Well, that creates a danger to us. If they start checking to see who belongs on the set and who doesn't, we'll be kicked off before they start filming. Van and I come to a dead stop in the doughnut line, causing REAL grips to complain.

These two sneak-ins are wearing warm-up suits and look WAY out of place. They're also laughing - probably a little drunk. Then they see the food and start to come over!

Oh man. They're walking right towards us. Laughing so loud, people are starting to notice them. A couple of big Security Guards hear the laughter, turn and see the two sneak-ins, and move to intercept them... Coming right at us!

Two big Security Guards.
Walking towards Van and me.
We both freeze for a minute, then one of the REAL grips tells us to stop hogging the doughnuts. So we try to move away from the craft services table, but that means moving TOWARDS the two sneak-ins... and those two big Security Guards.

Shit! No choice!
Van and I play it really cool and move away from the table, pretending to be REALLY interested in the sprinkles on our doughnuts. The two sneak-ins brush past us on the way to the food. One of the Security Guards says, "Hey! You two!" Van and I try NOT to look at them, but both of us are wondering if they're talking to us or the sneak-ins. What if the Guards know everyone on the crew and know we don't belong? Can they arrest you for crashing a set?

They two big Security Guards are coming right at us. One puts his hand on my shoulder. Busted!!!

"Excuse me," he says as he moves me aside to get to the sneak- ins. Van and I watch the sneak-ins get rousted by the two big Security Guards. They are told to leave the area... but they hang around on the sidelines.

Close call. Van and I eat our doughnuts and watch the extras get instructions on how to run in panic when City Hall explodes behind them. The extras are told they can't screw up the shot, because they are only going to do it once. Van and I watch as the FX guys turn on their remote controls and they get the Roger Moore stunt guy on top of the fire truck. "This is gonna be cool," Van whispers to me.

Everyone takes their places as they get ready to blow up City Hall. Lights blast on. The director whispers to the AD who yells: ACTION! They start filming. The extras walk down the street calmly. BLAM! City Hall explodes into flames! The fire truck races into the shot...

And the two sneak-ins in warm ups hop the rope, run RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA and yell "City Hall's on fire! City Hall's on fire!" Then they run away, like the rest of the extras... blending into the crowd.

Van and I have been on a dozen film sets and have always stayed in the background. Always played it cool. Always tried to blend in. We can say to friends, "Yeah, we were on the set of that James Bond movie. We watched them burn down city hall." But those two sneak-ins?

They're actually IN THE MOVIE!

- Bill

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Trailer Tuesday: THE OUTFIT (1973)

Directed by: John Flynn.
Written by: John Flynn (based on the novel by Richard Stark... who is really Don Westlake).
Starring: Robert Duvall, Karen Black, Joe Don Baker.




THE OUTFIT (1973, written & directed by John Flynn) is one of those no-nonsense action films from the 1970s - kind of a studio B movie. This was the tail end of the studio system, when they were still making movies just to fill screens. Studios were like giant factories with employees, and it would cost them more to shut down between movies than to just make some “programmer” movies. Now studios are just banks and distributors, and they do not have any full time employees, but in the early 70s they had actors under contract and film crews and directors who they paid a salary to whether they were working or not... so why not keep them working making B movies? Some studios, like Universal, became big TV producers with their employees on salary. But they all made “programmers” - basic meat and potatoes genre films often starring second string stars or TV guys like James Garner. Garner starred in all kinds of programmers, from the comedy-western GET TO KNOW YOUR SHERIFF movies to some action flicks like MARLOWE. The great thing about these movies is that the studios still had all of these great character actors under contract, so you’d get a bunch of familiar faces in every film.


The “programmers” served a handful of purposes - they kept the studio employees working, they filled screens with movies to watch until the studio’s next *big* film like THE STING came out, they often played as the “A feature” at rural drive ins and big city grind houses (in “second run” - after they had already played in normal cinemas as “screen fillers”) they were kind of the farm team for actors and directors and stars - grooming them for bigger and better films, they helped “amortize” the big budget films, and every once in a while one of these little studio B movies became a big hit - and the studio made a ton of money from a very small investment.

The great thing about the action films from this period is that without Paul Newman or Steve McQueen or big budgets, they had to entice the audience with what Blockbuster video used to call “Super Action” - fist fights and car crashes and hot women. In order to get you into the cinema, they’d make the fist fights more visceral, and the shoot outs might be fewer... but more savage, and you weren’t getting the car chase from BULLITT, but they’d crash some junker cars and there would be a nice explosion. These were studio exploitation films. The quality of a studio film crew, the subject matter of some drive in action flick. This time period also gave us all of the great studio Blaxploitation films like SHAFT (also from MGM).

Part of my love for these films is that they are not about rich guys with good jobs in nice office buildings, none of these guys would be caught dead as the love interest in a rom-com. These films are about guys who work for a living, and seem to either take place in the big city or somewhere rural... Charles Bronson played a *watermelon farmer* in one of these films!

THE KILLER SET UP



So THE OUTFIT stars Robert Duvall, from those GODFATHER movies, as a version of Richard Stark’s Parker named *Macklin*, who gets out of prison and discovers his brother has been murdered by the mob and wants to get himself a little revenge. The guy who wrote the novels thought Duvall was closest to his creation, and this is Duvall playing deep fried tough guy to perfection.

Film opens with a Priest in a taxi cab driven by Felice Orlandi - who you would recognize as the low level pock-marked crook in at least a dozen films (including BULLITT!), stopping at a gas station to ask for directions. So you know something is wrong...
Orlandi isn’t just playing a taxi driver like Duvall did in BULLITT, he’s some sort of bad guy. It’s like casting Gary Busey as a waiter. When they get to this house out in the middle of nowhere (rural setting), there is a guy fixing a fence with his dog... And Orlandi and the Priest show up with guns and blow him to pieces. Violently. They just keep firing at him while the dog barks and yelps. The dog is a great touch - when it howls for its dead master, we feel its pain.


Then Duvall gets released from prison, where his ex-girlfriend Karen Black is waiting for him. She tells him she has not been at all faithful, and he says that’s okay - he was away for a while. Then she tells him that his brother was killed by some mob guys...

That night in some crappy roadside motel, a bunch of mob guys including Orlandi try to kill Duvall. But he’s one tough bastard and blasts them all and gets the name of the guy behind it. But he also knows that Black set him up by picking that particular crappy roadside motel.

SOME CASUAL VIOLENCE


Duvall braces Black, she pulls back her sleeve and there are at least a dozen big infected cigarette burns. Guy who did it to her? Same guy who hired the killers who killed his brother. Seems the bank robbery that Duvall was busted for was a mob owned bank. They killed his brother for being part of it, they tried to kill Duvall, and they tried to kill the third guy in the robbery - Joe Don Baker. So Duvall and Black drive to the big city hotel where the lead bad guy is playing a 24 hour poker game...

While Black sits in the car with the motor running, Duvall walks into the hotel, goes up the elevator, pokes his gun in the face of the guard at the hotel room door, takes him out to the balcony and SLAMS him with his gun, then goes back to the hotel room, kicks open the door, slams the inside guard in the face without even slowing down, and robs the poker game - taking guns and cash. The great thing about this sequence is that it’s *suddenly violent* and the film never makes a big deal about it. If this film had been made today, they would make it a big deal... and it wouldn’t be nearly as cool. By downplaying the importance of the violence without downplaying the level of violence, it makes it seem like it is all in a day’s work for Duvall. Before Duvall slams the outside guard with his gun they have a casual conversation and the outdoor guard requests to be slammed with the pistol on his right side because of a previous injury to the left said of his head. These guys get hit with guns and shoot people for a living - no big deal.

The lead bad guy at the poker table is played by the great Timothy Carey - from THE KILLING - who is a big fat a-hole. Timothy Carey is one of those guys who shows up, gives a great sneering performance that gives you nightmares, and collects his check. There are actors who you can see working, Carey isn’t one of them. Hard to believe that this complete a-hole is the same actor who was so sympathetic in THE KILLING.

Carey taunts Duvall as he robs them - he’s got a gun pointed at him, and he’s still spouting crap. Duvall tells him that the mob has to pay $250k for the death of his uninsured brother... who leaves a widow behind.

Then, just when you think the whole thing is over and Duvall is about to leave, he calmly shoots Carey through the hand for using Black’s arm as an ashtray. Danged brutal!

Duvall connects with Joe Don Baker in some rural cabins that are owned by an ex-whore played by Marie Windsor from THE NARROW MARGIN, one of many great bit parts played by actors and actresses from classic noir and action flicks. This film is a who’s who of Noir actors... Elisha Cook Jr from THE MALTESE FALCON pops up in a bit part and Jane Greer from OUT OF THE PAST is the widow! Over some beers they decide to take the mob for $250k - even if it means they get killed. They are already on the mob hit list, right? What’s the worst that could happen? The plan is to rob every mob place they can find until they get $250k or they mob pays them. Then the $250k goes to his brother’s window.

DANGEROUS ADAPTATION


One of the interesting things about this film is how they turned what was book #3 in the Parker series into a stand alone movie. Unfortunately, THE OUTFIT is too much like POINT BLANK to be a good double bill. In the books, after Parker gets his money back from the mob there is one mobster left alive - Bronson. Bronson wants Parker dead, so in book #2 Parker gets plastic surgery. In book #3, Bronson tries to kill Parker... and Parker decides to show the mob who has more power by getting the word out to all of his armed robber friends across the USA that robbing the mob is now okay - as long as they mention Parker’s name. So in the novel THE OUTFIT, all across the USA robbery teams are knocking over mob businesses (casinos, drugs, prostitution, loan sharking, etc) and eventually Bronson decides to leave Parker alone.

The film manages to stay faithful to the book and still change the core story. One scene that’s lifted right from the book - but they completely change the location: When Duvall and Baker go to buy weapons, in the book the characters go to a hobby shop and the guns and rifles are hidden in model car kit boxes. In the movie they pick up a salesman with a sample case on the side of the road, and the sample case is filled with guns - kind of like the gun salesman in TAXI DRIVER. They drive around the highway and do some shopping at the same time.

The dead brother thing is how they make THE OUTFIT work as a stand alone, and this gets used in a great scene from the book where Parker shows up at these redneck brothers rural chop shop, and they don’t recognize him because of the plastic surgery... and there’s some tension where they may kill Parker because with that new face he’s a stranger to them. Same scene in the film, but it was Duvall’s *brother* who knew the redneck brothers, so he must convince them he’s trustworthy. In this scene there also an angry dog that’s a threat throughout the scene - I have no idea how much a growling dog costs compared to an explosion, but the dog turns even the quiet moments in the scene into potential danger... And there aren’t many quiet moments.

I love the redneck brothers in both the book and the film. These guys are moonshine hot-rodders who know more about cars and how to make them go fast than all of those NASCAR mechanics combined. They build getaway cars for a living. The idea that people like this exist as peripheral occupations in the world of professional armed robbers is really cool - it’s like being taken into the armed robber’s world and shown details that you never knew existed. One of the cool things in this scene (both book and movie) is the VW Bug getaway car with the hidden V8 - looks like it would have trouble going up hills, but can do over 120 mph. Only problem? It doesn’t *sound* like a VW... and the brothers are trying to find the right muffler combination to get the sound right.

This part is *great* in both book and film, because while Duvall is off with the brothers (played by Richard Jaeckel and Bill McKinney - the hillbilly rapist from DELIVERANCE) looking at cars, Joe Don Baker is left with McKinney’s superhot wife played by Sheree North (who was kind of a Suzanne Sarandon earthy type) who tells him they have time for some luvin’ before her husband comes back. And she does everything possible to get him interested. And it gets *us* interested too (at least, the male target audience for this film).

THOSE BRA-LESS BABES


Now, I have no idea what was going on in 1973, but bras seemed to be completely out of fashion. No woman in this film is wearing a bra. Karen Black is wiggling around, even Marie Windsor was braless. Heck, the old waitress in the coffee shop is wiggling around! That’s actually kind of gross, but I guess it’s a small price to pay because a bra-less Sheree North? Yikes! She is already a mega-busty woman (real ones, too - this was made back when all big breasts were the real thing), add the lack of bra and the tight tops and... well, um, it’s easy to forget what the plot is. Anyway, she offers Joe Don Baker a little luvin’ and he decides that is a good way to get killed and refuses...

But when Duvall and Jaeckel and McKinney return with the car, North tells her husband that Joe Don tried to screw her. McKinney goes crazy and tries to kill Baker, and there’s a big fight, and Duvall and Baker dive in the car and barely get out of there alive. One of the great throw away lines in this bit is that brother Jaeckel *did* sleep with her! These people are all sleeping with each other - it’s Tennessee Williams country!

CONFLICT ON THE SIDE


Now, the cool part about this scene is that it isn’t one of the scenes where Duvall and Baker are taking on the mob... this is a scene where they *prepare* to take on the mob, and it is filled with tension and conflict and excitement. The great thing about lots of these meat and potato action films is that they make sure that even the scenes between the action scenes are exciting. They find the conflict in the little scenes - there’s a great bit where Black and Duvall are hiding out in a another crappy roadside motel and Black goes out to call her mom from a payphone and tell her that she’s okay... and there is a man watching her the whole time. Some mob flunky posted at that motel to look out for them. So the great character scene where Black talks with her mother and we get a glimpse of her white trash past and the way she hooked up with Duvall to try and climb out of it... is an incredibly tense scene. And there’s no shoot out or car chase or giant fireball or someone outrunning an explosion... it’s just some creepy guy watching her.

So, Duvall and Baker decide to talk to the local mob guy headquartered in a bar/restaurant who hired the hitmen, with Black as their getaway driver... and it’s a really cool scene filled with all kinds of side conflicts and one kick ass line of dialogue, “I don’t talk to guys who wear aprons.” Duvall gets in to the mobster’s office pretending to be a mob guy from Timothy Carey’s crew... accompanied by the guy in an apron - the bartender, and has this conversation with the mob guy about those hit men who got killed... and the mobster just looks at him and says - you’re Macklin. Knows it right away. And that’s when the bartender attacks. Sudden violence. One moment they’re talking, the next moment the bartender is trying to club Duvall in the head.

After Duvall slams them to the floor, he robs the mob safe - this is like a regional headquarters, so there’s a bunch of money. As Duvall and Baker escape there’s this big muscular cook with a huge meat cleaver in the kitchen who tries to stop them. That cook character was established when Duvall and the guy in the apron walk past the kitchen... using that cleaver. And you just know that cleaver is gonna be used on him later... or, at least the guy will try. That’s the kind of cool thing that happens in these films - instead of being some cook frying eggs, you get a guy with a giant meat cleaver.

BAD ASS HEROES


Another thing that comes directly from the book, with a bit of a change, is Baker’s character owning a diner... it’s in Maine in the books and in Oregon... but the town name remains the same. Baker and Duvall have this great conversation in the car about the shelf life on being an armed robber... and how getting old makes it more difficult. A very realistic version of the “I’m getting too old for this shit” conversation.

Black has gone home to her mom, and Duvall and Baker just start kicking major ass. They rob a sports betting place - and Baker savagely slugs a woman at the front desk. When they get inside, they can’t get anyone to open the safe and Duvall grabs the guy in charge and says he’s gonna blow off a toe for every minute the guy doesn’t give him the combination... then has one of the other hostages take off the guy’s shoe!

The Macklin character is what I call a Bad Ass Hero - not that there’s anything defective about his hindquarters. There are two basic types of action heroes: Superman and Every Man. The Every Man type is a normal guy who ends up fighting bad guys - like John McClane in DIE HARD. The Super Man is like James Bond - someone who is our fantasy figure. This has nothing to do with spandex or capes or super powers - Tony Stark is an Every Man, as is Peter Parker. And most roles played by Steven Seagal and Chuck Norris are Super Man types - tough guy fantasies. We wish we were that guy!

Duvall’s character is a Super Man type - kind of a blue collar James Bond. He’s tough, he says clever things we wish we could think of (“Die somewhere else!”), he’s ultra-confident, he is never afraid (or never shows his fear), he never shows any sign of weakness and never shows pain. He’s the kind of guy who gets shot and takes it like a man. He’s a man of violence, who *hurts people*. Seagal swiped his character from BILLY JACK, but does a great job with it. Seagal *breaks people’s bones* in fight scenes - he’s savage. He also does the great Bad Ass Hero speech thing - where he gives his super confident warning about how, exactly, he will beat the crap out of the ten guys surrounding him. No fear - he has it all planned out. He’s a Bad Ass. He’s gonna eff those ten guys up. Duvall’s Macklin has some similar Bad Ass moments - in Act 3 he’s *way* out numbered and tells the mob henchmen that they don’t have to die, they can just walk away. Um, that takes some major cajones! Shooting Carey’s hand and clubbing guys in the head with his gun without even slowing down - all of these are Bad Ass Hero moments. This guy kicks ass!

BIG BAD GUYS


The reason why this was “too much of a good thing” when doubled with POINT BLANK is that eventually it becomes Duvall and Baker climbing the ladder of mobsters to get the $250k for the widow... and that’s not that much different. In the book they were just robbing mob places until Bronson took the price off the Duvall character’s head. When they changed it into money, they ended up in POINT BLANK territory. Robert Ryan plays a version of Bronson named Mailer - the head of the mob... and a very young Joanna Cassidy as his hot (braless) trophy wife. Ryan is one of the film’s secret weapons - he’s not only one of those guys who has been in a bunch of old noir and crime films, he’s tough as nails. He’s a bad ass, too.

At a horse auction, Duvall and Baker brace Ryan - a very public scene with Ryan’s bodyguards right there and everyone trying to be on best behavior... but seconds away from shooting each other. Duvall and Ryan have a nice little chat that is all about the world of organized crime vs the world of independents - Ryan thinks Duvall is nothing more than a stick up artist... but Duvall has been hitting them hard. It’s a good hero and villain scene - and the little guy being smarter than the big guy... just not as strong. It’s what the film is all about - the theme in a tense scene with guns and the chance for a bunch of innocent bystanders to get killed. This idea of the little guy going up against the big guy is part of the appeal of these films. They are about underdogs who kick some ass that we wish we could kick. In a strange way, THE OUTFIT is kind of a Tea Party movie - normal people standing up and taking down The Man. I don’t think it’s an accident that the bad guys in lots of these 70s films end up being big time mobsters who live in giant mansions, or big business guys who live in giant mansions, or crooked politicians who live in giant mansions. It’s blue collar workers against rich a-holes.

Where POINT BLANK turns organized crime into glass and chrome skyscrapers and the 60s version of big business with junior executives in charge, OUTFIT makes it layers of sleazy mobsters with a John Gotti type at the top. Not as interesting, but works well for a straight action flick like this. A lot of the pulp paperbacks at the time, like the EXECUTIONER series, were about Viet Nam vets who take on the mob. Ryan, as usual, is brilliant playing Mailer: barking orders and always on the verge of exploding. He’s one of my favorite tough guy actors because he always had a trace of vulnerability.

After Duvall and Ryan have their little chat, the film becomes a series of action scenes setting one against the other until we get to Act 3 where Duvall and Baker buy additional weapons and bombs and anything else they can get their hands on and storm Ryan’s country estate for an Act 3 of wall-to-wall action. Dozens of mobsters guarding Ryan means dozens of shoot outs and fight scenes... and then all kinds of ground taken and lost once they get inside the house. Though big studio films often have wall-to-wall action in Act 3, in these 70s films it tends to be more personal and visceral - shoot outs with people in the next room... close enough to smell. In one scene, a character looks in a mirror and can see something happening in the next room... and uses his gun. It’s close fighting, rather than the big explosions of today’s blockbusters. And the close fighting ends up being more personal and more emotional. Though, um, there are some explosions. And I forgot to mention the car explosions that happen before the house raid - there’s a great country road car chase and shoot out ending with an explosion when Ryan sets Tim Carey after Duvall and Baker.

ACT THREE ACTION


The Duvall & Baker team seem like a predecessor for writer-director John Flynn’s next film - ROLLING THUNDER (written by the great Paul Schrader) where William Devane & Tommy Lee Jones team up to take down some scumbags in Mexico. That’s another great B action flick that is now on BluRay. The shoot out in the whorehouse in THUNDER is much like the end shootout in OUTFIT. Two guys with guns take on a house full of trouble... and stay standing even after they have been shot multiple times. One of the great things about seeing THE OUTFIT on DVD is that you don’t get that crappy TV print where they changed the end. Somewhere along the line, some network’s Standards & Practices (censors) decided that having Duvall and Baker get away at the end was immoral. They are armed robbers! They kill a whole lotta people! The people they do not kill, they aren’t very nice to! So the network cut the end where they escape, and end with the two laying wounded on the stairs of the country estate after all of the bad guys are dead, listening to the police sirens getting closer - seemingly resigned to do prison time. The great print the New Beverly showed had them cleverly slipping past the police, laughing.

THE OUTFIT isn’t a great film, but it’s a *fun* one. It seems like real people in real situations really hurting people. Not like the fake action flicks we get these days. I miss these meat and potatoes flicks - just meant to fill some screens and provide some great little action stories. The B movies today all seem to be chasing the A movies - trying to be big event films made for a nickle. The only time we get films like this seems to be those flicks that are either almost parodies of 70s action films or *actual* parodies of B action films. It’s too bad. Some studio should start making some little no-nonsense action films on low enough budgets that they can’t lose money. Just some guys kicking ass for 90 minutes. I’d watch that...

Buy THE OUTFIT at Warner Archives.

Buy ROLLING THUNDER at Amazon.

- Bill
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