Friday, February 25, 2022

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Under Capricorn (1949)

Screenplay by James Birdie and Hume Cronyn based on a play by Margret Linden and John Colton based on a novel by Helen Simpson.

That's a whole lotta based ons...

Still my least favorite Hitchcock film! Several problems, the biggest one is genre - this is a frilly shirt melodrama with no thrills at all and some sort of family secret, that when finally revealed ends up being a “So what?” moment. There’s a whole lot of acting going on and no real conflict... and though some scenery is chewed by the end of the story, most of the acting is realistic for the time period when the film was made, and until those end reveal scenes the acting is subdued. Not a bad story for a novel - the characters all make sense and it's interesting how one character's emotional issues trigger a bunch of other character's emotional issues... but all of that is internal. Stuff that shows up on the pages of a novel but not on screen. So we end up with a placid flaccid melodrama that takes place in 1831 in Australia but was shot on the backlot somewhere. This is a movie where everyone wears frilly shirts, outrageously tall top hats, and carries a waking stick... and no one has an Australian or Irish accent, because they are all played by Brits or Americans. Oh, and there are no Aborigines - Australia is an all white country for some reason.

Nutshell: Irresponsible and perpetually unemployed Irish Society Guy Charles Adair (Michael Wilding, who played the boring detective in STAGE FRIGHT but is okay here because he has a character to play) is shipped off by his family to live with his cousin, the new Governor Of Australia (Cecil Parker). They hope Adair will grow up, find a job, and get responsible... but that just doesn’t seem to be in his plans. He meets wealthy land owner Sam Flusky (Joseph Cotton) who was once a prisoner - Australia is a prison colony. He offers Adair a deal: since Flusky has purchased all of the (cheap) land from the government that is legally allowed, if Adair buys some property under his own name, Flusky will buy that property from him for more than he paid. Adair makes a profit, Mr. Flusky gets the government land he wants. Adair is invited to a dinner party at Flusky’s lavish, elegant, mansion that is really only a painting. There he meets Mr. Flusky’s drunken wife Henrietta Flusky (Ingrid Bergman, the only one even trying to do an accent in this film)... who he recognizes as a friend of his sister’s back home!

Thrown in here is an odd variation on the Maid from REBECCA who takes care of Mrs. Flusky and likes to take something hot up to Mr. Flusky in his bedroom (whatever that means). The kitchen staff are all female convicts, and the Maid whips them into submission on a regular basis (off screen, unfortunately). After the Governor discovers his cousin is doing business with an ex-con, he is forced to live in that mansion-which-is-only-a-painting with all of those crazy people. And stuff happens. And Adair tries to get Mrs. Flusky off the bottle and back into Australian Society (whatever that is) in some weird riff on MY FAIR LADY. And eventually the big secret is revealed - Mrs. Flusky actually committed the murder that Mr. Flusky was convicted of! No! No! How could that be? This perpetually drunken woman killed someone? Then some other stuff happens. Then, Adair is shot by Mr.Flusky by accident after he has to shoot Marnie’s horse after it breaks a leg. Oh, wait, it’s Mr. Flusky’s horse. Anyway, the Governor wants to send Mr. Flusky back to prison, but Mrs. Flusky steps forward and says her husband didn’t violate his parole because *she* accidentally killed that guy in Ireland many years ago that sent her husband to prison in the first place.

The Governor now has a two-fer, and is going to send both to prison... but our hero Adair survives and lies and saves the day! No one goes to prison! And, for a movie about Australia as a prison colony, there are no scenes in this film outside or inside the prison - we never see it. Oh, I left out the part where the Maid is discovered slowly drugging Mrs. Flusky and encouraging her to drink and leaving a *shrunken head* on her bed some nights, so that Mr. Flusky will divorce her and marry the Maid because she brings something hot up to him in bed every night (whatever that means). Um, what the hell are shrunken heads doing in Austrailia?

Experiment: In Hitch’s previous film, ROPE, he did a great experiment in long takes - every shot in that film was a full reel of film, and often the cuts between reels used a “human wipe” where an actor would pass in front of the camera at the end of one reel and then pass in front at the beginning of the next so the two reels would seamlessly cut together as one take. That was a brilliant experiment that we will talk about next time. Problem is, Hitchcock tried doing long takes in this film, but it just didn’t work. The reasons...

ROPE is a stage play which takes place in one large apartment. It makes sense to try to do long continuous shots in one room, with the camera gliding around from person to person. CAPRICORN takes place in a bunch of locations, so we are constantly cutting anyway. And even when we are at one location, there are cuts. So there really is no experiment that we are aware of as the audience. Just some long takes - some are interesting, most are infuriating, because...

In ROPE the story is filled with tension. The story has two college students murder their friend, throw his corpse in a trunk they use as a coffee table, then throw a party for all of the victim’s friends including their college professor. So the whole film is unrelenting tension - will someone discover the dead body in the trunk? We are trapped in that room, and trapped in those *shots*. The experiment isn’t just a whim, it fits the story and *builds tension*. In CAPRICORN there is no body in a trunk, and we are not trapped in a room, so the moving camera is just a bunch of moving camera. Because there is no tension, no real conflict, we *need* cutting between shots to create some action. Instead, nothing is happening in the story and nothing is happening technically to keep us awake. The long takes become sleep inducing.

The best long take of the lot is probably when Adair first goes to Mr. Flusky’s house and walks around looking through windows - spying on what is going on - then is caught and invited in, and we move through the door with him and then see all of the things we have seen through the windows from inside the house... oh, if those things had only been not what they appeared! But, it was just the same stuff from a different angle.

Hitch Appearance: Outside the Government House in a long shot. You can’t really see him on DVD unless you have a huge screen TV... and I watched this movie on my laptop in a Vegas Hotel room while on vacation.

Great Scenes: No conflict = no great scenes. This is a melodrama, all about shocking scandalous behavior and family secrets. Those things don’t age well, yesterday’s scandal is today’s normal life.

MOVIES NOT THINKIES: Add to that, these are intellectual rather than physical... and that this film is adapted from a novel, where we get all sorts of information that might make the family secret much more shocking. On film, we only get what we see and hear. So we first see Mrs. Flusky as a drunk, and eventually learn that she came from a wealthy family in Ireland. On the page, we can have our hero remember her in Ireland, and remember how elegant and refined she was. As we read the book, we will picture the elegant and refined version of the character and mentally compare it with this drunken woman... and that’s shocking! On film, we have never seen the other version of the character, and even when it is revealed that she was that refined woman once, it means nothing to us. They’re only words. We can’t compare the word “Lady” and this image of a drunken woman in a house coat in the middle of the day.

ABSTRACT CONCEPTS DON'T FILM WELL: Similarly, all of the melodrama’s big shocking reveals don’t really work on screen. This elegant, refined woman was having an affair with... the stable boy! That stable boy is now Mr. Flusky, not a boy, not a servant of any sort, not covered in manure... Mr. Flusky as we know him is one of the wealthiest men in Australia. So that reveal isn’t much of a shocker. Again, in the novel we can “see” him as the filthy stable boy, and understand that he is a servant and not of the same class as Henrietta. How do we *show* that someone is not of her class? We can’t see that. The closest we can get is maybe showing that he’s not in her league as far as beauty goes. Part of the problem with film is always going to be casting - Joseph Cotton is one of the male leads, so the studio doesn’t want an ugly guy playing that role... and even if they had cast someone ugly, this is the wealthiest man in Australia, and there are many attractive women who marry less attractive men who are wealthy. And if we were to do a flashback to before Flusky became the richest man in Australia, when he was just that stable boy? Problem there is that in a novel you can get inside Henrietta’s head so that we understand why this manure covered boy is strong and virile and sexy to a young woman... even if he was ugly. On film, if they found an ugly man we’d wonder why she had the hots for him, if they cast an attractive actor, the women in the audience might have the hots for him, too... and there goes the whole shocking forbidden love thing. There is no way to make this work well on film, even though it can be a real shocker on the page. Some types of stories just don’t translate to the screen, which is why as writers we need to match our stories to the mediums best suited for telling them.

After Flusky was sent to prison in Australia, Mrs. Flusky sold everything she owned and followed him... living in some vile place while she awaited his parole. This was in a huge chunk of exposition, camera not moving and not cutting, as Mrs. Flusky tells Adair her life up until now, every big shocking moment of it. I’m sure in the novel we got a bunch of flashbacks, but that would have made this movie all about *the past* and not about what we were watching on screen now. As dialogue, that vile place she lived in could be a Motel 6. On the pages of a novel we could have a 2 page flashback filled with details about rats and cockroaches and shared toilets and straw beds with worms, and... see, that was a single sentence that probably grossed you out. On screen you’d have to show all of those things over a long scene or series of scenes so it didn’t become overkill and wind up *funny*.

HOW DOES THE AUDIENCE KNOW THAT? The big twist that Mrs. Flusky was the killer and not her husband is a big problem transferring from page to screen because we can’t show it up front, when it is Mr. Flusky’s backstory, because of the twist. In a book Flusky can be the killer on every single page, because it can be part of the narration. That makes the twist a corker. But on screen we can’t have Flusky be a murderer in the narration - there isn’t any. Unless you have him wear a sign around his neck that says “Murderer” we are going to see him as the wealthiest man in Australia. There’s not much room for editorializing in film. It’s what we see and what we hear, and seeing is believing - so the visual part is most important. We could *show* Mr. Flusky acting like a savage killer all of the time, but there’s one problem with that - he’s innocent.

But the big problem with the story as a *movie* is that we can not show distinctions in society on screen. In a novel we can spell these things out, just like with Flusky as the murderer, we can have him identified as a servant class. And the shocking stuff about the Maid bringing hot stuff up to his bed at night would be shocking. And when Flusky shows at the grand ball, it could be shocking. And when Mrs. Flusky is transformed into the society woman every society man wants to dance with, and then it’s discovered that she was that drunken woman married to Flusky... all of these things work on the page but do not work on screen at all. On screen all men are men, there is no class distinction. All women are women, there is no class distinction. As awful as this may be to say, it ends up all about *looks*. You can have ugly men and handsome men, ugly women and pretty women. That ends up being the “class distinction” on film. Which is why Cinderella is *always* a babe, she just needs better clothes. And why every other makeover movie has the woman taking off her glasses, pulling her hair out of the bun and shaking it out and... instant hottie! A movie can’t show us inner beauty - we usually don’t have time to get to know an unattractive character well enough to understand why another character would fall in love with them in 2 hours. So it all comes down to looks, so we can’t use looks as class distinction in a cross-class love story. On the page, not a problem. On screen, we can’t see class distinctions - so the do not exist. Making this story impossible to tell as a film with anywhere near the same impact as on the page.

All of the conflict is in the past... until the end where Flusky begins to believe that Adair may have the hots for his wife. Then we get a confrontation scene in public and an accidental shooting. Oh, and probably the best scene in the film which triggers the confrontation, where Flusky has bought his wife a necklace and she rejects it. Nice bit of visual storytelling there, too bad it’s in a silly film.

SOAP OPERA TWISTS: But the bigger issue is - even if all of these “twists” would have worked 100% on film, they are “soap opera twists” - they do nothing to change the course of the story. They just tell us scandalous background information about the characters. Henrietta married a servant! Okay, how does that change her life in Australia? It doesn’t change *anything* in the present at all! The closest the film ever comes to using one of these false twists to change the story is when Henrietta confesses to the Governor that *she* committed the crime her husband was originally accused of in order to save him from prosecution for shooting Adair... and it doesn’t work! Flusky is still going to be charged in the shooting of Adair! It takes Adair’s testimony to save Flusky from being returned prison.

A plot twist changes the direction of the story - it impacts the story. In THE CRYING GAME when we get that twist that the chick is really a dude, that changes the direction of the story - now our hero realizes he’s fallen in love with a dude and has to figure out what to do next... and the rest of the story is about trying to deal with that twist. But UNDER CAPRICORN we get “soap opera twists” that just reveal scandalous information about a character which changes nothing. So even if all of these “twists” had translated to screen, they wouldn’t really be twists.

Bad choice of source material for a movie. This story works as a book, doesn’t work at all as a movie.

Sound Track: Kind of a bland movie melodrama score by Richard Addinsell. Forgettable.

This film even looks like a bad period melodrama - between the costumes and the stock shots of Australia and big grand balls interrupted by angry husbands... it just looks like a big dumb Hollywood movie - a bad GONE WITH THE WIND knock off, but without the production value or dialogue or performances or even the cinematography. Many Hitchcock films seem modern, even today. They have aged well. UNDER CAPRICORN looks old fashioned.

- Bill


Thursday, February 24, 2022

THRILLER Thursday: Choose A Victim


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

Season: 1, Episode: 19.
Airdate: January 24, 1961

Director: Richard Carlson
Writer: George Bellak
Cast: Larry Blyden, Susan Oliver, Vaughn Taylor, Billy Barty, Tracey Roberts.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Producer: Maxwell Shane

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “What the young man is touching is the rotor of her beautiful expensive sports car, without which it will never start. The first gambit by Ralphie Teal, who feels that the world is his oyster. Whose tastes are becoming very expensive. And who knows, if the only way he can satisfy those tastes is for him to Choose A Victim, the title of tonight’s story. Our leading players are Mr. Larry Blyden, Miss Susan Oliver, Mr. Vaughn Taylor, and Miss Tracy Roberts. And as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, you’ll find it puzzling to choose the victim of tonight’s macabre events. You may find yourself grossly mislead, possibly surprised, but we do hope that you enjoy this thriller.”

Synopsis: Past his pull date beach bum Ralphie Teal (Larry Blyden) imagines himself a player... he may hang out with his main squeeze Fay (Tracey Roberts) who works at the beach’s boardwalk arcade, but he’s always scanning the girls on the beach for fresh talent. When Edith Landers (Susan Oliver) pulls up in a sports car and steps out in a bathing suit, Ralphie comes up with a scheme. He pulls the rotor cap from the sports car and waits for Edith to return. When he car doesn’t start, he has her pop the hood... tells her the engine is flooded and she’ll have to wait a half hour before trying to start it again, and he knows a great little coffee shop around the corner. During that half hour he hits on her *hard*, trying to create an instant relationship with this wealthy young woman. Oh, she has jewelry in her purse which catches Ralphie’s eyes. He waits to make sure his car starts right up (he’s replaced the rotor cap) and comes up with a plan for their next meeting.

The next day she drives up to the beach again, and Ralphie goes down to the sand to flirt with her. He invites her back to his little beachfront apartment for coffee... and she says yes. Somewhere in here Fay knocks at the door and Ralphie gets rid of her, but Fay starts to become supicious and jealous. Edith tells Ralphie that her parents died and left her a fortune, but her mean Uncle is the executor and has her on an allowance and is always after her to settle down and get married to someone in her social strata. She’ll never have any fun as long as her Uncle is around. When she leaves, Ralphie asks if he can hitch a ride, because his car is being repaired near where she lives (this makes absolutely no sense, but she agrees).

At the mansion where she lives, Ralphie gets out and insists on walking to the car repair place (which probably doesn’t exist). When she goes inside the house, Ralphie takes note of the address and security measures.

Edith’s mean Uncle (Vaughn Taylor) gives her a lecture when she comes inside. He is kind of a pain in the butt...

Fay wants to go out with Ralphie, but he says he’s got something to do... Dressed in all black, wearing black gloves, he slides a big glittering knife into his pocket.

That night, while Edith sleeps, Ralphie breaks into her bedroom looking for all of those jewels in her purse: a diamond bracelet and necklace. She wakes up! Ralphie puts his hand over her mouth and his big glittering knife to her throat. When the wind blows the closet door shut, mean Uncle asks if Edith is okay, and she says she’s fine... and *doesn’t* tell him that Ralphie is in her room. She even lets Ralphie leave (without jewelry) and tells him to meet her tomorrow under the boardwalk.

The next day, Edith tells Ralphie that they must not be seen together because her mean Uncle will get mad... and Ralphie agrees, since he doesn’t want Fay to find out he’s cheating on her. Edith gives Ralphie a very expensive cigarette lighter and some other gifts, and begins planting the idea that they could be together in her mansion if only mean Uncle would drop dead. It takes a while for Ralphie to catch on, and suggest that maybe they should *help* her Uncle drop dead somehow.

Ralphie comes up with a plan. Uncle often drives on a winding cliffside road into town to drink at a luxurious bar... and drives back over that dangerous road when drunk. They can stop him at a particularly dangerous curve, Ralphie will tell him his car has broken down, and while Uncle is distracted, Edith can ram his car over the cliff with Ralphie’s car. When Uncle leaves the house, she’s to call the payphone at the arcade and let it ring 2 times then hang up. No completed call means it can’t be traced by the police later on. But Ralphie will hear it, come and pick up Edith, and they will wait on that dangerous curve for Uncle to return drunk...

Fay wants to go out with Ralphie when the phone rings, and he has to stop the Arcade Boss (Billy Barty) from answering. Two rings, then nothing. Ralphie says he’s busy and splits.

Ralphie and Edith wait in the dark car until Uncle’s car drives up, and Ralphie gets out and stops it. He has to keep talking to Uncle while Edith puts the car in gear and rams Uncle’s car... be she never does. Uncle drives off and Ralphie blows up at Edith. She says she just couldn’t do it. Ralphie realizes he’ll have to do it himself, and it’s probably best for Edith to be somewhere public getting an alibi.

There’s a bit of suspense that doesn’t work, when after Edith calls the arcade phone booth and lets it ring twice, Uncle ends up loaning his car to a friend and she must stop Ralphie for killing the wrong man, but eventually it’s Ralphie and Mean Uncle on that dangerous curve, and Mean Uncle goes over the cliff (where his car, like a good movie or TV car, explodes for no apparent reason on its way down). Mean Uncle is dead and Ralphie and Edith can live happily ever after in her mansion.

When Ralphie gets back to his apartment, he find Edith waiting there for him! She was supposed to be somewhere establishing an alibi! But she says she was worried and wanted to make sure it went well. There’s some kissing, and then Edith leaves so that she’ll be home when the police come to tell her about the terrible accident. But when Edit leaves, she forgets one of her gloves.

Next morning, Ralphie is awoken by pounding on his door: the police! Detective Hazlett (Guy Mitchell) says they need to take him downtown for questioning.

Detective Hazlett and others interrogate him, they *know* he killed mean Unlce. But how? They search him and find: Mean Uncle’s cigarette lighter and wallet! Ralphie claims the lighter is his, a gift! Has no idea where the wallet came from. Then call in Edith and she I.D.s him as the creep who kept hitting on her at the beach and might have followed her home once. Ralphie keeps insisting that they have a relationship, but Edith asks the police why a woman like her would ever date a beach bum like him. Makes no sense at all. The police believe her, and she walks out... leaving Ralphie in line for the electric chair while she no longer has a mean Uncle.

On the street in front of the Police Station she goes to put on her gloves... and can only find one! She left the other at Ralphie’s apartment! When she goes to break in and retrieve it, she spots *Fay* breaking into Ralphie’s apartment, looking for evidence of his cheating... and Fay find the glove! Edith follows Fay, waiting for a chance to steal the glove back. Fay goes to work, where the Arcade Manager tells her that Ralphie was arrested for murder. Fay can’t believe this. Ralphie is a cheater and a thief, but not a killer! When Fay sets the glove down on the counter and goes to the back of the arcade, Edith moves quickly to snatch up the glove... But Detective Hazlett gets there first. He smelled Edith’s expensive perfume on Ralphie’s clothes, and wondered if maybe Ralphie was telling the truth about Edith being in on the murder. They slap the cuffs on Edith and haul her away.

Review: This is the kind of story you would find on ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, and has some great twists and nice possibilities for suspense... but it just doesn’t deliver. The suspense scenes don’t seem to work, even though you can clearly see that they were written to work. The director, Richard Carlson, was an actor who had directed some TV episodes by this time, but seems not to have the skill set to shoot a suspense scene. On a show like HITCHCOCK every episode was suspense based, so they hired directors who could do that, and if you were a director hired for the show you know that’s what they needed from you. THRILLER was so erratic that a director may have been originally considered for one of the more dramatic episodes and then end up doing a horror episode or a suspense episode. The scene where Ralphie breaks in to Edith’s bedroom has her asleep in the background, which is a suspense situation... but it comes off flat and kind of boring. It’s Ralphie looking for the bracelet and necklace with no real possibility of being caught... even though you can see that possibility is how the writer intended the scene to work. Every scene that seems to be written for suspense comes off kind of dull. When Ralphie has to keep talking to mean Uncle as he waits for Edith to ram the car is just a talk scene... when it was obviously written to be nail biting suspense as he must keep talking and talking. So the episode is bland.

Also, Larry Blyden seems miscast. I don’t know his career, but he seems more light a light comedy guy... that funny next door neighbor in a sitcom... than a sleazy beach bum / thief. Though both women are attractive, this is James M. Cain territory and Edith seems particularly non sexy for a femme fatale. I have no idea whether that was a censorship issue or more bland direction, but for a hot woman in a bathing suit she comes off cold in scene after scene. The actress Susan Oliver had a career playing vamps, so it’s not like she didn’t know how to do that... it was someone else’s choice.

Again, because this is a Pete Rugolo score, I wonder if this wasn’t an earlier episode held until later to make room for good ones like HUNGRY GLASS?


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Wednesday, February 23, 2022

ATLIH: Eyes Bigger Than Their Budget


Over a decade ago I got a call out of the blue from a director I had never worked with (and never heard of) who said I came highly recommended as a screenwriter... but never told me who recommended me. We met in a coffee shop across from the DGA. He was this charismatic guy, almost as tall as I am, and was wearing a formal vest - which is unusual for Los Angeles. He was interested in my available scripts. He told me he was in post production on his first indie feature and it was already getting all klnds of great buzz around town and he was sure that a studio would set him up with a big feature deal... but while that was being negociated, he had an investor lined up with $1.2 million to do a genre film, what did I have? I pitched him a couple of stories, he gave me his fancy silvery business card with his e-mail address and I told him I’d send him some synopsis.

Okay, I have to admit that I’m not so much looking at the $1.2 million film as that big feature deal. The $1.2 million deal is less than half of the budget of the films I’m used to working on, but a bird in the hand pays the rent. So I go home, look through the script inventory, select the ones that can be made on this budget... and there are a couple of really good ones that can be made for that, including one of my favorite scripts of mine - DANGEROUS CURVES. It works as a showcase for a male actor, and has a bunch of cool plot twists - kind of a cross between Hitchcock and BLOOD SIMPLE with a hint of strange Roman Polanski. And the personal thing - it’s about an architect whose clients keep wanting him to change his plans in ways that can not work... while his dead wife haunts him and a corrupt cop blackmails him. I’ve always wanted to see this one on screen, and it could be a director’s showcase, too. There were a few other scripts on the list, too, some other really good ones that could be made on his budget - and I included the URL for all of my other available scripts.

Okay, I have to admit, the reason why I sent that URL wasn’t for the $1.2 million project, but for that big studio project. I wanted him to find the script for the studio film on my website, and bring that into the studio when they make his deal.

A week or two goes by, then I get a call from the director - he wants to read a script, could I meet him at that coffee shop across from the DGA on Thursday. And then he tells me what script he wants me to bring... DANGEROUS CURVES? No. One of the others on my list of scripts you can make for $1.2 million? No. This guy wants to read one of my big budget studio scripts. One that I really like. One that got me a few studio meetings and I was kind of saving for later - it’s kind of a dream script. Bur maybe this director is either planning ahead to his big studio deal... or maybe he’s skipping the $1.2 million project because something has happened with his indie film already? What if this is the big deal... and he wants my script?

So I make up a couple of copies and drive over Laurel Canyon to the coffee shop. I hand him the script, ask him how his film is going... and he tells me great, but it’s still in post. I ask if there’s been any studio interest, yet, and he says there is a lot of great buzz, and everyone thinks he’s a genius and the next big thing, and after this film he’ll really be hot. After this film? Well, he has to read the script, first. Of course....

As I’m zooming back over Laurel Canyon, passing the house that rolled down the hill, I wondered what the hell was going on. It seemed like he was thinking this *huge* budget foreign location chase script he was looking at for his $1.2 million budget... and that wasn’t going to work. But, he’d figure that out once he read it, right? And then he’d look at the other scripts and pick one that fits the amount of money he has, right?

Wrong. A few days later he calls to tell me he just loves this script. And he has some ideas on how he might be able to make it for $1.2 million. And I want to scream, but instead I calmly say that I don’t think this film can successfully be made for that budget. I mean, even if there is no star in the film, he’d have to have some sort of great connections - like a facility deal - to pull this off at that budget. Plus, you’d have to scale down the action, which, I guess is possible, but.... He tells me he thinks he has it all figured out, and he wants to meet me to talk about my next draft.

I politely say that maybe he should write up his ideas and e-mail them to me before we meet, so that I can have some time to think about them. He doesn’t seem to want to do any typing, just talking, but he agrees to do this. Over a week later I get his suggestions for “the next draft” and I almost smash my computer monitor in anger. First - he has a facilities deal... here in the USA, in a Southern state, that means completely changing the concept of the script - no longer will it be about a guy in a foreign land on the run with no one to turn to, and language issues... unless it’s maybe a guy from California who can’t understand thick Southern accents. And the action scenes get mostly cut out completely - so it’s a chase film with almost no chase. There were a couple of scenes where the hero found places to hide - kind of like the THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR scenes with Faye Dunnaway - and he wants to make that the main part of the story. So instead of a chase film, it’s a hide film... which is a completely different movie. Basically this big script gets hacked down to nothing - and loses everything that was cool about it. And the “machine that drives the story” - the MacGuffin - doesn’t work if this story takes place in the American South at all. I’d have to come up with something else that drives the story.

Okay, bird in the hand that pays the rent, right?

Wrong. I e-mal him back and say that I really don’t think this script can possible work at this budget. He still wants to meet and talk about these changes and “the next draft”.

I meet him at that Coffee Bean across from the DGA and he’s talking a mile a minute about how this could be a great film with all of these changes and will guarantee his big studio deal. This guy is a great talker... and almost convinces me. I wish I had that gift - that charisma and ability to make complete nonsense sound great. But I’m good on the page, not that good in the room. My scripts can get places that I can’t. The other side of this is that when people do all of this big talk, I can usually see through it. I can smell the BS through the charm. So I wait until he’s done and say that I still don’t think this script can be done on this budget without completely ruining it. I ask him what he likes about the script, and after he mentions a few things, I note that those things will either not exist in “the next draft” or will be changed so much they may not be as interesting. Of course, he says there’s no way to know until after I finish that “next draft” and he reads it. He tells me to go home and think about it, this could be a great film.

I drive past that tumbled down house on Laurel Canyon... It was once a multi-million dollar view home, then the slides tumbled it down the hill until it came to rest on the edge of Laurel Canyon - a broken mess. Imagine being the owner of that home. You have this great house, everyone loves it and wishes it was theirs, then one day it rolls down the hill and turns into a bunch of junk waiting to be demolished and hauled away. And everyone who drives over Laurel Canyon gets to see what’s left of your luxury home and snicker. Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Fallen right down the hill and smashing on the side of the road.

Did I want my script to be that house?

I looked over the notes again when I got home, and decided that it couldn’t be made on $1.2 million without trashing it. But what made this director pass up scripts that *could* be made on his budget - and *good scripts*, not trash - and select something that didn’t have a chance at surviving the budget rewrite surgery? Couldn’t he look down the line and see how his notes would change the script? Why didn’t he want to make a script that could actually be made for his budget? What is the motivation there? Is it that I said it couldn’t be done, so he had to do it?

I e-mailed the director, saying I didn’t think this script would work in the cut down version - that many of the things *he* liked about the script would be removed, so it wouldn’t even be the same script. So if he wants to do *this* script, maybe he should consider doing it when he gets his big deal, rather than try to make it fit his budget and kill it in the process. And I re-sent the list of loglines for the scripts that *could* be made on his $1.2 budget. I figured this was the end of it - no more bird in the hand, and I’d have to find some other deal somewhere. But instead, he requested another script. Not DANGEROUS CURVES, but one that has almost been made at least 3 times. I sent him the script - instead of meeting him at the coffee shop - and thought this might all still work out, right?

A couple of weeks he e-mailed me notes on the script. Everything that was “wrong” with the script. I read over the notes, and instantly wanted to e-mail the director with the rebuttal. You know, we all want to do that. In this case, it would have been easy, because everything on his list of problems was not a problem at all. Most of the “problems” were things that seemed due to skimming the script - I could have just listed the page numbers of where these things were set up, but he seemed to have missed them. This script had almost been made three times - and all of those people read the set ups and didn’t find any problems. Oh, sure, they had notes - but all of the past notes had made sense or been practical issues. I think he was *looking* for reasons to dislike this script, because...

The end of his e-mail of what was wrong with this script that could actually be made for $1.2 million was that he still thought the big script could be successfully trimmed down, and I should reconsider doing that “next draft”. He *still* didn’t want to make the one he could afford to make, he wanted to make the one he couldn’t.

And he’s not the only one. Every year or two some big talk director or big talk producer - and they always seem to be new - looks over the list of scripts they can afford and would rather do the script that they could never afford to make on their budget. And chop out everything that they like about it so that they can afford to make it on the money they have - which turns it into crap. There’s no way this can work. I know it. A director or producer who does a movie a year knows that biting off more than you can chew usually results in a movie that is one big problem after another to shoot - all compromises and doesn’t work when you cut it all together. Hey, maybe some freakin’ genius director at the top of his game might be able to make this work on that budget, but that’s a lot of stars aligning in ways they have never aligned before. That’s a big chance to take with someone else’s $1.2 million. Why not take the script that’s a slam-dunk at $1.2 and use the easy schedule to spend more time being creative? Give the films some style? Use a dolly and crane? Design some amazing shots? Why would you want the script that will be living hell just to get on screen at $1.2 with master shots and a couple of close ups?

What makes these people pick the script they can’t pull off? Are they trying to set themselves up for failure? Do they want the project to crash and burn before it ever happens? Are they trying to prove something (and if so, to who)? Was their first film a miracle and they’re hoping that lightening strikes twice? Why set out to do something that can’t be done?

Right now I have two producers reading scripts they can’t afford on their budgets. If either one wants to me chop it down to what he can afford - ruining it in the process - I’m just going to say no. I have enough *really good* scripts that can work on these guy’s budgets - why would I want to ruin a script that won’t? That doesn’t make any sense at all.

I sent him an e-mail asking what he was planning on paying me for this "next rewrite", and you already know the punchline.

No money up front, but I would be "well paid" once the $1.2 came through... and, of course, top of the list when he got his big budget studio film.

I told him that I accepted cash, not promises of cash... but if he wanted to choose any of the scripts that he could actually afford to do, I was willing to give him a free option. And I was willing to make any reasonable changes that I believed would make it a better film.

I never heard back from the director with that indie film who wanted to turn my big chase thriller into a small hide film, so I decided to look him up on IMDB. They demolished what was left of that house that was on the side of Laurel Canyon and took away the debris a couple of months later - now it’s hard to even remember that it was there. A year later I had 2 films released on the same day - both ended up in the top 10 DVD rentals in the USA - neither of those deals had even been made when I was meeting this director at the Coffee Bean across from the DGA. So, I wonder what he’s been up to? I wonder what his big studio film is?

Well, according to IMDB he has that one indie film... and nothing else in the works at all. And according to IMDB his indie film has yet to be released... Anywhere. There are no consumer reviews - no one has seen it at a festival and posted a review or anything.

Now, IMDB is not always accurate - so maybe it was released somewhere, and maybe it played festivals somewhere and maybe people liked the film... but this big talking director seems to have nothing going right now (and I read deals in the trades, and haven’t seen his name). My guess is that he had a window to do something for $1.2 before his film was finished... and that window has closed. That’s kind of a business tip, by the way - the time when you want to seal a deal is *before* your film is released. You may think your film might become a huge hit and studios will be fighting over you... but what if it flops? Lots of films everyone thought were going to be hits just didn’t click with the audience for some reason. Though you can predict which films have a better chance of becoming hits, there’s no “hit formula” where you can be sure a film will work. So you want to make a deal while there is still hope that your film is a hit. If it *is* a hit, you’ll get other offers. Hey, you may have to make that $1.2 million film before you make the studio’s $120 million film, but if you’re hot, the studio will still want you. But if your film flops? Well, if you have that $1.2 million film already in production or preproduction, it’s like a second chance at the big studio project! Not to mention - income.

Heck, that’s why I was willing to sell a script to a guy with less that half the budget I’m used to - income (my bills must be paid whether it’s *the* project or not) and as a writer you never know if this is going to be the combination of director and cast and perfect timing that makes this film the next SAW - some low budget genre film that gets picked up for theatrical release and ends up becoming a huge hit. I can’t plan on any of the scripts I have circling at studios to ever land.

If this guy had just taken the *good* script he could afford to make at the time, he’d have *two* films on his IMDB listing... and probably would have been released by a major label (Sony, LionsGate, etc)... and if I liked the way it came out I’d try to get it shown at some film fest that I’ll be speaking at... and try to get coverage in one of the magazines that I write for or have written for in the past. Basically, by promoting a good film version of my script I also promote the director, production company, cast members. And who knows? Maybe that $1.2 million film could have been the new SAW? We will never know.

If I had a limited amount of money, I would want the *best script* I could find which could easily be made on that budget... then I would pull out all of the stops to design interesting shots and do some great casting and make it the best film version of that best script.

And then sign a deal on the next project while this one was in post.

- Bill

PS: Right after this post first ran, I had a producer call me up and say how much he loved it, and how he knew all kinds of losers whose eyes were bigger than their budgets, and that he was looking for a screenplay that he could make on a budget. I sent him a list of loglines... and he requested one that he could not afford to do on his budget! It was a freakin' epic screenplay that took place on a ship in the ocean! And had a bunch of water scenes that would require a huge tank! So these people seem unable to see themselves in a mirror! Time vampires.

- Bill in 2020.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Trailer Tuesday: OUTRAGE (1950)

OUTRAGE (1950) (aka NICE GIRL)

Directed by: Ida Lupino.
Written by: Collier Young, Malvin Wald, Ida Lupino.
Starring: Mala Powers, Tod Andrews, Robert Clarke, Jerry Paris.
Produced by: Collier Young, Malvin Wald, Ida Lupino..
Cinematography by: Archie Stout.
Music by: Paul Sawtell.
Production Design by: Harry Horner (THE HUSTLER and THE DRIVER!).

First off: There is no trailer available for this film. How is that even possible? So here is some guy's (great) review of the film that has all kinds of great shots in a brief running time.

No secret that I am a huge fan of Ida Lupino, a great actress who knocks it out of the park in one of my favorite movies THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT where she plays the wife of Alan Hale, who owns a long haul trucking company, and plots his murder... by electric garage door opener! She gives an amazing performance in that film... and many others. But as a film director, she became one of my favorites without even knowing that it was the same person! She directed my favorite episode of the THRILLER TV anthology show, GUILLOTINE, and had an interesting career in films as well. After a career of playing sexy young women, she began writing and producing her own films with screenwriter husband Collier Young - and even after they divorced, continued to work with him. Their first film as producers was NOT WANTED (about unwed mothers) and after their director had a massive heart attack a couple of days into filming, she jumped behind the camera and completed the film... not taking credit. But everyone knew she had made the film... and when she decided to direct their company’s second film, the financiers were happy to put up the money. She was a director... and extremely skilled (she paid attention as an actress to the big name directors on the films she starred in). This was her third film, the second film she was credited for as director, and a great example of her social issues films...

Ann Walton (Mala Powers) is a 20 something office worker in a small town, who lives with her parents and is dating a nice young man Jim Owens (Robert Clarke) who she will one day marry. They meet for lunch in the town square every day: he buys sandwiches on his way, she buys desert from a lunch counter (two pieces of chocolate cake, their favorite).The creepy waiter (Albert Mellen) at the lunch counter hits on her... hey, she’s pretty. She meets Jim, and he has good news - he just got a raise and now they can afford to get married. There’s a great bit here where a shoeshine boy and a nosey old woman do everything possible to kill the romantic moment as he asks her to marry him. Ann says he will need to talk to her father, first... who was Jim’s math teacher... and who came close to flunking Jim. After dinner, Jim asks her father and mother (Raymond Bond and Lillian Hamilton) for permission to marry their daughter. Mom is excited, Dad is against it - this is his little girl! She’s not ready to be married! After Mom pulls him aside, Dad reluctantly gives his approval.

The next day, after telling everyone at work that she’s getting married, Ann heads home... passing the creepy waiter, who is closing up shop and asks her out. She says no... and he begins following her. He unbuttons his shirt slowly - which is really creepy! Ann tries to lose him in the industrial section of town, but he is still following her - his footsteps echoing. This is a great suspense scene that builds and builds and builds. She runs... the Waiter walks... and seesm to be gaining on her. There is no escaping this creepy guy! She yells, “Please! Somebody help me!” But this is the industrial part of town, and darkness has fallen... no one to hear her screams. There’s a great overhead shot here, where she seems powerless as she tries to find a place to hide in a maze of parked delivery trucks. She hides inside a truck, but when the Waiter gets closer and closer and closer she ducks down to hide... hitting the truck’s horn. It gets stuck. The Creepy Waiter yanks her out of the truck, throws her down, and BRUTALLY rapes her - the truck horn drowning out her screams.

This is a film from 1950 - and the rape is shocking.

Ann staggers home - clothes and face dirty and torn... bleeding.

Her Mom finds her collapsed at the front door and pulls her inside.

LATER: A Doctor and a Police Detective talk to her Mom and Dad... Dad feels powerless. When the Detective questions Ann, she keeps saying “I couldn’t get away” and only remembers the scar on the rapist’s neck - not that he was the Waiter. There’s a great shot here of Ann through the bars of the bed headboard as if she is in prison. Trapped. She doesn’t get out of bed, doesn’t leave the house, for a long time. When Jim comes to visit, she tells Mom to send him away - there will be no marriage. She never wants to see another man in her life - severe PTSD. When she finally tries to go back to work, she breaks down - and there’s a great scene where an office worker stamping papers becomes the sound of the rapist’s feet as he follows her down the alley to the parked trucks. Everything reminds her of the rape. Everything.

The police have some suspects in a line up... including the Waiter who raped her. But she completely freaks out and can’t identify him. She’s a mess. Jim is there to drive her home, and he tells her that what happened hasn’t changed the way he feels about her. He loves her. They can get through this together... but she dumps him. “I don’t want you to touch me!”

She doesn’t want any man to touch her. Forever.

This film does a great job of making us understand just how emotionally damaging rape can be.
A man looks at her... it reminds her of the rape. Every man is a threat... and as the audsience, we understand that this isn't just paranoia, those men are real potential threats. She's an attractive young woman, and they see her as a conquest, their prey.

Ann runs away from home - hopping a Greyhound bus for Los Angeles. Not telling her parents or anyone else.

When the bus has a meal stop in some part of rural California, some guy hits on her at the lunch counter and she freaks again and takes off running. Trying to escape every man on earth. Running. Running. Eventually she falls down at the side of the road - passed out from exhaustion.

A car slows... passes her... stops... and a Man picks her up and puts her in his car. Then drives away.

Watching the movie, I said “No! No! Hell no!” Because this film had done such a great job of making me feel her trauma. And that Man who picks her up and puts her in his car? I didn’t trust him, or any other man. And I am a man.

Ann wakes up in a strange bed.

Oh, hell no!

In a strange house.

Oh, hell no!

She seems to still be wearing all of her clothes. The Man hasn’t done anything to her... yet. But when she tries to leave the bedroom... The Man blocks the doorway and tells her to get back into the bed.

Oh, hell no!

She tries to get past him - fighting - but he over powers her and tells her that she has to stay in the room. Orders her to get back into the bed. He begins pushing her to the bed...

Oh, hell no!

Okay, now what do you think has happened to her? Is about to happen to her?

This is a great example of leading the audience, because once the Man has her in the bed.... A kindly Older Woman comes in with some water and calls the man "Doctor" and we understand what the Man's intentions were.

This scene puts us in her shoes, and makes every man a potential threat. We feel what she is feeling and think what she is thinking. That is great directing. Always think about ways to lead the audience so that they are in your protagonist's shoes and feel what they feel - no matter what it is. The reason why we are talking about this film now, and Ida Lupino as a director now, are scenes like this. Where we are frightened for Ann. Where every man is a threat to Ann... and a threat to us. This film is 70 years old, and still powerful.

The bedroom, by the way, is in the Kindly Older Woman's house - her daughter's room before she got married and moved away. The Older Woman, Madge Harrison (Angela Clarke) and her husband Tom Harrison (Kenneth Patterson) own orange orchards in this part of California. A rural area. The Man who blocked her way is Rev. Bruce Ferguson (Tod Andrews), a hunky and handsome (and sexually safe) Minister nicknamed "Doctor", who only wants to help Ann. Make sure that she is safe. He knows that she is running from something, and maybe needs to hide for a while to get her life back together. He promises that he won’t tell the police about her, and will make sure that nobody bothers her... and then he asks Tom if he and will be accompanying his wife to church this Sunday...

Fatherly Tom gives Ann a job at the orange packing plant - it’s harvest season and they need to get the oranges packed in wooden crates so they can be taken by truck and train to market. She’s great at packing oranges...

And this is a great sequence for a lower budget film. We are taken inside the orange business and shown how the fruit are inspected and selected and packed into wooden boxes and the boxes are sealed for shipping - all on a conveyor belt. It’s fascinating. This was shot in Marysville, California and the production value from the endless orange groves in the background and the packing plant that Ann works in takes us into this world that most of us have never seen before. People are fascinated by how things are made, so any time you can show them the details of some job that we don’t really know anything about, it’s better than special effects. This is sort of an Orange Packing Procedural...

Reverend Bruce shows up to make sure that she’s okay, and asks her what she did for a living previously (one of the reasons why I like this movie is that it’s about working class people who have jobs and have to earn a living whether they are men or women), and Ann tells him that she was an accountant for a company... and Reverend Bruce says that Harrison needs an accountant more than he needs an orange packer... and gets Ann a promotion.

All of this is Ann finding a new home, and slowly getting back to normal. Sort of.

On Saturday, Reverend Bruce asks if she wants to go with him while he sketches. Ann alone with a man? She decides to go (showing us that she is healing). He takes her to this beautiful hilltop overlooking the whole town, and sketches the trees and flowers. Tells her that he wasn’t always a Reverend... he was raised in Philadelphia, went off to World War 2, and lost all faith in God during the war. After the war he ran away... finding himself in this small town... and realized that he needed time to heal. Which brought him back to the church, and he became a Reverend. Through his story, he hopes to find out what her story is... or at least to show her a path to peace.

Just as Ann is beginning to find peace in this small town, the County Sheriff (Roy Engel) stops by the orange packing plant to ask if anyone has seem a young woman reported as a runaway by her parents... Tom Harrison and Reverend Bruce cover for Ann... but she is afraid that the Sheriff will arrest her and take her back home... where everyone knows that she was raped. Where everyone knows...

So Ann runs away.

Both Tom Harrison, who has become her surrogate father, and Reverend Bruce (who is hunky and dreamy and not sexual - so maybe her surrogate boyfriend) are worried. They search for her and can not find her. Both want to keep her safe, even if it means continuing to lie to the Sheriff. These are good men.

They can’t find her.

Reverend Bruce goes home, worried, and begins playing the piano to calm himself... when Ann shows up at his front door. He invites her inside and she is alone with a man. She tells him that she is the runaway girl, and confesses to him. He thinks that this is the catharsis she needed. That now she can move on with her life...

The town has a post harvest dance, and Reverend Bruce convinces her to go... socialize. This is her town, now... she needs to meet people. She feels ready for this. She buys a pretty dress. She goes to the dance...

But she avoids dancing. She isn’t ready for that. There's a great shot of everyone dancing and our protagonist Ann and a homely woman standing on the sidelines watching.

A man comes up to Ann and asks her to dance, she says no.
He GRABS her and starts dancing with her.
She struggles and escapes, running away.
He CHASES her - and it's like a rural replay of being chased by the rapist.

Oh, hell no...

This man, named Frank (played by comedian Jerry Paris from the DICK VAN DYKE SHOW) catches her, says that all he wants to do is kiss her. Without her permission. She seems to have no say in this. It’s just a kiss... just a harmless kiss...

Then we get a big close up of Frank’s lips heading towards her face. And this shot dissolves to the rapist's face coming closer to hers.

What would you do to this guy who just wants a harmless kiss?

The reason why this film is so effective is that by this point, that “harmless kiss” is rape. It’s some guy grabbing at this woman (who we identify with) without her permission, without her consent. Can’t these men just leave her alone? Can’t they just wait until she’s ready to dance or kiss? Can’t they ask first instead of take?

As Frank’s face dissolves into the rapist’s face, she grabs something from the old trailer behind her - a wrench - and slams it into his head until her lets go of her.

Frank lets go of her. Falls to the ground. Head bloody. Dead?

Ann sees what she has done and runs and runs and runs.

Reverend Bruce finds here at his special place, the hilltop overlooking the whole town. “Why’d you do it, Ann?” He tells her that he has to take her back...

At the Sheriff’s Station...

The County Sheriff tells Reverend Bruce that he has taken Ann’s fingerprints and IDed her as the runaway girl... who was raped. Frank who just wanted a harmless kiss and ended up with a wrench to the head, is alive in the hospital and should have no trouble pulling through... but Ann is still in big trouble. The Sheriff will have to charge her. She may go to prison.

Reverend Bruce goes to visit Ann in Jail. Real Jail, not pretty. Not some Hollywood set. This is a dirty, grungy place. He tells Ann that he knows what happened back home... and she opens up, tells Reverend Bruce everything about the rape... about how when that man chased her and tried to kiss her, she just snapped. Thought it was going to happen all over again...

Reverend Bruce makes a deal with the Sheriff - have Ann seen by the Court’s Psychiatrist for an evaluation... and let Reverend Bruce talk to Frank in the hospital. After everyone understands the circumstances, and that Ann snapped because she thought she was going to be raped again, the Judge decides to give Ann probation as long as she gets help.

Reverend Bruce finds out that her rapist was captured by the police... after doing it again... and is now behind bars. He can never hurt Ann again. And her parents and boyfriend Jim are back home waiting for her. Ann says goodbye to Reverend Bruce and heads back to her old life and her old job... and her fiancé.

This movie was amazing for a 1950 film - though the rape was nowhere near as brutal as IRREVERSIBLE, it’s still shocking when they go from the Rapist holding Ann down on a loading dock with the truck horn blasting louder than her screams and slowly move up to a Man who looks out his apartment window, then shuts it so that he doesn’t have to hear the truck horn. This was all in one shot - and that’s one of the amazing things about this director. Even in her first films she was using the camera to tell the story - not just an actress who knew how to do the acting part of filmmaking and thought that was enough to direct. Lupino studied the technical elements and used shots like that to tell her story visually. There’s a great shot in one of her THRILLER episodes from the 60s where she gives us a little girl’s point of view as she swings on a swing - and even though the cameras back then were as big as a Volkswagen, she manages to get one to mimic the point of view of the little girl. That was practically an engineering problem - and she did it in her TV episode, probably shot in less than 6 days. Most of the male directors on that show didn’t do any shots like that (with the same cinematographers - so it wasn’t the camera department covering for her). All of her films and TV episodes are filled with shots designed to tell the story. She understood the language of cinema. There are hundreds of male directors who were never as good as she was. In her first film - the one she took over from the director who had a heart attack after a couple of days of shooting - she has an amazing chase scene that rivals anything that men were doing at the time. One of her mentors was Don Siegel, another of my favorite directors, and her action scenes are comparable to his.

Just used to tell stories with female leads dealing with social issues that were (and are) of interest to women. Rape, unwed mothers, dealing with heartbreak, and many other issues that her films tackled because Hollywood Studios weren't dealing with them. But they would gladly make some money distributing them. Her independent company The Filmakers made close to ten great films... and we will be looking at them in future Trailer Tuesdays. Probably next up (later in the year) will be her first film NOT WANTED about unwed mothers. We still have a THRILLER episode of two that she directed coming up this year.

- Bill

PS: I know that it's a Counter Man not a Waiter - but it's 2020, and who knows what a Counter Man is?

Friday, February 18, 2022

Fridays With Hitchcock:
The Paradine Case (1947)

Screenplay by David O. Selznick.

Do I really have to say anything more?

Okay, for those of you who may not know who David O. Selznick was: He was the legendary producer who made the Best Picture Oscar winner GONE WITH THE WIND which is also the record holder for box office in adjusted dollars - yes, it even beat AVATAR. Name any film you think was a massive hit, GONE WITH THE WIND made more money in adjusted dollars. Selznick was also legendary for his ego and for micro-managing to the point of insanity. He would send lengthy memos to *everyone* involved in one of his films explaining what he wanted in minute detail. Often the memos were wacky - he once sent a 30 page telegram... and the last line of the telegram said to disregard the telegram! In the 1970s someone collected many of these crazy memos and published them in a book, MEMO FROM DAVID O. SELZNICK - I have a copy somewhere. At first, reading the memos made my brain hurt... then they became laugh-out-loud funny. He wrote memos on things so small and insignificant you wonder how he found the time to do anything else. So, imagine the lunatic, egotistical, head of production for the studio writing a screenplay...

To be fair, Selznick began in the story department at MGM - because in those good old days of Hollywood they promoted *screenwriters* and people who worked in the story department to producers and heads of production. Hollywood back then was not about deals and lawyers and agents, it was about *stories*. From the story department he worked his way up to producer at MGM, and produced a string of hits - which probably didn’t help that out-of-control ego of his. He married his boss’s daughter, Irene Mayer, and decided that he was too good for MGM, so he quit and started his own company - Selznick International. If you are ever on the Sony lot, you can still see his building. It looks much smaller than it does on film.

Selznick was the guy who brought Alfred Hitchcock over from England... and brought a bunch of European stars to the United States, including Ingrid Bergman. What he would do is sign them to a long term contract with his “studio”, which had yet to make a single film. Then he would “rent them” to another studio for more money... and make a profit. So, let’s say he was paying Ingrid Bergman $1X a month, he would rent her out to MGM for $5X and keep the difference. Bergman got paid the same no matter what. Because Selznick and Hitchcock did not get along, Selznick “rented” Hitchcock to other studios from 1941-1944 for five different movies, and basically lived off the money Hitchcock earned for him. Pimp-daddy Selznick. The director of an Oscar winning film could get top dollar... and all of that money went into Selznick’s pocket. During that period of time he made only one movie as a producer - SINCE YOU WENT AWAY... the rest of his money was from pimpin'.

Though he made a handful of successful movies at his “studio”, the film he made in 1939 was the one he’s best known for - GONE WITH THE WIND.

I think that film ruined him.

Imagine making the biggest box office film of all time *and* having it win Best Picture Oscar. What do you do for an encore?

Well, the year after he won Best Picture Oscar for producing GONE WITH THE WIND, he won Best Picture Oscar for producing REBECCA... directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

After that Selznick seemed to be *exclusively* trying to make movies that would be massive box office hits *and* win the Best Picture Oscar. Because Hitchcock was under contract to him, he was either being “rented” to some other studio or producer or making some film for Selznick. Some of these films, like SPELLBOUND, were “Hitchcock movies”, but THE PARADINE CASE is pure Selznick... a big glossy soap opera of a film that seemed created to pander to both the mass audience *and* the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences membership. The film starred his new discovery from Europe Alida Valli (THE THIRD MAN), who he hoped to rent out as soon as she became a star, and Gregory Peck - another contract player, and a young hunky French actor he was grooming for stardom, Louis Jourdan (SWAMP THING). Hitchcock disliked the project, but was under contract and had no choice but to make it. Hitchcock brought in his own writers, and Selznick didn't send anyone to pick one of the writers up at the airport - so he flew back home. Eventually Selznick took over and wrote the screenplay himself, which Hitchcock must have loved. Hitch and Selznick were battling every day on the set. It’s hard to believe that this film falls between NOTORIOUS and ROPE on Hitchcock’s resume, because it’s so unlike either one of those films... it’s overwrought.

It was also Hitchcock’s last movie for Selznick - he walked off the set at the end of shooting. His contract was complete, and he was now a free man...

THE PARADINE CASE was a massive box office flop.

Nutshell: In London, rich and beautiful widow Mrs. Paradine (Valli) is about to sit down to dinner when the police arrive and arrest her for the murder of her husband. She gets the most respected criminal barrister in England, Anthony Keane (Peck) to represent her in his robes and powdered wig...

Okay, while you’re wondering how Peck did with his British accent, we’ll get on with the synopsis.

Because Mrs. Paradine is the most beautiful and seductive woman in the world, Keane’s wife Gay (Ann Todd) becomes jealous and worries that she will lose her man. Keane’s older law partner, Sir Simon (Charles Coburn) also worries about this, but his college girl daughter hopes that Mrs. Paradine will break up the marriage and then dump Keane so that she can swoop in and take him, because she thinks he’s a dreamy older man.

Oh, speaking of older men, the trial’s Judge (Charles Laughton) is a complete letch and keeps hitting on Keane’s wife. It’s kind of implied that if she sleeps with him, he may favor her husband in the case. Though his character doesn’t show up for a while, Louis Jourdan plays the dead Mr. Paradine’s valet Latour who may or may not have been playing hide the salami with Mrs. Paradine while her husband slept in the next room. I know that I’m leaving out some people who were either having sex with other people or at least wanted to have sex with other people, but you get the idea.

The first 2/3rds of the story takes place before the trial while all of these people are trying to get into each other’s pants. The last third is all in the courtroom - but far from Perry Mason excitement. There are only two suspects and no surprises. The story isn’t about who the killer is, it’s about who is gonna sleep with who and who already slept with who. Sex for the mass audience, powdered wigs and frilly shirts for the Academy.

Peck doesn’t even attempt a British accent.

Experiment: I’m sure that the main experiment was trying to get through the film without killing Selznick...

But the film has one amazing shot - as Mrs. Paradine sits at the defendant’s table in court, Latour enters the court room behind her and walks to the witness stand, and Hitchcock does a great composite shot with Mrs. Paradine in the foreground (one element) and Latour walking in the background (the other element) with both images moving so that it seems as if she can *feel* him entering the courtroom and - without looking back - *sense* him as he walks around her. It’s a great shot concept - she knows he is there without ever seeing him.

There is also the reverse of the shot, from Latour’s POV when he leaves the witness stand. Basically one great shot done twice.

Oh, and a nice overhead of the courtroom when Keane leaves after realizing his client is guilty.

Hitch Appearance: Leaving the train station, carrying a cello.

Great Scenes: Well, no suspense scenes, so let me talk about some of the soap opera stuff.

The opening scene where Mrs. Paradine is arrested is shocking, and managed to find a way to sneak in the victim visually. A huge painting of Mr. Paradine hangs on the wall, and is the center of much of the scene. But there is some great confusion by Mrs. Paradine about how one is supposed to get arrested - they just served dinner, will she be allowed to eat first? And what about packing a bag? She has no point of reference.

At the police station, she is searched and stripped and a matron goes through her beautiful hair with a comb searching for contraband. Hitchcock has done similar scenes that were even better - involving fingerprint ink you can’t remove. I would have gone full-force and had them delouse her with spray hoses, but it seems like everything is blanded... probably due to Sezlnick’s screenplay.

There’s a great scene with Charles Laughton as the horny old judge who sits next to Peck’s wife on the sofa and grabs her hand and puts her hand on her leg (stealing a feel) and makes it pretty clear that he wants to screw her and that it would be good for her husband’s trial if she said yes. Laughton steals every scene he is in - almost rescuing the film. Almost.

There’s kind of a spooky scene where Peck goes to the scene of the crime - the Paradine country estate - and it’s closed up, dark, spooky... and has a Mrs. Danvers-like woman showing him around... and Louis Jourdan’s valet seems to appear and disappear without ever leaving or entering a room. There’s more atmosphere in that scene than in the rest of the film.

The courtroom trial is boring because we have two suspects: Mrs. Paradine and the valet Latour, and neither tries to blame the other or has any shocking witness stand reveals. The one and only is that Mrs, Paradine may have visited Latour’s room after dark.

In HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT, Hitchcock complains about all of the casting - and rightly so - but spends a great deal of time explaining why Louis Jourdan was dead wrong as Latour. If that is supposed to be the big shocker in court, it doesn’t work if she was sleeping with some beefcake guy like Jourdan. He’s better looking than she is!

There’s only shock if Latour is *ugly* - and this goes back to my problems with UNDER CAPRICORN - Hollywood often makes the mistake of hiring pretty people when the role requires really ugly people. That film was another woman-who-sleeps-with-a-man-beneath-her story, and Bergman and Joseph Cotton seem like a reasonable pair. In PARADINE, Valli is a beautiful woman, but Jourdan is a beautiful man. They belong together - no shock. You can “tell us” that Jourdan is a servant and Valli is wealthy and that it is scandalous for her to sleep with him, but there is no class distinctions on screen. There are only *physical* distinctions.

Hell, she goes to his room! If the script would have made him the groom and had him sleeping in an apartment in the stables and the first time they got busy was after a ride on the floor of the stable amongst piles of hay and manure, we have something! And that is something that a *screenwriter* can do to guard against casting issues. We can create a *situation* that is shocking, so the casting won’t kill the scene.

An *idea* doesn’t show up on screen, only the execution of the idea - the image or dialogue that turns the idea into something concrete that we can see or hear. The *idea* of sleeping with a man below her class needs to be turned into something we can see or hear. Since we are not involved in casting as screenwriters, it has to be a situation or dialogue. That roll in the hay (and manure) - whether we do that with actions (visual) or with courtroom testimony (dialogue) we need to get it out there. But we do not have shocking testimony or shocking visuals... Instead we have a very dull Q&A of suspects on the stand who do not want to incriminate each other so they don’t really say anything.

Sound Track: Excellent score from the always dependable Franz Waxman.

THE PARADINE CASE is basically a big glossy soap opera with a couple of interesting shots, that Hitchcock practically disowned. He walked off after his rough cut, leaving David O’Selznick to sort out the rest. I’m sure he sent a 30 page memo to Hitchcock afterwards.

- Bill


The other Fridays With Hitchcock.

Thursday, February 17, 2022


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

Season: 2, Episode: 20.
Airdate: February 12, 1962

Director: William F. Claxton (NIGHT OF THE LEPUS).
Cast: Warren Oates, Audrey Dalton, Sean McClory, Denver Pyle, Walter Burke, Sandy Kenyon.
Music: Sidney Fine & William Lava.
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline.
Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “I wonder how many of you have had the urge to eliminate one of your tormentors. Oh, come now, chances are it has occurred to you at least once. But after a moment’s thought, you decided against becoming a murderer. Of course, I wouldn’t presume to ask if you made the right decision. But I would, however, be in your reason for refraining. Respect for human life? Fear of the law? Or terror of the unknown. The wrath of a demon such as the Hollow Watcher? For the sightless eyes of a Hollow watcher see more than you might imagine. Even now they can perceive the leading players in tonight’s story. They are: Audrey Dalton, Sean McClory, and Warren Oates. (Laughs) Well, I certainly don’t need the Hollow Watcher to tell me that you’re skeptical. But as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, the people who live in Black Hollow believe in him. The beliefs of simple country folk can create forces that will certainly surprise you. Perhaps even frighten you.... to death.”

Synopsis: The Black Hollow General Store in rural North Carolina at night... as a woman’s screams come from inside, when an older man, Ortho Wheeler (Denver Pyle), tears the blouse off of a woman, Meg O’Danagh Wheeler (Audrey Dalton), and her new husband Hugo Wheeler (Warren Oates) gives her a blanket to cover up. She tells Ortho if he lays his hands on her again she will bite his fingers off. Hugo steps up to protect his wife from her new father in law, and gets socked in the jaw by the old man. She is an Irish mail order bride, married to Hugo against his father’s wishes. Ortho is a bully who basically owns the town of Black Hollow.

The two men go to the barn to duke it out, and new wife Meg tags along to watch. When Ortho begins beating his son Hugo to a pulp, she grabs a log and clobbers him...

When Hugo wakes up, she tells him that his father left in disgrace... and now the store and is his. Hugo is worried that the Hollow Watcher will now come to punish him in the night for whipping his daddy. The Hollow Watcher is a local legend - a scarecrow that gets revenge against those that deserve it. It comes in the night, and... As they walk back to their rooms above the store, Meg looks at the old scarecrow on the hill... it’s creepy looking!

One Month Later: The gang at the general store gossip a bunch of exposition... Town character Croxton (Walter Burke) says: “The Hollow Watcher always leaves a corpse... or part of it” and Mason, the clerk behind the counter (Sandy Kenyon from AIRPLANE!) says the new Mrs. Wheeler got a letter, and everyone is curious - people don’t get letters around here... that requires the ability to read. Can they see what it says through the envelope? That’s when a wagon rolls up and Sean O’Danagh (Sean McClory) gets off with his trunk and comes into the store.

Sean is dressed in a suit amongst rural farmers, and has a thick Irish accent and is charming and chatty... and a burly manly man. He asks for Mrs. Wheeler, and Mason behind the counter says that she and her husband are not in. Sean asks if he might have a drink while waiting, and is served the local moonshine... which he practically spits out. It’s terrible! And he paid 25 cents for 2 and a half glasses of it! A muscular farmer playing checkers (Lane Bradford) says he made the moonshine and doesn’t take to strangers saying it’s terrible - and challenges him to a fight outside. We get a poorly staged fight - no cutting, all a master shot - and the muscular farmer almost wins... but Sean has boxing skills and wins the fight.

We get a little more exposition about the Hollow Watcher, and just when Sean is ordering Mason to open the door to the upstairs apartment, Hugo and Meg pull up in their wagon. Hugo watches his wife affectionately embrace her brother - too affectionately? - and then offers to let Sean sleep in the barn. Meg says that’s not hospitable - why not let him stay upstairs with them? Hugo hints that the marriage has not been consummated, and Sean is just going to get in the way of that. Sean says that he’ll earn his keep - not a problem! But when Mason mentions that one of Hugo’s rental plows needs to be retrieved, Hugo gives that job to Sean... who says he’s tired from his travels and still sad that his wife passed away and a bunch of other excuses... so Hugo leaves to retrieve the plow...

And Meg and brother Sean go upstairs and have wild sex - but we only see them afterwards lounging on a sofa. It seems that Sean and Meg are married - and both are conmen who marry wealthy people, kill them, and inherit. Supposedly Hugo’s father has $5,000 stashed somewhere and as soon as Sean and Meg find the money, Hugo will have some sort of farming accident or something and die. This is why Meg and Hugo haven’t consummated their marriage - she is faithful to her real husband Sean... who killed his last wife Bernice, who didn’t have as much money as she claimed. Meg admits to murdering Hugo’s father Otto and stuffing his corpse in the scarecrow at the top of the hill so that no one could find it.

Meg looks out the window - the scarecrow is looking at them from right outside the window! Sean grabs the shotgun, believing that it’s Hugo dressed as the scarecrow spying on them.

The scarecrow is no longer on the top of the hill. What? Sean looks at the ground and sees *footprints* leading down the hill to the window - it has to be Hugo! Sean looks around... and the scarecrow attacks! The Hollow Watcher! Sean shoots the Hollow Watcher in the arm - and the Hollow Watcher escapes... leaving behind a scarecrow arm... with a bone and the rotting flesh of Otto inside. WTF? Sean believes that he has shot Hugo, and the Hugo will return with a wounded arm...

Meg has no idea where the $5k might be hidden, so Sean begins his search - beginning with the barn. He pulls up floorboards... and Mason discovers him, and when Sean comes up with a bogus reason for tearing up the floor, Mason shoots it down... he begins to suspect that Sean is up to something.

When Hugo returns with the plow, Sean claps his hand onto Hugo’s arm... but there is no wound there. Hugo is fine. Sean looks up to the top of the hill, where the scarecrow looks down at them... missing an arm.

Sean doesn’t understand how Hugo wasn’t wounded - was the shotgun filled with blanks (????). Meg tells Sean they don’t need the $5k bad enough to deal with that animated scarecrow, they should just leave...

That’s when Otto returns from putting away the plow... and begins arguing with Meg. He would kind of like to consummate the marriage, but Meg says the customs in their country is for the husband and wife to live as brother and sister for 6 months. Otto says they aren’t living in her country, and tonight they are going to become man and wife.

Meg whispers to Sean that they have to kill him tonight.

We get a pile more exposition about the letter than Sean wrote and whether Mason read it and told Hugo about it, and even more exposition about the Hollow Watcher and whether it was just some legend that Hugo’s father made up to keep the town’s people in line, and now Otto is using it to spook Meg and Sean. But tonight, it will all be over...

That Night: Sean is setting a trap for Hugo. Hugo hears a noise in the barn, grabs his shotgun and goes to investigate and...

When Sean sneaks into the barn, Hugo is unconscious on the floor with his shotgun by his side. What? If Hugo isn’t the Hollow Watcher, who is?

That’s when the Hollow Watcher attacks Sean. He stabs it again and again - and nothing happens. The Hollow Watcher isn’t even hurt! The Hollow Watcher tears Sean to pieces!

In The Apartment: Meg waits for Sean to return after killing Hugo... and sees the Hollow Watcher staring at her though the window! The Hollow Watcher crashes through the window. Meg backs up against the wall, “I know it’s you, Hugo.” She grabs a burning log from the fireplace and slams it into the Hollow Watcher - he doesn’t slow down. But he does catch on fire! Talk about your slow burns - she stands there and watches as the Hollow Watcher burns down to a skull and bones. She laughs in hysterics as the skull keeps coming towards her....

Review: Warren Oates was a national treasure that I don’t think we fully appreciated while he was alive. I was always a big fan, because he was the stand out in a bunch of movies like THE WILD BUNCH in a small role, and he frequently stole the show in films like STRIPES as the tough drill sergeant. I think this is his second appearance on THRILLER (KNOCK THREE ONE TWO) and in both he plays a character of limited intelligence trying to navigate a complicated world... and is great at showing a character trying to figure things out. We can see him thinking. What’s strange about both episodes is that he isn’t the star of either, though he would become a star later in films like BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA. For a large chunk of this episode he is offscreen retrieving that tractor...

This is one of the episodes that “remembers well” - the idea of that scarecrow that comes alive and seeks vengeance, like the crawling severed hands in TERROR IN TEAKWOOD, is something that I remember from first seeing these as a kid. But the episode itself isn’t as scary as I remembered it, mostly due to pedestrian direction. That’s a problem that plagues some of these episodes while others have amazing inventive direction... but this is a good example of how it can harm the story. Director Claxton seems to film everything in a master shot with very few close ups - so it’s all kind of bland. The fist fight is boring. In the scene where Sean is first investigating the scarecrow he looks down and sees footprints moving towards the house... but we never get to see those footprints. So they don’t deliver the scares that they should. Since the scarecrow isn’t actually shown moving until the end, those footprints were the “special effects” that tide us over until then... but it’s all done in a master shot.

There’s a scene before this where the wife says she saw the scarecrow peeking through the window... but there is no shot of that. Again, she is in a master that doesn’t include an angle on the window, so it becomes exposition instead of a scare moment.

The episode seems to have reversals and twists in the story that never make it to the screen, and I don’t know how much of that is Claxton and how much is network censors in some instances. The Brother and Sister being Husband and Wife thing is done in the blandest way possible, when that could have been an amazing twist on screen. Instead of showing them in an intimate situation and kissing, which would have been a major shock moment, and then revealed that they were husband and wife; we get them on the sofa in a situation that could easily be brother and sister... and then revealed as husband and wife. Due to the bland direction in other scenes I don’t know whether this is Claxton’s choice or a censorship issue about even hinting at brother and sister incest... but what could have been a twist ends up just a pile of exposition. There's plenty of talk about the marriage not being consumated, and Oates wanting to get to that, which didn't seem to bother the censors... but that's not quite the same as hinting at incest, even if it would not be true.

One of the things that these episodes point out is the how different directors given the same amount of time and probably the same budgets can either do amazing things or make a bland and pedestrian hour of television. Some seem to see this as a job, and others as an opportunity to strut their stuff. This episode could have been so much more frightening with a different visual approach to the story. By the time we get to that scarecrow zooming across the room to attack at the end, it shows what the earlier scenes might have been... but that’s charging scarecrow is still a frightening image that has been imprinted on my memory since I saw this as a kid.

Next up, a dark comedy episode with Edward Andrews...

- Bill

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