Friday, April 29, 2022

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Patricia Hitchcock on STRANGERS ON A TRAIN

Hitchcock's daughter, Pat, was *in* STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, and these are her thoughts on the film...

We take a closer look at STRANGERS ON A TRAIN in my new Hitchcock book MASTERING SUSPENSE...

Plus: here's a HITCH 20 PLUS segment on basic cinematic language (which many directors today don't seem to speak!)...

- Bill

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



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!


Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

(links actually work now)

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.



Click here for more info!


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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

- Bill

Thursday, April 28, 2022

THRILLER Thursday: Girl With A Secret

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

Season: 1, Episode: 9.
Airdate: 11/15/1960

Director: Mitchell Leisen.
Writer: Charles Beaumont based on a novel by Charlotte Armstrong.
Cast: Faye Bainter, Paul Hartman, Myrna Fahey, Victor Buono, Cloris Leachman.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “An attache case. A classic ingredient in tales of cloak and dagger. Was the young lady correct? Was it switched on purpose? As sure as my name is Boris Karloff, the contents of that case will soon trap these two young people in a web of terror. Alice, the bewildered bride, doesn’t yet know that her husband’s life will depend upon her silence. She’ll become a girl with a secret. That’s the name of our story. Our principle players are Miss Faye Bainter, Mr. Paul Hartman, Miss Myrna Fahey, Mr. Rhodes Reason, Miss Cloris Leachman, and Mr. Harry Ellerbe. I assure you my friends, this is a thriller.”

Synopsis: After a couple of great episodes in a row, we go back to...

At an airport, newlyweds Anthony (Rhodes Reason) and Alice (Myrna Fahey from Corman’s HOUSE OF USHER) wait for their baggage and she talks about the pressure of meeting her (wealthy) inlaws for the first time. When Anthony sets down his attache case for a moment to grab his suitcase, a Stranger sets down his *identical* attache case to do the same and grabs Anthony’s attache case by accident when he leaves. Or was it an accident? Alice seems to think the Stranger did it on purpose. She points out the Stranger to Anthony and says to stop him before he drives away... but Anthony tells her it’s no big deal, he’ll just open the Stranger’s attache case, find his ID, and call him and swap cases later. They’ve had a long flight and Anthony just wants to get home to Pasadena and relax.

When they leave the airport, an evil looking Henchman (Rex Holman) is following them...

On a narrow, twisting road in the hills (probably where the 134 Freeway would end up) the Henchman tries to pass them on a particularly dangerous curve and “accidentally” hits their car, almost forcing them over a cliff! Alice is scared and confused, did that guy *try* to kill them or was it an accident? Seems like weird stuff is happening around her new husband! Why?

The family estate in Pasadena looks oddly like the Munster’s house from the outside (same backlot house), but the inside is a luxurious mansion where the entire family seems to hang out night and day, with Cousin Beatrice (Cloris Leachman) playing the piano for the entertainment of her boyfriend Walter (Harry Ellerbe) plus Uncle Gregory (Paul Hartman) and Aunt Hortense (Anne Seymour) and matriarch Geraldine (Faye Bainter) who is Anthony’s grandmother. The whole family meets the new daughter in law, and give her the normal third degree you would give a new wife... which kind of adds to Alice’s paranoia. Anthony excuses himself for a moment to get the luggage out of the car... but instead goes to the car to open the Stranger’s attache case... which is empty except for a cryptic note... which Anthony decodes!

He starts up the car and goes to the Stranger in a public library... where we discover that Anthony is some sort of spy and the Stranger is a fellow spy, who warns him that the bad guys are onto him. Anthony tells the Stranger that he knows: an attempt was made on his life earlier.

Cut to our evil badguy played by Victor Buono (King Tut from BATMAN), as the Henchman enters his evil lair to report that his attempt on Anthony’s life *failed*. Buono needs to know how much Anthony knows about his evil operation, and keep him from stopping whatever the heck that evil operation is. It’s kinda vague.

Anthony gets back to the Munster House, and nobody seems to notice he was missing. He and Alice are unpacking in their room... when she discovers an airplane ticket in his coat pocket. To Mexico City. She confronts her new husband... is he cheating on her? Anthony quiets her, opens the bedroom door... and there’s the Maid (Esther Dale) listening in on the conversation. He tells the Maid to please keep this little domestic dispute to herself, then closes the door and whispers to Alice... that he’s a spy! He has a secret mission to Mexico City to do things that will help foil Victor Buono’s evil operation... and while he’s gone she must keep his secret. No one can know that he has gone to Mexico City, *no one*. Not even family members. Alice will keep the secret while Anthony is away.

Anthony tells his family that he’s been called back to New York on business for a while, and to please take care of his new wife. Cousin Beatrice is already planning ways to mess with Alice in order to make matriarch Geraldine hate the new bride. And that, folks, is the set up!

And the halfway point.

After Anthony leaves on his secret mission, Alice is “alone” in the house with all of these strangers... and the Maid, who asks for some hush money or she’ll tell everyone that Anthony has gone to Mexico City. Alice gives her ear rings (which are expensive as heck) to the Maid to keep her quiet... but when Cousin Beatrice notices the Maid wearing Alice’s ear rings she accuses the Maid of stealing them, and this brings in matriarch Geraldine who insists the Maid return the ear rings... and creates a larger problem as the Maid now wants $300 to keep her mouth shut.

Alice brings the money to the Maid... and there is a knock at the Maid’s door! The evil Henchman! Alice hides in the murphy bed folded up against the wall and listens as the Henchman questions the Maid, doesn’t get any answers... so he kills her and then searches the room for some clue as to where Anthony may have flown to... almost finding Alice hiding in the folded up bed! The Henchman leaves, heading back to...

Victor Buono’s evil lair, where Buono is talking to... Walter! Cousin Beatrice’s boyfriend! They have blackmailed Walter into being part of the evil operation and spying on Anthony. It was Walter who gave the information that sent the Henchman to the Maid’s apartment. Twist!

Back at the Munster House, Alice returns and is freaked out... afraid she’ll be accused of the Maid’s murder and won’t be able to tell anyone that it’s all because her husband is really a spy. Walter hammers away at Alice about the murder of the Maid... did she do it? Why did she give the Maid those ear rings? Alice walks out... leaving the rest of the family to scheme. Walter and Uncle Gregory think Alice needs to get some rest and suggest giving her some tranquilizers... Walter wants to give her a whole bunch! Then take her to a friend of his who will give her some sodium penathol so she will tell the truth about the Maid’s murder and the family will know how to handle it. They don’t want to be harboring a murderer, do they? Think of the scandal!

A few weeks later Anthony gets back from Mexico City with all of the info to stop Victor Buono’s evil operation... and asks Grandmother Geraldine where Alice is. Geraldine says...

Alice never gave up your secret. They were going to drug her and make her talk, but Geraldine smuggled her out of the house and to a friend’s place in Los Angeles. She’s safe... and Geraldine thinks she’s a danged good wife.

Anthony gets to the address where Alice is hiding out... and it’s a drug store where she is working behind the counter. Just as they embrace, turncoat Walter and the evil Henchman come in with guns... but the Drug Store Owner shoots them both in the most boring action scene ever on television. Meanwhile Victor Buono is being arrested. Anthony and Alice live happily ever after.

Review: Actually, the problem here is the difference between what works as a thriller on that page versus what works on the screen. I can easily imagine this as a nail biter on the page, but it’s all internal... most of the suspense concerns what the character is *feeling*, and we can’t see that. In a way we have a story like REBECCA, about a shy new bride dealing with her new husband’s secret... and you’d think the hubby being a spy instead of a dreamy rich dude with a dead first wife would, but it doesn’t. Hubby is off screen doing spy stuff in Mexico City... and the only thing close to Mrs. Danvers is Leachman’s character, who is just a stuck up rich girl (instead of a foreboding frozen faced Maid who has the real power in the house). The Maid in this story is old and frail... not much of a physical threat. Also not much of any kind of threat because she knows the secret but really can’t do anything with it. And for a story that’s mostly confined to the family house, there isn’t even the sort of suspense and intrigue from REBECCA or NOTORIOUS. The family is mostly just sitting around doing nothing. None are really threats, no real suspense... Alice is just an outsider when it comes to the family rather than a target.

I suspect the story also loses something from whatever scope the novel may have had versus the confines of a TV budget and shooting schedule. This gets into my Dog Juice Theory: when the story gets smaller you need to increase the “juice” to keep it exciting, and in this case the juice would be suspense. Add to this the stiff acting and massive overacting of the villains (they’re on screen for so little time they only have time to be evil without any time for actual characterization).

So the whole episode comes off as kind of bland and boring, and that car chase scene can’t really make up for it. The suspense set piece with Alice hiding in the Murphy bed is also kinda dull... though there is a moment where she is almost discovered. And the reveal that Walter is working with the badguys is nonexistent! He’s just in a scene with Buono. No *twist* to it. Part of this is the writing isn’t finding ways to amp up the suspense and part is the director, Mitchell Leisen (who’s contract requires his *signature* as his credit), who was a famous director of big glossy studio films in the 1930s to1950s and doesn’t seem to be at home in the thriller genre... even though he directed Cornell Woolrich’s NO MAN OF HER OWN in 1950 (which ended up more soap opera than thriller). Leisen directed episode 3 and this one... and then was off to some other TV show and get that nifty signature title card.

After two good episodes in a row we go off track again with this one... but next week? Karloff takes a role in a weird tales type story!


Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, April 27, 2022


From 2010...

You just want to say, “Hey buddy, keep it in your pants!”

Message boards are full of them. People who brag about things they have yet to do. Accomplishments they have yet to accomplish. “I have written a great screenplay.” “My script is better than (current hit feature film).” “When I win my Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, I’m going to...” “Anyone can write a stupid script like that, I’m going to write ART!” And hundreds and hundreds of other boasts of things that have not yet happened. It is so easy to say the script you have not yet written is better than the script that was written and sold and made and distributed and just opened at #1 over the weekend. But how can you possibly prove that?

Pre-Braggers always join a message board and come on strong - they post all kinds of stuff about how great they are and how bad everyone else is moments after signing up. They never spend any time lurking on the boards and reading past posts to see who everyone is and get a hang for what is going on, because the other people on the board do not matter - only *they* matter. Whatever subjects were being discussed before they arrived do not matter. This often becomes amusing, because they have no idea how many pro writers are on the boards or how many other writers are *way* ahead of them on their journey to becoming a professional writer. They are the only important ones! And eventually they say or do something stupid to a pro who could probably help them if they weren’t the center of the world and no one else matters.

Pre-Braggers also *start topics* rather than add to existing topics, because what they want to talk about is more important than what anyone else is talking about. Mostly, they want to talk about themselves. Instead of being part of the group conversation, they want everyone to be part of their conversation (as long as other people agree with them, if they disagree - they snap). And the Pre-Bragger’s conversations tend to be about how great they are, or how awful Hollywood movies are, or how wrong headed someone who actually knows what they are talking about is. They are experts without experience. When they start a thread, it is not about *discussion*, it is about *them* - it is bragging disguised as whatever subject is in the thread title. They believe *their* opinion about some popular film is what is right, and your opinion is wrong... and any facts that do not support their beliefs are wrong, no matter how many there are. They will dismiss every fact other posters bring up, and support their theory with... nothing. Just their opinion. Which is more important than everyone else’s opinion because they are a brilliant writer and everyone else is not.

And that’s a big problem with Pre-Braggers - they believe they have some sort of amazing talent that the rest of us do no have, so they will just waltz in and succeed while the rest of us who have worked our butts off will fail. Because for the Pre-Bragger it is not about all of the hard work we have done, it isn’t about hard work at all... it is about them being special. Them being the chosen one. If we are working so hard and have not cracked it, yet, there must be something wrong with us.


A Pre-Bragger is brimming with self confidence... in fact, they have way too much self confidence. That can be very irritating. Now, I do not think self confidence is a bad thing - without it we would never venture from our homes. But, like in all things, there needs to be a balance. You can have too much self confidence and be an arrogant prick (many Pre-Braggers are) and be completely blind to your faults. Pre-Braggers never realize how much work their scripts need, because there is no room for improvement if you are already perfect. I believe that you need enough self doubt to make you do that extra rewrite before you give your script to your best contact... but enough self confidence to give your script to that best contact. The problem with the Pre-Bragger is that they seem to have no self doubt at all - and way too much ego!

Can I tell you what is completely unfair about all of this? Hollywood is full of crap, so when someone steps forward who is full of crap... people listen to them. There is usually that moment on a messageboard where people believe the crap the prebagger is dishing out... and this carries over into the real world as well. So, as much as I might hate those arrogant prick Pre-Braggers, they are the ones who push me aside to get *their script* into the hands of my best contact. When someone tells me they have written the greatest script in the history of cinema, red flags raise all over the place... but some executive might think they need to read that script, because what if it really is the greatest script in the history of cinema? Can they afford *not* to read it? When you have a producer whose career may be built on a big-old-pile-of-dung, they may hear a Pre-Bragger’s BS and think “This kid may have something!”

Of course, most of the time that script is dead on arrival - the thing is so awful that it gets cut down by negative coverage and that’s the end of it. When you have no self doubt, you don’t do those rewrites the script requires. On rare occasions there is a good idea in that dreadful script, and it may last a little longer... but in my experience with the scripts of Pre-Braggers they tend to have those ideas the rest of us throw away because they are too bland or silly. Because a Pre-Bragger believes in their absolute genius writing abilities, little things like having a good idea are often not part of the equation. Or they have one of those Cloning-Jesus-From-The-Shroud-Of-Turin plots that every other first time writer comes up with. To the no-self-doubt Pre-Bragger these ideas are brilliant!

I have no idea what happens on tracking boards, but I suspect any Pre-Bragger script that gets read is discussed... and word gets out about them. They may end up having very few people interested in their “genius script”. What you want as a writer is to develop “fans” of your work who will champion you to their bosses and remember you or your script when they end up in some situation where they need a great script. Without “fans” you don’t get very far, and probably a third of my income is due to “fans”. A Pre-Bragger might be able to do the sales spiel for a script and get someone to read it, but we are in a buyer’s market and the script itself has to be something they want to buy. They don’t make a movie from the sales spiel. (Okay, sometimes they do - if your name is Michael Bay or Steven Spielberg or Tony Scott... and those guys are not Pre-Braggers, they have done a bunch of stuff they can brag about.)

The rest of us, who are waiting until something actually happens before we start bragging, have a better chance of finding those “fans” because we really are working our butts off trying to make the script better before we show it to anyone. We know our shit stinks, so we try to remove all of the shit from the script before we let anyone read it. Hey, we also know we aren’t prefect and there may be some smelly stuff we missed this time around, but we will catch it on the next rewrite. I just had a producer request a script, so I did a quick rewrite on it before sending it to him. I have no idea how many times that script has been rewritten over the past 15 years, but this time I removed one line of dialogue I never really liked and added one line of dialogue that I think really improves a scene... plus many many small changes - better words or phrasing and sometimes a quick trim of a scene that seems to go on too long when I read it this time. It’s all honing the script... and I think you stop doing that when the script gets filmed. Though, I once did post production dialogue tweaks for ADR on one of my scripts. It’s not over until it’s on the shelf at Blockbuster or airing on TV or up there on the screen in front of a paying audience.


At which time, a Pre-Bragger sees your film and says on some messageboard that they are a hundred times more talented than you are. That they will break in with *art* that will not be compromised because everyone will see the brilliance of their work and will not wish to change it. They are geniuses! If they only got that lucky break like I did, we could all see that their scripts are true art because their enormous talent is larger than that of the writer of that script that was bought and filmed and is in wide release this week. But how can you prove that?

You can’t... which is the safety net for Pre-Braggers.

Pre-Braggers often believe in that “Crap Plus One” theory of Terry Rossio’s - they see some awful film that has gone through the big meat grinder of Hollywood and think that anyone can do better than that... but they have not read the version of the script that sold. They think being better than the worst means you are better than everyone... but you are just better than the worst - and no one buys the worst (well, sometimes bad scripts do sell, but there is some amazing backstory involved in those sales that the Pre-Bragger doesn’t take into account). When people trash some “new writer” they often don’t realize how hard they have worked to get to that point - they might look at their IMDB listing and not realize that’s the tip of the iceberg. If only 10% of *sold* scripts end up on screen, for every credit listed there is a very good chance of 9 other “phantom credits” that don’t show up anywhere... but the writer still worked their butts off on them. The guys who wrote TOP GUN had been working as professional writers for 10 years before getting their first credit... that’s a lot of scripts that aren’t on IMDB, and a lot of actual hard work that those guys did. They may seem to just show up and sell a script, but they’ve really been working very hard “off camera”, and their scripts have gotten better and better.

Many Pre-Braggers haven’t even finished one screenplay - they are still working on it, because it is a work of epic brilliance. If you haven’t finished your script, it’s easy for it to be better than a script that is finished - because the script itself is still mostly fantasy. Whatever is in your head is much better than what is on someone else’s pages. Once we take those perfect fantasies from our minds and turn them into actual words, they always lose something. Which is frustrating. Why can’t my scripts be as great on the page as they are in my imagination? Well, as time goes on we get better at finding the best words and stringing them together into better sentences and putting those sentences in a better order - and our scripts get a little closer to the brilliant story sparking through our synapsis. But the fantasy of the script will always be better than reality... and those Pre-Braggers will continue to be legends in their own minds.

The thing about Pre-Braggers is that right out of the gate they insist that they are brilliant - before they have done anything! The most difficult thing for *any* writer is getting that stuff from their heads onto a page in some form that doesn’t stink. Name your favorite writer and they work hard. Sure, after a while things get easier due to practice and experience (two things a Pre-Bragger does not have), but writing is never easy. Who was it that said easy reading is damned hard writing?

The more you write, the more you learn. If you have not finished your first screenplay, or have only written one script, you are probably still in the learning phase and not the earning phase. If a Pre-Bragger has actually written 2 or maybe even 3 scripts, they often believe all 3 are *brilliant* because they haven’t learned enough to know how bad they probably are. When you’ve written a few scripts and go back and read your first, it may read like the work of a talented amateur - but you will see all of the places where it could be better based on *what you have learned*.

We learn from our mistakes, and if you don’t think you have ever made any mistakes... you are probably a Pre-Bragger. You might want to be a little more self-critical, because everyone you tell that you are faultless, will soon begin tearing you apart to find your faults. Human nature. Right now there are Pre-Braggers writing about what a blow hard I am in the comments section, because I obviously don’t see their genius. As one guy on a message board said recently, “You’ve never met anyone like me, you’ve never read a script as good as mine!”

Trust me when I say he will never let us read his script in order to prove this. What if I stole his idea? What if I stole his brilliant dialogue? “We can’t let the Russians see the big board!”

My favorite type of Pre-Bragger reminds me of that guy in the Monty Python Flying Circus “Nudge Nudge Wink Wink” routine - they come on strong but are a little short on experience. They want to write a sex manual, but they’ve never gotten any more than a handjob. These Pre-Braggers explode onto message boards with news that they have just been signed by some big agency or had a script go out wide that resulted in a bunch of meetings or may have even optioned or even sold some script to someone. They land an assignment and think they are king of the hill. So they start a bunch of topics that are all about how great they are - or they write some pseudo article about how to sell a script or write great stuff based on their experience... except the article is really all about how brilliant they are. Almost no practical information. Because *you* can’t achieve the brilliance that *they* have achieved because *you* are not an amazing genius like they are. They start these threads but the only real advice in them seems to be: “Be Me”. They aren’t about helping other writers, they are about bragging about their handjob...

But as the late great Bill Kelley (WITNESS) once said, you don’t really know anything until you’ve had a script filmed. Not to piss on your success, but there are all kinds of steps along the way, and even though you may have just optioned a script, and I congratulate you on that accomplishment, there are some more steps ahead of you. And even once you’ve had a film made, you have to figure out how to get the next film made... and then get a *good* film made. I’m still working on the last part. Most people realize that once you have optioned a script you still have a ways to go, but a Pre-Bragger thinks they have reached the top of the stairs and are above everyone else. So they start a thread to look down on all of us.

What is always amusing is when some Pre-Bragger pops up on the message boards as king of the hill because they got an option or an assignment... and fail to realize that a bunch of other people on the boards have also achieved this. So while they are bragging like crazy about their option, they don’t realize that some of the people they are bragging to have accomplished this long ago and often many times and don’t think it’s much to brag about... especially if the Pre-Bragger has the normal condescending attitude and occasional insult.

If you option a script or land an assignment and announce it on the boards, we will all congratulate you. If you start throwing your weight around and your ego is out of control... you are a Pre-Bragger and I am going to have fun sitting back and watching you self destruct. And you will. Because you can’t claim to be a sex expert if all you’ve had is a handjob. That handjob may put you ahead of some people, but not others. And that handjob isn’t intercourse, and we all know it - even the virgins. The more you claim to be the sex expert when all you’ve had is a handjob, the more you are setting yourself up for a big fall when the handjob is as far as it goes. You may be imagining that handjob is going to lead to a page-by-page reincatment of the Kama Sutra, but wait until you actually do that reinactment before you start bragging about it. Lots of people get the handjob and nothing else.


Now, some of you may be wondering how the hell the writer of crap like CRASH DIVE and VICTIM OF DESIRE and BLACK THUNDER can be writing this without being the very Pre-Bragger that he’s talking about. Hey, good point! I am not an Oscar winning screenwriter, and never claimed to be. But I done it... and with a woman... and more than once! I’ve had sex 19 times so far (more like - I’ve been screwed 19 times), not with hot lingerie models, but with those gals who are still in the pick up bar at last call. The woman parts are still the same with those last call girls, so it still counts as sex. And those last call girls are drunk and have been around and are probably harder to satisfy - you really have to work at it! And you need to have skills that you may not need with those hot lingerie models - things the guy who has only had a handjob can’t even imagine.

It’s difficult enough to write a screenplay where a name actor will play the lead and they will throw a ton of money on FX and stunts, and a reasonably good director will be calling the shots... but I have to write a script for a guy whose skill is kicking people in the head, that has to be made for the catering budget of a studio film, with some idiot directing. Um, part of my job is to write a screenplay that takes all of that into account and still is tolerable to watch if you have had enough alcohol. Easy for a Pre-Bragger to think they can do better, but they may not realize all of those obstacles are involved. You have to be able to jump the hurdles that Pre-Braggers don't even know exist.

And I almost never start a thread on a messageboard, I mostly jump in with an answer or opinion as part of the discussion. Hey, I have this blog for my opinion, but I usually do not link blog entries unless they are educational (like the LEOPARD MAN entry). When I post on a messageboard I often include a signature link to my website, and if you are interested you can click on it... but I’m not going to post a whole Script Tip on some messageboard (to be honest - I *have* done this on MWS when my site moved from .com to .net - just to get the word out that I was still alive - and *yes* that was spammish). But I do not think any messageboard is my private blog that is all about me. Um, these are places for *discussions*... not posts that are all about a Pre-Bragger’s genius.

Plus, whenever I am in a *discussion* that is out of my pay-grade, I realize that I am not the expert and always back up whatever I say with some link to some article or statistics or corroborating evidence from a trusted source. I’m not going to try to pass myself off as an expert on some subject that I know something about but not everything about. And because these are *discussions* other people may call me wrong and pull out their evidence. It’s not all about me, it’s all about the subject and trying to figure out how to further our screenwriting careers... yours and mine. You may know something that I do not... and I want to hear that and figure out how to use it!


One of the things Pre-Braggers don’t realize is that even if they have gotten a handjob, the most difficult part of screenwriting is to continue working when you are not flavor of the month. Breaking in is close to impossible, staying in when everybody on that message board wants your job is even more difficult... And if years later you are still working as a screenwriter? Well, you are probably doing something right. And I extend that to all of the screenwriters that I have ever trashed in my life - Akiva Goldsman may have written the film version of LOST IN SPACE, but he’s still working in the biz and still writing popular movies. Pre-Braggers often discount the “popular” part, because they are geniuses and true artists, but we are writing for an audience. If the audience keeps buying tickets for movies written by Akiva Goldsman, that means he has something that other writers do not have. We need to look at his films and figure out what that thing is! I’ve had a couple of meetings with Akiva’s company and met him, and he’s a nice guy who reads science fiction novels and seems like he really cares about his work. Those things that I don’t like about his scripts are obviously not as important as the things that the audience *does* like... and I just hope that isn’t nipples on the Bat Suit.

There was a Pre-Bragger on a messageboard I frequent who came on strong because he’d had a handjob, and trashed all of the pros on the board because it was so easy for him to get this handjob, and we were all talking about how difficult the business is. Well, his handjob actually lead to a produced low budget film. Congratulations! Except after that - nothing. And I don’t think the low budget film was ever released. Now, he avoids that message board because he would just be saying all of those things he trashed us for - this is a difficult business! It’s easy to brag when things are going well, but when you hit that big brick wall we all hit eventually? When things go completely wrong? Again, the problem with Pre-Braggers (even the ones with a credit) is that they get their bragging ahead of their career. They think once they make that first sale, and it gets made, it’s smooth sailing from then on. Well, maybe it is - but you can’t brag about the “smooth sailing from then on” until you have gotten to some point in the “then on”. When you brag about something that hasn’t happened, you will always get in trouble because you don’t know what the future will bring. None of us does. Those of us who have struggled in this biz are still trying to figure it out.

It’s okay to brag about your accomplishments, but don’t get ahead of your accomplishments. Don’t brag about what has yet to happen. Do the work first. If you are a nice person online who doesn’t put down everyone who is not you, and you have some success (even a handjob), everyone will congratulate you. I know I will. If you are an @hole online who insults everyone and posts things that are all about your genius? If you win an Oscar, many people will still think you’re an @hole.

Don’t be an expert without experience! Don’t brag about things you haven’t done yet! Don’t substitute ego for talent and hard work!

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: The Pitch Reveals! - your pitch exposes all of the flaws of your screenplay.
Dinner: Del Taco in NoHo down the street from the dollar cinema.
Pages: Some work on an article for the First 10 Pages Blue Book Expansion.
Bicycle: Yes - a medium ride.
Movie: NEED FOR SPEED at the dollar cinema. Worth every penny (and not a cent more)!

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Trailer Tuesday: THE BORDER (1982)

Jack's birthday was a couple of days ago...

Directed by: Tony Richardson
Written by: Deric Washburn (DEERHUNTER) Walon Green (WILD BUNCH) David Freeman (not the guru, the guy who wrote STREET SMART).
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Harvey Keitel, Warren Oates, Valerie Perrine.

I saw this movie when it was first released and was shopping in Best Buys or someplace where the DVD was on sale, so I bought it... and it remained on my shelf in the shrink wrap ever since. With the news filled with stories of refugee children crossing the border illegally, I thought it might be time to break the seal on the DVD and use the film as a topical Trailer Tuesday. Yesterday’s earthquake in Guatemala made it even *more* topical (and I had to add that line to the already written blog entry).

When I first saw the film back in 1982 I thought it had some great performances and scenes, but the story was trying to do too much at the same time and suffered because of that. Seeing it again in 2014... pretty much the same. There are three different writers on this, and they reshot the end after test audiences hated it. The problem with doing any screenplay around an issue is that the issue might overshadow the story and you end up with a mess... which is probably what happened here.

The story begins in Guatemala after a major earthquake levels a city and kills the young husband of a teen mother, Maria. With aftershocks bringing down any building left standing, Maria (Elpidia Carrillo) and her newborn finds her little brother Juan and they head North with a group of others left homeless by the quake.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Charlie (Jack Nicholson) is an Immigration Officer tasked with busting illegal workers. When he enters a sweat shop, the owner begs him not to close him down. All of the employees are illegals, because his business model for maximum profit is to pay employees no more than $6 a day. Busting all of the illegals will put him out of business, not to mention make it impossible for his employees to feed their families. Charlie has been doing this for years, knows how things work in the real world, and says he’ll take *2* employees... and then finds two without wives and families and busts them. The Boss assures the two that their jobs will be waiting for them when they sneak back across the border... both are good employees.

Nicholson gives a great performance in this film, *not* playing Jack Nicholson... but the character. He’s subdued, stuck in a rut at work and at home... and kind of a loser. Charlie and his wife Marcy (the great Valerie Perrine, nominated for Best Actress in LENNY) live in a trailer park, but Marcy dreams of living in her dream home... and goads Charlie into asking for a transfer to El Paso where her cheerleading friend from high school Savannah (Shannon Wilcox stealing every scene she’s in) and her Border Patrol husband Cat (Harvey Keitel) have a duplex... with the other side vacant. It could be their dream home!

Buy the border

El Paso is very different than Los Angeles: it’s the front lines in the illegal immigrant war. There is a constant flow of people being smuggled in by coyotes in vans and cars and delivery trucks... plus individuals who sneak across the Rio Grande. Add to that the drug couriers and mules offered free passage into the United States by coyotes in exchange for taping drugs onto their bodies. The boring job of busting illegal workers in Los Angeles is nothing compared to the chases and shoot outs along the border in El Paso.

Cat (Keitel) is his partner, and Red (Warren Oates) is the boss. My friend Gary Grubbs plays one of the other Border Patrol Officers in his first credited film role! Early on, Cat tells Charlie that illegals are a commodity, and like any commodity, you can make a fair amount of money for delivering them to the right people. Would he like some extra cash? Charlie turns it down, he’s compassionate but not corrupt.

After picking up a group of illegals and taking them to the giant outdoor pens where they wait for processing, Cat introduced Charlie to a slimy Border Officer from Mexico, Manuel. Cat seems to have some side deal going on with Manuel...

While chasing some illegals trying to sneak across the Rio Grande, a boy steals all of the hubcaps off his patrol truck and runs back across to the Mexico side. Charlie chases the boy (who is Juan) but loses him. One of his first days on the job and he’s going to get into trouble for bringing the truck back without hubcaps! That’s when Maria and her baby shows up on the bank of the river to return the hubcaps. Her brother shouldn’t have stolen them. Charlie thanks her.

When they bust a delivery truck full of illegals, Maria, her newborn, and Juan are in the group and get sent to the outdoor pens, which are separated by sex. One of the other illegals asks Maria if she would like her to take care of the baby while she went to get water... and this ends up a ploy to steal the baby. Manuel the Mexican Border Officer has a business stealing and selling babies, smuggling in drugs and illegals, forcing any attractive women into a life of prostitution or sex slavery, and *killing* any competition. The theft of the baby starts a small riot, which is quelled in time for the buses to come and transport the illegals back to Mexico. Maria *does not* want to be taken away from her stolen baby. Maria spits in Charlie’s face: now he has become the enemy to her...

Meanwhile, Charlie’s wife is spending more than he makes turning their half of the duplex into a dream house. Charlie is drowning in debt and asks Cat if there’s still a chance he can do some of that corrupt cop work? Of course! They next bust they make, they find two drug couriers among the illegals and Cat has Charlie load up the others while he deals with the two couriers... and then Cat just shoots them dead. They were not Manuel’s couriers, and part of the corrupt gig is killing the competition. Charlie says he didn’t sign up for killing people... Cat warns him he needs to get along to go along.

Later, when a group of illegals try to escape onto a freight train, young Juan attempts to jump onto the speeding train, falls between cars, and Charlie risks his life to save him. Maria changes her mind about him, he’s not the typical Border Patrol Officer (who would have just let Juan die). Maria says she will do anything to get her baby back... and this becomes Charlie’s mission.

When he goes to Red about Cat and the corrupt border officers group... he discovers that Red is part of it! In fact, Red runs the corrupt group. Now it’s basically Charlie vs. all of the other border officers. Red and Cat set up an ambush an attack Charlie in an interesting if poorly choreographed shoot out in a lots filled with giant earth moves and construction vehicles. Charlie kills both of them, goes to Manuel’s headquarters on this side of the border, kills the toothless dude in charge and rescues the baby... but Manuel gets away. The movie ends with Charlie crossing the Rio Grand to give Maria her baby back...

The story seems scattershot at times, not knowing if it’s an action film or an issues movie or a domestic drama or a SERPICO like corrupt cop saga. All of the acting is top notch, and the scenes between Keitel and Nicholson are a million times better than anything in TWO JAKES. It’s interesting to look up the young actress who played Maria on IMDB, because her career took off big time. She’s the rebel woman in PREDATOR! (And PREDATOR 2!) She’s in SEVEN POUNDS with Will Smith! She’s in the SOLARIS remake with Clooney!

Tony Richardson was a really odd choice for director, he’s best known for costume dramas like TOM JONES and JOSEPH ANDREWS and comedies like TASTE OF HONEY and THE LOVED ONE. It makes you wonder if some early draft of this was a straight drama and they added the action scenes to turn it into the kind of movie that would sell tickets... which might account for the patchwork feel of the story. The action scenes are not well done, even though you cam see the *intentions* by what the characters do. The big “ambush” shoot out is over in a minute, even though you can see that it was written to go much longer (Cat’s death is a cool idea... that isn’t set up in the shoot out at all).

What this film shows is that there is no easy solution to any of this. A few weeks back I watched the 40s movie BORDER INCIDENT with Ricardo Montalban about the same subject, with many similar scenes. Because RKO was one of the producers of THE BORDER I wondered if it was a remake of some earlier film, and when I looked up movies with similar titles on IMDB there were Mexican/American Border movies going back to the silent era! Couldn’t find one from RKO with “border” in the title, so it may have been based on some film with a different title. But there are over 200 movies with the word “border” in the title, and most deal with the Mexican/American border. I may do the Montalban movie sometime down the road because I really liked that one.

THE BORDER is a mostly forgotten film with good performances, but a story that’s all over the place.


Friday, April 22, 2022

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Donald Spoto on NOTORIOUS

Donald Spoto is a film critic and Hitchcock biographer who also wrote one of the best books on Hitchcock's films. Here he looks at my favorite Hitchcock film, NOTORIOUS, and talks about a couple of things I use in my class...

1) The use of "Echo Scenes" (from Michael Hauge's screenwriting book) - where the same location is used for different scenes creating a film version of those puzzle where you look for the differences between two pictures. In my class I use the multiple scenes on the park bench from NOTORIOUS to show the way their relationship changes as the mission continues. Here Spoto looks at the two scenes on the balcony which use the same background to highlight the difference in the foreground. The earlier scene was the two coming together, here we have the two coming apart.

2) Also the use of dialogie as complete counterpoint to action. This is one of those basic screenwriting things - what they say needs to be different than what they do or you have a redundancy. Because "a picture is worth a thousand words" and "don't do what I say do what I do" and "actions speak louder than words", dialogue is usually less important that the actions of the characters. When action and dialogue are at odds, you can create subtext and depth in a scene - the actions telling us the truth and the dialogue as what the characters want to believe or even a complete lie. I use a scene from NOTORIOUS in class to show that what characters *say* in a movie means far less than what they do. This is why skipping the action to read the dialogue is the biggest mistake you could ever make - if anything, do the opposite!

The media player is loading...

He also talks about the casting of Bergman, but I think that is part of a couple of larger, screenwriting related elements...

1) Interesting characters. One of the things I talk about in the 2 day class is contradiction *within* character - this creates depth. Here we have a patriotic whore and a shy spy. Bergman's character (written by Ben Hecht) is created as a daring contradiction - this is the female lead, the *romantic* lead... and she is a usually drunk party girl who is sent on a mission to screw an ugly Nazi in order to find information. Um, how many whore leads are there in film *today*? (BTW - not my moral judgement, here: women can have a love life equal to a man's... but that is *today*, in the mid-40s this was shocking stuff, and I suspect that if you wrote a rom-com about a woman who had slept with a handful of men on screen, someone would want you to change that *today*. There is a double standard for female leads on screen.) So we have this shocking character... in a love story. Hey, it might have been a big deal to cast Bergman because she'd just played a nun, but casting *any* female movie star in this role would have been a big deal. It's the character created by the screenwriter that makes it interesting no matter who you cast.

And Cary Grant's character is equally complex - he must order the woman he loves to sleep with another man... Complete love vs. duty conflict, and he screws up and picks "duty".

2) Edgy and Dramatic Concept. If I said: "In a war, a woman is forced into prostitution by the government", you would think the enemy country was doing that... not *our side*! The story concept - that a CIA Agent must order the woman he loves to sleep with the enemy - creates the characters that all three leads play. Again, Bergman is brilliant as are Grant and Raines, but the situation is so juicy that the film would have worked with other stars in the leads... maybe not worked as well, but still worked. When a screenwriter creates a dramatic situation like this, it really gives the stars something to work with. Cary Grant starred in a bunch of movies that relied on his wit and charm and good looks - here he is completely dialed down. This films is driven by story rather than star power. I think the casting of Bergman and Grant is genius - because there is a huge contrast between their usual screen personas and these characters. This is not a "Cary Grant role" at all - this guy is shy and quiet and introverted. The story concept itself is shocking and filled with drama, allowing the actors to show great emotions by doing very little. Is your concept this dramatic?

- Bill

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



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!


Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.


Click here for more info!


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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.


Thursday, April 21, 2022



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

Season: 2, Episode: 21.
Airdate: February 19, 1962

Director: John Brahm
Writer: Boris Sobelman
Cast: Edward Andrews, Sue Ann Langdon, Vaughn Taylor, Howard McNear, Dayton Lummis, Chet Stratton.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: (Standing in a morgue with a table filled with every murder weapon known to man.)
“An Uncle and a Nephew. No thought of murder? Impossible! May I remind you ladies and gentleman of this sinister relationship once again: Uncles and Nephews. What a trail of blood and evil they have drawn across all the time which we have recorded. Think of the histories you’ve read, books and tales and legends. Hamlet and his uncle Claudius. Richard The Third, the cripple, putting his two little nephews to death in the Tower of London. Evil Uncles, Good Nephews. Evil Nephews, Good Uncles. What deadly poison lurks here? And how strange that even to this day, this relationship has not drawn the relationship it deserves. Our story tonight will tread this tale, with turns and twists and such sudden byways that even my head reels, and for a moment, but only for a moment, I can not even be sure if my name is Boris Karloff. The murder weapon? Well, I can assure you that it can not be found in this cheerful assortment of conventional, but none the less effective ways.
(Opens a morgue body drawer)
The title of our story is “Cousin Tundifer” and our players are: Edward Andrews, Sue Anne Langdon, Vaughn Taylor, Howard McNear, Dayton Lummis, and Chet Straton.
(Closes drawer)
So join me now while the uncle and the nephew in our story, for a contest of murders such as you never even imagined. (Lifts gun) Please don’t be nervous, this little toy isn’t really loaded.
(Aims it at audience and fires... to titles!)

Synopsis: San Francisco: Pudgy Miles Tundefer (Edward Andrews) walks down the street, stopping outside a strip club to admire the poster advertizing the headliner Miss Queenie De Lyte - showing almost all of her assets, then stops at a news stand to flip through a book titled “33 Ways To Get Away With Murder”, all of this is on the way to his Uncle’s lawyer’s office... where he complains that his wealthy Uncle is spending his eventual inheritance like crazy! Buying old houses and having them restored! Lawyer Braystone (Dayton Lummis) has sent Uncle to a psychologist Dr. Marvin... and now he is supposedly cured of buying old houses... this will be the last. What’s left of Miles Tundifer’s inheritance is safe...

(To Karloff)

Miles drives to the Old House being restored (the Munster House) and talks to the contractor (Howard McNear - Floyd the barber from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW) and his assistant. The old house has been restored exactly to it’s original specifics from the 1800s - using nails and wood and a fireplace and everything else from the time period. No expense has been spared! The Contractor presents Miles with the final bill - a huge amount! When Miles says he will want to look at the books, the Contractor says that isn’t a problem and goes to talk with his assistant...

And says they will need the second set of books.

Miles looks over the house, which was in the Tundifer family at that time, and it’s like walking into the past...

The vintage rug on the floor rolls out...

And he is in the past. The 1800s! (We get a music cue here that tells the audience something magical has happened.) Period furniture where there was nothing, A table set with food. The vintage window seat box now has a cushion! Miles looks out the back door - and sees a horse drawn carriage instead of cars! How is this possible? Does insanity run in the family? He freaks out, but when he steps off the rug and out the front door - he’s back in present day. He gets in his car and gets out of there!

To a bar. Where he gets drunk. And tells the bartender about his strange experience. The bartender says it sounds like a standard case of teleportation.

Mile goes back to the house... and it changes again the moment he steps on the vintage rug. Maybe he’s not crazy? Maybe it is teleportation?

AT HOME: Miles tells his old Uncle (Vaughn Taylor - Marion's boss in PSYCHO) that he needs to make the final payment on the house restoration - and Uncle tells him that’s the last money he spends on a house. His psychiatrist has advised him to stop living in the past and live for the future! What he needed was to find a woman and fall in love... and that’s exactly what he did! His new fiancĂ© is going to have dinner with them tonight!

If Uncle gets married, the *wife* inherits, not Miles Tundifer!

And the fiancĂ© is... stripper Queenie De Lyte, who his Uncle met outside his psychiatrist’s office!

At dinner, Queenie (Sue Ann Langdon) notes all of the family portraits in the walls - including one that looks very much like Miles. Uncle says, like the painting, that relative was Edgemont Tundifer, who was hung 100 years ago, accused and convicted of murdering several people. The Black Sheep of the family...

Meanwhile, Miles is trying to figure out how to murder his Uncle so that he can inherit before his Uncle marries the stripper and *she* inherits the fortune.

The next day, Miles goes to get the bill for the house restoration to the contractor, and does a little experiment. Once again, when he steps on the rug he is transported back in time to the 1800s. This time, he puts his briefcase on the window seat and when he steps off the rug... the briefcase is gone! He goes outside, tells the contractor that he forgot his briefcase - it’s on the window seat, would he mind going in and getting it for him? The contractor comes back and says it’s not there. Miles makes sure that the contractor looked on the window seat. Not there. Miles enters - empty window seat - steps on the run and is transported back in time 100 years, and there’s his briefcase on the window seat! He grabs it as well as a heavy pestle on the table and leaves... returning to the present.

Not noticing the older couple from the 1800s was watching him when he had stepped into the past.

The book “33 Ways To Get Away With Murder” says that hats should be removed before striking someone with a blunt instrument...

Miles and Uncle return to the house the next morning with the final payment in *cash*.

Miles has his Uncle remove his hat before entering the house for the final inspection... and then clobbers him with the old pestle. Once they are on the rug, they are transported to the past, and Miles hides the body in the window seat... and places the money on top of Uncle’s body. Leaves the house (and the 1800s) and chats with the contractor for a while. Tells the Contractor he should find his Uncle in the house so that he can be paid... and the Contractor searches the house - no Uncle. What?

Police come - search the house, no Uncle. Miles tells them that his senile old Uncle has $50,000 in his coat pocket and is wandering the streets of San Francisco! You must find him before something bad happens!

The lawyer breaks the bad news to Miles Tundifer - without a body they must wait 7 years before he can inherit. He can live in his Uncle’s house - it’s paid for, but can not sell the restored house due to the final payment issue. So he’s broke, but with a roof over his head. He proposes to Queenie, the stripper... who is only interested in old rich guys with a foot in the grave... but she’ll think about it.

Queenie goes to see her Psychiatrist (Chet Stratton)... and we discover that they are a con team! The Psychiatrist convinced Uncle that he needed to meet and marry a young woman, and then had Queenie waiting for him. Now that the Uncle has gone missing, they discuss the possibility of Miles. Maybe there’s a way to make this work?

Queenie agrees to marry Miles, and wants a huge engagement ring and some extra jewelry to tide her over - a small fortune! Queenie is impressed, will probably sleep with him tonight once she gets the jewelry, so Miles has the Jeweler hold the items and he will return with cash...

Miles is going to get everything he wants!

He goes to the restored house, steps onto the run and is transported to the 1800s, goes to the window seat to get the $50k... and not only is the money missing, so is his dead Uncle! What?

That’s when the (vintage) cops jump in and arrest him! The older couple from the 1800s show up with Uncle - head bandaged, but alive! Miles is arrested as cousin Edgemont Tundifer - and we all know what happens next!

The Uncle steps off the rug, returns to present day, and goes out to the car with the $50k where Queenie is waiting. The end.

Review: Whenever Edward Andrews stars in an episode, you know that it’s going for the humorous side of horror or thriller or crime (THIRD FOR PINOCLE, A GOOD IMAGINATION). He was the 1960 version of that suburban guy who probably had a secret subscription to Playboy and a nagging wife. The great thing about an anthology show is that it can provide a variety of types of stories, and horror and thriller genres are filled with comedic takes on the genre. Though these stories aren’t my favorites in the series, they are part of the “Weird Tales” subgenre of horror where scheming characters get punished by fate... and I prefer them to the straight crime episodes from early season one.

Here we get a wonderfully cynical story where every single character seems mostly honest on the outside but has some kind of scheme going - the crazy Uncle being the only character who isn’t trying to con someone. The Contractor has a second set of books, the stripper who seems like an airhead is actually in cahoots with the Uncle psychiatrist (she might be the most clever character in the story), and our hero’s goal in life is to get his hands on his Uncle’s money. What a tangled web they weave when all of the schemers plans intersect.

The fantasy element - time travel via a restored house - seems related to Richard Matheson’s SOMEWHERE IN TIME, with the idea that if all we can see is the past, we can step into that past. The use of a music cue to tell the audience that we have slipped into a different time is a great low budget special effect. Though there are dissolves used in the first time jump, once we hear the music we know that Miles is going back in time without the visual effects. I wonder if the shots of horse and carriage on the streets were left over from one of the period episodes? The time loop idea is fun - with murderous Miles Tundifer looking exactly like his murderer relative... and then becoming him.

Next up, a couple down on their luck tries to live with a wealthy relative...

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

ATLIH: Gary And The Entourage Table

This blog was originally going to be called ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD, but I was afraid that would scare away readers... and sex sells, right? But I have this huge list of stories about people and events that fit the ALL THE LOSERS theme, so I'm going to start writing them up and running them on Wednesdays, in rotation with some (painful) funny stories about my career. Because I'm starting a Blue Book now, here is and entry from the past...

From years ago, but always relevant...

I sit in coffee shops all day and write on my laptop. They are my office. I do two or three coffee shops a day. Living in Los Angeles, no matter what coffee shop I go into, there are people in the biz or the fringes of the biz all around me. The Barista is in a band. The guy sitting at the next table is also working on his script. The gal over there is wearing a NY Film Academy jacket - she just got out of class... and there’s what I call the Entourage Table.

The Entourage Table isn’t an actual table, it’s this group of a half dozen guys in their 20s who want to be actors. Most of them work as waiters, but when they aren’t trying to remember today’s specials, they are sitting at a table in Starbucks shooting the breeze. I’m sure they spend more time hanging out at Starbucks together than waiting tables... or practicing their craft. They’re *always* here. Some are here when I arrive (from another coffee shop) and here when I leave.

They watch Entourage and think if they only had a Vince (friend who was a star) they could be club hopping and doing Paris Hilton.

I overhear them saying things like that... and bitching about how Hollywood is rigged. How, if they had been cast in that role instead of Johnny Depp, they would have played the role much differently. How they can’t find a good agent or manager who will get them out there - you know, to the right people, who can make a difference. How they aren’t getting any auditions... or if they *did* get an audition, they didn’t get cast because they didn’t have the right look for the role. Or they need better headshots - all of these guys think they’re missing auditions because of bad headshots. They’re sure that some actors get work because they have an in with the casting agent. Sometimes, they get an audition and blow it off - it’s some low budget movie or -worse- a student film. These guys are holding out for leads in Oscar calibre material. I mean, why waste your time on crap? All of these guys are sure that they will eventually be discovered - so they have that Oscar speech memorized.

These same guys have been having these same conversations for years. I’ve watched them switch restaurants (different colored aprons rolled up on the table) and have temp-girlfriends... and even flirt with the NY Film Academy gal.

Every once in a while my friend Gary jogs into that same Starbucks to grab a coffee. We say hello, but he doesn’t stay to chat - he’s on his way somewhere. Gary is a working actor. You’ve seen him on TV a lot - and in a bunch of movies. He’s not a star, he just plays small roles. There was a year or two where he was on about 3 sitcoms at the same time playing the ex-husband of the sitcom leads. That’s a Gary role: he just looks like an ex-husband. When Gary isn’t working on some movie or TV show, he’s on stage. He acts in comedies, dramas, Shakespeare, musicals. In fact, as I write this, he’s probably on stage somewhere. Acting is Gary’s natural state.

I’ll be reading the LA Times Calendar section (entertainment) and run across his name in some review of a play by accident. Once, I was reading a review of a play where Alicia Witt was playing a stripper at a bachelor party... just to see how seriously she played the role - did she get nekkid? When I ran across Gary’s name. He was one of the guys at the bachelor party - not the best man, not the guy who gets married... just one of the guys. And the review spent a paragraph or two on how good he was in the role. That’s the cool thing about bumping into Gary’s name by accident in a review - he does great work and the critics always notice. Now, Gary has done all kinds of plays - big ones, little ones... and I’m not sure he gets paid for all of these. He may not get paid for any of them - if the house has less than 100 seats, they aren’t covered by the unions. But Gary lives to act...

And he acts for a living. Someone sees him in some play and that might led to a role on a TV series or film. And if no one sees him? He’s still doing what he loves.

On his way out of the Starbucks, one of the guys at the Entourage Table notices Gary, "Hey, isn’t that the guy from that Sam Jackson movie?"
"Yeah. I wonder who he blew to get that part?"
"He’s probably got an in with some casting agent - if I had that kind of connection."
"I wonder who does his headshots?"

How different we are than actors, right?

- Bill

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Trailer Tuesday:
Seconds (1966)

Sunday was Easter, so this film about rebirth seems... fitting.

SECONDS (1966)

Director: John Frankenheimer.
Writer: Lewis John Carlino (THE MECHANIC, THE GREAT SANTINI, RESURRECTION) based on a novel by David Ely.
Starring: Rock Hudson, Will Geer, Salome Jens, Jeff Corey, Murray Hamilton.
Cinematography: James Wong Howe.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Producer: Edward Lewis.

I was going to run this last week, but hadn’t snagged the screen grabs yet, so I put it off until this week... and danged if the great Cinephelia website didn’t run an article on SECONDS last week! Hey, it’s a great movie, and if you know about it you want to share it with others.

SECONDS is a thriller about getting a second chance at life and realizing that you take all of your emotional problems with you. This is a slow burn story, but like MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, it deals with constant paranoia. It is *always* creepy. Where MANCHURIAN deals with the idea that you may not be in control of your own life (mind control), SECONDS deals with having to constantly pretend to be someone you are not... and the fear that people may discover who you really are. A real man with fake memories or a fake man with real memories. So they are two sides of the same coin, and it’s interesting that Frankenheimer made them back to back. This was kind of his paranoia period, and we will look at SEVEN DAYS IN MAY sometime in the near future.

The film is based on a novel by David Ely (who wrote some great TWILIGHT ZONE type science fiction novels) and I not only have the paperback somewhere in a box, I have the movie poster on my office wall! This is one of my favorite films, and a great example of paranoid thrillers, and we’ll look at that genre a little bit here. Rock Hudson gives the performance of a lifetime - he was a light comedy pretty boy actor before this film... and here he does dark, deep, drama. Some silly online review thought that Hudson was the weak point of the film, but I think it’s the opposite - he’s what makes the film work. A story about bringing your past baggage to a new life is improved by an actor who brings his light frothy fun past film baggage to a story about a man with a severely screwed up life.

One of the things that has to be mentioned upfront is the wild ass cinematography. Almost every shot in this film is strange, and that adds to the general feeling that something is wrong. Most of it is shot with wide angle lenses or extreme wide angles (fish eyes) and the film uses a lot of experimental shots and hand held photography and camera rigs that are similar to steadycam - which would not be invented for another ten years. Who did all of this wild camerawork? Some new kid? Nope! James Wong Howe... who was born in the 1800s. His first credit as director of photography was in 1923, and you may know his work as director of photography on THE THIN MAN or (“Come with me to the Casbah”) ALGIERS or KINGS ROW or YANKEE DOODLE DANDY or a whole bunch of Bogart films or the noir western PURSUED or MR BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE or THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS or HUD or... well, the guy had 141 credits as cinematographer. He was 67 years old when he shot this film, and it’s one of the most innovative films you will ever see.

Lots of places list this film as science fiction, which is strange because there is nothing in this film that couldn’t have been done in 1966... but the concept just seems crazy. It’s a simple idea that we have all thought of, but nobody seems to have written it before David Ely. Haven’t we all wished we could hit the “do over button” on our lives and start all over again? Not make all of those stupid mistakes? Do the things we wanted to do instead of the things we thought we had to do? *Everyone* has wished that. And one of the basics of thrillers is the secret wish that comes true, but not exactly as the protagonist planned.

The Saul Bass title sequence is twisted fun house mirror shot of a human eye, a human ear, a human face... setting us up for weird. Jerry Goldsmith gives us creepy organ music reminiscent of Bach’s Toccata & Fugue D Minor. For the director’s title card - a face completely bandaged except for eyes and screaming mouth, an image that can also be seen in SUTURE (1993) and TIMECRIMES (2007). The crazy warped image of the face warps into... New York’s Grand Central Station.

A Man In A Hat watches middle aged Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) as he buys a newspaper, then follows him through the station. Paranoia - someone actually is following our protagonist. Some amazing freaky shots here - the camera is attached to the Man In A Hat so that we get a hand held style moving over the shoulder shot and a moving face shot as he follows Hamilton... which makes us feel as if there is something weird about the Man In A Hat. When Hamilton steps onto a train, the Man In The Hat says his name, and when Hamilton turns he hands him a note. Then the train doors close and the train starts moving. Who was that guy?

Hamilton is on a train full of commuters headed home - all in suits, all reading newspapers, all exactly the same. He pulls out the note: just an address: 34 Lafayette Street. What does it mean?

In suburbia, with his middle aged wife Emily (Francis Reid) in his typical suburban home. His marriage is stale, he is no longer excited by his job or his life. The phone rings LOUDLY. On the other end is a man claiming to be his dead friend Charlie Evans. Impossible. But the voice on the phone knows things that only Charlie Evans could know. Things from their college days that no one else knows - a message scratched on the felt covered base of an old tennis trophy they won long long ago. How is this possible? Evans says, “I’m alive! More alive than I’ve been in the past 25 years!” and tells him to go to the address he was given tomorrow at noon. WTF? This story will give us a series of WTF? moments in the middle of a completely mundane setting, and that adds to our paranoia. If a strange thing happens in a strange world, that’s expected. But when some really strange thing happens in our boring real world? Unsettling.

The next day on his lunch hour Hamilton goes to the address... a dry cleaners. What? He asks the Old Man using the steam press if he’s in the right place... and the Old Man ignores him and continues to work. This can’t be the right place, it’s a dry cleaners. Hamilton turns to leave and the Old Man tells him there’s a new address...

A meat packing house. Another completely mundane location - though this one is filled with sides of bloody beef. Also can’t be the right place... but one of the Butchers calls him by the code name and says, “Come with me.” They give Hamilton a butcher’s uniform to put on, walk him through the plant past hundreds of sides of beef, and put him in the back of a refrigerated truck. WTF? When the door is closed, Hamilton is riding in complete darkness to his destination...

A run down industrial building on the outside, a modern office building on the inside. This adds to the strangeness, and makes us wonder how many of those run down buildings we see every day are hiding some secret high tech interior? He’s ushered into an executive office and given a cup of coffee while he waits. He gets sleepy while waiting, closes his eyes and drifts off... exhaustion or drugged coffee? He has this weird dream where he floats into a room, and there is a beautiful young woman in a bed, and he has sex with her, and she screams... and then he wakes up, still waiting in the executive’s office.

He decides to leave, goes to the elevator - but there are no up or down buttons on the wall next to the elevator doors. Weird. He searches the building for a way out, stumbling on a room full of young businessmen at desks. None will tell him where the exit doors are. He is sent back to the executive’s office where Mr. Ruby (the great Jeff Corey) is waiting for him, “I’ve been assigned to go over the circumstances of your death.” WTF? Then Ruby begins talking about cost factors as if he’s an insurance salesman or something. Boring and mundane... Except the conversation is about finding a corpse that is a perfect match for Hamilton and obliterating the teeth and fingerprints and any other form of identification and then creating a realistic accident - they will need an accident because the service costs $30,000 (in 1966 money) and will be paid for with an insurance policy, so there can be no question of suicide or foul play. And Ruby is eating chicken the entire time. “Your death selection is the most important decision of your life.” WTF? Hamilton looks confused, and when Ruby hands him a pen and says, “If you’ll sign right here”, Hamilton doesn’t take the pen from him. So Ruby pulls down a screen in the office and shows Hamilton a little film... where he is having sex with the young woman from his dream and she is fighting him. Blackmail. Ruby leaves the room, and Hamilton is alone...

Until a voice from behind him says there’s a message from Charlie.

Hamilton turns and kindly Old Man (Will Geer) has been sitting on the sofa behind him. WTF? He wasn’t there in an earlier shot, and now he is. He just appeared. Charlie wanted Hamilton to know that rebirth is painful, and the blackmail movie is just to help him make the decision to go forward, he doesn’t really want to go back, does he?

And here, 30 minutes into the film, we discover what all of this is about (though we’ve probably figured much of it out already) - this secret company allows you a second chance at life. You’re a middle aged man who once had dreams of being an artist, but took that day job in a bank to pay the rent. Then you got married, and the rent became a mortgage, and you had children and there was less time for art, and now that the kids have left the nest... you have lost your dreams. You are a banker, not an artist. You are dissatisfied with the way your life turned out, but this company will give you a second life. You die, and are reborn (after extensive plastic surgery to make you look like a young virile Rock Hudson) and can now pursue that youthful dream of being an artist. Much better than buying a sports car and having an affair with a younger woman!

“This is what happens to the dreams of youth,” kindly Old Man says after Hamilton talks about all of the things that are “good” about his life now. When the Old Man hands him the pen, he signs the contract...

35 minutes in, we see the plastic surgery procedure. Very graphic for its time... almost procedural. What sells the transformation are diagrams that show John Randolph’s face and Rock Hudson’s face with notations.

Then we see an obituary for Hamilton - died in a hotel room fire...

And Hamilton recovering, his face completely covered in bandages, his hands and fingers completely covered (fingerprint reassignment). He can’t talk because he’s been given dental implants (dental records) and his vocal cords have been altered to create new vocal chords - he will sound different. His doctor, Innes (Richard Anderson, who would do the same for the 6 Million Dollar Man years later), tells him he will need to hit the gym so that his body matches his new youthful face.

39 minutes in, the bandages come off and Hamilton is swiveled around in his chair to look in the mirror - a great reveal. Hamilton now looks like Rock Hudson, but with gray hair and dozens of stitches on his face... and he cries at the sight. He’s beautiful.

At 40 minutes the exercise montage begins - he’s a middle aged man who must retrieve his 30 year old body from years of neglect.

Guidance Adviser Davalo (Khigh Dhiegh from MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE) talks to him about his future career - they have drugged and hypnotized him to discover what his career dreams used to be before he gave them up. Davalo plays a tape where Hamilton says he wanted to be a tennis pro and a painter. There’s a great shot here where the new Hamilton is reflected in a mirror while listening to the tape of the old Hamilton. Davalo has a whole new bio for him as a artist, complete with past gallery shows. They will supply him with fresh paintings for a while as he develops his own work. “You see, you don’t have to prove anything anymore. You are accepted.” People will believe his new identity until he grows into it.

At the 45 minute mark, Hamilton is now Tony Wilson - Rock Hudson’s face and body and hair - on a plane to Malibu... where he lives. At the airport, a total stranger calls the name Tony Wilson and has a conversation as if he knows him. WTF? This is a great flip of the undercover cop recognized by someone from his real life scene. He has no idea who this guy is. How to talk to him. How to react to him. He may look like Wilson, but he’s still Hamilton on the inside.

Malibu: Tony Wilson has a house in the Colony overlooking the beach and a butler named John (Wesley Addy) who knows his secret and is here to help. Wilson looks at the art in his gallery, the bedroom, the books on the shelf... he’s living a stranger’s life. Will he be discovered? The *concept* creates the paranoia.

Wilson tries to become that person who belongs in this house... begins a painting. Walks along the beach. There’s a great moment where he’s trying to fall asleep and looks at the empty side of the bed... lonely. On the beach he meets Nora Marcus (Salome Jens) and there’s a character based suspense moment when he introduces himself... will he use his old name? Nora is in her early thirties and hot and a little wild. Four years ago she was a typical suburban housewife, and wondered “Is this it?” So she left that life and came here.

We have now escalated the suspense, because he might slip in front of this woman. Now he *must* act like Wilson instead of Hamilton.

At 59 minutes in, Wilson and Nora go on a date to a wild bacchanal at a vineyard where everyone gets drunk on wine, takes off their clothes and crushes grapes naked in a big wood tub. A big turning point for Hamilton/Wilson - this is about as far from middle age, middle class banker as you can get! “Now the season ends, and the old vines are buried deep. Now in dying, Bacchus gives us his blood so that we may be born again!” (Note the thematic dialogue! This film is filled with thematic dialogue and scenes.) Wilson freaks - still Hamilton under his skin - and when Nora takes off her clothes and jumps into the tub naked, he remains an outsider...

Until the crowd strips him naked and tosses him into the tub with all of the other naked men and women. After fighting for a moment, he gives in to his new life... and dances naked with Nora in the crushed grapes surrounded by naked men and women. “Yes! Yes!”

(This is a 1966 movie with full frontal nudity... though that was cut out for theatrical release so you just get backal nudity, the DVD version has restored the rest of the scene, and it’s very much required for the story - imagine being one of those stuffy people in 1966 who was watching this movie and suddenly there were completely naked people on screen. You would react exactly as Hamilton/Wilson does.)

At 67 minutes in, Wilson and Nora are a couple, kissing on the beach as the sun sets.

Now that Hamilton is comfortable as Wilson, he throws a housewarming party for the others in the Colony. John helps introduce him to his neighbors. Wilson has had a couple of drinks too many and we get a great woozy shot with the camera strapped to his body (which will be used in another of my favorite films, MEAN STREETS). The problem is, the more Wilson drinks the more he is liable to slip and expose himself as Hamilton. To ratchet up the suspense, one of his neighbors is a lawyer who went to Harvard... where Hamilton went to collage.

There’s a great moment at the party where Wilson sees a group of men discussing something in the corner and drunkenly goes over to talk to them... and they basically ignore him. At his own party and he’s still an outsider. When he tells the lawyer neighbor that he used to be a Harvard alumnus, but not anymore, Nora tries to pull him away. Soon everyone at the party is surrounding him... and he blows it big time. He reveals himself as Arthur Hamilton, and all of the men at the party grab him and drag him into his bedroom and hold him down...

John comes to the front of the pack and tells Hamilton/Wilson that he hasn’t just blown his cover, he may have blown the covers of all of these men - they are all “reborns”. He screams...

And Nora comes in. Is she one, too? Remember what she said about starting her life all over again?

This is the ultimate paranoia scene, because if Nora and all of these people are part of the “conspiracy” of reborns, how many other people are part of the conspiracy? Can he trust *anyone*? If he goes to the police, will the Desk Sargent be part of the conspiracy? There’s a great Cornell Woolrich short story about a cult that buries its members alive, and the protagonist goes to the police... and the cop is part of the cult! Movie like THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR use the idea that anyone can be part of the conspiracy in scenes like the one after the massacre at the beginning of the movie when Condor looks from one pedestrian to another and they all seem to be acting strange. Are they all potential assassins? Here we get the same feeling that *anyone* could be a reborn. How can you tell that they aren’t? It’s as if everyone in the world might be out to get you...

At 78:30 into the film, it’s the morning after the party and his dead friend Charlie calls. Hamilton/Wilson tells him he wants out of this pretend life, Charlie says that’s impossible. Charlie also tells him Nora *isn’t* a reborn, but she is a company employee who was paid to become his girlfriend and sleep with him. That doesn’t go over well. Charlie explains that the company knows in the beginning of your new life you might make mistakes, so they provided Nora just in case that happened. And that he and Charlie are tied together, so Hamilton/Wilson has to get his shit together, stay in the Colony until he becomes 100% Wilson.

So at the 80 minute mark, Hamilton/Wilson sneaks out and takes a plane back to Scarsdale. His old home, his old life... and his old wife. Awesome shot while he’s waiting to see his old wife, and looks at a photo of Hamilton and Wilson is reflected over it... and we pull back to see him reflected in a mirror. Mirror shots throughout the film show the duel life he’s living.

When Emily comes in, they have an awkward conversation where he realizes that you can’t go home again. This is a great scene, and you have seen versions of it in films like ROBOCOP (the original) and even a variation of it in THE PUNISHER on Netflix with the Micro character and his family. The great thing about this scene is that Wilson gets Emily’s view of Hamilton... and it’s not what he expected. “He lived as if he were a stranger, here, he never let anything touch hm. He was absorbed in *things* - his job, mostly. He worked hard, but became more detached. We lived our lives in a polite, celibate, truce. Arthur had been dead a long long time before they found him in that hotel room.” Do we create our own hells? Our own traps? Do we always have the choice to live a new life, but just choose not to? One of the great things about this scene is how Rock Hudson *ages* while listening to her - he reverts back to Hamilton. This is a great performance.

I forgot to mention that behind all of the things going on in the scene with his old wife from his old life is an undercurrent of suspense. Will she recognize him? Will he blow it and do something stupid like tell her who he really is? The *situation* creates this suspense. The concept of a thriller often creates suspense.

When he leaves, Emily gives him a wrapped object - the only thing she has left of Hamilton’s - and when he unwraps it on the street outside... it’s the tennis trophy with the message scratch on the base that began this whole story. Then a car pulls up, and John steps out to take him back...

But not to Malibu, to the company. Hamilton/Wilson wants to try again - a new life. Not Hamilton or Wilson, but someone else. John says that may be possible... and we’ve hit the 89 minute mark. Can you hit reset more than once? How many do overs do you get?

At the company Mr. Ruby tells him that in order to go through the process again, he will have to recommend a new client - who will go all of the way through the process as he did. The business is all word of mouth, they can’t exactly advertize in newspapers, can they? Wilson can’t think of anyone off the top of his head, and Ruby says that’s okay, and they escort Wilson to that room full of young businessmen at desks from the beginning of the movie. His job is to cold call anyone he knows who might be interest in a second chance at life. All of these young businessmen? The same as him - people whose second lives didn’t work out. Who carried all of the baggage of their first life with them. This is a frightening scene - more frightening than many horror movies. What if we are the biggest problem in our lives. How do fix that?

The businessman who refused to tell him the way out in the scene at the beginning? His college buddy Charlie (the awesome Murray Hamilton). Wilson has a great speech here about how his life as Hamilton was all about what society said was important - things, not people or meaning. And his life as Wilson was also “things” oriented. But this third time? He’s going to look for meaning...

Then they call Charlie’s name - he finally gets to be reborn again!

Or will he? Because this story has a very dark twist at the end.

But first we get a swell pep talk from the kindly Old Man about how the company keeps plugging away despite it’s failure rate, which is a very cynical look at our lives and our society... and it’s failure rate.

And then we get an awesome fish eye lense sequence and that twist end.

SECONDS is one of those great unknown films that builds real suspense in a realistic setting through its wild concept and even wilder cinematography. It’s a great example of paranoid thrillers that don’t involve spies or political conspiracies or any of the other “action genre” oriented elements, just a man filled with regret over the way his life turned out who gets a chance to start over again. To have a second chance at life. It’s one of John Frankenheimer’s best films, and the kind of movie that you want to tell everyone about after you’d seen it... and now I’ve told you.

- Bill

The Novel:

eXTReMe Tracker