Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Trailer Tuesday: DEAD RECKONING (1947)

The story of a soldier looking for his friend...

DEAD RECKONING (1947)

Directed by: James Cromwell.
Written by: Oliver Garrett and Steve Fisher, and three more screenwriters including the producer.
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lizaberth Scott, Morris Carnovsky, Marvin Miller.
Produced by: Sidney Biddle .
Music by: Marlin Skiles.



Columbia Pictures noir films were an odd mixed bag. Where Warner Bros was gritty and real, Columbia was often glossy and trying their damnedest to look like MGM, just without the money or stars that MGM had. This could be a good thing when you had a noir film like GILDA which is about exotic night club singers and has a Gay subtext - the glossy look fit that story. It could also work when you had some crazy maverick like Orson Welles making a wacked out noir film like LADY FROM SHANGHAI. But to keep the lights on, Columbia often imitated RKO - making cheap genre films like the WHISTLER series (which I plan on looking at in the near future). So you never knew what you were going to get with this studio and the style didn’t always match the subject matter.

At times DEAD RECKONING seems like a soap opera with some shoot outs. Where a Bogart film like DARK PASSAGE from Warner Bros was gritty and real, DEAD RECKONING is glossy and seems to have way too much kissing. Also, at times it seemed to be made of leftover parts of much better movies. There's a scene from THE MALTESE FALCON, and a scene from OUT OF THE PAST and a scene from...

DEAD RECKONING was directed by the great James Cromwell (PRISONER OF ZENDA, SINCE YOU WENT AWAY) and is glossy and pretty to look at. Script by Oliver Garrett (DUEL IN THE SUN) and the great Steve Fisher (I WAKE UP SCREAMING and LADY IN THE LAKE) and some other guys. The script is kind of a mess - all over the place and making no sense at times. You get the feeling that it began as one story and was rewritten into another. I don’t know whether it began as a cheap genre film and then was turned into a soapy love story or vice versa. It does have some great snappy dialogue. It’s one of those Bogart films that you remember the good parts of and forget the strange parts of... until you see it on the big screen again. I don’t own this on DVD, and hadn’t seen it in decades before the screening.

Story starts with a beaten up Bogart confessing to a Priest - and flashback to the story with Bogart doing VO (the reason for the confession to the priest)... but we come out of flashback at end Act 2... and Bogart goes to kick ass in present time. Except - not as much ass-kicking as I wanted. Lots of kissing though - as if someone thought people went to Bogart movies to watch him kiss Liz Scott. That’s why I wonder what sort of rewrite process this went through - it’s got that DUEL IN THE SUN soap opera feel... and then some wild ass action that is pure Steve Fisher. And that VO is snappy and fun - which is probably also due to Fisher. He does great tough guy dialogue and monologues... and that might be a good reason to watch this film.

Bogart plays paratrooper Rip Murdock on his way by train with best bud "Professor" Johnny Drake (William Prince) to pick up Congressional Medals of Honor in Washington DC. Drake seems reticent to get a medal pinned on him by the President, which is odd. When he drops a gold Senior college pin on the train and Murdock picks it up to hand it back to Drake, he notices that the pin is from Yale... and has another man’s name on it. John Joseph Preston. Did Drake steal it from this Preston guy? Before they arrive in DC, Drake jumps off the train in Philly and disappears. Why? Murdock’s commanding officer orders him to find Drake and get him to the ceremony on time, and Murdock must turn detective to find his friend.

Murdock remembers the pin, calls Yale and gets the last known address for the name that was on the pin... a corrupt resort city on the Gulf of Mexico. By the way, this movie may also hold the record for phone booth scenes.

When he arrives at the local hotel, there is a reservation for him... and a note from Drake that says to wait for him. But Drake is a no show, and Murdock pokes around - discovering that an unidentified man was burned to a crisp in a suspicious single car accident. Drake? Murdock decides to investigate and get revenge for Drake’s murder...

Murdock goes to the morgue to look at the body - which has a melted gold blob like Drake’s Senior Pin from Yale - and bumps into local cop Kincaid (Charles Cane) who asks Murdock all kinds of questions, which he evades. But Murdock believes the body might be Drake’s and heads to the newspaper to look through back issues... and discovers that Drake was really John Joseph Preston... and was wanted for murder! He changed his name and enlisted in military to hide from the police!

“Dusty” Chandler (Liz Scott) - whose real name is "Coral" but Murdock will end up calling her "Mike" - was the woman whose husband Drake may have killed to hook up with... but there are also these mobsters who seemed to wander in from THE BIG SLEEP and some MALTESE FALCON femme-fatale scenes and other scenes from other movies and a story that goes all over the place... To be fair, Steve Fisher often has wacky plotting in his screenplays. HELL'S HALF ACRE and THE CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS from 2019's Noir City Fest often seemed like he was making them up as he went along.

Murdock heads to the nightclub where she sings, to interview a bartender who was a witness to the Chandler murder (?) named Louis Ord (George Chandler - how confusing was this set when they were shooting?). Ord says that Drake gave him a letter for Murdock before he was killed in the car accident... and that's when crazy psycho club bouncer Krause (Marvin Miller) who is Moose Malloy on steroids, approaches. Ord says that he'll give Murdock the letter later. Somewhere in here are a couple of poorly dubbed songs from Dusty and Murdock stops his investigation to listen.... and later dances with Dusty. There's a freakin' brutal scene here where, after Dusty talks about how much she loved Johnny Drake, he tells her that he just saw Drake. Where? On a slap in the morgue. She misses a dance step or two. He tells her he had to break the news to her that way, so that he could gauge her reaction - he now knows that she didn't kill him. Then we get the scene from THE BIG SLEEP where Dusty and Murdock gamble together and after Dusty loses, Murdock wins big and have to go to the club’s owner to get the okay to get paid...

The club is owned by mobster Martinelli (Morris Carnovsky) who is a bad carbon copy of Eddie Mars in THE BIG SLEEP - a criminal who seems more like a business owner. Instead of a pair of comic relief henchmen like Mars had, Martinelli has a Krause. Martinelli gives Murdock and Dusty drugged drinks. Ord is the waiter who brings them, and tries to tell Murdock about the drinks in front of Martinelli and Krause - but Murdock realizes if he *doesn't* drink, Ord will be busted and he will never get the letter from Dead Drake. So he downs the drugged drink... and one of those pools of darkness from MURDER MY SWEET opens up and swallows him. Actually, the pools of darkness in this film have parachutes at night. Oh, and I forgot to mention that Murdock's catch-phrase is "Geramino!".

The next morning, Murdock wakes up in his hotel room with the corpse of Ord and Detective Kincaid knocking at his door. He manages to hide the body in a hotel laundry cart. The cops were tipped off that Murdock may have killed someone... and search his room finding nothing. But Kincaid stakes out the hotel lobby... and we get another phone booth scene as Murdock has Kincaid paged claiming to be a call from headquarters... so that Murdock can snag Dusty out of the lobby and go down to the hotel parking garage... where he puts Ord's body in the trunk of her car.

Murdock and Dusty have teamed up - which requires him to kiss Dusty a lot. Take the number of kissing scenes you would expect in a revenge movie and multiply by ten. Okay, now add two more.

Okay, that's an exaggeration. Here’s the thing about all of these kissing scenes - there may actually have been just as many kissing scenes in DARK PASSAGE (though I doubt it) but *those* kissing scenes were part of the story, part of what the characters would naturally do. In RECKONING they seem to just kiss whenever they are in the same room with each other. It’s like they were trying to make this into a love story by adding more kissing instead of actually having a love story subplot. They only kiss a handful of time, but they just kiss for no real reason and kind of unexpectedly and without motivation... and the camera lingers on the kisses. And this is his dead best friend's girlfriend who was married, so any kissing just seems wrong. Though I haven't counted the kisses in THE BIG SLEEP I only remember one at the end - maybe there was one at the gas station house, too... but that's only two. Here, they kiss for no apparent reason in the car, then there's a freakin' huge kiss a few minutes later, then a few more kissing scenes.

There's also a bit of dialogue that hasn't aged well, where Murdock thinks women should be miniaturized so that men can carry them around in their pockets and only make them full sized when men want them. "You know, the trouble with women is they ask too many questions. They should spend all their time just being beautiful."

There's a nice suspense scene here where (after kissing) they get pulled over by a cop for speeding... with dead Ord in the trunk. They have to talk their way out of a ticket - by saying they are newlyweds - which leads to a public display of affection (kissing) in front of the cop.

Murdock believes that Martinelli's goon Krause killed Ord and stole the letter and now that letter is in Martinelli's safe - it's actually more complicated than that, but we don't have 90 minutes. Murdock gets the name of a retired safe cracker through his connections and they visit him. The safe cracker's son just returned from the war, with a bunch of mementos like Japanese swords and German incendiary grenades. He teaches Murdock how to crack Martinelli's safe and gives him some incendiary grenades... and then Murdock and Dusty kiss some more.

After the kissing, Murdock breaks into Martinelli’s office to crack the safe and get the letter - which is purely a plot device. The safe is already busted open and the letter is gone and he smells Dusty’s perfume moments before *someone* knocks him out. When he wakes up, Martinelli and Krause are knocking him around to find out where the letter is. Where is Bette Davis when you need her? Murdock escapes... goes to the church where he confesses... and we are out of Act Two and into Act Three and some wild-ass action scenes including the use of napalm indoors (the grenades) - not recommended, by the way. "Scratch one hoodlum!"

The ending is so insanely convoluted that everyone was married to everyone else and everyone secretly killed everyone else and everyone was blackmailing everyone else. Seriously. Just pair up any two characters in this story and they were once married. Pair up any two characters and one of them killed the other. And everyone was blackmailing everyone else. If you though the plot of THE BIG SLEEP was confusing, this movie will make your head explode. Anyway, Dusty and Martinelli were married and she was also married to Chandler and was having an affair with Drake but now claims to be in love with Murdock... but before you can say THE MALTESE FALCON Dusty tries to kill Murdock and there’s a car crash and Dusty is fatally injured and Murdock gets to have a scene where he loves her but she dies in some weird soap opera scene.

One of the problems with DEAD RECKONING is the dialogue - something might be set up in one scene, and then the dialogue doesn't pay it back - when it seems obvious that's what was supposed to happen in this scene. I suspect the five screenwriters may have been working at cross-purposes - maybe one writing a crime film and the other writing a big soapy romance and the other three doing some version of either of those. It has big time tone problems - with some soap opera stuff and then some violent action scene. And the cute nicknames aren't that cute in this film, and many of the gags fall flat - with lots of glossy photography of kissing.

Now, when I was a little kid, I thought that kissing girls was for sissys. But the problem with the kissing in DEAD RECKONING is that it all seems so forced. Oh, and Scott's singing is so poorly dubbed you don't believe it for a second - unlike the Andy Williams (minus the bear) singing for Bacall in BIG SLEEP. Originally Rita Hayworth was to play the female lead in this flick, but she split to play the femme fatale in her husband’s movie LADY FROM SHANGHAI and they got stuck with Lizabeth Scott who looks *older* than Bogart and has no lip syncing abilities.

The weird thing about Lizabeth Scott is that I love her in other films - she’s the lead in one of my favorite films PITFALL and doesn’t seem like an older woman to Dick Powell. But here, for reasons I can’t figure out, she seems old - might be the wardrobe or the dialogue or maybe the problem is that Bogart’s character was *written* to be younger - a guy returning from WW2 is likely to be in his 20s so maybe the character was written young and Scott was supposed to be an older woman and the characterization and dialogue makes you think that she’s old. This movie - and Scott - get a shout out in Woody Allen’s PLAY IT AGAIN SAM, so maybe it’s just me and this odd hybrid of glossy soap opera and violent revenge flick works for everyone else. (Note: In reading reviews, a lot of negative reviews mention how stiff and "mannered" Scott is, so it's not just me.)

Just for fun, here’s some info on the co-screenwriter of DEAD RECKONING, Steve Fisher. I’m sure they brought in Fisher for the noir stuff, since he was one of those great noir writers you’ve probably never heard of. Like David Goodis he was a novelist who worked on and off as a screenwriter on B movies. His novel I WAKE UP SCREAMING was made into a great noir film with Victor Mature, and that probably put Fisher on the map. SCREAMING is about a hot starlet whose best friend is murdered by a maniac, and she thinks the maniac is now stalking her. She goes to the cops, and the detective in charge of the case is... the man stalking her! And he’s trying to frame Mature for the murder... and now Mature and the hot starlet have to get the proof that the detective is the killer. Um, no one wants to believe them about that. Great concept - what if you went to the police, but a policeman was the killer? Fisher’s crime novels ended up getting him back into screenwriting, where he wrote a bunch of crime films like the all POV film LADY IN THE LAKE and one of the THIN MAN series. Many of his novels have been reprinted recently by Hard Case Press. There was this period in time when Pulp Novels and Pulp Movies intersected and the guy who wrote some throw away crime novel might also write some throw away crime movie.

Anyway, DEAD RECKONING seems like a mis-fire - a movie trying to be Noir but also trying to be some glossy soap opera thing at the sale time. Not an unwatchable movie - but not the classic Noir that you might expect from the film’s reputation.. Fine for a Saturday afternoon on TCM, not as good on Saturday night on the big screen with your legs scrunched up under your neck because there is no legroom in the Billy Wilder Theater. I think the gloss worked against it - makes it seem like a big budget A movie with a sleazy B movie revenge action plot... and an interesting indoor use of napalm*.

-Bill

Dead Reckoning

*Actually incendiary grenades - but crazy Krause is burned alive while staggering around a room.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Today Is Memorial Day.

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

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

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

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



GO FOR BROKE (1951)...

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


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



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



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



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



- Bill

Friday, May 27, 2022

MISSION: HITCHCOCK!

The new MISSION IMPOSSIBLE movie trailer was leaked on Sunday, so they officially dropped it on Monday...

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT was the first time the same director has been brought back for a second film... and now there's a third and fourt film by the great Christopher McQuarrie. When they began the series the plan was to bring in a different director for each film, so that each movie had a different feel. The slightly amusing part of this is that the first director, Brian DePalma, set the tone for all of the rest of the films in many ways including his reverence for Hitchcock. My book, STORY IN ACTION: MISSION IMPOISSIBLE looks at how Hitchcock has influenced most of the films.

The first film by Christopher McQuarrie, ROGUE NATION, has a great scene at the Vienna Opera where Ethan Hunt spots *three* assassins aiming sniper rifles at the Chancellor or Austria! The scene is reminiscent of the assassination scene from Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much", but director Christopher McQuarrie says it's actually inspired by a Freixenet Sparking Wine commercial. Say what? But the commercial was directed by some guy named Martin Scorsese and supposedly based on a script by Alfred Hitchcock, and is definitely in the style of Hitchcock. So the scene in ROGUE NATION is inspired by a commercial that was inspired by THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH!

And here is that commercial!

The Key To Reserva: A Short by Martin Scorsese from Ben Grossmann on Vimeo.



And here is the scene from MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION, which uses the opera Turandot - which I point out in my book has a sly extra meaning in the scene, scene Turandot revolves around a riddle with three possible answers... and there are three assassins in this scene.




Here is the scene from the remake of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH...

And the scene from the original version of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH...



I prefer the original version of the film because Mom is a badass - an Olympic sharp shooter who saves her daughter with an impossible rifle shot at the end. The remake has Doris Day *singing* to save the say, which is kind of dopey.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE!

bluebook

THE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE MOVIES

All Six Movies analyzed! All of the mission tapes, all of the “that’s impossible!” set pieces and stunts, the cons and capers - and how these scenes work, the twists and double crosses, the tension and suspense (and how to generate it), the concept of each film as a stand alone with a different director calling the shots (broken in the sixth film), the gadgets, the masks, the stories, the co-stars and team members (one team member has been in every film), the stunts Tom Cruise actually did (and the ones he didn’t), and so much more! Over 120,000 words of fun info!

THE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE MOVIES - Only $3.99!


NO KINDLE REQUIRED! Get the *free* app (any device, except your Mr. Coffee) on the order page on Amazon!



UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

India Folks Click Here.

Austrailian Folks Click Here.

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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:
(links actually work now)

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And...




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 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, May 26, 2022

THRILLER Thursday: Man In A Cage.

Man In A Cage.

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



Season: 1, Episode: 18.
Airdate: January 17, 1961




Director: Gerald Mayer (the FATAL IMPULSE episode).
Writer: Maxwell Shane and Stuart Jerome, based on a novel by John Holbrook Vance.
Cast: Philip Carey, Diana Millay, Barry Gordon, Theodore Marcuse, Eduardo Ciannelli.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: John L. Russell
Producer: Maxwell Shane.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The frightened young man in the truck speeding away from death on a road in Morocco is Noel Hudson, and American. He fancies himself a soldier of fortune, running guns to a group of Arab nationalists. But now the adventure has turned to terror. Noel Hudson has goo reason to be terrified, there is some doubt that he will ever again be seen alive. Well what is the mysterious cargo that Noel is so frightened of? Sure as my name is Boris Karloff, you’ll learn the answer to that and many other mysteries in Morocco as you view THE MAN IN THE CAGE, from the novel by John Holbrook Vance. Our leading players are: Mr. Philip Carey, Miss Diana Millay, Master Barry Gordon, Mr. Theodore Marcuse, Mr. Al Ruscio, and Mr. Eduardo Ciannelli. Smuggling, murder and North African intrigue are the exciting ingredients in this Thriller.”

Synopsis: Noel Hudson (Guy Stockwell) is somewhere between Indiana Jones and Han Solo in a leather jacket and fedora, an American smuggler in Morocco. After delivering a shipment of guns, he is told at gunpoint that he’ll be taking a pair of boxes marked “soap powder” back to Tangier. He doesn’t want to take the mystery boxes, but they insist and even send one of their armed men with him. Noel is dead tired and wants to pull the old truck off the dirt road to sleep, but his armed passenger says he can sleep after they deliver the boxes. There’s a struggle in the truck cab, Noel twists the gun around and shoots his passenger by accident, dumps the body out of the truck and drives away into the night... never to be seen again. Both Noel and the truck completely vanish in the desert.



Just over 3 weeks later, successful businessman Darryl Hudson (Philip Carey) shows up in Tangier looking for his younger brother. When he checks into the hotel, a little Arab boy named Slip Slip (Barry Gordon giving the best performance in the episode while being just a little kid) helps him with the bags. Every one of the handful of extras in the hotel lobby looks obviously suspicious and listens in as Hudson checks in. There are no characters in this episode who act natural if there’s a chance to act shifty. Slip Slip tells Hudson that he helped his brother sometimes, and for a small price can show him where Noel’s apartment was.

The landlady (Danielle Aubry) tells Hudson that the apartment has been broken into a searched several times... and everything is in disarray. Hudson pokes around but can find no clues, and figures if there *were* clues they’ve been discovered and taken away by someone else. Hudson tells the landlady that he got a letter from his brother, and asks her if she can read the postmark. She can not. One thing Hudson does find is a picture of his brother and some blonde babe at the beach, which he pockets.

Back at the hotel, some Big Guy grabs Hudson at the front desk and says Mr. Upshaw wants to see him, and drags him into an alcove... where Upshaw (Theodore Marcuse) waits with his niece Ellen (Diana Millay). Upshaw was Noel’s “employer”, the fellow behind running the guns to Arab Nationalists... and he looks ethnic and speaks with some undefinable accent. But his daughter Ellen is blonde and looks and talks like she comes from Burbank. Upshaw wants to see the letter, Hudson refuses to show it to him. Upshaw says brother Noel split with his payment for the guns, and owes him a million bucks. Hudson manages to get out of there and heads to the hotel bar.



Everyone in this Tangier hotel bar seems to have come from New York City, judging by their accents. The Bartender says Noel was a regular at the bar, and some other New Yorker, a Car Salesman, says he hasn’t seen Noel for about 3 weeks. That’s when the Hot Girl from the beach photo sits down (Arlette Clark) another blonde in North Africa. What’s up with that? The Hot Girl says Noel stood her up 3 weeks ago, so she’s looking for a new boyfriend. Before Hudson can ask any more question, he gets a phone call from a Mystery Man (who actually looks like an Arab) and the Mystery Man says he has vital information about Noel, but of course can not give it to Hudson on the phone, so they must meet as Mystery Man’s apartment at 8pm tonight.

When Hudson gets there, Mystery Man has been tortured almost to death... bleeds all over Hudson’s suit... then Mystery Man jumps off his balcony to his death. When Hudson leaves the apartment, locals begin chasing him. Instead of getting an exciting chase, we cut to commercial.

After the commercial, Hudson is back in his hotel room trying to wash the blood out of his suit jacket when there’s a knock at the door. Inspector Le Boude (Eduardo Ciannelli) who questions him about Noel. Now, it seems as if the script may have built some suspense around the Inspector discovering the bloody suit jacket, but it’s fumbled so badly that no suspense is generated. The Inspector asks if Hudson talked to the dude who was tortured and Hudson says he didn’t and the Inspector tells him he’s gotta leave town in 48 hours and then leaves.



Hudson goes down to the hotel restaurant where he bumps into Upshaw’s blonde Burbankian niece Ellen, who tells him she’s supposed to use her womanly whiles to get her hands on that letter from Noel. She also spills the beans that the two cardboard boxes Noel was transporting back to Tangier for her uncle were filled her heroin. Hudson says his gun running brother would never transport heroin, that stuff kills people! But Ellen says it is true.

Slip Slip pulls Hudson away, saying he found a guy who knows where Noel is *now*. Hudson is taken to meet the guy in some office, and we recognize him as the Arab Nationalist guy who took possession of the guns and insisted that Noel take the two boxes of heroin back to Tangier as payment, Allah El Kazim (Al Ruscio) and his minon. They demand he hand over the letter from Noel, and when he refuses there is a 3 second knife and gun skirmish which ends in them searching Hudson and not finding the letter. Hudson says he mailed it to himself... so they take his passport (as ID to pick up the letter at the post office) and lock Hudson in a cage. Hey, you probably wondered when we’d get to the man in a cage part, right? Well, here it is!



Hudson gets out of the cage using a piece of rope and a branch and races to catch Allah El Kazim and his buddy before they can pick up the letter. Too late! But when Allah El Kazim and his buddy get into their product placement sedan in the post office garage, Hudson pops up from the back seat and takes their guns and the letter. He demands they give him information, and they tell him where Noel was last seen: a roadside hotel between the place where he delivered the guns and Tangier. Hudson then lets them read the letter... which has no actual information in it. Just a request for Hudson to send him enough money to fly back to the United States. So this letter from Noel that has been propelling the plot forward is actually pointless.

Hudson goes into the hotel bar, where everyone seems to be a New York City transplant and asks the Car Salesman guy if he can rent a car for tomorrow morning because he thinks he has a lead on where his brother Noel might be. Car Salesman guy says “sure” and that he’d like to go along and help.

When Hudson gets back to his hotel room, that blonde from Burbank is waiting for him for no apparent reason. He tells her he has a lead on Noel and has rented a car for tomorrow morning, she says “I have a car, let’s go now!” and they do.

At the roadside hotel, the desk clerk tells them that Noel spent a night there, sent the letter to Hudson from there, and also mailed these two boxes to his own address.



Hudson and Ellen the blonde Arab girl from Burbank drive back to Tangier, looking for the best place for someone to hijack Noel’s truck... why they never thought to do this much earlier in the story is a mystery. They find Noel’s truck at the bottom of a cliff. Noel dead behind the wheel. With zero emotions, Hudson says they need to get back to Tangier to find those two boxes of heroin!

Noel’s Landlady says, “Yeah, there were a couple of boxes mailed to Noel’s apartment, but I put them down in the basement rather than inside his apartment for no apparent reason except it would prevent all of those people searching the apartment from finding them.” Okay, she really didn’t say that... but it was something close. Hudson and the blonde Burbank babe go into the basement (do apartment building in Tangier even have basements?) and they find the boxes of heroin, and that’s when the Car Salesman shows up, because he’s the villain behind everything. The Car Salesman gets ready to kill Hudson and Burbank, when... the Inspector and a bunch of cops show up and save the day, because Slip Slip saw what was happening and called the cops. The end.



Review: Oh boy! After a few good episodes we return to the stinkers. It seems like every time they adapt a best selling novel on this show, it backfires. Here we probably had a big action packed foreign intrigue novel that got pared down for television until it’s a bunch of people acting suspicious in a hotel. Here it seesm like the novel might have been some wacky combination of THE MALTESE FALCON (that letter everyone is after, plus Marcuse playing some roadshow version of Sydney Greenstreet) and THE THIRD MAN (common man looking for killer of adventurous brother and in over his head). But the letter proves to be worthless, and our hero has *read* the letter and knows this. So the MacGuffin that moves the story forward has no value, and in the end no one really cares about it *or* the story. The main thing about a MacGuffin is that it needs to be the most important thing in the story. It’s what fuels the story. Here we have a lame MacGuffin and a lame story. Maybe in the novel the letter was more important and had a code or something, but here it’s just this false way to move the story forward. Bette Davis was after a more important letter...

The common man in a dangerous world element also doesn’t work, since the world here isn’t all that dangerous. Villains like Upshaw (Marcuse) politely leave when asked. Once they put him in that titular cage, he’s out in a minute. There is a real shortage of action for a story in this genre: even the fistfights are over in a flash. We end up with an episode filled with talking and people looking overly suspicious. The episode Mayer previously directed, FATAL IMPULSE, was a suspense episode that generated some real tension. Here he fumbles the scene with the bloody suit jacket and the Inspector... was this due to the director or was the scene just not written well on the page? Add to all of this Philip Carey is kind of an action guy, which undercuts the fish out of water element that Joseph Cotton had in THIRD MAN. You never feel that our hero is in any real danger.

The bigger issue for me was the lack of ethnic actors in the episode. It’s one thing to have only a couple of characters who looked like Arabs, but another to have so many characters obviously look and sound American and not even try an accent. Except for the stock footage, you’d think this whole episode *takes place* in New York City! This was obviously shot on the backlot, but even a movie like CASABLANCA had a cast that looked like they belonged in North Africa. Both of the women in this episode are *blonde* without a single ethnic looking woman in sight! The Bartender’s wife who we see in a couple of shots looks American. This works against the stock footage of Tangier, so that watching it you never believe it’s anywhere other than Studio City, California (which is where it was shot). Los Angeles was a cosmopolitan city back then, with plenty of actors who looked Arab... why not cast any of them?

No suspense, no clever lines, no twists, it’s just a completely bland episode.

Because we’re back to Rugolo doing the music, I wonder if this episode had been shot earlier and aired later? Maybe they made a bunch of novel adaptations, realized they didn’t work, and spread them out throughout the season so that we didn’t start the show with a bunch of stinkers?

I wish I could say next week’s episode is going to be better...

Bill

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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Flashback: The Instant Pitch

A rerun from 2007...

Screenwriters have to be able to think on their feet. You never know when an opportunity will present itself, or where an idea night be hiding, or when a chance to sell a script might pop up. A novelist has the luxury of time, a screenwriter has to come up with the solution to a story problem in a meeting with the producer right after he points out the problem. One of the things I've learned is that the longer a problem goes without the writer solving it, the more likely someone else will jump in with a solution that just doesn't work... but it's now your job to make it work...

After selling the script that got me to Los Angeles, I made the mistake of locking myself in a Van Nuys apartment for two years writing scripts and NOT networking until my money from the sale was almost gone. I thought that my sale to a company on the Paramount lot would result in my phone ringing off the hook from other producers - didn't happen. Though my sale was announced on the front page of The Hollywood Reporter, the film was never made and the producer went back to TV... leaving me without even the connection that got me to town in the first place! Now I had a mound of scripts and didn't know anybody to sell them to. But I did know about the American Film Market - where independent films are sold to independent distributors. Though the AFM wasn't open to the public, I had connections with my hometown newspaper and managed to get a press pass into the event. I now had nine days to meet a producer and sell a script, or I would have to begin looking for a day job.

Though I have nothing against day jobs, and there's no reason to be embarrassed if you're paying the bills while waiting for your screen writing career to kick in, I'd rather sell a script than do heavy manual labor. So I was REALLY motivated.


I passed out business cards and script synopsis to everyone who seemed likely to buy a script from me. I met a director who was cranking out films for Roger Corman and had a new horror movie premiering at the end of the market, did I want to see it? Sure! Though I didn't know anything about this director, I did know about Roger Corman. He's responsible for giving half of Hollywood their start. Francis Ford Coppola make DEMENTIA 13 for Corman, Jonathan Demme's first film was for Corman, Scorsese made a film for Corman, Ron Howard directed car crash films for Corman, John Millius wrote some biker films for Corman, Jack Nicholson wrote and starred in a bunch of Corman films, and one of my screen writing idols, John Sayles, began his screen writing career with a string of great scripts for Roger Corman films. Corman gives raw talent a way to break into the business - like a film internship. The only drawback - he doesn't pay much (but it's better than working at Kinkos copies or McDonalds). This director had a particularly colorful Corman story - he'd began as a janitor at the company and worked his way up to director. I wondered what kind of movie a janitor might make.

After making some more good connections - even passing out some scripts - the end of the week rolled around, and the screening of the janitor-director's film. I bumped into the director and I got to tell him about my scripts on the way to the screening. He asked to read one - but told me most of the films he did for Corman were shot on existing sets. He was sort of the B Team - after the A Team had finished a film, he would shoot on their sets. Interesting.

We get into the theater and I see what kind of film a janitor makes... It had a funny script that poked fun at the horror genre, but the direction was crude.

Afterwards the director asked what I'd thought... more thinking on my feet! I told him I thought it was funny and mentioned a couple of the places where the direction was okay. I lied a little.

A couple of months later I got a call from the director. The A Team would wrap shooting a film tonight, could I show up at 6am, tour the set, then pitch him the best story I could come up with using that set at 7am? Sure! Why so early? Well, there was still a day left on the construction crew's contract, and if the set couldn't be reused they'd have them use that day to tear it down. Corman loved to save money by getting every last minute of labor out of his crew. I told him I'd tour the set at 6am and see him at 7am.

I'm not a morning guy. The last time I saw 6am was when I stayed up all night. The big challenge was going to be waking up and staying awake.

The next morning I drive out to "The Lumberyard", Roger Corman's studio in Venice. Venice is a beach community with a row of trendy shops and restaurants... and a really ugly industrial section where the city's bus repair yard and a couple of junk yards compete with overgrown vacant lots of "City's Greatest Eyesore" prize. The Lumberyard is a couple of old warehouse-style buildings surrounded by mounds of old sets and props. Parts of plywood rocket ships and sections of fake castle walls and parts from a plastic mini-sub mock-up. It looked like the junkyard at the end of time. I parked in the lot and the head of the construction crew opened the door for me and pointed out the sets: about five rooms.

You've probably never seen a set in natural light. They look fake. I once toured the STAR TREK set on the Paramount lot, and it looks like it's made out of plywood and Styrofoam (it is). When we shot GRID RUNNERS, the cloning lab was the old operating theater at a run-down mental institution. The construction guys painted only the places that would show on camera, and did a slap-dash job. It looked like an abandoned building... but from the right angle with the right lighting looked like a high tech cloning lab. All of the things that looked fake in real life looked real on film.

The set at The Lumberyard was no different. It was a futuristic night club, a spaceship interior, and a high tech office complex of some sort. Most of it was made out of Styrofoam hot dog and hamburger containers - like the kind your Big Mac used to come in. Sheets of these Styrofoam containers covered plywood walls, adding texture. They were painted a metal gray color, and didn't look like hamburger containers at all.

But the Big Mac container walls reminded me of what I'd be doing if I didn't land this job. As I toured the set, drinking coffee and brainstorming, I came up with a fantastic idea. Each section of the set added to that idea. Hey - I had a great lead character, a high concept conflict, some big emotional scenes, and a way to make use that nightclub set for a couple of pivotal action-packed scenes. By 7am, I was fully caffeinated and ready to pitch my great idea to the director.

The director breezed in at 7:05 and I sat him down and pitched him my brilliant idea. The coffee was really kicking in by then, and I gave one of the most passionate pitches of my career. I explained the lead character's emotional conflict, and how he was forced to deal with it when this amazing event happens that thrust the entire world into danger. I told him about the fantastic action scenes that would take place in the night club set, and this chase I'd come up with for this long hallway, and a big romantic scene with the leading lady where the hero professes his undying love for him, then she breaks his heart by betraying him in a major plot twist. I could see him imagining every scene and knew I had him.

After I was finished he sat there for a while, thinking about the pitch. Thinking about the characters. Imagining the scenes. Imagining himself directing the scenes. He nodded a few times, thinking it over. Then he turned to the lurking construction guy, smiled, and said: Strike it!

The crew began tearing down the set.

By the time I left, it was half torn down!

A couple of days later I got a call from another producer I'd met - he wanted to buy my TREACHEROUS script. I wouldn't have to work at McDonald's after all!

- Bill


Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Trailer Tuesday: OSS:117 - Nest Of Spies

Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius.
Written by: Jean-Fran├žois Halin and Michel Hazanavicius.
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Fran├žois Damiens, Khalid Maadour.


Before there was the Oscar winning film THE ARTIST, the same team made a couple of silly spy movies starting with...



OSS 117: CAIRO - NEST OF SPIES - Imagine carefully recreating one of those 1960s James Bond rip-offs, even down to the cheesy rear-screen projection whenever anyone is in a car or on a motorcycle. The same lighting style and film stock and use of stock footage and the occasional model plane as in those old films. The same costumes and acting style and... well, it looks like a film they found in a vault somewhere and are showing it for the first time. That’s OSS 117: CAIRO - NEST OF SPIES. Because an early 60s spy movie would look silly, now, they give this film the full AIRPLANE treatment - the characters are dead serious, the film is absurd.



The OSS 117 spy series has been a staple of French cinema since 1956, when OSS 117 IS NOT DEAD was released, but really kicked into gear in the James Bond era with a film a year for a while in the 60s. OSS 117 TAKES A VACATION brought the series to an end in 1970... but this film brings back the character in a great mix of Bond parody and GET SMART. The spy (whose name goes on forever - even in the non-parody films) is this completely clueless moron who accidentally manages to save the day. His main talent seems to be saying the exactly wrong thing at the wrong time - angering everyone around him. Movie opens in WW2 where our hero and his best friend Jack steal the plans for the V2 from the Nazis in a scene that could be from one of those serials INDIANA JONES is lifted from. One of the silly things in this film are the title cards - we get a stock footage shot of the Colosseum... then the word ROME in huge letters. The Eiffel Tower stock shot lingers before we get PARIS in huge letters.



Our hero (Jean Dujardin) gives the crazy code phrase at a restaurant, gets the counter phrase, and is taken to a back booth to meet his boss, who tells him that Jack is dead! He was working in Cairo, where a militant Muslim group, the Soviets, a King’s niece, and a bunch of other bad guys are all involved in... something.

They’re sending our hero down to find out who killed Jack and what all of these bad guys are up to. But first - a flashback to our hero and Jack frolicking on the beach together... Which seems *very* Gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that... by the way, this is the 25th year anniversary of SEINFELD’s first episode). From here on, every flashback of our hero and Jack becomes more and more Gay until they are in that beach scene from FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. And later in the film, a henchman has a flashback of him and another henchman on the same beach frolicking together.

Anyway, our hero flies to Egypt, where a dozen suspicious looking guys in the airport follow him, and we get every spy movie cliche... done to the comedy extreme. The French espionage agency’s cover in Egypt is a poultry company - with a warehouse full of chickens that crow when the lights are turned on, because they think it’s morning. This isn’t just a running gag - our hero can spend hours turning on and off the lights. Unlike other spy movies where the cover job is just a cover - there are shoot outs (and fights using chickens as weapons) with other countries spy organizations over the poultry business. It’s not enough that millions of dollars in Soviet arms were stolen... the German poultry business is losing money to the French poultry business in Egypt!



My favorite gag in the film has our hero wake up with one of the hot women from the story, with a terrible case of “bed head” - hair sticking up everywhere - but when he runs his fingers through his hair it ends up *perfectly* in place. Another gag has one of the fellows following him giving him the wrong code phrase again and again - each time our hero beating the crap out of him. Eventually, the guy gets it right - he’s not some bad guy spy, but his contact from the British Secret Service. He also shows the girl how his gun cocks... um, again and again. He causes an international incident when he stops a priest from calling people to prayer (and a dozen other times he is so insensitive to the locals that you wonder why they don't kill him). The double-triple-multiple crosses. An underwater scene where our hero holds his breath for about ten minutes. Enjoying a massage wayyyyy too much. And there’s a musical number that really gets out of hand. This movie has so many silly things going on in it, I was always laughing at something. Sometimes, just the way the movie gets some 1960s cheesy spy thing dead on is funny.

Bill

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Friday, May 20, 2022

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Kim Novak on VERTIGO

VERTIGO can be an acquired taste. It’s a slow, brooding, character study with a couple of great suspense scenes and some cool plot twists. It's also darker than dark. Film noir, in living color. Because so many critics have called it “Hitchcock’s Masterpiece” many people either watch it as their first Hitchcock or have built up expectations for the film. I think it’s one of the most entertaining character studies I’ve ever seen. I think if you look at it as the story of a man who is obsessed with a woman... who dies... and that doesn’t stop him from wanting to sleep with her... Based on a novel by the guys who wrote DIABOLIQUE, who know how to twist a plot. Kim Novak plays a dual roles - two very different characters, and does it to perfection. So here’s an interview clip with her talking about filming the movie...



One of my favorite no money special effects is from VERTIGO - where she tells him about her recurring dream of where she dies and describes the location and even some odd details. Later they go to the mission and *every detail from her dream* is there: the dream comes true! It's a big spooky moment... and you feel as if her dream really has come true and this is the place and date that she will die. And then...

- Bill



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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:
(links actually work now)

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And...




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 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, May 19, 2022

THRILLER Thursday: A Good Imagination

Good Imagination.

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



Season: 1, Episode: 31.
Airdate: May 2, 1961

Director: John Brahm
Writer: Robert Bloch adapts Robert Bloch
Cast: Edward Andrews, Patricia Barry, Ed Nelson, Britt Lomond.
Music: great whimsical score by Morton Stevens
Cinematography: Benjamin Kline
Producer: William Frye



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Crime and Punishment. That in a nutshell is our story for tonight. Except instead of a neurotic student and his nemesis, our play is about a beautiful wife with an intemperate taste in men... and her discerning husband whose reservations will stop at nothing, not even murder. This good man however is not an ordinary killer. He has flair, imagination, a good imagination. That’s the name of our play. And our players are: Patricia Barry, Ed Nelson, and Edward Andrews as the injured bookworm. Join us now as we watch this bookworm turn... to murder.”

Synopsis: Handsome Randy Hagen (William Allyn) sleeps in his luxurious bachelor apartment... and is awakened by a noise. A door slamming? He walks into his living room, which has been ransacked. What? “Louise?” Meek Frank Logan (Edward Andrews) pops up from behind a table, “Louise isn’t here, I’m her husband.” Randy wants to know what’s going on, Logan says it’s obviously a case of burglary. “You tried to steal my wife. How do you think I got in here? With that key that you gave her.” He holds up the key in a gloved hand and says he knew about them all along. Randy asks what he wants, Logan replies that he must not have a very good imagination. “It will appear as if burglars broke into your apartment and you were killed trying to defend yourself.” Randy says “Don’t shoot me!” and Logan replies that he doesn’t have a gun, carefully puts his glasses in his pocket and grabs a medieval mace off a display on the wall, chases Randy into the bedroom and beats him to death. Comes out, puts his glasses back on, picks up a fallen copy of “Crime And Punishment” and sets it on the table before he leaves.



Louise Logan (Patricia Barry) comes home from Randy’s funeral and finds Logan in the living room reading a book. He says he came home early from the book convention, it was dead. Logan does a great job of needling her, asking how well she knew him. Why she felt the need to go to his funeral. How he died. “He was the type you’d expect to be shot by a jealous husband,” Logan says... and his wife turns white. Then Logan hands her the key to Randy’s apartment, says he found it on her dresser but it doesn’t fit any of the doors in the house. Louise grabs the key and leaves...

Louise tells her lawyer brother Arnold (Britt Lomond) that she suspects Logan may have murdered Randy. Arnold doesn’t believe someone like Logan is capable of murder... he’s a bookworm! Arnold agrees to hire Private Eye Joe Thorp (Ken Lynch) to look into Randy’s murder off the record.

Thorp comes into Logan’s bookstore pretending to be a customer, but Logan outsmarts him and gets him to admit he’s a Private Eye. That’s when Thorp turns the tables and says maybe they can make a deal... Thorp knows Logan took a flight out here from the book convention on the night Randy was murdered... and took a flight back to the convention a few hours later. He demands $10k for his silence. Thorp will meet Logan at 8pm at brother in law Arnold’s fishing cabin... Arnold will be there at 9pm and Thorp will tell him everything if Logan doesn’t show up with the money.



9pm, Arnold shows up at the cabin... and finds Logan sitting inside. Logan pours Arnold a drink and explains that Thorp demanded $10k to keep his mouth shut, and Logan gave him the money. Arnold is shocked, “He just took the money and ran?” No, he’s out back in a boat waiting for you. Arnold downs the drink, and Logan takes him out back to the dock where Thorp sits in a boat... dressed in fishing clothes. Arnold accuses Logan of killing him, and Logan explains that he’s just unconscious from the drugs I put in his drink, and yours. Carefully takes off his glasses and puts them in his pocket, then puts semi conscious Arnold in the boat with Thorp, rows the boat to the middle of the lake and capsizes it... swimming back to shore.



After Arnold’s funeral, Logan buys a house in the country so that Louise can escape the memories of her brother’s death in that fishing accident. No one around for miles. Logan will be working in the city, but come to the country house for the weekends. She’s stuck there alone... no man for miles.

Knock on the door... it’s local hunky handyman George Parker (Ed Nelson) wondering if Louise needs any work done? One thing leads to another and...



Logan comes home unexpected. George pretends to be inspecting the fireplace for repairs and leaves... but Logan suspects.

At the end of the summer, Logan decides to sell the country house... and George and Louise hatch a plan to steal the money from the house sale and run away together.

Logan asks George to help him brick up a section of the basement where rats might congregate before they hand over the house to the new owners. George asks where Louise is, Logan says she went into town to get the money for the house sale. When George has finished bricking the section of the basement, Logan hands him a beer. George asks if Logan is going to have one, and he says he never drinks around firearms. Logan has a gun, plays with it, puts it in his pocket. Gives George another beer and they examine the wall. The mortar has set, Logan asks if George can hear that noise behind the wall. Like a mouse. Then Logan tells George that he and Louise have separated...



Logan tells George that Louise was alive when he put her in the section, but George killed her when he walled her up in the section. Hasn’t George read Poe’s “Cask Of Amontillado”? Oh, that’s right... George doesn’t read. But George *does* freak out and runs away, as Logan laughs!

That night Logan is reading in the living room... when Louise comes home. Twist! She says a state trooper stopped her on the road to check her I.D. but wouldn’t tell her why. Logan says he knows why and it has to do with George. He was supposed to come and wall up that section of the basement... but never showed. Logan had to do it himself... would she like to see?



On the way down to the basement, Logan says that he got a call from the police that George had burst into the police station and accused Logan of murdering Louise and walling her up in the basement. Logan told them his wife was in town, which is why the state trooper stopped her on the road. Obviously George has gone crazy. When Louise breaks down, Logan takes her to the wall... which now has the bricks removed. She thought he had bricked the wall himself. Logan carefully takes off his glasses, puts them in his pocket, and says he will... “My alibi will be set, and so will the cement.” He finished walling her in the basement when...

The police chief shows up... with George! They thought if George could see Mrs. Logan again, he’d snap out of this strange delusion he has that she’s bricked up in the basement. Can Logan bring his wife to the door???



Review: One of the great things that both THRILLER and HITCHCOCK did was often tell stories from the *villain’s* point of view. We get to be mean and nasty and evil for a half hour or an hour and then go back to being nice people afterwards. All of use have dark fantasies, and these shows allowed us to safely explore them (without actually bricking our spouse inside a wall). Villains always seem to have more fun than heroes, so it’s fun to pretend to be one for an hour.

And this is an *understandable* villain. We can relate to him. He’s clever and witty and well read (this began as a short story by Robert Bloch, so readers were the primary audience for the story), and always several steps ahead of everyone else. If we aren’t that person, we’d all like to be that person. And whether you are quoting Bugs Bunny or Vizzini from THE PRINCESS BRIDE most people are morons. Here we have a cheating gold digger wife who seems to never learn her lesson. One lover dies under mysterious circumstances and she just keeps bleeding her husband dry as she searches for another. The people Logan kills aren’t innocent by a long shot... and also aren’t very bright. What’s fun about this story is that Logan *warns* his future victims ahead of time using book references, but they aren’t readers so they fall into his traps. Had they been more clever and better read, they would probably have survived!



The script is filled with the clever wordplay that Bloch is famous for, as I mentioned in an earlier entry his short stories and novels are filled with lines like “He cut off her scream... and her head.” He dances with language, finding dark puns and finding words that connect two different thoughts. The dialogue in this episode is fun!

One of the great elements of this episode is the perfect crime at the end, which is like an intricate chess game and requires George to go to the police and accuse Logan of murder while Louise is still alive (and the police can find her). There’s a stageplay by Lucille Fletcher (SORRY, WRONG NUMBER) called NIGHTWATCH (first staged in 1972) which does something similar, turning the only person who might be suspicious of the missing victim into a crazy lunatic by having them witness a false murder and make accusations... which are easily proven false because the victim is still alive at that point. This is also used to some extent in Hitchcock’s VERTIGO and DePalma’s BODY DOUBLE where a witness tells the police about a *false murder*. This is a great device, and in this case not only helps Logan get away with the murder but also gets revenge on George by making him look crazy.

This is a fun, dark episode with some great suspense and a twist ending. Next week we have a charming story about a little girl and her best friend... who happens to be dead.

Bill

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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Old Burt Lancaster

From a few years ago...

This week we’re going to look at Burt Lancaster’s career when other actors had long since retired. Robert Mitchum continued to play tough guys, Lancaster played *retired* tough guys the way Clint Eastwood plays roles like that today.

Lancaster was an interesting guy... A working class kid who was a high school athlete, landed a college sports scholarship but dropped out to become a *circus acrobat*. He also worked as a singing waiter before WW2, and when he returned from the war he auditioned for a play and landed on Broadway... where he was discovered by a talent agent (who would later become his producing partner). He was a handsome athletic guy who could sing and dance... and make women swoon. His first role was the *lead* in THE KILLERS with Ava Gardner directed by Robert Siodmak (who directed CRISS CROSS and some other great Lancaster films). Lancaster was kind of like the George Clooney of his day: he didn’t just want to play handsome men in typical Hollywood movies, he wanted to control his career... so he formed a production company and began making his own films. Like Clooney, these were often the kind of edgy and unusual films that the studios *wouldn’t* make... like SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS.

And Lancaster grabbed his circus pal Nick to do stunts and often co star in films. Lancaster was nominated for a pile of Oscars, won one for ELMER GANTRY, and continued to make interesting films throughout his career (a string of great films with John Frankenheimer, and the recently released to BluRay THE SWIMMER which is probably the weirdest movie ever made with a Hollywood star). But when he was getting up there in years... he seemed to be rediscovered.



Though the movie that really brought him back (he didn’t go anywhere) was ATLANTIC CITY in 1980, I’m going to start off with the only movie he directed, THE MIDNIGHT MAN (1974), the story of an old tough guy ex cop working as a security guard on a college campus who finds himself at the center of a murder investigation. It’s kind of a geriatric private eye movie that deals with aging and action at the same time, I think most people have forgotten it. Susan Clark and Harris Yulin from NIGHT MOVES pop up, and screenwriters Quinn Redeker (DEER HUNTER) and Bill Lancaster (THE THING) (Burt’s son) play roles. It wasn’t a hit, but I think it got some good reviews. I read the novel (“The Midnight Lady And The Mourning Man” by David Anthony) and probably saw the movie when it opened in my town. Haven’t seen it since, and I’m curious what it looks like now that *I’m* older.



1900 (NOVECENTO) (1976) is one of my favorite movies, but a completely acquired taste. Bernardo Bertolucci’s sprawling story of Italy from the year 1900 to 1976 stars Robert DeNiro and a young handsome Gerard Depardieu as childhood friends from different sides of the tracks who fall in love with the same woman (Dominique Sanda). DeNiro is the son of the wealthy estate owner, Burt Lancaster... and Depardieu is the dirt poor kid of the senior field worker, Sterling Hayden. This film is filled with beautiful images and an amazing performance by Donald Sutherland. Lancaster and Hayden, two old tough guys, are great in the early part of the film when the two lead characters are little boys. This was one of several films that Lancaster made in Italy as an older actor.



ATLANTIC CITY (1980) was the film where people noticed Lancaster all over again, playing a retired mobster living in Atlantic City and pretending to have once been more important than he really was. He hooks up with a young casino worker played by Susan Sarandon, who applies lemon juice to various places on her body... and wants to get enough money together to move to the south of France. She’s married to a bum who steals some drugs from the mob, and brings a whole world of hurt down on them... and Lancaster’s mostly tall tales of being a mobster turn to action reality. This is a kind of a film noir mixed with Italian neo realism... and shows an Atlantic City that no longer exists. The city before it was rebuilt with all of the new casinos.



LOCAL HERO (1983) is a great film. If you haven’t seen it, stop everything you are doing now (except breathing) and check it out! This is a gentle comedy by Bill Forsythe about an oil company flunky (Peter Riegert) sent into a small Scotland town to convince the residents that they should accept and love the new oil company refinery that is going where their town used to be... and move the heck out. This is one of those great movies that feels like a life changing experience, and is kind of the prototype for many UK comedies to come like WAKING NED DEVINE about unusual occupants of small towns. When Riegert runs into trouble getting some townspeople to sell the homes that have been in their families for generations for something as silly as *money*, the big boss (Lancaster) comes to town to convince them... and ends up recapturing the magic of small town life and decided that maybe this isn’t the right spot for a refinery.



Just for fun, I’m throwing in TOUGH GUYS (1986), a buddy comedy with very old buddies... Lancaster and Kirk Douglas are the old version of the kind of gangster roles they played, just released from prison and trying to figure out how the world works now. The film is uneven, but has some funny scenes that I can still remember... including one where Lancaster and Douglas end up in a gay bar without knowing it... and are asked to dance. These two guys realize they are never going to fit in with the world now... and decide to go back to their armed robbery past.



And though his career still had a few films to go, let’s wrap it up with FIELD OF DREAMS (1989), because I saw it on the big screen at the Egyptian Theater about a year ago and it was still an experience. Lancaster plays Moonlight Graham, who played only one game in the Major Leagues and then retired to become a country doctor. Lancaster plays the old version of Graham, again playing the old retired tough guy... this time a retired athlete. Lancaster began as a high school athlete and gets to play the old version of that in FIELD OF DREAMS.

Even at the end of his career, Lancaster was charming and charismatic and commanded the screen in every scene... and still virile as hell. One of those larger than life movie stars who had a great onscreen third act playing characters who were old but still cooler than I’ll ever be.

Bill

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