Friday, September 30, 2022

Fridays With Hitchcock: Giles MacKinnon on THE BIRDS

UK director Giles MacKinnon talks about THE BIRDS in this lost BBC interview clip.

Gillies MacKinnon

Gillies MacKinnon talks about The Birds...

The media player is loading...

n.b. the beginning of this interview is missing

- Bill

Of course, I have a couple of books about Hitchcock, SPELLBOUND is in the one that is on sale today...



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!


369 pages packed with information!

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.



ON SALE!!! $2 OFF!

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.

Only $5.99

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

- Bill

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Thriller Thursday: The Twisted Image

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


Season: 1, Episode: 1.
Airdate: 9/13/1960

Director: Arthur Hiller
Writer: James P. Cavanagh, based on a novel by William O’Farrell.
Cast: Leslie Nielsen, George Grizzard, Natalie Trundy, Dianne Foster.
Music: Pete Rugolo.
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon.

Buy The DVD!

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Her eyes. They were often upon him. Candid, admiring, possessive. Her eyes. Her extraordinary eyes. Alan Patterson was aware of her eyes. And used to them. In the lunch counter. In the elevator. He was aware of them for almost a month. And they were to lead him into guilt and terror and murder... as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. Our story is about a watcher, and the watched... and a not so innocent bystander. There’s an outsider, too: Alan’s wife. Four pairs of anxious eyes. But no one could see the shattering effect of... the Twisted Image. Well, I’ll say no more, but I promise you one thing: this is a thriller!”

Synopsis: Successful executive Alan Patterson (Leslie Nielsen) has a pair of stalkers: Lilly (Natalie Trundy), an attractive female employee who has some crazy fatal attraction crush on him... and will do anything to ruin his marriage so that she can become his next wife; and Merl (George Grizzard), an envious mail room employee at the company who wants to take over Alan’s life... once Alan is out of the way, of course. So we have a hybrid of FATAL ATTRACTION and SINGLE WHITE FEMALE, decades before either of those movies were made.

Lilly shows up at Alan’s office at lunchtime, and insists he take her to lunch. His secretary sees them together, and assumes... and when they go to lunch, another business associate sees them together and assumes... But during the lunch, Alan is a bit freaked out by Lilly: she flat out says she’s going to marry him. When he says he is already married and has a kid, she is not deterred at all. She’s crazy! She calls him at home and leaves odd messages with his wife... who thinks he may be cheating.

When Alan has lunch with Lilly to tell her to just leave him alone, she *loudly* professes her love for him in the company lunch room... and is overheard by Merl, who now has some leverage against the boss he love/hates. It’s hinted at that Merl is Gay and also has a strange crush on Alan... he’s very similar to Bruno in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN in some respects. When delivering the mail, Merl steals Alan’s watch from his office.

The more Alan tells Lilly to leave him alone, the more she calls his home and office. His marriage is eroding, his wife (Dianne Foster) is sure that he is cheating on her with Lilly. His life is falling apart!

One night Merl seeks out “Alan’s mistress” Lilly, telling her he has a message from Alan. Merl has a cheap bottle of wine and soon we have *two* drunk mentally unstable people in Lilly’s apartment... both in love with the same man. When Merl puts the moves on Lilly, trying to live out his Alan fantasy, she pushes him away... and he kills her. Oops!

That’s when Alan knocks on the door to demand that Lilly leave him the hell alone. Oops!

But Merl knocks him unconscious, steals his wallet, and wipes away all of his own finger prints... making it appear as if Alan killed Lilly. When wakes up and finds the dead body of the woman who everyone thinks is his mistress, Alan leaves Lilly’s apartment, and he’s seen by the building manager... who then discovers her dead body. Now Alan has to find the real killer before the police catch him.

Merl goes out on the town, using Alan’s money and Alan’s identification.

Alan’s wife goes to have it out with Lilly... arriving just in time to see the police take her out in a body bag. Did Alan murder his mistress?

Alan decides Merl is #1 suspect, goes to his apartment... but Merl isn’t there. When Merl does come back, he sees Alan’s car on the street, and steals it... becoming more like Alan every minute. Wearing his watch, driving his car, dressed to look like him. The transformation is almost complete! But to actually *become* Ala,, Merl goes to Alan’s house and accosts Alan’s wife... *his* wife, now. Then takes Alan’s cute little kid! And holds a gun to her head! Now Alan must race home to save his wife and kid from the maniac pretending to be him.

Review: For the amount of talent involved and the number of great episodes this series would have, not an amazing first episode. Though you might only know Leslie Nielsen from comedies, he began as a serious dramatic actor... and that’s why he was perfect in movies like AIRPLANE! The audience expected him to be serious... as he is in this episode.

You may not be familiar with George Grizzard, but he was a hot actor at the time, cutting his teeth on TV before moving on to films (one of my favorite cop movies you’ve never heard of WARNING SHOT) like ADVISE AND CONSENT... but you would probably recognize the older version of him as the stern father of the bride in BACHELOR PARTY and the old version of Ryan Philippe in FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS. So we have a great cast.

Director Arthur Hiller was a TV veteran at the time, who would go on to direct huge Hollywood hits like LOVE STORY as well as great films like THE HOSPITAL and MAN IN THE GLASS BOOTH... and comedies like the original THE IN LAWS.

Writer James P. Cavanaugh was a writer for Hitchcock Presents, and many other TV crime shows. So we have all of this talent, and the episode is kind of a muddled mess.

Novelist William O'Farrell was probably famous at the time for his novel REPEAT PERFORMANCE, which is kind of GROUNDHOG DAY as a thriller, about a man who must relive the year he commits murder over and over again.

I suspect the reason is that this hour long episode is based on a novel... and what might work over the course of a novel might not work well when condensed into an hour of TV. The two stalkers thing seems unrealistic; this isn’t a movie star, it’s a business executive! In order to flesh out each character we spend some extra screen time on scenes like Merl and his sister having a dispute... which was probably a fine scene in the novel, but here it seems to come out of left field and slow down the story. And compressing all of the things that happen into a couple of days makes it seem like Alan has the worst luck in the world. When the two stalkers come together, that just seems like a huge coincidence. So we have a story that probably worked well in book form condensed into too little time... and all of the things that could be either set up or glossed over in the book now seem abrupt. The story also ends up “too plotty”, so much going on that we don’t get enough time to really see the emotional impact on Alan. Things like Merl transforming himself into Alan are rushed, and often end up more exposition than demonstration. Adding to this is that the thriller aspects don't kick in until the last quarter of the show. Too much going on!

The music for this episode is basically variations on the THRILLER theme, which makes it seem a little cheap. The same composer will do *great* work on later episodes, like PAPA BENJAMIN (about a big band leader, which Rugalo was before doing TV scores) who must deal with a voodoo curse.

Despite all of this, it’s a competent episode... it just probably should have been a two parter or something. The acting and direction is fine, and the idea that an insignificant person in your life could turn your world upside down like this is scary. I almost wish they had split the story into two stories, one with the crazy FATAL ATTRACTION woman at the office and the other with the SINGLE WHITE FEMALE stalker who transforms themself into a clone of you... an unstable, violent, murderous clone. That way each idea could have been fully explored, and more time spent on the suspense of the situation. One of the reason why I loved this show as a kid were the episodes that take a simple situation and ramp up the suspense until it is unbearable. When we come to GUILLOTINE, you’ll see a great example of that: will a poisoned executioner make it to work today? This isn’t a bad episode... but it doesn’t display the brilliance this show will achieve in later episodes.



Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Film Courage Plus: First Time I Got Paid To "Do It".

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015... and that's 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

The anniversary of the Big San Francisco Screening of this film is about a week away!

The First Time I Got Paid To "Do It":

This piece was from an interview in 2014, when my first produced film NINJA BUSTERS was a lost movie that could never be seen by an audience. As far as I knew, no prints of it existed. My skeletons were safely hidden in the closet. No one could ever see my baby steps as a screenwriter where I fell on my face *and* pooped my pants.

What a difference a year makes! In some weird version of STORAGE WARS, a film collector bought a warehouse full of old film cans, and one set of cans contained the only 35mm print of NINJA BUSTERS. More about that in this article by the director, Paul Kyriazi - the "official story". ** More backstory! So now the masochistic among you can see my first paid gig as a screenwriter, which has become a cult film playing around the country at Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas. Yikes! I was hoping this film would remain missing!

But since it’s out there, baby, it's out there! (as Kramer on SEINFELD would say) let’s talk about first films and breaking in to the business.

If you were to ask 100 screenwriters how they broke in you would get 100 different answers. There is no one way, and there are so many variables the best thing that you can do is try as many different ways as you can and eventually one will work for you. In the clip I tell the story of NINJA BUSTERS - giving a screenplay to one of the “success stories” from my community college film appreciation class who had gone on to make kung fu movies for the drive in circuit, and how that lead to my working on the set of one of his films and eventually getting the job of doing a page one rewrite on a film for him. The challenge of NINJA BUSTERS (called FALCON CLAW when I was hired to rewrite it) was that the cast and locations and even many of the props had already been locked down, and my job was to write a screenplay that used all of those things... differently.

The original screenplay was about a pair of guys who land a job at a warehouse and discover that all of the warehouse workers are hypnotized so that they work for free and don’t ask any questions. They are some form of “zombie”. Our heroes somehow break out of the hypnosis and realize they are working for evil smugglers, and end up fighting the hypnotized warehouse workers and breaking up the evil smuggling ring.

When you are trying to land an assignment, be it for a studio based producer or some guys making kung fu movies in Oakland, CA; the first thing you do is “pitch your take” - come up with a different way to tell that story and pitch it to the producer. Sometimes it’s just finding the different angle to tell the same story, sometimes it’s finding a different story. In this case, I couldn’t find a way to make the “hypnotized dock workers” story interesting, so I had to come up with something similar... that also added more action scenes... that also used all of the same locations and actors and props they had already locked down. My story was about a pair of goofy guys who join a women’s self defense class to pick up girls and instead pick up trouble when they witness a mob murder by someone they know from their day job at a warehouse. The lead mobster uses ninjas to deal with big problems, and soon our two goofy guys and their dates are on the run from *ninjas*! The ninjas could be anywhere! I was a huge fan of SILVER STREAK, the Gene Wilder / Richard Pryor comedy chase film (a Hitchcock homage) and thought that would be a fun “model” for this page one rewrite. What if the story was a chase action film with these two guys racing across town one night to escape ninjas and rescue the women they love? Using all of the cast members, locations, props and anything else - I wrote a script in a couple of weeks I took off from my day job. And that was my first paid gig.

Which lead to...


Sure, I wrote a couple more screenplays for local producers, but none of those got made. So I went back to working the day job. And eventually broke in again.

Now here’s the thing they never tell you: you will *always* be breaking in. You don’t just break in once, and you’re in... you break in just about every time you sell a screenplay or land an assignment. Because unlike working at my day job where I’d clock in every morning, work my shift, then clock out and go home; a movie is a “one off”. They make one movie at a time, and that movie is the job and when the job is over you are unemployed and need to look for work again. You need to break in again. Sure, there are times when you get some momentum going - and one job leads to the next. But eventually the momentum ends and you need to break in all over again.

You will always be breaking in. Get used to that idea.

After selling COURTING DEATH to a company who had a deal with Paramount for a couple of years worth of day job money, I quit the day job and moved to Los Angeles where I holed up in an apartment and wrote a stack of screenplays. Writers write! No longer strangled by that day job, I had enough time to do what I loved - and I wrote and wrote and wrote! Sometimes never leaving my apartment for days! Heaven!

But when COURTING DEATH was never made, I found myself out of money and out of work and I needed to break in all over again. And that’s the dirty little secret of this business - when this script job ends you have no job... and must find another screenwriting job. And that’s basically breaking in all over again. You send out screenplays and take meetings (job interviews) and do everything possible to land another job. Hollywood is both a small town and a vast town - and when you are looking for your next screenwriting job you are likely to be meeting with people and companies who don’t know you. The companies that do know you are the first places you go, and after that it’s all of those other companies... and that’s breaking in again.

There is also a lot of turnover in this town, so that great connection you had with production company A, may no longer be working there. Sometimes that’s a good thing, because they move to another production company and now you have connections at two places... but sometimes they just leave the business and you have no connections at all. You have to break in all over again as if you were that writer living in your home town dreaming of a Hollywood career. Except now you are in Hollywood and you’ve even had a career for a film or maybe two (or maybe ten). A friend of mine who had a great ten year run as a screenwriter found himself in trouble when a bunch of the projects he had been working on did not go to screen (only 10% of what you write will make it to screen, the rest will just collect dust on studio shelves), and a bunch of his great connections at production companies all retired at the same time. Oh, and so did his agent, and he was passed off to a new agent who didn’t know him. Suddenly, this guy who h written a huge hit film had to break in all over again! And that is *common*. Screenwriting is not like a day job, there are no regular paychecks, there is no time clock, there is no job security at all! Once you finish your “day’s work” you need to find a new job! You need to break in again and again and again.

So when you read how some successful writer sold their first screenplay, that’s how they broke in the first time.

But the first time you break in will not be the last!

Much like the film NINJA BUSTERS that kept crashing and burning again and again. The film went through 3 different directors - the last being Paul - and each one had to figure out how to finish the film... and rewrote the screenplay in order to do that. The two female leads that we began with were owed money (I think) and didn't come back... so two new female leads were hired. Confusing in the film! And locations and everything else were lost along the way. But instead of quitting, instead of giving up, Paul stuck in there and completed the film. Big chunks of my script remain, and what isn't mine still has the humor of SILVER STREAK instead of the dead serious tone of Paul's other films (check out DEATH MACHINES). As a screenwriter the finished film might be different, but it carries the tone and feel of your original screenplay. TREACHEROUS went through similar changes on the way to the screen, but the filmed version grew from my screenplay. Sometimes scripts and films have to keep breaking in as well!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill

Only 418 Pages!
*** BREAKING IN BLUE BOOK *** - For Kindle!

Should really be called the BUSINESS BLUE BOOK because it covers almost everything you will need to know for your screenwriting career: from thinking like a producer and learning to speak their language, to query letters and finding a manager or agent, to making connections (at home and in Hollywood) and networking, to the different kinds of meetings you are will have at Studios, to the difference between a producer and a studio, to landing an assignment at that meeting and what is required of you when you are working under contract, to contracts and options and lawyers and... when to run from a deal! Information you can use *now* to move your career forward! It's all here in the Biggest Blue Book yet!
Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 400 pages!
Only $4.99 - and no postage!

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Trailer Tuesday: TOUCH OF EVIL (1958)

TOUCH OF EVIL (1958) (re-cut version)
Stars: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich, Dennis Weaver.
Writer: Orson Welles based on novel BADGE OF EVIL by Whit Masterson.
Director: Orson Welles

Almost sixty years after its initial release, a recut version of Orson Welles' classic film noir is back on the screen, fifteen minutes longer... darker, more evil than ever before.

Based on the 58 page memo Orson Welles sent to studio chief Edward Muhl after seeing Universal's cut down version, restorer Rick Schmidlin, Oscar winning editor Walter Murch, and film historian Jonathan Rosenbaum have created the film as Welles envisioned it. A posthumous director's cut.

The plot of TOUCH OF EVIL plays as if it were written yesterday. A Mexican district attorney (Charlton Heston!) takes time out from prosecuting a drug cartel to get married. While on honeymoon with his sexy American wife (Janet Leigh) they witness a car-bomb murder. While Heston helps the bordertown detective (Orson Welles) with the investigation, Leigh is taken to a motel for safe keeping. Some honeymoon. Detective Welles instantly finds a suspect, searches his apartment, and finds two sticks of dynamite... But Heston KNOWS the evidence was planted, and that Welles is framing the poor Mexican shoe clerk for the crime. While Heston is busy compiling proof that Welles is a corrupt cop, the drug cartel kidnaps Leigh. Now Heston must rescue his wife AND find the evidence which will bring down crooked cop Welles.

This may sound like a typical cop drama, but Welles turns it into a tour de force, taking us into the strip clubs, whorehouses, and dark twisted alleys of the border town. Creating nightmare images so vivid, you can practically smell the raw sewage in the canal that runs through the slums. In 1950s America, at a time when Beaver was Ward and June's son, the raw sexuality sweating from every enlarged pore of this film must have been more than shocking. The grimy streets, the gang-bangs with bull- dyke gang girls who want to stay and watch. "Hold her legs!" Even the phone sex between a lingerie clad Leigh (looking good enough to eat) and Heston at a store's public phone is given the added perverse twist of having the blind store owner listening to every word... and smiling. This is the type of twisted film David Lynch wishes he could make.

Welles was constantly pushing the limits of film making, and you'd be hard pressed to find a director working today who could pull off half the amazing shots in this film. Visually TOUCH OF EVIL would be innovating if it had been made today, and many of the filmic elements we take for granted had their roots in this film.

The most obvious change in the recut version is the famous 3 minute opening tracking shot (the subject of the opening scene in THE PLAYER). In the old version, Universal used this shot as a title sequence, destroying the suspense and obscuring the amazing camera work. The re-cut removes the titles, so that you can see everything clearly. This amazing shot opens with an assassin setting a bomb timer for 3 minutes. The assassin spots the victim, then races to the victim's car and plants the bomb in the trunk, darting into the shadows just as the victim turns the corner. Then the camera pulls to a high overhead as the victim drives away. The camera follows overhead as the victim drives through town, lowering to street level as the victim waits for a couple (Heston & Leigh) to cross the street. Suspense builds as Heston & Leigh walk on the street next to the car with the ticking bomb. At the border checkpoint, both Heston & Leigh and the car with the bomb are stopped for the usual round of boring questions. Tick. Tick. Tick. Heston & Leigh are allowed through the border at the same time as the car. It's when Heston & Leigh stop to kiss that the car zooms away... and explodes into the sky. ALL of this is done in one continuous shot.

Like nothing you have ever seen before.

touch DVD

Another amazing shot you may miss if you aren't watching carefully. It's so effortless, so smooth, you don't even realize you're watching one of the most difficult shots ever put on film. At the shoe clerk's apartment, there is a LONG continuous shot (X minutes) where the camera moves from room to room following Heston. In order to do this shot, the apartment set was built with break away walls and furniture on wheels. The camera glides through the apartment effortlessly, through a team of police investigators, into the bedroom, into a minuscule bathroom where Heston washes his face, then retraces its steps back to the living room through the crowd of investors to the front door of the building. More complicated than the long takes in Hitchcock's ROPE because of the break away walls, moving furniture, and sheer number of actors the camera must jockey around while maintaining a smooth glide.

Every frame of the film is meticulously composed by Welles and his DP Russell Metty (the camera operator was Philip Lathrop, who would go on to do amazing DP work himself in films like POINT BLANK). Giant shadows on buildings chase characters through the street. Deep focus makes hunter and prey clearly visible in the same shot, even though they are hundreds of feet away from each other. Characters are shown in shadow, from low angles, often with the neon from honky-tonk bar signs strobing across their faces. A scene in a file room using deep focus to underscore the amazing composition obtained when certain file drawers in the room have been pulled out, turning the shot into a fascinating visual puzzle.

One shot you may not notice is the conversation between Heston and an American District Attorney in a car moving through the back alleys of town at 60 mph. At the time this shot would normally have been done as rear projection, but Welles mounts the camera on the car and has Heston drive like a mad man. No stunt double. That's Charlton tearing through town, zipping through intersections without even slowing down.

touch DVD

Though the rec-cut version is a vast improvement over the studio's 96 minute trimmed down version, the problems with TOUCH OF EVIL remain the same. The parallel plots seem unfocused, Leigh's kidnapping taking away much of the power of Heston trying to bring down Welles' corrupt chief detective. The plotting is light: we are given little in the way of actual investigation into the frame ups, Heston just goes into a file room and comes out with evidence. Lastly, there's Heston's performance as a Mexican District Attorney: he's laughably unbelievable.

But the amazing work by Welles as an actor (fat, ugly, sad), Joseph Calleia as his second in command (not wanting to believe that "the cop who taught him everything" might be a monster), Valentin De Vargas as the handsome gang member who organizes the gang-bang, Dennis Weaver as the whacked out motel night man who can't think of woman and bed at the same time without getting flustered, and Akim Tamiroff as the crime lord with the bad toupee make this film memorable.

The rocking score by Henry Mancini uses Afro-Cuban rhythms and seems as modern as the theme Mancini would write for PETER GUNN the following year. And the pianola music that plays in Marlene Dietrich's whore house sticks in your mind for days. Dietrich, as the madam who was Welles' lover twenty years and sixty pounds ago gets all of the great lines:

"You're a mess, honey. You ought to lay off those candy bars."

Welles amazing direction and Metty's crisp, styling camera work are more modern, more innovative, than anything you will see today. After almost sixty years, TOUCH OF EVIL is more powerful than ever.


Article on the restoration: PURE EVIL

Friday, September 23, 2022

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Teresa Wright on SHADOW OF A DOUBT

Teresea Wright talks about SHADOW OF A DOUBT in this interview clip...

You may find this shocking, but SHADOW OF A DOUBT was Wright’s 4th film... and she was the star. She was born in Harlem, parents divorced, bounced around as a kid... but her uncle wasn’t a serial killer, he was a serial person - a professional stage actor, and Wright was interested in trying that as a profession. She worked in various theater companies in New England and then landed a small role in the New York Company for Wilder’s OUR TOWN, as well as understudied for the lead. When the actress playing the lead was whisked off to Hollywood to play the lead in the film version of OUR TOWN, Wright stepped in to play the lead on stage... and was great. That lead to being cast in the Broadway run of LIFE WITH FATHER, and then she was whisked away to Hollywood to be in Hellman’s THE LITTLE FOXES... and was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in her first film! In her next film she played Gary Cooper’s wife in PRIDE OF THE YANKEES, and was nominated for Best Actress! Her next film was MRS. MINIVER... and she WON the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

So SHADOW being her 4th film isn’t as surprising as her career up until this film. This was Hitchcock’s favorite film, and the combination of small town story and quiet suspense when there’s a potential killer at the dinner table is great. If you haven’t seen this movie, check it out - I would say that it’s unusual for a Hitchcock, film, but Hitchcock was one of the most experimental filmmakers in history, so many of his films were unusual and experimental. Hitch always said that he wanted to take murder fro the dark alleys and bring it back to the typical home and kitchen... and this is a movie that does that.

One of the great things that Hitch does in this film is to compare and contrast the two Charlies.

When we first see Uncle Charles he’s sitting up in bed smoking a cigar, maybe remembering a pleasant experience (which may have included murdering someone). When we first see young Charlie, she is sitting up in bed in the exact same position (though not smoking a cigar), dreaming of having an adventurous experience (though probably not murdering anyone). Both shots are the same composition and have slow dolly ins. Even though whether the camera dollies or not is the director’s job - the writer had to come up with the scenes of both sitting up in bed. Creating that similarity for the director to photograph. Our job is to set up the story and characters so that the director can find the perfect shot(s) to show that these two are very similar people. The writer also decided to give both protagonist and antagonist the same name - which makes the audience automatically look for those similarities between the two. There are many other things Uncle Charles and young Charlie have in common... and this helps us compare the two in order to find their differences.

- Bill

Of course, I have a couple of books about Hitchcock, SPELLBOUND is in the one that is on sale today...



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!


369 pages packed with information!

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.



ON SALE!!! $2 OFF!

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.

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- Bill

Thursday, September 22, 2022



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

Season: 2, Episode: 16.
Airdate: January 8, 1962.

Director: Herschel Daugherty.
Writer: Robert Bloch, based on his short story.
Cast: Oskar Homolka, Ron Ely, Alan Baxter, Booth Colman, Antoinette Bower.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Benjamin Kline.
Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “I can not tell a lie. I cut it with my hatchet. A very famous quote from an even more famous gentleman. But his good father had no trouble obtaining the confession - afterall his victim was nothing more than a cherry tree. While ours? Ours was living flesh and blood. I wonder if an admission of guilt can be extracted from a chap who, as we have heard, has already been executed. Not once, not twice, but three times. Yes, my friends, Vardack the mass murderer certainly should be harmless now. Now that he’s merely a cleverly molded figure in the waxworks. Which, as it so happens, is the setting and the title of our story. A moving amidst models of monsters and murderers you will encounter some very real people. Our players. And they are: Pierre Jacquelin, Master sculptor whose wax companions include no less than fifty of the world’s most diabolical murderers, played by Oskar Homolka. His niece, Annette, beautiful, beguiling, a pleasant contrast to her sinister surroundings, played by Antoinette Bower. Colonel Bertroux, a pursuer as relentless as he is mysterious, portrayed by Martin Kosleck. Detective Hudson, a very young man in a very dangerous business, played by Ron Ely. His more seasoned colleague, Sargent Dane, who is to learn that flesh and blood murderers are much easier to capture than the other kind, enacted by Alan Baxter. And Lieutenant Baily, whose not so enviable responsibility it is to solve the mystery of the waxworks, portrayed by Booth Colman. So come, let us go into the chamber of horrors together! I’ll vouch for the fact that you’ll enjoy yourselves, and it’ll be interesting to see if you can find your way out... alone!

Synopsis: Pierre Jacquelin (Homolka) owns a traveling wax museum of killers, and shows a tour around. Each diorama shows the killer in the act. All look very lifelike... and one of the guests thinks one of the statues are moving. A pretty woman (Amy Fields) is sketching one of the killers - Vardack - who has a bloody ax, and Jacquelin notes that her sketch missed the lift in the killer’s right shoe - one leg was shorter than the other. It’s closing time and everyone leaves... except for the woman who lurks behind finishing her sketch, and is now locked in with the 50 wax killers. The wax figure of killer Vardack that she sketched begins walking towards her - great suspense! We see the feet - one shoe with the lift - as they stalk her in the dark housed of wax. Closer and closer and closer and... She gets to the doors and tries to get out...

The City Morgue: Lt. Baily (Booth Coleman) and Sgt Dane (Alan Baxter) ask the Morgue Attendant (J. Pat O’Malley) about cause of death and other clues - she was killed with the ax, and they will have to wait for the Medical Examiner to finish up with another customer before they can get details. There’s a great bit here where the Morgue Attendant opens one of the refrigerated drawers with a dead body and pulls out his lunch - hey, just keeping it cold! Lots of witty lines.

Police Station: The Detectives look over the victim’s persona; effects... and the sketch pad. The drawing of the man with the ax... her killer? Did she know her killer? And why would he *pose* with the murder weapon? They can’t identify the man in the sketch, so Sgt Dane goes to the Waxworks to interview Jacquelin.

Waxworks: Sgt Dane shows the sketch to Jacquelin and ask if he has ever seen this man. He has... and leads the cop to the diorama of the ax murderer. What? Jacquelin expects them to believe that a wax dummy murdered the girl? That’s crazy! There are 50 wax murderers in the waxworks, Jacquelin knows a lot about murder. Dane asks if Jacquelin has an alibi for the time of death, and his niece steps out of the shadows and says they were working on a new exhibit. When Jacqueline goes to show a group around the waxworks, Sgt Dane question his pretty niece Annette (Antoinette Bower)..

Dane asks if he can search the studio - and Annette allows him to poke around. There is a vat of wax, a work bench, all kinds of wax body parts - it’s spooky as heck! Dane wants to open a closed door, Annette tries to stop him... too late! The Detective opens the closet door and there is a *man* inside. An old bearded man! And he falls out - right at the Detective! Who catches him. Annette moves in to help - it’s a wax dummy. The very one that Jacquelin was working on last night. This is a great shock moment.

After he is satisfied that Jacquelin isn’t the killer, Sgt Dane asks if he can buy Jacquelin dinner and they walk down the foggy street at night... when they hear the roar of a car engine. The car zooms right at them - hitting and killing Sgt Dane! Behind the wheel of the car: The wax dummy that was in the closet!

After Jacquelin makes her statement at the police station, handsome young Detective Hudson takes her home. Meanwhile, Detective Baily has a theory - what if the killer is after Annette? He mistook the artist girl for Annette, and then the car was trying to kill her instead of Sgt, Dane.

As Hudson walks her home, a man follows them in the shadows. They stop at a Chinese restaurant for dinner, and afterwards each lies about what their fortune cookie says. Annette says it reads “Don’t stay out to late on the first date” - when it really says “Beware of the dark stranger.”

Just when they may be about to kiss, the man who was following steps out of the shadows with a gun! He is Colonel Bertroux (Martin Kosleck) - and Detective Baily and Jacquelin blast out of the waxworks doors and tackle him... arresting him for both murders.

Except he’s not the killer - he’s a French detective who has been tracking a serial killer. This serial killer seems to strike wherever the waxworks sets up shop. Every city in Europe where the exhibition set up camp was plagued with killings. Bertroux’s investigation has found no evidence against Jacquelin nor Annette... He believes the wax figures may be doing the killings. The M.O.s for all of the killings have matched the 50 wax figure’s killings. Bertroux has the crazy idea that the wax figures can come to life, and rattles off a series of legends and myths about statues coming to life. He’s wacky!

But Sgt, Dane was killed by a car - none of the wax killers used an automobile. Bertroux says there was a killer who murdered with a car... and the name is the same name as the new wax figure that was in the closet!

The spooky waxworks at night. Pounding at the door. Annette opens the door - to Colonel Bertroux, who has a crazy theory that Jacquelin is stealing hairs from the killers when he makes his death masks and is using black magic to bring them to life. Dude be crazy! He wants to confront Jacquelin, breaks down the bedroom door and pulls back the covers... exposing a wax figure in Jacquelin’s bed. What?

Then Bertroux hears footsteps coming closer. The hook handed killer wax figure enters the room, raises his hook... and kills Bertroux! The wax figures ARE alive!

Lt Baily and Detective Hudson pound on the door of the waxworks - they were following Bertroux. They break down the door and enter the dark, spooky waxworks - filled with 50 wax killers! They pass a wax killer with a huge butcher knife poised to stab a woman - he looks so real! Then Baily realizes that Hudson is no longer behind him, and re-traces his steps. This time the wax killer’s hand is empty - no butcher knife. The knife is in dead Hudson’s back!

A door pops open behind Baily, he spins - it’s Jacquelin. With Bertroux’s gun. Bertroux is in the bubbling caldron of wax in the workshop. Baily says he went through Bertroux’s files before coming here - evidence of murders throughout Europe, wherever the traveling Waxworks was. Baily thinks that the murders were not committed by wax figures, but by a man who disguised himself as those wax figures: Jacquelin.

They wrestle for the gun, Baily manages to grab it. Asks where Jacquein’s niece is. “I have no niece... she is my wife.” Baily opens a closet door and there is Annette... except she’s freakin’ ancient! And a wax figure. You see, she was a murderer witch who was executed and Jacquelin used black magic to bring here back - stole her body and molded wax over her dead form - a wax figure that comes alive. He needs fresh blood to keep her alive - hence the victims. Obviously he’s crazy. He takes a candle to illuminate her face... then tries to grab Baily’s gun. In the struggle Jacquelin is killed and the candle lights the wax figure of Annette and she burns - exposing a skull and skeleton underneath!

Jacquelin wasn’t crazy - Annette was really a wax figure come to life!

Review: This is a great creepy episode, with lots of suspense and twists... Daugherty was one of the “staff directors” and sometimes his episodes are great and sometimes they seem rushed for time (it’s TV, and you have to shoot the episode in time for it to air or there will just be a test pattern). But I wonder how much the writer ended up part of that equation? Robert Bloch is one of mt favorite horror writers, and his work was frequently adapted for THRILLER and often - like in this case - by his own hand. I learned a lot about creating dread and terror by reading his stories, and I assume that he carried those techniques over into his teleplays. If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage! How many of the scary episodes are due to suspense scenes being in the screenplay, so that they were scheduled into the shoot? That opening scene where the wax killer stalks the woman trapped in the waxworks after closing could have just been: “Vardack kills her” in the script, and scheduled as a couple of seconds of screen time - with only a few minutes to shoot. But if it had been written out as a suspense scene, they would have scheduled more time to shoot it and there would have been time to get all of those creepy shots. Could that be the reason why the same director has different results?

Oskar Homolka was a silent star in Austria back in 1926 who became one of Hitchcock’s great villains ten years later in SABOTAGE, and spent 50 years in the business playing all kinds of great roles including Russian Colonel Stok in a couple of the Harry Palmer movies. He was one of those dependable character actors who could show up for work and knock it our of the park. He’s so charming, here, that you know why he has evaded the police for so long.

Ron Ely is impossibly young in this episode. A few years later he would play Tarzan, and so far he is the only one to play Doc Savage on film. Antoinette Bower began her career in a TV version of Poe’s TELLTALE HEART and has had a huge TV career including playing Berlin Betty on HOGAN’S HEROES and played the principal’s wife in PROM NIGHT... and is still with us. Martin Kosleck had a career playing Nazis in movies and on TV (HOGAN’S HEROES), but I know him as the homeless guy sleeping in the windmill in FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT. Alan Baxter was in Hitchcock’s SABOTEUR.

The story is a semi reworking of Bloch’s YOURS TRULY JACK THE RIPPER with a series of murders that fallow the pattern of previous murders and the driven expert from across the pond who aids the police in their investigation... but also is one of the prime suspects. But the whole things gets a fresh coat of paint and a completely different concept. Instead of Jack The Ripper, we get the very creepy idea of house of wax killers coming to life. Instead of the victims being women and that trip to a 60s strip club, most of the victims are men and we focus on the super creepy house of wax at night. So Bloch took the skeleton of the story and jettisoned everything else, creating a completely new story. I find this stuff interesting. If you are making a living writing and selling short stories, you have to keep turning them out! How do you keep that up? One of the way Lester Dent (Doc Savage) managed to write a novel (or two) a month was to have a handful of story patterns - or formulas - that he could use as the skeleton. You can read all of those books back to back and they seem like completely different stories because the details are different. Here, Jack The Ripper being split up into the 50 wax killers in the house of wax - and the completely different resolution - make it a completely new story. All of the scenes are different. The skeleton is similar.

After last week’s crime story disguised as a horror story (the dream sequence opening), we’re back to real horror - and this is a fun, creepy episode! Next week - a period episode about witches!

- Bill

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Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Film Courage: Are Writers Damned?

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me, around 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

And the first segment...

I had done a full day of classes at Story Expo, it was the hottest day on record in Los Angeles (since broken a few times), I was seriously dehydrated after running from class to class all day, and the first question they ask me is...

A softball questions to start out with, like...

"Are Writers Damned?"

How the hell do you answer that?

Well, yes.

In Woody Allen’s Oscar Winning ANNIE HALL, there’s a great scene where Alvy Singer, who’s perfect relationship has fallen apart, sees the perfect couple walking down the street and decides to ask them the secret to the success of their relationship, and their response is: “I’m very shallow and empty and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say.” And the woman responds, “And I’m exactly the same way.”

Writers are not shallow and empty, and we have something to say. Where “civilians” move through life not thinking about other people’s secret motivations and hidden agendas and all of the other things that your Mom might be *really* thinking when she says that you could use some new shirts, writers can’t help but think about these things. We know 57 ways to kill someone with a ripe tomato, thanks to research on that screenplay, and when we are in the produce section of the grocery store and see the seemingly nice little old lady trying to find the perfect tomato... we wonder just who she is planning to kill. Is it me? I don’t even know her! But what if this is some sort of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN club, where a hundred people swap murders so that there is no way for any of them to be a suspect, and she ended up doing the murder for some long forgotten person who considers me their enemy? Someone like that guy from SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE who has spent his life tracking down Billy Pilgrim for splashing mud on his trousers decades ago? I once spilled a drink on a guy in a suit in a bar, and that guy had been hitting on this woman, and maybe I ruined his love life forever and now he was part of this Murder Tanda and had given my name to that nice little old lady in the supermarket who was going to kill me with that tomato that she has just selected? As a writer I am constantly thinking about stuff like that - which is probably why I have insomnia - not only is my mind still working and I wish that I could shut it off, but I am a little worried that tonight might be the night that the nice little old lady strikes. I don’t really want to sleep through getting murdered with a tomato.

So we tend to look at the world a bit differently than most people, and over-think things and we can be a little bit paranoid because we know what evil can lurk in the hearts of men... and nice little old ladies. So we are probably damned.

But what about the writing part, Bill?


The other way that we are damned is that nobody knows that screenwriters exist. There’s that line from IN A LONELY PLACE about how the audience thinks that movie stars make up the dialogue themselves, and if they become big enough stars - they do. Heck, even screenwriters don’t know who screenwriters are! A few years ago, for fun, I made up a quiz about who wrote what famous film and posted it on my website... and none of the screenwriters who frequent the site could get all of the answers right (without looking them up). Lots of “I didn’t know that writer wrote that!” Heck, if screenwriters don’t know who wrote the screenplays for movies that they have seen and loved, why would civilians, let alone hot underwear models (you may choose whatever sex you want - they will not be choosing you in return). So screenwriters are never famous. If you subtract the famous *playwrights* who became screenwriters, and writer-directors and famous novelists who became screenwriters, you probably don’t know the single name of a screenwriter who just *writes screenplays*. Like you want to.

So your plans to become a famous screenwriter?

The other common fantasy that goes along with famous is rich, and we have all seen those deals in the trades where some new writer’s screenplay was in a bidding war and sold for $1.2 million. Hey, I can write 3 screenplays a year if all I do is write one page a day, that’s $3.6 million a year... that ought to attract the underwear models! I can buy a Lamborghini every year! I can live in a mansion! I can eat my weight in lobster twice a day! I will be rich! Except, that’s not really how it works. Because that $1.2 million works like this: The $1 million is when and if they make the film - and only around 10% of the screenplays they buy or develop ever get made. So the odds are against you ever making that $1 million. The $200k is what you will be paid - for the screenplay and all of the rewrites, and these days they sometimes decide not to do the rewrites (great! until you realize that you won't be paid that part if the $200k)and you might end up with just over $100k total. That still sounds pretty good, right? But that’s for a screenplay that sold for $1.2 million - which is a huge sale that makes the trades. And a sale - you see, most screenplays don’t ever sell. There are around 1 million screenplays in circulation in any given year and fewer than 100 sell to studios. Okay, there are screenplays that sell to low budget genre companies and companies that make films for Lifetime and SyFy Channel and Hallmark... for much much less. A friend of mine sold a screenplay to a company that makes SyFy Channel movies... for $2k. I didn’t leave out any zeros. This is a tough business to make a living in! Most of the professional screenwriters I know make an okay living... But I often joke that if I had kept my job at Safeway Grocery I would probably be making more now (as a District Manager or something).

So your plans to become a rich screenwriter?

And if you are looking at those million screenplays and fewer than a hundred sell, that means that a whole bunch do not sell. The writers wrote them for nothing!

Or did they?

And that is the key to avoiding being damned.

The writing itself needs to be its own reward.


If you're having a problem getting your scripts finished it may be tied to your motivation - maybe you aren't writing because you want to tell a story, perhaps you're writing because you want fame and glory. Guess what? There is no fame and glory in the screenwriting world - name the three Oscar winning writers of CASABLANCA. You probably can't, and you're the MOST LIKELY person who could do that (you want to be an Oscar winning screenwriter). So if your motivation is fame, is having people acknowledge and love you... you're in the wrong business. Screenwriters are either ignored or blamed or crapped on.

If your motivation is "I like to write" or "I need to write" then it's all about writing and writing is what you should be doing (actually, you'll already be doing it). This is the motivation you want to have - the need or desire to tell stories. That way your motivation is all about the work - not the rewards. I hate to be a cold blanket, but this is a business where the rewards are few and far between and usually out of our control. The only thing really in our control is doing the work. So writing needs to be its own reward!

If your motivation is "I want to write to prove I'm somebody important" or "I want to write to prove my enemies were wrong" then it's not about the writing - it's about your personal problems. If you are writing to solve personal problems (and trying to solve them by changing OTHERS) your focus isn't going to be on writing, so you WILL have trouble finishing scripts or starting them or anything else that has to do with WRITING. If your motivation for writing is anything other than "to write", you're going to run into problems because those other motivations will get in the way of your writing.

If you aren't in the biz because you have to tell your stories, because you're PASSIONATE about writing, you're in for a future of heartache. You don't see screenwriters on eitherr of the Jimmys or Colbert. You don't see them interviewed on ET or Access Hollywood or any other TV version of National Enquirer. Screenwriters just toil away in obscurity... we write because we have stories inside of us that they have no choice but to tell. We are writers.

A writer writes.

I have a stack of unsold screenplays that I am now planning on adapting into novels. I also have a stack of unread screenplays - no one ever requested them. Many of those are from early in my screenwriting "careeer" where I was writing typical genre screenplays instead of focusing on an amazing high concept that could attract producers from the logline alone. Those unread screenplays are good - just not interesting enough. Some I have rewritten with a “high concept injection”, others I have figured out how to adapt into novels with a more interesting central idea. Everything that I have written, from my very first screenplay, is written. It is not just some idea bouncing around in my head, it is something that was fleshed out and set on paper or floppy or whatever. It actually exists. And that is the key to being a successful writer - actually writing.

A writer writes.

A sure fire way to be damned as a writer is to focus on the things that you do not control, instead of the things that you do control. If you focus on the prestige or the money or the respect or anything else that is completely outside of our control... you are going to end up damned disappointed. Even if you are a successful screenwriter, not everything you write will end up on screen, and I guarantee that what ends up on screen isn’t going to be the way you wrote it. Probably mentioned the huge list of unsold and unproduced screenplays by multiple Oscar winner Robert Bolt, and even Oscar winners will get rewritten by a string of other writers. That’s just how it works - out of our control. If you focus on the stuff that you can’t control, you will go crazy. But there is one thing that you control 100% - that is the actual writing. Getting pages done every day. Writing a stack of screenplays that may or may not sell - but they are accomplishments! You wrote that screenplay! You got to Fade Out!

So you probably aren’t ever going to become rich and famous and respected and have your choice of underwear models to fly to Europe with for a weekend with The Countess, but you are going to actually accomplish something that very few do - you will have a growing stack of screenplays or short stories or novels. So if you want to be a writer, you need to enjoy (in some way) the writing part.

Writing needs to be its own reward.

That’s the way to avoid being damned.

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill

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Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Trailer Tuesday: ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950)

ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950) Directed by: Richard Fleischer.
Written by: Earl Felton and Gerald Drayson Adams.
Starring: Charles McGraw, Adele Jergens, William Talman, Don McGuire, Steve Brodie, Gene Evans.
Produced by: Herman Schlom.
Cinematography by: Guy Roe
Music by: C. Bakaleinikoff.

A couple of years ago at Noir City Hollywood they showed a restored version of a film called ARMORED CAR ROBBERY which featured the director and star of NARROW MARGIN, plus - to keep my movie connection string at the time going - William Talman from PERRY MASON. Afterwards I watched one of the FALCON movies that co-starred Barbara Hale who played Della Street. The “movie connection string” is a strange thing that I noticed happening by accident - I would see a film starring someone, and the very next film I saw would also star them... or maybe it would be movies that shared the same character actor in a supporting role. But random movies would have connections, and ARMORED CAR ROBBERY seemed to be the link between two other films due to Talman. But the film was amazing, so besides the random connection between films, it’s well worth exploring.

ARMORED CAR is like a 1950s version of Michael Mann’s HEAT, including a big end chase and shootout which takes place at LAX airport... probably before those letters meant anything. It packs a lot of story into a its brief running time and has plenty of twists and turns! One of those “lost” crime films that deserves to be discovered... especially by fans on the Mann movie.

Talman plays master criminal Dave Purvis who has never been caught because he is ultra cautious - he cuts the labels out of all of his clothes and meticulously plans his heists. He has no criminal record, not even a parking ticket. Perfectly clean as far as the police are concerned - almost a ghost. He changes motels every night - harder for the police to find him. He has contingency plans for every possible thing that can go wrong, and is ready to pull off the big one: He's going to knock over an armored truck at a baseball stadium - over half a million bucks.

The movie opens at Los Angeles City Hall’s police dispatch division as someone calls in a robbery in progress at Wrigley Field baseball stadium, and - because director Richard Fliescher’s previous film, TRAPPED, was a procedural about the Treasury Department, here we also get a procedural feel - and go from the emergency operator and follow the information card on a conveyor belt to the dispatchers, who call patrol cars and detectives... Including our lead Lt. Jim Cordell (the always gruff Charles McGraw) and his partner Lt. Philips (James Flavin).

At the baseball stadium, Purvis waits with a stopwatch, timing the police response time. When Cordell and Philips arrive, Purvis studies them - his opponents - and then hops in a cab, headed to a strip club. Cordell tells Philips that this is just another false alarm - the city has been getting a lot of them over the past week... they don’t know that these have all been part of Purvis’ “study” to find the best place to hit the armored truck. Like in HEAT - this film keeps putting these two opponents at the same location - it’s all about this cop and this crook.

At the Strip Club, Yvonne LeDoux (Adele Jergens) is dancing on stage as Benny McBride (Douglas Fowley) watches... and Purvis sits next to him. Yvonne is Benny’s estranged wife, and he wants to get back with her... but she is seeing some other guy. Benny needs money to win her back, so that makes him perfect for Purvis’ heist team. McBride brings along hot-headed get away driver Al Mapes (Steve Brodie - Mitchum’s double crossing partner in OUT OF THE PAST and the father of the director of my TREACHEROUS film) and another stick up artist Ace Foster (Gene Evens - from Sam Fuller’s STEEL HELMET). Purvis gives McBride his new phone number at his next motel, tells him to memorize it - never write things down. But as soon as Purvis leaves, McBride writes the number down in a matchbook. This is a story about intelligent people who plan ahead - and McBride is a loser.

Twist: That other dude who is sleeping with Yvonne the stripper? McBride’s estranged wife? Purvis. Who plans to kill McBride... maybe during the robbery. He is stealing the cash from an armored truck, and stealing his partner’s wife! And part of that plan involves “accidentally” shooting his partner. We are 7 minutes into the film, and all of this has happened! This movie doesn’t have any slow spots!

The planning scene is cool - the rolling window shade in Purvis old hotel room has the plans and map drawn on it, he pulls it down and the heist team goes over the plan. The reason for taking the armored car at the baseball field is that it’s one of the last stops - it’ll be loaded down with cash - and the police response time was slowest there. They have 3 minutes to pull the heist - if there’s money left on the truck they leave it. The plan comes before the money - what good is an extra thousand bucks if the police catch you... or kill you? You must be able to leave any extra cash behind, the same way that Purvis is willing to leave all of his clothes behind in the room if the cops knock on the door.
(Doesn't DeNiro talk about this in HEAT?)

(12:00 minutes into the movie.) The Robbery: The team is dressed like laborers. Mapes has the getaway car across the street idling. Ace pulls up directly behind the armored truck in an old clunker which stalls. Purvis and McBride go over to see if they can help. The two Armored Guards return from the baseball stadium with bags of money and unlock the back doors of the armored truck...

Wham! Ace sets off a smoke grenade under the hood of the clunker which covers the back of the armored truck in dense fog. The team puts on gas masks, knock out the guards and start transferring bags of money into the getaway car as Purvis starts his stop watch.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Someone calls the police. The card goes down the conveyor belt...

But Cordell and Philips are cruising in their car nearby - another false alarm? They get to the baseball stadium long before the three minutes are up, and there’s a big street shoot out that begins around 14:40 minute mark. (Like the shoot out after the bank robbery in HEAT.)

Purvis shoots Philips, Cordell shoots McBride... saving Purvis the trouble. But McBride is still alive - wounded. The robbers climb into the getaway car and Mapes speeds off. Cordell jumps into his unmarked car and roars after them.

We get a great car chase and moving shoot out through the streets of Los Angeles. Purvis shatters the rear window of their getaway car and shoves his pistol through the hole, firing at Cordell. Mapes pulls around a truck backing up and Cordell isn’t as lucky - crashing his police car. He immediately calls in the make and model and license number and an ambulance for his partner... and we see the inner workings of the police department again as they handle the information.

Hospital: Philips is dead. Cordell talks to the widow (Anne Nagel), and there’s a big emotional scene about how they were both Philips’ partners - day and night.

Then Cordell meets his new partner, rookie detective Danny Ryan (Don McGuire) and he’s no Philips. Just some punk kid who got promoted. Nobody does gruff like McGraw - he has the least sympathetic delivery of any actor in crime films and makes Clint Eastwood seem like a soap opera star. This is what makes him perfect for movies like this and ROADBLOCK because you don’t need to establish that he doesn’t give a damn about his new partner and you don’t need to have a long scene about how much he cared about Philips - he can speak *one* line about how Philips was his partner and it’s so different from his gruff default mode that it’s emotional.

Cordell and Ryan hear a radio report that the robbers dumped the getaway car under a bridge, and they drive out to the scene where a CSI Team is searching for clues. Smudged prints, gas masks and painter’s clothes - no clues. But somebody lost a lot of blood, just not enough to make Cordell happy. They are doing plaster molds of the tire prints of the new car they have switched to. Again, the procedural elements in this movie are great - this was decades before CSI hit CBS, but we get to see how a crime scene is actually processed for clues and information.

Meanwhile, McBride is bleeding like crazy in the new car... and ahead there’s a roadblock. All of the robbers are dressed in hard hats and work clothes - and look like a bunch of guys going to work at the docks. Mapes gets nervous about the road block ahead and tries to turn around, but a motorcycle cop cuts them off - they must go through the police checkpoint. This requires that McBride act as if he isn’t bleeding to death, and that they cover up the blood. All kinds of suspense in this scene as McBride keeps passing out... and a cop searches the interior of the car - around the bleeding McBride, then they can’t get the car to start for a very tense moment.

But they get through the checkpoint and are home free...

When one of the cops notices there’s blood on his leg. Where did that come from?

A motorcycle cop and a pair in a police car chase after the robbers... but the robbers evade them with some great driving by Mapes. One of the great things about this movie is that they probably didn’t have the money for big shoot outs and big car chases - it was a B crime movie, so they focus on suspense (which is basically free) and just when you think that the robbers have gotten away - TWIST - something goes wrong and we get a short piece of (low cost) action. There are no slow spots - it’s densely plotted and manages to uses suspense to keep it exciting without blowing the budget.

Now the police have a new search area - the harbor area - and Cordell and Ryan head to that division’s police station... where the Insurance Guy for the Armored Car Company shows up and wants to help... and Cordell tells him to get the heck out of his sight. He’s such a teddy bear.

Meanwhile the robbers are hiding in a dockside warehouse... where McBride realizes that he is dying. Purvis refuses to get him a doctor, and McBride pulls a gun - so Purvis kills him. Brutal. He shoots a dying man. If you thought Cordell was basically emotionless, Purvis tops him in this scene. What’s cool here is that McBride was supposed to be killed in the robbery, but by keeping him alive (and bleeding) the story uses him to create suspense and this brutal scene.

Ace puts the body in their car and drives it off the edge of the pier while Mapes stays with Purvis - afraid of a double cross. A guy who would kill a dying man would also just take off with the money. Purvis tells Mapes that McBride’s wife gets McBride’s cut... then beats up Mapes. Just for fun. Actually, I don’t think Purvis does anything for fun - this was to show Mapes who is the Alpha Male - so that Mapes doesn’t double cross him later. Everything with Purvis is calculated.

(31:30) Bad luck, as a pair of patrolling cops come upon the sinking car with McBride’s corpse in it moments before it’s about to vanish under water. They call it into dispatch, and Cordell and Ryan overhear it on the radio and ask for the make and model of the sinking car... it matches the basic information they have from the tire prints. What are the odds?

At the pier, Cordell and Ryan check the tire tracks against their plaster cast of the new getaway car - and it’s a perfect match. Ryan drives and Cordell stands on the running board of their unmarked car and they follow the tire tracks through the dark, spooky warehouse area. What makes this great is Cordell hanging onto the outside of the unmarked police car as it creeps through the industrial alleys - keeping his eyes on the tire tracks. It seems dangerous and like an action scene... and is an original way to “follow the trail” to find the badguys.

Another great HEAT type moment as Purvis, Ace and Mapes leave their hide out... and almost bump into Cordell and Ryan! They hide behind some equipment. And there’s a tense scene as Cordell, Ryan and the uniform cops search the area where Purvis and the robbers are hiding - it’s like a game of hide and seek. Purvis and the robbers must be super quiet as they move from spot to spot moments before Cordell and the cops moves to search the spot where they just were. Another great scene that builds suspense on a low budget - lots of close calls!

Purvis gets his gun ready and tells the others that they have to make a run for it - one at a time - to the boat at the next pier that is waiting to take them to Mexico. Mapes goes first and gets to the boat, but Ace loses his footing as he runs and trips - making a sound loud enough to attract Cordell and the cops! They chase after Ace and shoot him... Mapes hears the shots, starts the boat and gets the hell out of there. Cordell and the cops race to the pier and shoot at the boat, but it gets away. While they are shooting at the boat, Purvis sneaks away with the suitcase full of cash from the robbery. Was this his plan all along?

(36:00) A newspaper fills the screen, the robbery is the headline. When the newspaper vendor lowers the paper it exposes the Strip Club... as Yvonne leaves work. Great shot! We follow her into an all night diner, where she spots... Purvis. She heads to a phone booth on one side of the diner, Purvis heads to a phone booth on the other side of the diner. “How does it feel to be a free woman?” he asks her. “Just the same.” They arrange to meet at the new Motel - she has memorized all of the information that her now-dead husband couldn’t remember. She smiles at him through the phone booth window as she leaves - it’s a promise of things to come.

Valley Motor Court Motel. Yvonne and Purvis lock lips, then he pops open the suitcase full of stolen money. He warns her that due to her husband’s untimely death, the police will show up to question her - and coaches her on how to act. Also says that they can not see each other until it’s time for them to split the country.

(40:00) Cordell and Ryan look over McBride’s rap sheet - no shortage of arrests and convictions. Ace’s rap sheet - the same. And both men knew another convicted armed robbery get away driver named Mapes - and they look at his rap sheet. That’s 3 out of the 4 gang members, and Mapes and the unknown suspect are in the wind... and Cordell (being a complete hard ass) tells Ryan that these three are just stupid stick up men and Ryan shouldn’t care about them. It’s the Fourth Man who is important. He was the planner. He is the man they need to get off the street.

At McBride’s Apartment - while waiting for the fingerprint crew to show up - Cordell and Ryan do a search and question the landlady, who says that McBride had three friends over a couple of times during the last week. They find a framed photo of Yvonne and Ryan volunteers to check it out with modeling and talent agencies. She’s hot and Ryan *does* have time for women in his life. Cordell is poking around and notices something - asks the landlady what happened to the window shade? Stolen? That’s odd. Then Cordell finds the matchbook with Purvis’ new phone number. He dials the number... “Valley Motor Court.”

Valley Motor Court Motel. Cordell and Ryan drive up and go into the manager’s office...
As Purvis packs in his room, ready to go to the next place. He looks out the window and sees the unmarked car!
The Manager leads the Detectives to Purvis’ room!
Purvis grabs the suitcase full of money and hops out the back window just as the Manager knocks at the door!
Cordell tells the Manager to use his pass key. They enter the motel room and Cordell sees all of the packed clothes.
Purvis tries to get away, but Ryan is next to the unmarked car... blocking the exit. Purvis is trapped! He pulls out his gun and hides behind a car parked in a carport, just as Cordell and the Manager step out of the room - only a few feel away!
Purvis waits until Cordell goes back inside to continue searching the motel room and then slips away... leaving everything he owns behind, except for the money.

Another very tense suspense scene where Cordell and Purvis are within spitting distance of each other, which makes us focus on the HEAT-like cop vs. robber element of the story. It’s these two men in a chess match using guns - each trying to outsmart the other. Lots of tension in a scene with guns but no gunplay... just the threat of a shoot out erupting if Cordell spots Purvis.

Back at the police station: The CSI Lab Guy tells Cordell the height, weight, and other information about Purvis from the clothes they found in his room - and the hair on his comb that was left behind. There’s also some lipstick on one of the shirts - and it’s analyzed. A theatrical brand not available in retail stores. They now have a good description of the Fourth Man. That’s when Ryan calls with the name of the dame in the picture - Yvonne, a stripper (“You ought to see her in her work clothes”) and she’s McBride’s wife... er, widow. Cordell wonders if the theatrical lipstick may have come from the stripper.

(46:45) The Strip Club. Cordell and Ryan go to question Yvonne... but she’s working. “There she is, with bells on.” “Very few bells.” They decide to watch the show until she’s free... Ryan enjoys watching, Cordell thinks this is just a waste of time.

Outside, a man’s silhouette is looking at the poster of Yvonne. Purvis? No, Mapes! He enters the club... walking right past Cordell and Ryan to find a seat up front.

Cordell and Ryan spot Mapes and split up in order to box him in. Suspense builds as Cordell gets to Mape’s row and sits to his right... and Ryan sits to his left. Mapes knows something is up and tries to split, but Ryan pulls down his coat - binding his arms, and Cordell grabs Mapes’ gun from the shoulder holster.

At the police station: They question Mapes... Cordell wants him to fry for killing Philips. They bring in one of the Armored Truck Guards who I.D.s Mapes as the getaway driver. Oh, and they have his fingerprints from McBride’s apartment (more CSI procedural authenticity - in crime fiction the procedural subgenre is all about the actual procedures used in solving crimes - from CSI’s blood spatter charts to Ed McBain’s novels filled with police reports and crime scene sketches). Mapes says he was the getaway driver, but didn’t kill Philips - that was Dave Purvis. The Fourth Man. Also Yvonne’s boyfriend... why else would he brutally kill McBride but want to give money to the widow? But Mapes has no idea how to find Purvis. He has no convictions, no arrests, nothing. Purvis is a ghost - his name might not even be Purvis, who knows?

Ryan follows Yvonne in hopes that she leads them to Purvis.
They bug her dressing room at the strip club.
They bug her car.

(53:00) The Strip Club. Ryan reports to Cordell: “She comes in, hangs up her coat, puts on her make up, takes off her clothes.”
“How do you know that?”
“The zipper makes a noise.”

Then they overhear her telling the club owner that she is quitting... as of tonight. They are going to lose her! So Cordell sends Ryan undercover as Mapes to press Yvonne to contact Purvis so that he can get his cut. Has she ever met Mapes? What if she knows what he looks like? (This is a great suspense builder - it turns a meeting into a potential for danger.) “What do we got to lose? Only me.” Cordell is worried that the kid might suffer the same fate as his previous partner, who Purvis killed... but he doesn’t show it. What might be a whole scene in some other movie is just a glance from Charles McGraw that tells us he cares about the kid.

(55:30) In that all night diner: Yvonne sits alone at a table... and Ryan sits next to her, says he’s a friend of Dave Purvis... named Mapes. Ryan plays the role - roughing her up a little. Demanding that she get in touch with Purvis so that he can get his cut of the dough. Really convincing.

But guess who walks through the doors?

Like DeNiro’s character in HEAT who lives by: "Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner" - and then can’t leave without Amy Brenneman’s bookstore clerk, Purvis leaves all of his clothes in the motel room... but can’t leave Yvonne.

Purvis goes to the phone booth on one side of the diner - as he did before. Yvonne tells Ryan that she will call Purvis so that he can get his money, and goes to the phone booth on the other side of the diner. Ryan insists on standing outside the phone booth and listening in, so that she can’t double cross him. Great suspense because we know that Purvis has seen Ryan and knows that he isn’t Mapes. Purvis says on the phone, “That guy’s not Mapes, it’s a cop.” Will she show it and blow it? She keeps her head. He tells her to stall him until he can get away, then she should run out the back door - there may be cops out front. She keeps talking, even though Purvis has hung up and left the diner.

She hangs up and tells Ryan that Purvis wants to talk to him. When Ryan gets into the phone booth next to her, she slams him, closes the door trapping him inside, and runs out the back door.

There’s a foot chase outside as she runs to her car, but Ryan catches up with her. Catches her. Prevents her from escaping. Good news!
Then Purvis jams a gun in Ryan’s back. Bad news!

Purvis takes Ryan’s gun and tells him to get into the front passenger seat. Yvonne gets behind the wheel, Purvis sits in the backseat behind Ryan - keeping his gun jammed against the cop’s neck.

In front of the diner, Cordell and another cop hear Yvonne’s car start up... and Cordell gets in the unmarked car with the receiver and they follow. They hear Ryan ask Purvis where they are going... and Cordell and the other cop follow after Ryan mentions the traffic on Figeroua Street.

Ryan is doing a great job of slipping in the street names so that Cordell can follow, but Purvis doesn’t trust Ryan - knocks him unconscious - and decides to find another car - the police know what Yvonne’s car looks like.

Cordell has lost them... and maybe gotten Ryan killed.

They pull into a lumber yard and Purvis and Yvonne get out of the car. Purvis tells her to find a cab - they are going to the Los Angeles airport where he has a plane chartered. Ryan hears all of this - he is not really unconscious. He waits until Purvis and Yvonne aren’t looking and then Ryan tries to run... but Purvis shoots him in the back! As Purvis gets ready to shoot Ryan in the head to finish him off... a police car creeps by a street away. Purvis can’t shoot without attracting attention... so he and Yvonne run. Find a cab, and head to the airport.

One of the things I like about how this story works is that things go wrong - which creates suspense and plot twists. Ryan would be dead if it weren’t for that police car creeping past. The police car isn’t some random accident - they are searching for Yvonne’s car in this area. But every time either Cordell or Purvis gets a step ahead, something goes wrong and the balance changes. Nothing ever goes wrong because a character is stupid and makes a mistake, these two men are experts at their jobs. It’s the things that they can’t control that go wrong.

Ryan - dying - crawls back to the car, climbs inside, gets next to the bug and says his name and location - the lumber yard. Cordell hears it and they head to the lumber yard...

They enter the lumber yard with guns drawn - they don’t know if Purvis is waiting for them, if this is a trap. Then they spot Ryan unconscious in the car and Cordell runs to him - and speaks to him softly, gently cradling him. McGraw still sounds as if he was gargling with gravel between takes, but just by not barking orders he sounds more emotional. Ryan tells him that Purvis and the girl have gone to the airport, where they have a chartered plane.

Cordell calls an ambulance for Ryan and then gets in his car and races to the airport. Just like Pacino in HEAT - someone he cares about may be heading to the hospital, but the crook is getting away! He has priorities. He radios in to have all private planes kept on the ground.

Purvis and Yvonne get into the private plane, the engines fire up, and they head to the runway... when the tower radios them to stay put. Purvis pulls his gun and tells the pilot that he only takes order from Purvis. The plane gets back on the runway - ready to take off. But the tower radios that there is another plane *landing* on that runway! The pilot stops the plane at the end of the runway... and then they hear the police sirens.

Cordell has arrived.

Purvis grabs the suitcase full of money and bails out of the plane, running like crazy down the runway.

Cordell rolls out of his police car and fires at him - and Purvis returns fire... then keeps running down the runway.

Where that plane that is landing runs over him and smashes him flat - busting open the suitcase full of money so that all of the cash flutters in the wind.

We end with Cordell visiting Ryan at the hospital, and the two men have become friends and partners.

ARMORED CAR ROBBERY is like a predecessor for Mann’s HEAT, and I wonder if he saw it before he did his TV movie L.A. TAKEDOWN (1989) - which HEAT is almost a remake of. Though the print of ARMORED CAR ROBBERY was a restored version, heck - these are the kinds of movies that I used to watch on the Late Late Movie at 1am, and maybe Michael Mann did, too. These are so many parallels that it seems impossible that he hadn’t seen it.

But even without the HEAT parallels, this film is a great little crime flick with a cat and mouse game between McGraw and Tallman through Los Angeles that brings to the surface how each treats their partners, with lots of great procedural stuff on both sides, from planting bugs and doing tire casts and showing how a 911 call (yeah, it wasn't called that at the time) goes from operator to dispatcher; to methods for crooks to contact each other and how to get past police road blocks. Oh, and there's a stripper! We will probably look at some more films from this director in the future, because he not only mad a bunch of great low budget crime films in the 50s, he directed FANTASTIC VOYAGE and 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and MR. MAJESTYK and SOYLENT GREEN and CONAN THE DESTROYER. The most amazing career for a director you may never have heard of!

- Bill

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