Friday, December 29, 2023

HITCH 20: WET SATURDAY (s1e5)

This documentary video series focuses on the 20 TV episodes that Hitchcock directed called HITCH 20. This episode is WET SATURDAY which also stars Hitchcock regular John Williams (TO CATCH A THIEF), this time as the guy who has no idea he's being framed for murder. This is an interesting episode because it's a calm discussion of a violent act, which somehow makes the violence more violent. Hitch called PSYCHO a comedy... and this episode is as funny as a croquet mallet to the side of the head!



This was the last episode of HITCH 20 of the first season... and I hope soon to have the new (and last) season of HITCH 20 up on Fridays (I'm told is on its way!)



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

Bill

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.

Price: $5.99

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Might have the third and last Hitchcock book done this year, too!

Thursday, December 28, 2023

THRILLER Thursday: The Prisoner In The Mirror

Best Of Thriller: Prisoner In The Mirror

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



Season: 1, Episode: 34.
Airdate: May 23, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty
Writer: Robert Arthur
Cast: Henry Daniell, Lloyd “It’s a cookbook” Bochner, Marion Ross.
Music: Morton Stevens
Cinematography: Benjamin Kline
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The hand of death strikes suddenly, and without regard for the plain, the beautiful, the bad or the good. For when the hand of death is controlled by a force of evil the consequences can defy belief. Our story tonight concerns just such a force and it features a most unusual star: This mirror. In it you will see our players caught in a strange reflection. Mr. Lloyd Bochner, Miss Marion Ross, Mr. Jack Mullaney, Miss Pat Michon, and Mr. Henry Daniell. So be prepared to gaze through a glass darkly. But don’t! Please don’t stand too close! I should hate to see this happen to any of you.”

(Break to continue the prologue story in 1910)

“Young Robert was no murderer, nor was he mad as he may have seemed. He was a victim of one of the most diabolical practitioners of black magic ever known, Count Alessandro Cagliostro. Only a legend you say? Well, perhaps, but that’s for you to decide. Now we resume our tale, more than half a century later.”

(Now to present day)



Synopsis: Paris, 1910: The elegant Robert de Chantenay (David Frankham) and woman Marie Blanchard (Erika Peters) sip champagne in a restaurant. Robert does some amazing slight of hand magic producing a bouquet of roses, a bird, a diamond necklace! She is amazed and amused and wants more. He uses the diamond necklace to hypnotize her... but the end of his hypnosis is a frightening: “Life transformed into death.” He suddenly turns into a skeleton, and puts the necklace around her neck with a boney hand! Who is Robert de Chantenay? A sorcerer? A demon?

Later, Robert paints the mirror in his room black... when there is a knock at the door. It is his Mother (Frieda Inescort), who says there are men downstairs who want to speak to him... *police*men! They have a warrant for his arrest for the murder of Marie! Robert tells his Mother that he is innocent, but could never prove it... so he jumps out a window to his death! Splat! On the cobblestones below.

Back to Karloff for the second half of his introduction, then...



Paris, Today: In the Societe Curiosites Historiques, Professor Harry Langham (Lloyd Bochner) is investigating the historical figure known as Count Alesssandro Cagliostro but is warned not to by Professor Thibault (Peter Brocco) because Cagliostro was pure evil... undying evil. They are interrupted by Harry’s research assistant Fred Forrest (Jack Mullaney) who reminds Harry of an appointment. Harry tells Thibault that his research has lead him to look for a large mirror owned by Cagliostro that was acquired by Robert de Chantenay and sold soon after his suicide in 1910. Thibault suggests he look through the records at Armand’s, where every valuable antique bought or sold or stolen in Paris has been catalogued. Professor Thibault still wants Harry to abandon his quest for information about Cagliostro and offers to take him to the tomb of Yvette Dulaine, a favorite at the court of Louis The Sixteenth who fell under the spell of Cagliostro which lead to a strange and terrible fate. A dark tomb of a beautiful woman who suffered a terrible fate? Who could say no to that?

The Tomb: downstairs, gated and padlocked. Dark and creepy. Harry asks, “How did she die?” Thibault answers, “Did she die at all?” He opens the coffin and... Yvette (Patricia Michon) looks exactly the same as when she died in 1780. Is she dead or under a spell? Harry looks at her, she’s young and attractive... forever. Also probably dead. Is he falling in love with a dead woman? How could she remain so well preserved?



Harry talks to Mssr. Armand (Louis Mercier), who has a huge collection of antique mirrors... including one covered with black paint which was once owned by Robert de Chantenay. When Armand steps away to speak with someone else, Harry begins to remove the paint seeing the reflection of himself... and Yvette standing behind him!



Boston, Today: Professor Harry’s house, Fred and his sister Kay (Marion Ross looking nothing like Richie’s mom on HAPPY DAYS) are unpacking the mirror that Harry paid a fortune for in Paris. Cagliostro’s mirror? Fred wants Kay to hurry up and marry Harry so that he’ll settle down and stop these obsessive searches for weird historical artifacts. That’s when Harry comes home, kisses Kay, and asks Fred to help him carry the mirror upstairs. They place the mirror in the bedroom, and as soon as Fred and Kay are gone, Harry looks into the mirror for Yvette. He scrapes off the rest of the paint, until it’s a normal mirror again. No reflections but his own. Harry pulls up a chair to watch the mirror... and as darkness falls outside, he goes downstairs to dinner.

Professor Fred has dinner with his fiance Kay, who asks why he’s so distant. He tells her the story of Yvette... forever young and dead in that crypt. Kay wonders if he’s fallen in love with... a corpse. How can she compete with that? After dinner Harry goes up to his room and look at the mirror again. He is *obsessed* with Dead Yvette! Kay’s fears are not unfounded.



In the middle of the night, a weird reflection in the mirror: a flame? Yes! It’s Yvette lighting candles on “her side” of the mirror. Her side of the mirror is another room in another time, and Harry is not reflected there. It’s as if the mirror is a portal into another world. Harry talks to the mirror, on “her side” Yvette shakes her head when asked if she can speak... he wants to help her. Maybe he wants to kiss her, too, but Kay knocks on the door. She was worried about him. He was acting strangely at dinner, and then raced upstairs afterwards. Is he okay? Harry opens the door, but wants to keep her away from the mirror (and Yvette, the other woman in his life)... Then asks her to look in the mirror and tell him what she sees. Kay moves to the mirror, looks straight into the glass... but only sees her own reflection. The world on the other side of the mirror has vanished! “She’s gone! You scared her away!” He yells at Kay to get out of the room. She thinks he may have gone a little crazy and splits. He *has* gone a little crazy...

When Harry goes back to the mirror, instead of Yvette’s reflection in that other world he sees “another victim of Count Alexander Cagliosto” (the awesome Henry Daniel) who claims Cagliostro’s evil spell has made him and Yvette prisoners in this mirror... and Harry can help them escape. Harry looks at the beautiful Yvette, he can help her escape? All he has to do is repeat aloud one of Cagliostro’s spells... and then the Man hypnotizes Harry. Hey, that’s not a victim of Cagliostro, that’s the evil man himself! As Harry speaks back the spell, Cagliostro orders his soul to join them in the mirror... and Harry’s soul gets up from the chair (his body left behind) and walks *into the mirror*! Joining them on the other side! This is done in one shot, by the way: which is totally cool. A “how did they do that?” moment.



Harry wakes up in the mirror world...

Where Cagliostro tells him that he has left his body unoccupied by a soul, which will allow Cagliostro to occupy it! Harry watches as Cagliostro exist the mirror and enters Harry’s sleeping body on the other side... and then his body awakens! Harry has allowed the evil of Cagliostro to be release once more upon the world! He is trapped in the mirror with Yvette while his body goes on an evil rampage!

The body of Harry picks up some hot babe named Laura (Pamela Curran) in a sleazy waterfront bar, does some slight of hand magic to make flowers appear and gives them to her. He takes her for a walk in the moonlight...

Wakes up the next morning and has a conversation with Harry’s soul, trapped in the mirror. A knock on the bedroom door... and Kay says there’s a man downstairs to see you... a Policeman (echo from the opening scene!). Harry/Cagliostro tells Key he’ll talk to the Policeman in private, and then apologizes to her for acting strange these past few days. When Kay leaves, Harry/Cagliostro goes to the mirror and tells Harry that he plans on nailing her later. Why wait until after the marriage for the honeymoon? How can Harry get out of the mirror world and stop him?



Harry/Cagliostro goes downstairs and talks to Sgt. Burke from Homicide (Walter Reed) who wants to know where he was at 3AM this morning. Harry says he was here, working. Burke says that a cop on the beat saw him enter the house at 4:15 AM. Harry explains that he took a walk at 4AM. Well, Sgt Burke say it seems that one of his students saw him leave the bar with Laura... who was later found murdered. Harry/Cagliostro says he isn’t exactly the type to hang out in bars like that, and his students shouldn’t be, either. I mean, he’s a college professor! What would he be doing in such a place? Obviously a case of mistaken identity. Sgt. Burke leaves, agreeing that it’s most likely a case of mistaken identity.

Then Harry/Cagliostro lays a massive kiss on Kay. Rotor rooter tongue action!

That night Harry/Cagliostro and Kay leave for a night on the town, passing Fred... who has a copy of the paper with the murder headline in his hands.

In the mirror world, Harry is trapped... worried about Kay.

Fred goes up to Harry’s room to look for clues to Harry’s recent strange actions (is he the killer of that woman?), but as much as Harry yells from inside the mirror, Fred can not hear him. Fred eventually falls asleep in the chair facing the mirror...



Harry/Cagliostro and Kay come back from their night out and Kay wants a cigarette, looks in Harry’s coat pocket and finds some women’s ear rings... which match the ear rings in the newspaper photo of the murdered girl that Fred left on the table. Suspense: is her fiancé a killer? What should she do? Run? Wimpy women run, Kay confronts Harry/Cagliostro... who takes the ear ring out of her hands and uses it to hypnotize her!

Fred hears a noise and goes downstairs, finding Kay... murdered! Fred chases Harry/Cagliostro upstairs into the bedroom. They have a big fight, and *the mirror breaks*! Harry/Cagliostro dies... and Harry’s soul is trapped with Yvette in the mirror world forever!



Review: That might be a happy ending, since he gets the girl, or a frightening ending because he should have been more careful what he wished for!

On a message board we’re talking about how amazingly high concept TWILIGHT ZONES were, considering they were made on sixties TV show budgets. This is another example of what you can do on a very limited budget. We not only have the idea of the mirror world, we have *body swapping* years before FREAKY FRIDAY! The great thing about body swapping is that it’s just two actors acting like each other. What does that cost? Here it’s particularly sinister because we have an evil man taking joy rides in other people’s bodies and leaving the body owner to clean up the mess (or commit suicide because there is no way to clean it up). It’s a frightening idea, and it’s dirt cheap to film.



The Mirror World is another great idea that costs nothing (but talent) to film. The “sells it shot” where Harry’s soul detaches from his body and walks into the mirror is done with two simple shots. One is a double exposure with the camera locked down and Harry sitting in the chair, then a shot of harry getting up and walking away from the chair. Marry them and you have one Harry sitting as a translucent Harry gets up and walks away from his sitting self. The other shot is a little more complicated, but still not a budget buster. We see Harry *walk into the mirror* and disappear from this side as he exists only in the other side! All one shot. Of course, this is a $1.98 special effect where the mirror is just a frame with the “mirror world” on the other side. Harry just walks up to the frame, steps over it, and continues walking on the other side where Yvette is. Then he turns and looks out at a shot of his body in that chair. The Marx Brothers did a more complicated version of this in DUCK SOUP for laughs. When the mirror world disappeared, they just put a mirror in that frame! Though they didn’t do this for the episode, if you wanted to do this now I’d get a semi silvered mirror (two way mirror) and you could make a real reflection fade out into the mirror world without any cuts at all. (It looks like they might have done this in the episode, but the fade is too quick.) If you are doing a low budget movie you have to use much more imagination... that’s what you have instead of money. Same was true in television when this episode was made.

The echo scene of the police coming to talk to Robert in 1910 Paris and later Harry in present day America is great because we know the outcome of the Robert scene and fear that this will be the outcome for Harry as well. Things like this work in any genre and create suspense and dread... at no cost.



Henry Daniell was in five episode of THRILLER and is one of those great hambone British actors who just stole every second he was on screen. No one could be as deliciously evil as Daniell. He was an excellent Professor Moriarty in the Universal Sherlock Holmes movies and costarred with Karloff in THE BODY SNATCHER in 1945.

Marion Ross, Mrs. Cunningham from HAPPY DAYS, is a that young wholesome woman you’d take home to the parents and marry. She’s young and attractive, but not in an overt sexual way. This totally works for the story, because it’s one thing for Cagliostro to rape and murder some slutty bar girl, but much more shocking if it’s the super nice virgin. I realize that’s just plain wrong to say: it’s awful either way. But the in visual shorthand it’s one thing to kill a growling pittbull and another to kill a cute puppy. Yeah, both are dead dogs, but audience’s make value judgements and sometimes we use those value judgements for dramatic purposes.



Lloyd Bochner is one of those actors who are *everywhere*. The year after this he would be on TWILIGHT ZONE in Richard Matheson’s TO SERVE MAN, and he’s *everywhere*. He’s in my favorite film POINT BLANK, he’s a villain on THE WILD WILD WEST, he’s on both THE MAN and THE GIRL FROM UNCLE, he’s on HOAGN’S HEROES and IT TAKES A THIEF, he’s on MISSION IMPOSSIBLE and COLUMBO. He has 202 show credits on IMDB and some of those are TV shows where he was a recurring character, so it’s *hundreds* of total credits! This is a guy who could play heroes and villains and everything in between. This is his only THRILLER episode, and TO SERVE MAN was his only TWILIGHT ZONE episode, but he is memorable in both.

Though this episode isn’t as scary as some of the other horror eps, it has a creepy idea that sticks with you. What if someone could take your body for a joyride?

Bill



Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Film Courage Plus: How To Be Productive

The New Year Is Only Days Away!!!!

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. There were 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?



HOW TO BE PRODUCTIVE
Writers write.

Sounds simple, right?

The problem is that it’s not about writing that one great screenplay that changes everything, it’s about writing for a living. Writing screenplay after screenplay after screenplay. Being a professional writer means writing every day (like any other job), writing on a deadline, writing screenplay after screenplay after screenplay. If you are looking for a Manager or Agent, they represent *writers* not screenplays. Once they send your screenplay out into the world and nobody buys it, it is a “busted spec” - a dead script. And that means you need to have another script to send out into the world, then another, then another, then another... until you sell a screenplay or land an assignment. Heck, to get that Agent or Manager you need to keep sending out query after query (each for a new screenplay) to Managers and Agents on your target list until they read one that makes them sign you. This probably sounds like a lot of work... and it is.

So, how do you do that? How do you keep writing screenplays until you land an Agent or Manager and then keep writing screenplays for them until you land a paying gig, and then keep landing paying gigs for the rest of your life?

That’s a very good question.

Complicated by, you know, life. You have a mortgage or rent to pay. You have a family. You have a job that eats up a minimum of 40 hours or your week (add in commute time and those extra hours you worked and all of the other parts of real life). How do you find any time at all to write all of those screenplays, and how do you find the will to stick with it? You barely have time to relax after work, let alone crank out screenplays. Well, here’s a ten point plan to help you get something done...

1) Don't depend on inspiration - it's a trap! At the end of the day, it's always going to be you and the blank page. So you have to figure out how to get yourself motivated. It's always going to be from the inside instead of the outside. You can’t depend on anyone else - motivation is *your* job. This is a business where, when they love your work and buy your work, the first thing they do is tell you everything they hate about it and want changed right away... instead of how much they like what you've written. So looking for or depending on external motivations aren't going to help you in the long run - you have to figure out how to keep writing through the crap that life hands out.

2) Set aside a specific time every day to write - can be as little as 15 minutes, but that is the time that anyone who bothers you gets punched in the face as hard as you can. There are plenty of success stories about people who wrote on their lunch hours or wrote on their commute to work (though most of those involve people who take a train or subway - if you drive to work, probably best not to have the laptop open). Find a half hour or an hour every day that is just for writing - and make sure everyone who might bother you understands that it’s your writing time and you *will* punch them in the face as hard as you can if they bother you.

3) If all you do in that 15 minutes (or half hour or hour) is just stare at the blank screen, it's a win...

4) But you'd rather write, right?

5) So be prepared to write! Outline your screenplay. A step outline is easiest - just bullet point scene-by-scene. The great part about an outline is that you can play around with it and solve all your story problems while it's just a page or two of outline... instead of 110 pages of screenplay. Less writing for the garbage can.

I think of screenwriting as “creative steps”, because that’s how things are done professionally. When you land an assignment, they don’t just cut you a check and send you off to write the screenplay, there are “steps”. In fact, it’s called a “Step Deal”. You do one step at a time, and are paid for each step. There are “reading periods” where the producer (or their intern) reads each step and then gives you notes and tells you what they want you to do in the next step. One of those steps is always a *Treatment* - a scene-by-scene version of the screenplay. Since you are going to have to work that way as a professional screenwriter anyway, might as well train yourself now. Work in creative steps. My first creative step is to get the overall story under control. I write an outline, and then rework the outline until the story part of the script works. That gives me a roadmap that gets me from the beginning to the end by the very best possible route. Now to the next creative step which is writing each of those scenes in my bullet point outline - and I know that Mary and John break up... but *how* do they break up? The outline may give me the basics of what happens, but not *how* it happens or any of the hundreds of possible details about how that scene plays out. That’s the fun part of the next creative step - once you have the outline, you still have all kinds of fun things to figure out during the “writing step”.

6) The other great thing about an outline is that it breaks your story down into bite sized pieces which are easier to write. You don't have to write a whole screenplay, just this one scene. A scene is about 2 pages, so you can knock that out in a day or two... but if it takes you a week, you are still making progress. Some scenes are easy, some are more difficult. What matters is that you make a little progress every day.

And that is the key to getting things done. You can become overwhelmed at having to write a 110 page screenplay (or a 100,000 word novel), and that may lead to you “choking” and writing nothing at all. But a scene? A couple of pages? Heck, even if you only write half of that scene - *one* page a day - you can handle that, right? And all of those pages add up. Slow and steady wins the race, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and any other cliches you can come up with - all true.

7) If you end up with only 15 minutes a day, it may make sense to outline the scene itself. This also works if you ever get stuck (and you will). Just start by writing down all of the things the scene needs to do for the story. Then figure out the most interesting ways those things can happen. Then figure out the most interesting order for those things to happen. Now you have a scene that is broken down int bite-sized pieces. If you only have 15 minutes, you can write one of those little pieces, right? Or at least part of one of those pieces. The key is to make progress every day, even if it's just a little progress. In the Film Courage clip I talk about how I wrote 3 screenplays a year while working a full time job by just writing one page a day. Hey, there are days when I was on a roll and wrote more than one page a day, but my goal was to write one page on *bad days* (and you will have plenty of those, every writer does).

8) "Nothing succeeds like success!" That may not make much sense, but if you write half a page, a quarter of a page, a sentence - you are making progress, and that will make you feel good and keep you "self-inspired" to write the next day. Momentum is everything, and if you write a page every day it becomes easier to write that page (or half a page or quarter of a page or sentence) as time goes on. You build up momentum. Today’s writing leads to tomorrow’s writing.

But sooner or later something will happen and you will miss a couple of days and all of that momentum will be lost. It will be hard as heck to get it rolling again - but that is what you have to do. If you fall off the horse, the best thing to do is get back on and ride again, and all of those cliches - which are also true. The next thing on our little list will help you to get back on the horse or dust yourself off or whatever cliche you have selected that best illustrates this...

9) Most important thing: Your Doorway Into The Story. Make sure your screenplay is personal. A piece of you. That way you won't want to abandon it. It would be like abandoning your arm or leg or head. "What right does my head have to call itself me?" I write action and thrillers and horror - and even if it is an assignment, my first step is to find that piece of me in the story. Most of my screenplays are just cheap therapy - and I either begin with the personal emotional conflict I want to work though in fiction form or I search for it and find it within whatever story idea I've come up with (or assignment I have accepted). We look at this in the Ideas Blue Book.

There are times when I've been offered paid writing jobs and turned them down because I couldn't find my story within their story. Better to wait until something comes along that I can find a "doorway" into than write something that I don't give a crap about. Here's one of my script tips about finding that doorway on a script of mine that got filmed *twice*: Writing BLACK THUNDER - Sibling rivalry is something I completely understand. I am not the favorite son. I'm the guy who has to work harder just to get noticed, and that's an issue I'm still working through... so I pitched a story dealing with that subject and ended up getting paid to write the screenplay.

Everything I've written has a "personal core" that keeps me from abandoning it, because it may be about fighter pilots and explosions - but it is still really about me. There will come a time when writing your screenplay that you want to abandon it. You hate it. You want to write something else instead. Don’t give in to this! There are people who have a dozen half written screenplays and not a single one that’s *finished*. You can’t do anything with a half written screenplay (okay, you can train puppies and line birdcages). So you want to get all the way to FADE OUT with your script! The best way to do that is have a personal connection to the story so that it’s difficult to let go of. Find your “doorway” into the story - that thing that makes it *part of you*. That not only makes it more difficult to abandon when the going gets rough, it also makes it a better story.

10) Now just write a little bit every day, and the pages add up. I used to write 1 hour a day before work, but really all I required myself to write was one page a day. That's it. One page. And 1 page times 365 days is 3 rough draft screenplays a year. Look, if you write a third of a page a day in 15 minutes, that a screenplay a year - and that puts you ahead of most people who would rather talk about writing than actually write every day and get progressively better and eventually sell something or land an assignment and have a handful of credits on IMDB that represents about a tenth of what they've been paid to do (only about 10% of stuff you sell or are hired to write ever makes it to the screen). (Which is another reason why you have to keep turning out new screenplays - when one project gets shelved you need a new screenplay to keep your *career momentum* going!)

When you are being productive, it helps keep you productive. Momentum. When you lose momentum, you need to push yourself to start moving again. It's not easy at first, but when you start rolling at 5mph it's much easier to roll to 10mph and keep increasing speed than it is from a cold start. Starting's a bitch!

And this may be what you are facing now - so just push yourself a little at first (even force yourself) and it gets easier. Forced writing can be rewritten, smoothed out, improved. But you can’t rewrite what isn’t written. So write! One Writers Block Breaker is to just write nonsense that doesn't matter to get started. That gets things rolling. Then just keep it rolling. Not easy... but possible. All of this is building good habits of regular writing, which comes in handy when you have a career and deadlines and need to write a certain number of pages a day to turn in your assignment on time.

Good luck, and keep writing!

- Bill



NEXT WEEK: THRILLER Thursday Season 2 - an episode directed by the awesome Ida Lupino!

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Trailer Tuesday:
THE SILENT PARTNER

Hope you had a great Christmas... Happy Kawanzaa!

THE SILENT PARTNER (1978)

Director: Daryl Duke
Writers: Curtis Hanson (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL)
Starring: Elliott Gould, Christopher Plummer, Susannah York, John Candy.






It’s no secret that thrillers are my favorite genre, and I saw this Canadian gem when it was first released back in 1978. I have no idea if some critic called it Hitchcockian or not, but it has that STRANGERS ON A TRAIN vibe where two strangers become connected by crime. It also takes place during the Holiday Season with a background of Mall Santas and Holiday Parties and the Christmas Rush at stores... and a Santa with a gun.

Shy, chess playing Miles (Elliott Gould) is the head bank teller at a mall branch. He is approaching middle age, and this is the best it is ever going to get for him. He has a crush on the woman who is in charge of safety deposit boxes, Julie (Susannah York), but she’s having an affair with the married bank manager. He has a dead end life, and part of that is not being very assertive.

During the busy Christmas season, Miles is in charge of all of the Merchant deposits from the mall... all of the money people spend on gifts and clothes and meals comes to *his* window. Tens of thousands of dollars in *cash* every day. The bank manager trusts him with the money, but won’t recommend him for a promotion.

Miles discovers a deposit slip with a hold up note written on it in block letters... but with a distinctive “G”. Someone was planning on robbing the bank, then decided not to. Later he notices that one of the Mall Santas has a sign asking for donations to the poor... hand lettered with the same distinctive “G”. That is the robber! The next day, Miles puts all of the big cash deposits in his lunch box instead of the cash drawer... and when that Mall Santa comes in and hands him the stick up note, Miles gives him all of the money in the drawer, then triggers the alarm... and puts his lunch box full of cash in his briefcase. The old Security Guard gets into a shoot out with the Mall Santa, but he gets away....



Everybody run! Santa's gotta gun!

Miles is interviewed on TV, they say his name... and also the amount stolen (which is much much more than the Mall Santa ended up with). So the Mall Santa calls Miles, tells them that they are *partners* in this robbery, and if he knows what is good for him he will share the money. This begins a great cat and mouse game between Miles and the vicious bank robber (Christopher Plummer) where each tries to outsmart the other without being caught by the police. The background is the holidays, and Miles ends up taking Julie to the Bank Manager’s Christmas Party so that the Bank Manager’s wife won’t figure out he’s cheating. This leads to Julie confiding that she is facing the same dead end as Miles... and they two hook up. While the Bank Robber makes Miles’ life hell in the background. Miles has to figure out some way to outsmart the Robber, without screwing up his new relationship with Julie. And it’s much more complicated than that! (a character gets their head cut off, Miles loses the money, all sorts of fun things happen!)



John Candy plays another teller who hooks up with the hottest woman in the film (the new teller hired as Christmas Help). This is a great thriller, edge of your seat suspense, and does an amazing job of quietly setting up later complications (the new bank’s vault will be surrounded by a massive underground wall of cement is mentioned in passing, and pays off much later!). A great little movie, and written by some guy named Curtis Hanson (who would later win an Oscar for L.A. CONFIDENTIAL). I love this movie so much that I tracked down the Danish novel it’s based on (“Think Of A Number”, found it in a mystery book store in London) and read it. The book ends differently (in the film Miles and Julia talk about running away from the city to some tropical paradise and starting over again... and that’s what happens in the book and that is where the Bank Robber finds them), but the story is basically the same and the book also takes place at Christmas Time.

Check this film out if you haven’t seen it!

Bill


bluebook

Great The Holidays!

*** HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR! *** - For Kindle!

A look at 18 of Hitchcock's films with radical cinema or story experiments. ROPE, REAR WINDOW, LIFEBOAT, CHAMPAGNE, BON VOYAGE and more!

Only $5.99 - and no postage!


Friday, December 22, 2023

HITCH 20: BACK FOR CHRISTMAS (s1e4)

There's a great new documentary video series focusing on the 20 TV episodes that Hitchcock directed called HITCH 20. This episode is BACK FOR CHRISTMAS which stars Hitchcock regular John Williams (TO CATCH A THIEF) as a henpecked husband who finds a permanent solution to his marital problems. In my Thriller class, I talk about the importance of comedy in a thriller to balance the story and make the thrills even more thrilling (peaks and valleys), and this episode has a great light comedy tone which heightens the suspense. Hitch called PSYCHO a comedy... and this episode is as funny as a steel pipe to the side of the head!



There is one more episode of HITCH 20 in this season, which I'll post next Friday.



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

Bill

- Bill

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






HITCHCOCK'S MOST DARING EXPERIMENTS!



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.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Thriller Thursday: The Grinch

Okay, not an episode of THRILLER, but Boris Karloff as the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. This is one of those Christmas classics that everyone my age grew up watching, and having Karloff be in an animated kid's film filled with songs is just... weird. William Henry Pratt (Karloff) was the host of THRILLER but also a legendary star of horror movies since the 1930s. He played Frankenstein's monster! He played The Mummy! And in some *great* Val Lewton horror movies like BEDLAM and ISLE OF THE DEAD (say that outloud). He was so famous as a horror actor, he starred in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER, BORIS KARLOFF. In the early sixties he starred in AIP's COMEDY OF TERRORS with Peter Lorre and Vincent Price. This guy was SCARY! So to put him in a cartoon aimed at kids was genius.

Here's the big song about his character...



And here's part of the ending...



Jim Carrey is no match for Karloff. You wonder who had the dumb idea to remake this as a live action movie, since nothing could be better than the original. They always seem to remake the great films (so that the remake seems terrible in comparison) instead of remake those films that had potential but didn't quite work (where the remake might be an improvement).

Bill

Karloff as Santa?







Buy the DVD.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Film Courage Plus: Take This Job And Shove It!

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015, around 36 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?

Take This Job And Shove It:

What’s interesting to me about this clip is that the first question is about when you should quit your day job, but evolved into a story about my early career... and the troubled path TREACHEROUS took to get to the screen. What do they have in common? I had no idea at the time of the interview, but looking back on it I’ve realized that the TREACHEROUS story is a perfect example of how being a professional screenwriter is often not a dependable source of income. That’s one of the problems with any creative occupation - no regular paychecks.

Screenwriting is freelance - which means that you are the boss. Which means that you pay yourself. Which means that you need to find the jobs so that you can pay yourself. You will be an independent businessperson. Though you may fantasize about an Agent or Manager handling the business side, that is only a fantasy. Most of the deals you get will come from your hard work... and they will get their 10%. You are the only one who cares about your career, so you will need to get out there and find jobs.

One of the questions that new writers frequently ask is: when should I move to Los Angeles?

I thought for the longest time that I wouldn’t have to move to Los Angeles at all. My first script deal, back when I was 21 years old, was writing a comedy martial arts film NINJA BUSTERS for a guy from my hometown community college and it was made in Oakland, CA - the nearest big city to where I grew up - and even starred the World Champion Oakland Raiders. Cool! I believed that I could have a career in my hometown, and NINJA BUSTERS was the first in a three script deal with the guy who produced and directed it, Paul Kyriazi. Paul had made a few successful kung fu movies for the drive in circuit and set up a company that would make more drive in films. After writing NINJA BUSTERS I wrote the next two scripts... and then NINJA BUSTERS hit some financial snags and there would not be two more films. The weird part was that there was enough publicity surrounding the film that I found a couple more local jobs - one of the producers on NINJA BUSTERS had an idea for a movie, and a real estate guy my girlfriend at the time knew had a bunch of vacant properties he thought we could use as film locations. So even after NINJA BUSTERS hit a snag, there were two more deals to be had in the Oakland area. And then there was nothing. I was the big fish in the small pond and had eaten up all of the fish food. I spent ten years working in a warehouse...

And during that time I optioned a script to a company in Beverly Hills and eventually sold another script to a company at Paramount... and that is when I moved.

Looking back on it: I wish I had moved right after NINJA BUSTERS hit the snag, because I could have forklift jousted in Los Angeles as easily as I did in my home town. I was working for Safeway Grocery, and they had stores and warehouses in Los Angeles. Could have easily moved here much earlier instead of driving down once a year for American Film Market. One of the benefits of living in Los Angeles is that you bump into people in line at the grocery store and can easily go to a bunch of meetings. I had an agent for a while still living in my home town and had no idea how terrible he was until I optioned that script to the producer in Beverly Hills and saw his 8x8 windowless office above a motorcycle repair shop in the slums. I would have been a lot more proactive had I known that he was doing nothing for me. I was probably the oldest dude to sell a script to Roger Corman - and had I moved to Los Angeles earlier I probably would have written a stack of scripts for him in my 20s!

WHEN TO MOVE?

One of the questions people often ask is when they should move to Los Angeles - before they make their first sale or after? That’s a very good question and everything depends on what you have established where you live now. I moved after my first sale and once I got here wished I had moved earlier - all of those Corman scripts I could have written. All of those connections I could have made. And I probably never would have signed with that terrible agent!

But it is likely that you will move here at some point.

Los Angeles is where the business is located. All of the studios are here, all of the production companies are here, all of those meetings you will need to go to are here. Though there are other places in the USA where films are frequently produced and you can make connections there, those films are made by companies in Los Angeles. New York doesn’t seem to be doing much these days - Miramax is closed and most of the New York City companies dried up when the indie film business evolved into guys and gals in their backyards with digital cameras a decade ago.

I have friends who live out of town and come here a couple of times a year for a couple of weeks to do wall-to-wall meetings so that they can maintain their career out of town. The rest they do by phone or Skype. That is a possibility, especially if you have a family and a house and a life set up elsewhere.

If you are single? Why not be single here? Yeah, it’s so expensive you’ll probably be living in some terrible apartment with room mates, but when you are single and young it’s an adventure! And there are places you can live within driving distance of Los Angeles that are affordable if you are looking for a house and no roommates.

If you have a good job in your hometown, that can be an issue... but do they have a branch office or store or whatever in Los Angeles? Can you transfer? Keep the good job, just do it in Los Angeles? If not, then you might want to keep the good job. One of the problems with trying to re-establish yourself in a new city is that all of the “ground work” takes time. I got my job at Safeway Grocery because I bumped into a store manager at a business we both frequented, and his son knew my brother. That sort of thing is a lot more difficult when your brother lives in your hometown and that store manager’s son lives in Los Angeles. So if you have a good job, you may want to move after the sale... or not at all.

You don’t want to get into a position where you are stressed about money and can’t write. That defeats the purpose!

WHEN I QUIT MY JOB

After selling COURTING DEATH - a series of flights to Los Angeles - I put in my 2 weeks notice, and I think I ended up working even longer. I was a good employee. And that’s a factor that some people miss - if you are a crappy employee at your day job, how do you think you’ll do when you are the boss of your own one person company and have to make deadlines and show up to meetings on time and all of the other things you may have hated about the day job? I was always a hard working employee, always the guy who would take an extra shift if need be, always the guy that the other employees got along with. Always on time. All of the things that make you a good employee at your day job are the same factors that will make you successful as a screenwriter. If you are not the very best employee at your day job, the person they can trust to show up on time and get the work done without mistakes, you will never be ready to quit your day job and write full time... because how will you (as boss) get you (as employee) to do better? You have already proven yourself a terrible employee - why would you hire yourself? I was the great employee then, and a pretty good employee now. So when I quit my day job, they threw a big party for me.

I moved to Los Angeles to begin this adventure in screenwriting... which is still going! I haven't had to fire myself yet!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill



Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Trailer Tuesday:
BAD SANTA

Holiday Season is officially upon us!

BAD SANTA (2003)

Director: Terry Zwigoff
Writers: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Lauren Graham, Bernie Mac.

Glenn Ficarra & John Requa's BAD SANTA is about a foul mouthed, alcoholic, angry department store Santa played to perfection by Billy Bob Thornton. He's not a nice guy, not looking for redemption, and not someone we'd ever want to hang out with in real life... but for ninety minutes in a cinema he's a whole lot of (mean spirited) fun. Here are a few of the reasons we may not like Billy Bob's character, but we can't tear ourselves away from watching him.



1) He's a rogue and a rebel. After a few days of crowded malls, listening to the same Christmas music over-and-over again, we may want to say "bah humbug!" to the whole Christmas experience... but that would be wrong. So we try to be cheerful and happy. Billy Bob does what we wish we could do - he rebels against everything cheerful and commercial about the Christmas season. He's fed up with the holiday season, and not afraid to show it. We may fantasize about knocking people out of the way at the mall, he *does it*. We secretly like people who break the rules and rebel against society - and what's a bigger symbol of society than Christmas?

2) We understand his bad behavior. He hates his job as a department store Santa, and we'd hate it, too. Kids sneeze all over him, wet their pants on his lap, demand toys, seem to speak in a foreign language (the kids ask for toys that he's never heard of - but expect him to know exactly what they're talking about), the kids (and parents) feel like they own him - he can't even eat his lunch in peace! If people kept bugging me on my lunch hour I'd probably get mad, too. He deals with the most crass and commercial aspects of Christmas, it's no wonder he's a Bah Humbugger.



3) We understand his character. BAD SANTA opens with Billy Bob sitting in a bar telling us about his abusive father - this is a guy who has never known love. Even his parents treated him badly. He's spent his entire life being abused, and now he's a bitter drunk. That may not be someone we identify with, but we can see how he became this angry guy. We're taken inside his miserable life. He's a guy with a chip on his shoulder, but the film explains where that chip came from. When his father died Billy Bob was left nothing except a basic knowledge of safe-cracking... which explains his current career. He doesn't want to be a department store Santa, it's just part of the department store robbery scheme. The key to writing a script with an unlikable character is making sure that we understand the character.

4) Someone to love. At first the snot-nosed Kid (Brett Kelly) is a nuisance - hanging around him, overly cheerful, a happy stalker. Then the Kid is an accidental helper - fighting off the crazed Gay rapist in the parking lot and providing Billy Bob with a place to hide out. But eventually a bond grows between the two - Billy Bob helps the Kid deal with the skateboard bullies and deal with his self esteem issues. He sees himself in the Kid - both have gotten the short end of the stick from society and are filled with self-loathing. By helping the kid, he's really helping himself. He's kind to the Kid, cares about the Kid, and we're able to see a softer side of his character.

And because the Kid worships him, we really hope he gets his act together... and we end up caring about him. The same goes for the cocktail waitress (Lauren Graham) he shacks up with. She may just be interested in him because of that weird Santa fetish, but she likes him. By giving him relationships with others, we have a chance to see him through their eyes.




5) Goal & Obstacle. Give any character a goal that requires struggle and we'll wonder if they can achieve that goal. Here the goal is to do a very bad thing - rob the department store on Christmas Eve. But a goal is a goal, and the obstacles are many. First we have the torture of being a department store Santa before the robbery, then we have his verbally abusive partner (Tony Cox) and his mercenary wife (Lauren Tom), then we have the *very* straight-laced Personnel Director (the late John Ritter), and the dangerous Head of Security for the department store (Bernie Mac).

6) Humor. You can have the most unlikeable character in the world, but if they're funny we'll hang around them for a couple of hours. This guy is sarcastic, but he's also funny because his behavior is completely inappropriate. He's the opposite of everything we expect in a Christmas movie. Whether he's screwing plus-sized women in the changing rooms or drinking on duty, he does those things we never expected a guy in a Santa suit to ever do on screen. When he comes up the escalator passed out, you can't help but laugh. His explanation for why he's wearing a fake beard is outrageously funny, and becomes a running gag throughout the film (the Kid walks in on Santa having sex with the Cocktail Waitress later in the film and calls her "Mrs. Claus' sister"). He's got a cynical (and funny) response to every situation.

Bill

Friday, December 15, 2023

HITCH 20: The Case Of Mr. Pelham (s1e3)

There's a great new documentary video series focusing on the 20 TV episodes that Hitchcock directed called HITCH 20, where I am one of the "guest experts". This episode is on THE CASE OF MR. PELHAM about a man who is haunted by a double who is trying to take over his life! A really weird tale, which may have been more at home of the THRILLER TV Show which was shot on the same lot. It's really a lot of fun, so take a look:



Two important things I talked about were cut for time:

1) This episode is based on a book by the screenwriter of Hitch's YOUNG AND INNOCENT which had actually been adapted into a film *the same year* in England. It has even been made a few times since then, including a film with Roger Moore titled THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF in 1970. And someone should sue *Harlan Ellison* because his SHATTERDAY short story (made into one of my favorite NEW TWILIGHT ZONE episodes) uses the same idea. (kidding... but it would be funny payback for the TERMINATOR lawsuit.)

2) The *magic* shot. There's part of the shot in the HITCH 20 episode, we see a wide shot of the bar, move in to Pelham flagging down the Psychiatrist, then asking him to join him, and then the camera dollies backwards as they walk to a table and sit down... except that table could *not* have been there when they were dollying back! The camera would have bumped into it! So *off camera* the table was rolled into place as the camera was dollying backwards! It's one of those crazy furniture moves that Hitchcock used in ROPE so that the camera would be able to move fluidly "through" furniture and walls. By making the furniture and walls movable, they could dolly backwards "through" that table in the bar that Pelham and the Psychiatrist would be sitting at! A magic shot!

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

- Bill

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






USA Readers click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 52 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

THRILLER Thursday: LA STREGA

SEASON 2: LA STREGA

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



Season: 2, Episode: 17.
Airdate: January 15, 1962.

Director: Ida Lupino.
Writer: actor Alan Caillou.
Cast: Ursula Andress, Alejandro Rey, Jeanette Nolan. Frank DeKova, Ernest Sarracino, Ramon Navarro.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Strega. A witch. Dreadful word for a horrible creature. In Italy, where just over a hundred years ago the events you are about to see took place, witchcraft is called even today ‘The Old Religion”. The pious peasants who feared it fought it. And sometimes they employed measures which were. Well. Quite extreme. But witches, too, could fight back. And when they do, my friends, beware! For the witch can wreak a fearful vengeance in those who dare to stand in her way. She’s outcast, unwanted, feared, and the image of her that has come down to us through the ages is a fright, indeed. The title of our story is ‘La Strega’, and our players are: Ursula Andress, Alejandro Rey, Jeanette Nowlan, Raymond Navaro, Frank DeKova, and Ernest Sarracino. La Strega: you can see her now as prepares to cast a spell of death. She’s old, lame, evil eyed and cruel. And her familiar - the animal chose to bridge the gap between herself and the devil? (A black cat) Is ready to help her perform the devil’s work. As sure as my name is Boris Karloff, someone is about to die.”



Synopsis: Italy, early 1800s: A beautiful woman named Luana (Ursula Andress) is doing her laundry at the side of a lake... with a man watching from the hillside above. Creepy. He yells “Strega!” and she turns around. And sees that the man is part of a group of angry men on the hillside yelling “Strega!” They walk down the hill and surround her - she is trapped by the lake. She tries to escape, but they grab her and beat her and throw her into the lake to drown...

An old woman doing her laundry by the side of the lake as Tonio (Alejandro Rey from THE FLYING NUN) - a painter - comes up with his laundry bag and they have a conversation about laundry day... and then hear a noise from the lake. Luana clinging to a log. Tonio jumps in the lake to save her against the protests of the old woman. He pulls her to shore. She wakes up and asks if the men are gone, and he tells her that it is only him. She is scared to death that they will return, and he is protective of her. Tells her that he is an artist that lives in the next village over - and broke. She tells him that she has run away from home - her parents are dead and she was living with her grandmother... who is a witch. Nobody will help her, because they believe that she is also a witch. She cries on his shoulder... and it’s Ursula Andress... so he offers to take her home with him and give her a place to stay for a while. He’s no dummy.



Outside his flat, he explains that his place isn’t cleaned up right now and... She doesn’t care. She finds one of his paintings and thinks that he’s very talented. He gives her a robe and she steps behind a folding screen to change out of her wet clothes. Because Tonio is pervy - there is a mirror behind the screen so her can see her nude reflection (and the TV audience gets to see Ursula’s naked back). Tonio asks to sketch her - he is falling in love with her. He suggests she spend the night with him until he can talk with his best friend and mentor Giuliano who might be able to help her find a place.

Luana screams - she feels the presence of her Grandmother close by. Tonio takes her to the window to prove that nobody is there... and there is her grandmother the witch! The Grandmother begins pounding on the door to get in! Tonio hides Luana in a trunk and puts a painting over the charcoal sketch of her on his easel... then opens the door.

The Grandmother (Jeanette Nolan) - a pretty danged ugly old woman who looks like a witch - enters looking for Luana. Tonio says he doesn’t know who she is talking about - and the Grandmother knows *everything* and pulls the painting off the easel exposing the sketch of Luana. Tonio says that Luana is an adult and can do whatever the heck she wants, and he is not going to tell the Grandmother where she is.



Grandmother tells him, “When the moon is down and the night is dark, the blood in your veins will boil and burn. Your hands will do the work of the devil. Those you love will be taken away, A curse will lie on you day and night - a madman, kept in a darkened cell for the rest of your life! A madman! Only a grave for the ones you love.” And then she cackles and splits. Because that’s just what witches do.

As soon as she’s gone, Tonio goes to the trunk to release Luana... but the latch is stuck! Luana is dying of asphyxiation inside. Some suspense as he fights to get the latch open! He gets the latch open just in time, and holds Luana close. Which leads to them laying in bed together. When he has fallen asleep, she paints a cross above his bed and casts a protection spell on him. Maybe she does take after her Grandmother?

Meanwhile the Grandmother is finding eyes of newts and various other witch needs in the forest. These things aren’t found in a supermarket.

When Tonio wakes, Luana wants to know exactly what the curse was - so that she can help. He still isn’t sold on the whole witchcraft thing. That’s old fashioned. But she is beautiful and he believes that his painting of her will sell and make him a pile of money.

Meanwhile, the Grandmother is doing some sort of Voodoo doll thing.

Tonio finishes his painting and... it’s a painting of the Grandmother! He throws it in the fireplace... and the flames erupt from the front! And the image of a black cat appears!



The Next Day: Luana is cleaning up the flat - TV code that she has moved in and is now Tonio’s lover - when there is a knock at the door and Tonio’s mentor Maestro Giuliano (silent film heart throb Ramon Navarro) comes in. Tonio half heartedly asks if Giuliano might know of somewhere Luana can stay... and is slips that her Grandmother is La Strega - the witch. They discuss witchcraft - which Giuliano believes is not just superstition. He has seen a black cat in the woods and believes that means tonight there will be a Witch ritual in the woods. Tonio still doesn’t believe in witches, and Giuliano agrees to take him to the ritual so that he can see for himself that witchcraft is real. Luana is against all of this.

The woods at night. Dark, spooky, windy. The three hide behind a rock and watch the witch ritual - in a scene right out of THE WIZARD OF OZ. The ritual is basically a bunch of people in black bodysuits doing modern dance in the woods - which isn’t scary enough for Giuliano to look away and cross himself over. But the dancing has a sexual element that fits with witchcraft legends, so I wonder what the script was like? Naked people? The Grandmother and her black cat watch over the ritual. Luana says they need to leave *now* before it’s too late. She and Giuliano leaves, but Tonio thinks it’s just people dancing and yells for them to stop. He runs into the middle of the ritual = and the Grandmother points her finger and Poof! All of the dancers are gone. The Grandmother and her cat are gone. Antonio is standing in the middle of a field alone at night. WTF? He searches - but there is no one there.

Then he hears Luana scream... and runs to the trail, where she is leaning over Giuliano’s body. He has been killed by the curse that all Tonio loves will die.



Tonio begs Luana to tell him where her Grandmother lives so that he can beg for her to lift the curse. When Tonio and :Luana leave, the Black Cat comes from the darkness and sniffs at Giuliano’s corpse.

The Village Church: Tonio and Luana talk to the Priest (Ernest Sarracino) - who tells them it is a pity that the townspeople have decided to make up all of these dreadful lies about Luana’s Grandmother. Poor old women living alone are often ostracized by the village. Tonio wants toi know if Luana can spend the night in the church - there are evil spirits at work tonight. “Evil spirits is no way to talk, my child. The evil is in our minds, nowhere else.” Ut he allows her to spend the night... while Tonio does what he must do. Tonight. “Whatever you do, don’t leave the church until I come back.”

Grandmother’s House: Tonio sneaks in and spots Grandmother and her cat in a rocking chair... and she says he came for nothing. She will not lift the curse. He will go mad and all of those he loves will die. The only thing that will satisfy the Grandmother is if Luana is returned to her to carry on the family tradition. Tonio offers to marry Luana - but that isn’t what Grandmother wants. Tonio loses his temper... and strangles the old woman! Strangles her to death! He realizes that he will be executed for this - you can’t just kill an old lady. So he grabs a shovel and digs a grave in the dirt floor of Grandmother’s house, buries her.

The Next Day: Policeman Vincoli (Frank DeKova) is questioning him about the death of Giuliano. The Policeman is not buying the whole witches ritual thing, and hints that Giuliano died in the company of Luana. Maybe they should question Luana to see if she saw this alleged witch ritual. Where is she? They go to the Church...



Where the Priest tells the Policeman that Luana vanished in the night. When the Priest woke up, she was gone. The Policeman wonders if she has gone back to her Grandmothers? The Priest says that can’t be - this morning after he discovered Luana was gone, the Priest ran into the Grandmother just outside the Church looking for Luana. Tonio says that can not be (he knows that he murdered the Grandmother last night). Tonio grabs a knife and escapes from the Policeman - running like a madman across town.

He runs to the Grandmother’s house... to the grave in the floor... and begins digging. To make sure the Grandmother is still there, still dead.

The Policeman and a bunch of other Policemen race to the Grandmother’s House.

Tonio uncovers the body and cries in shock! The dead body is there... but it’s Luana! The Policeman shows up and slaps the cuffs on him.



Review: This is actor and sometimes screenwriter Alan Caillou’s third script for the series and his second script about witches (HAY-FORK AND BILL-HOOK previously). The problem is - it isn’t very scary. Part of that is due to this being a story with no Act 2 - it is a set up and punchline story. The set up being the witch’s curse, the punchline being when Tonio digs up the witch’s body and discovers that it’s Luana... and the curse has become true. But in between those two scenes, not much happens. There is that modern dance scene, and taking Luana to the church so that she will be safe, but neither of those things is particularly scary or contains much conflict or suspense. Yes, Giuliano is killed at the modern dance show - but off camera. No suspense or build up. He’s just dead. So the middle of the story is padding.

The story has similarities to season 1's PAPA BENJAMIN, based on a Woolrich story, which does a better job of creating suspense in the middle... more due to the source material than the episode’s writing. But this episode needed more conflict, more scary scenes. The witch ritual was more silly than spooky - and even if frolicing in the woods might be factual (usually naked frolicing, but I’ll be the black bodysuits were pushing the limits at the time), it’s just not scary. In doing a little research for this entry, I watched the Finnish film “Noita Palaa Elämään” (1952) (“The Witch Returns To Life”) which shows witches as a form of temptress - and naked dancing in the forest fits with that aspect. If the story had run with the idea of being possessed and helpless against a sexy witch, lured to your death, and that happen to Giuliano, that could have created some suspense and a frightening scene where he was powerless to stop himself from walking to his death, and Tonio and Luana could not stop him nor look at the witches. Though, the idea of Jeanette Nowlan naked is more frightening than anything in the episode.

Witchcraft includes not only casting spells, but raising the dead and conjuring demons. Those things might have added some fear in the middle of the story, but even if you just stuck with casting spells - there should have been a couple more spells or more threatening manifestations of her original spell. I like to make lists of possible scenes, so I would have started with all of the things that a witch could do to you that would scare the crap out of the TV audience - loss of free will is one of those things. Once you make a list, you pick the most frightening things and the most frightening scenes that use those elements, and pick the best three for the middle of the story. But after introducing the cat, it basically does nothing in this story!



This may be Ida Lupino’s weakest directing in the series - it’s competent, and has a couple of great shots - the ending shot where the police are taking Tonio away is great - they haven’t shown what he has dug up, yet, only his reactions. In a single shot the police drag him away and then the shot moves down to where he was digging to expose Luana’s face in the dirt. Very cool shot. But she has done so much great work in past episodes that this is kind of a let down.

Though that cute guy from THE FLYING NUN does a good job, the real draw for this episode is Ursula Andress before her big breakout role in DR. NO - and she was dubbed in DR. NO because they thought he accent was too strong for UK and USA audiences, but here she speaks with her own voice and is easily understood. Yes, the character is supposed to be Italian, but she sounds like an American actress doing an Italian accent. Do I even have to say that she is beautiful? When this episode was made she had done a couple of Italian movies, and wasn’t famous - she hadn’t made a movie in seven years due to contracts with Paramount and Columbia where they refused to cast her due to that alleged accent. So this episode was her American debut.

The other draw for this episode is Ramon Navarro, a silent era Latin Lover type who was billed as the new Valentino... and played Ben Hur in the original silent BEN HUR. He was a huge star, who hit a slump in the 1940s and returned as a working character actor on TV in the 1950s until his murder in 1968 in North Hollywood during a home invasion robbery. Here we see him in the middle of this second career as a character actor, and he’s charming as Giuliano.

This is an okay episode, but both writer and director have done better work on the show. Next week, that black cat is back! In a story about a storm... and strange noises coming from the storm cellar.

- Bill

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