Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Scene Of The Week: THE THIRD MAN

The scene of the week is a nice bit of threatening dialogue from THE THIRD MAN, and a reunion between two old friends Holly (Joeseph Cotton) and Harry (Orson Welles)... after one of their funerals. The great thing about this conversation is how charming and fun Harry makes his threats and his justifications for criminal activities. He's a bad guy you just want to hang out with.


The British Film Institute selected THE THIRD MAN as the Best British Film Ever Made - and it's hard to argue with that. It does a million things right, it has one iconic scene after another, some amazing lines (this scene doesn't have the film's best lines!) and is a great thriller with a huge action-chase set piece at the end which has been lifted in dozens of other films. If you haven't seen it - check it out. Actually filmed in the rubble of Post WW2 Vienna!

This is one of my favorite films - and I can watch it again and again. The characters, scenes, and story are all great. The story has a really messy and messed up romance - can you fall in love with your dead best friend's girlfriend and not have it be just a little awkward? I also love the humor in the film - like all great thrillers it straddles absurdity. The yappy little dog. Saved by a speech on cowboy literature. The misplaced slide in the slide show. It's a great example of how to balance a film.

Comments section is open for discussion of the scene.

- Bill

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Trailer Tuesday: TOGETHER & ALONE (1998)

My friend Duane made this film, and ever since seeing it on a borrowed VHS, I have made sure to see it every time it plays in some Los Angeles cinema, which is fairly often, because once the programmer at the New Beverly or American Cinematheque saw it *they* also want to see it again and again. Now Duane is winning a bunch of awards for his acting in the film EDGE OF TOWN (2022) and TOGETHER & ALONE is on Blu-ray... So here's my review from one of the times I saw it in the cinema...

Director: Duane Whitaker.
Writer: Duane Whitaker.
Starring: Casey Siemaszko, Stacie Randall, Daniel Roebuck, Tim Thomerson, Joe Unger, Duane Whitaker, Mariah O'Brien, Joe Estevez.
Produced by: Nell Isgate, Patricia Anne Isgate-Hayward.
Cinematographer: Sean Hughes II.
Music by: Matt Davis.

TOGETHER & ALONE - I had seen it once on DVD or VHS, but never on the big screen. This film is the bridge between Robert Altman and Mumblecore. When I'd seen it earlier, I got a little teary at the end. This time, other parts got to me as well. Big ensemble cast playing people living on the fringe in Hollywood who know they are not going to make it. The hope has been pounded out of them. Like in Duane's EDDIE PRESLEY, they all hang at the same greasy spoon diner - and that is where their lives intersect. Very funny, very sad - this is one of those films that some critic somewhere needs to discover and champion. Duane wrote the script, directed, and plays one of the roles. The film was made for pocket change, and I suspect some of the stuff shot on the streets of Hollywood was done without permits (there’s a bit at the end where an unsuspecting person ends up part of a scene where a character goes crazy and starts yelling). The one problem with the film is that it does not have the flow of Duane's EDDIE PRESLEY (directed by the great Jeff Burr) and there are abrupt and jarring cuts between scenes... but that kind of fits right into the whole Mumblecore thing, so we’ll just say this film was ahead of its time.





This is the old trailer, new one for the Blu-Ray release further down.

Here are the story threads in this tale of one day in the life of Hollywood hopefuls who lose all hope...

Billy (Casey Siemaszko) is a guitar player with real talent in some garage band that plays all kinds of low rent clubs. He’s dating a rich girl from a wealthy Texas family, and is about to be introduced to her father (Tim Thomerson) for the first time, and is a little nervous. So nervous that he misses a sound check with his band - who are about to cut a demo record. That demo record might be Billy’s big break...

Zevo (Duane) is the leader of the band - all of them have really big hair - and gets pissed off when Billy’s a no show, and tries to turn the rest of the band against Billy and vote him out of the band. Problem is, the rest of the band are idiots, and Billy is a good guitar player, and Billy also brings beer to rehearsals sometimes. Zevo is so cheap that he goes into a strip bar to borrow the phone when there’s a perfectly good payphone outside. After the band stops being distracted by strippers, they decide to vote Billy out of the band - leaving them without their most talented member and leaving Billy adrift and without hope. There’s a nice scene where Billy and his girlfriend end up at the base of the Capitol Records Building, and he talks about his dreams of a recording deal... and how they are probably never going to happen.

In the Greasy Spoon Diner where their lives intersect...

Chad the screenwriter (Tom Denolf) lays out his pens in a specific pattern on the counter and opens his legal pad to write... when a pair of pests sit on either side of him. An older dude who keeps asking him what he’s doing... and eventually starts to hit on him with the weirdest pick up lines you’ve ever heard, and Dougie Westa (Danny Roebuck) the worst actor in the world - his car is plastered with his headshots in a parody of Dennis Woodfruff’s car - sits on the other side of Chad and asks if there’s a role in the script for him. These three guys provide some great comedy bits throughout the film.

At another table are burned out actor Roscoe (Joe Unger in an Oscar calibre performance - really, this is one amazing piece of acting) and just out of film school young director Gene (Thomas Draper) who is buttering up Roscoe to be in his short film about a door-to-door bible salesman who kills people. Though I have no idea what % of the film this story thread is, it *dominates* the film due to Unger’s performance as a guy who knows he’s a has-been without ever really being somebody. He’s spent his life being a bit part player with his best roles on the cutting room floor (in real life, Unger’s big break-out role in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK ended up on the cutting room floor). He has this great rant about how Hollywood just screwed him over, and how lesser talents went farther. Unger manages to be angry and vulnerable and sad all at the same time... and Gene has to put up with all of this in order to get Roscoe in his short film. Gene has a girlfriend, who is an actress....

Buy Together & Alone BlueRay

Laura (Stacie Randall) is taking an acting class from blowhard acting teacher Blaine (Joe Estevez - Martin Sheen’s brother) who has a big showcase for his acting class coming up where big time agents and big time talent scouts are supposed to be in the audience. There will be wine and cheese after the showcase, but only if the acting students bring the wine and cheese, because Blaine sure as hell isn’t paying for it. When Roscoe talks bout those guys who got undeserved breaks, he mentions Blaine’s name - Blaine was once in an episode of LASSIE in a featured role. Blaine has a photo of him and Lassie in his scrap book... that he shows to Laura after class... just before trying to rape her. See, she’s the only one in his class with any talent, so obviously they were meant to be together, right? Laura kicks him in the nuts - hard - and splits for the diner and Gene.

The part that made my eyes damp the first time I saw it was Janet (Harri James) the female comedian who goes to open mike night and bombs. Bombs big time. And realizes that she is not funny at all, and her dream is never going to happen. After being booed off stage, she gets in her beat up old car... which blows up! Now she has no car, no dreams, no nothing. She wanders to a bus stop where she meets Rusty (John Bishop) a shaggy guitar player who hasn't really made it, but sold some songs. As they wait for the bus - which never comes - they tentatively hit it off... and decide to take a cab to her place, where they do not have sex... but share some powerful moments where they talk about their failure to crack Hollywood. Then, as she sleeps, he writes a song about her. A sad song. The funny part about this is that I started getting misty eyed at the friggin’ bus stop scene! I knew that song was coming, and it was already working on me! Anyway, that is one great scene.



There are two “glue characters” who also connect these story threads... Buffy the free-spirit waitress at the greasy spoon café (Mariah O’Brien) and the chatty philosopher / taxi driver (Larry Lyles) who picks up Rusty and Janet and a few of the other characters and transports them from one location to another. Chad the screenwriter works up the nerve to flirt with Buffy, and eventually asks her out. This is a great little scene. Afterwards, there’s a funny scene where Gene and Laura are talking and he jokes about a 3-way with another woman. Laura puts him on the spot by calling over Buffy and asking why she thinks men want that kind of stuff. Buffy thinks it’s just because they’re dogs, thinks the whole 3-way thing is gross... except for the time she did it, oh, and the other time she did it, oh, and the time before that when she did it, and...

The taxi driver guy talks a mile a minute and has a theory about everything and is funny as hell - he practically steals the show! You keep wanting one of the other characters to flag down a taxi! He has this crazy story he tells about how his ex-wife ran away with some clown... a real clown. Guy who does kids birthday parties. Worst thing was that she got custody of his little girl, and he wasn’t around to be a father to her... some clown was. When Buffy flags down the taxi, and it’s his cab, we can’t wait to hear whatever rambling monologue he’s going to do while he drives her home after her shift. Along the way, they pass Roscoe - who has flipped out and is wandering the streets of Hollywood screaming, then when he pulls up in front of her apartment she kisses him and it’s revealed that she is his daughter. Cool moment that brings all of the story threads together.

This is a pocket change movie that I enjoyed much more than any of the Mumblecore films I've seen - some critic needs to discover and champion this film so that it can find a larger audience...

And it seems that has happened enough that we finally have a Blu-Ray!

- Bill

Buy Together & Alone BlueRay

Monday, May 29, 2023

Today Is Memorial Day.

Today is the day in the United States where we honor our fallen soldiers: soldiers and sailors and marines and air force folks and everyone else who have died d
efended this country. I grew up during an unpopular war (Viet Nam) and the mistake then was to transfer feelings about the war to those people who were fighting it - usually poor kids who had no way to avoid the draft, and were doing their best to serve their country. I think we have all learned from that mistake - no matter what we think about war, the people fighting it who *gave their lives* to serve their country deserve our respect. Defending our freedom is the most important thing someone can do. Those who want to take away or limit our freedom must be fought, both abroad and in this country. All people are created equal, all people have rights to live their lives as they desire as long as that doesn't infringe on the rights of others. When our soldiers fight for those human rights and die, that is the greatest sacrifice. Today we mourn them.



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

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

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



GO FOR BROKE (1951)...

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


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



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



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



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



- Bill

Friday, May 26, 2023

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Under Capricorn (1949)

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

That's a whole lotta based ons...

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




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



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



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

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



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



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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

- Bill

BUY THE DVD AT AMAZON:









Thursday, May 25, 2023

THRILLER Thursday: GUILLOTINE

My favorite episode...

Guillotine

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



Season: 2, Episode: 2.
Airdate: Sep. 26, 1961

Director: Ida Lupino.
Writer: Charles Beaumont based on the story by Cornell Woolrich.
Cast: Robert Middleton, Danielle de Metz, Alejandro Rey.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith.
Cinematography: Benjamin Kline
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The early dawn. The gleaming knife. A man seized in his cell by armed guards in his stocking feet, snatched from a dream of freedom to be thrust into the waiting embrace of Madame Guillotine. Altogether an unenviable experience. Not however inevitable. It is related that there have been certain criminals, cutthroats and murderers all, who have by one means or another evaded this chilling fate. Well, the efforts of one such fellow to alter his ordained destiny form the substance of tonight’s story.

“The location: France. The year: 1875. And the theme? Well, you might call it togetherness. The normal association of a body and the head it comes with. You’re about to meet three people who enjoy seriously conflicting viewpoints on the subject. (The guillotine blade slices down, dropping a head into the basket which Karloff retrieves.) Here is the condemned man, Robert Lamont, who desires to keep his head while others about him are losing theirs. Enacted for us by Alejandro Rey. (The blade slices and the next head.) His good wife and the chief source from which his present dilemma obtains, Babette. Played by Danielle de Metz. (The blade slices and the next head.) And the third figure in this grisly triangle, the estimable and much maligned Mssr. De Paris. Public servant par excellence, portrayed by Robert Middleton.

“This drama may be considered, not to raise a tribute to the march of civilization, but also for the unconquerable spirit of convicted murderers. Of course, such practices may soon become things of the past. With modern methods of scientific liquidation instant death is now available to the masses without fuss and in most cases without undue delay. The old traditional ways were always so much more quaint.”



Synopsis: The Executioner “Mssr deParis” (Robert Middleton) tests the guillotine. They raise the blade, he locks the “trigger”, then pushes the lever with his foot to release the trigger. The blade glides down in a flash - through the neck stockade where a prisoner will soon be. The Executioner smiles. They place a cabbage in the neck piece and the Executioner pushes the trigger lever with his foot again. Wooosh! The cabbage is cleanly sliced in half. Half falls into the “head basket” below. The device is ready for it’s next victim...

Hours before dawn: In the darkest cells of the prison, two Guards have removed their shoes and creep to a cell where two condemned men sleep. Professional gambler Robert (Alejandro Rey) wakes up when the cell door opens. Are they coming for him? No, the Guards grab the other prisoner, who screams for his life. Robert watches through the cell door as they take him away...

Just before dawn: The cell door opens again and Robert turns - are they coming for him as well? No, it is his wife Babette (Danielle de Metz) who has bribed a guard for this visit. We get a nice piece of dramatic exposition on how he got to this place: he discovered Babette was cheating on him and killed the man. He claims he has forgiven Babette, but seems to rub in her indiscretion again and again, which makes her attempts at last minute reconciliation difficult. He kisses her and tells her that he has forgiven her, but can not forget. That her testimony against him may have damned him to this fate, but he knew they would force her to take the witness stand. That any other jury would have come back with a “not guilty” verdict, because of the “unwritten law”. There is all kinds of baggage in this relationship - and love and anger are in equal parts.



Cheering from outside the cell, and Robert and Babette look out the window to see the prisoner being escorted to the guillotine. Woosh! Plop - the head falls into the basket.

Robert tells her that soon it will be his turn, and Babette asks what can she do? Robert tells her that tradition, an unwritten law, that if the Executioner dies on the day of an execution the condemned man is set free. So if she can find out what day Robert is to be killed, and then kill the executioner... they can be together again. Babette isn’t all that hot on killing a man... will she do it or not?

The Executioner is given his next assignment from the warden... Robert. The clock is tricking... but ticking until *when*?



A Few Days Before The Execution: Outside a café, Babette carries a basket of flowers, selling boutonaires... and approaches Executioner. He is amazed by the bright colors of her carnations, and asks where she buys her flowers. She says she grows them herself, this is a family flower that has been in her family for generations. The Executioner’s hobby is gardening, and he asks her to sit with him for a moment and discuss flowers. She flirts with him as they discuss flowers - and there’s no shortage of words and phrases with double meanings here. He is a lonely older man, a sad man, and she is a beautiful woman. She offers him clippings of her family’s carnations... and asks when she can come by with them... cleverly finding out that he must get up very early on Thursday to work. So they make a date for Wednesday afternoon.

After he leaves, Babette accepts a drink from one of the other customers - a carriage Cab Driver (Gaylord Cavallaro) who informs her that man she was talking to was the Executioner. The most hated man in Paris. This is more sly exposition, as this guy is trying to pick her up by giving her some information... including that the Executioner will cut off a man’s head for money, but he wouldn’t hurt a cockroach without being paid...



This episode is filled with great matchcuts, and on the word “cockroach” we go from an empty saucer in the café to an identical saucer in Babette’s flat with a cockroach eating some poison on it and keeling over onto its back - legs convulsing. Babette is timing the roach’s death as she brushes her hair. She pours the poison into an ornate little tin, wraps it in her lace handkerchief and...

The Day Before The Execution: Her lace handkerchief on her lap as she sits in the Executioner’s garden on Wednesday afternoon. He plants the clippings while she flirts with him. When he’s finished he sits with her and breaks the bad news that he knows will break his own heart - he tells her that he is the city’s executioner. But she doesn’t seem to be repulsed like everyone else... like every other woman he has ever met in his life. “I am not under sentence, Mssr. And until I am, I don’t see why I should fear you.” Wait... is this a chance for the executioner to find love? Romance? This young woman knows his secret and continues to flirt with him.

This is a great scene, because she is flirting with the man who will take off her husband’s head... unless she poisons him dead. And he is a charming, shy, sympathetic man... who dislikes his job, but someone must do it.



They are close to kissing when they’re interrupted by his housekeeper Mdm LeClerc (Janine Grandel), who is calling him to dinner. The housekeeper is stern, abrasive, and reminiscent of Danvers from Hitchcock’s REBECCA. Oh, and slightly jealous. She tells Babette that she must leave now. Babette grips the lace handkerchief with the poison cannister as he walks her to the front gate. How will she poison him now? She offers to take a stroll with him later that night, but he says he must get up very early for work tomorrow. She says his dinner smells delicious and he gets the hint and asks her to dine with him.

Dinner for three. No shortage of tension as Mdm LeClerc snipes at her the whole time... while Babette tries to figure out some way to drop her poison into his food while the housekeeper isn’t looking. Had it just been the two of them dining, it would have been much easier. His wine glass is right there... but the housekeeper is watching her like a hawk. The tin of poison stays wrapped in the lace handkerchief.



After dinner, the Housekeeper steps into the kitchen for a moment and Babette asks the Executioner for a glass of water as a way to distract him so that she can pour the poison into his brandy snifter. But the moment his back is turned for a moment and the tin is out of her lace handkerchief the Housekeeper returns. Dinner is over, time for her to leave... and she still hasn’t poisoned him!

Time is ticking away until dawn and the execution!



The Housekeeper mentions that she is preparing the Executioner’s favorite breakfast for his pre-dawn breakfast - apple pancakes (pastry). Babette asks Mdm LeClerc if she will show her how they are made, and the two women go into the kitchen. On the counter is a big bowl of chopped and seasoned apples next to the dough. Babette asks her to write down the recipe, and while Mdm LeClerc is doing this she dumps the tin of poison into the apple mixture and quickly stirs it. The poison looks like the cinnamon. Babette quickly sets the stirring spoon down as the housekeeper hands her a folded piece of paper with the recipe.

In the prison, a guard slides a folded piece of paper to Robert. A note from Babette saying that he need not fear the dawn, she has completed her assignment.



The Morning Of The Execution: The Executioner’s Assistant (Peter Brocco) preps the bladeless guillotine for Robert’s execution.

The two Guards take off their shoes and creep to a cell where condemned men sleep... this time they have come for Robert. The Warden (Gregory Morton) enters with a Priest (Guy deVestel) for Robert’s final confession. Robert apologizes for getting the Priest up so early in the morning, but he has nothing to confess.

The Executioner finishes a big plate of his favorite breakfast, the apple (poisoned) pancakes. Checks his watch - time to go. Grabs the guillotine blade in it’s leather carrying case and checks the blade - very sharp. Puts on his coat and leaves the house - briskly walking across town in the pre-dawn light.



In the pre-dawn light the Warden and Priest and Guards escort Robert through the prison hallways to his death. Robert continues to turn down the Priest - if he dies without final confession he will be sent to Hell. Robert wonders why everyone is so sure that he will die today, and makes a 2 to 1 bet with the Warden that he will live to see the sun set again.

The Executioner continues briskly walking across town - almost marching - to Robert’s execution. But he halfway down this street he stops for a moment, removes his handkerchief and wipes sweat from his brow. Is the poison finally taking effect? Or is it just a warm morning? He checks his watch...

The Executioner’s Assistant checks his watch - the Executioner is running a little late this morning, but there is still plenty of time.

The Warden and Guards escort Robert downstairs, Robert almost tripping at one point. “Watch your step, Mssr.”



The Executioner almost trips... he is now feeling sick. He holds his stomach, has to stop for a moment to wipe the sweat again. Passes a bar with a sign advertising Cognac...

The Warden pours Robert a snifter of Cognac, and one for himself - the condemned man’s final drink. A philosophical conversation... then Robert asks if it is true that if the Executioner dies on the day of the execution the next man in line is pardoned? Yes... but this Executioner has never been late, never been ill... never had so much as a stomach ache.

The Executioner holds his stomach, leaning over a fountain - sick. He staggers down the street, face sweating, sees a pharmacy and pounds on the doors. No one answers - it’s before dawn. He continues staggering forward, hanging onto the pillars of a building to stay upright. Marching forward to Robert’s execution, the case with the guillotine blade at his side. He passes a barber shop...

The Barber (scene stealer Marcel Hillaire) arrives to shave Robert and cut his hair - must look good for his execution, right? A very macabre conversation between the two: they talk of going to Hell, and the Barber says it is a myth that he draws the line on the neck for the Executioner to follow, and he has never loaned his razor to a prisoner so that he wouldn’t have to face the national blade... all myths.

The Executioner continues forward in agony. He *will* make it to the execution. Nothing can stop him... even though he is sweating like a horse.



A sweaty horse and the cab behind it stops at the prison’s side gate. The Cab Driver helps Babette down from the carriage, joking with her about being front row for the execution. Flirting with her in an odd way. She shoots him down, he drives away. Babette asks the Gate Guard if she can enter here to see the execution. Nope - this gate is only for the Executioner. The public gate is around the corner. Has the Executioner arrived yet? Not yet. She smiles.

The Warden tells Robert that the Executioner is here, now, testing the machine. He has never been late. “I can assure you that at this very moment he is raising his hand in a signal to his assistants.” For the first time Robert looks worried.



The Executioner raises his hand to hail the taxicab as it comes towards him. The Cab Driver stops, climbs down to where the Executioner is doubled over in agony. “Something I ate...” The Cab Driver offers to take him to a doctor, but the Executioner says he *must* get to the prison to fulfill his duty. The Cab Driver says he will take the man to a doctor because that is the right thing to do, but he will *not* take him to the prison to take another man’s life. One of the great things about this episode is that it manages to keep you on the edge of your seat while discussing capital punishment. If the Cab Driver takes the Executioner to the prison, Robert dies. If he refuses, Robert has a chance at living. So the stakes in this conversation are the stakes in the story. And it’s dramatic, because the Executioner is seriously ill... but still arguing that he must do his sworn duty. And the great side-effect of budget constraints in television is that this is the same Cab Driver from the café, the same one who just took Babette to the prison and was on his way back from the prison when the Executioner flagged him down. So we *know* this character. His earlier conversation with Babette about how the Executioner wouldn’t kill a cockroach but sees nothing wrong with killing a man tints this conversation. The Cab Driver tells him that his conscience will not permit him to take him to the prison, but it is only a few hundred yards away, and drives off.

The Executioner continues staggering towards the prison... towards Robert’s death.



Ten Minutes Before The Execution: The Assistant tells the Warden that the Executioner has not arrived yet, not even a message from him. There will not be time for a test before the execution. Robert is no longer worried... the Warden is worried.

The Executioner staggers relentlessly towards the prison - it is within sight now. He leans up against a wall, sick. A Policeman approaches, thinks he’s a drunk, tells him he should go home and sleep it off. The Executioner says he *must* get to the prison... then keels over.

Robert and the Warden have a conversation about execution versus rehabilitation - again, this is perfectly in context for the story and even adds to the suspense because the longer they stall the execution the more likely that the Executioner will finally stagger into the prison with the guillotine blade and Robert will lose his head. Robert - the gambler - asks if he shouldn’t be taken to the execution platform about now. Hey, the spectators must be disappointed. The Warden has Robert taken out to the courtyard, knowing that if the Executioner doesn’t show up it will be a major public embarrassment for him.

That Policeman wants to get the Executioner to a doctor, but he *must do his duty*... so the Policeman helps him to the prison.



They bring Robert out to the courtyard - the spectators go wild. Robert looks through the crowd for Babette - can’t see her. The Priest makes one final effort to get Robert’s confession, but he refuses. Minutes tick away - if they get to the time of the execution and the Executioner has not arrived, Robert goes free.

Babette is not in the crowd because she is still at the prison’s side gate - counting down the minutes there, worried that the Executioner still may arrive. He is a big man, did she put enough poison in his food for such a big man? What if he is *not* dead? What if he is still coming to the execution?



And then the Executioner appears across the street, held up by the Policeman (Vance Howard, Opie’s dad). The Policeman yells for the Gate Guard to give him a hand. Babette backs up, hiding in the doorway. Terrified that the Executioner will fulfill his duties. The Policeman and Gate Guard practically carry the Executioner to the gate, leaning him against the wall only inches from Babette as they open the door. The Executioner looks right at her and asks, “Why?” She tries to get away from him, but is trapped in the doorway - trapped with the man she murdered. A shy and lonely man... now close to death. “I thought you were fond of me. For the first time in my life someone who... Why?” Big dramatic moment. Babette says she has never seen him before in her life and walks away.

The Executioner tells the Policeman to stop her, and she is taken into custody. The Executioner tells her that he *will* keep his appointment, and there’s an echo here of her earlier line about not having to fear him because she is not under sentence. Well, she will be now!

The Executioner’s Assistant and the Prison Doctor (Charles LaTorre) come out, and they take the Executioner into the courtyard... and the guillotine... and Robert.



Robert is preparing for victory, when the Executioner is carried into the courtyard. The spectators cheer - the show will not be cancelled! Robert realizes this can go either way - his confidence vanishes.

The Executioner falls to the ground. The Assistant takes the case with the guillotine blade from him and attaches the blade. They help the Executioner to his feet.

Robert says, “He will never make it,” but he’s not sure he believes that.



The Executioner’s legs no longer can hold up his stout body, but they carry him towards the platform... closer... closer... closer! Robert repeating, “He’ll never make it!” with less confidence with every foot closer to the platform.

Robert is taken up to the guillotine, his neck placed in the stockade, his head dangling over the head basket. He yells that no one but the Executioner must touch the trigger.

Only the Executioner and the Prisoner are allowed on the platform, so they lay the Executioner down at the base of the steps.

“No one else! You hear me, no one else!” Robert is screaming and crying and...

The Executioner is *crawling* slowly up the stairs to the platform. Each step is agony.



The spectators are screaming.

Robert is screaming.

The Executioner is slowly crawling across the platform to the guillotine. One inch at a time. Closer... closer... closer.

Robert is screaming, “He can’t kill me! He can’t kill me!”

The Executioner crawls right up to the guillotine trigger! And then drops to the platform - unmoving.



Robert’s screaming turns from terror to hope.

The Prison Doctor climbs up onto the platform, holds up the Executioner’s arm to take his pulse. Conforms that he is dead.

Robert’s hope turns to triumph, to joy - he will be set free! “He’s dead! I win! I win! I win!”

The Prison Doctor lets go of the Executioner’s wrist... and his arm falls... and hits the trigger... and the blade falls... and so does Robert’s head.

The end.



Review: Another perfect storm for me - Ida Lupino *and* Cornell Woolrich! When I first watched the THRILLER show as a kid, this is the episode that stuck with me. It had me on the edge of my seat for a full hour. Would the executioner make it to the prison? I was a little concerned when watching it again that it wouldn’t hold up to my memories... but it was just as great as I remembered it.

As I’ve said before, Woolrich is known as one of the three fathers of modern Noir fiction, and the films made from the work of those three and their contemporaries are what we know as Film Noir. Woolrich is the guy who put the Noir in Noir thanks to his “Black Series” of novels, including BRIDE WORE BLACK, BLACK PATH OF FEAR, BLACK ANGEL, and many others. And if you are wondering how Noir can have three fathers and no mothers, Woolrich is probably closest to taking that mother role... not because he was Gay, but because he specialized in female lead stories. Noir from the woman’s point of view. Many of his stories, including this one, deal with women doing terrible things to save the men in their lives. Since Noir is about good people doing bad things... and discovering the darkness within that they wish they’d never uncovered, the idea of an “innocent” housewife stepping over the line to help her husband out of a jam is prime Noir territory and Woolrich mined it throughout his career.



I have always wanted to do a more faithful film adaptation of his novel BLACK ANGEL about a basically quiet and subservient suburban housewife whose husband is accused of murder and there is so much evidence that he *will* be convicted... so comes out of her shell and becomes a detective, going undercover to trace his steps on the days leading up to the murder in order to uncover the real killer. But this quest creates one line after another that she must cross - creating a spiral of descent into the darkness. How far will she go? Will she start using drugs in order to be accepted by addicts as she goes undercover following a lead? Yes! Will she become a prostitute and sleep with a bunch of strange men in order to follow a lead? Yes! As the quiet housewife spirals down and down in search of the evidence to clear her husband of these charges - degrading herself again and again - we begin to wonder if this man is worth all of this. If *anyone* is worth all of this. And also - if she proves him innocent, will he want whatever is left of her back? This is an awesome Noir story that Hollywood cleaned up for film - robbing it of all of its darkness. In the novel she proves that he is innocent and they live happily ever after... but Woolrich, like Raymond Chandler and many other pulp writers of the time, based his novels on short story material he’d previously had published... and in the short story version, “Angel Face”, she degrades herself only to discover that her husband is guilty, was always guilty, and their whole marriage was based on her believing his lies. And that’s the Noir ending I would use on a new film version. Darker than dark.

A similar ending to this story GUILLOTINE - where our wife character Babette must seduce and murder the executioner in order to save her husband’s life... and after she does all of these terrible things, it ends up being all for nothing. How dark can you get?



Though this is a fairly simple story - will Babette be able to poison the Executioner for the first half and then will the Executioner make it to the execution for the second half - it is all about suspense. Both of those situations are focused on suspense and the episode (and Lupino’s direction) are relentless in keeping us on the edge of our seats in anticipation. This is another Woolrich trait - where Hitchcock was the master of suspense on screen, Woolrich was the master of suspense on the page. Where they two intersect - the movie REAR WINDOW and the TV episode 4 O’CLOCK - we end up with classics. Woolrich knew how to keep the suspense escalating on the page, and in his novel PHANTOM LADY (which also needs a more faithful remake) the chapter titles tell us how many days until the protagonist will be executed for a murder he did not commit - even before the murder has occurred in the story! Talk about a page turner! You can’t finish one chapter without seeing the title of the next chapter with the number of days left... and you end up continuing to read. Can’t put it down! This episode uses those same suspense tools. We know when Robert will be executed and count down the days, hours, minutes, seconds until that happens.



One of the reasons why the suspense works in this episode is what I call the “THUNDERBALL Theory” in my Secrets Of Action Screenwriting book. In the James Bond movie THUNDERBALL the villain Largo has *two* nuclear weapons, and “tests” one on an island before hiding the other somewhere in Miami. That way the audience can see the destruction this weapon causes so that they know what would happen if the one in Miami detonates. If the audience doesn’t understand what will happen, if it remains abstract, there is less suspense generated. In GUILLOTINE we open with the title device being tested so that we understand what will happen later if Robert’s neck ends up meeting that hurtling blade. We get some great visual exposition showing us step-by-step how the device works - including that trigger which will become very important at the very end of the episode where there is no time to explain anything. You always want to get exposition up front so that it doesn’t get int the way of the ending. We don’t want to be explaining how that trigger works moments before the Executioner’s arm drops on it! Plus, knowing the full scope of the “event” gives the anticipation of that event (suspense) more weight. It’s not an abstract concept, this execution by guillotine, we have seen what that blade can do to a cabbage. And they *do* use this blade on the necks of men - which we know because that test at the beginning of the episode is for Robert’s cellmate... who loses his head soon after that test.

Hey, that brings up another great storytelling tool used in this episode - repeating the events that lead up to the execution. The episode opens with the Guards taking off their shoes and sneaking up to the death row cell to take the next victim of the guillotine... and grabbing Robert’s cellmate. By showing this procedure early in the episode, when we see the same procedure happening again we *know* that Robert will suffer the same fate. It makes the execution *real* and amps up the suspense in the situation. It’s a cousin to the THUNDDERBALL Theory - by showing what happens early, we turn an abstract idea into something tangible and that creates suspense later. This isn’t just some vague idea of a bad thing that might happen, we’ve *seen it happen*.



But the key to this episode and the key to this being effective as Noir is Robert Middleton’s performance and the way his character is portrayed. The Executioner must be both a serious threat *and* a sympathetic victim. Simultaneously. That’s a tough thing to pull off for a writer and a director and an actor - and here all three manage to walk that razor’s edge without being cut. Middleton, a character actor probably best known for the brutish escaped convict in DESPERATE HOURS, probably does his best work in this episode. When his blurry vision clears for a moment at the prison doors and he recognizes Babette, we genuinely feel for him. “Why? I thought you were fond of me. For the first time in my life someone who... Why?” That’s a heartbreaker!

The amazing thing this episode does is make up both want the Executioner to succeed in getting to the prison to do his job, and *not* make it to the prison so that Robert won’t lose his head. Ida Lupino manages to pull that off (with the help of Middleton and TWILIGHT ZONE screenwriter Beaumont - 22 episodes!) masterfully. Lupino is one of those great directors who somehow has slipped through the cracks and is not studied today. Part of that may be because she had to fight for every credit and ended up directing a bunch of silly TV shows like GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, but her work was always imaginative and amazing. Here she gives us POV shots from the Executioner that replicate the blurry fever vision of a poisoned man. Her THRILLER episodes and films are often filled with amazing visual experiments (frequently mentioned in this series), but she also knows exactly how to create suspense through editing and angle and camera movement. Her film THE HITCHHIKER is edge of the seat suspense. Here we have a simple story which is just a guy walking to work, right? Some other director might have made it just as exciting as some guy walking to work, but Lupino turns out an episode that was my favorite as a kid and still holds up as an adult.



Oh, gotta mention the amazing Jerry Goldsmith score! One of the major components in creating the suspense in this episode is his relentless score makes us feel the determination of the Executioner. Goldsmith was my favorite composer of film music from my lifetime, and long before he became one of cinema’s greatest composers of the 70s and 80s, he cut his teeth doing weekly scores for TV shows like THRILLER. His music elevates many of the weaker episodes and turns great ones like this into classics.

Okay, I’ve probably oversold this episode, but it’s still my favorite after all of these years and Stephen King and his PIGEONS FROM HELL can go suck it. Next week the streak of good episodes continues with an adaptation of Poe’s THE PREMATURE BURIAL, and after that another great creepy episode based on Robert Bloch’s THE WEIRD TAILOR. Stay tuned!

- Bill

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Wednesday, May 24, 2023

2002: Year Of The Treadmill (part last)

A rerun from over a decade ago, about something that happened around 21 years ago...

After writing a million treatments, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Ringo Lam have become tired of waiting for the script and are on their way out the door... I could pound out a script that could stop them, but the producer has instead decided to have me write a brand new treatment that takes place in South Africa. And after a stack of free treatments for the price of two, we are back to more free treatments. It was nice to get another treatment check a few treatments back, but we are no closer to going to script than we were when I started this project months and months ago. Will these treatments ever stop?

After reading a bunch of books on South Africa and watching some travel videos I did a version where he was a bodyguard in South Africa and the badguys were only stealing some diamonds instead of assassinating anybody. He was less involved in this story - still managing to run into the bad guys by accident over and over again.

This treatment was thrown away. Jean Claude Van Damme and Ringo Lam signed to do another movie... they’d still be interested in reading the script, if ever there was one. But now they were off on some other project and my guess is that MGM will lower our budget unless we can find a new star and a new hot director. Could Jamie Lee Curtis play a bodyguard in South Africa, I asked... the producer did not answer.



Every project has a certain amount of *momentum* - as long as it’s moving forward quickly, everyone is excited and that excitement can actually turn a script into a film. People want to make movies, and if your project is hurtling towards the screen like a juju-bee hurled by a twelve year old, everyone wants to be part of it. But when things begin to slow down, people start jumping ship... and no one really wants to replace them. The end result of slowing down is *stopping* - and no one wants to be attached to a stalled film. That’s a dead film.

I suspect my Hawaii film is completely dead at this point (it was). It also slowed down due to the producer's indecisionn , and then there was a possible actor’s strike - and because that strike kept dragging on without ever happening, the Hawaii project slowed to a crawl. Now that the actors are probably going to sign a contract (a year later) the economy sucks so bad I can’t imagine this thing ever happening. Another script of mine on some producer’s shelf forever. You have to strike while the iron is hot. There is a perfect time for the project, and if you miss that time because you are waiting for some other time, you lose momentum and things start to fall apart. The Hawaii thing waited too long, trying to play it safe... and now it’s over.

But back to 2002....

Even though I still had a little cash in the bank on the never-ending treatment project, I wouldn’t get the nice big production check until they actually began production, and I wouldn't get the good check for writing the script until the producer approves one of the treatments. And that was never going to happen if he kept throwing them away and coming up with new ideas (He’s an IRS agent in Latvia! He’s an ex-CIA assassin in Afghanistan! He’s a body builder in Bulgaria!). I wrote a new South Africa treatment with all of his crazy story-killing notes and now the protagonist had nothing to do with the story at all, he was just in scenes where things happened to other people. It had turned to dog-doo. I hated the treatment, but by this point I was a typing monkey and the producer wasn’t listening to anything I said in our story meetings.

That’s one of the things I will never understand about this business - you are hired because they have read a bunch of your scripts and like them... then they want you to write something that goes against everything they liked about those sample scripts. If they’d just let you do your job and keep out of your way, they’d probably end up with a much better script. But instead, the new treatment is basically dictation - nothing of me in there - and it has a completely passive protagonist and a complete non-sense plot and things that happen for no reason and massive plot holes and crazy coincidences and no conflict and zero emotional conflict...



One of the running battles I’ve been having with this producer - he wants to do something like BOURNE, just without the character stuff that made BOURNE more than just a bunch of cool action scenes. He *wants* a completely 2D character - not a complicated guy who worries that the more he discovers who he really is, the more he may not like himself much. Every treatment I am fighting to make sure the lead character has some character - and those elements are the first things he wants to remove on the next treatment. I am so masochistic, I don’t give up the fight. I want this to eventually go to script, and I want it to be a *good* script. Not just a bag-o-action. But after all of these treatments and losing our lead and director, I’m just keeping my mouth shut and doing what I’m told. Duane Haller in WHITE LINE FEVER was right - you cause trouble and all you get is trouble. So I crank out the treatment and turn it in and wait for the next meeting where it will be thrown out and I will be given a new random country and a new random occupation for the lead and a new random action event.

It was November by then, and I had spent almost the whole year writing treatment after treatment and never getting any closer to script

When the next meeting actually began with a new location, I quit. I tried to control my temper, but I may have failed a little. I complained that we were no closer to script than when I began and that I was getting tired of writing things that would never end up on screen. Part of my problem may be that I am “spoiled” - I actively seek out the people who actually make movies instead of just make deals, so lots of stuff ends up on screen. Hey, it may turn out crap by the time it gets to screen - but so do lots of big budget studio films... and the other 90% of the scripts the studio bought that year just get rewritten into crap and never make it to screen. I had done more that a fair number of free rewrites, and it was time to move on.

Looking back on it all, I think the problem was the producer couldn’t deal with the pressure of having MGM’s future on his shoulders. I think he choked. We all want to do our best work, but there’s a clever way of not ever failing by not ever finishing your work. Plenty of screenwriters do this - they write and rewrite and change things and never manage to get to FADE OUT. Because once they finish the script, the script can be read and judged and it might suck. But a script they are still working on? Always brilliant! I think this producer, whose history was a bunch of MOWs that were here this week, gone the next... just a way to sell laundry soap; was afraid that his first big theatrical would come out and flop big time, maybe even pull down the studio, and it would all be his fault. He couldn’t deal with that kind of pressure, so he postponed his failure (or success) by never having a project that could go to screen. The silly part about this is that when we had that treatment that actually attracted the talent required to make the movie, he should have pulled the trigger, gone to script, then made the sucker. At that point, the cast would have resulted in *some* box office, and would have been successful on DVD even if the film sucked. And there would have been other people who could have shared the blame if the film was a total stinker - you can blame the director or the star or even blame me.



There comes a time when the rewards outweigh the risks - or are at least equal - and it makes sense to just do it. You can’t succeed without the possibility of failure - and failure is not a bad thing. Failure is just a step on the road to success. In this case, the producer might have made a film for a major studio that would have been one of their big releases for the year. How many big studio films flop every year? MGM was coming off a string of flops - expensive flops - so this may have just been another MGM flop. Hey, it would be used in the same sentence as films that cost $100 million! That elevates the producer! Strange as it probably seems - being the producer of a $100 million film that flopped is better than being the producer of a $1 million film that does well for its budget. Same goes for writers, too. I wrote a film that made *five times* its production cost in profits! But I’m a footnote, and the writers of some big budget flop are popular because someone gambled $200 million on their last script.

This producer could not have failed even if he had failed - because he would move up a few rungs on the ladder. He would be making $10 million studio films instead of $2 million network MOWs. Um, the producer’s fee is much larger - even if the film tanks.

Before writing this blog entry I decided to look up the producer and see what happened to him. I had done this once before, but thought I’d check again. Well, he has disappeared from the face of the earth. His last credit was an MOW made before my association with him. His website is gone. His company is no longer listed anywhere (and hasn’t been for years). He is out of the business. MOWs were dying at the time we were working together, so he had to find a different kind of film to produce. Move forward because he could not move back. In a way, our project was the best way to keep his career as a producer - and it seems that he has lost that. Every time I search for him, I find nothing... not even a trace of him since our project.



Here’s the good news and bad news of it all: Hey, I paid rent and expenses for a year of freakin’ slave labor! And since the producer is MIA and our deal was for a treatment for Jamie Lee Curtis as a newlywed and one of the crappy treatments in Dubrovnik, I’m thinking the free treatments that I wrote are mine. I was not paid for them. How can anyone other than me own them? So the school teacher treatment is something I plan on developing - it was my idea and I think there may be a market for it. The great treatment I wrote that attracted the talent is also mine - written before the second treatment payment. The bad news on that - I was writing so many treatments on this project that somewhere along the line that one was saved over by another treatment. I *do* have a hard copy of that treatment... except for the last three pages of the 15! Somewhere along the line those pages fell off the original - damned Staples staples! - and I probably have the notes on how it ends somewhere.... Where did I put all of those 2002 notebooks? I only discovered the 3 missing pages over the holidays when I brought all of this stuff with me to clean it up and set it up as something I might write this year. Now, it looks like I’ll have to take some time to figure out what was on those last three pages - maybe I’ll script it next year.

I’m also looking at all of the other versions of the treatments for either scenes or storylines or characters that I can steal. The two college girls one I may completely re-treat and turn into a Hitchcock kind of thing in some country other than Portugal.

I call stuff like this my “Phantom Credits” - work you’ve done and were paid for that never ended up going to screen, so there’s nothing on IMDB about it. You look at 2002 and you think I did nothing that year - when the opposite is true. Many of those years without any IMDB credits were years where I worked my butt off and got paid for some project that never went to film. Maybe one out of ten of the scripts they pay for go to screen, which means for every credit you see on IMDB there are 9 more you do not see.

Because I write for production - I try not to write anything that will still take a number of steps before it can be made, or is impractical from a production point of view - I’ve managed to get a higher percentage of purchased projects on screen. But I still have a bunch of things on shelves all over town that will never get made. After five years, you can buy those scripts back at cost - what you were paid. I often wonder whether I should do that (I’ve bought back three scripts, and still own them). Usually I think the future scripts are better than the past scripts. The future scripts have *potential*.

- Bill

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