Friday, June 30, 2023

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Kim Novak on VERTIGO

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

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

- Bill

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



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

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


Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

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Click here for more info!


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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

- Bill

Thursday, June 29, 2023

THRILLER Thursday: Terror In Teakwood

Best Of THRILLER Thursday...

Terror In Teakwood

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

Season: 1, Episode: 33.
Airdate: May 16, 1961

Director: Paul Henreid.
Writer: Alan Caillou from a short story by Harold Lawlor
Cast: Guy Rolfe, Hazel Court, Charles Aidman, Reggie Nalder.
Music: Awesome Jerry Goldsmith score, piano solos by Caesar Giovannini.
Cinematography: John Warren.
Producer: William Frye

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Cruelty has a human heart. Jealousy a human face. And Terror? Terror has the human form divine. Tonight we will see how one man’s cruelty and jealousy create a terror which can scarcely be considered human, and which waits silently, malevolently, beneath the lid of this teakwood chest. That’s the bname of our story, Terror In Teakwood. Join us now as these others did who had the misfortune to learn what it contains: Mr. Guy Rolfe, Miss Hazel Court, Mr. Charles Aidman, and Mr. Reggie Nalder. Oh, no: I can’t permit you to leave, you’ve already learned a great deal too much. I can only suggest that you get a grip on yourself.”

Synopsis: Creepy Graveyard: The Night Watchman (skull faced Reggie Nalder the assassin from Hitchcock’s remake of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH) accepts a bribe from a well dressed Vladimir (Guy Rolfe) to break into a crypt. The Night Watchman watches as something terrible happens in the crypt... Something that frightens the night watchman at a cemetery!

Music composer Jerry Welch (the always trustable Charles Aidman) has a visit from his ex girlfriend Leonie (Hazel Court who was a regular in all of the Corman / Vincent Price horror films which were made after this) who asks for his help with her husband, famous concert pianist Vladimir, who is convinced that someone is trying to kill him. Last night she woke up to find him in torn and bloody pajamas. He won’t go to the police. And this isn’t the first time she has awoken to find him like this... and each time he tells her not to tell anyone about it. She wants Jerry to work as her husband’s assistant, live on site at their home, and find out what is happening on these bloody nights.

Jerry asks his mentor Papa Glockstein (Vladimir Sokoloff) for advice and information: does he have any idea what may be happening with Vladimir? Vladimir is obsessed with surpassing rival composer and concert pianist Carnowitz, who is dead... in fact, Vladimir took Leonie on their honeymoon to Carnowitz’s funeral to make sure he was really dead. Since then he has been afraid for some reason. Their conversation is interrupted by a panicked phone call from Leonie that Vladimir has locked himself in his room and is screaming like hell!

Leonie ties to get the doors open as her husband plays the piano and screams in agony. When he stops playing, she steps away from the doors... as he opens them and staggers out: torn up and bloody! As if he had been attacked by a maniac while playing the piano. He falls to the floor unconscious.

When Jerry gets there, Leonie has cleaned Vladimir up and he is resting on the sofa. Leonie tells Jerry that he was playing the “Carnowitz Seventh Sonata” when the episode occurred. Jerry wants to call a doctor, but Vladimir wakes up and says: “No doctor!” Leonie introduces Jerry to Vladimir as the new assistant, and Vladimir orders Jerry to forget what he has seen: he expects his employees to do exactly what he says. His second order of business: he wants Jerry to look after a teakwood box until he returns. Keep it in sight always and whatever happens, don’t open it.

The mysterious teakwood box. Like a miniature coffin. What could be inside of it? Jerry is curious, but dares not open it. He keeps it under lock and key in his room at the house. What could it be....?

At the Concert Hall: Vladimir is an amazing pianist. As he practices, Jerry asks Leonie questions about Vladimir’s odd behavior. If someone is trying to kill him, why doesn’t he want to go to the police? All of this began when Carnowitz died... except Leonie believes that Carnowitz may still be alive and has faked his death. On their honeymoon, Vladimir went to Carnowitz’s crypt and came back angry... she thinks he discovered the crypt was empty, and now Carnowitz has followed Vladimir back to New York and is behind these strange attacks. That sounds crazy, but before the attacks she hears someone playing the “Carnowitz Seventh Sonata”, and it can’t be Vladimir... because only Carnowitz could play that piece due to his oversized hands. In fact, Carnowitz composed the pieces just so Vladimir (with his smaller delicate hands) could never play it. Jerry wonders if Carnowitz is alive, is he trying to drive Valdimir crazy... and worries that Vladimir’s sanity may already on shaky ground. But why would Carowitz fake his own death just to drive Vladimir mad?

When Jerry and Leonie sneak out for a drink, Vladimir notices...

And someone follows them down the street... Carnowitz?

Jerry hears the footsteps following them in the darkness, and suspense builds. He sends Leonie into the bar and springs a trap on the man following them: not Carnowitz, but the Cemetery Night Watchman. They struggle, and when Jerry subdues him and asks what he wants, the Night Watchman says: “Money.” If he tells what he saw happen in that graveyard they will throw Vladimir in prison forever. He wants Jerry to tell this to Vladimir. When Jerry asks about Carnowitz being alive, the Night Watchman just laughs.

Jerry thinks the answers may be in that teakwood box, opens it to discover...

Carowitz’s severed hands!

Jerry goes to Music Critic Sylvia (Linda Watkins) who tells him that Vladimir has made a last minute change in his program for his big concert tonight, and will be playing the “Carnowitz Seventh Sonata”... and she can’t wait for him to fail in front of a concert hall filled with people! Vladimir and Carnowitz were bitter rivals, and Carnowitz only wrote the Seventh Sonata because he knew Vladimir would never be able to play it with his small hands. Carnowitz had the most beautiful hands in the world, and asks Jerry if he ever saw them. Jerry says he has (!).

At the concert hall, Papa Glockstein makes an emergency call to have a new piano sent over right away. When Jerry arrives, Papa shows him the piano they had planned on using for the performance: broken into a dozen pieces! Who would do such a thing? Jerry describes the Night Watchman and asks if they’ve seen him. Yes, he was looking for Vladimir and they told him to come back for the performance. Jerry says after the concert they will call the police about the vandalism, but for now they don’t want to concern Vladimir with this. He needs to concentrate on his music.

Leonie comes to the concert hall and talks to Jerry: she thinks Vladimir may have seen them together and may be jealous. He can be very violent when jealous. Jerry says he figured that out... and tells her what he found in the box. A man who would cut off his rival’s dead hands? Scary! Jerry wants Leonie to leave Vladimir now (and come away with him?)... but she must go to the concert. Jerry says he will be there with her.

The Concert: Jerry and Leonie watch Vladimir play, while Sylvia takes a smoke break outside and talks to Papa about Vladimir’s impending failure in front of a sold out crowd. Sylvia’s photographer shows up late, and she tells him to find a place and take some great photos... of Vladimir’s epic failure. Sylvia is going to kill Vladimir’s career tonight.

A hush falls over the concert hall: Vladimir prepares to play “Carnowitz Seventh Sonata”... Sylvia takes her seat inside to watch. Everyone is waiting for him to fail, but Vladimir does an amazing job! How can he possibly hit those two keys simultaneously? Has he somehow stretched his hands? When he finished there is a standing ovation! Even Sylvia stands and applauds! But when Vladimir stands up to take his bow, Leonie notices that he’s bleeding from his wrists! She passes out.

At their home: Leonie is asleep in bed after the doctor gave her a sedative. Vladimir comes home, angry at his assistant Jerry for not being there when the concert was over: he had to take a taxi home! Does he not understand what an assistant’s duties are? Vladimir eventually makes sure his wife is okay, then talks about the concert and his amazing victory over his dead rival. Jerry walks the doctor to the door and Vladimir stays in the room with Leonie...

...As the Night Watchman breaks in to the apartment through the fire escape, armed with a machete. He wants money from Vladimir, a lot of money! Vladimir fights the Night Watchman and tosses him off the fire escape. Splat!

Then Vladimir goes to his sleeping wife and caresses her face as if nothing has happened. She wakes up and freaks as the hands touch her... calling for Jerry... then goes back to sleep. Id his wife cheating on him with that assistant?

Vladimir goes to see Jerry, carrying the teakwood box. He confronts Jerry, and wants him to open the box... there is nothing inside. Vladimir also has the machete. He screams that Carnowitz was a second rate pianist with freakish large hands... but now Vladimir has conquered him. He stole his hands, and then the hands *came alive* when he put them on like gloves so that he could play the Seventh Sonata! The hands fought him at first, but soon Vladimir tamed them. Vladimir has put the severed hands on Leonie’s bed, and soon the hands will attack her and kill her! Because she cheated on him with this... assistant!

When she screams from the other room, Jerry fights Carnowitz, getting the machete away from him and knocking him out, then running to her bedroom. He breaks down the door! She is laying on the bed with *handprints* on her throat! But alive!

Then we see the severed hands crawling across the floor... towards them? Suspense as Leonie insists that Jerry take her out of the apartment, away from the hands... and Jerry just wants to make sure she’s okay. Then they hear Vladimir scream!

Jerry and Leoni go into Vladimir’s room where they find him dead on the floor... strangled by the hands of his rival! The hands still around his throat, dead now.

Review: Stephen King can have (the upcoming) PIGEONS FROM HELL, *this* is the episode that scared the crap out of me as a kid. The severed hands in the box freaked me out, and the crawling hands? Nightmares for weeks. Even watching it for this entry, and realizing the hands were cheap chromakey special effects, it’s pretty disturbing. You wonder what people though when this was beamed into their living rooms in 1961. I’ll bet there were *adults* with nightmares after this was first shown.

This also shows you how limited and inexpensive special effects can make a story shot on a limited budget work. A couple of episodes from now we’ll look at King’s favorite PIGEONS and how that episode takes the *idea* of being susceptible to an evil spirit into something terrifying. It doesn’t take money to scare people (or give a kid nightmares for weeks).

What I found interesting this time around was how well the story explored the theme of jealousy. Vladimir is jealous of Carnowitz and his large hands. Vladimir becomes jealous of Jerry and his relationship with Leoinie. Sylvia has jealousy issues with Vladimir. Everyone in this story is defined by their jealousy! Even the Night watchman is jealous of all of these people’s money... he works hard for a living and this man just plays the piano!

I think one of the great things about this episode is how it keeps topping itself. The horror escalates as the story plays out. First it’s Vladimir being torn up and bloody. Then we see the severed hands in the box (which you might think is the big scare moment). But there’s more! The crawling hands!

I also love how they keep leading us in the wrong direction. The focus on the whether Carnowitz is actually dead or not gives us a story to follow before those hands are revealed... and we are sure that the man following them in the darkness is Carnowitz... right up until the twist when it’s revealed as the Night Watchman. That’s when we shift from Carnowitz being alive to what’s in the box... and why Vladimir might have taken that particular trophy from the crypt. The story keeps surprising us by leading us in the wrong direction and then introducing information that changes what we thought was the truth. That’s how to write!

I love the idea that Carnowitz wins in the end. That the hands Vladimir cut off and wore as gloves to conquer Carnowitz are the same hands that kill him. Ironic.

Direction by actor Paul Henried (CASABLANCA) is solid. Jerry Goldsmith score is *exceptional*, one of his best for this series.

As we near the end of the first season, you may have noticed a shift in the type of stories. The series began with mostly crime stories and a few suspense tales, and later introduced horror stories... and now has dropped the crime stories completely to focus on horror and suspense. The rest of the season will focus on horror, with an antique mirror the center of the next tale of terror.


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Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Scene Of The Week: GOODFELLAS

If you've read Secrets Of Action Screenwriting you know that one of my favorite writing tools is *Magnification*, which I learned in Dan Arnold’s acting class in High School. The basic idea is to make something normal sized and make it much bigger. Stakes and conflict and emotions are all raised. Something average becomes something larger than life... large enough to fill that big screen. This works with concepts, emotions, and understanding the emotions of your characters.

This scene also deals with *Tension* - which is unresolved conflict. To create tension you must have a conflict... and the conflict needs to be ongoing and active and not solved. Once you resolve the conflict, you remove the tension. If you allow the audience to forget the conflict, you remove the tension. On Fridays when I do the Hitchcock entries, there are a couple on tension and suspense and “poking the tiger” to keep the audience aware that there is an existing conflict. If you don’t poke the tiger the conflict dissipates and you lose all of the tension.

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So here is a scene that uses both elements, and it’s one of my favorite scenes. From GOODFELLAS (1990) written by Nicholas Pileggi, based on his true crime book. Directed by Martin Scorsese, and it’s like his 15th feature film. He’s one of my favorite directors, never really had a hit like his fellow “Hollywood Brats” but is always doing great work. Ages ago, when I was fresh out of high school, I sent him a letter asking if he’d read one of my screenplays... and he said yes! I sent some crappy early screenplay and got a great letter back from the head of his production company telling me to stick with it, etc. The polite brush off - but the guy never had to be polite in the first place. That script was ANYONE CAN LOSE and a friend asked me about it a couple of days ago - it’s one of those scripts with some great scenes but the story doesn’t work well. People remember it and wonder if I ever figured out how to fix it. Nope. But, back to GOODFELLAS...

Henry Hill is a small time crook way out on the fringe of organized crime, who wants to move up. So he looks to make some new friends who are equally ambitious and see if they can team up to move up the mob ladder... and become the new generation of organized crime. Now here’s the thing - this is kind of like a job interview, and the people you are interviewing you may be armed and may have just killed someone five minutes ago.

So let’s use our magnification tool. Remember those times in your past you were hanging out with someone who you wanted to impress... and *didn’t* want to offend? Might have been a job interview or a first date or meeting your romantic partner’s best friend or some other situation where you were hanging out with someone important and didn’t want to screw it up. Now, because we are all human, we have probably all screwed up in this situation at least once. I am socially inept and have some for of social tourettes that kicks in when I'm with people I need to impress - so that I always say the completely wrong thing. I get nervous and probably try too hard and end up saying something stupid. Because of that, I work hard *not* to do that when I meet people or hang out with people that I want to impress, which makes me even more nervous... But you’ve probably blown it a couple of times, right? Now we’re going to take that anxiety and that mistake and *Magnify* it. We’re going to raise the stakes and emotions and turn that first meeting into a life or death situation. You are hanging out with a guy who kills people. You don’t want to say the wrong thing in this situation, you don’t want to accidentally offend him...

Funny how?

Great scene, and see how they keep “poking the tiger” to keep that tension alive?

This is a great example of how to take a “throw away scene” and make it so entertaining that we’re talking about it 25 years later... but it also helps us identify with Henry (Ray Liotta) and is the perfect introduction to Tommy (Joe Pesci).

While we’re on Joe Pesci - he won an Oscar for this performance, and his speech was: "This is an honor and privilege, thank you," because he didn’t think he was going to win and had no planned acceptance speech. Pesci as been in a bunch of great films, and is always great in lesser films. Would you believe his first time on screen was in HEY LET’S TWIST (1961) because he was a Rock & Roll guitar player for the featured band The Starliters... and even recorded a Rock & Roll solo album as a singer: “Little Joe Sure Can Sing”! He was a childhood friend of Frankie Valli, and was instrumental in the formation of The Four Seasons (he’s even a character in JERSEY BOYS!). So the whole Rock & Roll career, then a new career as an actor that leads to an Oscar win and another nomination plus a bunch of memorable films.

( Joe Pesci plays guitar in a band on The Lucy Show (1966) - Carol Burnett co-stars.) Magnification and Tension work hand-in-hand in this scene, but they can work separately as well in scenes. Tension is a great scene tool, and when I get around to doing the Scenes Blue Book there will be a whole chapter on tension techniques.

The comments section is open for discussion of the scene.

- Bill

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Trailer Tuesday: KING OF HEARTS (1966)


Directed by: Philippe de Broca.
Written by: Daniel Boulanger.
Starring: Alan Bates, Geneviève Bujold, Marc Dudicourt, Michel Serrault, Adolfo Celi.
Produced by: Michelle & Philippe de Broca.
Cinematography by: Pierre Lhomme.
Music by: Georges Delerue.

This is a charming movie that may have fallen between the cracks today, but it’s out there on DVD and has a special place in my life... because it introduced me to director Philippe DeBroca who made comedy action films like THAT MAN FROM RIO (1964) and LE MAGNIFIQUE that would influence my writing. One of the things I find interesting looking back is how many movies and novelists have influenced *my* work, and I never know if that’s because I followed them or that they clicked with who I already was. I suspect the latter: that what appealed to me about directors like DeBroca and writers like Ross Thomas was that they shared my sensibilites... funny and action. KING OF HEARTS was probably the first DeBroca movie I saw, even though it wasn’t his first hit film in the USA.

The film stars Alan Bates and one of Geneveive Bujold's first movies. It's an anti-war comedy, made in the late 60s with a British star... and kind of became an anti Viet Nam War film. Probably wasn't even intended as such. The film has a strange history, because when it came out in the 60s, it flopped big time. Big time. It killed DeBroca's career... He had become famous for his action comedy films like MAN FROM RIO and then this film came out and died... and DeBroca was a has been in the USA. But a strange thing happened during the Viet Nam War, KING OF HEARTS started popping up in college area cinemas because of its anti war story. And was one of those movies that was playing *somewhere* up until 1975 when the war ended. In fact, there was one cinema that played it non-stop for *over five years* until the Viet Nam War was over. Imagine a film playing on the same screen for five years today! First time I saw it was at the UC Theater in Berkeley... and it played *somewhere* in Berkeley through the 70s... and brought back DeBroca's career in the USA.

The story is a light comedy that takes place in France during World War 1, the “Great War”. The German army has taken over a small village in France, but when they see a larger group of British soldiers (actually Scottish - kilts are funnier on film) approaching, they decide to evacuate... but hide a booby trap bomb in the town that will explode at midnight and kill all of the Scottish soldiers and their commanders. The next day, the Germans plan to return and re-take the town from any survivors. Great plan.

Best Movie Ever Made

Well, a French underground guy radios the Scottish Army and tells them about this plan... but tells them about it in French. So things get completely lost in translation. And the bomb is set to go off at midnight... and the town has a beautiful ornate clock in town square where a mechanical knight in armor comes out to strike the midnight bell with his mace. This information really loses something in translation - nobody knows what it means. The problem with a World War is that we don’t all speak the same language... and here it creates a massive problem that could end up killing the Scottish Army in their funny kilts.

The Scottish Army sends in a man to disarm the bomb before they occupy the town. Since none of the demolitions guys speak French, they send in Alan Bates - a communications officer. A geek. A non-heroic guy. He speaks French, but has no idea how to disarm a bomb... shoot a gun... win a fist fight, etc. I could identify with this guy. A clever, literate, non action guy in an action situation.

Once he finds the bombs, they will either send in a demo guy or have a demo guy talk Bates through disarming the explosives. That sounds like a plan that is doomed to fail. It also creates a great ticking clock, in a *comedy* film. Just as movie like M*A*S*H mixed comedy and the serious horrors of war, this film is both funny and serious at the same time. That odd tone may have lead to its failure when it was first released, and its later success when we had seen the horrors of the Viet Nam War on the nightly news in the 70s.

The whole village evacuates because of the bomb.
And they accidentally leave the gates to the asylum open.
And the crazy people venture out, don clothes of the townspeople, and kind of have a looney-bin holiday.

Best Movie Ever Made

So when Bates enters the town, well... the people are acting strange. And that's the set up. The rest of the movie compares the crazy people to the soldiers and the war... and guess which is crazier? And Bates has to figure out why the townspeople are strange, then figure out where the explosives are, then stop them from blowing up, then decide if this crazy-world is more sane than the war around it...

And he falls in love with Bujold in the process, and is crowned King of the crazy people.

The movie is charming. Not laugh outloud funny. What used to be called a "gentle comedy". It's kind of like going to the circus (hey, Bujold does tight-rope walking on power lines in a scene, and there are lions and bears!) - it's also a beautiful film... really well shot. DeBroca was one of those directors who could blend comedy and action and had a great sense of the absurd. After this film came back in the 70s, it revived DeBroca’s career so that he could go on to make a bunch of great action comedies like DEAR DETECTIVE and JUPITER’S THIGH and one of my favorites LE MAGNIFIQUE (about a nerdy action writer who fantasizes that he’s his macho action hero... and then has to become him). Hard to tell if KING OF HEARTS holds up - since it's already a period film, it can't really be dated. But it's a gentle film... kind of the anti-Michael Bay. And it still charmed me when I watched it on DVD before writing this entry.

- Bill

Best Movie Ever Made

Thursday, June 22, 2023

THRILLER Thursday: Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook

Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook

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

Season: 1, Episode: 20. Airdate: February. 7, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty Writer: Alan Caillou Cast: Alan Caillou, Kenneth Haigh, Audrey Dalton, Alan Napier, J. Pat O’Malley Music: Jerry Goldsmith Cinematography: Benjamin Kline. Producer: William Frye

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Do you believe in witchcraft? Witches have plagued the human race since history first began. Although now a days, in America at least, they’ve become nothing more than an illusion with which to tease the childish imagination on Halloween. But no so in the old world. In Italy for example witchcraft is still called The Old Religion. And in England, even today, the legal definition of a witch stands on the statute books as a person who has conference with the Devil. And in a place like Dark Woods, deep in the mountains of the Welsh borders, where the village cowers in the shadows of the Druid stones, and ancient sacrifical circle put there, oh, who knows when. For these simple villagers, time does not move very fast. The old habits, the old fears, die hard. Our story tonight deals with the attempts to exercise a witch. Our leading players are Mr. Kenneth Haigh, Miss Audrey Dalton, Mr. Alan Caillou, Mr. Alan Napier, and Miss Doris Lloyd. Join us now, won’t you, as we try to beat the Devil at his own game.”

Synopsis: In the small village of Dark Woods on the Welsh border, there are not only Stonehenge like Druid Stone Formations... there are those who still practice Witchcraft and those who capture witches and burn them at the base of the stones. After a Farmer is the victim of a ritual killing, London detective Harry Roberts (Kenneth Haigh) and his new bride Nesta (Audrey Dalton) have their honeymoon plans changed at the last minute as he is sent to the remote village to investigate the murder. Some honeymoon!

No sooner do they arrive at the spooky crime scene at the Druid Stones than a creepy old man with a pitchfork (hay fork) confronts them. He wonders why anyone would be at this God forsaken place, used by Witches & Warlocks to sacrifice victims. Roberts says he’s a police officer, and the old man with the pitchfork says that is impossible because *he* is the only police officer in this area... he is Constable Evans (Alan Napier, Alfred The Butler from the TV show BATMAN). Roberts shows his ID, introduces his wife, and Evans lowers the pitchfork. Evans believes more in Witches than in city police procedures, thinking the whole idea of sending a city detective to deal with a rural issue like Witchcraft makes no sense. Roberts wants to talk to the “mayor” of the village, Sir Wilfred, and they walk down to Roberts’ car and drive down the winding country roads.

On those winding country roads, new bride Nesta screams “Watch out!” and pulls the steering wheel, forcing the car off the road and into a ditch. She claims she saw a black dog in the road, but neither Roberts nor Evans saw it. Evans says he’ll have the car towed and repaired in the morning, and they are close enough to walk to Sir Wilfred’s estate (a huge mansion which exists in stock footage).

Sir Wilfred (Alan Caillou) is a worldly and wealthy man, who explains that country folk are much different than city folk... and still believe in witchcraft. He also mentions that it would have been impossible for Nesta to see a black dog in the road, as no one in the village owns a black dog... because black dogs are associated with witchcraft. Legend has it that a black dog once turned into a woman, a witch! So no one in the village would own such an animal. Nesta insists she saw a black dog, and Evans clearly thinks she may be crazy. Sir Wilfred’s maid interrupts, saying that someone has stolen the clothes hamper... and this is sinister rather than silly because witches are traditionally burned in wicker baskets, like the missing clothes hamper. This is when Nesta notices the flicker of flames through the window at the Druid Stones, and they all race out of the stock footage mansion.

A woman has been burned alive as a witch!

In the local pub/hotel, Evans tells the locals that Nesta has seen a black dog, and everyone is shocked. The town drunk (J. Pat O’Malley) gives some nice exposition about the village’s recurring problems with witches and witchcraft. The question seems to be: is Nesta a witch?

That’s when Roberts and Nesta and Sir Wilfred enter, and we get another block of exposition which is less entertaining when Roberts says that this isn’t witchcraft, it’s the work of a lunatic. Roberts wants to know if anyone in town has mental issues. Sir Wilfred admits that his own father was institutionalized for a while. Since everyone in the village believes in Witches, that’s not going to be a clue to anyone’s insanity.

When Roberts and Nesta go up to their room for their honeymoon night, he asks if she’ll help with the investigation by doing research at the county seat a few miles away. Then Nesta goes wacky when she sees a black dog... where there isn’t one. Is she crazy?

Next day, Roberts is at Evans’ house with Sir Wilfred examining evidence and notices that the victim’s pocket watch is missing. Here we meet Evan’s Old Mum (Doris Lloyd) who makes the finest tea in the village... if you know what I mean, and I think you do. (Heck, she’s *ancient*!)

We get some cross cutting between Nesta searching the county records while Roberts and Sir Wilfred and some military guys with metal detectors look for the missing watch at the crime scene. Nesta shows up just as the find the watch, and Roberts says they should easily be able to lift some fingerprints and find the killer. He’ll need to send the watch to Scotland Yard, and since the day’s mail has already left, will the watch be safe overnight at the post office? Sir Wilfred assures him that it will, and later we discover this is all Roberts’ scheme: he will stake out the post office that night and who ever breaks in is the killer. Another night without the honeymoon consummation! (Is Detective Roberts secretly Gay? Dude keeps finding new reasons not to sleep with his new bride!)

That night while Roberts is watching the post office, Evans and his Old Mum break into the hotel and kidnap Nesta, take her up to the Druid Stones, and prepare to burn her alive in a wicker basket. Sir Wilfred sees the fire and races up to the Druid Stones to battle it out with Evans, who is his bastard brother! They have the second least convincing scythe vs. pitch fork battle in the history of television, and then Evans kills Sir Wilfred, shocking his Old Mum by killing is half brother! Evans prepares to burn Nesta... and that’s when Roberts sees the black dog at the post office and, like Lassie, the black dog gets Roberts to follow it up the hill to the Druid Stones where we get the *first* least convincing scythe vs. pitch fork battle in the history of television. After Roberts knocks Evans down, he rescues Nesta, and then all four of them just walk down the hill as if nothing had happened. WTF?

Review: This is one of those episodes that tries to do too much at once, and succeeds at doing nothing well. Biggest problem is that it’s essentially a mystery about Evan’s Old Mum being mother to both wealthy Sir Wilfred and yokel Evans, and Sir Wilfred’s father being insane, and that town drunks father being hanged for killing witches. Somehow all of those things are connected, and the story takes too much time trying to figure all of that stuff out. The spooky stuff and suspense take the back seat, which makes this thriller not much of a thriller. Caillou is a good actor (you’d know him if you saw him), but despite writing a pile of TV episodes I’m not sure he was much of a writer. Actors are often so focused on the character and drama elements that they miss the overall story part... and this story has so much going on in it that it ends up a mess. The pub scene lasts almost a quarter of the show, and gets stagey after a couple of minutes. The episode is filled with exposition at the expense of suspense and action.

Hershel Dougherty who directed 24 episodes of HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and 3 episodes of the hour long Hitch show, brings nothing to this episode. Might be because it was shot on a tight schedule or that the script was more focused on the mystery elements, but even a “schlock shock” moment in the country records room where Nesta removes a book from the shelf to expose a man watching her on the other side is shot from an ineffective angle. The black dog looks *cute* instead of dangerous, and the Druid Stones just end up bland. The fight scenes were awful, and I wish someone would explain the ending where everyone just walks down the his as if nothing has happened. A real WTF? moment. Again, this may be because the script focuses more on the mystery than the suspense and spooky elements... but the director didn’t save the script.

Add to that, Kenneth Haigh’s performance as Detective Roberts, which seems like a roadshow version of Robert Morse... only prissy. He spends half of his screen time rolling his eyes. Part of that may have been dialogue that focused on the conflict between city and country, but he seemed to turn every line into a minor complaint... and this became irritating after a while.

Napier does as great job as a superstitious local, and manages to make his dialogue work (a line about trees having nothing better to do than grow ends up an insult to Roberts). A shame that he’s only remembered for BATMAN.

Best thing about the episode is Goldsmith's score, which adds suspense and thrills where there aren't any. One of his best scores for the series - he was working hard to make the episode work despite its problems.

Not a great episode, but next up is another Brahm episode based on a novel... by THE KILLING’s Lionel White.


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Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Flashback: Set Crashing

My buddy Van Tassell and I hung out a couple of years ago after seeing the movie FORBIDDEN POWER at a film festival in Las Vegas. I think Van is my oldest friend - I've known him since I was 18, and when I go home for the holidays we grab beers and see movies.

Whenever anyone filmed a movie in the San Francisco Bay Area, Van and I snuck on the set. Growing up in the East Bay Area - halfway between Oakland and Stockton - San Francisco always seemed like some far off place you only went to on special school field trips or when you went to the zoo on your birthday. Actually, we usually went to the Oakland Zoo on my birthday. I saw San Francisco more in movies than in real life.

So when I started making my own movies on 8mm and Super-8mm, my buddy Van Tassell and I began driving into the city and sneaking onto movie sets... to watch the pros at work.

Van installs carpets for a living (any out of work film guys could always find a job tearing up jute padding and carrying heavy rolls of carpet for Van) and his carpet tool pouch looks EXACTLY like a film grip's tool pouch. This was part of the plan to sneak onto movie sets - look like someone who belongs. So we would dress like grips, filling the tool pouch with film tools.

I subscribed to Weekly Variety, and they printed the films in production. Whenever anything was shooting in San Francisco (a popular location) we'd take a few days off from our day jobs to crash the set. To find out where they were filming I'd call the city permit office and pretend to be somebody from a newspaper covering the film or a caterer who forgot where to send the food truck. They'd tell me where the permit was issued for, but usually it was a vague answer like "They're shooting in the Marina District today" - maybe they didn't believe my story?

So Van and I would pile in his red Bronco - it was used as a picture vehicle in Paul's movie WEAPONS OF DEATH.... the hero's truck - and just drive around the Marina District until we spotted two dozen huge trucks. Then we'd just follow the cables to the set. The key was to be cool and blend in. We looked like grips, but we also had to ACT like grips. A couple of times someone would actually ask us to do something, and we always did it. I actually carried a 9-K light from the truck to where they were shooting on one set.

Van and I became pros at blending in, and we crashed a bunch of sets. Mel Brooks filmed HIGH ANXIETY in San Francisco, and we were there. Don Siegel shot TELEFON and ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ and we were there. But the best story is when they shot the James Bond movie VIEW TO A KILL. We didn't know it would become the worst James Bond movie ever - we just knew that James Bond was shooting in San Francisco, so Van and I decided to go out and watch. Dressed as grips.

The day Van and I crashed the set they were doing this huge effects scene - burning down City Hall. They had rigged all of these gas explosions on the building. They had Roger Moore's stunt double on a fire truck. They'd hired a bunch of extras to run in panic and some stunt men who would actually catch on fire. It was going to be very expensive, and they could only do it once. Boy did we pick the right day to crash the set!

So, we're doing our best to look like grips - helping ourselves to doughnuts on the craft services table - when we notice these two guys hop the rope and sneak onto the set. Well, that creates a danger to us. If they start checking to see who belongs on the set and who doesn't, we'll be kicked off before they start filming. Van and I come to a dead stop in the doughnut line, causing REAL grips to complain.

These two sneak-ins are wearing warm-up suits and look WAY out of place. They're also laughing - probably a little drunk. Then they see the food and start to come over!

Oh man. They're walking right towards us. Laughing so loud, people are starting to notice them. A couple of big Security Guards hear the laughter, turn and see the two sneak-ins, and move to intercept them... Coming right at us!

Two big Security Guards.
Walking towards Van and me.
We both freeze for a minute, then one of the REAL grips tells us to stop hogging the doughnuts. So we try to move away from the craft services table, but that means moving TOWARDS the two sneak-ins... and those two big Security Guards.

Shit! No choice!
Van and I play it really cool and move away from the table, pretending to be REALLY interested in the sprinkles on our doughnuts. The two sneak-ins brush past us on the way to the food. One of the Security Guards says, "Hey! You two!" Van and I try NOT to look at them, but both of us are wondering if they're talking to us or the sneak-ins. What if the Guards know everyone on the crew and know we don't belong? Can they arrest you for crashing a set?

They two big Security Guards are coming right at us. One puts his hand on my shoulder. Busted!!!

"Excuse me," he says as he moves me aside to get to the sneak- ins. Van and I watch the sneak-ins get rousted by the two big Security Guards. They are told to leave the area... but they hang around on the sidelines.

Close call. Van and I eat our doughnuts and watch the extras get instructions on how to run in panic when City Hall explodes behind them. The extras are told they can't screw up the shot, because they are only going to do it once. Van and I watch as the FX guys turn on their remote controls and they get the Roger Moore stunt guy on top of the fire truck. "This is gonna be cool," Van whispers to me.

Everyone takes their places as they get ready to blow up City Hall. Lights blast on. The director whispers to the AD who yells: ACTION! They start filming. The extras walk down the street calmly. BLAM! City Hall explodes into flames! The fire truck races into the shot...

And the two sneak-ins in warm ups hop the rope, run RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA and yell "City Hall's on fire! City Hall's on fire!" Then they run away, like the rest of the extras... blending into the crowd.

Van and I have been on a dozen film sets and have always stayed in the background. Always played it cool. Always tried to blend in. We can say to friends, "Yeah, we were on the set of that James Bond movie. We watched them burn down city hall." But those two sneak-ins?

If you look closely, they're actually IN THE MOVIE!

- Bill

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Trailer Tuesday: GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933

I always manage to get the plots to 42nd STREET and GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 mixed up, because both have amazing Busby Berkeley dance numbers and both share the same casts and both deal with survival during the Great Depression. This is the film with the plot I remember, but always seem to think it’s 42nd STREET.

You might wonder why a guy who has a book on writing action movies is a huge fan of Warner Bros musicals from the 30s, but that would be thinking in cliches... so stop that right now! Oddly enough, the big set pieces in Busby Berkeley films have much in common with big action set pieces in today’s films... and probably even more in common with martial arts films (since both deal with graceful physical actions). My main love for these films comes from their gritty reality base... these are movies from the Great Depression *about* the Great Depression. While MGM was turning out glossy escapist fantasy musicals, Warner Brothers was known for gritty social issues film... and that extended to their musicals. Just as I love the WB long haul trucker movie THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT and their film about guys stringing power lines across the country MANPOWER, these musicals are about real people struggling to pay the rent and doing hard physical work (dancing). GOLD DIGGERS was directed by Mervyn LeRoy who may be most famous for his gangster film LITTLE CAESAR and crime film I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG, but went on to direct the film version of MISTER ROBERTS and THE FBI STORY (with Jimmy Stewart).

Choreographer Busby Berkeley basically reinvented the musical with his amazing production numbers, and went from Broadway choreographer to film choreographer to director of film musicals to... director of THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL, one of the best crime films of the 1930s and probably John Garfield’s best film. After that, he invented Carmen Miranda’s hat of fruit before heading to MGM where he directed Ester Williams’ *underwater* dance numbers in movies like MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID, also directed by Mervyn LeRoy.


Directed by: Mervyn LeRoy
Written by: Erwin Gelsey and James Seymour based on the play by Avery Hopwood.
Musical Numbers by: Busby Berkeley.
Songs by: Al Dubin & Harry Warren.
Starring: Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Ned Sparks, Guy Kibbee, Warren William, Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers.

Hey, the gang from 42nd STREET is back in this Great Depression musical! The story begins in an apartment filled with out of work actresses, so poor that they have one good pair of shoes and one good dress between them. The have to be careful not to schedule auditions or day job interviews at the same time, or someone will have to go in clothes with patches and frayed hems. Not that anyone has an audition or job interview, we’re in the middle of the great depression and everyone is flat broke except the very wealthy who only lost part of their fortunes in the stock market crash. This pad o gals can’t even leave their apartment, because they’d have to walk past the building manager’s office, and they are months behind on their rent (the manager keeps slipping notes under the door warning of eviction). Their only entertainment comes from listening to the cute composer across the alleyway Brad (Dick Powell) work on his songs as he avoids *his* building manager. Polly (Ruby Keeler) has a crush on Brad, and often flirts with him from window to window. Nobody knows how they’re going to afford food, because all of the Broadway Theaters are closed... no one has money to put on a show and hire them.

Enter Barney (Ned Sparks, playing the same role as in 42nd STREET just with a different name) a scheming Broadway producer who has a plan. Because the theaters are broke, he’s made a deal with one to put on a show on spec. They’ll make money off ticket sales. He’s also found a potential investor to cover the hard costs of putting on a show... but he needs a cast and some songs. So he shows up at the pad o gals and convinces them to rehearse for free for pay later. Hey, it’s a chance for the gals to get out of the apartment and maybe make enough money to pay their back rent so they won’t be evicted. It’s pretty obvious that Barney has nothing but a scheme... and when he hears Brad’s music, he thinks he has a composer! (Great in joke as Barney calls the movies composers Dubin & Warren and fires them!) Basically, he puts together a show where everyone is working on spec, They have the labor, and that’s most of what’s needed.

Brad and Polly can now flirt face to face with no alley separating them, and it’s love. Barney wants Brad to play the lead, since he knows the songs (and maybe Barney can pay Brad once for two jobs), but Brad is ultra publicity shy and says he can’t be seen on stage. This causes some of the girls to wonder if he’s a criminal on the run or something.

Everything is going great, until that potential backer for the hard costs of the show backs out, leaving them in big trouble. All of this work for nothing...

Except (plot twist) Brad claims he can cover the hard costs. They set up a meeting where Brad will show up with a cashiers check for the hard costs of the show... and wait and wait and wait as Brad doesn’t show. Just when they’re sure Brad is nothing more than a schemer, maybe using this funding thing as a way to get into Polly’s pants, he shows up with the money. Where did he get it? Rob a bank? Brad doesn’t want to tell anyone where he got it, not even Polly. He *is* a bank robber, right?

When the juvenile lead gets lumbago on opening night (because he’s well over 40) they need someone to jump in and take his place... and Brad reluctantly steps in. The show is a huge hit, Brad’s face ends up in the newspapers... and the other shoe drops.

Brad *isn’t* a bank robber, he’s the black sheep son of a wealthy Boston family who disapproves of doing *any* work for a living. This is one of those families who is so rich the Stock Market crash only made a small dent in their fortune. They send older brother Lawrence (the always sleazy Warren William) and his best friend Peabody (the always pudgy Guy Kibee) to rescue Brad from the horrors of singing and dancing on Broadway. But when the two wealthy gentlemen come to the pad o gals, and Lawrence wants to know how much money it will take to buy Polly in order to release his brother from her spell. Due to some confusion they think Carol (Joan Blondell) is Polly and she insists that this conversation take place somewhere more civilized, over a bottle of champagne and a steak. So Lawrence and Peabody end up on a double date with Carol and Trixie (Aline MacMahon)... and we get to the gold digger part of our story. The gals could easily make a bunch of money by selling Polly’s love for Brad, but they would never do anything to harm Polly and the concept that love has a price offends them. This is an interesting social point, as Lawrence believes that love can be bought, and Carol and Trixie believe it has no price. When you are wealthy, everything has a price. When you are broke, you learn the true value of simple things like love and friendship.

Somewhere in here, an impossibly young Sterling Holloway (WINNIE THE POOH) show up as a bellboy and gets a single line of dialogue. Also in the cast in small roles (uncredited) are future Mrs. Ronald Reagan and Oscar Winner Jane Wyman, future tough guy and LEOPARD MAN star Dennis O’Keefe, future cowboy star Wild Bill Elliott (as a dancer!), and character actor Charles Lane (IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE) as the snooty society reporter who blows Brad’s cover.

The two gals manage to hook Lawrence and Peabody. There’s a great scene where a passed out drunk Lawrence is stripped and put in Carol’s bed, wakes up, and once again tries to buy his way out... but realizes that maybe these actresses are not evil incarnate, and maybe he’s *in love* with “Polly” (Carol). This creates a huge problem, because he thinks that he is in love with his brother’s gal! As the show goes on, we get a great false identity farce, which ends with a triple wedding. As usual, no shortage of half naked women, because this is precode. Side boob, top boob, underboob, and lots of sheer lingerie.

Let’s talk about the musical numbers for a moment, because there are some great ones here including an amazing show stopper at the end. The film opens with “We’re In The Money” with Berkeley’s signature “Parade Of Face” where every one of the beautiful chorus girls gets a big close up. Ginger Rogers sings this number, which (because we are still pre code) features scantily clad women with giant gold coins. The most amazing thing about this number is Rogers singing in *pig latin* for a verse or two! I couldn’t talk in pig latin that fast, let alone sing it! This is the cold opening number of the show, and ends prematurely as the repo men come to take the sets and costumes and props in a very funny scene.

Next up is one of the songs from the show, “Petting In The Park”, with Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell and a bunch of scantily clad gals in very risque situations. Billy Barty plays a horny baby (you read that right) who at one point, as the chorus girls are undressing behind a shade with *naked* silhouettes of bouncing boobs, starts to slowly pull the shade up! By the time the shade is raised, the chorus girls have changed into tin (!) breastplates and panties and dance away. The number ends with Powell unable to get into Keeler’s pants or breastplate, and Barty hands him a can opener! Powell proceeds to open Keeler’s outfit and we fade out. Hey, the *subject matter* of this song is heavy petting! This is one of those scenes you can’t believe are in a film made in 1933. The silhouettes behind that shade are *nude*.

One of the most beautiful dance numbers ever put on film is the “Shadow Waltz” with Powell and Keeler and Rogers and the rest of the gals. The chorus girls have *neon violins” they play in the dark, creating amazing kaleidoscopic images when the lights turn down. If “Petting In The Park” focused on ass, this number focuses on class. It’s worth the price of admission.

View That Number Here.

But it’s not the best number in the film. That would be the closing song, “My Forgotten Man” sung by Joan Blondell and Etta Moten. This has been a film about the Great Depression, and the social and class issues that event brought to the surface in America. This number focuses on the problems of impoverished veterans... and hits hard. All of those soldiers who fought in the Great War (WW1) returned as broken men, only to be broken again by the Great Depression. The number is in stark German Expressionistic images and deals with homeless vets. So many great moments in the number, including a policeman rousting a homeless man sleeping on the street, and Blondell opening the homeless man’s lapel to display war medals. This is a heart breaker of a song that shows how poorly the country treated war veterans after the economy went south. Hey, no parallels to today, right? The number ends with an amazing Busby Berkeley dance number that combines soldiers marching off to war in the background as homeless men march in search of jobs in the foreground. This is the conclusion of a film that has mostly been a comedy look at the struggles of surviving in the Great Depression... and makes you realize how serious poverty is.

Warner Brothers cranked out musical like this throughout the depression. Berkeley choreographed dance numbers in *five* musicals in 1933 alone! These films allowed people to forget their troubles for a couple of hours without ignoring that they had those troubles. The pad of gals and it’s concept that if people work together we can get through these temporary problems gave people hope and probably kept them from fighting with each other when things got tough. These films kept Warner Brothers in the black, and maintained their identity for gritty realism... even with these lavish musical numbers!


Thursday, June 15, 2023

THRILLER Thursday: Girl With A Secret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the halfway point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Great Movie Moments:
Harry's Intro - THE THIRD MAN

When BAFTA - the British version of The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences - decided to come up with a list of the 100 Greatest British Films Of All Time, the #1 position did not go to an adaptation of Shakespeare or some other classic novel, nor to any of the gritty realistic films of the 60s and 70s... but to a *thriller* that was a huge financial success - THE THIRD MAN (1949). Based on a novel by Graham Green and directed by Carol Reed, it’s fun and funny and filled with chases and action scenes and other typical genre stuff. Just done right, and about the subject of black market medicine after World War 2.

If you have not seen the film - shame on you, and I’m going to spoil the heck out of it.

The story is about American Holly Martins - a pulp western writer with a silly name - who goes to Vienna when his old pal Harry Lime offers him a job. But when he arrives he discovers that Lime is *dead* - hit by a truck in a mysterious accident. Though only two people (who claim to have been Harry’s friends) were present when Harry died... one witness claims to have seen a third man, who was not questioned by the police. Martins acts like one of his Cowboy Sheriff characters and decides to track down the truth - because maybe Harry was *murdered* and the third man is the killer. This gets Martins into all kinds of trouble, because Harry was involved in the black market and those two “friends” of his are dangerous criminals. Between the criminals and the police (British military police) people are following Martins and maybe trying to kill him. Then, one night, he sees one of the people following him...

Twist - Harry is alive!

- Bill

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Trailer Tuesday: 42nd Street

I always manage to get the plots to 42nd STREET and GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 mixed up, because both have amazing Busby Berkeley dance numbers and both share the same casts and both deal with survival during the Great Depression... so instead I'm just going to look at both films: 42nd STREET this week and GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 next week. You might wonder why a guy who has a book on writing action movies is a huge fan of Warner Bros musicals from the 30s, but that would be thinking in cliches... so stop that right now! Oddly enough, the big set pieces in Busby Berkeley films have much in common with big action set pieces in today’s films... and probably even more in common with martial arts films (since both deal with graceful physical actions). There is an amazing stunt in 42nd STREET that is better than anything I’ve seen outside of Jackie Chan movies. But my main love for these films comes from their gritty reality base... these are movies from the Great Depression *about* the Great Depression. While MGM was turning out glossy fantasy musicals, Warner Brothers was known for gritty social issues film... and that extended to their musicals. Just as I love the WB long haul trucker movie THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT and their film about guys stringing power lines across the country MANPOWER, these musicals are about real people struggling to pay the rent and doing hard physical work (dancing).

Busby Berkeley basically reinvented the musical with his amazing production numbers, and went from Broadway choreographer to film choreographer to director of film musicals to... director of THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL, one of the best crime films of the 1930s and probably John Garfield’s best film. After that, he invented Carmen Miranda’s hat of fruit before heading to MGM where he directed Ester Williams’ *underwater* dance numbers.


Directed by: Lloyd Bacon (SAN QUENTIN, BROTHER ORCHID)
Written by: Rian James and James Seymour based on the novel by Bradford Ropes.
Musical Numbers by: Busby Berkeley.
Songs by: Al Dubin & Harry Warren.
Starring: Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Alan Jenkins, Ned Sparks, Guy Kibbee, Warner Baxter, Bebe Daniels, Ginger Rogers.

Best Picture nominee.

Warner Baxter gives an Oscar calibre performance as famous stage director Julian Marsh who has lost *everything* in the Stock Market Crash *then* discovered he has health problems and may not have long to live. Basically, he’s screwed unless he can get a job, and his medical condition makes it impossible for him to get hired. Baxter manages to look and act as if every moment on screen may be his last while still playing a very physical strong willed man. He pulls off playing weak and strong at the same time.

Struggling Broadway producers Jones (Robert McWade) and Barry (the always pessimistic Ned Sparks) discover that Broadway star Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels, 1931 version of THE MALTESE FALCON) has a wealthy boyfriend Abner Dillon (the pudgy Guy Kibbee) who would do *anything* to get her into bed... even produce a Broadway show! These two schemers put together the pieces of the show, including director Marsh. But they need to cast 40 girls for the chorus, and that’s where we meet our protagonist Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler), a girl who literally just stepped off the bus from the Midwest with dreams of being a Broadway star. She brings her luggage to the audition!

The other girls at the audition are old pros, and make fun of Peggy and play cruel jokes on her (like telling her the casting will be done through the door to your left, which is the men’s room). But sending her to the wrong room results in her meeting perpetual Juvenile lead Billy Lawler (Dick Powell) in his underpants (this film is pre code, which means there is no shortage of chorus girl side boob, under boob, top boob, and barely covered by a lace undergarment boob... so Powell in his BVDs is equal time.) Lawler takes Peggy under his wing and does his best to prevent her from walking in on any other men in their underpants. Peggy is the #40 pick for the chorus line.

Because this is precode, the chorus girls don’t just jiggle a lot, they also make no bones about sleeping around (that seems contradictory). Anytime Annie (Ginger Rogers) has slept her way to the chorus line, and because she is sleeping with the Assistant Director, she instantly becomes the understudy. Where the other girls in the chorus have unfair advantages, Peggy only has her talent and determination. She practices harder and longer than any of the other girls, and passes out from exhaustion at one point. When she comes to, the first thing she does is try to get back to rehearsal. She’s a trooper! Soon Annie and the other chorus girls grow to respect her and accept her.

But a romance threatens the show. Star Dorothy Brock *hasn’t* slept with investor Dillon, despite him continuing to drop subtle hints like “I did something for you, now you need to do something for me.” The reason why: Dorothy is still hung up on her old boyfriend Denning (George Brent) who is flat broke and kind of her kept man. The producers fear that their investor will discover that their star is sleeping with this other guy instead of him and pull all of the money. When Denning decides to try and break up with Dorothy and find a manual labor job in Philly, he begins taking out Peggy... which pisses off Lawler. Kind of a double love triangle. All of this comes to a head when the show does a try out in Philly... and Dorothy discovers Denning and Peggy have hooked up.

Dorothy gets drunk the night before the big out of town opening... and breaks her ankle. Now we get two amazing story beats almost back to back. With Dorothy in a cast, Anytime Annie becomes the lead in the show. She has slept her way to the *top*! But when they break the news to her of her big break, she says she’d love to play the lead... but her main talents are *not* singing and dancing, and that kid off the bus Peggy is the best dancer in the show... Peggy should play the lead. Director Marsh goes to Peggy and tells her that she is now the lead, and coaches her basically around the clock until opening night. And when he leaves, Dorothy enters. Dorothy faces off against the woman who stole her man *and* stole her part... and you know this is going to be the cat fight to end all cat fights. Except, Dorothy tells her that no matter how Dorothy may feel about her, Peggy now has the lead in the show. Dorothy was once the understudy who had to step up to play the lead, and now it is Peggy’s turn and she needs to make the most of it. This is Peggy’s chance to become the star she has always dreamed of becoming, and Dorothy encourages her to *go for it*. Two unexpected story beats in a row!

Of course, Peggy gives it her all and the show is a success, and she ends up on Billy’s arms in the end... and the man who comes to Dorothy’s side while she’s injured is Denning... and when Dillon realizes that Dorothy isn’t going to sleep with him, he notices all of those hot young chorus girls like Anytime Annie and gets the booby prize. As in, those jiggling boobies.

The film is filled with amazing dance numbers, along with the signature Berkeley shot where every single beautiful chorus girl gets a close up... but the most amazing number is a long continuous take during the 42nd Street song that moves throughout a street set going inside and outside buildings, craning up and going through a 2nd story window to see a scene of domestic violence as a man beats a woman, she pushes him away, climbs out the window onto the ledge and *jumps* all the way down to the street where a dancer catches her and then dances with her. I look at that stunt and wonder how many dancers they went through before they got the take right. She freakin’ jumps off a 2nd story ledge and a guy *catches her*. It’s *pavement* below (hard surface so they can tap dance). These days no one would do a stunt that dangerous. It’s crazy!

The great thing about 42nd STREET is that it not only shows the gritty side of Great Depression life where people struggle to keep a roof over their heads *and* has these lavish completely visual dance numbers that are pure spectacle *and* show that hard work and determination pays off.


Thanks to Warner Archive, now on beautiful BluRay!

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