Friday, April 12, 2024

Fridays With Hitchcock: Scorsese On DIAL M FOR MURDER

Scorsese's MEAN STREETS is one of my ten favorite films, and here he is talking about DIAL M FOR MURDER - which was based on a great stage play by Frederick Knott, and is kind of a contained thriller before that was a thing. Shot in 3D, and even if you see the "flat" version, the dynmaic shots composed for 3D add to the film. But what does Marty have to say about the film?



- Bill




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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






USA Readers click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

THRILLER Thursday: WELL OF DOOM.

Well Of Doom

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



Season: 1, Episode: 23.
Airdate: February 28, 1961


Director: John Braham
Writer: Donald S. Sanford based on a story by John Clemons
Cast: Ronald Howard, Henry Daniell, Torin Thatcher, Richard Kiel.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith being awesome.
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon.
Producer: William Frye.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Imagine meeting two suck netherworld creatures on your wedding night. Beelzebub, Moloch, Belial. All names that men have given to Satan. Or is it possible that Robert Penrose has actually encountered the evil one himself? Or was this violent incident the start of some monstrous practical joke conceived by the young man’s friends? Or by his enemies? Well, perhaps a glimpse of tonight’s players will give you a clue? Mr. Ronald Howard, Mr. Henry Daniell, Mr. Torin Thatcher, Miss Finton Minor, and Mr. Richard Kiel. Impossible to guess, you say? Very well, let’s turn back the clock and pick up our young bridegroom before the start if tghis fateful journey. But I warn you ladies and gentleman, if you have a faint heart, tune away, because it may stop in your throat, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff.”

Synopsis: Kind of the horror version of THE HANGOVER...



Robert Penrose (Ronald Howard) and his servant Teal (Torin Thatcher) are heading to Penrose’s bachelor party in a limousine on a foggy country road... and running late. Penrose asks the Chauffeur (Billy Beck) if he can drive any faster, and is told not unless they want to end up in a ditch. That’s when the Chauffeur sees something through the fog on the road in front of them and hits the brakes hard. Standing in the middle of the road is a giant, Styx (Richard Kiel)... next to him is Moloch (Henry Daniell) holding a pair of ancient pistols. The Chauffeur says it’s a *monster* on the road, and then monster Styx yanks open the limo’s door and pulls out the Chauffeur!

Penrose climbs out of the Limo, and calmly tells Moloch to have his man release the Chauffeur so that they can get to the bachelor party. He’s sure that his jokester Best Man Charlie has paid them well to pull this prank, but they are running late and they have to go. Moloch says that this is no prank, he is Beelzebub, Moloch, Belial... Satan! And Penrose has a price to pay for his past sins. Penrose compliments the man’s acting but insists that they must be going... and that’s when Styx seems to kill the Chauffeur! Casting his body aside on the country road, forcing Penrose back inside the limo and then climbing into the driver’s seat and popping open the door for Moloch! They have been kidnapped!

After Karloff’s intro, we flash back to a few hours before the kidnap...



Penrose is at home on his family estate, when he gets a call from his bride to be Laura (Fintan Meyler) and they discuss the upcoming marriage (tomorrow) and the Bachelor Party tonight. She warns him not to let his Best Man Charlie get him into trouble... that guy is a loose cannon joker, and they all might end up in jail... and Penrose would miss the wedding. Penrose says that won’t happen, he’s wise to his Best Man’s tricks.

After Penrose hangs up, his servant Teal comes in... and there is tension between the two men. Teal used to work for his father, and basically *raised* Penrose. But somewhere along the line Penrose treated Teal poorly and the two have been estranged for years. Penrose apologizes to Teal for whatever happened in their past and says that even though when his new bride moves in, his plan *had* been to let Teal go... he has decided to keep Teal on. The problems of the past can be set aside. Teal is almost a father to him. Teal thanks him for this... then Penrose asks if he’ll be a part of the wedding and come with him to the Bachelor Party, unknowingly putting his servant’s life in danger.



Bride Laura goes to bed early, probably resting up for her honeymoon night... when someone breaks into her bedroom and sneaks up to her bed. When she wakes up and looks at her assailant... it’s the giant Styx!

Now back to the kidnap in the car where we began...

Penrose is sure this is all Best Man Charlie’s practical joke... and Moloch fires one of this antique pistols at the seat neat Penrose. The gun in very real. Penrose now wonders if this is a real kidnap. He tells Moloch he’d gladly pay the ransom if they would just get out of his car so that he could go to his Bachelor Party. He offers half a million dollars... but Moloch says that’s just not enough. Styx turns onto a dirt road, stops the limousine and they get out.

Styx has a pair of torches, and Moloch snaps his fingers at them... lighting both! They take Penrose and Teal through the foggy moors. Teal recognizes the area as part of Penrose’s estate... an area that is no longer used. Moloch does a couple of other completely supernatural things... is he really Satan? They are lead to the “Block House”, and Moloch tells Penrose that he has been here before when he was six years old... and gives details that *only Penrose could know*. Freaky! Teal and Penrose attack! Fighting for their lives! But Moloch turns and points at Teal and WHAM! Teal drops dead! He turns to Penrose and asks if he’ll be more cooperative, now.



The Block Room was used for prisoners and torture centuries ago... but also, maybe decades ago by Penrose’s father. In the cell where they lock up Penrose is an old well... and many of his father’s enemies ended up thrown into that well to die. Moloch wants Penrose to pay for his father’s sins. Not just with money, but with a deal with the devil... a contract with Satan. All his worldly goods, his estate, his money, his soul... and his bride. In exchange for his life. Just sign on the line. Then Moloch goes to the cell on the opposite side of the room... where they have Laura in chains!

After Moloch and Styx leave, Penrose has a cell to cell conversation with Laura. He has a plan: he will make a rope from his blanket, attach it to the inside of the well where they can not see, sign the contract and once Laura is released... throw himself into the well to commit suicide. Once they have left the dungeon, he’ll climb out of the well, escape the cell, and rescue Laura. (The cell has a loose bar, Penrose snuck out, then snuck back in when he heard them coming down the stairs.)



The plan works kind of according to plan, except instead of faking his suicide Styx picks him up and throws him into the well!

Penrose wakes up in the well, grabs the home made rope and starts climbing out of the well... but the peg attaching the rope to the well is pulling out of the ancient well. Suspense... will he be able to get out before the peg pulls out? He gets to the top, gets out of his cell, Laura is not in her cell, so he climbs the stairs out of the dungeon to rescue her...



At the top of the stairs, he spies Styx in street clothes and Moloch taking off his wig and make up... talking to someone who was behind the whole scheme. When the mastermind turns around, it’s Teal. The servant was afraid that Penrose was going to ditch him once he got married after all of the damned work Teal has done... so the plan is to kill Penrose, kill Laura, claim they have gone away on honeymoon... and just take over the estate. But Styx doesn’t have the guts to kill Laura. Then Styx (or whatever his name is) asks how they can trust Teal to give them their cut of the fortune when he’d turn against the boy he raised into a man? Moloch and Teal draw on each other... shoot and kill each other! Then Penrose comes up the stairs and Styx freaks out... trips and falls down the stairs and dies. Penrose rescue Laura from the next room and they have to race to their wedding!



Review: Great Goldsmith score... very atmospheric locations and scenes. One of the great things about a story that takes place on the foggy moors of England is that all of that fog not only makes it spooky, it hides Studio City just beyond the backlot at Radford Studios. The interior sets are great.

Henry Daniell is great, but I wish they had kept the “is this a joke or isn’t this” going for longer than a minute. When we see the Bride To Be kidnapped at the top of the episode we *know* it isn’t a joke, and that lessens the impact. Much like the suspense generated by not knowing if a character is or isn’t a killer, not knowing if the situation is a practical joke played by the Best Man or a real kidnap... or really Satan... would have kept us guessing and uneasy because we did not know.



They also seem to downplay some of the tricks Daniell does which make him look like Satan: the lighting of the torches, etc. Those should have been amped way up. Daniell is a great hambone actor who seems to be reined in here, when he’s playing *Satan*. If there was ever a role for overacting! There’s a way to present supernatural magic on screen that shocks the audience, but here it’s kind of matter of fact dull.

One of the nice scenes that could have been better was the cell to cell communication in the dungeon between Bride To Be and Groom. For some reason she taps her foot (because she’s gagged) when a panicked conversation would have been much better. The foot tapping makes me wonder if the original story was designed to make us doubt that she was really in there, think that even at this late stage it might all be a practical joke played by the Best Man. I can see no other reason to have her mute.

I do love how Penrose’s plan is to pretend suicide by jumping into the well, and then Styx *throws him* into the well. We get the same result, by an unpredictable and unplanned method. One of the techniques for making your story unpredictable is to have a character with a plan, and then have things not happen according to plan. Penrose still ends up in the well.

The plan that goes wrong was also used earlier when Penrose and Teal are being taken to the block house and make a plan to attack Moloch and Styx and escape... and that ends with Moloch killing Teal by magic just when it looks like they are winning their fight and will escape.

This was a pretty good episode which could have been much better. The great thing here is how a large scale ghost story is told on a TV budget using some establishing shots and a fog machine.

Bill



Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Scene Of The Week: The Wind And The Lion

One of my favorite films is John Millius's THE WIND AND THE LION, and here's a great scene with Brian Keith as Teddy Roosevelt on a hunting trip in Yosemite talking about a grizzly bear he's just killed...


The bear is part of the character's story thread - and shows up in several later scenes as it is stuffed and posed and eventually Teddy has his picture taken with it. Each scene with Teddy has some small bit about the bear - or maybe a large bit. He jumps up on his desk at one point to show the pose he wants for the stuffed bear.

The great thing about this "bear subplot" is that it allows the character to talk obliquely about elements of the main plot (a kidnaping in Morocco that may start a war) without being obvious or on the nose. In some ways, the dead grizzly is a "code" or a symbol that allows him to speak about the political situation without ever talking politics. I have a script tip about "symbolic dialogue" - when a character talks about one thing but is actually talking about something else.

This is a great technique to use if having your character talk about the plot situation would result in dull or obvious dialogue. Let them talk about something else... and let it have a second meaning about the plot situation.

Many people think that after the dark films of the 70s, STAR WARS came along and changed everything with its rousing story of adventure. But adventure was already a major component of 70s films, with John Huston’s epic adventure THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING and this fun swashbuckler which were released a couple of years before STAR WARS and written and directed by one of Lucas’ friends, John Milius. There are sword fights and romance and cliff hangers and fantastic stunts and it all takes place in a world far away and many years ago.

It is a great film for 12 year olds of all ages - filled with larger than life characters and all kinds of romance and adventure.

John Milius is one of my favorite directors, and when I met him this was the film I mentioned loving - even though many of his other films are also among my favorites. I start every day listening to the Basil Poledouris theme to CONAN THE BARBARIAN, and I thought PUBLIC ENEMIES paled big time in comparison to DILLINGER. They remade CONAN and RED DAWN and neither worked. His movies were usually about two strong people in combat - and the respect the combatants had for each other and the honor of a good fight. In RED DAWN the Cuban villain allows the Wolverines to remove their wounded in one scene - even though he could easily kill them and end his problems. But he is a man of honor - even though he is the villain. Even though Milius and I have completely different political beliefs, he never demonizes the other side. Though he may not agree with the opposing government’s goals (or maybe even the hero’s government’s goals - governments are usually corrupt), the warriors on the battlefield are not evil guys. His antagonists are not two dimensional mustache twirlers, they are real people.

The great thing about having two strong forces locked in battle is that you get to explore each character... and there’s no shortage of action.




Here we have a story loosely based on an actual historical event - the kidnaping of an American in the middle east and the quest to get them back unharmed. In real life it was 64 year old American citizen Ion Perdicaris and his son, kidnaped by Berber warrior Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli and his horsemen from his villa in Morocco to secure a ransom and political power from the Sultan... and President Teddy Roosevelt famously said: “Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead!” and moved in the Marines. As a romance between a dashing Berber warrior and some 64 year old dude probably wasn’t going to play in 1975, Milius changed the 64 year old man into an attractive young woman with her two children and has the story seen through the eyes of the boy. Not accurate history, but it’s an adventure film not a documentary. Most of the other characters and even some of the dialogue remains true.

The film is a true epic - big action, big emotions, big romance, big stars and an amazing Jerry Goldsmith score. It’s like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA meets RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Sean Connery plays the Raisuli as a handsome sheik on horseback, a young Candice Bergan played Eden Perdicaris, and Brian Keith steals the show playing Teddy Rooselvelt. The film is filled with great sword fighting scenes and some of the most amazing horse stunts you will ever see - lots of horses *indoors* on stairways and rooftop chases!




When the film came out I was a teenager and movies still opened on Wednesdays and only opened in major cities... played there for a month or two, then opened in the suburbs (which used to be called “Roadshow”). So, to see the movie on opening day, my friend Dave and I drove all the way to San Francisco and saw a matinee. Not packed. But afterwards, we pretended to sword fight all the way back to the car. I saw the film one more time in San Francisco, then once when it played “roadshow” in Concord. This was one of those movies that got me excited about making movies when I grew up. I wanted to do big, exciting, swashbucklers like this!

The film was not a big hit, nor was it a flop. It did okay. What I always find strange is how people will find fault with some movie... and then ignore the same problem in some movie they like. The two big things critics disliked about this film were Sean Connery’s Middle Eastern accent (which sounded Scottish) and that they changed the kidnaped dude to a kidnaped chick. Has Connery ever had an accent in a movie that wasn’t Scottish? Did we ever care? And how many movies based on some true event stay completely true to what happened? They all dramatize things! Were there major complaints about SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE bending the facts? No - it was a movie! I think the critics thought it was *fun* when movies had been gritty and serious for the past few years. The year WIND came out was the same year ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and DOG DAY AFTERNOON and SHAMPOO came out. Nobody could see STAR WARS in the crystal ball. WIND AND THE LION wasn’t one of the top ten films that year, though a film Milius did some uncredited writing on called JAWS was #1. THE WIND AND THE LION is one of those films that people fall in love with. I still love the film and watch the DVD probably once a year.

Milius Interview:


If WIND AND THE LION pops up on TCM, check it out. It might make you feel like a 12 year old again, and you might sword fight with a broom... and break something.

I love the Goldsmith score, but also love the cinematography and direction. Just in that Grizzly clip, there are some images so beautiful they could be paintings. Millius is one of those directors who is kind of forgotten now, but made some amazing films... and needs to be rediscovered by a new generation.

- Bill

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Trailer Tuesday: The Wind And The Lion (1975)



One of my favorite movies, and probably one you have never heard of... now on BluRay thanks to the wonderful people at Warner Archive.

Directed by: John Millius.
Written by: John Millius.
Starring: Sean Connery, Candice Bergen, Brian Keith, Geoffrey Lewis, John Huston, the great Vladek Sheybal.
Director Of Photography: Billy Williams.
Music By: the great Jerry Goldsmith, one of my favorite of his 254 scores.


Many people think that after the dark films of the 70s, STAR WARS came along and changed everything with its rousing story of adventure. But adventure was already a major component of 70s films, with John Huston’s epic adventure THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING and this fun swashbuckler released a couple of years before STAR WARS and written and directed by one of Lucas’ friends, John Milius. There are sword fights and romance and cliff hangers and fantastic stunts and it all takes place in a world far away and many years ago.

It is a great film for 12 year olds of all ages - filled with larger than life characters and all kinds of romance and adventure. And *knowing* that it's a boy's adventure story it often takes the point if view of a 12 year old boy in the story.



John Milius is one of my favorite directors, and when I met him a few years ago this was the film I mentioned loving - even though many of his other films are also among my favorites. I start every day listening to the Basil Poledouris theme to CONAN THE BARBARIAN, and I thought PUBLIC ENEMIES paled big time in comparison to DILLINGER. They have tried remaking CONAN and RED DAWN without success and I believe part of that is because they missed Milius' point. His movies were usually about two strong people in combat - and the *respect* the combatants had for each other and the honor of a good fight. In the original RED DAWN the Cuban villain allows the Wolverines to remove their wounded in one scene - even though he could easily kill them and end his problems. But he is a man of honor - even though he is the villain. In the remake we have evil Korean villains who have no trace of humanity or honor. Just *eeeeevil*! Even though Milius and I have completely different political beliefs, he never demonizes the other side in his films. Though he may not agree with the opposing government’s goals (or maybe even the hero’s government’s goals - governments are usually corrupt), the warriors on the battlefield are not evil guys. His antagonists are not two dimensional mustache twirlers, they are real people.

The great thing about having two strong forces locked in battle is that you get to explore each character... plus there’s no shortage of action. This is something today's film makers (and production execs with stupid notes) should consider. Hitchcock said "The better the villain, the better the picture", and "better" includes being more fleshed out and dimensional. If a giant asteroid smashes earth, we don't *feel anything* about the asteroid... it's just a rock. We can't hate the asteroid... it's just a rock. The problem with the Korean villains in the RED DAWN remake is that they were just rocks... no trace of humanity that could pull out our emotions.




With THE WIND AND THE LION we have a story loosely based on an actual historical event - the kidnaping of two Americans in the middle east and the quest to get them back unharmed. In real life it was 64 year old American citizen Ion Perdicaris and his son, kidnaped by Berber warrior Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli and his horsemen from his villa in Morocco to secure a ransom and political power from the Sultan... and President Teddy Roosevelt famously said: “Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead!” and moved in the Marines. As a romance between a dashing Berber warrior and some 64 year old dude probably wasn’t going to play in 1975, Milius changed the 64 year old man into an attractive young woman with her *two* children and as I said earlier, has the story seen through the eyes of the boy. Not accurate history, but it’s an adventure film not a documentary. Most of the other characters and even some of the dialogue remains true.

The film is a true epic - big action, big emotions, big romance, big stars and an amazing Jerry Goldsmith score. It’s like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA meets RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Sean Connery plays the Raisuli as a handsome sheik on horseback, a young Candice Bergan played Eden Perdicaris, and Brian Keith steals the show playing Teddy Roosevelt. The film is filled with great sword fighting scenes and some of the most amazing horse stunts you will ever see - lots of horses *indoors* on stairways and rooftop chases!

What is interesting is that our kidnaper is the *love interest* and the male lead in this story. The main conflict is between the Raisuli and Teddy Rosevelt... who never share a single scene. This telegram (from the film) sums up their conflict: “To Theodore Roosevelt - you are like the Wind and I like the Lion. You form the Tempest. The sand stings my eyes and the Ground is parched. I roar in defiance but you do not hear. But between us there is a difference. I, like the lion, must remain in my place. While you like the wind will never know yours. - Mulay Hamid El Raisuli, Lord of the Riff, Sultan to the Berbers, Last of the Barbary Pirates.” Roosevelt sends his Marines to track down the Raisuli, and rescue Mrs. Pedecaris and her children.




Since Roosevelt and the Raisuli never share a scene, the story finds some excellent other forms of conflict. Mrs. Pedecaris is a prim and proper woman who is used to servants and elegant accommodations and manners... who is kidnaped and forced to take an extended camping trip in the desert where there is no indoor plumbing and no indoors. She wears many layers of clothing to preserve modesty, but these things aren’t exactly camping and horse riding attire. The Raisuli doesn’t help his side by chopping off the head of a thief in one scene... and forcing Mrs. Pedecaris to find a way to change clothes in front of his band of Barbary Pirates. So we have Pedecaris against the Raisuli, constantly battling each other (and falling in love along the way... this *is* a movie).

But we also have the politics. The Raisuli’s reason for kidnaping Mrs. Pedecaris is to force the Sultan and his uncle the Bashaw (Vladek Sheybal, who tangled with Connery in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE) into removing the foreign influences from the country. The place is *filled* with Americans and English and Germans and everybody else trying to make deals for the country’s resources, and sell European goods (like weapons) to the Sultan. The country has become corrupt, and the Raisuli believes they will be conquered through commerce by the west. The Germans end up the main negative influence in this story, probably because of those spiked helmets. But does this remind you of any other political situation? Wait, there’s more... because the USA sends in the Marines (lead by Steven Kanaly) to protect their interests and rescue Mrs. Pedecaris... which seems a bit like Viet Nam. Now, one of my other favorite Milius films BIG WEDNESDAY is *about* Viet Nam... and in that film he has one of the three leads make the decision to serve his country with honor while the other two don’t go to war. So Milius doesn’t seem to be on the anti war side of Viet Nam. But there are still traces of a meddling United States becoming involved with a foreign conflict that is such a rat’s nest that there’s no way we can understand it, let alone do anything to solve it. The real conflict is between the Sultan & Bashaw and the Raisuli... and the Raisuli is the Bashaw’s *brother*! (Wait, does that make the sultan Raisuli’s son? Maybe, never brought up.) There is nothing America can do to resolve the internal politics of this country.



Teddy Roosevelt is portrayed as a President who must do *something* after an American is kidnaped. He sends his Ambassador (the great Geoffrey Lewis) to try negotiation with the Sultan, hoping the Sultan will grant the Raisuli a section of the kingdom that will be free from foreign influences... but the Sultan is fickle and would rather play with his German machinegun. Many of the scenes concern Roosevelt’s love of nature, the building of the national parks system, and the Grizzly Bear he has shot on a hunting trip and wants to have stuffed and mounted... not as an inferior to humans, but as a fierce animal (kind of the king of the American jungle). John Huston plays his *slippery* Secretary Of State John Hay, who tries to manipulate the President... without success. The politics on both sides are convoluted and confusing... only the individuals like Roosevelt and the Raisuli have honor.

This film has a rousing score by Jerry Goldsmith which I bought on vinyl probably the day I first saw the film (there was a Soundtracks Only store in San Francisco) and I have it to this day (and a CD without as many scratches). If you don't know who Goldsmith was, he was probably the greatest modern film composer... and I prefer him over John Williams. He also scored CHINATOWN and THE BLUE MAX and THE OMEN and... well, lots of great scores! The film was shot by Billy Williams who was nominated a few times for Best Cinematography Oscar but only won once for GANDHI. Stunts by Terry Leonard, who also did the stunt coordination on RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and APOCALYPSE NOW and RED DAWN and most recently on AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2.




When the film came out I was a teenager and movies still opened on Wednesdays and only opened in major cities... played there for a month or two, then opened in the suburbs (which used to be called “Roadshow”). So, to see the movie on opening day, my friend Dave and I drove all the way to San Francisco and saw the very first matinee. Not packed. But afterwards, we pretended to sword fight all the way back to the car. I saw the film one more time in San Francisco, then once when it played “roadshow” in Concord. This was one of those movies that got me excited about making movies when I grew up. I wanted to do big, exciting, swashbucklers like this!

The film was not a big hit, nor was it a flop. It did okay. What I always find strange is how people will find fault with some movie... and then ignore the same problem in some movie they like. The two big things critics disliked about this film were Sean Connery’s Middle Eastern accent (which sounded Scottish) and that they changed the kidnaped dude to a kidnaped chick. Has Connery ever had an accent in a movie that wasn’t Scottish? Did we ever care? And how many movies based on some true event stay completely true to what happened? They all dramatize things! Were there major complaints about SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE bending the facts? No - it was a movie! I think the critics thought it was *fun* when movies had been gritty and serious for the past few years. The year WIND came out was the same year ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and DOG DAY AFTERNOON and SHAMPOO came out. Nobody could see STAR WARS in the crystal ball. WIND AND THE LION wasn’t one of the top ten films that year, though a film Milius did some uncredited writing on called JAWS was #1.

THE WIND AND THE LION is one of those films that people fall in love with. I still love the film and watch the DVD probably once a year... and now it's out on BluRay!

Milius Interview:


Check out THE WIND AND THE LION on BluRay. It might make you feel like a 12 year old again, and you might sword fight with a broom... and break something.

One of my favorite films.

- Bill

Friday, April 05, 2024

Fridays With Hitchcock: Veronica Cartwright on THE BIRDS

Since the "birthday" of Hitch's THE BIRDS was last week, how about one of the stars remembering the making if the film? Veronica Cartwight is one of my movie crushes, and I first saw her in this movie when I was a kid. As an adult, she's the quirky actress in ALIEN and the 70s INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS and WITCHES OF EASTWICK and GOIN' SOUTH and so many orher movies and TV shows. Always interesting on screen.




- Bill



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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

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And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






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HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, April 04, 2024

Thriller Thursday: The Watcher

The Watcher

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



Season: 1, Episode: 8.
Airdate: 10/25/1960


Director: John Braham
Writer: Donald Sanford (MIDWAY) based on a story by Dolores Hitchens.
Cast: Martin Gable, Olive Sturges, Richard Chamberlain, Alan Baxter.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: Neal Beckner




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The incident you’ve just witnessed, described by the police and the press as an accident... which of course it wasn’t just as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. We’re concerned now with some of the people who live in the resort town where the... accident... took place several weeks ago. We’re going to see these people through the eyes of a murder at large. Unidentified, unsuspected, unpredictable. As the urge to kill again becomes irresistible. The name of our story is The Watcher, and our principle players are: Mr. Martin Gable, Miss Olive Sturges, Mr. Richard Chamberlain, Mr. Stewart Irvin, Miss Gloria Clark, Miss Irene Hervey, and Mr. Alan Baxter. Take my word for it, this is a thriller!”

Synopsis: Before Karlloff’s opening, we see a middle aged man, Mr. Frietag (Martin Gable), push an unconscious young woman into a lake from a row boat, and when she comes to and begins thrashing in the water... holds her head underwater until she is dead. Frietag is a mild mannered school teacher... who is a serial killer... and he is vacationing in this lakeside resort for the summer.

The Lakeside Resort has three distinctive classes of people: the Very Wealthy who have mansions and expensive sailboats, the Summer Tourists, and the Working Class people who take care of the mansions and sailboats and work in the restaurants and stores. Larry (an impossibly young pre KILDAIRE Richard Chamberlain who just had a birthday on 3/31) does boat repair and lives with his church going Aunt, his parents are dead. Beth (Olive Sturges) is the daughter of a socialite and lives in one of those mansions. Both are 20 years old and in love with each other... even though neither’s family would approve if they ever found out. Their relationship is a secret...



Except a man is watching them make out in Beth’s parked car a couple of houses down from where Larry lives. That man is Mr. Frietag (Martin Gable), who turns from the window of the boarding house room he is renting for the summer and types a letter to the town Sheriff, saying there is another “corrupter” and he will have to kill again...

At work the next day, Larry is doing boat repairs when Mr. Frietag visits... and warns Larry that an intelligent good looking boy like him shouldn’t get sidetracked by girls. They will just bring him down. Larry could go to college and improve himself. “An older man can sometimes keep a boy straight. Life is full of dark paths, it’s so easy at your age to lose the way. Many temptations come our way...” It doesn’t seem like Mr. Frietag really wants to keep Larry “straight”... more like he is obsessed with him sexually, keeps talking about how attractive Larry is. In this conversation Frietag mentions that Larry was distracted from his path by Suzie... the girl who was drowned. Larry should not make the same mistake twice.

Larry is creeped out by Frietag, tells him he can run his own life and gets rid of him.



Beth has lied to her mother, saying she’s going to a girlfriend’s house... when really she’s going to see Larry at work and bring him some food. Beth has a drunken Uncle (Stuart Irwin) who promises to cover for her if she’ll cover for him (he’s not supposed to be drinking). When Beth gets’ to Larry’s boat repair that night, it’s raining... and someone is watching her from the shadows (Frietag). She gets spooked, drops the food on the wet street and runs inside. Frietag keeps watching them, she will be his next victim.

Sheriff Archer (Alan Baxter) gets the letter from the serial killer and wants to do something about it, but before you can say “JAWS” his boss tells him to leave it alone. This is a tourist town and they don’t want to scare off the summer guests... and lets slip about the previous letter confessing to Suzie’s murder. Sheriff Archer asks why this letter was covered up, and is told that they don’t know if it’s a hoax or not. Why alarm people if it’s just some wacko with a typewriter claiming to have murdered a girl whose death was ruled an accidental drowning? Sheriff Archer decides to poke around on his own...

Larry’s only day off, and he goes on a picnic with Beth up in the mountains. Beth must be home early because Mother is having a huge garden party and Beth must attend. Not a problem. When they drive up to the mountain, Frietag follows in his car.



Of course, after they picnic food has been eaten, Larry and Beth (in bathing suits) make out on the picnic blanket... when they hear a noise from above. Someone is watching them. Creepy! Larry decides to confront the watcher, and climbs up the hill with Beth in tow. They get to the path above them and no one is there... but there is evidence that someone *was* there watching them the whole time. Creepy!

Time for Beth to get back, so they go to the car... but someone has slashed tires. Because Beth has twisted her ankle earlier, she has to stay with the car while Larry takes the tire and wheel into town for repairs. He rolls the tire down to the street and hitches a ride... leaving Beth alone in the car as the darkness settles over the mountain. Someone is in the brush watching the car. Bushes move, but whenever Beth looks closer, no one is there. Her imagination?

No Frietag. When night has fallen he creeps up to the car and tries to the doorknobs. All locked. This freaks out Beth inside the car as someone jiggles the car doors. Finally Frietag grabs a rock and tries to break the window! Beth lays on the car horn...



Frietag drives down the mountain, passing a gas station and spotting Larry working on the tire in the garage. Frietag sneaks in, clubs Larry with a tire iron, slides his body under a car up on a lift... and hits the button so that the car slowly descends and crushes Larry! So much for Larry and Frietag as a couple.

Sheriff Archer gets to the Mountain after getting a call about a dead girl in a car. Discovers Beth in the car... *alive*. Her horn honking brought others picnickers and Frietag ran away. Archer takes Beth home and her Mother wants her to put on a party dress and pretend like nothing happened. WTF? Mother thinks appearances are more important than her daughter almost being killed by a serial killer.



Archer gets the call that Larry has been found at the garage... alive. The tire rim saved him from the descending car... but the blow to the head has left him unconscious. Nearest hospital is far away, so they take him to his home with the doctor. Bed rest. Beth has an argument with her mother, says she isn’t going to be who her mother wants her to be, but who she really is... and that is a girl in love with a boy. Beth splits to be by Larry’s bedside.

But you know who is staying across the street from Larry? Mr. Frietag. And when he sees Beth go to visit Larry, well, he realizes he must kill her. Frietag has a *great* conversation with Larry’s aunt downstairs. Larry’s Aunt is religious, but Frietag is a religious zealot... he doesn’t see religion as a private matter but something that you must force on others. He’s a scripture ranting lunatic. But the Aunt must go to the pharmacy, and allows Frietag to stay in the house and look after the two kids upstairs.

The moment she’s gone, Frietag does that creepy serial killer stair climb, and tries to kill Beth while an injured Larry looks on. Things don’t go as planned and Beth throws Frietag out the second story window where he lands like Michael Myers on the lawn. Dead.



Review: Though not as great as the HITCHCOCK PRESENTS Unlocked Window episode, this is a creepy serial killer story in a time when that was still a new idea. This was made the same year as PSYCHO, which was kind of the first slasher film. Audiences hadn’t really seem stories like this, let alone see one in the comfort of their living room! The creepy scenes are okay, but don’t live up to the potential of the situations (Beth in her car as an unseen Frietag tries opening all of the doors is shown from *outside the car* instead on inside with Beth).

I wonder if anyone in that 1960s audience didn’t get the sexual obsession that ultra religious Frietag had for Larry. The show kind of plays it up as Frietag seeing Larry’s interest in women as “sinning” but there’s a real sexual undercurrent in there. Frietag is the sinner, but instead of dealing with his own issues lashes out at the innocent people who stir up those issues within him. Freud 101. In fact, the theme in this episode seems to be about hypocrisy: Frietag is the ultra religious man who uses his beliefs to cover his killing, Beth’s Mother is the society woman who would rather ignore her daughter’s almost murder to avoid a scandal, and Archer’s boss would rather pretend there is no serial killer than scare away tourists. The characters who go against the hypocrisy: Sheriff Archer, Beth’s Uncle, etc show us the other side.



It’s always interesting to read books or watch movies and TV shows from a different era, because we can see how much times have changed. When this was made (1960) being overly religious and sharing your religious beliefs with strangers was seen as odd... maybe even crazy. Today we see what was overly religious as just being religious. The traits that make Frietag a zealot in this episode are considered “normal” today. Strange how the “good old days” are very different than we imagine them to be. You watch an old show like this and see how people in 1960 reacted to things, or read a book from the 1940s where housewives and highschool students are smoking pot, or go back to when cocaine was the ingredient that gave Coca Cola its name... and today’s world seems *ultra* conservative. Except, it isn’t really conservative if it is different than “the good old days” is it?

This is another episode on the right track. Even though the trapped in the car scene and the stair climb and the mountain watcher scenes were not the best they could be, they were suspense scenes and this really was a thriller!

Bill

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Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Juicy Scenes & Pacing

From 2008....

More Answers to past questions. These three were related, so I'm answering them all in the same entry...

QUESTION: Any, er tricks, to build up suspense? Is there a rule of thumb to balance the frequency of the comic relief of the approach of an ominous shadow that turns out to be a kitty with the slightly less frequent surprise slice that reduces the band of kids by one nasty jock in that uniquely gruesome method and, oh by the way, is there anyplace in a screenplay for run on sentences as I seem to have a problem with that too.

ANSWER: I hate those people who say “for the answer to that question, read my book!” There are these guys who teach classes at Expo who are basically there just to pimp their classes or books... But there are two huge chapters in the (still out of print) action book, and one entire CD of the thriller set is all about suspense... way too much information for a quick answer here.

Suspense is the anticipation of an action - so we need to know what the action is, then use one of many techniques to stretch out the anticipation of that event... without allowing the audience to forget the event.

Horror also uses dread (covered on the horror CD) which is the anticipation of an unspecific event. We know that there is a killer outside, but don’t know which door or window they will attack through... and now you stretch out the anticipation without allowing the audience to forget the killer or monster or ghost or whatever.

This is done on the page - a suspense script needs the suspense to work for the reader, a horror script needs the fear to work for the reader. We are trying to use our writing to create the emotions. Not *tell* people what the emotions are, but write a scene or sequence that is filled with those emotions.

Some suspense and dread is situational - we create the situation. Other times we use writing techniques to build the suspense or dread. Often we use both.

As for run on sentences - um, maybe in dialogue if that fits the character? Otherwise, you need to edit. Run on sentences usually make it look like you don’t really know where you are going... they look weak. You want to look strong.

QUESTION: How to increase the tension and how to adjust the pacing properly?

ANSWER: I have a script tip on pacing - it’s the heartbeat of your screenplay. You want to have a regular heartbeat - usually a “juice scene” within every ten pages or so... and more frequently in act 3.

The number of heart beats in your script is critical to your story's survival. It's impossible to have a regular heart beat in your story if you only have four heart beats in 110 pages. That heart is beating so slow the patient is either comatose or dead. The main reason why scripts re slow paced is that not enough exciting stuff is happening. You're going to need about one exciting scene about every ten pages - really funny scenes in a comedy, suspense scenes in a thriller, big dramatic scenes in a drama, action scenes in an action flick. Whatever the “juice” of that particular genre is.

Your heart rests between beats, which is why films that are all exciting scenes with nothing in between seem to burn out. Too much of a good thing. A script needs balance. Peaks and valleys. If your script is always exciting, we'll become used to the excitement and it will become expected... and boring. When car chases and shoot outs become boring, you're in real trouble!

All heart beat is as much a problem as no heart beat at all. But here’s what I learned from watching *Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein* - one genre’s valley is another genre’s peak. By combining two genres - horror and comedy - *Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein* is twice as exciting with no heart beat burn out. The valleys in horror are peaks in comedy. When you aren’t screaming, you’re laughing. The comedy makes the horror twice as scary, and the horror makes the comedy twice as funny. So don’t think of your valleys as “dull parts” or “slow spots”, think of them as exciting parts in another genre. Your thriller may use the valleys as peaks in the dramatic story. Your comedy valleys may be romantic peaks. Every page of your script should be exciting... you don’t to give the audience any time to race to the bathroom. Bust those bladders!



QUESTION: How to get the most 'juice' out of the scenes as you're fond of say?

ANSWER: First, know what juice you want. The juice is the emotions in the scene - and the emotions you want the audience to feel. The scene is going to transfer the emotions to the audience... and we’re going to start with the person the reads our script. We want them to feel something, not just read the script like it’s a work assignment or a report.

Second, we want to create the situation that best produces those emotions. In FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL the lead character, Pete, has broken up with his long time love Sarah. He decides to go away, to a Hawaii resort, to ret and forget her... except that’s where she and her new boyfriend are staying. The other thing about Sarah is that she’s the star of a hot TV show, so Pete can’t turn on TV without seeing her - he can’t escape her!

This is a “cringe comedy” where the humor comes from embarrassing and awkward situations.

So we have a scene in Hawaii where we’re going to milk humor *and* emotions from Pete feeling lonely. He goes to a restaurant at the resort alone, and the host ask “Table for two?” When Pete says no, the host continues - No wife? No girlfriend? No business associates? No buddies? This milks the situation for the most juice... and it keeps going! The host asks if he’d like a magazine or newspaper, because just sitting alone is going to be boring. Once he sits alone at his table, a big deal is made of taking away the other place setting.

Now he’s alone at a table... but not in any restaurant, this is Hawaii. So Pete is surrounded by couples on honeymoon who are all over each other, and guys who have brought their girlfriends so that they can pop the question - and lonely Pete is surrounded by newlyweds and happy couples getting engaged. This also milks the situation to create more humor - each one of these things increases the juice or a juicy situation.

Then, to top it off, Sarah and her new boyfriend enter the restaurant and are seated at the table that Pete’s table overlooks - so he has to watch them while he eats. So we begin with a situation designed to create the kind of cringe comedy that is the juice for this film, then - to keep it juicy - small things within the scene *keep happening* - and escalating until we reach the breaking point.

Okay, that’s a cringe comedy example - but imagine the scene has our lead characters stuck in a house surrounded by zombies, or chased by a serial killer through an abandoned slaughterhouse, or the hero trying to escape the police by walking along a narrow ledge. Those are the basic situations, then we need to find a bunch of things to keep it juicy - things within that scene to keep the situation escalating.

And these things need to be on the page - we need to write them in such a way that the reader *feels* the emotions while they read it. Our job is to use words to create emotions in the reader... and eventually the audience.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:


See You At Fango! - I'll be at the Fangoria Weekend Of Horrors at the LA Convention Center this weekend, if you see me walking down the halls, say hello!

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Trailer Tuesday: DAVE (1993)



Director: Ivan Reitman.
Writer: Gary Ross.
Starring: Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Frank Langella, Ving Rhames, Kevin Dunn, Ben Kingsley, Laura Linney.
Produced by: Lauren Shuler Donner.
Cinematography by: Adam Greenberg.
Music by: James Newton Howard.




The Capraesque DAVE (1993) is about a nice guy who runs a temp employment agency and has a side job as a celebrity look alike for the President... and ends up becoming the temporary President when the real one goes into a coma. This is a sweet film that managed to do it all: it’s a great film about American Politics, it has traces of romantic comedy, it’s shows the corrupt back alley deals that go in on (a version of the real life Keating Five Savings And Loan Scandal), it’s about a regular guy taking on the establishment (like Capra’s MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON) and it’s a fun comedy. Oh, and it’s probably the first film I ever noticed Ving Rhames in, because he steals the show as the President’s #1 Secret Service Agent. He has a line at the end that makes me tear up every time I see the movie, and the way that line is set up is a great lesson in screenwriting.

Crap, now I have to talk about that, huh?

First we need to have the story set up...

Okay, the story has Dave Kovic (Kevin Kline), a nice guy who runs an employment agency and just wants everyone to have a job on Monday morning so that they can pay their rent by the end of the month, picked to be a “decoy President”... not by the Secret Service, but by the President’s cronies Bob Alexander (played by the always evil Frank Langella) and Alan Reed (played by comic turned actor Kevin Dunn). You see, the President has a girlfriend (played by Laura Linney before we knew her name!) and would like to slip away from the press to meet with her in a hotel. So while Dave is leading the Press in one direction, the real President (also Kline) is going in another direction. The President is stiff, overly serious, and a bit of a dick. Dave, while walking down a hallway in front of the press accidentally adds a little humanity to the President, and is sure they will be mad at him for doing that. You know, he could use the extra money being a Presidential decoy now and then.

But the President’s tryst with his girlfriend goes very very wrong about 15 minutes into the film... he has a stroke mid stroke and goes into a coma. Usually the Vice President would be sworn into office at this time, but Bob Alexander and Alan think V.P. Gary Nance (Ben Kingsley) is a “boy scout” who won’t go along with the President’s not so nice policies. So they hatch a scheme. *Dave* will continue to pretend to be President (but be less visible for a while), and they will keep him away from the First Lady Ellen (who sleeps in a separate room anyway) (played by Sigourney Weaver who really deserves more love - she’s great in everything), V.P. Gary will be sent on a tour of foreign countries to get him out of the way, then they will pin a scandal on the V.P. while he’s away to discredit him, accept the V.P.’s resignation, and then Dave will appoint Bob Alexander acting V.P... and then the President will “have a stroke” and Dave will go back to his temp employment agency as the real President will publicly go to the hospital and... well, Bob Alexander will take over as President and run the country instead of just being the puppet master behind the President. Great plan!

Except for Dave.

While pretending to be the President Dave is a nice guy who realizes the President’s policies are often not so nice. They often benefit the President’s cronies more than the American people. So when President Dave has a chance to do something good, he does it... making Bob very angry. Alan is the “pivot character” here who starts out as an antagonist but is won over by Dave and becomes his ally. Now that I’ve given away everything, let’s take a look at how it all works, starting with....

INTRODUCTIONS




The opening scene has Marine One Helicopter landing on the White House Lawn, and President Mitchell (Kline) and his wife Ellen (Weaver) get off the helicopter. Mitchell is handed the leashes for his two cute little dogs, and they smile and wave past the press and into the White House.... Where Mitchell immediately throws the leashes on the ground and gets away from the dogs and his wife. An aid grabs the leash off the floor and takes away the dogs. President Mitchell and Ellen sleep in different bedrooms on opposite ends of a hallway....

Cut to...

The Grand Opening of a Car Lot, where an Announcer introduces the President Of The United States... who comes out riding a pig! It’s Dave Kovic (Kline) who looks like the President except for his hair style and color, he doesn’t wear glasses, and his general attitude - he’s a goofball. A cheerful and funny guy who does a great imitation of the President as he makes his pitch for the new car lot. Watching him is Secret Service Agent Duane (Ving Rhames - with hair) who later approaches Dave and explains that for security reasons they often employ a double for the President. Would he be interested in serving his country?

Kline does a great job of making these two very different characters - they walk and speak and move and thing differently (the thinking part is writer Gary Ross’ work). You believe that these are two different people. After Dave covers for President Mitchell so that he can boink his secretary Randi (there’s a name) and has his stroke, Secret Service Agent Duane doesn’t take him back home in the limo... he takes him to the White House, where he is needed to pass as the President while he is recovering from his stroke... and stay away from the First Lady!

UNDERCOVER COMEDY




One of the things that I find interesting is the connection between thrillers and comedies - the same plot can often work for either genre. WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S is a comedy about two guys and a corpse having to pretend that the dead guy is alive so they will not be arrested or worse. Is that a thriller or a comedy? Both Comedies and Thrillers often deal with secrets and plot twists and people pretending to be someone else. Don Winslow’s thriller “The Death And Life Of Bobby Z” is about a guy named Tim who resembles reclusive drug lord Bobby Z, who is sent undercover to pretend to be the drug lord and get information on the suppliers and everything else so that the FBI can bust everyone...

But suspense builds when the drug lord’s girlfriend shows up, along with some other people who might discover that he’s just a guy named Tim pretending to be drug lord Bobby Z... and then they will kill him. He can’t make a single mistake... and that girlfriend is a *serious* complication.

And that is the same plot as DAVE... with the First Lady as the drug lord’s girlfriend, who is going to know that he is not the President. There’s a sequence where Bob and Alan give Dave all of the background on the President, and “test” him on this knowledge until they are sure that he can pass as the President long enough for them to set all of the other parts of their plan to make Bob the President into motion... but he must stay away from the First Lady....

Which sets up a series of suspense scenes that create *laughs* as Dave tries to act like the very serious President Mitchell... even though he’s kind of a goofball.

There’s a great montage of chances for Dave to blow it - and he comes very close a few times. A photo op with babies, bowing to the Japanese Prime Minister, staff meetings, and a great set piece where he is testing some giant robot arms at a factory and ends up dancing and singing “Louie, Louie”. The political panel shows all notice the big change in him... and even though they are positive about these changes... it’s a big chance that they will discover that he’s not the President, just some guy named Dave.

And there’s a scene with the First Lady that is very tense... and Dave manages to fool her into believing that he is her husband. Maybe.

She sees him playing with the dogs on the White House lawn - rolling around on the grass with them... and that is not something that her husband would ever do.



The big scene is a visit with the First Lady to a homeless shelter for kids. In the limo on the way there, she asks why he bothered to come since he doesn’t care about the homeless or children. When she crosses her legs, her dress falls open a bit and he looks at her legs... great legs. But this is something that *Dave* would do - President Mitchell hasn’t been attracted to her for years.

At the Homeless shelter for children, while the First Lady explains the bill to help homeless children to the press, Dave notices a kid all alone in the corner and goes over to talk to him. This is a great scene - but also filled with suspense because this is not something that the President would ever do. Dave does some close up magic to entertain the kid, and then has a real heart to heart talk with him... and the First Lady notices all of this. She has started to catch on that this is not her husband...

Which builds suspense.

THE BIG TWIST




Bob Alexander forges the President’s *veto* on the Homeless Shelter Bill - kicking all of those kids out onto the street.

Dave is in the Presidential Shower, when the First Lady storms in - angry as hell. She wants the President to turn and face her - naked - in the shower. And Dave is sure that she will figure out he isn’t her husband. He’s naked. Standing before her. She is angry that after pretending to care about that homeless kid, he vetoes the bill and kicked him out onto the street....

Dave confronts Bob Alexander - who tells him that he is *not* the President. If Dave can find $650 million, they can have the Homeless Shelter.

Now, Bob Alexander has seriously underestimated Dave. $650 million is an impossible amount of money. Where will a guy who runs a temp agency and rides a pig pretending to be the President come up with that kind of money?

Dave calls his accountant friend Murray (Charles Grodin at his Charles Grodinest) and they look over the federal budget and find $650 million that is being obviously wasted.

The President calls a meeting, and Bob is angry - *he* calls the meetings, not this fake President. Dave goes over each of the obviously wasted budget elements - having to fight each department because wasting $32 million isn’t important. That kind of money is trivial. By the end of the meeting he has over $650 million... and reinstates the Homeless Shelter Bill. And all of the department heads feel *good* about this. As does Alan - Bob’s co-conspirator.... and that’s a big moment. Alan is now siding with Dave instead of Bob. Earlier I called Alan a “pivot character” - he starts out on one side and pivots to the other side... and this shows that he actually sees Dave as being a leader. Bob still thinks of Dave as that guy who rides the pig, but Alan sees him as a real President... even if he’s an impostor. There’s a great scene where Bob and Alan are on either side of a door - and Alan remains on his side. He doesn’t cross over to Bob’s side.

The First Lady lets Dave know that she knows he is not the President... and wants to know what happened to her husband? Dave and Secret Service Agent Duane go to the basement of the White House, where a make shift hospital has been set up... and the President is in a permanent coma. He is brain dead.

Dave fires Bob. Wait? Can a guy who impersonates the President fire people? Bob has created a Frankenstein’s Monster, who has turned against him. Because everyone believes that Dave is the President, they believe that he can fire Bob....

Bob begins his smear campaign against Vice President Gary being involved in a Savings & Loan Corruption Scandal... and adds the President, pushing for his resignation.



We get a great MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON scene as Dave and Vice President Gary have a private conversation, and Dave asks how Gary started out in politics. “I was a shoe salesman. Not very happy about it. One day, my wife says to me, ‘Why don't you try running for office? You know, you talk about it all the time. Why don't you just go do it?’ So I tell my boss I have a dentist appointment, and go down to the registrar of voters on my lunch break... next thing I know I'm a councilman. My wife was my campaign manager, we had a budget of two thousand dollars - with advertising.” Gary is a good guy, who got into politics to help people... grass roots, front line politician. Which is why Bob doesn’t want him to be President - he’s a “Boy Scout”.

Dave says that he will address Congress and the Senate over these allegations...

“I'm the President, and as they say, the buck stops here. So I take full responsibility for each one of my illegal actions. But that's not the whole story. I think the American people are entitled to the real truth.” He opens a briefcase and pulls out papers. “I have here evidence in the form of notes, letters, and written memoranda, proving that Bob Alexander was involved in each of these illegal acts, and in most cases planned them as well. Now, allegations of wrongdoing have also been made against Vice President Nance. Now, as this evidence will prove, at no time and in no way was the Vice President involved in any of this affair. Bob just made all that up. Vice President Nance is a good and decent public servant, and I want to apologize for any pain that this has caused him or his family.”

Dave continues....

“I’d like to apologize to the American people. You see, I forgot that I was hired to do a job for you. And it was just a temp job at that. I forgot that I had 250 million people who were paying me to make their lives a little bit better. And I didn’t live up to my part of the bargain. You see, I think there are certain things you should expect form a President. I ought to care more about you, than I do about me. I ought to care more about what’s right than about what’s popular. I ought to be willing to give up this whole thing for something that I believe in. Because if I’m not, then maybe I don’t belong here in the first place.”

Then, Dave has a stroke and falls to the floor. An ambulance takes away the President, and the Vice President is sworn in as President...

CONCLUSIONS




Which brings us to a great set up and pay off...

Early in the film, when Dave first gets the job as temp President, he asks the Secret Service Agent Duane (Ving Rhames) if it’s true that Secret Service Agents would take a bullet for the President. Rhames says he would gladly sacrifice his life for the President. Dave asks if Rhames would take a bullet for *him*? Rhames gives him a look. Dave realizes he’s in trouble if someone shoots at him...

This is a great gag.

But also sets up one of the last lines of the movie, in the ambulance after they have taken the Real President in a coma to the hospital, when Rhames says he’d gladly take a bullet for Dave. This is one of those big moments that comes out of nowhere and makes your eyes moist.

DAVE is one of those films that manages to be both sweet and savage at the same time. If you haven’t seen it, or just haven’t seen it in a while, check it out. President’s Day was yesterday, right?

- Bill
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