Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thriller Thursday: The Big Blackout

The Big Blackout

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



Season: 1, Episode: 12.
Airdate: 12/6/1960


Director: Maurice Geraghty
Writer: Oscar Millard from a novel by Don Tracy
Cast: Jack Carson, Charles McGraw, Nan Leslie, Jeanne Cooper.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography:
Producer: Maxwell Shane




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Our friend is in big trouble, because his name is Burt Lewis... was he also once a man named Bill Logan? He doesn’t know. Because until he took the cure, he spent two years in an alcoholic black out, and for long periods of time he couldn’t remember anything. Did he do something in that time for which a man with a gun has come to get him? He doesn’t know. All at once his big blackout has caught up with him. That’s the name of our story: The Big Blackout. And our principle players are Miss Nan Leslie, Mr. Charles McGraw, Miss Jeanne Cooper, and starring Mr. Jack Carson. Sure as my name is Boris Karloff, I advise you to slide back in your chair and take a firm grip on it, because this, my friends, is a thriller!”

Synopsis: Somewhere between Travis McGee and Woolrich’s BLACK CURTAIN is this Florida based story of a charter boat captain who may or may not have been a criminal in the two years he can’t remember. Total alcoholic blackout. The story opens with Burt Lewis (the always manly Jack Carson from MR. & MRS. SMITH, THE MALE ANIMAL, MILDRED PIERCE) getting a phone call in the middle of the night from the local motel owner that they have a drunk. Burt is the local AA guy, a recovering alcoholic who knows the best way to handle drunks. He tells his sleeping wife Midge (Nan Leslie) he’s headed out...



The Paradise Motel looks a heck of a lot like the Bates Motel... except it’s in Florida, right? Hot motel owner Ethel (Jeanne Cooper) leads Burt to one of the rooms where a guy who checked in under the name “Adams” is passed out drunk on the bed. In really bad shape. Ether is the widow of Burt’s dead best friend... and she needs a man... now. Burt reminds her that he’s married and they search the drunk guy’s room for contact information while they wait for an ambulance to take him to a local rehab facility. Burt finds a gun... and a note in the drunk’s wallet that says “Bill Logan is using the name Burt Lewis at Sea Beach. He runs a charter boat. Find him and ask him things. When he tells you what we want to know, put him away”.

Ethel tells Burt that the drunk was asking all kinds of questions about him, so she thought they might know each other. Burt has never seen this guy before in his life... or has he? That two year blackout... what did he do back then?

The next morning Burt goes to his boat to grab his gun in case things go south... but is interrupted by a strange old man named Hawkins (Paul Newlan) who wants to hire him for a fishing charter and asks a lot of questions about Ben Logan. The old guy gives him two crisp $50 as down payment on the fishing trip... which is way too much. Burt leaves without taking his gun.

Burt goes to the rehab clinic to talk to “Adams”, but the doctor tells him “Adams” isn’t ready for visitors, yet. Burt pretends to leave, but heads to the back door and breaks in... passing an old drunk named Charlie Pringle (Chubby Johnson) who apologizes for falling off the wagon but asks if Burt could find him a bottle somewhere... and sneaks into “Adams” room. He approaches the man, tries to wake him... but when he rolls “Adams” over there’s a bullet hole in the man’s head!



Mean town cop Wright (the always growling Charles McGraw) accuses Burt of killing “Adams” and asks where he got a pair of crisp $50 bills... did he rob the dead guy? Wright just hates ex cons... and where do you think Burt dried out? Prison. He had fallen in with the wrong crowd while drunk... but what else might Burt have done while he was drunk? Who would send a hitman after him? Burt is prime suspect in Adam’s murder, even though he never saw the guy before in his life (or did he?).

Wright tells his deputy Burt’s backstory: they used to be friends, until Burt’s wife and kid were killed in a car accident and he became a drunk... then a criminal.



At home, Burt’s wife Midge is waiting with Ethel the slutty motel owner. Both want to know what happened... but Ethel’s questions make it sound like she thinks he did it. When Ethel leaves, two hoods enter the house. Burt recognizes Fisher (Robert Carricart) from prison, who wants to know about Logan. They grab his wife, start beating on Burt...

Conveniently cop Wright shows up, the two thugs leave through the back door... and Wright gets another chance to hassle Burt. When Burt says the two men were looking for someone named Ben Logan, Wright reacts for a moment... then goes back to playing tough cop. He says they’ve found the gun that killed “Adams” and shows it to him... it’s *Burt’s gun!* He says he’s never seen it before. When Wright leaves, Burt heads to the liquor cabinet... then stops himself.



Burt decides to take his wife to the motel just in case the thugs come back. He realizes that whoever killed “Adams” had to walk right past Charlie Pringle’s rehab clinic room, and that crazy drunk would ask anyone walking past to get him a bottle to help him dry out. Burt calls the clinic and is told Charlie skipped... so now Burt must go from bar to bar looking for Charlie. A great device, because Burt is faced with temptation again and again. In joint the bartender tells him that Charlie was there, but left because he had some big deal meeting that would make him enough money to pay off his bar tab...

That’s when cop Wright shows up to hassle him... Burt says he’s there looking for Charlie, and Wright says Charlie’s dead: the victim of a hit and run. Everyone Burt comes into contact with gets killed. Burt looks down at a drink on the bar... almost takes it, but resists.

Burt calls one of his prison pals to get some background, and is told a man named Ben Logan was smuggling drugs into the country and stole $700,000 worth of product... and Logan was using a fishing boat... and just happened to have the same initials as Burt Lewis. Hence, all of these hit men coming after him.

The next morning is his fishing charter with the old man named Hawkins, who questions him relentlessly about Ben Logan... Hawkins is the father of a man killed by Logan, and is out for revenge. And here’s the twist: Hawkins knows that Burt *isn’t* Logan, because his son sent a picture of himself with Logan in the background. That’s when he gets the call on his radio... the motel owner was beaten up and his wife has been kidnaped!



Thug Fisher calls: wife for information. Burt meets them in an abandoned boathouse and shows him the picture of Logan from Hawkins... that *is* the guy they are looking for. Burt explains that guy is dead: he was Ethel the motel owner’s husband. *Ethel* must have the $700k in drugs (or have sold it, since she always seems to have money). Fisher leaves to get the drugs or the money from Ethel, and Burt kicks some ass with the thug they leave behind to guard him and his wife. You have Jack Carson in your episode, there’s gonna be a fist fight!

Burt races to the Motel, gets there after an off screen gun battle where all of the thugs are killed and Ethel is seriously wounded. Burt now knows that Ethel was the one who killed “Adams” and Charlie and framed him... to keep her part in the stolen $700k in drugs secret. But what was *Burt’s* part in this? Was he involved during those 2 years of alcoholic black out? He asks Ethel on her deathbed (in front of cop Wright) if he was involved in the drug running... and she says he wasn’t. He was too drunk to be dependable. And also, too honest. She dies, and the spider web closes over the screen as the episode ends.



Review: Though not one of the best episodes, it works okay for TV... and you can tell it was condensed from a novel (because it has some crazy story short cuts here and there). The main problem ends up being the wife character, who is underwritten and has awful dialogue (and/or is an awful actress). But it keeps the mystery as to who is Ben Logan going throughout... with plenty of false suspects, especially officer Wright and Hawkins. Because we are looking for a *man* we never suspect that Logan might be the motel owner’s dead husband... and she is basically “Logan” at this point.

One of the great things this episode does is tie the protagonist’s emotional conflict (he’s a recovering alcoholic) into the story in many different ways. The idea that *he* could be Logan and not remember due to his alcoholic blackout is the engine that runs the machine, here... but every place Burt goes is somewhere booze is served (except for the rehab center, which is filled with his mirror images). This is a story where the physical conflict and emotional conflict are twisted together so tightly that every scene about the plot ends up also being about the character. Even the cop Wright’s antagonism is due to a past scuffle they had when Burt was drunk which has left Wright physically scarred. The motel owner Ethel is *constantly* drinking in front of Burt... but asking if it’s okay first (calling attention to it!). The assassin who calls himself “Adams” (fake name) is a drunk! And the witness to the murder Charlie is a drunk, which means Burt has to hang out in bars to find him. There are scenes where Burt is home, and tempted by alcohol in the liquor cabinet... he is surrounded by the thing that brought him down, and the constant pressure of that murder frame tightening on him has him looking at that escape the bottle provides.



Another great thing the episode does is use visual storytelling... Burt’s gun has two pieces of tape on the grip. When officer Wright shows Burt the murder gun, it has two pieces of tape on the grip. We *instantly* know this is Burt’s gun and feel the same thing the character feels. Burt doesn’t show any reaction at all, that would land him ion handcuffs. But we know what he’s thinking and feeling because *we* are thinking and feeling the same thing. “Crap, that’s *his* gun!” It’s those two pieces of tape that make it work, finding the specific that is easy for the audience to spot.

Next week on Thriller we’ll look at an episode reminiscent of “Strangers On A Train” that deals with gambling addiction.

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Flashback: Set Crashing

Belated RIP: Roger Moore.

Originally ran in 2007...

My buddy Van Tassell and I and director Paul Kyriazi are going to hang out next weekend - a bunch of guys from the old days from my home town. 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?

They're actually IN THE MOVIE!

- Bill

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Trailer Tuesday: THE DELPHI BUREAU (1972)

This week’s Trailer Tuesday is for an obscure TV show from the 1970s, so it doesn’t really have a trailer... but it’s one of my favorite shows and this is *my* blog, so suck it.

THE DELPHI BUREAU (1972)

Directed by: Paul Wendkos
Written by: Sam Rolfe
Starring: Laurence Luckinbill, Celeste Holm, Dean Jagger, Cameron Mitchell, Bradford Dillman, Bob Crane, Joanna Pettet, Dub Taylor.



THE DELPHI BUREAU is kind of the father, or more likely grandfather, of the TV show CHUCK (also one of my favorites). Probably the father of CHUCK was the movie GOTCHA! which they referenced in the show at least once, and though I don’t remember them ever referencing either DELPHI BUREAU or THE LIQUIDATOR (another grandfather) you can easily see their DNA in that show. CHUCK is about a normal guy who works a crap job at Buy More Electronics who becomes a spy when a specially designed image based computer program called The Intersect “downloads” into his head when he opens an email from an ex friend, and he suddenly knows everything the CIA, NSA, FBI and any other 3 letter spy organization has ever known. Every intelligence file ever is now stored on his brain.

DELPHI BUREAU has the same concept, but without The Intersect, Glenn Garth Gregory is a government researcher with a photographic memory who often ends up in the field tracking down some fact for some probably pointless government report and uncovers a conspiracy... and must fight spies and terrorists. Imagine Chuck in his 40s. Glenn Garth Gregory is *not* a man of action, he’s a bookworm, like Turner in THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, who ends up having to become a man of action... which he’s not very good at. Like Chuck and Turner his knowledge helps him out in action scenes. He’s a guy who knows how to fly a helicopter, but has never actually done it. This type of character was also the basis for James Allan Carter in my CRASH DIVE! movie... and a couple of unpublished spy novels I wrote about a guy name Roger Maxwell who also has a photographic memory. This show was a big influence on me.

THE DELPHI BUREAU only lasted one season... and really not even that, as it was part of a “Wheel Show” called THE MEN (sexist!). What the heck is a “Wheel Show” you ask? The 1970s were an innovative time in television: the Made For TV Movie became popular, and networks like ABC had a *new* Made For TV Movie every week! The other creation was the “Wheel Show” and though I really don’t know what the first one was, THE NAME OF THE GAME would be my guess. FAME IS THE NAME OF THE GAME was a TV movie directed by Stuart Rosenberg (COOL HAND LUKE) about a magazine publishing company like Time Life and all of its various magazines.

The movie was a hit and spawned the TV show that removed “Fame Is” from the title and ran from 1968 to 1971. The TV show was 90 minutes long and starred Gene Barry as the publisher, Tony Franciosa as a celebrity journalist for magazine like Life and Robert Stack as an investigative reporter for a magazine like Time. Susan Saint James was the executive secretary who really ran the whole operation for Barry and was a regular in every episode. Every week it was like a TV movie, featuring either Barry’s publisher or Franciosa’s celeb & current affairs journalist or Stack’s investigative reporter. And the three stars rotated. So one week might feature a Hollywood behind the scenes soap scandal kind of story and the next week might be investigating a murder and uncovering a conspiracy and the next week we might have publisher Gene Barry on his way to an Environmental Conference where the President and some Senators would be speaking and makes a wrong turn and... well, that episode L.A. 2017 was directed by some kid named Spielberg and completely blew my mind when I was a kid. Part of TV’s innovative period was doing strange things like a science fiction episode in a dramatic TV show... Barry’s car crashes on the way to the Conference and he wakes up in 2017 where *air* is at a premium.

The idea of the “Wheel Show” was that it was 3 or 4 shows in one... and the format really took off, giving us The NBC Mystery Movie with COLUMBO, McCLOUD, McMILLAN & WIFE and several others. The great thing about a “Wheel Show” was that you could try out a potential TV series with an 8 episode season and if it caught on, move it to a weekly 24 episode series. Plus, if a show tanked, you could just throw a new series into the wheel to replace it. On NAME OF THE GAME Tony Franciosa’s character was written out in the third season (some behind the scenes contract conflict) and replaced by Robert Culp and Robert Wagner and Suzanne Pleshette as journalists from other magazines run by Gene Barry’s character. The NBC Mystery Movie was constantly spinning off shows into their own series and replacing them with other detectives... often interesting experiments that might never get a chance at a series like HEC RAMSAY, a cowboy version of CSI in the old west. Try pitching CSI DEADWOOD today and see where it gets you.

ABC’s “wheel show” THE MEN featured ASSIGNMENT VIENNA (a spy show shot on location in Vienna), JIGSAW (about a missing persons investigator), and DELPHI. The entire wheel show only lasted one season, so there were only 8 episodes of THE DELPHI BUREAU made... and only the first episode is available on DVD from Warner Archive.

It’s no wonder that DELPHI BUREAU was one of my favorite shows when I was a kid, it was created by Sam Rolfe who also created HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E which were two of my other favorite shows. He was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay to THE NAKED SPUR, a great Anthony Mann western starring Jimmy Stewart. Rolfe’s last writing credit was on STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE, so he had a great career in TV.

Though CHUCK has traces of DELPHI BUREAU in its DNA., DELPHI has obvious traces of NORTH BY NORTHWEST (the movie poster of NBNW is on the wall of Chuck’s room!) and this pilot episode was obviously inspired by the Hitchcock classic...

THE DELPHI BUREAU:
MERCHANT OF DEATH ASSIGNMENT


“My job is to do research when the President needs to know some facts, but when the shooting starts? That’s a whole different department.”

The show opens with Glenn Garth Gregory (lanky Laurence Luckinbill) doing field research at an Airforce Base where miles of surplus planes are being stored for the next big war. There was a basic accounting problem: some surplus jet planes are unaccounted for but a later report had them written off after they were destroyed in a fire... and GGG’s job is to write a report on the damaged planes, so he’s flown out to this base in Arizona to take inventory. Booooring! Except there are no damaged pieces of the airplanes and no area at the base which looks as if a fire of that size took place. Suspicious. He takes photos of the supposed burn site and hops a plane back to Washington, DC.

In the airport, an attractive woman (April Thompson played by Joanna Pettet) bumps into him... and secretly places a flower decal on his camera case. When GGG steps onto the escalator at the airport, a uniform cop wearing a motorcycle helmet with tinted visor (Stokely played by Cameron Mitchell) fires a silenced gun at the man holding the camera case... killing him. Too bad it was a pickpocket trying to steal GGG’s camera! The pickpocket dies right *on top* of GGG, knocking him onto the escalator and pinning him down when they reach the end of the escalator. The escalator was a great location for this assassination scene. GGG thinks the man may have had a heart attack, then discovers he was shot. WTF? When a motorcycle policeman arrives to help and asks GGG why he has the dead man’s camera bag, GGG says it’s *his* camera bag... and the motorcycle cop pulls out his gun and starts shooting at GGG and chasing him through the airport! GGG escapes and hails a taxi... That’s how to start a story!

GGG meets his boss Sybil Van Loween (Celeste Holm) in the Congressional Gallery, where he reports that something is fishy with these jet planes. 24 brand new F101 fighter planes supposedly burned at the Airforce Base, yet there is no evidence of this... and the base has used more fuel than usual, enough to fly 24 planes 600 miles. Sybil tells him that coincidentally, an arms dealer in Sudan seems to have 24 new F101 fighter jets for sale to the highest bidder terrorist or 3rd word dictator. The planes don’t seem to be in Sudan, so they must find them before they get there and fall into the wrong hands. GGG spots April from the airport in the gallery... following him? She works for Matthew Keller (Dean Jagger who always plays the villain) who used to be an arms merchant nicknamed “The Merchant Of Death” but is now funding experimental food GMOs to help feed the starving people in 3rd world countries. Though GGG doesn’t “flash” like Chuck, there’s always a moment where we can see the information pop into his head.

Before you can say “Monsanto” GGG is speed reading agricultural books so that he can pass himself off as a Department Of Agriculture guy who will accompany Sybil to a party being thrown by Keller for his War Against Hunger Organization. Everyone in government and politics is at the party, including GGG’s friend Charlie Taggert (Bob Crane) who is comic relief on the pilot episode (but didn’t return for the series). Taggert speaks in limericks and loves to use acronyms for government agencies. The limerick part would also be used as “chapter titles” for subsequent episodes. Taggert is hitting on a beautiful woman when GGG shows up, and we get a great demonstration of GGG’s photographic memory as Taggert zings him with sports statistic questions and GGG instantly answers even the most obscure of them! Hey, this guy knows *everything*. Taggert works for S.N.I.S.W.I.S. (Sniss Wiss) the Strategic Not In Service Weapons Inventory Section and asks GGG about the F101 situation, so that we can get a little more exposition... the main bit being that Keller’s experimental farm is located about 600 miles from the Airforce Base where the planes vanished... is Keller behind the missing planes?

Then GGG meets Keller at the party... and he’s confined to a wheelchair after suffering a major stroke. Or, that’s what everyone claims. With Keller is his male nurse Dobkin (David Sheiner) plus April and prissy grain geneticist Randy Jamison (Bradford Dillman, a frequent COLUMBO villain). GGG says he’d like to stop by their experimental farm and see if the Department of Agriculture can help them in some way...

When he accompanies Keller and his entourage to their limo, he flashes on the limo driver... Stokely, the fake motorcycle cop who tried to kill him at the airport!

Farmland... GGG drives to the small town hotel to check in, but spots Stokely in the lobby. Stokely says Mr. Keller has reserved the best room in the hotel for GGG. (Yeah, probably bugged.) As soon as Stokely leaves, GGG asks a cowboy hanging around outside the hotel if there’s anywhere else to say in this town, and the cowboy sends him to a local boarding house. Twist: that cowboy gets picked up by Stokely and April as soon as GGG is gone...

From here the story is filled with twists and turns, featuring an exploding horse, a scene at the County Fair where GGG is framed for murder just like Roger Thornhill is framed at the United Nations, a great cameo by Dub Taylor as a hick in a pick up truck who gives GGG a ride and tries to polish off a king sized jug of moonshine along the way, and a series of cool scenes where GGG uses his endless knowledge to McGyver his way out of dangerous situations. He knows exactly which tentpole to kick to bring down the whole tent, he knows the heat and speed at which a kerosene fire will spread. He knows the wheel base of cars, trucks, farm equipment, and fighter planes... and knows that the skid marks on a country road are a clue. He knows how to use a cage full of birds as a weapon! Every danger situation he is faced with he finds some intelligent way to escape, based on all of the crazy facts and statistics stored in that brain of his.

The pilot film does a great job of creating that paranoia required in a Thriller, with every single character from that cowboy to townspeople possibly being part of the conspiracy. GGG has no idea who he can trust, and there are some great scenes along the way where bit part townspeople end up really being badguys... and a swell scene where someone who helps him escape ends up turning him over to the police for the murder he was framed for. There is also a great scene where GGG tells the Chief Of Police that he’s a researcher for the Delphi Bureau and the Chief calls GGG’s boss Sybil... who says she’s never heard of him! You see, Delphi Bureau is a secret organization that works directly for the President and there is maximum deniability. They can neither confirm nor deny that GGG is an employee... and when the Chief of Police asks GGG where the Delphi Bureau offices are? GGG doesn’t know, he meets Sybil in various places in D.C.... maybe there is no office? The Chief Of Police thinks GGG is lying, which removes the authorities from the equation. GGG can’t go to the police for the rest of the story, he’s on his own.

Taggert pops up again in the field with information that it’s not just 24 F101 fighter jets that are missing, there are tanks and rocket launchers and all kinds of other weapons! Enough for *someone* to start a war! Somewhere along the line Taggert asks April “Wangly diaplut?” (What's A Nice Girl Like You Doing In A Place Like This?) and has a comic relief limerick for everything. And April keeps sending GGG to his doom, much like Eve in NORTH BY NORTHWEST.

There’s a great suspense scene when Stokely, April, and the Cowboy come to the boarding house to kill him... and he uses a 4H group as cover much like Turner used those hippie kids in the apartment building for cover after the elevator ride with Joubert in THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR. One of the great scenes has April and GGG in a grain silo, he thinks she’s setting him up to be killed and pulls a gun he’s found someplace along the way... and then drops it in the corn. Um, not what a spy does. Now he’s digging through the corn for the gun and discovers... a jet fighter plane! They are shipping the planes in cargo containers of grain to the starving people of Africa! That’s when the badguys open the silo chute and try to drown them in corn!

There’s a nice conveyor belt escape, we find out who is behind the scheme (by now everyone is a suspect) and it *is* a surprise, and then we get our big action set piece at the end... that NORTH BY NORTHWEST crop duster corn field chase... but with GGG and April being chased by a harvesting machine with giant rotating blades. Can GGG and April outrun the machine?

One of the great things about this pilot episode is that everything is farm related, from those 4H girls to this harvesting machine chasing them through the corn fields. The improvised weapons GGG has to create are often farm related! Much as Jackie Chan uses whatever is at the location as a weapon, DELPHI BUREAU uses everything farm related for it’s story and scenes. This is one of those great screenwriting lessons in action: instead of a typical car chase or action scene, we get a *location specific* action scene like the harvester chasing them through the corn fields with its rotating blades.

This end harvester chase scene is great! As GGG and April run through the corn fields, holding hands, they try to out maneuver the harvester, but Stokely is an expert when it comes to driving farm equipment and turns to chase them... closer and closer and closer! When April trips on a corn stalk and goes down, the harvester is too close for GGG to help her up so he sacrifices himself: luring the harvester away from her and after him... then he stumbles in the corn field with the harvester is heading right at him! As he’s about to be run over, GGG grabs the undercarriage of the tractor and does a Yakima Canutt, hanging on for dear life and getting knocked from his place again and again by corn stalks until his next stop will be the rotating blades of the harvester! Of course, he uses his never ending knowledge to figure out an escape from this certain death.

The show does a great job of finding that line between action spy show and light comedy, much as NORTH BY NORTHWEST and CHUCK did. The cast is amazing for a TV pilot episode, every supporting actor you’ve ever seen pops up... and because there are so many names in the cast you really can’t guess who the villain is... all of these people have played villains before! Laurence Luckinbill is a great Cary Grant substitute for TV, charming and good looking enough to be the lead without being too good looking. There’s a nice rivalry between Luckinbill and Crane’s characters over women, and Crane is better looking and more self confident... making Luckinbill the obvious underdog. It’s like Chuck and Shaw in CHUCK Season 3... but Luckinbill plays his role less nervous and more just not heroic. GGG drives the cool James Bond car (a Jaguar XKE convertible) and drinks martinis and looks good in a suit... but when the shooting starts that a whole other department. Well, he wishes it were.

The cinematography is great: it looks like a big theatrical movie and has some amazing moving camera work. One shot worth noting starts with GGG in an office at the Airforce Base reading fuel consumption reports... and when he closes the ledger the camera pulls back *out a huge picture window* and follows him out a door and then down exterior stairs to a Jeep and he speeds off... all in the same shot! There are many big wide shots which are composed for the big screen rather than the small screen. Many of these MOWs and wheel shows had a theatrical release overseas, so they made them feel like a movie.

I love stories about people who use brains instead of brawn and use their knowledge to take down bad guys. That’s what Roger Thornhill and Turner and Chuck and Glenn Garth Gregory and some of my characters have in common. They are terrible in a fist fight, hate guns, but manage to use all kinds of seemingly pointless facts and stats and knowledge to win the battle. I hope Warner Archives releases the rest of THE DELPHI BUREAU so I have something to watch when I've finished binging on CHUCK! (currently finishing up Season 3...)

Warner Archive: All kinds of great vintage movies and TV shows!

From the capital came a young man…
To uncover some worms in a can…
So they con him – they frame him…
For murder they blame him…
In turn – he eludes them…
Pursues – then eschews them…
'Till he holds all the strings to the plan…
The end – more or less, Delphian!



Bill


BUY THE DVD AT AMAZON:



















Monday, June 19, 2017

DESCRIPTION & VOICE Blue Book - Coming Soon!

Coming soon!

DESCRIPTION & VOICE Blue Book



bluebook IS HALF OF YOUR STORY IN TROUBLE?

Most screenplays are about a 50/50 split between dialogue and description - which means your description is just as important as your dialogue. It just gets less press because the audience never sees it, the same reason why screenwriters get less press than movie stars. But your story will never get to the audience until readers and development executives read your script... so it is a very important factor. Until the movie is made the screenplay is the movie and must be just as exciting as the movie. So how do you make your screenplay exciting to read? Description is important in a novel as well, and the “audience” does read it... how do we write riveting description?

This Blue Book will dive into techniques to improve your description, with sections on Just Good Writing, How Much Detail Is Too Much, How & What You Should Write, and a section on Your Writer’s Voice.

SUBJECTS INCLUDE: What Is Good Description? 25 Professional Techniques To Improve Description, Hidden Camera Directions, Contrast, Why You Need To Be Vaguely Specific, Using “Gags”, Hitchcock’s Chocolates, Unusual Storytelling Devices, The “Unfilmable” Controversy, Too Many Or Too Few Details? Using Name Brands, “Bound” And Creating Vivid Imagery, Stunts (Like First Person Screenplays), The New Normal, What Is Voice? Developing Your Unique Voice, Voice & Tarantino’s “Inglorious Bastards”, and much more!

Take command of your description and your unique writer’s voice!

TARGET RELEASE DATE IS JUNE 26th.

SPECIAL PRICE: EVERY DAY THE BOOK IS AVAILABLE IN JUNE - $2.99!

JULY 1st - INTRODUCTORY PRICE - $3.99!

AUGUST 1st - Regular Price - $4.99.

I will Tweet when the book is available, so follow me on Twitter! @wcmartell

- Bill

Friday, June 16, 2017

Free Book! (FINAL DAY!)

Last week I gave away my short story PRIME RATE and this week I've been giving away another free short story, FOLLOWED HOME, that was *supposed* to be only 4 pages but ended up 22 pages. That's fine, because what increased was the suspense. This is not a Mitch Robertson story, but a stand alone. I plan to write a few of these, just fooling around with story ideas I've had that aren't right for screenplays. Next up should be SHOTGUN EFFECT with badass detective Shelly Steele... when I find time to write it between Blue Books!



This story has beeen FREE for five days (June 12 through June 16 - TODAY!), and I'd like to ask you a favor: Tell all of your friends about it, so that they can get it free, too! If you want to read it first, that's fine (it's only 23 pages, a quick read).

There are a couple of reasons for giving a way a story:

1) This was written for fun, and you guys are all my friends. If I could figure out a way to make it *always* free at Amazon, I would do that. But they limit the give aways to five days. After that, the lowest price I can charge is 99 cents. I only make about a quarter of that, so it's obviously not about the money!

2) If I give away a lot of books, it climbs the Amazon sales chart and becomes visible to people who have never heard of me. Then, *they* get the book for free... and the book continues climbing. When the free deal is over, some stranger may actually pay 99 cents for it, and I'll be able to afford a pizza. And maybe someone will discover the Hitchcock Book or the Blue Books in the process. Every short story I write will be free for the five days Amazon allows, so that you don't have to pay. It's good publicity and a thank you to everyone who paid for one of the Blue Books or Secrets Of Action.

One more favor...

Could you go to Amazon and GoodReads and write reviews? I'd love it if each of the books I have out managed to get an additional 10 reviews each on Amazon. That helps people who have no idea who I am decide to buy (or not) the books. An interesting thing I've noticed with the Blue Books is the number of reviews from *novelists*... those folks don't know me and are discovering the books by word of mouth. I'd love to have more reviews!

Thank you!



Bowden knew the best place to find a victim is somewhere they feel safe. And the best place to find a rich victim is someplace where rich people feel safe. He’d learned the hard way about country clubs; those rich people are all armed with golf clubs and tennis rackets and shit and beat the hell out of you before calling the cops. End up punch ugly and busted up at your arraignment... and the jury applauds every damned yuppy who beat on you when they testify at trial. No more country clubs for Bowden. But a nice, upscale supermarket like Archstone with a parking lot filled with Beemers and Mercies and massive Cadillac SUVs? No shortage of rich people who feel safe. Now all Bowden had to do was pick one.

Diane Taylor put the final bag of groceries into the Range Rover, pushing it back to give herself room for the huge 40 pound bag of dog food on the bottom of the cart. That’s when the strange man came from the shadows between cars and smiled at her, “Hey, pretty lady, let me help you with that.”


FREE BOOK: USA!



FREE BOOK: UK!

FREE BOOK: GERMANY!

FREE BOOK: FRANCE!

FREE BOOK: CANADA!

FREE BOOK: INDIA!

Bill

Thursday, June 15, 2017

THRILLER Thursday: Pigeons From Hell

Pigeons From Hell

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



Season: 1, Episode: 36.
Airdate: June 6, 1961

Director: John Newland
Writer: John Kneubuhl based on a story by Robert E. Howard (Conan)
Cast: Brandon DeWilde, Crahan Denton, Ken Renard, David Whorf, Guy Wilkerson, Ottola Nesmith.
Music: Morton Stevens
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The swamp is alive! Crawling with creatures of death. Creatures that lurk, camoflauged in the undergrowth waiting patiently for an unsuspecting victim. And our young friend was alarmed by a flight of pigeons. Harmless you say? Well you’ll see that he has good cause for alarm, for those were no ordinary pigeons. They were the pigeons from hell. That is both the title and the substance of our story. Spirits come back from the dead to guard their ancestral home against intruders. Spirits that in life fed on evil and now in death return to feed upon the living. Return each night, driven relentlessly by the spell of a terrible curse. In our story the living... I mean the players... are, Brandon DeWilde, Crahan Denton, and David Whorf. Join us now, as night is falling at the old house where the evil dwells and two brave young brothers dare to intrude.”



Synopsis: College kids Tim (Brandon DeWilde) and Johnny (David Whorf) are taking a road trip through the backwoods of Louisiana when their car gets stuck in the mud. Johnny goes to look for a piece of wood to shove under the wheels so they can get the car out... and discovers an ancient abandoned plantation, surrounded by pigeons. Maybe someone can help them out? But when he gets closer to the house, the pigeons attack him! He screams, and Tim runs over. By then the pigeons have flown away. They check out the old mansion... empty. Maybe a place to spend the night and get the car out in the morning?

The old plantation is vacant, cobwebs and dust... spooky. Tim tells Johnny to find some firewood while he goes to the car and gets their sleeping bags and stuff. When he leaves, Tim looks at the cobwebbed painting of a beautiful woman who used to live here... and maybe still does in some form. Johnny returns with the sleeping bags, rolls them out in front of the fire and they go to sleep. While they sleep the pigeons flock inside a room upstairs... cooing.

In the middle of the night, Johnny wakes up, hears a sound from upstairs: a woman humming? Goes up to check it out.



Johnny’s scream wakes Tim up, he heads upstairs... where Johnny waits with an hatchet! Covered in blood, walking in a trance. He advances toward Tim! Tim races down the stairs, away from Johnny, away from the house. Through the darkness, into the swamp... when he trips and hits his head. Unconscious.

Tim wakes up in a shack, where Sheriff Buckner (Crahan Denton) is searching his pockets while Howard and his wife look on. Buckner says Howard was hunting raccoons and found Tim passed out cold. Tim tells Buckner what happened... but says Johnny is dead. His head was smashed in, split open; but he was still walking with a hatchet in his hand. Dead, but still walking! Sheriff Buckner says that must be the old Blassenville Plantation and tells Howard to get his shotgun, they’re going back there. But Howard runs off. He’s not going in that spooky old place.



Buckner and Tim head back to the old house in his station wagon. It’s dark, but Buckner has a lantern. Tim doesn’t want to go back inside... but he does. There is a trail of blood on the stairs, leading to... the room with the sleeping bags where Johnny lays dead, hatchet still in hand. Buckner covers the corpse while Tim breaks down. “Why do you suppose he went upstairs?” Tim says from the moment they saw this house it was as if Johnny was listening... to something. And those pigeons surrounding the house. Buckner says he’s lived here his entire life and never seen any pigeons.

Buckner says he has to arrest Tim for Johnny’s murder. There were only two people in the house and one was killed with a hatchet and the other is still alive.

Buckner wants to go upstairs to investigate, and Tim tags along (not wanting to be left downstairs with his dead brother). Tim points out the cut in the wall where Johnny swung the hatchet at him. They find a huge puddle of blood where Johnny must have been struck by the hatchet... and a door in the darkness behind that point.



Buckner opens the door and enters the room, gun in hand. Tim behind him, scared. Suddenly the lamp goes out. Weird. They get the hell out of the room, go back down the stairs... and the lamp suddenly lights up again. Buckner says he doesn’t think Tim killed Johnny, but doesn’t really want to admit that the solution is supernatural. Everyone believes this plantation is haunted, but a Sheriff can’t really list that as a cause of death or the murderer on paperwork, right? Buckner decides to put Johnny’s body in his station wagon and then go back into the plantation house and poke around the crime scene.

Back inside the house, Tim asks Buckner who’s the woman in the paining? Elizabeth Blassenville, she was the last one who lived here. The house had fallen to ruins and the rest of the family had vanished... probably left for the city. The rumor is that Elizabeth moved to San Francisco and got married. Tim wonders if they were all scared away by whatever’s in the house now? Buckner doesn’t think so. The family lived here alone: no one would work for them because they had a mean streak. The plantation workers ran away except for one, Jacob Blount, who stayed on... and is still alive in an old shack. A young servant girl Eula Lee, she was physically beaten and ran away. Buckner and Tim get upstairs and this time the lantern remains lit.

They go into the room again... and there’s a piano covered with dust, except for the keyboard. A diary in a drawer: Elizabeth’s... an entry talks about the sounds of footsteps in the night. Ghosts. Or Eula Lee? The diary seems to suggest that instead of the rest of the family running away, they had been murdered horribly in the house.



As they leave the room, Buckner notices that a door in the hallway which was open is now closed. How is that possible? Buckner opens the door to investigate... the lantern goes out. Buckner decides instead of going in that room, maybe they’d better go see Jacob Blount in his shack.

Old Jacob Blount tells Sheriff Buckner and Tim that everyone in the house is dead... but they come back at night... as pigeons. Blount tells them that Eula Lee was not a servant, she was a half sister. Maybe Eula Lee still lives in the house? Blount says he’s afraid to say anything, because of a voodoo curse. A curse that can turn people into zombies who can not control their own actions. They live forever, time means nothing to them... they can command the dead: command the birds, command the snakes. Jacob says he can say no more, for fear she will come. Buckner wants to know if it’s Eula Lee... if she’s still alive.



And that’s when the snake attacks Jacob! Killing him.

Did Eula send the snake to kill him?

When they get to Buckner’s car, it is *covered* with pigeons!

Back in the plantation house Buckner loads his gun wondering how Eula Lee could be behind this: she’d be ancient by now. Buckner doesn’t believe in voodoo.

Tim falls asleep, wakes up... alone. Buckner is gone. Hears the woman humming from upstairs and starts climbing the stairs. In a trance. The door to that room that had closed on its own is open, and ancient Eula Lee steps out with a butcher knife ready to cleave his head in two! Suddenly shots ring out: Buckner shoots old Elua Lee.

In the room, Buckner finds a secret doorway into a room where the skeletons of all of the family members are hidden! Eula Lee murdered them all.



Review: In DANSE MACABRE Stephen King calls this "one of the finest horror stories of our century"... probably not knowing he’s make it into this century as well. I think King must have seen this episode at an impressionable age, because it really didn’t do it for me. Even though Brandon DeWilde was probably a big “get” for the show (he was the kid in SHANE and the younger brother in HUD and an Oscar nominee), I’ve never been much a fan of his acting. He’s also in that notorious Hitchcock episode THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE which was way too violent for prime time (a magic act where a woman is sawed in half goes very very wrong), but he always seems like the character in that episode... who was what we now call “mentally challenged”. He’s kind of stiff and always comes off kind of stupid. And here’s what’s crazy about this episode: he’s a hundred times better than the guy who plays his brother! All of the acting sucks in this episode, and the writing and direction doesn’t make up for it.

Samoan screenwriter John Kneubuhl also adapted PAPA BENJAMIN for this series and did KNOCK THREE ONE TWO (with Warren Oates as the simpleton), and seems to stick the actors with exposition heavy dialogue and nonsensical story moments. They go upstairs and poke around, then decide to go downstairs for no reason, then go back upstairs. It’s as if they are moving around for no reason other than padding out the scene. I’m sure these things made sense in the short story, but none of that made it to screen. Much of the plantation and family backstory is so convoluted and confusing that I want to track down the short story to find out what really happened. My *guess* is that Eula was a bastardess half slave, but none of that is on screen (a quick Google search confirms this... though the character has a different name in the short story). Instead of *discovering* this information, it just gets dumped on us. Also, for two college kids stuck in a spooky rural area like the pair in AMERICAN WEREWOLF, neither of these kids has any real personality or any clever dialogue. So we have stiff actors and stiff dialogue in a boring situation...



And blandly directed. Where PARASITE MANSION milked it’s old house for creepy and spooky shots, here it’s just some abandoned place. That shot in PARASITE where she pulls back the wardrobe and the spiderwebs are so thick and creepy that you want to move away from the TV screen has no comparison in this episode. The camera is blandly placed and actors just act in front of it. No use of cinema at all! Also, not a single POV shot to put us in the shoes of the protagonists. So this guy doesn’t seem to be good with actors *and* doesn’t seem to know what to do with the camera.

The pigeons? Hey, pretty well trained! They flock at the right place, and when they attack the kid, it’s convincing.

I only wish the rubber snake that attacks Jacob was as convincing! But it doesn’t even move! He actually reaches down and grabs it, then has to shake it to make it look like it’s moving. It’s obviously a rubber snake.



Oh, and what’s with all of the B names? Nothing worse than a huge block of exposition and every name mentioned begins with the letter B! Confusing!

What a waste of a 6/6/1961 episode!

Though this isn’t the worst episode of THRILLER, it’s probably in the bottom third. Next week we get the last episode of the season (then we are taking a break for the summer) and thankfully the show went out on a strong note... with SHATNER!

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Story Behind THE TERMINATOR's Story!

What's up with that acknowledgment to the works of Harlan Ellison credit at the end of THE TERMINATOR?

Let's find out in this excerpt from my book THE TERMINATOR MOVIES!

THE TERMINATOR (1984)

It began with a fever dream about a robot skeleton rising from the flames. James Cameron was sick as a dog, editing his first feature: PIRANHA 2: THE SPAWNING, and had this nightmare which became an idea for his next film... if he ever had a next film. He was fired from PIRANHA 2 twice, locked out of the editing room, and thought his career might be over before it ever really began. But his next film, THE TERMINATOR, would insure that he would still be making movies to this day... and probably allow him to escalate his budgets on those latter films to record breaking amounts.

James Cameron was from the “Roger Corman school” and had worked on a bunch of low budget films doing set design and special effects work. The great thing about working for Roger Corman is that you learn how to make a movie for next to nothing that looks enough like a big film that people will buy tickets. Cameron worked on the special effects crew for BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, Corman’s science fiction retelling of THE SEVEN SAMURAI with a screenplay by John Sayles (LONE STAR, EIGHT MEN OUT) and a great cast... unfortunately, one of the worst directed movies ever to come out of the Corman factory. But the space ship miniatures in that film are amazing - and I think some of those were the work of Cameron. Those space ships ended up being recycled into a movie that *I* wrote for Roger Corman! By the time Cameron came to direct TERMINATOR film, he already knew how to get the most bang from your buck, and did storyboards and production sketches and even paintings that were used to entice stars. The great thing about low budget filmmaking is that it forces you to use imagination instead of money to solve problems. And this film is *full* of imagination.

The concept is brilliant. Basically a riff on a serial killer movie like HALLOWEEN (1978) about a relentless killer of women and the “Final Girl” who has to fight to survive, Cameron gave it a high concept twist by having the killer be an android from the future sent back in time to kill the mother of his enemy. That android is an infiltration unit, so it looks just like a human. The great part about that is that it is just an actor (great for low budget) who is playing a machine. While other low budget movies just found different ways to kill the teenagers in their HALLOWEEN knock offs, Cameron’s high concept twist takes this out of the horror genre and into uncharted territory. His imagination made this film something we hadn’t seen before. Those other producers could have made the same film... if they’d had the imagination.

Though Lance Henrickson was originally supposed to play the Terminator, and then O. J. Simpson was up for the role, they ended up casting Arnold Schwarzenegger... who took special care to move like a machine (I could easily make a joke about that, but the way he moves his head in this film is *not* the way a human would - real acting was involved.) But Cameron didn’t stop at HALLOWEEN with an android, he kept adding more twists and turns to the idea - including an “I’m my own grandpa” romantic subplot... and a soldier from the future sent back in time to protect that “Final Girl”.

Which brings up Harlan Ellison and his end credit on the film for “acknowledgment to the works of” What the heck does that mean? Well, his short story “Soldier From Tomorrow” which was made into the OUTER LIMITS episode SOLDIER which was the first episode of the second season on that show. That story is about a pair of soldiers on opposite sides of a war in the future who are zapped back to Los Angeles in our time. One of the soldiers is captured by the police who have trouble believing his story, but linguist Tom Kagan who has been brought in to translate his futuristic version of the English language befriends the soldier. The soldier has only known war, never known family. So Kagan takes him home to live with Kagan’s family. But that enemy soldier has also been zapped back in time, attacks the Kagan home... and our soldier gives his life so that the Kagan family will be safe, killing the enemy soldier.

Ellison has another short story made into an OUTER LIMITS episode DEMON WITH A GLASS HAND about a man named Trent who is zapped back from a future at war into an office building in our time that is closed for the night... the only person inside is a pretty woman names Consuelo. Enemy soldiers have been zapped back in time to capture him, and there is a deadly game of hide and go seek as they chase Trent and Consuelo through the dark building. Trent’s mission - to save the human race. Of course he falls in love with Consuelo and...

After the success of THE TERMINATOR, Ellison sued - believing the film was based on his material. Though I think all three stories contain the same germ of an idea, all three are completely different... unlike, say, Ellison’s SHATTERDAY and the ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS episode THE CASE OF MR. PELHAM which are pretty similar. But they settled out of court with Ellison and he gets a closing credit on THE TERMINATOR. Which explains that strange credit.

The idea of a military defense computer system being given control of our nuclear weapons... and then deciding that humans were the real problem, can be found in movies like COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT (1970)... and a bunch of material written during the Cold War when we were afraid that *someone* might push that button an unleash the nukes, beginning World War 3 and ending the world as we know it. So all of these ideas were floating around out there, but what Cameron did is find his own way to tell the story and make a low budget movie that really delivers. A movie that has spawned four sequels and counting!

bluebook

247 pages!

*** THE TERMINATOR MOVIES *** - For Kindle!


He's back! The release of "Terminator: Genisys" (now on BluRay) is set to begin a new trilogy in the Terminator story... 31 years after the first film was released. What draws us to these films about a cybernetic organism from the future sent back in time? Why is there a new proposed trilogy every few years? This book looks at all five Terminator movies from a story standpoint - what makes them work (or not)? What are the techniques used to keep the characters and scenes exciting and involving? How about those secret story details you may not have noticed? Containing a detailed analysis of each of the five films so far, this book delves into the way these stories work... as well as a complete list of box office and critical statistics for each film. This book is great for writers, directors, and just fans of the series.



USA Folks Click Here!

UK Folks Click Here!

French Folks Click Here!

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(Others go to your country's Amazon pages!)

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


- Bill

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Trailer Tuesday: Panic In The Streets (1950)

Ebola!

Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: Richard Murphy (BOOMERANG, COMPULSION), Daniel Fuchs (CRISS CROSS), based on a story by Edward & Edna Anhalt (SATAN BUG).
Starring: Richard Widmark, Barbara Bel Geddes, Paul Douglas, and the great Jack Palance and great Zero Mostel.


After seeing DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES sunday night, with it's opening montage showing us news footage of the plague that wipes out almost all human life on Earth, I thought it would be fun to look at a film from the past with a different look at the plague. 1950's PANIC IN THE STREETS stars Richard Widmark as a CDC doctor... not a crazed killer or a snarky hit man! He's the good guy in this one. The film takes place in New Orleans, and was shot on location (unusual for this time period) but was directed by Elia Kazan, the dude who took advantage of the new method style of acting and married it to a documentary style of cinema with great results. Kazan's *next* film was A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and a few films after that he directed ON THE WATERFRONT, and then EAST OF EDEN. Though most of his films dealt with a social issue, he was working in a time where the easiest way to do that was in crime films like this one.

Our story starts when a guy is murdered... but he would have died anyway because he had the plague. The plague! Now it's a race-against-time search for the killer (Jack Palance)... who also has the plague and is *spreading it* with every person he touches. Doctor Widmark and Detective Paul Douglas have 48 hours to find Palance before creates a city-wide epidemic. This is a great idea because "patient zero" is someone who does not want to be found (because he's a killer).


There are chase scenes and shoot outs and fight scenes and a plane chasing a plague ship and... well, it's danged exciting. It's a thriller. But it also really gets into police vs. doctors vs. city politics vs. freedom of the press vs. the public good. Because this crisis - the killer roaming the streets with the plague - requires all kinds of difficult decisions - and as they argue in a speeding car whether they should kill this guy (because he's a menace to society) or make sure they don't kill him (because they need to know everyone he came into contact with) we get to examine the way society works - and why our version may not work.

We get to look at what's right, what's wrong, what works and what doesn't work. Should they give the press the story to possibly save lives... even though that will force the killer underground and they won't capture him in time? Is freedom of the press more important than capturing a criminal? The film really digs into issues.

It also digs into character - Widmark is a low paid government doctor who hides in his work, causing problems with his wife Barbara Bel Geddes and their kid. There are some great family issues going on during the crisis, including Widmark's decision *not* to get his family out of town as they get closer and closer to the crisis point. (Some of the detectives gets their families out of the danger zone). The film works as a pursuit film, a gangster film, a cop film, a social issues film, and a drama... and *won* Best Screenplay that year. It manages to get everything right.


Plus there are a great pair of scenes between Widmark and Douglas, where Douglas completely takes responsibility for something Widmark did - to the point of endangering his future. Because it's what Widmark wanted, he doesn't notice the sacrifice. Later, when he realizes what Douglas has done, he kicks himself a bit... then later makes everything right by taking responsibility for something Douglas has done - that could really screw up Widmark's future.

The locations are amazing: coffee packing houses, ships, rooming houses, waterfront warehouses, and suburban homes. In a time where movies were shot in the back lot, this film explores New Orleans while avoiding anyplace you've ever seen in a tourist video. We get the places people live and work and avoid the tourist traps. It's a great, gritty look at the city. And there is an attention to detail that makes even the action set pieces very personal.

This is a really well written thriller, and when Widmark explains to the cops how Palance could hop a plane and spread the plague nation-wide within a day, it's really frightening. That's what could happen in the late-40s... imagine what could happen today?

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES!

Bill

Friday, June 09, 2017

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Under Capricorn (1949)

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

That's a whole lotta based ons...

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




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



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



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

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



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



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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

- Bill

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