Friday, August 26, 2016

Fridays With Hitchcock: Needle In The Haystack Shot

This is a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I am a "guest expert" on. The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock, and they did a special episode... starring me!





Of course, I have my own books 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






HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Bill

Thursday, August 25, 2016

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

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Scene Of The Week: Gun Crazy (bank robbery)

I read a blog entry on another blog with the 20 Greatest Long Takes In Movies and was surprised that they left this one out. Many of those long takes in movies are kind of stunts - they usually just set the scene or show scenery instead of tell the story. The opening from TOUCH OF EVIL and the whole damned film of ROPE are the exceptions. But how many long takes are not just showing the story - but the concept of the unbroken take is what creates emotions in the audience?

This scene from GUN CRAZY is all one take... and because we are *trapped* in that take with no edits to help us escape, the suspense escalates. We can not cut to inside the bank. We can not cut to some other place. We are stuck *here*, in *this shot*, dealing with all of the problems *in this shot* and can not escape! It's a great scene, and there's an interesting rif on it in SPRING BREAKERS where we see the robbery through the window of the getaway car. But the *economy* of this scene really adds to the tension...



GUN CRAZY is a great film, a low budget film, and I talk about it a little in the Film Noir Class, and here's my review...

Gun Crazy - the DVD
GUN CRAZY is an adult story. Not Hollywood fluff. It’s dark. It’s sexy. Probably the thing that impressed me the most when I first saw it were Peggy Cummins’ *very* tight black trousers. Women in 1940s movies always wore skirts and dresses. If they did wear pants they were non-sexual - often mannish. But here we have pants so tight it’s almost as if she’s naked.

The three boys look at the bobcat
The story is about a boy (eventually played by John Dall) who has a gun fetish. In the opening scene he steals a gun from a shop window, admires it while the alarm blares, then takes off running... tripping on the wet street. The gun goes sliding across the wet street until it hits a man’s boot... tilt up... a *Police*man’s boot. Next scene - the boy in court explaining to the judge how much he just loves guns. He doesn’t feel whole unless he has a gun in his hands. We’ll leave that up to Uncle Sigmund... but that’s what drives the film - this guy needs a gun to feel like a man. At the trial we meet his two best friends - one is the policeman’s son, the other wears glasses so you know he’ll grow up to be a writer - and they tell the judge that our hero isn’t a killer, on a camping trip he couldn’t shoot a wildcat that was hanging around their campsite (great flashback). He couldn’t bring himself to shoot at it. Wow, same problem as Jon Voight in DELIVERANCE! Boy is sentenced to reform school, from there he goes into the army, then he comes home.

Now we have adult John Dall and his two pals - one is now a cop and the other is a writer for the town newspaper. The carnival is in town, so that’s where they go.
Peggy Cummins - trousers so tight there's a visible panty line
The great thing about this film are the set pieces. In the old studio days, it was a scene so juicy the studio would pay for a new set to be built. You don’t need a new set for a set piece, you just need a big juicy scene... and even though GUN CRAZY was a low budget film, probably shot on leftover sets that had been used a million times before and real locations that could be got cheap - and in the case of one set piece, probably shot without any set at all - the film is full of amazing set pieces.

sure - shoot at my head
The Carnival - maybe the same one from THE RING (1927) - has a sharp shooter as it’s main attraction. Sexy Peggy Cummins in those skin-tight pants. She shoots balloons from around her assistant, shoots a cigarette out of her mouth, and all of the other carny tricks you usually see with a knife thrower. The Barker, an aging pretty boy, announces that for a mere $50 you can test your shooting skills against the master... and possibly win $500. Kind of the same deal as THE RING, just with guns instead of fists. John Dall’s buddies put up the money, and we get a great set piece as Dall and Cummins try to out shoot each other... and fall in lust in the process. Because Dall is an amazing shot, the Barker keeps upping the ante in order to win the bet. Eventually it comes down to this insane trick where a crown that holds a half dozen matches is put on Dall’s head and Cummins *lights the matches* with her bullets. All but one. Then it’s her turn to wear the crown. Dall lights them all. Look, I don’t want even the best sharp shooter in the world to be aiming a gun at my *head* from across the room, let alone firing at me six times. That’s just crazy! Dall ends up with a job at the carnival...
sex and violence - the film was made in the 40s, how old are your grandparents - could this be them after doing it?
Now we have a great scene - not a set piece, but a juicy *dramatic* scene that deals with the romantic triangle between the Barker and Cummins and Dall. One of the interesting things is how they used a metaphor to tell us who was sleeping with who. When Dall first joins the carnival, the Barker asks if he has a car... he says no. Cummins wants him to ride with them, the Barker says there isn’t room in their car... Dall can ride with the clown. If you watch who rides with who in the carnival scenes, you can see Cummins and Dall getting together and the Barker riding alone. Which brings us to the big juicy scene where all of this blows up. Real good. The Barker has a claim on Cummins and tells Dall he’s out of here if he doesn’t honor it. The result of the big blow up is *Cummins and Dall* leaving together (in the same car), which leads us to some relationship stuff where they realize they are broke, and then Cummins’ plan to make money...

By armed robbery.
John Dall exits the bank as Peggy tries to sweet talk the cop - all from the back seat of the getaway car Now we get one of the greatest scenes in low budget history - that “backseat bank robbery” above. It’s a single continuous shot - several minutes - taken from the back seat of their car as they drive down the street of a town, find the bank, hope that there is a parking spot, Cummins pulls into a spot near the front of the bank and Dall gets out. After Dall goes into the bank, a cop walks down the sidewalk, stops near the front of the bank! Cummins pulls the car up, gets out, flirts with the cop, and tries to steer him away from the bank. Not happening. This builds suspense. She keeps trying to get the cop out of the way, but he won’t budge. Then the alarm goes off. She hits the cop, just as Dall bolts out of the bank doors with the money. back seat camera They get in the car, Dall driving, and now we get a shoot out and car chase from the back seat of the car. All one shot. The great thing about this is that it was probably dirt cheap - we don’t need the bank interior and extras and setting up lights in the location. It’s *one* camera set up. But it gives you the feeling that you are right there - in the getaway car with them. When the cop fires at the car, he’s firing at *you*. And it’s all one cool shot. This is a *great* scene!
John Dall with a bag full of guns and steaks
The big set piece is the armed robbery that will make them rich. Dall thinks this means they can retire to some exotic location and just be together for the rest of their lives. Cummins thinks only about how much money they will end up with. The target for the armed robbery - the Armour meat packing plant payroll. Well before anyone thought of product placement, we get a *real* company name and a *real* meat packing plant. Again, this was probably due to the low budget. They found a practical location and probably couldn’t afford to change all of the signs.

everyone tells him hes in the wrong area including this armed guardThis is one of those split second timed robberies where all kinds of things can go wrong... and do. It’s a tense scene, then it blows up and becomes a big action scene. The great part about it are the pieces of the set piece. Dall drives up in a truck filled with beef on hooks. He gets some steaks from a butcher and puts them in his bag, then walks to the offices and has to get past a half dozen people who tell him he’s in the wrong area. Dall tells them he has the steaks for the boss’s barbeque. Everyone tells him there’s no refrigeration here - he should take the steaks back to the plant. The deeper he gets into the office, the more he and the steaks are out of place. Eventually he gets to the boss’s floor... where Cummins is working as a secretary, Here it’s Cummins who tells him he’s in the wrong place - as she leads him right into the boss’s office, where they kidnap him and have him fill the steak bag with payroll money. And here’s where we see the beginning of the end - Cummins gets trigger happy and shoots a whole lotta people on the way out. It’s a great big run and gun scene - lots of action to break the tension that has come before.

After that set piece they are on the run, and we get a great sequence where they have their last night out as a couple. They go to the Santa Monica Pier and go on carnival rides - bringing us back to the beginning of their relationship. Then they go to a dance hall, and have a nice, tender, relationship scene... not knowing that the police have traced them to California and are waiting outside. They manage to escape with nothing - they even lose some of the clothes on their backs. Only one place to go...

Back to Dall’s home town. Now we get a great scene with the criminals and Dall’s sister’s family.... trying to act normal when people come over. Dealing with kids playing in the yard when you are harboring a pair of fugitives. And eventually a great scene with Dall and his two childhood friends - the cop and the reporter. A low budget film needs big scenes like this one - juicy drama where childhood friends are on opposite sides of the law... and Dall is kind of in the middle. Cummins is all for just killing them- in fact, she’d kill anyone if it allowed them to escape. She’d kill the kids (and that is in the film). In fact, there’s a great unseen scene where Cummins does *something* to Dall’s sister and her entre family - maybe she just locks them up, maybe she kills them all. We never find out which it is, because we come to the other big amazing set piece...

The one that probably has no set!
smoke and tuleDall and Cummins end up chased by every cop in the state, and blood hounds, and posses and probably villagers with pitchforks... but since they are chased through a foggy swamp, we just *hear* all of these things. I’m not sure if we see a single dog - though there may be a stock shot of dogs chasing - but we *hear* packs of blood hounds cha!sing them. We hear hundreds of cops searching the foggy swamp for them.

The swamp is... well, it’s 99% fog and 1% a couple of thatches of tule grass.
can you hear all of those cops and dogs?
The big scene where th!ey hide and the cops and dogs search - is just them behind a thatch of tules surrounded by fog. And it works! It’s an amazing scene. Probably shot in some warehouse with a smoke machine. Just goes to show you, *imagination* and *inventiveness* can create production value if you don’t have any cash.

GUN CRAZY still holds up, mostly due to the amazing set pieces and great sequences and fairly obvious sexual overtones... oh, and Cummin’s skin tight trousers.

- Bill

Nothing sexual about this


Nothing sexual about this... - Bill

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Trailer Tuesday: EDDIE PRESLEY (1992)

What's the use of having a blog if you can't plug your friends' movies?

EDDIE PRESLEY (1992)

Directed by: Jeff Burr
Written by: Duane Whitaker
Starring: Duane Whitaker, Clu Gulager, Roscoe Lee Browne, Danny Roebuck, Quentin Tarantino, Lawrence Tierney, Tim Thomerson, Rusty Cundiff, Bruce Campbell, a million others.

A few years back the Egyptian Cinema did a double bill of indies written by my friend Duane, who I may be having coffee with as you read this. You know Duane as the Pawnshop Owner from PULP FICTION, but he's one of those guys who pops up in a bunch of movies playing redneck blue collar guys. EDDIE PRESLEY looked great on the big screen. I think I had seen it once before in the cinema, some others times on video. To me, what is strange about the film is that it's based on Duane's one man stage show... but that's only the last third of the film - about 40 minutes of screen time. I think the hour of material Duane wrote to more-or-less pad it out is more entertaining than the play material - the padding is the kind of stuff that is Duane's artistic sweet spot: he's the Robert Altman or PT Anderson of broken Hollywood dreams. Hmm, maybe some background...



Duane’s one man show was about this Elvis impersonator whose performance goes wrong and ends up having a complete nervous breakdown on stage and tells his life story and sings a couple of songs. It’s this crazy, funny monologue. Well, my friend Jeff, who directed the movie, had just gone through absolute hell on TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3 - New Line had micro-managed the film, wanted him to tone the horror way down so that they could get a more favorable rating and play to a wider audience, then took the film away from him in editing and the film they released bombed because it was wimpy and the horror was tame. The CHAINSAW movies are about a guy with a chainsaw who chainsaws people - you can’t exactly make the PG-13 version of that and have it work. So Jeff was pissed off at the studio system and wanted to make his own movie his own way... and Duane, who had played a role in TCM3 had this one man show, and Jeff saw it and thought they could expand it into a feature. Because this was an indie film, they found the money completely outside the system - private investors. They made the film and it was released on video by a really small distrib (which also released John Lee Hancock’s first film) and that was basically that. Oh, the big coup for EDDIE PRESLEY was that it was the first movie bought by The Sundance Channel.

The 60 minutes that is not Eddie Presley on stage having a complete breakdown are about the days leading up to that performance, plus some great flashbacks in black & white to Eddie’s life before he ended up in Hollywood. Eddie lives in his van parked on the street in Hollywood - inside the van is a shrine to his past, when he used to make a living touring small-to-medium venues as Eddie Presley. He picks up his messages on a pay phone and works as a security guard at night. The Back Door Club is the location for the end of the film, the Van is a location, the Security Job is another location, and there’s also the Greasy Spoon Diner - that’s about it for locations.

In the Security Guard story thread, Ted Raimi is one of the other guards, and Lawrence Tierney is the hardass supervisor with a photo album of sleeping guard Poloroids. Willard Pugh plays another security guard and there's a nervous female security guard (Harri James) who has a major crush on Eddie. Raimi and Pugh and James’ characters and Eddie are best friends - and they would do anything to see him succeed. When he finally gets his gig at the Back Door Club, they take the night off from work so they can see him... and pull some favors from friends and friends-of-friends to get him a cut-rate limo to take him to the gig.

In order to stay awake on these night shifts so that he doesn’t get fired, Eddie fills his thermos at a greasy spoon cafe filled with Hollywood losers of all types... plus his girlfriend works there as a waitress. She’ll fill the thermos if the boss isn’t looking, and maybe get him a free breakfast. She wants to actually go out on a real date - but Eddie’s always broke. She’s a wanna-be actress, but has had no luck so far landing a role in anything. These characters in the Diner Thread are Duane’s forte - the struggling artists who litter the streets of Hollywood trying to hang onto their dreams but knowing that they are only dreams... and the reality is that they're a waitress. When Eddie’s not in the diner, there’s a skanky female porn star trying to make the moves on his waitress with promises of leading roles in adult entertainment... is a part a part? Will she do porn?




The other diner regulars are a colorful group, from the toll-taker guy who requires a cigarette from everyone who passes by his seat at the counter, to my favorite character in the film - Clu Gulager's sleazy agent. Hair badly dyed jet black, he tells prospective clients (all gals fresh off the bus) that he has major connections and can make them into stars... and when the pay phone on the wall behind him rings, he answers it with his talent agency name. I've had this agent!

The last thread are the Flashbacks in beautiful black & white of Eddie’s pre-Hollywood life in Texas, with Joe Estevez as his strict father and Barbara Patrick (Robert’s wife) as his soon-to-be-ex-wife. Eddie was a successful pizza store owner (take out only) who sells his business to live his dream of being an Elvis impersonator. Father thinks he’s an idiot, wife divorces him and takes the kid... and Eddie and his band go out of the road. Jeff’s cuts from present to past and back are great - match cut stuff with a character from the present drinking a cup of coffee to one in the past drinking a cup of coffee. There is a great flow to the story which makes it seem less episodic. Because the black and white stuff was shot later, Jeff would end a scene with some action that could be duplicated months later when Duane had lost a bunch of weight and looked like a younger version of himself. Eventually the flashbacks get darker and darker (in tone, not lighting) and Eddie flips out in a burger joint and ends up sent to an insane asylum, where the guards include Quentin Tarantino (before he was famous) and Bruce Campbell and director Rusty Cundiff.

The last third of the film at the Back Door Club is filled with some great characters - the late great Roscoe Lee Brown plays the club owner, Tim Thomerson does a great cameo as an angry comedian, stand up comic Puppy Thomas is the world’s worst ventriloquist, and practically stealing the show is Danny Roebuck as Eddie’s warm up act - the world’s most unlucky magician: when he tries to pull the rabbit out of his hat, it bites him and he bleeds all over the place for the rest of his performance... which includes him accidentally catching fire and unable to put himself out. Then Eddie gets up on stage, everything goes wrong, and he has his big break down right in front of us.

Though that ending was the whole reason they made the film, I really like the parts of the film that come before that. You get a real feel for people on the fringes in Hollywood, the hopefuls without hope...

The film is available on DVD at Netflix, I have no idea if it's on their streaming service or not. Made for pocket change, a nice little labor of love. Bill

Monday, August 22, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Movie Star Edition

Lancelot Link Monday! If you build it they will come... unless what you are building is yet another remake of BEN HUR, in that case they will stay away and see something else. There are a bunch of people online who believe the failure of the new BEN HUR movie is that it's teh remake of a classic... but those people don't seem to realize that the Heston version was *also* the remake of a classic - the 1925 version with Francis X. Bushman was the definitive version that could not be topped... until the Heston version came along. The problem isn't remakes, it's *bad* remakes - every remake is going to be compared to the original, so you'd better make a film that compares well. One that people who love the original will also love. Wait... where have I heard this before? Oh, yeah, the failure of GHOSTBUSTERS. The problem is that those in charge have zero idea what *quality* is anymore - they are suits! If studios were smart, instead of promoting ex-agents to become studio heads, they would take a page from the Golden Age of Hollywood and promote *screenwriters* to run studios - people who understand story and know when things just aren't working. I think the biggest problem with studios today is that the are run by businessmen and businesswomen who have no idea who this particular business works. While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...




Here are a dozen links plus this week's car chase...


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Suicide Squad................... $20,710,000
2 Sausage......................... $15,325,000
3 War Dogs........................ $14,300,000
4 Kubo 2.......................... $12,610,000
5 Ben Hur......................... $11,350,000
6 Pete's Dragqueen................ $11,331,000
7 Bad Mom.......................... $8,068,000
8 Jason ReBourne................... $7,980,000
9 Secret Pets...................... $5,770,000
10 Jenkins! (not Alan)............... $4,300,000




2) Indie Box Office Numbers.

3) Do Movie Stars Matter?

4) Tom Cruise Thinks Movie Stars Matter *A LOT*!

5) My Favorite Hitchcock Film Is NOTORIOUS... Here's an article on the film PLUS THE SCREENPLAY!

6) LEBOWSKI Spin Off About Jesus!

7) Popularity Of Genres Around The World. Does Horror Sell Well In Transylvania?

8) KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS Director On The Influence Of Kurosawa.

9) Do State's Film Incentives Work?

10) David Lynch's First Film... Watch It Now!

11) Mel Brooks - Why BLAZING SADDLES Could Never Be Made Today.

12) Are Characters The Color Of Their Skin? Or Are They The Character Of Their Character?

And the Car Chase Of The Week:





Bill

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IMPORTANT UPDATE:

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Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:

Friday, August 19, 2016

Fridays With Hitchcock: HITCH 20: The Perfect Crime.

This is a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I have been a "guest expert" on (season 1). The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock and here is the third episode of the second season, which looks at the importance of specifics of Hitchcock's work on screen (and on the page, or it never gets to the screen). This new season is without me. I was juggling too many things and thought I'd squeeze it in, but just didn't have the time. But I'm still be featuring it here, because it's a great show.

THE PERFECT CRIME (Season 3, Episode 3).

Hitchcock was famous for saying that he didn’t like mysteries, so this episode ends up being a send up of the genre and Sherlock Holmes and C. Auguste Dupin are alluded to as our protagonist’s equals... then the story tears our protagonist apart piece by piece.



Oh, I should mention that this famous detective is played by Vincent Price... and for me that’s the coolest part of this episode: Hitchcock directing Vincent Price!

The story has a lawyer played by James Gregory coming to see the great detective about a case he may have got wrong... and an innocent man who may have been executed. Though most of the story is those two verbally battling it out in Price’s living room, there are a trio of flashbacks that show us portions of Price’s detective work and then Gregory’s information which changes the story so that some of the evidence from Price’s flashback has a different explanation. The flashbacks have no dialogue, they are all narration... and this reminded me of Hitchcock’s much better experiment alomg the same lines in BON VOYAGE (1944) one of his films for the French Resistence. I look at that film in EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR... it shows the same story twice, but the information we learn the second time around changes what we’ve seen the first time. In a way it’s the predecessor of movies like RUN LOLA RUN and HILARY AND JACKIE and RASHOMON where the same story is seen multiple times and possibly for different points of view so that it changes every time we see it. BON VOYAGE shows an RAF Pilot who was shot down behind enemy lines and a Polish POW using the French Underground to escape Nazi Occupied France... and that’s what happens the first time we see the story. The second time, we discover that the Polish POW is actually an enemy soldier who is killing all of the French Underground members that the RAF pilot takes him to! In PERFECT CRIME we see Price at the scene of the crime collecting evidence and noting things like the footprints of the killer pacing back and forth outside the crime scene... but in Gregory’s version of that event the innocent man isn’t pacing back and forth, he’s walking back and forth of the real killer’s footprints (his lover) to obscure them. The same piece of evidence has two different meanings!




One of the other interesting scenes in a episode is when Price and Gregory have a verbal duel, each trying to show the other that they are superior. Hitchcock shoots both men from about waist level aiming up at their faces so that they appear to be towering over us... superior to us. By having Price verbally blast away at Gregory from this angle which makes him appear to be superior, he gets the upper hand... until we cut to Gregory countering, verbally showing his superiority to Price (which the up angle makes Gregory seem superior to us)... and then we cut back to Price who counters... and because we cut back and forth between these two men shown at an upward angle so that they seem superior to the audience, we feel that this really is a duel of wits!

Things like camera angles, camera movement, composition, juxtaposition, and lighting are part of the basic language of cinema which Hitchcock was fluent in. Note the change in lighting on Price during the verbal dueling scene.





Bill

Of course, I have my own books 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






HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Bill

Thursday, August 18, 2016

THRILLER Thursday: The Cheaters

The Cheaters

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



Season: 1, Episode: 15.
Airdate: Dec. 27, 1960


Director: John Brahm
Writer: Donald Sanford based on a story by Robert (PSYCHO) Bloch.
Cast: Henry Daniel, Mildred Dunnock, Harry Townes, Jack Weston, Paul Newlan.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith takes over from Rugolo.
Cinematography: John Russell from PSYCHO.
Producer: William Frye and Maxwell Shane.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “When a man shuts himself off from his neighbors, when he conducts mysterious experiments behind locked doors, there’s bound to be talk. There were those who whispered that Dirk Van Prinn was a sorcerer, and worse. He might never have been remembered at all, had he not his research lead him to the discovery of a most unusual formula for making glass. Dirk Van Prinn hanged himself before dawn. His story might have ended there if he’s had the courage to smash those spectacles. But like many another scientist he could not bare to destroy his own creation. Too bad, because years later others tried them on. In The Cheaters, our story for tonight, a junk man named Joe Henshaw played by Mr. Paul Newlan, a little old fashioned lady named Miriam Olcott played by Miss Mildred Dunnock, her nephew Edward Dean played by Mr. Jack Weston, and finally a man who discovered the real purpose of the spectacles Sebastian Grimm, played by Mr. Harry Townes. What they saw through those yellow gold lenses they never forgot. And neither will you my friends, because as sure is my name’s Boris Karloff, this is a Thriller.”



Synopsis: Two hundred years ago, inventor Dirk Van Prinn creates a special type of glass after many failed experiments, and fashions a pair of glasses. These are not rose colored glasses, kind of the opposite. When Van Prinn looks in the mirror while wearing the glasses, what he sees drives him mad and makes him kill himself.

200 years and a commercial break later, junk man Joe Henshaw (Paul Newlan, who was also in the Big Blackout episode) has paid $100 for the contents of the long abandoned house where some crazy inventor used to live. It’s kind of like the sixties version of STORAGE WARS. His wife Maggie (Linda Walkins) and partner Charlie (Ed Nelson, who is almost as many episodes as Karloff) think he was crazy to pay that much! $100? What if there’s nothing inside?

Henshaw and Charlie go to the spooky old house and poke around inside... nothing worth anything in here. Henshaw climbs upstairs to Van Prinn’s laboratory... where the door is locked. Must be something good inside? They break open the door, and all of the lab equipment has already been taken away. There are shelves of books... which turn to dust when you open them. An old desk may be worth something... but the wood is rotted. The only thing Henshaw can find is a pair of glasses hidden in the desk... and he could use a pair of glasses.



When Henshaw gets home, Maggie is all dolled up and has an impressive meal laid out. What’s the occasion? It was Henshaw’s birthday a few weeks back and they never celebrated. Charlie comes over with some booze and it’s a party. But when Henshaw puts on the glasses he found in the old house, he can *hear* what Charlie and Maggie are thinking... he can see the truth. Maggie has been cheating on him with Charlie and they plan to kill him and take over the business. He pulls off the glasses, and they’re both just having a normal conversation. He notices a word etched in the old fashioned frames: Veritas... “truth” in Latin. When he puts the glasses back on, they’re planning his murder so that he can be together... get him drunk enough and... Henshaw takes off the glasses and walks outside to his junk yard, finds a crow bar, comes back inside and kills them both. A policeman (John Mitchum, Robert’s brother) hears the screams and arrests Henshaw.

A couple of years later and after the commercial break, Miriam Olcott (Mildred Dunnock) is an old woman confined to her bed and her room by her nephew Edward Dean (Jack Weston) and his wife Olive (Barbara Eiler). She wants to go out, but Olive says she should just take a nap. But Miriam sneaks out of the house and goes on an adventure. She goes wandering through the town, stopping in stores to look at things. She eventually ends up walking past Henshaw’s place, where some other junk dealer has bought the contents and is hauling it away. She spots a pair of antique glasses and buys them for a quarter from the junk dealer. Shopping excursion over, she heads back home...



Where Edward and Olive are waiting for her, worried. The reason why she must stay in her room is because if she wanders off she may just get lost and forget where she lives. Miriam says she was out shopping and tries on the glasses... and hears what they are really thinking. That’s she probably stole the glasses, she’s a senile old problem and they only reason they take care of her is that she’s worth a fortune and when she dies they inherit... except they hoped that she would already be dead by now. What’s keeping her so long? She takes off the glasses, shocked, and they tell her that her doctor is on his way, and Edward and Olive are heading out for the night.

When the doctor arrives, Miriam tries to tell him her nephew and his wife want to kill her, but the kindly doctor just believes it’s dementia and tries to calm her. He goes downstairs to get some brandy to calm her, returns and pours her a glass. Miriam puts on the glasses and discovers that her kindly doctor is in on the murder plot, and plans to get her drunk and push her down the stairs tonight while Nephew and Wife are out tonight establishing an alibi. She grabs a knitting needle, and when the doctor brings her the glass of brandy, stabs him to death.



A couple of years later and after the commercial break, Edward and Olive have inherited all of that money and are attempting some social climbing with their new found wealth. They have a costume party at their house and have invited all of the wealthy important people in town, including a judge and a semi famous writer, Sebastian Grimm (even though he’s a prick). Edward dressed as Benjamin Franklin, hoping to impress everyone, but Grimm (Harry Townes) does nothing but ridicule him because everyone knows Franklin wore spectacles.

The men go into the parlour to play poker, and Edward is trying to impress them with large bets... and losing money to everyone. Olive brings in some muchies... and Aunt Miriam’s antique glasses. Edward puts them on, and really looks like Ben Franklin! Even Grimm says those antique glasses make him look perfect. Edward is happy for a moment, until he hears what the other men are really thinking... they want to keep playing so they can take away all of Edward’s money that they don’t think he deserves. One of the players is cheating, and has hidden a pair of aces under his arm. Edward can’t believe these guys are cheating at cards, and calls the guy on it. The guy manages to make the accusation backfire on Edward... and make him look like a sore loser who is making false charges. This turns into a fistfight between the two men, and Edwards gets punched in the face, falls over and hits his head... dying.

Grimm scoops up the glasses...



A few months and a commercial break later, Grimm tells his wife Ellen (Joan Tompkins) that he has been researching the glasses and has discovered all of the past deaths, starting with Van Prinn’s suicide, and believes these glasses show anyone who wears them the truth. But he has not put them on because he believes the glasses were invented not to learn the truth of what others think of you... but the truth about yourself. Grimm has written a new book about the glasses, except for the last chapter. The last chapter will come after he learns the truth about himself.

He goes to Van Prinn’s spooky old house, climbs the dark staircase to his laboratory, sits in front of the same mirror where Van Prinn put on the glasses... and puts the glasses on and looks in the mirror. And sees the truth about himself. And screams and goes mad, ripping nis face off with his bare hands. And just before the fade out, he drops the glasses and crushes them beneath his shoe. Then probably hangs himself.



Review: Now that’s more like it. A nice little Weird Tales type story about how dangerous the truth can be, written by the dude who wrote PSYCHO. I’ve read this story (and most of Bloch’s stuff) and it’s interesting how an episodic short story is a perfect match for a TV show with commercials. Each segment ends at the commercial, so we begin the new segment with different characters. This makes up for those early episodes with glacial slow pacing. Though the show is still kind of blandly directed, it moves quickly, has a cornucopia of stars, and wit (from Bloch’s story... that guy was a sick comedian who wrote lines like this one from PSYCHO. “It was the face of a crazy old woman. Mary started to scream, and then the curtains parted further and a hand appeared, holding a butcher’s knife. It was the knife that, a moment later, cut off her scream... And her head.”). The puns on “cheaters”, from the reading glasses to the cheating card players and couple elevate the story.

My bland direction comment is mostly about the scenes in the spooky old house, where production design did a great job of hanging cobwebs and covering everything with a believable 200 year old layer of dust, but the shots end up bland angles so the all of the spooky stuff goes to waste. The Brahm and Sanford team did well with PREDICTION and WATCHER, so maybe there was a time crunch with this episode? It is 4 stories with 4 casts and that might have lead to the pedestrian haunted house stuff. The cast has fun with their roles, especially Weston, who is a comic actor playing a petty social climber and manages to give a nuanced performance. Mildred Dunnock also has fun playing a possibly senile old woman who turns into a sly killer. Townes and Daniel are always great, and here both play their roles to the hilt.

One of the nice touches is how they create “glasses vision” so that the audience knows we are hearing the thoughts of the characters rather than what they are saying. The lighting scheme is changed, with the lights low and angled up, creating a spooky look. This way they can cut from a shot in “glasses vision” of people speaking to a shot normal lighting and we know that now we are hearing what they are actually saying.



One of the things that doesn’t work as well is having the lines they are saying when we are hearing what they are thinking replicate the lines they are actually speaking... just with a few different words. This is a great concept, but in practice we end up hearing most of the same words twice in a row. They might have been able to make this work with some better dialogue editing, but they may have been afraid the audience might have become confused.

The December 27th airdate makes it almost a Christmas episode!

A good episode, and next week another Bloch based episode that features a dozen mirrors... and Shatner! Can he stop himself from looking into all of those mirrors?

Bill

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Trailer Tuesday: 11 HARROW HOUSE (1974)

Directed by: Aram Avakian (Don Westlake's COPS & ROBBERS).
Written by: Jeffrey Bloom and Charles Grodin based on the novel by Gerald A. Browne.
Starring: Charles Grodin, Candice Bergen, James Mason, Trevor Howard, John Gielgud.
Produced by: Elliot Kastner (every 70s crime film plus WHERE EAGLES DARE).
Edited by: Anne V. Coates (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA to OUT OF SIGHT).

This is one of my favorite films that you’ve never heard of, and I have the poster framed (though not on my wall right now, not enough space). It’s an odd film, a sixties style caper movie made in the 70s and starring Charles Grodin who couldn’t really open a movie. Probably the main reason for the movie is that it is based on a best selling novel by Gerald A. Browne who wrote a bunch of breezy caper books that everyone took to the beach to read in the 70s and 80s. Only a couple ended up on screen, this one and another film that wasn’t a hit GREEN ICE starring Ryan O’Neal and Anne Archer. I read a bunch of his books, which always dealt with gemstones and were usually fun caper stories against a glamourous background... with a bit of conspiracy theory thrown in. They’re kind of Cary Grant movies. The combination of comedy and crime is probably what attracted me to the books and this movie. I had not seen it since it was released, but thanks to those wonderful folks at Shout Video I now have it on DVD and have watched it a couple of times. It’s an acquired taste sort of thing, and a flawed film whether you like it or not.



The story gets off to a great start with an unconscious man under a doctor’s care on an airplane, headed to a hospital for life saving surgery. He is taken off the plane and loaded into an ambulance, the doctor hops in back, and the ambulance speeds off. A Man watches all of this, and smiles. In the back of the ambulance, the unconscious man sits up, and he and the doctor open a secret compartment in his medical bag where a bunch of smuggled diamonds are hidden... Then the ambulance is blown to smithereens!

That Man is an enforcer from 11 Harrowhouse in London, the secret organization which controls diamonds throughout the world. The Diamond Exchange. In order to keep the price up, only so many diamonds are allowed out in the world. Every diamond ever bought or sold starts with a raw diamond from 11 Harrowhouse. They are the conspiracy theory part of the story.



Howard Chesser (Charles Grodin) is at the bottom of the list of diamond buyers from 11 Harrowhouse, he’s a smart ass American who doesn’t know how to dress (his suits are not from one of the approved tailors) and he’s, well, common. There’s a great little scene where he lights a cigarette in the waiting room and the receptionist *wordlessly* stares at him until he puts it out. When it’s his turn, Meechum (Sir John Gielgud) who is in charge, insults Chesser and gives him very few raw diamonds at an outrageous price... and since this is a conspiracy/monopoly, Chesser has no choice but to buy them. The vault manager who does the diamond handling, Watts (James Mason), apologizes to Chesser for his treatment. Watts is the only one at the company who isn’t a prick.

Chesser complains to his girlfriend Maren (Candice Bergen) about how they treat him, and she suggests: “My money is your money, if you have to be humiliated, be humiliated with me.” She’s the widow of a formula one driver and rich beyond anyone’s wildest dreams... but he doesn’t want to be a kept man. Oh, and if they get married? She loses all of the money.



The next day they are walking down a dark and spooky pedestrian tunnel and are attacked by two men... who subdue them and then give them an *invitation* to meet with the UK’s wealthiest man Massey (Trevor Howard) who made much of his money from oil. Massey lives on an estate the size of a state, where all of his servants are mutes so that they won’t blab to the press. Except for the security force, which is kind of a private army. Massey would like to hire Chesser to purchase and have cut a huge diamond that will be named after him... because when you already have everything, why not have a diamond named after you? Chesser agrees, buys the raw diamond at Harrowhouse and takes it to Amsterdam to be cut by the world’s best diamond cutter. But on the road to Massey’s estate to deliver the diamond, Chesser and Maren are attacked by a pair of thugs and the diamond stolen. Those thugs look a lot like members of Massey’s security detail. But Chesser is over a barrel... and Massey convinces him to rob 11 Harrowhouse of *everything*. To keep the price of diamonds high, they keep a large percentage off the market in the vault deep underground. Impossible to get in or out... so how do you steal anything from this vault?



The film’s tagline is intriguing...

This is like no robbery you've ever imagined.
THE CHALLENGE: Steal 12 billion dollars in uncut diamonds.
THE TASK: Break into the most securely guarded fortress devised by man.
THE PLAN: Use amateurs armed with ingenuity, guts, a cockroach, a thin cord, and a vacuum cleaner.
THE RISK: Death.



Wait... a cockroach and a vacuum cleaner?



And now we get to the fun part where Chesser approaches vault manager Watts who has always been kind to him, and tries to hint around that he’d like Watts to betray the Diamond Exchange and 11 Harrowhouse... while Watts is hinting around that the company is screwing him and he’d do anything to get revenge. Watts has been working for the company for 29 years, and has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Problem is, the Diamond Exchange will *not* provide his family with any pension if he fails to work for the company for 30 years. His doctors say he probably won’t last that long. His family will be penniless. If he can screw over the Diamond Exchange *and* provide for his family? He’s in.

Chesser comes up with a plan, but the great thing about this film is you know it will take the cockroach and vacuum cleaner and the thin cord... but have no idea how those items will be used. And that’s the fun!



The caper is lots of fun, with Chesser a complete scaredy cat and Maren an insane risk taker and Watts getting a very dignified revenge. Lots of suspense, too: from guards doing their rounds to Chesser almost falling off the roof to Watts over exerting himself and almost passing out during the middle of the burglary. Some great sight gags as Maren chills champagne in 12 billion worth of diamonds while munching of a carrot. A caper film is all about how clever the scheme is to get past all of these impossible obstacles, and this movie takes you step by step through how they do it using those items. The vault that is impossible to steal from, and the insanely clever plan that allows them to empty it.

But after they have successfully stolen every diamond from that underground vault at 11 Harrowhouse, they now have to figure out how to get their money from Massey for delivering the *truck full* of diamonds. Their plan is to hide the truck on a building site among a bunch of other trucks and heavy equipment, and take a satchel with a sample of the diamonds to Massey’s estate. Massey is a man who cheats at *dog shows*. Impossible to trust him.



And this proves to be the right choice, as Massey and his private army try to steal the satchel of diamonds from them and get them to tell where the rest are; which leads to a massive car chase on the grounds of the estate and some shoot outs and explosions and other Act 3 stuff. The tone is often a little weird here, as they go for a fun romp action feel... but people are trapped in cars that go over a cliff and explode.

That inconsistent tone is one of the issues with the film, along with post production voice over with Grodin quipping about what happens on screen. The VO was actually one of my favorite parts when I first saw it, as it gives the whole things a 40s private eye movie feel... and also does what the movie PULP does so well: gives us tough guy patter when the film shows the protag being anything *but* tough. The scene in the dark pedestrian tunnel has Grodin getting the crap beaten out of him and collapsing, as the VO says “Lucky for him he let me go, in another minute I would have had him”. Some great laughs. Now the VO seems obviously added after some terrible test screening, though it is still amusing. This was obviously Grodin’s baby, he cowrote the script and stars... and it’s too bad this didn’t rocket him to stardom. But maybe if he had become a big star, he wouldn’t have been cast as second banana in MIDNIGHT RUN?

11 HARROWHOUSE is an acquired taste, but if you love sixties caper movies (and great British casts) it’s worth a look. I like it despite all of it’s problems.

Bill

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