Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Trailer Tuesday: Dead Of Night (1945)

James Wan who directed SAW has a thing about killer puppet movies, and I'll bet it can all be traced back to seeing this film as a kid on TV. I know *my* fear of killer puppets stems from this, and the knowledge that Grover on Sesame Street is really a serial killer. But all of the ventriloquist dummy movies like William Goldman's MAGIC come from this creepy film.

Dead Of Night (1945)
Directed by: Cavalcanti ("Christmas Party", "The Ventriloquist's Dummy"), Charles Crichton ("Golfing Story"), Basil Dearden ("Hearse Driver", "Linking Narrative"), Robert Hamer ("The Haunted Mirror")
Written by: John Baines & Angus MacPhail.
Starring: Mervyn Johns, Michael Redgrave, Roland Culver, Basil Radford, Naunton Wayne, Googie Withers.

An architect arrives at a country estate and has a strange feeling of deja vu. The group of people at the estate each tell stories of terror... while the architect's deja vu increases. Has he been here before? He feels as if he has heard each story before... and feels like something terrible will happen when the last tale has been told. Each of the stories is frightening, but the ventriloquist and the dummy that controls him is the one most people remember...

The cast is worth noting, since most of them were in Hitchcock's LADY VANISHES. Not only do we get a variation on Caldecott & Charters, we get Bridesmaid Googie Withers and leading man Michael Redgrave! It's the whole gang! The cast is great, the film is spooky... yet realistic enough that you believe everything that happens no matter how crazy. The film was from Ealing Studios, famous for comedies... but this may be their most famous non-comedy film.

Five great stories of terror, with the "wrap" at the country house with our group. Directed by 4 different directors.
1) "Christmas Party" is about a girl at a Christmas Party who finds a hidden staircase that leads to...
2) "The Haunted Mirror" is about an newlywed couple - the wife buys a mirror that is... haunted.
3) "The Hearse Driver" is about a man who dreams a hearse drives by him and the driver says: "There's room for one more"... and then his dream seems to come true.
4) "Golfing Story" is about two golfers (Wayne & Radford) make a bet on the golf course - winner gets to marry the girl they both love, and the loser must die.
5) "The Ventriloquist" is the most frightening of all, about a ventriloquist who thinks his dummy is out to get him... and he is.
Often stories like this peter out at the end, but DEAD OF NIGHT has an ending that will give you nightmares!

"There's room for one more."

- Bill

Monday, October 24, 2016

Blue Book Prices Going Up!


November 1st, 2016 I am raising the prices on all of the Blue Books by a buck!

Some similar books are priced at $7.99, with a bunch in the $4.99 range. The *paper booklet* versions of the Blue Books are $4.99 and are about a fifth the size of the ebook versions! So this isn't a price raise as much as kind of a negative "price match". The ebook versions cover so much more material than the paper booklets that at $4.99 they are still a huge bargain... and those competitors at $7.99 are probably much closer to what I should be charging! Some time in the future I will add some new examples and clean them up and charge that much (by then the competition will probably be $15 - there's just no keeping up!), but for now - $4.99 seems reasonable. I was going to wait until January 1st to raise the prices, but January is already a bad sales month... why make it worse?

So the next two weeks are your last chance to get the Blue Books at $3.99.

Sorry for the price raise, but Popeye's Fried Chicken Tuesday Specials have gone up from 99 cents 4 years ago, to $1.29 three years ago, to $1.49 two years ago, to $1.79 now... and I love Popeye's Fried Chicken!

- Bill



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- Bill

Friday, October 21, 2016

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)

Screenplay by Norman Krasna.

There are no cross-dressing killers, no stolen microfilm, no man wrongly accused of a crime in this Hitchcock film - it’s a standard rom-com. Weird, huh? I have seen all of the Hitchcock films on the big screen including this one - a non-thriller - but I have to admit I saw MR. & MRS. SMITH decades ago on a Hitchcock triple bill and it was the last film playing and, well, I may have fallen asleep. I have not see it since, and never owned it on VHS and did not own it on DVD... and worried that it might suck. Did I really want to buy the DVD? I mean, spending $15 for THE PARADINE CASE was a waste of money, but I could chalk it off to being a completist, right? I mean, it may be lame, but it is still kind of a thriller. MR & MRS SMITH is a rom-com, a chick flick...

So I grabbed my Hitchcock/Truffaut to see what Hitch said about it... and he says nada! When Truffaut brings up the film, Hitch tells an amusing anecdote about Carole Lombard and then changes the subject. The only thing he really says about the film was that it was a favor to Lombard and he just followed the script. Did I really want to buy this on DVD?

Worse - the film was part of a $99 box set and I owned all of the other movies but one. Sure, I could get it at Amazon for $70... but I didn’t want to spend anything near that much for a rom-com that probably put me to sleep the last time I saw it. Damn this blog!

Then I discovered that there were 3rd party vendors who had probably bought the set, broken it up and sold all of the popular films (STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, NORTH BY NORTHWEST) and were now stuck with MR. & MRS. SMITH... and were selling it for $4. Deal.

Here’s the thing - this is a typical 1940s rom-com, funny, charming, and good. I think if Hitchcock had *not* directed it, people would love it and put it up there with THE AWFUL TRUTH and HIS GIRL FRIDAY. But the Hitchcock audience isn’t really the rom-com audience and vice-versa... so people haven’t given it a chance. I thought it was fun.

Nutshell: David (Robert Montgomery) and Ann Smith (the beautiful Carole Lombard) are a passionately married Manhattan couple... and have rules that will keep them married. That passion thing is great when things are going well in the relationship, but when things go wrong they are just as passionate and throw things at each other. So they have the rules - one of which is that no one can leave the bedroom after a fight until they have made up. Problem is, this cuts into David’s work week sometimes (he’s a lawyer). They can stay angry at each other for a loooong time!

Another rule is that after they’ve made up, each gets to ask the other a question... and they must answer honestly. Note to men in a relationship: this is a trap. No woman ever wants you to answer honestly (“Yes, those jeans make your ass look *massive*!”) they want to hear the lie that makes them feel good. So David makes a huge mistake by answering that he misses being single and probably wouldn’t marry Ann if he had to do it all over again. He loves her, he can’t live without her, but probably wouldn’t marry her again. She doesn’t like this answer, but they’re married, so the point is moot, right?

When a clerk (Charles Halton) from the town they were married in tells David that one of those only-in-the-movies clerical errors has nullified their marriage, he thinks for a moment that this may be his chance for freedom. The clerk was a childhood friend of Ann’s, stops by their apartment to visit and lets slip that she isn’t really married to David. Ann expects him to re-propose that very night and whisk her away to a Justice Of The Peace to go through the vows again. Her mother forbids her from sleeping with David until they are once again married. That night, David takes her to the cozy little restaurant where he first proposed... which is now a dump... and Ann thinks he’s going to pop the question. But he doesn’t. When they get home he chills some champagne. Um, now he can pop the question - but how will they get to a Justice of the Peace? When David gets into his silk Pjs, Ann blows her top. He expects her to sleep together even though they are not married? She throws him out.

David is sure that Ann will come crawling back to him... but that does not happen. Instead she finds a job and begins dating again.

Then Ann hooks up with David’s partner Jefferson (Gene Raymond) - a deep fried Southern Gentleman, and it looks like they’re getting engaged to be married! When David objects, Ann notes that she is not his wife, and legally has never been his wife - he has no claim on her.

David realizes he may fantasize about being single again, but the reality sucks! He *must* break up Jefferson’s relationship with Ann and win her back!

Experiment: Well, it is a rom-com. By this time Hitchcock was firmly established as the Master Of Suspense - he’d become famous in England for his thrillers like THE 39 STEPS and THE LADY VANISHES... and that’s why he was brought to America. But Carole Lombard was a friend, was a huge movie star, and wanted to do a film with Hitchcock... so he made a rom-com. The anecdote he told Truffaut was about his first day on the set - when he arrived there were three little cattle pens with a calf in each - wearing a name tag on its collar with the names of the stars. Lombard’s joke (she and her husband Clark Gable were notorious practical jokers - and the most tragic tale in CITY OF NETS is about the joke that preceded Lombard’s death in a plane crash, which devastated Gable). So - it’s a rom-com.

Hitch Appearance: When David and Jefferson come out of Ann's building together, then go in opposite directions, Hitchcock walks in front of the building.

Great Scenes: Let’s look at some rom-com things and other lessons that we can apply to any screenplay, starting with...

Story Point Of View: A common complaint about recent rom-coms is that they seem to be about the guy - KNOCKED UP seems to focus on Seth Rogen’s point of view instead of split equally between the couple. Well, it seems like that’s nothing new, as the lead character in MR. & MRS. SMITH is not Carole Lombard, or even Lombard & Montgomery... it’s Robert Montgomery. The film opens with Lombard in bed pretending to be asleep after a spat, and Montgomery tries to slyly get her attention with funny faces and hijinks (which come off charming rather than lame). This scene is not only told from his POV, some of the shots are his POV... and this continues throughout the film. Though I think you *can* have a rom-com where each member of the couple trades off as protagonist; it seems that in the end, one or the other is dominant (the “main protagonist”). That’s what happens here...

But whether one character is the protagonist or two, each scene takes a side and shows it from that character’s point of view. When Ann is waiting for David to pop the question at dinner... and then later at home... those scenes all take her side. We are not neutral in those scenes, we are given the information to understand her character and we see the scene from her side of the dispute... but not his. We know her plan is to accept when he re-proposes... but we have no idea what David’s plan is. Did he plan on proposing at the little restaurant? What’s his plan when he slips into his Pjs? We do not know - but we do know that her plan is *not* to sleep with him until they are married again. We have taken her side in this sequence. And there is a great reason for this - it creates drama and suspense. If we know everything, it’s dull - like knowing how a movie ends. We want to *use* POV to create intrigue. Since knowing David’s intentions remove the suspense from the scene, we take Ann’s side and keep David’s intentions secret. After she kicks David out, we take his side for most of the rest of the movie.

Do you know who is the “lead character” in each of your scenes... and why?

Visual Symbols: A picture is worth a thousand words. After that opening scene spat has been resolved, there is a scene where Ann shaves David with a straight razor. You may wonder what the heck that is all about, but the answer is - it *shows* the trust between them with an intimate act. We can’t exactly show them hitting the sheets in 1941 (and that may even be tonally wrong for 2010) but we can show them doing something together that is personal... and that also shows trust and seems domestic - you wouldn’t let your best friend do this, but you might let your wife. Again, there are a million things that might show two people comfortable with each other in an intimate situation - but what can we show in 1941?

The great thing about the shaving scene is that it not only shows trust and intimacy and comfort with each other now, it is actually a set up for a later payoff near the end that shows Ann recovering her trust and comfort with David. When we see her shave his unconscious body (okay - weird), we realize that they are going to get back together. And David, who is not really unconscious, trusts her not to use the razor on him.

A visual symbol that is designed for a laugh: After being kicked out, David goes to his club which has hotel style rooms available for men who have been kicked out of the house (and maybe bachelors between apartments). There is a board with room keys on it, several empty hooks *with name cards over them* because some poor slob got into a fight with the wife and is now living there. David has to ask the clerk if there is a room available, and the clerk makes a big deal about saying that David has never asked for one of the room keys in the entire time he has been a club member. Then makes a big deal about grabbing the key and giving it to David - this is a *moment*. David and Ann never leave the apartment until they have made up... and now David has been kicked out. The key is symbolic of this being a major problem in the relationship, not just a little bump.

But the great thing is that the key becomes a running gag that gets a laugh (well, from me) every time they show it. David spends the whole day trying to win Ann back, and just when you think she may forgive him... he’s back at the club getting that room key. - Eventually the board of keys has his name on a card over one key.

There are many other little visual symbols in the film - like Ann replacing the name plaque on the apartment door with a card with her maiden name - David keeps tearing it down every time he goes to the apartment and there is always a new one when he comes back. And, um, there’s a pair of skis at the end that, um, seem kind of symbolic of a successful re-honeymoon.

Symbolic Supporting Characters: The other symbolic thing are some of the supporting characters. When David checks into the room in the club, he is now one of the guys who got kicked out of the house by their wives for a variety of reasons. The character he hangs out with is Big Chuck (Jack Carson) who is constantly being kicked out by the wife, and offers David some advice on what to do to get her back if it was a minor infraction... and how to have a good time as a temporary bachelor if you end up with an extended stay at the club. In a way, Big Chuck is a married guy’s fantasy of bachelorhood - he drinks and smokes and whores around and doesn’t care what the wife says. He’s on a “marriage vacation”... and that is kind of David’s fantasy, isn’t it?

Big Chuck *symbolizes* David’s fantasy of being a single guy again, but still with the safety net of being married. He is an externalization of what David is thinking. You want to find the external and concrete visual way to show what’s going on in a character’s heart or mind - and Big Chuck is the kind of guy David wishes he was. That way, we can have David interact with his wish (instead of just having him think - which we can not see) and a great deal of comedy comes from the fantasy version being different than the reality version.

Something else that David and every other married man fantasizes about? Those hot single women out there! Big Chuck sets up a double date - setting up David with a hot single woman who will “show him a good time” (we all know what that means). But the fantasy is not the same as the reality - and David’s date is a loud uneducated bottle blonde who gulps champagne as if were water and smokes like a factory. You fantasize about slutty women and that’s what you get. What makes this scene great is that they are in a fancy restaurant (in contrast to the women) and guess who are a few tables over? Ann and Jefferson. So we get a direct comparison between David’s wife and the single woman David hopes to score with. Um, the sure thing never looked so bad!

This is also a good example of escalation of conflict within a scene. You think once David meets his date that things can't get worse. Then the date starts ordering half the menu. Then she's so loud and obnoxious that everyone in the restaurant is starring at them. Then Ann and Jefferson spot them. And it *keeps* getting worse!

There’s a great gag in this scene where David realizes that Ann is looking in his direction and moves his chair so that he seems to be sitting with the elegant woman at the next table... which works until her husband comes back. David ends up with a broken nose - which should be a good way to get the hell out of the restaurant... except his date used to date a boxer and knows all of the tricks for stopping a nose bleed. Right in the middle of the elegant restaurant. This is the date from hell! Instead of just being the bad situation, things keep happening that makes it worse and worse and worse - it's like Indiana Jones in the treasure cave in RAIDERS as a date! Just when you think it could never get any worse...

Does the conflict continue to escalate in your scenes. Once you have the bad situation, what are all of the things that make it worse?

Bellamys: One of the standard characters in a romantic comedy is the “Bellamy”, named after Ralph Bellamy from HIS GIRL FRIDAY. This is also a symbolic character - in a rom-com the couple splits up or maybe even has never been together in the first place... so how do you *show* that the love interest is *rejecting* the protagonist? At the end, how do you *show* that the love interest is *choosing* the protagonist? What you need is a romantic rival - someone who symbolizes a life for the love interest without the protagonist. Enter The Bellamy (which sounds like a really weird Kung Fu film). This is the guy or gal the love interest is either already engaged to or begins dating after the break up. A physical thing that gets in the protag’s way of winning the love interest back. The strangest Bellamy ever is Otto the blow up pilot in AIRPLANE! Usually it is someone who is the opposite of the protagonist in some way.

Where David in MR. & MRS. SMITH is impulsive and passionate and his life is kind of a mess, Jefferson is conservative and well mannered and steady as a rock. Jefferson will put Ann on a pedestal and treat her like a lady - always polite and quiet and calm. He symbolizes a relationship for Ann that is quiet and safe and predictable. The opposite of David. This takes a decision that is in Ann’s head: wild passion or safe predictability, and puts it on screen where we can see it. Without the Jefferson character, we could not see what she was thinking. There is actually an early scene with Ann sitting in the center of the sofa with a man at either end verbally fighting for her.

The great thing about a Bellamy character is that it not only shows us the choices the love interest makes, it also brings out the character of the protagonist (and the Bellamy). It is easier to see how wild David is when we have Jefferson to compare him with. Jefferson is the perfect Southern gentleman, always opening doors, always polite, always quiet... and that helps to highlight David’s unpredictable behavior. There’s an early scene at the law office where David has neglected his work and Jefferson has been covering for him. Without Jefferson, we wouldn’t see how David was *supposed to be* at work. All of the wild passionate things that David does would just seem romantic without Jefferson to show us a different sort of romance that seems much more practical.

And that is the big choice Ann has to make: security or passion?

If You Know What I Mean Subtext: David doesn’t make that decision easy. He doesn’t understand how he became suddenly single. Sure, he admitted to Ann that he secretly wished he were single again, but now that he’s single the only thing he wants is to be married to Ann again... and she’s off with some other guy... and not just any other guy, his *business partner*! So he begins a series of schemes to get her back again.

One of the more amusing schemes is some “obvious subtext” - when David discovers that Jefferson plans on *marrying* Ann, and is going to introduce her to his very conservative Southern parents, David crashes the meeting. Jefferson’s parents do not know that Ann is David’s ex-wife (well, they were never actually married), and think this is just some woman their son is dating. So when David butts into the meeting, Jefferson’s parents introduce him to Ann... and he says they have already met...

Then begins a series of clever bits of dialogue that are designed to be misunderstood by Jefferson’s parents. David says he’s seen a great deal of Ann - implying that he’s seen her naked, yet never actually saying that. David talks about how Ann is great at serving breakfast in bed. Line after line! Everything seems innocent, but these lines are designed to lead the other person to jump to that guilty conclusion. It’s a strange sort of subtext, because we are meant to understand the hidden meaning, as are the other characters in the scene... yet nothing is said directly. Jefferson’s parents eventually grab their son and take him into the next room - the bathroom, for humor - and ask what sort of woman this Ann is... and what is her relationship to his business partner?

Jefferson manages to put out that fire... which leads to a vacation with Jefferson, his parents, and Ann in a ski lodge. And David follows them, and starts more schemes, eventually placing Ann in the position where she must make a choice between these two types of men, and these two specific men... and then David does something that causes Ann to raise her legs up and cross her skis.

Sound Track: Excellent! A great whimsical score by Edward Ward performed by human lips - whistling. The music adds to the film and never gets in the way of the film.

Though MR. & MRS. SMITH is not a typical Hitchcock film, it is a pretty good romantic comedy from that period and both Lombard and Montgomery are charming and fun. I thought this entry was going to be more painful to write than it was - I really enjoyed the movie. If you are a fan of old rom-coms, check it out.

- Bill




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

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


Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!


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

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

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

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

Click here for more info!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

THRILLER Thursday: The Fingers Of Fear

Fingers Of Fear

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

Season: 1, Episode: 22. Airdate: February. 21, 1961

Director: Jules Bricken
Writer: Robert Hardy Andrews (based on a story by Philip MacDonald)
Cast: Nehemiah Persoff, Robert Middleton, Ted DeCorsia, Thayer Roberts, Terry Burnham.
Music: Pete Rugolo.
Cinematography: Benjamin Kline.
Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “No one will wake that little girl ever again. She was the victim of the most reprehensible type of criminal. The child murderer. So long asx he stalks the streets unnoticed or lurks in the shadows near the playground, no little one is safe. He preys on the innocent and trusting child. Tonight we tell the story of a community in the clutches of just such a monster. All terrified of the fingers of fear, that’s the title of our play. Our leading players are: Mr. Nehemiah Persoff, Mr. Robert Middleton, Mr. Kevin Haven, and Mr. Thayer Roberts. Join us now for a desperate manhunt, a race against time where a lost hour or wasted minute might result in another vestial senseless killing.”

Synopsis: The story begins with a bunch of kids at recess playing volleyball, but one kids hits the ball too hard and it bounces across the street and into the bushes of the city park. The teacher Miss Spencer tells the kids that she’ll get the ball, because crossing the street might be dangerous. While searching the bushes for the ball, she finds a little girl’s shoe... then finds the little girl. Dead. Murdered by some fiend.

The newspaper headlines scream that this is the fifth little girl murdered, and has a sketch of some fat creepy dude who was seen in the park the night before. That creepy dude looks just like Ohrback (Robert Middleton) the dish washer in a greasy spoon diner. The cook Sid (H.M. Wynant) teases Ohrback about having a double...

At the scene, Detective Wagner (Nehemiah Persoff) and his team examine the evidence. They find a strange piece of curved porcelain with some blood on it.

Back at the police station, Wagner wants all of the forensic tests done ASAP. Meanwhile the Commissioner (Ted DeCorsia) pulls him aside and tells him they need this case solved yesterday because Amity is a tourist town and tourist season is coming up. (Okay, all of that is true except this isn’t Amity... but it’s the whole JAWS scenario for no real reason... when a madman is killing little girls, I guess that isn’t bad enough.) They discover the new victim had two different blood types on her body: hers, and a very rare blood type they believe belongs to the killer. All of the little girls have been killed with a very sharp knife...

Ohrback drives his beat up old black car to the lake, pulls out his knife and scabbard, and throws them both into the water... not knowing that a little boy is just out of sight fishing. The boy sneaks a look at the man and the car and then hides as Ohrback gets into his car and drives away. Then the boy dives into the water and recovers the knife.

Meanwhile Detective Wagner has a new witness, an upper middle class married businessman, who was at the park and saw the fat creepy dude who is on the front page of the newspaper... while he was, um, waiting for a friend. Oh, and he got the plate number of the creepy dude’s car and it’s...

Ohrback’s beat up old black car has the same license number. Ohrback paints his car a lighter color, drives it to a used car lot and swaps it for another car. Then he goes to a cinema where his pal Zimmer (Dick Wessel) works as a projectionist and tells him he was playing hooky from work and needs an alibi for his boss. Zimmer agrees to help him.

Detective Wagner finds out who sold the knife and that gets him to Ohrback at the diner... where he beats the living hell out of Ohrback. This is the killer of all of those little girls, and Detective Wagner has a little girl. After more than enough punches, Wagner’s men pull him off of Ohrback.

They do a line up for the boy and the businessman... and both ID Ohrback.

But here’s the problem: Ohrback does not have that rare blood type. The Commissioner (and everyone else) says forget the details that don’t fit... we’ve got the killer.

Wagner goes home, hugs his daughter Kathy (Betsy Hale) and then forbids her from going to the park with her friend Joan (Terry Burnham). He’s afraid they may have arrested the wrong man. In fact, he decides to go back to the police station...

Detective Wagner and little Joan leave the house at the same time. Wagner gets in his car and drives to the police station... and Joan walks to the park, where a man in a car asks her if she likes dolls... he has a doll that is a princess, and she even laughs (when you pull a string). Joan is fascinated by the laughing doll... and gets in the car with Merriman (Thayer Roberts) the *real* serial killer of little girls.

Wagner takes that strange piece of porcelain they found at the crime scene to a doll store, where it perfectly matches the foot of a very expensive imported doll that laughs when you pull a string on its back. They have only sold 3 of them... one was sold to the parents of the first little girl murdered. From here the story cross cuts between Detective Wagner tracking down clues and Merriman in the park with little Joan and the doll.

Wagner takes a doll and a police psychiatrist to the jail to interrogate Ohrback. Ohrback says he hates little boys because they make fun of him, but really likes little girls because they are kind to him... but has never had a doll like that. He had a teddy bear... but a man did something terrible to his teddy bear... and that made him cry. Ohrbach did see a man with a doll like that at the park the night he was there...

Is Ohrback a *witness* rather than the killer? The police psychiatrist thinks that’s possible.

Meanwhile, in the park, Merriman is getting really creepy with little Joan... he's watching her eat hot dogs, pushing her on a swing, and other things that just plain wrong.

Detective Wagner goes to Mrs. Salerno’s (Nina Varela) Doll Repairs and gets the clue to who brought in the expensive imported doll with the broken foot... not a man, but a little girl. They go to the little girl’s house, where her mother says they don’t own a doll like that... but the little girl says that the man across the street Mr. Merriman has a beautiful doll like that, and when the doll was hurt, Mr. Merriman asked her to take it to the doll hospital for him. They get the call little Joan has been reported missing by her parents, and Wagner says that she was at his house just a few hours ago! She’s his daughter’s best friend!

Just as creepy Merriman is getting ready to do really nasty things to cute little Joan, and is walking with her into a wooded area of the park... School Teacher Miss Spencer leads a class out of the wooded area on some sort of field trip, and Joan runs away from Merriman to say hello to the teacher. When Joan explains she’s here with an adult man who has a very pretty doll, Miss Spencer decides to check this guy out... and Merriman and his doll run the heck away.

Detective Wagner and his men go to Merriman’s house and find him talking to his doll... and they arrest him. He has that rare blood type, and he’s the real killer.

Review: A pretty good episode, and kind of shocking subject matter for a TV show. Even today it’s kind of rough to watch the scenes with the child killer and the little girl. There’s some real suspense built in the cross cutting between Wagner trying to find the clues to the killer and Merriman and Joan in the park.

Ohrback is played by Robert Middleton, who stars in my favorite THRILLER episode GUILLOTINE, which we will get to in a few weeks. He specialized in huge creepy guys, and played the most violent of the escaped convicts in THE DESPERATE HOURS... and the police chief in THE BIG COMBO. One of those character actors who was in everything, and has at least *fifteen* other credits in the year this episode was made! The great thing about Middleton’s performance is that you really feel sorry for this guy... even though you also are pretty sure he’s killing little girls. Being able to play both creepy *and* sympathetic seems almost impossible, but he does a great job of making us hope he isn’t the killer (even though we’re pretty sure he is).

Nehemiah Persoff is interesting casting: he’s a serious actor in films like ON THE WATERFRONT and THE HARDER THEY FALL and Hitchcock’s THE WRONG MAN... so playing this Dirty Harry like relentless and violent cop is kind of shocking. I’m sure as an actor, he loved getting the chance to totally lose it and beat the crap out of the suspect. As an actor, he’s great in the role (he’s great in everything).

One of the elements of the episode that is interesting is the focus on the procedural aspects of police work, parts of this show would seem at home on CSI. Even when they match the broken piece of the doll to the discarded doll leg at Mrs. Salerno’s Doll Repairs the camera focuses on how perfectly they fit together. The episode is filled with detectives looking into microscopes at blood samples and even the police psychiatrist (whose analysis is kind of lame) is all about the use of science to capture criminals... and works in contrast with those moments where Detective Wagner goes ape shit and starts beating on someone.

I also like how our prime suspect, who acts suspicious as can be... is innocent. Other nice touches are that married businessman who was waiting for his, um, friend in the park in the middle of the night (you wonder how many people back in 1961 wondered if the friend was male or female) and even the cook in the diner who just verbally tortures Ohrback is a great throw away character. He makes you feel sorry for the big guy... who may be a child killer.

This is a big cast, and all of the characters get their moments to shine. In two scenes the actress who plays Mrs. Salerno makes an impact. The movie projectionist character who is just an alibi is well written and well played (Guys like us are always getting into trouble) and you get a picture of his life outside the story. The teacher is in two scenes and seems like a real person. The actress who plays Joan was also in the MARK OF THE HAND episode as the kid who may be a killer does a better job here with probably less to work with. Hey, she was a few months older.

Though this isn’t one of those great episodes that everyone talks about, it’s a solid entry in the show. You wish it had been expanded into a feature (because there are places where they could have stretched the suspense even further). You could colorize this and slide it into the CSI rotation and no one would guess it was made in 1961.


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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Book Report: The GREAT WAY Trilogy

The Great Way Trilogy by Harry Connolly

May contain light spoilers... but I also may lie about who survives, so there!


Best Movie Ever Made

My friend Harry Connolly (20 PALACES novels) has a new epic trilogy and the last book was released yesterday... but I have already read it along with it’s brother and sister. Harry’s first 20 PALACES novel CHILD OF FIRE was one of Publisher’s Weekly’s 100 Best Books Of 2009 and got a starred review. The first novel in this new series also got a great starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, so you don’t have to take my word for it’s quality. It kicks ass.

My plan with the first book, THE WAY INTO CHAOS, was to read a chapter or two every night before going to sleep, except every danged chapter ends with a cliffhanger and you end up reading the next chapter and the next chapter and the next chapter and suddenly it is 4am and you realize you have to work the next day (well, that same day), and... There’s a chapter that ends with the hero falling off a flying boat into a city overrun with monsters! How are we expected to just set the book down and falll asleep? Impossible!

There are two protagonists, and if you pay attention to the art next to the chapter number you’ll know which this chapter is about.

“Tyr” Tejohn is a legendary warrior without a war, who ends up with a cushy palace job as weapons instructor and bodyguard to the slacker Prince. A good thing, because age has crept up on Tejohn and his knees and eyesight aren’t what they once were. But he still has his hands full, the Prince would rather get drunk and cause trouble. When the Empire suddenly falls to an unknown enemy (monsters they call “grunts” who hunt, kill & eat humans), Tejohn must get the Prince and his slacker friends to safety... but what if there is no safety?

Cazia is one of the Prince’s slacker friends, a spoiled teenaged sorcery student who may be the last survivor who knows how to cast spells. She and Tejohn don’t like each other, but both are sworn to protect the Prince. So we have our sword and our sorcery... in a world which has suddenly gone to hell. All of the characters are fully formed flesh and blood people and the world created is complex and fascinating. I particularly liked how before the fall of the empire, the ability to sing a song that tugs the heartstrings of the audience is more valuable than gold. The book also does a great job of giving both male and female characters equal time, so whether you’re looking for epic battle scenes with an aging warrior or a magical story about a teen sorceress learning how to use her powers with the fate of the world at stake, this book has you covered.

Publisher’s Weekly called it “immersive, thrilling, and elf-free epic fantasy”, and even though this is epic fantasy, the story is more like King Arthur and Merlin than Lord Of The Rings. The magic is logical and well grounded: one of the handful of spells turns air into water... which might even be possible through science. In other words: I had no trouble believing any of it even though I’m more into crime fiction these days. Oh, and though there is violence there is no sex of any kind. This is something I might have read as a teenager.


Best Movie Ever Made

The second book in the trilogy is my favorite, it’s the EMPIRE STRIKES BACK of the trilogy. That’s not to imply there are singing teddy bears who live in a tree house city in the third book (though there are talking alligators in a log city at the bottom of a lake, but they’re scary as hell!). Tejohn our warrior and Cazia our apprentice sorceress split up on two different missions to try to save whatever’s left of their world... and both face darkness within that they never knew existed.

Tejohn travels across the ravaged land to find the Prince’s wizard uncle who may know a spell that can save mankind from the grunts... before there isn’t any mankind left to save. Now that the empire has dissolved, his status is no longer currency and he finds himself struggling to survive as a commoner (and worse). In the past he could roll into a city and they would give him the best room and meals and anything else he wanted, he was a “Tyr”... now that his privilege is gone he must pay for everything in labor (which doesn’t get him much). Plus, all of the kingdoms which were in alliance as the Empire are now fighting among themselves, and Tejohn speaks the language of the enemy. No shortage of battles... and Tejohn comes to realize frightening truths about himself that he never wanted to know.

Cazia leads two other girls into the forbidden Valley Of Qorr, where monsters lurk... and perhaps the answers to where the grunts came from. Yes, girls. Not women. Cazia is only 15 years old, and with her is the preteen Princess Ivy who is betrothed to the Prince in an arranged marriage, plus a beautiful slave girl Kinz. The three go on an amazing adventure which could have been a full length novel in itself. When I was a kid MYSTERIOUS ISLAND was one of my favorite movies, and the Valley Of Qorr has all of the adventure and monsters of that film... or maybe of the Barsoom novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. It’s big fantasy adventure, and these three girls are challenged every step of the way. But just as Luke Skywalker learns about the darkside of The Force in EMPIRE, Cazia learns about the darkside of sorcery on this adventure... and it takes a toll that I will not spoil for you.

The great thing about these books is that *anyone* can die in them, and all of the characters are so well drawn that you care about even the minor characters. There’s an old woman traveling saleswoman who turns everything into a deal and has so much personality that she leaps off the page. Also, the world building continues in this book, and the details are amazing. The way an oxen herd is fed as it is on the move is impossible to forget. Oh, and note how fleshtone is part of the class system in this world... that’s kind of fun. One of the great things about all three books are the bits of mystery: in this book we discover that someone from the surprise attack on the castle in the first book has survived... but we don’t know who that is until it is revealed later in the book. Is it the King? The Queen? One of the other characters we grew to love who we thought died? Things like this help drive the story. The other great thing are the characters dealing with the dark sides... and throughout all three books the idea that everything they know is wrong. They see the world from their point of view, and when that world is destroyed they see things as they really are... which is often the opposite of what they believed it to be.

Though everything gets worse for our two heroes in this book, they get better for the reader!


Best Movie Ever Made

The final book continues to twist expectations. Tejohn and Cazia are reunited and find the Prince’s Master Sorcerer Uncle, who has extremely poor housekeeping skills. They develop the weapon that can kill the “grunts”, but now they need an army to go into battle and use that weapon. Problem is, soldiers are the first casualties in any war... and now they are left with farmers and children. Tejohn and Cazia try to round up an army: Tejohn at the Twofin Fortress where he knows there are a handful of good soldiers, and Cazia in the castle of her estranged father (which is far enough away from ground zero in the grunt attack that they may not have been attacked yet). Both find situations are not exactly as they seem, and must resolve these problems before they can put together any sort of army...

Once again, anyone can die in these books. There’s a character we come to love who doesn’t make it until the end of the book. That one shocked me, and I had to reread that scene because I just could not believe this person would die. Again, well drawn minor characters make the whole story seem real. There are a bunch of old women servants to the Master Sorcerer Uncle who both love and hate their jobs, and we completely understand each of them. Because the story pushes forward, there are also characters who kind of get left behind (like Kinz) who I really want to spend more time with. The side effect of well drawn characters is that you don’t want them to die or have their subplot stories end.

The other thing that drives this final chapter is the question: why? Why did the grunts attack now? Where did they come from? What do they want (other than to eat people)? And who is behind all of this? These answers are the real solution to the conflict, because if they can find out *why* they can prevent it from happening again. This requires Tejohn and Cazia to form some strange alliances in order to get information... like those scary as hell alligators in their log city. The alligators (Lakeboys) regularly feed on humans, so you are never sure if they are working with Tejohn and Cazia to save themselves from the grunts... or if they are just preparing dinner.

One of the interesting things about this book is a chapter that plays like a scene from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. I know that sounds crazy, but there is a scene in this book that has the same feel as that trippy light show end of the Kubrick film. This plays into the idea that everything we know is wrong... that we see the world around us through our eyes and we may not see the truth (which is more complicated). Sometimes we think it’s all about us, when really it has nothing to do with us... we’re just so vain we think that we are the center of the world when we don’t really matter that much. Though these are sword and sorcery fantasy novels filled with sword fights and intrigue, they also have characters who are forced to reevaluate their lives and a story that might make the reader stop and think about our world here on Earth (where we don’t have as many sword fights or giant birds).

I finished reading the third book a few days ago, and I already miss Tejohn and Cazia and Princess Ivy and Kinz. I felt as if I went of this epic adventure with them... and I want to go on another one!

(click on any of the covers above for more info on Amazon!)


Monday, October 17, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: October Country

Lancelot Link Monday! It's actually fall in Los Angeles. The temperatures have dropped from the 100s, to the 90s to 70s! Where did I put my swaetshirt? Today it's overcast and we've even had some rain... it must be October! The time when pumpkins show up in grocery stores and Halloween decorations spring up. My favorite time of the year - not summer hot nor winter cold. Just right. And Halloween is a great "holiday" - a time of imagination and make believe, when adults even put on silly costumes and play let's pretend. I often wonder why we "grow out of" pretending and playing... aren't these the things that keep us young? Keep us *interesting*? Keep us having fun? 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 The Accountant ................. $24,715,000
2 Kevin Hart...................... $11,984,245
3 Girl Train!..................... $11,974,915
4 M. Peregrine..................... $8,900,000
5 Deepwater........................ $6,350,000
6 Storks........................... $5,600,000
7 Magnificent...................... $5,200,000
8 Middle School.................... $4,250,000
9 Sully............................ $2,960,000
10 Birth............................ $2,715,000

Box office is still breaking records even before that STAR WARS movie that comes at the end of the year. We are 3.4% above this time last year, 9.5% over 2014, 4.7% over 2013, 5.1% over 2012 and 9.5% over 2011... and this week's top film is about an *accountant*!

2) Specialty Box Office - What Indie Films Sold Tickets?

3) Ang Lee OPn BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK And Hyper Realistic Images.


5) For Your Consideration: Universal's Oscar Bait Screenplays In Legal PDF For You!

6) Darren Aronofsky On His Writing Pricess.

7) The Screenwriter Of SULLY Explains His Process.

8) TV Showrunners Survey.

9) Amblin Finds Chinese Funding... What Does This Mean?

10) The CIA's Sabotage Manual... For Real!

11) Jim Jarmusch's 5 Must See Movies (one is my gavorite!) (Two others are also favorites of mine!)

12) How Hollywood *Really* Works.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

Another film about an accountant!


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Thursday, October 13, 2016

THRILLER Thursday: Choose A Victim


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

Season: 1, Episode: 19.
Airdate: January 24, 1961

Director: Richard Carlson
Writer: George Bellak
Cast: Larry Blyden, Susan Oliver, Vaughn Taylor, Billy Barty, Tracey Roberts.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Producer: Maxwell Shane

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “What the young man is touching is the rotor of her beautiful expensive sports car, without which it will never start. The first gambit by Ralphie Teal, who feels that the world is his oyster. Whose tastes are becoming very expensive. And who knows, if the only way he can satisfy those tastes is for him to Choose A Victim, the title of tonight’s story. Our leading players are Mr. Larry Blyden, Miss Susan Oliver, Mr. Vaughn Taylor, and Miss Tracy Roberts. And as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, you’ll find it puzzling to choose the victim of tonight’s macabre events. You may find yourself grossly mislead, possibly surprised, but we do hope that you enjoy this thriller.”

Synopsis: Past his pull date beach bum Ralphie Teal (Larry Blyden) imagines himself a player... he may hang out with his main squeeze Fay (Tracey Roberts) who works at the beach’s boardwalk arcade, but he’s always scanning the girls on the beach for fresh talent. When Edith Landers (Susan Oliver) pulls up in a sports car and steps out in a bathing suit, Ralphie comes up with a scheme. He pulls the rotor cap from the sports car and waits for Edith to return. When he car doesn’t start, he has her pop the hood... tells her the engine is flooded and she’ll have to wait a half hour before trying to start it again, and he knows a great little coffee shop around the corner. During that half hour he hits on her *hard*, trying to create an instant relationship with this wealthy young woman. Oh, she has jewelry in her purse which catches Ralphie’s eyes. He waits to make sure his car starts right up (he’s replaced the rotor cap) and comes up with a plan for their next meeting.

The next day she drives up to the beach again, and Ralphie goes down to the sand to flirt with her. He invites her back to his little beachfront apartment for coffee... and she says yes. Somewhere in here Fay knocks at the door and Ralphie gets rid of her, but Fay starts to become supicious and jealous. Edith tells Ralphie that her parents died and left her a fortune, but her mean Uncle is the executor and has her on an allowance and is always after her to settle down and get married to someone in her social strata. She’ll never have any fun as long as her Uncle is around. When she leaves, Ralphie asks if he can hitch a ride, because his car is being repaired near where she lives (this makes absolutely no sense, but she agrees).

At the mansion where she lives, Ralphie gets out and insists on walking to the car repair place (which probably doesn’t exist). When she goes inside the house, Ralphie takes note of the address and security measures.

Edith’s mean Uncle (Vaughn Taylor) gives her a lecture when she comes inside. He is kind of a pain in the butt...

Fay wants to go out with Ralphie, but he says he’s got something to do... Dressed in all black, wearing black gloves, he slides a big glittering knife into his pocket.

That night, while Edith sleeps, Ralphie breaks into her bedroom looking for all of those jewels in her purse: a diamond bracelet and necklace. She wakes up! Ralphie puts his hand over her mouth and his big glittering knife to her throat. When the wind blows the closet door shut, mean Uncle asks if Edith is okay, and she says she’s fine... and *doesn’t* tell him that Ralphie is in her room. She even lets Ralphie leave (without jewelry) and tells him to meet her tomorrow under the boardwalk.

The next day, Edith tells Ralphie that they must not be seen together because her mean Uncle will get mad... and Ralphie agrees, since he doesn’t want Fay to find out he’s cheating on her. Edith gives Ralphie a very expensive cigarette lighter and some other gifts, and begins planting the idea that they could be together in her mansion if only mean Uncle would drop dead. It takes a while for Ralphie to catch on, and suggest that maybe they should *help* her Uncle drop dead somehow.

Ralphie comes up with a plan. Uncle often drives on a winding cliffside road into town to drink at a luxurious bar... and drives back over that dangerous road when drunk. They can stop him at a particularly dangerous curve, Ralphie will tell him his car has broken down, and while Uncle is distracted, Edith can ram his car over the cliff with Ralphie’s car. When Uncle leaves the house, she’s to call the payphone at the arcade and let it ring 2 times then hang up. No completed call means it can’t be traced by the police later on. But Ralphie will hear it, come and pick up Edith, and they will wait on that dangerous curve for Uncle to return drunk...

Fay wants to go out with Ralphie when the phone rings, and he has to stop the Arcade Boss (Billy Barty) from answering. Two rings, then nothing. Ralphie says he’s busy and splits.

Ralphie and Edith wait in the dark car until Uncle’s car drives up, and Ralphie gets out and stops it. He has to keep talking to Uncle while Edith puts the car in gear and rams Uncle’s car... be she never does. Uncle drives off and Ralphie blows up at Edith. She says she just couldn’t do it. Ralphie realizes he’ll have to do it himself, and it’s probably best for Edith to be somewhere public getting an alibi.

There’s a bit of suspense that doesn’t work, when after Edith calls the arcade phone booth and lets it ring twice, Uncle ends up loaning his car to a friend and she must stop Ralphie for killing the wrong man, but eventually it’s Ralphie and Mean Uncle on that dangerous curve, and Mean Uncle goes over the cliff (where his car, like a good movie or TV car, explodes for no apparent reason on its way down). Mean Uncle is dead and Ralphie and Edith can live happily ever after in her mansion.

When Ralphie gets back to his apartment, he find Edith waiting there for him! She was supposed to be somewhere establishing an alibi! But she says she was worried and wanted to make sure it went well. There’s some kissing, and then Edith leaves so that she’ll be home when the police come to tell her about the terrible accident. But when Edit leaves, she forgets one of her gloves.

Next morning, Ralphie is awoken by pounding on his door: the police! Detective Hazlett (Guy Mitchell) says they need to take him downtown for questioning.

Detective Hazlett and others interrogate him, they *know* he killed mean Unlce. But how? They search him and find: Mean Uncle’s cigarette lighter and wallet! Ralphie claims the lighter is his, a gift! Has no idea where the wallet came from. Then call in Edith and she I.D.s him as the creep who kept hitting on her at the beach and might have followed her home once. Ralphie keeps insisting that they have a relationship, but Edith asks the police why a woman like her would ever date a beach bum like him. Makes no sense at all. The police believe her, and she walks out... leaving Ralphie in line for the electric chair while she no longer has a mean Uncle.

On the street in front of the Police Station she goes to put on her gloves... and can only find one! She left the other at Ralphie’s apartment! When she goes to break in and retrieve it, she spots *Fay* breaking into Ralphie’s apartment, looking for evidence of his cheating... and Fay find the glove! Edith follows Fay, waiting for a chance to steal the glove back. Fay goes to work, where the Arcade Manager tells her that Ralphie was arrested for murder. Fay can’t believe this. Ralphie is a cheater and a thief, but not a killer! When Fay sets the glove down on the counter and goes to the back of the arcade, Edith moves quickly to snatch up the glove... But Detective Hazlett gets there first. He smelled Edith’s expensive perfume on Ralphie’s clothes, and wondered if maybe Ralphie was telling the truth about Edith being in on the murder. They slap the cuffs on Edith and haul her away.

Review: This is the kind of story you would find on ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, and has some great twists and nice possibilities for suspense... but it just doesn’t deliver. The suspense scenes don’t seem to work, even though you can clearly see that they were written to work. The director, Richard Carlson, was an actor who had directed some TV episodes by this time, but seems not to have the skill set to shoot a suspense scene. On a show like HITCHCOCK every episode was suspense based, so they hired directors who could do that, and if you were a director hired for the show you know that’s what they needed from you. THRILLER was so erratic that a director may have been originally considered for one of the more dramatic episodes and then end up doing a horror episode or a suspense episode. The scene where Ralphie breaks in to Edith’s bedroom has her asleep in the background, which is a suspense situation... but it comes off flat and kind of boring. It’s Ralphie looking for the bracelet and necklace with no real possibility of being caught... even though you can see that possibility is how the writer intended the scene to work. Every scene that seems to be written for suspense comes off kind of dull. When Ralphie has to keep talking to mean Uncle as he waits for Edith to ram the car is just a talk scene... when it was obviously written to be nail biting suspense as he must keep talking and talking. So the episode is bland.

Also, Larry Blyden seems miscast. I don’t know his career, but he seems more light a light comedy guy... that funny next door neighbor in a sitcom... than a sleazy beach bum / thief. Though both women are attractive, this is James M. Cain territory and Edith seems particularly non sexy for a femme fatale. I have no idea whether that was a censorship issue or more bland direction, but for a hot woman in a bathing suit she comes off cold in scene after scene. The actress Susan Oliver had a career playing vamps, so it’s not like she didn’t know how to do that... it was someone else’s choice.

Again, because this is a Pete Rugolo score, I wonder if this wasn’t an earlier episode held until later to make room for good ones like HUNGRY GLASS?


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