Tuesday, May 28, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Birds (1963) - The "Cute Meet" Feeling

[Quick Summary: After a San Francisco socialite follows a man to a seaside town, she is attacked by birds.]

The Birds is horror, right?

I ask because it has a GOOD "cute meet" rom-com scene at the beginning:

- Melanie, the spoiled socialite, is in a pet store buying a bird.

- Mitch, a stranger, asks for her help.

- Melanie is annoyed he thinks she is a clerk, but she plays along.

- He asks to see a bird. She pretends to know what she's doing. A bird gets loose. Chaos.

- Mitch pulls the rug from under Melanie.

- He walks off, and leaves her hanging.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: What sparks! What romance!  I longed for them to be together.

This is how a "cute meet" should leave us feeling. 

The Birds (1963)
by Evan Hunter
Based on the novel "Birds" by Daphne Du Maurier

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: Vertigo (1958) - How to Twist in (Late) Act 2

[Quick Summary: A detective-turned-p.i., is hired to follow a wife who is reliving a family curse.]

A few days ago, I watched a recent thriller with a late Act 2 twist.

The twist was a humdinger (fine) and unbelievably crazy (ok by me).

Unfortunately, it was barely based in character, and seemed to be tacked on as a shocker.  THAT was unacceptable.

So how did Hitchcock set up a late Act 2 twist?  Let's check out Vertigo:

Madeline (the wife) dies about 2/3 in the script.

(This is not a surprise.  She's obsessed over Carlotta's death, look, grave, etc.)

The twist has several steps:
- Madeline dies.
- Scottie (the p.i.) is brokenhearted, but one day he sees Judy in Madeline's old room. [This keeps Madeline alive.]
- Scottie confronts Judy, and learns she has been living there for 3 years. [The Madeline mystery deepens, though she's dead.]
- Scottie begins to date Judy. [Is Scottie moving on?]
- Judy isn't who we think she is. [Scottie is in for a stun in Act 3.]

Why this works:
-  Acts 1-2 established Madeline's mysterious behaviors.  Late Act 2-3 clarifies them through Judy.
- The twist reveals Madeline's CHARACTER. This is no time for a plot point just to include a cool CGI effect.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: A good late twist reveals more character.

A bad late twist is often more about the twist than the character.

Vertigo (1958)
by Alec Coppel & Samuel Taylor
Based on the novel "d'Entre les Morts" by Pierre Boileau & Thomas Narcejac

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) - Location, Location, Location

[Quick Summary: An innocent mistake pulls a tourist into an international assassination plot.]

As far as Hitchcock scripts go, this wasn't my favorite.

But I would like to mention the ballsy choice of set pieces:

- French Morocco
- Savoy's Hotel
- taxidermist shop
- Royal Albert Hall
- Moroccan embassy

Hitchcock plays with the audience's expectations of these locations.

When unexpected things happen in dignified locations, it's quite a startling contrast.

ex. Jimmy Stewart tracks the kidnapper...to a taxidermy shop (?!)
ex. Jimmy then finds the head conspirator...preaching in a pulpit (?!!)
ex. Doris Day sings at the Moroccan embassy while her son is captive upstairs.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The locations impacted me more subconsciously than I'd realized.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
by John Michael Hayes

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: To Catch a Thief (1955) - When Sparks Fly

[Quick Summary: A retired cat thief is framed for burglaries he didn't commit.]

The One Thing I Liked the Least:
 - The script takes a long time to get going.

The One Thing I Liked the Most:
- Francie is a strong lead who pins Robie from the very beginning.

She knows what she wants + invites interaction with Robie = Romantic fireworks

ex. "I've been waiting all day for you to mention that kiss I gave you last night."
ex.  "The kind of man I want doesn't have a price."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Francie takes no prisoners, and Robie bobs and weaves like a champ. They're equally matched, i.e., sparks fly.

FYI: The Francie-Robie exchange on p. 51-52 is a good read.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

by John Michael Hayes




Wednesday, May 1, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: Strangers on a Train (1950) - One Reason to Drop a Plot Line from a Book

[Quick Summary: On a train, a man with a problematic wife meets a stranger who offers to kill the wife -- if the man will kill the stranger's father.]

In the book, Guy meets a stranger on a train called Bruno.

Bruno agrees to kill Guy's wife, and Guy will kill Bruno's father.

However, in the script, Guy refuses, but Bruno kills Guy's wife anyway.

For the rest of the story, Bruno insists that Guy hold up his end of the "agreement."

Why doesn't the script include the double murder?

I'm not sure, but only one murder does dial up the psychological pressure on Guy.

ex. Bruno feels justified about invading Guy's social circle to drop hints.

ex. Guy cannot tell the police, so Bruno has eternal leverage over Guy.

ex. Bruno needs Guy to act immediately, which increases the urgency.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Hitchcock seems to have favored more tension here over a second murder plot line.

Strangers on a Train (1950)
by Raymond Chandler & Czenzi Ormonde
Adapted from the novel by Patricia Highsmith