Monday, December 5, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Playback (Raymond Chandler's Unknown Thriller) - Danger Looms

[Quick Summary: Woman on the run meets a charming man on a train to Canada, but becomes suspect #1 when he ends up dead.]

In 1948, Universal Pictures paid Chandler for this script, but never made it.*

It isn't the strongest script (for several reasons in the forward here).

However, I liked that the script knows exactly what it is, i.e., it is a thriller, and delivers the hallmarks of a thriller.

One hallmark is that danger looms for someone (usually the protagonist).

Chandler does a nice job of never letting it fade, even in a flirting scene:

ex. "MITCHELL: (to Betty) Would you care to see the Seattle paper?

Betty turns slowly, stares at him.

BETTY: No thanks. I've seen Seattle.
MITCHELL: My name's Larry MItchell. I live at Vancouver.

Betty says nothing.

MITCHELL: Same as an hour ago. Remember? I'm the steady type.
BETTY: (coldly) I'm afraid there's nothing I can do about it, Mr. Mitchell.

CAMERA NOW HAS MOVED IN CLOSE ENOUGH TO EXCLUDE THE OTHER ROOMETTES COMPLETELY.

MITCHELL: You could tell me your name. And where you're going.
BETTY: How far does this train go?
MITCHELL: Vancouver, B.C.
BETTY: I'm going to Vancouver, Mr. Mitchell.

She picks up a magazine adn opens it, ignoring him.

MITCHELL: O.K. Be rugged.

He turns, starts out, then looks back at her.

MITCHELL: You're next for the Immigration and Customs. I trust your papers are all in order.

Betty looks up quickly and cannot conceal a startled expression. Mitchell reacts. CAMERA PULLS BACK as he comes out into corridor, looks toward the roomette in which the officals are, then turns toward the next roomette and goes into it....

Canadian officials then go on to Betty's roomette, enter.

CANADIAN IMMIGRATION OFFICIAL: Your name, please.
BETTY: Betty -- Mayfield.

There is a perceptible hesitation which the immigration official notices.

OFFICIAL: Betty Mayfield. Miss or Mrs.?

Mitchell is seen in his roomette, standing near the door listening.

BETTY: Miss Mayfield.
OFFICIAL: And where were you born, Miss Mayfield?
BETTY: New York City.

The official is a little suspicious. He looks down at Betty's hands which are clasped in her lap.

OFFICIAL: I see you are wearing a wedding ring.
BETTY: I've been married. My husband -- (she breaks off and bites her lip)
INSPECTOR: Then I take it Mayfield was not your married name?

He is very polite, but is building up to asking for some identification papers. On this cue, Mitchell comes out of his roomette, crosses, enters Betty's roomette. CAMERA MOVES IN.

MITCHELL: I've wired ahead to --

He breaks off, turns to Inspector, recognizes him.

MITCHELL: Inspector Gillette, isn't it? I'm Larry Mitchell. We've met before, several times.

He takes out wallet adn holds it out to Inspector.

MITCHELL: I cross the border so often I carry an identification card.
INSPECTOR: (glancing at card) Yes, I remember you, Mr. Mitchell. (glancing at Betty) You know this lady?
MITCHELL: Very well. Since 1940, at least. I met her --let me see -- it was New York City, wasn't it, Betty?

Betty nods silently. Inspector turns back to her, handing Mitchell's wallet back.

INSPECTOR: (to Betty) How long do you expect to be in Canada, Miss Mayfield?
BETTY: Oh -- a month.
INSPECTOR: (making up his mind): Thank you. I hope you have a pleasant trip.

He turns away, starts out."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Thrillers are about keeping the tension cranking, even in the funny/romantic/quiet scenes.

Playback (Raymond Chandler's Unknown Thriller, published 1985)
by Raymond Chandler

*It was essentially "lost" until someone discovered it in the Universal archives in the 1980s.

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