Showing posts with label Shadow of a Doubt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shadow of a Doubt. Show all posts

11 October 2016

Killing Me Softly With Your Song…or Anything Else You Have Handy

by Paul D. Marks

As mystery/thriller writers, we know there are certainly a lot of ways to kill someone. As Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin), says in “Cat Ballou”: “Guns, bottles, fists, knives, clubs - all the same to me. All the same to you?”

But let’s face it – been there, done that – and these are pretty mundane and ordinary ways to off someone. If you want to kill someone in an interesting and unique way, especially if you’re a character in a movie or book, you have to let the creative juices flow, like Herb Hawkins (Hume Cronyn) and Joseph Newton (Henry Travers) do in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (even if not in script format or what ended up in the film):   

     
Herb (Cronyn): You folks are getting pretty stylish. Having dinner later every evening.
Joe (Travers): Ha ha!
Herb:  l-l picked some mushrooms.
Joe: You don't say?
Herb: Mushrooms mean anything to you, Joe?
Joe: I eat 'em on my steak when I'm out and the meat's not good enough as it is.
Herb: If I brought you some mushrooms, would you eat 'em?
Joe: Suppose I would. Why?
Herb: Then I've got it. The worst I'd be accused of would be manslaughter. Doubt if I'd get that.   Accidental death, pure and simple. A basket of good mushrooms and...two or three poisonous              ones.
     Joe: No, no. Innocent party might get the poisonous ones. I thought of something better 
     when I was shaving. A bath tub. Pull the legs out from under you, hold you down. 
     Young Charlie (Teresa Wright): Oh, what's the matter with you two? Do you always have to 
     talk about killing people?
     Joe: We're not talking about killing people. Herb's talking about killing me, 
     and I'm talking about killing him.
     Mrs. Newton/Emmy (Patricia Collinge): Charlie, it's your father's way of relaxing.
     Young Charlie: Can't he find some other way to relax? Can't we have a little peace and quiet 
     without dragging in poisons all the time? 
     Mrs. Newton: Charlie! She doesn’t ' t make sense talking like that. I'm worried about her.

***

Of course, there’s always poison. Sure it’s been done before, but what hasn’t. So maybe get creative with it like this bit from The Court Jester:

    Hawkins (Danny Kaye): I've got it! I've got it! The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the             pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true! Right?
    Griselda (Mildred Natwick): Right. But there's been a change: they broke the chalice from the                 palace!
    Hawkins: They *broke* the chalice from the palace?
    Griselda: And replaced it with a flagon.
    Hawkins: A flagon...?
    Griselda: With the figure of a dragon.
    Hawkins: Flagon with a dragon.
    Griselda: Right.
    Hawkins: But did you put the pellet with the poison in the vessel with the pestle?
    Griselda: No! The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon! The vessel with the pestle        has the brew that is true!
    Hawkins: The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon; the vessel with the pestle has          the brew that is true.
    Griselda: Just remember that.

Uh, okay.

***

So let’s talk about some creative ways to kill someone, though this list will hardly be complete.
And here’s a starter list of many fun, fab and creative ways to die as found in movies:

Poison string – James Bond
Light Saber – Star Wars
Captive Bolt Pistol – No Country for Old Men
Painted to death (gold, of course) – Goldfinger
Odd Job’s Hat – Goldfinger / James Bond
Chain Saw – American Psycho and, of course, The Texas Chainsaw Murders
Infection – Night of the Living Dead, V for Vendetta
Getting stomped to death by Ryan Gosling – Drive
Getting shower rodded to death by Ryan Gosling – Drive
(I could just list all the killings in Drive here and have a pretty good list…)
Getting stabbed to death by an ear of corn – Sleepwalkers
Wood chippered – Fargo
Getting raked to death - Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers
Getting skulled by a Louisville Slugger – the Untouchables
Getting blasted from a cancer gun – Videodrome
Getting run over by Bozo – Toxic Avenger
Sliced and diced and decapitated by flying glass – The Omen
Getting impaled by a stalactite – Cliffhanger
Luca Brasi getting garroted in The Godfather
Steak-boned to death – Law Abiding Citizen

And let’s not forget the multitude of “fun” deaths in the Saw movie series with its mélange of creative and grisly deaths: http://sawfilms.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_deaths

This list of creative mayhem is by no means exhaustive nor complete. It’s barely the tip of the iceberg – in fact, I’m sure someone was iceberged to death in the movies…like in Titanic.

             
Oscar Wilde puts it pretty well in The Ballad Of Reading Gaol:

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword.

So what are some your favorite ways to off someone that you’ve read about or seen in a movie? Hmm…

***

Please check out my story Deserted Cities of the Heart in Akashic’s recently released St. Louis Noir.




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14 January 2013

Doubt

by Janice Law

When I was reading a review of a new biography of Thornton Wilder, I came across the information that he had collaborated with Mrs. Hitchcock, among others, on the screenplay for the great Shadow of a Doubt. Any who do not know this classic psychological suspense movie from 1943 are in for a treat. It’s Hitchcock at his bland, safe, suburban best (but don’t you relax for a minute) and Joseph Cotton is perfect as the visiting relative who may, or may not, be a lady-killing serial  murderer.

Thoughts of Shadow of a Doubt led me to think about the importance of doubt in mysteries in general. Sure, we tend to think of mysteries as the genre of certainty. Detectives spend their time trying to establish the perpetrator to prosecutors’ satisfaction, and much of the pleasure of the genre rests in a tidy wind up with a ‘sure thing’ result.

But on the way to certainty, doubt can be a very useful device and one that produces a maximum amount of painful reflection and anxiety in the characters it afflicts. Young Charlie in Shadow loves her uncle, enjoys his company, and appreciates the whiff of big city sophistication he brings to sleepy Santa Rosa. The arrival of a detective with suspicions arouses first, her indignation, then her suspicion, and finally a realization that all is not right with her beloved uncle.

I’ve used a similar progression twice in novels. In Night Bus, the heroine must decide if she is paranoid or if her husband and sister-in-law are really plotting against her. This is an admittedly venerable story line but a useful variant of the much-favored ‘woman in jeopardy’. In Voices, the shoe is on the other foot. A family must decide if the earnest and vulnerable young woman who comes to call really is their long lost child or a deluded (or larcenous) intruder.

Doubt in short stories presents a greater challenge than in novels because everything must unfold quickly, preferably, as close as possible to the climax of the action. Nonetheless, I’ve tried stories with a high doubt quotient several times. In The Armies of the Night, a return to her old home forces the narrator to confront fearful, but hitherto suppressed, suspicions. In The Helpful Stranger, a woman is caught between her natural courtesy and a fear that the helpful stranger with his offer of a ride has another, more sinister, agenda.

I found these fun to do, especially The Helpful Stranger where I was able to combine rising doubt with a reversal of the two character’s roles. But in every case, doubt adds another layer to suspense. Someone pursued about an old dark house by a bad guy lives in straight-forward terror. But someone who is uncertain whether to be wary of a companion is in a different, more complex place, where fear of bodily harm is enhanced by fear of making a crucial social gaffe. The latter is often a feature of older UK mysteries, Eric Ambler making good use of it in Journey into Fear for one.

Film buffs and mystery fanatics will undoubtedly have a long list of stories with ambiguous characters and doubtful situations – Gaslight and Notorious come instantly to mind. But one of the great masters of doubt is neither a mystery writer nor a filmmaker. Nathaniel Hawthorne summed up the psychology of doubt as well as anyone: “Blessed are all simple emotions,” he wrote in Rappaccini’s Daughter, “be they dark or bright! It is the lurid intermixture of the two that produces the illuminating blaze of the internal regions."

This is literally so in perhaps his greatest story, Young Goodman Brown. Young Brown ventures out to the night woods (bad idea) to attend a witches’ Sabbath (worse idea) for just this once (one of the few things my students understood immediately about this tale). He meets a stranger who strongly resembles his father, but neither Goodman Brown nor the reader has any doubt that this is the Prince of Darkness or, as the old Calvinists termed him, the Old Deceiver.

Rather, Brown’s doubt turns out to be of a fundamental and existential nature. Should he believe the fantastic events in the forest, the evidence of his senses? Should he conclude that his neighbors are all bound to the devil and only he has escaped damnation? Or is the deception the other way around, and is he the one, who, succumbing to momentary temptation, has had his life, his faith, and his happiness destroyed by the devil?

Now that is doubt with a capital D.