Showing posts with label films. Show all posts
Showing posts with label films. Show all posts

11 July 2022

The Top Fifteen Crime Films of the 1930s

The Top Fifteen Crime Films of the 1930s

by William Burton McCormick

Lists are silly. After all, these things are highly subjective.

But, as a writer, the process of making lists can be useful. Analyzing why you like something in narrative form, why it works, and why it does not work, can clarify your understanding of storytelling techniques. At least, that’s my excuse for doing it.

My other excuses? Well, I’m a classic film fan for one and enjoy digging into this old stuff. Lastly, I have a story called “Myrna Loy Versus the Third Reich” in the July/August issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. That story is set in 1938 and includes references to the motion pictures of that era. So, I thought it might be enjoyable to review some of the crime films of the 1930’s. And having watched them, (many for the tenth time or so), why not list them based on my personal preference? It’s more fun (for me at least) than giving you a list in alphabetical or chronological order.

So, here in reverse order are my top fifteen crime films from the decade of the 1930’s. Why fifteen? Well, narrowing it down to ten was too hard and twenty would make this essay too long. Also, inside the crime genre I include mystery, detective, police, espionage, gangster films and even the odd adventure or dramatic film if a crime is central to the plot. Also, there are spoilers here, so if you haven’t seen a film on the list, you might decide if you want to skip that entry. Here we go!

15. Manhattan Melodrama (1934)
Childhood buddies, Jim Wade (William Powell) and Blackie Gallagher (Clark Gable) remain true friends, despite being professionally and romantically at odds. Jim is an incorruptible district attorney; Blackie is a mob owner of speakeasies and gambling dens throughout Manhattan. Both love dancer Eleanor Packer (Myrna Loy). When Blackie does Jim an unsolicited favor and rubs out a man who could ruin Jim, it is Jim himself who indicts Blackie and sends him to the chair. Despite the criminal conviction, and losing Eleanor to Jim, Blackie’s gangster is glad to see his friend for a tearful goodbye moments before his execution.

Manhattan Melodrama was the second of seven pairings between Loy and Gable and the first of fourteen pairings between Loy and Powell (released only three weeks before The Thin Man, both films were smash hits ensuring future collaborations.) Manhattan Melodrama was the picture Loy-fan John Dillinger was attending when ambushed and shot down by police in Chicago, July 22, 1934. Loy criticized her studio, Metro-Goldwyn Mayer, for capitalizing on publicity from the killing.

14. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
lfred Hitchcock’s first classic of the sound era (he’d already produced a silent standout in The Lodger in 1927), The Man Who Knew Too Much tells the story of British couple Bob and Jill Lawrence (Leslie Banks and Edna Best) in Switzerland whose child is kidnapped by hostile agents.

Remade by Hitch himself in 1956 starring James Stewart and Doris Day, I prefer the original with its brisker pace, deadeye-with-a-rifle leading lady Jill and more memorable villain, Peter Lorre is his first English-speaking role.

13. Little Caesar (1931)
Edward G. Robinson became a star in his role as Rico “Little Caesar” Bandello, who climbs his way to the top of the mob only to come crashing down in fiery fashion. Along the way he drags his reluctant friend Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) in with him.

The film’s last line “Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?” is a cultural touchstone among gangster film fanatics to this day. Immensely influential on Scarface and countless other gangster films, one can definitely say Little Caesar’s finale was not the end of Rico.

12. The Most Dangerous Game (1932)
Fay Wray’s other landmark film was filmed simultaneously with King Kong on the same jungle sets. Wray and Bruce Armstrong filmed the Kong scenes in the day and The Most Dangerous Game scenes at night for what must have been exhausting parallel shoots.

Based on Richard Connell’s 1924 short story of the same name, the plot hinges on a big game hunter Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks) who decides to track and kill human prey as the ultimate test. Eve Towbridge (Wray) and Robert Rainsford (Joel McCrea) must survive unarmed on a jungle island while a rifle-carrying Zaroff pursues them. Imitated countless times but seldom surpassed.

11. The Kennel Murder Case (1933)
Before Nick Charles, William Powell played detective Philo Vance in four films from 1929 to 1933. The best of these is The Kennel Murder Case, an excellent locked room mystery about the killing of Archer Coe (Robert Barrat), the owner of a dog show champion who had bested Vance’s own pooch the day before.

Powell plays detective Vance so similar to his later Thin Man role, one could almost imagine these are the adventures of Nick Charles before he met Nora. The studios were so concerned that audiences would confuse Powell’s two detective roles that the first Thin Man film made a special trailer where Philo and Nick converse to set the record straight.

10. Sabotage (1936)
Alfred Hitchcock kicked the suspense into another gear with this tale of a foreign saboteur (Oscar Homolka) in London planning to blow up Piccadilly Circus. The saboteur’s wife (Sylvia Sydney), ignorant of his plot, begins to suspect more and more, especially when confronted by a British agent (John Loder) who also has romantic interest in her.

At one point, an innocent boy unknowingly carries a ticking bomb across London. Only Hitchcock could get away with what happens next.

9. Another Thin Man (1939)
William Powell and Myrna Loy return as Nick and Nora Charles in Another Thin Man, the third in the series. Colonel Burr MacFay (C. Aubrey Smith), who manages Nora’s family industries, is murdered in his Long Island mansion and the police think Nick is the culprit. Humor and adventure ensue.

Watch for the scene at a Latin nightclub where an amorous dancer won’t let Nora off the floor while a gregarious drunk interrupts Nick’s attempts at interviewing a suspect. Asta, baby Nick Jr., “fourth” Stooge Shemp Howard, and future television producer Sheldon Leonard complete the cast.

Hound of the Baskervilles movie poster

8. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
The first and best of the fourteen Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films, the story keeps reasonably close to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original (save for a séance scene, the change of relationship between a few characters, and a third act action twist).

20th Century Fox surpassed rival Universal with their use of atmosphere, the eerie landscape on the moors, the sense of creeping dread all around and the ability to recreate the chilling howls of a demonic hound out there somewhere… A perfect fusion of Gothic horror and British manor house mystery.

7. The Public Enemy (1931)
James Cagney forever defined himself as tough guy with The Public Enemy. His Irish-American gangster Tom Powers is an enforcer for the bootlegging industry with a thirst for vengeance against any man or beast who crosses him. An early sound picture, director William A Wellman put the new medium to maximum effect.

The film reverberates with haunting sounds: the gurgling last line of a singer killed mid chorus, the terrified whinnies of other horses when a race stallion is executed (yes, ‘executed’, not ‘put down’), the pulsating popping of beer barrels burst by machinegun bullets. In one darkly funny scene, Cagney uses a gun merchant’s own wares to rob him, a motif used again by Sergio Leone in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The denouement is a kicker like few others, nearly as memorable as White Heat years later. Jean Harlow is second billed here as Cagney’s love interest but has little screen time. It doesn’t matter, this was the most powerful gangster film Hollywood had yet made, one that still stirs ninety years later.

6. The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Possibly Alfred Hitchcock’s funniest film, The Lady Vanishes is the story of an elderly English governess Miss Foy (May Whitty) who vanishes on a moving train somewhere in central Europe.

British travelers Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) and Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) search for her, exchanging put-downs and romantic-tinged barbs worthy of the best screwball comedies, while indifferent cricket-obsessed passengers Caldicott (Naunton Wayne) and Charters (Basil Radford) were hilarious enough to earn their own spinoff series (directed by others).

An enormous success on both sides of the Atlantic, The Lady Vanishes paved the way for Hitchcock to leave London for Hollywood two years later. The rest is cinematic history.

5. After the Thin Man (1936)
Probably the best mystery sequel ever filmed, many hardcore Thin Man fans consider this the finest in the series. And what’s not to love? Nick and Nora (William Powell and Myrna Loy again) return to San Francisco to find a New Year’s party raging in their house! Soon, Nora’s aristocratic family drags Nick into a mystery that devolves from a missing person to blackmail to murder.

With more time focused on Nick, Nora and Asta than the original, the humor and playful romance runs unabated throughout. My favorite scene is when Asta absconds with a clue and must be chased down by his hilariously frustrated owners. A young James Stewart costars. On a personal note, three reels of After the Thin Man play a key role in my aforementioned Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine story “Myrna Loy Versus the Third Reich.” So, this picture is something of an inspiration for me.

4. The Thin Man (1934)
But how can you surpass the original? When The Thin Man came out in 1934 it was something of a revolution. There had been comedic detective movies before, but none so witty. Bumbling sort of mystery comedies with clownish detectives and bungling thieves were the norm. Think Keystone Cops. The Thin Man, inspired by author Dashiell Hammett’s relationship with playwright Lillian Hellman, was as much a comedy of manners as a mystery.

Clever, teasing dialogue and the immense chemistry between Loy and Powell captured the minds of Depression-era movie goers. Before The Thin Man flirting and romance (on film) were trappings of courtship ending at the altar. Married couples were meant to be dignified and private with their affections – if they had them at all. But – shock! - Nick and Nora proved romance wasn’t dead after marriage. That married life could be sexy and adventurous, and maybe fun and funny.

The Charles’ relationship became the ideal to which many couples aspired. Once known for playing vamps and mob molls, Loy would be voted “The perfect wife” for years afterwards in national magazines. And, of course, with Prohibition ending only five months before, Nick and Nora were free to drink for an entire nation marooned on the wagon for fourteen years. Nominated for Best Picture and a runaway hit, The Thin Man was a release of pent-up frustrations in the mid-1930s. You can see its influence in every romantic sleuth couple since from Hart to Hart, Moonlighting, and countless sexually-entwined literary detective teams. Very close plot wise to Hammett’s original novel, the first film has the strongest mystery element of the series. Much screen time is spent developing the suspects, a rogues’ gallery of colorful oddballs, sycophants and weirdos. As Nora said at the climatic party: “Waiter, will you serve the nuts? I mean, will you serve the guests the nuts?”

3. Scarface (1932)
“The World is Yours,” folks. Directed by Howard Hawks, produced by Hawks and Howard Hughes, and with a screenplay by Ben Hecht, Scarface reigned for forty years as the undisputed greatest gangster movie ever made (until The Godfather arrived in ’72.) Taking the story of a ruthless mobster’s ascent similar to Little Caesar a year earlier, Hawks ratcheted up the violence to unprecedented levels and infused it with an operatic finale worthy of Greek tragedy.

At the heart of Scarface is Paul Muni’s electric performance as Tony Camonte, charismatic yet thoroughly terrifying in his pursuit of his twisted version of the American dream. Even Tony’s would-be-redeeming qualities, loyalty to his friend Guino (George Raft) and love of his sister Cesca (Ann Dvorak), turn to vengeful jealousy and incestuous control respectively by the end. A few of the comedy bits among Tony’s underlings are dated, but even those increase the movie’s effectiveness when those loveable buffoons are murdered in the third act thanks to Tony’s monomania. Watch too for Boris Karloff as a rival gang leader gunned down in a bowling alley. Brian de Palma’s 1983 remake with Al Pacino is good, but the original is the greater film. Not to be missed.

2. M (1931)
With all due respect to Metropolis and the wonderful film noirs Fritz Lang made for Hollywood in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, this is the Austrian director’s greatest picture. And one of the finest films ever made. The story of the manhunt for a child killer in Berlin, it melds unforgettable imagery and brilliant use of the then-new dimension of sound with social commentary. As the underworld and police both seek the killer, Lang hints that differences on either side of the law are not as distinct as some might like. And Peter Lorre’s performance as the murderer remains his greatest triumph, terrifying, unknowable, yet almost sympathetic during his speech before a kangaroo court of thugs who profess to try him. (He asserts essentially that these mobsters choose to be killers, while he is forced by sickness to kill. That their free will makes them – and by extension society – unfit to judge him.).

M’s influence is everywhere including my own novella A Stranger From the Storm. On weight of theme and sheer artistic merit, this is the greatest film on this list, but I can’t quite place it number one…

1. The 39 Steps (1935)
The definitive Hitchcock film (if not the best, though close to it.) Much like a British version of the later North by Northwest, our Canadian protagonist Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) is chased from London to the Scottish Highlands and back in the best “innocent man accused” story Hitch ever did. At a time when British films were inert and cerebral, The 39 Steps was lively, funny and swiftly-paced with a perfect twist ending. (No one will forget Mr. Memory (Wylie Watson), pun intended.) The British Film Institute named this the fourth greatest British film of all time, behind only The Third Man, Brief Encounter and Lawrence of Arabia. And none of those have the humor or breathtaking pace. Hitchcock took very little from the source novel by John Buchan, instead choosing to tell his own tale.

His success heralded the age where directors were no longer beholden to the novelist, but storytellers and artists in their own rights who could take what they wanted from a work and discard the rest. On a personal note, it galvanized me to visit the Scottish Highlands, write a story about the location “The House in Glamaig’s Shadow”, and in many ways inspired me to be a thriller novelist. One of a handful of movies, I could watch on endless loop into happy oblivion, The 39 Steps can’t be anything but number one on this list.

So, that was my Top 15 Crime Films of the 1930’s? What would be yours? Any major films or favorites I missed? Have you seen any of these? All of these? Please let me know in the comments below. And if you enjoyed this, I may make it a series (though a very intermittent one). Next would be the 1940’s, the era of the film noir. Can’t wait!

20 March 2022

Fun with Fugitives and Pharmaceuticals

I’m keeping it short today because I’m including links you’ll want to follow. They’re too funny for words.

bus before

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Next year marks the 30th anniversary of Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford in The Fugitive. (No, I can’t believe 30 years either.)

Much of the story centered around Chicago but North Carolina made out damn well in the filming. The most iconic scenes took place there– the train/bus wreck and the leap from the damn spillway.

The bus and train are still there outside of Sylva / Dillsboro / Bryson City. The director’s mother didn’t tell him to clean up after himself, so they’re rusting in an accidental one-man’s-trash-is-another’s-roadside attraction. And yes, they crashed a real train into a real bus on the Great Smoky Railroad rather than in Illinois.

bus and engine after

The scene turned out slightly more spectacular than they’d planned. Tests and calculations showed an ideal speed of 36mph (60kmph), but Tammy the Train, excited by her film debut, dashed off at 45mph (72kmph).

But it was worth it, wasn’t it? Compare the real thing with the improbable train versus helicopter CGI physics of Tom Cruise in the Mission Impossible 3 flick.

The dam scene took place at Cheoah Dam. One of the hospital scenes was shot in Jackson County as well.

Me, I’m not going to visit. Bad things happen every time I step foot in North Carolina. (No, don’t write. You have no idea.)

It’s the Drugs, Man.

I didn’t come there to discuss dams and damages. Remember, the plot set out to learn why a one-armed man murdered Richard Kimble’s wife. Gradually we learn it has something to do with marketing a drug, Provasic, developed and manufactured by Devlin-Macgregor Pharmaceuticals.

As I was researching a project, I stumbled upon Devlin-Macgregor’s web site. To my surprise, they offer a very different conspiracy scenario from the film, possibly on the advice of Elizabeth Holmes. Be sure to check out their other fine products, Narcogesic and Solarresti, the only prescription mRNA inhibitor that provides fortified protection against all single and two-shot COVID-19 “vaccines” (1/3 the way down their home page) and their employment page.

Just don’t die laughing.

02 July 2017

Take This Movie, Please.

by Leigh Lundin

John Floyd and Paul Marks cast giant shadows when it comes to films. John is known for the depth and breadth of his movie experience. I’ve managed to name a flick or two John hasn’t seen, but it’s difficult. Paul is recognized for his encyclopedic knowledge of vintage Hollywood. What he doesn’t know about Tinseltown could be loosely packed in a brown derby with room left over for a head.

Occasionally one or another of the rest of us bravely steps up to chat about films. Recently a little article caught my attention, ‘Ignore The Critics! 10 ‘Rotten’ Movies You Should Totally Watch Anyway’. I’m not sure what the word ‘totally’ quantifies in this context, but I liked the point of the article. They led with this list, about half which I’ve seen and a couple I wouldn’t have minded seeing.
The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby
  • (2013)   The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  • (2013)   The Great Gatsby
  • (2012)   To Rome with Love
  • (2009)   Defiance
  • (2005)   Mr. & Mrs. Smith
  • (2004)   50 First Dates
  • (2004)   Troy
  • (2003)   Eurotrip
  • (2001)   A Knight’s Tale
  • (2001)   Wet Hot American Summer
Take, For Example…

Take the Ben Stiller version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It’s less fanciful and more in tune with today’s world of corporate closings and layoffs, in this case the shuttering of Life magazine. It’s flawed, as are most of the movies on this list and yet it’s a satisfying romantic comedy.

Like Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler made early gross-out movies, but also like Stiller, he can be genuinely funny and play sensitive rôles. To me, 50 First Dates is better than this list. It presents an original problem, one Sandler is determined to resolve, the fact his new love’s short-term memory means she forgets him the next day. Out of these ten, it’s my clear favorite.

50 First Dates

With half an eye on the small screen whilst doing paperwork, I watched Troy in one of those 2AM television time slots. It’s the one movie I would recommend only if your Netflix expired, your local Red Box dispenser broke, you don’t have enough light to read a tattered Danielle Steel novel, and you couldn’t even find your kids’ Bugs Bunny tape under the sofa. It survived in rental stores for, well, weeks by our teary, cat-loving gentle sex who watched and rewatched 2¾ hours of a naked Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, and Australian muscle Nathan Jones. It’s a pretty bad two hours and forty-three minutes you’ll never get back, but I give it points for a clever explanation of the Achilles’ heel legend.

Troy: Rose Byrne et Brad Pitt

Take Two

While I usually consult critics (Rotten Tomatoes, IMdb), I occasionally defy the experts. I might see a movie because it’s a plot taken from a favorite mystery or speculative fiction writer. When it comes to science fiction, most critics find themselves strangers in a strange land; they don’t grok the genre. (There’s a sci-fi reference.) That’s why SF reviews are often meaningless.

Ever wonder why the movie sound system is called THX? In my student poverty days (as opposed to my writer poverty days), I sometimes visited a pocket-sized dollar movie house off New York City’s Union Square. One afternoon they showed what’s now called a cult film, George Lucas’ THX-1138. It was considered beneath review by major newspapers. It ran on a bit, but I liked it.


My film-fanatic friend Geri should meet John Floyd. When I feel like a movie, I give her a call and she’s always up for a celluloid fix. She’s open-minded, so we’ve seen quite a range from 50 Shades of Grey (lush photography, great music, sad-ass plot) to The Accountant (violently clever). Despite the critics, we recently opted to see The Book of Henry.

The Book of Henry

Rotten Tomatoes’ critics weighed in at a low, low 23%, but audiences tripled that rating. Critic Susan Wloszczyna came up with the cleverest line in her review: “Every book needs an editor.” Zing. It’s true.

Henry's treehouse
We liked the film, the characterization and the childhood atmosphere, but it’s definitely not a children’s story. No child plans a murder and no mother carries it out… not in the real world and not in fantasy, but that’s the premise of the second half of the plot. Clearly the script writer failed to grasp that precept. British critic Kate Taylor said, “I began to wonder if [the screen writer and director] had ever met any children.”

By now, you’re probably wondering how we managed to like anything about it at all, but the setting, character concepts, and acting helped offset a script that lost its way. I simply wish the writer had thought longer and harder about a smarter way to handle his premise. It’s one of those stories where you’re pretty certain you could have written a better outcome.

Take Three

Sometimes I find myself on the opposite side of critics when they over-rate a film. An example is the 2015 The Witch (title stylized as VVitch). Rotten Tomatoes’ critics tipped the scale at 91%. It might have been atmospheric, but it contained absolutely no plot, none, zip. It consisted of nothing more than a series of scenes that were supposed to lead up to… something… but didn’t. Leave it to Puritans to sour a modern day movie about Puritans.

Rotten Tomatoes gave 2013’s Gravity a 96% rating. Think of it as 2001: A Space Odyssey where HAL ate the script. The space scenes were meticulously, even beautifully filmed, but NASA forgot to launch the plot, not much of one at least, mainly a dream sequence. Movie critics aren’t the only ones who don’t understand science fiction… sometimes movie makers don’t understand it either.

Pia Zadora in Butterfly
Pia Zadora in Butterfly
I’ve already written about a poorly (and unfairly) received film, 1982’s Butterfly with Stacy Keach, Pia Zadora, and Orson Welles. Sometimes trashing a movie has nothing to do with the film itself.

Let’s spare a moment to talk about Django Unchained, the 2012 Tarantino movie. My acquaintances found it incomprehensible, but I give it marginally passing marks. My gripes weren’t the same as my friends. Tarantino bragged how much historical research had gone into the film, but its anachronisms overwhelmed the story. I quit counting historical inaccuracies when I ran out of 9.5 fingers. (Friends will recognize another in-joke) Yes, I gave it a passing grade– barely– but I’ve thought for some time Quentin Tarantino is way over-rated. His sense of color, style, and violence stands out among less colorful directors, but I suspect future film classes will look back and wonder what the hell we were raving about.

Take Four

What’s your take? What poorly rated films make up your guilty-pleasures list? And what films received high ratings that mystified you?

29 July 2014

Making Movies

I'm making a movie. No, that doesn't mean I've relocated to Hollywood. I'm making a short, no budget movie here in Auckland City, New Zealand. Short means 5-10 minutes, no budget means just that. Nada. The movie is a mystery story being shot on digital video, and its destination, once completed, will be a film festival or two (one day, it'll eventually wind up on YouTube -- the final resting place of all things video).

A moment for some history: When I was a kid, I lived and breathed movies and wanted to be a movie director. My father had a Super 8 mm camera, and I shot a bunch of short movies with high school friends. My first production had drama, romance, humor, skateboards, a car chase, clowns, and a gun. The one thing it didn't have was a plot. My desire to be a director evolved into the desire to be a screenwriter, and for over a decade I practiced and taught myself the art of screenwriting.

I'm often asked where I learnt how to write; well, it was there, in the pages between countless FADE INs and FADE OUTs of countless screenplays. Screenwriting taught me structure, plotting and pacing, the economy of language, and how to write dialogue.

The movie I'm making is called The Sandcastle. The story started in my head with a basic plot outline and three characters: two women and a man. I could easily have typed out the story as prose and submitted it to either the Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock mystery magazines. There's mystery, there's a crime, there's a twist ending. Had I done, it would have become a different story to the one that'll wind up on the screen. When you write a short story, the characters don't usually come to life and start writing their own parts.

The movie was put together very quickly. And when I cast it, the script was no more than notes, emails, and a Google Doc of motivation and backstory. The principal characters didn't have names and were known simply as Woman 1 and Woman 2. By mutual agreement with the two actresses playing the parts, the characters became Olivia and Rose. The characters now had names, they had become real people, and they had input on how and why their characters were going to do the things they needed to do in order to satisfy the plot I had sketched out.
Olivia (Yisela Alvarez Trentini)
Film making is collaborative story telling. That's part of the fun of it. Even when I start out with a completed screenplay, actors quickly get into their roles and tease out their character's nuances and motivations. They bring a fresh mind to the story, and they'll suggest things I hadn't even thought of. That kind of input just doesn't happen when writing alone, when writing fiction for the page. Part of my job as the movie's director is to facilitate this, and to keep it on track.

Imagine when you write a short story or book, that you could go to lunch with your characters and discuss their parts, their motivation, arc, etc., that they come to life and help you build the story. I'm not advocating working with a collaborator (I don't think I could write a short story or book with anyone else), but the change is refreshing. It's invigorating. It's why I've lately come back to making the occasional movie. Besides, it's fun to go outside, hang out with cool people, and tell a story in a completely different medium. Sitting alone at a desk day after day can, frankly, get tedious.
Rose (Kathleen Azevedo)
So, do I subscribe to the auteur theory of movie direction? No, I don't. And I get annoyed when I see "A Film by..." in the opening or closing credits.

The "auteur theory" arose in France in the mid 1950s. A group of movie critics, mostly connected to Cahiers du Cinéma, proposed that the director was the "author" of his/her movie -- that the director's personal style and artistic vision WAS the movie. The thinking went something like this: Picasso IS the voice of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Shakespeare IS the voice of Hamlet, Bach IS the voice of the Brandenburg Concertos... therefore, the director IS the voice of his/her motion picture. They didn't apply this theory to every director of the era, but certainly to the more notable ones like Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock was their poster boy.

But, is Hitchcock really the "author" of Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo, or North by Northwest, or any of his other movies? What about the input of Bernard Herrmann, who wrote the music for all those movies (yes, The Birds has no music, but Herrmann created the eerie electronic "bird" score). What about the input of the screenwriters, cinematographers, art directors, and actors who worked on those pictures? When I remember North by Northwest, I remember James Mason and Martin Landau quietly stealing the movie from Cary Grant. When I remember Vertigo, I remember Kim Novak in that green dress. When I remember The Birds, I remember Suzanne Pleshette's quiet despair, delivering lines written by Evan Hunter (AKA Ed McBain). Sure, Hitchcock directed all of them, but he was more the ring master of a creative circus than a sole individual alone with an empty canvas, a blank piece of paper, or a sheet of manuscript paper. An "auteur"? I don't think so.

That many of the critics at Cahiers du Cinéma went on to become directors themselves supports my theory that what really motivated them was elevating the artistic standing of the movie director in the arts community. Cahiers du Cinéma was based in Paris, after all. Revenons à nos moutons...

The Sandcastle
Making movies at the no-budget level (an actor's salary is lunch and a cup of coffee) means a lot is left to chance and serendipity. You really only have one or two chances at getting a scene right, and when you leave the house in the morning with the camera and the tripod, you hope for the best. But this can also be the best thing about making movies, and it's something that simply can't happen when you're alone with your word processor. It's the unrepeatable moments -- the moments you capture magic. You suddenly find you've put the camera in the right place, the actors are perfect in their performances, and even the weather is behaving. Everything is just right and is even better than you'd imagined. Later, when you review the day's footage, you see these shots and you think, Damn! That was good! A well written sentence really doesn't have the same effect.

There's a way to go before The Sandcastle is completed. There are a few things yet to be filmed and I've only just begun the editing process. And yes, I will be sharing the screenwriting credit.

Be seeing you!