Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Day of the Jackal: A Medley of Audience Manipulation and Suspense

Fred Zinnemann's The Day of the Jackal is a gripping, first-rate thriller--it ranks among my favorite films--but it nevertheless disturbs me. Every time I watch it, I find myself temporarily pulling for a professional assassin to complete his assignment of killing French president Charles de Gaulle. All great films manipulate the emotions of its viewers; to a large extent, that's what makes them great. However, I find it somewhat alarming when a film can manipulate its viewers so completely into pulling for the villain.

Based on Frederick Forsyth's bestseller, The Day of the Jackal opens with a failed 1962 assassination of de Gaulle by an organization called the OAS. The members of the OAS, many of them former military leaders, felt that President de Gaulle betrayed France when he gave independence to Algeria. After discovering potential intelligence leaks within its membership, the OAS makes a contract with an independent professional assassin who takes the code name of "the Jackal." During an "interview" for the job, one of the OAS leaders insists: "We are not terrorists...we are patriots." The Jackal's unemotional reponse: "So you want to get rid of him?"

The rest of the film follows two parallel plotlines: The Jackal preparing for the assassination and the French authorities learning about the Jackal's mission and trying to stop him. The latter plotline is initially difficult to follow because characters float in and out of the narrative as the assassination attempt comes to light as bits of evidence are pieced together. A central hero finally comes into focus when Lebel (Michael Lonsdale)--the "best detective in France" according to the police commissioner--is appointed to head the investigation.

The Jackal inspects his newly-made rifle.
Meanwhile, the Jackal takes center stage quietly and effectively from the outset. We follow his methodical preparations: he takes the name of a deceased baby from a cemetery headstone; he obtains a passport; he steals keys and has them duplicated; he has French citizen ID documents falsified; he designs his rifle and has it manufactured to his precise specifications, and so on. The bottom line is that we, the viewers, invest time in following the Jackal's meticulous preparations. We grow to admire his business-like approach. Even when he kills an associate, it's tempting to rationalize it. After all, the victim was an unlikable chap who was trying to blackmail the Jackal.

It's only when the Jackal murders an innocent woman--as the climax approaches--that the viewer truly realizes the Jackal is a ruthless killer unworthy of admiration. Subsequent murders reinforce this critical point so that, as the Jackal takes aim at de Gaulle, the audience is rooting appropriately for Lebel and his cohorts to stop the Jackal. Still, it's an interesting experience to realize how much one's emotions have been subtly manipulated up to that point.

Edward Fox, who spent most of his acting career playing military officers and upper-class Englishmen, portrays the Jackal as a well-organized, no-nonsense businessman. Zinnemann chose him over better-known actors, such as Michael Caine, because he wanted to cast an unknown actor in the lead role. It's a smart decision because it makes the Jackal a nondescript mystery man. In fact, except for what we see of the Jackal, nothing is revealed about his character--there's no backstory and not much be gained from his relationships with other people.

Michael Lonsdale as Ledel.
In contrast, Lebel is a three-dimensional character whose personality is carefully etched in a few short scenes. Initially, he feels he may not be up to the task at hand. But, as the manhunt for the Jackal progresses, Lebel  becomes more aggreesive in his pursuit and more confident in his approach. At a meeting with senior French officials, he calmly informs them that he has a taped telephone conversation that implicates one of them in leaking information to the OAS. Michael Lonsdale perfectly captures Lebel's initial uncertainties that disappear into confident determination. It's a fine performance which always reminds me how much Lonsdale was wasted as 007's bland nemesis in Moonraker.

I first saw The Day of the Jackal in 1973 when my sister was working at a movie theatre. I would tag along with her when she went to work and then watch the current attraction multiple times until her shift was over. At the time, I had never heard of The Day of the Jackal nor anyone in the cast. But, by the time the evening was over, I was a fan of this highly-manipulative, but exceeding well-made thriller. I've seen the 1997 remake, The Jackal, which is decent enough...but it can't compare to the enthralling original.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My 100 Favorite Films: From 80 to 71

In this third installment, you may start to wonder about my tastes in film! Keep in mind that these are my favorite movies--not a "best of" list. So, it was inevitable that some guilty pleasures would find their way into this project. (As always, an underlined title means there's a hyperlink to a full review at the Cafe.)

A colorful poster...but
no hint of the plot!
80. You Never Can Tell - A German Shepard named King inherits a fortune following his eccentric owner's death--but then is swiftly murdered. The canine angel asks if he can return to Earth long enough to catch his killer and clear the innocent woman accused of the crime. King is sent back to Earth as a "humanimal"--an animal reincarnated as human—in this case, a private eye named Rex Shepard (Dick Powell). This amusing fantasy was a childhood fave and still holds up well, thanks to a wonderfully inventive premise and a marvelous Powell performance. I can't imagine another human playing a dog playing a human!

79. Advise and Consent - The President (Franchot Tone) clashes with the Senate and his own party on his nomination of a liberal academic (Henry Fonda) to become Secretary of State. His unyielding stance sets into motion a political chess match in which Senators take sides and people become pawns. (The chess analogy is an interesting one: Walter Pidgeon, who fights for nominee Fonda, wears a dark suit; Charles Laughton, who opposes him, wears white). This absorbing look inside Washington politics was made in 1962, but always feels timely--and the entire cast is first-rate.

Jason Robards as Cable Hogue.
78. The Ballad of Cable Hogue - My favorite Sam Peckinpah film is a wistful tale of fate, redemption, and the dying days of the Old West (a recurring Peckinpah theme). Jason Robards, Jr. plays the title character, a drifter left for dead in the desert by his low-life partners. Just when death seems imminent, Hogue finds a spring—a source of water surrounded by an ocean of sand—and this discovery changes his life. Robards is superb and gets outstanding support from David Warner as a would-be man of the church and Stella Stevens as a prostitute (easily her best role ever). However, it's the spirit of the main character that lingers long after the bittersweet ending.

Bond and Flynn as rivals-turned-friends.
77. Gentleman Jim - I'm not sure why this tremendously entertaining biography of boxing legend Jim Corbett has never taken its place as one of Warner Bros.' best films of the 1940s. Errol Flynn, often underrated as an actor, is in fine form as Corbett and he's surrounded by a bunch of veteran scene stealers in Alan Hale, Jack Carson, and William Frawley. Alexis Smith provides a feisty love interest and Ward Bond gives one of his best performances as boxing rival John L. Sullivan. Best of all, though, director Raoul Welsh creates a flavorful portrait of America just prior to the turn of the century. Funny, exciting, and ultimately heartfelt, Gentleman Jim is a classic that deserves more attention.

76. Seven Days in May - John Frankenheimer followed his classic The Manchurian Candidate (1962) with this equally original political thriller. Rod Serling’s taut screenplay interweaves the stories of three men: President Jordan Lyman (Fredric March), whose popularity has plunged as a result of pushing for a nuclear arms treaty with Russia; General James Mattoon Scott (Burt Lancaster), the influential, egotistical head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Marine Colonel “Jiggs” Casey (Kirk Douglas), a key member of Scott’s staff. Part mystery, part suspense film, Seven Days in May unfolds its audacious plot carefully; it's a rare motion picture in which the outcome is always in doubt until the climax. That uncertainty is a testament to Frankensheimer’s craftsmanship as a filmmaker.

75. The Power – Shortly after absent-minded Professor Henry Hallson (Arthur O'Connell) reveals that one of his colleagues at a research center for human endurance has “an intelligence quotient beyond the known limits of measurability,” he is found murdered. When fellow scientist Jim Tanner (George Hamilton) starts investigating, he is not only framed—but finds himself the target of a diabolical “super intellect” that can alter people's perceptions of reality. While I recognize that The Power is a film of many flaws (starting with Hamilton’s bland hero), I always enjoy it immensely thanks to its ingenious premise, Miklós Rózsa’s unique score, and a delightfully wacky twist ending. And while I don’t know many people who proclaim to be fans, I can take solace in the words of film critic John Baxter who hailed The Power as “one of the finest of all science fiction films.”

74. Gargoyles – A delirious guilty pleasure, this 1972 film stars Cornel Wilde as an anthropologist battling the title creatures in a small southwestern desert town. A rare network TV-movie excursion into visual horror, Gargoyles opens with a prologue that explains the ancient creatures are reborn every 600 years to “battle against man to gain dominion of the Earth.” Bernie Casey gives an intelligent performance as the head gargoyle, exuding menace and generating a surprising amount of sexual tension for a network TV movie of the era. The Emmy-winning Stan Winston make-up is marvelous, complete with wings, horns, a pointy chin, white eyes, and vampiric fangs. And yet, I’m hard-pressed to explain my continuing affection for this film…perhaps it evokes a certain amount of nostalgia for the many made-for-TV movies I watched as a teen in the early 1970s.

Sir Wilfrid cross-examines a witness.
73. Witness for the Prosecution - Charles Laughton stars as Sir Wilfrid Robarts, a famed London barrister recuperating from a heart attack. Though under strict orders to avoid stressful criminal cases, his pursuit of a forbidden cigar results in accepting a case involving a penniless opportunist (Tyrone Power) accused murdering a middle-aged wealthy widow. One of the finest Hitchcock films not made by Hitchcock, Witness is a clever, witty courtroom drama (courtesy of Agatha Christie and Billy Wilder). However, the film's most entertaining aspect is its unexpected humor--much it of derived from the relationship between the cantankerous Sir Wilfrid and his fastidious nurse, Miss Plimsoll (Elsa Lanchester, Laughton’s real-life spouse).

72. Victim – When I first saw 1961’s Victim, I had no idea what it was about. The film unfolds as an engrossing mystery involving blackmail, suicide, and an affluent barrister played by Dirk Bogarde. For the sake of those unfamiliar with this landmark movie, I won’t divulge any more of its plot. At a future date, though, I’ll do an in-depth review and address why it’s one of those rare films that seamlessly integrates a well-told story and social commentary. Bogarde shines in the lead role, though Sylvia Sims manages to upstage him in their potent scenes together near the climax.

71. The Winslow Boy – When a boy is expelled from a British naval academy for theft, his father has only one question: Did he do it? When the son proclaims his innocence, the father sets out to right the wrong—even it means taking on the House of Commons. The compelling story, sharply-etched characters, and sparkling dialogue can all be attributed to Terence Rattigan’s brilliant stage play. Still, this film adaptation stands on its own, anchored by a sensational cast. Robert Donat—who appears well into the proceedings—has the showy role as the son’s barrister and delivers his two big scenes with maximum impact. However, my favorite performances come from Cedric Hardwicke as the never-wavering father and Margaret Leighton as the feminist daughter. Her closing scene with Donat concludes the film on a perfect note.

Next month, I'll count down 70-61, which will include another Flynn film, the first of multiple Sidney Poitier appearances, a Renoir classic, and a Cornel Wilde cult film!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Trivia Time - Part 77

OK, here we are, late with Trivia Time (sorry about that, BTW). Better late than never...right?

As always here are the answers to the TT questions from last week that were not answered (or partially answered):

Who Am I? I had a 30+ year career as a character actor; I've worked with everyone in the Golden Age of Hollywood, including Thomas Mitchell, Bette Davis, Claude Rains and Frank Capra, to name a few. But to a whole generation, I was best known for my voice-over work. Who Am I?

Answer: Edward Everett Horton

Who Said This? "Come and get it! Jack rabbit A-la-modie! Who Said This?

Answer: Chill Wills in Boom Town.

1. Michael Curtiz was not Warner Brothers' first choice to direct Charge of the Light Brigade. Name the original pick for director and the reason why.

Answer: Henry Hathaway, because he just had a hit with Gary Cooper with The Lives of a Bengal Lancer.

3. Name the film which incorporates Erich Korngold's favorite score.

Answer: Between Two Worlds.

6. After The Who performed on The Smothers Brothers Show, things got a little out of hand. What happened? Be specific.

Answer: Dawn correctly said that Keith Moon blew up his drum kit, which is part of the answer. The drum kit had a small cannon in it but it was overloaded. The rest of the answer includes the fact that Bette Davis, waiting in the wings in full Elizabethan costume, fainted, while Mickey Rooney jumped with glee.

Well, with baseball season starting we thought we'd throw a couple of curve balls and a slider into TT77. Actually, these are guys should be able to hit them out of the park!

Who Are We? We were both child stars in the late '40s and early '50s, and we appeared together as brother and sister in a 1950s film. One of us also had a TV series in the '50s. Who Are We?

Who Said This? "I was an Elizabethan fruit fly....the Betty Boop of Stratford-on-Avon." Who Said This?

1. Name the actress who made swashbucklers with both Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn. Name the films.

2. Name the film that Errol Flynn was making when this photo (above) was taken. Name his co-stars.

3. Paul Douglas was in two classic baseball fantasy films. Name them.

4. Name the two baseball films that Dan Dailey appeared in.

5. Name the baseball film in which Doris Day appeared. Name her co-star.

6. Claudette Colbert, Vivian Leigh, and Elizabeth Taylor (R.I.P.) all played the same part. What was it?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sabotage—A Forgotten Hitchcock Gem

I recently wrote a review of The 39 Steps and based on the comments it elicited I came to the conclusion that Hitchcock’s pre-Hollywood films are often overlooked or even forgotten.  I’m sure there are many reasons for this, but I think many of his early British films should be watched to understand how his directorial vision developed.  You don’t just wake up one day and direct Notorious or Rear Window. As such, I think Hitchcock’s earlier films provide excellent examples of how he honed his style over a period of many years. Sabotage (1936) is one of those forgotten gems that one should watch to gain more insight into the Hitchcockian vision.
Based on the novel The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad, Sabotage is a suspenseful thriller about an international terrorist group (or saboteurs) who hold London in a state of anxiety through their rampant bombings across the city. Though not designated as Nazis by Hitchcock, many film historians believe that is exactly who the saboteurs were meant to represent. This makes sense, as Germany and Italy had just signed the Rome-Berlin Axis and many Western European nations were growing alarmed by Germany’s growing militarism. There were even rumors that German spies were attempting to infiltrate Britain and create public unrest.  As such, the film’s saboteurs serve both an artistic and political purpose for Hitchcock.
The film opens metaphorically with a close-up shot of a flashing light bulb (a warning signal?) and then transitions into a shot of a crowded London street right before a blackout.  In true Hitchcockian fashion, the film cuts back to the flashing light bulb and we watch as the light slows its pace and then goes completely out upon the blackout. Another quick cut takes us to the Bijou,a movie theatre run by Karl Verloc (Oskar Homolka). Dressed in the typical accoutrement of a shady figure—a dark overcoat—Verloc seems to be sneaking back into his home just after the blackout hits. When he lays down on the couch and covers his face with a newspaper you instantly know something just isn’t kosher. When his wife (Sylvia Sidney) comes to complain that the theatre’s patrons want their money back he tells her to give it to them, hinting that they don’t have to worry about money any more.  Why?
Soon we are introduced to Mrs. Verloc’s little brother Stevie (Desmond Tester). Stevie encompasses all that is innocent and good, which is reinforced by his helpfulness and trusting nature. Through Stevie we meet Mr. Spencer (John Loder), the street grocer…well, actually he’s not really a grocer but an undercover Scotland Yard detective who suspects Mr. Verloc is involved with the saboteur group. Spencer and Verloc engage one another in the typical Hitchcockian game of cat and mouse. Verloc comes off as cool and detached whenever Spencer makes suggestive comments about the bombings taking place in London. 
It is really enjoying to watch these two actors play off one another, especially when you throw in Sylvia Sidney as the unassuming wife. In addition, Verloc is the traditional quiet and unassuming Hitchcockian villain. He doesn’t seem particularly menacing (at least until the end of the film) and seems like an inconspicuous personality. In addition, like in so many Hitchcock films, the line between villain and hero becomes blurred when Spencer begins to have feeling for Mrs. Verloc and even when Mrs. Verloc reaps her revenge at the end of the film.  Hitchcock had a habit of blurring this line, in such films as Marnie, Notorious, and some would say even Psycho. It is also interesting to note that John Loder was not Hitchcock’s first choice for the role of Spencer. Instead, he hoped to work once again with his The 39 Steps leading man, Robert Donat, but the actor was being treated for severe asthma at the time.

The puzzle pieces start to take shape when Verloc and an accomplice meet at an aquarium and discuss the city’s reaction to the recent bombing. A newspaper headline reads: “London Laughs at Blackout”. Evidently no one was hurt in the blast and this means Verloc isn’t getting paid.  He’s told he must deliver a bomb that will do substantial damage before he gets his money.  In a rather creative shot (at least for 1936), we see Verloc staring into a fish tank as he imagines as a collapsing building in Piccadilly.  This scene is especially effective, as Hitchcock uses shadows to evoke a sense of sinister unease.

Eventually a plan is put into action to detonate a time bomb at 1:45 on a Saturday afternoon. A note reads: “London must not laugh on Saturday”—yes, the opposite reaction is, of course, the outcome. In a strange twist (but not strange for Hitchcock), Verloc gets Stevie to deliver the bomb, which is disguised in a film reel/roll of Bartholomew the Strangler (a nudge toward the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572?). Ah, but you never send a child to do a man’s work, now do you? Instead of promptly delivering the “package” Stevie attends a a street show and a parade and finds himself tardily boarding a bus for his destination. The bus, and everyone on it including Stevie, goes kaboom.  It is said that this was one of Hitchcock's’ greatest film regrets—he had violated his own rule of never harming a character with whom his audience had come to sympathize.  In the end, we are privy to the unraveling of Mrs. Verloc and the eventual comeuppance of Mr. Verloc. 

The film is tension filled, especially little Stevie’s errand from hell and the showdown between husband and wife. The bomb delivery sequence is nearly 10 minutes long and is taut with suspense. The showdown between the Verlocs is rife with unspoken anxiety and edited with shots of uneasy close-ups. In addition, Hitchcock uses the theatre setting as a clever device to mix reality with fiction, as in the scene where Spencer is visiting the Verloc’s and he hears screams and shots ring out.  After recovering from being startled, he comments, “I thought someone was being murdered.” And, then with a wonderful comeback, Verloc responds, “Someone probably is.” Priceless, and filled with so many undertones!

Sabotage is perhaps one of Hitchcock’s darkest films—what with killing an innocent child. It is also one of his few films that doesn’t contain a true mystery. Shortly after the film starts everyone knows who the bomber is and there is nothing to truly unravel. Instead, it is purely a suspense film.  As such, it is a rather unique Hitchcock vehicle.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Bloodthirsty Killer is a Good Reason for “StageFright”

Michele Soavi’s 1987 StageFright (original Italian title: Deliria) opens with a woman being attacked in an alley. As onlookers gather, a man donning a giant owl headpiece leaps from the darkness and begins to dance to sax music. It’s all a rehearsal for The Night Owl, a trashy and rather vulgar theatrical production set to open in a week. The director, Peter (David Brandon), desperately tries to polish the show, while a financier, Ferrari (Piero Vida), nervously stands by, hoping to protect his investment. When one of the crew is murdered just outside the building, Peter decides to work the tragedy in his favor.

Crazed actor-turned-killer Irving Wallace (Clain Parker) has recently escaped from a nearby institution. Believing that the murder was committed by Wallace (which the audience knows is true), Peter reworks the play to give his anonymous killer a name. The director convinces Ferrari to invest additional funds, pushing the opening by several days to fully take advantage of the headlines. Peter furthermore persuades the remaining cast to stay all night, promising more money and, for good measure, locking them inside the building. Unfortunately, one of Wallace’s first victims is the actor who’s hidden the key, trapping former lead actress, Alicia (Barbara Cupisti), and the others with a homicidal maniac.

Soavi’s feature film debut is an energetic and thrilling cinematic venture. A fan of Dario Argento’s films, Soavi asked the director for a job and worked as assistant or second unit director on movies from Argento and Lamberto Bava, occasionally appearing in small roles. He made a documentary, Dario Argento’s World of Horror, in 1985 and was then offered the chance to direct with the help of producer/director Joe D’Amato (born Aristide Massaccesi), with whom Soavi had previously worked. Despite frequently working with other directors, Soavi displays a fresh, original style and directs a film that thrives on its claustrophobic setting.

Though StageFright does have its share of gory moments, many sequences boast a high level of suspense. The cast and crew are often searching for weapons or means of escape, and one scene is particularly well done, as a set of keys is finally discovered, and each key is tested in the deadbolt. Wallace’s face is initially shown, as he is rolled in a gurney at the hospital. Once at the theater, he’s only seen in shadow, behind a mask, or with just an arm or hand(s) visible. He begins as a man but ultimately becomes a presence. Even when he’s clearly shown (at one point literally in the spotlight), he’s still in costume and seems less than human.

Soavi intensifies the film by proficiently fusing the stage and theater into the plot. During a rehearsal, Wallace walks onstage dressed in the owl costume, and Peter, yelling directions, unwittingly demands a killer to kill someone. Wallace then moves from actor to director, shutting off the lights and turning up the music. The survivors hide in the dressing room, emerging later to face Wallace, almost as if he were awaiting their performances. One of the most terrifying scenes is near the end, when only one person is left alive, and Wallace poses all the bodies onstage like props. Then he simply sits and taps his foot, having jammed the missing key into the stage’s floorboards. It’s a revealing moment, a reminder that, not only does he quite literally hold the key to freedom, but also that he has spent much of the film simply waiting for the people to come to him (like an audience to a show).

Soavi manages comic relief with a gleefully cynical view of the authorities. When the police arrive to investigate the first murder, they leave a couple of officers to watc
h the theater, oblivious to the fact that Wallace has already gained entrance. The comedy comes in the form of the two cops, seated in their patrol car, having trivial conversations, from their late-night dinner to the younger officer expressing his belief that he looks a little like James Dean. In the pouring rain, and with the theater walls so dense, the cops are unable to hear the people screaming for help. What’s even more amusing is that Soavi plays the young officer, so while the narrative’s director locks everyone inside, the director of the film won’t unlock the door.

While a number of Italian horror films have multiple titles and various running lengths due to edits, StageFright is an anomaly. Firstly, most such movies, in spite of the many alternate titles, generally have just a title or two that fans know best. StageFright, on the other hand, is commonly known as Aquarius, StageFright: Aquarius, Deliria, Sound Stage Massacre, and Bloody Bird (its title in France). Even StageFright is written as one word or two, or with only the first letter capital. (In Germany, it was released as Aquarius: Theater des Todes (“theater of death”), and its Brazilian title was O Pássaro Sangrento, which can be translated as “bloody bird.”) Italian horror features, such as Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood (1971), were often released in the U.S. initially in censored form. Soavi’s film, in contrast, was released domestically in an edited version and uncut in other countries, such as America. Soavi blames the editing, dubbing and score’s mix on the lackluster returns during its Italian theatrical run, and he has stated that he prefers the English version.

Soavi followed StageFright with The Church (La chiesa/1989), originally conceived as a second sequel to Lamberto Bava’s Demons (1985), The Sect (aka The Devil’s Daughter; La setta/1991), and Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore/1994), a zombie horror/comedy starring Ruper
t Everett. His films have found little success in his native country but have garnered him international acclaim, especially Cemetery Man. Soavi left the film industry to be with his family, but, by the end of century, returned to direct Italian TV productions and, more recently, theatrical films.

The Aquarius title is not so much a reference to the astrological sign as it is, most likely, to its meaning of “water bearer.” Early in the film, at the hospital, a nurse is feeding small fish to a much larger lionfish. It almost foreshadows the people confined to the theater building with a killer inside. Some of the promotional materials for StageFright (as Aquarius) featured an axe smashing into a glass box (perhaps a fish tank) with the victims’ faces inside.

John Morghen (born Giovanni Lombardo Radice), who stars in StageFright a
s one of the actors, is well known among Italian horror fans for a number of his characters having memorable deaths, such as Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead (1980) and Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox (1981) -- StageFright isn’t one of those films. Screenwriter Lew Cooper’s real name is Luigi Montefiori, but he is better known under the pseudonym of George Eastman, best remembered as the lanky man with the visceral denouement in Joe D’Amato’s Antropophagus (1980).

At face value, Michele Soavi’s StageFright belongs to a subgenre of horror known as slasher films. Slashers are typically written off as exploitative rubbish, but one should not forget that renowned directors have made slasher films, such as Alfred Hitchcock (1960’s Psycho) and Michael Powell (Peeping Tom of the same year). These movies are at their best when they rely on suspense. Viewers may witness a killer’s work, but the most frightening scenes are ones of anticipation, knowing that he/she is out there and is prone to seek more victims. The varying titles of Saovi’s film reference the location (Sound Stage Massacre or trapped like fish in Aquarius), the killer (Bloody Bird) or his insanity (Deliria). Perhaps the best title, StageFright, refers to anxiety or fear. The murders are over quickly. But the trepidation of the claustrophobic theater and the panic of knowing that there’s an insane killer somewhere in the building -- these are feelings that don’t go away so easily.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bond Is Forever: “Casino Royale”

MI6 agent Jame Bond (Daniel Craig), having recently earned his 00 status, is attempting to ensnare a bomber for hire in Madagascar. An explosive confrontation at the Embassy leaves the bomber dead, and security footage of Bond shooting an unarmed man fuels the newspaper headlines. MI6 head, M (Judi Dench), sends 007 away to “stick his head in the sand,” time which Bond spends traveling to the Bahamas, where he has tracked a message sent to the bomber. The agent’s investigation results in Bond foiling an engineered bombing, which inevitably costs a man named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) an excess of 100 million dollars, money intended to finance an organization of terrorists. Desperate to recoup his monetary loss, Le Chiffre organizes a high-stakes poker game with a buy-in of ten million dollars. James Bond, along with treasury agent, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), is officially assigned to join the game and prevent Le Chiffre from funding the terrorists.

Casino Royale (2006) was the first Bond film since 1987 (with the release of The Living Daylights) to adapt an Ian Fleming story or, at the very least, utilize a story’s title. When producers Harry Saltzman and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli acquired the rights to James Bond, the Casino Royale rights were unavailable, having already been sold and made into an episode of the CBS series, Climax!, with Barry Nelson as CIA agent Jimmy Bond and Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre. Once producer Charles K. Feldman owned the novel’s rights, he tried to make a serious adaptation but ultimately released a parody in 1967, with David Niven as Bond, Orson Welles as Le Chiffre, and Ursula Andress as Vesper Lynd, and also starring Peter Sellers (who either left or was fired during production) as a character named Evelyn Tremble, who impersonates Bond. (Interestingly, Niven was suggested by Fleming to play 007 in 1962’s Dr. No and, according to some reports, was the inspiration for the author’s character.) The 1967 film was released by Columbia Pictures, which was purchased by Sony in the 1980s. Sony reportedly traded the rights to Casino Royale for MGM/UA’s rights to a Spider-Man adaptation (see Thunderball for more information). In any case, Sony Pictures acquired MGM in 2005 and greenlit a film version of Casino Royale.

The 2006 film is usually considered a “reboot” of the Bond series. However, though Casino Royale seems to reexamine some of the more popular 007 elements, the filmmakers keep their feet in familiar territory. The movie opens in stark black and white, as James Bond awaits an MI6 agent selling classified information. In flashback, the audience witnesses Bond vigorously obtaining intelligence from the other man’s accomplice, the scene ending with 007 spinning around and firing his weapon. As the opening credits and title song begin, a version of the gun barrel sequence is shown. This insinuates that Casino Royale is almost a prequel, a way to return to square one. Playing the initial scenes without color is much like starting with a blank canvas.

Nevertheless, Casino Royale is not a film which completely reinvents either the James Bond character or the cinematic series. It’s true that, by essentially starting over, the film can disregard former narratives. But there is little connection among the preceding 007 movies. In terms of certain characters and minor plots, some of the entries will link, but major narrative components are concluded with each film, and there is clearly no story arc within the series. In fact, one could argue that the Bond series is reset every time a new actor secures the main role. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969/George Lazenby) was a love story, Live and Let Die (1973/Roger Moore) was more action-oriented, The Living Daylights (Timothy Dalton) featured a more rugged 007, and GoldenEye (1995/Pierce Brosnan) opted for a more dashing spy while retaining the nonstop action.

A number of Bond conventions are acknowledged in Casino Royale, some of them tongue-in-cheek, but many of them in a
manner both serious and respectful to the series. Though Bond’s choice of cocktail in Casino Royale is a concoction he invents and dubs “the Vesper” (which is taken from Fleming’s novel), he does order a martini but, already irate, hisses an apathetic response when asked if he’d prefer the drink shaken or stirred. Likewise, the film seems to mock sexually suggestive names of female characters when Bond jokingly tells Vesper that a supplied document declares her alias as Stephanie Broadchest. Casino Royale, however, also “introduces” viewers to Bond trademarks: in addition to the gun barrel image, the audience sees the spy win an Aston Martin DB5 (much like the one featured in 1964’s Goldfinger) in a poker game and later drive a newer model, wield a Walther P99 (the same gun that, in effect, replaced the PPK for Brosnan in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies), and eventually present himself to a villain as “Bond, James Bond.” Other moments are good-humored nods: Bond hinting that “M” is the first letter of the woman’s name, Craig’s emergence from the ocean recalling Andress in Dr. No, and Vesper’s first line, “I’m the money,” followed by Bond stating that she’s “worth every penny,” a subtle reference to Miss Moneypenny, who does not appear in the film.

When it was evident that Brosnan would not be returning to the series, there was, not surprisingly, a debate on which actor should portray 007. Equally expected was a disapproval over the casting of Craig, who was virtually unknown in the U.S. (despite an impressive resume) and, according to many fans, did not have physical attributes associated with James Bond. Craig’s interpretation of the role is admirable. He has the charisma of Connery and Brosnan, the playfulness of Moore, and the vigor of Dalton. His Bond is one who makes mistakes and questions his decisions, who shows fear when in peril, and who’s visibly cut and bruised after chasing down bad guys. Though flawed he may be, he is still Bond, reacting instinctively, facing danger head on, and oozing charm, regardless of the scars and grime from scuffles. And much like Connery’s early films and Moore in For Your Eyes Only (1981), Bond in Casino Royale relies less on gadgets and more on guile and legwork.

This is the second Bond film directed by Martin Campbell, who also helmed another actor’s Bond debut, GoldenEye, introducing Brosnan as the MI6 agent. Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade had worked on the previous two Bond films, with Paul Haggis also contributing to the script. Haggis’ 2004 film, Crash, which he co-wrote and directed, won multiple awards, including Oscars for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Editing (Haggis was additionally nominated for Best Director). All three Casino Royale writers would script the subsequent 007 film, Quantum of Solace (2008).

Dame Judi Dench was the only actor to reprise her role in Casino Royale. Like in the films with Brosnan, Dench’s performance is precise and assertive, and M’s authority is undisputed. Green as Vesper initially seems detached, but this is her character’s personality, so, as Vesper warms to Bond, viewers will likely embrace the actress’ translation. And while the best actor to play Bond will always be a source of contention, it’s evident that Jeffrey Wright’s turn as CIA agent Felix Leiter is incomparable. He’s just as suave and savvy as his British counterpart. Fortunately, Wright would return to the role in the next Bond movie.

The bomber pursued by Bond in the film’s beginning is played by French actor Sébastien Foucan. Foucan and actor/stuntman David Belle co-founded parkour, a practice which addresses physical efficiency and speed (e.g., finding the quickest way past an obstacle). The actor is credited in the opening with “free running stunts,” to emphasize the action of free running, which Foucan founded and which differs slightly from parkour by focusing more on style in movement than efficiency (though the fact that his character is trying to escape Bond might make
parkour a more practical choice). Since 2006, parkour has become mainstream, although the American practice is closer to free running (particularly competitions, which parkour discourages). Parkour co-founder Belle displays his skills in the Luc Besson produced French films, District 13 (2004/Banlieue 13) and District 13: Ultimatum (2009/Banlieue 13 - Ultimatum).

The song’s theme is “You Know My Name,” performed by Chris Cornell, lead singer of the rock bands, Soundgarden and Audioslave, and written by Cornell and composer David Arnold. It is a beautiful tune that is incorporated throughout the film’s score in lieu of the James Bond theme, which closes the film (furthering the idea of the film introducing known elements of the series).

Casino Royale was nominated for a number of BAFTAs, awarded for Best Sound and Green winning the Orange Rising Star Award. Craig was nominated for a BAFTA and won an Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actor.

Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, first published in 1953, was the first of the author’s novels to feature James Bond. It was also the only Bond novel to have a U.S. paperback printing originally under a different title, with the asinine You Asked For It
(though Casino Royale appeared in small print as a pseudo-subtitle) and the blurb on the back referring to the protagonist, like Climax!, as “Jimmy Bond.”

In spite of the apparent reservations of fans due to Craig’s casting, Casino Royale performed very well, and the actor was accepted as the new 007. Still, there are some who overlook this film. I encourage anyone who has previously brushed off Casino Royale to give it a second viewing, and maybe a third and fourth. James Bond will change with the times, but he remains Bond, James Bond.

Bond Is Forever
will return next month with You Only Live Twice (1967)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Reign of Terror (1949)

Anyone interested in the works of Anthony Mann would be well advised to take a look at his unusual 1949 film Reign of Terror (also known as The Black Book). The film, which takes place in France in 1794, five years after the French Revolution, opens with the public condemnation and execution of Danton, engineered by Maximilien Robespierre (Richard Basehart). Immediately afterward, Robespierre finds that his secret black book, containing a "hit list" of the other rivals he intends to denounce and persuade the street mobs to condemn to the guillotine, has been stolen.

Robespierre wants to be proclaimed absolute dictator of France in a few days' time, but he realizes that if his enemies make public the contents of his black book, this will never happen and he himself will almost certainly be condemned for his aspirations to power. To find the missing book, he sends for a judge from Strasbourg known for his harsh sentencing of enemies of the Revolution (500 condemned in one month alone). This "hanging judge" is assassinated, however, and his place taken by an impostor intent on exposing Robespierre's treachery, Charles D'Aubigny (Robert Cummings). The rest of the movie is essentially a thriller that details D'Aubigny's attempts, aided by his mistress Madelon (Arlene Dahl), to avoid detection and find the missing book.

Those familiar with the films noirs of Mann from the late 1940s and the Westerns he made in the 1950s, considered landmarks of their genres, will recognize elements of both in Reign of Terror. Made almost at the end of Mann's series of noirs and just before his first Western, it can in many ways be seen as a transition between the two. Themes found in Mann's versions of both those genres are also present in Reign of Terror—impersonation, underworld power struggles, loyalty and betrayal, order versus anarchy, the crushing of ordinary people by the lawless, interpersonal conflict that can erupt into what for its time must have been quite shocking physical violence. D'Aubigny might almost be an undercover agent in one of Mann's noirs, like Dennis O'Keefe's character in T-Men, and Robespierre the leader of a criminal gang the agent infiltrates. Similarly, he resembles one of the heroes portrayed by James Stewart in the Westerns, a man trying to bring a criminal to justice, as in The Naked Spur. The black book itself acts as the movie's "McGuffin," in the same way as the stolen loot O'Keefe seeks to retrieve in Raw Deal or the rifle James Stewart tries to track down in Mann's very first Western, Winchester '73.

The rather bland Cummings might seem a surprising choice to play the hero in a romantic intrigue, but he is actually good, playing the role straight, his voice pitched lower than usual, in a restrained performance quite different from the glib, almost camp persona of his 1950s television sitcoms. Basehart is even better as the notorious Robespierre. The highlight of his performance comes near the end of the film with his impassioned speech to the bloodthirsty mob after the contents of the black book are indeed revealed. When he tells the mob that to die for liberty would be a privilege, is he sincere or is it a clever ploy devised by a master strategist to win their sympathy and save his own life? The scene is especially intriguing coming soon after another scene in which he attempts to cajole a young boy into revealing the whereabouts of the black book with gentle, silver-tongued blandishments as cunning as those of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Film noir stalwart Charles McGraw also makes a strong impression as Robespierre's uncouth, sadistic chief henchman. But the acting honors in the movie surely must go to Arnold Moss as Robespierre's ally/rival Fouché. He is by turns menacing, sarcastically flippant, and slyly calculating. One moment he seems trustworthy, the next moment entirely duplicitous.

Robert Cummings and Arnold Moss search for the black book.
But the thing that will keep your eyes glued to the screen the whole time is the sheer visual panache of the film. Cinematographer John Alton and Mann made a formidable team in the three noirs they worked on together (four, if you include Mann's uncredited contribution to He Walked by Night, also with Basehart), but to my mind, visually Reign of Terror surpasses even the most impressive of those. The movie may technically be a historical thriller, but it is in many ways a film noir masquerading as a costume picture. The high-contrast lighting, camera placement and movement, dynamic composition, and depth of field all bear the clear stamp of film noir.

At the same time, Mann's use of outdoor locations, uncommon in the generally set- and interior-bound early noirs, points ahead to his Westerns. Near the beginning of the movie is a striking landscape shot of a lone horse rider seen from a distance slowly moving horizontally across a gently arcing hill, the hill and tiny rider silhouetted against a cloudy sky just after sunset, a shot that wouldn't seem out of place in a Western. The film includes a thrilling action sequence that also prefigures Mann's Westerns, in which D'Aubigny escapes Robespierre by jumping through a glass window (which in a Western would most likely have been the window of a saloon). This is followed by an extended chase with D'Aubigny and Madelon in a wagon, pursued by mounted horsemen through the streets of Paris and then through the countryside, again a scene that might have come directly from a Western.

Receiving credit as producer is the great William Cameron Menzies, noted production designer (Gone With the Wind, For Whom the Bell Tolls) and occasional director (the 1936 version of H. G. Wells's futuristic Things to Come, the 1953 sci-fi classic Invaders from Mars). IMDb lists him as an uncredited art director on Reign of Terror. Even though he doesn't receive formal credit, his hand is evident throughout the film in its production design, and he should receive recognition at the very least as an indirect contributor to the film's strong visual appeal. The baroque bedchamber of D'Aubigny's mistress Madelon, the bakery containing Robespierre's headquarters, Robespierre's torture chamber in the basement of the bakery, his private quarters with their bookcase-lined walls that conceal a secret room—all these settings are tremendously atmospheric, far more so than their economical and rather minimal construction would lead one to expect.

Reign of Terror might fall short of greatness, but it does contain enough spectacular parts to make it a pleasure to watch. Connoisseurs of artistic mise en scène will find much to relish here, and because the film stands on the cusp between Mann's noir and Western periods, admirers of his work will find it indispensable to an appreciation of his development as a director.

This review originally appeared on R.D. Finch's blog The Movie Projector and is reprinted with Mr. Finch's permission.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Trivia Time - Part 76

Here are the remaining answers to last week's TT:

2. Name the well-known leading man of the '40s and '50s who hosted a British cooking show in the early 1970s, and wrote a number of cookbooks as well.

Answer: Vincent Price

5. This star became such a pain that the director was ready to replace him; only the intervention of two of his co-stars saved him. Name the actor, the director, the (early '60s) film and the co-stars.

Answer: Steve McQueen, John Sturgis, The Great Escape, James Garner and James Coburn.

6. Name two films in which James Garner and Eva Marie Saint appeared together.

Answer: Grand Prix and 36 Hours.

And here is Trivia Time 76:

Who Am I? I had a 30+ year career as a character actor; I've worked with everyone in the Golden Age of Hollywood, including Thomas Mitchell, Bette Davis, Claude Rains and Frank Capra, to name a few. But to a whole generation, I was best known for my voice-over work. Who Am I?

Who Said This? "Come and get it! Jack rabbit A-la-modie! Who Said This?

1. Michael Curtiz was not Warner Brothers' first choice to direct Charge of the Light Brigade. Name the original pick for director and the reason why.

2. Leonord Whiting was not Franco Zefferelli's first choice to play Romeo in the 1968 production of Romeo and Juliet. Name the person who was.

3. Name the film which incorporates Erich Korngold's favorite score.

4. What was Korngold's first original score for Warner Brothers? Name the film and the stars.

5. The Smothers Brothers broke the black list for this performer on the first show of their second season. Name the performer involved; what was the unusual step taken by the network?

6. After The Who performed on the Smothers Brothers show, things got a little out of hand. What happened? Be specific.

7. On SCTV, who played "Harry, the guy with a snake on his face!"?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Madness and Death Reside in “The House with Laughing Windows”

Stefano (Lino Capolicchio) is commissioned to restore a mural painting on a church’s wall in a remote Italian village. The painting is apparently a depiction of Saint Sebastian’s martyrdom, with knives penetrating his body. Stefano later sees an old friend, Antonio (Giulio Pizzirani), who wishes to tell him about Legnani, the artist who painted the mural. However, before the two men are able to speak privately, Antonio falls to his death. Stefano continues the restoration and begins a relationship with a teacher, Francesca (Francesca Marciano). Believing that the rather bizarre villagers are hiding something and that his friend may very well have been murdered, Stefano becomes obsessed with learning more about the deranged Legnani, the mysterious painting, and a place that Antonio had mentioned: a house with laughing windows.

Pupi Avati’s The House with Laughing Windows (1976/La casa dalle finestre che ridono) is a methodical, shuddersome thriller permeated with an overwhelming sense of dread. One of the movie’s most notable qualities is its dreamlike imagery. The village is cluttered with strange people, as if they had
just stepped out of a demented Fellini film. The further Stefano delves into Legnani’s life, the more surreal the entire affair becomes: people suddenly disappear and then reappear later with no explanation, flashbacks of Legnani are presented in blurry soft focus, Francesca has a refrigerator filled with snails (the fridge doesn’t even have shelves), and the village at night seems completely deserted. The story, however, is cemented by Stefano’s attempt at solving the mystery. It is what keeps the narrative linear and in motion.
Avati couples the creepy, hypnotic ambiance with more traditional elements of a suspense film. An unknown, raspy voice over the phone warns Stefano against exposing any secrets. A seemingly endless barrage of shadows and noises move about the house where Stefano is staying, and any investigation on the man’s part leads to empty rooms, offbeat strangers, and even greater mysteries. Stefano’s only real-life connection to the painter is an audio recording containing an incomprehensible and maniacal chant. Though some of the film’s most nerve-wracking moments include Stefano searching the house with no dialogue or music, Amedeo Tommasi’s score enhances the film, an appropriately simple piece of music with sharp piano notes that intensify the overall trepidation.

Avati’s greatest achievement with The House with Laughing Windows is the impact that he acquires with a minimalist approach. The bare-bones story and unassuming score easily pull along the viewers, yet are both augmented as Legnani’s life and the secrets of the village slowly come to light. There is very little nudity or blood in the film, but the movie is shocking and profound, with a strong jolt to conclude the film. Tension is derived through performances and an audience’s clear understanding (as suggested by Francesca) that Stefano’s journey will likely not end well. The v
ery fact that Avati is not truly hiding anything is ultimately what makes the movie so disturbing.
Avati, born Giuseppe Avati, is a prolific screenwriter and director. Though he is a versatile filmmaker who has worked in many different genres, he is well known among horror fans for this film, as well as his 1983 Zeder, concerning a writer who uncovers a scientist’s study of an area where buried bodies come back to life. In addition to writing or co-writing the films that he has directed, Avati has co-written other directors’ work, such as Macabre (1980/aka Frozen Terror), the directorial debut of Lambero Bava, son of Italian horror maestro, Mario Bava, and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Saló, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975), though he was uncredited.

The first draft of The House with Laughing Windows was written by the director and his brother, Antonio Avati, a number of years previous to the film’s release. The script was chosen when needing to make a film with a low budget, and the brothers finalized the screenplay with two additional writers, Gianni Cavina (who also stars in the film) and Maurizio Costanzo (a frequent Avati collaborator).

Actress Marciano has since become an author and screenwriter, co-writing, among other things, 2005’s Don’t Tell (aka La bestia nel cuore), which was the Italian selection for that year’s Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award nomination. Eugene Walter, who appears in The House with the Laughing Windows as a priest, was an American but made appearances in a number of Italian films, including Federico Fellini’s (1963) and Juliet of the Spirits (1965). He also translated some of Fellini’s scripts into English and was an award-winning author of novels, short stories, poems and cookbooks.
Despite its title, there is nothing to laugh at in The House with Laughing Windows. In fact, it is devoid of humor, a film that will make some viewers wish for the protagonist, Stefano, to forget about the mystery and find somewhere to hide. The movie does include a superficial rendering of the title, but it is undoubtedly allegorical. Some stones are better left unturned. But there will always be a curious party, as well as a lurking evil, content in the knowledge that all it has to do is wait.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What Are the Twins Hiding? Robert Mulligan’s “The Other”

It is the summer of 1935, and twins Niles (Chris Udvarnoky) and Holland (Martin Udvarnoky) spend all their time on the family farm. The two sometimes congregate in the apple cellar, though it is prohibited due to their father’s death by falling down the cellar stairs. Their grief-stricken mother (Diana Muldaur) passes most days in her bedroom, while their sister, Torrie (Jenny Sullivan), and her husband, Rider (a pre-Three’s Company John Ritter), are expecting a child soon. The first of a series of accidents occurs when the twins’ cousin jumps from the barn’s upper floor onto a haystack and is killed by a partially hidden pitchfork. What makes the incident suspicious is the fact that the cousin had recently caught Niles and Holland in the apple cellar and had threatened to tell someone.

Robert Mulligan’s The Other (1972) is based on actor-turned-novelist Thomas Tryon’s book of the same name, adapted for the scre
en by the author (who was also an executive producer). Tryon had acted in films such as I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) and Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal (1963), earning a Golden Globe nomination for the latter, but fared better with a writing career after he retired from acting. Director/producer Mulligan won an Academy Award for To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and was also nominated for a Golden Globe for Summer of ‘42 (1971). His brother, Richard Mulligan, was an actor and perhaps best remember for his leading role on the successful TV series, Empty Nest (a spinoff of The Golden Girls).

Mulligan’s movie begins with Niles sitting alone in the woods. He is apparently spooked by a noise but is visibly relieved when seeing his brother. This relief seems to carry over to the audience, comforted by the innocence of children. For the most part, Mulligan retains this mood, and the first half of the film almost feels like a drama. Contrarily, the twins’ Russian grandmother (Uta Hagen) plays a “game” with Niles, in which he transports himself into others and can see from their perspectives (witnessing a bird’s flight and a magician’s secret escape while performing a trick). Not fully knowing if Niles is genuinely achieving this power creates a general uneasiness that is amplified as the film progresses.

There is a distinct difference between Niles and Holland. Holland is clearly the instigator when trouble is brewing. Older than Niles
by a mere twenty minutes, he is the dominant twin, often referring to Niles as “Little Brother.” More importantly, Mulligan never frames the two of them together. It eventually becomes hard to distinguish the two, as they not only dress alike, but are carrying the same things: at a carnival, for instance, they’re both holding cotton candy, and later a bag of popcorn. These visual cues, coupled with the fact that only Niles is shown interacting with other people, will likely lead an audience to question whether or not Holland even exists.

Niles typically has with him a tobacco tin containing items, including a ring and something wrapped in blue tissue paper. He keeps the tobacco tin in his shirt, which can be easily seen, as well as heard, with the items clanging against the tin when he runs. This is initially amusing but takes on an entirely new meaning when learning that the ring was supposed to have been buried with his father and seeing what is inside the tissue paper. These events all take place within the film’s first half, and it is the second half where it all becomes increasingly unsettling.

Chris and Martin Udvarnoky (the former with more screen t
ime) are both good, particularly considering the complexities of their characters. The best performances, however, are from Hagen and Muldaur. Muldaur later had recurring roles on Star Trek: The Next Generation and L.A. Law (and had previously starred in two episodes of the original Star Trek). Because actress Hagen was blacklisted in Hollywood, listed in the Red Channels report, she had few film roles. She was a prominent and successful performer in the theater, awarded a Tony on three occasions, including one for the role of Martha in the original stage production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? She was married to José Ferrer, appearing with him in the plays Key Largo, Vickie and Othello. The couple divorced in 1948. Hagen joined the HB (Herbert Berghof) Studio as the founder’s “artistic partner,” and the two were wed in 1957. She taught classes at the Studio, which led to her books, Respect for Acting (a common textbook in acting courses) and A Challenge for the Actor.

Mulligan’s film is methodically slow, but it aptly builds tension. It’s also remarkably subtle. Characters are continually pitted in situations in which a name or an object elicits an emotional response. The director shows the audience very little, so what keeps viewers on their edge of their seats is not what’s happening but simply the idea that something bad will happen or already has. Mulligan essentially presents the story in a straightforward manner and allows imaginations to run amok. In the end, the audience scares itself.