Wednesday, December 2, 2009

RETURN TO THE TRUNK - January 1963 (Route 66)

In early September when I started this blog, there were two things I didn’t know: (1) that photographs and film clips could be included and (2) how to do it. The first was easy to take care of; the second took some excellent tutoring. And now that I’m comfortable doing it, I think I would like to go back to the first show, IN THE CLOSING OF A TRUNK, and include some film clips. If you would like to reread that first posting, it is in the Blog Archive to the right of this column. Just open SEPTEMBER and you will find it there.

I spoke early on about the advantage of a good ‘hook’ to begin a show. StIrling Silliphant certainly gave me one in this script -- in fact, more than one.

I remember the graciousness and kindness of Jack Marta to a very inexperienced director. When I staged this scene, Alma opened the door, and the trunk was on the porch. It was awkward for Todd to pull it into the room, as I directed him to do. Jack quietly suggested that I have it leaning against the door, so that it would fall into the room.

The ferry sequence was another big first for me. This was filming on a much larger scale than anything I had yet attempted. And I had never filmed such an extended sequence with so little dialogue.

The ferry was in movement for every shot. And no, those weren't star-struck sea gulls anxious to break into the movies; they were hungry birds only too willing to feed on the bread crumbs that a couple of our crew were tossing off at the front of the ferry.

Todd takes pity and offers Alma a ride. Another first for me. In Hollywood this would have been shot in process. Here we did it live, with the camera and lights mounted on the back of a truck, filming the actors in the Corvette, which was being towed.

Let me remind you of what I wrote in my original posting -- the first scene I filmed for this show on the second day was the fish house, the scene having been dictated the evening before on the telephone by the Hollywood office to our production office. The five actors only had the first twenty-three pages of the script and this scene. And you will remember this is what we filmed in the afternoon; the morning's work was lost to a camera malfunction.

I wrote extensively of the fishing sequence in my September posting. I am still amazed at the remarkable concentration of the two fine actors out in that cold, cold water. And even more astounded at the way the waves keep increasing as the intensity of the scene heats up.

Ed Begley made a career of playing characters like Kyle Hawkes. On Broadway he won a Tony for INHERIT THE WIND, and in Hollywood he won an Oscar for SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH. Off screen he was a pussy cat, a sweet, gentle man with a wonderful sense of humor

We battled the problem of the weather constantly. We would be filming inside the house, because the sky was overcast. Suddenly the sun would come out. We would finish the shot we were on and move outside immediately. The amazing thing was the crowds from Corpus Christi would have come out to our location and were lined up to watch us by the time we were ready to roll. One day a woman came rushing up to tell me, “Your filming here is the most exciting thing that has happened here since Hurricane Delilah.” (I’m not sure I’ve remembered the correct hurricane, but I do remember the woman.)

There was one shot I was going to need, shooting from inside the house out to the beach that would also require good light. One day as I was working inside the house with Martin and Ruth, the sun broke through. We hadn’t even staged the scene yet, but I asked Ruth if she could do one shot for me out of context. Here is that shot.

Then we blocked, rehearsed and filmed the full scene.

I was (then and now) terribly impressed with Don Dubbins’ work in the following scene. It was the climactic scene for his character, and he had to do it on his first day of shooting. He received the scene the night before when it was dictated over the telephone from Hollywood. As of that time he still didn’t have the full script, it wouldn’t arrive until the next day.

Don was another of that large horde of actors I speak of whose luck didn’t match their talent. He had starred with Deborah Kerr in the national company of TEA AND SYMPATHY, playing the role John Kerr had played on Broadway. After some small roles in Hollywood films (FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, THE D.I.) James Cagney took a shine to him and had him in two of his movies, TRIBUTE TO A BAD MAN and THESE WILDER YEARS. I worked with Don the first time when he starred in a Pasadena Playhouse main stage production. This was our second film together, he having guest starred in a CHECKMATE the year before.

Todd returns to Alma’s house, the trunk is delivered and the story is right back where it started. Incidentally there was no pier for Kyle and Mattie near Alma's house. That pier was way up the coast toward where the ferry was located. I wonder if I should be giving away all these trade secrets.

Ruth did something as an actress that I have never seen anyone else do. She always carried a handkerchief in which she had an ammonia capsule (smelling salts). Before each take she would break the capsule and take a couple of quick whiffs. It gave her that throaty on the verge of tears feeling, and her performance took it from there.

Jack Marta had told me that one of their trucks had a hoist on the front. He said if we laid a board flooring on the hoist, we could place a camera on it and create a camera boom. The only draw back was that it could only be used descending; when it ascended, it jerked. I planned to use the lighter Arriflex camera with its zoom lens. Since that shot would stop when Mattie got out of the car, there was not going to be any dialogue (we would be shooting MOS -- mit out sound) so the noisy Arriflex would be useable.

Once I had the complete script, I had only one MAJOR complaint. After Alma's breakdown scene there was a scene between Mattie and Kyle in the car when they pull up to the ferry. Mattie had a long, long speech explaining why he was going to leave with Alma. I felt there was no way an expository scene could top what I felt we would be achieving (and did achieve) with Alma’s breakdown. I told Bert that I thought I could do it more effectively visually without all those words. I felt a silence between Mattie and Kyle would be more revealing than any words. And then Mattie's long walk past all of the villagers, acknowledging that he was what they had called him. Bert bought it.

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