50 year anniversary: “To Kill a Mockingbird”

March 16th, 2013 by

The movie To Kill a Mockingbird premiered in L.A. on December 25, 1962, then in New York on February 14, 1963, but it opened nationwide 50 years ago today. Here is the movie’s original trailer:

The movie is, of course, based on the novel by Harper Lee. Horton Foote wrote the screenplay adaptation and Richard Mulligan directed the movie. It starred Gregory Peck in arguably the greatest role of his career as single father and lawyer Atticus Finch. An IMDB plot summary:

Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge, and his kids against prejudice.

Here is an excerpt of Finch’s summation argument in the court case:

You may listen to the entirety of Finch’s summary argument here.

The story is told through eyes of Finch’s six year-old daughter Scout played by Mary Badham:

In a pivotal scene where locals have gathered outside the jail intent on killing the defendant Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), Scout along with her brother Jem and friend Dill play a critical role:

Notice how the camera tracks through the crowd of men, intimating Scout’s perspective.

This is a powerful movie, selected by the American Film Institute as the #1 courtroom drama of all time. It is especially evocative for me because my father, an Air Force officer, attended the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama from 1963-1964. It was my first time in the segregated South and a major eye-opening experience. George Wallace, a staunch segregationist, assumed the office of Alabama’s governor in 1963. That same year, he stood in front of the doorway of the University of Alabama in an attempt to block the entrance to some African-American students. That’s a well-known event. Less familiar is the fact that in September of that year, Wallace again tried to block the desegregation of some public schools in the state — elementary schools.

I was an elementary student at that time. It was there on November 22, 1963, a school official interrupted our class to announce that President John Kennedy had been shot. Some of the students clapped.

Movies exist for any number of reasons. To Kill a Mockingbird is much more than a commentary on racism, one reason it is such a special film. But to me at its philosophical core, it is about the power of humanity against the insanity of dehumanization.

That is a big reason why To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my very favorite movies.

For more, you may go here for commentary and video about the PBS American Masters documentary “Harper Lee: Hey, Boo”. Here is a clip featuring the author:

What are your thoughts about To Kill a Mockingbird?

Happy Birthday, “Casablanca”

January 23rd, 2013 by

Casablanca was released 70 years ago today: January 23, 1943. [It had its world premiere on November 26, 1942 in New York City.] It is one of the most iconic movies of all time, voted the #1 screenplay of all time by the WGA which is ironic because apparently there never was a finished script. Check out the Wikipedia entry on the writing of the movie:

The original play was inspired by a trip to Europe made by Murray Burnett in 1938, during which he visited Vienna shortly after the Anschluss, where he saw discrimination by Nazis first-hand. In the south of France, he came across a nightclub, which had a multinational clientele and the prototype of Sam, the black piano player. In the play, the Ilsa character was an American named Lois Meredith and did not meet Laszlo until after her relationship with Rick in Paris had ended; Rick was a lawyer. To make Rick’s motivation more believable, Wallis, Curtiz, and the screenwriters decided to set the film before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The first writers assigned to the script were the Epstein twins, Julius and Philip who, against the wishes of Warner Brothers, left after the attack on Pearl Harbor at Frank Capra’s request to work on the “Why We Fight” series in Washington, D.C. While they were gone, the other credited writer, Howard Koch was assigned to the script and produced some thirty to forty pages. When the Epstein brothers returned after a month, they were reassigned to Casablanca and—contrary to what Koch claimed in two published books—his work was not used. In the final Warner Brothers budget for the film, the Epsteins were paid $30,416 and Koch $4,200.

The uncredited Casey Robinson assisted with three weeks of rewrites, including contributing the series of meetings between Rick and Ilsa in the cafe. Koch highlighted the political and melodramatic elements, while Curtiz seems to have favored the romantic parts, insisting on retaining the Paris flashbacks. Wallis wrote the final line (“Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”) after shooting had been completed. Bogart had to be called in a month after the end of filming to dub it. Despite the many writers, the film has what Ebert describes as a “wonderfully unified and consistent” script. Koch later claimed it was the tension between his own approach and Curtiz’s which accounted for this: “Surprisingly, these disparate approaches somehow meshed, and perhaps it was partly this tug of war between Curtiz and me that gave the film a certain balance.” Julius Epstein would later note the screenplay contained “more corn than in the states of Kansas and Iowa combined. But when corn works, there’s nothing better.”

The film ran into some trouble from Joseph Breen of the Production Code Administration (the Hollywood self-censorship body), who opposed the suggestions that Captain Renault extorted sexual favors from his supplicants, and that Rick and Ilsa had slept together in Paris. Extensive changes were made, with several lines of dialogue removed and/or altered, and all direct references to sex in the film removed. Additionally, when Sam played “As Time Goes By” in the original script, Rick had remarked “What the —— are you playing?” This line implying a curse word was removed at the behest of the Hays Office, and both Renault’s selling of visas for sex, and Rick and Ilsa’s previous sexual relationship were implied elliptically rather than referenced explicitly.

Someone once described Casablanca as a B-movie that God reached down and turned into an A-movie. Works for me!

Here is the Variety review dated December 1, 1942. Excerpts:

Exhibs, in selling the picture, will do well to bear in mind that it goes heavy on the love theme. Although the title and Humphrey Bogart’s name convey the impression of high adventure rather than romance, there’s plenty of the latter for the femme trade. Adventure is there, too, but it’s more as exciting background to the Bogart-Bergman heart department. Bogart, incidentally, as a tender lover (in addition to being a cold-as-ice nitery operator) is a novel characterization that, properly billed, might itself be good for some coin in the trough.


Bogart, as might be expected, is more at ease as the bitter and cynical operator of a joint than as a lover, but handles both assignments with superb finesse. Bergman, in a torn-between-love-and-duty role, lives up to her reputation as a fine actress. Henreid is well cast and does an excellent job too.

Superb is the lineup of lesser players. Some of the characterizations are a bit on the overdone side, but each is a memorable addition to the whole. There’s Claude Rains, as the charmingly-corrupt prefect of police; Sydney Greenstreet, as the polite and insidious boss of Casablanca’s underground traffic in visas; Peter Lorre, as a sinister runner of phony papers; Conrad Veidt, as the usual German officer; S. Z. Sakall, as a waiter in Rick’s and a participant in the anti-Axis underground; and Leonid Kinskey as Rick’s bartender.

Of course, no reference to Casablanca can stand without including this monumental scene:

So let’s wish Casablanca a Happy Birthday today with your memories, thoughts and feelings about the film. Do you remember the first time you saw it? What are your favorite scenes? Favorite lines of dialogue? Who is your favorite character? Where does the movie slot in on your all-time favorite list? It’s definitely in my Top 10.

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month: Day 30

April 30th, 2012 by

This is the third year in a row I’ve run this series in April. And here we are, thirty days later with one last story idea: Minnesota school quashes senior’s porn-star prom date:

A Minnesota school district has quashed a high school’s senior plan to bring a porn star to his senior prom.

Mike Stone, 18, had tweeted hundreds of porn actresses with an invitation to the Tartan High School prom May 12 until adult film star Megan Piper accepted his proposal.

Piper tells KSTP-TV’s Mark Saxenmeyer that she missed her own prom and couldn’t turn down Stone’s invitation.

“It was a sweet gesture. It was so cute. I couldn’t say no,” she tells the Twin Cities TV station.

The adult film star adds that she had no intention of turning the evening into a sordid spectacle: “I don’t plan to show up butt naked or anything. I’m going to wear a pretty prom dress.”

Back in 1987, there was a movie called Can’t Buy Me Love starring a very young Patrick Dempsey. By the way, you can see the entire movie online for free here:

Here is the movie’s summary:

Ronald Miller is tired of being a nerd, and makes a deal with one of the most popular girls in school to help him break into the “cool” clic. He offers her a thousand dollars to pretend to be his girlfriend for a month. It succeeds, but he soon learns that the price of popularity may be higher than he expected.

Is that an 80’s high concept or what? Actually as I recall, the movie was based on a spec script that was originally titled “Boy Rents Girl.”

Which brings me to Mr. Stone from Oakdale, Minnesota who managed to secure a porn star for his date to his high school prom.

Hijinks and mayhem ensue?

Porky’s for the post-modern generation?

What would you do with this story idea?

By the way, perhaps the best scene from Can’t Buy Me Love is where Ronald, who is deathly afraid of dancing, finally busts loose with some moves… he learned from a PBS featuring an African anteater ritual. At first it looks like Ron will make a fool of himself, but then…

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — April 27

April 27th, 2012 by

This is the third year in a row I’ve run this series in April. Today’s story: ‘Most wanted’ fugitive spotted on school field trip:

SEATTLE — The Seattle School District is investigating how a fugitive from the law ended up on a school field trip Wednesday afternoon.

A fellow parent recognized the man, Donald Vasser, from the TV show “Washington’s Most Wanted,” and police were called in.

Vasser fled, but turned himself in after patrol officers, SWAT and a K-9 unit spent hours searching for him. A Department of Corrections employee reached Vasser on the phone and convinced him to give up.

The drama started when 20 Lowell Elementary students and a few adults went to Cal Anderson Park for an ice-skating field trip. Vasser was one of the chaperones.

“He wanted to go to this field trip with his daughter because she was really wanting him to go,” said Mary Vasser-Johnson, Vasser’s mother. “He said he was going to take a chance because he didn’t want to disappoint her.”

“He said he was going to take a chance because he didn’t want to disappoint her.”

Take it from there, folks.

What would you do with this story?

HT to Annika Wood for finding the link.

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — Day 24

April 24th, 2012 by

This is the third year in a row I’ve run this series in April. Today’s story: A heated wax museum war takes shape in Hollywood:

Dissing Angelina Jolie normally isn’t the best way to get ahead in this town.

But tough times call for tough tactics in the war of the Hollywood wax museums.

Madame Tussauds, which considers itself the ne plus ultra of wax artistry — with the $25 ticket price to match — is trying to best its cheaper competitor, the Hollywood Wax Museum, with a new marketing blitz stressing the defects in its rival’s paraffin starlets, singers and comics.

In a wax version of a cola taste test, Madame Tussauds plans to let visitors decide whose figures most closely resemble their glamorous living counterparts. Starting this week, Madame Tussauds will begin placing a celebrity replica in its lobby alongside a life-size cut-out photo of the same figure snapped at the Hollywood Wax Museum. First up is Jolie.

The message: Our Angie is hot. Theirs is not.

Madame Tussauds plans to rotate the figures every few days. It’s also putting up posters in its lobby, citing negative online reviews of the Hollywood Wax Museum next to positive reviews for Madame Tussauds.

“I personally think we are better than the Hollywood Wax Museum,” said Colin Thomas, general manager of Madame Tussauds, which opened its $60-million attraction in a prime location next to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in 2009.

Tej Sundher, whose grandfather opened the Hollywood Wax Museum a block away in 1965, says he isn’t fazed by Madame Tussauds’ sniping. He said his tickets, priced at $15.95, offer visitors good value for their money. And while he admits his museum doesn’t have the cachet of his internationally famous rival, he said his wax figures can hold their own.

“I’ll compare my Hugh Hefner with their Hugh Hefner any day,” he said, pointing to his museum’s wax depiction of the Playboy founder dressed in a satin bathrobe and stretched out on a bed.

In the grand tradition of Tin Men (1987), War of the Roses (1989) and Grumpy Old Men (1993), how about a quirky — there’s that damn word again! — competition comedy? It could be a pair of wax museums. It could be Hollywood.

Or it could be any pair of businesses. Or any sort of rivalry.

There is a movie currently in development originally called “Turkey Bowl,” but renamed “Three Mississippi” with this premise: “A feud exists between two families over an annual Thanksgiving touch football game that has existed for 50 years.”

That is a great comedic premise. The Hatfields and McCoys set in the holiday season involving an activity we all associate with Thanksgiving.

Hijinks and mayhem ensue [Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, and Alec Baldwin are attached].

So what sort of rivalry conceit can you come up with? Or work with the specific one above: Two wax museums going up against each other.

What would you do with this idea?

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — Day 23

April 23rd, 2012 by

This is the third year in a row I’ve run this series in April. Today’s story: Man Fakes Mom’s Obit To Get Time Off:

BROOKVILLE, Pa. — Authorities in northwestern Pennsylvania say a man published an obituary for his living mother in a ploy to get paid bereavement time off from work.

Relatives called The Jeffersonian Democrat newspaper in Brookville after the obit appeared to report the woman was actually alive and well. The woman herself then visited the paper.

Brookville police charged 45-year-old Scott Bennett on Tuesday with disorderly conduct.

Democrat editor Randy Bartley says he accepted the obituary in good faith after being unable to confirm the funeral arrangements at press time. He told The Derrick newspaper on Friday that the woman was very understanding.

Police Chief Ken Dworek says Bennett wrote up the memorial notice because he didn’t want to get fired for taking time off.

It should be pretty apparent by now I like quirky characters. Like a guy who would report to the local newspaper his mother had died… so they would print an obituary… in order that he wouldn’t get fired for “taking time off.”

Now logic would dictate that this is actually a really dumb thing to do because with said mother still alive, the dude’s plan would eventually unravel.

But to me, that’s the beauty of it: His plan was so stupid, it comes across as quirky… at least to me.

What to do with this conceit? Because of the fact that once the mother appears, the dude’s story would unravel, I went in two different directions.

First dark comedy: In order to protect his lie, the dude sets out to kill his mother.

Second quirky comedy: What if this mother character was a real bitch? She lived in this small rural town. Or a tiny foreign village. It’s an idyllic place… except for this hard-assed, mean-spirited, trouble-causing, narcissist shrew. The townspeople meet. Someone suggests whacking her. But they’re too kindhearted to do that. So they come up with a plan: They are going to declare her to be dead.

Perhaps they it’s meant to be performance art. Maybe they just want to go through a catharsis and enjoy themselves, at least as a fantasy, of life without the town bitch.

But what if they treat this woman as a ghost, literally acting like she is dead?

Then what if over time, the woman herself comes to believe it, too?

She’s a living ‘ghost.’

But now she becomes completely transformed, going from nuisance to the sweetest little old thing for miles. And what if one of them goes to talk to her, and in so doing mentions a problem, then miraculously, the problem is resolved.

What if the villagers begin to see her as a saint? They line up to offer her to bless them. She thinks she is in Heaven and really is a saint, and she kindly dispenses blessings upon them.

Everyone could live with this except for one thing: If she’s dead, the woman figures she doesn’t need to eat. As a result, she is slowly starving to death.

Now what will the villagers do? They have to convince her she’s alive. But they can’t. So perhaps they have to ‘resurrect’ her.

This thing can just keep spinning on and on and on, yes?

What would you do with this story?

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — Day 22

April 22nd, 2012 by

This is the third year in a row I’ve run this series in April. Today’s story: Paralympian Eyeing The Olympics After Crash Miraculously Un-Paralyzes Her:

Paralyzed from the hip down since she was 13, Monique van der Vorst was an accomplished paralympian cyclist. She won two silver medals in the handcycling road at the Beijing Paralympics.

Last year, she was in an accident and fell off her wheelchair. While recovering from the trauma, her feet started to tingle and miraculously she began to move them again. She spent months in the hospital and in the rehabilitation centre trying to regain the use of her legs.

Imagine perceiving your life one way, then suddenly it is another experience entirely. Going from paralyzed to mobile. And now van der Vorst will be attempting to become an Olympic athlete as a cyclist.

Interesting that we’ve had a few of these medical miracle type stories. Even with as much as science has learned about human bodies, these incidents remind us what doctors don’t know is much more than what they do know. As the article says of van der Vorst, “Doctors have no explanation for her miraculous recovery.”

What would you do with this story idea?

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — Day 21

April 21st, 2012 by

This is the third year in a row I’ve run this series in April. Today’s story: Surprise Twins: Man Sues Fertility Clinic:

A father of 4-year-old twins is claiming his ex-girlfriend stole his sperm and impregnated herself at a fertility clinic and is now suing for full custody of his sons.

Joseph Pressil, who currently lives in Long Island, N.Y., had moved to Houston, Texas to be with his ex, and even bought a house there. Now, he says, he has no plans to go back.

“This was so shocking to me,” Joseph Pressil told ABCNews.com. “I met her in Miami, Fla., in May 2006. I remember that day,” said Pressil, 36. “That was the beginning of the end.”

The couple broke up at the end of November that same year and just three months later she told him she was pregnant. They eventually proved paternity with a DNA test, and Pressil, a telecommunications manager, began paying more than $800 a month in child support.

Then, this February, he discovered a receipt in his mailbox for sperm cryopreservation.


Now, he says, her behavior during sex makes more sense.

“At the time she was giving me these condoms, and she said because of her fibroids these condoms were not lubricated, and would not affect the fibroid enlargement,” he explained. “Every time she would give me these condoms after the sex she would leave the room. She’d come back, give me something to drink. We always had sex in the morning and she’d say she had to go do something. She would leave about 10 or 15 minutes afterward.”

According to the Mayo Clinic website, sperm ejaculated outside of the body can survive, at most, for a few hours.


He currently has joint custody of the children, and plans to seek full custody “because of all her scandalous ways.”

In the lawsuit he’s asking for a jury to determine how he ought to be compensated for child support and mental anguish.

The entire incident is simply “embarrassing” he said. “How do you let someone do that without knowing?”

Oh, yeah, she was an “exotic dancer.” Is this a post-modern Disney movie? A satire in the vein of War of the Roses in which it becomes dueling lawsuits leading to violence?

What would you do with this story?

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — Day 20

April 20th, 2012 by

This is the third year in a row I’ve run this series in April. Today’s story: This 1.8-Ton WW2 Bomb Could Have Destroyed a German City:

45,000 people had to be evacuated after two extremely dangerous bombs were found in the Rhine River, 65 years after they were dropped by British and American planes.

The biggest was a British 1.8-ton bomb that had the potential to destroy the entire city center, according to the fire department of Koblenz, the German town were the devices were located. The bombs had remained unperturbed in the Rhine River for decades. This metal beast was found completely intact and ready to go when the water level dropped to an all-time low this year.

But the most dangerous was the American 275-pound high-explosive bomb. While the British shell was in good condition and its deactivation was relatively straightforward, the compact bomb was extremely difficult to deactivate. The impact had made it highly unstable.

The bomb experts destroyed a third device too, but this one was only annoying: a fog generator dropped by Allied airplanes to make hard for anti-aircraft battery operators to hit bombers.

What a great excuse for some nefarious thieving types to evacuate an entire city. Just think of all those empty banks, businesses, houses. So a ruse perhaps.

Or is there a thriller to be had here? The life of some German city, decades removed from war, thrown up into the air by some recently discovered bombs that could go off with the slightest noise or vibration.

Or extract the conceit and move it to the U.S.: Some perfect little suburb wakes up one morning with emails and texts sent to all its citizens. Nobody get in their cars. Nobody leave. We have the entire city rigged with bombs. Somebody doesn’t believe them. Starts car engine. Kaboom!

Are there really bombs everywhere or just an attempt to foment civil unrest based on paranoia? Who are the bombers? What are their goals?

What would you do with this story idea?

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — Day 19

April 19th, 2012 by

This is the third year in a row I’ve run this series in April. Today’s story: Finance pros turn $1 into $254M with lottery:

Three privileged investors plunked down a dollar for a single lottery ticket at a Connecticut gas station — and scored the biggest jackpot in the state’s history.

The trio, who run a Greenwich-based asset-management firm, yesterday stepped up to claim their whopping $254 million Powerball windfall, ending a 27-day mystery over who had landed the top prize in the Nov. 2 drawing.

Well-heeled winners Tim Davidson, Brandon Lacoff and Greg Skidmore showed up in a super-sized stretch limo and business suits for a press conference at Connecticut Lottery headquarters in Rocky Hill to collect their dough.

They appeared nervous, sipping bottled water and remaining mum, as lottery officials said the jet-setting, French-speaking Davidson bought the lucky $1 ducat at a BP gas station near his Stamford waterfront condo.

Davidson, 59, let the computer choose the winning numbers: 12-14-34-39-46, Powerball 36.

On their way out of the press conference, Skidmore, a 35-year-old former member of the US Sailing Team and an Olympic hopeful, only quipped, “It feels good.”

I’m thinking a dark comedy. How about a group of blue collar workers. They always play the same set of numbers. Every week. 12-14-34-39-46, Powerball 35.

This week there go the ping pong balls on TV.

12. 14. 34. 39.

With each number the workers get more excited.


Now they are freaking out. One more ball!

Powerball time. And they can see 35 start to go up the tube, then remarkably falls out, then another ball goes up,


Heartbreak! Then they discover the winners. It’s three uber-yuppie investment banker types. Former members of the Olympic sailing team. We are talking Cos Cob compared to the blue collar types who live in Bridgeport or East Haven.

It’s the 99% vs. the 1%. And the 99% feel like that is their money.

Anything there?

What would you do with this story idea?