GRANT PAGE – End of an Era


Grantley John Page (1939 – 2024)

Grant Page was Australia’s pioneer stunt performer and my friend for fifty-two years. I will miss him terribly. He was an inspiring man, who lived uncompromisingly. Most people accept that age weighs upon us, gravity holds us down, death awaits us if we dare too much. Not necessarily, said Grant, as he successfully tampered with the laws of physics and probability.  The ‘have a go’ spirit, the ‘think it through, take good aim, and go for it’ quality that has distinguished Australian achievers in all fields of endeavor was clearly present in Grant. He had courage and daring, tempered by a realistic attitude about the risks of his profession in the era before computer generated stunts.



Grant and I met when I needed someone to perform a rope slide off The Gap in Sydney. As an ex-commando, he was an ideal candidate. This was before Grant was defined as a stuntman; he was doing stunts for fun and the challenge of working them out.

There was a raw masculinity about him and an understated self-confidence, not unlike Errol Flynn. I instantly saw that he had the potential for a career both on the screen and behind the camera, and became his manager for the next five years, creating vehicles for Grant that would demonstrate his expertise: Kung Fu Killers, The Man from Hong Kong, Dangerfreaks, Death Cheaters, and Stunt Rock.


As a stunt coordinator and second unit director, he was a charismatic team leader. All those who knew Grant had their spirits lifted by the force of his inimitable personality and “can-do” attitude to the challenges of his work. He was charming, witty and had a forceful intellect. But above all, Grant had a generous life-affirming spirit.


He understood the art of illusion, that a stuntman’s role was to make something look dangerous without actual risk to himself and his team. His work on George Miller’s Mad Max firmly established Grant’s international reputation for death-defying images, and showed the world that the fledgling Australian film industry could deliver Hollywood level action and mayhem.

Such eye-popping stunts were a major contribution to the development of our film industry, and got Australian genre films international respect. Grant would go on to forge a distinguished career in film, which continued to the end, including work on the latest addition to the Mad Max canon, Furiosa.  

It would be impossible to express the depth of Grant’s meaning to my life. Grant and I shared the deepest respect for our fathers, veterans of World War II, for their courage and resourcefulness, dedication. We both tried to emulate our fathers, and their examples motivated our respective careers. Grant and I were good and sometimes mischievous influences on one another. We did fire stunts, climbed cliffs and got up to other shenanigans. Here he climbs the London County Council  Building.

We respected each others’ counsel. One piece of Grant’s advice proved fateful.  The night before I first met Margaret, Grant had said, “You should get married, mate.”  The next day, photographed here, it was love at first sight, and I immediately saw the wisdom of his words.

Over the next half century, we three shared a deep personal and professional friendship. Our world will not be the same without him in it.

Vale,  Grant Page.




HIGH STRANGENESS will premiere at this year’s Melbourne Underground Film Festival between December 8 – 16.  MUFF is an ideal venue for films with an offbeat approach to their genre.

I am one of two executive producers, the other being Philippe Mora, who made a remarkable UFO abduction movie himself:  Communion, starring Christopher Walken.

Communion beat out Close Encounters in the Movieweb survey linked here:

I made a UFO movie for the  Sci-Fi Channel, “Official Denial”, aimed at family audiences. Both Philippe and I share the X Files’ belief that the truth is out there


Finally, after decades of denial, the recent United States Congressional hearings showed authentic radar footage of UFOs, or UAPs as they are now being called, and acknowledged such phenomena has yet to be explained.

Philippe Mora and I support High Strangeness because it is creatively ambitious; an example of gonzo, seat of the pants film making at the micro budget level. Producer Destiny West and writer/ actor/ director/ editor Casper Jean Rimbaud made the film basically with their bare hands.

One of the many subsets of Horror Cinema is psychosis horror. Who could forget this image from Roman Polanski’s Repulsion?

Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor,  Martin Scorsese’s Shudder Island are classic examples of a character’s descent into madness.

Writer director Casper Jean Rimbaud, for his first film, has adopted a meta approach to psychosis horror, as viewed through the prism of popular culture conspiracy theories.

Here’s the trailer:

High Strangeness is a UFO abduction fever dream, told not from outside, but from inside the principal character’s psychosis.  Abigail is under stress. She is moving into her deceased parents’ empty farm house in remote Western Australia with her 10 year old  sister, but her boyfriend, who’s supposed to help, keeps being delayed by a business deal that will not close.    

Abigail suffers from a syndrome of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder known as ‘pure’ OCD; random intrusive thoughts and corner of the eye manifestations  cutting in and out, unable to be dismissed., causing her world to become a warped, surreal and frightening place.  The secrets of the house seem to come alive. Time, memory, and delusion elide, with tragic results.

The director uses this disjunctive framework to homage his heroes – Hitchcock, Carpenter, Craven, Hooper, Kubrick, Polanski, Von Trier, Scorsese, Coppola and Spielberg He conjures up a dark side of the moon Close Encounters, filtered though the pastel atomic-age flying saucer movies of the 1950s. Particularly the original ‘Invaders from Mars’. Rimbaud underscores his mixed media image making with a sound design of creeping dread. His stated intention is to make a simulation of psychiatric distress. ” I didn’t want to make a film about a woman losing her mind. I wanted you to lose your mind with her.”

High Strangeness is part experimental, part arthouse horror, with a subtext of sympathy for people with mental health issues. I hope the MUFF screening will attract a distributor. With the right handling, High Strangeness can reach a world wide audience of UFO devotees ready to download a provocative riff on their favorite subject.





The 1980’s and 90’s were the heyday of VHS. Movies that in the previous decade played as double bills in drive in theatres and downtown grindhouses were now available at your local video store, offering a level of violence and nudity that was not allowed on broadcast television. Now in the comfort of your living room you could slip a cassette into the video player, and enjoy your favorite drive in movie fodder.

Martial arts movies were a staple of the lucrative VHS market, at which DAY OF THE PANTHER and sequel  STRIKE OF THE PANTHER were aimed. These movies were the brainchild of stuntman and writer and aspiring director Peter West and his wife at the time producer Judith West.  The pictures were to be shot back to back in Peter’s home town of Perth, West Australia, on 16mm then blown up to 35mm for delivery to the few buyers who wanted theatrical release. Offering 35 mm delivery as well as a video master helped disguise the 16mm origins, a low budget indicator that could result in low ball offers. The plan was to deliver two fight packed  movies that looked like US $1M productions, but make them for AUD 500K each. With production in Australian dollars and international sales in US dollars,  the currency exchange rate in 1987 could add 12% to any incoming foreign revenue. The plan was to make a star of Perth martial artist Edward (Eddie) Stazak playing secret agent Jason Blade, and kick off a 5 movie  franchise.

The budget was raised entirely from private investors. No government funds were involved. Investors insisted on the appointment of an experienced producer to oversee the enterprise and appointed Damien Parer, whose many credits included my 1985 movie DEAD END DRIVE IN.

Production commenced in March 1987. Four days into the shoot, I received a call from Damien Parer. Would I be able to travel from Sydney  to Perth in West Australia immediately and take over two low budget martial arts movies being shot back-to-back in twenty days each? The investors were unhappy with the footage and wanted the first-time writer/director replaced. From this troubled start began one of my most enjoyable shoots—the Panther Pictures.

I had read the scripts overnight and again on the flight. The stories of both movies followed a familiar formula; simplistic plotting with characterization to match. Many credibility issues.

Part 1: Martial arts expert and undercover cop Jason Blade goes after a criminal gang, responsible for the death of his partner. He puts the crime boss and his chief enforcer behind bars.

Part 2: When the enforcer escapes from jail, kidnaps the hero’s girlfriend and threatens to blow up the city, our hero goes back into action.

I arrived in Perth midmorning due to the time difference. Damien screened some  footage. We assessed what 3 days of shooting had produced.

Eddie Stazak, playing hero Jason Blade, was not a trained actor. He was a formidable martial artist, who could also sing and play the accordion. He had charisma when in action, but his persona in dialogue scenes was flat. He was not well served by the script which was full of awkward cliched dialogue. Damien Parer could do nothing with these issues till there was a change of leadership. The one fight scene shot so far demonstrated that both Eddie and his fight choreographer Jim Richards, who also played his chief opponent, could deliver vigorous brawls.

A good fight movie could still be built around them . We could not cure the inherent absurdity of the material. The best course was to embrace it, make it more fun.  All the other scenes shot so far  involved the heroine and the crime lord, who in our view were woeful. We decided to recast them and throw away all that had been shot so far. We would substantially rewrite the scripts, adding significant new characters and a backstory explaining the otherwise unexplained secret society of ‘Panthers’, whose initiation ceremony features on the French DVD sleeve. But shooting had to continue regardless. We could not afford to lose another day.

Damien had a new writer Michael Brindley on board within hours. I got on the phone to find a new leading lady. I called Nicole Kidman, my BMX Bandits star. She thanked me but said her agent told her not to accept any more low budget movies. Next morning, I started a 2-day chase/fight sequence that would not be impacted by the proposed changes to the scripts. Then on the weekend I would fly back to Sydney and find a new leading lady.

I would choose Paris Jefferson, a beautiful drama student whose dancing expertise had been featured in music videos. The existing scripts were already short, particularly the sequel. A dance montage in each movie might add a minute of diversion for the target audience. I chose not to cleanse the scripts of underlying sexism, preferring to underscore it with humor, and highlight the  machismo inherent in the concept of such movies.

I have taken over a number of movies before or during shooting. When an out-of-towner takes over from a home town boy, there are issues of loyalty and resentment that have to be handled with sensitivity. I told the crew I had considerable sympathy for my predecessor, who had done some great stunt driving for me on Dead End Drive In, but the show must go on, and I needed all their help. My philosophy is for everyone to share my love for the nuts and bolts of the work, and to have fun in the process. No crew functions at their best in an atmosphere of blame. So I try to find humor in routine mishaps and delays. You’ve got to get everyone as enthusiastic about the project as you are, particularly your star.  Eddie was like a deer caught in the headlights, and I mean that kindly. His hopes for a successful launch to his career seemed dashed when the director got fired, and I had to build those hopes back up again. Luckily Eddie grew to  believe in what I was doing, and was pleased with the result.

We had a very productive first day, got some good action, and finished on time. They were my crew thereafter. Damien Parer created a similar atmosphere in the production office, which had to deal with a daily changing schedule. We were stepping into the abyss. Rewriting, recasting eight roles, and choosing new locations while continuing to shoot two movies with interwoven schedules is not the normal recipe for success, but Damien always radiated a firm confidence and bonhomie that was contagious. Every call sheet had Panther jokes on it. Appreciation for services above and beyond the call were acknowledged. There was almost a cheerful wartime camaraderie in the office. Damien was able to persuade the investors to come up with more money to replace the lost shooting days, and add two guest stars, John Stanton and Rowena Wallace, to the marquee, both well known TV names.

We created the character of Anderson (John Stanton) who initiated Jason Blade into the crime fighting society of the Panthers. He became the father of Blade’s partner Linda (Linda Megier) who is killed in the opening sequence. The character of Gemma became Anderson’s niece, who would inevitably  hook up with Jason Blade. We were then able to use John Stanton, as a narrator, providing Panther backstory,  and  giving the narrative some spine and direction, which the original script didn’t have. Without the Hong Kong backstory, (shot in Perth’s Chinatown plus some stock shots)  creaky and hokey though it is, the film would have made even less sense.

I gave Rowena Wallace, a popular soap opera star an opportunity to play a tough SWAT team commander.  Stanton and Wallace’s names on the credits would ensure a sale to Australian television, and indeed the Nine Network bought both pictures a few years later. Well regarded stage actor Michael Carman blessed us with an amusing Snidely Whiplash crime lord.

I would inject humor wherever possible. The brothel fight sequence in Strike of the Panther is a good example. Chicken Man, Billie Bunter, and Madam Lash came to me in a Pythonesque moment.

The shoot galloped along, each day cherry-picking scenes from both evolving scripts, while staying at least a day behind the ongoing rewrite. One day I arrived at a location I had not seen, needing to find other locations for a chase, to work with supporting actors I hadn’t met, to shoot a scene that still lacked credibility on the page. By the day’s end, I was able to persuade the owners of a nearby apartment block to let our stunt actors climb up the balconies. There’s no adrenalin rush quite like directorial theater sports. One complication was a shortage of trained martial arts stuntmen in Perth.

Fighting for the camera requires selling the blows rather than inflicting them. There’s an art to making unarmed combat convincing yet safe. Eddie and Jim understood the dynamics of fighting for the camera and how to cheat the punches; the ability to snap your face to the side just at the right moment as the fist is swinging past the chin. By adding the right sound effect, it looks like  contact. There were eight fight scenes in the first film and nine in the second. That’s a lot of fist-fodder for Eddie Staszak, but we could afford only three experienced stunt fighters who could handle complex choreography. They would be backed up by recruits from local martial arts clubs. But the key opponents across seventeen fights had to be played by three guys.   The solution: disguises!

In the first fight, against stunt player Linda Megier, they wore Halloween masks:  Skull Mask. Geezer Mask and Pig Mask.

This concealed the beards they had grown during prep for their next appearance as New Thugs. Then they shaved their beards and dyed their hair to become fresh faced victims of the flying fists and feet of Jason Blade. By the time we arrived at Strike of The Panther’s climactic battle in the power station, the only option left was—Hockey Masked Ninjas!

In one multiple combat, I had to add a similarly disguised Jim Richards to increase the numbers of assailants. He then changed costume and resumed his role as the evil Baxter for his final duel with Jason Blade. Eddie had a catlike grace in the fight scenes. Jim’s choreography was inventive and the equal of any Chuck Norris movie of the 80s. Together they delivered the goods for the core martial arts audience. On the first day of the sound mix I discovered that the soundtrack of the fights contained only sound effects, impacts, without an accompanying grunt and groan track, vocal reactions that bring the combat to life, part of the Kung Fu genre’s DNA. So all the male yells and groans in the finished pictures are provided by yours truly. As each fight came up in the sound mix, I would lay down  a track for each fighter. AGH! EURR! EEK! Great fun. The studio receptionist volunteered to do the female tracks. She channeled her inner Zena, and performed with gusto.

I wanted the fights tough but not unpleasantly so. Characters bleed but they bleed politely. I was sensitive to the recent “video nasties” controversy in the UK and fine tuned the violence accordingly. The British Board of Film Censors gave both pictures an ‘18’ rating. Day of the Panther passed uncut. Strike suffered 4 cuts. One of the forbidden images was featured on the VHS sleeve of FISTS OF BLOOD, the US title for Strike of the Panther.

At 1 hour 2 mins: as black figure in mask jumps onto rooftop remove sight of his throwing star and subsequent shot of the star embedded in man’s face.

  • At 1 hour 6 mins: after close-up of woman with short black hair holding rifle remove shot of man in black with white mask twirling chainsticks.
  • At 1 hour 6½ mins: after hero has run man through with sword remove subsequent close-up of man twirling two butterfly knives.
  • At 1 hour 11 ⅓: in sequence after shot of woman binding arm, remove all sight of chainsticks as hero battles two figures in black and subsequent shot of hero using chainsticks in battle which follows.

In 1988, martial arts violence generally earned the ‘18’ certificate in the UK, The cuts for Strike seem consistent with BBFC Secretary James Ferman’s personal mission to keep certain types of weaponry out of films in an attempt to reduce copycat behavior. Nunchucks, or chainsticks, first popularized by Bruce Lee, were always firmly in his sights (a gag involving a twirling string of sausages in the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) film had been cut, and the family comedy A Very Brady Sequel (1995) skipped cinemas altogether because of a problematic scene involving nunchucks.

Guild Home Video brought Eddie Stazak and Jim Richards to the UK for a publicity tour and fight demonstrations, which ensured a lot of exposure for the VHS releases. This was peak Neighbors and Home and Away TV fandom time, when the Brits were keen on all things Aussie. The Liverpool Echo  describing Eddie and Jim as, “The new dynamic duo of martial arts movies,” noting for their readers that they are both thirty and single. “Fast-moving thriller” said the Dundee Courier “there’s enough action to ensure steady rental business.” Variety, in the US, said the “Fight scenes, staged by thesps Stazak and Richards, are effective and Jefferson makes a beautiful redheaded leading lady.” Paris Jefferson would go on to a solid acting career that continues to this day in UK and Canada. Here she is playing the Goddess Athena in a Zena episode.

Edward Stazak would make one more but  little seen movie Black Neon with Jim Richards. Both men went into different careers. Jim Richards started his own gymnasium and health center and occasionally choreographs fight scenes for friends.

Eddie became a devout Christian and quit both show business and martial arts. He still plays the accordion.

The Panther Pictures sold well to the home video market across the world. It’s interesting to compare the way different countries styled their artwork. Eddie manages to look Greek, Latin, Turkish, Slavic, Eurasian as required; a key to his appeal, and to the success of the Panther Pictures to this day.

The poster artists all seem to get into the spirit of the thing.


I’m proud of the Panther Pictures, an 80s time capsule brimming with cliches, stereotypes, and dated genre tropes to celebrate and satirize. There’s something about campy fun that seems to travel well between generations,  At Portland’s Hollywood Theater I was gratified to watch an audience of nearly 300 Cinema geeks chortle and occasionally howl with laughter. I hope you have the same experience.


ARCTIC BLAST – It’s finally here, 12 years after I shot this movie.

America experienced some extreme climate change this morning. A nippy 19 degrees fahrenheit, as I stepped out the door.  The cautionary climate change movie that I directed with this title 12 years ago was conceived as a disaster movie / family drama hybrid, intended for either Sci Fy  Channel or Lifetime. It was shot in sixteen days in Hobart Tasmania, then two subsequent days in Ottawa, Canada for the US scenes with Bruce Davison. Popular Sci Fi star Michael Shanks plays the brilliant but unorthodox physicist who saves the world.

Publicity releases state the budget was $5M, puffing it up for sales purposes. Try $1.8M and all the creative compromises that budget implies. However, I’m quite proud of the film. It’s a strong example of its micro-genre, and I had a good time making it. I enjoyed working with young cameraman Marc Windon, whose father and brother had distinguished cinematography careers. Brother Steve Windon has shot five movies for Fast & Furious director Justin Lin. Marc and I shared an affection for the mini-jib with its variety of angles and moves the rig provided from a fixed position or on a dolly track. The mini-jib got us through nine pages of dialogue in a big set on Day One.

As a kid I always liked those panic in the streets scenes in Ray Harryhausen movies, and (an early favorite) Gorgo; here, the pursuing monster is the freezing fog.

We had limited funds for extras, but we got some nice shots of the panicking crowd rushing past camera in the bottom half of the frame with the roofs of buildings in the background.  Our intrepid special effects crew then built miniature cardboard outlines of those roofs, painted black and positioned them in a black limbo. We rolled camera in slow motion as an offscreen fogger pumped a white cloud rising over the line of roofs, and curling downwards. The two elements would then be composited by a company in Montreal.

Certainly, it was a challenge to make what looks like a bank of thick morning fog feel scary. We could see cause; we needed more effect. More graphic freezings perhaps, where victims toppled and broke into pieces. But that would have disturbed the family side of the audience, at whom the climate change message was aimed.

Overall, I am quite happy with the Attack of the Deep Freeze sequences. It got some acknowledgement in the review by Urban Cinefile:

Trenchard-Smith does orchestrated chaos well, and the sense of panic—crucial to conveying fear to the audience—is dynamic, and well served by Mario Sevigny’s score.

Strangely, Arctic Blast did not sell to the SyFy Channel; too much family drama, not enough Sci-fi, not enough kills. Nor did Lifetime or Hallmark pick it up; too grim, too foreign. But in foreign markets it did surprisingly well. When it premiered on cable in Spain for instance, it scored a 15.6 market share meaning it was seen by over 2.5 million viewers. The producers emailed me ratings from France’s TF1 and Germany’s RTL 2 which they described as “stellar”.

Some smart programmer should be booking ARCTIC BLAST onto a streaming platform near you!

RICHARD THE THIRD – The Real Game of Thrones: Can CHARLES THE THIRD resolve the enduring mystery?


Once upon a time, politics was truly a blood sport.

As Shakespeare tells it, King Richard The Third murdered his brother, three of his in-laws, a cousin, several friends, countless rebels, and, most heinously, two nephews, the Princes in the Tower, in a blood drenched plot to steal the throne of England. He then poisoned his wife, in order to marry his niece.


Shakespeare got it wrong. He fashioned Tudor propaganda into one of the greatest plays ever written. Then, like base metal turning into gold, drama transmuted into accepted history, culturally reinforced during the last hundred years by a gallery of stage and screen stars portraying the ultimate wicked uncle.

This was the first silent movie version in 1911, with famous speeches conveyed by title cards. It ran 23 minutes. In 1939, Basil Rathbone, seen here getting final touches of make up, played Richard The Third in Rowland V. Lee’s ponderous Tower of London, for which Shakespeare’s material received no screen credit.

Roland  Lee had a track record in swashbucklers (The Count of Monte Cristo)  and horror (Son of Frankenstein) and he tilted Shakespeare’s catalogue of Richard’s crimes towards horror, casting Boris Karloff as Richard’s fictional executioner Mord, with a clubfoot no less. The mixture does not gel.  Universal spent $580,000 to make it in black and white. Expensive battle scenes shot in Tarzana, Los Angeles, were marred when rain machines caused papier mâché helmets on 300 extras to melt.

A young Vincent Price  played the luckless Duke of Clarence.

Price would take on the role of Richard The Third in Roger Corman’s threadbare $200,000 remake in 1962, which borrowed battle scene footage from the original.

Vincent Price plays Evil Richard with his customary gusto, as you can see in this  clip from the torturing of Jane Shore on the rack.


This never actually happened. It was Henry The Eighth, 65 years after Richard’s death, who had a woman racked almost to death, tearing ligaments, dislocating limbs,  before ordering her burned at the stake. Henry was the real monster. The real Jane Shore, wife of a prominent London merchant, and mistress of the late King Edward, was sleeping with at least two of Richard’s enemies, when they were caught in a conspiracy against him. Some conspirators were executed.  Richard punished Mistress Shore with the harlot’s walk of shame. She was made to parade barefoot through the London streets wearing only a petticoat, to be jeered at and pelted with filth.  This historical incident inspired the naked   “ shaming of Circe Lanister” in Game of Thrones. Here’s a clip from the expurgated version on UTube.

In 1955, Laurence Olivier, after acclaimed stage performances, filmed his version  of Richard The Third in VistaVision and Technicolor. It’s interesting to compare the interpretation and vocal delivery of Price and Olivier.

Of the various films of Richard The Third, my personal preference is the Ian McKellen version, setting Richard in a 1930’s fascist England.

Contrary to Shakespeare, Richard was a faithful husband and an embattled reformer,  outmaneuvered by multiple conspiracies in the final chapter of the thirty year fratricidal conflict known as the Wars of the Roses.  15th Century  historian John Rous described him as a “good lord” with a “great heart” who punished “oppressors of the commons”. He reformed the law, requiring free legal advice be available to the poor. No longer could juries be bought, or corrupt land lords forcibly confiscate property based on flimsy accusations without due process. At the microlevel,  he even protected the rights of Yorkshire trout fishermen, preventing magnates penning the rivers and harvesting the majority of the trout themselves. He was a promoter of literature and the burgeoning printing industry, causing Chaucer’s work to become popular. He ordered all laws previously written in French or Latin be translated into English to be understood by the commons. Richard was a religious man, mentored as a child  by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and introduced to values of justice and chivalry.

Contrary to Shakespeare, Richard’s marriage to Anne Neville was not an exploitative exercise in spoils of war, an attempt to grab her wealthy estate. Richard and Anne Neville grew up as cousins, often in each other’s company. She too had been a sickly child, Perhaps Richard and Anne were bonded by the political chaos that afflicted their childhood. Each suffered traumatic reversals of fortune, as power shifted back and forth between Lancaster and York.   Both lost their fathers in battle. Anne had been unwillingly married  at 14, widowed a year later.  The estates of her husband and father Warwick as rebels were forfeited to the Crown, It is probable that 19 year old Richard felt sorry for his 15 year old cousin’s undeserved misfortune, which was about to get worse. Richard’s older brother, the greedy, duplicitous Clarence, had his eye on Anne’s estates, but also wanted to keep the fallen enemy Warwick’s daughter as his ward to make an advantageous marriage with another influential family.  Clarence, claiming ignorance of her whereabouts, even concealed Anne in his wife’s household, requiring her to dress as a maid, until Richard personally rescued her.He waived any right to her estate to placate Clarence. Richard married Anne Neville, if not out of love, then, at least, kindness. So much for my reading of Richard’s underlying character.

The disappearance of the Princes in the Tower is the principal cause of Richard’s historical  infamy.  Thirty years later, Sir Thomas More wrote that the Princes were murdered by Sir James Tyrell, John Dighton, and Miles Forest, on the orders of Richard The Third, describing the crime thus:  “keeping down by force the featherbed and pillows hard unto their mouths, that within a while, smothered and stifled, their breath failing, they gave up to God their innocent souls.”

Sir James Tyrell was hanged seventeen years later, not for their murder but for treason against Henry The Seventh.  About 10 years after Tyrell’s execution Sir Thomas More wrote that Tyrell had spontaneously confessed this additional crime before his execution. There remains no record of such an important confession, something Henry The Seventh would have surely made public, to further legitimize his reign. There are many reasons to question More’s account.


Here’s a portrait of Sir Thomas More, as he rose through the civil service ranks. More was seven years old when Richard  died at Bosworth. More grew up in the household of John Morton, Bishop of Ely, one of Richard’s implacable enemies, from whom More got most of his information. Some historians have suggested that More was copying, or perhaps translating, Morton’s original material, written in Latin.

Pictured here in stained glass, John Morton was Bishop of Ely and a member of Edward The Fourth’s council, At this time, bishops were civil servants  who were awarded bishoprics and access to their revenues. Morton was a wily Church politician, a serial conspirator, and at 60+ years of age, an active participant in two unsuccessful uprisings, forced to escape to France till Henry Tudor invaded. After Henry  took the throne, he made Morton Archbishop of Canterbury and ultimately a Cardinal.  Morton played as successful a Game of Thrones as Henry Tudor.

Yet More never published The History of Richard The Third. Years after More’s  execution by Henry The Eighth, it was discovered among his papers, ending unfinished in mid sentence. More had been executed by Henry The Eighth for refusing to accept Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. In 1935, Pope Pius XI canonized More as a martyr, thereby rendering More’s writings as virtual holy writ.

Over the last century, several historians have disputed More’s account. In 1997 three Justices of the United States Supreme Court held a mock trial of Richard The Third for the murder of the Princes in the Tower. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Stephen G, Breyer ruled unanimously that Richard The Third was NOT GUILTY. Narrowly reported, soon forgotten.

This got me thinking

It’s time for a wrong to be righted, I decided one day, while in a quixotic frame of mind.

Naturally, my next thought was : a movie is the quickest way to present the case for the defense to the widest possible jury pool, Indeed, such a film, if well publicized, might stimulate popular debate, and in the process, challenge the enshrined verdict on the most infamous child murder in British history.  Maybe this will serve to further encourage Buckingham Palace to authorize DNA testing, hitherto refused, on key circumstantial evidence pointing to Richard’s guilt: the two skeletons found in the Tower of London centuries later, presumed, but never confirmed, to be the Princes. The latest technology that authenticated Richard’s skeleton could confirm, or refute, whether the bones now resting in Westminster Abbey shared Plantagenet DNA. Certainly I had chosen a quixotic mission for my next spec script .as writer/director. Who Dares Wins, right? So sticking closely to contemporary records, I wrote a script that followed Richard, Duke of Gloucester from the crisis that enveloped him in April 1483, precipitating his seizure of the throne, to his death two years later in the battle of Bosworth.  It was styled as a coup d’ état political thriller in medieval dress.

First you need the backstory: A month before his death Edward The Fourth wrote a will making his brother Richard Lord Protector of the Realm, and Guardian of Edward’s children, three daughters and two sons; the firstborn, also named Edward, being his designated successor. The threat Richard faced was one that dynasties and crime families have faced throughout history. when hereditary leadership passes suddenly to a minor.  Rival factions will try to take control of the child till he comes of age, enabling them to rubber stamp the elimination of their enemies.  Immediately upon King Edward’s death, conflicts that had roiled beneath the surface for years burst into the open and would engulf Richard.

Loyaulté Me Lie – Loyalty Binds Me – accompanied by the white boar of York was Richard’s personal motto, emblazoned on banners and tapestries. He served his brother the King with unswerving loyalty despite numerous inducements to betrayal from his envious brother Clarence. He even pleaded for Clarence’s life, when Edward ordered his execution. Contemporary records reflect a man with a moral compass.

I presented Richard as an idealist, who wanted to reform the law and curb the power of the magnates and the Church. You could say that’s like herding cats with a touch of wack-a-mole. Writing  as I was at the beginning of the Obama Presidency, perhaps influenced by the nightly cable news slugfests, I wove in how propaganda was as powerful a weapon in politics then as it is now. Paid rumor mongers at taverns, pamphleteers, graffiti; the lo-tech equivalent of the internet. To address the central mystery of the Princes in the Tower, I proposed Harry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham as the one who commissioned the  murder; the most likely suspect with access, motive and opportunity. With hindsight Buckingham can be seen as the Iago-like advisor in Richard’s ear, pushing him towards a pre-determined trap.  I supported the theory that one Prince survived to become Perkin Warbeck, the Pretender, ten years later, thereby offering the possibility of a follow up movie.  To sugar the history lesson, the script was spiked with bawdy humor, bursts of action and a rousing Battle of Bosworth climax. This featured Richard leading an heroic death or glory charge with only 80 knights that plowed through Tudor lines, and according to contemporary reports, brought Richard within 10 yards of Henry Tudor, killing his bodyguard with a battle axe, before he was cut down.  I wrote a screenplay that I believed was achievable  – as a UK/EU co-production in 2009 – within a 20 million dollar budget, depending on casting.

Casting. Aye, there’s the rub.  A star of significant wattage would be needed to play the starring role, or a brilliant unknown actor with a gallery of stars around him. While resemblance to portraits of historical figures is helpful in movies, it is not essential. This is a facial reconstruction of Richard created after his skull was digitally scanned.

Richard’s relatively slight stature would be the important element to maintain in the casting choice. A brief digression on Richard’s physical appearance.

“Richard liveth yet”, a family chronicler once wrote. He was a sickly child. then an undersized lad, a foot shorter than his eldest brother Edward, and not as handsome. He was not the charming extrovert his older brother Clarence was. Quite the opposite. Quiet. Introverted.  Perhaps regarded as the runt of the litter, expected to die in infancy as many children did.  However Richard’s  health improved once he began training in horsemanship and military arts, a major part of a young noble’s education, starting at age seven. At age twelve, Richard was reported riding in armor recruiting troops for his brother. Extended practice with lance, axe and sword would lead to his right arm and shoulder being overdeveloped. Also examination of Richard’s spine has revealed a distinct rightward curve of between 65 and 85 degrees with some twisting. This scoliosis had a spiral quality that would have been noticed, when after Bosworth his naked corpse was slung over a horse and taken to town for public display. This gave rise to the subsequent hunchback rumor that Shakespeare embraced.

If I was casting today, I think Daniel Radcliffe would make an interesting    Richard The Third, as a noble, determined, tortured soul. From Harry Potter to Kill Your Darlings to Weird Al, he has dared to take risks, and his persona  guarantees audience identification with his characters.

Another leading figure in the story was Elizabeth Woodville, who became Edward The Fourth’s Queen Bess.

I thought Nicole Kidman would be perfect as the proud, devious, and ultimately tragic Elizabeth Woodville. Like all writers I fantasized about my cast. Might as well imagine their chemistry even if it never happens. I saw Mel Gibson as the wily and energetic John Morton, rebel Bishop of Ely, played as a man of 50 rather than 64. I saw Tilda Swinton as Margaret Beaufort,  ambitious mother of Henry Tudor and Tom Hiddleston as the crafty Henry, Brendan Gleeson as Tudor’s uncle, the old war horse Sir Jasper Tudor. Jude Law as Hastings, Richard’s friend, who Richard executed for treason. Robert Pattinson as the ultra devious Buckingham,  Another key character is less well known – Duarte Brandao,  an adventurer and ship’s commander, who outwitted the Woodville fleet when it tried to abscond with half the national treasury. A short, largely CGI, fog shrouded naval engagement would add a fresh dimension to the recreation of the period.

Duarte Brandao was eventually known as Sir Edward Brampton. He was raised in Portugal by a Jewish mother, the  illegitimate son of a probable nobleman. After killing a man in a duel, Duarte was forced to flee Portugal and sought service with Edward The Fourth in England. He distinguished himself  in battles on land and sea  throughout the Wars of the Roses became a close associate of Richard The Third. Duarte  converted to Christianity – though in late life he converted back – and was knighted by Richard in 1484, as Sir Edward Brampton, the first man of Jewish origins to receive that honor. I wrote the role with a wry humored Antonio Banderas in mind.

If the script could snag two of the names in my dream cast, there was a chance financing could come together. My last spec script had been optioned. Would I get lucky with this one?

An early career as a trailer maker no doubt influenced my vision for the first three minutes of the movie:

Body on Page One. Always a good start.

Lotsa bodies, even better.

Dynamic action and title montage, succinctly synopsizing the 30 year Wars of the Roses, set to powerful music, precipitating immediate crisis.

Identify principal characters when introduced by name, and rank. to provide historical authenticity.

Keep history exciting. It is.

I also put my thesis out front and center. That’ll get their attention.



A white rose fills the screen. We cruise round its glorious petals, suddenly struck by flecks of blood. Gradually the rose turns from white to red, then divides into two, a White rose on the left, a Red rose on the right.



Thundering hooves sound of an approaching cavalry charge  build to a crescendo. An explosion of impact, as two waves of heavily armored knights collide head on. Lances transfix riders and horses.


The fallen are trampled by a hundred hooves.


A cloud of arrows pincushion a cluster of infantry.


Men in armor battle on foot. One falls, his arm sheared off at the shoulder.


In crimson water, a hundred men hack and slash at each other.


Another armored warrior is struck from his horse. A foot soldier quickly kneels and cuts his throat.



Burly executioners thrust the neck of the gibbering Henry The Sixth across the block.


“I am your King! I am anointed by God!”

Nonetheless, the axe falls.

A bleeding teenage knight rips off his armor. as he runs across a foggy battlefield strewn with dead and wounded.


Men in armor loom out of the fog. Edmund Plantagenet freezes, then sinks to his knees. A knight steps forward removing his helmet, revealing a man in his mid twenties, seething with triumphant rage.



“Thy father slew my father, so will I slay thee and all thy kin!”

He rams a dagger into the boy’s throat.


A soldier hammers a long nail through Edmund’s now severed head, securing it beside two other heads to a beam over the entry way. A crowd watches.



A coronation is in progress.


JUNE 28th 1461

The Archbishop places the ornate crown of England on the head of a tall,  golden haired 20 year old.


“By the grace of God, Edward The Fourth, King of England and Ireland.”

The camera homes in on Edward’s strikingly handsome face.


APRIL 9th 1483

Matching Angle: The same face, bloated by 20 years of excess, the fair hair now balding and streaked with grey, the breathing rasping and uneven.

Propped up on pillows, semiconscious, King Edward The Fourth is at the point of death. Courtiers stand at a discreet distance. A choir intones a hymn. Beside the death bed is his wife BESS, 48 years old, still strikingly beautiful, and unaffected by her husband’s imminent passing.



The Queen’s gaze rakes the crowd lining the walls, focusing on a petite, fair haired woman, 38 and still seductive, tears on her cheeks.


Jane Shore contemplates her uncertain future.

Standing nearby is a silver haired, well dressed noble in his early fifties.,


Lord Hastings looks at Mistress Shore, compassion inflected with lust.

She notices.

The Queen turns to a Bishop standing beside her,.



“How soon will my son be brought to London?”


“Two weeks, if the weather is kind.”


“Keep the Duke of Gloucester away.”


“The King’s will has appointed him Guardian of the Princes and Protector of the Realm.  ”


“They must not be allowed to meet.”


“A sufficient escort will prevent interference.”

THE QUEEN (curtly)

“See to it.”

The dying king stirs.


“Can he hear us?”


“Place your hand on my breast.”


“Your Majesty?”


“You heard me.”

Edward’s eyes flicker. His breathing quickens.

Morton glances back at the retinue lining the wall, then steps beside The Queen as if to offer comfort by taking her arm. Instead, shielded from view, he places his hand lightly across her breast. She grasps his palm, pressing and rubbing it slowly round her breast. Edward, staring at them,  utters a groan of pain. She addresses her husband with honeyed venom.


“This is for all the whores you took when my bed was ever willing.”

The Queen kneels down, close to the King’s face as if to pray.


“Remember the day we met, did you think ahead to this day?”

Edward shudders.


“No, you didn’t  think further than the end of your prick. But I did.  You thought you could drink and gorge and fornicate forever.  God had other plans.  The kingdom is mine now…I shall rule through our sons.  Those who scorned me and my family will learn to fear us. So, dear husband, hurry along…I will soon send your brother to keep you company.”


A face snarls into camera.


“I am the Ogre! AGH! I eat you up!”

RICHARD, 30, a man of below average height, lean with muscular shoulders and arms, is playing tag with the delighted children of his key lieutenants at a family picnic outside the castle walls.


Richard scoops up a little girl squealing with delight, and whirls her round. ANNE, 27, Richard’s wife, smiles at her husband, whom she has known since childhood.


Beside her sits their seven year old son NED. He puts down a half finished apple and runs towards his father.


“Dickon, your son wants his turn.”

Anne watches her husband give Ned the sensation of flight, wheeling him round and round.


“Whee! I’m a  falcon!”


“Nay, an eagle! An eagle!”

Three more twirls, then Richard places the boy beside his mother, Ned keels over from dizziness.


“Thank you, father. Whoo!”


“This work is hard.”


“When men bear the children, we ladies will hear your complaints.”

All the women laugh. Noting a nearby retainer watching with his family, Anne whispers to Richard like a good political wife.


“And don’t forget Percy’s children.”

Richard appreciates her insight. She is the love of his life.

Anne sees a group of horsemen galloping across the field towards them, a royal pennant flying.  She knows this is not good news.


The screenplay ran 135 pages. My representatives felt there were only two companies that would be interested in taking on an expensive British themed costume picture: BBC Films and Working Title Films,  Both companies turned it down: one for being “too fawning on Richard”, the other, which had a competing screenplay, as yet not produced, concluded that “bad Richard” was more fun.  My mission to restore the reputation of a maligned King of England had failed. Who dares does not always win. But it’s always worth trying. My interest in Richard’s cause persisted.

Soon enough, BBC & STARZ announced plans to turn the best selling cousins’ war novels by Philippa Gregory into series. Those novels at least provided some counterpoint to the Thomas More narrative. Further impetus to restoring Richard’s reputation was provided by the discovery of Richard’s skeleton in 2012, under a car park in Leicester. He was subsequently buried with Royal protocol.

This was an amazing story in itself, and is now the subject of its own movie The Lost King. Sally Hawkins,  plays the real life lady Philippa Langley, whose single minded dedication to finding the actual burial place of Richard The Third led to his skeleton being uncovered and authenticated.

Naturally I was keen to watch the 2013 BBC/STARZ series The White Princess, which over 10 episodes depicted the turbulent era through the eyes of the key female characters involved, mainly Elizabeth Woodville played by Rebecca Ferguson. It was a star making role. Tom Cruise watched the series and cast her in his next two additions to the Mission Impossible franchise.  This version depicts the murders of the Princes in the Tower as having been instigated by Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor, the future King Henry The Seventh, to eliminate them as future claimants to the throne.

The White Queen, despite excellent performances, disappointed me overall.  Critics were a little underwhelmed. The Los Angeles Times  review concluded: ” Shoveling three novels and 30 years of very confusing history into even 10 hourlong episodes requires that “The White Queen” become a series of vignettes rather than a cohesive narrative, a “greatest hits of the Wars of the Roses,” as it were. Years collapse into minutes, intricate policy is condensed into cardboard personalities, and the characters are swiftly categorized as good or evil.”

Certainly, the writers were set a challenging task. Shot in Belgium on a budget that limited the scale of sets and crowd, the grandeur of the era was absent. Zippers and tourist guide rails visible in some palace locations were among the anachronisms critics pointed out. To disguise the lack of large bodies of troops. the Battle of Bosworth Field was staged in a forest. From my perspective, the most disappointing aspect was that the complex issues of Richard’s reign were crammed into the last three episodes of The White Queen. Richard deserves three seasons of his own.

However, this TV show coupled with the discovery and Royal burial of Richard The Third has focused public attention on the central mystery of his reign: did he, or didn’t he?  My view: To have ordered the murder of his two nephews whom he would have played with as infants at Yuletide gatherings, the sons of the brother to whom he was devoted, is incompatible with Richard’s character as revealed in the documented facts of his life.

King Charles The Third has recently stated that he is open to DNA examination of the remains of the presumed Princes, currently resting in Westminster Abbey. If neither skeleton contains Plantagenet DNA, a significant piece of circumstantial evidence against Richard is eliminated. If only one has Plantagenet DNA, that supports the Perkin Warbeck theory of one Prince’s survival – a page was mistakenly killed in his place., and the real Prince was smuggled to Flanders disguised as a servant in the service of Sir Edward Brampton, He would invade England as the rightful King and die as Perkin Warbeck, the Pretender.

I hope DNA testing goes forward. It will not solve the mystery, but it would be a good step forward.




EDUCATION: How Latin, Greek, History and a scrap of military training gave me a career…

While in the UK in June, I paid a visit to my old school. (1959- 1964) A discursive review follows.

American and Australian readers probably view the Public Schools of England  through the lens of the Harry Potter books and movies.  Prior to J.K. Rowling’s  fantasy representation,  there was a somewhat more jaundiced satire expressed in British director Lindsay Anderson’s first feature film IF….

It divided critical opinion in the UK on first release.

The majority appreciated Anderson’s sharp satire of Establishment values, which he would expand further in O LUCKY MAN, and BRITANNIA HOSPITAL  

I am connected to IF… in a few ways. The film was written by David Sherwin who had been schooled at Charterhouse. He told me he based the public school culture and traditions depicted in the screenplay on a combination of Charterhouse and Wellington, where he had friends.  Wellington College had been my school too. Lindsay Anderson’s IF…  certainly resonated with my ten years in boarding schools, though the experience for me was altogether more positive. So imagine my excitement, when four years after leaving Wellington, National Screen Service in London assigned me to the trailer for IF… 

FLASHBACK…to three weeks earlier, when my boss, trailer maven Esther Harris and I had both been at the office of Paramount (UK) Publicity Chief Gerry Lewis. No, not comedian Jerry Lewis but Gerry Lewis, the longtime Paramount executive in London. He gave us his brief which I paraphrase from memory as follows: “Do what you like, just don’t say it’s set in a school.” He invoked the old Hollywood adage: School pictures, boxing pictures, prison pictures rarely work at the box office. For every success in these genres there are ten failures.”  In other words, avoid scenes like these:

Gerry Lewis wanted a trailer that broadened the appeal of the movie beyond arthouse. Make it feel youthful, intriguing, vibrant. Although almost all the film was shot in a school, I took his  caveats on board, and gave  IF….‘s trailer a Swinging Sixties vibe, with fast cut dialogue lines in ironic juxtaposition, punctuated with flashes of action.  No good deed will go unpunished.

” I don’t know what the fuck’s going on!” Lindsay Anderson, pictured here with star Malcolm McDowell,  screamed at me from the front row of the theater as the lights came up. “You’ve trashed my film!”   He would make his own trailer, one that was ” most definitely set in a school!” Not an auspicious start to my second assignment for the company. Luckily Paramount did not have amnesia about their briefing, and was understanding. Here’s the official trailer for IF…:

So, in contrast to the British Public School represented by IF…,let’s visit the real Wellington College. My wife and I were the guests of an old school friend Chris Potter, whose family has been part of Wellington culture for 92 years. .

Chris spent his childhood at Wellington, which his father Arnold Potter had joined in 1932. Potter Senior was a distinguished mathematician, highly respected Housemaster and mountaineer extraordinaire both in the Alps and reportedly on chapel spires. Arnold and Fraye Potter encouraged music, expanded the wider life of students, and were revered teachers in my time. Their son Chris started at Wellington a few months after me, became Captain of Cricket and Head of School. Leadership training was a focus of post-war Wellington’s ethos.  For my part, I captained the Fencing team the year we beat Eton. After Cambridge, Chris taught mathematics in Australia, before joining the Wellington faculty. He became the House Master of the Hill for 17 years, and then Secretary of the Old Wellingtonian Society, which is active in charitable work, Later this year,  the newly refurbished sports clubhouse – known as “The Pink Pavilion” in my day –  would will be renamed “The Potter Pavilion”  in honor of the Potter family for their dedication to generations of Wellingtonians. This was taken by its original architect on opening day in 1902..

The new Potter Pavilion can be seen in the distance overlooking  afternoon cricket. I was a slogger. Often clean bowled. Ah,  but the joy of boundaries… 

I had visited Wellington before; once in 1999 when in the UK to make BRITANNIC, a fictionalized version of the sinking of Titanic’s sister ship in 1916, clearly influenced by all the British naval warfare films I saw in childhood. Here’s the trailer, if you are curious.

While prepping BRITANNIC, I contacted Chris Potter and was able to arrange for a Wellington student, interested in film production, to shadow me for a day. I’m not sure if he ever went into film. And I got to fence with the college epee team too. During my recent visit I was interested in the vibe of today’s Wellington College, which became fully co-educational in 2006.  Driving up the kilometer from the gate, turning right at the lake towards the main buildings, my view seemed unchanged from my first arrival 63 years ago.

Inside the first quadrangle, I was reminded of how fortunate I had been to spend five of my school years amid such beautiful architecture.

School culture in 1959 long held that the ornamentation below the crest were the Duke of Wellington’s balls. Amusement at prurient detail evident in my formative years has not abated. Which brings me to the Iron Duke himself, indeed a man with balls, a major soldier statesman of the 19th century in whose memory the school was founded. He had died of a stroke in 1852. Queen Victoria officially opened Wellington College seven years later.  

The future Duke was born Arthur Wellesley in Dublin, Ireland,  the fifth son of the 1st. Earl of Mornington.

Young Arthur Wellesley was an unpromising student at Eton.   “I don’t know what I shall do with my awkward son Arthur.” stated his widowed mother, who sent him to a military academy in France, being, in her words, “food for powder and nothing more.”  History would tell another story. Early in his career, Wellesley enforced discipline, and developed a reputation for valor. In India, he had one horse shot from under him, another bayonetted.  

Knighted in 1805, Sir Arthur commanded of British forces in Spain, where his aptitude for military campaigning, and  guessing what lay  “on the other side of the hill.”  delivered a string of victories throughout the Napoleonic wars.

His soldiers admired his calm demeanor under fire, his attention to keeping them properly supplied, his judgement whether to be cautious or bold. They called him “old Nosey”, due to his prominent beak, which this portrait captures. His eyes were reportedly an intense blue.

The 1815 battle of Waterloo, was in his words ” a close run thing”, but a timely assist from Prussian Field Marshall Blucher ensured Napoleon’s defeat and made Britain the dominant power in Europe for the next hundred years. I worked on the original trailer for Serge Bondarchuck’s WATERLOO in 1970. Here is a fan made trailer, in which Rod Steiger plays Napoleon with scenery gnashing relish, while Christopher Plummer smartly low-keys Wellington.

In 2009 I viewed the battlefield of Waterloo from Lion Mound, the most impressive of the Waterloo monuments. The topography surveyed had changed little in over 200 years. 

After the battle, Wellesley was created the first Duke of Wellington for his services to the nation. As commander in chief, and one fluent in French during the occupation of France, he opposed a punitive peace, organized loans to rescue French finances, and recommended the withdrawal of occupying troops after three years. In this engraving, Wellington (far left) is seen alongside Metternich, Talleyrand and other celebrated European diplomats at the Congress of Vienna, 1815.

Between 1828 – 1830, Viscount Wellington was Prime Minister of Great Britain. His political career was hampered by the extreme factionalism rife in Parliament and The Palace. Wellington  was plain spoken with a gift for repartee. “”Publish and be damned!” he responded to an ex-mistress threatening blackmail. He even fought a duel with an abusive ultra-Tory, the earl of Winchilsea, though both men deliberately fired to miss. He opposed political reform, because what he saw after reform –  “on the other side of the hill ” – was revolution: one that could give rise to another populist dictator like Napoleon. His premiership was divisive. There were two assassination attempts. The windows of his house were twice smashed by radical mobs, It is said that the iron shutters he installed re-enforced his  image as The Iron Duke. To deconstruct this satirical cartoon: Wellington is casting a shadow across The Radiance emanating from The King, the titular head of the Protestant Church of England, because he allowed the passage of the much needed Roman Catholic Relief Act. Interesting to compare with today’s political memes.

Historians have come to view Wellington more kindly, and as a  shrewder statesman than his contemporaries. Wellington’s military, political and personal life, is rich and complex. Film and television portrayals of the Iron Duke so far have been one dimensional. He deserves a granular dramatization at the top BBC/HBO level. I tend to see all of History as screen drama just waiting to be filmed. But that’s just me. But here’s a thought: Wellington’s fond relationship with his celebrated charger “Copenhagen” could provide a thread of Spielbergian sentimentality, as well as a linking device for an episodic narrative. A Napoleonic era WAR HORSE perhaps, the  trailer for which reflects the hard life of a cavalry horse. Great image making.

Standing 15 hands high, with a muscular physique on a small compact frame, Wellington’s Copenhagen was an unusual horse, who was partial to eating while lying down.

Wellington said of Copenhagen “There may have been many faster horses, no doubt many handsomer, but for bottom and endurance I never saw his fellow.” As demonstrated when Wellington rode him for seventeen hours continuously during Waterloo.

With the battle ended, Wellington dismounted. While walking away, he patted Copenhagen on the flank. The horse then kicked back towards the Duke’s head. which the Duke, apparently,  narrowly avoided. But the special bond between horse and rider remained unbroken. Copenhagen continued to be his primary horse throughout the occupation of France, and subsequent victory parades in England, before a long comfortable retirement on one of Wellington’s estates. where he was reported to “like being noticed” and “kissed hands and ate his apples with all possible grace.” Copenhagen is celebrated at Wellington with this remarkable sculpture.

Across the Quad from Copenhagen is the Chapel, which in our time we all attended after breakfast every day, and twice on Sunday.  No longer obligatory, religious instruction is now available to students of all faiths. 

The magnificent Harrison organ dates from the 1920’s.  I recalled its sonorous accompaniment to our hymns.

I could not resist declaiming a couple of verses of Ecclesiastes from the lectern.

Nearby is the Chinese Language center. The expansion of language learning is a major Wellington focus. Third Form pupils choose two from French, German, Mandarin, Russian and Spanish, all of which can be taken through to GCSE, A Level and IB Diploma.

Wellington has tuned its curriculum to  keep pace with modern industrial technology. In the Mechanical Engineering Department, there’s a high end plasma cutter, for instance. With time and patience, you could build a racing car…

Art and fashion design, architecture, computer graphics, electronic programming are among a diverse range of studies available.

Drama and the performing arts have a new facility. In 2011, former Wellington College pupil, Sir Christopher Lee opened the fully equipped theatre  named in his honor.   

With auditorium capacity around 346, it’s as well equipped as any West End London theater.

The main dining hall offered much a better lunch than I remember.

The vibe among the young people we met, despite the pressure of end of term exams, seemed relaxed and happy.  On the far wall, among portraits of  previous Masters (headmasters), is Sir Anthony Seldon, who in 2006, introduced classes on happiness and well being.

Seldon’s focus on internationalism has resulted in Wellington establishing six sister schools in China and Thailand. He advocated for a holistic personalized approach to education rather than what he called “factory schools”.  Seldon’s ten year tenure as Master is considered to have been transformative to the school’s culture. 

The hanging flags display the crest of each of the school’s houses, which were named after Wellington’s generals. I was assigned to the house celebrating General Murray. All Wellington’s Generals went on to distinguished careers.

Sir George Murray was Wellington’s Quartermaster General during much of the Peninsular campaign. He was present at nine battles.   Murray  became President of the Royal Geographical Society.  The Murray River and Mount Murray in eastern Australia, were named after him.

Pride in military history  resonated with the sons of Britain’s World War Two generation. My father survived being shot down in France, and dug tunnels in Stalag Luft 3 for the Great Escape. 76 of the intended 250 POWs got out. My father was close to the exit before the escape was discovered.  A Wellingtonian, Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, masterminded this extraordinary mass breakout. He was one of 50 escapees shot by  shot the SS.                 

Our fathers’ war was culturally dominant as we grew up. Books, movies, documentaries,  comics provided a two decade long group therapy session for the nation, and it shaped our world view. . Naturally I joined the school’s Combined Cadet Force. Here, IF…’s Malcolm McDowell, in his star making debut, uses the same 1912 Lee Enfield bolt action .303 rifle with which we cadets trained for war in the nuclear age.

Promotion in the CCF beyond corporal was hampered by my tendency to see far too much humor in the physical practice of military activities,  With my 8mm camera I shot the Drill Cadre performing flamboyant Turkish arms drill. Clearly I was destined to be a future Monty Python fan. But Wellington encouraged a student’s declared passion, in my case movies, and gave me a dozen rolls of Kodachrome to make a year long record of the school’s activities, which I did with both affection and irreverence. I got to stage a brief battle scene  with a dozen fellow cadets storming foxholes,  It was a rush.  Smoke. Blank firing. Thunder flashes.  (The  8mm. film has since been lost.) The CCF left its mark. Initiative. Teamwork. Logistics. The experience showed me the effectiveness of intercutting wide angles with images that compressed defenders with attackers. A  fan made trailer for my Vietnam film THE SIEGE OF FIREBASE GLORIA. shows influences (amongst others) of  1964’s ZULU, and my fondness for blowing things up.

The Murray was my home for five years in a similar block to this, with 30 other boys, living in a corridor lined with cubicles on each side, in which we slept and studied after classes and sports. I managed 4 middling ‘A’ levels, and 7 ‘O’ levels.  

With seniority, we moved up the long corridor to the rooms closest to the balcony. I visited the Murray, trying to see where I had carved my initials on the sandstone wall outside its balcony.

Like these students, I sat for exams here, known as Old Hall, now renamed Waterloo Hall.  It was also used for concerts. World renowned classical guitarist Julian Bream performed for us one year.  I

Old Hall was also the venue where friends and I performed a comedy revue on my final night at Wellington. “Carmen Heroidum” – the songs of heroes –  mixed pop culture satire, iconoclastic jabs at school traditions. and the kind of absurdist humor that was brewing in the minds of public schoolboys across Britain in 1964 that would see public expression five years later by the public school educated Monty Python team.

The flyer is a little arch. But Bond movies were prime zeitgeist among teenagers, with the GOLDFINGER  premiere eagerly awaited in two months.

At the dress rehearsal, the master vetting the production felt one sketch and several jokes were too irreverent and must be dropped, an instruction we ignored to great response.

We all had a great time putting it together. Sadly Hug (Hug) Sayers, who became a Captain in the Welsh Guards, was killed, alongside the Governor of Bermuda Sir Richard Sharples, by terrorists, as he drew his pistol in defense. One thing that never leaves you after five years at Wellington is a sense of professional duty.  I hope the rest of the cast and crew went on to satisfying lives. My friend and fellow producer Julian Beaumont had a distinguished career in banking, and has been awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for service to the arts and the health and care of the aged.

The subsequent review.


True. An over -the-top streak can be found in several of my films. For those that like such things, try NGHT OF THE DEMONS 2, LEPRECHAUN IN VEGAS, LEPRECHAUN IN SPACE.

I feel immense gratitude for the excellence of my education, which prepared me well for my future career. I wish all children everywhere could receive such a start in life.  There is no more important investment that a country can make than in the education of its future generations.

Here’s the Wellington College website, which offers more pictures.      






How social history is depicted in movies has always fascinated me. I will offer some films that sprang to mind as I reviewed happy snaps from my recent visit to the United Kingdom.

From the age of five, I walked down Odiham High Street hundreds of times before I sailed to Australia at nineteen. In 1953, I had watched from this spot, as part of a cheering crowd, newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth pass up High Street with her motorcade, an event which provided Britain with a much needed mood lift after the hardships of World War Two. It was a hopeful time. Rationing was ending after a dozen years. For example, sausages had been rationed from 1943. The way some people in rural districts got around the rules is the subject of a deliciously wry comedy of middle class rivalry A PRIVATE FUNCTION, starring Michael Palin and Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliot, who capture the sensibility of post war village life with affection, social comment, and mordant humor. It’s a lot of fun in the spirit of those classic Ealing comedies. Here’s the trailer.

Visiting this June, I found that Odiham, despite inevitable modernization, continues to retain that home counties village charm that I recall from my childhood. It’s a sought-after location as the million pound realtor’s price tag on this house in the High Street indicated.

My parents bought Kings Cottage, the house in which I grew up, for four thousand pounds sterling in 1953. Alas, the original Georgian portico with stained glass inlay is no longer there.

During my 10 years of boarding school, I would live in Kings Cottage four months of holidays each year. The house faced onto a large field,  containing community vegetable garden allotments. All gone now.

Each day, I would walk down King Street to where it ended at Odiham’s Norman era Church. The first recording of Odiham as a township was in the Doomsday Book of 1086.

Walking through the churchyard, I came across the graves of two French naval officers, prisoners of the Napoleonic Wars, inscribed with the words: Death Hath Made Him Free.

Naturally, my mind wandered to the Napoleonic Wars (1803 – 1815), in particular naval warfare of that period as it has been depicted in movies. I have two particular favorites.  HMS DEFIANT (UK)/ DAMN THE DEFIANT (US). A ripe, early sixties, patriotic melodrama, with Dirk Bogarde and Alec Guinness at the top of their game, and some well-staged battle action. As a seventeen year old, I loved it.

And, of course, with greater depth and nuance, there is Peter Weir’s excellent distillation from the MASTER AND COMMANDER books.

Walking down from Odiham Church, on the way to the High Street, I would enter Stoney Alley, the key points of which have been documented and preserved, where possible, by the Odiham Society.

Among the interesting artifacts on display are the stocks, a form of punishment authorized by local courts which imprisoned the feet or hands of minor offenders, enabling offended community members to pelt the helpless victims with rotten vegetables and excrement. This form of public shaming has now been replaced by the social media.

Often accompanying the stocks in medieval times was another engine of stress position torture – the pillory. This gives me the opportunity to show you a scene cut from the original theatrical release of A KNIGHT’S TALE, starring Heath Ledger and Paul Bettany. The distributor wanted to reduce the running time and cut three sections, including this lengthy speech by Paul Bettany, playing Geoffrey Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales, in which he pleads for his friend. Bettany demonstrates his Shakespearian skills in this masterful piece of rhetoric. He was disappointed that it was cut from the film, but was glad to see it back in the Blu Ray. Check it out here.

Reaching the High Street, it was time for a sandwich and local ale at the George Hotel, where as a youth I got away with underage drinking due to being six foot tall at age thirteen.

Margaret would like to clarify she does not drink alcohol (I drink enough for both of us). A pleasant ale, less bite than an Oregon IPA, but ideal for a summer afternoon.

It’s been seventy years since I first walked these lanes. British rural life seems much the same as I remembered.

A two mile walk from the High Street is the little hamlet of North Warnborough, through which runs the Basingstoke Canal.

Thirty miles long, the canal issues permits for a limited number of houseboats, either as holiday homes or tourist rentals, which can moor alongside houses with the owners’ permission. Nice solar power panels.

Naturally, the Cary Grant / Sophia Loren romantic, if lightweight, comedy HOUSEBOAT a (1958) is the first  title that springs to mind. Grant’s wife Betsy Drake wrote the original script, and Grant originally intended that she would star with him. After Grant began an affair with Sophia Loren while filming THE PRIDE AND THE PASSION (1957), he arranged for Loren to take Drake’s place with a rewritten script for which Drake did not receive credit. Grant’s affair with Sophia Loren ended in bitterness before The Pride and the Passion finished shooting.  Grant had hoped to resume the relationship, but Loren meantime had agreed to marry producer Carlo Ponti instead. This caused serious problems on the Houseboat set. Check out the cringe-worthy, sexism-driven trailer.

Walking further down the canal, you will come across Odiham Castle.

In my childhood this place was known as King John’s Hunting Lodge. He built this multi level stronghold over seven years at a cost of one thousand pounds. It was well appointed, with bedrooms, a banquet hall, and tapestries hung to  disguise the walls made from flint stones.




King John rode to Runnymede from his hunting lodge, and reluctantly signed the Magna Carta, the first document to limit the powers of the King, which became a cornerstone of constitutional rule.

John had no intention of honoring the agreement, and spent the remaining year of his reign laying siege to the castles of his rebellious barons, as depicted in the British movie IRONCLAD (2009), starring Paul Giamatti.

Odiham Castle itself was attacked by France the next year, before King John died of dysentery, and France made a deal with his son, who became King Henry the Third.

With many twists and turns, representative democracy slowly evolved in England into what it is today, a political system in which the citizens have the right to change their government at the ballot box, and the government has the right to replace a leader who has proved too many times to be untrustworthy. The British system has many safeguards in place which prevent an autocrat from hanging onto power. The United States, which has derived so many governmental precedents from Britain, has profited from its example.



ALICE THROUGH THE MULTIVERSE… a ripping yarn that should be a streaming series.


Twenty years ago I wrote a paranormal thriller for myself to direct entitled The Executioner’s Daughter. Its genesis was a dream.  All I could remember were a few images. A riot overwhelms a medieval execution… A young girl flees through the forest in a blinding thunderstorm… She wakes up in a 21st Century psychiatric institution…If dreams are the subconscious putting out the trash, what tortured region of my mind did this spring from? Or was it just psychic screen grabs evoking movies I had seen, or maybe a movie I would want to see?  I immediately started devising a story that could incorporate innovative action sequences from my personal wish list. The finished script was a time paradox /chase movie that combined historical drama, with the contemporary spy thriller via a Freaky Friday premise;  a 21st Century girl on the run in medieval England; her 16th Century counterpart hunted by rogue intelligence agents in contemporary London. These things can happen when there’s a glitch in the Multiverse and separate stands entangle…

My screenplay was optioned twice but no green-light. The story still gnawed at my liver. So I turned it into a novel. This enabled me to delve into the background of the characters, revealing how they were shaped by past events, and offer wry comments on the culture and politics of their times. I introduced new characters into the narrative including England’s Queen Mary, dubbed by History as “Bloody Mary”.  To be fair, Mary only burned 300 Protestants, while her father Henry the Eighth reportedly executed 58,000 rebels during his reign.

You will also meet Queen Mary’s estranged half-sister who would one day become Queen Elizabeth 1st. In 1553, the then Princess Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower of London under investigation for treason. A powerful faction at Court feared Elizabeth’s Protestant leanings and were determined she should not reach the throne when the ailing Mary died.

A significant new character in the novel is Pamela Van Doren: a young environmental activist, charismatic and wealthy, who is funding the clean up of plastic garbage in the Pacific Ocean.  The wide ranging environmental policies she advocates threaten entrenched financial interests.

I don’t want to reveal more about the story. There are surprises. It is best you peel away the layers from scratch. The novel’s expanded edition is now called Alice Through The Multiverse, intended for those who enjoy a fast paced, time twisting, fantasy adventure in which a plucky heroine defeats conspiracies five centuries apart. The ending may particularly appeal to fans of  revisionist  history novels.

Reviews on Amazon and Goodreads were nice:

“slam bang non stop thriller never lets up…I love the ending.”

“ The characters are engaging and relatable. The prose is expert, with highly developed description and detail and a distinct sense of setting and emotion investment as you engage with the action of the novel… You’ll love it. It’s a great read.”

Goodreads: ” It’s like B-grade schlock, but with velvet drapery and an appreciation for the finer things. If action were cream, you’d call this novel decadent. However, if you’re a fan of his movies but think he was a bit constrained by budget and physics, then Alice Through the Multiverse is the perfect one-on-one with a treasure of an Australian filmmaker.”

As the reviewer implies, the novel is indeed a movie in prose.

H.G. Wells’s 1895 novel “The Time Machine” was probably the progenitor of the modern time-travel story, though he wrote an earlier one, “The Chronic Argonauts,” in 1888, The following year Mark Twain put a comedic spin on the premise with his satire A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, which ultimately spawned three movie versions, a 1921 silent, a 1931 talkie, and a 1949 musical. George Pal’s classic 1960 adaptation of The Time Machine was the first time-travel film to win an Oscar (for best visual effects). Planet of the Apes, and Back to the Future proved how well time travel married with other genres. Peggy Sue Got Married (dramady) Warlock (horror), Kate & Leopold (romcom) and stoner comedies (The Bill & Ted films).

The mechanics of time travel have always presented credibility problems. At the outset, H.G. Welles tried the literal approach by building a machine, Twain ducked the problem by having his Connecticut Yankee wake up in Camelot after being knocked unconscious by a crowbar. Audiences eventually ceased to be satisfied by such remedies.  Luckily science came to the rescue. An actual scientific theory, one that is yet to be proven or disproven, is easier for an audience to swallow.

Research into quantum mechanics have offered the string theory hypothesis of “the multiverse”; namely that life is not confined to one universe, rather it extends across a series of parallel dimensions with alternate timelines and outcomes, stacked one upon the other in a sort of cosmic hard drive, containing all the options of “being”. Limitless possibilities! Consequently movies and TV shows have embraced the multiverse as an acceptable time travel delivery system. . The latest excellent example is Everything, Everywhere, All at Once.

Alice Through The Multiverse offers a similarly wild and wacky tale. Maybe there is a rising film maker/ producer/star/entertainment executive out there who will download my novel as a fast airport read, and find the movie version playing in his or her imagination. After twenty years,  I think public taste, influenced by  Outlander, The Bourne franchise, Game of Thrones, is in synch with my original vision.  Alice could be a movie, but in the new recorded entertainment economy, perhaps the best format is as a streaming series.  To that end, I have written the pilot script, and a provisional outline for the first two seasons, not as holy writ,  but as a demonstration of what is possible. It is up to the appointed show runner to decide how best to shape the material for an audience. My role is to be executive producer. The gates to Apple, Netflix, Amazon, Paramount + and Hulu, are heavily guarded, so I will need an army of support to penetrate the defenses. This picture is from Danger Freaks, by the way; an example of a wish list sequence I was lucky enough to pull off in 1973.

Let’s start the process of rebuilding readership after Amazon/KDP cancelled my account in January. (See earlier blog re: autocratic algorithms) I have republished through Ingram Spark, and hope you will agree with the reviewer who found Alice to be “a compulsively readable page turner”.  Please spread the word if you enjoyed the movie you found playing in your head.  Alice Through The Multiverse can be ordered from your favorite bookstore, or on your Ipad as a Nook Book.  Here’s a link to the book on



Censored, Part 2: Alfred Hitchcock – Censorship Saboteur

Movie censorship, a mechanism of cultural control, was in direct contradiction to the instincts of film makers across the world. No director challenged the British Board of Film Censors and the Production Code of America’s restrictions more often, and more successfully, than Alfred Hitchcock. I offer a view of Hitchcock through the prism of censorship, against which he became a covert saboteur, quietly moving forward the needle of reform.

Many admirable biographies have been written about “the master of suspense.” Among them The Dark Side of Genius by Donald Spoto, and Alfred Hitchcock, A life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan.  Both are well researched and packed with illuminating material, but tend to focus on the negative sides of his character. However, Hitchcock’s movies are all the richer for understanding the demons that drove him. Collectively all commentaries past and present show how Hitchcock fed on the cultural influences and the anxieties of his childhood, then poured them into his movies.

Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born  on August 13, 1899., the third child of a family that had been grocers and fishmongers for a generation. Shopkeepers were at the precarious entry level to the British middle classes. With hard work the family business prospered. The earliest surviving photograph of the future director was taken in 1906, posed with his father outside the family shop above which they lived. Young Hitchcock frequently accompanied his father to the crowded Billingsgate market to pick up produce for sale.

With a doting mother who was a good cook, food and its pleasures became an early preoccupation for Hitchcock. a pudgy child, who, as an adult, would occasionally top 300 pounds. He felt unlucky in his physical appearance, but quite comfortable with his own company. He took no exercise. ” I never walk when I can ride. My exertion is from the neck up. I watch”  he would explain. He had health problems for much of his life but despite an excessive appetite for rich food and alcohol, he lived to be 81.  Young Hitchcock read extensively. The family owned a bible and an illustrated Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Travel books opened his eyes to a wider world, as did studying six Shakespeare plays in one school year. A sketchpad and pencil provided an outlet for his creativity and a eventually a path to his chosen profession, in which he began self educating. By age 11 he was buying movie trade papers at a shop in Leicester Square – the Bioscope,  and Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly, known as the Kine. It was the start of a life long love affair with America.

Other factors contributed to Hitchcock’s fascination for the macabre. Older neighbors still talked about the 1888 Jack the Ripper murders that took place in nearby Whitechapel. Adjacency to one of the most famous crimes in British history would have amused Hitchcock. He grew up in a popular culture filled with lurid stories of crime, from penny dreadfuls to the flagship of sensationalist Edwardian media The News of the World  (circulation almost 3 million in 1920). I’m sure Hitchcock was a reader, both enjoying the schadenfreude of scandal yet noting, because his strongly Catholic mother brought him up to be compassionate, how grim life could be for those ensnared in the legal system. Flogging was still administered in gaol. Capital punishment was a regular occurrence in British life. In some years more than 20 people were hanged for murder including this fellow:  George Joseph Smith who managed to lose three wives by drowning, all in bathtubs, after they had made out wills in his favor. It was a notorious case that consumed British newspapers at the height of World War One. Murder had become serialized entertainment for the masses, and may have sparked 16 year old Alfred Hitchcock’s interest in marital murder, murder for money, and political murder that feature in his films.

Hitchcock’s father William was, by most reports, a kindly if nervous man, who was an occasional drinker while working long hours managing two shops. He still made the time to take his children to the music hall, and silent movies projected at the local skating rink on Saturday afternoons. But William could also be  strict. As boys do, young Hitchcock committed some disciplinary infraction, so his father sent him to the local police station with a note that the boy had been naughty. The policeman locked him in a cell, saying “This is what we do to naughty boys.” Hitchcock stated that  he always remembered “the clang of the door, which was a potent thing – the sound and solidarity of that closing cell door and the bolt.”  Something Henry Fonda experiences in The Wrong Man.

It’s an evocative story Hitchcock has told many times, with his duration in the cell ranging from a few  minutes to half an hour, and his age between from 6 and 11. Hitchcock was a fantasist by inclination and by trade.  But so vivid and “potent” is that memory and so regularly does the concept of unjust imprisonment run through his work, that I’m inclined to believe something of the kind happened, perhaps facilitated by his maternal grandfather a London policeman, maybe even as a joke. But it left a mark on Hitchcock’s psyche.

Montgomery Clift faces the same potential fate in I Confess, with the added spice that the wrong man is a priest.

Aged 11, Hitchcock was sent to St. Ignatius College, a Jesuit day school “for young gentlemen”. Report cards graded students on their conduct and application to their studies. Infractions, like not declining Latin verbs correctly, could be punished a lash from a rubber strap across the hand. Malefactors were required to chose which priest would administer punishment. It was prudent not to choose the priest you offended. Hitchcock sensibly selected his favorite priest, who dropped the strap lightly on his palm. Sin was the Jesuits’ main concern.  On March 10, the weekly sermon  was “Sin and the Justice of God”, followed on March 17 by “Sin and the Majesty of God”, with “Sin and the Christian” and “Sin and the Passion of Christ” to round out the month. The Jesuits provided a detailed education in every aspect of sin, which I suspect young Hitchcock relished. Mortal sin, Venal sin. The Sins of the Flesh! A feast for the pubescent imagination, with the seductive aftertaste of guilt. Hitchcock did not care for his Christian name Alfred, shortened to Fred or Alfie by his family. “I’m Hitch,” he would introduced himself, ” That’s Hitch without the cock.” displaying early in life  a flair for double entendre.  Hitchcock did not engage in play with the other boys, ” preferring to observe.” One fellow pupil said of him ” he was a fat boy…said little and was not easily engaged in conversation.. considered odd.”  They teased him as “stinking of fish”, knowing the common occupational hazard of his fishmonger father. As Hitchcock withdrew into himself during those two years, he expanded his reading and was diligent in his  schoolwork, earning prizewinning citations in Latin, English French, and Religious Studies.. Alongside his intellectual growth, an anti-authoritarian and iconoclastic instinct began to secretly take root.

World War One began when Hitchcock was 15. German Zeppelins periodically dropped bombs on London. When explosions resounded nearby, Hitchcock and other family members dropped to the floor, and hid under tables. It was the first time, he told a French interviewer, that he had ever experienced real fear.  Yet his recall was laced with a typically Hitchcockian vein of comedy. ” the whole house was in an uproar…but there was my poor Elsa Maxwell – plump little mother struggling to get into her bloomers, always putting both her legs through the same opening, and saying her prayers, while outside the window shrapnel was bursting around a search-lit Zeppelin. – extraordinary image!”  One that would influence a body of work filled with German accented villains, bombs, spies, assassins, and the death of innocents.

Hitchcock’s sense that life was fragile and arbitrary would soon be reinforced.  That year his father died of chronic emphysema and kidney disease aged 52.  The comfortable well ordered world in which he grew up had been turned upside down by a random unpredictable event, something he would regularly inflict upon the heroes of his movies as a springboard to suspense. For a time there was significant effect on the family finances. Hitchcock dealt with his grief, comforted his mother and got a job at 15 shillings a week to help support her.  His innate talent soon got him noticed and the rest, as they say, is history; a long and storied history.  

Vertigo was my introduction to his work came at age 13 when I went to a re-release of Vertigo double billed with a Rory Calhoun western Four Guns To The Border at the Regal Cinema, in Odiham, Hampshire,  Vertigo‘s initial release had performed below expectations. It was ahead of its time. Note how the re-release artwork hypes the thrills and spoils the ending to broaden the audience. That evening, the movie’s rich visuals, foreboding tone and the magnetism of the two stars took me to another world more completely than any previous film. Walking home it occurred to me that making films was a job. People got paid to do it.  A eureka moment. Vertigo, with its compelling set pieces, emphasized in this French poster, inspired me to study the medium and try my hand.

To many teenagers like me in the  1960’s, with dreams of making movies themselves one day, Alfred Hitchcock was an idol:  a film maker with total creative control. always seeking innovative ways to make drama more visually compelling. He was attracted to stories of moral conflict in which the audience experienced divided loyalties. This coincided with a taste for the macabre, ironic, and gruesome. He strove to push the boundaries of allowable content and would challenge censorship standards throughout his career. At heart, Hitchcock was a free speech advocate. Why, Hitch asked, should some subjects, particularly those involving sexuality, be forbidden in movies, but allowed in theater and literature?

Many books touch on how Hitchcock steered his films through decades of censorship oversight.  I recommend the recent Hitchcock and the Censors, by John Billheimer, which is both scholarly and entertaining.  All Hitchcock fans will enjoy it.  Hitch did not always win his battles, particularly in the early days, but he grew more adept, chipping away at the restrictions by setting little precedents along the way. Yet among the many  things the book reveals is how often the restrictions of the Production Code of America and the Catholic Legion of Decency prevented Hitchcock from highlighting the controversial element that attracted him to the source material in the first place. One example is 1939’s  Jamaica Inn.

The heroine of Daphne Du Maurier’s Napoleonic era novel Jamaica Inn is a plucky eighteen year old girl, who discovers that a pirate gang is luring ships onto the North Cornish rocks to kill survivors and pillage their goods.

Du Maurier’s villain is a clergyman, the Reverend Francis Davey, one so cynical that he has a secret drawing of himself preaching as a wolf to a congregation that have the heads of sheep. Such an image must have amused Hitchcock. It catered to his innate suspicion of authority figures, another benefit of Jesuit schooling. Besides, the Reverend was a Protestant, fair game for an irreverent Cockney Irish Catholic like Hitchcock. He was going to have fun with the villain’s hypocrisy,  particularly as played by star character actor Charles Laughton, here binding and gagging Maureen O’Hara with a degree of uncomfortable relish; Hitchcock again pushing the boundaries.

Laughton had discovered the young actress at Dublin’s Abbey Theater and insisted on her casting. Their next pairing The Hunchback of Notre Dame would make Maureen O’Hara a Hollywood star. The Legion of Decency and read the script and had a conniption at the prospect of a crooked officer of religion and threatened Hitchcock’s film with a “C” rating – Condemned, making its future release in the US unviable, without which the film could not go into production. As they explained, the evil Reverend Francis Davey violated the PCA’s ruling on religion.

1. No film or episode may throw ridicule on any religious faith.
2. Ministers of religion in their character as ministers of religion should not be used as comic characters or as villains.

So the villain’s profession had to be changed. He became Sir Humphrey Pengalion, a Justice of the Peace. Thus the institution of The Clergy was protected from ridicule; The Law less so. The Censor’s justification:

The power of the movies to influence society underpinned all the PCA’s concerns: The reason why ministers of religion may not be comic characters or villains is simply because the attitude taken toward them may easily become the attitude taken toward religion in general. Religion is lowered in the minds of the audience because of the lowering of the audience’s respect for a minister.

Hitchcock realized this was not a fight he was going to win against an institution with theocratic leanings. His contract with Hollywood producer David O’Selznick was in negotiation.  It was more important to avoid a confrontation with the PCA and effect a smooth transition from the British film industry to Hollywood.  His first American film was another Daphne Du Maurier novel with an ending that contradicted PCA moral strictures.

The Italian poster for Rebecca projected more sexuality than the film offers. But what attracted Hitchcock to Daphne Du Maurier’s brooding mystery was the delicious moral ambiguity of its conclusion.

The heroine accepts that her husband, albeit with some cause, killed his promiscuous first wife who was planning to ruin him. But the new young wife, when she discovers the truth, lies on his behalf, then stays with him, thereby achieving hitherto denied parity in their relationship.

Once again Hitchcock’s push for moral nuance in movies was thwarted. Absolutely not, said the PCA, if an accused murderer is guilty, he must be punished. To overcome the impasse Hitchcock suggested the “accidental death” revelation at trial, allowing the husband to be found not guilty, and conventional morality upheld. Producer David O. Selznick, already smarting from PCA restrictions on Gone with the Wind publicly declared the Production Code “insane, inane, and outmoded.”. But the “death by misadventure” version of the script was shot, shorn of the whole point of Du Maurier’s proto-feminist novel.

The book suggests there had been  a lesbian relationship between the late Mrs. Rebecca De Winter and her housekeeper Mrs Danvers. No, said the PCA, there can be no implication that Mrs. Danvers is a lesbian. But Hitchcock found ways to convey that implication through lighting, framing, and little touches like the ways Mrs. Danvers obsessively caresses Rebecca’s clothes.

Rebecca was a big hit, won two Academy Awards, and established Hitchcock in Hollywood as a stylish director, drawn to subjects with moral conflict.

As a Catholic, Hitchcock was attracted to the issues in the hit play I Confess in which a priest, played by Montgomery Clift in the film, is accused of murdering a blackmailer who threatened to reveal the priest’s illegitimate child. He goes to the gallows because he won’t reveal the identity of the real murderer, another victim of the blackmailer, whose confession of guilt is protected by the seal of the confessional.

Note the sensationalist approach in the posters for I Confess. Nothing suggesting the hero he is a priest.  The studio was nervous about the picture’s appeal to a wide audience, given that the dilemma at its core was one of Catholic doctrine.

” I was terrified of the police, the Jesuit fathers, of physical punishment, of a lot of things. This is the root of my work. ” Hitchcock once confessed.

Of course the Production Code nixed the priest’s illegitimate child. A secret worthy of blackmail became instead a chaste over night stay with a girlfriend before he entered the priesthood. But the PCA insisted that the real murderer be caught and the priest exonerated. Phew! Of course, Justice always prevails, the innocent never hang. Confidence in the criminal justice system must be preserved. The powerful anti-capital punishment ending of the play was not allowed. The trailer went all out to assure Hitchcock’s fanbase that I Confess would deliver the master’s trademark suspense.

Although he dd not succeed in keeping the original shock ending of I Confess, Hitch was a brilliant subverter of the rules.  In Leonard Leff’s “Hitchcock and Selznick,” the director explained how he distracted the eye of the head of the British Board of Censors, Joseph Brooke Wilkinson, or “Brooksie” as he was known. Although he was the top watchdog over movie sins, Brooksie’s eyesight was failing. During review screenings, Hitchcock recalled, whenever an “offending piece of film approached, I said ‘Mr. Wilkinson-.’ He turned his head toward me and the moment went by on the screen without him seeing it.”
But it was much harder going with the PCA under Joseph Breen.

In The 39 Steps, the male and female leads are handcuffed together while fleeing from both the police and enemy agents.

The two are not lovers, given that he is an accused murderer on the run, and she is an innocent, unwillingly handcuffed to him. Hitchcock created an amusing scene where Madeline Carroll has to remove both her stockings, dragging Ronald Donat’s hand within an inch of touching her thighs, first one leg, then the other. In an ostensibly non-sexual situation, though one charged with sexual tension, Hitchcock was able to put a sexual thought in the mind of the audience. And
the sin is after all in the eye of the beholder. The PCA examiners clearly did not like having such thoughts put into their heads and demanded this shot be removed.

Predictably they had serious problems with the next scene. Donat and Carroll are forced to spend the night together in a double bed. Unmarried in a Double Bed! All Night! Handcuffs! It was a worrying combination to the Breen office.

In the British version, the couple are fully clothed, and engage in verbal sparring. Donat eventually goes to sleep, then Carroll frees herself from the handcuffs. In 1934 not all British companies submitted their scripts to the PCA ahead of production for “do’s, don’ts, and be careful”, one of which was that not even married people were to be shown sleeping together in the same bed.   Before The 39 Steps could be imported, the PCA insisted that key portions of the scene of the handcuffed couple in bed be cut, including any shot that involved their physical contact, leaving the audience wondering how the handcuffs were removed. Hitchcock complained of the damage to the story’s credibility, but the PCA were adamant, observing that, if the script had been submitted in advance, “they would never have allowed the scene to be filmed in the first place.” Hitchcock gradually became more adept at getting his taboo touches past the censor.

I like the French poster for Notorious, pointing us towards the famous two and a half minute kissing sequence which passed by having the actors break off kissing every three seconds. The PCA had a prohibition against “excessively lustful kissing”. Historians differ on the legendary “three second rule”, which former Breen Office examiners denied existed. Perhaps early in Code enforcement, they requested the shortening of a lengthy kiss. It passed at three seconds duration,
and so became enshrined as a rule in the minds of studios and producers. Hitchcock was determined to find a way to sneak nearly three minutes of passionate love play past the censors. Before shooting the scene, Hitchcock abandoned the scripted dialogue, a witty exchange concluding with a kiss, much to the chagrin of writer Ben Hecht. It was laced with double entendres that could draw the examiners attention to Hitch’s underlying intentions, delivering the
screen’s longest kiss.

Hitchcock had Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman improvise innocuous plans for a chicken dinner, while nuzzling, whispering, exchanging more than 20 kisses, none longer than three seconds. They never leave each other’s arms, even when Grant moves inside from the balcony to make a phone call, throughout which the kisses continue, till the door closes on Grant’s departure. Total canoodle – 2 mins 40 sizzling heartfelt seconds.

Both Grant and Bergman felt uncomfortable by their close proximity throughout the scene, but Hitchcock wanted to lock the audience in there with them. He said: “ For the length of this love scene, we the audience are privy to the embrace between two of the most attractive people in the world, enfolded in it with them, vicariously yet also actively.”

Given his suppressed intoxication with Ingrid Bergman that dated from their previous film Spellbound, I wonder what emotions Hitchcock felt while shooting this prolonged physical intimacy, while his wife and creative partner, the ever supportive, but all-knowing Alma Reville, sat beside him at the camera. This picture, which speaks volumes, is taken from early in their relationship. Alma and Hitch remained devoted to each other until death.

The success of Notorious ensured a good start to Hitchcock’s post-WW2 career, with the prospect of more creative control. The world had changed radically in six years and many aspects of society were under review.  The psychological disruption and  hardship of the war impacted Britain’s 1945 election.

British voters, despite gratitude for Winston Churchill’s wartime leadership, threw out his Conservative Party, and installed a Labour Government that promised social change. Hitchcock hoped there would be a corresponding relaxation of censorship standards.  Perhaps audiences would be allowed limited reference to previously taboo subjects, like homosexuality. Hitchcock’s Jesuit upbringing had insured a prurient interest in the forbidden, yet his experiences in the film industry had shown him the clear contradiction between dogma and reality.  Forgive me if I couch it in terms Hitchcock might have appreciated –  namely that sodomites were just as talented, decent upstanding citizens as non-sodomites. During the year he spent filming at Babelsberg Studios in Berlin, Hitchcock watched famed and openly gay director, FW Murnau at work on his silent masterpiece, Der Letzte Mann (The Last Laugh).

Murnau was happy to show the 25 year old aspiring British director his storyboards and meticulous preparation of each sequence, a discipline Hitchcock adopted along with Murnau’s Expressionistic visual style. The fact that an early mentor was homosexual, and thus damned to Hell from a Jesuit perspective, clearly did not bother Hitchcock.  His fascination with sin stopped short of  judgementalism.  The Weimar Republic of 1924 certainly opened young Hitch’s eyes to a sexual tolerance not experienced in Islington.  One night his German colleagues at UFA took him to a gay nightclub, where a private party was taking place. According to author and critic John Russell Taylor, the group adjourned to a hotel room with two women, who “made various propositions which, perhaps fortunately, the terrified Hitch did not understand too exactly. ” He kept repeating “Nein. nein.” The women then began making love on a bed under the gaze of their guests sipping cognac. The young daughter of an UFA executive put on her glasses to see better, Hitchcock recalled decades later in conversation with fellow director Francois Truffaut,  adding dryly “it was a gemütlich German family soiree.”

Hitch had more than a passing curiosity in every kind of sexual expression, be it straight, gay, lesbian, whatever.  John Russell Taylor recalled Hitchcock saying that if he had not met Alma, he might have become ” a poof”. Maybe that was just Hitchcock’s penchant for shocking humor. In truth, he was a watcher, not a doer. There is anecdotal evidence that Hitchcock regarded homosexuality as a random fact of life, not deserving of moral opprobrium. In 1948, Hitchcock tried to sneak gay characters onto the screen, while convincing the Motion Picture Code of America he was doing no such thing. This required some fancy footwork when dealing with the PCA. ruled by conservative Catholic Joseph Ignatius Breen.

The PCA had an iron clad attitude to the subject of homosexuality. It was a sin, a perversion; at best a mental illness. The concern of this group of men with theocratic leanings was that allowing the subject in a mass entertainment medium will only encourage the “weak-minded” to try it.  If  homosexuality was eliminated from popular culture, it would eventually die out – was their rationale. By contrast, Hitchcock’s Jesuit education produced a man who was a covert iconoclast, an anti-authoritarian, sympathetic to the victims of circumstance. Sympathy for a cause is one thing, but why would a star director, with an Academy Award nomination and a string of successes behind him, want to even hint at a topic prohibited by the PCA? Hitchcock’s cause was simple. Freedom of expression. Hitch was a Free Speech warrior. No subject matter should be banned from the cinema screen. Every aspect of the human condition explored in literature and theater should be permitted in movies. Hitchcock tested the water with his next production, an adaptation of a British stage play Rope by Patrick Hamilton.

The premise of the play, a suspense thriller taking place in real time in a single location, appealed to Hitchcock’s taste for the macabre. Two young wealthy intellectuals strangle a friend, then throw a party. They serve food and drinks from the top of a chest in which they have hidden the body. Guests include the victim’s father, his fiancée, and their mentor professor who had introduced them to Nietzsche’s concept of the “superman” – one who is above conventional morality and the law.

The play drew inspiration from the notorious Leopold and Loeb trial in 1924 Chicago, in which two homosexual college students contrived to commit the perfect murder of a stranger to demonstrate their intellectual superiority. Hitchcock knew there was no way the PCA would pass such a story. However, there was nothing overtly homosexual in the text of the play. The sexual relationship of the characters was conveyed through the playing of the actors. Consequently, when Hitchcock submitted the play’s manuscript, such homosexual inferences as there were went over the sheltered heads of the examiners. On first reading, their only concern was an undue emphasis on “liquor and drinking” at the party. Breen and his cronies were an abstemious lot. Hitchcock then hired a gay writer, Arthur Laurents, to adapt the play for the screen, discreetly shaping the young characters as closeted gays who pass for straight, much as Laurents had to pass in the straight Hollywood of 1948.

Laurents and Hitchcock eliminated phrases from the play like “my dear boy” and “have a lovely excuse ” lest they might be interpreted by the PCA as gay parlance, but retained some coded gay stereotypes of the day; one character uses cologne and is mother-fixated. Hitchcock then cast gay actors Farley Granger and John Dahl as the murderers, with folksy James Stewart as their former professor, who, of course, unravels the murder during the party.

It tickled Hitchcock to share in the secret that writer Arthur Laurents and co-star Farley Granger were gay lovers at the time. Gay subtext was as far as Hitchcock dared to go, and he depended on Laurents, Granger and Dahl to pull it off under the unsuspecting noses of the Breen Office. Hitchcock knew that any requested censor cut would compromise the unique vision he had for Rope. His plan to amplify tension was to stage the real time drama in one apparently unbroken shot, running the length of the movie – 80 minutes. If the PCA demanded that lines of dialogue be cut, Hitchcock’s bold visual conceit would be ruined, or the costs of reshoots would be substantial. He adopted a pre-emptive approach. Stating that he was going to shoot the film in sequence, he requested the PCA view each reel as it was shot to flag any problems, starting with reel one and proceeding to conclusion. This was a sound strategic move. The PCA was now boxed in to tacitly approving the film reel by reel, without the benefit of context. Consequently each reel passed without comment. Even though the PCA had the right to demand cuts upon screening the film as a whole, Hitchcock gambled Joseph Breen had no interest in antagonizing a major studio with costly changes over gay subtext if he inferred it from the completed film. Indeed such subtext went over the heads of 90% of the US audience in 1948. It would take 10 years before critics of Hitchcock’s films would point out how Hitchcock broke new ground. It would take 20 years before homosexual characters would be permitted in major studio movies.

Hitchcock was a risk taker, In Rope, the first venture of his new production company Transatlantic Pictures, he danced around the edges of a taboo subject while adopting an enormously challenging production technique. Such hutzpah. Forgive me, if I get into the weeds of it here as a digression on his technical mastery. The theoretically “unbroken shot” running the whole length of the movie was achieved by a series of long single takes, roaming with the actors around the penthouse set. Through the panoramic windows Hitchcock placed perspective miniatures of adjacent Manhattan skyscrapers, complete with cotton wool clouds.

All walls and furniture were made mobile so they could be rolled out of the way of the big Technicolor camera as it moved through doorways, taking in new perspectives of the action and entered apparently confined spaces.

Rope is comprised of eleven such moving camera shots. The shortest is just under four minutes, the rest over nine minutes in length. The camera’s magazine contained barely ten minutes of film. Hitchcock designed these shots to be invisibly joined by “body wipes”. At the end of a long take, an actor would cross the foreground close to camera, or the camera would cross behind the actor – wiping the screen to a blur for a second. The camera would cut. The next chunk of the script would be blocked and rehearsed. The camera would roll again from exactly the same framing. The actor would repeat his cross past camera, which would then pan or dolly with him to a new perspective of the penthouse, as the scene continued without skipping a beat. The transitions between reels were accomplished by Hitchcock, buttoning a moment by homing in on an ornament or piece of furniture to end one reel, then starting the next reel with exactly the same shot, before the camera moves to the actors continuing the drama. If the projectionist handled the reel changes with precision, the illusion of an 80 minute unbroken shot was maintained, as it was when the PCA screened the completed film. They were not going to tamper with such a technical achievement. Rope received a PCA seal. However, once the media pointed out the similarities to the Leopold and Loeb murder, there was a backlash at the municipal level. The City of Chicago, where the murder had taken place, shut down the film because it was “ not wholesome entertainment”. When Warner Brothers appealed the ban, the city relented and allowed exhibition “to adults only” which worked to boost rather than diminish attendance. There were similar closures in Atlanta, Memphis, Spokane, and Seattle. Rope was banned outright in France, Italy and Holland. Hitchcock shot the movie in 18 days, including reshoots due to lighting discrepancies as the daylight transitioned to night. On its $1.5M budget backed by a 450K publicity campaign, Rope turned a modest profit. But contrary to Hitchcock’s expectations, the film’s single shot technique robbed the audience of the range of close ups such a drama needed and so diminished emotional engagement with the characters.

Hitchock’s next attempt to slide a homosexual character past the PCA was in his adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s first novel Strangers on a Train. Her dark and ingenious plot has two strangers starting a conversation on a train, in which each reveals frustration about a troubled relationship. Successful tennis player and aspiring political hopeful Guy (Farley Granger again) has an unfaithful wife who won’t give him a divorce. Bruno (Robert Walker), a psychopathic momma’s boy, would love his father to die. Bruno proposes they swap murders. In that way, each of them would have an alibi. Guy dismisses it as a joke, but Bruno goes ahead and strangles Guy’s adulterous wife. The iconic shot featuring her fallen glasses, passed by the PCA, was cut by the State of Maryland for excessive violence. Municipal censors were still flexing their muscles.

Bruno then blackmails Guy into fulfilling his side of the perceived bargain. Guy ultimately gets away with this murder, one of many boundary-pushing elements in the novel that Hitchcock knew would be prohibited by the PCA. So, in the script submitted, Hitchcock eliminated the second murder, maintaining Guy’s moral compass. The hero exposes the villain and defeats him mano-a-mano. The PCA nonetheless objected to the cynical attitude in dialogue to marriage, divorce and murder, in particular the concept that there is latent murder in all of us. Hitchcock was pleased that Breen and his examiners failed to detect the hints of Bruno’s homoerotic fascination with Guy. Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto characterized their screen relationship as “a homosexual courtship.”

Gay code – Bruno speaks French, is mother fixated, and wears flamboyant clothing – went unnoticed. So oblivious were the PCA, that they even requested the deletion of a line from Bruno’s mother that would have suggested Bruno was straight; Bruno was “ going to spend the weekend with some girl”. A mother’s lack of concern over her adult son having sex before marriage was what caught their eye.

Hitchcock told Robert Walker (straight) to play Bruno with homoerotic subtext, and told Farley Granger (gay) to play a straight man oblivious to these undertones. The chemistry worked. As with Rope, the subtext was evident only to the discerning at the time. But over subsequent re-releases, Robert Walker’s subtle performance would be seen as the first clearly homosexual character in a 1950 American movi.. Hitchcock’s skill in building suspense and the rousing climax on the runaway merry-go-round made Strangers on a Train a solid hit, returning $1.8M on a $1.2M budget. It strengthened Hitchcock’s clout in Hollywood and his on-going challenges to PCA restrictions.

Strangers on a Train did have credibility issues. But it was bravura sequences like this that allowed Hitchcock’s audience to ignore plot flaws in his thrillers. Visuals took priority over script rigor. Hitchcock knew what the audience wanted from his films. A prime example of his expertise in mixing a good genre cocktail was North By Northwest.

The French/Netherlands poster for North By Northwest reflects foreign markets’ difficulty with the Hamlet reference in the title. Hitchcock expected some issue with the racy dialogue he had asked Earnest Lehman to write for stars Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, but his first serious problem was not with the Production Code Administration, it was with the Department of the Interior who had jurisdiction over Mount Rushmore, the location of the movie’s climax and
refused permission to shoot there. So Hitchcock sent a still photographer to shoot a variety of angles of the iconic monument to be used as back projections, in conjunction with replica sections built in the studio. The DOI, ever protective of the image of the Founding Fathers, got wind of Hitchcock’s plans to have actors clambering over their faces, and (OMG!) the hero hiding in Lincoln’s nose, who gives away his location in a sneezing fit. (HFS!) This gag was at the core of Hitchcock’s choice of Mt. Rushmore as the location for the climax. At one point the production’s working title was The Man in Lincoln’s Nose. DOI warned Hitchcock they would seek to block release of the film if it showed such desecration of a National Monument. MGM was not inclined to argue with the Department of the Interior. So Hitchcock sent a still photographer to shoot a variety of angles of the iconic monument to be used as back projections, in conjunction with replica sections built in the studio. Hitchcock staged the chase using the President’s faces only as backgrounds to the main action.

As for the racy dialogue and the “promiscuous heroine”, Hitchcock negotiated with consummate skill. It helped that the film had a light hearted tone, and the protagonists had such charm. Hitchcock argued that the immorality of Eva Marie Saint’s character’s was ordered by the unnamed counterspy agency she worked for, and therefore did not contradict the prohibition against unpunished immorality. Sex for Uncle Sam gets a pass.

In the dining car scene, between fugitive Cary Grant and the mysterious blonde he meets on the train, Eva Marie Saint, she states with a seductive smile “I never make love on an empty stomach.” At the insistence of the PCA, the line was re-dubbed as: “ I never discuss love on an empty stomach.”

Only film editors notice a slight discrepancy between the words her lips are forming with the words you hear. This line, like many racy quips in his screenplays, had been red-flagged by the PCA when the script had been submitted, but Hitchcock shot it anyway.  According to Hitchcock biographer Patrick McGilligan “the director bucked the code with exceptional tenacity in the American phase of his career, pushing the boundaries of sex and violence in his films. And he usually did so deviously, rather than by direct confrontation, stalling , surrendering by degrees, swapping one cherished transgression for another.

In this case, he traded the dubbed line for the later implication that intimacy had taken place the night before, a scene played by Grant and Saint as if basking in post-coital bliss even though they are fully clothed. Over a decade after Notorious, lips are locked for a full sixteen seconds at one point. This was acceptable because, as requested, the actors remained “attired in their day clothes”. Hitchcock enjoyed his tussles with the PCA which he likened to “the thrill of competitive horse trading.” It helped that a more enlightened examiner Geoffrey Shurlock had taken over after Joseph Breen retired through ill health. Much like the long-term Secretary of the BBFC John Trevelyan, he was more lenient to directors he admired.

In a classic Hitchcock cut, Eva Marie Saint, dangling from Mount Rushmore by Cary Grant’s hand is then hauled into the sleeping compartment of the train on which they first met. This was accompanied by the overdubbed line  “Come along,  Mrs. Thornhill” to assure America that what the couple was about to do was sanctioned by marriage.

The line had been suggested by Geoffrey Shurlock, who also recommended that the angle between the now married couple never dipped below the regulation 45 degree angle, as they relaxed back onto the bunk. So Hitchcock cut the shot at that point, before the lovers became fully horizontal as publicity shots of the scene indicate. With the negotiated adjustments made, the PCA gave North By Northwest its seal of approval. But Hitchcock had one more card to play, a covert chuckle for the cognoscenti. In the shooting script, the next and final shot of the
movie was described “ towards the back of the observation car as the train rolls off into the night.”

In March 1959, with a premiere date of July 1st looming, Hitchcock sketched what he wanted to see in the frame, and sent a pick-up crew to get a replacement shot, one of the train plunging into a tunnel.

Thus Alfred Hitchcock achieved metaphorically the most explicit depiction of the sexual act ever pulled off under the Production Code.

The sardonic humor of Hitchcock’s publicity gimmick for his next picture reflects his increased confidence in operating outside the box. During post-production for North by Northwest, Hitchcock ordered several reshoots and pick-up shots, which caused studio chief Sol Siegel to barrage him with memos to stop expanding the budget, which had climbed 25% to $4.3M. Siegel thought the picture too long. The 130 minute running time meant theaters could lose one session per day, resulting in reduced box office. He took the matter to the MGM board who happily sided with Hitchcock. North By Northwest, took $6M in US rentals, and strong international grosses, his biggest hit in years, solidified Hitchcock’s Hollywood clout. He had the power to make any film he chose.

The reason he chose Psycho, in my view, was that it was the perfect vehicle to challenge the PCA’s restrictions on a number of issues. He could make it inexpensively ($800,000) in black and white, using the crew of his hit TV show The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. The script of Psycho was a minefield of Code taboos: immoral behavior, insanity, sexuality, voyeurism, transvestism, matricide, plus graphic murders with a big knife, all areas of fascination for Hitchcock, who
sensed the time was right to push the envelope on violent death. But he knew bright red blood would spook the PCA, hence his decision to shoot in black and white as well as its cost saving. He had developed a good relationship with Geoffrey Shurlock, a more sophisticated man than his predecessor and a genuine film lover. I suspect he was privately amused at the way Hitchcock snuck a sexually suggestive image into North By Northwest. Hitch had confidence he could get his expressionistic treatment of the shower murder and opening semi-clothed adulterous love scene through the PCA, with minimal nips and tucks.

In an interview Janet Leigh recalled: “ He told me how all along he planned to manipulate the censors by deliberately putting in things so bizarre he could come back to them and say ‘tsk ‘tsk, alright, I’ll take that out but you’ve got to give me this.” He shot profanity (three ‘damns’, two ‘hells’, and an irreverent ‘God’) and some suggestive dialogue that had been flagged in script review so he could make a show of removing it as a concession. His masterful navigation of Psycho’s censorship process is laid out in detail in the afore mentioned John Billheimer book Hitchcock and the Censors so I will just hit on the points that impressed me.

His handling of Norman Bates’ voyeurism, regarded as sexual perversion under the Code, was a classic bait and switch move.  When Janet Leigh removes her bra viewed through a peephole by Norman Bates. The intention was to shock the examiner with a clear violation, make the nudity the focus of his attention, rather than the eye of the peeper.

After earnest pleas, Hitchcock made the great concession to replace the offending shot with one in which she walks to the shower, having put on her robe, a cover shot he already had in his back pocket. The distracted examiners ignored the extreme close ups of Norman’s eye, which offered the audience their own voyeuristic experience: to imagine what Norman Bates saw through the peephole between the time Marion Crane was in her bra and half slip (1st. POV) and
the time (2nd POV) in her robe.

Hitchcock was also able to break the rule against showing toilets or the sound of their flushing. The Breen regime had discouraged scenes involving bathrooms, and showing a privy was absolutely verboten! Merely referring to an off screen toilet, as a “thingummy,” was forbidden in his 1938 comedy thriller The Lady Vanishes. But Robert Bloch’s book, on which the film was based, has Marion Crane spending the night in a small motel room where the sight of the toilet past the bathroom door was inevitable. Hitchcock successfully claimed the location was vital to the plot, as was the scene where Marion Crane flushes her calculations of the stolen money down the toilet. It was a sound previously unheard in American theaters. Hitchcock argued that it signaled her remorse, and the surviving scrap of paper becomes an important clue. OK, Hitch, the commode stays in the picture. No longer was there a room in the house off limits to film makers. Hitch highlighted his little triumph in his droll pre-release trailer. knowingly turning to the camera to utter the word “Bathroom”.  Check it out on YouTube:

Under the rules of the previous Breen regime, no character could be a “transvestite”, nor could such a word be used in dialogue. OMG! People might ask what a transvestite was! And then what would happen…? Breen’s thinking was that by eliminating words describing perceived aberrations from popular culture, such behaviors would die out. But, Hitchcock argued, how else can we give the audience proper understanding of Norman’s behavior, wearing his mother’s clothes whenever she took over his personality, if we cannot use medical terminology? He and Stefano won the day by citing a dictionary definition of the word “transvestite” does not necessarily imply sexual deviancy. The word was allowed.

Violence was going to be his biggest challenge. This motivated his decision to shoot the movie in black and white, understanding the visceral response of both censors and public to the sight of bright red blood draining from the victim.

In the killing of Arbogast, Hitchcock reduced the number of stabs at the bottom of the stairs to one, protecting the slashed face at the top of the stairs.


Marion Crane’s murder in the shower took Hitchcock 7 days of his 36 day schedule to shoot. The only shots of Janet Leigh were the ones that clearly showed her face. In all the other shots, she was doubled by a pin-up model Marli Renfro, whose body was a perfect match for Janet Leigh.

There’s an exhaustive study of the shower sequence in the documentary 78 Shots/52 Cuts, as well as in Billheimer’s book Hitchcock and the Censors. I’m not going to get into the weeds of it here. Suffice to say Hitchcock chose a daring strategy for his end game.

The PCA stated that the blizzard of shots, “ some impressionistic, some completely realistic of the girl’s nude body” was clearly  “ in violation of the Code” which prohibits nudity “in fact or in silhouette”. Of the five examiners at the screening, three were convinced they had seen nudity, two were not. The PCA instructed Hitchcock to remove the nudity. Hitchcock promised to do his best.

He sent the sequence back without changing a single frame. This time the two who hadn’t seen nudity now did, and the three who had seen nudity now did not. A week of debate as to who had seen what ensued.

Previously belly buttons had been forbidden on screen. In order to get a PCA Seal, Beach Party movies ensured that the bottom half of their bikini-clad girls covered this provocative aspect of the female anatomy. The PCA ignored the offending belly button, in favor of focusing on “ penetration” of the body by the knife. But Hitchcock explained that the shot was created by placing the knife against the waist of Janet Leigh’s body double and jerking it back out of frame. The film was then reversed to gives the effect of a stab but, Hitchcock insisted there was no actual close up of a penetration by the knife, a violation of the human body forbidden for movie audiences to see. Yet in their imagination they saw it, as Hitchcock intended.And a precedent was set for belly buttons in close up.

Another serious issue was the opening post-coital bedroom scene: bare chested John Gavin with Janet Leigh in bra and half-slip evidently having an adulterous affair; fully on a bed, what’s more, not with one foot still on the floor, as per traditional Breen rules. The lovers were “entirely too passionate”. The PCA wanted it re-shot with less passion and exposed skin.

Hitchcock counter offered: he would take out all the nudity from the shower sequence if he could keep the opening sequence as is. The PCA refused. Hitchcock countered again. If the Code would allow him to keep the shower sequence as is, he would reshoot the opening scene, on condition the PCA sent a representative to the set to identify anything objectionable. This put the PCA in a potentially embarrassing bind. They chose not to send anyone to the set on the day of
the designated re-shoot. So Hitchcock kept the scene as he shot it.

He then gave the PCA one last concession: the high wide angle of the shower after the murder. The camera craned up to the same angle as this earlier shot. It showed Janet Leigh’s double slumped across the rim of the bathtub, her bare buttocks distantly exposed.

Hitch pleaded for it as an emotion charged button on the scene, emphasizing the vulnerability of the victim. But he sacrificed it to break the deadlock. Psycho got its Seal. The Legion of Decency stopped short of “C – Condemned” perhaps out of deference to its sister censor and Hitchcock’s popularity with the media. They gave it a “B- morally objectionable in part for all.”

Many in Hollywood felt Hitchcock should have made another star driven comedy thriller like North by Northwest rather than a tawdry low budget serial killer movie. Paramount particularly felt Psycho would fail. And the film conflicted with the studio’s image with its new line of family friendly musicals. Hitchcock and his brilliant agent Lew Wasserman took advantage of their nervousness and offered a new deal.

Hitchcock would take over as the producer, and be responsible for any budget overages. Paramount would remain the distributor. Hitchcock would waive his $250,000 fee in return for 60% ownership of the negative until Paramount earned a set amount of money from a guaranteed percentage of the gross. Once Paramount realized the agreed figure, then all revenue and ownership rights would revert to Hitchcock, while providing an adequate guaranteed profit for Paramount on a picture they had no confidence would be a money spinner. Hitchcock’s sense of what audiences were looking for told him otherwise. He created a novel publicity campaign to heighten intrigue, issuing instructions, in his customary dry tone, to theater owners as to how to manage his mandate that no one be admitted after the movie started.

Theater owners who had been unhappy with Hitchcock’s publicity gimmick soon stopped complaining as every session filled. How much those Paramount executives must have regretted their decision to eliminate the studio’s risk when Psycho opened with queues round the block.

Psycho grossed $9.6M in its US initial release, earning $6M in overseas theatrical. Re-releases, home video and television sales were yet to come. Over time Hitchcock’s $800,000 movie made him millions. But Psycho gave ammunition to critics of Hitchcock’s fascination for the dark side of human behavior. Esquire magazine writer Dwight McDonald wrote of the film as “ the reflection of an unpleasant mind, a mean, sly, sadistic little mind.” Hitchcock’s subsequent biographers provide anecdotal evidence of the less attractive side of his character. But I don’t care if Hitch was not a paragon of virtue. I watch his movies enthralled by his mastery of technique, fascinated by the common thread of his  obsessions.

Hitchcock would echo Psycho’s publicity gimmick, but not mandate it, with his next production. The Birds would cause him no censorship problems. By 1963 Hammer’s Dracula, Frankenstein, and Werewolf remakes had made a polite level of Technicolor blood acceptable.

How about those jump cuts into the congealed pecked-out eye sockets? Another Hitchcock innovation in editing.

The real terror comes from the attack sequences.

The use of masses of live birds, enhanced by visual effects had never been done before. Throughout the location shooting, members of the crew were regularly pecked and scratched. Tetanus injections were instituted for all, including the cast before the scene in which a swarm of birds burst from the fireplace and attacked them.

Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, 9 year old Veronica Cartwright, and Jessica Tandy, along with camera crew and bird wranglers protected by thick rubber gloves, would all be trapped in a small set surrounded by netting to prevent the birds’ escape. In front of the crew Hitchcock sought to break the tension with his own style of ribald humor. He addressed venerable stage actress Jessica Tandy, the wife of Hitch’s old friend Hume Cronin, who were regular visitors at the Hitchcock home.

“ If one of these gets up your skirt, grab it! Because a bird in the hand…”

It took a moment to sink in, then they all laughed. Hitchcock sometimes whispered risque quips just before a take, to get a reaction from an actor that might stimulate a shift in mood or delivery. Hitch enjoyed being a sly provocateur. He dared to mock the commercials that played on his TV show. Sponsors complained to the network, but were quieted by the size of the ratings and their increase in sales.

It tickled Alfred Hitchcock, a master film maker, to be a defender of free speech, and a covert censorship saboteur, as John Billheimer puts it: “using misdirection, misinformation, hedged promises, and throwaway scenes to protect his visual creations. Often, he deliberately inserted outrageous dialogue or outlandish images in rough cuts as bait so they could be grudgingly surrendered in return for somewhat less outlandish images that he wanted to protect…We know what the censors kept out of Hitchcock’s films, but we’ll never know what an unfettered Hitchcock might have accomplished.”

Hitchcock is a fascinating universe to explore. Please read read the books on him from which I have quoted. They will enrich your next viewing of his work.

If you liked this article, check out my book Adventures in the B Movie Trade, available on

CENSORED: Artificial Intelligence as Judge, Jury, and Executioner…


The email from KDP/Amazon opened cordially.

Hello,  We hope this email finds you well.

We are terminating your account effective immediately because you have multiple accounts, which is a violation of our Terms and Conditions. 

WTF! Cancelled! An author’s worst nightmare.

Apparently, some authors try to game the system by opening multiple accounts to exaggerate sales, create hundreds of fake reviews, sell old content as new with a new cover, and other transgressions. But not me. I  wrote back to protest that I have always had only one account as per terms of service. Please explain how, why, when? Please provide evidence.

As per our policy,  we reserve the right to disclose any type of information we
consider sensitive data and we’re unable to elaborate further on specific
details regarding our terms and conditions…

Surely “the right not to disclose information” was what was intended by the boilerplate deflection of a reasonable request?  I kept pressing for details. Each time a different content review staff member would either stonewall or come back with a new definition of the offense: Guilt by association.

We are confident that your account is related to an account that has already been terminated due to violations of our Content Guidelines. As a result, we will not be reinstating your account.

This provided a clue. Amazon also cancelled the account of my layout & cover designer, himself an author, and several of his clients for whom he had uploaded large book files when their internet connection kept failing. He did this for my 580 page ADVENTURES. It seems an Amazon Bot, tracking IP address and accounts, in a crackdown on TOC violators, had identified one of his clients, not me, as having more than one account.

Therefore all  his clients, for whom – with permission – he provided this upload service, they must be violators too. Their accounts must be cancelled and their books removed from Amazon’s site. Providing proof of actual multiple accounts is unnecessary.  The Algorithm has spoken. And Algorithms are never wrong. Right?

So I provided my explanation as to how data might have been been misinterpreted. My “violation” had occurred at a time when KDP allowed an employee of the author to help manage files. Eight months after ADVENTURES was published, KDP changed this in new terms of service.  Six months later the newly activated Bot applied the updated TOC  retro-actively regardless of original publication date. A human response from a publisher to an author’s problems was deserved; instead, the cold implacable logic of A I.

Upon further review, we are upholding our previous decision to terminate your
account and remove all your books from sale on Amazon.

This includes my time-twisting paranormal thriller ALICE THROUGH THE MULTIVERSE, uploaded solely by myself from my computer in 2018.  Gone, Baby, Gone.


I kept appealing. But computer programs are blind to nuance, indifferent to explanation. Techno-solutionism rules. And call centre employees who want to keep their jobs must not override an Algorithm. It is Math, impervious to error.

Beware of the increasing power and authority of Artificial Intelligence.

Please be advised that this is our final decision and we won’t be offering further insight or action on this matter. You are not permitted to open new accounts and will not receive future royalty payments from additional accounts created.  – Amazon Content Review Team

Case  closed. Catch 22 meets Kafka. Will an Algorithm have the power one day to ban books from schools? How easy will that be to reverse?


Needless to say, there were a host of authors victimized in this data misinterpretation. And a host of lawyers on-line ready to right their wrongs.

For a fee.
We’re All Ex-Amazonians. We’ll Reinstate Your Seller Accounts Suspension The Right Way!  Amazon Sellers Attorney 10:19

It can only be solved by appeal. We write the appeal for you, with any amendments required by the lower levels and Amazon and include an escalation to higher management if your appeal is denied. You copy and paste our work into an email to Amazon. In most cases Amazon insists that any and all related accounts are reactivated. We offer our services for a fixed, non-refundable fee of $1750.

I chose not to go this route. It would be a Pyrrhic victory at best. I have republished ADVENTURES through Ingram Spark, the second largest distributor of books after Amazon. It is available to be ordered at Barnes & Noble, and other book sellers. Ingram Spark has outlets in the UK, ( inc: Foyles, Gardners) and in  Australia (inc: Booktopia, Fishpond) ALICE THROUGH THE MULTIVERSE will follow.

ADVENTURES had over 70 x 5 STAR reviews on Amazon, now all wiped. Reviews are vital to an author. There are  still reviews on Goodreads. Here’s one:

Jon Hewitt’s review Nov 20, 2020

“Fabulous read, particularly the early years! BTS is a very rare breed (outside of a studio system) – a feature film director with a very long career and heaps of credits, including all the sploitations from oz to god! Revealing and funny. Highly recommended.”

Christopher rated – it it was amazing
“Let’s get my biases out of the way first.

First, Brian wrote a funny, terrific foreword to my book, Mine’s Bigger Than Yours! The 100 Wackiest Action Movies. And he’s a really good Mensch.

Second, as a genre film-obsessed Canadian, I feel a kind of kinship with our pals Down Under. Much like our Tax Shelter era horror films of the 70s, a bunch of plucky action films helped get Aussie films noticed abroad. And two geographic neologisms were coined: Canuxploitation and Ozploitation.

The latter is thanks in large part to Trenchard-Smith, with his unabashedly fun (and action-packed) efforts like Turkey Shoot, Stunt Rock, and my personal favorite, Strike of the Panther.
The Man from Hong Kong is accurately described by Film Ink as “about as good as an Australian riff on James Bond that you were ever likely to see at that time.”

As a bonus: BTS helped launch Nicole Kidman’s career too, putting the at the time curly-haired young actress into his charming action/kids movie, BMX Bandits.

Anyway, I’m the perfect audience for Adventures in the B Movie Trade.

There are lots of terrific behind the scenes insights about the shoots and Trenchard-Smith’s somewhat unlikely rise to prominence and a fellow whom Tarantino would eventually cite as an inspiration.

Luckily for the reader, he’s as good a craftsman on the page as he is a film director.

If you order a paperback copy of ADVENTURES IN THE B MOVIE TRADE from Barnes & Noble, please give it a review. In a few weeks, I will publish a hardcover edition with 200 pictures in color.