Understanding Screenwriting #106: Zero Dark Thirty, This Is 40, Margin Call, & More

You would think with this title that Kevin Smith is going all political on the tea partiers and the far right in general.

Understanding Screenwriting #106: Zero Dark Thirty, This Is 40, Margin Call, & More
Photo: Columbia Pictures

Coming Up In This Column: Zero Dark Thirty, This Is 40, Margin Call, Red State, New Year’s Eve, Prince Valiant (1997), Vegas, but first…

Fan Mail: First, a couple of follow-up items about Argo, which I wrote about in US#103. I had admired the scene near the end where they show what happened to the maid. An article in the Los Angeles Times tells us that that scene was written and shot after the first test screenings of the film, since the audiences wanted to know what happened to her. Sometimes the audience tells you what it needs to have. (Another item in that same article deals with Moon Bloodgood’s marvelous performance in The Sessions, which I admired, also in US#103.)

It has also come out in the publicity for Argo that Chris Terrio’s first drafts of the script told the story more as a comedy romp. When Ben Affleck came on the film as the director, he suggested that if they start with the Iranian Revolution, it would set a serious tone which would provide a little more heft to the film and which the comedy could play off of. I know it goes against everything I preach in this column, but sometimes directors can actually make a serious contribution to a film.

And now on to the Fan Mail for US#105, of which there was a bunch, including one comment that got me in one of my occasional errors. The big dispute in the fan mail was between David Ehrenstein and “tkern.” David gave us some backstory on the actors in Amour, but tkern felt we should not have to know any “gossip” about the actors for the film to work. I am not sure that was exactly what David was proposing, and I agree with tkern that we shouldn’t need to know the actors’ private lives for the film to work. I don’t think you need to in Amour. I did not mention in my item that I thought both Trintignant and especially Riva gave brilliant performances. Even though I have seen them both before over the last 60 years, I think the performances stand on their own. If the script had been better, their performances would have also been better, although I am not sure if Riva’s could be better.

I will share with you a couple of revelations about gossip about stars that changed my life completely, and definitely for the better. Several years ago, I had the minor revelation that there were a lot of British performers whose work I liked but about whose private lives I knew nothing. The major revelation is…I didn’t care. I realized I did not need to know about their private lives to enjoy their work. Since then I have avoided, as much as possible in Los Angeles (and more on that later), reading and watching and learning about the private lives of the stars. I cannot tell you how much time that has saved me. Try it; you’ll see.

David thought I was asking for more backstory about the couple in Amour, but I wasn’t. I just wanted more detail about the way they live now. And I agree with David that Nunnally Johnson is a great screenwriter and that his 1964 film The World of Henry Orient is one of his best scripts. Even if, unlike David, you did not grow up in New York.

“lproyect” was gobsmacked to discover that Dr. Strangelove (1964) was as controversial in its day (actually more so) than Django Unchained. Yes, it is a classic now, and one of Kubrick’s best, but then its comic attitude toward nuclear war and the military upset a lot of people. There had been service comedies before, but nothing as ruthless as Strangelove. Keep in mind it came out in the middle of the Cold War, less than two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Speaking of Strangelove, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art currently has a large exhibition of Kubrick’s stuff, and for me the jewel in the crown were production stills from the food fight in the War Room that was the original ending of the film. But I still think Kubrick missed a beat when he did not have the lyrics of “We’ll Meet Again” printed along the bottom of the screen with a bouncing ball so we could all sing along.

Ah, yes, the error. Arthur Seaton asked about where I got the information that William Boyd was writing the next two James Bond movies. I thought I had got it from the IMDb, but it’s not there, and I cannot find it anywhere else. It may have been one of those things on the Internet that comes and goes quickly. However, in searching for it now I found his website and this article in the Los Angeles Times both of which mention he is writing the next James Bond novel.

And now that we have the housekeeping details cleaned up, it is time for The Main Event…

Zero Dark Thirty (2012. Written by Mark Boal. 157 minutes.)

Hey, folks, we’re making a movie here: When this movie was in production, the American Right thundered that it was being made by Godless liberal communists in Hollywood financed by the Democratic National Committee as a propaganda piece to re-elect that Kenyan who usurped the office of President of the United States. As in many, many areas, the Right was completely wrong.

As the release of the film drew closer, it was attacked in mid-December by the other side of the political spectrum. Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee had just approved a 6,000 page classified report which stated that torture was not useful in tracking down Osama bin Laden. And here comes a film that is reported to show that the “big break” in the case came from torture. While there had been advance screenings for some select audiences (mostly awards giving organizations), there is no indication any of the senators who complained about the film had yet seen it. As George W. Bush and Dick Cheney learned in 2003, going into battle without good intelligence can be problematic. (The factual information in this item comes mostly from the coverage in the Los Angeles Times in a series of articles written by Steven Zeitchik and Ken Dilanian, either separately or together, unless otherwise noted.)

In writing about Argo I rather cavalierly dismissed the claims that it was not completely historically accurate by using the old Hollywood line, “Hey, folks, we’re making a movie here.” The filmmakers are trying to make the most interesting movie they can, which occasionally means they change things from the way they really happened. Those changes are generally rather trivial, mostly good for general grousing on Wikipedia. Zero Dark Thirty raises much more serious concerns, since what is at stake is the basic political and moral issue of whether the torture used by the C.I.A. was effective and provided essential information. Zeitchik and Dilanian in their first article on December 14th stated that the film “shows torture as yielding a big break and setting in motion the chase” that got bin Laden. If they and the others criticizing the film had seen the film and paid attention to it, they would know that is not what the film shows. Boal’s script does begin with an extended torture scene, but it is clear in the film that no information that directly leads to bin Laden comes from it. Not only that, but later in the film, the limitations of torture are discussed (although not as much as they should have been, which may also have caused people to misread the film), as well as government’s decision to stop torturing. In an irony I love, the one shot of “that Kenyan” is a television clip from 2008 in which he says we have to avoid torture. So why did people assume that the film shows torture as working? I suspect partly it is because the torture scenes are the opening scenes in a film that ends with bin Laden’s death. In traditional dramatic structure, that suggests cause and effect. Boal could have helped himself by making it clearer than he does that the torture was not useful. He may be too subtle in dealing with that for his own good.

You may have noticed that since I started this column in 2008 I have made a concentrated effort to avoid all the awards seasons hype. To me the single worst thing about living in Los Angeles is having to spend four months out of the year wading through the waist-deep putrid swamp of the awards season. So I don’t do any Ten Best Lists, Five Scripts That Should be Nominated, Three Scripts That Should Have Been Nominated, etc. The relentless egotism and narcissism of people who make millions and are loved the world over spending their time, creativity and money to get small pieces of hardware to add to their homes is repugnant. Nevertheless, I am going to have to break that rule for this discussion. One of the worst aspects of the season is that people in the industry not only work for awards for their films, they work against other films. That seems to be the case with Zero Dark Thirty. It would not surprise me to learn that the “political chatter,” as Zeitchik and Dilanian call it, may have included Hollywood people rooting for other films. Even if that is not the case, Boal and his director, Kathryn Bigelow, have bungled the public relations disaster they faced. The publicity for the film, as well as a title at the beginning, points out the film is based on first person accounts of the hunt for bin Laden. The p.r. also makes the point that Boal has done the sort of research he did as a former journalist. When the controversy first started in December, the reactions to the criticism by Boal and the others was incredibly wishy-washy, with one statement to the press on December 13th, then nothing but silence until the Los Angeles Times asked Bigelow for a statement, which the paper ran on January 16th. The statement was still rather general. Obviously nobody on the p.r. team for the film got into crisis mode, nor did they hire a crisis manager.

As Boal continued his silence, I began to wonder why. After all, a film writer is a public writer, and he had better be able to deal with the public aspect of the work, particularly when it raises both historical and moral questions. I have no access to his mind, but the following possibility occurred to me (as well as some of the criticizing Senators). Boal talked to a lot of people in the C.I.A., and there are some in the agency who still believe that torture was effective in this case. As one of what I call my “acquaintances with several years experience working closely with the intelligence community” put it, people in the agency know that sometimes they have to do things they find morally reprehensible to get the job done, just as soldiers have to in wartime. Boal probably did talk to those who believe in torture; we certainly get the sense that some of the characters in the film believe in torture. Those who believe in torture may have tried to persuade Boal, either directly or indirectly, that torture works. Boal is I am sure reluctant to reveal any of his sources, which may constrain him from talking about how the script developed. Boal talked about the First Amendment at an event in early February, and Zeitchik’s article about it in the Times indicates that Boal is, legitimately, concerned about a possible Congressional Investigation into his sources.

I still think Boal and the film’s team could have responded more vigorously. As we used to say in the Navy, “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” I take that to mean that those of us with voices, pens, and computers should call out those in power when they get carried away with their own importance. Look at the example of Tony Kushner, who, as I mentioned in writing about Lincoln in US#104, is a public writer. When Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn) attacked Lincoln for its historical inaccuracy about the votes by Connecticut’s Congressional Representatives on the 13 Amendment, Kushner came out swinging with a vigorous defense, which you can read here. Courtney insisted he was not doing any Oscar politicking, but his letter was headlined “Before the Oscars…” According to an article in the L.A. Times, it turned out that Ben Affleck had campaigned for Courtney in 2006, and Courtney said he attributed his narrow win to a rally Affleck held. You see what I mean about the “waist-deep putrid swamp”?

One person we do know Boal talked to is Michael Vickers, the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. Judicial Watch, an organization that keeps an eye on government goings on, has recently gained access via the Freedom of Information Act to several unclassified (I love my readers, but I am not going to jail for you) documents about the raid on bin Laden, and for our purposes, the most interesting one is a transcript of the meeting Boal and Bigelow had with Vickers. You can read it here. You can see Boal the journalist at work, getting Vickers to talk not only about the details of the planning of the raid, but also the thinking he and others did about it. You should also notice that Boal does all the heavy lifting, with Bigelow just throwing in an occasional line about how useful something will be.

You may remember from US#30 that I was a big fan of Boal’s script for The Hurt Locker (2008). This one is not quite as good, even once you get past the torture scene. In The Hurt Locker, we learn about Staff Sgt. James by what he does, a classic case of “action is character.” That does not work here. We are introduced to Maya, a C.I.A. intelligence analyst, as she watches the torture of a prisoner. This establishes her character: she is a little queasy, but not as much as we might expect. I think that is what Bigelow means when she says the torture scenes are “part of the story,” a point she could have been more precise about. We then watch Maya reading stuff on computers, listening to wiretaps, watching potential targets, and then something blows up. She reads more stuff on computers, listens to more wiretaps, and more things blow up. There is not a lot that action can tell us about her. She is so single-minded, a good thing given her job, that she is briefly upstaged by another analyst, Jessica, who is so lively that my wife thought for a minute she was the star of the film. Jessica is played by Jennifer Ehle, who does the same kind of great work here that she did in Contagion (2011, see US#82 for the paragraph I wrote on her in that film). Jessica Chastain plays Maya, but she is a rather one-note character, although Boal does give her at least one great line. She is sitting against the wall while the men are around the conference table talking to the head of the C.I.A.. He asks her who she is, and she replies, “I’m the motherfucker that found this place, sir.” The “sir” is a great touch, and I wish there were more lines like that.

Just as the search by Maya for bin Laden gets repetitive, so does the raid on his house. Maya does not go on the raid, so we are with the Navy Seals, whom we do not really know. Boal and Bigelow let the sequence run on in close to real time, and while it is suspenseful, it gets wearying. Killing bin Laden turns out to be anti-climactic, which is appropriate, since that is what it is for Maya. As it was to some degree for us. But we’re still glad the son of a bitch is dead, aren’t we?

This Is 40 (2012. Written by Judd Apatow, based on characters created by Judd Apatow. 134 minutes.)

This Is 40

Scenes from a Marriage, but not alas Bergman’s: I have a lot of the same problems with this Apatow script as I did with his 2009 Funny People (see US#31) The scenes wander all over the place as he lets the actors improvise. There is a single outtake at the end that shows you the problem. Pete and Debbie, the married couple from Apatow’s 2007 Knocked Up, are back, this time as the leads. In one of the sequences they have run afoul of another mother, Catherine, and they are all called into the principal’s office at school to discuss the matter. Catherine goes ballistic, as does the ubiquitous Melissa McCarthy (she was in at least three of the trailers we saw with this movie), who plays her. In the outtake, we see McCarthy going on and on and on, as Paul Rudd (Pete) and Leslie Mann (Debbie) crack up. Yes, there is a little less of it in the film, but there is still too much of it, and nothing happens with it in the film. What Apatow has written are a bunch of scenes of the marriage of Pete and Debbie, but with very little to connect them. Early on in the film Debbie says they all (they have two daughters, played by Apatow and Mann’s two kids, much better used here than they are in Funny People) have to improve themselves and their lives. Some scenes have something to do with that, such as a nice scene in which Pete and Debbie suggest the kids give up their electronic toys and play outside and even build a fort. The oldest daughter Sarah’s rant is nicely done. Other scenes have nothing to do with making themselves better, so much so that when Pete and Debbie decide at the end of the film not to try to be better, I was surprised to learn that was where the film was going.

Part of the problem with This Is 40 is that Pete and Debbie are not very likeable characters. They were mildly amusing as a counterpoint to the leads in Knocked Up, but you don’t really want to spend that much time with them. They are shallow and narcissistic, and between them they don’t appear to have the brains God gave a goose. He runs a small record company, but he has put all his eggs into one basket: a singer who has not had a hit in years. We are supposed to admire him for that, but we tend to go along with his friends and co-workers when they suggest it’s a mistake. This is the same problem I pointed out with Middle of Nowhere (see US#104). Debbie runs one of those little Brentwood boutiques that rich men’s wives own to amuse themselves between trips to the spa. She discovers early in the film that $12,000 is missing from the store. If I owned a store with that much missing, I would be there 27 hours a day, 8 days a week until I found it. Debbie seems to wander in from time to time, which is doubly odd because the family is having financial problems. Why should we care about these two village idiots?

Pete and Debbie’s relationship is sort of a mess, although it at least has a little more detail than Haneke gives us in Amour, which is probably the only time you will find those two films mentioned in the same sentence. What I think Apatow is up to with this and Funny People is that he is trying to make the change that Woody Allen made in the mid-’70s from the early, funny ones, to the more serious films. Allen managed it, but so far (never give up on people with talent) Apatow has not managed it. I mentioned in the item on Funny People that Apatow as the writer on that was not as tough as Wilder, Sturges or Ben Hecht would have been, adding that they all wrote their scripts, and in Wilder and Sturges’s case did not allow for a lot of improve. The same thing is true of Allen. He writes and rewrites and rewrites, but you will never see an outtake from one of Allen’s films like the Melissa McCarthy one here. As the classic line goes, dying is easy, comedy is hard. And even harder still if you are combining comedy and drama.

Margin Call (2011. Written by J.C. Chandor. 107 minutes.)

Margin Call

Just like the railroad tycoons of the late 19th Century: I have recently been reading a fascinating book by Richard White called Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America. We all know the great American epic of the building of the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860s: John Ford’s drunken Irishmen fighting off the Indians and all that. Well, White’s look at the period after it was built comes to the conclusion that the Transcontinental Railroad was built at the wrong time, in the wrong ways, in the wrong places, and with corrupt methods of financing that lead to the monopolistic practices of The Golden Age and by extension modern American financial behaviors. I am not sure I agree with everything he says, but he makes a convincing case, and you can see a lot of modern banking and financial methods beginning to take shape. I was in the middle of the book recently when I happened to catch up with Margin Call, one of the better small films of last year that I happened to miss in theatres.

It’s bad day on the Risk Management floor of a financial trader. The strangers with boxes coming into the offices are not the Feds but people assigned, like George Clooney in Up in the Air (2009), to fire people. One of those let go, Eric Dale, slips a flashdrive to Peter, a younger worker, and tells him there’s stuff on there, but it may be dangerous. Peter looks at it, throws in some figures of his own, and realizes that the company has more money out in questionable deals than the company is worth. At least I think it’s something like that. One of the great running gags of the film is the higher up in the company the discussion goes, the more the senior officers ask Peter and the others to “explain it in plain English.” As we saw in the aftermath of 2008, very often the financial “wizards” who got us into those messes did not even partially understand what they were doing, just as White points out the “Octopuses,” Frank Norris’s term for the big shots running the railroads, had not a clue how to run a railroad. The movie follows Peter’s discovery as we go up the chain of command, and Chandor, like John Huston on a good day, just sits back and lets us watch these guys (and a gal) stew in their own juices.

Chandor, whose father worked on Wall Street, knows this world intimately, and his script is wonderfully nuanced in its approach to character. And he has written some great characters. And guess what, folks? Yeah, you know the drill. He’s got a lot of great actors to appear in his low-budget ($4 million by IMDb’s count) film. How can you top a cast consisting of: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Zachary Quinto, Mary McDonnell and Stanley Tucci, just to name a few? Spacey is playing a sympathetic character so brilliantly that my wife did not recognize him. But everybody else is also on the top of their game, and Chandor has given them lots to do.

And true to the real live events of the last five years, goodness does not prevail, and as with the Octopuses, the sleazeballs still walk off with all the money.

Red State (2011. Written by Kevin Smith. 88 minutes.)

Red State

A misleading title: You would think with this title that Kevin Smith is going all political on the tea partiers and the far right in general. But there is surprisingly little about recent politics in the film. So if audiences had had a chance to see it in 2011 they might have been disappointed, but Smith came up with a misconceived marketing plan in which he took the film around to theaters one theater at a time. It never really had a chance, which is too bad, since it may be his best film. Well, now with Netflix, which is how I caught it, and assorted other platforms, it has a chance.

Most of Smith’s films are dialogue heavy, which is not necessarily a bad thing. He does have an ear for foulmouthed dialogue. There is some of that in here, but only in the first part of the film, and then the dialogue gets richer, as do the characterizations. And for the first time, a Kevin Smith film has a real, if peculiar, narrative drive. And his direction, both in the staging and in the performances, has improved drastically.

We start out with three teenage boys who talk exactly like teenage boys in a Kevin Smith movie do. But we get something else. One boy, Travis, is being driven to school by his mom, and they go past the funeral of a local boy. There are protesters at the funeral who claim the boy deserved to die since he was gay. The boy’s death and the protesters are discussed in class, and the teacher makes the point, which may be a bit of a copout on Smith’s part, that even the tea partiers and neo-Nazi groups think the protesters are too far out. The three boys, meanwhile, have discovered a woman nearby online who says she is willing to have sex with all three of them. So they go out to her trailer…and are drugged and taken to the church of the protesters where Abin Cooper is preaching to a very small congregation. As in his extended family. Cooper’s sermon goes on at some length, but it is necessary to give you an in-depth sense of what he believes. The focus on religion is reminiscent of Smith’s 1999 Dogma, but less playful and more contained by the story. Cooper’s dialogue is very different than that of the boys, and Smith has Michael Parks, in one of his best performances, get as much out of it as an actor can. You can see why the congregation is spellbound, and you feel yourself caught up in it. Even if there is a man completely wrapped in plastic about to be killed in the church.

The narrative shifts again, and we get into a Waco-like shootout that evolves in the chaotic way real shootouts do, not in the highly stylized way they do in movies. And Smith is perfectly willing to kill off people we assumed were going to be major characters, and not in the order you might expect in another film. At this point we meet the ATF officer in charge, Keenan, who seems to be the only sane adult in the movie. And his dialogue is very different from everybody else’s, which comes in handy in the final sequence, where he has to do almost as much explaining as Simon Oakland does at the end of Psycho (1960), but in a much better written speech. Keenan’s sanity provides us with at least some release from the horrors that have come before, but those horrors make it a close run thing.

New Year’s Eve (2011. Written by Katherin Fugate. 118 minutes.)

New Year’s Eve

Companion pieces to US#42, take one: In US#42, I wrote about the 2010 release Valentine’s Day, which I sort-of liked, especially the Los Angeles based jokes. Its characterization was limited, and the cinematography did its leading ladies no favors. In New Year’s Eve, the companion piece written by the same writer, they have at least made the women look great. However, it is based in New York, and I am not sure the New York jokes are as good as the Los Angeles ones in Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day as an event is more cohesive a subject for a film than New Year’s Eve. Fugate tries to suggest the variety of themes that might show up on New Year’s Eve, which means this film is not as focused as it might be. As before the characterization is not as sharp as it could be, and we can mainly tell the characters apart because they are played by different stars, always a useful ploy in a multi-story film.

Some of the stories seem to fit nicely into the format. The one with the teenage girl fits about right, but the one about Ingrid, who just quit her job and has a list of things she wants to do and is helped by Paul, a messenger, could easily be a feature film. Fugate throws in some connections we were not expecting, as when we learn that Paul is the brother of Kim, but nothing other than a minor plot turn is done with that. And there are no really breakout characters or performances as there were in Valentine’s Day with Anne Hathway’s Liz.

I caught the film on New Year’s Eve on HBO, and that didn’t help as much as it should have.

Prince Valiant (1997. Screenplay by Michael Frost Beckner and Anthony Hickox & Carsten Lorenz, story by Michael Frost Beckner, based on the comic strip by Harold R. Foster. 91 minutes.)

Prince Valiant

Companion pieces to US#42, take two: In US#42, I wrote about the 1954 film Prince Valiant, which was a moderately entertaining affair. This version is mess. I am usually pretty good at sorting out the narrative line of films, but this one had me completely baffled. I would say that I was distracted by a repairman coming and going while I watched it, but I DVR’d it off HBO, so I could stop to talk to him and to try to mentally figure out the story, but it was hopeless. It begins with some Vikings sneaking into Camelot and stealing King Arthur’s sword Excaliber. OK, nice inciting incident, as some screenwriting gurus would call it, but then they don’t go back to Scandinavia. They hang around the British Isles until they get their just deserts. Arthur assumes the Scots have taken the sword and sends his knights and army north. Who knew that Arthur was the role model for George W. Bush and his search for WMDs in Iraq? Anyway, that leaves only Valiant, a squire, to escort Princess Ilene back to her home castle. But she gets kidnapped along the way. Several times in fact, and I cannot tell you who all the different ugly looking guys with beards who kidnap her are. Valiant keeps getting her back, and learns at the end of the adventures he is really a prince in one of the tribes in the British Isles. The tribe sent him as a child to Camelot as kind of a British boarding school.

Not only does all of this make no narrative sense, but the tone keeps shifting in the middle of scenes. Sometimes it seems like comedy, especially when there are actors with very Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) accents. Other times it is played straight. The production was financed by a variety of European sources, and it appears nobody was on the same page on this one. According to a story that may be too good to be true on the IMDb, the German producers cut out four scenes and material that set up the comedy while the director was on Christmas vacation and would not pay his way back to Germany to restore his cut.

There is some nice cinematography of Wales, but a young Stephen Moyer does not have the swashbuckling presence for Valiant; he is much better as Bill Compton on True Blood. Princess Ilene is a 19 year-old Katherine Heigl when she was soft and round and charming and funny and not the hard-edge actress she has become. Ah, ye olden dayes.

Vegas (2012. “Estinto,” written by Vanessa Reisen & Nick Santora. 60 minutes.)


Developing: When I wrote about the new television season in US#102, I said this was the show I liked best. It is developing very well, and unlike a lot of television series, it is doing it rather slowly. We are getting to know a large bunch of people, and characters who we thought were minor, if we even thought of them at all, are given more to do. Yvonne Sanchez has been the receptionist at the Sheriff’s office from the beginning, but in the later shows she has more to do, including suggesting in this episode which jewelry store in Vegas a guy would use to buy an item for his mistress. How does she know that? She also has a flirtation with the sheriff’s son, Dixon, and she is way smarter than he is.

Jack, the sheriff’s brother, is attracted to Mia Rizzo. She is the daughter of Johnny Rizzo, the hard-nosed gangster who is pushing Vince Savino to use more hardball tactics to take over Vegas. Mia didn’t show up until the second episode, and she is not just a bimbo. Savino hired her to run the count room at the Savoy Casino, and she is a tough cookie. Jack and Mia seem unable to keep their hands off each other, which will undoubtedly lead to trouble. How would you like to be a sheriff’s deputy and have a gangster for a potential father-in-law? (Since this episode, Rizzo has been killed. Whew. By Jack. Uh-oh.)

One thing I worried about after the first couple of episodes was that the crime-of-the-week stories were not as interesting as the casino stories. The writers have been good about keeping a balance. In this episode, the murdered man runs a construction company who builds casinos, including the one Savino wants to run, the Tumbleweed. When the victim is found in a cement mixer, it screams mob hit, but Savino points out that having the head of the company building his new hotel dying screws up his plans. Dixon, who is a deputy, goes undercover at the Savoy to drive to find who is stealing. He does very quickly and Savino is impressed. Dixon tells him that the thief was glad the deputy got him and not the mob, figuring he would be safer in jail. Savino offers Dixon a free room, but his dad, the sheriff, won’t let him take it. Meanwhile, Rizzo has insisted Savino hire Rizzo’s girlfriend, Diane, as a singer. That’s a bit awkward, since Savino and Diane had a fling years before. Savino finds out she is a snitch for the F.B.I. and he tells Rizzo. They find Diane, an ex-junkie, dead of an overdose. Savino and we pretty much know she was murdered by Rizzo. On Christmas Eve we see Savino with his family and it is obvious he is still thinking about Diane’s death.

And I haven’t even mentioned that Katherine, the assistant district attorney, is becoming friends with Savino’s wife…

This article was originally published on The House Next Door.

Tom Stempel

Tom Stempel is an American film scholar and critic. He is a professor emeritus in film at Los Angeles City College, where he taught from 1971 to 2011.

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