East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


The Last Hitch: Family Plot (1976)

Last night I re-watched Alfred Hitchcock’s last movie, Family Plot, released in 1976. I originally saw this in ’78 or ’79 in a drive in during the summer, and it remained stuck in my mind.
I re-watched it because it’s sort of research for a very long-shot of a project, but really I just needed an excuse.

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The first writer that really scared me: Algernon Blackwood

Some things stick in our minds for decades.
I was eleven years old or thereabouts when I got my copy of the Italian version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghost Gallery, a collection of horror stories (not all of them dealing with ghosts) aimed at a younger audience. Having been raised on Scooby Doo, and an avid reader of The Three Investigators, the idea of a collection of ghost stories was pretty exciting – and I got the book for Christmas that year. It was 1978.

Now this was a case of wrong expectations – the spooky stories in the book were none like Scooby Doo or the Three Investigators, and if a couple were quite humorous, like the three entries from Robert Arthur, none of these stories had the rational solution and the real culprit behind the haunting being shown for a very human bad guy.
This was, probably for the first time in my life, the Real Thing.
These were scary stories.

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An evening with Mr Shunn

A story bounced back, about one hour before dinner. Polite, cold, standard editor’s mail: good story, not our genre, worth keeping on the lookout for a publisher, good luck.
Oh, well, it happens.

As we dined it started raining again – there’s storms passing across the skies of Astigianistan – so no after-dinner walk tonight.
I sat down and started tweaking that story – it’s been so long I had forgotten a lot of things. I revised it. Cleaned it up.
Cut about 150 words. Nothing major, on an 8000-words number.
Tightened the dialogue a little, made some minor adjustments.
Checked for American vs English spelling.

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The Lady Vanishes, 1938

My admiration for Margaret Lockwood is on record – a beautiful woman, an excellent actress, protagonist of at least three indispensable films.
One of these happens to be a film by Alfred Hitchcock, whose anniversary was a few days back. The movie is called The Lady Vanishes, and was shot in 1938, based on a novel by Ethel Lina White, called The Wheel Spins, and published in 1936.


Orson Welles watched it, he said, eleven times, and Truffaut pointed it out as his favorite movie in Hitchcock’s opus.

11217And for some strange coincidence I have been browsing White’s novel these days – having acquired a few of her titles. White was beloved by screenwriters, and another of her thrillers was adapted into the classic The Spiral Staircase. Another, was the seminal “haunted wax museum” story. Today she is largely forgotten, but in the 30s she was considered on a par with Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers as a thriller writer.
I’ve half a mind of doing a post on her books, because they intersect a number of interests of mine.

But for the moment, there’s a lot of good reasons for a post on the 1938 novie: Hitch’s anniversary, my love of Margaret Lockwood, my recent discovery of Ethel Lina White.
Let’s see…

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Other People’s Pulp: The Thirty-Nine Steps

buchan-thirty-nine-steps-bookcoverLast week it was the centenary of the first book publication of John Buchan‘s The Thirty-Nine Styeps.
Buchan’s book about a single man – Richard Hannay – on the run from both unknown enemies and the authorities, and trying to solve a mystery in order to save his own life, became the template for a lot of subsequent “thrillers” – a genre which Buchan called “shocker”, and that he contributed in creating, together with Erskine Childres.

If we are to believe Wikipedia (how could we not?), Buchan

described a “shocker” as an adventure where the events in the story are unlikely and the reader is only just able to believe that they really happened.

Sounds pulpy enough, right?
So influential was the book, that most of us today discovered it through one of its movie adaptations – possibly Hitchcock’s from 1935.
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