Thursday, July 30, 2009
After the actor portraying Major Fournet runs the Montana UFO film the second time, there's banter between he and Chop (Towers) about arranging a meeting with Capt. Ruppelt in Dayton at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Just before showing the film a third time, however, the script features almost a half page of crossed-out dialogue. The omission begins right after Chop asks, "Okay. Once again, what's your opinion of this film?" and reads as follows:
FOURNET: (evading) "Some of the personnel think it might be reflections from jet planes or reflections from the water tower."
CHOP: "All right. Let's analyze reflections from jet planes. There were no tails on any of the objects I saw."
CHOP: "Water tower. A lot of people have sat in that ball park. How come no one has ever seen these reflections before?"
FOURNET: "I'm not arguing the point."
After a cross-out of that line, the script continues per the film and Fournet replies only, "As far as I'm concerned, I'd have to classify them as unknowns. I'll run the film again -- this time in slow motion." Chop's narration varies only slightly from the script at this point, changing a few words.
Of some interest, at the spot where Chop says, "There was something up there in that sky, and if they were not balloons, I don't know what to think," Fournet replies only, smiling, "You better get going to Dayton." In the script, his additional (crossed-out) comment is, "You've forgotten -- I'm in Intelligence." Had that snippet remained, Chop would then be seen looking at his keys, grinning. No, the deleted addition doesn't make much sense, at least on the surface, so its absence in the movie is not surprising. Certainly, it would be helpful to know the who and why behind each pre-production change, but at this late date we can only speculate.
The scene where Chop discovers from Maj. Fournet that actual motion pictures of UFOs exist matches script to movie almost word for word. However, as Fournet describes the Montana film to Chop, the scene shifts to an interview with the real Nick Mariana, who filmed two bright objects methodically traversing the skies during daylight, and this portion of "U.F.O." is worthy of comment.
"They appeared to be a bright, shiny metal, like polished silver," Mariana states during the interview, but excluded is the next sentence in the script: "There were two of them and they appeared to be about fifty yards apart."
As Mariana literally runs toward his car to unlock the glove compartment and grab his movie camera, the script informs us that his secretary runs with him.
In "U.F.O." Fournet shows Chop the Montana film right after the Mariana interview. Yet, according to the script, there would be something extra first. The film projector sits on a small table and Fournet "occupies himself nervously, chain-lighting a cigarette." Then he speaks:
"Mariana then took the investigator up to the grandstand at the ball park." The park is empty, except for Mariana and the Air Force investigator, his back to the camera. The camera swings around to gain a proper and complete orientation of important features such as smokestacks, the water tower and General Mills grain storage facilities. Fournet, continuing his narration over this segment, speaks: "He showed the investigator precisely where he stood when he photographed the saucers and pointed out the smokestacks, water tower and the General Mills grain buildings, indicating their relationship to the UFOs from the camera angle."
The scene then dissolves to the familiar segment where Fournet shows Chop Mariana's UFO film. But even this scene has notable exclusions, once production and script encounter one another.
Still fielding questions about UFO sightings at Air Materiel Command, Chop is surprised to learn that Col. Searles at the Pentagon has requested that he join his staff in Washington. Anticipating a normal life on the Air Force press desk, Chop, to his chagrin, is assigned to unidentified flying objects because of his experience in dealing -- skeptically -- with the matter ("I was back in the flying saucer business").
In the script and movie, there's a brief segment where Chop (Towers) plays with his little son on a lawn outside their house near Washington, and the two are throwing a ball back and forth. Nothing remarkable occurs here, but of passing interest is the narration where Towers mentions his son's deafness since infancy. Penciled in is the phrase, "in one ear," and obviously Chop himself had asked for the correction, which made it to final production.
It is also apparent that extensive changes occurred on pages 42, 43 and 44 of the script because new pages were substituted, and just at the point where Chop is confronted with an issue of LIFE Magazine boasting the explosive headline, "THERE IS A CASE FOR INTERPLANETARY SAUCERS," the word OMIT is typed repeatedly after what would have been scenes 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97 and 98. I doubt -- but wonder anyway -- whether any of this had to do with a possible conflict over the original (real) cover of LIFE which showed Marilyn Monroe on the cover, because in the movie a cover photo of President Harry Truman was substituted. Whether this was done to give the scene more of an official and important flavor, or whether there existed competing movie studio conflicts over publicizing Monroe in a United Artists (with whom she was not under contract) motion picture , we will probably never know. I opt for the latter explanation.
With both LIFE and LOOK hitting newsstands from coast to coast, featuring everything from high-ranking witness interviews to a map of UFO sightings, the public becomes very anxious about "saucers," and a statement by U.S. Air Force General Hoyt Vandenberg is recounted in the film. However, the original script included an extra statement by Vandenberg, excluded from the movie. The narrator, quoting Vandenberg, is heard to say: "The Air Force is interested in anything that takes place in the air. This includes the aerial phenomenon commonly known as flying saucers. Many of these incidents have been satisfactorily explained. Others have not." Missing from the filmed narration were the intended words, "With the present world unrest, we cannot afford to be complacent."
Project Grudge is expanded and its name changed to Blue Book, and we are shown a chart designating the involvement of such principals as Capt. Edward J. Ruppelt (project chief) and Maj. Dewey J. Fournet (project monitor).
Friday, July 24, 2009
The dissolution of Project Sign has been duly noted, and now the scene shifts to the introduction of Tom Towers in his role as Al Chop. In the script, Chop enters his old newspaper office and is mobbed by reporters and others apparently intent upon greeting him after a long absence. But in the movie Chop merely acknowledges a person here and there as he enters, then progresses directly to the chief editor's office, and post-production narration by Towers indicates that he (Chop) was discharged from the Marine Corps and had returned to the newspaper where he previously worked for five years. Only the script notes the editor's name as Carl Roberts, and once he begins dialing a phone call to Air Materiel Command on Chop's behalf, regarding a potential job interview, he informs Chop that the "big wheel" out there is a Major Krough. How much these names are based on reality I don't know, but one suspects they might be genuine, given the concern for accuracy in the motion picture project.
As Chop offers personal information during questioning by a personnel officer, his children's ages are requested. The script originally states "Girl, age two, boy, three," but these numbers are scratched out and replaced with 11 and 5, respectively, and these errors were almost certainly corrected by Chop himself during a script review. This page also notes at the top, as the occasional previous page and numerous succeeding pages have: "UFO" FINAL CHANGES (1) - 3-7-55.
National media excitement over the Sioux City UFO incident is then explored, as Chop is besieged by newspaper inquiries from coast to coast, and the script and movie are faithful to one another with minor word changes. Many portions where Towers narrates, incidentally, are circled throughout his copy of the script.
There is an interesting scripted paragraph deleted from final production, right after Chop asks a couple of reporters at his desk, "Don't tell me you guys believe this saucer bunk?" In turn, one replies, " Those pilots are qualified observers -- men with over ten thousand hours in the air. That doesn't sound like bunk to me, Chop." Affirming his belief that saucers are "bunk," Chop watches the reporters storm off, and as the camera focuses upon him with several telephones ringing incessantly, his office door is heard to slam shut, a message of disgust left by departing members of the press..
Chop conducts an eye-opening interview with an important former German scientist, named in the script (not named in the movie) as Dr. Reiskaywitz. Here, too, is an interesting alteration in the finished product. For instance, when Chop says, "It must be amusing to a man in your line of work to hear about all of these screwball reports," the script has the scientist responding: "For such an open-faced young man, you certainly have a closed mind." The movie omits this comment and goes directly to Dr. Reiskaywitz's assertion that, "It is my firm opinion that these sightings should be investigated most meticulously."
Omitted from an on-screen statement where Reiskaywitz admonishes the skeptical Chop with the words, "Wrong conclusions are usually the result of lack of comprehensive analysis," is this segment: "A man cannot scratch the surface and say 'this vein has no gold.' He must dig deep before he can be sure." Priceless! How excellent, had the producer left this in the movie -- much in line with a brilliant statement Dr. J. Allen Hynek would make years later about the "pay dirt" potential of a UFO investigation.
The script and movie continue to where Chop discovers Project Grudge was secretly initiated as UFO reports continued, and his promotion to chief of the Air Force press section at the Pentagon is touched upon. Highly intriguing is the segment where Chop listens in on a conversation regarding three men flying a B-29 over Georgia who watched a mysterious object make a pass at a weather balloon, which was later found to have a six-foot tear in its fabric.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Following the dramatization of Mantell's plane crash, both the script and movie remain mostly faithful to one another as the story of the Air Force's "Project Sign" implementation is narrated. The major difference comes about when a brief interview with American Airlines pilot Capt. Willis T. Sperry appears in the film. The script itself carries no mention of Sperry whatsoever at this point, so we may assume that negotiations for Sperry's participation were finalized closer to the time of actual production.
Though Sperry later claimed there were no problems in getting permission from American Airlines to recount his UFO encounter on camera, one wonders if, at least, second thoughts made the corporate rounds when word that a commercial pilot was actually going to "tell all" about a highly intriguing UFO event became obvious. From the way Sperry posed in full pilot attire near a runway with an aircraft as a backdrop, we might almost think that American Airlines looked forward to publicity on the big screen -- and surely that would be an anomaly, considering the tight-lipped manner in which the major airlines generally reacted to UFO encounters in the fifties (particularly when close approaches resulting in evasive action and passenger panic or injuries occurred), fearful that "saucers" could scare away the flying public.
Nevertheless, acquiring Sperry for a segment in "U.F.O." was a definite bonus and helped tremendously to infuse the authenticity necessary for a documentary approach. Unlike the labored Mantell scenes, Captain Sperry's story was laid out in about 90 seconds, and this segment, filmed in an airport environment, must have looked spectacular to the curious on a 1956 theater screen.
The scenes move swiftly at this point, and as quickly as the audience is told of Project Sign's origin, a narrator states the agency was soon terminated. Of some interest, in the movie we are told, "On January 9, 1950, the press reported that Project Sign was closed. From now on, the Air Force stated, its only similar activity would be the routine, conventional watch for unidentified flying objects."
However, the script varies here, informing us in these words: "On January 9, 1950, the press reported that the Air Force announced that Project Sign, including pictures of flying saucers, none of them genuine, will be placed on public exhibition in the Pentagon."
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Clearly, writer Francis Martin intended to invoke something resembling a "panic in the streets" atmosphere -- or make that a panic of curiosity -- during the early minutes of the movie. Instead, a dramatic non-dramatic change ensued during production when Clarence Greene and director Winston Jones played the scenes softly, low-key and ultimately comedic with televised banter involving a character boasting of a "man from the saucer" contact vs. his inability to describe the color of an interviewer's tie. Why? By now, knowing why specific things were done is probably impossible. We must keep in mind, though, that the final script was reviewed and approved by principals such as Al Chop, Dewey Fournet and former Project Blue Book chief Edward Ruppelt, so perhaps there was a consensus dictating something light in format. More likely, however, is the fact that producer Greene remained far more concerned with accuracy than dramatic effect -- a critical observation noted by both Chop and Tom Towers, who recognized that a little of the "Hollywood touch" might have helped out tremendously at the box office without sacrificing the facts.
For me, as much as I cherish the movie's very existence, the segment about the death of pilot Thomas Mantell while chasing a possible UFO was simply agonizing for its length and preoccupation with who said what, what whomever said to whom, and at what time of day it was said. It's a shame, but perhaps inevitable, that even the motion picture's publicity campaign was highly dependent upon the Mantell incident, whose precipitant was as controversial then as it is today.
The script doesn't vary in significant depth from the production, but there is an excluded scene where military guards and state police at the airplane wreckage site are holding back a collection of "morbidly curious civilians." Ambulance attendants are observed closing doors on their vehicle and driving away. Meanwhile, three or four Air Force officers comb through the wreckage inside a roped-off area, and one picks up a piece of tail structure containing, in aviation terms, the "trim tab." As the officer shows this fragment to the others, who are busily inspecting, making notes and photographing the area, the narrator's voice speaks the following words, which are not in the final film cut:
"The inspectors were able to determine conclusively from the wreckage that Mantell's plane was trimmed to climb when he crashed -- that he had blacked out from lack of oxygen at extreme altitude. With Mantell unconscious, the propeller torque pulled the plane into a slow left turn, which developed into a shallow dive. The dive rapidly became steeper and faster. At some point, the terrific speed tore off a wing of the plane."
The original script devotes 13 pages to the 1948 Mantell case, and 13 pages can seem like a lifetime once translated to the silver screen.
(To be continued. . .)
Friday, July 10, 2009
In retrospect, introducing "U.F.O." with scenes of clouds interspersed with the credits and less exciting footage than Francis Martin originally scripted was probably a wise choice, because it set the theme for something intangible, yet vitally important.
After leading with the Kenneth Arnold story and showing how teletype machines across the country raged about Arnold and a succession of new saucer reports, the movie delves briefly into public reactions, both sober and comedic. However, the initial script calls for the camera to linger upon specific witnesses and events. For instance, though we see about one second of a man in a hard hat, apparently a saucer witness, his role would have been expanded per Martin's intentions. The scene called for an upward camera shot of a power pole carrying high-voltage wires, showing a HIGH VOLTAGE sign on a cross-arm. Two linemen, suspended by safety belts and anchored via climbing spurs on their work shoes, wear heavy rubber gloves as they work on a wire adjacent to an insulator. "One of them pushes his hat up and wipes perspiration from his brow -- starts to pull his hat down again -- when his attention is suddenly frozen by something up and out of scene," the script states.
As this prolonged scene continues, the lineman follows the audience-unseen object with his eyes, then alerts his fellow worker who sees the object. "They exchange a brief, apprehensive glance, then look off again. Their heads move in unison as they watch the object, which is OUT OF SCENE."
Then attention is diverted to a ship at sea, where the first mate scans the sky with binoculars and is startled to encounter "an object sweeping in, up and over the ship." An accompanying signal man on the deck sees the odd binocular movements, looks up and "suddenly stiffens, and his eyes move in unison with the arc of the binoculars."
Arguably, producer Clarence Greene might have been better off leaving such scenes in, rather than whittling the early aura of mystery aspect down to quick shots of folks looking up in the sky. Indeed, writer Martin wasn't finished after the ship at sea event. He next paints the chaos on two busy city streets somewhere in America. As "pedestrians scramble for something," two cars crash into one another, the drivers jump out and, ignoring the damage to their vehicles, "start scrambling." Some members of the city crowd stare skyward, shielding their eyes from the sun as they watch something strange. Simultaneously, a man in the crowd is holding an "aluminum-like" paper saucer with the words, "EAT AT JOE'S -- THIRD AND PINE STREET."
The movie glossed over the majority of bedlam intended for these early scenes.
While traffic is blocked in one area of a city, two teenage boys hiding on a rooftop mischievously insert pinwheel fireworks into a half dozen old chrome auto hub caps, then light and hurl a spinning hub cap toward the street below. This unrealized scripted segment then concludes with two young men staging a fake UFO photo using garbage can lids on invisible threads and a Leica camera. At this point, the intended narration would have been: "The situation at this time was in a sort of half world -- an Alice in Wonderland aura overlaid hundreds of reports." Huh? Wow.
The script, like the movie, then slips into the Mantell incident, focusing too long on the case of a pilot who died while chasing a UFO-balloon-UFO-balloon-etc., etc., and the debate rages on even today about the object's true identity, though the movie, unaware at the time that other possibilities would come to light in future years, postulated that a true UFO was responsible. One interesting variation between the script and movie is that the script used several last names for the military personnel involved, but the final cut refers to most by only their positions or rank. Maybe Greene found the names unnecessary or too confusing to add to the eventful Mantell mix. At any rate, while filmed dialogue varies frequently from the script, the content remains essentially the same -- that is, until the wreckage of Mantell's plane is found. (To be continued. . .)
Monday, July 6, 2009
It's the month of May, 1956, and the lights of a sparsely lighted theater somewhere in the U.S. begin to dim as the projectionist lets a reel of film role, most likely containing previews of coming attractions or a brief review of current news stories. Following these celluloid teasers, the moment every audience member waits for arrives at last: The main attraction begins.
The movie's full title fills the screen: "Unidentified Flying Objects - The True Story of Flying Saucers." The credits begin to flash by, and in the background we view ever-changing scenes, including a stock shot of the Wright Brothers' famous flight, breathtaking film captures of jets flying head-on toward the camera, astronomers utilizing their giant telescope and, finally, exciting footage of earth as seen from a camera attached to a flaming rocket as it ascends high into the atmosphere. . .
But wait, wait, what's going on here? If you ever saw "U.F.O." you instantly realize there were no such scenes behind the opening credits. In fact, the background throughout the first couple of minutes consists only of still shots depicting gray, billowing, pillow-like clouds filling the sky with a sense of mystery, generating thoughts of enigmas unknown. What happened?
The script is what happened -- or, rather, script changes, and I suspect they were numerous in the interim before theater audiences around the world had an opportunity to judge the final contents.
Writer Francis Martin (whom I never had a chance to interview) originally envisioned running credits over that famous footage of the Wright Brothers' virgin airplane flight, joined by scenes of three jet aircraft -- one at a time -- flying at supersonic speed toward the camera, the sounds of their roar delayed until each had passed out of the picture. Next, the intent was to show astronomers engaged with the two-hundred inch telescope at Mount Palomar, followed by a voice-over countdown to the launch of a rocket. As a ground-based camera tracks the rocket's disappearance toward the stratosphere, a camera attached to the rocket "gradually begins to show the contour and curvature of the earth."
All of these would have been "stock shots," essentially making use of film footage that already existed in various files, freely available for film producers and journalists. While none of this footage made its way into Clarence Greene's proposed epic, a long (distant) stock shot of the Pentagon was used quite effectively to herald a theme of official proceedings as the story begins.
Just as scenes were shifted at the beginning, a change of opening narration also occurred. Anybody who viewed "U.F.O." multiple times easily recognizes this introduction: "Many times in the history of our civilization, the introduction of a new thought has brought skepticism, even ridicule. Despite this, there has always been the duty and inalienable right to tell the people the truth. The motion picture you are about to see is true, it is not fiction. Much of the information in it has never been told. You will see it here for the first time."
However, Martin's original passage for this section reads: "In any free democracy, the free dissemination of news is the very keystone of the republic. A motion picture accurately presenting facts to the people is an important, vital source of public information. The picture you are about to see is not fiction. Much of this material has never been presented to the public in any form of news medium. You will see it here for the first time."
Minor changes continue as the 1952 press conference held by General John Samford is highlighted, and then the viewer's attention is directed to the Kenneth Arnold sighting of multiple objects, at that time considered (though wrongly) the start of the UFO era in the U.S.
(To be continued. . .)
Reposing comfortably, for years, somewhere behind Tom Towers' sofa in his southern California living room was his personal copy of the 116-page script for the movie, "U.F.O." Dated October 21, 1954, this likely was the very first screenplay draft for the film turned out by writer Francis Martin, and I say that simply because the eventual production varied significantly from the original typewritten document. Indeed, Towers' copy contained occasional handwritten notations and circled passages, probably scribbled by Tom himself during the days when he prepared for or was required on the movie "set" as lead actor.
To my surprise, Towers offered and mailed his treasured script to me in the seventies as I researched the movie. Though his small KRIM Theater photo (see earlier references to this snapshot taken by Towers' friends) was undoubtedly his most cherished movie souvenir, the script was unquestionably next in line, and the loan of each to me was profoundly appreciated.
As years passed, I remembered reading the script, and vaguely recalled photocopying some pages, but because I found no script among other "U.F.O." memorabilia, I assumed those pages had been destroyed or misplaced. As fate would have it, however, the photocopied script -- all of it -- eventually turned up in a box of things unrelated to the movie. Strangely, I had forgotten copying a complete script.
Of course, I wish I could reproduce the document in this blog, page by page, but there may still be ownership and copyright issues involved, so I'll opt for quoting passages where necessary. We'll begin when I post part two.