MURDER FOR CHRISTMAS
by Hugh Wreisner
(The tree-lighting show, for the Christmas Party; December, 1978)
© 1978 by Hugh Wreisner
All rights reserved.
DIALOGUE VISUALS, MUSIC & SOUND EFFECTS
RED CURTAIN! Fanfare begins, lots of trumpets. Sounds rather medieval and joyful but soon starts sinking in pitch and emotional resonance and ends in low, threatening strings and horns. Red Curtain blurs.
"HW" blurs in to a new fanfare, melodramatic, suitable for a 1940's Warner Bros. melodrama. Cued to climaxes in the music we see the following titles: 1. "Hugo Wreisner presents" 2. MURDER 3. FOR 4. CHRISTMAS (This is actually one drawing but the three words are lighted one by one. They in black, on brown wrapping paper. White are stenciled twine criss-crosses the screen, suggesting a package wrapped for mailing. This style is followed through the remaining titles): 5. "William Mosher" 6. "Miriam Petzke" 7. "Mary Seibel" 8. "And Marie Henry as Dahlilah Dubois" 9. "Filmed in Kodachrome" 10. "Photographed by Joseph Maniscalco" 11. "We wish to thank the Chicago Police Department for their splendid cooperation. " 12. "Music by Miklos Rosza" 13. "And Ray Conniff " 14. "December 24th. 3:25 p. m. " This is superimposed over a blurred, multi-colored slide. Title music fades appropriately. 15. Title disappears and the colored blur comes into focus: A very large pile of gaily wrapped Christmas gifts. Narrative music begins. NARRATOR (Hugo, using a sort of Humphrey Bogart voice) I still have nightmares about that day. A day of infamy if there ever was one! It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve. I'd been wrapping gifts, trimming the tree, decking the halls with boughs of holly. Ho ho ho. Well, there wasn't any "ho ho ho" that day!
Dire music! View of the city of Chicago on a winter afternoon.
I'd just gotten a message from the boss. "Important!", he said. "Get over here quick!! Urgent!!!". And he wasn't kidding! Get me to headquarters. Fast! "POLICE" (Closeup of word on police car.)Wild chase music begins. Car lurches out of parking spot and hurries across city, its blue light flashing urgently. We arrive at the actual Chicago Police Headquarters. Closeups of the building, the front door, the title on the inner office door: COMMANDER. HOMICIDE SECTION. Hugo enters the office in a rush, dressed in his regular winter clothes (tweed coat, fur hat) and confronts the Commander who is dressed in full police uniform, including cap. It is obviously a real police office. Keys, files, charts, typewriter, a pistol ready on the desk! (The following scene is played with various shots of Hugo, the Commander (the"Boss") and both together.) HUGO:
Got here quick as I could, Boss.
Good. Come in. Close the door. Better sit down. Sorry to get you out on Christmas Eve, but something's come up.
HUGO (fearfully) Murder? BOSS:(grimly)
GRIM CLOSEUP HUGO:
Oh no! On Christmas Eve? Who's goin to be assassinated?
Hold on to your hat. Santa Claus!
HUGO:(knocked for a loop)
My God! NO!!
SHOCKED CLOSEUP BOSS:
That's our information.
Santa Claus!?! But Who?, Where?, How?, Why? When?
Well we know "when". Santa comes at midnight. Who Where How Why.... that's your job : To find out. Before it's too late. You'll have to work fast.
HUGO:(jumping to attention)
I'm ready, Boss. Where do I start?
BOSS:(dripping with portent)
Chinatown? For Christmas?
There'll be a woman. She'll have information.
HUGO:(all business now)
How will I recognize her?
She'll recognize you. Wear this red scarf. Just walk up and down Wentworth. You'll find her.
Hands Hugo a bright red six-foot-long muffler HUGO:
You bet I will! Santa Claus is coming to town! And we serve and protect!!
An indignant brave crusader, holding the red scarf. BOSS:(a heartfelt warning)
Hugo! Be careful!! These are killers!!!
BOSS IN GRIM CLOSEUP. This blurs as mysterious Chinatown music begins. A new slide slowly comes into focus: The Gate of Chinatown. Shops, people in the street. Hugo walking along with the red scarf ostentatiously draped on his shoulders, searching for the Mysterious Lady. This one? ...... No. That one? .....No. Where? ......Where? A sexy trumpet begins. At a distance we see a strange, dark figure standing in front of a bright red Chinese door. Hugo is peering intently. He moves closer. It is a woman! Dressed in black boots, sizing each other up, black fur coat, black gloves, and a floppy black fur picture hat decorated with a black rose and huge black sunglasses. Is this the mysterious lady? Hugo moves closer and closer. Shots of him, shots of her, sizing each other up. She flashes a legal-sized envelope marked: "CLUE". Ah! This is she! He rips open the envelope and reads the three separate sheets. (Closeups) HUGO:
1. "Apartment 2312"
4850 Lake Park 2. "4850 Lake Park" Chicago, six oh.... 3. "Chicago, 60615" MYSTERIOUS LADY:(softly)
You don't need the zip.
Aha! What does this mean?
He has two Paul Henreid cigarettes in his lips. MYSTERIOUS LADY(whispering urgently)
That's the fabulous penthouse apartment of Dahlilah Dubois!
Dahlilah Dubois? Beloved singing star of stage, screen, radio, television and God knows what?
She gets a lighted cigarette. MYSTERIOUS LADY:(Ssssh!)
Yes! They're having a meeting. The killer, whoever it is, will be there.
But what has Dahlilah Dubois got to do with a, thing like this?
They both have their cigarettes now. MYSTERIOUS LADY:
I've told you everything I know. Now you're on your own.
Well, now I know When.
Tonight! At midnight!
And I know Where.
MYSTERIOUS LADY:(all the words rushed together)
Dahlilah Dubois' fabulous penthouse apartment, number 2312, 4850 Lake Park, Chicago six oh si ...
I don't need the zip.
But I still don't know Who, How, or WHY?
You'll find out Who How and Why. I know you will. You must! Santa is already on his way.
You've got to hurry.
Her gloved hand is on his cheek, delicate but erotic. Obviously these two have been caught up in a Grand Passion.
HUGO:(pulling himself together)
No time to lose.
Well, thanks for the tip, toots and. . .
Goodbye (choking back a sob)
These are killers!!!
Closeup of Mysterious Lady in front of red door. It blurs as very ominous music begins. Through the blur the narration continues. HUGO (narrator) She was quite a dame. But I couldn't think about that now. I had to get to Dahlilah Dubois' fabulous penthouse apartment and Stop the Killer, whoever it was. A new slide slowly comes into focus: little white and green squares. Fabric? I stopped off at my place and put on a disguise.
Green checked pants.
A peppermint shirt.
And a bright red vest.
So I'd look Christmassy!
They'd never guess: I was a cop!
Green checked pants on a hangar.
White shirt with red stripes, on hangar
Bright red vest ((This is what Hugo wore at the 1977 Party))
Silly shot of Hugo in his party outfit
Mysterious, ominous spooky music. We move through murk and fog. Street signs: "48th St." "Lake Park Avenue". We are moving in on Dahlilah Dubois' fabulous penthouse apartment. Anyone in the audience who didn't get the point from the "CLUE" earlier, now realizes that Dahlilah's apartment in the story is Hugo's apartment in real life... the very apartment where they are now sitting, watching this show and waiting for the tree to go on The number on the building! "4850".
The revolving doors! The! The door of the apartment: "2312"!!
Music reaches a tense climax and we go through the door into the roji (foyer of Dahlilah's apartments, filled with white flowers as it always is at the party) Music out.
The soundtrack is now an actual tape of 'ambient sound' from the 1977 party. Chattering, laughing, singing, occasional yells.' HUGO:
There was a meeting alright. Must have been 50 people at least. And a pretty weird bunch too. All sorts of suspicious characters. Which one was Santa's would-be assassin?
The visuals, from this point on, are from last year's party(with a number of obviously staged shots). People.... people. . . . people. Typical "snapshots from a party". Right away I spotted the Lady in Red. Was there homicide in her heart? "Snapshot" from the party with Miram Petzke very prominent in red. And this Mafia type. Sitting there so cool and aloof. Was he musing on murder?
And the wild character in the blue suit! Was he contemplating killing?
Jim Capua sitting contemplatively on the tokonoma.
Ron Henry, looking wild against the moon lantern.
Music cuts in abruptly: an erotic, romantic waltz! And suddenly! There she was!Dahlilah Dubois! Dahlilah Dubois, beloved singing. star of stage, screen, radio, television and God knows what! We see Dahlilah, looking impossibly beautiful, clicking her glass with another held in a male hand, the arm sleeved in red. Glamorous! Vivacious!! Appropriate slides Glittering!!! Absolutely dazzling!!!! The idol of millions. How could SHE be mixed up with a bunch of assassins? Why did she laugh and sing with the Lady in Red? Dahlilah and Lady in Red, singing happily. Why was she talking to the creep in the blue suit? Dahlilah listening attentively to Ron Henry (who is her real-life husband). HUGO:(cont.)
Didn't she realize what was going on? Didn't she know? Somebody here was going to murder Santa Claus!!!
Sudden dramatic effect in the music. We see the Mysterious Lady from Chinatown wearing her black boots, coat, gloves and ha t, and dark glasses) sitting`" among the others with a cigarette and a drink. HUGO:(amazed)
The dame from Chinatown! What was she doing here? The plot was thickening.
Shot of clock: "11:45 p. m. " And Santa was on his way! I had to stop the killer. And I had to do it by midnight.
But who was the killer?
And HOW were they going to do it?
Snapshots from last year's party A deathlike chord in the music accompanies a shot of the three-foot submarine sandwich which is a tradition at this party. HUGO:
Of course! The food!! Poison .
Or maybe the drinks! An arm in bright red holding a plastic glass marked "Season's Greetings" That was it! They'd somehow get Santa in here and poison him. Give him a martini and a meatball and call it a natural death. Shot of the BAR at the party. And yet.... Party chatter and laughing on soundtrack. And yet ...... Shots of people eating happily. They were all eating and drinking. And everybody seemed okay. There was a strange air of JOY that made my blood run cold.
It was almost like a. . . . well, like a Christmas party .
Joyous people WILLEM HINSE:(a guest, arms flung expansively, singing in his Dutch accent from actual party tape)
Happy Holiday! Happy Holiday!
Closeup of Willem HUGO:
Innocent merriment. Could that be? Was this just a happy Christmas party? Had the dame from Chinatown double-crossed me?
Dramatic music effect. Mysterious Lady is still sitting there. Still mysterious. HUGO:
No. I was dead sure she was on the level.
Clock shot: "11:55" And then Music starts building very unpleasantly. I SAW it!!! Hugo in terrified amazement!
Hugo even more amazed!
The Christmas tree!!! A turned-off Christmas tree. Whoever heard of a Christmas party with a turned off Christmas tree. Dark tree silhouetted against skyline in Hugo's (Dahlilah's) living room windows.
Now I knew how. Closer shot of dark tree. And I knew WHO! Closeup of Dahlilah, looking a bit wary. She has been discovered. HUGO:(to Dahlilah, menacingly)
You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout.
In the following dialogue we see Hugo and Dahlilah and both together. DAHLILAH: (defiantly)
I'm tellin you why. Santa Claus is comin' to town, baby. And you ain't gonna stop him. Turn on your tree!
Turn on your tree!
No! I won't do it. That tree is Santa's navigational beacon. This time when he flies in over the lake he won't see it. He won't see a thing And he'll crash right into the Hancock Building. That'll be the end of him!
But Why, Dahlilah? Why?
Orchestra slides in under her. This is the start of a musical number DAHLILAH:
Why? I'll tell you why. It's all phony, it's all fake. It's depressing. I hate Christmas and I'm putting a stop to it!
DAHLILAH : (singing away in the traditional Broadway musical comedy style) Dahlilah sings her song against a blank background, more or less the way it would appear on a TV show. She has full orchestral accompaniment. Just prepare
To miss the 'mistletoe'
I don't care
I want the world to know
I HATE CHRISTMAS
I'm no stooge
For dear ol' Santa Claus
I think Scrooge
Was really right because ,
I HATE CHRISTMAS!
Christmas cards and trees and bells
Well! They never cheered me up yet.
The whiter the Christmas
The bluer I get
Just too rough at Christmas
Had enough of Christmas
Two strophes of the song are played by the orchestra alone and we see two shots of people looking shocked and dismayed at Dahlilah's attitude "Santa Claus is falling down"
((Phrase repeated in orchestra))
She is getting wild! "I HATE CHRISTMAS!" She looks mean! HUGO:(shouting sharply)
Dahlilah is abruptly arrested in her tirade. She looks into the camera with an innocent/guilty look, like a child caught with her very hand in the cookie jar. HUGO:(very Humphrey Bogart)
You'll never get away with it, sweetheart. He's making a list. He's checkin' it twice.
He's gonna find out who's naughty or nice. And right now, You are definitely naughty! Swirling harp arpeggios! Dark sky and clouds appear in the background. Dahlilah reacts in fear.
A bright red witch's hat floats down and plops on her head! She reacts in amazement and horror! A complete witch's robe envelops her. She has turned into a witch, albeit a very elegant witch. The costume is copied from the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz but is made of bright red velvet, stylishly cut; and Dahlilah looks as beautiful as ever.
And you're certainly no match for Santa Claus!
CLOSEUP OF SANTA, a black and white line drawing from a child's color book. He is smiling amiably. ((All pictures of Santa and the reindeer are in this style)) Both he and Dahlilah appear against a rather stormy night sky. Wonderful music begins. Sort of a sleighride in the sky. A new shot of Santa and all eight reindeer. They move across the screen in simulated animation. Something fairly menacing in the music! Dahlilah (in animation) flies in from the right, her gorgeous red velvet witch's outfit billowing in the wind. She freezes at mid-screen so we get a real good look at her. CLOSE UP OF SANTA: ALARMED More animation of Santa and the reindeer, wheeling through the sky.
Dahlilah again, on her broom, flying the other way. . . flying off the screen.
Music builds and becomes more agitated.
Reindeer in confusion. Bits of red cloth flying among them.
Audience is confused too. Who is winning?
Dahlilah flies down directly into the camera looking angry. Music breaks up. Picture breaks up
Over the following dialogue, the Witch is gradually transformed back into her real self. Her face changes from angry witch to confused, apprehensive human.
"Although this sequence is justly famous in the history of the single-projector slide drama, I never felt it really worked and considered it the main reason for the commercial failure of the film in its initial release. My review at the time (The New Yorker, December 14, 1978) jumped on it for attempting too much on too grand a scale in too short a time in too small a medium. However, Kevin Brownlow(who had access to the full collection of the Wreisner papers at the University of Chicago Film Archives) has recently revealed that the version we see is actually only a truncated, stop-gap substitute for the tour de force that was intended. The sequence was fully worked out and its execution aborted by the simple disaster of the preliminary photography being "lost" by the Kodak lab , preventing the complicated process work from being completed in time for the party (December 10, 1978).
"Marie Henry, who played Dahlilah, confirms this: 'I remember the circumstances very well', she told me. 'He (Wreisner) was very excited about it. I never saw any drawings or anything, except for the big background plate; it was all in his head. But he spoke in terms of Fantasia , something very elaborate. I think he felt it was his first chance to prove to the world that the Pocket Instamatic, 110 film and the Pocket Projector could be the instruments of high music-drama .. . like Wagner.
I suppose what he had in mind was the beginnings of what he later achieved in his full length Divine Comedy. Whether that would have worked in Murder for Christmas I don't know. I do know he had it all planned and we did hours of preliminary photography. All my stuff, the reactions, the different positions and distances; he had all that on film. It just never came back from Kodak. He was heartbroken. "It is one of the scandals of film history."
SOURCES OF THE MODERN SLIDE-DRAMA
(Random House, N.Y., 1993)
Maybe I over-react .
She and Hugo are back in the living room again. HUGO:(laying on the Bogart)
Well, of course you do. You can't rub out Santa Claus. Remember, he knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.
Well, sure. You can't stamp out Christmas. It's the best time of the whole year.
But there is a bad side to it. The bills, the over-eating, the crass commercialism. How about that!
Sure, but . . . .
There are more suicides at Christmas than any other time of the year. Did you know that? That's a fact. You can look it up!
Dahlilah. If nothing else, .think about the kids.
Series of shots of very small children. DAHLILAH:
The kids. I forgot about the kids.
All those kids. All over the world tonight. All waiting for Santa. Waiting. Hoping. Don't, let 'em down, Dahlilah! Turn on your tree.
Kids continue DAHLILAH (warming)
This is no time to be gloomy.
This is no time to be mopin' around
This is time for Lights!
Right!!! Turn on your tree, Dahlilah.
Sing us into Christmas!
Ya talked me into it.
(She sings her solo finale , another short but big slam-bang production number) Dahlilah singing exaltedly. Belting! " When it's Christmas time
Let's all go on a spree...
And say hello to Santa
With a smile
And a song
And the sight
Of the night
With the light
of a Chris....
Shots of the lighted tree
Extreme closeup of lighted tree.
Then we. see the Mysterious Lady still sitting on the sofa, but she has a big grin on her face.
She doffs the black costume and we see that she is really Mary Seibel in sparkly pink. She runs up to Hugo MARY (Mysterious Lady) I'm Sargent Mary, from Homicide. You've done a wonderful job. Let's go tell the boss. MARY: Hello, Boss? Everything's okay. We stopped her. Come on over and join the party. Santa Claus is comin' to town! Hugo and Mary on telephone RAY CONNIFF CHORUS: Shots of people singing at 1977 party. "Oh, here comes Santa Claus Here comes Santa Claus Right down Santa Claus Lane He'll come around When the chimes ring out And it's Christmas morn again. Peace on earth will come to all If you just kinda follow the light So let's give thanks to the Lord above Cause Santa Claus is comin' tonight ((Slowing down)) So let's give thanks To the Lord above Cause Santa Claus is comin To... Night De dum dum dum! Shot of the Boss (full uniform) coming in the door waving cheerily Shot of Mary and Hugo, smiling happily. Shot of Dahlilah, happy and a bit apologetic Shot of color-book Santa waving expansively in the doorway. This is now in full color, bright red suit and huge green bag of goodies."THE END" is stenciled in the corner of the drawing..
REAL TREE GOES ON: BANG!
"Tonight Show" theme plays through curtain calls.