“Good Morning, Mr Franklin”
When discussing the cinema of Richard Franklin, it is hard not to bring up the legendary “master of suspense” Alfred Hitchcock. For not only do both filmmakers have a natural inclination to the psychological thriller that has kept them returning for more and more exercises in suspense, but also because Franklin is often referred to as a “Hitchcock scholar”, having observed the master at work on two productions and having also spent countless years dissecting his films. But don’t let all this fool you – Franklin is no mere Hitchcock imitator. He is a genuinely talented artist in his own right with a number of films (in particular Hotel Sorrento [known as Sorrento Beach in North America] and Brilliant Lies) and several television movies to his credit that are exceptionally crafted character-driven pieces that do not lend themselves to the Hitchcock comparison. Nonetheless, with this distinction clearly in place, I feel that it is important to discuss the impact Hitchcock has had on Franklin’s cinema.
Although enchanted by the Arthur Freed musicals of the 1950s, Franklin’s viewing of Psycho on its original release when he was just 12 years old, along with the regularity of Hitchcock’s anthology series in his home every week, was the inspiration for his career as a director. While attending the University of Southern California in the late 1960s, Franklin mounted a career retrospective of Hitchcock with the help of his film history lecturer Arthur Knight. His main motivation was to see Vertigo in Technicolor (television down under being B&W in those days). Everything went as planned until it came time to show 1948’s Rope, which had been withdrawn from distribution. It was clear that the only way Franklin would be able to screen it would be to get permission from Alfred Hitchcock Productions. Franklin wrote to them, imagining this to be a large organisation and was surprised when shortly thereafter he was called out of class to a telephone call. “Good Morning, Mr Franklin,” greeted Hitchcock. As Franklin tells the rest of the story: “I must have been a courageous 19 year-old because Iasked him if he would like to come down and talk to the students. I was thrilled when he consented to do so!” (1) Hitchcock delivered a three-hour discussion with a somewhat petrified Franklin acting as moderator. He must have taken a liking to the young film student, as he would later invite Franklin to the set of Topaz in 1968 and again nearly ten years later Franklin visited the shooting of Family Plot. After Hitchcock’s death in 1980, Richard Franklin would help to carry on the mantle and even make the acclaimed sequel to Psycho, the success of which prompted two others.
Back to the beginning
Richard Franklin was born in Melbourne on July 15, 1948. He attended “public school” Haileybury College between the years 1954 and 1965. In 1960, at the precocious age of 12, he began to make amateur films on 8 mm with neighbourhood friends, eventually graduating to 16 mm by 1965. These early short films were roughly in the same vein as Richard Lester’s two whimsical pictures with the Beatles.
The connection is not so surprising considering Franklin was also playing drums in the Pink Finks, a popular Australian rhythm and blues group. After putting out four singles, including a cover version of “Louie, Louie”, Franklin came to the conclusion that the profession of filmmaker was better suited to his talents. But since there was no film industry in Australia at the time, Franklin sold his drum kit and moved to California where he enrolled in a Cinema Major at the University of Southern California (USC).
USC was a creative hotbed at the time of Franklin’s arrival in 1967 and future filmmakers such as George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis, John Carpenter and Randal Kleiser were fellow classmates. After finding out that he could utilise and view studio prints of past releases he had missed (remembering this was some years before video), Franklin organised retrospectives and chaired seminars not just with Hitchcock, but also for John Ford, Orson Welles and the Disney animators. All of these encounters would prove to be formative experiences for the not-yet 20 year-old. An example is apparent in the final moments of The True Story of Eskimo Nell – when Deadeye Dick’s eye-patch is askew, Franklin is paying a personal tribute to his meeting with Ford at USC, where he witnessed a similar occurrence with the legendary director’s eye-patch.
The late ’60s was a time of ascendancy of European cinema, much to the chagrin of Franklin who had decided to study in the United States because of his admiration for American cinema. During a directing class analysis of Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night (a model for the young director’s early films), Franklin raised his hand and asked when they were going to study American cinema. The lecturer stared Franklin down and declared, “I know you. You’re the one who’s been bringing tired old hacks like Ford and Hitchcock down here to speak to the students.”
Franklin made four short films at USC, which would also mark the first time he would try his hand at the thriller genre. His final production Exit was essentially a one-act play in one room, “somewhat in the vein of Hitchcock’s Rope”(2) and the first time that Franklin directed dialogue.
After leaving USC in 1970, Franklin moved back to Australia where the so-called “Aussie renaissance” was about to begin. He had already directed 13 episodes of the hit local cop show Homicide by the time he turned 21.
With the advent of the “R certificate” and success of such Australian bawdy sex comedies as Stork (Tim Burstall, 1971) and The Adventures of Barry Mackenzie (Bruce Beresford, 1972), Franklin decided to try his hand at this profitable sub-genre with a loose adaptation of the notorious bawdy poem “Eskimo Nell”. Together with Alan Hopgood (screenwriter of the Alvin Purple films and television series) he wrote a screenplay to be produced for a budget of AU$187,000. The story was toned down from the original poem, as it would have been quite unfilmable at the time and only the opening and closing stanzas of the poem are used as voiceover narration read by Mexico Pete.
The True Story of Eskimo Nell (1975) tells the story of Deadeye Dick (Max Gillies) and Mexico Pete (Serge Lazareff) and their quest for Eskimo Nell (Paddy Madden, Victoria Anoux), “the greatest womper of them all”. As his name partly suggests, Deadeye Dick is an impotent, one-eyed vagabond who has been following and living vicariously through ladies’ man Mexico Pete. In a series of flashbacks directly referencing D.W. Griffith’s Way Down East (1920), it is revealed that Dick has part invented his anima Eskimo Nell from a photograph he has picked up somewhere, but by pure luck, the duo chance upon a prostitute with the same moniker. While she in no way resembles the photograph, Dick still sees only the woman of his fantasies. Franklin labelled the screenplay a “tragi-comedy/western” (3).
The friendship between Deadeye Dick and Pete resembles a similar relationship between Ratzo Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) and Joe Buck (Jon Voigt) in John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969). Indeed, this film – and Blazing Saddles (Mel Brooks, 1974), and the westerns of John Ford – were the primarily inspirations for Eskimo Nell. Rizzo’s extreme longing for Florida in Cowboy closely parallels Dick’s yearning for the imaginary beauty Eskimo Nell. Ratzo/Dick experience their pleasures indirectly through Joe/Pete. In one scene Dick and Pete attempt to score two prostitutes, Ellie and Lil (Ellie Maclure, Kris McQuade) and Dick needs to look to Pete for reassurance, comically, ending up on top of him when both couples end up in bed. Finally, in a long two-shot inspired by John Ford’s Two Rode Together (1961), Dick’s impotence wins out and he converses with Ellie outside of the room as Pete and Lil go through a textbook of sexual positions in the room behind them. In both Cowboy and Eskimo Nell‘s final moments, both Joe Buck and Pete realise the futility of their friend’s fantasy; yet keep up the charade in order to give their mate’s final moments a degree of dignity.
Apart from the mandatory skin scenes, Eskimo Nell features some camera moves that will later become characteristic of Franklin’s cinema. The slow 360-degree introduction of the interior of Eskimo Nell’s pub will recur in future work along with his preference for sustained “master shot” dialogue. Not to mention the moment later on in this sequence that inspired a later Franklin film in which visual duplicity would go on to serve as the basis for the multiple Mrs. Bates in Psycho II.
The True Story of Eskimo Nell marks the first time that Franklin would employ a full orchestral score and the services of composer Brian May. So primitive was technology in Australia at the time, that for their first collaboration, Franklin and May had to resort to an oven timer and a metronome in order to synchronise the music to the film.
The film caused much controversy when released in 1975 for the simple reason that it was partly funded with government money and was assumed to be simply exploitation. It was picketed by the hyper conservative “Festival of Light” and Australian newspapers at the time even called it “horrible to look at”(it went on to win the Australian Film Institute [AFI] award for Best Cinematography for Franklin’s one time Homicide associate Vincent Monton).
Although Franklin now describes the picture as “sophomoric”, it’s proof of his emerging talent as a filmmaker and noteworthy for the first time that he would use key collaborators who would go on to later films (Brian May as Composer, Vincent Monton as Cinematographer and Andrew London as Editor). Its failure at the box office and negative critical reception convinced Franklin to try another tack, and as we will see with his next film, his apprenticeship to the Master of Suspense would come to the fore.
American-born Everett De Roche moved to Australia in the late 1960s and answered an advertisement seeking writers for the successful Homicide TV series. His first day on set happened to be an episode directed by Franklin and the two immediately hit it off. This chance encounter would spark a collaboration of four feature films, all of which explore the psychological thriller terrain.
Patrick (1978) was inspired by a true story De Roche had heard about a man who had come home to catch his wife in bed with another man, and in a bid for attention, jumped over their balcony, failing to catch hold of the railing as planned and landing on the roof of a car, becoming a quadriplegic. What interested De Roche was the fact that the patient resumed relations with his wife and that he communicated by spitting (an idea later referred to by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill Vol. 1 ). Franklin thought that a suicidal protagonist wouldn’t play well, so they decided to use a Psycho-inspired matricidal murder instead. Producer Anthony I. Ginnane came on board and a budget of AU$400,000 was raised. Brian May was once again commissioned to write the score, this time with the help of a 24-track recorder and synchronised picture. Their music mixer Roger Savage would go on to become one of Australia’s most sought after sound mixers and another valued collaborator.
Patrick opens in black, with the sizzling sounds of an electrical heater soon to become a murder weapon. After fading in on the titular character’s eyeball and showing him sitting up attentively in bed, Franklin cuts to the reflection of an older man and woman in a bedpost as they begin to make love. He pulls back to reveal a thin wall between Patrick (Robert Thompson) and the banging bedpost as it begins to move with the sexual activity in his mother’s room. Patrick waits until the couple is finished and, while they are resting in a bathtub, he tosses the heater in with not a word uttered. Franklin then sets up the story proper as we are introduced to Kathy Jacquard (Susan Penhaligon), a recently divorced nurse who readies herself in her apartment before applying to the Roget Clinic, a small private hospital where Patrick has laid comatose for three years. Kathy is grilled by Matron Cassidy (Julia Blake), until Dr Roget (Powell & Pressburger favourite Robert Helpmann) overrules the Matron and Kathy is hired. Patrick begins to disrupt his new nurse’s life in short order via telekinesis, succeeding in harming her ex-husband (Rod Mullinar) and a physician aptly named Dr Wright (Bruce Barry), with whom she begins to have a brief affair. After slowly realising who is responsible, Kathy begins to receive messages from Patrick through the use of an electric typewriter (this being just pre computers). In the final moments as Patrick leaps from the bed, Franklin delivers a visceral shock that remains unforgettable to anyone who has seen the picture. These thrills, and others like it (for example, the “emergency entrance” sign re-emerging during a crucial moment), are actually set up earlier in the film, but Franklin introduces them so subtly that it requires multiple viewings in order to successfully place them. And by comparison to many of his US contemporaries, Franklin generally prefers to leave gorier moments up to the imagination of the viewer.
Patrick‘s most significant achievement is that it remains visually interesting throughout, despite being set in a 12 x 14 hospital room. Franklin storyboarded most of the picture using a shoebox with dollhouse furniture. From time to time, Franklin uses POV shots from the perspective of Patrick, suggesting that he is sound of mind. There’s also an abundant use of high-angled shots during suspense set pieces to build up the mood.
Franklin readily admits that Patrick is a Hitchcock pastiche and he has no qualms about revealing the many tributes to the Master that take place in the film. The Roget Clinic refers to the Bates House in Psycho. There’s a crane shot directly from North By Northwest (Cary Grant on telephone), and other nods to framing from Spellbound, I Confess, Rear Window, Marnie and Shadow of a Doubt (Joseph Cotton on the bed at the beginning of that film). However, the most obvious precedent in Hitchcock is the pilot for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series. Entitled “Breakdown”, it features Joseph Cotton as a motorist who is paralysed in an automobile accident and assumed dead until he sheds a tear.
Patrick was an enormous financial success, even spawning an indirect Italian sequel (4). More importantly, it played an instrumental part in Franklin getting the job of directing Psycho II at Universal, whose executives watched the film before hiring him. When Patrick was released in the US, it was re-voiced (5) and re-cut with the forced compliance of Franklin, who faced the director’s dilemma of “we’re going to fix it – with or without your help” (6). The original version (now available on DVD in the US) won awards at the 1979 Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival and the 1978 Sitges International Film Festival (Best Director). It was also nominated for the 1978 AFI awards for editing, best film, and best original screenplay. De Roche and Franklin contemplated a direct sequel in the late 1970s, but it never got beyond a storyline. However, in their next thriller, the two decided to take the genre on the road.
While on location co-producing the soon-to-be smash success The Blue Lagoon (directed by fellow USC alumnus Randal Kleiser), Franklin and Everett De Roche fashioned the first draft of Roadgames, which was originally written with Sean Connery in mind for the lead of a truck driver crossing the Australian continent. Taking its initial inspiration from Hitchcock’s Rear Window, but changing the milieu from a Greenwich Village apartment to a moving vehicle, Roadgames (1981) gives us Pat Quid (Stacy Keach), a sleepless truck driver with a pet dingo named Boswell and a habit for passing the time on the road by harmlessly contriving background stories about the other travellers he encounters. One such traveller, whom Quid nicknames “Smith or Jones” (stunt coordinator Grant Page), is actually a mass murderer, something Quid suspects from the opening prologue. Quid also encounters an attractive young hitcher (Jamie Lee Curtis), also an American, whom he appropriately dubs Hitch. Some of the more interesting scenes occur between these two characters, especially when they begin to speculate about the murderer’s motives (bringing to mind similar conversations held by James Stewart and Grace Kelly in Rear Window). Franklin chooses to finish the film on a wickedly macabre note, as it is suggested one of the murderer’s victims wound up in the back of the truck as part of Quid’s cargo of pigs on their way to market – “long pig” being indistinguishable among the other headless torsos.
Pat Quid is an interesting protagonist in many respects and we aren’t really given a lot of details about his past. He tells Hitch that he worked as a first mate on a gunboat and spent some time in Sudan when he was younger. We also gather that he is self-educated and apparently well read, as he quotes from both Keats and Emily Brontë (he also has a wild variety of tastes in reading materials as indicated in the scene in which Hitch roots around in the back of the truck and finds a book of poetry, Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery magazine, and a nudie publication). Quid plays the guitar and uses a blues harmonica to accompany Mozart (or to follow along with Brian May’s often brilliant score which was influenced by Gustav Holst’s “Planets”, Ravel’s “Bolero” and Henry Mancini’s score for Howard Hawk’s Hatari!) His profession in the film doesn’t seem to be a long-term career move either, as at different points in the film, Quid professes that “just because I drive a truck, doesn’t mean I’m a truck driver”.
Quid’s blossoming romance with Hitch is handled with just as much subtlety as the suspense in the film and there’s one particular scene that is exceptional. Quid and Hitch camp at an old telegraph station and Quid begins to tell the story of the “cuniculae”, a plague of rabbits that long ago decimated the town. A romantic connection between the two has been hinted at and Brian May’s cue for this moment perfectly underscores Quid’s regret that he is too old for Hitch. Quid picks up his harmonica and plays along with the cue, peacefully alone. Franklin then cuts to a long shot of Hitch walking out onto the sand dunes, as a storm develops. A lightning flash reveals Smith or Jones also camped not far away and we realise we’ve forgotten, just as the characters, that danger lurks. The following morning it is clear the romance has gone no further and while a kiss hovers in the air, Quid hesitates again and will soon have his young companion whisked away.
As in Rear Window, Roadgames is all about appearances and fronts. Looks are almost always deceiving, for example Quid realises his canine companion, Boswell, isn’t actually a dingo after all when it barks at the murderer (the vocal capability of barking is impossible in this species). Another instance occurs when Quid is driving late at night and Franklin cuts to the shock-gag of an apparently fierce kangaroo in his headlights. After he rubs his eyes, he looks again to see a harmless marsupial hopping away. Finally, there is Quid’s obsession with Smith or Jones’ lunchbox that accompanies him everywhere he goes (and always introduced with the gentle plucks of a guitar); fearing the worst (that it is the proverbial “head in the hatbox”), when Quid finally gets the chance to open it up, he finds a cut lunch and a banana.
Roadgames was Franklin’s first picture to be shot in widescreen Panavision, largely because the shape of the truck’s windscreen corresponds to the shape of the 2.35:1 frame and he thought it resembled a cinema screen, through which we would watch Quid and his passengers and the story unfold from his POV. Franklin once again storyboarded most of the set pieces (this time with the help of production designer John Dowding), most notably an altercation between the truck and a trailer sailor (a neat variation on the car chase with references to the chariot race in Ben Hur).
With a budget of AU$1.75 million, Roadgames was the largest budget Aussie production ever undertaken at the time. In contrast to Patrick, in which Franklin had 40 days to shoot, here he had 68. Roadgames fared well with critics and audiences alike and has gone on to win many devotees over the years, including Quentin Tarantino, who has stated in numerous interviews his admiration for the film (and Franklin in general).
Psycho II (1983) began at a Sci-Fi convention in Melbourne where Franklin met Robert Bloch, the author of the original novel, and discovered he was in the middle of writing a novelised sequel. Franklin’s agent made enquiries and it was revealed that all rights for a film version were automatically owned by Universal. Shortly after Roadgames had opened, executive producer Bernard Schwartz telephoned Franklin to read him a short synopsis of Bloch’s new novel and to let him know that Universal had lost interest on the strength of it. Franklin thought that the opening, in which Norman escapes from an institution by murdering a nun, was wrong for the character from Hitchcock’s film and Schwartz sold Universal on the idea of Franklin developing his own sequel.
Franklin realised that audiences would be expecting a similar shock experience to the shower scene of the original, so he undercut this by opening Psycho II with this famous footage in black and white, but ending up on a slow match dissolve that shows the Bates’ house in color for the first time. The story proper then opens 22 years after the events of the original. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins returning to his most famous role) has been judged mentally sound and released from the institution where he has spent the last two decades. He must return to the Victorian house he grew up in with his mother. Dr Bill Raymond (Robert Loggia), his amiable psychologist, lets it be known that he’ll keep an eye on Bates, especially after discovering that his most famous victim’s sister, Lila Loomis (Vera Miles also returning from the original), doesn’t agree with the release of her sister’s murderer and has been protesting his release. After finding work at a local diner, Norman befriends local co-worker “Mary” (played by Meg Tilly), whom he offers bed and board free-of-charge at his lonely, deteriorating house. The final twist, which was kept under wraps during filming and left out of preview prints, stems from the idea that Norman’s mother may indeed still be extant and Norman can be manipulated by anyone dressed in her clothes.
Franklin doesn’t attempt a bloodier version of the original and Psycho II is a complex continuation, with a now chastened middle-aged man still crippled by his childhood. The violence is significantly subdued compared to the direction the “slasher” genre had taken, with the exception of Lila’s violent death scene. As Franklin notes, “I took the view that we had to pull the rug out from under the audience at some point in order for it to be a true sequel. Hitchcock did it at the Act 1 curtain, so we did it at the end of Act Two. And the final murder was a single blow with a blunt instrument as an ironic comment on the shower scene.” (7) Franklin does offer a variation of the shower scene that plays upon our fears so much that we’re ultimately relieved when a murder doesn’t take place (this scene actually came from an original Hitchcock idea of an eye appearing from the center of floral wallpaper). The final image, with Norman on the steps leading down to the hotel, while his new mother is propped up for view in the window with thunder on the soundtrack, derives from the famous still of Norman and the house (which does not appear in Psycho) and neatly brings us full circle, to the rainstorm of the original – it is as if Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is about to arrive.
Franklin storyboarded most of the film using Richard Anobile’s picture book of the Hitchcock original and, instead of screening Hitchcock films for inspiration, watched the movies that had inspired Hitchcock – German Expressionistic films from Murnau and Pabst. In lieu of opting for a score that imitates Bernard Herrmann’s most famous work, Franklin decided to go with his favorite film composer, Jerry Goldsmith, who offers a more melancholic approach.
With a tiny budget (by Hollywood standards) of $5 million, Psycho II was one of Franklin’s greatest successes, outgrossing the original and faring well critically – a feat considering Hitchcock’s film is generally considered a classic. It’s noteworthy,that both later sequels used Franklin’s film as their starting point. As Franklin puts it, “my intention was a self contained film, yet a companion piece to the original – a kind of nostalgic meditation that comes full circle back to Psycho. It was a Herculean brief and I’m proudest when I hear people refer to Psycho I.” (8)
Cloak & Dagger
After the success of Psycho II, Franklin re-teamed with Psycho II scriptwriter Tom Holland and Producer Alan Carr for Cloak and Dagger (1984), Universal Pictures’ remake of The Window (Ted Tetzlaff, 1949), a film based on a Cornell Woolrich “boy who cried wolf” short story. Franklin had felt the original problematic:
It’s not that strong filmically, because you have to spend quite a bit of time setting up the fact that the boy is prone to crying wolf. In other words, the kid has to cry murder twice before the actual ‘wolf’ comes onto the scene and no one believes him. The trouble with that is you have to spend a lot of time with nothing really happening. [The 1949 film] cut it down to the absolute minimum with only one incident of crying wolf. The problem is then that you have a kid who is certainly sympathetic, but the audience can’t really understand why no one believes him. (9)
The breakthrough came when meeting with the young actor Henry Thomas, who was to star in the film, in his native San Antonio, Texas, also the film’s setting. When Henry’s mother spoke of a fantasy-adventure role-playing game her son had been caught up in, Franklin and Holland knew they had their twist on the material. One of the many alterations is the character of Jack Flack, the boy’s imaginary spy-hero who represents “the embodiment of everything he wishes he could be when he grows up” (10) and the voice of reason when the boy is on the run from enemy spies. Dabney Coleman portrays both Flack and the boy’s father (Franklin’s original choice was Kevin Kline and he felt that Coleman, an actor primarily known for comedy, “skewed Jack Flack too far into parody”) (11).
Visually, Franklin cleverly executes the many set pieces (storyboarded by artist John Jensen, who had worked on Vertigo and North by Northwest for Hitchcock) and manages to encapsulate the distinctive aspects of San Antonio, Texas – from inside the Alamo to the picturesque “River Walk” used for a suspenseful altercation with the villains. As TV Guide noted in 2003, the picture plays “like a Hitchcock movie produced by Walt Disney”. Although originally given less than a fair chance by a new regime at Universal (the same execs who had put E.T. into turnaround at Columbia), the picture later found its audience, becoming a tremendous success on home video.
Link, two television pilots and F/X 2
Once again scripted by Everett De Roche, Link (1986) was inspired by a 1979 article in National Geographic chronicling Jane Goodall’s 30 year study of chimps and the discovery that “they are not only meat-eaters, but capable of murder and cannibalism” (12). The film was originally to have followed Roadgames but Franklin couldn’t convince any financiers so the script waited in the bottom drawer until 1985, when Thorn EMI became interested in making it in England, allowing Franklin to capture the gothic atmosphere of a Brontë novel.
Link opens with a long tracking shot from the POV of an escaped chimp roaming the London streets and chasing a stray cat up the side of a building juxtaposed with images of Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus (Josef von Sternberg, 1932). Like a similar subjective shot at the beginning of Halloween (John Carpenter, 1977) Franklin abstains from showing us whose POV this is and its implied malevolence takes on an ironic twist when we realise that unlike Dietrich emerging from a gorilla suit, this presence is NOT human. We are then introduced to Jane Chase (Elisabeth Shue), an American student studying at a London University, answering an ad placed by Dr Steven Phillip (Terence Stamp). He hires her as an assistant at his country residence, where he is studying the “link” between man and ape. Dr Phillip vanishes soon after introducing Jane to her three simian housemates. Left to her own devices, Jane (whose name is “more Eyre or Goodall, than Tarzan’s mate”) (13) essentially ignores all the instructions the Doctor has given her and mayhem ensues.
Franklin hired American Ray Berwick, who had previously handled The Birds for Hitchcock, to train the apes for the production. “We evolved a sort of routine. The actors rehearsed with chimp stand-ins. When we were satisfied, the chimps would rehearse their behavior with the trainers taking the actor’s parts. Then, when the camera had been fully rehearsed we put them all together.” (14) Franklin devised what he referred to as “Pongo-Vision”: “Unlike dogs, chimps see in color, so to suggest their differing perspectives, we printed every third frame three times. A foreshadowing of TV on the net.” (15) Unfortunately, as with Cloak & Dagger, Link was distributed poorly and in the hands of Canon, the new owners of EMI, it even reached New York after being released on home video.
Franklin followed Link with his first foray into television since his days on Homicide in the early 1970s. The pilot for the cult hit series Beauty and the Beast was entitled “Once Upon A Time in the City of New York” (1987) and tells the story of an attorney (Linda Hamilton) brutally assaulted and left for dead. Taken in by the gentle beast (Ron Perlman) of the title, she is nursed back to health thanks to his compassion and attention.
Franklin took stylistic inspiration from a workshop of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” (and the latter credits the success of that show partly to Beauty and the Beast). Franklin was encouraged by screenwriter-producer Ron Koslow to break the mold of episodic television and this freedom is readily apparent in the appearance of key visual characteristics, including a 360-degree pan around the beast’s dwellings. Franklin prefers to not shoot a lot of coverage, even in his television works: “I don’t like the words ‘master’ or ‘coverage’ – they smack of not knowing which shot you want when.” (16)
After working on a modern adaptation of Frankenstein entitled Genes (with Michael Crichton) for Orion, Franklin was offered the sequel to the successful 1986 hit film F/X, starring Bryan Brown as a special effects artist and Brian Dennehy a detective. “In reality, Orion was on the ropes and needed a couple of franchise movies to up the price of the company. Robocop 2 was made at the same time.” (17) F/X 2 (1991),subtitled The Deadly Art of Illusion,is often visually stunning, especially the rather voyeuristic sequence in which Brown witnesses the murder of his girlfriend’s ex-husband (for which he may be partly to blame). Franklin upped the humour from the first film and had the two distinct personalities and nationalities (Brown being Australian, Dennehy of Irish extraction) playing off one another (Brown and Dennehy have but two scenes in the original). And naturally Franklin never allows the picture to become simply a mindless action film.
Running Delilah (1994) (also known as Robospy) was intended to re-team Franklin with Beauty and the Beast‘s Ron Koslow. A sophisticated secret agent television pilot in which the spy of the title (Kim Cattrall) is murdered and brought back to life through the intervention of her co-worker (Billy Zane) and a top-secret experimental operation. As Franklin notes, “We came up with a great way to show her superhuman abilities – a variation of “Pongo-Vision” that foreshadowed what Spielberg did in Saving Private Ryan – but it all got cut out as the network became more and more nervous we were too close to ‘The Bionic Woman’ and the whole endeavor was ‘stillborn’.” (18)
Franklin was becoming tired of Hollywood committees and particularly the test screening process (chronicled extensively in his essay “Pistols at Dawn” in Raffaelle Caputo and Geoff Burton’s Second Take, Allen and Unwin, 1999), so he decided to return to Australia. “I felt I was becoming a Hollywood hack and wanted to prove I could do what other Australian directors were noted for – classy, intelligent, performance-driven pieces.” (19) His next two films would do exactly this.
Hotel Sorrento, Brilliant Lies and some more television
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time
– T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding” from “Four Quartets”
Ironically since it is about as far from the thriller as one could imagine, for the adaptation of Hannie Rayson’s Hotel Sorrento, Franklin was still heeding the advice of Sir Alfred Hitchcock, who opposed “opening up” a hit play when adapting it for the screen. Franklin chose not to see a production of the play and wrote the award-winning screenplay (along with his brother-in-law Peter Fitzpatrick) directly from the text (20).
Filmed in 30 days and breaking with so called Three Act structure (modern theatre favouring Two), Hotel Sorrento (1995) tells the story of the reunion of the Moynihan family in the sleepy seaside town of Sorrento. Hilary (Caroline Gillmer), the eldest, has stayed in Sorrento after the death of her husband to look after her teenage son Troy (Ben Thomas) and ageing father Wal (Ray Barrett). She has become the anchor of the family and the story (21); Pippa (Tara Morice) moved to New York and has returned to set up a sandwich chain and Meg (Caroline Goodall), the educated novelist who took up residence in England, has been nominated for an international award for a thinly veiled autobiographical novel based on the sisters’ childhood, which understandably becomes a sore point for the family. Marge Morrisey (Joan Plowright), a retired teacher and amateur painter who maintains a summer home in Sorrento, together with Dick Bennett (John Hargreaves), a friend and traditional Aussie bloke, speculate on how the book applies to the Moynihan family. The death of the father, played with steadfast wit by Ray Barrett (22), marks the end of the first act, turning everything on its ear.
For such an actors’ film, Franklin eschewed storyboarding. “I was going for what Ford called ‘invisible technique’.” (23) Although for one scene, in which the family skeleton is finally let out of the closet, Franklin used a panning camera following a non-existent character, suggestive of the boathouse scene in Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940).
Each sister represents an era to Franklin – Hilary stems from the ’50s, Meg is the ’60s and ’70s and Pippa the avaricious ’80s. The film version of Hotel Sorrento is a personal statement for Franklin, representing his own feelings about his native land and its cultural connection to the US and England. He even uses 8 mm film from his own childhood and reveals in the DVD commentary that Ray Barrett reminds him of his own father. He purposely doesn’t specify when the film is set, leaving the viewer to assume that Sorrento is timeless, just as the sisters’ plight is universal.
Franklin enjoyed the experience of Hotel Sorrento (which received ten AFI Award nominations) so much that he decided to stay in Australia and adapt another successful, though very different play. Brilliant Lies (1996), based on the play by David Williamson,is a Rashomon-like narrative of a sexual harassment suit brought by Suzy Connor (Gia Carides), a sexually provocative woman, against her former boss Gary Fitzgerald (Gia’s real life partner Anthony La Paglia). She claims he made advances and lewd phone calls during her employment at his company. Her sister Katy (Zoe Carides) comes aboard as a corroborating witness, even though Suzy isn’t known for telling the truth. Rounding out the cast of characters are Suzy’s timid brother Paul (Michael Veitch) and the family’s alcoholic father (Ray Barrett), who, it transpires, molested both his daughters. Marion Lee (Catherine Wilkin) acts as the conciliator in the case, though she begins to question Suzy’s motives when she won’t back down from a hypothetical $40,000 settlement figure. Setting up the question: is Suzy projecting issues with her father onto the men in her life?
Franklin, once again co-scripted, adding the conflicting flashbacks to what is essentially courtroom drama. Using an early version of “digital grading” and shooting extensive tests, Franklin shows us both versions of events at the office as they relate to both Suzy and Gary; the common reference point in both stories being the simple action of tossing a piece of paper into a waste basket.
Much like Hotel Sorrento, Brilliant Lies focuses on the actors in the scene, instead of showy camera moves which is what Franklin feels is more the domain of contemporary television. For example, when the patriarch of the Connor family (Ray Barrett) laments the loss of his millions, he is seated in foreground, Suzy has her back toward him (this is Barrett’s first scene in the film and Suzy’s back-to-camera tells us all we need to know about her feelings towards her father). Barrett stands mid-speech, and walks to an adjacent bathroom where he continues his story as he urinates. Franklin also employs a startling Brechtian transition as the sisters walk from their apartment to the conciliation room without a cut (the sets were built next to one another in order to achieve this).
An important collaboration for Franklin was established with Hotel Sorrento and Brilliant Lies – the music of composer Nerida Tyson-Chew (classically trained and a student of the late Jerry Goldsmith). Franklin would use her again on almost all of his subsequent projects, including those for television. Like all great classical filmmakers, Franklin works closely with his composers, suggesting musical frames of reference and ideas for the scores. His partnership with Tyson-Chew has even gone so far as to have Franklin write lyrics to a number of her melodies.
In addition to the two-hour pilot and several episodes of The Lost World, Franklin directed One Way Ticket (1997), an ambitious television film that tells the true story of a prison break partially masterminded by a female guard (Rachel Blakely). Much of the piece concerns the romance between the prisoner (Peter Phelps) and the guard before the prison break (including a choreographed dance), however there is a particularly invigorating chase sequence which juxtaposes a facsimile of the original police radio tapes as well as a taxi operator, commenting on the events as they unfold.
In 2003, Franklin was on familiar ground once again working with scriptwriter Everett De Roche on another confined psychological thriller. Visitors is set aboard a yacht during a solo voyage around the world. Lone yachtswoman Georgia Perry (Radha Mitchell) is becalmed three quarters of the way home when she begins to experience “cabin fever”. She hallucinates such things as an attack of Indonesian pirates who leave a stowaway behind, ghostly visits by her deceased mother(Susannah York) and her card circle, her wheelchair-ridden father (Ray Barrett) who may or may not be dead – indeed the hallucinations may be real, just as she comes to suspect her fiancé is having an affair with her sponsor.
Opening in blackness with a narration before fading up (a choice he has made for previous films as diverse as Patrick and Brilliant Lies), Franklin revels once again in creating atmosphere in a tight setting. The set pieces (of which there are many) are directed with an odd balance of surrealism and naturalism that disorients the viewer as to what is real or not. The arrival of a raven at night for example, ought to be mundane, but is handled as if it flew straight from Edgar Allan Poe, while the attack of pirates has a degree of realism and panache which is then immediately undercut by revealing it didn’t happen.
Filmed in the Super 35 mm widescreen process, Franklin storyboarded most of the set pieces and focused in particular on the scene featuring the ghostly apparition of Georgia’s dead mother. The climactic macro close-up of a finger on a razorblade, which cannot fail to make viewers wince (since blood flows from perpetrator before victim), required many re-takes.
Unfortunately, yet again the film was undersold by distributors – the US DVD for instance is full-frame as opposed to the picture’s anamorphic 2.4:1. But despite all of this, Franklin’s talent comes through as strong as ever and there is little doubt that with time, Visitors will be given its just desserts.
Orson Welles once said that if he had stayed in Hollywood and towed the line, he might have made more pictures “but they wouldn’t have been mine”. Instead of continuing what could have been a successful Hollywood career, Richard Franklin chose to go it alone and break new ground in his home country. Working with much lower budgets, but arguably more freedom of choice, his series of independent dramas tackle subjects in a way he would probably never have been allowed in Hollywood. After concentrating on so-called “actor’s films” for nearly a decade, his development as a director proves that his talent is multi-faceted. And now with his return to the thriller genre with Visitors, it is impossible to tell where he will venture from here.
Franklin started out emulating his favourite filmmakers, Ford and Hitchcock, but has found a voice all his own. This voice speaks to subjects as diverse as family drama and psychological suspense, but always with clarity and a style uniquely his – the fade-from black, the sustained “master shot”, Franklin’s particular use of POV, the long slow pan, the juxtaposing of specific to overall through the use of carefully orchestrated wide shots and high-angles. And of course the collaboration of regulars like Everett De Roche, Tom Holland and Peter Fitzpatrick and composers Brian May, Jerry Goldsmith and Nerida Tyson-Chew. And just as many of his films have had to wait to find their audience, Franklin’s cinema is only now just beginning to be assessed and appreciated (Quentin Tarantino has named Roadgames not just as his favourite Australian film, but one of his favourite films of all time). One would hope this is just the beginning.
With many thanks to Richard Franklin for his assistance with this piece.
The True Story of Eskimo Nell (1975) also Producer, Co-writer
Patrick (1978) also Co-Producer
Roadgames (1980) also Producer, Original Story
Psycho II (1983)
Cloak & Dagger (1984)
Link (1986) also Producer
F/X 2 (1991)
Hotel Sorrento (1995) also known as Sorrento Beach; also Producer, Co-Writer
Brilliant Lies (1996) also Producer, Co-Screenwriter, Lyricist for End Title Song
The Blue Lagoon (Randal Kleiser, 1980) Co-Producer only
Into The Night (John Landis, 1985) cameo only
Not Quite Hollywood (Mark Hartley, 2008), self
“Bride Price”, “Once a Killer”, “Bars”, “See No Evil”, “Wall of Silence”, “Settling Day”, “Monica Missing”, “Midnight Pizza”, “The Doll”, “The Lonely Ones”, “A Place to Live”, “The Kindly Killers”, “The Superintendent” (with Ian Bennett) episodes of Homicide (all 1970)
“Pilot” (also known as: “Once Upon A Time in the City of New York”) (1987) episode of Beauty and the Beast
“Pilot” (1988) episode of A Fine Romance (UK title: Ticket to Ride)
Running Delilah (1992) Australian title: Robospy
One Way Ticket (1997)
“Pilot” (1998), “Salvation” (1999), “Blood Lust” (1999), “Prisoner” (2000), “Tourist Season” (co-director) (2000) episodes of The Lost World
“Rescue” (1999), “White Tiger” (2000), “Rage” (2000), “The Legend Reborn” (co-director) (2001), “Veil of Death” (2001) episodes of Beastmaster
Harry’s War (Richard Frankland, 1999) Co-Producer only (half-hour short for SBS Television)
“Pilot” or “The Mists of Time” (2001), “Shadow Warriors” (2001) episodes of Flatland
Student and short films
Various 8mm/16mm amateur films (1960–65)
A Breast of Freshette (1966)
R.I.P. (1967) for University of Southern California
Within Us All (1968) for University of Southern California
The Angel’s Plight (1968) for University of Southern California
Exit (1969) for University of Southern California
The Jumping Jeweler of Lavender Bay (1971) for Experimental Film Fund
The Old Man’s Eyes (1972)
And His Ghost May Be Heard (1973)
Convention Checkout (1974) for Victorian Tourist Commission
Over 40 television commercials (1981–2003)
Interview, “The True Story of…The True Story of Eskimo Nell”, The True Story of Eskimo Nell (1975) DVD, Umbrella Entertainment, 2004.
Audio commentary (also with Everett De Roche), Patrick (1978) DVD, Elite Entertainment, 2002.
Audio commentary, “Kangaroo Hitchcock: the Making of Roadgames”, Roadgames (1981) DVD, Anchor Bay Entertainment, 2003.
Audio commentary, “Inside Hotel Sorrento”, Hotel Sorrento (1995), DVD, Roadshow Entertainment, forthcoming.
Audio Commentary, Interviews, Brilliant Lies (1996) DVD, Roadshow Entertainment, forthcoming.
Interview, “Personal History: Foreign Hitchcock”, Alfred Hitchcock, Foreign Correspondent (1940) DVD, Warner Home Video, 2004.
Interview, “Mr. Hitchcock Meets the Smiths”, Alfred Hitchcock, Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941) DVD, Warner Home Video, 2004.
Interview, “Before the Fact: Suspicious Hitchcock”, Alfred Hitchcock, Suspicion (1941) DVD, Warner Home Video, 2004.
Interview, “Hitchcock and Stage Fright”, Alfred Hitchcock, Stage Fright (1950) DVD, Warner Home Video, 2004.
Audio commentary participant, Alfred Hitchcock, Strangers on a Train, (1951) DVD, Warner Home Video, 2004.
Interview, “Hitchcock and Dial M”, “3D: A Brief History”, Alfred Hitchcock, Dial M For Murder (1954) DVD, Warner Home Video, 2004.
Interview, “Guilt Trip: Hitchcock and The Wrong Man”, Alfred Hitchcock, The Wrong Man (1956) DVD, Warner Home Video, 2004.
David Everitt, “Cloak and Dagger”, Fangoria, no. 38, 1984, pp. 10–13.
Richard Franklin, “Report on Film Study in Victorian Secondary Schools”, ATFAV, 1973.
Richard Franklin and Wayne Levy, Fred Ott Sneezes for Edison (school textbook on film-making), Methuen, 1974.
Richard Franklin, “Pistols at Dawn”, chapter, in Second Take: Australian Filmmakers Talk, Raffaele Caputo and Geoff Burton, Allen & Unwin Pty. Limited (Australia), 2000, pp. 123–135. Article originally appeared in Cinema Papers, no. 95, October 1993.
Fincina Hopgood, “Hotel Sorrento” (review), Cinema Papers, 104, June 1995, pp. 50-51.
Alan Jones, “Link” and “Hitchcock’s Pupil” (sidebar), Cinefantastique, vol. 17, no. 1, January 1987, pp. 36–39.
Brian McFarlane, “Richard Franklin’s Patrick” in Scott Murray (ed.), Australian Film 1978–1994: A Survey of Theatrical Features, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1995.
“TZ Screen Preview of Psycho II” (with interview), Twilight Zone Magazine, June 1983, pp. 53–56.
Articles in Senses of Cinema
John Ford by Richard Franklin
Richard Franklin’s Homepage
Parts of the site are currently under construction.
Australian Directors Overseas
Article by Joshua Smith.
In Link, a Chimp with a Roving Eye
Walter Goodman’s review of Link (registration required).
Kevin Thomas’ review of Hotel Sorrento.
Aussie Film Database: Hotel Sorrento
Information on Hotel Sorrento
Brief interview with Peter Fitzpatrick, co-writer of Hotel Sorrento.
Richard Franklin Biography
Includes full cast and crew credits for his genre films.
Post-war Australian Film – the 1980s
Essay about Oz film in the 80s that includes a brief mention of Franklin’s work.
The Psycho Movies.com
Interview with Franklin on Psycho II. Page also contains several production stills.
Click here to search for Richard Franklin DVDs, videos and books at
- Alan Jones, “Hitchcock’s Pupil”, Cinefantastique, vol. 17, no. 1, January 1987, p. 38.
- Correspondence with the author, February 2005.
- Richard Franklin, “The True Story of…The True Story of Eskimo Nell”, DVD Retrospective Documentary, Umbrella Entertainment, 2004.
- 1981’s Patrick Vive Ancora (directed by Mario Landi). It is also interesting to note that the Italian release of Patrick featured a less-than-impressive score by giallo film composers Goblin, with the Brian May cues taken out; a record LP of this score was released at the time.
- Including Australian actor Robert Helpmann (Dr Roget) who then brought legal action against the distributors.
- Richard Franklin, Patrick DVD audio commentary, Elite Entertainment, 2002.
- Correspondence with the author, March and April 2005.
- Correspondence with the author, April 2005.
- David Everitt, “Cloak & Dagger”, Fangoria, no. 38, 1984, p. 11.
- Everitt, p. 11.
- Correspondence with the author, April 2005.
- Alan Jones, “Link”, Cinefantastique, vol. 17, no. 1, January 1987, pp. 36–37.
- Jones, pp. 36–37.
- Jones, pp. 36–37.
- Correspondence with the author, April 2005.
- Correspondence with the author, April 2005.
- Correspondence with the author, April 2005.
- Correspondence with the author, April 2005.
- Correspondence with the author, April 2005.
- Adapting the play from the text without having seen a production also resulted in keeping a scene that was deleted for the theatre – Pippa Moynihan receives a late night phone-call from America. Putting on airs, she adopts an American accent.
- A song was recorded, as an exercise (not intended for the final film) that stresses this even more. It can be heard on the DVD (“Somewhere to Begin”, lyric by Franklin, music by Nerida Tyson-Chew).
- Franklin, half-seriously, refers to his next three films – Hotel Sorrento, Brilliant Lies and Visitors – as his “father trilogy”, as Ray Barrett plays the father of all three leads in each film.
- Correspondence with the author, April 2005.