Back to Filmmaking with Eddie Muller, the Czar of Noir

It opens with a dame, but that's not surprising for a story that comes from the head of "the Czar of film noir," Eddie Muller. The dame is a young woman who has come into possession of a box of books with scribbling and doodles in the margins that point to a different suspect in the famous Zodiac murder case than was fingered by Robert Graysmith in his books or David Fincher in his most recent film.

Muller's story is called "The Grand Inquisitor," and it was inspired by a real box of books discovered by a real friend of Muller's that contained pages upon pages of Zodiac-like rantings and doodles in the margins, and the books were once owned by a man who lived in neighborhoods that were adjacent to the crimes. Recently, the books were dismissed by the Vallejo police department as too circumstantial to be evidence and the man died years ago, but he was married and his wife is still alive.

When Muller was asked to write a story for a film noir collection due out this fall, he used these facts as a starting point. The dame in the story is a modern girl who is obsessed with the case and who, with the books in tow, confronts the widow of the suspected killer. Muller's story came together so well that friends encouraged him to turn it into a short film. Which is where I come in.

Muller got his "Czar of noir" nickname thanks to the books he's published on film noir and his penchant to tour with and speak about classic film noir films. As a student of George Kuchar in the '70s, he directed a short film called Bay City Blues, an homage to Raymond Chandler that was a finalist for the student Academy Awards. More recently he wrote and edited a documentary called Mau Mau Sex Sex, but this is his grand and glorious return to the director's seat.

Joining him on this endeavor as his Director of Photography was the multi-talented Jonathan Marlow, a filmmaker and entrepreneur who recently left GreenCine.com to start his own independent distribution and video-on-demand company Cabinetic. He's also a friend of mine, and he is the one who brought me down to work as Script Supervisor on the film, which expanded into being both Script Supervisor and Assistant Director.

The script for the short is 21 pages long, which roughly translates into a 21-minute film, and we had only five days to shoot it. That led to an optimistic schedule for such a small crew, but we pulled if off. The story has only two characters, with Leah Dashe playing the young, obsessed woman and veteran actress Marsha Hunt playing the widow.

Let me just mention that Marsha Hunt started in Hollywood in 1935 and worked on 50 films in 20 years before she spoke out about the House Un-American Activities Committee and got herself blacklisted. At 89 years young, she remains an outspoken and super cool lady, and I'll share some stories about her in my next post.

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Andy Spletzer appreciates his being invited down to San Francisco to work with a host of talented people on this short film.