I watch a lot of old movies. If you check my DVR, you’ll find it full of Turner Classic Movies and not much else. But I have an even stranger quirk. I pay attention to the screenwriters of these films. That’s right, I actually pay attention to who wrote the movie.
Call me crazy, but I think of it as Robert Towne’s CHINATOWN; Ben Hecht’s NOTORIOUS; Curt Siodmak’s THE WOLF MAN; Ted Griffin’s OCEAN’S ELEVEN; Rod Serling’s THE PLANET OF APES; Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001.
Not that I denigrate the director’s achievements. It’s just that I’m a writer, and I know that the single hardest job in all of show business is creating something out of nothing. No. Thing. The blank page. Or the blank computer screen. Everyone, from the actor to the director to the set designer has something to work from, a script. Even if it’s a truly rotten script. But the writer? He has nothing but his imagination and time.
Actors and directors during interviews often say things like, “the script was weak,” or “the script didn’t give me much to work with, so I had to fill in the blanks.” It’s odd. They never say “the composer sucked” or “the costume designer gave me little work with.” Only the writer (he’s almost never named) is singled out for criticism.
So I overcompensate, I guess. I say things like “did you see Graham Moore’s THE IMITATION GAME?” or “I loved John Ridley’s 12 YEARS A SLAVE.” Just to see the look of confusion on people’s faces.
Which brings me to Bertram Millhauser. Bertram Millhauser wrote some of my favorite Basil Rathbone/Sherlock Holmes films. The ones directed by Roy William Neill like THE WOMAN IN GREEN and THE SPIDER WOMAN. He wrote over 60 films from 1911 to 1949. Not great films, but memorable ones such as JIMMY THE GENT, THE GARDEN MURDER CASE, TOKYO JOE, PAY OR DIE and THE WEB. He had a real way with plot and dialog, Bertram did.
You won’t find much about him on Wikipedia. He’s been lost to time. He’s just one of the faceless masses, who toiled at the typewriter for years on end. But I remember him. So, here’s to you, Bertram Millhauser and all the unsung screenwriters.