EDDIE MULLER and “Fear Over Frisco” – An Interview with the Czar of Noir

Fear Over Frisco – Now at The Hypnodrome (575 10th Street, San Francisco) through November 19th

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Sean Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

The blood-thirsty spectacle of the Grand Guignol seeps into the shadowy cinematic world of film noir in Shocktoberfest 12: FEAR OVER FRISCO, a collaboration between the city’s renowned Thrillpeddlers and “Czar of Noir” Eddie Muller, author of the evening’s three plays. Each tale leads the audience through a different period of terror and titillation in San Francisco’s noir-stained history: the contemporary déjà vu dread of The Grand Inquisitor, the post-WWII hysterics of An Obvious Explanation, and the Prohibition era high- and low-life of The Drug. In addition, Shocktoberfest!! 12: FEAR OVER FRISCO features the merrily macabre musical interludes of musical director Scrumbly Koldewyn. The bill culminates with Thrillpeddlers’ famed black-out spook show finale when ghostly apparitions materialize before the audience’s startled eyes. During our recent interview, Eddie Muller amazed me with his adventures in creating the trilogy, Fear Over Frisco.

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Sean: Are the plays influenced by some other source? Such as idea from a Film Noir classic?

Eddie: The last of the three plays is simply my adaptation of a Grand Guignol play, The Drug, by René Berton. It was originally set in Saigon and I just changed the setting to San Francisco in 1929. An Obvious Explanation is a play I wrote specifically for the Hypnodrome. It’s inspired by my love for kind-of Grade B Film Noir movies of the ’40s. The idea behind it was to take all the little bits and pieces that I love from those films and assemble them into something that is a bit like a classic Noir pastiche and have it be exciting and funny. I’m hoping the fans who have seen the films will find an amusing resonance with the play, but I’m sure those who aren’t familiar with the references will enjoy it as well. The Grand Inquisitor is a bit more serious than the usual fare at the Hypnodrome. It’s based on a short story I wrote several years ago that I actually turned into a film. I originally thought of it as a one-act play, but then I wrote it as a short story. It appeared in an anthology and got a lot of notoriety. Then I made it into a film and now I’m going back and doing it for live theatre. I’m really excited because I believe live theatre will be the best venue for this story. I call it “A Noir Fairy Tale” – which is somewhat enigmatic – but it’s very personal for me. It’s about the discovery of some books that lead a young woman to believe that the owner may have been the Zodiac killer. She confronts the woman who is the man’s widow. That’s the surprise – he was married. The story is about her coming to this woman’s house and having a confrontation. I believe it will be a breath-taking experience for the audience.

Click on the smoke to order on-line:
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EDDIE MULLER, Author and Playwright

Sean: One of my favorite elements of Film Noir is the femme fatale. Does she appear in any of your three plays?

Eddie: There is a classic femme fatale in The Drug. She’s the only woman in the play and the focal attention of all the men in the play. So, I’ve got that character covered. I’ve had a bit of a revisionist theory about a lot of this Noir stuff. You’ve come to Noir City over the years and heard me say, “People who think the femme fatale character is the only female character in Film Noir need to watch more films.” There is a character that has always fascinated me – the incredibly sophisticated professional woman. She would have been played by Ella Rains, Geraldine Fitzgerald or Audrey Totter. That character has always intrigued me because it was in Film Noir that women were allowed to be the equal of men. They were just as smart, just as strong, and just as capable. And, of course, they can be just as corrupt and cynical. It’s always fascinated me. So, in An Obvious Explanation, I wrote the character of a very ambitious doctor who is also very sexy, but super strong and very much in charge. To me, that is every bit as much a Film Noir character as is the femme fatale.

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ELLA RAINS – GERALDINE FITZGERALD – AUDREY TOTTER

Sean: A client of mine, Bay Area singer Janet Roitz, and I are collaborating on a project, “The Ladies of the Nightclubs”. We’re presenting scenes from films that take the main characters into a nightclub where the spotlight is on a glamorous dame singing a fabulous number that relates one way or another to the plot. We start with Nora Prentiss – where the singer, Ann Sheridan, is also the leading lady and femme fatale – who becomes involved with a handsome doctor, played by Kent Smith. In your third play, The Grand Inquisitor, you’re featuring another of my clients, Mary Gibboney, who has been appearing in this charming one-woman-show, Absolutely San Francisco.

Eddie: Mary is great! She and I have been working so intensely on my play and I see her so clearly as this character, “Hazel”, that I’m almost afraid to see her in this other show. It might break this spell we’ve created together. But she’s got two musical numbers in The Grand Inquisitor. This production has been such an interesting opportunity to blend what I’ve been doing with the success of Film Noir at the Castro Theatre and the audience that exists for it. I was working with Russ Blackwood at the very start of them moving into this space and creating the Hypnodrome. I was involved with the very earliest plays there. We’ve gone our separate ways in the meantime, but always with an eye that at some point we’ll do a show where we’re able to combine the Grand Guignol with Film Noir. That is this show. What’s doubly great is that we’ve focused on San Francisco. I wrote a theme song with Scrumbly Koldewyn that’s like an anthem about the dark side of San Francisco. It turned out to be a real treat and it was fun to pretend I was Lorenz Hart for a while.

Sean: Do you think The City might adopt it as its third song?

Eddie: I certainly do hope so! The other thing that’s indicative about how fearless we are is that we call it, “Fear Over Frisco”. Because, as a native San Franciscan, I don’t know where this whole thing came from about “Don’t call it Frisco!” I love “Frisco”. It’s something right out of a ’40s Film Noir – “Yeah, I took a train up to Frisco” or “I jumped a boat in Frisco”. I love that slang.

Sean: I’m also a native San Franciscan.

Eddie: How do you feel about “Frisco”?

Sean: Personally, I don’t care for it. But I do understand the notion of the term and how it came to be understood as an outsider’s or “out-of-towner’s” expression. In other words, “they” are not of The City, but have come here only to use The City. It’s easy to see how the name-tag developed a derogatory association.

Eddie: Very true. And I don’t use the term all the time. But we started laughing when I said that no matter what we do in the show – no matter how outrageous we get or scary or ridicuous we get – nothing will bother people more than the title, Fear Over Frisco.

Click here to order tickets on-line: FEAR OVER FRISCO

—— STAY TUNED! ——

Sean: Can I get some of those titles for this year’s Noir City?

Eddie: I can’t tell you yet! No one knows what the schedule is until December 13th. It’s our 10th Anniversary and we have some very big and exciting things planned. When we do our Christmas show at The Castro I’ll announce all the special films and all the casts.

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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