Everybody Comes to the Harvard Exit

Everybody Comes to the Harvard Exit

The Boeing company, by association, also had another lasting impact on my life (and on lives of countless other moviegoers in Seattle). Two Boeing engineers, Jim Osteen and Art Bernstein left their day jobs in 1968 to take out a lease on a women’s club building on the First Hill, right above downtown Seattle, (and not far from Seattle University where I started college in the fall of 1970).

There was a five hundred seat auditorium in this building that was just perfect for a specialty movie house – for revivals (of the movie kind) and foreign fare. The lobby had a “homey” feel to it – a home out of the 20s that is. The centerpiece was a fireplace, a grand piano and sprinkled around the room were overstuffed chairs and divans. It was a nice place to wait for the next showing when you arrived early. And you always chose to arrive early.

Art was the talkative partner.  Before each performance he would walk down to the front of the auditorium. And after greeting us he would launch into a fun and informative talk about the evening’s entertainment – who the stars were – what they had done in this same period – production notes – how the film had come about – all the same types of topics that are included on DVDs these days as extras.

When he had finished, and called up to the projectionist to start the show, our appetites were fully whetted for an enjoyable evening. And I cannot remember ever being disappointed.

The first film that I remember seeing there was the extremely brief animated film by Marv Newland, “Bambi vs Godzilla.” I won’t describe it, no spoilers here. I would like to relate what feature it was playing with, but I do not recall. Most likely it was part of a festival of short films for there were a lot of those doing quite well back then – with many excellent ones contributed by the National Film Board of Canada.

There are many other “firsts” that I experienced at the Harvard Exit. But none more treasured than viewing for the first time Casablanca (I think we learned at this time from Art that it was based on a stage play -Everybody Comes to Rick’s).  A perfect script (rewritten for the screen by the Epstein brothers and Howard Koch), a perfect cast, and a perfect production.  And my introduction to the greatest MOVIE STAR among movie stars – Humphrey Bogart. His portrayal of Rick Blaine, the cynical ex-pat American running a night club in the Vichy French colony in North Africa is so spot on and so satisfying on so many levels.  Truly it has a deep resonance. One identifies with him in his struggle – trying to forget the love of his life, and coming to terms with it in the light of the bigger picture, as he moves from political apathy to  full engagement in the fight against evil.

In sum, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

(I just learned sadly that the Harvard Exit has closed its doors at the beginning of this month.)

Research and the P40

P40_2

Since that time in California long ago, I have learned a lot more about the P-40 pursuit fighter (a lot more than about that Hellcat fighter I had gotten for Christmas).
I had decided, with some urging from my Dad, that for my sophomore screenplay I would write about a fighter pilot with the Flying Tigers, a young man trying to stay alive in the China skies and struggling to stay faithful to his wife at home. [note logline]
 The following scene is lifted from a section prior to the protagonist’s (Ron) going to China.  At this point in the story his unit is operating against the Germans over the deserts of North Africa.  Their flight is on a mission against some ground targets, when he and his wingman are sent after potential threats, two German aircraft.
(R.T. is the abbreviation for Radio Transmission).
 EXT. DESERT
A line of thirty vehicles raises a cloud of swirling dust as it trundles down the trackless waste.
 THE FLIGHT
overhead spots the plume of dust and corrects its approach accordingly.
                     RON (ON R.T.)
Red Leader, this is Blue Four.  Bogeys at three o’clock low.
                     MAJOR CRAIG (ON R.T.)
Roger.  You and Blue Three go check it out.
                    THOR (ON R.T.)
Roger, Red Leader.
 Ron and Thor peel off of the formation and vector towards the oncoming intruders.
 RON’S POV
Thor pulls his plane ahead.  The two align themselves to intercept the other aircraft. They swoop down out of the sun onto the unsuspecting Messerschmidts.
Thor opens fire on the trailing German.  Strikes flash on the fuselage and white smoke appears.  Thor pulls up to avoid hitting the slowing craft.
                    THOR (ON R.T.)
Take the leader!
 RON’S PLANE
crosses underneath both planes in front and comes about and glues himself on the tail of the now fleeing German.
The German noses over into a dive.  Ron follows suit.  The Messerschmidt fills the gunsight.  His finger tenses to squeeze the trigger just as the German leaps skyward.
He looks up and sees his enemy arcing over the top of him.
                     THOR (ON R.T.)
He’s looping onto your tail!  Get the hell out of there!
 Ron increases the angle of his dive and watches the speed indicator climb above 400mph.
 THE SKY
The Messerschmidt appears to stand stock still in comparison to Ron’s plummeting plane.
Having gained a large amount of distance, the P-40 now pulls out of the dive into a climbing turn.
 RON’S PLANE
levels out of the bank, and heads straight for the German.  Orange bits of flame erupt from the ME 109’s wings.
 RON’S POV
Ron sees the German’s tracers fly over his canopy.  The pipper of his gunsight covers the German’s cowling.  He squeezes the trigger.
Pieces fly off of the ME 109, but it keeps coming.  He fires again.  Flames spout from the engine, followed by an ear-splitting ROAR as the plane blossoms into an orange ball of fire.
Ron jerks the column over to roll out of the way of the falling debris.
 THE AIRFIELD
A string of planes land one after the other.
Research is vital when writing historically.  Obviously.
The P-40 has a bad rap in many peoples’ estimations, but it has the love and respect of the men who flew them.
Some interesting stats:
It was 5mph faster than the ME109 at 15,000 feet.  It could both out turn and out dive it.
Against the Japanese aircraft it performed even better. It was 40mph faster than the Zero and in a dive it was 130mph faster, and additionally it tripled the Zero’s roll rate.
 And I know some may be thinking, the chatter sounds a lot like the X-wing pilots in Star Wars.  That’s because it was borrowed from this era.  More particularly as it was on display in a WWII film called “633 Squadron.”
I am suspicious that it has its roots further back.  The British fleets and their Admirals were designated by color back in the 18th century. Then the colors were also Red, Blue and White.
 Research is also fun.