M. Night Shaymalan used the color red in The Sixth Sense ('99) only when the spirit world intruded on the physical world. Red Letters (2000) with Nastassja Kinski and Fairuza Balk tells you how Mark Fuhrman used the color red in Murder in Greenwich.
It is impossible to recall anything by an act of will without attaching to it the reason you want to remember. You can’t recall all of these connections deliberately anymore than you can hide them because everything you associated with them interfere in the recall process. Hysterical amnesia victims can’t remember because they don’t want to. The right cues will call up fragments of memory anyway. I got that from the movies and later discovered that the movies got it right.
That’s why I expected to see a red dress in Murder in Greenwich right after I saw the water, the mailbox and the eggs. I saw those combinations too many times when I was searching for other links to Mark Fuhrman in the movies and on television. I didn’t recall any of them consciously but my subconscious automatically filled in the blanks when I saw the cues.
I got most of those cues from Three Days of the Condor, Moonlighting, The Naked Gun, The Naked Gun 2 ˝, A Study in Terror, Witch Hunt, and The Manchurian Candidate. American Perfekt and Red Letters came after I saw Murder in Greenwich. I looked for the red dress in American Perfekt because it stared Robert Forster, Fairuza Balk and Amanda Plummer, whose father Christopher Plummer starred in Dreamscape with Dennis Quad and Max Van Sydow. I looked for it in Red Letters because it starred Peter Coyote, Nastassja Kinski and Fairuza Balk.
Let me begin with Peter Coyote….
In James Crocker’s 1986 New Twilight Zone remake of Charles Beaumont’s “Shadow Play”, Peter Coyote is Adam Grant. In a nightmare loop that changes only superficially, he is tried, convicted and sentenced to death for murder in one day. He always hangs at midnight and the dream begins anew with the same people in different roles. A fellow death row inmate in one dream becomes his defense attorney in the next. A death row guard becomes the prosecutor. His previous attorney becomes the judge. The judge becomes the priest. The priest becomes the jury foreman etc. The sequence of events, however, is always the same. In the nightmare we see, the prosecutor’s name is Mark. His wife’s name is Carole. If you missed it the first time you got to see it on Devils Night and Halloween 1998 and 1999 courtesy of Turner Network Television.
On the end credits you see that James Crocker’s version of “Shadow Play” was a production of the Columbia Broadcasting System in association with London Films. You see the CBS eye and the London Tower clock in Greenwich England. When you are making a movie with Columbia about a murder in Greenwich how can these logos in the “Shadow Play” context you saw them not enter your thinking?
Actors do the same thing that the people in Adam Grant’s nightmare do. They change roles. Hank Garrett, the prison warden in Adam Grant’s dream, is the mailman in Three Days of the Condor. The mailman is also playing a part. His is a Marine Corps sergeant working covertly with a freelance political assassin named Joubert known by the CIA as Lucifer. Max Van Sydow is Lucifer. In Needful Things with Amanda Plummer, he is the Devil posing as a curio shop owner.
The mass killing that sets the action in motion in Three Days of the Condor begins with the mailman and another assassin walking toward each other after a hard rain. A murder victim is wearing a wig that comes off when he is shot. Robert Redford is Joe Turner, the lone survivor of the massacre. His CIA Section 17 job is to read books for ideas that can be used in real covert operations. The code name for everyone in his section is a bird – a creature that lays eggs. His code name is Condor. His contact is a man in a wheelchair. Faye Dunaway as Kathy is a photographer. Turner takes her hostage in her basement apartment to give himself refuge until he can sort things out. He wins her over and she steps out of a shower to save his live when the “mailman” shows up at her place. The only time you see her in red is in the scene before she takes the shower.
On the surface, Thee Days of the Condor seems far removed from “Shadow Play” and Peter Coyote. Were it not for the actor who plays the mailman and the warden it would be. Hank Garrett isn’t merely in both pictures somewhere; as the mailman he kills people; as the warden he stands next to Coyote as Grant on the execution platform and gives the order to hang him. In Murder in Greenwich he gives you the mailbox, the wet pavement and the shower that take you to Faye Dunaway in the red sweater and producer Mark Fuhrman’s connection to O.J. Simpson.
If Garrett’s face looks familiar to you, it could be because you saw him in other roles. In 1968 he was a stagehand in The Producers with Gene Wilder. In 1986 he appeared in HBO’s 1st & Ten with O.J. Simpson in an episode first broadcast on February 2nd.
The name Grant is linked to Fuhrman and O.J. in different ways. Fuhrman defended his collection of Nazi artifacts by writing that he was a “history and military buff” and he also collected British war artifacts. To ridicule the claim that his collection had anything to do with race he wrote, “That’s like saying because I collect late 19th century cavalry items I approve of the slaughter of Indians.” When I could still own weapons, I also collected old Winchesters and single action Colts. Does that mean I’m an outlaw? I am not obsessed, only extremely intrigued by holding a piece of history, no mater what period it comes from.”
As President of the United States from 1869 to 1877, Ulysses Simpson Grant did approve the slaughter of Indians. His top cavalry general Phil Sheridan said of his mission in the west after the Civil War, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” A character named Lefty LaBow in Bronco Billy said the same thing. Fuhrman told Natalie Singer, “The only good nigger is a dead nigger.” Grant’s given name was Hyrum. Ulysses was his mother’s pet name for him. Her maiden name was Simpson. Grant used Ulysses because he hated Hyrum. Orenthal James Simpson used his first two initials because he hated the name Orenthal.
On the same page in Murder in Brentwood that Fuhrman writes of being a history buff he says this about Paul Conrad’s swastika cartoon that he kept on his desk at work: “The fact that a single image can provoke such subtle and disturbing thoughts shows Conrad’s great artistry, and that is the only reason I saved the cartoon.” That’s the only reason flash images like the eggs, the mailbox, the water, the wig, the red dress and the word “Hacker” mean anything. They pack a lot of stuff into them. Much of it has to do with Peter Coyote’s role as Dennis Burk, an English professor in Red Letters with Fairuza Balk as Gretchen Van Buren.
As a young married man Dennis Burk wrote a novel called Red Letters in which he lets it all hang out. He used sex in his book as a metaphor for life and his feelings about his wife who was dying of cancer. Nobody gets it. Everybody latches onto the images and emotions of his erotic prose and the book becomes a best seller. Twenty years later he still has a large readership and it gets him into big trouble.
The movie begins with a naked college girl sitting on his desk reading hot passages from Red Letters as Dennis sits impatient for her to finish. He has ended a sexual affair with her and she is angrily throwing words from his book back at him believing that they were meant for her. In revenge she files a sexual harassment lawsuit forcing him to leave his job in Vermont. He gets a probationary teaching job in California.
You saw Joanna Gleason with Chris Sarandon and Robert Forster in American Perfekt. Her former husband Paul Gleason is Dean Van Buren in Red Letters. Dean Van Buren welcomes Dennis Burk to his university as a distinguished Nathaniel Hawthorn scholar and proudly introduces him to his new class. You see why Van Buren is so impressed with Dennis when he begins his lecture with a Hawthorn quote. Hawthorn uses a candy heart as a metaphor for his relationship with a woman he didn’t care for deeply. Dennis expands on what the image meant to Hawthorn and how he uses it to captures so much. You see why Dennis was so interested in Hawthorn only when he reveals what the sexual metaphor in his book meant to him.
Gretchen is the dean’s daughter. She has the hots for Dennis and tries to seduce him. In the process, she becomes involved in a wild adventure involving Dennis and a beautiful prison escapee named Lydia Davis falsely imprisoned for murder. Throughout the movie, Red Letters uses the color red and letters written by Lydia and Burk to make the Hawthorn connection from The Scarlet Letter to Dennis and Lydia. Gretchen deliberately uses the color red to seduce Dennis. During his first lecture she is wearing a red jacket. The next day see meets with him in a one-on-one conference wearing a red sweater. She hopes that her father won’t catch the symbolism but Dennis will.
On some level Dennis does catch the sexual symbolism of the color red. He has a red couch in his living room, red sheets on his bed and red towels in his bathroom. When he delivers his introductory lecture on Hawthorn he is wearing a red necktie. But you also see other people in Red Letters wearing red whenever emotions are high and Lydia is involved. On one of those occasions Gretchen is wearing a dark red towel. On another such occasion she wears a red leather jacket.
Looking at the movie though Fuhrman’s eyes, you have to pay as much attention to the neckties as you do to the leather jackets. In movies unlike Red Letters where a female has strong Fuhrman traits or does something reminiscent of his crude reference to oral sex to kick off his taped interview with Laura Hart, her dress color frequently substitutes for the neckties. When you see a woman in a black dress you soon learn to “see” a man in a black necktie; blue dress, blue necktie; red dress, red necktie. The context will tell you what it means to Fuhrman.
Dennis meets a faculty member named Thurston Clarque (pronounced “Clark”) at an outdoor café. Thurston is sitting at a table eating a burger and French fries. Thurston rescues Dennis from an annoying student. He jokes that he is visiting from another planet (like Clark Kent, adopted son of John and Martha, a.k.a. Superman, a.k.a. Christopher Reeve who ended up in a wheelchair as the result of a horse riding accident). He introduces himself as “the self-proclaimed secret hacker god of all things known and unknown.” Dennis says, “You know, the secret part doesn’t work if you tell everybody about it in five seconds.” Thurston replies, “I’m so good it doesn’t mater.” From here on, when you see Thurston Clarque you know that you are seeing a hacker.
“Hacker,” means nothing of course in the context of the Murder in Greenwich mannequins unless you can tie it to water, eggs, a mailbox, a picture window or a red dress. No problem….
Dennis is wearing a red shirt. After meeting Thurston, he returns to his apartment and opens his mailbox. It’s full of letters addressed to Anthony Griglio, the former tenant of his apartment. He sets the envelopes on a table, writes, “return to sender” on them and proceeds to dive into a bottle of liquor. He drops an ice cube into his glass, which is sitting on one of the envelopes. The liquor spills over and wets the envelope, making it transparent. He notices a strip of photos that look like an attractive woman removing her upper garment. This discovery prompts him to open the envelope, which prompts him to read her letter. It’s full of sex talk, which entices him to read all of her letters.
This link between the hacker and the mailbox happens within two minutes. You get a mailbox link, a water link and a red dress link beginning three minutes later when Dennis retrieves from his mailbox another stack of letters written by the mysterious woman and reads them, too. He feels guilty about what he did and writes her back with a partial confession. He drops his letter into a U.S. mailbox and goes to a nearby saloon. There, he meets Gretchen when he leaves the bar to go to the men’s room. She insists that he join her and her friends when he’s finished.
You see Dennis running water in a sink and telling himself that this is the wrong place for him to be. But he takes Gretchen up on her offer, probably thinking that meeting with her and her friends in a public place will keep things from getting too intimate. All goes well, even though Gretchen’s friends are two lovely young women who read his book and one of them makes an embarrassing comment about it. Dennis even manages to turn an awkward moment when Gretchen makes a bold, explicit pass at him into a fun time for all.
A water link in Red Letters to the red dress in Murder in Greenwich comes when a brunette in a red dress tells a story about a married man who invited her to a shower. She says, “Aren’t people like that always going to baby showers and wedding showers? Anyway, I buy this killer dress. When I got there he was wearing a towel! He wanted me to get in the shower with him. I was so pissed. That dress cost me two hundred bucks….”
Dennis begins a mail correspondence with the woman in the photos. Her name is Lydia Davis. She has served six years of a 30-year prison sentence for a murder she says she did not commit. Anthony Griglio was supposed to find a missing gun that would clear her. The sex-talk in her letters was for his benefit. He was her only hope of getting out of prison – until Dennis told her about his hacker friend Thurston.
When Dennis tells Thurston about Lydia you get a good example of how an actor’s role in one screenplay, can creep into another one. In this case a screenplay and a teleplay creep into the screenplay with the U.S. postal service, a “dream girl” in prison for murder and Peter Coyote as cues. You get these cues because the mailman in Three Days of the Condor is the warden in “Shadow Play” with Peter Coyote as Adam Grant…
Thurston has been trying to tell Dennis how great computers are while Dennis is hooked on the personal touch. Holding the photo strips of Lydia that she touched with her hands, Thurston gets the message. His wife is nowhere near as sexy as Lydia and he has only fanaticized about having a relationship with someone who looks and talks like Lydia. He says, “E-mail sucks.” He wants to know if Lydia has a friend. Dennis tells Thurston that he told Lydia about him, that he called him “The Hacker King.” Thurston raises his arms in triumph and declares, “I’m huge on death row.” He calls Dennis “warden.”
The way the story was going I was sure I would find a closer link to the hacker and the red dress. I expected to see a woman in a red dress behind a big glass window. I saw her in front of the window….
Dennis is having trouble with the thermostat in his apartment. It is always too hot and he can’t turn it down. He complains to a woman in a red dress at a desk, telling her that he would complain to the superintendent if he believed one existed. The woman in red is sitting behind a big glass window. The visual portion of that scene overlaps the voice of a bartender in the next scene calling for Thurston Clarque – the hacker.
The call is from Dennis, telling his hacker friend that he is going to be late. When Thurston gets back to his place at the bar a gorgeous woman is sitting in his seat. She offers him her body. When Dennis arrives the bartender, who is cleaning a glass, tells him that Thurston left with “some babe.” Dennis tracks him to a motel room where he is working on a secret project. He tells Dennis about the new woman in his life and says that he gets more of his university work done in his motel room than “the guys that haunt the place.” In Murder in Greenwich, Martha’s ghost is narrating when you see the man cleaning the word “HACKER” off the glass, through which you see the mannequins in the red dresses.
Nobody has counted on Lydia’s resourcefulness and desperation. When Thurston tells Dennis his dream girl’s name and the small town she is from Dennis know that Lydia has something to do with his friend’s strange behavior. Lydia is from the same small town.
Dennis locates the mystery woman living in a trailer with her poor, dumb, slob of a husband. If you understand the meaning of red in Red Letters, you know that she is closely related to Lydia simply because she is wearing a red blouse with white spots. She’s Lydia’s half-sister. She seduced Thurston so he could hack into the prison security system and Lydia could escape. Dennis learns what happened in two stages. When he goes to the prison Lydia is gone. The next day he sees the police on campus taking Thurston away in handcuffs. Ernie Hudson, the warden of OZ with Christopher Meloni as a prisoner. Hudson, the black ghost buster in Ghostbusters, is the arresting officer Greg Teal.
Detective Teal arrested Lydia for the murder of her lover’s wife. He found her to be manipulative and he isn’t surprised that she was able get to Thurston. He’s a manipulative character himself. Although he doesn’t say so, he suspects that Dennis was involved in Lydia’s escape and finesses his way into getting Dennis to lead him to her. In an interrogation in Dennis’ office disguised as a conversation about Thurston’s wife, Teal gets insights into the way Dennis thinks. He notices a red binder on his desk and a red book in a glass case behind him. He comments that the book must be valuable. Dennis tells him that its value is in the fact that Hawthorn handled it, signed it and inscribed it. He foolishly lends it to the detective to read.
When Teal calls on Dennis at the university Lydia is hiding in Dennis’s apartment with his permission. He has agreed to help her find the gun that will clear her. He has told her not to answer the telephone but when Thurston’s wife tells him that she called his apartment and a woman answered, Dennis calls his apartment. Lydia answers.
If you saw Basic Instinct or enough episodes of Columbo, Murder, She Wrote, and Mike Hammer, you know that handing a book you wrote over to a homicide detective is a bad idea. It helps the sleuth get into your head. You don’t see Teal doing that but you learn enough from what he says and does to know that he does his homework. You know that he knows Dennis wrote Red Letters and he is ripe for Lydia’s charms. If you recall what Fuhrman wrote in his book Murder in Brentwood about holding a piece of history and why he said it, you know what that scene meant to him. You see it in his Murder in Greenwich dress shop window.
Consider this 3 ˝-minute sequence of events in Red Letters which includes all of Teal’s office interview with Dennis:
Dennis calls his apartment. Lydia answers. A smoke detector goes off. She knocks it off the wall and tells Dennis that she burned her eggs. He screams at her for answering the phone and goes to the university. The dean stops him. They have a misunderstanding about a woman. The dean is talking about seeing Dennis and his daughter kissing. Dennis thinks he is talking about Thurston’s wife. The dean tells him he is on thin ice. Teal shows up and they go to Dennis’ office to talk about Mrs. Clarque.
The eggs are self-explanatory. “Thin ice” gives you water. All references to Thurston are references to a hacker.
Nastassja Kinski is Lydia. In Cat People (’84) with Tessa Richarde as Billie, Kinski is a cursed girl who turns into a murderous black leopard when sexually aroused unless she has sex with a blood relative. Quincy Jones, the black musician and composer who wrote the main score for In the Heat of the Night, fathered one of her children. In Red Letters the excessive heat in Dennis’ apartment leads him to Anthony Griglio the man who was supposed to find the exculpatory gun.
In American Perfekt Fairuza Balk as Alice divides humanity into dog lovers or cat lovers. She rides with Robert Forster as the homicidal shrink because she pegs him as a cat person. So, when you see Fairuza giving her clothes to Nastassja Kinski, who has transformed herself into a brunette, you know that more is involved from Fuhrman’s point of view. When you see Dennis talking to the actor from OZ in a continuation of that scene with Nastassja wearing Fairuza’s red dress, you know that the dress meant more to Fuhrman in Murder in Greenwich than it first appeared. You will see the name Dennis again as a writer much like Joseph Wambaugh in Best Seller with Brian Dennehy and James Woods.
In Mark Fuhrman’s defense against the charge of calling a black ATM robber a nigger after shooting him five times, he denied using the racial epithet. He claimed that the cop who used the n-word was a redhead with a mustache. I always suspected that the robber did identify a cop with red hair and a mustache because Fuhrman was wearing a red wig and a false mustache – features that would stand out as much as his 6’ 3” height. In Joseph Wambaugh’s The Onion Field (’81), James Woods is a killer who uses a big, fake mole on his face to throw off witness identification in the same way Lydia hopes to do it by dying her hair. Fuhrman said that the ATM Robber he shot five times in 1987 identified the man who yelled racial epithets at him as a redhead.
During my research for the other Smoking Gun books, a wig or false whiskers cropped up so often that I didn’t see how Fuhrman could avoid getting either the wig or the false whiskers into his movie. In The Naked Gun 2 ˝, (’91) Hacker wears a wig and false whiskers, a deliberate nod to Edward G. Robinson’s duel role in The Prize. In Silver Streak, the man impersonating the author of a book about Rembrandt wears false whiskers. You see the wig on Norman Bates in Psycho. You see it on Michael Caine’s character in Dressed to Kill. The list goes on and on.
It took me five viewings of Murder in Greenwich to spot the wig. It’s on one of the mannequins. The other mannequin is bald. It didn’t hit me until I saw the mannequins in The Naked Gun 2 ˝ sex shop. You know it’s a wig because mannequins don’t have hair of their own. Liddy Holloway, as the younger, longhaired brunette and older shorthaired redhead Dorothy Moxley must have worn one, too. False beards and mustaches are harder to spot. I’ll have more on that in the next chapter.
I saw Red Letters after I saw Murder in Greenwich. I therefore expected to see a wig and a man in a wheelchair as soon as I saw the red dress and the glass because of what I saw in other movies. After Frank Drebin saves the “red queen” in the original Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, Nordberg comes to the ballpark in a wheelchair. The Naked Gun 2 ˝ gets the scene with Frank looking at Jane in her red dress after the bombing from third episode of Police Squad! All three episodes of the 1982 Police Squad! TV series begin with Frank, his captain and Abraham Lincoln firing revolvers toward the camera.
In Copycat (’95) Sigourney Weaver is Helen Hudson, a celebrated profiler of serial killer and a best-selling author. A close call with a serial killer that left a police officer dead has turned her into an alcoholic, pill-popping, agoraphobic. She learns that a new kind of serial killer is on the loose copycatting serial killers she named in the lecture she gave at a university when she was attacked in a women’s lavatory.
William McNamara is Peter Foley the Copycat killer. He takes Helen hostage and reconstructs her attack. To set the stage for what he intends to do, he uses a mannequin dressed as a cop to represent the cop her attacker killed before her rescue. The only detail he overlooks is the toilet paper Helen put on the toilet seat. He leaves a wheelchair outside of the lavatory to misdirect the cop he knows is coming. Looking at himself in a large mirror (glass) with Helen hanging by her neck above the commode in her red dress behind him, he says. “I’m going to make you the world’s most famous victim. Guess what that makes me? You know, Helen, more books have been written about Jack the Ripper than Abraham Lincoln?”
Peter Foley is a computer hacker. Remember that when you see his reflection in the mirror. Robert MacNamara was John Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense when Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1962. In Murder in Greenwich, you see toilet paper hanging in trees when Martha Moxley’s ghost mentions the Kennedys. Within the next eight seconds you see the mannequins dressed in red.
Contact the author: Jasper Garrison
Copyright © 2004 Smartfellows Press