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NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) – MGM – Rating: ★★★★★

Color – 136 mins. – 1.66:1 aspect ratio

Principal cast:  Cary Grant (Roger Thornhill), Eva Marie Saint (Eve Kendall), James Mason (Philip VanDamm), Martin Landau (Leonard),  Jessie Royce Landis (Clara Thornhill), Leo G Carroll (The Professor), Edward Platt (Victor Larrabee), Edward Binns (Captain Junket).

Produced by Alfred Hitchcock, Associate Producer Herbert Coleman

Screenplay by Ernest Lehman

Director of Photography:  Robert Burks

Editor:  George Tomasini

Original musical score:  Bernard Herrmann

Production Design:  Robert Boyle

Title sequence designed by Saul Bass

Alfred Hitchcock’s film output during his first two decades in America is astonishing, especially by today’s standards.  Between 1940 and 1959, Hitchcock directed 23 feature-length films, an average of one film every 11 months.  If that is not impressive enough, during this same time period he still found time to direct 14 episodes of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV show, 2 TV shows for other anthology programs, and several short propaganda pieces during World War II.  He also recorded his personal opening and closing remarks for 167 episodes of his television program, as well as doing extensive pre-production on several film projects that never came to fruition.   Whew!   I’m exhausted just listing his accomplishments.

So at any given time during this period, it was not uncommon for Hitch to be working on up to three different projects simultaneously.  In the summer of 1956, he was going on a promotional tour for The Wrong Man, which he had just finished filming.  His next planned film was to be Flamingo Feather, but this movie was scrapped after already being announced in the trades as a Hitchcock feature to star James Stewart.   This meant that Vertigo, which was in the screenwriting phase, was moved up to be Hitch’s next feature.  And what would follow Vertigo?

MGM was in turmoil at this time.  At one time Hollywood’s most prestigious studio, MGM had just fired Dore Schary as studio head and stockholders were in a panic.  MGM began courting Hitchcock; if the studio could announce a future Hitchcock film, shareholders would be pacified.  So Hitchcock was hired to direct The Wreck of the Mary Deare for MGM upon completion of Vertigo at Paramount.

Hitchcock hired Ernest Lehman to write a screenplay for Mary Deare, but Lehman was struggling with the adaptation.  He wanted to quit the project, but Hitchcock told him they would just shelve that screenplay and create something original together.  And that original screenplay, which was born out of Hitchcock’s desire to stage a chase scene atop Mt. Rushmore, would become North by Northwest.  

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An image from the iconic Saul Bass title sequence.

North by Northwest begins with a burst of kinetic energy;  Saul Bass’ title sequence, a series of intersecting diagonal lines which become the side of a Madison Avenue skyscraper, meld with Bernard Herrmann’s driving music.  The skyscraper image is followed by a montage of people in motion, and the title sequence ends with Hitchcock himself missing a bus.  The message is clear;  the viewer had better keep up, or be left behind.  When we first see Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill he is stepping out of an elevator, walking and talking.  This film begins as if we are joining a movie already in progress.  There is no slow build, no exposition to set the scene;  that will come later.  Just a few short minutes into the movie Thornhill (Grant) has been kidnapped in a case of mistaken identity.  A group of spies have mistaken him for George Kaplan, a government agent.   The ringleader of the spies is Philip VanDamm, played by the impeccable James Mason.   Mason questions Roger Thornhill at a large Long Island estate, then has his henchmen (led by a young Martin Landau in the role of Leonard) get him drunk and put him behind the wheel of a car, planning to drive the car off of a cliff.

 

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Cary Grant is interrogated by Martin Landau and an amused James Mason.

Roger Thornhill manages to escape his would-be assassins and ends up in the hands of the police.  We soon meet Roger’s mother, played by Jessie Royce Landis.   Landis had played Grace Kelly’s mother in the Hitchcock film To Catch A Thief, and she and Cary Grant established a great rapport in that movie, so it was natural to pair them together again.   (Many sources have cited that Landis does a great job in this movie, despite the fact that the actress is too young to be Grant’s mother.   Many people have even said they are the same age, or that Landis is younger than Grant.  Let’s put this spurious tale to rest now.  Jessie Royce Landis was born on November 25, 1896, while Grant was born on January 18, 1904.  So while it is true that Landis is not old enough to be Grant’s biological mother, she is over seven years older).

Thornhill begins a search for the man he was mistaken for, George Kaplan, believing that he will hold the answers to this mystery, and his mother accompanies him as he begins his search.  Soon enough the spies are hot on his tail again, and he is framed for a murder.  Now public enemy number one, he sneaks aboard the 20th Century Limited train en route to Chicago, and meets Eve Kendall, played by Eva Marie Saint.  It is interesting to note that Saint, the leading lady, does not make her entrance until the 44th minute of the film.  And once she makes an appearance, Jessie Royce Landis does not appear in the film anymore, nor is she referenced.   So Cary Grant’s character is under the thumb of his mother in the beginning section, and that female control transfers to Eva Marie Saint for the duration of the film.

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Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant are essentially having sex with their clothes on; this is about as sexually charged a scene as Hitchcock ever shot.

This next section of the movie, as Grant and Saint converse in the train’s dining car, then later rendezvous in Saint’s sleeping compartment, are some of the most sexually charged scenes in 1950’s cinema.  Screenwriter Ernest Lehman’s dialogue walks a subtle line, but there is nothing subtle in the way that Eva Marie Saint looks at Cary Grant; it is a bold and brazen seduction.  By the end of the train sequence, the audience knows a few things that Roger Thornhill does not.  Hitchcock typically liked to give the viewer information that the protagonist lacks.  So by this point the viewer knows that George Kaplan does not exist, and that Eve Kendall is somehow associated with James Mason and the spies.  Things are looking rather hopeless for Roger Thornhill.

Eve Kendall sends Thornhill to a supposed meeting with Kaplan on a deserted Indiana highway, where he faces another assassination attempt.  The crop duster sequence is not only one of Hitchcock’s greatest triumphs, but one of the most memorable scenes in film history.  Couldn’t these spies think of less elaborate ways to kill someone?  It certainly seems like a lot of trouble to go to, sending a man to the middle of nowhere, so he can be gunned down by a crop dusting plane.  Of course, within the confines of the movie, the viewer does not question the logic of the scene, in part because of the movie’s frenetic pace.  Every scene seems a logical follow up to the preceding scene.  ( I will do a deconstruction of the crop duster sequence in my next blog entry.)

download (1)This sequence marks a pivotal change in the movie; up to now Roger Thornhill has been a victim of circumstances beyond his control.   He has been emasculated and manipulated like a pawn.  He does not yet understand how all the pieces fit together, but he does know that he can only rely on himself if he wishes to survive.  This sets up another fantastic sequence which takes place in a Chicago auction hall, where Roger Thornhill confronts Eve Kendall, VanDamm, and Leonard.    VanDamm is standing behind Eve, with a hand on her shoulder, as if he is clutching a possession.  At one point in conversation, VanDamm asks Eve if Thornhill was in her hotel room, to which Thornhill replies “Sure, isn’t everyone?”  Hitchcock then cuts to a close up of VanDamm slowly removing his hand from Eve, which is as telling as any dialogue could be.  Once again it seems that Roger Thornhill will be captured and killed, and once again he uses his wits to escape.

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Cary Grant’s character is beginning to assert himself, and now it is Eva Marie Saint who feels like a pawn as the two men tower over her, discussing her as if she were an object.

 

Finally Roger Thornhill meets an American intelligence officer known as the Professor, (Leo G. Carroll), who fills in the blanks for Thornhill.  He now realizes that Eve is working for the Americans, and he realizes that he has put her at risk.  This sets up the final sequence of events at Mount Rushmore, which involves much duplicity amongst the leading characters, until finally Thornhill and Grant are fleeing for their lives on the monument itself.  Hitchcock was not allowed to film on the monument, so this sequence was made with some gorgeous process shots that combine matte painting with a scale model of the Rushmore faces that was build at MGM.  The film ends as it began, in motion, and finally the audience can catch its collective breath.

Themes:  One of the reasons that North by Northwest is such an iconic film is because it contains all of Hitchcock’s major themes.  First and foremost is the innocent man falsely accused of a crime, who is trying to find the real conspirators while staying one step ahead of the police.   He had already filmed variations of this theme several times (The 39 Steps, Young and Innocent, Saboteur), and while those are all good films, this movie can be seen as the culmination of his life’s work.  Other prominent Hitchcock themes present in this movie include the icy blonde leading lady;  the domineering mother; and the debonair gentleman antagonist.   There are a handful of Hitchcock films that feature a hint of homosexuality, and there is a slight element of that here in Martin Landau’s character Leonard.  Late in the film he utters the line “Call it my woman’s intuition.”  And James Mason’s character accuses him of being jealous.  There is certainly a suggestion here that Leonard’s feelings for his boss went beyond the professional.

Hitchcock and the censors:  Alfred Hitchcock delighted in sneaking sexual subtext past the film censors, and he succeeded many times in his career.  There is one line of dialogue in this movie that the censors would not approve, however.  When Eva Marie Saint is talking to Cary Grant in the dining car, the original line of dialogue was “I never make love on an empty stomach.”  This was unacceptable to the censors, so the line was looped to say “I never discuss love on an empty stomach.”  If you watch Eva Marie’s lips, you can clearly see the dialogue does not sync up.  It doesn’t really matter what she said, though, because the tone of her voice, the way she looks at Cary Grant, the way she pulls his hand towards her to light her cigarette, are as blatantly sexual as a major movie scene could be shot at the time.

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Hitchcock also delighted in the final shot of the movie, which did not appear in the screenplay;  it was Hitch’s own invention.  As Cary Grant pulls Eva Marie Saint into the upper berth bed on the train, Hitchcock cuts outside, to a shot of a train entering a tunnel, which was a not-too-subtle mimicking of the act of sexual penetration.  Hitchcock was very proud of this shot, telling the story many times.

Hitchcock and final cut:  At two hours and sixteen minutes, this is the longest film of Hitchcock’s entire career.  But it certainly doesn’t seem like it;  the fast pace, the constant shift in location, and the witty dialogue ensure that the movie never lags.  A couple of Hitchcock’s later pictures certainly feel longer (I’m talking about you, Torn Curtain and Topaz).   But MGM had reservations about the movie’s length at the time.  They wanted him to cut one sequence in particular:  when Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint meet in the woods after she has pretended to kill him, and they say their goodbyes.  Hitchcock believed the scene was necessary, and after getting reassurances from his lawyer that the “final cut” clause of his contract was ironclad, he respecfully told the studio that he would not cut a frame.  In the end, North by Northwest was the highest-grossing film of Hitchcock’s career to date, a massive hit with critics and audiences.  This is one time where the master was right to stand his ground.

Performance:  Every single performance in this film is spot-on, from the leads to the minor supporting characters.  Cary Grant would remain very proud of this film until he died, and justifiably so.  James Mason was so good as the bad guy, it has been suggested that his character was the prototype for a generation of James Bond villians to follow. Eva Marie Saint showed as much range as any female lead in the Hitchcock canon.

Academy awards:  North by Northwest received three Oscar nominations:  best original screenplay, Ernest Lehman;  best film editing, George Tomasini; and best Art Direction – Color.   It was another MGM picture that was the big winner at the 1960 Academy Awards – Ben-Hur.  That film would dominate the night, winning 11 total Oscars.  While it is hard to argue with Ben-Hur  in the editing category, I honestly feel like North by Northwest got robbed in the Color Art Direction category.  The sets in this movie are simply sublime, to the extent that they influenced many films that followed.

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Recurring players:  Cary Grant had also appeared in Suspicion, Notorious and To Catch A Thief.  Jessie Royce Landis had worked with Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief.  Leo G. Carroll appeared in more Hitchcock movies than any other actor, including Rebecca, Suspicion, Spellbound, The Paradine Case, and Strangers on a Train.  Malcolm Atterbury would later appear in The Birds.  Sara Berner, Len Hendry and Jesslyn Fax had been in Rear Window.  Tommy Farrell and Robert Williams were in Strangers on a Train.   Kenner G. Kemp had appeared in The Paradine Case, and would later be in Marnie.  Doreen Lang was also in The Wrong Man and The Birds.  Alexander Lockwood was in Saboteur and Family Plot.  Frank Marlow had also been in Saboteur and Notorious.  Howard Negley and Frank Wilcox were also in Notorious.  Jeffrey Sayre was also an extra in Saboteur, Notorious, and Vertigo.  Bert Stevens was in The Paradine Case and Marnie.  Harry Strang and Dale Van Sickel were in Saboteur. 

Where’s Hitch?  Hitchcock’s cameo in this movie is impossible to miss, coming at the end of the title sequence.  At about the 2:09 mark, just as his director’s credit disappears from the screen, Hitchcock attempts to board a bus, which closes the door in his face and pulls away without him.

What the actors said:  Eva Marie Saint said that Hitchcock only gave her three simple instructions for her character:  “Lower my voice; don’t use my hands; and look directly at Cary Grant in my scenes with him, look right into his eyes.  From that, I conjured up in my mind the kind of lady he saw this woman as.”

Cary Grant, speaking of his relationship with Hitchcock, said that “Hitch and I had a rapport and understanding deeper than words.”

James Mason admitted that he enjoyed Hitchcock’s movies and found him a charming man, but admitted that he thought Hitch as a director used actors like “animated props.”

What Hitch said:  I’ll include some in-depth comments from Hitchcock in my next entry, about the crop-duster sequence.

Definitive edition:  Warner Brothers blu-ray, released in 2009, is the best version available.  First of all, the VistaVision transfer is breathtaking.   This may be the best looking of all of Hitchcock’s films on blu-ray.  The soundtrack is high quality as well.  The blu-ray includes a feature-length (1 hr. 27 min.) documentary about the leading man called Cary Grant:  A Class Apart, as well as three other documentaries:  The Master’s Touch:  Hitchcock’s Signature Style (57 mins.), Destination Hitchcock:  The Making of North by Northwest (39 mins.) and North by Northwest:  One For the Ages (25 mins.)   Also included is a stills gallery, two theatrical trailers, one hosted by Hitchcock, and a TV spot.

 

 

ROPE (1948) – Transatlantic Pictures – Rating:  ★★★ 1/2

Color – 80 mins. – 1.37:1 aspect ratio

Principal cast:  James Stewart (Rupert Cadell), Farley Granger (Phillip Morgan), John Dall (Brandon Shaw), Cedric Hardwicke (Mr. Kentley), Constance Collier (Mrs. Atwater), Joan Chandler (Janet Walker), Edith Evanson (Mrs. Wilson), Douglas Dick (Kenneth Lawrence).

Written by Hume Cronyn (treatment), Arthur Laurents (screenplay)

Cinematography:   Joseph A. Valentine

Edited by:  William H. Ziegler

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On May 7, 1947, Alfred Hitchcock wrapped production on The  Paradine Case, bringing to a close his nearly decade-long affiliation with David O. Selznick.  Although the Selznick/Hitchcock  period began rather auspiciously with Rebecca in 1940, it was drawing to an  unsatisfying close.  Cast and crew alike seemed to sense  that The Paradine Case was doomed to failure.   But  Hitchcock himself seemed little phased.  As at other points of  his career when he was making what he felt to be a  substandard picture (e.g. Waltzes From Vienna, Jamaica Inn)  his mind was already on his next project.

And that project was titled Rope, and would be the first film made by Transatlantic Picures, a production company founded by Hitchcock and partner Sidney Bernstein.   Transatlantic Pictures made a deal with Warner Brothers for distribution, beginning an association between Hitchcock and Warners that would last for several years.

Rope was an unconventional film, both in story and in structure.  It begins with two young men murdering their friend, just for the thrill of it.  They then place his body in a trunk, and proceed to host a dinner party, serving the food from the very trunk which holds the body.  The party guests are all intimately related to the young victim as well, including his father, his aunt, his girlfriend, and his best friend.    The most interesting guest however is Rupert Cadell, former prep-school housemaster of the murderers and the victim.  Over the course of the evening, he suspects that something is awry,  and will ultimately figure out exactly what happened.

Continuous action:   Perhaps it is best to let Hitchcock himself describe the manner in which Rope was filmed:

“I wanted to do a picture with no time lapses – a picture in which the camera never stops… As I see it, there’s nothing like continuous action to sustain the mood of actors, particularly in a suspense story.  In Rope the entire action takes place between the setting of the sun and the hour of darkness.  There are a murder, a party, mounting tension, detailed psychological characterizations, the gradual discovery of the crime and the solution.  Yet all this consumes less than two hours of real life as well as ‘reel’ life.”

So Rope is meant to play out in real time, with the 80-minute running time equaling 80 minutes of story time.  There are 10 editorial cuts in the movie, meaning that the takes average 8 minutes in length.  That is a long period of time to film without cutting.  Imagine an actor flubbing his line, or a technical mistake, at the seven-minute mark.  That meant resetting to the beginning of the sequence and starting over.  Here is Hitch again:

Rope was a miracle of cueing.  Everybody; actors, cameramen, the prop crew, the electricians, the script supervisors, spent two solid weeks of rehearsals before a camera turned.  Even before the set was built I worked out each movement on a blackboard in my home…Whole walls of the apartment had to slide away to allow the camera to follow the actors through narrow doors, then swing back noiselessly to show a solid room…Tables and chairs had to be pulled away by prop men, then set in place again by the time the camera returned to its original position…But the most magical of all the devices was the cyclorama – an exact miniature reproduction of nearly 35 miles of New York skyline lighted by 8,000 incandescent bulbs and 200 neon signs…On film the miniature looks exactly like Manhattan at night as it would appear from the window of an apartment at 54th Street and First Avenue.”

rope5In the above picture, you can view the cyclorama in the background.  The clouds, made of spun glass, would “move” across the cyclorama as the action progressed.  And as the late afternoon turned to evening, the sky would darken, and the lights in the buildings would turn on.

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Now here is the same cyclorama seen from a more close-up angle, and later in the evening.

Source material:  The movie is based upon the 1929 play by Patrick Hamilton, which in turn was inspired by the Leopold and Loeb case.  (Leopold and Loeb were two University of Chicago students who murdered a fourteen year old boy to demonstrate their “intellectual superiority” in pulling off the perfect crime.  They were caught and sentenced to life in prison.)   Arthur Laurents’ screenplay follows the structure of the play fairly closely, with a couple of minor changes.  The setting is moved from London to New York.  In the play, it is a blue theatre ticket that provides the final clue for Rupert Cadell to solve the crime;  in the movie it is the victim’s hat, which is given to Rupert by accident, that serves as a clue.

Overall the dialogue of Laurents’ screenplay is better than the original play, but there is some delicious dialogue in the play that didn’t make it to the movie including a great self-referential moment, as the denouement approaches, when the character of Rupert says “It is the hour when jaded London theatre audiences are settling down in the darkness to the last acts of plays” which is of course exactly what the very audience listening to this dialogue was doing!  But Arthur Laurents creates his own referential joke in his screenplay.  When Mrs. Atwater and Janet (played by Constance Collier and Joan Chandler) are discussing movies, Mrs. Atwater is swooning over Cary Grant.   She says “He was thrilling in that new thing with Bergman.  What was it called now?  The ‘something of the something’?  No, it was just plain ‘something'”.  This is, of course, a reference to Alfred Hitchcock’s own film Notorious, which had been a hit two years earlier, in 1946.   Hitchcock must have apprecited the in-joke.

Hitchcock and homosexuality:  There are several Hitchcock films that have homosexual undertones, but nowhere is the theme more prevalent than in Rope.   Leopold and Loeb, the actual killers that inspired the story, were in a gay relationship.   And that relationship remains intact in the Patrick Hamilton play.  So it is only natural that it would be carried over to the screen version as well.  Of course gay themes were strictly taboo in 1948 Hollywood, so they had to be implied through subtleties of screenplay and acting.  It probably helped that the movie’s screenwriter, Arthur Laurents, was gay.  The two actors who played the homosexual killers, Farley Granger and John Dall, were gay as well.  As a matter of fact, Laurents and Granger were in a relationship at the time the movie was in production.   Granger had this to say in his autobiography:  “John Dall and I discussed the subtext of our scenes together.  We knew that Hitch knew what he was doing and had built sexual ambiguity into his presentation of the material.”  Watch the early scenes between Dall and Granger, watch how close they get to one another, listen to the tone of Granger’s voice.  The gay relationship is hiding in plain sight.  When Phillip asks Brandon “How did you feel, during it?”  He is asking about the murder, but the viewer can imagine that same query in an entirely different scenario.  Later, when Brandon (played by John Dall), is describing Phillip (Farley Granger) strangling chickens,  Phillip vehemently denies ever strangling a chicken.    There are layers to the guilt here.  Phillip feels guilty because he has recently strangled a person, but the phrase “choking the chicken” also has another entirely different connotation.   This entwining of guilt that Phillip feels, his double secret, ( he is a murderer, and he is gay), continues throughout the film.

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The entire cast of the film sit with Alfred Hitchcock (far right) in front of the beautiful New York City backdrop.

Performance:   There are only eight characters in the film (nine if you count David Kentley, but he is killed in the first minute).   I’ve already discussed the good performances of John Dall and Farley Granger.  Everyone else is solid in this as well.  Cedrick Hardwicke and Constance Collier, two veterans of the stage, are clearly in their element in this film involving long takes.  Joan Chandler, Douglas Dick, and Edith Evanson are well cast too.  But the biggest surprise here is Jimmy Stewart.  Stewart later admitted that he was miscast in this role, but his performance is very good.  In the original stage play, the character of Rupert Cadell was the boys’ housemaster at school, and he exposed them to the idea of intellectually superior beings, who could kill “lesser” people with impunity.  But he also “taught” them something else as well;  for in the play, Rupert is gay as well, and probably was involved with both young men at some point.   Well there was no way Jimmy Stewart was going to play a gay character; even an implied homosexual element was out of the question.  So Jimmy played it straight.  His character works like a detective, sensing something strange about this dinner party from the very beginning. then gathering evidence until the final scene, when he uncovers the truth and summons the police.

Hitchcock and color:  Rope was shot in Technicolor, the first color movie in Hitchcock’s career.   Hitchcock had some very interesting thoughts on color which are worth sharing.  He said:

“I never wanted to make a Tecnicolor picture merely for the sake of using color.  I waited until I could find a story in which color could play a dramatic role, and still be muted to a low key…The key role played by color in this film is in the background.  I insisted that color be used purely as the eye received it.”

“We must bear in mind that, fundamentally, there’s no such thing as color; in fact, there’s no such thing as a face, because until the light hits it, it is nonexistent.  After all, one of the first things I learned in the School of Art was that there is no such thing as a line; there’s only the light and the shade.”

Theatrical trailer:  Throughout the course of his career, Alfred Hitchcock had many unique and innovative trailers made for his movies.  The trailer for Rope is one of the most interesting.  It begins with a scene featuring the characters David Kentley and Janet Walker, sitting on a bench in Central Park.   David is killed in the very first moment of the film, and has no dialogue (other than a scream).  And yet here he is, conversing with Janet in a scene that could function as a prologue to the film!  The trailer is narrated by Jimmy Stewart, and can be viewed here.   (Please note:  All rights to this film are owned by Universal Pictures.)


Recurring players:  James Stewart would later appear in Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much remake, and Vertigo.  Farley Granger would reunite with Hitchcock in Strangers on a Train.  Cedric Hardwicke also appeared in Suspicion.  And Edith Evanson would appear in Marnie almost 20 years later.

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Where’s Hitch?  One could say that Hitchcock has two cameos in this movie.   Since the action all takes place in one apartment, he first decided to insert himself by creating a neon sign of his famous profile, which is visible out the window at about the 55 minute mark.  The profile is difficult to recognize on a small screen, and the word that appears underneath it in neon is pretty much impossible to see.  And that word is “Reduco”, the weight-loss aid that was the basis of Hitchcock’s cameo in Lifeboat.  (So the neon sign is an advertisement, justifying its appearance on the New York skyline.)  Perhaps because it was so hard to spot, or so unconventional, Hitchcock shot a more straightforward cameo;  he can be seen walking down the street from left to right with an unknown woman at about 1:58, just after his director credit fades.

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Look closely!  There is Hitch’s profile, over the word “Reduco”.

What the actors said:  In his autobiography, Farley Granger said that “Rope was an interesting technical experiment that I was lucky and happy to be a part of, but I don’t think it was one of Hitchcock’s better films.”

Jimmy Stewart said that “Rope wasn’t my favorite picture”, and observed that the film was “nothing more than an experiment.”  However, he followed that by saying “I’m glad I did it, and I’ll go on record as saying I’ll make a picture for Alfred Hitchcock anytime.”

What Hitch said:  Hitchcock had the same reservations about this film as his actors did, saying “I undertook Rope as a stunt, that’s the only way I can describe it…As an experiment, Rope may be forgiven.”  Not a very ringing endorsement.  Perhaps the most significant thing he said is in reference to the technical aspects of the production:  “…technique is merely a means to an end and the audience must never be aware the the camera, the director, or the photographer is performing miracles.  Everything must flow smoothly and naturally.”

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Alfred Hitchcock clowning around with his three leading men, in a publicity photo for “Rope.”

Definitive edition:  The 2012 blu-ray release of Rope, from Universal, is the best available sound and picture quality for this movie.  The print is very clean, the color sharp and balanced.  Extra features include a 32-minute documentary titled Rope Unleashed, which features interviews with Farley Granger and screenwriter Arthur Laurents.  Also included are production photos, and the original theatrical trailer.

FOforeigntopREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940) – Walter Wanger        Productions – Rating:  ★★★★

B&W – 120 minutes – 1.37:1 aspect ratio

Principal cast:  Joel McCrea (Johnny Jones/Huntley Haverstock), Laraine Day (Carol Fisher), Herbert Marshall (Stephen Fisher), George Sanders (scott ffolliott), Albert Bassermann (Van Meer), Robert Benchley (Stebbins), Edmund Gwenn (Rowley).

Produced by Walter Wanger Cinematography by Rudolph Mate Film Editing by Dorothy Spencer Screenplay by Charles Bennett and Joan Harrison; additional dialogue James Hilton and Robert Benchley Music by Alfred Newman

In the spring of 1939 Alfred Hitchcock left England for America, having signed an exclusive contract with producer David O. Selznick.   Hitchcock knew he was going to be under Selznick’s thumb for a time, but he also knew that the loan-out clause in his contract would be mutually beneficial to himself and Selznick.  Hitchcock’s services as director could be “loaned” to other film studios and producers, which would allow him to choose films that he wanted to make.  At the same time, Selznick paid Hitchcock’s salary of $2,500 a week, while charging a loan-out fee of $7,500 a week, meaning that Selznick pocketed a cool five grand a week when Hitch was making movies for someone else. Thus began a pattern in Alfred Hitchcock’s early American period, where he made a film that he had to make, in order to make a film that he wanted to make.  His first American film for Selznick productions, the film he had to make, was Rebecca.  Upon completion of that movie, he was loaned to producer Walter Wanger, to make the film he wanted to make:  Foreign Correspondent.

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The stars of “Foreign Correspondent”: the incomparable George Sanders, the underrated Joel McCrea, and the lovely Laraine Day.

In many ways, Foreign Correspondent is the first American Hitchcock film.   Certainly it was preceded by Rebecca, which is a very well-made movie.  But Rebecca is more Selznick’s picture than it is Hitchcock’s;  it lacks many of the elements of suspense and humor which fans of Hitch’s British films had come to expect.  Foreign Correspondent picks up right where The Lady Vanishes left off, full of spies and political intrigue.   In The Lady Vanishes (1938) the enemy was only alluded to, but in Foreign Correspondent he is given a name.  The movie is set in ’39, by which time the Nazis were on the march.  Joel McCrea plays a crime reporter for a New York newspaper who is sent to Europe to get the “real story”.  McCrea somewhat flippantly asks his boss if he should interview Hitler! Once McCrea gets to Europe he is introduced to several key players in the European peace movement, including the charming Albert Basserman as the elderly Van Meer, who may hold the key to European peace.  Also involved are Stephen Fisher and his daughter Carol, played by Herbert Marshall and Laraine Day, and a couple of other reporters, played by George Sanders and Robert Benchley.  The story structure is Hitchcock’s favorite; a spy story with several set pieces, moving from locale to locale (e.g. The 39 Steps, Saboteur, North by Northwest).  The MacGuffin is the clause to a peace treaty which has been memorized by Van Meer.  A group of spies that is secretly fomenting war in Europe fake Van Meer’s assassination, then secret him away to try and get him to dislose the secret clause.  All the while Joel McCrea is searching for Van Meer, leaping from one adventure to another. 0227       Signature set pieces:   The first breathtaking sequence in the film    takes  place at Van Meer’s assassination, set in Amsterdam.  Hitchcock  shot the  sequence on the backlot at Fox.  The establishing shot  is  phenomenal;  there are trolleys, cars, bicycles, horses, dozens of pedestrians, all in a pouring rain.   This is the kind of shot that Hitchcock had wanted to make for years;  now that he was in America he finally had the budget to do it.  And he certainly got his money’s worth.  The sequence finishes with the assassin fleeing into a crowd of umbrella-holding spectators, and Hitchcock’s signature overhead shot of the umbrellas being jostled as the assassin runs through.

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A sea of umbrellas hides an assassin in one of Hitchcock’s signature shots.

Joel McCrea and company chase the assassin into the windmill strewn countryside, and once again the exterior and interior shots of the windmills are magnificent.  The exterior shots combined a painted background with live foreground action and hold up very well today.  The interior is beautifully designed and lit, with a look redolent of the German Expressionists that influenced Hitchcock early in his career.

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The windmill interior highlights the Oscar-nominated art direction and cinematography.

After many further adventures, the film culminates in a sequence involving a plane over the ocean, a sequence that Hitchcock was clearly very proud of, for he spoke of it with great pride over thiry years later, sounding like a doting father. The sequence involves a full scale model of a plane, rear projection, and thousands of gallons of water.  It is arguably one of the greatest technical feats captured on film at that time.  Even more impressive is the fact that it is just as exciting to watch 75 years later.

Performance:  Hitchcock originally wanted Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck for the leads, and thirty years later when he talked to Truffaut, Hitch was still disappointed that he didn’t get them.  He didn’t entirely disparage Joel McCrea’s performance, but he had little positive to say.  He called him the “next best thing” to Gary Cooper, and said  McCrea “was too easygoing.”  Hitch said of McCrea and Laraine Day that “I would have liked to have bigger star names.”  This is one instance where I think the master got it wrong.  Joel McCrea is pitch perfect in the role of the roving reporter who becomes involved in political intrigue.  His easygoing nature is essential at the beginning of the film; by the end his experiences have toughened him, and prepared him for the inevitable conflict to come.  McCrea and Day play off of each other very well.  George Sanders is excellent, as always, as reporter Scott ffolliott.  Herbert Marshall’s character could almost be a prototype for the James Mason character in North by Northwest.  Albert Basserman brought genuine humanity to his character, Van Meer.  And let’s not forget Edmund Gwynn, one of Hitchcock’s favorite actors, who plays a small but juicy role as an assassin.  All in all, a superb cast, with no missteps.

Recurring players:  Herbert Marshall had earlier appeared in Murder!  George Sanders had just appeared in Rebecca.   Edmund Gwynn was also in The Skin Game, Waltzes from Vienna, and The Trouble with Harry.  Frances Carson would have brief roles in Saboteur and Shadow of a Doubt.  Ian Wolfe played a very similar role in Saboteur.   Charles Halton and Emory Parnell would have small parts in Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Saboteur.  Gerturde Hoffman, Donald Stuart and Hilda Plowright would appear in Suspicion.  Gino Corrado also had a bit part in Rebecca.  Elspeth Dudgeon would appear in The Paradine Case.  Herbert Evans would have a bit part in Strangers on a Train.  Sam Harris had several other uncredited roles for Hitch in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Saboteur, The Paradine Case and Dial M For Murder.  Colin Kenny would appear in The Paradine Case and North by Northwest.  Eily Malyon would appear briefly in Shadow of a Doubt.  Henry Norton and George Offerman, Jr. also had bit parts in Saboteur.  Ronald R. Rondell was in Rebecca and Mr. and Mrs. Smith.  Loulette Sablon would appear in To Catch a Thief.  And William Yetter, Sr.  would show up in Torn Curtain.

Where’s Hitch?  This Hitchcock cameo is easy to spot, as Hitchcock, holding a newspaper, passes Joel McCrea on the street at about the 12:40 mark.

Academy Awards:  Foreign Correspondent received 6 Oscar nominations:  Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Albert Basserman), Cinematography,  Art Direction, Original Screenplay, Special Effects.  It lost in all categories.  (Hitchcock’s Rebecca  won Best Picture this same year.)

0688 Screenplay:  Producer Walter Wanger owned the rights to a book  called Personal History by Vincent Sheehan, which was the starting point for this screenplay.  By the time the screenplay was finished, it bore no resemblance to the book at all, so the book was not listed in the film’s credits.   Hitchcock regulars Charles Bennett and Joan Harrison were the principal writers, but Robert Benchley (who also acts in the film) added some of his incomparable wit,  just as his Algonquin cohort Dorothy Parker would later add her unique wit to the screenplay for Hitch’s Saboteur.  Benchley contributed what has to be one of the wittiest lines in any Hitchcock film.  At a peace conference, a man has just finished giving a speech;  he then introduces a woman, who begins to talk.  A man leans over to Joel McCrea and says “The female of the speeches is deadlier than the male”, a clever play on the word species, and trademark Benchley.  Another Hitchcock regular,  Ben Hecht, wrote the speech that ends the movie, a moment of pure propaganda.

Hitchcock and propaganda:  Alfred Hitchcock was unfairly criticized in his home country of England when World War II broke out.   He was accused of fleeing the impending conflict, which was an unfair accusation.  He made his deal to come to the States long before Great Britain entered the conflict.  And during the war, Hitchcock made several contributions to the war effort.  Foreign Correspondent, in addition to being a very entertaining movie, also has elements of propaganda, designed to awaken the sympathies of the American people.   Joel McCrea’s final speech begins “Hello, America”  and after describing the bombs falling on London, McCrea encourages America to keep it’s lights burning.  The movie then dissolves to patriotic images of US flag and eagle, while the final line of “The Star-Spangled Banner” is sung in the background.   Not very subtle, but certainly effective.

What Hitch said:  Hitchcock was prticularly proud of the final airplane sequence in this film, something he described numerous times over the years.  Beyond that, he didn’t have much to say, telling Truffaut “there were lots of ideas in that picture.”

Definitive edition:  The 2014 Criterion blu-ray release of Foreign Correspondent is superb.  Certainly the film has never looked this good on home video before. Not even close.  There are also some great extra features, including short documentaries on the propaganda, and on the special effects.  Also included are a radio adaptation of the movie, starring Joseph Cotten, and the complete Dick Cavett Show episode from 1972 that featured Alfred Hitchcock.  While the Criterion blu-ray is by far the definitive edition, it is worth pointing out that the 2004 Warner Bros. DVD release does have a nice documentary, which includes interview footage with Laraine Day, Patricia Hitchcock O’Connell, and Robert Osborne among others. 0937

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Dick Cavett was a unique talk-show host, the best of a breed that no longer exists on television.  Today a star appears on a talk show  for a few minutes to promote a new project.  Cavett would devote  an entire show, or a majority of the  show, to one star.   And the talk was not limited to hawking a new movie, along with a couple of  previously agreed-upon anecdotes, as we see today.   The conversation was free-flowing.  Cavett has his  critics.  Some say he was too fawning of his guests.  Some say his questions were too simplistic.  For me,  it is the results that matter, and there is no denying that Cavett had the ability to charm and disarm his  most reticent guests.

This 4-DVD set compiles some of the most memorable episodes from The Dick Cavett Show, all of them featuring stars from the golden age of Hollywood (including, of course, Alfred Hitchcock).   I will provide a brief synopsis of each episode, along with my overall impression.

Katherine Hepburn (original air date October 2 and 3, 1973) – Kate Hepburn avoided the talk-show circuit for most of her career, making her appearance on Cavett unique.   Before she agreed to appear, she went to tour the studio where the show was recorded.  While there, she suggested that they tape the interview on the spot, with no studio audience.  Cavett agreed, and the result is unforgettable.  They talked for so long, there was enough material for two shows.  Hepburn is charming, witty, honest.  And she keeps Cavett en pointe,  eliciting several laughs from the crew, who gathered on the set to watch.  At one point Cavett asks if she regrets never working with Laurence Olivier, to which Hepburn replies “We’re not dead yet!”  This is arguably the highlight of this fantastic DVD set, and a must-see for all fans of the great Katherine Hepburn.

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Fred Astaire (original air date November 10, 1970) – Fred Astaire was the epitome of charm, and he didn’t disappoint when he appeared with Dick Cavett.  Much of the show is dedicated to Astaire singing, and even dancing (at age 71!).   Apparently he was more comfortable performing than he was talking about his life.  For that reason, this episode feels somewhat lacking.   I personally would have preferred more conversation, but fans of Astaire will certainly enjoy watching.

Bette Davis (original air date November 17, 1971) – Davis made more than one appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, and the two have a natural rapport.  It is clear that Bette Davis really enjoyed talking with Cavett.  This particular episode created a bit of a scandal when it first aired, because Cavett jokingly asked Ms. Davis how old she was when she lost her virginiy.  Little did he know that she would answer the question!  This episode was entertaining from start to finish, and exceeded my expectations. (Here is a brief clip from the Bette Davis episode. Sony/BMG owns all distribution rights.)

Groucho Marx and Debbie Reynolds (with Dan Rowan and Erin Fleming) (original air date December 16, 1971) – This episode is a disappointment.  Groucho is clearly past his prime here, and he just can’t unleash the zingers and one-liners with the comic timing that he could as a younger man, although he tries.   Granted, he is 81 years old here, but it is a little sad to see him at the twilight of his life.  Debbie Reynolds seems rather subdued, and unsure how to take Groucho at times.  One sad footnote to this episode is the inclusion of actress Erin Fleming, who was in a relationship with Groucho at the time of taping the episode.   Groucho’s family disapproved of the relationship, and after his death, they successfully sued Erin Fleming for almost half a million dollars that she had acquired from Groucho while he was alive.  Fleming would later spend time in a mental hospital before taking her own life in 2003.

Kirk Douglas (original air date June 29, 1971) – This episode is pleasant, if slightly forgettable.   Douglas relates several anecdotes from his film career.  He is entertaining, and often funny, but somehow Cavett doesn’t seem to engage Douglas as much as he does many of his other guests.  The episode feels more superficial than others, although I am sure Kirk Douglas fans would enjoy it.

Mel Brooks, Frank Capra, Robert Altman, Peter Bogdanovich (original air date January 21, 1972) – Bringing four directors together was a good idea.  Capra, retired by this point, was the elder statesman.  Brooks was at the peak of his craft, and Altman and Bogdanovich were early in their careers.   It is a shame that Cavett didn’t have more shows like this one, bringing directors from different eras of Hollywood together.

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John Huston (original air date February 21, 1972) – John Huston’s voice was instantly recognizable.  It was somehow both gravelly and mellifluous at the same time.  Personally, I could listen to him talk all day long.  Of course, he has dozens of interesting anecdotes to share, many of them involving his favorite actor Humphrey Bogart.  This episode is very solid.

Marlon Brando (June 12, 1973) – This is one of the most famous episodes of The Dick Cavett Show, for a variety of reasons.   Brando is another actor who did not do the talk-show circuit.  He liked Dick Cavett, and agreed to come on the show if he could bring some prominent Native American advocates, to talk about the plight of the American Indian.  Early on, Cavett tries to draw Brando into conversation about his films, but Brando resists.  He makes Cavett uncomfortable more than once, and it is clear that Brando knows exactly what he is saying, and the effect he is having.  He flashes that million-dollar smile more than once as Cavett squirms in his chair.  Personally, I enjoy this episode very much.   (After the taping of this episode, Brando and Cavett went to dinner.  They were followed through Chinatown by paparazzo Ron Galella.  Brando punched Galella in the face, breaking his jaw and knocking out five teeth.  How can you not love Brando?)

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Robert Mitchum (April 29, 1971) – This is another episode that exceeded my expectations.  Mitchum had a reputation for being difficult, of occasionally sparring verbally with the media.  He is an absolute delight here.  His speech is almost poetic as he recounts several delightful anecdotes from throughout his career.   Fans of Mitchum will go crazy over this episode, and it will probably make a lot of film fans see him in a different light.

Orson Welles (July 27, 1970) – Welles was perhaps Hollywood’s greatest raconteur, even if most of his tales were somewhat spurious.  But he was endlessly entertaining.  A man of great intelligence and seemingly endless wit, he charmed Cavett and his audience.   This may be my favorite episode in the entire collection.  In the brief new introduction to the episode that Cavett recorded in 2005, he gets a little teary-eyed.  It is clear that Welles was a favorite of his, too.  Must-see.

Alfred Hitchcock (June 8, 1972) – Alfred Hitchcock was no stranger to television at this point in his career.  He had hosted every episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents for seven seasons, and made numerous appearance on various talk shows.  Although his health had begun to decline a bit by this point, he was as charming as ever.  Several films from throughout Hitchcock’s career are discussed, including Sabotage, Foreign Correspondent, Lifeboat,  Rear Window, and Psycho.  He also discusses the importance of montage in film, as well as the difference between mystery and suspense.   This episode is an absolute must-see for fans and scholars of Alfred Hitchcock, just for the opportunity to hear the master discuss his own films, and film theory in general.  (Below is a brief clip from the episode.)

Overall, this is a very solid collection.  Fans of the golden age of Hollywood are certain to enjoy many of these episodes.  They also provide a glimpse of a type of talk show that doesn’t really exist anymore, when two people just sat down, without props or gimmicks, and conversed.

NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940) – 20th Century Fox – Rating:  ★★nighttrain1

B&W – 95 minutes – 1.33:1 aspect ratio

Directed by Carol Reed

Principal cast:  Margaret Lockwood (Anna Bomasch), Rex Harrison (Dickie Randall), Paul Henreid (Karl Marsen), Basil Radford (Charters), Naunton Wayne (Caldicott).

Screenplay by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat

Film Editing by R.E. Dearing

Cinematography by Otto Kanturek

Music by Louis Levy and Charles Williams

Night Train to Munich is often overlooked in discussions of Hitchcockian films, most likely because the film is not well known today.  But the connections to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1938 classic The Lady Vanishes are numerous.  The two films share the same screenwriters (Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat), the same leading actress (Margaret Lockwood),  the same editor (R. E. Dearing), and the same musical composer (Louis Levy).  They even share two characters, Charters and Caldicott (played by Basis Radford and Naunton Wayne).  One review refers to this movie as an “unofficial sequel” to The Lady Vanishes, and while that is a stretch, there is no doubt that Night Train to Munich owes its existence to the success of Hitchcock’s earlier film.

In that earlier film, the screenwriters had hinted at the threat of war looming over Europe without naming the enemy.   By the time work began on Night Train to Munich war had begun, and the enemy (Nazi Germany) could be named and shown.   The movie opens with the Nazi invasion of Prague.   Axel Bomasch (played by James Harcourt) is a Czech scientist working on a new type of armor.  He is secreted away to London before the Nazis can get their hands on him.  His daughter Anna (Margaret Lockwood) is not so fortunate;  she is taken by the Nazis to a concentration camp, where she befriends another prisoner named Karl Marsen (Paul Henreid).   Karl concocts an escape plan, and the two make their way to England.  Anna establishes contact with Dickie Randall, a British intelligence agent played by Rex Harrison.  After a nice “meet cute”, Harrison reunites Anna with her father.   Without giving away too much,  the Bomasch’s are captured by Nazi agents and taken to Germany, leaving it up to Dickie Randall to attempt a rescue operation.

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The final act of the movie, which takes place on a train in Germany, is by far the best portion of the film.  The screenwriting duo of Launder and Gilliat were adept at mixing tone, combining suspense, action and humor to very good effect.  This portion of the film is very redolent of The Lady Vanishes,  and just about makes up for the slow build.  The climax of the film finds the protagonists literally hanging by a wire, as they attempt to escape to Switzerland in an aerial tram.   While this film is not as consistently engaging as The Lady Vanishes, it is entertaining, and recommended to fans of Hitchcock, Rex Harrison, and Margaret Lockwood.

Carol Reed:   Night Train to Munich was directed by a young Carol Reed.   At this time Reed was already established in the British film industry, but he would not achieve worldwide acclaim until the late 40’s, with movies like The Fallen Idol and The Third Man.  Reed would eventually win a Best Director Oscar for Oliver! in 1968.

Performance:  Margaret Lockwood is solid as always in the lead actress role, adept at mixing vulnerability and strength.  Rex Harrison also brings his unique vivacity and humor to a role that was probably a bit droll on the page.   While Harrison and Lockwood are both good, unfortunately they do not have a strong chemistry together, certainly nowhere near as strong as the chemistry shared between Lockwood and Michael Redgrave in The Lady Vanishes.    I’ve never been a big fan of Paul Henreid, but I would say he was well cast in this movie. The real scene stealers in this movie, however, are two minor characters, who over time would become two of the most beloved characters in British film history.

Charters and Caldicott:   Everyone who has seen Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes remembers Charters and Caldicott, the two Englishmen who were more concerned with cricket matches than with a missing lady and political intrigue.  Screenwriters Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat had created the two characters to represent typical Englishmen abroad.   Many of their lines are played for laughs, but when the going gets tough, they courageously defend their fellow countrymen.  In Night Train to Munich, actors Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne reprise their roles as Charters and Caldicott.   They have such a strong rapport together, it is easy to believe these two vagabonds have been travelling the globe for many years, getting into one adventure after another.  Honestly, these characters are so enjoyable that I would recommend this movie on the strength of their performances.   Charters and Caldicott would appear in two more movies, and two BBC radio serials, after Night Train to Munich.  They were also set to appear in the 1945 Launder and Gilliat film I See A Dark Stranger, but Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne demanded larger roles, which they felt were deserved due to their increased popularity.   When Frank Launder refused to increase the size of their roles, Radford and Wayne walked away from the project.    They would appear together in several more films, but with different character names.  They were still playing Charters and Caldicott in all but name;  the rights to those names were held by Launder and Gilliat.

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Charters and Caldicott would get their own BBC television series in the 1980’s, with different actors in the roles.  To this day, the characters, and the actors most associated with them, are beloved in England.

Hitchcock connections:  I’ve already mentioned the many links between this movie and Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes.  In addition, Austin Trevor (Captain Prada in this movie) also appeared in Hitchcock’s Sabotage as Vladimir.  C. V. France (Admiral Hassinger) was previously in Hitchcock’s The Skin Game.  And Morland Graham, who had a minor role in this movie, had also appeared in Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn.  

Definitive edition:  The only version of this movie currently available on DVD is the 2010 Criterion release.  As is always the case with Criterion, the print is quite good.   There is an unusual dearth of bonus materials, for a Criterion DVD.   The only bonus is a “video conversation” between film scholars Peter Evans and Bruce Babington, which focuses primarily on the careers of Launder and Gilliat.

 

 

This blogblochpsycho has already explored the long legacy of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in movies and television.  Now let’s take a brief look at the legacy of Psycho in print.

Robert Bloch’s novel first appeared in 1959.  All of the major elements of the movie were already firmly in place in the book, including the surprise ending.  Bloch’s prose style was very straighforward, it was his plotting and structure that made his books memorable.

Alfred Hitchcock put in a “blind bid” for the rights to Psycho, meaning that Bloch did not know the identity of the bidder.  This was fairly common practice at the time, for if an author knew that Alfred Hitchcock wanted the rights to his work, he would have demanded more money.   Bloch reportedly received $9,500 for the rights to his novel, which is a decent amount of money by the standards of 1960, but still far less than he could have received from a high-profile director at a major studio.  There are some unconfirmed stories that Robert Bloch was upset by being “duped” into selling his book rights on the cheap, but there it little evidence to support this.  Bloch would go on to write ten episodes of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV show and another seven episodes for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, which would suggest that Hitchcock and Bloch had a good relationship.

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Robert Bloch initially wrote the novel Psycho II as a treatment of sorts for Universal Studios, who had announced plans to produce a movie sequel.  Universal rejected Bloch’s work, and reputedly the studio suggested to the author that he abandon any plans to publish it.  Bloch did publish the novel in 1982, to solid reviews and decent sales.   Many people must have assumed that the movie Psycho II was inspired by the book, as both sequels shared the same title.  The truth is that they have nothing in common, except of course for the character of Norman Bates.  Psycho II is a good read, equally engrossing and unsettling, and a worthy followup to the original novel.   It begins with Norman Bates escaping from the mental institution where he has lived for 20 years.  At the same time, a Hollywood movie studio is planning to make a film about the original Bates murders.  The novel’s greatest failure is in the “gotcha” plot device, similar to the one used in the original novel, where we learn at the end that Norman was actually becoming his mother.  Bloch must have felt a need to create a similar ending here, which was quite unnecessary.

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Robert Bloch revisited his most famous creation one last time in 1990, with the release of Psycho House.  This novel focuses on an attempt to create a Bates Motel “theme park” of sorts, a macabre attraction for paying tourists.  An investigative journalist is in town to learn about the opening of the Bates themed property, and bodies once again begin to accumulate.  This is the weakest of the three Psycho novels, but fans of the earlier two will most likely enjoy it.   In Booklist’s review of this novel, they celebrated Bloch’s “marvelous bargain-basement prose, full of well-turned cliches and wry cracks.”  Bargain basement?  That’s a backhanded compliment at best.  Bloch does love alliteration and assonance, and occasionally uses them in a self-conscious manner.   He is also fond of morbid puns, which occasionally work, and other times fall flat.  In one early scene, a character is in a diner, “gazing at the glass-coffined slices of embalmed pies and pastries,” a fairly typical Bloch description.

Bloch was an incredibly prolific writer, publishing over 20 novels and 500 short stories, as well as dozens of television screenplays.  He has been cited as a major influence by many writers in the horror genre, most notably Stephen King.  And yet, were it not for his creation of Psycho, and Norman Bates, he would be virtually unknown today.   Fans of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Psycho are encouraged to give Bloch’s novels a try, particularly the first two.

Today as weevamarie1 celebrate our nation’s independence, I would like to take a moment to wish a happy  birthday to the amazing Eva Marie Saint.  Eva Marie was “born on the 4th of July” in the year 1924.    She had a variety of acting roles on television, beginning in the late 1940’s.  Her first film role was in Elia Kazan’s 1954 classic On The Waterfront.   Her performance in this movie is superb.  Her  character, Edie Doyle, is the only significant female role in the movie, and she was surrounded by  several male actors, all of whom were a sheer powerhouse of performance.   Eva Marie does not just  hold her own with Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, and Lee J. Cobb; she stands out.

It is hard to believe she was 30 when On The Waterfront was released, for she looks closer to 19.  Her  beauty could best be described as angelic, or otherworldly, which was precisely what the role called  for.  Edie Doyle was not only angelic physically, but morally as well.  Her meekness, her restraint, her  modesty represent the moral center of this amazing film.  Eva Marie won the Oscar for Best  Supporting Actress, one of eight Academy Awards bestowed on this American classic.

Eva Marie Saint only made one film with Alfred Hitchcock, and it just happens to be one of his best films, and a film that routinely ranks on “all time best” movie lists.  That movie is North by Northwest.   Eva Marie gives one of the strongest female performances in the entire Hitchcock canon.  Once again, she is a woman surrounded by men, who all desire her for different reasons.   The government wishes for her to fulfill her duty.  James Mason’s character also has a role for her to play.  And Cary Grant’s character is in love with her, but also using her to achieve his goal.  Eva Marie is brilliant from her first appearance on screen, and gets to show off her range.  Of course she is incredibly attractive, and her opening banter with Carey Grant has more than its share of sexual innuendo. evamarie2Both James Mason and Cary Grant believe they are using Eva Marie Saint; meanwhile, she is in complete control of the situation, and of them.  What her character didn’t plan on, of course, was falling in love with Cary Grant.    When Grant’s and Mason’s characters confront each other in the auction gallery, as Eva Marie sits forlornly in the chair, as if she is another piece to be sold to the highest bidder, her emotional turmoil is palpable.  She is smart, sexy, strong, a model of femininity;  the quintessential Hitchcock heroine.   She is also an ultra-modern woman, certainly by the standards of 1959, when the movie was released.

If On the Waterfront and North by Northwest were the only two films she ever made, her place in film history would be secured.   But of course she has continued to act, and act well.   She was good in the cold war comedy The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.  She was memorably sweet and touching as Tom Hanks’ mother in the underrated Nothing In Common.   She was surprisingly well cast as Martha Kent in the 2006 Superman reboot Superman Returns.  And she continues to act to this day;  she can be seen in the 2014 film Winter’s Tale, starring Colin Farrell. So here is wishing a very happy 90th Birthday to a wonderful woman.  Thank you Eva Marie Saint, for all of the memorable performances.  May you have many more happy and healthy years.

CHARADE (1963) – Ucharade1niversal Pictures – Rating:  ★★★½

Color – 113 minutes – 1.85:1 aspect rato

Produced and directed by Stanley Donen

Principal cast:  Cary Grant (Peter Joshua), Audrey Hepburn (Regina Lampert), Walter Matthau (Hamilton Bartholomew), James Coburn (Tex Penthollow), George Kennedy (Herman Scobie), Ned Glass (Leopold Gideon).

Screenplay by Peter Stone

Director of Photography:  Charles Lang, Jr.

Music:  Henry Mancini

The word “Hitchcockian”  appears in movie reviews and synopses from time to time.  It means (perhaps self-evidently):  to evoke the themes and/or styles employed by Alfred Hitchcock in his films.  If you google the phrase “Hitchcockian  movies” you will find  many different lists of films that supposedly fit this description.   I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of these movies, and see if they are deserving of the moniker.  One film that appears frequently on such lists is Stanley Donen’s Charade.  One review calls it “the best Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock never made,” and while the diction might be questionable, the sentiment is not.

The movie opens in the French Alps, where Regina Lampert (played by Audrey Hepburn) is vacationing.   Regina tells a friend that she is planning to divorce her husband.  Then, in an awkwardly staged scene, she meets a man named Peter Joshua (Cary Grant).  The scene  is edited in a very standard back-and-forth style, cutting between the two constantly.  It is very unlike Hitchcock (and unlike Donen, for that matter).  Here are two very accomplished stars of the screen, both of whom Donen had worked with before.  Clearly they could hold their own in a longer-take two shot.  Maybe the cutting was dictated by technical issues.   Fortunately this is the only scene in the movie that stands out for the wrong reasons.

When Regina returns to Paris, she discovers that the planned divorce is unnecessary because her husband has been murdered.  Several men are introduced in the next segment of the movie:  a French policeman, a man who works for the CIA (Walter Matthau), and three men who are all thugs to a varying degree (James Coburn, George Kennedy, Ned Glass).  And Cary Grant’s character turns up again, offering to help Regina.   Apparently Regina’s husband stole some money ($250,000 to be precise) and these men all want it.  The movie title is apt, because many of these people are not who they first appear to be.  Deception is the name of the game, all in an attempt to acquire the missing money.   Of course the money is eventually found, in a surprising manner, and of course Grant and Hepburn fall for each other along the way (how could they not?).

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Performance:  Cary Grant was 60 when he made this movie, and already contemplating retirement.  He was definitely conscious of his age, and conscious of the quarter century separating his age from Audrey Hepburn’s.   And yet he does things in this movie that it is hard to imagine him doing for any other director, including Hitchcock.  Clearly Grant and Stanley Donen had a good working relationship.   Above you can see an image of Grant playing the “pass the orange” game with a rather buxom, stony-faced woman.   The scene could have been brief, but Donen lets it play out to great effect.  Cary Grant makes this scene work because he fully commits to it;  the look on his face here says it all.   There is a later scene in which Grant steps into a shower fully clothed.   It is hard to imagine Hollywood’s best-dressed man ruining a good suit for laughs, but again the scene works wonderfully.  Audrey Hepburn was no longer the gamine of her early films by this time;  she is glamorous, cosmopolitan, every bit a woman.  Grant and Hepburn have a palpable on-screen chemistry, something that  can’t be faked.  It’s a pity this is the only time they worked together.  Matthau, Coburn and Kennedy are all solid in roles that came very early in their film careers.

Hitchcock connections:  Cary Grant starred in Suspicion, Notorious, To Catch a Thief, and North by Northwest.  Ned Glass (who plays Leopold the sneezer in this movie) shared a memorable scene with Cary Grant in North by Northwest.   (Grant’s character attempts to buy a train ticket, and Glass is the suspicious ticket vendor.  He asks Cary Grant’s sunglasses-wearing character “Something wrong with your eyes?” To which Grant replies “They are sensitive to questions.”)  Paul Bonifas, the stamp collector who buys the valuable stamps, then gallantly returns them to Audrey Hepburn, was in Hitchcock’s World War II propaganda short Aventure Malgache. 

Academy awards:  This movie received one Oscar nomination, for best original song, “Charade”, by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer.

Hitchcockian?  So why is this movie compared to the films of Alfred Hitchcock?  The blending of suspense and humor would be a primary reason.  Stanley Donen once said that he screened three Hitchcock movies during pre-production of this film, so clearly there was a conscious attempt to emulate Hitchcock on some level.   The appearance of Cary Grant in the leading role is enough to remind one of Hitchcock.  They had collaborated on four films together, the most recent (North by Northwest) just 4 years prior to this movie.   Charles Lang, Jr.’s gorgeous color cinematography is also redolent of Bob Burks cinematography for Hitchcock on movies like To Catch a Thief.   Which is not to say that Lang was an imitator;  he was a genius in his own right.  Lang and Burks were both adept at making a foreign city look dazzling on the screen, making the locale a co-star in the movie.   Some have said that Peter Stone’s script is Hitchcockian.  I think rather it could be called “Grantian.”  Stone’s witty screenplay is full of repartee that was tailor-made for Cary Grant, and which Grant loved to utter, regardless of the film or director.

In what ways does Charade differ from a Hitchcock movie?  There is a strong romantic current in this film, which is much more in the style of Stanley Donen than Hitchcock.  Romance was often understated in Hitchcock’s movies.   The tone of this movie is light;  even though several dead bodies are seen (some quite graphic by 1963 standards), the tone never becomes too ominous or threatening.

And the verdict is…yes, this film is Hitchcockian, but most importantly, it is a Stanley Donen film, and a delightful one at that.  Just imagine Donen’s Singin in the Rain or Funny Face, and substitute murders and mayhem for the song and dance numbers, and you’ve got a good idea of this movie’s tone.  Stanley Donen’s name is not known and revered as much as the “auteur” directors of his time,  but his body of work is incredibly strong. This movie has a broad appeal.  It is a feast for the eyes, with Audrey Hepburn looking gorgeous in her Givenchy clothes,Cary  Grant dapper as always, and fantastic art decoration, all photographed by the great Charles Lang, Jr.  The story is well-paced, balanced and entertaining.   What more can you ask for?

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Definitive edition:  Universal released a bare-bones blu-ray in 2013, and while it has no extra features the price is definitely right.  Criterion’s blu-ray edition from 2010 has an above average commentary track with director Stanley Donen and screenwriter Peter Stone, and a very nice looking print.

THE RING (1927) – Brithering1tish International Pictures – Rating:  ★★★

B&W (silent) – 90 mins. – 1.33:1 aspect ratio

Principal cast:  Carl Brisson (“One Round Jack” Sander), Lillian Hall-    Davis (Mabel), Ian Hunter (Bob Corby), Forrester Harvery (James Ware), Harry  Terry (Showman), Gordon Harker (Jack’s Trainer), Clare Greet (Fortune Teller).

Written by Alfred Hitchcock

Photographed by John Cox

Produced by John Maxwell

 

In 1927 Alfred Hitchcock signed with the newly-formed British International Pictures, becoming the highest paid director in England in the process.  Over the course of the next six years, Hitchcock would be involved with 11 different movies at British International, a period that bridged the end of the silent film era and the first years of sound films.   His output was uneven, and his relationship with studio head John Maxwell was occasionally rocky.   There are only two films from this period that are considered “classics” in the Hitchcock canon:  Blackmail  (Britain’s first movie with sound) and Murder!  The Ring, Hitchcock’s first movie for British International (the first movie ever released by the studio, for that matter) is also quite good, with an engaging story line,  groundbreaking visuals and flashes of humor.

Trivia buffs might be interested to know that this is the only film in Alfred Hitchcock’s body of work as a director for which he also received a writing credit; “WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY ALFRED HITCHCOCK” reads a title card at the beginning.  The story is a classic love triangle, certainly not the kind of story that is generally associated with Hitchcock.  The film’s title, The Ring, refers to the boxing ring, as both male leads are boxers.  But it can also refers to a wedding ring, as well as a serpentine bracelet which features heavily in the plot.

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The movie opens with Mabel (Lillian Hall-Davis) working as a ticket girl at a carnival attraction, where her boyfriend is an amateur boxer.  The boxer (played by Danish actor Carl Brisson), is known as “One Round Jack” because nobody makes it to the second round with him.  Until a man named Bob Corby (Ian Hunter) shows up and soundly beats him.  It turns out that Corby is the heavyweight champion of Australia.  Corby invites Jack to be his sparring partner, ostensibly to help him, but in reality to be closer to his girlfriend.  Corby gives Mabel a bracelet, in the shape of a serpent, which becomes the symbol of infidelity.   Mabel marries Jack anyway, even though she clearly has feelings for Corby.

The wedding sequence shows all of the carnival performers entering the church;  we see the Siamese twins, the dwarf and giant, in a comic scene which clearly prefigures a similar sequence in Hitchcock’s later film Saboteur.  Hitchcock loved images of the incongruous, which he indulged in frequently in his British period.  After the wedding, the movie shows Jack becoming a better boxer, getting bigger matches, while all the while his new wife Mabel gets closer to Bob Corby.  Eventually Jack confronts Mabel about her infidelity and she leaves.  Of course the movie will end with the two men settling their differences in the boxing ring, and of course Mabel will realize that Corby is a cad and return to her husband’s side.

The silent film aspect:   Most modern-day film goers have never seen a silent film;  even many fans of Hitchcock have probably not delved into his early silent period.  It certainly is a different experience, but in the case of Hitchcock the adjustment is not too difficult.  Throughout his career, Hitchcock was always a believer in telling a story through visual means;  he never forgot the things he learned in the silent era.  If you watch this movie, you will notice there are not a lot of title cards.  This is because the visuals clearly tell us what is happening on screen.

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John Cox, cameraman:  In the late 1920’s, there were not a lot of “special effects” techniques available to filmmakers, particularly in post filming.  So Hitchcock wanted to find a cameraman who was adept at filming effects “in camera”, as it was often done then.  He found just the man he was looking for in John Cox (or Jack Cox, or J.J. Cox, as he was also credited on some films).   Cox would end up acting as Hitchcock’s cameraman/cinematographer on a dozen movies, including every film he directed at British International.  They would also reunite one last time on Hitchcock’s 1938 masterpiece The Lady Vanishes.   From a technical standpoint, this is the most important collaborative partnership in Hitchcock’s entire British period.   (And also mirrors Hitchcock’s later partnership with American cinematographer Bob Burks, who would also work with Hitchcock on 12 movies.)

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In the image above, you can see how Cox was able to superimpose the image of Ian Hunter’s head onto the punching bag.  Even a seemingly simple shot like this took some doing in the 1920’s.   But Cox’s (and Hitchcock’s) innovations went far beyond this.  Later in the film there is a party sequence, in which the party goers  become out of control.  Hitchcock wanted to recreate the feel of the drunken revelry for his movie goers.  So into a montage of people singing and dancing are intercut images like this one to the right:  an eerily elongated piano, with a spinning turntable superimposed upon it.  Nothing quite like this had ever been seen in British cinema.

But perhaps the most important effect technique that Hitchcock wished to employ in this movie, (and would use again in a few later films) is called the Schufftan process.

Schufftan process:  This process is named after its inventor, Eugen Schufftan, who first used the process on Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis.  The process involves placing a mirror at an angle in front of the camera, with a painted or photographed image to the side, which will be reflected in the mirror, and captured on camera.  Then, scraping away part of the reflective mirror, leaving only clear glass, and filming live action through the newly scraped area.  The two images (the live portion filmed through the clear glass, and the reflected painted portion) will then appear to be one image.  Hitchcock wished to use this technique in the movie’s final sequence:  the boxing match in the Royal Albert Hall.   (Hitchcock staged scenes from three of his movies in the Albert Hall:  this one, and both versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much.)   The following diagram shows how the Schufftan process worked.

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Performance:  All of the performances in this movie are solid.  There is perhaps no real “standout” performance but everyone holds their own.  Gordon Harker plays his role as Jack’s trainer for great comedic effect.  And Carl Brisson is very solid as the male lead.  He has to generate sympathy from the audience for the story to succeed, and he does so, admirably.

Recurring players:  Carl Brisson would later star in The Manxman.  Lillian Hall-Davis also appeared in The Farmer’s Wife.  Ian Hunter was in both Downhill and Easy Virtue.  Forrester Harvey would later appear in Rebecca.  Harry Terry was in The Manxman.  Gordon Harker was in The Farmer’s Wife and Champagne.  Clare Greet, one of Hitchcock’s favorite character actresses in his British period, also appeared in Number 13, The Manxman, Murder!, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Sabotage and Jamaica Inn.  Tom Helmore would later appear in The Secret Agent, and would also play the role of Gavin Elster in Vertigo.  

Where’s Hitch?   There is no credible evidence to suggest that Hitchcock made a cameo appearance in this movie.

What Hitch said:  When talking to Truffaut, Hitchcock said of this movie “…that was really an interesting movie.  You might say that after The Lodger, The Ring was the next Hitchcock picture.  There were all kinds of innovations in it, and I remember that at the premiere an elaborate montage got a round of applause.  It was the first time that had ever happened to me.”

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A shot from the climactic fight sequence, which employs the Schufftan process. Most of the spectators are a painted image.

Definitive edition:  There are numerous versions of this movie available on DVD in various box sets and “collections”, but the best print available is to be found on the three disc Alfred Hitchcock Box Set from Lions Gate Studios.  This set contains 5 of Hitchcock’s films from the British International Pictures period.  This print is far from pristine, but keeping in mind that the movie is almost 90 years old, it is definitely watchable, and relatively clean.  There are no extra features on this disc at all.

THE Mman1956sevenAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956) – Paramount – Rating:  ★★★

Color – 120 mins. – 1.85:1 aspect ratio

Principal cast:  James Stewart (Dr. Ben McKenna), Doris Day (Jo McKenna), Christopher  Olsen (Hank McKenna), Bernard Miles (Edward Drayton), Brenda De Banzie (Lucy  Drayton), Daniel Gelin (Louis Bernard), Reggie Nalder (Rien).

Associate Producer:  Herbert Coleman

Written by John Michael Hayes, from a story by Charles Bennett and D.B. Wyndham-Lewis

Cinematography by Robert Burks

Edited by George Tomasini

Original Music by Bernard Herrmann

Costume Designer:  Edith Head

Art Direction by Hal Pereira and Henry Bumstead

Why would an A-list director like Alfred Hitchcock choose to remake one of his own films?  He certainly wasn’t the only high-profile director in the “golden age” of film to do so:  Frank Capra, Cecil B. DeMille, Howard Hawks and John Ford all directed remakes of earlier films in their catalogs.  It may have been producer David O. Selznick who first planted the seed in Hitchcock’s mind.   As early as 1941, Selznick told Hitchcock that he thought The Man Who Knew Too Much would be a good film to remake.  Hitchcock (who was under contract to Selznick at the time), actually began writing a new treatment of the story with John Houseman, but nothing ever came of it.

Fast-forward about 13 years.  Hitchcock was in the midst of his prolific run at Paramount Pictures in the mid 50’s.  He had cranked out 3 films in less than two years, all penned by screenwriter John Michael Hayes.   He owed Paramount one more movie, after which he had to fulfill a contractual obligation to Warner Brothers for a movie.  Hitchcock already knew what movie he was going to make for Warner Brothers:  The Wrong Man.  But what movie would he first make for Paramount?  A remake of  The Man Who Knew Too Much, also written by Hayes.

The basic plot of this remake is the same as in the original film.  The McKenna family, on vacation in an exotic locale, witness a murder, and the dying victim imparts vague knowledge of an upcoming assassination attempt.  The child in this family is kidnapped, to prevent the parents from disclosing what they know to the police.   So the parents set out to find their missing child on their own.

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This film can be divided neatly into two parts:  the first 49 or so minutes, which take place in Marrakesh, Morocco, and set up the murder and kidnapping; and the latter 71 minutes, which take place in London.  The first section is by far the weaker of the two;  the pace is at times drearily slow.  Consider that Hitchcock’s original version of this movie took less than 15 minutes to shift the action to London, and this version takes over three times as long.   There are two separate story threads at work in this first section of the movie.  The overlying one introduces us to Ben and Jo McKenna (played by Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day), and their son Hank (Christopher Olsen), travelling in Marrakesh.   The McKennas have several mysterious encounters, first with a man on a bus named Louis Bernard;  later outside their hotel where a woman appears to be staring at Jo; and finally with a rather odd-looking man who “accidentally” knocks on their hotel room door.   The attempt to slowly build up suspense has some nice touches, but overall it takes far too long to get going.  Even attempts at humor don’t always work;  much is made of Ben McKenna’s ignorance of (and annoyance with) eating customs in a traditional Moroccan restaurant.  Yet he has earlier stated that he was in Morocco during the war.  Certainly he would have observed some of the local customs?   The underlying storyline is far more interesting, and this focuses on the state of the McKennas’ marriage.

John Michael Hayes often focused in his screenplays on the difficulties in relationships, how sacrifices must be made for any relationship to succeed.   His screenplays often have men and women from different worlds, who have seemingly irreconcilable differences in career and hobbies.  The best example of this is in Rear Window, in which Jimmy Stewart’s character deflects all talk of marriage with the incredibly sublime Grace Kelly, because of their different jobs and social standing.  The movie ending hints at a possible compromise.  One could  argue that the McKennas in The Man Who Knew Too Much are a logical progression of the couple from Rear Window.  Ben McKenna is a successful doctor in Indianapolis, Jo is an accomplished singer on the Broadway stage, who gave up her career for her husband.    And thus is established a theme of patriarchal dominance (as pointed out by Steven DeRosa in his informative book “Writing with Hitchcock”) which is rather on point for mid-1950’s America, and might have made more than a few movie-going couples squirm in their seats a little.

There are a dozen examples of dialogue in the opening section of the movie that point to the frayed edges in the McKennas’ marriage, and most of them are written with the subtlety and humor that were Hayes’ trademark as a writer.   Jo questions why Ben couldn’t be a doctor in New York, so she could appear on Broadway.  She asks him when they will have another child, which clearly blindsides him.  When their son Hank is getting ready for bed and sings the line “When I was just a little boy, I asked my mother what would I be?” the McKennas exchange a knowing glance.  Clearly Ben wants his son to follow in his footsteps as a doctor, while Jo, by encouraging Hank’s singing, has other ideas.

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The male dominance established in the film’s early sequence is not always so subtle.  In the movies most disturbing scene, (and one of the most disturbing scenes in all of Hitchcock), Ben McKenna forces his wife to take a sedative before he tells her that their son has been kidnapped.   By modern sensibilities this goes beyond patronizing.  But I find it hard to believe that a 1950’s audience would have been any less disturbed.  Doris Day’s performance in this scene is gut-wrenching and unforgettable.   But as is usually the case with Hitchcock scripts, the male lead will be emasculated later on, and it is the female who will save the day.

As soon as the story transitions to London, the pace quickens, and this latter half of the movie is far better.  The McKennas work (first separately, then together) to locate their kidnapped child, with the major set piece of the film being the assassination attempt at the Royal Albert Hall, just as in the original version.  ( I will focus on a comparison between the Royal Albert Hall sequences in a later entry.)  It is Doris Day who prevents the assassination, by screaming to throw off the shooter’s aim.  And again it is Doris Day who uses her singing to attract the attention of her child in the movie’s final sequence.

Six minutes of self-indulgence:  In one of the movies better sequences, Jimmy Stewart’s character goes in search of a man named Ambrose Chapell, not realizing that the name refers to a place, not a person.  After a brilliant set-up, and escalation of tension, the sequence moves into a taxidermy shop (which seems to specialize in exotic animals),  where we quickly realize that Ben McKenna is not in the right place.  Further, his rather bizarre and disturbing dialogue alarms the shopkeepers (it sounds as if McKenna is proposing that they stuff a dead person!)  Clearly they think McKenna is a madman.   There is much jostling around, before McKenna flees.  This sequence ultimately serves no purpose in advancing the plot;  it exists only for it’s own sake.  The sole purpose is some comic relief, to deflate the building tension.  Hitchcock enjoyed sequences like this.  He once likened movies to riding a roller coaster, in that you have to give the audience ups and downs.

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Performance:  Jimmy Stewart is adequate in this film, but not nearly as strong as he was in both Rear Window and Vertigo.  He does have several good moments.  Doris Day, who is a polar opposite of the typical Hitchcock heroine, was astounding in this role.  She gives an outstanding performance.   Christopher Olsen has little to do in his role as Hank, and what he does is mostly forgettable.  In Hitchcock movies, it is female children that are given interesting and memorable roles.  Male children, as in this movie,  are used for comic relief more than anything.  Bernard Miles does a decent job as Drayton, the leader of the gang, but he is no Peter Lorre.   Brenda De Banzie does a very good job as Mrs. Drayton, especially as her maternal feelings begin to show in the later portion of the film.

Recurring players:  Jimmy Stewart appeared also in Rope, Rear Window and Vertigo.  Patrick Aherne was in The Paradine Case.  For trivia buffs, Frank Atkinson appeared in both versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much (in the first he is the policeman shot behind the mattress, in this one he works in the taxidermy shop) as well as Young and Innocent.   Betty Bascomb is the only other person to appear in both versions (in the original she gives up her room for the two policemen, in this one she is Edna, the glasses-wearing kidnapper).  I think Betty Bascomb is also in Sabotage;  she is not credited on imdb, but I am almost certain that the girl in the aquarium is her.   And of course Bess Flowers, the Queen of the Hollywood extras (who appeared in more movies than anyone in film history), was also in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Notorious, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, To Catch  a Thief, Vertigo, and North by Northwest.   Gladys Holland, Louis Mercier and Edward Manouk were also in To Catch a Thief.  Anthony Warde also had an uncredited role in Rear Window.

Where’s Hitch?  At the 25:40 mark, Alfred Hitchcock can be seen in the crowd of people in the marketplace, watching the performers.  He is to the left of the screen, seen from the rear.

Academy awards:  This movie was the winner of one Oscar in 1957, for best Original Song:  “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)”.   This was the only nomination the movie received.  Hitchcock was at first opposed to the use of a song, but the studio felt that it would be a missed opportunity to cast Doris Day in the lead and not have her sing.  Alfred Hitchcock was pleasantly surprised with the song penned by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, which became a hit record after the release of the movie.

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What Hitch said:  In comparing this remake to his original film, Hitchcock said “Let’s say the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional.”

Definitive edition:   The 2012 Universal blu-ray is by far the best-looking print of this movie available.   That being said, it is not a fantastic print.  There are some problem areas with the movie, where some colors will shift over the course of a scene (particularly skin tone).  On the other hand, some scenes are absolutely gorgeous.  The VistaVision process allowed for amazing image clarity and color separation.    Perhaps a true restoration will be done at some point, but in the meantime, this is as good as it gets.  The soundtrack is a two-track mono, and sounds very good.  Also included is a 34-minute making-of documentary, production photographs, and two trailers.

 

 

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