Movie Review: TO CATCH A THIEF (1955) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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TO CATCH A THIEF MOVIE POSTER
TO CATCH A THIEF, 1955
Classic Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Cary Grant, Grace Kelly
Review by Steven Painter

SYNOPSIS:

American expatriate John Robie living in high style on the Riviera is a retired cat burglar. He must find out who a copy cat is to keep a new wave of jewel thefts from being pinned on him. High on list of prime victims is Jessie Stevens, in Europe to help daughter Frances find a suitable husband. Lloyds of London insurance agent is using a thief to catch a thief. Take an especially close look at scene where Robie gets Jessie’s attention, dropping an expensive casino chip down decolletage of French roulette player.

REVIEW:

The French Riviera is the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (1955). This movie is beloved by audiences and typically dismissed by film theorists and critics. The disappointment expressed by critics is understandable. But so is the joy coming from any audience that watches.

In this movie we see the French Riviera at its best. Robert Burks won an Academy Award for his color cinematography. Grace Kelly is cool, charming and elegant. This is one of her best performances and probably the best of her three Hitchcock films. The others being Dial M for Murder (1954) and Rear Window (1954). Cary Grant is also great in this movie. He always gave great performances when working for Hitch, but this one is special. These are the reasons why audiences enjoy To Catch a Thief.

The story is the main reason why theorists and critics dismiss it. It revolves around a series of burglaries. Grant plays John Robie, also known as The Cat. Robie used to be a great cat burglar, specializing in jewelry. He became a well-respected hero during World War II though when he joined the Resistance against the Nazis. His good name is being dragged through the mud when a new cat burglar takes to the streets stealing jewelry. Of course everyone believes Robie is the one doing all the taking.

He is able to avoid the police in the opening sequence of the film. He ends up on a passenger bus into town. This is where Hitchcock makes one of his best cameo appearances, be sure to check it out.

Once in town Robie goes around to old friends to see what they can dig up about the new cat burglar. They don’t give him much and he makes his way to the hotels on the Riviera. His only ally seems to be insurance agent Hughson, played by Hitchcock stalwart John Williams. Hughson’s priority is to insure the jewelry of a wealthy American woman who is on vacation with her daughter, Francie, played by Kelly.

Here Robie and Francie fall in love. Francie seems fascinated by Robie’s former career as a burglar. The mystery and suspense is put on the backburner as the two stars’ romance develops. Although there is a daring car chase in which Kelly drives through the winding hills of the Riviera. This is an eerie scene to watch considering what would happen to Kelly later when she became Princess of Monaco.

Now, I’m not someone who thinks there should be suspense in every scene or that romance has no place in a mystery film, but the techniques Hitchcock uses are not very original. This is one of the reasons why I’m not a huge fan of this movie. For instance there is a scene where Kelly and Grant are kissing. That is intercut with fireworks. I haven’t seen that this month. I guess I just expect something different from a technical pioneer like Hitchcock.

The mystery gets started again as the romance gets hotter. The climax of the movie takes place at a costume party. Edith Head did a marvelous job in designing the costumes for this movie. She did a great job on costume design for all movies she did, but the gowns she designed for Grace Kelly in the three Hitchcock pictures are ones that stand out. Hitch loved working with her and all the leading ladies adored her designs. The most suspense in the movie comes during a rooftop chase. This is well done and adds something new to the Hitchcock cannon, but it is not the reason why people watch To Catch a Thief. This scene, and really the whole movie, needs to be watched on the big screen. That way you can fully appreciate the gorgeous cinematography of Robert Burks and the great gowns of Edith Head.

One of the main reasons why I disliked the movie is that I knew who the cat burglar was early on. I’m not sure if other people will figure it out that quick, but if they do then it could be a long ride to knowing that you are right. Not that there isn’t great scenery and great acting to help pass the time. It’s just that I expected a little bit more from Alfred Hitchcock.

 

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Movie Review: THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY (1955)

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The Trouble With Harry, 1955
Classic Movie Reviews
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring John Forsythe, Shirley McLaine, Edmund Gwen
Mildred Natwick, Mildred Dunnock, Jerry Mathers
Review by Cheryl Farr

Synopsis

When Harry’s corpse is discovered in the countryside of a quaint town, the residents struggle, very politely of course, with who is responsible for the untimely death, and what to do about the troublesome corpse.

Review

This dark, quirky comedy deals with death in a very matter-of-fact manner. Hitchcock grew up with a European outlook of death—not necessarily morbid, but with the ability to find humor in it. As a result, he was able to take the novel by Jack Trevor Story, and present one of his few true comedies. The storyline is fairly simple, the corpse of an outsider is discovered and three different people believe they may have been the killer.

Throughout the film, the creative artist helps gather clues and by the end, the truth is revealed. What makes this fun to watch is the way the characters react to the death and their possible responsibility for it—with proper decorum. As Miss Gravely comes upon Captain Wiles dragging the corpse away, she calmly asks, “Is there a problem?” Or the bespectacled doctor who trips over the corpse on three different occasions before he sees that it’s a corpse and Captain Wiles comments that he hopes the doctor never performs surgery on him.

What’s also interesting about the story is that this dead man has the uncanny ability to bring people together. Sam now has the opportunity to meet Jenny, a girl he has admired from afar. Miss Gravely now has the courage to ask the Captain to tea. Harry has done more for the people in death than in life. Unloved, un-mourned, they all see him as a problem to be solved rationally and logically. Even by today’s standards, some of the dialogue is hilarious. This comedy stands up to the test of time. The beautiful autumn panorama of Vermont and light, comedic score lighten the subject matter and add greatly to the peaceful calm that has been disturbed by Harry’s appearance.

Last Thoughts: Unfortunately, this was not a box office success for Hitchcock. This was a departure from what he had produced earlier. The audiences were expecting a thriller rather than a comedy and were disappointed. Additionally, American audiences didn’t find the subject matter particularly funny. However, European audiences loved it and the film played there for a year or more. This was Shirley McLaine’s first film role as an energetic 19 year-old.

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Movie Review: THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH MOVIE POSTER
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, 1956
Classic Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring James Stewart, Doris Day
Review by Steven Painter

SYNOPSIS:

Dr. Ben McKenna, his wife Jo and their son Hank are on a touring holiday of Africa when they meet the mysterious Louis Bernard on a bus. The next day Bernard is murdered in the local marketplace, but before he dies he manages to reveal details of an assassination about to take place in London. Fearing that their plot will be revealed, the assassins kidnap Hank in order to keep the McKenna’s silent. Ben and Jo go to London and take matters into their own hands.

REVIEW:

Remakes are a part of Hollywood. So are projects that are announced, but then scrapped. A remake that has been announced, but hopefully won’t be made is The Birds (1963). From what I have read the people involved with the project totally miss the point of the movie. It isn’t about birds attacking people, but families. Anyways, The Birds is a movie that will be talked about sometime in the future. For now, I’ll go back to remakes and those trendy remakes of Alfred Hitchcock movies. Psycho (1998) is a good example of a poor Hitchcock remake. Hitchcock himself even traversed in the remake universe when he remade his own The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) in 1956.

Being the most popular director in the world, Hitchcock movies were always in demand. Because of this demand, producers pressured him to come up with stories quickly. It wasn’t his style to rush into anything so at certain points in his career he would take on an easy project just to “recharge the batteries” as he called it. One such project was Dial M for Murder (1953), another The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). Universal came to Hitch and asked him to remake one of his earlier British movies. After much deliberation, Hitch and his associates decided on The Man Who Knew Too Much. The original is fairly good, but could definitely be improved. The remake is in color, which makes it more acceptable to modern audiences and it does feature James Stewart and Doris Day in order to better market the picture. Other than that, though, there isn’t much that makes this remake special.

Besides asking Hitch to remake one of his films, Universal requested that a catchy song be put in so that they could sell records on top of movie tickets. Bernard Herrmann, who composed the score and played the role of the Albert Hall conductor in the movie, was not known for catchy lyrical music. So some songwriters were brought in and wrote “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)” for Doris Day to sing. Her singing is about the only bright spot of her time on screen. The title of the song was derived from a line in the Ava Gardner movie The Barefoot Contessa (1954). The song, of course, has become a hit and associated with Doris Day more so than with the movie.Hitch and Stewart made a good team and Stewart performs well here. His performance is superior to Leslie Banks’ in the original. This might be because Stewart’s character is better developed here. He is Dr. McKenna. Not only a doctor, but a father. The man who is supposed to have all the answers and protect his family. So when his son, Hank is kidnapped, Dr. McKenna has to find the answers. He struggles to do this. Stewart does a great job, as he did throughout his career, as the everyman looking for answers. He is a big reason why this movie is worth watching.

The biggest defect of the remake, other than Doris Day, is the absence of Peter Lorre as Abbott. In the original, Abbott is a suave bad guy who is extremely cultured. The epitome of the white-collar criminal. There is not hint of a cultured villain in this one. Mr. and Mrs. Drayton who capture Hank, are not good substitutes. This is odd, as like most of the movie, the characters are stronger. As great as Peter Lorre’s performance in the original was — his character was rather limited. Had Lorre been asked to play Mr. Drayton I can only imagine how great this movie would have been. But he was not asked to play the part and the actors who replaced him are not in his league.For the most part, the original and the remake follow the same storyline — once arrived in London that is. The beginning of the remake in Morocco is interesting, especially the scene in the restaurant where Stewart and another family from America have difficulty with the local customs. Here we see Hitchcock’s wonderful sense humor.

There is also the famous scene where the black make-up comes off of the murdered Louis Bernard, onto the hands of Dr. McKenna. This murder is shot well and is the catalyst for the rest of the story. Because Dr. McKenna has learned Bernard’s secret, his son is captured in order to silence him.

The McKennas arrive in London and begin their search for Hank, but are conveniently stopped from being able to find him. These suspense methods were employed in the first movie and have been kept for the most part intact here.

There is an interesting scene in a taxidermy store, which will echo a similar scene in the parlor of the Bates Motel four years later in Psycho (1960). Hitch had a fascination with birds and taxidermy. The scene itself is not great and probably didn’t need to be added. It was just a directorial splurge.

The Albert Hall performance is longer in the remake, probably to give Herrmann some more screen time. It is great to see the Albert Hall in color for the first time in a Hitchcock picture. The old performance hall had been a staple of Hitch’s British pictures. The famous image of the gun coming out from behind the curtain to murder the foreign dignitary during the cymbal crash during the symphony is still intact from the first movie.Doris Day screams and saves the day for the foreign dignitary. This is all nice, but it is only Hitchcock’s MacGuffin. A MacGuffin is basically a plot point in the story that doesn’t matter. There is a great joke that Hitch used to tell about the meaning of the word MacGuffin, but that will be saved for another day. Since the overt plot points are basically MacGuffins, I’ll sum up the story by saying that the McKennas work hard trying to find their son somewhere in London. They are unable to and are about to give up when Day prevents the murder of the foreign ambassador at the Albert Hall. The smitten ambassador invites the McKennas back to his embassy to say thanks.

Lo and behold Hank happens to be in the embassy. The McKennas find this out when he whistles “Whatever Will Be, Will Be.” This gives Day another chance to showcase the song. The extra screen time was also beneficial to the pocketbooks of the Universal board of directors.

I guess you could say, like all remakes, this one was done for purely commercial reasons. Perhaps that is why it does not really build as much on the original as it could have.

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Movie Review: TORN CURTAIN (1966) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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TORN CURTAIN MOVIE POSTER
TORN CURTAIN, 1966
Horror/Thriller Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Paul Newman, Julie Andrews, Lila Kedrova, Hansjörg Felmy, Tamara Toumanova, Ludwig Donath
Review by Steven Painter

SYNOPSIS:

An American scientist publicly defects to East Germany as part of a cloak and dagger mission to find the solution for a formula resin and then figuring out a plan to escape back to the West.

REVIEW:

Alfred Hitchcock never really worked with big stars, or at least he never worked with big stars he wasn’t familiar with. Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant were making their second movies with Hitchcock when they appeared together in Notorious (1946). Grace Kelly and James Stewart had appeared in one Hitchcock movie apiece before appearing together in Rear Window (1954). Grant and Kelly had two Hitchcock movies under their belts before making To Catch a Thief (1955). So things were different when Hitchcock cast Paul Newman and Julie Andrews in Torn Curtain (1966).

Many things are different about Torn Curtain. For one, the movie has aged severely since 1990. The phrase “torn curtain” obviously refers to the Iron Curtain, which was the largest symbol of the Cold War. It no longer has any significance now that the war is over. It is also different because the two major stars, Newman and Andrews, had long, distinguished careers, but this movie is rarely mentioned as being a part of it even though they appeared in a movie directed by the world’s most popular director at this point. Perhaps the reason why this movie is not mentioned is because it is not that great. It received lukewarm reactions from audiences and critics when released and has only gotten worse since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Our story begins on a boat filled with nuclear physicists. One of them, Michael Armstrong, played by Newman, is actually a spy for the U.S. government. His assistant and fiancée, Sarah Sherman, played by Andrews, has no idea of his real work. So she is very surprised when she finds out her husband has decided to defect to East Germany.

He does his best to lose her, she does her best to follow him and the two end up in an East German airport. Michael is celebrated by the East Germans as he is a symbol of people in the west getting fed up with democracy and coming over to their side.

Michael confesses to Sarah the real reason why he has defected. This scene is interesting, not only for the information gained, but because it occurs in a large hotel room in which the only lighting Hitchcock used seemed to come from natural places i.e. windows and lamps. Typically movies use light sources from off-screen, but act as if they are coming from on-screen. In this movie Hitch tried to keep all the light used coming from natural sources. It works to various degrees, but is most pronounced in this scene.

Adventures ensue as Michael has the task of trying to learn a secret formula from the East German scientist Dr. Lindt.

Michael is forced to murder Gromek, a taxi driver who brings Michael to a farm in which he has been instructed by the U.S. government to make contact with. Gromek gets some ideas as to why Michael is really in East Germany and Michael must kill him. Unlike other Hitchcock murders, this one is not short and pretty. It is long and hard. It was an attempt at Hitchcock to capture more realism, since killing someone is not as easy as it typically looks in the movies.

Michael meets Dr. Lindt and is able to trick him into giving him the formula. From here the suspense is ratcheted up as Michael and Sarah make a daring escape back to the west. They are the ones who create a sort of tear in the Iron Curtain by acquiring the formula.

The suspense in their escape is well done, but it should have been as each situation the coupe finds themselves in seems to have been taken from another Hitchcock movie. There is a bus ride with interesting characters that echoes similar trips in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Saboteur (1942). The couple ends up in a theatre, surrounded by bad guys. This is similar to The 39 Steps (1935), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and (1956) and Stage Freight (1950). Of course Michael and Sarah get out of each situation in a different way than in previous Hitchcock movies. In the theater they shout “fire!” and everyone promptly moves towards the exits. Even the final escape for the couple, from a Scandinavian ship, seemed like a rehash from the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera (1935). Michael and Sarah end up in the icy water, forced to swim ashore to the free west instead of being removed from the ship while hiding in boxes like the Marx Brothers were.

Torn Curtain probably wasn’t a bad movie when it was released. It is long and does rehash some familiar territory for Hitchcock, but the formula was effective and created suspense. It does lag in some parts, but Newman and Andrews give good performances. For today’s audience though, the movie can be hard to watch as the premise behind it has no relevance in the world of today.

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Movie Review: VERTIGO (1958) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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VERTIGO MOVIE POSTER
VERTIGO, 1958
Classic Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring James Stewart, Kim Novak
Review by Steven Painter

SYNOPSIS:

A San Francisco detective suffering from acrophobia investigates the strange activities of an old friend’s wife, all the while becoming dangerously obsessed with her.

REVIEW:

Vertigo (1958) is the first of Alfred Hitchcock’s four straight masterpieces of the late-50s and early-60s (North by Northwest, Psycho and The Birds being the others). It also might be the best of the four. It is the most complex.

The story revolves around Scotty Ferguson, played by James Stewart, who is a retired detective in San Francisco. Ferguson retires after coming down with arachnophobia. The move opens with a rooftop chase. Scotty and another officer are hot on the trail of a criminal. They jump from roof to roof. The other officer makes the jumps fine, but Scotty has trouble on one. The officer stops his pursuit to help Scotty. Unfortunately for the two, Scotty has a case of vertigo and the officer loses his balance, falling from the roof.

While trying to get over his arachnophobia, Scotty spends a lot of time with Midge, a former fiancée, who is nothing more than an interesting character. In fact, she is basically forgotten in the second half of the movie for some reason. She is basically someone who is inserted for Scotty to talk to. She has some fine qualities, but they are not accented enough in her brief screen time.

Anyway, a former schoolmate of Scotty’s, Gavin, calls him up for a job. At first Scotty refuses — saying he is retired. But Gavin convinces him that the job is good. Scotty is asked to look after Gavin’s wife, Madeline, who seems to believe she is the reincarnation of an ancient relative named Carlota. Carlota had committed suicide and Scotty’s friend feels that Madeline will do the same.

Scotty sees Madeline first in a restaurant and then follows her throughout the next day. He is struck by her. In fact, the audience is captivated by her. Kim Novak, despite her tumultuous relationship with Hitchcock, does a great job in this movie. She is very photogenic and her presence captivates the audience. Hitch also devoted a lot of time to her trivial routines. Or at least what would normally be a trivial routine. Hitch makes sure we pay attention to Novak’s beauty and the beauty of the city.

This is where Vertigo stands out from a lot of Hitchcock movies. The story might be more complex than a lot of his other movies, but the photography is so simple. The city of San Francisco has never looked so good on film. The winding streets, the local shops (Ernie’s was one of Hitch’s favorite restaurants), the Redwood forest, the deep history of the Bay Area, are all brought to life. Of course there is the famous Golden Gate Bridge and the monumental scene where Scotty saves Madeline when she jumps into the bay. Typically movies shot in Technicolor tend to make colors too bright. That is not the case here as all the color saturation seems perfect.

Once Scotty saves Madeline, the two fall in love. Madeline is crazy though. Because of his love for her, Scotty is unable to notice the warning signs of Madeline’s suicide. She and he make a trek down the coast to an old mission. This is where Carlota died — it is where Madeline wants to die. Because of his arachnophobia, Scotty is unable to prevent Madeline from climbing the steps and throwing herself out the bell tower at the mission.

During an inquest, it is found that Madeline died accidentally and Scotty could do nothing to prevent her death. The scenes in the mission bell tower are most famous for Hitchcock’s “Vertigo shot.” The shot that mimics the effect of vertigo was something Hitch had been working on for over 20 years. It was finally perfected here and was done by using miniature models. The camera was moving toward the models while the lens was zooming out. The technique has been used in movies many times since Hitch first pioneered it.

Devastated by another death he feels he could have prevented, Scotty goes into rehab. This is the last time we see Midge, as she and the other doctors are unable to get Scotty back on track. After an unspecified length of time and for some unknown reason, Scotty is taken out of rehab and put back in the real world. Here he drifts along thinking about Madeline. One day, while walking along the street, Scotty notices a girl who looks a lot like Madeline. He stalks his prey to her hotel where he makes his move. The girl’s name is Judy. After some resistance she agrees to go out with Scotty. After their first date, in which Scotty talks a lot about Madeline, it is revealed to the audience that Judy is in fact Madeline. Kim Novak plays both characters and just has dyed her hair. Although there are times when it seems that she has done more than just dye her hair to change from Madeline to Judy.

This would be a good time to mention that Novak was not Hitch’s first choice for the role. He wanted to use Vera Miles. But since it took so long for a script to be written, Miles was unable to be used because she got pregnant. So Novak was used and Hitch didn’t like her. The two didn’t get along. Novak had other ideas on how the play the character. Despite the tension, the performance on the screen is great.

Scotty decides to remake Judy in the model of Madeline. Of course Judy resists this. She had been hired by Gavin to play Madeline once in order to cover up the murder of Gavin’s real wife, the real Madeline. Since Scotty had arachnophobia, something Gavin knew, Scotty would be unable to save Madeline when she “jumped” from the bell tower. In fact, Judy ran up the bell tower where Gavin threw his wife’s body off.

This is not realized by Scotty until the fully remade Judy puts on a necklace that had belonged to Madeline and Carlota before her. Obsessed with the crime, Scotty forces Judy back to the mission and up the steps of the bell tower. In triumph, Scotty makes it to the top. In tragedy, footsteps are heard coming up the stairs and Judy jumps out of the tower in one of the most frightening scenes of the Hitchcock cannon.

Vertigo is a masterpiece plain and simple. It is regarded highly by critics, scholars and audiences. The main reason for this can not be found, at least to me. It has some sort of quality that just makes it enjoyable to watch. Maybe it is the complex story. Maybe it is the luscious scenery. Maybe it is the performance of Jimmy Stewart. Maybe it is the chemistry between Stewart and Kim Novak. Whatever it is, this movie is a must see for anyone who likes movies.

 

 

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Movie Review: THE WRONG MAN (1956) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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THE WRONG MAN MOVIE POSTER
THE WRONG MAN, 1956
Classic Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchock
Starring Henry Fonda, Vera Miles
Review by Steven Painter

7.5/10 fan rating on IMDB

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SYNOPSIS:

The police were convinced… The witnesses were positive …Yet he was… THE WRONG MAN

REVIEW:

“The Wrong Man” could have been the title for many movies directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It was bestowed on a movie he directed in 1956. The tone of the movie is different from other Hitchcock ones. It is also out-of-date, a rarity among the works of Hitch before the late-60s. Despite these drawbacks it is wonderfully acted.

The Wrong Man is based on a true story. This is probably one of the reasons why there is a lack of humor in it. Hitch always used humor in his movies to counteract the suspense. He felt the audience needed to be let off the hook at times. There is no humor present here. It is a straightforward, grim look at the breakdown of a family.

The story involves Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero, played by Henry Fonda, known as Manny to his family. He is a musician at New York’s Stork Club, trying to make ends meet like a lot of other people. He has a wife, Rose, played by Vera Miles, and two young sons. Rose has recently gotten some dental work done, so the family is in financial difficulties. Despite these difficulties, Rose and Manny try their best to hide it from their kids.

Manny decides to borrow a little money against Rose’s life insurance policy. When he goes to the insurance office, some workers there claim that Manny is the person who recently committed armed robbery in the office. The man had not been caught yet. So the next evening, Manny is picked up outside his house by the police.

One of the reasons why Hitchcock wanted to make this movie was because it involved a scene where Manny is being driven through his own neighborhood in the back of a police car. He sees the normal, trivial routines of everyone, but is unable to take part in any of it. Instead, he is caged in. This fear of being picked-up by the police for something that he didn’t do, is something present in all of Hitchcock’s works and a great fear the man himself had. Manny is brought into the police station. In this pre-Miranda rights era, he is held with no reason. Of course arguments could be made today that the Miranda rights are being ignored by police officers, but at least at this point in time, there were no such rights. This is one of the biggest drawbacks of the movie. It is outdated in this instance and because a lot of audience sympathy is built up because Manny is held with no rights, it just doesn’t seem believable today.

Anyways, Manny is held and some local business owners are brought in to identify him. They can’t say for certain if Manny is the robber, but he seems close enough to the real criminal in looks and handwriting. This satisfies the police and they continue with their prosecution.

Strapped for money and with a husband facing a trial, Rose begins to lose it. She drifts farther and farther from Manny, the kids, and the world itself. Eventually she has to be put in an asylum. This secondary vein of the movie distracts from the main story of Manny being falsely accused of the crime, but in Hitchcock’s defense, the real wife of Manny did in fact end up in an asylum.

As with all things of this time period in Hollywood, the movie has a happy ending. In a great dissolve shot, we see Henry Fonda’s face become that of the real robber. The real robber is caught while trying to rob another store in the neighborhood. When this robber is brought in to be identified, the storeowners come in and say the same things they did when Manny came in. Of course Hitch put this in to cause some doubt in the audience. He asks “do we really ever know who the right man is?”

The movie ends with a blurb across the screen stating that the Balestrero family lived happily ever after. In real life, Rose was committed to the asylum and never regained her sanity. The ordeal crippled the family, instead of making them stronger – as the movie implies.

The Wrong Man is not a bad movie. It is outdated and it is grimier than most Hitchcock movies. But it is well acted. Vera Miles and Henry Fonda give tremendous performances. For this reason alone the movie should be watched. But if you need another reason, the fear of being a falsely accused person with no rights is something that is inherent in a lot of people. That fear is played out in this story.

 

 

 

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Movie Review: PSYCHO (1960) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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PSYCHO MOVIE POSTERPSYCHO, 1960
Movie Reviews

8.5/10 Fan Rating on IMDB.com

Read more professional reviews

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins
Review by Steven Painter

SYNOPSIS:

After embezzling $40,000 from her employer, Phoenix office-worker Marion Crane flees the monotony of her mundane existence with dreams of starting a new life in California with her boyfriend, Sam Loomis. As night begins to fall, an exhausted Marion decides to spend the night at a remote motel owned by Norman Bates, a peculiar, reserved young man under the control of his ailing but domineering mother.

REVIEW:

Have you ever walked into a movie theater, sat down and watched the entire movie from start to finish? Of course you have. Did you know that you have Alfred Hitchcock to thank for this way of watching movies? In 1960 a little movie named Psycho was released. It changed the way movie making, censorship and movie watching was done in America. Quite frankly it might be as close to the perfect movie as anything else ever made.

Murder was not a subject that was taboo to Hitchcock by 1960. A murder or killing seems to occur in every one of his movies. Killing was routine on-screen before the 1960s, although the actual shooting of the gun or stab of the knife was rarely seen. But with Psycho Hitchcock did the unthinkable, he killed off a big star and he showed it in the bathroom no less.

This idea of killing off a star like Janet Leigh and showing it caused trepidation in Hollywood. No one would fund Psycho. In order to cut costs the movie was shot in black and white, the famous shower murder blood is actually chocolate sauce, and production was done by Hitchcock’s television crew. If Hollywood studios were mad at Hitchcock, the censors were enraged. They threatened to not approve the film. That did not stop Hitchcock from going ahead with production however. Thanks to the success of Psycho and Some Like It Hot, which was released a year earlier, the production code in Hollywood became less strict.

The movie’s stars were the well-known Leigh and a little known television actor named Anthony Perkins, who would forever be typecast after his portrayal of Norman Bates. Leigh plays Marion Crane, a common secretary who lives in Phoenix. Hitchcock has once again introduced a theme of birds into one of his movies. Crane happens to love Californian Sam Loomis, but she cannot marry him because he is in debt, paying alimony to his ex-wife.

As it happens, Crane’s boss receives $40,000 from a client. The boss is tied up with the client, so Crane volunteers to deposit the money in the bank and then head home as she complains of a headache. Instead, she decides to run off to California with the money so she can get married. As movie watchers we want Crane to make it to California, even though we know stealing the money was the wrong thing to do.

Hitchcock throws in some good suspense on Crane’s road trip to California. A cop asks her why she is stopped on the road at one point. She said she was tired and had to pull over for the night. She then decides to trade in her car, as her boss who saw her as she was leaving town, might call her in to question when he finds out the money is missing. Once again, this time at the car dealership, a police officer poses a threat to Crane’s safety. Throughout the whole thing the audience is concerned with the money and Crane coming out alright.

Then we switch gears. While on the road it becomes dark and stormy. Crane can’t keep driving so she decides to pull over at the Bates Motel. Here she checks in and is greeted by the quirky Norman Bates. Bates seems like a nice fellow, who really is just doing this hotel clerk job because of his sick mother. For some reason Bates enjoys talking about his mother, but as an audience all we care about is Crane making it to California safely.

Unfortunately, she does not. During the night, Crane decides to take a shower. While in the shower she is attacked by the crazed Mrs. Bates in the famous murder scene, with Bernard Herrmann’s violins accompanying. This event was so unbelievable at the time; Hitchcock wanted to make sure that the audience witnessed it, so he told movie theater owners not to let anyone in after the movie had started. Before this people would walk into a movie theater at any time and watch the movie, then stick around and watch the movie again up to the point when they walked in. Then they would leave. But Psycho would not work if people saw the movie like that, so Hitchcock created a trend in movie going that has continued to the present day.

Back to the story, our friend Norman now has to clean up after his mother has made an awful mess in the bathroom. As an audience our affection has changed from Crane to Norman Bates because he seems like a nice kid. Hitchcock ensures that audience sympathy is with Bates when Norman tries to submerge Crane’s car in a swamp. At first the car does not want go down. Like Norman, the audience sits on the edge of their seats, until finally the thing begins to sink.

By this time the $40,000 has been reported missing. Detective Arbogast has been called out to examine it. He follows Crane’s sister from Tucson to California where Loomis is. Everyone knows Crane was going to find Loomis. The only problem is she has not arrived. Arbogast checks around and finds out that she was staying at the Bates Motel. After some inquiry, including going into the Bates House, Arobogast finds himself in the swamp. He has become another victim of Mrs. Bates’ knife.

When Arobogast doesn’t show up Loomis and Crane’s sister, played by Vera Miles, decide to see what happened to him. They find out. The old Mrs. Bates has actually been deceased for quite some time. Her son has kept her body relatively well preserved and for some reasons that will be explained by psychologists, he enjoys dressing up like her and killing people. He attempts to kill Crane’s sister, but Loomis stops him.

The movie ends with a psychiatrist giving an explanation of what we just saw happen on the screen. This is all very important stuff that the psychiatrist says, but what stands out about the ending is when we see Norman Bates again. He is sitting in a room alone, looking at a fly. We hear his mother’s voice speaking. Then Hitchcock superimposes a skull over the smiling Bates face, leaving the audience with one more frightening image before the story ends.

Quite simply, this is a must see movie for anyone that is living. But if you are a moviemaker, horror fan or want to be introduced to Alfred Hitchcock, then Psycho is the perfect movie for you.

 

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Movie Review: NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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NORTH BY NORTHWEST MOVIE POSTER
NORTH BY NORTHWEST, 1959
Classic Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint
Review by Steven Painter

IMDB fan rating: 8.4/10

SYNOPSIS:

A hapless New York advertising executive is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies, and is pursued across the country while he looks for a way to survive.

REVIEW:

In 1935 Alfred Hitchcock made a movie called The 39 Steps about a man who is falsely accused of murder and is chased throughout the Scottish countryside by the police and a group of spies before clearing his name. Nearly 25 years later, Hitchcock made a similar movie, this time based in America, called North by Northwest (1959).

What separates North by Northwest from the majority of Hitchcock’s wrong man accused movies is that there is a lot of humor here. The talented Cary Grant plays the lead role of Roger Thornhill. Grant had been a huge success in screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby (1938) and His Girl Friday (1940). He had also been one of Hitchcock’s favorite actors to use.

Thornhill is an advertising executive who deals with the hustle and bustle of New York City the best way he can. He always seems to be on the move, but he makes sure he enjoys himself. On the way to lunch one day, he is stopped in a restaurant by some men. The men say they need to talk to him and then they kidnap Thornhill. He is taken out to the countryside where the kidnappers believe he is government agent named George Kaplan, a man who is supposed to be hot on their trail as the kidnappers are doing some spying on the U.S. government.

The spies are never specified as to their country of origin or really what the significance is of what they are after. Microfilm is what drives these spies, we find out. This is the largest McGuffin used in Hitchcock’s movies. It is merely a device to further the story, but matters little as the real story is about the relationships between the people in the movie.

Thornhill denies being Kaplan to no avail. The kidnappers decide to get him drunk and then set him loose on a drive through the countryside. This scene is similar to the one in Notorious (1946) where a drunken Ingrid Bergman takes a wild car ride with Cary Grant. Even the scene in To Catch a Thief (1955) with Grace Kelly and Cary Grant comes to mind. Grant seems to find himself in dangerous automobile situations when working with Hitchcock. He was even in a treacherous car ride in Suspicion (1941), just before Joan Fontaine gave her Oscar winning speech.

Getting back to the story, Grant ends up drunk in a police station and has to call his mother for help. The mother is a frequent character in Hitchcock movies. Thornhill’s mothers might be the most quirky of all Hitchcock ones. Anyway, Thornhill explains that he was kidnapped and the cops go with him to the countryside estate where the kidnappers are. At least that is where they were. No one knows what Thornhill is talking about. They say the house belongs to a man who is a part of the United Nations.

Embarrassed, Grant goes to the United Nations to find the man who owns the estate. This is an important scene in the movie and one that almost didn’t happen. The government would not allow Hitchcock to film on the UN property. So Hitch asked if he could go in to make measurements so they could rebuild some of the building in the studio. Hitch snuck a camera into the building and got some of the great shots used in the movie illegally.

Thornhill goes to the UN where the man he is looking for is killed. Stabbed in the back by someone. Thornhill is the only one around and he pulls the knife out of the man’s back. Being the UN, there are photographers around and Thornhill is captured while holding the knife over the dead man. He is obviously branded as the murderer. Now the situation is set up: Thornhill is on the run from the spy ring because they think he is Kaplan. He is also on the run from the police because they believe he killed the man in the UN.

At this point we cut away from Thornhill’s troubles and listen in to a meeting in Washington. Here it is explained by government officials that there is no man named Kaplan. He was just made-up to keep the spy ring occupied while the real secret agent infiltrates them. Since Thornhill has become the target of the spy ring, the government officials believe all is well. No sense in disrupting their good fortune by telling Thornhill that there is no Kaplan, although it would mean saving his life.

Thornhill makes his way onto a train headed toward Chicago, where Kaplan is supposed to be at this point. On the train he meets the cool blonde Eve Kendall, played by Eva Marie Saint. In a scene similar to that of The 39 Steps, Thornhill is on the run from the police and ends up “accidentally” stepping into the cabin of the cool blonde. Unlike in The 39 Steps, here Eve accepts the advances of Thornhill.

The train makes it to Chicago where Eve makes sure she handles all the details between Thornhill and Kaplan, as it would be a bad idea to have a wanted man picked up in a public phone booth. Eve says Kaplan will meet Thornhill at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere. So Thornhill gets on the bus and heads from the city to farmland.

The famous crop duster scene occurs here. Hitchcock took the typical cliché of being set up from the dark alleys of the major metropolitan area to the warm sunshiny cornfields of the Midwest. Film noir this is not, but it is suspenseful.

Getting chased by a crop duster would make anyone angry and Thornhill is just that as he makes it back to Chicago. He discovers that Eve has been playing him for a sap and vows vengeance on her as he discovers she has been palling around with Philip Vandamm, played by James Mason, the head of the spy ring.

To give a quick recap of what happens, the officials in Washington step in to help Thornhill out as he has almost blown the cover of their secret agent, Eve, while trying to embarrass here at an auction. The officials take Thornhill to Mount Rushmore where he is briefed on the situation. A plan is executed, Thornhill is almost executed, and the movie ends with a harrowing trip around the monuments of Mount Rushmore. Like the UN building, Hitch was unable to film on the monuments — something about defacing them by having people run over the faces. It didn’t matter, as they were recreated in the studio.

North by Northwest is one of Hitchcock’s best movies. It is also one of his most beloved. This is because the movie is filled with plenty of suspense, plus an equal amount of comedy. Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are a wonderful team on-screen and James Mason plays a wonderful bad guy. This is simply an enjoyable movie for people of all tastes.

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Movie Review: MARNIE (1964) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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MARNIE, 1964
Horror/Thriller Movie Review
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Tippi Hedren, Sean Connery
Review by Steven Painter

7.2/10 IMDB fan rating

Read more professional reviews of Marnie.

SYNOPSIS:

Mark marries Marnie although she is a habitual thief and has serious psychological problems, and tries to help her confront and resolve them

REVIEW:

There are many gems Alfred Hitchcock made that do not get the fanfare other movies of his have gotten. From the 1940s, Foreign Correspondent is underappreciated. In the 1950s it is Strangers on a Train. In the 1960s that movie is Marnie (1964).

Marnie is Hitchcock at his psychological best and probably the last great movie of his career. It is certainly the final movie of an era. It would be the last time Hitch worked with cinematographer Robert Burks, who would die soon after finishing the picture from a heart attack, and legendary composer Bernard Herrmann. The two had artistic differences.

The bad thing about this is that when Hitchcock had a difference of opinion with someone – they left the Hitchcock production company. It happened to Ingrid Bergman and it happened during this movie to Ian Hunter. The screenwriter had worked on several Hitchcock pictures, but disapproved of the rape scene in the novel version of Marnie. He voiced his displeasure over the scene to Hitch and Hitch severed relations with the screenwriter. It was only later that Hunter learned the only reason why Hitch wanted to make the movie was because of the rape scene.

Marnie can be looked at as the last great Alfred Hitchcock movie. It is a fitting tribute to a career that spanned more than four decades up to this point.

Tippi Hedren returns to the screen as Margaret Edgar, also known as Marnie. The original choice for the role was Grace Kelly, but at this time she was Princess of Monaco and it would have looked bad if a princess was playing a kleptomaniac. So Hedren got the role of the psychologically confused kleptomaniac.

Using different names and appearances, Marnie moves from job to job, stealing money from her employers before moving on to another town. One job she takes is with publisher Mark Rutland, played wonderfully by Sean Connery. Mark happens to recognize Marnie’s features from a previous business encounter. He becomes fascinated by her and tries to move in on her romantically. She ignores him as the only love she has ever felt in her life has come from stealing money.

She steals money from Mark’s company and makes a dash for it. Mark discovers the loss and balances it. He then takes off to find out who this wild girl really is. He tracks Marnie down at some stables she frequents, as horseback riding is one of her escapes. He then uses blackmail as a technique to get her to marry him.

The wonderful idea of marriage backfires on Mark as Marnie is cold to any sort of sexual advances. When Mark forces himself on her during their honeymoon, in Hitchcock’s favorite scene, she attempts suicide.

Unable to understand Marnie and still fascinated by her, Mark investigates her past. He ends up bringing Marnie to her mother, Bernice. The mother and daughter have always had a frigid relationship. In one of the best climaxes in all of Hitchcock, it is revealed in stunning detail why Marnie is so cold sexually, why she and her mother express little love for each other and why she despises the color red. The atmosphere around this movie is what makes it great. Credit must be given to Robert Burks for creating the camera angles and photographing exactly what Hitchcock had in his mind when reading the novel written by Winston Graham. Credit has also got to be paid to Bernard Herrmann for his magnificent score. It was the last time the two would work together, but it is probably the best overall score Herrmann gave to Hitchcock. The Vertigo and Psycho ones stand out, but Marnie has a score that perfectly expresses through music the atmosphere on screen.

Marnie is a complex movie. I could go on for paragraphs and paragraphs about all the little interesting things contained in it, but I’ll leave you to discover that for yourself. Robin Wood, the film theorist, proclaimed that if you don’t like Marnie then you aren’t a fan of Hitchcock. Then he went a step further and said if you don’t like Marnie then you aren’t a fan of movies. I fully agree with his statements.

 

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Movie Review: THE BIRDS (1963) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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the_birds_posterTHE BIRDS, 1963
Horror/Thriller Movie Review
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Tippi Hedren, Melanie Daniels, Veronica Cartwright
Review by Steven Painter

SYNOPSIS:

A wealthy San Francisco playgirl pursues a potential boyfriend to a small Northern California town that slowly takes a turn for the bizarre when birds of all kinds suddenly begin to attack people there in increasing numbers and with increasing viciousness.

REVIEW:

In 1960 Alfred Hitchcock revolutionized the way movies were watched with Psycho. Three years later he would pioneer special effects techniques that were ahead of their time in The Birds (1963). Although the special effects look dated now, at the time they sent chills down audiences.

Daphne Du Maurier wrote a short story about a ton of birds attacking and eliminating human kind. Seems pretty unbelievable right? Actually while making the movie, Hitchcock spoke with farmers in California who complained that some of their cows had their eyes gouged by birds. So there had been instances of bird attacks in the area where Hitchcock’s movie takes place.

Although apocalyptic birds are interesting and what most people focus on, they are only the MacGuffin. They are the biggest MacGuffin Hitchcock developed. A MacGuffin is the same thing as a red herring. Ironically, Hitchcock frequently used birds as his MacGuffins. Like the Crane who steals $20,000 in Psycho. What The Birds is really about is the family.

The story begins in San Francisco. Socialite Melanie Daniels, played by Tippi Hedren, is walking down the street and gets whistled at before walking into a pet store. This is a little joke Hitch included because he discovered Hedren while watching the “Today Show.” Hedren appeared in a commercial in which she was walking down the street and got whistled at.

Melanie enters the pet store and asks for some birds. They haven’t arrived yet, but the owner says she’ll look in the back just to make sure. When the owner leaves, lawyer Mitch Brenner strolls in and asks Melanie if she could help him find some lovebirds. He acts like he believes she works there, but he really knows who she is. He enjoys watching Melanie make a fool of herself because she doesn’t know what lovebirds look like. When the pet store’s owner returns, it is learned that store has no lovebirds. So Mitch leaves.

Having left some sort of impression on her, Melanie decides to order lovebirds as well and deliver them to Mitch for his sister’s birthday. Melanie doesn’t have much of a family. Her father is too busy running his newspaper to bother with her and she never really had a mother.

After purchasing the birds, Melanie learns that Mitch has left San Francisco for Bodega Bay, where his mother and sister live. So Melanie makes the drive up the coast. While there she and some of the locals have a problem with Mitch’s sister’s name. Melanie has to ask the school teacher, Annie Hayworth, what the little girl’s name is. Annie happens to have dated Mitch while the two were in San Francisco. She moved to Bodega Bay to be with him, but was never accepted by his mother.

You can probably see where this is all going. Cold mother eventually warms up to heroine leaving hero’s former girlfriend as a bitter rival. It almost works out this way, but there is a complication with some birds that start to act funny.The birds begin doing weird things once Melanie drops off the lovebirds in the Brenner home. While on the bay, she is attacked by a bird. Mitch happens to have seen her get injured and comes to her aid. Melanie and Mitch fight, but it is easy to tell that the two are in love.

From here, the birds increase in number and get bolder with their attacks. Eventually there seems to be nothing more Hitch can do except show that the whole world has been dominated by birds. But Hitch doesn’t do this because the true story of The Birds has concluded. Despite the reasons for the birds attacks never being explained, and there being no end in sight for their attacks, Hitch ends the movie once Mitch’s mother accepts Melanie into the Brenner family. Of course this point about the family is typically missed by a lot of people. It will almost surely be lost in the proposed remake of the movie coming out in 2009. Apparently Michael Bay has been signed on to produce. Judging by his work, the special effects will be improved, but the story will be ripped to shreds. This is sad because although the special effects seem dated, the story and suspense created are still top notch today. The Birds is the last of Hitchcock’s big four (Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho), it is the most technical one of the series.

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