TIFF Cinematheque presents Hitchcock/Truffaut

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By Gilbert Seah

Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut are my two favourite directors of all time.  Truffaut is the reason I studied French so that I could understand his films in French.  The recent documentary by Kent Jones on Truffaut’s interview with Hitchcock is every cinephile’s dream documentary.

TIFF Cinematheque presents the films by Hitchcock and Truffaut.  It is an exhaustive retrospective with many little not so well known gems like SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER, THE SOFT SKIN perennial favourites like THE BIRDS and NORTH BY NORTHWEST, the latter being my personal best film of all time.

Many films like THE BRIDE WORE BLACK, I have seen 5 times or more times and should be seen on the big screen.  Others should be enjoyed time and again.

Below are capsule reviews of selected film, films by Hitchcock followed by those of Truffaut – all listed in alphabetical order.  Mots of them are rated 5-stars – yes, because they are that superb.

For more information on the venue,program and date and time of screenings,click on the link to the Cinematheque website below:

http://tiff.net/summer2016-cinematheque/hitchcock-truffaut-magnificent-obsessions

FILM REVIEWS:

HITCHCOCK:

THE BIRDS (USA 1962) ***** Top 10 

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock 

Tippi Hedren could very well be Hithcock’s favourite blonde.  She is the one of the few that is the lead protagonist in the Hitchcock’s film world dominated by male protagonists.  And not only in one but in two movies, THE BIRDS and MARNIE.  In THE BIRDS, Hitchcock gives her the perfect compliment when he has her steer an outboard motor across the bay waters wearing a mink coat.  How is that for fabulousness?

A wealthy San Francisco socialite, Melanie Daniels (Hedren) pursues a potential boyfriend, Mitch Brenner (Rid Taylor) 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.

As far as movie THE BIRDS go, based on the book by Daphne du Maurier, it is the best of the Master’s work.  The beginning credits with the winged creatures tearing away the credit to an electronic score peaks audience anticipation early.  The film contains no musical score except for the scene where the school children sing a repetitive song.  There is no attack of the birds during the entire the first half of the film except for a peck on the head on Melanie (Hedren) and a crashed seagull at a door.  Hitchcock uses the time to establish the characters and setting for the film.  The romance between Daniels and Brenner is given centre stage.  But the film’s second half comes fast and furious with brutal attacks of the birds.  The attack scenes are extremely well executed, courtesy of the Master of Suspense who injects his sinister brand of humour in many scenes – example: the young Cathy telling Daniels of the man Brenner is defending in court: “Did you know the killer stabbed his wife six times?” No explanation is given for the bird attacks, which makes all the proceedings scarier!

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (USA 1959) ***** Top 10

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock 

Before going on with the capsule review, I have to say that Alfred Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST, which I have seen at least 5 times, is my favourite movie of all time.  It is Hitchcock at his very best, with a film that includes suspense, action, comedy and romance.  And Hitchcock has infused a perfect villain in James Mason as the Phillips Vandamm out to kill hero, Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant).  In the story, no reason is given for the existence for Vandamm’s organization or what its purpose is.  Like Hitchcock’s Macguffin, the chase is all the importance and it propels the plot to its climax, the reason being of no consequence.  Hitchcock gives the villain a human touch in the scene where his right hand man, Leonard (Martin Landau) delivers the message that his girl Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) has defected and fallen in love with the enemy, Roger Thornhill.  Vandamm punches the bearer of bad news with such force that he hurts his hand.  In the climatic scene, he jumps out at Thornhilll with a climatic fight at Mount Rushmore.  NORTH BY NORTHWEST contains many classic set pieces like the crop duster scene.  A film that should be seen many times for Hitchcock’s, author Ernest Lehman’s pure genius and Bernard Herrmann’s arresting score.

NOTORIOUS (USA 1946) ****

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

One of the most suspenseful of Hitchcock’s spy films (TORN CURTAIN, TOPAZ), Ingrid Bergman plays the romantic lead and also the damsel in distress.  Alicia Huberman, (Bergman) a German expatriate whose father has just been convicted as a German spy is hired by the Americans.  Devlin (Cary Grant) brings Alicia to Brazil in hopes to arrange a meeting with Alex Sebastian (the fantastic Claude Rains); another German spy who just happens to have a history with Alicia insofar that he was in love with her.  The plan is to get them together so that she can spy on Sebastian and his colleagues so that the Americans can get a leg up on their mutual espionage.  Of course, love develops between Devlin and Alicia, which complicates their operation and of course, their lives.  Performances are top notch and special mention should be made of Rains who makes his villain a human one, with a mother obsession.  The key suspense scenes is the climax in which Devlin brings Alicia down the stairs with the villain, Alex accompanying them.  A full 10-minutes of nail-biting tension!  The overhead shot of Bergman collapsing on the living room floor after being poisoned is also classic Hitchcock.

PSYCHO (USA 1960) ***** Top 10

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

With a new sound restored print Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO sounds more chilling with Bernard Herrmann’s haunting score and the screams of Janet Leigh in the shower scene. The plot concerns Secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) embezzling $40,000 and taking off from the town to drive to settle down with her boyfriend, Sam Loomis (John Gavin) in Fairvale.  A storm forces her off the road to take refuge at the Bates Motel where she is murdered in cinema’s most famous shower scene, a pleasure to watch for the umpteen time, ripping shower curtains, chocolate syrup down the tub hole and all with accompanying restored violin/cello screening soundtrack.  This sends Sam and her sister Lila (Vera Miles) with a private dick (Martin Balsam) on her trail after she has disappeared. The pleasure derived from watching PYSCHO will take different forms depending on the viewer.  The film contains many surprises from start to finish, with many of these being cinematic.  The most important is Hitchcock’s killing of, of Leigh – the film’s main character in the shower, a first at its time.  But with the full story known to audiences viewing PSYCHO for a repeat, myself for the 4th time, the film still holds many surprises, especially in shots or techniques not observed before.  PSYCHO contains lots of nudity and sex scenes without showing any private parts. For myself, one is a shot of Bates (Anthony Perkins) climbing up the stairs.  Perkins (gay, in real life) was allowed by Hitchcock to interpret his character so long as it did not involve camera movement.  His sexy shaking of his bum from side to side clearly stood out to me during this screening.  Others include his infusion of suspense in many segments, like the one with the blinding rain and bright lights hitting Marion’s car windscreen forcing her to stop at the Bates Motel.  Also, the details of the title credits – December 11th; 2.43 pm; Phoenix, Arizona implies the importance of details and puts the audience in a specific and not imaginary time and space.  To have the audience feel for sympathetic towards Marion who has stolen the $40,000, Hitchcock has the man paying her boss the money say: “I carry more than I can afford to lose!” Neat too is Hitchcock’s use of voiceover and irony.  Irony in the form that Marion’s boss actually sees her, as observed by Marion through her windscreen, leaving town.  Voiceover involves imagined conversations in the head of Marion that could have or could just be imagined by Marion.  What is really neat, is that it dos not matter to the plot whether the conversation did occur but that it serves to highlight Marion’s paranoia.  The ending explanation of Bates’ mental situation by a psychologist is a bit too talky but PSYCHO should be re-seen for its many masterly staged scenes like the ending parlour scene, the murder of the private investigator as he falls down the stairs and of course, the famous shower scene, just to name a few.

REAR WINDOW (USA 1954) **** 

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock 

Based on a shot story, REAR WINDOW feels at times that it is short of story.  But Hitchcock more than makes up for him with the banter between star photographer Jeffries (James Stewart) and his icy blonde girlfriend, Lisa (Grace Kelly).  The film is totally told from the point of Jeffries, apartment bound because of a broken leg, the cause of which is never brought up.  The Master would likely say that it would make no consequence to the suspense.  He spies on the courtyard and is convinced that the neighbour u the building across (Raymond Burr) has murdered his invalid wife.  He gets Lisa and his nurse (Thelma Ritter) to aid him in his quest to out the killer.  Hitchcock generates lots of suspense moments from the set-up, the best one being Jeffries watching though his binoculars Lisa getting caught breaking into the killer’s apartment by the killer, unable to do anything being bound to his wheelchair.  The two lovers are at logger heads throughout the film’s first half but Jeffries admires her once she aids him – also bringing out the film’s charm.  Nurse Stella says it right (Hitchcock steals a message here to the audience) when she tells Jeffries that most people look out at other people’s lives instead of their own.

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (USA 1951) ***** Top 10

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

In this flawless film adaptation the Patricia Highsmith novel, two strangers on a train, tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) talk about swapping murders when Bruno actually carries out his part of the bargain.  Guy’s trampy wife is murdered so that he can wed Anne (Roth Ronan) the one he really loves.  When Guy realizes what has happened, he becomes the prime suspect, while Bruno pressures him to carry out his part of the bargain.  STRANGERS ON A TRAIN is typical and perfect Hitchcock, an innocent hero caught up in intrigue with a smashing climax at the end of the film with hero and villain battling out on a runaway merry-go-round.  There are many classic scenes in this film – like the villain popping a kid’s balloon at a fair with his cigar; the villain entertaining gossipy old ladies with the notion of murder; a suspense laded tennis match and a strangling viewed through the lens of fallen glasses.  There is also the additional bonus of a prize performance by Hitchcock’s daughter, Patricia Hitchcock as Anne’s spritely sister who steals every scene she is in

TO CATCH A THIEF (USA 1955) **** 

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock 

There is hardly any suspense in this lightweight romantic comedy thriller but the sinister Hitchcock touches are still present – the stubbing of a cigarette butt on an egg; the dropping of a casino chip into a lady’s bosom.  The story concerns a reformed thief John Robie (Cary Grant) aiding Lloyds Insurance finding the real burglar and clearing his name of recent jewel thefts.  In the meantime, he meets France Stevens (Grace Kelly) who falls in love with him and his past, and who believes him to be the real thief.  Hitchcock’s foray into sophisticated comedy is interesting enough with sufficient humour scattered evenly during the film.  Shot in the Riviera, the scenery is stunning, matched only by the gorgeous costumes worn by Kelly.  The costume ball at the film’s climax outdoes any real life fashion show.  The extended car chase scene blends suspense and humour as the Master had redone in his later movies NORTH BY NORTHWEST and FAMILY PLOT.

TRUFFAUT:

L’ENFANT SAUVAGE (THE WILD CHILD) (France 1969) ***** Top 10
Directed by Francois Truffaut

Shot in black and white, this apparently simple looking period film is a masterful look at the behaviour of human beings.  The true story of a boy discovered in the wild and educated by a professor played by director Truffaut himself.  Truffaut is well known as a kind director and this film shows off this trait off at its best.  The boy is taught manners, the alphabet and finally the difference between right and wrong.  The climatic scene in which the boy is punished for doing right is one of the most brilliant and moving segments ever captured on film.  Also in the picture is the professor’s housekeeper, Madame Guerine who shows exceptional kindness to the boy.  An altogether most wonderful experience at the movies, THE WILD CHILD is one of the best films of all all time about kindness.

JULES ET JIM (France 1962) **** 

Directed by Francois Truffaut 

Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Henri-Pierre Roche, JULES ET JIM (JULES AND JIM) is the definitive best film ever (before till even the present) of a ménage a trios.  Jules (Oscar Werner) is married to Catherine (the informidable Jeanne Moreau) but carries on a friendship with Jim (Henry Serre).  Catherine also loves Jim.  Jules is willing to allow Catherine to divorce him and marry Jim so that he will not lose her, as he cannot satisfy all of her needs.  The villagers call the 3 of them lunatics but these are the happiest lunatics one will ever see on screen.  And this makes one of the happiest films Truffaut has ever made.  Despite the relationship problems, when things are right, the three have a really good time.  Catherine is spontaneous to a fault – sporting a moustache and pretending to be a man; jumping into the river but everyone (audience included) cannot help it from fall in love with her.  The film tracks their relationship from the first meeting, through the Second World War, through the marriage and after.  The soundtrack by George Delerue is also amazing and has been named 10 Best soundtracks of all time by TIME Magazine. 

LA MARIEE ETAIT EN NOIR (THE BRIDE WORE BLACK) (France 1967) ***** Top 10

Directed by Francois Truffaut 

My personal favourite Truffaut movie and French film of all time sees sultry siren Jeanne Moreau do away with the 5 killers who accidentally shot her bridegroom on her wedding day.  Julie methodically tracks them down one by one and kills them without remorse.  Truffaut gives her femme fatale more human feelings than necessary as she almost falls in love with one of them.  Five of France’s most popular actors of the time (Claude Rich, Charles Denner, Jean-Claude Brialy, Michel Lonsdale) play 4 of Julie’s victims, and to me a delight to watch all of them on the screen again.  This film is Truffaut’s tribute to Hitchcock after he interviewed and the Master of Suspense wrote the book Hitchcock.  Using Hitchcock’s frequent composer Bernard Hermann, the film has the complete Hitchcock feel.  Truffaut has been described as the kindest of film directors and this film illustrates why.  He does not let the innocent characters die.  The cleaner who steals and drink from the bottle that holds the poisoned liquor is emptied by Julie.  When the school teacher Julie impersonates to do away with a victim is arrested, she calls the police to prove her innocence.  THE BRIDE WORE BLACK is unfortunately Truffaut’s least favourite film as he had a big argument with his cinematographer on the look of this movie, but to this critic the film is still near perfection! 

TIREZ SUR LE PIANIST (SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER) (France 19  ) ****
Directed by Francois Truffaut

One of Truffaut’ more obscure but no less impressive feature, SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER follows the adventures of a bar’s pianist, Charlie played by French singer Charles Aznavour after his bother runs to him for hiding.  The film is part thriller part romance but i is the little details of the film that creates the charm and magic f his sensitive film.  One scene has Charlie contemplating whether to ask Lena (Marie Dubois) to have a drink r to be more subtile by asking her if she was thirsty.  When he immediately turns to her to utter by mistake, “Let’s go for a drink,” she has already walked off.  The execution of musical numbers like the rendering of “Framboise” also does the trick.  Aznavour is no great actor, by Truffaut milks the charm that has made this singer so famous.   Again, the are lots of shot of women’s sex long legs here as in his oner films.  I saw the film only once 20 years ago and was not really impressed then, but am now.

 

 

 

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Movie Review: CANTATA IN C MAJOR (short film) Directed by Ronnie Cramer

CANTATA IN C MAJOR, 7min, USA, Horror/Musical
Directed by Ronnie Cramer

Six-hundred-five film clips are assembled and used to create a piece of electronic music. As the visual component appears in the center of the screen, the original analog audio is sent to the left channel while it is simultaneously converted into digital music data and sent to the right channel.

Read review by Amanda Lomonaco:

Definitely not your average night out at the movies. Cantata in C Major is a shock to the system in more than one way. From the very beginning the film jars you with its unconventional structure; introducing itself and its composition from the very start. Even so, director Ronnie Cramer, manages to maintain a sense of intrigue by never quite explaining the purpose of such a rigidly constructed film.

There are definite moments of despair in this film, and not for the reasons you might imagine. Though I will admit, about a minute or so into Cantata I found myself wondering when it would end. Still as the jolting mixture of images and sounds continued something clicked in me.

You suddenly become incredibly immersed in the patterns and tropes you never would have otherwise noticed. Cantata almost seems to cancel out your other thoughts, feelings, and sense, until all you can see, hear, think about and experience is what’s right in front of you. It’s almost as if Cramer’s intention was to invoke some sort of disturbing meditative experience, an intention that seems almost implied by the film’s closing titles.

Cantata in C Major isn’t really the kind of movie you watch to experience a storyline, or to submerge yourself into someone else’s life for a short while. Cantata is a film about sound, patterns, and noise. It’s a film about films, how we watch them, how we make them, how they construct and provoke different emotions. It’s certainly not the kind of film everyone will enjoy equally, but it seems to be an introspective piece that might provide you with some interesting food for thought.

 Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of CANTATA IN C MAJOR:

 

cantata_in_c_major_movie_poster.jpg

Movie Review: NOTORIOUS, 1946. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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NOTORIOUS MOVIE POSTER
NOTORIOUS, 1946
Horror/Thriller Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains
Review by Tom Coatsworth

SYNOPSIS:

Miami, Florida; 1946. Alicia Huberman’s father is imprisoned as a Nazi spy. She drowns her sorrows with good times. But when Devlin, an American agent, woos her to work for Uncle Sam her better self answers the call. They fly to Rio De Janeiro where she infiltrates a group of Nazi Industrialists led by her former boyfriend, Sebastian. Torn between love for Devlin and duty to the job — she marries Sebastian, going deep undercover to discover their secrets. But soon she’s found out and is slowly poisoned. Devlin must see passed his jealousy and bitterness before he can save her.

REVIEW:

“Notorious woman of affairs… adventurous man of the world!” — the original tagline. But with Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains who needs taglines? There may be greater movie stars and there may be finer actors but there are no finer actors who happen to be movie stars. Put these three in a film, let Hitchcock direct, and you have the cinematic equivalent of a royal flush — you simply cannot lose. And indeed ‘Notorious’ is a classic for the ages. It didn’t always seem so — the critics were tepid in their initial response. I suspect the story, which veers toward the tall end of the tall-tale camp, is responsible.

Alicia Huberman (Bergman) is the lady in question. Her father has been imprisoned as a German spy. She is determined to wipe the bitterness clean with gin and good times until T.R. Devlin(Grant) crashes her party and offers her a chance to work for the good guys. Devlin and company have had her under surveillance. They know that beneath the brash smirk lurks the heart of a patriot. And so with some reluctance she accepts the job and they fly to Rio where she infiltrates the Farben Group.

— a band of Nazi industrialists who are cooking up the Fourth Reich. But wait — not until she and Devlin have had a chance to fall in love.

Then the job comes as a thunderbolt. She must “land” a former boyfriend, Alex Sebastian (Rains), who is the head of the Farben Group, and find out what they’re up to. In a cruel dilemma she must play ‘Mata Hari’ and bed down and marry him in order to conduct her ‘undercover’ work. Her affair with Devlin is finished — however their love will not die and it simmers on beneath the surface and this is the true beating heart of the film.

On the surface Alicia is living a dream in a mansion surrounded by riches. Inside her spirit dies a slow weary death. For Devlin it is all business and he has no sympathy. In fact he’s blind with jealousy. It is the life she chose, he tells her. Back to business — Sebastian throws a party to introduce his wife to Rio society. Devlin manages an invite. There he and Alicia gain access to the wine cellar where they discover uranium ore in a wine bottle. When Sebastian stumbles on them they fake an embrace to cover their spying. Sebastian is coldly furious until he discovers he’s married to an American Agent. Then he would gladly kill her except that it would alert his colleagues to his bungling. And so with the aid of his Mother he slowly poisons Alicia — with coffee, kindness and arsenic.

Alicia discovers the trap but she is too weak to get away. She collapses and is confined to a bedroom. Cut off from the world and surrounded by enemies she faces certain death unless Devlin can see passed his bitterness and come to her rescue.

Filmed in sumptuous black and white by Ted Tetzlaff, ( Edith Head designed Bergman’s gowns) these stars have never shone brighter. The chemistry between Grant and Bergman is electric, legendary. The moral of the story hasn’t aged as well: that a party girl must be poisoned just shy of extinction before she can earn the love of a gentleman. But Alicia is more than that — she is the German people, wayward at times but good as gold underneath. And this was America in 1946 — a country with a huge German demographic in a hurry to forgive. Likewise we must forgive a rather gimmicky plot and recognize it’s function: it is a torture chamber for the human heart and it works quite wonderfully. Watch for Hitchcock at the bar downing a glass of champagne.

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Movie Review: STAGE FRIGHT, 1950 Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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STAGE FRIGHT MOVIE POSTER
STAGE FRIGHT, 1950
Classic Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich
Review by Steven Painter

SYNOPSIS:

Eve Gill (Jane Wyman), an aspiring young actress, shelters a fellow acting student, Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd), from the police. He is suspected of murdering the husband of his mistress, Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich), a famous singer. Jonathan claims that he became implicated when he tried to help Charlotte destroy the evidence. Eve’s eccentric father, Commodore Gill (Alastair Sim), agrees to hide Jonathan in his house while she proves his innocence. To do this, Eve becomes Charlotte’s temporary maid. Eve’s Father devises a plan to force Charlotte to confess in front of the inspector investigating the case, Wilfred Smith (Michael Wilding). When the plan doesn’t work, Eve tries blackmailing Charlotte into a confession while the police listen outside her dressing room. Charlotte agrees to pay, but insists that Jonathan is the real killer.

REVIEW:

For most directors, making a good movie is something to be proud of. When your name is Alfred Hitchcock, making a good movie is considered mediocre. Stage Fright (1950) is an example of a good, solid movie that would be a highlight for many directors. That is not the case with Hitchcock. The movie is rarely mentioned as one of his best and does not compare with his other masterworks of the 50s.

It isn’t that Stage Fright is bad. It has a little of everything. A big star in Marlene Dietrich. A hit song as Miss Dietrich gives a wonderful rendition of Cole Porter’s “I’m the Laziest Gal in Town.” There is a good story filled with romance, suspense and comedy. The story even has an original twist to it. But for me, there are better Hitchcock movies. The highlights really come at the beginning and the end.

In a bold and controversial move, Hitchcock begins the movie with a flashback. Starting with a flashback is not bold or controversial as a lot of Hollywood movies have done that. What is different about this one is that the flashback is untrue. This ruffled a few feathers with critics and audiences. Hitchcock even admitted later that he probably should not have included the false flashback. A few people, including myself, thought the inclusion of a fake flashback was brilliant.

People tend to assume that flashbacks are true for some reason. Perhaps it is because what we are being shown can never be confirmed since it happened before the time of the story we are watching. It also seems like there would be no point in deceiving the audience through a false flashback. Although in this case, the use could be justified.
Jane Wyman plays Eve, an aspiring actress. Her boyfriend, Jonathan, played by Richard Todd, happens to have the hots for the more established Charlotte (Marlene Dietrich). The movie opens with Jonathan explaining to Eve that Charlotte’s husband has been murdered and he needs her help to get away from the police as he is the prime suspect. In flashback, he explains to her how he is innocent. We later learn that this is not true and that he in fact did murder Charlotte’s husband. So the flashback is justifiable because it comes from the mind of a psychopathic killer.

Eve believes Jonathan though and agrees to infiltrate Charlotte’s house in order to figure out how she murdered her husband. Eve does this in the guise of the maid’s cousin. Eve gets rid of the maid by paying her off and saying that she needs to get access to Charlotte in order to write a newspaper story. With Eve being so many different things to so many different people, it is funny watching her try to keep it all together. A farce has broken out in the middle of a murder mystery. This might be one of the reasons why I personally dislike the movie. Hitchcock was no Billy Wilder or Howard Hawks when it came to comedy.

The middle of the movie is filled with comedy and mystery as Eve tries not to be exposed as just an actor, while trying to find out how Charlotte killed her husband. A romantic plot is even introduced as Eve begins to fall for police Inspector Wilfred Smith. This is all very nice, but nothing special.

 

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Movie Review: UNDER CAPRICORN, 1949. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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UNDER CAPRICORN, 1949
Movie Review
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten
Review by Steve Painter

SYNOPSIS:

In 1831, Irishman Charles Adare travels to Australia to start a new life with the help of his cousin who has just been appointed governor…

REVIEW:

Alfred Hitchcock is known as “The Master of Suspense.” It is rare to see a movie made by him without much suspense in it then. Typically the movies that he made without suspense did not do well with critics or at the box office. It was something that Hitchcock had to live with his whole career. He wanted to do more than suspense movies, but he knew audiences would reject them. He learned this tough lesson after making Under Capricorn (1949).

The movie is set in colonial Australia. That might be all you need to know about what type of movie this will be. It is a costume drama. It is similar in some respects to Rebecca (1940). Rebecca of course won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Under Capricorn did not. Based on this alone, there must be a big difference in the quality of each picture.

Under Capricorn doesn’t suffer because of its cast though. Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotton star. It would be the last time each appeared in a Hitchcock movie. Bergman and Hitchcock got into a dispute over her character. This dispute led Hitchcock to never call her again when he was casting a movie. Cotton would appear in a few Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes in the 1950s, but didn’t get another shot in a full length Hitchcock movie.

Michael Wilding plays Charles Adare, the nephew of the governor of Australia. He is visiting the English colony. At this point in time Australia was being used to hold convicts. One of the convicts, who has done well for himself since coming to Australia, is Cotton’s character, Sam Flusky. Flusky has become a respected businessman in the colony and is married to Bergman’s Lady Henrietta, a wealthy woman.

Flusky has been banished to Australia because he has murdered Lady Henrietta’s brother. At this point in time the caste system was in effect, so Flusky and Charles, members of the upper-class, would attend the same parties and host dinners for each other.

Since Charles has arrived in Australia he has heard about Lady Henrietta. He is disappointed when at Flusky’s dinner party she is unable to come down to eat because she is sick. Midway through the meal Lady Henrietta makes an appearance, in probably one of the best entrances in all of Hitchcock. She is an alcoholic and ends up embarrassing herself and her husband at the dinner. This doesn’t stop Charles though, as he has become smitten by her.

Housekeeper, Millie, is not smitten with Lady Henrietta. She acts like she is taking care of her, but she is slowly killing her. First mentally, by blaming all of the household’s problems on her because she is unable to be the lady of the house. Then she begins killing her physically, by giving her poison.

This does not stop Charles from taking an interest in Henrietta’s affairs. He believes that he is capable of reforming her. He seems to be making some progress. The two begin to fall in love. This doesn’t sit well with Flusky. Spurred on by Millie, who is in love with Flusky, he takes a gun and shoots Charles.

Charles doesn’t die, but enough sympathy is stirred in Henrietta that she leaves Flusky for Charles. Things seem like they will end happily for Charles and Millie, as they will both get what they want. Then Henrietta reveals that it was she, not Flusky, who murdered her brother and Flusky took responsibility for the act.

This act by Flusky stirs something in Henrietta and she wants to go back to him. Charles is reluctant to let her go, but he finally does. As a parting gift, Charles tells Flusky that Millie has been poisoning his wife. Flusky takes care of Millie. Henrietta and Flusky finally are able to live a normal life.

Under Capricorn is not a good movie if you expect to see an Alfred Hitchcock-type story. But if you enjoy historical costume pictures, this might be for you. There is enough here to keep you entertained, just ignore the directed by credit.

 

 

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Movie Review: I Confess (1953) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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I CONFESS MOVIE POSTER
I CONFESS, 1953
Classic Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Montgomery Cliff, Anne Baxter, Karl Malden
Review by Steve Painter

SYNOPSIS:

Refusing to give into police investigators’ questions of suspicion, due to the seal of confession, a priest becomes the prime suspect in a murder.

REVIEW:

Alfred Hitchcock was notorious for loathing actors. He once famously remarked that actors should be “treated like cattle.” His least favorite kind of actors were those who used “The Method” technique pioneered by Stanislavski and taught by Lee Strasberg at The Actors’ Studio. Despite his dislike for method actors, one of Hitchcock’s best films starred one of the greatest Method technicians. The movie was I Confess (1953), and its star was Montgomery Clift.

I Confess is not one of Hitchcock’s well known movies. This is hard to believe considering that the cast includes Clift, Anne Baxter and Karl Malden. The story is also top notch. Its premise involves the binding nature of the confession on Catholic priests.

The story begins as the church’s groundskeeper, Otto, happens to get in an argument one night with a man, Villette, who he gardens for on the weekends. Otto wants Villette’s money, but the he won’t give it to him, so Otto kills Villette.

The only witnesses to the murder are two young girls who say that they saw a man wearing a cassock walking from the scene. A small note about the cassock needs to be inserted here. Not only does the cassock play a large role in the movie’s story, but it played an even bigger role in the movie’s filming. Quebec was the only city Hitchcock could find where priests still wore cassocks. So, the cast and crew shot most of the movie on location in Quebec.

Feeling remorse, Otto heads to the confessional. There Father Logan, played by Clift, hears Otto confess to the murder of the rich lawyer Villette. Of course, being a priest who is bound to keep confessions a secret, Father Logan can not go to the police.

The suspense becomes enhanced when it is learned that Father Logan has become the prime suspect in the murder. Hitchcock has created his trademark “innocent man accused” situation. He then ratchets up the suspense like only he can.

We learn that before becoming a priest, Father Logan had been a war hero who had fallen for Anne Baxter’s character, Ruth. The two were lovers before World War II, but Logan never wrote her during the war. When he returns he finds Ruth. The two spend the day together and get caught in a rainstorm, while on an island. They spend the night in a gazebo. In the morning, a man appears and he asks Logan why he spent the night with a married woman.

From here on the man, who happens to be Villette, begins to blackmail Ruth. When Father Logan comes to view the body the day after hearing Otto’s confession, he spots Ruth who tells him that she was being blackmailed by Villette.

Karl Malden’s Inspector Larrue sees the two talking and begins to investigate their relationship. He figures out that Ruth still loves Logan and that she was being blackmailed by Villette. Putting two and two together he accuses Logan of the murder. The climax of the movie occurs in the courtroom where all the major players are. Otto sits in his seat, smugly knowing that Logan will not break his vow. Ruth knows Logan is innocent, but can’t provide any proof. Worst of all, Logan knows who the real killer is, but can’t say anything about it.

I will stop the plot summary here, as I don’t want the end of the movie to be ruined. This great story is also filmed brilliantly. The murder is pointed out to us during one of the best opening sequences Hitchcock ever did. This movie should really be on more lists of the best movies made by Alfred Hitchcock. It is a worthwhile watch for any fan of Hitchcock, Baxter or Clift.

 

 

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Movie Review: Strangers on a Train (1951)

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STRANGERS ON A TRAIN MOVIE POSTER
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, 1951
Classic Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker
Review by Steven Painter

SYNOPSIS:

Psychotic mother’s boy Bruno Anthony meets famous tennis professional Guy Haines on a train. Guy wants to move into a career in politics and has been dating a senator’s daughter (Ann Morton) while awaiting a divorce from his wife. Bruno wants to kill his father but knows he will be caught because he has a motive. Bruno dreams up a crazy scheme in which he and Guy exchange murders. Guy takes this as a joke, but Bruno is serious and takes things into his own hands

REVIEW:

Put Patricia Highsmith and Raymond Chandler together and you figure you have a pretty good mystery. Replace those two with Alfred Hitchcock and you have a great suspense picture.

Patricia Highsmith wrote the novel Strangers on a Train. Her story struck something in Hitchcock, so he decided to make it. Since Hitch was more concerned with visualizes as opposed to dialogue, he brought in Raymond Chandler to write the script. Chandler was a great mystery writer, but just an okay screenwriter. Hitch didn’t like what Chandler had written so he turned the project over to Ben Hecht protégée Czeni Ormonde. Hecht was a talented screenwriter and one of Hitchcock’s favorite to work with. The changes Hitchcock and Ormonde made to Highsmith’s novel turned it into a completely different story, although the basic idea in Strangers on a Train (1951) is still the same.

The idea of exchanging murders is presented by playboy Bruno Anthony to tennis star Guy Haines when the two strangers meet on a train. Bruno appears to know everything about Guy — he is a famous tennis player who happens to be in love with a senator’s daughter. The only problem is that Guy is currently married to a woman he hates. Of course this woman, Miriam, won’t leave Guy because he brings her status and money. So Bruno proposes that the two exchange murders. Bruno would kill Miriam and Guy would kill Bruno’s tyrannical father.

Guy dismisses it as nothing when the two depart from the train after eating lunch together. Unfortunately for him, he leaves a lighter given to him by Ann Morton, the senator’s daughter, on the table. Bruno pockets the lighter and goes off looking for Miriam.

He finds her ready for a night out of on the town. She is escorted by two boys, neither of them named Guy. The trio heads to the carnival. Bruno follows closely behind. We know what it going to happen once Miriam and Bruno arrive at the carnival and Hitchcock takes delight in playing with our expectations of murder.

After Hitchcock has his fun on the carnival grounds, we are taken to a deserted island where the tunnel of love boats dock. Using the privacy of the darkness for something other than love, Bruno finds Miriam and strangles her. Of course this being Hitchcock the murder can’t be done without a touch of art. Miriam’s face is illuminated by Guy’s lighter. We then see Bruno’s arms close over Miriam’s throat. Her glasses fall and crack on the grass in homage to Eisenstein’s Odessa steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin (1925). The rest of the strangulation is witnessed on the reflection of Miriam’s glasses. The scene has been mocked and imitated many times throughout the years.

With his part of the bargain done, Bruno makes his way to Washington D.C. to see how Guy is doing. Being the sane one in this agreement, Guy has done nothing but roam around Senator Morton’s house. Upon hearing from Bruno that his wife is murdered, Guy calls him crazy and threatens to go to the police. Little does he know, but the police are already on his own trail, not Bruno’s. Being a friend of a powerful senator has its perks and the only thing the police are really able to do is shadow Guy with a private detective. This is the second shadow for Guy. The first is Bruno, who constantly follows Guy and reminds him of their bargain.

One scene sticks out in this part of the movie because it was imitated in Taxi Driver (1976). Guy has a training session for his upcoming tennis tournament. Everyone it seems who is in the crowd watching the session is following the ball. We see their heads turn left and then right. All except for Bruno. He sits with a smile on his face staring at Guy. Robert De Niro would enact the same stance during the political rally in Taxi Driver.

Patricia Hitchcock appears in this movie. She adds some of her father’s trademark dark humor as Ann Morton’s younger sister. She also happens to wear glasses. These get the attention of Bruno when he crashes a dinner party thrown by Senator Morton. He is discussing the art of murder with two old stuffy guests when he sees the glasses. His mock strangulation of one of the guests becomes the real thing as he remembers his murder of Miriam.

Bruno and Guy go back and forth about the murder agreement. Finally Bruno figures that Guy won’t make good on his part of the bargain and decides to frame him for the murder by placing his lighter at the scene of the murder. Guy gets wind of this plot, but is unable to do anything as he has been slatted to play at the tennis tournament.

Hitchcock does a great job of cutting between the intensity of Guy trying his best to finish the match as quickly as possible and the laidback posture of Bruno on the train. The suspense is ratcheted up and leads to a thrilling climax that involves an out-of-control carousel.

The movie is well worth watching for those fans of Alfred Hitchcock. It is one of the most studied and imitated of his films. Robert Walker is great as Bruno. Farley Granger comes off well, but I prefer him in Hitchcock’s Rope (1948). At the very least this movie warns you to be careful when joking with strangers, because you never know who might take you literally.

 

 

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