Movie Review: DIAL M FOR MUDER (1954) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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DIAL M FOR MURDER MOVIE POSTER
DIAL M FOR MURDER, 1954
Classic Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings
Review by Steve Painter

SYNOPSIS:

An ex-tennis pro carries out a plot to murder his wife. When things go wrong, he improvises a brilliant plan B

REVIEW:

Alfred Hitchcock is known as “The Master of Suspense.” This is true when it comes to the film world. In the literary world, no one was a better suspense writer than Frederick Knott. So when the mater of literary suspense had his play optioned by the master of cinematic suspense, a quality movie was sure to be produced. It was in the form of Hitchcock’s most suspenseful picture, Dial M For Murder (1954).

Unlike in other movies adapted from literary works, Hitchcock didn’t tinker with the successful stage play Knott had written. There are a few Hitchcock touches, like stalling the climatic murder sequence by having Ray Milland’s watch stop and then having him wait to make a phone call as someone is using the phone booth. All this heightens the suspense as the audience waits, paralyzed to see if Grace Kelly will be murdered.

One of the most poignant Hitchcock touches comes at the very beginning. We see Milland kiss Kelly in a standard, everyday, run-of-the mill kiss given by a wife to a husband before he leaves for work. When the American, Mark, arrives on the screen he has a passionate kiss for Kelly. Without words we know the relationship of the three main characters of the story. That is a standard device employed by Hitchcock. It allows the audience to see the exposition quickly at the beginning of the movie and does not have it intrude on the story. Much like his cameo appearances. He appears here in a photograph Tony shows Charles Swann. It appears about 20 minutes into the picture.

Knott’s story is not that original. A husband wants to kill his wealthy wife for the insurance money. It is the motive in countless suspense or mystery stories. What makes this so suspenseful is that Ray Milland’s character, Tony, sets out how the murder will be committed. From there the audience is hooked as to how everything should go. It is up to Knott and in the movie Hitchcock to introduce devices that stall the plan and make the audience squirm as they wait for Grace Kelly to be murdered. It is suspense at its most basic, but most brilliant. A key aspect to making the suspense work is the way Ray Milland acts. He is a suave criminal who is completely confident in his ability. He meticulously blackmails common criminal Charles Swann, played by Anthony Dawson, to help him murder his wife. Throughout the picture, the audience wants Tony to be successful. He has gotten us to believe that murder is a perfectly innocent thing to do, like buying a car.

Another interesting aspect of this movie is that it was released in 3D. Just like today, in the 1950s the 3D craze was in. Most famously The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) was shot in this way. Hitchcock had amazing foresight, one of the qualities which make his movies so wonderful for today’s audiences, and felt that the 3D craze was just a fad. In order to not ruin his movie, but still give in to the 3D crazy studio bosses,

Hitchcock used to form sparingly, but effectively. The most breathtaking example of 3D occurred while Grace Kelly was being strangled. At one point she reaches back for a pair of scissors. For an audience watching this in 3D it seemed like she was reaching out at them. In today’s prints without the 3D, the shot is still stunning. Ray Milland gives a great performance. As does Grace Kelly, who seems unaware of the whole thing. Robert Cummings as Mark, the American, is good in a supporting role. As is detective, and constant Hitchcock supporting actor, John Williams.

Anyone interested in the art of suspense needs to see this movie. It should be taught in film and writing classes as textbook examples of how to manipulate an audience.

 

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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: 13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI (2016)

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13_hours13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI (USA 2015) ***
Directed by Michael Bay

Review by Gilbert Seah

There is one scene in the middle of Michel Bay’s 13 HOURS that accurately describes his political stance of the movie. As the American ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher) delivers his speech on American involvement in Libya, one of the secret soldiers, Paronto (Pablo Schreiber) dozes off.

Michael Bay, director of Hollywood action packed blockbusters such as the TRANSFORMER films, PEARL HARBOR, ARMAGEDDON, THE ISLAND (his best movie) and others, is not interested in polities but in the action that takes place. In this case, the action involves the 6 secret soldiers that heroically served their country way above and beyond their call of duty.

To Bay, politics is a nod to sleep. Those in politics that fear that the film will have an adverse effect for Hilary Clinton who was the Secretary of State at that time or to the Obama Administration need not be worried. The only political notes in the film appear at the beginning of the film with the titles that America got involved after the Gadaffi was overthrown and at the end of the film with a note of the gratitude of the Libyan people. But certain facts are true – the main one being that the secret soldiers were not supported effectively by the U.S. and security was far from sufficient.

The story, as the film stresses a few times is a true one. Libya, one of the most politically troubled countries in the world has no American embassy but has what is called a low security diplomatic outpost. Here the CIA, who has in their employ, the 6 secret soldiers mentioned has to escape with whatever Americans or American sympathizers are left as they are attacked by unknown hostile forces. Among the escapees is the American Ambassador. It is a continual battle for survival.

13 HOURS is pure Michael Bay. There are lots of explosions, pyrotechnics and special effects with the help of Lucas Light and Sound Company. It is a man’s world. All the 6 actors/soldiers are buffed, bearded and tough or at least talk tough.

At the promo screening, actor Schreiber who was present mentioned that Bay’s intention was to give an account of what happened on the ground. This he has done while emphasizing the camaraderie of the men under fire. 13 HOURS is not the first film depicting the behaviour of men under combat stress. THE HURT LOCKER, KILO TWO BRAVO and AMERICAN SNIPER are a few films that have done just that. Bay uses the same tactics as these films. The soldiers are observed skyping their wives and talking to their kids, the wives are shown freaking out and flashbacks are used to emphasize better family times. The soldiers also refer to what is happening as a horror film. And like in a horror film, Bay also introduces false alarms, like shocking the audience when a lady trips breaking the glasses of tea during a high profile political meeting. Besides action, Bay a few solid suspense segments like the one Jack (John Kravnski) gets out of, lying about drones at the start of the film.

One fault of the film is the relatively simple story that Bay stretches into a 140-minute action film. Boredom sets in quite soon as the audience observes the senseless fighting reflecting the senseless action in the movie.

At only $50 million, Bay is an efficient director delivering a high demand product at a low cost using little known actors, except for John Kravinski who plays the lead character. The film was shot 3 months in Malta and 4 days in Morocco. Like AMERICAN SNIPER and LONE SURVIVOR, this film will likely make lots of money.

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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 FOREST (2016) Horror

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the_forest_posterTHE FOREST (USA 2015) ***
Directed by Jason Zada

Review by Gilbert Seah

The beginning of January usually sees new low budget films make number one at the box-office. Universal’s little horror flick , THE FOREST aims to do just that, and hopefully keep their fantastic 2015 year of box-office hits carried over to 2016.

Twins have always been a favourite pick in the horror genre. Films like Brian De Palma’s SISTERS, David Cronenberg’s DEAD RINGERS and others like THE OTHER and last year’s German GOODNIGHT MOMMY are prime examples. THE FOREST combines the twins story to a haunted forest plot in a relatively scary film about a young woman Sara (Natalie Dormer) who travels to Japan’s forest below Mount Fuji to search for her missing twin, Jesse (also played by Dormer but with black hair).

For a ghost story, there is little gore except a stabbing and a few imagined maggots. Director Zada is fond of false alarms to scare the audience out of the seats. These include a homeless man suddenly banging Sara’s taxi window in Japan, her dream of little Jesse in the tent screeching at her and scares from a Japanese teenager in school uniform among others.

At its best, the film has genuine cinematic scares. The dark of a forest is already creepy in itself. THE BLAIR WITCH PRJECT was scary enough with its camping segment shot mainly in the dark. Zada utilizes the segment in which Sara sits in the tent in the forest to stay the night waiting for her sister to return, to maximum effect. The use of light and shadows from the burning fire adds to the creepiness. Sara’s fall into a huge hole and exploring an underground cave also adds to the film’s best moments.

Story-wise, the plot is simple enough. It is a sister’s search for her twin in a Japanese forest known as a place where people go to die. A few loose ends could be easily explained. One immediate point that is questionable is character Rob (Eoin Macken), who meets Sara. He is supposed to be an Australian journalist in Japan. But he speaks with an American accent. But from the dialogue that specifies Rob as a traveller, it could be assumed that Rob is American with an Australian posting. One scene has the Japanese guide tell Sara that in the forest bad things can happen, but they are not real and are all in the head. This is an excuse for other non-explanations in the plot such as Jesse’s photos on Rob’s cellphone or Rob’s answer to Sara that Jesse has been dead for 5 days. These could be dismissed as imaginations in Sara’s head.
Still, this relatively slow moving horror movie is well scripted by no less than 3 writers. Zada’s direction is apt enough and there are sufficient scares – false alarms or real ones.

Do not expect scenic shots of Mt. Fuji or its forests below. The film was actually shot in a National Park in Serbia with an entire crew of Serbians, as can be seen in the end credits. But the cinematography is excellent for a horror flick and the Serbian National Park looks like quite the place to visit.

THE FOREST will definitely make one think twice when camping at night.

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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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