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: 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: Rear Window (1954) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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REAR WINDOW MOVIE POSTER
REAR WINDOW, 1954
Movie Reviews

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly
Review by Matthew Toffolo

SYNOPSIS:

The adventuresome free-lance photographer L.B (Jeff) Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) finds himself confined to a wheelchair in his tiny apartment while a broken leg mends. With only the occasional distraction of a visiting nurse and his frustrated love interest (Grace Kelly), a beautiful fashion consultant, his attention is naturally drawn to the courtyard outside his “rear window” and the occupants of the apartment buildings which surround it. Soon he is consumed by the private dramas of his neighbors lives which play themselves out before his eyes.

REVIEW:

“We’ve become a race of Peeping Toms.” says Stella, the every day nurse who’s taking care of L.B. while he’s chair ridden with a broken leg. L.B. is a type-A personality, always looking for then next adventure. He’s now stuck in his apartment for months and needs to do something. So he takes to spying on his neighbors across the street in their apartments. And this is when he notices something suspicious. A man’s wife has suddenly disappeared.

This is a film with plots and themes that still hold true to today. In fact so true Hollywood decided to make a quasi remake of this film called DISTURBIA, a huge hit in the spring of 2007. Instead of the middle aged man spying on the city life, that film was about a teenage kid spying on the Suburban world.

If America became a race of Peeping Toms in 1954, I guess in 2007 it was still going strong. Society is all about wanting to know what others are doing as one prime example of that is the still popular Reality TV programs. It’s curiosity at its core. It’s why we watch movies, TV and listen to the radio. As we live our life, we entertain ourselves by watching and hearing stories about what others are doing.

For the Jimmy Stewart character, he needs to fill his usual quota of being entertained. So the only way he can do it with his confinement is to watch the neighbors. If it was 10 years later, he probably would of just gotten hooked on the day time Soaps. In 1954 he’s hooked on the people living in the apartment across the street from him. It’s what he needs to do to get by.

Visiting him often is Lisa, his love interest who wants him to settle down and be her man. He’s not that type of guy and that’s there conflict. She loves him but doesn’t love or understand the way he lives his life. He’s the journalist always living in a suitcase hoping from town to town wherever the story is. Even when he’s locked up in his apartment, he needs to find his story. She tries to take advantage of him being in just the one place to convince him to settle down, but he’s not interested in her as he wants to know what the neighbors are doing.

What happens is what happens in any situation where the dominant personality is around. She’s taken into his world and his obsessions and soon she also become infatuated with what happened with the neighbors wife. An the mutual adventure begins all in a room in an apartment building.

Alfred Hitchcock is a master of suspense. This time he must capture the suspense with just a man looking through windows with his binoculars. And he does it masterfully. Any up and coming filmmakers should take a look at this film and see how much excitement can be built with so little. And we’re completely involved on these people and their relationship with one another. As they spy on the neighbors, Hitchcock films it in the voyeuristic way like we’re spying on them. So as they feel guilty for spying, we the audience can’t help but feel a tad guilty too because we’re just as interested as they are and we want them to keep going.

Films made in Hollywood today can’t be as subtle and leisurely as this film is. A great example to see how movies has changed (in a good or bad way is your interpretation) is to watch this film and then watch Disturbia. The film’s plot is basically the same but the scenes are filmed to give the audience its suspense is completely different. It’s just the way it is now.

Hitchcock made Thriller/Suspense movies, but he also essentially made dramas, comedies and character studies too. You leave Rear Window knowing exactly what happened and knowing exactly who these characters were. Without revealing any of the major plot, the film ends exactly like it started. Another adventure has happened and the two leads are still faced with the same conflict. These are characters who didn’t have a life altering experience. It’s business as usual for them. Hollywood these days seems to always want to tell do or die stories where the characters will never be the same again. That’s fine, but it’s also refreshing to watch films like these where movies are reality mixed in with a lot of drama.

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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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