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

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

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

SYNOPSIS:

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

REVIEW:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SYNOPSIS:

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

REVIEW:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Movie Review: VERTIGO (1958) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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VERTIGO MOVIE POSTER
VERTIGO, 1958
Classic Movie Review

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

SYNOPSIS:

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

REVIEW:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

7.5/10 fan rating on IMDB

Read more professional reviews

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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