Tag Archives: Alfred Hitchcock

XL Popcorn – Strangers on a Train

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 831/1007Title: Strangers on a Train
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Year: 1951
Country: USA

Well this is it, the penultimate Hitchcock film on the list. It’s going to be a long time before I see his final entry on the list – Blackmail – but I thankfully have a lot of his other films on DVD in case I suddenly get the itch. Or I could just introduce my husband to the wonders of Joan Fontaine via a Rebecca/Suspicion double bill.

The conceit of the film is an interesting one. In a time before DNA and the related databases, could two men commit a murder on behalf of the other and get away with it. This is the central idea that draws you in, but sadly it’s not the film. Instead you have a film where, drunk on his own idea and on the idea of having his father murdered, a psychotic man kills the troublesome wife of a famous tennis player in order to force the other man to reciprocate of face being framed for a murder he didn’t commit.

Actually, when I think about this bait and switch, this is still an amazing idea for a film. The problem is that the actual murder in this film happens too early in the film’s runtime. What then unfolds is a slower paced blackmail scheme where the rather milquetoast protagonist lacks the presence to fully lead this story. I actually wish this had followed the novel more because that would have made for the better film and not had the almost perfunctory happy ending.

Not the best of his films to initiate a Hitchcock drought with, but between the framing of the strangulation and the amazing final confrontation on an out of control carousel I cannot see myself not throwing on another of his films in the mean time. Such a shame about Robert Walker’s untimely death – I was so prepared to find more of his films after his tour de force performance as the psychotic plan hatcher that finding out that he died in the same year that this film was released was a real blow.

XL Popcorn – The Wrong Man

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 783/1007Title: The Wrong Man
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Year: 1956
Country: USA

Until very recently, I had never heard of The Wrong Man let alone that this was one of the last remaining Hitchcock films left on the list. It’s not even in my Hitchcock Blu Ray box set, which has pretty much all of the big films and some of the minor ones. It’s pretty bizarre really, but I do love it when this list throws up a pleasant surprise like this one.

Like many films from decades ago, The Wrong Man was poorly received at the time only to receive a later re-evaluation and be seen as one of his lesser known masterpieces. It wasn’t all bad reviews at the time though. With this being one of the few times that Hitchcock attempted something close to realism and actually depicted a real event faithfully (well, as faithful as Hitchcock would allow) it makes sense that upcoming directors like Godard, Scorsese and Rohmer would have seen something in it that the mainstream may not have.

Viewed nowadays, The Wrong Man is a tense true story of a man who was falsely identified as the perpetrator of multiple robberies and assaults. We watch as the cards are stacked against him, such as the natural deaths of key witnesses and his spelling mistakes, and he and his family are brought on the brink of destruction. Being a true story, we know that the ending has to feature some sort of exoneration, but that doesn’t make the ride any less stressful or the fact that (despite what the final card says) his wife never recovered from the mental breakdown she suffered.

Films like this are why I love black and white films from this era. A story like this that is so devoid of life’s colour because of the constant Damoclean dread are so much better told when everything on the screen is similarly devoid of colour. It makes the shadows in the jail cell just that much more ominous and helps with the sterility of the scenes in the mental health institution where the wife ends up.

Being a true story the finale feels a little bit rushed but, as they say in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, life doesn’t make narrative sense. It does come as an extremely welcome relief and a lesser director would have milked the ending for as much as it was worth – but there is no melodrama to be made here. There’s no tearful reunion or dramatic confrontation, just the sheepish glance of an ashamed witness and the slight rankle at the true criminal.

Once the 1001 is over, I really want to start mopping up the major Hitchcock films that the list didn’t cover. For the most part I enjoy then, some I rank amongst my top films ever and every single one at least has something of interest. Just Blackmail and Strangers on a Train left. I guess that I’m going to have to space these out and keep doing my unintentional ‘one Hitchcock a year’ policy.

XL Popcorn – Frenzy

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 714/1007Title: Frenzy
Director: Alfred Hithcock
Year: 1972
Country: UK

The idea of doing a day trip that is 5 hours in each direction really is an insane one. I’ll be going more into that in a future post as, since I prefer to do these things chronologically, I’ll be posting about the film I watched on the way up.

It’s been a good while since I last watched a film by Alfred Hitchcock, and especially one that is as late in his career as Frenzy (which would probably be Marnie). The later films of Alfred Hitchcock are a real mixed bag, but that’s as you would likely expect from an extremely prolific director within the final era of his career. I’m happy to report that, with Frenzy, this is definitely not another Topaz (boy how that film did bore me).

Previously with Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets I saw the horror of a mass shooter out onto screen for the first time, with Hitchcock’s Frenzy we see an interesting early take on the psychosexual serial killer. It’s worth remembering that this film is from the early 1970’s when watching this – some of the comments made by the men within this film aren’t just misogynistic but (in the case of policeman joking with a barmaid about rape before being murdered being a silver lining) are downright despicable.

Right, with that out of the way lets get to the meat of the film. A serial killer is on the loose in London – who rapes women then strangles them to death with his necktie. It’s a horrible way to go, and it’s not comfortable viewing when we see this crime being committed – let alone the three other times that we see the victims once they have been murdered.

The film itself follows two main threads: the perpetrator himself as he commits the crimes from the shadows (the titular frenzy) and that of a man who ends up being fingered for the crimes because of his association with certain victims and because he himself is no saint. There is palpable tension multiple times in this film – most notably the sequence where the killer goes in search of an item of jewellery that would incriminate him.

Frenzy is one of those films that serves as a reminder that even when a director has nearly been making movies for 50 years, you shouldn’t make the mistake of discounting them completely. I mean, here is a film about some of the most disgusting crimes out there… and yet Hitchcock is able to weave in some proper laughs. This is mainly done during the exposition scenes where the police inspector shares details of the case with his wife whilst dealing with her new found love of (rather suspect) continental cuisine.

With his cache, Hitchcock was also able to recruit excellent actors for the two leading roles. The accused man is sympathetic (whilst still an insufferable jerk) and the psychopath shows a incredibly faceted outgoing personality that can change on a dime. Another example of why he was not a director you could properly fob off.

Given the nudity and the sexual violence this may not have been the best film to watch on a train… so I guess that would be a bit of advice from me to you oh dear reader. Watch a film like this in an appropriate venue, which doesn’t include a Greek train going through beautiful countryside.

XL Popcorn – Shadow of a Doubt

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 660/1007
Title: Shadow of a Doubt
Directors: Alfred Hitchcock
Year: 1943
Country: USA

I’m going to make this a yearly tradition to watch a new Hitchcock for the 1001 list in the winter months. I have four left to do, which makes sense seeing my current watching pace. Last year I watched Marnie, which lacked a certain spark that allowed it to go from good to great. When it comes to Shadow of a Doubt it was a completely different story.

As with most of the great Hitchcock films Shadow of a Doubt is a two-handed affair with Teresa Wright (who won an Oscar in 1942 in Mrs. Miniver) and Joseph Cotten playing the roles of a niece and uncle called Charlie. The younger Charlie wishes for something interesting to come into her life and gets more than she bargained for as favourite her uncle travels in from the East. The thing is… her uncle may not be who he appears to be.

Being a Hitchcock film, it is always the safest option to trust your gut if it thinks a character is going to turn out to be the villain of the piece. Also, Cotten and his increasingly creepy performance are a massive clue that no matter what’s happening he is guilty as sin. Then again, that’s the whole point of this film; the joy comes from watching as his niece goes from adoration to suspicion to fear to resolve.

As much as Cotten gives an excellent performance as uncle Charlie, it is really Teresa Wright as the younger Charlie that helps this film to take flight. Having now seen here in this, Mrs Miniver and The Best Years of Our Lives it is hard to deny that this woman was an extreme talent… but her filmography just peters out. Makes me really want to read the biography should it ever come out in paperback.

It’s interesting to note that, repeatedly throughout his career, Hitchcock would refer to Shadow of a Doubt as one of his favourite films.  Having watched this, I might have to agree with him. It tells a far simpler and subtler story than the likes of Psycho or Rebecca, but there is something more thrilling about the idea of evil invading a small town home.

XL Popcorn – Marnie

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 588/1007
Title: Marnie
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Year: 1964
Country: USA

It’s been a bit of a weird day for pop culture. Started the day with a few episodes of ice-skating anime series Yuri!!! On Iceplayed some Overwatch and then settled in to see the second of the two films that Tippi Hedren made with Alfred Hitchcock. So yes, I’ve been a bit all over the place.

Speaking of all over the place, let’s look at Marnie. What a fantastically meaty lead role for an actress this was. I can imagine that there were many women in Hollywood in the early 1960s who would have wanted a complex role like this psychologically mixed-up thief. I can see how Princess Grace of Monaco might have been advised against taking this role, which is a pity as I can only imagine how great she could have been.

This is not me disparaging Tippi Hedren at all, it’s just one of those great ‘what if’ scenarios. The fact of the matter is that Hedren is fantastic in this rather melodramatic Hitchcock character. Not only is she a thief that cannot stand being touched by men, but also has a severe phobia of thunderstorms and the colour red. That latter one must be rather debilitating if you are ever standing at a road crossing.

There are times where this film does feel over the top. The use of scarlet filters whenever Marnie feels afraid is overdone. It’s cool when it happens the first three times, but then you just start anticipating it whenever a red item appears onscreen.

Also, there’s the rape scene. When I saw a young and handsome Sean Connery come in as the male lead of this film I did not expect him to rape Marnie. It isn’t violent. It isn’t graphic. However, the way Marnie just goes catatonic in order to deal with what is about to happen to her is equally as disturbing.

Sean Connery’s character of Mark is… not as complex as Marnie, but not exactly straightforward. Throughout the film you cannot quite confirm whether he actually loves her or if, much like his South American cat, just wants to housebreak her as if she were some wild curiosity. 2 hours later and I still wasn’t sure.

In the end, whilst this is a good film there are too many niggles that prevent this from becoming a great movie. When you have a back catalogue as high quality as Hitchcock then this movie isn’t good enough to crack the Top 10 of his that I have seen. Still, a fun romp though.

XL Popcorn – The Lady Vanishes / All That Heaven Allows

We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”Title: The Lady Vanishes
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Year: 1938
Country: UK

I cannot believe that it has been over two years since I last watched a new film (well, new to me) by Alfred Hitchcock. The Lady Vanishes takes me up to lucky 13 and there are still a large number of his classics left for me to see. He is an extraordinary director and out of the 13 I’ve seen only 1 film (Topaz) but I did not like. Now that is impressive.

The Lady Vanishes will easily rank amongst my favourite Hitchcock films alongside Rebecca, Psycho and Rope. In fact it has been a bit of a revelation as I had no idea that he directed a comedy. Okay each services more of a mystery/thriller, but I laughed quite often. Mostly because of those two cricket enthusiasts who served as supporting characters (although at the beginning you think they are going to be the leads) who were so successful that they managed to have their own series of spin off films.

What starts out as a lighthearted comedy in the hotel of a fake Eastern European States ends up being a thriller via a mystery. It worked so well in never amping up the suspense all the way towards the end that it was very annoying when I had to pause the action for a bathroom break. And much like the mystery in at the second act: nothing new is as it seems.

I saw a comment which said that in order to enjoy this film as much as possible you should know as little as possible. I would be inclined to agree with that, otherwise the suspense would not be as interesting.

What can be said is just how fantastic the script was. It was so quickfire and clever and yet when I look at the writers’ later credits and I can’t see anything that noteworthy. Sure, they worked on a lot of films but nothing on the same scale as a The Lady Vanishes. As always you have to praise Hitchcock for pulling the entire thing together and for getting amazing performances out of Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood. Dame May Whitty is, as always, a treasure in her role of Miss Froy.

This was the penultimate film the Hitchcock made in Britain before his move to Hollywood. I can’t exactly say it’s a pity because look at everything he made from 1940 to the end of his career. I am sure that if he had stayed in Britain he would still have been one of THOSE directors but I doubt he would have reached the heights that he did without Hollywood money. If anything The Lady Vanishes provided the perfect goodbye present to his native country.

allthatheavenallowsTitle: All That Heaven Allows
Director: Douglas Sirk
Year: 1955
Country: USA

Before watching Written on the Wind I had never heard of the director Douglas Sirk. It appears that with All That Heaven Allows I have seen his two biggest films. I absolutely adored them both and will be seeking out Imitation of Life once I have finished off the 1001 list.

Both All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind more expertly crafted melodramas with a top performance by golden age star Rock Hudson (who I’m starting to develop a crush on). Also they both feature amazingly vivid colours and beautiful cinematography which helps to make it a feast for the eyes as well as the heart.

However, whilst both films are clearly of a similar style there are some stark differences which makes them unique. When Written on the Wind was able to chew the scenery to give it a more knowingly soapy feel this melodrama is played straight. In fact you get so much more emotionally involved in the lives of Cary and Ron than you did with any characters in Written on the Wind.

What strikes me about the romance in All That Heaven Allows is how a lot of these prejudices still live on today. Sure there are ways that we have become more accepting of a relationship forming between a well to do widow and a working man 8-10 years her junior, but eyebrows would still be raised.

As I watched this I could not help but cast my mind back to when I recently watched Ali: Fear Eats The Soul. The relationship in that film between the German widow and her younger African husband and felt remarkably similar. It is just that you take all the baggage associated with the relationship in All That Heaven Allows and you add a racial element. With both movies I just felt myself perplexed at how their children reacted so cruelly towards their mother finding new happiness.

Actually let’s talk about Ned, her son, as he is a prick. Whilst the daughter also disapproves of this new relationship you can see that she at least it makes the effort during the first meeting. The son, however, doesn’t even give Ron a chance. One of his major arguments being the that she would have to sell the family house in order to move in with Ron. However, after he has successfully split Cary and Ron he brings up the idea of selling the house since neither he nor his sister will be able to visit in the next year due to his scholarship and her engagement. It really boiled my blood when he said that to her. What an ungrateful tosser!

I think you can tell this film got underneath my skin. I think a big part of that was Jane Wyman who was breathtaking in her sadness as the lonely Cary Scott. It was also a treat to see Agnes Moorehead in her role of Cary’s best friend. I wonder how many of these melodramas I have left to go on this list.

Progress: 556/1007