Monday, June 7, 2010
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Friday, June 4, 2010
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941)
Robert Montgomery, Carole Lombard
The words “Alfred Hitchcock” and “screwball comedy” should never be used in the same sentence. Montgomery and Lombard play a free-spirited husand and wife, Lombard asks if Montgomery could do it all over again, would he still marry her. Montgomery says no, he liked his bachelor life, only to find out that same day that their marriage certificate was no good. Hijinx ensue, drawing the couple far apart and then back together at the end.
It’s memorable as being the penultimate Carole Lombard film. Lombard died on TWA Flight 3 in January 1942.
If you want a screwball comedy from the 40’s, try His Girl Friday, much better dialogue and Cary Grant. If you want a better husband/wife film, see the 1934 adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man:
“Is he working on a case?”
“Yes, he is.”
“A case of scotch. Pitch in and help him.”
Makes me that much more excited to get on to the next film of 1941, Suspicion.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT – 1940
Joel McCrea, Lorraine Day
It’s one of the only Hitchcock films not to have an actor recognizable today (few people remember McCrea as the Virginian or Day in Dr. Kildare). Strangers on a Train only had Farley Granger, but that one also had a script by Raymond Chandler based on a Patricia Highsmith novel. Partly because of this, Foreign Correspondent is one of Hitchcock’s lesser known films (this coming from the guy who has now seen only four of them). It was nominated for Best Picture in 1940 but lost to Hitchcock’s other film, Rebecca. Joel McCrae plays an American reporter sent to Europe in late 1939 to act as a foreign correspondent during peace talks, only to get caught up in the assignation of a diplomat.
McCrea has a role similar to Joan Fontaine in Rebecca, beginning as reporter with no correspondence experience and little care for the coming war in Europe. When his editor asks, “How would you like to cover the biggest story in the world today?,” McCrea responds, “Give me and expense account and I'll cover anything.” But as his nonchalance changes as he stands next to an assassinated Dutch diplomat and quickly begins a hunt for the killer and his conspirators, he gets swept up in the politics of pre-war Europe.
The most interesting thing about the film is its history. Released in August, 1940, a final scene was filmed on July 5, 1940, which depicted the German bombing of London. The actual bombing began five days later on July 10. It would go on to become a powerful message for pro-war America. Joseph Goebbels called it, “A masterpiece of propaganda, a first-class production which no doubt will make a certain impression upon the broad masses of the people in enemy countries.”
Why did he think that? Well, that final bombing scene includes a beautiful bit of American propaganda, with Joel McCrea giving a radio interview in London as the bombing commences. He refuses to go off the air as the bombing begins, every flees and the lights go out, the light cast only on him and his microphone. He is reminded by Lorraine Day, “They’re listening in America,” and from there he deviates from his script to ad-lib a patriotic cry in the darkness of the bombing for America to take note:
“I can't read the rest of the speech I had, because the lights have gone out, so I'll just have to talk off the cuff. All that noise you hear isn't static - it's death, coming to London. Yes, they're coming here now. You can hear the bombs falling on the streets and the homes. Don't tune me out, hang on a while - this is a big story, and you're part of it. It's too late to do anything here now except stand in the dark and let them come... as if the lights were all out everywhere, except in America. Keep those lights burning, cover them with steel, ring them with guns, build a canopy of battleships and bombing planes around them. Hello, America, hang on to your lights: they're the only lights left in the world!”
Oh, and about halfway through his speech an orchestral version of the Star Spangled Banner begins to fade in, and as “The End” appears with a stone eagle in the background.
Overall this film is okay, but I was unimpressed by the suspense or the love interest. There are a few scenes alone that have the typical Hitchcock flare, including the chase following the assassination, which began in a rainstorm, the pursuit shown overhead as umbrellas shift like cornstalks in a field tracing the chase. (see below). The plane crash at the conclusion is also wonderfully shot, and while it was an enjoyable movie, I can understand why it is one of the lesser known of Hitchcock’s films, despite its historic value.
Tomorrow's film: 1941's Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
The whole reason behind this project was the realization this semester that I had only ever seen one Hitchcock film in all my life (Pscyho – 1960). Since then I’ve seen one more, the Cornell Woolrich -inspired Rear Window (1954). That left 28 films of the master of suspense that I had yet to see. Since there were 30 days in June, I figured it the perfect time to watch all 30 of his films. I am going to try and watch them in chronologic order, but may have to substitute one or two if need be. I am also going to try to keep the blog up to date, but at some point I expect to fall behind, so be aware. If anyone is intrigued enough to want to watch any of them, I can burn a copy for you. Or if anyone wants to join me, I don’t have to watch all 30 alone.
That said, here we go…
REBECCA – 1940
Lawrence Olivier, Joan Fontaine
This is the first of Hitchcock’s American-made films and the first of two released in 1940. It stars British actor Lawrence Olivier and Joan Fontaine (the sister of Olivia De Havilland) as a husband and wife who struggle to make their new marriage work despite the lingering influence of Olivier’s deceased wife, Rebecca.
Expecting a Hitchcock film, my first reaction is that the film drags for the first half. Joan Fontaine keeps the film moving as she comes up against leery housekeepers who refuse to accept her as the new Mrs. de Winter. Fontaine, who was not the first choice for the film (Olivier wanted his girlfriend Vivien Leigh, producer Selznick wanted Carole Lombard), excels in the role, going from the innocent wife blinded by love to the outcast in a house dominated by a dead woman to the supportive wife faced with her husband’s terrible past. Fontaine was nominated for Best Actress for her role, which she didn’t win, but a year later she would become the first and only actress in a Hitchcock film to win the award for her role in Suspicion (which I will get to later in the week). The film is also notable for the fact that it was the only Hitchcock film to win Best Picture, which, since it is only the third of his that I have seen, I can’t say it is his best, but for a first effort it is surprisingly good, and has gotten me suitably excited for the rest of the month.
While Fontaine keeps the film moving, when the turn comes in the dead center of the film, Olivier takes over. Normally an expository scene can run dry, even when the likes of Humphrey Bogart explains the crime at the end of the film. But as Olivier describes the back story of Rebecca’s demise, he takes command, hands jittery as he paces about the cabin explaining to his new wife what happed to his old wife. The two play off each other perfectly, Fontaine’s metamorphosis from pleasant lover to frightened wife complete as Olivier completes his story.
He describes her transformation perfectly:
“I can't forget what it's done to you. I've been thinking of nothing else since it happened. It's gone forever, that funny, young, lost look I loved won't ever come back. I killed that when I told you about Rebecca. It's gone. In a few hours, you've grown so much older.”
My favorite noir film is Laura (1944), not only because I am madly in love with Gene Tierney, but because it accomplishes one of the most difficult things in cinema: it builds up a character who is already dead. With Laura Otto Preminger achieves this through exposition on the part of investigating detectives and through flashbacks. Hitchcock fleshes out Rebecca through the overbearing reactions of the housekeepers to a Rebecca’s replacement, especially Mrs. Danvers, whose infatuation with Rebecca progressively drives her into a deeper psychosis. “You wouldn't think she'd been gone so long, would you,” she tells the new Mrs. de Winter. “Sometimes, when I walk along the corridor, I fancy I hear her just behind me. That quick light step, I couldn't mistake it anywhere. It's not only in this room, it's in all the rooms in the house. I can almost hear it now.” The book The Black Dahlia accomplished this superbly as well, but the film failed to live up to the novel, so that film is a mediocre example of it.
One small note that I loved was that Joan Fontaine has no name, she is simply referred to as Mrs. de Winter, as opposed to the old Mrs. de Winter, who is Rebecca, the title character. It is simple trick and subtly degrades the character a little further.
Mrs. Danvers looms over the new Mrs. de Winter and
tries to make her commit suicide
The only thing that I disagreed with, as it the case with many films of the time, is that the ending was changed to suit the film code. Without giving away the ending, the way the book ended sounded much better.
Overall I still think it drags in the beginning, but the second half rolls as the details are unveiled and the impeccable Olivier is forced to balance the terrors of his past with his uncontrollable temper and Fontaine’s doe-eyed angel was deserving of an Oscar nod.
Tomorrow’s film, 1940’s Foreign Correspondent…
(P.S. Here is a photo of the magnificent Gene Tierney...)