Monday, April 27, 2009

Hitchcock Films I Haven't Seen

Some of these first films might not even exist anymore:


NUMBER 13 (1922)
THE RING (1927)


MURDER! (1930)
MARY (1931)

War films


and finally

UNDER CAPRICORN (1949) with Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten, the film I need to see most on this list.

So 41 films and 21 films I haven't seen.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hitchcock Films I've Seen: Day Eight, Last Day

Six films today, rather than five to finish it up.

THE BIRDS (1963) - This is the only film Hitchcock made that verges on the supernatural. The attack the birds (birds of all kinds) make on the human race is never explained. This is the closest thing he made to a monster movie. And for many people, this is all they think of when they think of Hitchcock. I grew up watching this film, it seemed to be shown more than any other Hitchcock film on TV. And it takes place in Bodega Bay, near my home town. We would go there when we went to the beach. I loved hearing them mention "Santa Rosa".
There are odd things about this film. Tippi Hedron seems stiff and her interactions with Rod Taylor do seem poorly written. But something about the artifice of the human relations make the bird attacks seem more real, more terrible. And almost as iconic as the cropduster scene from NORTH BY NORTHWEST and the shower scene from PSYCHO, it the scene in the film of the birds gathering on the jungle gym.

MARNIE (1964) - I remember reading a Hitchcock book by Donald Spoto in which he argued that the awful rear projection in this film was intentional. Later, I read somewhere that he admitted he was being too defensive of Hitchcock and this was just a weak film. I'd have to agree with the latter accessment. Hitchcock's sexual perversity is quite strongly on display in this film. It's unpleasant but not very insightful. Sean Connery gives one of his worse performances in this film. Tippi Hendron was not great in THE BIRDS, but in the last scenes of that film she really comes through. She is out of her depth in this film. And the Freudian phychology, that might have seemed cutting edge in its time now seems dated and superficial.

TORN CURTAIN (1966) - Paul Newman was from the method school of acting, a school Hitchcock did not care for. It is said when asked by an actor for motivation, Hitch replied, "Your paycheck." Newman is not at his best in this film, and neither is Julie Andrews (she isn't ever given the opportunity that Doris Day was given to sing.) It is a weak effort by Hitchcock, but it does have some things worth watching. It is a cold war story in which the Commies are truly the bad guys. It has powerful scene in which Hitchcock tried to show how hard it is to kill a man. And there are other moments of geniune tension.

TOPAZ (1969) - This may well be Hitchcock's worst film (especially if you exclude all his silent work.) It is amazing that before THE BIRDS, Hitchcock made three straight masterpieces and this is the third bad film that Hitchcock made in a row. This film was forced on the director by Universal Studios, and Hitch reported this adaptation of a Leon Uris novel was his most unhappy effort.

FRENZY (1972) - Throughout most of his career, Hitch had to find was to weasel content around the censors. In this R rated film, Hitch did not need to restrain himself. He able to depict graphic violence and nudity. I think this often led to great creativity and ingenuity on Hitchcock's part. But this is still a very good serial killer film. I hear that Michael Caine had been asked to play the role of Barry Foster's role but Caine turned him down. It is one of those tantalizing could have beens.

FAMILY PLOT (1976) - Hitchcock's last film. And it is a good one. I'm glad he went out with a suspense comedy, which he made more often than pure horror films. A kidnapping film that pits flakey con men versus cold blooded killers. Karen Black, who I usually consider an inexplicable star of the 70's, was good in this film. And Bruce Dern is very good. And it has Coach from CHEERS. Soon,if anyone cares, I'll list the Hitchcock films I haven't seen.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Hitchcock Films I've Seen: Day Seven

Okay, so I missed a day. Sue me.

THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956) This is the remake I was talking about. Hitchcock remade one of his English suspence films with the advantages if a big studio budget, special effects and stars. Most any film is improved with Jimmy Stewart. And Doris Day, in spite of her reputation in some circles as a lightweight, proves herself again here as a very good dramatic actress. This is the film she introduced what became her theme song, "Que Sera Sera". Speaking of music, I believe this is Hitch's first film to use the great Bernard Herrmann (of "Citizen Kane" and the shreiks of the PSYCHO theme.) Herrmann is the conductor in the Albert Hall sequence of the film.

THE WRONG MAN (1956) - I'm watching this film as I write this. This film was made during an incredibly prolific time in Hitchcock's career. In this year and the two previous he made six films (including REAR WINDOW, a masterpiece). This is a very film good film, quite different from any other. It tells a true story of a man wrongly accused of a robbery. That man is played by Henry Fonda, his only performance in a Hitchcock film. It's not hard to spot Hitchcock in this film. He introduces the film, as himself.

VERITGO (1958) - This is one of Hitchcock's most critically acclaimed films (Total Film ranked this as the second best film of all time and #9 on the American Film Institute List.) But then again, this was not always one of Hitch's more popular films. It's kinda "arty". But James Stewart is very good as a police detectiove who thinks he is seeing a woman he thought he saw die. Kim Novak has had her critics, but I think she provides an earthiness that many of Hitch's blondes are lacking. And it is a great way to do sight seeing of the San Francisco of fifty years ago.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) - Maybe the most fun Hitchcock film, Cary Grant goes on a trip of nonsense. Howard Hawks said you only need three great scenes in a film and stuff to hold it together to make a great film. Okay, so you have the great drunk driving scene (with dated rear project effects, but Grant still makes it fun), the crop duster scene (maybe the greatest action scene of all time), the sexy dialouge with the incredible Eva Marie Saint, the very funny auction scene, the Mt. Rushmore chase, one great scene and sequence after another. It's tense and very funny. James Mason is rates with Claude Raines in NOTORIOUS as one of the all time great sauve villians. Yeah, it's worth seeing. Our family watched this on the van DVD player as we drove to Mr. Rushmore this summer. Oh, and my high school drama teacher, Mike Pryor, says he is the one who yelled in the U.N. scene ("He's got a knife!")

PSYCHO (1960) - Okay, this is like crazy. Hitchcock made three films in a row that are on the American Film Institute (this film is #14 and NBNW was #55.) There are a few streaks like that by other directors, but not many. And this set the templet for horror films for years to come. There are some that say the film owes much to Michael Powells's PEEPING TOM, which I saw recently, and PSYCHO is so much better than that film. I remember watching this film alone at home with the lights out and I nearly quit watching because I was so scared. Anthony Perkins gives one of the most scary and funny and iconic performances of all time here. One of the greatest plot twists of all time is in that shower scene. One of the greatest bits of editing ever is in that shower scene. This is simply the best horror film ever made.

Let's see if I get back to this list tomorrow.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hitchcock Films I've Seen: Day Six

Okay, so I didn't post yesterday because, um, it was Earth Day. Yeah, that's right. I saved the planet by not conserving enery and not posting yesterday. So if they is a Planet Earth existing as you read this, it's because I saved it by not posting yesterday. Or the day before. Because people who REALLY love the planet conserve energy on Earth Day Eve as well.

I CONFESS (1953) - This is a rather odd film that highlights the Catholicism of Hitchcock. The plot centers on a man who confesses a murder to a priest. But when the priest refuses to devulge the confession to the police, they suspect the priest of the murder. The weak link in the film is Montgomery Cliff, a great actor, but he does not give a great performance in this film. Rumor has it that Hitch didn't get along well with Method Actors who would want to discuss motivation and character backgrounds. It's said he had similar problems with Paul Newman in TORN CURTAIN. Anyway, the result is a merely average film.

DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954) - I would love to see this film some day in 3-D as it was originally meant to be presented. But by the time the film came out, that wave of 3-D was dying, so even at the time most saw the film in standard format. This is another adaptation of a stage play (as was ROPE which featured a different gimmick) but it works. Ray Milland turns in a solid slightly sinister performance and Grace Kelly is gorgeous and Robert Cummings is bland as ever. The oddest thing about the plot is it is kind of pro-adultry. The scissor murder scene is great and would have been cool in 3-D (seems to have influenced Kenneth Branaugh's "DEAD AGAIN".)

REAR WINDOW (1954) - Back to masterpiece territory with this Jimmy Stewart/Grace Kelly classic. Hitchcock again takes a limited area (a man's apartment and what he can see of other apartments from his window) and presents us with a full and rich world. We join Stewart in the vice of voyeurism, sharing the thrills and guilt. We follow the lives of several of Stewart's neighbors, including one who may be a killer. There are great moments of tension in the film as well as much black humor. A pre Perry Mason Raymond Burr turns in a wonderful dark and yet sympathatic performance.

TO CATCH A THIEF (1955) - This film seems to have been made just so people could gaze on Cary Grant, Grace Kelly and the French Riveria. Which isn't a bad reason to make a movie. The plot of finding the jewel theif usually takes a back seat to the romance in this film. Full of Freudian imagry (kissing disolves to fireworks, it was a new cliche, then) and double entrendres ("Do you perfer legs or breasts?" refering to chicken, of course) this is a slight, but fun film.

THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY (1955) - Before there was WEEKEND AT BERNIES, there was TTWH about a corpse that keeps popping up in unexpected and inopportune place around a small New England town where every had a motive to kill Harry. It hasn't age terribly well, but it did open the door for more cinematic black humor. It features an early performance from the talented Shirley MacLaine.

Back tomorrow or sometime sone with a remake that is actually an improvement on the original.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hitchcock Films I've Seen: Day 5

NOTORIOUS (1946) - John Nolte, the editor at Big Hollywood, rates this as the best Hitchcock film. I wouldn't say that, but it probably edges into my top five. It would be hard to find a more charming screen couple than Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman (Grant and Grace Kelly in TO CATCH A THEIF would be competitors in the most beautiful screen couple) and this is the film where they have one of the longest kisses ever filmed.
But the person who makes the film for me is Claude Rains as the momma's boy in love with Bergman. Most lovable Nazi in screen history.
There is a very funny legion that the McGuffin (plot devise that motivates the players) being uranium caught the interest of the US government in the film as the Manhattan project was well under way.

THE PARADINE CASE (1947) - From one of the best of Hitchcock to one of his worst (at least in the 'modern' Hitch era.) Even Charles Laughton cannot overcome the drab performance by Gregory Peck and a dull murder trail plot.

ROPE (1948) - Hitchcock often like to experiment with different film technique and this was one of his experiments. A master of editing and quick cuts decided to make a film using only long, ten minute takes. (Ten minutes does not sound long, but watch an average tv show or movie and count the seconds between cuts and you will see that ten minutes is an eternity in film terms.) For this film (a retelling of the Leopold-Loeb murder) Hitchcock had a special set designed so that the camera could move freely without stopping to keep the viewer interested.
Jimmy Stewart makes his first of four Hitchcock appearances as a philosopher who plays with the ideas of Nietzsche, but doesn't want to consider the consequences of a world without God. Rumor has it Hitch wanted Grant for the role, instead he cast the man I consider Hitch's best leading man. Stewart gave simply maginficant performances for three directors (Hitchcock, Capra and Mann.)
This was also Hitchcock's first color film.

STAGE FRIGHT (1950) - An interesting performance by Marlene Deitrich does not save this muddled film. The film does feature the debut of Hitch's daughter Patricia (who turned in reliably good perfomances in her father's films). It also caused a bit of a stink with some viewers by breaking an assumed law of movies by lying in a flashback.

STANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951) - This may well be my favorite Hitchcock film. Even with the dated minature work with the carasaul at the end of the film, it's just excellent. One of my favorite writers, Ramond Chandler of the Phillip Marlow mysteries, adapted a novel by the ever perverse Patricia Highsmith (of the Ripley novels) about stangers on a train (ah, the title) who meet and one suggusts exchanging murders.
Farley Granger gives a good performance (as he did in ROPE, but little else) and Pat Hitchcock is quite funny. But Robert Walker owns the film as the effeminate, vain, funny pyschopath, Anthony Bruno. There are many marvelous sequences in this film, but my favorite is a scene at a tennis match. The camera focuses on the crowd watching the match, all the heads bopping back and forth following he ball, but one face does not move as Walker glares at Granger.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hitchcock Films I've Seen: Day 4

SUSPICION (1941) - This is my least favorite of the four films Cary Grant made with Hitchcock. Apparently, in this story in which a wife (Joan Fontaine) is suspecious of her husband (Grant), there was much disagreement between Hitch and the about how bad of a guy the husband should be. This lack of clarity in the storytelling does hurt the film, but it is still entertaining. (Leo G. Carroll makes his second of six appearances in Hitchcock films. Perhaps more appearances of anyone beside Hitchcock?)

SABOTEUR (1942)- A rough draft for the far superior NORTH BY NORTHWEST, Hitch was reportedly very disappointed the studio forced Robert Cummings upon him. For as much as Hitchcock dispaged actors, he highly valued stars. He appeciated the shortcut that a Grant or Jimmy Stewart gave him in winning over audience sympathy allowing him to jump more quickly into the story. The Statue of Liberty makes a cameo and is replaced by Mt. Rushmore in NBNW.

SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943) - Hitchcock sited this as his favorite of his films, and it's one of mine as well. Partly because it is filmed in my hometown of Santa Rosa, California and it allows me to see the city as it existed before I was born. I also love Joseph Cotton's performance as the kindly/evil Uncle Charlie. Teresa Wright is very good as well as the niece Charlie. (Wright had an amazing streak as a new actress - THE LITTLE FOXES, MRS. MINIVER and THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES and than this film. And she did THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES just a couple of years after this.)Thorton Wilder brought some OUR TOWN flavor to the screenplay.

LIFEBOAT (1944) - Hitchcock made some films for the war effort (which I haven't seen) before going on to make this film little experiment of a film. After working with Wilder, the director turned to John Steinbeck for this World War story about a group of Americans and Brits stranded at sea with a nasty German. Hitch wanted to see if he could make a film that all takes place on a single location and yet make it cinematic rather than stage like. Over all, he succeeded wonderfully. He even comes up with a clever use solution to make his cameo.

SPELLBOUND (1945) - Alright, let me admit upfront that I am not a big Gregory Peck fan. Yes, I like some of his films (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, ROMAN HOLIDAY), but there's just a smugness about the man that I find annoying. So for me, he is the weak link in this otherwise very fun film about a man who needs Ingrid Bergman's professional help to deal with his amnesia. The best thing about the film is the Freudian dream sequences designed by Salvador Dali (another example of Hitch looking to work with some of the most creative artists of his time.)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Five Hitchcock Films I've Seen: Day 3

THE LADY VANISHES (1938) - It's a close call between this and THE 39 STEPS, but I consider this Hitchcock's first masterpiece. Dame May Whitty is wonderful as the little old lady who is more than she seems and I love the two English twits whose lives and conversations center around cricket (something about cricket that makes an obsesion about it more funny than if it was soccer or baseball, maybe it's words like "googly" and "mullygrubber".)
The 2005 Jodie Foster film FLIGHTPLAN stold quite brazenly for this film, but it was vastly inferior, even with the introduction of CGI and the switch from a train to a plane.

JAMAICA INN (1939) - A rather silly gothic melodrama set in an English seaside town. Based on a Daphne Du Maurier novel (as were two other Hitchcock films), this film does profit from the presense of the always entertaining Charles Laughton and an early performance by the beautiful Maureen O'Hara.

REBECCA (1940) - a far superior adaptation of a Daphne Du Maurier novel, this was the only Hitch picture to win Best Picture Oscar (it also won for best cinematography). It did not win the Best Director Oscar, Hitchcock never won an Oscar for director and had to settle for one of those "Sorry, We've Screwed Up for Decades" Oscars.
Laurence Olivier and Joan Fotaine are very good, but Judith Anderson steals the show as the dictorial housekeeper.

FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940) - This is a film that had special effects that were considered spectacular at the time that have not aged well. Still, there are some great set pieces, such as the windmill scene and the umbrella scene where in you can play the game "one of these things is not like the others."
And Edmund Gwenn is great in the film, with a performance that is a stark contrast to his Santa Claus in "Miracle on 34th Street".

MR. & MRS. SMITH (1941) - A real departure for Hitchcock, a screwball comedy. I hear the reason that took the film was to work with Carole Lombard, a very reasonable basis for choosing a film. It's okay, but many of Hitch's suspense films have bigger laugh out loud moments (such as Cary Grant at the auction in NORTH BY NORTHWEST.)
The censors irratiated Hitch by censoring toilets in a scene, so he got his revenge with PYSCHO which featured a toilet bowl close-up.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Five Hitchcock Films I've Seen: Day 2

THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934) - Okay, now we start with the Hitchcock greatness. An innocent man caught up with evil forces by chance is a theme of most of the great Hitch films and this is the first film with that theme in good form. An average guy stumbles into an assasination plot and his family is threatened if he tries to help.
Plus, you have Peter Lorre. It's great fun to watch Lorre and great fun to try to mimic his voice.
This film would be remade by Hitchcock and both films are worthy efforts. An interesting change in the plot is that the wife (Jill played by Edna Best) is a expert with the rifle in this film and in the remake Doris Day is a singer. So the older film has the less stereotypical strenght for the heroine. Fun flick.

THE 39 STEPS (1935) - This film got Hitchcock noticed by critics as one of the greats. This film is on the best of lists and is in the Criterion catalouge. Again, innocent on the run and it works on the suspense and the comedy levels. It strays far from the John Buchan novel it is based on and easily surpasses it. Robert Dohan and Madaline Carroll are a great screen couple and you come to care for them.
Got to love the scenes with Mr. Memory.

SECRET AGENT (1936) - Madaline Carroll is back. Yeah! Peter Lorre is back! Super Yeah! And John Geilgud as well; so not a shabby task. Good film, by the snowy Alpine settings are extra phony looking.

SABOTAGE (1936) - Based on a Joseph Conrad novel, Hitch did a very contemporary Hollywood thing and changed the Socialists in the novel into generic terrorists. A weakness of Hitchcock is he often equates all the world powers and political forces. The villians always seem to have greed or lust as their motives rather than the political motives that do cause evil in the world.
A great thing in this film is it doesn't spare even children from danger, so the suspense it still there, even for a modern audience. And Oscar Homolka and Sylvia Syndey are both very good.

YOUNG AND INNOCENT (1937) - Okay, not great, very much in the vein of superior 39 STEPS. Worth seeing though, watch by the great crane shot that leads to the man with the blinking eyes.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Just for the heck of it - Where to find Bill books

For whatever it's worth, here's links to my Bill the Warthog books:


Day by Day Through Hitchcock Films

Since in yesterdays post, I mentioned my goal to see all the Hitchcock films (at least the sound films), so I might as well post what I've seen here and what I still need to see. I'm going to start by going through the films I've seen and give a quick review. Five a day, starting with the earliest, and then I'll list what I haven't seen the day after I'm done with these.

This is an important film in Hitch's career because it is the first true horror/suspense film he made. It does have some rather striking visual images (such as the shot looking up through the floor as the lodger paces) but overall this reimagining of the Jack the Ripper story is rather dull.

This is a rather important film not only in Hitch's career but also in British film history. It is the first all talking film in British history. It began production as a silent film but then from the former colonies came the sensation of THE JAZZ SINGER and this was made into a talkie. But Hitch has yet to hit his stride and this film is still pretty dull. Another interesting aspect of this film is that the leading lady did, in fact, commit the murder she is blackmailed for (but the killing was in self defense of her virtue.) This film debuted on my birthday.

A really dull film about class warfare. I've seen it, but I barely remember it.

Okay, I admit it's a long time since I've seen this film (on public TV) and I don't really remember it. I know I can get this from the library, so I should.

This is where the Hitchcock films really start feeling like Hitchcock films. Strange conicidents lead strangers together to investigate a jewelry theif. Fun chase ends the film with obvious use of minatures.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Easy Access to Hitchcock and Scripture

The first Hitchcock film I watched, I didn’t get to see all the way through. Torn Curtain with Paul Newman played on some network’s Movie of the Week, but I was sent to bed not very far in to the film. I eventually watched it on channel 7, which showed movies weekdays from 3:30 to 5 in the afternoon. Those afternoon movies were heavily edited for time and content, so I’m not sure how much of the movie I saw.
Channel 2 showed The Birds quite frequently. Often enough that I even began to look during the moments that my older brothers and sisters warned me were gory and gross. I don’t know if I was more interested in the avian carnage or the Bodega Bay location filming (I was excited every time my hometown of Santa Rosa was mentioned) but I watched whenever it aired.
In the seventies, I made a special effort to see the other Hitchcock film filmed locally, A Shadow of a Doubt. When I noticed this film was going to be playing on channel 44, I knew we couldn’t pick it up in Fulton with our rabbit ears, so I asked a friend in Wikiup, where they had cable, if I could watch the movie at her house. (She let me).
Sometime in high school I decided that I would see every Alfred Hitchcock ever made. Well, I didn’t actually figure I would see every Hitchcock film, because the silent films of Hitchcock never seemed to play on TV or at the revival theaters. So my hope was to see all of the Hitchcock “talkies”.
I read film books and biographies about Sir Alfred, learned how he started in a small English studio writing title cards for silent films. He met his wife, Alma, at the studio, the woman he remained with after he came to America and throughout his long career and life. I read about how he pioneered the genre of suspense. Hitch made a distinction between horror and suspense. If you film a family around a table and suddenly a bomb goes off, that is horror. If you film a bomb under a family’s table and show them going on with their meal, that is suspense.
I would scout the TV Guide. CBS had, for a time, screened a series of films including Rebecca, Notorious and The Paradine Case on Friday nights at 11:30, so I made a point of getting home from the football games and pizza to watch for the Master of Suspense.
Sometimes I would set the alarm for the middle of the night so I could get up at 3 in the morning to watch Stage Fright or Sabotage. The best times of all were when the revival movie theater in Petaluma would have a Hitch Double Feature such as Strangers on a Train with Suspicion -- and I’d be there.
I was making real headway on the list, but it still seemed like it I might never achieve the goal. For every North by Northwest that screened on TV frequently, there was a Mr. and Mrs. Smith that never seemed to screen anywhere.
Then something changed. The VCR came along. Initially, only a dozen or so films were available for the machines, and they were so expensive only the most dedicated of gadget collectors had them, but in a few years the machines got cheaper and the film catalogs grew.
Not only could I see Hitchcock films, I could own Psycho and Vertigo.
It’s a different world today. I stopped by the library and saw The Man Who Knew Too Much in their DVD collection. I could check it out and watch it at the time of my choosing in the next three weeks, instead of carving out the time a TV station programmer choose.
Those silent Hitchcock films I thought I would never see can be purchased at Amazon. (One collection of twenty early Hitchcock films is available for $7 at The online service Hulu has a number of Hitchcock films such as The Lady Vanishes and The 39 Steps available for immediate and free viewing.
It is a different world for the film viewer, with incredible opportunities. These amazing leaps in technology led me to think of the incredible leaps for the Bible reader.
One thousand years ago, the only Bible readers would be found in monasteries. The average Christian could not read Scripture. The average Christian probably could not read. They could, perhaps, hear Scripture when they attended Mass, if they lived close enough to a church that had at least portions of the Bible.
With the Reformation and the printing press, the world began to change. Men like John Hus were martyred for their efforts to translate the Bible from Latin into the common languages of the people. After hundreds of years, the Bible became more accessible. Many Christian homes had a Bible, perhaps the only book in their house.
And now, of course, the Bible is more accessible still. There are dozens of English translations. You can choose between translations that adhere closely to original language and idioms or versions that emphasize contemporary vernaculars.
You can listen to the Bible on your CD or MP3 player. You can look up Scripture online at such places as You can read Scripture on your Kindle or your iPhone.
Or you can just get a free Bible from the Gideons, still doing the work of getting Bibles in the hands of students and hotel guests.
We are blessed in a way that Christians of previous centuries could not imagine. We should not let this great gift go to waste. We should not neglect our access to the Word. We should use the advantages of technology and religious freedom to read God’s Word.
And then do something more. We need to learn it. Psalm 119:11 reads, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
In these days when there are so many ways to access God’s Word, we cannot neglect the tool of memorization that has existed since the Word became flesh. It is still the most important tool.