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.

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