Alfred Hitchcock

The Trouble with Harry (1955, Alfred Hitchcock)

The Trouble with Harry is very cute. It’s fine, the film’s intentionally cute, but it’s also somewhat frustrating. With the exception of the glorious Technicolor exteriors of Vermont leaves, director Hitchcock and photographer Robert Burks don’t do anything particularly interesting. John Michael Hayes’s screenplay is so confined it often feels like Harry is a stage adaptation. It’s not; Hayes’s script is just stagy.

The film takes place over a particularly long day in a small New England town. Lovable old sea captain Edmund Gwenn is out rabbit hunting and finds a dead body. Thinking he’s killed the stranger, Gwenn goes to cover it up, eventually involving local painter and singing stud muffin John Forsythe (Forsythe’s voice sounds nothing like his singing voice). Forsythe happens upon Gwenn after going in to town to charm some groceries out of shopkeep Mildred Dunnock. He also meets local spinster Mildred Natwick, who we’ve already met because she caught Gwenn with the body. And made a date with him. Because New Englanders are naughty.

Gwenn and Natwick at the body is cute, Natwick in the shop is cute, Natwick and Gwenn are going to be cute throughout the movie. Meanwhile Forsythe has his eyes set on new-to-town local single mom Shirley MacLaine, even though Forsythe appears to be friends with MacLaine’s kid, Jerry Mathers. Mathers finds the body in the beginning, even before Gwenn. This jumbling instead of sequential plot recounting is intentional. See, Trouble with Harry is full of twists and reveals in the first half. The second half is all dead body comedy, but the first half is moving its four main cast members into situations together. Gwenn and Natwick, Forsythe and MacLaine. With Mathers popping in as needed. And it turns out he’s occasionally really needed because Hayes and Hitchcock run out of energy so it all hinges on Mathers having been cute enough early in the film.

It works, but it’s a lazy finish. Harry can get away with some lazy because part of the joke is how little people care about the dead body, whether Harry is a stranger or even an acquaintance. Hayes doesn’t have any difficult jokes in Harry. Even when he’s trying to shock, it’s never with a difficult joke. They’re always easy. And cute. Shockingly cute at times, so it helps MacLaine is so cute. And so on.

Hitchcock does really well with the cast, even when they’ve got way too much dialogue (or way too little). At the beginning, when Gwenn finds the body, it seems like he’s going to be Harry’s stage manager and narrate it. Though in talking to himself, not the audience. But then Forsythe shows up and Gwenn never gets to be the lead again. Forsythe’s too charming. And talented a artist. And swell guy.

Though he’s a dick to Natwick in their lengthy first scene together. Eventually the script reins in that character “feature” and Forsythe gets a lot more likable. Though he’s not like anyone else. He’s never cute. Even Royal Dano as dopey local sheriff’s deputy who the Scooby Gang has to hide from occasionally–and who they bully in a shocking display of classist privilege at one point–even Dano gets to be cute. And really sympathetic. Right before the troubled finish.

Though maybe the truncation of the ending saves the film from more derision of Dano, which becomes the focus for the final act. It’s really weird. Either Hayes or the source novel writer totally bungled the finish of the story or Hayes and Hitchcock screwed it up. It’s disappointing.

Gwenn is great. Natwick is great. And they’re adorable. MacLaine is good. And cute. Mathers is never around enough to get annoying.

Dunnock is good too. She seems like she’s going to have more to do than she gets.

Hitchcock’s direction is fine. It’s occasionally precious, which doesn’t clash with the humor but it also doesn’t generate any energy. Great photography from Burks. Awful editing from Alma Macrorie. Some of it is lack of coverage footage, but it’s still awful. There are also these fades to black at the end of jokes or when it’s time to jump ahead in time because Hayes’s plotting is so thin and they never bring anything to the film. Some are fine, but they’re never helpful.

Bernard Herrmann’s score is an unqualified, adjective-free perfect.

The Trouble with Harry is a diverting and often adorable 100 minutes. It’s a fine production. It’s also rather mundane.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay by John Michael Hayes, based on the novel by Jack Trevor Story; director of photography, Robert Burks; edited by Alma Macrorie; music by Bernard Herrmann; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Edmund Gwenn (Capt. Albert Wiles), John Forsythe (Sam Marlowe), Mildred Natwick (Miss Ivy Gravely), Shirley MacLaine (Jennifer Rogers), Mildred Dunnock (Mrs. Wiggs), Royal Dano (Deputy Sheriff Calvin Wiggs), and Jerry Mathers (Arnie Rogers).

Young and Innocent (1937, Alfred Hitchcock)

Young and Innocent is about Nova Pilbeam (Young) and Derrick De Marney (Innocent). She’s a county police constable’s daughter, he’s an escaped murder suspect. They first meet during his interrogation, when he faints at discovering he’s not just accused of murdering a woman, but that woman has also left him some money. Pilbeam nurses De Marney back to consciousness, rather amusingly. Young and Innocent occasionally has some humor; it pops up irregularly.

Pilbeam’s age is never mentioned–she was seventeen at the time of filming (De Marney was thirty-one), but she’s old enough to have her own car and take care of her five little brothers. She comes off as a lot more thoughtful and aware than De Marney, who’s extremely impulsive. But the Young part of the title doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as the Innocent part. Once on the run, De Marney comes across Pilbeam and convinces her to help him for a while. Then a while longer. Then she’s finally all in.

The film runs a mostly speedy eighty minutes; Pilbeam and De Marney need to go various places to figure out how to prove his innocence. Considering how he gets railroaded by Scotland Yard and, presumably, Pilbeam’s dad (Percy Marmont), it seems unlikely De Marney’s scheme would actually result in the police clearing him. They go all over the English countryside around the small, costal town where the murder’s committed, eventually all the way to the big city in their pursuit of evidence.

The first act, after setting up the murder–the audience knows De Marney is in the clear from the start–and then De Marney’s escape, is Pilbeam’s. It’s about her encountering the fugitive, then deciding to help him. The second act is their mission to find the evidence. Much of Young and Innocent, at least for the first half, is a road movie. Pilbeam and De Marney drive around in Pilbeam’s car, accompanied by her faithful dog, running down some rather contrived leads.

Young and Innocent’s script isn’t ever bad, sometimes far from it, but it’s clearly more interested in playing up the charm between its leads than anything else. De Marney’s got a much flashier role, while Pilbeam’s got to take everything in and react without much expression. She’s fantastic. It’s a performance deserving of a better film. Because it’s an enthralling thriller, but there’s not much ambition to it. There’s none to the script, there’s not much from director Hitchcock. He’s got a couple outstanding shots and some rather inventive sequences–the miniature car chase sequence is brillantly edited by Charles Frend–but he’s concentrating on keeping the brisk pace. The film takes place over something more than forty-eight hours and probably less than seventy-two. The prologue setting up the murder is (presumably) the night before the murder. The detectives railroad De Marney so fast, there are no details of the actual crime. Then there’s the first day, which ends with De Marney and Pilbeam passing out–separately–exhausted from their day. The next day is much faster, with coincidence all of a sudden going against De Marney and Pilbeam instead of always for them.

There are some great sequences. The third act has an extended, sort of intricate (at least in terms of pacing and editing) reveal of the real murderer. That sequence is well-executed. There’s also Pilbeam and De Marney getting stuck at her young cousin’s birthday party. Mary Clare plays her suspicious aunt, Basil Radford the understanding uncle. He just thinks they’re a couple kids in love.

And there the growing tenderness between Pilbeam and De Marney, which is kind of creepy given where their age difference falls on a timeline, but it’s well-done. It humanizes De Marney, who’s sympathetic but a tad cocky. Hitchcock directs their romance, growing out of Pilbeam’s concern and confidence in De Marney’s innocence, rather well. Even with the flashier moments in the film, it’s probably the most successful work Hitchcock does in Young and Innocent. Thanks in no small part to Knowles’s photography and Frend’s editing. Not to mention Pilbeam and De Marney; mostly Pilbeam.

Good supporting performances include J.H. Roberts as De Marney’s bumpkin solicitor and Edward Rigby as a homeless man who figures into the case. Marmont’s good, but his part’s super thin. Hitchcock is able to imply a whole lot about Pilbeam’s home life just around a single luncheon. And Clare could be better. It keeps seeming like she’s about to get better and then she never does; Radford’s rather fun though. Even though it’s technically well-executed, that whole cousin’s party interlude is narratively problematic.

Young and Innocent is an excellent, charming thriller. No heavy lifting requested or required.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay by Charles Bennett, Edwin Greenwood, Anthony Armstrong, and Gerald Savory, based on a novel by Josephine Tey; director of photography, Bernard Knowles; edited by Charles Frend; produced by Edward Black; released by General Film Distributors.

Starring Nova Pilbeam (Erica Burgoyne), Derrick De Marney (Robert Tisdall), Percy Marmont (Col. Burgoyne), Edward Rigby (Old Will), Mary Clare (Aunt Margaret), Basil Radford (Uncle Basil), John Longden (Det. Insp. Kent), George Curzon (Guy), Pamela Carme (Christine Clay), George Merritt (Det. Sgt. Miller), and J.H. Roberts (Mr. Briggs).

Lifeboat (1944, Alfred Hitchcock)

Lifeboat never feels stagy, which is one of the film’s greatest successes. The entire thing takes place in a single lifeboat, with director Hitchcock not doing many medium or long shots of the lifeboat exterior. All the action is with the actors, Hitchcock using distinctive composition–Glen MacWilliams’s glorious photography helping quite a bit, of course–to work up a visual rhythm. Jo Swerling’s screenplay is mostly dialogue, but the narrative rhythm isn’t in the cadence of the lines or even in what character gets what material, it’s in the characters themselves. The script’s narrative focusing is its greatest strength and greatest asset to the film.

Because there’s only so much the characters in Lifeboat can do to influence events. They survive the ship’s sinking by chance, they survive on the lifeboat by chance. There is a certain predictability to the film and the characters. But then the first act does everything to establish them as not being predictable. Lifeboat’s biggest twist–maybe only twist–is one of the characters not being predictable. Hitchcock and Swerling aren’t so much fooling the audience as not even trying to give them enough information.

There’s almost no minutiae in Lifeboat. There’s sometimes expository dialogue covering what’s happened offscreen since a scene transition, but Hitchcock and Swerling have zero interest in showing the characters’ daily chores to maintain on the lifeboat. Lifeboat isn’t about minutiae, it’s about big ideas and as big of character drama as Hitchcock can do in confined space.

The survivors on the lifeboat are a swath of Allied civilians. Tallulah Bankhead is a celebrity columnist, John Hodiak is one of the crew, so are William Bendix, Hume Cronyn, and Canada Lee. Mary Anderson’s a nurse. Henry Hull’s a millionaire industrialist. Heather Angel’s British and heading back from New York. And Walter Slezak is the Nazi sailor they rescue.

One of the script’s nicest tricks is having Hodiak, Bendix, Cronyn, and Lee all have an indeterminately long history together. They’ve known each other for years. Helps when revealing character backstory. It can come up in conversation naturally. Bankhead and Hull know each other too. And then it turns out Bankhead speaks German and offers Slezak a sympathetic ear.

Lifeboat keeps petty in-fighting to a minimum. The characters are too desperate to be petty (even when it seems like they might be acting so). And everyone gets a nice arc. Nine characters, nine separate arcs (with some overlapping); all in ninety-six minutes. Hitchcock and Swerling seem to know they can only last in such a confined space for so long.

The big dramatic in-fighting scenes–the film’s set pieces (an argument is more compelling than a storm hitting the boat)–are fantastic. Sometimes character development points with intersect in these scenes. Eventually there’s some pairing off amongst the survivors and it changes how things play, not just to the audience, but to the other characters. And never stagy.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t add up to as much as Hitchcock and Swerling might hope. The ending is large scale action, followed immediately by a large scale morality message. Because Lifeboat is about big ideas, particularly in the treatment of Nazi Slezak–Hodiak, Bendix, and Cronyn are on one side, Bankhead and Hull are on the others. It’s the snobs versus the slobs. Hodiak has some great scenes arguing with the snobs at the beginning. And it turns out to develop into a lot more.

Anderson, Lee, and Angel are basically on the sidelines during the big idea scenes. There’s even some commentary about why they’re on the sidelines, when Lifeboat still seems a lot more ambitious in its progressive presentation of reality than it turns out to be. There are some great approaches and details in the film, but they’re not the point. With nine characters and ninety-six minutes–and maybe four bigger parts–the supporting material needs to be good. Appearing ambitious and being at least somewhat successful makes a lot of impression.

And it sometimes gives the actors great material.

Bankhead and Hodiak are the stars. Bendix and Hull are the main support. Slezak next. Then everyone else. Though Cronyn (doing a totally fine but peculiar English accent) does go sweet on Anderson, which gives them a little more time.

Bankhead’s good. Her character’s wobbly at times–particularly at the end–but Bankhead’s good enough to cover. Hodiak’s similiar, though it’s his dialogue–he has some big speeches–to wobble. Hitchcock doesn’t direct for the performance and the dialogue sometimes needs that touch. Bendix is awesome, but his part’s not great. Hull’s fine. He always comes through. Same with Slezak.

More sympathetic direction would probably have helped Hull. It’s the big idea speeches. Hitchcock can’t figure out how to do them. They need to be rousing and patriotic while still vaguely humanist and he sort of just pauses for them. He makes up for it in the next scene, usually with some great overlapping dialogue shots, but Lifeboat’s a propaganda picture. Hitchcock tries to ignore the propaganda instead of accepting it.

The uneven tone hurts the end of the film, which has already been through a way too rushed second-to-third act transition.

Excellent direction from Hitchcock, great photography, great performances. Fine script. Lifeboat’s about as good as a straight propaganda picture can get.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay by Jo Swerling, based on a story by John Steinbeck; director of photography, Glen MacWilliams; edited by Dorothy Spencer, music by Hugo Friedhofer; produced by Kenneth Macgowan; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tallulah Bankhead (Connie Porter), John Hodiak (John Kovac), Henry Hull (Charles J. Rittenhouse), Walter Slezak (Willi), Hume Cronyn (Stanley Garrett), Mary Anderson (Alice MacKenzie), Canada Lee (Joe Spencer), Heather Angel (Mrs. Higley), and William Bendix (Gus Smith).


Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)

Rear Window is an absurdly good time. It’s breathtakingly produced and the set is a marvel on its own, but it’s also an absurdly good time. You’ve got Thelma Ritter chastising James Stewart not just for peeping, she also chastises him for not being serious enough about Grace Kelly. How could it not be an absurdly good time.

So the film is simultaneously Hitchcock the popular filmmaker–enjoy these stars in these performances–it’s Hitchcock the technical filmmaker. The first half of the film, maybe even longer, is usually Hitchcock showing off what he, cinematographer Robert Burks, editor George Tomasini, and uncredited(!) sound editor Howard Beals can do. What they do is transport the viewer into a New York apartment, staring out at the world, with Stewart around to play tour guide for a while. Rear Window isn’t just the story of Stewart healing from a broken leg or deciding whether or not to settle for Grace Kelly or even solving a murder–it’s all the little stories going on around. It’s the care screenwriter John Michael Hayes takes in how Stewart’s interpretation of these stories comes through. It’s delicate and deliberate and just part of that breathtaking production. Rear Window takes itself very seriously. You have to take yourself seriously if you’re going to have Jimmy Stewart complain Grace Kelly is just too perfect for him. You need Thelma Ritter there. With Rear Window, there can be no substitutions. Everything is just so.

After setting up the murder mystery–which brings Wendell Corey into the film and apartment as Stewart’s old war buddy now copper–Rear Window still takes its time. Hitchcock and Hayes play around with the mystery plot line, really changing up the pace of the film. It takes place over less than a week, with the initial nights really emphasized. The repetitive effect, with the occasional car horn and steady rainfall, brings the viewer in. Rear Window enthralls, quite intentionally. The last act is real time, neither the viewer nor the narrative able to handle much more. Hitchcock has a great sense for when he’s going too far, asking too much. He guides it beautifully.

All of the performances are great. Ritter’s hilarious, Kelly’s too perfect, Stewart’s–Stewart. Stewart is immobile, but always active. He’s simultaneously the viewer’s guide and de facto view finder and protagonist. He doesn’t get a lot of protagonist help from Hayes’s script after a while, just because there’s too much going on, but Stewart makes it happen. In fact, he’s almost good enough for it to be believable he’s closer in age to Kelly than he is to Ritter. The chemistry between the actors is just too good. Rear Window’s got a lot of dialogue and it has to be done just right, not only for exposition, but to cultivate that chemistry. Hitchcock knows without it, Rear Window would be too voyeuristic.

Wendell Corey’s a lot of fun too as the straight man. It’s a hard part because everyone wants there to be a crime, everyone wants there to be a mystery. Except Corey. He wants to go home, so the viewer’s inclined against him. Hitchcock and Corey play with that hostility. Because it’s a smart movie.

Rear Window’s all-around awesome.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay by John Michael Hayes, based on a story by Cornell Woolrich; director of photography, Robert Burks; edited by George Tomasini; music by Franz Waxman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring James Stewart (L.B. Jefferies), Grace Kelly (Lisa Carol Fremont), Wendell Corey (Det. Lt. Thomas J. Doyle), Thelma Ritter (Stella), and Raymond Burr (Lars Thorwald).


The 39 Steps (1935, Alfred Hitchcock)

There are numerous good moments in The 39 Steps. Even the clunky finale is a good moment–director Hitchcock knows he’s got a good moment, he just doesn’t know how to fill in around it. This inability on Hitchcock’s part makes The 39 Steps immediately interesting when compared to the rest of Hitchcock’s filmography, but far less on its own. The film’s got a bad pace at less than ninety minutes. It’s a “man on the run” thriller with constant danger and it’s got a bad pace.

For the first half of the film, when lead Robert Donat finds out about a conspiracy against Great Britain and tries to stop it, is all right. There’s some great editing by Derek N. Twist and Hitchcock does well with the commentary on Londoners. And Donat and Lucie Mannheim, who plays a spy, have some solid chemistry. Donat’s just a regular guy–a Canadian who does business occasionally in London–so all this intrigue is a big deal for him. Only it’s not, because Donat doesn’t have a character to play. Charles Bennett and Ian Hay’s script does nothing for its characters–the most interesting thing Donat does is flirt with suffering housewife Peggy Ashcroft. It’s 39 Steps best scene in a lot of ways, because it’s entirely successful. Even Hitchock’s ambitious set pieces later on in the film aren’t entirely successful. There’s always something off, be it the editing–Twist is far better at confusion than action–or Bernard Knowles’s simultaneously impressive and problematic cinematography. Most of the set pieces have a big, detailed set to play out on and Knowles shoots them blandly. Hitchcock doesn’t use them well either, which is another problem (and reason 39 Steps is historically splendid), but the lighting would help a lot.

And then there’s “leading lady” Madeleine Carroll. Hitchcock, Bennett and Hay work to make her as unlikable as possible, then she gets her big revelation scene and gets to moon over Donat. See, she doesn’t believe he’s a good guy.

There’s a certain charm to how the film builds up–Donat moving around, meeting various people–even villain Godfrey Tearle only gets a few scenes and his mid-second act showdown with Donat is brief. The film uses that narrative device, which is mostly expository but imaginatively handled, for so long, it becomes the most distinct element of the film. And then Hitchcock chucks it for the last third.

The action set pieces during the chase in Scotland have a lot of enthusiasm but they just don’t connect. Maybe if Carroll and Donat had some actual chemistry when she’s got to hate him but they don’t. It’s even worse because Bennett and Hay go out of their way to make her worse. And she ends up the protagonist in the third act so Hitchcock can do a couple surprises. It’s got a lot of problems.

I can’t be particularly disappointed in The 39 Steps because it never actually seems like anything is going to fully connect. Hitchcock doesn’t have the narrative distance down, he doesn’t have the balance between cinematographic devices and narrative ones. Though that second half is so poorly paced, it just annoys.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay by Charles Bennett and Ian Hay, based on the novel by John Buchan; director of photography, Bernard Knowles; edited by Derek N. Twist; produced by Michael Balcon; released by Gaumont British Distributors.

Starring Robert Donat (Hannay), Madeleine Carroll (Pamela), Lucie Mannheim (Miss Smith), Godfrey Tearle (Professor Jordan), Peggy Ashcroft (Crofter’s Wife), John Laurie (Crofter), Helen Haye (Mrs. Jordan) and Wylie Watson (Mr. Memory).


Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock)

Vertigo is a nightmare. It starts with James Stewart recovering from a nightmare only to find himself in another one. Kim Novak finds herself trapped in a similar nightmare. There’s a lot of beauty in the nightmare, but it’s still a nightmare. And nightmares get worse before anyone wakes up. In Vertigo, both Stewart and Novak are trying to wake up from nightmares, only things get so entwined, they can’t.

Hitchcock, composer Bernard Herrmann and photographer Robert Burks spend the first three-quarters of the film dragging the viewer through the nightmare. The screenplay, from Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor, is beautifully dense when it comes to dialogue. There’s so much talking at the start between Stewart and unrequited love interest Barbara Bel Geddes, between Stewart and old friend Tom Helmore. The script hammers in certain facts, certain things to remember, certain things to watch out for. Bel Geddes and Helmore have somewhat thankless roles in the script, mostly serving to anchor Stewart in reality, before he tries to find his way into Novak’s nightmare. She’s Helmore’s troubled wife. Unbeknownst to her, Stewart’s her bodyguard.

As Stewart tries to rationalize Novak’s nightmare from afar, Herrmann’s score booms, full of lush emotion. Stewart’s voyeurism percolates, apparently at a safe temperature, until the nightmare becomes Stewart’s and then it boils over. The film has varying styles, whether it’s Herrmann’s score and San Francisco locations or Novak and Stewart’s tragic courtship, Hitchcock brings them back. The same locations, over and over; at the beginning, it’s to bring stability to Stewart through Bel Geddes, later on, it’s for him to flounder in desperation. Different locations, of course. Bel Geddes, who gives a great performance and does get a few decent moments to herself, isn’t part of the nightmare. She might not be the happiest person, but the nightmare is something different.

Technically, the film’s a marvel. Hitchcock has these wonderful setups for visually tying Stewart and Novak together. It’s not just the locations, it’s the sets. It’s not just the set decorations, it’s how Hitchcock positions them in space. He has this wonderful way of having Stewart and Novak share the same space in a scene, sitting by the same lamp, standing in front of the same mirror, but keeping them apart. They can see each other, but they aren’t together. Different nightmares. Even if they think they’re sharing the same one.

At a certain point, Stewart ceases to be the film’s protagonist. Hitchcock pretends for a little while longer, but eventually Stewart and Novak’s story roles reverse. He becomes antagonist to her protagonist. Both actors do phenomenal work throughout, but during that reversal is when their work gets even better. Novak’s stunning. Stewart’s terrifying. Vertigo is unpleasant. It’s beautiful and it’s unpleasant. Just like a nightmare ought to be.

The film ends hastily. The nightmare is over. The viewer is left to reflect with an uneasy sensation–it’s all too horrible to dwell on. Hitchcock, his screenwriters, Novak, Stewart, Burks, Herrmann, editor George Tomasini–they create this perfectly encapsulated thing. The narrative pacing is great, the way Hitchcock applies various intensities throughout. There’s not a comfortable moment in Vertigo. Visual repetition only signifies things getting worse.

Edith Head’s costumes for Novak are also essential. It fits into the whole visual repetition thing. Hitchcock confronts every idea he implies in Vertigo. He never takes the easy route, making it a troubling, ambitious but constrained experience. It’s wonderful.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay by Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor, based on a novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac; director of photography, Robert Burks; edited by George Tomasini; music by Bernard Herrmann; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring James Stewart (John Ferguson), Kim Novak (Madeleine Elster), Barbara Bel Geddes (Midge Wood), Tom Helmore (Gavin Elster) and Konstantin Shayne (Pop Leibel).


I Confess (1953, Alfred Hitchcock)

I Confess is unwieldy.

Director Hitchcock is extremely precise in his composition, the same goes for Robert Burks' photography (especially the photography) and Rudi Fehr's editing (which changes in harshness based on the story's tone); sure, Dimitri Tiomkin's music is all over the place and intrusive, but it fits the script. George Tabori and William Archibald's ties together three very different stories–Confess is from a play, which explains some of the problems–but the end result is a disservice to the fine production values and some wonderful acting.

Besides the disjointed nature of the narrative, which keeps a big secret from the audience for the first fifteen minutes for a pointless surprise. The film never recovers from it, right up until the last scene.

Hitchock just has too many MacGuffins–is Confess about priest Montgomery Clift's struggle to cope with evil rectory worker O.E. Hasse's confession, is it about Clift's struggle to figure things out with pre-vows love Anne Baxter, is it about Clift trying to evade bulldog (but inept) police inspector Karl Malden's investigation? No, it's about all three and none at all.

Clift is phenomenal in the film, even though he only has a handful of full scenes. Hitchcock seems more comfortable having him silently react to events; Clift's great at such reactions, he's just capable of a lot more.

Instead, Hitchcock gives Baxter some big dialogue scenes and she nails them.

Thanks to the script, I Confess wastes its potential (Clift, Baxter, the gorgeous Canadian locations and everything else).

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay by George Tabori and William Archibald, based on a play by Paul Anthelme; director of photography, Robert Burks; edited by Rudi Fehr; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; produced by Sidney Bernstein and Hitchcock; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Montgomery Clift (Father Michael Logan), Anne Baxter (Ruth Grandfort), Karl Malden (Inspector Larrue), Brian Aherne (Willy Robertson), O.E. Hasse (Otto Keller), Roger Dann (Pierre Grandfort), Dolly Haas (Alma Keller) and Charles Andre (Father Millars).


Sabotage (1936, Alfred Hitchcock)

Sabotage demands the viewer's attention. It opens with a dictionary definition of Sabotage, forcing the viewer to read something and then immediately relate it to the rapidly edited sabotage of a power station. This sequence, which sets off the first act of the film, takes place in maybe a minute, maybe less. Charles Frend's editing is rapid and fluid; it's ever moving, ever graceful.

This first act almost seems like a stage play, establishing the principal cast members. There's suspicious husband Oskar Homolka, his young wife Sylvia Sidney, her younger brother (the reason why she's married to a troll, even if he's nice) Desmond Tester and, finally, the too friendly shop keep from next door John Loder.

Over the film's first sixteen or so minutes, Hitchcock creates an odd domestic short. Sidney doesn't question Homolka, who maybe is just suspicious generally and not explicitly.

But then everything changes–the film follows Homolka and Loder on their separate paths, with Sidney and Tester sort of the spheres they're exerting gravity on. Hitchcock is very expressionistic during the first half of the film; the odd domestic situation, while apparently tolerable, is a little off.

Later on is when Hitchcock opens up, when Sabotage has its first amazing sequence. Then there's a lull and then the second amazing sequence. The second one is nearly silent. The finale, which is intricate, is just gravy.

Sidney and Homolka are both fantastic. Loder's strong. Excellent supporting cast.

Great script, great direction, great Bernard Knowles photography–Sabotage's entirely phenomenal.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay by Charles Bennett, Ian Hay, Helen Simpson, E.V.H. Emmett and Alma Reville, based on a novel by Joseph Conrad; director of photography, Bernard Knowles; edited by Charles Frend; produced by Michael Balcon; released by Gaumont British Distributors.

Starring Sylvia Sidney (Mrs. Verloc), Oskar Homolka (Karl Anton Verloc), Desmond Tester (Stevie), John Loder (Ted), Joyce Barbour (Renee), Matthew Boulton (Superintendent Talbot), S.J. Warmington (Hollingshead) and William Dewhurst (The Professor).


The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956, Alfred Hitchcock)

The Man Who Knew Too Much is Hitchcock’s only remake and, as such, it probably ought to be a whole lot better. The resulting film suggests he really wanted to make a Moroccan travelogue and symphony picture… assuming he didn’t set out to make a turgid thriller.

There’s also something else awkward about Man–Doris Day. For the first twenty-five minutes or so, Day is the protagonist. And not just a protagonist, but a forceful one. Then, once the plot gets going at the thirty-minute mark, James Stewart takes over. Previously he was ineffectual and unobservant, but then he becomes a more standard hero. For a while, anyway.

The conclusion ocelates between Day and Stewart, though Stewart is never as effective as Day in her early scenes.

John Michael Hayes’s mediocre (at best) script is clearly Man‘s most debilitating problem. Still, given the film ends with a fantastic opportunity for an end cap (without the accompanying opening bracket), Hitchcock holds some responsibility too.

The Albert Hall sequence–the film’s first ending–is absolutely amazing. It’s brilliant filmmaking and, tellingly, doesn’t need the rest of the film to be appreciated.

Bernard Herrmann and Arthur Benjamin’s score is often amazing too. There’s a great scene with quiet, suggestive sublime music while Day suspects newfound friend Daniel Gélin. The score’s better than the film deserves.

Stewart and Day are solid, neither exceptional. Gélin and Brenda De Banzie are excellent. Bernard Miles is awful.

Man‘s a mixed bag, but undeniably well-made.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay by John Michael Hayes, based on a story by Charles Bennett and D.B. Wyndham-Lewis; director of photography, Robert Burks; edited by George Tomasini; music by Bernard Herrmann; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring James Stewart (Dr. Benjamin McKenna), Doris Day (Josephine Conway McKenna), Brenda De Banzie (Lucy Drayton), Bernard Miles (Edward Drayton), Ralph Truman (Inspector Buchanan), Daniel Gélin (Louis Bernard), Mogens Wieth (Ambassador), Alan Mowbray (Val Parnell), Hillary Brooke (Jan Peterson), Christopher Olsen (Hank McKenna), Reggie Nalder (Rien), Richard Wattis (Assistant Manager), Noel Willman (Woburn), Alix Talton (Helen Parnell), Yves Brainville (Police Inspector) and Carolyn Jones (Cindy Fontaine).


North by Northwest (1959, Alfred Hitchcock)

North by Northwest seems a little like a Technicolor version of an early Hollywood Hitchcock–the regular man combating the bad guys against incredible odds (at an American monument no less), but it’s a lot more.

The film’s a tightly constructed proto-blockbuster; there’s not a bad frame in the film, not an imperfect scene. North moves steadily, its speed sometimes increasing and rarely decreasing. With that barreling pace, it always seemed to be just over ninety minutes. I was shocked to discover it runs over two hours.

It’s hard to imagine the film without Cary Grant, whose comic timing is essential to the picture. There’s one scene where Grant looks at the camera just for a moment and it feels like a throwback to Bringing Up Baby. Hitchcock and writer Ernest Lehman waste no time establishing Grant’s character (beyond a memorable name). The rest, done with Grant and his secretary talking, takes one short scene.

Speaking of Lehman’s script, he gets in a lot of great jokes. Hitchcock just works them into the narrative; its all so grandiose (even before the finish), there’s more than enough room for them.

The filmmakers get away with so much, for instance, one can’t even hold Jessie Royce Landis’s disappearance against them.

She, James Mason, Martin Landau and Eva Marie Saint, they’re all outstanding. It’s Cary Grant’s film, of course, but the supporting cast–can’t forget Leo G. Carroll (who’s dryly hilarious)–make it even better.

North by Northwest is a perfect film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock; written by Ernest Lehman; director of photography, Robert Burks; edited by George Tomasini; music by Bernard Herrmann; production designer, Robert F. Boyle; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Cary Grant (Roger O. Thornhill), Eva Marie Saint (Eve Kendall), James Mason (Phillip Vandamm), Jessie Royce Landis (Clara Thornhill), Leo G. Carroll (The Professor), Josephine Hutchinson (Mrs. Townsend), Philip Ober (Lester Townsend), Martin Landau (Leonard), Adam Williams (Valerian), Edward Platt (Victor Larrabee), Robert Ellenstein (Licht) and John Beradino (Sergeant Emile Klinger).


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