Charles Bennett

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).

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).


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).


Recreation (1914, Charles Chaplin)

Chaplin’s got a real problem with visual continuity in Recreation. At first, he does really well. The actors move–through a park–from left to right. Helen Carruthers is on a bench with a prospective beau (Charles Bennett), then she leaves him and moves right. Chaplin (as the Tramp) enters and moves right to follow her.

Eventually he has to move further right, where he starts throwing bricks at Bennett. Recreation makes me wonder if brick throwing was a big thing in the teens.

Anyway, there’s a bunch of action between the different shots and it’s really great. Then Chaplin breaks it for the finish, multiple times, and the jump is rather annoying.

Otherwise, Recreation is a good deal of fun. Chaplin and his actors have a great time with the physical comedy; the Tramp’s undeniably charming. Shame an island appeared out of nowhere to set up the final gag.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Written, edited and directed by Charles Chaplin; director of photography, Frank D. Williams; produced by Mack Sennett; released by Mutual Film.

Starring Charles Chaplin (Tramp), Helen Carruthers (Girl), Charles Bennett (Seaman), Edwin Frazee (Short Cop) and Edward Nolan (Tall Cop).


Shakedown (1988, James Glickenhaus)

Shakedown is such a terrible film, I’d have to go through it line by line to adequately catalog its deficiencies. The big action climax features Sam Elliot hanging onto landing gear of a jet flying over the World Trade Center, then dropping into a river. This climax–from take-off to dropping into the river to the plane landing–takes about thirty-seven seconds and features some of the worst special effects I have ever seen. So why did I sit through Shakedown? A few reasons. First, it’s Peter Weller from his “prime.” I’m not sure Weller’s any good in Shakedown, but the role’s different for him–it’s a poorly conceived character, but Weller brings some respectability to it (enough you occasionally forget the quality of the film, then the dialogue reminds you). Second, I’ll probably never see another James Glickenhaus movie and the guy has a great name. His movie’s absolute trash, but he’s got a great name. Finally, Shakedown was filmed on location in New York City. Today, there are a few blocks in Los Angeles where movies set in New York do most of their filming. Back in the 1980s, movies like Shakedown could afford to film in the city and today, eighty million dollar superhero movies cannot. Fourth–I know I said finally, but I wasn’t sure I was going to admit to this one–Shakedown is a document of an era past and, to some degree, forgotten. An era I mostly missed.

I know little about the cheap action film genre. Something happened in the late 1980s, when big companies (Warner and Fox) started producing this dreak. While I never saw that crap… well, some of the Seagal’s, but never the Van Damme’s (until he hooked up with Peter Hyams and, wow, had Hyams ever nose-dived). Had I seen Shakedown growing up, before I could just dismiss it out of hand, maybe I’d feel different about it. It’s an awful film. Its ideas are kind of scary–it’s offensive to women, blacks, intellectual whites, ignorant whites–the only real people of merit are Texans and Jimi Hendrix devotees. I certainly wouldn’t want to know anyone who thought it was good, but it is so absurd it was mildly amusing. I didn’t have a bad ninety-six minutes, especially not after the Universal logo at the beginning took up a whole minute as they tried to stretch it above the ninety minute mark.

There are also a lot of familiar faces in the film. There’s one scene with a parking lot attendant who has a very familiar voice and it turned out to be Harold Perrineau. Richard Brooks has a decent-sized supporting role and he’s actually pretty good. He probably gives the best performance in the film.

But seeing it on location was the most compelling aspect of the film. Not even movies shot in New York today use it to the extent Shakedown used it. Otherwise, it’s a piece of garbage. It’s so stupid, one would have to watch it to believe it. But, somehow, as a film, it’s not offensive. It’s not poorly made–besides those end special effects–though Glickenhaus does love low-angle shots. The writing’s awful. Maybe because it wasn’t a hit. But Weller, coming off Robocop, couldn’t find anything better to do?

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by James Glickenhaus; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Paul Fried; music by Jonathan Elias; production designer, Charles Bennett; produced by J. Boyce Harman Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Peter Weller (Roland Dalton), Sam Elliott (Richie Marks), George Loros (Officer Varelli), Thomas G. Waites (Officer Kelly), Daryl Edwards (Dr. Watson), Jos Laniado (Ruben), Richard Brooks (Michael Jones), Blanche Baker (Gail Feinberger), Shirley Stoler (Irma), John C. McGinley (Sean Phillips) and Patricia Charbonneau (Susan Cantrell).

Foreign Correspondent (1940, Alfred Hitchcock)

Well shit, I was wrong. I thought Foreign Correspondent was pre-Rebecca and I am incorrect.

I suppose the confusion has to do with the way Hitchcock made Correspondent. It’s very much in the style of his 1930s British films (I’m thinking primarily of The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes), while Rebecca was not. Rebecca was about people, Correspondent is about events. Not that I have a problem with Hitchcock making movies about events (though Saboteur is something awful, as is The Birds). Correspondent is a damn good film. I’ve only seen it once before and the same thing happened today that happened six or seven years ago. I looked at the clock about forty minutes in and wondered how it could have gotten there. The first forty minutes of this film moves faster than any other I’ve seen. The rest moves too, but those first forty feel like eleven.

This film is a propaganda piece. But only sort of. It’s got some incredibly beautiful moments in it, moments I’m not used to in film, particularly not thrillers. In the midst of a plane crash, two characters are none-the-less affected by a death. It’s thirty seconds, probably less, but it really sets Correspondent apart. There’s also some wonderful character relationships in the film that the last hour takes the time to explore. Even the amusing scenes of a man and his assassin-to-be. The romance is exceptionally hurried, but there’s this scene on a boat that makes it all worth it. This film comes together in beautiful ways, works in beautiful ways.

It’s not a well-known Hitchcock. A quick Google search just revealed it to be “little known.” One of the reasons for the lack of notoriety is probably that Warner Bros. didn’t whore it on VHS like Universal did their Hitchcock titles. Another reason is probably Joel McCrea. Even though I saw The Most Dangerous Game at some point growing up, I had no idea who McCrea was until I started looking into film myself. This inquiry happened to coincide with AMC being great–long time ago–so I got a lot of McCrea in there. Foreign Correspondent popped up at some point during that period….

It’s not as deep as Hitchcock could get. Hitchcock did have some deeper films–Rebecca for example–but Foreign Correspondent is probably the best example of Hitchcock’s filmmaking skills. He uses methods and devices in this film that appear in everything. Whether or not these subsequent filmmakers picked it up from Correspondent, I doubt, given the quality of some of them. Watching early, raw Hitchcock is an exciting experience and Correspondent is one of the two best of these raw films (the other is The Lady Vanishes).

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; written by Charles Bennett, Joan Harrison, James Hilton and Robert Benchley; director of photography, Rudolph Mate; edited by Dorothy Spencer; released by United Artists.

Starring Joel McCrea (Johnny Jones/Huntley Haverstock), Laraine Day (Carol Fisher), Herbert Marshall (Stephen Fisher), George Sanders (Ffolliott), Albert Basserman (Van Meer), Robert Benchley (Stebbins), Edmund Gwenn (Rowley), Harry Davenport (Mr. Powers), Eduardo Ciannelli (Krug), Martin Kosleck (Tramp), Eddie Conrad (Latvian Diplomat), Crauford Kent (Toastmaster), Gertrude W. Hoffman (Mrs. Benson), Jane Novak (Miss Benson), Louis Borrell (Captain Lanson), Eily Malyon (English Cashier) and E.E. Clive (Mr. Naismith).


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