Posts Tagged ‘Alfred Hitchcock’

Joan Fontaine plays Lina McLaidlaw, a shy and reserved heiress, who falls madly in love with playboy Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant) and marries him after a whirlwind romance.  But she soon discovers that her new husband might not be the man she thought he was, and after a number of incidents shock her, she even begins to fear for her own life.

I would give this film 7 out of 10, because despite all the hokum, and a Hollywoodized ending, I did actually enjoy it a lot.  I’m not sure that it stands up to a lot of scrutiny – woman marries man who clearly can’t be trusted and then is surprised when she can’t trust him.  Nonetheless, it is entertaining throughout, and it is also interesting to view Lina through the eyes of modern viewer.  Because the question that springs to mind is why on earth did she not kick him into touch, pack his bags and tell him to leave?!?! Of course, the film was made in 1941, and it perhaps was not so easy for a woman to divorce her husband without creating a major scandal along the way, particularly in the circles in which Lina and Johnnie moved.

Anyway….Joan Fontaine won an Oscar for her role in this film, although I thought that Grant outshone her in almost every scene (Grant however was shunned by the Academy for much of his working life, and didn’t even receive a nomination for his work in this film).  Fontaine was good, but seemed overly-dramatic at times, although this is also something that seems to be the case in a lot of Hitchcock movies.

The main problem with this film is the ending, which Hitchcock changed, presumably to appease the censors.  There are major spoilers ahead, so stop reading now if you don’t want to know anything further…

Of course, Johnnie had to turn out to be a good guy at the end – or at least not the bad guy that Lina had suspected him to be.  Just when she thought that he was going to try and kill her (and that he had also killed a friend of his, whose death he stood to profit by), it transpires that no!  He wasn’t trying to kill her at all!  And he didn’t kill his friend either.  So Lina forgives and forgets, and all is well again.  Just like that.  The problem here is that throughout the film, Johnnie HAS been shown to be completely untrustworthy – stealing from his cousin, gambling away money which wasn’t his, etc., etc.  So okay, he’s not a murderer, but there’s still a whole load more stuff for him to answer to, but that is all forgotten by Lina.  (Frankly, if this were real life, it would be hard to sympathise with her when he inevitably messes up again.)

BUT….I still enjoyed the film!  I liked Cary Grant’s performance very much, and there were some good supporting actors, especially Nigel Bruce, who played Johnnie’s friend Beaky.  Even Hitchcock’s trademark suspenseful music seemed well placed in this movie.  So despite writing a post which appears to do little but criticise, I still think the film was worth watching, and if you don’t think too much about the storyline, I would recommend it, especially to fans of either Cary Grant or Alfred Hitchcock.

Year of release: 1941

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Producer: Harry E. Edington

Writers: Anthony Berkeley (novel ‘Before the Fact’ as Francis Iles), Samson Raphaelson, Joan Harrison, Alma Reville

Main cast: Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Cedric Hardwicke, Nigel Bruce, Dame May Whitty, Heather Angel, Auriol Lee

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In this 1946 film from celebrated director Alfred Hitchcock, Ingrid Bergman plays Alicia Huberman, the daughter of a man imprisoned for being a Nazi collaborator.  The CIA, specifically a man named Devlin (Cary Grant) recruit her to go to Rio, where a group of her father’s Nazi friends have relocated.  Devlin wants her to infiltrate and report on the group, by getting close to one of them – a man named Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains) – but the mission becomes muddled when Alice and Devlin fall for each other.

I find Hitchcock films to be a bit hit-and-miss, but I realised today that my favourite Hitchcock movies all starred Cary Grant.  I’m still trying to work out if that is coincidence or not.  In any event, I did not enjoy Notorious as much as North by Northwest or To Catch a Thief, but nonetheless, this was still a good film (actually better than I expected).

Ingrid Bergman is just beautiful as Alicia, and it is not surprising at all that two men fall in love with her.  Alicia is a girl who drinks too much and has had more than her fair share of male companions (in the original script she was a prostitute), but she still manages to garners sympathy, and I was hoping that she would make it through the film safely!  Bergman and Grant have great chemistry together, as seen in their other collaboration, Indiscreet (an altogether more light-hearted film), and they are both on top form here.  They also share a very sensual kiss, which was cleverly filmed in order to get around the Hayes Code, which stipulated that on-screen kisses must not last longer than three seconds.  In keeping with the code, the actors break off from their kiss every three seconds, and then kiss again!  The end effect is very sexy, which ironically is probably what the Hayes Code was trying to avoid.

The story moves along nicely, and there are no real dry or boring patches, although it is very obviously a Hitchcock film, with all his trademarks in place (such as gimmicky camera angles, which I believe can date a film somewhat).  The suitably ambiguous ending is satisfying, and while I would not rush to watch this film again, it was certainly worth seeing.  I would recommend it to fans of Grant, Bergman or Hitchcock.  The reliable Claude Rains is also worth watching as the conflicted Sebastian.

Year of release: 1946

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Producer: Alfred Hitchcock

Writers: John Taintor Foote (story ‘The Song of the Dragon;), Ben Hecht, Alfred Hitchcock, Clifford Odets

Main cast: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Leopoldine Konstantin

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This 1958 movie was the final of four collaborations between Alfred Hitchcock and James Stewart. The film performed modestly in cinemas, and Hitchcock apparently blamed Stewart for this, saying that at 50, Stewart was too old to draw in large audiences anymore. (Hitchcock also made a few less than complimentary comments about female star Kim Novak.) Regardless of it’s initial viewing figures, it has since become regarded as one of Hitchcock’s best films, and a classic of the genre.

I find Hitchcock’s movie’s somewhat hit-and-miss. To Catch A Thief and North by Northwest are both superb (maybe it’s the Cary Grant effect) and if you haven’t seen them, you definitely should! This is the third Hitchcock/Stewart I’ve seen, and is my favourite of all three, although it’s not perfect by any means.

Stewart plays John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson, a detective who leaves the police force, due to suffering from acrophobia. An old friend named Gavin Elster asks Scottie to tail his wife Madeleine, as Gavin is concerned about Madeleine’s unusual behaviour and fears that she will end up hurting herself. Scottie accepts the job, but quickly becomes obsessed with Madeleine…

There was a lot to enjoy about this film – Stewart (whatever Hitchcock thought) was perfect in the role of Scottie, a man who finds his equilibrium disturbed by the elusive and beautiful Madeleine. Personally, I thought this was one of the best roles I had ever seen Stewart play. I also really liked the dynamic between Scottie and his friend Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes). Kim Novak looked stunning as Madeleine, and she gets the chance to really demonstrate her acting chops in this film. There was real chemistry between Stewart and Novak.

The story itself is pretty straightforward, but there is a big twist, which I absolutely refuse to disclose here. Had I known about it before viewing the film, it would certainly have spoiled it for me, so I won’t spoil it for anyone else.

However, the film raises as many questions as it answers. There is an air of implausibility about the whole thing – a common thing with Hitchcock films – and one scene in particular, while intruiging enough, seems to serve no real purpose. I also find the use of highly dramatic music at moments of tension to be unnecessary, although I appreciate that at the time that the film was made, it was probably a very effective technique. (I always just feel that I don’t need dramatic moments to be signposted; I can spot them for myself).

In the hands of less capable actors, this film could have fallen flat. However, the talents of the two main stars keep things tense and interesting, and fans of the genre, and I would recommend watching it at least once.

Year of release: 1958

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writers: Alec Coppel, Samuel A. Taylor, Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac, Maxwell Anderson

Main cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore

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Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), a former tennis pro, discovers that his wife Margot (Grace Kelly) has had an affair with crime author Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings).  Halliday is now back in London where the Wendices’ live, from his native New York.  Tony dreams up an ingenious plan to murder Margot in order that she can’t leave him, and so that he can will inherit her fortune.  He blackmails an old acquaintance into carrying out the murder, but things go wrong, and Tony has to come up with a Plan B very quickly…

I enjoyed this Alfred Hitchcock classic very much.  It wasn’t quite in the realm of To Catch A Thief, or North By Northwest, but there was a gripping storyline and plenty of tension.  The twists and turns were very clever, and I was never quite sure how things were going to turn out.

Grace Kelly looked stunning – as always – but I did think that at times her acting was a little unconvincing.  However, she was certainly good enough overall for this not to detract from the film.  Ray Milland was very convincing in his role, although his coldness and calculating nature meant that it was very hard to warm to his character, and I had no sympathy for him.  (Although Milland was excellent, I can’t help wondering if the character would have been more likeable if someone like Jimmy Stewart had played the part; but I suspect that the film may have suffered, had the character been more sympathetic.)  Cummings was fine as Halliday, although he was given little to do for much of the storyline.

Dial M For Murder is instantly recognisable as a Hitchcock movie – it has all the dramatic music and theatrical flourishes – possibly because the script was adapted from a successful play.  Most of the action takes place in the Wendices’ apartment, and there is a small cast, giving something of a claustrophobic atmosphere.  This is something that Hitchcock also did in Rear Window (also with Grace Kelly) and Rope, and it’s an effective trick.

This isn’t a murder mystery, as the viewer knows exactly what has happened from the outset – the mystery lies in whether or not Tony Wendice will get away with his plan.  I won’t spoil the ending for anyone who is yet to see it, but this is a gripping film, and any fans of Hitchcock or film noir should see it.

Year of release: 1954

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writer: Frederick Knott (adapted from his own play)

Main cast: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings

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This 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film revolves around an innocent man, Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), who tries to help out a woman in distress, only to find himself accused of murdering her when she is stabbed by an unknown assailant.  He goes on the run, not only to save himself, but also to try to stop classified government information getting into the wrong hands.  Along the way, he encounters one problem after another, and meets up with unwilling accomplice Pamela (Madeleine Carroll).

The film explores themes that Hitchcock would return to some 24 years later, in North By Northwest.  I far preferred the later film, possibly because it starred Cary Grant, who I like a lot.  However, Robert Donat does a great job here, and provides a number of darkly comic moments, in addition to the suspense of the plot.

However, while I can appreciate the film, I didn’t hugely enjoy it.  It kept my attention, but is less than an hour and a half long – I think I would have found it difficult to stay focussed if it had been much longer.  Part of this is in no way the fault of the film itself; I just don’t think it has aged particularly well.  Also, the lack of technological wizardry of the time (as opposed to the technology available to film-makers today) mean that the picture can be slightly fuzzy and the sound isn’t always very clear.  While this cannot be helped, and it isn’t fair to judge films from the 1930s by the standards of films today in this respect, it perhaps contributed to the reason why I found it less enjoyable than I’d hoped.

Worth watching though, especially for Hitchcock fans – this movie really is recognisable as one of his, and I’d be interested in reading the book on which it was based.

Year of release: 1935

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writers: John Buchan (book), Charles Bennett, Ian Hay

Main cast: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll

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Cary Grant is John Robie, a former jewel thief, now a reformed character  living on the Frnech Riviera.  When a spate of cat burglaries occur, the finger of suspicion is pointed at him, and he determines that he will have to catch the thief himself, in order to prove his innocence.  Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly) is a beautiful young woman holidaying and husband hunting in the Riviera with her mother – and her mother is one of the major targets of the thief…

Some director/actor combinations seem to work together really well (such as Tim Burton and Johnny Depp).  I think this may well be the case with Hitchcock and Grant – North by Northwest was a great movie, and so is To Catch A Thief.  (I actually prefer this film to North by Northwest, and I really want to see Suspicion and Notorious).  Cary Grant oozes charisma and charm, and is perfect as the suave John Robie, who has to try and outwit the thief and stay one step ahead at all times.

In all honesty, Grace Kelly does little more than the necessary love interest for John Robie, but it doesn’t matter.  Despite her main purpose for being on the Riviera being to look for a potential husband, she is no subservient and meek lady – instead she is witty and feisty and I felt that the two characters worked very well together.  Of particular note was Jessie Royce Landis, who played the mother of Frances Stevens (and who played the mother of Cary Grant’s character in North by Northwest).  She provided excellent support and ended up being one of the most likeable characters.

There are plenty of witty and amusing moments in this film – it’s certainly not as dark as some of Hitchcock’s other films – and there is a greater focus on the romantic aspect of the story.  And the glamour!  I loved it – as the film largely centres on rich people in an exclusive part of France, this meant that some of the outfit were beautiful and extravagant.  The outfits at the ball towards the end of the film were also pretty spectacular.

As for the ending itself – I didn’t guess the identity of the thief, although other people have said that they thought it was easy to tell who it was.  It was a great ending, which finished the story perfectly.  Some people might call it Hitchcock-lite, but to me, this was a great film, pure entertainment and very enjoyable.

Year of release: 1955

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writers: David Dodge (novel), John Michael Hayes, Alec Coppel

Main cast: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis

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This 1948 film was Alfred Hitchcock’s first colour production.  It features Farley Granger and John Dall as two young men – Brandon Shaw and Philip Morgan – who murder their former classmate, hide his body in a chest in their apartment, and then hold a dinner party for the family and associates of the dead man.  None of the guests realise the grisly secret that is in the room with them, and are actually expecting the dead man to come to the party.  James Stewart plays Rupert Cadell, the young men’s former schoolmaster, who is invited to the party and begins to suspect that something is amiss.

The film is shot in real time (almost – the timeframes are speeded up, so that the events take place over 100 minutes, although the film is 80 minutes long) and as it all takes place within the apartment, it has almost the feel of a stage play.  It is extremely entertaining, and although I felt from the outset that things could surely not possibly end well for the two murderers, I also had no idea how the story would end.  I won’t give away any spoilers, but I did think the ending itself was excellent.

James Stewart was not the original choice for the role (Cary Grant was in fact first choice – although he did not play the part, two of the characters discuss him at the party, and make reference to a film of his; clearly they are referring to Notorious, a Hitchcock film which started Grant), and did not apparently like the film.  He felt that he had been miscast in the role of Cadell, but I actually thought that he was perfect.

There are some surprising moments of humour in the film – mainly due to Constance Collier who plays the aunt of the dead man, but mostly this is a thriller of sorts, with plenty of tension and atmosphere.

The film is loosely based on the real life case of Nathan Freudenthal Leopold and Richard Albert Loeb, who in 1924 murdered 14 year old Robert Franks.  Both men were subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment.  More can be read about the case here.

Year of release: 1948

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writers: Patrick Hamilton, Hume Cronyn, Arthur Laurents, Ben Hecht

Main cast: James Stewart, Farley Granger, John Dall, Joan Chandler, Cedric Hardwicke, Constance Collier, Douglas Dick, Edith Evanson

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