The Hitchcock Haul: Vertigo (1958)

Vertigomovie_restorationWow, I’ve really been slacking with my Hitchcock this year. Whatever, I’ve been busy. I revisited an old favorite of mine recently: Vertigo. Arguably Hitchcock’s strangest film, Vertigo was not universally loved when it was released in 1958. Hitchcock had been known for his romantic thrillers, and people pretty much expected more of the same. Instead, they got a strange passion project that seemed to reveal more of Hitchcock’s inner psyche than anyone really wanted to know. Overwhelming obsessions, paranoia, busty blondes — it feels like a two-hour long therapy session with you as the therapist and Hitchcock your patient. Most publications said it was a good film and visually appealing, but too long and convoluted. The plot has a strange structure that rubbed some critics wrong, and it didn’t help that the mystery is revealed well before the end of the film. It ended up breaking even, but that could be marked as a failure for Hitchcock at that particular time in his career. It wasn’t until recently that the film has been hailed as a masterpiece and even said by some to beat out Citizen Kane as best film of all time.

If you have never seen Vertigo, do not read this post. It’s riddled with spoilers and will ruin the movie for you completely. But chances are you’ve seen Vertigo. It was one of the first Hitchcock’s I was introduced to, and also one of my favorites. It starts as a strange investigation into a seemingly paranormal case and ends up being an incredibly calculated scam.

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The Hitchcock Haul: Dial M for Murder (1954)

DialMforMurderposterFor my first Hitchcock Haul of 2014, I decided to revisit an old favorite of mine: Dial M for Murder. I made a cup of tea, broke out my knitting, and curled up on the couch to enjoy what I think might be my most watched of his films.

Whether you’re a fan of the original or of the modernized adaptation, A Perfect Murder (starring Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow and Viggo Mortensen), Hitchcock’s simplistic and at times goofy thriller about a man who pays an old acquaintance to carry out the perfect murder is a story many people know and love. There’s no denying that Dial M for Murder is a really good time. It’s been parodied and remade, and the play on which it is based enjoyed a healthy life.

The plot of the film, set almost entirely in one room, is clean, contained, and unexpectedly layered. We watch, completely captivated, while the scheming, gold-digging Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) blackmails an old school chum, Swann (Anthony Dawson), into killing off his wife, Margot (Grace Kelly), so he can inherit her money. We marvel at his calculations, how he’s thought of literally everything. It soon becomes apparent that he’s been crafting the perfect murder for some time now. He almost reminds me of the sociopathic Amy in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and it’s no secret I love characters with a devious side.

Hitchcock with Kelly and Cummings on set

Hitchcock with Kelly and Cummings on set

There’s simple motivation for the murder. Tony knows of Margot’s affair with an American TV writer, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), and can’t have her running off with him, leaving Tony penniless. He also doesn’t really want to be married to her anymore. Since he was named her beneficiary, murder is the obvious solution. But it would also be obvious to the police, which is why he’s involved Swann to commit the murder while Tony builds creates an alibi.

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The Hitchcock Haul: Psycho (1960)

Psycho_(1960)Of course I watched Psycho on Halloween week! Starring Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, and Vera Miles, Psycho is based on the novel by the same name written by Robert Bloch and adapted for the screen by Joseph Stefano. I don’t think I need to recap the plot or go into what a fabulous film this is. It’s pretty much universally known, but if you have somehow never seen Hitchcock’s masterpiece, you absolutely need to watch tonight!

Psycho was a game changer in a lot of ways, but I thought it’d be appropriate to stress the role it played in horror films, because, you know…Halloween. With Psycho, Hitchcock helped to create a new genre known as the slasher film, albeit not intentionally. It set a new bar for violence and deviance (sexual or otherwise) in film that was previously not there. This was mainly because the production code that ruled over film content in the decades previous had stopped such subject matter from ever being produced. The restrictive code had recently been thrown out at the time of Psycho‘s production (otherwise it would’ve never been made), but filmmakers were still hesitant to explore those once taboo elements. Psycho challenged the limits of respectability and paved the road for more graphic fair, such as John Carpenter’s Halloween (starring Leigh’s daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis) which opened the door for a flood of slasher films to burst through (such as Friday the 13th).

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The Hitchcock Haul: The Skin Game (1931)

DownloadedFileLike a lot of these older Hitchcock films, I had never heard of The Skin Game. Based on a play by Nobel Prize winner John Glasworthy, the film highlights tensions between old money and the nouveau riche to demonstrate class warfare and talk about the urbanization of rural areas, something that was a hotbed topic since the Industrial Revolution.

The established Hillcrists and the up-and-coming Hornblowers dive into a family feud over one of the last open stretches of wilderness between their two estates in the English countryside. The Hillcrists find the Hornblowers crass and reprehensible, as they’ve been building ugly factories and residences on surrounding land, even throwing tenants out of their homes that were promised residency when the Hillcrests sold some land to Mr. Hornblower (Edmund Gwenn). This began the breach of faith, but when Mr. Hornblower purchased the last bit of unsullied land in what Mr. Hillcrist (C.V. France) calls a ‘skin game,’ the Hillcrists decided to play dirty.

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The Hitchcock Haul: Rebecca (1940)

rebecca1940dvdThis film has a special place in my heart. It, along with the novel by Daphne du Maurier, turned me onto mysteries and thrillers — something I’ve been obsessed with ever since.

Just to set the bar, we’re talking about a movie that has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and earned Hitchcock his only Best Picture Oscar. It is a beautifully haunting and tantalizing film, and yet still not as good as the book.

rebecca-by-daphne-du-maurier

When I was younger and starting to get into Hitchcock, my Mom would talk about the film Rebecca and how great it was, but she could never get her hands on it to watch. When Netflix came out, we signed up right away (it was like destiny), and one of the first films my Mom put on the queue was Rebecca. It was unavailable for YEARS! Finally, after I graduated from college, we were mailed our copy.

At this point I had already read the novel out of anticipation. It delighted me! The scandal was incredibly juicy for something written in 1938, and the psychological horror that was prevalent throughout was amazing. The important twists in plot impressed me. They were both shocking and plausible. It’s a tale of sexual deviance, resentment, and coping with the past.

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The Hitchcock Haul: Marnie  (1964)

marnie-1As I work my way through Hitchcock’s filmography, I haven’t encountered one of his films that I’ve wanted to talk about more than Marnie. This is one of the few Hitchcock films with a female protagonist (brilliantly played by Tippi Hedren), and at first glance the character of Marnie seems like a militant feminist. How refreshing! Except it turns out her strong will and complete distaste for men is just another classic Hitchcock smoke screen.

Marnie the film has been described as a great expression of sexual and psychological distress, but the content feels a bit too mishandled for me to agree. Marnie does examine the effects of repression on the mind and the use of therapy/analysis as a method of understanding deviant behavior. Of course it’s all wrapped up in an exciting thriller for our enjoyment. I can’t speak for the source novel by Winston Graham, but I did add it to my “to read” shelve on Goodreads! Here’s to hoping it’s just as exciting.

The film, however, is much deeper than any other Hitchcock I’ve seen to date. It’s also the closest Hitchcock comes to discussing feminism and real women’s issues. Unfortunately, it’s more of a dismissal of feminism than anything. It also has an overtly misogynistic male lead in Sean Connery. He definitely rapes her.

640px-Alfred_Hitchcock's_Marnie_Trailer_-_Tippi_Hedren_(3)

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The Hitchcock Haul: Secret Agent  1936

220px-Secret_Agent_(1936_film)_posterSecret Agent was fun! I think it contains some of Hitchcock’s better developed characters during this time in his career. I also learned that women in the ’30s really enjoyed sleeping around, fiances be damned! Ok, on with the summary:

Loosely based on short stories by W. Somerset Maugham, a soldier/writer named Brodie (John Gielgud) is “killed off” and transformed into a British spy by a mysterious man named “R”. Given the new identity of Richard Ashenden, Brodie travels to Switzerland to track down a German spy that has thus far evaded all attempts made toward his capture. Upon arriving, Brodie finds that he’s been assigned a wife, the lovely, thrill-seaking Elsa Carrington (Madeleine Carrol, who also starred in The 39 Steps). But that’s not all he finds. A flashy American socialite by the name of Robert Marvin (Robert Young) has zeroed in on Elsa and is determined to steal her away from her “husband”. The advances are so obvious that it makes me wonder how brazen people actually were back then.

secretagent

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The Hitchcock Haul: Juno and the Paycock (1929) aka My Unsolicited Thoughts on Adaptation

imgresOk, you’re all going to hate me for this, but I didn’t finish the movie. Maybe it was the awful digital restoration that was bothering me, or the fact that it was a poor adaptation of a brilliant play, but I found myself instantly zoning out and scrolling through Twitter as soon as it started.

Juno and the Paycock is based on the award-winning 1924 play by the Irish play write Sean O’Casey. I do not over exaggerate when I say that this play is massively popular in Ireland and incredibly important. I’m certain that if I went to see this performed on stage I’d be riveted and enjoy it greatly. But that’s because I’d be in a theater state of mind. As a film, it just couldn’t hold my attention.

WARNING: SLIGHTLY OFF TOPIC TANGENT BELOW

Adaptation is a very tricky thing. It requires a complete overhaul of the source material to properly convert it to the new medium. Juno and the Paycock was released when film was still relatively new. A lot of the times people thought they could just film a play as is and it would become “a film.” Unfortunately, the conventions of film and theater are different enough that it just can’t work that way. While I don’t think Hitchcock can claim ignorance of his craft as to why he approach Juno in this way, it certainly had the same outcome.

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The Hitchcock Haul: The Lady Vanishes  (1938)

MV5BMTQ0MjQzMzcwMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjg5NjE1MQ@@._V1_SY317_CR4,0,214,317_Oh my god, guys! I didn’t think it was possible, but there has been an upset in the coveted position of “Jocelyn’s Favorite Hitchcock”!!! First held by Vertigo, with a quick upset by Rope, then landing firmly with Rebecca for several years, it now passes to The Lady Vanishes! This movie is smart, funny, thrilling, mysterious, sweet, and highly entertaining. Last night my girl Kodi came over for some much needed chill time, Chinese food, and a Hitchcock. She’s actually the one who lent me a multi-disc collection of old Hitchcock movies, without which this little project would be VERY difficult. So I let her pick this week’s movie. She instantly suggested The Lady Vanishes.

It begins when a cast of diverse characters are stuck in a small Inn in central Europe during an avalanche, and, while this part of the movie is rather inconsequential, we’re given a chance to meet our players. We have the beautiful Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood), who is on vacation with her girl friends but must travel back to England to get married — something she seems more resigned than excited to do. There is also the duo of Charters and Caldicott (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne respectively), who are just dying to get back to England in time to make the last day of a high-profile cricket match. These guys are incredibly funny and provide most of the comic relief. Then we have the matronly Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty), a governess who is finally heading back home to England now that all her charges have grown. And lastly, we have Gilbert (a young Sir Michael Redgrave), a charming and attractive young musicologist who is studying the native folk music of the region.

The cutest cute-meet ever, Gilbert and Iris

The cutest cute-meet ever, Gilbert and Iris

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The Hitchcock Haul: Young and Innocent  (1937)

MV5BMTExMjk2NTMyODBeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU3MDcyMzMyMjE@._V1_SX214_A violent murder. A severe misunderstanding. An unlikely pair on the run. A camaraderie born. Clues! Sounds like a classic Hitchcock to me.

Known in the US as The Girl Was Young, Hitchcock’s British Young and Innocent stars the little girl from The Man Who Knew Too MuchNova Pilbeam, as the Chief Constable’s daughter who finds herself on the run with murder suspect Robert Tisdall (Derrick De Marney).

The film begins on a stormy night (best way to start anything, in my opinion). A famous actress argues with her estranged husband about an affair she may or may not be having. After she half-heartedly slaps him several times, he walks out into the rain offering nothing but a really awkward facial twitch as a response. The next morning, the actress’ strangled body is found dumped in the ocean by none other than the man her husband accused her of fraternizing with: Robert Tisdall.

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