The Hitchcock Haul: The Man Who Knew Too Much Double Feature

imagesHitchcock made The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1934 during his career in England. It starred Peter Lorre and was a hit at the box office and with critics. In 1956 while in America, he remade The Man Who Knew Too Much to fulfill a contract obligation with Paramount and cast Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day as the leads. He agreed with the studio heads that his original was a great film with room for wonderful improvement in the new era of filmmaking. This week I watched both versions of the film back to back, and came to the conclusion that the 1956 version may have been a better film at the time, but that ruling doesn’t stand today. Ultimately, I think the 1934 version is more engaging and a better example of storytelling.

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The Hitchcock Haul: Rich and Strange  (1931)

RichStrangeWow. Rich and Strange is definitely strange, and I loved it! It also goes by the name of East of Shanghai and is one of Hitchcock’s earlier ventures while still in England. It’s kind of hard for me to organize my thoughts about it. I’d never heard of it before. I had no idea what it was about, and it really took me by surprise. Unlike Hitchcock’s usual grind, Rich and Strange is more of a dramedy focused on a middle class couple, Fred (Henry Kendall) and Emily (Joan Barry), who inherit a large sum of money and blow it on an extravagant trip around the world.

While on the trip, both meet and fall in love with other people. They begin harboring resentments toward one another, and it isn’t until both their lovers leave them (one with the remainder of their money) and the ship they’re on sinks that they rediscover their appreciation for one another. The final patch on their relationship comes in the form of a new inside joke between the two after being rescued by a Chinese junk and getting sick when they realize they just ate a stir fry full of cat. Racist, but delightful.

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The Hitchcock Haul: Jamaica Inn  (1939)

Jamaica_inn_2480003bSet in the early 1800s, Jamaica Inn takes place in seaside Cornwall, which apparently was a bit disorderly and mutinous back in the day. The area, comprised of poor and perhaps desperate people, was very prone to shipwrecks. There weren’t any proper lighthouses, just a few pathetic beacons from homes along the coast. What happens when you combine shipwrecks and desperate people? Some pretty devious crime, that’s what. Add a ballsy young lady with a sympathetic heart, and you’ve got a fascinating stage for Hitchcock’s first adaptation of a Daphne du Maurier work (the others being Rebecca and The Birds). Unfortunately, it’s not as good as it should have been.

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The Hitchcock Haul: Strangers on a Train  (1951)

StrangersonaTrainFirst, allow me to apologize for being late with my Hitchcock this week. I’ve been pretty busy working on a script that’s been kicking my ass, so I kind of lost track of everything. But, not to worry! This week I rewatched the legendary Strangers on a Train.

This movie is so well known, so parodied and referenced, that I actually forgot that I’d already seen it. For some reason I didn’t remember that I watched this excellent Hitchcock, and just thought I knew the story so well from hearing it elsewhere (like the Modern Family parody that was hilariously done).

Turns out I’ve absolutely seen it like a million times. But I watched it again with the same delight as always.

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The Hitchcock Haul: To Catch a Thief  (1955)

220px-To_Catch_a_ThiefI’ll admit, I trailed off a bit in the middle of Hitchcock‘s To Catch a Thief. The movie is so incredibly pretty that I kind of turned off my critical brain and focused on my instant gratification brain. It doesn’t help that the plot is rather standard without many twists to keep you on your feet.

Written by John Michael Hayes (a frequent Hitchcock collaborator), To Catch a Thief was loosely based on the novel of the same name by David Dodge. I haven’t read the book, but if I’d imagine it’s fun for the beach.

But seriously, the film won an Oscar for Best Cinematography, and by god it earned it! Also, with the added glamour of Grace Kelly and Cary Grant, good luck keeping your focus on what’s actually happening.

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The Hitchcock Haul: Sabotage  (1936)

tumblr_miie7iws4J1qa6obyo1_500Adapted from Joseph Conrad‘s 1907 novel The Secret Agent, Sabotage (alternately titled, The Woman Alone) focuses on the investigation into a series of terrorist attacks in London. A young woman, Mrs. Verloc (Sylvia Sidney), runs a movie theater with her husband, Karl Verloc (Oskar Homolka), and her younger brother Stevie (Desmond Tester). Soon after the attacks begin, a charming grocer befriends Mrs. Verloc. This grocer is undercover Detective Sergeant Ted Spencer (John Loder) of the Scotland Yard. As he slyly attempts to pry information from the innocent and oblivious woman, she starts to suspect that something is awry with her husband.

Sabotage

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The Hitchcock Haul: Suspicion (1941)

3_SuspicionAlfred Hitchcock has a famous hang-up concerning the Academy. His films have been nominated over and over for Oscars, but he never won for Best Director. Suspicion was able to earn the only Oscar for a performance in a Hitchcock film ever when Joan Fontaine won for Best Actress that year. I find her portrayal of Lina severally lacking, and think she should’ve been awarded the honor for her performance in her other Hitchcock: Rebecca.

MV5BMTUyNTM1MDcwNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMjI3ODQ2._V1._SX337_SY450_I was horribly disappointed by this film. Based on the Francis Iles (Anthony Berkeley Cox) 1932 novel titled Before the Fact, Suspicion chronicles young Lina McLaidlaw’s spiraling paranoia that her new husband has committed a ghastly murder to cover his gambling debts, then ultimately fears for her own life. The progression is done well, establishing Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant) as a dishonest yet charismatic and handsome fellow partial to the fast and easy life. It is made clear that he hoped to live off of any inheritance Lina was awarded (and was sorely disappointed to find that there was none), and has no intention of working an honest job.

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The Hitchcock Haul: The 39 Steps 

the-thirty-nine-steps-novelMy first exposure to the property of The Thirty-Nine Steps was when my aunt vigorously campaigned to watch the Hitchcock film during some holiday get-together last year. Unfortunately, the only version Netflix had was the 1959 rendition. We began it, but I don’t think we ever finished. In addition to these two film versions, there is another film version from the ’70s, and a stage play based on a combination of the Hitchcock film and the novel (the two vary quite a bit). Obviously, this is a popular work.

Lucky for me, Hulu Plus has the 1935 Hitchcock version as part of their Criterion Collection collection, if you will. I found the original screen adaptation of John Buchan‘s adventure novel of the same name to be charming, exciting, and a hell of a lot of good fun! I would say, however, that it contains two of the worst on-screen deaths I have ever seen.

39steps-poster

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