Detective, Thriller

Maddy’s Pick For The Weekend 7: Rear Window (1954)

 

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This is one of Hitchcock’s cleverest films. The way he directs makes us voyeurs just like Jimmy Stewart’s character is. We almost become characters in the film because it’s like we are there alongside Stewart watching from that window too.

Rear Window tackles issues of obsession, curiosity, romance, murder and voyeurism. The film features glamourous clothes, black comedy, fascinating characters, plenty of suspense and one of the best sets in American film history.

Photographer L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jefferies (James Stewart)is wheelchair bound after he breaks his leg.Jeff lives in an apartment complex and starts looking out of his window at his neighbours simply because he needs something to do to pass the time. However what begins as a casual curiosity, soon develops into an obsession as he can’t stop looking at what’s going on in the neighbouring apartments.

Jeff’s glamourous girlfriend, Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly)loves him dearly, but the two are complete opposites in background, life and society. Lisa begins to get concerned about Jeff’s obsession with the neighbours and tries to get him to focus on her instead. Soon Lisa gets drawn into his obsession when the pair begin to suspect Lars Thorwald (a menacing Raymond Burr)of having murdered his wife. The pair begin their own investigation. They are helped in their investigations by Jeff’s nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter) and Jeff’s detective friend Doyle (Wendell Corey).

Hitchcock keeps us guessing as to whether Thorwald is innocent or guilty right up to the end. We begin to wonder at points in the film whether Jeff is correct in his suspicions or not.

I love the apartment complex set because it looks so real. How it’s set up works for the story as Jeff’s window has a clear view of all of the others. All the apartments were also designed inside, furniture etc added.

The one thing about this set up that always makes me laugh, is how everyone has their windows open with the lights on and nobody (apart from the newlyweds)ever has their curtains or blinds drawn. This seems to be a reccuring thing in American, Swedish and Danish films and series; here in the UK, once it’s evening, the curtains and blinds are shut, we’d never dream of having the lights on so everyone outside could see in.

I like how Jeff finally sees past Lisa’s glamour to see the woman beneath. They love each other, but have such different lives. He realises he loves her and sees that she is a resourceful and brave woman. Kelly is glamourous and beautiful(as ever)but shows there is more to her character than looks. Kelly shows us Lisa’s vulnerable side and her desperation for Jeff to fully accept her in his life.

Stewart portrays Jeff as a man set in his ways, but slowly realising there is room for Lisa in his life. He does such a good job of conveying Jeff’s growing fascination and obsession with looking out of the window.

Thelma Ritter provides comic support as the no nonsense Stella. She also thinks Jeff needs to stop watching, but then she and Lisa begin to think he may be right after all.

Raymond Burr is almost unrecognisable as the menacing Lars Thorwald. I love Burr when he plays good guys like Ironside, but he was superb when playing dubious characters and villains.

This is a thrilling film that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. It also makes you see how easy it is to slip into obsession. Excellent performances throughout and skilled direction from Hitch make this a must see.

Please share your thoughts on the film below.

 

Detective, Horror, Page To Screen

The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)

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Odds are that even if you’ve never see this one, you’ll almost certainly be aware of Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Agent Clarice Starling. These two characters are what set this film apart from all the other serial killer films out there.

A film focusing just on the conversations between these two characters would be just as good as this film; their exchanges are so fascinating to watch, from the way lines are delivered, to witnessing the undeniable growing bond of trust between these two polar opposites.

The film is a favourite of mine not just because of the story, but because of the well written characters of Starling and Lecter. Foster and Hopkins give unforgettable performances(both won an Oscar for their performances in this film)that stay with you long after the film has finished.

Gene Hackman and Michelle Pfeiffer were originally going to play Lecter and Starling, but both ended up turning down these roles. As much as I would have loved to have seen how they would approached these roles, I am very glad that we got Hopkins and Foster in the end.

Hopkins plays Lecter as seemingly unthreatening, he is polite and charming and speaks calmly and quietly. However, characters soon learn not to let their guard down around him as his mind, words and observation skills are his weapons, and he uses them to devastating effect. He is like a snake, just waiting to strike out and when he does his attack will be swift and deadly.

The first meeting between him and Starling shows us how much information(both concerning what the FBI want from him, and personal details about Starling)he has got from her without her even being aware she has given him this. He is a manipulator and will only tell someone what he want’s to, you can’t force anything out of him.

Foster is the young FBI trainee, keen, dedicated and more than capable of coping fine in a very male dominated profession. Clarice Starling joins Ellen Ripley as one of my favourite tough female characters. Starling is a tough, strong and capable woman, who is admirable and brave enough to face horror and evil head on.

Starling finds herself drawn to Lecter and can’t deny that a genuine bond has developed between them despite what he has done and is capable of. Day after day this woman puts herself through hell to try and get vital information to help save a new victim of the serial killer known as Buffalo Bill.

The horror and violence she sees on this case affects her deeply, but she doesn’t shrink away from it because she needs to face it in order to defeat it. I have always considered Starling to be brave because of this, there were times when she could (and we might say should)have just quit and moved onto a less emotionally destructive case, but she didn’t and to do that takes courage.

Behavioural Science Unit Chief, Agent Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) assigns Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Lector is a cannibalistic serial killer, who is one of the most high profile killers behind bars.

Crawford believes Lecter can help the FBI build a profile of Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), a terrifying killer who is murdering and skinning women. Lecter slowly agrees to share his observations and knowledge with Clarice, but only if she in return tells him deeply personal things about her childhood. Clarice must make a choice between saving Bill’s current victim, Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith)and letting Lecter inside her head. Clarice must also deal with the interference of the smarmy Dr. Chilton(Anthony Heald), the head of the secure prison/hospital where Lecter is imprisoned.

This is a suspenseful film that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. It plays with the audience because at times we find ourselves liking Lecter, in spite of what we know him to be and to be capable of doing. Clarice is also in many ways acting as our eyes throughout as we are thrown headfirst into a rabbit hole of horror, manipulation and fear.

I love the scene in the hospital/prison when Clarice first visits. There is a terrific point of view shot when she walks into the guards office leading to the cells of the most dangerous inmates. We are seeing this new environment for the first time as she sees it.

The film is directed by Jonathan Demme, and he does such a good job of bringing the horror and realism of the novel by Thomas Harris to life. The film sticks very closely to the book and I believe the book and film were the first to look inside the mind of a killer, instead of just portraying them as monsters, this story gives us reasons why some people do such horrendous and disturbing things.

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Harris wrote four novels featuring Lecter. The first of these was Red Dragon, which is the prequel to Silence of the Lambs and features the psychologically tortured Agent Will Graham forced to confront Lecter. I love Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs the most. Hannibal is a good story but I didn’t like what happened to Clarice at the end, I much prefer the ending scene in Ridley Scott’s film adaptation.

Back to the film. I loved Howard Shore’s atmospheric score. I love the performances of Hopkins, Foster, Smith and Levine. I love the realistic look to the film and how it shows us what Police and agents have to see and go through to find killers and investigate their horrendous crimes.

I wish the film had included more of Crawford though. In the book he is very much a key character, and has a subplot involving his terminally ill wife. Glenn is very good as the driven unit leader, who has seen so much of this horror that he has learnt to be more unaffected by what he sees in comparison to Starling. On the Blu-ray there are some good deleted scenes involving Crawford that I wish had been kept in.

I like how we also see what is going on with Catherine (the latest victim) and how despite her fear she tries to stay strong and tries to get control of her situation when she can.

My favourite scenes are the following. All the scenes between Lecter and Clarice, but especially the one where he gives her a towel. Crawford putting a protective and comforting arm around an injured Starling. Catherine trying to get control of her situation by capturing Bill’s dog. The FBI training montages featuring Starling. The finale in the basement. Lecter speaking with Senator Martin (Diane Baker)and telling her “love ya suit”. Clarice telling Lecter about the lambs.

Most unforgettable scenes? The cage breakout and the officers being killed in the process. The cleverly edited doorbell scenes, where we are not sure whether Crawford or Starling have found Bill’s house. Starling cocking her gun when she starts to realise a man she is talking to is more than likely Bill. The finale in the basement where Starling is trying to find her way around in the dark.

Quite a disturbing film in places, but one that is a must see. Strong performances, fascinating characters and a gripping and scary story.

I’d love to get your thoughts on the film and the characters. Any other fans of the novels? Please leave comments about the novels too.

 

Detective, Japanese Cinema

Maddy’s Pick For The Weekend 2: Stray Dog(1949)

If you thought Akira Kurosawa’s films were all historical epics, featuring swordfights and Samurai, then you really need to think again. Kurosawa also made several dramas and thrillers set in the present day(40’s and 50’s Japan)two of my favourites of these are Ikiru and The Quiet Duel. Stray Dog is another great favourite, and it is a type of film that I dearly wish Kurosawa had made more of. I love his Samurai films, but I find these other films have become even more special to me, and it is these films that I keep returning to again and again.

Set during an oppressive heatwave, this Noir/Thriller features Kurosawa’s regular lead actor Toshiro Mifune, as the sweat soaked, keen, rookie detective Murakami. When his police gun is stolen from him he doesn’t stop trying to track it down. As time goes on, Murakami finds that his gun has moved on from the pickpocket who snatched it and into the criminal underworld.

Murakami becomes guilt ridden when the gun becomes linked to crimes. It is at this point that he has to ask for help in his search for the gun(and in a way his own redemption). Murakami is helped by veteran detective Sato(Takashi Shimura at his best, perfectly conveying wisdom).

This is such a good film, exciting, moving and very thrilling. There is some striking photography by Asaichi Nakai, and strong performances from pretty much everyone in the cast; even people who feature for a small amount of screentime make a real impression. The film is shot on location and shows us the good and bad sides of the country; it also shows us a side of Japanese life we don’t see too often on screen, nightclubs and dancehalls.

The film rarely lets up on it’s edge of your seat thrills, but there are some quieter moments to be found too. A scene that always stays with me after viewing, shows the grief stricken husband of a woman killed by Murakami’s stolen gun sobbing in his wife’s garden; we see (as Murakami does)the terrible impact such a crime has on the victims loved ones, interestingly Sato seems distant in that scene, which shows that he has seen so many similar things; he has in a way become used to and hardened against such things. Sato tries to teach Murakami that he can’t get personally involved in every case, if he did the emotions would break him apart; but the older detective also knows he can’t teach that, it is something that has to be learnt by bitter experience. Sato and Murakami’s odd couple relationship also predates the buddy cop plots which are so common in films and series today.

The finale in the field is tense and deeply moving, as we find ourselves feeling some pity for someone we should hate. If the film tells us anything it is that crime is a destroyer and waster all round, there are only losers in such a life, both the victims and the perpetrators lives are ruined and altered by criminal activity of one sort or another.

Strangely enough, Kurosawa himself never actually regarded this film very highly for some reason, I’d love to know why, as it is one of his very best.

A great one to watch over the weekend. If you’re not really into Japanese cinema this would serve as a great introduction, give it a go and share your thoughts.

If, like me, you are already a fan of this flick then please share your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

Detective, Page To Screen

The Saint On Screen: George Sanders as Simon Templar

In 1928, author Leslie Charteris introduced the world to Simon Templar. The suave, charming, gentleman thief was a Robin Hood type figure who was popular with readers.

There have been several screen adaptations of The Saint made over the years, for both film and TV. Arguably his most famous screen outing was in the British TV series starring Roger Moore. I totally love the series(thanks dad for introducing me to Simon Templar and a pre Bond Moore) but I much prefer the 1930’s/40’s film series starring George Sanders. Sanders took over the role of Templar from Louis Hayward.

The suave Sanders was the go to actor if you wanted cads and villains. As Templar he got to show that he was just as adept at playing heroes too. When I read any of the books it is Sanders face I see when picturing Simon. I wish he had gotten the opportunity to play the good guy more often.

Sanders perfectly captures Templar’s wit, intellect, charm and (when necessary)extreme toughness; through his portrayal I always get the sense that his Templar is someone you would love to have as a friend, he would make you feel safe, but you certainly wouldn’t want him as your enemy. I also really love the look Sanders gets when he’s playing scenes where Templar sees through another characters lies. I don’t think your ever in doubt that his Templar can take care of himself in a fight; he’s got no hesitation dishing out a bit of violence to villains who deserve a taste of their own medicine.

Sanders played Templar between 1939 and 1941. That ended when RKO studios offered him the role of Gay Laurence, in the 1941 film, The Gay Falcon. The Falcon series so closely resembled The Saint series, that Leslie Charteris actually sued RKO for plagiarism. I consider it a great shame that Sanders stopped making the Saint films, I think he was perfectly suited to the role and is the best Templar on screen. Given how much The Falcon resembled The Saint, it seems odd to me that he would have turned down any future appearances as Templar, but I guess he wanted more high profile flicks than these B pictures. Sanders tired of playing Laurence after three films, his own brother Tom Conway became that series lead. The Saint film series continued with two more films starring Hugh Sinclair.

I love Sanders performance the most in The Saint Takes Over, The Saint Strikes Back and The Saint in Palm Springs. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching these films. In addition to Sanders terrific performance, I also want to give a shout out to Jonathan Hale as Inspector Fernack, friend and frequent professional thorn in Templar’s side. Fernack essentially replaces Inspector Teale once Templar moves to the US. Paul Guilfoyle adds comedy as Clarence ‘Pearly’ Gates.

Share your thoughts on Sanders portrayal of The Saint. Which of these films are your favourites? I’ll be happy to receive comments about the books too.

 

 

 

Detective, True Story

Zodiac (2007)

I was aware of the Zodiac case before seeing this film, but I didn’t know about it in much detail. Thanks to David Fincher’s incredibly detailed and thorough film account, I felt much better informed, and became even more interested in the real life case. During the 1960’s a killer who called himself The Zodiac, murdered several people (mostly young couples, although in two cases the young male victims survived). San Francisco became his next focus when he murdered a taxi driver, and sent a series of frightening and bizarre letters to newspapers.

Fincher’s film focuses on real life newspaper cartoonist Robert Graysmith(Jake Gyllenhaal)who tried to crack the many codes the killer put in his letters, and started his own investigation into who the elusive killer was.

The genius of this film is that we are gripped, terrified and left trying to work out the killers identity; even though it is well known that the killer was never caught. Even though we know that fact, the film gets us so caught up in the case that you forget that and are on the edge of your seat hoping the prime suspect turns out to be the man and get arrested.

Fincher shows us the reality of police work too. In reality officers don’t solve crimes by kicking in doors, having car chases etc, but by looking though files, connecting with other police departments, questioning people, interviewing and profiling and it can take years; quite often they hit more dead ends than breaks in the case, but they keep going.

Mark Ruffalo is excellent as Detective Dave Toschi(the detective who inspired Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt). He thinks he has his man, but he has no solid evidence that he can use to arrest him. The diner scene between him and Graysmith is my favourite in the film, where Toschi says to him “easy, Dirty Harry”. Toschi knows that in reality he can’t drag his suspect in just because of coincidence and gut feeling, despite desperately wanting to do so. Harry Callahan may have done, but in reality you just can’t do that, even if it later turns out your first instinct was right.

Superb performances, some very creepy moments and detailed recreations of the various murders that are accurate, but not overly graphic(very respectful to the victims family and friends who may watch this film). The lake attack is one of the scariest and upsetting screen murder sequences I’ve ever seen. The use of Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man(already a song that sounds freaky to me)means I just can’t listen to that song now, it instantly makes me think of this film now.

I think this is Fincher’s best film, and is one of the best true life crime films out there. Watch it if you’re interested in the real case, or are just looking for a good flick.

 

 

Detective, Romance

Nick and Nora Charles

There have been many memorable screen partnerships over the years: Tracy and Hepburn, Hope and Crosby, Astaire and Rogers etc, but none have come close to William Powell and Myrna Loy. Paired in 14 films together, their most memorable characters were Nick and Nora Charles in the Thin Man films.

Private Detective Nick(Powell)and his elegant wife, Nora(Loy)are two of the most memorable characters of the classic film era. The pair drink ridiculous amounts alcohol, make it seem fun, and never seem to get drunk from doing so! What I love most about them, is that they love each other so much, and are not only husband and wife, but best friends too. You know that if anything happened to one of them, that the other would be devastated. Along with their adorable dog Asta, the pair solve crimes and get into various scrapes.

Powell and Loy make these characters so loveable, and so real, we feel like we know these characters and they come across as people you’d love to be friends with. The incredible chemistry they share helps make the love story believable. Good friends off screen, Powell and Loy really do seem like a real couple, so at ease with one another and seeming to genuinely (more than acting)care for one another.

Powell is clearly having great fun playing the laid back Nick, and I think he delivers some of his best performances in The Thin Man films. Loy is enchanting as the tough, elegant Nora who is always up for sharing her husbands cases.

Join me, as I raise a flute of champagne to salute Nick and Nora Charles!