Thriller

Unsung Classics 6: Capricorn One (1978)

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During the 1970’s there were a lot of thrillers made dealing with the publics mistrust of government, and also many films in which conspiracies played a key part in the plot. Capricorn One came along towards the end the decade, and in my opinion it is one of the best films in this genre.

Directed by Peter Hyams, this is a cracking film about cover ups, lies, murder and people risking their own lives to find and expose the truth. I think the entire cast are excellent. The film also features my favourite score by Jerry Goldsmith.

For those people out there with doubts about the 60’s and 70’s moon landings, this film certainly shows how such a hoax could have been achieved. Even if you don’t believe that, it has to be said this film will at least make you understand why some people think they were fake.

The world is waiting with baited breath for the launch of the first manned mission to Mars. The three Astronauts about to embark on this historic space flight are Charles Brubaker (James Brolin),John Walker (O.J. Simpson) and Peter Willis (Sam Waterston). As they are waiting for the launch countdown to begin, the capsule door is opened and a mysterious man leans in to tell them they have to get out. Once they have done so they learn that it’s just been discovered that there is a dangerous fault in the life support system. Flown to a remote base, the crew demand some answers. High ranking NASA official, Dr. James Kelloway (Hal Holbrook, who was so good at playing villains)comes and speaks to them.

The Astronauts are appalled when he tells them that the craft will still launch as the mission has to be seen to go ahead. Cancelling the mission would have given the government a perfect opportunity to end its funding of the space programme.

Kelloway threatens the lives of the Astronauts families to persuade the men to fake TV transmissions that will seem to be as if they were flying to Mars and landing on the planet. Using voice recordings of the crew (for regular scheduled flight check conversations with Mission Control) from the test simulations, Mission Control thinks the crew are aboard the spacecraft.

NASA Technician, Elliot Whitter(Robert Walden)suspects something is wrong when he notices strange technical readouts and he reports this to his superiors. Whitter also tells his friend Robert Caulfield(Elliott Gould)who is a news reporter. When Whitter disappears, Caulfield gets very worried and does some investigating of his own.

In a TV studio on the base, a fake Martian landscape is set up for the transmissions, the crew must step before the cameras trying to think of some way of communicating something is wrong. When the real craft is destroyed in space, the world obviously believes the astronauts are dead. This means the crew can’t be released because the hoax would then be exposed. Brubaker, Walker and Willis try and escape and run for their lives.

This is a real tense thriller. Goldsmith’s score fits so well with the film and really creates a sinister and tense atmosphere. He was a musical genius and came up with so many stunning scores, this is my personal favourite out of all his scores.

Telly Savalas is hysterical as a rude crop duster who helps Caulfield in his quest to uncover the truth. Brenda Vaccaro is very moving as Brubaker’s wife, Kay, the scene where she reads to her children while trying not to cry is very touching.

My favourite scenes are the following. The crew learning the truth from Kelloway. The entire sequence with the crop duster and Caulfield, from their hysterical first meeting to them following the mysterious black helicopters. The crew splitting up to try and give themselves more of a chance of getting rescued and surviving. Kay reading to her children and trying not to cry. Brubaker hiding in the deserted petrol station.

This is a film that hardly ever gets discussed nowadays and I think that is a real shame. This film is one of the most enjoyable from the 70’s, and its story is still very effective when viewed today.

This ranks up there with Three Days of the Condor and All The Presidents Men for me. If you’re a fan of this film please leave your comments below. Never seen it? I highly recommend it.

 

Thriller

Maddy’s Pick For The Weekend 8: North By Northwest (1959)

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Hi all.Hope you are all well, and have a great weekend lined up. I have next week off work. I’m so happy because we are enjoying a heatwave here in the UK. Ice cream and sun cream are lined up!

For many people, North By Northwest is Hitch’s best film. It isn’t hard to see why it is so highly thought of; it contains all the essential elements of his films – suspense, thrills, mistaken identity, an innocent accused, comedy and a cool blonde. In short, this film is the perfect package.

I love this film so much. This is a film in which something is always happening. In this film the characters (and therefore us watching)are always on the move. From the opening titles, designed by Saul Bass and accompanied by one of Bernard Herrmann’s best scores; the characters are on the move and don’t really stop until the final scene.

Roger Thornhill  (Cary Grant)is a Madison Avenue advertising man, who likes to think he is complete control of his life. His ordered life is turned on it’s head when he is mistaken for a C.I.A agent, called George Kaplan.

Suave spy, Phillip Vandamm (a sinister James Mason) has been aware of Kaplan following him and his group for some time and wants him dead. Thornhill can’t persuade him that this is a genuine case of mistaken identity. So begins a non stop chase across the country. Thornhill tries to evade the authorities, after Vandamm frames him for murder. Thornhill also tries to get someone to believe him that Vandamm is trying to kill him.

Enter resourceful, mysterious and cool blonde, Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint)who helps Thornhill when he gets into difficulty aboard a train. But can Thornhill trust her or not?

A C.I.A official, known as the professor (Leo G. Carroll) finds out about Thornhill’s situation and tries to help him. The professor is also on the Vandamm case and he also has an agent working right under Vandamm’s nose.

I love how many things in this film defy logic, yet somehow you never realise that when you are watching. I’m thinking mainly of the scene where Thornhill is forcibly made drunk. If Vandamm wants him dead, why not just shoot him?

The same goes for the famous crop duster sequence, why not just get him out to that road and shoot him? Yet the illogic of it all somehow works when you watch. This is a testament to Hitch, that he can make you so invested in the story that certain things don’t strike you as odd until much later. I actually think the scene where Thornhill watches that glass of booze get poured out is quite chilling, he is going to be forced to drink such large amounts and can’t fight back against this.

Great performances throughout, an exciting Herrmann score, and featuring two of the most famous of all Hitchcock sequences – the crop duster chase and the finale up on Mount Rushmore. These two scenes have gone on to become two of the most famous in cinema history. The film also has two big twists concerning the identity of two characters and that keeps you trying to figure out who to trust, or who to take at face value.

The film is also very funny in places. Grant reels off many comic lines and does the funniest and one of the best drunk impressions I’ve ever seen. Jessie Royce Landis is a hoot as Thornhill’s mother. Mrs. Thornhill doesn’t believe her sons story and has quite a few laughs at his expense. Some supportive mother he has! 🙂

Mason is chilling and menacing throughout. He plays a character who won’t get his own hands dirty, but who has no qualms about ordering someone to be killed. You know he is a nasty piece of work.

Martin Landau provides solid support as Vandamm’s loyal henchman. He lurks in the background of many scenes and you can see him desperate to start hurting Thornhill and other characters. Landau plays this guy as a real sadist.

My favourite scenes are the following. Thornhill and Vandamm’s first meeting, I love where they circle around each other sizing each other up. The Mount Rushmore finale. The entire section aboard the train. Roger and Eve’s dinner talk. The auction. The drunk scene at the police station. Thornhill trying to rescue Eve. Eve and Roger’s goodbye at the train station. The crop duster attack. The scene in the Mount Rushmore restaurant.

I can happily watch pretty much all of Hitch’s films again and again, but this one in particular is one that I can enjoy over and over again. It is such a good film and so seamlessly put together. It looks amazing, from the photography, to the elegant clothes and Technicolor. Be sure to see this one on Blu-ray, to see it looking at its best.

Are you a fan of this film? Please share your comments below. Never seen it? What are you waiting for?

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.

 

Thriller

Maddy’s Pick For The Weekend 5: Niagara (1953)

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I have never been to Niagara Falls in Canada, but when I watch this film I am always left feeling as though I have visited. Filmed on location, the falls play a key role (and provide a spectacular backdrop to most scenes)in this superb thriller.

Niagara is directed by Henry Hathaway. Newlyweds, Ray and Polly Cutler(Casey Adams and Jean Peters)are enjoying their honeymoon at a hotel right next to those famous falls when they are caught up in murder, jealousy and betrayal.

Staying at the same hotel is troubled war veteran, George Loomis(Joseph Cotten)and his stunning young wife Rose(Marilyn Monroe). Rose is having an affair and has plotted to have her lover kill George. At first it seems as those Rose’s terrible plans have succeeded, but we soon see that George has a few surprises in store for his wife.

Marilyn was a highly gifted comic actress, but she was also very good in dramatic roles too. I find it a real shame that her dramatic acting isn’t discussed or appreciated very much today, she is still primarily known for those comic, dumb blonde characters. If you want more dramatic Monroe, check her out in these flicks – The Misfits, Clash By Night , River Of No Return and Bus Stop(this has comedy in it, but her performance is quite serious.)

Marilyn does a terrific job of portraying a memorable femme fatal, making Rose sexy, devious and giving her own natural beauty and sexuality a somewhat sleazy quality (similar to Rita Hayworth’s performance in The Lady From Shanghai). As is always the case in a Monroe film, she steals every scene she is in.

Jean Peters(an actress who I think should have gone on to become a much bigger star)is excellent as the young woman who befriends George, and through her pure, girl next door qualities makes him realise not all women are like Rose. I also like how Polly is independent and tries to take care of herself and offer help to George.

I find Rose and Polly to be very interesting characters depicting two different types of women, one good, kind and pure, the other shallow, deceitful, beguiling and seductive. It’s Polly’s qualities that last the longest in life and are the most meaningful, looks fade after a time, and a shallow, selfish person won’t find lasting happiness.

Joseph Cotten superbly portrays a man riddled with jealousy, personal demons and doubts. This is quite a different role to ones he usually took and he gets to show what a good dramatic actor he was.

My favourite scenes are the following. Polly and Ray taking a boat trip to the falls and going under and behind them(and Polly catches sight of Rose and her lover kissing),the falls being lit up at night, Rose singing with a group of teenagers playing records, the nail-biting finale on the runaway boat and Rose trying to escape at the bus station.

A thrilling story, with some twists, Marilyn at her best and some beautiful location work all help to make this a must see.

Any other fans? Never seen it? I hope you check it out sometime.