Romance, Thriller

King Kong (1933)

This year is the 85th anniversary of the release of the film King Kong. The film was a huge success when it was released, it made a great deal of money at the box office, and its success saved RKO Studios from falling into bankruptcy.

Besides the spectacular Stop Motion effects that the film features, King Kong is probably best remembered for Fay Wray ripping her lungs out screaming in terror, as she is kidnapped by the giant ape of the title. The film is a great deal of fun. I really like the film but I do have some issues with it which I’ll get to in a bit.

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The name is Kong. King Kong. Screenshot by me.

King Kong really is a milestone in the history of Stop Motion Photography. The very clever process had been around for some years previously, but the way it was used in this film far eclipsed anything that had come before. Next to the work of Ray Harryhausen, I would say that this film is one of most significant and important stop motion films ever made.

Stop Motion Animator Willis O’Brien and his team of miniaturists, technicians and painters all worked marvels on this film. Their work made it seem like King Kong was a real giant ape. I love how they made it seem like Kong was far larger than his natural surroundings, and how he was also larger than any people he comes across and therefore he seems quite intimidating and frightening to them.

I especially love how Willis and his team managed to achieve medium shots of Kong in front of surroundings (be it jungles, cliffs or New York City)and made it look like he was bigger than everything around him. I also liked the shots where they also managed to make it look like he had Fay Wray (looking tiny in comparison to him) trapped in one of his hands. It’s incredible what they managed to achieve on this film in regards to the technical side of making the film.

I also love how they managed to make Kong’s face express a wide range of emotions. Kong is shown as being curious, sad, angry and scared at various points in the film. The emotions of Kong are what make me marvel at this film so much; Kong is made so much more than a mere wow factor special effect, his emotions mean that we connect with him and consider him to be real; therefore we also feel for him as the film goes on adnhe becomes hunted and harmed.

Kong wasn’t the only Stop Motion character in the film either. There are dinosaurs on Kong’s island and they too are made to come alive through the magic of Stop Motion. The scene where Kong fights a flying dinosaur on a cliff edge is one of my favourite scenes. I also like the scene where a man is attacked up a tree by a dinosaur and gets eaten in the process. The dinosaur sequences are just as impressive as the solo Kong shots. The scene where Kong and dinosaur fight in the swamp is a highlight of the film.

King Kong was directed by Merian C. Cooper (who also created the character of Kong)and Ernest B. Schoedsack.  Film director Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong)has charted a ship under the command of Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher). The ship will take him and his film crew to the unexplored Skull Island. Denham wants to shoot his new film there. 

 Along for the ride is Denham’s leading lady, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray)a young woman left hungry and desperate due to the Depression. Denham sees potential in this gal and he intends to make her a star. On the trip to the island Ann falls for the  ships First Mate, the rugged and gruff Jack Driscoll(Bruce Cabot).  I love the scenes between them, but I dearly wish we could have had more scenes where we get to witness their relationship developing.

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Ann and Jack share a happy moment. Screenshot by me.

When the ship reaches the island the crew go ashore. There they find a tribe of natives who live in a village near a massive wall and gate built along the side of the jungle which lies beyond. They leave in a hurry when the natives spot them and head towards them. A few hours later some natives come out to the ship and kidnap Ann. She is taken ashore and tied up on the other side of the wall. She is prepared as an offering to the giant ape Kong, who lives in the jungle and is worshipped as some sort of god by the natives. Jack and the others head back to the island to try and rescue her. 

           Ann sees Kong. Screenshot by me.

Kong takes Ann through the jungle (fighting off dinosaurs along the way)to his clifftop home. When they are alone he becomes very curious about her and studies her, prods her with his fingers and handles her so gently. I love the scenes where he studies her because he is so fascinated by her. I also like how he is so gentle with her after we have just seen him kill and destroy in the previous scenes. There is something about Ann that draws him to her, and even though she is terrified of him, he can’t bear to part with her. Is it love on his part? Who knows, but there is certainly something that makes him desperate to keep her with him from now on.

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Ann in Kong’s hand. Screenshot by me.

Jack finds Ann and together they manage to escape from Kong by climbing down a vine. Kong goes crazy and chases them. He breaks through the wall and gate, destroys the native village, kills (in pretty graphic detail)many natives as they flee, and gets closer and closer to Ann and Jack. Down on the beach, the ships crew manage to stun Kong and they sedate him and put on the ship. Kong is then taken back to New York and exhibited as the Eighth Wonder Of The World. Kong breaks loose from the stage of the theatre where he is being held and stumbles around the streets of the big city looking for Ann.

Climbing up the outside of a building he peeks through a window and sees a woman, thinking it is Ann he reaches in and grabs her; this lady isn’t Ann and she is terrified, he throws her and she falls screaming to her death. Kong continues his climb and finds Ann on another floor, he reaches in and grabs her. Then he roams the streets again trying to escape the noise of the city. He also attacks an elevated train and kills several people.  

Then he climbs the Empire State Building and gazes down on the city below. A group of fighter planes are dispatched to shoot him. He places Ann down on the roof of the tower and stands to his full height and tries to grab the passing planes, but he cannot prevent himself from getting shot down and he falls to his death. The Empire State Building sequence is the real highpoint of the film and it has become one of the most famous scenes in film history. There is so much suspense in this scene and the whole thing looks truly epic. 

                                    The Empire State Building finale. Screenshot by me.

On the ground people gather around the giant body of Kong. Denham utters the famous last lines of the film: “Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast”. This line sums up the film really, it is one of the best takes on the beauty and the beast story out there. Kong loves Ann in some way, and when he is with her he is gentle and protective instead of ferocious and cruel. He never hurts her either. Kong is the real victim of the film, instead of Ann because he is used and persecuted. Also his affection for Ann wasn’t returned by her (unlike in the Jackson remake, Fay Wray’s Ann is utterly terrified of Kong throughout the film)at any time, so even the person he likes doesn’t return the same feelings he does. Poor old Kong, my heart goes out to him so much as the film goes on.

As a viewer I am always torn about just how I want the famous final scene of this film to go down. On one hand I really pity Kong and I want him to escape and be able to somehow live happily. I always wish that those bullets will miss him as they are fired. On the other hand he has killed many people in the city and done so much damage that at this point he is a major danger, menace, and he has become quite scary too, so part of me does accept and understand why he has to be stopped. This scene still packs quite an emotional punch today I think. The scene is so well put together and paced and it delivers a thrilling and suspenseful finale to the thrill ride we’ve been on. 

As much as I enjoy the film, I also have a number of issues with it too. I really like the effects but I think the characters are very underdeveloped which is a real shame. I think a few more scenes on the boat would have been good to allow us more character development. I also think that the acting is pretty bad, some of the actors yell their dialogue, and some talk in quite a rushed way too. Reicher and Cabot deliver two of the better performances in my opinion, but even they are not as good as they could have been. Fay Wray spends more time screaming than she does delivering lines of dialogue! The cliché depiction of Ann as a helpless damsel in distress really gets on my nerves. All these things really annoy me because I don’t care about any of these characters at all, and I often cringe at most of the scenes featuring humans only. Kong delivers the best performances in the film in my opinion.

There are many films of this decade featuring far better acting and character development than what we see here. I worry that if any young viewers see this as their first foray into classic era film that they may (quite understandably )be put off. This may mean they won’t check out other classic films because they think the acting will be like this in all films from this decade in particular (we know that isn’t the case), and they may take one look at this film and never return to the classic film era again. I think it’s such a shame that the human side of this story got lost along the way somehow. 

A few more scenes with Kong and Ann would have been beneficial too I think so there could have been more interaction between them. I think more scenes between them would have given us a chance to see Kong’s affection for her develop even more. 

I do love how dark and graphic this film is. There are many scenes of Kong and the dinosaurs killing people and eating them. During the code era many of these scenes had to be cut from the film on re-release due to them being deemed to graphic. The scene where Kong takes off some of Ann’s clothes and examines them was also cut because it was sexually suggestive. I’d hate to have seen this butchered version because all those scenes are among the best in the film! The violence of Kong also serves to show how differently he behaves when Ann is around. 

The depiction of the natives of Kong’s Island is also pretty bad. The native characters are even less developed than the main characters are. The natives are also dressed in the cliché native style of grass skirts and bangles. A few scenes that allowed us to get to know them and their culture better couldn’t have hurt. 

85 years on from its release, and I think that King Kong still astounds viewers and has held up pretty well as a very enjoyable adventure film. I will take stop motion and practical effects over fake looking CGI any day of the week because they look so much better. I wish I could have been in the first audiences for this film to have seen how everyone reacted to Kong. 

What are your thoughts on the film?

 

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Films I Love, Romance, Thriller

North By Northwest (1959)

 

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Roger Thornhill tries to hide while on the run. Screenshot by me.

For many people, North By Northwest is considered to be Alfred Hitchcock’s best film. It isn’t hard to see why this one is so beloved and highly regarded by fans and critics alike.

This film contains all of the essential elements of Hitchcock’s films; suspense, thrills, a case of mistaken identity, an innocent person wrongly accused, comedy, and a cool and beautiful blonde woman. In short, I think that this film really is the perfect Alfred Hitchcock package.

I love this film so much. This is a film in which something is always happening and I find it interesting that in this film the characters 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 continuously seen being on the move, they never really stop moving until the final scene onboard the train. The film is an exhilarating thrill ride and is a great deal of fun to watch. I also love the photography by Robert Burks. I especially love the overhead shots he does during the scenes where Vandamm questions Roger, and also in the scenes at Vandamm’s mountain house.

I also like how stylish and elegant the film looks overall. The characters are so well dressed and the film transports us back to a bygone era of class, style and elegance. Part of why I love classic films so much is because they show me how past generations dressed and lived. I love the 1950’s glamour and elegance captured by Hitch and featured in this film.

There are also so many interesting and intriguing characters in this film and their presence makes this film one that I like to return to again and again.There’s plenty of twists and turns and you’re never sure who to trust or take at face value. I also love the way these characters all interact with one another throughout the film. Characters perceptions of one another also change as the film goes along and our perception of them changes too.

I like seeing Roger Thornhill start out as being in control and as being a bit self absorbed. As the film goes along he changes when he realises he’s not as in control as he once thought he was. We see him turn into a man who comes to care about someone else, we also see him realise there is more outside of the life he had been leading up to this point in time.

I also like how Roger becomes braver and more heroic as the film goes on. He is scared and confused by what is happening to him at first, but then he takes it in his stride and we see him become less and less like the self absorbed man at the start of the film. I also like how he later willingly puts himself in danger as he rescues the woman he loves from certain death. 

The scenes between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are very playful. Their scenes are filled with sexual tension and a great deal of warmth, fun and affection too. I especially love their dinner chat and flirting on the train. These characters and their relationship with one another are the heart of the film for me.

                                   Roger and Eve flirt over dinner. Screenshot by me.

The growing relationship between Cary and Eva’s characters is fun to watch and I find myself coming to care very much for them both. The scenes between Cary and Eva are a real highlight of the film for me. Their scenes on the train are erotic, tender, interesting and very funny. 

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Roger and Eve get intimate. Screenshot by me.

Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant)is a Madison Avenue advertising man. He has a very good life, a life that he believes he is in complete control of. His ordered life is turned on its 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. He wants Kaplan dead. Thornhill can’t persuade him that this is a genuine case of mistaken identity and that he is not the man that Vandamm thinks he is.

So begins a non stop chase across the country. Thornhill tries to avoid Vandamm’s men and also tries to avoid getting arrested by the authorities, after Vandamm frames him for murder. Thornhill also tries to get someone else to believe him that Vandamm is the real villain and is trying to kill him.

Enter the resourceful, mysterious and cool blonde, Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint). Eve helps Thornhill when he gets into difficulty aboard a train that she is travelling on. A genuine bond develops between the two and they begin to fall in love, but can Thornhill trust her or not? I consider Eve to be one of the strongest and most interesting of all of Hitchcock’s leading ladies. 

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

I love how many things in this film actually defy logic when you think about them long enough. Somehow though you actually never seem to realise the illogic when you are watching these moments in the film. It’s only afterwards when you suddenly stop and think about some of the things you’ve just watched. I’m thinking mainly of the scene where Thornhill is forcibly made drunk in order to be got rid of. If Vandamm wants him dead so bad, why not just shoot him to make sure he is dead?

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Roger is about to be forced to drink all of this. Screenshot by me.

The same goes for the famous crop duster sequence, why not just get Roger Thornhill out to that road and shoot him and bury him somewhere, instead of chasing him with a plane? Yet the illogic of these moments actually work when you watch the film. This is a testament to Hitch I think, in that he can make you so invested in the story that certain things don’t strike you as odd until much later. I have to say that I actually think the scene where Thornhill watches that glass of booze getting poured out is quite chilling. Thornhill is going to be forced to drink such large amounts and he has no way of being able to fight back against this. That’s pretty grim when you stop to think about it for a moment.

There’s so much to enjoy about this film. From the great performances throughout, the exciting Bernard Herrmann score, and two of the most famous of all Hitchcock sequences. The crop duster chase and that suspenseful finale up on Mount Rushmore, have both gone on to become two of the most famous scenes in cinema history.

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Roger is sent to the middle of nowhere and is about to encounter a crop duster. Screenshot by me.

The crop duster sequence really builds up suspense and tension. The sequence is perfectly edited together and it is exciting, suspenseful and dramatic throughout. I like that it starts off slow and that Hitch gradually builds up the mystery and suspense. Is Roger Thornhill going to meet someone? Is he going to get attacked or killed? How will that happen if so?

The beginning of the crop duster sequence plays out almost like a silent film with Thornhill out in the middle of nowhere and us seeing what unfolds through his eyes. There is no need for any dialogue in this sequence. Then the crop duster plane is spotted and it slowly turns then it speeds towards him and begins shooting at him. That moment where it swoops towards him and he runs has become one of the most iconic scenes in film history. 

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Roger and Eve in a literal cliffhanger moment. Screenshot by me.

The Mount Rushmore sequence has me on the edge of my seat throughout because it is so suspenseful. I don’t like heights at all, and so the scenes where Roger Thornhill and Eve Kendall slip or nearly fall from that famous mountain really do make me squirm in discomfort and cry out “be careful!”. This sequence is a tie for me with the Statue Of Liberty sequence in Saboteur for the title of most suspenseful Hitchcock scene.

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Eve and Roger climb down the mountain. Screenshot by me.

The scenes in the Mount Rushmore sequence are perfectly matched to Herrmann’s score. I think that the music definitely adds even more tension and an air of danger to that which we already feel watching these moments.

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Eve falls down the mountain. Screenshot by me.

The scene where Eve’s shoe heel snaps and she falls down really makes me watch through my fingers, I really can’t stand that scene. It also makes me laugh that Eve doesn’t seem to have thought that it might be a good idea to take off those high heels before trying to climb down the mountain. LOL. Ah, only in the movies. 😉

The film also has two big twists concerning the identity of two main characters, and that really keeps you trying to figure out just who you can trust, or who you can even take at face value as the film goes on.The film is also very funny in places. I especially love the hysterical auction distraction scene “three thousand, I bid three thousand!”. Cary really gets to show off his comedy skills in this film. Cary reels off many comic lines and he also does one of the funniest and best drunk impressions I’ve ever seen on film. I love the scene where Roger is at the Police station and rings his mum. When he is on the phone to her, he tells her they forcibly made him drunk, then he delivers this sidesplitting line in response to a question from her – “No, they didn’t give me a chaser!” LOL. 🙂 

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The unsupportive Mrs Thornhill. Screenshot by me.

Jessie Royce Landis is absolutely hysterical as Roger’s mother. Mrs. Thornhill doesn’t believe her son’s story of being framed and hunted down and she has quite a few laughs at his expense.

I love the way she silently laughs at him and jokes about his stories. Some supportive mother he has!  Jessie and Cary were actually quite close in age, yet you somehow believe she is his mother in this film. 

 

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Vandamm. Screenshot by me.

James Mason is chilling, smooth 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 that he is a nasty piece of work. This is one of James’s greatest villain roles in my opinion. I like how he plays a man of great intelligence who is not to be trusted or underestimated. 

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Leonard. Screenshot by me.

Martin Landau provides solid support as Vandamm’s loyal henchman, Leonard. 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 scene where Roger does some random bidding so he will get arrested, which then means he can get away from Vandamm. 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 too, from the photography, to the elegant clothes and to the use of Technicolor. Be sure to see this one on Blu-ray to see it looking crystal clear and looking its very best.
Are you a fan of this film? Please share your thoughts on the film. 

Films I Love, Horror, Thriller

Jaws (1975)

Photo0086This film had a huge impact on me the first time I saw it. It completely terrified me and had me on the edge of my seat throughout. It has been a favourite since I first saw it in my early teens.

I love the characters and the story a great deal. I love how the film is a mix of genres – horror, thriller, adventure and comedy. I love the locations. I also think that John Williams chilling and suitably atmospheric score is one of the very best he has ever composed, his music greatly adds to the film.

I also love how the two parts of the film are so different from each other as well. The first half is pretty much a horror film featuring some very disturbing sequences. The characters are all established in the first half and the unseen creature from the deep keeps the viewer terrified. The second is all about the growing bond between Quint, Brody and Hooper. The second half also becomes quite the thriller and has a lot of action in it. When I first saw this film I was also very surprised by just how much humour is to be found in the second half – Quint’s outrageous sea songs for example, plus Quint and Hooper’s banter and constantly trying to outdo one another. This is in stark contrast to the grim and frightening atmosphere of the first half.

A scene that always cracks me up in this is Brody’s reaction to Hooper, when he asks him to go right out to edge of the boat so he can get Brody in the foreground for scale as he snaps a picture of the shark. Brody refuses to do so. He looks at Hooper as if he is crazy, and climbs down to side of the boat(to go back up to the bridge)only to be met with the sight of Quint coming towards him carrying a spear gun. This sight forces the Chief to return to where he just came from. 🙂

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The shark attacks The Orca. Screenshot by me.

The trio are so different from each other and I really like watching them overcome their differences to find some common ground and work together to survive. The development of their relationship is as fascinating for me to watch now as it was when I first watched it years ago. All the characters(but particularly the main trio)are so well written and they come across as being very real people who you can connect to.

Jaws was the film that really started Steven Spielberg on the road to film success. He had impressed with his debut film, Duel, but it was Jaws that made him a household name. He really proved with this film just what he was able to accomplish as a director. I think this is one of the best films he has ever made (and that is saying something). If I had to pick just one of his films to keep I would pick this one without hesitation. I really like how Spielberg conveys so much horror and suspense without even showing the shark for a larger portion of the film. When he does show the shark, he does so sparingly and its appearances have a far greater impact than they would if he had shown it all the way through the film.

The film is based upon the novel by Peter Benchley. The film sticks pretty close to the book but there are some differences to be found. I don’t find the characters as likeable in the book as I do on screen. I think that bond between the characters is part of the films success and I didn’t feel the growing friendship in the book. 

I was also very glad that the subplot of an affair between Hooper and Mrs. Brody wasn’t included in the film. One of my favourite aspects of the film is the happy family life that Chief Brody enjoys, if this subplot had been included then that happy atmosphere would have been killed. I also think the subplot would have made it really difficult to like Hooper.

Benchley would ironically spend the rest of his life trying to undo the bad reputation his novel and the film had given to Great White Sharks. Benchley became a marine conservationist and he wrote books about sharks and the sea, helping people to understand these creatures and their habitat.Shark attacks certainly are horrific, but they are thankfully extremely rare events. Yet, thanks to the novel and this film, people are sadly wary of the sea, and also of the fascinating and beautiful creatures that live there.

The film is set in the American coastal town of Amity. The film opens with a young woman called Chrissie, going for a moonlight swim in the ocean. What starts off as a beautiful scene(I love the moonlight shining on the water and how peaceful that moment looks)soon turns horrific. Poor Chrissie is grabbed from beneath the waves by something unseen. She screams in agony as she is pulled and dragged around, finally she is pulled beneath the waves and all we can hear is the splashing of the waves. 

                                           Chrissie gets attacked. Screenshot by me.

The next day Chrissie’s remains are washed up on the beach and the police are alerted. Chief Martin Brody(Roy Scheider)discovers her death was due to a shark attack. He has to try and persuade the mayor(Murray Hamilton)to close the beaches to prevent any further attacks. Vaughn refuses and a young boy is killed very close to the beach in a truly disturbing scene. As the shark attacks mount up, and become more disturbing and graphic each time we see them on screen, Brody and Vaughn hire experienced local fisherman Quint(Robert Shaw)to hunt and kill the shark. Brody and Quint set out aboard Quint’s ship, The Orca, to search for the shark. They are joined by young shark expert Matt Hooper(Richard Dreyfuss)who comes equipped with specialist technology and equipment to help them find the shark. Quint and Hooper rub each other the wrong way right from their first meeting, this leads to many funny scenes as they argue and try and outdo one another. The trio soon find the shark they seek(or rather the shark finds them)leading to a terrifying finale.

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Brody and Hooper make a frightening discovery. Screenshot by me.

There are so many memorable moments in this film and the following are some of my favourites. Quint’s Indianapolis story. The estuary attack(this is the first time we see the shark and it looks terrifying). Quint scraping the chalkboard in the meeting to get some attention. Hooper and Quint’s tattoo stories(love the way Dreyfuss laughs in this scene, it cracks me up every time).Hooper and Brody discovering Ben Gardner’s boat. Hooper’s argument with the mayor and his shocked reaction to what the mayor says back to him. The scene with the two fisherman who almost get attacked by the shark and the “You’re going to need a bigger boat” scene.

Scheider, Shaw, and Dreyfuss are all at their very best in this film. Scheider is the hero of the film, his character is an everyman who is thrown into an unusual situation made worse for him by his fear of the sea. As the film goes on we see Brody having to conquer that fear in order to be able to survive. Brody is my favourite character in this and I love the way Scheider plays him. He is a quiet hero and Scheider does such a good job of portraying him working hard to overcome his fear to be of great help in the second half of the film.

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The chief takes aim. Screenshot by me.

Shaw steals every scene he’s in as the hot tempered Quint. He provides many of the films biggest laughs, but he also gets to deliver the most moving and powerful scene in the film, the famous Indianapolis speech. Shaw’s performance in that scene should be used in an acting master class, the way he delivers those lines, the look on his face and in his eyes is what makes that moment so powerful to the viewer.

I also like how it is the laughing Hooper who first gets his laughter under control and realises the significance of the story Quint is about to tell, and after this you can see he has a newfound respect for Quint. It’s also interesting to note that the second half of the film almost plays out like a version of Moby Dick, with Quint in the role of Captain Ahab.
Dreyfuss is essentially the comic relief role in this film, his laugh always cracks me up because it’s so infectious. There is more to Matt Hooper than comedy though, he is also a dedicated shark expert, he loves these creatures and is fascinated by them, but he knows what they are capable of and doesn’t underestimate them. He and Quint both know what sharks can do and both know much about them and their habitat.

The film has three sequels. Jaws 2 is just about ok. It has its moments and some of the original cast return. Avoid 3 and 4 though, they are in the so bad they are laughable category(joining Exorcist 2 and The Swarm on the “what were they thinking when they made this?” shelf). 3 has some special effects that look they were lifted straight from an 80’s computer game. 4 features sharks that can roar, target specific humans and do so for revenge(I’m not making this up.)Going back to the original film – I’m curious to know if this is just me, or if anyone else has ever noticed this? The opening scene to me has many similarities to Creature From The Black Lagoon(1954). Particularly the shot filmed from under the water as the women in both films swim across the surface. Could this film have had an influence on Spielberg and that shot was put in as a homage?

I’d love to get your thoughts on this film. Never seen it? Get the DVD and watch it.  

Second World War, Thriller, True Story

Hangmen Also Die! (1943)

On the 27th of May, 1942, the high ranking Nazi General, Reinhard Heydrich was severely injured during an assassination attempt on his life by members of the Czech resistance in Prague. Heydrich died from his wounds on the 4th of June that same year.

His death saw brutal reprisals brought against the Czech population; with thousands of people being killed, or being deported to camps where they would later die. Details of what happened to the brave resistance members who were responsible for his death can be found by searching for Operation Anthropoid on the internet(I must warn you that it does not make for easy reading).I admire their bravery, and I was very shocked at how brutal their end was.

I have only recently become aware of this vile man and his assassination thanks to the recent film, Operation Anthropoid(the code name given to Heydrich’s assassination plot). Reading up about this event, I have been really surprised that I had never been aware of any of this before. Heydrich was one of the main architects of the Holocaust and he was an all round real nasty piece of work. Some of his nicknames included The Butcher and The Hangman.  

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Heydrich in the opening scene. Screenshot by me.

The year after Heydrich’s assassination, the German director Fritz Lang (who became an American citizen in 1939) made a film about this event and its brutal aftermath. I only became aware of Lang’s film recently, and when I saw that it was being released on Blu-ray, I jumped at the chance of being able to watch this film. It arrived a few days ago, and I have to say that I am so impressed with the film. I’m also very impressed with the visual quality of the Blu-ray release.  

For a film made in the 1940’s, Hangmen Also Die! is a surprisingly violent, gritty, and very dark film. There are several scenes in this that I’m really surprised got past the censors; scenes such as the taxi driver who commits suicide before he can be taken for torture. The execution sequence near the end. The badly beaten man being dragged through Gestapo headquarters, and the murder of a main character near the end of the film. Of course it’s good these scenes were included because they help to bring home the terrible reality of life under Nazi rule.

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Masha is interrogated. Screenshot by me.

This film is also one of the best films about a resistance movement that I have ever seen. I love how the resistance live right under the noses of those who seek them, yet they move around freely in the city invisible to those who seek them. Their group seems to exist separately from everyone else; they communicate by looks and gestures in public that only they can understand. So under everyone’s noses these people are planning and carrying out operations without being noticed. They are like a ghost community living and working alongside the community that everyone sees and experiences every day.Lang’s film is suspenseful, tense, moving, and downright scary at times. It also captures mans inhumanity to man, and Lang also does a good job of showing us how much courage it takes to stand up to oppression and cruelty.

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Dr. Svoboda and Dedic discuss their resistance plan. Screenshot by me.

In this film we see that members of the resistance are not only those who belong to a resistance group and carry weapons and carry out operations. Resistance members can include anyone who goes against the rules of the oppressors; this could be remaining friendly with people who everyone has been told not to associate with, or in refusing to name somebody to the authorities.

The film is a rather fictionalised version of the real events, but it certainly succeeds in capturing the horror, the violence, and the bravery that surrounded those events.  Lang lets the actors do the work in this film, they bring these characters to life (both the heroes and the villains)and they all get their chance to shine (even actors in very small roles)and they all succeed in conveying to us how the courage of ordinary people making a stand can have an impact. This story is a human story and Lang shows us the best and worst of humanity. The film was written by Lang and the celebrated German playwright and screenwriter, Bertolt Brecht. This film would end up being Brecht’s only successful Hollywood film.

The cinematographer working on this film was the legendary James Wong Howe, and he uses his camera to create a mood and atmosphere that is reminiscent of Lang’s German expressionism films of the 1920’s. This film also serves as a good example of a film that is a mix of German Expressionism and American Film Noir. I love the shots where he films the shadows on the walls cast by torturers questioning and hurting people. I think my favourite shot in the film is the man coming into the jail cell carrying a whip, we only see his shadow on the floor but the image shocks, we don’t need to see the act of brutality that will follow to be horrified by the inference of it.

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                       Two of my favourite shots in the film. Screenshot by me.

The film focuses on the search for Heydrich’s assassins, and also for the people who are hiding them from the Gestapo. Interestingly the assassination itself is not shown in the film. I think this was a good choice because it shifts attention away from Heydrich and focuses instead on the men and women who stood up against him, and against what he stood for and represented.

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Svoboda helps the injured Dedic. Screenshot by me.

Dr. Svoboda (Brian Donlevy)is the assassin of Heydrich, he flees the scene of the crime and goes on the run. He is seen going into a building to hide by Masha Novotny (Anna Lee). Masha deliberately misleads the pursuing Nazi soldiers as to where he is. He remembers this kindness. The Gestapo’s investigation into the assassination eventually lead them to Masha’s door.

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Masha and Svoboda are cornered by Gruber. Screenshot by me.

When hundreds of hostages, including Masha’s father, Professor Novotny (Walter Brennan), are taken prisoner by the Nazis and sentenced to death, Svoboda must wrestle with his conscience to decide if he turns himself in or lets these people die. Gestapo investigations are being run by the cunning Inspector Gruber (Alexander Granach)and he is fast closing in on Svoboda. He also has help in locating the Czech resistance, thanks to his double crossing informant Emil Czaka (Gene Lockhart).

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Some of the hostages. Screenshot by me.

The film becomes a cat and mouse game between the resistance members and the Gestapo. Time is running out for the hostages, people are being murdered, tortured, and betrayed, and these horrible events show no sign of stopping. The resistance have a cunning plan up their sleeve, it is one that will paint someone else as being the assassin, rather than Svoboda.

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Jan questions Masha. Screenshot by me.

If there is a downside to this superb film, I would say it lies with some of the casting. The casting is a somewhat mixed bag for sure. I think this film would have been better had they cast German or Czech actors in the lead roles, it would have added a great deal more authenticity for sure. Brecht had hoped that they would cast German speaking actors, but in the end it was decided they would go with a mix of American and German actors.

Brian Donlevy strikes me as an odd casting decision. He has never been an actor I’ve liked, and he often strikes me as being rather wooden in many of his roles. He isn’t too bad here, but he does come across as quite unemotional and calm, which I doubt would be the case for his character when he was on the run in fear of his life. As the film goes on I think his performance improves somewhat, but during the first part of the film he isn’t all that great.

Anna Lee also starts out as not being that impressive, but then she gets much better as the film goes on. She is very convincing as the frightened young woman who finds an inner strength, and the courage which enables her to do her bit in standing up against oppression.

When I saw Walter Brennan’s name on the opening credits, I thought to myself what a very strange casting choice for this film. Brennan is a very good actor, but his screen persona didn’t really strike me as one that was really going to fit this story. How wrong I was! He is excellent as the professor and I was pleasantly surprised to see him deliver one of the best performances in the film. His very famous voice sounds quite different here to how it usually sounded. He is excellent as the quiet, gentle, and dignified man who accepts whatever the Nazis do to him because he knows it will show them up as the monsters they are.

Lionel Stander has a small role and I’m afraid to say that his distinctive voice will take you right out of the film, he just sounds so bizarre and out of place here.

Jonathan Hale is excellent as Dedic, the highly experienced leader of the resistance movement. He steals all the scenes he is in. Hale makes his character strong, calm under pressure, and also someone who is a reassuring and strong presence.

Reinhold Schunzel is creepy, sadistic and completely over the top as the Gestapo chief who enjoys his job a little too much. He sits there playing with the people he is about to torture, cracking his knuckles and giggling, while adeptly tripping people up in their stories and catching them out in lies.

Hans Heinrich von Twardowski is very memorable in his small appearance as Heydrich. He conveys the power and arrogance of this man perfectly, and he makes us see why he was so hated and feared.

Dennis O’Keefe is very good as Jan, who is Masha’s boyfriend. He plays his character as someone we are never really sure about, can he be trusted, will he turn on his girl to save himself? This character is also quite heroic and likeable.

Gene Lockhart delivers a standout performance as Czaka, the man who pretends to be one thing and who is actually another.

Alexander Granach delivers the performance of the film for me. He steals every scene he is in as the watchful and tough inspector. He guzzles down beer after beer with seemingly few side effects. I think his haircut would not have looked out of place in 1980’s Britain.

My favourite scenes are the following. Masha and her father saying goodbye in the cell. The people in the cinema rebelling against the Nazi soldier. The hostages reading and memorising a poem about resisting. Masha cradling the beaten old woman in the torture cell, in silhouette we then see a Gestapo officer walk into the cell carrying a whip, we don’t need to see more to know what is about to happen to these two women. Flowers being laid on a mass grave following a mass shooting. The betrayed resistance members giving their betrayer a piece of their mind. The lipstick mark scene and the fight that follows on from that. Svoboda and Masha acting out a conversation for the Gestapo bug hidden in the apartment.  Svoboda deliberately spilling red wine to cover up a bloodstain.

This is a cracking film. I think it is one that really does deserve to be much better known by classic film fans today. I’d say that this is one of Lang’s best films. He manages to capture the best and worst of humanity in this film, and he creates a dark and gloomy atmosphere that stays in the mind long after the film is over. This one is also very remarkable given the fact that it was made so soon after the real events, it is also very frank for the time in its depiction of the violence and horror of the Nazi regime.

It is a somewhat depressing film, but there is certainly a glimmer of hope and happiness at the end. I think that this ending was included to boost the morale of people watching this. This would hopefully have served as a lesson to ordinary people in how they could fight these monsters who were invading their homes, and who were trying to destroy cultures as they moved around Europe.

What are your thoughts on the film?

 

 

Thriller, Tributes To Classic Stars

The Third Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon: To Catch A Thief (1955)

Grace Kelly blogathon

Virginie over at The Wonderful World of Cinema is hosting this blogathon about Grace Kelly. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

Grace Kelly was many things in her life, and she has come to mean different things to different people. She has become a fashion and beauty icon over the years. She also famously went from being a fairly ordinary American woman to becoming a real life Princess in 1956, when she got married to Prince Rainier of Monaco. Many people have since come to know Grace through her work and life as a Princess.

Most of us have come to know Grace and are fans of her through her work as a film actress. Grace was a very good actress, and while I personally think that she perhaps wasn’t the best actress of her generation, she was without a doubt certainly a very good one. 

Besides being talented, Grace also had that magical star quality so necessary for a successful screen career. Grace shone when she was on screen, she has that effect which means you can’t take your eyes off her when she is on the screen.

I like how Grace often portrayed a vulnerability in many of her characters. Her characters would often put up a tough façade, but in reality they were women who could be easily hurt, or were women who felt things deeply. Grace portrayed all this so well through her eyes and expressions.

Alfred Hitchcock was the director who gave Grace the film roles which brought her great fame, and forever cemented her screen image in the minds of audiences. Hitchcock knew how to use Grace to best effect on screen. Through her collaboration with Hitch, Grace’s screen image changed from cool, demure, vulnerable and gentle love interest, to strong, sexy, elegant and confident leading lady.

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Grace looking beautiful and elegant as Francie. Screenshot by me.

Hitch also played around with Grace’s aloof and cool persona. He gave her roles that played up that image, but then showed us that underneath that perceived image she was very different, and she could be warm, feisty, sensual, sexy and very human too.I’m writing about the third and final film that Grace made with Hitchcock.

That film is To Catch A Thief. The film was made in 1955, and it was shot out on location in the South of France and in Monaco (soon to be Grace’s future home).

This film may lack the suspense of the majority of other Hitchcock films, but it certainly features some interesting characters, lots of innuendo (just how did some of this make it past the censors!)beautiful costumes (especially those worn by Grace)and the photography of the stunning locations is truly a pleasure to look at. 

This is a film that I love quite a bit. It isn’t a traditional Hitchcock film in terms of its content and visual style, but the sexual innuendo and the developing relationship between Grace and Cary Grant’s characters is classic Hitch for sure.

Grace looks truly stunning in this film. She is at the height of her beauty here, and she gets to wear some of the most beautiful and elegant gowns I’ve ever seen. I especially love the pale blue evening gown she wears in the hotel restaurant. Edith Head truly outdid herself with her costume designs for this film.

 

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Francie takes John out for a drive he won’t forget. Screenshot by me.

I love how Grace plays her character Francie. This woman is in control of everything she does and she very well knows it. She is strong, sexy and really oozes confidence and determination. She can also be wild and uncontrollable which really gives her an air of danger at times.

I love the car chase sequence, where Francie’s fast driving really scares John as he ends up becoming a helpless passenger. Francie also plays with John(like a cat would with a mouse)but he gets wise to her games and he plays with her right back (cue some classic banter between the two).

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John Robie hides up on the roof. Screenshot by me.

A series of jewel robberies are taking place across the French Riviera. The robberies bear a strong resemblance to the work of the notorious jewel thief known as The Cat.

The real name of The Cat is John Robie (Cary Grant)and he knows very well that he is not the current thief. Once he is alerted that someone else is thieving using his signature style, he sets out to catch the culprit himself and to clear his own name.

John soon begins to receive threats on his life. John also has to deal with the beautiful American heiress, Francie (Grace Kelly)and her mother Jessie (Jessie Royce Landis)who are on holiday in Cannes and befriend him. John and Francie have an instant attraction, but John grows suspicious of her when she asks too many questions about thieving, and especially when she claims to know he is the famous cat burglar.

John also has issues with some former friends/colleagues from the French Resistance. He also has to deal with Danielle (Brigitte Auber)who is a local girl he has known for years, who has a huge crush on him.

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John Williams as the insurance man who teams up with John Robie. Screenshot by me.

John enlists the help of an insurance man (John Williams)to set a trap for the thief. Together they create a list of the most wealthy jewel owners in the Riviera. Who can John trust? Just who is The Cat?

This film is less about its plot, and instead is more about the beautiful locations, and also the sexual tension and desire between Francie and John. Cary and Grace have incredible chemistry with one another, their innuendo laced dialogue is truly shocking in places, just how did some of those lines( especially the one about a week at Niagara Falls) even get past the censor?

I didn’t see the identity of the copycat thief coming until it was revealed. Having said that though this revelation just lacked a big shock for me. I think the film would have been more exciting if Francie had been revealed to be the burglar. It would have placed John in a predicament as to whether he should hand her in, or if he could attack her back if she attacked him.

When I first saw this film I was convinced that it would be Francie who would be revealed as the copycat thief.  Having said all that I think that reveal would have been too obvious given how Francie acts earlier in the film.

An enjoyable film that is beautiful to look at. In this film we get to see the wealthy and the beautiful having fun in a beautiful place. It makes us dream that we could have such a life too. Be sure to see this film on Blu-ray to see it looking clear and to see the colour photography at its most stunning.

Grace and Cary are both superb here and the rest of the cast all deliver solid performances too. Jessie Royce Landis is hysterical as Francie’s mother who develops a crush on John herself.

The beach sequences always make me want to visit the beach, and I envy Grace every single time I watch this because of the gorgeous outfits she gets to wear throughout the film.

This one is certainly worth a look for fans of Grace, Hitchcock and Cary. It’s not the best Hitchcock film, but it’s certainly not the worst either.

My favourite scenes are the following. John and Francie sharing a kiss at her hotel room door. The fireworks and jewels scene between John and Francie. Francie and Danielle’s rather catty conversation out on the sea float (I love Cary’s facial expressions during this scene, it is so funny).

Any other fans of this film? What are your thoughts on Grace’s performance here?

    Here are my five favourite Grace Kelly films.

1- High Society

2- To Catch A Thief

3- Rear Window

                                                                   4-The Country Girl

                                                                  5-The Swan

 

 

Blogathons, Thriller

The Van Johnson Blogathon: 23 Paces To Baker Street (1956)

Va Johnson blogathon

Michaela over at Loveletterstooldhollywood is hosting this blogathon all about the actor Van Johnson. Be sure to visit her site to read all the other entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself. Today would also have been Van’s birthday, so happy birthday and R.I.P to him.

Van Johnson was a very popular film actor during the 40’s and 50’s. He was always reliable, and if I see his name in a films credits then I will be sure to give that film a look.

For this blogathon I’m writing about my all time favourite Van Johnson film performance. It’s my favourite for two reasons. Firstly, I really like how he plays his character. Secondly, as I think he gets a chance here to really show off his dramatic acting ability. His role in this film is one which he can really sink his teeth into.

The film I’m writing about is Van’s 1956 thriller, 23 Paces To Baker Street. This is a cracking little mystery thriller, and it is a film that I really wish was much better known and discussed today. Not only is it a very good film, but it also features one of Johnson’s best film performances. The film is also quite unique for the time period in having a handicapped lead character.

I really like how the film shows Johnson’s character Hannon, as being able to be independent and live a productive life despite him being blind, and despite his own personal reaction to his blindness and all the problems which that entails.

Van does a very good job here of playing a man eaten up with despair, anger and fear;  yet he also shows us that Hannon is also someone who won’t let his disability stop him from doing things. Van also lets us see as the film goes on, that Hannon is becoming obsessed with this case and will push himself harder and harder to solve it.

The plot device of a blind witness adds to the suspense of the story greatly as we are as much in the dark as Johnson’s character is. Hannon’s blindness also makes him very vulnerable when the villains end up turning their attentions on him.

I always think that this story (or at least the blind witness aspect of it)would have made terrific material for Hitchcock. 

The film is directed by Henry Hathaway, and it is set in London during the 1950’s. Phillip Hannon(Van Johnson)is a successful American playwright who is extremely bitter having recently become permanently blind. Hannon lives in London, in a Thames side apartment with his loyal manservant Bob(Cecil Parker). Hannon is angry at the world and is fast becoming an embittered soul.

Hannon’s current bad temper isn’t helped when his former fiancé Jean(Vera Miles)stops by to see him. Hannon doesn’t want her to feel sorry for him, but he cannot understand that she doesn’t, nor that he can still have romance and be happy despite his loss of sight.

One night in a pub, Hannon overhears a conversation that troubles him very much, two people are talking about kidnapping a child. Reporting what he heard to the police he is annoyed when they say they don’t have enough evidence to do anything. Hannon, Bob and Jean do some investigating of their own. On the streets of a very foggy London, this trio try and find the couple from the pub and try and prevent the kidnapping from taking place. Soon the film becomes a tale of mistaken identity, murder and suspicion.

I really love the relationship between Hannon and Jean. It’s obvious right from the first time they come back into each others lives that they still have feelings for one another. Hannon deliberately pushes Jean away from him because he doesn’t want to seem vulnerable or pitiable to her. Jean would never see him like that and she just wants to be with him any way she can. She happily accepts the role of assistant to him,  just so that she can be with him, and be in his life in some way. She will take anything she can get if it allows her to be with him.

Van and Vera both do a terrific job of conveying their characters complicated relationship. Often they convey us information about their feelings not through words, but through the way they look at each other, or by the way one responds to what the other says or does. Their relationship is poignant, frustrating and believable.

Van is the vital glue that makes this film work. I’m not sure anyone else could have played the role of Hannon quite the way he does. This is my favourite film that Van made and it is one which shows off his dramatic acting talents very well indeed.

Cecil Parker steals every scene he is in as the protective Bob. He wants to help Hannon, but will never force his help upon him. I also like how Parker becomes sort of like Dr. Watson to Johnson’s Holmes. Bob really enjoys becoming an amateur detective as the film goes on.

Vera is very good as Jean, she really makes you feel for her character, and we know Jean wants the best for Philip and that she still loves him.

My favourite scenes are the following. Hannon and Jean’s first meeting. Hannon and Bob on the riverboat, when they talk about describing what they are seeing around them. The sequence at the derelict house. Hannon and Jean interviewing the nurse maid. Hannon overhearing the conversation in the pub. Jean sitting at Hannon’s feet making him tea after the derelict house sequence. The end on the balcony.

I highly recommend this one to fans of Van Johnson and to anyone out there who likes a good mystery thriller. I’d love to read your thoughts on this film. Any other fans? Please leave your comments below.

 

 

 

British Cinema, Detective, Thriller, True Story

Robbery (1967)

In August, 1963, the British public could talk about only one thing over their bacon, eggs,toast and orange juice. The topic of the day was a robbery. Not just any robbery though. Oh no, this robbery was considered to be the robbery to end all robberies.

Early in the morning of the 8th of August, 1963, sixteen men had held up a Royal Mail train on its way down from Glasgow to London. They boarded the train while it was stopped on a bridge. They severely injured the trains driver, Jack Mills by hitting him with a metal bar, and then they made off with all the cash on board. The grand total they got away with? £2.6 million. At the time this was the largest money robbery in British history.

Several of the gang were eventually caught and a trial was held in 1964. Two of the gang, Ronnie Biggs and Charlie Wilson, escaped prison in daring prison breaks, and they and many others in the gang lived abroad for decades. The case is well known here in the UK, but if you’re not familiar with it you can find more about the case, trial, and the gang members themselves online.

The robbery and what happened afterwards sounds like it’s a plot straight out of a film. Fact can be stranger than fiction though, and that is certainly true in this particular case.

It proved too much of an opportunity to pass up on, and so in 1967, production began in the UK on a film based upon the robbery. It was a rather fictionalised account and peoples names were changed etc, and it didn’t end quite how the real life event did either.

The film was directed by Peter Yates (who would go on to great fame as the director of Bullitt), and it was produced by Stanley Baker and Michael Deeley. Baker would also star as the leader of the gang aiming to rob the Royal Mail train of its cash. The films electrifying score was by Johnny Keating, and his music adds so much atmosphere to the film.

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Robbery is a tense, gripping and gritty flick. It has you on the edge of your seat throughout and I think it has a very realistic look to it. I also like how the Police are not shown as idiots or the enemy here as is so often the case in films mainly focusing on the criminals. Also we don’t really (well I didn’t anyway)feel like we should be fully on the side of either the cops, or of the criminals, the depiction of what both sides did and went through is well balanced I think.  We can envy at the audacity of the plan, and the fact that it works, but we don’t forget these are criminals, nor that the Police have to (and should) do their job to get them.

The first fifteen minutes are some of the most tense I’ve ever seen in a film. The film opens with four criminals setting up a robbery in broad daylight. They set up a gas canister in the car of a man who has a briefcase handcuffed to him. The gas is set to go off at a certain time, it does so knocking out the driver and the man with the case, and causes the car to crash. Three of the gang in a stolen ambulance take the two men out of the car and drive off. In the ambulance they remove the case and some diamonds.

They abandon the ambulance and get into a getaway vehicle, they are spotted by coppers in a passing car who are on the look out for the stolen ambulance, thus begins one of the best car chases in film history. The Police pursue the robbers car at high speed, as the gang try and evade capture. Filmed out on location in and around London streets, this chase had me on the edge of my seat, peeking through my fingers. In some ways this can easily be seen as the warm up for Yates film Bullitt(which features another brilliant car chase.) The bit where the gang get nearer to a London school crossing is edge of your seat stuff.

The film sees Paul Clifton(Stanley Baker)get a crew together to help him rob a Royal Mail train. Clifton has thought every possibility through, and is leaving nothing to chance. He doesn’t bet on the determined Scotland Yard Detective George Langdon (James Booth). Langdon gets to hear interesting info from some of his informers which alerts him to the fact that a big job is about to go down. Langdon and fellow colleagues set about trying to uncover what the job is, and do their best to capture the criminals.  

Solid performances can be found throughout by some of the best character actors in British film history.

Stanley Baker is excellent as the tough criminal mastermind who you wouldn’t want to mess with. James Booth (Baker’s co-star in the classic war flick Zulu)steals every scene he is in, as the copper determined to get the gang. Barry Foster, Clinton Greyn, Frank Finlay, George Sewell and William Marlowe all impress as members of Clifton’s crew. Joanna Pettet has a small role as Clifton’s stylish wife, she doesn’t get much to do here, but she does make an impression when she is on the screen.

My favourite scenes are the following. The opening car chase. Frank Finlay’s character being rescued from the prison yard. The line up, where the schoolteacher identifies the man who was driving the speeding car. Clifton’s wife asking him why he has a gun. The train robbery sequence. The discussion at the football match. I also really love the opening title sequence, where the names and credits go backwards, giving us the impression that the train is passing them by.

This is a realistic and thrilling crime film inspired by a incredible true story. I’d also like to say that fans of vintage British cars will be in for a real treat, this film is full of old cars that are sure to bring back happy memories for car lovers.

I highly recommend you see this one on Blu-Ray to see it looking at its best. The Network Blu-Ray release also has lots of very good extras to enjoy, including an interesting interview with Stanley Baker.

Any other fans of this film? Please leave your comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detective, Thriller

Rear Window (1954)

I consider this film to be one of Hitchcock’s cleverest films. The way he directs this makes us in the audience voyeurs. We become just like Jimmy Stewart’s character. We almost become characters in the film, it’s like we are there alongside Stewart watching from that window too.

I felt quite uncomfortable the first time I saw this one ,because it felt like I was being nosy and was actually looking in on all these peoples lives. I felt like I had become Stewart’s character in a way.

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 most realistic film sets in American film history. The film also shows that sometimes being nosy and suspicious can be the right thing. 

I like how we are not entirely sure whether to accept the suspicions of Jeff or not. Even though we see and hear what he does, we don’t really know how much to be concerned about, or even at some points are not entirely clear about what we’ve actually witnessed. 

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 too 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 really works for the story as Jeff’s window has a clear view of all of the others. All the apartments were also designed inside, with furniture etc added to the interior sets.

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 that everyone outside could see in.

I also really like how Jeff finally sees past Lisa’s glamour to see the real woman beneath. They love each other, but have such different lives. He realises though that 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 just 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.