Thriller

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

Photo0100

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)

 

Photo0098

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.

 

Unsung Classics

Unsung Classics 5: Family Plot (1976)

Photo0088

What’s that? A Hitchcock film considered an unsung classic? Believe it or not the answer is yes.

On this day back in 1980, we lost one of the best film directors there has ever been in the world. Alfred Hitchcock died aged 80.

For decades Hitch had scared audiences silly and shown us how a suspense film should be made. Hitchcock’s films allowed actors to play roles quite different to what they usually accepted, and that is interesting for me to watch this change as a viewer. His films explored themes like obsession, the innocent wrongly accused, jealousy and mother issues. The majority of his work is highly praised and much discussed.

After reaching a career highpoint with Psycho and The Birds; Hitchcock’s last few films sadly declined in popularity and they are rarely praised the same way his earlier ones are. I agree wholeheartedly that Torn Curtain is pretty bad (apart from that excellent farm sequence) but I don’t agree with all the criticism of the others. I’m not saying all of them are perfect, but I firmly believe they are far from the weak films many consider them to be.

Marnie, Frenzy, Topaz and Family Plot are all films that I feel are worthy of more attention and reassessment.

I want to talk today about one of my favourite Hitchcock films. That film is Family Plot.

It ended up becoming Hitch’s final film and I consider it to be a really grand finale. The film features many of his key component; such as the beautiful blonde woman, thrills, suspense, humour, and a slight supernatural element too. In a way it is a tribute to all that came before. I love it because it is just so much fun.

Blanche Tyler(Barbara Harris)is a con artist posing as a medium. Blanche is hired by the wealthy Julia Rainbird(Cathleen Nesbitt)to help find the son of her dead sister. Julia will give Blanche $10,000 in reward. Blanche and her taxi driver boyfriend, George Lumley(Bruce Dern)jump at the chance to get some cash, so they start investigating and soon uncover something they will wish they hadn’t.

Meanwhile, across town, suave jeweller Arthur Adamson(William Devane) and his girlfriend Fran (Karen Black)are kidnapping wealthy people and asking for valuable diamonds as ransom. These two will soon cross paths with Blanche and George.

Harris is perfect as the kooky Blanche, she is a fake, but she acts like her abilities are real much to the amusement of George. Blanche is so loveable so we don’t hate despite the fact that she is conning people in her role as medium. Blanche comes across as someone it would be fun to know, she’s sweet, funny and life with her around wouldn’t be dull.

Bruce Dern is excellent as the cranky taxi driver who is happiest at home with Blanche, enjoying a bottle of beer in front of the TV. He is the Hitch everyman for the 1970’s, stressed from working hard and looking forward to his time off. As their investigation progresses, George pretends to be a Private Detective and he seems to have fun in this role/job change.  This is one of my favourite performances from Dern, and it’s a rare time where he gets to play a character who isn’t a villain or crazy.

William Devane is oily and overly charming. He makes Arthur a very two faced character and a real nasty piece of work. You know this is a guy who only cares about himself.

Karen Black has fun playing two roles. As Adamson’s girlfriend, she is bubbly and is only going along with his schemes to please him, she isn’t doing it because she is a bad person. As the black clad, blonde mystery woman who collects the ransom she is cool and determined.  In a way Fran reminds me of Madeleine/Judy in Vertigo; she is  a woman desperate to be loved, and who makes herself up to look like someone else because her man forces her to. Both Scottie and Arthur seem to have a thing about mystery blondes and ignore the real girl they are forcing to dress up.

Ed Lauter delivers strong support as garage owner Joseph Maloney. He may hold the key to the missing Rainbird heir.

Cathleen Nesbitt is moving as the elderly woman consumed with regret and remorse for her actions all those years ago.

The film also features a sadly much overlooked score by John Williams. The music works so well in the film, and for me is one of the most memorable scores for a Hitchcock film.

My favourite scenes are the following. George and Blanche bickering in the taxi on the way back from Julia Rainbird’s house. The entire sequence in the cemetery where George is looking at headstones. The first shot of Fran as she walks into the Police station dressed in black and wearing sunglasses. The brakes failing on George and Blanche’s car, leading to terrifying car journey. That wink at the end.

A playful and thrilling film. I consider this one a fitting tribute to all that came before in Hitch’s career.

I also always get a real craving for a burger after watching this. Why? Due to the scene where George and Blanche eat homemade burgers. Yum!

I wish with all my heart that more people would show some love to this film. Any other fans here?

 

Horror

The Birds (1963)

Photo0089

I’d like to talk today about one of my favourite Hitchcock films, the nature horror, The Birds. The film is based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier (whose work had been adapted for the screen by Hitch before)with the story setting changed from Cornwall to a coastal American town.

When this film was released in 1963, Alfred Hitchcock had been the master of suspense for decades, but he had never before made a film that could really be classed as a horror film. Psycho released in 1960, certainly has some horror elements, but it is still essentially a suspense thriller. The Birds however is certainly an all out horror film.

From its opening titles, which feature no music, only the squawking of birds; we know we are in for a very different experience than we are used to from this director. The film makes us afraid of something we share our lives with everyday, the birds we see eating off the floor, flying through the air, and sitting on trees, buildings etc, it makes us think what would we do if they ever decided to attack us all the time. When I first saw this, I have to confess to being wary of birds for a while after viewing.

I like how the ordered lives of the characters are completely destroyed, they find themselves out of control and pursued by something they would never have thought could hurt them.

Wealthy Melanie Daniels(Tippi Hedren)meets lawyer Mitch Brenner(Rod Taylor)in a bird shop. He is trying to find some love birds to give to his younger sister Cathy(Veronica Cartwright), when he recognises Melanie as the woman who is always in the news for practical jokes, and scandals; Mitch decides to have a bit of fun at her expense, and give her a dose of her own medicine. Mitch pretends that he thinks she works in the shop and asks her to show him some birds, this leads to some very amusing scenes until he tells the truth(much to her annoyance).

There is an instant attraction between the two, and Melanie buys a pair of lovebirds, and finds Mitch’s weekend address(family home)out in Bodega Bay. Melanie drives up to leave them for Cathy, she takes a boat over to the house(to arrive unnoticed) as she is trying to leave without being noticed Mitch catches sight of her and drives over to the dock to await her return, as she comes closer to the dock she is attacked by a seagull. From this moment on there are more bird attacks, and large groups of birds congregate in public places. Mitch, Cathy, their mother Lydia(Jessica Tandy), Melanie and schoolteacher(and former girlfriend of Mitch)Annie(Suzanne Pleshette)try and figure out what is causing these attacks, and find a way to survive.

The more I’ve watched this, I’ve picked up on something that I haven’t seen anyone else mention when discussing this. The majority of the bird attacks happen at moments of increasing intimacy between Mitch and Melanie, they increase as Mitch and Melanie’s feelings for one another grow. Hitchcock was a perfectionist and everything in his films was there for a reason, I would find it difficult to believe that the bird attacks coinciding with emotional moments/sexual tension were not intentionally included. If you pick up on this I think it adds another layer to the film. I also love the way Rod and Tippi play these scenes, I love the sexual tension/banter between their characters.

Rod Taylor is superb as the strong, playful Mitch devoted to his family and trying to protect those he loves from these attacks; his performance in this is what made me a fan, I love him in this.

Tippi Hedren makes a strong debut as Melanie, and does a good job of portraying a strong woman becoming vulnerable and falling in love. It is a real shame she didn’t go on to become a bigger star, her performance here and in Hitchcock’s  Marnie are very good indeed.

Suzanne Pleshette steals every scene she is in as the knowing Annie, she can see Mitch and Melanie are falling in love, even if they themselves might not be aware of it.

Jessica Tandy is moving as the widowed mother of Mitch, desperate not to lose her son and being cold towards any woman he loves.

A very young Veronica Cartwright is good as Cathy Brenner, terrified by what she is seeing but still loving towards her lovebirds.

The ending is bleak and we are left hoping the best for these characters, but it doesn’t look likely that there will be a happy ending. The original scripted ending was even bleaker, and I do wish it had been filmed as it shows how far the attacks had spread; they drive through the town to find utter devastation, dead bodies and thousands of birds as far as the eye can see.

My favourite scenes are the following: Mitch and Melanie talking about her mother up on the hill, the banter between Mitch and Melanie when he is treating Melanie’s cut, the attack where Melanie is trapped in the phonebox, Melanie and Annie discussing Mitch and Lydia before the bid hits their door, Lydia finding the dead farmer, the birds gathering behind Melanie at the school, and the scene with the bird expert lady talking about the attacks.

I also love the scene where Melanie is driving, her body leans left and right when she turns corners, on the seat next to her, the lovebirds are leaning left and right too. That scene always makes me laugh whenever I watch this. A brief moment of humour in a very chilling film.

One of Hitchcock’s best films, and a very good horror film in it’s own right. If you’re a fan please leave your thoughts. If you’ve never seen it, I hope you’ll check it out.