January 2015 Blind Spot: REAR WINDOW (1954)

RearWindow1954I’ve been wanting to check this Alfred Hitchcock classic for ages. It seems to be unanimously loved by critics and audiences alike, which always adds a dose of curiosity to see if it would live up to its classic status.

The story centers on a wheelchair bound photographer, Jeff (James Stewart) who spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder. It’s interesting that the protagonist is basically a peeping tom, which would’ve been really creepy and disturbing, but because it’s played by such a likable actor like Stewart, you can’t help but like the guy. At first he’s complaining how it’d be a chore to be confined to his apartment and not being able to go out, but after a few hours [or maybe just minutes?], he doesn’t seem to mind at all. In fact, it’s clear Jeff’s become obsessed that he doesn’t even sleep anymore, aside from the occasional dosing off in his chair.

RearWindow_JimmyStewartStewart is perfectly cast here, and his growing fixation with what he think is a murder case is quite amusing to watch. You know a guy is uncontrollably obsessed when he’d rather look out the window than make out with his stunning girlfriend, Lisa, in the shape of Grace Kelly no less. Even in a sea of ridiculously beautiful people that is Hollywood, the late actress still stands out amongst them. I’ve said in my review of To Catch A Thief that she is too beautiful it’s distracting. Well that is still true but fortunately in this movie she was given more to do than simply prance around like a model.

Here she plays a high-society fashion consultant, which is a perfect role for her and once again I’m marveling at every single thing she wears. It’s not just the clothes, though they certainly are amazing, it’s the graceful way miss Kelly wore them [pardon the pun] that made them memorable.

RearWindow_CostumeDesign

I’m shocked that the legendary costume designer Edith Head was NOT nominated for her work here. Say what?? The 1950s costumes are not only gorgeous, they’re practically iconic. I’m curious now who were the costume design nominees that year if they’re considered more worthy what Head did here.

At one of the most amusing and most action-packed scenes, whilst wearing her dainty 1950s floral dress, Lisa managed to climb a ladder up to the second floor of an apartment AND got into the unit through the window! As unbelievable as that scene was, it sure was fun to watch.

RearWindow_LisaClimbLadder

My favorite character in this movie is Jeff’s physical therapy nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter). I love how she’s always berating Jeff for sitting around snooping on people instead of marrying his girlfriend.

RearWindow_Stella_Jeff

She got the best lines and she delivered them with such dry wit:

Stella: Intelligence. Nothing has caused the human race so much trouble as intelligence.

Stella: You heard of that market crash in ’29? I predicted that.
Jeff: Oh, just how did you do that, Stella?
Stella: Oh, simple. I was nursing a director of General Motors. Kidney ailment, they said. Nerves, I said. And I asked myself, “What’s General Motors got to be nervous about?” Overproduction, I says; collapse. When General Motors has to go to the bathroom ten times a day, the whole country’s ready to let go.

My favorite scenes are when the three of them – Jeff, Lisa and Stella – are all speculating and bantering about the neighbor in question. Not surprised that John Michael Hayes was nominated for an Oscar for his screenwriting work.

RearWindow_Stella_Lisa_Jeff

Jeff: Those two yellow zinnias at the end, they’re shorter now. Now since when do flowers grow shorter over the course of two weeks? Something’s buried there.
Lisa: Mrs. Thorwald!
Stella: You haven’t spent much time around cemeteries, have you? Mr. Thorwald could hardly bury his wife in plot of ground about one foot square. Unless he put her in standing on end, in which case he wouldn’t need the knives and saw.

There’s also the conversation between Jeff and his detective friend Thomas J. Doyle (Wendell Corey) who’s vehemently skeptical about Jeff’s suspicion and his murder theory.

Lt. Doyle: Jeff, you’ve got a lot to learn about homicide. Why, morons have committed murders so shrewdly that it’s taken a hundred trained police minds to catch them.

The romance isn’t all that convincing, though in this case it’s meant to be as Jeff is unsure about how he really feels about Lisa. I feel that the romance in Hitchcock films is a hit and miss. I didn’t really buy the romance between Grace Kelly & Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief either, nor between Grant & Eva Marie Saint in North By Northwest. I did love the chemistry between Gregory Peck & Ingrid Bergman in Spellbound though.

RearWindow_romance

Now, the studio set where the movie was shot is practically a character in and of itself. According to IMDb trivia, the entire film was shot on one set, which required months of planning and construction. One thousand arc lights were used to simulate sunlight and all the apartments in the building across from Jeff’s apartment had electricity could be lived in. That’s just incredible! Right from the opening sequence, the set look like it’s custom-made for the film, but the artificial look of it is part of the charm. Both Robert Burks and Loren L. Ryder were both nominated for Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Sound, respectively.

So what’s the verdict?

RearWindow_VoyeurismWell I’m glad to say that this was definitely an enjoyable film that’s perhaps also rewarding on repeat viewings. I love all the interesting details even in the tertiary characters and the various personalities of Jeff’s neighbors here that adds another layer of intrigue. Of course the film also packs a lot of interesting themes and commentaries about psychology, human nature and such that’s intrinsic in most of Hitchcock’s films.

What surprises me was how playful it is and overall the tone is much lighter than I expected. Considering this was billed as a mystery thriller, I was expecting a much more suspenseful and perhaps something more threatening. The only real tension was in the finale, which was also quite hilarious at the same time as [spoiler alert!] Jeff tried to blind the intruder by taking a series of photographs of him with his camera. Given that he had to change the light bulb every time he took a photo, you’d think the intruder would’ve had ample time to attack him! Raymond Burr cut an intimidating figure as Mr. Thorwald, though he barely had any lines in this movie.

Now, those aren’t quibbles so much as my observation. Naturally some things are quite dated but given the time it was made, it was perfect for that time. I think it’s more of a dark comedy with elements of mystery than a thriller, but it’s still a well-crafted and entertaining film nonetheless. This one certainly lives up to the hype and what one would consider an enduring classic.

4halfReels


2015BlindSpotCheck out my list of 2015 Blind Spot Films


Have you seen Rear Window? Well, what did YOU think?

On location in Bodega Bay – Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963)

VinceCaroBanner

Inspired by the Hitchcock Blogathon hosted by Rob and Zoe, I asked my friend Vince who has contributed several classic posts in the past, including Laura, Vertigo, The Red Shoes, The Omen, etc. to do a write up about his trip to Bodega Bay last year to commemorate Hitchcock’s birthday on August 13.


In the fall of 2013, my wife Kristina, my sons Elliott and Ian, and myself went down to Sonoma County in California to attend my sister’s wedding. While not quite a vacation by any means, we decided to take an extra 2-3 days in the area to check out some beaches as a day treat for the boys. We chose Bodega Bay, partly because it was close (less than an hour away from Santa Rosa), but mostly because of my lifelong fascination with the Hitchcock classic The Birds which was filmed on location there back in 1961.

TheBirdsVintagePoster

On the way to the hotel, we drove down Bay Hill Road, which was the road Tippi Hedren’s character (Melanie Daniels) took into Bodega Bay with her Aston Martin. It was a nice windy 2-lane road by hillsides and plateaus. After arriving at the hotel, the friendly clerk nicely answered some questions about the movie and handed us a map of the locations used in the film. It made for easy planning the next couple of days.

On a coffee table in the hotel lobby was a laminated album of production stills from the shoot. Things I learned right away from skimming through it: The schoolteacher, Annie Hayworth’s house was only a facade and torn down after filming; that the Brenner ranch structure no longer existed; and that the Potter Schoolhouse, church, and the Tides Restaurant still stood but have undergone generational makeovers over the decades.

BodegaBay7

Bodega Bay is a very foggy area and it’s no surprise that this affected the film’s overall look. According to BodegaBay.com, much of the film had to be tinted gray because of this and probably adding to cost and production time. Along with all the special effects employed in the film, it took post three years to put the final touches on it. The movie was released in 1963.

The next day was foggy indeed and we decided to drive a bit on Highway 1 which proved scary and beautiful at the same time. There were steep drop-offs, windy roads and very strong tides along the beaches. We did find a more kid-friendly beach on our way back to Bodega Bay where we spent most of the afternoon. After the beach, we then decided to drive through town looking for some familiar movie locations. With map in hand, we drove up Taylor Street, which is where the children ran down from the schoolhouse as they were being attacked by birds in a pivotal scene.

BodegaBay1

The 3rd and final day, we drove to where the Potter Schoolhouse stood. The structure was intact, although with a slightly newer paint job. Interestingly, because of the fog the day before, we had missed it completely. It was a clear and sunny day which really detached the vibe of the movie – gray and foreboding.

BodegaBay2

Finally, we reached our final destination, The General Store, where Melanie asks the storekeeper the first name of the ‘little Brenner girl’ in her attempt to play a prank on Mitch Brenner played by Rod Taylor.

BodegaBay3

The store, now called the Bodega Country Store was a visitor center of sorts, with memorabilia from the film, publicity stills, dolls, toys, postcards, film books etc. The store also was a genuine general store, with canned goods, soft drinks and food. Kristina bought me “Blackie”, a replica of one of the magpies from the movie and has since found its home near my station at work.

BodegaBay4

The country store also had a replica of the telephone booth in that iconic scene where Melanie is trapped inside it with seagulls crashing into the glass. What a scene that was! Here I am reenacting it – with a stranger’s help in taking the photo.

BodegaBay5

As we were checking out of the Bodega Coast Inn, I was dismayed to find out that just a week ago, Tippi Hedren had come back to visit the town for the film’s 50th anniversary. I had just missed her. The hotel clerk said she was a very nice woman and still beautiful. On the clerks counter was an autographed publicity still of Tippi with Mr. Hitchcock along with a Barbie rendition of her as Melanie.

BodegaBay6

It didn’t take much to cheer me up though as the town’s charm and the film itself kept my imagination as vivid as ever. If you haven’t seen The Birds I highly recommend it. And while you’re at it, consider visiting this now legendary location.


So have you seen The Birds and/or been to Bodega Bay?

Six Degrees of Separation Blogathon: Hitchcock to Transformers Movies

SixDegreesofSeparationHitchcockTransformers
Nostra, aka The King of Blog Series is at it again! This time in association with dutch movieblog “De Protagonisten” (who inspired him to do this). Check out the main blogathon page on My Film Views blog. Surely you’re all familiar w/ the concept of Six Degrees of Separation, but here’s the idea in his own words:
This blogathon is based on a theory that in only six steps you can link anyone to any other person in the world. It will test your knowledge of actors, movies and directors. You will get two names of either actors/actresses/directors or movies and what you will have to do is make a link between them in a maximum of six steps.


So how does this blogathon work?

As you know I have done several relay races in the past and have heard from several bloggers that they wished they would get a chance to participate as well, but since there was only one baton the chances would be small to get it assigned. So to go with the theme of this blogathon I decided to increase those chances sixfold and assign this blogathon to six bloggers who can then each hand over the baton to another blogger with a new end-goal for that blogger.

Well, Nostra assigns six of us with the initial task, I have to connect Alfred Hitchcock to the Transformers movies in six steps or less. I was able to do two different versions for this, and none involving Shia LaBeouf, yay!

Alfred Hitchcock to the Transformer movies

SixDegreesofSeparationHitchcockTransformers1
Alfred Hitchcock directed Marnie (1964) starring Sean Connery
Connery was in The Rock (1996) which was directed by Michael Bay
Bay directed all of the Transformers movies
SixDegreesofSeparationHitchcockTransformers2
Alfred Hitchcock worked with Bruce Dern in The Family Plot (1976)
Dern co-starred with Jon Voight in Coming Home (1978)
Voight was in the first Transformers movie (2007)

So I’m handing over the baton to Natalie from Writer Loves Movies blog. So Natalie, your task is connect the Transformers movies to… Gary Cooper.

Good luck Natalie! 🙂


Thoughts on this blogathon and/or the films/actors mentioned here?

Blogathon Relay: TEN Most Influential Directors Of All Time

10DirectorsRelay

This Blog Relay idea is really getting around. I did a similar post a while back with the Most Iconic Movie Characters which generally has the same concept. This time around, the 10 Most Influential Directors relay is spearheaded by John at Hitchcock’s World. Here’s the gist in John’s own words:

I have compiled a list of ten directors I consider to be extremely influential. I will name another blogger to take over. That blogger, in their own article, will go through my list and choose one they feel doesn’t belong, make a case for why that director doesn’t fit, and then bring out a replacement. After making a case for why that director is a better choice, they will pass the baton onto another blogger. That third blogger will repeat the process before choosing another one to take over, and so on.

Thanks to Josh at Classicblanca for passing the baton to me! These nine remain on the list as it stands right now, scroll down below which director I have to let go and his replacement:

10DirectorsRelay_9RemainingClockwise from top left:
Jean-Luc Godard, Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino, Georges Méliès, Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles, Steven Spielberg, Ingmar Bergman and Stanley Kubrik.

Thanks to Two Dollar Cinema for the image idea 🙂

The last addition that Josh added was Ingmar Bergman. Here’s his reasoning: Ingmar Bergman’s films put the human condition in the forefront, combining striking imagery with raw emotion. Where would cinema be without his humanistic approach to storytelling? 

Boy, the list as it stands now makes it incredibly tough for me to remove a single one, but hey, rules are rules and so, even with a heavy hart, one has to make a decision.

Who’s Out?

InfluentialDirector_Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola

It’s not so much that I’m removing Mr. Coppola, but I’m just moving him down to another spot in the top 15. How about that for diplomacy? 😉 In all seriousness though, I do think Mr. Coppola is indeed an influential director. But the point of this list is just how influential? I mean we’re talking about the most influential of ALL TIME here. Looking at the 10 directors, I feel that I can’t remove anyone else given the prominent contributions they’ve made, even if I haven’t seen any of their films [yet]. I feel that Coppola’s resume is pretty spotty after his glory days in the 70s. So sorry Mr. Coppola, but like I said, I do think you deserve to be in the Top 15!

Who’s In?

InfluentialDirector_Wilder

Billy Wilder

I’m surprised he wasn’t on the list in the first place, to be honest. Now, even though I haven’t seen all his films, his talent is undeniable and he’s so well-loved by filmmakers and fans alike. He doesn’t just win numerous awards in his illustrious career (27 films, 6 Oscars), but he’s been an inspiration to other great directors. Michel Hazanavicius who won Best Director Oscar for The Artist thanked Wilder three times in his acceptance speech, “… I could thank him like a thousand times because I think he’s the perfect director, the perfect example. He’s the soul of Hollywood and I wanted to thank him and I love him.” [per The Wrap]. Even Ingmar Bergman who’s a legendary director himself has said that Wilder is his favorite Hollywood director [per IMDb]. Cameron Crowe also penned memoir of sort, called Conversations with Wilder, which was the first time Wilder agreed to talk extensively about his life and work. I wish there had been a documentary on him as well.

I’ve recently seen one of Wilder’s best, The Apartment, and I could see why his films are so beloved. He imbued such wit in his films, a dose of cynical humor. He also has a way with actors, having directed no less than 14 actors to Oscar-nominated performances. He’s also a versatile writer/director, as he excelled in numerous genres: drama, noir, comedy as well as war films. He’s one of those directors whose work I still need to see more of, but even from the few that I’ve seen, it’s easy to see how Mr. Wilder belongs in this list.


I’m passing the torch to Mark, one of my favorite bloggers over at Three Rows Back. He’s been doing great work in his Retrospective Series, like this one on A Hard Day’s Night.

Previous relay contributors:
Girl Meets Cinema
And So It Begins
Dell on Movies
Two Dollar Cinema
A Fistful of Films
Classicblanca


So folks, agree/disagree with my picks? Let’s hear it!

June 2014 Blind Spot Film: REBECCA (1940)

Rebecca_1940Poster

As with a lot of the BlindSpot viewings this year, there are a lot of firsts in regards to REBECCA. No, it’s not the first Hitchcock film I saw, but it’s the first Laurence Olivier AND Joan Fontaine film I ever saw. I didn’t know David O. Selznick produced this, which was interesting given that I first saw Fontaine’s sister Olivia deHavilland in Selznick’s epic drama Gone With The Wind just the year before.

This was billed as a dramatic thriller, as well as a gothic romance, which immediately made me think of Jane Eyre. Interestingly enough, I noticed a few similarities with Charlotte Brontë’s classic tale (and not only because Fontaine did play Jane Eyre in 1943 with Orson Welles). Both of the protagonists in Jane Eyre and Rebecca are still haunted by his first wife. A wealthy man named Maxim de Winter (Olivier) meets a young, naive girl who accompanies her employer on a trip to Monte Carlo. Their first meeting wasn’t exactly a ‘meet cute,’ in fact he was rather rude towards her [yet another similarity to Jane Eyre‘s Rochester] but after a whirlwind romance, the two got married and he took her to his estate, Manderley.

Rebecca1940Stills1

Now by the time the film starts, Rebecca is no longer in the picture, but no doubt her presence is felt throughout the film. Rebecca is definitely an overwhelming force despite the character never being shown on screen, not even in flashback. And that’s definitely what the filmmaker wanted Fontaine’s character to feel throughout the movie, that she’s overwhelmed by this unseen force who clearly still has a strange hold on everyone in Manderley.

The real suspense starts to build as soon as the couple get to Manderley. The big, expansive mansion looks and feel eerie, not unlike the ominous Thornfield Hall with a strange woman locked in the attic. The house is almost a character in itself, and it definitely plays a big role in the story. Manderley’s domineering, creepy housekeeper Mrs Danvers (Judith Anderson) definitely gives me the hibijibis. I really feel for Fontaine’s character and what she had to go through, not only did she have to endure her husband’s coldness, she also has to deal with a deranged, obsessive housekeeper who wanted to be rid of her. I kept wondering though why they couldn’t just fire Mrs. Danvers, I mean she is after all an employee at the estate. Right from the very moment she’s introduced in the movie, Mrs. Danvers is one of the most spine-chilling characters that really gets under my skin. I think the most terrifying scenes in the movie is when she gives Fontaine’s character a tour to Rebecca’s room, reminiscing on her former master and her obsession with her.

Rebecca1940Still2

Mrs. Danvers: [just as the second Mrs. de Winter reaches for the door] You wouldn’t think she’d been gone so long, would you? Sometimes, when I walk along the corridor, I fancy I hear her just behind me. That quick light step, I couldn’t mistake it anywhere. It’s not only in this room, it’s in all the rooms in the house. I can almost hear it now.

Mrs. Danvers: Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?

The Second Mrs. de Winter: [sobbing] N-no, I don’t believe it.

Mrs. Danvers: Sometimes, I wonder if she doesn’t come back here to Manderley, to watch you and Mr. de Winter together. You look tired. Why don’t you stay here a while and rest, and listen to the sea? It’s so soothing. Listen to it.

[turning away towards the window as the second Mrs. de Winter slips out the door]
Mrs. Danvers: Listen. Listen to the sea.

Rebecca1940Still3

You could say Judith was quite the scene-stealer in this film as you simply can’t shake her for some time after you’ve seen this film. She’s THAT creepy. The rest of the cast is equally excellent in their Oscar-nominated performances. I’m quite impressed by the luminous Joan Fontaine who’s the heart of the film whomI sympathize with right away. She went from being this frail, nervous and self-conscious young bride in the beginning, to a woman who’s able to hold her own by the end. Her character definitely *grew up* as the film progressed and her transformation is very believable. Sir Olivier is perfectly suited as the wealthy tortured soul type, hardened and enigmatic. The British thespian has played another Bronte’s dark hero, Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights just the year before, sounds like the type of roles he could play in his sleep. There’s not much chemistry between him and Fontaine but given the plot of the story it sort of make sense. Based on the documentary included in the disc, apparently Olivier was keen on having his then-girlfriend Vivien Leigh to play Fontaine’s role, but I personally don’t think Leigh would suit the role as well.  George Sanders plays this weasel character who’s trying to frame Maxim, I’ve seen him play a similar character in All About Eve not too long ago. His character seems too lively to be really sinister or threatening however, I think out of all the characters, I feel that his performance is the least convincing to me.

Rebecca1940_Olivier_Fontaine

As to be expected from the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock truly delivered the goods with this one. This is his second feature adaptation from Daphne Du Maurier novel and clearly the material suits his style. The gothic story lends itself to the eerie, bone-chilling atmosphere, and Hitchcock is the master at building up the suspense and that dreaded sense of impending doom. Every frame, sound, ambiance is carefully crafted, coupled with Franz Waxman‘s ominous score for a total immersive experience. I didn’t see the twist coming which is always nice when that happens. Yet Rebecca isn’t reliant on that twist for you to truly appreciate the film because it’s more than just a gimmick. The story is rich, with a deep, layered symbolism that stays with you long after the credits. It’s also a beautifully-shot film with the lush setting, gorgeous costumes, and evocative lighting that brings out its supernatural quality.

This is definitely one of those films that lives up to the hype. The heightened suspense and tension is what I expect from Hitchcock — he brought Du Marier’s story alive and kept me engrossed from start to finish. Just like the literary work it’s based on, this film has that timeless quality that would stand the test of time. I am surprised that this is the only Hitchcock film that ever won Best Picture Oscar. I definitely think it’s Oscar-worthy but I haven’t seen his later works such as Vertigo and Rear Window that’s far more popular than this one. I definitely have a lot of Hitchcock to catch up on and I’m looking forward to it!

4.5 out of 5 reels


This is the fifth entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .


What do you think of  REBECCA? I’d love to hear what you think!

Classic Double Feature: Shadow of a Doubt (1943) & Compulsion (1959)

jackdethbanner

Greetings, all and sundry!

Allow me a few moments of your time in indulge the nostalgia of my youth. And broach a topic very close to my some may say, misspent early years.

The Classic Double Feature.

Usually reserved for Saturday matinees in the more austere theaters of the day. More often than not, theme or actor based. And superior quality. Genres of films selected was seasonal. With westerns and action popular in the summer. While offerings in Film Noir, horror, mystery and science fiction slated for fall through spring.

There is a method to the madness in the films I’ve selected. Both are films worthy of note and curiosities to our hostess, Ruth. Who desires to learn more of the works of master craftsman, Alfred Hitchcock and perpetual actor, Dean Stockwell. While the choice of which film leads is one which has plagued theater managers since the invention of celluloid. To that end. Allow me to introduce an early work from the British master. With equal parts drama and suspense layered over idyllic, quaint, rural life in a small west coast town.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

ShadowOfADoubtPoster

A film that begins in sunny, always fair weather Santa Rosa, California. Home to many families who keep the banks, shops and stores busy. One family in particular, the Newtons; father, Joseph (Henry Travers). Mother, Emma (Patricia Coolidge). Youngest son, Roger (Charles Bates). Middle daughter, Ann (Edna Mae Wonacott). And eldest, approaching awkward teen daughter, Charlotte (Teresa Wright) or “Charlie”. Go through their daily routine of work, school, keeping house, while Charlie eloquently wishes that something, anything would happen.

That occurs when a telegram arrives announcing that Mother’s younger brother, Charles Oakley (Joseph Cotten). All calm, placid charm and deeply buried malevolence. Will be arriving on the Thursday evening train. Uncle Charles arrives. Dinner is had. Gifts are given and the first inklings of psychological thriller starts making itself known. Where most of the family see Charles as a welcome guest. Young Charlie sees her uncle as something more. Someone worldly and romantic  A man of mystery who says little about and is trying to stay ahead of his past. For good reason.

ShadowOfADoubtPic1

Life continues near serenely. Until two detectives drop by to talk to the family. One detective, Jack Graham, (Macdonald Carey) tells Charlie that her uncle may be one of two men known suspected of being “The Merry Widow Murderer”. Who court older women, marries them. Then collects their insurance money and any other expensive things after their untimely, often strange, questionable deaths.

Charlie doesn’t want to believe, at first. But Uncle Charles makes a few awkward, almost embarrassing mistakes that turn heads and focuses attention in public places. And Charlie, being female and just slightly less curious than a cat. Finds small clues and evidence that lends credence to Jack Graham’s cautionary words. Topped off when Uncle Charles, perhaps a bit drunk and full of himself goes on tear about the rich in general, Rich widows in particular. And his contempt for them.

The cat is let out of the bag later, when Charles confronts his niece. Accusations are tossed around and Charles admits that he is the man the police are after. And then begs Charlie for her help. She concedes, but only on the condition that Uncle Charles
leave as soon as possible. Ironically, Uncle Charles is cut a break and some breathing room to pursue his latest mark. When the other suspect is killed in a running gunfight in Portland, Maine.

ShadowOfADoubtPic2

Young Charlie becomes a loose end that needs attention. In the form of a few odd “accidents” involving stair cases and the faulty lock on a garage door. Keeping young Charlie inside while the sheltered car is left with its engine running. The laws of probability are catching up to Uncle Charles. Who announces that he is leaving by train to San Francisco. In the company of a young widow. Uncle Charles schemes to have a final showdown with young Charlie between cars. As the train starts to move and begin its journey.

I’ll leave it right here for Spoilers sakes….

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

Alfred Hitchcock just getting familiar with the idea of playing with new, near perfect settings. Then playfully tweaking and twisting the American small town ideas, dreams and families. By infusing an often charming dose of “Something wicked this way comes!” in the shape of Charles Oakley. A cypher upon which any story can be painted. Until he becomes too comfortable. And projects his disdain for others upon his brother in law, Joseph. Hinting that Joseph could not possibly be averse to embezzling funds from the bank where he works. Inside the bank and within earshot of others!

ShadowOfADoubtPic3

Just one of many soliloquies. Delivered with the same wide eyed, calm innocence Mr. Cotten tapped into earlier as best friend and conscience, Jedidiah Leland, in “Citizen Kane”. Only this time it works to his character’s benefit and is a little creepy to take in. Verbal wedged planted between friends that misdirect and distract and create slack for Uncle Charlie to play with.

While Teresa Wright is the personification of budding teenage womanhood. Too smart by half. Driven by emotions that run deep and wild beneath the surface. Who lets her words pull her into the intrigue. While not knowing what is on the other end. Her
younger siblings, Roger and Ann form a sort of Greek Chorus when the family is gathered together. Though Ann is also far too smart for her young age. Young Charlie’s mother and father are content to get by and preserve the American Dream. Even as Emma starts to see her beloved younger brother as someone she doesn’t really know.

What Makes This Film Great?

The town of Santa Rosa, California. That is just big enough and prosperous enough to illustrate small town America. With its tree-lined streets. large houses, well cared for lawns. Slightly out of era cars and tracks and smiling traffic cops. Which would be used again in “Pollyanna” and “Some Came Running”.

ShadowOfADoubtPic4

Here. it represents the perfect summer weather Petri Dish to reveal cracks in its characters and secrets revealed with the addition of Mr. Cotten’s often too arrogant Charles Oakley. Given more emphasis through Thornton Wilder’s written words and Joseph A. Valentine’s often shadowy indoor and tight, razor sharp B&W outdoor cinematography. Aided by Dimitri Tiomkin‘s suspenseful score and music direction by Charles Previn. Set and art direction by Russell Gausman and John B. Goodman. Plus gowns and ensembles that are neither too frumpy or too elegant by Vera West and Adrian add to both story telling and an almost time capsule feel and effect.

Then there is Hitchcock. Gently tugging at the edges. Keeping the canvas of the tale and town taut. While slyly nicking there and slicing there. Letting nature do its thing and follow the path of least resistance. As the myth of rural solitude and serenity bares its all too human weaknesses. Perhaps, not a date film. But certainly one to indulge in to see the first confident steps of a sly, masterful director hinting at greater things to come!

Notes: Nominated and accepted into the National Film Registry in 1991.
Available for viewing on You Tube


Compulsion (1959)

CompulsionPoster


As is traditional with film distribution. The second film of a Double Bill or Feature should be of lesser stature and lower budget. Hence the phrase “B-Movie”. And this offering from 20th Century has that writ large. Though wisely and frugally spent in telling the tale of the infamous Loeb & Leopold “Perfect Crime’ kidnap and murder case of 1924. With the help of Meyer Levin, who had written the best selling novel of the same name the film is based on. And aided by Richard Murphy‘s faithful screenplay.

Centered around two Chicago law students with off the scale IQs and a completely less than healthy reverence for the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche and his “Man and Superman” hypothesis. The Alpha of the pair is Arthur Strauss. Played with snide, very spoiled, well connected arrogance by Bradford Dillman. Who doesn’t have any friends. And not much use for people in general as he constantly looks for ways to show his elite superiority to others. Their perceived inferiority and uselessness of their laws that are beneath his contempt.

CompulsionPic1

Artie’s partner in crime is Judd Steiner. Masterfully under and occasionally overplayed by a young Dean Stockwell. A self-imposed outcast who enjoys Ornithology, Taxidermy and deep down inside wants badly to be part of something. Oddly gravitating towards Dillman’s Strauss with near gleeful, sometimes clumsy subservient abandon.

Their first “perfect crime” which begins the sharply rendered film sets the stage for future events. With the breaking into a campus Fraternity house and taking sixty seven dollars, odd jewelry and a second hand manual Underwood typewriter with a
broken letter key. Fleeing in Judd’s Stutz Bearcat convertible, Judd starts hitting his flask while Artie drives off and nearly sideswipes a drunken pedestrian on a lonely stretch of road. Artie chides Judd for drinking and continues to needle Judd. Very
much like a married couple with an abusive husband. Until Judd nearly breaks down into tears. Swearing that he would do any thing to make things right. Artie smiles and tells Judd to turn around, drive and hit the drunk. Artie tries, but swerves at the last
second. Giving Artie an ever bigger, subtle psychological weapon with which to bludgeon Judd. As the two continue into the night.

CompulsionPic2

Comes the morning and Judd is in class arguing Nietzsche with his law professor as another player enters the fray, Sid Brooks. (Young, fresh faced and freckled, Martin Milner) A middle class student who pays his freight as a reporter on the Bulldog (late) edition of the local Chicago paper. Who stumbles across Artie and Judd as they set up an alibi with a group of other students and girlfriends to cover the next step in their “cold, dispassionate experiment”. The alibi is a get together at a speak easy that Artie found earlier. The time, nine o’clock.

Sid begs off, due to his job. And several unique and tragic events fall into place between that afternoon and night. Sid clocks in and finds that’s there is a drowned boy in the city morgue. And that a ransom note has arrives at the Kessler home. Demanding ten thousand dollars in old fifty and twenty dollar bills. Sid’s boss, Tom Daley (Edward Binns) sends Sid to the morgue. Where the child, later identified as Paul Kessler had been beaten and mutilated before being stuffed in a drainage culvert. Sid also finds a pair of round lenses reading glasses with the body. The glasses fit neither Sid or the boy. So Sid calls his boss and the wheels start coming off the “dispassionate experiment”.

The body is identified by the boy’s father. Sid’s boss, Mr. Daley shows up at the morgue and is brought up to speed by Sid. The glasses are put in safe keeping before being turned over to the police. All the makings of a wonderful night of celebration for Sid. Even if his girlfriend, Ruth Evan (Diane Varsi) is in Judd’s company. Sid mentions the glasses and Judd’s hand immediately goes to his suit coat’s empty breast pocket. Artie asks for more details and nearly explodes when Sid mentions the ransom note’s broken, offset letter.

Made even worse as Artie discovers that Judd still has the typewriter! After three days of trying to misdirect the Chicago cops assigned to the case. Which causes a cascade of accusations and weak counter arguments from Judd. Another experiment is agreed upon to prove Judd’s dispassion for others. And Sid in particular. Artie would get rid of the typewriter and clean up Judd’s mess. If Judd sets up a date with Ruth and sexually assaults her at a secluded aviary. Artie holds up his end of the bargain, but Judd doesn’t know what to do with Ruth. Or how. And falls miserably.

The local District Attorney, Harold Horn (E.G. Marshall in fine form!) under pressure from above tells the local cops to bring Judd in for some questioning the next afternoon. And the real came of Cat & Mouse begins. With many questions as to Judd’s whereabouts on April 17th, the day of young Kessler’s disappearance, kidnap and murder. Judd starts out arrogantly and obliquely. Believing he has the upper hand until Horn brings out the reading glasses. A style of which over four thousand were sold in Chicago alone. But only a few with a new type of hinge. And one of those was sold to Judd months ago.

Judd talks into the evening as Artie is brought in to corroborate Judd’s story. Artie is well prepared. A much better liar. And mentions a family dinner and a guest who is a Federal judge an hour hence. Yet, Horn is not impressed. Politely, sometimes slyly asking questions about a rented black sedan and more details about the two women he and Judd supposedly picked up the night in question. Artie counters well and Horn is about to let them go when Judd’s chauffeur shows up. With toiletries and a change of clothes for Judd. Offhandedly mentioning that Judd’s Stutz Bearcat never left the estate’s garage that day, April 17th. Since he has changed the car’s worn brake shoes.

Round Two arrives without preamble as Horn goes after Judd with a vengeance! Shredding Judd’s many innocuous points of interest (Hot dog stand, park, chance meetings) before going after Artie. Unaware that Judd’s father has called famed attorney, Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles doing his best Clarence Darrow) in the interim. Horn and his assistant, Mr. Padua (Gavin McLeod) go over each detail as Artie rebuts. Then decides to roll over on Judd in a classic “He said… He said” conundrum. Which only makes Judd’s loud and sometimes pitiful meltdown all the sweeter when informed of Artie’s cowardly treachery.

Judd and Artie are charged, arraigned and kept separate in County Lock Up as family retained psychologists and psychiatrists are called in. As Wilks prepares to go up against a city who wants to see his clients swinging beneath a gallows…

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

Watching a fresh on again, off again young talent in Mr. Stockwell mix so well with solidly ensconced contemporaries, Dillman, Milner and Varsi. Being confident and comfortable enough in their own skins to portray two spoiled and coddled, seriously sick puppies (Regarding Dillman and Stockwell) who would be right at home commanding a company of Hitler Youth in 1939 Germany. Both are near childishly juvenile in their assured arrogance that they are above the law and are righteous in their beliefs. Until they realize that the law does not give Brownie Points for genius.

CompulsionPic3

While Martin Milner stoically, reliably delivers the goods as Sid Brooks. With all the makings of a great reporter and newshound. Whose world is upended when someone he admires and envies a bit in Artie and his “odd duck” friend, Judd are revealed for
what they are. Offset by his girlfriend, Ruth’s perhaps tainted innocence. Ms. Varsi’s take on Ruth is odd to behold. In her moments with Judd, Sid. And later on the witness stand. Held far too tightly by her emotional naivete. In a very pivotal role for a
veteran of  “Peyton Place” and  “Ten North Frederick”.

High marks over all for director Richard Fleischer and his nearly standardized method of scenes averaging 11 to 14 seconds. Long enough to introduce a character, record an argument, move the plot along by planting a seed. Then watching it grow and expand to fruition later in the film.

What Makes This Film Great?

With just over an hour’s worth of build up through Judd’s sloppy performances in these “experiment”. Arguments and kind of creepy cat fights with his “superior”, Artie. The first glimmers of the paired serial killers of today (The Green River Killer(s), Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, Aileen Wuormos, etc) start making themselves known. With one Alpha (Artie) controlling the discussion and later situations. And a subservient (Judd) doing his best to please and be part of something bigger. A dynamic writ large while less than subtly hinting at a homosexual relationship. Heightened by Lionel Newman‘s horn heavy soundtrack.

CompulsionPic4

The film’s remaining thirty plus minutes belong to Orson Welles and his soft spoken, mumbled take on Clarence Darrow. His size and near Waltz gait command every shot as he fights small skirmishes with D.A Horn. Resists or ignores intimidation and a random cross burning by the Klan. Never ceding an inch as the drab, oddly homogenous and uniform looking jury hold Artie and Judd’s fate in the balance. Thanks to Mark-Lee Kirk’s moody lighting and William C. Mellor’s superb B&W cinematography.

The usual loud chest thumping one would expect from a Lee J. Cobb is deftly, emotionally eschewed. For up close and personal words when needed to cajole the jury. Or whisper close, perhaps veiled threats are directed Horn’s way. Mr. Welles’ Wilk is perhaps the most un-Darrow like performance on film. But it works quite well in baring Darrow’s zeal in fighting the death penalty. Kudos for Mr. Welles’ bravery and for his offered and agreed upon, deft direction of the courtroom scenes.

Note: Available to view on You Tube.


Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews


Thoughts on either one of these films? Let it be known in the comments.

Weekend Roundup & Musings on Hitchcock’s SPELLBOUND

Happy Monday everybody! Hope everyone had a nice weekend and get to watch a lot of movies, unlike yours truly here who only get to see ONE film the entire weekend. But the film is one I had been wanting to see for a long time, well ever since I saw Roman Holiday and fell for the ridiculously gorgeous creature named Gregory Peck and I made a vow that I have to see every film he’s in before I die. Well, it’s been slow going and with this one, I’m killing two birds with one stone as I also want to catch up with Hitchcock’s classics. So far I’ve seen three The Birds (when I was young so my memory of it is a bit hazy), To Catch a Thief (meh), and North by Northwest (ok, now I get what the fuss is about). So basically, Hitchcock has been a hit and miss for me, so I really don’t know what to expect with this one, but I loved it!

A female psychiatrist protects the identity of an amnesia patient accused of murder while attempting to recover his memory.

Ok so the subject matter doesn’t scream ‘must see’ for me normally, though I don’t mind a good psycho thriller once in a while. But once Peck entered the screen I was practically hyperventilating (ask my hubby Ivan, he..he…) but before you accuse me of loving this film only on account of him (well you’d be half right), I also like the beautiful Ingrid Bergman’s performance as Constance, the shrink who risks her career out of her love for an amnesiac patient.

Despite the slow pace, the film keeps me engaged throughout. Even the parts at the hospital where it was just Constance surrounded by her all-male colleagues, it’s quite amusing to see how they treat her. They’re respectful enough by calling her doctor, but how one of the doctors speak to her would be considered sexual harassment nowadays!

The unconventional relationship between Bergman’s and Peck’s character is the core of the story, and despite the strange coincidence of their meet-up, I totally bought their romance. Yes at times I feel like Constance needs a little slap to bring her back to her senses for sheltering a man she only knew by his initial J.B., especially after what her good friend & mentor Dr. Brulov told her. But there’s such an undeniable earnestness about Peck’s portrayal that I probably would’ve done the exact same thing!

The film is masterfully-directed by Hitchcock, no wonder it’s nominated for an Oscar. There’s a plethora of mystery and suspense that delightfully surprises. The trick is in the camera angles that made the viewer feel like we’re witnessing the action firsthand… like that scene of seeing through a glass of milk as it’s being drank by the protagonist. There is one really creepy scene of Peck’s character in Brulov’s house that reminds me of some clips/images I’ve seen of Psycho. We’re also treated to a plethora of iconic visuals, which is to be expected from Hitchcock, especially in the dream sequence designed by Salvador Dalí himself.

As for Gregory Peck, well after seeing this one, I think I have a serious crush on this classic actor. Hollywood is full of tall, dark and handsome like Cary Grant, Lawrence Olivier, Clark Gable, etc. but there is something about Peck that is so incredibly charming and um, spellbinding… ehm. His cheekbones and soulful eyes alone could inspire me to write an entire poem (if I could write one that is), and then there’s the deep voice that complements his dashing good looks perfectly.

That scene when Constance visited him in his bedroom, and he looked up at her and smiled, that was a huge swoon moment… [yowza!!] Peck and Bergman shared such an incredible chemistry in the film, and like most classic romances, I love how clean and honorable their relationship was, something totally lost in today’s movies. I might buy this film just to watch that scene over and over!! Ok, I have a LOT of his films to catch up on. Definitely To Kill a Mockingbird to see his Oscar-winning performance, but I also want to see him in David & Bathsheba, The Big Country, and Capt. Horatio Hornblower. What else would you recommend??

Well, back to the film, I highly recommend Spellbound if you haven’t seen it. It’s a classic mystery thriller with a heart, and also boast one of the most tense and satisfying ending. Again, the camera angle in that scene is just brilliant and no doubt has been numerously copied in contemporary films to date.


Well, what did you see this weekend? If you’ve seen this film, do share your thoughts on Spellbound and/or recommend a must-see Gregory Peck film for yours truly 😀