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Author Topic: The Alfred Hitchcock Discussion Thread  (Read 87853 times)
Groggy
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« Reply #465 on: January 10, 2016, 07:12:49 PM »

Suspicion:

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Alfred Hitchcock undertook Suspicion (1941) as a break from David O. Selznick's domineering supervision. The film was a hit, winning Joan Fontaine a Best Actress Oscar, and remains a favorite for many Hitchcock fans. But it's one of his most problematic films, the studio-enforced ending emblematic of deeper flaws.

 Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine) marries ne'er-do-well Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant), against the wishes of her family. Lina finds Johnnie an irresponsible layabout, frittering money on gambling and absurd real estate schemes. When a business deal with Johnnie's friend Beaky (Nigel Bruce) goes south, Lina becomes afraid that Johnnie's more than just a cad - she suspects he's plotting her demise.

 Patrick McGilligan half-jokingly suggests that Suspicion is Hitchcock remaking Rebecca without Selznick. Besides Joan Fontaine, there are similarities in wives absorbed by their husband's dark pasts. Suspicion's romance seems flimsier: Lina rushes after Johnnie after hearing her mother (Dame May Whitty) call her a spinster, and she's surprised when Johnnie isn't the man of her dreams? His vices and compulsive lying cause tension, yet they remain in love because the plot requires. It's silly melodrama, but no worse than many Hollywood films.

 The problem is that Suspicion never sells us on its central idea. Johnnie's a glad-handing gold-digger, lazy but hardly homicidal. It's a leap from losing gambling money and pawning family heirlooms to murder. Worse, Lina's suspicion comes from on Johnnie's fondness for mystery novels and a game of anagrams! A creative filmmaker could easily frame Lina as delusional, but Hitchcock gives us a half-baked guessing game, inserting clues then waving them away.


Even so, Suspicion snaps to life in the second half. Hitchcock's interesting touches come here: Harry Stradling Sr.'s brooding photography, casting Johnnie as darkness entering the home; the glowing glass of "poisoned" milk. There's Auriol Lee as a mystery writer who "always thinks of my murderers as heroes," an amusing touch. Suspicion nonetheless remains an Idiot Plot, where the story could be resolved by two characters sitting down and chatting. Unfortunately, that's exactly what happens.

 Hitchcock always bemoaned RKO's demanding a happy ending, afraid of alienating audiences and eroding Cary Grant's image. Yet Hitchcock's preferred conclusion seems worse: Lina would passively accept death, drinking Johnnie's poison while sending a letter to alert the authorities. It's a catch-22: if Johnnie's a villain, the story's obvious. If he's innocent, it's been a waste of time. Always fuzzy on plot, Hitchcock nonetheless usually avoided such easy traps.

 No one complains about Suspicion's stars. Joan Fontaine's award-winning performance gives her a variant on Rebecca's Mrs. DeWinter, bewildered, trapped but a tad more assertive. Cary Grant shifts from charmer to menacing figure with remarkable ease. Hitchcock casts character roles well, with Cecil Hardwicke and Dame May Whitty as Lina's parents, Nigel Bruce as the idiot Beaky, and a walk-on for Leo G. Carroll.

 Auteurists often present Suspicion as a masterwork mutilated by a brainless studio. But the project's deeply flawed in ways that even an ideal ending couldn't resolve. Suspicion is minor Hitchcock, a decent idea badly handled. 5/10

http://nothingiswrittenfilm.blogspot.com/2016/01/suspicion.html

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« Reply #466 on: January 10, 2016, 07:24:26 PM »

Good to have you back, Groggers; I've missed your reviews  Afro

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« Reply #467 on: January 12, 2016, 07:16:36 PM »

Dial M for Murder:

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Dial M for Murder (1954) was my first Alfred Hitchcock film. Not sure how much I appreciated it at age 12, but parts of it stuck with me even after seeing his more acclaimed works. It's a good introduction to the Master of Suspense, with its twisted murder plot, nifty direction and Grace Kelly.

 Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), a retired tennis player, learns his wife Margot (Grace Kelly) is carrying on with writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). Tony contemplates murder through ingenuity: he blackmails college chum C.A. Swan (Anthony Dawson) into killing Margot. Swan botches the hit, killed by Margot in self-defense. Tony spins the evidence to convict Margot for murder. Mark and Police Inspector Hubbard (John Williams) smell a rat, teaming up to trap Tony.

 Based on Frederick Knott's play, Dial M for Murder transcens its format through effective direction. The film's shot entirely on soundstages without inhibiting its creativity. Key scenes are staged in elaborate, sometimes abstract fashion: overhead shots during the murder preparations, a phone's internal mechanisms triggering the murder, Margot testifying before a candy-colored scrim. Originally shot in 3D, Dial M's just as effective flat.

 In a typically Hitchcockian touch, Dial M twists its audience's sympathy during the murder scene. We identify not with Margot, the innocent victim, but Swan, trapped into killing by his shady past, skulking among shadows to avoid detection. Shooting in lurid, shadowy colors, staged with precise, ominous pacing (there's no music and little sound for most of the scene), Hitchcock builds the tension unbearably until the violence occurs. It concludes with a gruesome death by scissors, borrowed from Fritz Lang's Ministry of Fear but rendered unforgettable by Hitchcock.

 Knott's story is both clever and predictable. Tony's ability to manipulate characters and events makes him a wonderful heel, destroying lives for personal satisfaction more than revenge. Novelist Mark fancies himself a crime expert, yet his scheme to save Margot earns Tony's derision as implausible! Inspector Hubbard pieces together minor bits of evidence (the missing scarf, a spare latchkey) to trap Tony. It's a neat piece of work, well-made yet a little too neat. Which isn't to deny that the conclusion's eminently satisfying.

 Ray Milland is a classic villain, charmingly devious, dangerously suave. It's probably his best work. Grace Kelly, making her Hitchcock debut, is luminously ornamental; she's much better-used in Rear Window and To Catch a Thief. John Williams is perfectly cast as the wry Inspector Hubbard; Anthony Dawson makes a bewildered, sympathetic heel. Only Robert Cummings, previously of Saboteur, flops as Kelly's romantic partner.

 The worst one can say about Dial M for Murder is that it's an exercise in craftsmanship, no insult when done this well. Compared to Hitchcock's other stage-to-screen adaptations (Juno and the Paycock, Rope) it's a masterpiece. Even without that qualification, it's still a satisfying yarn. 7.5/10


http://nothingiswrittenfilm.blogspot.com/2016/01/dial-m-for-murder.html

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« Reply #468 on: January 13, 2016, 08:55:08 AM »

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Suspicion is . . . a decent idea badly handled. 5/10
In fact, the other way round--as you yourself just demonstrated! (Do you actually listen to yourself as you write?). You mention the story's Catch-22: there's no way to win unless, as the computer in Wargames discovered, you don't play. But Hitchcock did play, and we're the richer for it.

The film can't have a Catch-22 AND be a decent idea. The idea is inherently flawed (again, just check the summation you've blogged) but AH took this bad idea and handled it with aplomb. The film is very entertaining, and works better than many of his better plotted and more successful films (I'd rather watch this than Rebecca or Notorious, for example). Sometimes AH demonstrates such mastery of his medium that I am inclined to overlook plot problems--as in this case. I'd go a "7."

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« Reply #469 on: January 13, 2016, 11:31:28 AM »

You're right, I should have written "a mediocre idea indifferently handled." That can easily be changed.

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« Reply #470 on: January 14, 2016, 10:47:46 AM »

You're right, I should have written "a mediocre idea indifferently handled." That can easily be changed.
Indifferently handled? There's someone writing on this board who disagrees with you. His name is Groggy too.
Quote
Suspicion snaps to life in the second half. Hitchcock's interesting touches come here: Harry Stradling Sr.'s brooding photography, casting Johnnie as darkness entering the home; the glowing glass of "poisoned" milk. There's Auriol Lee as a mystery writer who "always thinks of my murderers as heroes," an amusing touch.

Sounds like AH was playing a losing hand exceedingly well. Indifferently handled?

Quote
No one complains about Suspicion's stars. Joan Fontaine's award-winning performance gives her a variant on Rebecca's Mrs. DeWinter, bewildered, trapped but a tad more assertive. Cary Grant shifts from charmer to menacing figure with remarkable ease. Hitchcock casts character roles well, with Cecil Hardwicke and Dame May Whitty as Lina's parents, Nigel Bruce as the idiot Beaky, and a walk-on for Leo G. Carroll.
So the director's most important job, casting, produced nothing but aces. Indifferently handled?

It seems as though there are two different Groggys writing these posts, the laser-sighted analyst holding forth in the beginning and middle bits, and the wooly thinker who puts together the summaries at the end. I hope the first guy can eventually educate the second, or at least get him to pipe down about things he doesn't understand.

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« Reply #471 on: January 14, 2016, 11:16:01 AM »

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Sounds like AH was playing a losing hand exceedingly well. Indifferently handled?
Sure, the movie belatedly becomes interesting halfway through. Being charitable, and ignoring the ending, it's still 50 percent turd.

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So the director's most important job, casting

I'm sorry, what?



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« Reply #472 on: January 15, 2016, 05:44:37 AM »

I'm sorry, what?
So you admit you don’t understand what a film director does? Don’t lose heart, Groggy. You have your whole life to learn cinema. If you save your breath I feel a man like you could manage it.

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« Reply #473 on: January 15, 2016, 06:18:30 AM »

I wasn't aware your definition of director was so narrow.

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« Reply #474 on: January 15, 2016, 08:37:16 AM »

I wasn't aware that you could be so disingenuous as to pretend you'd never heard a director say his most important job is casting.

If if that's just hot air, the kind of thing directors are always saying but not meaning, still, you're not claiming that directors have nothing to do with casting, right? That being the case, whatever AH's responsibility for casting, you have to admit he did his job on Suspicion well.

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« Reply #475 on: January 15, 2016, 09:09:40 AM »

I wasn't aware that you could be so disingenuous as to pretend you'd never heard a director say his most important job is casting.

I can't speak for Groggy here, but personally I'd imagine those are the directors that I tend not to rank very highly. Sure it's very important, but by no means is it the most important thing.

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« Reply #476 on: January 15, 2016, 09:41:28 AM »

I can't speak for Groggy here, but personally I'd imagine those are the directors that I tend not to rank very highly. Sure it's very important, but by no means is it the most important thing.
You are totally missing the point. Whether the director's most important job is casting or not, he still is involved in it to some extent. Groggy tried to win on a technicality. I insist that the issue be argued on substance. The cast of Suspicion is wonderful, every role assigned to ace performers. Groggy himself concedes this, in fact, he is the one who originally made the point, yet he seems to want to deny Hitchcock the credit. I call him on his BS.

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« Reply #477 on: January 15, 2016, 01:36:07 PM »

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I insist that the issue be argued on substance.

 Grin Okay, for this you win.

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« Reply #478 on: July 24, 2016, 04:24:51 PM »

This weekend in WSJ's Arts in Review section:

http://on.wsj.com/2akIFk7



A Different Way to Master Suspense

By Jack Sullivan

July 22, 2016



Bernard Herrmann’s music for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Torn Curtain”—a harrowing and haunting score—sundered what many believe is the greatest director-composer collaboration in Hollywood history. Pressured by Universal Pictures to deliver pop-oriented music in tune with the times, Hitchcock demanded that Herrmann eschew his “old pattern” of symphonic composition and deliver ’60s “beat and rhythm.” Incorrigibly independent as ever, Herrmann composed a dense, brutal, unapologetically symphonic score powered by 12 flutes, 16 horns, nine trombones, two tubas, double timpani, eight cellos and eight basses. He also, as in “Psycho,” composed an electrifying murder cue even though Hitchcock specified no music. Normally averse to unpleasantness, Hitchcock came unannounced to a recording session at Goldwyn Studios, listened to the Prelude, and angrily dismissed Herrmann in front of his orchestra colleagues, who cheered the score even as Hitchcock renounced it. The two never spoke again.

It’s amazing the collaboration lasted through eight pictures. Both men were uncompromising perfectionists who saw life as treacherous chaos fleetingly ordered by art. A blow-up was bound to happen, especially since Hitchcock believed Herrmann was increasingly overstepping his bounds.

“Torn Curtain,” an oddly static Cold War spy thriller, was popular with audiences (the star power of Paul Newman and Julie Andrews surely helped) but harshly panned by critics on its release 50 years ago this month. Herrmann’s unused score, however, is something else, a bleak, powerful evocation of life behind the Iron Curtain unlike anything else in Hollywood music. It is a lost masterpiece—though not entirely, for it appears on a Varèse Sarabande CD; a Sony CD with a sensational performance of a “Torn Curtain” suite by the Los Angeles Philharmonic led by by Esa-Pekka Salonen; and a Universal DVD that lays in Herrmann’s cues for key scenes so that one can compare the score with the movie’s replacement one by the hastily hired John Addison.

With the Herrmann score, the film’s central characters, secret agent Michael Armstrong and his lover, Sarah Sherman, move furtively through the film as if pursued by the composer’s icy brass unisons and stalking chords. The moments of lyricism we get in other Herrmann-Hitchcock films are absent. The closest we get to melody are ominous bass and woodwind lines in cues like “The Formula” and “The Blackboard,” moments reminiscent of Shostakovich, whom Hitchcock tried to land for his next Cold War picture, “Topaz.” (Needless to say, the Soviet authorities were not cooperative.)

Despite the exotic orchestration—Herrmann promised that “the sound of 12 flutes will be terrifying”—there is something fundamental about this score. The most disturbing cue is the one Hitchcock explicitly forbade for the killing of the Soviet agent Gromek, an explosion of rage and violence in the timpani and lower brass, a premonition of Herrmann’s gathering storm with Hitchcock. Equally daring is the quiet music where Herrmann strips his huge orchestra down to intimate chamber ensembles: the queasy atonal sequence with agitated flutes depicting the cat-and-mouse movements of Michael and Gromek, or the sinister dialogue between brass and basses in “The Search.”

In the one surviving music note from Hitchcock to Herrmann, Hitchcock requested for the Prelude “an exciting, arresting, and rhythmic piece of music whose function would be to immediately rivet the audience’s attention.” Riveting it certainly is, but a ’60s beat is nowhere to be found. Ironically, Addison’s replacement prelude, a glum waltz, doesn’t have it either, nor do any of his cues.

For the static opening scene, Addison provides no music, but Herrmann brings it to life with modal chords full of subtle menace; for the following sequence, Addison gives us standard Hollywood romance music followed by what his notes call “gay phrases,” setting an awkwardly off-key mood for this secretive bedroom scene, where Michael jumps out of bed and lies to the message boy to protect his identity. In Herrmann’s version, basses plummet as woodwinds rise, a disorienting contrary motion suggesting impending doom. Addison’s score delivers stock responses, telling us what we should feel rather than making us feel it.

Most dismiss the movie “Torn Curtain” out of hand, but we forget that until Herrmann composed the shower scene for “Psycho”—against the Master’s wishes—Hitchcock himself believed that earlier film was so dull that he considered cutting it up and putting it on television. Herrmann gave “Psycho” the jolt that inspired Hitchcock to believe in the project again. Music matters in Hitchcock; John Williams, Hitchcock’s final composer, told me that it is “a character in the métier.” In “Torn Curtain,” it’s a missing character, a central one that might have made a difference.

Herrmann’s score for “Torn Curtain” is unusually incisive and self-contained: Hitchcock ordered Herrmann to sketch it “in advance because we have an urgent problem of meeting a tax date,” so the composer was forced to create it from his imagination without finished scenes. In happier days Hitchcock had asked Herrmann onto the set before shooting, debating which scenes needed music. Left on his own, Herrmann produced a one-of-a-kind work that is lonely and uncompromising—unforgettable even without the movie it might have saved.

Mr. Sullivan, chair of the English department at Rider University, is the author of “Hitchcock’s Music” (Yale University Press).


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« Reply #479 on: July 26, 2016, 01:00:25 AM »

Lifeboat (1944) I saw it in the '80's and wasn't impressed, heavy melodrama. Rewatched it yesterday undubbed and on big screen and was about to give up vision after half a hour but made it to the end and found the movie gets better after the usual devices for introducing the characters (so you have to believe that a commie, a tycoon, an intellectual (or about), a negro, etc. end up casually on the same boat) and the usual melodramatic scenes to introduce contrast all to be solved at the end (the 2 love stories are usual hollywooden stuff). There are some visual effects as it is only to be expected from H. (strong one the shoe tossed away after the amputation) but then there's also the contradictions of the nazi who is a surgeon by trade, turned into a submarine commander (yeah, sure) who saves Bendix' life (how I hate his voice and bogus slang) just to "suicide" him a while later.  But toward the end the whole scene of the german supply ship coming to the rescue then bombed etc. make it for a generous 7/10.

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