I was surprised to find myself enjoying this one -- despite the insubstantial religious message and a crappy lead actress -- and that Smith had finally grown as a director. (7/10)
d. Kevin Smith
31 March 2009
24 March 2009
22 March 2009
20 March 2009
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)
written by Norman Krasna
Carole Lombard, the queen of the screwball comedy, asked Hitchcock to direct this one for her. Everyone always seems to comment about how unlike this film is from the rest of the Hitchcock canon. Even the film historians interviewed on the DVD release mention something to this effect. I have a feeling they're only considering his American films. Mr. & Mrs. Smith is no more a departure for Hitchcock than the marriage-on-the-rocks road trip flick Rich and Strange (1931) or the nearly-screwball romantic comedy The Farmer's Wife (1928).
That said, I generally don't care for Hitchcock's lighter films. He's an incredibly precise director; I don't think this is the right approach for a broad comedy. Mr. & Mrs. Smith feels stiff to me. All of the technical aspects of the film are perfect, but there's no life to the thing outside of the actors' performances. I dunno. Maybe I'm just used to the hyperkinetic comedies of this era. I didn't laugh much at all during this comedy, though I could see all of the points at which 1941 audiences would've guffawed.
One scene I absolutely loved, however, was at the club when David meets Chuck. This entire sequence is absolutely hysterical, from David's first glimpse of his not-so-classy blind date to his mouthing words to the pretty girl next to him to impress his wife to his unfortunate success in bloodying his own nose to escape. I wished the movie would've dropped the spoiled Ann altogether at this point and followed the adventures of David & hard-drinkin', womanizin' Chuck. That'd been plenty screwy. (6/10)
Watched the region 1 DVD released by Warner Bros. in 2004. Great transfer and a nice documentary.
19 March 2009
18 March 2009
Foreign Correspondent (1940)
written by Charles Bennett, Joan Harrison, James Hilton, Robert Benchley and an uncredited Ben Hecht
Is it me, or was ffolliott -- the British reporter played by the devilish George Sanders -- the true hero of this story? He's always way ahead of our presumed protagonist Jones. He's aware that Fisher is a traitor associating with the evil Krug long before Jones figures it out. Once he and Jones agree to work together, it's ffolliott who pushes the investigation along. He's also the man of action in the picture: he boldly bluffs Fisher in his own home and he risks his neck to save both Van Meer and his country (and ends up diving out of a window for his trouble). All of this, and he's always quick with a quip.
I think this film has the worst romance of any Hitchcock movie to date. I don't buy Joel McCrea and Laraine Day as a couple. I think part of the problem was that their relationship was, for the most part, just a tacked-on side story. They didn't really have a lot of time to develop it onscreen. It may be a cultural gap on my part. Some of the ways they were acting were plain confusing to me, watching this seven decades later. I'm never going to like these "instant marriage proposals" that seem to be common in classic films. Did audiences back then insist on seeing their onscreen couples get engaged as well as simply becoming a couple?
One bit about their relationship I completely did not understand was when Carol became angry after Jones ordered a second room in the hotel they were hiding out at. Why was she so upset? Isn't ordering a second room the honorable thing to do? Wasn't she previously angry when people saw her with a bathrobe-clad Jones in her bedroom? Remind me never to get romantically involved with anyone should I ever time travel to this era.
Foreign Correspondent has some excellent Hitchcock-style action in it. Particularly good was the entire plane crash sequence near the end. The editing as the plane dove into the water gave us some of that delicious suspense that was mostly missing from Rebecca. We also get a nice car chase, a surprisingly gruesome (for 1940) murder, a torture scene (ending with the aforementioned defenestration) and two games of cat and mouse with three different assassins. Even if I don't care for the protagonist too much, this is a fun Hitchcock movie oft overlooked. (7/10)
Watched the region 1 DVD released by Warner Bros. in 2004. The transfer's great -- as expected for a Warner classics release -- and it comes with a nice documentary.
15 March 2009
Fond memories of Voltron after school, a trippy color palette and good tunes make for a pleasant experience. (7/10)
d. Kazuhisa Takenôchi
14 March 2009
written by Philip MacDonald, Michael Hogan, Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison, based on a novel by Daphne Du Maurier
What were the first things Hitchcock did after moving to America? Oh, nothing much... he bought a house, enrolled his daughter in school and made a Best Picture-winning masterpiece.
The film didn't start off terribly promising. It began as sort of a remake of Easy Virtue. In both, a young woman falls in love with rich gentleman and makes an instant decision to marry him. When she arrives at his estate, she finds herself not quite so welcome. Easy Virtue is not a great film -- probably one of Hitch's worst -- so this introduction to Rebecca wasn't thrilling. Luckily, Rebecca quickly established itself as the far superior picture through fantastic acting, the characters' complex psychologies, unexpected twists in the story, opulent sets and some great chiaroscuro lighting.
This is my first Laurence Olivier film (well, second if Clash of the Titans counts). I can see why he was a highly respected actor in his day. Olivier's performance alone ensures that watching this film a second time -- knowing what the twists in the story are -- will be rewarding. Looking back, his reactions to being reminded of Rebecca are completely consistent with guilt and anger even if they appear to be sorrow during the first viewing.
I'm having a hard time writing anything remotely intelligent about this film, so I'll just say that I'm not typically a fan of a gothic romance, but I couldn't help but be engaged by this excellcent picture. (9/10)
Watched the region 1 DVD released by Fox in 2008 as a part of the Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection. The transfer's excellent, even better than the version Criterion released. I had to play this disc in my PS3, however, due to the loud noise it makes in my regular DVD player. This is problem common to this set for everyone. Not cool, Fox.
10 March 2009
Jamaica Inn (1939)
written by Sidney Gilliat, Joan Harrison and J.B. Priestley, based on a novel by Daphne Du Maurier
Right off, once I realized this was set a century in the past, the film felt off. Hitchcock normally works in the present; this costume drama thing doesn't feel right for him. The movie was barely reconizable as a Hitchcock picture. Was this just one last paycheck before heading for Hollywood?
Part of the reason the film feels off is that wasn't really Hitchcock's film. Charles Laughton's ego weighs heavily throughout. He's broad and cheeky and often unintelligible and probably has far too much screentime for what the character requires. His character seems to be all over the place, going from arrogant semi-nobleman to suicidally insane in the course of ninety minutes. I liked Laughton as a similar character in The Old Dark House, but here he see-saws the tone of the film too much. Am I supposed to take him seriously? If not, he's an oddly funny character in the middle of some grim subject matter.
Anyway, Hitchcock boiled the movie down himself: "You can't direct a Laughton picture. The best you can hope for is to referee."(5/10)
Watched the region 1 DVD released by Kino in 2003. Fuzzy transfer of a beat-up print with inexplicable windowboxing throughout. Nearly as bad as the public domain silent films. But, this is the only R1 DVD not missing 8 minutes of footage from the middle of the film, so there's that.
08 March 2009
07 March 2009
04 March 2009
The Lady Vanishes (1938)
written by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, based on a novel by Ethel Lina White
This is the most "English" film I've ever seen. It features a group of English folks vacationing -- er, holidaying -- in a fictitious country on the continent. Hitchcock mines plenty of humor -- er, humour -- out of the language and customs differences between his countrymen and the foreign-language-talkin' natives. At one point early on, the leading lady corrects the pronunciation of the harried hotel clerk ("ahv-ah-lahn-sh"). Two of the characters are eager to get home in time to catch a cricket match. The titular lady gives a waiter a packet of her own tea and tells him exactly how to make it. There's an entire plot point that hinges on the fact that only the English train passages will be in the dining car during tea time.
Knowing that war is only a year away, this is a fascinating look at the English temperament at the time. Only the English people on the train can be trusted. Every one of the foreigners traveling colludes to keep the lady vanished. Every one of the foreigners is odd or off or mean-looking. When the bad guys replace the vanished lady Mrs. Froy with a foreign clone, the clone is a gruff women with a permanent scowl who looks nothing like smiling Mrs. Froy. The foreign spies are cut-throat murders whilst England's spy -- Mrs. Froy -- is a sweet, old woman who exchanges secret codes in songs. The English are infallibly polite throughout their adventures in hostile territory, even to the point of one of them getting shot in the hand for his trouble. Once harmed, however, they fight for hard for their country. The impression this all gives me is that, even a year before the invasion of Poland, the English were psyching their national consciousness up for an inevitable war.
The film takes a little while to get going. Not knowing anything about it going in, I was a bit fearful that this was going to be a 90-minute film about goofy people in an alpine hotel. What it turned out to be is a summation of all of the tricks Hitchcock's picked up during his filmmaking career up to this point. The film starts with some of his beloved models, which is a fun and inexpensive way to crane through the mountains and into the hotel. The plot follows his favorite themes of normal, naive people being thrust into extraordinary situations. Hitchcock's cheeky humor abounds. There's some great, experimental opticals that allow the audience to experience Iris' concussion. There's some nice suspense when the evil doctor tries to poison Iris and Gilbert and even more when the train is diverted and the English passengers realize the spot they're in. The story is exciting and full of mystery and intrigue. I can certainly understand why this was a smash hit 71 years ago. (7/10)
Watched the region 1 DVD released by Criterion in 2007. Flawless transfer as far as I could tell. Disc 2 also has some great extras, including a spin-off (!) movie.