Tag Archives: alfred hitchcock

Strangers on a Train – Review

7 Apr

While on the set of Strangers on a Train, Alfred Hitchcock told the cast and crew that this was truly his first movie. Of course, that wasn’t actually the case. Hitchcock was making silent films before going on to classics like The 39 StepsRope, and Infamous. What Hitchcock meant by this was this was his first film where he could fully explore themes that were taboo at the time, while also telling a suspenseful story full of action and mystery. Strangers on a Train is definitely an interesting film in Hitchcock’s filmography. It was the start of a string of movies that would go on to change film history for the better, and was one of the first instances that showed how much of a story Hitchcock could tell without using dialogue.

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Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is an amateur tennis star on his way to meet his wife, Miriam (Laura Elliot), to discuss matters of their divorce. While on the train, Guy meets a fellow traveller named Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker), who has a very strange idea he’d like to share with Guy. Bruno believes that the perfect murder could be committed by a team of two, where one person murders the other person’s victim. Guy humors Bruno, but never actually thinks he’d follow through with his ludicrous plan. Unfortunately, Bruno is not a person to doubt, so when he murders Guy’s wife, Guy is forced to live his life evading Bruno and his desperate attempts to have Guy murder his father. Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), Guy’s wife to be, discovers this absurd plot and starts to help Guy put a stop to Bruno’s nefarious schemes. When this proves unsuccessful, and Bruno reveals a more sinister plan he has up his sleeve, Guy is forced to take action to clear his name and protect his family.

Before we get to the nitty gritty of Strangers on a Train, this movie succeeds greatly entertainment wise, and holds up really well today, as most Hitchcock movies do. We don’t call Hitchcock the Master of Suspense for nothing. This movie is full of great suspense and action that keeps the viewer engaged the entire movie. Certain scenes really stand out like when Bruno is staring down Guy during a tennis match or even the scene where the two men first meet. Don’t even get me started on the climax. Hitchcock understood what it meant to make a great set piece, and the climax is not only extremely satisfying, but also loud and intense. It worked great with all of the quiet menace that was spread throughout the movie. There’s also plenty of that great, dark Hitchcock humor. There’s something hilarious about watching two giddy old women talking about planning a murder.

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Everyone in this movie do great jobs with their characters. Farley Granger plays the unassuming protagonist very well, and Ruth Roman gives a strong performances as his lover trying to keep him on track. The real scene stealer, and I’m sure anyone would agree with this, is Robert Walker. There’s something really sleazy about the way he plays Bruno and he becomes one of Hitchcock’s most memorable villains. The character of Bruno is pretty interesting. He’s not some dastardly guy who deserves any kind of revenge. He’s a spoiled, demented brat who just loves causing chaos. He’s dangerous because he will do whatever he has to to get what he wants, and Walker really nails it.

Like I said before, this movie provided Hitchcock with material to explore things that were forbidden in Hollywood, but of course the Master of Suspense is also pretty masterful with subtlety. For one thing, there’s a motif of doubles all throughout the movie. There’s two men part of the conspiracy, two bespectacled women in danger, two murders, and even two players on a tennis court. Hitchcock was very interested with the duality of humanity and the moral gray area that most certainly exists. There’s also a very clear homoerotic vibe coming from Bruno. Hitchcock made it clear in the movie and confirmed it later that Bruno was attracted to Guy in a homosexual kind of way. That was most certainly a big no-no in Hollywood, but it’s something that just makes the characters and movie deeper than it could have been.

Strangers on a Train doesn’t necessarily reach the heights of other Hitchcock films like Rear Window or Vertigo, but it is still an exceptional movie. There’s plenty of action, suspense, and menace to keep anyone entertained. Robert Walker completely steals the show as one of the most memorable villains I’ve seen in a long time, and Hitchcock’s subtle exploration of taboo themes adds an extra layer to enjoy. Strangers on a Train is objectively defined as a classic, and it has certainly earned that title.

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North by Northwest – Review

2 Nov

This certainly isn’t the first time that I’ve written about an Alfred Hitchcock movie, and I’m 100% sure that it won’t be the last. Hitchcock is known as the Master of Suspense, but is also one of the rare old film makers that was way ahead of the times that they were working in. Whether it’s the shower scene in Psycho, the attempted trickery of the long take in Rope, or the final showdown on Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest, the topic of this entire review. What I’m trying to say is that Hitchcock can be attributed to many of the iconic scenes in cinema, and his 1959 action thriller might in fact be the most iconic.

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Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is an advertising executive who is completely confident in himself and the life that he’s built. That confidence is shattered when he is kidnapped one day and brought before a foreign spy name Phillip Vandamm (James Mason), who accuses Thornhill of being an American agent who knows Vandamm’s secrets. After Thornhill is next mistakenly accused for the assassination of a UN official, a chase across the United States begins with both the federal government and Vandamm hot on his trail. Along the way, Thornhill meets Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), a beautiful woman who seems to want to help Roger clear his name, but also has motives not entirely clear.

After making Vertigo, the film that is widely considered to be Hitchcock’s best film, the Master of Suspense wanted to make a movie that wasn’t as dark as many of his other ones, prompting him to make this espionage thriller/romantic comedy. This film certainly is probably the most light hearted of Hitchcock’s most known films, but it is also one of his best, if not the best. While North by Northwest may be more light hearted and have a blockbuster sized budget, that doesn’t make this movie feel too foreign from Hitchcock’s other work. In between laughs and big actions sequences, this film is loaded with suspense, mystery, and shocking twists that would satisfy the most jaded espionage enthusiast.

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As with any Hitchcock movie you’ll see, the writing is one of the best parts of the entire film. Ernest Lehman, who also wrote films like West Side Story and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, writes a smart and funny film that succeeds in combining two genres that couldn’t be more different. Grant has some of the best lines in the film like when he explains how he’s “sensitive to questions” after being asked why he’s wearing sunglasses indoors. There’s also really funny scenes like when Grant gets himself arrested in an auction room that is surrounded by the enemy. It’s a very clever, suspenseful, yet funny way to get out of a situation. This film is a perfect collaboration between writer and director.

Finally, I have to talk about the actors. Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill may not be the easiest person to get along with, but we root for him the entire way. Grant owns the role and is only matched by Eva Marie Saint, who seems to be the only person who could defeat Thornhill in a battle of wits, which makes their scenes together so much fun. Finally, you gotta love James Mason as the villainous Vandamm. Every scene he’s in is slimy because he makes Vandamm so easy to despise with everything from his voice to his posture. Everyone really owns their roles.

North by Northwest is obviously one of Hitchcock’s best films, even though I can’t really say it’s my favorite since Rear Window proudly commands that spot. Still, it is definitely up there thanks to his expert direction, Lehman’s quick writing, and the way the actors all bring it to life onscreen. It’s an excellent combination of Cold War espionage, mystery, and a witty romantic comedy all written into one big blockbuster film. This is a film that anyone is guaranteed if they say that they enjoy movies.

Rope – Review

18 Jan

Alfred Hitchcock is one of the game changers of film. With each movie he makes, there seems to be something exciting brought to the table that seems so ahead of its time. In Vertigo, camera techniques bent our minds as much as the story. In Psycho, Hitchcock seemed to break all the rules that were maintained concerning what’s decent. With Rope, an interesting way of constructing a movie was seen through the long take. This wasn’t the first time it was seen, but it’s an impressive feat nonetheless.

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Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger) think they have gotten away with the perfect murder. They have strangled a friend of theirs, David Kentley (Dick Hogan), and hid him a chest in their living room. In order to prove their genius, they hold a party that same night, with the guests including two old friends, their old school house master Rupert Cadell (James Stewart), and David’s father (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) and aunt (Constance Collier). With the night going exactly as planned, they are surprised when Cadell begins suspecting the two are up to no good.

I was very impressed with this movie. For the entire hour and twenty minutes that the movie is on, there only seems to be a few cuts. There are actually more than that, but they are hidden using tricky camera effects to make it seem like the entire movie is happening in real time and the action continuous. This is a style that I really enjoy, with modern film makers like Alfonso Cuarón keeping it alive. A lot of the set was actually kept on wheels and tracks so that it could be silently moved around so as to not disturb the continuity of the camera.

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The performances in this movie are good, but really nothing to write home about compared to other Hitchcock films. James Stewart is the actor that really holds all of the scenes that he’s in higher than the rest, and when he first makes his entrance it is memorable and says a lot about his character. So while the actual line delivery isn’t always that impressive, the sheer amount of lines to be said in one take is a huge credit to the actors. Pages and pages of dialogue are used for one take, which must have been very difficult to do. The whole thing is very theatrical, which is appropriate since Rope is based off of a stage play.

After Hitchcock filmed Ropehe said he merely made it as an experiment. In that sense, would this be considered an experimental film? In some ways, yes, but it doesn’t always feel like one. There are times where I really do notice the technique, and it gets kind of distracting. James Stewart wasn’t a huge fan of this film, stating he felt that he was miscasted.

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While Rope is certainly not Hitchcock’s best work, I will say that it is under rated. The techniques implemented along with the skill of the actor’s are definitely noteworthy. It’s slow and often tedious, but that shouldn’t stop you from seeing Rope, especially if you’re a fan of Hitchcock and his suspenseful style.

Diabolique – Review

17 Dec

Let’s travel back to 1955. A time in film where new styles and techniques were on the cusp of emergence. For France, it is a period between the French poetic realism movement and before the French New Wave, which really took storm in the 1960s. Written and directed by Henri-Georges Cluzot, Diabolique is a psychological thriller in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest work with almost unbearable suspense, multiple twists and turns, and an ending designed to blow you right out of your chairs.

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Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) is not a nice man. He is cruel and punishing to both his wife,  Christina (Vera Cluzot), who is the headmaster of the school he works at, and his mistress, Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret). These two women are finally pushed to the limit by the controlling nature of Michel that they plot to murder him. There plan is soon carried out and the hide the body, but something strange quickly happens. The body disappears. The mystery and paranoia of the women grow as clues and suspicions begin to build in the school around them.

Diabolique is one of the best examples of films of old still being both important and shocking. Many people at the time considered this to be one of the most terrifying movies ever to be made. Now, the movie doesn’t seem very terrifying, but it is still shocking. By “shocking,” I mean that the suspense pushes viewers to the very edges of their seats with a conclusion that will never be forgotten. If the plot wasn’t paced like it was, in this slow and steady burn, than the climax and ending would be no where near as powerful as they are.

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From what I gather about Henri Cluzot is that his directing style was deliberate to the point of an obsession. This reminds me very much of my favorite film makers, Stanley Kubrick. The obsession of creating the absolute best movie that Cluzot could possibly be capable of making shows in the finished product. The camera movement is swift and precise which allows for longer takes rather than cutting whenever there’s a change in action or scenery. The cinematography is as deliberate as the camera work with high contrasts of darks and lights that seems more like it belongs in a film noir of the 1930s or 40s. This begs the question: Would you consider Diabolique noir?

Before I mentioned Hitchcock. The interesting thing is that Cluzot beat Hitchcock for the rights to make the novel that it was based on into a movie by only a couple of hours. I didn’t know this before I went into the movie and kept thinking to myself, “This really could be a Hitchcock film.” This doesn’t mean that all great psychological thrillers are made by Hitchcock, it’s just that the time it was released and the pacing all reminds me of the Master of Suspense. Hitchcock actually got the idea for his Psycho poster from the ending title of this movie which says not to spoil the movie for anyone, and also the theatre had to stop anyone from entering after the movie started.

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Diabolique is a classic that I don’t hear mentioned enough. It made Bravo’s list of the 100 Scariest Movie Moments at number 49, and I hear it briefly talked about in school, but that’s about it. This is an outstanding piece of film making that combines all it beautiful and bone chilling traits to make a brain teaser of epic proportions. Fans of Hitchcock, take delight in this, and film lovers everywhere must put this on their must see list.

Vertigo – Review

24 Aug

Alfred Hitchcock was never a director to shy away from controversial themes. In fact he seemed to be obsessed with controversy, which is clearly present in what many people call his masterpiece, Vertigo. Filled with haunting color design, intriguing set pieces, and memorable finger biting scenes, The Master of Suspense shows once again why he was given that title.

 

After a rooftop chase that ends in the death of an officer, John Ferguson (James Stewart) realizes his gripping acrophobia (fear of heights) which causes vertigo (dizziness and loss of balance). He decides to quit the force, but is roped back into another investigation by a friend from college who needs him to follow his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak), and report her suspicious activities. John soon begins to fall in love with her, and after a tragic event, this love turns into a deep rooted obsession.

Psycho featured graphic murder and Rear Window was a story about a peeping tom, both of which were new and controversial at the time. The themes of Vertigo make these last two films seem like child’s play. What is examined here is a strange necrophilic, psycho-sexual obsession that would make Stanley Kubrick as giddy as a school girl. This theme is never shoved down the viewer’s throat, however, and it is left up to them to decide how far they want to take the theme.

 

As a person who loves camera tricks, this movie is a treasure. There is a fantastic trick that is still used today. Remember that scene in Jaws when the little boy is attacked at the beach and the camera zooms in on Roy Schneider, while the background gets all distorted? You can thank Vertigo for that shot. This is now called a vertigo shot or a dolly zoom, but I prefer calling it a vertigo shot. This is done by having the camera on a dolly track out, while simultaneously zooming in. This was used to show John’s “vertigo.”

Here’s an example:

Another brilliant aspect of this movie is the lighting design. Lighting is not easy, especially when it is heavily stylized and must succeed at creating some type of surreal mood. One of the most famous scenes of Vertigo has Kim Novak stepping out of this eerie neon green light after making a strange transformation in order to please John. It’s haunting and memorable.

James Stewart steals the show with his almost trademarked nervous energy. His performance is totally genuine and I firmly believe that he was ahead of his time.  Kim Novak’s performance is pretty weak compared to his and she sometimes over acts her pretty little head off. Barbara Bel Geddes offers some great scenes, however, as Ferguson’s best friend.

 

While many people do say this is Hitchcock’s masterpiece, I’m still sticking with Rear Window as my favorite Hitchcock movie. Vertigo is still a classic that is filled with fantastic performances, groundbreaking visual design, and themes that are still shocking today. This is a movie that should be required viewing.