Tag Archive: Alfred Hitchcock


Are Snakes Necessary

Review by C.J. Bunce

The director of The Untouchables, Scarface, Carrie, and Mission: Impossible and writer/director of screenplays for more than a dozen noir thriller films including Body Double, Blow Out, Dressed to Kill, Obsession, and Femme Fatale has penned his first novel.  Along with former New York Times editor Susan Lehman, celebrated movie writer/director Brian De Palma delves into a story of intrigue behind a fictional 2016 senatorial campaign in the new political thriller Are Snakes Necessary? arriving in two weeks from Hard Case Crime.  The modern pulp noir follows intersecting characters in a smarmy world of cheating, lying, and murder, from Las Vegas to Washington to Paris.

A senator and his majordomo encounter a woman from the senator’s past at an airport, and the senator is eager to welcome her daughter as an intern to document his campaign.  Meanwhile, a struggling photographer gets mixed up with the trophy wife of a wealthy businessman in Las Vegas.  Two married couples–a cheating wife and a cheating husband–the wife a victim of spousal abuse seeking to get out, and a politician with a sick wife staking out his next conquest.  And somehow they all come together during a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, based more toward the underlying novel, which was set in France (I reviewed the novel a few weeks ago here at borg).

In a way Are Snakes Necessary? is De Palma taking a stab at doing his own play on Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski.  Fans of The Girl on the Train, Chinatown, State of Play, and the sleazier shelf of 1970s era pulp crime novels will go for this one, along with fans of De Palma’s films.  More about 20th century sexual politics than 21st century sexual politics and less about a political campaign, the snakes in the title are the men who continue to get away with manipulation, lies, and sometimes murder.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Acclaimed horror filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock′s first attempt at developing a film from the professional partnership of French writers Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac was for their 1952 novel She Was No More He got passed up, but he wouldn’t miss acquiring the rights to their next novel published in 1954–another murder mystery–called D’Entre Les Morts, translated as From Among the Dead, or The Living and the Dead.  H.G. Clouzot would direct She Was No More and release it as the film Diabolique, but Hitchcock would go on to be known best for his adaptation of their work–the film classic Vertigo, labeled for decades by critics as his masterpiece, and even the best movie ever made by anyone.  As readers will learn upon returning to the original Boileau and Marcejac novel, later renamed Sueurs froides or Cold Sweat (the French title of Hitchcock’s film), and finally Vertigo in light of the film’s success, screenplay writers Samuel A. Taylor and Alec Coppel significantly modified the novel for the screen.

The novel is a masterful, gritty look at five years in the life of a Frenchman in 1940 Paris, a lawyer traumatized by acrophobia and vertigo after watching a man die falling from a building, later suffering from depression and psychosis after a bundle of life experiences results in a sort of post traumatic stress disorder.  As the war comes closer, Flavières is asked by an old college friend to keep tabs on his wife, Madeleine, who he claims has developed a strange fixation on her dead great-grandmother who killed herself at Madeleine’s current age.  Flavières does as asked, but soon falls in love with Madeleine.  His love turns to obsession, which only gets worse as the story goes on, and he becomes a voyeur, and eventually controlling, possessive, and manipulative.  It would be nearly impossible for anyone to imagine actor James “Jimmy” Stewart playing the role of the novel’s protagonist Roger Flavières, so different from Stewart’s character in the film, Scottie Ferguson, a likeable San Francisco lawyer-turned cop.

Flavières follows Madeleine everywhere she goes.  As she sits and stares blankly at the gravestone of her great-grandmother, as she visits the dead woman’s apartment, as she drifts about the city in a trance state.  Is she possessed by her ancestor’s ghost?  This is the lingering question of the husband, of Flavières, and the mystery for the reader until the very end of the story.  While observing Madeleine from afar, Flavières watches her dive into the river Seine, and he rescues her, revealing himself, but not disclosing his work for her husband.  Her mysterious nature continues until he accompanies her to a church with a bell tower.  She runs up the steps, but his vertigo keeps him from following.  She screams, and falls to her death.  To this point–the midpoint of the novel–the movie is a close adaptation of the novel, except for the setting.  But the second half of the novel becomes a different journey for the protagonist than what the movie audience has seen.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Notorious isn’t just the name of an Alfred Hitchcock film, it describes the reputation of the acclaimed director over the course of his 55-year career.  Over the course of his films he would become famous for not only the blonde actresses in his films, but his misogynistic, voyeuristic, fetishism themes and content.  A precursor in many ways to Quentin Tarentino, Hitchcock nearly 40 years after his death is as popular as ever, with his film Vertigo still on many critics’ lists as the best American film of all time.  Those who view his films are left to wonder how much of the content of his films were the man, and how often was he simply selling what moviegoers were looking for–something new, something surprising, something stylish, and something shocking.  The flip side of Hitchcock viewed as provocateur is the fact that his films always featured a strong lead woman–sometimes from the opening scene and other times by film’s end–and the actress was often the only name marketed above the title, including some of the most fierce and compelling women characters ever filmed.

Scotland author Caroline Young takes a compelling look at the director and his relationship with the leading women in his films in her new book Hitchcock’s Heroines, a photograph-filled hardcover from Insight Editions.  Young, author of Roman Holiday: The Secret Life of Hollywood in Rome, Tartan & Tweed, and Style Tribes, sources interviews with the actors as well as interviews with Hitchcock to gain a better understanding of what motivated his work.  He spent the first half of his career–represented by the first half of the book–developing the style he would come to be known for by the time of his 1954 success Rear Window, culminating in his ideal production team: costume designer Edith Head, production designer Robert Burks, assistant director Herbert Coleman, and editor George Tomasini.  Hitchcock knew that most of his audience were women and believed that in the 1940s-1960s women usually determined what movie a couple was going to attend.  So the appearance of his leading women was as important, if not more important, than any other part of the film.  He also had an eye for using color and wardrobe as part of his storytelling tools, perhaps changing a character’s muted-toned costumes to striking and contrasting by film’s end to represent a character’s change in mood, strength, or growth.

Hitchcock’s Heroines is a superb source of costume sketches, costume designs, and production stills spanning Hitchcock’s directorial career.  Young includes with her discussions of each actress and corresponding character the costumes and costumers, which amounts to a history of Hollywood costume design artists, including Jean Peron, Dolly Tree, Joe Strassner, Marianne, Irene, Edward Stevenson, Vera West, Gilbert Adrian, René Hubert, Howard Greer, Edith Head, Christian Dior, Milo Anderson, Moss Mabry, Helen Rose, Harry Kress, Rita Riggs, Helen Colvig, and Julie Harris, although it was also not beyond Hitchcock to source his own vision from off-the-rack wardrobe from Western Costume Company or Bergdorf Goodman. Hair style and hair color is also a recurring theme Young pursues in the book.

Young references an interview from 1931 where Hitchcock discussed selecting actresses for roles: “The chief point I keep in mind when selecting my heroine is that she must be fashioned to please women rather than men, for the reason that women form three-quarters of the average cinema audience.  Therefore, no actress can be a good commercial proposition as a film heroine unless she pleases her own sex.”  It is noteworthy that Hitchcock was not always responsible for who starred in his films–Young cites instances where studio head David O. Selznick directly cast Hitchcock’s leading actors.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The ideas and situations in Steven Savile’s new novel Glass Town could hardly be more enticing:  In 1922 Alfred Hitchcock began, but did not finish, a film called Number 13. One of the sought-after lost films of Hitchcock, little is known but some film stills and production information, leaving an opening to take the film as a linchpin for a noir mystery.  Savile takes that film and several fascinating ideas and blends them into what becomes a horror story that incorporates compelling visuals from many possible sources: Dead Again, Laura, Vertigo, Portrait of Jennie, Hugo, The Illusionist, The Prestige, and even an element of Tron.  The story doesn’t quite live up to all its antecedents, but it provides some interesting concepts for genre readers willing to dabble in a story full of sex, violence, and grotesque horror along the way.

The grand ideas ultimately are in need of a more refined and pared down plot and possibly a more compelling lead character–Josh is a descendant of a line of men who spent their lives infatuated with a lost actress who appeared in the Number 13.  On Josh’s grandfather’s death he is reeled into a world of his own family connections and a history that he learns about and shares with us along the way as he, too, becomes infatuated with the missing actress and the interworkings of his family, tied into a well-known crime lord.  But we never learn much about Josh and why we should care about him.  Early London cinema and 1990s London don’t quite come through visibly, and the lack of more detailed world building results in a story that could be about a Boston or Chicago or Irish mob family as opposed to the familiar Victorian London of so many classic Gothic novels.  We encounter many bleak and unsavory characters and over-the-top situations–the kind of grotesque fantasy of a Clive Barker movie instead of what could have been a more accessible mainstream mystery interweaving the aura of magicians, the historical authority you might find in a Connie Willis novel, or the command of the details of early film technologies you might find in a Kim Newman story.

The only known image from the making of Alfred Hitchcock’s lost film titled Number 13.

Yet many great ideas come into play.  Josh uncovers and meets a lost and long-dead magician who was able to pull off the ultimate spectacle–hiding an entire town in a glass lens.  An evil ancestor of Josh used the magician to trap the actress he was so fascinated with in this world, a world where a day in this Glass Town can equal a week in the real world.  The story’s bad guy can even manipulate characters within the films of the silent era to do his bad deeds in our world, and we first meet the famed actress as a ghost as she attempts to find a secret talisman of glass in Josh’s home.  Much of the imagery is excellent–a walking and moving actress straight from the beginnings of filmmaking appearing in your living room, incorporating the flickering image of old film as she moves about.

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If you could only study one filmmaker for the rest of your life you could hardly select anyone with a better catalog of films than Sir Alfred Hitchcock.  Known as the master of suspense, his broad range of films encompass much more.  Next month Turner Classic Movies is delving deep into the works of Hitchcock as it presents TCM Spotlight: 50 years of Hitchcock, exploring 44 of the films he directed.

You already know his most popular films: Psycho, Rear Window, Vertigo, The Birds, Strangers on a Train, The Man Who Knew Too Much, North by Northwest, Rope, Dial “M” for Murder, To Catch a Thief, Rebecca, The Birds, The Paradine Case, Lifeboat, The Wrong Man, The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Jamaica Inn, and Shadow of a Doubt.  But have you seen The Ring, Foreign Correspondent, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Blackmail, Murder! (aka Mary), The Skin Game, Saboteur, Suspicion, Stage Fright, Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy, and Family Plot?  TCM is airing all of these, and more.

   

TCM isn’t leaving much out.  But you’ll need to track down eight of the earliest of Hitchcock’s works on your own: His directorial debut The Pleasure Garden (1925), the Jack the Ripper inspired The Lodger from 1927, the 1928 romance Easy Virtue, the Irish civil war story Juno and the Paycock (1930), the 1930 musical Elstree Calling, the musical Waltzes from Vienna (1934), the Peter Lorre/John Gielgud mistaken identity film Secret Agent (1936), and the 1937 crime thriller Young and Innocent.  The line-up also does not include the 1949 Ingrid Bergman/Joseph Cotton historical thriller Under Capricorn and the 1955 Cary Grant/Grace Kelly hit To Catch a Thief.  Hitchcock directed another full-length film, the 1926 film The Mountain Eagle–a lost film considered by many to be the most sought after missing film of all time. 

And TCM isn’t going to stop with only a screening of 44 of Hitchcock’s films.

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North by Northwest–With such incredible suspense thrillers like Rear Window, Vertigo, The Birds, Rebecca, Dial M for Murder, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock’s classic North by Northwest sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.  But what a great action film, and what an iconic role for Cary Grant.  He plays an advertising executive mistaken for a spy, being chased cross country to a brilliant action sequence battle on the face of Mt. Rushmore.

With the suave Cary Grant is the elegant Eva Marie Saint, plus James Mason portrays another of his own trademark villains.  It’s a must see, and even better on the big screen.

Nominated for three Academy Awards, including one for screenwriter Ernest Lehman, North by Northwest is returning to theaters next month as the next retrospective screening from the theater buff’s favorite team-up, Turner Classic Movies and the Fathom Event series.

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princess-bride

The National Film Registry has grown to include 700 films this year with the addition this week of 25 films.  In accordance with the National Film Preservation Act, a film is eligible to be preserved under the registry if it is at least a decade old and recognized in the National Film Preservation Board’s view as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”  The Librarian of Congress makes the final determination, considering public nominations in the analysis.

The new list includes Rob Reiner’s adaptation of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, possibly the most beloved of all live-action fantasy films.  The Howard Hawks/Billy Wilder classic, Snow White-inspired comedy Ball of Fire, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper also made the cut.  Robert Zemeckis’s live action/animated caper Who Framed Roger Rabbit is on this list, along with the John Hughes coming of age film The Breakfast Club. 

the-birds

Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds increases the famous director’s horror film count on the preservation list along with the likes of Rear Window, North by Northwest, Vertigo, and Psycho.  And Elia Kazan’s adaptation of John Steinbeck’s coming of age story East of Eden, starring James Dean, joins the list.  Now all three of the films Dean is known for are on the list, adding to prior registry films Rebel Without a Cause and Giant.

Below is the full list of films named to the registry for 2016:

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Psycho 1960 poster

Reservations for the Bates Motel await you at your local theater later this month.

Mother would be pleased.

Turner Classic Movies is teaming up again with Universal Pictures Home Entertainment and Fathom Events to bring a film classic back to theaters for a limited screening.  This time it’s Alfred Hitchcock’s black and white classic thriller Psycho, which first shocked audiences 55 years ago.  It’s back, but for only two days.

We all go a little mad sometimes.

original Psycho schlock poster

TCM host Ben Mankiewicz will introduce the show with a brief short about the movie, which will air at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. local time Sunday, September 20, 2015, and Wednesday, September 23, 2015.

Here’s a preview of the event:

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Stewart camera Rear Window

Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the first classic movies restored using a state of the art Technicolor dye-transfer process, the restoration of Alfred Hitchcock’s most stylish and suspenseful film, Rear Window, provided 1990s audiences a presentation of the film better than it was originally seen upon its initial release in 1954.  That version was back on the big screen this week, thanks to Turner Classic Movies and the Fathom Events series.  Inspired by a Cornell Woolrich short story about voyeurism and murder, Hitch’s classic piece of cinema still holds up, keeping a 2015 audience completely engaged with his unique use of humor juxtaposed with some pretty grisly circumstances.

Anchored by top performances from Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly, and just as superb supporting performances by Thelma Ritter and Wendell Corey, Rear Window is as atmospheric as any film of its decade.  Hitchcock filmed primarily in the muted brown tones of a sweltering urban summer, but he used targeted deep reds to highlight key imagery: the mercury of a wall thermometer, a bright and significant bed of flowers, a perfect lobster dinner, crisp uneaten bacon, and a certain fashionable socialite’s lipstick in her opening scene.  And yet, unlike Hitchcock’s The Birds or Psycho, the red of blood–and any gore at all–is kept off-stage.  He didn’t need it.  The suspense builds for two hours and even after 60 years, the payoff–and especially what we can’t see–is still able to transfix audiences with nail-biting action.

Stewart Kelly Rear Window scene

Highly memorable is the music–a soaring clarinet rises up above Franz Waxman’s jazz score from the film’s first scene, reflecting the liveliness of the block, the active and important parts of all the lives visible from the rear window of Stewart’s L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries, a war photographer laid up with a broken leg.  Waxman’s stylish music propels the story forward despite Jeff’s claustrophobic, trapped circumstance.  Love themes, like Bing Crosby’s “To See You is to Love You” and “Many Dreams Ago” reflect the seemingly hopeless plight of Miss Lonelyhearts–a single woman longing to find love who is attacked and then plans to commit suicide.  Waxman’s own song “Lisa” takes on its own life, composed over the course of the film by a piano player across the courtyard, to get noticed by Miss Lonelyhearts, and be picked up as the love theme for Jeff and Grace Kelly’s character, Jeff’s girlfriend Lisa Fremont.  And to relieve the tension at story’s end, a rousing accordion plays “That’s Amore” to the curtain.

Rear Window Stewart Corey

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rear window fathom

It’s Alfred Hitchcock’s most suspenseful film, his most engaging and atmospheric, and it features top lead actors with stars Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly.  It’s his 1954 blockbuster Rear Window, and if you haven’t seen it on the big screen then you haven’t seen it at all.

Tomorrow, March 22, 2015, and Wednesday, March 25, 2015, as part of the Fathom Event series, theaters across the country will screen the restored cut of the film.  Presented by Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, the film will be introduced by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz.

It’s a steamy, sultry summer, and L.B. Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) is a war photographer bedridden from an injury to his leg.  He’s being taken care of by nurse Stella, played by Thelma Ritter, and is constantly being prodded for his affections by the beautiful fashion model Lisa Fremont, played by Grace Kelly.  Jeffries’ apartment overlooks a courtyard and the back sides of other apartments, and as Jeffries gets more and more bored he begins following the goings-on out his rear window.  Newlyweds, a musician, an unhappy couple, an older couple, a dancer, a lonely woman.

Grace Kelly Jimmy Stewart

Is the heat getting to Jeffries, or could one of these tenants have committed a murder across the way?

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