Tag Archive: Dial “M” for Murder


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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Grave Descend Hard Case cover

Reviewed by C.J. Bunce

Grave Descend was penned in 1970, the penultimate novel Michael Crichton wrote under the pseudonym John Lange back in his med school days, re-released thanks to Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime series after years out of print.  We previously reviewed his Scratch One and Zero Cool here at borg.com.  Before the days of stories centered on a group of disparate scientists thrown together to solve an impossible and often unbelievable problem, Crichton tried his hand at adventure novels that borrow more from Ian Fleming than science fiction.

In Mad Men fashion his work included the arrogance and womanizing of pulp novels of the day, and early Crichton protagonists were often American wannabe James Bonds.  His leads are not spies but experts in something, for example lawyer Roger Carr in Scratch One and radiologist Peter Ross in Zero Cool, each dropped into an adventure they didn’t ask for, Carr mistaken for a spy and Ross forced to violate his ethics in a strange way.  In Grave Descend we catch up with Jim McGregor, a deep-sea diver hired to retrieve objects from a multi-million dollar yacht sunken off the coast of Jamaica.  But he quickly notices oddities related to his new project and the man who hired him.

pulp Grave Descend

Here Crichton returns to a setting of Fleming’s expertise, that Caribbean island that Bond frequents in several novels, including Casino Royale and Doctor No, also reviewed here previously.  Like Fleming, Crichton presents a realistic Jamaica, from its denizens kicking back Red Stripe beer to its seemingly never-changing, sharply divided social strata, to its sand to forest variety of natural landscapes.

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A missed opportunity across the country is the failure to establish a regular, ongoing market for old movies being shown on modern theater screens.  Only recently (OK, the late 1990s so not that recently) mass audiences were able to go back and see the original Star Wars trilogy in the theater and in the past year we were able to see more recent, but still years old, films in the theater well after their initial release, including The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Avengers films, and the Batman franchise.  But for decades now “art house” theaters from time to time get old releases and screen these old films for a few weeks at a time.  Usually the quality is poor, yet it gives new audiences as well as the older crowd that saw the films in their initial release an opportunity to discover or enjoy the films again.

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