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Tag Archive: The Man Who Knew Too Much


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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Cruise in Jack Reacher

Tom Cruise.  No matter the character, no matter the story, no matter the director, he just can’t make a bad movie.  Last year’s release, Jack Reacher, available now on Netflix streaming and DVD and Blu-ray, is another home run.  But for the lackluster title and so-so marketing effort, Jack Reacher might have been a really big hit last year.  Cruise turns in a solid performance again, similar to his high-calibre lead acting in last year’s sci-fi release Oblivion, reviewed here at borg.com.  Later this year the 51-year-old screen legend is back again, in another sci-fi release, Edge of Tomorrow, with co-star Emily Blunt.

Jack Reacher, odd name aside, could be one of those heroes you compare to Harry Callahan, Frank Bullitt, or a Daniel Craig-era James Bond.  The character is that good, as is Cruise’s fit into the role of a smart and tough drifter who turns to the aid of a comatose defendant and his struggling defense attorney in the case of a shocking, random mass shooting.  Cruise’s drifter is also ex-military, the kind of ex-military that can take on a group of thugs by himself, and take part in a big-screen shoot-‘em up.  We see Reacher learning and growing as he tries to make all the right moves–and get constantly set back–throughout the movie, not something many films give audiences much of these days.  He thinks like a lawyer or detective and does so believably, and Cruise taps into his work in The Firm or A Few Good Men, making Reacher a good follow-on for fans of those films.

Duvall and Cruise in Jack Reacher

As Reacher attempts to find the top gunman at a rifle range, we find Robert Duvall in another great role similar to his work in A Civil Action, this time as a craggy expert with a rifle.  Along the way we meet several villains, including one played by A Good Day to Die Hard’s Jai Courtney, but far and away the most intriguing is writer/director/producer Werner Herzog as what could be a Bond villain as “Zec”.  Creepy.  Vile.  Evil.  He gives a pawn who screwed-up a choice: death, or chew off his own fingers.  Yikes.  Rosamund Pike (Surrogates, Pride and Prejudice) excels as the defense attorney in several scenes with the opportunity to convey a wide range of emotions for a single film–and cinematography by (Zooey and Emily’s dad) Caleb Deschanel (The Right Stuff, The Natural, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, National Treasure), gives her plenty of well-timed, stare-into-the-camera close-ups.

Rosamund Pike in Jack Reacher

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