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Week 30: 'Spellbound' [1945]
Source: DVD, Criterion edition

Young and lovely Ingrid Bergman plays Constance, a bookish shrink in what is credited to be film's first major foray into psychoanalysis. The head of the mental institution in which she works (Hitchcock alum Leo G Carroll) is moving on (or more likely being pushed out), to be replaced by a Dr. Anthony Edwards, played by an inconsistent Gregory Peck. When Edwards starts to show signs of 'stress', Constance digs a little deeper to discover that not is all as it seems...

It's difficult to write about this film without spoiling some elements of it, but I shall try my best. To start with the positive, Bergman is wonderful in this, despite the stereotypical character she is forced to play. She is a single female in an environment dominated by men, so of course she is subject to sexual harassment, rampant mansplaining and deemed either emotionally cold or hysterical. (Early on one of her clients calls her a 'frozen puss', it sounded like.) Peck seems more at ease when playing the romantic lead, but is a little hammy during his 'mental stress' periods. The story moves at a good pace, giving you glimpses of what may lie ahead but still succeeding in pulling off more than one twist. Some of the deductions Constance makes towards the end, based on an character's dream, are nonsensical but no more so than Hitchcock has used before.

There are some excellent shots employed here, notably some effective close-ups - a razor blade, a revolver in a hand and a POV shot through a drinking glass, utilising an old trick from his silent days. Salvador Dali designed the dream sequence, which is as trippy as you would expect. As a serious look at mental illness, this film falls way short, of course, but it is highly entertaining nonetheless. 

I borrowed the Criterion Edition DVD from my local library. It looked quite grainy, but not distractingly so, and there were some minor signs of film wear.
Again by coincidence I just watched 'Spellbound' for my own 1001 thing:

You are right about the deductions at the end being nonsensical but according to wikipedia the dream sequence was supposed to be up to 20-minutes long but Selznick had it slashed, so it might not be Hitch's fault.
BONUS: 'German Concentration Camps Factual Survey' [1945]
Source: YouTube [streaming]

Hitchcock is listed as 'Treatment Adviser' for this harrowing documentary, started in 1945 and left unfinished until recently. Within the first 10 minutes, I wasn't sure whether I was going to be able to sit through the full 75 minutes, but I did. I can't say I'm 'glad' I did, as it is painful to watch, but it is also arguably one of the most important films that Hitchcock worked on. 

The documentary consists of contemporary footage of the liberation of various concentration camps at the end of the Second World War. The horror is starkly displayed, Belsen being the most graphic. Former SS guards and female volunteers (the fact that there were women who volunteered to work at these camps was a startling revelation to me) were enlisted to dispose of the mountain of corpses in massive common graves. Their naked emaciated bodies are dragged and thrown around with no more emotion on view than if they were bags of vegetables. Later, local politicians and villagers (including children) are paraded past the rotting victims to show them what they had willingly turned a blind eye to.

Ultimately, the film was never finished and deemed unnecessary as post-war policies changed. Instead of subjecting the German people to more guilt, and because the expected pro-Nazi uprising never occurred, it was decided instead to work with the ruined nation and help them heal and rebuild.

The script, newly narrated, was left unchanged from 1945 and so incorporates inaccuracies that the producers discuss in the prologue and epilogue. Even so, it is an unflinching look at one of the bleakest periods of human history. Uncomfortable, yes, but essential.
Week 31: 'Notorious' [1946]
Source: Criterion DVD

Grant! Bergman! Hitchcock! Can we possibly go wrong? No, of course not, especially with a story involving Nazi traitors, double agents, a love triangle and Claude Rains to boot.

Bergman plays Alicia, a half-German party girl and daughter of a recently convicted traitor. She is enlisted by Devlin (Grant), a government agent, to go undercover and find out all she can about the mysterious Alexander Sebastian (Rains), suspected of plotting against the Allies. Things go awry as both her relationship with Devlin and Sebastian go further than any of them expected.

This is a real treat. Bergman is again wonderful under Hitch's direction, showing a conflicting nature between love for her country, for Devlin and the change from the selfish hedonist she was seen to be. Grant, too, plays it cool - actually cold - as the character requires, with his own internal struggles. Rains, though, is fantastic - jealous, subservient to his overbearing mother, weak and pathetic in the face of being found out by his peers.

Hitchcock shows great skill in again weaving a semi-ludicrous story into something real and believable with some great shots. Grant is introduced in shadow and silence from the back, then later in a hungover POV shot, askew and finally upside-down. Hitchcock brings tension into the smallest details - diminishing champagne bottles in an icebox; the kissing of someone's hands and, in a long close-up reminiscent of the one in 'Young and Innocent', a key in Bergman's hand. The ending, so simple and understated, is perfect. The line, "Alex, will you come in please? I wish to talk to you" says so much in context that it sends a chill up your spine.

I watched the Criterion DVD, borrowed from my local library, and found it similar to 'Spellbound'. Some scenes showed lines and tears, but mostly it was very good.
BONUS: 'Notorious' [1992]
Source: YouTube [streaming]

Filed under 'Why did they bother?' is this 1992 TV movie remake of Hitchcock's 'Notorious', utilising the same screenplay. Jenny Robertson (looking like Gillian Anderson's younger sister) is Alicia and John Shea ('Lois & Clark's' Lex Luthor) is Devlin. Neither fill the giant shoes of the originals, of course, though Robertson gets to play more sexily than the 1940s would have allowed.

The plot rarely veers from the original, though the setting is moved to Paris rather than Rio, and now we're hunting Commies not Nazis. In another nod to more modern times, it's Devlin who gets slapped around in the car early on, not Alicia and, like the remake of 'Suspicion', the film decides to crowbar Hitchcock into it. (A montage of the new couple roaming Paris finds them outside a cinema showing 'Rebecca', with the requisite Hitchcock lifesize cut-out out front. Hilarious.) Jean-Pierre Cassel as Sebastian is too old to have an overbearing mother in this version, so he's saddled with a meddling sister instead. And the MacGuffin turns out to be ingredients for some kind of 'chemical warfare', but who cares by this stage?

The director attempts to recreate the zooming close-up of the key in Alicia's hand and fails, but otherwise it's your average TV movie stuff. It's not terrible, as the premise remains basically the same, but again, it doesn't offer any 'raison d'etre', as they say in Hitchcock remakes in Paris.

It's been uploaded in parts to YouTube, obviously from an old VHS copy, if you're really keen on checking this out. Good luck to you.
Week 32: 'The Paradine Case' [1948]
Source: Blu-ray

Full disclosure: I love courtroom dramas. I grew up watching 'Petrocelli' on TV and at one point as a child wanted to be a barrister, until I realised it was probably a lot of hard work. So my thoughts on Hitchcock's 'The Paradine Case' seem to be the outlier, from other reviews I've read.

Mrs. Paradine (Italian actress Alida Valli) is accused of poisoning her blind husband. Anthony Keane (Gregory Peck, artificially aged with greying hair) is her defense lawyer, who quickly (very quickly, actually) becomes infatuated with her. His methods to ensure she is found innocent threaten to sabotage his relationship with his client, his wife and even his career.

For the first half of this film, we are solidly in melodrama territory. It is all rather overwrought, with excessive hand-wringing as relationships are either developed or strained. Peck is better here than in Hitchcock's 'Spellbound', but apart from the fact that the widowed Mrs. Paradine is absolutely stunning, there is nothing in their working relationship to suggest why he is seemingly willing to go so far out on a limb for her. Valli is ice cold in this, more like a beautiful statue than a living human being you would warm to. A little more nuance would have helped both her character and the story. Charles Laughton appears in his second Hitchcock picture as a overbearing lech of a judge and shamelessly steals every scene he's in.

Hitchcock doesn't have much to work with here. A number of scenes are shot at a slightly lower angle, showing off ornate ceilings in the sets, and there is a visually appealing tracking shot when the deceased's valet (French actor Louis Jourdan) enters the courtroom behind the accused wife. Still, I found the second half of the film, when the court is in session, to be rather good. The back-and-forth's between the defense, the prosecution (Leo G Carroll again) and the judge are well-paced, -scripted and -acted although the ending is a tad clunky. It's not the thrill-a-minute with incredible set-pieces that Hitchcock was so good at by this time, but it's a solid courtroom drama, nonetheless.

I watched the Kino Lorber blu-ray. There is a short video highlighting the restoration process in the bonuses, which suggests how much better this version is. Prior to seeing that, I thought the video looked mostly good, though dark scenes were 'clumpy', but it's definitely an upgrade from what it could have been. mention a persistent hiss that I didn't notice in the sound.
Week 33: 'Rope' [1948]
Source: Blu-ray

After 33 weeks of this chronological Hitchcock project, I have finally reached a film that I can definitively state that I have seen before. I used to own a book as a child on famous murders (I was that kind of kid) and remember reading about the Leopold & Loeb case. In the pre-internet age, I somehow discovered that there was a famous film based loosely on the real-life crime, and sometime after that watched it on TV. I've re-watched it since then, but more so for the film technique involved rather than the story itself.

Two rich kids strangle a former classmate to demonstrate their superiority. To add arrogance and drama to their gruesome crime, they hold a dinner party for the victim's friends and family, whilst his body is going cold in the chest on which the buffet has been laid. Their former teacher, from whom their superiority ideas sprung, is invited to attend and begins to suspect that the party holds a more grisly motive.

This film is known mostly for two reasons - that it was based on the true-life Leopold & Loeb crime, and that it was filmed in a succession of long takes (up to 10 minutes at a time). It was also Hitchcock's first colour film, and his first collaboration with James Stewart, but in cinematic terms, the 'long take' angle is the most obvious and interesting. Hitchcock was no stranger to filming stage plays in his career (see 'Juno and the Paycock') and so it is perhaps not surprising that he decided to add a further intriguing element to what could have been a more static affair. Although both Hitchcock and Stewart were both rather dismissive of the film later, I find that, even with its flaws, it holds up well.

Limited to 4 rooms, and only utilising 2 fully (the living room and the hall), the film feels very much like a play. Even with a slowly-changing backdrop of New York, it feels artificial. Still, Hitchcock deftly moves the camera around, through walls that must have been pulled back and replaced quickly and precisely. Technically, it's masterful. (Watch as he uses the swinging kitchen door to great effect to show the murder weapon being coolly dropped into a drawer.) Stewart is introduced without fanfare, showing up stage-left as the camera slowly pans out. As voices off-screen wonder what might have happened to the missing other guest, we see the maid clear away the chest, from background to foreground, wondering ourselves whether she will open it and discover the truth. These small flourishes help to keep the film interesting after the novelty of the long takes begins to wear off.

The script drops many little common words and phrases about death to great effect, and the acting, in the most part, is excellent. John Dall as Brandon is particularly good as the instigator of both the murder and the party, manipulating both his accomplice/lover and the party guests. Stewart is believable as the intellectual who slowly pieces the jigsaw together, although his final monologue is overdone, I'd argue.

This films works better as an experiment in film-making rather than a solid thriller, but it's worthy of anyone's time, nonetheless. I watched the blu-ray from Hitchcock's Masterpiece Collection and was not disappointed.
Rope (1948)

Although I’m familiar with many of Hitchcock’s most famous works, Rope is one I’ve never gotten around to watching - in fact, until last night I knew very little about it, outside of it starring James Stewart and taking place in a single location. 

Verdict? I loved it. In all honesty, it hooked me from beginning to end and I could easily consider this for my top 5 favourite Hitchcock films. Technically, it’s undeniably brilliant. The illusion of the entire film being one continual shot is probably most notable, but there's much more than that to rave about.

The film starts with a bang as we witness two men brutally strangle thier old school-chum David and dump his body inside a wooden chest. After the act the character of each of our killers is made plain to us simply by the looks on their faces. One, Brandon, calmly lights a cigarette with a smile on his face, the other, Philip, leans forward staring out into space, clearly traumatised by the act.
If this was simply one of Hitchcock’s spy thrillers then this scene would be so much easier to process. Unfortunately, the death is not one of occupational hazard, but one committed purely for the thrill of it - an experiment. This viewer revelation  is a horrifying one, and is further exacerbated when the container for the body is adorned for use as a buffet, the plan being to host a party there that evening and dispose of the body after dark once everyone has left. Attending the party, of course, are friends and family of the deceased, along with their old tutor, Rupert, played by James Stewart.

As soon as the guests start arriving and conversations take place we start to notice lots of “appropriate” (or inappropriate?) phrases and remarks being dropped here and there, some perhaps intentionally by the overenthusiastic Brandon, but also by other members of the party: 

“It isn’t somebody’s birthday is it?” “Almost quite the opposite...”
“I’m to be locked up”
“I hope you knock them dead”
“I could really strangle you…”

Surprisingly, none of these feel forced or on the nose and are in fact fairly normal things to hear in conversation, and yet they stick out to us like a sore thumb because of the evening’s morbid context – namely, that David’s corpse is right under everybody’s nose. Indeed, the presence of the body is felt throughout the film even though we don’t see it, thanks to Hitchcock’s masterful directing and constant visual use of the rope (murder weapon) and chest (hiding place). In some ways, Philip feels like a representative of how the audience feels – we feel his guilt, his horror - whatever stops his heart, stops ours. Although Brandon is equally aware of the true circumstances, his reaction and demeanour are chillingly inhuman and therefore unrelatable.

Jimmy Stewart is excellent as the old tutor “Rupert” and his slow uncovering of the mystery is very believable. There is a scene in which the camera rests solely on the chest as we listen to the sound of Rupert asking questions. As our ears hear him prying, our eyes witness the chest gradually being cleared of items, finally culminating in the near discovery of the body… 

Another scene I found particularly affecting is when Rupert prepares to leave and is passed the wrong hat; the camera briefly passes over David’s initials within before panning up to show us Rupert’s expression. His fear of his suspicions being confirmed painfully apparent. 

One of my favourite scenes though, has to be when Rupert is interrogating Philip as he plays the piano. As the scene plays out, Philip reflects the undulating tension through his playing, the speed steadily increasing/decreasing and the notes wavering between jolly melody and aggressive dissonance. The entire thing is done with such rhythm and perfection that one could almost mistake Philip for consciously scoring a scene from a play, and it is one of the many elements that contributes to the films stage-like atmosphere.

Of course, the story was initially adapted from a play - the original also does not show the murder. This was also the case with the original film script, the plan being to leave it as an ambiguous element, leaving the audience as uncertain of the truth as Jimmy Stewart’s character. 
Although I felt that seeing the murder right at the start created an incredibly unique tension throughout, I can’t help but wonder how different the film might have been had the murder scene been omitted as planned...

I also watched the masterpiece collection version and both picture and audio were very good. Although, I noticed oranges and reds to be a bit dominant in a sort of “the tube is broken on my  TV” kinda way. Apparently, this was Hitchcock’s first film shot in colour and he found himself reshooting much of it because the hues weren’t coming out right. Maybe that’s what I’m seeing? - or maybe there’s just something wrong with my TV... (or maybe its just me Big Grin)
Week 34: 'Under Capricorn' [1949]
Source: Blu-ray

'Under Capricorn', another one of the few period dramas Hitchcock attempted, is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it is beautifully shot with lavish sets and sweeping camerawork. On the other (much larger) hand, it is deathly dull.

Charles Adare (Michael Wilding) arrives in 19th Century Australia and becomes involved with the Flusky family. Sam Flusky (Joseph Cotton) is an ex-con-made-good - wealthy yet still shunned and mistrusted by the community - and his wife is the nervous and alcoholic Lady Henrietta (Ingrid Bergman). In trying to help Henrietta, Charles falls for her, uncovering secrets that could destroy the family and Henrietta herself.

Fresh off the long-take experiment of 'Rope', Hitch employs the same technique here, not always successfully. I found the long takes here much more distracting - I was looking for them, acknowledging them, in some instances marveling at them, and paying less attention to the film as a whole. Later on, as the film dragged on (and on. And on...) the long takes were the only thing that kept me interested, to be honest. The camerawork is more ambitious here than 'Rope', flowing through multiple rooms, swirling around the actors, sweeping back again - it really is incredible to watch. If only the story was as interesting.

This is very much a melodrama, very character-driven with little plot. And slow. So slow. (Bergman herself doesn't appear until 25 minutes into the film.) The acting is very good, overall. Michael Wilding as Adare is sufficiently chipper and cocky, and Cecil Parker, as the new Governor, is hardly stretched in his role (he has played similar characters in numerous other films) but nevertheless is a stand-out. Joseph Cotton is wooden, but maybe purposely so. Bergman, however, is incredible. She effortlessly portrays a woman lost in a new world, lurching from sobriety to relapse, barely in control of her sanity. The film would be unwatchable without her.

As well as the obvious 'Rope' comparison, there is a hint of 'Rebecca' in the character of Milly, the housekeeper - a watered down Mrs. Danvers. Unfortunately, the film is not as good as the sum of its parts. Unless, like me, you wish to see every Hitchcock film available, I cannot recommend it.

I watched the new Kino Lorber blu-ray, and have the Image Entertainment DVD as a comparison. The blu-ray is, unsurprisingly, far superior. It is crisp and the colours 'pop' a little more (the DVD is washed out), although there is some 'bleeding' around edges. It is not flawless, but there has been a good attempt to rid the film of it's specks and tears, so noticeable on the DVD. The hiss, evident on the DVD, is gone to my ears (albeit not's).
Week 35: 'Stage Fright' [1950]
Source: Vudu [streaming]

I'm glad I didn't read the synopsis of this film in the book 'A Year of Hitchcock: 52 Weeks with the Master of Suspense' by Jim McDevitt and Eric San Juan, as I usually do, as it stupidly reveals the twist. Anyway, following 2 colour films with long takes, Hitchcock returns somewhat to his roots with a simple meat-and-potatoes, black-and-white thriller. The cuckold husband of Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich) has been murdered - or was he accidentally killed? Her lover, Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd) is suspected, and goes on the run with help from his old friend and secret admirer Eve Gill (Jane Wyman). She delves further into the mystery as more clues emerge, but as she begins to fall for the detective assigned to the case, her loyalty to the accused is severely tested...

This film seems out of time, chronologically. It is a very British thriller, not only in locations but in the well-known British character actors that show up in leading, supporting and walk-on roles (Alastair Sim, Joyce Grenfell, Alfie Bass, Irene Handl). Several themes from earlier films emerge here, such as the damsel-accused-detective love triangle, and the backstage theatre settings. There's little in the way of flourish in the direction, although Jonathan's flashback entrance to the scene of the crime is skillfully done, with sets that melt away as the camera pans in - a technique Hitchcock had mastered in his two previous films.

Plot-wise, the story gets a tad confusing and drags a little in the middle, but some of the performances make up for that. Dietrich is like a slightly more stable, less pathetic version of Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond from 'Sunset Boulevard' (also 1950), but the awards for Having The Most Fun In The Film go to Alastair Sim as Wyman's father and Joyce Grenfell in a cameo. Sim is perfectly sarcastic, amused and level-headed as each new situation arises, and his scene with Grenfell is genuinely funny. (This was also the first Hitchcock film to feature his daughter, as the rudely-named Chubby!)

'Stage Fright' is an entertaining way to spend a little under two hours, and has an interesting (albeit underhanded) twist. Having a $3 credit to use up, I rented this from the streaming service Vudu in HDX, they claim. It was an inconsistent experience, with some sections looking great while others were abysmal. No noticeable restoration has been done, and the ending is marred by a jagged white vertical line through the middle of the frame. Still, it was definitely watchable nonetheless.
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