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Catching up on a few reviews:

Week 36: 'Strangers on a Train' [1950]
Source: Amazon Video [streaming]

During the course of this yearlong project, I keep coming across films that are so good that I find it difficult to believe I've never seen them before. Add 'Strangers on a Train' to that list.

As the title suggests, two strangers - Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) - meet on a train. Guy is an up-and-coming tennis player; Bruno is an overly friendly playboy type. Bruno has a proposition to get them both out of unhappy relationships - swap murders. Bruno will kill Guy's wife, who is pregnant with another man's child yet refusing a divorce, while Guy kills Bruno's father.  The perfect crime! When Bruno follows through with his half of the plan, Guy finds himself unwittingly embroiled in the insane scheme.

Based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, the plot is a simple one, without the usual convoluted Hitchcockian twists and red herrings. Familiar faces crop up once more - Farley Granger (less effective, I thought, than in 'Rope'), Leo G Carroll and, in a more substantive role, Hitchcock's daughter Patricia. The film, though, belongs to Robert Walker who stands shoulder to shoulder with Anthony Perkins as a great Hitchcock villain. Menacing, charming, stoic, unhinged - he is perfect in each scene, subtle and understated when it would have been so easy to overact.

There are so many great flourishes in direction that I'll only highlight the most obvious. We are introduced to the main characters by only their footwear and gait; when their shoes accidentally touch on the train, the story begins. Bruno follows his victim into the Tunnel of Love. There is a scream - the murder? No, it's a scream of laughter, as she exits with her two beaus, Bruno still drifting behind them. The murder (a strangulation) shown in the reflection of the victim's glasses. The tennis match, in which heads in the crowd bob back-and-forth with the play - all except one head. Bruno Anthony, staring intently at his would-be partner, Guy Haines. 

There is a preview version (AKA the British version) included on the DVD which supposedly highlights the homoerotic nature of the main characters' relationship, which I have yet to see. I watched instead the HD version on Amazon Prime, and it looked great. Highly recommended for those who have yet to enjoy this excellent film.
BONUS: 'Once you kiss a Stranger' [1969]
Source: DVD

This late 60's semi-remake of 'Strangers on a Train' utilises the same plot - strangers swapping murders - and transplants it onto the golf course. Jerry (Paul Burke) has acquired the nickname 'Second Place', but could be number 1 if something happened to his greatest rival. Diana (Carol Lynley, a Lee Remick lookalike, I thought) wants her psychiatrist out the way too. When she offs the golf pro with a putter, Jerry realises how truly crazy the cute-as-a-button Diana is.

Carol Lynley - who is truly cute-as-a-button in this - plays crazy right from the get-go. She uses a crossbow to puncture a little girl's beachball, then tries to squash her own cat into a fridge. No Robert Walker-like subtlety here. There is nothing particularly special about this film, and no obvious homages to Hitchcock that I noticed. In fact, I've forgotten most of it already. 

The DVD was fine - very good in places, very blurry and ragged in others. Like the film itself, nothing special.
BONUS: 'The Designated Victim' [1971]
Source: YouTube [streaming]

Another plot-remake of 'Strangers on a Train', this time Italian. Stefano (Tomas Milian - looking a little like Nigel Tufnel) wants to sell his fashion-related business and move to Venezuela with his lover. His wife, however, refuses to sign the necessary paperwork. (Bad move.) Matteo (Pierre Clementi - dead ringer for Russell Brand) claims to want his violent brother dead. The solution? Well, you know it by now.

Shot in the early 70s mostly in Venice, this film had a groovy, late-hippie look about it. Matteo is a stoned Dandy throughout. The dubbing was pretty terrible, but the film kept my interest nonetheless. I don't think I'm spoiling much to state that there is a twist, as I'm sure most viewers, like me, will figure it out at least halfway through. Still, if badly-dubbed Italian 70s thrillers are your thing (the only nudity is during the opening credits, by the way), then you could do worse. (NB. The picture may look OK on a small screen; it looked awful blown-up via Chromecast on my 55" TV.)
(09-07-2018, 10:14 AM)Garp Wrote: [ -> ]The murder (a strangulation) shown in the reflection of the victim's glasses.

It's probably been a few years since I watched SOAT but that image is still etched on my mind.
Week 37: 'I confess' [1953]
Source: Blu-ray

There's a lot to like in this oft-overlooked film. Montgomery Clift plays a priest wrongly accused of murder, whose Catholic vows keep him from exposing the true killer, known to him through the confession box. Add in some blackmail, terrific direction and outstanding acting (Karl Malden is particularly good) and you have a film that is just shy of great.

Hitchcock utilizes his location filming right off the bat. Shots of signposts in Quebec City (all stating 'Direction', no less) are used to lead us to the murdered body that sets the plot in motion. The lighting - notably the use of shadows, and scenes shot from below - harkens to Film Noir. The film begins to drag a little in the middle with a lengthy exposition flashback, but gets back on course when we enter the courtroom. Clift, employing Method acting that Hitchcock apparently disliked, comes across as uncomfortable and brooding, which is undoubtedly what he was going for. It's a sombre portrayal - indeed, there is no humour in this film at all. (Interestingly, the Lux Radio version features Cary Grant in the Clift role, who doesn't sound like he's taking it very seriously in contrast.) Karl Malden is perfect casting as the detective, as is O.E. Hasse as Keller (the killer. Geddit?)

I enjoyed this film more than I expected, but there is something missing still - a little lightness? A tighter 2nd act? I would still recommend it, though, especially if you are viewing the Warner Archives blu-ray. It is nigh-on perfect in both vision and sound.
Week 38: 'Dial M for Murder' [1954]
Source: Blu-ray

"Hitchcock directs another play" may not sound like the most interesting prospect thus far into his career, yet he still manages to produce something special. He returns to colour again after a short break, and even dabbles in the 3D trend of the time. He finds his quintessential platinum blonde in Grace Kelly and mixes together a plethora of his favourite topics - murder, blackmail, the wrongly accused and love triangles.

Tony Wendice (an excellent Ray Milland) finagles an old college acquaintance down on his luck to agree to murder his adulterous wife (the luminous Kelly). When the plan goes astray, Wendice must scheme to put it back on track. Will the immaculately-attired Chief Inspector Hubbard (John Williams) ensnare the true culprit before an innocent person hangs?

Like the characters in 'Rope', Wendice attempts to pull of the perfect murder, with equally unsatisfying results. Also like 'Rope', Hitchcock frames the film almost entirely in one apartment, yet feels less 'stagey' than its predecessor. The direction is fine, with shots composed to take advantage of the extra dimension, no doubt. (I watched in 2D, so didn't get the full benefit.) An early shot of the clandestine couple's shadows parting when the husband appears is one of the better flourishes, though stylistically the brief encapsulation of the courtroom with just close-ups of faces and vividly coloured backgrounds is more dramatic. 

Milland is superb here - charming yet methodical - and you can almost see his wheels turning inside as he keeps having to think on the fly to keep his plan afloat. Robert Cummings (formerly of 'Saboteur') as Kelly's lover is bland, and Kelly herself is only fine. John Williams, though, is another stand-out in a role that must have been an inspiration for Columbo down the road.

The film gets bogged down a little with various zigzags in plot and clues, yet keeps your interest throughout nonetheless. Another minor classic that I find hard to believe I hadn't seen until today.

I watched a region-free Italian blu-ray copy (it was cheaper) from Warner Bros, which includes a 3D version that I don't have the wherewith-all to view. Probably due to the 3D process it was filmed in, the 2D version is very soft, almost blurry in places, although close-ups are noticeably better.
BONUS: 'A Perfect Murder' [19998]
Source: Vudu [streaming]

'Dial M for Murder' gets a remake/reimagining with Micheal Douglas standing in for Ray Milland, Gwyneth Paltrow for Grace Kelly and Viggo Mortensen for Robert Cummings. David Suchet is the Chief Inspector in a role that is drastically, and sadly, reduced.

This version plays around with the basic plot, with Douglas hiring Moretensen himself to kill Paltrow. If you see an early twist coming, don't worry - there'll be several more to follow. Douglas plays the husband as cold, controlling and unlikeable - he's a Wall Street trader, of course. Mortensen is a freer, boho painter with a "past'. Paltrow does something for the UN, I think, and is a whizz with languages, for no apparent reason to plot as far as I could tell. Nobody really stands out except the underwritten Suchet. And I was disappointed that they didn't cast Blythe Danner as Paltrow's on-screen mother.

There are more zigzags, double crosses, misdirections and the same kerfuffle with the keys. It's entertaining enough, yet still not enough to recommend it. Unusually for a Hitchcock remake, I didn't notice any obvious reference to the man himself, but after a while I wasn't really paying that much attention.
(09-18-2018, 03:50 PM)Garp Wrote: [ -> ]BONUS: 'A Perfect Murder' [19998]

Time traveler confirmed Wink . Never heard of that remake before. David Suchet is always a good bet.
Week 39: 'Rear Window' [1954]
Source: Blu-ray

At the risk of starting an argument, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this is Hitchcock's most perfect film to date. Everything that he has experimented with previously comes together in these 112 minutes - elaborate sets, full colors, an arbitrary POV, excellent casting, dark humour... And did I mention that it's thoroughly entertaining to boot?

Adventure photographer Jeff (James Stewart) is nursing a broken leg. Left to his own devices for too long in his small NY apartment, he has taken to watching the activity of his neighbors across their shared courtyard. He begins to suspect that something malicious has happened to the wife of a traveling salesman (Raymond Burr), and tries to persuade his girlfriend, socialite Lisa (Grace Kelly) and his nurse (the brilliant Thelma Ritter) to prove that a murder has taken place.

Let us start with the set, which is incredible. Hitchcock took what he had learned from 'Rope' and ran with it. It is gorgeous to look at, each apartment a literal window into other people's lives. The script weaves a story for each of them, taking relationships as its theme in its various stages - free love, new love, no love, old love turned sour, old love turned to comfort, etc. These vignettes somewhat mirror Jeff's own musings, as he argues with Lisa as to the merits - and mostly demerits - of their forming a life together. With the depth of vision in the set, it is surprising that this wasn't Hitch's foray into 3D rather than the flatter 'Dial M for Murder'.

I'm not one to pay much attention to sound - I rarely remember soundtracks, or even notice them sometimes - but the soundtrack to this film is extraordinary. Not in melody, as there is little, but in the soundscape itself - the bustle of a NY street heard in the background, for example. It sounds so natural and so fitting.

Stewart is great in a role that gives him little physically to do. His acting here comes from his expressions - especially good when reacting with Stella, his nurse - and his frustrations that he cannot act upon his suspicions himself. Kelly is perfect as the socialite - she looks the part, of course, and can wear a fancy frock like no other - but also shows her bravado and stands toe-to-toe with Jeff's everyman. The age difference is a tad jarring at first, and there is some mystery as to what she sees in the grouchy photographer and why he is so reluctant to pursue their relationship (it's Grace Kelly, for god's sake!), but it is a minor flaw. Thelma Ritter is just brilliant as the voice of reason-slash-comic relief, providing a lot of the lightness and, conversely, dark humour.

So engrossed was I in this film (a first watch, incredibly) that I didn't stop to notice all the great flourishes I read about later, but a few caught my eye. The simplicity in which we learn as much as necessary within the first minute or so of the film, just by the sweep of Hitch's camera; the close-up introduction of Kelly; the few quick edits not from Jeff's POV (reaction shots of his neighbors, on the whole); the red afterglow of the flashbulbs. I know I will have to rewatch this film to truly appreciate it, and soon.

Beyond the wonky Jeff-Lisa relationship, a couple of other things didn't quite hit the mark, I felt. Miss Lonelyheart's spiral downwards seemed to be brushed aside too abruptly by both director and the characters, and the ending, including some necessary exposition (similar in a way to 'Psycho') felt rushed and heavy-handed. But, like I said - minor flaws. I LOVED this film.

I watched the blu-ray from the 'Masterpiece' Collection. It was better than 'Dial M for Murder' but still seemed to have a softness overall, although close-ups were incredible (check out the beads of sweat on Jimmy Stewart at the beginning).
^ Great write up.

My film-study teacher at college showed us 'Rear Window' because it was such an clear and obvious demonstration of how a master filmmaker operates. What Hitch chooses not to show the viewer, brings what he does into sharp relief. I love the way Jeff's inability to move from his chair, mirrors our own situation as movie watchers. You almost find yourself craning your neck to see round the corners with Jeff.

You should add this version of Rear Window' to your watch list (4-minutes into this clip) Big Grin :

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