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BONUS: "Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Poison' [1958]
Source: DVD

A man living in old Malaysia believes a poisonous snake has taken up residence on his stomach while he's asleep. From that ridiculous beginning, Hitchcock weaves another darkly humorous tale. Is it true, a dream or the ramblings of a known drunk? Much of the humor lies in the interactions with his colleague, who is blasé about the whole ordeal, but tension and suspense is added towards the end as a doctor tries to remedy the situation. The ending is predictable, and there's nothing special in the direction, but still it's marginally better than previous efforts.
Week 45: 'North by Northwest' [1959]
Source: Blu-ray

Can there possibly be a more Hitchcockian film than 'North by Northwest'? 'Psycho may be more iconic, 'Rear Window' (arguably) a better film, and 'Vertigo' more cerebral and complex, but nothing quite encapsulates so much Hitchcock in one film than 'North by Northwest'.

Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant, in his final Hitchcock role) is an ad man in 1950s New York - suave, twice-divorced and about to run into a heap of trouble. He is mistaken for George Kaplan, a US government agent on the trail of a gang of rival spies. The classic mistaken-identity/man-on-the-run scenario thus ensues as Thornhill attempts to discover the mystery behind the elusive George Kaplan and keep one step ahead of his would-be assassins.

I'm sure there are some people who don't like 'North by Northwest', but I wonder who they are and what is wrong with them. This film is fun from start to finish - pure entertainment. Yes, the story is another preposterous one, from the man who gave us the equally absurd and wonderful '39 Steps'. But why bother yourself with that when you can watch class acts at the top of their game? Hitchcock keeps the story going at a breakneck pace, only slowing down for the justly famous cornfield scene. (The editing here must surely be analysed in film schools around the world, rivaled only by the following year's shower scene from 'Psycho'.)

Grant is perfect in the role - James Bond cool before 'Dr. No' even existed. He is matched admirably by Eva Marie Saint as the mysterious Eve Kendall, who has the same mischievous twinkle in her eye. James Mason and Martin Landau prove that villains don't have to be one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs. Add a rousing score by Bernard Hermann and great titles by Saul Bass and you have yourself a thoroughly entertaining 2 hours or so.

With such a 'Hitchcock' film, it's perhaps surprising that the direction is largely devoid of flourishes. There are some excellent overhead shots, but the perfection of this film is derived from the editing. There isn't an ounce of fat on show here.

Are there flaws? Maybe the exposition scenes are a tad clunky, and Jessie Royce Landis looks too young to be believable as Grant's mother (she was only 7 years his elder). But I don't care. I have seen this film multiple times and I have yet to tire of it.

I watched the 50th anniversary DigiBook blu-ray which, like the film, is marvelous. Purists may not like the added surround sound, but I felt like a kid when the crop duster flew over my head.
BONUS: 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Banquo's Chair' [1959]
Source: Hulu [streaming]

Hitchcock directs a ghost story! Featuring his favourite TV actor, John Williams, here we have a Victorian era haunted house tale. Two years to the day after a woman is murdered, the former detective (Williams) arranges a dinner party at the house - in fact, the very room - where the deed took place. By bringing whom he suspects is the guilty party to the, er, party, he hopes to elicit a confession by way of a 'ghost'. The twist is telegraphed almost from the very beginning, but it plays out well and is spooky enough.
BONUS: 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Arthur' [1959]
Source: Hulu [streaming]

This episode is similar in theme to 'Lamb to the Slaughter', in which a murder has taken place and yet the police are mystified. Instead of the murder weapon that is elusive, it is the corpse - the former fiancee of the titular Arthur (a creepy Laurence Harvey). Arthur is a chicken farmer and, unusual for this show, addresses the audience directly a la Hitchcock himself. The ending is the kind of dark humour Hitchcock reveled in, and I enjoyed seeing Patrick MacNee in a supporting role, but otherwise I was underwhelmed.
BONUS: 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Crystal Trench' [1959]
Source: Hulu [streaming]

This is a curiously slow episode for Hitchcock to take on, with little in the way of suspense, thrills or anything else that you would imagine might pique his interest. A young man dies on a mountain expedition and it is left to total stranger but fellow Brit Mark Cavendidge (a stiff-upper-lipped James Donald) to break the news to his wife (Patricia Owens). He subsequently falls in love with her himself, but she has a morbid fixation on her late husband that he cannot break. Her macabre obsession lasts 40 years, and has a twist that I didn't foresee and yet is also anti-climatic. Patrick MacNee appears once again in such bizarre make-up that it took me a minute to deduce it was him.
BONUS: 'Incident at the Corner' [1960]
Source: YouTube [streaming]

Hitchcock directed one episode for the Ford Startime show - a color presentation featuring Vera Miles, soon to be seen later that year in 'Psycho'. It's an odd little drama concerning an elderly crossing guard accused of being "too fond" of the little girls, as they put it. The interesting opening belies a more mundane whole; the actual 'incident at the corner' is shown from three different points of view, one after the other. Apart from a dramatic overhead scene much later on, nothing else is as noteworthy. The episode is either supposed to be a whodunnit - who wrote the anonymous note that led to the accusations - or a Columbo-style when-will-they-figure-it-out, as the guilty party is pretty much fingered in the first 5 minutes. George Peppard as Miles' fiance is sufficiently fiery, and Miles herself is fine. Philip Ober, who had a small role in 'North by Northwest' as the real Lester Townsend, also stars.
Week 46: 'Psycho' [1960]
Source: Blu-ray

Stop the average person on the street and ask them what they know about Alfred Hitchcock, and chances are you'll get a one word reply: "Psycho". Ask them what they know about 'Psycho' and you'll hear two words: 'Shower scene". The links from A to B to C are indelible. If you've ever thought about 'Jaws' when wading into the ocean, or conjured up images from 'Psycho' when first turning on a shower, you know how some films can seep into your marrow, that can make that jump from Art to Life.

Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), in an impulsive act, steals $40,000 to start a new life with her boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin). Curtailed by rain, she stops at an out-of-the-way motel, run by the sweet but awkward Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) who is under-the-thumb of his sick and unseen mother. With a change of heart, Marion decides to take a quick shower before returning to face her consequences back in Phoenix; Mother, however, has other plans...

I seriously considered just giving this film a two word review - "A Classic" - and to leave it at that. Is there anything else I could really add to the million words already lavished on this film? You could make a film about the 45 second shower scene alone - in fact, somebody did. This is another of Hitchcock's films that I have seen multiple times, but it was more interesting to watch it in context of his previous films. Although there are themes in 'Psycho' common to earlier works, in many ways it is not a 'Hitchcock' film. The subject matter, style and even publicity (not allowing anyone in to the cinema after the film had started) hearken more to William Castle, perhaps. But could William Castle had made this film quite as good as it is? Doubtful.

Although murder and corpses had been casually depicted in Hitchcock's work before - both film and TV - the viciousness is more shocking here. Hitch may argue that we imagine more than we see, but he provides the impetus - the blood stains, the rich sound of each stab and, who could forget, the shrieking violin score. Not only is it shocking, but so unexpected. Every first time viewer is caught by the bait and switch. This is not a woman-on-the-run thriller. This is a horror film.

The fact that this film follows the laidback, colourful, opulent 'North by Northwest' is extraordinary, and the fact that both are magnificent in their own ways proves Hitchcock's genius. Filmed in black-and-white with a TV crew, 'Psycho' is stripped down to almost B movie status. Yet it is filmed with as much precision as any Hitchcock movie to date. There are still wonderful flourishes - from swirling sink hole to slow pan-out of Leigh's eye; wonderful overhead shots and, of course, incredible editing. (Not just the shower scene; note too Vera Miles' slow, suspenseful walk up to the house.)

Hitchcock may have believed that actors should be treated as cattle, but he certainly got amazing results from them in this film, on the whole. I loved Leigh's changing expressions as she imagined in voice-overs what others may be thinking of her unexpected theft - from concern to a final sly grin. Perkins is perfect - too perfect, perhaps, as he was never allowed to shed Norman's skin. As Arbogast leaves, following Perkins' flustered interrogation, note his same sly grin before the scene fades.

It is not, however, without its flaws too. John Gavin is wooden, clearly belonging to a B movie somewhere else, and the explanation at the end, although allowing the audience to catch its breath, is too long. Of course, neither of these things matter too much. The film stands as a crowning achievement regardless.

I watched 'Psycho' on blu-ray with surround sound. I had no issues with the picture, and the added 5.1 sound is discrete enough not to bother to many purists, I'd imagine.
(11-13-2018, 01:16 PM)TM2YC Wrote: [ -> ]You should give 78/52 a watch too.

Saw it last year, during a 'Psycho' binge. Saw that plus Psycho, 2, 3 & 4, the 1998 remake, the 'Hitchcock' biopic, the 'Bates Motel' TV movie and all 5 seasons of the more recent 'Bates Motel' TV show. I'm contemplating how many of these, if any, I will rewatch this week and review.
BONUS: 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat' [1960]
Source: DVD

This is a very light Hitchcock-directed episode, concerning a wife having an affair. She is given an expensive mink coat as a parting gift from a lover, and devises a plan to be able to keep it without arousing suspicion from her husband. It's cleverly constructed, although the twist is obvious. Inoffensive and mildly entertaining.
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