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(12-20-2018, 11:34 AM)Garp Wrote: [ -> ]Week 51: 'Frenzy' [1972]
Source: Blu-ray

Hitchcock's penultimate movie sees a return to his roots, with a wrongly-accused-man-on-the-run thriller filmed in London. Richard Blaney (Jon Finch), ex-soldier, lady's man, soon-to-be-fired barman and expert at being in the wrong place at the wrong time, is suspected of being the notorious Neck Tie Killer, a serial rapist & strangler of young women around London. A few close friends aid him as he attempts to elude police, but circumstantial evidence is piling up and the net is closing in. Will his friends continue to believe his protestations? Will they become the next victims? Will the innocent be sentenced and guilty go free?

There is almost a sense of whiplash from watching 'Frenzy' so soon after 'Topaz'. There may only be a difference of 3 years between them, but the new decade seems so much fresher and more modern that it hardly feels like a Hitchcock film at all. Hitch gets to play in the newly liberated sandbox, with cruder language and flashes of nudity. The violence is very much hands-on, but somehow seems less shocking than, say, 'Psycho'.

A few touches show that it truly is a Hitchcock production. Firstly, this is a darkly humorous film. Some moments are just flat-out funny, such as the scenes between the police inspector and his wife, trying out exotic culinary dishes, or the couple leaving the match-making agency. Others are more gallows humor (are the grotesque facial contortions of the female victims supposed to be intentional silly? Or the breaking of one victim's fingers to retrieve a vital clue? I couldn't tell, but the latter worked for me more than the former). 

Suspense is in play here in one key area, in the aforementioned scene where the murderer tries to hide his traces and nearly gets caught. It is classic Hitchcock in which the audience is suddenly rooting for the villain, adding again some almost slapstick humor into the mix.

In terms of direction, it is mostly low-key and low-energy (Hitchcock was in his 70s by now) but with some solid flourishes. One murder occurs off-screen whilst the camera pulls back, from the door, down the stairs, through the hallway, into the street ending on a wide shot of the oblivious comings-and-goings of passers-by. Like 'Topaz', Hitchcock uses sound and silence well here, and also later in the courtroom scene where we are only privy to snippets of the case as the door opens and closes.

Acting overall is good, utilizing many well-known (to UK viewers) character actors, and the early 70s fashions weren't so distracting as I find is often the case (although blue eye-shadow is prevalent throughout, be warned). The film feels overlong, especially in the third act, but I found it surprisingly enjoyable. Not up to his 50s to early 60s thrillers, but it shows that Hitchcock could still show audiences a thing or two into the 70s.

I have nothing bad to say about the blu-ray from the 'Masterpiece Collection' - it looked crisp and clean to my eyes and sounded fine, despite the poor review.

From what I remember... 'Frenzy' felt like somewhat of a return to form but did get close to "bad taste" in a few places IMO.
Week 52: 'Family Plot' [1976]
Source: Blu-ray

'My Year with Hitchcock' ends, naturally, with his final film, 'Family Plot' from 1976. This light-weight comedy-thriller is not a bad way to end - he certainly made worse - but it's understandably disappointing nevertheless.

Fake psychic Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris) and her seemingly-part-time cab driver partner George Lumley (Bruce Dern) must track down the missing heir to a fortune, and amass 10 grand for their troubles. Meanwhile, jeweler Arthur Adamson (William Devane) and his sometimes-blonde partner Fran (Karen Black) are kidnapping VIPs in return for diamonds. The mismatched couples' fates are entwined as Lumley delves deeper into the mystery of whether the Shoebridge heir is still alive...

Hitchcock was in ill-health and nearing 80 when he directed this film, which can excuse some of the lacklustre elements of this film. There are few Hitch touches to be seen here, and those that do exist are to the film's detriment, such as the sore-thumb back projections/green screens. An overhead shot of a cemetery is nice, but it's not much for a 2 hour film.

Acting is fine, mostly, although I personally found Barbara Harris annoying, especially in the ludicrously slapstick car scene. William Devane, whom I've liked in other films ('Marathon Man' especially) comes across as a poor man's Jack Nicholson here. Only Bruce Dern is memorable in a good way, but again, that ain't much.

Like 'Frenzy' before it, 'Family Plot' not only doesn't feel like a Hitchcock film, it doesn't feel like a theatrical film at all. It has a cheap TV movie feel, like a feature-long pilot for a fake-psychic-and-sidekick show that never materialised. The film ends with one character winking at the audience - the first time Hitchcock broke the fourth wall, I believe - which is as good a send-off for a director such as Hitchcock as you could wish for. So often while watching his films I had the feeling that he wasn't taking the whole thing seriously - notably the wonderful yet ridiculous 'North by Northwest' - that there were implied winks at the audience. And then we finally got one. Cheers, Mr. Hitchcock. Cheers.

The blu-ray isn't anything to write home about, and looked like DVD-quality for much of the time.
Final thoughts: I started out this year with a very vague knowledge of Hitchcock's work. He was the director of 'Psycho', of course, and 'North by Northwest', 'The Birds' and 'Rope', all of which I had seen before. He was called 'The Master of Suspense' and had a long-running TV show, which my family liked to watch on Netflix only a few years ago when we couldn't decide on anything else before bedtime. Like me, he was British but lived in America. He was overweight (not like me. Not as much, anyway). Honestly, I would have been hard-pressed to say anything more about him.

Having watched all 52 of his available films, plus all the TV episodes he directed, I not only have a greater understanding of his work - which I expected - but also a greater understanding of film as a whole - which I did not. Like The Beatles, Hitchcock had the great fortune of not only being exceptionally talented, but of being in the right place at the right time. Hitchcock evolved with cinema, from silent, through sound, colour, 3D and more liberal attitudes towards sex and violence. Sometimes he was playing catch-up, but more often he was leading the way. Although not every Hitchcock film is a masterpiece (no artist's work is), the man was undoubtedly a genius, and, due to his start in silent film, possessed one of the most visually cinematic minds the cinema has created.

I have always loved films - I watch several a week - but it is through Hitchcock that I feel I am beginning to appreciate film as an art form, rather than merely relaxing entertainment. This is especially true in the editing, where Hitchcock excelled, but also in what he can convey in a simple pan of the camera without one word spoken (see the opening shot of 'Rear Window' for a perfect example). 

Flawed human being he may have been, I have been thoroughly entertained by his presence this past year, and I look forward to rewatching several of (to me) his lesser known films in the near future.

As 2019 approaches, I swing from the sublime to the ridiculous as I embark on another 52 week project, 'My Year with Godzilla'. Happy New Year and see you on the other side.
Thank you for taking this journey and writing about it for us to follow along. I don't have much to add except that I enjoy your writing. It's concise but very clear. I feel enriched for having read about a master's art for the last year, through your lens. Thanks for sharing.
(12-28-2018, 03:04 PM)thecuddlyninja Wrote: [ -> ]Thank you for taking this journey and writing about it for us to follow along. I don't have much to add except that I enjoy your writing. It's concise but very clear. I feel enriched for having read about a master's art for the last year, through your lens. Thanks for sharing.

Thank you! I surprised myself by enjoying the writing of the reviews as much as the watching the films (on occasions, more so). Writing on the internet can sometimes feel like scribbling on pieces of paper and throwing them into the wind, so it's nice to hear that sometimes they are caught by people and enjoyed.

Thanks again, and have a great 2019.
I've also really enjoyed reading these reviews as well (although I've skipped a few as I didn't want to spoil films I'll soon be watching. I look forward to reading them later). Congratulations on reaching your goal.
Quote:Hitchcock: British International Pictures Collection brings together five features he directed for the production company that first displayed his talents. Four of them are visually dynamic silent films: atmospheric boxing drama The Ring, sprightly comedies The Farmer’s Wife and Champagne, and a love triangle set on the Isle of Man, The Manxman. Also included is the 1931 sound feature The Skin Game, a rousing melodrama about feuding families. 

I'll wait for reviews on the blu-ray but this release sounds interesting, if only for 'The Ring' which was excellent.
BONUS: 'So long at the Fair' [1950]

I'm revisiting my old thread to review 'So long at the Fair', a film I meant to watch after seeing Hitchcock's 'The Lady Vanishes'. I didn't have time back then to fit into my schedule. With things as they are now, I seem to have much more time on my (frequently washed) hands.

The film is based on what is now considered an early urban legend, that of a young woman whose brother disappears at a hotel in Paris. Not only that, but no one recollects ever seeing him and the room he was supposed to have occupied doesn't even exist.

Jean Simmons stars as the confused young woman, and the camera adores her. She looks like Vivian Leigh or a young Elizabeth Taylor. Her youthful exuberance convincingly morphs into utter despair - is she actually mad? Or is she being gaslighted (gaslit?) David Tomlinson is predictably staid and proper as her brother, and Dirk Bogarde plays the dashing hero admirably. Stand-out here though goes to Cathleen Nesbitt as the conniving hotel manager. The film includes scenes between her and her accomplices completely scripted in French, giving my schoolboy education a workout.

The film looks good, recreating 1880's Paris with some flair and a dash of suspension of disbelief. The acting is very 1950s Britishness, the sort of thing that took over many a Saturday afternoon on the BBC in my youth. I knew the legend already, and the film ends with the same answer to the mystery. It feels a little flat, but I was struck at least by how timely the story was, when health concerns and economics collide. Plus ca change, as they say in Paris.
BONUS: 'Into thin air' [1955] Alfred Hitchcock Presents [TV]

The Hitchcock connection continues, as his TV show presents another version of the well-known story - this one even starring his own daughter, Pat. With under 30 minutes to relate the tale, it feels abrupt, and I've never rated Pat Hitchcock as much of an actress, unfortunately. Here, it's her mother that disappears, and she is unwell from the get-go. A doctor is called and he sends the daughter on a time-consuming mission to acquire medicine. On her return, of course, no one has the foggiest idea what she's babbling about.

There's nothing remarkable about this adaptation, although it was agreeable to see Alan Napier (Alfred in the original Batman TV series) play a role.
BONUS: 'Flightplan' [2005]

Another 'The Lady Vanishes' reimagining, this one starring Jodie Foster as a distraught widow looking for her missing daughter on a plane.

This one hooked me more than I expected. The performances are excellent, Foster especially. Anyone who has kids can relate to her visceral pain and fear, without going too far into gung-ho antics, at least for the most part. The twists were entertaining - a little hokey, sure, but I let it slide. (There was one very jarring piece of exposition at the end to help fill a plot hole, though.) The breath on the window from Hitchcock's original was recreated here, which was another plus for me. A serviceable thriller overall.
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