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Week 10: 'Juno and the Paycock' [1929]
Source: DVD

Before I started this project, someone suggested that trying to watch a film a week might begin to feel like homework. I felt that yesterday as I sat through 'Juno and the Paycock'.

In fairness, even Hitchcock has gone on record stating that he had trouble figuring out how to make this dialogue-heavy stage play cinematic. There is no action to speak of and nothing that lends itself to clever camera trickery. Coupled with the fact that the early sound recording makes it difficult to hear anyway, the actors have such rich brogues that it's a strain to understand what is going on.

The story revolves around the rise and fall of an Irish family. There are some broad stereotypes here - the shiftless father and his scheming friend, the bold matriarch who holds the family together - as well as a rather offensively portrayed Jewish tailor. John Laurie, whom I remember from the UK sitcom 'Dad's Army', plays the brooding son. The acting is a little over-the-top, but at least Hitchcock has something to play with regarding him. The son holds a terrible secret, and Hitchcock hones in on him to register his reactions as the family talk about his friend's death.

The film spends around 80% of the time in the same room, which is I suppose necessary for a stage adaptation, but unfortunate as arguably the best scenes occur outside. The first scene of the rebel-rouser, with close-ups of his audience, could have come from a Soviet-era propaganda film - stirring and effective. Otherwise, this was a chore to watch.

Another from Mil Creek's 'Legacy' collection, this was difficult to watch and even more difficult to hear. Unless, like me, you are determined to see everything that Hitchcock directed, I would skip it.
Week 11: 'Murder!' [1930]
Source: DVD

Hitchcock must have jumped at the chance to direct this whodunnit, featuring a lot of themes he loved - the theatre, court rooms and, of course, murder. The plot is quite simple - an actress is killed (in the living room, with the poker) and her rival is found sitting dumb and dazed by her body. She is swiftly found guilty and sentenced to hang but one juror suspects it is all too neat and decides to investigate on his own. The game's afoot!

It is a film of very distinct parts. The murder and arrest are dealt with at speed (although there is a wonderful scene in which the woman of the house where the murder occurs makes tea for everyone. Not only does Hitchcock get the exposition completed quickly, he also has fun following the characters between rooms, back and forth, as the tea is made.). Hitchcock also has fun at the police's expense. Detectives are trying to question the rest of the cast about the murdered victim and the circumstances of her death while backstage of a play (another of Hitch's favourite places to film) with the actors stopping to go on stage for their cue. As a blind in the small window in the door of the suspected murderer's cell is drawn down, so the curtain falls on stage.

Next up is an early microcosm of 'Twelve Angry Men'. (Historical note: I was surprised that there were female barristers in 1930.) Hitch's filming of the court is not dissimilar to that of 'Easy Virtue', and indeed the older actress from both 'Downfall' and 'Easy Virtue' reappears here as a juror. There are some solid British stereotypes on show, but overall this section is well-done and doesn't drag too much. The delivery of the verdict is a masterpiece of understatement - we watch a man clean up the jury room (sneaking a half-smoked cigar as he does) while hearing the verdict offstage.

We are then led through the suspicions of Sir. John, another actor on the jury, played by a Lawrence Olivier type. Hitchcock plays up the social divide between the very proper Sir. John and the lower class actors he has to deal with in order to crack this case. I couldn't tell who he was mocking more, and I assume that was deliberate. The investigation dragged a little for me, but the climax is worth waiting for, not only when Sir. John confronts whom he believes to be the actual killer, but also the later consequences at a circus. Hitchcock borrows a trick from 'Downfall' for the final scene, slowly drawing back the camera to reveal we are watching a play.

Definitely one of my favourites so far. Well worth your time.

The version I saw is from the Studio Canal/Lionsgate boxset. The picture was very good in places, but had intermittent fading in and out to black and occasional softness. The sound was fine.
Not that you're there yet, but my brother watched Sabotage the other night and gave it very high praise. Might try and snag his copy when the time comes.
Week 12: 'The Skin Game' [1931]
Source: DVD

The opening credits boast that this film is a "Talking Picture". No one could accuse them of false advertising. Hitchcock directs another dialogue-heavy stage play, but manages a few cinematic flourishes along the way.

The plot revolves around two feuding families, the Hillcrests and the Hornblowers: Old Money vs New Money. Like his preceding film, Hitchcock delves into class differences, but without the humour. Although for most of the film it appears his sympathies lie with Old Money, the climax pulls the rug out and frankly neither end up looking rosy.

There are a couple of nice touches early on, showing the differences between the families (horses vs cars, elegant woods vs a McMansion, etc). Hitchcock tries to stray from the repetitive talking heads by filming some conversations off-screen. The best example is the first, with the head of the Hornblower household (Edmund Gwenn, later of 'Miracle on 34th St') arguing with his tenants. We hear the discussion but witness his chauffeur pacing outside their modest house. There's also a nice dissolve, when Mr. Hillcrest gazes from his window and imagines the pastoral view becoming factories.

The highlight of the film, however, is the auction scene. (Note: it will be interesting to revisit this after 'North by Northwest'.) Most of the bidding is from the auctioneer's POV, necessitating quick pans. The effect works perfectly and is quite suspenseful. 

Perhaps not an essential Hitchcock film, 'The Skin Game' still offers some entertainment. This was another from the Studio Canal/Lionsgate boxset, with no complaints with either the visuals or the sound.
Week 13: 'Rich and Strange' [1932]
Source: DVD

Rich - maybe. Strange - definitely. Here we have a... what, exactly? Romantic Comedy? Melodrama? Travelogue? Any of these descriptions could work, but it's probably best to see it as a mix of all three. Bored with their humdrum life, a suburban couple inherit some money and decide to see the world. Unfortunately, both succumb to the Seven Year Itch (actually 8 years, in this case) during their various sea voyages, as well as other complications.

It's all a bit of a mess, frankly. The comedy is amusing at best and the melodrama of the love entanglements slow the story down considerably. Pace is a big problem in this film. Hitchcock is experimenting with rapid edits (there are even reaction shots of the couple with their heads jerking back and forth as they quickly take in the sights of Paris) and the travel elements of the film are frenetic.

This is an early talkie with it's feet firmly planted in the silent era. The first five minutes or so of the film (the best part, I'd argue) are completely silent, as we see the husband leave his dreary accountancy job and make his way home through a rainy London and the always packed and uncomfortable Tube ride. There are also title cards strewn throughout the film, introducing characters or telling us what they are up to. It's disconcerting and largely unnecessary.

In terms of direction, it feels like a step backwards for Hitchcock. There is no flow to the film, and the quick cuts are gimmicky and distracting. The travel elements appear to be taken from stock footage and maybe even from an earlier era. Nothing really looks right in this film. If it was purely an experiment in style and composition, I don't think it works. Coupled with the dated racism towards other cultures, this is a film you could easily skip.

This was the last film in the StudioCanal/Lionsgate boxset. Apart from the location shots, the film looked good and the sound was clean.
Week 14: 'Number 17' [1932]
Source: DVD
 
The one thing I've noticed recently with Hitchcock's films - he really knows how to open a movie. This is one of those occasions where he draws you in - here, with a long shot of a windy, deserted street, a hat blown into the front yard of an old house to rent, and the owner of the hat stooping to pick it up, then wandering inside. Like 'Rich & Strange', there is no dialogue for the first 5 minutes, in which the man discovers a dead body and possibly the victim's murderer. From then on, what happens is anyone's guess.
 
This is an aggravating film. The elements are there to make it suspenseful and interesting, but the plot is so confusing and characters randomly introduced that I honestly had no idea what was going on. Various people are after a valuable necklace, and other people are out to stop them. And some of those people are not whom they may appear. That’s about all I gathered.
 
That’s not to say that it’s unworthy of your time. Hitchcock throws some interesting things at the screen (the use of shadows and stairwells in particular) and everything moves at a cracking pace. Perhaps a little too quick at times (the film is a tad over an hour long), hence the confusion it invokes. After spending 40 minutes inside the house, Hitchcock takes us outside finally for a rousing chase involving a train and a bus. He uses miniatures in places, which are alternately effective and quaint, but he gets the job done. He ends with another couple of twists, which almost convinced me to give this film another go and watch it again in a new light with this revelatory information. Almost.
 
This was the last film in the Mill Creek Legacy collection, and it was bad. It looked like it had been downloaded from YouTube, and the sound was muffled in places. Hopefully there’s a better version out there somewhere, as there’s enough here to warrant a look.
Week 15: 'Waltzes from Vienna' [1933]
Source: Amazon Video

Did you hear about the time Hitchcock made a period drama-slash-musical-slash-slapstick comedy? No, probably not.

This fictional biopic concerning Strauss' creation of his famous waltz 'The Blue Danube' is not a bad film as such, it's just that anyone could have directed it. Later on in his career, Hitchcock was known to fall asleep during filming (or appear to) and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that he had several good naps during this production too. With material that he probably wasn't at all interested in, Hitchcock bangs out a workmanlike film with virtually no flourishes to keep the viewer interested.

But, as I say, it's not a bad film. The music is wonderful and the scene in the bakery where Strauss Jr finds inspiration is fun. Edmund Gwenn (late of 'The Skin Game') plays Strauss Sr, and revered wartime singer/actress Jessie Matthews is fine in an early role. A love triangle is shoved into the plot, plus a strained father-son relationship, as well as broad comedy bordering on farce. But it moves along at a swift pace. Nothing lingers too long, but nothing is very memorable either.

Two cinematic highlights include a very brief shot filmed through a music stand, and a faux long take of an outdoor concert, panning left to right and cut with close-ups of clothing, trees, etc to simulate a continuous shot. And that's it.

This might pass as entertaining on a wet Sunday afternoon when you have a cold. But it would have to be very wet and a very bad cold.

I watched the version available on Amazon Video. It looked soft and had a slight sepia tint, but was acceptable. There was a background hiss throughout most of the film, but wasn't noticeable during the musical numbers.
You seem to be ahead of schedule, Garp. Is this desirable? 

 I'll be joining you for The Man Who Knew Too Much. I've never seen it, but I have a copy lying around that came free with a newspaper, so may as well give it a whirl. 
I've heard that it's a bit "weird", whatever that means in the context of Hitchcock. Regardless, I'm sure watching it will reveal his reasoning for remaking it years later.
No, I'm right on schedule, according to my first post: 4.9 - 4.15. - 'Waltzes from Vienna'.

Good to hear I have a comrade for 'TMWKTM'. I'm looking forward to this one, as it sounds much more 'classic' Hitchcockian, and I too want to compare the later remake.
Ah! Quite right. I've been reading it wrong (as the date below instead of above).
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