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Week 22: 'Jamaica Inn' [1939]
Source: DVD

Hitchcock takes a backseat to Charles Laughton in this period drama, his last English film. Laughton plays a Squire who orchestrates shipwrecks off the Cornish coast to purloin their booty. Robert Newton, later to play the most famous fictional pirate of them all, is the hero out to unmask the ringleader and possibly win the hand of the beautiful Maureen O'Hara in her first starring role.

This film is an oddity, not just in the subject matter but also in that there is nothing of Hitchcock to be seen here. Like 'The Farmer's Wife' or 'Waltzes from Vienna', it feels as though anyone could have directed 'Jamaica Inn'. The sets are great, as are the use of miniatures for the shipwrecks, and some of the acting is excellent (Leslie Banks as the sleazy uncle in particular). Other than that, though, I'm not sure what to make of this one. I didn't hate it, but I didn't much enjoy it either.

I saw the Cohen Media version on DVD (another library borrow) and it is excellent. Very clear and sharp and worth checking out if you absolutely have to watch this film.
I envy your local library's AV section Big Grin .
All the libraries in the Milwaukee area are linked so the selection is large. Not so great on blu-rays but there are few DVDs I haven’t been able to get so far.
Was planning on watching most of these through with you, but time just hasn't allowed, unfortunately. 

It's Rebecca next, right? Just thought I'd mention that the book is excellent and one of my favourite novels. Hitchcock adapts it well from my recollection, but a key moment is severely watered down (which I would assume was due to Hollywood limitations at the time). <<< Saying that, if you happen to be a reader, I highly recommend reading the book first!

Jamaica Inn and The Birds were also adapted from writings of the same author (Daphne Du Maurier). Both great reads (but neither hold a candle to Rebecca!  Wink )
Week 23: 'Rebecca' [1940]
Source: Criterion blu-ray

The only Hitchcock film to win a Best Picture Oscar (he never won one for Director) stars Laurence Olivier & Joan Fontaine in a psychological masterpiece. After the sudden death of his first wife, Maxim de Winter takes his new young bride back to his Cornish mansion, known as Manderley. But echoes of Rebecca, the first Mrs de Winter, seem destined to pull them apart.

This film makes for uncomfortable viewing. Joan Fontaine is so beautiful and vulnerable, and the psychological torment that she experiences - first by the aloof and patronising Olivier, later by the terrifying housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers - is palpable. There is suspense in the drama, but it comes with a long fuse. Hitchcock takes his time with these characters and it pays off richly. There are nice touches - shadows and light often enhance the foreboding atmosphere - but it is the acting that lingers. The leads are extraordinary.

Plot twists enliven the third act, with none of the silly and illogical turns of earlier films. This is serious Hitchcock, out to impress his new employers and audience. He nails it.

I watched the Criterion blu-ray and it is fantastic. There's a whole load of bonus features I haven't even started on yet, but the film itself is worth the price.
BONUS: 'Rebecca' [1962]
Source: Amazon Video [streaming]

This live TV version from 1962 stars James Mason as Maxim de Winter, going toe-to-toe with Olivier. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast don't measure up. The credits claim that this version was adapted from the film's screenplay, and it is very similar, albeit much truncated. Here we start as the newlyweds arrive at Manderley, and some other scenes (such as the inquest) are told second-hand, perhaps to reduce the need for more sets/actors. Still, it hits most of the original beats, just a little off-rhythm. A Cliff notes version, if you wish.

It's interesting, and Mason is very good, and at less than an hour it's worth a look.

EDIT: Forgot to mention - as this is a live TV recording, the picture is awful. It looks vertically stretched in places, as if it's been taped from a TV onto VHS. On the plus side (for some, me included), it does have the original TV breaks, with commercials for gas appliances. A little slice of early 60s Americana.
Week 24: 'Foreign Correspondent' [1940]
Source: Amazon Video, Criterion edition [streaming]

Hitchcock's second American film also picked up a Best Picture nomination ('Rebecca', his first US film, won that year) - not a bad start to his Hollywood career. Hitch returns to his familiar well of spies, murders and double crosses, as an American journalist - the Foreign Correspondent of the title - covers the intrigue of the run-up to the Second World War in Europe.

There is a lot to see here, and it is mostly good to great, but for some reason this film failed to grab me as other similar Hitchcock vehicles have done. The scene in the rain, as a man flees through a sea of umbrellas, is wonderful, and the climax on the plane is equally so. However, I didn't feel the whole was as good as the sum of its parts. The acting was fine, including some familiar Hitchcock actors (Edmund Gwenn and George Sanders), and Laraine Day looked lovely throughout. There is some humour in the script, and a nice running joke of the leading character constantly losing his hat, but overall the film seemed longer than necessary. This is very much a patriotic film, from an ex-pat Englishman to his new countrymen - a rallying cry to pay attention to the war 'over there' and, perhaps, lend a hand. The ending, therefore, comes across a tad heavy-handed, but necessarily so, given the time. 

I supposedly watched the Criterion version on Amazon Video, but it didn't look like it. It was certainly watchable, but nowhere near the standard expected of a top-notch restoration. Disappointing.
(06-14-2018, 10:17 AM)Garp Wrote: [ -> ]Week 24: 'Foreign Correspondent' [1940]

I supposedly watched the Criterion version on Amazon Video, but it didn't look like it. It was certainly watchable, but nowhere near the standard expected of a top-notch restoration. Disappointing.

I think you were conned. Ask for your money back. I own the Criterion blu-ray and it looks top-notch:

I think I mentioned it elsewhere but... Christopher Nolan has sighted the plane-sea-crash at the end as inspiration for his 'Dunkirk'.
Week 25: 'Mr. and Mrs. Smith' [1941]
Source: Amazon Video [streaming]

Another atypical Hitchcock, this time a screwball/romantic-comedy. Having discovered that their marriage wasn't legally binding, Mr. Smith (Robert Montgomery) is slow to pop the question a second time. Mrs. Smith (Carole Lombard) therefore decides to throw the bum out and have some single fun of her own. Hilarity ensues as the erstwhile husband tries to win his bride back.

Or I assume that was the intended result, although 'hilarity' is somewhat stretching it. Perhaps 'pockets of whimsy', if that doesn't sound too pompous.

Hitchcock apparently agreed to direct this film as a favour to his friend Lombard, and he does an average job with a below-average script. You won't find any great sparks of genius in the direction, but there are the occasional good lines and scenes, and the leads have a chemistry that works. But overall it's more of a miss than a hit. This is no 'Bringing up Baby' or 'Philadelphia Story' (high benchmarks, I know) and comes across as a wasted opportunity for all involved. 

I watched this on Amazon Video and it looked good. Some hiss during quieter scenes, but not too distracting. Still, with hindsight I should have saved my money and just watched the DVD I had from the library for free. I doubt it would have made any great difference.
Week 26: 'Suspicion' [1941]
Source: Blu-ray

Joan Fontaine sure can pick 'em. After suffering emotional aloofness at the hands of Laurence Olivier in 'Rebecca', here she falls for the habitual gambler, slacker man-child Cary Grant who may or may not be out to off her and/or his friends for the loot. 

Fontaine won the Oscar that year for her portrayal of the bookish Lina, though her Second Mrs. De Winter was a better role the previous year and her nod here may be in lieu of that oversight. (Other Hitchcock alums include Leo G Carroll, Dame May Whitty and Nigel Bruce, with Cary Grant in his first of four collaborations with Hitch.) Grant is cocky and mercurial, yet still seems to attract friends and admirers because, well, he looks like Cary Grant. Still, it takes some suspension of belief that the sober Fontaine would fall so heavily for him, with so obvious flaws.

There are some great touches to be seen here. The film opens in darkness, with only Grant's unmistakable voice to be heard for several seconds. Later, when Lina convinces herself that her husband has murdered Beaky (Nigel Bruce, playing a wonderfully bumbling upper class stereotype), the lighting and sound change dramatically as she reenters her house. Hitch has more fun with shadows here, reusing some tricks from his silent era. The shadow of the the round, multi-paneled window becomes like a web as Fontaine stands in the centre of it, caught in a marriage to a man she adores but who may ultimately devour her. The scene of Grant ascending the stairs with a glass of milk is justly famous, showing how well Hitchcock could make even the simplest of gestures suspenseful.

The ending is anti-climatic, necessarily so to protect Grant's good guy image, and only takes away slightly from the tension that has been building up. A great way to celebrate the half-way mark in this year-long project.

I watched the Warner Archive Collection blu-ray and it was very good. Some scenes were softer than others, some more grainy, but free of specks or noticeable age. Sound was clear and mostly hiss-free.
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