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My Year with Hitch

Garp

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[font=Raleway, sans-serif]BONUS: 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Wet Saturday' [1956][/font]
[font=Raleway, sans-serif]Source: Hulu [streaming][/font]

[font=Raleway, sans-serif]John Williams was obviously a go-to guy for Hitchcock, as he pops up again here. This episode is decidedly odd, with some over-the-top acting and not much in the way of a twist. However, neither probably matter as the point, I expect, was to prick the bubble of Upper Class British pomposity. Sir Cedric Hardwicke, another Hitchcock alum, plays the father trying to extricate his severely immature (we might say autistic) daughter from the murder she has just committed. He is aided by his equally dim-witted son, in a type of farce pre-dating Month Python's Upper Class Twit of the Year by over a decade. The humour is very dark, and probably appealed to the ex-pat son of a grocer. The fact that he could film the entire episode in stereotypical English weather from balmy California was just the icing on his cake, no doubt. [/font]
 

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[font=Raleway, sans-serif]BONUS: 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Mr. Blanchard's Secret' [1956][/font]
[font=Raleway, sans-serif]Source: Hulu [streaming][/font]

[font=Raleway, sans-serif]A writer believes that her neighbor, Mr. Blanchard, has bumped off his wife. She begins to spy and snoop around, trying to get to the bottom of the mystery of the elusive Mrs. Blanchard... until Mrs. Blanchard turns up on her doorstep. Yes, it's a quirky take on 'Rear Window', but not a very good one. Hitch's direction is bland and the 'twist' unsatisfying though the acting is good. Maybe Hitchcock was drawn to the 'Rear Window' similarity, but it doesn't appear he put much effort into it beyond that.[/font]
 

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Week 43: 'The Wrong Man' [1957]
Source: Blu-ray

It was not unusual for Hitchcock to be intrigued by a man wrongly accused of a crime - his work is full of such scenarios - but never in the way he dealt with it in 'The Wrong Man'. Here we have, as Hitchcock tells us in a silhouetted prologue, not unlike his TV appearances at that time, a true story. Or. at least, true to a point - the real life ending wasn't quite as rosy as the epilogue suggests.

Henry Fonda plays 'Manny', a bass player at a jazz club who is mistaken for a criminal holding up local stores. What follows is a docu-drama style film showing his interrogation, arrest and court case and the impact this has on his family, notably his wife (Vera Miles, in her first Hitchcock film, but not her first dalliance with Hitch).

This is not a happy film. No moments of whimsy or winking at the camera here. Filmed in black and white, it has noirish edge to it. Fonda is superb, annoyingly so. Mild-mannered, polite and willing to help the police clear up the mess he's in, he is so passive and subservient that you almost lose sympathy for him. Miles is excellent in the first half of the film then descends into recreating her role from the earlier 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' episode 'Breakdown'.

Hitchcock, famously wary of the police to the point of phobia, delights in showing the minutia of police procedures, highlighting the dehumanizing of Manny and the encroaching claustrophobia. As circumstantial evidence begins to pile up and alibis start to crumble, there's a Kafkaesque quality that creeps in. Is Manny actually guilty? The state seems to think so, shown brutally during the courtroom scene where only Manny appears to be taking his situation seriously.

Apparently influenced by European cinema at this point, Hitchcock forgoes his usual flourishes and the story is filmed matter-of-factly. Still, there are some nice touches, notably a scene where two superimposed faces merge. I wasn't expecting to like this film, but it surprised me. It seems out of place in his filmography, so unlike the colourful, frothier films that precede it, but it works.

I watched the blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection. It looked clean and free of the usual specks and tears albeit noticeably grainy.
 

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BONUS: 'Suspicion: Four O'Clock' [1957]
Source: YouTube [streaming]

This was the only episode Hitchcock directed for the TV show 'Suspicion'. It was written by Cornell Woolrich, who also wrote the story upon which 'Rear Window' was based, and features Harry Dean Stanton (Dean Stanton only in the credits) in a minor role. (He also appears in the earlier film 'The Wrong Man', apparently, but I failed to spot him.)

A watchmaker (a brooding E.G.Marshall) suspects his wife of infidelity. Convinced that her trysts occur daily at 4 o'clock at their home, he wires a crude bomb to an alarm clock to explode at that hour. Alas, things don't quite turn out as planned and the majority of the episode is a masterful filming of suspense.

Hitch packs a lot into these 50 minute or so. We see the meticulous preparations of the homemade bomb, a trial run, and the stilted conversation of a wife trying to hide something from her husband. Hitchcock ratchets up the suspense as the show progresses in ways that I would prefer not to spoil. The ticking clock is omnipresent, of course, and close-ups of one of the characters towards the end is edited perfectly. There are a couple of clever twists along the way, although the ending adds a little more melodrama than is necessary, I thought.

This story was also produced as an episode of the 'Suspense' radio show (titled 'Three o'clock' for some reason) with a slightly different, and less effective, ending, if you wish to compare the two.
 

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[font=Raleway, sans-serif]BONUS: 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents: One more mile to go' [1957][/font]
[font=Raleway, sans-serif]Source: Hulu [streaming][/font]

[font=Raleway, sans-serif]Another excellent Hitchcock-directed episode, in which a man murders his wife and tries in vain to dispose of her body. There are elements of 'Rear Window' and the yet-to-be-conceived 'Psycho' here. We witness the argument and murder through a window; whatever the argument is about, we hear only muffled sounds from our vantage point. We are then brought into the house and watch as the husband begins his preparations for disposal of her body. Hitchcock's experience in silent cinema pays off here handsomely; would a younger TV director have dared to film an episode where there was no discernible speech for the first 10 minutes, I wonder? Like a later Norman Bates and a half-submerged car, we begin to sympathize with the murderer as he is thwarted in his plans to drop her body in a lake. The episode feels like it is abandoned rather than ended, but as shades of things to come, it's worth checking out.[/font]
 

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[font=Raleway, sans-serif]BONUS: 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Perfect Crime' [1957][/font]
[font=Raleway, sans-serif]Source: Hulu [streaming][/font]

[font=Raleway, sans-serif]This episode is interesting mostly due to the perfectly macabre pairing of Vincent Price and Alfred Hitchcock. Price plays a cocky Sherlock Holmes-type detective, musing over his brilliant cases with a defense lawyer. The lawyer bursts Price's bubble by explaining that his deductions were in error regarding his most recent case, sending an innocent man to the chair. Flashbacks show what actually occurred, and how Price was misled. The ending is silly, but that and Vincent Price were maybe the main attractions for Hitchcock, as everything else is mediocre.[/font]
 

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Week 44: 'Vertigo' [1958]
Source: Blu-ray

'Vertigo' is often cited as one of the best, if not the best, Hitchcock film. Starring James Stewart in his 4th and last Hitchcock picture, the film deals with a subject matter dear to Hitch's heart - the obsession over a beautiful blonde.

Stewart plays Scotty, a police detective forced to retire owing to a sudden bout of vertigo. He is hired by an old friend to follow his wife, whom he suspects of being haunted. What follows is a larger mystery, where no one is quite whom they appear.

This was another of those famous Hitchcock films that I had never seen before. Even knowing most of the plot from reading several books on Hitchcock this year, it still took me by surprise. This is not a fun experience a la 'North by Northwest', but more an uncomfortable one a la 'Rebecca'. Stewart is excellent in a role that is far from his usual sympathetic character. His obsession with Kim Novak is suffocating, manipulative and difficult to watch. Novak is equally excellent, once the second half of the film starts and she becomes more expressive.

There are so many great touches - the innovative 'dolly zoom' to show the effects of Stewart's vertigo, the trippy dream sequence, even the futuristic titles - but none more so than the use of color. No doubt long articles have been written about the symbolism of the red and green, and much better than I could write here. 

The revealing of the twist towards the middle of the film is an interesting choice. It certainly makes it a much different film, changing it from a mystery and instead focusing on the obsession. We know more than Stewart, or at least are supposed to believe we do. Apparently Hitchcock went back and forth on that decision - taking it out and then putting it back in. I'm not about to second guess him, but I wonder if he was altogether right to include it.

It's a difficult film to review for me. I can't say I liked it, as I found it uncomfortable to watch in places. But it's undoubtedly an excellent film and worthy of its praises.

I saw the blu-ray from the 'Masterpiece Collection' and was so caught up in the story that I can't say I noticed anything wrong in either vision or sound.
 

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BONUS: 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Lamb to the Slaughter' [1958]
Source: DVD

Barbara Bel Geddes, late of 'Vertigo', plays a Doris Day-type perfect housewife with a twist - she kills her husband when he threatens to leave her and their unborn child. The story is simple: will the police figure out the murder weapon, thus implicating Geddes as the murderer? The final shot is reminiscent of the ending of 'Psycho', but otherwise it's a fun but unextraordinary episode.
 

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BONUS: 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Dip in the Pool' [1958]
Source: DVD

Another average episode, this time about a man betting more than he can afford on a cruise ship lottery. There isn't anything macabre here, and it's not obvious what would have attracted Hitchcock to direct this one. The 'twist' is the sort of dark humour he probably enjoyed, and the acting is good, but it's ultimately forgettable.
 

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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.
 

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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.
 

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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.
 

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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.
 

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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.
 

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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.
 

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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.
 

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TM2YC said:

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.
 

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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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