I started out chronicling this at the Hitchcock Wiki site, but those forums are unfortunately all but dead, and I thought some of you might be interested in what I am doing.
A little over a year ago I went on a Hitchcock buying spree and managed to collect all of his films (at least those that have been released here in the US, which is all but The Pleasure Garden, Downhill, and Waltzes from Vienna). At about that time I also found a book called "A Year of Hitchcock" which is set up in 52 chapters to represent one week per film in Hitchcock's canon. I figured this would be a fun way to watch them all. My wife and I had only watched a handful of his films before, mostly the more well known ones.
We haven't been sticking to the one a week "rule", but have been watching them little by little. As I am starting this thread, we just finished up his British career and started the Hollywood era with Rebecca. I plan to edit this post adding films as we go along. I don't pretend to be a competent reviewer or writer, just a regular joe who enjoys Hitchcock's films. So please don't be too critical of my "reviews"! I'll try to stay relatively spoiler free, but the places that do give something away I will give a warning before that paragraph. After said paragraph you should be safe to read on.
If any of you would like to comment on any of the films along with me, or even start your own marathon and discuss it here, that would be great!
4/26/09: The Lodger
(1927) - Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection DVD ***
"To-Night Golden Curls"
We do not have a lot of experience with silent films, having only seen Nosferatu (awesome), The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, and maybe a couple other horror classics. I enjoyed this one quite a bit. I was surprised at just how "Hitchcock" this was so early in his career. The color tinting used to emphasis various locations and times of day was a nice touch. Of course the use of shadows, fog, etc added greatly to the suspense and drama. I was also surprised as to how few intertitles there were. The story moved along nicely with so little actually "said". The actors really did a wonderful job of getting across what they were experiencing just with their body language and facial expressions. I have read the opinion that the screams can almost be felt, and I agree completely, especially the woman at the very beginning. That one will send a shiver down your spine. Great stuff. I'm also not sure which actor was creepier, the Lodger, or the boyfriend/detective.
SPOILER ALERT: The climax was brilliant. I loved how the Lodger ended up hanging by the handcuffs, being grabbed at by both above and below. Then when the news spread about the killer how everyone just kind of slunk away. Very nicely put together scene.
We watched with the default soundtrack, which I believe was the 1999 Ashley Irwin track, but I'm not positive as I never checked the options (didn't realize there was more than one at the time). Whichever track it was was wonderful. I loved the notes that matched with the "To-Night Golden Curls" intertitles. Very nice.
While overall we enjoyed The Lodger, I do worry a little bit about our tolerance for the pacing of these early films. In places it felt a bit drawn out, which I'm sure was standard for the day. I'm not exactly the type that needs the hyper quick "MTV" style editing of many modern movies, but the pace here was a little trying at times. In the end the movie was interesting and beautifully shot enough to overcome that, but I worry about some of his following pictures, knowing they do not have the good reputation this one does. We will see! Hopefully my worries will be unfounded.
5/6/09: The Ring
(1927) - Alfred Hitchcock: 3-Disc Collector's Edition (Lionsgate) DVD *
"I'd be training for a divorce if I left her here!"
Well, it turns out my worries were not completely unfounded. The pacing here was very trying for us, but it was overall an entertaining enough film. I was surprised at how much humor was here, even if a little of it fell flat. The shots of the carnival at the beginning were very enjoyable for us as former rollercoaster/amusement park junkies. What I wouldn't give to travel back in time and experience some of those old amusements. Very fun.
SPOILER ALERT: Our biggest problem with the movie was we really didn't care about any of the characters, although maybe that was the point? Bob was a jerk for trying to steal Jack's girl, Jack was an idiot for quite literally fighting to get her back when she was obviously not worth it, and she was a tramp playing them both and only caring about Jack when it looked like he would win. So from that standpoint I guess the plot just didn't do much for us.
It was however a well made movie, with some interesting camera work and a little bit of Hitchcock's flair showing through. I just wish it would have moved a little faster. It felt like the story could have been told adequately in half the time and would have probably made for a more enjoyable experience. It was far from a bad movie though, and was well worth watching at least once.
5/25/09: Easy Virtue
(1928) - Alfred Hitchcock: The Legend Begins DVD *
"Now that you have quite exhausted your venom, I shall go to my room."
Hmm...yea. Well, it wasn't terrible, but there just wasn't much here to keep our interest. This is another that could have been cut down to about a half hour show. This was another movie filled with characters we just didn't care about at all. There were a few bits of goodness here and there though. Some of the shots were interesting, such as the opening shot of the judges's head looking up and then into the camera. There was something pretty creepy about that. The courtroom set was beautiful. The camera shot through the tennis racket and then partially obscured by trees was a nice touch...had an almost voyeristic feel, which I'm sure was the idea. The scene with the telephone operator reacting to engagement conversation was excellent and very unique. While the first half of the movie was pretty boring, things did look up a bit once they got to John's home. The mother's mistrust and downright hatred caused some decent tension. The similarities to Rebecca (though no where near on the same level!!!) jumped out right away during some of these scenes.
All in all this wasn't a total loss, but probably not one I can see revisiting in the future. Still worth watching to see the evolution in Hitchcock's film making.
(1928) - Alfred Hitchcock: The Legend Begins DVD *1/2
"We're only interested in legs here."
We've really slacked off on the "one-a-week" Hitchcock diet after not being overly impressed with the last couple movies. Thankfully, Champagne managed to bring back a little excitement in this venture. Now don't get me wrong, it's no masterpiece, but it was quite an enjoyable, funny little film. Laugh out loud funny in places in fact!
The story itself was pretty interesting. Spoiled little rich girl abuses daddy's money and embarrasses the family name. Daddy decides to teach her a lesson and force her to grow up a little. In the end it's actually a somewhat heartwarming story the way it all turns out. Add some good humor, great acting, especially by the leading lady, and a few very cool camera shots (the shot through the champagne glass and the seasick scenes come to mind), and you have yourself a pretty enjoyable movie.
Even though this is definately not the type of movie Hitchcock would come to be known for, you can easily see the progression in his art here. The budgets were definately bigger, which allowed him to do more, and you can tell he is getting more and more comfortable with experience.
8/10/09: The Farmer's Wife
(1928) - Alfred Hitchcock: The Legend Begins DVD *
"A woman that's a pillow at thirty be often a feather bed at forty!"
The Farmer's Wife is basically the exact opposite of everything you expect from a Hitchcock movie. That's not to say it's bad, but do not expect anything remotely "Hitch" about it. There is quite a bit of humor here, some of it quite funny and risque for it's time. Overall though, I found it to be a bit on the long, drawn out side. I did not find the enjoyment in this that I did in Champagne, but it was definately a step up from the likes of Easy Virtue. Still, not a bad way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon.
8/16/09: The Manxman
(1929) - Alfred Hitchcock: 3-Disc Collector's Edition (Lionsgate) DVD *1/2
"You gave me your trust which I am unworthy to bear."
I went into the Manxman with expectations low. I have read in multiple places that this is one of Hitchcock's weaker films, so I was expecting the worst. I was pleasantly surprised! Yes, it was predictable and a bit contrived that Pete never saw what was really going on, but still it was an enjoyable film.
The scenery and photography were simply beautiful. It was refreshing to have so many outdoor shots, which to me was a nice contrast to the somewhat claustraphobic feel of some of the earlier films. At least I think that was the difference...something just made this film seem more "open" than the others to me. Budgets were obviously getting bigger, and Hitchcock was getting more and more experience and confidence. I also enjoyed the acting, seeing some now familiar faces, and the quite beautiful Anny Ondra. She conveyed a wide range of believable emotions through her facial expressions, from fun and flirty to desperate and miserable. I'm looking forward to seeing her again in Blackmail.
The Manxman concludes Hitchcock's silent era in this trip through his work. It took us quite a bit longer to work our way through these six movies than we were hoping, mostly because we found that we really needed to be in the right mood to get any enjoyment out of them. The Lodger kicked things off with a bang, and was a very enjoyable experience. Champagne and The Manxman were also highlights, both unexpected. The rest were a bit of a chore to sit through really, and I honestly will probably not revisit these often, if ever (other than The Lodger of course). I'm really looking forward to continuing on this journey and getting into the "golden years".
(1929) - Alfred Hitchcock: The Legend Begins DVD **1/2
"I did hear they got a real criminal to direct it, so as to be on the safe side."
Now this is more like it! What a great way to close out the '20s and begin the sound era. This was a great movie and shows exactly where Hitchcock is headed. We enjoyed this one greatly, especially coming on the heels of the very "un-Hitchcock-like" silent era (with exception of The Lodger of course). The climax chase through the museum was especially enjoyable. Great stuff here.
1/11/10: Juno and the Paycock
(1930) - Alfred Hitchcock: The Legend Begins DVD 1/2*
"Oh, that's a darlin' funeral, a darlin' funeral!"
Well...yea...umm....can't say I wasn't warned about this one. I went in with my expectations set very low, and honestly it was better than I was expecting. Not by much though. There were a few funny bits, and the story wasn't too bad, but really there just wasn't much enjoyable here.
(1930) - Alfred Hitchcock: 3-Disc Collector's Edition (Lionsgate) DVD *1/2
"People ought to be ashamed of themselves, kicking up all that racket at this time of night."
This one wasn't as good as I was hoping, but a decent way to spend an evening none-the-less. The opening moments were well done, with the people reacting to the yells and commotion. I thought the court and jury scenes really dragged a bit too much. Parts of the investigation were interesting, and of course the climax at the circus was absolutely brilliant. I guess overall I felt the movie was just a bit choppy. I found myself getting a little lost in places...not understanding what certain scenes had to do with the plot. In particular I'm talking about the annoying scene with Sir John waking up in some sort of boarding house with kids jumping on him. No idea what was going on there, and the dialog was completely buried under the screams of the baby. Overall Murder was decent, but not great for me.
4/9/10: The Skin Game
(1931) - Alfred Hitchcock: 3-Disc Collector's Edition (Lionsgate) DVD **1/2
"When we began this fight, we'd clean hands. Are they clean now?"
Wow...The Skin Game was way better than I expected it to be, and I can't really put my finger on why. The plot wasn't all that exciting, but something about the acting, and of course Hitchcock's building of suspense really sucked me in. I didn't even realize how invested I was in the movie until the excellent auction scene where I found myself practically cheering and booing at the TV. I was as shocked by the ultimate outcome as Hillcrest was. I didn't even realize the suspense was building until that point. The way the lines were blurred between right and wrong was great and made for a heck of a climax. This one ended up being way better than it had any right to be and blew away my expectations. It's certainly not among Hitchcock's best works, but I would certainly call it underrated.
4/25/10: Rich and Strange
(1931) - Alfred Hitchcock: 3-Disc Collector's Edition (Lionsgate) DVD *1/2
"It seems the best place for us is the gas oven."
Can't say we got all that much enjoyment out of this one. The audio on this DVD definately didn't help the case...we had to struggle to understand what was being said most of the time. Turning up the volume helped some, but then other sounds were overwhelming. I know I shouldn't judge these very early talkies too harshly, but it was a disappointment after being very happy with the audio on "The Skin Game". Overall this was a very frustrating experience.
Besides the audio issues, the movie itself was...unappealing I guess. It was very choppy...a strange mix of comedy and drama that just never gelled right. It really dragged in some places, but felt rushed in others. That said there were some very interesting shots and worthwhile moments, just not enough of them to really make us enjoy the film. The first half of the movie was the worst for me..I just did not care for the entire cheating couple plot. The later parts of the movie improved quite a bit, once the couple was back together and struggling to get home. Of course this led to a couple of completely "WTF?" moments, such as the birth and the drowning. Very strange indeed, but these moments somehow helped the movie. The acting was very good, and the actress who played Emily was very pretty. You could also tell Hitch was experimenting with the camera more and more, which is a good thing and one of the film's saving graces. Overall this certainly wasn't one of our favorites, but not a complete waste either.
5/2/10: Number Seventeen
(1932) - Alfred Hitchcock: The Legend Begins DVD **1/2
"I wacked him in the head with this sausage!"
I guess Number Seventeen is just more proof that I tend to not always stick to the popular opinion. I went in with my expectations as low as possible, and ended up being blown away! This was definately one of my favorite films so far in this little adventure, right up there with The Lodger and Blackmail. I guess it had me from the opening shots of the wind blowing Barton's hat followed by his entry in the house. I loved the atmosphere, lighting and shadow use. It reminded me a lot of the likes of Nosferatu and the work of one of my other favorite directors, the master of shadows Val Lewton. I thought the humor was just right...it was prevalent, but not too overdone. The sausage in particular had me laughing! Most of the acting was good, and the dialog, although a bit hard to understand at times, was decent. There was a little confusion as more characters came into the picture, but I think that was at least partially on purpose.
The second half of the film surprised me a bit as to how much action there was when up to this point the sets in Hitchcock's films were largly static. The fist fight was interesting as to how much it reminded me of modern fight scenes with it's fast, jumpy cuts and editing. Michael Bay must have picked up a few things from this scene!
Then of course we come to the big chase scene. I thought this was remarkable for it's time! Yes, miniatures were obviously used extensivly, but it mostly didn't stick out any worse than some of the bad CGI crap we are constantly stuck with these days. One complaint that I've read about this film is that the editing is choppy and sloppy, but to me that added to the urgency of the scene and made it that much more frantic.
I guess I can understand some of the complaints, but I can't for the life of me see why this is consistantly so poorly rated. I guess it all just worked for me. I'm hoping I enjoy his other "clunkers" half as much as I did this one!
5/10/10: The Man Who Knew Too Much
(1934) - Alfred Hitchcock: The Legend Begins DVD ***
"Tell her they may soon be leaving us. Leaving us for a long, long journey."
Well here we go! While my wife and I have enjoyed the journey thus far, some parts more than others, this is what we have been looking forward to for some time. I have read many times that this is the turning point in Hitchcock's career. Up until this point we've had mostly ok films, with a great one thrown in from time to time. From here out it should be just the opposites as the "clunkers" should now be the rarity. I'm also guessing our pace will be picking up a bit now. We did have a few large gaps between some of his earlier films. We found it difficult to get in the right mood...but I don't think that will be a problem from here on out!
While I wouldn't say The Man Who Knew Too Much is quite a masterpiece, it's close...and there are moments that it certainly is. I had my expectations high...probably too high. The first part of the film had me a bit worried. While it was entertaining, it wasn't really what I expected. Thankfully it doesn't take too long to get going, and once it does it's a fun ride. Everything comes together well.
The acting is great. Peter Lorre is so perfectly slimy...what a great villian. I also love the fact that while he's obviously a "bad guy", there are some subtle clues that he really doesn't want to hurt the child. He seems uneasy and maybe even a bit ashamed of the fact that the kidnapping was necessary. That's played so well...very subtle, but definately there. Love it.
There's also some great humor, but not too much as to take away from the tension. The scene with the dentist is a perfect example of balancing fun with suspense. Hitchcock is truly becoming the master at this point. Great stuff. There are some other great set pieces too. The chapel chair fight is a riot, the Albert Hall scene is pure classic, and of course the street shoot-out finale is great, if maybe a tad long.
SPOILER ALERT: It was maybe a bit too obvious that Jill was going to be the one to finally take out Ramon. It was nice how it ties into the beginning though...probably not quite the rematch she had in mind at the time.
Overall, TMWKTM is definately the best entry in Hitchcock's canon so far. I'm very much looking forward to the next one...which seems to be widely regarded as his first real masterpiece. I'm also very curious to see how the remake will stack up to this one, though that's quite a ways down the road yet.
5/17/10: The 39 Steps
(1935) - The Criterion Collection DVD *****
"Hello, what are we stopping for? Oh it's a whole flock of detectives."
Wow, what a film! If TMWKTM was a preview of what's to come, this is the start of the main event! I had my expectations high, and it didn't disappoint in the least. In fact, in some ways it surpassed what I was hoping for with it's almost non-stop action and humor. No doubt about it in my mind...The 39 Steps is a masterpiece.
Before seeing The 39 Steps, North by Northwest was probably my favorite Hitchcock film, and it's hard not to see the similarities between them. In fact, at this point I MIGHT even say I liked this one better...but I must wait until seeing NxNW again before making that judgement. That's about the highest praise I can give this film.
The acting was wonderful, from the leads all the way to the bit parts. Robert Donat was so charismatic and likable that I'm surprised he didn't become a Hitchcock regular. The chemistry between Hannay and Pamela is simply perfect. Heck, he had great chemistry with Annabella and the crofter's wife too for that matter! Quite the ladies man.
Speaking of the crofter and his wife, I found that scene touching and sad. I have to wonder what led to them being together, but she was obviously not happy and was trapped by this evil man. I found myself cheering for her to escape with Hannay, and felt sorry for her when she didn't and the abuse that the situation caused her.
There are so many other wonderful scenes that I can't touch on them all. Mr. Memory was a hoot, and the way he tied into the ending was great. Prof. Jordan makes for a good villian, and the scene where Hannay first meets him and realizes he's exactly who he didn't want to run into is wonderful. The train scene is edge of your seat greatness. The milkman scene is hilarious. The scene in the police station was a great swerve. And of course the scenes in the hotel where Hannay and Pamela switch from hate to love is very well crafted. So many memorable scenes go by at such a breakneck pace that I really need to watch it again to let it all sink in.
I should also mention the DVD. I originally just had this on a cheap public domain compilation set. Thankfully I decided to bite the bullet and spring for the Criterion DVD, and I do not regret it one bit. The audio and video were very lovingly restored. There were still a few lines of dialog that were hard to make out, especially during Mr. Memory's performance, but I'm sure that was due to the source material and to expect anything more is crazy. I wish all of Hitchcock's work would be treated with this much care, especially The Man Who Knew Too Much, which is in need of it and definately deserves it. I haven't been able to watch the wonderful sounding extras on the DVD yet, but will try to soon and will edit this to include them when I get a chance. I highly recommend any fan of this film ponies up the extra money to pick up this wonderful edition from Criterion. My only hope for better is if they give it a high definition transfer on Blu-Ray which I wouldn't hesitate to pick up also.
The 39 Steps is one of those films that the more I think about it, the more I love it. It's also one of the rare cases where I want to watch it again right away just to bask in it. Just a great, great movie, and a simple review from a nobody like me can never do it justice. Far and away Hitchcock's best work so far, and it definately wets my appetite for more!
5/23/10: Secret Agent
(1936) - Alfred Hitchcock: The Legend Begins DVD ***
"He isn't a general, but he'll appreciate the compliment."
It would probably be impossible for a follow up to The 39 Steps to really live up to it. Secret Agent surely didn't, but it was quite enjoyable none the less.
I think the biggest problem was with John Gielgud's leading role of Ashenden. His acting was wooden, and there was a distinct lack of chemistry between him and Madeleine Carroll's Elsa. This was an especially stark contrast with her chemistry with Robert Donat in The 39 Steps. She also had a much better chemistry with Robert Young, walking the fine line between flirting and pushing away his advances. If only the chemistry would have also been there with her "husband", the intertwined relationships here could have been all the more interesting.
My only other real complaint would be the very end. I enjoyed the early part of the train sequence, when the real spy was revealed, but I thought it fell flat once the planes started shooting at the train and the resulting crash and finale. It just seemed a bit rushed and a kind of sloppy way to tie it all up. It really didn't seem to fit with the rest of the film. Almost like they ran out of ideas for the ending and someone said "I know...let's crash a train!". Maybe that's going a little too far, but something about the very end just didn't sit right with me. That said...it really is a minor complaint and didn't detract too much from my enjoyment of the film.
On the other hand there were some absolutely brilliant scenes. The church scene was amazing....moody and suspensful with just enough humor thrown in. The chocolate factory was a blast! The assassination on the mountain combined with the dog's reaction was very powerful. As I mentioned the first half of the train scene was nice and suspenseful. There were many other great moments as well.
I should definately mention Peter Lorre. Yes, his "General" was way over the top, but overall he was a lot of fun to watch. He walked the line between lighthearted crazy and psychotic killer perfectly. I agree with most who think it was sometimes a bit much, but without him this film could have been quite boring!
Overall, definately not one of the best so far, but not too far behind and well worth watching. My biggest complaint as usual with these early films, I wish someone would take the time to restore it properly. A restoration on par with what was done with The 39 Steps would be a wonderful thing.
(1936) - Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection DVD ****
"Me, whistle? Perhaps you'd like me to sit in the cage and him do the housework?"
Wow...yet another amazing film! I had lower expectations as I had read this one isn't quite on par with his best work to this point. I was very pleasantly surprised. This one had me from the very first shots of the blackout and I enjoyed every moment. Even though we knew who the "bad guy" was right from the start, some great suspense was still built around how things would play out.
I really enjoyed the fact that Verloc didn't want to go as far as hurt people, but was forced into it and the conflict that caused him. The character development was second to none, and it was easy to care about all of the main characters, even Verloc. It certainly didn't hurt that the acting was excellent all around.
SPOILER ALERT: The suspense built during young Stevie's errand was amazing. The sidetracks were quite amusing, but the ticking of the clock kept the dread building. Unfortunately, I already knew what the outcome would be, so it wasn't a shock to me when the bomb actually went off. I have read that Hitchcock regretted doing that, or at least doing it after getting us to like Stevie so much. I think it was perfect as-is and helps steer the rest of the film where it needs to go. I also completely disagree with the opinion that everything that happens after his death is meaningless. No way! Mrs. Verloc's shock, realization, and understanding of exactly what her husband had done is one of the best parts of the movie. Again her acting is impressive here...you can see the emotions washing over her face without a word. The scene with the cartoon playing in the theater as she goes through this is very powerful. The following scene where Verloc meets his end is also a masterpiece. I did read one review where the author suggested that maybe Verloc purposly walked into the knife...which is something very interesting to think about and a nice twist on things. Of course the fact that Detective Ted is in love with the Mrs and is going to help her out of this is a bit too obvious, and the bomb which goes off in the theater is just a little too convenient of a way to wrap things up, but it still all worked for me.
It was also a treat to watch another DVD from MGM's excellent Premier Collection box set. The restoration here is top notch, with great video and audio quality. There are also a few great sounding extras that I can't wait to delve into. It's a pleasure just to open up this package and page through the book. Any Hitchcock fan that doesn't have this in their collection is depriving themselves. Beautiful package all around.
I would definately consider Sabotage to be an underrated masterpiece in Hitchcock's canon. The suspense, the humor, the acting, the cinematography, the story, the beautiful locations, and of course the masterful directing all come together perfectly. Why this one doesn't get more respect is a bit of a mystery to me.
6/06/10: Young and Innocent
(1937) - Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection DVD ***1/2
"Don't shout, I tell you! Don't shout!"
The best way I can think of to describe Young and Innocent is just plain fun. Plotwise it's not much different from The 39 Steps. It doesn't live up to that film, but taken on it's own, it's a fun, lighthearted ride. It's hard to not enjoy this one.
The suspense here is mostly not edge-of-your-seat drama, but rather the type that you kind of laugh along with, watching the good guys narrowly escape being caught time and time again. The birthday party in particular stands out in my mind as a perfect mix of fun and suspensful, as the aunt becomes more and more suspicious. And the gift had me rolling...really funny stuff here.
The acting was great, and the two leads had a wonderful chemistry. The writing was well done and witty. Some have scoffed at the use of miniatures, but I enjoyed it, and would still take them over some of the poorly done CGI so many filmmakers rely on these days. And of course the directing was top notch. The opening scenes, especially the body washing up on the shore was downright disturbing. There were many fun scenes like the initial escape, the fight at the diner, the great mine scene, the party scene mentioned before, and many others which all added up to an enjoyable film from beginning to end. While not up there with his best so far, I would consider Young and Innocent to be one of Hitchcock's overlooked gems.
6/09/10: The Lady Vanishes
(1938) - The Criterion Collection DVD ****1/2
"I knew it had something to do with porridge!"
What a great way to spend the evening of my birthday!! Another absolute masterpiece. The only reason I didn't give this one a full 5 star rating is I found the beginning half hour or so (before boarding the train) to drag on just a bit. Yes, there were some great comedy elements, and it served to introduce us to the key players, but it took just a bit too long to get moving. However, that is a very minor complaint, and the rest of the film is so wonderful that it more than makes up for it.
Could Margaret Lockwood be any more beautiful than she was in this film? Wow...she was just jaw dropping and very classy. Her Iris's chemistry with Michael Redgrave's Gilbert was wonderful to watch. Add in the sweet grandmotherly Miss Froy, the dynamic duo of Caldicott and Charters, and a few other great supporting characters and you have a wonderful cast that gels so well together. They were given a great, witty script and the acting was perfect across the board in my opinion. Of course the cinematography and directing were, as always, spot on.
I really enjoyed the story and how everything tied together once the entire plot was revealed to us. Even the seemingly minor things, such as Miss Froy being mad about not being able to hear the serinade over Gilbert's noise suddenly made perfect sense. It all tied together so wonderfully!
It seems as though it's impossible for anyone to discuss The Lady Vanishes without the comparison to The 39 Steps and the argument about which is Hitchcock's best British work. Well, my 2 cents is that The 39 Steps is ever so slightly superior, and that's really only because of my opinion of the opening scenes. If we would have moved on to the train 10 minutes sooner, my opinion might have been different. The 39 Steps on the other hand never had a moment that I didn't savor and the pacing was spot-on all the way through. Like I said, it's a minor thing, but it's the decision maker for me. That really shouldn't take anything away from TLV though...it's still a masterpiece and I'm very thankful that there's plenty of room in my collection for both wonderful films!
As with The 39 Steps, Criterion has put together an absolutely beautiful DVD. The audio and video quality is again as good as DVD can get, with the only possible improvement being a high definition release (which I would pick-up in a heartbeat!). It also comes with a plentiful selection of extras, which I again haven't gotten a chance to go through. Especially interesting is the inclusion of "Crook's Tour" another movie with the Caldicott and Charters characters that I'm looking forward to.
I really couldn't be happier with the streak of movies we are in right now. The Lady Vanishes was definately a cherry on top of Hitchcock's British career. I've heard some bad things about how he would end this part of his career with the next film, but I'm keeping an open mind...
6/20/10: Jamaica Inn
(1939) - Alfred Hitchcock: The Legend Begins DVD **1/2
"What are you all waiting for? A spectacle? You shall have it and tell your children how the great age ended!"
Well Jamaica Inn may not have been quite the spectacle we were waiting for to end the great age of Hitchcock's British career, but it honestly isn't all that bad. I have read many reviews that called this one of Hitchcock's worst films, even going as far as saying it has no redeeming qualities. I can't say I agree. Sure, compared to most of the last half dozen or so films this one is definately a step down, but taken on it's own, as it should be, there is plenty to enjoy. Not every film can be a 39 Steps or Lady Vanishes...so anyone with that kind of expectation is of course going to be let down. Going in with an open mind and no comparison expectations, Jamaica Inn is a very enjoyable experience. I'd rank it about in the middle of his work thus-far if you include his silent work. This easily blows all of the silents away with the exception of The Lodger in my mind.
The scenery and cinematography are nicely dark and moody which builds a sense of dread and forbodding early on. The acting is good all around, even the hammy overacting of Sir Humphery which fits the character well. There are some great scenes, such as the hanging scene, the escape and cave scenes, and of course the wonderful ending. Plus, who can dislike some quality pirate plundering. Nothing wrong with that.
Was this a major misstep in Hitchcock's career? No way...I wouldn't go that far. Was he disinterested and therefore a bit sloppy with it...yea...I can see that. It's not his best, but it's certainly not his worst either. If this is bad Hitchcock, I'll still take it over most director's best!
So that brings us to the end of the British era in our little journey. Prior to this we hadn't seen any of the films in this era. The Lodger started it off with a bang, blowing away all expectations of what a 1927 film by a rookie director could be. The remainder of the silents and some of the early talkies were a bit trying, but most were enjoyable on some level with only a couple complete disasters. Once 1932 rolled around with Number Seventeen the streak began, and each and every film since has been vastly enjoyable, with at least a few that I'd consider absolute masterpieces. I'm a little sad that we'll never experience a few of these for the first time again, if that makes sense. I guess what I mean is that now I envy anyone who gets to see The 39 Steps or The Lady Vanishes for the very first time. It has been a very satisfying experience watching not only the growth of Hitchcock's genius, but also the advances in technology. It's amazing how much changed in just this short 12 year period. Now it's off to the good old USA. We will finally be able to revisit a few that we have already seen, including our next stop, Rebecca. I loved this one on my first and only viewing and it will be interesting to see it again in this context and see how it holds up. The fun is just starting!
(1940) - Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection DVD ****1/2
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderlay again."
...and what a treat it was to revisit Manderlay and this amazing film. There is so much to adore about this movie that I am not sure where to start. This is the first film since starting this chronological journey that we had seen before, though only once. I enjoyed it just as much this time around as I did the first. That said, the tone of this film is definately different from the others leading up to this. I am sure much of this is due to the well documented interference from the famed producer, David O. Selznick. I don't think the film suffered from it, though it would be very interesting to see what it would have been if Hitchcock would have been given full control. At either rate, this film is an unquestionable masterpiece. In my opinion, the only films so far to top it has been The 39 Steps and maybe The Lady Vanishes. This is a hard comparision though, since Rebecca is such a different type of film from those two.
The acting is wonderful. Sweet Joan Fontaine...how she did not walk away with every award ever invented for an actress for this film is beyond me. Watching her character's development is incredible, heartbreaking, and almost exhausting. She starts out so innocent and child-like, is forced to deal with living in the shadow of Rebecca and everything that entails, and ultimately has to go on to deal with her husband's confession and the aftermath of what that reveals. We watch her seem to age decades in front of our eyes. Absolutely amazing. Then there is Judith Anderson's wonderfully evil Mrs. Danvers, who is the complete opposite. From the way she glides from room to room and appears out of no where, to the wicked dialog in the West Wing scene that woman is evil through and through. Laurence Olivier perfectly plays the conflicted Maxim with the haunted past, and George Sanders nails the slimeball Favell. All of the supporting roles are played perfectly as well, and of course I can't forget Florence Bates as the not-quite-as-high-class-as-she'd-like-to-be Mrs. Edythe Van Hopper. She adds both a great bit of humor, as well as a hint of the evils the lead character will have to deal with as the film progresses. Just plain great casting and acting all around.
Then there is Manderlay, almost a character itself. Such a beautiful, gothic setting. The cinematography and use of light and shadows is perfect in showing Manderlay both as a beautiful, inviting place, and as a dark, sinister place. A more perfect setting could not be asked for. I wish it were a real place that I could visit and see in real life. Beautiful.
Rebecca is definately one of my all time favorite films for many reasons. It may not have as many "fun" elements that some of Hitchcock's other masterpieces to this point have had, but there is something about it that is so wonderful yet hard to define. It will be interesting to see how it rates with all of his work yet to come, but I don't see it falling from my top tier very easily.
8/25/10: Foreign Correspondent
(1940) - The Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection DVD ****
"I can't afford a whole new set of organs."
Here's another almost-masterpiece that doesn't seem to be given as much praise as it deserves. While not quite up to par with his best work to date, Foreign Correspondent is a heck of a fun ride. It starts a bit slow (though still enjoyable), but once the assassination scene hits, the thrill ride begins and barely lets up through the end of the film.
The acting is mostly great. Joel McCrea made for a good lead, having a bit of the "everyman" charm that Hitchcock is usually known for. Laraine Day was also wonderful in her leading lady role, but their chemistry could have been a bit more believable. It worked, but only barely and seemed a bit more forced than some of Hitch's pairings. Especially with how quickly they went from slightly flirty to being in love and wanting to get married. I know it was necessary to keep the plot moving, but it seemed to happen way too much at the drop of a hat. At either rate, it did work and the film was not hurt by it, although a bit better chemistry could have helped elevate this to one of Hitchcock's all time classics. The supporting cast was superb. After being such a perfectly slimy villain in Rebecca, George Sanders was great to see again. His humor, especially when going back and forth with McCrea was excellent. Edmund Gwenn's happy hit-man was also a hoot. Great cast all around.
The humor was pitch perfect. It was there to keep things light, but never took away from the tension or the seriousness of the plot. A perfect balance. I love how it was mostly underplayed with hilarious lines delivered straight-faced. Smart, and very funny. The set-pieces were amazing, especially the assassination scene in the rain, the windmill scene, and of course the climax in the airplane. All extremely well done, especially when remembering this was made in 1940. The super-patriotic ending felt a little tacked on and a little out of place with how the rest of the film played out, but it makes sense in the context of the time period it was made in. Not to mention it's a reminder we could use a little more patriotism these days!
Overall, Foreign Correspondent took me a bit by surprise as to how great it was. Maybe not an all time classic, but very, very close. Highly recommended to anyone who may have missed this one.
9/12/10: Mr & Mrs. Smith
(1941) - The Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection DVD **1/2
"I'd give five bucks to see that cat take a sip of that soup."
Once again lowered expectations save the day! This really wasn't nearly as bad as I had read. In fact, there were a number of very funny scenes, just not enough to make the movie a classic. The scene in the restaurant with David first pretending to talk to the beautiful woman at the next table, and then later trying to give himself a nosebleed was absolutely hilarious though. The entire movie was worth watching just for that scene. As a bit of an amusement park junkie, I also loved the scene with Jeff and Ann on the parachute ride. Classic.
Unfortunately there were a number of things keeping this from being rated much higher in my book. The biggest of course is that I'm really not that into this type of movie, but I did keep an open mind and was pleasantly surprised. I also wasn't too crazy about Ann's character. I thought she was too mean-spirited about the whole situation and if I were in David's shoes i probably wouldn't have bothered trying to win her back. Then again without that there would be no story, so I guess it was necessary! I also thought it dragged on a bit too much towards the end when they got to Lake Placid. At that point I found myself just waiting for it to be over.
That said, with expectations in check this one is actually worth giving a shot. It's certainly not up to par with the majority of his work of this era, but not the train wreck I had been led to believe either. Now...back to the good stuff!
(1941) - The Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection DVD ***
"If you're going to kill someone, do it simply."
Suspicion is a decent little film...not great, but certainly not bad. We enjoyed the plot and the acting was mostly good, although I felt as though Cary Grant wasn't quite...right. Maybe he was mis-cast, or maybe the problem was in his acting itself, I'm not sure. He just didn't seem to gel into the role like he could have. It's a minor complaint though. I quite enjoyed how long the suspense was sustained, and how it built along with Linas suspicion of her husband.
SPOILER ALERT: The ending felt a bit like a cop-out. I think it would have been much more effective had Johnnie actually been guilty of the suspected crimes, or at least partially responsible. As it was everything ended up being happy coincidence and that could have been better.
All in all Suspicion was a good movie, but not up to par with some of Hitchcock's greats. However, middle of the road Hitchcock is still pretty darn great, so I can't knock it too much!
(1942) - Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection DVD ****
"Don't you know I can see a great deal farther than you can?."
Another amazing wrong man on the run film from the master. While it doesn't quite live up to the cream of the crop, there is much to love here. The story and directing were great as always, and the set-pieces were very fun. The acting was mostly good, but this is the one area that could have been a hair better. I'm not saying there was anything wrong with Robert Cummings's Barry per-say, but had he been slightly more cherismatic and had a little more chemistry with Priscilla Lane's Pat, this could have been top-tier material. This is nit-picking a bit though.
There were many unforgettable scenes here: The opening sequence with the fire, the scene in Phillip's house, the circus caravan, the bridge and river sequence, and of course the climax at the Statue of Liberty, plus so many others. I also have to mention Otto Kruger as Charles Tobin who made for a wonderful villain. Just a great film all around. Yet another that doesn't get nearly the respect it deserves.
12/5/10: Shadow of a Doubt
(1943) - Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection DVD ****1/2
"We're not talking about killing people. Herb's talking about killing me and I'm talking about killing him."
Yet another masterpiece filled with plenty of tension, amazing acting, great writing, and a heck of a story. It was refreshing watching a Hitchcock film close to his usual subject manner, where the main character was actually the bad guy. Even though we know this right from the start, the tension and suspense aren't diminished in the least.
The interpersonal relationships were a highlight here, and the characters all had a very "real" feeling to them. This may have had the strongest character building of any of Hitchcocks films thus far. Young Charlie was very convincing as a young woman just wishing for something different in her life, and then dealing with getting more than she bargained for when it did. Uncle Charlie was an amazing character all around...he played both sides of good and evil well, and his longer "speeches" were delivered perfectly. The tension Joseph Cotten was able to build with this character was pretty amazing. One of my favorite parts of this film were the moments between the father and his friend, striking a perfect balance between comic relief and adding to the tension by discussing murder with a murderer in the room with them. Great stuff, and masterfully crafted. Yet another great film that I have to complain about not being more well known.
(1944) - Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection DVD ****
"I can recommend the bait. I know... I bit on it myself."
Lifeboat is both an amazing technical achievement, and an amazing film. How Hitchcock manages to keep the viewer engaged and invested in the characters and story given the limiting nature of the single set context is nothing short of a miracle. Of course having such a wonderful group of actors certainly didn't hurt.
The mix of personalities and how they related to each other is where the magic happens. The story of the mother and her baby was heart-wrenching. The evolution of Constance's character as she reacts to losing her material possessions one by one is great (and amazingly acted). The character of the German captain is what really puts this film over the top. His character takes an already suspensful situation, and takes it to a whole new level.
While not quite up there with my favorite Hitchcock films thus-far, Lifeboat is an amazing film and really showcases his ability to build and sustain suspense in an interesting manner regardless of setting.
6/5/11: Bon Voyage / Aventure Malgache
(1944) - DVD ** / 1/2*
I expected very little from these French propoganda shorts, and that's about what I got. Actually I shouldn't say that...Bon Voyage was actually fairly entertaining for it's nice short running time. Aventure Malgache on the other hand...that one may have only been about a half hour long, but it was by far the longest half hour since starting this chronology!
(1945) - Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection DVD ***1/2
"Good night and sweet dreams... which we'll analyze at breakfast."
Another great film. Not quite up there with Hitchcock's best work, but not too far down the list either. A good, solid entry. There is great acting and chemistry between the lead characters (and wow was Ingrid Bergman beautiful!), a nicely paced interesting story, a wonderful double-whammy ending, and of course the usual technical perfection. Can't go wrong with that!
I also have to mention the great supporting characters. The other doctors at the hospital were amusing and I love how Hitchcock framed them in the lunch scenes all staring back at the main characters. Of all of the characters though, I thought Michael Chekhov's Dr. Alex Brulov stole the show. He was hilarious, yet perfectly believable as a brilliant psychiatrist.
The dream sequence should also be mentioned. What some awesome "special effects" for 1945! They really did capture the feel of a strange dream perfectly. Great stuff. Also, last but not least the score was wonderful. I wasn't too surprised to find out that it won an Oscar for the music after thinking how perfect it was while watching the film. Well deserved.
(1946) - Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection DVD ***1/2 (original viewing) / Blu-ray **** (4/24/12 revisit)
"This chicken took longer than I expected...I hope it isn't done too, too much. Of course it caught fire once..."
While I found Notorious to be yet another great film in Hitchcock's canon, I'm not sure that I would rate it as highly as most people seem to. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but this one really wasn't at all what I thought it would be. Not bad by any means, it simply didn't grab me as much as some of the others so far. That said, the story, acting, and of course directing were all top notch. I will definitely give this one a second chance some day as I could see it growing on me.
Update 4/24/12: I knew I had been away from this "project" for a while, but didn't realize it was that long! I really wanted to go back and revisit Notorious before moving on for a couple reasons. One was that my original DVD had some issues and ended up skipping over a couple minutes during my first viewing, of course during the pivotal scene in the wine cellar. Since the Blu-Ray was released I figured that was a good enough reason to go back again to see it all with better quality to boot. I also wanted to see if now that I knew what the film would be like if I would enjoy it more. Well, my opinion has certainly improved quite a bit. I'm not sure why this one didn't do it for me the first time through, but I liked it quite a bit this time around. I am sure a lot had to do with seeing that wine cellar scene in its entirety and uninterupted. Very tense and well crafted scene...dare I say one of Hitchcock's very best. I am increasing my original 3.5 star score up to 4.0. I still don't think it's quite up there with the best of the best, but it's a strong second tier.
5/22/12: The Paradine Case
(1947) - Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection DVD ***
"I do not like to be interrupted in the middle of an insult."
Once again lowered expectations save the day. Then again maybe lowered expectations weren't even needed in this case. Maybe most people would think I'm crazy, but I found The Paradine Case to be a great film. Sure, it isn't anywhere near Hitchcock's top films, but as I have learned, even bad Hitchcock is pretty damn good.
I've read many complaints about this film, and I agree with very few of them. Mostly I have read that it is simply dull, and nothing much really happens. I can't agree with this as I found myself engrossed in the story for the full two hour+ running time, and was surprised how quickly it went by. The "did she or didn't she" mystery, the interlocking love triangles, and the drama of the courtroom itself were all quite engaging. I have also read the complain that Hitchcock was just "phoning it in" and not putting his normal signature on it. I don't agree at all. While the camera was much more static in this one than in many of his films, the use of shadows and angles were wonderful, and the direction in the entire courtroom scene was amazing. I just can't see the complaint here. The sets were amazing, especially the courtroom, of course. The acting was great as well, especially the oh-so-slimy (but hilarious) judge. I've read that most of the acting was just ok, and again, I just can't see it. Then again I'm far from a film critic, so what do I know? I also found the climax and the reveal to be very tense and well done, though I know others do not agree.
There are only two things I can think to complain about. The score was way overdone and out of place. Not sure what they were thinking on that one! My other complaint is how quickly and easily Keane fell completely for Mrs. Paradine. I know it had to be that way for the film to work, but it was just odd to me, especially since his wife was so beautiful and sweet. I guess it's the "mysterious power" of this "exotic woman", but I didn't really see the attraction. These things really didn't take much away from the film for me though, so they are minor complaints.
I know I seem to keep saying it about Hitchcock's lesser loved films, but The Paradine Case really deserves better than to be thought of as one of his worst films. I won't say it's one of the best, but it is very enjoyable in its own right.
(1948) - Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection DVD ****1/2
"I never strangled a chicken in my life!"
This is one of the precious few of Hitchcock's films that I had seen before starting this chronology, and it was just as fun the second time around as it was the first.
Rope is very much the polar opposite of The Paradine Case. It is fast moving, short, and the camera seems to never stop moving. Rope is simply a fantastic film all around. Great story, amazing acting, a neat gimmick in the "one take" feel, and wonderful building of suspense that never lets up. It was also quite clever how the set was used to show the passing of time.
The...chemistry I guess you could call it...between Philip and Brandon is great and very believable. I can see the homosexual undertones that many reviews point out, but it is never overt nor does it take away from the film in any way. If anything it adds an extra level of interest. These two leads play their parts incredibly well, reacting in opposite ways to what they just did. Well written, well directed, perfectly acted. The rest of the cast also did fine jobs with their parts, adding some interesting dynamics to the story.
I have read that some think James Stewart was miscast. I have mixed feelings on that. I did get that feeling at first...even though he is charming and funny, he just isn't that believable as being much older and a former teacher of the lead characters. However, during the climax when he delivers his extended "speech" and goes through the realization of what happened and how he influenced it, his acting is second to none. So I really can't say he wasn't the right man for the job, but I can see why some would. It works in the end, if not quite from the beginning.
This is another one that I could write many more thoughts on, but it wouldn't be anything that hasn't been said before. To me, this is one of my favorites and an amazing example of just how much can be done with few characters and a single set. Highly recommended.
2/24/13: Under Capricorn
(1949) - DVD **
"That's just it, Winter. It's not quite big enough."
Wow...I knew it had been awhile since the last entry, but I had no idea it had been this long. It seems like every time I know a "bad" film is next up, it gets put off.
I don't have a heck of alot to say about Under Capricorn. It has the reputation of being one of Hitchcock's lesser films, and I can see why. It isn't bad by any means. It's just not that great either. It kept us entertained and interested, so that's really all that matters. There was some suspense and tension, and the main plot twist was decent enough, though predictable. Again, not bad...but not great. The long takes in the style of "Rope" were impressive, but other than that there weren't any real stand-out moments in the direction. But, it was well made and the acting was good. It certainly never hurts to watch Ingrid Bergman for a couple hours!
3/6/13: Stage Fright
(1950) - The Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection DVD ****
"Oh, I don't know, Jim is quite a common name."
Here is another film that gets better the more that I think about it. Stage Fright seems to get buried as a middle-of-the-road Hitchcock film, and really it deserves better than that. It has alot going for it, and doesn't really deserve some of the criticism that it receives for the infamous flashback scene. I didn't feel cheated in the least, and thought it added a great payoff to the end of the film. It was well crafted in my opinion, making the audience feel the same things that Eve felt as it all unfolded.
Speaking of Eve, her character was amazing and very well acted. I really enjoyed her shifting of characters and how she kept digging herself in deeper and deeper even though she had only good intentions. The other characters and acting were mostly perfect, especially Eve's father played by Alastair Sim, who stole the show in every scene he was in. The character of Charlotte was wonderfully nasty...one that we love to hate. My only minor complaint would be Jonathon. Either the writing or the acting of his character made it so I didn't really care enough about him to care if he was found innocent or not. I only cared because Eve did, though maybe that was the point. All of the minor characters were very enjoyable as well...from the Lovely Ducks lady to Eve's mother.
One great thing about Stage Fright is how it shows that lies keep leading to more and more lies until there is no way out of them. Even the good characters (Eve) end up lying and getting caught up in it. Everyone in the film gets caught up in this web of lies..from Charlotte and Jonathon to Eve and her father, all the way to the blackmailing maid. It is all brilliantly woven together and watching it keep building until it all slowly crumbles apart was a lot of fun. This is another that I can't wait to revisit someday.
5/21/13: Strangers on a Train
(1951) - Blu-ray ****
"I admire people who do things."
Yet another amazing film. Everything from the premise to the story to the acting to the locations to the directing all come together perfectly. There's not much to say about this one that hasn't been said.