Saturday, May 24, 2014


Year 6, Day 144 - 5/24/14 - Movie #1,743

BEFORE: Yep, I'm doubling down on Hitchcock today, because it's a holiday weekend, because that last film was so short, and because both films deal with World War 2, they sort of work together as a double-feature.  Linking back to "Shadow of a Doubt", Hume Cronyn carries over.  I'm just going to skip the linking where "Bon Voyage" is concerned.  

THE PLOT:  Several survivors of a torpedoed ship find themselves in the same boat with one of the men who sunk it.

AFTER: I feel like I may have been remiss in pointing out the authors who wrote some of the stories that Hitchcock based his movies on.  I mentioned Daphne du Maurier, who wrote "Rebecca" and "Jamaica Inn", but I forgot to mention that Thornton Wilder worked on the screenplay for "Shadow of a Doubt" and that Dorothy Parker co-wrote the screenplay for "Saboteur".  "Lifeboat" is based on a story by John Steinbeck, so Hitch really knew to adapt stories from the best writers. 

This one is SO iconic - it's almost like a variant of a "locked-room" murder mystery, only the room is really a lifeboat.  And it's not really a murder mystery, the people are survivors of a U-boat attack.  But you know what I mean - people from different walks of life, thrown together by circumstance, having to work together to survive in close proximity without driving each other crazy.  

This was no doubt released at the height of World War II paranoia, where Germans had to be portrayed as the enemy in films, and an underhanded, sneaky,  untrustworthy enemy at that.  Can the Americans trust the German, who has the most sailing experience, to guide their lifeboat to Bermuda instead of toward a Nazi supply ship?  Well, that's the question, isn't it?  

In the meantime the 7 Americans have to deal with rationing the food, protecting themselves from the sun and storms, dissension in their own ranks, medical emergencies, and not going crazy from thirst.  It's a nail-biter of a film, waiting to see if they can survive long enough to be rescued - and even if they get rescued, will it be a rescue by an American ship or a German one?   Which presents a dilemma in itself - is it better to die on a lifeboat floating at sea, or in a German prison camp?

Also starring Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix (last seen in "Woman of the Year"), John Hodiak, Walter Slezak, Henry Hull (last seen in "High Sierra"), Mary Anderson, Canada Lee, Heather Angel.

RATING: 6 out of 10 playing cards

Bon Voyage

Year 6, Day 144 - 5/24/14 - Movie #1,742

BEFORE: I debated whether or not to include this one, or whether this should count toward my final total, because it is a short film (26 min.) and I have no way to link to it.  Oh, and it's all in French with English subtitles.  I've decided to include it because a) it's already in my movie collection, b) it's officially part of Hitchcock's filmography and c) it happened to fall on Memorial Day weekend, making its WWII setting quite relevant.  I mean, I planned it this way all along.

THE PLOT: A young Scottish RAF gunner is debriefed by French officials about his escape from occupied territory.

AFTER: There's really not a lot here, just a story told in flashback about how a Scottish man (who seems to speak French very well) escaped from occupied French territory.  And he relates the story to his superior officers, who for some reason speak French also - shouldn't they speak English?  

What Hitchcock brings to the table, along with the intrigue and focus on war/spy stuff is the fact that the man who helped him escape may not have been who he appeared to be.  According to the officials, he may have helped one man escape in order to expose all of the people who helped him along the way.  

The story is thus related twice - once before the possible double-agent is revealed, and a second time after this new information comes to light.  Which is a pretty neat trick, all things considered.  In terms of cleverness this is still miles ahead of Hitchcock's early work like "The Ring" and "The Lodger".

Starring John Blythe and a number of French actors who chose to remain anonymous. (no kidding, this was to protect any family members still in the occupied territory)

RATING: 4 out of 10 bicycles

Friday, May 23, 2014

Shadow of a Doubt

Year 6, Day 143 - 5/23/14 - Movie #1,741

BEFORE: I've reached the halfway point (or thereabouts) in the Hitchcock filmography.  I've done some reading up, and it turns out that Hitch filmed the "falsely accused" or "man on the run" storyline at least 11 times.  So it's not my imagination that a lot of these have been working as variations on the same theme.  Hitchcock carries over, tonight he has a cameo as a man playing cards on a train.

THE PLOT:  A young woman discovers her visiting "Uncle Charlie" may not be the man he seems to be.

AFTER: I suppose this counts as a variation on "falsely accused", because in this case it takes so long for us to determine whether the accused is guilty or innocent.  A man is tracked down by two detectives while visiting his family in Santa Rosa, California - and he's one of two possible suspects in the case of a "merry widow" killer.  This would be a man accused of marrying rich widows, and then killing them and keeping their money.  

It sort of leads one to wonder why there would be TWO suspects.  I mean, wouldn't the merry widow killer have to register for all those marriage licenses, and (assumingly) have to show some form of I.D., again and again?  This is another case of a Hitchcock story not having much confidence in law enforcement, I guess.  Damn, the guy signed three marriage licenses and skipped town all three times, if only we had some way of proving his identity....  Huh?

Things got a little confusing for me about 2/3 of the way through, when it seems like the other suspect has been confirmed as the killer, so it seems like Uncle Charlie's in the clear.  But instead this seems to put more pressure on him, not less, so what gives?  Why didn't this settle the matter, or did I miss something? 

Starring Teresa Wright (last seen in "Somewhere in Time"), Joseph Cotten (last seen in "Heaven's Gate"), Henry Travers (last seen in "The Invisible Man"), Hume Cronyn (last seen in "The Postman Always Rings Twice"), Macdonald Carey, Wallace Ford, Patricia Collinge.

RATING: 5 out of 10 headlines

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Year 6, Day 142 - 5/22/14 - Movie #1,740

BEFORE: Finally, Alfred Hitchcock is my link, because he made cameo appearances in both last night's film and today's.  Tonight he appeared as a man standing in front of a NYC drugstore, which means that I don't even have to mention that Cary Grant from "Suspicion" was also in "Arsenic and Old Lace" with Priscilla Lane.

THE PLOT:  An aircraft factory worker goes on the run across the United States when he is wrongly accused of starting a fire that killed his best friend.

AFTER:  One could easily posit that after the last few films, since World War II was in full swing, there was probably pressure for Hitchcock to get back to his basic plots, about spies and saboteurs to make American audiences aware of the constant threat to the country, reminding them to be vigilant.  Also, to focus on the type of person working long hours in factories for the war effort, bringing their sacrifices to light as a patriotic gesture.

This almost allows me to forgive the fact that another man is falsely accused tonight, and goes on the run to prove his own innocence.  However, at the same time it's not very patriotic to depict policemen and federal agents who are more interested in closing a case than they are in arresting the right person.

Why doesn't our everyman hero proclaim his innocence more loudly?  Or, for that sake, at all?  Is it so hard for him to say, "I didn't start the fire" or "I didn't know the fire extinguisher had been tampered with"?  I guess if he did, we wouldn't have much of a movie.  Nope, the easier solution seems to be to escape from the law (it actually is depicted as easy, which again sells the police of this fine country quite short).

To prove his innocence, he has to track down some rather flimsy leads, but eventually he finds a ring of fascist spies, led by a man who is perceived as being the pillar of his community, so proving that he's dirty is an uphill battle.  Eventually he gets involved in another ring, masquerading as the person the press believe him to be (this was a bit confusing) in order to prevent a 2nd act of sabotage at the Brooklyn Navy Yards.

It all leads to a conclusion atop the Statue of Liberty - so the film really represents a California to NYC journey as our hero tries to clear his name.  And yes, of course there's a girl that he ends up thrown together with, which is another classic Hitchcock trope.  Spend a little time together escaping from the law, and can true love be far behind?  Why, it almost seems so idyllic, doesn't it?

Also starring Robert Cummings (last seen in "What a Way to Go!"), Norman Lloyd (last seen in "The Age of Innocence"), Otto Kruger (last seen in "Sex and the Single Girl"), Vaughan Glaser.

RATING:  4 out of 10 circus freaks

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Year 6, Day 141 - 5/21/14 - Movie #1,739

BEFORE: My review of "Amazing Spider-Man 2" will have to wait - I'm estimating that I'll be posting it around July 20.  I'm avoiding publishing any spoilers this way.  If you haven't seen that film by July 20, then it's your own fault.  It's very simple for me to determine what constitutes a "spoiler".  If I haven't seen the film or TV show, then the information is a spoiler and should not be published where I can see it.  However, if I HAVE seen the movie or show, then it's not a spoiler.  Now if I could just get everyone in the media to check with me about what's OK to print, then I'll be all set.

Linking from "Mr. & Mrs. Smith", Carole Lombard was in at least three films with Cary Grant (last seen in "His Girl Friday"), including "In Name Only".   Hitchcock carries over and does another cameo tonight, so I'm covered either way.

THE PLOT:  A shy young English woman marries a charming gentleman, then begins to suspect him of trying to kill her.

AFTER:  A man and woman meet on a train (Man, did Hitchcock love trains, or what?) and this leads to a romance.  The opening scene of this film was used in the Steve Martin movie "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid", only with Steve Martin in the lead female's place.  They gave Steve Martin dialogue that would play off of Cary Grant's pick-up lines, very cool.

Cary Grant plays "Johnnie", who has trouble paying his train fare - so our first impression is that he's a no-good bum.  But then Lina sees his photo in the society pages, and naturally assumes that he's well-off.  Yeah, maybe she should have stuck with her first impression. After they get married he resorts to his old ways, skipping work and hanging out at the racetrack, even selling off her parent's museum quality chairs to pay off his debts.  Worse yet, he's wondering when his wife's parents are going to kick the bucket, so she'll get an inheritance.

The situation seems to get better when he finds a job, but it actually gets worse.  And then he gets involved in a shady land deal - all the while, his wife stands by him and doesn't assert herself.  I guess this is a step up from the previous Hitchcock women who were unfaithful and irrational beings, but who can say?  Does she (fail to) act here out of love, or is it naivete, or perhaps desperation?  That much is unclear.

But as bad as Johnnie is, is he capable of murder?  As his situation grows more desperate, how far will he go to clear his name, and his credit rating?  Why does he show such an interest in untraceable poisons?  And why does he keep asking people up to the top of the mountain to check out the fabulous view?  No, really, just step a little closer...

Also starring Joan Fontaine (last seen in "Rebecca"), Nigel Bruce, Cedric Hardwicke, Dame May Whitty (last seen in "The Lady Vanishes"), Leo G. Carroll (also last seen in "Rebecca")

RATING: 5 out of 10 anagrams

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)

Year 6, Day 140 - 5/20/14 - Movie #1,738

BEFORE: You can tell for sure that the seasons have changed, because it's now impossible to go to any restaurant in midtown NYC, even with the expanded outdoor seating.  Yesterday I had to walk three extra avenue blocks to get some decent BBQ food - which is OK, because it allowed me to work up an appetite, and then I got to walk off the food on the way home.

 Tonight I snuck out to see "The Amazing Spider-Man 2", which technically is another rules violation, but since I make the rules I can grant myself an exemption.  I'll be reviewing this film in July just before Comic-Con (which should give me extra time to pack and prepare for the Con) and if I wait until then to watch the film, it will probably be gone from theaters, and not yet available on PPV.  So I have to bend my own timeline of films, but it's for the greater organizational good.

Linking from "Foreign Correspondent", Joel McCrea was also in a film titled "The Single Standard", along with Robert Montgomery.

THE PLOT:  A comedy about a couple who learn that their marriage was not valid.

AFTER: On first looks, this one doesn't seem to make much sense - Alfred Hitchcock made a romantic comedy?  With no spies, no false accusations of murder, no actual murder?  It makes about as much sense as Woody Allen making a time-travel sci-fi film (wait, he did do that, didn't he?).  You have to figure that the screwball comedy genre was HUGE back in the day, and I think when you look at the release date of "The Philadelphia Story", things start to make a bit more sense.

But then we come to the actual plot - a New York couple is visited by an Idaho official who tells them that due to a strange legal technicality (something about a river?  It's a mishap, the exact details are not important) they are not officially married.  Geez, you would think that just a simple act by the state legislature would just retroactively correct this, and that would be much easier than traveling across the country and tracking everyone down.

The trouble is, this is the sort of couple that is known for their multiple-day, knock-down drag-out fights, which are usually followed by multiple-day make-up make-out sessions - so it's tough to see how he maintains a legal practice when he's away from the office for days at a time.  The next problem is, the film opens on a breakfast after a several-day lovefest, and it wasn't clear at first that this followed a large fight.

Here's where Hitchcock proves that he doesn't really understand the battle of the sexes - just because some couples fight, it doesn't mean that fighting is inherent to marriage.  I wouldn't say that a couple that fights for days at a time is having a healthy relationship - and he's setting out here to make the audience feel that this relationship is worth saving - but is it?  Mixed messages, Hitch.  They make a point of saying that they're above jealousy, they've worked out little ground rules for each other, so which is it, are they rational people, or are they not?

Next problem - the official who tells them that their marriage is not official even makes this point:  regardless of whether or not the paperwork was filed correctly, they have still been living together for three years.  So, in the eyes of the law, what they have at the very least, is a common-law marriage.  They can get a new marriage license, sure, but they don't need it.  The same law that brought them together, even with it's little screw-up, also states that their relationship, for all intents and purposes, is a marriage.  So why fly off the handle?

Because the husband answered a question asked by his wife the previous morning - namely, "If you had it all to do over again, would you still marry me?"  Guys, this is a trick question, right up there with "Does this dress make me look fat?" and "Do you think she's prettier than I am?"  There is simply NO good way to answer these questions, unless you can say, "Hey, look over there!" and then disappear into the shadows like Batman, or use one of those mind-wiping devices from "Men in Black".  I do not condone giving your wife a concussion, even if that gets you out of a tough situation.

Mr. Smith then has to re-romance his own wife, which wouldn't have been necessary if she had only listened to that point about common-law marriages.  He has to compete for her hand with his best friend (some friend), or was that his business partner?  (either way, some partner).   The former (?) Mrs. Smith gets a job, but when her boss finds out that she's (sort of) married, that's grounds for dismissal? 

So, even after you factor in WHY this film was made, it still doesn't make much sense.  Really, this was just a sneaky way to deal with divorce and infidelity without ACTUALLY depicting divorce and infidelity.  Hitchcock still had to work around the production code, which stated that unmarried people couldn't have sex, but married people could.  I think this is mostly to blame for a very clunky plotline.

Also starring Carole Lombard (last seen in "To Be or Not to Be"), Charles Halton, Jack Carson (last seen in "A Star Is Born"), Betty Compson, Patricia Farr, Gene Raymond.

RATING:  4 out of 10 nosebleeds

Monday, May 19, 2014

Foreign Correspondent

Year 6, Day 139 - 5/19/14 - Movie #1,737

BEFORE: And George Sanders carries over from "Rebecca".  How convenient.

THE PLOT:  On the eve of WWII, a young American reporter tries to expose enemy agents in London.

AFTER: This film captures a very specific moment in time - released after World War 2 was declared in Europe, but before the U.S. was officially involved.  So the goal here was probably to raise awareness and GET America involved - which means this film doubles as propaganda of a sort.

An average reporter is chosen - there's your Hitchcock everyman, to get the average viewer involved - to work the European beat, to not just send back the "war is coming, any day now" telexes, but to get a real feel for the situation, and convey that to the American newspaper-reading public.  Though I'm not quite sure what the editor felt that a crime-reporter could bring to the table.

Our everyman goes to one political conference after another, getting a read on who the big players are, while also trying to make time with the daughter of the "Universal Peace Party".  He befriends a diplomat named Van Meer, and a few events later, is right on the scene as Van Meer is assassinated - or so it appears.  The reporter becomes the story by trying to chase down the assassin, and tracks him to a mysterious windmill. 

Again, nothing is what it seems at first - the assassinated diplomat could still be alive, the leader of the peace party could be working toward war, the policemen are corrupt, and down is up and right is left and, well you get the idea.

This was a very sneaky way to work in another espionage plot - either Hitchcock just didn't know the difference between a reporter and a spy, or he didn't much care.  Because as far as I know, a reporter's not supposed to MAKE things happen, he's just supposed to report on what DID happen.  We didn't send you over to Europe to capture enemy spies, learn about secret treaty clauses and try to marry diplomat's daughters - that's not in your job description!

Also starring Joel McCrea (last seen in "Sullivan's Travels"), Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall (last seen in "Murder!"), Edmund Gwenn (last seen in "The Skin Game"), Albert Bassermann, Eddie Conrad.

RATING: 4 out of 10 radiograms

Sunday, May 18, 2014


Year 6, Day 138 - 5/18/14 - Movie #1,736

BEFORE: So Alfie goes to Hollywood, and boom, home run right out of the box.  He directed "Rebecca", which won the Best Picture Oscar for 1940.  Did it deserve it?  I'll be the judge of that...
Linking from "Jamaica Inn", Charles Laughton was also in "Spartacus" with Laurence Olivier (last seen in "The Bounty").

THE PLOT:  A self-conscious bride is tormented by the memory of her husband's dead first wife.

AFTER: This one went through a couple of phases - at first it just seemed like it was going to be a romance film, where a young woman (funny, I don't think they ever gave her name...) meets an older widower, Mr. De Winter, while working as an older lady's traveling companion in Monte Carlo.  She ducks out for "tennis lessons" but is really going on long car trips with this gentleman, and when the time comes for her to travel on, he offers to marry her instead.  Parts of this phase were even close to comic, with the older woman wondering why the gentleman's not calling on her.

When our heroine moves in with "Maxim", it looks like this is going to be another stuffy British drama with stuffy people in a big stuffy mansion, Manderley.  But Hitchcock had other ideas - there's no shortage of creepy people working on staff, like Mrs. Danvers, the head of staff (?) who sees fit to undercut the new Mrs. De Winter at every opportunity.  When she invites the new bride in to see the room of Rebecca, the first Mrs. De Winter, which has been lovingly preserved since the day she died, we start to wonder what the hidden agenda really is.

It's still possible at this point that the new bride is just being paranoid - it's a common fear, after all, to wonder about your mate's ex-lovers or previous spouses.  How do you measure up, by comparison?  Are they still holding a torch for their ex-wife or old lovers?  Max certainly seems to act the part, going from sullen to wistful to just plain erratic.  And he flips out when Mrs. Danvers tricks the new bride into dressing just like Rebecca at a costume ball.

But then Hitchcock pulls another about-face and a couple of shocking occurences bring new truths to light.  Nothing is what we first thought it was, and even Max's reasons for acting the way he does are seen from a new angle.  There are secrets within secrets, and no one is safe. 

Like "Jamaica Inn", this was based on a novel by Daphne DuMaurier, and Hitchcock even later adapted her short story "The Birds" as well.

Also starring Joan Fontaine, George Sanders (last seen in "All About Eve"), Judith Anderson (last seen in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"), Reginald Denny (last seen in "Around the World in 80 Days"), Nigel Bruce, C. Aubrey Smith, Gladys Cooper, Florence Bates (last seen in "On the Town"), Leo G. Carroll.

RATING: 6 out of 10 home movies