Friday, June 6, 2014

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Year 6, Day 157 - 6/6/14 - Movie #1,756

BEFORE: When I started this blog back in 2009, I don't believe I had every Hitchcock film on the list, simply because I didn't have them all in my possession.  I knew I wanted to get them on the list, so I kept an eye on the TCM schedule and recorded them whenever I could.  Over the course of three years, I think TCM played most of the big ones, and then I bought a DVD box set of Hitch's early silents and British films (up to "Jamaica Inn"), and I think the last hold-out was "Dial M For Murder", which I had to record off of AMC (shudder...) and then edit out the commercial breaks. 

I dubbed the films sort of haphazardly to DVD, two (occasionally three) at a time - sometimes that put two films on widely different subjects together on a disc, but I lucked out and was able to put both versions of "The Man Who Knew Too Much" on the same DVD.  That sort of thing, rewarding my OCD, is what enables me to sleep soundly at night. 

Hitchcock makes a cameo in the Morocco marketplace.  Thank God, because I didn't see another way to directly link between last night's film and this one.  (But wait, Shirley Maclaine was also in "Around the World in 80 Days", and so was Alan Mowbray, who appears in today's film.  See? I can't help it.) 

THE PLOT: A family vacationing in Morocco accidentally stumbles in to an assassination plot and the conspirators are determind to prevent them from interfering.

AFTER: Ah, the ultimate act of repeating himself - Hitchcock re-made his own film!  Though he did change quite a bit, moving the first bit from Switzerland to Morocco, changing the kidnapped girl to a boy, and adding a musical number.  OK, two if you count both the performance at Royal Albert Hall and then Doris Day singing at the embassy later in the film. 

The basic plot remains intact - a spy is shot and relates important information before he dies, and this information cannot fall into the hands of the police, because, well, then they'd be somewhat effective, and we can't have that.  So to keep the man quiet, his child is kidnapped.  Oh, why does he have to know so MUCH?  And the worst part isn't the knowing so much, it's not being able to tell anybody!  Gahd, that would drive me nuts, what good is knowing so much if you can't show it off?  It's just too bad that "The Man Who Knew Too Much But Needed to Keep His Mouth Shut to Save His Son" just wouldn't have fit on the marquee. 

I have to call shenanigans on the assassin being able to time his gunshot with the crescendo of the music piece in order to conceal its sound.  The other agent plays the assassin, like, three seconds of the classical work on the record player, and from this the assassin supposed to know when to shoot.  Why not play him the whole record, so he can put that little snippet into some context?  How else will he know when to start getting ready?  Without being familiar with the entire piece (it's called the "Storm Clouds Cantata", by the way, he wouldn't know whether that cymbal crash was coming up in 10 seconds or 10 minutes.  So I'm doubing if this is even feasible.

Other than that, the film sort of drags in the middle, and ends rather abruptly. 

Also starring James Stewart (last seen in "Rear Window"), Doris Day, Bernard Miles, Brenda de Banzie, Daniel Gelin, and Bernard Herrmann as himself.

RATING: 5 out of 10

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Trouble with Harry

Year 6, Day 156 - 6/5/14 - Movie #1,755

BEFORE:  Linking from "To Catch a Thief" Cary Grant was also in the film "Sylvia Scarlett" with Edmund Gwenn (last seen in "Foreign Correspondent").   Oh yeah, and the director rode on a bus last night and walks across the screen again tonight.  What a hambone that guy was.

THE PLOT: The trouble with Harry is that he's dead, and everyone seems to have a different idea of what needs to be done with his body...

AFTER: If I didn't know any better, I'd think that Hitchcock was almost trying to make a comedy out of this one.  A dark comedy, sure, but still a comedy. 

Another case of great timing tonight, because just as "Rear Window" was about the connections between people on a NYC block, this one's about life in a small New England town, and I'm headed up that way myself tomorrow night.  Even though I grew up in a suburban town and not a rural one, it still had that quaint feel that maybe everyone in the town knew everyone else, or at least we all weren't too many degrees of separation away from each other.  We had community theater, bowling alleys (OK, the next town over had that), and not too many chain restaurants or shopping centers. 

But the town portrayed in this film is quite rural, the kind of town with a general store (where you can't buy anything specific) and roadside stands, one police officer and one doctor.  Into this mix is thrown a corpse named Harry, and the first assumption made by the man who finds him is that he's the victim of a hunting accident.  As time wears on and different people stumble on the body (sometimes quite literally), the method of his death becomes more and more unclear. 

This eventually comes to resemble something like an episode of "CSI", where we gradually learn the events of the last day of Harry's life, and as more evidence is reveals, we're better able to reconstruct said day.  The problem is that proving each point means digging up the body again, and then once each point is made, it gives another person reason to want to bury him again.  If this is your idea of high comedy, well, good on you, but I didn't think all this was particularly funny.

Especially since we all know that going to the police earlier probably would have cleared up a number of things, and would have been the right thing to do.  Again it seems like Hitchcock's characters tend to take the long way around when it comes to doing things, and I tend to find that most times, people tend to take the path of least resistance.  But then if movie characters did that, movies would be a whole lot shorter.

And when someone finds a body in the woods, I doubt that a very common reaction would be to sketch it.  That just seems odd, even for an artist.

Also starring John Forsythe (last seen in "In Cold Blood"), Shirley MacLaine (last seen in "Bewitched"), Mildred Natwick, Mildred Dunnock, Royal Dano, and Jerry Mathers as "The Beaver". 

RATING:  5 out of 10 shovels

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

To Catch a Thief

Year 6, Day 155 - 6/4/14 - Movie #1,754

BEFORE:  Grace Kelly carries over again, completing a hat trick.  I think this means that in the last three days I've seen more Grace Kelly movies than I have in the previous 45 years.  Which seems a little odd, but then I don't think she made too many movies before becoming a princess, and then after that she didn't really need to, did she?

THE PLOT:  When a reformed jewel thief is suspected of returning to his former occupation, he must ferret out the real thief in order to prove his innocence.

AFTER: At first this film seems like a real change of pace for Hitchcock, being set in the world of high society and concentrating on a jewel thief, instead of a murdering murderer planning a murder.  But then the plot kicks in and (say it along with me now...) a man is falsely accused of a crime and must outrun the cops while finding the real criminal, and falling in love with a beautiful girl along the way.  Seriously, that simple plot outline describes at least half of Hitch's films, I've learned.  

I'm guessing that the term "cat burglar" was relatively new to the language in 1955, because Hitchcock opened the film with a montage of robberies, and each time showed a black cat walking across a rooftop, so that the audience would "get it".  Thanks, Alfie, but we're not idiots.  I understand why you couldn't show the actual robber, but you dumbed it down too much.  

John Robie is a retired cat burglar who is suspected of pulling off the new robberies - he also owns a black cat, but it's not the same black cat we saw walking across the rooftops, because he says she never leaves the villa.  So why have two black cats in the same film, isn't this just a bit confusing?  And if the new cat burglar is a copycat, does that make him a copycat burglar?  

You would think that it would be easy for Robie to prove to the police that he didn't pull the new robberies.  All he'd have to do would be to prove his whereabouts for the nights in question, and let them search his villa, at which point they would find no jewels or other evidence to connect him to the crimes.  No, instead he runs from the cops, which makes him look guilty, and then he tries to find the new cat burglar on his own.  To do this he contacts an insurance agent to find out who owns the best jewels in the area, and is therefore a target for future robberies. 

The problem is, this is exactly the sort of information he'd need if he were planning to do future heists himself.  So, to prove his innocence, he has to think like a burglar and act like a burglar, which only serves to make him look much more guilty.  Wouldn't working WITH the police to prove his innocence be that much more effective?  He'd just have to be within sight of a police officer ONE TIME during a heist to lend credence to the copycat theory.  Instead he seems to take the long way around.  

There's some convoluted justification for his former lifestyle - Robie claims that everyone is a thief, it's just a matter of degrees.  Some people cheat on their taxes, or their expense reports, so really, how different is that from being a jewel thief?  I'm not sure I can follow this line of reasoning - when you dress all in black and a hood and climb into windows at night, come on, you know you're doing something wrong.

As for the romance between Robie and Frances Stevens, she manages to see past his alias and figure out who he really is - at first she's excited by who he is, then upset when the robberies continue, and they have this back-and-forth that seems to hinge on "is he innocent or guilty", but it's tough to say which outcome she's rooting for at times.  

I got a creepy sort of feeling watching Grace Kelly riding in a speeding car along the twisty roads of Monaco, and yep, she died in a car accident in 1982 not far from where this film's picnic scenes were shot.  I think she had a stroke while driving, but the scenes still carry a weird sense of foreboding.

Also starring Cary Grant (last seen in "Notorious"), John Williams (last seen in "Dial M For Murder"), Jessie Royce Landis, Brigitte Auber.

RATING: 6 out of 10 fireworks

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Rear Window

Year 6, Day 154 - 6/3/14 - Movie #1,753

BEFORE:  And Grace Kelly carries over from "Dial M For Murder" - I swear, it's almost like Hitchcock knew that someday an obsessive movie fan would need to link from one film to the next over successive nights...

THE PLOT:  A wheelchair bound photographer spies on his neighbours from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder.

AFTER: You know, even though I'm more than 2/3 of the way through Hitchcock's filmography, I still manage to second guess my scheduling.  Should I have saved this chain for the fall, so "Psycho" could be closer to Halloween?  Well, forget that, because this film is takes place during a hot NYC summer, so the timing is ideal.  It's just starting to get hot in NY without being oppressive.

Bear in mind, this was made back before everyone in town had an air conditioner - so as things got hotter, people in the 1950's probably got more and more annoyed, and probably closer to killing each other.  People also didn't mind being stabbed so much, provided that the killer's arm also provided something like a cooling breeze.   And if someone shot at you, the bullet holes at least stood a chance of providing ventilation for your apartment.

From my office, I can see several apartment buildings and a hotel, so I can verify that people treat their fire escapes like balconies, and their balconies like little slices of heaven.  It doesn't matter if that balcony is about 2 square feet and barely big enough for one lawn chair, they're going to get their tanning time in.  And as for that hotel, well, you just never know what you're going to see with the aid of a pair of binoculars...

Our lead character tonight is a professional photographer with a leg in a cast, and nothing but free time to watch his neighbors as he recovers.  There's the lonely lady who pretends to be on dates, the frustrated songwriter, the wannabe artist, and the woman who exercises in her undies.  (and even still, our photographer manages to notice a man who may have killed his wife).

This neighbor is another one of those Hitchcock characters who thinks he's planned the perfect murder - even creating a cover story about his wife going out of town and then sending him a telegram.  But it's not the perfect murder if someone's watching...

Again, the police take the most convincing, even though our photographer has a friend who's a detective.  That's because most rational people would not resort to killing their spouses unless they'd at least considered divorce first - after all, you can't go to jail for divorce.   I thought of that last night as Ray Milland was explaining his elaborate murder plan - at some point, the hired killer should have said, "And exactly HOW is this easier than serving her with divorce paperwork?"

At the same time he's trying to prove a murder, our hero's got relationship issues - his stunning girlfriend is too perfect (as if that's possible), and brings him catered meals.  Dude, put a ring on it!  But he's got inadequacy issues, apparently, and doesn't think she'll fit in with his world of traveling and danger.  Plus then he'd have to stop watching his neighbors get it on...

I wonder if other people, especially critics, had the same problem I did with Hitch's last two films, with the killer being so long-winded.  Perhaps this film was his response to that - after all, if you put the killer all the way across the courtyard, you can't listen to him ramble on.

But what's the take-away here?  Out of every ten people on an average block in New York City, one is a murderer and another is his victim?  Actually, for all I know that could be accurate.

Also starring James Stewart (last seen in "Rope"), Raymond Burr (last seen in "Delirious"), Thelma Ritter (last seen in "Call Northside-777"), Wendell Corey, with a cameo from Ross Bagdasarian (aka David Seville from "Alvin & The Chipmunks"). 

RATING: 7 out of 10 flash bulbs

Monday, June 2, 2014

Dial M For Murder

Year 6, Day 153 - 6/2/14 - Movie #1,752

BEFORE: OK, roof repaired.  Screen panel put in front door.  I'm getting to most of my summer rituals, including the Washing of the T-Shirts.  I don't mean to suggest that I don't wash my t-shirts at other times of the year, but since t-shirt season is here, it's very important to have my best novelty shirts ready for action, and Comic-Con, so whatever's in the pile is getting washed, even if that takes me a few days.

Just about two more weeks of Hitchcock films to go - and now I'm getting to the really important ones.  Linking from "I Confess", Hitchcock appears only in a still photo tonight, and that hardly counts.  But Brian Aherne links to all three of tonight's leads - let's say he was also in "Forever and a Day" with Ray Milland (last seen in "The Lost Weekend")

THE PLOT:   An ex-tennis pro carries out a plot to murder his wife. When things go wrong, he improvises a brilliant plan B.

AFTER:  Well, I'm glad that Hitchcock eventually figured out how to make movies in color again.

Let's see, we've got the unfaithful wife (Check), the planning of a "perfect" murder (Check), the person falsely accused (Check) and the police who leap to the simplest, most logical and yet still wrong conclusion (Check).  Man, did Hitchcock know how to keep playing off the same themes, or what?

The difference here is that we do get to see a smart detective, eventually.  But before we get there, there's a lot of minutia involved in planning the perfect murder, and explaining it to the man who's going to carry it out.  Is it worth it?  I mean, for a 5-minute action scene - to have 45 minutes of a planning session before, and 45 minutes of figuring it all out on the other end.  Talk, talk, talk, that's all you murderers ever do, it seems like!

Much of the logistics in this case revolve around a key, which is how the killer gets in.  How does he get the key, where is the key going to be hidden, what should he do with it afterwards, who knows about the key, where is the key right now, why isn't the key where it's supposed to be.  Jesus Christ, enough about the goddamned key!  It's like arresting a bank robber and charging him with jaywalking on the way to the bank!

Did Hitchcock really think the audience would be so freaking fascinated in HOW the killer got in to the apartment, compared with what he was supposed to do once he got inside?   I mean, really, what's more important?  Besides, I can think of a dozen reasons why the key shouldn't even be important in the first place.  I mean, a killer could also pick a lock.  A killer could also break a window to gain access, or in this case could have come in through another door.  A killer could wait in the hall for someone to go into their apartment, and catch the door before it closes.  A killer could have stolen the key (as suggested within the movie at one point), made a copy and returned the original.  A killer could have knowledge of locksmithing and make a master key for that particular brand of lock.  A killer could have told a phony story about being a cop or a priest or someone in need of help in order to be let in. 

But nope, once the police figure out one possibility, they discount all of the other possible ways the killer could have gained access, and whatever they've figured out MUST be true.  Meanwhile, I call shenanigans. 

NITPICK POINT: Also, there are TWO cases where the policeman goes ahead and does things without getting a warrant first, so really, all of his evidence obtained from this would have been thrown out in court.  So sorry...try again!

Also starring Grace Kelly (last seen in "High Noon"), Robert Cummings (last seen in "Saboteur"), John Williams (last seen in "The Paradine Case"), Anthony Dawson (last seen in "Thunderball").

RATING: 6 out of 10 press clippings

Sunday, June 1, 2014

I Confess

Year 6, Day 152 - 6/1/14 - Movie #1,751

BEFORE:  We finally got our roof fixed today - since we've got a leak in the bedroom just about a foot away from the bed, we figured we should get that taken care of, even if it only leaks when it rains really hard.  We paid a roofer about four weeks ago to come by on his next available weekend, and then it proceeded to rain every weekend for the next four, making any work impossible.  But I've seen him working around the neighborhood, on the roofs of people who can afford to stay home during the day, or take a day off, I guess - and each week I told him "See you on Friday, unless it rains..."  Famous last words, I suppose.

Hitch gave himself another cameo tonight, as the man walking past a large staircase.  

THE PLOT: Refusing to give into police investigators' questions of suspicion, due to the seal of confession, a priest becomes the prime suspect in a murder.

AFTER: It's notable that Hitchcock made two films in color - "Rope" and "Under Capricorn" - and then returned to black and white.  Yet the poster for today's film touts that it was filmed "in colorful Quebec".  Well, what's the point of telling us how colorful Quebec is, if none of that color is going to show up on the screen?  Or did they mean "colorful" as in, what an interesting bunch of people we're going to show you in this film?  

Never mind that, was Hitchcock (or his cinematographer) not happy with the results of shooting in color?  That must have seemed like the wave of the future, and perhaps going back to simpler black and white was more comforting somehow?  Or was it an easier way to set the mood for crime-related material, placing these films firmly in the noir genre?  I'd love to know why his dalliance with color film didn't seem to take at first.

There's a fair amount of overstating the plot points in this one, I guess there was a fear that any non-Catholics in the audience wouldn't be familiar with the rules of confession, namely that a priest would not be able to divulge what he hears in the confessional.  The whole plot sort of hinges on this, but in addition to reminding the audience about this rule again and again, it's handled in something of a clunky way. 

First off, I'm not sure that this "rule" extends to a murder confession.  A priest may be able to absolve someone of this sin where God is concerned, but there's still the matter of human law.  At the very least, the priest wouldn't just remain silent after hearing about a murder, he'd be obligated to counsel the murderer, and try to convince him to atone by turning himself in.  He wouldn't just act mute, like Father Logan, the priest depicted here. 

Secondly, if called in for questioning by the police, the priest would most likely invoke the rule of confession, which Logan does not - and under no circumstances should be compound the sin by lying to the police, which Logan does.  And even a lie of omission is still a lie, which is another sin.  So, we should have seen Logan confessing to another priest, which is something that they do, like a therapist seeing another therapist.

Of course, this is a more complicated situation than we first are led to believe.  Hitchcock muddied the waters by delving into Logan's past - he had a girlfriend, Ruth, before the war, and she's still in love with him.  When suspicion falls on Logan and Ruth shows up to clear his name, she actually ends up making things worse for him.  ("Please, STOP helping me!")

This is more evidence that Hitchcock didn't think much of law enforcement - just because the killer was seen wearing a priest's robe, everyone at every level just assumes it had to be a priest.  Because criminals never wear disguises of any kind, you see.  Other director trademarks: the man falsely accused when only he (and the audience) knows the truth, and the fickleness of women (Ruth is married, but still in love with her old boyfriend). 

Also starring Montgomery Clift (last seen in "The Misfits"), Karl Malden (last seen in "Patton"), Anne Baxter (last seen in "All About Eve"), Brian Aherne, O.E. Hasse.

RATING: 5 out of 10 Hail Marys