“Sundays with Hitch” Continues on TCM Tomorrow

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Every Sunday in September TCM is showing dozens of works by Alfred Hitchcock from morning until…well into the next morning. It’s not the entire canon, but it’s enough to get even a jaded fan excited — this month long series even includes two or three silents that are among the few I haven’t seen.  Here’s what’s in the line-up tomorrow (Warning — I always include spoilers!):

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10:00 am: Number Seventeen (1932)

A terrific movie! A very funny haunted house comedy from the outset, with cobwebs, candles, shadows, footsteps, and a very theatrical structure of recurring “scares”, all these newly arriving people at this abandoned house “#17”. There is a body. Several semi-identified people. Who’s a cop? Who’s a crook? You can’t tell. Some of the confusion is intentional. But because of how it is cast it gets TOO confusing. There are about five identical looking guys, most of whom have mustaches. Hitchcock must have intended this, but it’s not a good choice. Muddles it too much. Another muddle is  that there are two “girls”. One seems to be the love interest for most of the movie; by the end it switches to the other, which is rather unsatisfying. In addition to the great atmosphere and comedy, there are some spectacular moments, such as a scene where two handcuffed people are leaning against a railing, which collapses, leaving them dangling from the fourth floor. Also terrific is a high speed chase between a train and a bus. Some of the shots are models—looks like Thomas the Tank Engine — but I wouldn’t change that for the world. There is also a very funny comic relief character, a cockney bum. This is the only character in the Hitchcock gallery I have yet seen who could be a possible model for the Brophy character in High Anxiety (I’ve always wondered about that—most of that movie has recognizable antecedents but that character didn’t seem to be drawn from anything familiar. Yet it hardly seems likely Mel Brooks used so obscure a reference as this picture).

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11:15am:  The Trouble with Harry (1955)
There are certain films in which Hitchcock’s rubber band seems to have snapped, almost as though he thinks that because the movie is not a “suspense thriller” it doesn’t require tension. It is a lesson he never seems to have learned. ALL dramatic art requires tension, whether it is in the thriller genre or not. It still has to thrill!  In The Trouble With Harry, there IS some tension initially (some country folk in a remote Vermont town find a dead body) but the urgency dissipates because of the slow pace and because no one gets emotional. There is a logic behind both those choices, both the slow pace and the lack of emotionalism: it’s set in rural New England, where the Yankees are famously laconic. But then Hitchcock didn’t cast anyone who seemed “Yankee” which partially spoils the effect but isn’t the real problem. More than this—no one in the film (except Edmund Gwenn) seems a knowing comic actor. (This was female lead Shirley Maclaine’s first film, and while she is sweet, she hasn’t yet acquired the confidence and command she might have later brought to the playing of this part.
An edge of perversity might have helped the movie. Even a comedy needs tension and momentum. Think of Arsenic and Old Lace. As in that script, a farce about a body can have plenty of slapstick – but there is almost none here. A black comedy about a body would SEEM to be right up Hitch’s alley. But, surprisingly, this film isn’t even dark enough. In the end, the best aspects or the film are the gorgeous color photography (it almost seems to be a travel documentary for the state of Vermont—that’s what it is, a black comedy about foliage), and Bernard Hermann’s entertaining, droll score.

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1:15pm: Family Plot (1976)

Sadly, Hitchock’s last film is very minor and doesn’t make any real statement (in the way that, say, Frenzy would have done, had it been his last. Family Plot is likable, it is funny, but it looks very low budget, almost looks like a tv show or something. There’s a certain chemistry in the ensemble cast of Bruce Dern, Barbara Harris, William Devane and Karen Black and the light tone reminds one his British films of the 30s (Dern’s character in particular reminds me of his male leads of the 30s, sort of ineffectual and bumbling). The score, by John Williams is one of the film’s best elements.  The old-fashioned process shots in the brakeless car sequence, one of the worst.

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3:30pm: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Not really an improvement over the excellent 1934 original, this version is just kind of updated and Americanized. Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day are the couple involuntarily drawn into an international intrigue on their Morocco vacation. In this version the wife is a retired singer, providing Day with the opportunity to belt the movie’s hit song (apropos of nothing), “Que Sera Sera”. How Hollywood! It’s very painful and harrowing when the little boy (switched from a teenage girl in the original) gets kidnapped. And the betrayal by the adorable elderly couple is extremely powerful.

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5:45pm: Vertigo (1958)

A masterpiece, yes, but better than Citizen Kane, AFI? I hardly think so! Hitchcock’s study of Jimmy Stewart’s obsession with Kim Novack is an extremely troubling film to watch, and frankly tedious for long stretches. It’s probably Hitchcock’s most personal film.Interestingly, Hitchcock makes San Francisco a character in the story: the Golden Gate bridge, the mission tower, the giant redwood, this mysterious “Carlotta” (a ghost?), the 19th century houses, trolley cars, driving up and down hills.  I find the ending of the film amazing, devastating — one of the most powerful moments in cinema. It’s so audacious, so impossible, and so starkly filmed, it reminds me of the existentialists or the absurdists.

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8:00pm: Rear Window (1954)

One of Hitchcock’s best; not just suspenseful and funny; not just technically impressive (a whole film in one cramped location); but gorgeous to look at and listen to. The Greenwich Village setting is full of artists; across the way are a dancer, a composer, etc for Jimmy Stewart’s laid-up, nosy photojournalist to look at, but also providing US with a show and implicating us in the consequences of his voyeurism.  It’s one of Stewart’s best performances. He’s particularly effective in that scene where he helplessly sees Lisa (Grace Kelly) in serious danger from the villain (Raymond Burr). Thelma Ritter is hilarious as the plain-speaking nurse.

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10:00pm: To Catch a Thief (1955)

I’ve always had a hard time getting interested in this one. For some reason, I’ve never been enthralled with the French Riviera (or the Mediterranean) as a film location—it doesn’t particularly speak to me. It’s alien. I finally realized one thing, however. Though this film doesn’t have the fast pace of a double chase film, or the murderousness of his darker films, it IS related to Marnie, Vertigo, Rebecca, Spellbound, Shadow of a Doubt, and many others in that it’s about the psychology of doubt, and someone we know (and love) possibly being a criminal and/or having a dark heart, and being obsessed with knowing the truth. (The story of course is that Cary Grant is a retired cat burglar, in a resort where jewels are being stolen. Grace Kelly is the love interest, but she also suspects him of being the cat).  It has some nice dialogue, but on the whole there are probably two or three dozen Hitchcock films I prefer to this one.

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12:00am: The Farmers Wife (1928)

A silent comedy about a rich country widower who proposes to several local women and is rejected by all — until he realizes his proper mate has been right under his nose the whole time. I’ll be seeing this one for the first time!

ALSO: SEE

WEEK ONE: http://travsd.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/sundays-with-hitch-launches-on-tcm-tomorrrow/

WEEK TWO: http://travsd.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/sundays-with-hitch-continues-on-tcm-tomorrow/

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