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Feature: Norman Bates Reimagined

The writer and director behind 2010’s Peacock did not start out with a story that had heavy shades of Psycho, but what ultimately resulted is a retelling of the life of Norman Bates, possibly before owning that roadside hotel.

Cillian Murphy skillfully plays both John and Emma Skillpa, two parts of one man’s personality. John is an awkward sort who works in a bank in the town of Peacock during an era that looks much like the 1960s or 1970s. He interacts poorly with others and prefers to be left to himself. Emma, who is John dressed as a woman complete with wig and makeup, hides herself from the world as she quickly removes laundry from the clothes line, peers through the curtains at the neighbor’s kid, and prepares John’s breakfast and sack lunch. She then returns to the bedroom where she removes her wig and makeup and changes into the clothes she has laid out for John.

Peacock (2010)

Thus is our introduction to the dissociative identity disorder –also known as multiple personality disorder– John is taxed by. There is no grand reveal as we discover that Murphy is in fact not a woman, so the story instead leaves us thinking we will now deal with the man’s struggle to keep his secret in this small town. What disrupts the two personas’ way of life is the crashing of a train through the property fence as Emma is removing the wash from the line. The neighbors rush to her aid and wonder who she is, ultimately deciding the woman is John’s wife. Next, a local politician wants to use the train wreck as a site for a political rally because the caboose had a banner for his opponent’s re-election. The once-timid Emma begins to leave her shell as she accepts that the town now knows she exists, while John tries to backtrack on his feminine side’s decisions and keep the secret in the dark.

Like Norman Bates, the psycho who dressed in his dead mother’s clothes, donned a wig and killed young women of whom his matriarch would have disapproved, John too has a twisted history with his mother. We learn she had died one year prior –and he “met” Emma the next day– and also discover the woman mentally abused the boy by not only coddling him, but in one instance paying a young woman to have sex with him in the mother’s bed, while the mother watched, in addition to forcing him to do “horrible” sexual things. John also tells another character that Emma is not his wife, which leads one to deduce she is instead his manifestation of mother. Director and Co-Author Michael Lander said in his research into dissociative disorder, which included the study of murderer Ed Gein on which Norman Bates was based, he found that the condition is not hereditary but environmentally induced, requiring mental trauma and poor childhood nurturing with many patients reporting child abuse.

When John, becoming angry at Emma for interfering and inviting guests to his home, donates the woman’s clothes to a shelter, Emma is forced to enter the mysterious room at the end of the hall –the mother’s room. Here she finds photos of John as a child, hears the squeak of the bed springs where the man was forced to have sex with the young woman, and discovers some of the mother’s clothes. When Emma next reappears in a blue dress described by the hired woman as what the mother wore on that dreadful day, we are assured that this personality is in fact not a wife role.

SPOILER Murder is not a regular activity for John or Emma as it is for Norman, at least not at this point in his life. Emma, however, does seduce a man and takes him to a motel where she hits him with a crowbar and sets the room ablaze. Another character has been invited to the location to discover the scene and deduce that it is John who has died in the flames, thus allowing Emma to permanently take over the body. She has also by this point shaved off the man’s eyebrows and penciled in feminine ones, which also forced John to remain detached from the body. One must also wonder if, now that John is unable to reappear, Emma/John will leave town and perhaps purchase that same motel where the plot of Psycho might unfold. END SPOILER

John vs. Emma

Peacock could not have been what it was without Murphy’s involvement. The man proved himself in 2005’s Breakfast on Pluto to make quite a beautiful cross-dresser and he does that here again. Makeup, hair and clothing designers for the film also perfectly created Emma as a woman rather than a man in drag. But the two personalities really are made distinct by Murphy’s acting. His facial expressions and carriage are much different as John than as Emma, something we see at the film’s start as soon as the man removes his dress and transitions into the male personality.

Tragically, Peacock was a straight-to-DVD release despite having the star power of Murphy, Susan Sarandon,  Ellen Page, Josh Lucas and Bill Pullman. I had no expectations of the story when I went in, so it surely took me for a ride and not in the direction I expected. It has characteristics of a psychological thriller, artful drama and horror film rolled into one. I can truly say I loved this movie as an homage/reinterpretation of everyone’s favorite psycho, whether the writer-director intended that or not.

The Farmer’s Wife

Ring a Ding Ding 

     Alfred Hitchcock entered the movie business essentially as soon as it started. He rose quickly in the British ranks to the director status and so it goes without saying he has a few silent movies under his belt. The Farmer’s Wife is among those early Hitchcock films that are essentially forgotten because it does not fall under the typical style we have come to associate with the master. This movie, one of many Hitchcock pieces that would be drawn from a stage play, is a comedy, nothing more. No suspense here, but that is not to say Hitchcock did not illustrate early on his adroit approach to this lighter genre.

     Farmer Sam Sweetland’s (Jameson Thomas) wife dies at the start of our picture and her final words are to the housemaid Minta (Lillian Hall-Davis) to remember to air out her master’s pants. Our next scene is of Minta helping Sam and his daughter prepare for the young girl’s wedding. We are introduced to a host of characters at the ensuing party and we hear the handyman Churdles (Gordon Harker) remark that with the daughter out of the house, Mr. Sweetland will be looking to remarry. From the film’s inception we see Minta as the perfect new wife for the man as she runs the household and takes care of his every whim already. It will, however, take the rest of the film for Sweetland to come to that conclusion.

     Sitting down with Minta, Sam crafts a list of four women he can picture sitting in his wife’s chair opposite him by the fireplace. First up is a widow, but she says she is too independent for the man, which leads Sweetland to curse her and forbid her visit his home again. The next is a virginal spinster to whom he proposes just before she is to host a party –at which Minta and Churldes are helping out– and the woman shivers and quakes from the shock. Again fuming, Sweetland lulls outside while the rest of the party guests arrive and Churdles struggles with some trousers that have no button to keep them on.

     While still at the party, Sweetland makes his move on a young, fat gal who insists he is to old for her. This leads him to spew a number of insults resulting in the woman screaming and flailing her limbs while the rest of the partygoers try to figure out her hysterics. Finally, Sweetland makes one last effort with a barmaid, but we do not see how that results before the man returns home. He has given up, but when Minta sits down in his wife’s chair, the chemistry finally clicks and the two happily agree to wed. Adding to the hilarity, however, are the middle two women to whom Sweetland had proposed –the virgin and the hysterical one– who upon arguing with each other about the proposals change their minds just to spite the other. They show up at the Sweetland home and the young one says she is willing to accept the proposal, to which Sweetland says he will announce his bride shortly, fooling her into thinking she has won. When Minta re-enters the scene in fine dress, that crazy one again screams and flails about.

     The Farmer’s Wife is really full of fine performances. The middle two potential mates Sweetland approaches are the source of much laughter, but Churdles as a baboon-like man is really essential to this movie’s comedic success. The only struggle I faced was in thinking that I would actually like the hotheaded Sweetland to end up with sweet Minta. He proves himself a royal ass in his reactions to rejection, but his manner of treating Minta at the close is endearing enough to make it work.

     Hitchcock was reluctant to take credit for early films like The Farmer’s Wife because he essentially just filmed a play. The script for this one was nearly word-for-word the successful stage production of the same name, and so Hitch even once said, “It was a routine job. A stage play with lots of titles instead of dialogue.” Those intertitles were in fact how Hitchcock got his start in films. He was an “captioneer” in 1920 and 1921 and would design the intertitles and embellish them with drawings. From there he moved up to “art director” in mid-1921. He would meet future wife Alma Reville during this early studio work, although she was more advanced than he at the time. She entered the profession in 1915 as an “assistant continuity girl” working on cutting the pieces of film together. She can often be found on the credits of Hitchcock’s earlier films as the person responsible for “continuity” and she was always listed by her maiden name. Alma was “floor secretary” or a first assistant director by the time Alfred entered the trade. It would be several years of seeing each other around the studios before they would begin to date.

Source: Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

Feature: Guess that Poster

cropped-rear-window1.jpg

MacGuffin Movies has been alive for more than six months now, so I thought it was time to change up the site’s header above. I am sure you regular readers recognized the original movie poster cross-section as Gone with the Wind, but I’ve transitioned to a slightly more challenging poster excerpt. Can you guess what it is?

I have reviewed this movie, although that post does not feature this particular version of the movie poster. The image that is the basis for the header is actually a foreign advertisement for the flick, but I think the two individuals depicted should be hint enough to deduce the movie.

If you care to wager a guess, please do so by clicking “comments” below or by filling in the box.

THE ANSWER: Well, I guess I made the inquiry too easy as all three who wagered a guess got it correct. The poster featured in the new banner above is a section of a Rear Window poster. That’s Jimmy Stewart, holding binoculars you cannot see, and Grace Kelly in the background.

Rear Window

Rear Window

Frenzy

Frenzy (1972)

Ring a Ding Ding

      Ryan and I caught Alfred Hitchcock‘s Frenzy on the big screen this week as part of  Columbus’ annual CAPA Summer Movie Series, allegedly the longest running classic movie series nationally. This was the one film on this year’s lineup that I was dead set on seeing because watching it a couple years ago, I walked away feeling scarred for life and absolutely hating the picture. After some reading on the subject, however, I knew I needed to give it another shot. As you can tell from the rating, I’m glad I did.

     Made in 1972, Frenzy was filmed entirely in England and earned Hitch his first “R” rating. Make note, however, that the  Motion Picture Association of America did not establish the rating system we know today until 1968, so this was only his second film to be subject to the system (the other being 1969’s Topaz). That is not to say Frenzy in any way compares to Hitchcock’s other films as far as violence and horror goes. With the rating system came a freedom from the Production Code that outright forbid nudity and certain displays of sexual engagement. At last, Hitchcock was freed to go to the extent he surely always wanted to with his prior films. Frenzy contains both nudity and rape and because of that, I think, makes it distinctly different from prior films that relied more on suspense than visual impact.

     I left my first viewing of Frenzy feeling dreadful because of one particular scene: the nude rape/strangling of a woman. The moment is quite grotesque, but going in this second time prepared for that moment, I made it through, although not without gripping the armrest quite vigorously. What I found left over once surviving that scene is that Hitchcock really had perfected his craft by the time he made this, his second-to-last film. The editing, tracking shots, use or lack of sound and fantastic plot development prove what a pro he was.

     The film opens on a crowd of people listening to a speaker before someone notices a woman’s nude body floating in the river, a tie around her neck. She is the latest of the Necktie Murderer victims, crimes modeled after real-life Neville Heath, a sort of modern-day Jack the Ripper, who sexually assaulted his victims as part of the crime. The shot following that of the floating body is of Jon Finch playing Richard Blaney, who is adjusting a tie in his room, looking into the mirror. Blaney next gets fired from his job at the bar where he also resides. He bids farewell to his barmaid girlfriend and next stops to see fruit monger Bob Rusk (Barry Foster). Rusk gives his cashless pal a tip on a horse race and offers him money, but Blaney lies and says he has just been paid. After getting tight at a bar where he stands next to two men discussing the murders and describing the killer as a social misfit with sociopathic qualities, Blaney learns the horse he could not afford to back won at 20-1 stakes and violently curses and destroys a bunch of grapes Rusk had given him.

     Blaney’s next stop is his ex-wife’s dating agency. When the two start to quarrel, Brenda Blaney (Barbara Leigh-Hunt) asks her secretary to leave for the day. Ultimately, the two get dinner and Brenda slips some cash into the man’s coat, which he does not discover until after he has engaged the Salvation Army as his lodging for the night.

     At this point, Hitchcock has thoroughly set up Blaney as the likely Necktie Murderer. Our first encounter with the man was juxtaposed against the body in the river and focused on the his tie. We learn from two strangers the likely characteristics of the murder, such as violent outbursts, which we see from Blaney after missing out on the horse. His fight with Brenda also is suggestive of the fact. Mr. Blaney, however –and this is no spoiler– is not the murderer, thus setting up a typical Hitchcock wrong-man, run-for-cover plot.

     The next day, Rusk shows up at Brenda’s office while the secretary is at lunch. He has apparently engaged the agency to find him a mate, but because he seeks a woman who enjoys being hurt during sex, the agency has been unsuccessful, as has every other one in town. Rusk, who up to this point has seemed quite charming, becomes increasingly creepy as he tells Brenda she is his “type of woman.” What ensues through this prolonged sequence is the aforementioned rape –depicted as either a thrusting Rusk or a close up on Brenda’s unmoving face as she says the 91st Psalm– during which Rusk chants “lovely” with every motion. Upon completion, he calls the woman a bitch and begins to remove his tie, first transferring a tie pin with his initial to his lapel. Brenda screams and struggles for some time before the gruesome murder consumes her. What follows is the most tragic part of the movie from a filmmaking standpoint: We are given a shot of the now-dead woman, eyes wide, tongue hanging oddly from her mouth, which incited some laughter from the audience with which I sat.

Could have gone without this shot.

     Blaney stops by Brenda’s office after the crime but finds no one there. Unfortunately, the secretary spots him leaving and next finds her boss dead. Using utterly no sound, the camera is fixed on the side of the building and empty street as we wait for the secretary to climb the stairs, enter the office and utter the inevitable scream. This creates so much tension by doing so little. The police next fill the newspapers with a description of Blaney, who by this point has taken girlfriend Babs (Anna Massey) to stay at a nice hotel, using the cash from Brenda. The hotel clerks recognize the man described in the paper and call the police, but Blaney and Babs have fled out the window and sit in a park while the man tries to defend himself to his girl. The couple is next coaxed up to the flat of a friend, aware of the trouble, whose wife is convinced of Blaney’s guilt. Babs goes to work to get her belongings –the two plan to flee town the next morning– and after a row with her boss, is rescued by Rusk and offered a place to stay. Letting the girl into his flat, Rusk mentions she is his “kind of woman”.

     With the close of the apartment door, the camera backs silently and slowly down the stairs and out the building door to the street. Hitchcock deliberately sought to offer this second murder in complete contrast to the gruesome violence of the first and not provide violence for violence’s sake.

      The remainder of the Frenzy follows Rusk, discovering his tie pin missing, stuck in the back of a truck among potato sacks where he has concealed Babs’ body. He comically is kicked in the face by the woman’s leg and breaks his pocket knife trying to pry her stiff hand open. He escapes undiscovered, but the police soon notice a body hanging out of the truck. When Blaney next goes to Rusk for a place to hide, the man stashes him in his apartment and then alerts the brass. Rusk has also stuffed Babs’ clothes in Blaney’s duffle bag, which then allows the wronged man to identify the real murderer, although no one will believe him. Blaney is convicted of the crime, but continues to rant and rave about Rusk, leading the chief detective to investigate further.

      Frenzy contains some of the most blatant Hitchcockian humor. Throughout the movie, Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen) has been dealing with a wife engaged in cooking classes, who continually presents him with bizarre and unappetizing meals. First, she gives him a soup containing fish heads and octopi, which is supplemented with whole quail too small to enjoy. Pig feet is the next entrée we see him stuck with. The audience had many laughs both at these moments and other deliberately humorous times throughout the film.

      Hitchcock was highly influenced by the French New Wave approach to filmmaking with Frenzy, having engaged in screenings of the works of his friend Francois Truffaut among those of Antonioni and Goddard. He took production to his home town of London to film as much on location as possible and used unknown actors to create a feel of realism. As I previously mentioned, Frenzy allowed Hitchcock to create the sort of films he likely always wanted to make. He was an avid reader of true crime stories and his favorite were those featuring necrophilia and strangling. Naturally, finally facing the freedom to feature rape, he leaped on the opportunity. Although I generally contend that Hitchcock’s great work ended with The Birds, Frenzy has generally been considered by critics to be a highly important piece in his career and I do not dispute that now.

The MacGuffin: Unlike most Hitchcock films, Frenzy contains no macguffin.

Where’s Hitch? Among the crowd at the film’s opening listening to the speaker. He wears a black suit and black bowler hat. He is featured again in the same scene as spectators look into the river.

Source: Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

20,000 Years in Sing Sing

Gasser

20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932)

     The year was 1932. The Production Code was only starting to strangle the contents of films, Bette Davis was still sporting the platinum blonde look and playing sleazy roles, and Spencer Tracy was kind of young-looking. 20,000 Years in Sing Sing was one of those films that like many of those to come under the iron fist of the Code would have no choice but to punish the criminal, no matter how likeable he was.

     I learned about this code restriction from reading about the struggles Alfred Hitchcock had with several of his films. He often wanted villains or anti-heroes to get of scott free, but the big wigs in the Hayes Office required those who commit a serious crime to be punished for it, whether through the penal system or via suicide. For that reason, several Hitchcock bad guys kill themselves or get a comeuppance the director would rather have avoided.

     In 20,000 Years in Sing Sing we have a criminal serving his time, but he ultimately pays a mortal price for another crime he did not commit. As Tommy Connors, Tracy is some sort of hoodlum with pull in New York, but when he moves into Sing Sing for armed robbery, he is surprised to find his lawyer Joe Finn (Louis Calhern) is unable to secure either a release or at least a comfy stay. When issued an oversized uniform, Connors gets riled and starts throwing his fists around. The warden (Arthur Byron) agrees to let him off on the uniform requirement, allows him to wander around in long underwear, then assigns him to the ice house.

     When a small group of inmates plan an escape, Connors is all for it until he realizes the bust will go down on a Saturday –his jinx. He backs out at the last minute and the plan goes awry, resulting in two dead inmates and one who eventually gets the chair. The warden knows Connors had the option of trying for the escape and their relationship improves knowing he opted not to.

     Throughout his time in prison –a stint of five to 30 years– Connors has been visited by his girlfriend Fay, played by Davis. She has been allowing the lawyer to flirt with her in the hopes she can motivate him to get Connors set free. Fay and lawyer Finn get into a bad car accident and the girl thinks she is going to die. The warden learns of this and allows Connors to go see her provided he return to the prison that night. Connors has every intention of doing so until he runs into Finn at Fay’s place and the two get into a tussle. Fay shoots Finn from her bed but Connors absconds with the weapon. The incident might not have been a problem had not a curious cop been following Connors and heard the whole thing. It takes a couple weeks, but Connors does return to prison, stands trial and is convicted of the crime.

     Tracy gives a great performance. He had a wide range of personalities he could play and did a great job of presenting the tough guy with enough sense to know when to stop fighting. His character undergoes a bit of a transformation away from the arrogance the outside world laid upon him and toward the humble status of an every man no better than the next. Davis, too, gives a swell portrayal of a loyal girlfriend truly in love with her inmate beau. Never have I seen so much smooching in a film from this era. The character was not one we would see Davis play starting a few years hence, but she certainly proves there was no role she could not master.

  • 20,000 Years in Sing Sing is set for 12:45 p.m. ET Aug. 3 on TCM.

Source: Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

CAPA Summer Movie Series (Columbus, Ohio)

For those of you who live in central Ohio as I do, you will be glad to hear CAPA has posted its lineup for this year’s Summer Movie Series. I have seen a lot of these but am always willing to rewatch something if it’s on the big screen.

I’ll definitely be seeing Hitchcock’s Frenzy as I’ve been meaning to give that another chance. Other must sees if you haven’t already include Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Grapes of Wrath, High Noon, Bringing Up Baby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Big Sleep.

Sadly, no Audrey Hepburn movie this year as there usually is. For those who have not experienced a favorite or classic movie on the big screen in a theater full of people who love the movie as much as you, it really is a memorable experience. I recommend it.

Feature: My Momentary Celebrity Obsession – Robert Montgomery

My craze over Robert Montgomery has been going on for some time now, more than a year, I would say. Like Carole Lombard, I was first exposed to Montgomery in Hitchcock‘s only purely comedic American endeavor, Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The movie is a riot, and I regret the duo did not work together more. Montgomery won me over by being both funny and unrelentingly handsome/charming.

Robert Montgomery

Not long thereafter I caught Montgomery in Here Comes Mr. Jordan, based on the play (which would later become a Warren Beatty movie) “Heaven Can Wait.” He plays a boxer whose life is taken prematurely and so the folks in heaven try to find a suitable body in which he can complete is life expectancy. It is possible Montgomery has never been more funny, and the role earned him an Oscar nomination.

Romantic comedies were Montgomery’s milieu when he came to Hollywood around 1929 from the stage where he hooked up with George Cukor, thus facilitating his segue into film. He typically was cast as the socialite playboy who always got the girl despite how much of a heel his characters could be. He pressed for more dramatic roles and really showed his stuff in The Big House in which he plays a jailhouse snitch. He also got a great break when cast against type as a conniving killer in Night Must Fall, which earned him another Oscar nomination.

Montgomery would serve in the Navy during WWII and played several military parts on screen as well. When Director John Ford became ill and unable to finish directing The Were Expendable, in which Montgomery starred, the actor took over directing some of the PT boat scenes. He was officially credited as a director in 1947’s Lady in the Lake, which was shot in a first-person viewpoint from Montgomery’s character. The only time one actually sees the man is when he looks in a mirror.

Montgomery went on to host a television show, “Robert Montgomery Presents” and even had a job as President Eisenhower’s unpaid consultant, giving advice to make the leader look his best on television. This gent is also father to Elizabeth Montgomery, whom we all know as Samantha on “Bewitched”. He died from cancer in 1981 at age 77.

I have a list going of his movies that has proved a difficult feat to work through as most are not available on DVD and TCM does not air enough of his stuff. Nevertheless, I relish the opportunity to watch anything he has done.

Source: TCM.com

Fanny (1961)

Ring a Ding Ding

Fanny (1961)

     What is it about a story of young love interrupted by life’s challenges, leaving two people forever apart but always longing, that tugs at the heartstrings? The story of Fanny might be nothing new, merely a re-assembling of plots from other classic stories (“The Count of Monte Cristo” and “Wuthering Heights” come to mind) and a story in its third screen incarnation, but it remains a somewhat unpredictable romance as one is unsure how things will unravel. I would not say grab the tissues, but, ladies, prepare to sigh.

     Leslie Caron‘s Fanny and Horst Buchholz‘s Marius grew up together in the waterfront town of Marseilles. Fanny works with her mother (Georgette Anys) as fish mongers while Marius helps run a bar with this father, Cesare (Charles Boyer). As we enter the action, it is Fanny’s 18th birthday and she has the day off to wear a sleeveless “skimpy” dress. Marius is also secretly planning to join a ship crew transporting scientists leaving port the next day for a five-year duration. For some inexplicable reason, Marius longs for a life at sea, having overblown fantasies about what exotic islands are like. Fanny has been flirting with Marius all day, but the boy is too dense to do anything about. When the girl leads on the 58-year-0ld Panisse (Maurice Chevalier) in front of him, however, Marius puts on quite the angry show that ends with the two men strangling each other. Cesare breaks up the fight between his son and his best friend/enemy.

     That night, Fanny comes to Marius as he is closing the bar and the two sneak off to the pier (the girl’s mother is out of town). Fanny declares her obvious love for the boy and proclaims she knows he feels the same, but Marius tries to resist kissing the girl in his arms as he explains his sailor ambitions. The two eventually lock lips in an exceedingly romantic moment as Marius reveals he has thus far avoided a seaward voyage because of the young woman. The next scene is Fanny’s mother returning home to find two liqueur glasses and a man’s belt at her kitchen table, Marius in her daughter’s bed. She runs to Cesare furious and the two plot a marriage between the two. When the couple arrives, they are agreeable, but hearing his father’s plans for his life visibly upsets Marius. Fanny convinces him at the last minute to board the sailing vessel by telling him she plans to marry the rich Panisse.

     Both Cesare and Fanny mourn the fleeing of the young man, but the situation worsens when a forthcoming child is discovered. Fanny’s mother insists she marry Panisse, who is all too happy to be getting a child with the arrangement as no one in his family produced an heir. Cesare learns of the situation and becomes agreeable when he is allowed to be godfather, giving him an excuse to be involved in the life of his actual grandson. Almost two years later Marius is on leave for a few hours and visits Fanny where he puts together the puzzle of the child’s origin. He is hurt and ashamed and wants to take over –and Panisse is willing to step down– but Fanny refuses despite still loving the man. Jump about 10 years ahead where the story will end. Marius has been out of contact with everyone he once knew. The Panisse’s are living happily away from the waterfront, but the child has a longing to go to sea.

    The origin of this production of Fanny can be traced back to a French play by Marcel Pagnol, which was made into a movie in both France and then America in the 1930s. Hollywood also made an adaptation called The Port of Seven Seas, but that version varied greatly from the original story. This approach was actually a translation of a Broadway musical version with book by Joshua Logan (this film’s director) and S. N. Behrman. Jack Warner opted to delete the songs from the story, however, believing that audiences had grown tired of musicals. Ironically then, West Side Story beat Fanny for best picture in 1961. The movie was also nominated for Best Actor for Boyer, Score, Editing and Cinematography.

     Despite the Academy’s apparent favor of the camerawork, I did not care for the cinematography in Fanny. There were times when fast zooms or camera sweeps make me think I was watching a cheesey 70s horror film starring Vincent Price. Director of Photography Jack Cardiff also used a lot of close ups on Marius and especially Fanny’s face as they looked directly into the lens. It gave an intimate feel to the moment, drawing the viewer into the action, but it was sometimes employed even when the characters were not looking at one another. It was also hampered greatly, I feel, by a soft focus lens used exclusively for Caron. I have never been a fan of that approach typically used for close ups of women’s faces to make they look “more beautiful.” I always find actresses more attractive when I can see the details of their faces. Alfred Hitchcock was also an anti-soft focus guy. I seem to recall an argument with David O. Selznick over using it for Joan Fontaine in Rebecca … but that’s another story.

  • Fanny is set for 5:15 p.m. ET April 25 on TCM.

Source: Ben Mankiewicz

Hitchcock Blogathon #13: Marnie

Dullsville

Marnie (1964)

     For me, the downward path of Hitchcock’s films started with Marnie and the lifting of the Production Code. Hitchcock had been great at sneaking things by the censors or making deals, but when he was finally let go to insert formerly taboo subjects such as rape and prostitution, his films lost their subtlety and classic feel. This is especially true with Frenzy, a film that depicts nudity, rape and strangling all in one scene (although I admit I would like to give this film a second chance). I thought giving Marnie a second chance might redeem it, but I remain resolutely against this film.

     Marnie, played by Tippi Hendren, is a compulsive thief who uses her looks to get jobs in office buildings where she eventually takes off with the contents of the company safe. When she is hired at the Rutland company, businessman Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) recognizes her from her previous job, but takes her on anyway. When she takes off with company money, Mark figures out where to find the woman and forces her to return. He blackmails her into marrying him.

     Marnie has many peculiarities. She is afraid of thunderstorms, the color red, and is absolutely adverse to the touch of men. On their wedding night, the woman cowers in a corner as Mark tries to consummate the union. They agree that they will essentially persist as friends, but a few days later Mark is ripping off her nightgown and forcing the wifely duty out of her. Marnie attempts to drown herself, but Mark finds her in time. The only thing Marnie does like is her horse, which Mark brings to their home. But when the color red sets her into a frenzy while riding, the woman and beast have an accident and she mush shoot the animal. Her next compulsion is to return to the Rutland company safe and hit the road with the cash. Mark catches her and forcibly takes Marnie to her mother, whom he suspects is the source of the woman’s problems.

     It turns out that Marnie’s mother worked as a prostitute near the docks, taking sailors into Marnie’s bed and forcing the child to the couch. One particular night, when a man was kissing on Marnie, the adults have a scuffle and Marnie must save her mother by bludgeoning the man with a fire stoker. The revelation of this story occurs in flashback with Hendren giving the most infantile of all her performances as her loony character reverts to a childlike state.

     I know some people like this movie, but the horrible performances by Hendren and the mother, Louise Latham, make Marnie laughable. Hendren’s behavior when being upset by red objects or storms is so goofy, it is difficult to take seriously. I admit I am far from a Hendren fan, but movies like this are why. The film, advertised as a “sex mystery”, was set to star Grace Kelly, taking a reprieve from the princess life, but she pulled out because the people of Monaco could not abide their royalty enduring rape, even within wedlock. That scene caused trouble among the writers on the movie but is said to be why Hitchcock wanted to do the story, not surprisingly. Writer Evan Hunter wrote both a rape scene and one he preferred that had Mark backing down, and he was fired for pushing for the act’s exclusion. The final credited writer, Jay Presson Allen, however, had no qualms with writing the scene.

     Marnie also seems to be absent any Hitchcockian humor, at least as far as I could deduce. There is no witty dialogue to lighten the mood, which is a true disappointment.

The MacGuffin: The color red.

Where’s Hitch? Entering from the left of the hotel corridor after Tippi Hedren passes by.

Source: Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

I will be posting reviews of Hitchcock movies every hour ending at 8 p.m. today, but other members of the Classic Movie Blog Association, which is hosting the blogathon, have plenty to offer also. Links to their articles is up at the CMBA site. Check them out!

Hitchcock Blogathon #12: Notorious

Wowza!

Notorious (1946)

      Notorious was my favorite Hitchcock film for a long time (before I saw Rebecca). I was grabbed by the actors and the terrific story, so well executed. It offers spies, foreign locales, romance, sexual implications, and a woman whose life is endangered, all common Hitchcock elements.

     Ingrid Bergman plays Alicia Huberman, daughter of a Nazi traitor recently convicted. Cary Grant as a U.S. agent of some sort, T.R. Devlin, recruits the woman to infiltrate a Nazi operation in South America, to allow the gal to serve her country and make up for her father’s sins. Devlin uses Alicia’s connections through her father to reunite her with Claude Rains’ Alexander Sebastian, the head of the Nazi operation. Alicia begins dating the criminal while simultaneously falling in love with Devlin. Alicia gets stuck marrying Sebastian, causing tension in her relationship with Devlin, but she discovers that the villain is protective of a key to the wine cellar and that something peculiar persists with certain wine bottles. A large party at Sebastian’s home allows Devlin and Alicia to orchestrate the invading of that cellar where they discover bottles containing uranium ore. Discovering his wife is a spy, Sebastian and his wicked mother devise a plot to kill Alicia.

     The story and the actors do a great job of setting the viewer on edge as we panic that Sebastian will discover Devlin is a spy/the two were lovers. At the same time, the chemistry is so great between Grant and Bergman that we want nothing but for them to be together. A great scene between the too caught the negative attention of censors. When first arriving in Rio de Janiero, Alicia and Devlin have dinner in a hotel room. They spend a good deal of time kissing and talking, moving from the balcony inside. At the time, the Production Code allowed a kiss to persist only so long and this sequence defied that. Hitchcock was able to insist on the scene’s necessity, however, because dialogue was inserted between the nuzzling and developed the story. Another Hitchcock victory straight from the Hayes office. Hitchcock also managed to keep in the suggestion that Alicia was quite the experienced woman, in bed. She mentions adding Sebastian to her list of playmates before the two are married, hurting Devlin in the process.

     In 1979 when Hitchcock was recognized by the American Film Institute, Ingrid Bergman presented him with the prop key used in this movie, which she had kept as a souvenir.

The MacGuffin: What is in the wine bottles?

Where’s Hitch? The director sips champaign at the party at Claude Rains’ mansion.

Source: Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

I will be posting reviews of Hitchcock movies every hour ending at 8 p.m. today, but other members of the Classic Movie Blog Association, which is hosting the blogathon, have plenty to offer also. Links to their articles is up at the CMBA site. Check them out!

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