Saturday, December 25, 2010
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Screenplay: Jo Swerling
Source Material: A short story by John Steinbeck
Running Time: 93 minutes
A black & white picture
Saturday 25th December, 7:45am
Fizzgig is grumpy with me today as I had a bacon sandwich and I wouldn't share it with her. She is now sat on her Ikea bed and making known her displeasure.
Understandable, of course.
I have been looking forward to this day - Lifeboat is one of my absolute favourite Alfred Hitchcock movies. Certainly a contender for 'Top 5' (I will determine those at the conclusion of my entire blog next year!)
Constance Porter - Tallulah Bankhead
Gus Schmidt - William Bendix
Willi - Walter Slezak
Alice McKenzie - Mary Anderson
John Kovac - John Hodiak
Charles Rittenhouse - Henry Hull
Mrs Higley - Heather Angel
Stanley Garrett - Hume Cronyn
George "Joe" Spencer - Canada Lee
Young German - William Yetter Jr
An Allied freighter is sunk by a German U-boat's torpedo. As the last funnel dips beneath the surface, the sea calms and there is a scattering of debris and lost property and lost lives. A female reporter, Constance Porter, sits almost immaculately in a lifeboat smoking a cigarette. She frowns as she notices her stockings have a ladder.
Gradually, the lifeboat is boarded by a number of survivors. Some are crew from the ship, others are passengers. One is a German from the U-boat which was also sunk in the sea.
One of the survivors, Gus Smith, is wounded with a piece of shrapnel in his leg - luckily a young nurse, Alice McKenzie is aboard. Gus is not too keen on the presence of the German and he reveals that he changed his name from 'Schmidt' when the war began.
Mrs Higley is a young single mother who has been suffering from shell-shock - her infant child has died in the cold water, yet she keeps it huddled to her breast, deluded about its survival. While she sleeps, the others give the baby a burial at sea. When she awakes, she panics, desperately clamouring for her son. They tie her down to calm her and she collapses in exhaustion. However, in the morning, when everyone awakes, they discover she has thrown herself overboard.
The survivors do their best to maintain some order. They allocate jobs to each other, erect the mast and sail etc. They also determine that their German colleague, Willi, is actually the Captain of the sunken U-boat. It appears that he doesn't speak English but no one notices that he also has a compass secreted in his pocket.
Gus' leg is infected and due to its gangrenous state has to be amputated. He drinks what is left of the surviving brandy and Willi performs the operation assisted by Alice, despite the brewing storm.
When the sea is calmer, much later on, some play card games whilst others talk about their personal lives. Suspicions fall on Willi and when George is requested by the others to pick-pocket Willi, they all discover that he had the compass all along.
Another storm brews and in the panic, Willi takes charge and hurls out orders... in English. He was keeping this information secret as he wasn't sure he could trust any of them. In the storm, they lose the majority of their rations, including all the drinking water.
After the storm, we see relationships develop - the once antagonistic relationship between Kovac and Connie settles to something more respectful. Stanley and Alice develop a bond between them too.
Gus is secretly drinking the sea water. Willi notices but deliberately doesn't alert the fact to anyone.
Over time, people begin to grow cranky and anxious - all except Willi who remains calm and level-headed. This is because he has been keeping a secret supply of water in a bottle under his jacket. While everyone sleeps, Gus sees him drink from it. Gus tries to tell Stanley, but due to his delirious ramblings, Stanley ignores him and goes back to sleep. Willi has to silence Gus and pushes the crippled man over the edge and watches him drown. The others awake to his cries moments too late. In anger, they attack Willi as one mob and beat him to death and throw him over the side of the boat.
Having been through so much, Connie no longer cares as deeply for her Cartier bracelet as she once did and she offers it for use as bait to catch fish. Just as one bites, a ship is seen on the horizon. In the panic to get its attention, the fish, line and bait are lost in the sea.
The boat that arrives is a German supply ship. It appears they are going to be rescued, but the ship begins to turn away - it is being fired at by Allied forces. It is sunk and only one young German soldier survives, they rescue him and pull him aboard, but his initial reaction is to pull a gun on his captors. They disarm him and he asks if they are going to kill him.
The Allied ship is on its way and they will soon be rescued...
The screenplay has to be commended for being slick and taught with a number of juicy bits of dialogue. I shan't repeat them all here, but here are a few.
When Constance spies the baby's bottle floating in the ocean and wishes to take images of it with her camera, Kovac is appalled...
Kovac: "Why don't you wait for the baby to float by and photograph that!"
One of many pertinent moments comes when they are debating what to do with their German passenger. They ask 'Joe' for his opinion...
George: "Do I get to vote too?"
Kovac sums up Connie: "You've been all over the world, met all kinds of people, but you never write about them, you only write about yourself. You think this whole war's a show put on for you to cover like a Broadway play and if enough people die before the last act, maybe you might give it four stars."
Connie comments about Kovac's tattoos: "I never could understand this habit of making a billboard out of one's torso."
Before Willi kills Gus;
Gus: "If there's anything I can ever do for you, just let me know!"
Willi: "There is something you can do for me. Remember your name is 'Schmidt'."
Gus: "You like it better than 'Smith'?"
Willi: "Much better."
When they see the German supply ship coming to their aid;
Rittenhouse: "Do you suppose they'll have any coffee aboard? Real coffee?"
German calling from the boat: "Hello!"
Rittenhouse: "What'd he say?"
Constance: "He says yes, they have coffee... and weiner schnitzel and pigs' knuckles and sauerkraut and apple strudel..."
Rittenhouse: "Why are they turning around?"
Constance: "Maybe they forgot the cream for the coffee!"
And in the last few moments, the young German boy they rescue from the sea asks: "Aren't you going to kill me?"
Lifeboat was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Director, but failed to win. However, Tallulah Bankhead did win a New York Film Critics' Award for Best Actress - deservedly so.
Her performance as Constance is magnificent. We witness the character change from a callous and material woman to someone with a great deal more heart than she is credited for by the end of the movie. As she loses her possessions - from those of her livelihood (typewriter, camera etc) to her personal affectations (mink coat, cigarette, bracelet) - we see her shed the trappings of society to reveal a much more humane woman. It's noteworthy watching her personal items are all given selflessly, even though she mourns their loss. The mink she gives to the shell-shocked Mrs Higley, her last cigarette to the wounded Gus and her bracelet to the hungry fish...
For a whole movie to be set in one small lifeboat, one might imagine this film may turn out to be dull - however, the whole film is gripping, moving and fascinating on so many levels.
The death of the baby and, consequently, his mother is harrowing. Gus' murder is heartrendingly unfair and Willi's death by mob is at turns disturbing and satisfying. The fact that the final blow is with the heel of Gus' remaining boot is delightfully ironic.
Mention must be made of the costume and make-up department. They have done an incredible job of maintaining the progress of the characters' plight through beard growth, peeling skin, chapped lips and depleting and worn-out clothes.
Oh, and you may have noticed throughout this blog that I haven't gone into great detail about Hitchcock's cameo appearances as this has been detailed many, many times before. However, his appearance in a weight-loss advert in a newspaper is rather clever and amusing.
Need I say it again? One of my favourites! (Obviously, I felt the need...) 10/10
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Title: Shadow of a Doubt
Year: Produced in 1942, released in 1943
Studio: Universal Pictures
Screenplay: Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson & Alma Reville
Source Material: From an original story by Gordon McDonell
Running Time: 103 minutes
A black & white picture
Sunday 19th December, 9:30am
I have had two late nights in a row. For someone who goes to bed around 9pm at night, two evenings up past midnight is rather shocking. Still, I have a good excuse - I have been catching up with friends and having a lovely time.
As anyone who reads this blog will know, I sometimes become a little disillusioned and I wonder why I go into so much detail with the plot synopses. Well, today I was thinking about it again as I tried to scribble down various details as the film progressed - pausing when I was pressured for time; I began to wonder if it was affecting my enjoyment of the films? If I am very familiar with the film in question, it seems not to be a problem, but if it is one I am less familiar with (such as this week's - I have only seen it once before) I find the task a chore and makes me slightly grumpy as I would sooner experience the rhythm of the picture and the timing as it is supposed to be witnessed. Still, at least the next time I watch the movies, I will possibly have a little more insight. It is certainly making me more aware of film techniques and screenwriting. The other aspect which is interesting is when I read up on the films in various tomes post-viewing. For example, this week's film left me a little cold, but having read some of the background to it, I came away feeling more generous with my critique. I shan't go into that here though. Let's move on...
Young Charlie - Teresa Wright
Uncle Charlie - Joseph Cotten
Jack Graham - MacDonald Carey
Joseph Newton - Henry Travers
Emma Newton - Patricia Collinge
Herbie Hawkins - Hume Cronyn
Fred Saunders - Wallace Ford
Ann Newton - Edna May Wonacott
Roger Newton - Charles Bates
Station Master - Irving Bacon
Pullman Porter - Clarence Muse
Louise FInch - Janet Shaw
Catherine - Estelle Jewell
A man named Charlie lies alone in a rented apartment in Philadelphia with money scattered around him. He is visited by his landlady who tells him two men were asking after him. Knowing these men are hot on his trail, he decides he is going to leave the State and head west to see his sister and her family. Meanwhile, over in Santa Rosa, his niece is coincidentally thinking about him and wishing he'd come to see them.
He sends a telegram informing him of his plans.
On the train, he travels under a pseudonym and feigns illness so he doesn't have to communicate with anybody who may be a witness to his face and description.
The family meet him at the train station and he turns on the charm immediately. His niece was named after him and she is somewhat besotted with him.
The family love having him stay with them and he is a charming house-guest, providing everyone with gifts (only Ann seems a little nonplussed with her cuddly toy - she probably wanted something more mature like a new book) and he gives young Charlie an emerald ring - she notices an inscription on the inside of the band: To T.S. from B.M.
Emma, Charlie's sister, announces that two men are going to be visiting as part of a National Survey and will ask questions and take photographs so that they can depict the life of a normal American family. Uncle Charlie is unconvinced and knows who the two men really are and refuses to be a part of the charade.
The two Charlies visit the bank where Uncle Charlie arranges to deposit his money whilst making fun of the whole stuffy atmosphere, embarrassing Joe Newton (his brother-in-law) who works there. Upon returning home, they discover the two 'survey' men (Fred Saunders and Jack Graham) who are snooping. One of them manages to take a photograph of Uncle Charlie and he is not pleased - he asks for the film from the camera. The man (Saunders) apparently obliges.
Jack takes the young Charlie out for dinner and they enjoy each other's company but soon she twigs that Jack is really a detective. She questions his motives and he explains that he just needs to keep an eye on Uncle Charlie and may need her help later if the time comes.
Remembering how cagey her uncle had been about an article in the newspaper he was trying to conceal from everyone, she heads to the library where she discovers that the detectives are searching for the 'Merry Widow Murderer' and have two suspects in mind. The last victim was widow of Mr Bruce Matthewson whose name used to be Thelma Schenley - "To T.S. from B.M."
Young Charlotte avoids her Uncle until the next evening where he rants about women in a terribly misogynistic fashion. This unnerves Charlotte even more. She leaves the house in a tantrum and Uncle Charlie follows her - he takes her into a bar where he tries to explain things to her without giving too much away. He then becomes testy and tells her that she knows nothing of this world but also begs her to help him is it comes to it. She is not easily persuaded...
After church the next day, they learn that the other suspect in the Merry Widow Murders has been killed and so the chase if off (?! - see my comments). Jack comes to say goodbye to Charlotte and he professes his love for her whilst they chat in the garage - they almost get locked in due to a dodgy door that sticks too easily.
Charlotte tells Jack that she'd like to think on it for a while as it all seems too soon.
Uncle charlie knows he cannot trust Charlotte to keep his secret and arranges a couple of incidents - one being a dodgy step down a flight of stairs, the second much more lethal. He leaves the car running on the day he is giving a lecture to his sister's Women's Club and he arranges for everyone else to go in a taxi except for him and Charlotte. He tells her to go and wait for him in the car. She goes to garage, discovers the place filled with exhaust fumes, tries to switch the car off but cannot. The garage door is wedged shut behind her and she is trapped, gasping for breath.
Luckily, Joe's friend Herb is passing and he hears her banging and alerts the family who come out and save her. She is fine, but decides to not go with everyone to the meeting and stays home - desperately trying to get in touch with Jack Graham to no avail.
When the family return along with a number of other guests, Charlie announces he is leaving but he sees that Charlotte is wearing the emerald ring and takes this as a sign she is going to tell all...
The next morning, the family take Charlie to the station but he forces Charlotte to remain on board the train as it pulls away from the station. He tries to push her from an open carriage door and in the struggle, he slips and falls before a train passing in the other direction.
His funeral is held in Santa Rosa and the majority are treating him as a fallen hero. Only Charlotte and Jack Graham know the truth and they wonder why Charlie hated the world and its inhabitants so much...
Charlie Newton's younger sister, Ann, is a studious and rather precocious child, but she does come out with some terrific lines.
When telling Mrs Henderson from the Post Office that she can't take the telegram message she explains why:
"I'm trying to keep my mind free of things that don't matter because I have so much to keep on my mind - innumerable things!"
Later, she moans to her father about her mother's telephone manner:
"Really Papa, you'd think Mama had never seen a phone before. She makes no allowance for science. She thinks she has to cover the distance by sheer lung power."
Uncle Charlie's misogynistic speech about wealthy widows is well-crafted and nicely performed.
Uncle Charlie: "Middle-aged widows, husbands dead. Husbands who've spent their lives making fortunes, working and working and then they die and leave their money to their wives, their silly wives. And what do their wives do, these useless women? You see them in hotels - the best hotels - everyday by the thousands, drinking the money, eating the money, losing the money at Bridge, playing all day and all night, smelling of money. Proud of their jewellery, but of nothing else. Horrible, faded, fat, greedy women."
Young Charlie: "But they're alive! They're human beings!"
Uncle Charlie: "Are they? Are they, Charlie? Are they human, or are they fat, wheezy animals? And what happens to animals when they get too fat and too old..?"
Methinks this man has issues...
I find Teresa Wright's character a little annoying in this movie. The young Charlotte is terribly sycophantic and sickeningly gleeful for the first half of the movie, almost trying to epitomise the overtly saccharine perfect American daughter. She really needs a damn hard slap. In fact, all the Newton children are need of a back-hander, frankly. (Ooh, I can see some people being appalled at that notion!)
What does seem even weirder is her sudden leaps. For example when she is out on a date with Jack Graham, she almost shows signs of schizophrenia when she realises he is a detective - what triggered that discovery? Odd.
I also find it odd how everyone dotes on Uncle Charlie - he comes across as slimy and wily immediately - I certainly don't understand what charm he may have (Golly, I sound almost as bitter and unsympathetic as he is!)
Anyway, those negative points aside, there is a lot of interesting things to note about this film:
There are myriad allusions to the number two throughout the film - duos, twins, doubles, waltzes, mirrored imagery etc. You could even turn it into a drinking game if you so desired. There are also many mentions of superstitions, some more subtle to others. Try and see how many you spot.
One of the other notable highlights is the variety of camera angles Hitchcock employs throughout the picture to convey uneasiness or a feeling of emotional distance or claustrophobia. My favourite and most effective is when the young Charlie is at the Library and she has just connected the newspaper article about the most recent victim of the Merry Widow Murderer and the ring her Uncle Charlie gave to her. The camera pans up and away on a crane as Charlie rises unsteadily to her feet as the horror sinks in.
My absolute favourite thing about this movie is Hume Cronyn's character of Herb Hawkins - a man obsessed with murder. His dialogues with young Charlie's father about the best methods to kill someone are blackly comic and reeks of Hitchcock's own macabre sense of humour.
One other quibble is this rather bizarre thread involving the other suspect who conveniently walks into a propeller blade and thus gives the detectives an excuse to call the manhunt off. Not the best solution as far as I can see!!
This is famously one of Hitchcock's personal favourites. However it is not one of mine. It is (to my mind) a little pedestrian in places, but at least it has some fascinating touches to raise it above the standard Hollywood fare. My main issue is that I simply do not warm to the cast! 6/10
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Studio: Universal Pictures
Screenplay: Peter Viertel, Joan Harrison & Dorothy Parker (yes, the Dorothy Parker! How cool!)
Source Material: This was an original screenplay
Running Time: 104 minutes
A black & white picture
Saturday 11th December, 8:30am
I am writing this up at around 11am. I am in a bit of a hurry as I have a lot to do this afternoon (well, I am planning a three hour hike and I would like to leave at 1pm - if the weather stays nice, that is). So, once again, I am going to have to race through this write-up whilst consuming a pile of lemon curd sandwiches and a mug of tea. Great sustenance, no?
I love doing this project but I do look forward to the day I can sit down and watch a Hitchcock movie again without having a pad of paper on my knee and a crappy Biro in my right hand. It's also rather time-consuming, but that isn't too much of a problem for someone who doesn't do much with his life anyway!
Yes, I am having one of those days when I wonder if anyone is actually reading this blog and wonder if it's worth the trouble. The thing is, I will continue anyway because I am a little bit obsessive and I will feel awfully incomplete if I don't finish what I've started (tell that to my old University lecturers then!)
*ahem* Let's get on with it...
Patricia Martin - Priscilla Lane
Barry Kane - Robert Cummings
Charles Tobin - Otto Kruger
Freeman - Alan Baxter
Meilson - Clem Bevans
Frank Fry - Norman Lloyd
Mrs Sutton - Alma Kruger
Phillip Martin - Vaughan Glazer
Mrs Mason - Dorothy Peterson
Robert - Ian Wolfe
Society Woman - Frances Garson
Truck Driver - Murray Alper
Young Mother - Kathryn Adams
"Bones" - Pedro de Cordoba
"The Major" - Billy Curtis
Fat Woman - Marie Le Deaux
Lorelei - Anita Bolster
Siamese Twins - Jeanne and Lynn Roher
Barry Kane works at an Airplane factory in California. He and his friend and colleague (Ken Mason) bump into a man who drops his belongings. Barry helps him pick them up. He sees the man's name on an envelope - Frank Fry - and hands it back. The two friends then see Frank also dropped a $100 bill and they return it to him.
A fire breaks out and the three men rush to help put it out. Ken hands an extinguisher to Barry but Ken takes it off him and rushes toward the flames. He is soon engulfed and burns to death.
There is an inquest and it is determined that the extinguisher was full of gasoline and the fire was an act of sabotage. They suspect it was Barry because he was the one from whom Ken had taken the extinguisher.
Barry had gone to console Ken's mother and while he is getting brandy from her neighbour, two detectives come and explain that they are looking for Barry and the reasons why. When Barry returns, Mrs Mason tells him and he takes his leave.
Barry hitchhikes a ride with a truck driver and during the journey, he recalls the place name from the envelope that Frank Fry had - the driver drops him off at Deep Springs Ranch.
Here he meets Charles Tobin, a wealthy man who enjoys his ranch and his private pool and the company of his family and his toddler granddaughter. He denies knowledge of Frank Fry but goes to telephone his neighbour in case they might know him. While he is gone, Barry sees some mail, amongst which is a telegram from Frank saying he'll be heading to Soda City. Charles returns and sees that Barry has figured out he is lying. Barry tries to escape by using Tobin's granddaughter as a 'human shield' and attempts to steal a horse. He is caught and brought back where he is cuffed and taken away by police.
On the way to the police station, the road is blocked - by the same truck driver he'd hitchhiked with - and he escapes the clutches of the police and leaps off the bridge into a river.
Later that night, sodden and weary, he makes his way through the rain-soaked wood and comes across a cabin. Here he meets a blind man who is very hospitable. The blind man's niece turns up and she is shocked to see Barry in handcuffs and deduces that he is the man the police are looking for. Her uncle believes Barry is innocent and tells her to take him to the blacksmiths to get the cuffs removed. However, she is not convinced and begins to drive him to the police station. He intervenes and guides the car on a detour. She flees his grasp and tries to flag down a passing car. Barry uses the fan under the bonnet to cut through the chain-links bonding his wrists together and succeeds. He grabs Pat and takes her away again before she can summon any help. However, it is not long before the car breaks down.
They hitch a ride with a circus troupe and the people of the circus pity them and protect them from the police at a roadblock search. The troupe let them sleep in their caravan and in the morning they are dropped off 2km from Soda City.
Soda City is a deserted town - an old calendar is dated 1923! However, a phone rings, but they don't get to it in time. They find a telescope which looks out toward a dam. Two Nazis named Freeman and Neilson turn up in their car. Patricia hides whilst Barry pretends he is one of them. Patricia makes a break for it and gets away and Barry goes with the Nazis to New York. Patricia has made her way to the local sheriff to explain her story - but it turns out he's one of the gang too.
In New York, Barry is taken into a hotel where a Mrs Sutton is holding a massive party - she is one of the leaders of this espionage group. There is a gathering of the gang in one of the upstairs rooms and Barry discovers they have Patricia there too. His cover is blown when Charles Tobin turns up and gives it all away. Pat and Barry try to escape and attempt to evade further capture by joining the crowd of dancers, but somebody 'cuts in' and whisks Patricia away.
Tobin and Kane have a face-to-face discussion of their differing opinions. Barry is appalled by Tobin's disregard for the masses.
Tobin's butler, Robert, knocks Barry out and the lock him up in the storerooms below.
Patricia is being kept in a room high up in the hotel. She scrawls a message of help on some card:
'Help. In Danger. Send Police. Look Up. Watch Lights Flicker.'
...and throws it out of the window where some taxi drivers see it. Meanwhile, Barry has set off the fire alarm and manages to escape during the panic.
Barry pieces the facts together and realises the gang are planning to blow up a bomb at the launch of a battleship. At the quay, he sees Fry in a van. He struggles with Fry and keeps him from detonating the bomb. Sadly, he doesn't succeed completely and the bomb goes off, thankfully later than it should have done, so there is limited injury but the boat is still capsized.
Fry and his co-conspirators take Barry back to their office but find the FBI and Pat waiting for them. They make a dash for it. Pat goes after Fry in a taxi and follows him to the Statue of Liberty. She calls the FBI from there and tell them to come. Barry goes with the agents and Patricia is trying to keep Fry from returning by using her womanly ways. However, Fry is tipped off when she uses his name. He tries to escape, but Barry and the FBI are making their way up the inside of the statue. He tries to hide by escaping into the left arm and climbing out onto the balcony of the torch. Barry follows him but Fry falls. He is clinging on to the statue's hand and Barry does his best to save him. However, the true saboteur's jacket rips and he plummets to his death. At least now Barry is exonerated.
With the glorious Dorothy Parker on board, one might expect a lot more witty one liners, but the script is still tight and clever with some interesting political comment.
However, there are moments of humour. My favourite is the following exchange when the truck driver makes a comment about Barry whistling Beethoven's Fifth;
Barry: "I didn't even know I was whistling!"
Truckie: "That's a sign you must be pretty happy - Easy to see there's nothing on your mind."
Truckie: "You married?"
Truckie: "Go ahead and whistle!"
Tobin has a long speech about his feelings toward the American public and refers to them as "The great masses - the moron millions" which is a blinkered generalisation but that's a grumpy Nazi for you. If he was referring to the 21st Century audience figures for Two and a Half Men one might understand.
The final piece of dialogue I'd like to mention isn't particularly outstanding when written down, but within the scene and with the performance of Vaughan Glazer, it felt especially noteworthy due to its effectiveness.
Pat sees the handcuffs on Barry and lets out a gasp.
Blind Uncle Phillip: "What's the matter, my dear? Have you just seen his handcuffs? I heard them as soon as he came in."
Out of context, it seems odd, but it worked brilliantly on film.
Why on Earth doesn't the actor playing Ken Mason get a credit? Poor sod.
I can't help but wonder how the hell Barry got out of that storeroom just by setting off the fire alarm. Maybe someone let him out, but it would have been nice to see some evidence. Maybe the store had an inbuilt teleport system? Who can say?
There are two specific moments I want to highlight.
Firstly, when Patricia and Barry are dancing at the party to evade the spies, the camera is cosily close to them both and we follow them directly as they dance through the crowd. It's one of those subtle moves that one might easily ignore which makes it all the more effective. (It's like the best CGI in modern cinema is the kind that you don't notice.)
Secondly, the tense finale atop the Statue of Liberty with Fry hanging on for dear life as Barry Kane tries to save him. There is no music score. Just the sound of wind, the boats below and - ingeniously - the noise of the stitching coming loose.
My palms were sweating!!
Although just another variation of the 'Innocent Man on the Run' scenario (a particular favourite of Hitch's) it's still an exciting thriller. Not a masterpiece, but definitely a shining example of the genre. 7/10
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Studio: RKO Radio Pictures
Screenplay: Samson Raphaelson, Joan Harrison & Alma Reville
Source Material: From the novel Before the Fact by Francis Iles (psuedonym for Anthony Berkeley Cox)
Running Time: 95 minutes
A black & white picture
Saturday 4th December, 9:00am
A reasonably early start to the day as I have a fair bit to get on with. This was another of my more recent purchases and so I had only watched it about eight or nine months ago. The DVD is very basic - no special features apart from the option to watch a ghastly colourised version of the film. Hold me back before I claw their eyes out for such a preposterous notion!
I recall being in the Sixth Form common room with some friends at school and we were watching What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? on video. Another pupil (who shall remain nameless) came in and said; "What's this shit?" I asked him how on earth he can assume the movie we were watching was below his apparently high standards and his response was; "Well, it's in black and white, innit?! There won't be any violence or anything!"
Well, if you think kicking a crippled woman in the stomach doesn't count as violence, then, sure!!
I don't want to sound like a snob but... philistine!
My point is - don't colourise stuff, especially films whose mood and tone are often enhanced by the black and white film.
This particular movie's colourisation is absolutely dreadful - it looks as though a four year-old has been let loose with a Crayola Carousel. Nasty!!
Johnnie Aysgarth - Cary Grant
Lina McLaidlaw - Joan Fontaine
General McLaidlaw - Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Gordon "Beaky" Thwaites - Nigel Bruce
Mrs McLaidlaw - Dame May Whitty
Mrs Newsham - Isabel Jeans
Ethel - Heather Angel
Isobel Sedbusk - Auriol Lee
Reggie Wetherby - Reginald Sheffield
Captain Melbeck - Leo G Caroll
Gavin Gordon - Bertram Sedbusk
All is dark as Johnnie Aysgarth enters a carriage on a train whilst in a tunnel. As the light blasts back into the compartment, he sees his travelling companion, a young, studious and beautiful woman - Lina McLaidlaw - she is reading a book on child psychology. They are strangers on a train...
He is in first class but with a third class ticket. When the inspector arrives, he asks to borrow money from Lina and she helps him out.
A day or two later, he spies her again at a foxhunt in the country. He is intrigued by her but is warned off by others saying that Ms McLaidlaw is out of his league. This only fuels his desire to woo her.
One Sunday, he whisks her away from church to go for a walk. While up on the hill, he tries to fix her hair but she sees it as an advance and fends him off. He is amused by this and finds it endearing.
Johnnie walks Lina back home and says he'll take her out again at 3pm. When he drops her off at her home, they overhear her parents saying that she will forever be a spinster. Spurred on by this remark, she impulsively kisses Johnnie on the lips.
At lunch, she proudly tells her parents about Johnnie and her father is not best pleased - he knows of Johnnie Aysgarth and is aware he is a cheat and lazy. Johnnie phones and has to cancel their afternoon appointment and she is slightly heartbroken.
Lina doesn't hear from Johnnie for days and she is all willing to miss the local ball, but she receives a telegram from him just 30 minutes prior to the ball stating he'll see her there. She is now in her element.
WHen he turns up, it appears he has not actually been invited, but the gaggle of women excited to see him there prevent much argument from the host.
Johnnie dances with Lina and then they leave early for a drive in her car. It is on this night drive that they admit their feelings for each other, albeit reluctantly.
They go back to Lina's home, knowing her parents will still be out at the ball. They kiss and Johnnie addresses Lina's father's portrait, asking for his daughter's hand in marriage.
The two of them elope and marry in a registry office. They honeymoon in various locations around Europe before returning home to a glorious house, rented by Johnnie.
It is only then that Lina learns of Johnnie being flat broke. It seems he gets through life bouncing from one loan to the next and taking great risks. He is already being asked to repay a loan which he had borrowed to help fund the honeymoon.
Lina's parents call and let her know about a delivery due - two beautiful heirloom chairs (which have been in the family for years) are delivered to the door. Johnnie thinks they are hideous and belong in a museum.
Lina says Johnnie must get a job and he says he has one lined up for him already with George Melbeck, a relative of his.
One day, Lina returns home to find Johnnie's old friend Gordon "Beaky" Thwaites waiting for him. She also discovers the chairs are gone. Beaky suggests he has probably sold them to help pay off debts.
When Johnnie turns up, he says an American offered two hundred pounds for them. Lina is upset but tries to be strong.
Whilst in town, Lina spies the chairs in an antique shop and she returns home devastated. She apologises to Beaky for not believing him when he made suggestions about Johnnie's character. Johnnie returns home laden with gifts. He had allegedly put the money on a horse and won two thousand pounds. He also admits to buying back the chairs - this is a great relief to Lina. They toast to his success, but Beaky has a bad turn when he has his brandy as it makes him seriously ill.
Another day in town, Lina goes to see Captain Melbeck and he tells her that he discharged Johnnie six weeks ago when two thousand pounds went missing - he has promised not to prosecute if Johnnie pays it all back. Now Lina knows that Johnnie is a compulsive liar as well as a gambler.
With plans to leave him, she changes her mind and decides to stay - but Johnnie returns home with bad news - Lina's father has died from heart failure.
At the reading of her father's will, Johnnie seems rather frustrated that they only get the continuing five hundred pound a year allowance and the portrait of Lina's father. Johnnie asks Lina if she regrets marrying him. She admits she knows he didn't marry her for her money as he could have done so much better elsewhere.
Johnnie soon bounces back from this financial setback and proposes a business plan with Beaky in which they buy some property on the cliffside and build on it to sell to others. Beaky is putting up the money, Johnnie is supplying the ideas.
Lina suspects Johnnie may be planning to kill Beaky to retain the funds, but after looking for a crime scene, returns home to find Beaky alive and well. In fact, it turns out that a nasty accident was prevented thanks to Johnnie.
Beaky takes a trip to Paris and Johnnie goes with him as far as London.
Lina learns from visiting police that Beaky has died after drinking too much Brandy. According to witnesses in the bar that night, Beaky was with an English gentleman whom Beaky kept calling 'Holbeam' or similar. Lina knows this is actually 'Old Bean' - a term of affection Beaky used for Johnnie (amongst others).
Lina visits Isobel Sudbusk, a local author of crime novels. She tries to get some information about murderers and their various modi operandi - Isobel recalls lending Johnnie one of her reference books about true crime cases. Lina finds it at home and also discovers a letter to melbeck from Johnnie saying how he will find some way to pay back the money. Almost immediately, Lina gets a call from the insurance company saying that the details of his request will be sent by mail.
The next day, she reads the letter from the insurance company - it explains how Johnnie can't access money unless his wife is dead.
At a dinner party held by Isobel and her brother, Johnnie keeps querying the methods of killing - he thinks it ought to be simple. He pressures to find out about an untraceable poison.
That evening, with the cook and maid away, Lina is terrified. She asks Johnnie to sleep in another room and she collapses in fear.
The next day, she is awake and Johnnie and Isobel are there. Isobel casually informs her that Johnnie managed to persuade her to tell the secret of the untraceable poison. That night, Johnnie brings a glass of milk to Lina's bedside. She does not drink it.
The next day she says she is going to her mother's for a few days. Johnnie is perplexed and a little annoyed by her behaviour. He insists that he will drive her there.
The journey is tense and Johnnie is driving too fast and erratically. On one dangerous curve, Lina's door swings open and she nearly falls. Johnnie reached out to save her. She screams. He pulls over...
By now he has given up on restraint - he tells her he'll leave her and she won't have to see him ever again. Suddenly it all makes sense - he wanted the poison to end his own life, not hers. She apologises for everything and insists they start again and try to work things out together. He is unsure if this is possible. They both get into the car and begin to drive in the direction of her mother's home - but then the car turns around and they head home.
The script does not ooze with blindingly sublime one-liners like some of Hitchcock's earlier films, but there are some enjoyably pertinent and entertaining highlights...
Johnnie shows his vulnerable side to Lina.
Johnnie: "I think I'm falling in love with you and I don't quite like it."
A moment of honesty whilst out driving.
Lina: "I couldn't stop loving you if I tried."
Johnnie: "Have you tried?"
Lina: "Yes. Once..."
I expect Agatha Christie would understand the following:
Isobel: "I always think of my murderers as my heroes."
On this supposedly untraceable poison:
Lina: "Is, whatever it is, painful?"
Isobel: "Oh, not in the least - in fact, I should think it'd be a most pleasant death!"
(I think I'm in love with Isobel Sudbusk!!)
My favourite Hitchcock touch ion this movie may not be what you expect - it's not the classic image of Cary Grant climbing the darkened stairway with the illuminated glass of milk (although this is beautiful!) - it is the moment Johnnie and Lina kiss in her living room and the camera rotates around them, making the audience feel an intimate part of this passionate moment.
In the original novel, Johnnie is, indeed, guilty of the crimes suspected by his wife. She is pregnant with his child and actually drinks the poison in order to kill herself and her unborn (presumed 'devil') child - but having also written a note of explanation so Johnnie won't get away with his crimes. All very dramatic, but certainly far more thrilling than it all being a delusion of her own paranoia. Frankly, Cary Grant plays the role as if he's guilty - the look on his face when Beaky has his 'attack' post Brandy. To turn it all around in the final scene to say "Dash it all, my life's crap, I was going to kill myself and be done with it" is all a bit of a cop-out.
The whole ending went through a number of changes thanks to preview audiences and studio control. Basically, it all comes down to people not wanting Cary Grant to be a bad 'un. Bless.
This film is notable as it earned Joan Fontaine an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Oh, and if anyone called me 'Monkey Face', I'd have to hold back from punching them - certainly not date them! Oh, if they look like Cary Grant, then maybe... sigh!
Certainly enjoyable, but somewhat marred by an unsatisfying ending. 6/10
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Title: Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Studio: RKO Radio Pictures
Screenplay: Norman Krasna
Source Material: This was an original screenplay
Running Time: 90 minutes
A black & white picture
Sunday 28th November, 11:50am
One of my Hitchcock books states that Suspicion comes first, but others (more accurately) tell how Mr. and Mrs. Smith was filmed first and screened first, so I don't know why sources differ.
This was one of my last batch of Hitchcock films to own on DVD and so I had not seen it that long ago, but I am a stickler for doing things correctly and I have to watch everything chronologically.
Is it getting too tedious me mentioning how I watch these movies laid out on the settee with a mug of tea and a snack (in today's case, two mince pies)? If so, tough luck.
I might also add that Fizzgig, my delightful ten-year-old female ginger British Short-hair cat, was more than happy to sprawl over my chest and left shoulder throughout the movie, making it rather difficult to take notes along the way. Oh well, she loves me and I couldn't bear to move her.
Ann Krausheimer Smith - Carole Lombard
David Smith - Robert Montgomery
Jefferon Custer - Gene Raymond
Chuck Benson - Jack Carson
Mr Custer - Philip Merivale
Mrs Custer - Lucille Watson
Sammy - William Tracy
Mr Harry Deever - Charles Halton
Mrs Krausheimer - Esther Dale
Martha - Emma Dunn
Gertie - Betty Compson
Gloria - Patricia Farr
Proprietor of 'Mama Lucy's' - William Edmunds
Lily - Adele Pearce
It's New York. A couple are in their bedroom of their serviced apartment and evidence suggests they have not been out for days. He is sat on the floor (tellingly) playing Solitaire with cards and she is under the bed covers.
The couple are Ann and David Smith. They have been married since 1937 and they live their married lives with certain rules which they adhere too strictly. One such rule is that if they have a fight, they are not allowed to leave the bedroom until they have made up - we are catching them at the end of a three-day sulk-fest.
Having made up, they dress and have breakfast together. They seem quite smug about how their rules work (her more so than he) and contemplate that many divorces would not happen should everyone abide by them in this way.
However, this very morning, Ann asks a hypothetical question to David - if he had the chance to do it all over again, would he still marry her. He answers honestly and says 'no'.
Rather than be impressed with his honesty, she is hurt.
At his office that day, David meets a man named Harry Deever who informs him that there were a number of weddings performed between 1936 and the present day in Beecham that, due to a rather annoying geographical technicality based on jurisdiction, their marriage is actually not legal. David is rather amused by this. He calls Ann at home but does not tell her - instead he asks her out for dinner that evening at the restaurant from their premarital days.
Unfortunately for David, Mr Deever also calls in on Ann (who is being visited by her mother) and tells her the news.
Ann's mother is appalled at the news, but Ann is rather excited about the evening's romantic dinner - she is expecting him to propose all over again. She even digs out her old wedding outfit to wear.
That evening, they attend 'Mama Lucy's' but it is no longer the dreamy little eatery they once knew. It is now a run-down cafe with little charm and a cat who eats off the tables. They try to make the best of it, but are put off by some poor children staring at them and the cat who sits on their table refusing to even touch their food.
David is teasing out the evening, enjoying himself, unaware that Ann knows the truth about their sham marriage.
Back at their apartment, he continues his game of "I know something you don't know" until she loses her temper and throws a bottle of champagne at him. Then it all comes out. She assumes he was waiting to sleep with her again before telling her, but she is having none of it. She is appalled by his deception and throws him out.
He has to attend the gentleman's club known as 'Beefeaters' where he meets up with an old friend, Chuck Benson, who gives him some masculine camaraderie.
Over the next few days, David does what he can to get to see Ann and talk to her. She slams the door in his face, giving him a nosebleed; he waits for her in the foyer of her building, only to find her returning home from a dinner date with an elderly gent; he even jumps into the same taxi as her only to find she has now got her own job in a department store. It seems the elderly gent was to be her employer.
He makes quite a scene in the store and upon discovering that their new employee is 'married' (it is against their policy to employ married women in this time of unemployment crisis) and seemingly rather erratic, they are both ejected from the building.
David talks to his partner, Jefferson Custer, about the situation because the whole scenario has affected his work. Jeff says he'll talk to Ann. That night, when David turns up, Jeff has sided with Ann, telling her she has every right to remain single and even asks her out on a date himself.
Poor David returns to Beefeaters where Chuck suggests they have a double date - David suggests that they do so at the same nightclub/restaurant that Jeff and Ann will be dining at.
The evening is a disaster! David's date is a little too common for his taste and his attempt at making Ann jealous falls flat on its face. He gives himself a nosebleed in order to escape the situation but does, in fact, make the whole nightmare worse.
Ann leaves with Jeff to get a different atmosphere and they attend the fairground where they both get stuck on a ride in a downpour. Once rescued (but on the verge of pneumonia), they return to Jeff's apartment where she forces the non-drinker to take some alcohol. It only takes two glasses to get him sloshed.
Later in the week, it appears that David has been pretending to be a private detective and has hired a cab driver to follow Ann around. They follow her to his own offices. When he catches up with her inside, he discovers her meeting with Jeff and his parents. David intervenes and gives them a bit of a history lesson telling tales which make the Custers believe Ann is white trash.
Ann is furious with David and his underhand tactics.
Time moves on and Jeff has taken Ann to the hills for a skiing trip. The lodge is full, but there are some cabins nearby where they can stay - they only need a sleigh ride to and from the lodge for meals, other than that, they have relative privacy - except David is there. He is cold and he passes out. they carry him inside and nurse him back to health. However, he is feigning his illness just to illicit sympathy from Ann - it seems to work. Jeff notices and tells Ann he is willing to step aside as he just wants her to be happy. She thinks he is talking nonsense.
When Ann realises that David has been faking it, she loses her temper. She plans to make him hate her by acting out a charade in the neighbouring cabin involving rather dubious sexual shenanigans. David is furious and storms in to catch her. She tells him how she feels and how she wanted him out of her life. The Custers (all three) arrive and Jeff's parents are not impressed. They take Jefferson away back to the lodge by sleigh, leaving David and Ann alone.
She is willing to ski back to the lodge, despite her lack of skill. David offers to help her on with her skis, but she becomes locked into them and struggles to stand up again. Like Shakespeare's shrew, she kicks up a fuss, but as David settles in for the night and moves in for the kiss, she relents and the two make up once more...
For a screwball comedy, there are actually not that many examples of crackling dialogue, but I want to highlight a handful that made me smile.
When Ann is trying on her old outfit from her wedding day, she complains to her maid; "I can't understand anything hanging in the closet shrinking so much!"
During the scene at 'Mama Lucy's', Ann's mother calls to find out how it is going and upon hearing the rather negative response, she retorts; "Oh my poor baby - thank heavens your father is dead!"
Whilst Ann is shaving the 'semi-unconscious' David at the log cabin, he reaches out for Jeff's hand as if expecting a manicure. They humour him, but...
Jeff: "He's squeezing my hand!"
Ann: "In a few moments he'll probably ask for your phone number."
Finally, in a rather explosive tantrum, Ann loses her patience with Jeff and David. Whilst holding a lamp, ready to throw it at the first sign of provocation, she launches into this tirade...
"(To Jeff:) Listen to me you stuffed shirt; even a mouse has enough back bone to fight some times. You know, taking your hat off in an elevator doesn't make a man out of you - you can teach a monkey to do that... and I'll take a mouse or a monkey anytime - whether he's a dipsomaniac of beats his wife - over a lump of jelly like you! (to David:) But I'm not taking you... (back to Jeff:) Why don't you go out and get a girl guide and go camping together!! Let me out of here before I forget I'm a lady!!"
After she storms out, David simply states to Jeff and his appalled parents; "You have just seen her in one of her quieter moods."
This one is a rarity amongst Hitchcock films - it's a screwball comedy - but with his dear friend Carole Lombard eager to star, he was happy to do something a little different (although in later years he would admit to having his doubts about wanting to film it. In his words; "I want to direct a typical American comedy about typical Americans" which, with hindsight, could be an insult in disguise given how the main characters behave toward each other.
In an interview with David Brady, published in the new york times in 1950, hitch stated; "If I seem doomed to make one type of picture, the movie audience is responsible. people go to one of my films expecting a thriller, and they aren't satisfied until the thrill turns up."
For me, the best scene in the film is where David is out on his double date with Chuck and the two somewhat uncouth girls and when David spies Ann there with Jeff, he feigns conversation with the beautiful woman to his left on the adjoining table to make it appear he is with her. The comic timing as she and her actual partner catch him before he realises is, as they say, 'comedy gold'.
It's also a hoot watching Robert Montgomery trying to give himself a nosebleed in order to get out of the situation he's in.
Although it may seem churlish to say, it is a great shame Cary Grant (the first choice for the role of David Smith) was unavailable due to other work commitments - he would have been splendid in the lead role as he has proved in other films such as the delightful Bringing Up Baby. I do not want to take credit away from Robert Montgomery though - he does a fine job. (And, fact fans, he was also the father of Bewitched's Elizabeth Montgomery, so that's all rather splendid - I still think she was one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the Earth.)
Sadly, this was to be Carole Lombard's penultimate movie as she died just a year later in a plane crash. She was only 33.
I love screwball comedies of the 1930s and 40s, but I am afraid to say this is not one of the best. It needs better (and more) gags; it does entertain though. Sadly, the ending is rather weak. 6/10
Quotes from the interviews with Hitchcock are taken from 'Hitchcock on Hitchcock' edited by Sidney Gottlieb and 'The Dark Side of Genius' by Donald Spoto.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Title: Foreign Correspondent
Studio: United Artists/Walter Wagner
Screenplay: Charles Bennett, Joan Harrison, James Hilton & Robert Benchley
Source Material: Partially inspired by 'Personal History' by Vincent Sheean
Running Time: 120 minutes
A black & white picture
Sunday 21st November, 7:00am
I was sincerely worried I was not going to find the time this weekend to do this next entry in my blog. I had a busy weekend with an awful lot of domestic duties and a couple of social engagements. I also assumed I was going to have a lie in this morning due to the raucous party happening over the road which went on into the wee small hours. Thankfully, my ever hungry cat woke me up bright and early to sate her appetite, so I was able to watch Foreign Correspondent before leaving to go and see some friends for lunch.
I may also add that I wouldn't have minded too much if I'd had to forego this weekend's movie as I need to break the habit so that I don't feel too much pressure to adhere to a strict schedule. Heaven knows, I am not going to be able to keep it up whilst on holiday early next year! All the same, I feel better having done it this morning. (Please forgive the rather rushed tone of the synopsis, but I am trying to write it in a hurry - you'll get the gist, I'm sure.)
John Jones/'Huntley Haverstock' - Joel McCrea
Carol Fisher - Laraine Day
Stephen Fisher - Herbert Marshall
Scott ffolliott* - George Sanders
Von Meer - Albert Bassermann
Stebbins - Robert Benchley
Mr Rowley - Edmund Gwenn
Mr Krug - Eduardo Ciannelli
Mr Powers - Harry Davenport
Tramp - Martin Kosleck
Mrs Sprague - Frances Carson
Stiles - Charles Wagenheim
Latvian - Edward Conrad
Bradley - Charles Halton
Dorine - Barbara Pepper
"Mohican" Captain - Emory Parnell
Mr Brood - Roy Gordon
Mrs Benson - Gertrude Hoffman
Captain - Martin Lamont
Steward - Barry Bernard
Asst. Commissioner - Holmes Herbert
McKenna - Leonard Mudie
English Announcer - John Burton
*No, this is not a typo... Scott explains: "One of my ancestors had his head chopped off by Henry VIII and his wife dropped the capital letter to commemorate the occasion!"
"To those intrepid ones who went across the seas to be the eyes and ears of America.... To those forthright ones who early saw the clouds of war while many of us at home were seeing rainbows.... To those clear-headed ones who now stand like recording angels among the dead and dying....
To the foreign correspondents - - this motion picture is dedicated."
The New York Morning Globe - It's August 19th, 1939. Mr Powers, the newspaper editor is frustrated with the lack of information coming from overseas in regard to the crisis in Europe. He calls for Jon Jones to his office - a crime reporter - as he wants someone with a different attitude to go over and find a hardcore story. Johnny is keen to go, as long as he gets a decent expense account which he gets. He is assigned an assumed name - Huntley Haverstock - and he sets off on the Queen Mary.
He meets another 'Globe' employee - Stebbins - in London and he gives him a few pointers.
Jones' job is to get to know a man named Von Meer from Holland who signed a certain peace treaty. He is to get to him via a Mr Stephen Fisher who is head of the Universal Peace Party.
On August 25th, Jones is feeling his part as he dresses in the typical London outfit - bowler and brolly at the ready - he meets Von Meer and shares a taxi, but Von Meer is evasive and would rather talk about birds.
At the Savoy hotel, they are attending a conference. Inititally, the guests mingle and John is particularly enamoured with one of the young women he assumes is with the press. It turns out she is Fisher's daughter, Carol, and he is enchanted.
Oddly, Von Meer disappears, despite being a key-note speaker at the Peace Party conference.
The next day, John travels to Amsterdam to find him again. Outside the conference building, he spies Von Meer approaching up the stone steps. As he goes to greet him, Von Meer is shot in the head by an assassin in disguise as a photographer. Jones chases the killer through the crowd underneath the skin of umbrellas. A few passers-by get wounded in the ensuing chase. The killer escapes in a car, but Jones chases after him along with Miss Fisher and her friend Scott ffolliott. They lose the car amongst some windmills, but John is suspicious when he notices one of the sails turning against the wind. He sends Scott and Carol away to fetch the police whilst he investigates. He finds the killer's car and sneaks into the windmill. Hear he spies the criminals, but also discovers Von Meer, alive and well, but drugged. He discovers that the man who was shot was a double so that the world would think he was dead whilst the enemy try to get information about the secret treaty from him.
Jones escapes through a window and returns to the nearby village. When he returns with the police, Scott and Carol - the spies have fled by plane along with Von Meer. They discover a tramp at the windmill which discredits Jones' story.
Jones telegrams his newspaper:
DON'T WORRY ABOUT DELAY AM HOT ON TRAIL OF BIGGEST STORY OF CENTURY NO KIDDING DON'T SEND OUT ANYTHING MORE OF VON MEER'S ASSASSINATION HAVE TERRIFIC NEWS BEAT ALL READY TO BREAK REPEAT NO KIDDING
Back at the hotel in Amsterdam, two men arrive at Jones' room dressed as policemen. He is suspicious and escapes through his bathroom window and creeps around the exterior of the building in his dressing gown and climbs into Carol's bedroom. He has to persuade her of his situation - she is reluctant at first, but soon comes round. They return to England by boat, but due to a rush on people trying to return home form Europe, there is a lack of cabins and Carol and John profess their love to each other at night, wrapped in rugs on the cold deck.
Back at her father's home, he tells the story to her father. However, he is in league with the enemy and his colleague, Mr Krug, is recognised by Jones as a man from the windmill. In private, Krug and Fisher plan for Jones to be eliminated and under the guise of assigning him a body guard, actually put him under the 'protection' of an assassin, Mr Rowley.
However, Rowley's attempts on Jones' life fail and ultimately lead to his own demise as he falls from the tower at the cathedral.
This prompts Jones to talk to Stebbins and ffolliott about it. It is ffolliott's decision to pretend to kidnap Carol in order to get information from Fisher. John is not utterly convinced but as it can appear that he is merely taking her away to a safe haven (in this case, Cambridge) he does not see the harm.
Whilst at The College Arms in Cambridge, Carol overhears John booking the rooms for the night and imagines the worst and leaves secretively to return home, upset and heartbroken.
Scott ffolliott takes the information of the kidnapping to Mr Fisher unaware of Carol's imminent return. Stephen Fisher is initially concerned, but he hears Carol's car return and ffolliott's plan fails so he leaves... Overhearing an address given to a taxi driver, ffolliott manages to follow Fisher to the location where they are torturing Von Meer. He enters, but is held at gunpoint. Von Meer is at breaking point and is about to give all the details of the treaty. Scott starts a fight and leaps out of the window, but by the time he returns with help, the gang of spies have fled once more.
War is declared between Germany and Britain.
Fisher and his daughter, all forlorn, are on the plane back to America. Unknown to them, they are joined by Scott and John. Fisher learns of their presence when he intercepts a telegram for ffolliott warning of his own imminent arrest. Knowing his future is pretty certain, he confesses all to his daughter, but she is one step ahead and has guessed most of it already. John and Scott make themselves known to the Fishers, but the plane is attacked from a German boat below. They lose and engine and a wing and they plunge into the sea. Many people are drowned, but a handful (including our core cast) survive and cling onto the loose wing as the rest of the plane sinks. There is too much weight from the survivors - Stephen Fisher heroically gives his own life to save his daughter's.
An American boat picks up the remaining few and Jones is able to tell his story to the globe over the phone, with permission from Carol.
The war is )obviously) not prevented, but we learn that John gets the job as foreign correspondent for America and stoically strives to report the atrocities from London over the airwaves with Carol by his side.
Of course it's pretty reasonable to assume this piece of foreshadowing was never intended, but I love the fact it signals things to come in 23 years' time:
John: "...I do think that right now birds are the least of our problems."
Von Meer's line telling of his despair is given beautifully - it's rather touching and poignant:
"I feel very old and sad and helpless..."
And finally, an amusing exchange between John Jones and his ineffectual would-be assassin on the state of policing in teh United Kingdom as opposed to the United States.
Rowley: "Even our police don't carry guns!"
Jones: "What do they do then?"
Rowley: "Biff you over the head with a stick. It's more 'ealthy, like..."
I am fond of this film for a number of reasons. I think the cast are pretty much spot-on throughout the movie. If I have one complaint, its the romance between the two leads. It does seem a little forced and unnatural. However, this is combated slightly by the wonderfully offbeat and self-aware scene in which Carol and John declare their love bluntly whilst freezing at night on the deck of a ship. There's no fantastical romance cliches, just straightforward statements. It could have been terrible as the written lines could look corny, but the actors make them work.
There are some wonderful moments in this film. Here are just a few:
1. The now famous and frequently copied scene with the birds' eye view of the crowd with umbrellas on the steps of the conference hall.
2. The brilliant special effects shot of the camera zooming in through the window of the flying plane into the scene within.
3. The whole plane crash into the ocean is breathtaking.
4. The cunning way Jones, ffolliott and Carol Fisher manage to report the story back to the Globe via the hidden phone so that the Captain of the Mohican won't suspect. It's almost farcical, but it's a welcome happy moment after a traumatic number of events.
Admittedly, the playing of star-spangled banner does grate a little at the end for anyone who is not American as it appears a little self-righteous, but the pomp is understandably respectable given its contemporary setting.
Another pacy and enjoyable ride - it's one of those two hour films that doesn't feel that long. George Sanders is superb too. 8/10
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Studio: A Selznick International Picture
Screenplay: Robert E Sherwood & Joan Harrison; Adapted by Philip MacDonald and Michael Hogan
Source Material: From the novel by Daphne Du Maurier
Running Time: 130 minutes
A black & white picture
Sunday 14th November, 10:45
Here we are at the beginning of Hitchcock's Hollywood career which would also be the most successful part of his life in the movie industry. I have loved sitting through his silent movies and then his talkies during those early British years. They have a distinct charm and appeal but, most importantly, they provide a viewing audience with a fascinating insight into the genius of a man in the early development of his career as he hones his skills to perfection.
I have been looking forward to today's movie as it's one of my favourites. I love the novel and this adaptation is exquisite. It was the right time too; morning tea, mince pies and my feet up on the settee - leading perfectly into lunchtime.
George Fortesque Maximilian de Winter - Laurence Olivier
The second Mrs de Winter - Joan Fontaine
Jack Favell - George Sanders
Mrs Danvers - Judith Anderson
Giles Lacy - Nigel Bruce
Frank Crawley - Reginald Denny
Colonel Julyan - C. Aubrey Smith
Beatrice Lacy - Gladys Cooper
Mrs Edythe Van Hopper - Florence Bates
The Coroner - Melville Cooper
Dr Baker - Leo G Carroll
Ben - Leonard Carey
Tabbs - Lumsden Hare
Frith - Edward Fielding
Robert - Philip Winter
Chalcroft - Forrester Harvey
We begin with a flashback as our narrator describes a dream in which she returns to the house that once featured rather dramatically in her life. We then head back further to an incident which began it all, on a cliff top in Monte Carlo...
A young shy girl with mousey hair and a sketch pad under her arm sees a man standing close to the edge of a cliff. She calls out and he admonishes her for being foolish.
Later, back at the hotel at which she is staying with her employer, the gregarious American, Mrs Van Hopper, she sees the man again. This time he is composed and polite and she discovers he is Maximilian de Winter. She falls for his dashing good looks and charms immediately.
Whilst staying at Monte Carlo, Mrs Van Hopper becomes ill and she allows her young companion to do her own thing and believes she is taking tennis lessons, however, she is secretly meeting with Maxim and they spend many beautiful days together taking drives in the countryside. She learns from Mrs Van Hopper that his first wife died by drowning just the year before. Our heroine is mortified.
Mrs Van Hopper learns that her daughter is getting married and she plans to return to New York immediately but her young companion is horrified because she knows this means she won't get to see Maxim ever again. She goes to his room and explains and he asks her to return to his home, 'Manderley', in Cornwall with him as his wife. She is flabbergasted, but agrees heartily. Mrs Van Hopper feigns congratulations to Maxim, but in private, she scalds her now ex-companion for lying and being so incredibly foolish, predicting it will all go horribly wrong.
Maxim and his new wife return to Manderley after their honeymoon and are greeted by rain and an awaiting staff including Frith, the butler, and Mrs Danvers, the housekeeper. Mrs Danvers seems ultimately unimpressed with Manderley's new mistress.
She is shown to her room in the east wing and Mrs Danvers explains that she arrived her with the first Mrs de Winter when the latter was a bride. The west wing has been closed since her death.
Over the next few days, Maxim's new bride tries to settle into her new home. She meets Frank Crawley, a pleasant and engaging man who runs the estate for Maxim. She also meets Maxim's sister Beatrice and her husband Giles Lacy.
She discovers that the house is run (and has always been run) in a certain way and no one refrains from letting her know. On occasion, she forgets her role, having been only in service to others recently, and makes a number of mistakes which puzzle the staff.
She is also constantly aware of the presence of Rebecca as her belongings still lie scattered around the foreboding building with her initials adorning linen and stationery.
One afternoon, she goes with Maxim and their dog Jasper for a walk. She innocently begs to go down to a small cove where she chases after Jasper who is trying to get into a small cottage. There is a strange man named Ben who fears that Rebecca is one day going to return. he seems genuinely fearful of her. When Mrs de Winter enters the cottage to find some rope to act as a leash for Jasper, she discovers more of Rebecca's belongings. This must have been a home away from home...
haunted by her fears and the 'ghost' of Rebecca, the new Mrs de Winter confides in Frank Crawley who is comforting and respectful of her concerns. However, he does describe Rebecca as being one of the most beautiful creatures he has ever seen.
This inspires our heroine to buy new, more fashionable dresses from London and even does her hair differently, just in an attempt to live up to the late Rebecca's legacy.
One day, while Maxim is in London, Rebecca's cousin Jack Favell turns up and chats amiably with Mrs Danvers. He is obviously a man of disreputable character and his charm is false and patronising. He requests to Mrs de Winter that she does not tell Maxim of his visit to which she agrees reluctantly.
She then decides to investigate this notorious west wing. She goes into Rebecca's old room and is caught by Mrs Danvers who has been keeping it immaculate ever since Rebecca's death. The housekeeper gloriously relishes showing the beauty of the room and Rebecca's clothing to the new Mrs de Winter and her performance as this overtly fanatical woman unnerves our heroine. However, she stands up to her and states that she is Mrs de Winter now...
Upon Maxim's return, Mrs de Winter suggests they have a costume ball to which Maxim agrees. She wants to design her own dress, but Mrs Danvers suggests she copies one of the outfits from the portraits in the hallway - she even specifies an image of Maxim's ancestor, Caroline de Winter.
The night of the ball, Mrs de Winter descends in her beautiful gown, her face radiant with pleasure as she feels that she is finally going to make Maxim happy. Her crowning glory is dashed as his face expresses horror. It turns out Rebecca wore an exact replica at a ball the last year of her life. Our heroine is distraught and races back upstairs. She sees Mrs Danvers and challenges her, makes her admit she did it on purpose. Mrs Danvers has her dramatic showdown in Rebecca's bedroom and even tries to persuade the sobbing heroine that she ought to leave, or better still, kill herself...
Suddenly, the tension is broken by a flare outside the window. A ship has crashed and everyone dashes to assist.
Early the next morning, it is revealed that during the attempts to salvage the wreckage, Rebecca's old boat was also found at the bottom of the sea. Our heroine finds her husband alone in the cottage by the cove. He is a wreck of a man now. All his brevado has fallen away. He now admits to his wife the truth. He hated Rebecca, he hated her from very early on in the marriage when he discovered the kind of woman she was - a woman who liked to have many lovers and was proud of it. He was a man of great standing and could not face the divorce courts, so lived his life a lie to save the family honour. That night, she had told him she was pregnant and she was enjoying the irony that the bastard child would inherit Manderley when maxim was gone. He couldn't contain himself and he hit her. She laughed at him some more but stumbled and fell, hitting her head and killing her instantly.
Maxim knows that they'll find Rebecca's body in the boat and he admits that the corpse he once identified was not Rebecca, just some poor nameless woman now residing in the family crypt.
The tables have turned. Maxim is now the weak one and his wife is becoming stronger as she becomes the crutch he needs to keep going.
There is an inquest and Maxim has to identify Rebecca's body. Tabbs, the ship builder states that the boat could not have capsized and it appears there were holes drilled in the bottom of the boat. No one believes it could be evidence of suicide, especially Mrs Danvers and Favell.
The case is adjourned briefly and whilst they take lunch, Favell produces a note from Rebecca dated the day she died - it implies she has something to tell Favell and he says that this proves she didn't want to kill herself. He is willing to not hand over this evidence to Colonel Julyan (the local head of police) if Maxim is willing to pay handsomely. Maxim does not fall for such a disgraceful ploy and summons Colonel Julyan to share the information. Favell then has to take a different road. He believes Rebecca was pregnant and, thanks to Mrs Danvers' information, a Dr Baker could testify to this.
The Colonel, Jack, Maxim and Frank seek out Dr Baker but he denies having ever treating a Mrs de Winter. However, in his books on the day in question, a young beautiful woman using the name 'Danvers' had been to see him. It appears Rebecca had been using this pseudonym for years. Dr Baker tells of how the young woman thought she may have been pregnant, but he was the bearer of bad news - she actually had cancer and she had only a matter of months. She had replied; "Oh no, doctor, not that long..."
Telling words for a determined woman.
Jack Favell is horrified. He telephones Mrs Danvers with this frightful news.
When Frank and Maxim return to Manderley, it is all ablaze. Mrs Danvers has gone mad and destroyed the building in order to prevent Maxim and his new bride to live under it happily. Mrs Danvers dies in the fire.
Maxim finds his wife is alive and well and they embrace. Inside, Rebecca's possessions curl up in flame.
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."
On her father, our heroine states: "...he had a theory that if you should find one perfect thing or place or person, you should stick to it."
Maxim's ghastly and deeply unromantic proposal is a gem:
"I'm asking you to marry me, you little fool."
The wonderfully blunt Beatrice makes quite an impression on our poor heroine with a number of pertinent comments, but two are rather important as they foreshadow things to come in a variety of ways:
On Mrs Danvers: "She simply adored Rebecca"
and: "I can see by the way you dress you don't care a hoot how you look."
This was a big hit for Hitch and it won the Academy Award for Best Picture (he did not win Best Director, sadly, and would never get that deserved award although he did receive the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for his contribution to cinema).
It is interesting to note the one major discrepancy between book and film. In the book, Maxim actually killed Rebecca, but there was a serious Production Code in Hollywood at the time which implicitly stated that no one could 'get away' with murder, so they made it an accidental death. Frankly, this is a shame because it's all too convenient considering the plot twists. Rebecca wanted to die. She wanted Maxim to kill her or she might very well have killed herself. But to conveniently slip and knock her head on something is stretching the suspension of disbelief a tad too far. However, this effect from the legal of things is so minor, it does not disturb my enjoyment of the film. These little moments of coincidence are but a mere seasoning to a much more flavoursome sandwich. Agatha Christie practically lived on them!
The whole film is majestically lit, particularly in the Manderley scenes, with shadows playing a subtle role once more, be it Mrs Danvers' ominous yet iconic silhouette cast against the walls or the shadows of the rain soaked windows giving an eerie notion of the house weeping internally as it mourns its former mistress.
My favourite 'Hitchcock moment' has to be when Maxim is telling the tale of that fateful night and Hitch's camera follows the path of the 'ghost' of Rebecca as we relive her final moments. One of those incredibly simple pieces of film-making, but devastatingly effective.
There have been attempts at sequels to Daphne Du Maurier's exquisite novel. Initially there was one by Susan Hill simply entitled Mrs de Winter and then later came Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman. The former was adequate and faithful in its plot and characterisation, but felt a little spare in depth. The latter was a much meatier affair and suitably vivid with some interesting choices made. Although both are intriguing for curiosity's sake, one would not be living an emptier life without them. Daphne Du Maurier's original novel is a 20th century classic and shall remain so for ever more.
(I can't believe I had to come back and edit this post to say this next bit!)
Judith Anderson is amazing as Mrs Danvers. She was also nominated for an Oscar alongside Olivier and Fontaine, but, like them, didn't win. Great shame!!
One of my absolute favourites. It may have been Hitchcock's first film in Hollywood, but his years of experience made this an uncertain masterpiece. 10/10
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Title: Jamaica Inn
Studio: Mayflower Pictures
Screenplay: Sidney Gilliat, John Harrison & J.B. Priestly
Source Material: The novel by Daphne Du Maurier
Running Time: 95 minutes
A black & white picture
Sunday 7th November, 8:30am
Oh, I woke up in a grump this morning, thanks to the persistence of my ever-hungry feline companion. I can't remember a time when I haven't been woken by Fizzgig. I do love her with all my heart, but she can be a demanding bitch at times. Alas.
I cannot deny that the thought of doing today's blog was not filling me with much joy as I am not overly fond of Jamaica Inn - I love the book, but the film leaves me a little cold... however more of that later.
Still, I made a brew and grabbed a mince pie (I hate Christmas seeping into months other than December, but I make an exception for yummy mince pies. I'd eat them all year around, frankly) and headed for Cornwall in the nineteenth Century...
Sir Humphrey Pengallan - Charles Laughton
His Butler, Chadwick - Horace Hodges
His Groom - Hay Petrie
His Agent - Frederick Piper
His Tenants - Herbart Lomas, Clare Greet & William Devlin
His friends - Jeanne de Casalis, Mabel Terry Lewis, Bromley Davenport, George Curzon & Basil Radford as Lord George
Joss Merlyn - Leslie Banks
Patience, his wife - Marie Ney
Mary, his niece - Maureen O'Hara
Harry the Pedlar - Emlyn Williams
Salvation Watkins - Wylie Watson
Sea Lawyer Sydney - Morland Graham
Dandy - Edwin Greenwood
Thomas - Mervyn Johns
The Boy - Stephen Haggard
James "Jem" Trehearne - Robert Newton
"Oh Lord, we pray thee ~~
not that wrecks should happen
~~ but that if they do happen
Thou wilt guide them ~~
to the coast of Cornwall
~~ For the benefit of the
So ran an old Cornish prayer of the early nineteenth century, but in that lawless corner of England, before the British Coastguard Service came into being, there existed gangs who, for the sake of plunder deliberately planned the wrecks, luring ships to their doom on the cruel rocks of the wild Cornish coast.
A ship is lured upon the deathtrap of rocks near a cove and Joss Merlyn and his gang of cut-throat smugglers seize the booty and murder all survivors of the shipwreck.
Meanwhile, a young Irish girl arrives by coach to Cornwall but the coachman is reluctant to stop at her destination. It appears that no one, other passengers included, want to be anywhere near the place. The coachman drops her off a few miles past and refuses to take her directly. Instead, she hikes over to the nearest building which happens to be the home of Sir Humphrey Pengallan, the local Squire and Justice of the Peace.
Sir Humphrey is enamoured with the young traveller and offers to escort Mary and her luggage to Jamaica Inn.
Upon arrival, Mary meets her Aunt Patience but mistakes her Uncle for a servant and she is rather disgusted by him. Patience never received the letter Mary had sent explaining how her mother had died and she was coming to live with them, so it all comes as a bit of a shock.
In a separate room, Joss's gang of reprobates are enjoying their bawdy post-plunder shenanigans.
Joss finds the Squire upstairs and it becomes apparent from this secret rendezvous that Sir Humphrey is in fact in cahoots with Joss and is the man in charge of the wrecking!
Later, in the rooms below, it is suggested that there may be one amongst them who is not all he seems and is perhaps stealing more than their fair share from the others. It is assumed that it must be Jem Trehearne for he has been with them the longest - they even find some extra cash upon his person which they believe to be evidence enough. They plan to hang him and do so in a private back room. Mary witnesses all this through a crack in her room which spies down to the one below - once the gang leave Jem hanging by his neck, Mary is able to cut him down and save him. She helps him escape and the two have to run and hide.
They spend the night in a cave, but in the morning, their little boat has run adrift. The gang, who have been searching for them, spy the drifting boat and discover their location - as the gang attempt to reach them, the two swim for it and eventually make it back to Sir Humphrey's home, unaware of his dark dealings with Joss.
Sir Humphrey allows Mary to go upstairs to change and Jem makes it known to Sir Humphrey that he is in fact not a smuggler, but an undercover officer of the law. Sir Humphrey says he will get his friend Captain Boyle to look into it and bring along the cavalry.
Mary has come down all changed into a new outfit and she overhears the men talking - fearing for her Aunt's life, she dashes back to Jamaica Inn to warn her.
At the Inn, Mary has difficulty persuading her Aunt to leave and soon Sir Humphrey arrives with Jem. In a brief quiet moment, Sir Humphrey advises to Joss that the two of them should perhaps go away separately for a while due to the investigations.
The gang appear and apprehend Jem and Joss pretends to take the Squire hostage and the two men are bound to chairs with ropes, albeit loosely in Sir Humphrey's case, thanks to Joss...
Joss tells the gang that they will deal with their prisoners after that evening's wreck job. They take Mary with them and leave Humphrey and Jem tied up with Patience holding a gun over them. However, Humphrey, knowing Joss's intention, is aware there will be no bullets in the gun and climbs free of his ropes and heads away, leaving Jem bound and aghast at the betrayal.
Down at the beach, the gang have removed the warning beacon light from the cliff and await the ships demise. Mary sneaks off and tries to raise the lantern once more - she becomes embroiled in a fight with one of the men an in doing so, breaks the lamp which sets her fallen cloak alight - taking this opportunity, she hoists the burning garment up onto the post and manages to alert the ship to steer away.
The gang are appalled and are ready to kill her en masse like a pack of wolves, but Joss, showing a rare side of chivalry, takes his niece away on a cart - one of his men shoots out and Joss is hit...
At the inn, Jem has persuaded Patience to let him go and he rides off to get his military chums!
At Sir Humphrey's, the squire is all packed and tells his butler, Chadwick, that he is leaving for France for a while. Chadwick thinks his master is going mad.
Back at the Inn, Patience and Mary try to nurse Joss. Patience begins talking of moving away and starting a new life where she and Joss aren't known. She also begins to explain to Mary about who is in charge of all the wrecking, but before she gets to mention a name, she is shot and dies. Joss too loses his battle for life and slumps to Mary's feet. In the doorway stands Sir Humphrey Pengallan. He kidnaps her and whisks her off with him to be his concubine overseas.
As the two of them ride off to the port, the gang turn up at the inn to discover Joss and Patience's corpses. Jem and the military arrive and arrest the men and then head to Sir Humphrey's home where they learn about the Squire's destination from Chadwick.
Down at the port, Sir Humphrey feels he he finally safe from harm with his new woman by his side. However, Jem and the other officers arrive. Sir Humphrey holds Mary hostage but to no avail - he realises his time is almost up and climbs the rigging to a high mast - in one final act of delusion of grandeur, he commits suicide, plummeting to the deck below.
Jem takes Mary away to comfort her and poor Chadwick (who has come along with Lord George out of curiosity I presume) looks bewildered and forlorn.
In an early scene, one of Joss's gang tells of his experiences with an Irish girl in a rather suggestive manner:
I knew a girl once, came from Ireland. Talk funny, she did, like a foreigner... but it was all right...
When Sir Humphrey introduces Jem to a couple of his friends including Lord George, there's a splendid delivery from the wonderful Basil Radford as Lord George:
Sir Humphrey: "...(he is) one of a gang of smugglers from Jamaica Inn!"
Lord George: "Smugglers, he? You got any good brandies through?"
Sir Humphrey's final words before killing himself before a gathering crowd are both grandiose and pompous but wonderfully note-worthy:
"What are you waiting for? A spectacle? You shall have it! Tell your children how the great age ended - make way for Pengallan!"
Well, here we are at another milestone in Hitchcock's oeuvre. His final picture in the UK (for a while, at least) before his huge career in Hollywood.
For fear of becoming one of those book snobs, I have to put aside my love of the original novel by Daphne Du Maurier and look at the film as a sole event, otherwise I'd be up in arms and whinging throughout (admittedly, even old Daphers herself was not best pleased - understandably!)
The opening sequence of the gang plundering the ship and murdering its crew is dramatic, vicious a very well-constructed with splendid use of models for the ships.
The moment one of the gang kills the one remaining survivor off screen and nonchalantly returns, whistling and wiping the dagger on his sleeve is pure macabre Hitchcock at his best.
Call it nit-picking if you will, but when Jem provides evidence of his status as lieutenant of the law, the paper is not even sodden despite being in his pocket whilst he swam ashore - and surely the gang could easily have discovered this, especially when they searched him for his wallet prior to attempting to lynch him!!
My favourite moment has to be when the gang are caught and one poor 17 year old lad (the actor actually looks about 39, but let's shed our disbelief for a moment) manically pleads for his life and the camera pans across the cool faces of the rest of the gang one by one as we hear the boy's prattling. It's startlingly effective and makes one reflect on the severity of their punishment and whether it's fitting considering their hateful crimes - ooh, it's so open to debate!!
It is fast paced and gritty where it needs to be, but I cannot help being let down by Charles Laughton's boisterous hamming up of the role of Sir Humphrey. I also kept getting distracted by his insane eyebrows.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Title: The Lady Vanishes
Screenplay: Sidney Gilliatt and Frank Launder
Source Material: The novel 'The Wheel Spins' by Ethel Lina White
Running Time: 92 minutes
A black & white picture
Sunday 31st October, 8:00am
I'm very much an 'early to bed, early to rise' sort of chappie. However, last night I was volunteering at a charity trivia night and didn't get in until around midnight (golly, I'm teetering on the verge of rebellion there) yet I still awoke at 6:30 all raring to go for another day. I have to go out this afternoon, so I thought I'd plough on with my blog this morning. So, armed with some Alpen muesli and a bacon sandwich, I watched an all-time classic - one which has a superb reputation and every bit of it is deserved...
Iris Henderson - Margaret Lockwood
Gilbert - Michael Redgrave
Dr Hartz - Paul Lukas
Miss Froy - Dame May Whitty
Mr Todhunter - Cecil Parker
"Mrs" Todhunter - Linden Travers
Caldicott - Naunton Wayne
Charters - Basil Radford
Baroness - Mary Clare
Hotel Manager - Emile Boreo
Blanche - Googie Withers
Julie - Sally Stewart
Signor Doppo - Philip Leaver
Signora Doppo - Zelma Vas Dias
The Nun - Catherine Lacy
Madame Kumma - Josephine Wilson
The Officer - Charles Oliver
Anna - Kathleen Tremaine
An avalanche traps travellers at a hotel which is already filled to capacity, so some guests are having to share rooms with the staff, much to the chagrin of the tourists. One young girl, Iris Henderson is with two girlfriends celebrating her engagement and forthcoming marriage. She is frustrated by the noise coming from above her room and discovers a gentlemen, Gilbert, who is studying about folk music for a forthcoming book he is writing. The noise was due to his encouragement of the locals to provide him with inspiration.
Also disturbed by the cacophony is Miss Froy, an elderly governess who is travelling alone. She was listening to a local busker who was serenading outside the hotel. Unbeknown to her, the singer is throttled for some dark purpose. Luckily, Miss Froy had heard all she needed...
The nest morning on the station platform, a mysterious pair of hands tries to push a flower-box from a high window onto Miss Froy, however, Iris Henderson is the unintended recipient of the falling plants. Once aboard the train, Iris faints. When she awakes, she is in a compartment with Miss Froy and a handful of strangers.
Miss Froy takes Iris to the dining car for some tea. During a lengthy noise of steam whistles and passing train in the other direction, Iris is unable to hear Miss Froy's name, so the latter writes it on the window with her finger. Miss Froy also insists to the steward that she has her own Harriman's Herbal Tea, which she supplies herself.
Back in their compartment, Iris falls unconscious again. When she wakes, Miss Froy is gone and not one of the other passengers believes she was ever there in the first place - this frustrates and confuses poor Iris.
Iris goes in search of anyone who might remember Miss Froy, but all those she asks seem to have no recollection (or at least, have good reason to lie about it).
Caldicott and Charters, two pompous British gentlemen who think only about cricket are trying to ignore her pleas because they don't want any disturbances ruining their chances of getting home in time for the match.
She meets Gilbert again who, despite teasing her, is keen to believe Iris' story and joins in with the investigation. A Dr Hartz suggests she has been hallucinating following on from the concussion, but Iris is not convinced.
At the next station, a heavily bandaged patient on a stretcher and a nun board...
Of the other passengers, one "Mrs" Todhunter (travelling under the pseudonym as her relationship with Mr Todhunter is illicit) is appalled at the lies being told Miss Henderson and admits she does recall Miss Froy. It appears Miss Froy is back, but upon going to see her, it is a completely different woman - not even English.
However, after being scalded by Mr Todhunter and warned of the complications of her actions, the only witness changes her story to say that this 'new' figure is Miss Froy - confusing Iris even more.
In the dining carriage, Iris has almost given up hope and has almost begun to believe she imagined the whole thing - until she sees Miss Froy's finger daubed name on the window. She causes a scene, appeals to everyone in the car and when they try to subdue her, she pulls the emergency brake... and faints again.
Whilst resting again in the compartment, Gilbert sees an empty packet of Harriman's Herbal Tea and piecing together the facts from the story Iris gave him, he now believes she was right. The two of them search the cargo carriage and find a variety of animals (a calf, some pigeons and rabbits) and a lot of magicians' tools and tricks of the trade. Amongst a heap of fancy dress items, they find Miss Froy's spectacles. The Italian man from the compartment (who is 'The Great Doppo', the magician) catches them and they struggle in a fight. They overcome him and place him in a trunk, but due to its nature, it has a false back and he escapes.
They continue their search and come across the bandaged patient and the nun. Iris is not convinced that a real nun would wear high heels and they begin to wonder if Miss Froy has been switched with the person under the bandages. They discuss with Dr Hartz who feels they are too close to exposing his troop and their plans, so he asks the nun to drug the drinks. Back in his compartment, he tells his victims that they were indeed correct but lets them know they will soon be unconscious. Iris faints (again) and then Gilbert feigns sleep. It turns out that the nun has had a streak of conscience and did not poison their drinks after all and she tries to assist. The three of them knock out the imposter Miss Froy (Miss Kumma) and wrap her back up in the bandages, saving Miss Froy. However, Hartz learns of the deception at the next station, uncouples the front few carriages with the aid of some accomplices at the station and they move off onto a different track.
The train slows to a halt at a wooded area and the foreign agents are waiting for them. An officer boards and, recognised by the woman dressed as the nun as one of the bad guys, Gilbert knocks him out with a chair. A shoot-out ensues and Mr Todhunter is killed, even though he was all ready to surrender.
Miss Froy explains she has to make a dash for it. She admits to being a spy and passes on the coded tune that she learned from the agent pretending to be the busker the previous night. If both she and Gilbert try to return to Whitehall, London, then they'll have a better chance. She runs into the wood but apparently falls - Gilbert and Iris do not know if she is safe or not.
Gilbert and Caldicott manage to get the train going again by holding the drivers at gunpoint and the faux-nun helps change the track points before being wounded in the leg by a gunshot.
The Germans nonchalantly admit defeat and watch the train depart over the border...
Back in London, Iris is reluctant to meet her fiance again - after all she was only going to marry him because she had done so much with her life already and felt the time was right to marry - and she leaps into a cab with Gilbert. They kiss.
Charters and Caldicott are happy to be back in London, but are disheartened to learn that the cricket was cancelled due to floods.
At the foreign office in Whitehall, Gilbert suddenly realises he has forgotten the coded tune (now he only has the wedding march in his head!) however, both he and Iris hear the tune played on a piano - they enter a large room and see Miss Froy sat at the instrument - she is alive and well.
There are so many it is hard to choose just a handful. These are my pick of the best:
Charters: (about fellow on phone being ignorant of cricket) "You can't be in England and not know the test score!!"
Caldicott: "Silly ass."
Charters: "What a country. I don't wonder they have revolutions."
Miss Froy: "I never think you should judge a country by its politics. After all, we English are quite honest by nature, aren't we?"
Miss Froy: "Some people have so little consideration for others, it makes life so much more difficult than it need be, don't you think?" (Oh, this could be my mantra!)
Gilbert: "...always supposing you were born in wedlock, which I doubt!"
Caldicott: (reading the newspaper sports section) "...nothing but Baseball! Y'know... we used to call it 'rounders' - Children play it with a rubber ball and a stick."
and when Gilbert sees Iris having issues with her head:
Gilbert: "...what's the trouble?"
Iris: "If you must know, something fell on my head"
Gilbert: "When? Infancy?"
During the struggle with the Italian magician in the cargo carriage:
Gilbert: (pleading to Iris) "Kick him! See if he's got a false bottom!"
And finally, Gilbert's line ironically defending the British state of mind in a crisis:
"...never climb a fence if you can sit on it."
Oh, I could go on. Glorious dialogue throughout!!
This was a script which was pretty much finished by the time it was handed to Hitch so there was little for him to add or change. Much credit is due to the screenwriters who did a fantastic job.
Hitchcock himself has lots of fun with the train sets (if you pardon the expression) throughout, shooting from many different angles. He also elicits superb comic performances from his main stars. Lockwood and Redgrave are superb and their chemistry is apparent from the first time they are on screen together.
Many people criticise the use of model shots, particularly at the beginning of the film - and yes, it does look a bit like Camberwick Green - but I think we have to look past this and remember the era from which it came. I watch modern films and I flinch every time I see overtly obvious computer generated images, but we accept these in our contemporary society. In seventy years time I imagine we'll be smirking at the likes of Avatar.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Basil Radford is back and this time with his soon-to-be frequent partner, Naunton Wayne (they made twelve films together). The addition of these characters to the script is quite simply the icing on the cake. Their selfishness and pompousness is quite hilarious and sends up the certain ilk of British society so perfectly but also affectionately. I also mentioned 1945's Dead of Night last week which features these two, but also Michael Redgrave and Googie Withers!. I love the way the world of actors in the early days of cinema felt like a tiny repertory company.
The overall winning factor is the script. It's sharp, witty and spry. If one can accept and forgive the 'special effects' for their contemporary era, this film is flawless. 10/10