Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Lady Vanishes

Title: The Lady Vanishes
Year: 1938
Studio: Gainsborough
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.

The End

Great Lines
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.

My Verdict
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

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Young and Innocent

Title: Young and Innocent (U.S. title: The Girl Was Young)
Year: 1937
Studio: Gaumont-British Picture corporation Ltd
Screenplay: Charles Bennett, Edwin Greenwood, Anthony Armstrong & Gerald Savory
Source Material: A novel called A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey
Running Time: 79 minutes
A black & white picture

Sunday 24th October, 1:00pm
After a rather lovely Sunday morning walk, I returned home for some lunch and a bit of relaxation. I certainly hope the mince pie and lemon meringue tart purchased on my travels don't cancel out the effort made. Still, the former was delicious enough to warrant the risk - the latter less so. Some people just don't know how to make the lemony bit right.
I am trying to lose a few kilos so I doubt these treats help - nor the two slices of left-over pizza I had for lunch (don't berate me too harshly, it was salmon and capers - not exactly the most dire ingredients.)
This afternoon's treat, however, was to watch the thoroughly engaging movie Young and Innocent which I have been fond of for many years and I have been looking forward to seeing it again as part of this blog/task ("blask"?)

Erica Burgoyne - Nova Pilbeam
Robert Tisdall - Derrick de Marney
Col. Burgoyne - Percy Marmont
Old Will - Edward Rigby
Erica's Aunt Margaret - Mary Clare
Det. Insp. Kent - John Longden
Guy - George Curzon
Erica's Uncle Basil - Basil Radford
Christine Clay - Pamela Carme
Det. Sgt. Miller - George Merritt
Solicitor - J.H. Roberts
Lorry Driver - Jerry Verno
Police Sergeant - H.F. Maltby
Police Constable - John Miller
Caretaker of 'Nobby's Lodging House' - Torin Thatcher
Band Leader/Singer - Gerry Fitzgerald

A famous film star argues with her husband when he discovers that she has been having plenty of young lovers on the side. The next morning, her body is washed up on the beach along with a man's raincoat belt.
A young man, Robert Tisdall, is walking along the cliffs and sees the body - he runs down and recognises her. As he runs off to get help, two girls up for their early-morning bathe in the sea witness him running off and assume he is the man who killed her. They tell the police as such when they arrive and Robert (who has returned to the scene) has little luck persuading them otherwise.
Later, at the police station, Robert learns that he was to inherit £1,200 in Christine's will - he knew her from his time in America when he had written some screenplays and worked with her. It certainly isn't looking good for Robert and he faints.
Enter Erica, who knows how to rouse somebody from a faint by use of brandy, slaps to the face and scrunching the ears of the fallen.
Erica is the daughter of the police chief and her initial instincts are that Robert is innocent.
Whilst going into court, Robert slips out amongst a crowd (due to very inept policemen) and has borrowed the thick spectacles of his solicitor to use as a disguise. During the commotion as people try to search for him, he gets away but the police are quick to begin a search.
When in the countryside, he serendipitously meets up with Erica whose car has run out of petrol. He helps her push it to a petrol station and explains his side of the story to her. She is guarded but willing to listen.
She leaves him at an old mill to hide out for the night and, after an evening of wild speculation about the escapee from her four brothers over dinner, Erica decides she needs to help Robert and takes him a food parcel the next morning.
Through a careless act of littering, Robert's location is given away to the police and the chase begins again with Erica and her dog, Towser, along for the ride.

Robert's plan is to find his raincoat to prove it still has its belt and thus cannot be the one used in the crime - he had it last at 'Tom's Hat' which is a bar/tea house in the country. When they arrive there, Erica makes inquiries only to learn that an old tramp called Old Will (who mends broken china to earn cash) had last been seen wearing it. She and Robert discover his whereabouts from one of the patrons after a rather bizarre bar fight and then head off again.
To give an excuse for her disappearance to her father later on, she decides she will drive to her Aunt's as a sort of alibi because it's on the way.
Once at her Aunt's and Uncle's home, she discovers it is also her cousin Felicity's 7th birthday and she is unable to get away quickly.
Aunt Margaret smells something fishy and can't keep her prying nose out of Erica's business. Luckily, her Uncle Basil gives them a form of escape and they take it.

The couple's next stop after being spotted by a policeman is hiding out in the car parked between two trains at a rail yard. It is obvious that Erica is beginning to develop feelings for Robert. She sleeps in the car whilst Robert investigates the dosshouse where Old Will is reputed to be.
Early the next morning, Robert finds Old Will through a clever use of broken china and discovers that Old Will certainly does have the raincoat - but without the belt!

Taking Will with them as they escape the police again, Erica and Robert learn that Will got his coat from a strange man with a weird blinking twitch - he swears he'd recognise the man is he saw him again.
To evade the police, they drive into an old mine works, but the ground gives way and swallows up the car, Will and Robert jump free and pull Erica to safety just in time. When she goes back for her dog, she falls into teh arms of the police, but Robert gets away with Old Will.

Back home, her father is disappointed with her behaviour. He feels responsible and cannot continue in his current role if his own flesh and blood has turned to crime. he shows her his letter of resignation. Appalled and upset, she heads to bed in tears.
That night, Robert turns up at the window. In their discussion, Erica tells Robert that the only thing in the coat was a box of matches from the Grand Hotel - their next port of call!!

Presumably, Erica gives Old Will some money to buy some decent clothes so he can enter the hotel and assist with the search for the strange man.
Robert waits surreptitiously outside.

The killer is a member of the band and he spies Old Will and guesses that his freedom may soon be coming to an end - he becomes jittery and nervous. During the music break, he takes extra medication to calm his nerves and his twitch but all this does is make him disorientated and during the second half of his performance, he loses control and faints. Erica, the wonder-resuscitator, leaps into action but as she approaches the fallen man in the crowd, she notices the twitch - she calls Old Will over to identify him and he does so. She asks the killer what he did with the belt and he deliriously confesses with a maniacal laugh. Thankfully, her father has just arrived on the scene and hears it all.
Grateful that his resignation will no longer be needed, he agrees that Robert should come for dinner at his daughter's request.
The End.

Great Lines
Due to it's frothy nature, the script is peppered with a number of nice lines and humorous moments.

When the body is discovered the following lines come from two voices in the surrounding crowd of rubberneckers:

Man #1: "Did she drown?"
Man #1: (sarcastically) "Nah, she's a mermaid."

I am entertained greatly by the mock-interrogation Erica's Aunt Margaret attempts at the party with the unfortunate slip in the details of Robert's pseudonym - one moment he says it's Beechcroft Manningtree, then a minute or two later, when asked again, he says it's Beechtree Manningcroft. No wonder Aunty Marg has her suspicions aroused.

A one-liner which makes me smile is when Old Will is dressed up to the nines so he can enter the Grand Hotel to meet Erica. Obviously not used to tailored clothing, he grumbles;

"These boots pinch a bit. I haven't had time to slit 'em for my corns!"

The less said about the 'Black face' the better, just remember to think of it in it's contemporary context.
I love the moment in the opening scene when Christine dares her husband to say the term he is pussy-footing about using in regard to her extra-curricular shenanigans.
When he does utter it, the expletive is smothered by the sound of thunder. Christine hears it well enough and slap her husband for using such language.
If there's one flaw to this film, it's the fact that the opening scenes make it perfectly clear that Christine is married to her killer and yet no one ever seems to mention him or question him. Odd.

In the old mine, the scene with the car falling through the earth is brilliantly filmed and it's very tense as Robert saves Erica's life. nail-biting stuff!
There is also a wonderful shot later, panning across the ballroom at the hotel which then zooms in on the guilty party right up to his twitching eyes. It's beautiful camerawork.

We will see Basil Radford again in The Lady Vanishes where he teams up with Naunton Wayne and they make a great double act - they also appear together in another favourite film of mine, Dead of Night - check it out if you have never seen it - it's a terrific Ealing horror film! (According to IMDb, the two actors appeared in 12 films together - I really ought to check some more of them out.)

My Verdict
A particular favourite of mine due to its blend of romance and thrills. 8/10

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Title: Sabotage
Year: 1936
Studio: Gaumont-British Picture corporation Ltd
Screenplay: Charles Bennett, Ian Hay & Helen Simpson
Source Material: The novel 'The Secret Agent' by Joseph Conrad
Running Time: 73 minutes
A black & white picture.

Sunday 17th October, 5:00pm
In a rare moment of brain vacation, I very nearly forgot to do this project this weekend. A lot of the stuff I had intended to do this weekend had, coincidentally, been sabotaged by a variety of circumstances beyond my control and by the time Sunday afternoon had nearly come to a close, I suddenly recalled my oversight, despite having even mentioned it to others just a mere 22 hours previously.

Mrs Verloc - Sylvia Sydney
Carl Verloc - Oscar Homolka
Stevie - Desmond Tester
Ted Spencer - John Loder
Renee - Joyce Barbour
Superintendant Talbot - Matthew Boulton
Hollingshead - S.J. warmington
The Professor - William Dewhurst

One evening in London, there is a power cut. It is discovered at the power plant that somebody has put sand into one of the machines. A man named Mr Carl Verloc returns to his home and cinema business surreptitiously and washes his hands in the sink, leaving sand residue behind as the water drains away.
Outside, his wife, Mrs Verloc, is trying to deal with a crowd of irate customers who want their money back. One of the gentlemen, Ted, from the neighbouring fruit and veg stall intervenes and tries to explain providence to the crowd. The power soon comes back on and it seems all of London found the experience a bit of a laugh - much to the chagrin of the organisers of this minor act of terrorism.
Ted, we discover, is actually an undercover policeman who is keeping an eye on Mr Verloc.
The next day, Verloc is pursued to the Zoo where he is witnessed talking to a foreign man. They discuss the forthcoming Lord Mayor's Show and the plans they have to create havoc. Verloc follows some instructions and meets a man known as the professor who makes bombs as a sideline to his bird shop. Verloc organises for the bomb to be delivered to his home on Saturday along with some birds for his wife's younger brother, Stevie. Meanwhile, Ted takes Mrs Verloc and Stevie out for lunch as his feelings for her grow stronger.
On the Friday before the Lord Mayor's show, Ted sneaks into the back of the cinema in order to eavesdrop on Mr Verloc and his gang of terrorists, he is caught by one of them and through a bluff (and with Stevie's innocent yet handy assistance) is allowed to leave. However, he was recognised by one of the crooks for who he really is.
On the big day, Verloc receives the bomb and the birds from the Professor but due to the constant presence of Ted, he arranges for Stevie to take the bomb (disguised in a package) along with some cinematic reels for a movie entitled 'Bartholomew the Strangler' with specific instructions to leave the parcel at Piccadilly by 1:30. The bomb is due to go off at 1:45.
Sadly, on his journey, Stevie is waylaid by various obstacles including a street-seller who tries to use Stevie as a guinea-pig for his toothpaste and hair oils and then by policemen who are holding back the crowds at the Lord Mayor's parade. Having lost time, Stevie has to catch a bus, despite the rules of not carrying flammable items (the celluloid film) on public transport. He never makes it to Piccadilly and the bus and all it's passengers are blown to smithereens - the film tins are discovered in the wreckage by Ted and he pieces it all together. Eventually, Mrs Verloc learns of her brother's fate and goes into immediate shock. She faints, but imagines Stevie's face when she comes 'round. Confused, bewlidered and still in shock, she does not know how to deal with the news.
Later, at dinner, she too knows all the facts and her diabolical husband is callous and rabbits on about the dinner not being to his satisfaction.
He is trying to blame Ted for Stevie's death and attempting yo justify his actions. Mrs Verloc is still in shock and almost losing her cool. She eyes the carving knife and it scares her. Mr Verloc gets up and approaches her. They both grab for it, but she is faster and the stabbing is fatal.
Ted discovers her and the corpse - he takes her outside to calm her and even suggests they go away together in order to save her. Meanwhile, the Professor, urged by his own wife, has returned to the cinema and the rooms of Verloc in order to retrieve the birdcage as it provides evidence of his involvement. Unfortunately for him, the police have the place surrounded and in an act of sheer desperation, he detonates a second bomb to evade capture - thus destroying the Verloc's home and business, but also any evidence which may have sent Mrs Verloc to prison.
Ted and Mrs Verloc slink off into the gathering crowd together.
The End.

Great Lines
There are cracking bits of dialogue throughout the movie, but these two moments spoken by incidental members of the public at the zoo aquarium had me grinning:

Kid: (looking at the fish with his father) "What's them bubbles dad? Have the fish got hiccoughs?"
Dad: "You'd have hiccoughs if you had to live off ants' eggs!"


Teen boy (played by Charles Hawtry!): "...after laying a million eggs, the female oyster changes her sex."
His 'gal': "I don't blame 'er!"

The opening vision of a dictionary definition is one to make me smirk as I have always mocked teen essays which begin with "The Oxford English Dictionary defines (xyz) as..." due to its lack of originality and virtual omnipresence within the realm of scholars. Bless.
The lead up to Stevie's death is tense and unnerving with beautiful cutting between Stevie's journey and the various time-pieces indicating his ever-decreasing existence.
My favourite scene has to be when Mr and Mrs Verloc are at the dinner table post-tragedy and he creeps around the table with his squeaky shoes before they both grab for the carving knife. It's taut and edgy. After she has killed him, the corpse's feet lie in the foreground as the forlorn widow and killer slumps off into the background. Classy.
The fact that Mrs Verloc gets away with murder (despite being utterly justified in my mind) is one which the British studios seem quite happy to live with - less can be said for Hollywood in a few years' time.
This is not the only time a pair of caged birds will act as a portent for disaster... wait until 1963!

My Verdict
A tense and well-timed story told in a mere 75 minutes with pitch-perfect performances all 'round. I think it deserves a 8/10

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Secret Agent

Title: Secret Agent
Year: 1936
Studio: Gaumont-British Picture corporation Ltd
Screenplay: Charles Bennett and Ian Hay
Source Material: Based on the play by Campbell Dixon which is taken from the original 'Ashenden' stories by W Somerset Maugham
Running Time: 82 minutes
A black and white picture.

Sunday 10th October. 10:50am
Today is the anniversary of Kirsty MacColl's birthday. If she had lived, she would have been 51 today. Sure, this information isn't relevant to Hitchcock, but they do share a commonality - me. I count both of them as incredibly influential in my life (along with Agatha Christie and Victoria Wood) so I felt the need to make a note of it here.
I have had a relatively quiet weekend as some of my plans fell through. I had intended to do this project yesterday, but I had purchased Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn on DVD ion the morning and was totally in the mood to watch it that afternoon. It made me all warm and fuzzy inside. It's an old favourite of mine that I have not seen in at least fifteen years.
So, Secret Agent was postponed until today (not that it really matters) and I have been feeling very lethargic - probably due to a late night catching up with friends last night and so between watching the film and writing it up, I had to have a Sunday afternoon nap. I must be getting old...

Elsa Carrington - Madeleine Carroll
The General - Peter Lorre
Edgar Brodie/Richard Ashenden - John Gielgud
Robert Marvin - Robert Young
Caypor - Percy Marmont
Mrs Caypor - Florence Kahn
"R" - Charles Carson
Lilli - Lilli Palmer

It's May 10th, 1916 and a funeral has been held for the late author and soldier Captain Edgar Brodie. As the wake dissipates and everyone leaves, Brodie's valet and friend discovers the casket is empty. In London, Brodie is very much alive and arrives at the office of "R", a man who has a mission for him as well as a new identity. He is to travel to Switzerland to find and eliminate a foreign agent.
Now named 'Ashenden', Brodie arrives at the Hotel Excelsior where he discovers he also has a 'wife' to assist with his undercover role. Her name is Elsa Carrington, but she will be known as Jane Ashenden and will act as though the two are deeply in love. Also at the hotel he meets his assigned partner, The General and also a rather cocky American named Robert Marvin who is trying to woo Elsa.
Later, Ashenden and The General travel to a church where they are to meet their informant but they discover he has been murdered. In the dead man's hand is a button, presumably torn from his assassin's clothing. When they hear someone else approaching, the two men hide in the bell tower to avoid being discovered, but unfortunately have to suffer the ringing of the bells as an alert is rung.
At the roulette table one evening, the presumed identity of the wearer of the button is ascertained and it appears to be a congenial man named Caypor who has a German wife and a rather loyal yet neurotic dog. Ashenden, Else and The General befriend the man and then have to act and dispose of him.
Whilst walking up the mountains, Ashenden becomes rather weak at the thought of killing Caypor and retreats to the nearby observatory and watches helplessly as the General pushes Caypor to his death. Meanwhile, back in the town, Elsa has been keeping Mrs Caypor company, hindered by Marvin.
Soon after, they are informed that they have actually been mistaken and have killed the wrong (and completely innocent) man. Elsa is horrified and cannot cope. She wants nothing more to do with the caper and tries to talk Ashenden out of it too.
He decides to write a letter of resignation, but as soon as the trail starts up again, he is off and losing faith in the man she has come to love, Elsa cuts up the letter and decides to leave - with Marvin of all people!
At the local chocolate factory, Ahsenden and the General are spotted by an enemy spy and Ashenden has to sound the fire alarm in order for the two of them to escape their would-be captors - however, in the melee, they meet one of their own agents who tells them that Robert Marvin is the man they are after. They race back to the hotel only to find Elsa gone.
They eventually catch up with her on the train heading out of Switzerland. Ashenden tries to explain that Marvin is the killer but she is so confused she finds it hard to believe. She attempts to make an investigation herself in private when she meets up with Marvin when he boards at a later station.
She comes to learn the truth but still feels it is wrong for Ashenden and The General to murder him and even points a gun at our hero. There is an air attack upon the train and it is derailed. In the carnage, Marvin is crushed but with his dying moments, he manages to fire off a shot at The General who is fatally wounded. Our two heroes are relatively unscathed.
They return home and vow to never become involved with these foreign politics again and settle down as man and wife.
The End.

Great Lines
When "R" fills Brodie in regarding the plans, the following gem is exchanged.

R: "Do you love your country? "
Brodie: "Well, I've just died for it..."

When Ashenden and The General are hiding up in the bell tower, the latter reveals his egotistical side;

Ashenden: "We will have to stay up here for hours."
The General: "Yes, but your wife will wonder what happened to poor little General!"

It's a small nit-pick, and only one a pedantic fart like me would even bother to check, but the newspaper shown to Brodie/Ashenden states the date is Thursday May 10th, 1916. In fact, that day was a Wednesday in real life. (Yeah, I know... I'm that pathetic!)

Although the somewhat serendipitous nature of discovering their supposed assassin at the roulette wheel is conceivably clever and lucky (albeit, ultimately, incorrect) it is also somewhat ludicrous. One would hope real agents acquire better proof before attempting to take out one's quarry. Poor Caypor!

Once again, Hitch shows his love of the silent era in the scenes at the chocolate factory where the noise of the production lines and machines are so loud, the action has to take place in dumb show. This works effectively and highlights Hitchcock's effortless ease with the silent art-form.

Some critics highlight that John Gielgud is miscast in this film and drags it down. I disagree as I find his controlled performance rather gratifying as it grounds the other, more flamboyant characters. Madeleine Carroll is superb though and I wish Hitch had liked her more to use her more often. He once referred to her as an Iceberg!

The train crash is superbly realised but my favourite scene is the moment when Ashenden is watching The General do the dirty deed atop the mountain from the safe haven of the observatory - this inter-cut with Elsa, Marvin and Mrs Caypor worrying over the dog's strange behaviour as it anticipates its beloved owner's demise as if psychic. Terrific stuff!

My Verdict
A strong film, but it lacks the spark that made The 39 Steps so entertaining. Well cast and tightly directed, it's still a gem. 7/10

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The 39 Steps

Title: The 39 Steps
Year: 1935
Studio: Gaumont-British Picture corporation Ltd
Screenplay: Charles Bennett and Ian Hay
Source Material: The novel by John Buchan
Running Time: 83 minutes
A black & white picture

Saturday 2nd October, 1:00pm
Today's schedule has gone to plan beautifully. I got up early, went grocery shopping, nipped into the city, came home, baked a cake and while it was in the oven (still in there actually - it's a rich fruit cake! I will detail that in my other blog...) sat down to watch The 39 Steps. It's one of the more familiar films of Hitchcock's British years prior to moving to the States and it is one I have watched many, many times. This is also the first film chronologically that I have actually read the source material. John Buchan was apparently more than happy with Hitchcock's adaptation and all the minor changes. One of my pet hates is those who peer down their noses with a look of distaste and arrogance as they sneer "It's not as good as the book!" Sure, there have been many occasions where films have not lived up to their source material, but there are also many examples which do and occasionally surpass the original. Film is simply a different medium to express a story and elements often need to be changed in order to tell an exciting and coherent story. Understandably, if one is very familiar with a book, one might be disappointed that the screenwriter and director have not recreated everything one has in one's imagination, but give these people some credit. Songs get covered and plays get multiple performances. Film is just another way of storytelling and it is not to be sniffed at.

Richard Hannay - Robert Donat
Pamela - Madeleine Carroll
Miss Smith - Lucie Mannheim
Professor Jordan - Godfrey Tearle
Crofter's Wife - Peggy Ashcroft
Crofter - John laurie
Mrs Jordan - Helen Haye
The Sheriff - Frank Cellier
Memory - Wylie Watson
Commercial Travellers - Gus MacNaughton & Jerry Verno
Maid - Peggy Simpson

Richard Hannay is a Canadian visiting London. One night, whilst visiting a music hall, he witnesses a wonderful act featuring 'Memory', a man who has thousands of facts stored in his mind.
During an unruly ruckus, shots are fired and the crowd panics. In the fleeing horde, Hannay bumps into a mysterious woman who invites herself back to Hannay's apartment.
Being a gentleman, he cannot refuse but warns her, ironically, "It's your funeral".
She says her name is 'Smith' and she tells him of a plot involving secret agents and some plans to steal vital military and state secrets. She explains that there are men outside who will stop at nothing to get their way.
In the night, Miss Smith is murdered and Hannay knows he has to finish what she started and visit a man she had mentioned in Scotland - he takes her map and notes and heads north.
Travelling on the Flying Scotsman, the police are on his trail now that they have assumed he is responsible for the mysterious woman's death. He tries to hide from police on board by kissing a beautiful woman but she gives him up to the police. He panics and leaps out of the train and clambers along the side causing the police to pull the emergency brake. In the commotion on the Forth Bridge, Hannay escapes and flees across the moors. Here he comes across a Crofter and his wife who are willing to put him up for the night. However, when the police come calling, the Crofter doesn't need much to persuade him to give Hannay up. luckily, his wife is more sympathetic and helps him to escape with her husband's dark coat as cover in the night.
Eventually, Hannay makes it to the location of Miss Smith's quarry, only to find he is actually the enemy, Professor Jordan.
Jordan shoots Hannay, but fortunately a small hymn book is in the pocket of the Crofter's coat and saves his life. Hannay returns to the police to tell his story and explain about Professor Jordan. The Police are unconvinced and, partially handcuffed, Hannay jumps out of the window and races into the streets - he hides out at a political rally and even gets mistaken for one of the main speakers. He is spotted by Pamela, the woman he met on the Flying Scotsman. She notifies the authorities nearby who take them both away - it is then discovered by Hannay that these men are not detectives but actually men who work for Professor Jordan. Pamela and Hannay are handcuffed together but at an opportune moment, they escape the car taking them back to the Professor and race into the foggy night.
They soon finds their way to an inn where the innkeepers suspect them to be a runaway couple, eloping. Still handcuffed, they try to get some rest. In the night, Pamela escapes her bonds and tries to leave, but as she does so, she overhears her pursuers discussing the matter and she realises that Hannay must be telling the truth about his predicament after all, so she decides to stay with him. In the morning, Hannay is furious she didn't wake him as they may have lost valuable time in stopping whatever it is they intend to do. Luckily, Pamela overheard enough of their conversation to know they were heading to the London Palladium.
Returning to London, they attend that night's performance and Hannay realises that it is one of the acts - 'Memory' - who is the key to it all. As Hannay is near arrest, he calls out "What are the 39 Steps?" and as 'Memory' explains about the group of secret agents, a shot rings out - Professor Jordan has struck his target. Thankfully, Jordan is caught by the police and Memory still has some life left in him as he tells of the formula he had kept in his head. As he passes away, Hannay and Pamela touch hands in commiseration, camaraderie and relief.
The End.

Great Lines
There are some classy lines throughout, but these are just a handful of my favourites.

On the train, two commercial travellers are discussing women's lingerie - one holds up a bra to the other who responds:

"Bring it back to when it's filled."

When Hannay is on the moors in Scotland and he is taken in by the Crofter, he meets a young woman at the door (played by Peggy Ashcroft) and makes a faux pas that doesn't go down well with his host:

Hannay: "Your daughter?"
Corfter: "My wife!"

And finally, the classic line from the film as Hannay struggles his way through a foggy landscape handcuffed to Pamela he loses his patience and says:

"There are twenty million women in this island and I've gotta be chained to you!"

Where do I begin? There are so many beautiful touches throughout this film. Firstly, it ought to be stated that the casting is superb. Robert Donat is charming, handsome and suave; Madeleine Carroll is fabulous as the reluctant companion in Hannay's adventure, going from aggressive and disbelieving to earnest and faithful toward the end; and the supporting cast are terrific too, from Peggy Ashcroft's performance as the abused wife of the Crofter to Lucie Mannheim as the fateful catalyst.
The character of Miss Smith is delightfully mysterious and her death is rather dramatic but also shocking as she tumbles forward to reveal the glistening dagger protruding from her back. When the maid finds her the following morning, Hitchcock cuts directly from her scream to the shrill whistle of the Flying Scotsman as it exits a tunnel.
Hitchcock has enjoyed playing with sound ever since talking pictures began. Here, the piercing tone of Hannay's telephone ring is creepily ominous as he refuses to answer it. Some of the camera movement surrounding the telephone foreshadows Hitch's playful direction in Dial M For Murder. Interestingly, Hitch also uses his knowledge and experience of silent film to communicate scenes without dialogue.
There's the muted scene which the crofter witnesses through his window as his wife discusses the truth with Hannay; the brief scene in the hotel bedroom as Hannay and Pamela fidget as their hostess sets the room up; and then there is the scene in which Pamela awakes and busies herself with an attempted escape and in the process discovers that her captor's gun is merely a pipe. Each scene is touching in its simplicty but tells quite a story about plot or relationships.

Returning briefly to Peggy Ashcroft as the wife of the bullying Crofter (John Laurie) I think she gives a perfectly measured performance in what is a relatively small role. The moment she helps Hannay escape in her husband's coat and she closes the door behind him, she shows with a simple movement in her head and face that she knows of the consequences she is in for and the ramifications thereof. An astutely nuanced portrayal of a woman trapped yet doing what she knows is right.

Another favourite moment is the end where the fatally wounded Memory lies dying in the wings of the stage, retelling the formula which he has memorised and retained so faithfully. As he fulfills his destiny and slowly dies in the arms of those around him, the chorus girls dance jauntily in the background, proving how in life busy lives continue whilst darker operations happen out of sight.

My Verdict
A hugely entertaining ride from start to finish with beautiful performances from everyone. 9/10