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