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