Sunday, April 24, 2011

I Confess

Title: I Confess
Year: 1953
Studio: Warner Brothers
Screenplay: George Tabori & William Archibald
Source Material: From a play by Paul Anthelme
Running Time: 90 minutes
A black & white picture

Sunday 24th April, 8:00am
Today is Easter Sunday, so it seems kind of fitting I end up watching a film with a heavy religious theme. I started early as I am going out this afternoon to catch up with some dear friends. Sure, with it being an extra long weekend (five days thanks to Easter Monday falling on Anzac day!) I could have postponed the viewing to Monday or Tuesday, but for a lazy Sunday morning, it seemed perfectly timed. Tea and biscuits at the ready and a snuggly dressing gown enveloping me, I was all set.
I must confess (ho ho ho) that I am worried about eating too much bad stuff this weekend. I don't want to get back over 80kilograms again after working so hard to become slender over the past year. How I am going to cope with that packet of Cadbury's Creme Eggs in my 'fridge is anyone's guess.

Father Michael William Logan - Montgomery Clift
Ruth Grandfort - Anne Baxter
Inspector Larrue - Karl Malden
Willy Robertson - Brian Aherne
Otto Keller - O.E. Hasse
Pierre Grandfort - Roger Dann
Alma Keller - Dolly Haas
Father Millars - Charles Andre
Mr Villette - Ovila Légaré
Murphy - Joseph Pratt
Father Benoit - Gilles Pelletier

A man named Villette is murdered. The killer, Otto Keller removes his disguise - a priest's cassock, and heads straight to confessional where he tells Father Logan what he has done. He then returns home to confess to his wife and explains how all he wanted to do was steal $2,000 so they could start a new life. Both Otto and his wife, Alma, work at the rectory where Father Logan lives.
The following morning, Otto heads to Villette's home as he normally would do on a Wednesday morning as that is when he'd tend the garden. He then 'discovers' the body and calls the police. Logan arrives and sees the crowd. He goes to the house and tells the police he had an appointment.
A young blonde woman (Ruth Grandfort) also arrives and when Logan tells her about the murder, she is relived and says "We're free!"

Two young girls had been babysitting and were returning home late last night and they tell police they saw a priest leaving the scene of the crime some time after 11pm.
Inspector Larrue gets his man, Murphy, to enquire around town at all the rectories to find out which priests were out that night. Eventually they come to Logan who has difficulty giving a decent alibi.

Larrue contacts the crown prosecutor, Willy Robertson, who is, at that time, attending a party held by Ruth and Pierre Grandfort. Larrue says he thinks he knows who the murderer is and Ruth is worried.

Ruth feels she has to save Logan and tells the police that she was being blackmailed by Villette and she had been with Logan the night of the murder to discuss it. She then tells of the sequence of events leading up to the event from when she first met Logan and they fell in love. War came along and interrupted their romance. After a few years, she married Pierre and when the war was over, Logan returned and they spent a stormy night together on an island. She had not told him of her recent marriage. Villette discovered them and, knowing of her marriage makes nasty comments which rile Logan enough to strike him.
Years pass and Logan becomes ordained. Eventually, Villette falls on hard times and comes to Ruth in need of money - if she doesn't pay, there will be a huge scandal.

Ruth's confession provides Logan with an alibi between 9pm and 11pm but after she leaves, Larrue admits to Robertson that the autopsy states Villette dies around 11:30.
When Ruth learns that she has not only failed to provide a decent alibi but has also given a motive. They suspect Logan killed Villette to stop him from telling of their affair, even though nothing had actually been going on for years.

In court, Keller lies and frames Logan even further. Logan struggles with his oath and tries to do the right thing. Luckily, the jury find him not guilty due to insufficient evidence. However, the judge expresses his displeasure and the crowds outside are intense with some hurling abuse at the now free man whose name and reputation have been sullied by the trial.
Alma is so distressed when she sees the way the mob are treating the innocent Logan, she runs to him shouting "He's innocent". Otto panics and shots his wife. The crowd disperse and the police chase after Otto. As Alma dies, she prays for forgiveness.

At the nearby hotel, Otto runs from the police shooting a chef in the process. Eventually, he is cornered in the ballroom. He assumes Logan has betrayed him and thus confesses to all. In a showdown, he is shot and he too asks for forgiveness from the man he framed and tried to kill.

The End

Great Lines
Admittedly, there aren't any humdingers as the serious tone quashes most room for joy, but there were a couple of phrases which are of note.

Michael Logan gives a calm response and admittedly fair conclusion to Larrue's insinuations following evidence of a priest witnessed at the scene of the crime:

"Well, then, I would say a man of intelligence would not be led to believe anything on so little evidence."

Ruth's panic over her statement which may be the downfall of Logan:

"They'll twist what I've said. They'll turn it. They'll use it. I've given them what they wanted. I was going to help Michael... but I've destroyed him."

And the one slightly humorous line in the entire film comes from one of two young girl witnesses.

Larrue: "Sorry I had to drag you away from school."

Girl: "We love to be dragged away from school. Thank you!"

This is only the third time I have watched I Confess. The first time, I hate to admit it, I was bored. The second time was much more enjoyable and this time I got even more out of it.

The one thing that I feel is missing from the film is a sense of humour. The only hint of levity is in regard to Benoit and his bicycle, which isn't exactly an example of great hilarity. Even though the subject matter is serious, that has never been a problem for Hitch in the past.

Some reviewers seem keen to express their distaste and dissatisfaction about this film merely on the basis that they cannot comprehend the dilemma of Logan's position. I am not Catholic nor very religious, but to question someone's faith (even a fictional character's) is a rather weak criticism.

Although I have made a point about not listing each and every Hitchcock cameo throughout his films, I do want to mention this one as it's immediate and startlingly effective as he walks across the screen in a most artistic and beautiful shot.

Speaking of which, the film is littered with stunning visuals and fantastic camera angles. The shots of Otto walking the streets at night and then removing his disguise with his shadow looming before him; the mob scene after Logan is acquitted (mob scenes always creep me out. It's almost a sort of phobia) and the lovely sequence when Montgomery Clift (hmmm, pretty...) is battling his inner demons as he walks about town - we can see exactly what he is thinking about without one word of dialogue. Genius!

My Verdict
Strangers on a Train is a hard act to follow... Although I have come to appreciate this film more over the years, it is still only an 'average' Hitchcock movie. 6/10

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Strangers on a Train

Title: Strangers on a Train
Year: 1951
Studio: Warner Brothers
Screenplay: Raymond Chandler and Czenzi Ormande (adaptation by Whitfield Cook)
Source Material: The novel by Patricia Highsmith
Running Time: 96 minutes
A black & white picture

Sunday 17th April, 1:30pm
I had planned on being on a honeymoon today. The plan was this:
I go to see the Scottish comedian, Danny Bhoy, last night... he'd spy me in the crowd, fall madly in love with me and we'd elope over night and end up somewhere like Hawaii by lunchtime today.
Sadly, he had to spoil it all by a) not spying me and b) not being gay.
So, instead, I spent the day in my PJs doing laundry and watching DVDs. Thankfully, part of the day was taken up watching one of my all-time favourite movies; Strangers on a Train...

Guy Haines - Farley Granger
Anne Morton - Ruth Roman
Bruno Antony - Robert Walker
Senator Morton - Leo G Carroll
Barbara Morton - Patricia Hitchcock
Miriam Joyce Haines - Laura Elliott
Mrs Antony - Marion Lorne
Mr Antony - Jonathan Hale
Captain Turley - Howard St John
Professor Collins - John Brown
Mrs Cunningham - Norma Varden
Detective Leslie Hennessey - Robert Gist
Detective Hammond - John Doucette

Two men meet on a train by accident. One is Guy Haines, a successful young tennis player with sights on marrying a senator's daughter despite already being married. The other is Bruno Antony, a playboy with dangerous delusions and some wicked notions.
Whilst dining, Bruno tells of his idea about swapping murders and offers, supposedly hypothetically as far as Guy is concerned, that Bruno kills Guy's current wife and Guy kills Bruno's domineering father.
Guy shrugs off the meeting as a brief encounter with a loony and gets off at Metcalf (accidentally leaving his personalised cigarette lighter behind in Bruno's compartment) in order to talk to his philandering wife, Miriam Joyce Haines, about their impending divorce.
Miriam works at Miller's Music Store and during their meeting, she announces that she has since changed her mind about the divorce since Guy's career has suddenly sky-rocketed. She will keep the baby (which is not Guy's) and threaten scandal if he leaves her in the lurch. Fuming with rage, he leaves the smug bitch in the shop and immediately telephones Anne (his lover) to explain the horrible situation - he admits he'd like to strangle Miriam.

One evening, Bruno travels to Metcalf and finds out where Miriam lives. He waits for her until she leaves the house with two 'boyfriends', George and Tommy. He follows them to a fairground where he stalks her. She sees him and she flirts casually with him as he follows her to various stalls and onto the merry-go-round.
The three young people decide to take a boat through 'The Tunnel of Love' and have some fun on the 'Magic Isle' - Bruno takes a boat too and follows.
Miriam and the boys separate on the isle and Bruno catches her. He holds Guy's cigarette lighter up to her face and asks "Is your name Miriam?" and when she replies that it is, he slowly strangles the life out of her body.

Nonchalantly, Bruno climbs back into his boat and returns to the mainland.
He arrives at Guy's home and shows him the evidence of his success - Miriam's broken glasses. Guy is appalled but Bruno threatens him with the fact he'll be seen as an accomplice. Bruno wants Guy to go through with the murder of Mr Antony.

Guy returns to his home and receives a call from Anne - she asks him to go to her home. When he turns up, Anne, her sister Barbara and her father, the senator, are waiting for him and they tell him the tragic news, little knowing he is already familiar with the details. Guy says he has an alibi - a Professor Collins from Delaware Tech, who was on the train with him at around the time of the murder. Frustratingly, when the chief of police, Captain Turley, finds the Professor, it is discovered that the man was drunk and cannot recall the meeting at all.

Turley assigns two detectives, Hennessey and Hammond, to take turns in tailing Guy whilst procedures take place.

Bruno begins to stalk Guy, turning up at his tennis matches, following him to the museum etc. Bruno posts him the key to his father's home, includes a map of the building. He even sends him the gun he wishes Guy to use.
On one meeting, Bruno spies Barbara and is aghast at how similar she is in looks to the murdered Miriam. This haunts him once more whilst at a function held by the senator, Bruno strikes up a conversation with a Mrs Cunningham and her friend Mrs Anderson about the perfect murder. Bruno demonstrates the simplicity of strangulation but when he sees Barbara in the background, he goes into a trance and nearly kills Mrs Cunningham whose throat is being crushed by his grip.

Guy wants Bruno to leave him alone and Anne is becoming more and more suspicious. She confronts Guy and he admits to what is going on, but still professing his innocence.
Guy telephones Bruno and says he will go through with it, but that night, having slipped the detective, he arrives at Bruno's father's home only to find Bruno waiting for him. Guy was going to tell Mr Antony the truth about his son but instead tells Bruno that he needs some sort of psychiatric help.
Bruno is not impressed and says he won't kill Guy, he will find something much better...

Anne visits Mrs Antony, trying to persuade her to stop her son. Mrs Antony is having none of it and thinks it is all too silly. Bruno arrives and tells Anne that it was all Guy's doing and how Guy wanted Bruno to retrieve the lighter from the scene of the crime.
With this informative clue, Anne and Guy realise Bruno is going to plant it back on the Isle.
They need to get there before Bruno but without the police getting in the way. However, Guy has a tennis match to finish and win first.

Having won the match (playing against his usual style) Guy races to Metcalf with the help of Barbara who hinders the detectives in their pursuit.
Bruno is also hindered slightly when he accidentally drops the lighter down a drain. He wastes valuable time trying to retrieve it - telling curious passers-by that it's a cigarette case in order to not arouse suspicions later...

Guy finally makes it to the fairground as night draws in. Bruno has been unable to get a boat to the island as the morbid curiosity of the public have increased interest in the 'Magic Isle'.
Guy spies Bruno and Bruno leaps onto the moving merry-go-round, Guy joins him. Two Metcalf policemen try to stop Guy and fire a gun - it hits the operator who slumps to the floor taking the control lever down with him causing the ride to speed up.
Guy and Bruno fight as the children scream around them. One fairground attendant manages to crawl beneath the spinning beast and reach the brake which brings it to a shuddering, screeching halt. It thunders and crashes, injuring the riders and the spectators. The policemen search the wreckage and find Guy in good health. However, the man who operates the boat stall had recognised Bruno as the same man from the night of Miriam's murder. The cops still don't believe Guy's innocence, despite his story - until Bruno's crushed body finally gives up and he dies, releasing the grip he has on Guy's cigarette lighter.

Guy has some explaining to do, but he is basically off the hook... and free to marry Anne Morton.

The End.

Great Lines

Mrs Antony: "I do hope you've forgotten all about that silly plan of yours."

Bruno: "Which one?"

Mrs Antony: "About blowing up the White House."

Bruno: "Oh Ma, I was only fooling. Besides, what would the President say?!"

Mrs Antony: "You're a naughty boy, Bruno!"


Barbara: "Nothing stands in your way now. You can be married right away. Think of it, you're free!"

Senator Morton: "One doesn't always have to say what one thinks."

Barbara: "Father, I am not a politician."


When Bruno sees Anne Morton at the museum:

Bruno: "Slight improvement on Miriam, huh, Guy?!"


Senator Morton worries about what the gossips will say after Bruno's little "scene" at the party:

Senator Morton: : "...first thing you know they'll be talking about orgies!"


And the chillingly delivered:

Bruno: "Is your name Miriam?"

Farley Granger died on March 27th of this year. I won't deny that I have always had a bit of a crush on him, ever since I first saw Strangers on a Train and even though he lived to a good age (85) it is still a great loss. He was a charming and beautiful man. (It's that bottom lip of his...)
Robert Walker's performance as Bruno Antony is exquisite. He portrays the unhinged madman with such elegance and class. Once again, as with Rope, we teeter on the edge of the suggestion of homosexuality and Robert's performance is subtle and daring.
Patricia Hitchcock may be an example of nepotism within the industry, but it's not unjustified as her performance as the brutally frank Barbara Morton is pure perfection.

There are so many glorious little touches of black humour. One of my favourites is Bruno's casual demeanour as he stalks Miriam in the park - bursts a child's balloon with his cigarette and then eats popcorn on his way to killing Miriam on the island.

One rather creepy image is when guy sees Bruno in the crowd at the tennis match. Everyone else's heads are turning in rhythm with the flying ball except for Bruno's whose eye-line is permanently on Guy.

The most exciting denouement is delivered with magnificent pace and energy. The whole scene on the merry-go-round is desperately nail-biting and eerie as The Band Played On plays on at a faster speed accompanied by screams from petrified riders and bystanders alike. This scene never fails to chill me. One of Hitch's best moments out of his long career.

Although the story has been remade a couple of times since (why, oh why?) I can recommend the film Throw Momma From the Train. It isn't a direct remake, but more of an homage to the original with splendid direction from Danny DeVito (and a nice early performance from 24th Century Starship Captain Kathryn Janeway AKA Kate Mulgrew from Star Trek)

One final thing... I have always said to myself (and others who care to listen) that if I ever had to choose one prop from film history to own, it would have to be the cigarette lighter inscribed 'From A to G'. Maybe one day I will be able to buy it (or at least have a perfect replica...)
Marion Lorne will be known to most as the lovable but ditzy Aunt Clara from TV's Bewitched.

My Verdict
I have never shied away from announcing this as one of my all-time favourites. Sure, there a couple of plot holes, but I don't give a damn. It's superbly played with one of the BEST climaxes to a thriller ever. 10/10

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Stage Fright

Title: Stage Fright
Year: 1950
Studio: Warner Brothers
Screenplay: Whitfield Cook. Adapted by Alma Reville with additional dialogue by James Bridle
Source Material: Man Running by Selwyn Jepson
Running Time: 105 minutes
A black & white picture

Sunday 10th April, 9:45am
Last weekend I was simply too busy to get around to doing this blog. You have to understand that it takes a few hours to watch the film (with plenty of pausing to jot down notes and scribble down great lines) and then another couple of hours to write it all up. This is why I am single.
I figure that if I only have one weekend off from here on in, I should finish this blog on Hitchcock's birthday (if all goes to plan...)
Once again, I am going to try my best to truncate the plot so I don't have to spend ages detailing every tiny little moment. It may seem rushed, but I'm hungry and want some lunch.
(I will also take it as read that whoever reads this knows the ending of the movie...)
(Gosh, I love brackets)

Eve Gill - Jane Wyman
Charlotte Inwood - Marlene Dietrich
Inspector Wilfred 'Ordinary' Smith - Michael Wilding
Jonathan Cooper - Richard Todd
Mrs Gill - Sybil Thorndike
Nellie Goode - Kay Walsh
Mr Fortesque - Miles Mallerson
Freddie Williams - Hector MacGregor
Woman manning the "Lovely Ducks" stall - Joyce Grenfell
Inspector Byard - Andre Morell
Chubby Bannister - Patricia Highsmith
Sergeant Mellish - Ballard Berkeley
Commodore Gill - Alistair Sim

The Safety Curtain raises to reveal London.
Eve Gill is driving through town with alacrity as her passenger, Jonathan Cooper, relays his tale of adventure. He has been caught up in a murder. His lover, famous actress Charlotte Inwood, has killed her husband and has come to him for help wearing her bloodstained outfit. He helps her out by returning to the scene of the crime to pick up a clean dress for Charlotte and to rearrange things to make it look like a break-in only to be caught in the act by Nellie, the maid. The police come looking for Jonnie but he evades them and goes in search of Eve so that she can help him out. He finds her at RADA rehearsing...
Eve, upon hearing teh story and being slightly enamoured with Jonnie, agrees to help.

She takes him to her father's place by the sea where Jonathan burns the bloodstained dress. Eve wants to go and talk to Charlotte to talk to her and help Jonnie. Commodore Gill keeps a roof over Jonnie's head and asks Eve to not get involved as it could be dangerous. The next morning, Eve sneaks out, disregarding her father's wishes, only to find a note from him in the car:

Remember she's a dangerous woman, so BE CAREFUL
Your loving Father

Back in London, Eve manages to wheedle her way into the life of a detective named Smith by playing the weak and feeble bystander. They build up an immediate rapport and she is able to get some information from him whilst becoming a little attracted to him. Nellie, Inwood's maid, enters the same public house and starts nattering about what she knows.

Eve pretends to be a reporter and offers to pay Nellie so that she can take her place and do some snooping. Nellie is a mercenary woman and agrees. Eve 'becomes' Doris Tinsdale and replaces Nellie as Charlotte's maid as Nellie feigns illness. However, this means Eve has to avoid Wilfred Smith when ever he comes to talk to Charlotte about the murder.

At a fund-raising garden party where Charlotte is performing Eve and her father try to expose Charlotte as the guilty party . The Commodore wins a doll, smears some of his own blood on the doll's dress and persuades a young scout to deliver the doll to Charlotte whilst she performs. Charlotte is taken aback and almost collapses. Unfortunately for Eve, she is needed as Charlotte's maid and thus is exposed to Detective Smith with whom she has attended the event.

Afterwards, the Commodore and Eve have to tell Smith everything. He is not impressed by their meddling nor by the fact it seems he has been used by Eve. She tries to persuade him that she did once love Jonnie and that is why she got involved but now she is falling for Smith.

With help from the police and the theatre, they try to catch Charlotte out by bugging the quick-change dressing room and getting her to talk about the dress and the murder. Eve gets Charlotte talking but the confession is not quite what was expected. Charlotte blames Jonnie and reveals how he was the one who committed the crime. Eve is reluctant to believe it until soon, Jonnie is on the run again and she hides him in the theatre basement. It turns out he has a criminal history and he believes the only way he can get away with his life intact would be to plead insanity. The only way to prove his unhinged mental state would be to kill again for no apparent reason.
Eve says she will help him but locks him in the orchestra pit and screams for help.
The police come for him and he tries to escape, only to be crushed by the falling safety curtain as he clambers onto the stage.

Wilfred Smith embraces and consoles Eve as they walk off-stage together.


Great Lines

Commodore Gill and his daughter discuss the anoozing Jonathan:

Commodore Gill: "He's a friend of yours is he?"

Eve Gill: "Oh yes..."

Commodore Gill: "I see - More than a friend, eh?"

Eve Gill: "When I am with him, I get a feeling in here that... that's sort of..."

Commodore Gill: "Yes, well... we'll go into symptoms later. Meanwhile, I take it you're either keen on him or still hungry."

When Charlotte is being dressed for the funeral, she is not keen on the style:

Charlotte Inwood: "If we could only work in a little colour somewhere. Oh well..."

Charlotte on detectives:

"They are only policemen with smaller feet."

Charlotte on small talk:

"I hope you're not going to turn into one of those explicit people who always tell you exactly how they feel when you ask them."

And for all other great lines, just listen to all scenes with Alistair Sim and his brilliant delivery.

I love the way we are thrown straight into the plot. there is no faffing around. As soon as that curtain is raised, we're knee deep in plot and adventure, even if it is not all is it seems to be at first.
The whole 'stage' theme is played continually throughout, sometimes subtly, sometimes brashly, but either way effectively. As Shakespeare wrote: All the world's a stage...

There are a number of utterly delightful scenes within the movie. For a start, the scenes at the home of the Gill's are always glistening with sparkling dialogue - particularly when Sybil Thorndike and Alistair Sim are trading their banter.
The scene where Marlene is singing Je vois la vie en rose as the cub scout produces the doll with the blood stained dress is eerily directed as only Hitch could.
My favourite scene has to be where Alistair Sim tries to purchase a doll from the hilarious Joyce Grenfell at the "Lovely Ducks" stall. First he offers to buy the doll until he realises how much he'll have to fork out. Then he tries to win one, but fails miserably. He pretends a larger fellow's winning turn was his own, but his opponents threatening nature persuades him to give that one up and, with this lesson in mind, turns the tables on a weaker chap to his right who turns out to be easily intimidated. It's a golden moment of comedy.

Finally, two little casting notes.
Ballard Berkeley who plays Mellish will always be Major Gowen from Fawlty Towers to me.
Patricia Hitchcock, Alfred's daughter, makes her first of three appearances within her father's films - this time as the oddly monikered 'Chubby Bannister'. It makes me think of something easy to slide down but too wide to grip. Thank heavens this isn't a Carry On film.

My Verdict
Hitchcock is wonderful at blending comedy with thriller. The mystery is played out very well and Jane Wyman is as entrancing as she is attractive. The twisting plot is gripping too. The only negative thing is the all-too convenient placing of Jonathan in various scenes. He seems to be terrible at hiding. 8/10