Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Title: The Man Who Knew Too Much
Year: 1956
Studio: Universal Pictures
Screenplay: John Michael Hayes
Source Material: The story by Charles Bennett and D.B. Wyndham-Lewis
Running Time: 115 minutes

Sunday 29th May, 6:30am
I had every intention of doing this one yesterday, but I was in a very grumpy mood - one of those in which one finds oneself tiresomely pitying all aspects of one's own life. It's pathetic, it's true. Let's just say my biorhythms were all down or something. So, instead, I climbed into bed mid-afternoon and read for a bit, slept and cuddled the cat.
Waking early this morning, I felt much better and threw myself into it. For some reason, I always seem to forget how entertaining this film is until I watch it again...

Dr Ben McKenna - James Stewart
Jo McKenna - Doris Day
Lucy Drayton - Brenda De Banzie
Edward Drayton - Bernard Miles
Buchanan - Ralph Truman
Louis Bernard - Daniel Gélin
Ambassador - Mogens Wieth
Val Parnell - Alan Mowbray
Jan Peterson - Hillary Brooke
Hank McKenna - Christopher Olsen
Assassin - Reggie Nalder
Assistant manager - Richard Wattis
Woburn - Noel Willman
Helen Parnell - Alix Talton
Police Inspector - Yves Brainville
Cindy Fontaine - Carolyn Jones
Edna - Betty Bascomb
Chauffeur - Leo Gordon
Handyman - Patrick Aherne
Detective - Lewis Martin
Ambrose Chappell Jr -Richard Wordsworth
Ambrose Chappell Snr - George Howe

On a bus heading to Marrakech, an American couple are travelling with their son. They are Ben and Jo McKenna and their son is named Hank. Ben is a doctor and his wife used to be a singer whose career has been cut short due to the nature of Ben's work. Their marriage shows signs of strain frequently, but this holiday could help them out.
They are befriended by a Frenchman named Louis Bernard but Jo is suspicious of him as he asks too many questions.
That evening, at the hotel, they have Bernard for drinks in their suite before heading off for dinner. At one point a man arrives at the door. he has a scar on his right cheek. He asks for 'Montgomery' but soon passes on his way when informed he has the wrong room. Louis Bernard asks to make a call and then he asks for forgiveness as he has to cancel his plans with them for dinner, so they go off alone.

In a local restaurant, Jo and Ben meet an English couple - Edward and Lucy Drayton. Lucy recognised Jo from her singing years and the foursome enjoy a meal together. Jo notices Louis turn up at the restaurant with a female companion. Ben is outraged and is willing to give him an earful, but Jo stops him from making a scene.

The next day, the two couples visit the marketplace along with Hank (who is enthralled by it all). Jo confides to Ben that she'd like another child.
They are interrupted by havoc amongst the crowds. There is a big chase on foot and one man is stabbed in the back. The injured man staggers toward Ben and collapses in his arms. His dark skin smudges on Ben's fingers proving it is mere make up and he recognises Louis Bernard. As the Frenchman dies, he whispers in Ben's ear...

"A man, a statesman, he is to be killed... assassinated... in London. Soon. Very soon. Tell them in London. Ambrose Chappell..."

Ben and Jo have to go to the police station to give a statement - meanwhile Lucy Drayton takes Hank back to the hotel. Ben and Jo learn that Bernard worked for the Deuxieme Bureau, similar to MI5 or the FBI, and the cops are curious as to Ben's relationship with him. Whilst there, Ben is called to the phone - someone tells him not to repeat anything that Bernard told him or his son will be hurt.
Ben takes Jo back to the hotel only to find that both Edward and Lucy Drayton have gone and taken Hank with them. He sedates Jo and tries to figure what to do next.

The couple return to London where they speak to Inspector Buchanan from CID. They receive a call from the kidnappers and they get to speak to Hank, albeit briefly. Ben insists they handle this alone for fear of Hank's life. Buchanan advises against that, but understands their predicament.
At their hotel in London, they are bombarded with some local friends of Jo's and they try and put on a brave face.
After looking up 'Abrose Chappell' in the phone book, Ben goes off to meet him on his own. It turns out to be a false lead when he discovers a family run taxidermist shop. Meanwhile, back at the hotel, it occurs to Jo that it may have been a place, not a person - Ambrose chapel! She hurries off, leaving her friends and takes taxi to the chapel. From this location, she calls back to her hotel room from a phone booth - Ben has returned by this time and she tells him to join her.

Upstairs at the chapel, Edward is instructing the scarred man exactly when he is to assassinate the foreign Prime Minister - when the cymbals crash during Arthur Benjamin's Cantata 'Storm Cloud'. The assassin is armed and ready. He will have a box at the Albert hall in direct line of the intended victim.

Once Ben arrives at the chapel, they enter the chapel and join the congregation. Hank is being held upstairs by one of the Drayton's accomplices, Edna. Lucy spots Ben and Jo in the crowd and Jo slips out to call for the police. In his guise as a priest, Edward Drayton tells the congregation to leave for their homes for some private meditation - they do so quickly and obediently, leaving Ben behind. In a struggle, Ben gets clobbered and becomes unconscious.

Jo returns with some police officers only to find the chapel still, quiet and locked up - she does not understand where everyone has gone. She asks for the police to take her to the Albert Hall as that is where Buchanan is that evening.
Ben eventually wakes up, but not until the gang have fled with Hank.
He climbs up the rope into the bell tower and escapes through the roof, alerting everyone in the district with the cacophony.

Jo is at Albert Hall as the place begins to fill - she is looking for Buchanan but cannot find him. She sees the foreign prime Minister and also the scarred man she had seen at the hotel in Morocco. Piecing it together, she panics. As the orchestra play she watches helplessly as the assassin prepares. Ben, having called Buchanan's office, arrives at the Albert hall and desperately searches for the assassin. At the moment the gun is about to be fired, Jo screams her heart out, ruining the perfect shot and the Prime Minister is merely wounded in the arm. Ben crashes into the box with the assassin who flees only to fall to his death.

The Prime Minister is grateful to Jo and Ben, but they cannot bear to take the plaudits of heroism whilst their son is still missing.

Meanwhile, the Drayton's are being scolded by their 'employer', an ambassador at the foreign embassy. he tells them to dispose of young Hank so he can't talk. Lucy is horrified.

Ben and Jo get themselves invited to the embassy and she is asked to sing for the guests in attendance. As she plays at the piano and sings, she can hear Hank whistling back from somewhere upstairs. He is encouraged by a repentant Lucy Drayton.
Ben follows the sound of the whistle and breaks down the door. Lucy tells them to run but Edward is behind them with a gun, he takes them at gunpoint in order to use them to escape, but as they descend the stairs, Ben pushes Edward down the flight and his gun goes off, killing him. Jo, Ben and Hank are reunited and can return to the safety of their hotel at last.


Great Lines
Oh, Hank, you may be able to spell haemoglobin, but your knowledge of other cultures is less than satisfactory... but then, you are only a child.

Hank: "Do you eat snails?"
Louis: "When I'm lucky enough to get them."
Hank: "If you ever get hungry, our garden back home is full of snails."
Louis: "Thank you for the invitation."
Hank: "That's all right. We tried everything to get rid of them. We never thought of a Frenchman!"

As for Jo's friends, it's hard to know who should be more insulted when one remarks about Hank: "I hope he looks like you and has the doctor's brains!"

And finally, a wonderfully acerbic line from the ambassador to the inept kidnappers:
"Don't you realise that Americans dislike having their children stolen?"

One almost wishes he'd continue with "But the Brits; they LOVE it - they almost BEG for you to steal their kids!"

Doris Day is superb as Jo 'Conway' McKenna. For anyone who considers her to be saccharine in other forms should give this film a go. Her acting is superb and her rendition of Whatever Will Be, Will be (Que Sera, Sera) toward the end of the film is brilliant.
One does worry about the marriage between Ben and Jo. No wonder it is so strained when he thinks it's OK to liberally hand out pills every time he has an obstacle to cross. "Now, before we row, let me sedate you so I can win..."

The Albert Hall scene has become famous in movie lore - with good reason. It's over ten minutes long with no dialogue and it's utterly gripping. Even though I have seen it a number of times, I still got chills.
Proof indeed that Hitchcock is the master.

One of my favourite Hitchcock touches in this film, however, is when Ben and Jo receive the phone call from Lucy Drayton and they get to speak to their son. The camera looks down upon them and we watch detached as we witness their panic and grief. we feel that lack of control, unable to assist. It's a surreal moment and played perfectly by Day and Stewart.

Another favourite is when Jo is at the Embassy singing, we follow the sound of her voice as it carries throughout the corridors, up the stairs and toward the locked door, behind which Hank is held captive. Even though the music plays, it is eerie in it's sombre tone. As odd as this may sound, you can hear the silence under the music.

My Verdict
I gave the first version 7/10 and I was thinking of giving this 8, but really, it deserves a 9/10.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Trouble With Harry

Title: The Trouble With Harry
Year: 1955
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Screenplay: John Michael Hayes
Source Material: A novel by Jack Trevor Story
Running Time: 95 minutes

Saturday 21st May, 8:50am
Another early start but with a couple of interruptions. One from the online supermarket delivery (huzzah) and another for a quick nap as I was feeling desperately tired for some unknown reason. After about a 40 minute nap, I woke up and had a poo and suddenly I felt better.
Strangely, just minutes before I was to begin watching the film, I noticed my friend Lorna (in the UK) had posted on Facebook that she had just watched The Trouble With Harry - rather a coincidence, wouldn't you say?

Captain Albert Wiles - Edmund Gwenn
Sam Marlowe - John Forsythe
Ivy Gravely - Mildred Natwick
Mrs Wiggs - Mildred Dunnock
Arnie Rogers - Jerry Mathers
Calvin Wiggs - Royal Dano
Millionaire - Parker Fennelly
Tramp - Barry Macollum
Dr Greenbow - Dwight Marfield
Jennifer Rogers - Shirley Maclaine
Harry Worp - Philip Truex

Young Arnie Rogers is taking a walk through the countryside with his toy gun. He hears three gunshots. Eventually he stumbles upon the corpse of a man. He runs off.
Soon after, Captain Albert Wiles stumbles across the body. He has been out attempting to hunt rabbits, but is ashamed he has failed so miserably. He is appalled when he discovers the body and assumes the death was his fault with a stray bullet. He finds a letter within the man's pocket and sees that the man was Harry Worp from Boston.

As he tries to drag the body away, Miss Ivy Gravely, a spinster, arrives. She seems unsurprised by the situation and simply asks the Captain to join her later for coffee and blueberry muffins. She goes on her way. Before the captain can move Harry, more people arrive in succession. Captain Wiles hides behind a tree and watches the various interactions with the corpse.
First Jennifer Rogers, who has brought by her son, Arnie. Jennifer is somewhat relieved that Harry is dead and nonchalantly turns away again.
Then, Doc Greenwood walks through the glade reading his book, trips over Harry's feet, falls over and gets up, not paying any attention to the cause of his trip.
Then a tramp comes along - sees the corpse and steals his shoes.
The Captain soon tires and naps in his hiding place.

In the mean time, Sam Marlowe, a local struggling artist speaks to Mrs Wiggs at her store, seeing if anyone has shown any interest in his paintings. Her son, the deputy sheriff is busy tinkering with his car which is wanting to sell.
Ivy Gravely enters the store and she shows signs of wanting to impress a certain fellow. Sam suggests they give her a makeover. Outside, a millionaire is showing interest in Sam's paintings, but with no one to pay, he drives on.

Later, Sam goes up the hill and begins to sketch. He notices Harry's corpse and continues to sketch the dead man's face in pastel. The Captain is now awake and approaches Sam. They discuss the situation and decide they have to hide Harry, so they leave him behind a fallen tree. First they need to talk to Jennifer for her opinion.

Sam goes to see Jennifer and has an odd conversation with her son, Arnie:

Sam: "Perhaps I'll come back tomorrow."
Arnie: "When's that?"
Sam: "The day after today."
Arnie: "That's yesterday. Today's tomorrow."
Sam: "It was..."
Arnie: "When was tomorrow yesterday, Mr Marlowe?"
Sam: "Today."
Arnie: "Oh, sure, yesterday."
Jennifer: "You'll never make sense out of Arnie. He's got his own timing."

Arnie has a dead rabbit which he trades for a frog that Sam has brought with him. He then asks for the rabbit back so he can make more trades.

Sam learns from Jennifer that Harry was the brother of the man who was Arnie's father, who died before Arnie was born. Harry married Jennifer out of a sense of duty but on the wedding night, jilted her as his horoscopes warned him off:

Don't start a new project... it will never be finished Jennifer changed her name, took Arnie and left to live a more reclusive life. Harry had turned up that morning and during a heated discussion, she had hit him with a milk bottle and he had staggered off into the wood, somewhat dazed.

Captain Wiles has his coffee date with Miss Ivy Gravely which is a slightly awkward affair as they try and figure each other out. Arnie turns up and produces the dead rabbit. He claims it was killed by the captain that morning - this pleases Captain Wiles immensely as he has never had much success.

Then, Sam and Captain Wiles go to bury Harry. Once six feet under, Captain Wiles realises something. If his bullet had killed a rabbit (and there was evidence he'd also hit a tin can and a 'no shooting' sign) then all of his bullets were accounted for. This means, he is innocent - so they dig Harry up again. Examining the corpse, they figure it must be the graze on his head - evidence of a blunt instrument. Knowing what Jennifer told Sam, they decide it best to bury Harry again.

Miss Gravely later visits the Captain at his home and she confesses that she thinks she killed Harry. He had staggered towards her and was under the impression she was Jennifer. He tried to drag her into some nearby bushes and when her hiking shoe came off in the struggle, she had hit him with it.
They go and dig Harry up again as she feels it is what is best.

Later that evening, while Arnie is in bed, Sam, Captain Gravely and Ivy are all at Miss Rogers' home. After a discussion about the circumstances, they think it is probably best for all if they make a pact and bury him again.

Mrs Wiggs bursts in saying that there is a millionaire wanting to buy Sam's paintings, so they all head over to the shop. Sam doesn't want money and persuades him to provide for his friends as well. Strawberries delivered monthly for Jennifer, a new cash register for Mrs Wiggs, a hope chest for Ivy, a shotgun for the Captain, a chemical set for Arnie and, for himself, something he can only whisper to the benevolent art lover. Sam then insinuates to Jennifer that he would like to propose. She thinks about it...

Deputy Sheriff Calvin Wiggs arrives and he has found Harry's shoes on a tramp. The story he has been told is that the tramp got the shoes off a dead man in the woods. Sam also sees the sketch Sam made of Harry and he notices how it resembles the description the tramp had made of the dead body.

Back at Miss Rogers' home, Jen accepts Sam's proposal. However, if he is to marry her, they have to prove Harry id\s dead first. So it's time to dig Harry up again.
Once out of the ground again, the group are confronted by Doc Greenbow, out for another of his walks. Jen explains that the dead man is her late husband and he says he will determine the cause of death. He says he'll meet them all at Jen's house where the light will be better., The others carry Harry there.

They wash Harry's clothes and hide him in the bath tub when Calvin Wiggs arrives asking questions. He has the sketch with him. Sam says he just made up the face from his imagination and with a few quick changes with his pastels, he shows the face alive and well. Meanwhile, Captain Wiles steals Harry's shoes out of Calvin's car. All evidence is now effectively ruined.
Having got rid of Calvin. They redress Harry and return him to his spot in the woods.
They arrange for Arnie to find him again, and (brilliantly) with Arnie's sense of timing, he will not be able to describe exactly when he found the body to the police.
It is also revealed that Sam had asked the millionaire for something very practical... a double bed.

The Trouble With Harry is Over.

Great Lines
Being a black comedy, the screenplay is littered with some witty gems.

Captain Wiles: (to Harry) "Worp, you're a long way from home. With the looks of it, you won't get back for Christmas!"

When the Captain considers the beauty of Jennifer Rogers, young enough to be his granddaughter, he says "Wish I was two years younger..."

Arnie's philosophy on the luck of nature: "Four rabbit's feet and he got killed."
...and when he has made a trade for the frog with Sam he asks for the rabbit back explaining; "You never know when a dead rabbit will come in handy. It already got me one frog!"

Jennifer's cavalier attitude to Harry's passing is delightful:

"You can stuff him for all I care. Stuff him and put him in a glass case. Only I'd suggest frosted glass."

This was the first of many films to be scored by the superb Bernard Herrmann.

Not only is it Bernard's debut with Hitch, but it is also Shirley Maclaine's first big screen role. For me, her defining moment in cinema history is the brilliant portrayal of Charity Hope Valentine in Bob Fosse's Sweet Charity, a film which succeeds in breaking my heart every time I watch it. So much joy and yet so sad.
Shirley was also nominated for BAFTA for her role as Jennifer Rogers. Not bad for a debut!

Some may find the absurdities of the farcical plot a little too much to take, but one has to have the suspension of disbelief if one is to enjoy the black comedy within.

Edmund Gwenn is such a pleasure to watch, as always, and it's a genuinely 'laugh out loud' moment when it is revealed that he leaves Miss Gravely to dig all on her own.

The dialogue is brilliant in its innocuousness and blasé attitude to such serious issues and the occasional innuendo is subtle enough not to offend.

There is a sweet gentility to the whole proceeding and I think anyone who cannot find the charm within is possibly a little cold-hearted.

My Verdict
I was surprised to find one other guide give this a mere 3 out of 10. I can only assume the reviewers were hung-over or something the day they watched. I think it's a splendid curiosity with the right levels of dark humour and some beautiful cinematography. 7/10

Monday, May 16, 2011

To Catch a Thief

Title: To Catch a Thief
Year: 1955
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Screenplay: John Michael Hayes
Source Material: From the novel by David Dodge
Running Time: 102 minutes

Monday 16th May, 9:00am
It has been just about a year since I started this blog. I did have that short break whilst I was on holiday in the UK, but I have maintained a reasonably consistent timetable which surprises me somewhat.
Today I have a day off work - I needed a long weekend for personal reasons - and this morning was the best time for me to tackle To Catch a Thief. I have a friend who really does not like this film because he knows and loves the original novel too well. However, I have never read it so I can only take the film at face value.
It's another one of those that I have seen a number of times before but it's always interesting taking a fresh look.

John Robie - Cary Grant
Frances Stevens - Grace Kelly
Jessie Stevens - Jessie Royce Landis
H.H. Hughson - John Williams
Bertani - Charles Vanel
Danielle Foussard - Brigitte Auber
Foussard - Jean Martinelli
Germaine - Georgette Anys

Robberies are taking place in the south of France and the local police are pretty convinced the modus operandi is that of once convicted John 'The Cat' Robie. John is trying to live a new life in his villa having given up the criminal life 15 years previously. When pursued by the police, he runs to an old friend, Bertani, who runs a restaurant which employs some other ex-cons in the kitchens. It seems everyone is suspicious of John and feel he is letting the side down by getting up to his old tricks.

John is determined to prove his innocence and he feels the only way to do this is for him to catch the cat-thief himself. He asks Bertani for help and the latter suggests he meet with a friend of his who will be able to help him out with a list of people within the area who may fit the bill for 'potential victims'. Escaping the arms of the police again, he gets a ride from Danielle Foussard, the daughter of the maître d', and she teases him about him being the current thief terrorising the locals.

Later, John meets this contact - a fellow from Lloyd's in London - named Hughson. He can provide John with a list as promised. However, during their meeting, the police catch up with him. Due to not having enough evidence to keep him in custody, he is released and he finishes his meeting with Hughson at his own villa.
On the list is an American woman named Jessie Stevens who is holidaying with her daughter, Frances. Hughson arranges a surreptitious meeting at the casino. John calls himself Conrad Burns and ingratiates himself to Jessie. Frances seems to fall for him too and even kisses him goodnight, much to his surprise.
They spend time together on the beach the following day and Frances shows signs of jealousy when she sees him talking to the young Danielle.
There are signs that John is being closely watched by the real 'Cat' - he receives anonymous messages warning him off and he also finds a wet smudge on the list of wealthy residents when he returns to his clothes after swimming.

John and Frances go villa hunting together and she announces that she knows the truth - she knows he is not Conrad Burns, but John Robie, the cat burglar. He denies it emphatically, but she is smug in the knowledge that she is right. She finds the whole thing entirely thrilling - until that night, her mother's jewels are stolen. In a cheap retaliation, she calls the police. Her mother thinks she is being crazy and allows John to escape the clutches of the police once more.

Robie hides out for a few days but resurfaces in order to contact Hughson to arrange a plan. He has received another note form the new 'Cat' telling him to stay away from the Silvas' villa that night - an obvious trap. That night, Foussard is killed at the villa and the police announce that he was the culprit. Robie is not impressed as he knows Foussard had a wooden leg and could simply not have been the burglar.
He intends to continue his plan to seek the real criminal.

At the funeral for Foussard, Danielle accuses Robie of murdering her father. Her stalks away, stung by the implication but as he leaves, he sees an apologetic Frances who declares her love for him (finally coming to her senses!) He uses this opportunity to wangle an invitation to the Sanfordd's ball.

At a costume party at the Sanford's mansion, Hughson switches places with Robie in a masked costume to divert the police's attention. Meanwhile, Robie lurks on the roof awaiting the Cat. He catches them in the act and reveals it is young Danielle Foussard. She slips from the roof and almost falls, but he has her in his grip. Whilst the police crowd below, he makes her confess that she is the cat burglar and that she had been doing it for her father, but the whole thing had been orchestrated by Bertani - the man who knew more about Robie's M.O. than anyone else.

Later, exonerated, Robie is at his home and Frances arrives - she makes him admit he needed help to achieve his goal and he does so. She falls into his arms and comments how perfect this place will be when she and her mother move in.


Great Lines
On the home made Quiche Lorraine:

Hughson: "Hm, it's wonderful. The pastry is as light as air!"

Robie: "Ah, Germaine has very sensitive hands, an exceedingly light touch."

Hughson: "Yes, I can tell."

Robie: "She strangled a German general once, without a sound!"

Hughson: "Extraordinary woman."

Jessie Royce Landis also gets a bevy of stunning lines - too many to list here.

If there is one thing I find slightly grating about this film it's the overtly smug dialogue between Francie and John. The cat and mouse game is certainly sharp, biting and laden with innuendo; but it is also a little too conceited and unrealistic. Francie just comes across as a little spoiled smart-arse at times and when she then has a strop and calls the police when she suspects John, one can't help thinking she is a whiny bitch. However, much praise is deserved for her mother to say exactly what we're all thinking - that she needs a good spanking.

Jessie Royce Landis is quite simply the best thing about this film. Her character is written well and she plays it adroitly. The character's attitude towards her jewellery and the insurance is refreshing and her knowledge of human nature is accurate and perfectly tuned. If she were not in the film, I would have very little interest in the romance between Francie and John.

Hitch has frequently featured cats in little cameo roles throughout his movies - it's almost as much as a drinking game as trying to spot him. In the opening scenes, he plays this card heavily and humorously with the suggestion that the term 'cat-thief' is more than just a metaphor. However, it is simply a tease from the master.

There are some other noteworthy Hitchcockian moments:
Whilst watching the fireworks in the dimly lit hotel room, Francie's face is shrouded in darkness as a shaft of light merely highlights the (faux) diamonds around her neck and her cleavage.
The sequence at the end upon the roof is classic Hitch. Tense and mysterious, playing with shadows. He does love his rooftop scenes (See Blackmail and Vertigo for two examples).

Grace Kelly is beautiful but as I mentioned above, I find her character a little too annoying to be likable.
Cary Grant is great at the ex-con seeking redemption, continuing with an air of charismatic grace, but it is odd how in a couple of scenes his tan is so dark, he looks black.

In a slightly different note, I want to mention DVD subtitles. I often watch these films with subtitles so I can catch every bit of dialogue and note down the occasional gem. Some DVD subtitles are better than others. The one on this specific DVD were pretty lame. I think subtitles should be accurate to the dialogue, not just something more-or-less similar to what is being spoken. I can only think it's pure laziness.

My Verdict
Beautifully filmed with stunning cinematography (Academy Award winning too) but I feel somewhat detached throughout. 6/10

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Rear Window

Title: Rear Window
Year: 1954
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Screenplay: John Michael Hayes
Source Material: A short story by Cornell Woolrich (As William Irish) called It Had To Be Murder.
Running Time: 107 minutes

Sunday 8th May, 7:05am
The worst alarm call of them all is the unbearable stench of a hot, runny, fresh cat poo. Yes, Fizzgig delivered "a steamy" in her litter tray first thing this morning which roused me from slumber earlier than I would have perhaps wished. Despite the distance between my bed and the laundry in which her toilet is situated, it still travelled towards my nostrils. Still, it gave me time to watch the latest film in the Hitchcock blog before I head out at lunchtime.

L.B. "Jeff" Jefferies - James Stewart
Lisa Carol Fremont - Grace Kelly
Thomas J. Doyle - Wendell Corey
Stella - Thelma Ritter
Lars Thorwald - Raymond Burr
Miss Lonelyhearts - Judith Evelyn
Composer - Ross Bagdasarian
Miss Torso - Gerogine Darcy
Woman on fire escape - Sara Berner
Man on fire escape - Frank Cady
Miss Hearing Aid - Jesslyn Fax
Honeymooner "Harry" - Rand Harper
Anna Thorwald - Irene Winston
Harry's wife - Havis Davenport

There is a heatwave and photographer, L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries, is trapped in his apartment due to a broken leg which he got whilst taking pictures at a car race. He is one week away from having the cast removed and it's driving him mad.
He is visited daily by a nurse named Stella who has her own views on life and can be very philosophical in her own way.
From his temporary prison, Jeff watches the lives of his neighbours from his window.
There is 'Miss Torso', a dancer who seems to be fond of entertaining but does not seem to have any relationships with any of the men.
There's 'Miss Lonelyhearts' who is desperately lonely and even plays out imaginary dates in her apartment.
There's the composer who is recently single and buries himself in his music.
There's the dog-loving couple who sleep on the fire escape due to the heat of the night.
There's the newly-wed couple who are in for a few romantic nights in their new home.
There's the female sculptor who lives for her art.
Then there's the salesman and his invalid wife...

In the evening, Jeff's girlfriend, Lisa visits. She is a model and absolutely adores Jeff but has become increasingly frustrated with his lack of commitment to their relationship. He is too afraid of marriage and nothing seems to make him change his mind.
Jeff and Lisa argue about their future and his choice of career. They part on a sour note, but she knows she'll be back again tomorrow.
That night, in the early hours of Thursday morning, Jeff hears a woman scream and hears the sound of broken glass. He watches as the salesman leaves his apartment and returns (a couple of times) in the pouring rain...

The couple on the fire escape have a little dog whom they adore. Each day, she puts the dog in the basket and lowers him down to the gardens below via a pulley system. The dog can then play and do his business.
Jeff is worried that the salesman may have murdered his wife and Stella (who is visiting again to give him a massage) is not impressed by Jeff's voyeurism and over-active imagination.
Before Stella leaves again, Jeff asks her to pass him the binoculars so he can see the events across the way better. He also gets his telephoto lens for his camera. He witnesses the salesman wrapping up a machete and a small saw in newspaper.

Lisa does visit again that night and they are back to their affectionate ways but they are soon interrupted when the salesman returns home with rope. Lisa is initially reluctant to believe Jeff's suspicions about the salesman murdering his wife but the more she watches, the more she is coming around to his way of thinking. On her way home, she checks the mailbox to get the name of the suspect - Lars Thorwald. She telephones Jeff to let him know...

Jeff calls his old friend Thomas Doyle who is a detective. Tom says he'll come 'round to visit. Sadly, he does not get there in time to see Thorwald getting rid of a large trunk bound with rope which is picked up by a freight company. Stella tries to get to the truck to get the name of the company but she misses it by seconds.
Doyle arrives and listens to Jeff's story. He says he'll do some poking around.

Outside, the dog is digging around in a flowerbed but Lars shoos the dog away.

Later, Doyle returns to see Jeff. Apparently, Mrs Thorwald left at 6:00am and has gone to the country - according to the superintendent and a couple of witnesses.
A telegram was sent to Lars stating Arrived OK. Already feeling better. Love, Anna.
Doyle thinks there is no case to investigate. Jeff is not so sure.

Lars returns home. He has had some shirts cleaned at the laundry and he is beginning to pack. He has his wife's handbag which contains a load of jewellery. Lisa (who is going to stay over for the night) thinks it is odd that a woman would leave her jewellery behind if she was going on a trip and would leave it all messed up in a handbag!
Doyle returns to ward them both off the track and to convince them to stop meddling.
Meanwhile, Miss Lonelyhearts has gone out for a date. She returns home with a man who is too fresh with her - she slaps him and kicks him out, she weeps alone again.

The evening is disturbed by a cry. The poor little dog is dead. Its neck has been broken. The whole courtyard is alive with neighbours viewing from their windows - the only person who does not watch is Lars Thorwald.

Both Stella and Lisa are with Jeff. They are watching Lars clean his apartment - washing the bathroom walls.
Jeff gets out a slide of a picture he took a few days ago and shows the difference between then and now. The zinnias in the garden have shrunk! Obviously something had been buried out there and the plants replaced.
They write Lars a note saying WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH HER? and Lisa goes to deliver it. Lars seems genuinely perturbed by the note. Lisa wonders if Mrs Thorwald's wedding ring will be in the handbag with her jewellery and they all want to know what is buried underneath the zinnias.
After looking up Lars Thorwald's number in the phone book, they call him and insinuate they know what has happened and tell him to come to the bar at the Albert Hotel.
Lars leaves and this gives Stella and Lisa time to get down to the garden and do some digging - literally. They find nothing in the flowerbed, so Lisa has an idea. She climbs the fire escape and climbs in through Lars' window. She gets to the handbag, but it is empty. She searches further. However, Thorwald has returned! Jeff and Stella can only watch in panic as he discovers her in his rooms. Jeff has called the police and they arrive in time to prevent him from hurting her. She has, however, found the wedding ring and has it on her own finger. Lisa is arrested and Jeff sends Stella along with some money to get her out on bail.
Lars has pieced things together and pays Jeff a visit.
In the darkness of the apartment, Lars approaches Jeff, who is trapped in his wheelchair. Lars wants to know what Jeff wants from him. Jeff sets off flashbulbs to temporarily blind Lars but it does not hold him back for long. Lars attacks Jeff and tries to throw him out of the window. The police arrive and arrest Lars having had the tip off from Lisa. However, they are too late for Jeff, who falls to the courtyard below. He's alive, but pleased it's all over.

Miss Torso's boyfriend arrives home from the army. Miss Lonelyhearts has teamed up with the composer, the fire escape couple have a new dog and the newly-weds are showing signs of strain already. And then there's Jeff, with both legs in plaster and Lisa by his side...


Great Lines
It is a superb script with wonderful lines throughout delivered to perfection by the exquisite cast. Here are some gems:

Gunnison (Jeff's editor) on the phone: "Wives don't nag any more, they 'discuss'!"


Jeff: "Are you interested in solving this case or in making me look foolish?"

Doyle: "Well, if possible, both!"


Doyle: "Look, Miss Fremont, that femine intuition stuff sells magazines but in real life, it's still a fairytale."


When Jeff worries about not having enough money to bail Lisa out of jail:

Stella: "...when the cops see Lisa, they'll even contribute!"

Thelma Ritter is absolutely superb as Stella. Her embodiment of this practical and philosophical character with a gruesome edge is absolutely perfect. Her delivery is magnificent.

The set, as frequently documented elsewhere, was one of the largest built at that time. Incorporating all those individual apartments and making the inner life so believable must have been quite a chore, but - boy! - it works!

This is Grace Kelly's second Hitchcock film and she is as radiant as ever, even if it's a conventional beauty she possesses.

The soundtrack is worth noting because throughout the events, it is scored by the music coming from the apartments - be it the dancer's music or the composer's party tunes or his own compositions. Due to the confined nature of the set, this works so much better than having a background incidental score. We are able to believe in the mini-world created before us.

James Stewart is so utterly watchable in just about everything he does. Here we are inclined to sympathise with him more than ever due to his crippled status. We totally feel his anguish when he is helplessly watching as Lisa is caught in Lars' apartment and again when he is alone and being attacked by the killer.

This is another Hitchcock film which has been remade and 'paid homage to' a great number of times - but why bother watching them when this is so perfect?

My Verdict
Hitchcock has created a brilliant film with a perfect cast and a most astonishing set. Initially, I wasn't going to give it full marks (only a 9 or 9.5), but I couldn't figure out why not, so - 10/10

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Dial M For Murder

Title: Dial M For Murder
Year: 1954
Studio: Warner Brothers
Screenplay: Frederick Knott
Source Material: Based on Knott's own play
Running Time: 101 minutes

Sunday 1st May, 8:00am
I was up at five o'clock this morning. I'd had a kind of premonition. I thought I heard an alarm and then I smelt burnt toast. This all faded as I stirred and entered the real world, but only half an hour later, I actually burned my toast and the kitchen was filling with smoke - if I had a battery in my smoke alarm, it would have been making quite a fuss, I have no doubt. No why can't I have a dream about lottery numbers for crying out loud??
So, up early, I caught up on some TV viewing which I was behind on (in this case, Being Human) and the settled down to watch the latest in the line of Hitch...

I do have a penchant for murder mystery play-cum-films. There are some classics out there: Twelve Angry Men, Sleuth, Deathtrap and of course Rope. Here is another which falls neatly into that category.

Tony Wendice - Ray Milland
Margot Wendice - Grace Kelly
Mark Halliday - Robert Cummings
Inspector Hubbard - John Williams
Swann/Lesgate - Anthony Dawson
Storyteller - Leo Britt
Pearson - Patrick Allen
Williams - George Leigh
First Detective - George Alderson
Police Sergeant - Robin Hughes

It's Friday 26th March and American TV mystery writer Mark Halliday arrives in Britain on the Queen Mary. He makes a rendezvous with his lover, Margot Wendice at her home. She tells Mark that since their last meeting a year ago, her husband has changed and become a better man. She also tells of how she had kept one of Mark's love letters but it had been stolen from her at Victoria Station when her handbag had gone missing. She then received blackmail letters but never found out who it was who was doing the callous deed.
Her husband, Tony, returns from his work and they all behave in a civil manner toward each other.
The three of them were planning to go out to the theatre together, but Tony declines and says he has work to do. When the others are gone, he telephones a man about a car he'd like to purchase and invites the gentleman over.
This turns out to be merely a ruse. He knows this gentleman from long ago and has spent the past few months following him. The man's real name is Swann and Tony has discovered his nefarious lifestyle. He proposes a plan in which both men will make some money. He reveals that he has known about his wife's affair and has been saving money for twelve months to pay Swann to kill her whilst he has the perfect alibi. Swann is reluctant, but Tony explains how he ought to do as he is told, otherwise his dodgy dealings will be exposed to the police. Swann has little choice other than to go through with it the following evening.

Tony explains everything in the plan:

Tony and Mark will attend a stag do at a hotel. He will leave his wife's key to the flat outside in the hall under the stair carpet. (The front door to the apartment block is always open)
Swann should then use this key to let himself in.
When indie, he will wait behind the curtain until 11pm. At which time, Tony will telephone the flat from the hotel. This will wake Margot who will come to the desk to answer it. This is when Swann should kill her. Then, once she is dead, he should arrange the place to look like a burglary and then exit leaving the key back under the stair carpet.

The following night, things are set up, but Tony's plans are almost foiled when Margot says she might go out after all. He persuades her to stay in and slips her key out of her handbag without knowing and leaves it in the right spot on the stairs in the hallway.

Swann arrives just before 11pm and lets himself in. He waits behind the curtain but Tony is late in calling - this is because Tony's watch has stopped and only realises a few minutes after 11. Eventually, Tony makes the call. Margot wakes, comes to answer the phone and Swann attempts to strangle her with a scarf. In the struggle, she reaches for some scissors on the desk and plunges them into his back. He falls backwards and the scissors thrust deeper inside, killing him.
Tony has heard the whole thing over the phone. She picks it up and he speaks to her saying he'll return immediately.

Once home, he waits for Margot to go into the bedroom before removing her key from the corpse. He also plants the incriminating love letter in Swann's breast pocket. He then destroys the scarf in the fire and replaces the weapon with a pair of her stockings.
The police arrive and examine the scene and evidence and find the delicately positioned stockings.

The next morning, Inspector Hubbard comes around to make inquires. Mark turns up and feels they have to make their affair known to Tony and the police.It isn't long before the evidence piles up against Margot. It all points to her knowing that Swann was the blackmailer and she had killed him on purpose, not in self defence.

At trail, Margot is found guilty and she is sentenced to death by hanging.

The day before the execution, Mark turns up at Tony's again. He has had plenty of time to think things through and he has come up with a scenario. He has figured the plausible answer which may save Margot's life. If Tony would only admit to planning the whole thing. Tony is adamant that the whole scheme is nonsense, but when Inspector Hubbard turns up to enquire about some stolen money, plus the fact it seems Tony has been spending more than usual recently, Mark is convinced about his notion being true and not just the over-active imagination of a mystery writer.

Eventually, the inspector leaves, but he switches his coat for Tony's before he exits.

When Tony leaves his home, Hubbard returns and lets himself in. Mark also returns and asks what is going on. Margot is escorted from her cell to her home and she cannot let herself in because her key won't work, so she goes with the police to the back entrance where Hubbard and Mark are waiting. This is the clue he had been waiting for. Then, Tony returns. His key doesn't open the door either. He is about to leave when he realises something... The key he had extracted from Swann's pocket was not his wife's and her key must still be under the stair carpet where Swann had left it on the night of the murder (having returned it prior to entering the room).
As soon as Tony lets himself into the room with that key, Hubbard has all the evidence he needs. Tony is defeated and Margot is safe from the noose.


Great Lines
Wendice on his recent spying activities:

"You take up a hobby, the more you get to know it, the more fascinating it becomes!"

Then, whilst persuading Swann:

Swann: "What makes you think I'll agree?"

Wendice: "The same reason a donkey with a stick behind him and a carrot in front always goes forward, not backwards."

and Inspector Hubbard's brilliant line:

"They talk about flat-footed policemen. May the saints protect us from the gifted amateur."

Ray Milland is so casually smooth and nonchalantly evil. There are moments when he seems to have a James Mason thing going on, which can't be a bad thing.
John Williams is superb as Inspector Hubbard. Delightfully watchable as the man not easily persuaded by convoluted plots.
Robert Cummings is also good in his role as a 'mystery writer' and lover, but when he starts to piece things together in his own dramatic way, I couldn't help thinking of Jessica Fletcher.

As is reasonably common knowledge, this was filmed in 3D - a gimmick I am desperately unfond of, partly due to my eyes not being very good - and the murder scene is the only moment which might benefit from a bit of 3D action.

The courtroom scene is played beautifully with only our focus on Margot's face. This technique was also applied to great effect in an episode of Murder Most Horrid entitled A Determined Woman.

A couple of other moments which stand out for me as far as direction is concerned are:

At the beginning, when Margot and Mark are in an embrace and Tony returns, we see them separate but viewing their shadows part as they are cast along the door through which Tony enters. It's so simple but very effective.

There are a couple of times we watch the scene from above and we witness the layout of the flat as the crime is plotted. This gives us a detached perspective but almost one of a voyeur who knows more than he should. Hitch knows how to make his audience uncomfortable.

One of the most notable things about Dial M For Murder is the rapid nature of the plot. 100 minutes simply fly by thanks to a terrific script and taught direction.

It has been remade a number of times since, but most notably in 1998 as A Perfect Murder starring Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, David Suchet and a pleasantly naked Viggo Mortensen.

My Verdict
The simplicity of the evidence which leads to Wendice's downfall is the 'key' to the success as far as I'm concerned. A very classy mystery. 8/10