Movie Review: The Birds (1963)


Hitchcock ThursdaysFollowing up on my Classic Movie Project, I made a list of ten Alfred Hitchcock movies I wanted to watch or rewatch. I’ll be posting reviews on Thursdays throughout the summer.

Title: The Birds
Release Date: March 28, 1963
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company: Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions
Summary/Review:

This is the third film that Hitchcock adapted from the writings of Daphne du Maurier after Jamaica Inn  and Rebecca.  I remember reading the du Maurier story as a child and then not being impressed when I watched the film.  Unfortunately, I still have a low opinion of the film on this rewatch.

San Francisco socialite Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) makes a bold decision to follow a man she met in a pet shop to his family home in Bodega Bay, California.  She delivers a pair of lovebirds to Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) so he may give them as a birthday gift to his 11-year-old sister, Cathy (Veronica Cartwright, whose name seemed so familiar until I found that she played Betty Grissom in The Right Stuff).  Before this odd meet-cute can blossom into a full-on romcom for Melanie and Mitch, seagulls, sparrows, crows, and more begin attacking humanity at regular intervals. The rest of the movie features these attacks and the tense moments in between them.

Suzanne Pleshette and Jessica Tandy also put in good performances as a local school teacher, respectively.  The movie is full of iconic shots and is definitely a forerunner to a generation of horror films such as Night of the Living Dead and Jaws. But the movie is also overlong and way to talky.  Hedren is not a compelling enough performer to carry the movie, and mostly seems to be there to fulfill Hitchcock’s sadistic desire to see a blond woman pecked by vicious birds.

Rating: **

Movie Review: North by Northwest (1959)


Hitchcock ThursdaysFollowing up on my Classic Movie Project, I made a list of ten Alfred Hitchcock movies I wanted to watch or rewatch. I’ll be posting reviews on Thursdays throughout the summer.

Title: North by Northwest
Release Date: July 1, 1959
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Summary/Review:

North by Northwest is Hitchcock and his Hitchcockian excess.  In many ways it is a remake of The 39 Steps with an ordinary man getting swept up in the machinations of spies and getting into and out of trouble.  Cary Grant is Roger Thornhill, the “everyday” ad executive mistaken by the bad lads as a fictional spy named George Kaplan. Eva Maria Saint plays Eve Kendall, a woman who helps and seduces Thornhill on a train, who *surprise* is the real good spy.

Along his journey to escape the evil spy Phillip Vandamm (James Mason) and his henchmen, including Leonard (Martin Landau), while trying to prove his innocence Thornhill survives many dramatic set pieces. These include forcibly driving drunk on a cliffside road, a knife murder in the United Nations, getting chased by a crop duster in an Indiana cornfield, and climbing down the presidential heads on Mount Rushmore.

Grant plays Thornhill as a man who is put upon but nevertheless enjoying every minute of his adventure.  I especially like when he acts like a buffoon at an auction in order to get arrested so he won’t be captured by Vandamm and Leonard.  Saint is okay in her role but it is a flaw of 1950s chauvinism that even when she’s supposed to be a master spy she spends most of the movie as a helpless damsel in distress. I enjoyed most of the movie but by the time of the Mount Rushmore set piece, it felt overlong and over-the-top.  Some judicious editing and understatement would’ve improved this movie.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: The Trouble With Harry (1955)


Hitchcock ThursdaysFollowing up on my Classic Movie Project, I made a list of ten Alfred Hitchcock movies I wanted to watch or rewatch. I’ll be posting reviews on Thursdays throughout the summer.

Title: The Trouble With Harry
Release Date: September 30, 1955
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company: Alfred Hitchcock Productions
Summary/Review:

I watched The Trouble with Harry several times in my teen years and found it uproariously hilarious with gorgeous scenery of autumnal Vermont.  I’d went so far as listing it as one of my favorite movies of all time. Granted, my recall isn’t perfect as I also remember a scene set at a barn dance that I must have conflated with some other movie.  Viewing the movie again after several decades, I found it not as laugh out loud funny as I remembered but, nevertheless, an entertaining, well-acted, and clever bit of movie-making.

The trouble with Harry is that he is dead.  With his body found laying supine in a hillside meadow, several people in the nearby town have reason to believe that they are responsible for his death.  Capt. Albert Wiles (Edmund Gwenn) fears he may have shot Harry while hunting, while Miss Ivy Gravely  (Mildred Natwick) thinks it the result of her hitting him on the head with her boot in self-defense after Harry stumbled upon her on a trail.  Bohemian artist Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe) takes a whimsical interest in the whole proceedings, while Harry’s estranged wife Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine) feels no regret at becoming a widow.  A very young of Jerry Mathers of Leave it to Beaver fame also appears as Jennifer’s curious son Arnie.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Rear Window (1954)


Hitchcock ThursdaysFollowing up on my Classic Movie Project, I made a list of ten Alfred Hitchcock movies I wanted to watch or rewatch. I’ll be posting reviews on Thursdays throughout the summer.

Title: Rear Window
Release Date: September 1, 1954
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company: Patron, Inc.
Summary/Review:

If I played Jimmy Stewart’s part in Rear Window:

ME: I’ve been so bored, I’m just looking out the window watching my neighbors.

GRACE KELLY: I love you. I think we should get married.

ME: Wow! Really?  Forget about the window!  Let’s get married

(Roll credits)

Apart from my inability suspend disbelief that L. B. “Jeff” Jefferies (Stewart) is not interested in Lisa Fremont (Kelly), Rear Window is a fascinating motion picture. Built on a remarkable studio set, Jeff’s window looks out on a courtyard surrounded by New York City apartment buildings where his neighbors go about their daily lives.  Many of the actors in this movie only appear in distant shots through windows which requires remarkable skill and timing (and ear pieces so they could get direction from Hitchcock). I’m also amazed by the ambient sound of city life in this movie, and even the soundtrack is built entirely of diegetic music.

The movie cycles through experimental, comical, and thrilling moments, but it is also contains dark undercurrents.  The movie makes the audience conspirators in Jeff’s voyeurism as we look at his neighbors through the movie camera.  It also needs to be said that Jeff is a jerk, and treats Lisa awfully.  It’s no surprise that Hitchcock cast the beloved Jimmy Stewart in the role so we would care about him at all.  While I wonder why Lisa would like Jeff in the first place, I am impressed in the way that Kelly maintains her dignity and demonstrates her value.

This movie confines the story to a single place, much like Lifeboat and Dial M for Murder, and makes that limitation a strength.  There’s so much happening in this movie that will take repeated views to catch.  I think this is among Hitchcock’s best works.

Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: Dial M For Murder (1954)


Hitchcock ThursdaysFollowing up on my Classic Movie Project, I made a list of ten Alfred Hitchcock movies I wanted to watch or rewatch. I’ll be posting reviews on Thursdays throughout the summer.

Title: Dial M For Murder
Release Date: May 29, 1954
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company: Warner Bros
Summary/Review:

I watched this movie when I was younger and remember that it was Hitchcock’s only movie filmed in 3-D with a famous scene of Grace Kelly reaching toward the camera to get a pair of scissors.  That was about all I remember.  Like Rope, Dial M for Murder is set primarily in one apartment although without the tension of taking place in real time. Retired tennis player Tony Wendice (played as a gleeful sociopath by Ray Milland) comes up with an elaborate plan to murder his wife Margot (Kelly) as revenge for her having an affair with crime novelist Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), while also being able to inherit her wealth. Tony comes up with an elaborate plan to blackmail a university acquaintance and low-level criminal, Charles Alexander Swann (Anthony Dawson), into carrying out the murder while he’s at a party with Mark.

Of course, Tony’s plan goes awry, although he is resilient in improvising alternate plots. There are a lot of twists in the story but it also feels overly talky and focused on tiny details. A lot of Hitchcock movie plots don’t make much sense when you think about them after the fact, such as Vertigo, but Dial M for Murder strains its credulity as its playing.  This is especially true in the final act when both Mark and police inspector Hubbard (John Williams) each individually come to realization of what Tony really did and challenge him in his apartment.  The script also doesn’t give Grace Kelly much to do other than react to things happening to her, which seems a big waste of her talent.

Dial M for Murder is mildly entertaining, but by Hitchcock standards it’s a dud.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: Rebecca (1940)


Hitchcock ThursdaysFollowing up on my Classic Movie Project, I made a list of ten Alfred Hitchcock movies I wanted to watch or rewatch. I’ll be posting reviews on Thursdays throughout the summer.

TitleRebecca
Release Date: April 12, 1940
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company: Selznick International Pictures
Summary/Review:

I watched Rebecca as a teenager and one of the main things I remember about the movie is that I really liked Joan Fontaine’s hair.  Fontaine’s hair is still great, but so is psychological thriller from Alfred Hitchcock.  This is Hitchcock’s first American film the Hitchcock style is compromised by producer David O. Selznick’s Hollywood flair (especially the soundtrack which can overwhelm the film).

Fontaine plays a young woman who unjustly is given no name in this story.  She’s working as a wealthy woman’s companion traveling in the French Riviera when she meets moody and brooding wealthy widower, Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier).  They fall in love and marry and he takes her home to his estate in England, Manderly.  The new Mrs. de Winter finds Manderly overwhelmed by the memory of Maxim’s late wife, Rebecca. The creepy housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), is especially devoted to Rebecca and strives to make the second Mrs. de Winter feel unworthy, and even suicidal.

Over the course of the movie, secrets of Rebecca and Maxim’s past are revealed with some surprising twists.  Like many Hitchcock movies, when you think about it too hard, the plot doesn’t make too much sense, but you can set that aside because the mood and tension are built up so well.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: The Lady Vanishes (1938)


Hitchcock ThursdaysFollowing up on my Classic Movie Project, I made a list of ten Alfred Hitchcock movies I wanted to watch or rewatch. I’ll be posting reviews on Thursdays throughout the summer.

Title: The Lady Vanishes
Release Date: 7 October 1938
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company: Gaumont British | Gainsborough Pictures
Summary/Review:

Set in the fictional European nation of Bandrika, this comical thriller features several British characters being ugly travelers as one of their number mysteriously disappears. The film begins at a snowed-in alpine resort, but the majority of the film takes place on a train. Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) is reluctantly traveling home to England to marry an aristocrat.  Iris is hit on the head by a falling planter box just before boarding the train, and in a disoriented state she’s helped on board by an elderly governess, Miss Froy (May Whitty).

When Iris awakes from a nap, Miss Froy is missing and no one else on the train remembers her ever being on board. Iris gets help from a smart-aleck ethno-musicologist Gilbert (Michael Redgrave), and together they search the train and uncover more and more curiosities. The movie expertly ties together mystery with romance and a comedy of manners. Only in the third act does the movie fall a bit apart with a lengthy gun battle.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: The 39 Steps (1935)


Hitchcock ThursdaysFollowing up on my Classic Movie Project, I made a list of ten Alfred Hitchcock movies I wanted to watch or rewatch. I’ll be posting reviews on Thursdays throughout the summer.

Title: The 39 Steps
Release Date: 6 June 1935
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company: Gaumont-British Picture Corporation
Summary/Review:

The 39 Steps is one of the many great movies I watched in my film studies class in high school.  I remember liking it but I didn’t remember anything about the movie other than the famous moment when the chambermaid’s scream is drowned out by a train whistle. The movie stars Robert Donat as Richard Hannay, an ordinary person who gets caught up in international intrigue.  The movie is a template for many spy stories and thrillers to follow, but I’m impressed by how fresh and original it seems.

The movie starts with Hannay attending a music hall performance of Mr. Memory (Wylie Watson) when shots are fired in the theater and panic ensues.  Hannay meets Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim) in the crowd and take her home for protection. Annabella confesses that she is a spy being chased for assassins because she is trying to stop the theft of valuable British military intelligence. In the morning, Hannay wakes up to Annabella stumbling into his room with a knife in her back, clutching a map of Scotland with Alt-na-Shellach circled.

The bulk of the film involves Hannay traveling to Scotland to find the spies and clear his name of Annabella’s murder. He falls into and out of trouble as he’s pursued both by the police and the spies.  Hannay doesn’t really have a plan but he’s good at improvising and has a good sense of humor.  Pamela (Madeleine Carroll), a woman who identifies Hannay to the police on multiple occasions, eventually ends up handcuffed to him by the spies in disguise.  Their scenes together, while fully in the thriller genre, also seem to be protypical tropes of the romantic comedy (and also kind of remind me of Frank Capra’s 1934 comedy It Happened One Night, which I’m going to have to rewatch to make sure).

The 39 Steps is an excellent thriller with great comic moments, inspired acting performances, and directorial innovation from Hitchcock.  It’s definitely worth a spot on lists of Hitchcock’s best movies and the best movies of all time.

Rating: *****

Movie Review: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)


Hitchcock ThursdaysFollowing up on my Classic Movie Project, I made a list of ten Alfred Hitchcock movies I wanted to watch or rewatch. I’ll be posting reviews on Thursdays throughout the summer.

Title: The Man Who Knew Too Much
Release Date: December 1934
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company: Gaumont British Picture Corporation 
Summary/Review:

As a child, I watched the 1956 Hitchcock movie The Man Who Knew Too Much.  Although the only thing I can remember about the movie is Doris Day singing “Que Sera, Sera,” I remember liking it well enough. The critical consensus, however, is that the 1934 version of the movie is better.

The movie begins with the British Lawrence family enjoying a vacation at a Swiss ski resort.  Jill Lawrence (Edna Best) is dancing with a French ski jumper they befriended, Louis Bernard (Pierre Fresnay), when the latter is shot from outside the ballroom.  In his dying moments, Louis tells Jill to have her husband Bob (Lesley Banks) to find in his room a secret message for the British Consul about an international crime.  Bob finds the secret note, but is witnessed in the act, and in retaliation, a criminal gang lead by Abbot (Peter Lorre) kidnaps the Lawrence’s young daughter Betty (Nova Pilbeam).

The Lawrence’s return home to London and refuse to cooperate with the government officials, knowing it could lead to the gang killing Betty.  Instead, Bob begins an investigation with his comic relief brother-in-law, Clive (Hugh Wakefield).  Their investigation leads to a dentist office, a church for sun-worshipers, the Albert Hall, and eventually a massive shootout that would put Quention Tarentino to shame. Bob really doesn’t go into any of this with a plan and succeeds by luck, so much of the tension is around whether his latest improvisation will work.

Lorre is great as the villain, as always, but many of the other performances are kind of flat.  If you think too hard about a lot of Hitchcock films, the plans of the characters don’t make too much sense in retrospect, but in this movie they don’t even make much sense as you’re watching it.  This film is a serviceable thriller, but I wouldn’t rank it among the all-time classics or even the best Hitchcock films.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Juno and the Paycock (1930)


Hitchcock ThursdaysFollowing up on my Classic Movie Project, I made a list of ten Alfred Hitchcock movies I wanted to watch or rewatch. I’ll be posting reviews on Thursdays throughout the summer.

Title: Juno and the Paycock
Release Date: 29 June 1930
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company: British International Pictures
Summary/Review:

Hitchcock’s second sound film is an adaptation of Irish dramatist Seán O’Casey’s play about a working-class Dublin family during the Irish Civil War (which took place less than a decade before this film was made). Loafer Captain Boyle (Edward Chapman) avoids work and drinks with his friend Joxer (Sidney Morgan), while his wife “Juno” holds down a job to support the household. She calls him the “Paycock” because he is as vain as a peacock.

Their son Johnny (John Laurie) lost his arm in the war against the English and suffers from PTSD.  Their daughter Mary (Kathleen O’Regan) is on strike from her job. A young man named Charles Bentham (John Longden), informs the Paycock that his family inherited a fortune from a cousin, while also romancing Mary. The family makes many big purchases on credit before discovering that Bentham made an error.  The film ends in tragedy for them all.

The movie doesn’t have any of Hitchcock’s stylistic devices and in fact is filmed very much like a stage play.  The act breaks are even discernible. The Paycock and Joxer feel like comic vaudeville stock characters, and much of the acting is melodramatic.  I don’t know if this is due to a English director taking on an Irish play and adding his prejudices to it, but the movie is very unsympathetic to the Irish working class.  I haven’t seen or read O’Casey’s original but the elite moralism seems opposite of what I’d expect from a socialist dramatist.

Rating: ***

Alfred Hitchcock Movie Reviews: