Blogging A to Z Challenge 2020 Round-up #AtoZChallenge


Well another Blogging A to Z Challenge has come and gone.  I went a little nuts and did two sets of A to Z challenges, both involving watching and reviewing movies, plus some bonus posts so I ended up writing 56 posts!

But before I toot my own horn, the A to Z Challenge is all about visiting other blogs and learning from the great wit and wisdom of our fellow bloggers.  Here are some of my favorite A to Z challenges!

Check out all of these blogs, read them, and leave comments if you didn’t get a chance to do so during the challenge.

And now, and index of my own posts from this years A to Z Challenges:

2020 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Revisiting My All-Time Favorite Movies

2020 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Movies, Part III

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Movie Review: Mystic PiZZa (1988) #AtoZChallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time.  I haven’t seen many movies starting with Z much less any that I want to watch again, so instead I’m reviewing a movie with TWO “Zs” in it! This post contains SPOILERS!

TitleMystic Pizza
Release Date: October 21, 1988
Director: Donald Petrie
Production Company: Night Life Inc. | The Samuel Goldwyn Company |
Virgin Vision
Synopsis:

This movie is a coming-of-age, romantic comedy about three young women living in the village of Mystic, Connecticut: the sisters Kat (Annabeth Gish) and Daisy (Julia Roberts) and their friend Jojo (Lili Taylor).  They all work as waitresses at the titular pizza restaurant, and the movie covers the period of a few months where they each have a challenging relationship with a man.

Kat is intelligent and hardworking and planning to start studying astronomy at Yale in the spring semester.  Daisy considers her a goody two shoes. To make more money Kat is hired to work as a babysitter for Tim (William R. Moses), a young father who wants someone to look after his daughter while his wife is in on an extended business trip in England.  Kat and Tim bond intellectually and physically leading to an extramarital affair that ends in heartbreak for Kat.

Daisy feels that her mother looks down on her for not being bright and ambitious like Kat, as well as being judged in general for being promiscuous.  She meets a handsome preppy Charles (Adam Storke) at a bar.  He proves to be less snobbish and more accepting than his friends and family.  But he also has an ongoing quarrel with his father and puts Daisy in an embarrassing situation when he uses her to show up his family’s elitism.

The movie begins with Jojo getting cold feet at her wedding to the fisherman Bill (Vincent D’Onofrio).  She’s torn by her love for Bill and her sense that she’s too young to commit to marriage, children, and the domestic life.  She’s also frustrated that Bill, a devout Catholic, will not have sex before marriage.  Their relationship has its ups and downs before they reconcile and marry for real at the end of the movie.

An ongoing subplot involves the Mystic Pizza restaurant where the owner Leona (Conchata Ferrell) treats Kat, Daisy, and Jojo like her own daughters.  The restaurant is known for its excellent pizza that features Leona’s secret recipe in the sauce. A famous and stodgy tv critic visits the restaurant and although there are several mishaps serving him, when his review is televised he declares the pizza to be “superb” leading to an uptick in business.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

First and foremost, this movie is set in Connecticut, which when you’re a kid growing up in Connecticut on a steady diet of movies set in California and New York, is a big f’in deal!  Mystic is home to two of the state’s biggest tourist attractions, Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium, so every Connecticut schoolchild went to at least one of those places on a field trip. I also visited several times with my family.  People from the 47 states with more territory than Connecticut will laugh, but as a kid, the journey from our home in the western end of the state to Mystic felt soooooooooooooooo long.

Anyhow, I watched this with my family on cable or VHS sometime in the year or so after it was released.  I remember enjoying the movie greatly and forming a deep celebrity crush on Annabeth Gish even though all the other boys went for Julia Roberts.  In the 1990s, on a visit to Mystic, I dined at the original Mystic Pizza restaurant.  The pizza is – in fact – really good.

What Did I Remember?:

I specifically remember Julia Roberts dumping fish into the preppy’s sports car and Lili Taylor yelling at her boyfriend from the drawbridge.  Otherwise, I just remembered general impressions and plot details.

What Did I Forget?:

I forgot a lot.  Like I didn’t remember that the movie begins and ends with weddings.  I didn’t even remember that Kat and Daisy are sisters.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

This movie does a great job on focusing on relationships – not just man-woman relationships, but also among family and friends.  It also captures the class dynamic in Connecticut of working class, Catholic enclaves (Portuguese-Americans in the movie, but Italian-American where I grew up) competing with the wealthier elites. The men in this movie are all horrible in their own way, but also have good qualities, so it is believable that 2 of the 3 relationships are reconciled by the film’s end.

The movie also has some great set pieces, like when Jojo, Daisy, and Kat steal Bill’s truck and sing along with Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” (another great scene I was surprised I forgot about). The acting is really good in the movie and a lot of the cast went on to stardom.  Roberts, of course, became one of the biggest Hollywood leading ladies within a few years of this movie.  Meanwhile, Taylor became the indie movie queen in the 1990s. Gish’s career isn’t as illustrious but she did star in The X-Files for a few seasons. Even Matt Damon makes his film debut as Charles’ younger brother.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

Younger viewers may laugh at the 80s hairstyles and fashions, but they still look pretty good to me.

Is It a Classic?:

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say yes.  It holds a special place in my heart at least.

Rating: ****

Documentary Review: Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1983) #AtoZChallenge


This is my entry for “Z” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Previous “Z” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait and Zimbelism.

Title: Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Release Date: December 23, 1983
Director: D. A. Pennebaker
Production Company: Miramax Films | MainMan | Bewlay Bros.
Summary/Review:

David Bowie finished off a world tour supporting The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars with this performance at London’s Hammersmith Odeon on July 3, 1973.  Pioneering D. A. Pennebaker and a small crew were on hand to film the show.  Cinematically, this film does not hold up to the likes of The Last Waltz or Stop Making Sense. Nevertheless, I appreciate the simplicity and the intimacy of this concert film.

Bowie is the focus of the film, whether he’s on stage or in his dressing room for a costume change.  It’s clear that he has a special connection with the audience, many of who are in Ziggy Stardust style makeup and costumes.  Assuming there are no overdubs in this film – and I don’t think there are – the band was on fire this night, especially Mark Ronson who has several excellent guitar solos.  Pianist Mike Garson lends a cocktail lounge jazz sound to several songs that works very well.  My only disappointment is that the band doesn’t perform “Starman” or “Life on Mars” in this set.

If you’re like me and weren’t alive to see what the big deal was regarding Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, this is a good way to found out.

Rating: ****

Documentary Movie Review: Yellowstone (2009) #AtoZChallenge


This is my entry for “Y” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Previous “Y” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Yellowstone: The World’s First National Park and You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.

Title: Yellowstone
Release Date: March 2009
Director: [none listed]
Production Company: BBC Natural History Unit | Animal Planet
Summary/Review:

Yellowstone is a three-part nature documentary series filmed in Yellowstone National Park.  The episodes each focus on a season: winter, summer, and autumn (spring gets short shrift but since the snows don’t melt until June, maybe there is no spring).  I think if you drop some decent cinematographers with quality cameras into Yellowstone you’re guaranteed to get a gorgeous film, but nevertheless the visuals in this documentary are absolutely spectacular.  The theme of the series is “The Battle for Life” so it does veer toward overly dramatic narration.

Winter – Yellowstone’s geothermal features and landscape contribute to long, severe winters with heavy snowfall.  Wolves thrive in the winter as they are able to hunt weakened herds of elk. Bison use their heavy heads like a snowplow to search for edible grasses.  A red fox dives through the snow to capture mice.  And in my absolute favorite part, otters practically swim through the snow and use an opening in the ice created by geysers as a place to fish.

Summer – The season sees the emergence of a bear and her cubs. Other animals including pronghorn, bison, and wolves are also birthing young and keeping them alive in dangerous conditions. Cuthroat trout swim upstream to spawn and are hunted by otters and osprey.  Toward the end of the season, bear climb high in the mountains where they feed on army cutworm moths (like blue whales living on krill!).

Autumn – Trees devour their chlorophyll and erupt in gorgeous colors. Whitebark pine cones are spread with the help of squirrels, bears, and Clark’s nutcrackers.  Beavers repair their dams and stock up food for the winter.  Male elk and bighorn sheep fight among themselves for the right to mate with their respective females.  For the first time in the series, we also see humans as the elk and pronghorn migrate to lower ground outside of the park, with the wolves hot on their heels.  The wild animals have to face the dangers of hunters, motor vehicles, industry, and residential development, while ranchers are uneasy about wolves attacking their herds.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Young Frankenstein (1974) #atozchallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: Young Frankenstein
Release Date: December 15, 1974
Director: Mel Brooks
Production Company: Gruskoff/Venture Films | Crossbow Productions, Inc. | Jouer Limited
Synopsis:

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) lectures at an American school, pronouncing his name “Fronkensteen” in order to avoid association with his mad scientist grandfather, Victor Frankenstein. He learns that he has inherited his family’s castle in Transylvania. He travels there and is met by Igor (pronounced “Eye-gor” and played by Marty Feldman), the grandson of Victor’s assistant.  He also meets a research assistant, Inga (Teri Garr), and together they travel to the castle.

The housekeeper, Frau Blucher (Cloris Leechman) greets them at the door and shows Frederick to his room.  That night Frederick, Inga, and Igor hear mysterious violin music and find secret passages that lead them to Victor’s lab and private library.  Frederick learns that reanimating the dead is in fact possible.  They steal the corpse of an executed criminal and Igor is sent to get a brain of a great scientist, but ends up taking an abnormal brain instead.

The creature (Peter Boyle) eventually comes to life but is violent and dangerous.  Frau Blucher sets the creature free, revealing that she had lured Frederick to the lab and that Victor was her boyfriend.  Frederick, Inga, and Igor recapture the creature and by showing him affection, Frederick is able to make the creature calm and well-behaved.  He introduces the creature to fellow scientists in a display that includes a tap performance to “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”  But the creature is frightened when a stage light catches fire and goes into a rage and escape.

Frederick and Inga sleep together, and shortly thereafter Frederick’s fiancee Elizabeth (Madeleine Kahn) visits unexpectedly.  The creature kidnaps Elizabeth and they also end up having sexual relations.  The creature is lured back to the castle and Frederick works on a transfer that helps stabilize the creature’s brain.  A mob of villagers storms the castle and attempts to destroy the lab, but the creature wins them over by telling how Frederick risked his life to help him.

In an epilogue, the creature and Elizabeth are apparently married, while Frederick and Inga are newlyweds.  On their wedding night, it’s revealed that Frederick picked up some of the “monster” during the transfer.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

I saw this when I was probably too young, although it was on commercial tv so they cut out the naughtiest bits.  I remember reenacting scenes from Young Frankenstein with my neighbor on a cassette tape, plus some of our own improvised bits.  Then I lost that tape, which still breaks my heart to this day.

What Did I Remember?:

This is another movie I probably haven’t watched in decades but is nonetheless etched upon my brain!

What Did I Forget?:

Not so much forgot, more that I never I heard the gag, but when Inspector Kemp (Kenneth Mars) loses his prosthetic arm at the end of the movie he shouts “to the lumberyard!”  This line just tickled my funny bone more than you’d expect.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

This movie is part parody, part homage to Universal horror films of the 1930s, and mixes the goofy charm of that era with the slightly-raunchy sensibilities of the 1970s. The movie stars four comic actors at the peaks of their careers in Wilder, Feldman, Garr, and Boyle, with great supporting performances from Leechman and Mars, and one brilliant scene with Gene Hackman as a blind hermit.  They appear to be having a great time with the funny script by Wilder and Mel Brooks and numerous improvised bits. I also never appreciated the Brooks’ direction is excellent with numerous well-done shots throughout the movie.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

Maybe I was particularly “woke” child, but it’s always creeped me out that the creature abducts Elizabeth to rape her, but then it’s “okay” because she’s impressed by his enormous schwanzstucker.  This kind of humor unfortunately plays into some persistent myths about women’s response to rape and penis size.

Is It a Classic?:

This is definitely a classic and one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen.

Rating: *****

Documentary Film Review: 20 Feet From Stardom (2013) #AtoZChallenge


This is my entry for “X” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge.   It’s hard to find good documentary film starting with the letter X so I’m using the algebraic principle of substituting a number for the letter X. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Previous documentaries I’ve reviewed that actually start with X include Xavier and XXXY.

Title: 20 Feet From Stardom
Release Date: June 14, 2013
Director: Morgan Neville
Production Company: Tremolo Productions | Gil Friesen Productions
Summary/Review:

This movie focuses on the role of the background singer in popular and rock music from the 1960s to today. Particularly, it examines the role of black women – many with gospel music backgrounds – in redefining the sound and look of background singers.  The movie documents the artists who lent there vocals to numerous hit songs across genres with a special focus on Darlene Love, Judith Hill, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Táta Vega and The Waters family.  While background singers get little to no credit for their contributions, and some people see it as a stepping stone to becoming a lead vocalist, the movie recognizes that particular skillset and artistry that goes into their singing.  In addition to interviewing many background singers, the movie also interviews rock stars like Mike Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Bette Midler, and Stevie Wonder who offer their kudos to the work of background singers on their songs.

Rating:  ***1/2

Movie Review: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) #atozchallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Release Date: December 23, 1954
Director: Richard Fleischer
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Synopsis:

It’s 1868 in San Francisco, and rumors abound that vessels in the shipping lanes across the Pacific are being disrupted by a monster.  This disappoints marine science expert Professor Pierre M. Aronnax (Paul Lukas) and his assistant, Conseil (Peter Lorre), who are eager to travel to Saigon.  They are invited to join US Navy expedition to investigate the rumors of the monster.  The expedition also included harpooner Ned Land (Kirk Douglas).

After nearly four months of methodically searching the Pacific, the captain is ready to return to San Francisco, but then they witness a nearby merchant ship get struck by something and explode due to it’s cargo of gunpowder.  Rushing to aid the sinking ship, the naval crew spot the “monster,” which turns and attacks them next.  Aronnax, Lorre, and Land all end up overboard.  They are carried on flotsam to a mysterious submersible vessel which they investigate and it appears to be abandoned. They witness through a window that the crew of submarine are actually carrying out an undersea burial.

The trio are captured by Captain Nemo (James Mason) and the crew of the Nautilus. Initially, Nemo wishes to execute the men but then decides to hold them prisoner, largely because he admires Aronnax’s scientific work and willingness to die with his companions.  Aronnax learns that Nemo and his crew were enslaved at a penal colony where they mined for material used in making munitions.  Now they find peace from the cruelty of human warfare, while destroying munitions ships that would contribute to further war.

Aronnax becomes convinced that if he gets close to Nemo, he can convince Nemo to use his technological knowledge for the betterment of humanity.  Meanwhile, Ned works on a plan for escape.  Conseil, feeling that the Professor has become irrational in his alliance with Nemo, joins Ned on an escape plan.

Nemo imprisons Ned after an escape attempt, but when the Nautilus is attacked by a giant squid, Ned is not only able to break out of his prison but also rescues Nemo.  The Nautilus sails to their base at the island of Vulcania, only to find it has been surrounded by warships (possibly due to Ned sending out the coordinates in bottled messages).  Nemo goes ashore to set off a bomb to destroy all of his scientific work, but is fatally shot while returning to the Nautilus.  The crew agree to go down with the Captain, but Ned manages to escape with Aronnax and Conseil in a skiff, where they watch Vulcania explode from afar.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

This may be one of the earliest movies I ever saw, with a screening at our local community club.  I loved it for its adventure and humor, and watched it several other times over the course of my childhood.  I was also a big fan of the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction at Walt Disney World when I was a kid.

What Did I Remember?:

I may not have been able to summarize the plot of the film before watching, but several times throughout the film just as something was about to happen I remembered what was coming next.  Obviously key scenes like Kirk Douglas singing “A Whale of a Tail,” the conflict with the “cannibals,” and the attack of the giant squid are impossible to forget.

What Did I Forget?:

Mostly just the first ten minute or so, the boring establishing scenes prior to Kirk Douglas singing.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

This movie is a pure adventure, drawing on the genius of Jules Verne, mixed with the mid-century Disney/Hollywood whimsy.  The humor and charm help mask that this is actually a very dark story with some deep philosophical questions.  I’m sure some people could pick nits with the special effects, but I still find them damned impressive depictions of the undersea world.  Douglas, Lorre, and Mason are all terrific in their iconic roles.  Also, this movie has a awesome sea lion that sings along with Kirk Douglas.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

Not unlike King Kong, this movie includes a terribly racist depiction of indigenous people of the South Pacific.   The scene with the “cannibals,” especially when they get electric shocks from the Nautilus while Ned and Conseil laugh at them, is just awful.  I imagine that if this movie were remade today they would probably also work to have the crew of the Nautilus reflect the actual diversity of mid-19th century sailors rather than just be a bunch of white guys

Is It a Classic?:

It’s a whale of a tale and it’s all true, a classic through and through!

Rating: ****1/2

Documentary Movie Review: The White Helmets (2016) #AtoZChallenge


This is my entry for “W” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “W” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Waking Sleeping Beauty, WattstaxWhat Happened, Miss Simone?, Wild AfricaThe Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, and Word Wars.

 

TitleThe White Helmets
Release Date: September 16, 2016
Director: Orlando von Einsiedel
Production Company: Grain Media | Violet Films
Summary/Review:

This short but harrowing documentary  focuses on a group of volunteers in the Syrian Civil Defence – known as The White Helmets – in the war-torn city of Aleppo. The organization was formed in 2014 in response to Syrian government forces and their Russian allies targeting civilian populations. Their main responsibility is to help recover people trapped in the rubble of bombed-out buildings, saving the lives of thousands of people across Syria, as well as recovering the bodies of the dead.

The movie provides a mix of hope and humanity at the volunteers who put their lives on the line to rescue their neighbors, mixed with the bitterness that this cruel war never should have happened in the first place.  A key part of the film features the rescue of a week-old baby that was trapped under debris for 16 hours.  Later we see the White Helmets reuniting with the “miracle baby” as a healthy and happy toddler.

For part of the film, the volunteers we are following go across the border to Turkey for more in-depth training.  There they observe the strangeness that comes from finding peace and quiet just by crossing a line on a map. While they are there, one of the volunteers also learns that his brother died in an attack and they all deal with the grief and guilt of that loss.

The movie is heartbreaking and hopeful and worth watching to learn about the horrors still being faced in part of our world.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: When We Were Kings (1996) #AtoZChallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: When We Were Kings
Release Date: October 25, 1996
Director: Leon Gast
Production Company: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
Synopsis:

On October 30, 1974, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman met in a heavyweight title bout in Kinshasa, Zaire, an event nicknamed “The Rumble in the Jungle.” Ali, an Olympic gold medalist and heavyweight champion in the 1960s, lost three prime years of his career after he refused to be conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War.  Meanwhile, Foreman, also an Olympic gold medalist, was younger with a strong punch and a history of overpowering wins over the top boxers of the era.

Holding the fight in Zaire was a historic choice as the event became a coming-out party for post colonial Africa.  In addition to the boxing match, which was viewed on tv by a record 1 billion people worldwide, there was a concert featuring top African musicians alongside African American stars like James Brown and B.B. King.  The fight itself is delayed after Foreman injures his eye in training, allowing everyone to spend more time in Zaire.

The documentary captures a fascinating intersection of sport, culture, civil rights, and politics.  There is a great amount of archival footage from the time, including Ali in awe of flying on an airplane with a an all-Black crew for the first time. In addition to the historic film and photographs, the film includes interviews with Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, Spike Lee, Malik Bowens and Thomas Hauser who also provide narration for important events.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

I was flying home from Great Britain in 1998 and watched this movie on the seatback television on Virgin Atlantic. I was so engrossed that the flight attendant chastised me to turn the screen off since the plane was approaching landing.  I later rewatched it on video so I could find out what happened at the end.

What Did I Remember?:

I think I remembered it pretty well.

What Did I Forget?:

It was less about forgetting things and more that in the intervening years I’ve learned more about Ali, and some of the musical artists and interviewees in the movie so things seemed more significant.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

You don’t have to care about boxing to like this movie.  This documentary captures the feel and excitement of a major event in the history of Africa and really the first big media event that focused on African people and African descendants as the key figures.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

The lack of interviews with Ali and Foreman at the time this movie was made is a big loss. Also, most of the people they did interview were old white men which is kind of jarring with the African diaspora theme.  The movie leans in favor of Ali, which is a bit of a shame since Foreman is a very interesting figure, one who would reinvent his public persona by the time this movie was released in the 1990s.  Throughout the movie, Ali leads Zaireans in the chant of “Ali Bomaye” which means “Ali, kill him.”  One of my favorite parts of the movie is a clip where Foreman says he’d not want people to chant “Foreman Bomaye” but instead “Foreman loves Africa.”

Is It a Classic?:

Yes. This is an all-time great documentary and sports film.

Rating: ****1/2

Five more all-time favorite movies starting with W:

  1. When Harry Met Sally…
  2. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
  3. Winged Migration
  4. The Wizard of Oz
  5. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

What is your favorite movie starting with W?  What is your guess for my X movie (Hint: my “X” movie will actually start with a number and involves a submarine)?  Let me know in the comments!

Movie Review: Vertigo (1958) #atozchallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: Vertigo
Release Date: May 9, 1958
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company:  Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions
Synopsis:

San Francisco police detective John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart) pursues a criminal in a rooftop chase that leads to a police officer falling to his death, and Scottie suffering from vertigo due to a fear of heights.  He retires from the police force, but an old college friend Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) hires him as a private detective to follow his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak) who has been behaving strangely.

Scottie tales Madeleine, making a scenic tour of San Francisco sights including the florist, Mission Delores, the Legion of Honor art museum, and the McKittrick Hotel in an old mansion.  She seems to be obsessed with an 19th-century San Francisco woman, Carlotta Valdes who Scottie learns from a local historian had committed suicide at the age of 26 after being cast aside by her wealthy lover.  Elster confirms that Carlotta is Madeleine’s great-grandmother and that he fears Carlotta’s spirit is possessing Madeleine.

Tailing Madeleine to Fort Point beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, he witnesses her jumping into the Bay and jumps in to rescue her.  After she comes to in his apartment, they talk and form a connection.  The next day they start spending time wandering San Francisco together.  Madeleine describes a place from her dreams that Scottie recognizes as a preserved historic site Mission San Juan Bautista.  Believing that visiting may jar her memory and help solve the problems she’s having, Scottie takes Madeleine to the mission.  After kissing and declaring her love, Madeleine runs up the stairs of the church tower.  Unable to pursue her due to vertigo, Scottie watches helplessly as she falls to her death.

Severely traumatized, Scottie spends several months in a sanatorium.  Returning to his normal life, he spots a shop clerk on the street who resembles Madeleine.  He follows her to her hotel apartment, and despite her declarations that she is Judy from Kansas, he insinuates himself into her life.  His obsession builds as he purchases clothing for her that Madeleine wore and bleaches her hair blond.

Scottie makes a stunning realization when Judy dons a necklace that was Madeleine’s and was said to once be Carlotta’s. He drives back to Mission San Juan Bautista and confronts Judy as they climb the tower.  She admits that she worked with Elster in a plot to kill his real wife whose murdered body was actually tossed from the tower.  Knowing that Scottie would not reach the top due to his vertigo meant he’d be the perfect credible witness for their con.  Scottie overcomes his vertigo and he and Judy reach the top of the bell tower where Judy is startled by a nun and falls to her death.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

This was yet another movie I watched for the first time in my high school film studies class.  I saw it several times but one memorable occasion in college came in while a friend was watching it and observed how Jimmy Stewart never seems to be paying attention to the road in the many scenes where he drives his car.  We had some good laughs about that.

What Did I Remember?:

I remembered most of the basic plot points well, if not the details.

What Did I Forget?:

The biggest thing I forgot is that Judy has a flashback to the real Madeleine’s murder and narrates a letter confessing her role in it before reconsidering.  I honestly thought that the revelation of Judy’s involvement as accessory to murder didn’t come until the very end of the movie, which honestly makes more sense from a storytelling perspective.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

Casting the affable Jimmy Stewart as the controlling, obsessive Scottie works in that viewers are sympathetic to him even as he is truly awful. Kim Novac does a great job portraying a stiff wealthy woman with a mid-Atlantic accent as Madeleine and then the more working woman Judy.  Her character is really good at improv since she’s almost always playing someone else to deceive Scottie.  The cinematography and colors of the movie are amazing as are the outfits that Edith Head designed for Kim Novac.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

I think the technical brilliance of the movie and how it makes San Francisco its palette may overshadow the fact that this is a slow-moving story with a romance that’s not very credible.  Also, Elster’s plot to kill his wife by hiring Judy to deceive Scottie makes very little sense in retrospect.  So many things had to go right for that plan to come to fruition that seemed needlessly complicated.  Mind you, this movie is still great, it is just not as perfect as I remembered.

Is It a Classic?:

It is a classic, but I think people overrate it when they put it at or near the top of the all-time great movie lists.  I don’t even think it is the best Hitchcock movie.  It is definitely the iconic San Francisco movie, though.

Rating: ****

One More All-Time Favorite Movie Starting With V:

  1. Les Visiteurs

What is your favorite movie starting with V?  What would you guess is my movie for W (Hint: it’s a documentary with a punch!)?  Let me know in the comments!