Hitchcock Thursdays: Following 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
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.
Alfred Hitchcock Movie Reviews:
Title: Birth of a Movement
Release Date: February 6, 2017
Director: Susan Gray and Bestor Cram
Production Company: Northern Light Productions
This documentary is about William Monroe Trotter, a civil rights leader and newspaper editor in Boston in the early 20th century. Raised in a well-to-do family and Harvard educated, Trotter advocated for more radical civil rights activism than his peers such as Booker T. Washington. He participated in founding the NAACP, but ultimately did not find it radical enough.
The documentary is also about D.W. Griffith, the groundbreaking filmmaker, who made the first Hollywood blockbuster in 1915. Released 50 years after the end of the Civil War and based on a novel called The Clansman, the film was eventually re-titled Birth of Nation. The movie depicts the Civil War through a sympathetic portrayal of the insurgent Southerners. The post-war Reconstruction is depicted as a time when bestial, sexually-aggressive Black men (portrayed by white actors in blackface) ran rampant until the Ku Klux Klan restores order.
The movie gained widespread acclaim and opposition as Griffith opened it in cities across the country, and even held the first ever film screening in the White House for President Woodrow Wilson. Knowing that Boston had a history of supporting abolition and Black civil rights, Griffith targeted the city for an opening knowing that success there would lead to widespread distribution of the film. Trotter organized massive protests against the film’s opening at Tremont Theatre across from Boston Common. While the protests failed to stop the screening, Trotter’s protests did invigorate a new direction for Black civil rights activism.
Title: The Aristocats
Release Date: December 24, 1970
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
I thought I may have seen The Aristocats as a child, but upon watching it for this review, I think I may have only seen some scenes of the movie. The story is basically Lady and the Tramp (with cats) crossed with One Hundred and One Dalmatians (with cats). It clearly comes from the era when Disney didn’t know what to do next with their animated films. Dutchess (Eva Gabor) and her three kittens are set to be heirs to their owners fortune, leading the butler Edgar (Roddy Maude-Roxby) to try to get rid of them.
Stranded in the countryside, alleycat Thomas O’Malley (Phil Harris) helps them back to Paris while wooing Duchess. After dancing with Scat Cat’s (Scatman) jazz band, and some further hijinx, the cats are reunited with their owner and extract their revenge on Edgar. The animation is limited for a Disney production although there is some interesting color and motion in the dance scenes. Two floppy-eared dogs and a motorcycle play a part in some great comedic scenes. On the downside there is a horribly racist depiction of a cat with the worst Chinese stereotypes.
Other than that, there is nothing really bad about The Aristocats, but there’s also nothing really good about the movie. It’s just kind of is.
Title: Just Mercy
Release Date: December 25, 2019
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Production Company: Endeavor Content | One Community | Participant Media
Macro Media | Gil Netter Productions | Outlier Society
This movie flew under radar when it was released last Christmas, but it was available for free on streaming networks in June, so I thought I’d check it out. The movie is based on the true story of Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) and adapted from his book of the same name. Stevenson is a Harvard-trained lawyer and as an idealistic young man we see him move to Alabama to begin the Equal Justice Initiative. With the support of local activist Eva Ansley (Brie Larson) he works to represent poor prisoners, including death row inmates, get proper legal representation.
The main plot of the movie relates to the case of Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a man convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of white teenage girl in Monroeville (a town the is shown to be proud of its connection with Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird). Stevenson sees that Johnny D. was convicted primarily on the testimony of another prisoner, Ralph Myers (Tim Blake Nelson), who received a lighter sentence in exchange, and that witnesses who saw Johnny D at the time of the crime (including a cop) were not called at all.
I expect it is no spoiler to note that Stevenson will get Johnny D.’s conviction overturned, but the procedures and indiginities he has to go through still create a lot of tension. The early 1990s were a time when “tough on crime” was at its post-Jim Crow era peak, so its amazing that Stevenson is able to succeed (compare this movie with When They See Us, the story of the Central Park Five case happening around the same time). There is also a subplot involving another death row inmate, Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan), a Vietnam veteran whose mental health was shattered by PTSD and is convicted for planting a bomb that unintentionally kills someone. Some of the most harrowing scenes in the film relate to Richardson’s case.
The movie falls back on some of the cliches of civil rights themed biopics, but it does stand a notch above them. Jordan and Foxx are absolutely spectacular in acting their roles, and they are a joy to watch. The movie also foregrounds the Black characters, so it avoids Hollywood’s predilection for “white savior” narratives. If you haven’t seen this movie, check it out while it’s still free (although it would also be worth paying for).
Title: Mr. Holmes
Release Date: 19 June 2015
Director: Bill Condon
Production Company: AI Film | BBC Films | FilmNation Entertainment | Archer Gray Productions | See-Saw Films
This film is an adaptation of A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin that stars Ian McKellen as a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes. Having retired to a farm decades earlier where he tends to an apiary. Holmes struggles with losing his brilliant mind to the onset of memory loss due to senile dementia. His only daily contact with other humans is his widowed housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her son Roger (Milo Parker).
The movie intertwines three stories. Holmes is working on rewriting an accurate account of his last case, one he considers a failure, and is shown in flashbacks. Struggling to remember the details, Holmes had recently traveled to Japan, and more flashbacks show him meeting his correspondent, Tamiki Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada), and visiting the ruins of Hiroshima. There they retrieve prickly ash, a plant that is supposed to have medicinal properties for restoring the mind. The main plot depicts Holmes bonding with Roger, an intelligent and curious boy, while training him how to care for the bees.
The movie is a good adaptation of the book. It’s gorgeous film and McKellen is perfect at the elderly Holmes. I don’t know if he watched Jeremy Brett’s performance as Holmes, but there are times where he seems to be channeling Brett’s physical tics. The movie is also a moving depiction of Holmes struggling with the most difficult thing to lose, his mind, and the emotional breakthrough he makes with Roger and Mrs. Munro.
Title: Meet John Doe
Release Date: May 3, 1941
Director: Frank Capra
Production Company: Frank Capra Productions
Columnist Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) is laid off from her job but submits one last column in the form of a fake letter from John Doe, who rails against the ills of society and threatens to commit public suicide on Christmas Eve. The column causes a sensation, and Ann is rehired to write more John Doe columns. A homeless former bush league pitcher, Long John Willoughby (Gary Cooper) is recruited to play “John Doe.”
Traveling the country delivering Ann’s speeches, John inspires a John Doe movement where people form clubs and get to know and help out their neighbors. Millionaire newspaper publisher D. B. Norton (Edward Arnold) funds the John Doe movement with the ulterior motive of using John to convert the third-party Presidential campaign. Norton believes the country needs an authoritarian leader, and when John attempts to expose the plot at a rally, Norton orders the police to go into the crowd and incite a riot against John Doe. (Watching this movie during the same week when peaceful protests across the country were targeted by police violence, made this scene feel on point).
The movie is typical of Frank Capra common-man stories, although it feels a bit uneven compared to his more famous works. Stanwyck and Cooper are great in their roles although the romance between them is never developed all too well. The movie falls apart in the final scene where the melodrama is laid on thick, and Stanwyck rushes through dialogue as if she knew it was cheezy and out-of-character, especially the awkward reference to Jesus Christ. I read that several endings were filmed for this movie, but I don’t think that they picked the right one.
Title: The Jungle Book
Release Date: October 18, 1967
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
The Jungle Book is a musical comedy based on the works of Rudyard Kipling, and is the last animated movie which involved Walt Disney in its production. It’s a straightforward story of a boy raised by wolves named Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman), who the wolves council determine must now return to the human village for his own safety.
The movie is episodic, linking together various musical numbers and set pieces with animals that Mowgli encounters on his journey. The supporting characters make the film. These include Mowgli’s allies, Bagheera (Sebastian Cabot), a serious panther who oversees Mowgli’s exit from the jungle and Baloo (Phil Harris), a carefree sloth bear who wishes to adopt Mowgli to Bagheera’s strong disapproval. The villains include a hypnotic python named Kaa (Sterling Holloway), a scatting orangutan named King Louie (Louis Prima) who wants the secret of fire, and Shere Khan (George Sanders), a Bengal tiger who hates humans and is determined to kill Mowgli.
The movie features some great music by the Sherman Brothers, with the exception of the most famous song, “The Bare Necessities,” which is by Terry Gilkyson. The animation captures the movement of animals in a convincing way as well as providing a number of comic gags. I’ve always thought that movie ends oddly with Mowgli deciding to go to the human village basically because he’s horny. Nevertheless, this is a competent, straightforward Disney comedy musical. Not quite an all-time classic, but a does the job for 78 minutes of entertainment.
Release Date: March 26, 1953
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Production Company: Daiei Film
Set during a Civil War in 16th-century Japan’s Sengoku period, this movie is the story of a potter Genjūrō (Masayuki Mori of Rashomon fame) who hopes to take advantage of the troubled times to make a profit selling his wares in a city across a lake. Due to fear of pirates he leaves his wife Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) and their young son behind, but is accompanied by his friend Tōbei (Eitaro Ozawa) and his wife, Ohama (Mitsuko Mito).
The trio are separated in the city. Tōbei, who always dreamed of becoming a samurai, stumbles into being recognized as a hero by one of the armies, and is rewarded with armor, a horse, and troops to command. Meanwhile, Ohama is abducted, raped, and forced to work in a brothel. A noblewoman, Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyō, who also starred in Rashomon and Floating Weeds) visits Genjūrō’s stall and he eventually he goes to live with her and marry her, not telling of his wife and child.
This movie is a ghost movie, but the spectral parts are subtle, and in a way unexpected. This is also a movie where the two wives are severely wronged and the sympathies of the movie are with them against their foolish husband. The movie is also a morality play, but again one that is well-done and moving. I found myself weeping at the end, primarily because the final scenes involve some sweet scenes between Genjūrō and his toddler son.
Title: Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself
Release Date: 22 May 2013
Director: Tom Bean & Luke Poling
Production Company: Joyce Entertainment | The Offices of SPECTRE
I enjoyed seeing George Plimpton’s tv appearances when I was a kid, and I read several of his books, and even saw him speak once when I was in college. So I was delighted that the Brattle Theatre hosted a virtual screening of a documentary about Plimpton’s life.
George Plimpton was a tall, patrician-looking man from Manhattan’s Upper East Side and descended from a prominent New England family. After World War II he founded and edited The Paris Review which became a leading literary journal publishing the top authors of the latter half of the 20th century.
And yet he is most famous for his experiments in participatory journalism, particularly in sports, where he pitched to Major League Baseball stars, played quarterback for the Detroit Lions, and served as goalkeeper for the Boston Bruins. Outside of sports, he played a small role in a John Wayne Western, participated in a trapeze act, and played the triangle for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. His articles and books about these experiences provided an “everyman” perspective on the type of achievements that only a small number of people can do.
Plimpton’s charm and affable personality helped him find acceptance among the groups of professionals he covered as well as regular spots as a guest on talk and variety shows. Interviewees in the movie say that Plimpton was a hard to get to know beneath his persona. He had a love for celebrity that manifested itself in parties and literary salons, but he also hid considerable self-doubt about his own writing ability. Plimpton was friends with the Kennedy family and traveled with Robert Kennedy on his 1968 presidential campaign. Along with Rafer Johnson and Rosie O’Grier, he wrestled Kennedy’s assassin Sirhan Sirhan to the ground, and incident that Plimpton never wrote or spoke about publicly.
The movie shows the funny, charming side of Plimpton that made him the celebrity I remember from my childhood. But it also peels back the public persona of someone with severe impostor’s syndrome about being among the literary luminaries of his time. His family seem to be embarrassed that Plimpton became a pitchman for various products, but it also showed his dedication to getting money to keep the Paris Review alive.
Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself is a good documentary that looks into the life of an unlikely celebrity and his times.
Release Date: 8 April 1982
Director: Gillian Armstrong
Production Company: Palm Beach Pictures | The Australian Film Commission
Jackie Mullens (Jo Kennedy) is an aspiring pop singer in Sydney, Australia where her family run an hotel bar beneath the footings of the Harbour Bridge. Her cheeky 14-year-old cousin Angus (Ross O’Donovan) wants to be her agent and works to bring attention to her career. After securing a backup band at a local club talent night, Jackie and Ross set their sights on getting a spot on the tv talent show hosted by celebrity kingmaker Terry Lambert (John O’May). Things don’t go well as the there are setbacks and betrayals, and then Jackie finds she must win a talent contest to save her family bar.
The movie is extremely corny, but in an irresistibly charming way. Kennedy and O’Donovan are likable characters even when they’re being idiots. And the New Wave music and fashions make this movie a terrific time capsule. The group choreography that goes along with the musical numbers is awkward, and for some reason reminds me of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but it’s still enjoyable.
If you’re like me and wonder if a 1980s Australian musical had any involvement from the Finn Brothers, you would be correct. Tim Finn in fact wrote one of the most memorable songs of the film, “Body and Soul.” (Watch the video for the great song and extremely awkward group choreography).