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About MrNews

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    Classic film & TV, digital imaging & imagining, photography, cooking, ice hockey, cat cuddling, creative loafing.

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  1. This opening scene really defines Melanie as somewhat stuck up, a bit predatory, and apparently deceptive. After watching it a few times, I find myself almost wishing something evil upon her. She realizes that Mitch has mistaken her for a salesgirl, and immediately decides that he is hunk-y, and she will pretend to be what he think she is. She obviously knows nothing about birds (telegraphed by the fact that she did not know that mynah birds need to be taught to "talk"). While not quite despicable, it is easy to see Melanie as a less-than-honest, and perhaps under-handed person, worthy of contempt. Apparently, The Birds think so too. BTW, there are other animals in the store. When Rod Taylor first walks in, there are some puppies in cages near the door. He glances briefly at them, then goes upstairs to the bird area. Hitchcock's cameo with his dogs has no meaning- he is just being playful. Surprising, I don't see any CATS in this movie- were I in this fictional nightmare, I would quickly enlist the help of numerous felines to help solve this bird "problem." The cats, however, would surely refuse to work for scale, and would certainly be napping during key moments. The sound design is subtle, but pervasive. Despite its uniqueness, it is somewhat irritating, and later seems to almost take over the film. I think an additional musical score would have been better.
  2. Couple of things you can say about the title sequence, reading between the lines, as it were. First of all, the straight lines connote order and regularity, and the behavior of the characters in this film is anything but! Also, the fracturing of the cast and crew names, both into and out of their appearance, could suggest the fracturing of the norms and rules that will take place. Herrmann's score? Igor Stravinsky on steroids! Just take a 33.3 rpm recording of "The Rite of Spring" and play it at 48rpm, and there you have it. https://youtu.be/FFPjFjUonX8?t=3m26s Just seeing the name Joseph Stefano's name in the credits bring to mind the first season of "The Outer Limits." Watch a few of these "monster morality plays" (my own term), and you may start to see Stefano's touch in Psycho. This film may not be Hitchcock's "master work," but it is his "master stroke." He foresaw the coming of the new wave of horror, driven by nuclear age angst and rebellion against the moral rigidity of the post-war era. He knew that the new monsters would not be vampires, wolf-men, or creatures from outer space, but seemingly ordinary humans.
  3. It's difficult to see this sequence with fresh eyes, having viewed the film numerous times. But feigning amnesia, I would have to say that, from the title art and opening music, I expect to be dizzied and confused; and I am not disappointed. Most relevant comment in this course so far: the fact that Vertigo is perceived quite differently as one ages. As a college and graduate film student in my 20's, I saw this film as "artsy-fartsy" and didn't really "get" the themes. Forty years later, Scotty's psychological foibles are not so foreign to me. But it's still frustrating at hell, now as then, that he doesn't drop the whole dumb Madeleine thing, and just cuddle up with adorable Barbara Bel Geddes.....
  4. Why is this story titled "Rear Window?" This is obviously the front window (there are no others) in Jeff's apartment, so is it that he is watching the rear windows of other apartments? Not likely, as these portals all seem like front windows. Is it the rear window, as in seeing what is behind you, rather than in front of you? Looking into the backyard of life? A mystery. Some say Hitchcock was most engaged during story development, script treatments, storyboarding and writing of a film, and became somewhat bored and impatient once filming began. Possibly apocryphal, but then why do both Stewart and Kelly blow a couple of lines, and Hitchcock LEAVES THEM IN. Perhaps he felt that it made them appear more natural (they do not actually sound like blown lines), or maybe he just didn't care! Personally, I do not feel like a voyeur at all, peering at all the ongoing lives of the people in these apartments. There's no harm in knowing what other people around you are up to, and it's actually interesting. In fact, isn't that what movies are all about? Don't we watch films in order to find out stuff and vicariously get involved with other people's lives? So maybe Hitchcock is teasing... Cinematic? Not in a Big City minute! This is a stage play- we never see anything outside of Jeff's apartment and the courtyard. "Cinema" has its roots in the Latin/Greek word for movement (kinema), and, although the camera (and Jeff's) view moves around a lot, his body does not (except for his defenestration at the end). Food for thought (from "21"), but then I'm not much of a snifter.
  5. Sad to see the news of the death of Martin Landau. A great character actor, who brought an odd touch to "North By Northwest," when he chose to play the henchman to James Mason as ever-so-slightly gay, somewhat jealous of his boss's affair with Eve Marie Saint, and citing his "woman's intuition." It was his own choice to play it that way, and Hitchcock reportedly loved it. Obviously, his run in "Mission Impossible," the X-Files movie, many other films and TV, and his late-career Oscar-winning portrayal of elderly Bela Lugosi in "Ed Wood," are iconic and will be remembered. Say a quiet prayer for Martin Landau when you watch "North By Northwest." https://nyti.ms/2vswh78
  6. Three Hitchcock-style films that were not Alfred Hitchcock productions come to mind: 1944's "Gaslight" directed by George Cukor and starring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, and Joseph Cotten. The overall texture of the film, the plot, the characters, and the dialogue are very "Hitchcock," and the entire "look" is his. 1965's "Mirage" directed by Edward Dmytryk and featuring Greg Peck, Diane Baker, and Walter Matthau. It's a later-style Hitchcock story, with amnesia, vanishing basements, mysterious characters, an odd love story and a great MacGuffin. And one of Matthau's great lines: " I can't help it, I'm excessively happy-go-lucky." 1967's "Wait Until Dark" directed by Terence Young and starring Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, and Richard Crenna. The whole concept of a blind person being stalked, the dark shadowy spaces, the discordantly de-tuned piano, and Arkin's terrifying leap after being stabbed, are all reminiscent of the Master of Suspense.
  7. Ya gotta love the little sparklies in Bergman's blouse, which takes it from a plain striped shirt to a subtly glamorous costume. Maybe the deeper meaning is that she is actually a gem who needs some cleansing and polishing. The upside down shot of Devlin is, of course, a way of signifying Alicia's confusion and conflict. At first she does what he tells her: "drink that," and then she only drinks a little. Then she refuses to take whatever job he is offering, but then appears to re-consider based on the recording he plays her. Does she do what he tells her, or not? Does she even want to? The character remains conflicted almost until the final scene, when he rescues her from her "deathbed" in Sebastian's house. The close-ups focus your attention on the characters, large and "close up." This is no travelogue, the places are irrelevant, as is the MacGuffin. Spies and Love all the way. One of the greatest lines in this, or any other, spy/suspense movie, has to be Leopoldine Konstantin's, as Madame Sebastian contemplates the fact that her son has been totally compromised by marrying a spy... Mme. Sebastian: There's no need for them to find out. Alex: Mathis is very sharp. Mme. Sebastian: Yes. He dislikes you. But his criticism of your talents wouldn't go that far to imagine that you are married to an American agent. We are protected by the enormity of your stupidity ... for a time. Claude Rains plays a sympathetic character, as he often does, but this raises his situation to Tragic. Ben Hecht's script is brilliant. It glistens like the gems in Alicia's blouse and the uranium on the floor of Sebastian's wine cellar.
  8. This is one of Hitchcock's masterworks, but also another showcase for the talents of Mercury Theater alumnus Joseph Cotten. In the opening sequence we learn that he has lots of cash, but seems rather careless with it. We learn he is a dapper dresser, but seems holed up in a rather drab boardinghouse (#13!), we learn that he seems rather indifferent to what happens to him ("Show them in, or I may go out and meet them"), and we learn that he is being pursued, or at least shadowed by the two men who "have nothing on me." (Apparently they don't, since they don't stop him or even speak to him as he walks right by them on the street.) It is a lot of information, and more than enough to pull you firmly into the film. Film Noir? Yes, in some sensibilities and techniques. But our protagonist is not a detective, a boxer, a grifter, or an ordinary citizen. He is a SERIAL KILLER. Yes, he is cynical, but this is more of a horror story, or more precisely, the story of the horror within. Charlie's dad and neighbor Herbie engage in macabre banter about the best ways to commit an undetectable murder, but Uncle Charlie is actually engaged in the real thing! The shadows are not as pronounced here as in many Noir films, but the hint is there. As for the music, Tiomkin (correctly pronounced CHOMP-kin, not tee-OMP-kin) was one of the great masters of film scores, and the enormous menace conveyed by the bass notes, tympani, and frantic orchestral climax (all within 70 seconds of screen time) are enough to raise the hairs on the back of anyone's neck. Then, immediately, a slightly de-tuned plodding piano as the detectives begin to follow Uncle Charlie. This is a huge upgrade for Hitchcock, and perhaps the first time that music becomes vitally important to his films.
  9. Clearly, this is a big shift from the fast-paced, fast-talking, chase-y films of the British period. We have a languorous, slow, misty opening, with a slow and thoughtful narration, a slow walk along an overgrown driveway, and a cloud slowly obscuring the reflective windows of Manderlay. This is more classic American, or perhaps just Hollywood, story-telling, and certainly novelistic in its approach to the entire story as one big flashback. I believe Hitchcock would have told this story much differently without the insistent pressure from Selznick to follow the novel as closely as possible. The opening sequence is also reminiscent of some of Val Lewton's works with Jacques Tourneur: eerie, misty, moody, wistful. I'm also struck by the parallels between De Winter's Manderlay and Rochester's Thornfield Hall. These ornate but cold, wealthy gentleman's "castles" are both characters in their own right, full of mysterious rooms that help define the humans within. (Although one might be tempted to compare Manderlay to Selznick's previous Oscar-winning mansion, Tara, that one was really a working plantation, where its owner had hands dirtied by toil.) And, in different ways, the two films are both examples of a bildungsroman genre.
  10. This scene reminds me in some ways of the dinner scene in Hitch's 1943 film, "Shadow of a Doubt." Young Charlie is overwhelmed by doubts about her Uncle Charlie's possibly criminal doings, and during dinner, the next door neighbor (a young Hume Cronyn) and Charlie's father engage in macabre badinage about the best way to murder someone. Charlie finally get very upset and yells at them both.... Not that Hitchcock thought all audience members were dogs (or cattle!), but the audio trick with "(blah blah blah) knife, (mumble mumble mumble) KNIFE!" reminds me of a cartoon about the way dogs hear their master's voice: "(blah blah blah) Fido, (mumble, mumble, mumble) food, (blah blah blah) WALK!"
  11. Definitely, Robert Donat offering to "assist" Madeleine Carroll in removing her wet stocking while they are handcuffed together and eating sandwiches...
  12. It's tough to keep it to just five! The 39 Steps (1935) Foreign Correspondent (1940) Shadow Of A Doubt (1943) Rear Window (1954) North By Northwest (1959) Runners-up: The Lady Vanishes (1938) Saboteur (1942) Notorious (1946) Strangers On A Train (1951) Psycho (1960)
  13. I immediately noticed the music: frantic, dramatic, almost atonal in spots, slightly reminiscent of Stravinsky. The shocked crowds, their faces all fixated on a single point, event, or person. Hitchcock reached a pinnacle of this in "Strangers on a Train" during the tennis scene (when hundreds of faces were following the ball from one side to the other, but ONE MAN was not...). A pure Hitchcockian element was the man at the bar, as the woman witness is telling the policeman that the killer's face was all covered, he covers his face with his coat, almost mocking her melodramatic story. In that instant, the horror gets a tiny relief valve, a technique that James Cameron has perfected in his films. And I definitely see the German element in the focus on machines: the long shot of the teletype, and then the enormous printing press and its moving parts; very technological, cold, impersonal.
  14. No question this first directorial effort contains the basic Hitchcock "touch." The prurient leg shot, which you see later in "The Lady Vanishes" (with even a brief glimpse of Margaret Lockwood's bum), and certainly shots of Grace Kelly's arms in "Rear Window." Hitchcock certainly had a lascivious nature, and probably delighted in such shots, and knew he could get away with them in the context of telling the story. The leering "gentlemen" is also a Hitchcock touch, but one that seems quite Russian in its execution. I'm reminded of Eisenstein's shots of greedy capitalists and privileged class members in his pro-Soviet films, and also some of the characters in Murnau's work. Also, the unexpected sight at the end of a shot, such as going down the line of leering gents, and seeing the sleeping lady at the end. Very quick, but a cinematic poke in the eye with a sharp stick. And finally, the peering through binoculars and a monocle, brought to full fruition 29 years later in "Rear Window," where the entire focus of the film is on what is seen (and unseen) through the lenses. It is a revelation to me that some of these themes and techniques were so readily apparent in Hitchcock's very first feature film.
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