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Posts posted by BrianM

  1. This may be an interesting addition to the list of other appearances of "Alfred Hitchcock" in various media...


    Has anyone else ever seen a series of books (I think they were out of the UK, but I may be wrong) that feature a pudgy, freckled, bespectacled boy detective named Alfred Hitchcock?


    If I remember rightly, they had similar titles to the later Harry Potter books, i.e., "Alfred Hitchcock and the _______," or, "Alfred Hitchcock and the Case of the ______." But again, I could be wrong.


    I remember my younger brother having at least one of these, but many years ago (so, long since lost), and wondered if someone on this board may have heard of them as well.

  2. Here's my two cents on this topic; probably most or all of these have been mentioned before, but let's see if I've come up with something new:


    I mentioned 1976's Silver Streak in an earlier post - very similar to North By Northwest


    Stanley Donen's pair of European-set/romantic comedy/caper movies, Arabesque and Charade


    And two more recent ones, both, interestingly, with Angelina Jolie:

    The Tourist, another European-set/rom-com/caper film, which I rather liked


    And, an interesting twist on the wrongly-accused man movie, the wrongly-accused woman movie:

    Salt, in my opinion, also one of the better action movies of recent years.

  3. Here's a slightly different Hitchcock opening scene.

    This time, you see the title "Frenzy" over a magnificent helicopter shot of the Thames, accompanied by a patriotic-sounding march that would make Edward Elgar jealous. All you can think is, "Hitch, what are you up to?" You just know this isn't going to end well.

    There is another long shot, into the speech given by a fatuous politician about cleaning up the Thames (which did happen). The crowd applauds politely, except for the sour-faced man in the bowler hat.

    Then, as if to pour cold water on the optimism of the affair, a relic of London's past appears - a body floating in the Thames.

    That's what Hitch was up to.


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  4. Another essentially silent scene in this introduction.


    First thing that struck me was the similarity of the music to that of Vertigo, with a repeating musical motif, which starts off higher, then is echoed in lower tones.

    As the unseen woman washes the dye out of her hair, and we are given a full-screen reveal of "Marnie," the music swells to an almost ecstatic peak. She's someone else! She's free!

    (Shades of Judy's transformation (back) into Madeleine in Vertigo).


    In only a minute or two, we understand that this is a person who has stolen money and is changing her identity. One tell is the switch from the old clothes to the new, as she places the new clothes carefully into one suitcase, and casually tosses the old ones into another, as if in a hurry to shed her former "skin." This is confirmed when she places the old suitcase into a bus terminal locker and goes to every length necessary to dispose of the locker's key.

  5. From memory, I was going to say this opening was different from the regular "unsettling" one that we've become used to in Hitchcock's movies, but then I watched it. No, no, no - plenty o' foreshadowing here; Melanie sees the huge flock of seagulls, which are the dominant sound on the soundtrack as she walks along the street; the opening shot of both her and Mitch in the pet store is "bird's-eye"; he also glances at a caged bird as he summits the stairs; and the sounds of birds almost drown out the human dialogue that follows.


    The Birds has always been my favourite Hitchcock film; I first watched it at about age 13, late one Friday night, alone in our living room, on a black-and-white TV set. I didn't quite know what to make of it, particularly as there was no music, but it certainly stayed with me. The jump-cut sequence into the farmer's mangled face particularly gave me the willies - for days afterward.


    Having watched it many times since, I've come to appreciate just how effective it is, on so many levels.

    First of all, I've recently realized that it's effectively a silent movie. Take any of the dialogue away (or put it on title cards!), and the power of the film is undiminished.

    As a "horror" movie, it is on a level with The Haunting as my favourite of the genre. Slashers, zombies, mummies - nah. You can see them, so how is that scary? When you can't see the malevolent force, as in The Haunting, or there is no explanation given for an overwhelming natural force turning on humans, as in The Birds, that's what rattles me.

    I also love the "unresolved" ending. It's always felt right. I actually read the short story by Daphne Du Maurier some years ago, and was surprised to find that that's how it ends, too; not with the family driving off in a car, of course, but rather, simply sitting in their Cornish cottage, awaiting the next attack.


    This is truly Hitchcock at the top of his game, in control of everything, from sound, direction, editing, visual effects, to terrific performances from all the actors, especially newbie Tippi Hedren, who certainly earned the traumatized look she has at the end!


    My "signature moment"? The scene where they're in the living room of Mitch's house, and have boarded all the doors and windows on both floors. Whew - they're safe!

    Then, Melanie glances at the fireplace hearth, where a sparrow appears:




    All in the time it takes to read those words! Cinema just doesn't get any purer than this.

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  6. As Dr. Edwards points out, the music in the opening (and all thru the film) is only performed on stringed instruments. We all know the "slashing" effect during the shower sequence, but this opening is quite a different effect, one of stabbing or gouging, and as I've pointed out previously, sets the audience on edge immediately.

    It's in a fast tempo, like North By Northwest, but the effect there, for me, was to help set the pace that much of the movie would take. In Vertigo, the slowly undulating woodwind figures set up the dreamlike and hypnotic psychological effect that movie would exploit.

    Here, the only effect seems to be an unsettling tone.

    (Interesting graphic for Saul Bass to end on; it looks like nothing less than an actual sound wave on an oscilloscope, or equalizer, and perhaps hearkens back to his interest in Lissajous lines. Maybe someone with better knowledge of wave physics would find it interesting: Is it the last note, or chord, of the opening score? Or, am I reading more into it than there actually is?)

    I can't wait to hear what is discussed about the score of The Birds. My mouth is watering already.


    They're quite right to point out the explicitness of the scene and dialogue here between Marion and Sam; they're indulging in "afternoon delight" while not being married. Try to imagine Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant in that scenario!

    It occurred to me that there may well have been some outside (subconscious?) influences on this new type of "horror" film, particularly the Hammer Studio films from England in the late 50s. While in black and white, and low-budget, they were much more lurid and explicit than anything American studios were producing at the time, and it probably would have been teenagers - in England and America - who were the primary audience watching them.


    Also, it's perhaps the first example of the "bad girl gets murdered for her sexuality" plot device that would come to be so overused in subsequent "horror" movies.


    One last observation is yet another brilliant bit of foreshadowing in the dialogue. Marion says, "Sam; this is the end." And so it is.

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  7. Another Hitchcock scene that presents a character in a certain way, only to have your first impressions proven wrong later in the film.

    You think the Eve Kendall character is a shameless flirt, but later find out she's been made to do it in order to entrap Roger Thornhill. It's kind of a nice parallel to the bad guys' (and Eve's) mistaken idea that Roger is someone he's not.

    Come to think of it, most all the main characters aren't who they seem to be at first!


    As others have said, the matchbook business is a way for the two characters to have actual physical contact with each other for the first time. The shot of Eve pulling Roger's hand back to her lips to blow out the match foreshadows the intimacy that is to come.


    As I said earlier in the course, this is kind of the third time Hitchcock made the same movie, i.e., one that features the "double chase."

    It could be a useful exercise to watch The 39 StepsSaboteur and North By Northwest in sequence, not only to find the similarities in the stories, but to see the increasing sophistication of Hitch's filmmaking.


    Tangentially, a similar movie to this, almost an homage, is Arthur Hiller's 1976 Silver Streak. It features the first (and best) pairing of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, as well as Jill Clayburgh and Patrick McGoohan. Best part? Many scenes shot in and around Toronto's Union Station!

    It's not Hitchcock, but it is fun.

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  8. I was privileged to see this film in a movie theatre on its reissue in the 1980s, and was completely blown away - by the story, the acting, the look of it, and the ending - everything.

    I saw it again (in a theatre) a year or so later, and while the shock of the ending wasn't as powerful, this title sequence was still amazing. I've just watched it closely on a 20-inch computer screen, and it's still effective!


    The spiral/circular graphics fit so well with Hermann's repeating figure in the woodwinds that it's uncanny.


    Looking at it now, the striking moment when the music hits a harsh chord, and the colour red (blood) runs down the woman's face, it seems a little over the top; the movie is entirely without grue. But overall, it does give that "unsettling" feeling that marks so many of Hitch's opening sequences.


    We are meant to feel uncertain about many things throughout the movie. It plays brilliantly against Jimmy Stewart's well-established "everyman" persona, instead portraying his Scotty as, well, a sick man, in more ways than one.

    Or, you could take it all as a kind of "fever dream," as Wes Gehring suggests.

    But I would remind you that there were several movies that came out in the late 1940s and 1950s that explored the minds of war veterans - especially many films noir - and this is surely one of them.


    Go ahead and check out those references to Lissajous figures and John Whitney; I found them quite informative, though I can't say I understood all of the technicalities.

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  9. Another great opening shot from Hitch for this movie. In just over two minutes, we get a kind of preview of what's going to transpire for most of the film! It lets us know that WE are the voyeurs here, not the sleeping Jeff.


    I love how the shot starts off low, following a cat, that greatest of prowlers/voyeurs. The shot follows a rectangular pattern, then there are cuts to several of the apartments, showing intimate scenes, particularly of "Miss Torso," topless at first.


    Then the camera "prowls" Jeff's apartment, and we discover everything we need to know about him; his job, his accident, his static position.


    Also interesting is the choice of music. It's not "morning" music at all, but a rumba (I think), with a kind of Arabic-sounding melody that indicates energy and restlessness.

    Yep, we're in a city.

  10. Another great opening shot from Hitch for this movie. In just over two minutes, we get a kind of preview of what's going to transpire for most of the film! It lets us know that WE are the voyeurs here, not the sleeping Jeff.


    I love how the shot starts off low, following a cat, that greatest of prowlers/voyeurs. The shot follows a rectangular pattern, then there are cuts to several of the apartments, showing intimate scenes, particularly of "Miss Torso," topless at first.


    Then the camera "prowls" Jeff's apartment, and we discover everything we need to know about him, his job, his accident, his static position.


    Also interesting is the choice of music. It's not "morning" music at all, but a rumba (I think), with a kind of Arabic-sounding melody that indicates energy and restlessness.

    Yep, we're in a city.

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  11. It's interesting to watch the camera work in this opening sequence: Under the credits, it's about eye level; then, as the first taxi pulls into the station, it lowers way down to lower-than-knee level.

    (I noted, when this scene was used in 2015's Film Noir course, how it looks as if the taxi is going to run right into the camera).

    The camera stays at that level (except for a tilt that shows the back of one of the men entering the gates), and stays that level on the front of the train (yipes!), until the shoes collide under the table (foreshadowing), and then we see the two men.


    Slightly off-topic: I was interested by the note made about Hitchcock kind of casting Robert Walker "against type" in this film, and wanted to mention a lovely film from 1945 called "The Clock," with Walker and Judy Garland (directed by Vincente Minnelli).

    Walker is indeed the male ingenue in the movie as his enlisted man and Garland's working girl  have a whirlwind romance while he's on furlough in NYC. It's swooningly romantic, and I guarantee you'll fall in love with both stars.


    But Walker delivers an incredible performance in this film; he's terrifying. It's a shame he died young; it would have been interesting to see if he would have been offered other roles like this.

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  12. Confession: I've been in love with Ingrid Bergman for decades.

    Not only because of her looks (those eyes! That nose! Those lips! Those cheekbones! I could go on and on), but because she was a very naturalistic actress. Her reactions, movement, expressions, etc., are unlike other actresses of her era.


    As we see in this scene, for instance, she was unafraid to look messy and disheveled. Small actions like tossing away the hairpiece, or pulling a hair out of her mouth, really reinforce the fact that she's in a bad state, or perhaps better, a careless one. Wooziness and near-nausea are apparent in all her actions.


    Hitchcock takes her Alicia out of the frame while Cary Grant's Dev puts on the phonograph of her arguing with her father. When she comes back in, she is neatened up, combing her hair and also looking abashed, both signs that she is sobering up, and becoming more self-conscious.

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  13. There are certainly "Hitchcock touches" in this scene: In fact, of it weren't for the chirpy music (featuring an ocarina, no less!), it could be seen as very dark.


    There is a long tracking shot straight into the single right eye of Mrs. Smith in the bed, perhaps foreshadowing the very similar shot of Marion Crane's dead face in Psycho.


    Then, there is the voyeurism that Hitch was so fond of; the maid tries desperately to see into the room where the couple's been holed up for three days; once again, if not for the music, this could be a very menacing scene!

  14. This scene is a good example of how the stillness of a villain can be more menacing than someone who is "over the top." Uncle Charlie lies very still on the bed as the landlady moves about, but, by the dialogue and the nervous movements of the landlady, you know he is the dominant figure.


    It's like Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca: in several of her first scenes, her head barely moves, only her eyes. Only in the scene in Rebecca's room do her face, head and hands come alive.


    In the last scene from the lecture video, Uncle Charlie speaks contemptuously of "those women" without a change of expression, until Charlie protests, "They're alive!"; then he turns his head to respond, "Are they?"


    Even modern movies capitalize on this: who would you rather be stuck in a room with: Buffalo Bill or Hannibal Lecter?

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  15. Another unsettling opening scene. The camera glides along the overgrown Manderley driveway, to end up at the skeletal remains of the house, where shadows play tricks on the eye.


    As if that's not enough, how do Maxim and the "future second Mrs. DeWinter" meet? She foils his suicide attempt! Not exactly yer Hollywood "meet-cute" scene.


    Something I was struck by here, though I've seen the movie several times, was Joan Fontaine's narration. She thought of making her voice lower, as if it were an older version of the character talking. Well done.


    I have this movie on DVD, and will go watch it immediately!

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  16. I've loved this movie for years! There are so many great things about it, I'm not sure where to begin.

    As I mentioned yesterday with The Man Who Knew Too Much, the opening puts the viewer a bit on edge, as a faceless person goes into the music hall. For some seconds, you're not sure what he's up to; then he's revealed to be a perfectly harmless-looking citizen.

    I've often told friends that Hitchcock "made the same movie three times," and this is the first of them; a wrongly-accused man goes all the way across the damn country in the "double-chase" to clear his name. It's repeated again in Saboteur and North By Northwest.

    I've also always liked the "Mr. Memory" character, perhaps the first "nerd" or "geek" in any movie! He is really a rather sad character, being mercilessly heckled during his first appearance, then, in the last scene (spoiler alert), shot just as he's giving the whole secret up. He pants out his tag line, "Am I right, sir?" and expires, as the chorus girls in the background (in one of Hitch's patented juxtapositions) kick up their heels, and life goes on.

    I've often wondered if Charlie Chaplin may have been influenced by this scene for the heart-rending final shot of Limelight, where his character, Calvero, dies backstage as Claire Bloom's Terry whirls past the camera, unaware, in the foreground...

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  17. As in many of Hitchcock's films, there is foreshadowing early on in the movie - the first thing we see is a potentially catastrophic accident!

    Through the quick cuts, there are a few seconds where you're not sure if it's going to end well or not.

    Though it's said in a lighthearted way, the skier still says that it could have been the last day of his life, so a shadow is upon the proceedings right away.

  18. Great use of a sound effect that isn't the sound you're expecting (as in The 39 Steps, where the woman's scream is replaced by a train whistle).

    At first, when Alice tosses the knife away, I thought the sound was the pinging of the knife blade hitting some sort of surface, but it was the store doorbell! And not 30 seconds later, another iteration of the doorbell, louder this time (an echo of the "knife blade" sound), gives Alice another start.

    Looking forward to seeing this one; will also be looking for the subjective camera, and the use of landmarks.

  19. What struck me at first was the extreme long shot of the headmaster at his desk from the boys' point of view. The room isn't that big! But the shot sets the intimidating tone immediately.

    When you see a long shot like that, it's normally to indicate isolation, a feeling of being "small," but in this case, it has the opposite effect, an imposing quality. Brilliant.

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  20. So many of Hitchcock's movies have scenes with a "voyeur" quality. Mirrors; partially open doors; peepholes; and so on. And, it's not just characters doing the spying; the camera itself is often the voyeur. It'll be interesting to find examples of this in the films we're going to see.


    Also, does anyone know who the accompanist is in this film? It's brilliant work!

    I guess I'll have to watch it on TCM to find out. Looking forward to it!

  21. I've really enjoyed the Daily Doses, as well as the Friday films themselves (thank you, PVR!).

    I'm surprised by how many of them I've seen before, thru rental or already owning them - Double Indemnity has been one of my just plain favourite movies for decades - but it's nice to re-watch the films thru the lens (ha! film metaphor!) of this course.


    I think we all got an excellent sense of what the course was trying to teach us about the philosophical, technical and stylistic influences on the genre of film noir, as well as where the various directors, writers and producers took the genre over its lifetime.

    There have been successful attempts to recreate this type of film over the intervening years; most notably, ChinatownL.A. Confidential, Miller's Crossing - and let's not forget Rian Johnson's wry take on the genre (in a high school setting!), Brick. If you haven't seen that one, be sure to check it out.


    I'm grateful that I was able to participate in this course; to be able to post my own - and read others' - comments in these forums has been a learning experience in itself.


    Thanks to everyone at TCM, Ball State U and Canvas Network for a swell five weeks!

    • Like 3
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