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I still have to watch MAN IN THE ATTIC. I have mixed opinions about each of these movies but I did like the cinematography and production details of this one, more so than the story and performances.

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Essential: MAN IN THE ATTIC (1953)

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Released by 20th Century Fox, this is a standard mystery thriller based on the Jack the Ripper tale. Fox had previously filmed Marie Lowndes’ novel in 1944 with the original title intact, THE LODGER (which we’ve already reviewed).

Key changes from the 1944 version-- Daisy/Kitty is now called Lily. She is still the landlady’s niece and still a showgirl. The landlords’ last name is no longer Bonting; it is now Harley. The scriptwriters have added a dog that looks like Lassie. The dog’s scenes with Slade give us a new way to perceive him. Another important change is that the sets are smaller, conveying a sense of intimacy. The lodger’s rented room and the attic where he does his experiments are appropriately claustrophobic.

The greatest improvement is the casting of Jack Palance as Slade. In my opinion, he’s the real reason to watch this version. He exudes the right combination of masculinity and menace. We are drawn to him and frightened by him at the same time, which is how it should be for the story to work. That was not the case with Ivor Novello or Laird Cregar.

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Something about this version seems brutally honest to me. Maybe it seems honest because of Palance’s performance. Other actors might chew the scenery, and in fact Palance does chew the scenery in some of his films. But not here. He brings us into the world of a demented man in a very sympathetic sort of way. We see the intense struggle he is having within himself.

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At one point when he convulses after a killing and is comforted by dance hall girl Lily (Constance Smith), he appears quite broken and pitiable. He’s a man who knows what he is doing but cannot stop himself. In fact, Palance is so effective in these scenes, we want to believe he could change if someone just reached into his soul and saved him.

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Palance also shows us the coldness of the character. There are suggestions he is a religious man, since he reads a bible left in his room. But in his mind, there is nothing holy about women who shamelessly flaunt themselves at men. They must be punished. We are told this stems from the fact that his mother had been a showgirl, and she chose her career over caring for him. He’s experiencing a Freudian complex and compares “sinful” women to his mother. I think this explanation makes a lot more sense for the killings than having Slade avenge a sister’s death or a brother’s demise.

Another way we see Slade’s coldness is when he stops being kind to the Harley family dog. Suddenly the animal is afraid of him– implying that off-screen Slade had abused it in a fit of rage. We are given a fascinating and honest performance of a man with demons.

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Re: the landlords. Frances Bavier (who retains her American accent) and Rhys Williams (with his Welsh accent) play the couple who let a room to Slade. Initially, she is a doting landlady trying to make her new boarder feel at home; while the husband is put-off about bringing a stranger into their home. But half an hour into the film, they’ve reversed themselves. She is suspicious that the guy is Jack the Ripper; but the husband explains several coincidences and gives the man in the attic the benefit of the doubt. It’s interesting how these characters change their perspective on someone they think they know, when they do not know much about Slade at all. Instead of flat representations, we have fully dimensional characters whose own fears and beliefs add to the complex layers of the story.

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Since it’s a modestly budgeted programmer, the producers do not drag things out. The story runs around 73 minutes, and the scenes are concise with forward momentum. Occasionally, the plot slows down for a brief musical interlude at the dance hall, or when we see Slade’s softer side playing the piano. But mostly, the action builds and the film doesn’t waste time.

The director wisely shoots the Fox back lot from different angles to make it seem like there are more streets and outdoor sets than there probably are. The period detail inside the main set, the couple’s house, is attended with care but not great opulence. Ironically, it’s a very cozy looking picture, despite its very unsettling theme.

The finale in this 1953 production differs from the 1944 version. Instead of having Slade chased backstage, he takes off in a horse-driven carriage. There's a nicely filmed action sequence where the police inspector (Byron Palmer) and his men pursue Slade down the city’s streets. It all reaches a dramatic conclusion at the canal. The ending doesn’t show Slade’s capture or even his death. It’s left open as to whether he has drowned in the canal; or if he is swimming underneath to some darker place within his soul.

MAN IN THE ATTIC was directed by Hugo Fregonese and may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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I finally got to MAN IN THE ATTIC. We can debate which version of THE LODGER is the best. It is certainly on par with the others. My basic problem is that I saw this one last and was starting to get bored with the basic story premise regardless of the changes made here and there. What was most interesting to me was the recycling of certain sets and, while I would have to re-check both films more carefully, it also looked like a few stock-shots of cops in the streets were lifted from the earlier film.

Had it been made two years later, I would have mistaken it for an extra long episode of 20th Century Fox's first TV show, which also redid LAURA and MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET with new casts and various alterations in the set-ups. It is very TV-ish in tone to me personally, but that could be due to the presence of Frances Bavier's Aunt Bee and one of the collies who may or may not have played Lassie on TV the following year. That is not a bad thing, mind you. The only flaw with the TV episodes I mentioned is that they were condensed due to time restraints and budgets, but were pretty good on their own terms.

I must admit that there is a certain charm to old movies that failed to get it all historically accurate on screen, since the “information highway” was much smaller back then with no screencap analysis web sites, Wikipedia or message boards. Anything made since the 1980s is subject to a lot in the “goofs” section of the imdb.com site, but the older films do tend to be spared more often. For example, the doors and room settings are rather 20th century-ish in design and I am also amused at how “old” Hollywood often presented the 19th century as if Johnson Wax coated it all clean and everybody back then was financially able to maintain the same living conditions as the financially well-to-do at the time of production. Of course, this all lead to a backlash when “New” Hollywood took over in the 1970s and all settings got grimy and dirty regardless of locale and time setting.

Constance Smith reminded me of both Jeanne Crain and Donna Reed in her make-up and hair, echoing what was probably more fashionable in 1953 than 1888 despite the older costumes she wears. I particularly enjoyed the two Paree song and dance routines that she performs on stage, reminding me of the many musical biopics of the period... which, like everything else, were focused more on production value than history-based realism. Like the way the film occasionally breaks out in song, like the “Little Shamrock Song” (I think Tita Philips' character is singing that one) which also felt out of place but was still rather charming.

Jack Palance is quite good in his role. Maybe too good for such a modest production that doesn't give him enough promotion.

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15 minutes ago, Jlewis said:

I finally got to MAN IN THE ATTIC. We can debate which version of THE LODGER is the best. It is certainly on par with the others. My basic problem is that I saw this one last and was starting to get bored with the basic story premise regardless of the changes made here and there. What was most interesting to me was the recycling of certain sets and, while I would have to re-check both films more carefully, it also looked like a few stock-shots of cops in the streets were lifted from the earlier film.

Had it been made two years later, I would have mistaken it for an extra long episode of 20th Century Fox's first TV show, which also redid LAURA and MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET with new casts and various alterations in the set-ups. It is very TV-ish in tone to me personally, but that could be due to the presence of Frances Bavier's Aunt Bee and one of the collies who may or may not have played Lassie on TV the following year. That is not a bad thing, mind you. The only flaw with the TV episodes I mentioned is that they were condensed due to time restraints and budgets, but were pretty good on their own terms.

I must admit that there is a certain charm to old movies that failed to get it all historically accurate on screen, since the “information highway” was much smaller back then with no screencap analysis web sites, Wikipedia or message boards. Anything made since the 1980s is subject to a lot in the “goofs” section of the imdb.com site, but the older films do tend to be spared more often. For example, the doors and room settings are rather 20th century-ish in design and I am also amused at how “old” Hollywood often presented the 19th century as if Johnson Wax coated it all clean and everybody back then was financially able to maintain the same living conditions as the financially well-to-do at the time of production. Of course, this all lead to a backlash when “New” Hollywood took over in the 1970s and all settings got grimy and dirty regardless of locale and time setting.

Constance Smith reminded me of both Jeanne Crain and Donna Reed in her make-up and hair, echoing what was probably more fashionable in 1953 than 1888 despite the older costumes she wears. I particularly enjoyed the two Paree song and dance routines that she performs on stage, reminding me of the many musical biopics of the period... which, like everything else, were focused more on production value than history-based realism. Like the way the film occasionally breaks out in song, like the “Little Shamrock Song” (I think Tita Philips' character is singing that one) which also felt out of place but was still rather charming.

Jack Palance is quite good in his role. Maybe too good for such a modest production that doesn't give him enough promotion.

I think it feels like a TV production because of the smaller sets. As I said in my review, this quality gives the story more intimacy (and more of a sense of claustrophobia for Slade). It also means the family home comes across more middle class. 

On another note, there is plenty of sexual tension between Slade and the landlady's niece, and I feel that is down to how potent Palance makes Slade. Perhaps Slade was sexually attracted to his showgirl mother, which the religious part of him found morally wrong. So when he becomes attracted to these other showgirls, it is a trigger and sets him off. Palance seems to bring more understanding to the character than the previous actors.

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Essential: PSYCHO (1960)

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Based on Ed Gein

Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece was in all likelihood inspired by the serial killings of Ed Gein. However, PSYCHO does not use Gein’s name and many fictionalized elements have been added.

With the end of the production code in sight, Hitchcock probably felt he could take certain liberties. He knew stories about grisly murderers captured the public’s attention.

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Although I had heard of the film during my youth, I didn’t see Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO for the first time until my Freshman year in college. It was while taking an introductory film course. An assignment required students to analyze the shots of the shower scene.

The purpose of the assignment was to learn how the director had devised a “formula” for horror through storyboarding and editing. As a result, I became very familiar with what is probably the most famous “action” sequence in motion picture history.

Shot by shot analysis

It starts with Marion Crane in the bathroom. She is showering, when her attacker enters. The knife slashes down for the very first time. Then, it is raised again.

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Marion’s body has water splashing down it, partially obscured by the intruder’s shadowy arm. Marion realizes she is being attacked; instinctively, she begins to fend off the intruder. There’s a close-up of the knife striking her three more times.

As the knife slices towards her, Marion turns away. She is recoiling and confused. The knife comes into clear focus. Water bounces off the metal blade. We see Marion’s body. There is no blood, but it is implied that she is receiving the fatal wound.

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Marion looks entranced, as if she is dreaming. But she knows she’s really dying. There’s a reverse angle of the door, and the knife slashing. Then, we see Marion’s face. She is in agony. Blood drips down her legs, and Marion turns herself away. There’s a slightly wider shot of Marion with the knife reappearing. Causing a greater flow of blood. Then a flash of the bare tile wall. Marion’s bloody hand is seen. She is still turned away.

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We then get a shot of the intruder exiting.

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It looks like a woman wearing a long dress. Marion is still pressed against the white tile. She manages to turn herself back around. She begins to slide down slowly with outstretched arm, as she loses her grip on life.

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Her body is still sliding down the shower wall. She’s alive and conscious but her eyes are now glazed. She looks forward and her arm remains outstretched. Her hand grasps the curtain. Marion holds on to the curtain for dear life. But she begins to pull the curtain down with her. The curtain is unable to bear her weight and it rips away from the supporting bar. The hooks are popping, one at a time.

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Then Marion’s arm falls, followed by her head and torso.

*****

I soon memorized the shower sequence forward and backward. When you go that deep with it, you start to think Marion Crane is real, that she is your own personal cadaver! Actually it feels like you are being shown how to violate a woman, and I think that is a bit of what Hitchcock and screenwriter Joseph Stefano intended.

The poetic, less scientific part of your brain sees her as a doomed creature. You think to yourself, if only she hadn’t stolen the money or left Phoenix.
Friday afternoon in Phoenix

It was Friday afternoon in Phoenix. Marion Crane was meeting her lover Sam Loomis at a hotel. Sam had a lot of debt, and until he was more financially secure, he wouldn’t be able to marry Marion.

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After their romantic rendezvous, Marion went back to the real estate office where she worked. Her boss was a man named George Lowery. Mr. Lowery was meeting with an oil tycoon. The tycoon told Marion he was purchasing a house for his daughter and paying for it with cash. Mr. Lowery became concerned about leaving $40,000 in the office over the weekend, so he asked Marion to take it to the bank. Then Marion was free to go home afterward.

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Instead of going to the bank, Marion just went straight home. She decided to keep the money for herself. She stuffed it into her purse and packed a suitcase. Then she got on the highway and drove out of Phoenix. She drove and drove until she was so tired, she was forced to pull over. Marion soon fell asleep on a lonely stretch of road.

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She was awakened the next morning by a highway patrolman. The officer seemed suspicious of her behavior, but then let her go.

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Marion feared he might remember her, so she stopped at a used car lot to trade in her vehicle for a different one. Later, as she continued to drive along the California highway, she found herself caught in a fierce storm. Marion then missed the turnoff to Sam’s place and ended up stopping at a quaint little motel. The charming proprietor welcomed her and offered to fix her dinner.

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Interesting perspective on the first half of the movie which... let's face it... is better than the second despite the wonderful reveal all ending.

Don't get me wrong. I absolutely LOVE this movie. I also love THE GRADUATE.

I tend to view both movies much the same with their two-part structure that captivates until the Big Midpoint Climax (a.k.a. shower scene here and Elaine Robinson discovering that mommy and Benji are "having an affair") and then it all gets kinda... well, frantic and delirious. Then we get that great ending of endings with a music score to match: Norman in the loony bin with his pet fly and Benji and Elaine in the back of the bus with her still in her wedding gown. You never get bored by any of it... that is what makes both films classics that keep you wide eyed and bushy tailed throughout. Yet you do wonder about sister Lila being being far more motivated in her search for Marion over lover Sam, who hardly blinks when he learns the truth but is concerned about "why he dressed like that", while Benji is being so persistent about marrying Elaine after she agrees to become silly putty to her parents wanting her to marry blonde-haired dumb-dumb Carl... that is, until she finally awakens from her trance in the great white church... "Ben!!!!!!!!"

I absolutely adore Janet Leigh but also feel that she may be too mature, maternal and sophisticated for this kind of role. I don't quite believe that she would steal money and run to... another state. As faulty as the 1998 remake is, at least we get a shot of her passport in her luggage to suggest that, yes, she is thinking more rationally about American laws regarding that sort of thing. Then again, that isn't the real story. It is, as The Good Doctor states at the end, all about "crimes of passion, not profit". Marion is passionate for Sam and not thinking straight. Norman is passionate for Marion and not thinking straight.

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26 minutes ago, Jlewis said:

Interesting perspective on the first half of the movie which... let's face it... is better than the second despite the wonderful reveal all ending.

Don't get me wrong. I absolutely LOVE this movie. I also love THE GRADUATE.

I tend to view both movies much the same with their two-part structure that captivates until the Big Midpoint Climax (a.k.a. shower scene here and Elaine Robinson discovering that mommy and Benji are "having an affair") and then it all gets kinda... well, frantic and delirious. Then we get that great ending of endings with a music score to match: Norman in the loony bin with his pet fly and Benji and Elaine in the back of the bus with her still in her wedding gown. You never get bored by any of it... that is what makes both films classics that keep you wide eyed and bushy tailed throughout. Yet you do wonder about sister Lila being being far more motivated in her search for Marion over lover Sam, who hardly blinks when he learns the truth but is concerned about "why he dressed like that", while Benji is being so persistent about marrying Elaine after she agrees to become silly putty to her parents wanting her to marry blonde-haired dumb-dumb Carl... that is, until she finally awakens from her trance in the great white church... "Ben!!!!!!!!"

As I hint in my own comments later, I absolutely adore Janet Leigh but also feel that she may be too mature, maternal and sophisticated for this kind of role. I don't quite believe that she would steal money and run to... another state. As faulty as the 1998 remake is, at least we get a shot of her passport in her luggage to suggest that, yes, she is thinking more rationally about American laws regarding that sort of thing. Then again, that isn't the real story. It is, as The Good Doctor states at the end, all about "crimes of passion, not profit". Marion is passionate for Sam and not thinking straight. Norman is passionate for Marion and not thinking straight.

If I had done a "traditional" review of this film, I probably would have commented on how PSYCHO is an evenly paced series of "thrills." Although the investigation portion of the story is of considerable interest, I agree that the first section is best and I think that's really down to Janet Leigh. When her character dies, the soul of the movie is just gone. And the only thing that keeps us going is the sister's determination to solve the mystery of Marion's disappearance.

In a way I think if this film had a proper remake (Van Sant was doing more of a re-creation than a remake), things would need to be slightly restructured. You could keep Marion "alive" longer-- on screen longer-- if the film started at the end with Norman in the looney bin, then flashing back to how he had met Marion. I would then do a flashback within a flashback, where Norman's retelling becomes part of Marion's retelling when she meets him at the Bates Motel and explains her circumstances...how  she had left Phoenix and traveled this way. A double flashback would make Norman and Marion more kindred and more the same side of the coin...so that when she dies, we have Norman really struggling to cope with her demise (for various reasons). 

In the 1960 version Norman and "Mother" barely know anything about Marion. I feel it would be better if Norman bonded more with Marion and she confessed to him about Sam, her boss and the money. Confessing her sins could be what triggers "Mother" to re-emerge in Norman's psyche because Mother thinks all women are corrupt and Marion's candor about what happened back in Phoenix confirms Mother's view of women.

I would then only show the beginning of the shower scene. But interrupt it halfway through. And then replay the beginning of the shower scene later, all the way through to its climax, when Lila and Sam and the shrink learn all of what happened from "Mother." Again, this would keep Marion on screen pretty much to the end of the movie and the audience would be forced to wait to see how she really died.

I think the mistake Hitchcock and Stefano make is that they play their best cards in the beginning and then have nothing left to put on the table in the middle section, until they pull an ace out of their sleeve for the ending.

If it was less linear and we had more mystery about how she died instead of who killed her, then I think it would be an even stronger narrative.

I really don't feel Lila is strong enough in her own right to sustain the middle portion of this film. I think she has a much stronger purpose in the sequel which you talk about it in your comments (and I will post your comments later today).

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When I was looking at posters for this film, I found one with Spanish and French on it (so I am not sure which country this poster originally appeared in). But I kind of like this title better.

And I think if I remade this story I would call it PSYCHOSIS instead of PSYCHO. The main reason I would do this is because I think Marion has a bit of psychosis in her and then she and Norman are more the co-lead characters.

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Essential: PSYCHO (1960)

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Jlewis wrote:

This essential needs no introduction since it has been discussed almost as much as CITIZEN KANE by the literary elite, despite most not considering it the “greatest,” even for director Alfred Hitchcock. It is one of those key mass-appeal hits that you pretty much remember where you were when you first watched it. I was roughly 12 and stayed up until midnight to catch it on TV, since that was the only time it was permitted on the air-waves. This was still before home video and also before PSYCHO II.

Also…roughly the same time…I saw JAWS on TV and, yes, I do need to mention both titles in comparison here because they were two that I greatly avoided as a child, being ominously tied by a shocking music score played during grisly murder scenes: PSYCHO had Bernard Herrmann’s screeching violins and JAWS had John Williams’ slowly accelerating train-like “approaching danger” theme. (Trivia note: Williams was initially considered to score PSYCHO II but Jerry Goldsmith took over on that one.) My parents saw the former in theaters the summer before they became seniors in high school while the latter was seen by my fellow elementary school students fifteen summers later but, as much as I loved sharks, I was very much afraid of them.

When I finally got to it, JAWS wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be, although I was genuinely riveted by all of the suspense leading up to the rather silly scene when the mechanical “Bruce” chomped at Robert Shaw. As for PSYCHO, I considered parts in the second half a trifle dull (too much Vera Miles and John Gavin) and so much of the overall “feel” being rather dated, but the shower killing still forced me to close my eyes at first viewing. Later I realized that it was all clever editing and we don’t even see the knife touch any skin. Supposedly chocolate sauce was used for “blood.” Yet there is no question which film is better, so I have returned to it many more times than JAWS.

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As I suggest, PSYCHO does have various flaws but they do not make it any less entertaining and re-watchable. For example, as much as I adore Janet Leigh and everything she appears in, even I will admit that a younger actress with more adolescent anxiety would have been better suited to this role as Marion Crane since she tends to be too practical and maternal in her roles for one to believe she would abruptly steal money and escape…only to another state! Then again, I always felt the “hot money” part was just a gimmick to get her “on the run” and make Sheriff Chambers (played by the great radio voice John McIntire of Suspense fame) show at least some interest in her disappearance when boyfriend Sam (boring but picture-perfect John Gavin) and sister Lila (feisty Vera Miles) seek his help.

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No question that Lila cared passionately for her sister in an overly protective way; Vera Miles repeated her role in PSYCHO II and was quite forceful in making sure justice is maintained against Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates in that one.

One reason Hitch was so successful as a director and producer is that he would recycle what worked well in one film and improve upon the idea in a future one. Examples: his following up on the Statue of Liberty’s climax in SABOTEUR with the even more exciting Mount Rushmore in NORTH BY NORTHWEST, while one can easily see the menacing look of Norman Bates’ stuffed birds, including crows, in this feature as a teaser of THE BIRDS to come.

With VERTIGO, he played with a two part structure, spoiling the plot midway through but allowing us to follow Jimmy Stewart’s Scotty unravel it himself. Part one involves Madeleine, who dies tragically and puts Jimmy in the mental ward temporarily (listening to Beethoven), while part two involves Judy (also played by Kim Novak) whom Scotty eventually realizes is the same person…and she dies tragically as well. I think one reason this film was one of Hitch’s less successful efforts (initially, although now it is a critical darling) was due to the mystery angle being spoiled too early.

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Therefore, PSYCHO repeats the 2 Part structure but makes sure that we the viewers merely think we are spoiled by almost-but-not-quite seeing “mother” doing it, leaving plenty of mystery regarding “mother” (always carefully obscured as in that wonderful overhead tracking shot of Norman taking her down the stairs to the fruit cellar even though she is…obvious spoiler…not struggling at all!) and provides us with one of those great gotcha endings that benefits, once again, by Bernard Herrmann’s explosive orchestra music over “The End.” There is little question that moviegoers in that summer of 1960, the last of eight tranquil summers of the Eisenhower Era, left the theater feeling they saw something so exciting and entertaining that, like your favorite amusement park ride, you just had to go back and experience it all over again (at 69 cents for matinee showings).

***

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Part 1 is all about Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane. She has worked at the real estate firm for ten years, living with her sister. John Gavin’s Sam is the man she wants and, despite being divorced, he refuses to marry her on account of money issues. At this time, it was still customary for men to be providers and this potential provider is still paying off alimony checks to his ex-wife which Marion says she is willing to lick the envelopes and stamps for. When the greasy Tom Cassidy (Frank Albertson) purchases an expensive house for his daughter…who gets to be married, something that Marion longs for…he leaves her with a wad of cash that she is instructed to put in the bank deposit.

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As hinted already, I do have a few issues with her abrupt decision to become a thief who violates a decade of her boss’ confidence just to “provide for” Sam, but…this is a movie about passionate sexual urges and Marion, like Norman, has these urges that must need to be satisfied! (Key line later applying more to Norman but relating to Marion as well: “These were crimes of passion, not profit.”) Maybe, she is thinking she could force Sam to marry her more quickly this way and then return the money?

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At the close of Part 1, she meets Norman (Anthony Perkins) who resembles her in many ways, both feeling they have stepped into a trap they can’t get out of…and, yet, Marion is suddenly optimistic that she can return back to Arizona and settle her trap after her meaningful talk with the sweet Norman.

Then we get the shower scene. Now that I finally saw THE LODGER (1927), I realize that Janet Leigh was not the first Hitch lady to smile as she lathers up bathroom soap on her arms. The stuff of Irish Spring commercials.

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Part 2 is focused on Norman after he meticulously cleans up after Mother. (Marion cleaned herself already just before her death but Norman has to clean up the chocolate sauce.)

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We later learn from the sheriff that Mother has been technically “dead” for ten years, the same amount of time a frustrated Marion has worked for the real estate office. (Some acute observers have noted that Marion’s mother is also mentioned as deceased and, like Norman, she feels “judged” years later for everything she does…cue Sam’s joke about turning her picture at Lila and Marion’s home to the wall.) Like Marion (prior to meeting Sam), Norman hasn’t experienced much of a sex life and has no counterpart to Sam in female form.

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Although there is one more official death, that of investigator Arbogast (Martin Balsam), Norman kinda-sorta dies at the end of the film. Not physically, but mentally as Mother takes full control of his mind. Unraveling all of the mysteries in the Scotty role are Sam and sister Lila, with our customary shrink (Simon Oakland, a familiar guest in a few TWILIGHT ZONE shows) giving a nice windy explanation in the final reel about everything that is not quite “normal” about Norman.

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Speaking about Dr. Richmond’s diagnosis, this film is somewhat, if not totally, progressive for its time in that it makes a distinction between Norman’s cross dressing (being due to Mother and Mother = Murder in this story) and those who cross-dress because that is the gender they identify as or, as the good chain-smoking doctor coughs out, for “sexual satisfaction.” In other words, there is nothing specifically “wrong” with cross-dressing in itself except, perhaps, individuals like Sam not being comfortable with it.

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This film is a fascinating time capsule on sexual mores of the times, since it arrived the same year as The Pill and before the hippy revolution and all that came after. I think one reason why the 1998 update was unsuccessful is because it was much harder to believe such characters would be so suppressed in the ’90s (since the setting in the remake was updated to present time). Plus Vince Vaughan is too confident in his heterosexuality to play his Norman all that effectively as Anthony Perkins did back in the day when he was constantly questioning his own sexuality, even if his character is supposedly heterosexual but still a virgin due to Mother. 

Marion feels shameful about using hotel rooms with Sam and, yes, there was still a taboo at that time for women especially having sex before marriage. When the wife of the sheriff (Lurene Tuttle, another great radio “voice” appearing on screen) discusses the reported story of Mrs. Bates’ death by suicide (not really) ten years ago, she lowers her voice to say that Mrs. Bates and her lover “were in bed” as if that was so much more shocking than the death itself.

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Some viewers psychoanalyzing this film have considered Marion’s sister as either a lesbian or merely asexual, since we don’t get any sense that she has ever been interested in men like Marion is interested in Sam and it is suggested that she is a bit older than Marion. This also reflected an innocent bygone time when families tended to stick together much more frequently, but sometimes in a negative way as to stiffen an individual’s need for freedom.

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One scene that humors me involves Marion’s co-worker Caroline (Pat Hitchcock, the director’s daughter) commenting on both her husband checking on her and her mother checking up on her husband so that the whole family is fully “supervised.”

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For a film all about peep holes and sexual secrets, the famous animator and graphic designer Saul Bass provides us with one of his greatest and simplest opening title sequences to prep us. Note how the simple lines running from one end of the screen to the other morph into the credits, then break up shockingly in tune to Herrmann’s shocking music score to suggest we are in for 109 minutes of shocks galore. They also resemble the hotel blinds that we “peep” through to see Marion and Sam in states of undress barely a minute after the title sequence.

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Lots of interesting tidbits are presented twice. We have two shocking stab scenes. Marion changes two cars, the ’57 Ford ending up in the swamp with her corpse. Also she has two bras, the one in the beginning is white and the one after she steals the money is black. Two visits by investigator Arbogast and Norman’s mother makes sure there is not a third visit. Two references to humans not wanting to harm insects; first, in a scene with a customer reading a bottle of insecticide at Sam’s hardware store and later Mother saying she would not hurt a fly.

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There are a lot of cinematic visual delights peppered throughout, but I need to point out a few in the first half in particular. Although I may be a trifle skeptical of what Marion does since it does not fit Janet Leigh’s rather distinctive personality, it is all choreographed brilliantly. I especially love how she conjures up “voices” as she drives, imagining the various outcomes of her deed and constantly questioning herself “why am I doing this?”

Janet is a brilliant actress here whom all of us who have never once stole a wad of bubble gum from a pharmacy can easily relate to. I also love how she is so cautious at the used car dealer, but also forgetting her case when she is hastily trying to pull out. Also a brilliant touch is to show the cop checking on her wearing the darkest sunglasses imaginable.

While one can nitpick certain details that seem dated by today’s standards, this is representative of a director who had been working in the movie business for almost four decades and was at his creative zenith. Like Walt Disney and Cecil B. DeMille, he knew exactly what the public wanted. Everything about this film knits together as a perfect fabric and continues to fascinate no matter how many times you view it.

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Essential: PSYCHO (1998)

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Jlewis wrote:

While it is not an exact scene-for-scene duplicate of the original, it is close enough. Director Gus Van Sant admitted in an online video interview that he knew well ahead of time that his great experiment would hardly win the critics’ approval. A few famous fans can be found who actually favor this over the Hitchcock version, including Quentin Tarantino, but this is otherwise more famous for the number of “worst of 1998” polls it ended up on, in addition to the endless hostile reviews on the IMDb.com site. It did manage a small profit, so neither Universal nor the director suffered all that badly in the end.

So…how bad is it?

Well…no movie utilizing essentially the same script as a well-regarded masterpiece can be all that bad. Needless to say, I did not think it was terribly good either.

I think my biggest issue, apart from the cast, was the director’s decision to update the setting from December 1959-January 1960, both the filming period and setting of the original, to July-August 1998, a filming period that is way too obvious on screen despite the original introductory date of “Friday, December 11” retained in the opening scenes. Everybody is wearing their summertime best (Anne Heche with an umbrella at the car dealership) and there’s no holiday décor anywhere that I noticed (but I can be corrected here).

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Only a few modifications were made, resulting in a curious hybrid that looks quite “retro.” A Volvo gets its trunk open by key instead of the more advanced method of the time, so that the original script is still followed closely. William H. Macy as Arbogast wears practically the same clothes as Martin Balsam, long out of fashion for decades. Trying to remember how many phone booths were still operating in 1998, but I sense that they are present here simply because the 1959 script demands them. No computers prominent. On the plus side, there was a conscious effort to note inflation: $400,000 is stolen instead of $40,000.

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The original film is a time capsule for me of the way things were back in the fifties. Overall, this updating felt like a nineties setting but with performers thinking they are living in the fifties.

A couple of things I liked…

Although Anne Heche was nominated for a Raspberry, I did not find her all that terrible as the doomed Marion. Apparently she only belatedly saw the original with Janet Leigh during production time and pretty much played it her own way…which did not please the critics but still made her rather interesting to lil’ ol’ me.

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At least her performance was a bit different than the other actors and actresses who all tried too hard to match the originals. For example, I felt that Vince Vaughn was desperately mimicking Anthony Perkins in a fashion reminding me of Harpo mimicking Groucho in the famous mirror scene in DUCK SOUP.

When Marion debates on running off with the money in her room, we see birds settle on branches outside. (Birds subliminally get her on to her quest with destiny.) This is a fun fore-shadowing of both the stuffed birds and live ones in an aviary that her sister Lila would see in the Bates fruit cellar.

Oh…the fruit cellar where Mrs. Bates resides in the end. It is an aviary with live birds in a mini-zoo, a rather ambitious taxidermy “lab” and other interesting “stuff.” Sadly the director’s need to stick to the original script may not have allowed him to further pursue this very unique and imaginative take on the Bates home and Norman in particular.

The fact that Marion remembers to include her passport in her suitcase is important, making her stealing act more realistic for me than in the original. At least she is plotting to leave the country with Sam at some point. Now that I think about it, that may also have been Marion’s intention in the original as well even if it wasn’t spelled out like it is here.

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There was some outrage over Norman, um, pleasuring himself when peeping on Marion which I wasn’t at all disturbed by. After all, it adds a certain realism that Hitchcock couldn’t depict back in the Production Code era. (No, we do not see anything shocking, being that it is all merely hinted off-camera.) It also adds commentary to the Internet Age when an increasing number of people felt more comfort sexually watching “online” rather than connecting with other human beings. That reminds me…why didn’t this Norman add some updated video security system to his hotel so he does not need a peep hole?

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The not so good…

OK. To be fair, Vince Vaughn had to jump to this opportunity to play against the type of roles he was famous for, like WEDDING CRASHERS in which he’s the standard happy-go-lucky jock. This was as close to method acting as he could get at this point in his career. Unfortunately his delivery of the lines spoken by Perkins in the original are way too fast and monotone for my tastes. It is as if he is trying to memorize all of the material and forgot to add much feeling to his performance. “We have twelve cabins, twelve vacancies. Hee hee.”

Not that he is totally bad throughout. There are a few good moments that linger favorably on my mind, namely the shots of him looking like a lost little boy in the large all-gray room in the finale.

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Bizarre artsy decision: When Arbogast is killed, we get two “what in the world?” shots of an almost naked lady wearing a mask and a cow in the middle of the road. Makes me ponder if these are the two most pleasurable mental images this man enjoyed in that critical moment he dies…

Overall, it was a little…dull. Was this because I had seen the original too many times and was spoiled? Perhaps. Maybe I would think differently if this was the only PSYCHO I had seen. Yet little of the dialogue spoken sounded spontaneous and emotional; so many of the performers behaved like they had been rehearsing from the script way too much. Check out the “Making Of” video online: you see each actor and actress comment on the original performer in every interview, suggesting that they are thinking of the past performers more than the characters they are playing.

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Apart from the two leads and Macy, I liked all of the familiar faces selected for all of the supporting roles: the always feisty Julianne Moore as Lila, Viggo Mortensen as Sam (with an added Texas accent and a calypso-taste in shirts, but also exposing a bit more nudity on screen than John Gavin did), a very worried and tired looking Robert Forster as Dr. Simon Richmond, overdressed and stylish Rita Wilson as Caroline (but there’s nice video footage online of Pat Hitchcock visiting the set to socialize with Rita as she plays her role), and aging Chad Everett as Tom Cassidy.

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Granted, they all look as lost here as John Wayne and Susan Hayward did in THE CONQUEROR but just their faces are pleasing enough for me. There may be cult appeal for this film in the future due to this very fact.

In the final analysis…

It is an experiment first and entertainment second. I was thinking a lot about Andy Warhol. Van Sant decided to make a mostly scene-for-scene remake of a classic for much the same reason why Warhol decided to make a 485 minute “epic” of the Empire State Building. Simply because it hadn’t been done before and he wanted to oh-so-desperately. Nothing wrong with that. Perhaps, as more years progress and newer viewers become less knowledgeable of the harsh criticism this received upon release, it may be viewed as a cult-worthy experiment.

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TopBilled wrote:

I love your detailed analysis, Jlewis. When I was looking for photos to go with your review, it felt like 1998 again. I was remembering when I first saw this version. I don’t consider it a remake as much as a re-creation. I think it works best for those who have seen the original a million times and need another way to view it. An analogy would be if you’re Catholic (which Hitchcock was) and you’ve gone to mass a million times, but you just need a different priest in a different parish to go over the scripture with you.

Yes, this version feels like a religious experience to me. A form of communion with a classic. It’s like coming home.

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I think they were all slightly bogged down having to “imitate” the original and really couldn’t venture off the page too much. But because Anne Heche was not trying to be Janet Leigh Junior, she achieves a bit more originality. Incidentally, Heche had worked with Vince Vaughn in a low budget drama called RETURN TO PARADISE the same year.

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Gus Van Sant made it because he could. I wish someone would redo CITIZEN KANE, CASABLANCA and GONE WITH THE WIND, to show us that anyone can re-present a classic. It helps reframe the original and makes the original less untouchable. Nothing in movies should be so sacred that we cannot re-interpret it or at least make a facsimile of it. For our veneration. I think that was Van Sant’s unholy thesis…that we can co-opt something, sort of like Mother stealing Norman’s identity out from under him. (Jesus becoming Mary?) I would say that in itself is more shocking and disturbing than any gruesome shower scene.

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Van Sant wasn’t trying to make a commercial hit. Instead he was examining the realm of ownership and re-manipulation of source material. That is what’s so shocking about what he has done. I deem him a brilliant and ballsy filmmaker.

As for the story’s most violent moment, Van Sant does show Marion’s flesh being pierced, something Hitchcock could not do in 1960.

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And because he shoots it in color, the blood is of course red (not chocolate syrup) and the crucifixion is quite vivid.

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Despite this added realism, I find the motel bathroom stuff less interesting than the cellar scene that occurs up at the house. Maybe because Mother’s decayed corpse grabs me as a bit more horrifying.

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Norman Bates is now more sexual which I think is good for this particular story. He is able to experience new things in 1998. It helps that Vince Vaughn has an evil looking haircut. Unlike Anthony Perkins who comes across as a lost childlike man, Vaughn is the opposite. He’s a sexy man-child that gets off perversion. The difference is key.

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It was smart how Universal execs allowed Van Sant to make this version. The studio didn’t have to pay anyone for the rites since it already owned the story. This production basically had to break even. And if that is all it did, break even without making even one dollar profit, it still gave employment to all these people in front of and behind the camera. Or should I say in front of and behind the altar/alter.

It doesn’t matter if critics showered Van Sant with praise. 

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In the name of the mother, the son and the holy corpse. Amen.

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I have to bring up another remake to compare and contrast here: Peter Jackson's KING KONG. Yes, I know... how dare me! While it is true that it took more liberties with the original source than this film did, it too was built along similar intentions and with Universal again backing it.

KING KONG 2005 was lucky in that there was already a "sacrificial lamb" previous: KING KONG 1976 also followed the same story as the 1933 original but substituted the Twin Towers for the Empire State. It was booed by the critics although it did very well at the box office at the time. Therefore, Jackson knew he could not do any worse. Plus King Kong the character had been presented by Toho and other companies in far more modest "knock offs" as well.

In contrast, PSYCHO 1960 was followed by the eighties sequels with Anthony Perkins and a "prequel" of sorts for television. There was no out-and-out remake like Van Sant's so he was the "sacrificial lamb" taking the chance with his tampering of a classic.

Then again, Universal and other backers knew they were not getting anybody sporting a gorilla suit battling a rubber snake like the '76 version with Jackson on board. The whole fantasy element was a huge blessing since it allowed the special effects team to utilize all of the cgi technology advanced in LORD OF THE RINGS and other Jackson hits. Needless to say, it is the cgi special effects that I feel are that particular film's biggest weaknesses. I love Kong's overall look in that movie, but there are way too many dinosaurs, arthropods and other jungle beasties, with Jackson being unable to know when to quit.

Because Jackson felt his basic story was a bit backward for the 21st century, with so many unknown islands no longer being "unknown" and a main character, played by Jack Black here and by Robert Armstrong in the original, being a relic of the 19th era of colonial exploration, he made the novel decision to set his film in 1932-33 just like the original. The art department went all out recreating New York City and the Empire State building to match the way it looked back then and received plenty of praise on that account.

There is a good "making of" PSYCHO 1998 documentary somewhere in YouTube that suggests, if not specifically spells out, that the costume department was totally confused about the direction Van Sant was going with his version. William H. Macy's wardrobe was decades out of fashion because not everybody was aware that this version would be set in 1998 instead of 1960.  Again, my biggest hangup here is that PSYCHO 1960 is a time capsule of the way-we-were-back-then and so much has changed since that time and not just in fashions. Also psychology, sexual attitudes, crimes of "passion" and so forth. We even have the psychiatrist played by Robert Forster mostly repeating the original lines even though a 90s psychiatrist would likely use different terminologies and analysis.

Yes, I do feel it is possible to repeat the same story in a present time period, but there still needs to be some adjustments made. My sense is that Van Sant could not make up his mind. He went half-way with an overall "retro" effect (reminding me of the bloated DICK TRACY starring Madonna) that felt... well, strange to me.

My guess is that the dialogue in Kong 2005 is roughly 1/4 the same as Kong 1933 with certain lines clearly intended for laughs and to please fans of the original with its repetition, particularly coming from actor Black hamming it up. PSYCHO 1998 is probably between 3/4 and 7/10 the same dialogue-wise as PSYCHO 1960. In addition, a lot more scenes are purposely trying to match the original with occasional disastrous results. For example, we get a repeat of Norman looming over Arbogast to look at the hotel log book and, due to Vince Vaughn's stockier frame (no fault of the actor), the effect is totally baffling and pointless while the slimmer, longer-necked Anthony Perkins doing it from that exact same camera angle is a most intriguing cinematic character personality trait. In short, Jackson knew exactly what he could copycat from the original and what he couldn't and, therefore, deviate in his own way. I think Van Sant was suffering the Felix Unger complex of not seeing the forest for the trees and being too obsessed with all of the "little scenes" matching just right.

Again, we all know that this Psycho story is not EXACTLY like the original, but there is plenty that is the same, enough for there to be a side-by-side presentation run simultaneously.

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Coming Up in November:

Corporate Politics

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November 7th: EXECUTIVE SUITE (1954)

November 14th: WOMAN'S WORLD (1954)

November 21st: PATTERNS (1956)

November 28th: THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT (1956)

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Essential: EXECUTIVE SUITE (1954)

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Jlewis wrote:

During the Great Depression, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer boasted “more stars than there are in heaven.” Their motto was still semi-true by August of 1953, when EXECUTIVE SUITE started filming, but only a few like Louis Calhern and June Allyson getting billing on this marquee were under any special contract with the studio by this time.

Hollywood actors were all hopscotching from company to company as freer agents ever since the Olivia DeHavilland “clause” was finalized a decade earlier. For example, Allyson was gradually ending her association by this stage; she had previously made THE GLENN MILLER STORY for Universal-International and would soon move over to Fox for an upcoming review film of ours.

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The story is fairly simple in this one, but with plenty of interesting characters. Avery Bullard he president of a prominent furniture company called Tredway dies suddenly of a heart attack. Intriguingly we do not see his face but are presented his daily routines on his final day from his point of view, an interesting cinematic trick of the innovative director Robert Wise and cameraman George Folsey.

Apparently everybody he comes into contact with in our opening scenes are very cordial (and all talking to you the viewer who is experiencing all of this in his position), suggesting that he is well liked by all. Yet, right away, we learn that others are eager to take advantage of his misfortune: his death is observed from a neighboring building by the greedy investment banker George Caswell (Louis Calhern, a veteran star since the silent era who was at his peak prime at middle age here despite only being around less than three more years) who decides to cash in on on this stroke of bad luck.

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Right away, the news of his death (halted temporarily due to his missing wallet and identification) brings out both the best and worst of the company’s top board members and employees. Frederic March’s “scheming” Loren Shaw decides to micromanage the company for quick profits, overstepping the dedicated “good” elderly friend of the late Bullard, Fred Alderson (Walter Pidgeon) and working in cahoots with Caswell. Paul Douglas plays the very “gray” Josiah Dudley, vice president of sales who has an ongoing affair with secretary Eva (Shelley Winters in an interesting, if ultimately unimportant, role), among many other 1950s “sins.”

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William Holden is the “good guy” Don Walling, who has tried desperately to improve the quality of the product under Bullard’s management and, of course, he is the handsome face here whom we viewers all root for to win out in the end. Barbara Stanwyck (good friend of Holden off screen, this being another of their co-star screen films) plays the daughter of the company’s founder and heir who occasionally has the last word.

Her story is complicated due to a doomed relationship with Bullard. Rounding out the key figures on display, Jesse Grimm (Dean Jagger) simply wants to retire, while Nina Foch (most famous for her starring role in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS but nominated for an Oscar here) is the highly sympathetic secretary of the late Bullard who is caught in much of the action here.

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As mentioned, Holden’s Don Walling is the major “good guy” whom we root for, not that any of the “bad” ones are really that bad since Holden kinda-sorta wins them over in the end too. He is shown married to June Allyson’s Mary, as supportive of her hubbie as she is in THE GLENN MILLER STORY. The “good” characters have settled home-lives, like Pigeon’s Alderson (his wife played by Virginia Brissac). Note too, that he fits the Eisenhower Era’s “ideal” with a beautiful, if Spartan, suburban home and a cute pre-teen (Tim Considine) who loves baseball.

Contrast them to the “are they still bachelors at their age?” characters like Shaw and Caswell…and the cheating-on-his-wife “weakling” (per Walling’s words) Dudley. Walling is also the one we see actually socializing with the workers under him, trying to maintain confidence that they will still have jobs despite the drastic maneuvers taking place. This does not mean that you have to have a settled family life in order to relate to The Common Folk, but it is the popular message of mainstream Hollywood in 1953-54 trying get over all of the HUAC blacklisting of the past six years and sprucing up its image in much the same fashion it did twenty years earlier when the Production Code went into effect.

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Apart from it being as much of a fascinating time-capsule of that decade as PSYCHO, I don’t really have a lot more to say about this film apart from it being very well made with good acting all around, plus it being ahead of its time in presenting corporate greed. Like other early Robert Wise films, it is filmed economically despite the big names in the cast, in black and white with modest production values (but with the usual Cedric Gibbons touch in art direction).

A few interiors of the headquarter offices have an ominous Gothic look to them, suggesting they were recycled from one of Metro’s “medieval” period pieces. Yet, it holds a record in that studio’s history (per Wikipedia) for 145 planned speaking parts initially (but fewer resulting on screen). The dialogue more than the story, much of it written by the all-familiar Ernest Lehman and adapted from Cameron Hawley’s novel, is the primary selling point. Plus we have so many familiar faces on screen that it is easy to keep track of everybody.

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A few good speeches give this film its Oscar worthy prestige, being that it was nominated in several categories but not winning anything in the end. Examples include Stanwyck’s Julia Tredway reminiscing her failure to make a name for herself despite being heir to the company her father built. “What have I ever gotten out of them but loneliness and sudden death?” She is speaking of both her father and ex-romantic partner since, as we all know, a woman without a man is an unhappy woman in the 1950s according to Hollywood. (We know nothing of Foch’s Erica Martin so.. she may be a contented lesbian for all we know!)

Then there’s the climactic (or is it really?) board meeting with Holden versus March, allowing the “good guy” to promote the growth of a company through better product rather than a quick buck a.k.a. “grabbing for the quick thing.” Also note the church-like stain glass behind Holden when he gives his speech, almost like a preacher.

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***

TopBilled wrote:

I agree the film is a time capsule of 1950s prosperity. If we want to call it that. But I think it could have just as easily been made in the late 40s or early 60s since it reflects postwar concerns before the countercultural revolution. A revolution which would have involved the children of our main characters, played by William Holden and June Allyson. It’s interesting to watch the film and try and guess what happened to these people ten and twenty years later.

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Allyson was right at home with these domesticated parts which is not a slight but rather a compliment. My favorite scene in the movie is when she’s playing catch, since she gets to show off some of her tomboy qualities. But yet we do know that she is in every sense a consummate wife and “business” partner in the marriage. She anchors her husband and her support gives him a competitive edge over the other men at work.

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Much has been made of the film’s sterling cast. I would argue that this is maybe a case where a motion picture is “over”cast. Some of the roles could have been played by unknowns trying to prove themselves at the studio. They didn’t all have to be established stars or well-known character actors. Speaking of the character roles, I am sure that if Frank Morgan was still around he would have played the part taken by Louis Calhern. And if L.B. Mayer had still been calling the shots and Lewis Stone was still alive, Stone would have had Dean Jagger’s part. In some respects, it’s a tailor-made vehicle for studio contractees who might otherwise have been idle or between projects at the Lion.

I think Barbara Stanwyck was cast, not because she was pals with lead star Holden, but because Wise and producer John Houseman remembered her searing portrayal of BABY FACE. Back in 1933 she was a gutsy young social climber stepping on people to move up the rungs of the corporate ladder. At this point, two decades later, she has fully arrived. This character may be an heiress, but she has a certain amount of chutzpah. Such savvy keeps her at the top in this Fortune 500 jungle, traits Julia Tredway would have certainly had in common with her precode counterpart. When I watch the film I sort of fantasize that it’s Babyface with a name change and that she is the same character.

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If we go with that thought, then where did all her scheming in her younger days bring her? She doesn’t seem to be very happy in this environment. And perhaps she is not fulfilled, certainly not in the way June Allyson’s character is fulfilled. She might even be a frustrated lesbian, flirting with Holden, but actually in a secret affair with Nina Foch’s character. Okay, I think you can see how I am brainstorming for a remake!

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I do love how the story builds to that big boardroom scene at the end. But the ending is still a bit too predictable for my tastes. I would like to have seen some sort of upset or some sort of vague resolution that allows us to think about the characters’ fates the way we can with the way PATTERNS ends. Incidentally, we will be reviewing PATTERNS later this month. So be sure you don’t miss it.

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Essential: WOMAN'S WORLD (1954)

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TopBilled wrote:

It’s a pleasant way to spend 94 minutes. There are reviews on the IMDb where users discuss who comes across best, out of the seven main stars. Not sure it’s necessary to compare the performers but I did like June Allyson very much. She is playing a comedic character and I think she always does well with lighter material.

Like EXECUTIVE SUITE, which we reviewed last week, a top executive (in this case a general manager for an automotive company) has passed away and must be replaced. Unlike the previous film, three outsiders are brought to New York to be considered for the position.

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These are men selected by the owner (Clifton Webb) and they come from different parts of the country– Philadelphia (Fred MacMurray and wife Lauren Bacall); Dallas (Van Heflin and wife Arlene Dahl); and Kansas City (Cornel Wilde and wife June Allyson). Each man demonstrates a specific regional attitude, and brings his own experiences and sensibilities to the business. Meanwhile, each man’s wife has her own merits and shortcomings.

The women are being evaluated along with the men. Since this is technically a woman’s picture marketed by 20th Century Fox, we have scenes with the women bonding but of course the men bond, too. I like how the couples are mostly quite friendly with each other even though the stakes are high. What works for me is that we get to learn some of the backstory of each couple. My favorite sequence is the one where Bacall and MacMurray return to the Italian restaurant where they first dined after they were wed. MacMurray is often a bit stiff in his movies, but he appears relaxed with Bacall. When his character’s ulcer flares up after they return to the hotel, we get a nice tender moment between them.

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One wife (Dahl) is labeled a handicap. But all three women do function as slight handicaps for their husbands. Dahl is openly flirtatious and obviously unfaithful behind Heflin’s back. Bacall is about to divorce MacMurray unless he focuses on their family and his health. Allyson is clumsy with no social graces, and she lacks understanding about corporate life. But of course, despite these handicaps, the women are also just what the men need in order to be happy.

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Probably if this were remade today, one of the women would be an executive, with the husband a stay-at-home dad. Also one duo would probably be an African American couple or a same sex couple. There was an interesting comment in the reviews I read online where someone said, referencing Webb’s real-life homosexuality, that while he may have spurned Dahl’s advances he probably would have been willing to give Wilde the job if the hunky exec slept with him. 

Marilyn Monroe was supposed to play the part taken by Dahl, and I wonder if she had been in the film, if that role would have become more comedic. I don’t see Monroe being able to portray a serious vamp like Dahl does.

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Bacall was originally set for her role, then it was given to Jean Peters, before Bacall returned to the project. She conveys the right amount of sass and elegance, so it’s a bit difficult to imagine Peters doing as well with it. Allyson was always attached to the project, probably because of her work in EXECUTIVE SUITE back at home studio MGM. Allyson gets to share scenes with Heflin and Dahl, both of them former MGM contract players now freelancing. (Allyson and Heflin had both appeared in THE THREE MUSKETEERS several years earlier.)

It was obvious to me that Allyson and Bacall enjoyed working together. They seem very chummy on screen. Finally, I should mention that while the film focuses on cars, clothes, fine dining and ritzy estates, it is a multiple character study. Something the studio did well. In fact I would rank WOMAN’S WORLD up there with other 20th Century Fox multiple character studies like A LETTER TO THREE WIVES, THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN and ALL ABOUT EVE.

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***

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Jlewis wrote:

At first I was expecting a feminist picture that was ahead of its time and, yes, WOMAN’S WORLD is ahead in certain respects. Just not so much in a feminist way. According to the Sammy Cahn opening title song, performed by the Four Aces (and they did other 20th Century Fox title songs like “Three Coins in the Fountain” and “Love is a Many Splendored Theme,” either on the soundtracks or in Billboard charting versions), “it is a woman’s world when she falls in love.” Her husband is still the key to her happiness and success. In case the message isn’t clear at first, that final lyric line spells it out: “It is a woman’s world, but only because it is HIS.”

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Gifford…read Gif-FORD…is the largest car company this side of General Motors, headquartered in New York instead of Detroit, which our lovable snooty Clifton Webb as Ernest Gifford has inherited from his father. Three rival business executives arrive to take a potential CEO position, each with a wife whom Ernest observes as part of his screening process: the Baxters (Cornell Wilde and June Allyson), the Talbots (Van Heflin and Arlene Dahl) and the Burns (Fred MacMurray and Lauren Bacall).

The first two couples are happy and “in love”…or at least the first genuinely is and the second pair is good at pretending. The third is older and more cynical, especially with Bacall’s wisecracks, but you sense that they are in love too, if in a more reserved way. Bacall’s Elizabeth Burns later develops an older sister relationship with June Allyson’s Katie Baxter that is enduring, helping her shop for the right outfit in her first big city experiences. Oh…we learn later that the Burns, like the Baxters, have kids while the Talbots do not…and you know what that meant in 1954 society: something is “questionable” about their relationship.

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Although few eyebrows would rise today, it must have been shocking for viewers back then to hear sweet and wholesome June Allyson discuss, point-blank, about “being pregnant all the time” just ten minutes into the movie. Remember that only two years earlier, Lucille Ball was forbidden to even suggest such a word! Then again, that was television, while this was the Big Screen where taboos were gradually being broken; recently other words like “virgin” created an even bigger ruckus when heard in THE MOON IS BLUE. Not surprisingly, Ernest Gifford takes a special interest in Katie as the unpredictable and tell-it-like-it-is wife of the trio when her innocent hiccups interrupt a speech of his.

Another, more important, speech is made by Bacall’s Elizabeth to Dahl’s Carol as the key theme of our picture. After Carol comments that they are “living in a man’s world,” Liz responds: “You know…if you and Mr. Talbot had children, you might realize that a man like your husband would be working more for his children than for you. You wouldn’t mind that because they would be your children too. You knew you gave them to him. That is why, Mrs. Talbot, that it isn’t a man’s world. It’s a woman’s world.” She then echoes spinster (unmarried, no kids) Katharine Hepburn in the yet not released SUMMERTIME: “Have a cookie, Cookie.”

In the end, the man who gets the job is the one most willing to give up his wife for part of his life and we kinda figure out which one before the end. The other two husbands are way too conflicted in balancing home life with career. In the end, the “losing” couples are happy since they never lost anything to begin with.

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This has a rather Mankiewicz feel to it, reminding me a bit of A LETTER TO THREE WIVES; that film also focused on three couples with Bacall’s character mirroring jaded but maternal Ann Sothern’s and Allyson’s “Plain Jane” resembling Jeanne Crain’s who was also self-critical a lot and needed reassurance at times. However Joseph L. Mankiewicz was not involved, but merely inspiring its structure. There were, rather surprising for me to learn in my homework, no less than five writers adapting the Mona Williams’ magazine “novelette:” Claude Binyon, Russel Crouse, Howard Lindsay, Mary Loos and Richard Sale. Miraculously the film does not feel disjointed in any way. This team worked quite well together making sure that they stayed consistent in keeping the flow of the story going.

Also a bit surprised to learn that there were a lot of cast changes leading up to its May-June filming period, with Gloria Graham, Eleanor Parker, Glenn Ford and even Charlton Heston involved with it at some point. Fred MacMurray did look distracted in his role, as if he was only belatedly added and not all that prepared, while Bacall (in one of her best performances of the fifties) doing more of the work to make him look good as her husband on screen.

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Van Heflin also stood out to me as rather good in his limited role; like Bacall, he is good at playing himself essentially.

Director Jean Negulesco is one of those familiar directors I recognize based on his “shortie” work before he graduated to features, among these his classic Warner Bros. “Melody Masters” that showcased fascinating editing and camera angles (i.e. one 1940 reel with Henry Busse and his Orchestra is shot mostly in shadows). The CinemaScope format does not allow him to be too-too creative here with his camera crew (Joseph MacDonald getting key credit here), but there are a few interesting shots you don’t often expect in the early widescreen affairs like the occasional camera pans from window to window at the hotel with the Burns and the Talbots to contrast their marital situations.

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20th Century Fox was making all of its travelogue shorties in Scope by this time and, quite often, the features of the period (another good example is THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN) would break from “story” and go into “travelogue” mode; thus, we see Elliott Reid’s Tony Andrews (Ernest’s nephew) telling the wives “There’s the New York Public Library…there’s the United Nations Building…” as they and viewers swoon over the huge screen visuals.

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It is interesting how much more great NYC footage is featured here than in the previous year’s Scope spectacular HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE as the studio camera crews were getting increasingly sophisticated with their on-location filming. For example, we see MacMurray walking by Central Park and Allyson outside of Macy’s, assuming they are the real locales and not backlot stand-ins.

The visuals, including some nice art design work in the car dealer headquarters, are what makes this film more interesting to me than the story, which does not amount to much. I also enjoy the country mansion where the climactic dinner meeting is held. No doubt that same building was leased before in other movies that required an England-ish estate. Was it used in the earlier Fox film CLUNY BROWN? I have to check the images. They may be different.

Over all, it is a pretty good, if hardly great, all-star ensemble piece.

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Essential: PATTERNS (1956)

TopBilled wrote:

It’s Friday evening as I watch PATTERNS on YouTube. I’ve seen the film about five times now.

I am thinking about things that happened at work today. The top executive in our office, a man who has been at the company for 18 years, announced he’s leaving on December 4th. The company was sold/taken over a year ago and there have been gradual changes in the past twelve months, but losing our executive is a huge change. One of my coworkers believes it’s because he is not attuned to the newer direction of our business.

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Unlike what happens with Ed Begley’s character in the movie, our executive is leaving on friendly terms. But he’s still leaving. I don’t think people leave on bad terms much these days, because there are financial incentives to keep people in line if their contracts are bought out. They want good references for the next big job. Plus if the door can be left open, maybe they’ll be back in the future.

Related to a shake-up at the top of the ladder, there are rumblings felt along the middle rungs and lower rungs. In addition to being told the executive in charge of our office was leaving today, I also found out my department is being restructured. In December I will be “cross-trained” to learn other processes across various departments as well as take on new responsibilities in my own department. Several new people are being added to our team in the next six weeks. You wouldn’t even know a pandemic is going on, since business is thriving and there is all this new energy and direction.

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I guess I am blessed because we are prospering and I should not complain. I don’t feel stress the way Van Heflin does in PATTERNS, but I do feel the need to make my mark in a substantial way that is for the good of the company and those who work alongside me.

I try to have personal relationships with as many people as I can at the office, because I believe I can learn valuable things from others if I am open to them. Patterns is a great word when you think about it, because there are rituals or processes that get repeated daily as well as long-term. Ritualistic events define our productivity. We all have a place within this environment.

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Jlewis wrote:

Our previous two films discussed are tied together by the presence of June Allyson. PATTERNS, in turn, follows WOMAN’S WORLD with Van Heflin as the connecting star. It is more famous today, however, as a key TV drama turned theatrical movie that was famously scripted by Rod Serling in his pre-Twilight Zone days. In this case, the writer is an even bigger star than the faces appearing on screen or the director, Fielder Cook.

Cinematic adaptations of small screen one-shots featured in such anthology series as Kraft Television Theater and Playhouse 90, this story broadcast live on the former initially on January 12, 1955, were very much in vogue thanks to the Oscar winning MARTY and probably reached their peak in popularity soon after this one with 12 ANGRY MEN.

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Hollywood liked these adaptations because they were cheap, often done in black and white just like the small screen originals but usually with at least one big star involved to get people to pay for tickets after previously seeing the same story presented for free.

Here we get Heflin instead of Ernest Borgnine or Henry Fonda, plus a roster of less familiar but well-crafted character performers: Everette Sloane (famous in CITIZEN KANE but more familiar to the public at the time for his outstanding radio work…and featured in the TV version of Patterns); Ed Begley (who also appeared in the TV original as well as the already mentioned 12 ANGRY MEN); Beatrice Straight (mostly a stage success apart from her Oscar win in NETWORK later, again playing the wife of the lead star); and Elizabeth Wilson (Benjamin’s Mommy in THE GRADUATE a.k.a. “Say hello to Mrs. Robinson” but she looks so much older in her dress-code here as Marge the secretary-in-trouble that you would think the other film featured her daughter instead).

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I saw this one before, years ago, and had forgotten some key details of interest. Right after the opening credits, I noticed a surprising number of working women present, instead of merely being housewives or being related to the company boss/owner. Yes, most are secretaries like Nina Foch’s Erica in EXECUTIVE SUITE but it is still nice seeing so many of them together on screen. I should also comment on all of the Big Ben sounding “gongs” that suggest time is of an essence here; everybody is punctual and demanding on screen, most notably Everette Sloane’s Walter Ramsey.

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Heflin plays Fred Staples, a newcomer to the corporate life and our set of “outside eyes” to this universe. Ed Begley’s William Briggs is the first male colleague on Fred’s new job that he meets and the friendliest; he too comes from a small town (Altoona, Pennsylvania vs. Fred’s Mansfield, Ohio) but has had more experience with the city rat race.

Shortly after all of the friendly discussions, we get a sense that these two are in some sort of competition with each other even though Fred does not see it this way in the beginning.

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One advantage that the newer movie adaptations had over their “live” TV originals was more creativity and flexibility with camera angles and cinematography overall. I like Boris Kaufman’s work here in conveying emotional depth by merely showing how close or far away the performers appear on screen. For example, one key shot in the final few minutes shows Fred’s wife Nancy (Beatrice Straight) standing against a side of the corporation’s wall as if she feels like she does not belong in such a foreboding place, as Fred approaches from the distance after making his pact with the Devil, so-to-speak.

Earlier in the film, right after a hostile board meeting when William argues with Walter about the laying off of innocent employees as a struggling sub-company is re-organized, we get a shot of them being cordial afterwards but Walter cozy-ing up to Fred in the background with a worried looking and showing-his-age William in deep-focus foreground, isolated.

This theme of being pushed out in favor of youth and vitality is suggested by William’s former (now Fred’s) secretary Marge Fleming in a key speech with Fred. He does not take her seriously at first. But head boss Walter confirms it later after a party at Fred’s new home (furnished, of course, by the company that has high expectations for him).

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All of this throws Fred into the dilemma of either helping out the friendly underdog or helping himself up the ladder of success. As the saying goes, what…and who…goes up must, at some point, come down.

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There is also a biblical theme of the sins of the fathers being passed to the sons…or maybe something a bit different that I merely mix up with this theme. I do have a strange way of interpreting many of these films.

Walter’s father started the company and Walter the son has run it financially well since his passing. Yet he has lost his touch with humanity, being less caring of employees than his father was and currently William, whom he is eager to move out to pasture like a retired race horse. He also sees William as a relic of a bygone era (like the Stanley Steamer) that is no longer needed in this colder, more disciplined “pattern”-istic world.

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The movies of the fifties have a cynical view of capitalism with, as discussed earlier by righteous William Holden’s Don Walling in EXECUTIVE SUITE, too much emphasis on the almighty dollar rather than The Almighty. A couple Twilight Zone episodes that the Saturnian-minded Rod Serling personally worked on shared similar story ideas about too much discipline, ambition and structure destroying the human spirit, echoing the way fascist governments often run things. “The Obsolete Man” episode of season 2 reminds me of PATTERNS despite its sci fi futuristic setting with Burgess Meredith’s Romney resembling William as one who does not fit in such a cut-throat world but is willing to die on principal regardless.

Walter may not be as evil as some political dictator, but the clever camera work does often show actor Everette Sloane half shadowed (often above the forehead), half lit…more often than the other two key stars, who are presented that way mostly when debating their consciences. Walter has no conscience but is quite comfortable living in both the “dark” and “light” sides of life. Begley’s William does teeter towards the dark when he loses himself and needs Fred to sustain him. When plotting out loud some sort of revenge on Walter, his hands are lit by a lamp below as if he is some sorcerer trying to conjure a curse.

The dialogue does get preachy at times. Also over acted at times, with Sloane’s Walter constantly in a state of rage. A few key lines of his could be viewed by some viewers as anti-religious and this may have been Serling’s intention.

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Walter tells Fred “You walk out here with a halo because you spoke your mind? What do you do then? Go to work for some nickel and dime outfit run by nice people?” I particularly like his earlier line of “I just happen to feel that the atmosphere of a large corporation can’t be constantly cathedral like” (which Nancy hears as she enters the room and reacts in surprise); this line stands out to me due to so many early shots of the business interiors involving high arches and marble, suggesting a knock-off of St. Peter’s in Rome. Predictably Walter is always looking ahead or looking down rather than up.

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William is presented as the polar opposite of Walter: the sacrificial lamb, scapegoat or some sort of motif reference to Christ himself sacrificing for the “sins of humanity” (cue a casual comment about him “carrying the cross”). Like the married-with-kids characters in our previous films this month, we know that William is “good” because he established a domesticated home life and, despite being a widower, he still has a supportive teenage son Paul (Ronnie Welsh) who likes baseball just like Allyson and Holden’s son in EXECUTIVE SUITE.

In a rather ominous foreshadow scene, Paul visits his dad’s workplace at night and thinks it resembles a morgue full of “dead” people…without realizing his own dad is there! Fred is married too but no kids and his wife constantly acts as his Jiminy Cricket “conscious,” questioning him if he should go along with Walter’s plan to replace William. Walter, of course, has no wife on screen and, therefore, no contented domesticated life to suggest he is a “whole” person in a 1950s sense.

The closing… spoiler alert…is quite unique, not like the traditional “happy” ones that viewers expect. Fred decides to not beat the villain but join him, agreeing to continue working after “good” has died but also bargain with Walter, who does not expect anybody to like him anyway, to always stand guard that he will continuously hate him and will bring him down accordingly when that time comes. The closing “The End” is presented over a nighttime shot of New York City in stark silence, suggesting an ominous silent world without any soul…

PATTERNS may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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Essential: THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT (1956)

TopBilled wrote:

Personally I think Sloan Wilson’s life is much more interesting than the film. Wilson served in WWII and after he was discharged, he had a high-profile job in the corporate world. Like the main character, Tom Rath (played by Gregory Peck), he graduated from Harvard, was married, lived in the suburbs with his wife and had three children. Those experiences shaped the “fiction” of Wilson’s bestselling novel upon which THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT is based.

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He had written a previous book, just after the war, that detailed his days in combat. Probably writer-director Nunnally Johnson consulted the earlier material when constructing the flashback scenes. At any rate, Tom Rath was Sloan Wilson’s alter ego; and I read somewhere that he wanted Montgomery Clift to play him, not Gregory Peck. Nunnally Johnson may have preferred Clift as well, since he was said to have problems with Peck’s interpretation of the role. But I think Peck does a decent enough job, and so does Jennifer Jones (whom I ordinarily do not like) as well as the rest of the star-studded supporting cast.

The book and the film function as commentary about American conformity. We’re talking conformity in the corporate sector as well as a life of conformity in suburbia with all its trappings and “values.” Conformity and prosperity are supposedly synonymous. The two co-exist and feed off one another. But at what cost?

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Tom Rath may be dressed in a sharp looking suit (a symbol of his success), but he is seemingly unhappy with the demands of his job. Plus there are various domestic crises that arise while he’s away at work. Added to this is the fact he’s still suffering from PTSD. We see quite a few haunting flashbacks of his time in battle. Many of these memories occur while he is on the train each day, commuting to and from the office.

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The flashbacks were a major criticism of reviewers who first saw the film in 1955, feeling they were a bit excessive. Again I think these extended wartime scenes may have been inspired by Wilson’s earlier book, which explains why this seems like two movies put into one.

Another criticism is the fact that there are numerous subplots and it would appear none of Wilson’s writing was cut. Perhaps Johnson and the folks at 20th Century Fox were just too enamored with the material to whittle it down into anything less than a two-hour running time. While I do believe all the plots support the main theme and are therefore relevant, I am sure some editing would have helped. It doesn’t have to be an overblown opus.

I guess the subplot involving Tom’s illegitimate son in Europe, by an Italian woman (Marisa Pavan), is the strand I find most interesting. The book clearly states that Tom had already been married to wife Betsy before he went overseas and cheated on her. The movie dilutes that sort of adultery and suggests he was not yet married to Betsy when he went abroad and fathered a child without telling her. 

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Sloan Wilson wrote a sequel in 1984 called The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit II. This publication was not a bestseller and hasn’t been adapted. In the mid-80s there was much interest in depicting conflicts about Vietnam in books and on screen. In the sequel, Wilson advances the drama to the year 1963. He has Tom Rath’s twenty year old Italian son come to Connecticut to look him up, before going overseas to serve in Nam, where he is then killed. 

The sequel also chronicles the end of Tom and Betsy’s marriage. Tom leaves Betsy and their grown kids, when he takes up with a younger woman in the days following JFK’s assassination. These events mirror the end of Wilson’s own marriage, and his remarriage to a second younger wife. In 1963, Wilson had even published a book about a corporate executive who fell for a 17 year old  beauty. As I said, I think Wilson’s own life is much more interesting than anything that is captured on screen.

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17 minutes ago, Peebs said:

I image that Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner got some inspiration from The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit including the hidden life of Don Draper.

I don't know if you've ever read Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, which was turned into a very surreal 1972 film by Universal. It seems to also be inspired by Wilson's story. I couldn't help but think of it when I rewatched THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT.

Wilson's work influenced a lot of writers who comment on the lingering effects of battle and the dis-ease found in postwar America.

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Essential: THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT (1956)

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Jlewis wrote:

We have now come full circle in our month long tribute to office dramatics. Our first two features were tied by the presence of June Allyson, both in supporting roles but dominating all of her scenes. The second and third had Van Heflin, first as support and then as the star.

THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT, adapted by Nunnally Johnson from Sloan Wilson’s best selling novel, is connected to our first, EXECUTIVE SUITE, by the great Fredric March, a much-admired-in-his-lifetime Oscar and Tony award winner who has sadly been overshadowed by the competition in the more recent collective movie fan consciousness since his death in 1975.

In this one, he is just a supporting player with Gregory Peck taking center stage, but he still knows how to take advantage of his roles without chewing the scenery.

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During the first fifteen minutes, I am struck by some interesting tidbits of interest. Gregory Peck plays Tom Rath, a World War II veteran who, like many of the Greatest Generation, saw so much death and destruction that he now wants…as America enters another year of Eisenhower post-Korea War tranquility…contentment in a peaceful world full of life. This is where all of those Baby Boomers come in; he has three of them that appear to be post-war births: Janey Roth’s Portland, Sandy Descher’s Barbara and Mickey Maga’s Pete.

This seems to have been the major theme of the fifties: children, suburban life and creating an idealized family oriented life that previously felt lost by the economic depression and conflict, even though most failed to question if such an ideal ever existed in the first place.

In contrast, his wife Betsy (Jennifer Jones) isn’t too happy playing her kitchen-confined role, comparing it to…a graveyard! She feels “dead” spiritually, attacking her husband for lacking the “guts” he displayed a decade earlier when they married and his not acting more “alive.”

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Perhaps she is waiting for The Feminine Mystique to get published since she needs to turn her aggression outward into something more creative. As one daughter has the chicken pox, the other questions “is she going to die?”… as if all little girls feel like they are destined the same graveyard fate as Mommy, who briefly gets sick as well.

Little Pete dresses up as a soldier as if he is reminding Pop of his more courageous past, while addicted along with his sisters to shoot ’em up westerns on TV. They are all eager to see who “gets killed” next as their daddy makes a melancholy flashback to his violent life before all of this domestic bliss.

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The title is a bit confusing. Gregory Peck’s Tom doesn’t wear much gray flannel on screen; mostly navy-ish black and brown. It may partly reference a war time experience highlighted by the key line of “If I do not get that coat, I will be dead,” which is symbolic of his life post-war and is also focused on acquiring things. An enemy soldier is brutally stabbed by him in the name of duty.

The flashbacks of the war all focus on death and procreation. His buddy in many key scenes here, who meets up with him in New York later, is Sgt. Caesar (interesting name for a wartime movie) as played by Keenan Wynn. The two of them hook up with Italian girls and we are lead to believe that Caesar is only into the one night stands while Tom seeks full romance, wooing a Jennifer Jones lookalike named Maria (Marisa Pavan). Later we learn that Caesar actually marries his date while Tom and Maria separate after she tells him she is pregnant.

It appears certain scenes may have been edited out either for time considerations or fifties censorship, since we don’t get a clear picture as to why these two broke up. Tom doesn’t mention that he is engaged to a woman back home…and even possibly married. I also wondered at first, but learn otherwise in the final climax towards the end, if Tom’s more in love with the woman and child he lost than the wife and three children he has currently. In a nutshell, the whole Maria being pregnant story becomes The Great Secret that Tom must later confess to his wife.

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I must mention right away that Bernard Herrman supplied the music score and he presents much ominous buildup echoing his later Hitchcock film VERTIGO. Note how the music changes as Tom observes a plane over the New York horizon that, again, brings us back to a wartime flashback (cue plenty of footage recycled from 20th Century Fox’s wartime color documentary THE FIGHTING LADY). This is a grim pic that needs such orchestration in certain spots and restraint in others. We hear no music over the all-important scene when Tom refuses to accept the fact that a fallen soldier is dead by an accidental hand grenade.

Inevitably this film morphs into a war veteran psychiatric drama that reminds me in certain spots of both SPELLBOUND, featuring Peck and profiled by us on this thread before, and THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES that features Fredric March. Oh…back to March. His character, Ralph Hopkins, is only in the second half of our film, appearing after the 58 minute mark. I was a bit confused about his occupation.

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Apparently he is both a TV executive and semi-doctor-of-sorts who wants to promote mental health services. His rebellious daughter (Gigi Perreau) elopes and shocks both him and his wife (Ann Harding) in one of those side stories that was probably more important in the original printed page than on screen. His wife accuses him later of being “married” to his job, something that Betsy worries that Tom is. A bigger point of the story is that Tom reminds him of his son, who died in combat. Again, death is the major theme here.

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The movie is quite episodic. We see Tom trying to balance work with home life, while also developing a friendship with his new boss Ralph. Meanwhile Betsy is trying to get him to agree to moving the family to her grandma’s house for a change of atmosphere. (The place is called Dragonwyck, the title of another novel which the Fox studio made into a hit movie…and also located in Connecticut, if set a century earlier.)

This brings about surprise struggles with the grumpy caretaker (Joseph Sweeney) who claims he’s the one who inherited it. Lee J. Cobb is at his most boring playing Judge Bernstein who sorts this mess out for Tom and Betsy as well as assisting them again after The Great Secret is revealed towards the end.

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The climax of all climaxes happens when Caesar reunites with Tom at the TV network offices and reveals that he married Maria’s cousin and Maria had Tom’s child shortly after marrying a man who, again, died…like so many characters in the story…and are struggling financially in post-war Italy. Thus, Tom must confess The Great Secret to his wife and, no, she does not take it well at first. She hops into their car and drives away from him and the family in a state of anger, eventually running out of gas and getting picked up by the cops.

OK. This all gets soapy dramatic, but I must make a confession here. I really like Jennifer Jones here, giving a pretty believable performance that suggests that she as the actress off screen might have dealt with similar situations in her own life as either the wife in question or “that other woman.”

It is not so much the issue that Tom was sexual with others (since this may or may not have been before they were married), but the fact that he kept it a secret for all of these years and she has suddenly lost all trust in him. Alas…in true Hollywood happy ending fashion, it is settled quickly. The noble wife accepts what happened after soul searching, forgives him, then assists him in getting the judge to help them finance a boy in Italy who is not hers. I wasn’t convinced by Peck’s performance here in swaying her his way.

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A number of familiar faces cover minor characters here, but I tend to feel that they aren’t terribly important to our main story except as colorful background enhancement. Arthur O’Connell plays co-worker Gordon, interesting mostly for that set of golf clubs always within reach of his corporate desk (that being his “family” he must occasionally sacrifice for working hours) and Gene Lockhart as boring Bill Hawthorne who shares the long train rides with Tom from Connecticut to The Big Apple.

Connie Gilchrist is a delight in her few moments on screen as the hired maid supervising the kids by being noisier than they are. Too bad Roy Glenn, famous in GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER as Sidney Poitier’s daddy, doesn’t get screen credit for his bit role as a “colored” sergeant. I am also curious about the snide Brit executive go-between with Ralph and Gordon who gets plenty of key lines despite no billing. The imdb.com site reveals many others who appeared in cut scenes that were filmed but not used, probably because the running time was too long.

As hinted in my commentary, I think the main problem with this movie is that the story was way too expansive for just one movie. Several characters, including Ralph, were not terribly well fleshed out and the most important story arcs, like that of Tom and Maria’s separation, were not presented well in detail. Much is glossed over due to time restraints and maybe this story demanded a lengthier treatment of GONE WITH THE WIND proportions to satisfy viewers.

THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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Coming Up in December:

Judy Garland

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We are going to discuss two of Judy's best crowd-pleasers this month.

December 5th: THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)

December 12th: THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946)

No place like home

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We will also do a bit of holiday horror.

December 19th: THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955)

December 26th: HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (1972)

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On 11/27/2020 at 5:22 PM, Peebs said:

I image that Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner got some inspiration from The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit including the hidden life of Don Draper.

There are a few resemblances. Both are involved in advertising to some degree. Work in the Big Apple and live in the suburbs. Both have secrets in their past that they don't reveal to their wives... namely other wives. Both are war veterans witnessing fellow soldiers getting killed, although Don served in Korea. Tom doesn't change his name and identity though. I think Betty Draper has even more in common with Betsy despite different hair color, both frustrated as housewives and being quite b*tchy.

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