Vertigo is a psychological thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The film stars Jimmy Stewart as a former police detective John “Scottie” Ferguson, who has been forced into early retirement due to his discovery of crippling acrophobia and vertigo. Scottie is hired as a private investigator to follow a woman, Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) who is behaving peculiarly. The film received mixed reviews upon initial release, but has garnered acclaim since and is now often cited as one of the defining works of his career. It is currently listed at #65 on the IMDb Top 250, which I think is a travesty. It shows you what type of list the IMDb Top 250 is, to see this film and others, like Citizen Kane, outside of the top 50, but The Dark Knight currently holds the #4 place. But in the 2012 British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound critics’ poll, it replaced Citizen Kane as the best film of all time and has appeared repeatedly in best film polls by the American Film Institute.
I have to confess. This is one of those movies that you hear about and want to watch because others say it is so good. I’ve had it on my watch-list for years. This was one of the many Alfred Hitchcock films that my parents owned. But for some reason, unlike North by Northwest or The Birds or Psycho, I just never got around to watching this one. But I finally tackled this one on Saturday last year and have been digesting it ever since. This draft has literally been sitting in my project pile since March 2013 and if WordPress is correct in its count, I have made 67 different revisions in that time. Well, I finally watched it again tonight with the purpose of finishing what I started.
*** SPOILER ALERT *** Because of the nature of this film, I must warn anyone who reads further on that the rest of this review will contain spoilers. Please take the time to watch this classic before reading any more. *** SPOILER ALERT *** Continue reading Vertigo (1958)
Favorite Movie by Your Favorite Actor and Actress
I like this category so much that I am going to break it into two days and do my favorite legacy actor and actress today, and my favorite modern actor and actress tomorrow. Of course, this will turn the 30 Day Movie Challenge into a 31 Day Movie Challenge, but I don’t mind. I have no criteria to separate these except that the classic stars must no longer be making films. Tomorrow, I will get around to my favorite modern actor and actress, but in the meantime…
My favorite classic actor is Jimmy Stewart. He was a tremendously prolific studio actor who worked with all the famous actors and directors of his day. He was known for his performances as an everyman, much like Tom Hanks today. And his beautiful co-star in Rear Window just so happens to be my favorite classic actress, Grace Kelly. She only acted for five years from 1951-1956, but she made a tremendous impact in those five short years even winning an Oscar for acting alongside Bing Crosby in the 1954 film The Country Girl. Sadly, her acting career was cut short by her untimely marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco. By becoming a princess, she gave up her acting career. However, I don’t know that I have ever seen a more beautiful or talented actress grace the screen.
In Rear Window, Jimmy Stewart plays a professional photographer named L.B. Jeffries who breaks his leg while getting an action shot at an auto race. Confined to his New York apartment during a heat wave, “Jeff” spends his time looking out of the rear window observing the neighbors. He begins to suspect that a man across the courtyard may have murdered his wife. He enlists the help Grace Kelly’s character (a high society fashion-consultant girlfriend named Lisa Freemont) and his visiting nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) to investigate the situation. Rear Window is currently listed on the IMDB top 250 at #22. It is one of my favorite movies, it has comedy, suspense, and romance.
Favorite Classic Movie
This was another category that suffered from the use of vague language. What is a classic movie? What criteria would you use to define a classic? I think what determines a classic film is the same thing that determines a classic piece of literature: the test of time. No film or literature of substandard quality will survive that test. The key to passing this test of time is a work’s universal appeal. This asks for my favorite, not the most classic, so I am pleased to share my favorite classic movie, North By Northwest.
Alfred Hitchcock made so many movies, but there are three in particular that are generally considered to be his best: Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), and Psycho (1960). North by Northwest was nominated for Academy Awards for its screenplay, art direction, and editing, but lost all three to Ben-Hur. It placed 40th on the American Film Institute’s 1998 list of the best movies of all time, and it has consistently ranked in the top 50 as ranked by IMDB users.
The 1950s were a great decade for Alfred Hitchcock. He had so many hits with Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, and The Man Who Knew Too Much. He also had a TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. But in 1958, Vertigo was released and failed to impress critics or audiences. Hitchcock was undoubtedly disappointed by this and couldn’t know that Vertigo would eventually be considered one of his masterpieces. But he vowed that his next project would be a more tested and tried effort that would be more of a crowd-pleaser. The film was a box-office hit, second only to Ben-Hur for the year, and got positive reviews from critics.
It starred Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill a New York advertising executive who is mistakenly identified as a secret government agent, this put a target on his back. Then he’s framed for murder, this puts him on the run from the police as well as the bad guys. While on the run, he meets Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), who apparently believes his story and wants to help. I’m not going to give you any more about the plot because I want everyone to see it. It has so many iconic scenes and it is still powerful today. It influenced a whole genre of action-suspense-espionage movies. Only three years after its release, the first James Bond film, Dr. No, appeared. Of course, James Bond is a spy, whereas Roger Thornhill was only mistaken for one. But both films have implausible action sequences in outrageous locations like Mount Rushmore. They both have beautiful but mysterious women who take an interest in the hero. And both have a well-dressed leading man who is suave, has a knack for one-liners, a fondness for liquor. You can probably think of dozens of movies since 1959 that have operated on those same principles.
With North by Northwest, Hitchcock tweaked the basic man-on-the-run story with witty dialogue, charismatic performances, and visually arresting action sequences. He demonstrated that these elements of basic popular entertainment, which are sadly looked down upon by some who call themselves critics, could be applied to big-budget studio films. He showed that a movie could be entertaining, thrilling, and funny, smart and well-produced. It didn’t have to choose to be either high-brow or low-brow. North By Northwest is an extremely entertaining thrill ride. There is not a lot of substance or meaning to it, it is just a tremendously fun roller coaster ride that Hitchcock takes us on. When I first saw it as a kid, I was hooked. And it set a precedent for hundreds of blockbusters that followed in its wake.
Are there a special few individuals to whom the laws don’t apply, perhaps because they are educated at the finest schools or because they come from families with money or influence? What makes murder such a horrifying sin? Why don’t we cringe at other sins? Are there some sins that make the sinner feel superior? These are some of the questions that Rope concerns itself with. Not that it is a movie about these things, but as I watched it, my mind went to these questions. Rope is simply an adaptation of the true story of the Leopold-Loeb murder that took place in Chicago in 1924. In said murder, two wealthy and intelligent young men, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, killed Loeb’s 14-year-old second cousin Robert Franks for no other reason than the thrill of the kill.
In Rope our murderers are two similarly wealthy and presumably intelligent young men named Brandon and Phillip. However, instead of dispatching of a 14-year-old boy in the back seat of a rented car, they strangle a peer named David in their shared apartment and stow his body in a large trunk. The signature Hitchcockian twist comes when instead of disposing of the body in a more traditional manner, these well-to-do young men host a cocktail party and use the makeshift coffin as a dinner table, and the guests of honor are the boy’s father, aunt, and fiancé. It seems like the perfect murder, but an admired professor named Rupert Cadell (James Stewart) begins to sense that something is disturbing about this party and their master plan begins to unravel.
My father had amassed a nice library of Hitchcock films by the time that I was old enough to start watching them. My first venture into the world and mind of Alfred Hitchcock, and my enduring favorite of his collection was North By Northwest. But I recall watching this nearly forgotten gem after Birds had scared the pants off of me and I was thoroughly hooked on the style, humor, and suspense of the master.
I believe that I was around 12 or 13 when I first watched Rope. It was on one of the lonely afternoons I spent alone after school waiting for my parents to arrive home. It may have been a forbidden activity, that might have originally drawn me to the cabinet filled to the brim with VHS gold. But it was the quality of the selections that drew me deeper in. I am so very thankful that my parents didn’t care for most of the pabulum that was churned out during the late 70s and 80s. Instead they possessed a library of classics and future classics. Forget Airplane or Karate Kid, I would get to those later, I had Young Frankenstein and Indiana Jones to keep me company.
I’m not sure why Rope caught my eye with its unassuming title, mixed reviews, no guffawing humor, bodily functions, explosions, or nudity. In fact it fails to catch the attention of the adults it was created for, but in spite of all of that, it remains one of my top 5 all time favorite Hitchcock films, even though Hitchcock himself called it a failed experiment. You can actually watch a large portion of the film in a wonderful 3 part documentary on the making of the film called “Rope Unleashed.” Continue reading Rope (1948)
I’m really glad I decided to tackle this mountain of film called the IMDb Top 250. In this post, I want to take a closer look at#248, Shadow of a Doubt. I consider myself a Hitchcock fan, but this is one of his masterpieces that I had never seen before. I’m not sure why I avoided it for so long, perhaps it was simply lack of opportunity. But no one has an excuse to not see this film. Heck, you don’t even have to pay for it. You can watch the whole thing right now on YouTube. In fact, Alfred Hitchcock on The Dick Cavett Show in 1972 said that Shadow of a Doubt was his favorite of all his films. Being familiar with his films and sharing his dry and bleak sense of humor, I can see why.
The actors were superb, famous in their time, but not superstars. Teresa Wright, who remains the only performer ever to be nominated for Oscars for her first three films (The Little Foxes, Mrs. Miniver, The Pride of the Yankees), stars as young Charlie (Charlotte) who is tired of being a ordinary girl in an ordinary family. She believes that inviting her Uncle Charlie from Philadelphia will invite some much needed happiness to her depressing surroundings. But Uncle Charlie, portrayed superbly by Joseph Cotten who had a role in Citizen Kane and starred in The Magnificent Ambersons, has his own secret reasons for leaving Philadelphia to stay with his sister in Santa Rosa for an undetermined amount of time.
Hitchcock collaborated with Thornton Wilder, author of Our Town, to portray Santa Rosa, California as Hometown U.S.A. With warm lighting and a friendly atmosphere, they deliberately makes us prefer the small Santa Rosa to the cold and industrial backdrop of Philadelphia. Hitchcock wanted to slowly introduce some darkness to these bright and cheerful surroundings. This was a social commentary in his day. While this film was produced and released in 1943, it is set in 1941. Many people my age wouldn’t even blink at the simple two year difference, but anyone who lived during those two years knows that they weren’t ordinary years. The bombing that occurred on December 7, 1941 irreparably changed the world the same way that the arrival of Uncle Charlie did that peaceful family and especially his admiring niece Charlotte.
Critics were quick to call this film cynical or morally vague, words that would come to characterize Hitchcock’s style of film-making, but in the wake of the great depression, a gruesome war, and the ever-present fear of nuclear holocaust the world itself became much more cynical and morally vague. Much like Uncle Charlie, Hitchcock entered our country in a time of peace, as a welcomed guest, and he forever changed our whole way of thinking about movies.
As we get closer to Christmas, I know that I will inevitably see at least a scene or two from Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. If you think about it, Hitchcock is like the anti-Capra. Another classic-film lover named Bill Wren said on his blog Piddleville, “Shadow of a Doubt presents us with an almost quintessential American town of the 1940′s. It’s almost Capra-esque. In a way, Shadow of a Doubt is George Bailey’s Bedford Falls from It’s a Wonderful Life except where Capra brings an angel to it, Hitchcock brings the devil.”
The singular flaw that prevents Shadow of a Doubt from being one of Hitchcock’s elite is the completely formulaic and totally unnecessary romance. It feels totally contrived and out of place. Perhaps this was Hitchcock’s way of showing that although young Charlie has grown through her ordeal, she hasn’t yet grown enough to see that the addition of others to your life will not make you happy if you cannot first be happy alone. If this was his aim, he was very subtle. Today, they would make a sequel in which we find out that her love interest is in fact a serial killer himself.
So what happens when young Charlie realizes the truth about her beloved Uncle? Will she get a chance to reveal his secret, or will he choke her into silent submission? I won’t ruin that ending of the movie for you. Take an hour and a half off and watch it yourself. By the end, you will be humming the Merry Widow Waltz and contemplating the state of the world. What do you think of Uncle Charlie’s assessment of our lives? “You live in a dream. You’re a sleepwalker, blind. How do you know what the world is like? Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know, if you rip off the fronts of houses, you’d find swine? The world’s a hell. What does it matter what happens in it? Wake up, Charlie.”
Thanks for watching with me. Next week provides a jump from pre-television wartime to fun loving computer animation and offers a much more lighthearted film, Toy Story 2. I hope you’ll join me.