Saturday, July 28, 2012

LIE #35: In the Wake of Sir Alfred...

It was a blast participating in the “The Best Films Hitchcock Never Made” blogathon, and a specific reason I like getting involved with these things is to discover new films, or get my memory jogged about others—one film the b-thon turned me onto is now a new fave: the excellent Abandon Ship—and much of July was spent hunting down films that were either directed or influenced by, if not contemporaries to the Master of Suspense.

In the Wake of Hitchcock/Not Hitchcock…

The Trouble With Harry (1955; Alfred Hitchcock) is a deliciously droll black comedy, once you can accept how “English” the dialog sounds and the characters act (although written by American John Michael Hayes). According to Mr. H, this was his favorite film.
Well-worth seeing, there’s a charming madness to this film, as the players deal quite nonchalantly with a dead body that won’t stay buried.

There’s a fine score by Bernard Herrmann, the first of his many collaborations with Hitchcock, and the cast handles the grim whimsy without becoming saccharine, especially lead John Forsythe (before he turned silver), and a lively Shirley MacLaine, in her first film.
It’s actually a very heartwarming and romantic film that seems to say, even with Death around, think of life and love.
Of course, Hitch had to make a dead body the MacGuffin…

Be that as it may, and I’m saying this as someone who liked The Trouble With Harry, the flick could seriously use about 10 to 15 minutes of trimming.
And despite the exquisite outdoor cinematography, the movie often feels like a filmed stage play, and can be visually uninteresting during some of the lengthier interior dialog scenes.

Peeping Tom (1960; Michael Powell) is still disturbing, its exquisite precision and attention to every sleazy detail fortifying its reputation as not just a classic film, but as one of the best horror movies ever made. This picture was completely ahead of its time in style and tone, and wound up being savaged by the critics: Powell’s career was ruined by the backlash against Peeping Tom.

Highly, highly recommended, Peeping Tom is deliciously sleazy, oozing perverse sex; and a Freudian hit parade.
This film presents some heavy psychological stuff in its sympathetic view of a sick, sick person: an obsessive cameraman murdering to find and film the perfect look of fear.
It is also a kind of a bitter film, angry at an England that’s let itself get so tawdry and emotionally disconnected.
(Something in the air in 1960? Hitchcock and Psycho; Bava and Black Sunday, Bergman’s The Virgin Spring as well as Lang with his return to Germany: The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse…)

The Collector (1966; William Wyler) is sad, creepy and unhappy—there isn’t even the sick thrill that most “feel-bad” flicks provide: The Collector is a bummer, through and through, accentuated by Terence Stamp’s incredible and absolutely unsympathetic performance, as well as cute Samantha Eggar’s self-debasement as Stamp’s unhappy kidnapped “prize butterfly.”
None of which would usually be a bad thing, but unfortunately absurdly bright, mood-killing cinematography and an improbably jaunty score work against any unease or suspense.
This film may have been on the cutting edge way back when, but is now terribly dated—and surpassed by a plethora of other films.

This Gun For Hire (1942; Frank Tuttle) A classic, for sure, and Alan Ladd is still great (and sexy Veronica Lake is always a treat—love her outfit in the nightclub act—and Laird Cregar’s fat dandy of a villain is a hoot), but if this isn’t one of the first film noirs that you see, you will not be excessively impressed, as so many films took this movie’s noir ball and really ran with it.
Nor is the plot that impressive either, overly convoluted with a surprising amount of coincidences. The production values are top-notch, but the script is slapdash.

The Phantom Lady (1949; Robert Siodmak)
Fantastic noir style, brilliant neo-expressionist cinematography and a cast of fascinating character actors almost cannot save this film. I’ll admit that had I seen it under more favorable circumstances, I’d probably be more lenient in my judgment, but there it is. I saw this at the Film Forum in NYC, one of my least fave places to see a movie (the line of sight in its theaters is crap), especially when it’s crowded, more so when some seven-foot-tall old fart is sitting in front of me and blocking about one-fourth of the screen.
In The Phantom Lady, Ella Raines is very easy on the eyes, and does a great job, but there never seems to be any point: the guy she’s trying to save is a cipher to us. Why is she breaking her neck like this? The middle section of the picture, with Raines playing detective is superb, and the cinematography is always excellent, but the beginning is tiresome, and once the killer’s identity is revealed, the movie hits a snag trying to complicate things more in an attempt to fill out 90 minutes. A frustrating experience overall.

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