Tag Archives: Alfred Hitchcock

Review of Rear Window (1954)

10 Feb

Rear Window 1954 posterRear Window (1954) is a thriller/mystery film, based on a short story “It Had to Be Murder” by Cornell Woolrich.

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock (The 39 Steps (1935), Torn Curtain (1966)).

Written by John Michael Hayes (The Trouble with Harry (1955), Iron Will (1994))

Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr, Frank Cady, Ross Bagdasarian and others.

We follow a middle-aged photographer played by Jimmy Stewart. His whole leg is in a cast, so he’s reduced to sitting in a wheelchair inside his apartment, looking out his apartment window the whole day. It’s the 50’s, they didn’t have cable yet. He overlooks an inside yard and the building across it.

There’s only a small alley that leads to a street so there’s barely any feeling of the world outside this apartment block. This adds to the claustrophobic and intimate mood of the film. If that’s all you see all day, than you might start feeling like there’s nothing outside your field of vision. The obvious sound stage look in that way helps the film. But soon you forget its fakeness and start seeing it as this weird surreal contained snow globe of a world.

To be fair, the building across have a lot of stuff going on, there’s not one single apartment where something peculiar isn’t happening and people rarely close the curtains. And one day the photographer becomes pretty sure that what he is witnessing is a murder. As the movie progresses, he tries to figure out what is happening and how to convince others, that he is not going nuts, cooped up in his apartment.

"I'll just hang this huge fucking telephoto lens out my window. Nobody's going to notice."

“I’ll just hang this huge fucking telephoto lens out my window. Nobody’s going to notice.”

The photographer has a girlfriend played by Grace Kelly. She wants to marry him, but he is apprehensive, because she comes from a different social background and they have colliding lifestyles. He rejects her and at first you’re glad that he does, because they really don’t have any chemistry and just feel like a forced couple. But later on, the girl gets interested in his little investigation and they sort of open up to each other. Which is kind of messed up if you think about it.

Jeff, the photographer isn’t that nice of guy either. After all, he snoops, he assumes, he is a dick to basically everyone he comes in contact with. Even his girlfriend he starts treating better only after she becomes involved in his unhealthy obsession with his neighbour. Jimmy Stewart is very well cast, he’s good at combining being essentially a nice guy with a selfish fast-talking dick. He was in the 40’s and 50’s what Jeff Goldblum was in the 80’s and 90’s.

Another exploration of their relationship is just the vast array of people in the apartments across, they symbolically represent the ways his life might turn out, depending on how he chooses to proceed with their relationship.

From a filmmaking standpoint this is a great set-up, because it allows the movie to be entirely subjective, being from the point of view of a single person and the building across is like a movie screen, where something horrible is happening, you wish to intervene but you can’t. Since Hitchcock was a master at manipulating with the viewer, this is a perfect canvas for him to work on. Another great aspect is how the movie conjures a fear of the possibility, that someone might look straight into the camera and see Jimmy Stewart looking at them and in a way see you, the viewer. You beg for the fourth wall to stand.

Overall, a great murder mystery with multiple layers, showcasing Hitchcock’s brilliance. Probably, one of his best movies. It’s just excellent filmmaking, hard not to enjoy. Definitely recommended.

"What? Rear Window? Never heard of it."

“What? Rear Window? Never heard of it.”

Review of Blackmail (1929)

12 Jun

Blackmail (1929) is a British thriller/crime/drama film, based on the play of the same name by Charles Benett.

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock (Family Plot (1976), The Ring (1927)).

Written by Alfred Hitchcock (Juno and the Paycock (1930), Champagne (1928)) and Benn W. Levy (Waterloo Bridge (1931), The Old Dark House (1932)).

Starring: Anny Ondra, Charles Paton, Sara Allgood, John Longden, Donald Calthrop, Cyril Ritchard, Harvey Braban and others.

So here’s the first British “true” talkie, made by Alfred Hitchcock. You can feel that the silent film era hasn’t yet passed, but Hitchcock is realising the potential of people actually talking in movies.

It starts off with a long sequence, which is silent. Hey, come people enjoy one of the first talkies, yet no one is talking. Oh, ok, I don’t mind a good silent movie. No, it’s not a silent movie, because there are no intertitle cards. Well, this is confusing. Then like 10 minutes in, there’s suddenly dialogue, what a pleasant surprise.

The movie stars the very charismatic Anny Ondra, her acting is really good, considering it was the time actors had to transition from the very pantomime acting of silent cinema to talkies. Her voice was „dubbed” over by a British woman off-screen, because she had a thick accent. Which is odd, since there’s a clip on YouTube, where Hitchcock is teasing her and it didn’t sound so bad to me.

There’s a really cool long continuous shot, where characters are walking up multiple staircases and the camera follows vertically from the point of view of a wall, which is obviously filmed on a built set, but it doesn’t make it less cool.

The whole thing is that Ondra’s character goes home with some artist she met and when they get to his apartment he attempts to rape her. Who said 20’s was an innocent time? She stabs him with a knife and leaves, as you might imagine, the rest of the movie is Ondra tortured by guilt, fear and blackmail (yes, there’s a reason the movie is called that).

I learned that a brick to the head is a nice old British way of killing a person, but knives are a big ‘no-no’.  There’s a clever scene using the newfound possibilities of sound cinema. A woman keeps talking, but to our heroine only the word „knife” is audible and the rest is just murmur.

You can already see that Hitchcock has a knack for thrillers and there’s even an interesting foot-chase, a bit lacking in action, but very interesting to see and especially in comparison to how he later perfected his use of suspenseful action.  It’s a short and well paced movie, but it does feel like an overlong Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode.

A really peculiar thing is how the murder that the whole movie revolves around is the most innocent crime, yet it all ends kind of ironic and no one involved is innocent.

Overall, it’s a decent little movie, but really, except for the first British talkie title (which is debatable), it has no significant place in cinema history. Hitchcock enthusiast could give it a chance, otherwise – skip it. Not recommended.

“Hey, you know what I just thought?”
“No, what?”
“What if years from now people watching this movie won’t even notice us, the main heroes, and will just look at our director over there.”
“Don’t be silly, no one cares about that fat fuck.”

Review of The 39 Steps (1935)

5 May

The 39 Steps (1935) is a British mystery/thriller/romance film based on the adventure novel The Thirty-nine Steps by John Buchan.

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock (Frenzy (1972), The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)).

Written by Charles Bennett (The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)).

Starring: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Peggy Ashcroft, Godfrey Tearle, John Laurie Frank Cellier and others.

Here’s an early Hitchcock classic, with the familiar theme of an innocent man on the run.

Our hero is a Canadian man, who displays neither a Canadian accent or exceptional hockey skills, but other than that he is very happy-go-lucky type of guy, quite kind, jokes a lot, is totally unsuspicious and stays calm even after a woman is stabbed during the night in his apartment. This is kind of odd, since the stabbers leave after killing the woman. They probably got out of the house and were like „Oh, shit, we forgot to kill the guy! I swear, we’d forget our heads if they weren’t attached to our necks. Oh well, let’s just wait for him on the street, he’ll walk right out of there after he finds the chick with a knife in her back.”

Of course he knows he has to bail and we get a cool transition from a screaming woman, who finds the girl’s body to a train blowing it’s horn. The guy is now on train and the police gets on that train. He escapes and goes to some crofter’s house and the police find him, sure, it’s interesting that they are able to find him this quickly all the time, but even more amazing is the fact that characters keep reading about the developments of this investigation in the newspapers. Multiple times, even during one day. In 1930’s newspapers knew how to work, no wonder now printed press is dying.

Some negative aspects creep up here and there. There’s some sped-up shots during a foot chase, which look just cheesy. We also have the age-old „saved from a bullet by a book” trick, which was even getting old by the 1930’s. It’s not exactly a smart movie, but it is fast-paced and entertaining one and we still this kind of action romances today pretty often.

Robert Donat is very charismatic as the lead. He acts and looks something like a blend of Clark Gable and Brendan Fraser. Kind of goofy, but at the same time very suave and at times malicious. And he has a nice chemistry with Madeleine Carroll as the romantically reluctant female lead.

The last shot is just perfect. Not that Hitchcock’s movies lack perfect shots. Although some film critics tribute Hitchcock with calculating and polishing every single shot of his movie to perfection and knowing exactly what emotion that will bring out in the viewer. I don’t think I necessarily agree, I think it’s more that he was so talented that his intuition was what told him the exactly right way to film scenes. Of course, with years of experience he also developed masterful technique, but this movie was still made quite early in Hitchcock’s career.

Overall, I wouldn’t count this as one of Hitchcock’s definitive works, but it still is a nice little romantic man-on-the-run flick. However, I don’t recommend this as an introduction to Hitchcock’s work and suggest picking up some of his later, more refined classics.

“Shit, man! Though, it would’ve been more impressive if I hadn’t seen that War-vet missing both legs there by the punch bowl.”