by Sam Juliano
Spring is now official, and the weather has certainly risen to the occasion over the last several days, at least in the NYC metropolitan area. However some snow is now predicted for mid-week, and once again temperatures will drop into the 30’s.
Sixteen (16) ballots have been cast so far for the romantic countdown, and the April 1st deadline for further submissions is fast approaching. The actual countdown will commence around May 1st, with essays to post every Monday through Friday.
Sammy and I were busy all week with The Complete Hitchcock Festival at the Film Forum. Lucille attended most of the screenings as well. A big event was held on Friday evening at 6:30 P.M. at the Nyack Public Library on Broadway in Nyack, New York, where author Peter Danish offered up readings from his new book The Tenor, and spotlighted a soprano and tenor from a local opera company to sing two arias vital to the book’s narrative. The first was the beloved tenor aria “Una Furtiva Lagrima” from L’Elisir d’Amore. Danish employed a slide show on some of the novel’s World War II era settings and signed copies of the book afterwards. The entire family attended the presentation. That same night we drove back down to Closter, New Jersey for an encore of the rock group Nemesys at the Harvest Bistro. 60’s and 70’s rock standards were performed by the three member band. The kids were absolutely thrilled with the show.
The rest of the week was all that portly gentleman known for his cameos and a documentary on Alejandro’s unmade DUNE, which also played at the Film Forum. We saw eleven (11) Hitchcock films and the DUNE documentary. The Hitchcock Festival has only a few days left, before the two-week Truffaut Festival commences.
Foreign Correspondent (1940) **** 1/2 (Monday) Film Forum
Stage Fright (1950) *** 1/2 (Monday) Hitch at Film Forum
Torn Curtain * (1966) (Tuesday) Hitch at Film Forum
Secret Agent (1936) *** 1/2 (Wednesday) Hitch at Film Forum
Young and Innocent (1937) **** (Wednesday) Hitch at Film Forum
White Shadow (1923) *** (Thursday) Hitch at Film Forum
Marnie (1964) **** (Thursday) Hitch at Film Forum
Shadow of a Doubt (1943) ***** (Friday afternoon) Film Forum
The Birds (1963) ***** (Saturday) Hitch at Film Forum
Suspicion (1941) **** (Sunday) Hitch at Film Forum
Spellbound (1945) **** 1/2 (Sunday) Hitch at Film Forum
Jodorowsky’s ‘Dune’ **** (Sunday) Film Forum
On a number of occasions Hitchcock identified the small town Americana drama, SHADOW OF A DOUBT, penned by Thornton Wilder as the work he thought was his best, and certainly this slowly-building atmospheric film that focuses on the ‘Merry Widow murderer’, played by Joseph Cotten brilliantly examines what is normal and what is abnormal in a seemingly ordinary California town. Teresa Wright gives a spirited performance as the young woman who maintains a telepathic bond with Cotten’s menacing character.
The cop-out ending of 1941’s SUSPICION with Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine takes away from an otherwise brooding thrilled that admirably builds suspense and the romantic context. Fontaine is fabulous in her Oscar winning role, and the film is handsome and well-mounted with a lush score by Franz Waxman.
TORN CURTAIN makes a fair stab as Hitchcock’s worst film ever, though there are a few others that could beat it to that dubious prize. The whole premise and execution is lame, and both Paul Newman as a nuclear scientist-defector and Julie Andrews who follows him along, have never been so undistinguished. This was the film that brought about the permanent tragic break between Hitch and Bernard Herrmann.
THE BIRDS was once seen as mediocre at the time of its release, but now is rightly regarded as one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces. Indeed the esteemed critic David Thompson wrote “THE BIRDS is Hitchcock’s last flawless film.” Tippi Hedren as the ravishing blonde grows on you, as does the film’s enveloping tension. There’s a certain Christian theme running through the film which is based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, and the famed set pieces have become part of the popular culture. The Bodega Bay setting is alluring and the scenes in the pet shop with the older bird loving woman are a hoot. The DCP print on display at the Film Forum was spectacular.
Paul Kael called SPELLBOUND a “disaster” but the 1945 romance thriller about dreams and psychiatry has gained in stature over the years, and now is considered a masterpiece by some Hitchcock aficionados. The Salvador Dali dream sequence is a classic and Ben Hecht’s screenplay is riveting, even if the film at times seems silly and dated. Miklos Rozsa’s Oscar winning score is one of the most celebrated of all-time. Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck star, and are madly in love in a film with its share of Freudian symbolism.
MARNIE is an oft-fascinating psychological melodrama about a disturbed and emotionally frigid kleptomaniac who suppresses a violent episode from her childhood. Hedren is superb in her own favorite of her two roles for Hitchcock, and Sean Connery does a fine job as the man who falls for her despite all the baggage. Great DCP print.
The pristine 35 mm print for STAGE FRIGHT was one of the very best of the festival (I believe we have seen 29 films so far over three-and-a-half weeks, so that is quite a contention I would think) I found the film neither great nor forgettable, though in the end I was sufficiently engaged to count the film as a somewhat overlooked work that was produced during the period Hitch was at the peak of his artistic powers. The film clearly enough lacked the psychological complexity of REBECCA before it and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN after it and lacked the moral complexity of NOTORIOUS, released four years before it, or the great films of the 50′s that were just on the horizon. The film also lacks the famed set pieces in films like SABOTEUR and LIFEBOAT, but of course that was never it’s aim. No doubt these comparisons always held the appreciation for STAGE FRIGHT as guarded. Indeed a good number of critics have long contended the film is plodding and conceptually awkward. I saw the biggest problem the wooden performance of Richard Todd in that vital lead role. Marlene Dietrich was fine, and Jane Wyman (and Alistair Sim and Joyce Grefel in support) even better. Over the years there have been many complaints lodged against the deceptive flashback, but this bothers modern day audiences who by now are familiar and comfortable with such duplicity. Hitch returned to the theatrical world of MURDER (MARY in the simultaneously-filmed German version) for a solid drama that holds your attention up until the shocking finale.
YOUNG AND INNOCENT contains a terrific pan show atop a dance floor, and an exceedingly entertaining search for the murderer. The film would surely rate among the most underrated of Hitch’s early thrillers.
FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT has propaganda to spare, but it’s also deliriously entertaining, well-plotted and filled with many unforgettable scenes. SECRET AGENT features a charismatic Peter Lorre in a very uncharacteristic role, and John Gielgud, but it is an uneven work that falls as third tier Hitch.
ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY’S DUNE is a fascinating and oddly moving account of a film that never got made, and could have in the word’s of it’s celebrated would-be creator “changed the world.” The interviews with those involved (including the 84 year-old director and his son) and terrific story boards designs and sketches and a history of the director’s rise to prominence help to frame this subversive vision is compelling and persuasive terms. First-rate documentary.