Alfred Hitchcock & Agatha Christie: Never the Twain

DATELINE:  Giants in Separate Corners

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Recently the question came to us: Why did the two great forces of mystery and suspense never collaborate?

The answer may be surprising. They were both highly successful, popular and beloved: one in film and one in literature. They were both British, lived and died around the same time, and trod the same grounds of creativity.

A few claim Hitchcock was a misogynist: but his greatest collaborators were women (apart from his wife Alma). He enjoyed the works of Daphne DuMaurier (Rebecca, The Birds) and Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train).

Apart from that fact, both Hitch and Agatha loved to use the setting of trains for their greatest works! Hitchcock could have directed Witness for the Prosecution in 1957, his peak, and most think he did direct it:  but it went to Billy Wilder who used Hitch’s techniques to great effect. Hitchcock could have directed Ten Little Indians in 1945, but chose to avoid the Christie works altogether.

Hitchcock told Francois Truffaut that he disliked the genre of the ‘who done it.’  He found it antithetical to his idea of what made for cinematic story-telling. He likened the genre to a crossword puzzle, with revealing clues as the main point of the story. It was bread and butter for Christie, but Hitchcock hated the notion and revealing the killer at the end of the story.

You may think two of Hitch’s intriguing films, at the least, were of the who done it school:  Psycho actually revealed who the killer was, but not in the way you expected it to be in the final reel. Stage Fright was one of Hitch’s least favorite films and he filmed it because he was told it was a Christie story, but turned out to be one of his weakest entries.

In Shadow of a Doubt in 1943, Hitchcock had two minor characters discuss how to murder each other—and referred to Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective of Christie, in less than flattering terms.

It’s almost tragic that Hitchcock did not direct Witness for the Prosecution or Murder on the Orient Express to see how he might have handled the material. Both films are brilliant stories and wonderful films, but the echoes of Hitch are omnipresent.

So, we were left without any collaboration between the two greats of 20th century murder mystery. It’s not much of a mystery, but it is a tale of audience misfortune.

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Fincher Gives Us a Return to Hitchcock Suspense

 DATELINE: Fincher Does Vertigo

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The Master of Suspense would have approved. Yes, Gone Girl is a takeoff on Vertigo.

As T.S. Elliot said in his Prufrock poem, “Do I dare to eat a peach?” And as we say in our blog, “Do we dare to put David Fincher in the same category as Alfred Hitchcock?”

We hear the mermaids singing for sure, each to each. And this film is creepier than the Overlook Hotel.

Gone Girl is another in a series of David Fincher movies that holds you in a vise grip. He has put his finger on the pulse of media savvy entertainment and has combined it with the ruthless media of the entertainment world. You can’t tell them apart in this doozy of a thriller.

A man with a famous wife who goes missing finds himself under suspicion and under media condemnation. You can’t win if the fake news networks don’t like you. In fact, if you haven’t confessed to what they believe, you may as well jump off the first bridge your chickens cross before counting their clues.

Making dubious decisions and finding critics at every turn quickly makes Nick Dunne (Affleck) look guiltier than the wrong man in every Hitch movie. His cool blonde wife is more mysterious than Kim Novak and Grace Kelly doing a Tippi Hedren imitation.

Hitchcock loved to use red herrings in the clothes of Bob Cummings or Richard Todd. In this film Fincher has found his empty suit in the person of Neil Patrick Harris.

The only piece missing from this Hitchcock homage is a Bernard Herrmann score that lingers in the memory.

What an intriguing movie nevertheless.

 

 

 

A Comedy Tonight: the Life of Mel Brooks

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

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Mel Brooks makes lots of noise in the documentary Mel Brooks: Make a Noise.

With his participation through extensive interviews annotating parts of his career, this little film covers the complete oeuvre of Brooks from a gag man with Sid Caesar to his ultimate Broadway conquest with a musical version of The Producers.

There are so many milestones of hilarity along the way, you begin to comprehend the impact of this writer who, though not particularly religious, played up his Jewish angle like a dog with a bone.

Along the way you will find explanations of the variations of “Springtime for Hitler,” and how it was not well received—at first. You will learn Brooks was an 18-year old soldier in World War II, that he was a mentor and god to Gene Wilder. Wildly peppered with film clips from Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, The Producers, Spaceballs, and others, the laughs keep coming even in retrospect.

Many interviews are vintage because the actors and personalities are no longer alive, but Brooks is more than alive. He is energetic, sharp, and full of himself—and what more could you expect?

In one anecdote, he reveals that he had a private showing of High Anxiety for Alfred Hitchcock. The film was a send-up and homage to the Master of Suspense. After the shower scene, Hitch turned to Brooks and said, “Absolutely brilliant, but you used 13 shower curtain rings and I used only ten.”

If you ever laughed at a Mel Brooks movie, you will love this ultimate compendium from the Master himself.

 

The Manxman is a Minx Woman

DATELINE: No Rippers

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Alfred Hitchcock’s last silent movie may leave a 21st century audience howling for relief.

Based on Hall Caine’s hoary moral tale about two close friends and the woman they both love will leave you wondering when the requisite murder might occur. However, this movie isn’t The Lodger.

The Manxman is a callow fisherman on the Isle of Man. Hence, he is a manx. The girl is the minx.

We can’t possibly spoil the film by telling you that there is no murder when the script keeps telling you it’s coming.

Instead the viewer is subjected to deceit in marriage, duplicity and hypocrisy between friends, suicidal impulses, and a baby too.

Hall Caine was gay, but wrote like Somerset Maugham about straight men that seem like they love each other more than the woman between them, in this case a cool blonde who drives them both to the brink.

Hitchcock had issues with author Caine, and the movie version never satisfied the novelist.

If anything came out of this movie, it was likely that Hall Caine told Hitch that he had a gay affair with a purported Jack the Ripper suspect. It was a theme that seemed to crop up in Hitchcock years later in movies like Strangers on a Train and Rope. His earlier film was about the Ripper. We don’t know if Caine revealed this secret to Hitch, but he may have.

That may be the most noteworthy trivia about The Manxman. Hitch does throw in some brilliant moments, but his signature cameo is not among them. He knew when to stay out of the frame.

The black and white print is gloriously textured, and the acting is gloriously outdated. The actors had faces back then—and they used them to great effect.

Carl Brisson’s naïve and cuckolded sailor has eyes seemingly like limpid pools. We would swear he made more tempestuous glances at his best pal (Matthew Keen) instead of Kate (Anny Ondra).

If a director’s development is more important to you than disappointment in his movie, you have permission to view this motion picture. Otherwise, you should stick with The Birds.

 

 Fans of Hitchcock may want to read ALFRED HITCHCOCK FRESHLY SHOWERED for more insights into his films. Available at Amazon.com in both softcover and e-book formats.

 

Not the Best Lake View

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

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Who’s the audience for Stranger by the Lake? The alleged Hitchcockian thriller has dropped the Hitch from the suspense. You’re left with a whole lotta cock.

This movie is not for gay people whom the director treats negatively. It’s not for straight men that will be repulsed by the brazen gay sex (and we do mean without subtlety). It’s not for gay porn fans (too much plot), and it’s not for fans of likeable characters.

This is a movie that almost immediately makes the protagonist a person to be despised. He witnesses a murder and seduces the killer. Neither the hero, nor the ancillary characters, notice that the car and bath towel of the victim remain at the beach for days while gay cruising goes on unaffected.

If creepy is your thing, then you will be in your element.

Only when the police suspect that there was not an accidental drowning do the cruisers avoid the murder scene, but only for a few days at most.

Gay men in this film put their sex lives over morality, over responsibility, and over good taste. It is not a happy picture of life at a nude gay beach.

Pierre Deladonchamps as Franck uses up his sympathy faster than you can spread mustard on a hot dog. His platonic friend (Patrick d’Assumcao) finds his warnings falling on deaf ears. Franck is a danger nut—and flirts with a homophobic serial killer.

All this sounds like it could have been a suspenseful, interesting movie, but it is ultimately distasteful and off-putting.

Director Alain Guiraudie clearly has talent and may yet develop a movie that will win its audience. This is not that film. The film is also in French with subtitles, to alienate American audiences with elan.

Hitchcock Cameos on/as Person of Interest

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DATELINE: MOVIE/TV MASHUP

 

It appears that Alfred Hitchcock is hanging around the perimeter of the hit TV series Person of Interest. Not since we saw Hitchcock’s image subliminally etched into a wall in Last Year at Marienbad have we been so overwhelmed with Hitchcock sightings.

From Mr. Kingfisher to Mr. Swan and Mr. Wren, Harold Finch seems to be obsessed with The Birds, making all his pseudonyms and aliases based on the notorious Hitchcock movie.

If not mistaken, we have seen Harold adopt the names of more than a half-dozen aviary friends, including his stand-by of Mr. Finch, preferred by his poorly socialized guarddog Reese and pet Belgian Malinois named Bear.

Clearly the producers of Person of Interest, including creator Jonathan Nolan, love to pay homage to Hitchcock. The endless and continuing references have more than caught our interest.

Since our book on Hitchcock is entitled Alfred Hitchcock Freshly Showered, we have more than a passing interest in those keeping the Master of Suspense alive in art.

Person of Interest has a large cache of cameos for Hitch, which would no doubt please the Master.

Even the recent episode of the third season, “4C” was saturated with HItchcockian touches. While Mr. Reese is on a trans-Atlantic flight, he discovers that first-class and coach sections are filled with agents from various nations, all on orders to murder another passenger.

Fortunately, while mayhem is proceeding onboard, no passengers are distracted because they are all enrapt while watching North by Northwest, including scenes of a drone chasing Cary Grant through cornfields.

In another episode, the mysterious figure Reese and Finch track is named Thornhill, but does he exist? Or is his name a mere alias? Of course, this is a throwback again to North by Northwest where Grant’s Roger O. Thornhill is pursued by international espionage agents.

Another episode was devoted totally to the homage: in this case, Reese is in a wheelchair from a gunshot wound and takes up residence in a large apartment complex. Here, Finch must do the legwork while Reese watches his neighbors on computer screens as well as his rear window. Just to make it interesting, he finds a suspect burying something in the flowerbed between the buildings.

Rear Window is put on its head when Finch is the Grace Kelly figure.

When one character notes that his philosophy is based on “Que Sera Sera,” agent Shaw notes that he must be a fan of Doris Day. She made the hit song famous in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Once again, foreshadowing came early on a show in which Reese described himself as a Hitchcock aficionado. That meant, as follows logically, that the climax of the episode took place on a revolving carousel with a shoot-out! Shades of Strangers on a Train.

There are many recurring characters on Person of Interest, and you can add Alfred Hitchcock to the cast.

French Touring Between Beauty and Ugly

 DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

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Jean-Paul Belmondo

Claude Chabrol’s early masterpiece has begun to win converts in reassessment. A Double Tour, also known as Leda, looks like a French impressionistic painting on the lines of Monet, but if you scratch the surface beauty the ugliness bleeds out.

Hitchcock might have made such a picture, and we may not know how much Psycho contributed to this film. They were made around the same time. Yet, Chabrol does the full palette of color and effect where Hitchcock went in for the stark black and white horror.

They arrive at the same place.

Chabrol takes an upper-crust family and their odd relationships. Jean-Paul Belmondo made an early impression here as the free spirit boyfriend of the household’s daughter, though he seems much more the paid companion of the father.

The freewheeling personal connections of Belmondo’s buy/bi & sell character Laszlo and several others draw the interesting subtext that would not have been as obvious to audiences in 1961. It’s there for those with eyes to see consenting adults with amoral lives.

The first part of the film sets up the idea of who will be done in—and the second part resolves the murder. It’s anyone’s guess at first who could be killed.

Several clever and complex flashbacks are in the vein of Hitchcock’s Vertigo to throw the chronology of events into more suspense and suspicion.

In some ways the identities of the killer and the victim are less important than the unveiling of motives and morals among the characters that live in a world of lovely flowers and rich pastoral color.

The film is decades ahead of its time in terms of sophistication, style, and approach. Though it builds on some of what Hollywood in the 1950s mastered, its fresh quality made it a film that Hollywood would later want to imitate.

Books of movie insights by Ossurworld’s William Russo include ALFRED HITCHCOCK FRESHLY SHOWERED,  MOVIES TO SEE–OR NOT TO SEE and MOVIE MASHUP. Read them for unusual insights. All books are available in softcover and ebook on Amazon.com.

Would Hitchcock Have Side Effects from this Movie?

 DATELINE: MOVIES in the Stream

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Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum:  the new Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant?

When we took a look at one of the few suspense character dramas of recent years, it was a crime meller that would have appealed to the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.

Side Effects gives us a mysterious tale of prescription drugs as the MacGuffin. Hitch was no stranger to odd women like Marnie that might have ulterior motives.

This modern version had Rooney Mara as a disturbed woman, Jude Law as her latest psychiatrist, Channing Tatum as her ex-con husband, and Catherine Zeta-Jones as the mysterious ex-psychiatrist returning to the picture.

In the old days, these roles would have respectively gone to Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, Richard Todd, and Marlene Dietrich. It’s possible Hitch could have cast Jane Wyman, Joseph Cotten, Farley Granger, and Joan Fontaine in the same roles. It would have worked for him.

The tale unfolds with the usual themes Hitch would have approved. An apparently nice girl with a heavy foot on the gas pedal seems intent on crashing her car while her ne’er do well husband talks big about making money. The kindly doctor may be done in with his good intentions. The previous psychiatrist (Zeta-Jones) seems overly helpful.

Our personal suspicions were raised in the opening minutes when Rooney Mara’s depressed heroine is a limp dishrag while her hot husband Channing Tatum boinks her on his first night out of prison. That is enough to raise every red flag on the horizon.

Director Stephen Soderbergh once again manages to whet our appetites without wetting himself in self-parody.

Call us cynical and suspicious of mind, but we didn’t trust anyone in this movie.

If you like tart movie reviews, read MOVIE MASHUP, now available on Amazon.com in ebook and softcover.