And Leave the Driving to Hitch….

DATELINE:  Hitchcock’s Breakdown

 Trapped in his car!

“Breakdown” brought Joseph Cotten back together with his old friend Alfred Hitchcock for a half-hour television episode that would send chills down the spine of anyone thinking of driving down to Florida alone. It was supposed to be the first episode of the new TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents…but was held back.

Once again, Hitchcock played with his words. His breakdown could be a fancy sports car in disrepair, or a man in mental exhaustion. In the case of the show, it could be a word for all seasons.

A ruthless business tycoon (Cotten) fires people over the telephone without remorse and is shocked when one accountant begins to cry piteously. Contempt is his best reaction, finding such weakness to be beneath his attention.

Yet, when a bulldozer working with a chain gang hits his car, he is left paralyzed behind the wheel, looking to the world like a dead man. The steering wheel has crushed his chest, or so concludes every witness.

Not one takes his pulse, so convinced are they of his demise. Thus begins his voice-over thoughts as he is robbed, stripped, has his identity taken, but is able to tap his finger to alert the world of his living carcass.

It is to no avail as the shroud is put over him, and he is left in a morgue. Hitchcock pulled out all the stops of fear on this one—from dying, from being buried alive, to fear of loneliness in its ultimate form.

Augurs and omens dominate the first few moments, perhaps giving a clue or two about the fate and character of Cotton’s heartless protagonist.

Cotten must act without benefit of any movement, tic, or facial acknowledgement. He is up to the task, a monumental endeavor for an actor to act dead for a half-hour TV show.






Being Natural and Lost in History: Alice Guy

DATELINE: Pioneer Filmmaker

 Alice Thru the Lens Glass! 

How is it possible for someone to be erased from history in movies? Alice went through the camera lens and made the first wonderland of studio narrative movies! The film is called Be Natural: the Story of Alice Guy-Blache.

With Jodie Foster producing and narrating this insight into forgotten history, Pamela B. Greene is a researcher, director, and force to right a wrong done to a creative and mistreated woman. Alice Guy was contemporary in France to the Lumiere Brothers, and she ran the Gaumont Studios.

Yet, she was omitted time and again by critics for her massive contributions. She made about 1000 short movies from 1896 to the start of World War I.

Both Alfred Hitchcock and Sergei Eisenstein called her a tremendous influence on their directing, but she is still today relatively unknown. Director Greene does a whirlwind of research to uncover the story.

In that way, this is a thrilling and fascinating detective work. Alice Guy-Blache was the victim of critics, bad history, misinformation, and a husband who took credit for her work.

She was a driving force for Solax Pictures, one of the big movie companies in Fort Lee, New Jersey. All the others went to Hollywood, and she went out of business.

Returning to France, she was further isolated and ignored. IN her later years she tried to find her films, but most were lost. During the 1950s her glowing, brilliant works were slowly found.

Her mantra was “Be Natural,” to actors. It was heresy in the silent era, but her films feature performances that are amazing by today’s standards.

Family told her in old age to give up: she would never be recognized. Fortunately, that is not true, thanks to pioneer women in movies today uncovering the injustice done to Alice. This turns out to be an extraordinary documentary.

Many Years Ago at Marienbad

DATELINE: Classic Movie Requires Another View


The amazing classic French “art” film called Last Year at Marienbad was a tremendous influence on TV commercials. It was too esoteric to do much else for dumb audiences.

Well, the film has been re-mastered—and is stunning to see. The rococo corridors we saunter for long ambling walks are fresh with elegant details.

The narrator with ennui seems even more parfait for the job. And, you cannot find a more stylized actress than Delphine Seyrig. She couldn’t follow up this act with any other film performance, which is a career defining acting job.

You soon are staggered by the actors who wander the hallways making the same comments repeatedly. They never blink. It is rather disconcerting, but Resnais never let them blink in a scene, and most of the time they are moving at a snail’s pace.

We loved the cameo of Alfred Hitchcock to set the tone in the first 15 minutes.

Is it Marienbad or Frederiksbad? The grounds outside the hotel are so bizarre as to fit the nature of the tale.

And, the tale is a ghost story. Long before Stephen King took us to a Colorado haunt, the Marienbad location is even more horrific without one shred of blood. However, there are mysterious deaths. Who shot whom? And who fell off the balustrade?

The game with matchsticks is maddening—and fate.

The characters often refer to seeing phantoms or not being alive. Well, yes, they are all dead, reliving that hideous season when the lake frozen over in 1928, or was it 1929? They have lost track of time for good reason. They keep reliving every creepy moment.

This is a hypnotic and truly overwhelming movie that will be beyond the attention-deficit audiences of today. Watch in small doses. You will fall back under its influence almost immediately—and you will re-live every moment at Marienbad forever. Years will not matter.







Thomas Crown: An Affair Not to Remember?

DATELINE: What Should Have Been?

 Stand-in graveyard?

In 1968, one of the ultra-cool movies that was meant to be an antidote to the growing counter-culture of long-hair and hippies, was Norman Jewison’s stylish caper film. Sexy cool, with dune buggy rides on Crane’s beach in Ipswich and rooftop brunch on a patio in the South End of Boston, this was your ultimate sophistication.

The Thomas Crown Affairwas meant to be a vehicle showing off a Brahmin Bostonian outsmarting a beautiful insurance agent at his hobby of “crime.”

It has all the looks of a film back in the late 1960s when Alfred Hitchcock wanted to drag Grace Kelly out of retirement with the promise of another Cary Grant co-star vehicle. It’sTo Catch a Thief in reverse. However, nothing panned out. The film settles for second-best.

Hitchcock also had Tippi Hedren under contract—and so they could not even bring her on as the beautiful insurance agent. Yet, Faye Dunaway is clearly wearing the designer outfits and living the life of a millionaire investigator meant for Grace or Tippi. She tangles with a guy in a Brooks Brothers suit who pretends to be a millionaire executive, but looks like a motorcyclist in posh dress.

No doubt that Steve McQueen looks dashing, but we never believed for a second that he could play polo or chess. Not only that, the film looks like it was supposed to play out in London, but they had to settle for Boston. McQueen reportedly could not master a Boston accent and gave up half-way through the film.

It’s the ultimate double-cross thriller that Hitch loved to do, but Jewison throws in modern elements like split-screen moments (all pointless) and Noel Harrison (not Rex) sings “Windmills of Your Mind.” It seems even Dusty Springfield turned them down.

The climax of the movie takes place at Cambridge City Cemetery, a stand-in for ritzy and prestigious Mount Auburn Cemetery across the street, no doubt. We were a tad shocked to see filming near my mother’s recent burial site back then, not far from her grandmother.

Some films you may remember for all the wrong reasons.






Art & Neon

DATELINE:  Hitch Loved Neon

 Neon Novak Novak in Neon!

An Australian film, Neon may seem like a subject hardly worthy of excitement. When some of the interviewees talk about the colored gas lights, you begin to think they need to get a life.

Neon, of course, defines American business, urban life, and a change in American perspective. Once you realize that the invention and adoption of neon lights in American business altered the landscape of the nation, you begin to recognize how special it is.

Not surprisingly, once again Nikola Tesla enters the picture as one of the prime inventors of neon light, but he never patented it, nor made a nickel off the product. Patent fights centered over a Frenchman who produced lights first stunning Paris.

Though the United States featured several World Fairs with cities of lights in the 19th century, the notion of neon changed the life of urban America when it seemed to debut and spread over Broadway and Manhattan in the 1920s.

Neon’s bright and jazzy colors and motion brought forth a new nocturnal culture. And, it was immediately picked up as a motif in movies, first in musicals and as a flashy jazz parallel. Only later did it turn dark with film noir—and then color noir.

Neon captivated movies. Indeed, Hitchcock loved to use neon—in his great movies like Psycho (that alluring Bates Motel) and as the garish green ghost of Kim Novak in Vertigo.

Las Vegas is where the light-scale went bonkers in the years after World War II. Nothing could compare to the garish, commercial call. Yet, the images of flashing logos became landmarks, not just sales gimmicks.

The film presents an array of magnificent shots of glowing neon signs and streets across the world.

Only when neon began its inevitable fade to black did artists and museums realize it needed preservation. As an expensive means of communication, it now seems to be finding homes in art refugee centers. However, mammoth chunks of 90 feet of neon is not conducive to indoor display.

The film turns elegiac when neon starts to lose the battle with time and timeliness. At least a movie like this will allow future viewers to see what magnificence it truly inspired.



Hitchcock’s Little Bang!

 DATELINE:  Short Suspense Subject by the Master!

Mumy boy

What a treat to find ourselves looking at the last half-hour episode of his TV series actually directed by Mr. Hitchcock himself.

Sandwiched between Psycho and The Birds, he gave us a gift of a timeless tale about dangerous weapons in the hands of children. “Bang! You’re Dead” is a minor gem.

Once again, he used a child star who would soon climb to more legendary fame. Back in 1954, he came up with Jerry Mathers as the little boy who discovers the dead Harry in Trouble with Harry. Mathers later went on to more trouble with Leave It To Beaver Cleaver.

In 1961, he picked out Billy Mumy, half-a-dozen years before he made a star burst on Lost in Space. Mumy was an extraordinary child actor, and his brilliant performance makes the episode all the more chilling. In one scene, while adults around him talk, he keeps an unblinking eye on his uncle, just returned from Africa and promising a special gift to the boy.

In an age when all the boys were pretending to be cowboys and had hats and guns, Mumy finds a gun and bullets in his uncle’s suitcase and presumes this is his gift. He puts one round in the chamber and switches his toy gun for the real one.

Spinning the chamber as if playing Russian Roulette, he begins a journey around the neighborhood, figuring to plug those people who give him a hard time: and there are plenty of candidates from the mailman to an annoying father and daughter at the supermarket.

Hitch zeroes in on the little fingers stuffing more bullets into the chamber and spinning away, making each shot more likely to hit a mark.

The excruciating suspense is nasty as each incident makes the growing menace more frightening. At the least, the episode ends with seven years of bad luck.

Extraordinary short film is from the seventh season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.


Alfred Hitchcock & Agatha Christie: Never the Twain

DATELINE:  Giants in Separate Corners

   agatha       hitch

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.

Fincher Gives Us a Return to Hitchcock Suspense

 DATELINE: Fincher Does Vertigo


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



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


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 in both softcover and e-book formats.


Not the Best Lake View


 lake view

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

kindle HitchcoverInteresting Persons



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



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

Would Hitchcock Have Side Effects from this Movie?

 DATELINE: MOVIES in the Stream


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 in ebook and softcover.