Rope

*Originally written in 2004 (it goes without saying as my reviews from this period are basically one big plot reveal, but SPOILER ALERT)

Another technological feat from Hitchcock; a film which seems to have no cuts throughout. Although there are five or six, the editing is so swift that you will have trouble finding the cutting points, and the blend between each is seamless. Like other Hitchcock films where he experiments with camera work and conventional methods of filming and storytelling, it is a success and never feels as if it is the main gimmick of the film. The story and acting are all good enough to keep the viewer enthralled, and the balance between plot and camera-work is perfectly balanced, structured and adds to the overall effect of the film. In short – you can enjoy it without knowing or caring about any of the technical aspects, or for everything mentioned above.

The film takes place over the period of a single night in an apartment owned by two young men, students of Philosophy taught by the well-respected, cynical and clever Rupert Cadell. The students, Brandon and Phillip, decide to murder someone as an experiment, to see what it feels like and to see if they can get away with it. They choose to kill a friend, hiding the body in a trunk in their apartment before inviting Rupert and their other friends (including the victim’s family) over for a party. Enjoying the irony and thrill of it all at first, the pressure soon grows; Knowing jokes about death and murder are thrown around, the victim’s family and friends wonder why he is late and cannot get in contact with him, philosophical, moral and political discussions become heated, arguments break out, and Rupert becomes increasingly suspicious as the Brandon and Phillip’s behaviour gets more strange. Phillip becomes more nervous as the irony, dark humour, and pressure from Rupert grows, and eventually the horror is uncovered. The boys explain their actions and Rupert realises that to some degree he had a part in it, because of his subversive teachings. The superiority complex much talked about by Nietzsche is explored, and the boys question of whether it is right to kill another person because you feel superior is discussed with Hitchockian flair and humour.

The dialogue is typical of Hitchcock, full of dark humour and nodding sight gags such as the fact that the food is served from the trunk in which the body lies. The backdrop of the city is impressive and Dall is pretty chilling. The rest of the cast are admittedly average, but Jimmy Stewart makes up for this by giving a memorable performance, almost against type. He easily controls the screen, and we come to feel like he is superior, all the more shocking and ironic when we sense his involvement in the death and his reaction to that knowledge. A lesser known Hitchcock, but one no less worthy of catching today.

Let us know in the comments what you though of Rope!

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Nightman’s Top Ten Films Of The 1950s

*Note – I accidentally messed up my count when writing out the mini-reviews, leaving out my number 1st time around, hence this list being eleven instead of ten. More fun for you!

Greetings, glancers! Hopefully you have all been enjoying my Top Ten Lists by each year, keeping in mind that these are more representative of personal preference than quality. Now that I have completed each year of the 1950s, I thought I would give a quick overview of my Top Ten of the decade and maybe see if any particular year stands out.

11. Marty (1955)

10. Rebel Without A Cause (1955)

9. Godzilla (1954)

8. The Thing From Another World (1951)

7. Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers (1956)

6. Throne Of Blood (1957)

5. Dial M For Murder (1954)

4. Vertigo (1959)

3. Rear Window (1954)

2.  Seven Samurai (1954)

  1.  North By Northwest (1959)

As if there was any doubt, Kurosawa and Hitchcock owned the 50s. They make up the top six positions, and any one of those can be shown to someone who has never seen a Hitchcock or Kurosawa film before, and they’ll be converted. Maybe Throne Of Blood doesn’t quite fall into that category, but it’s a great one to show Kurosawa fans who haven’t yet experienced it.

Marty I saw in my late teens, and it’s probably a film I would not have bothered with for a long time, if not at all, had it not been for my brother’s love of Airwolf. He would seek out any movies or shows featuring the stars of Airwolf and in those early Internet days it wasn’t so easy getting a hold of those. Marty was one of the easiest as it was an Oscar winning film, compared to something like Damnation Alley. Ernest Borgnine of course won an Oscar for the film, well deserved too. It’s just a very sweet, underdog romance, with an unlucky in love guy and gal meeting each other and… you know the rest. It’s like Rocky, but without the fights.

Rebel Without A Cause is James Dean’s most famous, most iconic movie – it’s one of the films you kind of know all about before you ever watch it thanks to the pop cultural imagery. It’s arguably the first, and maybe still the best film about the generation gap as seen primarily from the youth’s POV. It’s basically about three messed up kids who end up in a police station together and we get to see what they’ve done, examine why they may have done it, and then we get all these classic scenes of 50s American teen life – school, fights, car races – almost every cliche in the book comes from this movie. Only the most iconic movies get banned or create a public outcry – this one seeing concerned groups freaking about their children (or neighbour’s children) becoming juvenile delinquents. Only the most iconic films have their own unique curse – stars Dean, Mineo, and Wood all dying in excessively tragic or mysterious circumstances. Throw in Dennis Hopper, Nicholas Ray directing, and it’s a film everyone should see, preferably at the age depicted.

Godzilla is Godzilla. Again, even if you haven’t seen the original, or any of the four million sequels or remakes, you know what it is. There are a lot of iconic movies this year, but the cool thing is that people are always surprised by how good they are when they watch for the first time. Godzilla is of course Japan’s answer to King Kong, with added nuclear paranoia thanks to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and while both films look clunky now when you first see the creatures, the quality of the direction and storytelling quickly makes you forget and sucks you in. I saw this when I was young, and like many people who see Frankenstein when they are young, I sided quickly with ‘the monster’. It take a hell of a lot of skill to make you sympathize with a hundred foot city crushing dinosaur.

The Thing From Another World is not quite as iconic as others on the list, primarily due to it being overshadowed by Carpenter’s definitive version. You probably shouldn’t go showing The Thing to kids but Nyby’s version is a fantastic introduction to  sci fi and horror for kids. Again, you quickly forget the age of the film and get pulled in by the plot, the claustrophobia, and the tension.

Five years later and we get another sci-fi classic of paranoia and tension in Invasion of The Body Snatchers. It’s my least favourite of the film versions (excluding The Invasion because it is balls), but it’s still fantastic – showing how strong the 70s and 90s versions are. Cinematic sci-fi hit a peak this decade as technology began to catch up with ideas – it wouldn’t be till 1977 till the next major leap took place. In this version, which is by far the most hopeful, a Doctor keeps having patients who claim that their relatives and friends have been ‘replaced’ by someone else, even though they look the same – Capgras Delusion. What is initially dismissed as a group hysteria becomes more sinister as the evidence stacks up, and a silent invasion seemingly spreads throw the city. It’s a little on the nose at times, but it’s great fun and another fine introduction for younger viewers.

Throne Of Blood, as mentioned above, is fantastic. It’s shocking. It’s Shakespeare, but not as you know it. It takes the loose plot of Macbeth, transports it to some point in feudal Japan history, and features one of the all time great death scenes. Seriously, every single time someone who hasn’t seen that moment sees it, their mind is blown. Even though Toshiro Mifune is awesome here (he always is), it’s Izuza Yamada as his wife who steals the show – she is utterly terrifying.

Dial M For Murder is underrated. I feel like when critics and fans talk about Hitchcock’s best films, they always leave this out. Maybe because it isn’t as experimental groundbreaking as some of his other works, but few beat it on sheers thrills and tension building. It’s a familiar enough story, but wrapped around multiple double-crosses that by the end you’ll be tied in knots. In classic Sherlock style, it all takes a Wiley detective to unfurl the mess for us and it’s utterly compelling. Grace Kelly and John Williams are superb and it’s dripping with Hitchcock’s trademark wit.

Vertigo is one of the greatest films of all time. I’ve said it before, that there are four films that tick all the boxes from cultural impact to importance to money making to critical and fan acclaim that no others come close to – Star Wars, The Godfather, and this. The other just happens to be on this list too. These are, in my opinion, the four most important films ever made. Where do you begin with Vertigo? It’s probably Hitchcock’s greatest achievement, bearing in mind he also has three other films on this list, and also made the likes of Rebecca, Psycho, The Birds. The film concerns a detective (James Stewart) who retires after his fear of heights causes the death of a fellow cop. He takes on some freelance work from an old friend, tasked with following the friend’s wife around as the friend suspects she is in danger. Maddie, the wife, meanders around San Fransisco, making various deliberate stops before eventually, apparently trying to kill herself. Stewart rescues her, and falls in love with her, but love quickly becomes obsession, deception, death, rebirth, and a whole bunch of other crazy stuff happens. It’s another film which is great fun to watch with someone who knows nothing about it – like all of Hitchcock’s best movies, they keep you guessing, and second guessing – but you’ll be surprised at every turn.

Rear Window makes it three in a row for The Master. It’s a perfect film, a technical marvel, a sign of a man at the height of his powers and craft, a twisting, yet simple story laid out bodies on a slab, and stars Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, and Thelma Ritter – three of the all time greats. You’ll hear people say that films from so long ago couldn’t possibly affect them, scare them, make them laugh – this will do all of those and prove them wrong.

I mentioned the four most important films ever earlier? Seven Samurai is the other one. Has there ever been a three plus hour black and white movie, in Japanese, that rattles by so quickly and holds your attention so closely? Hell, few modern 90 minute Hollywood movies can manager that today. When people are listing their favourite films, it’s easy to gush on about plot but the truth is that even the most complex plot can be boiled down into one or two sentences – Seven Samurai is as simple as it gets – a bunch of bad guys are antagonizing and hurting a bunch of peasant farmers, so the farmers group together and request that (insert title here) protect them and get rid of the bad guys. You’ve seen that movie a hundred times in a hundred different way, but never as good as this. It’s the characterization, the stylized fights which range from chaotic and fast, almost anti-cinematic and anti-Kurosawa, and therefore more realistic, to the ultra-slowed wide shots to show just how badass the Samurai are. You feel each death personally and by the end you look at the time and wonder if you can squeeze in another watch before bed.

What could possibly top all of those movies? Hitchcock doing Bond, before Bond was a thing. North By Northwest is one of those movies which has it all – drama, romance, thrills, laughs, action, suspense – every genre worth covering is covered. The plot is your standard Hitchcock ‘innocent man in wrong place at wrong time’ movie, and sees Carey Grant on the run for a crime he didn’t commit, and while the cops try to catch him and the criminals try to kill him, he just wants to clear his name and if he’s lucky, fuck Eva Marie Saint. Spoiler Alert – the train does enter the tunnel. There’s just so much to love here, mainly stemming from the script and the way the top drawer cast relishes it. You also have the iconic cornfield chase, the iconic Mt Rushmore fight, and a high octane pace that today’s action directors can only dream of.

Let me know in the comments what you think of these movies, and your reasons for not seeing any of them yet!

Mr And Mrs Smith

*Originally written in 2003

A light-hearted Hitchcock comedy with some good performances and an interesting idea, but one which fails to stay in the memory. Hitchcock’s most notorious and memorable comedic scenes are those which appear in his most tense and thrilling films, working best because of the dark and sexually charged situations his characters find themselves in. In Mr and Mrs Smith Hitchcock spends the entire film dissecting the flaws and perks of married life – becoming overly accustomed to one another, yet knowing that no-one else could put up with each other.

After playing their usual, monthly truth telling game in which husband and wife ask each other a question which the other must answer truthfully, a game which will naturally lead to problems, Annie becomes annoyed with her husband David. She asks if he had to do it all over again, would he still have married her. He answers with a ‘no’ as he misses his freedom, but says he does not regret anything he has done, and loves her. In an odd coincidence both David and Annie hear that their marriage is void and they simply must remarry. However, both decide to play with the rule unknown to the other, and soon all hell breaks loose.

The two leads are good and the best moments, aside from the dialogue, are Hitchcock deliberately showing the monotony of both married life, the singles game, and the last few scenes in the log cabins involving husband and wife trying to make each other guilty. Unfortunately this is too soft, and does not have enough funny parts to deserve many watches, but is an interesting film nonetheless and a change of pace from what we would expect.

Lifeboat

*Crappy review originally from 2003 after my first watch – it’s now one of my favourites.

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Lifeboat is an early experimental film by Alfred Hitchcock, one mainly taking place in the limited confines of a lifeboat. A US ship has been bombed, and a number of survivors reach a lifeboat. Connie Porter is a self-interested, strong-willed reporter, Kovac is anti-German due to the war, and each of the other characters have their own problems and opinions. When a young mother kills herself after her baby dies, the crew become closer and try to find a way out of their situation, deciding to sail for Bermuda even though their compass is broken. When a German joins the boat they crew argue over what to do – some don’t trust him, others say they cannot just throw him out. The German says he knows which way Bermuda is and the others follow his course. He has another agenda though, appearing to lead them to a Nazi supply ship, keeping the water and food pills for himself. When he lets one of the group die they turn against him in typically brutal fashion. However, was he genuinely trying to help them? And how will the group escape now?

The film is of course character driven, but unfortunately many of the characters are not as interesting as the core group and no matter what happens they seem passive and unemotional. Each actor does well even if none stand out and the tension continues to build by small degrees until the last 15 minutes or so. Hitchcock would hone these elements in later films such as Rear Window and Rope, films which also center on a number of moral debates while taking place in a single set. It is interesting because we inevitably ask ourselves what we would do in such a situation, who we would trust, what prejudices would we put aside or exploit to ensure our survival.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Lifeboat!

Walk Of Fame Inductees July 2016

To check the dubious reasoning behind these posts, check the original here:

https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2015/05/14/walk-of-fame-a-celebration-of-heroism/

In this new series of posts I’ll be selecting a Star at random from every decade (who was born in that decade) starting from the 1880s up until the 1990s to be interred in this land of magic and wonder, who will for ever more see their name set in stone far beyond the places where Gods dare to tread. Each name will have a unique star placed and statue built-in their honour. Often accompanying these additions will be news of a new store or museum to go alongside those stars whose work is of particular genius, and you too can visit and see the place of your dreams, simply by closing your eyes….

1880sEdith Evans. For contributions to Cinema and Theatre. Primarily a stage actress, from 1912 to 1974, Evans occasionally appeared on the big screen to critical acclaim, garnering three Oscar nominations in four years. She is remembered for works including The Whisperers, Tom Jones, and The Chalk Garden.

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1890sAlfred Hitchcock. For contributions to Cinema, Television. The Master himself, Hitchcock was already established in Britain as one of the finest Directors in the world having made several hit silent and talkie movies. It wasn’t until he headed for Hollywood that he became arguably the greatest and most influential Director of them all, creating classic after classic and changing the way people thought about Cinema forever. On top of that, he was one of the earliest pioneers of Television with his series considered one of the best ever made. He is known for works including Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Psycho, Vertigo, and North By Northwest.

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1900sFay Wray. For contributions to Cinema and Television. One of the many WAMPAS babies, Wray started out in short films before moving to long form silent movies and talkies before becoming a star with King Kong. Continuing to star in a variety of genre movies for the next two decades, Wray also transitioned to Television in the 1950s where she would spend the majority of her later career. She is remembered for works including The Pride Of The Family and It Happened In Hollywood. 

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1910sCarole Landis. For contributions to Cinema and Theatre. An actress always on the verge of stardom, her early suicide was a tragedy in many senses, not least that she missed out on fulfilling her potential – the details of her death have since mired what was a promising career. She is remembered for works including Four Jills In A Jeep, One Million BC, and My Gal Sal.

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1920sRod Steiger. For contributions to Cinema, Theatre, and Television. One of many people who escaped a rough childhood by becoming an actor, Steiger had a long and varied career in multiple mediums and was an Oscar and Bafta winner while also picking up many further nominations. Equally content on the stage, big screen, or small screen, Steiger’s performances were often the most memorable part of the works he appeared in, whether it be an indie drama or war time epic. He is remembered for works such as On The Waterfront, In The Heat Of The Night, and The Pawnbroker. 

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1930sMorgan Freeman. For contributions to Cinema, Theatre, and Television. Although it seems like Morgan Freeman has been around forever, his most famous roles only began in the late 1980s, stepping easily between drama, comedy, and blockbuster. In truth he had been acting from an early age, appearing on stage after a military career throughout the 60s and 70s before moving to TV soap operas. Since garnering mainstream success he has been noted as one of the finest, most respected actors of his generation thanks to works including The Dark Knight TrilogyThe Shawshank Redemption, and Driving Miss Daisy.

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1940sPeter Greenaway. For contributions to Cinema and Television. A British director heavily influence by music, costume, and art, much of Greenaway’s work is experimental and visually appealing, challenging and engaging. Along side movies he continues to make short films and documentaries, but he is best known for works such as The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, The Draughtman’s Contract, and The Pillow Book.

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1950sMichael Ontkean. For contributions to Cinema and Television. Known primarily for his roles as a law enforcement official in various TV shows, Ontkean also has made a variety of movies since the Seventies before recently retiring. He is popular due to performances in works such as Twin Peaks, The Rookies, and Clara’s Heart.

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1960sBrendan Fraser. For contributions to Cinema and Television. An actor whose affable persona and performances meant great success in comedy roles in his early careen, Fraser crossed over to action movies seemlessly, becoming another American every man hero in the Indian Jones mold. He is known for works including The Mummy Series, Airheads, and Bedazzled.

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1970sVicki Shao. For contributions to Music, Television, and Cinema. Also known as Zhao Wei, Shao is one of the most famous and respected actors in China, familiar to many Western audiences too due to performances in works such as Red Cliff, Shaolin Soccer, and My Fair Princess.

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1980sBriana Evigan. For contributions to Cinema and Television. One of several actresses who have been earmarked as new wave Scream Queens, Evigan may come from an acting family but used her own dancing and acting talent to forge her own career, appearing in works such as The Step Up Series, Mother’s Day, and From Dusk Till Dawn. 

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1990sLiam Hemsworth. For contributions to Cinema and Television. The youngest of the Hemsworth clan of brothers, Liam got his break in popular Australian Soap operas before moving to Hollywood. It wasn’t long before he began picking up minor and supporting roles in a variety of movies before appearing in larger roles in bigger blockbusters. He is known for works such as The Hunger Games Trilogy, The Expendables II, and Independence Day: Resurgence. 

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In addition to the stars and statues erected for the people above, the following attractions have also been unveiled:

The Alfred Hitchcock Museum and Film School: In honour of Alfred Hitchcock, this massive campus has been created as both a school for those interested in a career in movies and/or television and a tourist destination for fans of the man. While the state of the art film school will house many lecture halls, classrooms, living quarters and other facilities, along with a wide variety of classes and courses taught by some of the universe’s foremost experts on Hitchcock himself and every aspect of the industry, the museum features memorabilia and information on all aspects of Hitchcock’s life and every piece of work he was involved in. Many fully realized sets from his most famous movies are available to wander through including the Bates Motel, Mount Rushmore, and Bodega Bay -feel free to stay a few nights in or near to any of these destinations and more.

The Ancient Cairo Holiday Complex: In honour of Brendan Fraser – if epic scope and Ancient Egypt are your thing, then spend a few bucks and visit the Ancient Cairo Holiday Complex – this monumental tourist destination is only marginally smaller than the real thing and brings together 100% accurate restorations of all of Cairo’s most famous landmarks and hotspots – from the nearby Ginza Pyramid Complex along with the more recent Cairo Citadel and modern Cairo Tower. Spend days shopping in the complexes copious bazaars and stores and eating at the many restaurants, relax at one of the six star hotels, or have fun at our water and theme parks. The focal point is of course the series of Mummy related attractions – from booby trap filled pyramids for all the family to paintball style adventure games with a host of rendered undead villains.

What sort of attractions based on any of the people above would you like to see created in your wildest dreams? Let us know in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesdays – Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock is the greatest director of all time; that is a fact. No other director can equal both the critical and commercial success he had with the cultural impact and influence on other filmmakers. While he may not be my favourite director, he has a body of work so wide and varied that it is supremely difficult to pick a top ten. However, I have selected my ten favourite Hitchcock films below, and they likely represent the most famous of his works. There are still quite a few of his early films that I haven’t been able to see, but the list below is varied enough that it covers his early Hollywood period and his later peaks. I would have loved to include a couple of his early British thrillers but I feel like he improved upon those same ideas once he crossed the Atlantic. One note on the ranking – aside from the number 1 pick, the top 6 are entirely interchangeable – all equally beloved. As ever, let the debate reign on.

The 39 Steps

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Hitchcock’s first effective chase thriller featuring a wrongly accused man on the run came in 1935 and stars a wonderful Robert Donet trying to clear his name. Even though we’re staring at the 80th anniversary of this film, there are enough thrills, action, comedy, and of course suspense to enjoy for modern viewers. As a child of the 80s, returning to films from before 1960 can be a daunting decision as we expect to see laughable effects, wooden stage acting, and amateur technical abilities. This can be true depending on your sensibilities, but they don’t call Hitchcock ‘The Master’ for nothing. One of the finest technical maestros of his time, his professional touch is clear on every shot, and even though technology has advanced beyond imagination in the last 80 years, storytelling has not. The pay off is high, there are a number of notable scenes, although the twists and plot which Hannay finds himself in seem a little silly now, what with people with photographic memories hiding military secrets along with all the misplaced identity stuff.

Rebecca

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Welcome to Hollywood, Mr Hitchcock. His first film made in the States was a major success, winning the Best Picture and Best Cinematography Oscars, and being nominated for a host more. With a central acting trio of Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, and Judith Anderson it is a brilliant, brooding portrayal of romance, betrayal, guilt, loss, and obsession. As strong as the cast is, Hitch’s touch is everywhere creating a sensation of unease and stretching out some of the more haunting scenes to nerve-wracking degrees. The film would be one of several successful adaptations of a piece of Du Maurier fiction helmed by Hitchcock.

Lifeboat

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After Rebecca, Hitchcock had a string of war era films which covered the thriller, romance, and comedy genres, some of which touched upon the war effort, themes of war, or propaganda. In Lifeboat the most overt handling with the ongoing war was given, the plot dealing with the survivors of a U-boat attack stranded in a lifeboat in the ocean. It was Hitchcock’s first effort at telling a story with a limited setting – essentially the entire film takes place on the small boat, but any problems one would expect for such a film are turned into successes. There’s certainly a lot to be said for what can be created when surrounded by barriers, self-imposed or otherwise. The crew sees a mixture of races, sexes, and countries all acting as a metaphor for the Allies versus the Axis, The film offers no easy answers, builds up the enemy in a respectable manner and shows the supposedly good guys engaging in paranoia,confusion, and indecision, eventually engaging in murderous acts. The ending, as with much of the film, is a grey area and while the evil is shown to be evil, what can be done with people like that?

Rope

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Expanding brilliantly upon the technical limitation versus technical innovation ideas presented in Lifeboat, Hitchcock’s Rope looks and feels like a one-take theatre production. The action takes place entirely within the apartment of two young suave, egotistic students who plan, plot, and execute the perfect murder and try to get away with it, all shot with long takes to give the appearance of no cuts taking place. At this point in time Hitchcock was already a major force and it is a brave and shocking move to see him take such a novel and experimental approach to his latest film. Based on the play of the same name, the movie does feel like you are sitting just below the stage watching the action, but Hitchcock makes sure that your eye follows exactly what he wants it to. From a casting perspective the two villains are convincing in both their callousness, guilt, superiority, but it is Jimmy Stewart who steals the show. Stewart is unlike his usually jolly heroic self, deftly moving between a superior intellectual, detective, and man wracked with residual guilt for possibly, in a roundabout way giving the murderers the idea. Also unusual for a Hitchcock thriller is the fact that we know who the killer is and what their motive is from the outset, and the tension comes from us watching Stewart gradually break down the case in front of the killers, and in front of the family of the departed. For a brilliant comic remake of the plot, check out the excellent British comedy Psychoville who pay homage to the film in a particularly gripping and hilarious episode.

The Birds

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A return to horror for Hitchcock after the success of his 1960 stabathon, The Birds remains an enigmatic and potent film which still unnerves and begs questioning. Like Psycho, The Birds follows a woman with a mysterious past stopping off on a journey and having that past, or some part of it, catch up to hear. Loosely based on another Du Maurier story, we follow Tippi Hedren embark on a playful flirtatious visit to Rod Taylor. Before long the visit becomes darker as Hedren’s character (Melanie) is viciously attacked by a seagull. As Melanie continues to become involved with Taylor’s family – mother Jessica Tandy and sister Veronica Cartwright – the bird attacks escalate in scale, frequency and ferocity. is it all somehow linked to Melanie’s appearance? The film certainly poses these questions directly, offers no answers, and continues to give critics and fans headaches decades on – feminist criticism is an area which this films lends itself to wonderfully, with the added bonus of what we know of Hitchcock himself giving extra dimensions. Hedren is wonderful in her debut, the cold blonde Hitchcock was so enamoured with, Taylor is the castrated hero, and everyone else involved do what is expected of them. The build up to any action can be excruciatingly slow, but once the fun starts it rarely lets up. The effects are outstanding, the bird work breathtaking, and there are many iconic, eerie moments – the birds on the park, the school attack, the attic attack, and the final shot are all noteworthy.

Rear Window

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Jimmy Stewart returns again, a character similar to the one he plays in Rope, this time with the intellect largely replaced by casual paranoia, voyeurism, and boredom. Voyeurism is the name of the game here, with Hitchcock once again controlling exactly what we should and should not see, what we need to, and what we don’t. Stewart plays a photographer is who wheelchair bound in his apartment with nothing to do all day but spy on his neighbours and put up with visits from a superb Thelma Ritter and a breathtaking Grace Kelly. Waking one night after he hears a woman screaming, Stewart begins to suspect one of his neighbours of murder – the man begins acting unusually and his wife has mysteriously vanished. Bringing us along for the ride we are left to try to work out if we agree with Stewart’s assumption based on the evidence, or if we feel he is clutching at straws – both Kelly and Ritter play along too, an interested, interesting comic duo who both spur on and try to restrain Stewart’s antics. Ritter in particular, one of the finest, most underrated actresses of all time gives a stonking performance and Kelly does not get much to do until the later stages of the film aside from being playful with Stewart. Watching the events unfold we can’t help but become wrapped up in them, make assumptions on each of the people we see, and as the film races towards its tension-filled conclusion we feel as if we are going to be caught out too. One of the best examples of how to create and build tension, and with a superb pay-off, Rear Window is an effortless masterpiece.

Dial M For Murder

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This has always felt to me like a cross between Rear Window and Rope, with the blending of those plot ideas, and with a number of similar characters popping up. We have Grace Kelly giving arguably her best performance as the wrongly accused murderer, herself the target of murder trying desperately to clear her own name. Stealing the film though is John Williams, as the almost camp detective who unravels the case in a near comic fashion. Hitchcock was at his peak from the early 50s to the early 60s, with Dial M For Murder being an essentially perfect film – thrilling, entertaining, a decent winding plot well told, acted, and directed. Hitchcock’s best thrillers often verge on the convoluted, with red herrings and maguffins thrown in to confuse, confound, distract, and engage – we fall prey to these during the course of the movie even as we watch and hope that Kelly will somehow find a way out of her mess.

Vertigo

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I’ve always said that there are only a handful of movies that truly deserve to be called the best ever – those which are entertaining for the widest possible audience, groundbreaking, influential, special – The Seven Samurai, The Godfather, A New Hope, and this are the four films I keep coming back to when anyone asks what the best film ever is. Vertigo may be the least entertaining of those four, and it isn’t my favourite Hitchcock, but it may be the most influential and the one which deserves to most critical discussion and dissection. Vertigo is a maze, a marvel, a majestic movie which drags you down and spits you out in the most gut-churning and puzzling ways.

The film open with a rooftop chase scene where a cop – Scottie (Jimmy Stewart) witnesses the death of another policeman, which gives him vertigo and acrophobia. Later, we see that he has retired, and is at a loose end, living with his ex-girlfriend. When an old friend, Gavin, asks him to follow his wife Madeline whom he believes has been possessed and is a danger to herself. Scotty and Madeline begin their own tangled web until she apparently kills herself by jumping from a Church bell-tower – when a woman who looks just like Madeline turns up a few days after the tragedy, things get even more interesting.

Convoluted even by Hitchcock’s standards, the plot jumps from place to place with dizzying speed, twisting the viewer up in knots until the final act – even then when we learn the truth, Jimmy Stewart still has to figure it out for himself. Stewart plays another character apart from what he was typically known for – he is obsessed, frightened, violent, timid, while Kim Novak takes the crown as Hitchcock’s perfect mystery blond. Throw in a spellbinding Herrmann score, a fancy title sequence, a bizarre and horrific nightmare sequence, and of course the famous Vertigo effect, and we have a film which broke new technical and storytelling ground, as well as being gripping entertainment. This is The Master’s finest film, one where everything you need to know, and ask about the man is covered, and one which will continue to enchant and confound until the oceans turn to ash.

Pyscho

Psycho_Trailer

Probably still Hitchcock’s most famous film, Psycho is the first modern horror film, shocking audiences in 1960 just when a new generation born out of the Second World War were beginning to ask questions about themselves and the world. Redefining horror forever, Psycho still has the power to chill seasoned horror veterans like myself over 50 years later. Starring Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, Jennifer Leigh as Marion Crane in a famous misdirect, and Vera Miles as Lila, the film was a stark contrast to most of Hitchcock’s globe-trotting, high budget recent works. Filmed in a handful of sets, with a low-budget (the studio refused to finance the film believing the book it was based on to be too violent for film), and in black and white – all of which add to the creep factor. Hitchcock, a master of both the set, and of light and shadow clearly relishes the return to black and white, and unleashes all manner of slithering horrors on us. Before I had seen a single Hitchcock film, I was aware of Psycho – my mum always used to speak of how she had seen it in her youth and how it had terrified her. By the age of ten I knew that Hitchcock made it, I knew the name Norman Bates, I knew Herrmann’s stabbing score, and I kind of knew the plot – without having seen a single frame of the film.

When I did see it a few years later, naturally I was enthralled. There are a number of outstanding moments, the shower scene, that jump scare at the top of the stairs, the unveiling of Norma, but it is the leading trio of performances, particularly that of Perkins, along with Hitchcock’s directing as he continues to crank up the tension that makes this memorable. The coda where we witness the interview of Bates is the main action which has led to the unending critical debate of the movie, as it opens up and makes plain all the bubbling sub-text of the previous 90 minutes, but it’s done in such a way that it doesn’t feel like it is explaining the nature of evil or the reasons behind the crimes to us. Though the film is tame by today’s standards in terms of visceral power, like any number of more ancient horror movies it retains an atmosphere and ability to unsettle more than modern horror movies do.

North By Northwest

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Ah ha, my number one. In 1962 a little film called Dr No appeared on the big screen, but three years before it redefined or created the modern action movie, Hitchcock had already directed the archetype – there is quite a case for arguing that North By Northwest is the best non-Bond Bond movie ever. Hitchcock’s biggest movie, his most entertaining, his most action packed, and with one of the best scripts ever written, this is the film I urge anyone who hasn’t yet seen a Hitchcock film to watch. Although there is tension, much of that is replaced by sheer exuberance, fun, comedy, and chases.

The script takes all the elements of the wrongly accused man on the run plots which Hitchcock had previously made and mashes them all together in one huge, mystifying, exhilarating film which encapsulates all the ludicrous points from those previous films and takes it all ten notches higher. Cary Grant is flawless as Roger Thornhill, a man kidnapped for no good reason by a group of elegant, eloquent thugs who believe him to be someone else. One brief drunken ride later and Grant finds himself being pursued by cops, criminals, spies, mothers, flirtatious women as he romps all over the US both trying to save himself, get the girl, and pretend to be the very people who each person chasing him believes he is. We have fist-fights, gun fights, train intrigue, plane chases, daring escapes, and a finale on the side of Mount Rushmore.

There is so much I love about this movie that crappy blog posts can never do it justice. It’s so energetic, rousing, witty, it makes you wish that you were wrapped up in your own spy mystery – outrunning certain death has never looked so fun. I haven’t even mentioned Eva Marie Saint, Martin Landau, or James Mason – each giving award worthy performances, or the music, or quoted any of the endlessly quotable dialogue…. just do yo’self a favour and watch it now. NOW!

What is your favourite Hitchcock film – is it covered above? Let us know in the comments!

Best Director: 1963

Official Nominations: Federico Fellini. Otto Preminger. Tony Richardson. Elia Kazan. Martin Ritt.

The Directing category this year was much more interesting than most of the acting ones, with greats and upstarts mingling. Official Winner for Tom Jones, Tony Richardson turns an ordinary story into one of the most successful comedies of all time. Although widely known as a stage director, Richardson’s ability to turn stage to screen was amongst the best and for the win this year he instead turned page to screen. It is this awareness of the audience which makes Tom Jones the bizarre meta film that it is. Elia Kazan had been around the block a few times but America, America is too much of a vanity project that it is difficult to judge it upon its merits- directed by, produced by, written by, and largely based upon the lives of people he knew, Kazan may as well have fired the cast and starred in all of the 3 hours worth of scenes himself. Martin Ritt got a nod for Hud, a film which is infused with his own bitterness about his blacklisting treatment, while Preminger deals with religious hypocrisy and bigotry face on with The Cardinal. My win though, and an easy choice for me this time, goes to Fellini for 8 And A Half for creating an avant-garde but accessible masterpiece.

My Winner: Federico Fellini.

My Nominations: Federico Fellini. Alfred Hitchcock. Joseph L Mankiewicz. John Sturges. Robert Wise. Don Chaffey. (John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall)

Some odd omissions for Best Director this year with Titans and upstarts proving their worth. Fellini is an obvious nomination due to reasons already given, Hitchcock returns to the psychological horror genre he perfected, with The Birds, and gives us another trip through the zombie apocalypse that is the human condition, while Mankiewicz does his utmost to prevent Cleopatra from becoming a bloated, unwatchable disaster. Veteran British director Don Chaffey hits fantasy gold finally with Jason And The Argonauts, while Robert Wise shows that he could do gripping terror just as well, if not better, than Hitchcock with The Haunting. My winner though for creating one of the most inspiring, entertaining, cool films of all time in The Great Escape, is John Sturges. Finally, a trio of directors get credit for somehow bringing together an ensemble cast to tell a wholly American tale in a wholly American way, with How The West Was Won.

My Winner: John Sturges.

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Have I abandoned artistic merit for the entertainment choice? Who is your pick as 1963’s Best Director? Let us know in the comments section!

Best Director-1960

Billy Wilder

Official Nominations: This year saw a rare nomination for Hitchcock, his main competition coming from other Hollywood legend Billy Wilder. Wilder picked up the award, but my vote has to go to Hitchcock. While The Apartment is a witty enough comedy which pressed several boundaries, Hitchcock’s masterpiece is a seminal work of terror. He orchestrates with a hook for a hand, teasing and tearing at each scene for our amusement and dread. Few horror movies have been as well received critically as this, and most horror movies today owe something to it. The script may be above standard fare, offering several psychological elements rarely seen on screen before, but Hitchcock’s use of the camera as a voyeur, his dangling of shots, and his startling reveals set to horrifying sound are now staples of the genre. Few films have had as much impact to a genre as this, and the majority of this impact is down to the rotund Master.
Rounding up the list are Jack Cardiff, Jules Dassin, and Fred Zinnemann. Cardiff was already a renowned Cinematographer who had indeed worked for Hitchcock. Sons And Lovers was his most successful foray into directing and though the film is undoubtedly beautiful to watch, it remains a by the numbers retelling. The Blacklisted Dassin gets a nomination here largely because Hollywood was guilty for how they had treated him and while his filmography is wide there is nothing, including Never on Sunday, which stands out as wonderful. Zinnemann’s Sundowners is well acted and directed, but doesn’t compare with his earlier epics.

My Winner: Alfred Hitchcock

My Nominations: Only two of my nominations for Best Director 1960 were nominated in your reality. Thanks though to the power of The Spac Hole, history has righted itself and those truly worthy have won their place on the list.

Billy Wilder: Good enough to win in reality, but not good enough in the eyes of The Spac Hole.
Jean Luc Godard: Godard’s first feature, Breathless, ranks amongst his best and is still an edgy affair now. The visual flare started a new wave in France and Hollywood.
Akira Kurosawa:  The Bad Sleep Well is not a well-known Kurosawa show, but his trademark style translates well to the modern setting.
John Sturges:  Sturges knew how to handle a large ensemble cast, but more so he knew how to handle a group of megastars. His film is action packed, looks gorgeous, and as always manages to focus more on the characters in what many may have otherwise called a silly genre film.
Nagisa Oshima:  Not only was it politically daring and controversial, Night And Fog In Japan again showed us a director in full control of his camera and confident in his innovation, particularly during the long shots.
Michael Powell:  Although Peeping Tom pretty much ended his career as a respected film maker until years after he had stopped making movies, it took us further than any previous movie both into the mind of a serial killer and advancing the notion of voyeurism in the link between audience and character.
Stanley Kubrick: Spartacus is Kubrick’s reply to Ben Hur, and while not as successful it has much greater depth. The young Director took the strain of such a large production and made it even more epic than originally imagined. Signs of his perfectionism abound as he took over cinematography and provided most of the film’s beauty.
My Winner: Alfred Hitchcock. Possibly a controversial choice given the talent on display, but given how Hitchcock turned what could have been another tale of murder and crime into the seminal horror movie of the 60s, the praise cannot be understated. With the Production Code fading away, of course it would fall to Hitchcock to lead the way in pushing violence and sexuality to extremes. Aside from his handling of each scene, The Master almost single-handedly promoted the film, not allowing any cast members to reveal the plot and banning previews for critics.

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