Thursday, November 15, 2012

For the Love of Film III: The Payoff (and Bonus)


We've had a few months for laurel-resting after the hard work and great results of our third "For the Love of Film" blogathon. Together with the dauntless Marilyn Ferdinand and Roderick Heath, we raised money for the National Film Preservation Foundation to stream the three surviving reels of the six-reel silent movie The White Shadow, from 1924.

Its director, Graham Cutts, is a key figure in early British cinema. Even more important, The White Shadow is the earliest surviving feature on the towering resume of Alfred Hitchcock, as well as the earliest surviving film on which Hitchcock collaborated with his future wife, Alma Reville. Hitchcock worked on this movie as assistant director, art director, editor and writer.

Now it's time to savor our results. The two-month run of The White Shadow, which critic David Sterritt calls "one of the most significant developments in memory for scholars, critics, and admirers of Hitchcock’s extraordinary body of work" begins today, folks.

The Siren hands the mic over to Annette Melville of the NFPF:

The opening three reels of the six-reel feature were uncovered in 2011 during research by the NFPF to identify American silent-era titles held by the New Zealand Film Archive...The film was preserved at Park Road Post Production in New Zealand under the supervision of the NZFA and the Academy Film Archive of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The White Shadow will be presented for free streaming, with the following extras:
· Program notes about the film by David Sterritt
· Newly recorded musical score created by Michael M. Mortilla who, with Nicole Garcia, reprises the performance from the gala premiere at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2011
· A short bio of the New Zealand projectionist, Jack Murtagh, who salvaged the film
· Slide shows about the film’s discovery, the New Zealand Film Archive, and the Academy Film Archive

The 43-minute presentation, which will run two months, is made possible by contributors from around the world. “Not everyone has the ability to attend the special screenings of The White Shadow in Los Angeles, Washington, or New York,” said Jonathan Marlow, co-founder of Fandor, the curated on-demand movie service that is donating webhosting for the event. “We’re thrilled to play our part in making this fascinating discovery available everywhere.” Fandor’s gift matches cash donations raised through the Internet fundraising drive organized by the 2012 “For the Love of Film” Blogathon, spearheaded by Marilyn Ferdinand, Roderick Heath, and Farran Smith Nehme. The campaign mobilized support from more than 100 film fans across five continent

Almost everybody loves Hitchcock movies. We went one better. We helped get one back in front of thousands of viewers for the first time in decades. No modesty here: This film is online because we worked our tails off to help get it there.

A thousand thanks, Fandor. Mazel tov, NFPF. And kudos, gang. Spread the word.

Meanwhile, in celebration, the Siren decided to do something she has previously hasn't: offer a list of her Hitchcock favorites. She came up with a dozen. This is one of the richest filmographies imaginable, and yes, there are some towering titles missing, out of mere personal preference. There's another four or five the Siren would gladly rewatch this instant, including Foreign Correspondent, Rope, and The Paradine Case. (Yes. The Paradine Case.) Even so, it's marvelous to revel once more in this man's talent.

Consider this list as the Siren's way of throwing confetti.

1. Shadow of a Doubt
Dark, yes, but also comforting: "He thought the world was a horrible place. He couldn't have been very happy, ever. He didn't trust people. Seemed to hate them. He hated the whole world. You know, he said people like us had no idea what the world was really like."


2. Strangers on a Train
In a crowded field of unbelievable greatness, Robert Walker is the greatest Hitchcock villain of them all. Certainly he's the most psychologically interesting. And this film gave the Siren her most potent Hitchcock scare, when the painting is revealed.


3. Rebecca
An exemplary adaptation and a fabulous ghost story, with a touch of demonic possession. Plus twisted sexual yearnings all over the place, plus George Sanders coming in through the window. Pure beauty to rival any of Hitchcock's Technicolor masterpieces, and if you don't believe the Siren, just ask the folks at the magnificent picture blog Obscure Hollow.


4. Rear Window
If there is a heaven, and some good soul manages to get the Siren on the guest list, they'll let her borrow Grace Kelly's wardrobe.


5. Notorious
Hitchcock's sexiest and most romantic film. If you haven't already, please do read Sheila O'Malley on the love psychology of Dev and Alicia.


6. The Lady Vanishes
Left the Siren fated to spend the rest of her life wishing she could take a long, elegant train ride through a charming European landscape...in 1938. And as allegory it's alarmingly prescient, isn't it?


7. The 39 Steps
The only thing that could make a train ride better would be if the Siren were handcuffed to Robert Donat (who in a just world would have worked with Hitchcock again). An extremely funny movie. "And this bullet stuck among the hymns, eh? Well, I'm not surprised Mr. Hannay. Some of those hymns are terrible hard to get through."

8. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
The Siren's essay on this one will be in the Criterion edition of the film, due in January.


9. Lifeboat
In addition to borrowing Her Serene Highness' clothes, the Siren will also get to hang out with Tallulah. "The trouble with you, darling, is that you've been reading too much Kipling. 'The sins ye do by two and two ye must pay for one by one.'"

10. North by Northwest
You know who needs a little more love for this one? Jessie Royce Landis, that's who. "I'm not nervous, I'll be late for the bridge club."


11. Vertigo
A dreamily gorgeous movie, but the Siren scratches her head when this one is called romantic. To her, it's a complete negation of the very possibility of romance, telling us instead that men and women are fated to bring one another nothing but agony. Peter Bogdanovich nails the Siren's feelings, but he also acknowledges that Vertigo is a great film, and the Siren agrees there, too.


12. Suspicion
So much more than the milk.

64 comments:

Marilyn said...

It's a great day, Farran. Thanks for being a great partner in this and the other blogathons. Thanks to all the bloggers and donors who are as passionate about film preservation as we are!

DavidEhrenstein said...

Let's split the difference and simply say that Vertio is a romantic tragedy. The trigic part comes from the gradual discovery that romance was impossible for Scottie and Judy because of the entirely fictional figure she played calld "Madeline."

X. Trapnel said...

Siren,

I would say this list is perfection, the absence of Psycho being the only point that any votary of Hitchcock could dispute. As much as I admire/enjoy/am mesmerized by Psycho, I feel there is a distance here between film and viewer that can never be breached--and yet it's not a COLD film (like Repulsion), nor is it cruel in any gloating way. Is Norman Bates a villain in the same sense Bruno A. is? He certainly seems to be playing cat and mouse with Marian Crane and the whole wordless sequence of the peephole, smirking at the her signature in the register, etc., very Bruno like.Literaly, an enigma wrapped in a mystery; I don't know whether I'd put it on my favorite Hitchcock, but certainly on the greatest H.

Yes, Vertigo is not a romantic film (if anyone doubts it recall that moment when Judy, arm in arm with the funereally dressed Johnny O'Scotty, glances wistfully at the canoodling couple in the grass). It is a nightmare of film romanticism.

Thank you also for including Lifeboat, a film I love in spite of Wm. Bendix's tedious turn as Ya Big Lug, which seems to get longer and longer in direct proportion to the exxpansion of the universe.

Shamus said...

I never knew how romantic Vertigo was until I saw Marker's La Jetée.

I would say that Bruno is enjoying himself whereas Norman is a more abject figure (even more so than his victims, I would argue).

Notwithstanding some of my demurrals about Hitchcock, (more conventionally) Vertigo and Psycho would top my list. I saw Rear Window again the other day (I make it a point to see it whenever I fall sick) and for the first time that monumental final crane shot, which always appeared so comforting - the return to routine - suddenly seemed rather sad and tragic - esp. the realization that everyone knew the Mrs. Thorwald as little as the viewer does by the end and her existence makes very little difference to anyone, ultimately.

[Foreign Correspondent, though, is a washout (when I saw it a couple of years back). There is very little to appreciate in the film except Joel McCrea and George Sanders sharing a frame (and working in concert), which, though, is quite proximate to sublime. Maté's photography is generally wasted and Lang would return to similar themes in Ministry of Fear, a superior film.]

Shamus said...

X,

Some might also dispute the absence of Marnie (but nothing else).

Lemora said...

I'm reading Margaret Forster's biography of Daphne Du Maurier. Like me, she loved everything about Hitchcock's "Rebecca" except Olivier as Maxim. He's all ice and no fire. Wooden. And wasn't Jesse Royce Landis the same age as Cary Grant? "Vertigo" hasn't aged well for me. I loved it in 1958, when I was ten. The suspense of Judy-turned-Madeleine walking down that seedy hallway toward Scotty was well-nigh unbearable in the theater. Over the years, repeat viewings have curdled my youthful fascination: Upper crusty "Madeleine" is all mysterious, refined sensuality; working-class Judy is raw carnality; and self-sufficient career woman Midge has no sexuality or feminine allure to speak of. (Men never make passes at girls who wear glasses.) The worst of the attitudes and ethics 1950's are on continuous display in this movie. I love lots of things about Hitchcock the artist, but not in this one. "The Birds" has gotten better for me, over time, for some reason. And I'm going to read "The Birds" as written by Du Maurier.

X. Trapnel said...

Shamus, Vertigo is romantic in the cultural aesthetic tradition that more or less starts with Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther (self/other destructiveness of blind passion disengaged from reality) and gooes through Baudelaire to surrealism. It is certainly not a romantic film in the popular sense, and neither, I maintain, is Letter From an Unknown Woman. Laura, on the other hand, is romantic in both senses.

Foreign Correspondent suffers chiefly from Larraine Day's dun-colored huffiness (the role cries out for a romantically vulnerable Joan F. with [Hitch twist] an odd relationship [no Freudian cliches here] to her father. McCrea's character as written is too conventionally heroic to be interesting, but Herbert Marshall is a sturdy evolutionary link between Professor Jordan and Philip Vandamm.

Except for some stunning moments that no other director could have achieved, Marnie, to me is a complete failure and an embarrassment.

Lemora said...

I need to see "The Lady Vanishes." I also want to travel through Europe on a luxury train, c. 1938. And I'd love to hang out with Tallulah Bankhead, magically transported there from "Lifeboat," for my benefit. But, like a genie, I want to be able to put her back into the lamp. And I want to wear Norma Shearer's clothes from "A Free Soul" and Kim Novak's clothes from "Bell, Book And Candle," while I'm on that train. And they would fit.

Shamus said...

X.,

It's nearly 4 am here so I'll keep my thesis on the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, brief:

(For whatever reason) I see the movie's rejection of external reality itself - while fiercely being aware of time - as intrinsically romantic (as opposed to the rejection of both reality and time, in, say, Wong's In the Mood for Love, which strikes me as fraudulent). I've not read Goethe but the encounter between Scotty and Madeleine actually reminds me of Bulgakov's "Master and Margarita": Master first sees Margarita wearing a black dress and carrying mimosas, and when he goes up to her, they (total strangers) being talking as though they've known each other all their lives (if remember correctly). Scotty sees Madeleine bear flowers when he goes up to her, and they are immediately in love (but what do they talk about? Very little talk in the movie, come to think of it). The directness of the love story is startling: everything else, concrete, external, is dispensed with in favour of the isolation of the couple (in Marker's film, it is even more stark). For what it's worth, I think that this quality is romantic.

I may have mentioned this here but Robin Wood had written an essay (one of the best essays on film I've read) comparing Vertigo with Lady Eve, and how both films mock the existence of the "romantic ideal,"- something (per Wood) which the male manufactures to subjugate women and suppress their individuality. The films certainly lend themselves to that interpretation. The real triumph of Vertigo (like Lady Eve) is that it manages to be both a love story and a critique of love stories, etc.

[Will post a more coherent response tomorrow.]

Lemora, I think that the revelation of Madeleine as Judy and esp. Midge's self-portrait as Carlotta makes me think that the film was perfectly aware of the sexual politics involved. Midge is also a deeply sympathetic character who is incidentally Scottie's ex-fiance (ex-lover?), so it may not be right to say that she has no sexuality to speak of. Actually, all of the film's sympathy is reserved for the female characters: it is the male characters who are manipulative and dangerous.

Shamus said...

It was supposed to be J. Alfred Hitchcock. So much for cleverness.

X. Trapnel said...

Shamus (briefly),

I'm afraid can't see any parallel between Vertigo and The Master and Margarita, the latter being symbolic fantasy in which mundane plausibility (as against poetic truth) is not a factor in the immediate recognition/love of the title characters. (Keep in mind that Bulgakov is writing within the very real madhouse the Soviet Union of the late 30s which is the context of social reality).

Shamus said...

God forbid: I wasn't implying any kind of parallel between Bulgakov and Hitchcock. I was just struck by the curious symmetry and correspondence between the gestures of Madeleine and those of Margarita. Margarita walks through the streets for weeks until she meets the Master, and she bears those flowers and appears to be in mourning for... something (I don't honestly remember). Madeleine, likewise, although of course she is meant to lure Scotty into a trap.

Mind you, it's been years since I've read the book- am I remembering correctly or I am fucking up all the details?

grandoldmovies said...

Such great news about The White Shadow - Congratulations to you, Ferdy on Film, and Rod Heath for a job well done!

X. Trapnel said...

Shamus, your recollection of The Master and Margarita is more or less correct, but as to Vertigo, well, it's clearly time for a re-viewing.

Kirk said...

I think I agree with all of your choices, though I would change the order somewhat with Rear Window first, and Shadow of a Doubt second.

A word about Psycho. I've always had a problem that film, through no fault of Hitchcock's. The movie is so famous, so iconic, that the first I watched it, I already KNEW Norman Bates was the killer. I was surprised to see it was meant to be a surprise. Sort of like reading Robert Louis Stevenson original telling of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, and finding out on the last page that Jeckyll and Hyde is the same man. I somehow knew that, too.

Rachel said...

Congratulations to Marilyn, Roderick, and Farran on your incredible work! This is wonderful news.

On a side note, can I just say that it's nice to have an antidote of, "Look at all those great Hitchcock films" after many, many weeks of gossipy reviews of "The Girl?"

I don't know why Olivier gets the short end of the stick for Rebecca. Maxim in the book was pretty damn cold and condescending and Olivier captures that, along with a strong dose of sex appeal that helps explain why Mrs. DeWinter falls so hard for him. If you think he's wooden, you should check out Charles Dance in the 1997 version. And Olivier was able to go big and dramatic at the right times, even doing his best to sell that "explanation" of Rebecca's death.

Shamus, I'm glad you brought up the Rear Window ending since it's one of my favorite film endings of all time. A wonderful happy ending but mixed with so much wry cynicism. The brokenhearted dog lady has now replaced her pet just like Mrs. Thorwald's memory will be painted over and forgotten and the newlywed couple are well on their way to becoming the next version of the Thorwalds. But we also have Miss Lonelyhearts and the songwriter, Miss Torso and her soldier, and the gorgeous fade-out of Grace Kelly to balance it out.

StephenWhitty said...

Siren,

Love what you did. You should be proud.

Love the list, too. I share your odd affection for "The Paradine Case," too, although I think Hitchcock's self-criticism was the best -- Louis Jourdan was miscast. Should have been a rough-trade sort (I think he suggested Robert Newton) as the lover. Much more complicated.

I think the first Hitchcock film I saw was "The Birds," cut, on TV. It still terrified me. Then "Psycho" on Ch 9, back when they'd throw up a black bar to try and hide Janet Leigh's cleavage in the shower.

And finally, in a local theater -- that charmingly went revival, one summer -- a double feature of "The Lady Vanishes" and "The 39 Steps." Who wouldn't be hooked for life, after that?

Avoid "Hitchcock" by the way. "The Girl" made him out to be a sexual bully and pig, which he may well have been. But "Hitchcock" makes him out to be a bore, and a bad director, and that would have killed him.

X. Trapnel said...

Regarding the 1997 Rebecca, the makers appeared to have been working off some obscure grudge against DuMaurier and Hitchcock both. I think Olivier was just fine in the once and only version. On the other hand, Faye Dunaway's 1997 Mrs. Van Hopper might just be the worst ever performance by any carbon-based life form preserved on film.

gmoke said...

"Foreign Correspondent" is great if only for Edmund Gwenn and the Tower of London although I hear the plane crash in the ocean was a marvel of special effects in its day.

Peter Nellhaus said...

I'll gladly get handcuffed to Madeleine Carroll. And it could be that Marnie is the new Vertigo, to get more love as the years progress.

Anyways, thrilled to have been part of this.

X. Trapnel said...

As a passionate admirer of Hitchcock I'm very receptive to anything like plausible praise of Marnie and hope some day to see the light that others see, but the only connection I can see to Vertigo is that the former gives all appearance of having been conceived, written, and intermittently co-directed by the psychiatrist ("Oh, that would make a difference") from the latter. Perhaps Simon Oakland's Psycho shrink had a creative hand in Frenzy.

The Siren said...

I'll start by apologizing for my absence yesterday; I posted this just before I rushed to work and One Does Not Blog At Work. At least, if one values one's job, and I do.

Marilyn, back atcha woman. It's a pleasure doing philanthropy with you, and with Rod, who rose to the occasion beautifully.

David, that's fair. There's so much to love about Vertigo technically and in terms of acting, but thematically to me it's shattering and pretty sui generis in terms of Hitchcock's work.

XT, I had something of the same problem with Psycho that Kirk did. I saw it the first time as a girl, and even so I knew exactly what was coming. I don't recollect consciously reading spoilers but I knew all the same. I would compare it to any other unquestionable great piece of work that is over-familiar; SO hard to view it with fresh eyes. And frankly I've never much cared as much for what goes on after Perkins cleans up the bathroom. Awesome closing shot, though; it was the one thing that truly jolted the hell out of me when I saw it.

Shamus, Foreign Correspondent is all you say and I'd agree that Ministry of Fear is a better film, but it's still enjoyable of its kind and gives off an occasional flash of brilliance, frequently from dear George, whose explanation of his ridiculous name is kind of priceless.

The Siren said...

Lemora, I love Olivier as Rebecca. In truth he doesn't have a ton of chemistry with Fontaine, but that remoteness works in terms of the haunted quality he's supposed to have. And there are a few very tender scenes, as toward the end, when he says "It's gone, isn't it? That funny lost look that I loved..." Ah, whither romantic dialogue.

I really should have found room for The Birds somewhere. I guess I never took it to heart because it scared the bejaysus out of me and still does in a way that Psycho never did and does not. Also, The Birds makes Vertigo look like Meet Me in St. Louis in terms of warmth.

As for Marnie...ah, no. Some really great sections and an amazing Rebecca-esque romantic feel that's building, and then--the rape. You can't wave it off, that's for sure, and I'm kind of appalled by how many people do. You can't justify it in terms of theme, character, plot or anything else. It destroys sympathy for Sean Connery's character and makes him just another person victimizing Marnie. I don't know what the hell that scene is doing there and as I recall the first screenwriter who took a crack at the story (Evan Hunter) didn't want it, either. Quite aside from the technical weirdnesses (I remember jarring cuts, bad angles, things that threw me out of the movie and that I hadn't encountered even in the most minor Hitchcock before) the rape to me is a gigantic cigarette burn in the middle of an otherwise elegant dress.

Grand Old Movies, thank you so much, and thanks for all your efforts on behalf of the blogathon.

The Siren said...

Kirk, there are days when I could swap around all three of my top choices but in my heart that's been a pretty fixed order for years. I'd say they're equally great movies.

Rachel, that's a lovely view of Rear Window and pretty much how I saw it; it's order being restored, some things good, some bad. God knows Hitchcock isn't a realist filmmaker but at the end despite obvious jokes like Miss Torso I feel like I might have encountered any of those neighbors. Miss Lonelyhearts' ending is particularly satisfying; I can never decide if an actual romantic connection is being suggested, but she's no longer lonely.

On the other hand oh GOD I had forgotten that Rebecca was remade and now I intend to forget it all over again.

Stephen, a bad director? REALLY? That's some four-door chrome-plated nerve right there. I agree on Jourdan in The Paradine Case; going for Jourdan at that period of his career shows nothing about a woman other than functioning eyesight. And Jourdan as a lowborn servant? He is one of nature's aristocrats (he is still with us although I think David E. mentioned he is in very poor health). He has that ineffable air of international sophistication no matter what he does. Although as a former French Resistance member he is no cream puff.

Gmoke, FC really is good fun, a perfect stuck-on-the-couch-because-you-have-a-cold movie. I think I was quite snooty about it hereabouts a few years back and I regret although truthfully, it doesn't belong on this list.

Peter, when people describe Novak and Kelly as the most beautiful women Hitchcock directed (and lord knows they were world-class stunners) I always wonder if they remember Madeleine Carroll. (I know they don't remember Valli in The Paradine Case because it's the redheaded stepchild of Hitchcock movies).

Finally saw Under Capricorn and a bit surprised no raving iconoclast has shown up to plump for that one although the thread is young. Strikingly gorgeous movie but I have never seen Cotten play a less sympathetic lead and no, I am not leaving out Shadow of a Doubt there.

StephenWhitty said...

Well, Siren, as to "bad director" -- perhaps that's me overstating the case. The film, however,seems to have no idea (or even interest)in how the man actually worked.

I doubt very much, for example, that "Psycho" (or any of his films) were "saved" in the editing room -- they'd been too exhaustively preplanned for that. (In fact, the man used to brag there WAS no way to cut them differently, given the way he shot.)

And the movie also shows him tolerating, even encouraging his actors' talk of "backstory" and "motivation" -- things that would have sent him round the bend in real life. (God help the poor actors, like Monty Clift or Kim Novak, who asked him those sort of questions.)

But Jourdan -- ooomph, as Walter Monheit used to say. Fond memories, too, as he was a big crush of my mother's. Remember going with her to see him in a French farce on Broadway years ago. She was about 60, he was about 70, but when he came on stage in his boxers, she STILL went a little weak...

Noel Vera said...

You should be proud, Siren. And I'm glad to be a part of it.

surly hack said...

Woo hoo!

mas82730 said...

1. Yes
2. Yes
3. Maybe, thanks to Dame Judith
4. Yes
5. Hell yes
6. Yes
7. Of course
8. Can't wait to read your essay, Siren
9. A stunt, redeemed by Bankhead
10. Yes
11. I've read Lacan and still don't get it
12. No.
You're a goddess for omitting 'The Birds' and "Marnie'

Lemora said...

Okay, Shamus and the Siren have a point about Olivier. He does pull off a neat balancing act of remoteness, menace, and passion when called for. (I guess I needed to see him on the stage to fully appreciate him. I didn't like him as Heathcliffe either.) I did watch Jeremy Brett as Maxim who I frankly liked better, but managed to miss the horror of Faye Dunaway as Mrs. Van Hopper.

On Vertigo: I had forgotten Midge's self-portrait as Carlotta Valdes and Scotty's violent reaction to it! This, along with Judy and "Madeleine" being the same person, shows Hitchcock slyly playing with stereotyping of the era, in that the two women could try on alternate personas.

Shamus said...

"11. I've read Lacan and still don't get it"

And you still wonder why?

Dan Leo said...

Congratz, and I love the Hitch list and your pithy summations — it's the best kind of list, the kind that makes you want to watch everything on it again.

Y'know, the only thing wrong with favorite movies is that nowadays it's so easy to watch them a little too often — unlike in the old days before home video when you would go "Uh-oh!" when you would scan the listings and notice that some Hitchcock then-obscurity would be playing on PBS at one in the morning, or that it was coming to your local repertory theatre for three-nights-only next week.

But I think I'm ready for some of these Hitches again...

Catmommie said...

Siren, congrats to you, Marilyn, and Rod, and all the stalwart bloggers; this is quite the accomplishment. I'll add, the score for The White Shadow by Michael Mortilla is beautiful.

Shadow of a Doubt tops my Hitchcock list, too, and I would also include Young and Innocent. I like Olivier as Max De Winter quite a lot, although I don't find the character in the least romantic; he's even less romantic in the book. Anyone who asks you to never be 36 years old should be avoided at all costs. Flee, run away.

Lemora said...

Oops! Pardon me, Rachel, for not acknowledging your comment about Olivier's Maxim in my post. I agree with what I read somewhere that he never fully grasped how to act for the screen until "Henry V." While I've never seen that, I know that something is "off" about his earlier screen performances, for me. Also, I'm conflating the darkness of Maxim's character with Olivier's icy screen presence. And I agree with the Siren about that wonderful line about "that funny lost look." It's one of my favorites. But I also agree with Catmommie that a man who wants a woman to promise "never to be 36" should be avoided at all costs!

Vanwall said...

Nice to see a concrete result for all the hard work, you done good. I like the NFPF progression of pics as they did the detective work, it must've been supremely satisfying. Well done.

I like the list, although I'd've had "Rope" in there, and "The Trouble With Harry", which I think is a defining black comedy for Murican films. "Shadow of a Doubt" is my absolute favorite Hitch, tho, I find it endlessly watchable.

Shamus said...

So, a belated defense of "that scene" in Marnie:

I have to disagree with the Siren when she says that "you can't justify it in terms of theme, character, plot or anything else."

The Mark Rutland character is meant to be a kind of monster but it is something the viewer overlooks because it is played, after all, by Sean Connery. [I think Tippi Hedren's objection to the rape scene went along the lines of- it is impossible to sell the idea that any woman would be able to resist Connery (circa 1963- you see her point).]

The film almost seems like a cautionary tale against marriage, where the man insists that the woman is sick and wants to "cure" her for the sake of a "normal" marriage. She, in no way his inferior, doesn't want to be cured and tells him that his obsession with her is what is really psychopathic. Above all, she feels trapped in the marriage and wants him to let her go. So, her last lines in the film (approximately)- "I don't want to go to jail, Mark, I want to be with you," is only the final ironic twist. I don't think that any other Hitchcock film has marriage as the subject matter to the same extent as Marnie, and quite so bitter about it.

(As for the technical weirdness of the scene, I suspect Hitchcock may not have been able to make the scene more explicit for fear of completely killing sympathy for Mark Rutland (the beast), so he films it in a rather abstract way. Like the Psycho shower scene, tough less explicit.)

Incidentally, McBain wrote the rape scene but thought that it had no place in the film and told as much to Hitchcock. Instead, he also wrote an alternative scene without the rape. So Hitchcock fired him and got another screenwriter to rewrite the scene. That's pretty much the key scene to the film, and, if anything, the story probably demonstrates Hitchcock's integrity as an artist.

Skimpole said...

Well here's my top 10:

1. North by Northwest (surely one of the most enjoyable movies ever made)
2. Vertigo
3. Rope (One could say that John Dall's character fails because he is too emotionally attached to fully present his Nietzchean point. Of course this is disingenous, since the production code, and Hitchcock and playwright Patrick Hamilton's own deep beliefs require that the murderers be punished. But when Stewart's character say what right Dall's character has, one wishes that Dall responds that as a Nietzschean he doesn't believe in right, and since the United States was founded on genocide and slavery, we shouldn't take its claims on this point too seriously either.)
4. Psycho (Like many viewers, I watched this at least two decades after knowing its plot. But it does repay repeated viewings. The conversation between Perkins and Leigh, like the opening conversation in Vertigo, shows Hitchcock's brilliance as a director. For one thing, it shows how this movie appeals to anyone who has ever felt guilty about how they treated their parents. By contrast, "Dressed to Kill" appeals to every man who ever wanted to have sex with Angie Dickinson, then become a woman.
5. Strangers on a Train
6. Shadow of a Doubt
7. Dial M for Murder
8. The Wrong Man
9. Notorious (two men who torture the woman they love, disguised as an espionage tale)
10. (Probably) Frenzy

I've never seen Lifeboat or Foreign Correspondent. For some reason they never turn up on TCM. Like many people I've seen Topaz and cannot remember a single thing about it. Family Plot has, like many Hitchcock films has an ingenious central idea behind its clever plot. It deals with two unscrupuous, sexually active couples, three of whom are cheerfully amoral, and one of whom is actually evil.

When I saw first saw Marnie more than twenty years ago I was not impressed with it. I thought it was too crude and florid. I suspect my view of it would improve on a second viewing, but not by too much. While Vertigo shows the darkness at the heart of romantic obession of an apparently normal individual, Marnie is about two sick people whom the movie offers fake hope to lazy viewers. I suppose the Hitchcock I find most difficult to appreciate is Rear Window. Its virtues are many and obvious, but is it really one of the greatest of all films. I suspect my problem is that it's relatively predictable. Raymond Burr has to be a murderer, otherwise there isn't a movie, and at some time Stewart's character has to be threatened. And the subtext isn't as deep as the other movies.

mas82730 said...

Oh, X, you're so cruel to Dunaway, one of my long-time favorites, and so charitable to Novak, a pneumatic no-talent who somehow stumbled up the ladder to a modest level of stardom in the blonde-enamored 50s.
Shamus, I tried to return my copy of 'Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan, But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock" and the damn bookstore wouldn't take it back. So now I'm stuck with impenetrably abstruse volumes by Adorno AND Lacan.
Please don't anyone try to hoist 'Under Capricorn' to the top of the Hitchcock canon. For me it's a pale reworking of 'Gaslight', with Leighton instead of Boyer pulling a mindfuck on Bergman. Cardiff's photography is, however, ravishing.

X. Trapnel said...

mas82730,

Dunaway may have once been a good actress, but in "Rebecca" (blinking, whistling, whirling neon scare quotes please) she appears to be enacting something outside of recognizable human experience, perhaps some Stanislavski etude in which she has been enjoined to represent a jellyfish trying to pass a bad check.

Adorno=vastly complex means toward very simple (and easily collapsible) conclusions. Read The Philosophy of Modern Music and be amazed that people once actually thought these things. Some dwindling few still do.

Novak seems to me an actress who when given good material triumphs in spite of her limitations.

X. Trapnel said...

Afterthought: "perhaps some Stanislavski etude in which she has been enjoined to represent a jellyfish trying to pass a bad check"

Or Joan Crawford

Lemora said...

I just enjoyed "The White Shadow." Kudos to The Siren and the others whose Blogathon helped fund the restoration and Thank You Siren for making it possible for us to see it here! The visual compositions are beautiful.

Casey said...

I realize I'm coming in way late here. No problem with your list, Siren, but I wanted to plug a couple of my favorites. No one has mentioned I Confess, which I do think is one of his best. It's the only Hitchcock I know of where he deals explicitly with Catholicism, and by doing so cuts to the heart of many themes that are basic to his work. I also wanted to put a word in for Blackmail. Yes, it's rough, it's awkward, but it's also incredibly innovative for the time. And lastly, I'll play the raving iconoclast and tell the world I do like Under Capricorn. Not one of his best, but very interesting. The material is rich, but he doesn't quite pull it off.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Hitchcock was very interested in rape. The one in Marnie is as nothing compared to the one in Frenzy -- which is truly upsetting, and not only because it ends in murder. Just reading an interview with Helen Mirren this morning in "The Daily Beast." She auditioned for Frenzy, didn't get the part and didn't care for Hitch at all. I say she lucked out.

He's a great great filmmaker, but when it comes to personal charm he was no Roman Polanski.

Kirk said...

@DavidEhrenstein

Re: The last sentence of your comment.

Ha!

The Siren said...

Oh gracious, I'm behind. I'm leaving Marnie alone; said my piece, nothing gained if I repeat my points; except to say that the first draft, and the screenwriter who balked though he wrote a version of the rape scene, was definitely Evan Hunter (not McBain?)

Which brings me to: Mas, you're welcome.

Dan Leo, thanks, and I agree; I love hitting a good movie randomly on TCM, about the only place that ever happens anymore.

Catmommie, thanks too!

Skimpole, I am one of those people who forgot Topaz as soon as the credits rolled. Whatever I can say about Frenzy, I didn't forget it!

Casey, Under Capricorn was so beautiful, but yeah, script and casting sink it for me. For about the first 20 minutes I thought I'd hit pantheon pay dirt but then it becomes clear that Ingrid Bergman really does love Cotten...

David E., yeah, Hitchcock was, not surprisingly. I often wonder what "No Bail for the Judge" would have turned out like if Audrey Hepburn hadn't read the script and balked. In fact I wonder if that script is still around. Now THAT would be a project for a director with nerves of steel; making that script that Hitchcock never got to do. Is it any good? Can it be read anywhere?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Good question. I expect Pat Hitchcock (a lovely woman and in her father's films a teriffic actress) knows the answer.

Trish said...

Apologies for my absence of late. I have been so preoccupied... Siren, your list is pretty damn good. Kudos for putting Shadow of a Doubt first. My list would include Saboteur, in spite of my dislike of the casting of Bob Cummings. And because both films irk me, I would eliminate Rebecca and Suspicion, and replace them with Psycho and Marnie (both flawed but unforgettable in their own ways). Last but not least, North by Northwest would be right up there with Shadow of a Doubt. And ah... whenever I see Vertigo I am now also reminded of that terrific scene in Twelve Monkeys between Bruce Willis and Madeleine Stowe...

The Siren said...

I kind of like Saboteur too. I have grown weirdly fond of Bob Cummings, as I am of George Brent and Wendell Corey. That's not to say I ever go "Oh goody it's BOB CUMMINGS" but he's sort of a mascot, he makes me think of my patient readers and the funny things they would say about him.

gmoke said...

Norman Lloyd is a great henchman in "Saboteur" and is still going strong, last I heard. His relationship with Hitchcock continued for many years, especially with Hitchcock's TV show.

One of the great things about Hitchcock is the supporting players. Naughton Wayne and Basil Radford, Caldicott and Chalmers, in "The Lady Vanishes" are another example of the way he filled out his films. I'm sending some love to Jessie Royce Landis and Marion Lorne too.

Shamus said...

Evan Hunter wrote many, many wonderful policiers under the pseudonym Ed McBain, which is how I remember him.

The Siren said...

Aha! Shamus, you should have said so, you were confusing the hell out of me. Serves me right for having older taste in mystery novels as well.

Shamus said...

Sorry about that. As my nom de plume may suggest, I am (or used to be) a crime novel aficionado. And McBain is a pretty old fashioned taste (he was influenced by Dragnet and he began writing in the 50's). He was also extremely well regarded. Kurosawa adapted one of his novels for his film, High and Low, but the crime dramas which generally depict the police as a bureaucracy filled with interesting ("flawed") people, generally owe something to McBain.

Vulnavia Morbius said...

I don't know what my own list of favorite Hitchcock films would look like, but I'm pretty sure that it would omit Psycho. It's a masterpiece, sure, but I have deeply personal objections to the way it codifies the archetype of the transgender psychopath, then tries to weasle away from it during Simon Oakland's closing speech (Hannibal Lecter fills this role in The Silence of the Lambs, by the way, which is is similarly weasly on this point).

My own list would probably be topped by either Strangers on a Train (in spite of the drastic changes it inflicts on the original novel--to the film's detriment, I think) or Notorious.

I'm genuinely surprised at how many of the films on your own list that I've seen in an actual theater. Psycho is currently playing at my local art house (on 35mm) and I feel like I should see it, but I think I'm going to pass. I've seen it in the theater before.

Rozsaphile said...

"It's relatively predictable. Raymond Burr has to be a murderer, otherwise there isn't a movie."

That movie would be The Wrong Man, which gets no mention here but whose first half has a devastatingly direct kind of power that is not typical of Hitchcock.

DavidEhrenstein said...

When Norman Lloyd was blacklisted Hotch hired him as overall show-runner and occasional director on "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."

Mr. Lloyd (who was also close personal and professional friends with Chaplin< Welles and Renoir) is heading towards the century mark with grace and style. He plays tennis every day.

X. Trapnel said...

Hitchcock was intent on Margaret Sullavan for Saboteur and she was about to sign on when she learned who her co-star would be...

gmoke said...

The Wrong Man is an unrelentingly "realistic" film with its gritty NYC outer borough b&w and sometimes echoing sound design. It is remarkable even today for the way it portrays the effects of violence. The Balestrero family, especially Rose, will never be the same.

In some ways, it may be closest to the "origin story" of Alfred Hitchcock, the ten minutes or so he spent in a jail cell when he a child.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I grew up in Queens not far from where Manny Ballastrero lived and took the subway he takes in the film every day to go to the city.

gmoke said...

Watching the Doris Day/Jimmy Stewart "Man Who Knew Too Much," it was interesting to see a big poster in red letters announcing Bernard Hermann conducting at Albert Hall. And so he is, conducting Arthur Benjamin's Storm Clouds Cantata from the original film.

All those little touches, like Hitchcock's own cameos, keep his films interesting viewing after viewing.

X. Trapnel said...

Herrmann's great disappoinment in life was his lack of success as a conductor in the U.S. In his later years he did manage to get conducting gigs in England and apart from of his own music made two classic recordings, one of Holst's The Planets and Joachim Raff's ravishing Schubert-becoming-Dvorak Symphony no. 5. Sadly, he never had a chance to record his signature piece, Ralph Vaughan Williams' Symphony no. 2 "A London Symphony." RVW was a friend and Herrmann's interpretation would have been something to hear. Our loss; the suits always know better.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Herrmann was a childhood friend of Abraham Polonsky who I salue in this FaBlog post about the Hollywood Blacklist

X. Trapnel said...

A pity they never collaborated, though David Raksin wrote an exceptionally fine score for Force of Evil.

gmoke said...

TCM has been running Hitchcock films all day and I caught "Suspicion" again. What a superlative performance by Grant. He plays an immature and dangerous man who's absolutely in love with his wife, despite himself, to a T. The much maligned cop-out ending is a tour de force by him. He catches so many nuances of what his character must be feeling.

rcocean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rcocean said...

01. 39 Ste[s
02. Rebecca
03. Shadow of Doubt
04. Lifeboat
05. Notorious
06. Dial M for Murder
07. To Catch a Thief
08. Rear Window
09. North by Northwest
10. Psycho
11. Man Who Knew too Much (1954)
12. Strangers on a Train