I re-watched this one recently and was reminded what a good thriller it really is. Harrison Ford is in his peak here and Tom Clancy’s work has never been sharper and better. Based on the Clancy novel, Ford plays Jack Ryan, former CIA and current instructor at Annapolis…aside from devoted father and husband. While on a business trip to London with his family, he stumbles into an IRA fringe group’s plot to do some damage to the British royals. Ryan kills one of the terrorists, saving the lives of the Royals but making an enemy for life of the dead man’s brother. Filled with tension and just enough lightness to soften the ride some, this film is just as sharp as it was when I saw it in the theater in 1992. If movies are good, they stand the test of time and only get better. This one proves that even political thrillers can stand the tests of time…if done right.

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Not for the faint of heart, this film is one of the funniest comedies I had seen in years. Frances McDormand won an Oscar for playing very pregnant Marge Gunderson…a fabulous character who is most definitely the sharpest person in the film (though that is not really much of a compliment). Marge is a police officer in Brainerd, Minnesota and she gets involved in an investigation involving kidnapping, brutal murder and theft. The script is sharp and hilarious…and the performances are all right on target. But, be warned…it is a DARK comedy. People die. People kill people. This is the Coen Brothers, after all.

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OK — it’s not Hitchcock’s finest hour. But, this is his last film and he was not in the best of health when he made this one, so a little “understanding” is in order here. In 1976, when Family Plot was released, Hitchcock had been working as a filmmaker for more than six decades, had over 50 features under his belt, and was well into his 70s. Not that shabby of a career in a business that does not exactly promote longevity. So, we can forgive Family Plot for not being his finest work…but still a more-than-decent thriller. I don’t want it to sound like I feel Family Plot is an awful film. It most definitely is not. It’s a sharp, clever caper/romantic/psychic thriller that would be a shining moment for any mainstream director. It’s just Hitchcock’s work has held him up to such high standards that a film like this doesn’t exactly live up to his Rear Window or Psycho days. Oh well, getting past all this, like I said, this is a captivating and entertaining film that does have its fair share of thrills and surprises. It has several “Hitchcockian” scenes where the Master comes back to life and uses the camera to increase suspense like the good old days of North by Northwest. Basically, the plot revolves two interwoven stories: one revolves around a psychic who uses her “powers” to scam clients out of money and the other about a kidnapper and his wife. There are some pretty clever plot elements…like the way the kidnappers hide their hostages…and a lot of typical Hitchcock comic relief…provided mostly by the psychic and her befuddled boyfriend who works as her sometimes-assistant and a sometimes-cab driver (even though he claims he’s really an actor). A must for all Hitchcock/thriller fans…but not the one to start with if you want to get the feel of the Master’s best work.

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For a movie that takes place all in one small apartment (and mostly in one room of that apartment), this film sure has enough suspense and entertainment to fill anyone’s appetite for a good thriller. Director Alfred Hitchcock used this “one room” confining effect also in his 1948 thriller Rope, loosely based on the Leopold/Loeb murders. In Rope, Hitchcock seemed to be forcing the camera work around the room…seeming lost at times on which action to focus. In 1954’s Dial M for Murder, Hitchcock takes what he learned in Rope and improves on it. The camera is more fluid and less confined to the small area. The interaction with the characters does not seem too “crowded” as it often did in Rope. At times, in Dial M For Murder, the audience forgets this is a movie set mainly in just one room. This film is often overlooked in the Hitchcock filmography, mostly because it is not one of his best—but, that does not mean it’s not a good thriller. It just means Hitchcock directed so many good films that some of the smaller ones don’t get the attention they deserve. As for the plot of Dial M for Murder, you will just have to rent it and find out……

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