The time has come! The time I have been waiting for decades for! The time I might have been waiting for from the day I was born! It is here! Alfred Hitchcock has come back into the realm of popular culture with a vengeance!!!!
My family got their first VCR for the Bears’ January 1986 Super Bowl. Shortly thereafter, I discovered Hitchcock. Having died in 1980, six years prior to my discovery of him, Hitchcock was no longer “in the news,” so to speak. I watched most of his movies and tried my best to find out everything I could about him, but most of the stuff I found was from ages ago. Yes, the occasional article would be written, but for the most part, Hitchcock was history!
History NO longer! There are 3…count them 3…new movies or television shows dedicated to the life and/or work of the Master of Suspense: Hitchcock, the feature film starring Anthony Hopkins as the director and Helen Mirren as his devoted wife, Alma; The Girl, an HBO movie starring Toby Jones as Hitchcock, about the making of The Birds; and Bates Motel, an A&E TV show starring Vera Farmiga as Mrs. Bates and Freddie Highmore as young Norman, about the early life of the Psycho family.
In addition to that (as if that wasn’t enough!), many of Hitchcock’s films are coming out on Blu-Ray and getting a lot of press, not to mention the British Film Institute and their months-long celebration of all things Hitchcock, to cap off their year-long “Rescue the Hitchcock 9” fundraiser to help restore nine of Hitchcock’s early British silent works. The event, appropriately titled The Genius of Hitchcock, was a full retrospective of his works plus guests and lectures speaking about all facets of Hitchcock.
So, basically, I’m on cloud nine. Finally, FINALLY, the masses are catching on to the brilliance and talent of Hitchcock. It’s about time!
Recently, I flew to London to attend several days of the two-month-long The Genius of Hitchcock festival held at the British Film Institute’s Southbank campus.
Starting in June and ending after London’s yearly October film festival, the BFI pulled out all of the stops to honor one of their own…a British director who became an international sensation by helming such movies as Rear Window, Vertigo, Notorious and Psycho.
The Genius of Hitchcock celebration caps off the year-long fund-raising push entitled Rescue the Hitchcock 9, a campaign to save nine of Hitchcock’s early British silent films. These nine films are in dire need of restoration…without it, there is the chance they might be gone forever.
Being a BIT of a Hitchcock fan (OK…a little understatement —I’m obsessed), I would have loved to hunker down in London all four months, savoring classic after classic. But, there is this little thing called WORK, not to mention MONEY, of which staying in London requires a lot. So, alas, I settled on cramming in as many movies as I could in my limited time (five films, to be exact).
Have I seen all five before? You betcha. Do I own all five on DVD? Yes, I do. But, somehow, traveling over 3,700 miles to see movies I know by heart doesn’t seem all that silly to me. Obsessed, I tell you!
Like I said, I saw five of Hitchcock’s masterpieces (sadly none of the restored “Hitchcock 9” were playing when I was there). I watched a double feature of Shadow of a Doubt and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) on one night, followed by a double feature of Mr. and Mrs. Smith (no, not THAT one…the 1941 film with Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard…the only romantic comedy Hitchcock ever made) and Strangers on a Train on the next.
But, the crème de la crème, the pièce de résistance was the 3D showing of Dial M for Murder. No, this is NOT NEW 3D…this is old, classic 3D. This is when 3D was done for effect and not financial gain. This is when 3D was not a marketing ploy.
I have a strong distain for the new wave of 3D films sweeping through Hollywood, though I am much more against 2D films being re-released in 3D, such as Titanic (1997) and Beauty and the Beast (1991). When I saw Scorsese’s Hugo (which I heard nothing but great things about in 3D), I specifically sought out the 2D version.
Maybe I’m equating my lack of interest in modern 3D with my lack of interest in most contemporary animation. Look at Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs —imagine how tedious and superior the animation process was back in 1937 and compare that with today’s inferior “computer” animating. So OK, modern 3D is not that bad…but, RE-RELEASING already-shot films just to capitalize on the 3D bandwagon is the last straw. Where will it end?
Dial M for Murder is different. Hitchcock filmed it in 3D but it was released in 1954 in mostly 2D. Aside from a limited 3D re-release in the early 1980s, most people have not seen Dial M for Murder in the original 3D Hitchcock intended it to be shown. And, among filmies, it is supposed to be one of the best, if not THE best, example of 3D filmmaking. And, after seeing it, not only does it not disappoint but I would have to agree that the use of 3D was amazing.
Unlike much of 1950s’ Hollywood 3D, nothing here is done just for the 3D effect (such as no paddleballs bouncing at the screen, a la The House of Wax (1953)). Everything here is done for a reason…the use of foregrounds and backgrounds become more of a 3D element than in-your-face effects. In one scene, the infamous purse that becomes a key item in the plot stands boldly in the foreground, with character action going on behind it. The purse, a simple inanimate object, looks as if it is right in the audience’s lap. And that is how Hitchcock uses 3D throughout the entire movie…subtly but OH SO effectively. But then again, would we expect anything less from the Master himself?
Keep in mind that as long as Hollywood keeps making money off of 3D, they will keep making these so-so 3D movies and…even worse, keep re-releasing existing 2D movies in 3D. If The Bridge on the River Kwai in 3D comes out in cinemas, I’m moving to Mongolia and living in among the yak herders in a nice yurt!
Madness, Madness. Soapbox over.
Admittedly, I do not go to the movies as much as I used to. It’s attributed to somewhat having no time…somewhat it’s too expensive. But, mostly it’s that there are not any “Theater Worthy” movies out there. If I am going to spend $12 on a ticket and then $12 on concessions (I could leave this part out but what would be the fun in that), the movie better be worth it…meaning something which I have to see NOW and not just wait for the DVD…something I MUST see on the big screen. Finally, that something has arrived.
I have been waiting ALL YEAR for the 23rd (official) installment of the James Bond series: Skyfall. So much so that I had midnight tickets (a first) for an IMAX theater (first time in 10+ years). Boy, was I excited.
And Skyfall did not disappoint. It is not the BEST Bond movie ever (even Daniel Craig’s first Bond outing as 007 in Casino Royale was slightly better) but it was extraordinarily entertaining and exceeded my high expectations.
Craig stars as the super-spy, the consummate British agent with the License to Kill and orders from Her Majesty’s government to do anything necessary to get the job done. As in his two previous outings as Bond (should we even count Quantum of Solace?), Craig plays the MI6 agent very close to the chest. He’s not particularly worried about being suave, as Sean Connery was. He’s not anywhere near droll, which Roger Moore specialized in and which Pierce Brosnan also excelled in. He’s not sex-less like Timothy Dalton. He’s a man’s man. He’s tough all the time, brutal when he needs to be, heartless at times, romantic at others, and sensitive when the situation calls for it (rarely, but it does happen). There is no facade here…Craig’s Bond seems to stick to the adage: what you see if what you get. And, after wise-cracking Moore and Brosnan, frigid Dalton and super-smooth Connery, we need a Bond who is all of those…and much more.
So, will it be two+ more long, cold, Bond-less years until I step into a theater again…desperately waiting for the 24th installment? I hope not. But, it will be a tall order to top this theater experience anytime soon!
Even though I am a sucker for British TV series, I had somehow skipped this one because I thought it would be too much like CSI for me. But, it most definitely is not…it’s a must see for anyone who likes crime shows. If anything, it’s unlike most crime shows because it focuses on cold cases…cases no one cares about anymore. And, yes, there is a certain CSI and Bones aspect to it…since one of the team members is an forensic pathologist. But, the show is much more than that. It’s about a people and the relationships between all of the team. They have to battle themselves and the past when looking into these past cases. All in all, a great, fascinating show that will keep you glued to your TV.
An adorable, fun film starring two of my favorite unsung actors…Myrna Loy and Melvyn Douglas. Loy stars as a single lady who pretends to be married to keep all unwanted suitors away…one in particular. Through a series of comic events, Douglas begins passing himself off as her husband, who was supposedly away on business. Myrna Loy has never been better than she is here. She is vibrant and full of life. She is constantly irritated at Douglas’ character, even though we know she’s madly smitten with him at the same time. And Douglas, who always has a knack for comic timing, is spot-on here as the goofy, long-lost hubby. The chemistry between both of them is perfect and sure to please all. I had seen this film once ages ago on Turner Classic Movies and wanted to re-watch it instantly. Unfortunately, it was never put on VHS (at least not that I could find) and took a while coming out on DVD…so now that it is out, please do yourself a favor a check it out!
BY FAR the best Romeo and Juliet adaptation out there, this film is a classic for The Bard himself would be proud of. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring two then-unknown teenage actors as the star-crossed lovers, this movie oozes sensuality, humor and utter despair. Set, as the play is, in Verona, Italy, Romeo Montague meets Juliet Capulet and they fall in love at first sight. One MAJOR problem is that the Montagues and the Capulets are major enemies. We all know the rest of the story…what’s special here is the way Zeffirelli captures the passion and the intensity of the romance. And by using teenagers, we focus on what their young, impulsive relationship might really have been like. After-all, no one is more impulsive than an adolescent. And, then there is the music Zeffirelli picked (probably the most famous part of the movie) and the way he shot the film with such lush colors and muted lighting. Basically, if you’ve never seen an adaption of this story, this is the one to watch. And if you have seen others, this one will surpass all!
Ideal Destinations – Features
Ideal Destination – Nonfiction
Get Me Outta Here: Unsavory Locations on DVD
Can We Go There, Please? Travel the World with DVDs set in Beautiful Locations Around the World
Martial Arts Action films
James Bond Movies
Films About Video Games
Movies with Chase Scenes
Soviets, The Iron Curtain Cuba, McCarthy: The Cold War on Film
As the Summer Olympics continue, I thought everyone might still be in a LONDON frame of mind. And since it is no secret that London is my favorite travel destination AND Alfred Hitchcck is my favorite film director, I decided to merge the two in honor of London 2012. Now, to make this list, the movie has to be shot ON LOCATION in London…not on a soundstage. Dial M for Murder is “set” in London, but it was shot in Hollywood. Using London as a location criteria, there are three films that make the list. Frenzy, I feel, is Hitchcock’s best USE of London on film but my personal favorite of his three set-in-London films is the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, which is the first Hitchcock movie I ever saw.
When director Alfred Hitchcock shot Frenzy, he was in his early 70s and was at the end of a filmmaking career that began in the 1920s in England. After Hitchcock left Britain behind for a career in America (his first film in the U.S. was 1940’s Rebecca), he rarely looked back.
Frenzy is a triumphant return to London, with the film shot entirely there and starring an all-British cast. This movie does not boast any glitzy movie stars or any of the Hitchcock elegance of many of his previous films, but displays a rather dark, violent side unlike anything the director had shot before. The finished product results in a taut and intelligent thriller, one of the best of Hitchcock’s career and definitely the best of his later films. The movie begins with a body found, washed ashore in the Thames River. The corpse has a necktie around its neck, identifying the murder as another “necktie” serial killing. Through a series of twists and wrong turns, an innocent man is accused of the murders, which has been a common Hitchcock plot line over the course of his career (The Wrong Man and North by Northwest, in particular). The difference here is that early on in the film, the audience becomes privy to who is the guilty party and who is being framed. Knowing this before most of the cast, we are left squirming in our seats, waiting for the characters to catch up with what we already know. Also, unmasking the villain towards the beginning of the film allows the audience to focus less on plot and more on character and the cinematic style that makes Frenzy a magnificent thriller.
Stage Fright has a perfect cast and a strong plot but somehow doesn’t get the due it deserves. Made at the end of what I would call one of Hitchcock’s “off” periods (his biggest stinker Under Capricorn comes right before this one in 1949 but in 1951, Hitchcock makes Strangers on a Train which saves his ailing career), this film features many of the trademarks Hitchcock aficionados have come to know and love in his later films…the “wronged” man, the love interest, fair amounts of humor for comic relief, and a thrilling ending. So, why is it not up there with Rear Window and North by Northwest? Well, it’s not glitzy. Even though it’s about the theater industry in London, it doesn’t shine like Hitchcock’s better-known works. I would say that has to do mostly with the acting. All of the performances here seem adequate but not stunning. Jane Wyman and Alastair Sim are spot-on when playing the father-daughter act, but aside from that, they all seem lost in the script. Regardless, it’s a must-see for all thriller fans!
The Man Who Knew Too Much is one of Hitchcock’s more underrated films, especially since its only notoriety comes from introducing the song Que Sera Sera to the general public. A remake of the director’s own 1934 work from his early years working in his native England, this updated version is exactly what Hitchcock himself said it was…to paraphrase, he said that the 1934 movie was made by a amateur director and the 1956 version was made by a professional director. Taking the story of the 1934 film and enhancing it with actual locations and minor character changes, the 1956 film is a terrific example of how a good film can become a great film. The movie stars Doris Day and James Stewart as an American couple visiting the French Morocco with their young son. After befriending a British couple, they soon find themselves embroiled in a series of terrifying events, including the kidnapping of their son. The first part of the film is filmed on location in Marrakesh, Morocco but after the kidnapping, Stewart and Day head to London, believing their son was taken there. London works well here, whether as a minor backdrop (like the streets where both Ambrose Chapel and the taxonomy shop were filmed) or a major, plot-based location, such as the climatic concert scene filmed in the Royal Albert Hall. That scene stands out as one of the most intense, nail-biting scenes of pure suspense ever filmed. It lasts over ten minutes and there is no dialogue, only music, but the anxiety of Day’s performance along with the tension-mounting music and direction keeps the viewer glued to the screen. In my opinion, this remake is one of Hitchcock’s best movies.
Well, for one, unlike many European cities, London is seriously multicultural. VERY multicultural. And I’m not talking tourists. I’m talking residents. All races, religions, socioeconomic levels are on view throughout most parts of London. Yes, in some of the swankier sections (Knightsbridge, Mayfair to name two), most of the people have more than their fair share of Pound Sterling in their pockets. But, London is a mammoth, vast city with section upon section of diverse areas. Take Kensington…which borders ritzy area Knightsbridge and is not far from the also ritzy Chelsea. Kensington has more Indian restaurants than British restaurants it seems. The Indian dish Chicken tikka masala, not fish and chips, is even London’s honorary national meal. When we think British, we think Protestant and white. In the countryside, maybe…but not in London.
Let’s move on to London’s fascinating history. Unlike our cities in this country, London has recorded history dating back thousands of years. Yes…thousands. From the Romans who founded the city as Londinium to the Anglo-Saxons to the Tudors, every corner of London bears some history worth repeating. The formally-walled “City of London” is the present-day financial center of the capital and is one of the 32 boroughs of London. There are still places within The City, or Square Mile, as it is sometimes called, where you can see some of the London Wall, first built around The City by the Romans. Just to the east of The City lies Whitechapel, the former stomping grounds of that vicious deviant Jack the Ripper, who killed at least five prostitutes in the late 1880s. And on the other side of the River Thames (which throughout much of history, was wider than the present-day river running through London today), there is the George Inn in Southwark…a pub that can date it’s history back to the 17th Century. Yes, that’s right…the 1600s. No, the George we see today is not the exact same one from the 1600s, but there has been a pub on that site for almost 400 years! That’s a lot of pints!
Lastly, let’s look at London’s cultural side. Most major cities can boast opera houses and a smattering of theaters and maybe one or two concert venues. But, London is the HOME of the stage production…with its West End surpassing our Broadway in both longevity, history and profitability. Many famed Broadway productions began as West End productions…and many acclaimed actors and actresses got their start on the London stage.
As the Summer Olympics approach (the opening ceremonies are on July 27), we thought everyone might want to get into a LONDON frame of mind to prepare. Here are some movies that might fit the bill: