This week TCM treats us to a whole bunch of Hitchcock and just generally fine films. I’m disappointed that I ran out of time to write more regarding The General with Buster Keaton and City Lights, starring Charlie Chaplin, but…I ran out of time! Trust me when I tell you they’re both excellent, though; really, I’m not sure which I like better, though City Lights certainly has more heart.
Perennial favourite Singin’ in the Rain is on, too. Just so you know.
One of the first Hitchcock films I ever saw, and the first Hitchcock I saw that stars Jimmy Stewart, who remains my favourite actor. In Vertigo, one of Hitch’s most famed and most magnificent films, Stewart is Scotty, a retired detective hired to tail the wife (Kim Novak, star of the month, which probably means we’ll be subjected to Bell, Book, and Candle—sigh) of an old schoolmate. Scotty begins to fall in love with this enigmatic, alluring woman—obsessively in love, or at least deeply infatuated with. And it’s a heckuva roller coaster from there.
I hate to say more about this one for the sake of those who’ve not seen it, but it’s one you should not miss—your eyes will ache by the end because they’ve been held so wide open for so very long, but it’s worth it! Stewart was particularly good, I think , at playing men on the edge, something we’ve all seen in It’s A Wonderful Life; the marvellous Vertigo is a really superb example of this. The core, by Bernard Herrmann, is perfect for the film, just perfect, as you’ll probably agree if you’ve seen the film or even just a trailer.
Hitch’s direction of Vertigo and the performances by its actors result in a film that grabs hold of the viewer’s mind just as Novak does Stewart’s in the film; it’s one you will ruminate over for several days, and not without reason. Simultaneously grippingly thrilling and dreamlike, sometimes hallucinatorily, we can’t help but be drawn along with the characters. I don’t go for horror films and never have—and Alfred Hitchcock’s films only rarely descended into horror (notably Psycho, of course) and never, I don’t believe, into plain, banal gore as today’s films do. He truly was a master at his craft—using his tools of film and actor and sets and music to toy with our minds in a way that it dawns upon us: evil seems, and is, concurrently far away and all too near at hand.
Barbara Bel Geddes also stars.
Also Worth Watching Thursday: Little Caesar ’30, 9:15AM; The Grapes Of Wrath ’40, 1:30PM; Pinky ’49, 4PM
Friday is not on the list, but it is the inauguration of TCM’s September Friday Night Spotlight of “Future Shock!”—and they’ve picked two good ones to begin with! Metropolis (of course), the 1927 silent classic of which little bits and pieces are STILL being found today airs at 8PM, followed by Things To Come (1936), the screenplay written by H.G. Wells himself, at 10:45PM. Also, a favourite Western comedy of mine is on Saturday night at 11:30PM—McLintock! starring the terrific team of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. There’s even a brawl near the end that simply has to be a nod to their earlier, marvellous The Quiet Man.
It’s another Sunday with Hitch, and I wanted to pick at least one of his lesser-known films to go with the one we’ve all seen (or should have seen) that airs later in the evening. Also…I like Priscilla Lane, even if she is a lightweight, and even though Hitchcock had tried to get Stanwyck or Margaret Sullavan for the part; my grandfather assured me I also look like her (for those keeping count, there’s also Marie MacDonald and “a little bit like” Stanwyck, both of which I’ll take).
In Saboteur, Robert Cummings (how I wish they’d hired Dana Andrews for this, but we can’t win them all—also, for what it’s worth, Hitch himself wasn’t happy to be stuck with Cummings for the part; reportedly he sought Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda, and Joel McCrea) goes on the lam (favourite phrase alert!) after being falsely accused of sabotage at the California war-plane plant where he works. He’s not just running from the law, though; he is after the man he’s certain is truly the guilty party, and ends up chasing the man clear to the other side of the country.
Early in his journey, he, er, attaches himself to spitfire Lane who doesn’t believe he’s innocent for just long enough to keep it fun—then she, too, becomes determined to help him clear his name…and keep the saboteur from endangering more lives. This unlikely pair ends up in all sorts of sticky wickets and meeting just about every American—and enemy of America— archetype of the age, to the very end and its ticklish Statue of Liberty-linked conclusion. Heck, there are even actual circus folk!
Otto Kruger & Norman Lloyd also star in a Hitch film that many aren’t aware of, but is entertaining viewing indeed (of course—it’s Hitchcock!) with some very touches. Our second pick is closely related to Saboteur—indeed, with its “wrong man” theme and climax taking place at another great American landmark, several have posited that Hitch, in North By Northwest, was attempting to re-do Sabooteur’s ending by reversing the character placed in grave danger and, I think, by giving us a story that’s a bit cleaner, idea-wise, and therefore more elegant. It’s undeniable that North By Northwest is also a rather steamy picture, with leads Cary Grant and an icy Eva Marie Saint alternately sparring and embracing (which is putting it mildly).
Two of film’s iconic images come from North By Northwest—the Mount Rushmore scene, and more famously, the crop-duster chasing Grant through a dusty cornfield. Seeing those scenes in context alone makes watching the film worth it—but there is oh, SO much more! Like James Mason.
Whatever one’s favourite Hitch film is, this is undoubtedly one of his best, and Hitch at the pinnacle of his craft: glamourous, funny, stimulating, with just enough romance thrown in and Hitchcock’s best (and his own favourite) MacGuffin. Grant’s ad exec is thought to be a spy, kidnapped, put on the path to death (you just have to see it), framed for a murder at the UN…and, understandably, since he’s being pursued by bad guys and government agents (often difficult to tell apart) goes on the lam. Fleeing across the country, he meets Eva Marie Saint, who helps him…but she is not who she seems to be, either. Again, you have to watch this movie!
North By Northwest has a lot of thrills for the ride, more than Hitch’s other films—indeed, perhaps a few too many. The problem is, they’re just so much fun, and you can’t help enjoying yourself as you watch this glossy espionage-mistaken identity thriller. Bernard Herrmann scored this film just as superbly as he did Vertigo. Jessie Royce Landis is a treat as Grant’s mother. Enjoy.
Also worth watching Sunday: Stage Fright ’50 (Marlene Dietrich makes this worth watching, though it’s far from Hitch’s best), 12PM; The Wrong Man ’56, 4PM (Hitch finally directs Henry Fonda); Foreign Correspondent ’40, 8PM
Singin’ In The Rain ’52
Okay, I’ve written too much already. Suffice to say these are fabulous, can’t-miss silent classics. The first, starring Buster Keaton in a Civil War-era comedy, surprised me a bit with it’s zippy humour; for some reason, I didn’t expect it to move along in such a contemporary fashion, but it does, and it’s very funny!
The second is a Chaplin comedy-romance; his Little Tramp character falls for a beautiful young blind flower seller (who happens to look like my sister), and decides that, despite his poverty, he shall find a way to pay for a procedure to restore her sight. I could wax on and on about this lovely film; it was the second Chaplin film I’d seen, if I recall correctly, and it was instant love. Though it begins with the usual Chaplin humour, the poignant story transcends it; there are plenty of laughs throughout, and it’s a good time indeed, but the Tramp’s adoration of the flower girl is quite touching right through to the end. I encourage you to set aside what I’m sure is never-ending work and enjoy both of these films, and especially City Lights.
Two I’ve never seen wrap up the week’s picks. The first is, unsurprisingly, an early take on a young man visiting an unnerving castle—but this is considered one of the greatest horror films ever, directed by Theodor Dreyer.
In the second, a bicycle is stolen from a man whose livelihood and family security depend upon that transportation. This foreign film earned a special Academy Award made just for it due to its effectiveness.