North By Northwest (7/18/12)

North By NorthwestMovie One Hundred Seventy

North By Northwest tells the tale of a case of mistaken identity leading to a kidnapping by international spies.

Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is mistaken for George Kaplan after paging a bellhop who is paging Kaplan. Two thugs take note and force Thornhill to the estate of Lester Townsend by a man impersonating Townsend named Philip Vandamm (James Mason). After questioning and Thornhill’s refusal that he is Kaplan, they fill Thornhill with liquor and send him on his way over a cliff. Instead, Thornhill, who is extremely drunk, drives away and gets picked up by the cops. When no one believes his story, Thornhill decides to track down the real George Kaplan to get to the bottom of things. He soon finds himself on the run after another case of mistaken identity and becomes involved with a young woman named Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) who helps him escape capture only to land him in more trouble.

North By Northwest is very much an Alfred Hitchcock film. It has everything we’ve come to expect from the master of suspense and it could easily be argued that North By Northwest is one of his finest films. Cary Grant absolutely shines on screen and can be charming and funny no matter what. The rest of the cast is good, especially Saint, but Grant is undoubtedly the star here.

I actually got the opportunity to see this in theaters, in the same summer series as A Clockwork Orange, and unlike that film, North By Northwest looked and sounded like it had been carefully restored for the big screen. Unfortunately for me (and the rest of the theater) the experience was marred by a group of cackling idiots near the front of the theater that shrieked and bounced up and down during most of the film. Scenes that were not meant to be funny were laughed at and tense scenes were marred by their outbursts. They were clearly enjoying themselves but it was incredibly irritating. If you’re wondering, we didn’t get a manager because they weren’t doing anything wrong, per se, they were just irritating people. As a public service announcement, please remember that a crowded movie theater is not your living room.

Alfred Hitchcock’s films catalog is vast and it would take ages for one to watch all of his films. It would be hard to even just recommend one film of his to watch, let alone several. North By Northwest is a film that should be viewed both because it’s a Hitchcock film and because it’s a beautifully crafted thriller.

I give it 4 missed the bus moments out of 5.

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Psycho (5/15/12)

PsychoMovie One Hundred Nineteen

Psycho is considered one of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest films and to date stands as one of the best thrillers ever made.

Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals $40,000 from a client at her office and flees from Arizona to California to be with her lover. After being paranoid about the police after a brief run-in with an officer that follows her, Marion finds herself at the Bates Motel. She soon meets Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and before spending some time talking with him, hears Norman’s mother from the house behind the motel. While taking a shower, Marion is stabbed to death and the mystery of the Bates Motel begins to unwind as people begin looking for Marion and the stolen money.

Psycho is a timeless film and considering its age, holds up remarkably well considering the myriad of horror films that we have been inundated with since. Hitchcock builds a distinct level of tension and mystery very early on and holds it until the finale. While many of you are likely aware of the ending, don’t worry, I won’t spoil it.

As with other Hitchcock films there are many hidden layers that reward multiple viewings of Psycho. Things like all the references to birds or the shots through mirrors may not be picked up at first but are a delight. My grandparents went to see Psycho in the theaters and they still talk about how it was the only movie they’ve ever walked out of. Considering the shower scene alone, I’m not surprised. Even though it is fairly tame by some of today’s standards, it still evokes a heart-in-your-throat reaction for me. For fans of Psycho, I would also highly recommend Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques, which came out about 5 years prior to Psycho and shares many similarities. In fact, Clouzot got the rights to Les Diaboliques as Hitchcock was trying to. Oh, and do not bother with the 1998 remake, it is awful.

For those who have not yet seen Psycho, it’s a must. Very few films come close and even fewer thrillers, including some of Hitchcock’s own, match it.

I give it 5 Bates Motels out of 5.

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The Lady Vanishes [1938] (3/26/12 & 12/22/12)

The Lady VanishesMovie Sixty Five and Two Hundred Ninety Three

The Lady Vanishes was Alfred Hitchcock’s last film before his move to Hollywood. Featuring his trademark  sense of humor and mystery, it is undeniably Hitchcock and a great movie.

Admittedly, I am more familiar with Hitchcock’s later work, but The Lady Vanishes is a fantastic film that has held up tremendously well for being over 70 years old. The film takes place mostly on a train. A group of travelers are heading back to England from the fictional European country of Bandrika. As we meet the ensemble cast, Iris (played by Margaret Lockwood) and Miss Froy (May Whitty) become closely acquainted. Iris falls asleep and wakes to find Miss Froy missing but when she asks about her whereabouts, no one on the train seems to remember her ever existing.

The train is the perfect setting for a film like this; it creates a sense of claustrophobia and being trapped. Some of the characters are a bit over the top, but for the most part they are believable. The mystery will certainly leave you guessing and the conclusion pays off.

One thing to note, while The Lady Vanishes is available through the Criterion Collection (cover art pictured), I watched the version on Netflix Instant Watch. The Netflix Instant version is nowhere close to the level of quality expected from Criterion, so I’m fairly sure it’s a different mastering of the film. The picture is a bit fuzzy and the audio was a bit uneven and slightly muddy sounding at times. It doesn’t detract from the viewing experience unless you are a total purist, but it’s something to consider.

The Lady Vanishes put me in the mood for more Hitchcock films, and not just his later works. Hitchcock truly was a master at his craft. The Lady Vanishes is a fun mystery and a great film to boot.

I give it 4 Hitchcock cameos out of 5.

[Update] I recently watched the Criterion blu-ray and my suspicions of the picture quality are mostly true. There are still some scratches and dust present, but the picture quality is far and away superior. The audio was still a bit uneven but not to the point of having to have the remote handy to turn up and down as needed. While this is still a great movie, I would easily recommend the Criterion versions in every way. Plus, the special features are pretty solid

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