Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Guest Oeuvres are back!

True to my word, I'm finding gradual ways to spruce up this blog, starting with the sidebars. Much as we love Apichatpong Weerasethakul, he'd been sitting there far too long, mainly reminding me of my failure to see Syndromes and a Century on at least two occasions. So for the gala re-opening of my "guest oeuvre" slot (look right, and scroll right down) I'm going for a biggie: Alfred Hitchcock. My gaps in the silent period are frankly embarrassing, so I've telescoped it to deal with only the years from 1934 onwards, which is not to say I wouldn't like people to weigh in on the earlier stuff they may have seen and would particularly recommend, or recommend avoiding. This feature has always been my favourite way to start conversations on this blog, so get down there in the comments and tell me I'm wrong. Tell me Shadow of a Doubt, Hitchcock's own personal favourite among his films, deserves better than the B I've given it. Tell me Marnie is a mess, of fascination only to pretentious film students. Or that Vertigo is waaay overrated. Berate me loudly for not having seen I Confess yet (Father forgive me, I've seen about half of it). As politely as possible, I may attempt to argue back, but let's get this party started, and celebrate the greatest dead Englishman ever to make movies. With due apologies to Charlie Chaplin...

7 comments:

Jasper Milvain said...

Not really informed enough for your august threads, but... I loved "Shadow of a Doubt" for the slyness with the score. More interested, though, to know what knocked "North by Northwest" down to an A-...

tim r said...

Well hello! I quite agree, the Merry Widow Waltz is definitely one of the best things about Shadow, and I really like Hume Cronyn also. But I do find it one of H's more overrated thrillers -- it's such straight-down-the-line, cat and mouse stuff. I like the sense of threat to be a bit less contained and obvious, ideally.

N by N is cracking fun -- there the threat spills out all over the shop -- and James Mason has always been one of my favourite villains. I can't fault the writing or direction for pure excitement, but maybe it's not quite as suggestive, as wicked or provocative somehow, as his very best work? Or do you disagree? I'm sort of judging his films against each other here.

Nonsense, by the way, about not being "informed" enough -- you're one of the smartest people I know!

Jasper Milvain said...

That's very nice of you to say. The A- does make much more sense if there's an element Hitch vs Hitch, rather than Hitch vs World, but it may also be that I have more fun with what you might consider minor Hitchcock. I enjoy the wit more than I admire the powerful strangeness of the imagination underneath it all, although I can see that the strange imagination is much rarer and more important - this could also account for my (over)valuation of Shadow

tim r said...

I just watched Shadow again out of curiosity, and to while away a hangover. I don't think you're overvaluing it, necessarily -- in fact, I liked it more than I remembered. An upgrade to B+ isn't out of the question.

My remainining misgivings basically concern the plotting, which is a bit lazy on logic (the other suspect conveniently found in Maine?) and, more problematically, weak on suspense, except for that terrific sequence with Wright running to get to the town library before it shuts. The more heightened elements of the movie, like Tiomkin's score, jar a little for me with its unusually humble feel and setting; I'm reminded that when Hitchcock pushes himself towards realism (like in The Wrong Man) it often doesn't work, but realism is actually this one's strong suit. I hadn't appreciated that fully before.

I like the fact that Wilder's script makes Uncle Charlie a card-carrying misogynist, though all the speechifying about the world-as-hell gets a little windy, maybe. The battle of light and dark is better dealt with abstractly, with striking coups like the steam train blackening the sky, the shutters in Cotton's room at the beginning, and the garage door slamming shut the first time -- a nicely atonal note, even while it's setting up a sequence later. Plus, Patricia Collinge, a couple of years after her well-deserved Oscar nomination for Wyler's The Little Foxes, is just wonderful as Cotten's addled, besotted sis. It's a shame Hitchcock couldn't find a way to use her at the very end -- she'd have been heartbreaking -- and a pity this lovely actress didn't have a more enduring film career into the 1950s. I see on IMDb she pops up in a few episodes of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents", I shall track them down.

Your "powerful strangeness" is a great phrase for what I love the most in Hitchcock's work, by the way. I suppose I consider Shadow among the least strange of his movies, which may be why I still don't flip for it quite, but the emotional investment and slight creepiness of the Wright-Cotton relationship are certainly interesting.

tim r said...

Added grade: Topaz. Yikes.

tim r said...

Another added grade: Under Capricorn. I'm really not picking 'em. Anyone have any hot tips in minor Hitchcock?

Cal said...

I saw Stage Fright the other week and liked it. I think it's quite an atypical Hitch too.

I didn't like Blackmail (1929) but if you loved Sabotage as much as your grade suggests, you'll probably like it. Either way it features a great performance from Anny Ondra, who I haven't come across in any other films.