Such films make more
sense if you’ve seen Hitchcock’s originals, of course. You can do just
that—in glorious 35 mm!—at Cinema 21, which is holding its first
Hitchcock festival. Here are four to watch.
Grade: B Hitchcock had binders full of women at his disposal, but with The Girl having just debuted, Tippi Hedren is
the Hitch belle du jour. Hedren allegedly became an object of obsession
for Hitch while shooting The Birds and Marnie, after which Hitch
apparently torpedoed her budding career. Interesting, then, that
Marnie—more so than masterpieces Rebecca and Vertigo—is such a stark
portrait of psychological violence against women. The film centers on a
disturbed thief (Hedren) who serially robs her employers and fosters a
deep fear of being touched by men. When her boss (Sean Connery)
discovers her game, he forces her to marry him. The two set off on a
honeymoon, where Connery seeks to understand her inner torment and ends
up taking possession of her body and mind. Marnie lives in a world of
constant terror, portrayed by Hitch with a heavy coat of
psychoanalytical exposition. Perhaps the director, who famously treated
his actors horribly to coax out the best performances possible, was just
messing with Hedren. If that’s the case, it worked: It’s Hedren’s best
work. So much so that there’s nary another role you’d remember her in.
Hitch was a possessive man, even when he criticized his own tendencies.
Grade: A When
Notorious was released, The New York Times wrote that Hitchcock and
screenwriter Ben Hecht had “done a forthright and daring thing: they
have made the girl, played by Miss [Ingrid] Bergman, a lady of notably
loose morals.” She speeds, she gets drunk, she shags on an early date.
Egad! But while Bergman’s character no longer feels so risqué, the
romantic thriller has retained plenty of bite. Bergman plays the
daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, who is recruited by U.S.
agents—including Cary Grant—to infiltrate a group of Nazis in postwar
Brazil. Though Bergman’s Mata Hari-style turn is masterful, the real
drama comes not from the tale of espionage but from the film’s fraught
romance. Grant won’t fess up to his love for Bergman, and his plot
drives her to the bed of Nazi ringleader Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains),
who also falls in love with her. Rains is delightfully complex, both
iniquitous and sympathetic. (Fun fact: He wore elevator shoes to appear
taller next to the 5-foot-9 Bergman.) Bergman exudes a sort of lusty
elegance, matched by Hitchcock’s exquisite camera work. One of the
film’s more outdated scenes is also one of its most memorable: To
circumvent the ban on kisses longer than three seconds, Hitch staged a
devilishly extended scene (kiss, nuzzle, rinse, repeat) between Bergman
and Grant. Loose morals, indeed. RJ.
Grade: A- Despite
my name, it took me quite a while to make it to Rebecca. I dismissed
the Daphne du Maurier novel for its oft-lurid cover, and once I
discovered Hitchcock in high school, I stuck to his better-known films.
But it’s a shame it took me so long, because Rebecca—Hitch’s only Best
Picture winner—is a thing of haunting beauty. A gothic melodrama set in a spooky Downton Abbey-style manse, it’s less a thriller than
a morally complex tale of power, manipulation and vulnerability.
Laurence Olivier, broody as ever, stars as Maxim de Winter, an
aristocrat who marries the young and innocent Joan Fontaine (her
character is not named) after his first wife, Rebecca, drowns. But at
their Manderley estate, the clumsy and naive Fontaine provokes intense
hatred from the servant Mrs. Danvers (a menacingly creepy Judith
Anderson). All thick fog, swirling mist and driving rain (Fontaine first
sees Manderley through the car’s windshield, as the wipers cut a
semi-circle on the glass), the film could survive on ghostly atmosphere
alone. But the characters give Rebecca its real juice—the controlling
but unhappy Maxim, the malicious and lonely Mrs. Danvers and, most of
all, Fontaine’s transition from girlish naif to desperate
co-conspirator. The claustrophobia and hysteria of Manderley seem to
suffocate Fontaine, whose posture droops under its pressure. Word is
that a remake of du Maurier’s novel is in the works, but see this one
Strangers on a Train (1951)
Grade: A There’s a reason that, more than 60 years on, Strangers on a Train still conjures genuine unease. “Everyone has somebody that they want to put out of the way,” as Robert Walker’s iconic villain puts it, forming the setup for an oft-imitated plot device, the murder swap (see: Horrible Bosses or Throw Mama From the Train). When Walker’s Bruno Anthony meets unsuspecting tennis pro Guy Haines (Farley Granger) on a train, he bombards the politely dismissive jock with theories on everything from how to live your life to how to end somebody else’s. Taking Haines’ ineffectual nodding as a verbal agreement, Bruno promptly offs Haines’ gold-digging wife, then begins to demand Haines do the same to Bruno’s own father. What follows is a tense two hours of classic cinema, from the tense scenes at a carnival to the violent homoeroticism that has had scholars pondering the film since its release. Perhaps most iconic, though, is Walker himself, whose villain is the most frightening kind of crazy. Charismatic and handsome, he regales any listener—even a senator—with his theories about clean energy and space travel as casually as he talks about killing people out of convenience. Even scarier, most people are lured in by his wayward smile. If the film took place today, Bruno Anthony just might be recast as a politician. APK.
Also screening: The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho, North by Northwest.
SEE IT: The Hitchcock Festival is at Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st Ave., on Friday-Wednesday, Nov. 2-7. See cinema21.com for showtimes and ticket prices.