#86 Rope

Watched: January 30 2017

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, Douglas Dick, Joan Chandler, Edith Evanson, Cedric Hardwicke,

Year: 1948

Runtime: 1h 20min

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We continue our journey through film history with this classic Hitchcock thriller, filmed in glorious technicolor. Brandon (Dall) and Philip (Granger), old school friends, decide to kill a third friend and throw a dinner party for his family with the body hidden in the room. This is what an Ivy League education will do to your sense of morality, apparently.

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Who needs morals when you have unlimited access to alcohol and this penthouse view?

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They also invite their old housemaster (whatever that is. Some sort of teacher?) Rupert (Stewart), who Brandon idolizes (and quite possibly is in love with on some level). The idea behind the party is to stroke their egos (particularly Brandon’s) by convincing themselves they have committed the perfect murder. For Brandon the party is exhilarating, while for Philip it’s excruciating.

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One of these men have less of a conscience than the others…

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As the (very tense) party progresses, we learn that the murderous philosophies so taken to heart by Brandon originate in Rupert’s fascination with Nietzsche and similar thinkers. They both think that there are differences between people and that some have more right to live than others. In fact, they go so far as to claim that it is the superior people’s right to take the lives of others. For Rupert these are simply thought experiments – not anything to be put into action. However, Brandon takes everything his hero says quite literally and drags his rather more weak-willed friend down with him.

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Guess which one is the dominant one! Hint: it’s not the one doing the actual killing…

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Rope is tense and exciting – a sitting room thriller with great long shots and a truly chilling character in Brandon (although, to be honest, there are many movie murderers who surpass him in creepiness). The long shots help build the tension quite well – especially when Mrs Wilson is tidying the chest containing the body after dinner. Philip gradually melts down until his Tell-Tale Heart-moment which reveals Rupert’s true feelings about the philosophies he spouts.

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Turns out, Rupert has some opinions about the difference between theory and practice.

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We love Rope – it’s a classic we’ve watched several times before, and we thoroughly recommend it to anyone who loves a good suspenseful melodrama. And a good murder. Which we do. There are also clear parallels to the real case of Leopold and Loeb, but we find fictional murders infinitely more satisfying than real life as we’re not total psychopaths…

Extra fun fact for you: “Farley” (as in actor Farley Granger) pretty much means “dangerous” in Norwegian. So, from a purely Norwegian linguistic point of view, he should have been the one to play Brandon. For some reason, Hitchcock did not take this into consideration when casting the film.

What we learned: Thinking oneself superior is a dangerous thing.

Next time: The Fallen Idol (1948)

#76 Notorious

Watched: January 15 2017

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains

Year: 1946

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Alicia Huberman’s (Bergman) father is convicted of treason and his daughter naturally throws a party with ice and Cary Grant. As would we if Grant were available. However, she throws in a DUI for good measure, which we would not. After the drunken drive, it turns out that Devlin (Grant) is some sort of government agent and he has a job for the former party girl. After a gruesome hangover (wonderfully filmed, by the way) the two fly to Brazil to start her assignment.

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“So, what exactly is this assignment?” “Well, we shall fall in love and then I shall ask you to prostitute yourself. You know, for patriotism. USA! USA!”

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The two fall in love and then the orders come through. In Devlin’s defence, he was not aware of the exact nature of his new love interest’s upcoming job before recruiting her, but he does not exactly help her out once the government asks Alicia to put the moves on an old friend of her father’s who used to be in love with her. Instead, he encourages her to use all her “womanly viles” to get the information they need from former German Nazi leader Alex Sebastian (Rains – no longer invisible).

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“Yes, my good Nazi friend, of course I’d rather marry you than have a sultry affair with Cary Grant. Isn’t my enthusiasm evident?”

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The reason Alicia is recruited is partly because of her previous relationship with the subject of their investigation, but it is just as much due to her former reputation as a sexually active, hard drinking socialite. While Alicia herself feels she is over this period of her life, her past is enough to condemn her in the eyes of the government agents who pressure her into taking on the assignment. She is even persuaded to go so far as to marry Alex.

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Marrying another man puts yet another strain on their relationship for some reason

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Further complications ensue when, after an intense espionage scene during a party, Alex and his evil mother realise that their new family member is in fact a spy. They start poisoning her, but pride and pent up anger towards her handler Devlin stops her from being upfront with him about her condition, instead blaming her reduced state during their next meeting on a hangover. How will the lovers get out of this pickle?

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We strongly suspect that the filmmaker is trying to tell us that something may be wrong about the coffee.

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This Hitchcock classic is every bit as tense and chilling as you would expect, and the character of Alicia is someone it is easy to sympathise with. She just wants to be treated like a person and make a new life for herself, but all the men see her as a thing – less than proper because of her past (sexual) frivolity and her family. Even her new beau falls into that trap, although to give him his due he does defend her to his colleagues. He just cannot seem to do this to her face.

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He has no problem doing other things to her face though

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Although Alicia, played beautifully by Swedish icon Bergman by the way, is through with her rebellious and flirtatious past, that’s all men want from her and that is all they see. So she obliges. It is interesting that even though Hitchcock has a reputation for having been a dick to women, his female characters are usually very sympathetic and strong. However, they are always put through hell, and they are usually made weak by feelings of love, which may be symptoms of misogyny in itself. Or the stories of his hatred for women may be somewhat exaggerated. Who are we to tell?

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Instead, let’s focus on the story of two ridiculously gorgeous people falling in love and overcoming personal, international, and political obstacles to be together. Yay!

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What we learned: Once you’ve lived up to a certain persona, people won’t let you forget it and move on. Also, if you’re going to infiltrate an enemy organisation, you need nerves of steel (and don’t make stupid key mistakes).

Next time: The Big Sleep (1946)

#57 Suspicion

Watched: October 28 2016

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Nigel Bruce, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Dame May Whitty, Auriol Lee

Year: 1941

Runtime: 1h 39min

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Shy, bookish introvert Lina (Fontaine) keeps running into charming (but creepy) playboy Johnnie (Grant). After parrying his first advances, she overhears her parents discussing her inevitable descent into spinsterhood and starts pursuing him instead. She rapidly goes from indifferent and interesting to lovesick and stalkery, all in the name of avoiding becoming a spinster.

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“I’d better marry the man who assaulted me on our first date. The alternative is just too horrible!”

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Back from their honeymoon, she realises he’s completely broke, living well above his means, and intends to live off of her income and future inheritance. Being a sensible woman (apart from marrying this guy) she suggests he gets a job. So he sells her family heirlooms to gamble instead.

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“Do you mean to say you love these chairs that have been in your family for generations and which your father gave us? Well, if I had known that I never would have sold them, monkey face!”

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Lina also starts to suspect her handsome, charming husband may have murderous intents, especially when his rich friend Beaky (Bruce) dies in a freak accident in France while Johnnie is out of town. It doesn’t help his case that he asks a lot of questions about untraceable poisons to Lina’s crime writer friend Isobel Sedbusk (Lee) and then starts feeding Lina suspicious drinks.

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“Just trying to be a good husband. God, I can’t do anything right, can I?”

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Suspicion is as suspenseful mystery from the king of the genre, Mr Alfred Hitchcock, and it is fun to see Cary Grant play a villainous character. Joan Fontaine is great as well and actually won an Oscar for her portrayal of the confused, helpless and scared Lina. The film has a great soundtrack and sound effects, and normal, everyday actions, such as carving a chicken at a dinner party, turn very dark and menacing due to the extreme tension throughout. Lina gradually covers up her neck (Johnnie’s favourite part of her body) as her suspicions grow, and the lighting in the film perfectly illustrates her state of mind (like some filmatic mood ring).

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The use of light and shadow is amazing in general – not just as Lina’s mood ring

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Despite the abrupt and slightly unsatisfactory ending, this is a great, tense mystery film. We loved the ’40s fashion as well – it is nigh impossible to look bad in those clothes.

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The typical “nerd attire” in the 1940s is particularly good, especially compared to its more modern counterparts

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What we learned: never marry a man who calls you “monkey face.”

Next time: The Maltese Falcon (1941)