Psycho probably needs no further introduction as it’s one of the most watched, loved and spoofed/homaged films of all time. Still, for those hermits who have been living secluded lives in the woods for the past 60 years but have also inexplicably stumbled upon this blog (hello, stranger! To be honest, you’re probably better off crawling back under that rock, given the current state of the world), we’ll give a very brief synopsis.
Marion Crane (Leigh) is having an affair with Sam Loomis (Gavin) but they cannot afford to get married. When Marion gets her hands on $40 000 at work, she decides to steal the money and run away to elope with her beau. She is caught in a rainstorm and checks in for the night at the secluded Bates Motel.
Marion is reported missing by her sister Lila (Miles) and wanted by the police for theft. Lila decides to investigate the disappearance herself with the help of Sam and private investigator Milton Arbogast (Balsam) who is also on the case. What they find is not what they expected…
The shower scene is perhaps the most famous scene in cinematic history, and no matter how many times you’ve seen it or its various recreations, it still has impact. As does Norman Bates’ transformation from sweetly awkward and likable young man to creepy insane murderer.
Roger O. Thornhill (Grant) is a busy adman with a slightly exasperated secretary and a fabulous mother (Landis). During lunch, he is mistaken for a Mr Kaplan by a couple of thugs and whisked away on an adventure.
Despite Thornhill’s insistence that they have the wrong guy, baddie Phillip Vandamm (Mason) is convinced his captive is lying. His suspicions are confirmed several times as Thornhill starts investigating and finds himself in the mysterious Kaplan’s hotel room, accepting his laundry and answering his phone. Idiot.
Things go from bad to worse when Thornhill becomes a prime suspect for murder and must go on the lam. He ends up sneaking on to the “Twentieth Century” where he meets the mysterious and gorgeous Eve Kendall (Saint). She helps him elude capture, but now our hero is hunted by both criminals and law enforcement. What a pickle!
North by Northwest is definitely among the funnier Hitchcock movies. The whole thing plays like a farce, and Cary Grant’s amazing face, sass and sarcasm keep the audience laughing throughout. We also loved his darling mother.
Starring: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore
Runtime: 2h 8min
For those of you wondering what happened to #167 to #172, Mr Wright has made a few changes to the list and we have had to update the numbering to the current version, as outlined here. A number of new films have been added to the ’30s and ’40s, and we’ll try to catch up with them as soon as we can get our hands on copies. Until then, we continue where we left off, but with updated numbers.
During a roof top police chase, John “Scottie” Ferguson (Stewart) almost falls to his death and witnesses another police officer die trying to save him. After the accident, he retires from the force and suffers vertigo as a result of the traumatic incident.
Spending his downtime in the (fantastic) company of friend Midge Wood (Bel Geddes), Scottie is contacted by old school friend Gavin Elster (Helmore) who hires him to stalk his wife. Elster claims Madeleine (Novak) has been possessed by the spirit of her great-grandmother Carlotta, who killed herself after being betrayed by the man she loved.
Hesitant at first, Scottie agrees to the job after seeing the gorgeous Madeleine. He follows her to the florist and the cemetery where she visits Carlotta’s grave. When she later flings herself into the river, he saves her and brings her home, and they promptly fall in love.
However, it’s far from smooth sailing from then on. Turns out newfound love does not erase madness/ghosts and Scottie is unable to save Madeleine, leading him to a complete meltdown. But what was actually going on?
From the awesome opening titles (by Saul Bass) to the end credits, Vertigo is fantastic. We loved the colours (especially the red restaurant), all the spirals, the dolly zoom, the very judgemental judge, the dream sequence and of course Midge. Lovely, lovely Midge and her lovely, lovely apartment.
It’s hot in the city and L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (Stewart) has a broken leg. The increasingly bored and impatient photographer tries to amuse himself by entertaining his voyeuristic side – he spies on his neighbours.
From his wheelchair by the window, Jeff watches the romantic exploits of “Miss Torso;” the heartbreaking life of widow(?) “Miss Lonelyhearts” (whose sadness matches even that of Chaplin himself); and the bickering Thorwald couple across the yard.
In addition to being the founding, and only, member of his local Neighbourhood Watch Alliance, Jeff is contemplating breaking up with his perfect (no, really!) girlfriend Lisa (Kelly), as he thinks she’s not cut out for his bohemian photographer lifestyle. However, when he sees suspicious activity at Thorwald’s (Burr) apartment, followed by the apparent disappearance of his wife, Lisa and housekeeper Stella (Ritter) are the only ones who believe his theory that Thorwald may have done something shady.
Since Jeff’s police friend Doyle (Corey) can’t investigate without any sort of evidence that Thorwald is a killer, and he also doesn’t believe that a murder has happened, the three take it upon themselves to get the proof.
Rear Window is one of our favourite Hitchcock films, although that list is very long. Like Rope, the action takes place in one room, with just glimpses into the neighbouring apartments. It’s suspenseful with a good cast of characters (and actors), and for a long time you are not sure whether a crime really has been committed, or if Jeff is imagining everything. Miss Lonelyhearts is heartbreaking, and the scene where our protagonists ignore her clearly upcoming suicide attempt in order to focus on a potential murderer’s behaviour is probably the most uncomfortable scene in the entire picture.
We loved the apartment complex and the mini-tableaux in the apartments, Stella the no-nonsense nurse, the couple sleeping on their balcony, and Lisa the socialite with a brain and guts. Also, the suspense was almost killing us even though we’d seen it before. We love ourselves a good murder mystery.
What we learned: Neighbours are dangerous. We’re never talking to ours again.
Pliable Guy Haines (Granger) accidentally meets creepy Bruno Antony (Walker) on a train. The two start speaking – Guy’s first mistake – and the polite Guy does what most people do when they meet crazy people on public transport – he smiles and nods and generally agrees with his fellow passenger.
Bruno is anxious to rid himself of his father, and he knows, through the gossip columns, that Guy has a wife, Miriam (Rogers), who he wants to divorce in order to marry his new girlfriend Anne (Roman). Bruno also has a theory about how to get away with murder – the trick is to murder someone you have no motive to kill. You know, such as when two people who are otherwise unrelated randomly meet on a train and decide to kill each other’s family members…
Guy reaches his destination and thinks no more of the insane stranger on the train until his wife refuses to divorce him now that he’s making money. To make matters even more difficult, she is pregnant by another man and Guy finds himself in a murderous mood which he tells his girlfriend.
Guy doesn’t need to worry though – Bruno is there to solve his problems. He follows Miriam and her two boyfriends (possibly? We’re not quite sure) to a fun fair and gets her alone in a secluded spot where he strangles her.
While this helps Guy out of one predicament, it get him into another. Bruno now expects the favour returned – for Guy to kill his father. When Guy refuses, Bruno inserts himself into his life and threatens to frame him for Miriam’s murder.
Strangers on a Train is a classic Noir thriller with a great premise and a very creepy, menacing and completely insane antagonist. The other characters are a bit less interesting, particularly the boring protagonist, although there are some perceptive women, such as Anne’s little sister Barbara (Hitchcock), Anne to a certain degree, and of course the manipulative and morally speculative Miriam. Also, just in case you care, our favourite characters were the little boy on the carousel and the old man crawling under it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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?
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.
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?
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).