#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)

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#61 To Be Or Not To Be

Watched: November 27 2016

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Starring: Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack, Stanley Ridges

Year: 1942

Runtime: 1h 39min

Note: same at Cat People and Road to Morocco. Starting to have abandonment issues.

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During World War II, Joseph (Benny) and Maria Tura (Lombard) are the lead actors in a Polish theatre troupe in Warsaw. While Joseph is onstage, however, his wife has an unfortunate tendency to flirt with young men in her dressing room. Before the German occupation of Poland, these young men included lieutenant Sobinski (Stack), who fled to join the RAF once Poland was occupied.

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Maria’s affair hurts Joseph in several ways. First because of her unfaithfulness, second because her lover keeps leaving the theatre during his most important soliloquy – “To be or not to be”

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In England, Sobinski starts to suspect professor Siletsky (Ridges) who’s returning to Warsaw, of being a spy for Germany. Once the higher-ups learn that the professor is going to Poland with the names and addresses of all the relatives of the Polish flyboys, they send Sobinski to intercept him and the information to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

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No man with a beard as glorious as this could ever be a spy?!?

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Maria, Joseph, and eventually the entire troupe are dragged into the plot to secure the information and after Siletsky is accidentally killed, Joseph has to impersonate the dead spy in meetings with the (somewhat incompetent) Nazi leaders. With hilarious consequences.

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To Maria’s acting credit, she improvises like a champ upon realising that the man she’s been flirting with for info is now played by her husband

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Although we’ve both heard of this classic comedy before, we had yet to watch it. Despite Sister the Oldest having at one point watched pretty much everything related to Hamlet ever made, for a University course, this one had slipped through the net. So it was about time.

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Seriously – I know the entire soliloquy. Yet have never once been paid to recite it.

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To Be or Not to Be is hilarious and impressive, made even more so considering it was made in 1942, with the war still going strong though the full extent of the atrocities of Nazi Germany were not yet public knowledge. Making fun of Hitler and the Nazis in general was a brave move at the time, but it is not hard to discern the motivation of Jewish German-born director Lubitsch. Despite being a comedy, and a great one at that, the film naturally has very serious undertones and the threat of the Nazi regime is palpable throughout. Definitely worth watching!

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Aw, silly Hitler!

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What we learned: a tendency to dragging out scenes and stealing the spotlight makes professional actors unsuited for undercover work.

Next time: I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

#46 The Lady Vanishes

Watched: September 17 2016

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Dame May Whitty, Paul Lukas

Year: 1938

Runtime: 1h 36min

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In a remote European town, a train is delayed due to an avalanche. A random assortment of tourists are forced to spend the night in a hotel and interact with each other. We meet a gang of young women, one of whom is on her way home to England to get married; some cricket obsessed Brits, a judge and his mistress, an arrogant musician and an old retired governess.

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The nun comes later.

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After the (undiscovered) murder of a busker in the night, the tourists are sent on their merry way the next day. Iris Henderson (Lockwood), the lady about to be married, shares a compartment with Miss Froy (Whitty), the retired governess, and they spend the first part of the train ride in each other’s company. However, after a nap (brought on by a mild concussion from a mysterious accident at the train station), Iris wakes up to the old lady having vanished. In addition, everyone in her compartment denies her ever having been there, saying she must be a figment of Iris’ imagination (or brain injury). Cue mystery!

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“An old lady? We’ve never seen anything of the sort. And why would we lie? We’re not at all sinister foreign types in a xenophobic Europe!”

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Iris teams up with Gilbert (Redgrave), the annoying musician she had a less than pleasant run-in with the previous night and together they start investigating the missing lady, with the occasional help from fellow passenger Dr. Hartz (Lukas). Naturally, things are more complex than they seem at first, and the plot, as they say, thickens.

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“So, let me get this straight: the old lady vanishes, then she reappears but it’s not the same lady, then there’s a severe Italian lady who lies about it, then a judge and his mistress who also lie, as do a couple of Brits because of a cricket match and then there’s a creepy nun..?” “Yes. And there’s also an escape artist. But he escapes.” “I see… Makes prefect sense!”

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This is a good old-fashioned mystery film with intrigue, espionage and international politics (which was important in 1938 as you can imagine). There’s also romance, humour and a wonderful cast of characters, and there’s an action packed shootout towards the end (always fun!). Hitchcock films are always interesting to watch, both due to the contents as well as beautiful and inventive shots. We love and cherish it!

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Also, the lady is adorable!

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What we learned: There’s always a conspiracy.

Next time: The Roaring Twenties (1939)

#35 The Man Who Knew Too Much

Watched: September 21 2016 (delayed Blu-Ray delivery meant we couldn’t watch in order)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Peter Lorre, Edna Best, Leslie Banks, Nova Pilbeam

Year: 1934

Runtime: 1h 15min

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Jill (Best) and Bob (Banks) Lawrence have brought their daughter Betty (Pilbeam) on a holiday in the Swiss alps, expecting no trouble apart from stories to bore their friends with upon returning to England. They befriend a Frenchman called Louis who is assassinated on the dance floor on his last day at the resort.

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Literally assassinated – not just served

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Before he dies, he manages to give Jill instructions about a very important message which must be brought to the British consul. Bob retrieves the message from the dead man’s room, but before the couple has time to talk to anyone from the consul, they receive a note saying their daughter is kidnapped and will be killed if they talk.

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“Is it worth it though, darling? I mean, we could always make another. How fond of her are you really..?”

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The Lawrences decide not to risk their only child’s life and return to London pretending Betty’s with an aunt in Paris and not at all kidnapped and held by some secret society plotting the assassination of a foreign dignitary. Since they cannot confide in the police, Lawrence goes after the bad guys himself and manages to track them down rather easily.

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When in doubt, gas and impersonate a dentist until you overhear the information you need. Works nine times out of ten!

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Of course, it goes as it must, and soon both father and daughter are hostages. It’s up to Mama to save the day.

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“This never would have happened to Liam Neeson. Damn my lack of a particular set of skills!”

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We won’t reveal the ending (except to mention that there’s a shoot out!), but we urge you to watch this film. There’s suspense, intrigue, international politics and espionage, and there’s Peter Lorre being almost as creepy as he was in M. There are also some truly hilarious scenes, such as when Bob and friend/cohort Clive sing messages to each other in church and the ensuing chair fight with organ music accompaniment. Hitchcock really knew how to build suspense (in case no one’s pointed this out before) and while this is a fairly early work compared to some of his more famous masterpieces, The Man Who Knew Too Much is still a good example of his skills. The silence helps build the tension (there’s no score for most of the film) and some of the scenes literally had us on the edge of our seats.

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How did they end up on the roof? Will they get down? Why is his head so big? Who are these people anyway? Watch the movie to have at least three of these questions answered!

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What we learned: Peter Lorre used to be typecast as a child killer. Dentists are always in on evil plots.

Next time: The Scarlet Empress (1934)