#63 Shadow of a Doubt

Watched: December 12 2016

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Macdonald Carey, Henry Travers, Hume Cronyn

Year: 1943

Runtime: 1h 48min

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Young Charlie Newton (Wright) is depressed and feels sorry for her mother whose life is in a rut. She needs some action in her life – a break from the routine. However, she gets more than she bargained for when the family receives a telegram from uncle Charlie (Cotten), her mother’s brother and young Charlie’s favourite uncle, informing them that he is coming to stay for a bit.

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“Now for some non-suspicious-looking sending of telegram. Nailed it!”

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The big city uncle arrives in the small town of Santa Rosa and lavishes his family with presents and the glamour automatically associated with New York businessmen. However, very soon a pair of “surveyors” show up wanting to photograph and interview the family, especially the newly arrived uncle. Young Charlie starts to get suspicious, not only because of the hostility her older namesake shows the surveyors but also because he hid a newspaper clipping about “the Merry Widow Killer,” a serial killer preying on rich widows, from the family.

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“And now some non-suspicious-looking standing on stairs. Nailed it again!”

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The surveyors turn out to be investigators who suspect Uncle Charlie of being the killer, although they have another suspect as well. One of the investigators, Jack (Carey), takes Charlie the Younger out and eventually talks her into helping them as long as they do not make an arrest in front of her mother, as she’s afraid the shock (and shame) would devastate her. The tension between uncle and niece builds as strange “accidents” start to befall her and she suspects dear uncle Charlie might be trying to get rid of the one family member who know of his (possible) double life.

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“Finally, some non-suspicious-looking grabbing of niece. Man, I’m really nailing it all today!”

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As always, the tension and suspense are really intense in this Hitchcock thriller. The relationship between the two Charlies is creepy – first because of the slightly incestuous undertones and later on the way he manipulates her and takes advantage of her love for her mother. Besides their relationship though, the family is really quite lovely. Even the younger children have clear and defined personalities, and we loved the father and his friend’s never ending murder plans for each other. Charlie the Younger is at once too smart and too naïve for her own good and could probably learn a thing or two from her bookish little sister once in a while.

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“Two people can play the suspiciously-coming-down-the-stairs-game!”

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Eventually, Charlie learns from her uncle and starts using his own manipulative tricks against him. In fact, throughout the film she goes from naïve and sweet school girl to a grown woman in charge of herself and her own fate. Some murderous cinematic bildungsroman there! And we loved it!

What we learned: families always spoil the youngest. Also, it’s important to include Veronica Lake in your evening prayers. Childhood head trauma always leads to criminal behaviour.

Next time: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

#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)

#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)