#178 North by Northwest

Watched: April 8 2018

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Leo G. Carroll, Martin Landau

Year: 1959

Runtime: 2h 16min

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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.

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“We’re off to see the Wizard! The wonderful Wizard of Oz!”

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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.

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“What sort of flying monkey is this???”

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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!

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Luckily, Thornhill is a master of disguise!

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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.

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“I’m a delight!”

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As with several Hitchcock films (and others), the opening credits by Saul Bass are fantastic, and the movie is suspenseful and exciting from beginning to end. Love this!

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So cool!

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What we learned: If you’re the victim of mistaken identity, try not to pretend to be that person… Also, high heels and rock climbing is a bad match. There goes our weekend plans.

Next time: Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

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#138 Bigger Than Life

Watched: October 4 2017

Director: Nicholas Ray

Starring: James Mason, Barbara Rush, Robert F. Simon, Walter Matthau

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 35min

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School’s out for Easter. What a dream! Though not for teacher Ed Avery (Mason), who suffers stomach pains and is on his way to his second job as a cab dispatcher. Despite his clear discomfort and his rush to get to his second, secret, job, he takes the time to give a student a break and to play matchmaker for a couple of colleagues. An all round good guy!

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Pictured: every teacher’s face at vacation time

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After a dinner party, Ed collapses and his wife Lou (Rush) and BFF Wally (Matthau) get him to the hospital. The doctors run a series of tests, including a very cool and quite possibly cancer-inducing X-Ray with barium, and are discouraged by what they find. Without treatment, Ed has less than a year to live.

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A life span further reduced by the liberal helpings of barium and x-radiation

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The only treatment found to be somewhat effective is the newly discovered (possibly?) hormone cortisone, but it can have serious side-effects. After weeks of experimenting, a proper dosage is found, and Ed is sent back home with a few weeks’ supply of cortisone pills.

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Ed’s medication gives him a new appreciation for fancy clothes and shopping sprees. There’s a chance we may have too much cortisone in our systems…

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In time, Lou starts noticing some changes in her husband’s personality. He is more adventurous and spontaneous, but less sensible and responsible. He is energetic and manic with terrible mood swings and occasional tremors.

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There’s always a possibility he is possessed, according to the mirror

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As Ed’s solution is to up his cortisone intake, his new personality traits develop into full blown delusions of grandeur, complete with a new tyrannical approach to family life.

 

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Even his shadow gets in on the action, looming threateningly over his young son Richie

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Bigger Than Life is very dramatic, and Ed’s development throughout the film goes from one extreme to the next. We loved the X-Ray/barium scene, the dramatic crescendo of the ending, the shadows and the general craziness. It may not be a film we’ll rewatch over and over again, but it is definitely worth watching once.

What we learned: Teachers owe it to themselves to be sick on school days – not during vacation. Word! Also, stick to the prescribed dosage.

Next time: Forbidden Planet (1956)

#90 Caught

Watched: March 11 2017

Director: Max Ophüls

Starring: Barbara Bel Geddes, James Mason, Robert Ryan

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 28min

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Leonora Eames (Bel Geddes) has one ambition in life: to go to Charm School so that she can be eligible to marry a rich, upper-class man. After saving up all her money to attend said school, she gets a job modelling clothes in a store which, through a series of (un)fortunate events leads to her meeting Smith Ohlrig (Ryan), the epitome of the rich bachelor.

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As you can see, she is instantly comfortable in his company

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Ohlrig marries his model more to prove he will than because of any true affection for her, and as soon as they are married, she starts to see his true nature. Rather than a wife, he treats her as property – he expects her to be at his beck and call at every hour of the day and even embarresses her in front of his friends and co-workers. To Leonora’s credit, she realises that no amount of money is worth this kind of treatment and she leaves her abusive husband.

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As the spoiled man-child he is, Ohlrig’s reaction is to ignore everything not going his way and play his pinball machine instead.

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Though not divorced, Leonora is now on her own and gets a job as a receptionist in a small doctor’s office, where she meets Dr Larry Quinada (Mason). For once, she is in the company of a man who expects more from her than being arm candy – she must give her all to her job and show that she can learn. After a somewhat rocky start, she realises that she is capable of more than being a charming wife

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Unlike Ohlrig, Quinada is looking for a woman of substance, not flirty “charm girls”

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However, despite the lack of love in their marriage, Ohlrig has no intentions of giving his estranged wife a divorce, and his treatment of her becomes more and more brutal throughout the film. In addition, Larry is unaware of her marital status as she is afraid to reveal her real identity to him. Will she be able to escape this mess?

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And what’s going on here? Watch Caught to find out!

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Caught is a suspenseful noir which we completely loved. While Leonora’s ambition at the start of the film is questionable, it seems as though this is something she has been told to do, more than something she wants deep down. She is reluctant to go to parties she’s invited to, and she is weary of the sort of men who invite random models to parties. Her readiness to leave her rich husband without a penny also speaks to her true nature. She’s sweet and likable although a bit irresolute and helpless in the beginning.

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Until she starts flashing people, that is

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It’s a great watch with an interesting ending (which we won’t spoil) that may have been even more controversial to a 1940s audience than it is today. A very good, somewhat unusual noir with great performances – kind of like Citizen Kane from the wife’s perspective in a lot of ways. Although parts of Citizen Kane is also from the wives’ perspective so it’s not a perfect comparison… Suffice to say – we loved it!

What we learned: The only reason we haven’t married rich yet is because no one ever sent us to Charm School. Damn our equal opportunity, sisters-are-doing-it-for-themselves country! Also, money alone isn’t everything.

Next time: Criss Cross (1949)

#82 Odd Man Out

Watched: February 1 2017

Director: Carol Reed

Starring: James Mason, Kathleen Ryan, Robert Newton, Robert Beatty, F.J. McCormick, W.G. Fay, William Hartnell

Year: 1947

Runtime: 1h 56min

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In an unnamed Northern Irish city (our money’s on Belfast), Johnny McQueen (Mason), recently escaped from prison and hidden ever since, is planning a robbery/heist with his cohorts to raise funds for their (also unnamed) organisation. Despite not having been outside for years, Johnny is set on carrying out the plan himself, even when one of his mates offers to go in his place. However, during the heist, he suffers some sort of existential crisis (or perhaps agoraphobia) and things go wrong. Johnny shoots a man and is himself injured, and has to go on the lam.

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Is this some Omenesque foreshadowing? Stay tuned to find out!

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The now injured Johnny first hides in an air raid shelter and after Dennis (Beatty) helps him escape his hiding place he roams the city looking for safety and help with his injuries, meeting all sorts of interesting and colourful characters along the way.

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He also inexplicably poses for portraits

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With the authorities hot on his heels, the people he meets are sympathetic but afraid to help. Most of them give him a drink and send him on his way, scared to get involved but not willing to turn him in and collect the reward. Meanwhile, his girlfriend Kathleen (Ryan) is also looking for him and enlists the help of Father Tom (Fay) to save her love.

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She’s the light at the end of his tunnel. Bliss!

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As the backdrop of all this drama, we see the local kids hero worshipping and celebrating him, in many ways turning him into some sort of Messiah figure. Unfortunately, we all know what happened to Jesus, so this is not necessarily a good sign. Johnny spirals, deteriorating both physically and mentally, and he has to try to come to terms with what he has done and what will happen.

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The snow keeps falling heavier and heavier which, again, we find somewhat ominous

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Odd Man Out is a lot more slowly paced than the other Noirs we’ve watched lately, which was a nice departure. We loved the performances, the beautiful sets (the ravages of “conflict” are evident in the decrepit buildings), the lighting, the score, and particularly the visions in the beer foam and the moving portraits. It’s a long and slow watch, so you have to be in the right mood, but it is definitely worth it.

 

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Pro tip: once you start seeing this in your spilled beer, it’s time to go home

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What we learned: NO jitterbugging!

Next time: Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)