Archive for July, 2012


The Manxman being Hitchcock’s 9th film is I believe the last silent film he directed. Fittingly to fit in with this by some kind of bad luck/poor searching I was unable to locate a version of this film with a musical score so was forced to watch my first ever truly silent film. This was a very strange yet captivating experience and was surprisingly enjoyable once I got into the film and allowed me to notice more intricacies about the performances and shots. However it is not something I would do again or recommend, as it is quite tiresome and involves a lot of concentration to fight of the boredom.

 

WHAT HAPPENED?

The storyline is reasonably simple at first two best friends, Phil (Malcolm Keen) an up and coming lawyer and Pete (Carl Brisson) a lowly fisherman both fall in love in the same girl, Kate (Anny Ondra – who previously appeared in last weeks Hitchcock film Blackmail). Kate’s father will not let her marry Pete because he has no money so Pete sets off travelling to make money, Kate promises to wait for him to return so they can marry. Whilst he is gone Phil and Kate fall in love and Phil ‘takes her honour’. When Pete returns Phil and Kate agree that although they love each other they can’t hurt Pete, so cover up their affair leading to lots and lots of lies and tension.

 

THE GOOD

The plot of this film is actually quite intriguing; after the first few minutes I was expected another stereotypical love triangle, like The Ring, however although that does happen the narrative has many twists and changes that kept me thoroughly interested throughout.

 

The film is one that would say is Hitchcock’s best so far at the art of Visual storytelling… the film has very few Title Cards and for the first time they are not needed at all. Everything that happens is portrayed beautifully by the actors and lots of close-ups on notes (which I now expect in Hitchcock films). The passing of time is shown through the use of Kate’s diary which is very effective. 

The film also creates a lot of tension, the first time that Hitch has fully managed to achieve such with a love storyline, and it is all based on the lies. Some of the shots are just fantastic such as this one moment when Pete is celebrating his marriage to Kate whilst Kate and Phil look away from him extremely sad and pitiful. It also creates an enormous amount of empathy for Pete as he does nothing wrong in this film and is therefore unlucky for all the bad treatment he gets from his supposed ‘friends’.

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A Hitchcockian feature which I have only recently thought of as an auteur quality appears in the film and that is that the film begins and ends with the same shot only different emotions from the characters. In The Manxman the shot is of Pete on his fishing boat but the same technique is also used in Champagne and thus is something I’m now going to look out for during the rest of this challenge.

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THE BAD

As discussed the film is generally good however there is a passage in the middle of the film when Pete and Kate get married that was incredibly boring as nothing really happened. There are also several twists that come out rather too conveniently which is kind of annoying.

CAMEO O’CLOCK

Once more there is no cameo in this film.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Manxman is a very good film that is thoroughly enjoyable and understandably considered alongside The Lodger as Hitchcock’s best silent film. However watching it with no sound I believe hindered by experience overall and therefore I award this film three Hitch’s. However if I have time I will try and find a version with a score and see the difference it makes.

 

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The eighth film which Hitchcock directed is Blackmail. Blackmail is a significant film in this fifty-two week challenge as it is Hitchcock’s first Talkie, that is the first film to have sound. This made it an interesting viewing and the film did far from disappoint. It is also, apparently, the first film ever to dub an characters voice this being because lead actress Anny Ondra had a strong Czech accent that made her difficult to understand and was unfitting with the character, therefore for each of her scenes she mouthed the words whilst a girl off-camera spoke the lines; in other words the plot of Singin’ In The Rain.

WHAT HAPPENED?

The narrative of the film is simple but effective and a very Hitchcock one. A young girl Alice White (played by the aforementioned Anny Ondra) is fed up of her boyfriend – a detective at Scotland Yard – not having enough time for her so goes out with another gentleman. However all is not what it seems with this gentleman and he attempts to rape her and ultimately she murders him. Feeliong guilty Alice soon becomes trapped between her guilt, her policeman boyfriend and a blackmailer who knows she commited the crimes. This leads to some fantastic tension and a chase scene on the roof of the British Museum.

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THE GOOD

The talking was very good and made the film incredibly easy to follow (not that the narrative was overly complicated) and allowed great character development. However this did no distract Hitchcock from his visual storytelling as many of there are large periods where no dialogue is spoken.

The content of this film also allowed Hitchcock create some real tension (something barely achieved in a majority of his earlier films) and create tension he does. There are several nail-biting moments where you are literally on the edge of the seat for example the murder sequence is fantastically done with a still shot of the curtains shaking, with an extreme close-up on her hand finding the knife, it is a beautifully crafted sequence.ImageImage

There are also several Hitchcockian elements which make their first appearances these include the use of a spiral staircase, the use of famous landmarks and sights (albeit the British Museum is hardly Mount Rushmore) and an obvious use of a Maguffin in Alice’s gloves which have no real significance other than to drive the plot of the film forward.

THE BAD

Some of the dialogue is the film felt unnatural and clunky but then I was expecting this as it was a relative early talking picture

My main problem with the film was however the pacing, which was all over the place. A lot of what happens in the movie is nothing just two characters chatting away; then all of a sudden everything happens before going back to boredom again. For example the main point in the narrative is the rape/murder sequence and this does not appear til around half-way into the film meaning prior to this you watch a few characters discussing art and other tedious endeavours which where quite frankly uninteresting. Even once the murder has been commited there is another twenty minutes before anything else kicks into motion meaning that by the time the climatic chase scene kicks in boredom is rooted in the minds of the audience and some of the effect is lost.

CAMEO O’CLOCK

As this is by far the most Hitchcockian film I have seen so far in this challenge it is very fitting that it should be only the second film in which he has a cameo. In this film he is fairly obviously an man sitting on a train getting harassed by a young child.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

Blackmail is very good at certain points and very bad at others. It’s quite hard to rate as the  amounts of positive and negatives are fairly equal; however because there are so many Hitchcockian elements to this film I award it with Four Hitch’s.

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Week seven of my Hitchcock challenge brings to me a film titles The Farmer’s Wife, as with every over film I knew nothing about this film before going in so was rather surprised to find out it was an out and out comedy… not something Hitchcock is famed for doing well.

 

WHAT HAPPENED?

The story is very simple. There is a farmer, Mr. Sweetland (played by Jameson Thomas) is rich and handsome so when his wife dies, he decides to go in hunt of a new wife by proposing in ridiculous fashion to local neighbourhood women who are of-course shocked by such. He does so with the help of his farm-hand (Gordon Harker) and his maid (Lillian Hall-Davis) – both of whom appeared in Hitchcock’s earlier film The Ring. When he has been rejected by everyone the farmer gives up hope until there is a dramatic twist ending with is thoroughly entertaining.

 

THE GOOD

At times the film was hilarious, some of the comedy is done brilliantly and performed in such a way it is hard not to laugh. Examples include some very dry wit in perhaps the best sequence of the film when Mr. Sweetland is discussing his options for a bride, as he thinks about each woman she magicallly appears in the chair before him and he looks at her whilst discussing her. Insulting them in a series of comedic insults for example a rather large woman he refers to as ‘I don’t like pillowy women’ which I for some reason found hilarious.

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There is also a fair bit of comedy as Mr. Sweetland proposes to each of them and is rejected leading to a ridiculous ending scene in which all tangents are brought together fantastically.

All this great comedy is kept together by a sense of Hitchcockianness, the women appearing in the chair as previously discussed is done using the same technique as the man’s face in the record player in Downhill, only in this film it seems to have much more purpose as if Hitchcock is beginning to perfect the art of what works when.

There is also the Hitchcockian point-of-view shots which have been seen before but are again used with real purpose for the first time, albeit just to show Mr. Sweetlands anger as he crosses the ladies names off a list.

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THE BAD

Alongside all the good sides of the film there is a fair share of bad. As the general narrative is rather short something else was needed to fill the time and make this film feature length. That comes from a subplot (which has no real plot) about the Farmhand Mr. Ash. This subplot is awful, tedious and uninteresting; the jokes are generally unfunny for instance he is unhappy in wearing a smart shirt – hilarious…

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The performance of Mr. Ash is also rather bad, as discussed he also appears in The Ring and he is just as poor in that. This subplot is unneeded and takes up far too much screen time!

There is also a lot of title cards; however these have a purpose as they are the main form of getting the jokes to the audience. Reading the jokes and seeing the characters react to them was interesting however I think this film would really have benefited if it could have been in sound.

 

CAMEO O’CLOCK

Hitchcock does not make his trade-mark cameo in this film.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Farmers Wife is a very interesting and enjoyable film, it is by far the most comedic film I have watched in this challenge and for the most part I enjoyed it, finding the characters intriguing and the jokes funny, however as this challenge is about Hitchcock who is known for suspense and tension, I cannot give this film the four Hitch’s I wanted to as it has no suspense and tension (not that’s its needed) meaning its hard to say it’s a Hitchcock film, therefore I award it with 3 Hitchcock’s.

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With The Dark Knight Rises being released fairly soon I recently started  thinking about how many similarities there are between Christopher Nolan and Alfred Hitchcock and how it could be stated that Nolan is the Hitchcock for the modern era of society. 

To begin with we must first look at their background, both of them are born in London and began their careers making low-budget British films. Nolan shooting the creepy psycho-thriller Following in his free time whilst at university and Hitch gaining a break in the then quite large British silent film movement with The Pleasure Garden. Interestingly both directors were aged 27 when their first feature films where released.

However in the case of each of them it was no until they moved to America that either truly excelled. Hitch’s break out film was the exquisite Rebecca a dark ghostly story of murder, betrayal and love. Nolan’s first film to gain real recognition Memento is still considered a cult classic; it tackled similar themes to Rebecca but was much more unique due to its non-linear narrative. Both of these films performed reasonably at the box office and received mass’s of critical acclaim. Rebecca being nominated for 11 OSCARS and Memento one, the success of these allowed each director a platform to create more films leading to a bigger audience and increased popularity.

A heavily influence on Hitchcock was his wife Alma Reville; they married in 1926 at the start of his career and she supported him throughout his life, even gaining writing credit for many of his films including Shadow of A Doubt. Hitchcock loved her dearly and when he accepted his Lifetime Achievement Academy Award he is famous for having said the following:

            ‘I beg permission to mention by name only four people who have given me the most affection, appreciation, and encouragement, and constant collaboration. The first of the four is a film editor, the second is a scriptwriter, the third is the mother of my daughter Pat, and the fourth is as fine a cook as ever performed miracles in a domestic kitchen and their names are Alma Reville.’

The speech is incredibly touching and Hitchcock’s fame would probably have been far less if she had no been constantly supporting him.

Chris Nolan is similarly influenced by his wife Emma Thomas whom he met at University. Much like with Reville, Thomas has also helped her husband throughout his career being credited as producer on every film he has directed as well as being his business partner for SYNCOPY Pictures the pairs production company from which all their films are made.

Their backgrounds are of-course not the only things that the two directors have in common. The films they have made are also extremely similar in many ways. Firstly and probably most obviously is the genre of film each of the directors preferred. Hitchcock is nicknamed ‘The Master of Suspense’ and it is clear to see why as many of Hitchcock films are thrillers involving either murder (Rope), someone on the run (North by North-West) or both (Strangers on a Train). The tension Hitchcock built up within nearly every film is astounding and was almost a re-invention of how to film thrillers at the time. And it could be said Chris Nolan does the same with his films; all of Nolan’s work can be classed in the thriller genre with many people classing them as psychological thrillers as they make the audience think about what is going on rather than just enjoy the film; this is primarily done in Nolan’s work through the use of non-linear narratives (Memento) or plot twists (The Prestige), however when you look at these films from a purely storyline basis you find that they are in fact the same sort of films Hitchcock was making.

Compare Inception with the classic Hitchcock film Vertigo, both films have incredibly dark plots that twist and turn constantly with the audience unsure at times what’s real and what isn’t. Vertigo in essence is a film about a man’s obsession with a woman who dies and the same event is the catalyst for every event in Inception. Also both have fantastic endings that leave the audience with a huge ‘WTF?’ moment. 

Another similarity is the cast of the films; every Chris Nolan film has a tall, dark-haired gentleman as his leading man (Christian Bale, Guy Pearce, Al Pacino) and each of these actors plays the part perfectly. Hitchcock also liked to work with the same actors the likes of James Stewart being the recurring performer. The main difference between the two being that Nolan prefers dark-haired women whereas Hitchcock famously had a view for blonde hair woman (Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman) whereas the one criticism people have for Chris Nolan is women do not play important enough roles in his films – something to which I understand but disagree with.

Another similarity is how each of the directors is an auteur and created a style that other filmmakers would try to emulate. Hitchcock is known for being one of the first ‘auteurs’ of filmmaking and nearly all his films contain traits that are often described using the adjective ‘Hitchcockian’, no-one else has ever managed to build tension through the correct mix of shots better than Hitchcock. Voyeurism is perhaps the thing that Hitchcock bought into mass-market, he was far from the first person to use point-of-view shots in a film but he was almost definitely the first director to use them effectively; if you take the point-of-view shots out of Rear Window the film has no tension. Hitchcock also liked to experiment in films right from his early days in Downhill in which a crazy guy is imposed onto a spinning record, right through to the incredible vertigo shot in Vertigo.

Nolan is similarly auteuristic and in a few years who knows we might see a film a film and be say that’s so ‘Nolanist’. Nolan’s style is much darker than Hitchcock’s but equally effective Nolan uses lighting to create scenes that are both terrifying and astound (take the interview scene from Dark Knight, or the Al Pacino trying to sleep in Insomnia), both of these are moments of that look incredible and a lot of that has to be put down to Nolan’s long time Cinematogpraher Walter Pfisters who creates a dark bleak world incredibly. Nolan is not afraid of being experimental either with some incredible shots appearing within his work alongside his re-popularising of the non-linear narrative

A final similarity, which is quite a sad one is that although both directors have many fans worldwide, neither of the two has ever won on OSCAR for their achievements on an individual. Both have directed OSCAR winning films but neither has actually been able to accept one to store on their personal mantlepeice. Hitchcock did win a Lifetime Achievement award but it truly is a travesty that he didn’t win Best Director for a film such as Rear Window, a film with unarguably some of the best direction ever. Of-course Chris Nolan is only young and has many years and films to come which will rectify this problem.

In conclusion I think it is fair to say that Chris Nolan is similar to Hitchcock in many ways and I will interested to see in fifty years if Inception is looked back on with the same fondness that people have for Hitchcocks film such as Psycho or if it is a 21st Century that will date badly. I believe Chris Nolan has a fantastic career ahead of him and am looking forward to the day when I can refer to an aspect of someone else’s work as ‘Nolanist’. 

Week 6 of my year of Hitchcock brings me onto Easy Virtue and as with many of the films before I had no idea what to expect going into this viewing.

 

WHAT HAPPENED?

In terms of narrative Easy Virtue is fairly simple to follow. The lead is the young woman Larita (played by Isabel Jeans); at the start of the film she is married to a drunken man who treats her badly, after having an affair with her portrait artist her husband divorces her for adultery. Her reputation ruined she flees to the French Riveria in hopes of avoiding judgemental eyes. Once here she meets John an amiable rich man who instantly falls for her and before long they are married. Larita doesn’t tell John of her past scared it will force him to leave her, and so they return to England. When Larita meets John’s parents is when the film begins to take form. John’s mother is certain that Larita is not trustworthy and spends her time turning the family against her. Ultimately she realises who Larita is and John divorces Larita so he can marry young village girl Sarah with whom he has probably been having an affair.

 

THE GOOD

To start with the good of this film and if I’m honest there wasn’t much, this being in my opinion being one of the poorer films I have seen.

The film opens with some pure voyeurism which is nice and Hitchcockian. We see things with a blurry point-of-view shot from a judge in court. As he holds up a monocle the image focuses. The effect of this is really nice and is a good way of establishing that the judge is in charge of his court. It’s just a shame that apart from this shot the judge doesn’t do too much.

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Another good point is the performance of the lead lady. She is very good at pulling off the unlucky lady whose lost her reputation and has a few moments of fantastic acting.

I also enjoyed the themes of the film i.e that it revolved around ruined reputation and how slander could destroy a person. Being based on a Noel Coward play the film really should have been better as Coward is notorious for writing plays that show ruined reputation well.

THE BAD

The film is very poorly paced and confusing throughout. The exposition takes too long and the use of flashbacks just bewildered me as I had no idea what was really going on. No characters apart from Larita  where fully established and too many title-cards gave the film an incredibly clunky effect.

My other issue is one that has seemed fairly common in these early Hitchcock films is that the story does not allow Hitchcock to develop any tension, most of Hitchcock’s latter films and more famous ones generally revolve around some sort of event i.e. a man on the run (North by North-west) or a witness to a murder (Rear Window) and this allows lots of tension to be built something which Hitchcock is extremely good at. In Easy Virtue there is no such place for tension there are a few moments which are borderline tense but lacking in substance.

CAMEO O’CLOCK

In the second cameo of his career Hitchcock is seen near the start of the film carrying a tennis racket.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

Easy Virtue is the most disappointing film I have seen so far in this challenge. It was quite simply dull and uninteresting with very few classic Hitch moments and almost nothing memorable. Therefore I regret to award this film a meagre one Hitch.  

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