Archive for September, 2012


Secret Agent is an example of an average Hitchcock film it is exactly what I expected from a majority of this challenge in terms of narrative, themes and style. 

WHAT HAPPENED?

Richard Ashenden (John Gielgud) is a Secret Agent, he is sent undercover to Switzerland with two other agents played by Peter Lorre and Madeleine Carroll in an attempt to assassinate a German spy. However the spy is mysterious and evasive and as the story plays out we see each of the three main cast members struggle with the morals of what their jobs.

THE GOOD

The story of the film is an interesting one as it is the first film I’ve seen that shows the dark side of being a spy and the pressure that is on them to murder in cold blood. There is also lots of tension which as usual is perfectly crafted for example a scene where Peter Lorre and John Gielgud search for the spy and visit a church, in the church there is an organ playing creepy music the same note constantly echoing. This provides a real sense of danger and you can see the fear in each of the characters and feel that something terrible is about to happen.

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The cast and performances from each of them are probably the best in a Hithcock film so far. Peter Lorre is as always brilliant as the semi-crazy ‘General’ and John Gielgud plays the spy with morals exquisitely. The on-screen tension between the two of them as they disagree over what should be done is perfect and gripping.

Amongst all the tension and narrative the film has very few features that are obviously Hitchcockian; the only real example of a typical Hitchcock shot is the point when Ashenden is using a telescope to spy on people. We see through the telescope with Ashenden (thus putting us in his mind), a technique that will obviously become the crux of Rear Window later in Hitchcock’s career.

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THE BAD

There is not much wrong with the film and yet I find it hard to class this film as a Hitchcock masterpiece. It is good yes however there is nothing really special about it that will make it stand out.

It is a typical spy film which is kind of disappointing as the script had space for something much more which wasn’t quite grasped. No major flaws it is just simply plain.

 

CAMEO O’CLOCK

There is no cameo in this film.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Secret Agent is an ok film without being anything special. If Hitchcock where an album this film would be a song that is classed as ‘filler’ nothing special but nothing bad either. 3 Hitch’s.

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The 39 Steps is probably the most recognised film which I have watched so far in this challenge, it is often considered as one of Hitchcock’s best and its success is one of the reasons which fired him to fame. It was also an interesting film for me personally having read (and thoroughly enjoyed) the novel upon which is based.

 

WHAT HAPPENED?

The storyline of the film is fairly simple. Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) is a Canadian living in London. When he is framed for the murder of a woman he is forced to run to Scotland in an attempt to clear his name. In Scotland he encounters a variety of obstacles ranging from police, criminal, conspiracies and a lovely lady (Madeliene Carroll).

 

THE GOOD

Most of the film is good. It is a gamechanging film in terms of the spy genre with many elements (in terms of both narrative and style) still being used today. It astounds me that this film was made 30 years before James Bond and is easily as good a genre piece as say From Russia With Love.

In terms of moments there are several brilliant ones; there is a chase scene on a train which is brilliantly crafted and gives across a real sense of danger as Hannay attempts his escape.

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The film is very Hithcockian in terms of… well everything. The story is probably the most typical one of a wrongly accused man trying to clear his name. Then there are murders, chases, drama, extreme close ups, notes, tension and the climax takes place at a famous landmark (the London palladium); it is difficult to find a part of this film which does not have a Hitchcock trademark plastered on and was quite frankly delightful to watch.

The entire film is superb in terms of pacing and tension however one scene is wonderful for tension and that is the one in which Hannay must make a speech about politics in order to avoid arrest. He rambles on for several minutes all the time watching as police surround the area and the shots are a perfect example of how to create tension in a film.

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THE BAD

My only real problem with the film is that as an adaptation of a book it was terribly disappointing as very little from the book is put on screen; even ‘The 39 Steps’ are changed to something different in the film. This factor was annoying but after the first 10 minutes I decided to watch it as a standalone film rather than an adaptation and in those terms it is brilliant.

 

CAMEO O’CLOCK

Hithcock appears near the start of the film walking past a bus in a coat and hat.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

Hitchcocks first masterpiece and also a very important film in terms of genre. A perfect example of both Hitchcocks timelessness and genius. 5 Hitch’s.

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The Man Who Knew Too Much is a strange film as it is one that was made twice by Hitchcock (I know right?). This version being made in Britain in 1934 is the first attempt and is a very interesting watch; from the outset you can see the potential in this film and it is clear to see why Hitch decided to remake me 22 years of later. 

WHAT HAPPENED?

The films premise is very interesting. A family are on a skiing holiday in the Alps when a friend of theirs is murdered. After discovering he was a spy trying to prevent the assassination of a high-ranked politician in London the husband (Leslie Banks) and his wife (Edna Best) find that their daughter has been kidnapped by a master villain (Peter Lorre) in an attempt to blackmail them. Back in London the husband takes law into his own hands and hunts for his daughter whilst his wife attempts to stop the assassination in a climatic sequence at the Albert Hall.

THE GOOD

The entire premise of the film is great and gives Hithcock the room for plenty of tension. The idea of a man trying to save his kidnapped daughter may not seem entirely original now but at the time I’m sure it was something, which audiences had rarely (if ever) seen before – on film anyway.

The film shows off the Hitchcockian feature of balancing comedy with tension perfectly as the film showcases fantastic moments of both. The former coming through the spoken jokes of a British man trying to speak German; he does the typically British thing of speaking English in a German accent saying lines such as ‘Du British Du Consul?’ which is quite frankly hilarious.

The tension at points in the film is also nearly perfectly done the aforementioned climax at the Albert Hall (Hitchcockian use of a landmark) is a perfect example of such. Live bands are performing as the woman searches the crowd for both the politician and the murderer. As the music gets louder and faster the cuts match and the tension becomes almost unbearable at points, it is simply fantastic filmmaking.

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Probably my personal favourite part of the film was seeing Peter Lorre in what was his first British role. I am a huge fan of Peter Lorre with appearing in my Top Ten films so it is always nice to see him play his usual villain role.

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THE BAD

Moments of the film are generally tedious there is a lot of pointless dialogue in between the action sequences which is really not needed however I guess this is there because the film is only 75 minutes so cutting parts would probably have made issues in terms of cinematic release at the time.

The finale of the film is also stupidly long; after the brilliant scene at the Albert hall we are forced to sit through a ten minute police shootout in which not much happens (it felt like it was there just too tie up loose ends); the end of the shoot out is good but before that it really lack tension or drama.

CAMEO O’CLOCK

There is a Hitchcock cameo in this film with Alfred playing a gentleman in a trench coat standing on the corner of a road. However there is some debate as to whether this is actually him or just an extra (I’m fairly certain it is him though)

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FINAL THOUGHTS

The film is reasonable and shows glimpses of brilliance without being brilliant as a whole. The potential in the story is clear and you can see why Hitchcock would want to remake it when a bigger budget and better technology was available to him. This version is ok but I am looking forward to seeing the remake in a few weeks time.

3 Hitchs.

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Waltzes from Vienna is Hitchcock’s first (and only) musical film. It is an entertaining film but as is well known Hitchcock did not particularly care for directing this film and that does show when you watch it. 

WHAT HAPPENED?

Set in a semi-fictional past we follow the life of Johann Strauss Jr. (Esmond Knight) the son of well-respected composer and namesake Johann Strauss. Strauss Jr. is fairly happy at the beginning he is engaged to a wonderfully pretty girl (Jessie Matthews) and composes music regularly in an effort to follow his father into the world of music. However his father has no wish for his son to do this believing him to be talentless. The film really begins when Strauss Jr. meets the Countess who commissions him to write some music; Strauss Jr. then creates The Blue Danube, a masterpiece which is still played today (if you watch the film you’ll recognise it – I certainly did). Writing this music does however cause friction between Strauss Jr. and his sweetheart as he forced to choose between his love for music or a career in a bakery (it’s not as ridiculous as it seems, quite).

THE GOOD
The film is generally entertaining throughout, the splattering of comedy work well particularly at the start when the building is on fire.

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The music is also well thought out; there is one seen where Strauss Jr. is composing as he works in the bakery which is quite wonderful and uses the technique of hearing what he is imagining.

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Strauss Jr’s girlfriend, Jessie Matthews is astoundingly pretty and was a major attraction to this film for me even though her character was a little lacklustre.

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THE BAD

No real tension was created in this film with very little opportunity to do so considering the content.

The film also had no real Hitchcockian moments as most of his other films have it was very much standard shots of the actors with nothing memorable in terms of camera techniques.

CAMEO O’CLOCK

No cameo.

FINAL THOUGHTS

For what the film is Waltzes in Vienna is good, however it’s hard to class it as a Hitchcock film as there is nothing particular that stands out (if someone had asked me who directed the film I wouldn’t have said it was early Hitchcock). Therefore I award it 2 Hitch’s.

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