Out of the Past vs. Lady Bird

I have been thinking about the choices a director makes when making a film. What does a well-made film look like? I watched two films back-to-back on the plane to Italy, Lady Bird written and directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Saoirse Ronan, and Out of the Past directed by Jacques Tourneur and starring Robert Mitchum and the femme fatale played by Jane Greer.

I recognize it’s unfair to compare these two disparate films as one was a coming-of-age story, the other a film noir. One was made just this past year while the other sixty years ago. One was the directoral debut by a female while the other by an established male director. There is nothing similar about these two films.

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Unless you consider the quality of each film as an artistic offering. While Lady Bird was nominated for the top writing and directing awards of 2017, I could not help but scratch my head as to why this was so other than it was a political move on behalf of the Academy of Motion Pictures. I just didn’t think it was an interesting story or directed well. The scenes seemed desultory like mud thrown on a wall with little thought. I wouldn’t have noticed as much if I had not just seen Out of the Past. Wow! What a film. Tourneur took his time to frame each scene. He blocked his characters to take advantage of the space. There was movement. There were silhouettes. The staging was aesthetically balanced. Even the costumes played a visual role–don’t you love how Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer) started the film wearing white, but as her devious nature became more apparent, her wardrobe darkened? The characters were interesting–Kirk Douglas was an affable villain. Robert Mitchum as Jeff Bailey was the anti-hero, private detective who you couldn’t help but root for since he tried to leave his notorious past behind and make an honest attempt as a working man and who fell for the girl-next-door. His relationship with the deaf and mute boy (Dickie Moore) revealed Bailey’s goodness in spite of his tough-guy bravado. Every character was interesting and added to the plot purposefully. It was a beautiful film to watch.

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Then there’s Gerwig’s effort. This, a Best Picture contender? It was not structurally interesting. The choppy editing to elicit the passage of time killed whatever emotional investment I had in Lady Bird’s friendships. The only aspect that was quasi-interesting was Laurie Metcalf’s performance as the overpowering mother. The brother and father were a wimpy, wasted pair in a lame plot. I genuinely like Saoirse Ronan as an actress, but her character here in this film was downright boring.

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Out of the Past in 1947 was not nominated for an award but was superbly constructed compared to Lady Bird. Maybe if I had not seen both back-to-back it would not have been so glaringly obvious. If you haven’t seen Out of the Past, I highly recommend it. Watch it for the plot. For what a well-made film should look like. For pure entertainment. For the record, I’m all for women directors. Jane Campion and Julie Taymor know what they’re doing. I just wish they’d pass along some tips to Greta Gerwig.

Notorious

Ingrid and Cary. What a team.

1946 was a great year in film if you like Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains.This post was dedicated to TOM AT DIGITALSHORTBREAD  who hosted a blogathon and called for submissions about one’s favorite film ending in the year six. Notorious is my favorite Hitchcock film for many reasons, and I am happy to share why.

The Plot

A WWII Nazi war criminal is caught and imprisoned. His daughter is Else (Ingrid Bergman), a party-loving bad girl. She is persuaded to be a spy for the U.S. government who is trying to break up the boys from Brazil. She falls in love with her co-conspirator, Devlin, played by Cary Grant, whose occupation has trained him to distrust everyone, especially the seductive charms of women. He knocks her lights out after she drives recklessly drunk. After the famous kissing scene on the phone, he allows her to prostitute herself with wily, love-sick Sebastian, and then calls her a harlot and a drunk for much of the movie. Now that’s love, gals.

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman - kiss from the movie Notorious, by Alfred Hitchcock

The plan is to infiltrate the opulent manor of Sebastian and his creepy mother and spy on their operations. The cellar holds the secret, and the key to the door is the small prop with grave consequences for Else. Will Devlin save her in the niche of time and redeem himself?

Hitchcock creates an exotic mood of the thriller by taking full advantage of his exterior settings like the Florida drunk-drive at night, the shots from the plane of the statue of Jesus Christ at the summit of Mount Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro, the bustling city, the race track, and the manor home by the sea. Whether in a crowd or on a terrace with the harbor as a backdrop, you want to be there. There exceptional uses of cinematography for 1946 that are clever and bolster Alfred Hitchcock’s reputation for suspense and an innovative director.

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  1. Else has a hangover and sees Devlin’s silhouette in the doorway. When he approaches, you are Else and through her perspective, the camera turns upside down.
  2. The two and half minute kissing scene which bent censorship rules and joined sensory imagery and eroticism with a chicken in the oven.
  3. Else glides down a staircase with a key in her hand. Hitch uses a crane and zooms into the key in her hand in one graceful moment. The magnificent checkerboard floor, her Edith Head black velvet dress, the diamonds and general beauty of the setting merge with the people. It’s aesthetically balanced and luxurious.
  4. The reflective shots of mirrors in general whether they are binoculars at the race track or in cars or the house.
  5. A perfect final shot with the massive double doors; Sebastian must face his executioners.  If you have not seen this masterpiece, rent it soon. It’s one of the best movies ever, especially from 1946. It’s all the details that I find charming. A favorite is when he wraps the scarf around her midriff. What’s yours? 

Hitchcock: Foreign Correspondent

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In 1939, Producer David O. Selznick signed Alfred Hitchcock to a seven-year contract bringing the British director to Hollywood. Selznick either produced or lent Hitchcock over to other studios, but during their time together, their four collaborations enhanced each other’s filmography. It started off with a bang with a Best Film win at the Oscars for Rebecca. Another Hitchcock film competed that year with six nominations but didn’t win, Foreign Correspondent.  

The 13th Academy Awards in 1940 had some amazing competition:

BEST FILM                                   

Rebecca (Won)
All This, and Heaven Too
Foreign Correspondent  
The Grapes of Wrath
The Great Dictator
Kitty Foyle
The Letter
The Long Voyage Home
Our Town
Philadelphia Story

 BEST DIRECTOR 

John Ford, Grapes of Wrath (Won);  Alfred Hitchcock, RebeccaSam Wood, Kitty Foyle; and William Wyler, The Letter

I have not seen Kitty Foyle (Ginger Rogers won Best Actress) or All This, and Heaven Too, and it would be difficult to pick a winner, but I sure enjoyed The Letter starring Bette Davis.

Foreign Correspondent is a thriller-love-international story involving Huntley Haverstock (Joel McCrea) who’s sent on his first assignment from the New York Globe to interview key political leaders and question them whether Europe will go to war. He falls for Carol (Laraine Day) and befriends another reporter Scott Ffolliott (George Sanders), and the three weave around plot twists and awesome set designs before crashing into the ocean at the story’s end. Nominated for an Oscar for their writing, Joan Harrison and Charles Bennett created a screenplay rich with comedic bantering at a fast tempo. Alfred Hitchcock provides the thrills and suspense whether his protagonist hides in a windmill, escapes via hotel ledge, or pursues an adversary through a sea of umbrellas. How did Hitchcock manage the plane crash? As a guest on the Dick Cavett show, Hitchcock revealed, “I had a test pilot go out off Santa Monica. And dive with a camera on the front of the plane toward the ocean. Pull out at the last moment.” In 1940, this was innovative.

It’s the marvelous cinematography by Rudolph Maté, the production designs and the special effects by Alexander Golitzen, Paul Eagler, and Thomas T. Mouilton that make Foreign Correspondence wonderful to watch. Hitchcock’s silent era foundation has a place here–messages, maps, hotel signs, road signs, and telegrams silently convey the narrative. His attention to details is one admirable reason why he’s great after all these years. 4/5.

Which Selznick-Hitchcock film is your favorite? I haven’t seen The Paradine Case.
Is it as good as Spellbound? 

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