Daphne Du Maurier and Alfred Hitchcock

Jamaica Inn, Rebecca, and The Birds.  Daphne Du Maurier’s talent combined the dark passions of love and assigned them to characters of dubious morality. Jealousy, unrequited love, and sexual frustrations are the seeds that haunt her characters. Young pretty females with pluck are trapped in the confines of older men who make them birds in cages. The psychological demise of her villains and the extent to which humans struggle with morality thrilled Alfred Hitchcock. Debauched as a romance writer by her critics and not taken seriously, Alfred Hitchcock saw something more in Daphne’s writing; however, the varied success of their collaborations was frayed with complications.

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First, the books are better than the movies. Daphne Du Maurier apparently lived in Jamaica Inn for three years as she wrote her novel. Located in southwestern Cornwall, the Bodwin Moor, every sense was aroused from her storytelling. Her expertise for putting the reader in the dank bogs and treeless fells and moors with grasses, mist, and wind combined with the rocky coastline and 1820 masted ships crashing into the rocks and drownings and murder–and then add in the spooky hauntings of ancient Druids and the imagination conjures up Vikings who swept in and took charge, maybe stealing the silver at Tintagel? Honestly, where else would one need look to find the ideal setting for suspense? In short, Daphne Du Maurier mastered the art of description and created a stellar gothic tale. What is the story about?

Her dying mother requests twenty-year-old Mary Yellan travel to Jamaica Inn, the home of her Aunt Patience. When she gets there she is dismayed to find that Patience is a nothing more than a doormat, a mumbling, frightened woman who cowers from her truculent husband, a giant with a massive frame and booming voice, Joss Meryln.

The inn is muddy and dark and holds secrets. Lots of them. Mary wants to escape with her aunt, but entanglements and midnight meetings envelop her in mystery. She begrudgingly falls in love with uncle’s dashing little brother, Jem Meryln. It’s a fun read with a melodramatic ending. 4/5.  

British actor Charles Laughton purchased the film rights and appointed Alfred Hitchcock as director. Hitchcock’s creative control was thwarted as Laughton took liberties with the story and created scenes to surround his character. Even beautiful Maureen O’Hara couldn’t save the melodramatic mess that made Daphne Du Maurier cringe when she saw it and Hitchcock groan with disappointment. 2.5/5. I just watched the 2014 version on BBC of Jamaica Inn starred Jessica Brown Findley as Mary Yellan and Matthew McNulty as Jem. Overall, it was disappointing. Casting was great for Mary and Jem. But the bullying Uncle Joss who was towering and blustery in the book was not so in the film. Lean, beady-eyed Sean Harris played the role and his personality didn’t carry that necessary Alpha-dog trait that would keep Mary or his weak wife in fear. The script was the main problem. I’m all for admiring the separateness of the visual text and the reading text but when you start tinkering with Mary’s motivation (Uncle Joss’s wife played by Joanne Whalley did not need protection or saving) and start inserting characters (the vicar’s sister played by Shirley Henderson with the witchy voice) you take away from the necessary characterization of others (the vicar couldn’t have been duller) and if the sway away from the classic is too far, you’ll have a mutated miscarriage on your hands. The only thing done right by the BBC, 3-part series was to film most of it in Cornwall. The beauty of the moors, the gray coastline, along with the dreariness of Jamaica Inn was done well. 3/5. 

Rebecca (1941) was another frustrating project for Alfred Hitchcock. Producer David O. Selznick fought with Hitch about script changes and alterations to the ending to abide by Hollywood code laws but ruined the moral demise of the villain that Hitchcock wanted to amplify.  Book: 5/5. Movie: 4/5. Despite the 2 Oscar wins for Best Picture and Cinematography, Hitchcock’s second adaptation with a Du Maurier’s story left a bad taste in his mouth. You can read more about their seven-year relationship, Selznick the egomaniac vs. Hitchcock the persnickety in this 1999 Variety article found here:

Hitchcock, Selznick and the End of Hollywood

The Birds (1963) Selznick was distracted in New York and left Hitchcock alone with arguably his best film. What’s so good about it? The inclusion of a nail-biting soundtrack? The evilness of the birds and the sing-song innocence of children at the schoolyard? The attack of the city, from the birds perspective, from areal shots down to the intimate attack of Melanie in the phone booth? The shocking discovery at the neighbor’s farm? The fantastic cast? Or trying to figure out the theme of jealousy exemplified by the strange love dynamic between Mitch Brenner’s family?

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One aspect of The Birds that intrigues me is Hitchcock’s obsession with beauty and what constitutes femininity and masculinity. As Melanie Daniels, Tippi Hedren is the cool, quintessential perfection of beauty. The bird plays a bird. Why, even the name “Melanie” is melodious, bird-like. Her counterpart is Rod Taylor who plays the character Mitch Brenner. Physically perfect as the broad-shouldered, square-chinned, capable, strong idea of masculinity, Mitch (the name sounds like a rock) is surrounded by females who peck at him, crowd around him fluttering, and expect much from him. All the females in the story want intimacy with Mitch. Except for the one woman who is a man in disguise, Mrs. Bundy, the ornithologist. Sounding like the manly professor, sitting in men’s clothes, posing in manly positions at the diner, she is the absence of feminity. She studies the birds but she is not one of them. 5.5 

Daphne Du Maurier’s short story was unlike the film. Her short story was about a farmer named Nat Hocken who protected his family from the flock of birds that attacked and invaded the family’s cottage. Alfred Hitchcock took her story and ran away with it to create a multi-layered psychological thriller that’s unlike any other.

What’s your favorite scene, book or film, of Jamaica Inn, Rebecca, and The Birds? 

 

Are You Not Entertained?

Here continues a monthly series featuring the music, the books, and the movies that occupied my time.  

MUSIC

For anyone who likes 60s Rock and Roll music and music history in general, check out the 2008 documentary, The Wrecking Crew.  On Netflix,  it is easy to be absorbed with a unique story about the Los Angeles entourage of approximately fifteen session musicians who made groups and singers like The Mama and the Papas, Elvis, and The Beach Boys sound great. Their names didn’t make it on the album, but for fifteen-odd years, they played on hundreds of albums and created the iconic sounds we take for granted today. 4.5/5.

BOOKS 

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Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride

What does Margaret do best? She creates a cast of characters, rich with dimension, and stages each with a different perspective about the world around them. First published in 1993, Atwood adapts the Brothers Grimm story, “The Robber Bridegroom.” Three friends are connected by Zenia, who rises to monstrous proportions and wreaks havoc on their lives. My favorite character is Tony, a professor of military history who sees the world via tactical advances and retreats. Tony plays word games by spelling them backward and noticing the how the spin transforms the word into a new connotation thus expanding her vocabulary in an atypical way. This is a clever example of how Atwood drapes details around her characters to breathe originality into her creations. If you appreciate character-driven stories, you’d like this one. 4/5.

MOVIES

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After watching director David Mackenzie’s efforts in Hell or High Water (2016), I want to see his British prison film, Starred Up (2013)Taylor Sheridan has an authentic, dialogue-rich script on his hands. As regionalist American writer William Faulkner was famous for revealing the death and disillusionment of the deep south in the early twentieth century, Sheridan and Mackenzie paint a gloomy, desperate rural Texas. Add the outstanding acting by Ben Foster and Chris Pine, brothers who are a believable team, and Jeff Bridges who reprises his guttural mutterings from True Grit to play the smart, irascible Texas Ranger, Marcus. His friendship with his Mestizo partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham) is endearing. 4.5/5

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople(2016). The first third of the film was great. However, as the plot devolved into the ridiculous, I wondered what I was watching. Was it made for a young adult audience? The over-the-top she-cop (Rima Te Wiatta) made sense then. Was it a dark comedy for adults along the lines of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom? The violence of the animal hacking and skinning and the themes of death and hopelessness made sense then. Sam Neill performed well as the hairy, grieving misanthrope and Ricky (Julian Dennison) was at times annoying to watch with alternating moments of flatness and sincerity. The lush New Zealand landscape was a plus. 3.5/5. 

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Dr. Strange (2016). I’ve read a lot of varying reviews regarding this new addition to the Marvel galaxy. Benedict Cumberbatch, who did his best to sound just like Harrison Ford, becomes the protegee under the marvelous sorceress, Tilda Swinton. I enjoyed the relationship between Stephen and Christine (Rachel McAdams), and appreciated the new spin on Inception/The Matrix borrowings of dimensional shifting and appearance vs. reality. The time-moving-backward scene was brilliant. I was less enamored with the talk and the trap of the golem. I loved the red cape that functioned as a cool suit of armor. Overall, it worked for me. 4/5.

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Congratulations, Viggo Mortensen, on another great performance. Wouldn’t it be cool if your brilliant parents hid you out in the middle of the woods, gave you lots of siblings, and you all grew up in harmony as a cult of the Übermensch? Captain Fantastic is a heartwarming tale that satirizes everything wrong with modern society. In the end, the individual vs. society argument ends with a compromise. The freak must conform to find happiness. The conformist must break free of materialism and live pro-actively. Far-leftists and homeschooling parents will love Captain Fantastic. Survivalists and naturalists will love Captain Fantastic. There is a lot to think about with this dark comedy. Let’s all turn off the television and pick up a book. I’ll start with Chomsky. 4.5/5  

mv5bmtyxmjk0ndg4ml5bml5banbnxkftztgwodcynja5ote-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_ Manchester by the Sea (2016)Yes, I agree with everyone that Casey Affleck gave an outstanding performance as the passive-aggressive janitor Lee Chandler. He wasn’t the only one. His ex-wife Randi played by Michelle Williams was outstanding.  Lucas Hedges played the tossed around nephew, Patrick, yet he annoyed the heck out of me. Many people know Matt Damon produced the film and indeed, writer and director Kenneth Lonergan, created a realistic, Bostonian culture with all the profanity that you’d expect. When the reason for Lee Chandler’s despair was exposed, I wept all over my buttered-popcorn stained napkin. I am not suggesting there should have been a happy ending, but I hoped for some type of resolution or redemption. Instead, this is a tale of a man who is lost and finds no solution to his guilt. It’s one of the more depressing films I’ve seen in ages. 4/5.  

The Wrong Man(1956) This American docudrama film directed by Alfred Hitchcock starred Henry Fonda as Manny, a poor musician from New York, who is in love with his wife Rose and his two sons. He is a sincere man, who cooperates with detectives who claim he has held up various stores and an insurance company. His wife, Rose (Vera Miles), cannot handle the scandal and upheaval of her life. Bernard Herrmann‘s score is a chisel to the brain. Hitchcock includes ingenious camera angles like the simulation of Manny’s panic in his cell by shaking the camera in a circle or the appearance of the real thief transposed over Fonda’s face. I expected something more from Fonda who felt wooden to me. Did you think it was suspenseful? 3.5/5.

 

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? 

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