1940s, 1950s, actors, directors, Film Spotlight, Lucky 13 Film Club, movies

L13FC: Cary Grant vs. Jimmy Stewart

 

Welcome back, friends, to the Lucky 13 Film Club. What are you doing to distract yourself while in lockdown? I watched a few Alfred Hitchcock films I had missed in an attempt to fill in some blindspots. After watching Suspicion (1941) starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine and Rope (1948), I thought to feature these two leading men and consider their collaborations with Hitchcock.

Eight movies from the 1940s and 1950s. Who was better? Cary or Jimmy? What of their leading ladies? Sometimes, they outshined their man. Do the glitz and glamour endear us to the production? What of the storyline? Can you rate them? Okay, I’ll stop. But these questions swirled in my mind as I considered the eight films. Two facts are certain. Their careers benefited from working with Alfred Hitchcock. And Hitch benefited for starring them. 

Cary and Joan Fontaine in Suspicion.

CARY GRANT  

1941 Suspicion. A shy young heiress marries a charming gentleman and soon begins to suspect he is planning to murder her. Co-starring Joan Fontaine and Cedric Hardwicke. 

1945 Notorious. American spy film noir about the entanglement of three lives during an espionage operation. Co-starring Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains. 

1955. To Catch a Thief. Retired cat burglar Cary Grant and ravishing American party girl Grace Kelly fall in love against a backdrop of fireworks, the French Riviera and a string of unsolved jewel robberies. 

1958. North by Northwest. Ad executive Roger Thornhill is pursued by a ruthless spy after Thornhill is mistaken for a government agent. He is hunted relentlessly across the United States. Co-starring Eva Marie Saint and James Mason. 

JAMES STEWART

1948 Rope. Just before hosting a dinner party, two college students strangle a mutual friend to death after their college philosophy professor inadvertently inspires them. The body hides in a chest and becomes the elephant in the room as guests eat and chatter. Co-starring Farley Granger, John Dall, and Joan Chandler.

1954 Rear Window. Confined to a wheelchair after an accident, a recuperating news photographer believes he has witnessed a murder after spying with a telephoto lens the occupants of a neighboring apartment complex. Co-starring Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, and Raymond Burr. 

1956. The Man Who Knew Too Much. A doctor and his wife are on vacation in Morocco when a chance encounter with a stranger alters their lives. The stranger reveals an assassination plot and their son is abducted. Co-starring Doris Day.  

1958 Vertigo. An ex-police officer who suffers from an intense fear of heights is hired to prevent an old friend’s wife from committing suicide, but all is not as it seems as he becomes obsessed with her. Co-starring Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes. 

EDITH HEAD – collaborated with Hitchcock eleven times. I don’t think you should discount her involvement — her costumes conveyed the character’s personality and often aided in Hitchcock’s setting of mood.  Of the eight films discussed today, she was the costume designer for FIVE of them. 

Cary Grant was the dashing, cool, smooth operator. His films with Hitchcock were about movement. Chases on foot, cars driving at a cliff’s edge, somewhere to go whether a plane, train, or automobile. Jimmy Stewart’s movies with Hitchcock seemed restricted by comparison. He spends most of the plot confined by space. Of course, he does move in Vertigo and The Man Who Knew too Much, but I’d say a key feature of a Jimmy Stewart performance is he is in a constant state of waiting. Cary Grant rarely sits still in his films.  I predict if you lean toward Cary’s films, you like action and adventure. If you like Jimmy, you like the psychological angst of a man who’s in a state of high anxiety.  Alfred Hitchcock specialized in both kinds of suspense.  

Do you like your actors to be warm or cool? 

GRACE KELLY  was just too beautiful to be convincing with Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. She was better suited to stand next to Cary Grant. Their coolness and beauty mirrored each other perfectly. Doris Day was perfect as Jimmy Stewart’s wife in The Man Who Knew Too Much. She was pretty and talented and warm–better suited to the “everyday man”.  

Which was the best film for Cary and Jimmy?

When Hitchcock‘s leading pair was a combination of warm and cool, he had a masterpiece. 

James Stewart (warm) and Kim Novak (cool) in Vertigo. 

Cary Grant (warm) and Eva Marie Saint (cool) in North by Northwest

For the record, my favorite Hitchcock film is Notorious for the storyline and pairing. Mostly for my love for Ingrid Bergman and the scene-stealing acting by Claude Rains. 

Please, tell me what you think, and feel free to kindly comment on what others have to say. Thank you! 

A stunning dress by Edith Head.

Alfred Hitchcock: “Cary Grant is the only actor I ever loved in my whole life.” 

authors, books, culture, directors, England, Film Spotlight, movies

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.

Image result for images of jamaica inn

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:

https://variety.com/1999/film/reviews/hitchcock-selznick-and-the-end-of-hollywood-1200456404/

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?

Image result for images of the birds movie tippi and rod

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? 

 

actors, Are You Not Entertained?, authors, culture, movies, music, Read This

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.