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.” 

1950s, Lucky 13 Film Club, movies

L13FC: Vertigo

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Novak and Stewart

 Who cares if it’s Friday the 13? I feel lucky you stopped by to comment on this month’s discussion of The Lucky 13 Film Club. Welcome, Eric, whose favorite film is Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Whether you’ve seen it once or ten times, there’s something new to notice. Have you visited Eric’s blog? He writes solid reviews. Check out Diary of A Movie Maniac HERE.
Eric’s Perspective: 
THE NAKED ARTIST
Fade in. There’s a lot going on in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Keep in mind that this is Hitchcock’s most personal movie — an unremittingly introspective work. The more you know about the director, the more you understand the movie. The main character, Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart), is essentially a cipher that the director uses to channel his most personal feelings. Madeleine/Judy (Kim Novak) is primarily a cathartic tool.
 
SEX, LIES AND VERY HIGH PLACES
Hitchcock’s brutal critique of the shortcomings of idealization is at the center of the movie. Idealism tends to have positive connotations. It’s often used to describe a person’s high morals. In Vertigo, interestingly, Hitchcock suggests that the opposite is true. Scottie suffers a moral disintegration as he attempts to pursue his romantic ideal. In other words, Vertigo is to cinema what F. Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby is to literature. Jay Gatsby attempts to rekindle a long-ago romance with disastrous consequences. Fitzgerald hints at the possibility that Gatsby is trying to revive a memory corrupted by nostalgia. In Vertigo, Hitchcock goes one step further and clearly states that Scottie is trying to “resuscitate” (literally and figuratively) something that never existed. Both stories are cautionary tales about the destructive pursuit of idealized goals. Perfect idealization can’t be achieved because we are operating in an imperfect world. Like Fitzgerald, Hitchcock understood too well the very human struggle between desires and the need to deal with life’s inescapable truths.

The bells toll for Judy
The bells toll for Judy

Hitchcock was defined in great part by his strict Jesuit education, something that might or might not explain his theories and technique. Idealism is an essential part of (any) religion while pragmatism is mostly seen as a more secular philosophy. In Vertigo, Hitchcock seems to reject the notion that achieving an ideal life is more important than learning to deal with worldly realities. Was Hitchcock trying to voice his disillusionment with Catholicism, or any religion for that matter?
Hitchcock also turns romanticism on its head. It all plays like a perverted version of Pygmalion/My Fair Lady. Madeline/Judy is subjected to cruel and degrading treatment by her two lovers. There is nothing noble, rational, or healthy about Scottie’s obsessive love. His predatory behavior is every bit as bad as Gavin’s (Tom Helmore), the story’s main villain. Scottie & Gavin are made virtually interchangeable. In doing so, Hitchcock implies that you can’t separate objectification from desire. Here is some food for thought.
THE DARK ART OF FORGERY
Vertigo is a sensory experience. It’s deliberately stylized. The baroque music, the haunting cinematography, the artificial sets, the forceful palette of colors, etc., every aspect of the movie is designed to snare the audience. Hitchcock insisted that humans are easily tricked by what their senses tell them. Vertigo is as much about a man being fooled by his own desires as it is about cinema’s potential to manipulate visually and sonically. 
GOOD NIGHT AND SWEET DREAMS
Although it is often described as downbeat and misanthropic, Vertigo has a satisfying ending, perhaps even optimistic, in an offbeat way. The film deals with very human emotions, feelings. Scottie finds the truth — “truth shall set you free” — and suddenly he is freed from his obsession and he is cured of his acrophobia. The tormented Madeleine/Judy finds peace too, not in a happy-go-lucky manner though. And the villain rides off into the sunset…fade out.
Cindy’s Thoughts: 

Barbara Bel Geddes
Barbara Bel Geddes

Everyone in the film suffers from distorted vision. That’s Vertigo. Perversion is a prominent theme shown by Midge Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes), my favorite character in the film. Once engaged, Midge broke it off. Was she uncomfortable with sex? She is devoted to their platonic relationship, but her control slips away, and she descends to perversion when Midge becomes Scottie’s mother. Over time, she transformed into the all-knowing, cool friend. The only way she could share her life with him is as care-taker. She is tolerant of his illness and obsessions, she is his adviser and protector. She is his moral compass, a nun without the habit. When he has a nervous breakdown, she croons, “There, there. Mother’s here.”
I love the scene involving the painting, the glasses, and her red sweater signifying jealousy. She wants Scottie to need her as much as she needs him. Foolishly, she paints herself in the dress of the beautiful Carlotta. One, to scold his foolishness for stalking Madeleine. Two,  Midge attempts to alter how he sees her. She wants him to desire her. He sickens at the sight of her attempt to change her motherly role for the temptress, and he leaves Midge. Ashamed, she verbally flagellates, “Stupid, stupid, stupid.” Without Scottie, she has lost her identity. The prominent glasses she wears do not provide her with clear vision; she has been duped by her repressed feelings, and she loses hope for happiness.
Hitchcock struggled with virtue and sin aroused in him by women. To protect or possess? To pray to or lust after? Wife or the other woman? Externally, he needed his intelligent, plain wife, Alma Riddle, to keep him grounded, but internally, his lust for the beautiful blonde obsessed him. As director, he molded his key actresses to satisfy his inner desires. Like Judy, who allowed Scottie to turn her back into Madeleine, she is willing to abdicate her identity for the sake of his manipulation. “If I do it, will you love me, then?” The puppet master plucks the cords of patriarchy and misogyny.
Another variation of the Hitchcock coin that frequented his films included the cracked, older mother figure vs. the supple, ingenue. For Hitchcock, his concept of women took on extreme contradictions. The upside to his creepy obsessions was an ability to portray it/her on the screen in a classy way (Thanks, Edith Head) that touched the human psyche. We cringe and lust. We appreciate and denigrate along with him. We are manipulated and love it.
Extend the mother figure to the henpecked son who must deal with an overpowering mother. Through the mother/son relationship, Hitchcock’s sense of obligation take a perverted turn. I hate to presume Hitchcock thought of Alma Riddle as a Lydia Brenner (The Birds), Mme. Sebastian (Notorious), or the voice/mother in the chair (Psycho). Regardless, Hitchcock had issues. We were all his therapist.
Which motifs in Vertigo are your favorite? Is it the flowers? The churches reminding us of sin and salvation? The haunting score? The perfect costumes by Edith Head like the gray suited Madeleine, the ghost who seduces Scottie? The black and white ensemble to represent contradiction? I like the colored walls in the restaurant, the greens and reds and purples symbolizing jealousy and passion. Maybe you like the innovative use of the dolly to simulate the vertigo feeling of falling away from falling forward? How about Jimmy Stewart who gave a fantastic performance?  
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1940s, blogathon, Film Spotlight, movies

Barbara Stanwyck: Sorry, Wrong Number

blogathob

Sorry, Wrong Number(1948) is a film noir starring Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster. Directed by Anatole Litvak with Sol Polito as cinematographer, it was first written as a radio play in 1943 starring Agnes Moorehead, then adapted to the screen by Lucille Fletcher.  The film’s structure and the cinematography maximize suspense. Of course, what makes the film is the performance by Barbara Stanwyck whose Leona starts off bossy and queenly but sinks to a mental state of fragility that commands pity by the story’s end. It’s a meaty role any serious actress would crave and Barbara delivers.

Leona Stevenson is a manipulator. As the pampered daughter of a pharmaceutical magnate from Chicago, she falls for a small town, handsome Henry Stevenson (Burt Lancaster) and manipulates him to marry her. Her health is a form of manipulation, too. If she convinces herself she is an invalid, she can control her husband to be at her side. One night, as she frantically calls looking for her missing husband, she overhears men discussing their murderous plot to kill a woman.  From there, the story weaves back and forth from flashbacks to real-time. The phone is the central object that connects the murderers, her husband, and Sally Hunt (Ann Richards) who reappears after an eight year break up with Henry. The phone is the thread that keeps the narrative alive and progressing. The story feels like a Nancy Drew mystery when Sally Hunt reveals her part in the plot, but otherwise,  we learn what mischief Mr. Henry Stevenson is up to in a compelling way. Barbara’s facial expressions and distress is palpable, and I am biting my nails with expectancy when out of the dark shadows the tension mounts to the apex and end of the story.

Anatole Litvak’s choice to use mirrors on his sets is highly effective for enhancing the mystery. Mirrors in the restaurant to check what’s behind you, mirrors over the bed or strategically placed to highlight the phone or a hand. The phone booths, the three-story spiraling staircase, the marquis rock on Leona’s finger, and Edith Head‘s costume designs make Sorry, Wrong Number a thrilling visual treat.

I only wish I could have heard this on the radio. With the lights off. I bet it was magnificent.