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THE HITCHCOCK FILE - PART 6

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by Peter Bogdanovich
February 21, 2013 7:45 PM
10 Comments
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Young Hitchcock

And so we bring to a close our file of cards on Hitchcock films seen by me between the years 1952 through 1970, with my comments of the time. A great many of these were initially seen in 1963 when I was preparing the first Hitchcock retrospective in the U.S. at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. For the record, my favorite pictures of his today are Notorious, Rear Window, and North by Northwest, though I also have a soft spot for Shadow of A Doubt  (the Master’s own personal favorite), I Confess, Strangers on A Train, and Vertigo. But so many of his movies are worth revisiting quite often, because there are usually new aspects that reveal themselves, like boxes within boxes. And recently I saw The Lady Vanishes again, for the first time in years, and found it delightfully riveting, though I’m generally not as intrigued by his British period as by his American run. He was also a charming person to know, and was extremely kind to me over the nearly twenty years I was fortunate enough to be friendly with him. My extensive interviews with Sir Alfred (1961-1975) can be found in my book, Who the Devil Made It  (1997), now available also as an e-book.
Long live Hitch!

THE MANXMAN (1929; d: Alfred Hitchcock).

1963: Good* (Very well done domestic melodrama --- a triangle about two close friends --- a lawyer and a fisherman --- both in love with the same girl. Effectively photographed and edited, very well acted, and generally evocative; not really Hitchcock’s meat, but interesting and completely compelling nonetheless.)

THE PLEASURE GARDEN (1925; d: Alfred Hitchcock).

1963: Good* (Hitchcock’s first film as a director --- a slick, rather melodramatic story of love and retribution --- effectively photographed and directed; Hitchcock’s feeling for mood and atmosphere, character-development and pace was quite evident from the beginning, and although this is a minor effort on the whole, it clearly points the way to The Lodger, made the following year, and to the greatness that was to follow.)

THE RING (1927; d: Alfred Hitchcock).

The Ring still

1963: Very good- (After The Lodger, this is Hitchcock’s best silent film --- an excitingly visual and excellently directed boxing drama with a triangle love-story. It is interesting to note how much Hitchcock was anticipating sound and its strengthening of reality --- as much as he could in both this picture and The Lodger, he was trying to give the feel and quality of sound; it’s an opposite intent from those silent directors who failed with sound --- like Griffith or Keaton --- who were trying to make the silence a virtue and an art in itself; but theirs was not a realistic-based cinema and Hitchcock’s is --- he was to flower with sound into one of the four greatest directors in cinema history.)

ROPE (1948; d: Alfred Hitchcock).

1963: Excellent- (A strikingly effective Hitchcock exercise: with a tracking camera, the director remains in one room, there are no time-lapses, all the action being continuous, and therefore a 10-minute take is employed eight times so that in a sense there is no break in the flow of the events. The story itself is a fascinatingly ambiguous one about two young men who murder a third simply to prove that they are superior beings; their teacher (expertly acted by Jimmy Stewart), who is really at fault for putting the philosophy of the superman in their minds, is shocked and repelled by what they have done when actually he is the guiltiest of them all. A puzzling and macabre morality tale that is brilliantly handled by a master of the screen.)

MURDER! (1930; d: Alfred Hitchcock).

1963: Good* (Often rather crude technically, but nonetheless effective and sometimes strikingly directed early who-done-it talkie about the murder of an actress; amusing backstage sequences, typically Hitchcockian action work. On the whole, only intermittently excellent, but nonetheless personal and talented.)

SECRET AGENT (1936; d: Alfred Hitchcock).

1963: Very good* (An exciting and typically inventive, smoothly grim Hitchcock spy-melodrama --- personal and completely successful in its form and outline; excellently acted by John Gielgud, Madeleine Carroll, Peter Lorre, Robert Young. Brilliantly edited, photographed, with several striking sequences --- on the whole, a minor but always rewarding Hitchcock tour-de-force.)

THE SKIN GAME (1931; d: Alfred Hitchcock).

1963: Good* (Occasionally stilted in its dialogue, but otherwise this is an excellent adaptation of [John] Galsworthy’s play, fascinatingly handled by Hitchcock, and generally well acted. A morality tale that refuses to judge, it is ideally suited to the director’s temperament as well as his credos on evil, developed to such a considerable degree in his American movies.)

RICH AND STRANGE (EAST OF SHANGHAI) (1932; d: Alfred Hitchcock).

1963: Very good- (A particularly delightful Hitchcockian surprise: a wildly improbable comedy-adventure about a giddy British couple, their dreary life, their sudden trip around the world, their infidelities, their final reconciliation; erratic, raucous, brilliantly directed, experimental in technique, exciting, personal, and especially fascinating in its continuing theme of average people who yearn for excitement thrown into horrible circumstances and insane situations.)

Young & Innocent still
YOUNG AND INNOCENT (THE GIRL WAS YOUNG) (1937; d: Alfred Hitchcock).

1963: Very good- (Fast, often very funny, exciting Hitchcock thriller of the English period, about a young man falsely accused of murder and the young daughter of a police commissioner who helps him; some brilliantly inventive sequences, cinematic effects. But Hitch was to develop a great deal further after reaching America and having access to all of Hollywood’s marvelous facilities for fantasy and mayhem.)

MARNIE (1964; d: Alfred Hitchcock).

Marine still

1964: Exceptional (Another extraordinary Hitchcockian achievement, a striking, deeply penetrating psychological study of a woman who is a compulsive thief, a pathological liar and frigid, but knows not why; and the man who helps her to understand. In the title role, ‘Tippi’ Hedren gives a memorable performance, and Sean Connery is fine as the man. Hitchcock handles the story with consummate skill, giving it a beauty no one else could create. Moving and thoroughly fascinating, among the director’s most intriguing.)

Added 1966: (As good, if not better, this time; the adverse criticism it has received is more and more incomprehensible.)

Added 1967: (Several sequences continue to have the same impact time after time --- the killing of the horse, the honeymoon, and many others --- if the dialog is not always brilliant, it still does not ruin the picture; one Hitchcock scene is so immeasurably better than most other’s entire films, that it is a pleasure just to watch him work.)

UNDER CAPRICORN (1949; d: Alfred Hitchcock).

Under Capricorn still


1964: Excellent (One of Hitchcock’s most fascinating films, an unusual period piece set in Australia in the early 1800’s about a romance between a stable-hand and an aristocrat’s daughter that transcends all boundaries. Highly romantic, strikingly photographed with an ever-tracking camera, excellently acted by Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten, Micheal Wilding, the picture is one of the director’s few financial flops, but it is a truly intriguing work, deeply personal, and artistically most successful.)

TORN CURTAIN (1966; d: Alfred Hitchcock).

Torn Curtain still


1966: Excellent* (As usual, brilliantly directed and conceived Hitchcock thriller about an American scientist who defects to East Berlin in order to uncover the solution to a top secret project: grim in its overtones, with a hero of almost anti-hero proportions --- only hinted at really --- and acted in a lackluster way by Paul Newman; Julie Andrews is fine as his assistant-mistress. There are countless memorable scenes and sequences and what it lacks, if anything, is the depth and the ambiguity of other Hitchcocks, the double-leveled action --- though it lurks there all the time. Nevertheless, a superb tour-de-force.)

Added 1966: (Unrealized intentions, but still expert, fascinating.)

MR. BLANCHARD’S SECRET (1956; d: Alfred Hitchcock).

1967: Fair- (Minor little 25-minute film made for the Hitchcock television series, about a lady crime novelist and the mystery she imagines about her new neighbors; workmanlike direction and playing, and mainly of historical interest.)

NUMBER SEVENTEEN (1932; d: Alfred Hitchcock).

1968: Good (Unfollowable plot --- everybody is after a necklace --- done with great good  humor and marvelous direction: shadowy hands, sinister figures, expressive dolly shots and a slam-bang, brilliantly executed chase sequence between a bus and a train. Very brief, the first part sets everything up in a deserted house for let, and the second is given over almost entirely to the chase. Clearly, a not very serious project, directed with wit and imagination, therefore still fresh and quite entertaining.)

TOPAZ (1969; d: Alfred Hitchcock).

1969: Very good- (Disappointing, large-scale Hitchcock spy story centering around various machinations during the Cuban missile crisis. Impeccably directed and photographed, with several fine performances, the main problem of the picture is that the protagonist assigns all of his risks to other people and is therefore not in jeopardy until the closing moments, and by then it is too late to generate the kind of suspense one is used to. It is a bleak picture of spy tactics but certainly that comment has been made --- in an aborted but strangely more effective way even in Torn Curtain.)

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10 Comments

  • Blake Lucas | March 15, 2013 4:24 AMReply

    May we assume yours of 1:36 was quickly written, Peter? I only ask because I cannot believe you'd give five names and John Ford would not be one of them, given that you of all people have done so much through your film and your book to show how great he is and so begin his second ascent to where he now is for most of us. OK, I'm invested because he is greatest of them all for me, but I really thought these days you had him second only to Renoir. That said, I agree there is not one finite group of just a few great directors. There are a fair number making up a list of the best and maybe it's just best to appreciate each one for what they individually are as artists. As with Ford, I'd assume Fritz Lang would be very high on your list and certainly deserves to be--with the recent appearance of those very early pre-DESTINY movies I'd never seen I've decided to see those and then revisit all of his films in chronological order, a good way to go for him because though there are great films for him in all periods and his body of work very much all of a piece even more than with most directors, I really think his style is purest and vision most mature in the last phase 1952-1960. In any event, I'll also add how much I enjoyed reading all the cards for Ford, Hawks, Hitchcock,and always seemed like there was a comment or question I might have wanted to throw in but then lately the time would just get away. But what counted here was your views anyway, always interesting and I never found too much to argue with, allowing that we all have a few idiosyncratic opinions. Naturally, I'm another who would be pleased if Lang was next, but wouldn't mind it was Raoul Walsh either.

  • PB | March 17, 2013 12:54 PM

    Blake, of course John Ford would be on my list! I just randomly picked five to make the point that I was young when I said Hitchcock was one of the four greatest directors, as though one could narrow it down to just four. Glad you're interested in the cards. Lubitsch is up now. Not sure I'll be doing Lang, as I came to dislike him personally and, unfortunately, that has colored
    my desire to spend time on him. Walsh I love, and might be doing him soon. I often say--when watching today's bloated, often muddled, pretentious releases--"Where is Raoul Walsh when we need him?!"

  • PB | March 12, 2013 1:36 AMReply

    Well, Jack, I made that note in 1963, which was a while ago. I don't think I could narrow it down to four today, fifty years later: I've learned something in that half century, and one of the things is that there's such a thing as apples & oranges, and "comparisons are odious." But any list of the
    best directors ever would have to include Jean Renoir, Kenji Mizoguchi, Ernst Lubitsch, Howard
    Hawks, and Buster Keaton, so that's already more than four. In other words, I was young.

  • Blake Lucas | March 17, 2013 4:46 PM

    Sorry to hear you came to dislike Lang personally, and a little surprised even if he was not an easy man. I thought you had good rapport with all those great directors, because they appreciated how knowledgeable and insightful you were about their work--even Ford, notorious for giving anyone a hard time, seemed to be tough with you at times but with a fair amount of genuine affection. In any event, not asking more of what happened with Lang but I do want to say your interview book with him was outstanding, and that image from FURY one of the most ideal covers for any film book. Another director who was said not to be easy that you seemed to retain great feeling for and real friendship was Otto Preminger--I went to the Academy tribute to him that you hosted and felt you did a beautiful job; Preminger is a wonderful director as I was reminded just a few nights ago rewatching THE CARDINAL, my personal favorite of the great films he made. Otherwise, can only agree with what you say about Walsh in this much appreciated reply and will look forward to those cards if you do them; for me, Ford, Hawks and Walsh are kind of the Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides of classical American cinema.

  • Jack Stranger | March 6, 2013 4:46 AMReply

    Wonderful series on Hitch PB. I Really enjoyed it. You said Hitchcock "was to flower with sound into one of the four greatest directors in cinema history."

    Assuming Orson Welles is also on the list; who in your scholarly opinion are the other two?

  • James | March 11, 2013 8:35 PM

    Jack, I'm guessing, but on second thoughts, and after reading PB's work for nearly 35 years, I'll nominate his four as Hitch, Renoir, Ford and Hawks.

    Interesting enough, Hitch is the one director whose work doesn't seem to be directly influenced in PB's own work, compared to the other three masters.

  • James | March 6, 2013 7:20 PM

    Jack, I'd be presuming Ford and Lang (Fritz, not Walter!).

  • Roger | March 3, 2013 3:33 AMReply

    What a great comment about "Rope" re: Stewart's guilt surpassing his students.
    Thank you, Professor B. - will revisit this.

  • Jack Stranger | March 10, 2013 4:32 AM

    You may well be right James. Though I would hope Professor B would be a bit more progressive in his selections of "greatest directors". Ford and Lang were tremendous innovators; but personally I can't class them along side the likes of Welles and Hitch; and the legends that have followed and emerged from their long shadows: Wilder; Melville; Godard; Truffaut; Bunuel; Antonioni; Fellini; Altman; Scorsese; Coppola; Allen; Kubrick; Lumet; and so on.

  • James | February 23, 2013 8:55 PMReply

    Many thanks for these notes, Peter. They are a great addition to one of my favourite books - 'Who the Devil Made It?'

    My fingers are crossed that Lang may be next.

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