Thursday, September 20, 2018

I Confess (1953)

Beefing on Hitchcock
I Confess

The thirty-eighth film by Alfred Hitchcock was a long time in the making, a full eight years spent on the script alone. 1953's I Confess was, in my opinion, a work of art and heart. Commonly stated as his "most Catholic" picture, the movie takes from Htichcock's own personal faith and incorporates many aspects of the church, religion, and priesthood.

The story follows a young priest who receives the confession of a man who has just killed someone. He himself ends up being implicated and eventually brought to trial for the murder, as he can not break the confidentiality of a confession, even if it means proving his own innocence. This brings twist to Hitchcock's common "wrong man" theme, common to viewers nowadays, yet not broadly familiar at the time.

Starring Montgomery Clift as Father Logan, Anne Baxter as a lover from his life before the priesthood, and Karl Malden as Inspector Larrue, the film is full of suspense and angst, and manages to keep you on the edge of your seat whilst taking its time with the plot. Clift's method acting style draws you in to the fraught emotional state of the priest, even though it apparently clashed with Hitchcock's own style of directing behind the scenes. For what it was worth, the two conflicting styles merged together on screen beautifully to create a simple, yet intriguing picture.

In the end, I highly recommend this movie to anyone who has yet to see it, and personally consider it top-tier Hitchcock, even though it never seems to fall in with his most popular and well-known films. That's a shame.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Thunderball (1965)

Beefing on Bond

1965's Thunderball was originally slated to be the first in the long line of James Bond motion pictures, but due to a major legal dispute, it came fourth. I feel I can say that it served the picture well to have been pushed back. Dr. No had such a small budget and scale, I believe that alone would have harmed the success of the film and perhaps even the franchise.

Coming off of Goldfinger however, Thunderball is far less extravagant in comparison. The story is a simple one -- evil organization steals atomic bombs to hold the world ransom for money -- and at times it feels almost too simple for the scope and length of the movie. There is a lot of bouncing Bond around from person to person, villain to friend to foe to lover back to villain, with some overly extended underwater scenes thrown in whenever possible. At times, it seems almost forced in how drawn out some scenes are, as if they had a desired length and had to reach it, hell or high water. (Water pun intended.)

The only other downfall of Thunderball is that Sean Connery looks and feels a bit weary and worn out, not exactly as quirky and charming as before. This might have been intentional, and it might have just been due to the filming schedule. I opt not to fault him (or the film) for that; it's an easy thing to look past.

In all, Thunderball is a fantastic addition to the franchise, definitely falling into its place in the order. It didn't try to overdo and surpass the extravagance of Goldfinger, yet it still holds its own against it. While the pacing could benefit from some tighter editing, it's an incredibly strong and enjoyable movie with very few actual faults.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Goldfinger (1964)

Beefing on Bond

Being among the few people in the world who had never actually seen the classic Bond film Goldfinger, my only actual understanding of it was that it is basically the "epitome" of James Bond movies... That it essentially paved the way for what people (such as myself) understand a "James Bond movie" to be.

I can say now, having seen the film, that it did not fail to deliver that one bit. It had all the elements I expected it to have: a swaggering and charming Sean Connery, an almost untouchable villain with lofty and unrealistically ambitious goals, a beautiful lady who dies early on in the movie, the infamous Oddjob, and more!

What it also gave me, and I should have actually expected this, was an appreciation for the subtlety of the previous film, From Russia With Love. That's not to say that I still don't find fault with some of that movie's pacing among other things, but I do appreciate it more in hindsight now that I have seen Goldfinger.

What this picture does bring that the prior does not, however, is a very fast, but well, paced movie, ripe with action, intrigue, and (in my opinion) much more excitement. I feel safe to say that this was where the franchise really took off and figured out what it wanted to be.

This is the Bond film that all the rest would try to match or beat.

Friday, May 12, 2017

From Russia With Love (1963)

Beefing On Bond
From Russia With Love

 I've spent quite some time since my initial viewing of this film, trying to figure out what to say about it, re-watching it, re-watching it again with commentary, exploring the special features... I have to say that I find myself conflicted with my opinion regarding From Russia With Love.

On the one hand, you have an intelligently plotted story, full of all the fun spy stuff: betrayal, triple agents, chases, romance, murder... While on the other hand, the whole thing seemed pretty dragged out and almost forced at times. Almost like the "sophomore jinx" of the music industry, this picture failed to really grab me like the first one did. It fell a bit flat in some way, and I haven't exactly figured out how.

The budget was noticeably higher than Dr No had, and this did work in its favor quite well. Gone were the thrown together painted backgrounds of a flimsy office set, and in were the actual set pieces that not only felt, but were real.

The acting of course was phenomenal, as you could only really expect from any true Bond film.

I believe where the movie mostly dragged me down was the pacing... or perhaps the build up of the story itself, to be a bit more exact. All the elements were there and good and it was never boring, but I didn't find myself really gripped into the plot until the third act. Once they were aboard the train, that's when I finally found myself actually interested in what was going on. Up until that point, it felt like an overly long introduction to the important part, leaving me wondering when and if it was really going to go somewhere.

At first, I thought maybe it was simply the mood I was in on first watch, but subsequent viewing left me feeling the same way... So I think it's safe to say that the third act is when the movie really starts to draw the viewer in.

None of this is to say that it's at all anything less than a fantastic film. I wouldn't dare call it even as low as mediocre. I suppose the term I should use to describe the story is a bit more "subtle" than its predecessor.

I do not consider this to be one of the strongest in the series as I know it, but I really haven't seen very many so far, as I stated in my prior review, so this opinion might actually change with time.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Strangers On A Train (1951)

Beefing on Hitchcock
Strangers On A Train

Strangers On A Train stars Farley Granger as Guy Haines, a young tennis player who, although already married, is in love with a senator's daughter, Anne Morton, played by Ruth Roman. A chance meeting on a train with a fan named Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) leads to a murderous misunderstanding. Anthony believes that Haines has agreed to a shared murder plot, Haines killing Anthony's mother and Anthony killing Haines' wife... and until Anthony has fulfilled his half of the supposed bargain, Haines had thought nothing of this bizarre encounter or the odd stranger.

This whole situation leaves Haines to frantically cover up any of his own perceived involvement in his wife's death, while simultaneously conflicted about whether or not to fulfill his end of the agreement, even though he never actually agreed to it.

In this movie, Alfred Hitchcock ties in many of the plot and story elements found throughout his pictures leading all the way back to his first silent films. Not only are the elements of the "wrong man" devices, but there's blackmail, chance encounters gone wrong, strangers injecting themselves into a lead's family life, moral conflict of what's right and wrong, and the list only goes on from there.

This particular kind of story is one that has always intrigued and discomforted me. A person you don't know, who seems to know all about you, easily turns your entire world upside-down, from which there appears to be no escape. One of my all-time favorite movies, Misery, practically has the exact same ending as the American version of this movie, while Throw Momma From The Train has nearly the same plot. There is just something universally terrifying about how much an unknown person can effect your life.

While I'm not sure I would classify this one amongst my personal favorites of his catalog, it's still easily one of his strongest films, and you see a lot of experimentation with angles and reflections as well as a lot of specific set, prop, and costume details that really make these movies work.

With this film, Hitchcock began to invest himself deeper into the minute details of production than he had in decades, even going so far as to pick out character's ties and what foods they ate. After years of working for Hollywood moguls and fighting over everything from story to casting, we find him taking more and more control over his pictures. This shift is what would eventually cement his legacy as "The Master of Suspense" - master being the key word.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Dr. No (1962)

Beefing on Bond
Dr. No

I suppose that I should start off by admitting that I am headed into this series with very little actual experience with the James Bond films. I have seen every one from the final Timothy Dalton era, through the entire Pierce Brosnan era, up through current with the departure of Daniel Craig. When it comes to the original "classic" Bond, however, I have seen the single George Lazenby film and possibly one or two starring the fan-favourite, Sean Connery.

So many of these films are new to me, and I will be watching them with fresh eyes. Hopefully, my knowledge of the more recent movies will not haunt my take on these older entries, but occasionally I will not be able to keep myself from comparing them to what I know already about the later aspects of the series.

That being said, I will get my comparison out of the way right off the bat. Going into the first of the film series, 1962's Dr. No struck me as a very strong a serious picture. Because of the Brosnan era, and my own "understanding" of the cheesy spy action movies of the 1960's in general, I was actually expecting something a little more dated... a little more corny. I expected unbelievable gadgets and impossible plots by the evil mastermind... something a little more akin to a giant laser beam from space - the kind of stuff you roll your eyes at and just roll with the sheer stupidity of it all.

What I watched instead was a perfectly down-to-earth spy movie from the era, complete with Jamaican locations and stylized music, as were popular at the time. Here we saw a young 007, a secret agent from MI6, sent off to thwart a plot against rocket launches by way of radio jamming. The sounds pretty reasonable to me and not entirely far-fetched.

Along the way, he coyly flirts with women, snarks back and forth with people who may or may not be evil, and engages in some pretty fair combat. As I know to be somewhat commonplace in Bond films, he is taken hostage, has a calm chat with the bad guy, and eventually thwarts the evil plot in a giant secret installation in some remote location. In the process, he of course manages to save an attractive woman... all-in-all, a pretty good week.

While Dr. No was not the first in the book series, it was chosen to be the first in the movie series, still making references to earlier books, as it was all fairly popular at the time. I have not read any of the books, yet I still had no problem enjoying the film. A rudimentary sense of who and what "James Bond" is isn't necessary to following or enjoying the story, but I'm sure it all helps.

One of the biggest things that struck me, that I had not known about until watching the movie, was that the famous line that everyone knows better than possibly anything else in pop culture... it came first merely as a mocking response to the introduction of Sylvia Trench, who gave her last name first, followed by her full name. I guess when something sticks in the public's mind, you keep it... but it makes me think of other famous lines like "I'll be back," "You can't handle the truth," and "I am your father." No one really knows certain lines will catch on until after the fact, and "Bond... James Bond" I suppose was just another of those little flukes that grabbed on and refused to let go.

In all, I purely enjoyed Dr. No and considered it a great start to a budding film franchise. The budget was low, and that was hardly noticeable... and I'm sure that worked plenty to their benefit for making more after the picture was a hit. I can already see why Connery is many people's favourite and will remain the quintessential Bond.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Stage Fright (1950)

Beefing on Hitchcock
Stage Fright

Alfred Htichcock's 36th major motion picture, Stage Fright, is a simple and unexpected twist on his classic "wrong man" style of story. It is far from being his finest film, yet it is definitely one of his most ambitious.

The film tells the story of a man on the run from the law. Jonathan (Richard Todd), an actor, has a secret lover, an actress Charlotte (Marlene Dietrich), who has admitted to him that she had murdered her husband, and believing it was in self-defense, he agrees to dispose of her blood-stained dress. After being seen running from the scene of the crime, he sought refuge with his friend Eve (Jane Wyman) who believes in his innocence. Eve and her father conclude that the stain has been smeared on purposefully and that Jonathan is being set-up by Charlotte. Eve goes undercover to prove his innocence, and after several twists and turns in the story, she discovers the truth behind the murder.

While Hitchcock has frequently used the story of the "wrong man" to drive his movies along, Stage Fright is unique in that it is the first to rely on what is called an "unreliable narrator." We, the audience, are shown a flashback early on in the film, to convey what the main protagonist is telling of his story. Since we are to believe this is our hero and it is common for us to take what they tell and show us at face value, we tend not to question it. As the story progresses though, his story and the flashback itself become questionable, leaving the audience wondering just what the truth is and who exactly committed this murder. There are a few other possible suspects aside from just Jonathan and Charlotte, which lends to the mystery even if you are aware of the possible deception within the story.

As is even more typical in Hitchcock's pictures, the crime and the "whodonit" element of the story act more as "macguffins" to drive along a budding romance between the leads. Going back through his catalog, you find plenty of instances where the man, wanted by the law for a crime he may or may not have committed, seeks refuge with (or drags along unwillingly) a lovely woman, and the two eventually fall madly in love with each other. I have always pointed out that the "Master of Suspense" had always focused more on love stories than he ever did on suspense and mystery... many times dismissing the believability of the plot completely simply because it pushed the romance forward. This film is no exception, and the leads, Todd and Wyman, work well off each other in a very nice on-screen chemistry that just makes the story work. You want them to win and live happily ever after.

Stage Fright is another of the lesser known Hitchcock films from this era. Sitting amidst a long run of "classics" and certainly right before nearly every one of his "greatest" films, I feel it's almost criminal that this was left off of the "Masterpiece Collection" blu-ray set. At the very least and the very most, The Criterion Collection should pick this one up, and when that ever happens, it will live comfortably on my shelf with all the rest.