So Crazy It Works – Psycho II (1983)

Okay, here’s the short version of this review: Psycho II is a much better movie than any movie calling itself Psycho II should be.

Alright, let’s go a bit deeper, then. When a movie calls itself Psycho II and opens with the classic and infamous shower scene from the 1960 original, it is making certain promises to the audience that it had better be able to deliver on.

Fortunately, the movie delivers more than one would expect.

Opening 22 years after Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) was sent to a mental asylum. Psycho II opens with his release after being declared recovered and having accepted the fact that his mother is truly dead.

Moving back to the family house and attempting to re-open the Bates Motel, Norman also gets a job at a local diner. That is where he meets a young lady named Mary Samuels (Meg Tilley) who needs a place to stay after having broken up with her boyfriend. Norman invites Mary to stay with him at the hotel, though after a bit of thought and a fight with his hotel manager Warren Toomey he actually has her stay at the house with him.

Norman’s recovery seems to be going well until he begins seeing mysterious notes and receiving phone calls purporting to be from his mother. He is also the victim of  distrust and outright hatred from a number of people in the town who seem to wish that he would simply go away so that they would not have to deal with  him or the memories he represents anymore.

Not everyone is against Norman, however. Sheriff John Hunt, who was only a deputy at the time of the original killings is sympathetic to Norman and his plight and goes out of his way to try to make sure that everything is okay with him and to keep the peace between Norman and the townsfolk. He also has the support of Dr. Bill Raymond (played by Robert Loggia) who was his psychiatrist in the institution and continues to check up on him.

However, not long after Norman’s release, Lila Loomis (Vera Miles, also reprising her role from the original film) arrives in town trying to convince the sheriff that Norman is still insane and trying to get him arrested and re-committed.

I am not going to go much further into the plot, because there are far too many twists and turns that really should be left for the viewer to discover. Suffice to say that murders once again begin occurring around the hotel, and the question becomes one of whether Norman has reverted to his earlier ways and just how long he will be able to hold on to his fragile grip on his sanity.

It really is amazing how seemingly effortlessly Perkins slips right back into his most famous role. He brings the same pathos and tension that he did in the 60 original and it’s very easy to see Norman growing up to be exactly like this after all that he has been through. Vera Miles also brings a passion to her role as someone who has never let go of the horror of her sister’s death (she is the sister of Marion Crane, the character portrayed in the original film by Janet Leigh, and yes, I would call it a cheat to bring in a sister to add pathos had she not already been established in Hitchcock’s original) and my viery well have been driven as insane by her experiences as Norman.

Meg Tilley is also a standout in her role as Mary who seems to come to care deeply for Norman but who may have a secret or two of her own.

The producers (Hilton A. Green and Bernard Schwartz), director (Richard Franklin), and writer (Tom Holland) all deserve a lot of credit for crafting a movie that pays loving tribute to the original yet actually stands as a credible movie on its  own. Yes, there are references and call-backs to the classic (both visually and in dialogue, but they are not overdone and the tension is kept high throughout. I will say that the ending is one of those love it or hate it types, that could certainly be divisive, but personally I find it satisfying for the most part.

All in all, I have to say that as a fan of the original and of Hitchcock in general (I list Rear Window in my top five films of all time) I found this sequel to be quite satisfying. Yes, there  are nods to the new times (a flash of nudity and slightly more graphic violence), but even those are used sparingly and to good effect. Call me crazy if you feel you must, but this is a sequel I like.

Early Hitchcock? Yes. Minor Hitchcock? Definitely Not. – The 39 Steps (1935)

***Spoiler Warning! Yes, I’m writing about a more than 80 year old movie today, but just as this was my first viewing of the movie, therefore it was new to me and there were twists I wouldn’t have wanted to know about, I’m sure there are those of you out there who are in the same situation, and even though I’m not going to be talking about the very ending of the movie, there are some twists that are unavoidable. Therefore, if you want to go into it completely spoiler free, well… End Warning***

39s1One of the things that I’ve decided recently is that I need to spend more time catching up with early Alfred Hitchcock movies, especially those that he made before leaving England for Hollywood. Thus, The 39 Steps which he directed in 1935.

Adapted from John Buchan’s novel The Thirty-Nine Steps which was first serialized in Blackwoods Magazine in 1915, Hitchcock’s film not only stands as a great early example of spy films in general, but of what was to come from the great director as it either introduces or reinforces a number of the touches and tropes that would be seen throughout his career.

First, the movie is a great example of the Hitchcockian plot device of a seemingly innocent man caught up by circumstance in events beyond his control which could have world changing implications. In this case the man is Richard Hannay who is played by Robert Donat. Interestingly, Buchan’s novel was the first of five novels to feature Hannay as the lead as he continued to get caught up in a number of adventures beyond the conclusion of the events in this story.

39s2Second, and especially of note in this day when gender-and race- swapping are controversial issues which receive a lot of attention, We have the introduction of “Annabella Smith” (an admitted alias) as the character who brings Hannay into the plot after a show at a London music hall is disrupted by gunfire. What makes this interesting is that on the novel, the person who draws Hannay into the story is an American man named Franklin P. Scudder. By turning Scudder into a woman of unknown national origin, Hitchcock not only raises a question of sexual tension that would not be a part of Buchan’s story, but also in his casting of Lucie Mannheim as Smith, he reinforces the idea of the “Hitchcock blond” which would become a staple of the master’s movies.

39s3Also, by recasting the character as female, Hitchcock provides an early take on an idea which would have a later echo in the director’s 1960 film Psycho when she is suddenly and unexpectedly stabbed and killed very early in the film, thus leaving Hannay with only the slightest of clues as to the actual mystery that is surrounding him, and changing the focus and perspective of the film from what seems like it will be a chase of both Hannay and Smith as they try to intercept and deter the spy ring to more of a man on the run film as Hannay must not only attempt to figure out the secret that she was trying to protect, but must also stay one step ahead of Scotland Yard who believe that he is the one who murdered her.

39s5Finally, I think it should be noted that even though The 39 Steps may seem to be, as noted above an “early” Hitchcock film, he already had quite a few directing credits to his name before this (the number is kind of inexact depending on the sources you check and just how much involvement you give credit to on some of the earliest films, but it already shows the assured hand of someone who knows just what he wants from both those behind and in front of the camera and how to get what he wants. It may be early Hitchcock, but it isn’t minor Hitchcock. Also, it was considered a major film by production company Gaumont-British which was not only willing to give Hitch a very free hand with the adaptation, but was also willing to spend what was then considered a major-league budget to make it, including spending the money to bring in two stars who at the time were well known American actors in an attempt to make a splash not only in England but also in America, and that investment paid off greatly, not only at the box office, but with critics and audiences.

I said at the first that I felt a need to fill in the Early Hitchcock hole in my viewing experience, and if The 39 Steps is any example of what’s in store as I do that, I can’t wait to watch more.

Here’s, well, not exactly a trailer, but a taste of the film:

Quickie Review – Foreign Correspondent (1940)

fc1It’s a shame, really, when a director has to compete with himself for numerous Academy Awards, but that is exactly what happened in 1941, the year after Alfred Hitchcock released his first two Hollywood productions, Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent. The former was nominated for nine Oscars, and picked up wins for Best Picture and Best Cinematography, and the latter had six nominations, also including Best Picture and Best Cinematography but it didn’t wind up taking home any.

This self-competition is also likely why now, so many years later, Rebecca is the much better known of the two pictures.

So which really is the better picture?

Nope, not gonna play that game.

It wouldn’t be a fair competition anyway, since the films are so very different. Rebecca is a gothic romance whereas Foreign Correspondent is a straight-up spy thriller. The fact that Hitchcock could direct two such different movies in the same year and have them both considered as one of the top movies of the year – and again, this was only his first year making movies in America – bespeaks to the genius he already was and which would only develop further as time went on.

fc3Set in the days just prior to the outbreak of World War II when all of Europe seemed to be on edge and even the smallest thing might be the catalyst to tip the scales of war from potential to actual, Foreign Correspondent is the story of reporter Johnny Jones – played by Joel McCrea  and rechristened Huntley Haverstock by his New York Globe editor and boss Mr. Powers – who is sent to Europe to get some “real news” on the events that are occurring there and to try to determine if war is, indeed, about to break out.

As one would expect, this being a Hitchcock film, it’s not long at all before Jones/Haverstock is not only reporting the news, but becoming a reluctant part of it.

After bearing close-up witness to the seeming assassination of a Dutch diplomat named Van Meer outside a political meeting in Amsterdam, Jones begins to investigate the strange events an peculiar people which surround the event, and the multiple level machinations which are occurring. Many of these seem to involve Stephen Fisher, the leader of the Universal Peace Party, and his daughter Carol, whom Jones had previously met.

fc4It seems as though it shouldn’t need to be said that all is not what it seems, nor is everyone who they seem or purport to be. Yet despite all of the twists and turns of a script which involved ten different writers, Hitchcock never allows the viewer to become lost or to lose track of just what is going on. Yes, there are times when those in the audience may not know any more than the characters on the screen, but there are just as many times when – in accordance with Hitchcock’s own definition of suspense, the viewer knows just enough more to raise the tension to the next level.

Of course, all of the skill that Hitchcock brings to the production would be for naught without an incredibly talented cast to help him pull it off, and he definitely has that here with a troupe which consists of not only McCrea but also Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, George Sanders, Albert Bassermann, Robert Benchley, and Edmund Gwenn along with many others who would become leading lights in Hollywood.

So while Foreign Correspondent may not be as slick or as well known as some of his later spy thrillers such as North By Northwest, it is definitely able to hold its own when it comes to being a part of the revered master’s canon and is one of his earlier works which should definitely be seen by more people, especially by those who are already fans of the director’s work.

Here’s a trailer:

 

 

Top 250 Tuesday – #001 Vertigo (1958)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #001 on the list,  Alfred Hitchcocks Vertigo. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.

*** SPOILER WARNING! Yes, this movie is more than 50 years old, but I know there are still a lot of people out there who have never seen it, and at the same time, there’s no way to talk about some of the points I want to hit without giving away some of the twists and plot details that really should be a surprise for the first time viewer, so I’m going to go ahead and throw up the old spoiler flag just in case. Proceed, therefore, at your own risk. END WARNING***

vert2That’s right, it’s elephant in the room time as today we take a look at what the list names the #1 all-time best movie, Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, Vertigo.

As was widely reported when the 2012 version of the list came out, Vertigo replaced Orson Well’s Citizen Kane, which had held the top spot for decades prior, thereby bumping Kane to number 2.

There are likely a number of reasons this occurred, including, one would suspect, a number of the respondents simply wanting to “shake things up a bit” or “do something different”, and therefore voting for this film over the perennial Kane. In truth, though, the reasoning doesn’t really matter. Hitchcock’s film now owns the top spot.

But does it deserve it?

Well, I’ll begin by saying this: personally, Vertigo is not my favorite Hitchcock movie. That spot belongs to Rear Window. As a matter of fact, that particular movie has become my go-to answer whenever anyone asks me what my favorite all-time movie is. But, of course, there’s a difference between “favorite” movies and those one perceives as “the best”. There are a number of movies that I can objectively state are better films than Rear Window, but that doesn’t mean that I have to like them more or that I even have to like them at all. And in all honesty, when I say that Rear Window is my all time favorite movie, that’s really simply a way of providing an answer that doesn’t require a lot of thought to an all too simplistic question, and can be used to either curtail or open up further discussion depending upon my mood and that of the questioner.

vert7Anyway, this is supposed to be about Vertigo, not Rear Window, so I suppose I should turn my focus to that.

One of the first things that I absolutely have to give credit to Hitchcock for in this movie is the fact that, much like in Psycho, he manages to keep the true protagonist of the movie (if there even is one) hidden for a very large part of this film. As a matter of fact, in a lot of ways, he manages to spend m0st of the movie getting us to root for one of the most obsessive and villainous characters in cinematic history, because let’s be honest, in his obsession with another man’s wife and his compulsion to remake Judy Barton into Madeline after the latter’s death, James Stewart‘s character of John “Scottie” Ferguson is certainly no hero, even though he may at first be presented that way to the audience.

vert4When it comes to it, “Obsession” might even be a better title for this film than “Vertigo”, because it’s Scottie’s obsession with Madeline that allows him to be set up as the unwitting witness to her “suicide”, and then later also leads to Judy’s own death. Even if he weren’t suffering from acrophobia and the accompanying vertigo, an honest assessment shows that John is not, to put it lightly, the most mentally fit character.

Even early on, after he has, he thinks, saved Madeline from drowning, he shows absolutely no compunction or shame in taking the unconscious Madeline back to his apartment and completely stripping this woman who he already has clearly become enamored of simply because of her beauty of all of her clothes before tucking her into his bed. Yes, he gives her the excuse of not wanting to take her back home to have to explain things to her husband, but even that, with Stewart’s delivery of the lines, seems rather flimsy and more of a rationalization for his actions.

vert6Which is not to say that Judy is a paragon of virtue, either. Yes, she may spend the latter part of the movie in the inescapable clutches of a man who will never love her for who she actually is, but rather for who he wants to (re-)make her into, thus garnering the audience’s sympathy and, as noted above, becoming the sort-of protagonist of the film, but let’s not forget that until Madeline’s death (in which she was a quite willing participant), she was perfectly happy in carrying out exactly the same charade, and never backs down from continuing with it, even though she has, by that point, purportedly completely fallen in love with Ferguson.

vert8It could even be argued that there is no clear-cut protagonist in the movie at all. Gavin Elster, the conniving ship builder who conceives and executes the entire plan to murder his wife and make it seem like suicide certainly doesn’t count as one, and since we never even actually meet the real Madeline Elster, well…

Even Barbara Bel Geddes’s seemingly too-sweet-for-words Midge becomes so swept up in her jealousy over the attention that “Johnnie” is paying to Madeline/Judy, that she allows it to overcome her and, with the painting that she makes as a “joke”, she shows her own obsession and takes herself out of the action at a time when she really could provide him with some needed help and perspective.

vert5Hmm… it almost seems as though the only truly heroic figure in the entire movie may be the police officer who, at the very beginning of the movie, gives his life trying to save Scottie’s.

Moving away from the actual plot of the movie, one does have to admit that Hitchcock’s technical ability as a director is firmly on display here. Much has been made of the since-become-cliche “Vertigo effect”  created with a “dolly-out/zoom-in” method which involves the camera physically moving away from a subject whilst simultaneously zooming in. Or vice versa. The effect can actually be created either way.

Then there is the “special sequence” which is used to depict the disorientation of Scottie’s dream, which is definitely a breathtaking experience, especially on the big screen.

vert8And, of course, there are the bravura performances of both Stewart and Kim Novak (who does, for the most part, manage to create in the viewer the belief for a time that Judy and Madeline are two separate characters quite well), but really that comes as no surprise, since Hitch both before and after this film proved himself a virtuoso at pulling from and capturing with his camera exactly the performance that he desires, no matter the cost.

Still, despite all of this, Vertigo commits one of the cardinal sins that in my mind disqualifies it from thee top spot not only of all films, but even when only set against Hitchcock’s other films.

It drags.

vert9Yes, the film does have its great moments, and it does have its exemplary scenes and shots, but the problem is that they are just that – moments, scenes, shots. Overall, however, this is a 128 minute film which doesn’t, as many great movies do, hide its length or feel shorter than its actual running time, but instead lets the viewer feel almost every minutes that passes, and not in a good way. There comes a point where, perhaps because there is no real character to root for, because there is no hero to cheer on, because we, as an audience get the idea that Scottie’s obsession with Maddy has gone to far, that we simply want the film to move on, to get to the climax, and it takes far too long to do that, which is unfortunate, because it does allow the viewer’s mind to wander and that is something that Hitchcock rarely can be said to do.

So, in the end, we have to go back to the question I asked at the beginning: Does Vertigo really deserve the #1 spot in a list of the “Greatest Movies of All Time”? My answer has to be no. Yes, it unquestionably belongs on the list, there’s no denying that, but as number one, I have to say it’s out of place.

Then again, I can’t say that I’d put Citizen Kane there, either.

Here’s the trailer:

 

 

 

Top 250 Tuesday #174 – Notorious (1946)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #180 on the list,  Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.

not1So  in writing about today’s entry into the Sight and Sound Top 250 line-up, Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, one has to consider what can only be termed the “Hitchcock problem” which is somewhat inherent in any poll like this, and especially in one that produces such a large list of films.

Simply put, the problem is an overabundance of truly excellent films to choose from.

Yeah, it may perhaps seem strange to consider this a “problem”, but…

Here’s the deal from my perspective: Hitchcock directed so many truly great movies over the years that there’s no way that anyone can possibly make a list of “Greatest Movies” without including him somewhere on the list. Well, that’s not quite true, I suppose. One could certainly make such a list, but the exclusion of Sir Alfred would have to be purposeful and mostly an exercise not just in trying to be non-conformist, but also in denying an truly great director his place in the film-making landscape.

not2 So then the question really becomes two separate ones. It’s not so much “does Hitchcock get a place on my list”, but “how many places?” and “which Hitchcock”?

Obviously, the consensus answer to the second question at least in 2012, the year this version of the poll was released fell to Vertigo enough times that it actually managed to displace Citizen Kane from it’s long standing place in the top spot of the list. Is it really the best film Hitchcock made in his long career? Personally, I’d argue no – my vote goes to Rear Window, which has become my go-to answer when anyone asks me for my all-time favorite movie, if for no other reason than one has to have an answer to that question readily available, and I think it goes a long way towards being Hitchcock’s best and certainly a good way to open the discussion – but at that point one truly gets into personal preference, which, in the end is where these lists are finally built anyway.

not3As far as the first question above, that of how many places one allows for Hitchcock films, well, that’s not one that I’m really looking at to answer numerically, but rather I bring it up in order to point out that I think it’s that question that places at least five different movies from the director’s filmography on the list, and finds (or perhaps makes?) room for a movie like Notorious on it.

Make no mistake. Notorious is an excellent movie, and if it were made by anyone other than Hitchcock it could easily qualify as a director’s greatest work. However, when placed within the scope of this particular director’s achievements, one has to wonder in a way if it simply doesn’t pale in comparison.

Again, another aspect of the “Hitchcock problem”: when a director has made so many movies that could be considered other directors’ best work, how does one deal with those which are simply “great” but not “the greatest” in compiling a list like this?

not4Okay, so I’m six hundred words into this, and i really haven’t even gotten to the movie itself, but I suspect you’ve likely already picked up in the comments that I’ve made my response to it. Simply put, Notorious is an excellent film from an excellent director that, while it may not be his very best certainly shows why he has to be considered as one of the most elite film-makers of all time.

It’s a movie that showcases a number of Hitch’s favorite tropes – especially that of a relatively “common man” (though in this case the “common man” is female) caught up in unexpected circumstances beyond their experience or control. In a way, one could actually consider it largely a gender-swapped version of North By Northwest – which, just by the way, also appears on the list at number 54.

not5It also is a movie that shows why the director is so highly ranked among his peers as it contains a number of unique camera angles, editing decisions, and shot set-ups that showcase a great dramatist at the height of his game.

And finally, it is a movie that – no matter how various actors may have responded to their treatment by Hitchcock both on and off screen, and his reported attitudes toward those who worked under him, once again simply shows just how good he was at pulling quality performances from not only his stars – Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, and Claude Rains all shine here – but from those who are also simply there to help populate his films.

In other words, yes, Notorious really is a great film which deserves its place on the list, and one which I highly recommend not just watching, but seeking out if you haven’t seen it already.

And that’s an evaluation I have no problem making at all.

 

Top 250 Tuesday #035 – Psycho (1960)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #035 on the list, Alfred Hitchcocks Psycho. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.

psycho_xlgOnce again, with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, we hit one of those movies that everyone knows, or thinks they know, but that I wonder how many have actually sat down and watched the entire thing, or perhaps how recently? That, of course, is one of the problems with some films. They become so much a part of the popular conversation, so much a part of our shared cultural heritage, that even people who have never seen them can discuss them (or at least certain aspects of them) can have an opinion of them (or at least of their impression of them) or even think they have seen them (or “as much as they need to” of them) without having ever had the full experience of actually sitting down and watching the entire film, much less having actually had the chance of seeing in an actual theater with a crowd of people around them.

And yes, there are some films that I will take the position that if you haven’t actually seen the movie on the big screen, if your only experience with it is seeing it on home video or in some other situation, then you haven’t actually seen the real movie, because you haven’t been able to really see whole thing, to have the full experience of the movie the way it was intended to be shown. Lawrence of Arabia is one of those films. 2001: A Space Odyssey is another. I’m sure there are quite a few more, and I’m sure there are some films that you might put into that category that I am either unaware of or wouldn’t recognize as such because that has been my only experience with them.  I wouldn’t go so far as to include Psycho on that list, but I will say that if you haven’t actually sat down with the movie and watched it from the very beginning until the very last frame, then you really haven’t experienced the full impact of the movie.

psychoAs a matter of fact, in some cities, that was part of Mr. Hitchcock’s marketing for the film: that no one would be seated after the start of the movie, because if you came into it later then much of the impact of what was to come would be lost. Clever marketing, definitely, but in this case, I think, also very apt.

Of course, it’s also that very same cultural familiarity that can make Psycho in some ways very easy, but at the same time, very difficult to write about or discuss.. Because for those who haven’t see it all the way through, there are actually surprises to be found in the actual viewing. Even if you know “the big twist”, there are other scenes, other turns that the movie takes that one really doesn’t want to spoil. And one also has to remember that even though it is a movie that we are coming to at a fifty-plus year remove, there are those who actually don’t know the movie, who haven’t had it “spoiled” for them, and who can come to it perhaps with high expectations, but without any real foreknowledge of the wonderful mystery film that is about to unspool before them. This is actually the experience that I had relatively recently watching it with my youngest daughter who, though she had heard some about the movie really hadn’t paid that much attention to it and had was able to be surprised by the end of it.

photo-psychose-psycho-1960-2So yeah, in the end, this is one of those movies that I’m not going to go into a whole lot. I’m not going to attempt any kind of plot summary, or analyze any particular scene or aspect of the film. Not only because there are books and books and essays and essays that can and have been written about it, but because in the end what I really have to say about it is this. Psycho is one of those movies that, if you haven’t, or even if it’s just been “a very long time” since you have, you really owe it to yourself to sit down and watch. No matter how well you think you know it, it’s definitely worth the time it will take. I’m willing to guarantee it. And so was Mr. Hitchcock.

Here’s the original trailer for the movie which, in and of itself, is actually a masterful short film that not only focuses on some of the great set-pieces of the film but also showcases Hitchcock’s wonderfully dry sense of humor:

And here are a couple of extras: First, a fan-made trailer that shows what it might look like if the studio were releasing the film today

and secondly, an a capella version of the great theme song, as performed by Petra Hayden

So what are your thoughts on Pshycho? Is it a movie that you’ve seen or would like to? If you have seen it, is it one that would make your own Top 10 list? Or would it not even crack your Top 250? Also, I’m curious about what you think about my argument that some movies simply have to be seen on the big screen before one can even really judge them. And if you agree with it, what films you would put into that category. Let me know in the comments below.

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Top 250 Tuesday: #053 – Rear Window (1954)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #054 on the list, Alfred Hitchcocks Rear Window. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.

alfred_hitchcock_rear_window_movie_poster_2aIt’s a question anybody who writes or talks about movies a lot eventually has to face: What’s your favorite movie of all time? Of course, a lot of times, this question is followed by a lot of hemming and hawing and discussion about whether you’re talking about favorite movies or movies that we consider to be “the best”, discussion about mainstream films versus arthouse versus genre, talk about how one’s perspective of movies and favorites can change over time, discussion of “guilty pleasures”, etc. But really, all of those discussions are designed to do simply one thing: to avoid really giving a quick, definitive answer.

Lately, however, I’ve decided to forego all the delay, and simply throw out the answer “Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.”

Yeah, I’ll be the first to admit that there are certainly “better” movies. If you pushed me, I might even admit that there are better Hitchcock movies. But when it comes down to those intangibles that make a movie one’s “favorite” – things like rewatchability, enjoyability, all those factors that simply make you smile whenever you think about watching an old favorite and anticipate having an excuse to watch it again, well, for me, it all comes down to this film.

title_rear_window_blu-ray_First of all, there’s the setting, where Hitch manages to give us an entire world in one simple set-up. In a simple bit of economic storytelling, rather than giving us the kind of ’round the world chase that we see in, say North By Northwest, by confining the entirety of the film to what James Stewart‘s Jeff Jeffries can see from the window of his apartment, the master manages to give the film a sense of confinement, of near claustrophobia, while at the same time allowing for a variety of characters that keeps that single-set feeling from becoming overwhelming, as it does in something like Rope.

This also leads to the second point, which in a way echoes the first. By confining Jeffries to a wheelchair while he recovers from injuries he received prior to the film’s start, Hitchcock subverts the usual, expected role of Jeffries as the “hero” who is going to swoop in and save the day, or at least is going to be the one to do most of the “legwork” and eventually save Grace Kelly‘s damsel in distress, and turns those tropes on their ears. Instead it is Kelly and the largely under-praised Thelma Ritter who must assay those roles and go beyond the expected stereotypes.

rear_windowThis, of course, brings us to Kelly herself, who in my mind has never looked better on screen than she does here. Not only is she both strong and gorgeous, but then we get to that kiss and… well, let’s just say it never fails to make me a jealous man.

Then there is the central mystery of the film. Actually, as is often the case with Hitchcok’s movies, there are two mysteries, and the first is whether there even is a mystery to start with. This is an idea that Hitchcock plays with many times in his career, going back at least as far as 1938’s The Lady Vanishes. Because we as the audience almost always see the goings-on totally from Jeffries’ perspective, and he never actually witnesses the supposed crime, we are left, until the climax, to wonder just exactly what has happened, and whether the photographer’s obviously active imagination and bent for story telling has simply gotten the best of him and are leading both him, and the audience, on a wild goose chase.

Of course, I could bang on and on about all of the things that make this such a great film, I could talk about the voyeurism of the movie, the use of mostly diegetic sound rather than a full on score, I could pick apart the various aspects of Hitchcock’s camera work that show that at this point in his career he is a true master who has complete control over every aspect of the film and is totally at the top of his game here.

Sure, I could do all of that, but when it comes down to it, all that I really need to tell you about how I feel about this move is what I said at the top. Nowadays, whenever anybody asks me for my favorite film, the one that rally encapsulates the movie-going experience for me, I simply say “Rear Window”. And that’s all that I need to say.

So what are your thoughts on Rear Window? Is it a movie that you’ve seen or would like to? If you have seen it, is it one that would make your own Top 10 list? Or would it not even crack your Top 250? Let me know below.

31 Days of Halloween – 024: Alfred Hitchcock’s Music To Be Murdered By

October marches on, and so does our countdown to All Hallows Eve. This year, rather than trying to do a full 31 film reviews or something truly time-consuming like that, most of what I’m going to be posting are favorite trailers, short films, some full-length movies, and other items just to kind of help get everyone in the spirit of what really is one of my favorite holidays.

tumblr_mv2u68U1Y31rovfcg_1382457022_coverOnce again, the great Cinephilia and Beyond has come up with a terrific find: Alfred Hitchcock’s Music To Be Murdered By, a 1958 compilation LP hosted by rhe famed director. Why not head over there and give it a listen?