Alfred Hitchcock

The Trouble with Harry (1955)

Usually, when a dead body turns up in the woods, people aren’t lining up to admit being responsible for that person’s demise.   But when Harry Worp is found dead in the woods, three people believe they are each responsible for killing him.  First there’s Harry’s wife, Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine).  She thinks she killed him by hitting him over the head with a bottle.  Then there’s Captain Albert Wiles (Edmund Gwenn), who believes he accidentally shot Harry while hunting rabbits.  And last, but certainly not least, there’s Ivy Gravely (Mildred Natwick), who hit Harry on the head with the heel of her hiking boot when he tried to assault her.  But either way, none of them are exactly sad to see Harry go.

When local artist Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe) comes along to sketch the scenery, he stumbles upon Harry’s body and also finds Albert nearby.  Albert explains what happened and Sam agrees to help him bury Harry.  Before Sam knows it, he’s helped bury and exhume Harry multiple times and is wrapped up in trying to figure out exactly how Harry died.

The Trouble with Harry manages to be both an unusual Alfred Hitchcock film and still distinctly his style.  If you go into The Trouble with Harry assuming that, because it’s Hitchcock, it will be a thriller like Vertigo or North by Northwest, you will be sorely disappointed.  Instead, it’s actually a dark comedy.  I wouldn’t call it one of Hitchcock’s best films, but I am fond of it since I have a somewhat dark sense of humor so I thought it was hilarious.  The humor is very much Hitchcock’s style; much more so than Mr. and Mrs. Smith was.  The cinematography is stunning; there are so many shots worthy of being on a postcard.  And I love the stark contrast between the picturesque scenery and the morbid comedy. The Trouble with Harry is also noteworthy for being the film debuts of Shirley MacLaine and Jerry Mathers.  It was also the first Hitchcock film to be scored by composer Bernard Hermann.

This was one of Hitchcock’s personal favorites of the movies he made and I can see why. However, I can also easily see why it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  Dark comedy is one of those things that you either like or you don’t and I’ll admit the movie gets off to a little bit of a slow start.  The Trouble with Harry wasn’t a big box office success when it was first released, but I have a feeling it might have found more of an audience if it had been made in the 70’s or 80’s instead.

This year’s For the Love of Film blogathon is raising money to make the three recently rediscovered reels of 1923’s The White Shadow available to stream on the National Film Preservation Foundation’s website for three months. Hitchcock served as an assistant director for The White Shadow, one of his first major jobs. If you would like to donate, simply click the button!  For more from the For the Love of Film Blogathon, you can find other contributions at Ferdy on Films, The Self-Styled Siren, and This Island Rod.

What’s on TCM: June 2011

How is it already June?  But anyway, it’s shaping up to be a fun month on TCM.  Every Thursday this month, TCM will be showing a night full of classic drive-in movies.  So if you’re like me and love cheesy monster movies, you’re going to love this month.  There’s also the return of Essentials, Jr. on Sunday nights at 8:00 PM, hosted this year by Bill Hader.  The Star of the Month is the lovely Jean Simmons, who I’ve always found to be a bit on the under-appreciated side.  With no further ado, let’s go on to my TCM picks for the month…

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My Top 100, 20-11

Another week, another ten movies!  This week, I’ve got lots of musicals, some silents that have only gotten better with age, and movies with some of my favorite snappy lines.  Now, onto the movies!

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My Top 100, 30-21

Wow, I can’t believe we’re already up to number 30! This week is another week where if you don’t know anything at all about my style and only saw these ten movies, you’d get a pretty good idea of what my taste is.  So, let’s get on with the list!

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Blackmail (1929)

In Blackmail, John Longden plays Frank Webber, a detective for Scotland Yard.  One day, after work, he meets his girlfriend Alice (Anny Ondra) for dinner.  Only Alice has secretly arranged to meet another man, so she starts a fight with Frank to get him to leave.  She succeeds, but as he leaves, he turns and sees Alice with the other man.  The other man is an artist, and he and Alice go back to his apartment where they start out having some harmless fun.  But then the artist convinces Alice to try on a costume his models wear, and while she’s getting changed, he attacks her.  Alice reaches for the nearest weapon she can find, a knife, and stabs him to death.  Of course, Alice does her best to hide the fact that she was even there, but she accidentally leaves behind one clue: her glove.  When Frank is called to the crime scene the next day, he finds the glove and knows it’s Alice’s.  He goes to bring it to her, but the two of them are confronted by Tracy, a local thief, who says he saw Alice at the artist’s apartment the night before.  Tracy tries to blackmail Alice and Fred, but when the artist’s landlady tells police she saw Tracy in the area at the time of the murder, Tracy takes police on a chase through the British Museum.  Alice can’t bear the thought of an innocent man being accused, so she goes to turn herself in.

When you’re talking about someone like Alfred Hitchcock, whose career had so many highlights, sometimes it’s hard to mention all of his finest moments.  But after seeing Blackmail with the Alloy Orchestra last month, I walked out of the theater astonished by how little attention it gets compared to some of his other movies.  I have nothing at all against his stuff like Psycho or Rear Window, but I don’t think those are his most visually interesting movies.  My favorite shot in Blackmail is one where Alice and the artist are walking up the stairs and the camera moves up with them, as if the camera is actually moving through the floors of the building.  The diagonal lines of the stairs, the movement of the people, and the movement of the camera all added up to one spectacular shot.  To me, that shot was way cooler than any shot in Rear Window.  Hitchcock had an amazing eye for shots, and if you only really know him for Rear Window, you’re really short-changing yourself in the whole Hitchcock experience.

My favorite thing about Blackmail is how it’s like a little preview of things to come in later Hitchcock movies.  There were quite a few scenes that really reminded me of some classic scenes from his later movies.  It’s like this was Hitchcock saying, “Wait a minute, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” because he went on to take those elements and bring them to a new level.  First, there was the scene where Alice is reaching for the knife (skip to the 6:40 minute mark). That scene definitely made me think of Grace Kelly reaching for the scissors in Dial ‘M’ for Murder. This was also the first Hitchcock movie to feature a chase through a national monument. This time it was through the British Museum, but in 1941’s Saboteur, it was in the Statue of Liberty.  And, of course, he really outdid himself with the chase on Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest. This was also an early instance of Hitchcock dealing with the issue of someone being wrongfully accused.  Even though it plays a relatively minor part of Blackmail, it’s a theme he was very famously fond of, as can be seen in North by Northwest, I Confess, and The Wrong Man.

Blackmail was both Alfred Hitchcock’s first talkie and last silent film.  It was originally meant to be a silent, but during production, sound equipment became available.  Rather than just film the last reel with sound, as was initially planned, Hitchcock went ahead and made a complete talkie version as well as the silent version.  Both versions are fantastic, but I personally preferred the silent version.  I thought the nature of the story and the general atmosphere of the movie made were better suited to a silent film.  Although I thought the part in the talkie version where, after the murder, Alice can only hear, “Knife…knife…knife,” was brilliant.  It’s pretty easy to find a copy of the talkie version of Blackmail, but the silent version is a bit harder to find.  If you ever have the chance to see the silent version, it’s very much worth checking out.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

My Top 100, 50-41

Another week, another ten movies!  Up this week: Jacques Tati, Marion Davies, and The Ramones.  No, really.  You’re not going to see that combination on any AFI lists!  We’re already up to the halfway point…

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My Top 100, 60-51

Welcome to the next installment of my top hundred movies!  This week is another rather diverse bunch of movies.  Silents, modern stuff, foreign, musicals, suspense, it’s just all over the board.  So let’s get to number 60…

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What’s on TCM: October 2010

Happy Halloween!  Before we get to the TCM schedule for October, it’s time for a little site news.  To celebrate Halloween, I’ll be reviewing a different horror film every Wednesday this month.  I promise it will be a mix between some typical Halloween favorites and some more unusual choices, so be sure to check that out.

Now, back to the TCM schedule.  Since it’s October, I’m sure it’s not at all surprising that there will be tons of horror movies this month.  Every Friday night is a night of horror classics from Hammer Film Productions.  Fredric March is the star of the month, which I’m pretty geeked up for.  Every Monday and Wednesday night is Critic’s Choice night, where two notable film critics pick two of their favorite movies to play.  Some of the critics include Leonard Maltin, Roger Ebert and Mick LaSalle and they’ve made some pretty great choices.

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Screenings of 2001 and Blackmail

This weekend was another good weekend to be a classic movie fan in the Detroit area.  Friday night, I went to a midnight screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Now that’s a movie you definitely need to see in a theater to get the full effect.  This certainly wasn’t the first time I’d seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, but this made me appreciate it in a way I never had before.  First of all, it’s just cool to see all those effects on the big screen.  Let me tell you, watching the Stargate scene in a theater is probably the trippiest thing I have ever seen.  Plus seeing the movie on such a large screen brought out a lot of little details I had never noticed before.  Not that any of these details made a huge impact on the movie as a whole, but they are a testament to Stanley Kubrick’s relentless attention to detail.  And then there’s the audio.  With 2001, the sound and music is every bit as important as the picture.  I really don’t mess around with home audio systems (yes, I know, bad cinephile), so I loved being able to hear it the way it was meant to be heard.  Overall, it was an amazing experience.  Not that you can’t enjoy 2001: A Space Odyssey at home, but I think you get the most out of it if you really immerse yourself in it in a theater.

As much as I enjoyed seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey, things got even better when I went to the Detroit Film Theater on Sunday to see the silent version Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail with The Alloy Orchestra.  First of all, Blackmail was a Hitchcock movie I’d actually never seen before.  And I’ve seen The Alloy Orchestra perform at the DFT twice before with Nosferatu and The Phantom of the Opera, and they were amazing both times, so I was very excited to see them again.  I loved every minute of the Blackmail screening!  The Alloy Orchestra was, once again, fantastic and I absolutely loved the movie.  Their score created a great atmosphere for the movie.  I thought the movie was shot beautifully, there were so many shots I absolutely adored.  And it was interesting to see an early Hitchcock film that sometimes hinted at things that would come in his later movies.  The scene where Alice reaches for the knife reminded me of Grace Kelly reaching for the scissors in Dial ‘M’ for Murder. In one scene, there’s a shot of some stairs that left me half expecting the camera to do the infamous zoom effect from Vertigo. And this is the first Hitchcock movie that involved a chase through a national monument.  I simply couldn’t have asked for a more fabulous time.  If you ever have a chance to see The Alloy Orchestra perform live, I highly recommend going to see them.