Reverse Hitchcock #5: Marnie, 1964 – ★★★

#5 in the Reverse Hitchcock project.

I have mixed feelings about ‘Marnie’. It isn’t a film I particularly like, and I find it exploitative and misogynistic when it comes to its female lead, Tippi Hedren, one of Hitch’s ice blondes.

From the opening scenes, which centre on a woman’s bottom wiggle from behind, through to scenes where the psychological block Marnie has about sex edge into areas where she is too hysterical, and male lead Connery is not convincing enough, and it leaves a bitter taste.

It’s almost as if Hitch is fetishizing Hedren and taking pleasure in humiliating her through the situations in which her character is placed at the same time. As Mark, her boss and then husband (not entirely by choice), Sean Connery shows a certain amount of style and charm, but he is unsympathetic, and some of the lines he is given, referring to physical violence in particular, don’t sit well in what should be a taut psychological thriller.

Diane Baker (who I remember seeing before as one of the three office girls in ‘The Best of Everything’) is good as the ice-cold scheming sister-in-law of Connery who seems to have her own ‘pathological fix’ on him.

Marnie has this fear of being ‘handled’ and has ‘no lovers, no steadies, no gentleman callers’ , but is Mark the right one for her, or can he actually push her over the edge?

What else? There’s a secret in Marnie’s past which makes her flip at the colour red, there are horses which matter to past and present, and the feeling of flight and fright, there are some interesting script lines (the flower made of tiny insects, the well-known friendless orphan child, the degradation and animal sense of marriage).

There’s that last five or so minutes, of course, with the flashback, but it doesn’t stop the unease at what has gone before.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews

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Reverse Hitchcock #4, Torn Curtain, 1966 – ★★★

Torn Curtain has had something of a bad press over the years – rumours of a tense production shoot because Hitch wanted Cary Grant and Tippi Hedren in the leads rather than Newman and Andrews, accusations of a lack of chemistry between the stars – but it is a fairly tense political thriller with some characteristic Hitchcock touches, notably the lengthy death scene in real time and without musical flourishes, and a sequence in a theatre which harks back to The 39 Steps or The Man Who Knew Too Much.

To my eyes, Newman (as the scientist turned supposed defector to East Germany) and Andrews (as his fiancée) are excellent together and it is clear they did get on during the filming, their scenes together having the right balance of sexy banter in the early bedtime close-ups and mounting unease as the double-dealing plot develops. It’s an unusual film for both, giving Newman a chance to shine in a role which doesn’t just require his usual Method charm, and Andrews to do something a little different to Mary Poppins or the Sound of Music.

There is also an excellent John Addison score which doesn’t overwhelm the action or undermine the plot as it unfolds. This is a better film than Topaz which suffered from poor casting and a lumbering plot which goes nowhere. Torn Curtain has an element of real suspense and danger which keeps us watching.

Reverse Hitchcock #3, Topaz, 1969 – ★★★

On this second viewing, Topaz has lost a star because I didn’t find it engaging enough once I knew the story, the ending, and the handful of good sequences within this laboured story of defection and subterfuge in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis.

The biggest problem is Frederick Stafford, who is surely no one’s idea of a leading man. He’s just awful, stiff as a board and a bore to look at and listen to. John ‘Blake Carrington’ Forsythe does slightly better but the acting is largely TV standard (including that of John Vernon, usually better than he is here, and Dany Robin, in a role that is largely thankless).

Hitch was experimenting with a colour palette of reds and yellows here to show plot points, but it doesn’t work, and after a strong start (the whole sequence with the Russian defector’s daughter is tense and sets expectations for a film that never happens) the story tails off with just a gem here and there of the director’s genius or enjoyable performances from his actors (Roscoe Lee Browne as Dubois is good in his brief appearance).

I missed the humour which is there in other Hitchcock classics. I didn’t like the way the music was used. And the last few minutes seemed ridiculous and a waste of time. It’s a watchable film, but distinctly average, and as an example of a Hitchcock movie, it is a shocker for all the wrong reasons!

The Reverse Hitchcock Project

In the spirit of list-making and viewing challenges over at Letterboxd, I have tasked myself with watching all of the surviving films directed by Alfred Hitchcock, but instead of doing it the conventional route, starting with his silent features, his early British talkies, and finishing with the big Hollywood titles, I’m doing it in reverse, starting with ‘Family Plot’ and finishing with ‘The Pleasure Garden’.

That’s fifty-seven films to get through, and should you want to follow my progress, here’s the link to the Letterboxd list. I’m rating and reviewing them as I go along.

Those titles are also listed here, for reference.  As of today, the 29th January, I have watched the first two.

1 Family Plot
2 Frenzy
3 Topaz
4 Torn Curtain
5 Marnie
6 The Birds
7 Psycho
8 North by Northwest
9 Vertigo
10 The Wrong Man
11 The Man Who Knew Too Much
12 The Trouble With Harry
13 To Catch a Thief
14 Rear Window
15 Dial M for Murder
16 I Confess
17 Strangers on a Train
18 Stage Fright
19 Under Capricorn
20 Rope
21 The Paradine Case
22 Notorious
23 Spellbound
24 Bon Voyage
25 Aventure Malgache
26 Lifeboat
27 Shadow of a Doubt
28 Saboteur
29 Suspicion
30 Mr & Mrs Smith
31 Foreign Correspondent
32 Rebecca
33 Jamaica Inn
34 The Lady Vanishes
35 Young and Innocent
36 Sabotage
37 Secret Agent
38 The 39 Steps
39 The Man Who Knew Too Much
40 Waltzes from Vienna
41 Number Seventeen
42 Rich and Strange
43 Mary (German version of Murder!)
44 The Skin Game
45 Elstree Calling
46 Murder!
47 Juno and the Paycock
48 Blackmail (sound version)
49 Blackmail (silent version)
50 The Manxman
51 Champagne
52 Easy Virtue
53 The Farmer’s Wife
54 Downhill
55 The Ring
56 The Lodger
57 The Pleasure Garden

Reverse Hitchcock #2, Frenzy, 1972 – ★★★★

This is a film which gets better with every viewing. The bombastic opening with Ron Goodwin’s music and a sweeping camera shot through the open Tower Bridge to a discussion on the banks of the Thames about pure water comes to a sudden end when the nude body of a strangled woman washes into view.

We meet Dick Blaney (the sadly missed Jon Finch, whose screen career probably reached its peak with this and his Macbeth, for Polanski, the previous year) a former RAF pilot down on his luck, and Babs, his barmaid girlfriend (Anna Massey). Blaney loses his job through boozing and bumps into an old friend, Robert Rusk, who runs a pitch in the Covent Garden food and vegetable market (Barry Foster, who takes a step away from solving crimes as Van der Valk as the bad guy here).

What makes Frenzy one of the better Hitchcock films is the mix of pure horror (the rape and murder of Blaney’s wife, early on, still causes chills), comedy (Alec McCowen’s delightful detective and his wife (Vivien Merchant) and their food scenes; the couple in the hotel discussing ‘The Cupid Room’), and the sheer detail – London’s unusual streets are photographed with affection in this first film by the Master in England for twenty years; and that track back from Massey’s room is pure genius.

Anyway, the performances are top-notch: Foster is superb, and he got lucky with Michael Caine passing up the part; Finch is also exceptionally good as the innocent who seems guilty through circumstantial evidence. Much has been made of the fact that Foster seems the more sympathetic character, even when we have seen his dark side in gruesome detail, but I’m not convinced that was the intention. He’s something of a Jekyll and Hyde, a dangerous character, but not likeable. It’s the black comedy of some of the situations he is in (such as the potato wagon) which may make him seem likeable, but he is a truly repellent individual.

There’s also a young and stunning Billie Whitelaw in the cast. She was an excellent actress and she is icily brilliant here.

Reverse Hitchcock #1: Family Plot, 1976 – ★★★½

Full of winks and nods, this comedy chase caper with an Ernest Lehman screenplay about two criminal couples is great fun to watch. Great work from the central quartet, especially ‘Madame Blanche’ (Barbara Harris) and oily William Devane (why his career went downhill into TV movies and soap operas so quickly is a mystery).

The late Karen Black gives a wide-eyed classy performance; she seems to be a stand-out in every film she was in. Bruce Dern completes the main cast and he’s very competent as the resting actor who vaguely interests himself in petty crime.

There’s a John Williams score which perfectly fits every scene in this black comic mixture, while the spoof car chase is well done, the obligatory director cameo is a fitting farewell, and the whole thing is sumptuously shot, lit and framed. This was Hitchcock’s last film, and one of the best of his later years, enjoyable, witty, and very good indeed.