Tag Archives: alfred hitchcock

Classic Movie Review – North by Northwest (1959)

Intrigue! Espionage! A killer crop duster! BQB here with a review of this classic Hitchcock film.

I’ll admit I’m no expert when it comes to classic cinema. However, from what I have seen, I have to assume that this film must have been a stunner when it came out. It seems way ahead of its time and likely inspired a whole generation of baby boomer action film directors. Without it, you would have never had flicks like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, etc.

The plot? A case of mistaken identity leads to the cross-country trip from hell for Madison Avenue publicist (Mad Man) Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant.) When poor Roger, twice divorced from wives who found his lifestyle rather dull, raises hand to flag down a bellhop while lunching at a ritzy hotel with work associates, henchmen in the employ of dastardly Cold War info broker Phillip Vandamme (James Mason) mistakenly believe Roger answered to a page for the elusive “Mr. Kaplan,” a CIA spy they believe is hot on Vandamme’s trail, ready to undo his villainy at any moment.

From there on, it’s a whirlwind ride that takes Roger to Long Island, the United Nations and aboard a train bound for Chicago, all culminating in an epic battle on the face of Mount Rushmore with Thornhill fighting evildoers atop the stoney faces of the ex-presidents themselves.

Along the way, he befriends Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint, who I believe may very well be the last star of this film to still be alive), a fellow traveler with some intrigue of her own.

All the while, goons lead by head goon Leonard (Martin Landau in one of his creepier roles) are always in hot pursuit.

For a 1950s film, there are scenes that are broad, epic and sweeping. Well-choreographed extras moving to and fro in the background make you really believe you are in Manhattan, or a train station, or at the UN and so on. The fight scene on Mount Rushmore must have made a few 1950s film techs think that Hitchock was out of his mind.

Don’t even get me started on the iconic crop-duster scene. Look away if you don’t want a SPOILER, but in one scene, Roger is lured to an open field, wide swathes of farmland everywhere. As he waits for promised help that never arrives, a seemingly harmless biplane sprays crops off in the distance. Slowly it gets closer and closer until it opens fire on our heroic adman, making several passes until it crashes into a conveniently located fuel truck in a magnificent fiery explosion. Was this one of the first of its kind on film? Better film historians than I can tell you but it has to rank high on the list of early spectacular film wrecks.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy. Psycho and The Birds are often thought of as Hitchcock’s most memorable works, but an argument might be made that this is his best picture. There are some bits that don’t quite stand the test of time, namely that a 26-year-old hottie swoons for a 50-something man though I suppose we have to remember that in that time, young women were taught that marrying a rich old dude was the path to success. To my surprise, there is a lot of out and open sexual talk in this film, which likely scandalized moviegoers of the day. I suppose later films that actually showed sex wouldn’t have happened without films like this talking about it.

SIDENOTE: Yes, I suppose there is plenty of room for debate as to whether films laden with sex and violence are a good thing. This one is tame by modern standards, though films like it arguably began to wedge the door open. Whether or not Hitchcock would approve of modern flicks is anyone’s guess.

DOUBLE SIDENOTE: There is a classic goof in the Mount Rushmore visitor center scene. A little kid at a table, apparently aware that a blank gunshot fired by Saint’s character, was about to go off, plugs his ears way ahead of time. Apparently, no one who cutting the final film noticed or cared or they didn’t want to go to the trouble of reshooting the scene.

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BQB’s Classic Movie Reviews – The Birds (1963)

Watch out for those birds, 3.5 readers

You’ve probably seen bits and pieces of this movie over the years, but in case you haven’t, spoiler alert.  I’m working my way through Peacock’s Hitchcock collection (say that five times fast) and you should too, so if you don’t want the chills and thrills ruined, look away, go watch, then come back.)

On the surface, this movie sounds like crap. Somehow, it isn’t. Frankly, as I watch it, I see how it builds practically every horror movie trope that modern horror takes for granted today. Hitchcock is to the American horror film what Poe was to the American horror story (as in scary lit, not the TV series.)

A young, wayward and wealthy socialite party girl, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hendren) meets a handsome and successful lawyer, Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) by chance in a pet shop in San Francisco.  Hoping a romance might blossom, Melanie arranges for the pet shop to obtain and sell her the “love birds” that Mitch was looking for but unable to find as a present for his young sister. Melanie then drives up the coast to the small, seaside town of Bodega Bay to deliver the feathered friends.

Once in Bodega Bay, a romance indeed blooms between Melanie and Mitch, but alas, this gets fucked up when birds start freaking the hell out, first singling out Melanie as their victim, then turning their beaks on the populace.

The effects, by today’s standards, are silly, though I imagine in 1963, they were some truly scary shit.  I actually found the scenes without effects to be scarier. There’s one scene in particular where Melanie goes to Mitch’s sister, Cathy’s school to check on the girl. As Melanie sits on a bench and has a smoke, waiting for class to let out, she slowly realizes that the birds are slowly but surely landing on and hanging out on the playground – perching on the monkey bars, the swing set.  These birds aren’t just resting their feet, they’re casing the joint, ready to strike.

In another scene, the birds manage to cause a gas pump to leak across the street, when an unsuspecting man is lighting a smoke and kaboom!  The street erupts in a line of fire, cutting off the townsfolk from fleeing their vile beaks.  Yup. The birds are intelligent. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

If you came for explanations, there are none to be found here. At times, there are possible hints. It all starts when Melanie arrives, but if its because of her or a coincidence, we never know for sure, and if it is because of her, we never learn why the birds hate her so much.

I briefly flirted with the idea that somehow, Mitch’s mother, Lydia (played by a middle-aged Jessica Tandy, the youngest I’ve ever seen her) controls the birds with her mind. She is one of those smothering mothers who detests the idea of their son getting married and spending his time with anyone else (combine this with Psycho and I wonder if Hitchcock had mother issues) but its not that either.

We never know why the birds go postal, though I imagine if there is ever a modern remake, it will be due to climate change.  The birds will peck the shit out of humans because they are tire of the sky they fly in being polluted.  Who can blame them, really?

What you will see in this movie is, to the best of my knowledge, a lot of firsts. A better movie buff might disagree, but to the best of my knowledge, this is the film that has the first scene where the heroes have boarded up their house and the baddies are trying to break in (you wouldn’t have all those movies with zombie fists punching through boarded up windows if Hitchcock didn’t have all those beaks pecking through the walls first), the first movie where a character walks upstairs despite common sense telling you that in a house siege, you want to be as close to an exit as possible (sigh, some dude in a 1963 movie theater was probably the first audience member to yell, ‘No! Don’t go up there, bitch!”) and overall, its the first horror film, or at least the first I can recall, where something bad is happening, the explanation is outlandish, the heroes try to warn but are laughed off as idiots until sure enough, the rest of the masses have come to find out that outlandish explanation is true.

Hitchcock took a lot of risks here. Killer birds is a stupid idea today, so it must have been considered absurdly stupid in 1960s.  But he took the chance and it paid off. Ironically, this isn’t just one of the earliest and best standard setting horror movies, it is also, IMO the forerunner of movies like Sharknado – i.e. if you run with a ridiculous premise long enough the audience will eventually suspend disbelief long enough to see where you’re going with it.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.  And if you want to be cheered up, you’ll be happy to know that Tippi Hedren is still alive! Yes, as I watched, I was sad, thinking, boy, everyone in this movie has probably croaked but sure enough, Tippi, at 90, lives.  The birds remain no match for her.

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BQB’s Classic Movie Reviews – Rope (1948)

Well, I think I’ve found a new obsession with NBC’s Peacock, mostly because it has a large selection Universal movies, including a Hitchcock collection I’ve never gotten around to seeing before.

My best description of Rope is that it is a 1948 version of American Psycho. Either that or American Psycho is a 2000 version of Rope, though Rope came first.

John Dall and Farley Granger star as Brandon and Phillip, two Harvard grads who begin the film by strangling their friend David as part of a macabre social experiment, based on the Nietzschean lectures of their old professor and mentor Rupert Cadell (Jimmy Stewart.)

In said lectures, Caldwell opined that based on Nietzsche’s philosophy of the uber mensche or superman, it is possible for certain people to become so mentally, morally and culturally superior that they should be allowed to murder those whom they view as inferior.

As part of the experiment, the creepy young lads through a dinner party shortly after the murder, all part of a plan to savor their crime by hiding the body in plain sight.  The trunk holding the body is made up as a buffet table, and guests are allowed to stop by it and serve themselves, unaware of the corpse that lies within.

Brandon, who has one of the smarmiest, most punchable faces I’ve ever seen and Dall was truly born to play this part, is a sociopath, stuck up and pleased by what he has done, convinced that he is superior and killing David was like killing an insect.

Phillip is instantly regretful and breaks down immediately, the weak link who can’t hold is water, his remorseful behavior leading other guests to think something might be awry.

Overall, the chest is the focal point of the film. Hitchcock uses “long cuts” so that the film looks like it is one long party, continuously in motion. As we focus on one conversation, we hear people in the other rooms and as guests meander back and forth, we are left in suspense that at some point, someone might open the trunk and make the gruesome discovery.  Hitchcocks edits those cuts to make it look as though the film was done in one take.

To add insult to injury, Brandon invites his victim parents, who grow increasingly more concerned that their son hasn’t arrived at the party, as well as the deceased’s girlfriend as well as that girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend. Brandon relishes dropping hints that these two might consider getting back together, for David is indisposed.

Another wrinkle is that as the party wears on, Caldwell brings up his old lectures as part of the conversation and in doing so, reveals that his talk of killing the inferior was only theoretical, and even a bad attempt at humor. As Caldwell goes on a morose comedy routine about shooting people so he can get a better seat at a show, Brandon and Phillip realize they are dopes.

The film is based on a play which was based on the Leopold-Loeb murder in which two wealthy college students murdered a 14 year old boy as part of a disturbing social experiment to test their ubermenschian superiority.

As the film points out, Nietzsche’s theory is flawed, as no one should be able to decide that another’s life is not worth living, and that the greatest practitioner of this evil philosophy was Hitler, and look how awful that worked out.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy. It predicts the Purge movies too, as Caldwell jokes that murder should be allowed once a year so people can vent their frustrations.

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BQB’s Classic Movie Reviews – Rear Window (1954)

What’s going on in your rear window, 3.5 readers?

BQB here with another classic movie review.

My cable company gave me a free pass to NBC’s new streaming service, Peacock. I’ll write another post at some point about whether Peacock is worth your while, but as I was browsing its offerings, I found, in addition to all the NBC shows you’d expect, a great selection of movies, including some old timey classics.

Right away, I zoomed in on Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense thriller, Rear Window, a movie that most people my age have not seen, though you need to if you want to maintain your movie buff cred.

It stars Jimmy Stewart as L.B. Jeffries, a globe trotting magazine photographer who is used to a fast paced lifestyle, running from one international hot spot to the next to click his pics.

Alas, for the past 7 weeks, he has been subjected to a terrible punishment – he has had to stay inside because some scientist in China accidentally tripped and knocked over a vile full of coronavirus.

Just kidding. He broke his leg while on one of his assignments, and a cast has left him confined to a wheelchair. He passes the time people watching out the rear window of his apartment, snooping on his neighbors through the long lens of his camera.

Many of the neighbors are entertaining, from the songwriter who plays great music, to the hot ballerina who wakes up every morning to practice her routine in her undies, a sight which Jeffries doesn’t mind doing a little extra snooping on.

Sure, his newfound hobby is odd, but seems relatively harmless until Jeffries notices that one neighbor, Lars Thornwald (Raymond Burr) is doing suspicious things…or is he?

Jeffries makes a number of observations – that Thornwald’s ill, bedridden wife is suddenly no longer in the apartment anymore.  Why isn’t she there? The poor woman was confined to bed and now she’s no longer there? Dude, WTF?

And why is Thornwald rapping up a saw and a knife in newspaper? What is in that trunk that he is tied up with rope and moved out of the apartment? Why does he get pissed whenever a little dog sniffs around his garden?

Perhaps there are reasonable explanations for all of these happenings. Many people own saws and knives and never killed anyone. Maybe the trunk is full of junk. And who doesn’t want a dog to stay away from the garden they planted?

The viewer is left in suspense, as Hitchcock yanks are chains, moving us back and forth from believing that Jeffries is just a busybody who needs to get away from the window and leave poor Mr. Thornwald alone, to believing that Thornwald is a vile killer who must be locked up immediately. Back and forth, back and forth, it seems like both possibilities are plausible, and there may even be other explanations to boot.

Even worse, there might be strange doings in the other apartments that Jeffries is ignoring while he has zeroed in on Thornwald!

Rounding out the cast are the uber hot Grace Kelly as Jeffries’ girlfriend Lisa, Thelma Ritter as Jeffries’ visiting nurse, Stella, and Wendell Corey as Jeffries’ old war buddy turned current NYPD detective Thomas Doyle.

At first, Lisa and Stella believe that Jeffries has become a crackpot, losing his mind over a bad case of cabin fever. They urge him to stop being a snoop until they start borrowing his binoculars and agree that something is going on in the Thornwald apartment that doesn’t quite add up. Meanwhile, Doyle, who agrees to look into the matter, thinks the trio have lost their minds.

Overall, I think that aspiring writers will benefit from this movie, as Hitchcock is a master of showing not telling and for its day, this large set made up to look like a bunch of apartments with carefully choreographed scenes in which one person is doing one thing in the apartment above while another is doing something in the apartment below was likely ahead of its time.

There’s sideplot in which Jeffries and Lisa are trying to iron out some bumps in their relationship. Stewart is 46 in this picture but by today’s standards, looks older because his hair is gray in this film whereas if it were remade today, there would definitely be some hair stylist rubbing some hair dye into those locks. Back in those days, people just gave less craps about gray hair or signs of age because hey, that’s just what happens. Today we try to control it and manage it.  Overall, it just surprised me that there was a time when Hollywood allowed a leading man to have gray hair.

Also much to my surprise, Grace Kelly was 25 in this movie, half Jeffries’ age. My assumption is that back in those days, men were attracted to beauty while women were attracted to the security a man can provide, i.e. through his money, and while beauty belongs to the young, wealth usually comes to the old for they have been in the struggle longer.

I don’t think that formula has changed much over the years, except that women have jobs and their own money now, so young women don’t have to marry themselves off to old farts just to keep a roof over their heads anymore.  Women have the money where they can worry about their man’s looks, though if there’s a rare old fart with well preserved looks AND money…

Anyway. This formula is thrown out the window in this movie because Jeffries is poor, having achieved notoriety for his photography, but not much money for it. Lisa is rich, having come from a wealthy family and having started her own profitable business as a fashion designer. She dotes on Jeffries, visiting him daily, bringing him expensive presents, having expensive meals delivered by the best restaurants to his door.

On the surface, this sounds awesome, but Jeffries hates it. It makes him feel like less of a man that he has worked so hard for so long and yet his younger babe is the breadwinner, and he’ll never be able to return the favor by buying expensive stuff for her.

Even worse, Lisa wants to civilize him, wanting to marry him and take him off the road, finding him work in NYC as a fashion photographer, but Jeffries loves traveling and feels his life spent taking photos in war zones is a higher calling, albeit not a profitable one.

SIDENOTE: If any absurdly hot and ridiculously rich 25 year old women want to pressure me into marriage and buy me a lot of expensive presents and bring me fancy dinners, feel free and…oh, alright. Don’t everybody volunteer at once.

Ritter, Jeffries’ nurse Stella, really steals the show with a speech about marriage. She opines that in her day, people didn’t put their relationships through a microscope. Men and women met and if they liked each other, they got married, and that was it. Today (well in 1954), Stella says that men and women meet and analyze each other to death, picking apart every little detail until they call it quits, missing out on good times together, sitting around being lonely waiting for the perfection that never comes.

Honestly, 66 years later, Stella’s advice rings true, maybe more so than ever. I can tell you I talked my dumb self out of some potentially great relationships when I was young. Ah, if only I had broken my leg and had Stella as my nurse back then.

IRONY SIDENOTE: Stewart and Ritter are roughly the same age and it probably would have been more appropriate for him to have been dating someone Stella’s age (not Stella, for she’s married.)

TRIGGER WARNING SIDENOTE: I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately, and it is always jarring when you see something from the 80s, 90s and even early 2000s where you quickly realize this would not fly today.

I would say for a movie made in 1954, it comes really close to being a movie that, PC wise, still holds up. There are a few transgressions.  Jeffries tells Lisa to “shut up” a few times, which surprised me though you might write that off to his curmudgeonly character. Jeffries is pretty open that his world weariness has turned him into a crusty old prick, and even Lisa occasionally opines she doesn’t know why she’s wasting her time on a miserable old sack of crap.

There is one brief scene where Jeffries calls Doyle only to find he and Mrs. Doyle have gone out for the night, leaving the kids with an African American babysitter. The stereotypical accent sounds a lot like a white woman doing a racist impression of a black woman so…I slapped my forehead at this. Ugh…it doesn’t pass the PC test, but it comes closer than even a lot of 80s and 90s flicks.

STATUS: Shelfworthy. Waaah, I’m Jeffries. I’m a crusty old bastard and my super hot 25 year old girlfriend who went on to become the Princess of Monaco wants to buy me a lot of crap and get me a job that pays me a lot where I don’t have to fly into war zones and she wants to bang me a lot….waaaaah.


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