Hitchcock: An Homage

Grace Kelly, Alfred Hitchcock

I am really an aficionado of the work of Alfred Hitchcock.  By all accounts he was a quirky, often mean, task master but a genius at storytelling  I am as much fascinated by his ego and his personal aesthetic as by his cinematic technique.

I adore his fascination with blonde leading ladies  (I don’t know what this says about me).

Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint

His leading men are most often older, strong and handsome but not in the style of today’s Hollywood pretty boys (Cary Grant excepted).

He makes his locales and landscapes an integral part of his storyline.  In fact, these geo-characters are very often antagonists or serve to foreshadow a film’s resolution.

I admire his collaboration with prolific film composer Bernard Herrmann who has scored the music for nine Hitchcock films.

His works have an elegance to them.  Even his bad guys (or girls) are usually sophisticated, well dressed and prone to impeccable manners (unless they happen to be birds).

Hedren and Connery in Marnie

He loves to play mindgames and his heroines are almost always flawed.  He is both a lover of women and a misogynist; a great observer of human behavior and a narcissist.  He is an auteur with both a spanning vision and attention to nuance.

Three of my Favorite Hitchcock Films:

North by Northwest –I love the sexy interplay of Cary Grant (Roger O. Thornhill) and Eva Marie Sainte (Eve Kendall).  Mt. Rushmore is displayed as an amazing and frightening player much in the way the Statue of Liberty is used in Hitchcock’s Sabotuer (1942).   Actor, James Mason is a delicious spy with a villainous, flat-toned voice dripping with British accent (although we suspect he is a German spy).  His henchman, portrayed by Martin Landau embodies simmering danger.  Grant’s mother is played with campy fun by actress Jessie Royce Landis.  Finally, there are highly memorable scenes: the crop duster on a desolate road,  Cary and Eva clinging to the nostrils of Abe Lincoln on Mt. Rushmore; Grant in the auction house and careening drunkenly along mountain roads.   There is great atmosphere and acting in 1959’s North by Northwest.

Rear Window–In this 1954 Hichtcock film beautiful, floating, blonde fashion publisher, Lisa Fremont (played by Grace Kelly) pursues rugged, unglamorous photojournalist, Jeff Jeffries (James Stewart).    In Hitchock’s prototypical cat and mouse banter, we immediately begin to understand the tensions of this romance.  There is also biting comic delivery from actress Thelma Ritter as Jeffrie’s housekeeper.  The setting–the courtyard of a New York City apartment complex–is key in this film.  From the vantage point (sometimes seen through the special effect of binoculars) of a rear apartment we witness the comings and goings of the development’s residents including the brooding, lumbering, un-neighborly Lars Thorwald (played menacingly by Raymond Burr).   When Jeffries suspects Thorwald has murdered his wife, the fun begins.   This film is wonderfully confining.  The Stewart character is wheel-chair bound, still recovering from an injury received in one of his harrowing assignments.  The view is layer upon layer of cramped, personal scenes of domesticity and drama where even the violence is small:  a body in a trunk, a curious puppy found killed; a thwarted suicide and finally, a climactic death battle (with flash bulbs as weapon) in a single room.   The claustrophobia of Rear Window adds to the brilliant tension of this film.

Marnie–This film is a personal favorite.  It does not have the critical acclaim of other Hitchcock films but has an eerily fascinating dark side that is less flamboyant and more interesting than Psycho.   There is the requisite blonde (Tippi Hedren) and the older love interest (Sean Connery) involved in romantic gamesmanship.  But in this film the game is more erotic and dangerous born out of a hunter’s fascination with its prey and the hunted’s determination to remain untamed and secretive even when caught.

Louise Latham

Louise Latham is memorable as the disassociative mother for whom Marnie longs.  Baltimore, Maryland has a secondary, but important role capturing a place where shameful secrets can flourish.   In the foreground young girls skip rope on a narrow sidewalk of rowhouses and in the background is a matte-painted harbor where, surly, shipbuilders, laborers and sailors still congregate.  The film ends on this scene–a long shot–as the children’s sing-song blends into the stirring score of Bernard Herrmann.  It is the detail, the turns, the contrast of wealth and poverty and, ultimately, the compassion that gives Marnie its rich palette and makes it a formidable spellbinder.

Hitchcock will continue to fascinate fans like me along with writers, film critics, and new audiences lucky enough to see the Alfred Hitchcock Presents dramas in syndication on cable.

Meanwhile, there is a new film Hitchcock starring Anthony Hopkins as the venerable director during his filming of Psycho in 1959.  The film opens this week (November 23, 2012).  There was also a recent HBO film The Girl depicting the alleged sexual harassment by Hitchcock directed at Tippi Hedren during the filming of The Birds and Marnie.  Hedren has said Hitchcock embodied both genius and evil.



(Black) & Red, White and Blue

I took note again this year that the Fourth of July compels many Americans to fly the stars and stripes in front of their homes.     But as I traveled around the region (greater Washington metropolitan area; as well as a trip to Baltimore), it seemed to be white (and not Black) neighborhoods that had most of the red-white-and blue on display.


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