Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"You mean like pulling out their toenails?" W. Film Review

W.-Oliver Stone-2008

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Oliver Stone's latest film W. seems to do little in the way of importance. In general Stone's films have been filled with different views on politics, war, race, and so on. But lately it seems that Stone has gone kind of soft. His latest efforts have been extremely unimportant films who don't even seem to know what they want to be. Don't get me wrong, he is tackling important subjects (World Trade Center especially) but he seems to be doing so in such a way that even he doesn't know exactly what he is doing. Is it always important for a controversial filmmaker to remain controversial? No, not necessarily, but I am reminded of what the great Ingmar Bergman once said, "If I have nothing to say and I just want to make a film, I don’t make the film. The craftsmanship of filmmaking is so terribly stimulating, dangerous and obsessing that you can be very tempted. But if you have nothing to come with … try to be honest with yourself and don’t make the picture"

Oliver Stone seems to think he has a lot to say, and at first glance he does, maybe too much. W is an exercise in saying a whole lot without saying anything at all.

We follows W. as he works his way from frat boy to President of The United States. We see basically anything we have read, or heard about Bush, put to screen and reenacted in some fashion. Bush choking on the pretzel, Bush and Laura meeting, Bush buying the Texas Rangers, helping campaign for Poppy(H.W.) in '92 and the main focus is the lead up to and decision of the War in Iraq.

Before W. was released into theatres I saw an interview with Oliver Stone On Real Time With Bill Maher. While Maher praised the film, the only things he really said was the fact that the film is basically Bush's greatest hits, and mentions the pretzel scene. I have to admit, from hearing that, I got a little excited. I cannot explain the reasoning behind it but I concocted this whole film in my head surrounding this absurd moment in W's life where he almost died choking on a pretzel. I thought of Stone making this a metaphor for the entire life, and presidency of W. In a sense, I guess he sort of did that, but it just seemed haphazardly thrown in there. In this same interview Stone explained how George W is such a brilliant and interesting dramatic figure. He explained how in the making of Nixon he understood the extreme guilt that Nixon felt and wanted to exhibit that throughout the film. In turn he exclaimed how Bush is so astounding because he feels utterly guiltless for the things he has done. He is a completely earnest human being.

This sentiment did come across in W, but not in the way I expected. This thought doesn't shine through with subtle moments of bliss, but rather Stone gives this film a total sense of boredom. I could not help wondering at times, why am I watching this? I understand these are important to get the whole spectrum of W, but they are brought together in such a amateur way that you realize this is a dramatization, I don't feel empathy for these characters at all. And while I can applaud Stone for keeping a distance and not forcing his beliefs down our throats and proclaiming that George W. Bush isn't the best President this country has had(No kidding) I cannot root for this film, simply due to it's lack of a heart.
Where the film finds its footing is in a few wonderful instances. The relationship is wonderful between Poppy and W, and a real basis for a lot of what W seems to do in his life. I was wanting to explore this theory more in depth, and while it is the closest we get to a complete subplot, it doesn't all hold together. A few random occurrences of Bushie in the Rangers stadium hoping to catch an imaginary fly ball from center field give us visuals that are subtle enough for us to have to think, but out there enough to allow the audience to understand their place in the film.

The most wonderful thing about W is the outstanding performances. From Richard Dreyfuss(playing the ultravillain Dick Cheney) to Jeffrey Wright(Colin Powell) to Elizabeth Banks(who doesn't get much but shines in everything she does do) we are overloaded with great acting that doesn't come across as caricature or impersonation but as actual characters that just happen to be real people. Of course the highest praise goes to Brolin, who takes it to the edge of being an over the top impersonation but holds back just enough to make it absolutely perfect.

Overall W. has it's moments but they are few and far between. Bill Maher really had it right when he said it was like Bush's greatest hits. W. is exactly that an album filled with wonderful songs but as a whole they could never work out to be amazing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hitchcock-The Master Of Supense

So as my Hitchcock marathon finally comes to a close(a few weeks late) I wanted to give a run down with all the links.

Lifeboat(1944)
Vertigo(1958)
The Birds(1963)
Notorious(1946)
Strangers On A Train(1951)
North By Northwest(1959)
Frenzy(1972)
Rear Window(1954)
Psycho(1960)

This was so much fun, and really rewarding although I want to dig a lot deeper and see many of his British films and early American ones.

I hope you guys enjoyed it as much as I did.

PSYCHO-HITCHCOCK MARATHON

Warning: An extreme amount of spoilers are listed below. Psycho-1960-Alfred Hitchcock

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Psycho.

The scenes are already popping into your head. The shower scene. The fruit cellar. The music. The creepiest ending ever put to film.

In 1960 it seems that Hitch was at the top of his game. He had just come off a string of classics from Strangers On A Train, to Rear Window, to Vertigo, to North By Northwest. Everybody knew who Hitchcock was. Not only from his outstanding run of great films, but because of his television shows and celebrity status. So when Hitchcock released Psycho in 1960, everyone thought they knew what to expect, and they were wrong.

Psycho opens with Marion Crane and Sam Loomis in a hotel room. They are having a premarital affair and Marion is upset because she so wants Sam to marry her. As a foreshadowing device Hitchcock places Marion in white underclothes as she is currently an innocent. She has hopes and dreams of love and marriage. The only problem is Sam's lack of money due to his debt and alimony payments.

Marion leaves the hotel with one last thing to say, when Sam asks if they can walk out together she replies, "I'm late and you have to put your shoes on." If only she knew how late she was.

Back at the office(real estate) Marion is a secretary. She works with another secretary who cannot stop blabbering on about her husband and their marriage. Suddenly her boss walks in with a customer. Tom Cassidy is his name and he is laying down 40,000 dollars to buy his daughter and her fiance a new place.

At this point, marriage has become a running theme. What is it about marriage that all these people will go to such drastic measures for? Is it love? Lust? Societal expectations? Everyone is putting themselves at risk for it. When Mr. Cassidy gives Marion the money to deposit for him she is supposed to take it to the bank, but as I said marriage is making these people do crazy things. Marion decides to take the money and run away.

We see Marion next changing and packing. We understand she is no longer innocent as she is now wearing black underclothing. At her most vulnerable now she has allowed evil to seep into her and given in to temptation. She's trying to, as Mr. Cassidy earlier states, "...buy out of unhappiness."

As Marion leaves her boss spots her at a stoplight but thinks little of it at the time. She is then talked to by a police officer who saw her asleep in her car on the side of the road. She acts suspiciously and gives him cause for concern. It seems almost as these are Marion's chances to turn back and not let this temptation take her over before it's too late. But Marion forges on, not knowing what lies ahead.

She takes her car to a used car dealership to trade it in for a different car as she fears the policeman will track her down. The policeman sees her there but says nothing, only watches. Once Marion gets the car and leaves in a hurry she can hear in her mind what she believes they are saying. Not only the policeman and car salesman, but her boss, Mr. Cassidy, her sister Lila, and Sam. This tool is later used by Norman Bates to a different degree.

Getting lost and tired Marion decides to stop at a little hotel called Bates Motel. Upon stopping there she is greeted by Norman Bates. A slightly shy, awkward fellow but seemingly nice as can be. He helps her with her bags and shows her her room. Something strange about the whole scene is Norman's inability to say the word bathroom. You can almost sense something isn't right about that bathroom, but the film goes on without another mention.

Norman offers to make Marion some dinner and hopes to have her come up to his place, but his mother doesn't approve. In fact, she is fuming with jealousy.
Because of his mother's lack of hospitality Norman decides to bring some food to Marion. He asks if it's alright that they eat in the office parlor of the hotel and she agrees. In this parlor we get, what I believe is the best scene of the film with some of the most heartbreaking dialogue ever said on celluloid.

Norman Bates: You know what I think? I think that we're all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and we claw, but only at the air, only at each other, and for all of it, we never budge an inch.
Marion Crane: Sometimes, we deliberately step into those traps.
Norman Bates: I was born into mine. I don't mind it anymore.
Marion Crane: Oh, but you should. You should mind it.
Norman Bates: Oh, I do,but I say I don't.

There happens to be so much honesty and vulnerability in the words that Norman says here. It also happens to be one of the only times he can say a complete sentence without stuttering or stammering while talking to Marion. Continuing on with Norman's relationship with his mother Marion finds the things she said to him would be hurtful if said to her. Norman can only say little things like "A boy's best friend is his mother" or when talking about the untimely death of his mother's lover and says she has nothing left, Marion replies with "Well, At least she has you" to which Norman states, "A son is a poor substitute for a lover." What we sense through his facial reactions and the way in which he says this is that he wishes he could be that substitute, or in fact, that lover. It is the Freudian aspect within all of Hitchcock's films reaching it's ultimate climax.

After their parlor conversation Marion is convinced she has to do something to get out of the 'personal trap' she has placed herself into. Even before leaving the Parlor, when Norman asks her name she tells him Mrs. Crane, allowing herself to be truthful again. Heading back to her room where she has the money wrapped on the nightstand in a newspaper, she is figuring out how to pay back what she has spent. She is now ready to regain her innocence and shed herself of this temptation. To do so, in a religious sense, she must wash herself of her sin. So Marion, in a moment of total honesty, sheds all of her clothing and lets the shower water wash away her transgressions. In the midst of this, she is smiling and it's obvious that she is going to change herself for the better. What transpires next is something truly and incredibly shocking. No longer today is a viewer surprised by what happens because it is a part of pop culture, but still in the context of the film, it shocks you and leaves you with a knot in your stomach. While Marion showers and washes herself clean, she is murdered by what seems to be Norman's mother. Her sins have caught up with her and she no longer has the ability to go on. Marion reaches out with one last hope grabbing nothing but the shower curtain which gives out, causing her to fall over, dead.

As Marion was finally allowing herself her innocence she had it stolen as we watch the blood run down the drain. A slow dissolve from the drain to Marion's eye shows us to total emptiness that now encapsulates her soul. As she already told Sam "I'm late and you have to put your shoes on." She's too late and he's too far behind to help her.

With Marion's death we are left with no one to empathize with. We are only halfway through the film and the only other character with whom we have had a chance to spend any time with and feel anything for is Norman. What Hitchcock does here is total and complete brilliance. With Norman's total shock of the murderer and his clean up, we see a son cleaning up his mother's mess. But when Norman lays the shower curtain on the ground and moves Marion to lay her on it, he looks at his hands, he has gotten blood on them. Is Norman guilty? Is the blood really "on his hands", as the metaphor so profoundly states. At this point we don't know, but we feel for Norman as he cleans up the mess. He wraps Marion up in the shower curtain just as she wrapped her sin(the money) up in the newspaper.

Norman has to throw Marion and all her belongings and anything to prove the murderer into Marion's car trunk and push the car into a pond outside the motel. After pushing the car into the pond we get a feeling of doubt and fear as the car stops sinking for a few seconds. Is it going to sink all the way? We hope it does because we are now rooting for Norman, in a sense.

From there we go to Sam's work where a woman is reading the label of an extermination tool; ""Guaranteed to exterminate any insect in the world", but is it painless? Every death should be painless whether it be insect or human." Could this be a foreshadowing of Norman's ultimate surmise? He, or his mother, didn't allow for Marion's death to be painless, but rather painful. Why else would this bit of dialogue be so strategically placed here, just after Marion's death?

When Lila confronts Sam about whether or not he knows where Marion is, they are both approached by a Private Investigator named Arbogast. He is after her to retrieve the 40,000 dollars. He tells them how he's looking for Marion as well, and then we see him go on a search from motel to motel, finally reaching Bates Motel.
Arbogast shows up and without suspicion asks Norman about Marion to which he first denies until further evidence proves that she was in fact there. We then get a series of close ups on Arbogast and Norman showing the fear of Norman and the hope felt by Arbogast that something might be gained. When Norman let's it slip that "She might have fooled me, but she didn't fool my mother." This gives Arbogast the realization that to gain everything he needs from Bates he needs to speak with Norman's mother. Norman won't allow this so Arbogast leaves feeling dissatisfied. While Arbogast pulls away we see Norman standing against the hotel wall, his face in half light, half shadow. Could his mother be taking him over? When he told Marion that "Mother is not quite herself today" was he really meaning that she isn't at all herself, but actually him?

Arbogast decides he's going to return to talk to the mother. He goes into the Bates house and begins yelling for Mrs. Bates. No answer. He looks around to no avail, but heads up the stairs to go to her bedroom where he has seen her sitting by the window. Once Arbogast reaches the top of the stairs he is attacked and murdered.

After waiting for so long Sam decides to go to the Bates Motel to talk with Norman or Mrs. Bates and see if something is wrong. When he arrives he sees an old woman sitting in the window of her room, but she doesn't answer. He yells for Arbogast but again, no answer. We see Norman looking out at the pond as he had just pushed Arbogast's car out there. He looks over once he hears Sam, with his entire face now in shadow. The darker side of him has taken over.

When Sam finds nothing him and Lila go to the Deputy Sheriff who is of little help besides to inform them of Norman's mother's death. He lets them know she has been dead for 10 years now, she died with her lover, in bed. What he doesn't know at this time is at who's hands she died.

Feeling strange about the situation Sam and Lila decide to get a cabin for a night and look around to see if they can find anything incriminating. While Sam distracts Norman, Lila looks around the house for Mrs. Bates or some other type of evidence. She sees Mrs. Bates' room but no one in it. She then sees Norman's room which is still as a child's room with toys and a child's bed, that is unmade, as if it is still slept in.

In an earlier scene we see Norman hide his mother in the damp, cold cellar. This is just as he hides his victims in the damp, cold swamp.

When Norman figures out that she is in his house he knocks Sam out and runs to it. When Lila sees him she heads to the cellar and sees an old woman sitting there. She turns her around and screams at the sight of a skeleton. Norman runs down wearing a dress and wig, with a knife in hand only to be stopped at the last second by Sam. While all of this is happening a single light bulb swings back and forth through all the commotion showing the truth that has been revealed. We have finally been shown the light.

In a rather pointless but still interesting scene we are informed of Norman and his mother really being Norman in a split personality sense. Norman has, ever since her death, been half Norman half mother. We learn that he is no longer ever fully Norman, but is often fully mother. Even drifting in conversation from Norman to mother in sentence after sentence. This is heavily seen in the parlor scene with Marion and Norman.

Why I say this scene of exposition is rather pointless is because Hitchcock could have done without this scene and allowed the viewer to make up their own interpretation. While it is interesting to hear exactly what in the world just happened, I would have liked to be able to make that up for myself. I get the feeling this wasn't Hitch's decision but the studio's to which he conceded to in order to make such an outlandish film.

The final scene and monologue are greatly needed as they show the total and complete takeover of Norman by his mother personality.

Norma Bates: It's sad, when a mother has to speak the words that condemn her own son. But I couldn't allow them to believe that I would commit murder. They'll put him away now, as I should have years ago. He was always bad, and in the end he intended to tell them I killed those girls and that man... as if I could do anything but just sit and stare, like one of his stuffed birds. They know I can't move a finger, and I won't. I'll just sit here and be quiet, just in case they do... suspect me. They're probably watching me. Well, let them. Let them see what kind of a person I am. I'm not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching... they'll see. They'll see and they'll know, and they'll say, "Why, she wouldn't even harm a fly..."

A creepy thing during this scene is while Norman holds a blanket around him with both hands a third hand sits on his lap. Could this be the hand of his mother with which he isn't going to swat the fly? creepy indeed. Not to mention the shot where Norman looks directly into the camera with the skeleton being slightly dissolved into the background.

This, to me, is Hitchcock's masterpiece. Even with the exposition(which I could do without) I feel this is a perfect film. The innovation and style are 100% Hitchcock and no one else could pull it off, as evidenced by the following sequels.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"You don't have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate."

Religulous-2008-Larry Charles
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George Michaels once sang, "You gotta have faith", but with Religulous what Bill Maher is singing is the exact opposite. Maher claims his message is doubt, and he stands by that message with a certainty. The question that remains, does Religulous actually try to answer questions or is it just poking fun at those who believe differently?

The wonderful thing about this documentary is that Maher seems more courteous than I thought. He isn't attacking anyone. All that Maher does is honestly and truthfully ask the questions that lie deeply on his heart. Even going as far to thank some truckers for being "Christ-like and not just Christian" and saying that they are smart people.

This could possibly be the funniest film to be released all year, and oddly enough the most serious. Not serious in the way things are portrayed, but in the severity of the questions being asked. Maher simply wants to know how anyone can know for SURE that what they believe is true. I could relate. I grew up in a Christian family and went to a Baptist school for most of my life. I was hammered daily with knowing what I believe and standing firm in that belief. While I agree that any one's beliefs shouldn't be easily wavered, I do have degrees of doubt that I cannot ignore. I do have faith in a hope that there is a God who's son, Jesus Christ, died on the cross. While I believe this to be true, I cannot say with 100% certainty that it is the absolute truth. In my heart I believe it to be, but you get what I am saying.

I also understand Maher's complaint that with someone in office that believes the end days are upon us making decisions based upon those beliefs it can be scary, especially to some who doubts that there is even a God at all.

Maher's humor in Religulous stems mostly from the people he interviews. A Puerto Rican man claiming to be the 2nd coming of Christ who happens to have 100,000 followers. He questions rich pastors about why Jesus said the rich shall not enter the kingdom of heaven, and they deny that it specifically says those words. He interviews fake Jesus, and gay Muslim activists. The list goes on and on.

While Maher is generally very cordial, I think the editing at times is so blatantly one sided that it is distracting. Sometimes it is overly obvious that that was not an answer to a question or that was not the correct context that I grow more and more disappointed. On the other hand, the subtitles and cut-aways were always gut bustingly hilarious and truthful.

I think Charles did a much better job in Religulous than with Borat simply because he allowed the true nature of the humor to speak for itself. In Borat he tended to throw in Jackass style humor every once in awhile that took away from the films satirical outlook.

While Religulous is utterly one-sided I like Maher's honesty in his monologues, especially his final monologue discussing doubt. I think this film is important for the religious and non religious to see and discuss. Instead, I fear we will find the religious condemning while the non-religious get a sense of pride knowing they are "above" these stupid religious type. Both sides being at fault. If that does happen it won't be the films fault because the film graciously asks for a dialogue between believers and nonbelievers, using intellect and intelligence(disregarding Kirk Cameron's comments about going around intellect).

"I don't know if you know it, Babs, but you're my type of woman." HITCHCOCK MARATHON

Frenzy-1972-Alfred Hitchcock

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After Hitchcock made The Birds he went into a major decline as a director. While his films weren't bad, they tended to lack the intensity,polish and heart of so many of Hitchcock's classics. So it's not surprise that when Hitchcock made Frenzy it was said that it was "the picture of a young man."


Frenzy brings us into a story of mysterious connected neck tie killings. We meet Dick Blaney along the way, who is thought to be the neck tie murderer, but as usual in a Hitchcock film, is wrongly accused. All the evidence points to him as his ex-wife is murdered just minutes after he left her office. After that, his current girlfriend is also murdered. The film follows him on the run, but not getting very far.


The amazing thing that Hitchcock does here is give us a killer we originally grow to like. When we first happen upon Bob Rusk he is helping out Dick. He seems like a helpful and loving guy. He visits his mom, he sells fruit, he gives Dick tips on the races. What's not to like?


Something else that struck me was Hitchcock's visceral shooting style. While normally Hitchcock doesn't show us the gruesome stuff, here he allows us to see a woman be raped and murdered, there are multiple shots of nude woman(normally dead), but oddly enough it works because Hitch isn't exploitative. Hitchcock knows enough not to show too many murders, so he shows us the first one to bring us into just how terrible a thing was being done. After that we get the murderer's struggle. A darkly comical scene where Bob has killed off a main character and tried to throw her in the back of a potato truck, but realizes that something of his was in her hands and would easily incriminate him.


A thought that constantly has crossed my mind after watching Frenzy is; why neck ties? It could have just as easily been rope, belts, any number of things. Could this be Hitchcock's ode to the working class? Is he saying that the working man is somehow killing the working woman? The two woman who are murdered seem to be hard working woman(one has her own business, the other a bar tender). Is it an argument against sexism? One would have to examine more carefully to truly find out, but it is a question I have pondered.


Frenzy is definitely a very hard hitting film, but it does lack some of that Hitchcock quality. While it does have suspense, horror, humor, and many of Hithcock's usual themes and ideals, it doesn't come across as emotionally gripping and thematically deep as some of his earlier classics.


There's much more that could be said about Frenzy though. While it isn't a classic Hitchcock film, it is still far superior to most of the dreck that is released weekly.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"If you had only once said that you loved me." HITCHCOCK MARATHON(GUEST AUTHOR)


Before getting to the review of Notorious I wanted to say a few words about the author. TS writes over at Screen Savour and does an excellent job over there. I have found his writing to be both insightful and entertaining. As one reader commented, he is like a professor and we are his students, ready and eager to learn some more. While I mainly have dealt with theory and theme throughout my marathon, TS will deal with both of those along with history, back story, production details, cast and crew details and much more. I hope you enjoy this glimpse of TS's writing and go check out his own Hitchock marathon throughout the month of October. He is going to be going through every Hitchcock film available for us to see. Anyways, without further ado...

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Notorius-1946-Alfred Hitchcock

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"The story of Notorious is the old conflict between love and duty." - Alfred Hitchcock to Fran├žois Truffaut

Notorious is Alfred Hitchcock's mid-career masterpiece. Yes, he had made great movies before it (The 39 Steps, Rebecca, Shadow of a Doubt) and would on to make great movies after (Rear Window, Psycho, North by Northwest, Vertigo, etc.), but Notorious is a stand-out addition to his canon. It is not only the best film he made in the 1940s, it's one of his greatest films overall.

In many ways, too, it might very well be considered his crowning achievement in terms of sheer synthesis. It combines the ostensible thriller with the love story, then the love story with film noir, and then the standard glossy Hollywood look with Hitchcock's overtly stylized visuals. It twists and complicates that "old conflict," which Hitchcock defined for Truffaut, into an ultimate statement on how far duty and love can drive two people apart and how much is stake when it seems like all might be lost. There is not a single moment in Notorious where you might mistake it for any of the multitude of films made in the post-war boom of the late 1940s; without a question, Hitchcock is in control of every single frame.

The story takes place shortly after the end of World War II in the waning months where Nazis still invoked fear. A German spy ring has fled to Brazil, and the U.S. government wants to infiltrate their organization with a spy. T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant), an espionage agent, drafts Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), a patriotic America whose father was nevertheless recently found guilty of being a Nazi sympathizer. Just as Devlin feels himself becoming attracted to Alicia, he receives orders to have her begin socializing with a friend of her father's, Alex Sebastian (the great Claude Rains). Devlin and Alicia part ways – until, of course, Alex becomes wise to Alicia, and ...

Well, it wouldn't be a Hitchcock movie if I told you what comes next.

Notorious is not often credited with being among Hitchcock's most insidious explorations of his own internal issues – instead we cite Rear Window, for its voyeurism; Vertigo, for its obsessive makeover; Psycho, for its unrelenting mother issues; and lesser famous films like I Confess, for its religious tension, and The Wrong Man, for his fear of the authorities. But Notorious is surprisingly complex in its own internal turmoil. The film was Hitchcock's second collaboration with Grant (previously in Suspicion) and Bergman (previously in Spellbound). Both were stars by 1946, and both had their images manipulated by the director who was interested in burrowing into the darker elements of the human psyche. Devlin, played by former screwball actor Grant, is cold and calculating in his manipulation of Alicia. Hitchcock and the elegantly romantic Bergman bring Alicia to life initially as a promiscuous lush, then allow her to become self-destructively submissive and sacrificial, putting her in Sebastian's arms and bed, and she obliges, all for the sake of earning Devlin's love. They are phenomenally deep as lead characters: Alicia ignores her physical reality for the emotional lure of Devlin, and he ignores his emotional reality for the professional lure of what Alicia can access inside Sebastian's cadre of Nazis. The potential attraction is always immediately below the surface for Devlin, although the woman he pushes Alicia to become is not the sort of woman he thinks he could ever love. (Not to mention the film contains one of Hitchcock's earliest incidents of running afoul with the Production Code. At the time, the Code limited kisses to three seconds, so Hitchcock has Grant and Bergman keep with the merit of the Code by kissing for three seconds, then breaking, then kissing three seconds, then breaking, etc. The entire hint-hint-nudge-nudge sequence runs 180 seconds.)

The great screenwriter Ben Hecht was behind the richly layered script, which took an elementary scenario from a short story called "The Song of the Dragon" and transformed it into something original. His screenplay was nominated for an Oscar, one of the two nominations the film earned. (The other was Rains for supporting actor; neither won.) It is suspenseful and taut, particularly in its final twenty minutes. It is dense, but never confusing, and sly without being ostentatious. Production started only months after the nuclear bombs were dropped on Japan, and the use of uranium as the trafficked-element-of-choice for Sebastian and his German cadre is one of Hitchcock's all-time great "MacGuffins" (the item everyone is concerned with but that really doesn't matter in terms of anything but the gear that keeps the film rolling). As it places Alicia in harm's way, it makes a credible case that she is in a magnificent amount of danger. (Certainly Sebastian's mother, one of the great evil women in all of Hitchcock's films, has not qualms about slipping her a little something and attempting to solve the problem.)

And, oh, the look of this film: I could devote thousands of words to its elegant and evocative style. Anyone interested in the power of cinematography should settle into Notorious with one hand on the pause button and another devoted to a pen and a steno pad. Although Hitchcock experimented with the constraints of the camera through his entire career (shots with limited range, like in Lifeboat and Rear Window; long takes, like in Rope and Under Capricorn; obtuse angels, like in North by Northwest), his most effective camerawork might just be in Notorious. The famous ones are so famous it's as if no one has dared try to imitate them. There is the high-mounted wide shot of the gigantic foyer at Sebastian's mansion, which leads to an continuous zoom that ends outrageously close to a key in Alicia's hand. There is a party scene where a silhouetted head looms along the bottom of the frame, and although we cannot see the face of the man whose head we see, it is as if Hitchcock knows we will be able to identify it as Grant's. There is a shot where Alicia, just waking, sees Devlin in her doorway, and he walks toward her and she repositions herself, the shot in her point of view rotates in a perfect arc. There is an exhilarating shot near the end where Devlin carefully escorts Alicia to a car, and once inside, the camera zips and captures him as he smoothly locks the door and essentially gives another character a death sentence. No part of these miraculous technical achievements is done for pure flair; they are surprising, but slyly informative, and they build suspense while pushing the mechanics of the narrative along.

I could go on. Notorious holds a special place in my heart. I saw it for a film class years ago on my birthday – and what a gift it was. Later (and again, for my birthday), my wife gave me Criterion's magnificent release of the film, which proved so popular it quickly found itself out of print. Used copies of that edition can cost you sometimes as much as $50 or more, but – thankfully! – that is all about to change. While the Criterion version is not experiencing a reprinting, MGM is delivering the next best thing: many of Hitchcock's harder to find films, such as Notorious, Spellbound, Rebecca, and The Lodger, are reappearing soon on DVD. It is long overdue that this masterpiece be made widely available again.

"I admire people who do things." HITCHCOCK MARATHON


Strangers On A Train-1951-Alfred Hitchcock

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So two fellows meet on a train eh? Bruno is the more effeminate one with a peculiar way about him, Guy seems confident, but only on the outside. Bruno just happens to know a lot about Guy. Guy is a tennis player with a wife named Miriam. He also has a girlfriend named Ann Morton, who is the daughter of a senator. Why is guy two timing his wife? Well his wife is a selfish, money grubber who could really care less about Guy. He wants a divorce but she doesn't because she can get more out of him without one. When Bruno, a self professed mama's boy(not in those exact words), proclaims his hatred for his father he lets a little plan slip out. If two strangers had someone they wanted to kill and they had each other do it, no one could fault them for it. It is a win-win situation. Bruno explains that he could kill Miriam and Guy can kill his father. Guy refuse's but Bruno insists. Does Guy give in to the temptation? Well Bruno goes ahead and forges on with the plan as if Guy had said yes, and expects Guy to follow through after he has in fact killed Miriam. How can he get Guy to give in? Well Guy happened to leave his lighter with a tennis logo and the phrase "A to G" engraved on it.

Hitchcock's 1951 film Strangers On A Train is a lot like his other work. We have someone with mother issues, we have a wrong man situation, we have murder and love and betrayal. So, as we see, in many ways, Hitchcock is using his by the numbers directing playbook here. He is a veteran at the time Strangers On A Train is released. But some things that struck me were the lack of a blonde female lead. The lack of a macguffin here is also interesting to note, unless you could argue that the lighter was in fact a macguffin.

This film's major aspect is that of the criss cross, or double cross. Constantly we see things like Guy talking about being able to strangle his wife and then a dissolve to Bruno making a strangling motion with his hands. In the scene after Bruno kills Miriam he takes a look at his watch and then a cut to Guy on a train looking at his watch. It builds the tension really well. What connects these two men?

"Everybody is a potential murderer" says Bruno on the train. Bruno furthers this point at a party when he discusses murderer with a Mrs. Cunningham, telling her the perfect way to murder someone in his eyes.

One of the most magnificently planned out and shot scenes in the film is the lead up to, and actual act of, Miriam's murder. While we see Bruno follow her to the amusement park with her two guys(neither of them her husband) she keeps looking back noticing him, but kind of smiles as if he's following her because he is attracted to her. After walking into the park a little boy walks up to Bruno going "Bang, Bang" and shaping his finger like a gun, pointing it directly at Bruno. This foreshadows the fact that Bruno will eventually murder Miriam, while also being a portrait of him. He is murdering for attention. He is murdering Miriam to in turn get his father murdered. He wants all the attention of his mother, and can only have that with his old man out of the way. Lastly this foreshadows Bruno's eventual end.

During the same scene we get another foreshadowing of a future scene in the film. Miriam and her boys get on the merry-go-round, while Bruno does so also. This is when Miriam really notices him following her, but thinks nothing strange of it. The Merry-Go Round plays a significant part in the ending of this film. Bruno then follows them onto the Tunnel Of Love. While on the ride we see Bruno's shadow catch up to Miriam's and then cut to the outside of the tunnel and hear Miriam scream, but then see her and her boys pop out. It turns out it was only a scream of excitement or just her having fun. They go to an island that the Tunnel of Love's river leads to and begin playing around, Bruno follows and waits in the bushes. While Miriam is running around she notices Bruno. She playfully says hello, and he says it back and then begins to strangle her. We are not seeing this first hand but as her glasses fall off we see her being choked through the reflection of the glasses.

Miriam's glasses and the reflection of her murder hold an important place in the film. Later on, when we meet Ann's sister Barb, it is noticed that her glasses are similar to Miriam's. When Bruno meets her he can see the murder happening in the reflection of her glasses. Is this Bruno's guilt being summoned, or does he feel guilty at all? Could this simply be reminding him of how his father has yet to be dead although he has done his side of what he thinks was a deal? We aren't told for sure, but when Bruno is explaining to Mrs. Cunningham the perfect way to murder someone he puts his hands around her throat playfully and tells her to try and make a noise. As soon as he begins play strangling her he sees Barb and becomes fixated on her. His choking of Mrs. Cunningham becomes real and he chokes harder and harder until he faints. Barb explains to Ann that it felt as if he was choking her, and Ann confronts Guy about it as she feels she has put two and two together. Guy tells Ann everything, but they mustn't let anyone else know he says.
Something I really noticed was this films major film noir use. While many of Hitch's films deal with film noir issues they are usually in color, or lack any other significant feature that would make it predominately noir. What we get here that really brings it into the noir mode is the chiaroscuro lighting. I especially noticed this in the scene in which Bruno tells Guy he has murdered Miriam. They are talking through a fence and it seems as if they are behind bars, trapped in a cell. The lighting shows both of their faces in half light, and half darkness. Sticking to that half theme, Strangers On A Train is said to have a doppelganger theme. Bruno is Guy's desire to kill Miriam, sort of a real life subconscious wish fulfillment fantasy. Bruno may represent Guy's inner mind. Guy obviously desires her dead, as he did scream on the phone with Ann that sometimes he wishes he could strangle her. Be careful what you wish for, some might say. I am more reminded of the Bible verse.

Matthew 5: 21-22
'You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement'

I know, Hitchcock's film is not religious by any means, but what I am saying is that thinking something in her your heart makes it basically a done deal in your heart and truly torments you, and this can be accounted for by anyone who has ever been alive. We all wrestle with daily grudges and arguments, and if we let them seep into our hearts they ruin our lives. This is a common thing whether you are religious or not. This basic theme is something I think Hitch was getting at. This point is more driven home when Bruno proclaims, "Everyone has somebody that they want to put out of the way. Oh now, surely Madam, you're not going to tell me that there hasn't been a time that you didn't want to dispose of someone. Your husband, for instance".

Bruno fulfilling Guy's desires can also be found in the ways they are constantly criss crossing. They are constantly crossing railroads to get to certain places. They meet by crossing their legs and accidentally bumping each others feet(although I suspect Bruno predestined it). Also the criss crossing of the tennis racquet's on Guy's lighter.

The tennis racquet's could be said to foreshadow the tense tennis match when Guy is trying to hurry and sneak past his shadow. I am completely amazed at how Hitchcock can make a tennis match tense and suspenseful in the midst of a murder mystery. This and Bruno's dropping of the lighter into the sewer drain and subsequently reaching to get it are some of the most heart pounding scenes in the film(and Michael Bay thinks explosions cause the same effect, watch some Hitchcock Mr. Bay).

"Since you're the one profiting from this I think you'll need to end up paying for it." Bruno shouts this at Guy near the end of the film, but what he doesn't know is that Guys hands are clean. Bruno eventually pays for what he has done.

Another element of foreshadowing was done at first with a picture Bruno's mother painted. It seemed to be a man burning in flames, Bruno thinks it's his father. It turns out it is really him. This is proven when he first lights the lighter and sees a flame in the reflection of Miriam's glasses just before he murders her. Through this it could be said to mean that when Bruno had the lighter it was the idea fermented in his mind. He was going to kill Miriam and frame Guy if he didn't go through with the side he never agreed to go through with.

When Guy does sneak out to go to Bruno's place and we think he is going to kill him, something strange happens. To get the full circle of what happens we have to go back to something Guy said to Barb about Hennessey, his shadow.

Guy: Doesn't that bloodhound ever relax? He sticks so close he's beginning to grow on me... like a fungus

When Guy sneaks out and goes to Bruno's house, we see him check the map to find Bruno's fathers room. Hennessey is not Guy's shadow at this moment, Hammond, the more paranoid of the two is shadowing but doesn't see him leave. Guy walks into Bruno's house and around the corner to go up the stairs. He is carrying a gun. At the top of the stairs is a dog(a Great Dane, but to me the connection still fits) who at first growls at Guy but then licks his hand, as if to wash his hands of the situation. When he enters Bruno's fathers room we see Bruno appear and say his father is out of town. Guy explains that he wasn't going to go through with it, but he was going to tell his father of his psychopath of a son. Was he really planning on going through with it at first? I have my suspicions, but maybe the dog(Hennessey) saved him. Guy also refers to Hennessey as his guardian angel. In many scenes do we see Hennessey literally save Guy from being turned in by stopping Hammond from turning Guy in before it is revealed that Bruno is the murderer. Of course this is only a theory, I have recently read a completely different theory at everything2.com (the article is under the link) about the homo-erotic symbolism of Strangers On A Train.

"In this case, a long and narrow revolver represents Guy. Similarly, earlier in the same scene, a Great Dane represents Bruno. The dog's association with Bruno is set up earlier in the film, when Mrs. Antony chides her son, "You're a naughty boy Bruno"- more the sort of thing one would say to a dog than to a man- and then giggles and looks at the dog in the background. In addition, "Bruno" is typically a dog's name, and the dog itself is never named. As a result, the dog growling at Guy, but then inexplicably licking his hand, can be viewed as Bruno threatening yet desiring Guy. A slow motion shot as the dog licks Guy's hand draws attention to the sensuality of that act."

I truly found Strangers On A Train to be one of Hitchcock's best films. It isn't as often talked about as his other classics but I found it to withhold a lot of depth and emotional pull while still being entertaining.