Monday, 29 December 2008

Around the World in 80 Days

Movie Review: Around the World in 80 Days

Year of Release: 1956
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Michael Anderson
Cast: David Niven, Mario Moreno "Cantinflas", Shirley MacLaine, Robert Newton

Plot outline: A Victorian Englishman bets that with the new steamships and railways he can do what the title says (IMDb).

T
his mammoth and mad pictorial rendering of the classic novel by Jules Verne is a sprawling conglomeration of refined English comedy, giant-screen travel panoramics and slam-bang Keystone burlesque. It makes like a wild adventure picture and, with some forty famous actors in "bit" roles, it also takes on the characteristic of a running recognition game. It is noisy with sound effects and music. It is also overwhelmingly large in the process. It runs for two hours fifty-five minutes (not counting an intermission). And it is, undeniably, quite a show. Whether the cinema purists will immediately and gratefully concede that the producer has improved the breed of movies is something else again. The unities of content and method are not detectable in his splattered form. He and his people have commandeered the giant screen and stereophonic sound, turned loose in a cosmic cutting-room, with a pipe organ in one corner and all the movies ever made to toss around. The eccentric pattern, thus established, is continued expansively. There is naught but extravagant improvising in the subsequent adventures of Phileas Fogg (David Niven). Once he and his comical valet, the non-decript Passepartout (Mario Moreno "Cantinflas"), are launched on their wagered endeavor to circumnavigate the globe in eighty days, the wraps are off. Anything can happen. And many varieties of things do. Outside of David Niven and "Cantinflas", there are Shirley MacLaine as Princess Aouda; Robert Newton as Fix, the detective; and an assortment of bit players ranging from Noel Coward as a British employment agent to Jack Oakie as the captain of the S. S. Henrietta. Even so, all and sundry play their roles honorably. Is the whole thing too exhausting? It's a question of how much you can take.

My judgement: **1/2 out 4 stars

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Moulin Rouge

Movie Review: Moulin Rouge

Year of Release: 1952
Country of Origin: UK
Director: John Huston
Cast: José Ferrer, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Suzanne Flon, Claude Nollier

Plot outline: A fictional account of French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in Paris' bohemian sub-culture in and around the burlesque palace, the Moulin Rouge (IMDb).

Based on the novel by Pierre La Mure, John Huston’s lavish portrayal of the life and loves of the post-impressionist painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec falls into the pitfall of many a biopic: elaborating popular myth rather than recounting the known facts and favouring spectacle over substance. As a celebration of the work of Lautrec, the movie has much to commend it: the gaudy costumes and sets, together with the smoky colour-saturated cinematography, perfectly evoke the vibrant work of the great artist. However, as a serious account of the life of Laurec, the movie leaves a great deal to be desired. José Ferrer was an all-too obvious casting choice for the part of Lautrec. Unfortunately, in a performance that can best be described as wooden, Ferrer fails to go much beyond the stereotypical image of Lautrec and gives what is largely a slightly sick caricature, exaggerating his short stature by a good twelve inches whilst failing to convey any warmth or humanity. Although immensely popular when it was first released, presumably on account of its stunning visuals, the movie now feels dated and shallow. It was nominated for seven Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Director), but won only two: for Best Art Direction (Colour) and Best Costume Design (Colour). It would be easy to dismiss the movie completely were it not for its remarkable opening sequence in the Moulin Rouge, which succeeds in catapulting the audience into the superficially glitzy world which lured and fascinated Toulose-Lautrec, like a moth drawn to the flame. (JT)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Blossoms in the Dust

Movie Review: Blossoms in the Dust

Year of Release: 1941
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Cast: Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Felix Bressart

Plot outline: A real-life story of Edna Gladney, who fought for orphans' rights in Texas (IMDb).




"There are no illegitimate children - only illegitimate parents."
(Greer Garson as Edna Gladney)

Based on the real-life story of Edna Gladney by Ralph Wheelwright, director Mervyn LeRoy and a duo of screenwriters have rendered a careful and compassionate account of one woman's selfless effort to make this world a better place in which to live. With lovely Greer Garson playing the leading role, the spirit of the story is maintained on a level generally above its frequent insipid spots. The peril of overdoing a picture of this nature requires a director's constant vigil and the application of much good taste. Unfortunately, the director has let himself go a few times. There is a shade too much of shining nobility in this movie, too often tiny fingers tug deliberately on the heartstrings. And the dramatic continuity seems less spontaneous than contrived. The career of Mrs. Gladney is drawn out over a tedious stretch of time. But it is an affecting story and one which commands great respect. According to this version, Mrs. Gladney acquired a deep sympathy for foundlings when her own "sister" committed suicide because it was revealed she was one. Then, after Mrs. Gladney's own little son was killed and her life seemed devoid of aim, she began giving home to orphan children and slowly, against cruel odds and personal grief, established the fine society which has been so important in her State. One phase of the story is concerned with the fight which Mrs. Gladney waged to have the word "illegitimate" removed from birth records in Texas, and the conclusion is a touching tribute to her self-sacrificial life. Miss Garson is a vision of loveliness, with her red hair delicately framing her expressive face, and conveys through the picture a conviction of sincerity and sensitivity. Walter Pidgeon plays her husband in the true manner of an adoring gallant, and Marsha Hunt does well in the brief role of the "sister". A large cast of supporting actors is uniformly excellent, and there are several cunning youngsters to provoke the inevitable "ohs" and "ahs". As pure inspirational drama with a pleasant flavor of romance, Blossoms in the Dust should reach a great many hearts. (NYT)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Monday, 22 December 2008

The Gold Rush

Movie Review: The Gold Rush (silent)

Year of Release: 1925
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Mack Swain, Tom Murray, Georgia Hale

Plot outline: Little Tramp goes the Klondike in search of gold and finds it and more (IMDb).

He may be called "The Lone Prospector" in this movie, but the character played by Chaplin is the same wistful, resourceful Little Tramp that had been entertaining the world since 1914. The story is told with a background of the Klondike. It is as much a dramatic story as a comedy. Chaplin takes strange situations and stirs up tears and smiles. He accomplishes this with art and simplicity, and in his more boisterous moments he engineers incidents that provoke shrieks of laughter. You find yourself stirred by the story, gripped by its swing and filled with compassion for the pathetic little hero. Chaplin obtains the maximum effect out of every scene, e.g.: 1) When he stands with his back to the audience, watching the throng in a Klondike dancing hall, garbed, in his ridiculous loose trousers, his little derby, his big shoes and his cane. He is lonely, and with a bunch of the shoulders and a gesture of his left hand he tells more than many a player can do with his eyes and mouth ... he is thinking of the girl Georgia, the dancing hall queen, who is not even conscious of the presence of the little man who adores her. 2) When he entertains the girls by jabbing two forks in two rolls, performing a captivating little "dance" with the pastries. The Gold Rush was the longest and most elaborately produced of Chaplin's silent comedies. (HE, NYT)

My judgement: ***1/2 out of 4 stars

Friday, 19 December 2008

Strangers on a Train

Movie Review: Strangers on a Train

Year of Release: 1951
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker

Plot: A psychotic socialite confronts a pro tennis star with a theory on how two complete strangers can get away with murder ... a theory that he plans to implement (IMDb).

Based on the novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith, an immensely successful writer of psychological thrillers, perhaps best known for "The Talented Mr. Ripley", the original narrative explored two psychological themes which came to have a huge influence on Hitchcock’s later movies: duality and transference. Duality is the idea that everything in nature has its mirror opposite lying beside it, illustrated by the juxtaposition of good and evil in the human psyche. Transference is the notion that one human being can acquire some elements of the persona of another, or live out the experiences of another, through personal contact. Strangers on a Train is the first of the truly great suspense thrillers from Hitchcock, the first movie in which all of the elements of what we now know as the classic American Hitchcock movie fit perfectly into place, with the precision and artistry of an ornate Swiss clock. Many regard it as one of the director’s finest achievements and it certainly rates as one of his most entertaining movies, with some deliciously subversive comedy skilfully woven into a dark and sinister web of suspenseful intrigue. Strangers on a Train is movie which clearly inspired Hitchcock and got his creative juices flowing at full throttle. This is at once apparent in the movie’s thrilling set-piece sequences: the murder of Miriam, seen through one lens of a pair of spectacles; the intercutting of the tennis match with Bruno’s desperate attempt to recover Guy’s lighter from a street drain; and the spectacular dual-to-the-death on the fairground merry-go-round. The staging of these sequences and the imaginative way in which they are shot suggest a level of technical and artistic brilliance that is virtually unsurpassed in a mainstream thriller. The other great thing about this movie is the calibre of the performances. Particularly memorable is Robert Walker who is magnificent as the utterly charming yet clearly unhinged psychopath Bruno Anthony. Walker dominates the movie and makes a sympathetic villain who is far more engaging than Farley Granger’s bland and inconsequential Guy Haines. Walker’s fautless, multi-layered performance in this movie shows what an immense talent Hollywood lost through his premature death. (JT)

My judgement: **** out of 4 stars

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Of Mice and Men

Movie Review: Of Mice and Men

Year of Release: 1939
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Lewis Milestone
Cast: Burgess Meredith, Betty Field, Lon Chaney Jr.

Plot outline: A mentally retarded giant and his level headed guardian find work at a sadistic cowboy's ranch in depression era America (IMDb).

Based on the novel of the same title by John Steinbeck, the movie follows the book as literally as the screen demands. There is a short prologue; the camera enlarges the play's vista to include the fields where the barley-buckers worked, the messroom, the town cafe where the hands might spend their wages; but nothing has been added that does not belong, nothing has been removed that was important to the proper telling of the story. The story has a cruel, bizarre, ridiculous sound. But it doesn't seem that way on the screen. Tragedy dignifies people, even such little people as Lennie (Chaney), George (Meredith) and Mae (Field). The writer and adapters have seen the end all too clearly, the end of George's dream and Lennie's life. With sound dramatic instinct they have not sought to hasten the inevitable, or stave it off. Doom takes its course and bides its moment; there is hysteria in waiting for the crisis to come. And during the waiting there is the rewarding opportunity to meet some of Steinbeck's interesting people, to listen to them talk, to be amused or moved by the things they say and do. Of Mice and Men retains its raw dramatic power. (NYT)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Monday, 15 December 2008

Captains Courageous

Movie Review: Captains Courageous

Year of Release: 1937
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Victor Fleming
Cast: Freddie Bartholomew, Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas

Plot outline: Harvey Cheyne is a spoiled brat used to having his own way. When a prank goes wrong onboard an ocean liner Harvey ends up overboard and nearly drowns (IMDb).

In this adventure saga based on the novel of the same title by Rudyard Kipling, a boy learns life-changing lessons about the importance of friendship and the dignity of labor. Young Harvey Cheyne (Freddie Bartholomew) is the working definition of a spoiled brat; the only child of a wealthy widowed businessman, Harvey has everything he needs, but never stops asking for more, convinced he can get anything if he yells, pouts, or throws the right tantrum. Spencer Tracy earned an Academy Award for his heart-warming performance as Manuel, a Portuguese old salt, who drags him on board a Gloucester fishing boat where he is a deck hand and doryman. Over the next few weeks, Harvey grows from a self-centered pantywaist into a young man who appreciates the value of a hard day's work, and in Manuel he finds the strength, guidance, and good sense that he never got from his father. The good direction, clear script, and stellar performance from the whole cast bring vividly to life every page of Kipling's novel. This classic, coming-of-age children's movie acquired four Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Film Editing, and Best Screenplay, with Spencer Tracy taking home his very first Best Actor.

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Sunday, 14 December 2008

City Lights

Movie Review: City Lights (silent)

Year of Release: 1931
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee, Harry Myers

Plot outline: Little Tramp struggles to help a blind flower girl he has fallen in love with (IMDb).

Charlie Chaplin was deep into production of his silent City Lights when Hollywood was overwhelmed by the talkie revolution. After months of anguished contemplation, Chaplin decided to finish the movie as it began - in silence, save for a musical score and an occasional sound effect. At the gala Hollywood premiere, Chaplin's special guests were Albert Einstein and his wife Elsa. Chaplin wrote in his autobiography that he knew the movie would be a success after watching Einstein's reactions. Cast as the Little Tramp, Chaplin makes the acquaintance of a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill), who through a series of coincidences has gotten the impression that the shabby tramp is a millionaire. A second storyline begins when the tramp rescues a genuine millionaire (Harry Myers) from committing suicide. When drunk, the millionaire expansively treats the tramp as a friend and equal; when sober, he doesn't even recognize him. The two plots come together when the tramp attempts to raise enough money for the blind girl to have an eye operation. Highlights include an extended boxing sequence pitting scrawny Chaplin against muscle-bound Hank Mann, and the poignant final scene in which the now-sighted flower girl sees her impoverished benefactor for the first time. The ending is widely acclaimed as one of cinema's most touching moments. (HE)

My judgement: ***1/2 out of 4 stars

Friday, 12 December 2008

Anna Karenina

Movie Review: Anna Karenina

Year of Release: 1935
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Clarence Brown
Cast: Greta Garbo, Fredric March, Freddie Bartholomew, Maureen O'Sullivan

Plot outline: The married Anna Karenina falls in love with Count Vronsky despite her husband's refusal to grant a divorce, and both must contend with the social repercussions (IMDb).

Greta Garbo radiates passion, exuberance and pathos as the tragic Leo Tolstoy heroine in this, possibly the finest screen adaptation of Anna Karenina. Garbo cited this as her favourite of the seven movies she made with director Clarence Brown, and the part won her the New York Film Critics Circle Best Actress Award in 1936. A lavish David O. Selznick production, this version of Anna Karenina captures the essence of Tolstoy’s great novel, focusing on the heroine's experience of a love that consumes her and then drives her to destruction. The moody photography heightens the sense of impending tragedy as Anna Karenina’s ill-fated love carries her to an inescapable doom. The movie’s climax is devastatingly poignant - so cruel that it is almost unbearable to watch, a striking visual symbol of the destructive power of love. (JT)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Rope

Movie Review: Rope

Year of Release: 1948
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger

Plot outline: Two young men strangle their "inferior" classmate, hide his body in their apartment, and invite his friends and family to a dinner party as a means to challenge the "perfection" of their crime (IMDb).

Based on the play of the same name by Patrick Hamilton, Rope was conceived by Hitchcock as primarily a technical challenge. The intention was to shoot the movie in such a way that it appeared to be one continuous take, something that had never been attempted before (and has rarely been tried since). Shooting the movie in one take was a practical impossibility at the time, since the maximum length of an unbroken take was limited to how much film could be loaded in the camera, which was around ten minutes’ worth of footage. To get round this, the movie was shot in ten segments (of between five and ten minutes in duration), with each shot beginning and ending on a close up of either the jacket of one of the characters or the lid of the trunk containing the corpse, creating the illusion of one continuous take. This technical feat proved to be a logistic nightmare for all concerned on the production, cast and crew alike. The movements of all of the actors had to be meticulously worked out beforehand on a model and then rehearsed on the set many times before each take. The walls of the set and the furniture were mounted on castors so that they could be shifted during the recording to allow the huge cameras to move around the set on a specially constructed dolly. The actors not only had to hit their marks precisely and avoid fluffing lines, e.g. give the equivalent of a faultless theatrical performance, but had the additional problem of avoiding tripping over the mass of cables that festooned the set. And there were other challenges. This was Hitchcock’s first colour movie, made when Technicolor was still pretty much an experimental medium. The biggest problem this posed was getting the lighting right for the view of the New York skyline seen through the window of the apartment. In the course of the movie, the lighting had to change gradually to reflect the transition from afternoon to early evening and then night. Hitchcock was dissatisfied with the appearance of the sunset in the first shoot and so re-shot the last five segments of the movie.

Not only was the movie treading new ground technologically, it would also break the mould in other ways, with its unveiled allusions to homosexuality - an area which Hollywood had hitherto religiously avoided. Because of it, Rope was commercially unsuccessful (it was banned in some regions of the United States), and it is interesting that it fared much better in Europe than in America. Whilst Rope is without doubt a great technical achievement and is fascinating to watch, as a piece of drama is has one or two flaws that prevent it from being ranked alongside Hitchcock’s greater works. One notable deficiency is the miscasting of James Stewart, who fails to be convincing as an inspirational intellectual who might motivate two youngsters to kill someone; from his doddering performance, it seems far more probable that he would infect them with terminal narcolepsy or an urge to take up crochet. Part of the problem is that Stewart’s character is poorly developed. In the original play by Hamilton, it was implied that the character had a homosexual relationship with the two boys when they were under his care, which would explain the influence he had over them. In the movie, the character motivation is pretty well lacking and Stewart looks like a spare rib. Whilst James Stewart’s performance disappoints, the same cannot be said for his co-stars. Both Farley Granger and John Dall are excellent, portraying a pair of odious amoral characters in a way that retains the audience’s sympathy, allowing the suspense to function in the best Hitchcockian tradition. There are also notable contributions from the supporting cast - particularly Cedric Hardwicke and Constance Collier. (JT
)

My judgement: ***1/2 out of 4 stars

Monday, 8 December 2008

Mata Hari

Movie Review: Mata Hari

Year of Release: 1931
Country of Origin: USA
Director: George Fitzmaurice
Cast: Greta Garbo, Ramon Novarro, Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone

Plot outline: Mata Hari is a German spy, working in Paris. She has already seduced the Russian general Shubin, and has now set her eyes on lieutenant Rosanov (IMDb).

Loosely based on the life and death of Mata Hari, this movie is the one that contributed most to the myth of the infamous dancer-turned-spy. It also added to the mystique of the actress who played her, Greta Garbo, who by this stage in her career was the most famous actress in the world. The Swedish Sphinx is a perfect casting choice for the part of the alluring temptress, combining an obvious earthy beauty with an ethereal exotic charm that makes her an unattainable object of desire (!) Though the movie may not be Garbo’s best movie, it was her most commercially successful. Although daring and ambitious when it was made, when viewed today the movie creaks with age, and it is hard not to laugh at some of its unintentionally funny clichés. In common with many early sound movies, the quality of the visuals is badly restrained by the limitations of the recording technology of the period, although there are a few sequences which rise above this and make a great impact. Whilst the movie may fall down in its production design and screenplay, this is more than compensated by the quality of the performances. Not only is Garbo on fine form, there are some equally impressive contributions from her co-stars. Lionel Barrymore and Lewis Stone. Mata Hari may not be perfect but it occupies an important place in movie history and, whilst it may not be historically accurate, it has great entertainment value. (JT)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Dial M for Murder

Movie Review: Dial M for Murder

Year of Release: 1954
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings, John Williams, Anthony Dawson

Plot outline: An ex-tennis pro carries out a plot to murder his wife. When things go wrong, he improvises a brilliant plan B (IMDb).

Faithfully adapted from Frederick Knott's stage play of the same title, Dial M for Murder is one of Hitchcock’s most confined works - the story virtually takes place in just one set - yet it is also one of his most compelling thrillers, and a practically flawless piece of direction. The casting is possibly the most inspired; the choice of camera shots could hardly be improved upon; and the pace is relentless. It may not be the most ambitious, glitzy or cinematic of Hitchcock’s movies, but it is certainly one of his most perfectly constructed and absorbing movies. Dial M for Murder was the movie that established Grace Kelly as a major actress in Hollywood - and many would argue that it was here that she gave her best performance in her all too short career. A favourite of Hitchcock, she would appear in two of his subsequent movies: Rear Window and To Catch a Thief. Opposite Grace Kelly is another highly regarded actor, Ray Milland, whose portrayal of the movie's villain achieves that perfect union of seductive charm and calculating evil which is found only in career politicians and double glazing salesmen. Like so many other classic Hitchcock villains, it is Milland’s character that the audience identifies with and, perversely, wants to see succeed - although this is partly because his opponent, Robert Cummings's good guy, is such an unlikeably bland blob of nothingness. The movie’s other notable performance is from the charmingly avuncular John Williams, who plays just about the only sympathetic (and intelligent) police chief in any Hitchcock movies. Williams was the actor whom Hitchcock employed most often; he appeared in two other movies: The Paradine Case and To Catch a Thief, and also ten episodes of the hit TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Not only is Dial M for Murder a great movie, it's also a veritable gold mine for fans of movie trivia. (JT)

My judgement: ***1/2 out of 4 stars

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

The 39 Steps

Movie Review: The 39 Steps

Year of Release: 1935
Country of Origin: UK
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll

Plot outline: A man tries to help a counterespionage agent. But when the agent is killed and he stands accused, he must go on the run to both save himself and also stop a spy ring trying to steal top secret information (IMDb).

Based on the adventure novel of the same title by John Buchan, this exciting and highly entertaining movie is the absolute best of Hitchcock’s British movies. It was the culmination of everything that he had achieved in his preceding twenty or so movies and a template for much of what was to follow - notably Saboteur and North by Northwest: a sympathetic Mr. Average is wrongly accused of a crime, finds the whole world turned against him and has to expose the real culprit to clear his name. It’s a familiar storyline, one that provides the bare bones for countless thriller novels and movies, but somehow
no one tells it better than Hitchcock (!) Along with the subsequent The Lady Vanishes, this was the movie that earned Hitchcock his international reputation and his one-way ticket to Hollywood.

The 39 Steps is the movie that demonstrates how brilliantly Hitchcock exploits every aspect of filmmaking technique to craft a piece of cinema that scores highly on both the artistic and entertainment scales. The composition of shots, the choice of camera angles, the startling use of lighting, the precise editing - all work to build suspense, create atmosphere and tell the story as efficiently as possible. The result is a movie that rushes ahead like an express train, with plenty of humour but also a great deal of tension and darkness. Although the action slows down from time to time to allow the characters and the audience time to catch their breath, the pace is relentless, exhilarating and fun. In his most memorable role, Robert Donat makes a debonair and very likeable Richard Hannay, an obvious forerunner of the suave James Bond-style action heroes in cinema's later adventure thrillers. Donat has a natural sparkly rapport with his co-star Madeleine Carroll, which most manifests itself in the famous scene where they are handcuffed together in a hotel bedroom, one of funniest and most erotic scenes in any Hitchcock movies. Two other great actors, Peggy Ashcroft and John Laurie, bring a keen edge of realism to the movie’s most poignant scene, the one where Hannay unwittingly causes ructions in the farmer’s cottage. The 39 Steps has something of the feel of a silent movie, and not just because it employs some of the expressionistic touches of Hitchcock’s very early movies. It is a good example of pure cinema, telling the story using images rather than dialogue. Only a director who had mastered his art in the silent era – as Hitchcock had – could have such an innate appreciation of the potentialities of the moving image to tell a story and engage with an audience. Maybe this is the thing that most made Hitchcock a great filmmaker and why his movies have such an enduring, universal appeal. (JT)

My judgement: ***1/2 out of 4 stars

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The Best Man

Movie Review: The Best Man

Year of Release: 1964
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Cast: Henry Fonda, Cliff Robertson, Lee Tracy, Edie Adams, Margaret Leighton

Plot outline: The other party is in disarray. Five men vie for the party nomination for president. No one has a majority (IMDb).

Based on the play of the same title by Gore Vidal, this movie is a hypothetical battle between two front-running candidates on the eve of the balloting at a presidential nominating convention. The drama of this confrontation, happening in the midst of a hot and howling but strangely oblivious convention, is shockingly intense. That is because Schaffner has shrewdly directed the movie to emphasize the rasp of a convention as well as of individuals. While the personal hostility between two taut and determined men is stingingly shown in the foreground, the atmosphere of all that's going on around is caught in brilliant simulation and made to crackle with the tensions of a mob. Henry Fonda gets precisely the mixture of hot ambition and cool humility to make the presidential aspirations of an evident egghead credible. And he is able to play a participant in a threatened retaliatory smear with the becoming distaste of a gentleman and yet with a certain bright-eyed zeal. In the end, of course, his behavior is that of a starry idealist. As his rigid and ruthless rival, Cliff Robertson is excellent, too - a fair reflection of a type of opportunist that has been all too evident on political scene. And as the shrewd and conniving former President, Lee Tracy comes charging through with a performance that prickles with witty cynicism and drips with phony sentiment. Kevin McCarthy as Fonda's henchman who pulls the political tricks, Ann Sothern as a brassy and brutal manipulator of the "women's vote", John Henry Faulk as a Southern politician and William R. Ebersol as a lily-white dark horse stand out in a cast that is notable for its authenticity. (NYT)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Monday, 1 December 2008

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Movie Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Year of Release: 1945
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Albert Lewin
Cast: George Sanders, Hurd Hatfield, Donna Reed, Angela Lansbury

Plot outline: A corrupt young man somehow keeps his youthful beauty, but a special painting gradually reveals his inner ugliness to all (IMDb).

Based on the 1891 novel of the same name by Oscar Wilde, the story is a thin piece of philosophic writing and a literate bit of symbolism without too much profundity. The elaborately mystical treatment which the filmmaker has given the story is matched in egregious absurdity by the visual affectations of the movie. And the whole thing makes little or no intelligible sense. Albert Lewin was attempting to suggest a diabolic enchantment by pacing it slowly and using light and shade, not to mention monotonous voice and music, to work a hypnotic spell. Nevertheless, George Sanders as Lord Henry, the cynic who corrupted Dorian's mind, gives commendable performance. He is brittle and dandified, at least, and drops the smooth and catty little bon-mots of Mr. Wilde with amusing aplomb. But Hurd Hatfield as Dorian Gray is incredibly stiff, and walks through the movie with a vapid and masklike expression on his face (apparently somebody figured that was the only way to show it doesn't change). Angela Lansbury as a music-hall-singing Sibyl Vane wears a ridiculous pose of purity which provokes Dorian's bestiality. Donna Reed as Basil Hallward's niece is presented in the flat role, and Lowell Gilmore plays that very pompous artist with an excess of pomposity. Throughout, an unidentified narrator gives a play-by-play description of what transpires. It sounds like Sir Cedric Hardwicke sitting sternly in an invisible cloud. (
NYT)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Jamaica Inn

Movie Review: Jamaica Inn

Year of Release: 1939
Country of Origin: UK
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Hara, Leslie Banks

Plot outline: In Cornwall, around 1800, a young woman discovers that she's living near a gang of criminals who arrange shipwrecks for profit (IMDb).

An assortment of Hitchcock's greatest early movies are featured in a three-disc collection.
Adapted from Daphne du Maurier's novel of the same name, Jamaica Inn was the first of three of du Maurier's works that Hitchcock adapted (the others were Rebecca and The Birds). Having set his own standards, Hitchcock must be judged by them; and, by them, this movie is merely journeyman melodrama, good enough of its kind, but almost entirely devoid of those felicitous turns of camera phrasing, the sudden gleams of wicked humor, the diabolically casual accumulation of suspense which characterize his best pictures. Without them, Hitchcock is still a good director, imaginative and cinema-wise, but with no more individuality than a dozen others in his field and subject, like them, to the risk of having a mere actor run away with the movie. That had never happened to Hitchcock before. His pictures always were his. Jamaica Inn will not be remembered as a Hitchcock picture, but as a Charles Laughton picture. It bears the Laughton stamp. Perhaps that is the root of the evil, if it is an evil. For Hitch never faced a player his size before. With two such stalwart individualists battling on a bare sound stage they might have come to a draw. Laughton sets the pace, slower than Hitch would have ordered it. Laughton is such a bulky man to get into motion. I had the impression, as the movie rolled on, of Hitch rushing the action to his doorstep and then having to wait three or four minutes for Laughton to answer the bell. Actually, the wait must have told more on Hitch than it did on me. There are other virtues: Maureen O'Hara, who is lovely, has played Mary Yellen well this side of ingenue hysteria, with charming naturalness and poise, with even a trace of self-control in her screams. Leslie Banks is capital as Joss Merlyn, the wrecker ringleader, with a fine crew of cutthroats around him - Emlyn Williams, Wylie Watson, Edwin Greenwood among them. Marie Ney as the girl's aunt, Robert Newton as the undercover man, George Curzon as one of Sir Humphrey's blanker friends are splendid in their degree. I enjoyed it all, Laughton most, but it doesn't seem like Hitchcock. (NYT)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Saturday, 29 November 2008

The Lady Vanishes

Movie Review: The Lady Vanishes

Year of Release: 1938
Country of Origin: UK
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, Dame May Whitty

Plot outline: While traveling in continental Europe, a rich young playgirl realizes that an elderly lady seems to have disappeared from the train (IMDb).

An assortment of Hitchcock's greatest
early movies are featured in a three-disc collection. Adapted from the 1936 novel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White, this movie was the penultimate movie of Hitchcock's British period. The movie was a great success and brought him to the attention of Hollywood. Considered to be the second best of his British movies (after The 39 Steps), The Lady Vanishes skilfully combines suspense thriller and black comedy, making this one of Hitchcock’s most entertaining – and unpredictable – movies. The movie’s cast is as perfect as its direction and scripting. Margaret Lockwood makes a terrific Hitchcockian heroine – resilient, vulnerable and attractive (!); her pairing with the great Michael Redgrave is a stroke of genius. This is just one of the many well-formed double acts the movie has to offer – the most memorable being Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford as the cricket-obsessed Caldicott and Charters. These latter two proved to be so popular that they re-appeared in a number of subsequent movies. The more shocking sequences in the movie are offset by some superlative – and wonderfully downplayed – comedy, which curiously adds to the suspense. There are even a few nice expressionist touches, notably the sequence when the heroine struggles to hold onto her consciousness as the train begins its nightmarish journey. The movie’s strengths – particularly in its characterisation and atmosphere – manage to carry it through its weaker moments (an unconvincing model shot at the start of the movie, and a needlessly drawn-out shoot-out sequence near the end). On a bigger budget, Hitchcock would undoubtedly have managed to make a more polished production, but it is doubtful that he would have improved upon the movie he did make, the compelling and irresistibly funny The Lady Vanishes. (JT)

My judgement: ***1/2 out of 4 stars

Friday, 28 November 2008

Secret Agent

Movie Review: Secret Agent

Year of Release: 1936
Country of Origin: UK
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: John Gielgud, Peter Lorre, Madeleine Carroll, Robert Young

Plot outline: After three British agents are assigned to assassinate a mysterious German spy during World War I, two of them become ambivalent when their duty to the mission conflicts with their consciences (IMDb).

An assortment of Hitchcock's greatest early movies are featured in a three-disc collection. Based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, Secret Agent is one of those affairs in which practically every member of the cast turns out to be a spy. It is a defect of the screen narrative that all the spies seem to be continually engaged in melodramatic shadow boxing, but the script never really makes out a case for the necessity of spying and never convince you that there is anything in Geneva worth spying on. The movie is marred by inexpert camera technique, film editing whose incorrectness hits one between the eyes, and strangely uneven sound recording which, at one point, simply causes the screen to go dead. Madeleine Carroll is a bit above her surroundings, and she unluckily gets mixed up in the most terrible clichés. But there are scattered high-lights, e.g. Peter Lorre plays one of the most amusing and somehow one of the most wistfully appealing trigger men, a homicidal virtuoso, a student of the theory as well as the practice of garroting and throat-slitting, repulsively curly and Oriental in make-up. The sequence in which he regretfully shoves a charming but suspected gentleman (Percy Marmont) from the peak of a Swiss Alp, only to discover later that he was the wrong man, is a priceless one. His harmless and ineffectual little gallantries with servant girls are also admirably carried off. (NYT)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Thursday, 27 November 2008

White Heat

Movie Review: White Heat

Year of Release: 1949
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Raoul Walsh
Cast: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O'Brien, Margaret Wycherly

Plot outline: A psychopathic criminal with a mother complex makes a daring break from prison and leads his old gang in a chemical plant payroll heist. Shortly after the plan takes place, events take a crazy turn (IMDb
).

Based on a story by Virginia Kellogg, White Heat is considered one of the classic gangster, and the most explosive, movies that Cagney or anyone has ever played. The script has pulled all the stops in making this movie the acme of the gangster-prison movie. Cagney plays his role in a brilliantly graphic way, matching the pictorial vigor of his famous Public Enemy job. As the ruthless gang-leader in this furious and frightening account of train-robbery, prison-break, gang war and gun fighting with the police, Cagney indeed achieves the fascination of a brilliant bull-fighter at work, deftly engaged in the business of doing violence with economy and grace. His movements are supple and electric, his words are as swift and sharp as swords and his whole manner carries the conviction of confidence, courage and power. Cagney's performance is not the only one in this movie. Director Raoul Walsh gathers vivid acting from his whole cast: Virginia Mayo is excellent as the gangster's disloyal spouse - brassy, voluptuous and stupid to just the right degree. Edmond O'Brien does a slick job as a Treasury Department T-man who gets next to the gang-boss in prison and works into a place of favor in his mob. Steve Cochran is ugly as an outlaw, John Archer is stout as a Treasury sleuth and Margaret Wycherly is darkly invidious as the gangster's beloved old "Ma". Perhaps her inclusion in the story is its weakest and most suspected point, for the notion of Cagney being a "mama's boy" is slightly remote. And this motivation for his cruelty, as well as for his frequent howling fits, is convenient, perhaps, for novel action but not entirely convincing as truth. However, impeccable veracity is not the first purpose of this movie. It is made to excite and amuse people. And that it most certainly does. (NYT)

My judgement: ***1/2 out of 4 stars

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Suddenly, Last Summer

Movie Review: Suddenly, Last Summer

Year of Release: 1959
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, Montgomery Clift

Plot outline: The only son of wealthy widow Violet Venable dies while on vacation with his cousin Catherine. What the girl saw was so horrible that she went insane. Now, Mrs. Venable wants Catherine lobotomized to cover up the truth (IMDb).

Based on the play of the same title by Tennessee Williams, the point of the story is somewhat missed, because the true nature of the most-talked-of character could not be tagged (he was obviously a homosexual, as well as a sadist of some sort) and the precise and horrible details of his death could not be explained (he was literally eaten by urchins). What should be thoroughly shocking in the flash-back scenes of his death is only confusing and baffling, because I can't really see what's happening, and the girl who is describing the incident is much less vivid and exact than she could be. In structure, as well as in content, the story is a simple mystery, a psychological whodunit - or howdunit, to be exact - how did the man die? The script does not tell how the urchins killed the man, to justify frequent mention that it was "horrid and obscene". It does not tell why they did it, other than to suggest that they were "hungry", which is a feeble explanation and gastronomically far-fetched. And it certainly does not complete an image, made much of by the wealthy widow early along, that vultures swooping down upon young turtles and devouring them reveal the cruel "face of God". The script indulges in sheer verbal melodramatics which only add to the audience confusion and are barely elevated from tedium by some incidental scenes of inmates of a mental institution. Nevertheless, Elizabeth Taylor is rightly roiled as the niece, Katharine Hepburn is craftily mischievous as the wealthy widow, but Montgomery Clift seems racked with pain and indifference as the brain surgeon, Albert Dekker growls and gropes as his dull boss, and Mercedes McCambridge and Gary Raymond do a routine - a vaudeville routine - as the mother and brother of the girl. (NYT)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Sabotage

Movie Review: Sabotage

Year of Release: 1936
Country of Origin: UK
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Sylvia Sidney, Oskar Homolka, Desmond Tester, John Loder

Plot outline: A Scotland Yard undercover detective is on the trail of a saboteur who is part of a plot to set off a bomb in London. But when the detective's cover is blown, the plot begins to unravel (IMDb).

An assortment of Hitchcock's greatest early movies are featured in a three-disc collection. Based on Joseph Conrad's novel The Secret Agent, this movie (a.k.a. The Woman Alone) is imperfect narrative, but perfect dramaturgy. Impatiently brushing aside all but the semblance of motivation, Hitchcock plunges his camera into the heart of the story and brings out a brilliantly executed fragment of a plot that has more logic than he gives it. Always the master of his picture's destiny, he reduces the movie to the bare essentials of its narrative, selecting only those incidents which he could bend to his melodramatic will. His pace is deceptively deliberate, but he builds ruthlessly to his climaxes and he makes their impact hard and sudden. He directs the sequence fiendishly. It is almost an agonizing experience to have to sit silently and watch the careless youngster's (Desmond Tester) dawdling progress across London, idling at shop windows, selected by a sidewalk vendor for a hair-tonic demonstration, delayed by a parade, by traffic and by fussy bobbies. What a brilliant suspense (!) I won't tell you what happens ... that would be to cheat Hitchcock of his just reward, but it is a warning what you may expect - which, as is the way of all his melodramas, is the unexpected. Oskar Homolka as Verloc is a perfect tool for Hitchcock's deliberate tempo. Sylvia Sidney as his bewildered wife, tragically mothering her young brother, Desmond Tester as the engaging youngster, John Loder as the romantic sergeant from Scotland Yard and William Dewhurst as the bomb maker are severally perfect. Sabotage is Hitchcock's picture and a valuable one, for all its refusal to give us the whys and the wherefores of the sabotage plot. (NYT)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Monday, 24 November 2008

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Movie Review: The Man Who Knew Too Much

Year of Release: 1934
Country of Origin: UK
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Leslie Banks, Edna Best, Peter Lorre, Frank Vosper, Hugh Wakefield, Nova Pilbeam

Plot outline: A man and his wife receive a clue to an imminent assassination attempt, only to learn that their daughter has been kidnapped to keep them quiet (IMDb).

An assortment of Hitchcock's greatest early movies are featured in a three-disc collection. This taut, suspenseful thriller, aided by the director’s wry wit and tight pacing, was one of the most successful and critically acclaimed movies of Hitchcock's British period. He remade the movie in 1956, the only one of his movies that he ever remade. The two movies are however very different in tone, setting and many plot details. Critics continue to argue the movie's merits versus those of its 1956 remake. In this movie, the British cinema, never notable for its command of filmic pace, goes in for a blistering style of story-telling. Directed with a fascinating staccato violence, this movie is a swift screen melodrama. Normally the work would be important chiefly because it offers Peter Lorre in his first part since his remarkable performance as the insane killer in M. But this movie is distinctly Hitchcock's picture. Although the photography and lighting are inferior according to Hollywood standards, it is an interesting example of technical ingenuity as well as an absorbing melodrama. Hitchcock tells the story in a succession of brief and tantalizing scenes which merge so breathlessly that you are always rapt and tense. The method, of course, subordinates the actors to the technique, but Lorre, as the anarchist leader, is able to crowd his role with dark and terrifying emotions without disturbing his placid moon face. Then there are Leslie Banks as the husband, Edna Best as the wife, Hugh Wakefield as the amateur sleuth and Nova Pilbeam as the kidnapped child. Pierre Fresnay becomes a corpse so hurriedly that you scarcely have time to know he is in the cast. (NYT)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Number Seventeen

Movie Review: Number Seventeen

Year of Release: 1932
Country of Origin: UK
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Leon M. Lion, Anne Grey, John Stuart

Plot outline: A gang of thieves gather at a safe house following a robbery, but a detective is on their trail (IMDb).

An assortment of Hitchcock's greatest early movies are featured in a three-disc collection.
Based on a stage play by J. Jefferson Farjeon, rather than make a serious thriller, Hitchcock used the opportunity to send up the genre as far as he could, whilst performing experiments with lighting and camera movement which would have been impossible on a more conventional movie. The end result is truly bizarre – looking like a film noir that was concocted in Britain’s maddest lunatic asylum. This movie is certainly an atypical Hitchcock movie - an unbridled parody of the low budget crime thrillers that were prevalent in the early 1930s. It probably helped that this movie had a shoestring budget – evidenced by the poor quality of the models in the chaotic denouement. This movie has often been criticised for its production weaknesses and virtually incomprehensible plot, but such criticisms generally miss the point of the movie. Number Seventeen is a warning of what cinema was in danger of becoming - a mindless spectacle of muddled intrigue and artistic self-indulgence, without any real substance or meaning. If Hitchcock were around today he would probably grin nonchalantly and mutter: "I told you so." (JT)

My judgement: ** out of 4 stars

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Rich and Strange

Movie Review: Rich and Strange

Year of Release: 1931
Country of Origin: UK
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Henry Kendall, Joan Barry, Percy Marmont, Betty Amann, Elsie Randolph

Plot outline: Believing that an unexpected inheritance will bring them happiness, a married couple instead finds their relationship strained to the breaking point (IMDb).

An assortment of Hitchcock's greatest early movies are featured in a three-disc collection. Adapted from a novel by Dale Collins, this atypical Hitchcock effort is a cautionary fable which lends credence to the old saw "Love flies out the door when money flies in the window." Joan Barry and Henry Kendall play a young married couple who suddenly come into an inheritance. Bored with their working-class existence, hero and heroine embark upon a world cruise, and it isn't long before Barry gets romantically involved with a landed-gentry gentleman. Meanwhile, Kendall is swept off his feet by a phony princess, who tricks him out of all his money. Partly a sophisticated sex comedy, partly a grim seafaring melodrama, Rich and Strange had the negative effect of confusing the public in general and Hitchcock's fans in particular, and as a result the movie, which remains one of his best early talkies, died at the box office. (NYT)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Friday, 21 November 2008

Murder!

Movie Review: Murder!

Year of Release: 1930
Country of Origin: UK
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Herbert Marshall, Norah Baring, Phyllis Konstam, Edward Chapman

Plot outline: A juror in a murder trial, after voting to convict, has second thoughts and begins to investigate on his own before the execution (IMDb).

An assortment of Hitchcock's greatest
early movies are featured in a three-disc collection. Based on a novel and play called Enter Sir John by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson, Murder! has the distinction of being Hitchcock’s one and only true whodunit, in the mould of the classic British murder mystery popularised by such writers as Agatha Christie. Hitchcock’s preference for suspense over surprise is evident in this movie which, whilst competently directed and entertaining, lacks the master’s distinctive touch, even though it deals with a familiar Hitchcockian theme: the wrongful arrest of an innocent person. In this movie, his great innovation is the internal monologue, where the audience hears what a character is thinking, not just what he is saying. In common with several of his early work, this movie explores the relationship between life and art – in particular, how the two feed off one another and how it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the one from the other. The exaggerated theatricality seen in this movie (which is taken to almost absurd limits by Herbert Marshall’s overly mannered performance) makes it hard to tell what is real and what is not – reminiscent of what we find in his later movie Vertigo. Murder! is often slow-moving, but it has some good features, and is worth watching the whole way through. (JT)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Young and Innocent

Movie Review: Young and Innocent

Year of Release: 1937
Country of Origin: UK
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Nova Pilbeam, Derrick De Marney, Percy Marmont

Plot outline: Man on the run from a murder charge enlists a beautiful stranger who must put herself at risk for his cause (IMDb).

An assortment of Hitchcock's greatest early movies are featured in a three-disc collection.
Loosely based on Josephine Tey's 1936 novel A Shilling for Candles, although it misses the heart-tearing suspense, this movie (a.k.a. The Girl Was Young) serves his purposes - and ours - quite well. Hitchcock has the demonic knack of filling the commonplace with terror: a serene English countryside under his glance suddenly grows ugly and threatening; a rail road yard can be made as ominous and mysterious as Herr Frankenstein's castle; a crowded dance floor in a hotel dining room becomes sinister and dread. When murder blights a drowsy English village, Hitchcock twists and weaves these melodramatic commonplaces into a taut skein of adventure and romance. Nova Pilbeam plays the constable's daughter with a wholesome and natural charm and a delightful ease of manner. Derrick De Marney, as the suspect, is agreeably light-hearted in the shadow of the noose. And there are a panel of delightful characters around them - in particular, the annoyingly optimistic solicitor, J. H. Roberts, the frowsy old china mender, Edward Rigby, and the several muddling-through constables and Yard men. But chiefly, of course, I admire Mr. Hitchcock. (NYT)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Juno and the Paycock

Movie Review: Juno and the Paycock

Year of Release: 1930
Country of Origin: UK
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Barry Fitzgerald, Maire O'Neill, Edward Chapman, Sidney Morgan, Sara A
llgood

Plot outline: During the Irish revolution, a family earns a big inheritance. They start leading a rich life forgetting what the most important values are (IMDb).

An assortment of Hitchcock's greatest
early movies are featured in a three-disc collection. Hitchcock's second talkie was a surprisingly static adaptation of Sean O'Casey stage drama Juno and the Paycock. Set during the Irish "troubles" of the early 1920s, the movie focuses on the trials and tribulations of a typical Dublin tenement family. Sara Allgood is brilliant as family matriarch Juno Boyle, who must contend with her bibulous, braggadocio husband, Captain Jack Boyle (Edward Chapman), known as the "paycock" because he always struts around like he owns the world. As Captain Jack carouses with his drinking buddy Joxer Daly (Sydney Morgan), Juno tries to keep her family together, a task that proves harder with each passing day, especially when daughter Mary (Kathleen O'Regan) is impregnated by her irresponsible boyfriend. Things take a tragic turn when Juno's weakling son Johnny (John Laurie), a member of the IRA, is shot as an informer by his own comrades. Sara Allgood's scenes after the death of her son are absolutely heart-wrenching, offering ample compensation for Hitchcock's plodding direction and the hopelessly hammy performance by Edward Chapman. (NYT)

My judgement: ** out of 4 stars

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Blackmail

Movie Review: Blackmail

Year of Release: 1929
Country of Origin: UK
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Anny Ondra, Sara Allgood, Charles Paton, John Longden, Donald Calthrop, Cyril Ritchard

Plot oultine: A shopkeeper's daughter fights off blackmail after she kills a young artist who tries to rape her (IMDb).

An assortment of Hitchcock's
greatest early movies are featured in a three-disc collection. Adapted from Charles Bennett's play of the same name, Blackmail was Hitchcock's (and Britain's) first sound movie. It utilized the new sound technology in a rather creative way off-camera. The lead actress, Anny Ondra, had a strong Eastern European accent that was difficult for British audiences to understand, so Hitchcock's solution was to have British actress Joan Barry speak Ondra's lines of dialogue off-camera. Hitchcock used several elements that would become his "trademarks" including a beautiful blonde in peril and a famous landmark in the finale. The movie was a critical and commercial hit. The sound was praised as inventive. The silent version of Blackmail actually ran longer in theaters and proved more popular. Despite the popularity of the silent version, history best remembers the landmark talkie version of Blackmail. It is the version now generally available although some critics consider the silent version superior. (NYT)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Monday, 17 November 2008

The Manxman

Movie Review: The Manxman (silent)

Year of Release: 1929
Country of Origin: UK
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Carl Brisson, Malcolm Keen, Anny Ondra

Plot outline: A fisherman and a rising young lawyer, who grew up as brothers, fall in love with the same girl (IMDb).

An assortment of Hitchcock's greatest early movies are featured in a three-disc collection. Based on a romantic novel by Sir Hall Caine, The Manxman was the last silent movie Hitchcock directed before he made the transition to sound. This movie is filled with enchanting scenes and the story itself is quite well told. There are periodical posings by the players and their movements are frequently either too slow or much too fast; yet, considering the task he undertook, Hitchcock, the young British director who produced Britain's first talking movie, Blackmail, has done a worth-while job. This movie is said to have been photographed on the Isle of Man, the locale of the story, and it is another instance where backgrounds count for a great deal in unfurling the narrative. Not only are the out-of-doors stretches as beautiful as anything that one would hope to behold on the screen, but the interiors are evidently faithful reproductions of an old inn and a fisherman's cottage. The production is not brilliant, but the shortcomings in acting and to a certain extent in the direction are atoned for by the artistry of the scenes. Moreover, it is a movie in which Hitchcock exercises laudable restraint, even though suspense is seldom particularly keen or sustained. Carl Brisson plays Pete Quilliam. He appears to be devoting more attention to his smile or having a lock of his hair protrude under his cap than he does to the mood of the moment. Malcolm Keen is competent as Philip Christian. He is quite aware that he is not good-looking and therefore is less guilty of posing than the others. Anny Ondra does some fair acting as Kate Cregeen, but her performance hardly causes one to think that she is in earnest. Randle Ayrton figures as Caesar Cregeen, whom he fails to make sufficiently human. (NYT)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars