Saturday, 31 January 2009

Elephant Walk

Movie Review: Elephant Walk

Year Of Release: 1954
Country of Origin: USA
Director: William Dieterle
Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Dana Andrews, Peter Finch

Plot outline: The young bride of a rich tea planter finds herself the only white woman at Elephant Walk, British Ceylon (IMDb).

Based on the novel of the same title by Robert Standish, menacing elephants and a father-in-law's dark shadow is the situation in Elephant Walk. No wonder Taylor acts so scared. No wonder she soon finds her new husband, Peter Finch, just a bit of a bore and starts riding out with Dana Andrews to see how the tea plants are coming along. And, we might add, no wonder the picture becomes a bit of a bore, too. This sort of menace melodrama has to be done awfully well to hold. Unfortunately, the script is lengthy and hackneyed in the build-up, and William Dieterle's direction does not provide anything more than gaudy panoramas of a tropical palace to fascinate the eye. Taylor's performance of the young wife is petulant and smug. Andrews is pompous as the manager. And Finch, as the husband, is just plain bad. Abraham Sofaer as the native major-domo wears moustachios like a Turkish highwayman's and has the best chance to be intriguing. But he does little more than roll his eyes. In the last fifteen minutes, however, the fireworks are made to explode. Cholera breaks out and the native villages are put to the hygienic torch. Then the elephants, taking advantage of the absence of the native guards, respond to their old frustrated instinct and come lumbering down their ancient walk. Is there anything more you'd like to know? (NYT)

My judgement: ** out of 4 stars

Friday, 30 January 2009


Movie Review: Holiday

Year of Release: 1938
Country of Origin: USA
Director: George Cukor
Cast: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Doris Nolan, Lew Ayres, Edward Everett Horton

Plot outline: A man who has risen from humble beginnings only to be torn between his free-thinking lifestyle and the tradition of his wealthy fiancée's family (IMDb).

A remake of the 1930 movie of the same name, Holiday has the added advantage of supercharged star power. Katharine Hepburn and Doris Nolan play Linda and Julia Seton, two daughters of a very well-to-do family. The script is careful to bring the pre-Depression frivolities of the Philip Barry play up-to-date, first by changing the character of Grant's best friend (played in both movies by Edward Everett Horton) from a lazy socialite to a dedicated professor, and by including several lines indicating how out of touch the privileged classes are - and choose to remain with 1930s realities. The only element in which the remake does not improve on the original is in the casting of Hepburn's alcoholic younger brother; charming though Lew Ayres is in the 1938 version, he is still outclassed by Monroe Owsley in the original version. Katharine Hepburn managed to temporarily defray her "box office poison" onus when Holiday proved to be a success; alas, her next movie, Bringing Up Baby (which reteamed her with Grant), was a financial bust, compelling her to return to Broadway - where she made a spectacular comeback in another Philip Barry play, The Philadelphia Story. (HE)

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

Thursday, 29 January 2009

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex

Movie Review: The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex

Year of Release: 1939
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Michael Curtiz
Cast: Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland

Plot outline: A dramatization of the tempestuous relationship between Queen Elizabeth I of England and the Earl of Essex (IMDb).

Based on the successful Broadway play, Elizabeth the Queen, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex is a lavish Technicolor costumer allowing full scope to Davis' histrionics and Flynn's derring-do. The gorgeous sets and costumed elegance are pure 1930s Warner Bros., and the movie's passions are as bold as its colors: Davis' 63-year-old Queen is ardent (the actress was really 31); Flynn is suitably dashing. But, Davis was infamously disapproving of her costar's "unprofessional" attitude (Flynn does seem uncomfortably hammy in his scenes with Davis), while he found her to be insufferably self-important. Many years later, however, Davis viewed the movie; and at the movie's end Davis admitted, "I was wrong, wrong, wrong. Flynn was brilliant! " Olivia de Havilland is wasted in the role of a lady-in-waiting who carries a torch for Essex. If the scenes of Essex' triumphant return to London after winning the battle of Cadiz seem familiar, it is because they were reused as stock footage in Warner Bros. (HE)

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

Wednesday, 28 January 2009


Movie Review: Marty

Year of Release: 1955
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Delbert Mann
Cast: Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair, Esther Minciotti, Augusta Ciolli, Joe Mantell

Plot outline: A touching story about two lonely people who have almost resigned themselves to never being truly loved (IMDb).

This neat little character study of a lonely fellow and a lonely girl who find each other in the prowling mob at a Bronx dance hall makes a warm and winning movie, full of the sort of candid comment on plain, drab people that seldom reaches the screen. Ernest Borgnine as the fellow and Betsy Blair as the girl - not to mention three or four others - give performances that burn into the mind. Except for a rather sudden ending that leaves a couple of threads untied and the emotional climax not quite played out, it is a trim and rewarding show. Within the dramatic time-lapse of a little more than twenty-four hours, our hero breaks through the inhibitions of his fearful and inferior attitudes. He poignantly recognizes someone just as lost and desperate as he. And he amusingly and bravely grabs for her over the pitiful scoffing of his friends. Chayefsky's script is loaded with accurate and vivid dialogue, so blunt and insensitive in places that it makes the listener's heart bleed while striking a chord of humor with its candor and colorfulness. Mann's excellent staging has got the feel and the flavor of the Bronx, where all of the picture's exteriors and many of its interiors were filmed. As for Borgnine's performance, it is a beautiful blend of the crude and the strangely gentle and sensitive in a monosyllabic man. It is amazing to see such a performance from the actor who played the Stockade sadist in From Here to Eternity. And Miss Blair is wonderfully revealing of the unspoken nervousness and hope in the girl who will settle for sincerity. The two make an excellent team. As the disquieted mother of the hero, Esther Minciotti is superb, and Augusta Ciolli is devastating as a grimly dependent aunt. Jerry Paris is briefly amusing as the aunt's conscience-smitten son, and Joe Mantell is funny and incisive as the hero's pal. (NYT)

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

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

The Taming of the Shrew

Movie Review: The Taming of the Shrew

Year of Release: 1967
Country of Origin: Italy, USA
Director: Franco Zeffirelli
Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Michael York, Victor Spinetti, Cyril Cusack

Plot outline: Brutish, fortune-hunting scoundrel Petruchio tames his wealthy shrewish wife, Katharina (IMDb).

In settings that fairly teem and tumble with Renaissance décor, vegetable stands, street singers, heavily robed merchants and clowns, Burton's hairy Petruchio sweeps grandly onto the operatic scene with the obvious intent of being funny quite as much as that of getting a wealthy wife. And Taylor's powerful Katharina hauls off and swats him with as much desire to set the customers whooping and howling as to discourage his matrimonial quest. Under Zeffirelli's gleeful urging more than his restraining, the Burtons race madly through the first part of the movie, committing physical violence on each other with a minimum exhaling of Shakespeare's words. After they've finally exhausted their energies ... and ours, we are treated to more slamming and banging on a slightly lower level of the decibel scale, as Petruchio goes about the standard business of domesticating his bosomy shrew. It is in their extravagant overacting and in the evident fun they have that the sheer theatrical gusto and rollicking sport of this movie reside. But I find it all grows a bit tedious. After we've examined Burton's great red beard, Taylor's amazingly revealing yet deftly restraining decolletage, and listened to them toss about the language without much clarity or eloquence, it seems time to have done with clowning and settle down to a bit of comedy - comedy of a slightly adult order. The Burtons never do. Neither do the other performers. They all seem to want to be clowns, popping their eyes, flaring their nostrils, slapping their bellies and pulling their hats down over their ears. Michael Hordern as Katharina's father is the best of the lot. Cyril Cusack as Petruchio's guzzling servant, and Alfred Lynch as the bug-eyed pumpkin who comes to town with Michael York's romantic Lucentio, are the worst. Natasha Pyne as the fair-haired Bianca, who has to wait until her sister is wed before she can enjoy matrimony, is convincingly eager, at least. As for Zeffirelli's settings and the elaborate Renaissance costumes, they look very rich and mellow in the misty pastel colors that are used. But they, too, like the music, tend to monotony. (NYT)

My judgement: ** out of 4 stars

Monday, 26 January 2009

Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Movie Review: Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Year of Release: 1964
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Robert Aldrich
Cast: Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead

Plot outline: The arrival of a lost relative, engulfs terror upon an aging southern belle, forever plagued by a horrifying family secret (IMDb).

Bette Davis plays the looniest character in this movie. But there are other mildly mad and murderous characters drifting in and out this house of horrors, so it is safe and fair to describe it as a comparable looney bin. But so calculated and coldly carpentered is the tale of murder, mayhem and deceit that Mr. Aldrich stages in this mansion that it soon appears grossly contrived, purposely sadistic and brutally sickening. So, instead of coming out funny, as did What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, it comes out grisly, pretentious, disgusting and profoundly annoying. By the unwritten rule of criticism, I won't tell you who the plotters are - nor, indeed, will I try to tell you the details of the plot. That is mainly because it is so fuzzy and full of ridiculous holes, which apparently has not bothered Mr. Aldrich in his grim bent to generate shock. But the fact that it is so fuzzy is only another reason to resent the darkly-lit, crudely-gimmicked horror he has tried to perpetrate. Resentable, too, is the acting - the style of acting - done in this movie. It is weirdly exaggerated for sensational effects and nothing more. Miss Davis, with heavy eyebrows and lines in her face, is plainly directed to accomplish a straight melodramatic tour de force. Olivia de Havilland is closer to normal as a relative of the demented woman who comes to be with her, but Joseph Gotten overdoes and over-accents the seamy role of the family physician. Agnes Moorehead as her weird and crone-like servant is allowed to get away with some of the broadest mugging and snarling ever done by a respectable actress on the screen. Cecil Kellaway and Mary Astor mumble and fumble lesser roles. (NYT)

My judgement: ** out of 4 stars

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Captain Blood

Movie Review: Captain Blood

Year of Release: 1935
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Michael Curtiz
Cast: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Lionel Atwill, Basil Rathbone

Plot outline: In seventeenth century England, Irish Dr. Peter Blood is convicted of treason, sentenced to slavery in the British colony of Port Royal, and is purchased by the beautiful niece of the local military commander Colonel Bishop, Arabella Bishop, who is attracted by his rebellious nature (IMDb).

Based on the novel by Rafael Sabatini, the story of Dr. Peter Blood is treated with visual beauty and a fine, swaggering arrogance. With a spirited and criminally good-looking Errol Flynn playing the genteel buccaneer to the hilt, the movie recaptures the air of high romantic adventure which is so essential to the tale. Providing a properly picturesque background for Blood's piratical career, the director skillfully reconstructs the England of the sanguinary Monmouth uprising, the West Indies of tortured slaves and savage masters, and the ships that sailed the Spanish Main flying the jolly roger. Basil Rathbone, who was grinding the poor of Paris in A Tale of Two Cities, here, with equal skill if slightly increased likableness, is quarreling with Blood over the disposition of the beautiful English captive, Arabella Bishop. Mr. Rathbone has a habit of dying violently in his pictures, but his demise in this one, when Blood punctures him at the conclusion of a desperately waged duel, seems more lamentable than usual. Perhaps it is because he lacks the proper seasoning of villainy this time. Mr. Flynn has an effective cast at his back. Olivia de Havilland is a lady of rapturous loveliness and well worth fighting for. Lionel Atwill, as the cruel governor of Port Royal, is as thorough a knave as Blood is a gentleman. (NYT)

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

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Love Affair

Movie Review: Love Affair

Year of Release: 1939
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Leo McCarey
Cast: Irene Dunne, Charles Boyer, Maria Ouspenskaya

Plot outline: French playboy Michel Marnay meets American singer Terry McKay aboard a liner crossing the Atlantic Ocean. They are both already engaged, nonetheless they fall in love. They arrange to reunite 6 months later - but will it happen? (IMDb)

Love Affair has the surface appearance of a comedy and the inner strength and poignance of a hauntingly sorrowful romance. It is a technique or a mood-creation developed out of McCarey's past experiments, ranging from Make Way for Tomorrow to The Awful Truth. The formula would be comedy plus sentiment plus X (which is McCarey himself) equal such things as Love Affair. He must be credited primarily for the movie's success, but almost as large a measure of acknowledgment belongs to Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer for the facility with which they have matched the changes of their script - playing it lightly now, soberly next, but always credibly, always in character, always with a superb utilization of the material at hand. Scarcely less effective has been the contribution of the small supporting cast: Maria Ouspenskaya, Lee Bowman, Astrid Allwyn, Maurice Moscovich and the few bit players who have added their priceless touches of humor and pathos. He finds it amusing that Michel should become a sign-painter, Terry a night club singer as they put themselves on probation for six months to determine whether they are worthy of marriage. But he finds it touching, too. And, although he keeps reminding himself (and his audience) that life is a comedian, he finds tragedy in the accident that overtakes Terry on her way to the marriage rendezvous and pity in the misunderstanding that keeps his lovers apart so long. In a sense, his movie is a triumph of indirection, for it does one thing while seeming to do another. Its immediate effect is comedy; its after-glow is that of a bitter-sweet romance. A less capable director, with a less competent cast, must have erred one way or the other - either on the side of treacle or on that of whimsy. McCarey has balanced his ingredients skillfully and has merged them, as is clear in retrospect, into a glowing and memorable picture. (NYT)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Monday, 19 January 2009

Stage Fright

Movie Review: Stage Fright

Year of Release: 1950
Country of Origin: UK
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding, Richard Todd, Alastair Sim

Plot outline: A struggling actress tries to help a friend prove his innocence when he's accused of murdering the husband of a high society entertainer (IMDb).

Based on the novel Man Running by Selwyn Jepson, Stage Fright looks like a dramatic throwback to a much earlier phase of Hitchcock’s career. Here we are, back in Britain, with a rather quaint murder mystery - no big name American actors, no set-piece action sequences, just a glamour icon in the form of Marlene Dietrich and lashings of quirky British comedy. It’s not most people’s idea of a typical Hitchcock thriller, but it is a madly enjoyable romp. Hitchcock’s movies are renowned for the calibre of their casts, and Stage Fright, although an odd ball, is no exception. In addition to the sultry Dietrich, the movie includes two very highly regarded British actors - Richard Todd and Alastair Sim - and the popular American comedy actress Jane Wyman. There is also Kay Walsh, virtually unrecognisable in one of her best character roles, stalwart British actor Michael Wilding (the future husband of Elizabeth Taylor) and some delightful contributions from Sybil Thorndike and Joyce Grenfell, for whom the phrase 'English eccentricity' was probably invented. Marlene Dietrich is clearly the movie’s biggest draw, particularly as she gets to sing "The Laziest Gal in Town", especially written for her by Cole Porter, and the Edith Piaf number "
La vie en rose", whilst draped in the most eye-catching costumes designed by Christian Dior. Dietrich is almost too good for the movie - the glamour and confidence she brings feels strangely incongruous, if not a tad indecent, for a British movie of this era. And yet she is perfect for the story being told - her larger-than-life persona emphasizing the sugary artificiality of the showbiz world, in a way that is intended to distract us from the greater and far deadlier artificiality of the real world from which she appears happily insulated. Whilst Stage Fright is considered by some to be one of Hitchcock’s weaker movies, others regard it as one of his most intelligent and subtle works. The movie shows that, contrary to what most people choose to believe, there is no easily defined boundary between reality and artifice. Everything we see or hear has multiple interpretations, and therefore the notion that there is a truly objective standpoint is absurd. It is a theme which Hitchcock explores in a number of his movies, but seldom as explicitly as here. One area of controversy is the movie’s use of the false flashback, where one character gives us a factually incorrect account of part of the story. Stage Fright may not be in the premier league of Hitchcock’s great movies, it may lack some of the familiar elements we know and love, but its sheer oddity and sense of fun are what give it an enduring appeal, particularly for true Hitchcock aficionados. (JT)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

The Wrong Man

Movie Review: The Wrong Man

Year of Release: 1956
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Henry Fonda, Vera Miles, Anthony Quayle, Harold Stone

Plot outline: A true story of an innocent man charged for a crime he didn't commit, even though witnesses swear he's guilty (IMDb).

Whilst it may embrace many familiar Hitchcockian themes, such as mistaken identity, mental derangement and transference of guilt, The Wrong Man is markedly different from Hitchcock’s other movies, and could even be mistaken as the work of an altogether different director. The surprising stylistic change of direction is heralded at the start of the movie by the appearance of Hitchcock himself, not in his usual fleeting cameo but as a ghostly silhouette in film noir long shot, to tell us that what we are about to see is based entirely on a true story. The factual nature of the narrative is reflected in the strikingly realist approach which Hitchcock adopts for this movie. It is probable that he had been influenced by the emergence of neo-realism in European cinema at the time - exemplified by the work of the Italian cineaste Roberto Rossellini. Real locations and naturalistic performances are complemented by a very restrained cinematographic style and a meticulous attention to detail, which heighten the sense of realism, to the point of risking viewer antipathy. The Wrong Man is much more a film d’auteur than a typical Hollywood commercial movie. It may have fared very poorly at the box office when it was first released, but it is undoubtedly one of Hitchcock’s most daring and inspired contributions to the art of cinema. Much of the movie’s intense emotional realism comes from Henry Fonda’s convincing portrayal of an innocent family man who is drawn into a Kafkaesque nightmare from which there is, apparently, no escape. Fonda’s talent for playing the ordinary man is put to good use and he really does get across the immense trauma and pathos of a man who is on the brink of losing everything. The subjective camera work (consisting of some very effective point-of-view shots) and Bernard Herrmann’s appropriately subdued score complement Fonda’s performance superbly, helping the viewer to identify with his character's growing anxiety and shame as the net closes in around him. An equally impressive performance from Vera Miles heightens the movie’s tragic dimension, helping to make this Hitchcock’s bleakest and most poignant movie. (JT)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Monday, 12 January 2009

I Confess

Movie Review: I Confess

Year of Release: 1953
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Montgomery Clift, Anne Baxter, Karl Malden, Brian Aherne, O.E. Hasse

Plot outline: Refusing to give into police investigators' questions of suspicion, due to the seal of confession, a Catholic priest becomes the prime suspect in a murder (IMDb).

It’s a sad fact that Hitchcock’s least commercially successful movies are technically and artistically among his best. I Confess is one of his least known movies but it is unquestionably one of his finest, vastly superior in its emotional depth and visual impact to his more popular movies. It is also one of his darkest and most serious movies, bearing many similarities with his later film noir masterpiece The Wrong Man. The plot of I Confess revolves around the transfer of guilt idea which features in many of Hitchcock’s movies. A Catholic priest takes on the burden of guilt for a murder when he hears a confession from the real killer, who then feels absolved from the crime. The story was taken from the French play Nos Deux Consciences by Paul Anthelme, which Hitchcock saw in the 1930s and which had a considerable impact on him as a filmmaker. Significantly, this was one of Hitchcock’s first movies to make extensive use of real locations - here in Quebec City, the capital of French Canada. The movie’s extraordinary dramatic intensity derives from a remarkable introspective performance from Montgomery Clift and some striking noir cinematography. Clift was one of Hollywood’s first great method actors, whose tragically short career was marred by terrible personal crises arising from his sexuality and ill health. Here, he gives possibly his finest performance, utterly convincing as the young priest who is trapped in a moral dilemma with a potentially fatal outcome by his devotion to his religion. The expressionist lighting and photography lend the movie a bleak which vividly underscores the inner torment of the main protagonist and makes this one of Hitchcock’s most intensely poetic and spiritual movies. (JT)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Touch of Evil

Movie Review: Touch of Evil

Year of Release: 1958
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Orson Welles
Cast: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles

Plot outline: Stark, perverse story of murder, kidnapping, and police corruption in Mexican border town (IMDb).

Loosely based on the novel Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson, Mr. Welles helps himself to the juicy role of a fanatical Texas cop who frames a Mexican youth for murder and clashes with an indignant Mexican sleuth, Mr. Heston. In addition to battling Mr. Welles, a psychopath who runs the town, Mr. Heston has to fend off a vengeful narcotics gang menacing his young bride, Miss Leigh. Any other directors might have culled a pretty good, well-acted melodrama from such material, with the suspense dwindling as justice begins to triumph. Mr. Welles' is an obvious but brilliant bag of tricks. Using a superlative camera like a black-snake whip, he lashes the action right into the audience's eye. The careful groupings of the cast, the overlapping of the speeches and other stylized trade-marks of the director's Mercury Players unit are here. But the tempo, at least in the first half, is plain mercurial, as befits a thriller. Where Mr. Welles soundly succeeds is in generating enough sinister electricity for three such yarns and in generally staging it like a wild, murky nightmare. Miss Leigh has the most blood-curdling time of all in two sequences, one involving a strangulation in a hotel room. The other - her siege by some young punks in an isolated motel - should make any viewer leery of border accommodations for a long time to come. However, while good versus evil remains the text, the lasting impression of this movie is effect rather than substance, hence its real worth. The cunningly designed climax, for instance, barely alludes to the framed youth at the outset (in a fine, ironic twist, by the way). The entire unsavory supporting cast is excellent, including such people as Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff and Ray Collins. Marlene Dietrich, as an incidental guest star, wisely advises Mr. Welles to "lay off the candy bars." Two questions: the first to Mr. Welles, who obviously savors his dominant, colorful role. Why would a villainous cop, having hoodwinked the taxpayers for some thirty years, suddenly buckle when a tourist calls his bluff? And why, Mr. Heston, pick the toughest little town in North America for a honeymoon with a nice morsel like Miss Leigh? (NYT)

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

Monday, 5 January 2009

An Affair to Remember

Movie Review: An Affair to Remember

Year of Release: 1957
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Leo McCarey
Cast: Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Richard Denning, Neva Patterson, Cathleen Nesbitt

Plot outline: A couple falls in love and agrees to meet in six months at the Empire State Building - but will it happen? (IMDb)

An Affair to Remember is a remake of the director's 1939 movie Love Affair, one of the best pre-World War II romances, starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer. Now, with the roles of those two worthies filled by Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, it reruns the same romantic fable that was covered in 1939. It tells, once again, the heartbreak story of two worldlings who meet aboard a ship while each is en route to America to enter matrimony with vastly wealthy mates, fall in love, make an oddly reasoned bargain to marry each other in six months (if still in love, after that length of time not seeing each other), then hit an unsuspected snag. As before, the attraction of this fable is in the velvety way in which two apparently blasée people treat the experience of actually finding themselves in love. This is an immature emotion that is loaded with surprise. And the old script of Love Affair provides plenty of humorous conversation that is handled crisply in the early reels by Grant and Kerr. Likewise, the scene in which the worldlings visit the aged grandmother of the man at her villa on the French Riviera is repeated, pretty much in toto, with agreeable sentiment. Cathleen Nesbitt is good as the grandmother, a role formerly played by Maria Ouspenskaya. But something goes wrong with the movie, after the couple get off the ship and abandon that area of romantic illusion for the down-to-earth realities of dry land. The marriage pact seems ridiculously childish for a couple of adult people to make. The lady's failure to notify her fiancé of her accident seems absurd. The fact that the man does not hear of it in some way is beyond belief. And the slowness with which he grasps the obvious when he calls upon the lady is just too thick. Nevertheless, the movie was a huge success. Contributing to the success is its theme song "An Affair to Remember" or "Our Love Affair" composed by Harry Warren with lyrics by Leo McCarey and Harold Adamson. The song is sung by Vic Damone during the opening credits and then sung later by Kerr's character (dubbed by Marni Nixon, who also dubbed for Kerr in the movie The King and I). (NYT)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Sunday, 4 January 2009


Movie Review: Psycho

Year of Release: 1960
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam

Plot outline: A young woman steals money from her employer and then encounters a young man too long under the domination of his mother (IMDb).

Based on the novel of the same name by Robert Bloch, Psycho is Hitchcock’s most famous movie - the movie that redefined the horror genre in the early 1960s, and certainly one of his biggest successes. It brought popularity and a measure of respectability to a genre that had previously languished in B movie purgatory, inviting a spate of imitations that led to the gory horror movies of the 1980s and the recent trend in blood-encrusted slasher movies. With its masterful mix of suspense and surprise, Psycho is a movie whose complexity and touches of cinematic brilliance make it one of Hitchcock’s best and most entertaining movies. The story appealed to Hitchcock because he had reached a point in his career where he needed a major box office hit and he saw that this had the potential to deliver just that. The story also appealed to his sense of the macabre and Psycho is unquestionably one of his darkest movies, albeit with a black comedic underbelly. The longevity of Psycho is most probably down to its terrific set-piece shock scenes, which have rarely if ever been bettered in any horror movies. The most famous of these is of course the shower sequence in which Janet Leigh is carved up nicely by what we think is Norman Bates’ mother. The three minute long sequence took seven days to shoot and includes around seventy shots, mostly close ups. Although we never actually see the knife make contact with the flesh, the way the montage is constructed, in a manic frenzy of quick cuts, the impression is unavoidably one of a beautiful young woman being hacked to pieces by a madman. Bernard Herrmann’s now legendary score accentuates the sense of visceral horror, the screeching violins sounding like a cry from hell, making the audience react to every slash as if it were he, not Janet Leigh, standing in the shower. As shocking as the shower scene is today, it was ten times more so when the movie was first released because at that time it was inconceivable that the lead actress would be killed off within the first half of the movie. On its initial release, Psycho received very mixed reviews from the critics, but it was an instant box office hit and many reviewers later reappraised their opinions. The movie was nominated for four Oscars - in the categories of Best Director, Best B&W Cinematography, Best Actress (Janet Leigh) and Best B&W Art Design - although it won none. Comparing Psycho with the subsequent movies that it inspired, it is surprising how restrained and how much more effective the former movie is. Rather than show explicit scenes of mayhem and bodily mutilation, which is the current tend in horror, it shows just enough to stimulate the audience’s imagination, allowing the mind to conceive images far more horrific, far more real than could ever be portrayed on a cinema screen. Today’s generation of cinematic fear merchants have a great deal to learn from the dark jewel that is Psycho. (JT)

My judgement: **** out of 4 stars

Saturday, 3 January 2009


Movie Review: Marnie

Year of Release: 1964
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Tippi Hedren, Sean Connery, Diane Baker, Louise Latham

Plot outline: A young woman who makes a living by embezzling from her employers, moving on, and changing her identity, is finally caught in the act by one of her employers who then blackmails her into marriage (IMDb).

Based on the novel of the same name by Winston Graham, Marnie is the one of all of Hitchcock's movies which has probably undergone the greatest reappraisal since its initial release. When it was first released, the movie fared very badly at the box office and was written off by the critics. Today, it is regarded in a far more favourable light, regarded by some as a masterpiece, considered by others to be an essential milestone in the development of the psychosexual thriller. The movie's initial release may have been more successful if it been made, as was originally intended, straight after Psycho, as they both deal with the same themes of perverse child-mother relationships, repressed sexuality and traumatic childhood experiences that result in a distorted adult personality. Grace Kelly was to have played the part of Marnie, but when she pulled out of the project Hitchcock decided to shelve it. The director later decided to proceed with it after he had worked with Tippi Hedren on The Birds, having realised that Hedren was a perfect substitute for Grace Kelly. The choice of the male lead presented more of a problem. Sean Connery had been catapulted to stardom as agent 007 in the first two Bond movies - Dr No and From Russia with Love - and so Hitchcock was easily persuaded that he was a bankable commodity. As it turned out, Connery was an inspired choice, his solid masculine earthiness making a perfect contrast with Hedren’s ethereal portrayal of unsullied femininity. Although there are a number of minor characters (all of which are very well played), Marnie is pretty much a two-handed drama, and so its success depends greatly on the contributions of its two lead actors. If Marnie works at all it is because of the intense and considered performances of Hedren and Connery. Every opportunity where suspense can be built is taken and masterfully exploited - note the marvellous sequence where Marnie’s attempt to steal from Mark’s safe is very nearly thwarted by a cleaning lady, a typical Hitchcockian piece of fun. And there is a wonderfully evocative score from Bernard Herrmann (the composer’s last work for a Hitchcock movie), which does so much to build the tension and convey the feelings of the characters caught up in the drama. Marnie may not be perfect, but, as St. Augustine once professed, perfection isn’t everything. (JT)

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

Friday, 2 January 2009

The Birds

Movie Review: The Birds

Year of Release: 1963
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Tippi Hedren

Plot outline: A wealthy San Francisco socialite pursues a potential boyfriend to a small Northern California town that slowly takes a turn for the bizarre when birds of all kinds suddenly begin to attack people there in increasing numbers and with increasing viciousness (IMDb).

Based on the short story of the same name by Daphne du Maurier, The Birds provides one of cinema’s most chilling apocalyptic visions of the future. The movie begins slowly, heading down what looks like a familiar cosy lane, and then suddenly it veers off sharply to the left, becoming a completely different kind of movie to the one any audience might have expected. This is Hitchcock’s most horrifying and darkest movie, because it deals with the bleakest of subjects: the extinction of the human race. The movie was to be Hitchcock’s most technically challenging movie, making use of state of the art special effects which look pretty good even by today’s standards. These effects earned the movie an Oscar nomination, but as it turned out the Academy felt that Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s historical epic Cleopatra should be the recipient of the Best Special Effects award that year - an outcome that is incomprehensible to anyone who has ever seen both movies. The Birds has some of the most disturbing and suspenseful sequences of any Hitchcock movies. Most memorable is the manically edited sequence in which Tippi Hedren is mauled for what seems like an eternity by psychopathic birds in a creepy attic. This manages to surpass the famous Janet Leigh murder scene in Psycho in its visceral shock value and relentless brutality. One of the things which most contributes to the unsettling and very distinctive mood of the movie is its eerie electronic effects, which are used in place of a conventional movie score. These effects mimic the sound of birds and are played over sequences where there is no human speech. This, together with the dominating bird’s eye shots, adds to the impression of the birds rapidly gaining ascendancy over human beings. The ending of the movie has been criticised for its apparent ambiguity, although from the final shot, in which thousands of birds assemble to watch the humans make a last dash for freedom, it is self-evident how the story will pan out. The immense poetry and horror of that final shot contains within it a powerful statement on the transience of things. We may think we are secure, but there will come a day when humans will no longer be the masters of the Earth. Our end may come in a million years’ time - or it may be tomorrow. (JT)

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