Dial ‘M’ for Murder (1954)
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
I grew up watching Dial ‘M’ for Murder and it’s long been one of my favorites from the “Master of Suspense”. For a film that takes place solely (with two small exceptions) inside an apartment, it’s amazing how he maneuvers through the plot. Even with these limitations Hitchcock utilizes magnificent staging and camera work so you never once feel claustrophobic. As he’d proven with Lifeboat and Rope, he has a knack for creating suspense in tight spaces. Everything in the film has these subtle nuances that add to the experience, from the cinematography to the music to the facial expressions of the characters. To this day it gives me chills when Grace Kelly screams out “I saw his eyes!”.
As a whole the film plays out like an elegantly choreographed dance. The characters waltz around each other in each scene, which is particularly noticeable in the scene between Wendice and Swann. We spend the latter part of the film watching Wendice and Chief Inspector Hubbard in a mental tango as one tries to outsmart the other. Even after seeing it so many times it continues to grip me because it’s so intellectually and visually stimulating. The film was shot specifically for 3-D (and it helps to know this fact), so everything in the frame is deliberately placed so that you feel like you’re in the room. And man what I would give to have a chance to see this in 3-D on the big screen, I would imagine it’s pretty spectacular (albeit headache inducing). With or without that extra dimension, it’s just a wonderful film that showcases Hitchcock’s mastery as a filmmaker.
The 39 Steps (1935)
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
I love me some Hitchcock espionage; he does some of his best work when people are on the run, criss crossing each other, and doing other spy-like things. The 39 Steps is no exception and it’s definitely near the top of my favorite Hitchcock films. Hell, if it’s any indication how much I like this film, my online handle is thethirtyninesteps whenever sprouticus is taken. But to be fair, that can also be chalked up to pretension.
Pretentiousness aside, The 39 Steps is a truly enjoyable thriller. It’s smart and suspenseful with just enough comedy thrown in for good measure. Robert Donat is great as Richard Hannay, the unsuspecting hero that is suddenly thrown into the world of espionage after a woman claiming to be a spy is murdered. Hannay’s search for the mysterious “thirty-nine steps” takes him to the Scottish countryside and into the life of Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) where things really get interesting. Hannay really gets to let the charm fly when they spend the night in a cabin together. I think the scene where she takes off her wet stockings while they’re handcuffed together is just about as ris`que´ as it was 75 years ago. In addition to being witty and sexy, it really does keep you guessing right up until the end.
If you’re a Hitchcock fan this is a must see.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Thankfully this delightful little film has nothing to do with the Brangelina vehicle that came out a few years ago. Instead, this Mr. & Mrs. Smith is a silly romp about a husband and wife that find out their marriage is not valid and the antics that ensue when it turns into a battle of wits. This was the only screwball comedy from Mr. Hitchcock and boy is it a funny (and underrated) one. Of course, I can’t help myself when it comes to these ‘battle of the sexes’ type films, they’re just so fun!
Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery are just about perfect together as Ann and David, but I can’t help but wonder what the film would have been like had Cary Grant been able to do it. Regardless, the chemistry is there and it’s a joy to watch these two go at each other. I’ve been a fan of Lombard since I first watched My Man Godfrey and each time I see her she proves herself as the “Screwball Queen of the Screen”; she’s bright, intelligent, and she rattles off dialogue with such ease. I don’t know that she necessarily steals the show in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, but she certainly makes Robert Montgomery’s job a lot easier.
The only real problem I have with this film is the awkward, abrupt ending. It feels like no one knew what the heck to do, so they just ended it. Although, the rest of the film is enjoyable enough to make up for the weak ending. If you like classic comedies, this is definitely worth a watch, just don’t go in expecting a typical Hitchcock film because that is most definitely not the case.
Alfred Hitchcock has long been one of my favorite filmmakers, so I’m super excited that we’ll be dedicating our Sunday Morning Movies for the month of November to the “Master of Suspense”. I have no idea what we’ll be watching yet, we usually leave that as a Sunday morning decision (keeps things exciting). What’s nice about Hitch is that whatever the selections may be, they’re guaranteed to be good ones. He’s a filmmaker I love to explore time and time again, but then I usually end up with the problem of not being able to stop. His films are almost infectious, his techniques carry over and evolve from film to film making it incredibly fun to go through his filmography. Hope my husband is ready for the cinematic geekery I’m about to put him through.
28 Days Later (2002)
Directed by Danny Boyle
For breakfast: Biscuits & Gravy
Ah, finally back to the Sunday Morning routine after a hiatus due to travel and house guests. And what better way to start it than with one of the best ‘zombie’ films in recent years. I’ve been a fan of 28 Days Later since I first saw it in the theater with a couple of reluctant and terrified friends, and it still gets plenty of plays at my house. Oddly enough this is the first time my husband has seen it and for a non-horror guy he both enjoyed it and appreciated the lack of gore. Which is a big part of why I love it, it builds suspense using atmosphere instead of excessive gore. I like carnage as much as the next person, but I like a well-crafted film more.
It’s funny, some people I’ve shown this to get the giggles at some of the zombies…err…”infected”, but I’ve always liked Danny Boyle’s revisionist zombies and his refreshingly different vision of a virus outbreak in England that infects live people with “rage” and leaves the country as a wasteland. I love the way he uses surreal, surveilance-like, visuals against the abandoned city-scapes to really hammer home the desolation and bleakness of the situation. He certainly knows how to create tension too, there are some scenes that are so intense they still put me on edge. It’s nice to be reminded of a time when he didn’t distract you from the story with camera shaking and lens flares.
I suppose if I had to complain about something, it would be that the ending feels like a bit of a cop out happy ending. It’s slightly ambiguous, yes, but it’s too upbeat given the rest of the film. At least 28 Weeks Later makes up for that, but we’ll talk about that some other time.