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TIFF BELL Lightbox - Hitchcock's Icy Blondes

06 Nov 2011

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November 4 to December 11: Icy Fire: The Hitchcock Blonde

The programme highlights several high points in Grace Kelly’s film career including To Catch a Thief, Dial M for Murder and Rear Window. Other famous blondes featured include Kim Novak (Vertigo), Eva Marie Saint (North By Northwest) and Tippi Hedren (The Birds).

Hitchcock was known to work his blondes to death.  Janet Leigh had to do multiple takes for the shower scene till the Master was satisfied.  Hitchcock used real birds in the attack scene knowing full well that Hedren was terrified of winged creatures.  The list goes on.  But one consolation is that these actresses are now famous eternally for many classic scenes.

For complete listing of the Hitchcock films check the TIFF website at:
http://tiff.net/cinematheque

Capsule reviews of films to be screened this following week can be found at the end of this article.  Capsule reviews of films to be screened after will be posted next week!

Films screening from November 4 to November 17 include:

Dial M for Murder
Friday, November 4 at 6:30pm
Monday, November 7 at 6:30pm
Rear Window
Thursday, November 10 at 9pm
Sunday, November 13 at 5pm — Special introduction by Piers Handling
Sunday, November 20 at 7pm
To Catch a Thief
Saturday, November 5 at 5pm
Saturday, November 12 at 5pm
Sunday, November 27 at 4pm
Psycho
Saturday, November 5 at 8pm
Saturday, November 19 at 5pm
The Birds
Sunday, November 6 at 4pm
Tuesday December 6 at 9pm
The 39 Steps
Sunday, November 6 at 7pm
Sunday, November 27 at 7pm

THE BIRDS (USA 1962) ***** Top 10
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
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Tippi Hedren could very well be Hithcock’s favourite blonde.  She is the one of the few that is the lead protagonist in the Hitchcock’s film world dominated by male protagonists.  And not only in one but in two movies, THE BIRDS and MARNIE.  In THE BIRDS, Hitchcock gives her the perfect compliment when he has her steer an outboard motor across the bay waters wearing a mink coat.  How is that for fabulousness?

A wealthy San Francisco socialite, Melanie Daniels (Hedren) pursues a potential boyfriend, Mitch Brenner (Rid Taylor) 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.

As far as movie THE BIRDS go, based on the book by Daphne du Maurier, it is the best of the Master’s work.  The beginning credits with the winged creatures tearing away the credit to an electronic score peaks audience anticipation early.  The film contains no musical score except for the scene where the school children sing a repetitive song.  There is no attack of the birds during the entire the first half of the film except for a peck on the head on Melanie (Hedren) and a crashed seagull at a door.  Hitchcock uses the time to establish the characters and setting for the film.  The romance between Daniels and Brenner is given centre stage.  But the film’s second half comes fast and furious with brutal attacks of the birds.  The attack scenes are extremely well executed, courtesy of the Master of Suspense who injects his sinister brand of humour in many scenes – example: the young Cathy telling Daniels of the man Brenner is defending in court: “Did you know the killer stabbed his wife six times?” No explanation is given for the bird attacks, which makes all the proceedings scarier!

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (USA 1959) *****
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
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Before going on with the capsule review, I have to say that Alfred Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST, which I have seen at least 5 times, is my favorite movie of all time.  It is Hitchcock at his very best, with a film that includes suspense, action, comedy and romance.  And Hitchcock has infused a perfect villain in James Mason as the Phillips Vandamm out to kill hero, Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant).  In the story, no reason is given for the existence for Vandamm’s organization or what its purpose is.  Like Hitchcock’s Macguffin, the chase is all the importance and it propels the plot to its climax, the reason being of no consequence.  Hitchcock gives the villain a human touch in the scene where his right hand man, Leonard (Martin Landau) delivers the message that his girl Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) ahs defected and fallen in love with the enemy, Roger Thornhill.  Vandamm punches the bearer of bad news with such force that he hurts his hand.  In the climatic scene, he jumps out at Thornhilll with a climatic fight at Mount Rushmore.  NORTH BY NORTHWEST contains many classic set pieces like the crop duster scene.  A film that should be seen many times for Hitchcock’s, author Ernest Lehman’s pure genius and Bernard Herrmann’s arresting score.

PSYCHO (USA 1960) *****
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With a new sound restored print Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO sounds more chilling with Bernard Herrmann’s haunting score and the screams of Janet Leigh in the shower scene. The plot concerns Secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) embezzling $40,000 and taking off from the town to drive to settle down with her boyfriend, Sam Loomis (John Gavin) in Fairvale.  A storm forces her off the road to take refuge at the Bates Motel where she is murdered in cinema’s most famous shower scene, a pleasure to watch for the umpteen time, ripping shower curtains, chocolate syrup down the tub hole and all with accompanying restored violin/cello screening soundtrack.  This sends Sam and her sister Lila (Vera Miles) with a private dick (Martin Balsam) on her trail after she has disappeared. The pleasure derived from watching PYSCHO will take different forms depending on the viewer.  The film contains many surprises from start to finish, with many of these being cinematic.  The most important is Hitchcock’s killing of, of Leigh – the film’s main character in the shower, a first at its time.  But with the full story known to audiences viewing PSYCHO for a repeat, myself for the 4th time, the film still holds many surprises, especially in shots or techniques not observed before.  PSYCHO contains lots of nudity and sex scenes without showing any private parts. For myself, one is a shot of Bates (Anthony Perkins) climbing up the stairs.  Perkins (gay, in real life) was allowed by Hitchcock to interpret his character so long as it did not involve camera movement.  His sexy shaking of his bum from side to side clearly stood out to me during this screening.  Others include his infusion of suspense in many segments, like the one with the blinding rain and bright lights hitting Marion’s car windscreen forcing her to stop at the Bates Motel.  Also, the details of the title credits – December 11th; 2.43 pm; Phoenix, Arizona implies the importance of details and puts the audience in a specific and not imaginary time and space.  To have the audience feel for sympathetic towards Marion who has stolen the $40,000, Hitchcock has the man paying her boss the money say: “I carry more than I can afford to lose!” Neat too is Hitchcock’s use of voiceover and irony.  Irony in the form that Marion’s boss actually sees her, as observed by Marion through her windscreen, leaving town.  Voiceover involves imagined conversations in the head of Marion that could have or could just be imagined by Marion.  What is really neat, is that it dos not matter to the plot whether the conversation did occur but that it serves to highlight Marion’s paranoia.  The ending explanation of Bates’ mental situation by a psychologist is a bit too talky but PSYCHO should be re-seen for its many masterly staged scenes like the ending parlour scene, the murder of the private investigator as he falls down the stairs and of course, the famous shower scene, just to name a few.

REAR WINDOW (USA 1954) ****
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
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Based on a shot story, REAR WINDOW feels at times that it is short of story.  But Hitchcock more than makes up for him with the banter between star photographer Jeffries (James Stewart) and his icy blonde girlfriend, Lisa (Grace Kelly).  The film is totally told from the point of Jeffries, apartment bound because of a broken leg, the cause of which is never brought up.  The Master would likely say that it would make no consequence to the suspense.  He spies on the courtyard and is convinced that the neighbour u the building across (Raymond Burr) has murdered his invalid wife.  He gets Lisa and his nurse (Thelma Ritter) to aid him in his quest to out the killer.  Hitchcock generates lots of suspense moments from the set-up, the best one being Jeffries watching though his binoculars Lisa getting caught breaking into the killer’s apartment by the killer, unable to do anything being bound to his wheelchair.  The two lovers are at logger heads throughout the film’s first half but Jeffries admires her once she aids him – also bringing out the film’s charm.  Nurse Stella says it right (Hitchcock steals a message here to the audience) when she tells Jeffries that most people look out at other people’s lives instead of their own.

TO CATCH A THIEF (USA 1955) ****
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
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There is hardly any suspense in this lightweight romantic comedy thriller but the sinister Hitchcock touches are still present - the stubbing of a cigarette butt on an egg; the dropping of a casino chip into a lady’s bosom.  The story concerns a reformed thief John Robie (Cary Grant) aiding Lloyds Insurance finding the real burglar and clearing his name of recent jewel thefts.  In the meantime, he meets France Stevens (Grace Kelly) who falls in love with him and his past, and who believes him to be the real thief.  Hitchcock’s foray into sophisticated comedy is interesting enough with sufficient humour scattered evenly during the film.  Shot in the Riviera, the scenery is stunning, matched only by the gorgeous costumes worn by Kelly.  The costume ball at the film’s climax outdoes any real life fashion show.  The extended car chase scene blends suspense and humour as the Master had redone in his later movies NORTH BY NORTHWEST and FAMILY PLOT.

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