Editor's Week 2018

December 29 - 2018
'Hitchcock invariably tried to respect his source material's themes'. I wrote that last time, and the point is further borne out by his rendition of Paul Bourde's 1902 melodrama 'Nos deux consciences'/'Our Two Consciences' into I Confess (1953). The play is newly translated into English by Morry C. Matson (no publisher given). In some ways, it feels quite different from the film - which, more than ever, I judge to be one of Hitchcock's finest - but nonetheless the basic structure is there. A parish priest, Father Pioux, in a French village, when accused of a murder, cannot defend himself, basically because of the inviolability of the confessional (the murderer's wife has confessed to him her suspicions of her husband, a carpenter at the presbytery) but also because the Father doesn't want to reveal a private matter concerning himself and one of his parishioners, the wife of his good friend, Dr Bordier. The investigating magistrate, Judge Dubois, has come into possession of letters from the murdered man, another priest, accusing Father Pioux of 'an inappropriate relationship' with a young woman - who will turn out to have once been involved with the priest's beloved brother. Both the brother and the resulting love-child have since died; moreover, the woman in question is Madame Bordier, who has never told her husband of what happened! Meanwhile, and fortuitously, the murdered man has been killed during a robbery that went wrong, his killer wearing a priest's cassock for disguise. It's a convoluted, yet still powerful, central situation, in an otherwise minor play (I would judge) - and the translation is not particularly helpful (some shoddy English). That said, the play can throw considerable light on the strengths of the film, which has taken the situation and enriched it admirably. For a start, the confession is put up-front and centre by Hitchcock (in the first few minutes of the film), and given not to the killer's wife but to the killer himself. Helpfully, too, and tying the various plots together, the murdered man is made to have been blackmailing the married woman whom he alleged to have once had relations with the film's priest (before the latter took holy orders, naturally). Reading the play, I was better able to see what the blackmailer was driving at - that the woman had never told her husband of the incident (nor, at the time, had she told the priest-to-be, just back from the War, that she had got married while he was away!). Clearly, there are three or four principal groups of characters in both play and film. The film's priest, working at a rectory in Quebec City (the only city in North America where in 1953 priests still wore cassocks in public places) is Father Michael Logan, played beautifully by Montgomery Clift; his counterpart in the film is the village priest Father Pioux. The Bordier couple in the play are the equivalent of the film's Ruth and Pierre Grandfort (Anne Baxter and Roger Dann). The poverty-stricken murderer and his wife, the Bressauds, in the play are the equivalent of the film's German refugee couple, the Kellers. (Otto Keller works as a sacristan and general helper at the rectory.) The play's investigating magistrate, Judge Dubois, is the equivalent of the film's Inspector Larrue (Karl Malden) who is a close colleague of the Crown Prosecutor (Briane Aherne) who happens to be a good friend of the Grandforts ... (Lately I have been wondering: shouldn't the Crown Prosecutor have recused himself from the Logan case, given that he is so close to two of its injured parties, the Grandforts?! Still, it does help the film's continuity!) Now, there is at least one big sequence in the film for which there is no real matching scene in the play, and that is the film's subjective flashback, essentially the romanticised memory of Ruth, pertaining to her affair with Michael Logan, before he went off to the War - something which, as he says in the film, changed him, and made him decide to take holy orders. For me, this is a stand-out part of the film, which is consistently rich and powerful in any case (whereas the play sometimes seems to me to become almost pedestrian). I'll have more to say about this and other matters next time. Meanwhile, below is a frame-capture from the start of Ruth's flashback: her (literally) glowing descent of the curved staircase seems to be a variant of a rather differently-inflected scene in Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)!

December 22 - 2018
I want to say a bit more about Mark Padilla's book 'Classical Myth in Alfred Hitchcock's Wrong Man and Grace Kelly Films' (2018). When I earlier reviewed David Sterritt's 'Simply Hitchcock' (also 2018), I said that I wished Sterritt had illustrated the actual mechanisms of some of Hitchcock's generalised 'truths' (see November 10, above). That's something that Padilla does well, and repeatedly, by situating the films in a 'classical' setting - what is called 'classical reception', defined by Padilla, p. xvii, as identifying 'classical markings on post antique materials'. For example, apropos To Catch a Thief, he illustrates the dynamics of its moral aspect by drawing parallels with ancient Greek myth and philosophy. (The original novel of TCaT, by David Dodge, is likewise a moral tale, noting that Francie has made Robie aware of 'the moral aspects of thievery' - Penguin edition, 1953, p. 97.) On the maturing relationship of Francie and Robie, Padilla at a couple of points invokes Plato's 'Symposium' with its reference to Diotima, a prophetess and philosopher, who taught how eros may lead to forms of enlightenment. (There's an amusing BBC Radio 4/Open University summary of 'Diotima's Ladder' on YouTube. It runs under 2 minutes.) Padilla puts the idea like this: 'Strong desire of a beautiful person should be encouraged in the person who wants to begin a philosophical pathway ... eros can lead to sophrosyne [self-regulation]'. (p. 320) Next, Padilla advances the idea by invoking another dialogue of Plato, the 'Phaedrus', which 'develops the iconic image of the philosopher's soul as a charioteer whose car is perilously pulled by two winged horses with opposite natures, one noble and rational, the other impulsive and irrational, but both necessary to reach a desired goal' (p. 326) (Many Hitchcock films, on analysis, show an appeal in roughly equal measure to their audiences' noble and irrational sides!) Finally, Padilla sums up: 'Robie and Francie are initially associated with Dionysus and Cupid, respectively so, and Francie's behavior projects a perversity that is troubling. However, through the narrative structure of the film and through its resonant vocabulary, each protagonist ethically evolves, and they accept more responsibility for the impact of their actions upon others, including each other. These themes accrue greater classicism from the shooting sets' inclusion of physical reminders of antiquity, especially architecture and statuary.' (pp. 333-34) Somewhere in there is the idea - touched on last time - that all of us are located on a continuum, which permits Hitchcock's audiences to identify, at some level, with the films' characters and their interactions. But there is a further, ambiguous dimension (which, pardoxically, probably only adds to the films' power to involve us). Padilla speaks of how TCaT 'conveys an ambivalent set of cultural values - ones that both criticize and embrace international "Dionysian" identity - [so that] the film tries to have its cake and eat it too as a metaphorical social critique'. (p. xxxvii) I'd like to take a cue from that observation to return to the passage from the novel quoted above, and which clearly influenced the filmmakers' adaptation (for Hitchcock invariably tried to respect his source material's themes). Here is more of that rather subversive passage (which particularly struck me after reading Padilla's analysis of the film) ... '[Robie and Francie] discussed moral distinctions all during the drive back to Cannes. [She] argued that a thief's only function was to steal, as the Monte Carlo's roulette wheels' only reason for existence was to win money for the Prince of Monaco, so that in the event John were to lose money at roulette and regain it by robbing the prince, no one could fairly say "good" or "bad" of either one, although in practice the Monegasque police would jail John and he could not jail the prince. [Robie] found it entertaining to listen to her serious analysis of the criminal's place in society.' (p. 97) (Frame-capture below: Robie at the Mone Carlo roulette wheel.) In somewhat the same fluid vein (and roughly consistent with what Padilla reported about the ending the screenplay originally had - see last time) is a passage from near the end of the novel in which Robie helps Danielle elude punishment. 'Afterwards he could not remember any conscious change of attitude in himself, from pursuer of a thief to the thief's ally. One identity had merged into another while he was both hunter and hunted [...] She was a thief, he was a thief. [Commissaire] Oriel threatened them both.' (p. 196) Was Hitchcock's ultimate morality, then, one of amorality?!

December 15 - 2018
Mark Padilla's chapter on To Catch a Thief (1955) is the first long analysis I have seen of the considerable classical imagery in that film, including the interior and exterior statuary at the Sanford Villa. About the latter, I had supposed no more than how the formal 'sedateness' of the statues serves to highlight the 'aliveness' of the characters, especially at the climactic gala costume ball, in which everyone - even policemen - must dress up for the occasion to resemble Marie Antoinette's court at Versailles. (Note: behind the credits of TCaT is a travel sign proclaiming, 'If you love life, you'll love France.' Life-against-death is a tangible motif of countless Hitchcock films: e.g., The Trouble With Harry.) By contrast, Padilla notes such things as the film's 'sets brimming with neoclassical architecture', 'images of Cupid [running] wild in the film's décor, both in inside and outside spaces', 'statue groups [that] suggest ... the film's symbolism [visually] ... Inside the [Sanford] courtyard, for example, noble visages comment ironically on the hedonism of the elite guests. Outside, on the villa grounds, Francie and Robie interact with statue groups in [a] way that speaks to their conversations and emerging relationships.' (p. xxxvi) (Below is a frame-capture from the ball scene showing the hosts receiving their 'elite' guests. Note the statue of a towering male figure behind them and, further back, two smaller statues of female figures.) Now, I had long felt that TCaT is something of a lightweight moral drama, in which, for example, Robie had been leading a rather sterile existence (raising flowers) until events - and Francie, in particular - had taught him that he 'needed the help of a woman'; but again Padilla has uncovered every nuance and interaction to show how 'three dimensional' the moral drama actually is. For example, drawing parallels with classical myth, he suggests that Robie is like a Dionysus-figure (the film's multiple references to theatricality and acting are noted, as when even Jessie Stevens and the insurance-agent Hughson play their 'parts' to fool the police at the gala ball) while, for much of the film, Francie and her mother spur Robie on, like 'maenads' (female followers of Bacchus) participating in 'the cults of Dionysus' (p. 303). Initially the widowed Jessie is the one who pursues Robie, attracted by his panache at the roulette game in the Monte Carlo Casino, but her actions awaken Francie's interest in Robie, especially when she learns of his criminal activities before the War. As Padilla puts it: 'Francie shows signs of perversity in the form of hybristophilia (sexual pleasure from being with criminals, a motif found elsewhere in Hitchcock)' (p. 284). (Cf "Editor's Week" for November 3, above.) In turn, this leads to Padilla's emphasis on the film's considerable use of 'mimetic desire' to drive its drama. The term 'mimetic desire' was made famous by René Girard (1923-2015) who built a grand theory of human dealings and interactions on it, almost as complex as Marxism. Padilla doesn't mention Girard by name, but he illuminates TCaT by showing several of its 'Girardian' aspects. He writes: 'Francie becomes the double victim of "mimetic desire," that is, eroticism that she inherits from two other females. One is her mother, Jessie, whose interest in Robie is transferred to her daughter. [...] Danielle also has erotic designs on Robie, but here Francie becomes her competitor, rather than her agent, and Danielle-the-thief strikes the Carlton Hotel, where the Stevenses are staying, the very night Francie seduces Robie, and this act of sabotage destabilizes Francie.' (p. xxxvii) Two observations. First, Girard did indeed show how readily rivalry and envy flow from mimetic desire, becoming driving forces themselves. Second, note that both Francie and Robie are 'destabilized', thus setting them on the path to moral growth - and in both cases Danielle, who is herself driven by envy of Robie's wealth, is the agent. It's small wonder that both the film and the original novel, by David Dodge, show considerable sympathy to Danielle. Padilla reminds us that in a draft of the screenplay Robie was going to visit Danielle in prison, 'promising to support her through the process' (p. 318). Robie would thus have made some atonement for not having shared his wealth with his Resistance colleagues, including Danielle's father. As it is, the film implies another of Hitchcock's (Dionysus's?) perennial motifs: how we're all actors in a vast drama. The gala ball climax has Robie saying, as he dangles the captured Danielle from the roof, that she must make her own form of atonement/confession: 'you've got a full house down there. Begin the performance.' More next time.

December 8 - 2018 (late)
It's that time of year, so apologies for no blog this time. I had been intending to keep on with The Birds, but now I have a couple of books in my sights to talk about, including Mark Padilla's challenging - and often insightful - 'Classical Myth in Alfred Hitchcock's Wrong Man and Grace Kelly Films' (Lexington Books, 2018). Its chapter on To Catch a Thief is long and informative, and I like Padilla's attempt to show the reader that '[f]emale mimetic desire is brilliantly played in a game of three-dimensional chess' (p. 318) - by Francie, her mother Mrs Stevens, and Danielle. Also, Padilla recognises how TCaT is a moral tale, and his elucidation of that aspect is praiseworthy! Next time, then. KM

December 1 - 2018
I recently had occasion to show an audience the classic trailer for The Birds (1963) in which Hitch delivers a 'little lecture' on man's (and, explicitly, woman's) treatment of our feathered friends down the ages. We don't exactly come out of it well, although Hitch pretends not to notice, even reminding us that 'the turkey is traditionally our guest at Thanksgiving'. Holding up an egg - a reference to battery farming (for 1963, the trailer is remarkably ahead of its time) - he expresses gratitude for the 'fantastic heights of egg production' that the caged hens achieve. And in the frame-capture below he is talking in glowing terms of 'the benefits of the shotgun' - the NRA could hardly have faulted what Hitch says here. (Cf also the "Bang, You're Dead!" episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.) In fact, of course, he is using the tongue-in-cheek technique pioneered by Jonathan Swift in his 'editorial' called 'A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick' (1729) - i.e., the technique of saying one thing and meaning practically its opposite! (In appearing to advocate a form of cannibalism, Swift was actually drawing attention to the plight of the starving Irish.) As I told my audience, the technique is one that Hitchcock used a lot in his television shows to 'have it both ways'. For example, he might appear to be siding with a murderer (say Barbara Bel Geddes in "Lamb to the Slaughter", who disposes of her two-timing husband), and can thus build up sympathy for someone who may be essentially only human and pushed to the limits of her/his endurance. At the same time, by a kind of 'reverse logic', we know what the 'moral' of the story is - in this case, that murderers have invariably 'gone too far' and the law says that they must be punished! Such a TV show is in effect doubly involving! Similarly, Hitch's apparent misanthropy in the trailer for The Birds works to build sympathy for the avians, and provide a 'motive' for them to attack humans in the film, while simultaneously that same 'misanthropy' - and the humorous tone of its presentation - 'bonds' us as we listen (and maybe even acknowledge our collective guilt!). In short, although Hitch in the trailer says he doesn't 'believe in dealing with controversial matters', we recognise the truth of what he says. That truth is very like what the philosopher Schopenhauer called the 'Will' in humans - a life force that is also a death force - and it's significant that we hear Hitch refer (with a shrug) to 'Nature's way [which] man simply hastens along when he can be of help'. Significantly, too, The Birds itself is probably the most overt of all Hitch's films to deal with Will, his most 'schematic' film that way. In 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', I spell out the parallels. For example, I say that Will is 'typified by human egoism and rapaciousness. Understandably, Schopenhauer [...] considered Will to be a cruel joke, best turned against itself, notably with the help of art or music. The Birds is an almost literal enactment of that thought. As Mitch [Rod Taylor] leaves the pet shop, he says that it's time Melanie ['Tippi' Hedren] found herself "on the other end of a gag". He gets his wish - writ large.' And again: '[I]n The Birds, Hitchcock effectively confronts us with the Will that causes [human and animal] suffering. Schopenhauer characterised the Will as ultimate reality, not finally knowable, and the blind cause of suffering in the world. Allusions to blindness are everywhere in The Birds (e.g., the game of blindman's buff at the children's party; the farmer whose eyes are pecked out), and this is doubly appropriate, given both our own inability to know ultimate reality and the blind way that reality, Will, operates. The birds effectively symbolise Will.' Also, speaking of Hitch's 'bonding' us as we watch his films or TV shows (or his trailer for The Birds), it's interesting how 'representative' Melanie and the Brenner family become in the film. Towards the end, after the avians have been besieging the Brenner house, one shot brings everyone together. Three successive close-ups show the three principal characters rising into frame (Mrs Brenner in the middle), until we hear Mitch say, 'They're gone' - whereupon the camera pulls back to show all the characters together. (The attic scene, which follows, will show that bonding in operation.) QED. (Further reading: my long - bring a cut lunch! - much-commented-on (!) monograph about The Birds and its sources, published online in 'Senses of Cinema': Birds Synoptic Account.)

November 24 - 2018
I want to wind up my 'review' of David Sterritt's book 'Simply Hitchcock'. My point last time about Psycho and Frenzy is that Hitchcock's 'excremental vision' amounts to a perfectly valid - and unblinkered - understanding of how people are, and their place in the scheme of things. Such a vision doesn't annihilate a more aspirational - spiritual - side of our psyches. Not at all. And although the latter is always precarious, it's assuredly 'better' than the cant of the politician at the start of Frenzy, pontificating about the cleaned-up Thames, freed of 'effluent'. His reference to 'brown trout' is unfortunate - apparently that's slang for excrement. (That's something else I learnt from Ian Cooper's monograph on Frenzy, mentioned last time.) Next moment, a woman's body floats ashore. Even more unfortunate! Especially as the film's symbolism equates such things - women as victims of men's lust and even murder - with, again, waste and excrement. But, note, Hitchcock isn't saying that men are the ultimate villains. The villainous propensity is in the psyche - and where did that come from? Ah, there's the rub! Note that Sterritt, ex-film critic for the 'Christian Science Monitor', is one of several critics who feel that in Frenzy Hitchcock 'went too far'. The shot of the murdered Brenda Blaney - see last time - offends him. Hmm. All I know is that the shot is very close to a photo I once saw in a forensics textbook in a university law library, i.e., it's real(istic). And what is wrong with that? It isn't gratuitous, and the film is told/directed with all of Hitchcock's attention to meaningful content and, at the same time, artistry and taste. Another of my favourite quotes about the director is the tribute paid him by composer John Addison: 'He's the most civilised man I have ever met.' So now I'll come to a film whose estimation by Sterritt I can agree with - absolutely. 'Family Plot is mellow, cheerful, delightful', he wrote when reviewing it in 1976. His book is very perceptive about that film: 'I think [Hitchcock] regarded Family Plot as a sort of [quixotic] last stand against frailty, finality, and mortality ... looking for loopholes in the human condition was nothing new for Hitchcock, who disliked definitive conclusions ...' (p. 136) That's surely dead right, and I only wonder why Sterritt doesn't more consistently apply the insight throughout his book! (Frame-capture from Family Plot below: Barbara Harris as the fake medium Blanche - but how fake?!) Pity, too, about the little slips that punctuate the book. One slip is the same as that made by Peter Ackroyd in his little book on Hitch (2016): The 39 Steps (1935) doesn't end where it began (cf Sterritt, p. 50). The film begins with Mr Memory's act at a seedy music hall somewhere in East London; the fact that when we see him again, at the classy London Palladium, he has risen in the world, contributes to the pathos of his death, shot by the villains who had taken advantage of his (likely) financial vulnerability earlier, to bribe him to work for them. (Note: he is betrayed, too, by his other weakness, his inability to resist showing off his memorised knowledge when a member of the audience asks him a direct question. Other Hitchcock characters also perish because they lack the resilience of a Hitchcock hero: e.g., 'Beaky' Thwaite (Nigel Bruce) in Suspicion (1941), unable to resist a glass of brandy when it's offered to him socially.) And, speaking of Beaky, Sterritt is wrong to say that he 'spills gossip galore about Johnny's exceedingly chequered past' (p. 71). Rather, the thing about Beaky is that at their English school he had always 'worshipped' Johnny (that's Sterritt's spelling of the name) - he may have been his 'fag'. Beaky gushes uncritically rather than gossips about Johnny/Johnnie, as when he says that the latter 'can lie his way out of any situation'! Another Sterritt error - more than a slip this time, because he says it twice (e.g., p. 10) - is that in Psycho 'Norman ogles Marion in the shower'. No, he watches her undress in her cabin before she writes her note and does her figuring, then goes to take a shower. (Note: Hitchcock doesn't cheat. The fact that Marion spends time on the note and the figuring is presumably long enough for the aroused Norman to go back to the house and change into 'Mother's' clothes, then return ...) Another Sterritt slip is to say that in The Ring (1927) Jack's fiancée, played by Lilian Hall-Davis, is named Nelly and is the carnival snake-charmer (p. 29). In fact, her name is Mabel and she sells the tickets to Jack's boxing act from a booth at the entrance. (When did Sterritt last see The Ring?) Lastly, a couple of matters that irritate. Sterritt claims that Hitchcock wanted Tippi Hedren's first name to always be printed in quotes. That's only half-correct. They weren't double quotes (as the book keeps using) but single quotes - and Hitch insisted on them, emphasising their decorousness. Also, Sterritt repeats the fallacy (developed at length by, e.g., Stanley Cavell) that the title of North by Northwest (1959) is a quote from 'Hamlet'. Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehmann were mirthful when they read that. (See John Russell Taylor's 'Hitch', 1979.) Even so, thanks for your book, David Sterritt!

November 17 - 2018
Continuing my thoughts on David Sterritt's 'Simply Hitchcock' (2018), first I'll comment further on why I think the title of Rich and Strange (from 'The Tempest') is not only apt, and perceptive, but predictive of other Hitchcock films to come. Hitchcock, by the nature of his work, i.e., reading the minds of his audience and out-manoeuvring them (Hitchcock: 'I like films with plenty of psychology'), was understandably ambivalent about 'innocence'. As a Catholic, he admired it - even as he saw that it could be frightening, because it equated with 'ignorance'. But then, so are we all ignorant! In returning Fred and Em home safely, where they resume their bickering, Hitchcock as 'teller' of their story, is simply both 'sadder and wiser' than they are. In being drawn to travel in the first place (as a result of Fred inheriting money), and with their vision of 'the Orient' as something exotic, Fred and Em are only human - naive if not small-minded! Many of Hitchcock's films and TV shows are about the felt need of his characters to 'grow up'. Raymond Durgnat' added, 'a little' - which he meant as a put-down of the limited nature of the films' content. But that content has a universality to it. Early in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) young Charlie's state of mind resembles what the philosopher Kierkegaard called 'dread', a state of innocence or dreaming that awakens a thirst for the prodigious and the mysterious. (Cf also Vertigo!) Later, when she learns the truth about her uncle in the public library scene, the camera's upward retreat evokes The Fall. And when she confronts her uncle about her new knowledge (which Kierkegaard indicates is analogous of adolescent experience generally, and the acquisition of one's sexual identity - see 'The Concept of Dread'), Sterritt reminds us of what Uncle Charlie tells her: 'The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it?' Accordingly, Sterritt writes: 'This ranks with the most bone-chilling passages in all of Hitchcock's work ...' (p. 78) That's true of course - and can perhaps be put alongside the image in Frenzy (1972) of the strangled Brenda Blaney, who has died at the hands of another very sick serial-murderer, Bob Rusk (Barry Foster). That's an image described by Ian Cooper in his excellent 2018 monograph on Frenzy: 'A good contender for the nastiest shot in the Hitchcock oeuvre' (caption, p. 66). Not incidentally, Rusk is heard complaining at one point of his wanting to get away and travel - it's as if Hitchcock is implying that even murderers have a restlessness that is (again) universal, and potentially dangerous, and how to that degree we may all share the same basic instinct. An author who has perhaps written the most eloquently about such a restlessness, and who was inspired by Freud and Nietzsche (more importantly, who throws light on Hitchcock), is Norman O. Brown, who called the restlessness 'the universal neurosis of mankind', equivalent to 'the theological doctrine of original sin'. ('Life Against Death', Sphere Books pb, 1968, p. 18.) My reason for citing Brown will become more evident in a moment, but note the overlap with young Charlie's experience that gives her knowledge of The Fall even as it ends her innocence. Now, I'm trying to show that Sterritt goes a certain way, but no further. As I said last time, I would have liked some comment from him on the mechanisms of human frailty. I also said that his book is 'not always accurate', which is something I'll illustrate next time. Here, I want to comment on a part of his book where he obviously enjoyed himself! Writing on Psycho (1960), Sterritt is frank: 'I can't leave Psycho without touching on the most wickedly playful element of the whole playfully wicked film.' Picking up from his earlier Hitchcock book ('The Films of Alfred Hitchcock', 1993), he reminds us that Freud linked money and excrement, and that Psycho 'links cash, shit, and crime into a metaphorical chain that crisscrosses the entire story' (p. 121). Memorably, millionaire Cassidy waves a wad of what he calls his 'private money' in front of the real estate office staff, who all gasp. Why? 'Because in this film money = shit, and nice people don't wave it under other people's noses; they put it out of sight and out of mind, especially when there's so much of it.' (p. 121) The swamp at the Bates Motel is one large 'sewer' in a film that contains multiple lavatory references (as Raymond Durgnat was the first to note), and into which Norman (Tony Perkins) sinks the car (with its 'ANL' numberplate) containing both Marion's body and the stolen money - thereby becoming 'waste products' themselves. Etc. But Hitchcock was by no means the first artist to have an 'excremental vision'. Multiple literary critics from the 1960s up to the present have taken their cue from Freud, Norman O. Brown, et al., to write about such a vision in Jonathan Swift, Charles Dickens, James Joyce, and many others. More to the point, Sterritt seems oblivious of how Hitchcock's Frenzy takes the imagery a good deal further. For example, a woman's corpse mingles with a truck-load of potatoes (destined to be returned to the soil as 'waste') before being 'excreted' from the back of the truck when it brakes suddenly. (Frame-capture below.) To be concluded.

November 10 - 2018
Here are some more thoughts prompted by David Sterritt's new book 'Simply Hitchcock', which offers a guide for the keen 'beginner', or student, to Hitchcock and each of his 50+ films. If these thoughts constitute a 'review', so be it. My overall feeling is that the book is consistently perceptive if not always accurate and certainly not 'new' in the way that you can always hope a book - even an introductory text - might be! (Nor does it contain photos and frame stills, as at least one other book-length overview of Hitchcock does, to supplement its text.) A praiseworthy ingredient is Sterritt's repeated observation that Hitchcock regularly sees past the 'illusion, confusion, and misperception' of his characters and their representations. For example, Rear Window (1954): 'No film better illustrates Hitchcock's conviction that vision provides us with our most powerful knowledge of the world, yet is equally capable of leading us astray ...' (p. 103) I just wish that Sterritt would comment on the mechanisms of such human frailty. But he does show how the particular films go about instructing us. Of Hitchcock's 1944 short film Bon Voyage, we learn: '[It] centres on a Royal Air Force gunner [whose escape from a pow camp is engineered by the Gestapo to lead them to members of the Resistance]. The film then revisits his escape, which [now] looks very different [...] The ambiguities of this story - between virtue and villainly, reality and illusion - are thoroughly Hitchcockian.' (p. 81) So they are. So why does Sterritt find 'slightly strange' the title of Rich and Strange (1931) which of course comes from Shakespeare's highly poetic 'The Tempest' about characters shipwrecked (and transformed)? The title is, firstly, ironic: Hitchcock's shipwrecked couple, Fred and Em(ily) - see frame-capture below - once they return home, seem to have been changed not a whit! Second, Fred and Em are thereby made representative of how Hitchcock tended to see 'the moron masses' (Hitchcock's phrase, remembered by John Steinbeck from working with him on his other 'shipwreck' film, the 1944 Lifeboat). And not only those masses. It's as if the director had anticipated, in his own poetic way, the gist of Edward Said's powerful text 'Orientalism' (1978) about the West's generally patronizing representations of 'the Orient'! As I noted here a few weeks ago (October 20, above), my favourite description these days of Hitchcock is his wife's: 'He has the most balanced mind of anyone I've ever known.' And to appreciate the extent of the breadth and depth and balance of Hitchcock's mind, it is necessary to recognise how much poetry there is in his collected works. I'm not sure that Sterritt does that. Still, I admire this general assessment of the director that the book gives us at the start, and which comes close to what I'm talking about: 'The danger of being thrust from the everyday world into a chaos world [as Fred and Em are, when they're shipwrecked] was a philosophical issue of deep interest for the filmmaker. It was also a psychological and spiritual issue that stirred him to his bones [...] Creative work was his safety valve, and the ability to communicate his half-hidden fears in universally meaningful forms was his saving grace.' (p. 2) Note that Fred and Em are permitted to return to their relatively secure world at the film's end, as are, say, the folk from Santa Rosa at the end of Shadow of a Doubt (1943) who remain blithely unaware of the true nature of the serial killer, Uncle Charlie, who had lived in their midst - as indeed they seem almost unaware of the devastating war being waged in much of the rest of the world! Interestingly, Sterritt tells us that when actor James Stewart came back from the War, his new outlook - idealism, you could call it - made him feel that his previous acting in Hollywood romances and comedies, like Lubitsch's The Shop Around the Corner (1940) and Cukor's The Philadelphia Story (1940), 'was inexcusably frivolous in the complex and conflicted contemporary world [...] and Hitchcock was happy to accommodate him [by casting him in the serious Rope (1948)].' (p. 87) Earlier, Sterritt had summarised the 'wake-up' message of that film like this: 'The schoolmaster [Stewart] taught his students to toy with murderous ideas, and now he's shocked that they acted on what they learned.' (p. 7) Very true. And arguably Hitchcock even took advantage of the actor's new idealism (a quality that Hitchcock instinctively distrusted, as in another of his vehicles for Stewart, the 1958 Vertigo, about infatuation) by making his earnestness finally seem naive! A case of Hitchcock having it both ways, because human nature is never simple. Sterritt says of Vertigo that its motif of high and low allows 'an enormous range of meanings', including 'idealism and cynicism' (p. 12). Sterritt provides the material; the reader, with a bit of work, can take much from it. More next time.

November 3 - 2018
Our News item below, added this week, about the opening of the opera 'Marnie' in New York, refers to Mark Rutland's 'fetish' for a woman whom he knows to have committed various offences such as lying and robbery, and suggests that such a fetish is called 'hybristophilia'. (The usual illustration of this fetish cites the 'fan' mail sent to criminals in prison from infatuated women, sometimes proposing marriage.) That term was the nearest I could find to label Mark's condition. There is an entry on the Web about one person's 'lie fetish', where the person admits to being aroused by observing someone tell a lie to another person, but that's hardly a medical term. Nor does the label 'kleptolagnia' fit Mark, because it refers to someone who is aroused by committing a robbery, not by seeing it committed by someone else. Nonetheless, as Hitchcock was the first to admit, Mark Rutland does have a fetishistic or 'paraphilic' interest in Marnie. Hitchcock makes some fascinating comments to François Truffaut, in their famous interview, about Marnie in particular. Yes, that film shows 'a man [who] wants to go to bed with a thief because she is a thief ... Unfortunately the concept doesn't come across on the screen. It's not as effective as in Vertigo, where Jimmy Stewart's feeling for Kim Novak was clearly a fetishistic love.' (There, as someone once pointed out, citing a study by Sigmund Freud, the sexual attraction may be enhanced by the fact that the woman is already married to another man - which is what Scottie in Vertigo believes 'Madeleine' to be.) Mind, the woman must be sexually attractive from the outset. The person mentioned above with the 'lie fetish' says that he wouldn't have been aroused if the person telling the lie had not been pretty. Hitchcock reminds Truffaut that he established at the outset that Mark had spotted Marnie. When [Mark] learns that she's robbed the safe, he says 'Oh yes, the pretty girl with the legs...'. Another interesting thing about Marnie is that so many of the characters have kinks. Mark's sister-in-law, Lil, admits she's 'queer for liars'. (Given that she fancies the widowed Mark, is she here deliberately - or subconsciously - aligning her own 'fetish' with his?!) The senior Mr Rutland, a widower himself, who otherwise appears fairly sedentary, seems more than ordinarily drawn to horses (and the aristocratic lifestyle?), when he observes, 'The best thing for the inside of a man or a woman is the outside of a horse.' As for Marnie, who has several 'peculiarities', not the least of them her great love for her horse, Forio, her remark, 'Oh Forio, if you want to bite someone, bite me!', does sound a little 'off'! (And who knows what secret desires Mark's 'banking cousin', the myopic-looking 'Cousin Bob', harbours within?!) So often, with fetishes, they go hand-in-hand with wanting to be in control, or have power over the fetishised 'other'. Probably they may serve a compensatory function, or be a form of 'revenge' for something experienced long ago - as when the girl Marnie was excluded from her prostitute mother's bedroom whenever a client spent the night there. The bigger point is that we can all relate, at some level, with the need to feel in control. David Sterritt makes an astute observation in his new book, 'Simply Hitchcock', about the fetishes and phobias that 'appear and reappear throughout Hitchcock's body of work, sometimes subtly, sometimes not ... They often [form] patterns charged with great expressive force, as when the voyeurism theme connects with [Hitchcock's] penchant for putting the spectator in emotional cahoots with the villain. Never once have I seen viewers decorously avert their eyes when Norman ogles Marion in [her cabin] ... or Scottie snoops on Madeleine's peregrinations.' (p. 10) Mark Rutland's fetish initially places him in the position of one of the jungle predators his zoology studies have taught him to admire. But his studies are part of his self-aware drive to keep himself mentally and psychologically healthy. On his honeymoon cruise with Marnie, he instructs her in the ways of Madagascan flatid (leaf) bugs: 'to escape the eyes of hungry birds they live and die in the shape of a flower'. (There's an illustration below.) It's as if he were telling a cautionary parable directed against the 'herd mentality' that infects timid souls, like those that Friedrich Nietzsche contrasted with his exalted (and liberated) Übermensch. In the darkness of a cinema, watching a Hitchcock film, audiences (I believe) often sensed that the film was speaking to them in oblique ways, collectively and individually. Which, very likely, was the whole idea.

October 27 - 2018
Speaking of child actor Billy Mumy's performance in "Bang! You're Dead" (see last time), I was impressed by a detail like the 'swagger' Billy's character, Jackie, has on returning home, still clutching his uncle's loaded gun: a lengthy panning-shot follows him from the garden to the front door, and the young actor keeps it up all the way! You can tell Jackie's proud of his gun, and that he feels he's had a splendid time 'terrorising' unsuspecting customers in a supermarket. (One young supermarket assistant has a lucky escape when she pops a sweet in his mouth just as he is about to shoot her!) See frame-capture below. Correspondent DF had some interesting thoughts about Mumy and Hitchcock this week. He reminded me that for many viewers who grew up in North America in the 1960s Billy Mumy may be best-remembered for his role in the series 'Lost in Space' (as well as 'AHP' and 'Twilight Zone'). Mumy is still alive, still with us. DF notes: 'Certainly his career has been happily different from that of [another] brilliant child actor, Bobby Driscoll.' (Driscoll made several pics for Walt Disney, including the 1950 Treasure Island where he played Jim Hawkins. Sadly, he died in 1968, aged just 31.) And DF makes a wise comment about Hitchcock himself: '[He] was doubtless able to be fairly nasty at times - aren't we all? But I reckon that he was just like other directors. Surely no director has ever had the reputation of being just a "nice guy"!' Exactly, DF! Having to be 'nasty' (well, firm and able to impose his will) is almost a requirement of being a good director. It comes with the territory. John Ford authority Tag Gallagher was telling me recently about some of Ford's misbehaviour that way, although his worst 'offences' may have been when he 'went too far' when working with his regular company - which included actors like Ward Bond - who basically all admired and loved him. But back to Billy Mumy and that incident when Hitchcock took him aside, saying, 'Billy, if you don't stand still on your mark, I'll come and nail your feet to the floor and your blood will run out like milk!' (For the adult Mumy's account, see the URL included here last time.) As I said to my original correspondent, JC, about that incident, I think Billy's mother made a good point afterwards when she told her son, 'Mr Hitchcock is English!' - as if that sufficiently explained matters! And maybe it did! (JC thought that there was a bit of foreshadowing of Monty Python!) My own thoughts immediately ran to how Hitchcock had read several novels by Charles Dickens at school and how his home library in California contained Dickens's complete works, including some valuable first editions. Prompted by my recent re-reading of John Carey's superb book, 'The Violent Effigy: A Study of Dickens' Imagination' (1973), I cited, first, the case of the Fat Boy in 'Pickwick Papers' (who very possibly may have reminded Hitch of himself growing up!). That drily-conceived character is noted for his constant eating and for his droll delight in terrorising people (compare Hitchcock's deadpan expression!). One day, the Fat Boy is about to consume a meat pie when he notices young Mary, the housemaid, sitting opposite. He leans forward, knife in hand, and slowly enunciates: 'I say, how nice you look.' 'There was enough of the cannibal in the young gentleman's eyes', Dickens remarks, 'to render the compliment a double one.' However, Carey rightly points out that the very best embodiment of a violence in Dickens's writing that 'could also express his black and anarchic laughter' is the character of the malevolent dwarf, Quilp, in 'The Old Curiosity Shop'. For instance: 'He smokes pipes of hideous strength, and forces his guests to do the same, warning them that otherwise he will put [one] end in the fire and rub it red-hot on their tongues. He drinks boiling spirit, bubbling and hissing fiercely, straight from the saucepan. He pinches his wife black and blue, bites her, and keeps her in constant terror of the ingenious punishments he devises.' (Carey, pb edition, p. 25) Meanwhile, she worships him! And there's a whole lot more of such grim humour in Dickens - not altogether different from what I call Hitchcock's use of a kind of 'reverse psychology' to convey his meanings, notably in his appearances on the TV shows. I also think of how he called Psycho 'a comedy'. Well, it is and it isn't!

October 20 - 2018
After reading last week's item, a correspondent, JC, reminded me that not all of Hitch's child actors remembered him fondly - notably, Billy Mumy who was 7yo when Hitch directed him in "Bang, You're Dead!" (AHP, 1961). Mumy himself tells what happened when, with time running out to fit in one more shot for the day, Hitch came to him and whispered that he must stop moving about or else ... To read what Hitchcock threatened to do, watch the entertaining 9-minute interview with Mumy (talking directly to the camera): Mumy on Alfred Hitchcock Presents We discussed the interview in our Hitchcock discussion group this week. We noted, inter alia ... Mumy would have forgiven Hitch for scaring him, and quickly forgotten the matter, if, after shooting, when they had got their close-up, Hitch had simply winked at him and said, 'I didn't really mean what I said!' But not only didn't Hitch do that, Mumy thinks that he enjoyed himself and was pleased with himself for getting the shot in that way! Mumy has remembered the incident ever since. Mind you, when the boy told his mum what had happened, she dismissed it, saying, 'Oh Billy, Mr Hitchcock is English and they say things like that!' Also, Mumy recounts how, a year or so after the incident (maybe a bit later), he talked with Veronica Cartwright, who played the pre-pubescent sister of Mitch (Rod Taylor) in The Birds. Mumy told her how he thought Hitch was a horrible man. But her experience had been quite different. 'Oh no he isn't!' she responded! There are of course stories of Hitch throughout his life that allege how unpleasant he could be (some of his elaborate practical jokes in the 1920s and 1930s; his making advances to Tippi Hedren after a day's shooting on Marnie in 1964). But equally, there are many stories of his charm, his selective generosity (i.e., not just to anybody!), etc. I told JC that my favourite quote these days about Hitch is what his wife said about him in 1960: 'He has the most balanced mind of anyone I've ever known.' Hitch was human, with, yes, a dark side. As for that "Bang, You're Dead!" incident, I think it shows not just Hitch's single-mindedness when he was making a film (he was scathing about some of the extras on Frenzy who put a foot wrong, although he left it to the Assistant Director to reprimand them!) but - come on! - by using some 'child psychology' that day he demonstrated that a little bit of fear applied to young Billy may have been the best way of getting the shot before the child was whisked away by union regulations (and regulators). I'm reminded of Grimms' tales and their young readers - fear speaks an unmistakeable message to children, but they're mostly resilient about it afterwards! - and possibly the quick-thinking Hitch thought of the Grimms too! Also, note, I think Billy's mum was not altogether off the mark when she cited Hitch's Englishness! Hmm. No question about young Billy's talent as a child actor. Besides "Bang, You're Dead!", I have seen him in 'Twilight Zone'. Both times, he's been very good indeed! On our group, Adrian Schober (see last week) agreed, and told this story. 'While Mrs Mumy was quite dismissive of [what had happened that day], she had misgivings about [Billy] appearing in the memorable Twilight Zone episode, "Long Distance Call" (aired earlier in the same year). As he remembers, "My mom almost didn’t want me to do it, she says. I wasn’t aware of that at the time, but I [found out] later on that because [the boy in the episode attempts] to kill himself in several ways, she was just very anxious about that, and she almost said she wasn’t going to [let me] do it ..." Like "Bang! You’re Dead,” it’s a remarkable performance from the child actor.' Readers, any further thoughts?

October 13 - 2018
Thanks for joining me again! Just a couple of short items this time. First, there's an interesting Alfred Hitchcock site started recently by someone in Australia (good place to be!). His name is Brent, and his site is called 'Brenton Film: the past, present and future of film', with a page headed 'Alfred Hitchcock Collectors' Guide'. For it, Brent has assembled valuable information to assist people seeking the best Blu-ray, DVD or digital releases of Hitchcock movies. Go here: Hitch Collectors Guide
Second, there's a new book that some of my readers may want to seek out, especially if they're interested in Hitch's TV work (both the episodes he directed himself and those directed by others but still recognisably carrying the Hitchcock 'brand'). It's co-edited by Debbie Olson and (my friend) Adrian Schober for Routledge, and is called 'Children, Youth, and American Television'. The first chapter is by yours truly, and is called "Recognizing the Children in Alfred Hitchcock Presents and the Alfred Hitchcock Hour". I'm going to quote here the first part of the chapter's Preface (hope you like it - I'll maybe expand on it here nest time): 'Sociologist Nick Lee observed: "In order to properly recognize children, researchers must make a firm decision not to apply the dominant framework." In other words, to see children and childhood for what they really are, it is necessary to think outside the customary frame. (Lee's point, to be taken up later, is that society hasn't always encouraged such a liberal outlook.) What this essay calls Hitchcock's "ecumenical" view, meaning his open-mindedness, is well-suited to such a recognition of children, and mostly that viewpoint informs the various episodes of the TV series, whether directed by Hitchcock or by someone else (such as Robert Stevens or Norman Lloyd). This essay also concerns itself with Hitchcock's long-standing interest in the "growing-up process" - including sometimes its reversal or annulment - which for him may have had its roots in English novels and plays and was no doubt sharpened when he began to feel himself an accomplished artist, especially of "suspense" pictures. Critic Raymond Durgnat noted the mechanics of that suspense, if not its broader implications, when he wrote of Hitchcock's audience: "He catches us in that semi-serious, semi-infantile area where we accept innocent and wicked as real moral states, and then insists that we grow up, a little." To be fair, Hitchcock's ostensible subject-matter is often like the famous MacGuffin: the artist's true intent may remain hidden until, with all distractions finally off the table, the characters, and the audience, face an elusive truth.' (p. 23) (The chapter deals at length with such AHP episodes as "The Crystal Trench", "Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid", and "The Schartz-Metterklume Method"; and such AHH episodes as "The Magic Shop" and "Where the Woodbine Twineth". Special attention is given to Hitchcock's appearances in the various shows' 'wraparounds', i.e., the often jokey and sardonic opening and closing segments. Also, Hitchcock's own work in the cinema is referred to, notably The Trouble With Harry. There's more information about the book on Amazon.)

Note: I was unable to find any posts from July to September in Ken's documents. The Wayback Machine Archive is also empty for this period. It appears that Ken was not active over this time. [AF]

June 30 - 2018
Back to Suspicion in a moment. But first, as a film scholar (and a sympathetic student of yoga and Buddhism), I have always been wary of how logic can seemingly be twisted to mean whatever you want to prove or to see, rather than allow the still(ed) mind to show you 'things as they really are'. In a recent book on Vertigo (one of several), by Robert J. Belton, he warns the reader against 'confirmation bias' but admits that he will probably be guilty of it himself. I think he's right about that! Here, for example, is something he says about the scene in Midge's San Francisco apartment where she, a commercial artist, is working at her drawing-board on the illustration of a new brassiere 'based on the principle of the cantilever bridge': 'Obviously enough, a suspension bridge hangs from cables, as a conventional brassiere does from straps. Filtered through this [...] understanding, Midge's description of the brassiere is not comparing it to the Golden Gate but to a kind of device that facilitates rather than threatens phallic rigidity. Scottie illustrates this with the deliberate, almost aggressive, way he points his cane at the brassiere. The castration threat is not just the fact that he wears a corset (i.e., a masculine substitute bra) but the fact that the doctors will ask Scottie to get rid of his corset the following day. Only then will he be in danger of losing his sexual potency.' (p. 62) While I appreciate the detailed description here, I wonder at the conclusion. Hasn't Scottie already symbolically lost his potency, as signalled by his wearing the corset (usually thought of as a female garment), and its removal tomorrow will represent a chance to become potent again? (Note: he needed the corset after hanging limply from a rooftop for what must have seemed an eternity. More symbolism there, notice! Compare the adventurous Jeff's situation in Rear Window where he is confined to his apartment with a broken leg and a wheelchair, the latter something usually associated with the elderly.) I may come back to this. Meanwhile, let's return to Suspicion. As I've noted again recently, I hope to soon publish on this site scholar and author Michael Walker's thoughtful piece on Hitchcock's 1941 film. On the topic of the director's penchant for sexual symbolism, Walker writes: 'An old friend [of Johnnie's], Beaky [Nigel Bruce] serves to highlight both Johnnie's immaturity and his potency. On the one hand, he and Johnnie behave like overgrown schoolboys together; on the other, Beaky is an emasculated buffoon: in one scene, Johnnie mockingly gives him a walking stick. The anecdote Beaky begins to tell of his failure to understand that the woman who picked him up in Paris was a prostitute - and his death from an excess of brandy in a Paris 'house' - further emphasise that he's a sexual innocent or, as Theodore Price argues, that he's gay [...].' (Price's book is 'Hitchcock and Homosexuality', 1992, re-titled 'Superbitch!' for its limited 2011 re-issue. Review here: Obsession with Jack the Ripper .) (For a frame-still of Beaky with Lina, see below.) Finally, as I'm quoting a lot this week, I'd like to briefly comment on my observation last time, comparing the ending that Hitchcock wanted for Suspicion with a Wagnerian love-death. Wagner described the ending of 'Tristan and Isolde' like this: 'The exhausted heart [of Isolde] sinks back, to pine away in a longing that can never attain its end, since each attainment brings in its wake only renewed desire, till in final exhaustion the breaking eye catches a glimpse of the attainment of the highest bliss - the bliss of dying, of ceasing to be [...] Here, I suggest, is an instance of why Hitchcock's films can often be called 'Schopenhauerian' (after the philosopher who influenced both Wagner and Nietzsche - and note that Hitchcock once described Wagner as his favourite composer). The first part of the above quote is pure Schopenhauer: repeatedly that thinker drew attention to how we are all prone to constant restlessness for, no sooner is one desire attained or eliminated, than another takes its place. (I would argue that the 'open-endedness' of Vertigo, et al., implies no less.) Moreover, referring now to the rest of that quote from Wagner, I suggest that this is another Hitchcock paradigm, akin to Schopenhauer's concept that the only release from our constant restlessness and 'suffering' caused by the world's 'Will' is to 'suspend' it in ourselves, as in meditation or the contemplation of great art. (Wagner had a whole concept of musical 'suspension'.) Last week, too, I quoted, apropos Vertigo, Nietzsche's famous aphorism: 'Whatever is done out of love takes place beyond good and evil.' Is that the message of both Suspicion and Vertigo? (Hmm. Reader, did you think you were just watching a suspense movie!)

June 23 - 2018
Some more stream-of-consciousness (or association-of-ideas) observations about Suspicion. I'll try and link them up with last time's. For instance, I suggested that while the ending Hitchcock wanted would not have been 'exactly a "Tristan and Isolde" love-death', it would have been 'quite close'! (Lina, out of love, would have allowed herself to be poisoned by her husband, while Johnnie - the ambiguous hero-villain - would have proceeded unwittingly to his own execution, because of an incriminating note Lina had given him to post.) Of course, whether the couple would then have been re-united in death isn't raised. That's for an audience to imagine, if it wishes! But the fact is that Lina and Johnnie's relationship has been erotically charged, as signalled by such things as the scene on the hill, early in the piece, which - again ambiguously - is filmed to resemble a murder attempt but proves to be Johnnie's attempt to kiss Lina! He immediately follows it up with an attempt to touch her 'ucipital mapilary' (I'm told there's no such thing!): compare the frame-capture below in which Johnnie proceeds to tease Lina about her hair which, he alleges, is 'all wrong'. Johnnie's pursuit of Lina continues until, at the Hunt Ball, he again whisks her away, in his car this time. As they drive past Lina's house, she innocently (?) asks, 'Shall we go inside for a drink, or something?', an offer which Johnnie politely turns down, imagining that Lina will insist. When she doesn't, he has to think quickly - which is Johnnie's forté! - and accept after all! The point is, the film is signalling that a romance is in the air. Lina never forgets the initial excitement of the incident on the hill. It is referred to several times during the film. Near the end, at another erotic moment - when Johnnie starts to undress Lina for bed - she resists, and Johnnie remarks, 'This reminds me of the day we first met - on top of the hill - when you wouldn't let me unbutton your blouse. Remember?' And Lina says, 'I'll never forget it.' The whole film is one continual tease, but with a tone that belies the depth of its 'love story'! It is teasing at various levels. In a way, I'm reminded of William Rothman's recent remark about Vertigo: 'Hitchcock has gone to extraordinary lengths to make Scottie's so-called dream sequence demonstrate that the world on film is not reality but a projection of reality, and that as a projection it is at once real and unreal.' Mutatis mutandis, those 'extraordinary lengths' are prefigured in Suspicion. Let's come back to the love story aspect. Of course it's 'unreal' - at one level. No film with so much 'joking' and switching back and forth could possibly be taken 'seriously', could it?! And when Lina finally 'gives up' and surrenders to Johnnie's murderous intent - which had so aroused her from the very start - that's from sheer exhaustion, isn't it?! In the screenplay, Lina mutters a final prayer: 'Oh, God, let him do it quickly. I can't stand it any longer. I don't want to live any more. There's so little strength left in me [...] And, please God, have mercy on his soul [...] He doesn't hate me, God - he's like a small boy [...]' Hmm. Richard Wagner described the ending of his opera 'Tristan and Isolde' like this: 'The exhausted heart [of Isolde] sinks back, to pine away in a longing that can never attain its end, since each attainment brings in its wake only renewed desire, till in final exhaustion the breaking eye catches a glimpse of the attainment of the highest bliss - the bliss of dying, of ceasing to be [...]' Reader, I did say that I'm sharing here some associations-of-ideas. I do feel that Suspicion has a dimension that is seldom recognised. Returning to 'Tristan and Isolde', I note that in the 2006 film of that name, Tristan dies in Isolde's arms with these words: 'You were right. I don't know if life is greater than death. But love was more than either.' That is very Hitchcockian. And Nietzschean. Writing on Vertigo, Robert Pippin invokes Nietzsche's famous aphorism: 'Whatever is done out of love takes place beyond good and evil.' Pippin explains that this has little to do with morality. Rather, 'Nietzsche is out to show something quite relevant to Hitchcock's movie. He wants to point out [ultimately] our inability in complex cases to distinguish among over-determined motives the relevant one.' A final thought, for now. Have others reading this ever felt that Johnnie prefigures Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt? I recall that when I first saw that film, it wasn't until deep into it that I conceded that Uncle Charlie must indeed be a murderer! For more than half the film, I felt that he might yet turn out not to be a murderer, that we were being given only circumstantial evidence and suspicion! And I never entirely felt that he was hateful.

June 16 - 2018
In a sense Suspicion is a highly modified version of the 'Francis Iles' novel, which offers a much more extreme situation (in its details, at least) than the film can do (given censorship and what 1940s film audiences would accept - although full marks to Hitchcock and his principal screenwriter, Samson Raphaelson, for striking the outlandish tone of the film, emulating the novel's). The novel is able to draw more closely on the real-life case of William Palmer (see last two entries). On the other hand, the best the film can do is subtly hint. For example, last week I noted how William Palmer had umpteen illegitimate children: at least fourteen! Taking its cue from this, the novel makes Johnnie seduce a succession of maids, and father a child by at least one of them. In an elaborate analysis of Suspicion ('Modern Language Notes', December 1983), M.C. Miller astutely noted a piece of dialogue in the film. He spotted an 'innocent' exchange, overheard by Lina, between Johnnie and the maid Ethel (Heather Angel) as she wakes him one morning after bringing the morning tea and post. (Note: yet another 'mail' reference by the film - see June 2, above.) 'Hello!' Johnnie says groggily. 'You here again?' (What were he and Ethel up to last night?!) Now, here are some almost stream-of-consciousness observations about Suspicion which I may follow up later. The film, as I say, is often subtle. Although Hitchcock told Truffaut that he would have preferred to follow the novel and have Johnnie kill Lina at the end, he finally realised that this wouldn't work with audiences. (Apparently such an ending was filmed, and shown at a preview, but the audience overwhelmingly rejected it. Hitchcock doesn't mention that detail to Truffaut.) Instead, he filmed the ending as we have it, in which at the last moment Lina sees that Johnnie wasn't prepared to kill her - that he was a loving husband - although Johnnie himself admits that he has done many bad things, that he's 'no good'. With a musical flourish, Johnnie agrees to reverse the car and take Lina back home after she had wanted to run away to Mother's. Ostensibly, this is a happy ending, and the couple can make a fresh start. In fact, it is - I would argue - deliberately 'sentimental' and unconvincing (not unlike the ending of The Lodger nearly twenty years before), and in any case is ambiguous. Moments earlier, Johnnie had appeared to try and thrust Lina from the speeding car, only she had managed to extricate herself. Whereupon he had quickly lied that he had been trying to save her! And almost immediately, Lina is heard saying, 'Oh Johnnie, I have wronged you ... please take me home!' (See frame-capture below.) Once again, I suggest, Hitchcock is being subtle with the truth! We are perfectly entitled to think, given all that has gone before, that Johnnie will try again to kill Lina when they are back home. His ready explanation that because of his 'badness' he had thought of committing suicide won't wash! That is, except with the ever-gullible Lina! This is one more instance of what Beaky had said, 'Good old Johnnie - always able to lie his way out of any situation.' Now, let's consider the ending that Hitchcock said he would have preferred. The general feeling of many critics and scholars is that it would indeed not have worked. As Michael Walker says in a powerful piece we'll publish here soon, 'Lina ... is our identification figure from early on. An audience would inevitably reject an ending in which she was killed.' However, that's not the whole story. Hitchcock explained to Truffaut that Lina would finally realise that Johnnie wanted to poison her - and, out of her own love for him, she was prepared to die (with the twist that to protect society from Johnnie in the future she would give him an incriminating letter to post!). Not exactly a 'Tristan and Isolde' love-death, but quite close! Remember that in Vertigo (1958) Hitchcock makes Judy do something similar: she is prepared to 'walk into danger' out of her love for Scottie, and does indeed pay the ultimate penalty for her love. Still, Walker may be correct in saying of Suspicion: 'finding a way of making the novel's sado-masochistic murder-cum-suicide acceptable to an audience was an insoluble problem.' But I have my doubts! More next time.

June 9 - 2018
In Suspicion, the shadows grow more ominous and pronounced as Lina feels increasingly isolated from Johnnie (compare frame-capture last time). After he rebukes her sharply for 'interfering' in his real-estate idea in which the ill-fated Beaky will put up the money, the shadows are very noticeable. And of course, near the end, when Johnnie mounts the stairs to her bedroom (after switching off the kitchen light) and brings her a glass of milk on a tray, the shadows thrown by the moonlight are sinister. (Lina and Johnnie's waltz plays in a slow, dirge-like register.) The milk, we believe, contains poison. This follows the revelation, in the preceding scene, that Johnnie has found out an 'untraceable' poison. His informant had been the crime novelist Isobel Sedbusk who is the area's celebrity and whose brother is a forensic pathologist. Recently, Johnnie has become a 'fan' of Isobel, borrowing from her the true-life crime book, 'The Trial of Richard Palmer' (the film has changed the person's name from William Palmer - see last time), and buying her latest novel, 'Murder on the Footbridge'. Thus the film has done its 'homework'. Isobel is an Agatha Christie- or Dorothy Sayers-like figure. Interestingly, the film implies that she may be a lesbian. In one scene, in which Lina visits her, she is photographed leaning towards Lina and with her arm extended as if to place it on her thigh! She is charming towards Lina, and invites her and Johnnie to dinner in her cottage where among the other diners is a mannishly-dressed young woman of about Lina's age. According to the screenplay, this is 'Phyllis Swinghurst, who is staying with Isobel'. (In lines omitted from the film, Isobel calls her 'Phil', and she responds, 'Yes, Issie?') Isobel has at her fingertips, so to speak, all the details of the mass-poisoner William (or Richard) Palmer. He is the evident basis for several of Johnnie's traits, and for details of the film's plot. According to Colin Wilson and Pat Pitman's 'Encyclopedia of Murder' (1961), Palmer left school at 17 and moved to Liverpool (which is where Johnnie says his solicitors are located). 'In Liverpool, he quickly became acquainted with all kinds of crooks associated with racing. Soon, he left [his employers] under a cloud, having stolen money addressed to the firm.' In the next five years he had fourteen illegitimate children! At the age of 21 he inherited about £9,000. His first poisoning victim 'was a man named Abbey, whom he poisoned one day with strychnine in a glass of brandy simply to see how the poison worked. No suspicion was aroused by Abbey's death.' Palmer moved for a time to London. Incredibly, he gained himself a doctor's diploma. (This was in the 1840s.) He then moved back to his home town of Rugely in Staffordshire, where he ran up big gambling debts. He started poisoning his creditors. One of his victims was named Bly. Palmer owed him £800. The dying man managed to tell his wife of the debt before he died, but when she asked Palmer for it, he replied that Bly had owed him the £800, and that he would be obliged if the widow would produce the money! (In Suspicion, as noted last time, Beaky is impressed by how Johnnie could always 'lie his way out of any situation'.) 'Palmer now decided to extend operations to his family; he started with his uncle, "Beau" Bentley, another drunken profligate. Palmer proposed a brandy drinking match; the result was the same as in the case of Abbey; Uncle Bentley died within three days.' Palmer then married the daughter of a colonel in the Indian Army, presumably for the large dowry she brought him. It was her undoing. 'He insured his wife's life for £13,000, and then waited until the autumn; but by then, his creditors were clamorous, and Annie Palmer's life ended in September. Palmer put up an admirable show as a bereaved husband [...]'. Reader you get the general idea. Eventually, after he had poisoned the racing fan named Cook (see last time), Palmer was charged with murder. He was tried at the Old Bailey in 1856, found guilty, and executed at Stafford. Now, let's return to Suspicion and the crime novelist Isobel Sedbusk. The frame-capture below shows her latest novel, which Johnnie buys in order to meet her and presumably to obtain information about 'the perfect murder'. Note the hand of the drowning man after he has fallen from a tampered-with footbridge. (I'm sure that this was a murder method that other crime novelists had made use of. A variant on it is used in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, of course.) More next time.

June 2 - 2018
This week I received an email from ZP saying that he has 'a crush on Joan Fontaine' whom he likes 'very much in [Hitchcock's] Rebecca and in [Max] Ophuls' Letter From An Unknown Woman', and asking this question about Suspicion (1941): 'How are Joan and Cary [Grant] affording their lavish lifestyle after their marriage?' In reply, I noted, inter alia, that the novel by 'Francis Iles' (Chapter III) reveals that Lina's father had paid off Johnnie's debts and settled an annuity on his daughter of £1,000 (which the film changes to just £500 - all the more reason for Johnnie to take drastic measures when finances become really tight!). And, of course, Johnnie has all along specialised in borrowing large sums of money from the aristocratic friends in whose circle he has customarily moved. (Quite the lifestyle if one can manage it!) Now, speaking of drastic measures, I long ago noted in my Hitchcock book that the character of Johnnie is based on one of the most 'fascinating of real-life British criminals, William Palmer (1824-56)'. For example, Johnnie's resort to killing his rich chum 'Beaky' (Nigel Bruce) with a lethal glass of brandy echoes Palmer's resort, more than once, to poisoning wealthy relatives and friends (some of whom must have had weak hearts) whom he either challenged to a brandy-drinking match or administered a pill containing strychnine and with a glass of brandy to wash it down. (The body of one of his victims reportedly 'became so convulsed that his head touched his heels, and he died a few minutes later'. As Arbogast says in Psycho: 'Strychnine ... ugly way to die.') More on the parallels between Johnnie and William Palmer another time. Meanwhile, apropos Suspicion, I see that I noted here a few weeks ago (April 28) this: 'I used to think that the eminently facetious tone of North by Northwest (1959) had no real precedent in Hitchcock, but now I see that Strangers on a Train is its forerunner!' To that short list of films I might now add a few other titles, including Suspicion. Again and again, the plot takes an unexpected turn, zigging and zagging, in a way that is quite unreal by any normal expectation - but of course the mendacious, quick-witted Johnnie is no normal character. (Compare what I have said here about how Strangers on a Train takes its licence from the outlandish character of Bruno.) In a way, ZP's question above reflects Lina's sense that 'this can't be happening' - and yet the film insists that it is happening and (like Johnnie) manages to come up with an explanation! Also, maybe what happens in Suspicion is more life-like than we care to admit, only it is magnified. Practically all the film's major characters tell lies of one sort or another. Lina's mother (Dame May Whitty) tells a white lie when she placates her irascible husband at the dinner table by saying, 'But of course the horse-radish sauce isn't out of a bottle, dear' (both the novel and the screenplay make clear that she is fibbing!). Lina herself is soon telling lies (she has to be a fast-learner, once she comes under Johnnie's sway!), as when, on eloping, she tells her parents, 'I'm just going down to the village to post a letter.' Beaky lies when he says, on his first visit to Lina and Johnnie's house, 'I was just in the neighbourhood.' (Beaky can't conceal his admiration of Johnnie, whom he has known since they were at school together: 'Good old Johnnie - always able to lie his way out of any situation.') The film is one big lie about just how nefarious Johnnie really is: this isn't revealed until the last scene (in the ending Hitchcock wanted) in which Johnnie poisons Lina (but will be caught because of a letter that Lina has written). The very texture of the film creates a world of doubt and ever-increasing suspicion about what is really happening. As part of this texture, Hitchcock uses foreshadowings. In my book I noted the many 'postal' references that would have led the audience to that final scene: in the opening scene, Johnnie, caught out by a railways inspector, borrows a postage stamp from Lina to help him pay for his first-class ticket (he had purchased only a third-class ticket). The pillar-box in the village is repeatedly emphasised: Hitchcock even makes his cameo appearance there, posting a letter. Another instance of the way the film carefully builds its effects is related to the use of shadows that gradually increase inside the house, threatening to envelop Lina in her suspicions. Earlier, she had torn up a letter to Johnnie saying that she was leaving him. A proleptic shadow, almost like the bar of a prison, falls across her as she resigns herself to staying on. (See frame-capture below.) More next time.

May 26 - 2018
As promised last time, here are some final observations on the use of rear-projection and a model when the merry-go-round crashes in Strangers on a Train. First, in the frame-capture below, you can see the moment when the merry-go-round comes to a shuddering halt and one of the wooden horses appears to fly towards the camera. But look more closely. First, the bottom of the rear-projection screen is visible at the level of the policeman's shoulder. And note that the careering wooden horse disappears out of sight at the bottom of the rear-projection screen - although the effect when watching the film is of its crashing into the spectators in the foreground! But that's not all. After the crash, Hitchcock continues to use rear-projection, this time behind the screaming spectators as in the background we see Guy, holding his head, being helped away from the wreckage. Here, Guy is back-projected. But now there's a cut to a close-up of Guy, still holding his head, and here he is part of the live foreground - while rear-projection continues in the background to show milling spectators. And again, soon the camera moves to show Bruno lying injured on the ground - this is live action - while rear-projection shows other victims of the crash being helped away. In all of this, Hitchcock is doing exactly what he is supposed to do: direct not only the action of the actors but, very subtly, where the film's audience looks and what information it is given along with a sense of that information's relative importance. Now, the scene with the (presumably) dying Bruno is beautifully done. Especially notable is how he remains the character we have known all along, steadfast in his self-vindication even while cunningly trying to pin the blame for Miriam's death on Guy. (This anticipates the end of Psycho in which 'Mother' asserts her own rightness while putting the blame for the murders on her 'bad' son, Norman. Or is Norman exonerating himself and leaving Mother to take the rap? It's hard to know!) 'They got you at last, huh, Guy?' smiles Bruno grimly. His apparent single-mindedness is perfectly in keeping with what has gone before, even though we know that he's a psychopath and dangerously two-faced! (His 'single-mindedness' had been seen earlier in such things as his fixed stare at Guy playing tennis while all the surrounding spectators had swivelled their heads to follow the back-and-forth flight of the ball; or his unrelenting grip on Mrs Cunningham's throat at the party when Barbara in the background, with her resemblance to the dead Miriam, had caught his eye.) As I suggested at the outset of these notes on Strangers on a Train, it's a film whose style is determined by the outlandish nature of its subject matter and by the one-in-a-million character of Bruno himself - and therein lies its fun. Of course there are some wildly improbable moments within the action. Think of, say, Bruno's plan to have Guy kill his father, in which he waits in his father's bed when he suspects that Guy is going to double-cross him. Clearly, he could have got himself shot if Guy had indeed intended to go through with the supposed deal (as he does in the novel). But of course the whole story is improbable, isn't it?! And nobody knew this more than Hitchcock! It was his licence to create a tale where seemingly anything goes, always in keeping with Bruno's plan to harness the life-force or to fly on the first rocket to the moon!

May 19 - 2018
This time, let's combine some further observation about Hitchcock's use of rear projection behind live action and discussion of the roundabout climax of Strangers on a Train (see last two entries). Below is a long-shot (it's a frame-capture) of the roundabout shortly before it crashes. The shot superbly blends foreground action of actors emoting and gesturing (note also the Hitchcock touch of the children's balloons) with back projection of the out-of-control roundabout (undoubtedly a scaled-down model shot - no live actors present). If one looks carefully at the scene, one can glimpse the bottom of the rear projection screen. All right, that's one, highly crucial shot. Of further interest is how it is allowed to continue for several seconds (a full revolution, or more, of the roundabout) before the roundabout suddenly crashes to a stop - and Hitchcock cuts to a perfectly timed high shot to show the result. The high shot reveals a now at-rest roundabout, the shot carefully staged with further explosions and parts of the roundabout collapsing, and artfully-illuminated dust. The maintained continuity from the rear-projected model-shot to the 'manufactured' action of the long-shot is perfect. Hitchcock had done this sort of thing before, of course. Famous is the transition from approaching (rear-projected) ocean to shattering cockpit, with (real!) water crashing through, in Foreign Correspondent (1940). And in the prairie scene of North by Northwest (1959) equally precise timing is present when the out-of-control plane collides with the oil tanker and there's a cut to the tanker exploding: here, too, the illusion of cause-and-effect is total! There's a further dimension. Hitchcock's climaxes are often highly visceral and with an irrational insistence that is almost sexual. I've been reading Robert Pippin's excellent recent book on Vertigo (1958) which carefully describes, inter alia, the scene where Scottie prevails on Judy to make the transition (back) to 'Madeleine' by changing her hair colour. Pippin has already (pp. 107-08) quoted Judy asking, 'Why are you doing this? What good will it do?' and Scottie's reply, 'I don't know, I don't know. No good, I guess.' Now Pippin observes (p. 109): 'if the change is so trivial and meaningless, why is Scottie obsessed with it?' Pippin doesn't directly answer his own question, but implies it when he makes the now almost clichéd comment: 'The whole [transformation] sequence is as brutal and unadorned a view of the projection of the fantasies of male desire onto a woman ... as there exists in cinema.' (p. 110) (In a footnote, though, he notes: '[Katie] Trumpener points out [in a 1991 essay] that neither the saleswoman [in Magnin's] nor the cosmetologist seems at all surprised that a man would want to remake a woman according to his standards of beauty ...' - n. 123, p. 110). Effectively, Vertigo is here asking the audience to empathise with a man's irrational insistence when making love. (Hitchcock, we know, told Truffaut that this scene is a virtual striptease in reverse - but the word 'striptease' is itself a euphemism for having sex.) Let's return to Strangers on a Train. Hitchcock's films' 'lovemaking' apropos the audience is as smoothy executed as you could desire, every suspenseful step. As I'll show next time, the climactic fairground scene, after the roundabout crashes, continues to combine rear projection with a studio foreground in masterly fashion. Of course, the scene itself was 'borrowed'. Bill Krohn on the Strangers DVD notes that Hitchcock sweated on how to end the film. Finally, as Richard Valley (publisher/editor of the journal 'Scarlet Street') was the first to spot, Hitchcock turned to an English writer, 'Edmund Crispin' (film composer Robert Bruce Montgomery), and obtained permission to adapt the merry-go-round climax of Crispin's best-known crime novel, 'The Moving Toyshop' (1945). To be concluded.

May 12 - 2018
Last time, apropos Strangers on a Train (and North by Northwest), I quoted queer theorist Lee Edelman on 'compassion's compulsory disavowal of its own intrinsic callousness'. That's quite a claim, and I doubt that Edelman really understands true compassion (as distinct from pity, perhaps). In Strangers on a Train, Guy and Anne at Forest Hills pause beneath the words from Kipling, 'And treat those two impostors just the same' - which suggests to me that Hitchcock at least sensed what true compassion is about. I'm sure he meant us to understand that the words extend to everyone else in the film, including Bruno. Hmm. During the week, someone in our discussion group, BD, who is avowedly gay, and knows his gay literature, including the critical literature, informed us that there are two streams of queer theory: negative and positive. He elaborated to this extent: rather than Edelman, Strangers on a Train may be better served by the queer theory of José Esteban Muñoz (1967-2013) in 'Cruising Utopia' (2009). (A nice online tribute to Muñoz in the 'Los Angeles Review of Books' says that 'Cruising Utopia' 'creates a hopeful theoretical basis to comprehend artists [who] strive to construct new and better worlds for queer individuals'.) Strangers on a Train, adds BD, 'becomes an endlessly fascinating text working on positive and negative tracks simultaneously ... Bruno is both psychopath and devoted lover [of Guy], and Guy is repulsed by him and yet somewhat attracted and even tender towards him'. All of which is in keeping with Hitchcock's approach elsewhere - what I call his 'outflanking technique' - and I see little reason to dispute it in this case. With this proviso. Sure, Bruno initially impresses us - even if he invades Guy's space and keeps coming! - telling Guy on the train that he (Bruno) knows all about current events and that he went to college, adding 'I got kicked out of three colleges - drinking and gambling'. (For anything else, Bruno?!) His piece of self-appraisal, 'I'm a very clever fellow', appears to be true enough (and Guy repeats it at the end of the film). Also, the film keeps comparing Guy and Bruno, and Bruno matches Guy in many respects. After Bruno has murdered Miriam, he coolly returns across the lake (from the 'Isle of Love') by boat and nonchalantly walks out of the fairground, even helping a blind man cross the road (and waving to approaching cars to stop for them). He does it beautifully, and his coolness is exemplary - Guy on the tennis court could do no better. Also, for a time, Guy seems to accept a certain share in the guilt (we may all have someone we'd happily be rid of, and Guy is heard to say that he could strangle Miriam - which is exactly what happens to her!), even joining Bruno behind a barred gate in order to avoid being seen by the police (when they arrive late one night at his Washington D.C. apartment to tell him the news of Miriam's death). Hitchcock no doubt understood that anyone would do the same because they'd need time to think: Bruno has just explained to Guy that he's as implicated in the 'criss-cross' murder scheme as he (Bruno) is - and prima facie (from the police's pov) that's true. Nonetheless, we viewers know that Bruno is the actual murderer. Further, on a couple of occasions Guy shows his true mettle. Although he initially appears willing to submit to Bruno's scheme and murder Mr Anthony Snr (thus creating a 'shadow of a doubt' in us), in the event he confronts Bruno and tells him firmly that he never had any intention of going through with murder. 'None whatsoever', he says. (This is contrary to the novel; and what BD says - see above - might possibly best apply to that. Also, I think of what someone, a devout Catholic, long ago pointed out to me about Father Logan in I Confess: that he is repeatedly seen striding forwards and is adamant in maintaining his own innocence, thus affirming his fidelity to his faith.) And at the climax of Strangers, on the out-of-control roundabout, Guy performs the true hero's act when, risking his own life, he saves a little boy who seemed about to be flung off. (Frame-capture below.) In short, in the last analysis, Guy is unequivocally the film's hero. More next time.

May 5 - 2018
Early on the Strangers on a Train DVD commentary track, someone observes that Patricia Highsmith was fascinated by, and chose to depict, an amoral, irrational world where things may spin out of control. Good point, and it seems consistent with what Jonathan Goldberg says in his 2012 monograph on Hitchcock's movie (for the Queer Film Classics series), 'that at the core of each of us is an entirely contingent, unsocialized, and determining force' (p. 90). (One day I'll fully grasp the meaning of 'contingent'! I presently understand it to mean 'dependent on something else'. So here, as I read Goldberg, is a force that is both entirely dependent on something else and yet 'determining' - as well as 'unsocialized' - which does indeed make it sound unpredictable in its effects, and something to be wary of. Like the behaviour of certain atoms, perhaps. But I would have thought that such a force is more, rather than less, independent of anything else, which not even the social contract - see following - can entirely rein in. At least, not always.) Doing my best not to show ignorance, I recently wrote for publication that in Strangers on a Train the idea that there is an unbridled core in each of us - Goldberg's notion from queer theory, indicated above - would offend someone like the film's stuffy Senator Morton (Leo G. Carroll) who has 'internalised the social contract and would deny "a realm of meaninglessness" underlying it' (note: "a realm of meaninglessness" is another quote from Goldberg, p. 98). My idea was to highlight the intrusive nature of Bruno Anthony when he enters the Senator's house (as described here on April 7). 'In fact,' I added, 'Hitchcock - as later in his TV show wraparounds, whose humour could be barbed - hints that we all to some extent deny the "chaos world"'. (I acknowledged Robin Wood here, amongst others.) Elsewhere lately, I have written about Hitchcock's own awareness of the social contract. Against the chaos-world, I wrote, 'we have few implements to adequately protect us, apart from loving relationships. There is, of course, the social contract, whose "humbug" was defended on utilitarian grounds by several of Hitchcock's favourite writers, like [H.G.] Wells and John Buchan.' (For example, Chaffery in Wells's 'Love and Mr Lewisham' - one of Hitchcock's favourite novels - describes the social contract as 'nothing more or less than a vast conspiracy of human beings to lie to and humbug themselves and one another for the general good' - Chapter 23.) Which brings us back to Goldberg's 'realm of meaninglessness that underlies the social contract'. By a logic that I don't entirely follow, he deduces that when, on the train, Guy tells Bruno, 'Sure, we talk the same language', 'Guy could as easily mean that he likes Bruno's ideas even if he doesn't think he does' (p. 98) - because the social contract is itself only 'a tissue of polite lies and does not mean what it says' (ibid). (In Ronald Kirkbride's novel 'The Short Night', which Hitchcock nearly filmed, there is a love scene in which the woman is awakened to what she had not previously known, that society is indeed a tissue of polite lies. I suggested here last year that the love scene may have been what so attracted Hitchcock to Kirkbride's book, whose villain - the woman's unloving husband - is based on the double agent George Blake.) Goldberg summarises the general idea: 'The law imposes morality as a means of social control on the uncontrollable perverse core.' (p. 119) I'm not sure that he offers any clearcut alternative 'solution' to society's seeming (or actual) hypocrisy. Where the philosopher Schopenhauer (who had a comparable idea of something amoral and irrational at the heart of each of us that is beyond our control) advocated 'compassion' as a panacea, Goldberg seems to pour scorn on that way out. At least, he quotes queer film theorist Lee Edelman thus: Leonard (in Hitchcock's North by Northwest) is a 'victim of compassion's compulsory disavowal of its own intrinsic callousness' (p. 94). Hmm. As a Hitchcock character says somewhere, 'Hey, steady on!' I may come back to this next time. I just wanted to end by noting something purely technical. In the frame-capture below, Bruno solicits help from passers-by to recover the cigarette lighter that he has dropped down a storm-water drain. (One of them is the railway luggage-handler who is a fan of Guy's. But he must have been fairly busy that day. By the time the lighter is recovered, he has left. I suspect that Hitchcock scripted it this way to signal the passing of time.) The scene is typical of Hitchcock in the following respect. For more control, while using an actual location, for close-shots he has re-created the scene in the studio against a rear-projection screen. To be continued.

April 28 - 2018
Joan Schenkar's remarkable biography, 'The Talented Miss Highsmith' (2009), tells how Patricia Highsmith's German publisher, Daniel Keel, saw Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train as a young man but only stayed in the cinema long enough to identify the author's name on the credits. Now why would he do that? (Highsmith's name is in the opening credits, at least on my DVD copy.) I gather Keel missed what is a fine movie, quite as ingenious as the novel, but with lots of changes to plot and characters. Very striking is how Hitchcock altered Guy from an architect to a professional tennis player, so as to underline the story's 'criss-cross' theme visually: the climactic tennis match at Forest Hills is particularly well photographed and edited, including each rally. In turn, the see-sawing tennis match is cross-cut with Bruno setting out by taxi and train to incriminate Guy by planting his monogrammed cigarette lighter at the scene of the crime, on an island at a funfair. With a master's panache, Hitchcock draws all this out with incident after incident, including the improbable (who cares?!) lighter-down-the-drain scene! As in the later Frenzy (1972), he had begun his film with a grand musical opening that effectively licenses the film to go wherever it likes thereafter: nothing is too far-fetched, provided the incidents keep up the panache (which as I noted last time is keyed to the personality of Bruno - 'a very clever fellow' - and the incredible situation into which his psychopath's ego leads his victim, Guy). But there are the quieter moments that I also appreciate. Here's one. The suspicious police set two or three detectives to tail Guy after the murder, each detective taking it in turn to relieve the other's watch. The first detective we meet is Hennessy who seems easy-going and barely credulous that Guy could be a murderer. Barbara Morton (Patricia Hitchcock), younger sister of Anne (Ruth Roman - whom Schenkar expressively calls a 'stone angel'!), even waves to him and describes him as 'cute'. One night, Guy manages to slip away from his current tail, Hammond. When Hennessy relieves Hammond at change-of-shift, all of a sudden Hennessy is no longer the easy-going policeman he had been playing (for Guy's benefit, no doubt). He is suddenly the hardened detective we may all along have supposed him to be despite appearances (else why would he have got the job in the first place?!). To have this confirmed is very satisfying - and typical of Hitchcock's modulation of our involvement. Moreover, Hitchcock drives it home by having Hennessy reprimand his colleague for suggesting they simply take Guy in for questioning. See frame-capture below. Now, somewhat different is the scene that immediately follows, in which Anne pays a call on Bruno's mother in a desperate attempt to have her intervene to stop Bruno from pressuring Guy to 'swap murders'. But Mrs Anthony (the delightfully comic Marion Lorne) proves to be as crazy, and un-persuadable, as her son. When Anne asks Mrs Anthony straight out, 'Don't you understand ... your son is responsible for a woman's death?', the simpering older woman responds, 'Did Bruno tell you this?' Anne says, 'But of course not', and Mrs Anthony ends the discussion with a smug, 'There you are, then' - and rises. She leaves the room with another simpering gesture. But this isn't the end of the scene. Not at all. Now Bruno enters - he has obviously overheard the preceding conversation. Immediately he starts playing the injured party, implying that Guy is the murderer, and adding, 'I've been protecting him...'. Bewildered, Anne is nearly distraught. And Bruno, having achieved the effect he wanted, in turn leaves - with a little wave at the door to Anne, recalling his mother's gesture moments earlier. The see-sawing emotions and outlandish situation here are perfectly in keeping with the overall tone of the film. I used to think that the eminently facetious tone of North by Northwest (1959) had no real precedent in Hitchcock, but now I see that Strangers on a Train is its forerunner! To be continued.

April 14 - 2018
[Back to Strangers on a Train in a week or two. Meanwhile, check out a 'News and Comment' item newly added. KM.]

April 7 - 2018
I understand that a stage production of 'Strangers on a Train' from the novel by Patricia Highsmith has just finished touring in the United Kingdom. However, the critics haven't exactly been enthusiastic. ('The Guardian': 'Music is unleashed to whip the action along, but without the stealthy pad of Highsmith's prose or Hitchcock's morbid oblique detail there is little suspense.') I want to talk about the Hitchcock film. A first draft was written by Raymond Chandler, then turned over to Czenzi Ormonde (standing in for her boss Ben Hecht, who was unavailable). The finished screenplay is a tour de force. Someone (Penelope Houston?) once described the typical Hitchcock plot as 'a madman's flytrap', and Strangers on a Train (1951) fits that bill - brilliantly. Throughout the screenplay and film, one outlandish situation or preposterous script-transition follows another, until hyperbole becomes the norm and the audience is swept along by it, almost convinced that 'this is how things really are' (and enjoying every moment of it!). (Something similar is the case with Hitchcock's 1945 Spellbound, where Freudian psychology - loosely interpreted - and a bout of amnesia by a murder suspect give licence to Hitchcock to pull out all the stylistic stops. Recall, too, Miklos Rozsa's suitably bombastic score. I think Spellbound works splendidly, provided you don't mistakenly insist on 'realism'. It is sophisticated in a way that only some critics, and some academic scholars, haven't always appreciated! I'm paraphrasing Robin Wood! But let's come back to Strangers on a Train ...) One tour de force within the larger one is Senator Morton's party where an uninvited guest - Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) - wreaks havoc! His 'invasion' of the party is a little like how reckless Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant) in Suspicion (1941) turns up unannounced to a staid party where he promptly pursues Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine). But Bruno is, if anything, even more eccentric. (Again Hitchcock takes his licence from this to indulge his film's stylistic exaggerations.) Not that Bruno doesn't initially follow correct 'protocol'. On arrival, and recognising Guy Haines (Farley Granger), fiancé of Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), he strides cordially to shake his hand, then turns to Anne herself who is with her father. Immediately Bruno engages the Senator, saying that one day he would like to discuss with him a plan to 'harness the life force' (and some equally quixotic notions). Already, Bruno is 'at home'. Leaving the startled Senator, he next approaches a Judge Donahue (see frame-capture below) and immediately starts questioning him on how it feels to condemn someone to death, then go home to a meal. (Shades of Judge Horfield in The Paradine Case, 1947.) Once the Judge has extricated himself from this tight corner, Bruno turns to two elderly ladies, a Mrs Cunningham (Norma Varden) and a Mrs Anderson, and starts conversing about ways of murdering people - all in good fun, of course! The two ladies, not knowing that they are talking to a real murderer, are initially charmed - until something goes wrong (Bruno has just seen Pat Hitchcock as the bespectacled younger Morton daughter, Babs, who happens to resemble Bruno's murder victim). In the middle of demonstrating to Mrs Cunningham how he would place his hands on her neck to strangle her, Bruno first freezes, then faints. A shocked Mrs Cunningham is lucky not to be injured. Guy and a nearby General carry the inert Bruno to the next room where he revives. A moment later, Guy (whom Bruno hopes to blackmail into murdering Bruno's father - got that?!) tries to make him see reason - by punching him on the jaw! Then Guy escorts him from the house. But the scene is not over. Anne Morton talks to her sister, and begins to sense that Bruno and Guy have some bond. Confronting Guy outside, she asks: 'How did you get him to do it?', i.e., kill the woman named Miriam. Guy is forced to divulge Bruno's crazy idea of 'swapping' murders ... Guy comments to Anne on the whole preposterous business: 'Now that you know, you're acting guilty too!' A flytrap indeed! And within this hugely elaborate and ingeniously choreographed scene are many more significant touches. Just one: the prolepsis when Bruno revives from his faint and murmurs, 'I was on a merry-go-round somewhere!' Hmm. Writing about literary style, F.L. Lucas claimed, 'Style is simply a way one personality moves others.' The case of Hitchcock, whose love of Cockney understatement concealed a fine liking for the absurd and the far-out, surely shows that cinematic style can be of the same order. More next time.

March 31 - 2018
The episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Sixth Season) called "Sybilla" was directed by Ida Lupino (no less!) and the screenplay was adapted by Charlotte Armstrong from a story by Margaret Manners. (Charlotte Armstrong wrote the story and screenplay of "Incident at a Corner" which Hitchcock had recently directed for 'Ford Startime'; regular readers of this blog may remember that last year we spent several weeks discussing that masterly television work.) "Sybilla" stars Barbara Bel Geddes and Alexander Scourby. In a nutshell, writer and antique dealer Harold Meade (Scourby), who had seemed a confirmed bachelor at 40, somehow finds himself married to Sybilla (Bel Geddes) and brings her to his splendid home where his mother had only recently died. (See frame-capture below.) The home is managed by the housekeeper, Mrs Carter, and her husband; Sybilla accommodates herself to the established routine while managing unobtrusively to introduce some new ideas concerning the household cuisine. She is a model wife, if only Harold could accept it! But he has become set in his ways, and after a while the marriage begins to seem onerous to him. Observing to his diary that Sybilla leaves him 'nothing to complain about' - here I thought of Jeff (James Stewart) in Rear Window (1954) complaining that everything his fiancée Lisa (Grace Kelly) does is 'perfect, as always'! - he plans to poison her. But she reads his diary, and hints to him that she has sent a sealed copy of it to her lawyer with instructions that the package may be opened if anything happens to her. Harold realises that from here on he must play the good husband. Over time he begins to appreciate and love her. Then, quite soon, she dies. Harold learns that she never did send the sealed package to her lawyer, and that she always loved him even after finding out his nefarious intent - here I thought of Suspicion (1941)! Harold faces a lonely future. Now, there's an excellent appreciation of "Sybilla" in the latest issue of 'Film International' (Vol. 15, No. 4), by Robert K. Lightening. (It's something of a Hitchcock issue. Murray Pomerance contributes a learned article on back-projection, with particular reference to Marnie (1964), and Tony Williams writes stylishly on Hitchcock and John Buchan, focussing on The 39 Steps (1935).) Lightning's illuminating approach is to see the episode as resembling stories by Edgar Allan Poe, most closely "Morella" (1835) but also "Ligeia" (1838) and others. (Regarding "Ligeia", see "The Fragments of the Mirror: Vertigo and its sources" on the present website.) I found very convincing this passage: 'Clearly, Poe's archetypal relationship between a powerful woman and a passive or dependent man is a metaphor for the pre-Oedipal male's helpless dependence on the mother [...] But [...] Horace comes to appreciate Sybilla's domestic activities, interpreting them now as affectionate gestures on his behalf rather than as transgressions against his person. It is thus the supreme irony of the narrative that, in feeling himself entrapped and forced to abandon masculine control over marriage, a sort of pre-Oedipal dependence upon a woman is re-established, and infantile affections originally directed at the mother are now directed at Sybilla.' (p. 129) If I'm not mistaken, that interpretation fits quite nicely with how Tania Modleski (in her acclaimed book 'The Women Who Knew Too Much', Second Edition, 2015) sees the trajectory of several Hitchcock males. I also relished Lightning's appreciation of Barbara Bel Geddes's smile (which had already vitally informed Max Ophuls's Caught (1948) and two Hitchcock-directed triumphs from 1958 - Vertigo and the "Lamb to the Slaughter" episode of AHP). Here's Lightning: 'The symbol of Sybilla's unfazed resilience is Bel Geddes's smile [...] as a symbol of a woman's determinedly positive response to masculine neglect and oppression. It will be Sybilla's final gesture to her husband on her deathbed.' (p. 127) ("Lamb to the Slaughter" also ends with Bel Geddes's smile, but this time with almost sardonic effect, anticipating Mother's grin in the last shot of Psycho (1960) - both women have put something over their male would-be oppressors, notably the police.)

March 24 - 2018
[No "Editor's Week" this time. Instead 2-3 items have been added to 'News and Comment'.]

March 17 - 2018
Let's tie together the past two entries, on North by Northwest and Rebecca. Both films begin on a note of 'unreality' plus a mix of gratification and frustration. (Hitch always liked to get the spectator involved and emoting, straight away.) The 'unreal' note begins North by Northwest: the non-natural, sinister green, followed by the intriguing 'intersecting lines' that become a glass-fronted New York skyscraper (very gratifying) followed by Hitchcock's missing his bus. (More on the 'unreality' aspect in a moment.) Rebecca begins on shots of a sunlit meadow with trees, but it's strangely deserted. (Why?) Then follows the dream sequence where first 'the way was barred to me' by Manderley's iron gates ('I' tells us), but which becomes the camera's treck along the 'twisting and turning' drive to show the mansion seemingly lit up - but which proves to be an illusion. Both films, you could add, affect a certain mysterioso at the start. Now, I called North by Northwest a 'redemptive journey' film, and so is Rebecca. Both Maxim and 'I' are only half alive to begin with - Maxim with his suicidal bent (as we saw) and I' oppressed by Mrs Van Hopper and then, for a while, by her continuing timidity (so that Mrs Danvers is able to almost tempt her to leap to her death, as Maxim had earlier thought about): compare the way in which Roger Thornhill gradually comes 'alive' until, as Leonard stands on his fingers on the top of Mount Rushmore, and Hitchcock gives us a subjective shot of the valley far below - photographed as appealingly and invitingly as possible - Roger is able to summon up an extra reserve of, yes, 'life', and outlast his tormentor (though not without help, note). So the 'unreality' of North by Northwest in particular is associated with the quality of being not fully alive (cf the 'Unreal City' of Eliot's 'The Waste Land', as previously noted), something that is borne out by the film's Oak Bar sequence, with its Everett Shinn mural of a foggy old-time New York, where Roger meets with his ageing cronies. (Something I only recently learned: the mural, showing the city mansion of Cornelius Vanderbilt, is only part reproduced in the film, just sufficient to give the 'unreal' tone. Hitchcock claimed he didn't like - the position of? - the columns in the Oak Bar and so used a modified version of the locale re-created in the studio. See pics below.) Further, like I said, both Rebecca and North by Northwest can be said to have a 'redemptive' intention, again like 'The Waste Land'. Eliot said of his poem that he drew on Jessie Weston's book 'From Ritual to Romance' (1920) which brilliantly combined content from the Grail legend and rituals examined in Frazer's 'The Golden Bough'. Daphne du Maurier's 'Rebecca' certainly imitates the Arthurian and Grail legends in at least one respect: the implication that Maxim, like the Fisher King in his castle, has been struck impotent and Manderley rendered an infertile place (note in the film our first view of it through the car windshield after the honeymoon sequence, as if it were under a spell). Du Maurier's Cornwall, of course, was the legendary birthplace of Arthur. And her story, like 'The Waste Land, offers the reader some taste, or anyway foretaste, of redemption, of the effect of the 'dolorous stroke' overcome through spiritual awakening. And North by Northwest? It surely works that way too, in a very palpable way that any audience can appreciate. You don't necessarily have to go along with the idea of at least one critic that Roger is like a Christ-figure, his name, 'Thornhill', suggesting both 'crown of thorns' and Christ's death on Mount Calvary - or, before that, his famous Sermon on the Mount. There are several archetypal figures that the character of Roger draws on, not least the explorer Allan Quatermain of Rider Haggard's 1885 adventure novel 'King Solomon's Mines' (filmed by MGM shortly before North by Northwest). Or you can just settle for the power of Hitchcock 'pure cinema' ...

March 10 - 2018
The credits sequence of Rebecca (1940) showing an almost pastoral view of trees and open countryside in sunlight and mist - presumably the Manderley estate now deserted (no Maxim and 'I' and Jasper to liven it) - used to puzzle me, and perhaps still does. But once I put aside my knowledge of how the novel opens - with an evocation of the unruly return of 'nature' to Manderley - the sequence made more sense. It is, of course, immediately followed by the famous 'dream sequence' in which the voice of 'I' - now grown up, if saddened and wiser - indeed guides us up the overgrown, winding path to show us the shell of the mansion itself. On the words 'And suddenly ...', an almost imperceptible dissolve (the second of two in this sequence, I think) briefly transforms the building - 'light seemed to come from the windows'. Then the darkness returns and we realise (with 'I') that the lighted windows were only an illusion created by the moonlight and the scudding clouds (and the nature of dreaming). (The frame-capture below shows the moment of the dissolve. If you look carefully you can just see that the two overlapping images don't quite match: a roof pinnacle looks doubled but is actually not so.) Now, I have two DVD commentaries on Rebecca (by Leonard Leff and Richard Schickel respectively), but both talk right over the film's opening and neither analyses it. So here are some further thoughts on the opening. Strictly, it begins with the clanging, grandiose Selznick trademark sequence. (As we saw last time, even the company image - whether Selznick's or MGM's - must be reckoned in the total emotive effect.) Then immediately afterwards comes the credits sequence. A suitably dramatic tone is established at the outset. In contrast to the trademark sequence, a long drum roll introduces the sound of agitated strings and sour, muted trumpets. Trees and misty sunlight are seen, as if in counterpoint to that scene (peaceful landscape, ominous music). But then the first words appear: 'SELZNICK INTERNATIONAL presents its picturization of DAPHNE DU MAURIER'S celebrated novel' and the music enters its dominant mood which I would characterise as 'optimistic' and 'hopeful', and the sunny landscape seems reassuring. This mood prevails for the remainder of the credits sequence, despite some snatches of the 'Rebecca theme'. The music also contains some brief 'falling' and 'waves crashing' effects which are premonitory. But the overall effect, as I say, is upbeat. I would argue that the person of Rebecca - who in fact is never seen in the film, although constantly and powerfully evoked once 'I' arrives at Manderley - is present at this stage only by her absence, plus of course, very broadly, by dint of the film's title. Hitchcock's main concern, I believe, is with the mood of the individual spectator. Accordingly, in the dream sequence that follows ('Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again'), 'I' becomes our guide along with the subjective camera as it passes through the iron gate and along the drive. (In this opening, there are anticipations of both Psycho and Frenzy, to name two. Interestingly, both of those opening sequences culminate in an 'invisible' dissolve or similar - a mini-zoom to simulate going under the bridge. Very often, as Hitchcock's colleagues noted, he was only satisfied with individual sequences if they contained some technical challenge that had been met.) Something else to notice is how the credits sequence predominantly features sunlight while the dream sequence employs moonlight to crucial effect, yet there is also a degree of continuity, as in the transition from mistiness to scudding clouds and shadows. The opening minutes, then, have a certain nebulousness about them - which is quickly dissipated once the film proper begins, and the action moves back in time to 'the south of France' and 'I' calling out to Maxim on the clifftop, where he is contemplating suicide, 'No, stop!' Typical of Maxim, he is initially angry towards anyone who would interrupt his plans, but we see him rapidly soften. It's as if the mere sight of I's youth and palpable innocence is sufficient reminder to him that the world isn't as 'hopeless' as he had begun to imagine. Maxim looks back half ruefully at the ocean, then moves off ...

March 3 - 2018
I want to describe and discuss the openings of a couple of Hitchcock films, starting with North by Northwest (1959). I shan't try to say 'everything' but merely raise a few points of interest. For example, I shan't inquire into why the film ended up being called by its present title (any allusion to Hamlet's madness was entirely accidental, notes John Russell Taylor in his authorised biography called 'Hitch', 1978). That's in my book. Nor shall I talk about the profoundly sinister green MGM logo (accompanied by Bernard Herrmann's musical growl/rumble) that becomes the background for Saul Bass's 'intersecting lines' motif. (On this particular use of green, consider the 'green fog' of Vertigo, which Hitchcock associated with ghosts. For further discussion, again see my book.) Let's pick up the sequence where those intersecting lines become the glass front of a New York skyscraper - 430 Park Avenue, I'm told (by Craig A, whom I thank). This suggestion of 'coming alive' anticipates the film's plot: an inwardly 'dead' Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is forced to go on a 'recuperative' journey in a northwesterly direction. Its nadir is the dead-looking prairie where he is nearly strafed to death by a crop-dusting plane, and its climax takes place on Mount Rushmore whose scene among young pine trees bears witness to Thornhill's remark, 'I never felt more alive.' Two sources from Hitchcock's youth may have been influential: (1) T.S. Eliot's most famous poem 'The Waste Land' (1922) with its description of an 'unreal city' (London) inhabited by revenants/ghosts (in particular, its daily commuters who flow across London Bridge, 'so many,/ I had not thought death had undone so many') - discussed both in my book and here in "Editor's Week" on a previous occasion; and (2) the opening of F.W. Murnau's most famous film, Sunrise (1927), in which a crowd depicted in a line-drawing of a glassed-in railway station are shown waiting to board a train out of the city - a drawing that soon becomes an actual train taking the happy people on their holidays. See first frame-capture below. Note: we know that Sunrise was a favourite film of Hitchcock's, its musical accompaniment having given him the inspiration to use Gounod's 'Funeral March of a Marionnette' as the signature tune for 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents'. For another influence of Sunrise on Hitchcock, see 'Note from the author' accompanying my monograph about The Birds, online: The Day of the Claw Now, here's my next point. In the second frame-capture, from North by Northwest, below, we see the first of several shots giving an impression of commuters and shoppers hurrying homewards (or to favourite watering holes like the Oak Bar at the Plaza Hotel). My book describes the general impression: 'Next, the image becomes a ground-level view, drably photographed, showing office workers pouring out of buildings and down subways en masse, like a collective tidal wave. Finally, as Bernard Herrmann's fandango ends, Alfred Hitchcock misses a bus.' Notice the phrase 'drably photographed'. That once got me into trouble with a valued (American) member of our discussion group, Richard M, who felt that I was missing the sheer excitement and 'New York-ness' of the sequence. (Richard was also helpful recently when he mentioned that to a native New Yorker the Harlem scenes in Topaz contain admirable detail of the time when Fidel Castro and his Cuban delegation stayed at the Hotel Theresa.) I hadn't meant to discount the excitement that had so pleased Richard - far from it! (Richard, please note!) The entire sequence, and an audience's anticipation of the story to follow, are tingly and thrilling. Nonetheless, the connotation of 'tiredness' and even 'deadness' is there, indeed was more pronounced in the original release of the film which seemed to be printed to emphasise the above-mentioned drabness. (Modern 'restorations' of the film by well-meaning technicians have tended to flatten out such subtleties.) I remember once discussing this 'subjective effect' with director Richard Franklin (Psycho II). I think it was Richard who pointed out to me some similar instances (e.g., how, in Vertigo, when Scottie looks down from Midge's footstool and sees the 'vertiginous' view from her window - talk about mise-en-abyme! - he faints, and the image pales as if in empathy). The home-bound office workers in North by Northwest recall those at the start of Hitchcock's Rich and Strange (1932), whose protagonist, Fred, will also go on a recuperative journey after telling his wife, 'I want more life - life, I tell you!' Hitchcock had a long memory. Finally, for this week, notice a small detail concerning the frame-capture below. After Hitchcock has missed his bus, about two minutes later, the same shot is repeated to (re-)introduce the building where Thornhill works. Next time: the opening of Rebecca.

February 24 - 2018
With this entry, the last for now on The Paradine Case, I hope to have been able to do reasonable justice (no pun intended) to a film I regard highly. I watched it again this afternoon, and that viewing confirmed my opinion. It is not a gimmicky film like, say, Billy Wilder's admirable Witness for the Prosecution (1957), again starring Charles Laughton. But it is an impeccably-told tale - and almost, I feel, a 'love letter' by Alma Hitchcock (who is credited with the script, from a treatment by James Bridie) to her husband, a script that valorises wife-husband relationships, most notably in the strong support Gay gives Tony, especially at the end, in spite of the suffering he has lately caused her by his infatuation with Mrs Paradine. (Hitchcock and Alma of course always stayed close-knit, although Hitch may have 'flirted' with several of his leading ladies, and Alma, in the early 1950s, may have had a brief affair with screenplay writer Whitfield Cook.) I admire the many piquant details that, even now, despite the film's trimming by producer David Selznick, remain in the film as we have it, such as the snatch of 'Annie Laurie' heard echoing down a row of cells when Mrs Paradine is first admitted to prison ('For bonnie Annie Laurie I'll lay me doon and dee!'). Or the cry of the court's usher - 'All those with business to do before the Lords, the King's justices of oyer and terminer ... draw near and give your attendance' - as Mrs Paradine is escorted from underground directly up into the dock at the Old Bailey. (The phrase 'oyer and terminer' refers to a royal commission conferring power to hear and determine criminal trials - it ceased official use in 1972. And see frame-capture below.) Or the detail of how when Mrs Paradine is summoned from the dock into the witness box, she is accompanied across court by the wardress (lady warden) who has been with her from the start of proceedings, and who finds her own chair at the back of the box. Or the further frisson we feel whenever a character whom we have seen earlier in quite different surroundings (e.g., Mrs Paradine's butler Lakin, or the valet André Latour) goes into the box to give evidence. There is something potentially 'sadistic' about some of the formal arrangements and procedures of a criminal courtroom, and it's probably significant that the judge Lord Horfield (based on a real-life judge, Mr Justice Avory - see January 27, above) is described in Robert Hichens's novel as indeed a sadist. Hitchcock would have been fully alive to such matters. But there is so much else going on in this multiply-nuanced film. I mentioned previously the film's evocation of changing weathers and passing time (e.g., the blind Colonel, we're told, would have his wife describe to him the view from their Cumberland window 'every time the seasons changed'), which is only part of a still larger evocation of the movement from youth to age and long-term, almost imperceptible processes, including Keane's joke to Gay about his 'lost ideals' or Lady Horfield's sad remonstrance to her husband, 'Oh Tommy, when you were young you were kind.' (Lord Horfield likes to reminisce about high-old times in the surf at Deauville even if Lady So-and-So in her seventies was showing her age; Sir Simon Flaquer is also aging now, saying that he's 'an old ruin' although the sight of Mrs Paradine can bring his pulse up a beat or two.) Speaking of Keane's alleged lost ideals, it's interesting that he and Mrs Paradine are both of lower class origins, and that he once railed against 'the decadence of the rich'. The implication is that success may have hardened him, although in defending Mrs Paradine he perhaps senses a chance to redeem himself. But he gets carried away. Sir Simon Flaquer (Charles Coburn) is only trying to warn him against being blind to the possible truth about their client, yet Keane calls him 'an insufferable snob' for referring to her lowly origins. (This is witnessed by Gay who tries not to show that she is upset.) Ironically, Mrs Paradine rebukes Keane soon afterwards, saying that she doesn't share 'the subtle snobberies of your class'. Later, Judy Flaquer (Joan Tetzel) remarks, apropos Keane, on a danger of associating too long with criminals: 'Men who've been in the mud too long want to wallow in it.' Note the implication once again of imperceptible corruption and forgotten ideals. The two most loving wives in the film are Gay and Lady Horfield. Both are subjected to sad indignities by their neglectful husbands. But they remain true to their love. Indeed, Lady Horfield, in remonstrating with her husband, speaks what is almost the epigraph of this cautionary tale against small-mindedness and lack of compassion: 'Doesn't life punish us enough, Tommy?'

February 17 - 2018
Maddalena Paradine's assessment of her barrister Anthony Keane - '[You're] always ready to sacrifice some underdog to win a point' (see frame-capture below) - proves prophetic when Keane pursues the Paradines' valet, André Latour, in court to the point where Latour confesses to having betrayed his master, Colonel Paradine, by having had an affair with Mrs Paradine - and commits suicide. Note: Latour is not the murderer of the Colonel, and moreover it's likely that Mrs Paradine seduced Latour, not the other way about. I have already suggested that Mrs Paradine had felt almost a mother's pity for the probably gay valet, and had wanted to help him. A passionate woman herself - something the film goes out of its way to establish (see last time) - she is guilty of the Colonel's murder, yet had genuinely fallen in love with André. So much so, that she warns Keane not to 'destroy' the valet or else she will 'hate' Keane 'as [she] has never hated a man'. Yet Keane plunges on, and responds that he hasn't 'finished with Latour yet'. Keane is so infatuated with his client that he is blind to the facts of the case. This, despite repeated warnings, including from his colleague Sir Simon. Maddalena herself had told him, 'You're my lawyer, not my lover', and momentarily this forces Keane to acknowledge, 'Yes, someone else said something very like that to me recently.' He is probably referring to Latour. In Cumberland, at the Station Inn, Latour had told him, 'You may not think it, but you're on the wrong side, sir.' This is true of course. But Latour has his own impassioned attitude - that of loyalty to his blind master - which causes him to be blind in his own way to how Maddalena had wanted to help him. He can only see her as 'a bad, evil woman'. The film is full of parallels between characters. The very Judge, Horfield, has a frustrating marriage to Sophie, who truly loves him ('Tommy' she calls him); he is driven to trying to seduce Keane's wife Gay (who loves her husband) and even to having lascivious feelings towards the beautiful Maddalena whom he will sentence to death (and enjoy it, as Sophie half manages to convey to Keane). In a way, Keane is the representative figure in all this: his professional disgrace when he loses his case, and his client accuses him in court of having 'murdered' André, makes him a scapegoat figure who is himself as blindly driven as anyone else. But does justice - represented by the blindfolded (i.e., supposedly impartial) figure above the Old Bailey entrance - finally triumph? I have often commented on how Hitchcock's films imply a difference between what the philosopher Schopenhauer called 'temporal justice' (imperfect at best) and 'eternal justice' (which none of us is in a position to know), and that is certainly true of The Paradine Case. In all kinds of ways, it is a beautifully modulated film (e.g., in the courtroom scenes the sound level rises and falls with camera distance; in the scenes in Maddalena's cell, the light level rises and falls to suggest passing clouds and passing time - note too the several exterior shots of Holloway Prison in different weathers), and you may feel a subliminal sense that what is shown is neither more nor less than a representative slice of life. Speaking of such effects ... commentators have suggested that The Paradine Case takes inspiration from film noir, not only in some of its lighting effects but because Maddalena Paradine is obviously a Fatal Woman. Fair enough, but she is also, I suggest, more representative of the human condition than are many femmes fatale (cf January 27 above). Concluded next time.

February 10 - 2018
As noted last time, even Gay Keane (Ann Todd) in The Paradine Case puts self interest first, and feels intensely how Maddalena Paradine threatens Gay's marriage to barrister Tony, for he seems to have fallen in love with the beautiful woman he is defending. Gay hopes that Mrs Paradine will go free, whatever the consequences (Gay already suspects that Mrs Paradine is guilty of poisoning Colonel Paradine), provided it ends Tony's infatuation with her, allowing Gay to have him back. Gay isn't as beautiful as Maddalena, although in the novel we read that Tony is struck by a certain physical resemblance between the two women. The principal difference between them may be that Maddalena has 'seen a great deal of life' (as she euphemistically puts it) whereas Gay has been sheltered from life's harsher truths. Note that Tony's fixation on the exotic Maddelena (of Italian ancestry) roughly foreshadows Scottie's fascination with the exotic Madeleine (of Spanish ancestry) in Vertigo. And Gay is the 'waiting woman', much as Midge is the 'waiting woman' in Vertigo. Perhaps we may also assume that Gay is less 'passionate' than Maddelena - Gay is married to her brilliant husband who seems to throw his principal energies into furthering his career: their marriage so far has been childless. Significantly, two other childless marriages are those of respected judge Lord Horfield (Charles Laughton) to Sophie (Ethel Barrymore), and (as noted last time) the marriage of the blind Colonel Paradine to Maddalena. A lot of sexual frustration runs just beneath the surface of The Paradine Case. (Mrs Paradine sublimates some of hers - but is still led to a form of crime passionnel, when she poisons her husband.) Note the name of the piece of music that she had played at Hindley Hall, the Paradine home in Cumberland. (See frame-capture below.) It is called "Appassionata" by one 'Francesco Ceruomo' which of course is 'Franz Waxman' in Italian - as an eagle-eyed reader once informed us. And, speaking of parallels between films, note another thing about the superb scenes at Hindley Hall in which the tracking camera tells us just how rivetted by everything connected with Maddalena Tony has become - he cannot turn his eyes away. These scenes, and notably the scene in Maddalena's bedroom, echo those at another country mansion - Manderley in Rebecca (1940) - in which a camera explores a beautiful woman's bedroom and dwells almost as if hypnotised on items of her apparel (Rebecca's see-through negligee, Maddalena's satin nightgown and bed linen). Both women are femmes fatale - fatal women - for whom the respective films show considerable respect even while condemning them of crimes majeure and a certain ruthlessness. The Cumberland scenes go a long way to make us feel what a powerful spell Maddalena has cast on Tony. But finally, this woman's very inscrutability may work against the film. Although the presence of the hanging lamp in the scene between Tony and André Latour (Louis Jourdan) at the Station Hotel one windy night - the lamp literally comes between them - almost certainly stands in for the absent woman who divides them (with eventual fatal consequences), the film's many subtle touches, such as this one, seem to have gone unnoticed by a lot of viewers. (I have previously mentioned the low rating The Paradine Case has on the IMDb.) Yet although the film definitely needs re-evaluation, I can see why Maddalena's inscrutability isn't finally helpful to its popularity. Also, although there are many more subtleties than I have mentioned so far (see next time), I can see that there are some basic weaknesses structurally. Arguably, we never see enough of Mrs Paradine to actually feel that such a beautiful woman could capture Tony's heart so quickly and easily! (Yes, I know that Spellbound, 1945, the first Gregory Peck film for Hitchcock, has a line about true love, that although it strikes rarely, it can strike in a moment!) Also, Valli isn't exactly the very palpable Kim Novak of Vertigo, which additionally has the long sequence of Scottie's following Madeleine and eventually rescuing her from attempted suicide - a classic 'getting to know you' sequence and outcome. Lastly, I might mention how The Paradine Case was ruthlessly cut by producer David Selnick (and later further cut for television) after Hitchcock's own rough-cut ran about three hours - the print as we now have it is slightly less than two hours. There is something of a 'rushed' feel about this print. A few years ago, Bill Krohn was able to compare it with what Hitchcock had intended, and one of Bill's findings was that many of the scenes have simply been over-trimmed, removing subtleties that might have made all the difference. More next time. [Separate note. Actor John Gavin - A Time to Love and a Time to Die, Spartacus, Psycho - has died in Beverly Hills, aged 86. Obituary soon.]

February 3 - 2018
In fact, following on from last week now, The Paradine Case is one of Hitchcock's most subtle films, whose subject once again is human sexuality (Will) versus civilisation, and where understatement is the order of the day. (The film's low rating on IMDb may suggest how its subtleties have been lost on many viewers, who can only think to say, 'But it isn't a thriller!' Full marks, though, to the relatively few viewers and critics, such as Charles Higham in 'Film Quarterly', who have put their hands up to show their appreciation of this very English film, adapted from the 1933 novel by Robert Hichens, who had been an associate of Oscar Wilde.) The film's principal theme may come straight from the novel, which comments on Tony Keane's cruel streak, and also attributes cruelty to Judge Horfield, to the late Colonel Paradine, and to 'the best of us'. The film has Mrs Paradine reprimand Keane for his 'social snobbery' which (allegedly) makes him 'always willing to sacrifice an underdog to win a point'. This is also implicit in the powerful scene at the Station Inn in Cumberland (present-day Cumbria) where the Colonel's valet, Latour (Louis Jordan), visits Keane one windy night to warn him that he is 'on the wrong side' - and Tony's infatuation with Mrs Paradine blinds him to the fact that Latour is only telling him the truth. Unconsciously, he sees Latour as someone who would rob him of Mrs Paradine's affection, and, accordingly, will decide to make Latour a scapegoat when the case comes to trial. (Hitchcock once told the 'New York Times', 'I like films with plenty of psychology.') The film gives a civilising influence to its female characters, but they are not faultless themselves. Gay Keane is almost too good at times, but when she senses a rival in Tony's client, hears herself say, 'I hope she goes free [enabling Tony to win his case, and attend again to Gay] - free to kill, free to take other wives' husbands.' In other words, her self-interest (ego) comes first, and other people's lives, and justice, are secondary. (That's the very nature of amoral Will.) But Hitchcock is also aware of the question, central to the film, 'What is justice?' And there is no clear-cut answer. Mrs Paradine will go to her death by hanging (to the secret delight of the sadistic Judge Horfield, who sentenced her), and soon the case will seemingly be almost forgotten. Yet sexuality/Will is bigger than individuals, and it is a part of each person's character, one way or another. (Hitchcock in his broad-mindedness famously said, 'Everything's perverted in a different way' - and that is also an issue at the centre of the film, I think.) Just consider Maddelena Paradine herself. Like a lot of intelligent people, she found herself over-sexed. At age 16, or younger, in Naples, she seduced a respectable married man and they ran away together. 'Istanbul, Athens, Cairo.' As Maddalena herself says, 'I'm a woman who has seen a great deal of life.' (Not incidentally, several episodes of the AHP series, whose producers set themselves to include characteristic aspects of the style and content of Hitchcock's films, are about young women of precocious sexuality.) Eventually, the couple wearied of each other, and parted, but clearly Maddalena's path had been set. Then, later, she saw a way to redeem herself by marrying the blind war hero, Colonel Paradine. She would be his eyes, as Sir Simon (Charles Coburn) and Keane instruct her to say. But the price was possibly heavier than even she had anticipated. At some stage, possibly from the very beginning, the Colonel seemed closer to his valet, Latour, than to his own wife. (A possible echo, this, of the real-life Fahmy case, which I researched for my book.) The marriage bore no children. And Latour is described as a woman-hater, 'a queer fellow'. Also, tongues began to wag about another matter. It was said that Mrs Paradine had married the blind man, much older than herself, for his money. This is something the film leaves ambiguous, possibly because it is secondary. What we know is that at some point she made Latour 'disloyal to his master', that is, she seduced him. Latour himself regards her as 'an evil woman', but I'm not sure if the film itself isn't more understanding of the situation. We hear Keane ask Latour in court, 'Isn't it true that you tried to make love to Mrs Paradine?' Latour doesn't deny it, but blames her. Well, I have always wondered if the frustrated mother in her (and perhaps the frustrated nymphomaniac as well - nothing in Hitchcock is clear-cut) had taken pity on this seemingly lonely young (gay?) man, her husband's valet, and had tried to teach him about the sex he had been missing. Note: the very words 'tried to make love' are ambiguous. And Hitchcock's view of the human situation (governed by Will) is ultimately compassionate for all concerned. The Colonel's poisoning is, in a sense, another secondary element! More next time. (Frame-capture: Keane's first encounter with Mrs Paradine.)

January 27 - 2018
The Robert Hichens novel 'The Paradine Case' (1933) is one that Hitchcock had eyed for many years. It is a hefty 400 pages of small print, which is the point of course - a 'good read' when most people had few comparable pleasures (outside the movies), and libraries flourished in most middle-class and lower-class districts. The novel is set in London and Cumbria, England, and allows the reader insider-access to an upper-class milieu that is fascinatingly human, whose people are privileged but also fallible. As always, Hitchcock liked to make his picture of society as much a representative cross-section as possible, even if he had, in practice, to confine himself to one echelon of that society. A story focussed on a dramatic courtroom trial at the Old Bailey (no less) of a beautiful woman, charged with murdering her blind husband, a colonel with a distinguished war record, must have felt to Hitchcock made to order for many of his requirements. With wife Alma he set himself to writing an early draft screenplay from a treatment by playwright James Bridie (a screenplay that would later be re-worked by producer David Selznick), hoping to include Dickensian details like behind-the-scenes glimpses of the Inns of Court where legal firms congregated. (In fact, these details were among the first that had to be given up, for reasons of running-time.) As I interpret the film, Hitchcock saw his picture of society as being about Maddalena Paradine (Alida Valli) as the Fatal Woman while also being about nothing less than timeless human nature. In the opening scene a butler brings Mrs Paradine a drink on a tray as she plays the piano before a large portrait of her late husband. On the left of the foyer, a carved serpent rears its head - emblematic of both the things just mentioned! (See frame-capture below.) Another evocation of the Fatal Woman (a popular theme of Decadent literature, familiar to Hichens) comes later. At Hindley Hall, the Paradine country home, Mrs Paradine's enigmatic portrait, set into the head of her bed, recalls the 'Mona Lisa'. At the same time, the portrait is a funerary one, like those on gravestones. But the passionate, Italian-born Mrs Paradine is also flesh and blood. At the end of the film, the judge's wife Lady Horfield (Ethel Barrymore) expresses great pity for her, though this doesn't impress Lord Horfield (Charles Laughton). He snorts that 'the Paradine woman will be hanged after three clear Sundays' - and falls to picking his teeth with a gold toothpick. Meanwhile, another couple, Tony Keane (Gregory Peck) and wife Gay (Ann Todd), are reconciled after his infatuation for his client, Mrs Paradine, has nearly wrecked the marriage. (At one point, early in the film, he had offered Gay to give up the case and to go on their long-deferred anniversary, 'to Venice, where we'll ride in a gondola' - only, the original idea had been that they go to Switzerland! Gay of course notices Tony's Freudian slip, but says nothing except that he must persist with the case and win it.) As with other Hitchcock films, there's a lot of psychology in The Paradine Case - not all of it overt - that would have tickled Hitchcock. The lecherous judge who implicitly enjoys sentencing a beautiful woman to death is one such ingredient (taken a step further in Linday Anderson's damp 1982 satire Britannia Hospital where, if memory serves, we aren't spared seeing the judge cavorting in drag after he has passed the death sentence). Equally, Tony is someone who implicitly gets a kick from manipulating juries with his rhetoric. Actually, Hichens seems to have based the story's antagonism between Keane and Horfield on a real life clash of temperaments between barrister Edward Marshall Hall and the most feared criminal judge of his time, Mr Justice Avory. As criminologist and author Julian Symons notes, Marshall Hall was handsome and excitable, and said to be 'at his best when able to identify himself strongly with his client's cause'. In contrast, Mr Justice Avory had been a merciless criminal prosecutor who 'became an icy judge, one who disregarded all except purely legal considerations'. He was known as a hanging judge. Hmm. Some of the foregoing is in my book on Hitchcock. But something I couldn't say there, even if I had been aware of it, is this. Tony Keane is not alone in his passionate manipulation of juries, although he may have provided an early model for the style. These days it's known that male lawyers who deliver emotionally intense pleas to juries may sometimes end up with an erection. In fact, according to Australian author Dr Stephen Juan, 'young attorneys [in law school] are taught that when they experience an erection while addressing the jury, they should make sure not to concentrate upon any female juror' (who, it's believed, may unconsciously resent the sexual energy directed at her, even if she's not aware of the attorney's erection). (That's in 'The Odd Sex', 2001, p. 118.) Hitchcock loved salacious details like this, and they secretly stimulated his filmmaking! More next time.

January 20 - 2018
This week I had occasion to write about another episode of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents', the period-piece "The Schartz-Metterklume Method" (AHP, Fifth Season), faithfully adapted from the comic short story by 'Saki' (H.H. Munro). It stars London-born stage actress, and comedienne, Hermione Gingold as 'Miss Hope' (she isn't who she appears to be) who finds herself employed as governess to the nouveau-riche Wellington family and soon shows up the pretensions and social ignorance of Mr and Mrs Wellington, while winning the favour of their children whom she often lets run wild - until she is fired by the exasperated mother, that is. (At the end we find that 'Miss Hope' is really the wealthy but eccentric Lady Charlotte, who had missed her train and decided to play along when Mrs Wellington mistook her for the real governess.) The frame-capture below shows the four Wellington children getting to know this interesting lady who inventively says that she will use a pedagogical method with a peculiar name to instruct them in such subjects as biology and history. Now, to follow my argument about this AHP episode - that in several ways it typifies the anarchic and subversive spirit of the whole Hitchcock series - it helps to know something about Saki/Munro (1870-1916). For a start, he was gay in an era known for its stuffiness and repressiveness. A commentator, Katherine Rundell, has recently given us a pen-picture of Munro. Although reportedly conservative in his public lifestyle and politics, he 'was a man who saw the hidden wildness of things' which he used in his stories to point up and/or punish conventionality or cruelty. ("The Schartz-Metterklume Method" begins with a scene in which Miss Hope reprimands a man for flogging his horse; at the end of the episode we learn that Miss Hope is really Lady Charlotte whose animal companion is a young cheetah, destined to be sent to the zoo, i.e., captivity - something of a metaphor for Munro's view of what society does to people.) Graham Greene felt that 'the best stories of Munro are all of childhood, its humour and its anarchy as well as its cruelty and unhappiness'. A later fan of Saki/Munro was Roald Dahl, another favourite of the Hitchcock TV series. One of my theories about the lead-ins and lead-outs (wraparounds) of the various episodes is that they function like a meta-commentary on each drama, often in a catalytic or almost surreal way. By the time Hitchcock has introduced and rounded off each weekly show, any vestige of stuffiness has been dispelled, and society is shown up for the precarious and even phoney thing it is. Now, I have said that the AHP version of "The Schartz-Metterklume Method" is faithful to its original story. That's essentially true, although, watching it, I felt that in showing up Mr and Mrs Wellington as pretenders, Hitchcock's producers were having a calculated dig at the American audience. The setting is England at the turn of the century but when the Wellingtons show a limited knowledge of art and wines (and conventional ideas about how history should be taught - it should be realistic so that kids can imagine the people), you can't help thinking that Lady Charlotte is like Hitchcock, prepared to look down on these comparative vulgarians! (Of course, the producers had to tread carefully. Although Norman Lloyd's memoir 'Stages' (1993) reveals that they welcomed a degree of 'hate mail' as an indicator that the series was biting rather than bland, they couldn't push too far! That's confirmed by something else I read recently. There was an export version of AHP and there was a version for home consumption. Reportedly the export version often allowed Hitchcock to make jokes at Americans' expense, whereas US audiences were spared these and instead treated to his barbed comments about sponsors! My source for that information is the 2012 book 'The Men Who Knew Too Much: Henry James and Alfred Hitchcock', p. 8.) You could almost say that Miss Hope, played by the redoubtable Gingold, stands in for Hitchcock himself, whose wraparounds for this episode confine themselves to making fun of schoolteachers, especially eccentric ones who believe too devoutly in the Schartz-Metterklume method! Meanwhile, the Wellington kids are denied exposure to that method's continued influence, once Miss Hope is fired. This is ambiguous, of course. Saki is someone else who would have aligned himself with that possibly ahead-of-her-time lady. Today, even children's fiction often seeks to include a degree of 'wildness' (think of Maurice Sendak's 1963 picture book 'Where the Wild Things Are', filmed by Spike Jonze in 2009); indeed, in 2016 author Philip Womak argued cogently (in 'The Guardian') for why 'wildness' in children's fiction is important to their growing up ...

January 13 - 2018
[The proper "Editor's Week" should return next time. Meanwhile, here's a film recommendation, sight unseen (by me), based on Geoffrey O'Brien's long review of Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread in the 'New York Review of Books' this week. All I can do is quote O'Brien's first paragraph: 'Imagine a movie that might have opened at Radio City Music Hall in the mid-1950s, a lavishly produced romantic comedy—with songs, perhaps—about a headstrong and slightly naïve young woman who gets involved with a distinguished but very fussy fashion designer (Fred Astaire? Clifton Webb?), and step by step prevails on him to lighten up and rediscover the ordinary pleasures of life while, in the process, they realize a mutual love. Or, alternatively, imagine a post-Hitchcockian thriller with some fiercely witty repartee in which a young woman adrift is taken up by a reclusive, controlling man of wealth and his somewhat sinister sister, finding herself in an atmosphere both alluring and threatening, until the conviction grows that within this hermetic world lurks the possibility of murderous violence. Or, again, a late Ibsen play in which an aging death-haunted artist becomes fixated on a young woman he perceives as a soulmate—and her name is Alma—until the two are locked in a mortal standoff between cosmic forces of love and destruction, and he may end up poisoned by the life-force he sought to devour.' The film stars Daniel Day-Lewis in the Clifton Webb role, Vicky Krieps as Alma, and Lesley Manville as the sinister sister who might almost be Mrs Danvers from Rebecca or Madame Sebastian from Notorious. KM.]

January 6 - 2018
[Another deadline presses, so "Editor's Week" is held over. But see the News & Comment item on Vertigo. Thanks. KM.]