Archive for Charles Bennett

Blind Tuesday: Where is love and who turned out the lights?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2011 by dcairns

An obscure one — I’d never heard of MADNESS OF THE HEART until I stumbled across it. It has no reputation, but it does have points of interest: it’s written and directed by Charles Bennett, who collaborated on a half-dozen or so key Hitchcocks between BLACKMAIL and FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (including most of the late-thirties espionage cycle, all reviewed elsewhere on this site as part of Hitchcock Year) and also adapted NIGHT OF THE DEMON for Jacques Tourneur, incorporating a number of Hitchcockian ideas, including the master-villain with the sweet, doddering mum.

And then there’s Kathleen Byron, reprising her mad love act from BLACK NARCISSUS, only with a cod French accent. Powell told her that Sister Ruth was a great part, the only problem being she’d never get a better one, and he was right. So basically repeating the role here seems a reasonable option: it beats Freddie Francis’s CRAZE.

In brief: plucky doctor’s receptionist Margaret Lockwood meets and falls for French aristo Paul (Who He?) Dupuis. Then she’s struck blind, and the best medical minds, including the one she works for (yay! Maurice Denham!) conclude there’s no hope. After an unsuccessful turn as a nun (blind AND a nun? doesn’t Audrey Hepburn have automatic dibs on that?) narrating the story so far in flashback (the structure’s a mess but so’s this sentence) she hooks up with Dupuis again and he marries her, blindness and all. FINALLY we arrive at the family château in the South of France where Kathleen Byron plays an old flame of Dupuis, determined to destroy Lockwood so she can have him for herself… Now things can get going, and going is precisely what they get…

Spoiler alert! The next paragraph contains plot details written in invisible ink: highlight to read.

A daft plot twist allows Lockwood to cure her blindness and return, faking it, in order to entrap her unseen enemy. This frustrates one of the best tropes of the blind person in jeopardy thriller, which is the disabled character triumphing over both unspeakable evil and their own disability. In fairness, this convention isn’t set in stone and hadn’t really been established at this time: WAIT UNTIL DARK really fixed the template. But when you see it done decently, it’s satisfying in obvious ways that alternatives, like the boyfriend barging to the rescue in SEE NO EVIL, really aren’t.

End spoiler.

Oddly, Bennett directs this one better than he writes it, but he’s dealing with a cheap novelette as source material (ugh! that title!) and struggles to inject real humanity into it. On the other hand, his filming is often stylish, aided by Desmond Dickinson’s moody photography.

Listening to Fiona’s extremely zestful reactions to Byron’s acts of wickedness against her sightless rival (from repositioning a wine glass to attempting to arrange a drowning), I was struck by how films like this encourage a complicity with the bad guy. At times, Fiona was virtually egging the madwoman on. This wasn’t due to any dislike of Lockwood, who embodies pluck, but simply because in a film like this, nothing entertaining can happen unless the villain is plotting villainy. If the supporting cast were full of amusing bit players, there might be some welcome distraction from the main event, but asides from Thora Hird as a no-nonsense maid, there’s nothing doing. So we require constant perfidy from la Byron or the thing is going to just lie there.

Kathleen in a saucy two-piece, something I never thought to see.

Fortunately, K.B. does not disappoint, seizing one of her last chances to be interesting in a dull film. No act of spite is too petty for the ironically named “Verity”, who amusingly goes from leaving sharp objects near the maid’s baby so Lockwood will get the blame, straight to murder attempts, then back to faking love letters (to a blind woman?), and back to murder again. In this she’s aided by the château’s offscreen architect, who for some reason has supplied the building with a door opening onto a fifty foot drop. Perhaps the castle was assembled from a kit, like the Keaton homestead in ONE WEEK?

Why didn’t Kathleen Byron go from strength to strength? Simply because the British cinema of the ‘fifties was too weedy to contain her, I think. There weren’t enough psycho-bitch roles to typecast her successfully, and nobody was bold or imaginative enough to see her in more varied parts, despite the proof offered by THE SMALL BACK ROOM that she could be really excellent in a less extreme characterisation. (The reason David Farrar’s so uncharacteristically strong in that film is that she lends him fire. And he’s strongest in BLACK NARCISSUS when she’s around.)

There’s also the sad fact that she was apparently a little difficult, as talented people often are.  With the supremely difficult Michael Powell around to help her, that didn’t matter so much, but when they were no longer an item and his career was on the slide, that impetus was gone. (BTW, she always said Powell’s description of her, in his memoir Million Dollar Movie, standing naked and threatening him with a revolver, was sheer confabulation.) And nobody else owed her sufficient goodwill to help.

That was stupid: with the Rank Organisation embracing sappy bourgeois mediocrity in the ‘fifties, British cinema really needed a fierce talent who could heat up a moribund flick with a dash of hellfire.

How to Seduce Joan Fontaine, #45 of 1,000,000,000

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2009 by dcairns

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Buy her a Borgia handbag.

IVY (1947) is one of those movies where everything and everybody comes together in a frabjous fusion of talents and creates something really special: it ought to be far better known. A gaslight melodrama about a ruthless female poisoner who simply MUST have nice things, it made me feel as if someone had cut me open and inserted a big cake made of happiness.

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The principle underrated talent here is Sam Wood, whose career encompasses all kinds of nice stuff, from pre-code SHEIK knock-off THE BARBARIAN, to the Marx Brothers classic A DAY AT THE RACES. He’s kind of an anti-auteur, though, since his work usually effaces any recognizable directorial signature in favour of foregrounding performers and script, and darts about between genres in an efficient but anonymous fashion. But his small-town diptych, KING’S ROW and it’s opposite, OUR TOWN, are nevertheless very impressive entertainments. Perhaps the splendid visuals in each are more the work of Menzies, but Wood serves them up with genuine filmic aplomb.

Both movies were collaborations with the great production designer William Cameron Menzies, who also produced IVY. His monumental compositional sense is all over it. As if that weren’t enough, the film also boasts Russell Metty (TOUCH OF EVIL, WRITTEN ON THE WIND) on camera, music by Daniele Amphitheatrof (LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN) and a screenplay by regular Hitchcock collaborator Charles Bennett. I do actually wonder if some of the British Hitchcocks upon which Bennett worked would have been improved if he’s been the sole writer: this movie and NIGHT OF THE DEMON show the hand of a skilled and witty scribe who didn’t need any help to craft a delicious story. (IVY is based on a novel by mrs. Belloc Lowndes, author of The Lodger.)

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We begin in a splendidly artificial suburban street, where the entrance of a black cat, crossing our heroine’s path, seems intended to add a but of naturalism, but just ends up emphasizing the theatrical nature of this world. Our heroine — Ivy — Joan Fontaine — enters a cramped little residence in a furtive manner, paying a guinea to the little man who seems to be some kind of proprietor. The whole thing has the feel of a backstreet abortionist’s, until the little man sits at an upright piano and begins to supply mood music. You don’t get that sort of ambient care when Denholm Elliott’s guddling about in your innards with a rusty coat hanger.

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This establishment is in fact the home of a fortune teller, Mrs. Thrawn (a good Scots word meaning crazy/difficult), embodied by a remarkably restrained Una O’Connor, who proceeds to gaze into the beyond and tell Joan her future. “Does it have screeching in it?” I wondered. It does, but not from Una: comic maid duties in this film are performed by Rosalind Ivan, a fabulous character actress I’d never before encountered.

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VERY striking, vertically deranged composition introducing Madame Una, which is not only bold and eerie in itself — part of a breathlessly hushed yet manically intense shuffling of giant ECUs in this menacing yet domestic little cameo — but totally SMART, because it will chime later with a similar weird POV shot later…

Armed with a set of predictions, Joan goes forth to put them into action: she’s been advised to ditch her present lover, as another, richer one will be coming along. She doesn’t know quite what to do about her husband, other than passively suggest he might be happier with a divorce, but it’s nothing doing. The romantic quadrangle eventually adds up like so:

Ivy Lexton: wants to be rich.

Jervis Lexton: Ivy’s impoverished husband. Devoted to her, but quite incapable of offering her the luxury she desires.

Dr. Roger Gretorex: her current lover, equally devoted but only a bit wealthier. But he does have access to irritant poison.

Miles Rushworth: fabulously wealthy, and obviously drawn to Ivy, even if he is supposed to be marrying someone else. Come to think of it, this could be viewed as a romantic pentangle.

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Miles is played by Herbert Marshall, who didn’t always have the best luck with women onscreen — he was married to Bette Davis in two William Wylers, and he looks set to walk into Ivy’s poisonous clutches, only the other two chumps must be gotten rid off. They’re only played by Richard Ney and Patric Knowle, so can be considered disposable. Ivy conceives the idea of doing one in and framing the other.

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Here you go: another beautifully peculiar bottom-heavy composition introduces the POV shot of the irritant poison (every doctor keeps a large supply — it’s very handy), tying it in to the predictions of Madame Una, as Joan F. interprets them.

It’s really too entertaining, and if you haven’t seen it, you must, even though it’s hard to get. Write to your MP or something. Any movie where Joan F. gets to play a bitch-goddess is tops in my book, and it’s even better here since she plays the role with all the shy, shrinking mannerisms of her roles in REBECCA and SUSPICION, the flipside of those characters being the passive-aggressive succubus virago. Her shoulders go up as if trying to shield her ears from the wicked world, her head tilts slightly to one side as if she’s trying to wriggle out through a crack in the universe, and her eyes roll up just very slightly, escaping contact with those terrible people who want things from her, and consulting with the fiendish little brain concealed beneath that bland and beautiful brow.

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Throw in the awesome Sarah Allgood as a virtuous maid and Cedric Hardwicke as a detective — “You know the case is officially over, so I’m not allowed to think… But today’s my day off.” I think I’ve been guilty of badly underestimating Sir Cedric over the years. He always seemed like a bit of an old stick in ROPE, but he’s drolly amusing in Wet Saturday, an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents drawn from a story by the great John Collier, he does a smart cockney plod here, and so I’m going to keep an eye on him this time in ROPE…

In this movie he doesn’t get to wear specs, so we can enjoy his eye-bags more fully. They’re not bulging valises like those appended to the orbs of Philip Baker Hall, nor are they quite the thin, almost translucent arcs inscribed beneath Henry Daniell’s optical apparatus, which resemble a little domino mask cut from his own skin. Cedric’s bags are like little polythene sacks which have had all the air sucked out of them, yet retain a certain three-dimensional heft around the edges. Apparently he stored his snuff in them when he wasn’t using his face for acting.

HOT EUROPE

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2009 by dcairns

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“Fat, Forty and Full of Fire.”

That was producer Walter Wanger’s verdict on Hitchcock, producing FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, his second American film and his first made out from under the thumb of David O Selznick. “I’ve seen him climb a ladder with unbelievable agility,” he added — a startling image. This is all from Bill Krohn’s excellent book Hitchcock at Work.

Star Joel McCrea had a different impression, as he saw Hitchcock slumbering between, and even during takes. “Cut!” he cried, as his director snored. Hitch awoke. “How was it?” “Best in the picture!” declared McCrea. “Print it!” said Hitch, quite satisfied.

Hitch was a little snooty about McCrea when talking to Truffaut. The French auteur remarked that, compared to the gloss of REBECCA, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT was very much in the B movie mold, and Hitch blamed the casting. He had tried to secure the services of Gary Cooper, who considered the thriller romp beneath him and turned it down (Hitch had written an article for the English press about the American stars he’d like to work with, and Coop was one of them. William Powell was another. Carole Lombard was the only one named whom he got to direct, and that in a rather unsatisfactory film — see next week for details). Really, I think Truffaut was referring to the movie’s helter-skelter plotting and structure. In reality, it cost more than REBECCA, what with its extremely elaborate production design and effects work by William Cameron Menzies (who also designed GONE WITH THE WIND).

McCrea, an actor of true modesty, once expressed himself amazed when Preston Sturges wanted to hire him. “I want you,” said Sturges. “People don’t want me,” protested McCrea. “They want Gary Cooper and they get me.” I think Hitchcock should have been damned grateful to have a generous and warm player like McCrea on his team.

The film arose because Selznick, with whom Hitch had signed an exclusive contract, did not have a property for him to direct, and anyway he was occupied dealing with the unprecedented profits rolling in from GONE WITH THE WIND, his bloated and racist epic, and to some extent REBECCA too. Liquidating an important capital-gains transaction (I have no idea what that means) he took three years away from active film production and loaned Hitch out at a considerable profit: Hitch was paid $2,500 from Selznick, while Wanger paid Selznick $7,500 for Hitch’s services. This inequity added to Hitch’s resentment of the controlling producer, whom he personally quite liked. (All this business stuff from John Russell Taylor’s Hitch.)

Starting from the memoirs of a real-life foreign correspondent in Europe, Hitch roped in British collaborator Charles Bennett for one more screenplay, working with Joan Harrison, who had worked her way up from secretary to the most important part of the Hitchcock support group next to Alma. The writing credits are complex: Robert Benchley contributed to dialogue as well as co-starring, with James Hilton and, for the stirring final speech, Ben Hecht, a writer who would loom large in Hitch’s future work.

Part of the impulse was certainly propagandist, to encourage America to enter the war in support of Britain, and the other goal was to create a true Hitchcock vehicle, a chase film like THE 39 STEPS, the sub-genre Charles Bennett had helped invent. Once Holland was fixed upon as a setting, Hitch asked the familiar question: “What do they have in Holland?” and set-pieces immediately began to take place.

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We begin in a miniature New York, moving from the general to the specific in classic Hitch mode, into a newspaper office, where the editor is looking for news from Europe, and is sick of the guff he’s getting from political correspondents. He decides a straight crime reporter would be better: “There’s a crime happening on that bedeviled continent!” This is a classic Hitchcockian ruse, since the director hated to have an expert hero. In all his best espionage films, the protagonist is a naif thrust unwittingly into trouble. If he must be a professional, let him be inexperienced. John Gielgud in SECRET AGENT was an author newly recruited to the service. Robert Donat in THE 39 STEPS was a complete outsider. The cop heroes of BLACKMAIL and SABOTAGE are marginalised next to the heroines. So McCrea’s John Jones is a man who knows nothing of politics and is armed only with common sense and an athletic build. Starting with his head in the ground, he will undergo a political awakening commensurate with that Hitchcock hopes for from his audience.

The ed sends McCrea to get the inside dope from a statesman called Van Meer. “How about Hitler? Don’t you think it’d be a good idea to pump him? He must have something on his mind.” For no very credible reason, John Jones is rechristened Huntley Haverstock and introduced to peacemonger Herbert Marshall.

A brief scene of McCrea saying goodbye to his relatives before sailing adds comparatively little, except to suggest what Hitchcock’s emigration to America might have been like, with a bossy mother becoming emotional at the last moment… In reality, the poor cameraman dispatched by Hitch to shoot second unit in England and Holland was torpedoed on his way home, and had to make a return trip for retakes.

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In London, McCrea meets complacent comedy relief journalist Robert Benchley, who’s on the wagon, since “I can’t afford a new set of organs.” Benchley presses McCrea to a scotch and soda, while he has a glass of milk. “Doesn’t taste like it did when I was a baby, that’s got poison in it,” he mutters. Poisoned glasses of milk have not finished with Hitchcock…

McCrea makes contact with Van Meer (Albert Basserman), which is a plot point rather than a chance for discourse: Hitch and Bennett’s political thrillers always avoid any real discussion of politics — the trick is to express politics in movement. McCrea tries to talk war, but Basserman rambles on about feeding the birds. “Don’t you think that right now the birds are the least of our worries?” asks the frustrated reporter. Hitch seems to be trying to prefigure all his later movies.

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At a peace reception conference thing, we meet Herbert Marshall’s screen daughter, leading lady Laraine Day, whom Hitch was equally sniffy about. While she may add to the air of B-movie, not being terribly famous, she does a fine English accent for a gal from Utah, and is personable enough. McCrea and Day meet and spar, and there’s a comedy Latvian and a comedy Scotsman and a comedy society matron, &c. McCrea endears himself to us by putting his foot in it with Laraine.

Off to Holland, spurred on by a convenient telegram from the editor. The cast are reunited in a gigantic town square constructed at vast expense. Michael Balcon had refused to let Hitchcock build (and blow up) a tram for SABOTAGE, so Hitch makes sure he has several here. Some idea that Holland is perpetually rainy leads to the upcoming set-piece with umbrellas, for 25 minutes in the film is suddenly going to become a thriller. First, Van Meer doesn’t recognise McCrea — THE LADY VANISHES moment when reality assumes the mask of nightmare — and then VM’s bloodily done in by a fake news photographer, who hides a revolver alongside his camera in a visualised pun on the verb “to shoot.” The flowing moves of the scene are interrupted by the quick, unnaturally static shots of the gun-blast and camera-flash (POV Van Meer) and the slain man’s face, frozen pain/death (POV killer). A classic Hitchcock “God shot” shows McCrea chasing the culprit through a forest of brollies, and then dodging through traffic as every stray shot from the gunman seems to fell an innocent bloke on a bike.

I haven’t seen so many Dutch cyclists abused since SPETTERS.

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Jumping into a passing car, Our Joel finds himself in a high-speed chase with Laraine Day and George Sanders. George frickin’ Sanders! Nobody’s that lucky. George quickly offers up the best line of dialogue ever delivered in a high-speed chase: “I say old girl, would you mind shoving your knees out of the way?” Sanders is Scott ffolliott, a delightful Charles Bennett creation. I’m not sure why ffolliott’s needed in this story, but I’m of course overjoyed to have him. He seems designed to soak up bits of action and adventure that should rightfully belong to the hero or heroine, but since the sight of George Sanders leaping out of windows and crashing through awnings has a whimsical incongruity to it that Joel McCrea could never attain, I can’t regret the substitution.

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A geographically implausible chase takes us swiftly into the countryside, nearly running over immortal Scots comic James Finlayson (“Doh!”) with the second unit scenic shots put to good use, until it turns out that the Dutch countryside is another model, like New York. Here we get one of the Big Ideas which make Little Sense: a windmill turning against the wind, as a signal to the enemy agents. That’s quite an elaborate, and easily detected signal. But we embrace such madness in  Hitchcock’s miniature dream landscape. Better still is the preceding moment when George rounds a corner in his car and the vehicle he was chasing has just vanished — in an entirely flat landscape. It’s kind of the flip-side of NORTH BY NORTHWEST’s crop-duster attack: instead of asking “Where could danger come from in this flat plain?” we are to ask “Where has it gone?” 

“Inside the sinister windmill,” is the answer, and the real Van Meer is there too — that’s why the assassinated statesman didn’t recognise Joel, he was a looky-likey. But — but — but — why didn’t he, as a professional impersonator, simply pretend to recognise McCrea? Why would the enemy shoot their own man? Wouldn’t somebody notice such a substitution, especially the coroner?

Dream logic reigns.

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Really great suspense stuff with McCrea hiding from the bad guys. Van Meer has been conveniently drugged so he can’t explain the plot (I would think drugs might help). The windmill, tiny on the outside, is cavernous on the inside, and then McCrea has to dangle from the roof to avoid capture, it’s suddenly very tall also. The birds come to his rescue by providing an alibi for his noises. The bad guys then have to manhandle a drugged old man down narrow stairs without banisters — their plans look sure to go awry in absurd fashion. 

Fetching the authorities (with the help of the world’s least convincing Dutch schoolgirl) McCrea finds all evidence has vanished, and he’s left looking like a chump. It’s a familiar thriller twist, of the kind Hitchcock pioneered in THE LADY VANISHES, but it means the plot needs kick-starting out of this cul-de-sac. An attack on McCrea in his hotel provides the necessary impetus, forcing our hero out the window in his dressing gown, where he must clamber over a giant “H” in the hotel’s sign (Hitch’s signature?). McCrea is often to be found in his bedclothes: an earlier scene shows him fetishistically garbed in PJs and bowler hat, while sharp-eyed observers of THE PALM BEACH STORY claim to be able to spot, er, Little Joel briefly escaping from the actor’s pyjama flies, if pyjamas can be said to have flies. McCrea’s interference with the neon converts the sign from HOTEL EUROPE to HOT EUROPE, a fitting summation of the political mood. 

Emerging in Laraine’s room in a state of dishabille, McC causes scandal and offence, but soon wins her over and battles the (very slow-witted) thugs waiting in his suite by calling room service. Laraine even send the valet to collect McC’s clothes by telling him “You see, my husband’s waiting in that room,” a re-use of the adultery story deployed by Robert Donat in THE 39 STEPS. Soon the would-be assassins are knee-deep in hotel services in a slight reprise of the stateroom scene in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA. International espionage has been mated with bedroom farce.

London! Why? Doesn’t seem to matter. I think there is a reason but we’re going too fast to ask questions. Edmund Gwenn, one of the few stars of English Hitchcock to migrate into American Hitchcock (he will return as late as THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY, to wonderful effect) makes an unlikely assassin, and quite an ineffective one, as it turns out. Hitchcock is onto something cute with the idea of the mild-mannered old boy who’s really a deadly hitman, but to pay the gag off correctly we would need to see him do something successfully nasty. But we now know that the heroine’s dad, Herbert Marshall, is in league with the baddies, so there’s a more compelling source of suspense. The conflict of family and faction make some form of tragedy inevitable.

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“By an ironic chance a Requiem Mass was in progress at the time.”

Leading Joel up a Roman Catholic cathedral tower, ostensibly to avoid the liturgy (“The dead are alright… in their place,”) Gwenn threatens to get Hitchcock in trouble again by jeopardising a schoolboy, but soon turns his lethal attentions to McC, with results that Hitch cheekily conceals from us for a few moments. Then we have a few moments of reporters McCrea, Sanders and Benchley in an office that makes me long for a sitcom about the three of them. Benchley answers the phone: “No, tell him it’s ridiculous!” He hangs up. Presumably that was Charles Bennett on the other end.

The need to expose Herbert Marshall leads McCrea to take part in a fake kidnapping of Laraine Day, getting us into more ethically and emotionally murky waters than would generally be the case in the British comedy-thrillers. Fortunately for Hitch, McCrea’s sweetness is more than enough to keep us on his side. When McCrea hears that the plan requires him to keep Day busy all night, his honourable distress is more heartwarming than amusing. At the country hotel where he attempts to put this plan into action, the receptionist is the creepy-looking  Eily Malyon, who played a Nazi agent in CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY. Joel could be in trouble here!

When Sanders tells Marshall his daughter’s been kidnapped, cinematographer Rudolph Maté pulls off his best, moodiest work in the picture so far, which is starker and simpler in its lighting than the baroque REBECCA. Hitch even has Marshall look almost directly into the lens, Ozu-style, a technique he had played with as early as THE MANXMAN, and which Selznick would object to when he did it in THE PARADINE CASE. As a protective father with a young daughter, Hitchcock no doubt identified with his villain here.

Laraine Day, returning after romantic difficulties with McCrea, scuppers the fake kidnapping, but Sanders follows Herbert Marshall to darkest Tottenham Court Road where the kidnapped Van Meer is being tortured with bright lights and jazz music. Even better darkly modulated lighting from Maté, and then a brilliantly peculiar special effect from William Cameron Menzies as Sanders leaps from the window: a manikin ffolliott descends the front wall on some kind of hidden rail, hits an awning, which tears, and a felsh-and-blood ffolliott emerges, dripping wet, onto the street. Marvelous.

“Ring up the Curzon Dancing Academy and cancel my rhumba lesson!” Great as McCrea is, I’m beginning to wish Sanders was the lead.

Van Meer is rescued so that Albert Basserman can go on to appear in THE RED SHOES, but Scotland Yard is unable to arrest Herbert Marshall, so as war is declared, “weather permitting,” he takes off for America with his unsuspecting daughter. Hitch was very proud of his one-shot plane crash effect (in reality devised by Menzies, I suspect), but never talked about the astounding shot that creeps through the stratosphere towards the Transoceanic flying boat, sidles up to a window, eases itself through the glass without breaking it, and explores the first class cabin at its leisure. A remarkable thing.

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Of course, McCrea is aboard too, and just when the emotions are getting truly entangled, Hitch and Bennett pull the same stunt they tried in SECRET AGENT, only the deus is even more ex machina this time: a gunship blows everybody out of the sky and Hitch gets some aquatic practice in for LIFEBOAT, with a spectacular apparatus built by Menzies: a floating aeroplane with a wing that breaks off and drifts away, all built on underwater tracks like one of the toy trains Hitch loves.

All the disaster movie stuff is terribly well done, and resonant to myself, since I recently flew the Atlantic by Air France shortly before one of their flights took a nose-dive into the drink. Disconcerting. rescue comes, but not before Herbert Marshall has sacrificed himself to save the others, providing redemption and a reunion for the lovers. Then it’s swiftly on to McCrea’s rousing propaganda speech, and end titles.

So impressed was Walter Wanger with Hitch’s aeroplane work that he got him in to helm reshoots on Archie Mayo’s HOUSE ACROSS THE BAY, which had a passenger plane scene in it. I’ll try to see that one soon. FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT is a worthy climax to Charles Bennett’s work with Hitch, and would be the unsurpassed comedy-chase-thriller until NORTH BY NORTHWEST (SABOTEUR looks a little pallid by comparison). Bennett’s tendency towards bagginess in construction works as an effective disguise for some genuinely tight plotting — it’s not wholly consistent but it’s almost wholly enjoyable.

Leonard Leff, author of Hitchcock & Selznick, wants us to believe that Hitchcock needed Selznick in order to make more mature films, and that FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT proves this. On the contrary, I think SHADOW OF A DOUBT disproves it, and FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT is too sophisticated an entertainment to argue for Hitch’s dependence on anybody. A pity Hitch didn’t work with Wanger, a really talented and supportive producer, some more.

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