Archive for The Passionate Friends

The Devil and T.R. Devlin

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2009 by dcairns

Or: WEAPONS-GRADE POMMARD.

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Was slightly perplexed by the Art Nouveau font, but now suspect it’s the film’s first suggestion that the audience should not approach this as a straight thriller.

At last, I have watched NOTORIOUS. The first theory I have formed is the theory about why I never watched it all the way through before: I was watching it as a thriller. Viewed in this way, the early scenes may seem unnecessarily lengthy and detailed, in need of ellipsis to get us to the suspense scenes faster. But this is an idiotic demand to place upon Hitchcock and Hecht, I now realise. NOTORIOUS is a relationship drama first and a thriller second. It’s an early expression of the theme of MARNIE: “Everybody’s a pervert,” only here, “Everybody’s a neurotic.”

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The inverted POV shot, first used by Hitch in DOWNHILL.

The opening scenes, which contemporary audiences would have had no trouble enjoying as romance, (im)pure and simple, without any foolish demands for thrill-sequences, set up Ingrid Bergman as Alicia Huberman, the hard-living wild child of a convicted Nazi, and Cary Grant as TR Devlin, the US agent in the employ of Ambassador Trantino, who recruits her to spy for the US. But apart from the mission, they set up the relationship and its in-built problems. Devlin’s moralistic disapproval of Alicia doesn’t go away when he falls in love with her, and it will colour his responses to all her actions, leading the pair into perilous straits, emotionally and in terms of real physical jeopardy. Later.

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NOT a good sign if Cary Grant brings you milk this early in a relationship. Fortunately, when the glass is moved, it no longer glows, and appears to be some kind of hangover cure concoction. No poisoning until later. Hitchcock sometimes seems to be playing with the idea that audiences might recognise some situations from SUSPICION.

The celebrated kissing scene should really be acclaimed in terms of its superb placing in the story, since it’s followed sharply by the come-down of Grant hearing about the mission and presenting it to Bergman as if he expects her to accept it — patriotically, he doesn’t feel he can talk her out of it, so he leaves the choice with her. She understandably resents him for this, while he in turn resents her for accepting the filthy task of wooing Claude Rains.

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All leading up to the beautiful deadened moment when Grant looks around for the Champagne bottle he’s left behind at his bosses office. Watching the film as a partial grown-up, I find this wine bottle more involving than the later ones filled with Uranium.

I was distracted during Claude Rains’ dinner scene by the fact that he seems to be either slightly drunk, or having trouble with his dentures. At any rate, there’s a mushy slur to his voice here which thankfully vanishes later. Now the movie becomes an adultery drama, like THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS only with spying — Ann Todd, that film’s star, would pop up in Hitchcock and Selznick’s next “collaboration.” Her scenes with Claude in David Lean’s movie feel almost like a non-thriller remake of the Hitchcock.

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And then there’s mom. Entering down a long flight of stairs, like Dracula, and marching into a big scary close-up, exactly like Christopher Lee’s DRACULA, Claude’s materfamilias, played by “Madame Konstantin,” is the second really nasty Hitchcock mother — for the first you have to go all the way back to EASY VIRTUE. This is not a constant figure in Hitchcock’s cinema, although critics like to harp on about it. But Madame K is so fierce, she does rather counterbalance the positive impression made by Patricia Collinge in SHADOW OF A DOUBT.

The real business now is adultery, not espionage. It’s slightly daft that the couple have so much trouble sneaking away together at the party, since all that’s needed is for Alicia to slip the wine cellar key to Devlin and point him at the door, then she could distract her husband and everything would be dandy. But this pair of love-birds really want to be together, the whole spying thing is practically an alibi for their elicit relationship. Indeed, if it weren’t for the atomic Nazi plot-line, the heroes’ behaviour would be completely unacceptable to the censor.

I seem to be racing through this one with undue haste — possibly because I don’t know it as well as others, but more likely because after my marathon session with THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER, I’m a spent force. But I know you’ll all chip in with your thoughts to shore up this underweight post.

Amazing crane shot of key! Of course I’d seen this extract in many documentaries. In context, it’s interesting because it doesn’t add new information, or nothing that a regular establishing shot couldn’t add, but is a kind of stylistic flourish serving as an overture to the big party suspense scene. As Hitch said, it tells us that within this grand setting, a miniscule object will play a crucial role.

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Amazing repeat shot of Claude Rains mounting the stairs, just like the one of Cary Grant in SUSPICION. Fiona suggested that at any moment he might turn back, having forgotten to fetch the luminous milk. Of course, in this movie it’s coffee that’s nearly fatal to the heroine, suggesting that Hitchcock was plotting to ruin the great American breakfast forever. If you eliminated all the dodgy foods and drinks in Hitchcock’s cinema, from cigarette-studded eggs to everything prepared in FRENZY, to cat (RICH AND STRANGE), you’d have the basis for a pretty good weight-loss regime. Maybe that’s the hidden secret behind REDUCO, The Obesity Slayer…

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The last third of NOTORIOUS ramps up the suspense as Grant and Bergman consistently mislead each other and make their problems worse, as each tries to force an admission of love from the other. It’s Grant who cracks first, rescuing Bergman and bringing about a brilliantly neat happy ending which solves the problem of those pesky Nazis and wraps up the love story all in one. No wonder this took ages to come up with (many many drafts with hopeless, lame, tragic endings) because it’s really quite intricate. Clifford Odets did uncredited work on the love scenes in this, where Hecht’s unromantic spirit refused to take flight. Generally, NOTORIOUS has far better dialogue than SPELLBOUND, its predecessor — I think Hecht was uncomfortable writing for psychoanalysts. Of course, another significant difference this time is that the project passed out of Selznick’s hands before filming: DOS supervised the scriptwriting process, but had no control over the movie’s final form. The quality of which is another argument against those who see Selznick as an essential guiding force for Hitchcock at this time. THE PARADINE CASE, next week’s Hitch, shows what happened when DOS picked up the reins again, and by all accounts it ain’t pretty.

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A. Hall

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2009 by dcairns

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“8 DEC. A HALL. RM.”

Not the Albert Hall who plays the Chief in APOCALYPSE NOW, whose name always makes me chuckle inwardly (but a round of a applause for Albert’s exit-line: “A spear.”) The building.

Is this a reference to the cryptic note in THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH? Like Frank Vosper as Ramon the assassin, Rory McBride, the offscreen but much-discussed love machine in Richard Lester’s THE KNACK… AND HOW TO GET IT, has an assignation arranged in the Hall, although he’s entertaining his girlfriends rather than perforating a foreign dignitary.

While we’re on the subject, I always wondered if the scenes of white-clad women queueing outside that edifice were an influence on John Lennon’s lyrics for A Day in the Life. After all, the lines “I saw a film today,” and “The English army had just won the war,” were inspired by Lennon’s experience acting in Lester’s HOW I WON THE WAR. “Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall,” could conceivably have been sparked by THE KNACK, which Lester made between his two Beatles assignments. And the obnoxious rude joke, referring to woman as holes, seems quite Lennonesque.

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My late friend Lawrie filmed in the Albert Hall once, helping out as a third AD on David Lean’s THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS. “It was hard work because, you see, the Albert Hall has no interior stairs, so any time you had to get a message from the camera up above to the extras down below, you had to leave the building, go in another door, and all the way down and then back up again for the next message.” This was in the days before walkie-talkies, of course.

THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS, which only recently became available on DVD, is a very good Lean, closing out his British period and inaugurating the international one, with some modest location filming in Switzerland. Hmm, Switzerland to the Albert Hall, I wonder if Lean was under the influence of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH as well?

The Lean-Lester connection is quite interesting. Lean, a former editor, was blown away by Lester’s “image-mixing” in PETULIA and sent him a wildly congratulatory telegram, which he treasures to this day. Lester subsequently visited Lean, a tax exile in Rome, and thereby hangs another weird conjunction. Lester was struck by how the millionaire lived, accepting unnecessary discomfort with a rather Calvinist resignation — Lean lived in a hotel overlooking Rome’s zoo, and would be awoken at the crack of dawn by the roars of big cats getting their meaty breakfast. Which brings to mind the plot twist in Dario Argento’s THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, where a phone call is traced via the sound of an exotic bird overheard in the background, meaning that the call came from a hotel near the zoo… at last, with Argento we find a filmmaker we KNOW was influenced by Hitchcock, even down to his casting of Reggie Nalder from the 1956 MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH.

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