Archive for Alfred Hitchcock Presents

What do I do with this?

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2020 by dcairns

So I watched THE GAZEBO, a George Marshall movie based on an Alec & Myra Coppel play I saw performed by an am-dram group as a kid. I remember enjoying the play but not as much as the same company’s production of Arsenic and Old Lace. I feel that Marshall’s very good at farce, having worked with Laurel & Hardy and made a funny film called MURDER, HE SAYS with Fred MacMurray and Helen Walker that’s very skillful.

Alas, this movie wrecks all the careful construction of the play by opening it out, and also pulls some nonsensical writing to make the hero more sympathetic, a wasted effort in my book because he’s Glenn Ford. Who can act, and be believable as the blackmailed writer, but can’t make me like him.

It did seem like a problem early on that Ford is paying out his earnings and presumably those his spouse, a Broadway star played by Debbie Reynolds, to a blackmailer to cover up what sounds like a dalliance with a secretary. Doesn’t make you like the guy AT ALL. This emerges when he tells a hypothetical story to his pal Carl Reiner (playing it straight, nicely), trying to make it sound like this didn’t happen to HIM. But then it turns out it DIDN’T happen to him, and the blackmailer actually has nude pictures of Reynolds, which he’s threatening to sell to a scandal sheet.

Surprisingly, the movie actually lets us SEE the pics, or nearly.

So, they’ve wasted our time and made us vaguely dislike Ford, and are now trying to claw back some sympathy. All in all, there’s little fun to be had here.

But original co-author Coppel is best-known for doing some work on VERTIGO, and he also penned six Hitchcock teleplays. One of the nicer conceits is another hypothetical: Ford’s character, who, like Coppel, writes for TV, speaks to Hitch on the phone, spinning a yarn about a man who’s being blackmailed and asking the master of suspense for advice on how to fictionally dispose of the blackmailer. Which he intends to use in real life. (Hitch is never actually seen or heard, alas, we only get Ford’s end of the call.) Hitch’s advice is that the tiny shovel from a fireside companion set can be used to bury a body.

What puzzles me is that at the very time I was watching this film, Fiona watched The Forms of Things Unknown, an Outer Limits episode which Chris Schneider guest-blogged about here, and remarked on the comedy of Vera Miles having to bury a corpse using the shovel from a companion set. And at the very same time, I was reading pulp thriller You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up, in which the dopey protagonist, plotting to clear an innocent man of a murder he was personally mixed up in, tells the story to a film director, disguising it as a script he’s writing, in hopes of getting advice.

Hitch may the shovel advice for real to Coppel for The Gazebo and also to his other collaborator Joseph Stefano, who scripted PSYCHO and then The Outer Limits… But none of that explains the link to Knight’s 1937 novel, nor why all three things fell into my life at the same time.

There is apparently a web of synchronicity tangled around an indifferent 1959 stage adaptation called THE GAZEBO. But so what? WHAT DO I DO WITH THIS?

The Sunday Intertitle: Things I Read Off the Screen in Blackmail

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2015 by dcairns

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Glasgow! With silent film accompanist Jane Gardner, to see BLACKMAIL with live score by Neil Brand, under the baton of Timothy Brock. This was preceded by a special concert of Hitchcock scores — Webb, Rosza, Tiomkin, Waxman and of course Herrmann. It’s quite something to have VERTIGO blasted at you live. As for PSYCHO, a young couple to my left obviously regarded the shower scene as their song: as the violins shrieked, he mimed stabbing her in the back with an invisible knife, to her apparent delight.

Getting there, mind you, was a journey of Hitchcockian suspense — taking the bus to meet Jane we got caught in football traffic (ugh! the worst kind of traffic — even worse than badminton traffic) and arrived late, then scooted off in her Fiat 500, struggling to find a parking spot near the venue and then struggling to find the venue, eventually arrived seconds before the lights dimmed.

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra did us proud, and there was a surprise treat in the form of a theremin for SPELLBOUND — I wasn’t at all sure such a thing would be provided — there are, after all, entire recordings of the SPELLBOUND score without a theremin — some wretched fiddler taking the part, I guess, I haven’t troubled to listen to such abominations. This was a delight.

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Then BLACKMAIL, which I hadn’t seen since Hitchcock Year, Maestro Brand’s score was thrilling, of course — with many playful references to the musical spirit of Hitchcock to come. The most overt was the extract from Gounod’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents theme (I know, I know, he didn’t write it for TV) played when Hitch makes his first true guest appearance. I wondered whether such references would distract me,  but in fact, the playfulness was discrete — it must have taken restraint not to turn the scene where artsy rake Cyril Ritchard waits while Anny Ondra changes into something more comfortable into a straight reprise of the similar scene in VERTIGO.

The score, in fact, worked wonderfully, the proof being that despite the visible presence of the orchestra between us and the screen — Brock’s hands would occasionally rise into the bottom of the frame as he signalled a particularly vigorous moment — for much of the show we forgot the music except as part of the enjoyable experience of watching a story unfold on a screen. A smooth artistic synthesis was achieved!

Hitch’s cameo got me noticing how incredibly well handled all the extras are. The small boy who torments Hitch on the underground ends the scene, having been told off, standing on his seat and simply glowering malevolently at Hitch, like a raven from THE BIRDS. He doesn’t realize that Hitch has a short way of disposing of children on public transport. From then on, I was aware that each individual walk-on character, however crowded the scene, had a bit of personal business to distinguish them, and each performed his role perfectly.

I also started noticing writing. Some of what follows was noted during the show, some found afterwords, perusing the DVD.

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Receiving a radio message — “Flying Squad Van 68 — Proceed at once to Cambri” — the rest is unfinished — the van makes a 180 turn into Looking-Glass Land, where all the shop signs run backwards into a kind of cod-Russian cypher. Evidently nobody had shot a background plate traveling in the right direction, so they simply flipped the film. The store Dollond & Aitchison glimpsed here, is also advertised on the London Underground scene later.

Perhaps due to this confusion, when the Sweeney arrive at their destination, it isn’t Cambridge Street or Place or Circus of Terrace, it’s Albert Street. Perhaps close to Eastenders‘ Albert Square? Certainly in the mysterious East. Less salubrious than Hitch’s native Leytonstone.

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A slew of text inside. The criminal is reading The Daily Herald. An ad for Wrigleys in the bottom corner. Another newspaper lies on his desk, bearing his watch and revolver. We can read a headline about MURDER TRIAL and, at the bottom, the words I’VE FOUND IT! — probably another advertisement. Most amusingly, above the bed is a religious motto, GOD HELPS THOSE WHO HELP THEMSELVES. Ironic, since it seems our friend in the nightshirt has been helping himself a little too freely.

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The note Anny has received proposing a secret assignation ~

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Torn from a cocktail menu, it suggests a whole furtive nocturnal backstory. I like the abbreviated slogan “NIPPY” COCK — a partial directorial signature?

Anny’s despondent walk after she’s killed Ritchard is full of printed cues and clues. For one thing, she passes a poster advertising the climactic fight from THE RING, Hitchcock’s previous film, starring Carl Brisson, Anny’s lover from THE MANXMAN. The fight is staged at the Albert Hall, looking forward to THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH.

A neon sign in Piccadilly Circus, advertising Gordon’s Gin “The Heart of a Good Cocktail” dissolves so that a cocktail shaker outline becomes a hand stabbing with a kitchen knife — a ludicrous idea, but bold, and the call-back to the “nippy” cocktails is appreciated.

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IS PRAYER ANSWERED? A significant question in Hitchcock, directly addressed at the film’s climax, when Ondra apparently prays, and her decision to confess her crime is answered with the death of the blackmailer. See also THE WRONG MAN.

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Ondra’s family newsagent yields a plethora of signage! My eyeballs dart like frightened mice, from one corner of the screen to another to try and catch all the little textual nudges. Alice’s first sight of home is viewed through the reverse side of a shop sign, so we get mirrored lettering AGAIN — Alice is through the looking glass! The earlier accident begins to look deliberate. Confirmed when Alice stares at herself in her dressing table mirror just moments later.

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PICTURE SHOW — lower right. Ah, if only Anny had gone to the pictures with John Longden, we wouldn’t be where we are now. The reference may also remind us of the pieces of art in Ritchard’s sex garret, each of which has an accusatory role in the narrative. One is a laughing, pointing jester, the other is a sketch on canvas signed by Ondra.

When we see the phone booth again, from Longden’s POV, that sign has vanished, in the best ROOM 237 manner. On the left of frame is a possible explanation — a MYSTIC ERASER. Just what Anny needs to obliterate the past 24 hours as neatly as she obliterated her incriminating signature from Ritchard’s canvas.

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The booklets and other props around the phone booth will continue to change randomly throughout the scene, an uncanny peekaboo of discontinuity.

Ondra’s dad, Mr. White, is explicitly framed with a halo reading the word WARLOCK. Not sure why. But the shopkeeper dad is obviously a stand-in for Hitch’s own father, with whom he associated his fear of arrest. So although Mr. White is kindly, Hitch makes him a source of anxiety with this supernatural halo of occult lettering.

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Ondra has mentioned Edgar Wallace earlier — now a poster at floor level refers to Sexton Blake, stalwart hero of schlock thrillers, whose exploits had been printed in the Union Jack since 1894. The threat from ‘D’ (no idea who he is), “If Sexton Blake comes to Yorkshire, I’ll get him!”, gives the blackmailer’s first appearance a further underscore of menace.

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And finally ~

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SHAG (middle left). Obviously a reference to another fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, whose favourite pipe tobacco this was.

…how it got in my pyjamas I’ll never know

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , on December 11, 2009 by dcairns

I’ve now watched the one Hitchcock-directed episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that was left, and pleasingly, it’s a minor classic, confirming my theory that the best episodes revolve around a single, clear suspense situation affording opportunity for character development en route. This one being a Roald Dahl story, the character development is elementary, but it all hangs together nicely.

In Poison, James “Madness! Madness!” Donald is discovered in dire straits, having discovered a highly poisonous snake curling up to sleep on his belly while he’s reading. The arrival of Wendell Corey doesn’t exactly put his mind at rest (and why would it? This is Wendell Corey, not Harrison Ford we’re talking about) since Corey is a romantic rival, one apt to enjoy Donald’s discomfort more than is strictly necessary. I should say no more. No overt Hitchcockian flourishes in this one, just the steady drip-drip of tension, mainly maintained by impassioned performances, and expert and sparing use of “extremes” like the above angle.

Now, it might be nice to get some suggestions from you all for non-Hitchcock directed episodes, since the famous The Man from the South (Dahl again, directed by Norman Lloyd) convinces me there must be plenty of good episodes helmed by other filmmakers…