Archive for Alfred Hitchcock

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?


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on February 18, 2020 by dcairns

Bong Joon Ho’s first feature, BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE, which flopped, arguably has more in common with his superhit PARASITE than any of the films in between, though he’s certainly an ideal auteur in terms of both stylistic and thematic consistency. This one is about class, too.

It’s kind of a “network narrative,” but the discreet plot threads turn out to be woven into a tight plot.

There’s a graduate who ought to have become a professor but hasn’t greased the right palm. Also his pregnant wife bullies him and he’s driven crazy by barking dogs in his neighbourhood, leading to a covert campaign of canicide.

There’s an office girl who wants to be a media hero.

Actually, those are the main strands, really. They seem separate, but they keep brushing together without quite intertwining. But there really are two protagonists, though one is also the villain, or at least an antihero. Both are trying to get somewhere and using the wrong methods, but the film’s great grace note is to reward the villain, ignore the heroine, but allow her to be happy and him not. It’s now sort of a familiar Bong trope, giving with one hand and taking away with several others, allowing for an ending which seems hopeful — isn’t depressing — but the uplift crumbles when you hold it to the light. Think about the hero’s masterplan at the end of PARASITE…

I imagine this one didn’t do well since it shows quite a lot of bad stuff happening to cute dogs, to the extent that the Korean equivalent of the Humane Association seal of approval appears right at the start. If not for that, we might not have been able to stomach it, and one still finds oneself wondering HOW they achieved, for instance, the suspension of a Peke by its collar and leash, without at least distressing the poor pooch. And then, Bong also violates Hitchcock’s dictum about not threatening the audience with a bad thing, then allowing it to happen. He doesn’t let us off the hook, which might be his own dictum, actually.

Amazing bit where, during her heroic act, a whole tribe of doppelgangers appears, lining the rooftops, cheering our heroine on. They’re a fantasy, of course. Sort of her fantasy, but not quite. They’re not presented as her POV, she doesn’t notice them, and we can’t quite imagine her taking the time to dream them up during her life-and-death struggle. So it’s as if they’re the film’s fantasy on her behalf, or something.

The film also contains a ghost story, recounted by a pretty unreliable narrator, which crashes into the main narrative at the very end, triggering a delightful ah-hah! and a bone-chilling uh-oh at the same instant. Bong’s good at those, isn’t he?

39 Steps in the right direction

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on January 4, 2019 by dcairns

I’m once more a guest on Good Evening, the excellent Alfred Hitchcock-themed podcast, which is looking at all the Master’s films in sequence, a process I can personally recommend. Here’s the link to our discussion on THE 39 STEPS. Big thanks to my hosts, Brandon Shea-Mutala and Chris Haigh, and fellow guest Alice Baker.

My previous appearance, weighing in on BLACKMAIL, is here. You can also read my thoughts on T39S here (for my Hitchcock Year) and here (for Criterion).

And a reminder that Fiona & I’s podcast, The Shadowcast, has its latest edition here.