Showing posts with label Hitchcock. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hitchcock. Show all posts

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Dial M for Murder (1954)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Studios: Warner Bros.
Starring: Grace Kelly, Ray Milland, Robert Cummings, John Williams, Anthony Dawson
Tagline: Is this the man she was waiting for... or the man who was waiting for her?
MPAA Rating: PG
Genre: thriller, mystery, crime, drama, suspense
Scare score: D-
Rating: B+

Plot overview: After learning about his wife Margot's (Kelly) affair, English tennis player Tony Wendice (Milland) blackmails an old school chum (Dawson) into murdering her. After his seemingly perfect scheme goes awry, however, Tony must frame his wife instead.

I love Hitchcock. What an expansive career this Master of Suspense had. That being said, this may be one of the first times I've reviewed one of his movies that I wouldn't actually consider a horror. Based off of the play by screenwriter Frederick Knott, this movie makes the horror blog with a whopping PG rating. Talk about amateur hour. Unlike Strangers on a Train, The Birds, and especially Psycho, Dial M for Murder is more similar to his films like Rope or even Rear Window (my personal favorite) in that they deal more with the suspense, meticulous planning, and repercussions of a crime than the actual horror of it (not to mention the majority of the action taking place in a single room). Regarding Strangers on a Train, both films share the 'perfect murder' and blackmail concepts, as well as two main characters both being professional tennis players (think doubles and double-crossing).

Hitchcock loved few things more than the perfect plot and 'wrongfully accused' scenarios, and these themes are exactly what this film ultimately comes down to. We have strong performances from all of our leads, with an especially creepy Anthony Dawson as the hitman and a wonderfully British Chief Inspector in John Williams— not surprisingly, both of these actors played the same roles in the 1952 Broadway production of the show. Ray Milland plays a fantastically eerie and calmly maniacal husband who remains fixated on manipulating and deceiving all those around him until he can exact the perfect revenge on his unfaithful—yet still dedicated—wife. Speaking of which, this was Kelly's first time working with Hitchcock, and apparently he enjoyed her work so much that she would go on to star in Rear Window (that same year!) as well as 1955's To Catch a Thief.

The most notable aspect of this film is the cinematography. The movie was originally filmed to be shown in 3D, but due to technical issues and poor audience reception, it was released as your regular flat movie and went on to achieve general acclaim at the box office. Shot almost entirely inside the Wendices' apartment—and with that one fantastic "God's eye" view from above the scene—the suspense of this movie is established more through plot that any trick of the camera. Hitchcock was a professional at perverting his audience into not only witnessing crime but partaking in it. As Rear Window becomes a shocking lesson in voyeurism, so Dial M for Murder finds us practically rooting for Tony and his hired man Lesgate/ Swann to get away with the seemingly perfect crime. Indeed, the suspense in this movie comes in the form of us expecting—but not knowing if—the murder will go off without a hitch— until Tony's watch stops and the whole things seems to fall apart before our eyes. As Hitchcock himself said, "The best way to do it is with scissors" (I see you, Jordan Peele). At the climax of our suspense, we witness an accidental death marking one of very few times we actually witness something so visceral in a Hitchcock movie (most of the action usually takes place just offscreen and is implied). Though Grace Kelly shines brighter in Rear Window, her character's progression in this film is marked in beautiful ways, such as her wardrobe changing from whites, to blues, to greys, to black, or during the almost dreamlike (nightmarish?), hallucinatory courtroom scene and the lighting therein.


If you're a fan of Hitchcock, you're likely to enjoy this film: The theme of control, common in the director's filmography, runs strong in this movie, especially as demonstrated by the maniacal Tony. It is this strong need for control that ultimately creates even more suspense as the pieces—just seconds beforehand so perfectly aligned—start to fall apart. My biggest qualm from a realistic point of view is that, while the clever Chief Inspector Hubbard uses wisdom, insight, and luck to hypothesize his solution to the crime, it seemed to me that none of his investigation was actually very legal, at least in terms of his swapping coats and keys or sneaking into the Wendices' apartment as he pleased. Love a perfect crime puzzle to be so expertly solved, but it left me wondering just how ethical his approach was.

Final critique: This is a lovely and enjoyable film, even if it's not one of Hitchcock's absolute best pieces of work. To clarify, I make my ratings based on what constitutes a good horror movie, so that is why this film only gets a B+ from me while other, arguably much poorer quality movies have gotten higher ratings in the past. With a dazzling cast and even better suspense, we see a movie flipped on its head halfway through, and we continue to go along for the whole unexpected ride. In terms of the scare score, as I stated earlier, this really isn't a horror film as I'd traditionally define it, so while the suspense might have you holding your breath as the 'perfect crime' comes to a climax, I don't think anyone is going to get too scared by this film. Instead, it's a perfect watch when you want something suspenseful or creepy, but with more of a crime drama feel instead of anything too horrifying.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Birds (1963)

For any of you old school horror fans out there, you hopefully knew that today (one day only!) was a nation-wide showing of one of Hitchcock's most memorable masterpieces, The Birds. While admittedly I sat across the aisle from some Chatty Cathies and sat behind an older man who apparently found the entire film quite laughable, seeing this horror classic on the silver screen was truly impressive... and pretty freaky.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Studio: Universal Pictures
Starring: Rod Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette, (introducing) Tippi Hedren
Tagline: The Birds is coming!
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: suspense, thriller, animals, unexplained phenomenon 
Scare score: B
Rating: A

Plot overview:  The young, attractive, and scandalous socialite Melanie Daniels (Hedren) bumps into Mitch Brenner (Taylor), a charming lawyer, while in a San Francisco - wait for it - bird shop. Brenner, who is shopping for lovebirds to gift to his kid sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright), manages to insult the effortlessly flirtatious Daniels after revealing that he knows she has been to court for her crude playgirl behavior. Hoping to learn more about Brenner, Daniels embarks on a long, scenic drive up the California coast to Bodega Bay to deliver two lovebirds ("I see") to Brenner's family home, where the lawyer spends his weekends with his sister and hard-to-please mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy). Upon Miss Daniels's arrival to the tiny hamlet, however, freak bird attacks begin plaguing the town and its residents. While the attacks start small, hundreds upon hundreds of birds begin to amass, attacking individuals, then children, then the entire town in vicious bouts of winged violence. Soon, Melanie and the Brenners find themselves in an all-out battle for survival against the birds.

It's only appropriate that Hitch is the Master of Suspense since the first bird attack doesn't actually occur until about an hour into the film. In fact, aside from the whole, you know, bird attack thing, this could be a pretty sweet '50s/'60s drama/romance film. Rod Taylor reminded me exactly of Cary Grant throughout most of the movie. But back to the horror: Once the good birds go bad, I found myself physically squirming in my seat and biting my nails during the attack scenes. While the special effects are very outdated, a lot of the scenes were filmed with real birds which, combined with the constant blood, do make for some pretty thrilling, panicked sequences. Hitch's masterful camera angles add such suspense to some scenes, especially the all-out bird barrage against the Brenner home. I loved the different shots of each character in the bottom quarter of the screen with the ceiling taking up the upper 3/4s as we soon learn the birds have broken in through the roof upstairs. Lastly, the first scene of true terror that we see is when Lydia discovers the dead neighbor with his eyes pecked out—which is creepy—and then Hitchcock zooms in 3 TIMES straight into his bloody eye sockets. Excellent.

The scene in the restaurant before and while the birds amass their first large-scale attack on the town is excellent. There is mob psychology; frantic, accusative mothers; panicked townies; and even a village drunk— "It's the end of the world!" There is a very human aspect to this scene as suspense and fear simultaneously rise via discussion about the cause and solution of the town's winged dilemma. This is also the first scene in the film that verbally brings to the audience's attention that the bird attacks started the very afternoon that Melanie arrived to Bodega Bay. Is Melanie the cause of the attacks? Is Melanie, as she is publicly accused, evil? Are the various species of birds in the area reacting to the caged lovebirds that Melanie brought to Cathy? Or is there no natural, logical explanation? This question is never answered, which leaves the suspense unresolved and the film pretty awesome. It kind of reminded me of The Happening, only not terrible.

The acting in the film is extremely impressive. As I learned in TCM's preview before the movie actually started, Alfred Hitchcock literally saw model Tippi Hedren in an ad and had the studio call her to arrange a meeting. This was her first professional acting gig, which might explain why, the first time I saw this film, I thought Melanie seemed pretty aloof. Upon a more thorough viewing, I think she was really great for a debut role: Miss Daniels is both active and reactive, naturally flirtatious and pleasant with a slight edginess, and even towards the end when she goes into shock she plays that very well. I need to give a special shout out to the very young Veronica Cartwright in the role of Cathy, who in both solemn, scary, and pleasant scenes (a combination of all three would be her 'birthday party from hell') is a tremendous actress. The other characters are also believable with much more depth than you will probably find in a modern horror. Like I said, even without all the bad birdies there is still a big film going on here, with creepy silence, plenty of build up, and a fulfilling amount of terror added in. That's suspense at its best.

Final critique:  This is a freaky film. Unpredictable, unexplained, unending terror at the hands, er, claws of a crazed, scary-sized, fast-moving, numerous, and so natural enemy. This film kind of has a Jaws affect to it, but in the air instead of the sea. We've all seen the people that scream when a pigeon flies by about a yard away from them in the city— just picture them if forced to watch The Birds. The acting is great, the setting is charming but creepy in its own way (that old victorian school, the church always in the background), and even with the outdated effects, all of the bird attacks are still scary (although the occasional giggle is still permissible). I recommend this film for all audiences who aren't looking for a simple slasher or screamfest of a movie. For those who scare really easily, I think this flick will provide more than a few jumps and reasons to cover your eyes, but it will only help toughen you up. The world should appreciate Hitchcock for all that he brought to the horror industry, so naturally one of his most famous films is fine by me.