TV Review: Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1965)

Also known as: The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (Season 8-10)
Original Run: October 2nd, 1955 – June 26th, 1965
Created by: Alfred Hitchcock
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Stanley Wilson (music supervisor), various
Cast: Alfred Hitchcock, various

Revue Studios, Universal Television, Shamley Productions, CBS, NBC, 361 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode – seasons 1-7), 50 Minutes (per episode – seasons 8-10)

Review:

I grew up watching this show a lot with my granmum in reruns on cable. The theme song always got me excited and even though I was a kid of the ’80s that loved everything about that decade, I still also enjoyed older stuff like this and the other anthology shows of the era like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents always intrigued me though, as it seemed to have more legitimacy, at least to my little kid brain. This was because I knew very much who Hitchcock was, I was familiar with a lot of his work and I really liked his films, even when I was too young to grasp them or fully understand their meaning and themes. Plus, I just really liked Hitchcock’s personality.

Over the last few years, I’ve rewatched a lot of the episodes. I haven’t seen all of them, as there are just so many and because even if family members have DVD collections they have let me borrow, there are still a lot of missing pieces I haven’t gotten my hands on.

Regardless of that, I feel as if I have seen a large enough sample size, from most seasons, to give the show a review.

Overall, Alfred Hitchcock Presents is pretty good from top to bottom and the quality of the seasons feels consistent. Sure, like with any anthology series, there are episodes that don’t live up to expectations and sometimes feel like they could’ve been snuffed out at the pre-production stage. However, there aren’t a lot of episodes like this and, for the most part, the show isn’t hindered by its low points.

The show has a pretty wide range of genres it uses over the course of its 361 episodes but nearly everything feels like it lines up with Hitchcock’s own cinematic work.

Each episode may be written and directed by its own team but it seems as if Hitchcock was pretty involved in everything and just about every story maintains a certain tone and visual style.

This is such a massive show to get into and to try and watch in its entirety. I’m not even sure if all of it is commercially released, as it switched from different networks over the years it was originally broadcast. However, I know that a lot of episodes were on Hulu, recently. I’m assuming that you can still find them there. That is, unless the NBC episodes have been pulled for their upcoming streaming service.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other anthology mystery and horror shows of the era.

Film Review: Mr. Arkadin – The Comprehensive Version (1955)

Also known as: Confidential Report (UK)
Release Date: June 27th, 1955 (Barcelona premiere)
Directed by: Orson Welles
Written by: Orson Welles
Based on: original radio scripts by Ernest Bornemann, Orson Welles from The Lives of Harry Lime
Music by: Paul Misraki
Cast: Orson Welles, Robert Arden, Paola Mori, Akim Tamiroff, Michael Redgrave

Filmrosa/Cervantes Films/Sevilla, Warner Bros., 93 Minutes (Spanish version), 95 Minutes (public domain version), 98 Minutes (TCM print), 99 Minutes (Corinth version), 106 Minutes (The Comprehensive Version – The Criterion Edit)

Review:

“You are simply a fool. I will not ask you your price, because you have nothing to sell. But, still, I’ll make you an offer. I am going to give you something to sell. And, then, I will pay you for it. Come on. You have tried to threaten me with a secret that does not exist. Now, I will make you a present of a real one. The great secret of my life.” – Gregory Arkadin

Mr. Arkadin is an Orson Welles movie that has eluded me until now. While I’ve known of its existence since I was studying Welles in my high school film studies class, I knew that it was a film that had a half dozen different edits, lots of missing pieces and it wasn’t really a complete body of work.

It’s not quite a lost film, as a 95 minute version of the film has existed in the public domain for quite some time, but much of it was lost and even with the more recent Comprehensive Version, we still don’t have an edit of the film that is Orson Welles’ complete and realized vision.

The genesis of this film is pretty interesting though, as the story was adapted from a few episodes of the radio series The Lives of Harry Lime. Fans of Welles probably already know that he played the character of Harry Lime in Carol Reed’s film-noir masterpiece, The Third Man.

Additionally, Welles once referred to this film as the “biggest disaster” of his life. This was because he lost creative control after missing an editing deadline, which then led to the film’s producer taking over and eventually releasing several different edits of the picture. The multiple edits created a lot of confusion and none of the released versions of the film were done so with the approval of Welles.

The Comprehensive Version, which is the edition that I watched and am reviewing here was made by taking pieces from the multiple versions of the film and trying to re-edit them into a form that makes the most narrative sense. However, the film still doesn’t feel whole and it isn’t.

That being said, it’s kind of difficult to review a film that isn’t complete and ultimately, wasn’t a fully realized concept brought to life by the artist that created it.

But you can still see how good it was by seeing some of these segments come to life. Welles employed great cinematography and one can’t deny that the film looks good and consistent with the level of visual storytelling that his movies were known for.

It’s also finely acted, even if some moments might not feel as coherent as they should. That’s not the fault of the actors, that’s the fault of the producer and editor. Well, at least they should take the blame based off of their involvement in making a chopped up and messy version of what this was intended to be.

It’s sad that this film didn’t get to be seen in its best form. The most recent form that exists is seemingly the best and it is still watchable but it just makes me wonder how different Welles’ version would have been. Additionally, for those that don’t know the full story behind this film, how would they see it? As a bad movie, a confusing one or even as an example of Welles not being on his A-game?

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Orson Welles’ other noir-esque pictures.

Film Review: Killer’s Kiss (1955)

Also known as: Kiss Me, Kill Me (working title)
Release Date: September 21st, 1955 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Howard Sackler, Stanley Kubrick
Music by: Gerald Fried
Cast: Frank Silvera, Jamie Smith, Irene Kane, Ruth Sobotka

Minotaur Productions, United Artists, 67 Minutes

Review:

“It’s crazy how you can get yourself in a mess sometimes and not even be able to think about it with any sense-and yet not be able to think about anything else. You get so you’re no good for anything or anybody. Maybe it begins by taking life too serious. Anyway, I think that’s the way it began for me. Just before my fight with Rodriguez three days ago…” – Davy Gordon

I consider myself to be a massive Stanley Kubrick fan. However, I’ve yet to see this film, which came very, very early in his career. Like his other early film The Killing, this one is a classic film-noir, shot in black and white but with an extra level of grittiness that can only be described as Kubrickian.

Now this came out a year before The Killing and in a lot of ways, it feels like a rough draft or a practice run before he made that other, superior noir picture.

That’s not to say that this is weak or unworthy of admiration. The Killing was absolutely superb but I don’t think that Kubrick could’ve made it as good as it was without having done Killer’s Kiss first.

This film shows that even if Kubrick hadn’t quite reached greatness, at this point, he was always a visual storyteller. While employing several atmospheric tropes of the classic film-noir style, this movie also uses a lot of interesting angles and it showcases New York City in a way that even in its cold bleakness, it feels alive and becomes a character within the picture.

The story is about an aging boxer, at the end of his career. He falls for a taxi dancer across the courtyard from his apartment but he gets pulled into her seedy world and draws the ire of her villainous employer. One thing leads to another and their world is turned upside down. Luckily, this one surprisingly has a happy ending and the two lead characters are at least good people just trying to escape the hell that has become their lives.

Nothing all that remarkable happens in the movie. The plot is straightforward with a few noir-esque swerves but it’s very, very short and even if the plot has a lot of stages to it, it’s still pretty simplistic.

The film’s greatest quality is its look and its style. Experimenting with the noir genre here, allowed Kubrick’s The Killing to be a much better movie than just its script. But this certainly isn’t a waste of anyone’s time. This is pretty solid and engaging with characters that you care about.

In the end, this isn’t a bad outing from Stanley Kubrick and it helped lay the foundation for one of the greatest careers in film history.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Kubrick’s other noir picture: The Killing.

Film Review: Teen-Age Crime Wave (1955)

Also known as: Jail Bait (alternative title), Teenage Crime Wave (alternate spelling)
Release Date: November, 1955
Directed by: Fred F. Sears
Written by: Ray Buffum, Harry Essex
Cast: Tommy Cook, Molly McCart

Sam Katzman Productions, Clover Productions, Columbia Pictures, 77 Minutes

Review:

“You’re dirt, Terry. He’d never touch you!” – Jane Koberly

As I’ve been working my way, sort of randomly, through all the films featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, it seems like everything I’ve got left are these teenage delinquent movies from the ’50s and ’60s. I guess I didn’t realize how many there were on MST3K or maybe they all blended together in my memory over the years.

This one is surprisingly not godawful. Okay, I mean, it is bad but it is a better film than the other MST3K teenie bopper thug movies.

The characters in this flick are fairly likable. By “likable” I mean, not annoying.

The movie’s title is a bit misleading though, as the story primarily sees our teenage delinquents holed up in a house with a family they take hostage while on the run from the fuzz. One of the teen girls is innocent and just got caught up in the shenanigans. But this is ’50s cinema so you know that the main baddie will face some sort of justice.

Overall, the film does a decent job of creating tension but this still pales in comparison to the majority of the major studio crime pictures of the time.

It lacks good acting, good direction and the cinematography is amateurish with bad lighting. But it’s not a total shitshow.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other teen crime movies that were shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Film Review: The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Release Date: July 26th, 1955 (Des Moines premiere)
Directed by: Charles Laughton
Written by: James Agee
Based on: The Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb
Music by: Walter Schumann
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, Billy Chapin

Paul Gregory Productions, United Artists, 92 Minutes

Review:

“There are things you do hate, Lord. Perfume-smellin’ things, lacy things, things with curly hair.” – Rev. Harry Powell

I hadn’t seen this since I was a kid but having revisited it now, I was torn as to which Robert Mitchum character was more evil, this one or his role as Max Cady in Cape Fear. Regardless of which you choose, there is no one from this era that quite stirs up the intimidating, creepy vibe like Robert Mitchum.

Mitchum is perfection in this film. Also, Shelley Winters was solid and just a heartbreaking character. The scenes the two shared were so uncomfortable that I’m sure it left the audiences of the 1950s pretty disturbed.

As unhinged and as crazy as Mitchum was in Cape Fear, I do think that his character here, the Reverend Harry Powell, gets the edge. For one, he always speaks about the word of God and God talking through him but he is an actual serial killer, driven by greed and willing to kill innocent women and children just to get a bag of money that his former cellmate hid before incarceration.

This is a truly chilling film and there are few scenes in motion picture history more effective than the moment where the runaway kids are hiding in the barn and see the silhouette of Mitchum on his horse, slowly trotting across the horizon line, singing his biblical songs while looking for them.

Additionally, the scene with Shelley Winters dead in the front seat of a car at the bottom of the river is shocking, even by today’s standards. At the same time, there is a real haunting beauty in that shot and it’s that moment that really takes this film from being a dark thriller to something a bit more enchanting and viciously surreal.

Another moment that really stuck out to me, visually, was when the kids escaped the basement with Mitchum running up the stairs, reaching out like a murderous madman trying to grab them. It’s a quick moment but I immediately equated Mitchum to a natural predator desperately lashing out with animal-like instinct.

The kid actors in this, who take up most of the screen time, are actually pretty incredible. Most kid actors are annoying, especially in the 1950s, but these two felt like real frightened kids from any era. And the bravery of the boy was both uncanny and inspiring.

The Night of the Hunter is a bonafide classic and for good reason. If you love Robert Mitchum and have never seen this, you’re doing yourself a grave disservice.

It boasts some of the best cinematography and lighting I’ve ever seen, as well as perfect set design and a mesmerizing tone that feels a bit fantastical but also gritty and real.

Man, I just love this movie.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the original Cape Fear, as well as some of Mitchum’s noir pictures: Out of the Past, Crossfire, Where Danger Lives, Angel Face and The Locket.

Film Review: This Island Earth (1955)

Also known as: Bloodlust In Outer Space (reissue title)
Release Date: June 10th, 1955 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Joseph M. Newman, Jack Arnold
Written by: Franklin Coen, Edward G. O’Callaghan
Based on: This Island Earth by Raymond F. Jones
Music by: Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter, Herman Stein (all uncredited)
Cast: Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason

Universal Pictures, Universal International, 86 Minutes

Review:

“It is indeed typical that you Earth people refuse to believe in the superiority of any world but your own. Children looking into a magnifying glass, imagining the image you see is the image of your true size.” – The Monitor

Sometimes Universal lumps this film into their Universal Monsters franchise. This is mainly due to the alien monster the Metaluna Mutant, who is one of their most iconic creations. However, as much as I like the monster and this film, it doesn’t fit within the general Universal Monsters style. Plus, this is more sci-fi than horror. Really, it isn’t horror at all, unless for some bizarre reason you are actually scared of the big brained rubber suit alien. Also, unlike the other Universal Monsters movies, this one is in color.

Also, this film has the distinction of being the only film that Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffed on the big screen, as it was the one featured in the MST3K movie. That film stars Mike Nelson and it came out between seasons 6 and 7, so it was devoid of TV’s Frank and hadn’t yet given us Pearl. But I’m not here to talk about that, I’m here to talk specifically about This Island Earth. And to be completely honest, it is the film least deserving of getting roasted in the entire history of MST3K.

It’s not a bad movie for its time. It has hokey effects and doesn’t look as refined as some of the bigger sci-fi films of the time but it’s still imaginative and the effects work does its job for 1955.

The real highlight for me is the Metaluna Mutant but sadly, the monster doesn’t get much screen time. The bulk of the film deals with coming into contact with an alien society and then going into space to meet them. There is a sinister plot underneath it all but that doesn’t mean that every alien our Earthlings encounter is evil.

This used some pretty great matte paintings in several scenes and while it’s obvious, the art direction was really impressive and you do get immersed in this world.

I thought that the use of Technicolor was well done and it made this film flourish in a visual way that couldn’t have been achieved in standard black and white. The Metaluna Mutant certainly wouldn’t have looked as cool and its doubtful he would have become as iconic as he did without color. He probably would have just been filed away into the depths of old movie history with a slew of other black and white rubber aliens.

If you are into classic sci-fi from this great era, you’ll probably find this pretty enjoyable. It’s not the best film of its type but it is much better than average.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’50s alien threat movies: When Worlds CollideWar of the WorldsThe Day the Earth Stood StillIt Came From Outer Space and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.

Film Review: Rififi (1955)

Also known as: Du rififi chez les hommes (original French title)
Release Date: April 13th, 1955 (France)
Directed by: Jules Dassin
Written by: Auguste Le Breton, Jules Dassin, Rene Wheeler
Music by: Georges Auric
Cast: Jean Servais, Robert Hossein, Magali Noël, Janine Darcey, Pierre Grasset, Marcel Lupovici, Robert Manuel, Carl Möhner, Marie Sabouret, Claude Sylvain, Jules Dassin (credited as Perlo Vita)

Pathé, 118 Minutes

Review:

“[to Tony about Cesar] For a job with you he’ll come. Cesar! There’s not a safe that can resist Cesar and not a woman that Cesar can resist.” – Mario Ferrati

Jules Dassin, a maestro of film-noir, was blacklisted from Hollywood. So he took his talents to France and made Du rififi chez les hommes or just Rififi.

Other Dassin fans have told me to watch this for quite a while now but I just got around to it because I have a giant laundry list of stuff that I need to watch. But I am glad that I did as this is now my favorite of Dassin’s crime pictures.

I think that this benefited from Dassin not being under the controlling eye of Hollywood execs. It felt more personal, much more gritty and allowed Dassin some creative freedom in an era where it didn’t really exist, at least in the United States.

The big heist sequence in this film was fantastic and one of the best I’ve ever seen. It takes up a big chunk of the second act of the picture but each shot was well crafted and every moment served a purpose and was interesting.

Seeing heists in film is really common nowadays but back in the mid-’50s it wasn’t. Dassin put great detail into this sequence and what makes it cool, seeing it all these years later, is that it isn’t high tech, it is much more hands on and displayed real cunning, as opposed to just some boffin on a laptop hacking cameras, lasers and safe codes.

I also thought that the acting in this was really good. All of the key players were able to express themselves without a lot of dialogue. You could read things on their face, which also made the experience more effective for English speaking audiences that have to see this film with subtitles.

The cinematography was top notch and a lot of that can be credited to the lighting. But ultimately, it was Dassin’s directorial prowess that brought all the pieces together in the right way, visually.

Between this film and Le Samouraï, I’m really digging French film-noir. For other fans of noir out there, or just Jules Dassin fans, this is certainly not a waste of your time and is pretty close to being a film-noir masterpiece.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Other noir pictures by Jules Dassin: The Naked CityNight and the CityThieves’ Highway and Brute Force. Also, the French neo-noir Le Samouraï.