Film Review: The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)

Also known as: The Lodger (shortened title)
Release Date: January, 1927 (London premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Eliot Stannard
Based on: The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes
Cast: Marie Ault, Arthur Chesney, June Tripp, Malcolm Keen, Ivor Novello

Gainsborough Pictures, Carlyle Blackwell Productions, 74 Minutes (National Film Archive print), 90 Minutes (TCM print), 67 Minutes (video version), 98 Minutes (Ontario version), 92 Minutes (2012 theatrical version), 90 Minutes (2012 restoration)

Review:

“Tall he was – and his face all wrapped up.” – Female Eyewitness

Being a big Hitchcock fanboy, I thought I really owed it to myself to go back and look at his really early work. So, with this, I went back to the silent era. This was also made before he made his way to Hollywood and became the premiere director of his time.

The Lodger is a dark and dreary film but it does have its lighthearted moments too. Hitchcock, even as early as 1927, was able to create a good balance between an intense thriller vibe and humor. This skill allowed him to lighten the tension, at the right moments, and he could do that like no other director from his era. And, in fact, seeing it used so well here, shows me that he was ahead of his time in how he constructed the narrative of his thrillers.

Another thing that was ahead of its time or, at least, much more advanced than the industry standard, was how Hitchcock did the title cards in his film. Many of them were animated and had a life and vibrancy that was unseen. He also used really interesting colors with them, which provided a bit more tonal context. You couldn’t watch this compared to what was common at the time and accuse this film of lacking energy.

Also, Hitchcock did a lot of interesting shots of people in close ups, reacting to things. While that’s not uncommon for the 1920s, he did it in a more avant-garde way.

Ultimately, this film really felt like Hitchcock was experimenting with a lot of techniques and style but it works really well here.

The story deals with a serial killer. He is only described as being tall and having a scarf around the lower half of his face. Not too long after that, a mysterious man moves into a room in the neighborhood and he fits the description of the killer, who is still at large.

I don’t want to spoil anything beyond that but this almost has a plot that feels noir in its style. But then a lot of Hitchcock films had noir qualities and tropes.

For 1927, this is a really solid motion picture. It was a very effective thriller that had me engaged from start to finish. It has an atmosphere that envelops you.

What The Lodger really showed me, however, is that Hitchcock was a pretty capable director from the get go and a true auteur.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other very early films by Hitchcock.

Film Review: North by Northwest (1959)

Also known as: The Man In Lincoln’s Nose, The CIA Story (working titles)
Release Date: July 1st, 1959 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Ernest Lehman
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Martin Landau

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 136 Minutes

Review:

“Now you listen to me, I’m an advertising man, not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself slightly killed.” – Roger Thornhill

I feel like I’ve been reviewing a lot of perfect films, lately. But it’s not because I magically stumbled upon a treasure trove of perfection. The reality is, most of these films I had planned to revisit and review anyway but since the FilmStruck streaming service is closing down Nov. 29th (this may be posted after that) I wanted to squeeze in as many movies from that service as possible. But this isn’t about FilmStruck and I’m working on an article about that anyway.

I saw North by Northwest when I was really young. And then, a few years ago, I got the pleasure of seeing it on the big screen, which is how everyone should watch this the first time, if they are presented with the opportunity to do so.

I love this movie and in some ways, it almost feels like what could have happened had Alfred Hitchcock ever directed a James Bond film in the classic era. However, this predates the James Bond movie franchise by a few years, so Hitchcock was ahead of the curve. Plus, the main character isn’t a spy but is a man that has become the victim of a mistaken identity. So it has a solid Hitchcock trope already in place and while this doesn’t globe-trot, it sees our protagonist travel to different parts of America.

The film is perfectly shot, superbly acted and everyone that comes on screen has amazing charisma and personality that is fine tuned to work within the picture but not to overpower or dilute the scenes for the sake of performance. Also, the one on one chemistry between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint is magical.

North by Northwest boasts some top notch, high octane action sequences that were far better than anything you’d see in 1959. Between the crop duster scene and the big finale on Mt. Rushmore, this was a film ahead of its time but very grounded in the concerns and real world worries of the late 1950s.

This feels like Hitchcock’s biggest movie and in retrospect, I can’t think of one that comes off as grander in scale. Also, as great as his movies are, it’s hard to think of one that is more fun and entertaining. This really isn’t just a perfect film, it is the perfect Hitchcock film and really encompasses his best tropes, his style and everything that made his work at his peak, some of the best motion picture releases of all-time.

Movies this good are few and far between. While I love just about everything that Hitchcock has ever done, this may be the tip of his grand and near perfect iceberg.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other Hitchcock films of the 1950s.

Film Review: Saboteur (1942)

Release Date: April 22nd, 1942 (Washington D.C. premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Peter Viertel, Joan Harrison, Dorothy Parker
Music by: Frank Skinner
Cast: Robert Cummings, Priscilla Lane, Otto Kruger, Norman Lloyd

Frank Lloyd Productions, Paramount Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“Very pretty speech – youthful, passionate, idealistic. Need I remind you that you are the fugitive from justice, not I. I’m a prominent citizen, widely respected. You are an obscure workman wanted for committing an extremely unpopular crime. Now which of us do you think the police will believe?” – Charles Tobin

I love that Starz has a ton of Alfred Hitchcock stuff up, right now. It allows me to delve into some of his lesser known pictures from a time when he wasn’t yet seen as a true auteur.

Saboteur is a spy thriller film-noir that follows an aircraft factory worker that goes on the run after being wrongly accused of sabotage, which also resulted in the death of his best friend.

Barry Kane (played by Robert Cummings) travels from Los Angeles to New York City in an effort to clear his name and expose the real saboteurs who are led by Charles Tobin (played by Otto Kruger), a respectable member of society but really a pro-fascist sympathizer.

Ultimately, this is a thrilling road movie that sees our hero encounter a lot of people that are willing to help him and do him harm. But it is all about the great final sequence, which takes place on the Statue of Liberty and will certainly make you think of the Mt. Rushmore sequence from North by Northwest.

While not my favorite Hitchcock film, it is hard to deny the great craftsmanship that went into this. It is superbly directed, the acting is good and the cinematography by Joseph A. Valentine is very pristine. It doesn’t have the same visual style that would become standard with noir but this also came out at the very early stages of the classic noir era. So it doesn’t use a high chiaroscuro style but it still utilizes contrast well. I absolutely love the shot from the opening credits scene.

In retrospect, and I’m not sure how people saw this in 1942, the film feels like a really good B-movie with a mostly B-movie cast. The budget, due to some of the larger sequences in the film, make it feel grander than something simple and low budget but it just has that sort of B-movie style but with a layer of quality that is very much Hitchcock.

The final sequence is great though and really, the highlight of the picture for me.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Hitchcock films of the era: Shadow of a Doubt, Suspicion, Foreign Correspondent and Lifeboat.

Film Review: Family Plot (1976)

Also known as: Alfred Hitchcock’s 53rd Film, Deceit, Deception, Missing Heir (working titles)
Release Date: March 21st, 1976 (Filmex)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Ernest Lehman
Based on: The Rainbird Pattern by Victor Canning
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Karen Black, Bruce Dern, Barbara Harris, William Devane, Ed Lauter

Universal Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“[to Fran] We’re gonna have to kill these two ourselves.” – Arthur Adamson

Family Plot has the distinction of being Alfred Hitchcock’s last film. It also proves that even in old age, the director was a true auteur that never lost his mojo. This is an engaging and entertaining motion picture that while it isn’t Hitchcock’s best, probably deserves more recognition than it has gotten over the years.

The plot is about one giant misunderstanding. Unfortunately for the nice duo, it becomes a big mess, as the other duo locked in this cat and mouse game aren’t nice people and in fact are pretty evil and dangerous.

Barbara Harris plays a fake psychic that swindles rich old ladies out of their money. She partners up with a crafty cab driver played by Bruce Dern. The two of them are given a job that will reward them with $10,000 upon completion. That job is to find a long lost heir to a family fortune and return him to the fold. What they don’t know is that this heir is a career criminal and conman. The conman thinks that he is being pursued by the duo because of something heinous from his past. The heir is teamed up with a often times reluctant accomplice played by Karen Black. The film becomes a chase where the mostly good guys keep finding themselves in over their heads and the bad guys are running in fear of what these do-gooders may have on them.

The plot is well structured and executed marvelously for the most part. My only real complaint about the film is that it seems a bit too drawn out. Hitchcock loved a two hour-plus running time and frankly, this could have been 100 minutes and been just as good.

I loved seeing a younger Ed Lauter in the movie and with Bruce Dern and Karen Black, this just has a really cool cast. The fact that these actors also got to work with Hitchcock is kind of impressive. Not because they aren’t capable, they certainly are, but because it’s a teaming of great talents from different generations.

Speaking of which, it was also really neat that John Williams got to score a Hitchcock picture. Two different artists that defined two different generations in very different ways came together and made something that worked to benefit both parties. Williams score here isn’t anywhere as well known as those that he’d do for George Lucas and Steven Spielberg but it enhanced the overall experience of Hitchcock’s Family Plot and gave it some life it might not have had with a less capable composer.

I really enjoyed Family Plot. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it exceeded any expectations I could have had, even if I knew more about it before diving in.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: A lot of Alfred Hitchcock’s later work from the late ’60s into the ’70s.

Film Review: Strangers On a Train (1951)

Release Date: June 30th, 1951
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Raymond Chandler, Whitfield Cook, Czenzi Ormonde
Based on: Strangers On a Train by Patricia Highsmith
Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker, Patricia Hitchcock

Transatlantic Pictures, Warner Bros., 101 Minutes

Review:

“I may be old-fashioned, but I thought murder was against the law.” – Guy Haines

Alfred Hitchcock was a bit derailed before the release of Strangers On a Train. While he had had an incredibly successful career up until this point, his previous two films were box office duds. Those pictures were Under Capricorn and Stage FrightStrangers On a Train got the auteur director back on track, however, and it really set the stage for what was to come with a string of incredible pictures throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s.

This is also a Hitchcock picture that falls into the film-noir style. It even stars Farley Granger, a guy who worked in several notable noir movies: They Live by NightSide StreetEdge of Doom and Hitchcock’s own Rope.

Alongside Granger are Robert Walker and Ruth Roman, a woman who does not fit the typical Hitchcock female lead archetype, which were almost always stunning blonde women. Hitchcock had reservations about using Roman and he also didn’t feel like Granger was believable as the type of man another man would become infatuated with.

Speaking of which, this is a film with very well hidden gay undertones in it. Robert Walker’s psychotic Bruno Antony was infatuated with Granger’s Guy Haines. While it isn’t explicitly stated, when you understand that this was an adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith story, it makes that aspect of the men’s relationship much more apparent. She was known for writing about gay characters and obsessive infatuation in her novels, even if they did come out in a time when the subject was incredibly taboo. It is very clear though when you see later adaptations of her work like The Talented Mr. RipleyCarolRipley’s GameRipley Under Ground and The American Friend.

The story starts with Guy, on a train, as he is approached by Bruno, a complete stranger. Bruno has a weird obsession with the young man and it doesn’t take long to realize that the guy is off his rocker. Bruno suggests that he kills Guy’s soon to be ex-wife and in exchange Guy kills Bruno’s father. It will be a perfect set of murders as neither man has a real motive to kill their victims or any personal association with them. Guy continues to try and dismiss Bruno but Bruno follows though and murders Guy’s wife. He then becomes enraged when Guy doesn’t seem like he wants to return the favor and thus, begins to blackmail Guy and try to pin the murder on him.

Strangers On a Train is a dark and twisted movie that showcases the great and intelligent Highsmith story with respect and care. It is a film that has a lot of talent in front of and behind the camera. Superb direction, stellar photography and believable actors that pull you along for this wild and intense ride. Hitchcock was the “Master of Suspense” and this movie is a perfect example of how the director earned that moniker.

There are some incredible shots in this movie. Most notably, the scene where Guy’s wife is being strangled to death and you see it from the perspective of a reflection in the lens of her glasses, lying on the ground. The special effects shot of the carousel spinning wildly out of control is another great shot and in fact, that whole big finale is a visual delight.

Strangers On a Train is not my favorite Hitchock motion picture but it is really high up on my list of his best.

Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Release Date: October 7th, 1938
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Sidney Gilliat, Frank Launder, Alma Reville
Based on: The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White
Music by: Louis Levy, Charles Williams (both uncredited)
Cast: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, Dame May Whitty

Gainsborough Pictures, Gaumont British, United Artists, 97 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve no regrets. I’ve been everywhere and done everything. I’ve eaten caviar at Cannes, sausage rolls at the dogs. I’ve played baccarat at Biarritz and darts with the rural dean. What is there left for me but marriage?” – Iris Henderson

This was one of the last British pictures that Alfred Hitchcock did before coming to Hollywood to ply his trade for a larger audience. It is also considered to be in his upper echelon. While I enjoy it, to me, it isn’t on the same level as most of his stuff from the 1950s and early 1960s.

The story is a mystery but even for 1930s standards, the mystery element of the plot seems a bit far fetched.

A young woman meets a nice old woman. While on a train, the old woman goes missing. The young woman asks everyone on the train about the older woman’s whereabouts but everyone denies that such a woman was even on the train. Of course, the younger woman is not delusional. Everyone on the train that denies seeing the older woman is lying. The problem is that everyone lying has their own personal reasons for doing so. So there isn’t a big conspiracy, it’s just a big strange coincidence with a lot of extra layers.

The bulk of the picture deals with the mystery part of the story. Although, there is an entertaining twenty minutes or so before the characters even get on the train and then the film is capped off with a confrontation with soldiers. A spy element is introduced to the plot, as well.

This is a good picture, despite my complaints with the narrative. Everyone else really seems to love the movie but I just can’t put it up there with Hitchcock’s better work.

Although, I did enjoy that the main girl in this Hitchcock picture was actually a brunette for a change.

Plus, the miniature work in the opening shot was really well executed.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: To Catch A Thief (1955)

Release Date: August 5th, 1955
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: John Michael Hayes
Based on: To Catch A Thief by David Dodge
Music by: Lyn Murray
Cast: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis, John Williams, Charles Vanel, Brigitte Auber

Paramount Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“For what it’s worth, I never stole from anybody who would go hungry.” – John Robie

This is a Hitchcock film that I had never seen and the best part is that I got to check it out on the big screen. It’s also no secret that I love Hitchcock, especially his films from this era. While this is a magnificent movie, it isn’t quite on the level of Rear Window, which came out a year earlier and also starred Grace Kelly. Still, it is a fine movie in every regard.

To Catch A Thief teams up Grace Kelly with Hitchcock favorite Cary Grant. Grant plays a famous retired jewel thief. As he pounces around the French Riviera, a new jewel thief appears and draws the ire of the law and the rich citizens of this old Mediterranean beach community. Grant wants to solve the mystery, as he is the prime suspect, and wants to continue on the straight and narrow path. Grace Kelly figures out who he is and we get a big mix up and a real whodunit mystery, as Grant races to uncover the truth behind the robberies.

While Hitchcock was a master of mise-en-scène, especially in his use of color, this is one of his more vivid looking pictures. The use of greens and the colorful flair was well executed. Hitchcock and his cinematographer Robert Burks outdid themselves in creating and capturing the majestic allure of the French Riviera. The fireworks scene is especially captivating.

The chemistry between Grant and Kelly was uncanny. Kelly is always pretty close to perfect in her work with Hitchcock and Grant was always a top notch Hollywood star that brought his charm, wit and gravitas to every role he played. The rest of the cast was also a lot of fun and had a good camaraderie with Grant and Kelly, especially Kelly’s mother, played by Jessie Royce Landis. I absolutely loved Landis in this picture.

The pace of the film is a bit shaky though. It moves along swiftly for the most part but there are a few areas in the film where it feels like the narrative is put on hold or stagnates. When you get to the end however, you realize the importance of some of these scenes. But the film does employ a lot of misdirection, which was done pretty effectively.

Compared to Hitchcock’s other work from this era, To Catch A Thief is a lightweight. It doesn’t cast a heavy and ominous shadow over the proceedings but that’s kind of what’s cool about it. The film is certainly one of Hitchcock’s funnest outings. At its core, it is a quirky romantic adventure filled with mystery and the geographical beauty of a James Bond picture. Ultimately, it is a fun and exciting movie with a lot of attractive things to be swept away by.