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The Lodger (1927)

Ever since reading FictonFan’s and Silverscreening’s reviews of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger, I have been doubly curious to see the film, which is also my contribution to Coffee, Classics, & Craziness’ “The Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon 2017.” It was the third film that Alfred Hitchcock directed, but is the one that he considered essentially his first film, the first to be recognizably Hitchcockian.

The Lodger is one of many film and stage adaptations of the novel by Marie Belloc Loundes, published in 1911 and inspired by the Jack the Ripper murders in 1888. Hitchcock’s film, however, appears to be set in 1927, though there is a definite gaslight and Gothic ethos. Ivor Novello, who plays the mysterious lodger, would have made a fantastic Dracula, actually.

The film opens with a silent scream.

Neil Brand, who wrote the contemporary score for the version I saw, has the orchestra scream along with the image. The scream reminded me of Hitchcock’s later close-up image of Janet Leigh screaming in the shower in Psycho. The beginning of The Lodger is really excellent and demonstrates Hitchcock’s visual skill, which requires minimal inter titles to explain the action. A blonde girl (Hitchcock already demonstrating his preference for blonds) has been murdered. There is one witness, who says she saw a tall man with a scarf wrapped around the lower half of his face. We see the police, the curious spectators, the ghoulish interest, the press, everything in a rapid fire of images (including a brief glimpse of Hitchcock). We also see a sign for a show called “Golden Curls.” The image of the sign will show up mockingly throughout the film.

The story then shifts to Mrs. Bunting (Marie Ault), her husband (Arthur Chesney), their daughter Daisy (June Tripp…who has golden curls), and the boyfriend/policeman Joe (Malcolm Keen). Joe and Daisy flirt with a heart-shaped cookie cutter and some dough, once again demonstrating Hitchcock’s flair for visual storytelling. Into this tranquil and domestic scene comes…the Lodger! Who looks like Dracula, or at the very least his cousin.

played by Ivor Novello

Would you let this man rent a room in your house?

The lodger is definitely a strange young man, who doesn’t like pictures of women with golden curls in his room and has a habit of looking tormented by some inner turmoil. Not to mention pacing restlessly in his room, which is shown with a glass floor that shows him walking while the Buntings look up at the ceiling, the visuals of his footsteps almost making us “hear” the sound of his footsteps that the Buntings actually hear. When the lodger’s not looking creepy, he looks like Lord Byron, all sensitivity and anguish.

Hurting him would be like hurting a puppy

The tension in the film comes from Mrs. Bunting and her husband beginning to suspect that their lodger is the mysterious killer after he sneaked out at night and was gone during the time when another golden-curled woman was murdered. Their anxiety is heightened when he shows a strong interest in Daisy, who does not see anything wrong in the lodger’s behavior. Joe, on the other hand, grows increasingly jealous.

It’s quite an exciting, atmospheric film and really shows Hitchcock’s ability to create tension visually rather than via words, as well as hitting on a number of themes that he would explore later. And if you have never seen it, I would definitely recommend watching it before reading the spoilers section below.

(Spoilers) I have to admit that I knew the surprise ending before coming into the film, that the lodger is actually, incontrovertibly innocent (unlike Laird Cregar’s lodger in the 1944 film), but I was curious how it would play out. The lodger’s innocence had a rather odd affect, I thought, somewhat like the affect of Hitchcock’s later Suspicion, though far less egregious. It makes Ivor Novello’s performance both sinister and romantic, which makes him a creepy lover. At one moment, he is stalking Daisy to her job as a model and buying her the dress she was modeling (it’s obvious that he’s a well-off young man, socially far above Daisy) and another moment gazing soulfully into her eyes like a young man with bad case of puppy love. In fact, the second part of the film feels more like a romance than a mystery or thriller.

I also have to admit that my view of the characters is somewhat colored by the fact that about two-thirds of the way through the movie, my sister labeled the two romantic leads as “pretty ninnies.” This is partly because the plot is not consistent. If he’s innocent, why didn’t he go to the police? Why did he run? Why is she standing by him, even though she knows nothing about it. They do not behave rationally. But they certainly look pretty while their doing it…especially Novello.

still looking mysterious

It is interesting to note that never again would Hitchcock have a woman place such unreasoning faith in a man for no reason. In The 39 Steps, Madeleine Carroll initially tries to turn Robert Donat in, Eva Marie Saint “helps” Cary Grant because she’s really working for the villain, Grace Kelly is simply turned on by the fact that she believes Cary Grant is a criminal in To Catch a Thief, and in Sabateur Priscilla Lane also initially tries to turn Robert Cummings in.

Regarding the ending, however, I’ve noticed that there is a theory floating around on the internet about another possible interpretation of the end of the film, which jives with my own impressions. Perhaps he really is the killer after all! Hitchcock originally meant to have the ending be ambiguous, but when Ivor Novello was cast, he was forced to change the script so that the leading man (rather like Cary Grant in Suspicion) would be innocent. But quite a few questions go unanswered. Like who killed the lodger’s sister and why? His sister was the first victim, but she died in the middle of a ballroom when the lights are turned off. Whoever killed her had to be someone in upper class society. But her murder doesn’t fit with all the other murders that come after, which seem to be happening in the street. Which makes one wonder if the lodger really killed his sister and went on a mad spree afterwards, until he saw Daisy, who perhaps reminded him of his sister.

It’s just a theory, but it seems odd that Hitchcock would make the lodger’s mansion look so creepy and Gothic. I half expected him to greet Daisy and her parents by saying, “I am…Dracula.” And then when they embrace, we can see the sign “To Night – Golden Curls” blinking in the background. Is it meant to be portentous of what is to come? Evidently, Neil Brand, the composer, thought so because as the lodger and Daisy embrace, the music grows gradually more ominous. Hmm.

His victims, waiting for Dracula to appear

Dracula welcomes his victims

Why is the sign “To Night Golden Curls” blinking in the background? Is that meant to be ironic or prophetic?

This post is my contribution to “The Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon 2017.” Be sure to check out the other posts, which can be found here.

 

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2017 in Movies

 

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Foreign Correspondent (1940)

1138Foreign Correspondent was the second movie that Alfred Hitchcock made in American, following the Gothic, psychological romance Rebecca with a WWII thriller. Actually, the film is only somewhat a WWII thriller. Take out the epilogue and one would hardly know, though there’s a lot of talk about a coming war in Europe.

The editor of the New York Globe – Powers (Harry Davenport) – is frustrated with his foreign correspondents in Europe. All they can give him is speculation about the coming of war with no hard facts. It’s driving him nuts, so he chooses Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) to go to Europe, a scrappy journalist who got into a fight with a policeman in pursuit of a story and has no particular agenda or political bent.

“What Europe needs is a fresh, unused mind,” Powers observes. So Johnny Jones is sent to Amsterdam with a new name – Huntley Haverstock, provided by Powers – and orders to interview a Dutch politician named Van Meer (Albert Basserman), who is central to the negotiations for peace. Johnny is also put into contact with the British Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), who is head of the Universal Peace Party, which is about to hold an important conference. In the meantime, Johnny also falls in love with Fisher’s daughter, Carol (Laraine Day)

In many ways, Foreign Correspondent feels similar to North By Northwest. Simple American gets mixed up in foreign intrigue and is on the run. Van Meer is assassinated….no, wait… he’s actually abducted. There is a secret clause to a peace treaty that the villains (it’s not mentioned, but they are understood to be Nazis) wish to know from Van Meer. The plot is, however, unlike North By Northwest in that there is a lot of it, a lot of characters and it’s a bit confusing at times.

But the film itself is extremely entertaining, full of wit, with some terrific thrills and memorable scenes and a cast that has a lot to offer. I’ve always loved Herbert Marshall’s voice and as Fisher he makes an excellent, unexpected villain. The secret is that his character is really German (was his name originally Fischer…he just dropped the c?). But he’s a villain with one, glaring weakness. He loves his daughter and in some ways, he’s one of Hitchcock’s least evil villains. He even gets to have a heroic end.

George Sanders also gets to play against type…this time as a good guy. Scott folliott (when his ancestor lost his head to Henry VIII, his ancestor’s wife dropped the capital letter to”commemorate the occasion”). He’s a journalist, too, one of those daring young British types who always makes a joke in the face of danger.

Edmund Gwenn gets a delightful role as Rowley, a cockney assassin who keeps trying to kill Johnny without sucess. Robert Benchley makes an appearance as a dyspeptic correspondent who is now reduced to drinking milk and taking pills and Albert Basserman is the heartfelt voice of the little people against the fascists (his speech in defiance of the Nazis in the middle of the film always drew applause in 1940).

Joel McCrea is one of those actors I seem to like the more I see him. He’s not a flashy actor – I’ve heard him called the poor man’s Gary Cooper, which seems unfair – but he has a central integrity, charm, capable of snark, but also of sweetness…also sincerity, without ever taking himself too seriously. He always seems willing for a joke to be at his expense and to look a little silly. He’s more of an every man than Cary Grant, but a bit more articulate than Gary Cooper.

Laraine Day is not your typical Hitchcock blonde heroine, but the film’s all the better for it. She’s one of the most normal, well-adjusted of all Hitchcock’s heroines (despite having a Nazi for a father)  and the romance between McCrea and Day is unusually sweet for a Hitchcock film.

There are also some wonderful scenes that are very unique to Hitchcock. An assassination in the driving rain, on the steps to a building, then darting away underneath a sea of umbrellas. Sneaking around the inside of a curiously expressionistic windmill. A plane crash in the middle of an ocean. Escape from assassins through a bathroom window in nothing but underwear and a robe.

There are a few moments that mark the film out as having been made specifically during WWII, such as Albert Basserman’s role as Van Meer. But the prevailing ethos is that of Johnny and Scott ffoliott as reporters out for a scoop…somewhat like His Girl Friday. Theoretically, they’re doing it for patriotic reasons, but mostly their just doing it because they’re reporters and they’ve happened on the biggest scoop short of a declaration of war (which does come in the middle of the film). It is Carol and her father who are the ones motivated by patriotism (though admittedly patriotism to separate countries).

The ending, however, is the most striking example of a wartime message. It was added after the end of the film’s shooting and when real-life London was under attack from German air raids. In the film, Johnny is giving the news via radio to America when an air raid occurs and the lights go out and he is forced to modify his message, exhorting America to keep the lights burning, so to speak. It is a direct appeal from Britain to America in 1940, though America wouldn’t get into the war until the end of 1941.

This post was written for The Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon. Thanks so much to Coffee, Classics, & Craziness for hosting!!! Be sure to read all the other posts on Hitchcock.

murder

 

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2016 in Movies

 

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White Nights (1985)

White_Nights-407191796-largeAfter reading the book What The Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing, I became extremely interested in seeing tap dancer Gregory Hines in a movie or two. The first of his films that came my way was White Nights, starring Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov, a musical cold war thriller. It has massive plotting issues, but the music and the dancing is sensational.

Nikolai Rodchenko (Mikhail Baryshnikov) defected from Russian eight years before the movie opens and when he is on a plane that must make an emergency landing in Russia he suffers a slight injury, which the Russian authorities play up as a serious injury. Meanwhile, they won’t let Rodchenko leave or contact anyone else and want him to dance at the season opening of the Kirov. Colonel Chaiko (Jerzy Skolimowski) is our main villain in this and he asks (orders) Raymond Greenwood (Gregory Hines) to watch Rodchenko, make sure he doesn’t get in to trouble or leave or anything like that.

Greenwood defected to Russia around the same time that Rodchenko left Russia. Disillusioned by the Vietnam War and racism in America, he thought Russia might be better. Things didn’t quite work out the way he imagined, but one thing that did was that he fell in love with and married Darya (Isabella Rossellini). Now he and Darya are in Moscow, living in the Kirov with Rodchenko, who is doing everything he can to escape.

Meanwhile, Colonel Chaiko has enlisted the aid of Galina Ivanova (Helen Mirren), who used to be Rodchenko’s lover before he defected. She’s still angry with him for leaving her, but has managed to make a life for herself as head of the Kirov, though she still is not able to put on the shows she would like, such as an evening dancing to Balanchine (who was Russian and defected in 1924). In fact, one of the big reasons that Rodchenko gives for having left the Soviet Union is that he was being stifled artistically, that he could not breath while being so closely watching and “playing their games.”

But the core of the story is in the relationship between Rodchenko and Greenwood. Raymond Greendwood is initially just trying to make a life for himself and his wife. Stuck in Siberia (we’re not told why), he jumps at the chance to return to Moscow, where Darya grew up. He and Rodchenko frequently clash. Rodchenko resents him because Greenwood is supposed to be watching him and Greenwood resents him because he believes he’s spoiled and left for a bigger paycheck, not freedom at all. But as the two men get to know each other, they come to discover common cause. And when Greenwood discovers that his wife is pregnant, he decides that he wants their child to grow up in America and agrees to help Rodchenko escape, if he’ll bring Greenwood and his wife with him.

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Isabella Rossellini and Gregory Hines – he was just performing in “Porgy and Bess” to an appreciative audience in Sibera

As I said, the plot has a lot of holes. Greenwood’s reason for leaving America doesn’t quite seem convincing (and he’s never said to be a communist, which would have made it more plausible for him to choose Russia to live in). And it seems slightly mysterious why Colonel Chaiko would choose Greenwood to watch Rodchenko. But admittedly, plotting is rarely the strength of a musical.

Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov are two very different dancers and we get the scope to see both of them in their element, as well as a dance that finds a middle ground for the both of them to dance together. They are both dynamic and skilled performers and when they are dancing the film is at it’s best.

People have often wondered if White Nights sort of represents Mikhail Baryshnikov’s apologia for why he left the Soviet Union. I have read that he very much wanted to dance for the new choreographers and was frustrated with the tradition-bound Soviet approach, which is also the primary motivation for Rodchenko in the film. As a result, the majority of dancing that Baryshnikov does is modern, though he does demonstrate a few traditional leaps and spins (eleven pirouettes, in a bet with Greenwood).

Gregory Hines offers an entirely different dancing approach. He would improvise his own dancing, which he called improvography. He does one dance in “Porgy and Bess” as Sportin’ Life and even does some singing. He also uses tap dancing to tell his story to Rodchenko and express his frustration with America, as well as a dance he does near the end of the film.

They are dancers, but I never sat there and thought, “Oh, you can tell those guys are not real actors.” They were more than convincing. I also thought Isabella Rossellini brought warmth and feeling to her role as Hines’ wife. She bears a strong resemblance to her mother, Ingrid Bergman, and even the way she talked sometimes reminded me of Bergman. It is also fun to see Helen Mirren in an early role. Her father was Russian (her grandfather got stuck in England when the Russian Revolution occurred) and she has the accent down well. This is also the film where she met her future husband, Taylor Hackford, who directed the movie.

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Helen Mirren

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Helen Mirren

Because the Cold War was still on, director Taylor Hackford was unable to shoot in Russia, though Isabella Rossellini and Gregory Hines were able to visit (Baryshnikov would not have risked going back). What they did instead was send a team in to film a “travel movie.” They used the footage – such as of the outside of the Kirov – and combined it with what they’d filmed around Europe, as well as the bits filmed in the studio. The result is actually quite seamless.

White Nights produced two hit songs: “Say You, Say Me,” by Lionel Ritchie, and “Separate Lives,” by Phil Collins. Both songs were nominated for Best Original Song, with “Say You, Say Me” winning the award.

In this dance sequence, choreographed by Twyla Tharp, a compromise is reached between the two dancing styles of Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Notice the karate kicks incorporated, since Hines once taught karate. Twyla Tharp actually choreographed a number of dances for Baryshnikov and represents a blend of ballet, jazz and pop. The random guy boxing in the clip is Colonel Chaiko, with his surveillance camera.

“Say You, Say Me,”  by Lionel Ritchie.

“Separate Lives,” by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2016 in Movies

 

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