“Night Will Fall” Uncovers the Grim Realities of Concentration Camps

28 04 2015

HBO and the British Film Institute delve into the grim realities of German atrocities during World War II in the recent documentary “Night Will Fall,” directed by André Singer. The film tells the tale of the British Government’s efforts, under the direction of Sidney Bernstein, to capture for posterity what happened in the German death camps, so that the deeds carried out by the Germans would not be forgotten.

Bernstein took on the overwhelming job of filming the scenes at the camps using Allied cameramen. Both the cameramen and the soldiers who captured the camps were unprepared for what they found: dead bodies of the Germans’ victims piled like cordwood, the gaunt figures of surviving prisoners, the defeated but unbowed officers who ran the camps, and, perhaps worst of all, the ordinary townspeople who lived outside the camps and ignored the overwhelming stench of death that filled the air. The survivors greeted their rescuers with joyful tears, but these same rescuers made the shocking decision to punish the Germans, soldiers and civilians alike, by forcing them to dig mass graves and bury the bodies of the dead.

As the Allied forces moved further into German territory in the days after the war, more camps were discovered and more reels of film were exposed – so many that Bernstein’s job grew to be completely unmanageable, presenting far more footage than could ever be used. Bernstein, an original member of the Film Society of London, called in his friend Alfred Hitchcock for help. They had last worked together in 1944, when Hitchcock directed the short propaganda films “Aventure Malgache” and “Bon Voyage.” Although Hitchcock was only available for a brief consultation, he made a few valuable suggestions about how to approach the project so that future generations would not be able to doubt the film’s veracity. Unfortunately, the project dragged on so long that it had to be shelved. In the early days of the Cold War, the Allies put their efforts into rebuilding Germany as an ally against the Soviet Union; a lengthy documentary reminding the world of the Nazis’ crimes against humanity was no longer considered useful. Some of the footage wound up in other, shorter films that were shown in the United States, but for the most part it was lost to history; some of it went on to be presented in the 1985 as the PBS film “Frontline: Memories of the Camps.” 

“Night Will Fall” reassembles much of that film, and presents it with tearful testimony from both concentration camp survivors and the former soldiers who freed the camps. For Hitchcock fans, it presents a look at a lost chapter in the life of the Master of Suspense, but most importantly, it is a stunning, clear-eyed look at one of humanity’s darkest hours, one that must never be forgotten.

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Alfred Hitchcock and Ingrid Bergman

9 12 2013

Alfred Hitchcock with Ingrid Bergman, star of “Spellbound,” “Notorious” and “Under Capricorn.” One of Hitch’s favorite female leads, Bergman pulled back from Hitch’s Hollywood-style thrillers at the end of the 1940s to star in films directed by her new husband, Roberto Rossellini. These films were in the Italian neorealism style, like “Europe ‘51” and “Journey to Italy.” Bergman eventually moved back toward roles in Hollywood movies. She never worked with Hitchcock again after “Under Capricorn,” but they remained close friends. This picture is probably from the American Film Institute tribute to Hitchcock in 1979. ingrid





Breaking the Silence on BAM’s Showing of “The Hitchcock 9”

27 07 2013

945616_10151595414878713_1239777943_nThe Brooklyn Academy of Music recently ran its “Hitchcock 9” series, in which they screened restored prints of silent movies directed by Alfred Hitchcock: “The Pleasure Garden,” “The Lodger,” “The Ring,” “Easy Virtue,” “Downhill,” “Champagne,” “The Farmer’s Wife,” “The Manxman” and “Blackmail.” Each film was accompanied by live orchestral music created for the films, which made this a really memorable event. (No “Mountain Eagle,” of course.)

On the weekend of June 29-30 I went to screenings of “The Lodger” and “Blackmail.” As you may recall from my blog post on “Blackmail,” here, this was Hitchcock’s first sound film, and he wasted no time in taking advantage of this newly added asset. I had seen the sound version, but knew that “Blackmail” was made in 600445_10151686404218713_934287928_nboth sound and silent versions, since very few theaters in England had sound equipment at the time.

Now having seen both versionf of it, I think “Blackmail works much better with sound than without. The silent version seems to be exactly the same film, but with added, rather lengthy title cards, and even the introduction of sound into Hitchcock’s film world is handled with great subtlety. The film begins with a mostly silent sequence in which the police from New Scotland Yard are seen capturing and bringing in a suspect. After he is fingerprinted, the cops go off duty, and it is only when they are in the locker room and getting ready for their evenings off that they begin to talk. This makes for a great, smooth transition in which the plot is first driven visually and then through dialogue; without sound, an element that enriches the viewing experience is lost.

1000192_585059604848630_1893416142_nAnother memorable scene also revolves around dialogue. It’s the one in which the nosy neighbor talks to Alice and her parents while they’re eating breakfast the morning after Alice was forced to stab her attacker to death. In the sound version, the neighbor seems to say the word knife about a dozen times in two minutes, and Hitchcock plays with the sound until all Alice hears clearly is the word knife. Without sound, Hitchcock must resort to title cards that say knife a few times – but it does not have the same impact as hearing it.

In fact, lengthy title cards are a problem all the way through the silent version of the film. Hitchcock always took great care to keep his title cards brief and few, but here, as they substitute for spoken exposition, they have to convey a lot of information.

The last place where the lack of sound hurts the storytelling is at the very end of the film. Alice enters the1003691_585775958110328_773615495_n inspector’s office to confess, only to find her detective boyfriend there already. The inspector receives a phone call, and the couple leave the office so Frank can tell Alice that the death of the blackmailer means she’s off the hook. In the sound version, that moment is followed by a voice (Hitchcock’s, in fact) saying that the inspector will see them now. As they head toward his office once more, the viewer must wonder whether she still will confess, which makes for a strong, ambiguous ending. Without sound, though, they merely walk off together; it isn’t even clear that where they are going.

Clearly, the sound version of “Blackmail” is more successful than the silent one. Yet it was the silent version that most people in the U.K. saw at the time, and it was very big hit, one that pointed the way toward Hitchcock’s mid-1930s string of thrillers.





Christopher Reeve Stars in “Rear Window”

16 06 2013

“Rear Window,” my contender for best Alfred Hitchcock film of all time, starred James Stewart as a photographer confined to a wheelchair while recovering from a broken leg; in this version, Reeve put his own paralysis onscreen as Jason Kemp, an architect who was injured in a car crash.

The movie spends a significant amount of time on Kemp’s difficult physical rehabilitation and his hope to one day walk again; Reeve clearly was inspired to air some of the issues he had been exploring in his own life, in which he had become an advocate for victims of spinal cord injuries. Confined to his own Soho, NY, apartment, Kemp attempts to get back to business as usual, but during the months he spent in recovery his pet project was handed over to a young architect played by Hannah. Together, they continue to work on Kemp’s building, but it is during the long stretches of time he spends alone and looking out his window that Kemp realizes the sculptor across the alley may have killed his own wife.

With help from Hannah, as well as his nurse, a philosophically inclined Jamaiacan man, and a crusty cop played by Robert Forster, Kemp uses his wits and his computer to unravel the mystery. And while he and Hannah begin to forge a relationship by the end of the film, the story’s conclusion disappoints, as the body is never found—and without that, the police can’t prove that a murder occurred.

rear-window-1998-1The film is very much a product of its decade: Email is considered fancy and new, and the murderer is a sculptor, reflecting Soho’s booming gallery scene. Also, Kemp’s voice-activated computer is so good it’s comparable to the computers on “Star Trek.” Still, “Rear Window” relies on suspicion of wrongdoing that builds to suspense, and here the suspense comes from Kemp’s seeming helplessness when he’s confronted by the killer.

Even in a wheelchair, Reeve remains boyishly charming, and it’s particularly poignant to watch “Rear Window” and realize that the cure he hoped for would not come in time for him. Christopher Reeve died on October 10, 2004.





Rare Hitchcock Items Up for Auction

8 06 2013

Check out emovieposter.com, which currently has a fantastic collection of over 100 posters and other print items from Alfred Hitchcock up for auction. The items come from countries across the globe, and include rerelease posters, lobby cards and (maybe my favorite) a door-sized French poster advertising the book “Hitchcock” by Francois Truffaut:

french_door_panel_hitchcock_truffaut_HP04649_L

Here are a couple of other items that I liked: A lobby card for “Suspicion,” with a delightfully unattractive caricature of Hitchcock that carries a palette and paintbrush, and a poster for “Saboteur” with the theater owner’s handwritten recommendation that “everyone should see it.”

wc_saboteur_JC08009_LYou can see the entire collection, which includes many non-Hitchcock movies posters, at  http://www.emovieposter.com/agallery/15.html.  The auction ends on Sunday, June 9, so go and see if there’s anything you want to bid on!

british_quad_suspicion_R53_pbacked_JC07653_L





Cougar Town Plays Host to Tippi Hedren

18 04 2013

Tippi Hedren, star of “The Birds” and “Marnie,” and the subject of last fall’s HBO film “The Girl,” made a guest appearance on the season finale of “Cougar Town” last Tuesday, April 9.

I happen to like “Cougar Town” quite a lot, so I was pleased to see Tippi appear in this touching episode. In the previous episode (which aired the same night) we learned that the father of series star Jules Cobb (played by Courteney Cox) is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. In this episode, Jules and her Cul de Sac Crew decide to reroute their planned Bahamas vacation to head to Hollywood so they can help her dad, Chick (Ken Jenkins), have his dream of meeting Tippi Hedren come true.

Along the way, much silliness ensues. Jules, who seems to be getting dopier by the minute (maybe she should lay off the vino?) thinks the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame are gravemakers; Laurie (Busy Philipps) tries to divert a security guard’s attention at Hedren’s house by kidnapping her cat, Tabby Hedren; Travis and Tom hire a one-man band to serenade Chick and Tippi.

tippi star

We don’t get to see Jules try to talk Hedren into her scheme, but apparently it works, as Hedren shows up to meet Chick and dance with him like they were old friends.

tippi

If you want to see what Tippi Hedren looks like these days—and yes, she’s just as good and actor as she ever was—or just catch a sweet episode of a series I really like, you can watch this episode, called “Have Love, Will Travel” on the TBS website here.

tippi and ken





“Castle” Salutes Alfred Hitchcock with “Rear Window” Homage

12 04 2013

Picture 7The April 1 episode of the ABC TV series “Castle” featured a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”—the movie that I said here was even better than “Vertigo,” which as we all know is now considered the best movie ever made.

I admit that this is the first time I’ve watched “Castle,” but it wasn’t hard to figure out what was going on. Nathan Fillion plays Richard Castle, mystery novel writer and wannabe detective; Stana Katic is Detective Kate Beckett, Castle’s girlfriend. There isn’t much more you need to know going in; Beckett has partners and a gruff captain, and Castle has a young adult daughter, and the show is a mix of comedy and suspense, which lends itself perfectly to tonight’s fun.

Castle, laid up with a broken kneecap (ow!) from a skiing accident, is bored stiff while he hangs around his fabulous New Picture 4York apartment, and so he starts peeking out the windows at his neighbors. When he sees a young couple having an affair, he’s intrigued, but when the husband arrives and looks like he’s going to stab his wife to death, Castle is horrified. Everything he thinks he saw is basically circumstantial, though, so he decides to break into the apartment to find some hard evidence.

In the end [SPOILERS!], the whole thing was a set-up, planned by Beckett as a way to keep him occupied while recuperating, leading up to a surprise birthday party in the supposed murderer’s apartment.

Meanwhile, the show gives us another Hitchcock homage, as if to say that this episode was created with real reverence to the Master of Suspense: In the real murder story, a female IRS agent is killed under mysterious circumstances. Her name? Mrs. De Winter—a name familiar to fans of “Rebecca.”

You can catch this episode on Hulu (that’s how I saw it), and it’s probably available on demand on some cable systems.








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