100 Moments with Alfred Hitchcock Part 1

28 09 2010

Recently, Roger Ebert posted his list of “100 Great Moments in the Movies” on his Chicago Sun-Times blog. After counting how many of those movies I’d seen (58!) I thought it would be fun to do something like it for our own Mr. Hitchcock. Since I’m only up to 1947 in his long career, I thought I’d split the list and post the first half now.

Here, then, are the first 50 of 100 Moments with Alfred Hitchcock, with annotations below:

  1. A cad is haunted by visions of a dead girl in “The Pleasure Garden.”
  2. A young woman’s silent scream opens Hitchcock’s first great movie, “The Lodger.”
  3. The Lodger (Ivor Novello) arrives at his new home, startling his landlady.
  4. An angry mob tries to kill the Lodger.
  5. Amateur boxer “One-Round” Jack Saunder is beaten by boxing champ Bob Corby in “The Ring”
  6. Ivor Novello rides down an escalator as he falls from grace in “Downhill”
  7. Farmer Sweetland makes a list of potential new brides in “The Farmer’s Wife.”
  8. A young divorcee gives herself up to the press after being humiliated in court at the end of “Easy Virtue.”
  9. A detective watches his quarry through the stem of a glass in “Champagne.”
  10. Hitchcock brings the Isle of Man to life in “The Manxman.”
  11. Hitchcock teases actress Anny Ondra in the sound test for “Blackmail.”
  12. A woman is forced to kill her attacker in “Blackmail.”
  13. The blackmailer is chased through the British Museum in “Blackmail.
  14. A back-alley speech about Ireland’s freedom is disrupted by gunfire in “Juno and The Paycock.”
  15. A cross-dressing killer leaps from the high-wire to his death in “Murder!”
  16. At an auction in “The Skin Game,” nouveau riche Edmund Gwenn outbids wealthy aristocrats.
  17. A young couple books passage home on a tramp steamer after an unsuccessful cruise, only to nearly die when the ship begins to sink in “Rich and Strange.”
  18. Hitchcock revisits his German expressionist roots with “Number 17.”
  19. Johann Strauss outshines his father when he conducts “The Blue Danube Waltz” in “Waltzes from Vienna.”
  20. Peter Lorre’s surprisingly charming terrorist in “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”
  21. Richard Hannay tries to hide from the police by kissing an unwilling fellow traveller in “The 39 Steps.” Unwilling fellow traveller immediately gives him up to the authorities.
  22. “Am I right, sir?” With his dying breath, Mr. Memory reveals the secret of “The 39 Steps.”
  23. Peter Lorre shoves the wrong man — a suspected spy — off a cliff to his death in “Secret Agent.”
  24. A saboteur is killed by his former comrades in the explosive finale to “Sabotage.”
  25. The spectacular tracking shot that takes viewers from an overhead view of a hotel lobby across a crowded dance floor and into the eyes of a killer in “Young and Innocent.”
  26. The rush to secure rooms in a crowded hotel lobby at the start of “The Lady Vanishes.”
  27. The young lovers of “The Lady Vanishes” enter the Foreign Office to find old Mrs. Froy alive and well after all.
  28. Charles Laughton climbs a ship’s mast, then throws himself to his death to avoid capture in “Jamaica Inn.”
  29. Joan Fontaine opens “Rebecca” with the line “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again…”
  30. Mrs. Danvers drives Joan Fontaine half crazy while describing her late mistress in “Rebecca.”
  31. Mrs. Danvers refuses to leave her late mistress’s room as Manderly burns to the ground in “Rebecca.”
  32. An American reporter in Holland chases an assassin through an umbrella toting crowd, then hops into a car and continues the chase into the windmill-dotted countryside.
  33. “Mr. And Mrs. Smith” grill each other over breakfast, leading to a break in their marriage.
  34. John Aysgarth charms — and is charmed by — Lina McLaidlaw at the start of “Suspicion.”
  35. Lina imagines Aysgarth killing his best friend in “Suspicion.”
  36. Aysgarth brings his ailing wife a frightening looking glass of milk in “Suspicion.”
  37. Barry Kane and Patricia Martin encounter a troupe of circus freaks in “Saboteur.”
  38. A fifth columnist plummets to his death from the Statue of Liberty in “Saboteur.”
  39. Mr. Newton and Herbert discuss the best way to kill one another over a family dinner in “Shadow of a Doubt.”
  40. Uncle Charlie, “the Merry Widow Murderer,” momentarily thinks he’s off the hook in “Shadow of a Doubt.” Bounding up the stairs to get ready for dinner, he turns to see his niece framed in a doorway, still certain that he is a killer.
  41. A young pilot realizes that his naivete may have helped the enemy in “Bon Voyage.”
  42. Although imprisoned, a French Resistance leader struggles to secure escape for his friends in “Aventure Malgache.”
  43. Walter Slezak is hauled into the “Lifeboat,” only to mutter “danke schein,” revealing to his fellow passengers that he’s German.
  44. Slezak’s character, now revealed to be the captain of the U-boat that sunk his fellow survivor’s ship, exhibits what seems to be super-human stamina, rowing his fellow survivors toward a German ship.
  45. As Gregory Peck kisses Ingrid Bergman for the first time in “Spellbound,” a series of doors open, symbolizing Bergman’s icy doctor’s sexual awakening.
  46. Gregory Peck breaks through to the traumatic childhood memory of accidentally killing his brother in a shocking, silent moment of “Spellbound.”
  47. Hitchcock outfoxes the censors by having Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant kiss briefly and repeatedly in “Notorious.”
  48. “Oh Dev, they’re poisoning me.” Devlin finds Alicia half-dead at the hands of her own husband in “Notorious.”
  49. Devlin leaves Alicia’s husband to his ruthless comrades at the end of “Notorious.
  50. Mrs. Paradine tells her lawyer, Gregory Peck, that she despises him even though he’s won her freedom in “The Paradine Case.”

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Alfred Hitchcock meets “The Lodger”

22 01 2010

“The Lodger was the first true Hitchcock movie . . . I took a pure narrative and, for the first time, presented ideas in purely visual terms.” – Alfred Hitchcock

“The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog,” Alfred Hitchcock’s second picture, was released in 1927. Based on a novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes (credited in the movie as “Mrs. Belloc Lowndes”!), it was inspired by an urban legend about a landlady who thought Jack the Ripper had taken up residence in one of her rooms.

The novel is about another serial killer, and the lodger did indeed turn out to be the murderer. Even though the book was a bestseller, Hitchcock made significant changes to the plot, something he would do time and time again through his films – although not for his usual reasons. In later years, Hitch’s changes were dictated by an interest in streamlining the story, or in changing it to suit his personal interests. In this case, though, the story changed because the star, the multi-talented Ivor Novello, did not want to portray a murderer.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see “The Lodger” as the first true Hitchcock picture. The lodger is suspected of being a killer; the police are both bumbling and threatening, the pretty blonde is in danger. But at the time, it must have come off as a surprisingly adept thriller from a novice director, and it resonated with its audiences not only because the novel had been a hit but because in 1927, the memory of Jack the Ripper was still relatively fresh for residents of London.

The serial killer of “The Lodger” is The Avenger, and although we never learn much about him, his presence looms over the story. The lodger has moved into a spare room in the home of young, fair-haired Daisy, whose boyfriend is a police detective. The lodger is strange: aloof, formal and too well dressed for the neighborhood. (The cop shows his relative lack of class in the first half of the movie by wearing tweed suits, tugging at his collar and scratching his neck.)

Eventually, Daisy becomes interested in the lodger, much to the displeasure of the cop. He puts a few clues together and decides that the lodger must be the killer. As usual in Hitch’s movies, the cop is wrong – the lodger is in fact on the trail of the killer, who murdered his own sister.

There’s a lot of suspense in the movie, as we watch the lodger act in a suspicious manner, but the movies’ finale is all action: He’s arrested, breaks free, meets Daisy, takes refuge in a pub, and is chased and nearly killed by an angry mob.

“The Lodger” had a lot to recommend it besides the story, though. Hitch had traveled in Europe and studied movies extensively, and “The Lodger” shows a director who wrote like a Brit, shot like a German and edited like a Russian. The movie has a distinctly German expressionist look, from the title card on.

There are scenes that really demonstrate Hitch’s budding cleverness in his approach to psychological thrills, like the one in which Daisy, her mother and the detective hear the lodger pacing overhead. Looking up at the ceiling, they imagine him walking – and Hitch superimposes an image of him actually pacing (shot from below through a sheet of glass) against the ceiling. Another scene shoots a stairwell from above as the lodger descends, with only his hand visible. Later, as the detective sits in the park contemplating the clues, they appear, one after the other, in the footstep the lodger has just left in the dirt.

It’s this sort of visual cleverness that quickly established Hitchcock as a master, even if his next few movies weren’t really thrillers.

Lastly, since this sort of thing seems to be de rigeur, I’ll mention that Hitchcock appears in “The Lodger” toward the beginning of the movie, his back to the camera, seated at a desk at the newspaper office where news of The Avenger’s latest killing is being printed. If you watch the clip above, some people seem to think that he also appears as the man in the black hat just to the right of the lodger when he is hanging from the fence, but I’m not convinced, as that man appears to have a mustache.

Next time, I’m planning to take a step back to look at “The Pleasure Garden.”








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