The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 14 – Saboteur (1942) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Saboteur is one of Hitchcock’s earlier Hollywood era productions.  It’s the story of Barry Kane, played by Robert Cummings, a wartime factory worker who is mistakenly accused of being a Nazi saboteur.  The story starts out at an airplane manufacturing plant where Barry and his friend Ken Mason are employed.  At lunch they bump into another employee named Frank Fry who acts very suspiciously.  Barry sees an envelope that Fry is sending to a man in another town and finds a large amount of money that Fry drops on the ground.  When he gives the money back to Fry, he becomes very angry.  Suddenly a large fire breaks out and Barry, Ken and Fry head toward it.  Fry gives Ken a fire extinguisher but when Ken directs it at the fire, he becomes engulfed by the inferno and dies.

During the investigation it turns out that there is no employee named Fry and Barry’s story about the whole event is doubted when it turns out the extinguisher was filled with gasoline.  He is blamed for the fire and is being hunted as a Nazi saboteur.  He runs away and hitches a ride with a truck driver heading for the town that Fry’s letter was addressed to.

When he reaches the address, the man living there, Charles Tobin, denies knowing anyone named Fry but Barry accidentally finds a telegram from Fry to Tobin.  Realizing that Tobin is one of the saboteurs and has called the police to arrest him, Barry flees but is quickly captured by the police.  Later he escapes from them by leaping off a bridge into a river.  Eventually he reaches the cabin of a blind man who suspects that he is a fugitive from the law because he can hear Barry’s handcuffs clinking against each other.  The blind man prefers to believe Barry is innocent and agrees to help him get out of his handcuffs.  But the man’s niece, Patricia “Pat” Martin, arrives and wants to turn him into the police because of the news reports branding him as a dangerous saboteur.

Now follows a confusing and slightly ridiculous chain of events that involves circus freaks and an eventual change of heart by Pat toward Barry.  Eventually Barry convinces part of the sabotage gang that he is working for Tobin and is driven to New York City where the next big action is planned.  Pat is captured and also ends up in New York.  The new target is a battleship that has been completed in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  The saboteurs manage to sink it and capture both Barry and Pat.  But by a clever ruse she is able to signal the police and all the saboteurs except Fry are captured by the police.  Fry escapes to the Statue of Liberty and there is a climactic fight on the torch of the statue where Fry falls onto the torch arm and is hanging by his fingernails.  Barry manages to grab hold of Fry’s jacket sleeve and is waiting for the police to bring a rope to allow for a rescue.  But before they can arrive the sleeve rips free and Fry falls to his death.  Barry kisses Pat and the movie ends.

Well, you can’t say Hitchcock doesn’t throw everything including the kitchen sink into the plot.  Bearded women, Siamese twins, midgets, trusting blind men, a pretty girl who models for billboards, sunken battleships, the Statue of Liberty, the Hoover Dam, leaps off bridges, Rockefeller Center, Nazi spies, shoot outs in movie theaters, you name it.  And this movie is noticeably a Hollywood product.  There is all of the wartime patriotism there and the tropes that the studios had built up at this point.  The production values are high but the dialog and acting are a bit mediocre.

It’s a pretty good effort but hardly one of Hitchcock’s finest productions.  I’d called it recommended but not highly recommended.  Let’s say it is moderately entertaining but it wouldn’t be something I’d re-watch often.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Everyone knows the outline of the Robin Hood story.  Robin is a Saxon nobleman who fights to avenge the oppression that the Saxons suffer at the hands of their Norman overlords.  He steals from the rich and gives to the poor.  He is a superb archer.  The story goes that while King Richard is absent on the Crusade his brother John uses the circumstance to overtax and terrorize the Saxon population.  The local tyrant for this story is the Sheriff of Nottingham who hunts relentlessly for Robin.  The happy ending is Richard’s return to England.

In this Warner Brothers’ version Sir Guy of Gisbourne, played by Basil Rathbone inherits the activities usually given to the Sheriff of Nottingham and is Robin Hood’s primary enemy.  Robin is iconically portrayed by Errol Flynn in his most famous and most successful part.  And his love interest, the Maid Marian Fitzwalter is played by Olivia de Havilland.  Rounding out the major parts are Claude Rains as Prince John, Eugene Pallette as Friar Tuck and Alan Hale as Little John.  But many of the smaller parts are also ably performed by a crew of excellent character actors.

Robin Hood’s heroics and acrobatics are generously sprinkled throughout the film and swashbuckling is a word that might as well have been invented for this movie.  Robin and his merry men swing on vines through Sherwood Forest, scale castle walls, and sword fight their way up and down stone staircases with the greatest of ease.  Robin can shoot backward from a galloping horse and hit his foes with arrows as they gallop along in the dark.  And of course, the feat of splitting an arrow with an arrow in the bulls’ eye is called a “Robin Hood.”  And so, it becomes the climax of yet another chapter in the film.  Robin fearlessly confronts his enemies right in their strongholds and only once is captured.  But on the brink of being hanged he is rescued by his men and returns to Sherwood in triumph.  And finally, when King Richard returns to England in disguise, Robin saves both him and Marian from the murderous plots of Prince John.

And in the spirit of the happy ending Robin kills Sir Guy in a sword fight, restores Richard to the throne and is betrothed to Marian with the king’s blessings.  Because this is 1938 a certain part of the reason for this movie is the pro-British sentiment that was being sponsored by the US government to counter the rise of Nazi Germany.  But it really isn’t necessary to justify the regard that this movie received at its release.  It actually is a remarkably stirring film.  Errol Flynn embodies the swashbuckling hero and Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains positively exude villainy and malice.  As I mentioned earlier, all of the bit players are excellent and the script is crisp and the stunts wonderfully choreographed.  It is an altogether lively and spirited romp.

If you’ve never seen this movie, I suggest that you remedy that deficiency as soon as you get the chance.  Very highly recommended for old and young alike.

The Third Man (1949) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

If someone asked you to name a movie starring Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles, I suppose your answer would be Citizen Kane.  Well, here’s a different answer, “The Third Man.”  And here’s another difference, Welles isn’t the filmmaker here, he’s just a supporting player.  Of course, being Orson Welles in 1948 means that “just” has a little more to it than just “just.”

Joseph Cotton is Holly Martins an American writer of dime novel westerns.  He arrives in Vienna which at the time is an occupied city divided into sectors controlled by the post-WWII victorious allies (the United States, Britain, France and Russia).  This is narrated for us along with the realities of such a conquered place.  The locals survive by supplementing their impoverished legal trades with black market transactions on everything from cigarettes to tires to adulterated pharmaceuticals.  Holly has come to Vienna to work for his childhood friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles).  It is never explained what exactly he was supposed to be employed as but that quickly becomes an academic question.

When Holly reaches the building where Harry lives, he’s told by the building porter that Harry was run over by a truck and killed a day or two before.  Holly goes to the burial and there we see the film’s other main characters although not all of them are introduced.  After the funeral Martins is approached by two British military policemen, Major Calloway, played by Trevor Howard and Sergeant Paine played with great cockney panache by Bernard Lee.  It turns out Sergeant Paine is a literary fan of Matins’ novels and indirectly facilitates the plot by introducing Martins to a literary society in Vienna that will bankroll Martins’ travelling expenses in return for a lecture on modern literature, a subject with which Martins is sorely unfamiliar.

But what Calloway and Paine are really interested in is warning Martins to leave Vienna to avoid the fallout from the police investigation into the criminal activities of his friend Harry Lime.  Martins is insulted by the statement that his friend was a criminal and decides to stay in Vienna to find out what really was the case with his friend and somehow clear his name with the police.

Through a meeting with one of Harry’s friends Holly finds out about Harry’s girlfriend Anna and he goes to see her to try and get the true story from her.  As Holly and Anna talk about Harry, we find out that she is like Holly an idealistic individual that Harry charmed and dragged into his dangerous but exciting life.  We begin to suspect that the police are right about Harry.  And together Holly and Anna discover some strange details about Harry’s death.  The building porter reveals to them that when Harry was run down by the truck, in addition to the two friends of Harry’s that stayed to give testimony to the police about the accident there was a “third man” who did not stay but rushed away.  And the porter’s story differed from the account that Holly was given by Harry’s friends, in ways that could only be obvious lies.

As the couple begin to ruffle feathers there begins some fallout.  Anna is visited by the police, including Calloway and Paine.  It turns out that she has a passport that Harry manufactured.  And because of this she will have to be deported to the Russian zone for eventual deportation to Czechoslovakia.  Further fallout occurs with the subsequent murder of the porter.  And finally, one of Harry’s “friends” threatens Holly if he continues looking into Harry’s death.  When Holly defies him, some thugs pursue Holly through the nightscape of bombed out Vienna.  He escapes and ends up at Anna’s apartment where we find that he is falling in love with her.  But just when the movie is drifting away from Harry, Anna’s cat down on the street below her apartment signals that a stranger is lurking and when a window in one of the adjoining apartments flashes on, it reveals that the lurker is Harry Lime.  Holly runs out to catch him but Lime escapes into an entrance to the sewers of Vienna.

And now Holly contacts Harry’s friends that he knows Harry is alive and wants to meet him in a public (safe) place; a giant Ferris Wheel nearby in the city.  And sure enough, Harry shows up and they get into one of the cars of the wheel and talk.  And now Holly learns the truth about Harry.  He is the criminal mastermind who runs a stolen penicillin racket.  Holly tells him that the police have discovered that a medical orderly that was in on the penicillin racket was murdered to provide Harry’s “body” for his faked death.  When Holly confronts him with the deaths that have occurred from the diluted drugs he sells Harry reveals just how callous and Machiavellian he truly is.  Harry reiterates his desire to have Holly join him in his criminal enterprise but he also clearly warns him that bringing in the police would be a very dangerous thing for Holly to do.

Holly decides that because of Harry’s poor treatment of Anna he will make a deal with Calloway to allow them to catch Harry in exchange for Calloway fixing Anna’s deportation problem.  When Anna finds out that her freedom is being purchased at the cost of Harry’s betrayal to the police, she rejects it and also rejects Holly’s affection.  She says she will remain loyal to Harry.  Holly then decides to leave Vienna and leave Harry, Anna and the police to their own devices.  But on the way to the airport Calloway brings Martins to the hospital where the child victims of Harry’s drugs are housed.  Their broken bodies fill Martin with remorse and he agrees to be the bait in a trap to catch Harry.  Harry shows up and at the last second Anna shows up and warns Harry away.  A pursuit follows with police guarding all the exits from the sewer system.  Holly, Calloway and Paine are in on the hunt.  Finally with Harry cornered, Holly too openly approaches Harry.  While Paine attempts to pull Holly back out of the line of fire, he is himself fatally shot by Lime.  Calloway manages to shoot Lime as he retreats to a last exit below the street.  Unable to exit the sewer grating he waits as Holly approaches him with Paine’s gun in hand.  Harry looks at Martins and nods his head in acceptance and a shot rings out followed by Martins walking back to the police line.  At the second burial of Harry Lime we see Calloway and Martins.  Anna is there separately.  Calloway has his jeep and is once again supposed to drive Martins to the airport.  But as they pass Anna, Martins tells Calloway to let him out.  The final shot is a long take of Anna approaching a waiting Martins and then continuing on without looking at him at all.

This is in many ways an utterly strange movie, especially from an American point of view.  There is something disturbing to the American sensibility about the degraded and broken aspect of Vienna.  This is communicated in the images of the broken cityscape but also in the furtiveness and guarded nature of the inhabitants’ speech and behavior.  Dishonesty and criminality and just the wretchedness of life in the shattered place pervades the movie.  Also, the film has a soundtrack that is a repetition of a song played on a zither.  This is a stringed Eastern European instrument that I can’t claim to enjoy all that much.

By contrast, the Anglophone characters, Martins, Calloway, Paine and eventually Lime are wholly different.  They exude energy and confidence.  They seem to be bits of normalcy suspended in this fog of hopelessness.  Even Harry Lime, the criminal mastermind has that American quality to speak openly and unashamedly even about his evil.  He swims in this putrid ocean but he hasn’t assumed the coloration of his surroundings.

As I said the story is very strange and I think off-putting.  But the scene at the Ferris Wheel is very interesting.  We get to hear the devil defend his trade.  And that I think is the interesting thing about the movie.  Calloway and Paine are fun in their proper Englishness.  The Holly/Anna relationship really didn’t do much for me.  So, the show is Holly and Harry.  And coming right down to it it’s Harry.

And the essence of Harry is his parting shot to Holly at the Wheel.  “Don’t be so gloomy.  After all it’s not that awful.   But what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance.  In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce?  The cuckoo clock.  So long Holly.”

So Harry is the charming, interesting devil you know and like.  The point of the story, if there is a point, is that charming and familiar as he is, he’s still the devil and you can’t let him kill kids even for old times’ sake.

So am I recommending the movie?  Maybe I’m a bit of a xenophobe.  I’m put off by the atmosphere of the movie.  And I know that is mostly my parochial tastes.  Because after all this is a film noir and they’re always supposed to exude seediness and unwholesomeness.  I seem to excuse it in many of the film noirs from America.  So, let’s say I call this a good film, which it is, but throw in some cautions for those who are xenophobic like me and despise zither music.

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 10 – Shadow of a Doubt – A Classic Movie Review

Hitchcock gives us a crime drama wrapped in a family reunion.  Charles Oakley, played by Joseph Cotten, is being investigated by the police in the northeast United States as one of two suspects in the “Merry Widow” murders.  Three wealthy widows were strangled by an acquaintance.  Charles sends a telegram to his married sister, Emma Newton in California saying he wants to come visit her and her family.  Emma is married to Joseph Newton and they live with their three children Charlotte (Charlie), Ann and Roger. Emma dotes on her baby brother and in her eyes, he can do no wrong.  Her husband Joseph (played by Henry Travers) works at the local bank and is a quiet man who, along with his neighbor Herbie Hawkins (played by Hume Cronyn) enjoys reading and discussing the murders committed in detective novels. Ann and Roger are small children who intersect with the main story only obliquely.  But Charlie is a high school graduate who feels stifled living in the small town of Santa Rosa.  She is named after her mother’s brother, the legendary Uncle Charlie.  And right before word of Uncle Charlie’s arrival reaches them, she has been bemoaning the boredom that is their life and has decided to send a telegram to Uncle Charlie and ask him to visit them.

When Charlie hears that her uncle is coming to stay with them, she is overjoyed.  She takes the coincidence of his plans and hers as fate and is sure that his presence will add excitement and life to her stultified family.  But strange things begin happening and Uncle Charlie’s presence becomes a strange mystery for Charlie to solve.  He surreptitiously rips a page out of the family’s copy of the newspaper and when she tells him that she knows he did it he reacts violently and wrenches the paper from her hand, hurting her in the process.  When the next day two men request and get permission from Mrs. Newton to interview and photograph the family as part of some national survey, Uncle Charlie berates her for her foolishness and tells her that he refuses to be interviewed or photographed.

The survey takers are actually police detectives Jack Graham and Fred Saunders attempting to get a photo of Uncle Charlie to allow witnesses to identify him.  Jack asks Charlie if she would show him around town as part of his survey and she agrees.  During their walk Jack reveals to Charlie what they are really doing and that if the identification is positive, they will arrest Uncle Charlie.  Charlie is in a panic.  She doesn’t know what to believe but all the strange behavior of her uncle leads her to believe that it could be true.  She runs to the library and finds the newspaper article her uncle was hiding.  It is a description of the Merry Widow murder case.  One of the women who was murdered turns out to have the same initials as the inscription in a ring that Uncle Charlie had recently given her.

She confronts him and tells Uncle Charlie that the police are getting ready to arrest him.  She reveals what she found out about the ring and throws it back at him.  Uncle Charlie begs her to let him escape and spare her mother the shock of knowing her brother is a murderer.  She agrees.  But before anything else can happen news comes that the other suspect in the murders was killed trying to escape capture.  Now the detectives are no longer after Uncle Charlie.  We also learn that Jack Graham is in love with Charlie and tells her that he will return to ask her to marry him.

Uncle Charlie decides that he will stay in Santa Rosa but now he comes to the conclusion that Charlie knows too much about him.  He plans to have her die by an apparent accident.  In the first event she almost breaks her neck when an outdoor stair step breaks off under her foot and she barely catches hold of the handrail.  Later on, she finds that the step had been sawn almost through.  Next, Uncle Charlie arranges for her to go into a garage where a running car motor had filled the building with exhaust fumes and the key was removed from the ignition so the engine could not be stopped.  And just as she tried to exit the garage the door slammed shut and was jammed tight so she couldn’t escape.  Luckily Herbie Hawkins happened by and heard her cries and allowed for her rescue by, of all people, Uncle Charlie.  He deftly kicked the shim from the jammed door and put the key in the ignition as he turned it off.  Then he carried the unconscious Charlie into the fresh air where she revived.

Now convinced that she had to get Uncle Charlie to leave she used her uncle’s absence at a party to find the ring in his room.  Seeing it on her finger Uncle Charlie announces that he would be leaving the next day for San Francisco.  But while seeing him off at the train Charlie is maneuvered by him onto the departing train and by sheer brute strength, he drags her over to an open door on the end of a train car and prepared to throw her off the train as soon as its speed is sufficient to kill her.  But at the last second Charlie wrenches herself free and in doing so causes Uncle Charlie to lose his balance and fall off the train directly onto the tracks of an oncoming train.

In the next scene Uncle Charlie’s funeral is going on in the church and Charlie is outside explaining to Jack Graham why she didn’t turn her uncle in to the police.  They both agree that they will keep Uncle Charlie’s secret away from the people of Santa Rosa.

Most critics think that Shadow of a Doubt is one of Hitchcock’s best works.  I tend to agree.  Allowing Charles Oakley to give his feelings about society in general and about his victims at the family dinner table and during a fraught conversation with his niece at a seedy dive bar hits the right notes in this strange juxtaposition of normal family life and antisocial psychosis.  The tension between Charlie’s desire to spare her mother and even in a sense her uncle from the consequences of his crimes and her horror at what he actually was see-saws the movie right to the end.  There are many nice touches from the supporting cast.  I especially enjoy Hume Cronyn and Henry Travers arguing over the advantages and disadvantages of poisoned mushrooms over blunt force trauma as a murder weapon.  It shows that Hitchcock had already embraced his reputation for graveyard humor and didn’t mind letting the audience in on the joke.

And it was fun to see Joseph Cotton as a psychotic killer.  Cotton always seems to show up as the honest, likable hero.  It must have been a relief for him to get to play a monster for once.  He was very good.

If you are a fan of Hitchcock and haven’t seen Shadow of a Doubt do yourself a favor and see it.  And even if you’ve never seen a Hitchcock film, I can highly recommend this one.

Pitfall (1948) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

In this film noir Dick Powell is John Forbes, a married man who works as an adjuster for an insurance company.  He lives in the suburbs with his pretty wife Sue, played by Jane Wyatt and his young son Tommy.  Based on the domestic scenes, we see that Forbes is bored with his humdrum existence of work and tame suburban monotony.

One day an insurance investigator, J.B. MacDonald (played by truly creepy Raymond Burr) comes to Forbes with a case that requires him to interview a woman, Mona Stevens played by frequent femme fatale actress, Lizabeth Scott.  Her fiancé, Bill Smiley, has passed along to her gifts paid for with money he fraudulently obtained against his insurance.  During his meeting with Forbes MacDonald indicates that he is lusting after Stevens and will be making a play for her while her boyfriend is in jail.  We can tell that Forbes despises MacDonald but in order to maintain a working relationship with the investigator ignores the crudity of MacDonald’s plan.

When Forbes meets Mona Stevens at her apartment he blandly and uncaringly requires her to surrender her engagement ring and other gifts given by Smiley.  She upbraids him for his callousness and just to show her disdain for his power she tells him about an asset he didn’t know about, a small speed boat that she loves more than anything else.  Now Forbes feels remorse for being such a heel and while going out to see the boat he apologizes and tells her he’ll buy her a drink to show her that he has nothing against her.  The couple go to the dock and at her invitation they go out on the boat and she even allows him to drive it.  They both enjoy the ride and each other’s company.  Afterwards they go to a bar and have some drinks and Forbes tells Mona that he won’t include the boat in his report.  During the scene sexual attraction is on display on both sides and afterwards they head back to Mona’s apartment.  Meanwhile we are shown MacDonald skulking around watching them.  In the next scene Forbes is shown arriving at his home very late in the night and he sneaks into his bedroom where his wife is asleep.  His guilt over betraying her is plain to see on his face.

The next day MacDonald shows up in Forbes’ office and tells him he doesn’t want Forbes interfering with his play for Mona.  Also, he informs Forbes that he has added the speed boat to the list of assets that Mona must relinquish.  Forbes tells MacDonald to stop annoying Mona and not to interfere with his actions either professionally or personally.  Forbes meets with Mona and tells her about the speed boat and MacDonald’s part in it.  Mona volunteers that MacDonald has been annoying her.  When Forbes gets home that night MacDonald is waiting for him in front of his garage and administers a serious beat down on Forbes.  Forbes tells his wife and the police that he had been robbed by strangers.  His doctor tells him he’ll have to stay in bed for a couple of weeks and Forbes tells his job that he has a bad cold.

When Forbes doesn’t show up for a few days Mona calls his office and is informed that he is home sick.  She drives to his house with some soup and there discovers that Forbes is a married man.  She actually speaks to his wife in front of the house claiming that she is looking for a house on a different street.  When Forbes finally gets well, he goes to speak to Mona and she tells him she has discovered his secret.  Forbes admits his deception and apologizes.  Now Mona tells him that Macdonald is pressing his demands for a relationship, hounding her at work and is threatening to tell her fiancé in prison that she is having an affair with Forbes.  Apparently, MacDonald who is a former policeman has connections in the prison.  Forbes promises to fix the situation.

Forbes goes to MacDonald’s apartment and administers a beating that at least matches the one he got from MacDonald.  And he warns him to stay away from Mona and Forbes’ family.  Time passes and Smiley will be getting out of jail.  MacDonald has been visiting him in jail and filling his mind with stories that Mona is having an affair with Forbes.  Smiley shows up at Mona’s apartment drunk and armed with a pistol that MacDonald gave him.  He accuses her of infidelity with Forbes and says he’s going over to his house to settle things.  Mona phones Forbes and warns him.  Forbes arms himself and when Smiley arrives, he pulls the gun on him and tells him to leave or be shot.  Smiley leaves but as soon as Forbes goes back in his house Smiley smashes through a large window in the living room and enters the house.  As soon as he steps foot in the house Forbes shoots him several times.  Forbes pretends that the man is a prowler in his statement to the police.

Meanwhile MacDonald is at Mona’s apartment and listens on her radio to the police channel where they hear about the shooting at Forbes’ address.  When the radio reports add homicide to the message MacDonald calls a friend at the precinct and learns that Forbes has killed Smiley.  MacDonald then informs Mona that with Smiley dead and Forbes entangled with his death and Macdonald’s connections with the police, Mona will have no choice but to go away with MacDonald and be his girlfriend.  As he starts packing her clothes her face becomes bleak and she reaches into a drawer, pulls out a pistol and puts several bullets into MacDonald.

Back at Forbes’ home he is racked with guilt and confesses to his wife his relationship with Smiley’s fiancé and the reason for the break in.  He then wanders off into the night preparing himself for the consequences of his actions.  He ends up at police headquarters and makes his statement to the district attorney and there learns that Mona has shot MacDonald and depending on whether he lives will be indicted for either murder or attempted murder.  No charges will be brought against Forbes but the DA rebukes him.  He says that Forbes’ attempt to conceal his infidelity is responsible for the shootings.  Otherwise he could have called the police and prevented the incidents.  As Forbes is leaving the building, he sees Mona being led away by the police.

As he leaves the building, he sees his wife Sue waiting for him in their family car.  He gets in and as she is driving him home, they discuss their situation.  Forbes is contrite and assumes she will want a divorce.  Sue admits that she has considered it but isn’t sure that is what she wants.  She does think they will have to move to another town and suggests that he asks for a transfer from his company.  When he asks her how she will take up her life with him after the betrayal she admits that things will not be the same but says she is willing to give it a chance.

I find this movie interesting for a number of reasons.  The fact that the adulterous husband avoided all legal consequences and might not even lose his wife was a very atypical ending in 1948.  The Hays Code required that the guilty be punished and that included moral offenses that might not have a jail sentence specified.  Also, the reality of a pillar of the community being bored with his “American Dream” existence was sort of heretical.  But the reality of post-war America is a fitting subject for a realistic appraisal of how men would adapt to a world that no longer needed war heroes but rather expected a boring but dependable “Father Knows Best” husband and dad.  Interestingly, Jane Wyatt who played the wife is best known for her part as the loyal, dependable wife in that show Father Knows Best.  The crisis and resolution of John Forbes’ transgression is handled in a more realistic and nuanced way than what would have been seen in the 1930s and early 40s.  Forbes breaks the accepted boundaries of morality but instead of paying with his life or his freedom he is stuck with his conscience and the knowledge that his wife can no longer believe in him.  One man is dead because of him and an innocent woman will go to jail.  This is much more like what life is really like.  Lots of gray, not so much black and white.  Flawed people living with the consequences of their mistakes and hopefully learning from them.

And on a personal basis, I find the fact that Mona filled Raymond Burr full of lead very satisfying and admirable.  It shows the right attitude.  Interesting movie with nuanced characters and lots of things to think about.  Highly recommended.

The Beast with Five Fingers (1946) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

I have to admit I have mixed feeling about calling this a classic movie review.  Even though it falls within the “Golden Age” of Hollywood time period “The Beast with Five Fingers” is hardly a masterpiece.  But a rose by any other name would smell as sweet and vice versa.  Warner Bros. still had Peter Lorre on the payroll from his days in Casablanca and other more mainstream titles so it made sense to have him as the bug-eyed maniac in this little gem.

The story takes place in a small town in Italy circa the year 1900.  Francis Ingram is a rich man who until recently was an acclaimed concert pianist.  He had suffered a stroke that left all but his right arm extremely weakened so that he needed a wheelchair to get around his house.  With him at the time of the story are a circle of people that assist him in various ways.  Conrad Ryler is a friend who has agreed to transcribe music into notes that can be played on the piano with one hand.  Hillary Cummins (played by Peter Lorre) is Ingram’s manservant.  He has attended to Ingram’s household chores for years in exchange for access to Ingram’s library of books on occult studies.  He is more than a little nuts.  Julie Holden is a recent addition to the household.  Since his stroke, she has been Ingram’s nurse.  She has been extremely kind to him in his illness for which he is extremely grateful.  But she has become terribly worn by the job and wishes to leave.  She and Conrad are also in love and planning to leave the town to get married.  Ingram’s lawyer is also in house, a man named Duprex who has just finished drafting Ingram’s new will.  All the above residents of Ingram’s home are there to witness his new will.  But this crystalizes in Julie’s mind the need for her to leave Ingram’s employ and she and Conrad go out into the garden to plan their departure.  Hilary overhears their plans and communicates them to Ingram.  But Ingram flies into a rage believing it to be jealousy at Julie’s preferred status with the master.  He grabs Hilary by the throat with his good hand and practically strangles him to death before Hilary escapes his grip.  Ingram fires Hilary and tells him to leave the next morning.

But that night there is a wild storm outside and the sound of the wind and banging shutters wakes Ingram and he manages to get into his wheelchair by himself and heads into the second-floor hall looking for Julie to help him.  Somehow, he becomes disoriented and ends up falling down the long staircase in his wheelchair and breaks his neck and dies.

The local police chief or as he is titled “Commissario” Ovidio Castanio (played comically with a Chico Marx Italian accent by J. Carrol Naish) investigates the death and declares it an accident.  The will is read and it turns out that Julie is the heir to all of Ingram’s property.  At this point Ingram’s relatives, his brother-in-law and nephew, Raymond and Donald Arlington show up and are unhappy about the new will.  They feel that the will is debatable.  They make it clear that they want to get possession of the estate and liquidate it for cash.  When they mention selling the library Hilary becomes unhinged and says that the books were bought for him and no one will take them away.  We find that he believes that esoteric knowledge found in these books will allow him to possess untold powers over the mysteries of the universe, or something.  Anyway, he’s really incensed at the Arlingtons.  They on the other hand take practical steps to gain possession of Ingram’s estate.  They cut a deal with the lawyer Duprex to have him use his legal acumen and his knowledge of Ingram’s mental state to have the will overturned in return for a third of the value of the estate.

But a funny thing happens that night.  A light is seen shining in the mausoleum where Ingram is interred and later on Duprex is murdered, strangled by a powerful hand that leaves the same kind of marks that Hilary got from Ingram.  Upon examination it is discovered that Ingram’s corpse in its tomb is holding a knife in his paralyzed hand and his good hand has been cut off and is missing.  A small broken window and hand prints on the ground out side the mausoleum makes it scientifically certain that the dead man cut off his own hand and that the dead hand is navigating about and strangling people and also by the way playing the piano in the Ingram house.  Well sure.

Commissario Castanio investigates the murder and confirms that fingerprints on the throat of the dead man and several other places are of Ingram.  Later on, Donald Arlington is unsuccessfully strangled, allegedly by the hand and the whole household is starting to get spooked enough to want to bail on the house for safer lodgings.  At about this time Hilary witnesses the hand playing the piano and after capturing it he nails it to a piece of wood to slow it down somewhat.  Not everyone believes him.  But when Donald Arlington recovers and opens up his uncle’s safe, he finds the hand nailed to the board.  He panics and runs out of the house with Conrad in hot pursuit.

Meanwhile Julie confronts Hilary with proof that she has that he was the one who strangled Duprex and Donald in order to keep them from getting possession of his precious books.  Now we learn that Hilary is guilty of the crimes but he really does believe that the hand he cut off of Ingram is animate and committing the murders.  But Julie’s clear portrayal of his actions convinces him he must kill her too.  He attempts it but she fends him off and locks herself into her bedroom.  But of course, there is another door and for whatever reason she was too stupid to lock it.  As he gets ready to stab her this time, she convinces Hilary that she can hear the hand playing the piano downstairs.  Hilary snaps back into his crazier persona and promises to save her from the hand.  He heads downstairs whereupon Julie locks both doors and throws herself on her bed and has a breakdown.  Now why she is sure there isn’t a third door is unknown to me.

At this point we get to watch Lorre’s Hilary go completely bonkers.  He sees the hand at the piano and grabs it and starts grappling with it.  Eventually he throws it in the fire place and tries to keep it in there with a poker.  But for some reason eventually he just sort of sits there with his bulging eyes and does nothing while the hand crawls up his shirt, grabs him by the throat and strangles him to death.  Loser.

The next day Commissario Castanio shows Conrad the string that Hilary used to trigger a recording of Ingram playing the piano that everybody attributed to the hand.  Everything else could be explained by Hilary walking around with the severed hand and strangling people.  Julie decides to give the estate to the Arlingtons and she and Conrad get exit visas from the Commisario to start their new lives together elsewhere.  At the very end of the film a servant girl starts screaming because she sees a glove on the staircase.  The Commisario picks up his glove and puts it on and says how silly to think a hand can move on its own.  At which point in the close up shot we see a hand coming up to his throat.  Pulling the shot back we see it’s his hand.  Hilarity ensues.

This thing is almost silly enough to be an Abbott and Costello horror movie.  But I would say Peter Lorre’s disturbed manner, voice and face adds just enough creepiness to make it interesting.  Your mileage may definitely vary.  Let’s call it mildly fun.

In a Lonely Place (1950) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

“In a Lonely Place” is a less well-known film in Humphrey Bogart’s catalog but the plot and character combine to play very well to Bogart’s strengths.  In the story Bogart is a Hollywood screen writer named Dixon “Dix” Steele who has been down on his luck of late.  And in the first scene we also discover that he has an explosive temper that easily leads him into physical altercations.  Steele is at a restaurant where he meets up with some colleagues and other movie making types, producers, agents and actors.  A producer who is somewhat obnoxious makes a crack about an alcoholic actor that happens to be Steele’s friend and Dix physically assaults him and has to be restrained.  During the evening we learn that Dix ix supposed to read a novel for his agent to see if it is suitable for a movie treatment.  Because he is too tired and hung over, he asks the hat check girl, Mildred Atkinson, who has read the book to accompany him back to his apartment and recite a summary of the book for him.  She agrees and we see her enthusiastically summarize the book to Dix who is obviously unimpressed with the plot.  When she finishes, he explains that he is too tired to drive her home and gives her a generous amount of cash to catch a cab around the block on her own.  At one point in the scene Dix is looking out the apartment window and he sees a woman standing on her balcony.  The two of them stare at each other for an extended moment and Dix is obviously interested.  The scene ends with Dix sending Mildred on her way and catching another look at the neighbor woman who is in the apartment courtyard.

The next morning Dix is awakened by a ring at his doorbell.  An old army pal of his Brub Nicolai is calling.  Brub is now a police detective and his boss, Capt. Lochner, wants to talk to Dix.  Dix had been Nicolai’s commanding officer in WW II and their relationship is presented as casually friendly.  At the police station Dix is unemotional and seemingly unconcerned to hear that Mildred was strangled to death after leaving his home the night before.  Lochner is noticeably suspicious of Steele’s seemingly callous disregard for the girl’s murder but when the neighbor woman who had shared the glances with Dix the night before, Laurel Gray, comes into the police station and in front of Dix confirms the fact that Mildred left Steele’s apartment alone, the police let Dix go home.  Interestingly on his way home Dix pays a florist to have two dozen white roses sent to Mildred Atkinson’s home.

The setup after this is two tracks.  Dix and Laurel fall in love and we see the relationship vitalize Dix.  Notably his screen writing work benefits enormously.  He is happier than he has been in years.  The other track is Capt. Lochner pursuing evidence of Steele’s guilt in the Atkinson murder.  He instructs Nicolai to socialize with Dix and Laurel.  Nicolai and his wife invite them to dinner and go out on the town with the couple.  These get togethers serve to only increase suspicion of Dix.  He really does have a violent and slightly disturbed personality.  And finally, Capt. Lochner calls Laurel in to discuss Steele’s long and troubled history of violence.  This plants the seeds of doubt about Dix deep into her mind.  And it is the catalyst that eventually destroys her trust in him.  When Dix and Laurel are at the Nicolais’ home one night it comes out that Laurel had met with Capt. Lochner without telling Dix.  Dix flies into a rage and storms away and Laurel barely catches up with him before he drives off into the night like a madman.  Driving at seventy miles an hour around winding mountain roads he barely avoids numerous accidents but finally sideswipes a car at an intersection.  The driver angrily insults him for damaging his car and Dix pummels him into unconsciousness on the side of the road.  But when he is about to brain the helpless man with a large rock Laurel screams at him and brings him back to his senses.  They drive off and Dix relates how he’s been in a hundred fights like this.  Laurel asks if that makes it better.  He tries to justify himself based on the verbal taunt the other driver made.  She reminds him that all the guy called him was a “blind knuckle-headed squirrel.”  He becomes slightly contrite and lets her drive them home from there.  The next day after reading of the attack in the newspaper Dix goes to the post office and sends three hundred dollars to his victim in the name of Joe Squirrel.

But now Laurel is so shaken by the knowledge of Steele’s murderous temper that she even doubts whether he is innocent of Mildred’s murder.  She cannot sleep and begins taking sleeping pills.  Sensing that things are slipping away Dix tells Laurel that they are going to get engaged that day and married that night in Las Vegas.  Too afraid to refuse him she agrees but secretly makes plans to run off on a flight to New York City.  She confesses to Steele’s agent Mel that she is leaving him.  Mel tells her it will crush Dix and counsels her to give Dix a consolation victory by allowing Mel to have the script approved by the studio before she leaves him as this will soften the blow to his ego.  This sets up a scene at the “engagement party” at their favorite restaurant where a call comes in from the studio revealing that Mel gave the script to the studio without Dix’s permission.  Dix slaps Mel viciously in the face breaking his glasses.  Dix goes into the bathroom to apologize to Mel but by the time he returns to the table Laurel has fled.

Dix confronts Laurel in her apartment and all his suspicions that she is leaving him are on display.  She has taken off his engagement ring and is hiding her preparations to flee the state.  Finally, a call from the travel agent reveals all and as she tries to placate him Dix grabs Laurel and starts to strangle her.  But before it’s too late he comes to his senses, lets her go and starts walking away.  The phone rings again and it is Nicolai and Lochner calling to apologize to Dix and Laurel.  Mildred Atkinson’s boyfriend has confessed to her murder.  Dix lifelessly passes the phone to a still visibly choked and groggy Laurel who listens to Lochner’s apology with vacant eyes.  She mentions before she hangs up that a day earlier this news would have meant a great deal more.  The movie ends with Laurel watching from her open door as Dix walks dazedly away to his apartment.

This movie comes at an interesting point in the transition from the studio system of the golden age of Hollywood to the aftermath with independent production companies struggling to get movies financed and made.  Bogart’s production company was able to capitalize on the talents of the actors, directors and production people available at that point to give the film the polished Hollywood look but he was stepping way from the safe plot devices and social conventions that wouldn’t have allowed a big star like Bogart to steer so far onto the dark side.  But this is what Bogart was looking for.  Earlier in his career he could be the psychotic gangster but after Casablanca and The Big Sleep he would have to be at least nominally a good guy.  This restriction to his choices was against his interests and so he sought out a film noir like this that gave the audience what they wanted.

And it is very effective.  Gloria Grahame as Laurel is very interesting to watch.  She performs the varying stages of her relationship with Dix in a convincing and entertaining way.  The supporting cast is good.  But it is Bogart who performs the tour de force.  He is given a very good script and he plays it to the hilt.  There are nice little touches throughout the movie that actually endear Dix to the audience.  He really is a very personable madman.  All his friends really do like him even after he beats them up.  Bogart’s work in this film compares very favorably to any of his better known and critically praised roles.  And the ending is wonderfully dissatisfying.  If Bogart had been cleared a day earlier none of his crazed actions would have happened and Laurel never would have doubted his innocence or his sanity.  At the same time we see that Steele is a dangerously violent man with the potential to kill in the heat of the moment.  A very nice dilemma for the audience to digest.

Highly recommended.

A Letter to Three Wives – An OCF Classic Movie Review

IMDb lists this 1949 film as a romance drama.  Today we’d call such a film a “chick flick.”  The director,Joseph Mankiewicz  was also responsible for “All About Eve,” which was another movie that centered around women.  Mankiewicz received Oscars for both of them so it seems this type of movie was his specialty.

The plot revolves around three married couples, the Bishops, the Phipps and the Hollingsways.  They live in a suburb of New York City and the three wives Deborah, Rita and Lora Mae, respectively, all have an uneasy relationship with a fourth woman, Addie Ross who has always been admired by their husbands for her beauty, intelligence and taste.  As the story opens it’s the morning of the first big country club dance in town and the wives are in various stages of annoyance with their husbands.

Deborah is angry at Brad because he’s going on a business trip and doesn’t even know if he’ll return in time for the dance.  In addition, he has selected an evening gown for his wife for the dance that she has discovered is identical to a dress Addie Ross recently wore.  Rita is angry with George because he is dismissive of her job as a radio script writer whereas she resents that he works as a low paying teacher at the high school.  She is also surprised to see him leaving that morning in a suit, something he never does.  And Lora Mae is dismissive of her husband Porter strictly on general grounds.  Their relationship is a continuous stream of digs and jibes by both of them.

The wives are engaged that day as chaperones for the grammar school annual outing at the lake.  But right before the boat leaves the dock a letter arrives for the three women addressed from Addie Ross.  In it she ironically says goodbye to them as her three dearest friends.  She’s leaving town forever but as a memento of her life with them she says that she’s running away with one of their husbands.

The bulk of the movie is the reminiscences of the three women on their history together as wives, friends and rivals for Addie Ross.  Brad and Deborah Bishop are played by Jeffrey Lynn and Jeanne Crain.  Brad is the rich, handsome aristocrat of the story.  Deborah is a farm girl that Brad met in the Navy in WW II.  She has always been intimidated by the more sophisticated background of his friends and their shared experiences as longtime residents of the town.  Honestly, I find these two characters the least interesting of the six.  Kirk Douglas and Ann Sothern are George and Rita Phipps.  They are the intelligent couple.  He’s a school teacher and a wit.  She’s a hard-working career mother trying to push George into a more ambitious and better paying career.  Paul Douglas and Linda Darnell are Porter and Lora Mae Hollingsway.  Based on their way of speaking and information you learn from the story they are both from “the wrong side of the tracks.”  In fact, in a comical scene from her past we see that Lora Mae’s mother’s apartment was practically on top of the elevated train tracks adjoining it.  Porter is a very wealthy retailer with a chain of appliance stores and a mansion.  And when Porter and Lora Mae meet, she is his employee and he is a cynical divorced man on the make.  She is a painfully beautiful young woman to his gruff 35-year-old cynic and she skillfully uses her charms to negotiate a marriage.  And after he can no longer resist her, he grudgingly agrees to marry her but in terms so unflattering and unromantic that their married life is guaranteed to be a vicious cycle of hurt feelings.  Porter and Lora Mae are the most interesting part of the movie.  Paul Douglas’s characterization of Porter as the gruff regular guy and Linda Darnell’s Lora Mae as the wise-cracking shrew are very amusing.  And Linda Darnell is a remarkably beautiful young woman in this film.  A small supporting part in this movie is played by Thelma Ritter as a friend of Lora Mae’s mother and housekeeper to the Phipps.  Ritter is always the most interesting character on screen in any scene she is in and this movie is no exception.

The movie has a surprise ending at the country club dance when we find out that love can be found in unexpected places.

One of the things I find interesting about this movie is the “types” that the various characters represent.  Brad Bishop and apparently Addie Ross are the “to the manor born” aristocrats of the town.  They both have money and refined taste.  George and Rita Phipps are the educated middle class.  They are the product of the egalitarian World War II generation who believe in the virtues of enlightened modernism.  Porter and Lora Mae are from the working class and for both of them buying into refinement of the upper class is one of their highest motivations.  Porter is constantly talking about Addie’s “class” and disparaging Lora Mae for her lack of class.  And when she goes to Porter’s house for the first time Lora Mae tells Porter that she wants to be a lady so she can have a big house with a piano with a photo of her in the silver frame just like Porter has of Addie Ross.  Deborah Bishop is the farm girl who is completely intimidated by Brad and Addie’s sophistication.  Instead of aspiring to become like them she just fatalistically assumes that someday brad will cast her aside for her social superior, Addie.

Although Brad is obviously friendly with the Phipps and not noticeably a snob his character is very sparsely sketched in.  And likewise, Deborah’s inferiority complex makes her a very one-dimensional character.  The Phipps are a more fully drawn pair of characters and their husband/wife dynamic is also more believable and therefore enjoyable.  I especially like how Kirk Douglas describes his low status and not very well-paying job as making him a comic figure and almost unmanly.  George is the modern man, comfortable with his wife as a bread winner.  When she complains that he bought cheaper whiskey because he can’t afford scotch, she hints that she can afford to buy it instead.  To this George replies, “I forget sometimes that I’m merely the titular head of the household.”  But even Rita is insecure of George’s relationship with Addie.  When Rita forgets George’s birthday Addie sends him a present of a rare symphony recording that has a romantic inscription that inspires Rita’s jealousy.

But the most fully drawn characters are Porter and Lora Mae.  He is the self-made man who worked his up to success.  He is proud of his success and desires to be measured by his material possessions and by the “class” that he tries to surround himself with.  Addie Ross is his ideal of an aristocrat who wouldn’t covet his wealth and would add the class that he was born without.  He was formerly married to a gold digger and he assumes because Lora Mae forced him to marry her that she is looking for the same kind of “pay day” where she can divorce him for all she can get.

Lora Mae is a woman born poor but blessed with the gift of great beauty.  She likes Porter but she refuses to enter into an intimate relationship with him without the promise of marriage.  She knows this will torture him but she tells him openly that is her price.  When he finally grudgingly agrees, he tells her that she is making a “good deal” without any illusions of love.  The bitterness this statement elicits from her is the poison that haunts their every married day with each of them sniping at the other about their shortcomings.  Here is an almost Shakespearian scenario where misunderstanding blinds love on both sides.

The movie is quite enjoyable and is an excellent date movie for married couples since the war between men and women is on full display and is resolved very agreeably.  I highly recommend this film.

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 3 – Notorious – A Classic Movie Review

Of all the films made by Alfred Hitchcock, the one that most closely aligns with the feel of Hollywood’s Golden Era is Notorious.  The action of the characters and the look and feel of the scenes adheres to the conventions and formulas of that period’s filmmaking.  And I mean this in a positive sense.  The production values are excellent.  The actors are the finest.  The dialog and plot are very well done.  A good case can be made that this is the best movie made in Hitchcock’s long and successful career as a filmmaker.  The movie takes place in 1946.  World War II had just ended and Nazis were still topical.  Ingrid Bergman’s character, Alicia Huberman, is the daughter of a German spy recently convicted of espionage in the United States.  She is a loyal American and agrees to help the U.S. government in the person of T. R. “Dev” Devlin played in his typically winning way by Cary Grant.  Naturally they fall in love but the problem is the government wants Alicia to become romantically entangled with a German industrialist living in Rio de Janeiro named Alex Sebastian (played by the inimitable Claude Rains in his remarkably idiosyncratic way).  She is supposed to find out what dastardly plots these escaped Nazis are planning.  This of course leads to jealousy and spite in Devlin and pain and anger in Alicia.  When circumstances force her to marry Sebastian to maintain the espionage this further poisons the relationship between our two star crossed lovers (are there any other kind?).  The plot has twists and turns and uranium salts (which got Hitchcock in trouble with the real US Government) but throughout we root for the love story and hiss at the bad guys (in this case Nazis and the US Secret Service).  The remarkable thing in this movie is that although Claude Rains is the evil Nazi you kind of sympathize with his character at certain turns.  He is the unfortunate man in a house with two women, his new wife and his domineering mother.  And he is haunted by the ubiquitous Cary Grant popping up everywhere and presumably a rival for his wife’s affections.  Who wouldn’t want an atom bomb available under those difficult circumstances?

Hitchcock’s cinematic work began well before Hollywood’s Golden Era and in England.  He continued to create popular and original thrillers well into the 1960s, long after the studio system had disappeared.  Thus, Hitchcock is not defined by or limited to the Golden Era sensibilities.  But Notorious without a doubt possesses the “classic” look of that era and definitely deserves its reputation as a masterpiece.  Anyone interested in Hitchcock or the movies of the ‘30s and ‘40s should consider viewing this film.

Now put all that aside.  Notorious is a great story.  Hitchcock provides all kinds of suspense and intrigue.  Everyone on both sides is hiding something from everyone, including themselves.  So much deception even starts to trip up the deceivers and eventually it all starts to crumble.  The ending is a collapse all around and a fitting finale.  I highly recommend this movie and hope you’ll enjoy the performances not only by the three main characters but also from all those bit part Nazis doing their best to be wonderfully evil.