Monthly Archives: November 2015

Unloved Hitchcock 3: THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY (1955)

Hitchcock’s most blatant black comedy is a wonderful exercise in gallows humour, benefitting from charming photography and a beguiling cast. Edmund Gwenn – a frequent collaborator in Hitchcock’s earlier works and great as Rowley in 1940’s FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT – gives the most memorable performance in one of his last roles. Always carrying a shovel or his pop-gun ‘old faithful’, Gwenn’s knowing wink and waddling pot-belly gently enthrall every scene he’s in. A gorgeously youthful Shirley MacLaine, boy-next-door John Forsythe and character actor Royal Dano add colour to an ensemble cast who pitch the whole charade effortlessly. 

 THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY runs like a stage play really – as do ROPE (1948) and LIFEBOAT (1944) – and superbly book-ended by very similar opening and closing scenes involving a young boy discovering the body.  The film is perfectly paced and shot by Hitchcock who gorges in the subject matter of what to do with an inconvenient dead body on a sunny autumn afternoon. This is really Hitchcock at his most mischievous with a plot that seems tailor-made for him.  The script is playful, witty and dripping in double entendre but you can see why 50s audiences may not have fully appreciated Hitchcock’s macabre joke of a picture.

This film has one of my favourite scores of any Hitchcock movie and its cheeriness and warmth wrap around the darkly comic plot like a well-fitting glove. It’s the sort of music you’d skip along the road to. It’s not only the score which stands out relative to the director’s other movies, it’s also the inspired technicolour. 

Still, there are faults. The film never quite matches the opening fifteen minutes and the sub-plot about John Forsythe’s struggling artist is something of a distraction.  Unavoidably, much of it now seems tame as today’s viewers are more accustomed to the treatment of death and murder as cinematic comedy. 

The light entertainment on display is not as sophisticated as Hitchcock’s straighter thrillers and for sure, this isn’t an all-time classic. But to be fair to the movie, it’s one of the most amusing films I have ever seen. You’ll chuckle. a lot. 

hotdog rating: 8/10

Unloved Hitchcock 2: MARNIE (1964)

MARNIE is probably one of Hitchcock’s most divisive films. For some, this is the great director’s last masterpiece whereas for others it sadly shows that Hitchcock was losing his touch near the end of an iconic career. 

The main problem with MARNIE – and it was a issue which had dragged down other films in Hitchcock’s catalogue – is the coldness of it all. Tippi Hedren in the title role is wooden and with Connery intent on possessing Marnie he’s consequently the real villian of the movie. That means we are left with absolutey no-one to care about.  It’s the same kind of feeling I experience when watching VERTGIGO (1958).  But unlike that movie, here the script is  weak and there are pieces of almost incredulous dialogue. Whilst it pains me to say so, Hitchcock’s use of red filters and dizzying zoom shots comes across to modern audiences as a tad amateurish.

Bernard Hermann’s score would be his last for Hitchcock (at least the last Hitchcock would actually use) and whilst it’s solid, there is nothing new or innovative about it. You could well make a case that Hermann’s score is over-dramatic and ill-fitting to the subject matter too. Lastly and this aspect of the film really does frustrate me,  in term of pacing, MARNIE is miraculously slow. There’s nothing to come close to the drive of Hitchcock’s earlier “man-on-the-run” thrillers and because Marnie’s character is so coolily detached, the “MacGuffin” around her motives barely registers significant interest.

Despite the evident weaknesses there are, as always with Hitchcock, elements to cherish. This director never made a boring film. The expressionist production design is gorgeous and harks back to Hitchcock’s time in German cinema of the 20s. Further, there are three sequences which sit amongst the director’s best. The first uses a natural split-screen shot to build suspense: at the end of a busy day, Marnie breaks into a safe on the right-hand side of the frame whilst a cleaner slowly edges closer to Marnie and the safe from the left-hand side (NB: for fanboys like me, the cleaner is the maid from the fantastic ROPE (1948)). The second is when Marnie’s former employer (played by an under-used Martin Gabel) appears at a party hosted by Marnie and her new husband, and instantly recognises her as the identity-switching thief that she is. The third is the elegant opening shot of Marnie walking alone along a train platform.

Unfortunately, MARNIE is afflicted by an unhealthy  desire to make Hedren a movie star and she just wasn’t (note the frequent use – or perhaps the correct word is ‘abuse’ – of close-ups of Hedren’s face, body and hair).  It’s something the film never quite gets over. When you add that to a distinct lack of likeable characters, it’s an aesthetically interesting but hollow movie. 
hotdog rating: 5/10