Niece Leslie Sodaro: "Here's a stunning shot of my Aunt Shirley from 1944!"

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Gerry Orlando, coordinator of Cinefest (Syracuse, NY): "...That cover photo is the most beautiful picture of Shirley Booth I've ever seen! I did a MASSIVE double-take to make sure that it was her! WOW!"

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Shirley Booth Was Born In AUGUST!

ANNIVERSARIES THIS MONTH:

August 3, 1926: Singer Tony Bennett was born on this day.  He has many tunes that he can call his own, but his signature tune "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" is one of his best.  That song was actually composed in New York's Brooklyn Heights in 1953 by a piano player named George Cory (music) and lyricist Douglass Cross.  Tony first recorded it in 1962 as the B-side of "Once Upon a Time."  Another of my favorites is his unforgettable rendition of "Who Can I Turn To?"
 
August 1943: Shirley Booth was divorced from her first husband, Ed Gardner. Ed fell in love with Simone Hegeman, and he shockingly asked for the divorce one day while Shirley was in her Broadway stage dressing room.

August 1953: Shirley and her entire theatrical company would perform The Time of the Cuckoo at the Central City Opera House in Colorado.

August 1955: Shirley Booth began rehearsals for The Desk Set. This show has the distinction of now being the only show where some of those appearing are still alive today, including Doris Roberts, Joyce Van Patten, Elizabeth Wilson.

August 3rd, 1995: Film actress/director Ida Lupino's died on this day (born February 4, 1918).

August 4, 1901: Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong was born on this day (died July 6, 1971).  See my post on one of his later songs: http://shirleyboothstory.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-bright-blessed-day-dark-sacred-night.html
 
August 6, 1908: Actor Dick Purcell was born on this day. Purcell's last contribution was the 15-chapter 1944 serial of Captain America. It featured Lionel Atwill and Lorna Gray. Tragically the physically-demanding part somehow factored in his untimely demise. He had a heart attack and died shortly thereafter on April 10, 1944 at the youthful age of 35. I find it still interesting to watch this serial no matter how much it differed from the comic strip!  It really was based on a strip called "District Attorney," not "Captain America."

August 6, 1936: Shirley Booth is heard on The Royal Gelatin Hour (aka The Rudy Vallee Show). This is believed to be one of her earliest known radio appearances.

August 6, 1911: Lucille Ball, our favorite redhead, was born one hundred and two years ago today. She died April 26, 1989.

August 7, 1928: Comic Betty Walker, best known for her hilarious "Hello, Ceil" routine, was born on this day (died July 26, 1982). 
August 7, 1945: Shirley Booth starred in a radio adaptation of her stage hit My Sister Eileen on the Theater of Romance show. Judy Holliday co-starred.

August 10, 1953: Shirley Booth appeared smiling on the front cover of Time magazine. 

August 10, 1902: Screenwriter Curt Siodmak was born on this day.  He died on September 2, 2000.

August 13, 1958:  This is the date that Shirley Booth labeled in one of her scrapbooks as the opening date of The Matchmaker.

August 13, 1899: Film director Alfred Hitchcock was born on this day (died April 29, 1980).

August 13-19, 1972: Shirley Booth appeared in summer stock in Philadelphia for  Dody Goodman's show Mourning in a Funny Hat. It was offered also at a theatre in Mountainhome, PA.

August 14, 1944:  Shirley Booth starred in one my all-time favorites of her radio appearances: an episode of Cavalcade of America, produced by DuPont, entitled "The Gals They Left Behind." Shirley also appeared in three other episodes of that acclaimed series - all are available online.

August 15, 1999: Huntz Hall (Henry Richard Hall), best known for his roles in several comedy series (Dead End Kids, Little Tough Guys, East Side Kids, and Bowery Boys), was born on this day. He died on January 30, 1999.  Along with a few other film comedy geniuses (like Charlie Chaplin, Harry Langdon, and Lou Costello), Huntz Hall has always been one of my favorites. I grew up enjoying the reruns of his films on local television channels in the 1970's. Unfortunately, Huntz Hall's unique comedy has always been under-appreciated.
August 19, 1976: Scottish actor Alastair Sim died on this day (born October 9, 1900). 

August 22, 1993: A special tribute to Shirley was held at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts the year after her death (she died October 16, 1992). Elizabeth Wilson, Patricia Neal, (the late) Julie Harris and Burt Lancaster were there to honor her. A screening of Come Back, Little Sheba was part of the evening.

August 25, 1912: Hazel's cartoonist, Ted Key, the cartoonist and creator of "Hazel" was born on this date.  Unfortunately,  he died on May 3, 2008  just days before my biography on  Shirley Booth was published.  Ted offered important assistance including the Foreword and precious comments on Hazel.

August 25, 1913: One hundred years ago today, Don DeFore, the actor who played Mr. Baxter on the Hazel television show, was born (he died in 1993). Interestingly, Don was born exactly a year after Ted Key was born.

August 25, 1950: Ron DeFore (Don DeFore's son) was born. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, RON.   Again, I thank him for the wonderful interview he gave about his Dad. 

August 28, 1949: Shirley Booth appeared as her self on the radio in
Celebrity Time.


August 30, 1898: One hundred and fifteen years ago, Shirley Booth was born as Marjory Ford in the Morningside Heights section of upper Manhattan in New York City.

August 31, 1984: The New York Times did a piece on Shirley Booth saying she celebrated her 87th birthday. It was actually her 86th birthday. They noted that she suffered a poison ivy rash due to gardening. It said: "She looked like a leper." However, the article added: "her spotty appearance had not affected her spirits or her future digging and weeding plans."

***** 

Getting Ready for Christmas?


I know it's only August.  But that unstoppable yearly celebration we call Christmas is getting closer - whether you like it or not. If there's anything I can say which is not critical of the nauseating commercialism and phoniness associated with that season, then it would be to remind you of that most appropriate line near the end of the animated classic Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas: "Christmas doesn't come from a store. Perhaps Christmas means a little bit more!"

One of my favorite moments is in the 1951 film Scrooge (originally released in the UK as A Christmas Carol), which starred Alastair Sim.  It has  has a touching and tender moment when repentant Scrooge visits his nephew. He asks his nephew's wife: "Can you forgive the pig-headed old fool for having no eyes to see with nor ears to hear with all these years?"

I loved WCBS-TV Channel 2 repeatedly broadcasting Scrooge back in the 1970's.  This phenomenal British production produced and directed by Brian Desmond Hurst (February 12, 1895 – September 26, 1986), starred Sim. It has to be one of the best portrayals ever made on film. Sim brings us such a moving portrayal of Scrooge. He is absolutely brilliant in that role. You can study this actor's complex rendering, as well as the movie, from multiple perspectives and always see more layers and levels of brilliance.

Of course, the well-written dialogue of Scrooge, the superb visuals, the talents of the entire cast, and the music by Richard Addinsell, make the whole production too good to watch just at Christmas.  It even serves as a good ghost story for Halloween! Again, it's definitely one film deserving to be part of your collection.

WCBS-TV Channel 2 would run this film over and over again starting around midnite - it would be on 3 times in a row.  The song "The Syncopated Clock" written by Leroy Anderson would play as the opening music for The Late Late Show and the graphics would show lights going on in an apartment building.  No matter what you were doing or wherever you were on Christmas Eve/morning, this film with the great Alastair Sim would be on TV.

*****


Ida Lupino's Death:

One of my favorite films that Lupino directed is the delightful and very funny The Trouble With Angels (1966). 

Blanche Hanalis (famed for developing the TV series Little House on the Prairie) provided a superbly witty screenplay for this film under the fitting direction of Lupino. The story material in that particular film allowed Lupino to inject a favorable women's point of view. The men are highly insignificant and given a somewhat limited influence as far as the narrative goes - they are credited as "the Outsiders" in the story.

Although the film is quite episodic, it still manages to be a worthwhile effort.  One of the many memorable moments is when Rosalind Russell's almost perfect delivery as Reverend Mother is encouraging one of the nuns to take the teen girls shopping.  The following exchange occurs: 

Petrified nun: "But Reverend Mother, I, I don't know anything about....binders."

Reverend Mother corrects her: "Brassieres, Sister, brassieres."

As to Ida Lupino,  I give her much credit for even pursuing a career as a director in a very sexist Hollywood from the 1940's to 1960's. Back then, the industry (including critics) would find any and every reason to degrade a "woman director." Lupino suffered the secondary status accorded her as a result of working in a male-dominated industry. In just trying to be a good competent director, I think she did make some progress and inroads for women. Thanks to Lupino for making The Trouble With Angels an amusing film for a rainy afternoon.

*****

Look to the Lilies:


Talking about nuns...Shirley Booth played one on Broadway in 1970...I would have loved to see it!

It was her final Broadway musical, Look to the Lilies. Shirley had been absent from Broadway for ten years ever since the May 7, 1960 closing of A Second String

Look to the Lilies tells the story of Homer Smith, a black handyman (Al Freeman, Jr.) who gets caught up with a group of German nuns. They tell him that God wants him to build them a chapel in New Mexico. Shirley played the Mother Superior Maria. 

Al Freeman, Jr. died last year on August 9, 1912 (born March 21, 1934).

Clive Barnes observed: "Miss Booth, with her German accent you can strain sauerkraut through, is a delight as the totalitarian Mother Superior who is determined that God's way is her way and that He shall have it." Booth and Freeman both offered "two very polished and enjoyable performances."

Nevertheless, Look to the Lilies closed after only 25 performances on April 18, 1970. The show had several faults, particularly the static story, poor staging, shortage of suspense, and the "deplorable frowsy settings," according to Barnes.

*****

SHIRLEY BOOTH WAS BORN THIS MONTH IN 1898

As published in my biography of Shirley Booth, the birth certificate reads: Marjory Ford, born to Albert James Ford, age 26, and the former Virginia Wright, age 23, at 305 West 118th Street, New York City (Morningside Heights section of upper Manhattan).

She was baptized at Trinity Church in Manhattan. This is an Episcopal Christian Church.

*****

In memory of Shirley Booth we offer this posthumous letter....


Dear Shirley:

Again on your birthday we remember your talent, persistence, and a life well-lived. We offer you much appreciation for your many years of stage, screen, radio and television work. Thank you for making so many people experience something quite special when seeing your movies and TV shows, as well as hearing your radio programs! 

Our hope has always been that your story, as we've chronicled it in "Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story," will continue to inspire and entertain everyone who reads it!

Your dear niece Leslie was kind enough to share first with us (and now the rest of the world) forty photographs that were never published before. We published half of them them in my second book, For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story,published in 2010. 

It is our wish that both books will continue the wonderful energy that you shared with everyone!

Love,

Jim & Donna Manago

*****

From Shirley Booth Scrapbooks:

Shirley Booth's scrapbooks offered some interesting materials, including letters and photos that she cherished. I tried to work as much of the material into the biography. Some remaining material I've chosen to publish in this blog.

I found two songs written about her that were sent to her by the composers. One was entitled "To Shirley With Love" to a beguine tempo by Hilda Emery Davis. Hilda's husband was bandleader Meyer Davis (known as the "millionaire maestro"). The song's handwritten lyrics offers an inscription in the upper left corner "OPWC, Bill Hawkins, To Shirley Booth."

"TO SHIRLEY WITH LOVE"


"You're the Love of Broadway - A Real-life Val-en-tine - You're the toast of old Broadway In Our Hearts- You're En-shrined - You have our sin-cere ad-mir--ation - You're tal-en-ted beau-coup - But the ve-ry ni-cest thing a-bout you Shirley Booth - Shirley Booth - You're You -

*****


Another song entitled "Shirley" has words and music by Harry Volpe and Tommy Tortorelli, copyright 1953...Would love to print them here but I need permission to do so.

*****

Three Years Ago In This Blog:

Thanks to a reader for this response offered to me on August 19, 2010...

DCOLP has left a new comment on your post "Vote On Your Favorite HAZEL Episodes From Season ...":

Hi Jim. I just found this site today, and it is very impressive. Thank you for all this great information. I watched the episode "Dorothy's Birthday" last night, and while I was watching it I kept thinking that something didn't seem quite right! First of all, Ms. Booth's hair was not styled as nicely as it usually was. Then I started noticing that the set seemed different. I didn't recall the entryway floor being a checkerboard tile, and then I didn't recall so many bookshelves in the living room, and the living room furniture was arranged differently, and the kitchen just seemed very different. I also noticed that the door to the kitchen from the dining room was dark wood. There were many other differences I noticed. Ms. Blake's hair also seemed styled a bit differently than it usually was during the first season. I decided to take a quick look at the previous episode, "Hazel and the Gardener," and it verified what I was thinking. I then quickly looked at "Hazel and the Playground," which had the set we know. I always thought that "Hazel and the Playground" was the pilot, but it must have been "Dorothy's Birthday." Do you have more insight into this? By the way, I always thought the short bit before the credits in the "Hazel and the Playground" episode was one of the most succinct and brilliant introductions to a television character I have ever seen. It totally summed up Hazel's personality and what the viewers could expect.

*****

 Lucille Ball Born:


There's just so much I can say about Lucille Ball's immense contribution to our generation, but simply put: if I can have only one DVD collection for a desert island, it would be "I Love Lucy." Yes, I cannot see myself ever getting tired of watching that show!

Every year I have the enormous pleasure of re-watching every single episode again. And yes, I just love Lucy again and again! 

I tried to make a list of my favorite episodes - and quickly found it a quite impossible task...Just looking over the episode list gives me unforgettable moments from almost every single episode. I offer you a list of a few of my many favorites that come to mind at this moment: "The Operetta," "The Freezer," "Lucy's Schedule," "Lucy Is Enciente," "Lucy Becomes a Sculptress," "The Million Dollar Idea," "Home Movies," "The Diner," "Lucy Gets Into Pictures," "Dancing Star," "Ricky's European Booking," "Harpo Marx," "Lucy's Italian Movie," "Lucy Raises Chickens," "Building A Bar-B-Q, "Lucy Raises Tulips," and so on.

In "Lucy Is Enciente," Desi Arnaz as Ricky sings the moving "We're Having A Baby." That scene is packed with so much love and emotion evident between them that it is among my top ten favorite scenes of all time (selected from the thousands of all films and television shows I have ever seen)! It's so remarkable in its magical energy - it's the type of moment in that show which makes "I Love Lucy" stand supreme among the many repetitive and dull television productions since then. 

Nowadays situations in Lucille Ball's shows ("I Love Lucy," "The Lucy Show," and "Here's Lucy") may seem so dated at times - and yes I would not wish to go back to what may seem nostalgically like "those good old 1950's." But compared to some of the other best shows of that era (such as "Leave it to Beaver," or "Father Knows Best"), I know that "I Love Lucy" stands out at the top! I'm surprised someone recently stated that Lucy did not impress him and that "Father Knows Best" was a better show than "I Love Lucy." That's an absurd remark that I cannot fathom at all! Unlike June Cleaver and Margaret Anderson, Lucy was not content to be your typical boring housewife. Lucy was her own person looking for her five minutes of fame! 

On the contrary, like Charlie Chaplin, Lucille Ball's contribution to our lives is immense in terms of making us laugh - and so many of my memories (and I'm sure yours) are connected to that brilliant show and to the genius of Lucy, Desi, and the show's writers (Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll, Jr.)!

"I Love Lucy" remains the best television show of the 1950's - it remains light years ahead of most of that decade's shows! Furthermore, the shining talents and perseverance of Lucille Ball and company undoubtedly gave us the best television show of all time! THANK YOU LUCY! 

*****

"The Gals They Left Behind"

Shirley Booth was heard on a radio show based upon the  book "The Gals They Left Behind."  The publisher was Ives Washburn, Inc. The story has apparently not been renewed for copyright protection so it appears up on The Internet Archive for free viewing or download.  

The original story is by Margaret Shea with illustrations by Bek Files, and it runs around 130 pages. The entire book is written in a diary fashion and makes for an easy read. The book was released at the same time as the radio show production in August of 1944. The two main characters express their day-to-day experiences in letters to their men fighting overseas in World War II. It's a quite intriguing little gem of a play, which I recommend reading.

The story tells of the struggles of two soldiers' wives, Jo Sullivan and Taffy Smith, who move from New York City to a Maine farmhouse inherited from Aunt Het. Along with the young Daphne (named Eloise in the radio version), these two lonely women learn how to cope with raising chickens, how to milk a cow, grow vegetables, among the myriad of skills that farm life entails.

The radio show developed from this story reworks the material and uses the information conveyed in the letters to tell the narrative and occasionally relies on the story's letter device ("Dear Bill").

In the radio production, Shirley Booth plays Jo Sullivan, and co-star Helen Clare plays Taffy Smith. Shirley's Jo tellingly says how she's quite lonely for her husband Corporal Bill. So too, Taffy is hysterically missing her Hank. If you listen to this radio adaptation (which is unfortunately a small portion of the story), then you will hear Shirley Booth's fine performance in conveying this character. I read the book and I can say that Shirley literally brings Jo Sullivan to life. She beautifully conveys the heart-felt tears of character Jo by the timbre and crack of her voice at the conclusion of the radio show. The wonderful sincerity and conviction is revealed throughout by Shirley's distinct voice in this radio production.

The story is simply about the Home Front during World War II. As the radio announcer summarized the story about two soldiers' wives: "It might well be called an army of occupation. They are truly occupied..with waiting, working, praying for their sons and husbands."

The calm and efficient New Englander Jo Sullivan seems to always be the stronger one in this harsh setting. Jo (Booth) seems to lean more towards masculine gender expression in her ability and desire to do the tedious tasks of the farm and stand firm like a man. Finicky and fussy Taffy Smith is from the South and is clearly more expressing a feminine gender and stereotypically prone to emotional breakdowns.

When the Jo and Taffy spend their first night in the lumpy mattress, there's a precious moment in which a genuine attempt at some sort of closeness or bonding occurs. Taffy (played well by Helen Clare) says quite sweetly and child-like in her loneliness: "Jo....Jo, would you....would you mind if we held hands, I know it sounds childish?"


Apparently the women read books on the subject before arriving. They take on the task of watching several children besides caring for the animals. But the local farmer calls some of their successes just "plain luck."


The harsh 30 and 40-degree below zero cold takes it's toll on them, particularly on Taffy. There's the cows staying in the parlor, hens under Taffy's bed, frozen well-water, etc. On the verge of a complete breakdown Taffy at one point wants to leave this rugged farm world and head back to Atlanta, Georgia...The gals' luck in seeing this thing through has run out.... 

Taffy says she's very sick of this. Jo calls it a "bad case of cracked morale..But it's not a fatal disease..."

"You like to see people miserable," says Taffy. 

Jo's January 16th letter to Bill explains her understanding of the complaining, scared, and stressed-out Taffy:

The world is full of Taffys, the ones who won't pay the asking price, the ones who want a band playing while they work. The novelty is gone from kerosene lamps. The novelty of playing the heroine has departed. Let her go. To the magnolia blossoms and her mother's bosom. A new world toughened by hardship and sorrow is coming up that will have no place for hothouse plants like her.

I'm all alone now. The kids are asleep. The hens too. Glum has the cow and calf, but I'll get them back when it warms up. Outside may be treacherous or friendly by morning. I don't care, for I'm here to stay.

Yours, fairly forlorn,

Jo

Though the book covers a year on the farm starting and ending in April, the radio show wraps things up at this point (from the January 16th letter) with plans of painting the farmhouse in the spring...

"The Gals They Left Behind" is truly a fine salute to those lonely women who manage to survive their men's absence during the truly horrible wartime of 1944. It captures the essence of their troubled existence quite well! 

My only regret is that Shirley Booth did not perform the entire story, but did just this truncated version of 30 minutes length on radio. Nevertheless. "The Gals They Left Behind" certainly deserves a listen by all those who love Shirley Booth.  For Shirley Booth at her radio best, go to the Internet Archive at http://www.archive.org/. Search under Cavalcade of America. It's the first file in which that particular episode is found. It's the show dated 08/14/44, episode #396.


Shirley Booth made a total of four appearances on The Cavalcade of America radio show. There's "Check Your Heart at Home," broadcast on December 13, 1943, "The Woman on Lime Rock," broadcast on January 6, 1947 (with Les Tremayne), and "The Man Who Took the Freedom Train," from April 1 2, 1948 (with Eddie Albert).
*****

Curt Siodmak Born:
 
Siodmak is responsible for writing that genuine classic, Donovan's Brain, which was filmed several times. I particularly like the 1953 production starring Lew Ayres, Nancy Davis and Gene Evans.  If you ever get to see it, take notice of how often Lew loves calling on the name of his assistant, "Frank" (Evans).

Among my favorites in the Universal Horror series from the 1930's and 1940's is The Wolfman!  This is Siodmak's original story too - and what a story...

That 1941 film offers some chills and thrills that I look forward to savoring late at nite!

I won't offer any spoilers here - just in case you decide to watch it. But I will say that this classic is about the curse of the werewolf drawn from legends as developed by Siodmak. Although it may only run 70 minutes, it packs some really great moments including some superb acting by a number of players including Lon Chaney Jr. (1906-1973) offering much angst as Larry Talbot/the Wolfman, Claude Rains (1889-1967) as Sir John Talbot (Larry's father), Maria Ouspenskaya (1876-1949) as the Gypsy fortuneteller Maleva, and Bela Lugosi (1882-1956) as her son named Bela. The latter makes most of this character part and imparts a realism to the entire story. Evelyn Ankers (1918-1985), Ralph Bellamy (1904-1991), Patric Knowles (1911-1995), and Warren William round out this good cast.

As I said with the 1961 film The City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel) I must credit other individuals, besides the screenwriter Siodmak, including the cinematographer Joseph Valentine, film editor Ted Kent, and some evocative music composed by the uncredited Frank Skinner and Hans J. Salter. The credited musical director Charles Previn also contributed by composing the most memorable "Wolf Bane Theme." The story is produced and directed by George Waggner (1894-1984).
 
The camerawork and special effects used to create the transformation from man to werewolf are quite good. In short, they still manage to give me the chills!

The Wolfman is a great film - though it is a quite sad story. It has withstood the test of time some seventy-two years now, and I highly recommend it!


*****

Jimmy Sangster:


I am repeating this blog I offered when screenwriter/director Jimmy Sangster died two years ago at the age of 83 (December 2, 1927 – August 19, 2011):


His name may not be a household name, but Jimmy Sangster gave us some worthwhile film memories. Although he may not be a person whose work most people would be familiar with, he became best known as an important talent responsible for some exceptional Gothic horror film classics by Hammer Film Productions from the 1950's to the 1970's.


Sangster did not start out as, or aspire to be a screenwriter or director. However, he did begin work as a film production assistant. After several other positions, including assistant director, Sangster was given the opportunity to write The Curse of Frankenstein. He voiced his doubts, saying, “I’m not a writer. I’m a production manager.”

Well from that start, he proved to have and/or develop enough screenwriting ability to turn out some better-than-average films. Later, he even directed. His personal favorite films were not the blood-soaked films, but rather the psychological thrillers. The latter are my favorites as well.


I am particularly fond of his scripting of that Bette Davis 1968 classic, The Nanny. I also still enjoy that odd B-movie The Crawling Eye (1959). The latter is a more intelligent film than your run-of-the-mill monster film of the 1950’s. That is thanks largely to Sangster’s writing, including the incorporation of a subplot involving the extra-sensory perception by a young woman of the aliens that inhabit the clouds near high mountain peaks. This aspect, along with some competent acting by Janet Munro, Forrest Tucker, and Warren Mitchell, saved the film from some the average and limited special effects.


The Crawling Eye was originally released in England as The Trollenberg Terror. At times, I sense that audiences today would laugh at the whole concept of aliens that are crawling eyes. Nevertheless, taken in the context of the 1950's paranoia, I find the serious tone of the whole film throughout makes the story quite compelling and believable.


One thing I agree with Sangster is how essential a good solid script is to a film. Sangster: “The important thing about a script is to tell the story. There are three acts: one, two, three. You set it all up in the first act, you mix it all up in the second act, and then you finish. And you tell the story . . . The most important thing about a script is the construction. If you’ve got the right construction, it’s difficult to mess up. If you’ve got the wrong construction, it doesn’t matter what you do, you can’t do anything to remedy it.”

I just wish writers were given their due - especially when the directors and actors hog all the credit for making a film successful. It was true during the halcyon Hollywood studio days - and it is still true today: writers are treated as if they are a dime a dozen. Yet without good writing (based on three acts) nothing could save a production or make it a success. Thanks Jimmy Sangster for reminding us of that truth - I will always appreciate your efforts at making entertaining films! Rest in peace!


***** 
 
Alfred Hitchcock Born:

Get ready...get set...as I offer a lengthy tribute to Alfred Hitchcock (his birthday is on  August 13) by reprinting below just some of the many articles I've written on him...

Here's a series of articles (six columns) I did on his movies released on video from 1985. My column reached an audited circulation of 100,000 readers of The Queens Chronicle throughout the borough of Queens, New York.

You will notice that I did not get to mention some of Hitchcock's greatest works, like Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds, & Marnie. This is because I was told by the managing editor after the fifth week of my column to wrap things up as far as Hitchcock films. My enthusiasm and passionate study of this one director would need another place to be expressed....

*****

Thursday, May 16, 1985

THE VIDEO VOICE

By Jim Manago

Alfred Hitchcock on Video - Part One:
One of the pleasures of owning a VCR is that you can select some of the best films ever made for viewing in your own home at your convenience. Alfred Hitchcock, commonly known as The Master of Suspense, is one filmmaker whose films are widely available on videotape. And some of his films are the best ever made. This week I begin a several part series of columns on Hitchcock.

Alfred Hitchcock not only amused and entertained the mass audience, but also gained the praise of film critics and scholars worldwide. Serious study of his films clearly shows that he was a visual genius. His flair for formulating brilliant visuals to cinematically develop a story is still unsurpassed.

The story of each film was not as important to Hitchcock as how the story was visualized. Reliance on the spoken word was a definite no-no for Hitchcock. Cinema was primarily a visual experience; utilizing the spoken word too much was inappropriate to cinema and more appropriate to the theatrical experience. In short, Hitchcock knew the strengths of film to be pictorial, and he mastered the skill of creating ingenious visuals early in his career.
Next week I examine several Hitchcock masterpieces.

*****

Thursday, May 23, 1985

THE VIDEO VOICE
by Jim Manago

Alfred Hitchcock on Video – Part Two

Alfred Hitchcock was not only a supreme craftsman in his knowledge and practice of filmmaking, but he was a true artist. And like all artists, he shared his personal, subjective perception of the world in his work. Hitchcock’s fears and anxieties became ours through his films.

The themes, conflicts, and viewpoints of Hitchcock’s best films have not dated one bit. For instance, Hitchcock repeatedly emphasized that appearances belie reality; things and people are not what they seem to be on the surface. Underneath even the seemingly respectable, good characters in Hitchcock’s films lurk dark, evil facets and improprieties.

Hitchcock’s apprenticeship and early efforts in filmmaking began during the silent film era. As a result, he learned the value and necessity of visualizing a story. This he would always fall back upon in his sound films. That is, Hitchcock would minimize the use of talking to such a degree that all pertinent information possibly conveyed visually was conveyed visually. In effect, he created many memorable visual sequences throughout his films in lieu of using dialogue, unlike most filmmakers, to get the same point or action across.

The genius of Alfred Hitchcock is proved by the fact that he would literally plan each and every shot of film beforehand (on paper), noting camera angles and positions. The creative part of filmmaking ended before filming began. Hitchcock’s absolute control of every frame of all of his films meant nothing in them is gratuitous or haphazardly put there.

It’s impossible for anyone to do justice to Hitchcock and his films in the limited space of this column. Therefore, accept my remarks as merely a thumbnail sketch of Hitchcock films on video.


Hitchcock’s prolific career is usually divided into two periods: his films made in Great Britain (1925-1939), and his films made in America 1940-1976).

Hitchcock’s British Period (1925-1939):

Of the fifty-three films directed by Hitchcock, twenty-three were made during his stay in Great Britain. At least twelve of these films are now available on video. They are:

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1926). Of the nine films directed by Hitchcock during the silent era, this is probably the best. In this first major film for Hitchcock, a strangler is loose in London. A lodger is mistakenly suspected.

Blackmail (1929), Hitchcock (and Great Britain’s) first sound film, and Murder! (1930), an uncharacteristic whodunit, are exciting entries in the early sound ‘British Hitchcock’. Nevertheless, despite some compelling Hitchcock ambiguity and outstanding visual/aural touches, these two films lack the refinement of his most commercial and artistic successes while in Britain; those made after 1934.

The Skin Game (1931) contains scenes with the director’s unmistakable signature, but they are few – certainly not enough to redeem this dated stage play.

The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935). In this quintessential Hitchcock chase film, an innocent man (Robert Donat) is mistakenly implicated in an espionage murder. In order to clear himself, he must search out the real killer while evading the law and the spies.

Hitchcock, using this plot, manages to make a non-stop amusing and suspenseful classic. This is a major triumph for Hitchcock, and it is constantly satisfying audiences for its visual and dramatic economy, rapid pacing, and swift transactions from one scene to the next.

Secret Agent (1936) is a World War 1 espionage tale in which a German agent must be located in order to assure British success in the war. But the wrong man is killed, and the agent turns out to be someone they would never suspect. It stars Madeline Carroll, John Gielgud, Peter Lorre, and Robert Young. Hitchcock, in planning this picture, asked himself: “What do they have in Switzerland?” He answered: “They have milk chocolate, they have the Alps, they have village dances, and they have lakes. All of these national ingredients were woven into the picture.”

Hitchcock’s keen sense of choosing the most interesting and incongruous setting for his taut melodramas never waned in the fifty years of his career.

Next week I complete my coverage of Hitchcock’s British Period (as available on video) and begin an examination of his early years in Hollywood.

*****

Thursday, May 30, 1985

THE VIDEO VOICE
By Jim Manago

Alfred Hitchcock on Video – Part 3

Last week I briefly examined six of the twelve British Hitchcock films available on video. In Great Britain, Hitchcock directed twenty-three films from 1925 to 1939. Six additional films available on video from this period are: Easy Virtue (1927) Number Seventeen (1931), The Man Who Knew to Much (1934), Sabotage (1936), Young and Innocent (1937), and The Lady Vanishes (1938).

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), starring Leslie Banks, Edna Best, and Peter Lorre, tells of a tourist couple caught up in spy intrigue during a Switzerland vacation. They learn of a planned assassination of an ambassador. The problem is they can’t reveal their knowledge for their kidnapped daughter will be killed. Hitchcock created enormous suspense as we wait the planned moment during a concert at Albert Hall.

Young and Innocent (1937). A young man is wrongly accused of a crime. He clears himself with the aid of a girl and an odd clue: the murderer has a nervous eye twitch. Hitchcock created a marvelous long shot (an uninterrupted camera movement) to reveal the murderer in a huge ballroom.

The Lady Vanishes (1938) is a thoroughly enjoyable Hitchcock film. It begins as many of his films do: light and semi-comedic in mood. But quickly something goes wrong. Here a lady (Dame May Whitty) disappears on a moving on a train without a trace. All the passengers deny her existence. However, one girl (Margaret Lockwood) conversed with her before falling asleep. She attempts to locate the lady, as well as gain the support of fellow travelers. Co-stars Michael Redgrave.

Hitchcock would go on to make one more film before coming to America in 1939 at the request of David O’Selznick (Producer of Gone with the Wind, among other classics).

Certainly there is much enjoyment to be found in those British Hitchcock films available on video. But, of course, some viewers and critics are more enthused by Hitchcock’s American films. There is no doubt that differences abound when one compares British and American Hitchcock films. I have come to enjoy both groups of Hitchcock Films.

Nevertheless, British Hitchcock films, like all British films, are generally characterized as more sluggish than American films. Alfred Hitchcock, himself, in an article discussing filmmaking said the reason why British films lack the brisk pace associated with the American film is “largely idiomatic.” Hitchcock explained: “The American mode of life is much faster than ours, and by instinct we are bound to be a little more labored or casual than Americans.”

Hitchcock’s American Period (1940-1976)

Of the thirty films Hitchcock directed from 1940 until his passing, twenty-four are now available on video. Three additional titles are planned for release by 1986. This would leave only three titles to complete the Hitchcock video library of his American films.

Hitchcock’s first film in America was Rebecca (1940). Though it’s Hitchcock’s least typical film, for many reasons, it was the only Hitchcock film to win an Oscar. That’s enough to tell you how unfair such awards are. If any director deserved to win as Oscar at least four or five times, then it had to be Alfred Hitchcock.

Rebecca was clearly a compromise for Alfred Hitchcock. He would have liked to make changes in the original story in order to fit his characteristic vision and irony. But Selznick, being one of those producers respecting the original work from which a film is based, refused. To begin with, Hitchcock would not make a film with a strong Gothic mood willingly. And Rebecca is one of those pictures with the typical American misleading view of British life. So, Hitchcock, being born and bred in Great Britain, could smell the falsities a mile away.

Nevertheless, Hitchcock made Rebecca. Joan Fontaine became famous as the shy, introverted wife of the Manderley mansion’s proprietor. His previous wife, Rebecca, mysteriously died. The mystery haunts the mansion thanks, in part, to the housekeeper (Judith Anderson). Though Rebecca is not the typical Hitchcock picture, it still offers enough enjoyment in its own way. Co-stars Laurence Oliver.

Next week I examine some of Hitchcock’s triumphs during the 1940’s including Suspicion (1941), Spellbound (1945), and Notorious (1946).


*****
Thursday, June 6, 1985

THE VIDEO VOICE

By Jim Manago

Alfred Hitchcock on Video – Part 4

Alfred Hitchcock, after making his first and least typical film in Hollywood Rebecca, went on to prove his genius as a filmmaker had nothing at all to do with where he worked. Though he first gained world recognition in the mid-1920’s while making films in Great Britain, Hitchcock’s talent for visualizing a story was nurtured and brought to fullest fruition during his years in Hollywood. The latter offered the best technical resources for filmmaking in the entire world.

Hitchcock’s second Hollywood film, Foreign Correspondent (1940), is a marvelous production still unavailable to the video market. A foreign correspondent is sent to Europe to get the low-down on the war. Hitchcock created many memorable sequences, including one inside a Dutch windmill, as well as a startling assassination of a world leader during a rainstorm in which a camera is used to conceal a gun, and a frenzied crowd with their umbrellas allow the assailant to escape. Foreign Correspondent deserves to be on video for it’s one of Hitchcock’s first great films ever made in America. Nevertheless, you can still see it: television station 7 (ABC, New York) runs it about two times a year. It stars Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, and George Sanders.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) is Hitchcock’s only straight comedy. Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery are a divorced couple who, after a series of incidents, come back together. Mr. And Mrs. Smith is interesting to see for Hitchcock’s way of undercutting the comedy by forcing audience identification with the characters. For instance, typical comedy is structured on the assumption that we are observers, not the participants. If we observe a character slip on a banana peel, we laugh. But if we are forced to identify and participate with that character, via various camera devices, we feel the pain. This latter method is Hitchcock’s way of directing Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Suspicion (1941) is Cary Grant’s first performance in a Hitchcock film. Grant would star in three more for Hitch; Notorious (1946), To Catch a Thief (1955), and North by Northwest (1959). Cary Grant is one of the most enjoyable, fascinating, and unique Hollywood stars to work for Hitchcock. In Suspicion he plays his usual persona: the charming, likable, debonair guy. We discover with his wife (Joan Fontaine) that he’s a gambler, spend-thrift, and a supreme liar. His wife’s trust dissolves to the point where she believes he’s planning to murder her.

Both Grant and Fontaine perform to perfection. Hitchcock, besides carefully creating suspense and suspicion for us, offers to our memory another of his countless visual effects. In Suspicion, he places a light inside a glass of milk to make it glow as Grant carries it up the stairs of the couple’s mansion. His wife does not drink the milk believing, as we do, that it’s poisoned. Another visual effect is the spider-web shadow on the walls of the mansion signifying that the wife is trapping herself in own fear, doubt and suspicion. 

Nigel Bruce, better known for his portrayal of Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Holmes series of the 1940’s, superbly plays Grant’s old drinking pal. Bruce also adds comic relief. Hitchcock knew that the well-crafted suspense yarn needed to be complimented with a little wit now-and-then to ease tension. In fact Hitchcock realized his first American film, Rebecca, could not be considered a “Hitchcock picture” precisely because it lacked humor. 

The fifth film to be made in America by Hitchcock, Saboteur (1941) is another reworking of the chase formula so successful in The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935). Unfortunately, Saboteur is not available yet on video. It was supposed to be released in November by MCA. The obvious tie-in with the Statue of Liberty’s 100th anniversary should boost sales. That is, Saboteur climaxes with disorder at our most famous symbol of order. The wrongly accused man (Robert Cummings) chases the real saboteur, and finally they battle it out on top of the statue.

Though Saboteur is somewhat worthwhile to see, the film is not entirely satisfying. Hitchcock pointed out the faults: it’s too cluttered with various settings, besides the fact that Cummings could not provide the anxiety facet to the Hitchcock hero since Cummings “has an amusing face, so that even when he’s in desperate straits, his features don’t convey any anguish.” Channel 9 (WOR, New York).

Lifeboat (1943), newly released this May, is Hitchcock’s first real experiment with the cinematic form. He limits the entire film to the occurrences aboard a lifeboat of nine survivors during World War ll. By assembling a motley group, Hitchcock is able to say all sorts of interesting things about materialism, racism, communism, Nazism, and democracy. John Steinbeck supplied the story. Tallulah Bankhead is in top form as a jaded journalist. Lifeboat co-stars William Bendix, Walter Slezak, and Hume Cronyn. 

Undoubtedly, Shadow of a Doubt (1943) is Hitchcock’s best film of the 1940’s. But it’s not available on video yet. MCA plans to release this remarkable film next year. Since there’s so much that could be said about Shadow of a Doubt, I will save my remarks for another column later in the year. Channel 9 (WOR, New York) runs it periodically, so watch for it. 

Next week I complete my coverage of Hitchcock’s films during the 1940’s and I begin to examine his early 1950’s films, including Strangers on A Train (1951).

*****

Thursday, June 13, 1985
THE VIDEO VOICE
By Jim Manago 

Alfred Hitchcock on Video Part Five 

Spellbound (1945), Hitchcock’s second of three films for producer David O. Selznick, is constantly satisfying viewers. But Hitchcock critics downgrade its importance. Even Hitchcock underestimated its value when he called it a “just another manhunt story wrapped up in pseudo-psychoanalysis.” Yet, Spellbound is the first film to expose Americans to psychoanalysis and Freudian dream psychology.
I wrote an article in the April issue of Classic Images defending the film. Despite the somewhat overcomplicated ending and the academic dialogue, Spellbound still offers a rich supply of visually stunning moments. The musical score by Miklos Rozsa is one of the most beautiful ever written for a film.
In brief, Spellbound is about an amnesiac (Gregory Peck) who, in suffering from a guilt complex, assumes the identity of a murdered psychologist. It quickly becomes apparent that he is not the new head of the sanitarium the other psychologists anxiously awaited. The mystery of his real identity (and who murdered the psychologist) is solved through the perseverance of a therapist (Ingrid Bergman). 

Spellbound is an enjoyable film due to its vivid visual effects, convincing performances by Peck and Bergman, beautiful score, and its treatment of psychoanalysis as detective work. Watch for the dream sequence that Salvador Dali, the surrealist artist, collaborated on. The supporting players include Leo G. Carroll, Michael Chekov, and Norman Lloyd.
Before Hitchcock made Spellbound, he went to Europe to make two short films about French World War ll resistance, Bon Voyage (1944) and Adventure Malgache (1944). These films are not counted among his 53 features, nor are they available on video yet.
 
Notorious (1946) was Hitchcock’s next film after Spellbound. It’s also his last great work of the 1940’s. Hitchcock summarized the story: “Notorious was simply the story of a man in love with a girl who, in the course of her official duties, had to go to bed with another man and even had to marry him.” 
Ingrid Bergman is the fast girl who infiltrates a Nazi spy family in Brazil. She marries a leading Nazi (Claude Rains) in order to gain information for the American government. Cary Grant plays the U.S. government agent working with Ingrid, as well as in love with her. When the spies discover Ingrid is a counterspy, they attempt to slowly poison her. 

Notorious offers many characteristic qualities, including several ingenious visual sequences. It certainly must be included in any list of top 10 Hitchcock films.

The next four films after Notorious are generally considered disappointments. But you still may find them worthwhile for even Hitchcock’s mediocre films outdo the average blockbuster picture of today. 

The Paradine Case (1947), unavailable on video, is the third and final work Hitchcock made for David O. Selznick. It stars Gregory Peck, Anne Todd, and Charles Laughton. Among its weaknesses is the miscasting of several leading roles.

Rope (1948) is Hitchcock’s second experiment with the cinematic form. His first was Lifeboat (1943) In which he filmed the entire picture in the confined space of a lifeboat. Rope consists of 10 minute long takes (normally a shot is five to 10 seconds in the average film) joined together so as to give the impression that the entire film was shot in one continuous camera movement. This is Hitchcock’s first color production, and it stars James Stewart, John Dall, and Farley Granger in a tale based on the famous Leopold/Loeb murder case.

Under Capricorn (1949) is a costume drama starring Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten, and Michael Wilding. This production and the next were made in England. 

Stage Fright (1950) stars Marlene Dietrich, Jane Wyman, and Michael Wilding in a story involving murder and theater people. 
Five years after Notorious (1946), Hitchcock regained critical and commercial acclaim with Strangers on a Train. This film, like Hitchcock’s The Thirty-nine Steps (1935), Foreign Correspondent (1940), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), and Notorious (1946), is among the 10 great Hitchcock works of art. 

Strangers on a Train is a brilliant film, light years ahead of anything being released on tape or in theaters currently. It's must-viewing for anyone fascinated with or interested in Hitchcock’s unique world view on film. 

Strangers on a Train stars Robert Walker, who plays against type, as the psychopath Bruno Anthony. He is one of Hitchcock’s most likable and charming characters. Bruno is a gay playboy who meets up with a famous tennis star, Guy Haines (Farley Granger), aboard a train. He proposes to Guy a “swap murder scheme”: Guy eliminates Bruno’s hated father, and Bruno will knock off Guy’s loose wife (Laura Elliot). 

Even though Guy is seeking a divorce in order to marry a senator’s daughter (Ruth Roman), he certainly never thinks Bruno is serious. The suspense and terror mount when Bruno actually goes through with his end of the proposition, and haunts Guy to kill his father. 

Next week I complete my examination of Strangers on a Train, and I continue to examine Hitchcock films on video.


*****
Thursday, June 20, 1985
THE VIDEO VOICE
By Jim Manago

Alfred Hitchcock on Video - Part Six 

After five years of disappointing films, Alfred Hitchcock made an astounding comeback with one of his 10 best films, Strangers on a Train (1951). This film is the first of a series of masterpieces made during the 1950’s. With three dozen films behind him, Hitchcock proved that he was a mature artist and a true visual genius.

Strangers on a Train and the films to follow it are full of complex, interrelated themes and attitudes drawn from Hitchcock’s own life. Unfortunately, space permits only a thumbnail sketch of these films. 

Strangers on a Train is one of those films that one could study and watch repeatedly since there’s so many facets to it. As noted last week, the film is about Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker), a psychopath, who proposes a “swap murder” scheme to a famous tennis star, Guy Haines (Farley Granger). Bruno will strangle Guy’s loose wife (Laura Elliot) in exchange for Guy’s destruction of Bruno’s hated father. 

But Guy never took Bruno’s proposition seriously, even though he could profit by the elimination of his wife. The suspense and terror mount when Bruno goes through with his end of the proposition, and he haunts Guy to fulfill the bargain. On the visual level, Hitchcock ingeniously depicts the strangling as seen through one of the victim’s eyeglass lenses. The film offers so many other fine moments, but the finale has to top it all: a struggle between Bruno and Guy on a carousel running wildly out of control, complete with screaming children aboard. This is undoubtedly a superb technical achievement for Hitchcock since it was an extremely difficult sequence to shoot. 

Recurrent emphasis on objects, as on geometric shapes (like the circle), is odd and impressive. The use of the double motif, previously developed throughout Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943), is the most fascinating aspect of Strangers on a Train. The double motif entails that every person and thing is doubled or paired. Doubling operates on the physical, psychological, and moral levels. 

On the physical level, some examples of doubling include: the two pairs of walking feet at the film’s start, the two detectives, the two woman who wear eyeglasses and resemble each other, the two racquets crossed on Guy’s cigarette lighter, the two scenes at the amusement park, the two old men, tennis doubles, double drinks, and so on. 

The double motif is carried out in every conceivably way, almost ad infinitum. Hitchcock appropriately remarked: “Isn’t it a fascinating design? One could study it forever.” 

When applied to similarly looking characters, the double motif implies that there is a similarity psychologically or morally. Characters that resemble each other are somehow related or linked.

In Hitchcock’s world, evil coexists with good in everyone’s heart. We are all guilty of something. Bruno is an actual murderer, but Guy is a murderer also since he expresses a desire to strangle his wife to rid himself of her. Even though Guy only harbored evil thoughts, to Hitchcock he’s just as guilty as Bruno, a person whose actions are evil. 

A dominant trend in Hitchcock films is his constant indictment of the viewers. Hitchcock creates extremely charming villains (like Bruno Anthony) and he gets us all excited with the disorder they unleash by their selfishness, to the point where we find ourselves identifying with and associating our sympathies for the wrong people and values. 

In other words, Hitchcock manipulates us, and plays with us so that we associate enjoyment with the unethical. Then at some point, either via red herrings or some other device, Hitchcock reveals that he’s a demanding moralist. We are then degraded and scorned for allowing Hitchcock to show us our weakness in associating with immoral or amoral behavior. 

In short, Hitchcock makes us think we are in charge of what we see. But sooner or later his willingness to treat us as equals breaks down, and we find Hitchcock asserting his superiority to the viewers. 

Strangers on the Train is also different from the average film because Hitchcock worked a strong gay subtheme into the film. The finale on the carousel is pure Hitchcockian sexual imagery. The gay seduction of Guy by Bruno is consummated symbolically during the carousel struggle. What Hitchcock is saying about gays seems ambiguous: even though Bruno is destroyed at the conclusion, he is made much more likable than the straight characters. Robert Walker’s portrayal is well done in part since Walker carefully avoids the stereotype of gay men as effeminate wimps. Strangers on a Train is a “must-see” Hitchcock film. The supporting players include Hitch’s own daughter, Patricia, as the obnoxious sister of Guy’s girlfriend, and Marion Lorne as Bruno’s doting and flibbertigibbet mother. 

Hitchcock made I Confess (1952) next. Here a priest is blamed for a murder he did not commit. He knows the real culprit, but cannot reveal it since he’s bound by holy vows to keeping a confession secret. Montgomery Cliff, Ann Baxter, and Karl Malden star. 

Dial “M” for Murder (1954) is a faithful version of Frederick Knott’s play about a tennis star (Ray Milland) planning to murder his wife (Grace Kelly). Color. 

Rear Window (1954) is among the top 10 Hitchcock films. An injured photographer (James Stewart) becomes a peeping tom to the activities in an apartment house across the street. Soon he suspects a neighbor (Raymond Burr) of murder. This color production co-stars Grace Kelly and Thelma Ritter, and it says some important things about voyeurism and all of us. 

To Catch A Thief (1955) is the story of a retired high-class thief (Cary Grant) who must search for the real thief (Grace Kelly) responsible for a series of robberies. Color.

*****

Here's another of my many articles from the 1980's. Despite the great pleasure that his films bring, I have to say that  Hitchcock at times tended to cater too much to mainstream audiences - and in that regard he unfortunately reinforced homophobic and transphobic stereotypes. 

These two reviews were from a video column ("VIDEO VOICE") I authored  for a Queens, New York weekly newspaper reaching 100,000 readers back in 1984-1985.  You will notice at the end of the article the price of $59.95 for one videotape. Wow! That's 25 years ago. Does anyone remember those days when new videotape releases were usually forty to sixty dollars each?

VIDEO VOICE

by Jim Manago

Today’s filmmakers are sequel crazy. Now playing is Friday the 13th Part VI. Do you believe it, part six! Psycho III ran for a few weeks. But now it stopped playing at area theatres. I guess it wouldn’t have looked good if two sequels were playing at the same time. But really do we need these schlock sequels? I doubt it. Even though such movies have their pleasurable moments, they never have the same energy and creativity of the original movie. I hope the people behind the making of Psycho III get the message that we viewers do not buy imitations. A check with some video stores indicated that people are smart. They are renting the original Psycho (1960) directed by the late Alfred Hitchcock.

Psycho is Hitchcock’s bizarre, yet brilliant, study of the horrors possible when a son becomes so obsessively dominated by his mother that the mother fixation continues long after the mother passes away. I say possible since the story is based on a true event.

Even though it is agreed that Alfred Hitchcock made several better films, such as Rear Window and Vertigo, it is with Psycho that people better remember Hitchcock by. Even though Psycho is very different from the bulk of Hitchcock films, it does share one trait with some of his other films. That is, an unseen character, a dead person, influences and controls the actions of the living in a very real and damaging manner.

Psycho proves that Hitchcock was The Master of Suspense. He knew intuitively how to build tension upon suspicion, to the point where relief is necessary. In addition, he throws several red herrings to stay a few steps ahead of us to keep the film unpredictable.

Quite appropriate for its dark story is the bleak black & white cinematography. Hitchcock proved that a successful and enduring movie could be made in black & white (even when color films were commonplace), and that a low budget did not necessary entail a movie lacking creativity and ingenuity. If the movie resembles some of the original Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV shows from the 1950’s and 1980’s, it’s because television sets and techniques were utilized.

Unlike the Friday the 13th movies, Hitchcock avoided the depiction of frequent and nauseating murders. Hitchcock’s Psycho is 109 minutes of sheer terror and mayhem with only two murders. Instead of repetitive and gory murder scenes, Hitchcock relies on the power of suggestion. The hellish atmosphere at the Bates Motel is so perversely celebrated that indeed few American films are so dark, terrifying and unrelenting as Psycho. Nevertheless, some people still mistakenly associate Hitchcock with the trashy, slasher films of today.

Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates is unforgettable. The rest of the cast, including Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, and Martin Balsam give superior performances. Psycho is available on videotape from MCA Home Video at $59.95.

*****
Here is another brief review of two of Alfred Hitchcock's classics.....It was first published in 2000.

Alfred Hitchcock Movies on Videotape

by Jim Manago

One hundred and one years ago on August 13th movie director Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense was born. Since his passing, many of his fifty-three movies are available on videotape. The actual story of each of Hitchcock’s movies was not as important as how he visualized the story on the screen. With this in mind, he created many visually memorable sequences throughout his movies. Before filming even began, Hitchcock literally planned on paper each and every shot, noting camera angles and positions. This planning provided Hitchcock absolute control of the finished product. So the pieces of film could be edited together in only one way.

Two of his best films that are usually overlooked that I’d recommend are Suspicion (1941) and Spellbound (1945).

In Suspicion (Warner Home Video) Cary Grant plays Johnny, a charming debonair gambler, married to an overtly shy ingenue (Joan Fontaine). She realizes too late that he is a supreme liar. Her trust dissolves to the point where she believes he’s planning to murder her. A glass of milk that Johnny brings to his wife takes on an eerie significance thanks to Hitchcock placing a light inside a glass to make it glow. She wonders, and so do we: Is it poisoned? Another visual effect is the looming spider web shadow on the walls of the mansion signifying the wife’s feeling of entrapment in her own fear, doubt and suspicion. Suspicion is an entertaining lesson on how self-destructive a relationship without trust can really be.

Spellbound (Anchor Bay Entertainment) is the first movie to introduce Americans to Freudian dream psychology and psychoanalysis. Despite the somewhat complicated ending and academic dialogue regarding guilt complexes, Spellbound still offers a rich supply of visually stunning moments, convincing performances by Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman, and one of the most beautiful scores ever written.

An amnesiac (Peck) assumes the identity of a murdered head of a psychiatric institution. The mystery of his real identity is solved through the perseverance of a therapist (Bergman). Watch for the fascinating dream sequence that surrealist Salvador Dali collaborated on.

Both Suspicion and Spellbound are available at local video outlets. You can also order by mail from Critics’ Choice by calling 1-800-367-7765, or shop online at http://www.ccvideo.com/. Critics’ Choice has thousands of current and classic movies in their Big Book of Movies.

Stay tuned for more on Alfred Hitchcock coming on August 13th!

*****

More on Richard Matheson:

I dug up one of my Twilight Zone tapes the other night, and found to my delight the first episode was "The Invaders." Remember that dialogue-free episode with only one actress - yes, the superb Agnes Moorehead.  She lives in a run-down cabin, and she's petrified by a spaceship that just landed.  I won't ruin the ending for you, in case you didn't see it.  Great twist by the late great Richard Matheson...
*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

*****
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--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Published December 1, 2010
Further details at: http://shirleybooth.blogspot.com

1 comment:

dcolp said...

Shirley Booth and Judy Holliday together sounds like a great team.