Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Three More from Hitch

OK, I've been bad. Work's been kicking my ass. Having new responsibilities is great but after a while I find myself whimpering about how I don't want to stay late yet another day...I wanna go hooooome....

But, in the meantime, I caught three more old Hitchcock films at the AFI.

The first was his earliest film that still exists in a complete form, 1927's THE LODGER: A STORY OF THE LONDON FOG.

Based on a novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes (who I didn't realize until recently was Hilaire Belloc's sister), it's the story of a Jack the Ripper-style killer, The Avenger, who has London in the grip of terror. A man knocks on the door of a house advertising rooms for rent and takes one, but the landlady and her family begin to suspect that he's got a hideous secret...

The tough part of it is that I've heard "The Lodger" adapted for radio, and this version is radically different from the versions I've heard. One, with Peter Lorre in the title role, had him revealed at the end as the murderer; another ended ambiguously, with the lodger taking off and disappearing with nobody ever being sure if he was the killer or not. But Hitch's version has the lodger being a good guy, a poor tormented soul whose sister was the first victim of the killer and is trying to track him down.  What gets me is that the real identity of the killer, and his motives, are never revealed; we're told in a throwaway remark at the end that he was caught. The REAL story is about the suspicion that surrounds the poor guy.

OK, so I wasn't satisfied with the story totally, and I wanted to kick Ivor Novello's ass (he was so frail and neurasthenic in the starring role, I couldn't believe the heroine was falling for him), but it's overflowing with visual style.

There are lots of neat little visual riffs, like the above truck that represents the scanning eyes of the press.  Or the flashing sign reading "TO-NIGHT GOLDEN CURLS," which references the killer's fondness for blonds. At times it's reminiscent of the experimental shorts by Man Ray and others.

Is it worth watching?  Yeah, but it's more about style than story, a time when Hitch's vision was just beginning to gel.  (There's a fabulous essay on it over at Cinema de Merde; check it out.)

Next up was YOUNG AND INNOCENT from 1937, originally released as THE GIRL WAS YOUNG.

I missed the first few minutes, thanks to being behind schedule, but this is a ripping good yarn (based on A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey) of a man falsely suspected of murder and trying to clear his name, and sucking a well-intentioned gal into his wake. And there's tons of lovely British scenery as they tool around all over the place in her jalopy. The acting from the two leads, Nova Pilbeam and Derrick de Marney, is quite solid, and one can see this as the blueprint for his future comedy/romance/thrillers that featured an innocent man accused of a horrible crime.  The killer's identity is telegraphed far in advance, so the real challenge for the viewer is figuring out where he is and what he's doing. An actress is found dead on the beach, and a man she'd had business dealings with is seen running from her body; he's innocent, of course, and manages to give the cops the slip while recruiting the help of a policeman's daughter.  I will alert the sensitive that there is a scene of musicians in blackface; didn't bother me, but some might object.  But after all, these were different times.

The third was a silent cut of BLACKMAIL, with life music by the Alloy Orchestra. I've already talked about this movie, but I will say that Alloy's accompaniment was exceptional.  It was good scoring in that it was inobtrusive; it complemented the action well and was also very melodic and enjoyable.

AFI starts up the second part of their Hitch retrospective on April 23rd; we'll see what comes up next.

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